Monday, 28 March 2011

online scams - the victims, the gullible or the greedy???

It's a fairly familiar story. You receive an email saying that you're entitled to a large sum of money, but to claim it all you need to do is click on the link provided and give your bank details, after which the money will be transferred to your account. These emails vary, from someone telling you you've won a considerable cash prize in a lottery (the fact you didn't enter is apparently inconsequential) to a message from a business man in some far-flung African country who needs to move his considerable fortune from his corrupt country into a more honest setting, and all he needs is your bank details, and in exchange he will pay you a considerable sum of money. Obviously you need to pay an administration fee to allow for the transfer of the money but that doesn't matter, as you'll soon be rich anyway.

Every year, thousands of people fall victim to these scams, and end up thousands of £ out of pocket.

But I can't help wondering, are these people really victims? Are people really that gullible and easily led that they believe that a random stranger would email them out of the blue to give them money? Or is it greed that drives them to give up large sums of their life savings and sometimes even selling their houses, in the hopes of getting a return?

For some, logic seems to disappear. In order to win a lottery you first need to buy a ticket. So it's simple really – if you didn't buy a ticket, then you didn't win the lottery. Equally if you win the lottery you hand over your ticket, and the lottery organisation gives you the money You would only need to look at any lottery company's website to see that no administration charges apply, and certainly not at the level that some people are prepared to pay.

Similarly, why would a Nigerian Businessman feel the need to contact a random stranger on the Internet with whom he would like to share his vast fortune?

There are of course more legitimate-looking scams, such as emails claiming that paypal account has been hacked, or the bank security emails, scaring people into thinking their bank accounts will be frozen if they don't log in immediately to update their information.

But when thinking about the lottery/money laundering scams, I can't help thinking that the only thing that drives people to respond is greed.

I have read countless accounts of people who have lost thousands on these scams, I even heard one interviewed on the radio once that had re-mortgaged his house to pay the admin charges, and so we're not talking small sums of money here. Of course when being interviewed these people claim they are victims, that they were taken advantage of, and that the scammer was at fault. Of course the scammer is at fault for taking advantage, but exactly who is he taking advantage of? The gullible? The stupid? The greedy?

Who is really to blame if someone decides to re-mortgage their house in order to launder the money of an unknown stranger he knows only from an email address through his bank account, in the hopes of getting rich?

It's not like being robbed – people actually choose to participate in these activities. And from that I can only come to one conclusion – some people shouldn't be left in charge of an email address or a bank account.

Monday, 21 March 2011

drink don't drive, drive, don't drink

Today the government confirmed that it wouldn't be lowering the drink drive limits in the UK to bring them in line with Europe. Currently the legal alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol to 100ml of blood, the proposal was to lower the limit to 50mg which is equivalent to a pint of beer.

Safety campaigners had claimed that this would save lives, however I do wonder whether someone who seemingly has no qualms about drinking and then getting behind the wheel of a car would really take much notice of a reduced alcohol limit, after all, if 50mg of alcohol is equivalent to 1 pint of beer, then 80mg would be equivalent to approximately 1.6 pints of beer, which would imply that the responsible drinkers would down their first pint and then only consume a 6th of the second one before throwing it away in order that they could safely get behind the wheel of a car.

I suppose one could argue that the second drink might only be a half pint, in which case none of the precious beer would be lost. But one could also argue that the responsible thing to do would be to not drink and drive in the first place.

Nobody needs to drink. Yes it makes for a good night out, but one beer isn't going to achieve that, so why bother at all?

Besides which, how many people really know what the limit is? A pint of beer is probably simple enough, but once you start entering into the realms of glasses of wine and shots of spirits, the issue becomes less straightforward. We all know that wine glasses differ widely in size, so to say that "a glass of wine" contains x units of alcohol can be very deceptive.

And do we really have to drink? If you're driving home you're going to be sober anyway, so that one pint of beer or one glass of wine isn't going to make a difference to your mental state. So why do it? Why not just stick to soft drinks, knowing that if you get pulled over, you won't be over the limit and won't face losing your licence?

Plenty of people do choose not to drink at all if they're driving, so there's no case of the need to do it, these things are purely down to choice. There shouldn’t be a need for a government-imposed limit to apply a simple message – if you're driving, don't drink.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Food glorious food

This morning I sat through an advert break and was astounded at the number of adverts for ready-made food.

Make a delicious chicken dish - simply place the chicken in a bag, scatter in a packet of some herbs and spices and flavourings (the exact contents are undisclosed here), shake it all up, put it in the oven and voila, you have a tasty chicken dish.

Alternatively you might like to make a tasty Bolognese for dinner. No need for all that messing about with tins of tomatoes and chopping onions and garlic now is there? Just buy a jar of sauce, add to your meat and pass it off as homemade.

Gone is the need to spend time in the kitchen peeling and cutting vegetables - you can now buy them ready prepared in the local supermarket. The fact they are about 50% more expensive than unprepared veg seems inconsequential; the time it saves you in the kitchen is priceless.

One could deduce from this that we are being encouraged to become a nation of lazy individuals who cannot be bothered to cook for ourselves but who instead choose to rely on the ready-made food industry to provide us with the means to put together a meal which has not quite been made for us, but which is now more about assembly rather than preparation. In fact it could be argued that we as a nation no longer need to even learn to cook, as there is a whole industry out there that will do it for us.

But all is not lost. The forces of cookery are fighting back, and we have only to turn on the television to watch numerous programmes about how it ought to be done.

Our screens are covered with the images of fabulous dishes and desserts, things we could only ever have dreamed of eating out in restaurants, but which we are now being given the knowledge to prepare in our very own homes. And with that knowledge comes new terminology.

Gone is the humble sauce, instead it has been replaced by the jus, or reduction. No more do we serve a dessert with biscuits, now we have tuilles. And the mashed potato? Forever confined to the history books - now we crush potatoes instead. And the question has to be asked - do people really cook these things at home?

There is certainly a place for the ready meal and the ready-made sauce in most houses. If you're in a rush to do something but have to eat then I can see why you might buy a jar, or even a meal to put into the oven/microwave. Equally there are some things which would seem like far more hassle than they are worth to make from scratch; I can distinctly remember looking at a recipe for puff pastry and thinking that it would take me several hours to complete the process, which seemed a bit pointless really when I can buy a pack for less than £1 in the supermarket.

Equally I can see the market for the more elaborate meal - my kitchen is not unfamiliar with chocolate soufflé's, homemade pasta made in the pasta machine I requested as a Christmas present, or duck breast served on a bed of Savoy cabbage and pancetta. My one attempt at a red wine jus are perhaps best left unexplored however.

But I do wonder whether there is middle ground somewhere. Do people still cook the more basic meals from scratch or is it just easier to buy jars of sauces?

Have we turned cookery into an art form, where we only enjoy doing it if there is a fancy meal at the end of it?

Or is the basic art of cooking just too boring to warrant discussion?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

No smoke without a label.

It's national no-smoking day.

Today the government has announced that shops will be made to display cigarettes in as plain packaging as possible, seemingly in order to deter people from wanting to buy them.

The question has to be whether this will actually work, and if so, how effectively.

If we look at why people smoke, the majority will tell you that it's because they are addicted. If you ask them why they started smoking in the first place, most will tell you it was because their friends did it at school, and they started in order to be cool. By the time they realise that actually, it's not that cool, in fact it's detrimental to their health, it's too late and they're already addicted.

The removal of any kind of attractive packaging has to be based on the assumption that people are drawn to buying the product based on its presentation. But actually, most are probably introduced to cigarettes behind the bike sheds (or whatever their equivalent is these days), by a school friend who probably stole them from his/her parents.

It's not like chocolate bars, where certain brands are targeted specifically with colourful packaging, by the time children get to the stage of legally being able to buy their own cigarettes, they probably don't care what brand they are, just as long as they're not too expensive.

Cigarette packaging has carried serious health warnings for years, and that doesn't appear to have put people off buying them, so I'm slightly confused as to how anyone thinks plain packaging is going to have an effect.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Mothers who murder their children - in the name of mental illness?

Yesterday an Edinburgh woman, Theresa Riggi pleaded guilty to killing her three children by stabbing them to death before jumping from the balcony of her flat.

She pleaded guilty not to murder but manslaughter on the grounds of diminnished responsibility.

It is unfortunately not uncommon (although thankfully not too common either) for parents to kill their children, and to then sometimes go on to kill themselves. There seems to be a difference though in terms of how these crimes are viewed, depending on whether it is the father or mother who commits the act.

If it is the father, the overwhelming opinion appears to be that he was a selfish man just out to seek revenge against his (usually ex) wife, by taking her children away from her.

But if a mother kills her children the overwhelming reaction seems to be that she must have been suffering some form of mental illness, and people even find it in themselves to feel sympathy for her.

This concept bothers me.

I think that we can all accept that anyone who kills another human being is not mentally normal. Even the most notorious killers have acted beyond the boundaries of normal behavior and as such we could consider them to have a mental disorder, be that a personality disorder or another mental illness.

But yet we do not seek to sympathise with the most notorious killers, apparently our sympathies are reserved for those killers who had an emotional attachment to their victims prior to killing them.

There are of course instances where someone does harm to another individual where mental illness is clearly to blame, and of course those people deserve nothing but sympathy. However I think that automatically assuming anyone who kills their own child must be suffering from mental illness is a very slipper slope to go down. If we assume that all mothers who kill their children are mentally ill, there's just a short jump from that to making the assumption that all mentally ill mothers are capable of killing their children, and thus consider them to be a risk to their children.

Yet most mothers who suffer from mental illness are not any risk to their children at all. In fact while many mothers suffering mental illness do harbour serious thoughts about harming themselves and ending their own lives, most will tell you that they could never conceive of harming their children.

It's a dangerous assumption to make that any mother who kills a child must have a mental illness, because it takes no account of the possibility that some mothers do deliberately harm and even kill their children, and is an insult to those mothers who are genuinely mentally ill and who would never wish to harm their children, yet leaves them vulnerable to suspicion by those who would automaticaaly equate one (mental illness) with the other (child killer).