Wednesday, 28 November 2012

And it's yet another world of stupid...

I might have to make World of Stupid a weekly feature on my blog for there is so much idiocy going on in the world that I can barely keep up with it all. Here are some recent highlights that deserve exposure...

1. Today a woman in Cambridge presented the Duke of Cambridge with a babygro. Never mind that as far as we know his wife isn't actually pregnant, some halfwit still thought that was an appropriate present to give to a childless man. Apart from the grotesque womb-watching this woman and countless other idiots across Britain are indulging in, what's truly moronic is giving such a present to the insanely wealthy. If anyone will be able to afford clothes for their future children it's Wills and Kate. There are so many more people in Britain more deserving of free baby clothes. Why not give them the damn babygro?

2. In America, there was much hysteria over the South Florida Planned Parenthood clinic offering $10 off a clinic visit (for whatever women's health-related reason...) and $5 off emergency birth control last Friday, known as Black Friday. According to assorted pearl clutchers, this was actually "discounted abortions". Except it's not. Nobody wandered in to the clinic on a whim to terminate a pregnancy as one might do if it was $10 off a cute pair of shoes. If you're going to slag off Planned Parenthood, at least try and be accurate.

3. Some idiotic parents named their newborn daughter Hashtag. I have no more words for this.

4. The UKIP candidate for the North Croydon by-election claims that gay couples shouldn't adopt children as this is an abuse of the child's human rights. He also claims gay couples might raise their kids to be gay. Because clearly that is how the gay happens. On the upside, he is fine with single people adopting but he has not specified whether he'd prefer single people to be heterosexual in order to adopt. Please, if you live in North Croydon, do not vote for this buffoon.

5. Chris Brown has mercifully left Twitter. But not before one last stream of intellectually bankrupt invective at a woman in which he expressed a desire to open his bowels and fart on her.

Ahem. And on that classy note, I must go and have some dinner...

UPDATE: And I've had dinner, caught a plane to Doha and experienced idiocy on a massive scale. The people who stand gormlessly on travellators as if they're on the world's shittest fairground ride are to be expected. But then there are the people who look astounded when they sit in someone else's seat and that someone appears and wants to sit in their seat. As happened to me last night. There was a sleeping child in my seat, next to her grandmother and her father who was meant to be sitting seven rows away.

As my seat was in the midst of a feral family group, I moved to the father's original seat - an aisle seat, when I prefer a window seat, but it was away from the rabble. Sadly, the seat was next to a fidgety woman with a weak bladder so every time I almost got to sleep, I'd be woken up so she could go to the loo.

In the meantime, my toe, which I'd stubbed at home before going to the airport, swelled up and turned black. Oh, and a moronic mother felt that the bit of aisle right beside my goddamn seat would be a great place to hang out with her child (who was actually very cute but at that moment became the demon groin trophy of Lucifer...). That wouldn't have been so bad if (a) I didn't want to sleep for the whole flight and (b) she didn't think that moment was the best time to teach her kid the bloody annoying Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes song. They got my best withering stare.

As a result, I got about three minutes sleep, spent most of this morning in Doha flitting between medical centres to get my foot X-rayed and diagnosed while haemorrhaging cash (but was grateful I wasn't in the same position in America without insurance). It turns out my black toe isn't broken but it is badly bruised and sprained so I am currently on my friend Rachel's sofa with an elevated, ice-packed foot. Hopefully, I will be able to walk on it tomorrow when I have work to do and people to meet - although I did make a grand entrance at the airport in Doha this morning in a wheelchair on the back of one of those little trucks that loads the food onto the plane.

The anti-inflammatory is making me feel a little odd so I probably shouldn't add wine to the mix lest I morph into Liza Minnelli...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Getting people to work just isn't working

Are you still labouring under the misapprehension that the UK government is at all serious about getting people off welfare and back to work? How do you feel about the pitiful results of the multi-million pound welfare-to-work programme? Just one in 28 unemployed people referred to this programme have found a job lasting at least six months.

There are 18 work programme contractors receiving taxpayer pounds to try and get people off welfare and into employment. Of these, 15 are private companies. One of these private companies, Ingeus, is a multinational founded by Therese Rein, wife of former Australian Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and that particular contract is worth £727 million over five years. It's the biggest of the 18 contracts. Still, it's nice to see the British government is helping make people in the colonies rich, I suppose...

So are we getting value for money from Ingeus? You'd hope so at a cost to the taxpayer of £145.4 million per year. In the year ending in July 2012, Ingeus was referred almost 28,000 unemployed people in the north-east of England. Of those, 920 obtained sustained employment. A dismal 3.3% success rate. It has cost £157,826.09 per employed person or 6.47 times the average UK salary. Whichever way you crunch the numbers, it is a pathetic result.

A4e, costing us £438 million, is working in the south of England, an area that is generally more prosperous than the north-east. So you'd think they'd have better results than Ingeus. Nope. A4e managed to find 490 jobs for more than 17,650 unemployed people - an even more dismal success rate of 2.8%. They are the kind of performance figures that pretty much any private company would find unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), representing the providers, unsurprisingly disputes these figures, claiming that the government should take into account figures up to September 2012 - ERSA claims 20% of the unemployed people referred have obtained long-term employment. I have had a dig around the ERSA website and I'm not sure how this figure was arrived at. Do they mean that across the nation, 20% of unemployed people have found work, without allowing for regional variations? Was there really some sort of massive improvement in the two months between July 2012 and September 2012?

There are further rubbery figures from the Department for Work and Pensions. The department seems keen to shift focus away from the epic cost to the taxpayer for very little result and instead claims that at least 56% of the scheme's earliest participants have come off benefits. Except that "coming off benefits" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "now gainfully employed". But don't hold your breath for any analysis of the 56% by the DWP. How many have lost their benefits but haven't found long-term work?

British taxpayers deserve to know why has the government shown such such flagrant disregard for public money by spending so much of it on programmes, mostly privately run, that are simply not working. The bigger issue is that there just aren't the job vacancies available in order to solve the unemployment crisis and this debacle has exposed the lack of vacancies and the lack of ideas this government has for creating new jobs.

All this absurd privatisation has achieved is job creation for private companies who are meant to help people find jobs that don't necessarily exist. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent and no new jobs have been created. Indeed, the money spent could have funded government jobs that have been cut. Or maintaining regional development agencies, such as One North East, another victim of this government's short-sighted cuts despite creating jobs and supporting business and industry.

It'd be Yes, Prime Minister hilarious if it wasn't so tragic and obscenely wasteful.

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Don't mess with Texas if you're opposed to birth control...

Texas, I've heard, is an interesting place. I'd like to check it out one day. One of my closest friends is a Texan and she is hilarious. I think I'd have fun there. What isn't fun is the notion of squeezing the entire world's population into Texas, all seven billion of us and counting.

But this is the bizarre argument of certain elements of the anti-choice brigade when they are opposing not just abortion but also access to birth control, particularly for women in developing countries who, quite frankly, might just want a few more choices in their reproductive lives. Yes, the good news is that we can all relax and breed merrily, regardless of our circumstances because agenda-ridden groups say we can all fit comfortably into Texas. This is according to the Population Research Institute, founded by Father Paul Marx, a Roman Catholic priest. No prizes for guessing his standpoint on birth control and abortion.

But as much as I disagree with most of his views, I accept he has the right to hold such views. Indeed, as a prochoice person, I agree that the forced abortions that happen in China as a result of the one-child policy are unacceptable. What is absurd, however, is using the "we all fit in Texas" analogy to argue that the world is not yet full and nobody needs birth control.

The PRI quotes the UN Population Database, which states that in 2010 there were 6,908,688,000 of us on Earth. They go on to say the landmass of Texas is 268,820 square miles so if that is divided up amongst everyone on the planet, we each get a seemingly generous 1,084.76 square feet per person. Hell, that's more space than I have in my whole house and I share that with one other person! Under this plan, I could have more space to myself and so could my husband! What's not to like?

How about the mind-numbing simplistic nature of this line of thought? I get that the Texan analogy is not meant to be taken literally. The PRI is not suggesting the entire world move to Texas and actually admits on the website that this hypothetical utopia would just be "one massive subdivision".

That's what makes the analogy seriously stupid - the 1,084.76 square feet we should each be enjoying doesn't take into account the space we take up when we are at work, when we are enjoying leisure time, when we go shopping and run errands, the roads and railways required to transport people to places aside from their homes, or the need for infrastructure, such as sewerage and drainage systems, water supplies and energy generation facilities or any sort of manufacturing industry or agriculture. Indeed, millions of people across the world do not enjoy basic education, nutrition or healthcare, never mind the work, shopping and leisure opportunities I mentioned. What the hell kind of economy is funding this hypothetical space that can fit seven billion-odd people?

The PRI's disclaimer is that Texas represents "a tiny proportion of inhabitable Earth." As such, seven billion of us can all fit quite comfortably on this planet. Except that land, wealth and food are not distributed fairly, vast swathes of beautiful natural landscapes are destroyed on a daily basis to make room for more people and for the infrastructure and industries needed to support everyone, as well as the industries that are pretty much created to make rich people even richer but don't necessarily benefit society as a whole.

For some additional idiocy, the PRI's analogy assumes that the average family has four people in it. Except that family sizes vary across the world - if anyone should be aware of that, it's an organisation that professes to research population. The rhetoric of PRI also ignores quality of life and places sheer quantity of life as being far more important in every circumstance.

If you are using this Texan analogy as an argument against letting women access birth control, you are oversimplifying a complex issue. Fighting poverty and ensuring our planet has a sustainable future will require long-term cooperation between multiple governments, it will require massive investment across the globe in healthcare and education, it will require entire nations to look at changing cultures of pollution and waste. And that's just for starters.

Giving women access to birth control and more reproductive choices won't solve the world's problems alone. But wanting to restrict access to birth control because apparently we can all fit in Texas is a moronic oversimplification and it harms women.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Politicians, perks and public transport

Nadine Dorries is whining again today. She says she was given permission to take four weeks off while Parliament was sitting, but admits she didn't disclose that she wanted the time off to go to Australia and appear on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Now everybody is picking on her. Boo and also hoo. But there is an element of hypocrisy - no Member of Parliament should be allowed to take additional time off unless they are ill or there are genuine personal reasons for taking extra leave, such as bereavement. This is how it works for the rest of us. Why should MPs be any different?

And while we're at it, how about we make the working lives of MPs more like the working lives of the people they represent? Perhaps we should view Parliament as being like the London head office of a company that has branches across the whole nation. Below are a few pointers on how MPs can live like the rest of us, not make outrageous expense claims and maybe even save taxpayers some money. This is how it works for employees, especially in the private sector. Surely the Conservative Party cannot object to Parliament being run more like a private company...
  • If you live and work in London, you generally get public transport to work at your own expense. MPs who live in the Oyster card zone should do likewise. This is not at all unreasonable on a salary of £65,738.
  • If you work for a private company with a London head office but you're not based in London, your company will most likely reimburse you for travel expenses when you need to be in the capital for work. As such, MPs, apart from those not based on the mainland, should be able to claim train travel between their constituency and London, provided they travel by Standard Class.
  • However, if you do need to travel to London for work purposes in the private sector, you're probably not allowed to claim for the rent on a second residence in London. Chances are, you will be put up in a hotel and, in this age of austerity, it probably won't be the Dorchester. Instead of MPs having second homes in London, how about a few empty buildings get transformed into budget hotels for MPs? Surely all they need is a clean, comfortable room, a desk, a phone, wifi, and somewhere to shit, shower and sleep?

    The process could be put out to tender so that private companies, such as Premier Inn and Holiday Inn Express, can bid for the contract to develop the buildings and offer rooms to MPs at a guaranteed reasonable rate so the taxpayer is paying for the sort of rate a reliable corporate client would pay. What Tory could possibly object to such privatisation? When Parliament is not sitting, the hotels would be open to the public. This is London. The rooms will be booked. The hotels would create jobs during the construction phase as well as when they are operational.
  • MPs who are not based in London will receive an Oyster card for travelling around London and can only claim taxi fares if they have to attend late night Parliamentary sessions, which are rare.
  • No MP should be allowed to claim for maintenance and repairs on their constituency homes. Everyone else pays for their own home repairs. Why should MPs be any different? Seriously, they are no better than the "benefits scroungers" many of them claim are wasting the taxes of hardworking people.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways that we can ensure MPs lead lives that are more like those of their constituents, but it's definitely a start. Any more suggestions are warmly welcomed. One of my favourite writers, Fleet Street Fox has explained how George Osborne lives in no way like anyone I know but can't seem to apply the same acumen to the economy.

    After all, if the current government is obsessed with cutting spending and reducing benefits, surely they can set an example? We're all in this together, aren't we? Aren't we? Hello? Tumbleweeds...
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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Women bishops - or, as I like to call them, bishops...

A mosaic in Rome's St Praxedis church features the image of a woman. Beside her, it says "Theodora Episcopa" - this is a depiction of a woman who was also a bishop. The mosaic is from the ninth century. The ninth century. Yet in the 21st century, the General Synod of the Church of England has failed to allow woman who have already been ordained as priests to become bishops. The clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour but no majority was achieved among the laity  - there was more than 50% support but not the 138 out of 206 votes required for it to pass.

So it would appear the progress of the entire church is being held to ransom by a vocal, conservative minority. There was even a clause to allow parishes opposed to women bishops to be ministered to by a substitute male bishop if they really felt that owning a vagina was incompatible with episcopal leadership. Imagine a private company trying to impose such rules: "I'm sorry, Ms Jones, but while you are indeed a competent and fully trained accountant, the fact that you're a woman precludes you from being a partner in this firm. If, however, we do allow women to become partners sometime in the dim and distant future, we will give our clients the option of not dealing with you if they are opposed to women as partners in accountancy firms."

This has caused much outrage and the outrage is not restricted to observant Anglicans but it crosses over to people of other faiths and of no faith. And rightly so - the Anglican church is still the state religion of Britain and, as such, people should be allowed to question this and the actions of the church, regardless of their beliefs.

There is an openly atheist Deputy Prime Minister, an atheist Leader of the Opposition with Jewish heritage, and a Prime Minister who professes to be a Christian but seems to have bypassed the compassion bit, yet still a state religion remains. There is no compulsion to be Anglican or attend church, other religions are welcome here and anyone is free to be an atheist, yet still a state religion remains.

And with yesterday's vote against women bishops, it is now a state religion that breaks the anti-discrimination laws of the very country it purports to represent. Even the royal family, also compulsorily Anglican, has made a few strides towards progressiveness by allowing firstborn daughters to inherit the throne.

All this vote does is further alienate the church from the mainstream and makes calls for a proper separation of church and state in Britain more relevant. This, in turn, could lead to further examination of the role of religion in the royal family and whether it is right for the head of state to only ever represent a shrinking demographic in an increasingly diverse country.

It is a discussion that the whole country needs to be involved in and, given that the outrage over this bishop decision is widespread and crosses faith, political and gender boundaries, could this usher in a new era of political engagement in Britain? After the farce of the low turnout in the PCC elections and a culture whereby more people are more interested in voting for X Factor winners than parliamentary representatives, if this particular outrage gets people interested in matters more important than TV talent shows, that would actually be a good thing.*


* This e-petition is a good place to start your stepped-up political engagement in the wake of the General Synod's decision yesterday:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Misunderstanding the monarchy

Yesterday's front page of the Evening Standard may as well have carried the headline: "SURVEY SHOCK: BRITISH PEOPLE FAIL TO UNDERSTAND HOW A MONARCHY WORKS".

According a Kings College London/Ipsos Mori survey (and surveys are always a fine source of nonsense and general bullshit), Prince William is currently the most popular member of the Royal family, followed by the Queen. No huge shock there given the hype around last year's wedding and this year's Jubilee. Next on the list came Prince Harry then the Duchess of Cambridge and poor old Prince Charles came in at number five.

Ipsos Mori director, Roger Mortimore, has extrapolated from the survey that: "A lot of people would like the idea of William succeeding straight away. He is young and good-looking and popular."

And here we go again with the familiar refrain from those desperate to keep the monarchy relevant: that it'd be just awesome if we skipped over Charles and let William take the throne when the Queen passes on. Except that's not how monarchies work. The whole point of a monarchy is that the next person in line will indeed inherit the throne, regardless of public opinion or suitability for the role.

Sure, the Royals have made a few attempts at modernisation over the years. The Queen started to pay tax, albeit in response to public pressure, and this year, she announced that if William and Kate's firstborn is a girl, she will still be allowed to inherit the throne. It's hardly a great stride for feminism or women's independence - Kate had to be confirmed into the Church of England before the wedding, if she was a divorcee, William would have been compelled to give up his claim to the throne to marry her, as per the Edward-and-Wallis marriage of 1937, and because her main role in life is now to produce and heir and a spare, the media is on a grotesque uterus watch.

Of course, if her Majesty is tired after 60 years of reigning and 65 years of marriage to Prince Phillip, she could always abdicate and pass the throne over to Charles now. Edward VII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, there was a scandal at the time involving plenty of slut-shaming of the highest order, but the world kept turning, his brother became the king, and we all got to enjoy The King's Speech. No real harm done.

Or is there? The other line monarchists like to spin is that the Royals are mere figureheads with no real political power. Except that Frank Gardner revealed that the Queen has indeed opined on why Abu Hamza was still in Britain rather than being deported to the US for trial. Her views on the matter echoed popular opinion but it was still an opinion expressed to people of influence by a woman who is meant to be above politics.

Plans for same-sex marriage legislation, meanwhile, were conspicuous by their absence from her speech for the opening of the current session of Parliament. Her speech is written by cabinet - were they worried that it was not an appropriate topic for the Queen's dulcet tones or were they trying to put marriage equality on the backburner for this session? Whatever the case, it is impossible not to politicise a speech written by politicians, regardless of who delivers it.

Then there was the revelation that Prince Charles had written 27 letters to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. In a massive failure for democracy and transparency, Attorney-General Dominic Grieve blocked the release of the reportedly frank letters despite three judges ruling that the release was in the public interest.

Moronically, Grieve blocked the release "because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king." He fails to appreciate that as taxpayers who fund the Royal family, we do have a right to know if Prince Charles is trying to use his position to influence policy. If Prince Charles wants to play a role in Britain's political life instead of being a politically neutral Royal, he needs to renounce his position and become a private citizen - then he is free to express his opinions in whatever way he sees fit or he can get himself on the electoral roll and run for office, if he wishes.

But it's easier for Prince Charles to influence policy on the sly with no accountability or transparency while living at the expense of the taxpayers. People of Britain, this is your future king. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" is another glib catchcry of monarchists who try and convince us all that the Royal family is benign. But it is broke and it needs fixing very badly.

Image courtesy of

Monday, 19 November 2012

Why International Men's Day needs a rethink

Every year on International Women's Day, some idiot feels the need to pipe up with: "But what about International Men's Day?" And the inevitable response is: "Every day is International Men's Day. Bugger off." Or words to that effect. It has become a tired refrain every time March 8 rolls around.

Then International Men's Day really did happen. It's today, in case you were wondering. And the inevitable response to this was: "But every day is International Men's Day. It must be so hard to have all that power and privilege. Boo hoo!"

And yes, it is superficially churlish of men to complain about power when they are still the majority in governments across the world, when they still comprise most of the CEO positions in companies globally, when they are making wars happen but don't seem to be doing a whole lot to make wars stop, and so on.

But across the world, men are more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to be victims of violent crime, with the exception of rape, and they are more likely to develop cancer and die of it. Add to the mix the extra disadvantages faced by many men from ethnic minorities and from impoverished backgrounds in developed and developing countries, and it is clear that there are issues on which men should be raising awareness without fear of being disparaged.

For example, this month is Movember, the annual fundraiser for prostate cancer research via the medium of men growing sponsored moustaches. It's a fun way to raise money and awareness about a disease that kills around 10,000 men in Britain annually. Anything that can be done to encourage men to go to the doctor, even if it involves the less-than-pleasant task that is a prostate examination, is a good thing. 

Equally, it is important to ensure boys and girls are all encouraged to embrace education in places such as Britain where it is easily accessible and to ensure access to education for all children is improved globally. Education is one of the best ways to stop the cycle of poverty for men and women and, as such, we need to strive for a world where everybody can go to school.

Then there is the importance of looking at the causes of crime - many of which can be related back to the lack of opportunities that occur as a result of poor education - and find practical ways to reduce crime and keep men out of prison. If men are more likely to be violent, we need to examine why this is so as well. This is not about pandering to men. This is about creating a good and safe society.

And I haven't even scratched the surface in the last few paragraphs as to why issues that impact heavily on men are important. But to call the day International Men's Day is a marketing failure. Instead of looking seriously at the issues that affect society as a whole, there is too much noise as to what the day should be called and whether the day has the right to exist. 

It's not as simple as declaring an International Men's Day. The issues are too many and too big for just one day, just as International Women's Day alone cannot hope to address the issues that are holding women back across the world. And when you look at the issues that both these international days are trying to deal with, it becomes abundantly clear that they are all human issues. And human issues require cooperation, intelligence, open dialogue and sanity from everyone.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

RIP Savita: A tragedy that was always going to be political

If you are 17 weeks pregnant and you present with serious back pain at a hospital in a developed country, a country with an excellent record for maternal care, you don't expect to leave the hospital in a coffin. But that is precisely what happened to 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar. 

The tragic story of Savita has broken today and there are assumptions being made left, right and centre as to whether an abortion might have saved her life. It is pointless for either prochoice or prolife people to complain that her death is being used as a political football. An embittered debate about Irish abortion law and the role of religion in Ireland were always going be to among the outcomes of this awful situation.

At the time of writing, this is the information we have available:

1. Savita presented at University Hospital, Galway, on Sunday, October 21, complaining of severe back pain.
2. Soon after she arrived at the hospital, it was determined that she was miscarrying.
3. It was determined that her 17-week-old foetus was not going to survive to full term but, despite Savita requesting an abortion, this request was refused because there was still a foetal heartbeat.
4. Savita's cervix was dilating and her uterus was leaking amniotic fluid. She spent at least three days in agony.
5. The foetus was finally removed once the heart stopped beating. 
6. Savita's husband, Praveen, claims they were told she could not have an abortion while the heart was still beating because: "This is a Catholic country." 
7. Ireland is not a "Catholic country." It has no official religion.
8. Savita was not given antibiotics until Tuesday, October 23.
9. By Saturday, October 27, Savita's heart, kidneys and liver failed.
10. Savita died of septicaemia in the early hours of Sunday, October 28.

We cannot be sure at this stage if Savita was suffering the initial back pain because of an infection or whether the infection occurred in hospital. But spending at least three days with a dilated cervix, leaking amniotic fluid, while in the throes of a miscarriage is certainly not conducive to remaining infection-free, that is certain. Based on the available information, Dr Jen Gunter*, an OB/GYN, tweeted this on Savita's case: "Infected uterus needs to be emptied. End of story." 

Savita's family - and the women of Ireland - now have to wait for the findings of three investigations. As well as the hospital's own investigation, the national government's Health Service Executive will conduct a parallel investigation, as is standard practice when a pregnant woman dies in hospital, and the Galway coroner has also planned a public inquest.

If the investigations find that a timely abortion may have saved Savita's life, there will doubtless be calls from prochoice groups for legislative changes in Ireland. But careful reading of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland reveals that even under the current restrictive abortion laws, Savita could have been entitled to an abortion as soon as it was apparent that her pregnancy was not viable. In 1983, the Eighth Amendment added the following paragraph to the constitution:

"The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right." 

So, based on that amendment, Savita's foetus did indeed have the right to life, but it was determined when she went to hospital that she was miscarrying and was not going to be able to carry the pregnancy to full term. The foetus was never going to become viable. Tragically, the "due regard to the equal right to life of the mother" part of the amendment does not appear to have been applied to Savita when hospital staff were making decisions. By telling her she could not have an abortion because Ireland is a "Catholic country", she got an invalid, non-medical excuse that completely ignored the country's constitution.** 

Given that Savita was married and had recently celebrated a baby shower for what was clearly a wanted pregnancy, it is outrageous to suggest that she took the decision to request an abortion lightly. On the upside, hardcore conservative prolifers can't posthumously slut-shame her because she conceived in circumstances of which they approve, but that's not going to be of any comfort to the loved ones Savita has left behind. 


A draft report into Savita's death says that by the time Savita presented at the hospital, it was too late to save the baby and that her infection was undiagnosed for three days. More here.


* More on this appalling case, with better medical knowledge than I possess, from Dr Jen Gunter:

** If you are in Ireland and want to take action in Ireland on abortion law, here is a useful link:

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Uganda fails at humanity (but they're not alone)

Really, Uganda? In 2012, you think it's acceptable to pass a law whereby homosexuality can be punished by death or life imprisonment? As a result, there have been angry calls for boycotts of Uganda and for cutting off all foreign aid.

This may sound like a perfectly reasonable response on the surface, but a more nuanced, less simplistic response would be saner - and less likely to disadvantage people in genuine need.

Firstly, let's examine an economic boycott of Uganda. It's pretty easy to boycott Uganda as a holiday destination, so that's a moot point. But what about not buying goods exported from Uganda to Britain? Will that achieve anything? Probably not. The Ugandan shilling is currently losing value and while oil exports could  boost the economy significantly, any improvements to the economy are hampered by high population growth, poor job creation and underdeveloped infrastructure.

In 2009, Britain exported £50 million worth of goods to Uganda. In return, Uganda exported just £12 million worth of goods to Britain. Basically, Britain is making more money out of Uganda than Uganda is making out of Britain. When you break it down, it looks even more paltry - in 2009, Britain bought £4 million worth of fruit and vegetables, £3 million worth of electrical machinery and £1 million worth of tea, coffee and spices. A boycott of these goods, especially the produce, tea, coffee and spices, is going to hurt Ugandan farmers more than anyone else.

Secondly, cutting all foreign aid sounds like a fine plan in theory. It is always the fallback option of the right and the hysterical whenever a developing country does something douchey. (Except, of course, when right-leaning groups are actually fine with countries expressing the sovereignty by passing homophobic laws and even offer charitable support to such things as therapy to "cure" homosexuality, but I digress).

The good news is that there are ways to continue to assist vulnerable people in Uganda while still taking a stand against the government. By giving foreign aid directly to carefully selected, non-religious Ugandan NGOs, aid can go directly to people who need it without handing cash over to the government. Or why not take a powerful stand and ensure aid goes to groups in Uganda who are fighting for gay and lesbian rights? There are plenty of groups who could use the funds to stand up to the absurd government.

But in the midst of all this, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are anti-gay laws in 76 countries. Yes, 76 countries still live in the dark ages and criminalise consensual sexual behaviour of a significant proportion of their populations and the rest of the world is largely silent. But, hey, Saudi has the oil, the Seychelles is a nice place for heterosexuals to go on honeymoon, who doesn't like a spot of shopping on Singapore's Orchard Road...

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Burning poppies and flaming idiots

And so another Remembrance Day has been and gone. Some buffoon in a fluorescent pink costume and enormous silver horns tried to disrupt yesterday's service in Bristol before being arrested and charged with public order offences. It is unclear what point, if any, he was trying to make, apart from making a scene

And yet another buffoon, 19-year-old Linford House, posted a picture of a cigarette lighter burning a poppy. The less-than-articulate caption was: "How about that you squadey cunt". He has been arrested for  "malicious telecommunications" and remains in custody at the time of writing.

According to British law, "malicious communications" offences "[deal] with the sending to another of any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress and anxiety to the recipient."

In this instance, the "recipient" is Linford House's Facebook friends. And anyone who can see his Facebook page - it would seem his privacy settings for his account aren't particularly tight. The illiterate caption was more attention-seeking than threatening and whether his Facebook friends found the posting indecent or grossly offensive is unclear. To prove that part of the offence would require analysing the how his friends felt about it all. Perhaps they are all like-minded tools.

Perhaps some of his friends saw the posting and removed him from their respective Facebook worlds. I've defriended people over racist comments and rape apologia. Such people can say such crap in a free world and, equally, I am free to not be subjected to it. It is the Facebook equivalent of turning off the TV rather than watching something I can do without.

If you're offended by House's actions, that is your right. In a free society with free speech, you have the right to speak out in response, to tell him he is being childish and disrespectful. I have the right to write this blog posting on the matter but that right needs to exist alongside House's right to say something completely stupid.

But if Britain is going to start arresting people for mindless Facebook postings according to the "malicious communications" definition, the police are going to find themselves busier than ever. When I lived in the Middle East, I was far more cautious with my Facebook postings than I am here in Britain - but am I being naive?

In my own online world, I have seen postings on Facebook that are false. This happens pretty much every time someone is murdered or goes missing. The armchair detectives come out in full force. Should they be arrested for making comments that may prejudice a fair trial or are kneejerk accusations merely "banter"? This week, someone I know updated their status with a threat to set the dogs on local louts who were trespassing on their property. Would that fall foul of the "convey a threat" part of the law? Maybe, but I'm not going to have a friend arrested for blowing off steam on Facebook. When friends feel the need to share a link to some Daily Mail body shaming, I might find that offends my feminist principles but I'm not going to call the police because of the "grossly offensive" part of the law. That would be a complete waste of everyone's time.  

Then there is the annual pasting Channel 4's Jon Snow* receives for not wearing a poppy when he reads the news. I didn't realise it was compulsory to wear anything on one's lapel. Snow, who wears the poppy when he is not on air, says he is approached by countless charities every year with requests to don assorted ribbons and pins. As such, he doesn't wear any of the unsolicited adornments. Not even the poppy. As a journalist, this is an admirable stance. It is a way to appear neutral and objective. If any of the charities were involved in a scandal and Snow was seen to endorse them on TV, that is a compromise of his own journalistic integrity.

And it is hard to separate politics from pretty much any charity, including the British Legion. Indeed, it may be said that it is unfortunate such a charity needs to exist because society is not taking enough care of veterans. With any health charity, it could be argued that the NHS needs to do more or that the government needs to fund more research. And human rights charities, such as Amnesty International, cannot help but be political in the stances they take. With this is mind, it does not behoove a journalist to wear any charity-related adornment when they are on duty as an objective reporter.

It may seem churlish to say that when men and women died for our freedoms, those freedoms include the freedom to burn poppies while making mindless comments, but when you start placing your own limitations on free speech based on your own opinions and emotions, you are riding a slippery slope. If you keep sliding down this slope, you may one day find your own views curtailed because they go against the views of the masses. Or against those with the loudest voices who are masquerading as the masses.


* I am a little bit delighted that Jon Snow has has seen this piece and sent me this lovely tweet in response: "In truth Georgia, it was a bit of a poppy 'sit' rather than 'stand' as I was fortunately out of the country this time around."

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Sunday, 11 November 2012

This week's world of stupid

The week started well - I was having a great time in sane, liberal Amsterdam and Barack Obama won the US election. Then the wheels started to fall off.

The US state of California depressingly voted against a ban on the death penalty - and the County of Los Angeles voted for compulsory condom use in porn movies. It was a bizarre example of misuse of big and small government. The death penalty is abhorrent and ineffective and government should go big and step in to ban it globally. That is the only civilised solution. But how the hell did condom use in porn even end up on ballot papers? How is that something that needs government regulation and a public vote? Yes, sometimes government can be way too big. It would be far saner to ensure sex education covers the benefits of condom use as well as intelligent class discussion on pornography and its relationship to real life sex. If you think high school students can't handle such discussions, you've clearly got no idea what they've probably seen online already.

And Nadine Dorries happened again. This time, the MP buggered off to Australia to appear on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here without telling anyone. On one hand, it is brilliant that she is currently not here in Britain. On the other hand, it is beyond scandalous that she is still accepting her taxpayer-funded salary, neglecting her constituents and abandoning her seat for important votes in the House of Commons. She further raises the idiot stakes by claiming that her appearance on a moronic TV programme will get people interested in politics and raise awareness of her views on abortion. If you are unaware of Nadine Dorries' views on abortion, you have been living under a rock. If you need to see MPs eat kangaroo testicles on TV to be interested in politics, you are too stupid to fill out a ballot paper and shouldn't leave the house without your name and address pinned to your clothes.

Meanwhile, Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and Labour MP Chris Bryant, attempted to manufacture outrage over claims that bets were taken on the appointment of Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently, people who knew Welby was going to be the Church of England's new leader took bets and it was likened to the ecclesiastical equivalent to insider trading. But the outrage missed the point. Why is government still involved in the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Given that Britain generally does a better job of separating church and state than America, it is time to cut this particular cord once and for all. This country has grown up enough to have an openly atheist deputy Prime Minister, freedom of religion, freedom from religion and a general attitude that religious beliefs are personal.

But any chance of intelligent discussion about betting on bishops, and the Church of England's role in Britain, got lost in the news cycle in the wake of George Entwistle's resignation as BBC Director-General after an ill-starred seven-week tenure. While the BBC-bashing newspapers get away with a tiny apology on page 23 buried next to an advertisement for mail order slippers for all manner of lies, inaccuracies and ethical failures, the BBC has to go big with a mea culpa. Yet ITV gurner-in-chief Phillip Schofield thought handing David Cameron an internet witch hunt list of suspected child molesters on live TV was the way forward and he is still employed. Alarmingly, Schofield made the Prime Minister look good - David Cameron handled an insane situation well.

Yes, there was much ineptitude on the part of Entwistle over the Jimmy Savile affair, and journalism at the BBC should be held up to a higher standard than The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, ITV and Sky News, but this is not an excuse to tear down the entire organisation. It is a time to look ahead and ensure high journalistic standards are maintained at all times in the future. As I predicted on October 23, the real victims of paedophilia are being forgotten in the midst of a frenzy to burn Entwistle at the stake. There is no joy to be had in this prediction coming true.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The radical notion of a nation that helps new mothers

Are you truly prolife? As such, are you committed to making sure every new mother has the support she needs to cope with the demands of bringing a new human being into the world? Are you happy for your taxes to help support these women? 

Or are you part of the "if you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em" brigade? Do you believe all women should carry their pregnancies to term but once they've given birth, they're on their own? No support from the state of any description? Hell, why not just ban all abortions and force women to give up their kids for adoption if they don't meet some arbitrary standard of wealth? For that is the slippery slope on which you are sliding down if that's your outlook on life.

If you are serious about reducing the rate of abortions, consider the situation in The Netherlands. Yesterday, my friend and I took her two-week-old daughter to a local authority-run clinic. Here she was weighed, advice is offered on any issues the mother may have, such as breastfeeding, and the baby's general health and wellbeing is monitored. The parents are given a book in which the child's medical records are filled in up until the child turns four. After that, the child's health is then primarily taken care of through medical staff at schools. 

Obviously, taxes help pay for this, but given the outcome is a nation of healthy children, why would anyone who professes to be prolife be opposed to this? Wanting to reduce abortion is one thing but making sure babies grow into healthy children, regardless of how much money the parents have, is not socialism gone mad. It's about as prolife as it gets. 

Then there is the amazing kraamzorg service, funded by compulsory national insurance contributions. In the 34th week of the pregnancy, a kraamverzorgster (a qualified maternity nurse) will visit the mother to discuss whether she wants a home birth or a hospital birth. With 30% of babies born at home in the Netherlands, the kraamzorg service has done much to reduce infant mortality, another prolife concept surely. 

After the birth, the kraamverzorgster will visit the mother at home, usually eight times at four hours a time, to check on the mother and baby and to assist in whatever way is appropriate on that day. My friend reported that her kraamverzorgster performed all manner of tasks, such as helping with the housework as well as offering advice and healthcare services. On one occasion, the kraamverzorgster simply looked after the baby so my friend could have a much-needed four-hour nap. If pregnant women embark on their journey from here to maternity knowing that they will be supported, that is a great incentive to carry to term, to embrace motherhood. Are any prolife people seriously going to tell me that this is a bad idea?

The Netherlands also offers 16 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, which comes from the General Unemployment Fund. This is funded by contributions from employees and employers. It's not the best scheme in Europe but it is a hell of a lot better than many other supposedly civilised nations. 

On top of that, fathers have a right to paid paternity leave to attend the birth of their child, two days off in the first four weeks of the baby's life and paid time off to register the birth of the baby. For mothers and fathers who have worked for their current employer for at least a year, they can take a specified amount of non-paid parental leave to care for biological, adopted or foster children with a six-month period in the first eight years of the child's life.

The abortion rate in The Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world at 8.7 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. Interestingly, studies have shown slight increases in abortion rates among women from migrant backgrounds, from cultures where there is often shame associated with being pregnancy out of wedlock or where contraception use may be discouraged or access to information on contraception restricted. This is a stark contrast to the famously open attitudes to sex of the Netherlands. 

It is a common catchcry of conservatives that migrants should embrace the values of their adopted country. In the case of the Netherlands, migrants who embrace decidedly non-conservative Dutch values of openness about sex, comprehensive sex education and easy access to birth control and abortion, can expect to enjoy the benefits of a low abortion rate and low rate of teen and unplanned pregnancy. A lack of stigma surrounding motherhood outside of wedlock is another reason why the abortion rate is low. There is a lot to be said for not slut-shaming women who have sex without a marriage certificate.

And when women of all backgrounds in the Netherlands are pregnant, they can enjoy living in a country where their choice to carry to term is respected and supported beyond the foetal stage. It's not about the government making choices for women, as if women are somehow too stupid and helpless to know what is best for their bodies. It's about creating nations where women can easily make their own choices, whatever those choices may be. That's why prochoice nations are truly prolife.  

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A quickie from Amsterdam...

I am in Amsterdam to catch up with friends, most notably a very dear friend and her new baby. But last night's activities were decidedly un-kid-friendly, as my friend Justin and I wandered the red light district and stumbled upon the Erotic Museum. Although when I say "stumbled", it was more a case of spotting a big, red neon sign, bursting out laughing after a few Bokbiers and striding right in.

Anyone who thinks that the sexualisation of society is something new created by the "liberal mainstream media" or MTV or Rihanna or Madonna or by the "gay agenda" needs to visit this place and get some perspective. Sex is not something new and neither are its consequences or its explicit depictions.

Walking by the prostitutes in windows is an odd experience - there are women who I am sure have been trafficked and there are women who are clearly enjoying their work. Keeping it all right there where you can see it is, however, a good thing. As the scent of marijuana wafted through the night air and some of the most stunning women I've ever seen touted for business in full view of the street, it pays to remember that this is a country with extremely low rates of teen pregnancy and abortion. If ever anyone needed proof that keeping sex a secret is a stupid idea, I highly recommend visiting Amsterdam. But, sadly, the people who need to understand this message probably aren't interested in taking the trip.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

In bed with David Cameron? Who cares?

The winner of today's Non-News Story of the Day prize is the Daily Mail. Normally, this would be because they have tried to pass off "mildly-famous-woman-wears-dress-that-journalist-describes-as-"daring"- even-though-it's-not-1954" as "news". But they win the prize today for even more pitiful reasons. The deluded journalist, Simon Walters, is labouring under the misapprehension that revealing the content of texts between Prime Minister, David Cameron, and ex-News of the World editor, Rebekah Brooks, is somehow explosive.

It's about as explosive as a fart in the ocean. Instead of anything remotely hard-hitting, we are privy to lame texts about a feisty horse of Brooks' that Cameron rode, and a gushy message from Brooks telling him his speech made her cry twice and that she will love 'working together'. The inverted commas are hers. But this punctuation is enough for an outbreak of nudge-nudge-wink-wink.

An "insider" is quoted in the story as saying: "These new texts are of no great significance."

And he or she would be correct. There is nothing new here but that hasn't stopped a fresh tide of speculation and not just from Mail's obsessive online commentators. They are now speculating on the state of David Cameron's marriage and drearily opining that his wife, Samantha, always looks so unhappy. Cue a fresh load of gossip as to whether Cameron and Brooks are more than just friends, including tweets about Brooks staying at Chequers, minus her husband, when Samantha Cameron was eight months pregnant.

Firstly, we've already heard tales of Brooks attending a pyjama party with Sarah Brown, wife of ex-PM Gordon Brown, Brooks telling Cameron that "lol" is text-speak for "laugh out loud", not "lots of love", the socialising of the Chipping Norton set, and the farce of Cameron admitting he rode an ex-police horse that Brooks owned. How he kept a straight face while admitting to riding the horse and expressing sorrow that the poor creature was no longer with us is a mystery to all.

We already know that Cameron and Brooks have a close friendship, regardless of whether anything of a sexual nature has ever happened or not. They are both complicit in feeding not only their own lust for power, but also the megalomania of the Murdoch empire.

Secondly, any new information that has emerged on this gloomy, cold Sunday only serves to remind us that, apart from Brooks losing her job, nothing has changed. Jeremy Hunt's inappropriate dealings with Murdoch in regard to the BSkyB takeover bid when he was Culture Secretary have done his career no harm. He has been promoted to Health Secretary despite that appointment being about as suitable as casting Miley Cyrus as Hedda Gabler.

There is already enough evidence of the grubbiness and outrageous inappropriateness of Cameron-Brooks relationship without any need for speculation about any more intimate goings-on between the two of them. It is completely irrelevant. It's nobody's business. Cameron did not run for office on a platform of outlawing adultery. His sex life is not in the public interest, unless it involves children, animals or a lack of consent. There may have been inappropriate pillow talk, there may not. There has certainly been inappropriate conversations between Cameron and Brooks via text and socially without getting into bed.

We must not let schoolyard gossip get in the way of what has really been going on and that is, quite simply, that for too long, successive governments have been too busy getting too close to journalists.

Not only are we getting governments who are not focused on doing what is best for Britain, but we are getting a media that is not good at keeping government accountable. If anything, the Daily Mail, by running this story, has created a distraction from real issues, such as welfare cuts and the future of the NHS. It is better for the conservative agenda to have everyone wondering out loud if Cameron and Brooks ever slept together than to let the masses get too angry about what is happening to this country.

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