Tuesday, 25 February 2014

An open letter to Fred Nile

Dear Fred,

Congratulations on your marriage last December. I'm sure you had a lovely wedding day and, as someone who is also happily married, we can both agree that finding someone you love to share your life is a wonderful thing. It's just a shame that in your perfect world, you would not extend the right to such joy to same-sex couples.

Whoops! Sorry! That was a bit crass of me, wasn't it? Did see what I so thoughtlessly did there? I used the example of your personal life to make a political point. I've never actually met you, save for the time I was on Sydney's Oxford Street with my family watching the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras back in 1992 and across the road, I spotted you and a few supporters trying to pray the gay away, but I figured I'd still use your personal situation to share my views on marriage equality.

It's as rude as, oh, I dunno, using the suicide of Charlotte Dawson to hammer out an anti-abortion message, as you did, Fred. Perhaps obituary writers did not feel the need to mention the abortion she had in 1999 because she had already shared this story in her autobiography, or because her privacy had already been stripped away, partly by herself and partly by the media, or because of editorial word limits, or because, maybe, just maybe, the writers figured that an obituary might be a distasteful place to mention pregnancy termination.

Oh dear, sorry, I got distracted again. I was writing to congratulate you on your marriage. Er, where was I? Oh yes, that's right, it is indeed marvellous to fall in love and share your life with someone. It is such a shame that you didn't have the full support of your family on your wedding day. From what I've read in assorted newspapers and gossip columns, I understand that your daughter and one of your three sons didn't attend your wedding. Something to do with them not being comfortable with you remarrying so soon after Elaine, your first wife, passed away? Is that correct? How awful for you. I can't imagine my own wedding day without my family being there.

Whoops! There I go again! I don't know what has come over me today. What was I thinking in bringing up details of your family dramas when I've never met you or your family, I wasn't invited to your wedding, I am not privy to what goes on behind closed doors in your family, and I do not have access to all the facts.

That's bit like pulling out a quote about an abortion from a recently dead woman's autobiography and posting it on your Facebook page with a comment about the lack of abortion mentions in her obituaries the day after she was found dead in her apartment. The quote from her autobiography - "I felt a shift, I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression" - do indeed refer to the "total turmoil" she felt on the day she had an abortion after falling pregnant to her ex-husband, Scott Miller.

From her account, it would appear that she felt pressured into terminating the pregnancy at the behest of her ex-husband. But you didn't feel the need to think about this side of the story before posting on Facebook, did you, Fred?

The circumstances surrounding her abortion include a failing and troubled relationship that was being played out in the public eye. Charlotte's writings on the subject do not paint Scott in a flattering light. And nobody who is truly prochoice is OK about any abortion that happens in an environment of coercion. Prochoice is about supporting all choices women make, giving them the information to make educated choices, and the resources to ensure that all choices are available to them, including carrying unplanned pregnancies to term.

Here's the thing, Fred: Just as I have no real clue about the details of your family life, your wedding day, or your relationship with your sons and daughter, you have no real idea about what Charlotte was going through 15 years ago - or last week. Equally, neither you or I have a time machine that we could set to 1999 and change the course of Charlotte's life so that she chose to carry the pregnancy to term. We will never know what sort of a mother she might have been, whether having a baby would have saved her, how she might have coped with pregnancy and childbirth, whether she would have been felled by the horrors of post-natal depression, whether her marriage would have survived, or whether she would have gone on to be a successful and happy single mother. These scenarios are all in the realm of the ghoulishly hypothetical.

Given that nothing anyone can say or do can bring Charlotte back, given that her friends and family are going through the terrible process of grieving for a woman who felt so desperate that, despite her many advantages, she took her own life at the age of 47, and given that depression is a complex condition that cannot be summarised in a Facebook post, it is appalling that you'd give a troubled woman one last agenda-loaded kick when she was as low as any person can possibly be.

Like I said, Fred, congratulations on your marriage. May you and your new wife have many happy years together. May you recognise that such joy isn't as forthcoming to everyone. And next time you feel the need to make a point about abortion, consider whether using the early death of a woman who was in enormous pain really is the best way to push that particular barrow.

Kind regards,


Monday, 24 February 2014

Censorship, censorship everywhere and not a chance to think...

You think you can say what you like? Think again. This blog has been routinely blocked by O2 and EE using stupid internet filters that treat adult consumers like children. O2 regularly makes Barry Butler, a freelance ESOL teacher from the Midlands, jump through absurd hoops every time he tries to read this blog and finds it has been blocked. 

EE has also been guilty of preventing adult customers from accessing this blog - this is especially ridiculous given that EE sponsored the BAFTA awards the other week. Let me see if I understand. We have a phone company that has prevented adults from accessing the internet in its entirety putting its name to a celebration of the British film industry. That would be an industry which over the years has given the world some of the most brilliant, subversive and controversial contributions to the cultural landscape. 

Corporations are already doing the work of the government whose plans for internet filtering are anti-free speech in the extreme. There is an alarming dearth of opposition to these plans in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. If that doesn't strike you as the start of an ominous future of restricted speech and expression, we need to sit down and have a little chat.

And then we have the mob mentality which seeks to silence anything offensive. Personally, I think Katie Hopkins is an attention-seeking professional troll. I don't tune in when she is on TV, I don't follow her on Twitter, I simply cannot be bothered with her nonsense. But she has every right to spout whatever it is that she says. The same goes for lads' mags, Frankie Boyle, Seth McFarlane, Sarah Silverman and anyone or anything else that people have sought to ban.

Campaigning website change.org wasted bandwidth with an e-petition to remove Katie Hopkins from ITV and Channel 5 after she she tweeted something tasteless after the helicopter crash in Scotland late last year. And, by jingo, it worked! Hopkins was indeed dropped from ITV's This Morning programme. Seriously, it is far saner to just not watch her if you don't like her. Frankly, I'd be happy if Keith Lemon, Citizen Khan, Mrs Brown's Boys or Chris Lilley never appeared on TV again because they're all about as funny as burning orphans but starting up an e-petition is childish and misses the point. 

Once you seek to ban something just because you don't like it, there is no reason why something you do like cannot be banned too.

We also have problematic discussions when it comes to banning hate speech. The thing is we don't actually need any more laws on hate speech. The UK already has laws against verbal abuse as well as physical abuse. If you yell something awful at someone and it causes distress or upset, you have broken the law and the judge will have to consider the hate speech aspect of it when sentencing. Similarly, if someone is beaten up for whatever reason, this is against the law and the judge again has to take into account whether there is any hateful motivation, such as racism or homophobia, when passing sentence. The impact of such abuse should be pretty obvious - I don't want to live in a society where it is acceptable to beat someone up for any reason - and in the case of assaults, either verbal or physical, that are motivated by hate, education is just as important as harsh sentences.

But this does not mean someone should not be allowed to speak out against issues such as same sex marriage or further immigration. I may find the views of someone opposed to marriage equality or immigration from certain nations absurd, illogical, unconstructive, unpleasant or just plain moronic - but if their views are silenced as "hate speech" there is nothing to stop other opinions also being shut down. If you start cutting down the right to express opinions, even ones with which you violently disagree, you automatically restrict your right to refute it.

And then there are more insidious ways that we are censored. 

The "gagging law" passed through Parliament, albeit with a few minor amendments and there was no mass outrage because, basically, people didn't take the time to understand it or think about how it might affect them. It imposes ridiculous requirements on lobbying groups (but not corporations...) in the run-up to elections and is essentially aimed at silencing groups such as trade unions and the implications go beyond silencing some rowdy unionists. Hint: If a law is opposed by various groups across the political spectrum, groups who typically disagree with each other, it's probably a bad law. The bureaucracy that will be involved in monitoring the membership lists and campaign spending of lobby groups flies in the face of government claims that they are all about spending less public money and being a libertarian party of small government. 

And just today I was tweeting in my other guise at the @Save_St_Helier account, whereby I am part of a campaign to try and retain vital services at my local hospital, such as A&E, maternity, renal and kids' intensive care. A few of us asked faceless bureaucrats in the Twitterverse for some transparency in relation to a process which has so far cost taxpayers £8.2 million. How the hell was a review of local healthcare services costing us so much money? 

We finally found out that £1.874 million of our money was paid to 2020 Delivery, one of those vague consultancies whereby a peruse of their website leaves you none the wiser about what they actually do. All we were told by the bureaucrats was that the £1.874 million was spent on "finance and activity monitoring and travel and transport analysis". But we can't really find out a whole lot more because Freedom of Information legislation does not apply to private companies, only public bodies. It's just another way to stop the free flow of information, to drive people who are using their freedom to publicly ask questions into a brick wall and to keep us passive and quiet.

I'm exhausted. I apologise for this blog post rambling all over the place but once you start looking at the ways in which we are censored, the ways in which the flow of information is restricted, the ways in which we seek to ban that which we dislike without thinking through the consequences, you soon discover a multi-headed hydra of anti-freedom bullshit has grown before your very eyes. Now, who wants to help me slay the hydra? It's a big job but it's one of the most important jobs we will ever do.   

Image: "Resurrection de la Censure", JJ Grandville

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Genital grooming of the worst kind

Seriously, I do not care what you do with your pubic hair. Wax it all off, trim it, grow it to your knees, dye it purple, get a vajazzle, braid it, coat your crotch in cream that stinks to high heaven, shave it, festoon it with feathers, whatever makes you happy. Just quit going on about it. This month alone, Salon has featured a wax-related whine, Cameron Diaz made actual headlines for urging women to leave their bushes be, and American Apparel caused a mass gross-out (and most likely a boost in sales) for being "brave" enough to put pubic hair on shop mannequins Good Lord. Not even the vulvas of store dummies are safe from scrutiny.

While this utterly pathetic, my-feminism-is-better-than-your-feminism-because-of-my-knicker-beard contest rages on, here are some facts on female genital mutilation (FGM). That would be the revolting, barbaric and inexcusable practice of cutting off all or part of the genitals of a girl or woman for reasons that represent sexism at its most grotesque.

1. It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that more than 125 million girls and women alive to day have been cut in the 29 countries of Africa and the Middle East where this practice is concentrated. Of these 125 million girls and women, it is believed that the majority of these mutilations take place between infancy and the age of 15. It is estimated that in Africa, more than 3 million girls are at risk annually.

2. As well as the risk of dying during this vile procedure which is usually performed in unsanitary conditions, complications as a result of FGM include severe bleeding, problems with urination and menstruation, cysts, infections, infertility, life-endangering complications during childbirth, and a greater risk of infant mortality.

3. The main FGM procedures include clitoridectomy (the partial or total removal of the clitoris); excision (partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora and, in many cases, the labia majora); infibulation (the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, usually with cutting and stitching); any other procedures where the female genitalia is cut, pricked, incised, scraped or cauterised for non-medical reasons.

4. Until the 1950s, FGM occurred in the UK and the US for fictitious medical reasons, such as the "treatment" of lesbianism, hysteria, epilepsy or masturbation. These days, there have been reports of girls and women visiting the UK or the US to undergo FGM in hygienic settings. This does not make it right. Indeed, although it is illegal in the UK and doctors have come across girls and women who have been cut, the number of prosecutions for FGM stands at zero. France has no specific laws against FGM yet has convicted 100 people as a result of 29 trials under existing laws against committing bodily harm against children.

The reasons for FGM are all about control of women, control of sexuality, of fetishising female virginity. Excuses made by FGM apologists, whether they are about hygiene, culture, religion or the protection of girls and women, are all harmful nonsense. Nobody's right to cultural or religious freedom extends to mutilating girls and women against their will in an environment where informed consent is absent. This is not negotiable yet many people are fearful of calling out FGM in case they are accused of racism or religious discrimination. With all due respect, get over yourself. FGM has been and continues to be inflicted on girls and women in Christian, Islamic, animist and other religious communities. 

It predates both Christianity and Islam. The obsession with female virginity and controlling female sexuality is not new but it does have a strong connection to this day with certain cultures, countries and religious groups. As long as people tiptoe around the issue and won't properly engage with countries and communities where FGM happens, nothing much will change. 

In every country where FGM happens, local campaigners are fighting to be heard. There are plenty of brave women who are not afraid to speak our against their own governments, communities and religious leaders to try and stop this ongoing assault on female bodies. We can help by giving these women a voice, by helping them have a platform from which they can shout about what is going on, lobby governments across the world to not only make FGM illegal but to enforce the law, to not be afraid of punishing the mutilators and enablers, to offer safe places for girls and women who have been cut, or are at risk of being cut, to escape abusive families, communities and countries.

But surely I am being a western cultural supremacist, sitting here all smug with my intact genitals, pontificating from a place of privilege?

Yes, there are women who say they have been cut, believe it to be culturally or religiously important and may even claim they have a great sex life as a result. These women claim to sincerely believe they underwent an FGM procedure as an informed, consenting adult, if they believe it was an important thing for them to do, and they do not feel they are in any way damaged, either physically or psychologically. Indeed, there are cases of women undergoing such procedures of their own free will, performed by medical professionals in hygienic places. Many of these women explain that their genitals were merely nicked and make their experience sound about as controversial as plucking out an ingrown bikini line hair.

Nobody is speaking out against genital piercing or "designer vagina" cosmetic surgery, for example, so how is this any different? In the UK, such procedures are only legal if performed on consenting adults. Standards of hygiene must be maintained in places where these procedures are done. Underage girls are not being frogmarched to British piercing studios or cosmetic surgery clinics against their will to undergo painful, life-endangering procedures with unsterilised implements and no anaesthetic, while being held down by members of their family and community.

Here is how it's different: The stories from women who claim they consented to their own cutting are not helping the millions of girls (and the majority of FGM victims are underage girls, let's not be naive) who are mutilated every year in disgusting conditions, against their will, with no informed consent, with the real risk of death and infection, and who are doomed to a life of excruciating pain during urination, menstruation, sex and childbirth. Where is the freedom of choice for these girls and women? Where was their informed consent? How many of these girls and women have the means to undergo circumcision with full consent in sanitary conditions?

By continuing to get cut, even if it's done hygienically, and even if these women say it's their choice, they perpetuate the hideous sexism and offensive mythology that has led to FGM happening in the first place. Cultural change will never happen as long as privileged women claim they are liberated by being cut because it was done in hygienic conditions and not while being held down and assaulted with a rusty razor blade.

The women who sing the praises of being cut with their full consent in a clean medical facility are speaking from a place of privilege.

Monstrous violations are happening to girls and women on a large scale across multiple countries. After the mutilation has taken place, the stories about girls and women being married off to abusive husbands who force their way into the irrevocably damaged bodies of their terrified wives are truly nauseating. If this isn't an example of rape culture, I don't know what is. This is why there are women who are fighting to have their voices heard. Helping these campaigners effect real change is far more useful than banging on about pubic hair.


Useful links if you'd like to do something about FGM

Daughters of Eve

Orchid Project

Edna Adan Hospital


Plan UK

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sex work, job creation and the latest moral panic

The headline from the International Business Times was a moral panic classic: "UK Government Pays Sex Clubs To Employ Teenage Girls." But it is a headline that is misleading and it misses the point. It conjures up sordid images of underage girls being plucked from schoolyards by evil government sex traffickers to work as prostitutes.

What has actually happened is that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has paid cash incentives to a range of employers in the adult entertainment industry to hire unemployed people aged 18-24. Yes, if you are 18 you are a teenager - but you are also an adult in the eyes of the law and when you are an adult, you can work in for any legal employer in the adult entertainment industry. You may disapprove of the adult entertainment industry but if that's the case, you can go and do something else for a living.

The DWP distributed a list of the employers that can benefit from at least £2,000 in incentives funded by UK taxpayers. Here is the list:

1. Those involved in the sale, manufacture, distribution and display of sex related products;
2. Auxiliary workers in lap/pole dancing clubs – e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or cleaners;
3. Auxiliary workers in strip clubs – e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or cleaners;
4. Auxiliary workers in saunas/massage parlours e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or clearers;
5. Glamour model photographers;
6. Web-cam operators;
7. TV camera operators, sound technicians, producers/directors for adult channels on digital TV;
8. TV camera operators, sound technicians, producers/directors for pornographic films.

Like it or not, these are all perfectly legal ways to earn a living.

DWP rules stipulate that such employers can offer young jobseekers full-time work for up to 26 weeks as long as the jobseeker is not a performer nor performing sexual acts. Given the laws surrounding the legality of prostitution in the UK are rather muddy (and frankly ridiculous), this rule seems fair enough.

But it's not the morality of working in the adult entertainment industry that is the real problem here. The problem is that the UK government is turning the employers into welfare recipients in a scheme that doesn't do a damn thing to create long-term jobs. It doesn't matter if it's Sainsburys or Spearmint Rhino - this policy is stupid.

There is nothing to stop any employer from simply hiring someone for 26 weeks, getting rid of them and then hiring someone else for another 26 weeks to do the same job. This is not real, long-term job creation. This is simply a way for employers to hire staff at the expense of the taxpayer. Sure, the experience might lead to another job, or it might lead to another 26 weeks of temporary work elsewhere or it might lead to nowhere but long-term uncertainty. If any employer has work that needs to be done, they should hire staff and pay a living wage. This way, people have some financial security, they are less likely to be dependent on benefits, they pay tax and they are economically active consumers.

Similarly, if people are forced to do any job under the threat of losing unemployment benefits, whether it's in the adult entertainment industry or not, that is problematic. This harks back to the case last year of Cait Reilly, the graduate who had to forego work experience in a museum to work in Poundland or face losing fairly meagre unemployment payments. The museum experience would have helped her get a better-paid job relevant to her degree. Instead, she has ended up working in a Morrisons supermarket.

There is nothing wrong with working in a supermarket but there is plenty wrong with a system that is focused on number-crunching. This is all about forcing people in any job at taxpayer expense to make the unemployment figures look more attractive in time for the 2015 election. There is nothing in this policy that focuses on creating real jobs across a range of industries, looking at the individual situations of unemployed people on a case-by-case basis, or regional development so that jobs are not just created in expensive, crowded London. But none of that makes for a good headline.

In short, the pearl-clutching article from the International Business Times is simply another excuse to slag off the adult entertainment industry.

Image courtesy of the British Library, 1885

Monday, 10 February 2014

Journalists working for free: It's just not cricket or capitalism

Journalism is a job. Just like any other job, real work is done. It can be tiring, the hours can be anti-social, countless studies have shown us up to be terrible at marriage and a bit too good at alcohol consumption, but the rewards can be priceless. Well, almost priceless. Just because many journalists genuinely love their job, it does not mean they should do it for nothing. Like anyone else, journalists have to eat, they have bills to pay, they cannot get by on bylines alone.

But it is a profession where many are expected to work for free. Especially freelance journalists. There is barely a freelancer alive who hasn't been told that the work will be "good for your portfolio" or "it will be good exposure" or "we're not paying anyone because the company hasn't yet broken even". And so on and so forth.

And some companies aren't even that honest. It is a rare freelancer that has been paid for every single piece of work they have produced or, at the very least, hasn't had to embark on a frustrating wild goose chase with editors and accounts staff to ensure money they are legally entitled to ends up in their frequently depleted bank accounts. I know someone who once staged a sit-in at the accounts department of a well-known newspaper. He was only handed a cheque when he lit up a cigarette indoors and refused to put it out. Journalists should not have to resort to being a fire hazard to get paid.

Nor should journalists have to resort to embarrassing people on social media or calling in lawyers because monies owing have not been paid. A high end magazine that I am currently not naming for legal reasons is one such case in point. It was launched in Asia with four issues produced, leaving in its wake a bunch of unpaid freelance journalists and subscribers who never received a single copy. The publisher is now trying his luck in the competitive British market.

I've seen the high quality launch party invitations. I can only assume that these weren't free, that someone paid the printing costs. And, given it's a magazine launch, booze will most likely flow freely and the canapes will most likely be Hoovered up. I can only assume that caterers will be paid for their services. So why haven't journalists who were commissioned to work for the Asian edition been paid?

Well, the plot thickens. I decided to defend the unpaid writers on social media and by the end of today, I'd received a message from the publisher promising that the writers will be paid in two weeks. He has not explained why they were not paid in a timely manner. He has also promised to me that subscribers who have not received copies of the Asian edition will receive six issues free of charge. I will keep everyone posted on whether everyone is paid in full within the next two weeks.

I wish the publisher well in his British endeavours, if only because I value a free press operating in a free market economy, and I value diversity in the media. Without that sort of press freedom, we have North Korea. I value the BBC, I value not-for-profit media outlets such as Channel 4 but I also value the outlets that operate in the free market. The more publications the market can support, the more work there is for journalists and this means there are more ways for people to get their information on everything from sports cars to Syria. 

And this means that media outlets have to value the skills of journalists, to pay them properly so that quality products are created, products that people will want to consume, products that advertisers can work with, confident that it is credible, that print run and circulation figures are not being massaged, products that paid-up subscribers will receive in a timely manner without publishers having to give away freebies to save face. This is not just good for the media, it is smart business sense. And part of this is ensuring the people that do the work are paid. Nobody should have to do their jobs as a labour of love. When people are not paid, that is when there is a greater reliance on the welfare state. Why would any capitalist support that? Yet, sadly, it appears, so many do. There are plenty of media businesses constantly advertising for unpaid interns, unpaid full time staff or not paying in a timely manner, or simply not paying at all. It has to stop.

Photograph of Jane Stafford, scientist and medical writer, from the Smithsonian Institute.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A fine day for a London tube strike

The media coverage of today's London tube strike has been predictably awful and light on facts. This morning, Eamonn Holmes had his best furrowed-brow-of-deep-concern on as Sky News showed allegedly "shocking" images of people queued outside tube stations seemingly baffled about a strike for which we have had plenty of notice and thus plenty of time to sort out alternative arrangements. The whining on Twitter has gone predictably nuclear and there are so many red herrings flying about, it is no wonder people don't seem to understand what the strike is actually about. So here are some helpful points.

1. It is not a strike about driver salaries. Regardless of whether you think tube drivers are overpaid or not, this is not what this strike is about. Stop blathering on about driver salaries. Please.

2. It is a strike about the plan to close all ticket offices on the London Underground and the loss of 953 jobs, which TFL plans to manage as a programme of voluntary redundancies.

3. Yes, more than 400 TFL staff have applied to take voluntary redundancies. Good for them. That doesn't change the fact that there will be less staff and no ticket offices.

4. The claim that everything will be OK because staff will be redeployed to platforms and thus the tube will be safer is laughable. Firstly, as Boris Johnson likes to remind us, crime is down on the London Underground. This is great news but taking staff away from the ticket hall level of tube stations will not improve passenger safety. Incidents sometimes happen in London tube stations at the ticket hall level. Most nights after work, I walk to Oval tube station and it is because it is a well-lit, staffed station that I feel safe. The Oval station staff are friendly, helpful and busy.

5.  If a staff member is dealing with an incident on a platform and then something happens at the ticket hall level that also requires the attention of a staff member, that person cannot be in two places at once. Or the staff member on the platform may be blissfully unaware of an incident in the ticket hall and not do anything to help. Especially late at night when many tube stations are much quieter than at rush hour, this is not a prospect that any passenger should feel comfortable about.

6. Last night, it was announced that a tube station was temporarily unable to offer wheelchair access because of staff shortages. This means that nobody would have been on hand to assist with placing a ramp to ensure any passengers in wheelchairs could safely get off the train. Why would anyone be OK with staff cuts that would make it harder for people in wheelchairs to get around London (not to mention the elderly, parents with buggies, anyone who has to take heavy luggage on the tube...)? Again, see point five about station staff not being able to be in two places at once...

7. Yes, the overwhelming majority of tube passengers use Oyster cards and many take advantage of auto top-up so they never have to go near either a ticket window or a ticket machine. However, many people still obtain their first Oyster card from tube stations, sometimes ticket machines break down, sometimes people have trouble with the ticket machines for many reasons, sometimes Oyster cards are faulty, sometimes people make mistakes on ticket machines and need a refund, sometimes people have trouble with ticket machines because of eyesight  problems, sometimes people have trouble with ticket machines because of language and literacy issues, sometimes kids use ticket machines and get confused, sometimes someone is taking so long at a ticket machine it is quicker to see a member of staff... And so on and so forth. There are many reasons why a human being is required even when there are ticket machines.

8. Ticket hall staff provide a great service for tourists to London, whether from abroad or from other parts of the UK. The ticket machines may be straightforward enough for most people but there are plenty of times when a confused visitor needs some friendly advice on getting around this fine city. It's all well and good for smug Londoners who have memorised the entire tube map to crap on about how they never need to speak to a member of TFL staff. I urge these people to visit any tube station near any major London tourist attraction or any interchange station and observe TFL staff helping visitors. This is good for London's reputation as a tourist destination.

9. Staff-free ticket halls are a magnet for fare evasion (much like the daft hot-in-summer-cold-in-winter buses Boris Johnson has spent £350,000 each on...). What is a major contributing factor in fares going up? Oh yes, that's right. Fare evasion.

10. Boris has said that because of the 40% RMT member turnout and 49% TSSA member turnout for the strike ballot, it is invalid. Rather like the mere 38% voter turnout at the last mayoral election, eh, BoJo?

11. And while we're talking about the unions, yes, Bob Crow is a walking caricature of the old school union man in his duffle coat and flat cap. And Boris Johnson is a walking caricature of a posh, eccentric bumbler. So what?

12. Yes, Bob Crow is on a salary of £145,000 a year. Again, so what? Unions often pay people well, which means they are not hypocrites when it comes to making demands for higher salaries for their members. If you are not a RMT member, you are not paying Bob Crow's salary so why whine about it? But if you are a British taxpayer, you are helping pay the £1 million salary of new RBS CEO Ross McEwan. And if you shop at Tesco or you're a British taxpayer, you have been making your contribution to Tesco CEO Philip Clark's £6.9 million salary. (For what it's worth, if I was Bob Crow, I'd move out of the council house, but that's a moot point.).

13. My nearest tube station is at the end of a line. The staff at the ticket hall level are kept very busy with confused passengers who have fallen asleep, especially late at night, and need advice on how to get home. If you don't spend much time at the end of a tube line, you'd be surprised how often this happens (and yes, sometimes it is drunk people, sometimes it is just the tired and overworked.) If someone has missed the last train heading in the opposite direction and they are unfamiliar with the area's night buses, some advice from a friendly human is usually warmly welcomed. Baffled tourists have also washed up at my local tube station and need help to find their intended destination.

14. The chaos on many platforms today, frankly, isn't much different to the daily chaos at plenty of busy tube stations when there is no strike on. Am getting flashbacks to the time I had to wait for seven trains at Stockwell in rush hour before I could get on board (and I don't even take up much room). London is always a busy city. A lot of the whining today is pitiful. Some people are carrying on as if it's the Blitz. And some people have reported problems on their journey today not because of the strike but merely because of fellow passengers being idiots. This is usually the case on any given day travelling on the tube. Today is not the apocalypse. Harden up, people.

15. The 7/7 terror attacks were a vile, awful, inexcusable event. It was a murderous assault on the transport network we take for granted. But Londoners kept on going, most people refused to be scared off using the tube and it remains a busy, popular service that does an amazing job of moving millions of people every day through the capital. Among the heroes of 7/7 were TFL staff who worked with emergency services and ordinary Londoners in the face of an unthinkably despicable event and played an important part in getting London moving again. No good person ever wants 7/7 to happen again but what is inevitable is that on a network of the scale of the London Underground, sometimes things go badly wrong. Life can be unpredictable. And when unpredictable things happen on the tube, TFL staff are the first people everyone turns to for help and information. With 953 front-line staff gone, this will be compromised.   

16. Sometimes a little human interaction beats the hell out of being ruled by machine overlords.

Image courtesy of TFL