Friday, 26 June 2009

Morality and diplomacy

After being dragged into a rather petty flame war on Twitter recently, it struck me that having the moral high ground is not always sufficient in winning an argument. Even if you stand on the morally superior side of a debate, if you are unable to conduct yourself with decency and integrity, then it doesn't really matter what side of the argument you stand on. As Tony Benn once said - "All war is a failure of diplomacy".

I have seen many debates and arguments lost, even from the side with the moral high ground, simply because they were unable to conduct themselves in a diplomatic manner. If you have to resort to ad hominem arguments (often referred to as name calling), then you seriously need to look at raising your game. This is perhaps the weakest form of argument. Always attack the argument, never the person.

Any moral superioriy you may have had will soon vanish in the absence of diplomacy.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Religion's abuse of animal rights

Both the Jewish and Islam religious faiths are responsible for inflicting cruelty to animals. While they may preach love and kindness to their fellow humans, they stop short when it comes to animals.

Jews practice the dietary law known as kosher, while Muslims practice the dietary law known as halal. Both these religious dietary laws are in direct contravention of UK animal welfare laws. When an animal is slaughtered in a UK abattoir, the animal should be rendered senseless to pain first by stunning. This is carried out by passing electricity through the animal's body, usually through the use of a stun gun.

However, both the Jewish and Islam faiths contravene this law. Their religion teaches that an animal must be killed by a single knife cut to the throat while fully conscious. This causes unnecessary pain and suffering to the animal involved. The animal is left to suffer while it is bled to death, and this may take up to several minutes.

A PETA investigation has found shocking evidence of cruelty at the AgriProcessors kosher slaughterhouse in the US. Workers at that slaughterhouse were ripping the tracheas out of fully conscious cows and watching them writhe in pools of their own blood.

It is difficult to comprehend how any religion can condone such a brutal level of cruelty. That this is carried out under the name of religion should be even more shocking. Having watched the undercover investigation for myself, I fail to comprehend how any religion can demand that animals be killed in this way.

The question then is, why is this allowed to happen if such acts of cruelty contravene animal welfare laws. If you or I were to inflict the same level of suffering on an animal as these religions demand, we would be sentenced to a custodial sentence, and rightly so. The fact that this is not illegal is yet another example of religion demanding special favours from a compliant government.

In all truth, any government that tried to remove this blatant double standard would stand accused of religious discrimination. Religious zealots would demand that it is their right to inflict cruelty on animals, as their religion demands it. Given the choice between removing animal cruelty in accordance with current animal welfare legislation, and appeasing the religious zealots, endless governments have taken the soft option of leaving animals to suffer at the hands of religion. It is obviously much more important to kowtow to religion's demands for special favours, than to prevent an animal from having its trachea ripped out.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Protecting your Twitter updates

When I first began using Twitter, I didn't know what the option for protecting your updates actually did. I asked a friend who was already on Twitter, and he stated that I should definitely not protect my updates, as I would miss out on the point of Twitter i.e. social networking.

Social media, or social networking (call it what you will) is about connecting people. That can be across geographic boundaries, race, religion or creed. Sharing ideas, information and communicating is what Twitter is all about.

When you protect your updates, you need to request the user's permission to be allowed to follow them. But how can you know if you want to follow them until you see their updates. A bit of Catch-22 situation arises. Sure, you can see their bio, but that only gives you a snapshot of their personality, and it may be mis-leading. Before I follow someone on Twitter, I will read their bio, and glance through their updates to see what sort of information they are sending out (their tweets). If I find their bio and their tweets interesting, then I'll follow them. I rarely follow anyone who has their updates protected.

It also removes the serendipity of Twitter i.e. coming across a really interesting person by chance. This is what makes Twitter so interesting. I often play a little game when I follow someone, which I call Stepping Stones, and is one of the ways that shows how serendipitous Twitter can be. When I follow someone for the first time, I'll look through their updates looking for tweets or retweets from people they follow. I will then click on one at random, and, if this next person looks interesting, I will follow them too. I will continue to do this until I come to a dead end. I have found and followed many people on Twitter using this technique.

The only real benefit that I can see to protecting your updates on Twitter is to prevent being spammed. This is not a significantly big enough problem in my opinion to warrant protecting your updates though.

So on balance, there is far more to be gained from leaving your Twitter page unprotected, and letting yourself be found and followed by complete strangers. You never know, you just might find some very interesting people if you do. I know I certainly have!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Raising religiously tolerant children

Following on from an earlier blog describing why I am an atheist, I would like to follow that up by advocating why I think all children should be raised as atheists.

It is more correct and reasonable to teach children about the different religions, what they represent, and their beliefs, against the backdrop of atheism. Atheism is the absence of religion, so a child raised as an atheist is much more likely to make an informed choice in relation to religion when they are ready to do so. By raising a child under the doctrine of a specific religion, the parent has already made that decision for them. They have effectively taken away the child's decision as to which religion (if any) they should follow. While it is possible for a child to choose another religion in later life, this is far less likely than if the child had been raised as an atheist.

Children who are raised following a specific religion, will be bombarded with religious messages, dogma, ceremonies, festivals and other associated rituals that belong to their parents religion. A child raised in such circumstances hardly stands a chance of making their own decision. By the time they are old enough to understand about religion, and to make their own choice, it is probably far too late. After years of being raised under the religion of their parents, who have subconsciously and consciously exerted great influence on their child's religious upbringing, they will be unable or incapable of making a truly informed decision about their choice of religion.

By raising a child free from religious indoctrination, where no single religion is followed, but instead they are all taught in equal measure, then the child is much more likely to choose the religion (or lack of it) that is most suitable and appropriate to them as individuals. To raise a child under a specific religion, and then claim that they are free to make their own choice later on in life is a false claim. It is far more difficult for a child to break free from the shackles of their parent's religion.

To refer to a child as a Socialist child, or a Marxist child is obviously wrong. Yet it is perfectly acceptable to refer to a child as being a Christian child, or a Muslim child. Religion seems to make an exception of itself when it comes to labelling children.

Religion is divisive. It teaches children to respect their own religion above the others, that only their religion has the answers, that other religions are wrong. By raising a child as an atheist, but teaching them about the other religions in equal measure, is surely the most sensible and appropriate way to raise a child.

I have been an atheist for many years. I have explained my reasons to my eldest child, and will do the same to my youngest when they are old enough to understand. At no point have I ever forced my views about religion onto my children. I would much prefer my children made such decisions for themselves. To raise a child that can think for themselves, then you have to step back, and let them make decisions such as their choice of religion for themselves. If you force your own religion onto your child, then don't be surprised if your child is incapable of making their own choices later in life.

Surely it is far better to let your child make their own choices, even if you disagree with them, than to force your own choices onto them.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The attraction of tweeters

I have already written a blog about Twitter and social media, so I won't repeat the contents or ideas I have already described. Instead, I would like to focus on the attraction some twitterers have. I am not talking about celebrities, CEOs and the like, as by and large they have large numbers of followers as a consequence of their status.

Ashton Kutcher, who was the first person to achieve one million followers, did so on the back of his celebrity status. Without wishing to seem overly critical, it was certainly not because of his inspirational or informative tweets, as by and large, they are pretty self serving and self indulgent.

I also do not wish to repeat the plentiful advice given by so many others in how to increase your following count. Instead, I am more interested in the attraction of non celebrity twitterers. People who are not famous, are not celebrities, and do not own or run a business. In essence, I am talking about the vast majority of twitterers. The Ordinary Joe's of Twitter. Since I joined Twitter, I have been impressed by the large numbers of followers these non celebrity twitterers attract.

Why do some people attract such large followers? What is different about these people that separates them from the vast majority of twitterers? Some people simply don't 'get' Twitter. They fail to see what it's about, and therefore fail to harness its elegant, simple, yet powerful means of bringing people together. To mis-understand or fail to grasp what Twitter is about, is to miss a great opportunity to interact with large numbers of people.

During my time twittering, the Ordinary Joe's who have amassed large followers seem to share the following traits:

  • They follow back. They are not Twitter snobs. By following more people back, they form more connections. This is an exponential increase in followers, where each new follower puts you in touch with a whole new set of followers. A large network can quickly amass by simply following more people back. However, this comes at the cost of becoming more difficult to manage, and so there is a trade off between generating more followers versus manageability.
  • They engage and communicate with their followers. Rather than simply tweeting links and information into the void, they respond and interact with their followers. They reply to them, and hold conversations with them. It's always a really nice feeling to get a reply from someone on Twitter. They have taken the time to read and respond to your tweet, and are willing to engage with you.
  • They share good links and information. They post useful, informative or interesting links. Unfortunately, there is no definition for what constitutes as useful, informative or interesting!
What sets these twitters apart is really down to the fact that they have grasped the concept of social media, and Twitter specifically, and are willing and able to engage with those that follow them. As I said in my earlier blog about social media, it all comes down to connecting people.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Restoring faith in British democracy

With the revelations of MPs expenses, and the backlash meted out to the Labour government at the recent elections, the question now is - how can faith be restored in our democratic process?

Our MPs have shown themselves to be completely out of step with the common working man and woman of this country. They spent five years blocking reasonable and democratic attempts to get detailed information about their expenses (and now that they have been revealed, we know why). They have shown their contempt for the people who pay their wages. Look no further than Conservative MP Anthony Steen, who has stated that what he spends our money on is is none of our business, and that we are only jealous of him. Even more astonishingly, they tried to amend their own Freedom of Information law (the law that was being used to extract their expenses details) so that it did not apply to politicians. Their collective arrogance is truly staggering.

Labour's grubbing at the polls has hopefully sent the message that a government cannot afford to ignore it's constituents. In a democracy, the role of government is to serve its people. We vote them in, we can equally vote them back out. Governments are temporary, and we have the power to voice our displeasure by removing them from office.

For all MPs who have abused the expenses system, they should immediately face a by-election, where their constituency can vote them out if they wish to. The fact that so many MPs are hanging on until the next general election, so they receive their golden payoffs and fat pension pots must fill every person in this country with disgust. Giving us the power to vote out these pointless and greedy politicians would be a very welcome step in restoring our faith in democracy.

The expenses system should be completely over hauled. The fact that every single one of the claims that are now being revealed was authorised by the Fees Office shows how incompetent and self serving it is. The Fees Office should be under the control of an independent body, where the taxpayer is represented and can voice their concerns over its running. The second homes allowance should be abolished immediately. Many people commute to London daily, showing it is unnecessary to furnish our MPs with luxury homes in the capital. Most of the claims that have so horrified the general public have involved a second home, or a claim made against it.

The expenses system should only be used to claim the most basic of expenses, such as their staff salaries (who should not be related to the MP at all) and other expenses that are essential to the role of an MP.

Whatever happens, faith needs to be restored. It is currently at an all time low. We need MPs who understand the meaning of the words honour, diligence, industry and integrity. Currently, our House of Commons if full of shysters, liars and bullshitters.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Unsung hero behind the publication of our MPs expenses

I have already written two previous blogs about MPs expenses, so I will not repeat what I have already written. However, I think everyone should read the following article by Heather Brooke. She is a journalist for the Guardian newspaper, and led the Freedom of Information (FOI) request that has subsequently brought our government and democracy into such dishonour and disrepute.

MPs expenses - Heather Brooke

Her first had account of the scandal makes for breath-taking reading. At every turn, she faced obstruction, court appeals and deliberate time wasting. Reading her account must make every single member of the House of Commons (including the Speaker of the House) ashamed of themselves.

In my book, Heather Brooke is nothing short of a hero - and should be knighted for her contribution to democracy. Her perseverance to reveal the truth was only equalled by our MPs refusal to reveal it.