Monday, 31 December 2012

Mental illness

The perception of mental illness in the Western world is not very good. If I am honest, we have come a long way since we were burning schizophrenics because we thought that they were demonic. But we still stigmatise mental illness as something "dangerous" or "violent". The shootings in Newtown have only served to enhance this image, with quite a lot of debate about whether Adam Lanza was mentally ill or not, with the assumption that mental illness explains this sort of violent outbreak.

The problem is twofold here. The first problem is that mental health problems do not necessarily mean that sufferers are violent. Secondly, this would be a big problem if it did, because a very substantial proportion of people in the western world suffer, at some point in their lives, from mental illness. Let me address these two issues separately.

Firstly, mental illness exhibits itself in a whole range of forms. Many people who suffer from mental illness - including myself - are not particularly violent, any more than other people. Yes, some are violent, but then some people are violent without this as an excuse. There are also a whole group of people who suffer from mental illnesses who may react more violently than others, because they act out of frustration in being unable to cope with the world around them. The truth is that this is liable to be a violent outburst at a point where their particular frustrations are being vexed. This does not make them murderous, this does not make them liable to random shooting, any more than any other person.

Of course, there is the argument that violent acts, especially like the Newtown shooting, are definitively the act of someone who is mentally disturbed. There is a truth in this, that these explosions of violence are, often, the expression of someone whose mind has been warped by (often) hatred directed to them, by someone who has found no other way of screaming their anger at the world than in this way. But that is a short term mental aberration, something that can occur to anyone. It is not about mental illness. It is about how we teach people to deal with their frustrations, about how we train people to work out their frustrations, about how we actually deal with bullying in schools or workplaces. This is not about mental illness.

The other aspect to this is that we are, as a whole, very scared of mental illness. There is a terrific fear about people who suffer from it, that we might "catch" it from people, or that they might "go crazy" on us. While these are largely unfounded, it does mean that people do not talk about their mental illness. It means that the secrecy around this perpetuates, because it continues to be a problem "out there", and not something that affects anyone we could actually know.

The truth is that it almost certainly does affect someone that we know. In reality we all know someone who has some form of mental illness, because it actually directly affects near enough half of us, and indirectly affects every one of us (because every one knows someone who is directly affected). Mental illness is something that impacts and affects everyone, and the frustrations of not being able to talk about this, not being able to be open about it, are one of the things that drives some people to having to express themselves more aggressively, more violently.

What are the lessons we should be learning about mental illness from the Newtown shootings. Nothing is the simple answer, because mental illness is not a definitive factor in the shootings. It may be that Adam Lanza had mental health issues, but that does not mean that this was the reason why he shot the school up. The other lesson is that mental health needs to be talked about openly, because not talking about it is screwing us up, and is causing many of the problems that we blame them for.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Anarchism at Christmas

As a follow up to my last post, A few thoughts on why I see Christmas as anarchistic. It might help to explain Christian Anarchism better.

When the wise men came to visit, they first went to Herod, because they assumed that a person of importance would be born there. They were wrong. Jesus was born in an animal shed, not in a royal palace, not in the temple. He rejected the trappings of power and religion, to just get born. And his first visitors were not powerful or "important" people, but shepherds, a group who were socially discriminated against, not least because they were dirty and smelly. Of course, being born in an animal shed meant that this was not very noticeable.

The thing is, in his birth, he rejected the system, the hierarchy, he circumvented the powers that ruled in the land. At this point, he did not confront them directly, but simply said that they were unnecessary. That is anarchism in action.

 As he grew up, he followed the Jewish law, he was circumcised and had his Bar Mitzvah. But when he was left behind in Jerusalem, he was teaching the religious leaders! He was not just prepared to accept the things that they had to say, but challenged them and discussed with them.

Through his teaching years, he was constantly challenging the "established position", saying "you have heard ..... but I say......." taking the Jewish message back to the original concept of a relationship with God. His most common outbursts were against the religious leadership, who he denounced as being "irrelevant", because people could have a relationship with God without them. The one time when we see Jesus acting aggressively is in the temple, but once again saying "all of this is not needed". In fact, it got in the way of the place being a house of prayer.

And in the end, the religious leaders got rid of him because he was challenging their power system. He told people that the religious establishment was not needed, and so the religious establishment had him killed. Today, the religious establishment is not needed, but those who say so get sidelined. What the church needs is not more courses, more vision, more programs, more stuff. What the church needs is less of itself, less system, and just let people get on with it in their own way.

Saying so is the heart of Christian Anarchism. This is only one partial interpretation of the life and story of Jesus - you may not agree, and there are many other interpretations. My only point is that the Christmas story, for all of its retelling in schools and churches across the world, is a very anti-establishment story.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christian Anarchism

I have struggled to find out how to describe myself and my position. I do not chime very well with David Haywards Christian Atheism style - that would seem to be the opposite of what I have done and where I am, because I am not rejecting God in any form. Yes, even the oppressive forms that I no longer find helpful or positive I still believe represent some part of God - maybe just one I cannot yet understand.

I was reading my copy of Geez magazine, which is an excellent resource for challenging Christian thought, and I realised that a form of Christian Anarchism is much closer to where I am. Of course, I cannot just take a title and leave it at that, I need to define it rather better for myself.

The problem is that anarchism has a bad name - it is seen and used as a synonym for violent, destructive acts and people. Whenever there are riots, it is the "anarchists" who are so often blamed for the smashing of stuff and the aggression towards the police. The truth is, I suspect, that they re scapegoated, and used as a justification for police force, but that is not my theme here. The point is, they have deliberately been used as a label for destructive forces in our society.

But I am not destructive. I am not out to destroy anything, at least not by violence. I am happy to destroy the edifices that have been erected in the name of Christianity, where they are oppressive. I am happy to destroy the ideas that people are forced to accept, against their rational minds, because this is what Christian belief says. But I am not out to smash churches up, or destroy peoples beliefs.

The other side of Anarchy, and especially Christian Anarchy, is that it seems to be strongly associated with a left-wing political perspective. Now, this is a natural connection, a rejection of authority marries very well with a rejection of the capitalist ideal. However, to associate with any form of political position is, it seems, to weaken the anarchist perspective, to accept that one political ideology is better than another is not anarchic, it is just revolutionary. Anarchism is about rejecting all political and structural answers - which means, conversely, accepting people who hold any positions.

Anarchy, in a true or literal sense, is about a rejection of externally imposed rule. For me, this mean a rejection of any systems having an authority to tell me how to be a Christian. It does not mean that  reject God as one whom I willingly submit to, and whose authority I accept. It does not mean that I reject the Bible - I don;t, I accept the Bible as a divinely inspired word to me. What I do reject is other people telling me what God is or is like, or how I should behave to him. I do reject people telling me how to interpret the Bible, what is actually means. I will listen, I will hear, and I might accept, but I do not accept that anyone has the authority to tell me how to run my relationship with God.

Somewhere along the line, if I don't take responsibility for this myself, then in what sense is it a relationship, in what sense am I a Christian, if my faith is totally defined by what other people say it is?

The point it about necessity, and freedom. It is not about destroying, it is about saying that church is not necessary for Christian faith. If you find it helpful or positive, then that is fine, but insisting on it is not. Similarly, insisting on a particular biblical interpretation means that you are limiting Gods revelation to one very narrow route. It may be a useful one, but there are others too, and others may be valid. It means that you and I have the freedom to engage with and experience God however we want, and however we find the most productive and useful.

Isn't this dangerous? Of course. That is part of the fun of it. If we are to take responsibility, we also need to take responsibility for keep in touch with others, for keeping ourselves going in the right direction. It means taking responsibility for exploring new dimensions of faith ourselves, drawing on the resources that are available, and being guided but not directed by them. It means not relying on others to interpret and understand the world around us, but doing it ourselves, doing theological exploration ourselves. Maybe it means working with others who want to explore the same sort of areas too.

If I were to relate it to music, I think anarchism is very often related to punk - so often violent, expressly anti-establishment, and so easy to define it as seeking to undermine the entire establishment. Which, in theory at least, it was. However my understanding of it is much closer to the dance revolution, the music I like and enjoy, which is a different form of anarchism. It is no longer anti-establishment, it is simply saying we don't need the establishment. The thing is the experience, here and now, not the record companies, the clubs, the "system". When you can put together music in your bedroom, when you can get it played to thousands over the internet, when you - a single individual - can take charge, and say that the "system" is not required, that is a far more sinister threat than the punk approach of smashing the establishment.

A Christian Anarchism which does not seek to destroy the existing way of doing things - if people find this helpful, then who am I to argue - but instead seeks to say "however, it is not necessary" this is a real threat to people who are heavily invested in the system.

This is Christian Anarchism. Not destructive, violent and nihilistic. But uplifting, freeing and exciting. Well I think so, at least.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Casual sexism

There has been a lot of twitter activity in my timeline about casual sexism, and the fact that it seems to be increasing. This made me wonder, and I am not entirely sure that this is true.

I should point out that sexism is wrong. There is no way that I would support or agree with sexist behaviour, and there is no doubt in my mind that there is sexist behaviour around, that there are many people who will denigrate others, based purely on their gender. The problem is, I think, rooted in the fact that men no longer know who they are meant to be.

It started in the 1960s, with the feminist movements. Actually, it started earlier than that, but I have to find some place to begin. the more aggressive feminist movements told men that they were not wanted or needed. They were hated. And we felt that anger. This is not to say that the early feminist movements were wrong in principle, just that they did not endear themselves to men, rather, they put men on the defensive. Actually, in some cases, they were wrong, because some of them wanted to build a new female hierarchy to replace the male one they so despised. If you want to know where that would have led, then Margaret Thatchers style and government is probably the closest we have experienced to this, and it is not good for men or women.

Then we got the "new man" - the man who was perfectly happy with the feminist equality principles; who would take on tasks around the house that had been female preserves; who would take their part in baby care, nappy changing and feeding. For some men, this was perfect, but for many, it had the effect of feminising them - while quite rightly encouraging their more "feminine side", it tended to dismiss and disparage their "masculine side". This, incidentally, is where the church, by and large, still is, and part of the reason for many of the problems the church as a whole is facing.

Then we had the "men behaving badly" phase, where ladishness became more acceptable, at least among younger men. It is easy to dismiss this as a simple return to an earlier stage, but it isn't. It is a reasserting of the masculine aspects, while not dismissing the feminine aspects of a person. The rise of the "ladette" is a part of this, where women are allowed to explore their masculine side too.

Incidentally, this is not my original analysis, although I cannot remember where I heard it - it may have been Elaine Storkey, but there were others who I heard and read, and it was a long time ago that this was being explored. I need to bring it up to date. This specific exploration is mine, however.

So where are we now? We are in a situation where men are very unsure of their position, and of their behaviour. What is more, we are now in a state where children have been brought up by New Men and Men Behaving Badly, and are also struggling to find their role model and place in society.

The result, sometimes, is that men are very confused. Please bear with me, as I am not excusing anything. The problem is that women have also developed differing styles and approaches - the aggressive feminist; the strong woman; the ladette; the sexual person (not object). Women, I think, are also confused with their roles, with so many different styles. So a confused man compliments a woman, and it comes out slightly wrong, because he is not sure what he should be. She hears it and doesn't know whether to be complimented or offended, and so may take the offended line.

OK, this is not how it always happens, but maybe it is more often than it should. Men flirt with women in work environments - I see it everywhere. Usually, it is not about wanting sex, or even wanting to sexualise them - it is about them trying to identify what the relations between them should be. This is often something that needs to be reassessed daily. Of course, sometimes it is about abuse or sex, and as such is unacceptable, but this "unacceptable" is not always as clear cut as it may seem.

Yes, some things are always unacceptable - treating others as objects is always unacceptable. But treating others as if they are also sexual beings is, often, intended positively. Sometimes the messages get mixed on the way out and/or the way in, but, more often than some people would like to admit, the intention is not sexist.

I would emphasise again that some people are sexist and see other people as sex objects, and nothing more. Their behaviour will often reflect this (although not always, so don't assume that the lovely person sitting next to you does not see you as a sex object), and this behaviour is also - separately - unacceptable. If you make it clear that you don't like being patted on the bottom, and they continue to do it, that is unacceptable. If you see him staring at your breasts, and then wear lower cut tops, then don't complain when he continues to stare at your breasts. Maybe, take it as a compliment that he considers your breasts worth staring at, and he assumes that your choice of garment means that you like to have them stared at. And slap him if he tries to fondle them.

I am not putting all of the responsibility on the women either. Remember that people that you work with are people first and foremost. They may be very attractive, you may consider that sex with them would be extremely pleasurable, but they are also people and it is important to respect that. Find, define, and remain within the boundaries of the relationship that you are in with them. Don't make assumptions.

Oh, and this works both ways. Women do make men into sex-objects as well as the other way round. Which only helps to confuse matters even more. Sex is one important part of all relationships, but never the most important.

And if we can stop shouting "sexism" to stuff that isn't, but keep it for the stuff that is, that would help everyone, I think. Most of the time, I suspect, it is not active sexism, it is just confused people trying to work out how to get on with each other.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

There but for the grace of God go I

This phrase is generally attributed to John Bradford, from the 1500s, and the contorted nature of the phrase makes it hard to understand and appreciate this concept. But once I grasped it, I realised that it was at the heart of my faith.

It does need unpacking. The real meaning is that I can put myself in the same position as another unfortunate, and am only not there because of "the grace of God". That can mean quite a literal sense, that God has kept me from that situation, but it can also mean that there is nothing that I have done, or that I could do, to separate myself from them.

The point is that this means I am no different from them. The fact that they have suffered or encountered some misfortune is nothing to do with them, the reality is that it could have been you in that situation, but wasn't. That is not because you are any better than they are, it is good fortune, or Gods grace that meant that you avoided it.

So criticising or condemning them is criticising or condemning yourself.

When someone goes mad with a gun in a school, and we ask "surely, someone who does that must be evil/insane/divine judgement" maybe we should just say that we have no idea why it happened, but accept that it could be me, if something just triggered wrongly. That is not to condone the actions, just to accept that the people who do this are not, at heart, different to us.

When someone is convicted of pedophilia, it is easy to say "they must be twisted, broken, evil, demonic" or whatever. If we rather say that it could be us, if we had not restrained ourselves, or we had been abused as a child, or whatever. There is nothing that makes these people "different" from us. That should give us a chill, and a new perspective on them,

When we see someone who is homeless, we can easily suggest that they have almost certainly used drink or drugs. That may be true. It is very likely that they have mental health issues, because a large proportion of them do. Drink or drugs may be a part of their problem, but they are rarely the whole story. But that could be me. It has been said that we are only 3 paychecks from poverty so we are not that far apart.

When we see people we do not easily relate to, people we are liable to reject, we need to consider this perspective, we need to say "there, but for the grace of God, go I". Not that they are right - it doesn't mean that. It means that they are just like us. It means that we could be just like them.

If God hates them, then God hates us. If we hate them, then we hate ourselves. If we accept them, acknowledge them, seek to help them, then we can accept and understand ourselves better.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Westboro Baptist Church

I have heard that Westboro are planning to protest at the funeral of the Newtown victims. I am as revolted by this as most people are and should be. @Rosamundi made a point that we should shout about this more and louder, so I thought I would do a blog post on them.

Now I do have a problem with being critical of another church. The problem is, I am all for Christian groups finding their own way, finding their own expression of their faith, and I don't expect to agree with it. I am adamant on this, that another groups expression of their faith does not need to meet with my approval for me to accept them as authentic Christians.

In principle, this should even extend to a group as extreme and as antithetical to my position as Westboro. In principle, it does, but there is another side that also needs to be considered. It is not valid to say that just because a group calls itself "Christian", and justifies its positions from the Bible, that we have to accept this as being valid.

Westboro preaches hatred. On their website, they even have a page about "the hatred of God". Their site is called "GodHatesFags", and they have sister sites of "GodHatesxxx". Their message is one of hatred, and their activity is a demonstration of this hatred. The work they do is to picket pretty much anything that they think will get them publicity, and any place that they can proclaim the hatred of God. I could go on, but this provides quite enough to start with.

"The hatred of God" - it is interesting that there is only one quote from the New Testament in their list, and this is itself a quote from the Old Testament. In total, they have 18 verses. This is not a lot to provide a fundamental underlying principle for your faith. What is more, a lot of these passages are about Gods relationship with his chosen people. The word used in their translation (the King James) is "abhor", which does not necessarily have the sense of "hatred", but also the sense of "reject" - the challenge from the Bible is to purify the church, to keep the chosen pure, and free from idolatry.

What is more, these expressions are about Gods reactions to sin and failing in the world. There is nothing in here which implies that we should express this hatred to others. This "abhorrence"is a way of expressing that God does not tolerate or accept sin. That is part of his nature, and a lot of the Old Testament message is about establishing this. Gods response to this is not to picket funerals of sinners, but to send his own sin to bring people to him. Gods actions in response to his "abhorrence" is to show love, to send his own son to love and die for sinners. That is the core Christian message, if you take the whole biblical perspective, and not just a few verses.

"God Hates Fags". Anyone who has followed their activities over the last few years will be aware that they have a particular hatred of homosexuals, something that drives the majority of what they do. I have posted previously on the very poor Biblical justification for dismissing homosexuality. The truth is that they have built their entire belief system on a very dubious argument. To express it as strongly as they do is utterly mistaken, and does not reflect the Biblical message at all.

What is more, their absolute and unrepentant approach suggests that, somewhere, they know this. Somewhere, they realise that their entire position is built on a false premise.

My understanding of the Christian message - which I fully accept may be wrong - is that God is intolerant of sin and sinfulness. However, most crucially, his ultimate response to it is to send Jesus. It is not to condemn, it is to show love, to seek to bring people back to himself. this is not weak, sissy, pathetic never-mind-all-is-forgiven. It cost Jesus his life. It is hard love, it is painful love, but it is about the one who cannot accept sin taking the action, and suffering to bring the sinners back. If the Westboro people were to go to Newtown to give care and comfort to those suffering, that would be a better representation of Christianity than making it all about them. Love, care and compassion, not hatred, is the core of the God I worship.

Westboro Baptist Church are not a Christian organisation. Their message of hatred is a deliberate misinterpretation of Biblical writings. The simple fact that they use Christian language, Christian texts, and style themselves a church should not hide the fact that they preach and practice hatred.

My God does not preach hatred. My God hurts and cries with the suffering. My God seeks to bring people to him, not drive them away. My God is not their god. I would like to apologise for the confusion.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


Once again, we are hearing the news of another school shooting in the US. Another tragedy, another 20 children dead. Another community devastated. There are a number of comments that I have seen on twitter, some of which are generating a lot of anger. I want to explore some of these responses.

"It's part of Gods plan". Often with the corollary that we cannot see  the whole picture now, but there is a bigger picture. I find this response makes me angry. I do not want or follow a God who has to include the murder of young children in his "plan". I do not want a God who has to inflict this pain and suffering on a community for his "plan". I want nothing to do with such a God or such a plan. The God I know and believe in is curled up on the sofa, sobbing, holding his head, screaming with the pain and anguish. He shares the suffering of that community. Or He is no God at all. Assuming everything is part of some "grand plan" is not faith, it is fate.

"Now is not the time to discuss Gun regulation" This is the response from President Obama, and I think he is wrong here. It is precisely this sort of time that there is a desire and a motivation for change. In the UK, whenever we have avoidable catastrophes, there is often an announcement of something to change and avoid this happening again. The reason is that there is then a desire and reason for Doing Something. This does not always create good laws or action, but often, in the longer term, it does make important changes.

"This should drive the banning of guns" Actually, this is also wrong. The reason for changing gun law, or making any other changes should not be outrage, but because it is the sensible thing to do. Gun restriction in the US - which I am all in favour of - should be done because the current situation is wrong, and leads to these sorts of tragedies. The problem is that Americans hold onto their guns like British people hold onto their cars and their right to drive. Both are causing problems.

The problem is that the "right to bear arms" is enshrined in the constitution by the founding fathers of America. They would, I suspect, be appalled at the recent events. When these rules were made, the power of existing guns was not that great, and at that time, self protection was quite an important aspect of life. We do not live in the same world today. The weapon used in Newtown was far more powerful than anything you need for simple self-protection. Maybe the rules should be altered to allow weapons to the same power as the most powerful ones available at the time of the constitution.

I think there is a place also for asking why people feel a need to express their anger in this murderous way. Surely it is worth taking time to help people deal with their anger and frustration. Surely there is something wrong in a society that drives people to this level of anger and frustration. This is not just a US problem - every society need to allow this sort of expression, in ways that are safe. The problem in the US is that, so often, this expression is violent and deadly. Addressing not just the weapons but the people is crucial. Somewhere, this is a people issue, and if we ignore the people side of it, we will fail. Americans will find ways of getting guns whatever, and the results may be even worse.

In the end, ranting is not the response at this point. Shouting and screaming that "Its all part of Gods plan!!", or "We need gun control!!" is not the total of the response to make here. At this point, we should be praying and seeking comfort for those who have suffered. We should be hurting with God for the pain that has been caused. And yes, we should have a reasoned commitment to make changes to the society that produces these hurt people.

My prayers and my thoughts are with the people of Newtown today. May God be with you in your anguish.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Do anything you want to do

Why don't you ask them what they expect from you ?
Why don't you tell them what you're gonna do
You get so lonely, maybe it's better that way
It ain't you only, you got something to say
Do anything you wanna do
Do anything you wanna do

This is the chorus of "Do anything you want to do" by Eddie and the Hot Rods. They were a one hit wonder, but it is a spectacular hit. It is an earworm too - once you hear it, you will struggle to get it out of your head. The title seems to indicate it is a rebel song, and it is, but I think there is more to it that this. I want to give it some analysis from where I stand.

Why don't you ask then what they expect from you? Good question. Why not challenge the establishment, the church, the systems and structures that you are in, ask then what they expect, what their demands are. Not least because you can be sure that they will actually be demanding more than they admit to.

Why don't you tell them what you are going to do? This is, in my experience, the place of freedom - when you start to define and state what your faith actually means. It is often a point of freedom just trying to work out what you are going to do, never mind actually telling your church or whatever how you intend to live your faith out. It is the point when you decide to make your faith your own, and not just what others tell you it should be.

You get so lonely, maybe its better that way. Well living your faith outside the church can be very lonely. It may be that this is the only way that it can be - that being apart from the church community is the better way. But it is lonely, and there can be a lot of rejection. Maybe its better, but it is not easier.

It ain't you only - you've got something to say. You are not alone. The truth is, however you feel, however you want to explore and pursue your faith, there are others who can help you. What is more, you do have something to say - to the church, to others, to the world at large. Never give up.

Do anything you want to do. This is not a call to faith anarchy. It is a call to follow your faith wherever it leads you - into church, out of church, wherever. And enjoy the journey. As they say in the verse "I know I must be someone, now I'm going to find out who". That is our life mission.

And after all of that analysis, it is still a good fun punk rebel song. Worth a listen whatever.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Jacintha Saldanha

Jacintha was a nurse at a top private hospital. Such a good hospital, that royalty used it when needed.

At 5:30 in the morning, one presumes towards the end of a long shift, the phone rang.

Quite why she answered it, rather than a telephonist, is not clear. maybe at that time in the morning, she was just close by, and took the call. The voice on the other end of the phone may well have sounded like the Queen at 5:30 in the morning. Having never had such a call, I wouldn't know.

So she put the call through to the Duchess of Cambridges suite. Where another nurse, presumably believing it to be the Queen herself, revealed details of the Duchess' condition.

This was probably wrong even if it was the Queen, but I am not sure I would have been the one to tell Her Majesty no. The staff are, I presume, used to important and powerful people using the facilities of the hospital, and calling for updates. That makes me wonder why there was not better security precautions, but, on the other hand, it does mean that having the Queen phone up is not an unreasonable eventuality.

The caller was, of course, a DJ from an Australian radio show, making a spoof call. People have said, hearing it over the radio, that it was clearly a spoof, that the voice was not very good etc. That is an easy judgement to make listening to a radio-quality recording, but over the phone at 5:30 in the morning is a different situation.

2 days later, Jacintha appears to have taken her own life.

It is not yet completely clear whether she did kill herself, or that the spoof call prompted this, but both would appear to be the case. This is a tragic end to a stupid prank. And it highlights very pointedly the dangers of this sort of prank - someone is made to look stupid.

Now anyone who has worked with me knows that I have no problem with making jokes at other peoples expense. But I am always careful not to humiliate people, not to make them feel stupid or worthless. I am never cruel in my humour, or when I am, I apologise, because that is not the point. It sometimes takes me a while to understand a new work colleague, to know what I can get away with and what I can't. In case you are wondering, yes I do get as good coming back at me, and take it in good humour. My experience is that it builds some great camaraderie - within the sort of people I work with, at least.

The truth is that this event, traumatic and challenging as it undoubtedly was for all of those involved, is not the entire story. I am sure that Jacintha had some history of problems, and may have been suffering from depression. It may be that she had some job history of small mistakes, or lack of attention. I don't know, and I don't care. What I do know is that she was working as a nurse, a profession that demands a whole lot from people - more than I could give - and often returns comparatively little. Nobody gets rich or famous from being a nurse, and yet our medical services would simply not function without them. the excellent sitcom Getting On showed this difficult role brilliantly well.

At some point, Jacintha felt that she could not continue, and her only option was to end her own life. That is a desperate position to be in, a terrible state to have arrived at. And yet many people hit that judgement daily and weekly. Some people do end it, while others don't - sometimes, the ones who do are the stronger ones. Some people live with the reality that their life does not appear to be worth living for weeks, months, years. Some people have to live with a member of their family having taken their life, something that stays with you forever.

Suicide is a terrible action, for all involved. To have been finally driven to this by a prank call is especially tragic. My thoughts are with her family - including young children - and friends, who have to deal with this in the glare of publicity.

For anyone who needs to talk, please do call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. There are other ways of getting in touch here

Monday, 3 December 2012


The long awaited Leveson report is now out. Not unsurprisingly, it has caused come controversy. Some of this has been cause by (deliberate?) misreadings of it.

I think it is worth pointing out that the enquiry looked at all sides of the various arguments, heard a lot of evidence form various people, and drew conclusions and proposals on the basis of this evidence. This is good scientific process, and it means that if you want to argue against the conclusions or recommendations, then it should be done by re-visiting the evidence, assessing it differently, and putting other arguments from the evidence.

It should not be argued against because "It doesn't seem like the right way forward".

What is more, David Cameron did state that as long as the recommendations were not "bonkers", he would implement them. The recommendations are not bonkers, so he should implement them - although that was a rather naive promise to make.

I was also interested by comments from Ian Hislop on "Have I got news for you", where he argues - not unsurprisingly - against any more regulation of the press. He makes two point, quite good ones, that a) the activities were already illegal, and so there is already legal recourse against what they did and b) if you break the law, you should expect to pay the consequences. As he has done on numerous occasions.

I think it is worth mentioning that nobody wants a state controlled press. That is a bad situation all around, and in this country, we have a long tradition of the media as a whole playing the fool to the authorities. It is an important aspect of our culture that those in authority can do stupid things, but they should expect to be pilloried in public by our comedians and have questions raised by our journalists. That is one of the core balances in our system, and it is critical to keep this, to ensure that those who have power are also subject to ridicule and challenge. State controlled media would kill that, and would be a disaster for everyone.

On the other hand, self regulation is not working and has not worked. The "hands off" approach had meant that serious abuses have been endemic in the industry. I heard Ruth Gledhill at Greenbelt this year explaining that she had no idea about phone hacking from within the business, implying that it was not as widespread as suggested. My suspicion is that Ruth may have been unaware because those around her knew she would have a problem with it - something that is not uncommon in work environments - and because she was not working on areas where this would have been used. But I don't know, and Ruth is quite welcome to respond on this. I suspect that it was widespread enough that it was considered a tool available for use by those journalists who would do anything for a story.

What I understand Lord Leveson to be suggesting (and I have not read the entire report, nor do I intend to) if for an independent body to oversee the press. That seems a good idea, someone to watch over the self-regulation to make sure it works. And that this is underpinned by statute seems to be a necessity, otherwise it has no teeth. The report could have been a whole lot harsher. the job now is to implement it, to put the British press back on the road to being trusted, at least to a greater extent than currently.

If  not, then clearly government control of the press is already happening, and we should all be scared.