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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

May the Thought Police be with you!

Over the last week the mainstream media in the UK have focused on two moral issues. The first concerned the televised racial slurs of a working class Londoner raised in a Bermondsey council estate who made her name on Channel Four's Big Brother against a multi-millionaire Bollywood diva. The second drew our attention to the unwillingness of the Catholic and other religious adoption agencies to place children with same sex couples. Campaigns against discrimination on grounds of race or sexual orientation have traditionally been the preserve of the Left, who like to think of themselves as bastions of free thought forever battling ingrained establishment biases. Fast-forward to 2007 and the banning of all speech officially interpreted as racist or homophobic has become the establishment line. Were it not for heroic equal rights campaigners, so we are led to believe, women would still be working 16 hours a day scrubbing floors and satisfying the libido of their menfolk with no say whatsoever in the democratic process, dark-hued people would still be slaves or mere subjects of colonial rule and people with unauthorised sexual orientations treated as psychiatric patients. Sadly, the harsh reality on the ground differs from this fairytale image of progress over the last sixty years of unbridled consumerist expansion. Back on planet Earth hundreds of millions of mostly dark-hued people are condemned to lives of extreme economic deprivation, evicted from their ancestral lands, forced to migrate to large conurbations and sucked in to the periphery of a global economic monster that controls the population's food and energy supply and affords local units of governance little alternative but to collaborate. In the high-consumption world, relatively few women will spend hour upon hour on their knees scrubbing floors, hand-washing clothes and cooking for their extended family single-handed. Most benefit from modern technology and expect their partners to help, but unlike their recent forebears, have to hold down a second job in an office or retail outlet to fulfil themselves both materially and professionally. More and more women are prone to a whole host of emotional hang-ups as they fail to live up to media-imposed expectations and thus lack self-worth. As for the expansion of democracy to the fairer sex, we can only dwell on the state of a political system that views electors as targets of viral marketing campaigns, who need to be constantly persuaded and reassured of the establishment's good intentions and of the inherent dangers posed by any alternatives that may appear on the horizon, effectively disenfranchising anyone without access the levers of mediocracy.

The last tenet of the apparent progress we have witnessed over the last two decades is the legalisation of homosexuality and now the extension and enshrinement of gay rights. One might argue that you can only legalise something that has been banned. The same establishment that imposed Victorian values of chastity and sex only within wedlock later reversed prohibition of erotic behaviour between consenting individuals. As late as the 1960s the establishment considered homosexuality a psychiatric illness, the WHO even had a code for it and it was listed in the first two editions of the infamous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Twenty years later the latest revision of DSM-IV lists over 400 personality disorders applicable to a growing proportion of the population. So now it's okay if you have a compulsive sexual attraction to a member of the same sex. Indeed you should celebrate your diversity and insist on your right to marry, sue your employers over any alleged discrimination and even raise children that are not your own. Yet if you're a bit of geek with obsessional special interests and nonconformist socialisation patterns, you need psychiatric intervention just in case you offend mainstream society. All that's changed is the definition of which behaviours are acceptable and which are not, yet there is pitifilly little evidence that the tendency to lead a homosexual lifestyle is any more a product of one's genes than a tendency to develop a mad professor personality type, the expression of both behavioural traits is highly dependent on cultural factors. Consider, if you will, the tragic case of Alan Turing, a socially withdrawn cryptographer and pioneering computer scientist who formalised the concept of the algorithm and computation with the Turing machine and later helped war-time British intelligence services at Bletchley Park crack the Nazi code. Back then they celebrated his geekishness, a positive virtue, but referred him to a psychiatrist to treat his delusional erotic attraction to men, which eventually led to his suicide. Today, the former trait, deemed dysfunctional in any team-working environment, would be psychiatrised and the latter celebrated. So much for progress.

Why should those of us who genuinely champion the rights of the downtrodden and abhor authoritarianism in all its guises have more sympathy for Jane Goody and Catholic Bishops than for a Bollywood actress and trendy enforcers of political correctness? I'm not suggesting that any of the parties involved are free of proverbal skeletons in their cupboards, but it is clear which side the establishment is on. The same newspapers and politicians who lied to us over the real reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and let predatory entrepreneurs spread the contagion of online gambling and open new legalised casinos, consider progress to be letting children be raised by same-sex couples and gagging working class expressions of inferiority by labelling it uneducated racism.

Indeed I'd go one step further, even if you believe that some same sex couples are better parents than some dysfunctional heterosexual couples (which is undoubtedly the case considering the proliferation of psychological stressors that contaminate meaningful relations between men and women in a highly competitive society), we should still support the Catholic Church's right to refer gay couples to other adoption agencies, because to do otherwise would impose the same logic and mores on everyone. An adoption agency cannot succeed without a fair balance between worthy foster parents and parentless children yearning to share the most treasured gift of any balanced childhood, a loving family with a fair balance of the roles traditionally assigned to the mother and father figures. If social services cannot place children via conservative adoption agencies due to a lack of eligible mixed gender foster parents, they can simply switch to gay-friendly adoption agencies. Likewise gay couples can simply approach an agency they know would be sympathetic to their status. Most adoption agencies consider multiple factors including the couple's emotional and economic well-being. Few children in care would benefit from being shunted from one dysfunctional household to another with enormous potential for abuse. Given the establishment's preoccupation with paedophilia, they are required to screen all candidates' police records for any hint of sexual offences (including mere cautions for briefly viewing images of underage children in sexually explicit poses) and would also be privy to confidential information about past psychiatric diagnoses. So it would, according to current best practice, be perfectly within their powers to rule somebody out as a potential foster parent because of a childhood diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD as the parent would purportedly lack the requisite empathy or attention span to act in a responsible and loving way. However, the proposition that mixed gender parenting is always preferable is not just the opinion of one extreme fundamentalist sect, it's the experience of thousands of years of human civilisation and enshrined in cultures and religions spanning the globe. It's not two outdated Catholic Bishops against the modern forward-thinking majority, it's a bunch of New Labour intellectuals, many of whom supported all of Tony Blair's recent wars and endorse their party's wholesale capitulation to neoliberal corporatism, against the majority of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Africans, South Americans, Indians and Chinese.

If a victim of persecution and/or economic deprivation were subjected to xenophobic abuse in a land to which inescapable circumstances compelled them to migrate, there'd be little doubt about the identity of the abuser and victim. But deep down racial abuse is just an expression of malcontent. "What are you doing on my patch?", "Why don't you become like the rest of us and assimilate?" and what about "People with your colour of skin tend to come from countries I consider uncivilised, so please accept your lowly status!"?. Jane Goody may be a minor millionaire now, but unlike Shilpa Shetty she grew up in a normal working class neighbourhood, constantly exposed to myriad forms of bullying, from which she probably learned her latent xenophobia, only to seize the opportunity to make it big on the telly. To be honest, I'd never heard of either celebrity before the media-created controversy. Millions of Indians are subjected day in day out to prejudice based on class, caste and their country's growing rich-poor gap. Yet like their British counterparts, they have been mesmerised by a virtual reality of televisual deities. To offend Shilpa, even in an ill-considered temper tantrum, is to insult the dignity if the entire Indian nation, a sad indictment of global reality. Global media tycoons can have tens of thousands on the streets protesting the language used by one person against another.

C4 ratings received a major boosting, but in any sane world we would all simply switch off and start thinking with our own brains. What is even more disturbing is the way the media exploits these constructed controversies to clamp down on critical thinking, while recruiting a motley collection of Guardian-reading gate-keepers to lower the public's guard to the incipient authoritarianism. If the neological social construct of homophobia is deemed a problem that must be addressed by more media awareness, education campaigns and psychoanalysis of those who hold views considered homophobic, then how long will be before any digression from orthodox thinking is considered the legitimate subject of psychiatric intervention. Worried? You should be. When the establishment realises it has lost the argument, despite billions squandered on propaganda, on the invasion of Iraq, they denigrate the opposition by likening their most prominent spokespeople with their new demons. Thus to oppose the US invasion of Afghanistan is to support the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law. To expose the true horrors of Israel's military actions over the last 40 years is to stand side by side with a bunch of Ayatollah-worshipping, wife-beating Islamic fascists. Debate is in practice confined to the technicalities of the implementation of an agenda over which we no control. If they, the establishment, say that all loners caught downloading child pornography should be imprisoned, while the entrepreneurs who run multi-billion pound gaming and porn sites should be given free reign, then so be it. It is a triumph of propaganda that few see the conspicuous contradiction, whereby the purveyors of sexual perversion and emotional distress walk free, while their victims may easily fall into a legal nightmare by overstepping ever-shifting moral boundaries.

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Computing

CSS Two Column Layout

If you view this site with Firefox or other browsers based on the Gecko 1.8+ engine, you'll see the body of articles neatly arranged into two free-flowing and self-balancing columns. This relies on the new CSS 3 column module, implemented in Gecko browsers as -moz-column before ratification by the W3C. Safari and Opera have introduced limited support for multiple columns and will implement stylesheet workarounds for these user agents as soon as possible. Although IE7 is doubtlessly an improvement over IE6 with some of its best features inspired by Opera and Firefox, it has yet to implement support for all CSS 2 properties. If you can't be bothered to download or open a new browser just to view this site as designed, don't worry, it should look fine in one wide column except where pictures are aligned to look best in two-column view.

Categories
Computing

The One Laptop per Child Dream

Do children need game consoles, mp3-players, camera phones, bedroom TV sets with inbuilt DVD players? Probably not. Few cross-cultural comparisons would suggest such devices are of any educational benefit. Indeed they distract children from other forms of play and learning, bombard them with a never-ending blur of junk information and prepare them only for a world of instant gratification, in which corporate deities impart magical gifts. You will not learn how to program by playing moronic games on your PSP or iPhone. But technology is not necessarily bad. Many new technologies first used by the educated elite tend to emancipate rather than enslave users to consumerist addiction. Clearly using the Internet as a research and communication tool rather than as just another channel for advertising, gambling, porn and interactive TV can level the playing field between the intellectual haves and have-nots. So could information technology ever reach out to the hundreds of millions of kids thus far spared of the psychological side effects of mass-marketed gadgetry because they lack landline telephony and reliable mains electricity? Remember the good old days when geeks would learn by writing programs in Basic at the command line and progress to C++ on college work stations? Remember the early years of the World Wide Web when a high proportion of Web sites were handcoded with little regard for eye candy, but merely for the effective and structured delivery of hyperlinked information? Today kids in the prosperous world may learn mouse and gamepad manipulation early on, but few are motivated to look under the bonnet, as long as they can download music, play games and copy and paste text and images into their homework.

Recently I splashed out over £750 (that's approx. €1150 or US $1400) on a reliable laptop, a MacBook, because my current earnings and professional needs can justify such lavishness. For many a laptop is little more than an Internet tablet with a spell-checking notepad and a few simple games. Most of the machine's memory is used for visual desktop wizardry which quite frankly is a huge overkill. If we remove the cost of proprietary software, a bog standard new laptop, say with a 1.6GHz CPU, 512MB RAM and a 40GB hard-drive, DVD/CDR drive and integrated wireless receiver can be had for as little as £250. If we strip out optical drives and replace the hard drive with compact flash memory, now as cheap as £2 per gigabyte, we can significantly reduce power consumption. By further lowering specifications and optimising software to deliver essential Web connectivity, browsing, word processing, number-crunching and programming functionality we may soon have the £60 (€90 or US $100) laptop, complete with wind-up power generator. Think of it as PSP or Nintendo DS with a keyboard, but without the distraction of moronic games. For children accustomed to wide-screen plasma TVs and game consoles at home such a device would fail to impress. While many technophile may be salivating over Apple's forthcoming iPhone, replete with smudges all over touch screen and with only Apple-approved software (It may use a variant of Unix-based OS X, but will not let you install additional software), the real battle to break the quasi-monopoloy of proprietary computer vendors and produce a tool that will not only bridge the digital divide, but may reverse the intellectual divide, giving the poor educational tools and leaving high-tech hedonism for sheepish comsumers.

Guess what operating system the proposed laptop runs? Linux of course with Firefox and OpenOffice enabling users to access most Web sites and exchanges files in the commonest formats (PDF, ODF and even MS Word 97-2003), but alas no i-Tunes or World of Warcraft compatibility. No wonder neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs support this initiative. Their focus is solely on their stock prices.

Categories
All in the Mind

Letter to The Guardian exposing Corporate Agenda behind its Science Coverage

I read with interest your report about celebrity endorsement of alternative diets and treatments (The truth about celebrity health claims, Wed 03/01/07) . While I agree the media disseminates a multitude of disinformation and scare stories that may lead people to choose unwise diets, may I point out that Sense about Science is a front for the vested commercial and political interests of leading pharmaceutical, biotech and nuclear energy corporations intent on diverting public attention away from the potential long-term environmental and health hazards of their products. Led by a clique with close links to the Frank Furedi sect formerly known as the RCP, then LM Magazine and more recently "Spiked Online", this group promotes an unashamedly technocratic agenda, regularly accusing its adversies of green fascism. Its spnonsors include Association of the British Pharmaceutial Industry (ABPI), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Biochemical Society, BP-Amoco, GlaxoSmithKline, Oxford GlycoSciences, Pfizer, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and Unilever. For more information please visit www.sourcewatch.org and search "Sense About Science" . I trust in the interests of genuine debate the Guardian will afford equal space to those concerned about misleading information produced incessantly by big business.