Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Sexy Kids

By Euclides Montes @Gatulino

Last week one of the strangest occurrences took place in my household: David Cameron came on whilst I was watching the evening news to talk about something and just as my partner was getting ready to stop me from throwing my shoes at the TV again whilst foaming at the mouth and shouting expletives, she actually found me nodding along to what the Etonian darts-lover had to say. And although it would be difficult not to agree with him on this one at face value, my ponderings this week have been giving it a good go anyway.

The issue out of which he was trying to build policies was what he called the ‘sexualisation of children’ from an early age. You know, giving little babies t-shirts with sexually explicit words on them, allowing young girls to wear padded bras or listen to Lilly Alen. That kind of thing. And that’s why I say that, at face value, it’d be difficult not to agree with him. I’m sure not many of us would like others to see our children as sexual beings and even more, we’d prefer our kids to feel free to be children for as long as they want before getting entangled in complicated world of sexual politics.

This was made clear to me a few months back at my nephew’s birthday when a similar issue came up. My partner and I [childless] bought him for his 3rd birthday the most beautiful miniature Arsenal kit. As he proceeded to put him on, I could see the other [child-bearing] guests dropping their humus-covered carrot sticks disapprovingly as we ran around playing in the playground. But you could see their point. Parents perhaps shouldn’t bring their own habits, likes and beliefs into their kid’s lives. In an ideal world, they should grow up in a well grounded environment where they’ll have enough tools to make their own decisions on their own. So whether it is an Arsenal kit or an ‘I’m a future WAG’ t-shirt, adults shouldn’t be providing children with these adulthood entrapments that could define their lives, right?

Well, not quite really. Childhood in itself is defined by a constant lack of self-awareness that leads to scraped knees, broken windows and that general sense of ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuck-ness’ that kids possess. Just by wearing an Arsenal kit, my nephew is not guaranteed to be an Arsenal supporter when he grows up. Heck, it doesn’t even guarantees he likes football! By that same token, allowing little girls to sing along to Rude Boy won’t necessarily define their lives and ensure that when they get old they become, erm, singers*.

So, what does this mean? Is this simply the politicisation of children-wear? Not really. I think that it’d be a far too harsh assessment on Mr Cameron’s words. I believe some of these concerns are very real and we need to be talking about them more often. But I don’t believe that moving to ban pre-teen magazines and chase the bib-making industries is the way forward? Surely it’s better for kids to be prepared for their adult lives by not being patronised and instead take control of the conversation? I don’t know about you but sexual-related stories welcomed me when I joined primary school and I believe that maybe I’d like to know what myths and facts my kids are picking up? And who should be in charge of that? Do we really want the government taking the lead? My gut feeling is that the responsibility for this one should land right on the parent’s laps. However, I reckon I could be persuaded.

Or maybe I’m really missing the point. By thinking that kids are either unaware or uninterested in the connotations of Rihanna’s song, I’m doing the argument a disservice and I should really be worrying a bit more about it?


*Particularly telling that coverage of this particular item of news focused almost entirely on ‘girls growing up too fast’ and I didn’t really see the sexualisation of boys covered anywhere. Hmm… I don’t have enough space here to run on one of my feminist rants now though so if you picked up on this as well, drop a comment below!

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Shaking In My Liberal Boots

By Candice Carboo-Ofulue @Candaloo


Call me cowardly but if the members of the Tea Party Movement are representative of REAL America, I shall be reconsidering my trip to Las Vegas. Which is unfortunate given that the existence of Sarah Palin and her spawn has ruled out skiing in Alaska. It's not that I'm intolerant, or that I don't like Americans, I just worry that idiocy is catching.

This time, it's fear. What can be more frightening than, in non-euphemistic terms, the first annual congregation of America's pedigree bunch of militant, climate change denying, islamaphobs? Except of course, if that same convention was also attended by a prejudiced ex presidential candidate, bigoted senators and an organisation, which seriously believes that Obama is an alien. Oh wait, that happened. Combine all that fear and paranoia with a Keynote address from Sarah Palin and her duplicitous hand-full of politics, and the political circus is complete. Funny, right? Until one considers the influence of some of the members, and then it's just frightening. Don't get me wrong, this is not supposed to be a rant against Americans, or even Republicans, unless of course you are a stupid Republican, in which case this will probably be uncomfortable reading.

Anyway. As I read through the movement’s cries for revolution, I started to ponder: Should we be worried about the ignorance and paranoia that festers within the Republican Party? Are the extremists taking over mainstream politics? Or, are we dealing with a bunch of innocuous zealots that are best left ignored?

Ignoring is exactly what the politicians on both sides seem to be doing. Whilst the Liberals relax under the reign of President Obama and patronisingly dismiss the 'tea partiers', the Republican moderates whine that the media is disproportionately focusing on the extremists to undermine their credibility. Dangerous avoidance?

The truth, of course, is that there is nothing marginal about ex presidential candidates, senators, pastors, along with FOX news, all popularising extremism. That's an influential section of the country, which is alarming and regressive. I was shocked when I read that Utah's House of Representatives recently adopted a resolution by 56-17, which refuted the science of climate change. According to representative, Mike Noel: climate change is an elaborate conspiracy to control Americans through sterilisation and abortion. Really, Mike? I do hope this is an ostentatious attempt to undermine the science in order to keep your SUV. But I suspect it's skeptical ignorance.

So what is the impact on the public? It seems that while liberals and moderates meander down the path of denial; a large proportion of Americans seem all too willing to listen to these extremists? Simply look at the media coverage; the tea party goers are a growing minority. Perhaps this is normal given the Obama effect or a failure of the liberals to take them seriously? Or maybe they're preparing for the next election? Personally, I find the whole thing uncomfortable.

To leave you with a final thought: What I find most disturbing when I listen to Sarah Palin is the illusion of innocuousness. Is she the right type of person for the wrong type of politics? Hmmm.

*I apologize to any Americans that were injured whilst reading this opinion; I'm simply a concerned global citizen. Thoughts?

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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Justice Seen, Justice Done?

by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

The other day I heard an advert on the radio that chilled me to my very core. I’ve tried and failed to find a transcript of the aforementioned ad so you’ll just have to take my word on how chilling it was. Perhaps you’ve heard it? It went a little something like this:
Community Payback is punishment handed out by the courts. It is physical, demanding work carried out by criminals in the community. Offenders have to wear bright orange jackets that say “Community Payback”. To vote for or nominate projects in your local area that could benefit from the scheme please enter your details into the website. Justice seen, justice done. Brought to you by the Ministry of Justice.

Justice done? Seriously? Surely this isn’t justice; it’s a crass and poorly thought through attempt to convince the masses of our ability to tackle crime.

It probably won’t come as any surprise that I’m not part of the bring-back-the-gallows brigade, but I do believe that criminal behaviour should be met with tough and appropriate punishment and re-education. That’s not what this is. This is government sanctioned public humiliation. What’s more I think we should be ashamed.

To add a little detail to the Community Payback scheme, it replaced Community Service in 2003 despite widespread concern about the ethics of the programme. Anyone “eligible” for the scheme can’t be deemed to be a danger to the public so it's not a huge leap to translate that to mean that in effect it’s for low level offenders, perhaps with repeat convictions but not for any violent or “serious offences”. There's worryingly little information available on the actual detail of this scheme so logical leaps are all we have to go on.

For me the message that we’re sending out is fairly unequivocal. It’s a message of failure. ASBOs didn’t work; all the prisons are full; fines don't get paid; Community Service wasn’t visible enough. We failed to change your anti-social behaviour so now we’re going to resort to shaming you in the hope that that may work. Oh and we’re going to do it in the community that we want to reintegrate you into after you’ve completed your 300 hours of scraping shit off our shoes.

We all know the stats at play here, so much so that it’s barely worth repeating. Those involved in anti-social behaviour and low level crime will normally be young, male and from a low socio-economic background. That’s not an excuse, it’s an entry point. We already know how to effectively reach this population. Charities and the voluntary sector are doing it all the time, so are commercial companies, busy hawking their products. So why can’t the Government manage it?*

Rather than resorting to naming and shaming surely our resources should be being poured into prevention - if for no other more virtuous reason, it’d be cheaper. Going into schools, youth clubs, houses if necessary and educating our youth about social and personal responsibility. Offering other options, opportunities; giving them something to do; reaching out a helping hand when it’s needed.

And don’t even get me started on being able to “vote or nominate projects”, this isn’t Britain’s Got Criminals.

Lay people having such a powerful voice in crime prevention and justice is a dangerous precedent to set, if it wasn't we wouldn’t have a need for the police, or judges, hell we probably wouldn’t even need traffic wardens.

I really don’t want to underestimate the impact of crime (whether low level or serious) on either individual victims, or communities as a whole. And one thing that is clear is that something needs to be done to restore public confidence in our justice system. But, change must come from genuine attempts at systemic change across all of our law enforcement agencies. A starting point would be if we could decide on what prison is actually for (protection of the public? punishment? rehabilitation? re-education? education? all of the above?). What we don’t need is yet another short sighted gimmick to win votes.

Of course many would vehemently disagree. They’d probably say that it’s this kind of liberal thinking that's allowed criminal behaviour to flourish unchallenged and unpunished. In fact, maybe it’s me who needs a hi-vis jacket, start paying my community back. Maybe I’ve got it completely wrong?



*This isn’t a dig at Labour; I don’t believe that any of the big three would manage it right now because there simply isn’t the political will to try.

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Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Let Him Die, Let Him Die, Let Him Die

by Joshua Surtees

Last week I was shocked to read about a mother who had been sentenced to life in prison for killing her son. Not shocked in the way you might think. Shocked because she should never have been punished for her crime.

Frances Inglis, 57, from Essex was found guilty of murdering her severely disabled 22 yr old son with a lethal overdose of heroin. Her son, Tom, sustained permanent brain injuries in an accident in 2007 which left him paralysed, unable to speak and totally dependant on 24hr care in a care home.

Under High Court legislation, she would have been legally entitled to apply for a court order allowing her son’s food and water to be withheld – essentially allowing him to die very slowly of starvation. Starving a permanently disabled or terminally ill patient by removing their feeding tubes is considered legal in Britain. Yet, ending their life painlessly with a shot of heroin is seen as murder.

In almost complete contrast, a few days later another mother, on trial for assisting her long-term ME daughter to commit suicide was acquitted by a judge and the Crown Prosecution Service criticised for even bringing the case to court.

The difference here, in the eyes of the law, was that Lynn Gilderdale, aged 31, bedridden and suicidal after 17 years living with ME(chronic fatigue syndrome), had made it clear to her mother she wanted to die and had previously attempted suicide. Her mother Lynn Gilderdale administered lethal injections of painkillers to her daughter and she died as per her wishes. After the jury had reached a unanimous not guilty verdict, Judge Bean went on to describe Mrs Gilderdale thus: "There is no dispute that you were a caring and loving mother and that you considered that you were acting in the best interests of your daughter."

What kind of legal system are we operating under where such polarisation can exist in two extremely similar cases? One in which a mother kills her sick daughter and is called “loving and caring” while another kills her brain damaged son and is told by the judge "you cannot take the law into your own hands and you cannot take away life”.

This is quite frankly ludicrous and an immediate review of the right to die laws must surely be invigorated by these cases. The defining point here is of course that Tom Inglis, mute and only able to communicate by squeezing his mother’s hand was not able to verbalise his wish to die. His mother knew he wanted to die. She knew that she would want to die in such a situation. In all honesty everybody would wish to die in such a situation. Frances Inglis had the full support of her family in her actions, she was supported by Tom’s girlfriends and she almost certainly had the full support of the son that she killed. But we will never know that because it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that he wished to die.

Meanwhile, Martin Amis, never shy of provoking controversy waded into the ongoing debate on euthanasia with a staggeringly insensitive rant  in which the phrase “euthanasia booth” was mentioned.

A “booth” Mr Amis? A fucking “booth”?? A booth is found in a local Wetherspoon’s or Nando’s. A booth may be found on a seaside pier or fairground attraction. A booth may be used to house a telephone or perhaps a secret item or artefact. A booth may be used (in Amsterdam) to have a quick secretive wank. A booth is a place somebody sojourns to. But, the last time I checked, the word ‘booth’ is not an adequate description of a place where somebody goes to die. The ongoing debate calls for dignified utterances, sensitivity, understanding and compassion. It’s not really a place for crudity or crass jokes. This is not Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge.

Leaving the ill advised misattribution of the word booth to one side for the moment, Amis actually made some very relevant points about the fact that people as individuals should have the right to die when they want to die. They should not be forced to go on enduring a life they no longer gain any pleasure or satisfaction from, and which in actual fact brings them a lot of pain; whether in physical or emotional form. In short, Amis supports individuals’ rights to euthanasia.

He also made a salient point that is presumably shared by many, though in this instance laced with dark humour. "Frankly” said Amis “I can't think of any reason for prolonging life once the mind goes. You are without dignity then. Awareness of loss is gone, the track is gone. You don't know the day you've spent watching Teletubbies; it just vanished."

My Nan, for as long as I can remember, has always said almost as a mantra “oh Joshy, when I’m old and can’t look after myself, don’t let me carry on living”. Now, granted, my Nan is a fairly morbid character when it comes to the topic of aging and dying. But she speaks from a position of knowledge and experience. For 25 years she worked as the sole warden at an old people’s home, caring tirelessly and dutifully, visiting each and every person every morning and afternoon, arranging their meals and their entertainment. Some of these old people were very old. Many of them were never visited by their families. Some of them had terminal illnesses, some of them had no control over their bladders or bowels, some of them wanted to die in their sleep as quickly as possible. They would tell my Nan this. She saw and heard at first hand the things Martin Amis refers to; the fact that some people, in a very real sense, want to die. Not all of them of course. Some of them were happy to sit all day watching daytime television, chatting nonsense to each other and sucking Everton mints. And that’s a thing to be celebrated. To continue enjoying life into old age is a wonderful thing. But many people don’t. And many people cease enjoying life long before they are old.

It seems that, at times, the law runs almost parallel to the Christian fundamentalist view of the right to life and that all human life must be preserved as a duty to God. I find this a selfish point of view, and a selfish interpretation of the law.

There have been many many cases of assisted suicide in recent times. But as well as successful applications, there have also been applications to go to Dignitas in Switzerland to die that have been refused. Are we living in a fair and democratic society when a person who wishes to die can be refused that wish?

To end, these are some of the things the Tom Inglis case, and many others like his, got me thinking about. Should his mother have let him die at all? Who should have the right to make the decision? Doctors, lawyers or his own mother? And when Frances Inglis did decide he should die, should it have been slow and undignified over a period of days or weeks from food deprivation? Or was she right to inject him with heroin? In her own words, sending him “to heaven rather than hell on earth”.

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