Friday, 21 December 2012

The answer to guns is not more guns

Following calls for a change in US gun laws after the shooting of 26people (including 20 children) in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, the national rifle association (NRA) have decided to add their opinion into the debate.

Now as this is the NRA, no one would have expected them to support any kind of tightening of gun ownership. However I equally don't think most expected quite such an extreme statement either.

Firstly, the point was made that the only thing that could stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun. Well perhaps there is some merit in that, but it could surely then also be argued that the one thing that could stop a good guy with a gun is, a bad guy with a gun. And how can we ever be sure who is the good guy and who is the bad? After all, Adam Lanza had no previous history of violence before he entered a school last Friday and ended 26 innocent lives.

There was also a call for a national database of the mentally ill, and for the media to stop demonising lawful gun owners. So how do we define mentally ill in terms of being suitable for entry into a national database? And doesn't mental illness have enough stigma attached, without labelling everyone with mental illness in this way? While I think it fair to say that someone who goes on the rampage with a gun almost certainly has some mental health issues, it does not automatically follow that everyone with mental health issues has the potential to turn into a gun toting maniac. The gun used in last Friday's shootings was legally owned, but demonising the mentally ill is, it seems, preferable to putting any question mark over someone's legal right to own a semi automatic rifle.

However the NRA have gone one further in their encouragement of gun use, and have suggested that if all schools were armed then such a tragedy could be prevented in the future. They called for congress to fund armed security across all schools.

Except there is yet again a flaw in that proposal, because, as stated above, the one thing that can stop a good guy with a gun is, a bad guy with a gun. So what the NRA are in fact proposing is that US schools be turned into potential battle grounds where, if all goes according to plan, good will defeat evil. Except this isn't the movies, and real life doesn't work like that.

No one wants a repeat of the Newtown tragedy, but surely the answer is not to make guns in schools the norm, or to send the message that the answer to murder and violence is murder and violence.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Where there's death, there's a gun, time to change US gun law?

So yet another shooting in America.  This time a kindergarten in Newtown, Connecticut.  .  27 people believed to be dead including twenty children.  And as is customary in these shootings, the gunman of course then turned the gun on himself.

 

And so the discussions follow.  President Obama says that action needs to be taken, something needs to be done.  David Cameron and the Queen have sent their messages of shock and sadness.  The world is horrified, because the shooting of twenty innocent children is just so horrific as to be incomprehensible to the majority of normal thinking people. 

 

And then we ask the question again, the question that comes up every time another person in the US goes on the rampage with a gun, a phenomenon which seems to occur with frightening regularity.  And the question is when are the US going to do something about their gun laws? 

 

This isn’t about knee-jerk “let’s ban all guns” reactions.  This is about having tighter regulation on just who can go into a shop and buy a gun.  And the types of guns that people can go into a shop and buy.  Why, for instance, does any average individual need to own a semi-automatic rifle?  Why?

 

One of the arguments I’ve heard for not changing the laws is that if someone is determined enough to go on a killing spree, they will find the means to obtain a gun and do so whether they are illegal/regulated or not.  Well that may or may not be the case.  However equally it’s possible that if someone goes on a mass shooting spree, this is often because of a reaction to something that has caused the shooter to snap.  In which case, not having a gun to hand would certainly prevent someone from being able to pick up the gun and reactively go out killing people. 

 

We have tighter gun laws in this country, and even in Canada and Switzerland where the prevalence Of gun ownership is higher, and the gun crime rate is much lower. 

 

Any crime can be committed by someone determined to do so.  We don’t make the argument against making crimes illegal for any other circumstance, so why should guns be any different? 

 

For me the realisation became real when I read that in many schools in the US they have lockdown drills, where children are prepared on how to react to a mass shooting.  So how does it become acceptable that, instead of tightening the laws and procedures that make such mass shootings easier to carry out, a country instead teaches its children that mass shootings are the norm and something to be prepared for, like a fire alarm? 

 

I have lived in countries where terrorism was prevalent and as such, bomb drills were the norm.  However an individual going out on a mass killing spree with a gun is not and should never be prepared for as an anticipated event, and we need to seriously question the mentality of a society that thinks this way. 

 

The American constitution apparently gives the right for all Americans to bear arms.  But what about the rights of the innocent victims of this constitutional right?  Since when was the right to live safely, in an environment where gun drills didn’t exist and mass shootings weren’t a part of the educational process less important than every man and woman’s right to own a gun?

 

How many deaths will it take before the Americans begin to question whether the right to own a gun really is that important?  Will this shooting be remembered as the one that changes the laws of gun ownership or will we just look back at it in six months time when CBS is reporting on the latest gunning down of innocent people somewhere in the states? 

 

This morning twenty children got up and headed for school.  They will have been excitedly anticipating Christmas which is just ten days away.  Eagerly wondering about what Santa will bring them.  They are still young enough, you see, to believe in Santa, some of them as young as just four years old.  This morning twenty children had their whole lives ahead of them.  And tonight twenty sets of parents will not be tucking their children into bed.  Will not be anticipating putting the presents under the tree in ten days time which will already have been bought and wrapped.  And all because a man had the right to own a gun. 

 

As I write this, I am suddenly struck by the contrast with another story that has been in the news this week, where millions of people have sought to blame two Australian DJ’s for the suicide of a nurse after they made a prank call to the hospital where she was working with the Duchess of Cambridge.  They have been sent death threats, there have been calls for prank calls to be banned and even some suggestion that either the DJ’s or the Australian radio station they represented should be charged with either murder or at best corporate manslaughter.  And that was a hoax.  Badly thought out, but a hoax none the less. 

 

And yet a lunatic goes on the rampage with a gun and kills 27 innocent people and still millions of people out there defend their rights to own a gun.  How did it happen that people’s priorities became quite so skewed?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

prison for a facebook post, slippery slope to removing freedom of speech?


Today a man was jailed for twelve weeks after posting offensive jokes about missing April Jones and Madeleine McCann on Facebook.

 

The twenty year old was arrested on Saturday night for his own safety after a fifty-strong mob turned up at his house with baseball bats.  Interestingly though, none of the mob were arrested. 

 

For me this is not about the inappropriateness of posting offensive jokes on social media. The issue here lies with freedom of Speech, and the message that sending someone to jail for exercising their right to that freedom of Speech sends. 

 

Twitter, Facebook etc. are full of offensive material which is passed off as jokes.  Go into any comedy club in the country and you will find the most distasteful jokes imaginable, most of which are made at the expense of other people.  The elderly, men, women, the disabled, dead celebrities, and apparently missing children.  When it comes to humour, pretty much any topic is fair game.  Many of them are crass and distasteful, deeply offensive even, and would not be considered funny at all by the vast majority of people.  We have the right to be offended at the jokes that others make which are considered distasteful or offensive, and we have the right to voice that disapproval both to the individual concerned and even publically if those jokes are made on a public platform. 

 

But surely it is a slippery slope when we start prosecuting people for making jokes which are considered distasteful?  After all, where do we draw the line? what to one is offensive, may not be to someone else, and vice versa, and even if something is considered to be universally distasteful, does it make it worthy of prosecution purely based on the offense caused to others? 

 

There is no question that posting so-called jokes about missing children is distasteful and offensive in the extreme.  But then I feel the same about posting jokes about people with learning difficulties, severe disabilities etc.  There are several well-known comedians who have a reputation for being deliberately offensive.  Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Ricky Gervais all have reputations for making the most distasteful jokes imaginable, people actively boycott their shows/appearances on television/publically express their distaste on facebook, twitter and even in the media.  Yet we don’t hear calls for them to be arrested and jailed and rightly so.  Because while distasteful jokes are offensive to many, those making the jokes still have the right to do so, and once we start taking away people’s right to make distasteful jokes, where do we then draw a line? 

 

In this country we regularly speak out about people being jailed in other, less liberal countries for daring to express opinions which we have the freedom to express here.  By jailing people for posting offensive jokes on Facebook, it is just a slippery slope towards eroding our ability to exercise freedom of speech. 

 

Matthew Woods was an idiot.  If he was posting such tasteless jokes on my Facebook newsfeed or twitter timeline I would have no hesitation in unfollowing him.  But that doesn’t mean I feel he should be sent to jail, after all, we all have the ability to offend someone at some point or other.  Should we all be careful what we post in case it offends someone and lands us in jail? 

 

We have the right to freedom of speech in this country.  That includes the right to express our opinions over other people’s distasteful comments made in the name of humour.  We need to ensure we retain that freedom of speech, and applying prison terms to people who do so is going down a slippery slope to removing our right to that freedom of speech.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

tactless journalism and society's responsibility



Yesterday Sky News reporter Kay Burley sparked complaints after revealing live to a volunteer in the search for missing five-year-old April Jones that this was now a murder enquiry and then asking her how she felt. 
 

Previous to this, Burley had said a few days before that Sky had a development which viewers would be excited about, before going on to interview the estranged son of a man currently being questioned on suspicion of April Jones’ murder. 

 
Kay Burley’s tactlessness is already well documented, from incidents such as her interview with Peter Andre, where she queried how he would feel if Katie Price’s new husband might want to adopt his children, to an interview she conducted with the wife of Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright, in which she asked, “do you think that if you’d had a better sex life, he wouldn’t have done it?” 

 

Journalists are generally not known for their tact or sensitivity, although it would appear that Kay Burley has a particular skill for asking the most tactless and insensitive questions imaginable at the most inappropriate times. 

 

However, I can’t also help wondering whether the public’s desire for rolling reporting of news events fuels the need for the Kay Burleys of this industry. 

 

When a serious crime happens, Sky News are there, reporting every detail as it happens, when it happens, regardless of whether it has been verified as being true or not.  Truth and speculation are intermingled and after watching about twenty minutes of a broadcast it can be impossible to know which are the actual facts of the case and what is speculation handed to reporters by members of the public, many of whom are often seeking their five minutes of fame. 

 

And where there is Sky news there are the millions of viewers who watch it, taking in every detail and speculating about it all amongst their close friends and family. 

 

Whether we like it or not news has now become the new entertainment.  It’s almost like reality TV, except the participants are real people who didn’t actually apply to be there. 

 

Yesterday hundreds of complaints were apparently made to Sky News and Ofcom by outraged viewers, and #sackKayBurley was trending on twitter.  But today I don’t imagine those viewers will have switched news channels to the BBC in their outrage.  Some will, some won’t, and some new viewers will even go over to Sky to go and have a look to see what it’s all about. 

 

Broadcasters should have a responsibility to broadcast actual news in a sensitive way while at the same time still being informative.  However we as a society also surely have a responsibility to remember that the news is actually someone else’s life, which we have been given an insight into purely because of the factors that have brought them into the news in the first place, and not entertainment fodder created by the broadcasters for our own edification. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Will the Paralympics really change our attitudes to disability?


Today has marked the end of the 2012 Paralympic games in London.  These games have been held up as the most successful since the inception of the Paralympic games, with venues being full and tickets being sold out, something which in the past was unheard of. 

 

An all round positive attitude has surrounded the games, with people being in awe of the athletes from all countries, not least our own British Paralympians whose efforts took us to third place in the medal table.  Many people have said that they in fact didn’t see the disabilities when watching the games, that they just saw the achievements, and that on the whole, their attitudes and awareness of disability has changed as a result, and there is a feeling that this will remain the case.  But will it really? 

 

Let’s look past the fact the games were sponsored by the company responsible for assessing disabled benefit claimants, or the fact that the man responsible for wanting to cut disability benefits was handing out medals at one of the events, not because those points aren’t necessarily relevant, but because they have in fact been debated in numerous other quarters and thus there is probably very little left to say. 

 

But let’s instead look at whether the public view as a whole will change, and whether disability will be seen in a different light now both publically and in the media.

 

I can’t help thinking that this is perhaps a bit of a false reality for some, in a world where they have been given a previously unseen insight into the world of disability, in an environment where inclusion has been complete due to the fact the resources were available to make it so, and that once the resources (the volunteers) go back to their day jobs and the athletes return to their respective countries, people will remember the games with fondness, but forget the message they brought, and will go back to living in blissful ignorance of disability, while many disabled people go back to living in a world where full inclusion is not yet a reality. 

 

But this doesn’t need to be the case.

 

Disabled sport is not reserved only for the Paralympics.  Our Paralympic athletes are competing all the time in various events.  And there is other disabled sport out there too.  So what will the media be doing to cover it now that we’ve had a taste for it?  The Blind Cricket world cup will be held in India this year for instance.  Will one of the broadcasters be covering it at all? And if not, why not?

 

Sport brings people together all the time, so what better way to raise the profile of disability and keep it raised? The Paralympics are testament to the fact that people are able to see past the disability and see the ability of our athletes, therefore there is surely no reason why this trend can continue, and in doing so alter people’s attitudes in general. 

 

But my fear is that this will be a bit like one of those charity events like comic relief, where a one off event gets everyone talking about charity, and giving money to charity, and what can be done, and then once it’s all over people go back to their lives and yet again become oblivious to the plight of those around them, until next year’s event brings it all back into their memory.  There’s a risk that the Paralympics will be the same.  People are enthusiastic about disabled sport now; they have a renewed realisation of what disabled people are capable of.  But once the memory of the games fade and disabled people are no longer in the spotlight, those people’s memories will fade, until next time, when perhaps the commonwealth games are on, but even then, as they’re not in our own country the enthusiasm will be less. 

 

We need to use this opportunity not to forget.  We need to embrace the fact that disability is not this thing to fear or shy away from, and our broadcasters need to use this enthusiasm for disabled sport to promote more of it and show more of it on our screens. 

 

Acceptance of disability does not have to be a once every four years event…

 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Lance Armstrong giving up - admission of guilt?


Today seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has announced that he is giving up his fight against the US anti doping agency (USADA) who claim that he cheated by taking performance enhancing drugs.  They are now looking to strip him of his titles which he achieved since 1999, and to ban him from pro cycling for life. 

 

Armstrong has maintained his innocence throughout, saying that he has never failed a drugs test and that there is no concrete evidence to prove that he ever took drugs.

 

When I first heard of these doping allegations my initial thoughts were that it was all a bit of a witch hunt, especially given there appeared to be no evidence.  Armstrong has had an amazingly successful career.  He won seven tours between 1999 and 2006, during which time he claims he submitted over 500 samples for drug testing and never failed any of them. At a time when doping was rife within cycling the world’s top cyclist, who was there against all the odds, was drug-free.  It’s little wonder really that there might be people out there wanting to tarnish that image. 

 

But now that Lance Armstrong has decided not to fight the allegations any more I can’t help wondering about the implications of that.  After all, there is potential for him to be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from pro cycling for life. 

 

For me, being prepared to give up one’s reputation, and everything you have worked for and achieved over the years purely because you feel you can’t fight it any more just doesn’t add up.  After all, once Lance Armstrong is stripped of his titles on the basis he willingly gave them up there is no way back.  If he were proved guilty and stripped of the titles he might have some recourse in the future, through avenues of appeal etc.  But essentially giving them up willingly just seems like an admission of guilt to me.  And it doesn’t matter how much he protests his innocence, the guilt is in the willingness to give it up and the fact he is going to give up his titles and medals and potentially put the reputation of his charity on the line.

 

Did Lance Armstrong take performance enhancing drugs during his Tour de France time?  In truth we’ll likely never know.  But fact is that drugs were rife within cycling at the time, and when the top cyclist, known for being clean and drug-free then holds his hands up and willingly gives up all the titles he apparently worked so hard to achieve, it doesn’t exactly give out the idea that he is entirely innocent. 

 

The only thing that Lance Armstrong can achieve from this is the fact that, not having stood up to the evidence, there are still going to be people who will believe in his innocence. Whereas if he were found guilty through the presentation of evidence his reputation would have suffered far more greatly. 

 

Perhaps this was a wise move on his part. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Naked Prince Harry - who cares?


So, Prince Harry has been photographed naked in a Las Vegas hotel room whilst apparently playing strip billiards with a group of people he had invited up to his room.  Public opinion seems to be divided between those who think it’s funny/irrelevant, and those who have gone so far as to say that Harry is an embarrassment and should be stripped of his title.  I even heard an opinion on the radio this morning from someone saying that as he’s a trained helicopter pilot he really ought to have known better, as if flying a helicopter somehow makes one immune from having a good time?  >

But I think that the question we should really be asking is why anyone really cares.  Harry is young, single, was on a private holiday, the pictures were taken in a private hotel room, and to the best of our knowledge all the parties involved were consenting adults.  And while inviting a group of random strangers back to your hotel room is perhaps a little ill advised, Harry is a grown man who is free to make his own decisions and choices, and nothing that went on in that hotel room was illegal.   

I also think that people who are getting quite so outraged about this behaviour are perhaps a little naïve if they think this is the first time this sort of thing has happened.  Or do people really believe that the first and only time a royal has had a good time he just happened to be photographed doing so?  

I think if anything the question needs to be asked as to why security weren’t more on the ball in insisting all devices capable of taking pictures weren’t removed, but as to what royals get up to in their private time in the privacy of their hotel rooms I really don’t think that Harry has a case to answer.  And I’m sure that next time he’ll be a bit more aware of who is pointing what where….

And while I was writing this post, it has been revealed that The Sun will tomorrow publish the naked pictures.  And all I can wonder is why?  What is there to be gained from publishing these pictures, and why would anyone want to see them?  Moreover, why should Prince Harry have his privacy compromised purely because he is a public figure?  The pictures were not taken at a public event; he was in a private hotel room.  <P>

Naked prince harry - are we supposed to care?

So, Prince Harry has been photographed naked in a Las Vegas hotel room whilst apparently playing strip billiards with a group of people he had invited up to his room.  <P> </P> Public opinion seems to be divided between those who think it’s funny/irrelevant, and those who have gone so far as to say that Harry is an embarrassment and should be stripped of his title.  <P> </P> I even heard an opinion on the radio this morning from someone saying that as he’s a trained helicopter pilot he really ought to have known better, as if flying a helicopter somehow makes one immune from having a good time?    <P> </P> But I think that the question we should really be asking is why anyone really cares.  Harry is young, single, was on a private holiday, the pictures were taken in a private hotel room, and to the best of our knowledge all the parties involved were consenting adults.  And while inviting a group of random strangers back to your hotel room is perhaps a little ill advised, Harry is a grown man who is free to make his own decisions and choices, and nothing that went on in that hotel room was illegal.    <P> </P> I also think that people who are getting quite so outraged about this behaviour are perhaps a little naïve if they think this is the first time this sort of thing has happened.  Or do people really believe that the first and only time a royal has had a good time he just happened to be photographed doing so?    I think if anything the question needs to be asked as to why security weren’t more on the ball in insisting all devices capable of taking pictures weren’t removed, but as to what royals get up to in their private time in the privacy of their hotel rooms I really don’t think that Harry has a case to answer.  And I’m sure that next time he’ll be a bit more aware of who is pointing what where….

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

When offensive tweets are retweeted by the offended

Today a Seventeen year old has been arrested in Dorset following comments made on twitter towards the British Olympic diver Tom Daily. The comments made were along the lines of that he had let his dad (who passed away recently) down by not winning a medal in the diving event.

The comments were made on twitter and then subsequently retweeted by irate fans of the diver in order to draw attention to them. There have been calls for twitter to clamp down on this sort of behaviour and for action to be taken sooner when such comments arise.

Now, while I am by no means condoning posting abusive comments at anyone else on any form of social media, I do think the question also needs to be asked as to how these comments then get out of hand when they are retweeted by individuals in order to spark outrage on behalf of the offended party.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for what we do on the internet. This seventeen year old is responsible for tweeting a malicious comment at one of our Olympic athletes, and should perhaps rightly be challenged on those comments. However, the only way that a comment like that can get out of hand is if multiple users retweet it, be that to agree with it, or in this case, to voice offense over it. And it is then that I believe we should question whether if you retweet a comment like that, you are essentially helping to spread its message, even if you wish to voice your disapproval of that message.

The only person responsible for putting that offensive comment on twitter was the individual who wrote it. But as soon as that comment was retweeted, every person who retweeted it is equally culpable in spreading its message. We all have the right to be offended or outraged at anything we read. But equally we all have the power to walk away instead of escalating something which probably wasn’t worth giving attention to.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Have we become too mobile phone reliant?

This week mobile phone customers were left without coverage due to failings in the O2 network. Millions of customers were left without any mobile phone signal for around 36 hours.



Twitter and facebook, and the news sites were full of angry customers, all complaining about just how ridiculous it is that they were unable to use their mobile phones, either for talking, texting, or surfing the internet.



But this for me raises a different question – the question of just how reliant we as a society have become on the need to be in constant communication with one another, at all times, and that when we lose that means of communication, we become anxious.



I remember when I was growing up, the mobile phone didn’t yet exist, well not in mainstream format anyway. I knew a couple of people who had carphones, enormous bulky things they were, and we just concluded that they were posh, and rich, and, dare I say it, a little bit pretentious.



But then mobile phones became more widely available, and although we hadn’t yet entered a stage where permanent attachment had seemingly become a necessity, it had become more acceptable to own one, and people would be more reliant on being able to communicate with one another outside of the home.



Now mobile phones are an almost essential part of our daily lives, and contrary to twenty years ago, you are seen as somewhat outdated if you either don’t own one, or are not permanently attached to the one you do own. I’ve heard people get quite upset if someone doesn’t return their text messages within minutes, or doesn’t answer their mobile phone. Not being within reach of communication is no longer seen as acceptable.



So the question is, have we become too reliant on our mobile phones? If we drop out of communication for a time, what’s the worst that can really happen? And in fact, have we built up an expectation that all people should be reachable at all times, and that if they’re not there is something wrong with that?



How attached are you to your mobile? More to the point, how expectant are you of other people that they will have mobile phones which are both switched on and readily available?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

revenge or rehabilitation?

There has been outrage among Swindon Town FC fans this week over the potential appointment of goalkeeper Luke McCormick when he is released from Prison next month.

McCormick has served less than four years of a seven year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving, when he hit a car while travelling at 97 miles an hour down the M6, resulting in the deaths of two boys, aged ten and eight.

From a moral perspective, the public is outraged. Luke McCormick is responsible for the deaths of two innocent children. He is responsible and yet just a few years on he is going to be allowed to resume his life, presumably as if nothing has happened, while those two innocent children will never again have the chance to do anything.

But realistically, should we have the right to decide where someone is or isn’t allowed to go after they have served their sentence which has been rightly handed down to them by the justice system?

I abhor drink driving, and I firmly believe that someone who knowingly gets behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol, who then goes on to cause the death of innocent people should be brought to account for doing so.

However, knowingly driving while drunk does not imply that you intend to kill people, and I do think that on some levels we have lost sight of that. After all, how many hundreds of thousands of people drink and drive every week. How many people go out on a Thursday night and get drunk, and then get into their cars on a Friday morning, potentially still over the limit? Emotions run high because children died. However drink driving is a far more common phenomenon, and yet the reaction to that, while often harsh is nowhere near the reaction to this.

Also, many have made the point that while Luke McCormick should be allowed to work following his release from prison, it should not be allowed to happen in a public arena. And the question then is, why not? As a society, surely we either believe in the rehabilitation of offenders, or we don’t. There can’t be middle ground between rehabilitation and non rehabilitation – it is unreasonable to expect that someone who has committed an offense, has served their time for that offence and has then been released into society should be expected to keep out of the public’s way purely on the basis that the public don’t want to know that they’re there. There are of course exceptions in terms of people who have committed sexual offenses and are considered a risk to certain members of the public needing to conform to certain restrictions, however we cannot as members of the public start to demand that people who, having served their sentences, should have to meet with certain restrictions purely on the basis that we the public feel we have the right to apply our own moral code to others’ situations.

Many people have issues with the length of sentences for certain crimes, and I do sympathise with that. However, our issue with that should surely be directed at the justice system, not at the individuals themselves or those who choose to employ them upon their release. I can only hope that Luke McCormick has learned from the mistakes he has made, and have little doubt that he will live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. There are some who will believe that there is no punishment harsh enough for the death of two innocent children, however, Luke McCormick has served his sentence, and as such should be fit to work in possibly the only career that he is able to. Furthermore, Swindon Town should be allowed to support the rehabilitation of an offender by employing him if they so wish.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

why would you defend a rapist?

Last week, footballer Ched Evans was convicted of raping a nineteen year old woman and sentenced to five years in Prison. Another player, Clayton Macdonald, was found not guilty, on the basis the woman had given consent earlier in the evening while she was still sober. The backlash following this conviction has been immense, with a support page being set up for Evans, demanding a retrial and protesting his innocence. The fact is, Ched Evans is a rapist. He has been tried, convicted, and sentenced – he is a convicted rapist. Given the shockingly low conviction rate for rape in this country, it is in fact a miracle that this conviction has been obtained, and we should not lose sight of that. But this has raised a lot of issues. On the Evans’ support page on facebook, on twitter, in the press comments have ranged from people saying that he couldn’t be guilty as he is a great footballer, to saying that the woman was drunk and therefore she is the one responsible. She has been named publically, even though she is legally entitled to anonymity, and even though she is in fact, the victim – determined not only by her statement and opinion but also by due legal process. And yet she has been vilified on facebook, on twitter and elsewhere, whereas her rapist has been all but declared an innocent victim because ... he is a good footballer?So I think we have to ask the questions, how is it that when a man rapes a woman, he is presumed innocent? How is it that if a woman gets drunk and is raped, she is the one considered responsible? And more to the point, how is it considered that unless you explicitly say no, consent is assumed to have been given? The woman in question was considered too drunk to have consented to Evans, hence the conviction. She was considered to have not been in a fit state to consent to having sex with him, and as such, he raped her, it is that simple.And yet, because she consented to have sex with Clayton Macdonald earlier in the evening, it wasn’t considered rape, even though, having been in no fit state to say yes, she presumably was in no fit state to say no either. It seems that people are incapable of looking beyond Ched Evans as a footballer, and seeing the bigger picture, a bigger picture which so many of us could be a part of. A picture of a society which holds the rape victim responsible for not being raped, rather than the rapist responsible for not raping his victim. Where do the women defending Ched Evans fit into that picture? If you go out and get drunk on a Saturday night and are then raped, do you consider that you are the guilty party? Even though you didn’t consent? How little do you think that a woman is worth that it is ok for a man to have sex with her even if she is not in a position to say no?And for the men defending Ched Evans on the basis the woman was drunk, why on earth would you think it acceptable to have sex with a woman so drunk that she was not in a position to say either yes or no? What does that say about you? And more to the point, what does that say about your opinion of women? Ched Evans is a rapist.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Without personality, you cannot be beautiful

Recently journalist Samantha Brick has hit the headlines for publishing an article in which she talked about the difficulties of being so beautiful. Naturally this has caused considerable controversy in the press as well as on social media.

Now, in my opinion beauty is very subjective, after all what is attractive to one might not be to another and vice versa. but I am constantly struck by the continued emphasis on external looks, and the need to be seen to be attractive, to the extent that the cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries are thriving.

But is it really beauty that makes you what you are? After all, your external appearance is merely a picture, but what's behind it?

Samantha Brick might be the most beautiful woman on earth, but actually it's her personality that is keeping her in the headlines, the things she's said, the clearly over inflated opinion she has of herself. She may be externally beautiful, but as a person, is she attractive? In fairness, none of us know Samantha Brick beyond what we have read about her, and so to say that she as a person is unattractive would be unfair, but just as we make snap judgements about someone based on their physical appearance, so we also judge people based on how they come across.

Those who know me know my views on external looks. My belief is that it is personality that makes us who we are, after all it is our personality that interacts with others - you cannot build meaningful relationships on looks alone, but you can build them on personality alone.

It's time we stopped caring so much about what's on the outside, and thought about what kind of person we are.

We are accountable for our actions, we are not accountable for our looks.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

expertise without experience?

A leading childcare author has come under fire in the media for publishing a comment in her latest book, suggesting that women should have sex with their partners soon after the birth so that they do not feel left out.

Gina Ford claimed in the book that women should start to get closer to their partners again from four to six weeks after giving birth, even if they don’t feel like it.

Other comments published in the book were from contributors to the forums on her website and stated opinions such as “You just have to grin and bear it.”

Now while in principle the idea of not shutting out the father of your baby is not a bad one, and trying to get back to having some adult time has some merit, I’m not entirely sure you can put a timeframe on these things. After all, every birth is different, and every mother reacts differently to having given birth. Having a baby is a life-changing event, not something you go through and then bounce back from back into how things were – things just don’t work like that.

But I have a deeper issue with this.

Gina Ford has herself never had children. She has cared for children, but she has herself never given birth, and yet she is selling a book based on her own opinions of how women should react after having given birth.

How on earth can you claim to know what people should do and how they should act if you have never experienced that which you are commenting on?

Let’s face it – everyone has their own opinions of most things. But the difference is that on the whole, they are merely opinions and nothing else. You can’t possibly seek to claim expertise over something of which you have absolutely no experience.

Gina Ford is entitled to her opinions on how people should behave after having given birth, but it is a dangerous road to go down to then sell those opinions in the name of expertise, when there is no experience to back them up.

People should have sex between four to six weeks after giving birth – that is Gina Ford’s opinion and should not be treated as anything more than that.

Gina ford does not know what she is talking about – that is a fact, and anyone who buys the book should bear that in mind before taking on the advice of someone who has no first-hand knowledge of what they are talking about.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Claire's law - would you check out a potential partner?

The home office is expected to announce a trial in certain parts of England and Wales whereby people will gain the right to ask whether a partner has a history of domestic violence.

The scheme has been named Clare’s law, after Clare Wood, a woman who was murdered by an ex partner, whose father campaigned for the law to be changed.

Interestingly, domestic violence groups such as Refuge are against this, as they feel it will have little impact.

I can see why a parent might want to push for this if their daughter had been murdered, on the basis that if only she had known about his past, she might never have got into the relationship in the first place, and might therefore still be alive. But in reality, would she have known? Would she have checked?

It’s one thing to say that people have the option to check out a potential partner, it’s quite another to assume they would actually do so. Because apart from anything else, if you feel safe enough with someone that you would want to embark on a relationship with them, generally, it wouldn’t occur to most people to want to first ask the question as to whether they might have a criminal past. And it doesn’t exactly create a happy trusting atmosphere for the start of a new relationship if one partner decides they first want to ensure the other partner doesn’t have convictions for domestic violence before taking it any further.

I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t have a problem if someone wanted to look into their past as they have nothing to hide. But I think a lot more people would. I would and I have nothing to hide – no violent convictions or allegations. I have no issue with having to have a criminal records check as part of the requirements for working in a school in a voluntary capacity. I understand the need to be sure that people who work with children should be, to the best of their knowledge, safe to do so. However, a relationship is entirely different. Relationships are based on feelings and mutual respect, and while of course it doesn’t always work like that, and people do get into relationships with individuals who might have a past, or might have violent tendencies, as a rule, most people are not like that, and you cannot expect people to be happy with having the finger of suspicion pointed at them based on what other people may have done in their own pasts. And in truth, relationships have to be about feelings, and trust. If you feel you need to look into a potential partner’s background, then perhaps it is not unreasonable to think that you already have doubts, and should be basing your future on those rather than the outcome of a police check.

And possibly the more crucial point, is the fact that a police check only shows up those people who have actually been convicted of domestic violence. It won’t show those who have been violent but never been prosecuted. Scarily, many women are far too afraid to ever press charges against violent partners, and perhaps controversially (since most would assume this law should relate to men only) men who are victims of domestic violence are even less likely to press charges against a violent partner. So what would this law do for those people? In a word – nothing.

In truth we need to be looking more at police responses to domestic violence, ensuring that victims are taken seriously and that people feel safe to go to the police if they are at risk, rather than putting the onus on the potential victims to take responsibility and make judgements based on whether someone has been proven to be violent or not.

Clare Wood’s partner had a known violent past. However, there were no guarantees that she would have checked him out before getting involved with him. And there are no guarantees therefore that having had a law in place would have save Clare Wood’s life, or the lives of anyone else who is killed by a violent partner.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

TV talk shows - irresponsible to broadcast interviews justifying domestic violence

This morning on ITV’s talk show ‘This morning’ I watched an interview with former soap star Natalie Cassidy, in which she talked about how she had taken back her abusive partner because she believed he had changed.

Natalie Cassidy ended her relationship with Adam Cottrell after he became violent and abusive. Violent enough that she felt the need to take out a restraining order against him.

However after appearing on reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother, Cassidy decided that she wanted him back. He has apparently admitted to being an alcoholic and is seeking help, and she said he has changed and they are so very happy together.

Natalie Cassidy is a grown woman and is free to make whatever decisions she sees fit. I feel sad that she has come on national television and excused this man’s behaviour by saying that she wound him up because of his drinking/that he is only violent when drinking etc and that he has changed. But it is her life and she is free to do what she likes.

But I have an issue with this interview being broadcast in the first place. Not personally, but on a wider level.

Statistically, abusers do not change. There is of course an exception to every rule, but on the whole, it is unlikely for an abuser to change, and many women leave abusive relationships multiple times before ever finding the courage to leave for good.

This Morning is watched by millions of viewers on a daily basis. Many of these viewers will be women in abusive relationships, or perhaps even women who have recently left abusive relationships who might be wavering about whether to go back.

So imagine watching a show on national television, where a young, seemingly strong woman tells you that abusive men can change – after all, it’s happened to her. How many women will believe that it’s possible after watching this? No woman wants to believe that the man she loves is the monster he potentially might be. Therefore, any woman in an abusive relationship wants to believe that her abuser might change, and yet statistically it is very rare. But how many will believe it’s possible and take another chance, possibly putting themselves in danger?

Natalie Cassidy has been back with her partner for a matter of months now, and I can’t help wondering whether we’ll be seeing her back on This Morning in a year’s time talking about how he didn’t change after all.

But in the meantime her interview has helped perpetuate the myth that abusers can change.

This morning has a responsibility to their viewers, many of whom will be vulnerable. For them to broadcast this interview with no counterbalance saying that it is rare for abusers to change and that the preferred course of action should always be to leave, is completely and utterly irresponsible.

Friday, 10 February 2012

When medicine is not enough. Could you be a bone marrow donor?

We’ve all seen the adverts asking us to give blood, and many of us will have done so. Many of us will probably have seen literature talking about organ donation, and may have signed up to the organ donation register, or had the appropriate discussion with our families with regard to our feelings on organ donation.

But how many of us have considered donating bone marrow?

We all know that people need blood. This happens all the time when people are in car accidents/give birth/undergo surgery.

Similarly organ donation is something that people sign up to without much thought, especially given that in order to donate organs you generally have to be dead, so the thinking is that organs aren’t much use to you then so might as well be passed on.

But generally we only seem to hear about bone marrow donation when there is someone in the spotlight who needs bone marrow.

There is currently an eight year old little girl in hospital in Glasgow who needs a bone marrow transplant. Her name is Ailidh.

Ailidh was a happy healthy little girl, until, in November, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

AML is rare in children, and accounts for just 20% of childhood Leukaemia. And unlike the more common form of leukaemia (ALL), the survival rate is lower.

Ailidh is currently going through her third block of chemotherapy treatment, and apart from a few days when she was allowed home, she has spent the past three months in hospital, a large amount of that in isolation.

But for Ailidh, chemotherapy is not enough. At the moment, the chemotherapy is needed to kill off the leukaemia cells and to put her in remission, but the likelihood of the cancer returning is high.
Ailidh needs a bone marrow transplant to help prevent the cancer from returning, and to increase her chances of long-term survival.

Ailidh has siblings, but unfortunately, neither of them are a match. So the doctors have to look to the generosity of the public to try to find someone whose bone marrow will be a match for her, and will help her to survive this horrible disease.

But Ailidh can only have a bone marrow transplant if the right match is found. And the chances of the right match being found are increased with every person who signs up to the Anthony Nolan Trust in the UK, or the Be the Match Marrow Registry in the US, to become a bone marrow donor. It is worth mentioning here that Ailidh is half American – she is mixed-race, a combination of white Scottish and meztizo – the mix of European and indigenous N. American peoples (Native American/Indian), which makes finding a suitable match for her more difficult, which is why it’s important for as many people to sign up as possible, in order to increase her chances.

Would you consider it?

You could help save a life.

There are many others like Ailidh waiting for bone marrow transplants. Everyone who signs up to donate bone marrow could be a match for any one of them.

We are fortunate. Medicine has come on in leaps and bounds over the decades, and cancer survival rates are much much higher than they used to be.

But sometimes medicine is not enough. And that is where people come in.

Will you consider signing up today?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

When football tops child abuse in the headlines - what message does that send?

“Harry Redknap is the favourite to be the next England manager,” was this morning’s top news story when I woke up. I suppose it was inevitable really, Fabio Capello resigned last night, and football fans up and down the country are speculating on who the next manager will be.

And then the newsreader went on to announce that “the number of children being taken into care is increasing,” and if you look at the news sites, it appears that 903 applications were made last month to take children into care.

I get that a large number of people in the country want to speculate about who the New England manager will be. I’m not entirely sure why, since the European Championships aren’t for another four months, but ok, people that like to discuss these things are clearly interested, and as such, these stories are newsworthy. But actually, we have a sports bulletin for that, and “Harry Redknap is the favourite to be the next England manager,” was the top sports story as well.

So how is it that our priorities of what is important appear to have become so skewed that the national sport is headline over the frankly heartbreaking fact that the perceived numbers of children at risk of serious harm is increasing, and that 903 applications were made last month alone to take children into care?

Why is it that football has dominated the headlines this week, with first John Terry’s removal as England captain, and then Capello’s reaction to said removal of John Terry, and then Harry Redknap being found not guilty of tax evasion, And then Capello’s resignation, and finally, Redknap being the favourite to take over the England team, and yet a story that seems to indicate that the increase in neglect an abuse of children in the UK is apparently on the increase comes second? Not only that, apart from a mention of it on the news this morning, and one news service tweeting it on twitter (and I follow all the major news ones), that story has been pretty low key.

And I can only conclude that in truth, people are more interested in a story that relates to football than they are in one that relates to child abuse.

We can all speculate about football. It’s something you can talk about in the office, down the pub, on your preferred social media. What next for the England team/will they get an English manager this time/maybe they’ll go out of the European Championships earlier/maybe they’ll win, and so the conversation will continue.

But child abuse is something that, if we’re honest, people don’t want to talk about. Partly because the idea of it is just too unpalatable for people to want to think about, but I think partly also because people just don’t want to know or acknowledge that it goes on, and especially not to the extent that it is increasing rather than decreasing.

But only by acknowledging that it goes on can something be done about it, and so perhaps we need to question why it is that the media is assisting in this ignorance by prioritising the frankly trivial matter of who is going to be the next England manager over the welfare of our children.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Olympics boost to the economy? So why are tickets being manufactured in the US?

The London 2012 Olympics are almost upon us.

It would be fair to say that opinion over the games is fairly divided, between those that can’t wait, and those that wish we’d never been awarded the games.

I fall into the excited camp. I think that the games are a good thing for the UK. This is the only time in my lifetime that the Olympics will ever be held in my country, and love them or loathe them, high profile sporting events do create a positive and excited atmosphere.

But one of the positive things about the Olympics is that often these events do create jobs and opportunities to add to the economy. After all, stadiums have to be built, advertising has to be done, tickets have to be sold... and printed... and here’s where my problem lies.

Yesterday it emerged that the contract for printing the Olympic tickets has been given to Weldon, Williams & Lick, a company based in Arkansas in the US.

The US? Why not the UK? The tickets will be printed in America, so no job creation here then, packed up and flown thousands of miles to the UK, so apparently this is not a green exercise either. And then they will be distributed to the individuals who have been fortunate enough to buy them, at a cost of £6 per ticket. £6? So presumably if you’re fortunate enough to have tickets, not only are you paying for the tickets, but you’re also paying their air fare to get here from the states.

Naturally UK companies are outraged that this contract has been awarded to a company in the US. And really, why shouldn’t they be? Some have even speculated that UK companies weren’t even given a chance to pitch for the contract. Obviously we have no idea about that, but it seems a little unbelievable that a US company was that much more competitive that it is actually more financially viable to have the tickets manufactured several thousand miles away and flown here before being distributed.

But this isn’t the first row over contracts which one might have assumed would be in the UK. It appears that 90% of souvenirs will also be manufactured abroad.

So – where are these jobs that are being created by the games? Oh, that’s right, it appears that we’re paying for the games, and much of the benefit to the economy has been outsourced to other countries.

I’m all for a free market, but really, this is a one off event. An event that many people are unhappy about particularly given the current economic climate, and the amount of money that is being ploughed into hosting them. I really don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that it should be the UK economy benefitting from these games, and not businesses abroad.

Friday, 3 February 2012

John Terry - should he even be playing for England?

Footballer John Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy while he waits to stand trial in July over allegations of racist abuse directed at QPR player Anton Ferdinand. The FA have said that this decision has no bearing on their assumptions of guilt or innocence.

But actually, I’m wondering if this decision has gone far enough, and whether Terry should in fact even be allowed to play for the England team while he has this charge hanging over him.

It is difficult, because in this country we live under the assumption of innocent until proven guilty, and as yet, Terry hasn’t been found guilty. However, it could be argued that if someone was charged with such abuse against a colleague in the workplace, they would be suspended until the matter had been resolved one way or the other. Even if someone was charged with such abuse against someone at a rival company (as could be argued happened in this instance), it is still likely that action would be taken and they be suspended until the issue had been resolved.

Now, I’m not calling for his sacking or suspension from the Chelsea team, Chelsea is essentially a privately owned club and they have the right to make whatever decisions they see fit with regard to their players. But I do have issue with players who are under a charge of racial abuse representing our country on an international level.

As a rule, I have felt that penalising players for what they do within their own lives is wrong, even if what they do has been morally reprehensible. When Terry was previously stripped of the captaincy because of his affair with the wife of another player, and there were calls for his removal from the team, I didn’t feel that was the right course of action, after all what he does in his private life is ultimately his business, and as a player he should not be answerable for that – regardless of one’s moral opinion of what he did.

Similarly when there were calls for Paul Gascoigne’s sacking after allegations of domestic violence against his wife, while I think the way he behaved as a human being was utterly abhorrent, I still do not believe that he should have been answerable for that in his job as a footballer. Although if Cheryl Gascoigne had pressed charges against him for the abuse I would not have thought it appropriate for him to represent his country while awaiting trial either.

And maybe that’s the issue really. Is it right that someone awaiting trial for an offense, any offense, should still be representing their country on an international stage? I’m not sure that it is.

Racism is of course particularly emotive, because the FA and other football associations are under huge amounts of pressure to clamp down on racist abuse within the game.

But I’m not entirely sure that any other crime is different, apart from the fact that perhaps another crime might not involve a colleague within the game itself.

If John Terry scores during the European Championships will he be a hero? Or will he have his impending trial hanging over his achievement? And if he is found guilty of this charge do we want to think that the England winning goal might have been scored by a racist who was awaiting trial for his actions?

John Terry is innocent until proven guilty. But when representing his country, he should be doing so as a footballer, a player of the game, an ambassador for our country and nothing else. And this trial, this racism charge takes away all of that. People see John Terry potential racist, awaiting trial first, and England footballer, ambassador for our country second.

And if he is found guilty, what kind of ambassador will that make him – even retrospectively?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

US security are reading your tweets? and what else?

Two British tourists were refused entry to the US after one of them posted on twitter saying he was going to “destroy America.”

Leigh Van Bryan insisted he was just using the words to show that he was going to have a good time, but he was still sent home.

For me this isn’t about the foolishness of posting something on twitter which could have been misconstrued, no matter how innocently it had been posted. After all we’ve all read the stories of tweets that have been taken out of context and the fallout this can cause.

But for me this is about a bigger picture. It’s about the reality that if you tweet something, the higher authorities not just in the UK, but in the US and who knows where else, potentially have instant access to what you’ve tweeted, and can hold you accountable. And it’s not just that, it’s the fact that they know who you are in order to do so.

Now, I am entirely aware that if someone tweets something that could be construed as a threat to national security, this could be flagged and they could be traced back through their IP address and then back to the device used to write the tweet, which would likely be a home computer or a mobile phone registered to the person sending the tweet.

But it is chilling to think that if you book a holiday to the US, your twitter account is potentially automatically looked at, in which case, how do they know who you are? When I travel to the US I don’t give out my twitter information, nor my email address if I remember rightly – it’s not something that is requested.

And if I have more than one account, do they know? And what lengths do they go to in order to find out? I do in fact have more than one twitter account. One is linked to my real name, linked to my main email address and my mobile phone and in truth wouldn’t be that hard to back-trace to me, but that’s assuming I’ve given them some of the information that links to that account. But my other twitter account (which is fairly dormant anyway) has no bearing on my name, email address or mobile phone. But does that matter?

I’ve always been a bit blasé about the whole notion of so-called government surveillance – the idea being that if you have nothing to hide then it’s not really an issue. But I find the idea that not only our government but potentially other governments have the ability to know who I am and what I’m doing and saying and to decide I am a threat off the back of one tweet, and that they not only have the ability to do this but are, it would seem, actively doing so deeply disconcerting.

And if we are being watched through twitter and such like, what else do they have access to? My twitter account is public, most are, so in truth anyone on the internet has access to it, so it is not an invasion of one’s privacy if those tweets fall into the hands of the authorities. But my email isn’t public, my phone calls aren’t, and if I remember rightly, a bill to allow emails and phone calls to be hacked was rejected not so long ago. But does it matter? Maybe they can’t be intercepted from here, but could they elsewhere?

I think this story shows one thing for certain – big brother appears to be watching...

Monday, 30 January 2012

no smacking to blame for the riots?

Tottenham MP David Lammy has recently made it into the press by saying that if only parents had been able to smack their children, then last summer’s riots in the UK would not have happened.

Well, what he actually said was that many of his constituents felt that the recent changes to the laws on smacking have left them feeling unable to discipline their children.

Smacking is quite possibly one of the most emotive of parenting topics, and it is generally divided into the “smacking is wrong, it is abuse, damaging to children and should be banned,” group, and the “I was smacked as a child, it didn’t do me any harm, nothing wrong with a tap when all else fails,” group. And then of course there is the “What he needs is a bloody good hiding,” group, but on the whole I find there are few people that genuinely subscribe to that view.

But in truth this isn’t really about smacking, is it? It seems to be more about a section of society who feel the need to blame the state of their children’s’ behaviour on one law, brought in by someone else, that they seem to feel must hold the key to their children running riot and ending up as juvenile delinquents.

And it’s such an easy conclusion to reach. Children’s’ behaviour has changed, there’s little doubt about that. There’s far more anti social behaviour now than there was when I was growing up, and I suppose it’s easy to conclude that as smacking has been all but outlawed, the change in behaviour must be down to that.

But in fact there is so much more to discipline than smacking. Now instead of the slipper we send children to the naughty step, and instead of the belt we reach for the parenting book. And what’s wrong with that? The answer is nothing, but perhaps there is a section of people who it would seem lack the skills to move from a short sharp shock into the realms of reasoned discipline. But in an age where asking for help is seen as failure, and where sections of society are deteriorating as a result, it’s far easier to dress up those failings as political correctness gone mad, and the government turning into the nanny state wanting to tell us how we should bring up our children.

I think there is little doubt that a significant part of the reason behind the riots is the fact that many parents have failed to bring their children up in disciplined homes. But I very much doubt that the lack of discipline has to do with the lack of a good smack now and then, and probably has more to do with a lack of reasoned discipline that the more modern parenting methods subscribe to.

The fact is not smacking a child isn’t going to turn him/her into a delinquent. But not disciplining them might. And in truth, if a parent doesn’t feel that there is any other way to discipline a child that doesn’t involve physical punishment, then maybe it is the parent that needs to think about what is wrong, not society, or the government.

After all, it is not the punishment than shapes the child, it is the reasoning behind the punishment. If you simply smack a child when it does wrong, it doesn’t reason as to why it did wrong, it reasons as to why it was smacked. And therein lies the fundamental difference. You can still reason with a child without having to add the physical force of your anger behind it. You can still add consequences without having to resort to punishment.

So perhaps if parents feel uncomfortable smacking their children, maybe they need to reason with themselves why that is. Is it really because they feel the government has taken that option away from them? Or is it perhaps that they themselves don’t actually feel comfortable with the idea of smacking their children, but it’s easier to blame someone else for the fact they don’t know of an alternative solution?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

When your "online" friends turn out to be fictitious

A while ago I wrote about the friendships people form on the internet and whether if something happened to one of them, their virtual friends might ever get to find out or whether they would remain oblivious.

But there is another element to internet friendship, which is the fact that you can never really be sure that someone is who they say they are online. After all, it’s easy enough to create an account on your website of choice, with an email set up from any provider, invent a life and a set of circumstances of your choosing and set out to befriend the people you want to befriend.

In principle I suppose there’s nothing wrong with the idea of inventing a persona to be the person you wanted to be, maybe to gain acceptance if one doesn’t have that in real life. A better job, a couple of kids, a rich partner, all things which some people might aspire to but which they perhaps might not have, and so inventing them somehow gives them a sense of fulfilment, or acceptance, even if it’s only on a superficial level. But in truth it can only ever be superficial because you cannot form genuine connections which are based on fiction, and inventing a persona is essentially creating a fictional character. And while I said in principle it isn’t wrong, in truth it’s based on deception.

But there is a far more sinister element to creating an online persona, and that is the type of online persona that is seemingly created in order to prey on other peoples’ sympathies, and who often use their vulnerability to achieve their goal, i.e. attention, and in some instances even money.

These people usually target people who are in specific categories, such as parents who have lost a child, or people who have serious illnesses, and they create their persona to fit with those things so their intended victims can often relate to what they are going through, and will give them the attention they obviously crave.

It is a phenomenon I have seen referred to as Munchausen by internet, and which is common on every web forum I have ever been on.

Usually the types of scenarios people invent are so emotive as to almost make them impossible to challenge. I have known posters invent the death of a child, or the death of twins following premature birth, and I have known of at least three who have killed off their persona through suicide.

And when feelings run high and empathy is strong, it takes the most unfeeling person (in the eyes of others) to suggest that someone might have fabricated the death of their own child, something which is undoubtedly any parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s even harder to claim that someone has faked their own death because, well, they’re dead, so there is no-one left to challenge apart from the fictitious family who, after they have posted the death announcement, might never come back.

But often once one person raises their suspicions there are usually others that were suspicious too but didn’t have the courage to speak out for fear of either being wrong, or lynched by the virtual masses.

But these instances are real and there are really people out there who make up whole lives, seemingly oblivious to the fact that when they die, or when they announce the death of a child, they are hurting their greatest supporters. I imagine any mother who has lost a child knows what someone is feeling when that happens to them, and so will empathize and no doubt have memories of their own situation. Or someone who considers an online person to be a close friend will grieve their loss if they have died, oblivious to the fact that the person has probably moved on elsewhere to create a new character and a new life, with a new set of victims.

I am sure that there are many people out there who will say that someone who goes to these lengths must be seriously mentally ill, and probably deserving of our sympathy on some level. But while I am in no doubt that someone who does this must have serious mental issues, and is probably even in need of professional help, I think the fact that their actions are so calculated and leave so many victims behind, both at the time and once they have been revealed to be fakes, that I find it impossible to have any sympathy for them.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Never mind education, Michael wants to Gove the Queen a yacht

The minister for Education, Michael Gove, has suggested that we mark the Queen’s Diamond jubilee by buying her a new royal yacht.

So in a time when the government is cutting spending on public services, when local services are being cut due to spending, when the NHS is being forced to make job and budget cuts, when there is talk of cutting disability benefits and when ultimately education, for which Mr Gove is responsible, will suffer as a result, we should apparently channel £60 million from somewhere and give the Queen a new yacht?

I am still wondering where Mr Gove thinks the money for this should come from. As minister for education, he will no doubt have a good understanding of maths, so how about solving this puzzle:

If you have £0, and you buy the queen a new yacht for £60 million, how much do you have left? Oh that’s right, you can’t afford to buy the queen a new yacht because there isn’t any money.

I think it’s fair to say that if the Queen wants a new yacht she can quite well afford to buy one. At this point in time though we, the taxpayers, cannot.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The breast implant scare, but is it time to look at the bigger picture?

In the past few weeks there have been numerous reports in the news about PIP breast implants which are apparently faulty and at risk of rupture.

Many countries have recommended the implants be removed from all women as a precautionary measure, but there is controversy in the UK over who should pay.

Some say that it should be the NHS, some say that it should be the clinics that fitted the implants. Today one of the biggest private clinics responsible for fitting these implants have come out and said that they will not pay to replace the implants and that it should be down to the NHS to foot the bill.

While I can in fact sympathize with any company who is suddenly expected to cover the cost of replacing the implants, the fact is that if you bought a product from any shop and that product was then essentially recalled due to a fault, you could return it to the shop for a replacement.

Of course, in most instances the shop would be able to replace your item, and reclaim the cost from the manufacturer. However in this instance the manufacturer has apparently gone into administration and the owner appears to have disappeared in a puff of silicon...

The fact this has happened is not the fault of the individuals who have paid their money. In truth, it’s not the fault of the clinics who inserted the implants either, but they took the money to begin with, now that the implants have been found to be faulty, it should be the clinics who did the fitting who should also remove the implants. I certainly don’t think that the financial responsibility should fall to the NHS, so essentially the taxpayer, to put right surgery that women chose to have for purely cosmetic reasons.

It obviously goes without saying that women who had these implants for medical reasons should have them removed and replaced on the NHS, since they will have been inserted on the NHS in the first place, and the reasons for them being there are reasons of necessity.

However, I think there is a bigger picture here which should be addressed, and that is the issue of why people feel the need to have these implants, or any other type of cosmetic surgery for that matter, in the first place.

The fact is that leaking breast implants are not a new phenomenon - leaking silicone implants have been in the news for years (although less so recently). And yet the number of women having them fitted is on the increase.

Other cosmetic procedures have also been in the news over the years, in fact anti aging injections were in the news last week due to fears about damage they could cause. And yet people will continue to have them, probably in increasing numbers.

How is it that physical appearance has become so important to so many women that they are prepared to take risks with their health to change it?

How did it become acceptable and even normal practice to have bits of plastic filled with toxic fluid sewn into your breasts to make them bigger? Going through surgery, which is not without its own risks, risking future rupture and the potential long-term health implications if that happens.

How did it become seen as acceptable and even normal practice to have chemicals injected under your skin, sometimes on a regular basis, sometimes with permanent results , and all the potential complications that might lead to if it goes wrong, just to try to beat the signs of aging?

And that’s before we get to other cosmetic procedures, face lifts, tummy tucks etc.

How have we developed into a society where so many people appear to be so dissatisfied with their appearance that they are prepared to go to such radical lengths to change it?

I know what some will say, that people who undergo cosmetic surgery often have deep psychological issues with their appearance and as such we should never judge. But if that is the case, shouldn’t we start to ask why? Shouldn’t we start to ask how it is that society would rather accept a culture of enhancing or changing your body surgically, than addressing the reasons why people feel the need to do this in the first place?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Public figures on twitter, do they need to stop and think?

Today Labour MP Dianne Abbot has made it into the news after making a comment on twitter which was construed by some as being racist.

The comment was apparently made during an exchange with a journalist following the Stephen Lawrence verdict, and Ms Abbot said, as part of an ongoing exchange that “white people love playing divide & rule we should not play their game #tacticasoldasclonialism”.

Numerous accusations of racism have followed, along with calls by conservative MP’s for ms Abbot’s resignation, hardly surprising really, there’s nothing the media and politicians love more than to call for a resignation when someone in opposition steps out of line..

Dianne Abbot has apologized for her comment, saying that it was taken out of context.

But I do think there is a different element to this, which is the prevalence of public figures on twitter and their seeming inability to think before they tweet.

Many politicians as well as celebrities use twitter, and Dianne Abbot is not the first to hit the news for comments made on twitter, and she almost certainly won’t be the last.

Twitter is easy. You can access it on a computer, or on your mobile phone, and it’s a great way to just make a quick comment or two, and it also puts you out there, which I imagine is especially useful if you’re a public figure wanting to get your message across.

Indeed, I will share this blog post via twitter once I’ve finished writing it, which means that it might reach another 140 or so people that wouldn’t otherwise have seen it.

But the problem arises when public figures end up tweeting what are essentially their private thoughts, and are then held accountable for them. And by the time you’ve sent the tweet, it’s too late, and even if you delete it, it can’t be unsaid.

Dianne Abbot’s tweet was essentially part of what should have been a private discussion between two individuals, but instead was tweeted back and forth on the public timeline, meaning that anyone could read it, and did.

I’ve posted before about people who share their private lives on the internet, and have made the point that generally, you wouldn’t stand in the street and broadcast many of your opinions publically, so how is it that online is different?

And unlike the anonymous web forums I wrote about last month, twitter generally isn’t anonymous, especially if you’re a public figure. People know who Dianne Abbot or Lord Sugar, or Rupert Murdoch are on twitter, and generally they have tens or sometimes even hundreds of thousands of followers who read their every word and will happily comment on, and retweet any undesirable comments until one comment has
spiraled far beyond those followers on to the wider twitter community and then often into the media. And these people are generally fairly media savvy individuals, who know that if a comment is taken out of context that could be costly for them in terms of their reputation and in some instances even their job. So how is it that they seem to lose sight of that fact when posting publically accessible comments on a public timeline?