Saturday, 13 January 2018

Whole or pre-prepared? That is the question.

UK retailer Marks and Spencer have announced that they are to withdraw their product cauliflower steak from sale after they came in for criticism about the amount of packaging.  

A M&S spokesperson confirmed that once the product had sold out in stores they wouldn’t be ordering in any more.  

The article confirming this was posted by the Huffington post on Friday, along with criticisms of other supermarkets who sell what it believes to be over-packaged pre-prepared vegetables such as cauliflower kous-kous, broccoli rice, and diced onions.  

Now, I would be the first to agree that on the whole we use far too much packaging, and I have in fact stated as much on various forms of social media, including blasting one manufacturer for packaging a pair of 42g headphones in a box and packaging which weighed approximately 900g, (unfortunately I can’t remember at this point who the manufacturer was, just in case it might be construed that I was protecting their identity.)

Where the critic has overstepped the mark however is in their further advice to consumers on how to chop and prepare your own vegetables so that you don’t have to resort to buying pre-prepared ones, including a “helpful” video to show you how to better your chopping technique.  

I don’t doubt for a second that there are people who buy pre-prepared veg simply because they can and for convenience.  Although if that is what works for them then who is anyone else to criticise that?  However, there are also many people for whom the existence of pre-prepared vegetables is invaluable, as disabilities, co-ordination issues and other constraints which are frankly nobody’s business but theirs make it either difficult or impossible to prepare vegetables, and pre-prepared foods means the difference between being able to home cook a meal and having to resort to the ready meal option.  

Telling retailers that their products are over-packaged is one thing.  Telling people that they could prepare their own fruit and veg if only they watched this helpful video and brushed up on their technique is nothing more than patronising and judgemental.  

Let’s be honest here, the individuals responsible for writing the article didn’t really want to talk about excessive packaging or pretentious product naming.  What they really wanted to do was to pass judgement over people who buy pre-prepared fruit and veg and tell them how if only they did it “their” way they would be so much better for it.  Except to write an article purely to slate the buyers of diced onions when said buyer may have difficulties which make it impossible to chop onions for themselves, and not be in a position to invest in a food processor either due to financial or space constraints doesn’t exactly show one as someone who really cares about the planet or those who live on it, so the amount of packaging was a convenient way around it with half an article of self righteous judgement thrown in for good measure.  

So here’s the thing.  If you disagree with the amount of packaging that supermarkets and other retailers use for their products then join the cause and protest against it.  

However, if you disagree with the use of pre-prepared products such as fruit, vegetables and anything else which could be made by you personally but is available on the shelves of supermarkets for those who don’t have the ability or simply can’t be bothered, then don’t buy them.  But keep your judgements of those who do to yourself.  It says far more about you than it does about them.  

Thursday, 4 January 2018

“Please like my post......” Should it really be down to schools to manage the use of social media by eight year olds?

Today the children’s commissioner has called for schools to take more of an active part in helping children to manage expectations on social media as they make the transition from primary to secondary school.  Anne Longfield said that she was concerned about the impact of social media on eight to twelve year olds and that they were too dependent on comments and likes, and that schools should assist in managing their expectations as they transition from primary to secondary school when social media starts to play a more important role in their lives.  

I don’t disagree that schools need to be more aware of children’s social media use, and indeed, many schools do have their own social media policies although many of them focus on the need to not bring the school into disrepute etc.  However, I also think that other adults in children’s lives have a part to play here in both managing the expectations of children as well as their own.  

It could be argued that for those of us with secondary-aged children many of us have entered the social media era at the same time as our children have, and as such many parents’ levels of both use and interaction on social media is not dissimilar to that of their children.  And for many adults, likes, comments and interactions can be seen as equally important albeit on a potentially different level.  

Also, a lack of either understanding or awareness of the potential impact of our own social media use is bound to have an impact on our children as, if we as adults are not managing social media effectively how can we possibly think that we can manage the use of our children’s social media accounts, especially on platforms which we as adults may not even have use or an understanding of.  

It is human nature to react positively to the approval of others.  As such numbers of followers, likes and comments is most definitely something that likely impacts on us all at some point.  When I publish this blog I will of course hope that people will read it, digest it and view it positively.  But for a twelve year old or worse, an eight year old, the ability to process lack of likes and comments or even negative comments is something which they don’t yet have the maturity to do, and if they don’t have an authority figure to tel them that it’s ok if they don’t get likes on their latest post or their snap or instagram picture hasn’t been liked or shared then that can make them feel less valued as individuals even though that picture is just one in millions out there.  

Additionally, social media affords us the opportunity to be seen by and to interact with people we otherwise wouldn’t, people who are strangers out there in the real world, and for whom distance would mean we would otherwise never have encountered them, but who are right there as names and pictures in our social media world, and although it can be said that many parents do keep a tight reign on their children’s social media accounts and only allow them to have friends who they know in the real world, it is certainly also true that for some children they are given unlimited access to a world they do not yet have the maturity to understand or to deal with on many levels.  And if the interaction they get from those strangers is negative they may find it difficult not to take it personally. 

When I blogged about Laura Plummer, the British woman who had been jailed in Egypt for bringing banned drugs into the country, I received a tweet from a complete stranger telling me what a horrible person I was and how they wished something awful would happen to me one day.  I laughed it off because firstly, I have no idea who the individual even was, and secondly, if you put yourself out there in the public world then the reality is that not everyone is going to agree with what you have to say.  But if the comments from strangers were numerous or indeed if negative comments from people who I know in person started mounting up then I may start to wonder about how I was being perceived out there in the social media world.  But for me I could potentially step away from the blog, from twitter etc, but for a preteen for whom social media is also becoming a huge part of their actual social life it’s not so easy to step away because it can feel like stepping away from your actual social life.  

And there is another side to all this.  Rightly or wrongly, there are people, adults even, who view the interaction of their friends on social media as far more of a part of real life than it should be.  I was reminded of this fact around a year ago when a friend of some 25 years or so posted what I would only describe as a modern-day chain letter on his social media account with the adage that only his real friends would respond.  The post begins with the words “today I’m gonna say bye bye to some of you,” and then goes on to state that if you’ve ever had anyone in your life who had cancer or mental health issues (the post can be adapted accordingly,) you will copy and past this to your status in recognission of what people go through.  It then goes on to state that only 5% of their friends will copy and past it because only they are true friends.  Truth is that the reason only 5% copy and paste is because it’s a chain letter designed to clutter one’s timeline.  However in this particular instance the friend in question took the post literally and removed anyone who hadn’t copied and pasted the status from his friend list.  So that’s a a 25 year friendship obliterated over a piece of spam.  

I’m afraid I laughed because in my view it said far more about him than about me. Had he been a much closer friend I might have had words about it in person, but in this instance I thought that he clearly wasn’t worth even being told how stupid he had made himself look.  However imagine being a primary aged child being subjected to rejection because you didn’t follow a protocol you never actually signed up to in the first place.  If adults take it this seriously, how can we expect children to cope with the rejection when it happens?  

In conclusion, children’s expectations on social media need to be managed far more closely, and in my personal opinion that should start with not allowing primary aged children on social media to start with, and then managing their use once they reach the age where they can have facebook, twitter etc without having to lie about their age to get there.  

Social media can be an immensely positive thing.  But that needs to be weighed against the need for acceptance, validation and the recognission of the fact that lack of either does not have any bearing on people as individuals and the people they are.  

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Should freedom of speech have a limit?

There is outrage today  after a video of a dead body  in the Aokigahara forest in Japan was posted by an American vlogger   on the youtube video platform over the weekend.  

Logan Paul posted the video after he and his entourage discovered the body in the forest, which has a reputation as a destination where people go to end their own lives,  under the title “we found a dead body in the suicide forest.” Instead of alerting the authorities, Paul filmed the body while he and his friends laughed and joked, and then uploaded the video to his youtube channel over the weekend.  

This has sparked outrage from social media users, many of whom have called for Paul’s entire youtube channel to be removed.  However Paul has apologised saying that he made a mistake.  

Now, for me this raises several issues.  The fact that individuals now have the ability to upload their own content to the internet could potentially be seen as a double-edged sword.  On the one hand we as individuals now have the ability to capture parts of our lives, our opinions and our interactions to the internet in the form of vlogs, blogs and other social interactive sites.   Indeed, the fact that this ability exists means that I am able to write this blog and when I’ve done so I will be able to publish it to my platforms of choice.  

The other side to this ability however is the fact that if you are posting material online, not everyone is going to agree with you, and if you are posting controversial and/or offensive views or opinions or interactions you are likely to be called out on those by the people who disagree with your views.  This does mean that you and you alone are responsible for what you post, and if you are being deliberately offensive you also need to take responsibility for your inappropriate behaviour and/or comments.  

Logan Paul has apologised for his video saying that he made a mistake.  However it’s fair to say here that the video was not a snapshot, and that Paul would have actually had to watch the video again, edit it, and only then would it have been uploaded to the internet.  So it seems that he was comfortable with both the footage and the decision to upload it until he was called out on it and forced to issue an apology.  

The other side to this however is that while plenty of people would argue for free speech online, the viewing of offensive postings and material has created a sub-section of people who believe that if someone posts what is in their opinion offensive material, far greater action should be taken than just calling out the individual on their postings.  There have been calls for Logan Paul’s entire youtube channel to be removed when actually, the video has now been removed, he has apologised, and while it still goes without saying that the video in question was grossly offensive and raises some questions over what kind of person he might be, the suggestion that someone’s entire postings be removed off the back of what is one offensive posting takes it a step too far down the slippery slope of removing our right to free speech.  

After all, what to one is offensive may not be to someone else and vice versa, and so while a post about finding what will clearly have been someone who was pushed by their own story to the point where they felt they had no other option than to end their own life would arguably be seen as offensive by most of those who viewed it or were knowledgeable of its existance, it’s possible that other postings and topics posted online could garner a much more divided response, and if we took the view that these posts or the individuals responsible for them  should be removed from the platforms they are posted on we run the risk of entering into the realms of banning free speech, and the reality is that freedom of speech is something which we should aspire to, even if we don’t always agree with what that represents.  

Thursday, 28 December 2017

“She was just doing a kind thing.” Should the British government become involved with Brits who knowingly commit, and are prosecuted for crimes abroad?

On Boxing Day a British woman,  Laura Plummer, was jailed for three years by an Egyptian court after being found guilty of smuggling drugs into the country.  

Plummer travelled to Egypt for a holiday with her boyfriend earlier this year and was found to be carrying 300 Tramadol tablets in her suitcase.  Tramadol is a prescription painkiller in the UK and is banned in Egypt.  In fact even in the UK Tramadol is considered to be a class C drug and as such its distribution to anyone other than the individual it has been prescribed for is illegal.  

In her defence Plummer claimed that she had taken the tablets over to give to her boyfriend who was suffering from severe back pain and that she was unaware of the law.  And this is a story which is being upheld by her supporters, who are calling for her release because, according to them, she just wanted to do a kind thing and fell fowl of the law and is being treated unfairly.  

Now I absolutely believe that if someone is wrongly imprisoned in another country our government should be in a position to intervene.  I also believe that in the event someone is imprisoned in another country with questionable human rights then the various human rights charities and organisations should become involved in order to secure their release.  The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is currently being held in an Iranian prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Iranian government springs to mind here, and various organisations are involved in her case.  

However drug smuggling is an open and shut case.  The laws on these crimes are very clear, and ultimately if you are caught with illegal drugs then that is because you didn’t avail yourself of the laws in the country you were travelling to at the time you made the decision to pack over 300 illegal tablets into a suitcase and carry them into the country in question.  

I think that a lot of people have been Sympathetic to Ms Plummer because the drugs she was carrying were painkillers rather than illegal hard drugs.  As part of her defence she argued that the tablets were for her boyfriend who was suffering from back pain, and so her supporters would argue that all she did was take painkillers to a man for a medical condition.  However the fact that the drugs were illegal in Egypt stands regardless of what drugs they were.  And as a foreigner travelling into that country, it was her responsibility to know that, and to know that if she were caught, she would be liable to be prosecuted under the laws of that country.  This is a fact which has clearly not actually escaped Ms Plummer’s knowledge as she stated during her trial that it was a friend in the UK who had obtained the tablets for her, so still not taking personal responsibility for her part in the crime.  

I can see how, in some instances, many people are sympathetic to the plight of people who carry drugs.  Often if they are carrying them into the UK for instance they are travelling from countries where they are desperate to escape severe poverty, and as such are easy targets for drug dealers who use them as mules for their iffy products, often required to put their own lives at risk by being required to swallow packages of cocaine etc which are liable to burst causing instant death or serious illness.  The carrier is then merely a bi-product, easily sacrificed in the name of whatever drugs the dealer stands to profit from, and if they are caught they are the ones who go to jail, or worse, if they die because of a split package the dealer is never found and will simply find someone else for his next delivery.  

I absolutely still believe that these people should be brought to justice here in the UK.  However I can also see how desperation and often lack of education can lead someone into committing a crime from another country because they feel there is no other way out of a life of extreme poverty.  

But a Brit carrying prescription drugs to a country she has visited before, knowing the laws, knowing that she is carrying the drugs because they are illegal in the country is travelling to has no excuses, especially when you take into account that she was carrying 300 tablets, far more than are available on one single prescription.  

Laura Plummer knew exactly what she was doing. Perhaps she was coerced by what she thought was a charming boyfriend, although that’s assuming he actually was a boyfriend and that this is not merely a term being used as a cover for his being the dealer she was supplying to.  But the fact doesn’t change that she was aware that dealing drugs in Egypt carries a harsh prison term, and that the painkiller she carried into Egypt was available on prescription only, and as such, she knew they were illegal drugs as soon as she asked a friend to obtain them for her.  

Ms Plummer might also want to consider while she is spending time at the behest of the Egyptian judiciary, that the penalty for distribution of class C drugs in the UK is up to fourteen years in Prison.  And right now there are also calls for her to be prosecuted once she does come back to the UK.  

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Charly Gard - Should parents have the ultimate say in whether their child lives or dies?

Tonight judges at the European court of human rights have ruled that a ten month old baby should be kept on life support in order that his parents be given time to present evidence in order to allow him to travel to America for experimental treatment.  

Charly Gard  was born with Mitochondrial Depletion Syndrome which has left him unable to sea, hear, cry or move, and he has been on life support at the Great Ormond Street hospital in London since October 2016.   But doctors at the hospital feel that he should be allowed to die peacefully as there is no hope of any kind of recovery. 

The parents have been to court on numerous occasions in order to be allowed to take Charly to America for experimental treatment at a cost of over £1m, however doctors at GOSH have argued that this would not be in his interests and that any treatment would merely prolong his suffering and not reverse any existing brain damage.  

I think at this point it needs to be said that there are no winners in this case.  For a parent, allowing your child to die goes against every parental instinct you possess. No-one expects to out-live their child, and so actively making a decision to allow that child to die is something which most parents would never be able to anticipate having to do.  And for the doctors arguing that a peaceful death would be in Charly's best interests, this too goes against the oaths they sign up to when qualifying from medical school.  No doctor wants to be making the decision to switch off a baby's life support, let alone be the one having to do it. 

However, I think it can also be said that parents are very rarely able to make such decisions objectively, as this is their child they are talking about, and this is why these cases so often end up in the courts.  

So the question that we need to ask ourselves is: should a baby be kept alive because it is the parents' wish that he be kept alive?  When making decisions which make allowances for the withdrawal of treatments, should there not be only one outcome - what is in the best interests of the patient?  

I know that many people have argued that the decision should be the parents' to make, however can any parent really say that they could objectively make the right decision which was in the interests of their child and not based in some part on their own sense of loss or failure to be able to do something?  Even if logically there was nothing which could be done?  

And how many people wanting this baby to be kept alive, taken to America on a journey which he may not survive, and subjected to treatment which has no possibility of success other than potentially lengthening this baby's already difficult life?  A life where he is unable to communicate even whether he is in pain would want another adult to be making those same decisions about them or on their behalf?  I know I wouldn't.  

In conclusion, I hope that were I ever in the same position, I could make the right decision for my child, and I hope that were I in the same position as an adult, the other adults in my life would make the right decision for me.  

I only hope I never have to find out, and wish nothing but peace to Charly and his family.  

Friday, 28 August 2015

The human face of the migrants we choose to dehumanise.

Over the past few months there have been increasing numbers of stories in the news about the migrants at Calais who are attempting to come to Britain through the Channel tunnel.  There has been increasing footage of refugees attempting to gain access to lorries, or storming the fences at the entrance of the tunnel in the hopes of being able to come here  to claim asylum.  

And with the footage there has been increased amounts of criticism, of the government for "making Britain a desirable place to come to," of the French police for not doing more to prevent refugees from coming over the border, and mostly the refugees themselves for daring to try to escape from circumstances which most of us cannot even imagine, and to risk their lives and those of their children, in order to find a safe and better life for themselves in a European country.  

Even the BBC received a number of complaints for filming a make-shift church in the Calais refugee camp for Songs of Praise, because it showed the refugees as being too human for some elements of the media to want to contemplate.  

As a society we have reduced human beings to animals in order to justify the hatred of them.  

But in the past week the news has covered a different angle to the migrant crisis.  Earlier this week around 200 refugees were thought to have drowned when two boats sank off the coast of Libya, and on Thursday there were shocking reports of the discovery of 71 bodies of what are thought to be Syrian refugees in a refrigeration truck in Austria.  And suddenly society is in shock, and asking why we are not doing more to prevent these tragic deaths, and why traffickers are able to exploit the desperation of people who are prepared to climb into a lorry with their children, and allow themselves to be sealed inside, not knowing whether they will actually ever make it to their intended destination.  

But we seem to have a double standard  approach to all this.  We can sympathise with the plight of people drowning off the coast of Libya, and the idea of people suffocating in a truck in Austria is abhorrent.  But those things have happened somewhere else, and as such we find ourselves empathising with what they have gone through.  And yet for every boat which sinks off the coast of Libya there are hundreds more which make it to the other side, and for every death in a lorry there will be hundreds more people who make it through alive, and some of those will inevitably end up in the refugee camps of Calais, where they will hope to make it across the border into Britain.  

The people of Calais who we as a society have dehumanised all started their journeys on boats like the ones in Libya, or lorries such as the one in Austria.  A different boat, a different lorry, and any one of the dehumanised refugees of Calais could be one of the mourned dead of Libya or Austria.  

In order to gain the empathy of our society it seems that people have to die, but daring to live, to make it through the harshest, most unimaginable conditions means that instead of deserving of empathy for where they have come from, these people are now seen as a  scourge on our society, a threat to our jobs, houses and benefits.  

I can't help wondering whether people would still be expressing upset and shock if the Austrian lorry had instead been discovered in Dover, or whether people would actually identify the people they may have seen on a news broadcast running towards the tunnel as the same people who could lose their lives on the back of a lorry they might hope to gain access to.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Why would you want Christian Grey as your valentine?

This weekend is valentines.  And along with all the romance this brings, we will also see the release of the film 50 Shades of Grey.  

100 million women bought and digested the books, and it is anticipated that they will be going to see the film in their droves, to watch as 21 year old Anastasia is swept off her feet by the rich, handsome, and incredibly controlling and manipulative Christian Grey.  Romantic?  apparently some people seem to think so.  But leading women's abuse charities have begun a campaign to encourage women to boycott this film as it is seen by them as normalising domestic abuse.  

So let's give a bit of background for those who have not read the books.  

Ana is a 21 year old student who agrees to interview prominent and influential businessman Christian Grey on behalf of a friend who is ill and needs the interview as part of her university dissertation.  Ana is in awe of the fact she will be interviewing Grey.  He is well known, he is attractive, and he is extremely rich.  

From the outset it seems clear that Christian Grey is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and from the beginning it is evident that he wants Ana.  

So, having interviewed him, Ana goes back to her life as a student, and as an assistant in a hardware shop, and just days later christian Grey appears at her till, where he has bought a variety of products, rope, cable ties, and some kind of tape.  Well it is a hardware store after all.  The fact he actually lives hours away is seemingly inconsequential, and over the coming days and nights he seeks to sweep Ana off her feet, by firstly rescuing her from the advances of a male friend after she had had too much to drink, taking her back to his hotel where he in true gentleman style does not take advantage of her, and then whisking her off to his flat by private plane for a nice dinner.  

So far, so romantic.  After all, Christian Grey is extremely powerful, he could choose any woman, and yet he has chosen Ana.  

This could be the beginning of a beautiful love story.  One where man meets woman, where they discover themselves and each other, and where their relationship grows as they get to know each other.  

Except that the next morning Christian Grey presents Ana with a contract.  A contract in which she must agree to be his submissive and he her dominant, where she will agree to wear the clothes he specifies, eat the food he tells her, and most importantly, submit to him in every other way.  Before she signs the contract he first takes her to see his playroom.  A room in his apartment which is full of the various whips, chains, handcuffs, and other implements used as part of the submissive/dominant relationship.  

I won't go into too much more detail, other than to say that throughout the course of the book it appears that Ana and Grey are actually falling in love.  However the story is littered with instances of where he takes absolute control of her life, and where the term consent appears to have very little meaning.  She can say no to anything, of course, but when she does she's told that actually, she can't.  And throughout the trilogy, Ana decides that actually, this isn't the relationship she wants, so she makes a stand and lets it be known what she wants, and  in the end, love conquers all and Christian Grey changes into the man Ana wanted him to be.  , leaving the message that if a relationship is controlling and abusive in the beginning that can change as long as you stick around.  

Now it would be a bit simplistic to suggest that a film alone mmight be able to influence people into entering into, or staying in abusive relationships believing that it's normal to be treated like that.  However it is also true to say that we are influenced by what we see in the media on an every day basis.  

Many, many women stay in abusive relationships believing that their abuser could change, because even abusers have  a nice side to their personalities, something which attracts their victims to them, so if Christian Grey is portrayed as a generally nice guy who has a bit of a past which explains his attitude towards women, but who dictates to his girlfriend where she can go, who she can see, what she can eat and how the rest of their relationship should be conducted and he can change, then surely it stands to reason that any man can change?

But this is a fantasy.  Most abusers do not change.  I won't go so far as to say they can't because with the right kind of therapy anyone should be able to change.  But I think it's fair to say that most abusers do not change, and for most victims of abuse the only way they can gain control is by leaving the abuser.  

50 shades is of course not marketed as a film depicting an abusive relationship.  It has been marketed as a romantic film which leads someone into the world of BDSM.  But we have heard from critics that it is not an accurate portrayal of BDSM, and as such, the behaviors exhibited in the book are those of a controlling and abusive man rather than one who has absolute respect for his partner.  

But perhaps the question would simply be why?  Why would you want to watch a film where a woman is dominated and controlled in this way and dress it up as romance?  Why would anyone want to fantasise about having a Christian Grey type in their life?  A lot of films are pure escapism from life, and of course most don't depict reality.  But surely escapism should be something positive and uplifting, or even if it's negative such as a drama or thriller, something with a  positive ending where the killer gets what they deserve.  But why would anyone want to escape into the realms of fantasy where someone is essentially taken from her world of innocence and thrown into one of sadistic control?  

It's not a thriller or a drama, neither is it particularly romantic, so what is it then?  

And if none of those are good enough reasons not to watch, then surely the fact that the books were so spectacularly badly written are good enough reason not to want to watch them played out on screen?