Issue 157: 2018 06 07: Virtually Speaking

Burger and Fries

07 June 2018

Virtually Speaking

What should we be doing?

By Lynda Goetz 

We seem as a nation to be very conflicted and somewhat confused at this moment.  Not just as regards Brexit, but on so many other issues too.  Looking at events and news items from this week alone, there are a number which spring to mind.

First and foremost is the announcement by Chris Grayling on a new runway for Heathrow.  As has been endlessly pointed out, the need for greater air capacity was first mooted 50 years ago (Roskill Commission) and the debate has dragged on since then.  It is still possible that the third runway may indeed never be built, in spite of the cabinet approval given yesterday (by all cabinet members except Boris Johnson).  On the one hand, we apparently need this to keep up in terms of international standing, trade and to enhance our economic growth, but on the other, pollution (both in terms of air quality and noise) is an ever increasing problem.  There is also the fact that since the original proposal all those years ago the population of the surrounding area has increased, with the concomitant danger of flying more aircraft over such a densely populated area.

As we are agonising over one runway, China is all set to build, it seems, not just a new airport for Beijing, but another 136 around the country by 2025.  The new Beijing Daxing Aiport in the southern suburbs of Beijing, which will be the largest airport in the world, is expected to be completed by October 2019.  It was started in 2015.  The investment in other civil airports is part of a massive infrastructure drive announced in 2016.  China, of course, given the nature of its government, does not have to worry about the reaction of its population to any moves it makes, nor has it ever shown much concern over environmental issues.

At the same time as our government is formulating its childhood obesity strategy, the ‘body positivity’ movement is busy advising on how not to ‘fat shame’ those ‘in larger bodies’.  In an article in the Independent on 9th May, Rachel Hosie took advice from Rachel Freeman, Founder and MD of CurveWOW, a female plus size clothing brand, on how not to unintentionally fat shame.  Dietland, a new show on Amazon Prime, apparently promotes the idea of ‘fat acceptance’.  So, fat is not OK in children, but is fine in adults?  It is rather hard to know what the contemporary message is here.  Does being fat lead to more health problems or not?  If it doesn’t, why are we worrying about oversize kids?  Surely, it’s fine – just one of the ways in which we are all different, but equally beautiful?  If it doesn’t in fact cause type 2 diabetes or lead to heart problems, respiratory problems or certain forms of cancer (all leading of course to extra pressure on our already overburdened NHS), then where’s the worry?

Recent research carried out by Oxford University in conjunction with Bath University concluded that more than 10,000 premature deaths a year are being caused by pollutants from cars, particularly diesel vehicles, with 40,000 deaths a year linked to all forms of air pollution.  Costs to the NHS of pollution amounted to hundreds of millions of pounds, with the costs in cities particularly high.  The report actually suggests that as individuals we can make personal choices such as avoiding unnecessary journeys or working from home.  The UK’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said earlier this year that exposure to a ‘daily cocktail of pollutants’ was a problem everywhere, not just in the cities.  Those of us with wood-burning stoves or even a love of scented candles are also putting our health in danger (at home).  As individuals we may be able to make the choice of reducing car journeys, choosing less polluting cars and not using scented candles or wood-burning stoves, but should we also be making the choice not to get on that jumbo jet and fly off to Australia, Thailand or the Caribbean?  Should we all be enjoying virtual holidays instead?

As the editorial in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph points out, the established rule of law in this country has for a long time now been that a person is innocent until proved guilty.  That is, it would seem, unless you are a man accused of rape.  In which case, under the regime established by our most recent Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Alison Saunders, the guidance was that men needed to convince police and prosecutors that the woman consented to sex if they were to avoid being hauled up before the courts. This system, which has seen the accuser as ‘the victim’, has resulted in information being withheld from the defendants and has subsequently led to a number of collapsed trials (see earlier Shaw Sheet article Rape in the Spotlight) and the current investigation.  Germaine Greer last week unsurprisingly stirred controversy at the Hay Festival with her comments about rape.  Nevertheless, Alison Saunders’ clumsy attempts to increase conviction rates have, if looked at closely, not really done women any favours and have resulted in ruined lives for a number of wrongly accused men.  Whereas in the past the cases that came to court were mostly where the attacker was unknown to the victim, the massive increase in cases reaching court in recent years has largely been as a result of situations where the parties were known to one another.  This inevitably creates a situation of ‘he said’ ‘she said’, and juries are often hard put to decide what actually happened.  Germaine Greer’s views as expressed at the Hay Festival may not be popular in the current climate, but she is not the only one to feel that the pendulum has swung too far the other way.  Tana Adkin QC, a member of the Criminal Bar Association’s executive committee, commented that “There has been a desire to protect the complainant, to preserve their privacy, rather than looking at the data for what it is.  There has been a complainant-centred approach rather than a justice-centred approach”.G

Our commitment to spend 0.7 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) on foreign aid programmes was popular in some quarters.  Others, however, have been critical and often the way the money is spent remains controversial.  A report this week from the International Development committee reveals that some of the multi-billion pound Official Development Assistance (ODA) is not being focused on alleviating poverty.  The committee has apparently uncovered cases where money is being spent on developing the Chinese film industry and reducing the salt intake of Chinese children.  Well, that’s good then.  Whilst Chinese children consume less salt as a result of British aid efforts, ours may or may not consume less junk food.

Whilst we spend years debating the merits of a third runway at Heathrow, the Chinese will have completed their mega airport in Beijing (as well as numerous others) and in so doing be able to enhance their economic growth as well as send more tourists swarming around the globe.  Our obese children will meanwhile grow up to be fat adults – at which point we must avoid at all costs fat-shaming them.  Our own economic growth will have stalled completely and we will all be sitting at home shivering because we haven’t worked out which form of energy we should be using and are petrified of using our polluting diesel vehicles to go to work or indeed anywhere else.  Our social life will have ground to a halt and we will be interacting virtually, as this is (maybe) the latest advice.  There will be few rape cases brought to court because no police can be found to trawl through the endlessly tedious messages on people’s phones and devices.  We will be doing virtual work, taking virtual holidays and receiving virtual health treatment whilst the government negotiators are still abjectly pleading with M. Barnier (or his successor) to look favourably on our proposals for a virtual Brexit.


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