Sunday, July 26, 2009

The death of civilisation

Before I begin, let me say that Clayton Weatherston seemed to me, like so many other New Zealanders, a creepy, calculating killer before his conviction by jury trial. I had little doubt that he would be convicted of murder. It seemed plain, based on the evidence - whether we liked Weatherston or not (there didn't seem much to admire).

What really concerns me is the mob mentality that has arisen following this trial. Weatherston has been vilified. He is probably the country's most hated person.Even my own circle - educated, reasonable people - felt some satisfaction baying for the killer's blood - happily rehearsing the gossip that a six figure bounty had been placed on his life in prison.

The broadcast media coverage has a lot to answer for in this case. It portrayed Sophie Elliott, the victim, as sainted, beautiful, worthy of celebrity and filled with promise. She was our Snow White in a glass coffin, they reconstructed her mutilated self, like retouching a supermodel in a fashion magazine.

Weatherston was filmed unsympathetically. News items were brutally edited using the same techniques 'reality TV' shows to create 'goodies' and 'baddies' like Survivor and Big Brother. Not that Weatherston seemed to need much help.

Television in particular (I didn't hear any radio broadcasts) lapped it up and polarised the information to the point where only black and white were left. Saint and Sinner. Which side are you on?

The justice system in New Zealand follows the premise that a person accused of a crime is innocent until they are proven guilty without doubt. Weatherston admitted killing the girl but argued that she provoked him to do so. He was afforded the right to argue that defence and show that his crime was not murder, but the lesser charge: manslaughter. In his defence he sought to show that his victim wasn't pure as the driven snow.

Pundits have criticised Weatherston's tearing down of his victim's reputation when she had no possible right of reply. His problem was that it was his word against her residual media image and with each of the five days in the dock; cross-examined in his own defence he dug a deeper hole for himself. He looked and sounded more and more like a twisted, evil bastard sent for a screen test by casting central.

But the law is the law. Weatherston was entitled to his day in court. He was innocent (of murder) until his guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt . Just as you and I - and your grandfather, aunt, uncle, son or daughter would be. Before you scream for blood and buy into the knee jerk populist reaction of Simon Power (Minister of Justice) and Judith Collins (Minister of Police) it is important to remember that simple point. We have to have faith in the system as it applies to us all - even when it is imperfect.

Simon Power's desire to fast track changes to the laws of the land that provide for the defence of provocation (which has been also been used by battered women who killed their abusers) is akin to holding aloft a saintly, grisly relic from Sophie Elliott to rouse the rabble behind a change that should be debated and considered thoroughly and in public. This applies to any major change in laws that affect the rights and liberties of the population. Peter Williams Q.C. has spoken eloquently and reasonably on the matter, but it seems seasoned legal minds such as his, who care more for justice than popularity, will be ignored.

Using populist causes to insinuate radical change is not especially new, Hitler was a past master. The cultivated, civilised population of Germany enlisted willingly in a programme that had disastrous consequences for the whole world by turning into an organised mob.

I hope this isn't where we are headed and media will learn that the consequences of their reporting is far reaching. News isn't supposed to be like a trailer for Coronation Street's latest idiotic, murderous frolic. Justice is not a joke or an entertainment for our salacious pleasure.

Weatherston may have damaged his mute victim's reputation but television, radio and newspapers propagated it and cultivated it solely in the interest of ratings and advertising revenue. The subsequent horror was not inflicted on Ms Elliott's family by her murderer but by our insatiable consumption of the despicable to the point where we can't tell the difference between real life and death and Dexter.

On the evening of the guilty verdict TV3 was running promotional trailers on a very heavy rotation for Dexter - a show about an unrepentant mass-murderer who mutilates his victims. The trailer's oh-so-clever lines ran to: "Who put the Laughter into Slaughter" and "Who put the fun in funeral".

We live in a world of cynical media symbiosis. They feed us. We feed them… until we can't seem to manage without the fix. We're junk junkies. As Hitchcock said "Seeing a murder on television... can help work off one's antagonisms. And if you haven't any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some."

When Clayton Weatherston is inevitably hurt or killed in prison by an inmate as murderous and psychopathic as he (while guards look away with our collective consent) I won't be cheering. It won't be natural justice - as if that idea is a synonym of the law of the jungle.

I will mourn the loss of our civility.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pimp My Pump™

I've been sitting around for weeks now following a heart attack and bypass surgery. Well, maybe not sitting around as such. I made a decision to chronicle my recovery and path to good health with a blog called Pimp My Pump™.

Actually it is more than a blog. I am also writing a book. The idea is simple. I had major, invasive surgery at a relatively young age which I could have avoided. I knew all of the indicators for heart disease and I knew I had many of them. I had even been prescribed medicine to control my blood pressure but I ignored all good sense and the result was a gruesome operation and a disruptive period of recovery.

In the hospital I decided that my experience shouldn't go to waste. If I can persuade one guy between 35 - 50 to ask his doctor to check his heart health then its worthwhile. Hence Pimp My Pump™.

Men's health is an interesting area. In many ways I think it is neglected by comparison to the energy and resources that go into promoting women's health. Campaigners for breast cancer and cervical screening have done an outstanding job of raising awareness of those health issues for women. Millions are spent each year advertising the programmes for screening. The women's health lobby are very vocal as was seen when the New Zealand government's drug buying agency refused to fund the breast cancer fighting drug Herceptin to the same extent that countries seen as our counterparts had. (A Google search shows thousands of pages on the topic).

But men kind of drift in a limbo area. Characteristically we don't pay the same attention to health matters as women. We visit the doctor less (partly because women are more likely to take children to see a family physician); guys also seem to have a mindset that aches and pains will pass - and in most cases they do. It is enculturated in us to 'harden up' and tough things out without complaint. That said, there is also the cultural meme that suggests men are wimps by comparison to women when we are stricken with something like a cold. (It makes for an amusing anecdote but I'd challenge anyone to find credible evidence to support the theory).

I'm not interested in setting up some kind of 'battle of the sexes', that would be pointless. I'm only interested in getting men in the target group to get a heart check and to do a few simple things to avoid heart disease.

I've worked in and around health promotion for years (ironic that I promoted two of the drugs I now take). I have formed the view that most health promotion messages aimed at men fall short of the mark because they fail to take into consideration fundamental communication basics. I don't have all the answers but I am committed to researching the topic and developing educational tools and messages that have some chance of succeeding.

In the mean-time Pimping My Pump is an on-going project. Weight loss, fitness, de-stressing, enjoying a healthy diet are all on my agenda (now that the mechanical reconstruction of a quadruple bypass has been done).

If you have experience of heart disease or are interested in knowing more about the project, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

If you're male, approaching 40 years of age or are in your 40s get a heart check. It's worth it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Olympics pimp athletes but object to competition

Logan Campbell, a young Kiwi Olympian has opened a brothel. He says that its purpose is to raise funds for his bid to attend the next Olympic Games in London. In a flurry of media interest - its a perfect storm in a teacup for media and has been reported as far off as the Times and BBC websites. Sport and sex in the same story - perfect.

Here in New Zealand both the NZ Olympic committee and Taekwon-Do, the sport in question, have expressed indignation at the morals of Mr Campbell. It should be noted that brothels are legal in New Zealand, as is prostitution. So, as a nation, we have no moral problem with the enterprise. It is legislated for and so, you could reasonably assume it is encouraged as an enterprise and source of tax revenue (which then goes in part to SPARC a government agency that funds the NZOC).

The Olympic Games is a monumental money making machine that generates cash from television rights, sponsorships, advertising, ticket sales, merchandising and licensing. It generates this money from blood sweat and tears of amateur athletes around the world who are willing to mortgage themselves to the hilt to participate in the event - mostly with nil hope of winning a gold medal. Middle aged has-beens administer the national Olympic Committees around the world. Many of these people are former athletes. The privileges and perks of being on the committee are often viewed as a fair consideration for sacrifices they made in their youth. Exemplary 'morality' (whatever that might mean) is assumed by the IOC and NZOC, as is apparent in the matter of the brothel keeping martial arts practitioner. But the unintended consequence of expressing moral indignation is that one's own morals will come under scrutiny.

In 1999 scandal rocked the Olympic movement when graft and corruption was revealed at the very highest levels for the assignment of host city status. Cities bidding for the games see vast pots of riches from influxes of development, tourism and international prestige. Whenever there are riches on this scale there will be greed and floating morality. The Guardian covered the scandal extensively at the time.

The choice of a totalitarian regime for the 2008 Olympic host country was a simple disgrace in itself. China stepped up its repression of its people to accommodate the IOC and present a fake face to the world. They even faked the opening ceremony. I wrote about this at the time. Of course China weren't the first dictatorship to host the games, Nazi Germany made its mark on the Games in 1936 - including turning it into a fascist spectacle and introducing the fantasy of the torch relay.

It can't go without mention that the Olympics have received hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship and advertising from those paragons of healthy living McDonalds and the CocaCola Company. Amateur athletes are being used to vicariously pimp potentially lethal foods to the young who consider the athletes to be heroes.

For Taekwon-Do New Zealand to publicly declare doubt over Campbell's morals and cast doubt on his future suitability is in itself, morally dubious. What is the criteria for selection? Surely to be the best athlete available in one's sport. Publicly questioning Campbell's morality when he is engaged in a perfectly legal enterprise defames the athlete. Implying that he may not be selected because of it indicates a petulant, corrupt point of view - that an athlete must conform to the social mores of the selectors (what if you vote for a different party or attend a different church than the selectors?).

'Let them who are without guilt cast the first stone.'

Taekwon-Do gets a TKO

Friday, July 10, 2009

Life 2.0

I have been silent here for over a month. 4 weeks ago I had a heart attack. A week and a half ago I underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and now I'm back on my feet and easing back into a new phase of life - Life 2.0

The curious thing is that I haven't had any great epiphany. I don't think life has any more or less significance than before. I haven't had a conversation with 'God' (I am still an atheist). Nothing miraculous has happened to me. I ignored my health, I ignored medical advice and the consequence was all but inevitable. In this I realise I am just like a large proportion of men. In the New Zealand vernacular we have an expression "She'll be right, mate" and it close companion, "No worries Mate."

It is culturally accepted, encouraged even, to be self deprecating, rather than to place one's self first in a situation.

This kind of thinking is curious when you examine it. It's for good reason that airline safety messages emphasise that, in the event an oxygen mask should fall in front of your face you should attach the mask first to you, then attend to others, including children.

So, now I have decided that I will look after myself and make me my life's work. I have begun a programme called Pimp My Pump™ which is my personal journey back to good heart health (at 46, following the bypass procedure, I have been told I can expect a 'normal' life-span - all things being equal if I become more active, reduce sugars in my diet, manage my cholesterol and weight (paying particular attention to abdominal fat). There is a Pimp My Pump™ blog where I tell my story and encourage men 35-50 to get a heart check by their doctor. So, in taking care of me I can then be in a position to help others - in case you thought looking after me was the selfish meme in action.

I will be developing a book, for which I have a publisher, and am establishing a charitable trust to educate at risk men about Heart Health - but doing it my way (because I realise worthy-but-dull messages fall on deaf ears).

Anyway. Nice to be back.