Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tattoos: What's All The Fuss About?

By Matt Murdock

I have tattoos; several of them in fact. I got my first during my first year of University. I wasn’t drunk and I don’t have an accompanying funny pub story about it either. I designed it, edited it, paid the money and got it done. Simple. Then I got another, and another, and another, and another and then I went and got a really big one to cover one of the originals. Five years down the line I’ve filled my arm. The complication? I teach.

I would guess that even the more liberal amongst you were at least mildly surprised that I was a teacher. Celebrity endorsements and shows such as Miami Ink have unquestionably brought tattoos much more into public consciousness, but I couldn’t quite say that they’re mainstream yet. Yes, your pop idol and favourite sports personality have them, but not your doctor and certainly not your lawyer. But why? What’s all the fuss about tattoos?

Tattoos have been around for almost as long as we have. Mummies have been dug up with tattoos. They can be seen on tomb paints and ancient temple engravings. For as long as we have been aware of our bodies we have altered them and tattoos are a well established part of the tradition. Not that that’s why I get them; I just like them.

The art on my right arm may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s in no way offensive. And yet for some reason, some people genuinely do take umbrage. Meanwhile others can’t understand why I’m annoyed at being expected to have my sleeve permanently rolled down, as if it’s a perfectly natural assumption that I would have to. Why? What is it about tattoos that offends people?

I’m a good teacher. I interact well with my students and they seem to genuinely enjoy the learning that takes place in my lessons. I’m also well respected by most of the faculty, and yet my credibility is somehow challenged by the fact of my tattoos.

Let me paint a picture: you’re in a pub, or party or club whatever. You get chatting to a friend of a friend… that civil slight awkward party chat. You talk about your boring job that you hate, you notice his/her tattoo. You ask him/her if it hurt, they give some half-arsed reply, you ask what they do, they say doctor, you say (audibly or otherwise) really? It happens, it happens to me at every party I ever go to. Sometimes much more openly, people will say “seriously, with those tattoos, you teach? Are you allowed to?”. Sorry what??

I have my own thoughts on the matter. That perhaps tattoos, like other art, divide people and that this is what we love about them. I remember Damien Hurst’s, plastic half shark thing, my un-apt description should tell the reader that I didn't think all that much of it. Others apparently loved it and were willing to fork out immense piles of cash for it. I don't get it, perhaps like many people just don't get tattoos. But here my logic fails, because although DH’s version of art doesn't much appeal to me, it didn't offend me and yet my tattoos apparently do offend people. I really don't get what all the fuss is about.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Wouldn't You Rather Know?

By Euclides Montes (@gatulino)

Please forgive the shortness of this post. To be entirely honest, I’ve really been struggling to write it. I wasn’t sure whether to write a serious note or instead approach the question that’s got me pondering this week in a light-hearted way. In fact, I over thought it so much that at some point I even tried to write a poem! Thankfully for all of us, I remembered very quickly that, erm, I can’t write poetry.

This 19th of May is World Hepatitis Awareness Day and the reason that I’m finding this post a bit difficult to write is because this day is quite important to me. You see, I am Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C positive. I’ve had these two viruses affecting my life for over 13 years now. Half as long as I’ve been alive in fact! But that’s not really the point of this post. The reason I bring it up is because when I was first diagnosed, all those years ago, I underwent treatment for my illness and as far as I was aware, I cleared the viruses. A misdiagnosis that meant that for a whole decade I walked around completely unaware that these destructive illnesses were attacking my liver on a daily basis.

And that’s the problem with Hepatitis. By and large, it’s a very silent killer. It can go unnoticed for years and when left untreated, it can lead to very serious liver damage. It is estimated that at least 500 million people are infected worldwide by hepatitis, the disease costing the lives of over 1 million people every year. To put that in stark terms, one in twelve of us have a positive status, whether we know it or not. Even more worryingingly, some estimates suggest that one in every three health professionals in the western world might actually be affected by the disease. To give you my final fact of the post, that means that 3 times more people are infected by Hepatitis than HIV/AIDS, and yet public awareness of the risks is almost non-existent. And that’s where my ponder lies. Why aren’t talking about it more? Why is it that one of the biggest killers in our society doesn’t get the attention it deserves?

This lack of spotlight on the issue means that governments across the globe have neglected to fund research into cures for these diseases. Or even worse in my opinion, normal folk, like you and me, don’t know much about the disease. Something as innocent as sharing a toothbrush with someone affected by Hep C can mean that you have contracted this disease and what’s worse, you won’t even know it for years. Perhaps until it’s too late. I believe that’s definitely something worth talking about.

So please allow me to use this post to invite everyone to find out more about the risks hepatitis poses and if you think you might have been exposed to the viruses in any way, please get tested!

After all, in the words of a very bad poet:

With the stakes so high and the effort so low
I really have to ponder, wouldn’t you rather know?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Who Am I To Judge?

By Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

So I have a question. It’s the type of question that I should no doubt be keeping to myself. The type of question that I just know is going to come back and bite me in the arse. It’ll probably be the noose they use to hang me when I run for Prime Minister at the second general election of the year – my bet’s on January. No? Isn’t that what they meant by political reform?

Anyway, back to my question. Here it is: what’s so wrong with being judgemental?

We’re taught from such a young age that to be a good judge of character is a good thing. It gives you the gift of hindsight without having to wait for the “hind”. And yet, we’re simultaneously taught not to judge, that to be judgemental puts you up there with Simon Cowell and Heather Mills. Contradiction much?

But don’t we learn to understand and broaden our own value systems by learning from those around us? And not only from those who taught us the values that we hold dear, but also from those who demonstrated to us what we don’t want to be. To judge others is how we measure ourselves, isn’t it?

Let me put my keyboard where my mouth is and put my judgemental-ness on display. I can read all I like about the ill effects of passive smoking and I know that I find the idea uncomfortable. I then see a mother smoking near a three month old baby whose lungs are about the size of a golf ball and I make a judgement – my judgement is that it’s wrong to smoke next to a young child.

In my judgement I’m fully aware that there may be a million and one reasons for why a woman (who I’ve judged to be the child’s mother) is smoking near a pram. Whatsmore, a million of them might have made any one of us reach for the Malborough Lights. But I’m not judging the woman’s character, I’m not judging her ability to be a mother, I am not judging anything except for the fact that the act itself is “wrong” – which makes the circumstances around it entirely irrelevant. Perhaps she’d even agree.

As far as I can tell, there seem to be two principle arguments for why being judgemental is deemed to be so terribly naughty. The first is the whole slippery slope logic. I judge the act and so I risk judging the woman, now that I’m judging the woman I’m clearly going to end up judging her ability to be a mother, and so on and so on. Except I don’t. I have no idea who she is, neither am I interested.

The other reason appears to be that we conflate the idea with lots of other genuinely ugly traits. Judgemental is defined as:

“Inclined to make judgments, especially moral or personal ones.”

Nowhere in that definition is there any implication of bigotry, prejudiced or discriminatory behaviour. The two don’t go hand in hand – or at least they don’t have to. My judgement actually doesn’t have anything to do with the woman or anyone else, it simply helps me to reinforce, or adapt, my own value systems.

I’ve made plenty of decisions in my life for which I’ve felt judged. At times it’s been a bit irritating to say the least, but it’s also fair enough isn’t it? All it means is that whoever it was judging me didn’t share the same values as I did on that particular issue. That they (or so they believed at the time) wouldn’t have made the same decisions as I did. And to be honest, I judge them a little for that so we go back to being even.

Maybe, and I do mean maybe, if being judgemental became a characteristic that we were able to respect, then perhaps we would be able to better articulate our own moral compasses. So rather than being mad at the bankers because “they shouldn’t have done it”, we could instead be able to express our judgement of people whose work ethic is centred around the creation of personal wealth – or not - perhaps we would instead have found that the only difference between ourselves and Sir Fred was scale… I doubt it, but perhaps. Then again, who am I to judge?

Before starting this ponder I felt fairly comfortable that I knew the answer to my question. Namely, “nothing”. There is nothing wrong with being judgemental. By paragraph two I’d realised I’d made a terrible mistake and there was plenty wrong. By half way through I’d found my way again and realised that it is ok. I end undecided. There are some characteristics that as a society we find inherently repugnant, and perhaps we need to accept that without challenge?

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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Has Anyone Seen My Vote?

After reading Rachel's post  a couple of weeks ago, my mind has been buzzing with questions: If you don’t vote, should you have less rights? Is it possible to be an active citizen and not care who runs the country? I know plenty of politically disillusioned social workers, for example, who make a significant contribution to their society. Surely, change and participation can be measured in a number of ways? Thus, can complacency be reduced to a mark on a ballot paper? To vote or not to vote, that is certainly the question.

Quite honestly, I'll be glad when this election is over. Standing by hopelessly, as the UK's Prime Minister hopefuls attempt to bewitch us with elaborate, alas empty promises of progressive reform and future prosperity, plagues me with a host of political anxieties. It's not so much that all three candidates, in my opinion, are grossly unworthy of leading our country. It's the clatter of boring policy, which the cynical amongst us might argue pimps out limited solutions to increasingly complex and over-sensationalised issues. Not to mention purposely complicating the political process to avoid accountability for failed policies three months down the line. Not me of course. I see it more like an esoteric power struggle within a masonic minority, show-cased by a geeky media. Trying to watch televised debates, or inform myself through the press plunges me into a state of comotosis, from which I emerge confused and frustrated. There simply is no substitute for ideology.

Perhaps this small discomfort is the least I can do as a responsible citizen? Surely, it is our duty to all those who sacrificed themselves to universalise the vote, to exercise it? But I can’t help but feel this perspective is a little short sighted. After all, the Suffrage movement, and others to which we are all so indebted fought for the vote to challenge non-representation and have a voice, nothing less. But can we honestly say that the vote holds the same value today?

Our apathy is not so much with the quality of candidacy, but with the government itself. After all, the vote is only a means to an end. And this particular end, as the multitude expense scandals, lies and unjustifiable wars demonstrate, is in dire need of change. From this perspective voting is arguably propping up an institution that is simultaneously self-serving, contemptuous and ultimately powerless to respond to the poverty, insecurity and fear crippling our world at the hands of insalubrious multinational companies in blind pursuit of profit.

So as E Day dawns upon us, I have to ask: Why should we vote?