Why a Muslim Registry is a Bad Idea

Originally posted in answer to the question What is so bad about a Muslim registry? on Quora.

I am going to provide an IT perspective on this question.

Yes, that’s right, an Information Technology, computers and the-people-who-deal-with-the-machines-collecting-and-crunching-the-data-perspective.

Why? Because when someone decides to ‘create a registry’ someone (similar to myself) is tasked with the job of creating a database AND reports generated by that database.

As illustrated by the wonderful commentary generated by the Y2Gay database discussions, IT has an important perspective on these things: Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective

Creating Databases Means Identifying Key Data

When a database is created, the first thing that must be done is simply this:

  1. identify the key data being collected
  2. identify the reports and other deliverables created by the database

While you might thing the second item could be restated as ‘identify the reason for the database’ nothing could be further from the truth. When dealing with non-computer people it is not unusual to have someone demand that a database be created to gather information “that creates a positive customer service experience for our customers!”…or something equally unclear yet very pep-rally appropriate. Then, after talking to multiple people and FINALLY getting them to explain what, exactly, they are going to DO with the data, the unofficial and IT specific purpose changes to: “create a mailing list.”

This is one of those near-universal experiences people in IT like to laugh and complain about. It applies to government and private sector equally.

So, in the case of a Muslim registry, the first step (key data) is partially addressed in the notes included with this question:

I am shocked there is not already a registry of ALL citizens with info such as race, gender, religion, languages etc. At least a Muslim registry is a step in the right direction, seeing as a great threat to America happens to belong to a single religion (I know most Muslims are not terrorists).

As noted in other answers, many of these elements are already gathered through existing databases, like the US Census and ID Cards.

Don’t Make Me Fill Out ANOTHER Form!

When data is already being collected and reported, the individuals responsible for that data tend to get cranky when someone comes in asks them to fill out another form, create another report, and generally re-enter the same stuff AGAIN. There’s also the possibility of entering errors into the data source when it’s being created/generated/imported/modified multiple times by multiple people.

Of the items listed, everything except religion and language are already included on divers licenses and state IDs. The data collected by the DMV is free and available to the general public (personally, I do NOT agree with this massive dumping of personal information…but I digress) so an enterprising database designer could…potentially…import the DMV data and connect it to the missing elements: religion and language.

With the right connections and political power, it could also connect to the state and federal databases containing anyone and everyone who has ever been arrested for any reason (including those cleared as innocent) AND the databases maintained by the department of homeland security, the no-fly list, and even the records maintained by public schools. Several of these databases INCLUDE religion and race.

In short, we COULD create a complete profile on every person residing within the United States neatly coordinated within a single location just by importing already existing data.

Explain to me…again…why we are doing this?

That brings us to the second question – what, specifically, is going to be DONE with this data?

Since the Muslim registry enters into the network of existing information specifically for the purpose of:

  1. collecting religion and language
  2. identifying terrorists
  3. focusing specifically on Muslims as potential terrorists

Then the database being created is more like a report-generating app that connects all existing data, spits out lists of known Muslims, their home address, the school they attend, the language they speak, connections to known terrorists groups, their place of worship, and anything else that might be deemed important.

Presumably, this information would be provided to people in the field, who would add information to individual files, as needed.

As an IT person, I’m thinking: soooo…you want to re-create the department of homeland security?

As noted above, all of this information already exists and it is a well known fact that federal agencies have made concerted effort to connect and share data. I guarantee you, this sort of thing already exists – along with similar reports on every religion, hate group, environmentalist group, activist community and whatever else someone in ANY federal level policing agency (or state level or whatever) might deem important to know…for whatever reason,

In fact, if human behavior remains consistent (and it usually does) there are probably databases and reports that focus on individuals, groups and concerns going back to the beginning of data collection – and people working in all levels of law enforcement who occasionally stumble across these things and scratch their heads wondering why in holy hades do they even HAVE this?

Duplicate with different purpose…and the reason is what?

So, again, why are we building this?

Now we are getting down to brass tacks. The key term here is registry.

A registry managed by the government contains data on people that is made publicly available (GovernmentRegistry.org – Public Records Online). A category-specific registry is usually (always?) focused on presenting information about people who are deemed dangerous enough to warn the general public on a permanent basis.

For example:

Therefore, this isn’t data collection, this is data distribution to the general public.

Whats Wrong With a Muslim Registry?

Creating a database of all individuals who associate with a specific religion and making it publicly available for the express purpose of warning all individuals NOT associated with that religion to be wary of interaction due to potential terrorism…

Yeah, that’s a problem.

Why? Because that’s not purpose-driven data collection, that’s propaganda.

I suggest reading any of the other posts that focus on the registries maintained by the Nazis or the crimes committed again the Japanese here in the USA during WWII. I’m sure there are other equally powerful examples and all of them come down to the same thing: when the government ostracizes a group of people and generates a marketing campaign that vilifies all members of said group…and a registry would achieve that goal (and ONLY that goal)…then bad things happen.

Really bad things.

We don’t need that here in the United States.

Can Technology Solve Poverty?

Technology can address the symptoms of poverty

Apps are basically high tech communication devices. They are really useful for gathering and distributing information. In that respect, they can help address the symptoms of poverty by providing poverty survivors access to:

  • Information about potential resources.
  • Free educational resources, tutoring services and MOOCs.
  • Crisis lines addressing everything a person without health care or the cash to pay for professional help, including: medical questions, parenting questions, suicide hotlines, 12-step program hotlines, etc.
  • Legal advice
  • Job listings, resume advice, job advice, etc.
  • Establishing funding platforms to meet the needs of schools and similar resources in poverty stricken neighborhoods.
  • Applying for assistance through online forms (it is important to note that this has both positive and negative affects on access to those resources)

These apps can also affect public perception by answering the questions and addressing the prejudices surrounding poverty. They can attempt to educate the masses about the realities of poverty and the truth about who poverty survivors really are, including those of us who have experienced homelessness.

The voices of poverty survivors

All of these things currently exist and all of them require access to the internet and the specific technology required to connect to the applications. While there are plenty of poverty survivors (homeless included) who have some form of smart phone (Tracfone offers several android phones for less than $100 and a SUPER cheap pay-as-you-go plan…it’s really easy to get one), for many people that is where the technology ends.

Being able to leverage these opportunities often requires access to more than a low grade android cell phone. Determined poverty survivors with access to a reasonably well funded public library will use the computer lab to access all of these things. Others just shrug their shoulders and assume they don’t apply to them.

The thing that is missing from all of these resources and opportunities is the voice of poverty survivors themselves. Please watch the following TED talk by Mia Birdsong. She says it far better than I ever could:

Can technology solve poverty?

No. Poverty is not caused by technology, so technology is not close enough to the source of the problem to have a profound effect on the problem.

Technology does not pay the bills or end human rights violations. It does not block human trafficking, slavery, violence, exploitation or stalking (cyber or face-to-face). It does not end racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, slander or classicism. It does not prevent police brutality or government corruption. It does not put food on the table, a roof over your head or clothes on your back. It does not force your employer to pay a living wage – or provide the paycheck that is owed to you.

It doesn’t even get you a job. Access to long lists of jobs posted to websites like LinkedIn is helpful, but it is NOT a job. If one of those job postings happen to materialize into a job, there’s no guarantee it will pay a living wage.

Poverty can be positively affected by technology. I encourage those with this particular skill set to look for ways to use those skills to positively change the world in every possible way, including addressing the symptoms of poverty. But never forget that these are symptoms and not root cause. Until the root cause is addressed, poverty will remain epidemic in this country and around the world.

-Originally posted to Quora in response to the (frequently asked) question Can apps be used to tackle societal problems like hunger or homelessness or income insecurity?

Mass Blindness: Why don’t American’s see the poverty in their own backyards?

The most common reasons for mass blindness are as follows:

  1. Prosperity theology – Wikipedia This highly flawed religious belief took root in this country before it became the USA. It never left. People still think that poverty survivors (rape victims, abuse victims, people struck by illness, etc.) are cursed by God because they are ‘bad people.’ It’s religion-sanctioned victim-blaming, and it’s long-term effects have been extremely destructive.
  2. Welfare queen – Wikipedia: A highly effective political marketing/propaganda campaign utilized by President Reagan which vilified all poverty survivors based on a fictitious character developed, loosely, out of one female African American criminal who was convicted of fraud. It is a well-established fact that this campaign was an attempted to garner the support of white voters by demonizing black people – and it worked.
    1. The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen’
    2. The Real Story of Linda Taylor, America’s Original Welfare Queen
    3. Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” myth: How the Gipper kickstarted the war on the working poor
    4. The myth of the modern welfare queen
    5. Return of the ‘Welfare Queen’
  3. Deserving or undeserving poor: A European belief that was imported to the United States by European immigrants and became a permanent fixture within our culture and politics. It is a well-established fact that the hyper-examination of the relative morality of people surviving a life-threatening crisis is counterproductive to the efforts to reduce poverty, homelessness, and everything that goes with them. But the social belief remains and grant money, political favor, and individual donations are often tied to proof that poverty survivors deserve assistance.
    1. Deserving vs. undeserving poor — for the love of God, here we go again
    2. deserving-vs-undeserving-poor
  4. Performance Poverty: Thanks to the combined efforts of politicians, Hollywood and authors like Charles Dickens, people in the USA have come to expect a very specific ‘show’ when they look for proof of poverty. Some expect to be entertained, others want proof that their investment of money and/or empathetic emotion is ‘worth it’ and, therefore, want a proper performance.
    1. Comparison arguments: This is frequently accompanied by non-logical comparison arguments like:
      1. “Look at these photos of poor people in Africa! Poor people in the USA are FAT, so they CAN’T be poor…not really.” The photos shown are invariably images of people surviving war, plague and/or drought, thereby leaving them so devoid of resources that their ribs are showing through their chest. All reasonable discussions about the realities of poverty in the USA are then dismissed because those people don’t ‘look poor.’
      2. Example: What is the biggest slum in the U.S.? There are American’s who answered this question with ‘they don’t exist here,’ and then proceeded to post photos of ‘real slums’ in other countries. These answers are then debunked by other Americans who proceed to post photos of slums here in the USA.
    2. Slum tourism – Wikipedia: Upper-class Americans are known to make entertainment out of poverty by traveling to other countries and gawking at the poverty survivors in those areas. It’s…unethical…to say the least. It’s also NOT restricted to international travel. It happens here in the USA.
    3. Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol) – Wikipedia Every Christmas season local theater’s put on yet another performance of a Christmas Carol. There are old movies shown on TV and sometimes a new version is released. ONCE AGAIN the world watches as the poor are stomped on by Scrooge and yet, one particularly saintly and sickly child keeps his faith in both God and man, showing great generosity in his ability to extend forgiveness even to Scrooge – a fact which proves to be the tipping point for massive spiritual transformation within the old wicked miser. HURRAY! The Noble savage, in the form of a handicapped child without access to health care, has given proper service to the power-holding upper class by successfully transforming the man’s soul just in time for his death of old age! Americans of all ages leave the theaters filled with Holiday Cheer and a destructively erroneous image of the ‘deserving poor’ in the form of Tiny Tim, as well as an even more destructive storyline concerning the proper interaction between rich and poor. (No, I am not a fan of this story.)
  5. Service Trips: church groups, schools, and community organizations have a frustratingly common habit of taking groups of people (children, in particular) on service trips. Instead of examining and addressing poverty in their own city/town/neighborhood, they pile into a bus or a caravan of cars and go to some magical ‘poverty land,’ like the Appalachian mountains, where they help the ‘real poor.’ Now, just to be clear, poverty survivors exist in large numbers in the Appalachian mountains – the poverty in this region is VERY real (America’s poorest white town and Why Poverty Persists In Appalachia). I object the service trip culture because it presents and solidifies through action the idea that poverty ONLY exists in the Appalachian mountains or other well-known poverty-stricken regions. This directly and significantly contributes to the collective blindness the general public has towards poverty in the USA. It even has this weird way of convincing poverty survivors themselves that their own poverty is, at least partially, a figment of their own imagination because they don’t live in one of the recognized ‘poor areas.’ For example:  I may be homeless, but at least I don’t live in the Appalachian mountains – really???

-Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Do Americans care about their poor people?

Service Project Ideas: Helping the Homeless

If you really want to use your service project to help the homeless, then consider doing the following:

  1. Make a List About YOU: Make a list of all of the key characteristics that describe you, right now, as a person. Try to make it as exhaustive as possible.
    1. What categories do you fit into? For example: race, gender, religion, sexual identity, family situation (e.g.: kids, no kids, married, single), education level, health status (e.g.: healthy, diabetes, food allergies, disabled, etc.)
    2. Identify those categories that you think are most important during homelessness. For example: Diabetes is potentially deadly without proper diet and/or medical care, adult shelters will not take anyone under age 21, and caring for children while homeless is extremely difficult.
  2. Imagine Yourself Homeless: Picture yourself facing some catastrophic financial or physical emergency that leaves you instantly homeless right now. What would you do? Where would you go?
  3. Research: Do a little research and identify those resources that you would attempt to utilize in that situation.
  4. Make Contact: Contact those organizations and tell them you are looking for:
    1. Volunteer work to complete a service project.
    2. Opportunities to meet and work with people who are currently homeless and similar to yourself in a few key ways. Example short lists:
      1. 21 years old, female, no children.
      2. Over 50 with diabetes
      3. 35 years old, male, single parent, 3 kids
      4. 26 years old, lesbian, 2 dogs
  5. Listen: Let the organization tell you what they need help with and then do your best to provide assistance.
  6. Reflect: After a few weeks of volunteer work, sit down and re-imagine yourself homeless. Based on what you now know, what would you do? What are the dangers and challenges other people, just like you, are facing? Are any of those things particularly surprising? What is your biggest fear?

All of this will provide some real insight into what it feels like to be homeless AND the many unique and often maddeningly difficult challenges people surviving homelessness are forced to face.

Follow up that experience by pursuing some tools to help you make a positive impact on poverty and homelessness in the future:

  1. Social Justice: Take a social justice workshop (if you can) and pay particular attention to the justice issues faced by poverty survivors (homeless included).
  2. Mentoring/Internship: If you complete the first part of this plan and decide that you really want to do more – contact the non-profit and ask for a mentor or an internship. Getting to know people who’ve built a career out of fighting poverty and homelessness is far more important and useful than any number of textbooks, news articles, books, workshops, etc.
  3. Emergency Plan: If you were facing a serious emergency that would place you into a homeless situation, what would you do. Take some time with this, really identify the financial and physical needs that would have to be addressed. How can you plan for the worst right now? How can you face a catastrophic financial emergency and get through it? What is your plan? Keeping yourself out of homelessness is important! It’s extremely difficult to survive homelessness, much less combat it while trying to survive. It’s also important to remember…ALWAYS remember!…that anyone can experience homelessness at any time. Poverty is an equal opportunity employer.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question: What can I do as a service project to help out the homeless?

Reasons for Avoiding Homeless Shelters

There are many reasons why homeless people avoid using the local shelter. Some of the more commonly known reasons are a lack of sanitation, infestation with bugs or rodents, extremely dangerous people already using the shelter, problems with theft, enforced sobriety rules and being banned from the shelter for previous actions while staying there.

Here are a few more items to add to that list:

Social stigma: If a person has a vehicle or (even better) a camper they can use, then parking in some random parking lot for the night is more socially acceptable than sleeping at a shelter. Unfortunately, some shelter volunteers are there for the express purpose of identifying ‘those people’ and pointing them out to anyone and everyone who will listen. I’ve actually watched well respected and well connected ‘pillers-of-society’ do this…aggressively…on many (MANY!) occasions over the years.

Employment: If you’re serious about acquiring or maintaining employment, then staying at the shelter can be a really bad idea. People talk and word gets around. If your employer finds out you are staying at the shelter, he or she may decide to eliminate you due to the perceived risks associated with hiring a ‘homeless person.’ This is regardless of how long you’ve worked for that employer or how good your work has been and continues to be.

Abuse: Anyone running from an abusive relationship will be trying to find a safe place where they cannot be found. Shelters are not safe places for people running from a stalker, domestic violence, or similar threat of violence. It’s too easy to be found AND for the abuser to enter the premises of a shelter. If a bed in a battered women’s shelter is not available…or if the individual is male (men face abuse too)…then the standard adult shelter may be exceptionally unsafe.

Children: Even shelters that make accommodations for families with children can be exceptionally dangerous for kids and teens. Depending on the situation, the number of people using the facility (read: is it crowded?) and the way the shelter is managed, a parent may assess the situation and decide that it is simply too dangerous for the kids.

Discrimination: Shelters are often run by private non-profits and religious organizations. Therefore, some of these shelters feel they have the right to require anyone who uses their services to participate in their particular brand of religion. They also believe they have the right to deny assistance to anyone they consider to be ‘immoral’ – this includes people who are LGBT, devoted practitioners of other religions, members of races or ethnicities the group dislikes, and pretty much anything else. Sometimes a court case will be brought against a shelter for doing this sort of thing, but finding (paying) a lawyer is extremely difficult for all poverty survivors, even more so for homeless people.

Forced Adoption or Abortion: There are ‘shelters’ that ‘help’ pregnant women by providing care during the pregnancy with the aggressively enforced assumption that those women will give their children up for adoption (arranged by the shelter, through their network of lawyers and other adoption professionals, all of whom get a cut of the final sale…sorry…adoption). Sometimes these same shelters will do everything in their power to force women to abort babies that are difficult to adopt out (e.g.: they are not a popular racial mix). Bottom line? Word gets around and pregnant women who have found themselves homeless will go to extreme lengths to avoid these places and with good reason – even when other shelters refuse to provide services to pregnant women.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question Why are homeless people still on the streets when there are shelters for them to go to?

Homeless Youth Shelters

Homeless Youth

There are youth shelters throughout the United States but there are far fewer of them than adult shelters and sometimes they don’t advertise their location for safety reasons. Often youth shelters are not included in resources listing. For example: I did a quick search for all shelters in Duluth, MN through Homeless Shelters | Find Homeless Shelters | Homeless Shelter Search and the local youth shelter was not listed, despite having a website and generally being as visible as a youth shelter can be. This means that children and youth find out about shelters through other homeless children and youth, or through the staff at the adult shelters.

Adult shelters will not take children without an accompanying adult and sometimes they will turn away families because they have children – other times they will turn away adults without children, it all depends on the shelter. So homeless kids without a guardian frequently sleep and survive on the street.

A few years back, I interviewed a few people at the Life House youth shelter in Duluth MN and they made some very interesting points about the unique challenges in securing funding for a youth shelter. They admitted that many children in Duluth were forced to sleep outside because the shelter simply did not have enough beds. But they also said the funding wasn’t JUST for beds. Homeless children need an adult support network, schooling, counseling, positive discipline tactics, stability and a litany of other things that can’t be found in an adult shelter or on the street. While the Life House provides all of these things, they have to PAY the adults to do them.

That particular town had an extensive network of services for children, including a very active foster care program and a crisis shelter (usually used by parents who need childcare while addressing an emergency) through Lutheran Social Services (http://www.lssmn.org) as well as several abuse-oriented shelters and programs. Yet, the local homeless service providers estimated that at least 25–30 kids were sleeping on the streets every night. Duluth MN is not a big city. It’s a small-to-medium sized market, at best.

Minneapolis is a city (not a BIG city like New York, but a city) and it has a significantly larger population of homeless youth. There are shelters: Youth Shelter Information But there’s never enough resources to meet the overwhelming need.

Here is where I see the BIGGEST problem in all of this: I have heard it said that a child generally lasts about 20 minutes before someone on the street snatches them. Pimps, child abusers and human traffickers of all kinds recognize a runaway or otherwise desperate child and lures them away with promises of food and shelter. 20 minutes!

I personally experienced being lured. I was 16 years old, traveling alone, reading a book in a Milwaukee bus station. Two pimps sat themselves down on either side of me and proceeded to play good-cop-bad-cop, trying to entice or force me out of my chair and into the street – with them. The fact that I knew a) exactly what was happening and b) how to get rid of them tells you something about the people in my life at that time. While I was street smart enough to recognize and avoid that situation, I also had someplace to go. I was hungry and completely out of money, but I had a bus ticket and a destination. I could skip a meal or two.

How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know when they identified me as a target because I’d been in the city a few hours, but when they approached me I’d been sitting at the bus station for about 20 minutes.

Place a child/youth who is naive or desperate in that situation and these guys can get away with pretty much anything. Having enough shelters with enough beds for every child in need of help is a life and death matter for homeless children.

Sadly, that’s not our current reality.

Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Where can homeless youth (under 18) find shelter in the USA?

Also see:

Evaluating a Favorite Fiction List

What does a favorites list say about a specific individual?

When a college recruiter, potential employer, first date or an acquaintance inquires about a favorite book, they are usually trying to get a sense of who the other person is on a more personal level.

I love the discussions that can develop out of this sort of question. I also remain extremely cautious about using the list itself as proof of personality, ethics or beliefs.

Beware! You have entered the land of dangerous assumptions.

There is no ‘should’ in a favorites list. It doesn’t matter what a person’s inner circle or society as a whole thinks; each person chooses according to their own private, gut reaction. The books placed on that very special shelf within my house are not the same as the books proudly displayed on the favorites shelf in your house. Every list is different. Every. Single. One.

It is impossible to evaluate an individual, based on a list of books, titles without knowing why those titles were selected.

Wordery.com

My Favorites List

As an example, here is a selection of titles from my own favorites list (roughly in order according to publication date):

Just glancing over this list, what jumps out at you? When this list is evaluated without discussion, the following details are usually the center of focus…

Wordery.com

Common literary cannons utilized by most universities:

  • Women’s literature: 3
  • Multi-cultural literature: 3
  • Native American literature: 1
  • African American literature: 1
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction: 1
  • LGBT literature: 1
  • Pulitzer prize winners: 1
  • Not recognized by academic circles: 2

The authors:

Wordery.com

  • 5 women
  • 2 Men
  • 4 Americans
    • 1 African American
    • 1 Native American
    • 2 White
  • 1 Czechoslovakian
  • 2 British

While this numeric evaluation is interesting and easy to identify, it is most important to remember that it has little to nothing to do with the process of selecting a favorite.

Favorites Selection Process

To understand the selection process we must examine an individual’s primary categories. For example, my definitions are as follows (links are to my in-progress book lists on GoodReads.com):

  • Favorite: Any combination of the following:
      • Highly memorable books that provide a strong positive feeling.
      • Books that are re-read or referenced regularly.
      • A person can’t imagine life without a copy of that text.
      • Useful to the point of being necessary for day-to-day living.

    Wordery.com

  • Impact : Titles that significantly changed perspective or left a strong impression.
  • Enjoy: Fun to read. Highly forgettable pulp fiction that is perfect for a few hours of mindless relaxation.
  • Enjoy Plus: Somewhere between Enjoy and Favorite.

My definition of Favorite allows for the inclusion of any genre of text, not just novels. This is important to know because, under these circumstances, the question “what is your favorite book” could be answered with a cookbook, auto-maintenance manual, reference manual or anything else that happens to be particularly useful at that moment.

Reasons Behind Fiction Selections

Wordery.com

Because favorite novels are so intimately personal, the only possible way to truly understand the ‘meaning’ provided by a favorites list is by delving into the reasons why the individual made those selections.

In my case, every one of the novels in my list has one or more female characters who defies society’s norms to carve out a self-determined life for herself.

Sometimes the life-path resulted in catastrophe (e.g.: Wuthering Heights)  and other times it provided the best possible outcome a character could have hoped for (e.g.: Their Eyes Were Watching God). In some cases she was sexually free and aggressively confident (e.g.: Rubyfruit Jungle) and in others she was a virgin who refused to give in to peer pressure (e.g.: Voices of Dragons).

They are warriors (e.g.: Lord of The Rings), cautiously defiant and politically subversive teenagers (e.g.: Truckstop Rainbows) and strong young women who choose to live according to traditions and culture of their people (e.g.: The Ancient Child).

Whatever the circumstances, dangers or personal objectives, every one of these stories describes at least one woman who took life head-on and blazed a trail of her own making. This is a specific scenario that I am drawn to on a deep level, so the titles are placed on my favorites list.

Wordery.com

Properly Using a Favorites List

If you ask a potential employee, new friend or long-standing acquaintance for their favorite books list, remember that the list is the beginning of the conversation and not the end of the analysis.

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Space Satellites Are Not Afraid Of YOU

The use of satellite imagery in the fight against human rights violations is both important and fascinating. Amnesty International explains the power of technology like this:

Importantly for efforts to secure justice and accountability for the gravest of crimes under international law, remote sensing is replicable, and offers evidentiary value as we move closer toward a system of international justice that minimizes impunity for these grave crimes. These relatively new data – such as remote sensing data and corresponding analysis – cannot be intimidated or threatened, and enjoy permanence that allows for even retrospective documentation.

Remote Sensing for Human Rights, Amnesty International

This technology was used to examine political prison labor camps in North Korea and produced hard evidence that the camps are not being shut down, as promised by the North Korean government. In fact, they appear to be growing in size.

The report contains copies of images and detailed analysis of those images. It also presents information from survivors, including the following:

According to testimonies from former inmates in kwanliso 15, all inmates were subject to forced labour for between 10 to 12 hours daily in dangerous conditions in the production facilities, mines, logging and farming. Failure to meet the work quotas could lead to reduction or discontinuation of food rations. According to a couple, Kim and Lee (full names withheld), who were detained in kwanliso 15 between 1999 and 2001,

“We worked in the farms (at kwanliso 15) from 7am to 8pm. We cultivated corn. We were divided to work in units comprising 10-15 people each. We were given a daily production target that we had to meet. If the unit did not meet the daily target, the unit-members were punished collectively. During the course of our three-year detention, often we did not meet our targets because we were always hungry and weak. We were punished with beatings and also reductions in our food quota. In addition to that, in the Ideology Struggle Sessions that were held after work, those who did not meet the target were severely criticized and beaten by other inmates.”

According to prison official Mr. Lee who worked in kwanliso 16, inmates used to spend most of their time working in dangerous conditions, were overworked and had very little time to rest. In most cases, they had to work until they fulfilled their work quotas. After their work, they had to attend self-criticism meetings. Only after these meetings were they allowed to rest; mostly between 12 midnight and 4am. He had witnessed accidents in the work place, many of which were fatal.

North Korea, New satellite images show continued investment in the infrastructure of repressionAmnesty International, October 2013

The same imagery was combined with Tomnod crowd sourcing to identify locations of illegal fishing on Lake Malta, known for rampant human rights violations, including a disturbingly large number of of child slaves.

Visit Tomnod to participate in currently running crowd sourced projects or review the results of past campaigns.

Slave Free City

As the world enters the holiday season I have been doing a lot of thinking about the issue of modern slavery. These things may not seem to go together, but I recently finished the Ending Slavery MOOC and (to complete a class assignment) started trying to complete my holiday shopping with exclusively slave-free products. This is much harder than it sounds! It’s also something that really struck a nerve with me because giving slave-tainted holiday-season gifts or chocolates is just…well…wrong! I don’t care what high holiday you celebrate during the winter solstice – whether Santa visits your house or if the event is entirely religious – giving gifts made from slave labor, CHILD slaves in particular, is counter to the spirit of the season.

The course then introduced the concept of a slave free city. The idea is simply this: develop the support, networking, community organizations and whatever other resources are necessary to completely eliminate slavery from a single city. This isn’t a long-distant effort to assist people in other countries, this is a targeted program designed to eliminate slavery and human trafficking, in all of its forms, from your own home town.

There’s even an entire conference devoted to the topic (and I really really really want to go!): Slave Free City Summit (SFCSummit)

How and why have I never heard of this before? Sadly, the answer to my question is this: it’s a new concept, still being developed and tested. But I am convinced that it both can and MUST work. This effort intersects with the efforts of people fighting homelessness, poverty, and social justice issues of all kinds. Achieving this goal will have a universally positive impact on the entire community (city). This is something worth supporting 100% – and then some!

More information about Slave Free Cities:

Slave Narratives and the Pimp in the Shadows

The Ending Slavery MOOC on Future Learn, presented by the University of Nottingham, covers quite a bit of information about the history of slavery worldwide and the reality of modern slavery.

While the MOOC was extremely well done (I highly recommend it) there was one question in week four that caught my attention because it’s a good example of missing research. Assignment 4.8 focuses on the Slave Narrative as a literary tradition and includes a link to the Characteristics of the Slave Narrative, as an example of literary interpretation and research that has been done on historic narratives (e.g.: antislavery writings completed in the United States during the civil war era). The assignment then instructs students to examine modern slave narratives and consider them from a literary perspective – are there commonalities in structure?

It’s a standard academic exercise and a good way to examine the information from another angle, which can be extremely useful when trying to perform problem solving exercises. A problem solving example: activists who are trying to figure out a way to address a specific problem facing slaves or former slaves in a specific area can force their brains to stop following the same unproductive maze and take some time to analyze narratives from people in other areas, looking for literary commonalities, in the hopes that it will provide some kind of unexpected insight into their own immediate problem.

So far so good.

The problem that I see is not what is there but what is NOT there.

Go into any large-chain bookstore and there will be an entire section devoted to sensationalist books covering ‘current events’ and ‘conspiracy theories’ of all kinds. Usually, this sections will also contain equally sensationalist ‘biographies’ of people who have survived harrowing experiences or done incredibly awful things. This is how the biography of a young woman sold into sexual slavery sits on the same shelf as the biography of a serial killer who lured, raped, tortured and murdered several women. Usually, the biography of the slavery victim has a cover that is vaguely BDSM erotic – clearly targeting people who like the idea of owning a slave.

Search through the movies offerings in any on-demand video provider (e.g.: Netflix) and similar ‘documentaries’ about people in slavery (particularly sexual slavery) are available, frequently with similarly vaguely BDSM erotic advertising graphics. Years ago, I watched one that supposedly covered the lives of woman trapped in sexual slavery all over the world. It DID include interviews with women who were enslaved all over the world, along with pornography-level video of some of those same women performing sexual acts with clients. At every point in the ‘documentary’ the shadow of the pimps/owners hovered over the words of the women being interviewed. It was LITERALLY a 1.5-hour infomercial geared toward men who are best described by the The Bloodhound Gang song The Lap Dance Is So Much Better When The Stripper Is Cryin’ (YouTube).

I’ve seen the same thing occurring within news stories. In 2009, after the economy crashed, every news outlet (big and small) was publishing/broadcasting stories about women fighting over jobs as strippers and prostitutes. The sex industry had it’s pick of recent college grads because these women has student loans to pay! There was one in particular that was on a national news program that looked exactly like the documentary described above, but wrapped up in a 3-minute news story and keeping the sex acts just barely visible or highlighted through ‘interviews.’

I made the decision to refrain from including a link to the news story, the title of the documentary or examples of sensationalist slave biographies because the old adage any press is good press is a statement of truth and these people don’t deserve the traffic.

Having said that, the discussion of slave narratives MUST include this form of exploitation.There are distinct differences in the type of information selected and the manner in which it is presented – there’s a lot of literary ground to cover.

Also, a biography or narrative can be a powerful tool in the hands of antislavery activists. It can be an equally powerful tool in the hands of pimps, slave owners and human traffickers.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has done this research. If I am wrong about this, I invite (encourage!) you to correct me on this point and/or provide recommended readings in the comments below.