A surveillance society

For some years, I have enjoyed photography as a hobby. Mainly landscapes, the odd wedding usually done under duress as a “favour” and occasionally securing back stage passes to local gigs and events. I was involved in local photography groups and for a few years functioned as an admin for a local group.

As part of all that, I became aware of police misusing powers that were enacted under the terrorism acts to prevent people from taking photographs in public places. Predominantly around buildings and such. Stop and Search powers were used to intimidate people who were just trying to enjoy a hobby they were passionate about. They were probably as far away from being terrorists as people could possibly be. Similar powers have been misused by various state bodies, including councils to ensure you are using wheelie bins correctly. These things show up in the press from time to time.

This led me to reading a number of articles and a few books on the subject. We are increasingly becoming a surveillance society.

There must be checks and balances in any democratic society. The police need to be able to do their job effectively, no one can argue that. But what about when it erodes your freedoms and civil liberties? How much are we willing to give up to feel safe and secure? The media plays its part of creating a state of fear too.

So today, we come to the police commissioner elections. One topic on the agenda is accountability. Another is whether some of the police roles ought to be outsourced.

Personally, I believe you outsource a solution, not a problem. It has to be an extremely well defined or simple function to successfully outsource something. Policing does not fall into this category. Do you remember the group 4 cock ups when they took over the transport of prisoners?

Take a look at your local election. And cast your vote. That is what democracy is about. If you don’t, then do not whinge later when these things infringe on your own civil liberties.

For all the tea in China

Part of my daily rituals involve tea. My first cup as soon as awaken and regular topups throughout the day. It seems singularly British.

I can imagine the moment at dawn on the day of the big Zulu battle at Rorke’s Drift….

“By Jove! There’s thousands of those buggers with spears and shields making a tremendous racket. How terribly uncivilised.
Jeeves, let’s have a pot of tea!”

Tea wasn’t ours though. And it did not come from India.

In the 1800’s, we had converted the Chinese to the joys of smoking Opium. Purely for medicinal purposes you understand (not). Our privateers flogged so much of the stuff, the Chinese economy was on the brink of collapse as way too much silver currency was leaving the country. The Chinese government acted, seizing our warehouses in places like Shanghai and boarding our ships in international waters, destroying all the opium they found.

With the subsequent outrage, our government sent an expeditionary force from India to create havoc and the Chinese were forced to cede to our terms and gave us a long lease on the Island of Hong Kong, which effectively gave us a naval base on their doorstep.

The only export that the Chinese could use to balance the books was tea. Which had been in popular use in China for thousands of years and was sweeping through Europe as a must have drink. In fact, the purchasing of tea from China had caused us so many problems that we kind of brought the opium to China as a counter balance.

For the English, the situation couldn’t go on. And there was big money for someone who could get a tea plant out of China and grow it somewhere else. And one enterprising soul did just that, dressed as a mandarin, journeying into the interior of China, escaping with tea plants which were transported and successfully grown in India. Effectively, this isolated China and prevented her from keeping up with the west. She became isolationist and turned in on herself. So when someone says they wouldn’t do something for “all the tea in China”, a part of me doubts that they will be true to their word!

As China makes its steady march into the 21st century and it’s economy booms, I wonder what history would have been if we hadn’t stole their biggest export product 200 years ago.  It is really no wonder that they do not respect our copyright laws and flood our markets with cheap products.


Hiatus – A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break

There has been a short gap in my blogging – assuming you can define three weeks as short. Normal service will now be resumed. Please fasten your seatbelts, place trays in the upright position.

It amazes me that airlines used to also say “Please extinguish cigarettes”. Really? You could smoke on a plane? In an enclosed space, speeding through the atmosphere thousands of feet above the ground.

Not only that, but back in the day, the medical profession actually recommended that people smoked. The Journal of the American Medical Association published its first cigarette advertisement in 1933 only after careful study, claiming that its cigarettes were “Just as pure as the water you drink… and practically untouched by human hands.”

Wow, it is amazing how things have changed. And I hasten to add, I am not really that old, the quote was located with the help of my friend Google.

Spare a thought for a moment for what life was like back in 1933. The first world war had been the “war to end all wars”. The roaring twenties had been a time of great prosperity. And then the great depression had hit, unemployment reached new heights (up to 25% in the US, 20% in the UK). People were struggling to feed themselves across the globe.

Germany was in no position to repay the incredibly high and unrealistic reparations and fascism took hold. But not just fascism. Socialism was in full swing and the working men and women across the world were swayed by the ideals of communism.

It was a tumultuous time.

Can you tell I just finished reading “Winter of the World Part 2” by Ken Follet? I read the first installment last year in hardback. This year, I happened across part 2 at the ripe old price of 20p for the Kindle version on Amazon. I damned good read, though I felt a bit bad for Ken. After all, he writes a very good yarn and no doubt spent a long time crafting the story.

All the above puts my own struggles and strife in perspective. We have never, ever, had it so good materially. We have freedoms and technology unimaginable by our forefathers. And we have a duty to make sure those freedoms are not chipped away, eroded, by increasing attempts from politicians to turn democracies into police states, with every thing we do recorded and monitored. These freedoms were hard won.

Hmmm. That was a bit heavy for a Monday morning! I suggest you go have a smoke or a very strong coffee, laced with caffeine and sugar. You might need it.