This is a little late but the Convention on Modern Liberty is taking place today. ‘The “database state”, counter-terrorism laws and press freedom will be among issues discussed’.
I believe employees should always take great care when it comes to posting on the Internet negative comments about the companies for which they work. By and large, I’d advise them just not to do it — unless they’re doing it on a closed, private network like Facebook, for example.
But now, it seems, even this is not allowed — is considered a sacking offence.
Kimberly Swann, 16, was dismissed from her job after her comments about the company for which she worked (which she didn’t name but which, we all now know, thanks to their extreme reaction, was Ivell Marketing & Logistics in Clacton, Essex) were read by a colleague she’d invited to be a Facebook “friend”.
I suppose we need to look at the nature of Facebook. I’m not completely sure how Miss Swann was using the platform but in the case of the vast majority of its users, the information they post is not public (in the sense that it cannot be read by just anyone passing by.) It is available to friends and, depending on the settings they choose, possibly friends of friends. By most people it is considered a relatively private space in which they can share their thoughts with people — perhaps wrongly — generally assumed to be trustworthy. The comparison is often made to a conversation down the pub, but this isn’t really accurate since the likelihood of being “overheard” by a stranger is fairly unlikely. Even if Miss Swann had named the company (Ivell Marketing & Logistics in Clacton, Essex — just in case you missed my earlier mention of it), it would not have come up on any Internet search results. So from the point of view of company profile, there really wasn’t an issue that I can see. Certainly not one which would justify such an extreme reaction.
The fact that Miss Swann was not given a chance to explain or, even, if it’s necessary, apologise, strikes me as… how shall I put it?… bad policy. Steve Ivell describes her display as one of “disrespect and dissatisfaction”, adding that it “undermined the relationship and made it untenable”, which strikes me as rather over the top. A quiet word was no doubt called for, but dismissal?
I can’t help wondering just how many of Mr Ivell’s other employees have said — or even written on the Internet — similar things in the past? How many of them are frantically editing their Facebook pages as we speak? What about Mr Ivell himself? Has he never bitched and moaned about jobs he may have held in the past? Has he perhaps forgotten what it’s like to be sixteen, an age when everything is, by default, boring and when we haven’t yet learned the life skills necessary to judge who can be trusted?
Oh, and incidentally, the Ivell Marketing & Logistics I mention in this article is the Ivell Marketing & Logistics in Clacton, Essex, not any other Ivell Marketing & Logistics. Just to be clear.
A couple of nights ago, my friend, Lou, sent me a link via Facebook to this Guardian article regarding the complaints the BBC have so far received about children’s television presenter Cerrie Burnell, who was born with only one hand. At the time of writing, the article reports, the BBC had so far received nine official complaints from parents claiming that they cannot let their children watch because such a sight could “possibly cause sleep problems”, that toddlers find her scary and that — shock, horror! — they are being forced to discuss “disability” with their children before they are ready.
My immediate response was to shrug and say to myself, “Yeah, well, that’s stupid people for you.” My experience of disability (I have Type II Spinal Muscular Atrophy) has, generally speaking, been pretty good. I have always found people on the whole considerate and understanding, but, yes, there are idiots with prejudices and insecurities of their own. The relatively small number of complaints, however disturbing it may be, speaks volumes. The vast majority of parents watching this show, I’m sure, handled their children’s questions ably and got on with enjoying the show.
Which took me in a slightly different direction than some might expect. The Guardian article is entitled “It Is Parents Who Can’t Face Disability on TV” [italics mine]. Parents. Not some parents, it would seem, but if not all of them, a fair few, at least. Nine, in other words.
Now don’t misunderstand me, Lucy Mangan makes some excellent points — and the article is definitely worth reading — but there are a couple generalisations/inaccuracies that I feel need to be addressed.
Firstly, to reiterate the point I’ve already made, this was a very small number of parents. Lucy mentions that there were “many more blog postings” regarding the story, none of which she provides links to, and none of which I’ve read. Knowing the blogosphere as I do, however, I’m quite certain that those complaining about this television presenter will have been in a very small minority. There will be plenty of people shouting them down.
Secondly, on the point of parents not being able to “face disability on [children’s] TV”… well, frankly, this is actually quite inaccurate. In the early 1980s I, in my electric wheelchair, wearing my Milwaukee spinal brace, appeared for eight weeks on the Yorkshire television children’s programme Book Tower. I was very visibly disabled, and the spinal brace in particular will no doubt have raised a few questions in some households. Yet, as far as I know, there were no complaints.
More to the point, the producer of Book Tower at the time was a very talented lady called Anne Wood. Anne went on to form her own production company — Ragdoll Productions, the company behind, amongst other things, the Teletubbies. Anne’s work in the intervening years has quite often focused on preschool children’s television, with programmes such as Rosie and Jim, Brum and others, and a number of times that I know of (and, not having kids of my own, I’m not exactly an avid watcher of her programmes… no, really!) children with disabilities have featured.
Disability is not something that is new to children’s television. In fact it seems to me that disability is featured more on children’s television than any other area. Even many non-Ragdoll Productions shows for children have and do feature people with disabilities (Balamory springs to mind.)
So, in conclusion, yes — there are stupid people who will try to inflict their stupidity, bigotry and insecurities on others. The best thing we can do is shame them, talk about the ridiculous statements they make and, even, I would suggest, heap ridicule upon them. But when we respond to such comments/complaints we really need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently alienate the very people who are on our “side”. The vast majority of parents are intelligent and responsible, and whilst television could do a much better job with regard its representation of disability, children’s television has been at the forefront for a number of years, without a complaining parent to be heard.
Even people I know who’ve never so much as glanced at a computer are suddenly talking about the not-so-new new “fad” (that is actually anything but a “fad”) known as Twitter. It seems that you can’t turn on the television or open a newspaper without stumbling across celebrities or panels of experts expounding on the merits and, more often, the utter nefariousness of this new obsession.
So what is Twitter? (Just in case you’ve been in a coma for the past few weeks.) Well, Twitter is a micro-blogging service — a condensed version of what I’m doing here. Think of it as soundbite broadcasting for and by the people, if you’re feeling grand (and why not?), a way of sharing, in no more than 140 characters, a thought, a witticism, a mental fart. The principal question that drives Twitter is “what are you doing?”, and some people take the answering of that quite literally. Jonathan Ross announcing that he is just going for “a poo” a pretty good example.
Childish and banal, yes? Well, actually, no.
I’ve been using Twitter for a while now — BSF, in fact (that is, Before Stephen Fry helped to popularise it by announcing on television that he’s a Twitter user.) Initially, it was something of a slow burn. It seemed little more than a lot of noise, mostly pointless (at least to me.) And then I started to follow more people, people with similar and diverging interests — my own following growing daily — and the real value started to become more apparent. I found after a short while that one minute I might be using it to talk about Wittgenstein, the next sharing my progress on the outline I was working on or simply enjoying a #Twittercuppa with a few Twitter friends. It became useful very quickly, “useful” defined in a number of ways.
So I was amused (and, yes, it’s such a ridiculous generalisation that I really can’t take it seriously) to read this morning in the Times Online clinical psychologist Oliver James stating that: “Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”
Where do they get these people? The very idea that (all) people using Twitter do not have a strong sense of identity is simply quite absurd. Anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time will probably agree that I know exactly who I am. I do not need to define myself by constantly seeking feedback or approval. But even if I did — what about Barack Obama? As someone who used Twitter to get himself into the White House, does he lack identity? Is he perhaps a mass of insecurities in constant need of reassurance, confirmation, perhaps, that, yes, he is still President and worthy of the position? I think not. I think he is, quite simply, a man using a new medium in a way that suits and benefits him.
Celebrities might bicker and bitch on Twitter. Teenagers no doubt use it to flirt in text speak. I’m sure some tragic individual will at some point (if they haven’t already) announce their impending suicide in no more than 140 characters. Like all new technologies — from telephones to Internet chat rooms — Twitter is as diverse as the world we live in and reflects just about every aspect of life imaginable, from the mundane to the quite simply astounding. As another tool, I find it invaluable. One brief message from my phone, no matter where I am, is immediately on Twitter, my website — see the sidebar to your right — and my Facebook page (with the help of some neat applications and widgets.) Friends and those who are interested in my writing always know what I’m up to (within reason… I’ll leave the poo announcements to Jonathan Ross!) and it isn’t a chore. Quick, efficient and vibrant.
And Oliver James will never know. Too wrapped up in his own superficial analyses he’ll simply never take the time to try it.
But I doubt he could ever answer the question “what are you doing?” in 140 characters, anyway, or, at least, not without answering the question with a question.
My favourite Peter Brookes cartoon of the week, shamelessly “borrowed” from Times Online…
You know, I can sum up my thoughts regarding Jacqui Smith quite succinctly. In bullet points, even!
- Political lightweight.
- Promoted to a job that is quite obviously beyond her.
- Already feeling the knives in her back.
- Destined to rise no further.
- Working the system shamelessly. (I’m being generous here.)
- Possibly a pawn, probably ignorant of the fact.
- As damaging to this country as the rest of her buddies.
Time for her to go, along with Brown and that weird bottom lip of his (his wife really should tell him to stop breathing it in like that — it’s annoying.) My feeling is, however, that Jacqui’s political demise will come a lot sooner than Brown’s. I give her a couple of months at the most.
Well, I can hope, can’t I?
I very rarely write poetry, not really feeling I have a propensity for it. Every once in a while, however, a novel requires that one of my characters does so and I find myself stepping into their skin and doing the job for them. It’s always a fascinating experience — another way of understanding a character.
And sometimes — just occasionally — I find myself wondering if, perhaps, I should write verse more often. I enjoy the discipline, but whether that’s because it’s always something of a novelty, I don’t know. I’m not even sure how effective the pieces themselves are.
With this in mind, I thought I’d share something I wrote — quite quickly — for the novel I’ll soon be starting, As Morning Shows the Day. It’s a short piece entitled Forbidden and it’s written from the perspective of a girl in her late teens. I won’t tell you anything more about it (it gives away something pretty vital to the novel.)
Let me know what you think of it if you have time.
They touch me in unknown places,
caressing and ashamed.
Secret dreams and longing —
forever driven, forever bereft.
counting the times that never can be.
His eyes upon me
all I can ever know.
“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama will soon issue an executive order lifting an eight-year ban embryonic stem cell research imposed by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, a senior adviser said on Sunday.”
If there’s one thing guaranteed to spur this normally quite reserved and reticent (no, really, I am) gentleman into voicing his opinion, it’s an assault on science and reason — especially one, as my regular readers will know, that comes from a nonscientific background. The Bush administration, for this and many other reasons, was therefore of great concern to me, and the consequences of what may have happened had Obama not won the presidency simply didn’t bear thinking about.
So when Obama promised during his campaign and his inaugural speech to reverse Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research I was, naturally, over the moon. Yes, I was a little sceptical. Obama has a great deal to live up to — too much, I think — and there was a niggling doubt at the back of my mind over whether he would actually fulfil this particular promise. I am, however, happy to now say that it looks as though my scepticism (“caution” might be a better word) was unwarranted.
There are people out there who will argue that embryonic stem cell research is immoral/unethical, and even some who will argue that it is a futile or unnecessary line of research. I would disagree with both of these positions. We have a duty and responsibility to at least try to explore all treatment possibilities and, until the alternatives are perfected, this for me is a significant step in the right direction.
The possible scientific/medical benefits apart, it strikes me as hugely symbolic. Obama is clearly sending out a very strong message. A message I for one appreciate.
I occasionally like to reference paintings and other pieces of artwork in my writing. I like the idea of the reader going away from the novel (temporarily, I hope), finding a copy of the picture online or in a book and studying it, nodding as they think of the scene within the book, hopefully picking up on the emotions I feel it evokes.
Quite often I will describe the painting in detail, from the way the light falls to the thickness of oil on canvas. But sometimes it’s nice just to keep it vague — to entice the reader into taking that extra step and, if they aren’t already familiar with the work, Googling it or picking up a book from the library. I’m not sure how successfully I do this, but it’s nice to imagine that the reader is so involved that he/she feels the need to find and study the piece in question.
Whilst outlining my next novel, I found I needed a way to express a husband’s longing and his distance from his wife. Naturally, I have the usual tools in my toolbox. Words. Human behaviour. The simple mannerism that say so much. On top of all this, though, I wanted something more — something that would frame it in a way that another character within the novel, a child, could more easily grasp, on an emotional if not intellectual level.
My first port of call — and, in fact, my only port of call — was my favourite artist, Edward Hopper.
I’ve never exactly been what you might call an art aficionado. I’m by no means an expert. Yes, I can tell a da Vinci from a Dali, and I like to think I can appreciate and understand each equally. But, as the old cliche goes, I do know what I like.
And I like Hopper. I like his use of light. I like the simplicity of his compositions. I like the cinematic quality. But, more than anything, I like the emotions that he manages to evoke — the sense of longing and isolation, boredom, regret, alienation… it’s all there in such dependably understated treatments.
So which painting have I chosen to add a little thematic texture to the novel I’m about to write? Well, there were a number that touched upon the emotions I wanted to communicate, but none quite so successfully as Hotel by a Railroad.
All text © 2009 Gary William Murning