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Banning takeaways from serving hot food until 5PM? Excuse me…?

Just checking the date folks. Bear with, bear with, bear with…wait it’s not April 1st. What the hell? Seriously what the hell? Ok I suppose I should probably explain what I’m going on about. Well Salford Council are proposing not allowing takeaways from selling hot food until 5PM in the vicinity of a school in an attempt to force children to live a healthier lifestyle. In a way it is a noble cause because as a nation we eat worse and have less exercise than we used to. The health of us all should be a huge concern but where do we draw the line between individualism and the state dictating what we can eat and when?

Cllr Margaret Morris, assistant mayor for health at Salford Council, said: “Takeaways create jobs and provide a service but these ideas are to make sure that they are opening in the right places and not having a negative impact in our city.

“We don’t think they should be serving hot food over the counter before 5pm near schools, as children should be encouraged to eat healthily, so we have made this clear in our proposal.

“Public health and helping to reduce obesity levels are a top priority, and while planners cannot control the food that is sold, we would like every new premise to offer well promoted healthy alternatives so people can have an informed choice about the food they eat.”

Now the debate about whether takeaways have a negative impact is a fair one to have. Just today I saw a video from the local police appealing for help in identifying a man who decided to kick off in a local kebab place. There is certainly only a finite number of these establishments that should be in any single area. That is plain for all to see and dictating what hours they should be open is a legitimate issue for the local council but linking it to the health of our nation’s youngsters is something I can’t go with.

Children should be encouraged to eat healthily but at what point do the council stop? Do they stop newsagents from selling sweets? Do they rip out the tuck shops in schools? Vending machines? Should students bags be searched for chocolate at the gates? It is a slippery slope when you start saying that certain foods should be accessible to people at certain times but others should not be.

The problem with public health and obesity levels do not lie at the feet of local Councillors. It lies in educating people about being healthy and looking after themselves. Focusing on young people is all well and good but where do they learn from? They learn from us adults. If we don’t take good care of ourselves then why would the little ones? As a nation we need educating but we also have the right to choose how to live our lives.

I hope this idea never makes it into practice as all it does is open the door to Councillors to dictate far more than they ever should. People should have an informed choice about what they eat – the lady makes a fine point but also if they choose to eat the less healthy option then that is their choice and not yours. It just reminds me of the day when I was the foreman of a jury and the key witness was an 11 year-old girl and there was a mother in her 40s in the jury room who kept on saying, ‘I don’t think my 11 year-old daughter would lie’ and we’d constantly retort that it wasn’t her 11 year-old that we were having to decide whether they were a credible witness or not. Sometimes people think they should run other people’s lives how they would like to run their families and that my friends (and I suppose foes) is not the role of local Councillors.

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Why we all need to rally round and stop the changes to legal aid – sign the petition today

Last night whilst perusing the interweb I was sent a link to the A Barristers Wife blog and promptly spent the best part of the next hour fully taking in all the content on said blog. I won’t lie when I say it was an eye-opening read however it is one that doesn’t surprise me.

The blog is (unsurprisingly considering the title) the blog of the wife of a Legal Aid lawyer. She is writing about some of the cases that her husband has dealt with and why it is vital that changes to the Legal Aid system as proposed by Chris Grayling do not succeed.

The first one I saw was Exhibit C – the “paedophile”. This is a case her husband worked on where a young boy had claimed that his daddy had been abusing him. It seemed a pretty open and shut case until it came out in court that the young boy in fact called both his dad and his stepdad daddy and that he hadn’t seen his real dad in over a year (because of the charges) and wanted to see him and cried. That doesn’t sound like the actions of a kid who had been abused by this man. The lawyer had worked out that it was in fact the stepfather who was the abuser.

Had the lawyer not taken the case diligently and not strong-armed his client into accepting a guilty plea (because the evidence on paper was pretty clear cut) then a completely innocent man would have rotted away in prison only to leave the real abuser still in control of the young boy.

As an aside here I have been the foreman on a jury in a very similar case. The similarities are uncanny and we fund the defendant not guilty due to essentially we didn’t trust the mother’s account of what happened. Her behaviour didn’t add up to us and that was the key. It is strange that evidence counts for so much but behaviour of witnesses do have a real impact. In the other case I sat on during my spell as a juror we didn’t trust the account of the two alleged victims in a GBH case because of the elaborate way they acted in court.

Anyway back to the case in hand. I continued to read the blog.

Next Exhibit B – the “murderer”. This case was a major national case including a Crimewatch reconstruction. The defendant spent over a year on remand awaiting his trial. The lawyer had to spend two weeks (unpaid) to read through all the background information and on the tenth day found the nugget that showed his client could not have been the murderer. In fact in time the Crown’s own evidence would prove he was incapable of being at the murder scene at the time. If we see the proposed changes of legal aid go through then we’ll get to a state where lawyers are just in the business for profit and not to act in the best interests of their client.

At the end of the piece she writes a summary of ‘Why this story should matter to you’ and if you haven’t clicked on the above link (which I would thoroughly recommend) then here is the summary reproduced in full:

Police & CPS procedure – it is clear that the officer in charge of the case had not done what my husband had done, and sat down and read everything. Evidence is collated and summarised in reports, which are passed up and up through the police rank structure. By the time it gets to the top it is a case of “Chinese whispers”. What the top guy reads is not always an accurate reflection of the evidence.

Performance targets – it is unrealistic to expect the police and prosecution to read all of the evidence in every case under the current system. It certainly won’t be possible, even for the defence, under the proposed system. The allocated defence lawyer will be working to targets, working for profit. He won’t have the time to take two weeks out to find the golden nugget. He’ll take a quick look at the evidence, see that it looks pretty damning, and advise the client to plead guilty.

The real scumbag criminal got away with it – as far as we know the real murderer is still at large. The proposed system will lead to more of this. Because if lawyers are to be paid the same whether clients go to trial or not, there will be less trials. Less trials mean less opportunity for upcoming solicitors and barristers to cut their teeth. Less practice on the more simple cases will lead to less proficiency on the complex ones. This will hold for both the defence AND the prosecution. The end result more innocent people going to prison, more guilty people getting away, quite literally, with murder.

It could happen to you – Exhibit B got picked up for this because he had happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. The Crown’s own evidence showed he could not have been at the murder scene at the right time. He served over a year in prison on remand waiting for trial for something he didn’t do. I’ll spare you the details of what happened to him while he was there. And even though he was found not guilty, mud sticks. He was a young man, just starting out. His life was ruined.

Innocence is not interesting – there was a journalist in court for Exhibit B’s trial. Every day there were articles in the local and national papers saying what a nasty piece of work he was. Once the case was thrown out my husband collared the journalist and demanded that he write the story up, listing the points as the judge had directed the jury. Guess what? He didn’t do it. No wonder the public always believe people are guilty until proven innocent.

Innocence is not interesting. Arguably one of the most damning indictments of modern society and she is right. Do we care about people who are falsely accused? Do we heck. The only time we do is if it happens to us or someone that we know. Until that point in general we couldn’t care less and that is something that saddens me. I’m proud to say that I don’t sit alongside those people and think innocence should be as big a news story as guilt. If a defendant is found guilty of a serious crime it will be front page of the local papers but if the same person is found innocent then it’s a snippet on page 17. That isn’t fair but not only that, it isn’t right.

Next up we have Exhibit A – the “child pornographer”. A tale that starts with a granddad’s computer going wrong and taking it somewhere to be fixed. On the computer were images of naked children and the computer repairer called in the police who then arrested the granddad and charged him with possession of level 1 child pornography. Until the trial no-one (including the CPS barrister nor the defence) had seen the photos and the defence lawyer would not advice his client to enter a guilty plea until he had seen the photos. They were eventually granted access to the photos and the CPS barrister upon seeing them offered no evidence and the case was closed.

The whole incident came about because someone pointed a finger (which in this day and age is pretty standard and we all want to be vigilant on these issues) but instead of the police going to see the accused and going through the case properly they just went for it. It turns out the children were his grandchildren and they had come over one day and had forgotten their bathers so were playing in a paddling pool and shooting water pistols naked. A perfectly innocent explanation and one that could have been nipped in the bud before any serious cost to the public purse. Instead police hours, CPS hours, legal aid hours, the court’s time and costs were all incurred when there was never any need for any of it.

On another blog we see the blog post So you’re a football fan, and think the legal aid cuts won’t affect you? which tells of a common tale that could happen to anyone. As a matter of fact a very similar thing happened to me in my teens and it was only the fact that the copper’s colleague really couldn’t be bothered that I wasn’t arrested.

Now I do not know how I’d have reacted as a what 14/15/16 year-old (I can’t remember exactly how old I was) but the context was it was a school INSET day so we were walking through town towards Seaclose Park to play a bit of football. I was saying to the guys something along the lines of ‘I bet we get pulled over by the police asking us why we aren’t in school’ and literally as I said that a cop car drives past eyeballing us. I point and laugh and say to the guys ‘just like that’ and then about 30 seconds later the car has swung around the block and young copper wants to talk to me/arrest me. Older copper (the driver) just stood there leaning on the car and I saw him just shake his head of the younger officer and so I was told to go away. He said I had sworn at him. I knew I hadn’t. However it was effectively my word against his so I’m hypothesising that the advice given to me would’ve been to accept a caution and not taken it to trial had he in fact done what he wanted to do and arrested me.

Of course it didn’t come to that and it was one rather small run-in with the law but I’m not going to lie. Even that incident affected me for quite a while and even years later it would blindside me and I’d think about it. Essentially it was one coppers decision that he couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork that stopped me potentially having a criminal record. How insane is that?

If the proposed changes to legal aid come in and the emphasis changing from putting the clients best interests first towards providing the best value for money and creating profit for the legal aid accredited companies then something has gone seriously wrong in our justice system. Seriously wrong. The cheapest contract is not always the best. I could say that I could school a whole school for £50 a night but that doesn’t mean I could clean it to a level that they expect and the same goes for lawyers.

We can all find ourselves in legal strife through no fault of our own. It can happen to any of us and that is what is so vital about not only the ability to have legal aid but also quality legal aid. Not all defendants are criminal scumbags and until they are found guilty by a jury of their peers they should be allowed the best possible representation from a diligent lawyer who puts the best interest of their client ahead of their own personal views or profit.

If you believe that everyone has the right to a good level of defence when they are only accused of a crime then you can sign the petition here. I did so last night. I would implore you to do so and if this blog post hasn’t convinced you then please read all the pieces that I have linked to. The right to a good standard of defence and advice is something that we all deserve but because of the way the media like to portray all accused as guilty scumbags until proved otherwise and the way society in the main has moved from innocent until proven guilty to suspicious presumed guilty until proven otherwise then it is all the more important that we defend quality legal aid for all who need it. I don’t use libraries but I can see many people that do and therefore don’t mind my taxes being used to keep them open. The same goes for quality legal aid.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Should those arrested for sexual offences be named in public?

It is a question that comes and goes with various media stories and people have fairly entrenched views on either side of the debate. I am one of those people. I have strong views that due to the fact a not insignificant proportion of society equate an arrest or a charge sheet to guilt. I’ll ask these two questions and I want you to think about it and not just read past it.

If a friend of yours was charged or even just arrested for burglary would you treat them any different? If so, by how much? If the same friend was charged or even just arrested in relation with a sexual offence, certainly one involving children would you treat them any differently? If so, by how much?

Now i don’t have any statistics to back up my point but most people I know would be far more cautious with regards to someone who had been linked to a sexual offence. Certainly if you are a parent then would you want this person around your children? I’d pretty sure you wouldn’t even though they had not been found guilty of anything. An arrest or charge of burglary is a serious crime but there is a distinct different in how many of us perceive sexual crimes and all other crimes. We (rightly) find them more vile but we are also far more ready to err on the safe side in removing those people from our lives before the judicial process has played out.

The old adage of ‘mud sticks’ isn’t there because it isn’t true. It most certainly is true. Anyone who has been arrested or charged with a sexual offence will have that on file for the rest of their lives and it will follow them like a bad smell even if they were found not guilty or the charges were dropped or even if they were never charged. It is fair that innocent people are victimised (I don’t use that word lightly) because we as a society err on the safe side?

This brings me nicely on to my next point. At what point do we decide who the victim is? Do we decide that the victim is the person who has alleged a sexual crime against them from the off or do we decide they are a victim when a jury reaches a guilty verdict? Do we decide that the person arrested/charged is the victim if they are found not guilty or do we still perceive the person who alleges the crime as the victim?

Now clearly this isn’t an easy one to answer because there is a situation where both people can be victims, the person who alleges the crime may well have been the victim of a crime but the person arrested/charged with that crime might not be the right person. In that situation are they both victims or is one of them more of a victim than the other?

We all have different views on this case and one of the most prominent liberal voices out there, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice Stephen Tall has his and they are vehemently to mine. In his post Rape anonymity for the accused: well-intentioned but wrong, he concludes that, ‘Ultimately the best safeguard for maintaining a free and open society is an accountable and open system of justice. Secrecy, however well-intentioned, is hardly ever preferable to transparency, however messy.

Whilst on paper that seems the best way forward I would contend that in the real world that is not plausible. Justice can be seen to be served in a not guilty verdict but that verdict cannot undo the months (and sometimes years) the accused has suffered on multiple fronts. They find their social circle dramatically decreases whilst they await trial as people don’t want to associate with someone charged with such serious offences. They probably are at best suspended by their employer but in many situations they will be fired and are unable to find any more work until they are cleared and if they do it is unlikely to be in a similar field. Also as I hinted at earlier a not guilty verdict doesn’t ex-sponge people’s memories nor does it disappear from your criminal record. Yes you can have a serious criminal record without even being a criminal. A rape/sexual offence arrest/charge stays with you forever.

Some would say they would prefer to know if someone they knew was arrested or charged with such a serious offence as they have to think of their safety as well as that of their children. This is a fair point but at what point does a person constitute a threat? An allegation? An arrest? Being charged? Being found guilty of the crimes? I honestly don’t know but what I do know is that innocent people charged with such serious offences are victims. I’m not saying they are more or less of a victim than the alleged victim but they are victims. Yes a not guilty person can rebuild their life but they will always carry baggage with them and they will also always be looked at through narrower eyes.

I think I should put it out there that I believe the vast majority, let me reiterate that, the vast majority of allegations are made in good faith. We all know there are a number of malicious allegations made but we’ll ignore them for now even though they are a relevant debate. This is about a situation where there is a victim who has been attacked but at what point does the person the police decide is the person who attacked them deserve to have their name made public?

I know many (including Stephen linked to above) bring up the Stuart Hall case where him being named brought forward more victims and ensured a guilty plea and a sexual predator brought to justice but that is but one example. You could make a case for any piece of legislation based on one example. However I always ask the same thing – if you were an innocent person arrested and subsequently charged with such an offence, you lost all your friends and your job and lived a life of limbo for say a year or so before being found not guilty, finding that your social circle still weren’t sure and most of them still didn’t want to know you and then you couldn’t return to your job – or a job of similar standing – then would you feel aggrieved?

Darn straight you would. Your life would have been turned upside down through no fault of your own. Now whilst it is true that rape victims have exactly the same in that their lives are completely turned upside down, do two wrongs make a right? No. No I don’t think so – and more than that – I never will.

So to round this thing up one of two things need to happen, We as a society have to learn the difference between someone being found guilty of a crime compared to being charged or even arrested in connection with a crime (which I don’t think we can do) or we need to keep both the accused and the accuser anonymous until we can find out which of the two (or even if both) are victims.

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Paris Brown. A truly sad tale. Not her twitter ‘rants’ but the Daily Mail’s disgusting attacks.

Paris Brown is a 17 year-old girl. She’s no angel but name me a 17 year-old girl (or boy) who is. She had written some tweets in her time that possibly looking back on she regrets. However I wonder how I’d have been at that age with the ability to leave my thoughts on a website for everyone to easily see. Luckily in a way Twitter, Facebook and social media didn’t really take off until I was well into my 20s and I was old enough (and wise enough) to always think twice before posting anything. I think to myself ‘what would I think if my Mum read this?’ and if I feel as though she’d be disappointed in me then I know it isn’t something I should be writing about publicly. Same goes for this blog.

So this girl wrote something about hash brownies. Big whoop. She says it was a line from Scooby Doo which is actually rather plausible as we all know Shaggy was a stoner. However even if it wasn’t who really gives a rat’s? She wrote about coming home from a party alone and not having anyone to sleep with/shag. Big whoop. A significant number of young people are very sexually active. This wouldn’t mean she wasn’t equipped to do the job she was hired for just because she wishes she had gotten lucky one night. Do the Daily Mail really think their readership believe young people shouldn’t be out enjoying themselves sexually? What horse expletive.

She tweeted about getting drunk. Wow! Stop the freakin’ Presses folks. Young person likes getting ratted and on occasion when they get drunk acts like a twat. Big fucking whoop. Not all young people are as dull and boring as me. I didn’t drink until I was 18 and haven’t drunk since I was 26. In my whole life I can only recall being drunk on three occasions. I am not the norm. However I certainly don’t think a young person drinking is exactly a big issue when it comes to whether she is a good person to do the job for which she was hired. In fact I think the fact she is just like a regular teenager means she is far more of an ideal candidate for this role than I would have been at the same age because she deals with a lot of the issues that I would have had no idea about. Therefore being into alcohol is certainly (in my eyes) an advantage in this instance and most certainly not a negative in any way shape or form.

Now we move on to the tweets she probably regrets. Saying she was glad someone got ‘thumped’ for giving someone else a black eye. However who amongst us having deep down smiled wen someone got their comeuppance? Yeah I thought so. Calling homosexuals fags is probably her worst ‘crime’ but calling immigrants ‘illegals’ and travellers ‘pikeys’ may not be right but it isn’t unusual for young people to talk like that. Do the Daily Mail want to name and shame every young person who uses that language on twitter or does the fact she was appointed into a relatively unknown role give them good cause to tear her down?

The biggest issue for me was the fact the job was set up in the first place. Not really the job per se but the salary and the title. It opened up this poor girl to a political environment and media scrutiny which she didn’t need nor warrant. How about calling it a ‘Youth Liaison Officer’ or something of that ilk? I would bet a fair few quid that if she was appointed as that then this fuss wouldn’t have happened. This should have been some PR and was actually not a terrible idea. Have someone the Police & Crime Commissioner can liaise with about issues facing young people. The youth of today (and my youth, and your youth and everybody’s youth) always complain that the police don’t understand them or listen to them so this should have been a good idea.

Instead the fact she was called the Youth PCC and they made it so public opened up this 17 year-old to unjust and unfair criticism. The Daily Mail should be ashamed of its behaviour but we all know that they won’t be. They essentially hounded a girl from her job (before she’d even taken it up) because they decided she wasn’t the right person based solely on her tweets. They didn’t interview the young lady. They didn’t get to know her and see what she could bring to the position. They just saw one part of her and decided that was enough. Depressingly that sums up the media – and certainly sums up the Daily Mail.

I sure hope she bounces back from this and it will just be a footnote in her life/career. Her tweets were not unlike many others and just because she had a low paying job that was partly funded by the tax payer shouldn’t give the Daily Mail the right to tear her apart. If it does then there are a lot of council workers and civil servants across the country who should be closing down their twitter accounts or making sure they know who can read them and the same goes for Facebook. A role at the tax payers expense does not equate to the right to just crush someone for acting just like anyone else her age.

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Vile product of being a Moustache wearer…

…well it has about as much to do with the story as Mick Philpott being a benefit cheat and on welfare.

The Daily Mail went to town on Philpott today – and justifyingly (apparently that isn’t a word but I think I’ll stick with it) so. However did they concentrate on the fact he masterminded the deaths of six of his own flesh and blood whilst trying to fit someone else up for the crime? No. Did they go after his past and the fact he had been found guilty and served time for attempted murder in his past? No they did not. Then was the story that he wanted all the rest of the money leftover from a fund for the funerals to be given to him in the form of Argos vouchers the A1 lead? No. The fact that he was on welfare was the lead story.

What horse expletive.

The fact he was on welfare was a footnote to the story. This story was about a man who was genuinely vile. There are plenty of murderers about, there are plenty of rapists, there are even plenty of pedophiles but a man to hatch a plot to burn down a house, knowing fully six of his own offspring were inside in the attempts to a) frame his mistress who had left him, b) become a hero (after having rescued them) and c) get a bigger house off the state is starting to outstrip those previous sets of people in terms of being on a different level altogether.

The wife and friend who both went along with and didn’t actively put a halt to his plan aren’t exactly a long way behind him. However the primary motivation seemingly had nothing to do with being on welfare. Yes the prosecution did allege that getting a bigger home was part of his thought process but it certainly was not the primary motivation. This was all about cold blooded revenge in an attempt to get back at a person who dared stand up to him and leave him. Using his own offspring as nothing more than pawns in a scheme so devious that if it was in a film you’d struggle to believe a character could be so cruel.

Still that didn’t stop the Daily Mail from using this tragedy as a pawn itself – in its long standing attack on the benefits system and benefit culture itself. Look there are benefit cheats out there in this country. That is a fact. However the number of benefit cheats pales into insignificance compared to those who use the system correctly and help ensure some level of life for those who need it most. I don’t see the Daily Mail leading on marriage cheats every time a juicy story comes up (actually they probably do) but it hasn’t quite whipped up the storm that benefit cheats do.

If companies paid the correct tax and didn’t use fancy legal loopholes then the money recouped from that would make people laugh at the money illegitimately claimed under the benefits system. We’d say things like, ‘we really cared about that?’ but of course corporation tax and variants there of do not hit home as strongly with middle England compared to people diddling the benefits system. The Daily Mail is talking to a certain section of society – and it isn’t the type of person who likes to be challenge their minds on a subject. They want to be told who they are outraged at and why. Not given the full story.

Philpott, his wife and Mosely will spend either the rest of their lives – or at the very least the majority of it behind bars for what they have done. They are clearly dangerous people and society needs to be protected from them. They are the story and not the Daily Mail but when the newspaper uses such a case as just a lowly pawn to further its own editorial bias then you really do have to despair at them nearly as much.

Mick Philpott is not a product of the welfare system. He is just a vile man. If he was a product of the welfare system then everyone in the welfare system would be like him and I’m pretty darn confident that isn’t the case…

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Did you hear the one about the girlfriend who died of cancer but actually didn’t exist?

One story has dominated the American sports industry over the past 24 hours and it is one of the most bizarre stories that I have ever come across. Deadspin yesterday published the following story Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax. The story details how the girlfriend of an American Football player never existed and when he announced to the world that she had died of cancer it was not accurate because…she didn’t exist.

The thing that has stunned the journalism industry isn’t what happened but more how was the story ever allowed to happen? How come no-one picked up on the fact that she didn’t exist? Didn’t anyone do some background research that would have shown up the fact this was a hoax? As many experienced journalists have said today you take people at their word on issues like these but you do background research, you attempt to speak to the girls parents, her friends, you do something to find out other facets of the story. The fact is no-one did this and the story of Te’o and the death of his girlfriend was allowed to manifest itself is something of a black mark on the whole industry.

This girlfriend who apparently died had no obituary ever written about her. Her funeral was published at being held in two different places – one of these places as a town in California that didn’t even exist. Yet no-one picked up on it. On December 26 Te’O went to his university and told them that the story was a hoax perpetrated on him by sick individuals. The truth according to the player was that he had developed an online relationship and had never met this girl.

His version of events are believable but he knew on December 26th that the story was untrue and yet before the National Championship Game ten days ago he was asked on many occasions about his girlfriend and he still didn’t come clean. He still spoke of her – and her death by cancer – freely and with raw emotion. It just doesn’t add up.

Then a few days ago Deadspin got a tip that the story was a hoax and within a few days they were able to join the dots and release the story linked to earlier, which is in itself a fine piece of journalism. The viewpoint of many of the sports journalists are that whilst they didn’t do their jobs properly they are also under immense pressure not only to be right but more importantly to be first in this 24/7 news cycle world that we live in. Being first brings kudos and brings followers on twitter, likes on Facebook and might, views on the internet, eyeballs on the TV and even the odd extra sale of a newspaper. Being right might not be the be all and end all any more and when everyone is wrong it doesn’t seem to matter as much.

Personally I love the longer, thoughtful piece. I was talking to a friend of mine Tony a few weeks ago about the ESPN show 30 for 30 and how we both really appreciated the proper sports documentary. You can tell the time that had gone into the documentary series and I really enjoyed it. A few weeks ago ITV4 showed a documentary on Jose Mourinho and I found that well worth an hour of my time.

Longer, more thoughtful pieces still have a home in my heart but do they still have a place in sports journalism in this day and age? This story makes me think its place in sports journalism is on the very edge and its not looking in, its drifting even further away and that makes me sad.

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Why are schools trying to turn children into robots?

Did you hear about the girl who was put into isolation for having pink tips in her hair? It is a story that is all too common and one that really gets me hot under the collar. It has been a while since I was boarding school buses and going to a compulsory education establishment day in, day out but one thing I do remember is back then I seemed to have a bit more latitude with how I looked. Not that I ever had crazy hair or anything but others did and there wasn’t too much hassle.

I know the old Al Murray saying, ‘Rules is Rules’ but on the flip side what is the role of a school? Is it to educate the young of today and get them ready for the world or is it to educate the young of today and go whatever it takes to get the best exam results possible? I argue the former and part of that is nurturing youngsters individuality and creativity. My old High School is now a College apparently so I had a look at their website and had a look at their aims for students:

Our aims are those of the Island Innovation Trust. We are committed to:

• Ensure all students achieve to their full potential.
• Encourage all students to have strong aspirations for their future.
• Promote health, welfare and safety of all students.
• Develop a learning environment which promotes:
• Independent learning
• High expectations
• Creativity
• Individuality
• Enjoyment
• Practical learning opportunities
• Enterprise

Then I looked at their uniform policy and what students are not allowed to do:

The following items are NOT allowed:

 Denim, leather or suede (or similar looking materials) coats/jackets or multicoloured outdoor clothes
 Shorts, leggings or skinny fit trousers (except PE shorts worn for lessons)
 Canvas leisure shoes, deck shoes or boots
 Trainers, (only to be used in PE)
 Cloth Badges on indoor or outdoor clothes
 Inappropriate makeup
 No jewellery to be worn, except a watch and one earring up to 5mm in each ear.
 No other piercings are allowed.
 Hair must be worn in an appropriate style.
 No extreme styling or designs of hair or eyebrows e.g. lines, intricate patterns. Only hair of one natural colour allowed and no false nails or coloured nail varnish is allowed.

Something didn’t add up. They want to encourage creativity and individuality but look at some of the restrictions students are faced with. Look I am fine with students having a uniform mainly because if students could wear what they wanted it could easily lead to bullying with people looking down on kids who wore non-fashionable clothes etc. but what is wrong with people showing individuality through hair colour?

Also not listed here but hooded tops are not allowed and students wearing them will not be allowed into the school. I mean are we for real? Have we got to the stage where we want to stifle the youth of today to such a dramatic degree? Imagine spending 16 years of your life not being allowed to experiment with your hair or being nurtured to explore your own identity? I know not everyone explores there own identity through hair colour or piercings or whatever but that is a huge part of growing up.

Does having pink dye really change anyone’s learning environment? If a girl has pink tips will the rest of the class spend lessons designing their own hair colour schemes or designs? In the article the school in question doesn’t even allow shaved heads. Carisbrooke College says that hair must be worn in an appropriate style but as a teenager I grew my hair long. Would that be appropriate or not? When I grew my hair was is distracting for other people?

I’d love to see young people encouraged by schools to explore every aspect about who they are because we are all different. School is not just about exam results but about preparing the youth of today for life after compulsory education. Growing up is hard enough without young people having their individuality and creativity straitjacketed.

When I was a lad I didn’t like school uniform. I mean who honestly did? I did see the logic behind it though but a line has to be drawn somewhere to allow young people the chance to express themselves. I hope schools can sort this out as at the moment I see a lot of people being engineered to get good exam results but good exam results doesn’t automatically mean they grow up well and balanced. At some point schools have to understand that exam results are not the be all and end all and that nurturing young people to explore themselves is just as important part of the whole educational process.

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They pre-empted a football game for an Obama talk on guns at a memorial service? Are they are reals?

Damn straight they are buckos.

In case you were unaware we saw a genuine tragedy in the United States last week as a young men went mad in an elementary school killing 27 people including himself and it is 28 when you add that he killed his mother before reaching the school. 20 of those that died were young children.

This is a huge story and it has really made a dent in the psyche of the American citizen but when the tragedy impacts the number one football game of the week then it becomes too much.

Yes last night the networks all opted-out of regular scheduled programming to bring President Obama’s speech at the Newtown Memorial Service. The issue for many was that the speech was just after 8:30 EST and at that time there is the number one weekly sporting event on network TV – the NBC Sunday Night Football telecast. So a few minutes into the game the announcer Al Michaels said they were stepping away from the game to take the President’s speech and NBC opted out. The game did continue on their cable network NBC Sports.

However far too many people thought this wasn’t good enough and took to twitter to complain about the decision to opt-out of the NFL game. Deadspin takes up the story with the quoted titled story – “Take That Nigger Off The TV, We Wanna Watch Football!”: Idiots Respond To NBC Pre-Empting Sunday Night Football.

So many of the tweets are just insane. You have to wonder if these people have a brain in their heads. This is also the reason why I think the likelihood to gun law changes in the US is so unlikely even though to sane observers it seems like the obvious thing that needs to happen. I won’t quote them all but here are a handful of the tweets of anger that the President was talking when there was an NFL game on:

WOOW THEY TOOK OFF SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL!! TO WATCH THIS NIGGER!! OBAMA TALK ABOUT THE SHOOTING NIGGA IDGAF! THE PATROITS PLAYING!!!

Obama can eat shit, trying to make a speech during the football game. Unacceptable

You have got to be fucking kidding me Obama, you stupid motherfucker. It’s football time in America not you to give a speech you fuck!

Obama instead of Football are they nuts? Who cares what the twerp has to say. #@whitehouse #POTUS #NBC

Yes the shooting is sad but Obama is ruining millions of kids lives daily & i want to watch some damn football, fuck you Obama

Just a quick reply to all of these tweets one on one. Someone doesn’t give a fuck about the shooting because the ‘PATROITS’ are playing. Classy and he can’t even spell Patriots. Yeah unacceptable that the President is making a speech during an NFL game. If someone nuked American soil on a Sunday night should the President wait to tell the nation they are at war until after the NFL? Football over lives is a stupid position to take. Lots of people care very deeply about what the President has to say and lastly if you want to watch some damn football then just change the freaking channel dumbass. I have noticed several of the people quoted in that piece have deleted their twitter accounts.

I’m cynical on whether the President has the guts to take on the gun lobby. I hope he does. I really hope he does. He is a second term President and therefore has a bit more freedom but taking on the gun lobby is a different kettle of fish. A friend of mine said last night that the biggest issue isn’t even the NRA but those anarchists who think that they need an easy supply of guns in case they ever need to overthrow the government. Just how scary is that?

Personally the fact no-one even hinted at any gun discussion after the Virginia Tech massacre appals me but it seems that when the people slain are of elementary age people care far more than they do when those gunned down are of university age.

Writing just a couple of weeks ago I wrote Bob Costas uses his Prime Time TV audience to talk gun control laws after NFL murder-suicide. It is something that America as a nation has to look at if they want to stop so many senseless deaths. After 9/11 so many laws were changed after 3,000 people died but nearly one third of a million people have died as a direct result of gun related crime this century in the United States and yet nothing has happened nor even been discussed.

When that poor girl asked Will McAvoy at Northwestern University, ‘what makes America the greatest country in the world?’ the answer certainly had nothing to do their views on guns. Guns alone may not kill people but if people have a free and easy access to a gun then they’ll be more likely to use it to harm another. Gun control is what Americans deserve because they deserve the feeling of being safe but when people say that this episode shows that teachers should in fact be armed it says a lot about how deep the gun culture is in the USA and that is the battle the anti-gun brigade face.

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Bob Costas uses his Prime Time TV audience to talk gun control laws after NFL murder-suicide.

If you have any knowledge of the US Sports scene then you’ll know of Bob Costas. He has been one of the faces and voices of sports broadcasting in the country for over 30 years. Part of his duties is to front NBC’s NFL TV coverage and on Sunday he worked the nationally televised Prime Time game as per usual. Just over 24 hours earlier a Kansas City Chief had killed his wife, driven to the stadium and thanked his coach and the general manager of the team before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide in front of them. Yet the next day the Kansas City Chiefs played their scheduled game.

It was a tragedy that a young two-month old baby girl lost both her parents. That a young woman was slayed in her prime. It is hard to feel any sympathy for the man who committed these crimes but you have to sense that he was deeply troubled. This though isn’t the point. The point is would these two people still be alive today if the second amendment to the US Constitution wasn’t in place.

Now Bob Costas used his privileged position to further his thoughts on this subject following a piece by noted columnist Jason Whitlock. In his piece ‘In KC, it’s no time for a game‘ Whitlock speaks first of all about why the game should have been cancelled but goes on to make the wider point about gun culture. Whitlock is a middle-aged black man and Costas is a older generation white man. Many think this is a racial issue and have slated Costas for his views but he was referencing Whitlock’s work.

To view Costas’ monologue please watch the inserted video below:

Here is the important part of Whitlock’s piece that Costas was referencing:

In the coming days, Belcher’s actions will be analyzed through the lens of concussions and head injuries. Who knows? Maybe brain damage triggered his violent overreaction to a fight with his girlfriend. What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

I personally do not have an issue with either Whitlock writing what he did nor Bob Costas using his position to talk on the subject. A large majority of the American public seem to. A significant proportion of people believe that Costas was ripping on black people as a lot of young black men in America believe that guns are an important part of their culture. So an attack on guns is an affront to them.

I disagree strongly. If Jevon Belcher didn’t own a gun then the likelihood is that two people would not be dead today and a young baby girl would not have been orphaned on Saturday morning. Over here in the UK we see an increasing amount of young people carrying around knifes to protect themselves but of course what we see is the likelihood of you using a knife is vastly increased if you have one on your person. When the adrenaline kicks in we as human beings do not make the best choices. You are more likely to be stabbed if you possess a knife when out and about than if you do not. It is the same with guns. If you don’t have one to hand then you are far less likely to ever use one.

The right to bear arms is an antiquated law but is one that will never change because of deep rooted beliefs. If guns were illegal then a few people with illegal guns would be able to carry out more crimes but with guns being so readily available it means that many, many more people will be shot and die at the hands of someone in a moment of passion or pique of anger. If you don’t have a weapon to hand then you are far less likely to go out and get one after the red mist has dissipated.

This was a terribly sad moment but alas it is all too uncommon. A friend of mine in New York was called up to do jury duty a while back and it was a murder case. He didn’t have to sit on it but I enquired saying that murder is a pretty big crime so it must be a big case and his response was cold saying that ‘it probably wouldn’t even make the papers.’ When a murder isn’t even a crime that makes the newspapers then something is wrong.

I think my view is pretty clear but I just wanted to defend Whitlock (whom I often do not agree with) and certainly Costas who used the largest TV audience of the night to hammer home his thoughts on the issue. Gun control is an issue that no American President will ever tackle because they are too scared to do so. This is a sad state of affairs but would an frank and open national news debate about gun control be a good thing? It sure would but it will never never happen. This is the type of news story I’d want Will McAvoy and his team to take on but I doubt anyone will.

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The NUS are undertaking #demo2012 today but why are the University of Manchester strong-arming societies and what good will it do?

Well folks today is the big day. I’m getting married… psyche! As if. No today is the today the 18-22 generation are going to change not only their own futures but change the world. Yes it is the National Union of Students 2012 Demo as thousands of NUS kids flock into the capital to tell the government of the day that they don’t care about the young generation and they feel they need to change everything in Westminster and bring back the Labour Party who never introduced tuition fees and never proposed a students tax that students would be paying back for the rest of their lives. No the Labour Party would save the students…

There are several issues that I’d like to talk about and the first is the fact a major metropolitan university seemingly tried to strong-arm their student faculty into buying tickets to go to the demo in London. This university was the university of Manchester whose SU sent out an e-mail saying, ‘In order to be sure of Silver or Gold Award, societies will need to send 10 members to buy tickets (£8.50 to London is an absolute steal!) and thus show support for the national student movement.‘. The person in question who sent out this e-mail was Tommy Fish who is Activities & Development Manager. Having done a spot of research his job doesn’t seem to include ‘heavily implying societies should be doing things to ensure their funding for political purposes’ but maybe I just missed it?

Look I’m no legal expert but I’m pretty sure saying that funding would be guaranteed by purchasing so many tickets for this demo is pretty stinky and kinda blackmail-y? Or maybe it is just greasing the wheels but either way it stinks. Flat out stinks.

There is an e-petition about this entitled University of Manchester Students’ Union: Society funding should not be contingent on endorsement of political causes and I’d fully implore you to sign. As the petitioner shows it isn’t about the demo itself but is about whether funding from the Student Union should be dependent on societies being able to buy tickets to the demo and sending a minimum amount of people to something that they may not have a big issue with.

I think that is a disgrace but lets be honest a lot of this is a disgrace. I’m fully down with free speech and if these people want to protest then I have zero issue with that but what I do care about is whether they are spreading lies or untruths with their reasoning for demonstrating. The official Demo 2012 website says that the protest is about Education, Employment and Empowerment. I can understand the first two but the third is a bit bizarre but still lets look at the three issues one by one.

Education is important. They say, ‘The government has placed this under attack from all fronts – by scrapping the EMA, slashing undergraduate teaching funding, increasing tuition fees, introducing draconian restrictions on international students, cutting funding for post-graduate students, hiking fees for adult learners looking to gain basic skills, causing funding chaos in the nations…‘ One issue I have with this…does education start at 16? By the sounds of it according to the NUS it does. Do they not care about the Pupil Premium and ensuring that more people get a better education throughout their first eleven years of compulsory education?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again. I’d prefer everyone to get a better education for the first eleven years for free and then have to pay beyond that if the alternative was free education for all after 16 and having an inadequate education system up to 16. If they are the only two options on the table I want to fund compulsory education to the fullest that we can and that is where I stand. Therefore I can’t stand alongside these demonstrators certainly when I look at how Americans have much worse student debt and how it was pretty much a straight choice (in the real world and not in idealistic la la land) of either dumbing down education for making people pay (in the long term – not in the short term) for good after 18 education. I mean seriously they were the options so what would you do?

Moving on to Employment and I can see what they are talking about here. I took two years after university to get a full-time job so I know what it is like. It is a genuinely soul-destroying experience so I do think the government need to find a better way to encourage young persons employment. So yes this is an issue and something that should be talked about more and if the protest just talked about this then I could see good, solid reasoning behind it but alas it isn’t.

Lastly Empowerment. Basically the NUS are saying that the Lib Dems lied and that they want the Lib Dems obliterated so that the Tories can screw them even more after 2015. Wait a minute they actually want Labour to win as Labour will save the day and make higher education free for all. Vive la revolution but of course if the Lib Dems were all kicked to the curb there are more Tory/LD marginals than Labour/LD marginals so if the Lib Dems withered and died in 2015 then Labour would lose. Woes. One line I love from their official website is thus:

Politicians have let education and employment slip off the agenda, but now we have an opportunity to create a movement that empowers us to take back our future.

Education and employment have slipped off of the agenda? Are you freaking kidding me NUS? Are you freaking kidding me? Are you sure this is true or is this pathetic propaganda to fit your narrative and try and justify your demonstration? As a politico I keep a pretty close eye on what is going on and do you know what? I’ve seen employment and the economy pretty high up in what is going on – in fact I think I’d go as far as to say it is the biggest issue out there that the government are tacking.

Also Education might not be top of the pile but it is certainly not being ignored. The Pupil Premium is out there and expect more Pupil Premium news in the next budget. Just because in our 24hour news cycle world you don’t hear about Education every single day it doesn’t mean it is being ignored. If you want people to take you seriously then don’t make stuff up. The NUS are fast becoming ‘the boy who cried wolf’ and they aren’t being listened to or trusted any more. People probably trust Newsnight and The X Factor more than they do the NUS – and that my friends is saying something.

Lastly and least importantly (but still deserving of a mention) is talk about what these people will be chanting tomorrow. Stace talks about it here and you can get a screenshot of the proposed chants here and whilst the fact they need cheat sheets might actually be the biggest issue the chants do nothing to further their cause and are just politically motivated (and in some cases are just flat out lies). They need to decide if they hate David Cameron, Nick Clegg, the Tories or the Lib Dems more. At the moment there is no cohesive argument apart from Labour seem great.

Look I know I was only a teenager at the time but I don’t recall mass NUS protests when The Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 came into force. Yes I recall some dissatisfaction but I don’t recall mass protests. Are we saying that £3k is fine and a Student Tax would be fine as well but a £9k maximum is too far? Or are we saying that Labour’s proposals are more favourable because the NUS are essentially Labour Youth? I would love to know whether the people protesting today are protesting about the fact students should pay anything or about the fact the Tories and the Lib Dems are in power?

If the protests today were just about raising awareness of young persons unemployment then I’d back it but it isn’t. It is about politics. The fact that the university of Manchester’s Student Union are strong-arming their societies is extremely troubling but it doesn’t surprise me. Many large student unions are staffed by people who have never worked out in the real world and still believe in idealistic claptrap. Well I live in the real world and things aren’t perfect. Young unemployment is a real issue boys and girls but kicking out the Lib Dems for making the decisions they did on tuition fees and not being realistic with budgets, finances and even the increase in education spending for compulsory education for the most needy is not.

All this demo will do is give a few people criminal records for being idiots. Give the police a hard day. Make many people feel big and important and do very little (or indeed nothing) to further their cause. Demonstrations are great if something can come of it but are the government going to change course because of this? No. Are people going to change their 2015 General Election vote on the strength of this? No. So what good can it do? Please tell me folks what good can this do?

I await your responses *watches tumbleweed flow through*

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