Category Archives: society

Goodbye NHS – we miss you now you’re gone

The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it - Nye BevanWould I lose my job to save the NHS? Yes, in a heartbeat. In a fraction of a heartbeat. Even in this shitty economy with the shitty attacks on the unemployed. If that was all it took to save the NHS I would be typing my notice now.

Would I lose my job in a futile gesture of distress that will be ignored by a minority government with no mandate for what they are doing? Well, no. And it is eating me up. Which is why I am typing this at half past four in the morning.

Today the NHS is 65 years old.

Earlier this year the Tory government and their Lib Dem partners killed it.

In April, the coalition government passed legislation which means that NHS service provision must be put out to tender and so hefty percentage of every pound spent on healthcare in this country must go into the pockets of the likes of Richard Branson and the MPs with financial interests in UK healthcare companies. They were kids voting for Christmas. They passed this legislation despite the fact it was not in their manifesto and they have no mandate to do so. The media were silent while they did it; the good guys found the story too complicated to tell, the frightened guys were silent because they were cowed by the Leveson inquiry, and the venal guys were lined up side by side with the MPs and their friends in the healthcare companies.

The NHS was imperfect, especially after so many years being undermined by New Labour. But it is no where near as imperfect as the smear stories masquerading as news items these last five years would have you believe. The smear stories are propaganda designed to let us assume that it’s not worth saving.

The thing is, if you ask the question “what do we do about the NHS?” the answer must not be “sell it off to the lowest bidder”. We are already seeing that profit-taking companies fail to provide an improved service, that they actually provide worse services, and that they force people who work in the most emotionally demanding jobs in the world to work in perpetual crisis mode. This is not only bleeding patients for profit, it is bullying staff for profit too.

Today those who care to fight for free healthcare for all are marching for the NHS. But I can’t be with them because I have a presentation to give on Monday, and I lost three days this week to migraine, and I am not prepared to lose my job in a futile gesture.

I’ve marched three times in recent years, each time against the Labour government, once for peace, and twice to protest their ignorant destruction of rural life. I did not feel as hopeless then as I do now. But what I learned is that a government driven by dogma will ignore a million peaceful people in the streets. And revolutions since the start of time show that raging mobs produce governments no better than the ones they overthrow.

Democracy is broken. I don’t know if it ever really worked but here it is broken. MPs milk the system for expenses and sell their votes and influence to whoever will pay them. The whores I’ve known have all been infinitely more honest.

What frightens me is that there is no place in the world and no time in the world that I can think of where freedom has been sustained. I think of all those acts of British rebellion from Wat Tyler, to the Levellers, to the Luddites, to the Rebakkah Rioters, to the Jarrow Marchers, to the General Strike of 1929, to the Miners in the 1980s, to the million of us who marched for peace in 2001, and know that all the government have to do is say “la la la, we can’t hear you”. The only way to overturn an established order, it seems, is over their dead bodies, and that’s no solution.

I have come to suspect that the stirling example and unprecedented experiment in justice and social democracy of Europe in the last 65 years was only possible after the shock of a world war, and a war in which fascism was defeated by the collective actions of coalition governments. By, in fact, the will of the people.

The late 1940s were, I suspect, the only moment in history when the NHS could be established, when enough people were used to acting in consort for the greater good of their fellow men and women. At every time before and since we have been fractured into little silos of selfishness and self-interest.

And today I will go to work to keep my job, because I no longer believe that peaceful protest works. And when the election comes round, I shall cast my vote because, like a beleaguered spouse, I keep faith with democracy though I no longer trust it.

And now I shall take some triptanes (which cost me nothing) and some asprin (which cost me 35p) and go back to bed because crying gives me migraines, and migraines are the reason I can’t go to London in the first place.

PS – apologies for spelling mistakes and typos.  This piece is posted as written, which is something I never do these days.

The problem of Stuff

My problem is not acquiring too many things. My problem is to do with getting rid of the things I already have.  As a result I am surrounded by Stuff which fails William Morris’s test that I either know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful.  I keep stuff only because I find it too agitating to throw it away.

The one I share my hoard with bought a copy of this book the other day and we read it with separate feelings of awkwardness and unease.

My particular epiphany was that I feel an obligation to dispose of things responsibly.  I cannot blithely throw something away unless it is useless and biodegradable.  I have to reuse, reduce recycle, in every way I can.  

This is inhibiting.  Yesterday in an effort of self-liberation I threw away a perfectly reusable jiffy bag. (I have boxes of the buggers upstairs on a shelf, waiting for the moment I need them).  I don’t mind throwing away the bio-degradeable kraft paper outer, but the bubble-wrap inner makes me feel uneasy. Why can’t jiffy bags be filled with paper waste any more?  Note the tense of that sentence: it makes me feel uneasy now, even though I threw it away yesterday.  Yes, it was worse at the time, but the agitation remains. We should not fill landfill with plastic bubble-wrap.  We certainly should not fill our seas with things that we use once and which then bob around for hundreds of years, killing marine animals for generations to come.

http://blog.etoncorp.com/index.php/2013/04/green-perspective-how-long-trash-really-lasts-infographic/

Although this is not quite a compulsion for me, it’s more than a moral imperative which I can comfortably ignore.  Every time I went to a beach the last time we were on holiday, I ended up filling  bin bags with rubbish.  I am shocked and horrified by the amount of trash blowing in the wind.

But it’s not just about preferring recycling to landfill. It’s avoiding waste in the first place.  My Grandmother could Not Abide Waste. She and my Ma raised me, and both were adults during WWII and both had a pack-rat sense of scarcity. Both kept things “in case they were useful”, like the jiffy bag. And both would be horrified by the idea that two people can fill one wheelie bin in a week.

So the only way I can dispose of something in good working order is by making sure someone else gets to use it.  Freecycle saved my sanity the last time I moved house.   Before Freecycle I had a “jumble sale box”.  (I remember picking over it once to make sure any erotica I was giving to the Village Hall did not have my name in it. Small village, small world). I take things to Charity Shops, give them to friends, give them to volunteer groups and charities.  Plastic toys upset me hugely; why can’t they still be made of wood? I’ve had three bags of  toys in my shed for four months waiting for me to take them to a charity which cleans them and gives them to impoverished children.

I do feel a sense of relief having read the book. I stand by my logic (we should be far more careful with plastics, we shouldn’t waste landfill on things that still work), but I now know my agitation is unusual.  It’s helped me throw things away rather than keep them, like the jiffy bag, and it is energising my attempt to find new owners for the things that are too good to bin.

The next thing is to strengthen my resolve to get rid of family things and things I’ve been given.  Not sapphires.  I am keeping those.

Talking about their g-g-generation

I wrote several  posts which I never set live for some reason.  This post is 5 years old, which makes it a period piece now in its own right.  But as a snapshot of March 2008, it’s interesting.  

There used to be a thing called a “Generation Gap” separating Squares (who’d been alive during WWII and many of whom had fought in it) from those who were cool or hip, or both. It went away for a while, but it’s back and this time it’s the Baby Boomers who make embarrassing attempts to get it, or else don’t realise there’s anything there to get.

TV from the 1960s and early 1970s is full of brylcremed men in suits and ties trying hard to dig the scene while being blandly humiliated by clever, scruffy young men in their early 20s. The kids got it and their elders didn’t. Punk said it again, but the first of the Punks were the last of the Boomers.

The gap is wider at some times than others and in the early 1980s, the gap narrowed for a while. Yoof cultcher took over the asylum: Jools Holland and Paula Yates presented the Tube, Janet Street-Porter Janet Street-Pontificated, Tim Bell and the Admen (now there’s a name for a band) told us Labour Wasn’t Working, and Ben Elton gave us his “little bit of politics”.

However, if we measure the width of the gap using the ludicrous questions that judges ask, then the gap is clearly broadening again. Less than 12 months ago, [2007] more than a dozen years after Netscape was launched, an English judge said: “I do not understand what a website is” during a criminal trial for cyber-crime. It may have been an attempt to clarify the issues for the court, but didn’t he realise just how much of a plonker the question would make him sound?

By the time Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1995 the Boomers had in fact lost their grip. There was a commentary piece in the Sunday Times about parents who thought that they were the Zeitgeist being bewildered by the global tidal wave of adolescent grief about someone the parents had never heard of. What goes around comes around, daddio. You dig?

The Boomers and the eldest of the Gen Xers try hard enough, but their pages on MySpace or FaceBook (my pages on MySpace and FaceBook) are as wincingly embarrassing as the brylcremed presenters trying to ingratiate themselves with Lennon or Morrison or Jagger. The the generation gap is back, but this time  the younger generation is simply ignoring their elders and slipping into electronic places and spaces their elders don’t even know exist.

Last night I watched a scaffolded and bouffant Peter York take us on a whistle-stop tour of the London advertising industry from the 1960s to the 1980s in The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man. Bloated and wrinkly boomers sat there claiming “they shall not see our like again”. As if we care. Old admen never die, they just become uncreative.

But no-one  made the point that there is astonishingly creative, innovative and clever stuff going on, but it isn’t on TV or print media any more.  It’s in games [and Apps] and on YouTube. These guys – or whoever edited their interviews – appeared not to have noticed. They seemed entirely unaware that they no longer has their finger on the pulse. A heart monitor, more like.

Feminism should be a dialogue not a dogma

This one has sat in draft since February 2008.  I tried editing it to say the same things more crisply, but wanted to say slightly different things instead, so I’ve left it as it is.  I had been lurking the trans-phobic rad-fem Michigan Womyn’s Festival stooshie when I wrote this.

The world is changing around us all the time: the world of 10 years ago was surprisingly different from the world today, and the world of the late 1980s even more so.  So far, so obvious.   But this means that political absolutism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  The world changes too much and too fast for any political or social dogma to last.   All political views are specific to the place and time in which they are held.  The ideas that last the longest either have a basis in scientific fact (racial equality) or else they are wishful thinking (the idea of human rights) . 

So what should feminism be like, if it’s a dialogue not a dogma?  Well undogmatic, for a start.  Sentences such as “all men are rapists” are meaningless.  So meaningless you’d think they would be impossible for an intelligent woman to utter, let alone for intelligent women, (sorry womyn) to listen to.  The idea that trans-women pollute spaces occupied by “womyn-born-womyn” is another spectacularly nasty piece of feminist dogma.  But the world is changing, including the space in the world that transssexuals can occupy and the way that children are raised, and unless one can demonstrate scientifically that all men are rapists, the statement is semantically void.  Unfortunately it’s got a snappy little ring to it, and appeals to a certain kind of self-righteous and vicious mind.

In fact, the example of science is an interesting one.  Science is just the sort of conversation that I would like feminism to be.  At the edges of science – where science is being done – are conversations.  Ideas are discussed with colleagues and turned into hypotheses, presented at conferences, tested experimentally, reformulated, restested, written up, peer-reviewed.    The world that science inhabits does not change physically (planets don’t start spinning backwards, the laws of physics don’t change in response to a new PM in Number 10), but the world that science inhabits moves onwards, as the boundary between what we know and what we don’t know changes.

Academic feminism goes through the  motions; I certainly get the impression that academic feminists like a good rant and love conferences.  But feminism lacks the rigour that science has, because it cannot test its ideas empirically.  But instead of recognising that the world it inhabits changes all the time, it seeks the reassuring solidity of fundamentalism.

Cupcakes (Not Safe for Work)

I ordered some cupcakes for a raffle, as a tie-in to a humorous talk on pelvic floor exercises by @gussiegrips – her website explains more about her work.

The cakes were made by Vanilla Kisses in Edinburgh @VKCupcakes

I am very grateful to Dawn for the fabulous photos.

The cupcakes stole the show.

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Somewhere to escape to

I’m struck that we don’t have a folk-memory of women escaping from domestic captivity in the way that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have escaped in Cleveland, and Elizabeth Fritzl and her siblings, and Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, Shawn Hornbeck and Natascha Kampusch escaped before them.

The stories of these escapes are new.

Women being captured is not new, it’s not even specific to our species. At a recent Skeptics in the Pub Talk, Dr Alison Craig told us about “coercive consortship” in dolphins.

Women running away isn’t new either. Allegedly, Wilkie Collins took the title for his book “The Woman in White” from his first meeting with Caroline Graves, the woman who became his mistress. Collins was walking through London one night past a suburban villa when

“the iron gate leading to the garden was dashed open, and from it came the figure of a young and very beautiful woman” ….  she had been imprisoned at the villa under the mesmeric influence of an unnamed suburbanite.

What appears to be new, is that the escapes are successful, they are reported, and the victims are reunited with their families.   Today Caroline Graves’ story would be international news. But in the 19th century it was not told by the men who witnessed her escape. (Of course, it may not be true).

There are so many possible reasons for this change.

It is finally clear that a man who prevents a woman leaving him is committing a crime not exercising a right.  A line has emerged between a consensual domestic relationship on one side, and imprisonment on the other.  This is new. In the 19th century and before, you would have happy love-matches on the one hand, pragmatic civil contracts and arranged marriages in the middle, and who knows what hells of captivity and servitude at the far end.  Then, as now, a good marriage could go bad. But how many young women were kidnapped in a world where the neighbours all assumed they were wives not prisoners?

Women are free to leave in a way they weren’t before. Divorce gave women the the legal freedom to leave. Before divorce was available, women were chattels in a very literal way. I was checking references for the Mayor of Casterbridge auctioning his wife and  I found a Wikipedia entry about Wife Selling, which  apparently took place as recently as 1913. Later, women gained the cultural freedom to leave. However, in living memory in the 1970s and 1980s what went on behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors and the police would not intervene.  Putting it bluntly, if a woman runs away now, whether she is a wife or a kidnap victim, she will be listened to.  There is somewhere to escape to now.

But I think there’s more to it than that. We see the victims as unambiguously innocent and wronged. When there is no religious fundamentalism or misogyny at work we do not see them as someone whose moral worth has been destroyed. However, Elizabeth Smart said:

… she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.” …

I have tried to find out more about Smart’s upbringing in Salt Lake City to discover if it was particularly religious. She certainly expresses herself powerfully:

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.'”

Smart felt worthless as a result of her repeated rapes but we see her as a victim not as “damaged goods” and  we celebrate when a kidnap victim escapes.  And if we have not yet managed to stop blaming the victims of rape we have at least progressed  beyond flogging them, stoning them or forcing them to marry their rapists.

So I am encouraged by the fact  that when victims of kidnap and imprisonment escape they now do so into the relative safety of a supportive and rejoicing world.

Meditation XVII

This was written a while ago; I am publishing it now because time has passed.

I am about to go to Peter’s funeral. Peter was a friend from uni days. To be accurate, Peter was a friend from the year immediately after we left Univeristy. When I knew him he was doing a PGCE and living in Newton Hall (“the largest private housing estate in Western Europe”) and I was living in a cottage in Pity Me. (I kid you not).

I find death confusing.

How can something as varied, complex, multi-dimensional and spontaneous as a human being suddenly stop being? How can a person simply cease to exist? For years re-incarnation made sense for me; I could not comprehend that such vitality and life could be snuffed out – a brief candle. Unfortunately for me I read Reincarnation – a Critical Examination by Paul Edwards and had to acknowledge that there simply is no good quality evidence for re-incarnation. Schmevidence, yes. Evidence, no. So I am left reluctantly staring annihilation in the face every time someone I know dies, and blinking in incomprehension. I simply do not understand it.

Grief is about life, not death. If someone ceases to exist, there is nothing there to pity. You can only feel grief about life – about the things they suffered during their life, what they missed during it or what they miss by being dead. Or else you feel grief for yourself: for the absence you feel, for the jokes you won’t share with them, for the conversations you’ll never have.

As well as confusion, death leaves me feeling angry. Not at the unfairness of it. Life is far too full of unfairness and suffering for anyone to consider early death as particularly unfair. A good life and an early death is preferable, surely, to some of the truly dreadful lives doled by the unjust hand of random chance. So there’s no reason for me to feel angry, but still I do. Anger might be too strong a word. When my friends die, I feel cross.

There’s a distinct John Donne-ness to my reaction to Peter’s death. I know very well for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for me. Peter’s not here, any more, after all. Grief is selfish. It’s all about me, me, me. I’ll miss Peter. I’m feeling confused and cross. I’m too young for my friends to die.

So tomorrow, when I go to his funeral, I hope that I will get a glimpse of Peter, and aspects of that complicated, private, gentle man that I never knew about. I want tomorrow to be about him, him, him.

All in the mix – there is no single answer to school massacres

So far, I have seen four strands of commentary in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre.

There is the predictable outcry against the lack of gun control in the USA. The rest of the world finds it obvious that there is a causal link between guns and gun crime. However, all the opinion pieces, statistics, mashups, charts, infograms and cartoons on Facebook fail to convince those wedded to the 2nd Amendment. Instead they repeat the mantra that guns don’t kill people, people do. But, as Eddie Izzard observes, the gun helps. On the same day as the Sandy Hook murders, another man attacked primary school children, this time in China. But he used a knife and none of them were killed. So, yes America, start on the long road to taking the guns away.

A second set of commentary doing the rounds is about denying murderers their 15 minutes of fame – what Thatcher called the “oxygen of publicity”. This is Charlie Brooker’s argument that sensationalist reportage turns the murderers into celebrities and makes mass-murder a career move. There is a logic to this: Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon to make Jodie Foster pay attention to him. Cho Seung-Hui mailed videotapes to NBC before killing 32 people at Virginia Tech. Fame transforms violence into heroism; it does it in gangsta culture, but it’s as old as the Saga of Erik the Red, as old as the Iliad. So, yes, do not glamorise mass murderers.

The more egregious the crime, the more important it is to the rest of us that the perpetrator(s) should be either sick or evil or both. We need them to be safely “other” or else it’s just too damn scary. This is the mental health strand and the reaction here has been more varied reflecting the greater complexity of the issue. On the one hand you have this piece by someone whose concerns about her own son led her to assume that Adam Lanza suffered suffered a similar condition. In the middle you have the USA’s failure to treat those with mental health issues which in turn suggests a culture which demonises those who are mentally ill. And finally you have the urgent need to put out the clear message that having Aspergers Syndrome or Autism, or having a mental health issue does not mean you are a killer. Kate Donovan puts it explicitly: I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for [being] mentally healthy. The importance of this message for the safety of those with neurological-diversity or mental health issues cannot be over-emphasised. And in terms of what to do to reduce these killings? Is it cheap of me to mention universal health-care at this point? It seems to me that treating mental illness is in every way better than criminalising and imprisoning people who are mentally ill. Certainly we need to start with a de-stigmatised, evidence-based and rational model of mental health.

Then there are a few people characterising school shootings as a “problem of male white crime”. William Hamby draws heavily on a paper succinctly and shockingly entitled “Suicide by Mass Murder” by Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel. Kalish and Kimmel observe that school shootings since 1982 have been mainly by young white males, often students themselves, and mainly in rural and suburban areas. It’s a middle-class crime. They suggest that killing provides the murderer with a sense of power and give meaning to their subsequent suicide. They think this happens when a sense of aggrieved entitlement turns into frustration and hatred: Anders Brevik springs to mind, though he did not commit suicide. It’s tempting to look askance at the more extreme Republicans exposed by the 2012 election who reacted so madly to their white, male privilege slipping away. This is a plausible thesis, particularly if you aren’t American, aren’t white, or aren’t male. It’s clearly not the full story, but it forms a promising starting point for the mental-health-issues argument. It’s also worrying, in an America where the middle class is shrinking and whites will soon be outnumbered. (The comments on Hamble’s first article prompted this second one, which is equally fascinating).

I for one find all these arguments compelling. However, I doubt that these are the only causes for these brutal crimes. Sadly, I see no signs of the rationality and self-control needed to tackle these four issues: gun control, media sensationalism, the irrational pathologisation of mental health issues, and aggrieved entitlement causing “male, white crime”.


This post was first published on The Twentyfirst Floor.

Easier to be good without god

It’s not only possible to be good without god, it’s much easier to be good without god. All sorts of dilemmas just go away.

Want a tattoo? Have one. Poly-cotton shirts? Sure. Ham and cream cheese in your bagel? Coming up.

Prefer that animals should be humanely killed? Object to male and female genital mutilation? Think there are better responses than stoning someone who cheats? Believe your choice of spouse should not be restricted by gender?

Think that child abusers should be brought to justice?

Think women should have the same rights to study and teach as men?

These are all easy peasy things for atheists to decide on; but many seem to be sources of moral anguish for christians, jews and muslims. Or for some christians, jews and muslims, anyway.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should say there’s one ethical dilemma that atheism has made harder for me: My transition from vague-Buddhism to actual-Atheism has made it harder for me to accept abortion. I am 100% pro-choice, but belief in reincarnation let me off an ethical hook and atheism requires my position to be more nuanced.)

Back to women teaching in church.

The recent events at Bristol University Christian Union have highlighted how much harder it is to make their moral choices when you have to base them on the translated, reported, edited and often bat-shit crazy opinions of apostles and prophets. Put briefly, Bristol CU will only permit women to teach in certain specific circumstances, and then only with their husband present. This is based on two verses in Paul’s letter to Timothy: 1 Timothy 2:11-12 “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” This is also the “theological” basis for the opposition to women bishops. The Guardian summarises the Bristol CU stooshie nicely.

The irony is that Bristol CU’s position, which has generated a predictable shit-storm in twitter, is in fact a softening of their previous position. They are aiming at exclusivity by trying to include the evangelical men who side with Paul. (I am unclear whether and how the women can object.)

There are pleas on twitter for us to be kind and patient with the young people who are out of their depth, and I have a certain sympathy for the well-meaning lad, probably in his early 20s, who is facing this unnecessary moral dilemma. He is trying to accommodate evangelicals who quote Paul at him (good, sincere and maybe even lovely people) while I assume he is struggling with the blatant injustice of this prohibition. Not to mention all the other biblical inconsistencies and culturally sanctioned brutalities. Looks like a recipe for cognitive dissonance to me, and no wonder so many believers seem to be saying “la la la, I can’t hear you” so much of the time.

Life is so much easier when you say “sod this for a game of angels” and decide for yourself that child abusers should be brought to justice, that women should be the ones who decide whether or not they can cope with a child, that we should inflict as little pain and stress as possible on any animals we slaughter, and that the only qualification for speaking should be having a voice and the only qualification for teaching should be – you know – an actual qualification. You don’t even need to be an atheist to do this: I come from a tradition which acknowledges the fallibility of scripture (life is much saner when you disregard Paul and Leviticus). Then of course you have to take responsibility for your moral decisions, you cannot just out-source them. But as Bristol CU are finding, you can’t out-source them anyway.


Here are a couple of other relevant links:
http://www.bristolvantage.com/2012/12/05/thomas-raffael-how-cu-gate-shows-up-the-main-problem-with-the-press/
and
http://www.bristolcu.org.uk/ – which is currently showing Bristol CU’s statement


This post was first published on the Twenty-First Floor

Not funny, not funny at all

Ooops.  This one got through the net without all its facts checked and links in place.  I know I should finish editing it, but life is short and events have moved on. May 2013


Orwell portrayed a world where people feared Big Brother’s ability to monitor their every move. Our reality is stranger: it seems we crave attention so much that we rush to open up our lives to the public gaze, authoritarian or otherwise. And not just the wannabes on X-Factor, but those of us who tweet and blog as well.

The online reactions to the twitter joke trial and the joke itself shine a light on how we think about private and public spaces online, and just how much we have handed over to those in power.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the twitter joke trial until the #iamspartacus hash tag splashed itself all over my twitter feed and @TwJokeTrialFund raised the £10,000 needed for his appeal in [nnn[ hours. Paul Chambers was found guilty of [charge] and [sentence]. The criminal record means that Chambers cannot qualify as an Accountant, so his career has gone up in smoke. All in 140 characters or less:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

Now there are a lot of different strands to this, and we need to disentangle them. It’ll help if I pin my colours to the mast. (Your colours may vary, and that’s ok).

Firstly of course the punishment indeed disproportionate: I’m prone to flippancy myself, and I’d hate to lose my job and my ability to qualify in my career and get a criminal record for nothing more than a throw away remark.

However, and this is important, what Chambers did was stupid.

Katherine Whitehorn used to sense-check her plans for children’s activities by asking herself “what would the coroner say?” and it’s a useful question to ask. If this goes completely tits up, what would the headlines be? What criminal prosecution would ensue? Could I end up with a Darwin?

Tweeting threats to blow up an airport is stupid, no matter how common that sort of joke is on Twitter. It’s been likened to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, which is [reference’s] famous example of the limit to freedom of speech. Let’s be clear; if the security guys at Robin Hood airport had seen the threat but not drawn it to the attention of the police, or if the police hadn’t then checked that Chambers isn’t a terrorist, then they would themselves have been criminially negligent as custodians of public safety. It would be lovely to live in a world where people aren’t killed and maimed by terrorists

I’ve read several counters to this argument, and to save you the time, I’ll post them here:

But you just don’t get Twitter

Hang on a moment here, who doesn’t get it? Who’s behaving as if the new world is the same as the old world? Twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere aren’t the pub, but we behave as if they are. So I am not won over by this argument, or by the tweeters saying “but he didn’t me-e-e-e-ean it”.

But lots of people make jokes on Twitter

Yeah, and..? Lots of people smoke. Lots of people eat so much that their weight damages their health. The fact that “lots of people” do something does not make it either intelligent or morally right.

But we shouldn’t have to live in a world where we jump at shadows all the time

Yes. I agree. But we do.

So what do we have here? As I said, we have several strands:

  • Stupidity which can indeed be characterised as criminal stupidity – and I feel for the guy, I really do
  • Apparent opportunisim by whoever still has Chambers’ posessions – and that really isn’t ok
  • Disproportionate consequences – Chamber’s supporters are right, what has been done to him is not fair
  • Two groups staring at each other across a generational or cultural divide and saying “you just don’t get it”

The orginal draft of this post ended like this:

It is Chambers’ irresponsibility which stopped me claiming to be Spartacus. My position is logically identical to anyone whose sympathy for the McCanns is tempered by the thought that they should never have left the children unsupervised.

But now I think that conclusion is fair but harsh, because I’ve changed my mind slightly after reading the pages I’ve linked to.

What has been done to Chambers is unfair and disproportionate. Yes, the Robin Hood Airport were right to get him checked out, but he should have been slapped across the wrist and told not to do it again, like a kid caught scrumping apples.

Two stupids do not make good sense.