Friday, 28 November 2008
An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman… And so the joke goes. But the ‘gags’ sent from 118-118 to a student at UClan, Kameron Abbass, were not about one of these entrenched, playful British sterotypes, they were two, about Asians, and Pakistanis.
The religious beliefs of the recipient have been picked up by the Nationals. He is a Muslim. But mixing the notions of nationality and religion is dangerous territory.
Not all Asians are Muslims, and vice-versa. So Muslims might feel the highlighting of the fact makes them a sort of positive-scapegoat.
You particularly should be offended, because that’s the hot topic, the zeitgeist. Nicely prescribed outrage from the great white media pulpit.
Kameron implied on Rock FM today that had the joke been received by a white person, they would have had a right chuckle and promptly circulated it to their entire phonebook. And probably text the 118 service for another corker.
But this isn’t a fair judgement. I’d like to think that most white people would have been offended. Especially offended that some half-wit somewhere is texting in their name something that they wouldn’t text, let alone think themselves.
And then surely the argument would follow, that if an Asian person had been sent a racist joke about a white person, it would have likewise done the rounds… And so the paranoia continues…
People might argue that as British stereotypes are common-place in the UK, your parents, your hair colour, even your skin colour are all comedians fodder (Richard K. Amos, a Black comedian cannot appear on a panel-show without the frankly not even funny, ‘is it because I’m Black?’ post ironic hilarity), then so too can your ethnic origin.
Or are skin colour and nationality non-transferable humours?
And of the ‘entrenched, playful’ British stereotypes. Are Irish people all too pleased to be the butt of the national joke?
Earlier this year Caerphilly Council in Wales were given a leaflet on acceptable terminology for race relations. In a section on what words or phrases not to use to avoid causing offence, the leaflet informs: ‘The idea of “British” implies a false sense of unity – many Scots, Welsh and Irish resist being called British and the land denoted by the term contains a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions.’
Wandering a little away from words arranged for amusement, it seems I might have been offending people throughout. White and Asian-British alike would be tearing their hair out!
If the texts were intended as a joke, albeit wholly inappropriate and offensive, and obviously constructed by some bored call-centre working moron, I believe the accepted term is that they have ‘fallen flat’.
But what this could turn in to is an all-out attack on our society, which is unfair on the majority of people in the UK who take pride in their nationality, whatever it is, and are happy to live and work alongside each other.
Britain is a country struggling to encompass the different cultures and religious beliefs of its varied citizenry. Making mistakes and making advancements as we go. Bringing this into the public domain might make something out of what could just have been a disciplinary on the one, idiotic culprit.
And obviously any checks that were not being performed on what must be a joke database carnival are done from now on.
If recent standards are anything to go by, whoever wrote the joke should be shot, without pay. In terms of offensiveness, a playful nod towards murdering someone is worse than Brand and Ross’ answering machine messages.
But who’s to say it was a white person anyway?
Sunday, 23 November 2008
First published at http://www.pluto-online.com/?p=1054
A proposed change in the law on organ donations, supported by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, would mean that everyone in the country would automatically be considered a donor unless they opt-out. Or relatives object.
The change was called for by the Chief Medical Officer- Liam Donaldson, and has gained support from The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Pathologists.
It would be a welcome change for scientists who are currently appealing for people to leave their brains to medical science in an attempt to find a cure for the debilitating and degenerative brain disease- Alzheimer’s.
But a focus group have deemed the move too soon. Is it too quick and radical a change to the current system of opting in, or were the focus groups swayed by religious groups speaking on the issue?
The argument for what is termed “presumed consent” is that experts believe there are apathetic people amongst us who don’t think to opt-in, or don’t consider the possibility that they could die suddenly with healthy and potentially life-saving organs (who wants to?), but would donate their organs, and that they believe more people would opt-in, given the opportunity, if it was made easy and clear. Or automatic. This in theory means more people considered as donors.
If more people are considered, more organs will be donated and more lives saved through transplants and research. Nearly 10,000 people are currently on the organ transplant waiting list, more then three times the number of transplants that were performed last year- 3,100. This means some terminally ill patients are not even put through what will ultimately be a fruit-less wait.
So the proposal looks promising. Bingo?
Like arguments on abortion and euthanasia, there is a divisive battle between the religious arguments of sanctity of life against a liberal, progressive viewpoint. We must remember that the United Kingdom is all but a secular country, and Parliament should arguably be a place free from the constraints of often conflicting religious viewpoints.
Under the new system if there is a religious objection, the person can opt out, and people’s relatives could object to donation after their death. Which still leaves room for a final say on the part of the bereaved. Unless the apparent apathy is really an objection, even without a religious element, as death is still a personal and uncomfortable reality.
But could the change reveal, or hide a more sinister outcome? Could doctors begin to put less effort into saving someone if the costs of their treatment and rehabilitation would be more than using the organs for donation? Body snatchers ring any bells?
Presumably, the changes would be met with adequate legislation to prevent doctors from doing this? And to make sure they stick to only those who are opted-in. Although, looking at the most famous case in the UK of a doctor abusing his position- the prolific serial killer Harold Shipman- and the organ removal scandal at Alder Hey (now going by the name Royal Liverpool Children’s) Hospital, families of the victims and the public alike might be cynical.
The more conservative alternative is to drive for more people to become donors under the current system. Which for now, looks like the official line. There is conflicting evidence from different countries with either of the two systems as to whether opt-in or opt-out produces more donors. Only time will tell whether greater promotion of the cause will bridge the gap between those who need organs, and those who donate.
Ultimately some people believe that organ donation is a gift, and making it almost compulsory takes away that element. But surely most people would want to give the gift of life should they suffer an untimely death?
The decision at Exeter University to overturn a ban on having the British National Party to speak there is in some ways, an admirable one.
Freedom of expression is now an entrenched part of our social and political makeup, guaranteed under the Human Rights Act 1998, so the fact that young academics are involved in exercising their right to uphold this is a positive example of student activism.
Entertaining those with an unfamiliar and controversial viewpoint is also useful in promoting healthy debate.
The British National Party are a legitimate organisation, and the fourth largest party in the United Kingdom. They also claim to have the most visited website of any political party, proving their popularity. So the decision is a good one then?
Many MPs in the past week have come out to say that they are a racist party, including Harriet Harman, the Women’s Minister, on the Channel 4 News.
The British National Party would argue that this is a witch-hunt between the liberal-left media and the mainstream political parties. Nick Griffin, the BNP leader and his colleague Mark Collett were acquitted on charges of inciting racial hatred after a retrial. They were secretly filmed by the BBC for Panorama.
However, their ideals are not tolerant, and their website makes no point of hiding it:
“IMMIGRATION – time to say ENOUGH!
On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years.
To ensure that this does not happen, and that the British people retain their homeland and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin assisted by a generous financial incentives both for individuals and for the countries in question.
We will abolish the ‘positive discrimination’ schemes that have made white Britons second-class citizens. We will also clamp down on the flood of ‘asylum seekers’, all of whom are either bogus or can find refuge much nearer their home countries.”
Simplistic answers, playing on peoples fears, and a lot of rhetoric. But inspiring to someone. Will the BNP get a surge in support if they speak at universities?
Alternatively, would banning them from speaking and leaving them out of the media force them further underground?
Much of their policy is trivial: they wholly support good old-fashioned imperial weights and measures, definitely something worth arguing over…
Some borders on ludicrous- the BNP calls for the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports- a sure-fire way to stop other countries trading with us.
Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, has admitted over the weekend that the rise in support for the BNP is a result of failures by the three main political parties. The rebranding of Labour since 1997 into a ‘catch-all’ party, means grassroots Labour supporters, generally the white, working-class, feel unrepresented.
At the same time Nick Griffin became leader of the BNP and saw this as an opportunity to shake off the extremist image to make the BNP electable. They have been intensively campaigning in disillusioned communities asserting patriotism, Britain for the British, and to many people, answers where they thought there were none.
This has all coincided with the leaking of the personal details of the 12,000 members.
Why so secretive if they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong? Serving Policemen aren’t allowed to be members- what does that say?
Scarily, but unsurprisingly the Internet is allowing them to get their message to more people, and target young (and more impressionable) people.
But increased support for extremist parties always happens when a country is in economic turmoil, lets just hope someone gets their act together soon…
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Yes. There wasn’t a ceremony at the university on Tuesday to mark Remembrance Day.
It seems nobody thought, in a quasi-community of supposedly academic and intelligent people, of people working and learning, that we should have come together and held a ceremony to mark the 11th of the 11th, the 90th Anniversary of the day in 1918 when the First World War, the Great War, the war to end all wars came to an end. Surely, that’s not ok?
Melanie Mingas, a 20-year-old Journalism Student said: “I would have gone to one, but I didn’t see one advertised.” Sadly this may be true of many students, and it wasn’t advertised, because there wasn’t one.
So whose responsibility is it to organise ceremonies to mark events that really should be remembered, and shared with others?
Should the community have involved the university? Yes. But it is clear when the services are, is there more that they can do?
Is the community in any position to do this? An annual Remembrance Day walk in a village, Culcheth, near Warrington was only attended by 50 people, do people in the community even care enough? Possibly not, but in a City like Preston, more should be done to engage everyone in the community, even the visiting students. Otherwise how can you call it a society?
Should orders have come from the top? Arguably, yes. If something of importance to everyone at university is happening, then the easiest was to coordinate something is from the voice of authority. The kind of thing that happens at school.
But we aren’t children. As an organisation itself, couldn’t the Students’ Union have used its authority to organise something? Or even, as a group of people, students, in the community, shouldn’t we have organised something?
A certain detachment from others, the community, and even fellow students seems to come from the emphasis on independent learning at university. Often you have little contact with peers, tutors, and those who might be able to organise such an event. And that is a disappointment.
But there’s also a sense that in greater society people care less about things that were once so vital, the emphasis on the individual breaking down our sense of community.
But the enormity of such an emission cannot be overlooked. Remembrance Day is relevant. There are still people serving in the military and fighting overseas. There are still people dying. One might argue an ideological opposition to these wars but Remembrance Day doesn’t just honour them.
Remembrance Day commemorates all the people who have fought and died in all wars since World War 1. The people who we have to thank for being able to enjoy the lives we do. The millions who have died, those who have been injured, some irreparably, and those who didn’t have physical, but mental wounds.
For the wives, mothers and sisters whose families were torn apart. For the families still being torn apart. For those who enlisted, but also for those who were conscripted- those who fought for their country, because they had no choice, no matter how they truly felt. Even those conscientious objectors, who took the courage to make a stand, and the people who it just so happened were fighting for the opposite side.
The First World War, for all the bad things that happened, eventually brought equal voting rights between the sexes and ages. Women came out of the home and found a different purpose in the labour market and proved their worth. Surely these unprecedented social, political and economic changes could convince those who might argue their opposition to military intervention that Remembrance Day is a day to mark?
Sadly, this year was 90 years since the signing of the Armistice, a significant anniversary, and probably the last that the remaining WW1 veterans will get to see.
There isn’t any point in apportioning blame, because the whole university, probably even society, is at fault. It’s just sad that so many life-changing events are given just one, or two minutes in the whole year where everybody should remember, but can ultimately be forgotten.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
First published at http://www.pluto-online.com/?p=840
The changes to abortion laws are all but made. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is now in the ‘ping pong’ stage- their words not mine (www.parliament.uk) – between the two Houses of Parliament, before it is given Royal ascent- or the Queen’s big rubber stamp.
Some of the changes were supported in a letter to The Times by, amongst others, the former head of Professional Ethics here at UClan, Ruth Chadwick.
Their letter urged change to the current qualifying conditions held in the Abortion Act 1967 so that the consent of two doctors will no longer be needed for an abortion, and in medically sound circumstances, where and by whom abortions could now be performed. This is because with medical advances, abortions no longer have to be performed just by doctors, and could be given in GP Practices.
The letter was hardly one of defiance at a divisive time in the debate (it was only printed on 17th October) or necessarily on the more controversial provisions of the Bill. But the letter did highlight a rational debate that has been lost in the more sensationalised, moral objections in newspapers and from Parliament.
The letter said:
“As academic medical lawyers and ethicists, we believe that the current restrictions on women’s reproductive autonomy during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy are not justified.”
But, just how autonomous is or should a woman’s reproduction be?
On one hand, it is your body, and you should be able to do want you want with it. If you become pregnant, at any time, you should by some argument, be allowed to terminate it.
The BMA, RCN and other royal colleges support the present 24-week time limit for abortions, saying: “There has been no significant improvement in the survival of pre-term infants below 24 weeks gestation in the last 18 years.”
So women have autonomy under the law, until the given time where it is seen by medical professionals to become and inhumane procedure. It is also notable that most abortions are performed earlier rather than later.
But, women’s reproductive autonomy can often come into conflict with the rights of the father. Some would argue that they also come into conflict with the rights of the unborn child. Can or should provisions be given under the law to them?
Can the law or other people really measure other factors- feelings, the relationship itself, and the situation?
There is a moral argument… but morals are relative. Should it be someone else’s morals? What if you have incredibly lax morals yourself?
Religious people, particularly the Catholic Church, are very vocal on abortion issues and have been throughout the discussion of the Bill. Nadine Dorris, a Catholic MP still calls for the time limit for abortions to be reduced from 24 to 20 weeks, although this flies in the face of medical advances and advice from the BMA.
In an almost secular country, but one religiously governed by the Church of England, should the Catholic Church be allowed to decide the outcome of unwanted pregnancies for non-believers?
And should Members of Parliament bring their religious views into their jobs, governing people who are not religious? Although, is it fair to ask them to keep them separate?
But do women actually know how to self-govern their reproduction? The number of abortions is on the increase. Do some women have irresponsible pregnancies because they don’t know or don’t care about contraception or consequences?
There is often a very loud voice when it comes to the pro-life/pro-choice debate, but is there a loud enough voice, with a clear message on how to stop so many women needing to have abortions? Or is there anyone in authority questioning why so many young women decide to have many children, often by different and numerous partners?
I think this is a much more pressing and obvious problem and whether the government feels intervention in such issues is their place or not, a consensus on how to control under-age sex and helping people to form proper, loving relationships is necessary.
Maybe energies could have been better spent trying to solve this after the Bill had already gone so far?
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Watching BBC News Coverage of the US Election, I realised Obama’s victory was tangible, even imminent. And today, 634 days after his campaign began, Barack Obama was confirmed the victor, and the first ever African-American President of the United States.
This has been incredible. The most expensive campaign ever, using the internet in a never-before-seen way, and to the bemusement of his peers, has seen the candidate and voters alike cross the lines of age, ethnicity, background, and party, and it feels like an unprecedented opportunity for similar spirit around the world.
‘A new America starts tomorrow…’
…the sentiments of an excited Florida voter. And by around two-thirty, The Republicans had all but conceded.
This is a huge victory for Black people, many of whom, in their lifetimes had felt the racism and bigotry in a country where many laws giving racial equality were implemented less than 50 years ago. But despite this, 9 out of 10 voters said they had not cast their ballot on grounds of race.
Talk turned to a defining generation. Young people have come out and voted for change. Not only young, but open-minded, liberal people with good ideas who are willing to share them. Could this be an end to politics in America as we know it?
The conservative core that McCain was depending on, who actually felt the campaign energised by Sarah Palin, the Christian-right, the neo-Conservatives, are they all running scared? Will the White, middle-class, middle-aged, male conservative politics, slowly be replaced by anyone with dreams, ideas and hopes that people now know they share?
…a swing voter says. Obama has no doubt stirred up hope in voters that he can make a difference to their lives. People will have felt they’ve had a part in making a difference of huge historical importance. Will the masses be empowered as things start being done in a more practical, pragmatic, and inter-connected way?
And can this hope, and clear determination and commitment from Obama be transferred into action? In terrible economic conditions, that many feel hindered McCain’s attempt at the White House, will Obama be too restricted?
A Republican pundit claimed he would bring in old ‘protectionist’ economic policies. Was this just an old-school politician seeing that there are only so many ways of doing things? I am certain.
The pundit also said that jobs would be lost in old-industries, that many people wouldn’t be happy. But isn’t this just an inevitable progression? Are we still evolving after all? Will this pave the way for new, highly-skilled technical jobs for the young and bright? Obama clearly embraces the ethos of Silicon Valley.
Similarly will his commitment for change mean new and better alternative energy use and sources? Republicans and many politicians worldwide have been reluctant to seriously acknowledge the environment. Many Americans simply do not understand that oil and coal just won’t last forever. I think he has every opportunity to make some drastic but necessary changes here too.
And he will be more diplomatic. No matter whether critics said he was aloof, critics are bound to criticise! His speeches, particularly the acceptance speech for his candidacy, were poignant, captivating, and most of all believable. He seemed at ease and to be enjoying the race. And much of the world will have seen that too.
He has gained the White House. He has also gained endorsements from Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, although he and America are not easy bed-fellows. German and Dutch finance ministers have mirrored this international and professional admiration, support and belief in Obama.
I’d like to think Politics in the UK could be changed too. No more boring, tit-for-tat, ‘well if they’re all saying that then lets say the same’ (opposition) ‘or, well if they’re saying that, then we’ll say the opposite’ (3rd party). People should be interested, especially young people. Older people might be controlling it now, but not forever.
Fresh ideas, new types of people, listening and pragmatism could replace favour, nepotism, tradition and polticians seeming out of touch. People should feel they can make a difference, and difference will affect them. And most of all it should be engaging.Because politics matters, just look at America.