Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The next Guevara is yet to be revealed to us, no-one is coming to save us, so we'll have to do it ourselves!

In this depressing age of obsessive, oppressive right wing media, it never ceases to give me pleasure that the most famous photograph in the world (and the most widely reproduced) is the masterpiece  "Guerrillero Heroico".  Taken on March 6th, 1960, in Havana, by Alberto Korda, the image captured a 31 year old Ernesto "Che" Guevara, attending a funeral service for victims of the La Coubre explosion.  In one click, Korda would iconize Guevara's stare; his "absolute implacability"; his anger and pain.
That image must surely be detested by capitalists and fascists, the world over.  Oh, they'll say they don't care, they'll be in denial, but trust me, they'll hate it, while we socialists draw comfort and courage from it more than 50 years on.  Nelson Mandela called Guevara, "an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom; Jean-Paul Sartre described him as, "not only an intellectual, but also the most complete human being of our age."
For sure, it was the most foolish, ill thought out decision, to send the 500 - 600 command ordering Guevara's murder, without trial, the CIA having been aided, it is often said, by Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, and still the world mourns, I think.  In recent years, I have often wondered how things might have changed if Guevara had lived, he'd be 85 years old now, and I have a feeling his mind would have been as sharp as Tony Benn's and his spirit as vibrant as ever.
There are those who say, Guevara's legacy is tarnished by his readiness to engage in armed combat, but it's na├»ve in the extreme to think those on the thrones of power would ever relinquish their control and their obscene levels of wealth without a bitter and bloody battle, for it's in their nature to cling to power regardless of human cost, regardless even of harm to themselves.  It is as if it's in their very genes to take as much as they can, for as long as they can, they come from families with a long history of exploitation - that's how they came to have their wealth in the first place.   You could never appeal to their conscience, and the bizarre idea that a social and political revolution could be brought about by love is farcical.
Unlike Guevara though, I don't suggest people take up arms, but there are things we can do to voice our protest and spread the word that a movement is growing now, across the country.  A movement led by many people, all playing our part, in demonstrations on the ground and in the constant stream of material coming through on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube - videos, blogs, poster campaigns and anything else we can think of.
More and more of us are starting to realise, no-one is coming to save us... the next Guevara is yet to be revealed to us, we're going to have to do this ourselves, for our children and our children's children.  If you care, if you're concerned, then commit today, sign up to join the People's Assembly demonstration at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester, on 29th September.  This government has become shameless now, totally out of control in attacking our basic needs in life, food, shelter, jobs, healthcare, education and they seek to take even our hope and our dignity.  We have to voice our objection, they have given us no choice.
Information on the planned People's Assembly demonstration can be found here

Monday, 22 July 2013

While the BBC continues to chase viewing figures, simply by competing with the rest of the lowest common denominator programme makers, it relinquishes its place in the nation's heart.

Sweltering in the baking heat, yesterday evening, I logged onto Facebook to see what my friends might be up to, and discovered many of them were commenting on the repeat of a BBC One Programme, Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits.  This programme, in which two presenters from the BBC's Apprentice show, take a sneak peak at the life of Riley, benefit claimants are apparently having up and down the country, has attracted a certain amount of criticism for playing its own part in the insidious demonization of people struggling to find suitable full-time work to support their families.

Surprised that a couple of the people I think of as friends, appeared to be joining in with the condemnation of the unemployed, I switched the programme on to see what it was about, and in fact I couldn't watch for more than five minutes because it did feel horribly voyeuristic, to the point of being crass. The section I watched certainly didn't give a balanced view of the story at all, it was pure government propaganda, designed only to turn one section of the poor against another, and I asked myself why I am paying my licence fee each month, when I'm so hard up, to watch rubbish like this. 

And I wondered if viewers were astute enough to realise, it's the unemployed and those suffering from mental health problems this time, but soon enough, ministers will turn on other groups in society they don't like, such as pensioners who don't own their own homes and rely on "state hand-outs" to feed themselves and "drain the NHS of vital resources" with their expensive hip and knee replacement operations.  There is a wrong and dangerous assumption that politicians will always look after pensioners, because this group routinely turns out to vote in general elections; it makes sense to keep them onside, commentators profess; this is why pensioners were made exempt from the government's widely condemned Bedroom Tax.  And yet, the Tories refuse to give an assurance that pensioners will continue to be excluded from the ruling, after 2015.

Make no mistake, if it suddenly suited them, the Tories would turn on pensioners in the blink of an eye.  Imagine, for a moment, a scenario where a private corporation specialising in end of life care was lobbying the government to persuade the elderly that, when you reach a certain age, and your declining health makes you a financial liability to society, it's better to go with dignity than to hang around and be despised by all those hard-working, tax-paying families in your community.  In a situation like that, do we really think politicians would have so much professional integrity and so much compassion, that they'd instantly show the lobbyists the door?  Or would some of them see the potential for a little business to be done?  It sounds like something out of a dystopian novel, but then so does forcing people who've had strokes, heart attacks and cancer to look for full-time work, so people will have to draw their own personal conclusions on this one.

But back to my objection to this odious little programme, where the audience is encouraged to mock and deride people who can't find a suitable job, I'm struggling to justify paying £12.12 a month to have these ignorant Daily Mail style opinions beamed directly into my sitting room on a Sunday night. I mean why would I do that, when I refuse to take a Daily Mail when they're trying to force a free copy on me in Smiths or Waitrose!

A growing number of us are starting to question whether we can continue to support the BBC while it seems to have become nothing more than a mouthpiece for right-wing bigots.  And I get the impression most of us objecting, do see the value of a publicly funded broadcaster, but only if it were to return to a time where its name was once again synonymous with high calibre, informative and impartial material. While the BBC continues to chase viewing figures, simply by competing with the rest of the lowest common denominator programme makers, it relinquishes its place in the nation's heart, and I think those of us who grew up with the high quality public service it used to be, have an obligation to try and preserve that for our children and grandchildren to come.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Facebook flirting - fun or folly?

Flirting on Facebook, don't most of  us do it, just a little bit?  But when is it just a harmless passing word or wink to liven up a boring day, when is it a genuine come on, and when is it much more like cheating on your other half?

If I post a wink on a girl friend's comment about taking a shower, is that flirting, even though I'm not a lesbian?  If I press like, on a male gay friend's new profile picture, is that flirting?  If I post some kisses when I say goodnight to someone, is that the same, or posting a song or sexy video on someone's wall, is any of that OK?  A little risky?
I guess the first rule of everything is, if you're not sure, then it's probably best to play it safe, particularly if your Facebook friend has a partner, who might not see such attention as innocent.  They've got something big to lose here, such as the mother or father of their children!  None of us would want to cause hassle for others in their relationships, surely.
The internet seems to have made us all a lot more casual, in our interactions with people, be that on social networking sites, or phone texts or even emails to each other.  I would never have put kisses on memos sent around at work, twenty years ago!  My colleagues would have found that extremely odd, but now, it's very common between workmates, especially if emailing a lot, to just stick "xx" at the end of something, particularly if they've done you a big favour, or you know they're going through a rough time. Ultimately, I think human beings have always longed to be far closer to one another, than was seen as acceptable, once upon a time. I've written at great length, on this blog, about our deep longings to feel close to people.  It's a fundamental and wonderful part of being human to experience physical and emotional intimacy. 
Now, saying this, these outpourings of affection are happening in a virtual world, so we do tend to feel one step removed from it, if our Facebook friend doesn't send us kisses back or we get an email which concludes "kind regards".  It's not like leaning in to kiss someone after they've given us a lift home from work, and being greeted with a look of abject horror.  This somehow feels much safer, perhaps too safe, at times...

The Huffington Post recently commissioned a survey to try and find out if men and women perceived online flirting differently, specifically if they regarded it as cheating on your partner, and they looked at sexting, Facebooking and what happens when people meet up in the physical world.

It turns out that 85% of women considered sending sexual texts to someone who isn't your partner, to be cheating, and 74% of men felt this too.

The study also looked at contacting an ex on Facebook, which is of course, very easy to do, and easy to do secretly, something that just would not have been so available to most of us before social networking sites.  Here, around 42% of women would not consider it cheating if their lover contacted an ex on Facebook and 56% of men didn't see anything wrong either. The reason for the contact wasn't specified, which  is perhaps interesting to consider.

On other forms of internet contact, 70% of women would consider it a serious betrayal if their partner formed a bond with another woman, where only 50% of men shared this view, which suggests around half of men feel entering into a virtual relationship with someone is harmless, but their women would appear to see things rather differently!

The Huffington Post also asked people about taking relationships into the physical realm, how far can you go before that's cheating?  Well, 60% of men taking part in the survey said kissing was not cheating, including kissing on the lips, whereas only 34% of women were as relaxed when things got physical.

The conclusion?  I'm minded to think, if you know you have a good relationship, built on a solid foundation of trust, and if you feel genuinely adored by your partner, in your every day life, then the odd smiley wink face is quite easy to laugh off because you're never going to feel seriously threatened.  I guess it's when you're feeling a little starved of attention, and your other half seems to be spending more and more time with his virtual friends, that insecurity starts to creep in.  I even wonder sometimes, if people knowingly or unknowingly, find themselves spending more time on Facebook, rather than relaxing with their partner at the end of the day, as a way to communicate that things are not going well in the relationship, and semi-aware too, that all those little "x"s might sooner or later, lead to more.

Initial ponderings on the sequel to #Fear...

I was asked yesterday, if there is a sequel to #FEAR planned.  The feeling was that the story takes you to the point of something huge and just leaves you there in a sort of anticipant state of limbo.

Certainly it's unashamedly open-ended, and without wanting to give anything away, I knew that the second half of the story I needed to tell was too big to include in a short read, it couldn't be just tagged on the end in a couple of chapters.  In some ways, the bit we've yet to come to, is the whole point of the novel; the original reason it was written.  But I appreciate I may be talking in riddles at the moment. 

There are questions which cannot be answered alone by part one of the story.  As the novel's creator, I am keen as readers to discover what happens to Rhys!  Do Kofi and Mel both go on to great things?  And what of our teenage lovers, Byron and Nyah - are they going to live happily ever after?  Does Ruth go back to the sex chat work?  Do Professor Clyde and his team find a cure for the virus?  Does Mo Granger ever get it on with Keith Lock?!! And what happens to society after the general election?  Will it ultimately be the same as ever?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Like most feminists, I'm not anti-sex, I'm just anti-exploitation, control and humiliation.

I recently got lambasted by a couple of people on Twitter, for daring to express my view that prostitution is essentially about men exploiting women, often very vulnerable women, and in the most desperate cases of all, vulnerable women who have the added complication of children they're trying to bring up.

Of course, not everyone posting online is the person they claim to be, and Twitter offers an arena where it is incredibly easy to conceal your true identity.  "Hard left socialist" could be a conservative party member, looking to tarnish people's perception of trade unions, "animal rights activist" could be a member of the security services, looking to infiltrate local animal liberation groups, and "campaigner for women's rights" could be a pimp or regular user of prostitutes.

So while I, absolutely, acknowledge people's right to differ with my views, the ones who get disproportionately angry at me, personally, I tend to shrug off as being driven by other agendas which probably have little to do with a blog entry I may have written.  The more they rant on, the more I shrug, often the only way to stop them ranting is to block them. 

The price any of us pay, as bloggers who touch on these important and powerful subjects, is that we become open to personal abuse ourselves.  You consider it, you weigh it up, you decide to post the story or you save it to publish another time.

As a feminist, of course I respect a woman's right to be in control of her own body and to do with that body whatever she so wishes.  She ultimately has the right to starve herself, in pursuit of the apparent joy of being size zero, she has the right to cut her own skin, if the release of endorphins is what helps her cope with stress, she has the right to let some guy to knock seven bells out of her, in her belief that he loves her really, and she has the right to allow men to use her body to satisfy their sexual urges and their need to dominate women.  Of course any woman has that right.  I imagine most people reading this, will agree with this basic principal. 

It becomes complicated when she has children, of course, because those children have rights too.  Her children have the right to be brought up in an environment which isn't physically or psychologically damaging to them, and she would need to protect her children from any potential danger or harm.  I would imagine virtually all of us, who are parents, both men and women, would agree with that premise too.

Being a good parent is a balancing act for all of us.  How to fulfil ourselves as individuals, so that we have some meaningful life, beyond simply parenting, and how to do this in such a way that our own needs don't compromise the needs of the children we love so desperately.  I'm sure we're all on the same page here...

I've also written articles about the sex industry more generally over the years and pornography in particular, again, often attracting strong accusations that I'm a sexist, puritanical do-gooder who is totally out of touch with reality and what men want. 

To judge men as all wanting the same thing, be that paying for sex or watching other people who've been paid to have sex, does men as a gender, a huge injustice I think. I know lots of men who despise pornography and would be horrified at the thought of paying for the services of a sex worker. 

Most men like sex, but not every man who enjoys sex, likes pornography; in many ways these are two completely different issues, which get confused by the media and general public alike.

Internet porn has become a growth industry (if you'll pardon the pun) in the last decade or so, with studies showing that many more women are accessing porn sites now, and worryingly, that more children are watching adult content on their computers at home.  The reason for such concern is that the porn that's available to watch and download, is becoming increasingly graphic and in many cases extremely violent and this seems to be impacting on a lot of men's perception of women generally and an expectation that what women like in sexual relationships is to be humiliated and degraded.  In a study a few years ago, of men between the ages of 19 and 39, more than half said it was OK, in some circumstances to force a woman to have sex with them - which was a shocking statistic at the time, and the worry is, the percentage of men sharing that view is more likely to go up, than down.

In researching content to help me write this blog, I was stunned by sites expressing angry views that feminists hate sex because they lose the control they normally have over men, two completely unsubstantiated statements which say more about these men's fear and hatred of women, than their liking for sex.

For the record, most feminists enjoy sex as much as anyone else, in fact they probably have a better time in bed than many other women because their lovers are more likely to be intelligent, sensitive, self-aware human beings who can focus on what both are getting out of this experience...  Admittedly, this sort of concept is probably beyond the mental capability of your average misogynist in the sack!

Sex with a willing partner is a completely different experience to sex with someone doing it for payment, or under duress in some other way, the unconscious drivers are completely different and the outcomes are unlikely to be the same.

I've written before about the way violent sexual assault is being portrayed, more and more as acceptable now, which you can read here:  We need to look at the way we seem to be saying... rough sex is sometimes OK, when it's a turn on...

On a slightly different note, I also wrote a while back, about erotica and pornography, I'm a realist... most of us don't have love lives like that... in which I differentiate between erotica and porn, because they're not the same, (as defined by The Oxford Dictionary).

I'm not anti-sex, I'm just anti-exploitation, control, humiliation.  Indeed, one of my very favourite movies of all time is "37°2 le matin" aka "Betty Blue" and the opening scene with Beatrice Dalle and Jean-Hugues Anglade is an incredibly erotic, stunningly directed piece of cinema.
Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1986 movie 37°2 le matin, opened with a beautifully directed erotic scene

Since when was that not sexy!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Fighting couples!! Don't throw crockery - play Iggy instead!!

Why don't human beings just walk away from relationships, when they go wrong.  What makes us hang around and engage in those fierce, explosive, futile rows, screaming and shouting and throwing crockery around the kitchen, when part of us just wants to end things and walk away?

The human unconscious is, without doubt, the most complex, powerful, brilliant thing in the universe.  Along with physical needs for existing in life, we all have intense emotional needs, hardwired into our brains, and these drives go right back to our time roaming the Savanna.  Human beings have evolved to be profoundly social creatures, most of us don't survive very well, left on our own. 

Attempting to explore this phenomenon, back in the 1970s, American psychologist Harry Harlow did some extremely controversial experiments using rhesus macaque monkeys.  Harlow wanted to study the effects of total and partial isolation to our ape cousins by placing them in, what he termed, a 'pit of despair'.

The results were as horrific as the experiments themselves, with monkeys growing up with no social skills and completely unable to function in groups.  Those monkeys that went on to have offspring, were devoid of any parenting skills and grotesquely abused their babies.  Some of his macaques didn't survive long enough to mature, they starved themselves to death in the isolation chamber and unsurprisingly, the studies attracted condemnation from across the field of psychology. 

We probably didn't need Harlow's sadistic experiments, to know that connecting to others is intrinsic to psychological health in primates, but worryingly, the University of Wisconsin was reported to have resumed Harlow's experiments in February of this year.  But I digress...

Back to our arguing couple, who are maybe starting to come to terms with the reality that their love is dying, and becoming aware - consciously or unconsciously - that they may be facing imminent separation from a person who once made them feel happy and safe.  What are these fights really about?

Arguments do provide an opportunity (in a negative way) to experience some of the things we once got from love and sex when we were happy in our relationship.   A row involves engagement, you can't have much of a shouting match on your own, it requires the other person to give you something back, something to excite your senses, albeit in a negative, often defensive way.  You say something you know is going to get under my skin and provoke a response, then I'm going to come back with an attack of my own, and just as with sex, it tends to start subtly, with a little niggling comment... let's test the water...  are you up for this today?  It could almost be described as a form of foreplay; some days that criticism will get shrugged off, and pass with no reaction at all, other days it's like the brightest spark hitting your blue touchpaper and within minutes you're screaming at one another in an exchange which is probably more choreographed than either of you would ever realise.

A row with a partner we still deeply love (as much as we might be trying to deny it) has so many of the features we normally associate with sex too; it's heated, it takes on a life of its own and becomes uncontrollable for both of us, you're going to force your way into my personal space, then I'm going to come right back at you with a little advance of my own.  Sometimes it even becomes physical, you push me a bit, then I shove you away, in really passionate arguments bodily fluids can even get exchanged as we spray our angry word and spit all over the other person's face.  And just as with incredibly passionate sex, there usually is some sort of explosive finishing point; maybe someone bursts into tears, maybe someone storms out slamming the door, but it signals a climax of sorts and everything tends to calm down again for a while.

Soooooo... What does all this mean for our warring couple, or for any of us really?  Well, the next time you find yourself spoiling for a row with your nearest and dearest, maybe you should spare the crockery Auntie Gill bought as a wedding present, and just put some Iggy Pop on, and go to bed instead!  And when you get up, pick up the phone and go and get some relationship counselling, you might save yourself a whole lot of heartache! :-)xx

Friday, 12 July 2013

Could benefit claimants be forced to work as legal prostitutes by a future British government?

Back in 2002, the German government relaxed laws around prostitution, resulting in a massive boom to the economy over the last ten years.  According to the public services union Ver.di, the sex industry has an annual turnover of 14.5 billion, with more than 400,000 tax-paying workers now.  It's enough to make any chancellor's eyes light up with climactic joy.

A recent documentary, called "Sex - Made in Germany" revealed one million men in Germany pay for sex each day; the film exposed the "flat-rate" brothels where men pay  €49 (£42) for as much sex as they want and went on to report a drastic rise in sex tourism.  Germany has been branded "Europe's biggest brothel" and some are starting to vocalise their deep objection to the situation.  While these changes have undoubtedly made life a lot easier and a lot safer for women choosing to work in the sex trade, it's inevitably made it easier for women from eastern Europe and countries outside the EU to be forced into prostitution by sex traffickers.

There have been other concerns as well.  An article in the Daily Telegraph, back in 2005, revealed that employment agencies now had the power to force women under the age of 55 to take jobs as sex workers, since prostitution was no longer considered immoral by German society; technically an 18 year old virgin could be forced to have sex with men, often men much older than her, or face starvation on the streets.  It has been argued that this amounts to legalised sexual abuse.

The concern for some of us in Britain is that, with the economy still failing, this current government, or more likely, a future government would look to follow the German model as a way of generating growth, as it were! 

The government has, with help from the mainstream media, been somewhat successful at convincing the general public that the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, are the ones to blame for Britain's economic failure, and not corruption within the banking sector.  The Tories have shown no mercy towards those vulnerable in society, to date more than 3,500 very sick people have died while being processed by the government's work assessment agency, ATOS.  It's not a huge leap to make, to encourage the public to side with the government again, on the issue of enforced prostitution for women who can't find any other full-time work.

But it should be noted that under sex discrimination law, if women were legally required to work as prostitutes and sex chat hosts, then men claiming benefits would inevitably be forced to take this sort of work too.
The novella #FEAR is set in near-future Britain, where just such a law has been passed by a right wing government.  Chapters of #FEAR will be posted on this blog throughout next week - or if you would like to buy the ebook, it can be purchased here: #FEAR novella by J A Maidley

Is it socially acceptable to intoctrinate your children with all your own personal prejudices?

Imagine for one moment, a hypothetical situation in which three different mothers went on three different daytime TV shows to share their views about bringing up children.

Let's call these mothers Chardonnay, Chelsea and Reeboka...

The first mother, Chardonnay, expresses the view that she doesn't want her little boy mixing with any black children at school.  She thinks black kids all come from poor backgrounds, where the mothers all have five different children by five different men and the fathers are all drug dealers and gang leaders. In her view these kids are destined to grow up and be in gangs themselves, the girls will probably all be pregnant before they do their GCSEs and the boys are probably already smoking cannabis at primary school.  

Our second mother, Chelsea, tells viewers that she doesn't want her young son mixing with any children who come from families where there's two mums, or worse still she says, two dads, and certainly nothing involving cross-dressing or gender reassignment.  In her view all gay people are abnormal and their children will always grow up with unhealthy messages about sexuality .  She doesn't want her son getting confused about what it is to be a boy or a girl, she says.

The third mother, Reeboka, shares her views that she won't allow her little boy to play with any children from working class homes and families on benefits.  These children are destined to be failures in life, like their parents, she says; instead of doing their homework, like good boys and girls, they're all staying up until 3am playing Call of Duty Black Ops on their Xbox. These low achievers are always obese, because of their poor diet, which makes them look lazy, like their Jeremy Kyle Show loving parents. 

The question is this, is it socially acceptable to indoctrinate your children with all your own personal prejudices? Is this good parenting, are you giving them an advantage in life with this sort of teaching or could it be quite harmful to healthy development?

And would it be ethical for television companies to pay women to go on programmes to share these sorts of views?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

If Bath is the city of lovers, then Salisbury must surely be the city of moaners...

Walking around Bath last week in the sunshine, I officially named it the UK city of lovers, because everywhere I went, people were embracing in the gorgeous summer sunshine, up by the weir, down in the park, even outside my dentist's in Argyle Street. It was as if the sunshine was not only warming people's physical flesh, it was igniting their passion too.
If Bath is the city of lovers, then Salisbury must be the city of moaners, because everywhere I went today people were complaining about the heat, arguing with their loved ones (I presume they were their loved ones and not some random person they chanced upon at the bus stop!)  Someone was even asking "when are we going to get some decent rain for the garden?"
These same people were probably ecstatic on Sunday when some British (well Scottish...) tennis player won at Wimbledon, and by Monday morning they were probably back to resenting everything about their existence. 
Make no mistake, there is a lot to complain about in Britain at the moment, the savage cuts to essential services, desperately needed by those most vulnerable in our society, for one thing, the fact there seems to be no official opposition to austerity for another, but the weather is something that's actually doing what it's supposed to!
And now I must go and paint the garden table, which might even get used for dining this year, instead of overflowing with plant pots full of mouldy foliage.  Enjoy your garden barbecues and your picnics in the park.  This cool Laura Veirs track will make perfect listening as you lounge in your hammock!  Pimm's anyone?

Monday, 8 July 2013

Why does music make us feel so good?

"Just as having sex and eating food stimulate reward centers in our brain (because such activities help us survive and pass on our genes), listening to music is about satisfying our desires. When we get what we want, such as food or sex, we are pleased. When we hear notes that follow patterns that make sense to us, we are similarly pleased." 
Neuroscience is beginning to offer some explanations for why music can make us feel so good.  Research carried out earlier this year, revealed that when we listen to music we love, the brain releases dopamine through ancient reward circuits.  Powerful sensations of pleasure are created deep in the unconscious and scientists found that in particular, immediately before the climax of an emotional response, levels of dopamine peak, as we anticipate that special part of a song we're completely hooked on.  While people have different tastes in music, it seems in the tests, most people experienced a dopamine hit when listening to "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees!
We know that music therapy seems to have a positive affect on the moods of people suffering from depression, and this research can perhaps play a vital role in trying to persuade the government to invest resources into music - from music therapy services to supporting new musicians trying to launch a career and funding venues to offer more live bands in our towns and cities - for it seems, we would all benefit from listening to much more music!
Midlake performing "Acts of Man" on  Later with Jools Holland. 
I am so in love with this song, I could marry it, settle down in a little house in the woods with it, get a dog and go for romantic strolls at dawn...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Let's deal with the reasons why children are accessing adult content sites, rather than introducing compulsory censorship

Young children should be protected from internet porn, on this we can presumably all agree.  Tory MP, Claire Perry is David Cameron’s special advisor on ‘preventing the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood',  and she believes very strongly that the way to protect children from seeing inappropriate material, is to force UK internet companies to have adult content automatically blocked on the services they provide to the public.  At the moment, users have to install filters themselves, if they don’t wish to access pornography sites. Perry is pushing for services to come pre-filtered, so customers have to activate the option for adult content.  She’s even suggested parents should receive an email notification if their child tries to remove the filter.

But is this the most insightful approach to the problem?

Psychologists and analysts such as Sue Gerhardt, often link the growth of the porn industry in recent decades, and the increasingly graphic images users are accessing, to the growth in consumerism generally and the change in children’s early lives, compared to just thirty years ago.

From a very young age, children are being encouraged now to become emotionally independent, long before their brains have adapted for separation from their main caregivers, and this started, as with most ideas which have caused problems in society, with Margaret Thatcher, who was keen for women to work, rather than be stay at home mothers, because her economic policy depended on mass consumption.  Two wages coming in, meant double the buying power.  Psychologists like John Bowlby were warning back in the 50s, that separation anxiety was likely to damage children emotionally.  They would struggle to form secure attachments with humans, retreating to a world where they would turn to objects to comfort them, rather than people, who they had learned couldn’t be trusted to meet their needs.  Others have gone on to reveal that such children often develop a need for instant gratification from these objects, such is the way the brain has developed without sufficient emotional bonding with a parent. 

Online pornography perhaps provides the ultimate instant gratification fix, and addiction to porn is becoming increasingly common.

Many of us think Claire Perry and her colleagues are approaching the problem of online pornography from the wrong end.  And after all, she has often admitted that children tend to be much more internet savvy than their parents, and will always find ways around the obstacles adults present.  This is even more likely if they are developing an addiction to adult sites.  She risks being caricatured as a modern day Mary Whitehouse, with her approach to the problem.  Mrs Whitehouse was famously reported to have dedicated many hours each day to watching TV broadcasts containing increasingly graphic sexual content – just so that she could tell us all how filthy it was!  The comparison will do Perry no favours.

Longitudinal studies have found that boy babies who do receive sufficient nurturing, including being breast fed rather than bottle fed, are more likely to grow up developing a healthy respect for women and an ability to form long lasting positive relationships with them, compared to those who were deprived of their mothers early on in life, and this is hardly surprising. 

If governments are serious about wanting to reduce the amount of pornography users demand, it would make much more sense to tackle the problem at its source. That would be better for babies, better for adolescents and adult men, and better for society in the long term.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Times change, but the arrogance of those in power remains.

Back in 1989, as police, press and at least one politician appeared to be colluding to implicate Liverpool football fans as the culprits for the shocking deaths at Hillsborough, these people in positions of incredible power could never have guessed that in twenty-three years time they would finally face public outrage and condemnation for their wilful acts of wickedness.

Similarly, Jimmy Savile and the endless list of celebrities whose names have been associated with Operation Yew Tree, must have thought their luck would never run out, as they openly preyed on vulnerable children to satisfy their depraved sexual compulsions.

Throughout history, those in positions of wealth, authority and celebrity have been allowed to exploit others free from any fear that they would ever be challenged by their peers or brought to justice by those they wielded power over.

Times change, but the arrogance of rulers remains. 

In more recent times, MPs across the political spectrum, have been queuing up to feed their hateful comments about the poor and the disabled to certain sections of the media.  Their aim is always to try and turn vulnerable groups in society against each other; to encourage them to blame one another for the financial crisis which of course, was in fact brought about because of reckless gambling on the stock exchange by the politicians' chums, the wealthy bankers.

Since the coalition came to power in 2010, ministers have used the financial crisis as an excuse to launch attacks on those in society who rely on the state, for benefits, for housing, for healthcare and education; this is George Osborne's Austerity agenda, and it's backed by everyone in the government and the shadow cabinet alike. 

But we know these brutal government, opposition-supported, cuts are depriving vulnerable people of their life choices, their dignity and in a growing number of cases, their very lives.  More than 3,500 people forced to endure fitness for work assessments by ATOS, have lost their lives.  For many of these desperately ill benefit claimants, the stress of going through this brutal assessment, along with the worry of losing their allowance and the shame of being brandished shirkers and scroungers by MPs, will all have contributed to the damage of their physical and mental health.

In the past, problems associated with gathering strong evidence against powerful individuals such as Jimmy Savile, undoubtedly hampered attempts to bring persecutors to justice.  Thanks to the digital media age we all live in, this is no longer the case - in fact so arrogant and deluded are many politicians, they're more than happy to see their image all over the internet spouting their bigoted lies about poor people and their families.

I have no doubt cases will be brought against individuals in office to hold them responsible for the misery they are inflicting on others.  Not just the physical misery caused by their inhumane policies, but the mental cruelty their words inflict.  Victims' families could attempt to seek financial compensation - particularly in a case of suicide victims who had named the government generally or individual politicians as the reason they could go on no longer. 

Comments such as, "it was just the culture at the time," (frequently used by abusers in the historical child abuse cases) will offer no defence at all.  Sexual predators always know it's wrong to prey on innocent children and politicians know it's likely to damage someone's mental health to constantly portray them as a scrounger with no value to society.

Times do indeed change.  As Mark Steel brilliantly pointed out, in his speech at The People's Assembly meeting in June, twenty years ago, if you thought gay people should have the right to get married, you were considered an extremist.  Today, you're considered an extremist if you don't think gay people should have that right.

At some point, a politician from the left will come along and demand a very public debate about mental health, and how demonization by governments and the media causes significant damage to a person's psychological wellbeing and that of their family.  By that time, this current crop of MPs might well be nearing retirement or have moved away from politics, but this will not exempt them from being held publicly accountable for their hostile treatment of the vulnerable.  As much as many politicians must despise it, in overall terms, our culture becomes more compassionate with each decade.  Suggesting disabled people are lazy scroungers, including mentally disabled people, is completely unacceptable.

And as Mark Steel summed up his inspiring talk,

"One day, people will look back on the period of austerity and say, What the bloody hell were those maniacs doing?" Mark Steel, The People's Assembly.
Watch Mark Steel's full speech to The People's Assembly meeting - 22-06-13

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Labour MPs should think twice before alienating spokesman for the left, Owen Jones (and his growing army of followers!)

One criticism made of Labour MPs is that some of them, like many (if not most) Tory MPs, lack emotional intelligence and the ability to manage their emotions appropriately, for the level of office they hold. 
Everyone remembers Liam Byrne's reaction to losing the 2010 General Election, that famous memo to his predecessor, David Laws, stating "I'm afraid there is no money. Kind regards and good luck!"  It was reported as childish and spiteful, because clearly, it was. Rightly or wrongly, Liam Byrne remains despised, even within his own party, for letting the side down, when Labour was trying to project itself as dignified in defeat.  Some public figures are so brilliant at their jobs and so adored by the public, they can get away with their halo slipping every so often.  Unfortunately, Liam Byrne is not one of these.
And neither is Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, who for some reason, took it upon himself to launch into a ranting personal attack on spokesman, hero and darling of the left, Owen Jones, yesterday on the BBC's Daily Politics programme, after he justifiably criticised the Opposition for failing to stand up for people at the bottom of society, against these brutal government cuts.
Labour MPs need to remember that in the 2010 General Election, 80% of the 45 million people eligible to vote, chose not to vote for Gordon Brown.  This undoubtedly included many former party supporters who felt New Labour did not represent them.  The reason they didn't vote for Brown was not because he was too left wing!!
Ed Miliband, while losing the unpopular New Labour tag (quite rightly in many people's view) has focussed most of his attention on retaining the support of those on the centre right of Labour and floating voters.  It's baffled people at times, but he's one of the most astute politicians I've ever listened to, and he's definitely not lacking in emotional intelligence, so he must have his reasons.  But Ed Miliband knows, if he's to secure victory in 2015, with a good majority - to give him a mandate for the sorts of radical changes most people want on issues like banking, health, transport, energy companies and so on - he will also need the support of those on the left of the party. He cannot afford for those socialist Labour supporters to abandon him in 2015, as they abandoned Gordon Brown. 
Owen Jones is a man of equal intellect, emotional intelligence and integrity to Ed Miliband.  They seem to fall on opposite sides of the Labour movement, but between them, they sweep up most people who identify in some way with Labour.  Whether New Labour MPs like it or not, Owen Jones has an enormous following which has successfully bridged the generations, Polly Toynbee, Tony Benn and my own mother have always been full of admiration for the brilliant young writer. Equally, young people connect with him, because he speaks so eloquently and so passionately about opportunities taken away from their generation by this brutal Conservative government.   
The point has been made, that Owen Jones is more than capable of holding his own against any politician of any party, and he certainly is, but with 2015 looming on the horizon, Labour still has so much work to do, to try to win back those alienated supporters, and launching attacks on a popular left-wing journalist, is not the way to do it.  Simon Danczuk needs to focus on fighting his enemies in parliament, if indeed he does consider Conservatives to be the enemy! 
Award-winning, best-selling author, Owen Jones has 122,053 followers on Twitter.  Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, has a tiny majority  (1.94%) and accordingly only 3,323 followers on Twitter.  So who should be listening to whom, I wonder!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

#PND screening process likely to be much more effective under a #Labour government

It was announced yesterday that doctors at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust have identified the first advance blood test for postnatal depression.  This offers a long awaited breakthrough.  Being able to screen pregnant women for propensity to PND, will mean treatment for depression can commence even before the mother has given birth, which is clearly to be welcomed.

However, given this particular government's apparent lack of compassion for those who are vulnerable, such as the 3,500 disabled people ATOS ruled fit for work and the Department of Work and Pensions virtually hounded into their graves, will vulnerable new mums feel comfortable coming forward to talk about their poor mental health, with all the possible implication this may have for their families?  All the evidence points to government officials blaming vulnerable people for their illness, ordering them not to be so lazy and demonising them in the media.

New mothers might be reluctant to draw attention to their own mental health problems, while the Tories are still in power, fearing all sorts of nightmarish consequences and concluding this government never puts any actual support in place, even when people do have the courage to stand up and say they're unwell.

Trusted by the public, Shadow Health Minister, Andy Burnham
On reflection, perhaps this screening process would be much more effective under a Labour government, who do have a better record when it comes to looking after those with mental health problems and we should look forward to Andy Burnham working to make this test available to all pregnant women, along with effective treatment on the NHS so that we can start to reduce the misery of postnatal depression for as many families as possible.  

A recent poll put Labour 30 points ahead when the public were asked who they trusted on health.

If you think you, or someone you care about, might be suffering from postnatal depression, you can get good, confidential support from the following:

Post Natal Illness
Mothers for Mothers
House of Light - PND support