Living In No-Where Land

Since the 1980s the use of anti-depressants has increased by 400% in the United States of America. The total sales of anti-depressants worldwide are over $20 billion. That’s making some pharmaceutical companies very rich and happy, but not many users of anti-depressants eternally happy-given the side effects of the drugs, which include outbursts of rage, deeper, more severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Yet, the global depressed population seems to increase exponentially yearly with children as young as 7 years of age being given some kind of mind altering drug to make them conform to the existential conditions of 21st century living. In a recent article on global mental health, The Guardian’s health editors (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013) provided an overview of the way we manage our chemical dependent lives in the 21st century. They report that:
“The use of antidepressants has surged across the rich world over the past decade, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, raising concerns among doctors that pills are being over-prescribed…Figures show that doctors in some countries are writing prescriptions for more than one in 10 adults, with Iceland, Australia, Canada and the other European Nordic countries leading the way” (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013)
In addition to the easy accessibility of these legal mind altering substances a number of States in the USA have legalized marijuana for medical purposes with two states-Colorado and Washington State legalizing the drug for recreational use by people over the age of 21. Here’s some of what we know about the body- mind altering capabilities of marijuana to date. The chemical ingredient of the drug THC remains in the body for weeks after any initial use. In addition regular medical studies of marijuana users indicate that one joint contains 60% more cancer causing substances than a tobacco cigarette. Long time marijuana smokers suffer from regular bronchial and upper respiratory tract illnesses. One study undertaken in Australia linked heavy marijuana usage with the development of brain abnormalities and other clinical studies link continued marijuana usage with the development of medium to long term psychosis and loss of memory. Marijuana is known to change the structure of male sperm leading to sterility as well discombobulate a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Given this knowledge why would any government or any other regularity body deem the drug suitable for recreational use? Is it too cynical to suggest a tax on marijuana sales will boost the coffers of a cash strapped government? Dulling a population’s senses through any mind altering substance is going to create a complacent and compliant citizenry living in no-where land content on going no-where.

References
Boseley, S., Chalabi, M., & Rice-Oxley, M. (2013, November 20). The Guardian-Life Style. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/20/antidepressant-use-rise-world-oecd

The Serpent’s Egg

The disappearance and subsequent murder of 3 Israeli teenagers on 12 June sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank and resulted in the deaths of several people, including two Palestinian teenagers one only 15 years old.

During the search more than 300 Palestinians were arrested in an operation the Israelis ironically called ‘Brother’s Keepers’. Aren’t all followers of the Abrahamic religions brothers & sisters?
It’s a terrible thing that happened to the three Jewish teenagers, but it is also equally a terrible thing that happened to the Palestinian teenagers. It is an equally terrible thing that Jews and Arab Muslims are stuck in their bitter intransigence some 6 decades and more since the founding of the Jewish state.

Israel must also accept responsibility for the deaths of the three Jewish teenagers for they are just as guilty as the Palestinian men who carried out this terrible cowardly act. Both sides are caught up in a bitter cycle of violent hatred of one another despite PM Netanyahu’s attempt to take the high moral ground while speaking at the funeral of the murdered teenagers.
The West’s covering of the story has been biased in favor of the Jewish state and the continued plight of the Palestinians is by and large ignored by the Western media. Ordinary Palestinian men, women and children continued to be stereotyped as terrorists when in fact they suffer under an Israeli occupation in addition to being collectively punished because of the madness of fanatical organizations like Hamas.

Yet equally fanatical are the hard line Israelis who are determined to displace and remove all Palestinians from occupied Palestine and reclaim the land as a modern day Judea for all Jews.

A little over 600 miles away as Iraq fragments and falls apart another fanatical hard-line Islamist group has established a Caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, calling upon all Muslims to migrate there and establish their homeland. Is there no end to this madness? Sadly not-our fragile little blue planet lost in the universe, seems to slide nearer to the precipice of oblivion with each passing day.

The tit for tat killings and murders by both Palestinians and Israelis brings shame upon the goodness inherent in religions which have evolved since antiquity to help us to seek a better life- one characterized through meaning based on an ethical and moral vision to counter the hopelessness propagated through the distorted vision of a few mad mullahs, corrupt priests and rabid Rabbis who have usurped the goodness inherent in a religious world-view. The battle between Israel, Palestine and between the mad men of all religions is a quarrel
“That will bear no color for the things they are,
Fashion it thus: that what they are, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think them as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatch’d, would as their kind grow mischievous,
And kill them in the shell” (adapted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act 2, scene 1, 28–34 )

Is Facebook Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

The illusion of anonymity which surrounds online activity and social media has been shattered in a recent US court ruling. Facebook has had to comply with a court order and hand over data to assist investigators seeking evidence in a social welfare fraud case. Hundreds of people were claiming disability pensions when in fact their face book accounts revealed that they were perfectly healthy. Fraud has been around for eons, but Facebook hasn’t. The court subpoenaed data which included private messages, pictures and personal details.
The judge defined Facebook as a ‘digital landlord’; a rather clever definition really because the company controls vast amount of personal data from over a billion users world-wide, as well as drawing income from those who use its websites and server facilities. The court defined the social media website as “as a digital landlord, a virtual custodian or storage facility for millions of tenant users and their information… the search warrants authorizes the search and seizure of digital information contained within the Facebook server.” (Miller, 2014)
While the seizure of the data will have ‘free-speech’ and privacy advocates up in arms, the fact is no-one’s personal data on Facebook, or any other social media website is completely private. Facebook trawls its own user database daily for profiteering purposes, which many users could define as the “unreasonable seizure” of their personal data, and so Facebook crying foul under the fourth amendment is somewhat hypocritical.
But, it’s the legal definition which is intriguing and perhaps will wake-up the digital vox populi to the reality of living a life in someone else’s data-base, and within the strict confinement of a digital landlord’s server. Those who choose to live their personal and social lives through any kind of digital medium have very few rights, but clearly a number of legal and ethical responsibilities along with any number of unseen, or unknown legal liabilities. It seems that 21st century living in a cloud holds anything other than a silver lining.

References
Miller, J. (2014, June 27). BBC News Technology. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28055909

Breaking Bad or Mad in Santa Barbara?

As I listened in disbelief to the aired YouTube clip of the wealthy, middle class young man who went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara California recently, I was outraged more so by the rehearsed nature of his script, his choice of quite specific language along with the scene from which he chose to record this moment of cold calculated madness. It was life imitating art in its most gruesome and callous genre-reality.
It mirrored a movie set; the sun set reflecting on his face and plush car interior as his carefully chosen words told the world about his coming ‘day of retribution’ and his inability to form social relationships, particularly with young women of his age.
I thought “and this is his reason he gives for killing 6 young people whose lives were just beginning to experience the joy and excitement of independence and autonomy around making their own choices in life.”
A family lawyer of the killer suggested he might have been bullied at some point, while the police found him to be ‘polite and timid’, when they went to investigate family concerns about his threats posted via social media. Others have been quick to point out a relationship between his mental state and access to weapons of mass destruction.
Nobody knows now-because he killed himself-we can suppose and speculate, but we’ll never know if he was mad, bad or both.
Many wealthy middle class young people in the USA have access to guns. Most, if not all do not suffer from mental illness. Most, if not all manage to navigate their way through the difficult waters of puberty and adolescence in order to form social and intimate consensual relationships with their chosen others. Some more easily than others. Growing up in any culture/society is never easy.
Yet, as a society we in the West are quick to find excuses to assuage our guilt over heinous crimes committed by the ‘worried well’. The attacker quickly becomes a victim: a traumatic upbringing, some years of bullying, and some kind of abuse in their early years etc. Yet, the reality is that some people are just bad. They make clear choices based on sound reasoning to commit harm against others. Their choice is to hate rather than love and to be bad rather than good.

Elliot Rodger was bad in every way. His actions were executed out of a hatred and vindictiveness towards others’ joy and happiness. The world marvels and extols the resilience of children and young people who overcome appalling family backgrounds to make good their lives. Many do. In other instances we also understand why children can develop problems in their adult years too, but help is never far away if the warning signs are read in time. However, it is essential that we must accept that sometimes good parents have bad children.
Stephen Pinker, the Canadian Linguist and Experimental Psychologist says ”genetics and neuroscience are showing that a heart of darkness cannot always be blamed on parents or society”. In addition Cambridge psychiatrist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen proposes that evil is the absence of empathy, and that narcissists, borderline personalities, psychopaths possess no empathetic responses (Griffen, 2011). In other words like Elliot Rodger they are born bad and must take responsibility for the choices they make-even if that has to occur posthumously

References
Griffen, M. (2011, September 19). Bad to the bone – Some children are just born evil. Retrieved from Scott.Net: Signs of the Times: http://www.sott.net/article/235158-Bad-to-the-bone-Some-children-are-just-born-evil

Now I see through a Google Glass Darkly

Nothing is more perversely voyeuristic than the vox populi paparazzi edging their way into the scene of a crime, a horrific accident or a social event and recording it, uploading it to the web and holding out longingly for their few minutes of fame.
I recently gave a presentation at an international conference on the use of technology in education and before I began I asked that mobiles be put on silent and that there be no photographs, videoing or recording of my presentation. In return I offered a copy of the presentation and also gave out the name of the journal in which the paper was soon to be published. A gentleman raised his hand and said “why are you anti-technology?” I said I wasn’t that it was simply my right to protect my privacy, I didn’t want my talk uploaded to YouTube, nor did I want my picture taken and uploaded on the web without my permission. I asserted my right to privacy and my right to own and protect the copyright of my material. There was a round of applause, but not everyone was happy. Another person suggested I was not sharing my information freely, and that I was part of the great conspiracy to with-hold knowledge and information and make money from people; however neither remark is true. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I simply hold the view that my privacy is a value I uphold and have a right to, and that my copy-righted work is available and can be accessed and used at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place.
Where has the idea come from that it’s a free for all with modern technology when it comes to intruding on our lives? Who are the people responsible for undermining this basic principle of civility, which endorses the inalienable right to a private life? After all if it’s good enough for royal families and celebrities to lay claim to, it is good enough for the majority too.
In the 21st century Google and Facebook in particular have produced technologies that have eroded our personal and private lives. Their invasive technologies marketed as de rigueur for 21st century youth and for 21st century living are a lie. Their products are troublesome if we are to learn anything from the recent NASA scandal. But the debate and argument about privacy is an old one.
During the trial of Sir Thomas More, in 1535, Cromwell asked him if he had anything else to say in his defence; More replied “‘What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts. God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road.” (Bolt, 1990) How true this prophecy has become.

The digital age has seduced people into disclaiming their hearts and selling out to the latest gadgetry and ignoring their rights, but embracing ‘terms and conditions’ of which they have very limited knowledge. Google’s latest techno product-Google glasses- allow its users to see through them darkly-they choose a sinister, augmented, constructed reality over what is real. In addition they are allowing companies and corporation to deny the basic dignity of an employee-treating them instead like robots. Google, along with Amazon and Facebook are among the IT corporations that regards themselves as people, and vociferously protect their privacy, yet promote the use of these invasive technologies, and in doing so prevent a global population from living lives that a full, experiential and free from surveillance.

References
Bolt, R. (1990). A Man For All Seasons. London: Vintage Books.

The Lord Khrushchev Giveth & The Lord Putin Taketh Away

Reprinted from http://www.pravada.ru
Nikita Khrushchev gave Russia’s Crimea away to Ukraine in only 15 minutes (Pravda.ru, 2009)

USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev gave Russia’s Crimea away to Ukraine in only 15 minutes
The Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union passed the decree to hand over the Crimean region from the structure of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) to the Ukrainian SSR within the Soviet Union. Then-Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, virtually gave Crimea away to Ukraine.
The delivery of the region from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR was just a formality during the years of the “indestructible” Soviet Union. Ukraine received such a gift on the occasion of the 300th anniversary since its unification with Russia. It could never occur to anyone back in those days that the USSR would collapse, and that Ukraine would no longer be a part of it.
Historians have a very simple explanation to Nikita Khrushchev’s generosity. He came to power after the death of Joseph Stalin, unmasked his cult and condemned repressions. However, Khrushchev was involved in a number of repression-related affairs before. He was conducting a struggle against “people’s enemies” when he served as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party from 1938 to 1947 to win the support of the Ukrainian leadership. That is why he gave the resort peninsula on the Black Sea coast to the republic.
Khrushchev informed his comrades of the decision to deliver Crimea to Ukraine incidentally, on the way to lunch. “Yes, comrades, there is an opinion to deliver Crimea to Ukraine,” he said casually. No one dared to express any protests, because a word of the first face of the Communist Party was law.

The Supreme Council of Russia ruled in 1992 that the Crimean region had been delivered to Ukraine illegitimately.
References
Pravda.ru. (2009, February 19). History & Traditions. Retrieved from Pravda.ru: http://english.pravda.ru/history/19-02-2009/107129-ussr_crimea_ukraine-0/

Our Backs to the Future

In the modern corporate themed allegory ‘Who Moved my Cheese’ about adapting to a changing set of circumstances, Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw have to adapt to a sudden change in their environment when their ‘cheese’ or key resource disappears. Only one of the characters is able to adjust fully to the change or ‘disappearance of the cheese’ successfully-an interesting point to note. From this quaint fable about changing facets of life in the 20th and 21st century we are expected to come to the realisation that change is inevitable and those that do not adapt or ‘bend with the breeze’ will break or be left behind. The tale has been told often and is used as a kind of corporate mantra in the post-modern world. Yet, the type of change in the story which advocates and supporters of ‘Who Moved my Cheese’ promote isn’t like Cardinal John Henry Newman’s concept of change-that of inward spiritual growth which will lead us to become more fully aware and compassionate human beings; rather it’s based upon Frederick Taylor’s mechanistic view of the human being as outlined in his 1909 book “The Principles of Scientific Management.” This was one of the earliest studies in change management and an example of a mechanistic model of behaviourism which was used to manipulate people into becoming robot like and enabled them to be used merely as cogs in the servitude of the owners of the means of production.
And it is this model of change which futurists like Peter Diamondis promote. In a recent presentation in the city state of Dubai, Diamondis proclaimed his own doctrine of change arguing that it no longer happens every 100 years, but every year (Masudi & Nazzal, 2014). He claims as his own, the somewhat paradoxical mantra that ‘change is a constant’ feature of 21st century life.
Well, yes and no. One could argue that there’s always change just as day turns into night and the seasons predictably come and go (perhaps less so these days due to climate change), and we are born, grow old and die. These kinds of ‘constants’ in change are founded upon the existential conditions in which humanity constantly strives to survive and where it appears we seem to have created such a mess of it all. We need to address with increasing urgency whether or not we want our species is to survive, and endure the kind of future predicted by Dr. Diamondis.
Among the kinds of changes he predicts are that high school students will have the ability to sequence their own DNA and that life will become more ‘like a manufacturing process” (Masudi & Nazzal, 2014). I can already hear Marx and Engels chortling quite happily “we told you so”. He claims that today 100 years of age is the new 60. Well Dr. Diamondis, I’d prefer not to be alive at 100 as I’m damn sure I’m not going to feel much better than I do now at 60!
3D printing will develop to the extent we’ll be able to “print cement to build our houses and manufacturing will become “geography independent” and the mass of humanity will become ‘empowered’ (Masudi & Nazzal, 2014). I’m not sure how this will work for the 99% who won’t be able to afford the printer, electricity or who may not even have a shelter in which to begin this great architectural innovation.
Artificial intelligence will gradually supersede our ability to make choices and privacy will be a “thing of the past” (Masudi & Nazzal, 2014). Well, thanks to Edward Snowden, we already know this, and with Facebook buying the messaging app Whatsapp for $19bn it is all but confirmed.
In addition he predicts an even more gloomy ignominious future with more “jobs going to China to India to Robots” (Masudi & Nazzal, 2014). Not sure how the 1.3 billion Chinese will respond to this, but if Tiananmen Square is any indication of ‘moving the cheese’ in that country-I wouldn’t want to be Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw. However, they might fare better in India where the 1.27 billion might adjust given their reluctance to break out of their rigid case system, and where any kind of cheese is a welcome relief to the abject poverty and misery of their disenfranchised population.
President Obama will not be happy at all with Dr. Diamondis health care predications for the future, in which we will be able to ‘self-diagnose our own medical conditions’ and treat ‘most illnesses at home’. (Masudi & Nazzal, 2014) After all the delays and angst over ‘Obama Care’ it now seems the President would have been better advised to consult with Dr. Diamondis. He could have avoided the Supreme Court challenge and that awful public brawl with those ungrateful Republicans.
The point is futurists have their place in the world alongside Tarot card and Palm readers, who I often consult-well; so did Nancy Reagan! As for the future my money’s on the predictions of Rick Evans (Evans, 2013) as sung by Zager & Evans in 1969. They reflect a far greater and more urgent reality: the existential condition of humanity; whereas Peter Diamondis has his head buried in the lucrative and exclusive sands of Silicon Valley:

References
Evans, R. (2013). Zager & Evans Lyrics. Retrieved from Metro Lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/in-the-year-2525-lyrics-zager-and-evans.html
Masudi, F., & Nazzal, N. (2014). 2050: The Shape of Things to Come. Dubai: Gulf News.
Johnson, S., Who Moved My Cheese, Putnam Books, (USA) 1998