The annual poppy rant

This was written in response to a piece that was (to my mind) appalling. It was in the Huff Post and it was an astonishingly ill-informed personal boast by someone who seemed quite pleased with himself for refusing to wear a poppy.  I would normally let you see what provoked me, but I refuse to give the oxygen of publicity to such ignorant nonsense. This was my response.

There is nothing jingoistic about wearing a poppy. It’s a mark of respect. You either show respect for others or you don’t. And that tells me more about you as a person than any pompous tripe you may put into print.

I find it pretty revolting that the author thinks that our soldiers are ‘occupying’ or ‘invading’ anywhere, rather than trying to help the locals against the evils of (a) the Taliban (b) ISIS (c) Assad (d) etc… But BECAUSE those people gave their lives, and please remember, you manifestly ignorant little man, that the vast majority of those who fought in the two World Wars that these poppies are primarily to remember, were not soldiers, they were ordinary blokes, conscripts: your postman, your butcher, the kid who rolls the barrels down the pub steps, the paper boy, schoolchildren some of them, BECAUSE they gave their lives, you have the absolute right to refuse to wear a poppy. You have complete freedom of speech BECAUSE they went to fight and die. The way you choose to abuse that right may nauseate me personally, but, as Voltaire’s biographer once said (no, it wasn’t Voltaire himself!), I disagree with what you say, but i will defend to the death your right to say it.

Just make sure you deserve that right and use it, don’t abuse it. Because I don’t see you rushing to give your life to help others in need. So I don’t really think you’re in much of a position to start dissing those that do.

Give til it hurts

This rant is about charities. Hang on, relax. Wait and see what it is I am actually going to say before you get all huffy! This not about established charities that do good work, as (almost) all do. It’s about a particular phenomenon that has only recently come into being – perhaps in the last thirty years or so. WARNING: you may consider the contents of this rant uncharitable, which would be ironic, but understandable, I suppose.

Whenever anyone loses someone, it is sad. Whether it’s a child or a parent, a sibling or a friend, it is always, always sad. And we should grieve for our loss. That’s fine. No one is suggesting otherwise.

What is not fine, however, is then SETTING UP A CHARITY.

If your child died of an illness, or a car, or some other misfortune, there is no need to set up a charity.

If your parent died of cancer, there is almost definitely no need to set up a charity.

If your best friend was killed by a drunk driver, there is categorically no need to set up a charity.

And, this is the one that has annoyed me and prompted this rant, if your father set up a charity and then died in a car crash, there is no need to set up ANOTHER charity.

Why?

BECAUSE THERE ARE ALREADY THOUSANDS OF CHARITIES COVERING YOUR TOPIC. All you are doing is diluting the funds available and spreading them across more organisations, so that each gets less to do the same work. And that’s just plain stupid, if you have genuinely charitable aims.

In fact, there are already so many charities, that there is a UK comparison website! It’s called Charity Choice! Link here. They list over 160,000 of them. Read that again. ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND. And that’s just in the UK alone! Imagine how many there must be in the whole world! Yours is probably not needed. Chances are, there is a charity that is already working for the cause that is so close to your heart that it only entered your head after someone died.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, there are gaps. I happen to work for one such charity, which was set up in someone’s memory, but it serves a portion of society that until then had not had a voice, advocate or charity to publicise it. I refer, of course, to The Separated Child Foundation, which cares for unaccompanied refugee children who arrive in the UK with nothing but the clothes they stand up in. Prior to the foundation of this extremely worthwhile charity, there was no one specifically working for and aiming their efforts at these children. Some did it ‘on the side’, so to speak, whilst helping other refugees, but none were aiming specifically at these lost children.

So there can be a reason to found a charity. But more often than not, there isn’t. If your loved one died of cancer, for example, the Charity Choice website lists 262 charities that you could fundraise for. If you lost someone to heart disease, there are 66 charities, covering issues from Marfan Syndrome to Arrythmia.

You don’t need to start from scratch to make a difference. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to do something to prevent your loss happening to others in the future. All you need to do is give to, or volunteer to help out with, a perfectly good charity that already exists. Stop diluting the pool of money available by splitting it into smaller and smaller portions.

The stimulus for this rant was one Miss Meadow Walker, sixteen-year-old daughter of actor Paul Walker, who died in a car accident in 2013. In his lifetime, Paul was not just a film and television actor, he was also interested in helping people. And to that end, he set up a charity, called Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW). This brings together experienced first responders and sends them to disasters as fast as possible – firefighters, medics, etc. That’s a brilliant thing, and their website shows they have done some amazing work on the ground, all over the world.

But this is not good enough for Meadow. Oh no, she can’t possibly give to an EXISTING charity for an issue that was so close to her father’s heart that he built a charity from scratch to address it. She has to set one up. From scratch. And announce it on what would have been his birthday.

Instead, she wants a wildlife charity, around marine biology. This is purely an ego stunt. It may have helped her with her grief to plough her energies into this, but the world already has quite a few marine conservation charities. All she is doing is spreading the available goodwill a little thinner, and hoping that her father’s name will be enough to attract to funds, which presumably will be attracted from other, equally deserving and better-established charities doing the same work.

Bravo, Meadow. Yet another vanity project enters the world. I hope it does do some good, but I fear the opposite.

Lions and tigers and things that go bump in the night

This article relates to the current internet vilification of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, who paid $50,000 to kill what turned out to be Zimbabwe’s most loved lion, Cecil. He can’t have been that amazing. I’ve never heard of him. I’d heard of Jonathan the tortoise long before I ever met him in person in St Helena. But Cecil? Never heard of him, sorry.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I care about animals and I find the concept of killing them for fun utterly abhorrent and completely incomprehensible. But I’m not a spoiled, ignorant American twit with more money than sense and more guns than brains. So I am bound to see the world differently to him.

This evening I have read a navel-examining piece of overwrought twaddle about mob justice on the internet becoming the norm and how afraid we should be at what is happening to the erstwhile big game murderer Mr Palmer, and his poor family and employees. You can read it here. Apparently shutting down his business for a few days and scaring him into reassessing his world view is a Bad Thing. Can’t see why, myself. Do him the world of good to be the hunted for a while. See how he likes it. I think the expression being bandied about is ‘karma’. Although I would draw the line at stabbing him, leaving the knife in his side for a few days and then killing him and mounting him on the wall.

And, in any case, I doubt very much whether in a year’s time, anyone will even remember this currently massive outpouring of disgust. It will blow over. I have trouble remembering Palmer’s full name even now, so in a year’s time, I’ll probably only be able to recall Cecil the lion.

This is just another moral panic, like seventies djs or internet trolls or single mothers or migrants or mods and rockers or computer games or horror movies, and it will pass for Mr Palmer and his poor staff.

In fact, in a demonstration of delicious irony, the very article is a moral panic all of its own, following the ‘The Internet Is Evil And Will Destroy Us All’ theme. *sigh*  How boring. Is that the best commentary we can put on this?

But that is what human beings do. Whether they are egged on by a newspaper or an online article, people will always overreact to some stories. It is one of the traits that makes our species so much more interesting, because of its unpredictability. Which story will matter next? No one knows, even those that write them for a living.

Looking deeper at this story, whilst Zimbabwe may be stamping their feet and demanding the extradition of the “poacher” in question, to stand trial alongside the two gamekeepers that Cecil trusted to protect him, the real question is, what is Zimbabwe going to do for money if it has to stop charging stupid Americans $50,000 a pop for a big game hunting permit? Remember, that’s just the permit. Not the whole holiday. Heaven only knows what he was conned out of for accommodation costs and flights. A fool and his money are soon parted.

If you are sold a piece of paper giving you permission to do a thing, you are allowed to do that thing. That’s the whole point of permits. Whether they are fishing licences for the River Ouse, or driving licences or staff parking badges, once you have it, you have permission. To then turn around to the permitholder and say, ‘Oh we didn’t mean THAT one’ is not only shutting the stable door after the horse has been allowed out, chased, killed, skinned and beheaded, it is hypocrisy of the first water. You cannot give someone a permit and then tell them they’re not allowed to use it. Especially not after relieving them of $50,000 for it. That would make you a scam artist and a common thief.

Mr Palmer was not inside the reserve. The lion was lured out to meet him – apparently via the tried and tested method of raw meat on the back of a pickup truck. If your reserve boundaries are that porous, it’s not the hunter’s fault if they find themselves shooting an animal that wandered off. The luring is the offence, not the shooting. The shooting was completely legal and above board. You sold the permit.

So the questions Zimbabwe’s government have to answer are:

1. Why can a tagged and protected lion just walk out of the reserve and into the arms of hunters? Never heard of FENCES?

2. Why, if you are so protective of your big game, are you selling permits to shoot them for $50,000 a time? If you’re such conservationists, at least make the hunters use paint guns, so the bloody animals stand a fighting chance of surviving your rampant greed.

3. Or, and here’s a thought, DON’T SELL ANY PERMITS. That way, anyone caught with a gun can be immediately arrested, no questions asked.

4. What exactly are you going to try him for? He had a permit. You sold it to him. He went out with two guides, who were paid to find him a legal target. They didn’t. He shot what they got him. However nauseated I may be by his even being there to kill, he is not the one at fault here.

And that is why this moral panic will blow over. In another few days, most of the, as Dave Gorman calls them, “bottom half of the internet” (i.e. the people who comment under articles) will find something else to get het up about. A few green crayon brigade who live close enough to pop by his office in person might need a warning or two to back off, possibly for weeks, rather than days, but other than that, this will almost certainly pass.

What we should be more worried about in the Vox article is the idea that, if people on the internet get upset about something, that can be perceived as an indictment of the entire internet. That is the moral panic that should make us really, really afraid. Because that is not fear of the unknown. That is fear of the known, and that won’t go away any time soon.

Bad science

I am getting increasingly tired of bad science that is cropping up with worrying regularity these days.

A few years ago, an article appeared announcing that ingrown toenails are genetically hereditary.

Poppycock.

Ask any podiatrist or chiropodist and they will tell you that it is how you cut your toenails and care for them and the footwear you put on that determine whether a toenail grows in or not.

Who teaches you how to cut your toenails and choose your shoes? Your parents. No genetics required. You’ve just inherited/ been taught bad habits.

Now today we have an equally preposterous announcement that a proclivity to commit sexual offences is genetic and hereditary.

Again, poppycock.

Who teaches you your attitudes towards women? YOUR PARENTS. So if you are taught that women are objects to be used and abused, the chances are your brothers heard the same thing.

When are we going to stop trying to blame everything on genes and admit that, actually, some stuff we learned from our parents was wrong?

Charlie Hebdo – it’s not about cartoons

What happened yesterday in Paris is nothing to do with cartoons. It’s nothing to do with religion. It’s just a killing spree.

Any suggestion that it is about cartoons is to suggest that you are blaming the victim for getting themselves shot. If you said “they were asking for it” about a rape victim, you’d be rightly shunned. So why is it okay to say it here?

Everyone who kills people has an excuse. Most are quite sure they are justified, have a point to make and have right on their side. But in reality, killing people is never justifiable unless they are actively trying to kill you. And shooting a wounded policeman lying on the ground begging for mercy in the back of the head is not the kind of act that can be justified by anything at all. So remember, this is not about press freedom.

This is not about cartoons. This is just a murderous killing spree. Plain and simple. Like Mumbai or Westfield Mall or any number of school shootings for which we struggle to find a reason.

The protagonists did not even believe in anything strongly enough to martyr themselves. They hid their faces and had an exit strategy/escape plan.

This was just killing for the sake of it. They just happened to pick targets which enabled them to manufacture enough of an excuse in their own minds to make it okay.

In fact, several of the victims were Muslims, so even that makes no sense.

Don’t do the same.

Black Friday – is it worth it?

Black Friday is an import from the United States. It started out as a way of filling the Thanksgiving weekend. But, thanks to the internet, Black Friday is now over here. Add to that the number of major brands and stores that are US-based, sourced or financed, and it is not hard to see why its arrival over here has been so rapid and so complete.

But is it worth it?

Traditionally, in the UK, our sales start on Boxing Day and run into the New Year. That has experienced a degree of creep over the past few years, with some sales now starting on Christmas Eve. That seems a little counterproductive to me, because that means that the disorganised and/or lazy who leave everything to the last second, could catch a bargain they really don’t deserve. And also means that the retailer misses out on the potentially lucrative last minute rush.

But we are still in November. So why discount today? As Chris Choi points out (here), retailers could be shooting themselves in the foot by lowering price expectations before the sales “proper” kick in.

Online, websites are crashing at a rate of knots. It took me over an hour to get two pairs of jeans into a basket and pay for them, although the Paypal pages were not in the least bit taxed (as they are designed to cope with Black Friday in USA-style numbers, not UK ones). Some sites have keeled over entirely with error pages already drafted to cover them while they scramble to catch up.

Is it safe to go to the store in person? Well, so far today, there have been three arrests in the Manchester area alone for assault, and even by lunchtime, there were rather chilling videos circulating of fights, conflicts and apparent utter desperation. One woman was injured by a falling television. The Police have been called to supermarkets and stores all over the country. At Asda in Wembley, people were knocked to the ground in the hysterical stampede.

And remember, most of this started at midnight, not this morning. It’s already been going on for several hours.

The BBC quotes Jamie Hook who was buying food at Tesco in Stretford on Thursday night when he said “the screaming started”.

“I looked at the massive crowd to see people climbing over shelves and displays, staff running for cover, fights breaking out, stock flying through air, people breaking through carrying televisions – and this was before the sale had even started,” he said.  The lady on the till I was at was in tears, terrified of it all, but she was under orders to close her till to go and help crowd control.”

This is not normal behaviour. Stampedes, threats and assaults for the sake of a slightly cheaper television? What have we become?

And bear in mind that, as Chris Choi points out, there may be better bargains to be had in the New Year sales anyway!

Edit: The UK now has its first entry on the Black Friday Death Count website which lists all injuries and deaths caused by Black Friday hysteria. Should we be proud of this? Probably not. How can any television, no matter how cheap, be worth killing or hurting someone else for?

Poppies

It has been a while since I have felt the urge to rant on any topic with sufficient passion to stop all the other things I should be doing in order to do so.  But this is about poppies.

Over the past few days, I have been shocked and saddened in equal measure by the cavalier arrogance of the astonishingly high number of people who do not wear a poppy for remembrance.

In addition, there has been a survey done that says that 1 in 6 people REFUSES to wear a poppy. Not can’t be bothered, not doesn’t see the need, REFUSES. The survey by Viewsbank can be found here: survey summary.

Now, I have also seen a World War One veteran bemoaning what he (and apparently many others) see as a politicisation of the poppy. He has made himself quite famous over the past twelve months, which I suppose can’t hurt, financially. His most recent tweet on the subject can be found here.

I have also seen an article from a Chelsea Pensioner saying that television presenters who refuse to wear a poppy should be fired. Which you can read here.

So there are differing views on the whys and wherefores of wearing a poppy. Here, you get my ha’penorth.

Wearing a poppy is not a political gesture. It condones no party, it espouses no ideology. It is an act of remembrance. A chance to think about all those who gave their lives in the wars this country has participated in, both 100 years ago, and more recently.

But this is part of the problem. People who like to think of themselves as pacifists say that to wear a poppy is somehow condoning the concept of war, and that wearing a white poppy is therefore the pacifist choice. It shows you remember without the acceptance of war, apparently.

Their excuse is that the money raised these days goes not only to help Chelsea Pensioners and other aged veterans of the two global conflicts of the 20th century, but also assists with rehab and housing for injured soldiers coming home from current and more recent conflicts. Thus you are supporting soldiers and the concept of an organised army if you wear one.

This is, if you will pardon the pun, poppycock.

Those 888,246 ceramic poppies outside the Tower of London, and the one on my lapel, do not represent professional soldiers, carefully trained in skills and strategy, (relatively) well-paid and (hopefully) well-cared for later. They represent ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary lives who were CONSCRIPTED and sent to their deaths with no training, no protection, no chance of survival and, if they faltered in any way in that march to their clearly visible upcoming death, were just as likely to be shot by their own side.

Do you know why they wore gas masks in the trenches? Do you understand how chlorine and mustard gas work? Allow me to explain. Essentially, they irritate the lining of the lungs, causing both excruciating pain and a protective reaction to occur, whereby the body produces liquid to protect the lung lining. If you get gassed, you DROWN. Slowly. Someone who last week delivered your bread or taught your child in school.

There is nothing glorifying of anyone or anything in saying we remember the lost generation who gave their lives, frequently for no gain or benefit to either side whatsoever, in the most unmitigated random slaughter* in living memory. They were not professional soldiers, although they died in a uniform, so the State takes care of their graves (if they have one), their widows and their comrades who survived.

I, personally, have nothing but disdain for anyone who refuses to wear a poppy. It shows a woeful ignorance of the First World War, and the people who fought and died in it, and I don’t want to call people who enjoy being ignorant my friends.

*Before anyone objects, the Final Solution was not random. It was extremely well-organised.