Thursday, 13 June 2019

Working you to the bone

Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favour of social media. I love it. It keeps me in touch with what some friends and family are up to and, besides, it puts one right into the midst of the marketplace of ideas, whether good, bad or deplorable. Some offerings you might applaud and agree with and others not and, in the case of a few, you just shake your head and move on. On some rare occasion, some truly idiotic or atrocious contribution makes you angry, fume and rage, an extraordinary stream of emotions and reactions that track through the mind whether you are relaxing in the comfort of your home, travelling on the bus or just stealing time from your employer.

         Perhaps the major attraction in social media is that participation is free: it’s a pleasure you don’t have to pay for. Nothing in upfront money. Where do you, these days, get anything so useful and, at times, even addictive, paying? It is a deception, however, although you can’t just say “caveat emptor” because, in ordinary usage, you are not actually buying or forking out. However that may be, should not the sellers also be subject to the warning contained in another Latin expression, ‘caveat venditor’ or ‘seller beware’? But these buccaneers don’t care, do they? Even though they must be fully aware of the answer to the third of my Latin language quotes: “Cui bono?” Who, indeed, benefits from all those freebies being splashed about? Well, you better believe it’s not me or you, friend. The FAANGs, Facebooks, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Googles of this world, or to give them their full, frightening enormity, FAANGY, with YouTube rounding off the predatory sextet, are not doing it out of the kindness of their heart. They’re there just for the money. For them to make their money, they deliver you, bound hand, foot and mind, to their real paymasters: these are the ones who want to sell you stuff.

         Someone, somewhere, wants your soul and is prepared to pay for it. Once they’ve got it, the step to the contents of your purse or your mind is an easy one. You are now property, the modern-day slave-form. And, like the slave-masters of old, they work you to the bone. But this time it is not your physical labour, but instead, your eagerness to amass stuff. Whatever is in the market, they sell, real or virtual. But it is the virtual stuff that poses the greatest threat to the public good. It is now fully established that Facebook, for example, played a leading role in manipulating UK voters to do a Brexit on themselves. And, similarly, Americans who voted in their presidential election a few months later, were manipulated into making a bad choice for their leader, although that vote was complicated by external factors. Besides that kind of manipulation, social media allows and promotes the publication of lies and other fake stories full of destructive propaganda. When questioned about that kind of behaviour, they retreat behind a threadbare curtain of an amendment to the constitution of the United States which, if we are to believe the hype, prohibits censorship in the public sphere. When the platform operators are forced, they may concede, grudgingly and would, sometimes, remove objectionable material from their platforms. A recent example is that post of Nancy Pelosi that was manipulated to make her appear under the influence. ‘No, they can’t touch it’, they say. That would be censorship, horror of horrors, even though they know that the video is a lie. And a few weeks ago, it was a struggle to get Facebook to delete the live-streamed rant of the Christchurch mass-shooter as he went about his murderous business, killing scores of innocent Muslims going about their devotions on a Friday afternoon. I, too, in my own limited experience, have had to deal with Facebook when a horrible anti-Muslimism rant appeared in my feed. When I complained, I was horrified to hear Facebook say that the rant did not breach “community standards”. Which community? Which standards? So, it stood. This is just a minor example of how the platforms neglect what is a public duty to prevent civil dissention. Each of us, individually, has not the power to influence what the FAANGY’s do, but you would have thought that governments, singly, or even collectively, have enough clout to force them to behave responsibly.

         But that, sadly, is not so. Case in point, the Canadian parliament subpoenaed the CEO and COO of Facebook, among others, to explain why they behave the way they do. They were a no-show, instead, they sent lower level officials to face the questions.

So, what do we do with these all-powerful multi-trillion-dollar corporations, whose wealth, individually and combined exceeds that of many countries? The answer, my friend, lies with us. Voting with our feet will send a message that they can’t ignore. But I hear you say, “You first.”

Tell Fren Tru

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Babes & Sucklings: How Antivaxxers will lose the argument

Question: Why are anti-vaxxers the same as Boko Haram?
Another one: How are they so like the Taliban?

Of course, there are many reasons why we shouldn’t cnflate North Americans or Europeans who manifest bad behaviour, such as vaccine hesitancy or refusal, with jihadists like the Taleban or Boko Haram. Boko and the Talys are terrorist groups who kill without logic. They do so, even when you try to protect their children from preventable deadly diseases. 

Why do they do the things that they do? Their rationale, if it can be called that, is that immunization is ‘haram’ or forbidden. But by whom or by what they do not make clear. Even more ridiculous, is their claim that vaccination renders their girl-children unfertile.  Neither of these claims is sensible. Us, reasonable people, simply don’t get it, and are totally befuddled by the Taliban and Boko’s assertion that all western-based science is haram, anyway.

         So, the question is, why would someone living in the West, and being of the West, be unable to inoculate themselves against the bizarre and do a Boko or Taleban on us, despite all the rational knowledge they are immersed in? One would imagine that lifelong exposure to the technological ideas that have proved useful and effective, starting from the ancient Chinese who, reportedly, ingested snake venom as protection against the lethal consequences of the reptiles' bite, and up to and including our present-day practices and procedures. We don’t know how well that Chinese science worked, but we can suppose that it did, because, today, there are, indeed, several oral vaccines that are highly effective in controlling some of the dreadful diseases that threaten the health and lives of children. Chief among these, is oral polio vaccine which, as it happens, is one of the immunizations that seem to get Boko and the Taleban’s goat. 

         But, as well as polio, there are many other public health successes that mass immunization has racked up. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that the world would be in a far darker place today were we not able to enjoy the protections that vaccines afford against scourges like small pox, notorious killer and disfigurer; the holocaust-dealing yellow fever; polio, which, as well as killing, leaves in its wake, a range of crippling disabilities; and diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, rubella, pneumonia, meningitis, Tb; an almost endless roll-call of killers and destroyers. And we haven’t mentioned hepatitis of various sorts, some of which, as well, may trigger the development of some cancers.

         And for those who might think that catching some of these preventable infections is limited only to the infected generation, may we remind them that the casualty list includes the unborn as well, as in the case for rubella, which takes its toll on the babies of mothers who had not acquired immunity either through natural infection or by vaccination. This protection afforded by the vaccinated individual to her fetus is a specific example of ‘herd’ immunity, the concept that says that, by being immunized, you reduce the chances of your neighbour catching a natural infection from you. It is reckoned that, if 95% of people are immune, then it means that the culprit germ cannot spread. Makes sense, doesn’t it? An epidemic is stopped dead in its tracks. What’s there to hate about that?

         It is shameful to observe that in 2019, children are being denied the protection afforded by vaccines because their parents, for a variety of spurious reasons, are refusing those innocents the option of being protected, some in the belief that the vaccines are harmful. Sounds familiar? The result is that the proportion of immunized individuals among us has declined to a dangerously low level, jeopardizing the immunity in the herd. We are all, thereby, placed at risk because some parents arrogate to themselves the option not to protect their child.

         In 1998, former doctor, Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a paper in the Lancet, that claimed evidence that the combination vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) was linked to developmental behavioural disabilities, including autism. That publication triggered a marked fall in vaccination rates in children in UK, Canada and the US, even though the quality of the research has been discredited, not only because of the lack of scientific integrity and rigour, but also because of possible financial impropriety as well.
         Now, fast-forward to 2019. We learn that, among the numerous other reasons why children are not being vaccinated is that their parents are falling prey to an alternative procedure called ‘homeo-prophylaxis’, an offshoot of the shady practice of homeopathy. Not surprisingly, the incidence of measles has been increasing in Canada, for example, with the city of Vancouver leading the way in this dereliction of parental duty. Elsewhere in the western world, the picture is equally dismal, from New York to Florida, to Rome and to Kiev, to Tel Aviv and to Paris, everywhere where parents ought to know better, the children are being let down. And, as we speak, Pakistan has had to suspend a mass polio vaccination campaign because of lethal harassment by the Taliban.
         However, children are fighting back, and where they can, and have full agency, are making the choice for standard vaccination procedures by themselves . “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…”
Tell Fren Tru

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Cash Economy

When you are young, everything looks rosy. Your confidence brims to overflowing. There is nothing that you can’t do. And nothing, it seems, can get or stop you: Serious illness, nor death poses any fears. You are indestructible. But, taking a minute to think, you might just begin to appreciate that the period in which you now so rejoice is just an interregnum. That interval between the close shaves of infancy - the “mewl” and “puke” stage - according to The Bard himself- on the one hand and, on the other, the inevitable decline.

         Anyway, eventually, one gets to a landmark age. Difficult to determine when that is, but it is definitely well beyond mewling and puking a road map that Shakespeare lays out for us, unpicking life’s progress, stage by stage.
         The stage I’m concerned about here is the “round-bellied” one, which, one hopes, does not, prematurely, terminate in disaster, but will seamlessly evolve into the “lean and slippered pantaloon” phase, followed gradually by the weakening of the voice (kind of back to a youthful treble, as he put it) before finally, slipping to the stage of toothlessness and the associated loss of other attributes.
         Shakespeare’s assessment constitutes a brilliant reprise of developmental endocrinology centuries before scientists began to unravel the basic processes in human hormone physiology. However that may be, one might, with some luck, manage to navigate life to its closing act without too much fuss while in the meantime observing some of one’s friends dropping off, one by one, some dramatically, others with less fanfare. Luckily, most do make their exit with their faculties relatively intact.
         The reason I am writing this is because I recently discovered that a friend of longstanding has become considerably less mentally nimble than he used to be, now having to depend on his adult daughter for all his decisions. And then, even worse, personally, at the supermarket the other day, after piling up a mass of groceries, I was unable, at the check-out, to recall the PIN of my credit card. Total blank, however hard I tried, absolutely no recall.
         Alarmed, I had to find out what the hell was going on. According to the WHO, and research conducted by the Alzheimer Disease Institute, the approximate number of people currently living with dementia worldwide, is about  an astonishing 35.6 million, a number which, even more alarmingly, is set to nearly double every 20 years, reaching 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050. Although I may not be around in 2050, there is the possibility that I too, may contribute to these alarming figures long before then. And it seems that, at present, there is not much being done about what has become the new public health emergency…
         You might be wondering what happened to my grocery shopping. I had to resort to cash.
         Cash is still king.
                                                                                                                            Tell Fren Tru

Friday, 21 December 2018

Season's Greetings

Peace On Earth & Goodwill To All

Tell Fren Tru

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Careless Talk

We, like all living things, love to communicate. Indeed, we must, in order to survive.

But humans are the only creatures that communicate through verbal language. (Forget the birds). Ours is a skill that we have fashioned over countless generations into a fine instrument that is not just merely useful between ourselves but is also vitally important in the way we came to shape the entire world.

       It is not yet known with certainty where and how language originated, but some investigators think that the ability to speak arose as a single event in a location in sub-Saharan Africa something like 70,000 to 100,000 years ago. 
From that beginning, language is believed to have travelled along the paths that humans took as they followed the impulse to migrate to and populate destinations all around the world. In that journey of exploration and adventure, language underwent successive mutations into ever more varied versions of the original, embedded within the myriad cultures that emerged along the way.  The linguistic steps in these variations are marked by specific sounds that echo in many of today’s 6000 or so languages. These marker sounds provide the tools that researchers are using to trace the evolutionary stages of language from its inception to our present-day polyglot multiplicity, which allows us to convey ideas, concepts, feelings and emotions.

       Ideas, concepts, feelings and emotions are the currency for transacting with each other. Words are the fabric. We need them to give substance to human intercourse at every level. This is the reason why it is important to treat language with respect. Careless use causes problems. “Careless Talk Cost Lives” was a popular slogan that government propagandists used during WWII to caution their fellow citizens against loose talk that could have jeopardized the security of the country and endanger battlefront lives as well as those on the home front. It is well to remember too, that the state of war that led to that propaganda poster (one among many others) came about because of talk, virulent talk, that had whipped up a nation of 70 million to promote and tolerate atrocities, not just during the war itself, but also in the peace that preceded it. That war too, was the embodiment of personal ambition that was fuelled by propaganda.

       Strictures against loose and dangerous talk are as relevant today as they were eighty years ago now that the world finds itself, again, at a worrying juncture, where words are being deployed as detonator to spark passions that we thought we had buried, or at least, consigned to the subconscious. In these times the sanctity of truth does not seem to matter. On the contrary, it is the time when it must matter most.

       Those who want to dominate the world and create their own perverse version of it, launch their campaign by a direct assault on the very idea of truth, the concepts that rational, thinking people, like you and me, know to be true. These people are assertive. They are also shameless, and they are confident. So confident that they openly declare untrue, things that we know are true, and lies that they know are lies, as facts; and declare facts that they, themselves know are facts, “fake”. Reputable news outlets and agencies are constantly and openly trashed and labelled, together with their journalists, as “enemies of the people”, just because they tell truths that some may not like.

       This kind of behaviour has consequences. But, nevertheless, it goes on almost everywhere. Some follow the lead of the country that is regarded, mostly by themselves, as the citadel of civil liberties, but where the leader says facts and reality are what you make of them. Some of his listeners who lack critical thinking may even be moved to do extreme things, such as mailing pipe bombs to individuals named as “enemies of the people”, or gunning down worshippers in a synagogue on a Saturday morning.

       What goes on in America does not stay in America. Frequently, American projects become benchmarks that some follow almost willy-nilly. Fair enough, we have to take the bad with the good. But often, much of the bad supersedes the good and some leaders take the chance to bamboozle their population, at least temporarily, into accepting that what they do is exactly what the Americans do and want them to do. But in reality, it is just a cover to oppress, in the hope that people are too stupid to recognize what is being done to them. Of course, not all the people are stupid all the time.

       And indeed, in such countries, as elsewhere, there are journalists who refuse to toe the line but insist on practising their profession according to standards and whose words, consequently, put them up against the power structure, thereby exposing themselves to the risk of torture, murder, dismemberment and dispersal of their bodily remains to secret locations, orchestrated by an individual who enjoys the full patronage of the most powerful man on earth. One hundred billion dollars notwithstanding.

Tell Fren Tru