Monday, 30 January 2012

no smacking to blame for the riots?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 January 2012

When your "online" friends turn out to be fictitious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 January 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 January 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Why are some missing people reported on and not others?

On New Year’s Day the body of a woman was found on the Sandringham Estate. Initially the report was that “human remains” had been found, since then this has been amended to confirm that it was the body of a woman, and the last report suggested that she had been dead for between one/four months. Police have launched a murder investigation.

As I read the reports it dawned on me that there haven’t been any reports of women going missing recently (in the past one/four months), as often when a body is discovered the reports are often made in conjunction with the line that “police looking for X have found a body.” But this time there have been no such reports, or even suggestions as to the possible identity of this poor woman.

And for me it raised the question, what is it that makes some peoples’ disappearance more newsworthy than others? I can think of some cases where people have gone missing and their disappearance has been high profile in the media, Claudia Lawrence, Jo Yeats, Sian O’Callaghan, all in the past couple of years, and sadly all with tragic outcomes. Yet a woman has been murdered, and the first we learn of her death is when her body was discovered. And if she hadn’t been found on the Sandringham Estate, I wonder whether we would ever have learned of her disappearance, or would only her family and friends ever have learned of what had happened to her.

Of course it could be argued that hundreds of people go missing every day, and that the media cannot possibly report on all of them. But the media does report some of them, and I do wonder what sets those that are brought into the media spotlight apart from the rest, that their disappearance becomes national news until there is an outcome, while the rest seemingly go unnoticed?

Who was this woman? Where was she from? Was she even reported missing? One can only assume so. But if so, why was her disappearance not worthy of news coverage until she was found at Sandringham?

And maybe that is the key. Maybe the media only considers a person worth reporting on if there is something interesting about them. If they are pretty/disappeared in unusual circumstances. Claudia Lawrence's disappearance was mysterious and unexplained (and is to this day); Jo Yeats disappeared at Christmas, after a party, and her disappearance was totally out of character according to her friends and family. Sian O'Callaghan disappeared after leaving a nightclub, it's something that I think every young woman dreads, after all it's not the first time a young woman has disappeared in such circumstances. And now the body of a woman has been found at Sandringham. This too is unusual. Except the difference here is that we didn't know of her until this interesting piece about her, i.e. the location where she was found, made her newsworthy.

The fact that hundreds of people go missing every day is tragic. And presumably some of those will ultimately be found dead, without so much as a report in the press (maybe in the local papers but rarely the nationals). But what is more tragic is that even if you disappear you have to have something special about you to make your disappearance worthy of reporting on in the media.

RIP Stephen Lawrence, some justice at last?

Today two men, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993. Anyone who lives in the UK will have heard of the Stephen Lawrence murder, so I need not go into details here.

But this case was littered with errors, which not only highlighted the institutional racism within the police, but almost meant no-one was ever convicted of this murder.

Had it not been for advances in forensic science, it may never have been possible to bring these two men to justice after such a long time.

While no conviction can ever undo the past or bring Stephen Lawrence back, I hope that this conviction can go some way towards the family finding some closure. And I hope that this is just the beginning and that those who were also there on that night will be able to be brought to account.

But in the meantime, I think as a society we should be glad that at last, justice has been done.

RIP Stephen Lawrence.