Category Archives: Viewpoints

An Open Letter To Billy Bragg

Dear Billy,

By now you probably expect that when someone posts an open letter it will be some sort of rant about some subject or other.  You may be relieved to know that this is not an open letter like that.  Instead it is a letter of thanks, perhaps oddly a letter of thanks for reducing me to tears.

In recent years I have sometimes found it difficult to understand why you have stuck so steadfastly to your belief in the Labour Party.  As the party moved to the right I found it difficult to understand how you could still support them.  I was prepared to write them off as Tory lite but as Mr Corbyn took charge I can once again say that Labour is standing up for my personal beliefs.

Billy Bragg-5

On Saturday at Bearded Theory festival you managed to reignite my passion and showed the assembled fans that your own passion for social justice still burns fiercely in your breast.  Seeing the crowd, fists raised in solidarity with the working man and woman, with those displaced by war and with those risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life brought a lump to my throat.

It was however your rendition of “Scousers  Never Buy The Sun” that finally did for me.  It was appropriate to remember the 96 fans who died at Hillsborough.  It was appropriate to remember the sacrifices that their families have made in pursuit of justice for the loved ones they lost.  I truly hope that those responsible for the mistakes that cost so many lives are finally held accountable for those fatal errors.

Of course to err is to be human.  It wasn’t the mistakes that is the real injustice of Hillsborough, it was the cover-up that was the real crime.

Police, politicians, Thatcher’s government and scum journalists like the Sun conspired and colluded to blame the victims for their failings.  Admittedly at the time of Hillsborough the UK had a real problem with football hooliganism so fans were seen as an easy scapegoat.  What happened next was enough to make you hang your head in shame to be British.

The bravery of the Hillsborough families for over a quarter of a century reminds us that for evil to flourish it needs only for good men to do nothing. The Hillsborough families fought their battle against seemingly incalculable odds and yet they prevailed.  To their never ending credit they fought their battle with dignity, respect and incredible fortitude.  We should be proud of every man, woman and child who refused to allow the Sun to tarnish the memories of their loved one.

Billy Bragg-3

So thank you Billy for helping us to remember.  Thank you for paying a tribute that had the tears streaming down my face.  As I looked around I could see that I was not the only person in tears.  My wife was weeping and there were tears in the eyes of everyone I looked at.

The most damaging aspect of Thatcherism was the lie that so many bought.  There is no such thing as society, the unions were an anachronism, a bar to productivity and collective protest was futile.  The Hillsborough families have taught us that “together we are strong.”  We can change the future if we speak up and stand together against injustice.  We can bring the institutions, no matter how big and powerful, to heel but only if we use out collective voice to stand up for what is right.

I hope that the Hillsborough families will take comfort from the fact that the 96 have been exonerated.  I extend to them my total admiration.

To you Billy I extend my heartfelt thanks for a wonderful tribute to the 96 and their families.  May your fire burn ever brighter and may you keep fighting for what you so passionately believe in.

 

 

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Social Media Bullying – What A Few Days It’s Been

On Sunday I did something rather stupid.  I spoke publicly about my concerns that One Direction’s Harry Styles may be suffering from depression.  I did so knowing that the subject might be controversial but I also did it with the best of intentions.

At no point did I say that Harry Styles was actually mentally ill, the point was that he is in a very high risk group.  I did expect to generate discussion, what I didn’t expect was the avalanche of hatred that came my way as a result of an article that I have since deleted.

Over the past 18-months or so I have written a lot about One Direction and their fans chiefly because I believe that both the band and their fans are given a bad press by the media in general.  As a result of my writing I have supported fans, fan projects and fan charitable efforts both with publicity and with my own hard-earned cash.  My experience with the One Direction fandom has, for the most part been a really positive one.  I have established online friendships with many fans and found most to be caring, genuine mature people.

jpeg;base64cc8e98b54334e4aeThe last thing I expected was to become the victim of cyber-bullying myself.  The disturbing thing wasn’t that people lashed out, I understand that reaction, it was that I became the focus of an orchestrated campaign that took its rise on social blogging platform Tumblr.

 

I most certainly did not expect a couple of influential bloggers whom I have supported publicly in the past to fan the flames of hatred.  As a result I was being subjected to hatred from people who didn’t even trouble themselves to read the article and make their own judgement.  Most simply jumped on a band-wagon they knew nothing about and spewed forth hatred.  One even accused me of encouraging fans to self-harm!  Words that I did not even utter in the article.

It was very interesting that a lot of people contacted me privately to provide their support, most saying that they understood where I was coming from and advising me to simply block the haters and move on.  I find this difficult because after spending my entire working life in the armed services and the police fighting injustice and standing up for myself and others is second nature.  That said I am all too aware that no-one wins fights on the internet.  There are only losers.

4e4a69a9aa132a0a5710816e36e2ef0eThe last few days have been tough.  Anytime I post something online I seem to receive a barrage of hate, it doesn’t even matter what the subject is.  I can only imagine the devastating effect that this type of behaviour must have on young people who are fragile and much less able to deal with this type of behaviour than I am.

Of course I realise that the vast majority of One Direction fans are decent and honourable people who would not dream of acting in this way.  I have had lengthy discussion’s with some fans who disagreed with me over this article totally.  Those people are the ones who convinced me that I was wrong to publish this article and that’s why I deleted it.

It is a simple fact that those who shout abuse and try to bully you into doing what they demand get nowhere, this behaviour leads only to people digging in and fighting with each other.  In the end it is totally counter productive.

If I am totally honest I always knew that the One Direction fandom had a dark and sinister underbelly.  The small minority who behave in this way are over-publicised by a media who try to paint all One Direction fans as obsessive and nasty and I would hate to tarnish all the lovely genuine and caring fans with that kind of label.

As you might imagine I was feeling a little isolated earlier today when a friendly One Direction fan sent me a link to this post from a writer at the Huffington Post.  The post demonstrates that what I have experienced is nothing new.  I am not the first “friend” of the One Direction fandom to have been treated this way and I am sure I won’t be the last.

d-300x227It would be easy to lash out at the bullies because they have caused me a degree of pain.  I won’t though because I am all too well aware that Bullies, especially those who choose the internet as their field of prey, are sad and pathetic individuals who need help.  These are people with so little in their lives that their self-esteem is through the floor and as a result they see anything that challenges them to think beyond their narrow minds as a threat.

For the most part bullies are people with a sensitised amygdala who lash out at any perceived threat, real or otherwise.  As the great Billy Connelly would say “they are more to be pitied than scolded I can assure you.”

If you are a One Direction fan who has suffered cyber-bullying I encourage you to speak out about it.  One Direction NDA have a superb anti-bullying initiative in place so I would encourage you to get in touch with them if you need support.

I would also ask everyone to remember that to err is to be human.  We all make an error of judgement every now and then and the world would be a much better place if we could just remember our own failings before we leap to condemn and harass others for theirs.  We are all entitled to make mistakes, we are entitled to screw up now and then, none of us is perfect.

We all have the right to live our lives free from bullying and harassment even, or perhaps especially, when we make a mistake.

Finally to the many many people who reached out to check if I was OK or who defended me publicly I am honored and humbled by the kindness and understanding you have shown.

The experience has left me a little battered and bruised but unbowed.  It was never my intention to cause anyone distress and genuinely regret causing anyone pain.

I wish every last one of you, even the bullies, love and peace.

Is The U.S. Finally Ready To Tackle Its Insane Gun Laws

Over the course of recent years we have sat back and wrung our hands in despair at the repeated reports of mass-murder by guns in the USA.  We Brits really don’t get the U.S. obsession with guns.  Our gun controls are moderately strict and there are rigorous background checks by the Police before a gun licence is issued.

Certain guns, assault rifles and the like are beyond licensing.  We in the U.K. have some gun crime of course, there have even been a couple  of mass shootings but what goes on in the U.S. on a weekly basis both shocks and appalls us in the UK.

According to the BBC there have been 353 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015, up to December 3rd, thats slightly more than one a day.  12,223 people have been killed in gun violence and a further 24,722 have been injured by guns.  Think about that for a second four times more people have been killed by gun violence in the U.S. in a single year than died in the 9/11 attacks.  Even more worryingly a huge percentage of gun violence in the U.S. is as the result of legally held weapons.

The awful attacks this week in Oregon and San Bernadino means that Obamas second term in office has seen 994th mass shootings.  It is estimated that there are at least 285 million guns in circulation in the U.S., that is pretty close to one for every man woman and child.  It is no exaggeration to say that gun violence is “routine” an acceptable fact of life.

guns9091097g

Every time there is an atrocity the NRA and some in the U.S. government trot out the same tired old platitudes.  It boils down to the argument that the way to tackle gun violence is for more people to have more guns.  This kind of skewed and warped thinking is madness almost beyond belief.  Since 9/11 (up to 2013) over 400,000 Americans have died by gun violence. The U.S. has spent trillions of dollars pursuing the “so called” war on terror as it ignores the slaughter of its citizens by its citizens.

During the same 2001 – 2013 517 people died as a result of gun violence in the UK.  Put simply you are 712 times more likely to die by gun violence in the U.S. than you are in the UK.  Even allowing for the fact that the U.S. population is five times larger than the UK these figures are horrifying.

The lack of gun control in the U.S. is insane.  Earlier this week it was reported that the federal authorities have seized nearly 2300 guns from passengers hand luggage at airports this year.

Newsweek reported earlier this week that authorities in South Carolina have seized an arsenal of 5,000 guns from one man!   A later report on CNN suggests that the true total of guns seized is more likely to be closer to 10,000.

Earlier this week it was revealed that people who are on terrorist watch lists and no-fly lists can still legally buy guns.  Obama himself has declared that this defies any kind of logic.  Seriously a person who is under suspicion of being a terrorist can walk into a shop and quite legally buy a gun!  It beggars belief.  It is insanity of the very highest order.

Obama said in his radio address that the use of military-style assault weapons in the latest mass shooting was “another tragic reminder that here in America it’s way too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun.”

Can it be that these latest atrocities mean that the U.S. is finally waking up to the Insanity of their gun laws.  We can but hope.

Music reviews

Reviewing Music: Should I Get Mad At This?

Many of my regular readers know that I love music.  Music is the reason this blog even exists.  I review a lot of music both here on this blog and on a few other music sites that I am currently writing for.

I work hard at my writing and spend a huge amount of my time exposing myself to new artists, listening to music that is new to me and checking out bands live.  I try not to be unkind to musicians even when I don’t like the music.

One thing that I have learned in the time that I have been doing this is that most musicians struggle to make a living.  I have been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people on my journeys around the grassroots festivals, many of the musicians I have met I am now proud to call friends.  I know first hand that these people work incredibly hard to scrape a living, they are constantly away from home, sleeping in tents or in their cars, driving thousands of miles to play in front of anyone who will listen.

The music industry is notoriously exploitative, for those lucky enough to get signed to a label punitive contracts often mean that even successful bands struggle.  Streaming makes things even more difficult, services like Spotify pay artists a pittance and the sheer volume of online music makes it increasingly more difficult for talent to find an audience.

I thought I had seen it all until yesterday.  I came across a blogger that is trying to charge artists to review their material.  £5 for a review of a single or EP. £10 for a review of an album.  Now this wasn’t a major outlet but a small time blog with barely any following.  The reality of this is that an already struggling artists is being asked to pay out without any realistic prospect of receiving any exposure in return.

I have been lucky enough to build a reasonable following on this blog and can offer exposure in mediums with considerably more clout than I have.  Let me say this very clearly.  Never in a million years would I ask an artist to pay me to review their music.  I regard it as a gift that artists are willing to ask my opinion on their art.  If I can help them even a little I regard that as a gift too.

I am perhaps fortunate in that I get a small income from my writing elsewhere and from selling the odd photograph but in any successful relationship both parties have to benefit.  If I were a high profile blogger with millions of subscribers then I could probably earn a decent income from advertising and from amazon market place but I would never and will never ask an artist to pay me for reviewing their music.

Brian May

Queen Star Brian May Has Made Me Sad – Here is why!

I have been a fan of Queen since the 1970’s but last night I discovered that Brian May’s website had stolen one of my articles and as a result had a serious impact on my earnings.  As a result I wrote a polite e-mail.  Sadly no-one from Brian’s website even saw fit to reply to me.

As a result I have reproduced the message I sent to his website.  I don’t think I was anything other than polite and a simple apology would have been nice.

I now find myself both out of pocket and sad as a result of the whole issue.

Dear sir,

I am writing to make you aware of an issue I have discovered this evening.
I was browsing my Facebook feed this evening and came across a promoted post from Brian May of Queen Fame.
My eye was drawn because I recognised the image.  I clicked the link and was directed here.
What do I find?  An article written by me for Inquisitr was posted on Brian’s site its entirety including the (copyrighted) Getty Images.  The Facebook post had over 17K likes and 550 shares in less that 24 hours.
Firstly let me say I have been a Queen fan since the 1970’s and am delighted that you liked my writing enough to reproduce it.
I thought you might be interested to know the effect that reproducing the article in its entirety in this way has had on me.
My writing for Inquisitr is my sole source of paid employment since I was forced to medically retire as a result of severe depression.  Unlike most writing of this type I do not get paid for each article nor do I receive a salary from Inquisitr.  Like many sites of it’s type Inquisitr’s income is generated by advertising and its writers receive a share of the revenue generated.  In effect what this means for me and writers like me is that my earnings depend entirely on the number of people who read my articles on the Inquisitr site.
Given the number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ that my article received on Facebook it is safe to say that the article would have generated considerable income for me this week had all those people clicked through to the Inquisitr article.  Of course I don’t know how many people read the article on your site but clearly readers have been driven to read the article on your website.  Sadly as a direct result of your reproducing my article I have lost a considerable slice of my income for this week.
I know that you are keenly aware of copyright issues because there is a large copyright notice on your site.  Brian May is someone who has consistently stood up for political fair play in recent years and yet you seem to feel that the copyright issue only works one way.
I am not here to threaten legal action or to curse and swear or make a scene.  I merely wish to make you aware of the impact your actions have had on me as an individual, one of the small guys.  I try hard to provide for my family and school age son but my illness prevents me from taking full time employment.  I can ill afford to be deprived of income in this way.
Had you published the first couple of paragraphs of my article with a link through to the Inquisitr site your actions would have had a very positive impact on my earnings rather than a negative one.
I wish you every success and happiness.
Best Wishes
Alan Ewart
I am greatly saddened by the whole thing 😦
If you would like to bring a smile back to my face please feel free to click on this link and read my original article.  Please share it with you friends too if you wish 🙂
Love and Peace.
Alan
[Image Facebook via The Guardian]
Kenya Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation: Surely One Of The Scandals Of Our Time

The Independent is reporting today that over 500 cases of Female Genital mutilation were reported in English Hospitals last November.

An average of 15 cases were discovered each day in November, according to data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).  Given that these were cases that were reported to hospitals you have to wonder how widespread this barbaric practice is in the UK.

Despite the practice of Female Genital Mutilation being illegal since 1985 no-one has yet been convicted for the practice.  Dhanuson Dharmasena is currently on trial accused of performing FGM on a patient at the Whittington hospital in north London, it is the first prosecution of its kind.

FGM is the deliberate partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

It is often performed in north and east Africa, as well as in some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, on pre-pubescent girls and is thought to mark the passage into womanhood.

In the UK it is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk every year, according to the Plan charity, which campaigns against the practice. Globally, 130 million girls and women have undergone FGM.

Around a quarter of NHS trusts did not submit figures to the HSCIC, which means the true number of cases is likely to be higher.

As a man I cannot even begin to imagine the pain, humiliation and trauma this barbaric practice has. I cannot even begin to imagine why and how anyone can think this practice is acceptable.

What do you think?

Joko Widodo Begged For Clemency As Aussies Face The Firing Squad

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has begged Indonesian leader Joko Widodo not to execute two Australian drug smugglers by firing squad. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Abbott has urged Joko Widodo to show mercy to Myuran Sukumaran, who faces death by firing squad after his appeal for clemency was rejected. The plea is the latest move in an Ongoing campaign to save the lives of Sukumaran and his childhood friend and fellow heroin smuggler Andrew Chan. Chan’s appeal for clemency has yet to be heard but if it fails the childhood friends will be executed by firing squad and will die together.