Donald Trump and when to hold your hands up (in the air, not skirts)

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The recent spate of tales in the press about Donald Trump and his misogynistic comments about women have clearly been dug with a hefty political spade from the mires of time. And then kept on ice until it is close enough to the presidential elections to cause real damage, as opposed to being spun back into the annals of memory by his furiously back-pedaling political party.

It just goes to show that you should be careful what you say, doesn’t it? And what you do. Because somebody will always remember, or, these days, have a recording of it. And it doesn’t matter how much time has eclipsed since you made your faux pas, or your dreadful comments, or your bad behaviour, because for the aggrieved or injured party, it’s still today.

This is quite a complex issue really because how do you then respond, once you’ve been found out? Do you apologise profusely (you certainly should – we all make mistakes), or do you try and spin the blame around and deflect it from yourself (indicative then that the aggrieved are correct in giving you a wide berth in future, for all adults with a sense of decency should have it within them to apologise for their actions and admit when they are wrong).

But it seems these days that we live in a culture of blame, either enjoying playing the whimpering victim or just believing ourselves to be blameless and morally seamless. And, really, who can possibly believe that of themselves? Who isn’t ashamed of some past or current behaviours (externally of egotists, narcissists and sociopaths)?

At least by confronting an issue and holding your hands up, you show yourself to have some humanity and give yourself a chance to walk away with a shred of decency intact.

I wonder what Trump will do? Thus far, he has sent his wife out as his defense, playing the ‘I am a woman’ card. The coward. Though who would expect more from a man who is a danger to the entire world, unless enough Americans see sense on November 8th? For despite looking like a buffoon and having a surname normally associated with flatulence, a lot of people seem to be listening to him. Scary times.

 

Grrr… Simon Cowell… Grrrrr…

I am pleased to report that I only remembered a couple of days ago that the X-Factor is even on TV at the moment. I loathe this programme – a far cry to during its heyday around 7 years ago when I used to always tune in.

Perhaps it’s just my age now? Or the fact that there are only so many ways to spice up a tired old format that’s now been done to death, and the vacuous celebrity-obsessed numptys that it spawns.

Even the continuation of lining the pockets of Simon Cowell grates on my nerves and, of course, the demise of the Christmas Number One – something I’ve banged on about before, but that rankles me every year nevertheless.

 

Lush…

A reader wrote into the letters page recently agreeing with a point I had made in a column.

This particular reader, Tony Hamlett, also mentioned my name and said that he hopes it is real – I am happy to say Tony that it is indeed! My maiden name is Verity Lush and I have always therefore written under it, as my writing career began long before I was married.

My maiden name is also of extreme sentimental value to me, being the only child of an only child, and given that my father passed away when I was 12. The Lush name is too good a one to be forgotten.

Thank you for taking the time to write in, Tony.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 15th October 2016

 

 

 

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What makes it special, makes it dangerous.

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There is a line in the Kate Bush song, Cloudbusting, that states, “what made it special, made it dangerous”. I’ve never given it much thought before – probably because when I was a child and my mother used to play it, I didn’t go much on Kate.

 

However, now that I am older with different tastes, I appreciate the creativity behind music, as opposed to simply being mortified that my mother would dance around the house, limbs flailing, larynx wobbling, in her best Bush-impersonation.

And isn’t it so very true? If something is special, then it can be needed or wanted not only by us, but by someone else – which in turn can make it dangerous. Power, money, love. If we want or need something, we worry about it. We may hide it or conceal it, for fear that it will be taken, and we may lock it down under cover, in order to keep it safe.

If something gleams, whether truly or metaphorically, it draws the attention of others. Envy, lust and greed can ensue – all ugly emotions, and emotions that can be dangerous.

Across the centuries, things that have been special have been sought after. Jewels, art, the leadership of political parties, and all of these things come with a price to pay. This depends particularly upon those who want them, because for some, even monumental bloodshed has not stood in their way.

As human beings, we are willing to go to war for what is ‘special’. In fact, human life itself is about as special as it gets – think about the lengths you’d go to for your own child or kin. Think about the lengths science has gone to – and will continue to go to in the ages yet to come. Science can be special, but it is also dangerous, and raises issues of ethics and morality, and the concept that just because we can do something, it does not mean that we should.

As Kate Bush once wrote, what makes it special, makes it dangerous. The traits that rise above the rest, are those we covet most.

Silence speaks volumes…

A lesson that most of us learn as we age is that, sometimes, it’s better to say as little as possible. Sometimes, it’s best to not even bother defending yourself vehemently and, occasionally, it’s better to simply say nothing at all.

The old adage that we should ‘sleep on it’ is golden advice and nearly always works, as opposed to leaping in. Social media is a minefield for this and best avoided when cross.

In fact, silence can say more than a thousand words. Not responding when provoked, or resisting the temptation to leap to our own defense, can be the more rational option. It is not necessarily more satisfying in the short-term, but in the long-term, it can speak volumes.

Another year grows old

It’s that time of year. The time when autumn is just beginning to show its russet-face and the mornings are tinged with a crystal chill, the promise of winter in its wake.

Hence, it is also the time of year when Tesco et al fill their aisles with mince pies and Christmas chocolates, advent calendars and all manner of ludicrous party attire, that should only ever sported after a glass of festive merriment.

I found myself thinking that this was all a tad too early until a student pointed out to me that it’s something ludicrous like only 11 Mondays until Christmas. Admittedly that’s also 11 weeks, which sounds decidedly longer and more manageable but, nevertheless, another year is growing old.

 

First published on Saturday 8th October 2016

Why online articles bring out the worst in people

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It’s strange isn’t it, that once people post an opinion in a public forum, other people – who they have never met, who they have never done anything to – believe that they have the right to be abusive to them.

Having recently written about how much is lost in translation in the written word, I wasn’t surprised when I read the readers’ comments on a Guardian article last week.

The article in question was about the American police officer that shot Terence Crutcher, a black man, in Tulsa. Hundreds of readers were commenting and many British readers were pointing out the difference in gun law between the US and the UK, which is undoubtedly a contributory factor.

What started as a passionate argument with poignant views and thought-provoking counter-arguments, quickly slid into an abusive tirade between the UK and the US. Some of the most offensive expletives that we all know were being slung about, and the issue at the heart of the article was forgotten in amidst those who were climbing aboard the abuse bandwagon, waggling their little pitchforks and seeing who could pipe up with the most vehement combo of swear words and body parts.

Healthy debate is something I welcome, especially as a teacher of philosophy. Rude and, frankly, dense commentary, is not. If you have to resort to abuse then you’ve nothing intelligent to say and you do little aside from show yourself up as not being the sparkliest pixie on the toadstool.

But because these are complete strangers, and because it’s not face to face, perhaps it’s all too easy to slip into being plain old nasty. You can air an opinion that differs hugely to someone else, and you can even air an opinion that isn’t complimentary at all about someone else’s behaviour – all legitimate and up for debate – but once you have to resort to calling them names and pointing out their physical failings, or posting cruel comments to them, then the only person you’ve degraded is yourself. You’re not only being rude, but you’re losing sight of any actual wrong-doing by the other person – giving the impression, in fact, that they’ve done nothing, and that the only one who is wrong is none other than… you. You simply won’t be taken seriously.

Facebook rants, for example, are all too easy to fall into. We’ve all been there. But in retrospect we can probably all agree that it’s far better to reply in a polite manner, stating our own views calmly, and remembering that much in the way of intonation is lost in the written word.

Somebody commented on my column’s Facebook page recently about an article I wrote concerning the influence of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, who give the impression to very young kids that it’s fine to just strip off and send semi-naked selfies to not only anybody online (is that really a 12 year old boy following you on Instagram?) but the world at large in the 21st century. The commenter suggested that I was therefore not a feminist and that Kim K can do what she likes with her own body. I agree – she can – but I still maintain that doing so in the public eye, leading to very young children taking selfies in bikinis and posting them online in the belief that this is ‘success’ and the way to ‘celebrity’, is the utter opposite of empowering young girls. The only people it’s empowering is paedophiles.

The person also questioned why I hadn’t written about men stripping off – simple: I was focusing on females. The majority of celebrities that strip and pose selfies are female, even if they weren’t then I chose females and their influence on younger females, and if men are stripping and inadvertently encouraging young boys to do the same in a public forum in which they can be groomed and abused, then my opinion is the exact same for them. Because the crux of my article wasn’t the gender or sexism of selfies – it was the audience of them. The audience who, like the Guardian readers, are completely anonymous to you. You don’t know them, nor how old they are, or what their lifestyle choices are, or even how distant – or close – they may be to you. Just because the internet can be anonymous, it doesn’t mean that we should be any more open, less cautious, or more abusive, than we would be in a dark alley with a stranger behind us at night. You do not know who is watching.

And although the commenter and I differed in opinion, I welcomed the debate – why else would I bother writing, if not to encourage interaction and to put thoughts out there? What I had written had been thought-provoking enough for them to use up nearly an hour of their life commenting on it.  I wouldn’t have dreamt of being abusive to that person or calling them names, no matter what I thought of their views, but perhaps that’s because I try quite hard these days to imagine that I am actually speaking to whomsoever I am typing to online, and act as though I am chatting to this complete stranger’s face. As the Guardian commenters demonstrated, you don’t get anywhere by simply slagging each other off, and I like to keep my abusive comments for the people I actually know … 😉

 

Kids and dentists…

According to reports, nearly 40% of British children did not see a dentist last year. Really?? Given that many children these days also have to have teeth removed due to the sugars in cereals and drinks, you’d think it imperative, if only to set up and model good habits for adult life.

It’s free for kids to see a dentist, it’s only twice a year, and it’s not remotely scary when it’s just a peek in the mouth and a sticker at the end of it. Admittedly it’s less pleasant if you’re having a tooth or two removed, but if you brush them to start with and don’t have Pepsi on your Cocoa Pops, then surely you’re home and smiling. With teeth.

 

GCSE Results

I have been reading through various new exam specifications this week, all in preparation for this being the first academic year in which our children will, in many subjects, be awarded a 9-1 grade.

By the following academic year, the humanities and sciences will have caught up with maths and English, and there will no longer be any letter-graded system left.

The new specifications are not only harder but the government have offered practically zero in terms of guidelines as to what a grade 6, for example, will even consist of.

I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before they announce a new initiative to introduce a radical system … one in which GCSEs are awarded an A*-G grade.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 1st October 2016