Monday morning…

When you arrive at work and colleagues ask how you are, the last thing they want to hear is that you’ve had a terrible journey, the coffee jar was empty,  your computer’s crashed and your lunch is at home on the kitchen worktop.  It’s a whole lot easier to say I’m fine. But when used in this context, Fine is an acronym that stands for Fed-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional.

So when you next hear this, and notice the smile is strained, offer some of your coffee and the reasurance that it’s ok because you’re fine too 🙂

Virtual Revolution and Heavy Rain

I was disappointed in the BBC’s Virtual Revolution series. It completely failed to address the potential of technology to ensure equal access to the Internet. The invisibility of this issue is really quite sad. For all the parallels made with the legacy of Gutenberg there was no awareness that from Gutenberg to Google those in need of assistive technology are having access denied. Even with all the technical assistance in place, most of today’s virtual environments remain inaccessible. Current debate on the BCAB forum reaffirms this – BMI Baby and Easy Jet should know better or do they just not care?

Episode 4 started promisingly but didn’t really go anywhere. It asked if the Internet is altering us but failed to cover issues like those raised in the CIBER report about the changing behaviours and attitudes of young people online and the implications this has for ensuring appropriate future digital literacy. Maybe my horizons are too narrow. I accept programmes have to be selective but I believe passionately in equity of access – how could they not care about such blatant discrimination – and I worry about the effect of continual digital engagement on young brains. Which is my other point and it’s not the Internet. Heavy Rain is the new PS3 game by Quantic Dream. Described as a classic film noir thriller, the level of available interaction is amazing.  The graphics are so fantastic you’re not sure if you’re watching a film or playing a game. I had to watch because I couldn’t play it. I struggled with Grand Theft Auto and Heavy Rain was totally beyond me. My brain isn’t capable of the multiplicity of actions required to operate at this level and I’m not sure I really want to. I’d rather be out in the sun on the allotment.  I suspect the greatest danger of virtual environments is as Sherry Turkle said in Virtual Revolution 4 ‘We are no longer nourished but we are consumed by what we have created.’

smart or not so smart

An article in today’s Observer calls for random dope testing of students to detect the use of ‘smart drugs’ being taken for cognitive enhancement. If you didn’t already know, then it tells you Ritalin and Modafinil are available over the Internet. Improving ‘alertness and attention’ in this way is raising ethical concerns about potential cheating. It’s ok to improve brain functioning while studying but not under exam conditions. I have a three hour exam coming up; my first in decades. If there were a quick fix solution to memorising 12 weeks of study materials and writing three one-hour essays, then I would be sorely tempted. But the problem with effective drugs is the speed at which they become habitual. We seem hot wired to seek out improvements on our current state of mind and then feel compelled to repeat the behaviour as and when required.  Dependency is a dangerous direction of choice.  The article suggests legalising cognitive enhancement could result in either shorter working weeks with more leisure time or a 24/7 working culture with greater productivity and, presumably, capacity for creativity. Sounds quite appealing with echoes of Soma in Huxley’s Brave New World which had ‘all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol and none of their defects’.

Drugs are a bit like technology. It’s not what they do but the way in which they are used. Smart drugs raise questions about the legitimacy of chemically altering mental capacity. Should we struggle with what we have or is it ethically acceptable to seek to enhance it? Or is altering the brain like plastic surgery to alter the body; your money your choice! The highest risk seems to be buying drugs over the Internet in the first place. There’s no guarantee you’re not getting sugar pills in plagiarised packaging. The other danger is the more students, researchers and scientists (Can a daily pill really boost your brain power? Nature 20/09/09)  participate in self-medication then greater advantage will be taken by those illegally supplying this new lucrative market.

Closet door stays shut!

Any form of person-phobia is unacceptable. The SU posters associating LGBT with abuse are forthright and difficult to ignore. 10/10 for impact; there’s no doubting the message. Or is there?  What sort of awareness is being raised? Isn’t linking LGBT with hate crime discouraging for anyone wanting to know more about alternative lifestyles?  Deeper meanings may lie underneath but posters are not always the ideal medium for provoking thought; sometimes it’s the surface message which dominates people’s time and attention.

The risk with promoting uncomfortable images is the observer may make the wrong association. Linking LGBT with violence says homophobia shouldn’t be happening but, because it is, you might want to think twice about putting yourself in that position. Nothing positive or reassuring about being LGBT is evident. Result? A missed opportunity. Closet door stays shut. At best, the viewer is unavoidably reminded of the lack of space in social discourse for difference and that legislation against discrimination is never enough to prevent it.

out of the darkness and into the light…

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Rhubarb  may not be the most exciting of foods but it has an illustrious pedigree; one which belies its current status. The plant’s history can be traced back to 2700 BC in China and medicinal rhubarb, the powdered root, was a staple of international trade routes in the time of Marco Polo. It’s health properties were reinforced on Friday when researchers at Sheffield Hallam announced that rhubarb contains anti-cancer properties. This weekend I visited the Rhubarb Triangle in the West Riding. Here rhubarb is grown and picked by candlelight in long, low-ceilinged forcing sheds; thwarting nature and depriving the plants of light to create a sweet, stunningly red-coloured stalk. They use methods handed down through the generations and in the darkness you can hear the buds emerging from the roots with a distinctive ‘pop’. Rhubarb is easy to grow; it can be forced by placing a bucket over the crown, it freezes well and it’s good for you too. Following the promotion of natural remedies such as bilberries and goji berries as miraculous health endowing super-foods; 2010 could be the year that  Rheum rhaponticum emerges from the darkness and into the light.

cure for exceeding profile storage space

 I’ve found a cure for exceeding my profile storage space. Didn’t work on campus but it’s solved the problem on my laptop. Paste this code into Notepad

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


 Save the file to the Desktop with the name undopolicy.reg and select All Files. Double click the Desktop icon and say Yes to  add to Registry.  Problem solved.  I can now shut down with that horrendous bleeping noise and those irritating messages 🙂

that ‘F’ word again…

On 8 January I asked what the F word did for us. I may have been unfair because it’s thanks to feminist politics that I’ve had choices which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. However, being of an age where my children’s generation are now having children of their own, I see increasing pressure to conform to a stereotyped body image, male as well as female. Activism against body politics can’t be far away.  A new book by Natasha Walter,  Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism  looks  at contemporary expectations on young women and the return of a sexism that privileges appearance. Two more books are due out this year; Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion, and Reclaiming the F Word: The New ­Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune’s. A resurgence of feminist politics may well be on the horizon.

Some backlash against feminism was inevitable; such as the reinterpretation of the label to support the cult of female celebrity and all its physical fakery; fake nails, fake tan and fake breasts. Maybe that in itself is a form of political feminism. In the same way that happy housewives defended their right to prioritise the home and childcare, taking control of the body may be seen as the right to find identity and meaning. However, rather than unrealistic cultural expectations my greater concern is the absence of status for the pregnant body and the role of childcare.  At the risk of sounding essentialist, you can’t alter biological design. A key error in feminist politics was to assume that all women wanted freedom from subordination via autonomy when to be sustainable the real issues were about achieving a balance of power. Childcare is key to feminism. Jenni Murray calls for altering public policy to change its perception into as something all parents do, not just women’s work. Therein lies the answer that was missed last time round; feminism is not about existing independently, it’s about collaboration between the sexes and recognition that childcare is a joint responsibility.  As the media reports widely on toxic families and the break down in social structures there’s never been a better time for the policy to catch up with a contemporary need for gendered social equality.

mixed messages…

The official Olympics 2012 logo is as disappointing as the choice of official sponsors. The disjointed looking piece of Flash breaks a number of accessibility guidelines and resembles something falling apart rather than being in any way memorable, reproducible or having an association with health and fitness.  Which leads onto the sponsors who include Cadburys (should that now be Kraft?) Coca Cola and Macdonalds. High-sugar, high-fat, processed food and drink; the antithesis of what our government is currently advocating as ‘healthy’ eating. The modern Olympics aim to promote the ‘practice of sport and the joy found in effort. In 21st century-speak this could translate as the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Quite where the McDonalds fast food ethos fits into this is not overtly clear. Even more bizarrely is the official Olympic rule of allowing no advertising when the organisers can appoint official sponsors, to generate income to help with the ‘costs of running an Olympic Games and promoting the Olympic message’ (ibid) In 2012 the message seems to be ‘additives and junk food are ok’. How this blatant promotion differs from advertising of products is unclear. Another recent expose of the ‘food’ industry is Ingreedients  which follows in the footsteps of Fast Food Nation SuperSize Me  and Food Inc. The advertising for Ingreedients says ‘This DVD contains the information to live a healthy life but the choice is yours!’ a message the Olympics 2012 should be taking the opportunity to promote rather than associating with the multinational junk food companies who have a vested interest in profits rather than children’s health.

Sing Jerusalem naked!

What difference would having the Internet have made to Feminist politics in the 1970s? In 2010, online feminist activity is encouraging libratory action; designed to creative a positive self image and sisterly solidarity. Make Your Own Herstory  is a website set up by self-confessed activist Nic Green, creator of Trilogy, feminist theatre involving naked female bodies that is allegedly so inspiring audiences have stripped naked for the final rendering of Jerusalem. I think that’s carrying audience participation a bit far but an alternative is proposed on the MYOH website were you are invited to take a camera outside, remove your clothes, sing Jerusalem and then upload the video.

Sounds like virtual feminism has arrived.

if you can’t pronounce it don’t eat it

When the School Food Trust was set up in 2005, part of its remit was guidance on healthy packed lunches. Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports on the numbers of children’s packed lunches still based on crisps, sweets, and sugary drinks  saying only 1.1% meet the required nutritional standards and only 1 in 5 contain fresh fruit or veg. If a government strategy for addressing something as fundamental as the health of our children can fail then it doesn’t bode well for the Digital Britain Action Plan’s success in persuading non-computer users of the advantages of the Internet.  Government strategies are doomed when they suggest changes in lifestyle; stop smoking, restrict alcohol, eat five portions of fruit and veg, walk 10000 steps, while all the time there is an easy cheap supply of cigarettes, alcohol and high sugar/salt/fat processed foods, mostly well within 10000 steps.  

January is the time of broken new year resolutions; the majority of which involve giving something up. We pick the coldest, greyest and most miserable time of the year to promise ourselves we’ll be fitter and healthier in the months ahead. But it doesn’t happen; in the same way that sales of cigarettes and alcohol won’t go down so long as they provide the government with a healthy tax revenue and supermarkets continue to offer cut price deals. Habit is a powerful incentive. We choose behaviours that reward us in the short term so delayed gratification may not be the best way to sell an idea or a product, neither is depriving us of something we enjoy. A ‘healthy’ packed lunch is about more than food; it’s about the availability of cost and time, about education and understanding where processed food comes from and the number of additives and chemicals it contains. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients list then reconsider eating it.

Supersize Me and the Future of Food are free to watch on   Fast Food Nation  and tell much the same story. But warning; ‘healthy’ eating may well start here….