Saturday, 31 December 2011

My news review 2011 - The final countdown, thank you and a happy new year.

There are just hours left until 2011 draws to a close. I’ve touched on several news highlights already as well as what kept us entertained. There is so much more, but in truth I could write on and on, but I will touch just briefly on some other newsworthy items before musing about the year to come.

The death of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, and the man who some might argue changed the world with the iPod, iPhone, iPad etc.

The Eurozone crisis which is still ongoing and which might conceivably push us all back into recession in 2012. We can only hope that it will be resolved before that happens, but no-one can predict what will happen.

And of course the world was supposed to end with the rapture which was predicted not once, but twice. I think we’re all still here.

So what might 2012 hold?

Well perhaps the most anticipated is the London Olympics and Paralympics. After all, we’ve been building up to those for the past eight years. I realize that some people are not as enthusiastic about the games as I am, but my view is that this is a once in a lifetime event here. These games will never be in our country in our lifetime again. I am looking forward to them.

It will on the whole be quite a sporty summer as there are also the European football Championships in Poland and Ukraine, and while I’m not a massive football supporter I think there will be little chance of escape from it, well at least until England are knocked out by the quarter finals. I predict a penalty knock-out. ;)

Financially the year is uncertain. Will the Eurozone crisis resolve? Will the Euro break up? Will we be pushed back into recession? Or might we possibly come out the other side? Will there be more cuts or less and if so what will they be?

The next year holds so many questions and as yet we can only guess, and hope, at the answers.

This is my last post of 2011, so I will just close by saying thank you to all that have read my ramblings over the past few months since I started writing. Thank you to those that have commented, followed, and retweeted my posts. And to those that read invisibly, thank you for reading. Hopefully you will continue to do so in 2012.

Happy new year to all. :-)

Friday, 30 December 2011

My news review 2011 - how were we entertained?

I’ve covered some serious news events in my previous posts, but what was newsworthy in terms of entertainment?

In March Radio 1 Breakfast presenter Chris Moyles set a world record by doing a marathon show in aid of Comic Relief. He and fellow presenter Dave Vitty stayed on the air for 52 hours and raised a total of £2.5 million for the charity. I think that Chris Moyles on the whole is a bit like marmite – people either love him or hate him. But one thing is for certain – he seems to have a remarkable ability to get those who listen to his shows to do things – such as donate their cash, or influence the charts (more on that later). The initial goal was to raise £1 million, but I think it fair to say that the longer he stayed on air the more people got caught up in it all. It was a remarkable feat really – 52 hours of non sleep is generally not to be recommended – especially when you consider that sleep deprivation is often used as a form of torture. Love him or loathe him, you have to admire him for that I think.

In terms of the charts another record was set when the Military wives choir gained the Christmas no. one, managing to out-sell all the other entries in the top ten combined. X-factor winners Little Mix came in at no. Two, however they’d already had the no. One slot the week before since the Christmas no. One was actually announced on Christmas Day this year. I mentioned Chris Moyles earlier and his ability to influence people, well, the collective buying power of his listeners took Lou Monte’s 60’s song Dominick the Donkey to no. Three in the charts. This is a song that has never charted before, and this is apparently the longest period between a song being released an appearing in the charts.

So what did the viewers complain about this year? Well the complaints started out fairly early in the year when thousands of users complained about the controversial Eastenders baby swap storyline. Viewers felt that the storyline, in which the character Ronnie Mitchell swapped her dead baby for Kat Slater’s live one showed bereaved parents in a bad light and was an unrealistic depiction of how a bereaved mother would react. The number of complaints led to the show’s producers ending the story earlier than had previously been planned.

This month record numbers of complaints were received when Jeremy Clarkson made comments on BBC’s The One Show, saying that public sector strikers should be taken out and executed in front of their families. I think there’s fairly little doubt that the comments were clearly made as a joke, and it seems that the number of complaints only really rose after the story of complaints hit the headlines.

TV adverts did not escape unmentioned, and many viewers felt the need to complain about the Littlewoods Christmas advert, saying that it ruined the magic of Christmas for children, because it claimed that the presents were all bought by “my lovely mother,” instead of by Santa. Of course, if children up and down the country believe that their mothers can afford all the things on that advert then they probably have bigger things to worry about than the shattering of the illusion that is Santa.

But perhaps the advert that gained the biggest aww factor was the John Lewis Christmas ad. Although I think the question still remains... what was in the box?

It’s certainly been an entertaining year.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

My news review 2011 part 2 - natural disasters, riots and the rise and fall of the super injunction

In my last post I touched on some of the most newsworthy events of the past year. But of course the news doesn’t end with just a few stories – this year has been eventful in so many ways.

In March the world was shocked, when an earthquake with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Japan, causing a tsunami. The devastation was immense, and tens of thousands of people died. But the horror didn’t end there, in the aftermath of the tsunami, damage caused to generators at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants resulted in explosions in at least three nuclear reactors. A large area around the plants were evacuated, and there were fears of a nuclear disaster. Fortunately a major nuclear meltdown was averted, but things could so easily have been different.

Back in the UK in August a wave of riots spread across the country. Initially the protests started in London, in response to the shooting of Mark Duggan during a police operation in London, a man who police believed at the time to be armed. A wave of riots began in London over a three day period and then rapidly spread across the country. Large numbers of people headed to the streets, looting, smashing up shops and cars, in some instances businesses were irrevocably damaged, and several people died, most memorably perhaps three men who were killed in a hit and run incident in Birmingham. The criminal proceedings are still ongoing, and the UK riots will no doubt be remembered for a long time to come.

Then we witnessed the rise and fall of the super injunction. These injunctions were taken out by celebrities, in order to prevent the press from reporting details about their private lives, generally their extra marital affairs. Perhaps the most prominent of these injunctions was taken out by footballer Ryan Giggs to prevent reporting of his extra marital activities. However, it all came back to bite him in a big way when rumours of his affairs were posted on twitter and retweeted across the internet. After all, while you can stop a story being published in the press, it is not so easy to stop it being published on social media by members of the public, and Ryan Giggs found that out the hard way. In fact his affairs would almost certainly have been less of a story had they just been printed in the tabloids, but instead the injunction just made the story far more desirable, and a far bigger one than would otherwise have been the case. I have little doubt that celebrities will think twice before taking out such injunctions in the future.

There is of course still more to say about the past year, and perhaps a time to think about what next year might hold, but I’ll save that for my next post.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

my News review 2011 part 1 - revolutions, voicemails and weddings

As the year 2011 draws to a close, I thought I would take a look back at some of the events that have made the news. Some good, some bad, some light-hearted, in news terms this has been a busy year, and I couldn’t possibly cover all of it in one post. So over the next couple of days I hope you’ll keep reading as I share my opinions of what I thought was newsworthy this year in a series of posts.

It’s been quite an eventful year all in all, and I think it’s fair to say that in many ways 2011 is a year that will go down in history. Here in the UK we’ve had media scandals, rioting, super-injunctions and a wedding, while undoubtedly the most significant happenings abroad have been in the Middle East.

The most significant world event has been the Arab Spring, which has been a series of uprisings across the Middle East which actually started in December 2010 when a Tunisian man burned himself to death in protest over his treatment by the police. This sparked uprisings across the region, in Tunisia, where the government was overthrown and President Ben Ali
Was ousted, Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak and his government were overthrown, Yemen, where the President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, stepped down. Further protests (some of which are still ongoing) occurred in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, Iraq, but perhaps the most notable was the civil war in Libya where there was also involvement from NATO, and which resulted in the death of Muammar Gaddafi.

I think it fair to say that all this has merely marked the beginning of change in the Middle East, and that it will most likely be a while before the full implications will be known. But one can only hope that all this change is change for the better, in countries where true democracy is still only in its infancy.

Back in the UK, the phone hacking scandal, which has actually been ongoing for several years now, took a nasty turn when it emerged that the voicemails of murdered school girl Millie Dowler had been hacked by journalists. Following this revelation it subsequently emerged that other victims of crime had also been victims of phone hacking by tabloid journalists. All these revelations led to the closure of Britain’s longest running Sunday paper, the News of the World, and has deeply tarnished the reputation of British journalism, perhaps irrevocably, but only time will tell. Currently a public enquiry into events, the Leveson Enquiry, is still ongoing.

On a lighter note, this year saw the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) which in truth has been a long-awaited event. A record 24 million people watched the wedding in the UK, with the ceremony being televised in 180 countries across the globe. People waited in anticipation to see Kate's dress.
, and the crowds eagerly awaited the first kiss.

Of course the next big question people have is when the couple will be announcing the arrival of a royal baby, but I think that with the upcoming Olympics and the Queen’s diamond Jubilee they might just be busy with other things for the time being.

There have of course been many other significant and indeed historical events in this year’s news, and I will cover some of those in my next post, so do keep reading.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The January sales, and the bargains people kill for

Christmas is over, and as boxing day dawned, so began the January sales.

I remember a time when the sales actually started on the 2nd of January, but it would seem this is no longer good enough, and this year some of the shops opened as early as 6:00 on boxing day.

But people were queueing outside the shops much earlier than that, in the hopes of grabbing a bargain.

Given that most of the population seem to have been spending money on Christmas for the past few months, I wonder what can be so desirable that people need to head out in search of it as soon as the sun has set on Christmas day, or more bizarrely, heading out in search of that unknown bargain, any bargain.

Every year we see reports on the news of the crowds of people rushing into the shops, having queued through the night, and often we hear of how tempers flare as people argue over items.

But this year things took a much more sinister turn, as two people were stabbed on Oxford street, one of them fatally.

Now the question of why someone would feel the need to head to the shops armed with a knife is perhaps one for another discussion. but it certainly leaves me wondering how it is that people can be so set on getting that particular item that they resort to violence. I've briefly skimmed some of the online shops, and I have to say I haven't seen anything that I would consider that much of a bargain that I would feel the need to rush out to buy it, or worse, get into a verbal or physical encounter over it.

How is it that people have become so obsessed with material goods that they lose all sense of perspective?

Someone went out looking for a bargain and paid with his life, and for the person responsible for stabbing him, he presumably faces a prison sentence. It's a high price to pay for a bargain.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The false sense of anonymity behind the username

Internet forums are an increasing phenomenon. If you want to have a conversation about something, there is invariably a forum to do so. Your favourite hobby/tips on the best shopping websites/discussions of current news events. Then there are the more personal forums which claim to provide mutual support by members for members, pet ownership/parenting/depression/bereavement - the list is endless.

The one thing that all of these forums have in common is that generally in order to sign up, you have to have a username. This username is generally considered to be anonymous – and members are usually discouraged from creating a username that would make them identifiable. For me this creates two issues.

The first is that the perceived anonymity gives people a false sense of confidence in terms of what they are happy to post. It’s a lot easier to voice your actual opinion of a situation/individual after all if you’re A, behind a keyboard and not voicing that opinion to someone’s face, and B, doing it from behind a username and not putting your actual name to your actual opinion. I have seen some truly horrible opinions posted on internet forums and some quite nasty personal attacks on individuals, where the poster seems totally oblivious to the fact that there are also real people on the other end of those comments. I am certain that a lot of people wouldn’t say the things they post online to someone’s face.

The second, and I think more concerning issue is that the perceived anonymity of a username means people will post far more personal and revealing information about themselves that they possibly wouldn’t feel comfortable telling their friends and family, in fact sometimes that personal and revealing information might concern their friends and family, and yet they are comfortable posting it on the internet because they believe they are anonymous behind their username.

I think it’s fair to say that the longer you post on a website, and the more people you get to know there, the more comfortable you will become posting the more intimate and personal details of your life. And yet we can never be sure who is reading what we’re posting on the internet. After all, if you have a username that makes you unidentifiable, your husband/sister/next door neighbour that you are posting about might also have a username that makes them unidentifiable, and if you are posting about them, they could just as easily be reading what you’re writing and even commenting on it without your knowledge. And the more you write, the more you identify yourself, through revealing your location, the number of children you have, the issues you might be having in your life.

In fact, the people you’re posting about might not even post on the same sites as you, they may purely lurk there. After all most internet forums can be read without a member needing to join, so it is very easy to lurk on a website, reading the specific posts of specific individuals without those individuals even knowing who their posts are being read by.

While I think that deep down we do all know that the internet is not anonymous and that anyone can be identified if they post enough identifiable information about themselves, I do think that the fact you can join a site with a username does give many people a false sense of security in terms of what they reveal online, especially if they are a member of that site over a long period of time.

I have regularly seen written that people see a web forum as their only source of support, for many different issues, even to the extent that I have heard people say they can post things on their forum of choice that they couldn’t reveal to their real life family and friends.

And yet once you post something on the internet it is there for ever. If you reveal something personal about yourself you have no idea who might stumble upon it and when. So even if you posted something today, you might have forgotten about it in five, ten, fifteen years time when your partner/sister/even your children might stumble upon it and recognize you, or even themselves in the detail of your posts.

In truth posting on an internet forum is a bit like standing blindfolded in the town square, while people who are also blindfolded walk past, so you can’t see who they are, and they can’t see who you are, but they might recognize you from your voice/the things you have to say. But you won’t know who has heard because you didn’t see them. You wouldn’t do it in the street, and the internet is no different.

In reality one should really stick to the principal of only posting things online you would be happy for anyone in real life to read, on the understanding that anyone in real life might already be reading it. And step away from the idea that a username creates anonymity, because in truth all a username creates is a false sense of security.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The death of a leader, and the freedom we take for granted

The people of North Korea are in mourning today after the announcement of the death of their leader, Kim Jong-il. He suffered a heart attack and died on Saturday, although the news was not announced until last night.

From a world perspective, there is apprehension over the stability of the area, with South Korea and Japan putting their forces on high alert. But I wonder about this from a different perspective.

Footage has been broadcast of people openly wailing in the streets, clearly grief-stricken over the death of their leader. The radio broadcasts here have played clips of the news broadcaster who announced the death, crying almost uncontrollably. And I wonder how people can be so conditioned to act in this way.

The answer has to be control. If David Cameron or the queen died, it would be headline news within minutes, with there being “unconfirmed reports” of what was happening, until the events could be confirmed. Yet in North Korea a whole day had elapsed before people even knew that their leader was dead. Even if media were banned from reporting such events over here, the power of the internet is such that the news would certainly make it into the public domain within hours.

I can’t imagine living somewhere where the only information that was accessible to me was that which was made available to me by my country’s leadership, to the extent that I had no knowledge of happenings in the world beyond my country. If we move back from recent reporting, some may recall that the North Koreans were told that their country’s football team had won the 2010 World cup. As they have no access to information beyond that which they are allowed to have, the people of North Korea are oblivious to the fact that their team was in fact knocked out of the tournament in the first round. And now they have been told their leader died on Saturday. Except they were not told on Saturday they were told last night, and yet they are still out there sobbing in the streets. And I wonder, are they out there crying because they feel sadness that their leader is dead? or are they crying because they fear the consequences if they don’t? Or do they even know why they are crying?

I recently wrote about peoples’ reactions when celebrities die, and the often outpourings of emotion that follow, with mourners arriving at the house/hospital/scene of death to pay their respects and lay tributes. But these are spontaneous outpourings of grief, expressed for people that are often admired for their talents, and on the whole, many people do take a rather dim view of these outpourings.

But this is different. In a country where people are conditioned to worship their leader, where the outpouring of grief and emotion is clearly orchestrated, I can’t help wondering whether people would dare not be seen to be in mourning, and whether it is in fact genuine emotion on their part because they know no different. And I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in a country where even your emotional responses are dictated, and where you are conditioned how to react and when.

I can only hope that there will come a point when the people of North Korea will rise up against this regime, but in the meantime I am glad that I was not unfortunate enough to be born in a country where even freedom of emotional expression (or lack thereof) is not permitted.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Don't fear the CCTV - fear the camera phone

Britain is renowned to have more CCTV cameras than any other country in Europe. Therefore, many people feel that we are constantly under surveillance, by the police, the government, etc. But recent events have left me wondering whether in fact that surveillance is a lot closer to home.

Recently a woman made it into the news when her swearing and hurling racial insults at a group of passengers on a tram was captured by someone on a mobile phone and then uploaded to YouTube. Within hours the video had had multiple hits and was being publicised via twitter. The incident was probably more shocking because of the young toddler she had on her lap.

Subsequent to this, other similar incidents have been made public in the same way, the latest of which being a man on a train who had allegedly failed to pay the fare for the journey, had refused to get off at the next stop, so another passenger had physically removed him.

Generally, we all know where the CCTV cameras are. We don’t necessarily avoid them, but as a rule, if you’re in town causing trouble there’s probably a fair chance you’re going to be captured on CCTV and held accountable for your actions. But being captured on CCTV only means that the camera operators and perhaps the law enforcers are going to know who you are and what you’ve done, being captured on CCTV isn’t going to earn you national (or perhaps even international) infamy. But being captured on someone’s camera phone might.

Nowadays most mobile phones have cameras, and video capabilities. This means that any event can be videoed by anyone at any time, and once that happens there’s no knowing where it might end up.

We don’t know where the camera phones are. We don’t know who has one (well actually we can generally assume that most people do have one) but we don’t know who is using one at any time and if so, what they intend to do with the footage.

Of course most people are law-abiding citizens who wouldn’t think to behave in the manner of the individuals mentioned above. However even being a law-abiding citizen doesn’t mean that you are immune from being captured on camera at your worst moments, on a drunken night out with friends; having an argument in the street with your partner; shouting at your kids when they’re having a tantrum, and that footage being uploaded to YouTube and sent via twitter to as many people as are prepared to retweet it. And because that footage is generally condensed into a couple of minutes maximum, people only get a snapshot view of that part of your life, and then make their judgements accordingly.

As it happens, the man in the train video has since spoken out saying that while he accepted his language against the conductor was wrong, he had bought the wrong ticket and wasn't given the chance to state his case before being thrown off the train. Meanwhile the man who threw him off was branded a hero. And all the million or so people who have seen the clip have to go on is a two minute or so snapshot into what happened. We don't know what happened before, we can only judge on the events captured on film.

And the more of these incidents are posted online, the more people are going to film every little event, in the hope of capturing something that might earn them a few thousand hits on YouTube. No longer is it possible to view an event in your life as something that just happened and can be forgotten, when you have no idea who might have filmed it and whether it is at this very moment being tweeted up and down the country and across the globe.

Generally, the CCTV is there to act in the interests of the public.

The camera phone is there to feed the interest of the individual, and potentially, the world.

And a playstation in a peartree - the extravagance of children's presents?

Just ten days left until Christmas and talk is turning from what you’re going to buy to what you’ve bought. And the kids’ Christmas lists are still growing.

I remember when I was a child all the things I requested for Christmas. A remote controlled car; a train set; scalectrics... can you tell I was never a girly girl? But even my friends’ requests ranged from baby dolls to pushchairs to dressing up clothes etc.

Nowadays there are of course still these requests. Lego/star wars toys/various character toys depending on the current in-film (I remember when Buzz lightyear was the must-have toy at least two Christmases running). But now we have an additional flood of requests.

No longer is it acceptable to just have toys and games for Christmas, now children want more. Now requests include such items as expensive games consoles, playstations, Xboxes, wii and DS, most of which cost in excess of £150 (with the exception of the DS), and then of course you have to buy games which don’t come cheap. And not satisfied with mere games consoles the requests continue. Televisions/DVD players for bedrooms, laptops, iPods and IPads, and that ever contentious one, mobile phones.

And the children are getting these presents younger and younger. I remember vividly someone telling me how she had bought her three children a television each for their bedroom. The youngest was three. Or the three year old that was given a Nintendo DS because his brother would be getting one and it wouldn’t be fair.

When did children stop being children playing with toys and demanding expensive technology? And how did we get to a point where instead of giving our children toys, we spend hundreds of £s on technology which is predominantly above their age?

There is no doubt that technology does now play a huge part in children’s’ lives, most schools have ICT programmes where children are taught about computers, how to use them and as they grow older computers do begin to play a bigger part in their lives.

But I can’t help wondering, if you buy a four year old a £150 games console, what is that child going to have when he’s fourteen? If they have it all now, what do they have to look forward to in present terms in the future?

And quite aside from all that, what about the cost? After all one £150 games console simply isn’t enough – there must be a big pile of presents under the tree for the children, as well as a stocking full of goodies.

I can’t help wondering if we’ve simply lost the art of saying no. After all it’s much easier to give in for a quiet life than to be told that “I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t have...” And there’s always the argument that if we don’t let our children have something they will become victims of bullying. But shouldn’t we be standing up to that rather than giving in to it?

And really, do children need all this stuff? Are we not just raising a generation of children who have become used to getting what they want, when they want?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Who needs the high street when we have the internet?

A report this week suggested that high street sales are down for the Christmas period. The contributing factors seem to be peoples’ lack of money due to the recession, but also that people are choosing to shop online rather than go out to the shops.

From what other people have told me, shops certainly do seem to be quieter than in previous years, without the mass crowds that usually arrive in town first thing in the morning, only leaving when the shops close.

But really, now we have the internet, do we need to go into the shops at all? And if we do choose to go into the shops, there are so many comparison sites out there that it’s easy to go into the shops, have a look at the physical product you want to buy, and with the latest and greatest barcode scanning app available on any Smartphone, have a quick look to see where it’s cheapest online, and go home and order it, and have it delivered to your door.

Of course one of the drawbacks to ordering presents on the internet is the fact that you are still not guaranteed a delivery time, so it is possible that your presents will be delivered while you are out, thus forcing you to go and collect them or arrange redelivery. Or the possibility that there will be a delay due to excessive orders/bad weather, and you then being faced with the possibility that the much-wanted presents won’t arrive on time, and the shops being sold out by the time you realize that you have nothing for anyone to open on Christmas day.

But if you are organized enough it is certainly possible to avoid actually going to a shop over the Christmas period. Even food shopping needn’t be a chore as most of the online grocery delivery companies made their Christmas delivery slots available from the beginning of November.

Of course, not actually leaving the house in order to do Christmas does mean you miss out on the festive atmosphere in the shops, and having everything arrive on your doorstep does make it feel a little bit less Christmassy, But there’s something to be said for convenience.

Friday, 9 December 2011

canoes trains and the glamorization of crime

This week, John Darwen, the man who faked his own death by pretending to have drowned in a canoeing accident has been fairly prominent in the press/in radio interviews. He claims he has been giving interviews in order to set the record straight about what really happened, and to challenge some of the things that have previously been printed about him in the press.

This concept of interviewing/giving convicted criminals airtime just seems odd to me. After all, is it right that someone who has committed a crime then go on to game publicity for said crime? There are certain criminals to whom we would never give the time of day, and yet for certain others they and their crimes almost seem to have been glamorized in the eyes of the public and the media, even though those crimes are fairly unpleasant.

Train robber Ronnie Biggs has for instance often been described as a loveable rogue, even though he was part of a gang that were responsible for the great train robbery, and instead of serving a legitimate sentence, fled to Brazil where he lived on the proceeds of his crimes until he returned to Britain, not to give himself up, but because his health had deteriorated and he wanted to use the health service here.

Even the Cray twins while fairly notorious criminals who were ultimately responsible for armed robbery, torture, and even murder, are viewed almost with a level of hero worship by some. The view expressed by many is that as the people they killed were part of gangs and therefore not necessarily very pleasant individuals anyway, no-one really got hurt. As if that somehow justifies and even glamorizes murder.

And now I wonder whether John Darwen will eventually be thought of in the same way by some. It seems there is something quite glamorous about faking your own death, especially for the insurance money, and then living in the spare room of your eighteen bedroom house, going out for walks disguised as a man with a walking stick, while your friends and family mourn your passing. But there is almost certainly nothing glamorous about allowing your children and parents and other friends and family to believe you have died, to attend your funeral, and to then steal the identity of a dead baby in order to leave the country to start a new life.

Having listened to John Darwen on the radio this morning I actually found him quite repulsive. He shows no remorse for what he has done, believes his sentence was too long (even though he was released after serving only half of it), and although he says that with hindsight he wishes he hadn’t gone through with faking his own death, admits that it was very easy to do, the hard part is coming back from the dead. Well it would be, wouldn’t it? And he spoke rather bitterly about those family members who have chosen to have nothing more to do with him, even to the extent that they have taken out injunctions to prevent him talking about them.

While admittedly John Darwen’s wife Anne was complicit in his crimes and served a similar prison sentence, at least she isn’t justifying what she did in the media or through publication of a book as John Darwen is.

While I think we are all fascinated by certain crime and by the people who commit those crimes, I think there’s a fine line between fascination and glamorization and that especially the media need to be careful not to go down the route of glamorization, or forgetting that other real people are personally affected by the crimes that we can remain fascinated by, because we view them only from a distance.

The great Christmas shopping survey

With just fourteen shopping days left until Christmas the world seems to be divided into several categories:

The uber organized, who bought and wrapped all their Christmas presents by the end of October, who have ordered their turkeys in November and who can spend December flitting from Christmas party to Christmas party without a care.

The less organized who have made a start on the Christmas presents, but who will be buying up to the end of Christmas Eve, who are starting to think about what food to cook.

And the totally disorganized, who have no idea what to buy anyone and who will be going away for Christmas so have no need to worry about what to cook.

Which category do you fall into? Vote in my poll at the bottom of this page

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Wrong to prepare children for exams? What's changed then?

This morning in the news there have been claims that teachers were given information on how to best help their students pass exams. 

The allegations have been made by the Telegraph, who sent under cover reporters to seminars run by exam boards and attended by teachers. 

The way the articles have been written, one might read into them that teachers essentially bribed exam board officials for information about exams, when in actual fact these were legitimate seminars run by the exam boards, where only some of the content has been seen as questionable. 

 Now, I haven't sat exams for twenty years or so, but hasn't this always been the case? As far as I'm aware, students have always, for instance, been given test papers to work on to help them better prepare for their upcoming exams.  And there has always been a level of coaching in terms of the best way to answer specific questions in order that students be able to obtain the best grades possible. 

Nobody is saying that children should be given their exam papers upfront and told how to answer the questions.  But that is not what appears to be happening here.  The fact that children may be being equipped to answer their exam papers in the best way possible so as to achieve the best result can surely only be seen as a good thing.   Or would the telegraph prefer that our children were set up to fail?

What we have to remember here is that we're not talking about children having attended a seminar run by the exam boards - these are teachers.  Teachers whose job it is to teach our children, and to prepare them for their upcoming exams, exams that will possibly give them a start into further education, the results of which may actually determine the quality of further education those children will qualify for. 

If we trust those teachers to teach our children in the best way they know how, then we surely also trust them to help those children by giving them guidance on the best way to answer certain questions in an exam, should those questions arise.  Just because a child is told that "this is the best way to word x question should it come up," doesn't mean that the teacher is telling those children what the question is.  After all studying for an exam is preparing for any eventual question, and knowing the best way in which to answer it.  That hasn't changed and surely never will. 

I don’t see why children shouldn’t be given the best tools to achieve the best results.  And I don’t see why knowing the best way in which to answer a question (should that question come up) is such a bad thing.  Neither can I understand why it is seen as bad for children to achieve the best possible results with the best coaching prior to their exams.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Your health, your responsibility

A report issued today by Cancer Research has highlighted that 40% of cancers are directly attributed to our lifestyles.  Smoking, drinking, being overweight, lack of fruit and veg are just some of the factors that can directly be linked to cancer. 

So in fact if you turn those figures around, if you don’t do those things, you are 40% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer in the future.  Obviously though there are some factors such as smoking that are much higher contributors than others, but the facts remain.

Now there are calls for the government to do more to tackle this issue.  But my question is, why should it be down to the government?  I’m all for the government taking responsibility for things that they actually have some control over, and in terms of treatment of cancers I believe that of course the health service has a huge part to play.  But equally do we not have some personal responsibility here? 

The risks of smoking for instance are well documented, and over the years a number of laws have come into force to highlight those risks and to make cigarettes less appealing.  But ultimately if someone chooses to continue smoking, even knowing the risks that is down to their personal choice and not something the government is in a position to tackle? 

Similarly alcohol is already controversial due to the binge drinking culture that exists in the UK.  And while there have been calls for no more happy hours in pubs/offers in supermarkets etc, the choice to drink still comes down to the individual.

And we all know that you should eat “five a day,” there are enough labels on products in the supermarket to indicate that this or that product is one of your “five a day,” but even so there is plenty of information out there, so most people should know that eating fruit and veg is healthy, while not doing so is not. 

The government can surely only be expected to do more in terms of education/provision of health services.  But when it comes to actually taking responsibility for our lifestyles that responsibility has to lie with the individuals. 

If you smoke 30 a day for twenty years and develop cancer as a result, the only person responsible for that is you. 

Equally if you drink to excess for twenty years and develop cancer as a result (or any of the other diseases linked to alcohol for that matter) the only person responsible for that is you.

And the same applies for people who are overweight/who live unhealthy lifestyles due to lack of fruit/veg/other healthy foods. 

We are ultimately responsible for our own wellbeing.  For many reasons we abdicate that responsibility and instead live our lives for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  But at the end of the day if we live an unhealthy lifestyle and have to face the consequences of that lifestyle further down the line, no-one else was responsible for that.  No-one makes anyone else start smoking or drinking or sit out in the sun for hours – we all have free will, and free choice. 

If by some unfortunate circumstance we end up becoming ill as a result of our lifestyles then of course the government, or in actual fact the health service, should provide the treatment and care needed.  But it is time we started taking responsibility for our own lives and health and acknowledging that some of the factors that lead to the health problems we suffer are a direct result of the choices we personally make.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Have you got the fix X- factor?

So as we approach the X-factor final there is once again controversy and allegations of a fix. 

Today HMV launched a pre-order page for the single recorded by finalist Amelia Lily.  The page was for the “winning single,”

Obviously as soon as people realized what was going on the HMV bosses were quick to explain that this was a mere technicality and that pages should actually have been posted for all three of the finalists. 

But this isn’t the first time that Amelia has been at the centre of fix allegations.  After Frankie Coccoza was thrown off the show earlier in the series, Amelia and three other acts who had been iliminated by their mentors in the first round came back for a sing-off in which the public voted for one of them to come back into the show. 

However, an hour before the result was revealed, Scottish TV had announced that Amelia had won the public vote and was back in the show.  They also reported on mentor Kelly Rowland’s reaction.  As it turned out, Amelia was declared the act to go back into the show and Kelly Rowland’s reaction was exactly as had been described.  The justification?  Releases are prepared for all acts in advance and it was sheer coincidence that this one had been reported.  Really?  So we are led to believe that not only do the press pre-prepare a release beforehand (a concept which is actually quite feasible), but we are seemingly also to believe that the judges and contestants have pre-agreed and rehearsed their reactions?  After all, only by knowing the reaction could it surely have been known how Kelly Rowland was going to react. 

And all these technical glitches that just happen to happen to the show – are we really supposed to believe that they’re just technical glitches and that it is purely a coincidence that things really turn out exactly as they were accidentally pre-published?  I think there are just too many coincidences for the explanations to be credible.

One thing is for certain, if Amelia Lily is named the winner on Sunday night, there will almost certainly be questions and doubts among the public as to whether her win was genuine or pre-determined.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

no "honour" in violence and murder

A study published today has revealed the extent of so-called honour crimes in the UK. 

I have serious issue with this term.  Because while the people committing these crimes obviously do so in the name of some warped sense of family honour, any normal-thinking individual knows that there is nothing honourable about these crimes. 

While we continue to refer to these as "honour" crimes, we are in fact reinforcing the belief that violence and murder committed in the name of family honour is different to other forms of violence and murder, when in fact, it isn't. 

We all know that violence and murder is wrong.  When reported, individuals who commit such crimes in the name of so-called family honour are often prosecuted.  But they are still prosecuted under the label of "honour" which sends the message back to their family as to why the crime was committed, and continues to normalise this belief amongst some that murder and violence done in the name of "honour" is still ok. 

We need to get past this.  We need to take away the "honour" label from these crimes and make it abundantly clear that murder is murder, that violence is violence, and that there is nothing "honourable" about either.

And we need to stand up against this acceptance by some that murder and violence committed in the name of family honour is somehow different to murder and violence committed in any other setting.  It isn't.

Friday, 2 December 2011

The consumer's night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, all the presents were bought
Where we couldn’t afford them the credit we sought

An xbox for Johnny, An iPhone for Dad,
Mum will be thrilled with her brand new iPad.

The kids all have laptops, so they’ll stop using mine
And they’ll use them for school work so really it’s fine. 

I picked up some bargains, all designer labels,
And the older kids really would love a pool table.

A wii fit to help us all battle the bulge,
But not just yet, there’s still time to indulge.

The younger ones all need new bikes, well that’s healthy,
And who said Christmas was just for the wealthy.

When I wrapped up the presents the piles seemed so small
So I bought just a few more small things for them all. 

A kindle for each of them, but there’s justification
After all, reading is good education.

To add to the piles just a few DVD’s
And it’s time that the kids had their own TV’s.

I’m almost done now, A DS each and some games,
And without some chocolate Christmas wouldn’t be the same. 

Now to the kitchen where there’s food aplenty,
We have ten round for dinner but the turkey serves twenty!

A giant ham and some stuffing and veggies galore,
And if you’re still hungry I’ve got puddings and more.

Six kilos of chocolate, well it had to be done,
They were on three for two, so I couldn’t buy just one.

With boxes of biscuits and crackers and nuts,
And so much party food the fridge door barely shuts.

I’ve got soft drinks and plenty of wine and some beer,
After all Christmas is a time full of cheer.

And after we’ve eaten and drank and feel ill,
We still have to pick up the credit card bill.

That we don’t have the money is inconsequential,
Because spending at Christmas is seen as essential.

As long as there’s plastic there’s money to spend,
We just forget that you have to pay it back in the end.

And now I’m left wondering if it would be better,
If I’d simply not bothered and just spent a tenner.

But instead we spend money on stuff we don’t need,
Just so we can indulge that thing... greed.

As I turn out the lights and head up to bed,
I think of what I could have done with that money instead.

But instead I am faced with a year of regret,
Of how one day got me so far into debt. 

As the clock strikes midnight, and Christmas is here,
I decide that things will be different next year.

For now we will all have an enjoyable day,
But before I sign off there’s just one thing to say.

If you haven’t spent much then just sing hallelujah
And merry Christmas to all, yours, the consumer.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Jeremy Clarkson, Littlewoods and the professional complainer

"they should all be taken out and executed."

Was the comment that was made by Jeremy Clarkson on the BBC last night in reference to the public sector workers who had gone out on strike.  A comment which has until now attracted over 4769 complaints to the BBC on the basis that people were offended by it. 

There can surely be no doubt that Clarkson made the comment tongue in cheek, and that no-one surely believes that someone would advocate people actually being executed on prime time television. 

It seems that complaining about things on television has become a bit of a trend, and the feeling I get is that often people will complain about something they’ve never actually seen, but that they feel they wish to complain about anyway. 

I can’t help wondering how many people actually herd Clarkson’s comment first hand and complained based on what they’d heard at the time, and how many complained after they heard that people were complaining about the fuss that had been caused and decided to just add their name to the list of complaints. 

Another prime example of this has beenthe Littlewoods Christmas advert, which shows a group of children singing on stage about all the presents under the tree and how they have all been provided by "my lovely mother," with no reference anywhere to Santa.

This advert has generated several hundred complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority on the basis that it ruins the magic of Christmas for children.

If something is genuinely offensive and you have witnessed it first hand then of course I can see the motivation to complain – that’s what the regulatory bodies are there for after all.  But complaining simply because you wish to become a part of a trend/want to jump on the particular bandwagon just seems like madness to me.  After all if you really don’t like someone that much (and I have no doubt that many people will have complained purely on the basis they don’t like Jeremy Clarkson as an individual), then you always have the option to switch off the television or watch something else. 

As for the Littlewoods advert, while it is, in my opinion, a pretty awful advert which clearly depicts the level of consumerism that appears to be the expectation these days, complaining that it essentially ruins the magic of Christmas for our children because it shows the presents as having been brought by mother instead of delivered by Santa is just completely irrational. 

After all a child could just as easily find out in the playground that Santa isn’t real – would a parent see fit to go into the school and complain then? 

It’s fairly simple really – if you don’t want your children watching adverts (and I can see why people don’t want children watching adverts) then turn off the television during the ad breaks or invest in a recordable sky or freeview box. 

But you can’t realistically expect a regulator to take you seriously when you complain about an advert which is actually truthful i.e. which shows that the presents under the tree aren’t really delivered by Santa. 

the right to die - in the name of disability?

A man who was paralyzed from the neck down following a stroke is to go to court to request that doctors be allowed to help him to die. 

Tony Micklinson is paralyzed from the neck down and is only able to communicate by blinking.  But mentally he is still entirely competent.  He has expressed the wish to be allowed to end his own life with the help of doctors on the basis that his death may be a long drawn out affair which will be hard on his family. 

I think this raises some serious questions.  In the past there have been numerous attempts from individuals suffering from terminal illnesses requesting permission to be assisted to die, and for those who assist them be granted immunity from prosecution.  So far, all these requests have been unsuccessful. 

But Tony Micklinson is not terminally ill.  Tony Micklinson is severely disabled, and while it is perfectly understandable that he might feel he does not wish to live that way, his condition is not degenerative and is not one which will ultimately kill him. 

He has made the point that if he were able, then he would have the right to commit suicide.  However this isn’t actually the case.  It’s not having the right, it’s having the ability.  But even if Tony Micklinson were able-bodied, were it to be known that he was suicidal, it is likely he would be sectioned to prevent him from killing himself.  Or if he attempted and failed he would be admitted to hospital and given psychiatric help in order that he not attempt suicide again. 

Suicide is still actually illegal in the UK, so it is inaccurate to suggest that the able-bodied have the right to end their own lives while the terminally ill/severely disabled do not.  The able-bodied have the ability not the right – there is a difference. 

But there is another aspect of this case which leaves me somewhat uncomfortable. 

When someone commits suicide due to depression, the reaction expressed is always one of overwhelming sadness and regret that the person could not seek help in order to overcome their state of mind in order to have not felt the need to commit suicide.  This is of course right – after all it is desperately sad that anyone should ever feel that there is no way out for them but suicide. 

But when someone with a disability commits suicide due to their disability the reaction is often totally different, almost to the point where it is seen as acceptable to want to end your life due to disability. 

When Daniel James, a 23 year old rugby player, went to Dignitas in Switzerland to commit suicide in 2008 the reactions were varied.  But overwhelmingly many people seemed to believe that for him, ending his life rather than learning to come to terms with his disability was the right thing to do.  That disability is seen as this thing to fear and that wanting to kill yourself rather than face it is perfectly understandable and should not be judged. 

Yet we don’t have this view towards depression.  I don’t believe that anyone would sanction someone suffering from depression ending their own life – quite the opposite – people would want that person to seek help and support, and would tell them that nothing could be that bad. 

And yet there are people out there who are happy to fight for the right of someone with a disability to be able to end their life.  I think it is very sad that we still have such a two-tear way of thinking in terms of when it is ok to commit suicide and when it isn’t. 

We should no more express understanding for the disabled person’s wish to end their life than we would do of someone who is depressed.  One life does not equal more worthy of ending simply because that person has a disability.

And I am of course not referring to terminal illness in this way of thinking, since terminal illness is an entirely different thing, after all, if someone is going to die then it is perfectly understandable that they may wish to hasten this process while they are still able to do so.

Monday, 28 November 2011

media reporting - public interest vs what interests the public?

Yesterday Wales football manager Gary Speed died.  He was just 42 years old, and it is believed he took his own life. 

Within hours of reporting the news, the press had gone one further and reported the time he had been found, and the circumstances in which he had apparently taken his own life. 

This for me raises the question as to how much we really need to know when a story is reported.  I do actually think it absolutely right that it be reported that a man who was quite prominent in football, had a well-documented career, was well liked and well respected had chosen to commit suicide, at a time when people didn’t appear to know there was any indication he was planning to do so.  I think all too often that mental illness and depression goes unreported and that it’s much easier to sweep it under the carpet and to pretend that it doesn’t exist. 

However, there is surely a line between what is in the public interest here, and the issues that raises, and what it could be argued simply interests the public, in terms of the details that are provided. 

That a well-known public figure has chosen to end his own life is something I think we should be aware of.  After all, you can’t just report that someone has died, as often the circumstances surrounding their death may raise further awareness of particular issues, and in this case may bring the issue of depression to the fore and perhaps even bring help to others who are going through the same.  But the way in which that person chose to end their own life is and should remain personal to them and their family. 

This sort of reporting is fairly commonplace in the media.  It is not uncommon, for instance, when reading about a particular family’s tragedy, to also be told details which have no bearing on the particular issue, such as the value of their home, or their relationship status. 

How much someone’s house is worth or whether or not they are married or divorced, cohabiting or a single parent is generally not in the interest of the story being reported.  But the media would argue that in order to build a profile of the person they are reporting on, and to make that person more personable to the public, it is necessary to report on these details. 

I disagree.  The public may in some instances be interested to know how much someone’s house cost, or may form a judgement based on someone’s marital status, but it is not in their interests to know.  Just because something interests the public doesn’t make that in the public interest, and it is surely high time the press realized that and started reporting accordingly. 

Gary Speed’s family are no doubt going through their own personal hell at the moment.  It is bad enough that they know how he died, without that fact having been published in the national newspapers where presumably, his children will be able to read it, or even accidentally stumble across it in the future. 

And perhaps the press should question whether it is that the public wants to know, or whether they want to tell us.