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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Social media and the police

Politics Home has an interesting article about the issues faced by police officers who are keen users of socila media. The problem appears to be that it is easy to get carried away.

They say that an FOI request by the Press Association has revealed that there have been 828 disciplinary cases in England and Wales in the past five years, with some officers accused of making racist comments on social media:

In 9% of cases, the police officers resigned, retired or were dismissed – and it 14% there was no further action taken.

The Met police in London reported 69 incidents since 2009; Greater Manchester Police 88 and West Midlands reported 74.

Steve White, chairman, Police Federation of England and Wales says;

“Social media is an incredibly useful tool for engaging with local communities and gathering intelligence. Forces must ensure officers are effectively trained and aware of the latest social media protocols.

“Officers have an important story to tell and it is vital the public hears what they have to say.”

However, White reminded his rank and file members they are “always on duty and need to abide by the codes of conduct and ethics governing their behaviour”.

He added: “It is important to acknowledge that the majority of police officers perform their duties with the utmost integrity, discretion and in accordance with the high standards of behaviour rightly expected of them by the public.”

White said officers should feel free to be able to express themselves within those boundaries without the fear of censure. 

This applies to many other professions as well of course.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Heart of Glass

It is 36 years ago next month that Blondie released their groundbreaking Heart of Glass album so, inspired by an exceptional documentary on BBC 4 last night, here is one of the tracks.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Social media, the new graffiti

Twitter and Facebook are many things but now, according to Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, it is an invaluable distraction for those who might otherwise be out on the streets scrawling graffiti and vandalising other people's property.

The Independent says Mr. House believes that disaffected members of the public are increasingly using services such as Twitter and Facebook to make angry or abusive comments instead of spray-painting buildings, leading to a decline in recorded vandalism:

“Social media in some instances has replaced graffiti as a way of making your views heard. We have had to deal with offensive comments made on Twitter. My view is that 10 to 15 years ago, that would have been sprayed on the side of a building,” Sir Stephen told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority. 

He cited figures which show that vandalism, fire-raising, malicious damage and related crimes have been falling dramatically in Scotland in recent years. Between April and June this year 13,453 such offences were committed, down nearly eight per cent on the same period in 2013. The figure has more than halved since 2009/10, when it was 28,146. 

Asked to explain the fall, Sir Stephen said that modern teenagers were “not out in the street so much” and preferred to stay indoors playing computer games or talking to each other online. “Some of it has been that the Xbox and PlayStation generation is less of a gang generation,” he said. 

“You can correlate that with things like the general view that youth fitness is not where it was. Why? Because they are not out ­playing football to all hours of the day and night. They are inside on the Xbox. But if they are not outside, they are not doing the damage.” 

So is graffiti on its way out thanks to the internet? Not according to Sam Rhodes, the director of Lawrence Alkin Gallery in London, which specialises in urban art. 

“Traditional graffiti and street art is still very much a huge part of the zeitgeist. In relation to Twitter we find that it’s a genuine tool for spreading eye-catching artistic images in a very accessible way,” he said. 

“In this sense I would say that Twitter in fact enhances traditional graffiti messages. Anyone in the world can be exposed to a specific street art piece without having to be physically located directly in front of it. There has been and will always be a place for street art.” 

Nice to see that the internet is making itself useful.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

UK Government extends English cancer drugs fund

The Guardian reports that thousands more cancer patients in England will be offered vital treatments in a £160m boost to the Cancer Drugs Fund. The say that the fund, which has helped more than 55,000 cancer patients since it was set up four years ago, will be increased from £200m a year to £280m a year. As a result many more patients with rare conditions will benefit from life-extending drugs recommended by their doctor:

With the number of people diagnosed with cancer each year increasing by 9% since 2009, and the rising costs of ever more sophisticated drugs, the fund has an important role in helping patients receive treatment, enabling them to access drugs that are not routinely funded by the NHS.

Cancer experts at NHS England have also pinpointed two new drugs which will be added to the fund, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.

These are Xtandi (enzalutamide) for prostate cancer, and Revlimid (lenalidomide) for a new group of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood condition.

Meanwhile the Welsh Labour Government resists following suit leaving cancer patients here disadvantaged.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kate Bush teaches Delia how to cook rice

If like me you are still smarting at not having tickets to the Kate Bush comeback concerts then you may well find some solace in this video as highlighted in the Independent.

This is the iconic moment she appeared before a confused-looking Delia Smith to talk vegetarianism, adding Marmite to vegetables and difficult task of cooking rice ("You just add it to salt water, really," she wisely recounts). The year was 1980. The show was part of the Smith’s BBC Cookery Course series.

"One day I had a stew and there was a bit of meat in the stew and it was so raw that I just identified immediately that this was an animal and I just thought, 'No, I’m not into this,'" she tells Smith, still confused, of the day she decided a vegetable based diet was the way forward.

The rest of the clip sees her sagely discussing the benefits of leaving apple skins in a Waldorf Salad and explaining how to eat seeds.

"You can just sprinkle them over salads, which is fantastic," Bush says.

"I see…" Delia adds. She’s still confused.

"But in fact it’s quite nice by itself. It makes you feel a bit like a parrot."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rubber ducks cause chaos

Story of the day comes from the South Wales Evening Post who report that some 100 rubber ducks wrought havoc on the roads yesterday morning, when the boat trailer they were travelling in opened while on the move.

The ducks were scattered across a 0.25 mile stretch of the A4042 at Llanellen. They had been on their way to the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenney Canal Trust’s annual duck race in Llangyndir:

69-year-old Tony Pugh was part of the team that rescued the ducks: “I can laugh now but earlier I had to run down the road kicking the ducks to the side and then collecting them,” he told a local newspaper.

It took Mr Pugh around an hour to collect all the ducks but, he said, “A car pulled up and a child nicked a few so we've lost some."

Monday, August 25, 2014

UK Government's dysfunctional badger cull faces more trouble

The barmy idea, still being supported by the UK Government, that free shooting marksmen could successfully cull enough badgers on the cheap so as to make an impact on the incidence of bovine TB in a given area has encountered a rather predictable problem.

The Sunday Times reports that a criminal investigation has begun into government marksmen involved in last year’s badger cull following concerns that they jeopardised public safety.

The paper says that detectives are looking at one case where a man is claimed to have stalked a badger for an hour at South Herefordshire Golf Club near Upton Bishop while carrying a loaded rifle.

They add that another allegation is that at least 10 marksmen illegally used night sights to stalk the animals:

News of the investigation comes weeks before the cull is due to restart following a pilot scheme last year to try to curtail the spread of bovine tuberculosis in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset. Gloucestershire police confirmed an investigation was launched following claims by a whistleblower to The Sunday Times this month.

The golf club said its land was not in the cull zone, the marksman did not have permission to be on the course and that police had made a recent visit to discuss the claims.

The whistleblower, who worked for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a cull monitor, described witnessing a series of “chaotic” episodes while out with marksmen, including the alleged incident on the golf course.

Defra marksmen licensed to work on the badger cull are permitted to shoot the animals only on land within the cull zones, and they can only use night scopes when shooting from a fixed position at a badger that is not moving.

Some of us predicted that these problems might arise at the very beginning. Isn't it time that the Government abandoned this nonsense and listened to the science?

By continuing to resist investment in a badger vaccination programme and proper cattle control measures UK ministers are abrogating their responsibility and allowing bTB to spread.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

James and the cold gun

Having watched the Kate Bush documentary on Friday night I am absolutely gutted that I do not have tickets for her comeback concerts. Despite that it has been a good weekend so far, The Swans won their first home game of the season and Dr. Who is back. And who knows, there may well be a new Kate Bush album on the back of these gigs.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cats of World War One

This blogpost which I found via a tweet by Jonathan Calder is absolutely fascinating. It outlines the role played by cats during World War One, hunting mice and rats in ships and in trenches and being embraced as mascots by the soldiers and sailors who they comforted.

The author, Mark Strauss says that an estimated 500,000 cats were dispatched to the trenches, where they killed rats and mice; some were also used as gas detectors. At sea, cats had the run of the ship — a tradition dating back thousands of years.

As the U.S. Naval Institute explains:
It is likely that the ancient Egyptians were the first seafarers to realize the true value of having cats as shipmates. In addition to offering sailors much needed companionship on long voyages, cats provided protection by ridding ships of vermin. Without the presence of cats, a crew might find their ship overrun with rats and mice that would eat into the provisions, chew through ropes and spread disease. The more superstitious sailors believed that cats protected them by bringing good luck. It was also common for crews to adopt cats from the foreign lands they visited to serve as souvenirs as well as reminders of their pets at home.

What I enjoyed most about the post were the photographs, which illustrate better than I can explain in writing, how cats find the most unusual and often photogenic places to settle.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The best part of being an elected politician

The Telegraph carries a very entertaining article about what MPs get up to during recess, which for the most part also applies to Assembly Members.

As a regional member I have always held surgeries and like many MPs take advantage of recesses not just to continue that tradition but also to engage with constituents in different ways as well.

The paper says that according to one study a third of MPs spend up to half their time solving problems on behalf of their constituents, but for another third it’s more like three quarters. Many receive 200 new cases receive each month. It certainly can be that busy for an Assembly Member. My staff and I spend a lot of time dealing with individual problems.

I can also relate to the example given of Labour MP Tristram Hunt’s constituency surgery in Stoke where the journalist describes watching a stream of people entering with 'bags stuffed full of horribly big piles of paper that showed just how horribly they were being treated by the state, the landlord, the bank, or [fill in blank]. They dumped this heaving mass of letters, bills, final demands and court summonses on the trestle table Mr Hunt had set up in one corner of a vast gym. Then they asked him to sort them out.'

It has to be said that although I have had one or two bizarre cases, which I cannot relate here or elsewhere for confidentiality reasons, for the most part I have not managed to match some of the examples given here:

MPs must give the impression they are all-powerful: why else would a woman have asked the Tory MP Tim Loughton for advice on how to make the man who had dumped her change his mind? Perhaps the man who left a 3am voicemail with another MP telling him he was having a heart attack had similarly high opinions of his representative (when a panicked caseworker phoned back the following morning, the chap was fine).

Another MP, who describes her constituency surgery as a “jungle”, says: “I am always being asked by elderly men with very young Thai wives to revoke the wife’s right-to-remain status and have her deported – the latest reason was because she costs too much and listens to music.”

Constituents suffering from such concerns are probably best advised to consult the Labour MP Karen Buck, who had to help one appellant who was concerned with the costs of a wedding. Tory Therese Coffey was asked to recommend a good dating agency, and another colleague was asked for help with the costs of a divorce. One MP still appears to be recovering from a case where a constituent demanded breast implants on the NHS because her boyfriend was so depressed by her natural size that he kept missing work.

A seasoned caseworker still chuckles about the constituent who wanted a refund from a pornography website. But the laughs are few and far between: asylum and immigration, benefits, debt and housing are the most popular problems, and few of them are quite as hilarious as the horrified constituent who badgered an MP about the “absolute crazy prices for rhubarb at Asda”.

The best part of this job is when you are able to help somebody resolve a problem and enable them to get on with their life. We cannot perform miracles, but we can act within the system to make it work better on an individual case basis.

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