How do you bomb an idea?

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Let me take you back to the halcyon days of September 10th 2001. Do you remember what life was like? We lived in a world where there areas of danger and civil war but largely we got on with things and were able to pop on a plane to most locations without too much worry about terrorism. In fact in the UK we had more recently lived with terrorists next door in Northern Ireland and even that was a fairly limited campaign on “the mainland” as it was called back then. Yes there were the odd terrorist attacks – even from Al-Qaeda – but in the large part we were living in a safer world

Then the next day three hijacked planes hit buildings and a fourth was crashed in to the ground when the passengers overpowered the terrorists. Now I don’t want to diminish the deaths of those three thousand people but fourteen years later we are in a situation that has been largely caused by our reaction to that atrocity. In simple terms when you spend $2 trillion to fight a group of terrorists, kill twice as many allied soldiers than were killed on 9/11 and murder a further one million civilians in the middle east you do have to wonder if we have overreacted.

Look at what has happened since we reacted to the 9/11 attacks – bombs and attacks in London, Madrid, France, across central and northern African countries, all over the Middle East and further afield – how are we any safer? Today we see more fallout from a screwed up approach to fighting terrorists with Turkey shooting down a Russian jet in its airspace. We bomb target after target yet every few months there is another attack by this “small group” of terrorists. Surely I can’t be the only one to see the cause and effect here. We go and kill their friends and family, they respond in kind. What part of that don’t politicians understand?

France responded to the attacks in Paris by bombarding Syria – a country already in pieces due to the bitter civil war that has been hijacked by ISIS – and has done nothing to lower the threats and dangers for the rest of us. In fact quite the opposite. It’s easy for the lazy end of the media to point at Muslims and blame them but we all know that the problem isn’t one about religion, it’s a problem with people. Idiots on both sides that think that by posturing and killing they can make their point better than the other side.

I have no sympathy at all for the terrorists, but look at the situation from their point of view. Regardless of their beliefs, people who are just living their lives find their family and friends are being indiscriminately killed by bombs from above. They want revenge for the desecration and murder and have two choices: flee as refugees or pick up a gun and join the terrorists. Few will just brush themselves down and carry on with their lives – especially after the third or fourth attack on them. Now let’s add the latest round of bombs we are throwing at them because of Paris. David Cameron now says he wants to add to those bombs. It can’t just be me that can see the snake eating its own tail here.

Boots on the ground, more bombs, more anti-Muslim sentiment, more mistrust, more animosity, more confusion, more death and where will we be? In the same place with more bodies around us. How many of us have held up our hands and said the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were wrong? How many of those people are now saying we add Syria to that list of targets? No, we can’t do nothing – that much is clear – but we can’t just keep killing because we know that today’s terrorists are in their late teens and early twenties. We must take the responsibility for partly creating those fighters. We do it again and we face another generation of terrorists fueled by our actions.

No, there are no easy answers, but the Peace talks are a much better bet. Find a way to get people round the table, try for a ceasefire, stop the killing and try to find a path through the corpses. It won’t be easy – but neither is taking the decision to kill anymore innocent people. If the vote comes to the House of Commons then we will hear all the usual arguments for and against taking military action: pacifists will object and those in favour of bombing will speak in favour. Even the SNP – a largely anti-war party – are considering action here. There is a momentum to try to stop ISIS where they are.

But ISIS are here in the UK, in groups and individually across Europe, Africa, Asia – in fact right across the world. They don’t have geographical boundaries, yet we aim to bomb within man-made lines they don’t accept. how can the two correlate? To defeat an ideology you have to attack the ideology not the physical people. Yes there will always be those who will fight to the death for their cause but the majority will sit down and talk.

Can’t we try that first and stop the killing after fourteen years of an onslaught?

Being a pacifist is sometimes the most difficult of choices because it relies on finding the goodness and reason in people – even those we believe have no goodness in them. One of the most powerful things I’ve seen recently about the futility of war is this. While it’s based in a world of science fiction the words and ideas are as relevant for our current situation than anything I’ve heard from any politician or commentator.

JD

Miley, Miley, Miley

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I get it. You’re trying to provoke us and make us shocked that you are artist as well as a singer/songwriter. The dildo and fake boob outfit at the weekend was predictable. And that’s what you have become. If you came on stage in jeans and a jumper we’d be more shocked that the provocative shite you wear at every opportunity.

You remind me of my five-year old daughter who runs about half-naked and flashes her bum because she finds it funny. Difference is my daughter doesn’t know any better and takes a telling. You are a grown woman who thinks that anyone actually cares you are naked again. I’ve seen plenty naked bodies in my life, you don’t make any impact on me or the large majority of people you are trying to get a reaction from.

If anything we now just feel sorry for you that you have to keep pushing the envelope to such a tasteless point. What are you trying to show? That the naked body is art – well we already know that. All through history we’ve admired the human form in all it’s beauty from Caravaggio and Botticelli to Bosch and Courbet and their takes on the naked flesh. Then there are the numerous websites full of naked people who are writhing and having sex. You offer nothing new, exciting or provocative.

Yes you have that car-crash appeal in that we’re all watching you to see at what point you finally lose the plot. With today being your birthday – many happy returns – you do wonder whether you will fall into the 27 club. Not that I wish any ill on you, but having turned 23 now you are acting out so much you do have to worry about your stability. I’m sure all the money you have and those around you who think you’re hilarious keep you going, but I do wonder if you have any idea how people actually view you.

You’re not a role model; your music is largely ignored because you are too busy showing off your breasts; no one cares if you wear a huge dildo on stage because they can tell desperation when they see it; yes you used to be a clean-cut child star who wants to rebel but we only need to look at those who went before you to know that’s not always a good thing; overall you are just embarrassing.

People who defend you will say you are a performance artist and are no different to Madonna or Lady Gaga or Rihanna in using your body to sell music – the difference is I could easily name ten of each of their songs and lots of people have their music in their collection. “The Climb” and “Wrecking Ball” aside I struggle to think of your music but can think of several outfits you have worn to provoke. So are you singer? Are you a performance artist? Are you a very expensive stripper?

Am I being sexist by picking on you because you are a female working in the pop industry. Record companies expect the girls to dress provocatively to sell records. That’s wrong of course but then a male singer with a six-pack and chiseled looks is also used as eye candy. Difference is popping out a bollock to sell a record is much less appealing than a tit. Just because the system is unfair and wants nudity and controversy doesn’t mean that a) you do it or b) if you do, you push the boundary so far that you become a joke.

Unless I’ve missed the point of you. If you are a joke artist then you’ve achieved your goal. If you are trying to be funny or shocking then you’ve failed. I just feel sorry for a young girl that has a decent voice and could achieve great things with that. I’m sure you couldn’t give a fuck what I think and the money you have made because of it will ease the pain anyway.

Maybe I’m the one missing the angle of “Cyrus’s New Clothes”, but if that’s the case I’m happy to be wrong and ignorant.

JD

PS – Feel free to change Miley to Justin Bieber when reading this blog. I find the two pretty much interchangeable.

Jesus Wept!

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As anyone who has read this blog in the past will know, I’m an atheist – not an angry one in the Richard Dawkins mould – but an atheist nonetheless. I’m happy for you all to celebrate your own festivals, believe in your gods and worship in peace. What I do object to is when people decide it’s time to shout in public about their faith and push their beliefs on others. Obviously at this time of year most of the major religions celebrate a festival – Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday, Bodhi Day, Hanukkah Armadillo and so on. But one thing has really irked me today.

The Church of England thought it would be a good idea for everyone to sit through an advert of the Lord’s Prayer as you sat down with your popcorn to watch Star Wars in the Cinema. There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to start. I think ‘fuck off you arrogant bastards’ is probably as good a place as any though as they have a real brass neck to think that we all need to be told how to live our lives as we spend our hard-earned money on a night out at the pictures.

The complete disregard for the individual here pisses me off. There would be several faiths sitting together, including those like me who don’t believe in any book put together by committee and forced down the throats of their people in times gone by. I don’t even like Star Wars but I’ll have to take the boy along to see it, so that would be bad enough without the Lord’s Prayer being added to the mix.

Thankfully the UK’s leading cinemas have all banned the advert as they don’t show religious or political adverts in their big screens. And that’s as it should be in society. We should all have the right not to be hit over the head with another group’s beliefs. I don’t mind public events like yesterday’s celebration of Diwali in Edinburgh because that’s more about inclusive community than trying to convert or preach to people. Hell, I don’t even mind Christmas Carols – especially by a brass band. (but not the Salvation Army I’m afraid – their attitudes to inequality, hatred of gay rights, history of racism and conservative politics make them a rather unpleasant bunch).

I would also throw schools into the mix here and disagree with the ongoing preaching of the Christian faith to our children in schools. Across the UK our multi-cultural schools are being hit over the head with Jesus on a regular basis and I don’t think there should be a place for that in our classrooms in this day and age. There should be protection and freedom to those who wish to practise their beliefs – regardless how others may view it – as long as it doesn’t break the law and it’s not forced upon other people.

People will no doubt argue that we live in a Christian country and that is statistically true – more than half the population call themselves Christian, but almost a third have no religion and that is the second most popular response if you look at the last census. We make concessions for those with religion and religious belief, so surely the same accommodation should be made for me and my atheist and agnostic friends. I don’t want a soap box, a building to not preach in or a holiday to not celebrate – all I want is parity where I and my family don’t have to be preached at.

I’m aware that I could remove our kids from any religious activity at school, but they have to make their own minds up about it the same as me and Jill did. Also it would be a shame to miss out on the non-religious elements of Christmas and Easter that they enjoy. I think we need to remove the problem from schools altogether and do as the Americans do by dividing Church and State in many circumstances.

I want to live in a country that has the freedom to believe in what they want, but not the platform to try to preach to others. It’s easy to shout people down, use science and logic to counter their strongly held faiths or to point at them and laugh, but that’s not fair or decent. While I don’t believe in a god, I do believe in the right to hold that belief. Maybe if we were more secular in our schools whilst teaching about all religions (not preaching them) we’d have much less negative reactions to those of faith.

JD

 

Technology is going down the pan

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I’m getting fed up of technology taking the piss out of me. Seriously, they talk about sentient machines – well either they exist or those who control them are arseholes of a supreme level of aresholery. And arses are important as I’m fed up of tech in the toilet.

The urinals at work are a good example. Above each one is a sensor which recognises someone is standing at the position and the theory is that when you move away again it will flush. Sounds great because it saves water and means that there is not that usual smell that men’s toilets usually have. But this sensor system has decided for some reason that once the tank is full, the flush begins whether you have moved on or not. This then causes splash-back from the porcelain target so you get a spray across your crotch of your own fluid, the flushing water and anything else left from a previous incumbent.

You’ve a damp crotch, so the logical thing to do is wash your hands – well for most people anyway. This is also a myriad of “clever” ideas to make thing simpler. (Mind you I do wonder when washing your hands became difficult – must have been off school or not seen the news that day).

The sink area has become a place of confusion. The soap has two options now – either the traditional push for liquid or foam, which I have no problem with; or the hand sensor that gets confused if you move even a millimeter whilst using it. The soap thinks about peeping out but in the end there’s a churn and fresh air is the only gift. Then those same sensors are on the taps. Now I get the hygiene idea behind this move, but often you get manual push soap and sensors together that completely defeats the point – or vice versa.

You wave your hands like an idiot under the tap to try to find the premium position that allows you to wash your hands whilst still ensuring the sensor is registering your presence. This dance is fraught and frustrating as you cannot find the point where both are happy. Even the old push down taps are a pain in the arse as you have just enough time with each push to wash your pinky before it stops. The solution? To hold the tap down defeating the very purpose of the design.

If you are lucky enough to be able to wash your hands before your kids grow up and leave home, then you have the battle of the hand dryer. There are a few options for the bog designers:

  • Paper towels – the environmentally unfriendly option and you usually need at least three if your hands are as big as mine.
  • The roll of fabric – A fight to the death to get the thing to roll round to a dry bit, by which time you have covered your hands in everyone else’s germs (especially the fake hand washers who just “dry their hands” before leaving the bathroom)
  • The asthmatic’s birthday cake – those hand dryers that are less powerful than a gnat’s sneeze or a hotel’s hairdryer. Your trousers will have to do.
  • The normal dryer – not bad all round. You can dry your hands after about a minute and a half, and then your crotch having been splashed earlier by the urinal and probably the sink too.
  • High powered dryer – those machines that make it look like the skin on the back of your hand should be either on your elbow or downstairs. You don’t really dry your hands as you are surprised that your body is not as young as you thought it was.
  • The Dyson – great in theory but like the sensor soap and taps it becomes a dance of confusion between you and the wall based piss-taker. Also your crotch will have to just dry itself as you get strange looks if you try to lower yourself into the gap.

After all that you then have the biggest problem: the door. After fighting to clean your hands and dry them you have to somehow open that door that has been touched by those who didn’t wash their hands, did but didn’t dry them, tried to dry them but got bored and the soapy hand brigade. This potent mix on the door makes you wonder why the only fucking thing that should be automatic – the door – isn’t!

JD

How can you mend a broken brain?

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Hello there, I’m broken. I don’t work properly and I’m running out of ideas and patience. He throws tablets into his body and I get the benefits of a kick occasionally as the chemicals pick me up and get me from A to B. Then there the tablets that try to keep me from jumping around from highs to lows and vice versa. They’re boring – who wants to be caged up? Finally he’s taking a new one at night to put me to sleep. It replaced one that used to make me groggy for a couple of hours after waking up – the new one is better but still shuts me down, even when I’m having a good time. I get him back by leaving him tired all day so I still have fun.

Why does he want to change me? I understand that the lows aren’t much fun – mind you it does allow me to get deliciously deep into the dark corners of life and him. There are places in us all that we hide the doors to, but depression allows me to throw those doors wide open and make him face everything the world can throw at him. His own mind fighting against him. Thoughts about mortality of everyone around him – as well as himself of course; can’t let him away without pushing him morbid buttons. Ah the places an imagination can take you.

You think of the worst that you’ve seen on TV or Film and you can take that and multiply it to infinity. Imagination can move you much further than any written word or image. The dark recesses of the mind are not a place you want to live – and the chemicals pull you back from the doorways into the light, but not before he sees the void. Shame, poor soul struggles to then see the world in clear and defined terms after that for a few days – or months it it’s a good one.

Then there are the days when I switch off and just let go. Think of it like the Friday after payday for you – you go out and spend your money and get completely rat-arsed, losing all inhibitions and decency. He ends up without a sense of “normal” or censorship so he says the worst things in the name of fun and ends up standing in an embarrassed silence that he doesn’t even notice because he’s drunk on me.

Usually I’d ensure he found a balance – you know make a joke and then move on, but instead I enjoy the freedom and add fuel to the fire by switching off the connections and just let him go. It’s so funny to have him realise what has happened later on in the day. Then the guilt kicks in and he spirals back down – or even better he doesn’t realise at all and can’t understand why people avoid him. Socially awkward man plus a runaway mouth – it’d be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I’m not made in the right way. Things are missing, other things are in the wrong place. I’m missing elements to allow him to work properly – a lot of people can’t see that. It’s not his fault, like many others he was just made to the strict instructions. Think of it as an Etch-a-sketch approach that there are lines where there shouldn’t be and at any moment things can disappear.

And I don’t like being “normal” anyway – it’s boring. At the same time I’m not keen on this limbo I exist in now. Neither fish nor fowl. You can’t have the fun of the Bi-polar swings from deep dark recesses right up to the stratospheric highs and the jumps between the two. If this is how you muggles live with little in between I’m not sure I want to live in between. Better to be completely sedated the whole time than in a state of flux between meh to oh? Better to have Woo-hoo! to Oh Fuck!?

Not my choice. He makes those decisions on our behalf. I try to influence; sometimes I make an impact but I’m fighting against too many people now. Not just him, but his family, friends, GPs and Consultants. I get it – he needs to function but come on kid – let’s let loose just once in a while???

Broken and out of control. Maybe we have more in common than I thought.

JD’s Brain.

 

Why Charlie Sheen’s news is a problem

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I vividly remember AIDS adverts in the 1980s – even as a child I knew that this was an important message about a dangerous subject. While I didn’t truly understand AIDS and HIV until I was older, the message was clear – do all you can to avoid contracting this illness. Today, thirty years later, Charlie Sheen went on TV to tell the world that he was HIV Positive – a brave and noble move, but it comes at a cost.

The generation that loved him in Two and a Half men or only know him from him “Winning!” or “Tiger Blood” have a very skewed view of him. The Charlie that we saw on screen womanizing and being subversive was matched in all the stories about him in his private life – things that he thrived on and created a character around himself. To the younger generations this is less a story of illness and risks, instead it becomes being one that has them shrug and say “Well it’s Charlie Sheen isn’t it.”

I don’t mean to be cruel to him as he’s obviously had to deal with this for the last four years and many have tried to blackmail him when they found out about his condition. That cannot have been easy, but when you read a line from him that says “a prostitute took a picture of his medication and threatened to sell it to newspapers.” you struggle to see how any positive message can come from this story. Yes he’s been honest, but it would seem it’s because he didn’t want to keep paying people off rather than wanted to do the right thing and open up a conversation about disease.

It won’t surprise you to know that Charlie is not friend, or even an acquaintance – and quite rightly can shoot me down along with all the other voices that will be saying negative things about him. I don’t think anyone deserves to contract any illness. I’m not glad that he has HIV. I don’t think that it serves him right. But there will be many people who will and the way he now deals with this will be hugely important in shaping the way people see this disease.

We know that STIs are on the increase amongst those in their teens and twenties. If Sheen does anything off the back of this it should be to work with the Terrence Higgins Trust, The Aids Foundation, Elton John AIDS Trust or AIDS Alliance to ensure the right messages and information are getting out there. Everyone will now want to interview him about the illness, his lifestyle, the effects and the future. If he plays it right he could educate millions about this horrible disease. I really hope he takes this opportunity to put things in perspective for young and old alike.

I’m not having a go at those younger than me, but having taught kids who are now in their late teens and early twenties, they did not get the same messages about HIV and AIDS that we did at school and on TV. The field was flooded with Chlamydia, Syphilis, Gonorrhea and all the other lovely images of sexually transmitted illnesses they show the kids. AIDS was just another one in the list and it needs to be at the top to emphasise just how dangerous it can be.

I hope people give Charlie Sheen the space to come to terms with this public announcement and that he in turn uses the opportunity he now has to improve people’s understanding of the illness. If he continues to be a laughing-stock as he once was, then I worry that the illness won’t be taken as seriously as it should be. And it goes without saying I really hope he gets all the help he needs to stay healthy and live a long and productive life.

JD

If you want to know more about the illness and the differences between HIV and AIDS and why it is no longer a death sentence it once was visit the Terrence Higgins Trust pages at  http://www.tht.org.uk/

The Hydra Effect

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Last night France responded to the attacks on Friday, predictably, by dropping bombs on potential ISIS locations.

French catharsis may have been experienced, but in truth you just created another fighter in the war that can never be won. For every bomb that kills someone is left behind, vulnerable and alone in the world. Terrorists feed on this like a parasitic creature does in its host. A new soldier is mobilized. Two, perhaps three new people with a reason to attack.

We look for new ways to hurt those who hurt us. Ways that are more painful than ever before. Water boarding and torture; detainment without charge in a foreign prison; mass bombings in “shock and awe” attacks which are no more accurate than any other planned attack. We think if we hot back harder we will stop them.

My Dad was wrong you know – hit them back harder, that’ll show them. They would then get their mates and it would turn into a thrashing. It doesn’t work when you’re eight and in the playground, so why would it work in any other set of circumstances. We need to find other ways of defeating this disease of militants and their bastardized version of a loving religion.

Who are these people in ISIS? They are the shadow left behind from centuries worth of meddling in the middle east by the west. From the Ottomans and the Germans to the US & UK led wars the last century alone shows us where all these conflicts arise from. We are just looking at the latest manifestation of anger at repression and attack by others. We created the monster that we are now fighting, but can’t see it for looking.

What if we apologised?

What if we forgave?

What if we recognised our role in this issue?

What if we sat down with all those with a vested interested and facilitated a conversation? In the end a border is a man-made creation so why not look at what each side wants and needs. And we’re not miles away from that position either. The meeting in Vienna at the weekend to try to find a peaceful end to the Syrian Civil War is starting to make headway. We need to learn lessons from other places where discussion, forgiveness and openness took place.

Then we need to spread that model across the other problems in the region from the Gaza Strip to Afghanistan and Iraq. Sit people down – even those who are the terrorists – and discuss the issues. By humanising the issues and those involved we start seeing everyone for who they are. Is it a complete antidote? No, there will always be those who continue to fight – just look at Northern Ireland or South Africa, even after peace talks and open conversations about the past, some still look to violence.

But it’s a start. And that’s more than we have now.

I admit to having oversimplified the argument somewhat but in essence this is the first step. When the Arab Nations, Europe and Russia are generally in agreement on something it’s time to work together and grab the opportunity.

Why? Because consider the alternative – do you want to keep increasing their number and therefore putting more innocent people in trouble? As a recent TV show put it:

Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot. No matter how right you feel, You have no idea who’s going to die. YOU don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. or how many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered. How much blood splattered until everybody does what they were always going to have to do right from the very beginning:

SIT. DOWN. AND. TALK.

– The Doctor (The Zygon Inversion)

We have to at least try. To not try is to condemn the next generation of people to repeat our mistakes.

JD