Monday, 29 February 2016

Vanquishing the 'ver-men'

A significant factor in man's ability to obliterate his fellow man, as has happened on countless occasions, is to view him as less than human: mere vermin to be exterminated.

Such a mentality is usually witnessed amongst competing cultures or races; the different and inferior 'others'. It is not, however, exclusive to inter-racial conflicts. It exists within cultures, too, where you have an unwanted subgroup that is, in the least worst instance, pushed to the margins.

Some of the many homeless of Bogotá DC, Colombia.
'I hope they give the dog some food.' (Photo from Facebook.)
In terms of Colombia, it's a question of 'where do you start' as regards these 'inferior' groups. Perhaps that's another reason why little is done to accommodate them, there are just too many — that and of course the fact that a lot of them are not only seen as a subgroup but subhuman as well. Indeed, a street dog generally has a greater chance of being shown some sympathy and nourishment than any of Colombia's numerous destitute. Stories about abused dogs — terrible as they are — tend to make headline news here more frequently than the ongoing human hardship.

Now while the problem is easy to identify — Bogotá's streets are full of 'ghastly' homeless to name but one type of the country's neglected — finding a solution is far from straightforward. How do you improve the lot for people who just don't fit with the dominant, capitalist system? The old saying of 'give a man a fish, he has food for a day; teach a man how to fish and he has food for life' springs to mind.

Yes, education is a help, yet there's a high chance that any 'fish' many of the less well-off Colombians might 'catch' would be just exploited by greater powers higher up the chain of command. This scenario isn't exclusive to Colombia either. In a global context, with a rapidly growing population, the gap between the minority haves and the majority have nots is expanding in tandem.

There is a plausible school of thought arguing that this is just the way things are. The laws of nature suggest there are those who dominate and those who are subjugated. What's more, even if there was a magical solution where the globe's most impoverished were instantly 'upgraded' to a Western middle-class standard, at current consumption levels we'd also need a few more planets magically created in order to sustain us.

Thus, the hope must be that scientific advancements lead to far more efficient ways of going about our daily lives, progress that not only improves conditions for those already living relatively comfortably, but that boosts society as a whole.

On the flip side, if very little changes, the ranks of the global have nots looks set to swell to a point where trying to cater for them will become unsustainable. Save for a planned culling and/or a deadly world war, a systematic neglect may prove the best solution; left to die, quite literally. The doctors might have the cure but it's felt the patients aren't worth saving.

All you have to do is make sure you're on the doctors' side and not seen as one of those surplus-to-requirements 'ver-men'.
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Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Colombian sex files

Colombia's recent high-level gay sex scandal that has caused somewhat of a sensation brings into question, yet again, journalism's role as a watchdog with the public’s interests at its heart (it's always been a grand theory that).
Colombia's former Interior vice-minister, Carlos Ferro, is at the centre of a gay sex scandal ...
Carlos Ferro: Caught with his, um, pants down ...
This latest episode is basically being viewed from two angles. One being that the journalists, chief among them Vicky Dávila, who revealed a video of the now former Interior vice-minister Carlos Ferro speaking (and a little more) with a police officer about performing lewd homosexual acts did the state some amount of service. This 'Comunidad del Anillo' (Fellowship of the Ring) as it's being dubbed — an alleged gay prostitution network in the police force which has also led to the resignation of its chief General Rodolfo Palomino — cannot be tolerated in such circles.

The other view is that the broadcasting and publishing of this was nothing more than an attempt at character assassination on the powerful public figures at its centre — an attempt that proved successful. Their sex lives have little to do, or at least should have little to do, with their professional lives.

You can make a case for both outlooks.

Taking the first viewpoint on board, that both Ferro and Palomino portrayed a public image of happily married, heterosexual men can be seen as a grand act of deception towards the Colombian public. As is said of any aspiring US president, it appears most Colombians like to know where and with who their public figures sleep at night, and ideally that should be with their husband or wife.

Whatever about the legal status of prostitution in Colombia (for the record it is legal in certain 'tolerated zones'), the oldest profession in the book isn't seen in a positive light among the conservative majority, even more so when it's homosexual in nature.

Colombia's outgoing police chief Rodolfo Palomino watches his successor being sworn in ...
Rodolfo Palomino (moustache) looks on as his successor is sworn in.
Yet taking it from the opposite angle (sorry!), what these or any people do for sexual pleasure — as long as it's legal, obviously — should not even be a public concern, let alone a resigning matter. They should be judged by their professional performance, no more no less. This is the view President Santos, himself a former journalist, appears to side with.

Another thing to consider in all this are the beliefs of the journalists in question. As mentioned, the main protagonist is Vicky Dávila. Being a Catholic she may view homosexuality in a very negative light, that it is fundamentally wrong, something that a good number of strict and not-so-strict Colombian Catholics and Christians believe.

In such a scenario, there may have been a crusade element, bordering on vindictive, in her pursuing this story and bringing it to light. That is to ask, did she have a genuine public interest in revealing this — a 'true journalist's' raison d'être — or was it more personal? Whatever the case she, like her 'targets', has paid a high price for her actions. She's now out of a job.

Official investigations have begun into the 'Fellowship of the Rings' to ascertain what crimes, if any, have been committed. Considering the daily life or death problems that Colombia faces, alongside more crippling corruption issues, you could see this whole episode as 'much ado about practically nothing'.

Monday, 15 February 2016

2021: An Irish fiscal space odyssey

What heady times they are experiencing back on the homeland. Excitement is almost at an unprecedented level as the electorate in the Republic of Ireland gets ready to go to the polls on February 26th to vote for a new parliament.

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
If we've any left after we appease international creditors. (From Facebook.)
In the relatively short campaign — the election was only called earlier this month — one of the headline issues, going by national media anyway, has been that massive thorn in every Irish person's side: the fiscal space.

No, it's not some new Hollywood blockbuster that depicts us Paddies in a shady light. Rather, in the language that we 'ordinary folk' use, it's basically that sexy issue of how much money the new government will have to play around with during its five-year term in office — should it last that long that is. Who needs a Donald Trump to glam things up when you've got fiscal space to concern yourself with?

OK, OK, being serious for a moment, every country, in theory anyway, should be doing its best to balance the financial books, so it is an important issue. What's more, promises are ten-a-penny at election time, so by knowing the financial restraints the electorate and media can call the bluff on politicians who have overly fantastical manifestos.

Yet, coming back to Donald Trump and the ostentatious, populous, superficial type of campaigning we've seen in the US, the idea of talking about financial constraints doesn't seem part of the (Hollywood-style) script. Sure the United States has a massive national debt, but it's just numbers on a page. And this is the United States we're referring to: a country that has been practically built on bankruptcy.

It's only small, insignificant states, such as Ireland and others in worse conditions, that concern themselves about such tedious matters. And the piper's fee is relatively large. Some of us not only have to stick to the mantra but actually practice it as well so that it at least appears that all this borrowed money will be paid back some day; the system would of course fail without it.

As ever with such things, it's not those preaching the need to be financially prudent who tend to suffer the reality of meeting imposed monetary targets. No, it's the hard-pressed working classes who usually bear the brunt of state-enforced austerity — a state lying prostrate and feeble in front of the globe's all-powerful financial markets. The politicians who bow to every condition enforced by these untouchable forces live in a different, sheltered world to the rest of us little people.

But hey, who are we to pass judgement? In the Irish context, our 'leaders' are boldly and selflessly crunching numbers (but not their salaries) in a bid to find a formula to conquer the dark fiscal space — in the national interest that is.

Never mind the day-to-day, real issues blighting the masses, this space stuff is way more exciting.
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Friday, 12 February 2016

'IQuiz you not; Bogotá's top trivia night is back!'

It's a new year (are we still allowed to call it that?) and time for a new IQuiz. Yes, that somewhat novel — in a Bogotá context anyway — night out that has taken the city by, um, storm. Well a sort of inconspicuous storm.
IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz": the inaugural winners ...
The first ever IQuiz winners. Can they win again?!
It was a case of 'eight not out' last year with each of them being fairly successful for a fledgling event. The concept of a pub table quiz generally doesn't require explaining to Western expats, but for some Colombians it does. It's not a 'serious' test of one's knowledge, just a few differently-themed rounds of generally light-hearted questions in a fun, slightly alcohol-fuelled (if that’s your wont) environment. And you do it with company; friends and/or strangers. You could call it — at a stretch — salsa for those who don't want to get off their seats.

This time, for the first one of 2016, we're trialling a new venue; the idea always has been that IQuiz can be a moveable feast. So after alternating between The Pub's (or the 'Irish Pub' as some call it) La Candelaría and Zona T venues, for this latest renewal we're at the newly opened Pub House on Carrera Séptima with Calle 51 in Chapinero.

As a heads-up for this latest edition (keep it to yourself), we've got an audio round based on Oscar-winning songs, a picture round where you've to name the beer from its logo, a crossword puzzle round, a round of 'firsts' and a couple of general knowledge rounds.

Now while a quiz is nothing without the participants (and thanks to all those who have come and, hopefully, are going to come), having decent prizes also helps. In this regard, our host venues have been helpful providing free drinks and discounts while the trophy prize comes courtesy of the Irish whiskey Tullamore DEW. Ron Medellín is also on board this time around. The sponsorship is of course well received; more is always welcome, too!

So if you find yourself looking for something to do on Thursday February 18th, you could do worse than check out IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz"; honestly, you could. The Facebook event page has all the details. Plus, with St Patrick's Day coming up next month, we're in line to have an IQuiz special to celebrate that. What fun times ahead; here’s hoping anyway!

*For an idea of what to expect, below was our picture round from a previous quiz. How many of the landmarks do you know? (No cheating!):

A previous picture round from IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz".

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Friday, 5 February 2016

Colombia's arrested development

I've never really agreed to doing what are variable types of work by numbers. For example, back in my radio newsroom days we would be given a certain amount of stories to file daily, while the length of the hourly and main news bulletins had to be the same each day.

Policía Nacional de Colombia: far from the worst in the world ...
Colombia's 'Goodfellas', at times ...
Basically, with the odd exception, the news always had to fit certain parameters, regardless of what was happening, or not happening as the case sometimes was.

Fair enough, there are programme and ad-break schedules to stick to and 'the listeners', so we are told, like familiarity and routine. It's dangerous to mess with their heads you know, it could lead to chaos.

There are other areas, however, where this working to set numbers is far more questionable, to the point that it's potentially dangerous.

My new housemate is a recently graduated Colombian police officer and she told me how when out on patrol — that's two cops on the beat — they have to make a minimum number of arrests per shift. In her case it's three, but for others that threshold can be higher.

OK, 'but you're talking about crime-ridden Colombia' I hear you say; they should easily be able to meet whatever arrest requirements are stipulated. In many places, that is probably the case.

Yet having a minimum target can work negatively in two, somewhat opposing ways. Firstly, should officers be on the beat in Barrio Utopia, or more realistically just be on duty in a place where not much arrest-warranting activities are happening on the day, meeting their target is then difficult. With the pressure on, the temptation to 'invent' arrestable offences will surely be high. Who knows, they might try and push somebody's buttons who had previously been minding his own business, drive him over the line and then you have 'insulting a police officer' or the like: out come the cuffs.

On the other hand, if you have officers who, let's say, aren't the most consummate of professionals and are stationed in a heavy, 'caliente' location, once they've reached their arrest total, the onus to continue crime fighting might be low: 'I've done what I've had to do today and that's it. That stabbing can go by the wayside.'

For sure this kind of stuff isn't unique to Colombia (and, as I've mentioned before, I find the police here pretty trustworthy), but the bottom line is, there shouldn't be any need for it. Incidents of crime fluctuate depending on time and place. The goal for any upholders of law and order is to try and keep it under control. It's pretty obvious to tell when that's not happening, regardless of what the numbers say.
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