#politics

I don’t normally let Facebook posts get to me. I know that the ones I find misinformed or offensive are usually there just to get a reaction; I know that even a well-argued comment won’t change someone’s deeply held viewpoint. I’ll debate in person, as long as it doesn’t get personal, but I won’t feed the trolls.

Lately, though, I’ve been seeing things that really frustrate me, and many of them coming from people I love.

Say NO to new Junior Doctors’ contracts. Nurses are awesome! Cuts will kill patients. #saveournhs. Share if you agree.

And the thing is, I do agree. For all its faults, I think the National Health Service is one of the UK’s greatest achievements and most important resources. I think the people who work within it are nothing short of champions, and I am proud to have many of them among my friends. I believe that the people of Britain deserve a well-funded healthcare system, and that healthcare workers deserve fair pay and reasonable hours. So why do I feel a fizzle of rage when I see these posts? It’s because I know that many of these people voted in May, and they voted for the same people who are cheerfully dismantling the NHS.

London Underground workers went on strike this summer over changes to their work schedules. Instantly my Facebook feed was flooded with angry Londoners reviling those who dared to stand up for their rights in the workplace. Tube drivers were spoiled, overpaid layabouts who had the audacity to disrupt everyone’s morning commute over something as petty as being asked to completely change their lifestyles in order to keep their jobs. The cheek of it all! Unions were trying to drag us back in time – there was no place for industrial action in 2015. BoJo had come for the Tube workers, and we did not only say nothing; we cheered. And now another one of our key services is under threat. The government is trying to tell us that working all hours of the day and night is a new norm, despite extensive evidence that it has a negative impact on both our health and productivity. We didn’t care about the people driving our trains and manning our stations.  Now the people saving our lives are involved, it’s a different story. And that’s understandable – but the standards we allow to be set apply to the entire workforce. Either we support workers’ rights, or we don’t.

I shouldn’t be angry; this I know. Everyone has a right to their opinion and to vote as they see fit. Nobody’s views will perfectly line up with one party’s manifesto. Every political choice is a compromise, and we’re all hypocrites sometimes. And if these people are seeing the results of their choices, and changing their minds, that should be encouraged. I just hope that lessons are learned. That next time a posh white guy in a suit tries to make you scared of terrorists, or tells you he’ll stop those pesky immigrants from camping in your back garden, you wonder what else he has on the agenda. That when somebody waves a shiny new tax credit for married couples in front of you, you pause and consider where that money might be coming from. That next time our under-regulated banking system implodes, instead of staring at the guy at the benefits office in a grubby tracksuit that everyone keeps pointing at, you take a hard look at the people wandering casually away from the rubble with pockets full of money. And maybe ask if they’ve got a few bob to spare for some nurses? Ta.

Because all the posting and liking and sharing is great, but it won’t save the world, or even the NHS. In five years’ time, your vote might – let’s just hope it’s not too late.

Can’t wait for Serial Season 2? Five awesome podcasts to download today.

I am instantly suspicious of things everybody likes. I know, I’m a horrible snob, but I can’t help it. The minute everyone starts banging on about the same show or book or movie, my first thought is ‘it can’t be that good.’ Sometimes I’m completely justified; Lost, Twilight, the entire Pirates of the Caribbean franchise… The downside is, sometimes I’m awkwardly late to the party when something genuinely fantastic appears. So it was with Serial, the podcast that gripped listeners the world over when it launched in October 2014. I heard rumblings on the internet about the show, which grew louder as time went on until even the national newspapers’ spidey senses were tingling. Serial went from surprise hit, to online sensation, to full-on cultural phenomenon, and I went…‘meh.’

Which only goes to prove what I already knew; sometimes I’m a complete idiot. I finally took the plunge this summer and was instantly hooked, blasting through all 12 episodes in a few days. Unsurprising given my addiction to mystery novels, true crime and police procedurals; Serial combines the best elements of all of these genres, offering a compelling narrative, genuine pathos, and a fascinating insight into the workings of the justice system. If you’re even more behind the times than me, be sure to check it out at http://serialpodcast.org/

Whether you’re in camp #FreeAdnan or still sitting on the whodunit fence, when the show ended most listeners were left hungry for more. Season 2 of Serial is expected to drop sometime near the end of this year, and is rumoured to be covering the story of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban and accused of deserting his post in Afghanistan. Until then, here are a few suggestions to sate your appetite for mystery and keep your ears busy.

Criminal
Why were the 19th century’s most gruesome murders immortalized in song? How could a plaster statue of Buddha transform a dangerous neighbourhood? Appropriately named host Phoebe Judge takes a look at the world of crime and punishment from every angle; victims, criminals, law enforcement, and the rest of us reading the papers. I’ve driven twice round the block on my way home from work because I can’t stop listening to an episode. Truly fascinating stuff.
http://thisiscriminal.com/

Detective
The detectives in the Hae Min Lee case could be the heroes or the villains of the story, depending on your view. But behind every story are real people, trying to get the job done and close cases. Retired Colorado Springs Detective Joe Kenda reminisces about his experiences in this podcast, and gives listeners a glimpse of everyday life in the homicide division. The episodes are short, but some of them will stay with you long after you stop listening.
https://audioboom.com/channel/detective

Limetown
A gated compound in the middle of nowhere. An enigmatic scientist with wild ideas and dubious methods. A terrified 911 call, and then…nothing. What really happened to the citizens of Limetown? Fictional mysteries are no less absorbing when they’re done the right way, and this documentary style drama is the perfect creepy podcast as the nights draw in.
http://www.limetownstories.com/

The Black Tapes Podcast
If Serial taught us anything, it’s that ‘truth’ is subjective. Confirmation bias means we tend to see what we believe will be there. Dr. Richard Strand is trying to prove to the world that the paranormal is all in our minds. Standing in his way are his collection of ‘Black Tapes’; cases that even he can’t explain. Journalist Alex Reagan joins him on a series of creepy cases, and tries to solve the ultimate mystery; the one locked in Dr. Strand’s past. Do you believe?
http://theblacktapespodcast.com/

Undisclosed
There have been many Serial spin-offs, as fans took to the airwaves to continue the crusade and share their own theories. But for those who want to dig deeper into the events of January 13th, 1999, Undisclosed is the ultimate companion. Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer who first introduced Sarah Koenig to Adnan Syed, explores every avenue of the case, unearthing some tantalising new facts along the way. Whatever your take on the case, delving into the details is a fascinating and frustrating ride.
http://undisclosed-podcast.com/

Setting the Standard

I’ve always had a weakness for magazines. Part of it comes from my need to be constantly reading something, anything, but there’s also the delightful glossiness of them, the bite-sized tidbits of gossip, the beautiful pictures of clothes I can neither pull off nor afford. I hate making small talk with the person cutting my hair*, but I live for that moment when the foils are in, the timer is set, and I’m presented with a cup of tea and a fat stack of that week’s mags. Heaven. They don’t have to be posh ones either. Since I relocated to Canada, my Dad sends me care packages full of the flimsy titles you can get for 60p in corner shops in the UK – Pick Me Up, Take Me Out, Closer… they’re full of made up celebrity gossip and ‘real life’ stories that veer between the hilarious and the terrifying. Often they meet in the middle: ‘My kidnapper fed me Findus Meat Pies’ is still one of my favourite headlines.

 

And now, the nation of my birth has given me yet another gift, and one that does not have to be a guilty pleasure. You see, the older I get, the more conscious I become of the negative messages that run through magazines aimed at women. The fact that every woman featured has to be categorized by her age, height, weight and dress size; that half the stories are about losing weight, putting stuff on your face and hair to make you look more acceptable, and which celebrities have done the best job at either of these things. I still laugh at Cosmopolitan’s more, ahem, ‘creative’ sex tips, and feel sorry for the unwitting boyfriends on the receiving end of all the ball nibbling and limb contortions. But I also have to think; why are we being told to try quite this hard to make ourselves desirable? **

 

So I thank my lucky stars for Standard Issue; an online women’s magazine that shows modern womanhood in all its confusing, wonderful, messy glory. There’s no full page spreads about shoes; it tackles the big issues head on, from the migrant ‘crisis’ to the battle for access to abortion. It talks about things like mental illness without being either overly dramatic or too general  – just real  people talking about real experiences. I’m also a big fan of the arts coverage – intelligent without being pretentious, fun but not frivolous. Standard Issue’s contributors are freelance writers, bloggers and comedians, and they bring a fresh and very funny perspective to life’s everyday woes and triumphs. Reading feels like having a good old catch-up with your best friend; the one who you can tell about your most embarrassing problems, and they always make you see the funny side.
standard issue
I was going to pick a favourite regular feature, but I can’t; there’s just too many good ones. But special mentions go to Slattern’s Diary, which never fails to make me feel a bit better about my own mess, Letter to My Hometown, an ode to the place that made you who you are, and Donkeys and Elephants, keeping you up to date with all the latest madness in US politics.

Best of all, it’s only available to read online, and it’s 100% free. I’m saving a few trees, and the $7.00 I would have spent on learning about the latest celebrity to slim down to a size 2, using only a dedicated personal trainer and secret gastric band surgery. Sounds like a win to me.

*My stylist is lovely, I’m just horribly anti-social.
** Not that this is exclusive to women’s magazines; Men’s Health and the like are just as bad. Boys, feel free to join us over at Standard Issue; no six-pack required.

7 Reasons you should go watch BoJack Horseman RIGHT NOW.

Seriously. I mean, read this first, but then proceed directly to Netflix.

  1. The theme music. It’s the kind of tune you immediately google, only to find it was written by one of the Black Keys, thus explaining its awesomeness. You then make it the soundtrack to your next cocktail party, or just stick it on to feel cool while you eat Cheetos in your PJ’s, depending how you roll. The song at the closing credits is also incredible; a little something to ease the pain of another great episode being over.BoJack
  2. Half of the characters are animals. Or more like 25%, since half the characters are half animal; from the neck down they seem fairly human shaped. It’s a fairly blended society, none of that segregated Sylvanian Families bollocks, so you get to see horses make out with owls and dogs marry humans. Although animals still need their own TV awards shows; multispeciesism can only do so much.
  3. The core of the story has genuine emotional depth. Bojack is a lonely, washed-up has-been with a shedload of baggage. He drinks too much, does too many drugs and sabotages himself at every opportunity. But it can’t get too depressing, because he’s a humanoid horse, who chomps prescription painkillers off his coffee table like sugar cubes and snorts when he’s frustrated.
  4. It’s got all your favourite people in it. Will Arnett is on his finest form since Arrested Development – if he promises never to make another sitcom about parenting, all is forgiven. Community’s Alison Brie is his biographer/love interest, and Jesse Pinkman Aaron Paul is unsurprisingly excellent as the hapless sidekick. Add in plenty of well-known guest stars, and you get a free game of ‘Who’s that voice?’ with every episode.
  5. It’s just surreal enough. BJH is never afraid to get weird, but it’s not going to go full The Mighty Boosh on you with no warning.* Sure, Bojack’s agent/ex-girlfriend is dating a guy who is actually three kids in a trench coat. And she’s a cat. But this is Hollywood – that’s not the strangest thing that’s happened there this week. In this alternate version, the paparazzi are still hiding in trees and flying over mansions for aerial shots, but it makes way more sense when they’re pigeons.
  6. Daniel Radcliffe guest stars in Season 2. As befits a man who was a millionaire before he grew pubes, D-Rad doesn’t waste time on bog standard comedy cameos. His prophylactic wielding turn in Ricky Gervais’ Extras is the stuff of legend, but he’s also lent his voice to The Simpsons, Robot Chicken…and now BoJack. Harry Potter knows his comedy, and he only makes time for the best.
  7. The sooner you finish binge-watching the first two seasons, the sooner you can start re-watching from the beginning again, and spotting all those little jokes you missed the first time around. Be sure to laugh extra loudly and point them out to your significant other/forum buddies/beloved family pet.

*If you haven’t seen The Mighty Boosh…wow, look, this is a tough one. It’s not that you’re a bad person per se, it’s just…I mean, maybe you just hate funny things? Maybe you just don’t love yourself enough to seek out genuinely exceptional comic material? Take a good, hard look in the mirror, get your priorities straight, and you can come back on the internet when you’ve finished the box set.

An Outbreak of Awkwardness

Do you know what’s really, really awkward? People dying of easily preventable diseases. I’m not talking about third world countries here, where a lack of access to basic sanitation and medical care means vulnerable people succumb to simple ailments like diarrhoea. I’m talking about the developed world, the land of segways and shopping malls, where having to get up to change the channel on your TV is a major inconvenience, right up there with washing your own dishes and blankets that don’t have sleeves. This is a place where medical science works miracles on a daily basis, curing and preventing diseases that only decades ago struck fear into the hearts of families everywhere. A veritable Magic Kingdom of progress, if you will…yeah, you see where I’m going with this.

Right now, in the 21st century, in one of the world’s most privileged and affluent regions, the most vulnerable members of our society are under threat from a measles outbreak. Measles. A disease that was once responsible for 48,000 hospitalizations in the US every year, and 500 deaths. A disease that should have been banished to the history books, alongside the consumption, feminine hysteria and the plague. And like the poor innocents who perished as the Black Death swept through Europe, we are powerless to stop it, our only hope being to avoid communal gathering places like schools, theatres and theme parks until the whole thing has blown over. Except that’s bollocks, of course, we’ve had the power to stop it all along. Certain members of our society, through ignorance, selfishness and fear, have simply chosen not to do so.

Vaccination is old technology. Even before its introduction to Europe in the early 18th century, the Ottomans were performing primitive inoculations by inserting fresh pus from a smallpox patient into an open wound. In 1721, the Reverend Cotton Mather recommended widespread inoculation to the citizens of Boston to combat a smallpox epidemic. This was a risky enterprise, using unsterilized equipment and live virus, and it carried around a 2% mortality rate. But when compared to the 15-20% fatality rate of naturally contracted smallpox, which in the Boston epidemic affected half the population of the city, many volunteers were willing to play those odds. Edward Jenner’s famous 1796 discovery that the non-lethal cowpox virus could prevent it’s deadlier relation made vaccination a widespread practice across England, and by 1800 the vaccine had made its way across the pond, endorsed by none other than Thomas Jefferson. By 1855 Massachusetts had passed the first US law mandating smallpox vaccination for schoolchildren.

As the great scientists of the 19th century peered through their microscopes and identified the tiny organisms causing deadly epidemics, hope rose that mankind could win the war against infectious disease. By 1924 French scientists were vaccinating children against TB, a disease responsible for 25% of all fatalities in the previous century. In 1953 there were 35000 cases of Polio in the US, an untreatable illness that can cause muscle paralysis, leaving some children unable to walk or even breathe without assistance. The oral polio vaccine was licensed 1957, and by 1961 the annual case total had fallen to 161. In 1980, the WHO declared that smallpox, the scourge that had started it all, had been eradicated worldwide through vaccination.

Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, the United States saw hundreds of thousands of infections per year. Individuals without immunity who come into contact with an infected person have a 90% chance of contracting the virus. And yet a certain group of individuals seem to believe that with enough organic mung beans and echinacea, they are not at risk. Or even if they are, that the risk is less than the nebulous threat of ‘toxins’ used as preservatives in vaccines, or the debunked link between MMR and Autism. They make that decision not only for themselves and their families, but for those too young or too immunocompromised to be vaccinated, who rely on herd immunity to protect them. Herd immunity kicks in at around a 95% vaccination rate. Currently around 91% of children in the US are vaccinated; there are schools where rates are as low as 20%. Tales of wealthy parents paying doctors to falsify their vaccination records puts even these figures into doubt. It is not an exaggeration to call this a public health time bomb. And as the vaccine itself is only around 95% effective, if measles gains a foothold, even those sensible enough to have their vaccinations could still be at risk.

In common with the majority of people who oppose vaccinations, I am not a scientist or a medical professional. I have only a basic understanding of the mechanisms of the human immune system. But I have yet to see any compelling evidence of vaccinations causing widespread harm to children that goes beyond mild and temporary discomfort. With any medical treatment, there will be a few unfortunate individuals who suffer adverse reactions; check the warning label on any product in your medicine cabinet . These instances are devastating for those involved, in the same way that a fatal car accident has a horrific impact upon the family of the deceased. We gasp and feel a pang of anxiety when we read about it in the paper. But we still get in our cars and drive to work the next day, safe in the knowledge that statistically, it probably won’t be us. Undoubtedly, there have been some children who have been injured by receiving vaccinations, and each of these cases is a tragedy, worthy of investigation so that the scientific community can continue to improve the safety of these procedures. But the number of reported cases is incredibly tiny. The now discredited paper by Andrew Wakefield published in British medical journal The Lancet, which kicked off the entire MMR autism controversy, was based on case studies of twelve children. Yes, your read that correctly, twelve out of the thousands of children in the UK who receive the MMR vaccine every year. And the total number of cases of autism worldwide proven to have been caused by the MMR vaccine? One – ish. An Italian court judgement in 2012 did find in favour of the parents of a 15 month old boy, but the legal team relied heavily upon Wakefield’s Lancet article and the decision remains under appeal.

So why do these parents continue to refuse to vaccinate their children, even as the outbreak spreads and, seventeen years after the Lancet article, the scientific community continue to state that vaccination is safe? There is a certain elitism at play here; those that follow public health mandates are ‘sheep’, pawns of the government and Big Pharma, who will believe anything that advertising and over fifty years worth of evidence tells them. Vaccine manufacturers are only in it for the money, with no concern for our children’s safety; whereas I’m sure their homoeopath and organic grocer provide their goods and services entirely free of charge. Americans are particularly at risk due to their inherent distrust of their own government, scientific fact, or anyone who tries to tell them what to do and is not a celebrity. Also a factor is that vaccination has no visible, immediate benefits, none of the instant gratification that the modern world teaches us to expect. To be protected against a disease that has not posed a threat in our lifetimes, when we have never seen an actual case or witnessed the suffering it causes, does not seem that important. We are all content to be complacent, until the moment the wolf is at the door. Perhaps this explains why affluent Americans are reluctant to administer a single injection to their children, a procedure that has overwhelmingly been proven safe, but will happily subject themselves to all manner of plastic surgeries despite the proven risks of general anaesthesia and hospital acquired infections.

We can ponder forever the reasoning, the twisted logic of people who exercise their ‘right to choose’ in the face of all available evidence, and to the detriment of themselves and everyone around them. Such is their belief that the minority must have the upper hand, that our arguments will only serve to strengthen their resolve. Governments across the world could do more to enforce vaccination, but as long as they wealthy and powerful are amongst the naysayers they will be too fearful to do so. All we can do is watch the news, watch the number of cases climb, and watch the needless suffering that ensues.

Awkward Zombies : The Walking Dead S5E01

Isn’t it awkward when you’re in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and someone thinks this is an appropriate Halloween costume?

zombiecarol

I mean, come on, Carol; ever heard the phrase ‘too soon’?

Yup, it’s Season 5 of The Walking Dead; Carol’s back on the scene and as cheerfully homicidal as ever. In case her daring solo mission to save the gang led us to any false conclusions, she wasted no time in kneecapping a middle aged lady with a semi-automatic and feeding her to the undead. It was totally, like, justified though, because this chick would kill anybody who posed a threat to the survival of her group… completely the opposite of everything Carol believes in. Obviously. Duh.

Speaking of awkward – don’t you just hate it when you turn someone out of your community to fend for themselves in a monster-ridden nightmare world, then they inconsiderately show up again and save you from certain death? Oh, and hand you that baby you thought had been eaten by zombies, that they have been busting ass to care for while fighting for their own survival. (Props to Tyrees as well, of course. Nice job, guys. One out of three ain’t bad.) Nice save with the awkward hello though Rick, it’s probably all water under the bridge now. But relax, it’s not like Carol’s, y’know, a child murderer or anything.

It was an intense episode all round – spattered with arterial spray, with a sprinkling of unexplained body parts and some creepy walkie-talkie chat. And if that’s not enough excitement for you, there’s an explosion thrown in for good measure. If you thought plain ol’ zombies were exciting, wait ’til you try FLAMING ZOMBIES. That had to be the name of somebody’s band in college. Surely.

We collectively held our breath as the first scenes found some favourite cast members hog tied and readied for execution. Fortunately, deranged butcher gangs traditionally murder their captives in order of narrative importance, from lowest to highest. They used to also pause and explain their entire evil plan at length before commencing the killing spree, but this is being phased out after a spate of conveniently timed interruptions.

Speaking of interruptions – what was that? Is someone watching Transformers next door, or what that a big ass explosion? Better leave these prisoners to their own devices momentarily while we discuss among ourselves what to do next…Yeah, turns out Rick’s still got it in the ‘kill a motherfucker’ department.

So while Terminus almost proved terminal for Rick and co. (see what I did there? Man,I am awesome at puns…)the bad guys were soon on fire, and the good guys were back in the (only semi-metaphorical) woods. Again. I’ve not actually been to Georgia, but thanks to TWD I imagine it’s just one giant forest with Atlanta plopped in the middle.

But,don’t worry folks, the fat guy with the mullet has all the answers. Roll on Season 5.