Our Messed Up World…

Right then world. Stop what you’re doing, that’s it, drop everything and listen up. I’ve got just a few complaints. I’m just a little fed up with how awful things are at the moment and I need to get it off my chest.

Firstly and foremostly; the straw which has broken the dam. Anyone in the UK is probably already painfully aware of this. Yesterday a man was killed in Woolwich, London. That’s the simplest way of putting it. This man was a soldier in our armed forces, and was wearing a Help for Heroes t-shirt. That seems to be what singled him out for this horrendous attack. Two men, armed with knives, cleavers and machetes, killed him, then waited by his body, spouting political and religious statements until the police arrived.

Seriously. What the fuck?

Sorry, this isn’t a swearing blog. I’m just so angry and sad that this has happened. I’m sad for the man’s family, friends and colleagues. I’m furious that other members of our armed forces have been advised to cover their uniforms in public, although latest reports suggest that advice is about to be reversed. I have so much respect for our armed forces and for the work they do. The police too, and the fire and ambulance services; all of these people who work not for a profit, but for the good of their country and its people – us. Any attack on them is an attack on the United Kingdom, and I don’t think I’m the only one around taking this a little personally.

The attack in Woolwich has been hailed a terror attack. It’s not like the previous attacks we’ve seen; the bombs at the Boston Marathon, the events of 7/7 and 9/11. These terrorists were just two men, armed with knives. Somehow I find this so much more frightening than the idea of bombs and large-scale attacks. The trouble with terrorists is that it’s not clear who is and who isn’t one; it’s not an entire country, and it’s not an entire religion, it’s a group of people with extreme beliefs and who are willing to go to extreme measures for those beliefs. Extreme measures, which include killing innocent people just because of the job they do or the country they live in. It’s disgusting and it just makes me so angry and exhausted.

To add to the awful events of yesterday, I’ve read comments on the news saying that the ‘English Defence League’ (who I really think ought to stop. Just stop being whatever it is they are and go away) have taken to the streets, including one man being arrested for carrying a knife into a Mosque.

Seriously. What the fuck?

Who takes a knife into a place of prayer? Who thinks that the correct response to militant extremists attacking an innocent person is to send militant extremists out onto the streets with the aim of threatening innocent people? I am English, but I want nothing to do with this so-called Defence League.

Also making me sad and angry at the moment are the happenings in Oklahoma. No terrorists here, but still a world of devastation. The perpetrator was a tornado. We’ve been hearing about a lot of natural disasters lately, and this tornado has added another 90 to the death toll. Unavoidable, people took shelter as and where they could whilst the tornado tore its way through Oklahoma City, hitting the suburban area of Moore particularly hard.

There’s no one to blame for this. No one sat down and planned it; no one decided spur of the moment to go out and release a tornado. It just happened, like Hurricane Sandy last year, and like the earthquake which struck China just last month. And yet even with no one to blame, there is anger that this could happen, that it could happen so quickly, and that it happened in such a densely populated area. The tornado ploughed through a school, killing children. I sat in my car on Tuesday lunchtime, listening to a fire marshall break down as she talked about the recovery work they’re doing and I wanted to cry myself. It’s not fair that these things happen which are so out of anyone’s control and are so damaging to whoever stands in their way.

But what really doesn’t make sense is that, even though we have these natural disasters all over the world, we have earthquakes in Asia and the Middle East, we have hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis, and there are still people bringing it upon themselves to kill other people. There’s more than enough death in this world as it is; no one should be adding more.

So please, people of the planet Earth. How about we all just stop doing what it is we’re doing, and instead of fighting each other, let’s have a go at working together to fix the things we can’t prevent. There’s no need to be killing our soldiers or setting off bombs at public events. No need at all. Gavel!



Reducing Pregnant Women to Fibbing Children; Why The Smoking Tests at Antenatal Appointments are a Really Bad Idea

It’s been a while now since I had a baby. My youngest is now 13 months old, but I remember all the antenatal appointments during the times that I was pregnant. I had 3 booking in appointments in my time due to the fact that I miscarried at between children. All three appointments were brilliant: relaxed, informative, friendly. I really felt like I connected with my midwife even though it was a different one each time. Trust was established. I felt that I could call any of these women whenever I felt like I needed some support or had any queries. I left the appointments buoyed up with glee and only some of that was pregnancy bloating.

Were I to get pregnant this year and go to a booking in appointment, I have learned, I would be expected to perform a breath test designed to monitor carbon monoxide levels. I would refuse and I’m not the only one.

I am not a smoker, never have been and never intend to be. I was asked at each appointment whether I smoked and explained, as I just have, that I don’t. Tick. Done. Apparently it turns out that pregnant women can’t be trusted. The purported aim of this test is to offer advice and help for the expectant mother to quit smoking, but if the woman wants to quit smoking she will ask for these things. In truth this is designed to root out the liars and badger them until they quit. This quote from NICE explains their reasoning:

“Some pregnant women find it difficult to say that they smoke because the pressure not to smoke during pregnancy is so intense,” 

What’s that now? Some pregnant women find it hard to admit that they smoke because of societal pressures against smoking while pregnant? Well then I’m sure an ordered breath test will make them feel nice and relaxed and ready to talk about quitting.

Look, its not good to smoke during pregnancy. There are a multitude of reasons why smoking is bad for you regardless, and during pregnancy its especially not good for the foetus. If you are pregnant not only is it better if you quit, but surrounding folks ought to as well. I’m looking at you, fathers-to-be. But ultimately it comes down to your body, your choice. If you are a pregnant woman your rights as a human come first. I respect your choice because I’m a decent human being.

The point of the booking in appointment is to fill out the start of the blue folder (in my Trust the folder is blue) and to get onto the system as a being with child. The appointment usually lasts an hour and you can ask questions, find out valuable information and get to know the department who you will know over the next months. I’ve said it before: its about trust. You can’t have trust if you listen to a woman tell you that no she doesn’t smoke and then you insist upon a breath test to make sure she’s not lying. You just can’t. And that’s a bad thing. For women like me, the baby in your uterus will be much wanted. You’ll be happy and excited and want to feel validated for that feeling. Millions of women get pregnant every day, but (especially for your first) you want to feel the most special. You also want to establish that trust thing I keep harping on about.

For women like me in my 3rd pregnancy you have one child, have miscarried once and you’re pregnant again. You are scared. Due to the midwife being sick you are having your booking in appointment at 11 weeks instead of 8. You’ve already had some spotting in this pregnancy and spent some time in A&E thanks to that. You’re scared. Your much wanted second child might not ever become a child. You want to get the booking done so that you can go to the scan booked that afternoon, where it turns out the foetus did not make it past 8 weeks. Once again you answer no to the smoking question. Just imagine if at that moment your midwife insists on a breath test. You’re fragile and vulnerable and suddenly the person claiming to be there for you is treating you like a sneaky liar. Fuck that shit.

For some women, if we want to look at the possible worst case scenario, they are not there because they are having a much wanted baby with a man they love. Let’s imagine the case for hundreds of women in the country. She is pregnant by a man who scares her. She is isolated from her family and her friends have been steadily eroded from her life. She literally feels trapped and being permitted to go to a booking in appointment is about it in terms of freedom. The midwife is a friendly face who is there for advice and support in pregnancy, but she brings up domestic abuse, too. The pregnant woman suddenly has a little spark of hope. Maybe she doesn’t bring it up then, but as the relationship between mother-to-be and midwife grows so does the trust and one day she speaks out. Except that when the pregnant woman says she doesn’t smoke, the midwife brandishes a Breathalyzer  The mother-to-be is snubbed; she is not believed when she says she’s a non-smoker so why the hell would she be believed if she said “my husband hurts me”? Trust is broken right at the start and it’s impossible to build up again.

I can’t see a way in which this test is OK.  Perhaps the end result might be that the mother-to-be quits smoking, but if she truly wanted to quit she would bring it up at the relevent time, right? And if the mother-to-be quits but the father-to-be or anyone else living at the family home does not, then was it worth it? Second hand smoke in a persons home is almost as bad at direct smoke. But wait a second…no-one is suggesting breath testing the father, are they? Nope, this is just for the mother-to-be. I wonder why that could be…perhaps it has something to do with the fact that women are often considered to be nothing other than incubators once they become pregnant (warning on this link due to the possibility of graphic images, although that page is pretty safe).


Only if you in turn trust us


(I must just point out that this has come from NICE guidelines, rather than directly from midwives, who I think do a terrific job under difficult circumstances and I’ve never met a bad one! I’m concerned, however, that their job will be compromised by this legislation, as well as the effect it will have on mothers-to-be.)

Let Kids Be Kids

I woke up this morning and checked my e-mail, checked my facebook, then had a look at the BBC news webpage in case something had happened overnight that I would need to be aware of.

What I found was the following headline;

Age of consent should be 13, says barrister

The barrister in question, one Barbara Hewson, specialises in public and administrative law; human rights and civil liberties; and professional discipline and regulatory law. She lists her interests as the following; ‘abortion rights, autonomy, childbirth, civil liberties, due process, privacy’. And yet I almost don’t need to know any of that. My entire view of this woman, whom I had previously never heard of, is now tainted by an article she wrote for online magazine Spiked.

Hewson’s article does not make for very pleasant reading. Her attitude is awful as she stomps eloquently from the 1880s Social Purity movement, when the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16, to the last few decades and revelations of what was happening at the BBC and, I believe, more widely spread. I could easily give a strongly worded retort to each sentence in her article, but I will restrict myself to just a few.

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

This is Hewson’s opening line. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire article. It’s disgusting, especially when you consider that this is coming from a barrister; from a woman whose job it is to uphold the law, to ensure justice is done. She seems to be missing the major facts; that these ‘old men’ being ‘persecuted’ are actually suspects of rape and sexual assault who are being questioned and/or arrested for actual crimes which happened to actual people. Actual young, unwilling girls. This is not persecution – there are no pitchfork-wielding mobs traversing the streets and baying for blood; this is an attempt at justice.

In the 1880s, the Social Purity movement repeatedly tried to increase the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, despite parliament’s resistance. At that time, puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10).

The second sentence in this quote was where I am startled at Hewson’s attempt to twist logic and factual accuracy to make her point. The fact is that, on average, puberty for girls in the 21st Century begins at 10 or 11 and finishes by 15 or 16. Thus the age of consent standing at 16 makes sense. There is a school of thought that puberty in girls happens earlier now than it did in the 19th Century – this would make sense; puberty is triggered by how physically capable a girl’s body is of carrying a child – 150 years ago girls would have been thinner, possibly weaker or more unhealthy, and so their bodies would not change so early. What these facts say to me is not that the age of consent should lower as the average age of puberty has, but in fact that the law change of the 1880s was much needed, and did not go far enough to protect the girls of the time.
(‘Behavioural Endocrinology’, edited by Jill B Becker provides some scientific back up for the above statements.)

It is depressing, but true, that many reforms introduced in the name of child protection involve sweeping attacks on fundamental Anglo-American legal rights and safeguards, such as the presumption of innocence.

In a way I don’t disagree with this quote. It follows a strangely-worded rant about how the NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police, in a report on Operation Yewtree and, in particular, Jimmy Savile’s crimes, are calling the accusers ‘victims’ rather than ‘complainants’. It’s a fairly major step in terms of semantics.
I do firmly believe in the adage ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’, and this is a place where I really struggle. It’s said that one of the main reasons victims of rape or sexual abuse don’t come forward is because they are afraid they won’t be believed. They are ‘alleged victims’ and ‘complainants’, and in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ way of thinking there was no rape or abuse until a court of law has proved that it happened. This doesn’t seem right, but at the same time I can’t in good conscience advocate the switch around to ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’. To me, the whole thing is so dangerously convoluted I don’t think I’ll work my thoughts out today, so I’m not going to dwell too long on it. What I am going to do is distract you with a subject change, then continue my reading of Hewson’s article. Charli has much clearer views on this issue, so I’ll eagerly await her comment, putting forth her better-structured opinions!
Mumsnet have a campaign entitled ‘We Believe You’. This campaign exists to support victims of rape and to break down rape myths.

Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.

I guess I’ve lost touch with reality… sexual assault on anyone (regardless of gender or age) is, in my eyes, a major crime. Arguably it is the fore-runner to rape and gang-rape, if we’re going to simplify things to a hierarchy of criminal activity. To say to a child or teenager ‘don’t make a fuss dear, it was only a little bit of groping – at least he didn’t rape you’ is tantamount to saying ‘you’re a sexual object for men to do with as they wish; let go of whatever self-worth you had and accept the abuse. The fact that you don’t want it to happen is irrelevant.’ I am not cool with that. I am incredibly not cool with that. I, and every man, woman and child on this earth has the right not to be sexualised against their will.

As for Hewson’s ‘regrettable necessities’, let’s take a look at them one by one…

It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest.

She’s talking about Operation Yewtree… I’m pretty sure it does have something to do with justice. Children have been assaulted, have lived their lives with this hanging over them, afraid to come forward and speak against a tv star. Undoubtedly their lives have been affected by what happened to them and they bloody well deserve justice. It doesn’t undo what happened to them, but it’s the right thing. Lessons have to be learnt from the things that were allowed to happen; those criminals still alive need to be brought to justice for the crimes they committed (if proven by a court of law they actually happened, but that’s what the justice system is for.)

Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.

I do think people wear their ‘victimhood’ as a shield at times, but having never been a victim of that nature of crime I can’t possibly say I wouldn’t do the same. Making today’s yougnsters responsible for protecting themselves against the unwanted attentions of people in positions of power, on the other hand, is preposterous. How is the molestation of a 9 year old down to the child to prevent rather than the molester? Children should be aware that there are some bad people in the world, but they shouldn’t have to live in fear and paranoia. There should be no ‘compromising situations’. Celebrities should not be allowed to use their position to shame/intimidate children into being abused and remaining quiet about it.

As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity;

…and force more victims to not report their assault/rape for fear of repercussions? This is such a dangerous suggestion, more likely to allow crimes like those of Jimmy Savile and associates to remain hidden than to do anyone any good.

introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions;

Just because a crime happened 20 years ago does not make it any less of a crime today. Speak to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster. Sexual abuse is such an awful, life-affecting thing to be put through, it can take the victims a long time to come to terms with what happened to them. As much as I would wish all victims could report it as soon as it’s happened, realistically this does not and will not happen.

and reduce the age of consent to 13.

No. Just no. As I wrote at the top – the average girl does not reach sexual maturity until 15 or 16, boys tend to be a year behind. Allowing/encouraging sexual activity to happen at 13 (the average age of a girl’s first period and a boy’s first ejaculation, and thus the age the average child is able to make a baby) is just madness. At 13, most children are simply not ready for the complications that come with sex; family planning, STDs, what is and isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ (horribly vague terms, I know, but this isn’t the place to talk about what’s wrong or right between consensual adult partners…)

To conclude; Barbara Hewson’s article represents one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time – her thoughts and ideals just strike me as unimaginably wrong, and I can’t help but to wonder whether she has a 13 year old daughter.

Let children grow up in their own time. Let them reach adulthood (be that 16 or 18 – I’m still unsure) in their own time, and for pity’s sake protect them from predators. Gavel!


The Power of Procrastination

It’s been a little while since my last post… I’ve missed two articles. I could give you excuses – I was ill at the beginning of last week, and commuting to and from London every day. I was busy at the weekend; racing ferrets on the Saturday and at a family gathering on the Sunday. I could tell you I just lost track of time; I was busy or tired. I forgot.

The real truth of it is that something else came up. Something more exciting than blogging. So I did that, and not this.

I thought I would feel guilty, but I don’t. The blog was created as a place for me to get my thoughts and feelings out and arranged in sentences and paragraphs. I invited my best friend to join in and we invited our friends and families (and random strangers on the internet) to have a read. I hugely value the people who do take the time to read it, but given our massive range of topics, I don’t feel we owe regular articles, but it was sort of a personal challenge to myself to keep up a steady stream of content.

So I figured I would put my procrastination to better use by telling you all what it is that has caught my attention. It involves my fantastic fellow Gaveller, but I don’t think she’ll object to my telling you.

I’m writing a book.

In fact, I’m writing my second book.

This book, like the first, is only expected to have a print-run of 5. That’s 5 copies of the book. Hardly the next Harry Potter. It’s not even a novel; it’s going to be a collection of short stories. I’ve tried writing full length novels but it all comes back to this wonderful thing called Procrastination. I can’t keep focused on one thing for as long as writing an entire book takes.

So last year, in the post-Christmas lull, whilst discussing our convergent tastes in music, Charli and I decided that for Christmas 2012 we would write each other a book. We decided to pick 20 songs we particularly liked, and to write a short story for each song, then to compile them into actual manuscripts to be sent to CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing company (many other self-publishing companies are available) and we would gift one another a specially written book for Christmas.

And we did. And it was fantastic.

So we’re doing it all again this year, except we left it until mid-late April to definitely decide we were doing it again. I’ve spent a lot of time this past fortnight putting together a spreadsheet (because all projects in my life have to start with a spreadsheet!) and coming up with basic outlines for my 20 stories. Last year we were constricted on the music front with a date range of 5 years from which to pick our songs. This year we have free rein on the music, but have to include 50 dares in our stories. This means a lot more planning is required!

Exciting, eh? Can you understand why that, coupled with the aforementioned illness and London-based training has meant I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from blogging?

But I’m back now, determined to continue, regardless of exciting new projects. Two blog posts a week isn’t too much to commit to, especially when one of them is a review, and so doesn’t require me to be up in arms about any one thing.

It’s a personalised gavel this week; aimed at myself, rather than the world I so often try to right.

Giving up is not cool; sometimes things aren’t easy, or seem for a moment uninteresting, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to put them aside in favour of something else. Work at it, find inspiration and motivation and keep at it. It’s quite possible you’ll refind your stride. And if you don’t, well quitting when you know you’ve tried your utmost is much better than quitting at the first sign of trouble.*



*Disclaimer: If trying your utmost is likely to cause damage to you, to someone else, or to our own wellbeing, then don’t. It’s important to recognise when something is a lost cause, and when something still holds so much potential. For me this blog still has a lot it can offer me, just as I still have a lot I can offer it. Other situations might not benefit from such perseverance…

Why am I still reading?

This week’s topic is something I’ve been bemoaning for some time now with my fellow Gaveller, and which I struggle to make clear in my head… So I figured I’d throw my inner turmoil out here for you all to comment upon!

It all boils down to two questions I keep asking myself;

1 – Is George R R Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series misogynistic?
2 – If so, is it ok to read it?

To be perfectly honest, I’m fairly certain the answer to the first question is yes…

Right, let’s take a bit of a step backwards. You need to know a few things about me; Firstly, I’m a fantasy fan, I tend to read fantasy, I write fantasy, I watch fantasy films and I play fantasy video games. It’s very much my genre of choice. Second fact; I don’t consider myself a feminist, in that I don’t really understand what that means; it seems to be a big ol’ umbrella term. I do consider myself to be a pragmatic equalist (which may be something I’ve made up, but it seems to fit more comfortably) in that I’m all for equality, regardless of gender, ability, race, sexuality, but without being unrealistic about it (but not without being a bit pessimistic about it, because life’s often like that.)

Anyhoo – my typical fantasy reads tend to be Robin McKinley, Mercedes Lackey, Sherwood Smith – medieval worlds, with magic, and a kick ass female lead. Robin Hobb also features highly, even without the same style of heroine-focus. They write fantasy with today’s morals and ethics in mind. When the Game of Thrones phenomenon started (and yes, we jumped on board after seeing the tv show – we’re those people) I knew I wanted to read the books, and eventually go the full set of seven and dove into the first one.

I knew what I was getting into – I’d seen the first season with its plethora of bare breasts and male-dominated society, and as much as tv sexes things up, I had an inkling it was going to be edgier than my usual fare. I was fine with that.

Before it looks like I’m bashing Martin, I have to point out the things I like about his books. I love the massive unpredictability – it feels like absolutely anything could happen; beloved characters might die, hated characters might grow a conscience. No one’s completely black and white. I love his writing style (people have said he waffles, but I don’t see that) and I love his ensemble cast – I’m all about a good ensemble cast.

I just hate what he’s doing with his female characters, and how he’s continually beating us over the head with his world’s opinions of women. I’m just at the beginning of the first volume of A Dance With Dragons, so maybe there’s a massive about turn at the end of that book. Don’t tell me if there is – I’m reading as fast as I can!

Mark Oshiro, infamous reader of- and reactor to popular books, tv shows and games, puts it quite perfectly in his review of the fourth book in the series, ‘A Feast For Crows’ (nb – DO NOT click on the link if you haven’t read the 4th book, it’s full of spoilers!!!);

Given that the bulk of this book is from the perspective of women (WHICH IS REALLY QUITE COMMENDABLE FOR HIGH FANTASY), it’s become a game of mine to see if I can go five pages in a chapter narrated by a woman and see if I can’t find a reference to rape, sexual violence, or women knowing their place.

That’s pretty much how I feel. How I’ve felt from very early on in the first book. I e-mailed Charli early on in the reading with a mostly-serious ‘Why do you like this?’, and even after discussing it with her (and finding no answer) I’m constantly asking myself the same question. These books feel so wrong; so damaging. Take Brienne’s character, for example. She is constantly berated for how ‘ugly’ she is, and almost every male she meets seems to threaten her with a good old-fashioned rape. Women are so firmly second-class citizens, and this fact is so much a part of the landscape that it feels like we, as readers, are forced to be ok with that.

I’ve read fantasy series’s before I simply couldn’t get on with because I felt so uncomfortable with their representation of the genders. Most remarkable are the Faith series by Rachel Vincent and the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn, Both are about shapechangers; Werecats in the first and Werewolves in the second. Each book made a big deal of its lead female character being strong and independent, but never (to my mind) actively challenged the male-dominated pack/pride. With those books the writing wasn’t enough to keep me going beyond the objectionable content and I felt no qualms about putting the books aside in favour of something more palatable.

Conversely, the Twilight books were so awfully written I felt compelled to keep reading to the bitter end. (Not that it’s very fair to compare the Twilight Saga and A Song of Ice and Fire, they’re worlds apart!)

I have the same issue, to a much lesser extent, with the tv show Sons of Anarchy – if you haven’t seen it, it’s about a male-dominated society; a motorcycle club. They’re racist, they traffic guns and drugs, and they’re not the most women-friendly folk, but I can’t stop watching the show; the plotlines keep my interest piqued even despite the fact that the main characters are doing things that are so wrong. I understand it’s not real, and am well versed in the suspension of disbelief, but I really do have issues with the fact that I enjoy and support media, be it book or tv show, that normalises rape and/or murder.

No Gavel this week, just an impassioned plea for a discussion – Why are these actions acceptable in the world of fiction? How is it some writers, directors, etc can make us put aside our principles and give our support to things we would be staunchly against in reality?


Not so ‘Grand’ National

I was going to write about something else this week – got halfway through writing it and my internet fell apart yesterday, so I confess I gave up. Today I tried to get back into that frame of mind, but couldn’t as there’s something else on my mind. Apologies for the lateness and shortness!

So far this year 27 horses have died as part of the sport of horse racing.

Twenty seven horses.

This shocked me. I knew a couple died at the Grand National last year, and with the Grand National looming, was wondering how many horses have to die this year or next year or the year after before people will start to see how hideous a sport this is. But twenty seven horses dead in the space of just over three months; that’s roughly two a week. How is that ok?

Now, I’m not against working animals. I’m not against sports involving animals. Heck, I race my ferrets – we get people to bet on them and we make money (yes, it’s for charity, but I’m not against people doing it for personal gain.) The difference between my ferret racing and the current world of horse racing is fairly huge. My ferrets are first and foremost my pets. They race because they enjoy it; if they don’t want to do it then they don’t have to, and if they repeatedly don’t want to do it then I don’t enter them into the races. My ferrets don’t run with a whip-wielding passenger. My ferrets never have to be given oxygen at the end of a race because they’ve been raced half to death.

My ferrets don’t die in the name of human entertainment.

That all said, even if the Grand National was made safer to the point where there were no deaths and the horses weren’t in respiratory distress at the end of the day I still wouldn’t support it (although I’d be a bit less disgusted by the whole thing).

My issue is that the horses running in the horse races that take place around the country aren’t, in my opinion, real horses. They’ve been taken and messed about with; their genetics have been altered. By real horses I mean the sturdy creatures you’ll find at your local riding school, the multi-coloured gypsy horses pulling traps along the roads near some travellers’ camps and the beautiful heavy horses with their plate-sized feet. Racehorses are extreme versions of these wonderful animals; they’re thinner and taller and more skittish. The most amazing fact I’ve found out about them is that their ankle bones are thinner than a person’s wrist.

Just think about that. Something the size of your wrist, well, four somethings that size holding up an entire horse plus the person on top. Now think of those four ankles running at high speed, jumping over fences.

In fact, think of forty tall, thin, skittish almost-horses jostling for position as they leap over fences, unable to see what’s on the other side. Is it any wonder there are so many deaths. I’m trying not to use emotive language, and believe me I could spout so much vitriol about this subject, but I’m really trying to be reasonable. For something a little stronger, go see what PETA think. I would enjoy horse racing if the main focus was horse-welfare, just as I would enjoy Crufts if it was more about dog welfare than conforming to unnatural breed standards. Horse racing is made dangerous because the way of breeding and training a fast horse is dangerous. These animals are pushed beyond their capability; the traits favoured; height, weight, speed, are not traits which would exhibit in a herd of wild horses.

There are many arguments for horse racing; the whips don’t hurt and there are rules on when they can be used, they’re making the courses safer, horses enjoy running. I have no doubt about the last one; horses probably do enjoy running about in a paddock when their legs haven’t been bred to be long, spindly and easily broken. When put into a stampede situation they probably don’t love it quite so much…

I’m not involved in horse racing. With the exception of random equine adventures I really don’t have much interaction with horses. But then I don’t meet many rhinos and I’m angered by stories of poachers going after them for their horns. I’m going to need a lot of proof that horse racing isn’t a cruel sport; starting off with an end to horses dying on the track. Gavel!


Bias in the Media; a Study of 3 Stories and the Issues I Found with Each One

As the title suggests I have taken issue with 3 seperate news stories from the UK and North America and want to explore this here.

Let’s start with Steubenville.

For those of you who don’t know, two young men aged 16 and 17 were recently convicted of raping a girl of 16 in Steubenville, Ohio. Not content with raping her, they carried her unconcious body around in a car and dragged her to parties, at which they also sexually assaulted her (in addition to the rapes), photographed her and even urinated on her. The two boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, have been found deliquent, which is essentially Ohio’s version of guilty for under-18s and they have been sentenced to a year in prison, although I am lead to believe that they could remain in prison beyond that year. It is a triumph for this poor girl who was abused so horribly and a wider triumph for rape victims everywhere: the boys are big-shot football heroes for their school in Steubenville and it can be notoriously difficult to obtain convictions for sports stars, even those who have yet to achieve nationwide fame. When the verdict was delivered the boys broke down in tears. And this was what CNN chose to focus on when they reported on the trial:

“a 16 year old, sobbing in court…what is the lasting effect of two young [men] being guilty in juvenile court of rape essentially?”

“incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their life fell apart”

“lives are destroyed…the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders…will haunt them for the rest of their lives”

Not one word about the victim. Not one word about how her life was destroyed or even affected by what had happened to her. What about her future? What about the fact that this attack will potentially haunt her for the rest of her life? What about the tears she cried?

The focus was entirely on these poor young men who had such high hopes for the future, and their lives had been ruined. Not once did any of their reporters comment on the fact that they had brought this upon themselves and perhaps other young men would think twice about ruining their futures in seeing these “star football players” and “very good students” get the judgement they deserved when they were found delinquent.

There is a petition here calling for CNN to apologise on air to the victim for their dreadful reporting of the situation and focus on the two boys, or the two rapists and registered sex offenders, if you want to be blunt.


My next gripe is one with our very own BBC, or rather with their hip and trendy branch of news aimed at teenagers and 18-24 year olds, Newsbeat. A study has been published by the DPP detailing the fact that false rape allegations are in fact quite rare, certainly much rarer than actual rapes. This is great news as one of the biggest setbacks for campaigns against violence against women and girls is the myths surrounding rape, of which the myth that most rape accusations are lies and falsehoods plays a huge role. This myth is so ingrained into our collective societal psyche that women are sometimes advised by the police to rethink their accusations when they pluck up the courage to report them. And one of the most common reasons for women not reporting the crime is a fear of not being believed. And let’s not forget that there is a very real threat that asking to retract a rape accusation can lead to the victims imprisonment, but hey, maybe she was just unlucky enough to have been raped first, then treated so badly by the people who were supposed to help her.

Back to Newsbeat. Rather than report on the study without bias, they chose to mention it under a headline screaming “False rape claims ‘devastating’ say wrongly accused”. They went on to describe the occurance as common, although after pressure they did change the word to unusual. I’m not entirely sure how they managed to confuse the word rare, as used by Keir Starmer, QC, who headed the study, with common, but at least they did change it. I personally complained about the article, citing bias and mis-reporting as my reasoning and I did receive a reply (the same on anyone who complained received I later learned) from Rod McKenzie, editor of Newsbeat. In the reply he wrote that the story had been commissioned to focus on the facts of being falsely accused as their target audience claimed to have a great fear of this happening to them, and that “to help contextualise the story we reported on a 17-month study carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service which set out to establish how common such false rape allegations were.” The fact that the study proved that false accusations are incredibly rare compared with accusations and even convictions of rape seemed to pass them by. Rather than using the study to say “hey teenagers and 18-24 year old guys who are scared that they will be accused of rape, worry not! It turns out women and girls aren’t going around lying about it constantly, like we once believed. Look, these figures show its really rare and in fact in those figures there are further breakdowns in terms of the gender of the accuser and the mental health of the accuser and hey, included in these findings are even accusations where the victim couldn’t identify her attacker, so rather than lying, she just couldn’t accuse accurately. Isn’t it great? Oh, and women and girls in the same age bracket who are afraid that if they are raped or sexually assaulted they won’t be believed if they go to the police, don’t sweat it. Chances are you’ll be telling the truth so we’ll believe you after all. Isn’t it a wonderful study and can’t we now move past this now broken down rape myth and focus on stopping this hideous crime from happening at all?” they chose to focus entirely on the very few men who are falsely accused every year and how awful it was for them.

Don’t get me wrong; being falsely accused of any crime is a crime in itself if done deliberately and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It must indeed be devastating and I’m sorry for anyone who has had it happen to them. But the timing of Newsbeats apparently long-comissioned story was very bad indeed and their manipulation of the facts was an insult to everyone who worked on the 17 month long study to make this report. For once we had some great news with regards to rape. I will keep harping on about it, but rape myths are a huge barrier to overcome and this one is a big one. Mumsnet have started a campaign simply entitled We Believe You to raise awareness about the truth about rape. Isn’t the name telling? We Believe You. I cannot say for sure if I would report a rape if it happened to me and I have the greatest respect for anyone who does. Certainly I have never reported a sexual assault, not even when the assault occured on school premises did I even tell a teacher. The BBC had a chance, as did every media outlet around, to report some good news about rape statistics. To reassure both sexes that false accusations are rarer than the myth would have us believe. And the BBC chose to stick their fingers in their ears and shut their eyes to ignore the findings in order to scaremonger.


Finally, we have the tragic tale of Lucy Meadows and I have another petition for your interest. This one calls for the Daily Mail to fire Richard Littlejohn after he wrote a hate-filled, biased article in the paper, against Nathan Upton, a transgender teacher. This was a total non-news worthy story. Nathan Upton made the courageous decision to alter his lifestyle and gender and this was seen as fair game to Richard Littlejohn. I have a link to the story in the DM, although you will see that it was edited on the 12th of March 2013 after being published on the 19th of December last year. The facts are that the C of E school in Lancashire announced via a newsletter that “Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in  his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman. After the Christmas break, she will return  to work as Miss Meadows.” Let me now just point out how fantastically supportive the school appeared to be and how lucky Lucy Meadows was to be working in such a tolerant place. I would be thrilled to send my children to such a school.

The DM latched onto the minority of parents who were bigoted concerned about the impact of this on their children and clearly didn’t see this as a fantastic oppotunity to teach about acceptance and everyone’s right to choose for their own lives. Naturally that would be too much to ask for the Daily Mail. Sadly however, this story prompted a media invasion into Lucys life and ultimately Lucy took her own life earlier this week. She had only been officially living as a woman for 3 months.

Now, it’s not the DMs fault that this story was picked up and became such an invasive beast…but then again…was it any of their business to pry into Lucys life like they did? How exactly was the story important enough to publish in a national newspaper? Lucy Meadows made a choice for her life and that was that. No one was harmed by her choice. She wasn’t trying to attract media attention. She was trying to live her life as she felt it needed to be lived. The school was supportive. A few parents weren’t happy, but there will always be small minded fools who cannot see past their own issues. Yet Richard Littlejohn chose to write a horrible piece about her, practically crying out “won’t somebody please think of the children?!” Children, the most universally tolerant beings in the human race until they get their parents views rubbing off on them. Richard Littlejohn could learn a lot from them.


My point this week (and I’m sorry its taken me so long to get to it) is that the media is a powerful tool. It does so much more than report on events, it directs us how to feel, which is why it is so important to read around in my opinion. I’ve tried to cram as many news outlets into this article as possible to try to be as fair as possible. In the case of CNN and Steubenville, this was rape apologising at its most dire. The BBC was a case of bias due to the angle they were driving at and a refusal to admit to a rape myth being just that. And the Daily Mail case was pure bigotry dressed up as concerned reporting and lead, directly or indirectly, to a womans suicide. I’m all for freedom of the press, but would the press please remember that they have an obligation to the public to report as fairly and without bias or personal views as possible. Here I have presented three cases of seriously bad reporting, due to the aforementioned obligations. Gavel!




*Please note that I do not believe in evil as a concept, so my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I use this turn of phrase.

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