Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Twitter Joke Trial

I am a commercial pilot. I qualified as such in early 2001, and started my first job in September of that year. The timing of my employment should make you realise that I am acutely aware of the security implications of what I do for a living, and the actions of people in relation to aviation. I must make it clear that the views expressed in this post are purely my own. I do not personally know anybody involved, nor have I ever been to the airport in question.

Today, @PaulJChambers will have an appeal heard in the high court. He posted a tweet which was clearly a throwaway comment in cartoon language expressing his frustration at the closure of an airport, and disruption of his travel plans. I'm sure you know the story, and if you don't, there is a comprehensive list of links HERE

There were several stages where this process could have been brought to a halt, had some common sense been applied.

The Airport
Firstly, some blame lies with the airport duty manager who, on searching for tweets about the airport found Paul's tweet, and presumably after discussion at a high level of management within the airport (he was, after all a duty manager) took it further. The investigating officer at the airport regarded it as a joke, and stated as much in his report.
If something *could* be a threat, no matter how unlikely, he felt that he was obliged to report it. I regard this as the first official failure of common sense. Having already established that this was a joke not a threat, wasn't passing this on to the police tantamount to wasting police time?

The Police
This is where things started to go a bit Monty Python. After receiving the report, the police classed the message as a "non-credible threat" (argue amongst yourselves as to whether you think there was a 'threat' at all) and yet SENT A SQUAD OF ANTI-TERRORIST OFFICERS TO PAUL'S PLACE OF WORK TO ARREST HIM.

Somebody actually thought that was an appropriate course of action.

And then he was charged under the 1977 Bomb Threat act. It was almost as if somebody had realised how silly they looked sending in the anti terrorist squad, and needed to bring a serious charge to save face. But that's just conjecture.

The CPS knew there was no hope of gaining a conviction for anything Paul was arrested and charged with. So instead they decided to try and get him for something else... Anything else... And they found section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
I'm not sure whether their attitude is one of trying to save face in the light of a massive overreaction, indifference to the impact on someone's life in their pursuit of targets, or just plain spite.
At every stage in this process was the opportunity for someone to stop, and think "hang on... Is this really in the public interest? Is what I am about to do really proportionate or even necessary?"

I could rant for several pages about the conviction, or worse the muddled, illogical thinking contained in the appeal judgement. However it has all been said before, and is not really relevant here.

The people charged with the very serious job of ensuring the safety of air transport failed at every turn to apply their common sense and instead favoured the ticking of a box, the following of a procedure, or the hitting of a target. And I am left wondering; while they deliberately distracted themselves by pursuing Paul Chambers, what might they have missed?

Just weeks after Paul was arrested, there was another story in the news. Whilst the American authorities were similarly looking in the wrong direction, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board aircraft with explosives in his underwear.

My concern is not with the security staff whom I see every day (in fact I get on pretty well with the staff at my base) rather it is with the rules they have to enforce, and with the people who set those rules. As I walk through the terminal past restaurants and duty free shops I see many things far more dangerous to the safety of an aeroplane than the toothpaste, deodorant and nail clippers I am banned from taking in my nightstop kit.

My point is this. Aviation security has never been served by this prosecution, in fact quite the opposite. Those who sought the prosecution look ridiculous; it undermines their authority and their professionalism. It undermines public confidence in what they are doing. It makes their job harder. I am not left with the impression of professionals undertaking their security role seriously, instead, I see Romans looking for Spoons

I wish Paul the very best of luck in his appeal.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Inevitable "what I should have said" post.

Welcome to the internet. A happy place.

Thank you all for the unbelievable support for my last post, and thanks to Ricky Gervais for posting the link on twitter. I was amazed that over a weekend of nearly 14,000 hits and several comments, I didn't encounter a single troll. All comments have been posted unedited.

But I reread the post and realised something was clearly missing. The campaign to get Life's Too Short pulled from the air is well organised. Many letters are being sent to MPs the BBC, Ofcom and national newspapers and I suspect that it has built up such a head of steam now that there will more publicity over the coming weeks. Even well respected members of the restricted growth acting community have suggested that this show has the potential to set attitudes back 150 years and depict all short people as circus freaks. It is therefore not appropriate to simply dismiss this campaign because a few people got nasty on a message board; what I really ought to do is explain why they are wrong.

The campaign organisers want short statured people to be able to walk down the road without being stared at, without being shouted at and abused, without being lifted up by a drunk chav on a night out. I want that for my daughter too. But what they seem to have missed is that so does Warwick Davis. And so does Ricky Gervais. The thrust of the campaign is that in portraying short people in uncomfortable and unpleasant situations it somehow validates the appalling attitudes and behaviour seen in the show. I believe they have fundamentally misinterpreted the nature and intention of the show.

Last Thursday's episode caused particular outrage. The first scene has come in for particular criticism for showing Dwarf Bowling. We are all aware that Dwarf Bowling happens, and is pretty distasteful: that's the whole point of the scene. You are not supposed to like Warwick's character. He's the sort of person who organises a Dwarf Bowling contest, and after taking a 10% agency fee says "What's the problem, he's getting paid!"
It's a common argument that was voiced often after the Rugby World Cup débâcle this year, the scene seeks to invalidate the argument by putting it in the mouth of someone you already dislike.

Every scene that has caused people to be upset has a similar underlying message, and it's loud and clear. It has been since Warwick Davis first tweeted about the show, a year ago. It has been in the pre show publicity and interviews. It was clear when Ricky Gervais tweeted a link to a letter from one of the campaigners in The Guardian.

If you are not convinced of the show's intentions, let me briefly address objections to some of the other major scenes:

"Johnny Depp put him in the toilet! People look up to Johnny Depp!" - Johnny Depp was playing a character. An unpleasant, spoiled character who you are not at any time meant to identify with. He is a dick. If you think it's funny to make someone stand in a toilet then guess what? You're a dick too.

"Helena Bonham-Carter called Warwick "it" and had him put in a bin!" - yes because HBC was portraying a spoilt prima-donna with a sycophantic entourage. It was outrageous that she called Warwick "it". You were meant to be outraged.

Warwick was disappointed to find that Tim Burton wasn't directing.

A third of last week's episode was dedicated to the message that short stature actors should be considered for roles on their acting ability alone. Why shouldn't a dwarf play Othello or Hamlet at the RSC? This is something that Warwick has been pushing for years, and yet has been conveniently ignored by the campaign.
I wrote in my last post that the words used are not nearly as important as the intention behind them. It staggers me that the intentions here are so clear and yet the campaign still seems to be gaining ground. It is important to me that people understand that although the campaign is vociferous and passionate, it is based on a serious misconception, and does not have universal support within the RG community.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Not a Good Friday (part 2)

Ricky Gervais, abusing a Dwarf.

I am not a "campaigner". I was employed my Student's Union at University and the language and sycophancy surrounding some "causes" drove me insane. The pet "cause" of the Bangor student campaigners at the time was the Newbury Bypass, and not once did they ask the opinion of someone in the same office who lived in Berkshire, and that had driven through Newbury.

So being new to the world of Restricted Growth we recently joined some support groups. I was expecting useful, practical guidance on dealing with the extra challenges we and Ollie would face. Where we could get help. Where we could buy specialist equipment and toys (trikes, chairs etc). We got some very useful information, but I was not expecting the Newbury Bypass.

My wife joined one particular group on the internet before me. A few weeks ago she saw a post from somebody who had started a campaign complaining about the new Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis comedy "Lifes Too Short". Letters had been written to her MP, the DG of the BBC, Points of View, and National Newspapers. Weeks before the show aired. The irony of pre-judging the show in this way seemed sadly lost on many people, whose ever-so-sincere encouragement had me rolling my eyes.

We are film geeks. Warwick Davis is one of our favourite actors, and we had read his autobiography long before we had any medical reason to do so! When he started talking last year about his new project, and how excited he was about it, we were very pleased for him. He is a man who lives with dwarfism and all of its implications, good and bad. It has affected his life and his family in the happiest and most tragic of ways. I would say it is required reading for anyone in our position, and gives an idea of his motivation for the "Life's Too Short" project (and yes, although the humour has hallmarks of Gervais and Merchant, this is very much a Warwick Davis project). So to see a full blown campaign setting out to trash the project before anyone had even seen it irked my wife greatly, and she said so. It started very civilly, but when it became clear that there were other people who felt the same way, the abuse started.

Because the thing about some campaigners is that they steadfastly refuse to see any other point of view. And when you put a huge amount of time and energy into being officially outraged, you put yourself in a position where you can't possibly back down, and there is always a refusal to accept that support is not universal. When a group of people decide that they are moral arbiters, they utterly refuse to accept that there is another point of view. Worse is that by claiming that they have the moral high ground, they assume open season on people who disagree.

We have been branded a bad parents for daring to disagree with a campaign that we (still) think is misguided.

We have been branded cowards for doing so.

I was been branded an internet bully for standing up for myself and my family.

We were (bizarrely and incorrectly) accused of being paid by Warwick Davis.

We have been told that our views are irrelevant because we are not of short stature ourselves.
Some bad parents

In the week that Stephen Lawrence was in the news again, there was one person who tried to brand the show a "Hate Crime" and that the makers should be charged under the appropriate legislation. I found that utterly distasteful - incidentally that person has also fallen foul of Godwin's Law.

One of the problems faced by little people is that of novelty- people will stare because they haven't seen a dwarf before. It's not a surprise, because dwarfism affects only one person in every 25000. This year's TV has done great things to change that.
Boardwalk Empire
Boston Legal
Game of Thrones
Seven Dwarves
and now Life's Too Short

(although whether the last one is positive seems to be dependant on whether you like Ricky Gervais or not)
NOTE!!! these links are largely NSFW or kids. Click with care, but do watch them. The second link isn't just Boston Legal, but a montage of Meredith Eaton, and she is AMAZING!

Please, please, please use the comments section here for any questions. I will try to answer them as quickly and fully as I can. Don't worry about “saying the wrong thing”, we have come to the conclusion that the words used are much less important than the intention behind them, which will always be obvious. For those who wish to be PC the word "midget" is not used anymore among the short-stature community; it is seen as a derogatory, slang word associated with circuses and the like.

And for the record, if anyone does try and put my daughter in a toilet or a rubbish bin I will physically hurt them.

Not a Good Friday

Exactly one year ago, the Paediatrics team gave our 2 day old daughter a diagnosis of Achondroplasia. A passing comment the previous day by a midwife about "short arms" had been playing on my mind, so after I got Ollie's brother into bed that night, I hit Google. I was, at least vaguely prepared for what was to come, but my wife, who had been somewhat cut off from the real world for three days, was completely unprepared. Hitting the odds of 1:25000 isn't fair on us, or on her, but the main way I have come to terms with Ollies condition is to accept that its not predictable, preventable or treatable: we just have to get on with it.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of appointments, scheduling for appointments, Googling before appointments so we had a background knowledge of what would be discussed, family visits, banks, estate agents (we were hoping to have a third bedroom before she was born) the sleep depravation that comes with a newborn, and the emotions that come with finding out that your child will be "different". At that early stage we skimmed the RGA and LPA websites for information, and pretty much everything we found was positive, and reassuring. The potential health problems associated with Achondroplasia were flagged up calmly and we have been watching Ollie like a hawk for signs of raised intracranial pressure, loss of limb mobility, sleep apnoea, (there's a long list). The possibility of decompression surgery worries me greatly, although I see from OMIM that it's actually quite rare, and it's probably just my own fears that make it seem to stand out. I have turned Ollie into a bit of a science project. Its something of a coping strategy I guess but I find it's helpful to understand exactly what's going on in as much detail as possible, and I'm sure she will have questions as she gets older.

Emotions are funny things. They come and go. As a Father and Husband it was my job to hold everything together and be calm and practical for everybody else. For the most part I think I managed that well, but there was a point about two weeks in where everything caught up with me at once. I was eating a toasted cheese and ham pitta at the time, and it was like I had suddenly been hit by a truckload of "I don't want this for our daughter" with a special delivery of "it's not fair".
I sometimes find it hard when we take our son to the playground and I catch myself looking at little girls with long skinny legs. I suppose I should be careful not to get myself arrested, but it's nothing sinister, purely a tinge of whimsy and regret. And in any case, I'm pretty sure that Ollie already has more character than most of them!
We have been incredibly lucky in that we live near the John Radcliffe Hospital. We have had care from the most incredible team of specialists, and I am in awe of them- particularly our Paediatric Consultant, our Orthopaedic Consultant, and our Physiotherapist, all of whom have dealt with Achondroplasia cases before.

Over the course of the year it has become clear that we have dodged many bullets. I loved watching my son grow up, but it just happened. Knowing that there was a potential problem for Ollie meant that I paid more attention to how infant skills develop, and it has been fascinating. So many skills we take for granted as adults are reliant on underlying skills like sitting and standing: Early years developement in Achondroplasia can be a bit slower, low trunk strength means that while other children are sitting up and learning to use their hands, Achondroplastic children may still struggle to sit at all.

Nobody appears to have mentioned this to our daughter, who started cruising along low tables and sofas over a month ago, and is charging up and down the house on her toddle truck as I type. The determined little bugger is ahead of many of her average height peers. I could not be prouder as a father, or more more in love with her cheeky, gummy grin.
There will be a part 2 to this post later, but I am going to have to be very careful about the wording...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Open letter to my MP

Dear Mr Vaizey

I have been following the progress of the petition for a referendum on the UKs EU membership, and was extremely pleased to see it has resulted in a parliamentary debate. I am less pleased to see that the Conservative Party are considering use of a three line whip on this debate, something I would consider not only inappropriate, but also damaging to the reputation of both Parliament and the Conservative Party.

I notice from your voting record that you have never voted against the party line, may I strongly urge you to consider doing so on this occasion, or at the very least abstaining from the vote now scheduled for Monday.

There would be many advantages in allowing this call for a referendum to pass:

- Many people in this country have never had an opportunity to have their views on the EU represented by a major parliamentary party. The 1975 referendum on continued membership of the EEC was exactly a year before I was born. I am 35 years old.

- No voter has ever had a direct input into the huge transfer of power away from Westminster, as the previous referendum was over membership of a trading organisation, not a political one.

- The bill comes as a direct result of a call from a huge number of the voting public. To allow a three line whip to hold in this circumstance is a direct snub to the people on whom you rely for your continued position in parliament.

- The Conservative Party is currently in a coalition government simply because it did not garner sufficient votes. It will lose even more voters to UKIP if it blocks this chance for a referendum. UKIP would become redundant overnight in the event of a commitment from the Conservative Party to hold a referendum.

- There is an assumption that the public would vote for a withdrawal from the EU. This is not necessarily the case. If it can be shown before any referendum how our lives are improved by our continued membership, then it stands to reason that we would vote for continued membership; A vote to remain within the EU would close the debate down altogether for a generation and allow the UK to become unequivocally committed to the project.

Your back-bench colleague Mark Pritchard speaking on the Today Program this morning stated that “This is about country first, party second and career last". Please give this matter serious consideration before Monday.

Many Thanks,

Chris Brenchley

Friday, 10 June 2011

The iCloud is going to be a massive pain in the arse.

I have a family. I have an iPad and an iPhone. So does my wife. We own things together. You know, the house, it's contents, the CDs... The iTunes library. And herein lies my first problem with iCloud. All of my wife's future purchases are going to AUTOMATICALLY load themselves onto my devices. I don't want Michael Bublé on my phone thanks. And I'm pretty sure my wife doesn't want the Astronomy podcast on hers. But we will end up filling each other's 16Gb pretty quickly with unwanted presents.
The same goes for Apps. My iPhone and my iPad are very different devices for very different things. Both are used very differently from each other, and from my wife's devices. If I download an app on the phone, I don't want it automatically on my iPad. Waste of time, space, and data.
I also don't want my music purchases on my iPad. It's primarily a visual device, so I may want films on it. But I sure as he'll don't want those films to automatically download onto my phone. It will crucify my 16Gb disc space and my 3G data cap. If I use my phone as a hotspot, I don't want my iPad wasting my limited hotspot data by background synching photos and iBooks purchases over my phone's 3G, it will slow everything down massively. And if I'm abroad and switch on the data roaming for an important incoming email, I don't want to pay for the extra fluff that the phone is going to try and grab from the cloud.

Wandering around with my phone in my pocket, leaking a cloud of location (and other) data as I go is not a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Splitting what MY phone does and doesn't download from what my wife's does and doesn't download is a pain already, and we are just juggling a single mobile me account and a hotmail account each.

I also really don't understand all the hate for mobile me. It was a little pricey, but I have never had a problem with how it functions. What the iCloud will do with mail, calendar and contacts is no different. Also, if MobileMe no longer exists as of today, can I have my subscription back? (I'm be happy to pay for the 3 months I have used this year but I paid for 12)

Cloud documents is , I grant, probably quite useful- as long as my mac has access.
And the cloud backup that will synch your new phone looks very slick. The fact that a PC is no longer required may just sway me into getting my parents an iPad for Christmas.

I'm looking forward to Lion, it looks great.
And the enhancements coming in iOS5 are excellent (and with that volume button shutter long overdue) but the message from Apple to anyone making a really slick, functional app, like dropbox is - if your idea really makes our product better... We will nick it and call it a software upgrade. Apple have form with this. Look at what happened to the beautiful but ow abandoned "Classics" app and iBooks.

It might just be that I'm doing it wrong, but iCloud looks like it's going to add some unnecessary complexity to my apple family.

- Blogged from my iPad

Monday, 23 May 2011

Get over yourselves

We just watched the incredible documentary about the John Radcliffe's Craniofacial surgery unit on the iPlayer. Episode 3 "Rogue Gene" is available on the BBC iPlayer for another three days.

This particular episode hit very close to home for me. We have become very familiar with the John Radcliffe over the last six months, and this episode concentrates on Apert's syndrome which is caused by a "spelling mistake" on the FGFR2 gene. The mechanism is very similar to that which causes Achondroplasia (which effects the FGFR3 gene). Watching "the science bit" was like replaying our consultation with the genetics department.

But that's not the point.

Today, all of Twitter (in the UK at least) has been falling over itself to show how clever we all are at knowing that a certain footballer shagged around a bit.

A Footballer. Paid millions to kick a ball round a pitch.

The exceptions have been the Lawyers on Twitter wringing their hands, and telling us how we should all respect an out-of-touch Judge's rulings on an unwelcome foreign law which is clearly unenforceable. They have actually been defending this man's right to threaten with prison ANYONE caught telling the truth.


There are men in a Hospital in Oxford dismantling and reassembling children's skulls so that their brains can grow properly. These men do not seek celebrity, nor do they seek sexual partners from reality TV shows. So get over yourselves, step away from the nonsense on twitter for an hour and watch them in action. They deserve our utmost respect and admiration.

- Blogged from my iPad