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Hurdle #20: SnapShots

Two hurdles posts in two days, i agree i need to calm down :)

I'm doing this post primarily because i have added a new feature to the blog, and i need to tell you about it so you know what to expect. In the process of this i hope to give you a little overview of the SnapShots feature to help you decide if you want to use it on your own blog.

I am a big fan of tool tips and previews, but if they aren't managed with care they can get really annoying. Don't you hate it when your trying to read something and previews and adverts are popping up everywhere? I do, so i add this feature with caution, and ask that you let me know if it gets on your nerves.

 I start searching for relevant pics with good intentions
then get distracted by funny cats
Blogger users will be familiar with the way this feature is administered. Our extra features are generally hosted externally and are added to the site using a HTML/JavaScript gadget in the features area. I'm sure the merits of this method, like the Blogger v Wordpress debate, will split you all into two camps. Having been experimenting with Wordpress over the last couple of weeks i am still very much a Blogger boy...but thats a debate for another time.

Once its installed there is a range of options, although i am left feeling a bit short changed. There are some obvious options missing, the most significant of which is the ability to turn the automatic preview addition off and add a preview manually to links of your choice. Due to this limitation you have to be very brutal with the options in order to avoid being too intrusive. Here is some of the options, and my chosen settings.

  • Add your own logo: This is a really nice touch. Each preview will have your logo displayed which i hope will add some credibility to the previews. It could be easy for a reader to dismiss the previews in the same way we used to do on about.com.
  • "My site displays sexually-explicit content": Weird feature this. 
  • Advanced Settings
    • "Show Snap Shots Link Icon": This puts the speech bubble icon next to every link with preview available. I hate this because it clutters up your site and just makes it look crap. I think bloggers benefit from subtlety, and this feature is not at all subtle.
    • Link Icon
      • "Trigger Snap Shots on Link Icon Only": If the link icon option is enabled, you can stop the preview box being activated by the link itself. To activate the link the reader will need to hover above the link icon, which does give the reader an option to avoid previews totally...maybe a saving grace of the terrible icon feature.
    • "Display Large Snap Shots by Default": Does what it says on the tin.
    • "Enable Snap Shots for External Links": I think this option is what SnapShots is about. I want to keep you on my blog for as long as possible, so giving you guys the option to preview an external link gives you the chance to take a quick look without leaving DJ.
    • "Enable Snap Shots for Internal Links": I cant see that this feature adds anything of value. I enjoy blogs that i can explore, and this sort of takes away the fun. Also, if you have both internal and external links activated that means every link has a preview, sort of sidestepping the subtlety we talked about earlier.
    • "Only Display Preview Shots": You have two options for what appears in the preview box; RSS or Preview. I have only been referring to the preview function, as the RSS looks untidy and off putting.
    • "Enable Snap Shots to look for key phrases on your web site, and then add the right Snap Shots.": This adds even more links to your blog. Not only would every link have a preview, snapshots would trawl your blog and add its own preview links. This just overwhelms readers, and takes creative control out of the bloggers hands. Its too random, uncontrollable, and unpleasant for you lovely readers. 


So let the trial begin! I'm going to be testing it along side you, so we can share our thoughts on it in the comments for this post.

Do you agree with my opinions on the settings?
Do the previews add value to a blog post?
Do you find it annoying?
Should it stay, or should it go?

I look forward to chit shatting...shit chatting (the Partridge)


Attack of the trolls

I have been overwhelmed by the support i've had from the twitosphere over the past week, but the law of averages means that with 9 amazing people comes 1 who tries to drag you down.

I don't mind admitting that i don't like criticism. It's something i really struggle with, but am proud of the fact that i have learned how to identify constructive criticism and respond in a constructive way. I think its a fact of life that when you are feeling good about yourself, there is always some troll like character who sees their opportunity to take a cheap shot and try and drag you down.

(Source)
Cat pictures are getting out of control
This type of criticism is designed to take you down a peg or two, and it could be easy to take it to heart. The thing is, troll criticism is more of a reflection on the troll than on you. It takes a special type of person to see someone who is happy, proud, or optimistic and try to make that person feel bad.

Admittedly i have found overly optimistic people quite annoying on occasion. I also sometimes get annoyed with misplaced pride. However, I try to be self aware, and when i start to get irritated by people i try to remind myself that its my problem not theirs.

The events of the past week have been difficult for me. I have been really struggling with my post operative recovery. I have massive financial worries because i have been unable to work. I rarely ask for help, but when i had no where to turn i reached out to my MP...something that i found quite difficult, due to that misplaced sense of pride i mentioned. The feeling of helplessness when i didnt have anywhere to turn was more acute an emotion than i have ever felt before.

With these stresses on my shoulders, i am very proud of what i have been able to achieve over the last week. I have fought for my life, because my future depended on it. I love studying law and the thought that i would have to quit had me in tears on more than one occasion.

So when i get cheap shots it does upset me. With so much on my shoulders it could be easy to be depressed about it. With the support of my family, my friends, and my tweeps, i have managed to keep positive and be proud of my achievements. So when people take cheap shots it does upset me...which makes me angry because i am disgusted that people would try and drag me down when i am trying so hard to keep my head above water.

So to anyone who feels the need to take pops at me, feel free to do it. It may upset me, but its your problem...not mine.

Hurdle 19: When is the right time to publish blog posts?

A lot of my new readers will be confused by the title of this blog post. What is a hurdle? Why is this one 19? Well i'll let you in on my dirty secret...i can't sleep if i don't spill all the things i learn on to my blog.

The hurdles series is all about how to be a great bloger. I did my first hurdle post within weeks of starting the blog, and every time i make a mistake, or find a tool that helps me be a better blogger, i share it with you in the hurdles series.

I enjoy doing it, but its never been that popular...see hurdle 14 to find out why i insist on posting a series that no one reads :D

(Source)
Anyway, today's post is about the biggest breakthrough in social media management that i've come across, Crowdbooster.

I always noticed that blog posts published at certain times got more attention than other times. I tried really hard to work out the ideal time for publishing. Do a google search about it, and every bit of advice is different. People are convinced that there is one time of day that is best for every blogger to post. This is not the case, it very much depends on who your audience is. So i did my best to work out my best times for publishing, and never really got it right.

Then along comes Crowdbooster. It is focused on your tweets and facebook activities. You can probably publish your actual blog post at any time, but using this tool you can decide the best times to tweet and FB about it. Anyway, I bang on about it on twitter a lot, and you probably see the name of it and think its cheating, or another spam tool. It's actually amazing. It looks at your twitter account, and your facebook account, and analyses patterns and trends. From that information, it will give you advice.

For example; each day it tells me what it thinks are the ideal times for me to tweet. Its generally been 11am, 1pm, 2p, and 8pm...but that is liable to change at any time based on new evidence that Crowdbooster gathers.

I just cant stop myself from posting cat pictures...
...but at least they are all relevant?
The other tools are equally great. It suggests who, out of new followers, has the biggest reach and influence, and it gives recommendations on who you should connect with today. My list consists of 75 people who i dont know, so i haven't really made the most of this feature yet. I much prefer to chat to the people who i already know are awesome.

The next great feature is the "impressions" tool. This analyses your actual tweets, and displays their impressions and retweets on a lovely colourful graph. Its great to see what type of tweets are the best received, because you can then use the data to improve on your future tweets.

Lastly, but not leastly, it shows you who retweets you the most, and which of your followers are most influential.

There isn't really another tool like it. There is tools that measure influence, there is tools that look at the success of your tweets, but there isn't another tool that analyses data in such detail, and there isnt another tool that gives you such great advice.

The biggest problem for you guys is that it is in Beta, so you wont be able to get an account immediately! You can sign up tho, and they will send out your invitations in due course...or i could send you an invitation. They are like gold dust tho, so i have to think of a way of awarding them that does their rarity justice...watch this space :)

MP's Staff...part 2

(Source)
I'm sure this is an analogy for what i
achieved from my first blog post
My experiences earlier on this week raised a few interesting topics for me. Firstly, it made me realise how powerful twitter can be. I got a lot of support, particularly from the excellent @baby_barrister who i would have given an award had i not awarded them two days before! The other issue it raised for me was that an MP is just one person, and is therefore only as good as the staff that work for him.

I think i said in my first post that these members of staff should be facilitative. They should be there to find the best way for their MP to help, rather than act as a filter. I am confident that the problems i had with Jon Ashworth were purely due to us both being let down by Gavin, his Constituency Director. In the intervening days i have been pulling together all the paperwork Jon needs, but i've also been gently mulling over the question i cant get out of my head; has this happened before?

(Source)
I just cant stop myself from putting a cat picture on every post
The question really goes to the heart of our representative system of government. A weak link in an MP's staff can be the difference between effective representation and ineffective representation. Bad experiences like mine could serve to completely disenfranchise a citizen. What is coming more and more clear to me is that it goes even further than that. It effects the individual who has been treated badly, but it also effects their family and their community because those who contact an MP are usually representing, either directly or indirectly, the problems in their community.

It's something i would like to speak to Jon about, if he is willing, when this is all over. In the meanwhile i have been tentatively speaking to various people in the community, including the local paper, to see if my theory pans out. This is a completely unscientific and amateur sample, but it at least gives me a little information to chew over while my own problems are getting sorted out.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on my theory. Have you experienced anything like it? 

This post is part of a series
  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)

Guido and Morgan, more alike than they would care to admit

The man himself, Paul Staines
Found this on Guido, and enjoyed it very much.

On the topic of Guido, Mr Staines and his junior can be unpleasant at times. Despite the fact that i do often enjoy reading the blog, the two people that author it live in a strange reality. From my distant view point that reality seems rather unhealthy.

Their reality. A reality in which they are better than everyone. A reality in which they wield the power to cut down anyone they feel like, with a brief tap on the keyboard. A reality in which they won't speak to the majority of people unless they can see an opportunity to humiliate them, and/or make themselves look better. They together conspire against world like the two ugly sisters with delusions of self importance.

They attempt to make fools out of politicians for the sake of doing it, and its been a long time since they have been motivated by an aspiration for a better type of politics. I don't like people who inflate their egos at the expense of others.

The truth of the matter is, we can all see through it. Like the time i read the Harry Potter books, i enjoyed them in the knowledge that it is work of fiction. It is with this mind i read order-order.com. I suggest that you do the same.




Here is Paul being torn to shreds on Newsnight...it's only fair to Piers!

Mans penis removed. "You can see there's nothing there"

The 6th headline in the "most read" section of the BBC News website read "Man Sues after Penis Amputation". I found it impossible not to click on it. I'm guessing its the same impulse that has people slowing down at a car crash, staring at someone's glass eye, or feeling the uncontrollable urge to remove sometimes prosthetic leg and pretending to play it like a flute.

Click for larger image
The scrote of the story is basically this. Guy went for circumcision, doctor discovers cancer, doctor removes cancer to save guys life. Sometime later another doctor removes the remainder of guys "heat-seeking moisture missle", and guy sues first doctor claiming he didn't give consent for the nob-ectomy.


The guy really ought to give the first doctor a pat on the back for saving his life. It is people like this that make people scared to do CPR in case they save the persons life and end up being sued. The doctor really ought to have left the ungrateful tosser to his misery. It makes me so angry. If someone does the right thing, for the right reasons, under right circumstances, they should be rewarded not praised. The semantics of paperwork shouldn't become an issue.


Having said that, i can relate to this situation. I popped into hospital in June for a quick check up, and next thing i know i'm waking up from an operation i didn't consent to. I was confused, in a lot of pain, and no amount of explanation really helped me to understand what had been done. I was angry, scared, and felt very vulnerable. Having had almost 60 consented operations i thought i was prepared for anything, but the most basic issue of consent effected me in a way i wasn't expecting. I felt violated, and like i couldn't trust my surgeon any more. In subsequent operations i took to writing the following;

Click for larger image
"I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANYTHING MORE THAN THE AGREED TREATMENT EXCEPT WHERE IT IS IMMEDIATELY NECESSARY IN ORDER TO SAVE MY LIFE. IF FURTHER TREATMENT IS REQUIRED PLEASE WAKE ME UP TO GAIN CONSENT UNLESS DOING SO PUTS MY LIFE AT SIGNIFICANT RISK"


A couple of months down the line i still feel a bit nervous about surgery. More so than i ever did before this incident. In fact, despite the much longer recovery period, my life is now much more manageable as a direct result of this un-consented operation. My surgeon did the right thing, for the right reasons, under the right circumstances. The semantics of paperwork shouldn't mean he finds himself in court for helping me. I owe him my thanks not my criticism. 

Thank you Mr Thomas, Consultant General Surgeon, Leicester General Hospital.



Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth

Hi everyone. Just a quick update, as my eyes are about to slam shut against my will!

I couldnt think of any good picture ideas, so i'm resorting to cats
I spoke to my MP, Jon Ashworth, on the phone this afternoon and we made some positive progress. He apologised for the behaviour of his arrogant, unprofessional, callous moron of a constituency director, Gavin. I have asked that Gavin apologise in writing. Considering how upset and vulnerable i felt when i rang, and that i was desperate for someone to help me, i think a letter of apology is the least i deserve for the way i was treated.

Jon was helpful, polite and sympathised with my situation. He is going to write to the DWP and Student Finance Company on my behalf, as well as my university's Vice-Chancellor to see if there is any other funds available that could help me. If the responses are unsatisfactory, he will make representations to the appropriate minister and he and I will campaign for a chance in law or policy if necessary.

There is also a wider issue. Appeal processes are long and drawn out processes. They are not fit for purpose when the decisions may mean the individual cannot afford to eat and pay rent. If necessary we will campaign for the first point of contact, at both DWP and student finance, to have increased discretionary options, training in how to use them, and an appeals process that is fit for the urgent situations that most appellants will find themselves in.
He steelz dem

Someone this morning asked me the charged question "What do you expect an MP to do about it? quickly followed by "DWP will never change the decision". One option i discussed with this reader was leaving full time education and going part time. An option yes, but not one that i should be forced into. The issue here is one of social justice. It is profoundly unfair for someone to be put in this position, and it is right that i stand up and be counted. Unfair decisions MUST be challenged, and if i've learned one thing today its that decisions CAN be challenged and we no longer have to take decisions of the state lying down. Jon Ashworth, my MP, echoed these sentiments and is being very supportive.

I want to conclude by thanking some people. I have never in my life had so much support as i have had today. I am truly overwhelmed. At these low points in life it can be easy to just give up, but the support and advice i have been given today has kept me focused, happy, positive, and able to face this situation in a sensible and measured manner.

He dontz like dem
Jon Ashworth must accept responsibility for the behaviour of his staff. However, it has become clear to me that Gavin is the weak link in Mr Ashworth's team, and he doesn't reflect the wider attitude in that office. It is only fair on Jon that i make this clear, as he has been supportive, proactive, and i do now have confidence in him. I am not going to allow Gavin to tar the reputation of the rest of the team and Jon Ashworth. Gavin has to live in the knowledge that he is less than useless, and its a shame that someone with such low morals is in a position to have contact with the public...i suggest he find work more appropriate to his abilities [insert shit job here].

So to conclude, i am deeply thankful of the support i have had from my readers. Jon Ashworth MP, once i finally got to speak to him, was helpful and is exactly what i expect from a good public representative. Letters are being sent, and there is a plan in place, and i have to have confidence in that plan. If it weren't for the support i have had on twitter, i wouldn't have this solution so i am genuinly thankful to you all.

Updates to follow, and if anyone has any more advice or ideas i'd still love to hear them. Thanks to mjogreen who has sought the advice of the reddit community on my behalf. He asked me if i thought it would be useful, and although we have a good plan it is an honour to meet people willing to offer advice and support, and maybe someone will come up with something i've not thought of. Thanks Michael.

Here are my heroes...i don't think i have missed anyone but i apologise if i have.;<a name="series"></a>

MattB_UK          Baby_Barrister
theartoflaw          DeeTeeUK
Johlisa_T             alistair_sloan
MrCliveC            frankiescar
cate_a_moore      PeterABedford
edwardscharlie    mjogreen
CazzaCorma        JTJoAnT
nneesposito          aitch290
LaurenButterton  ian_rivers
Nolan_Legis        aitch290
Vidocq_CC



  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)

Bratton...a man of questionable integrity

Bratton
Thanks to @NYPFJBB for sharing two articles that bring Bratton's integrity into serious question. For a bit of background, check out this blog post from last week.

The First link is a Labour Uncut article on Bratton's own company being embroiled in its own phone hacking and bugging court case.

The second link is an article on Bratton's 'jump before pushed' resignation as NYPD Commissioner over allegations of taking high value gifts from various powerful individuals in New York. Despite this, he went on to be the Chief of Police in LA, and cut crime there as well.

So we have questions over his integrity, something that the Met is already drowning in. Resignations of senior officers, thorough internal investigations, and arrest of officers has gone some way to set the Met on course for a repaired reputation. Bratton is not a healthy influence, and he must not come anywhere government or the Met.

Our senior officers are the best in the world, we do not need to be dragged down by a corrupt officer from across the pond.

Join the discussion here

Evening Quickie: Formula for beating the blues

Beat the blues with a girl in blue, and short shorts.



I've discovered the formula for beating the blues. When things are really shit, surround yourself with friends and family, and do something nice for someone else. It wont solve all your problems, but it'll make you feel more able to cope.

Class dismissed!

The Diet Justice Irregular Awards

I have met some great people since i started blogging, and i have decided that at irregular intervals i will give some light hearted awards as a thank you. I did consider having a way of voting for awards, but decided that these awards are from me personally to people who i think are great. I've tried to be clever...i may have failed :-) Obviously giving awards is always a bit dangerous...i'm almost certain that i've missed out some great people, so if your not on the list its not because i don't love ya. I have had to try and cut the list down a bit, as i don't want to overwhelm you all with a huge post, but rest assured...i will be doing another round of awards in the future. If you want to nominate someone for the next awards, put it in the comments of this thread with your reasons why, and i will pull together all noms to help me choose.

The Socialites
Here are 3 fantastic people who i can always rely on for a bit of chatter, banter, or a shoulder to cry on. Always great fun, and easy to get on with...defiantly the socialites of the DJ community :-)
 
Blog Mentor Award 

of
When i first started blogging i got lots of support from 3 people, Michael of Law Actually, LawMinx of...LawMinx, and Andr0id. I have chosen Andr0id as she has helped me lots with blogging, but has also been brutally honest when i do something rubbish. She's great, and deserves the blog mentor award, keep up the brutality :-)
Order of the Parrot 
I have had some great chats with this tweep since i started tweeting and i know that on those rare occasions that i blog or tweet something of quality, i will always get a RT :-) 
Thanks mate! 

Community Champions 
 
@girlgatsby
 
I have two goals as a blogger. The first one is to keep blogging about my favourite topics, not just popular topics. The second one is to build a community around my blog. Everyone is very patient with my various projects and ideas for building this community, and most people have learned to ignore me until i find another project to occupy me. However, this excellent lady has supported me as a Community Leader in my new discussion community. The discussion community is here to stay, and there will always a top spot for her...if she wishes, she has the opportunity to guest post on DJ, i hope she takes up the offer :-D
Order of the Smarter
 Clive was probably the first tweep i found when i started to seek out tweeps with similar interest to me. His tweets are always really interesting, especially during the riots. He is always the first person i recommend to readers of the blog, and Clive is defiantly someone who i admire his their achievements. Keep it up Clive.
 Sexiest Tweep
  
 Need i say more! I found this tweep a few days ago and just had to say hi :-) I look forward to getting to know her more...if she doesn't block me for embarrassing her :p
My Favourite Newspaper Lady
 
We've not chatted for AGES. I read a great column in The Times written by Rhonda, and it had me lollingon the bus to an embarrassing extent. I always keep my eye out for her articles, guaranteed to cheer me up!
The Awesome Newcomer Award
We started chatting a few weeks ago, and i always enjoy our convos. Very easy going, interesting, and easy to get along with. Got a-listed really quickly, and i look forward to chatting lots more in the future...maybe a bit of collaboration, if you're up for it?

Top Cops 


Policing is easily the topic i blog about the most...or at least its a near second behind my endless hospital posts. There are a lot of cops on twitter, its great to see forces seeing the potential of social media. These three tweeps are fascinating and are three of the most successful police type tweeps. I always enjoy reading their tweets...keep up the great work, i hope to chat with you more in the future!

The DJ "i'm watching you" award 

of
This sinisterly titled award is not as creepy as it sounds, honest! There are a handful of people who do something really unique, and this tweep is one of them. Every week, i think every week, a team of investigators meet up and break open a cold case. The blog is truly fascinating and i could sit and read it for hours. Its a true community blog, something i aspire to, and @Vidocq_cc should be proud of what he has achieved. Well done mate, keep it up.
      

MP's staff, constitutional status

Now i have calmed down a bit, i have been considering the role of the unelected staff that support each Member of Parliament. Surely it is unconstitutional for these people to be given the discretion to accept or reject the problems of constituents. Their job must be to facilitate communication, to make it easier and more efficient, not turn constituents away. The buck must stop with the MP.

Const & Ad lovers, opinions?



This post is part of a series
  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)

Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust?


With nowhere else to turn today, i found myself seeking the help of my local Member of Parliament, Jon Ashworth...it was a truly upsetting situation, left me helpless, in tears, and forced me to lose faith in a system of government i once had a lot of confidence in. This is a long post, but i really need your help so please give me 10 minutes of your time.

John Ashworth MP...inept
I am seeking your support as the court of public opinion. Read my situation. If you think i am justified in my upset, i ask that you help me publicise Jon Ashworth MP as a representative surrounded by a ring of steel, protecting him from all but the most politically heavy weight issues of his constituents. He is not worthy of the office he has been elected to, and cannot be relied on.

Here are a few choice phrases of Mr Ashworths "Constitution Director";
  • "You may have noticed that its a Tory government in power, what do you expect a Labour MP to do about it?" So the Labour party is even more worthless than i thought?
  • "You can email him, but i answer his emails" So your gonna bin all my emails?
  • "I can pass a message along, but he wont call you back" Looks like Mr Ashworth is as inept as his Constituency Director.
  • "If he gets 70,000 calls a day, you cant expect him to call back every one" - I dont think it is too much to ask to be able to speak to my Member of Parliament.

So...the story. Ringing the constituency office today I had the displeasure of speaking to Mr Ashworhs Constituency Director who concluded our unpleasant exchange by hanging up on me. He was rude, offensive, and clearly felt like my expectations were way above that which Mr Ashworth was willing to provide. I wanted to speak to, or meet with, my MP. I was told that i had no chance of that. I was very upset, that upset was born out of helplessness, not anger. I was told that he couldn't help me, which may be understandable to some extent...but as my last chance saloon i thought i would be able to speak to Mr Ashworth himself to see if he could at least try and support me in my campaign for a change in the rules. As it turns out, this Constituency Director answers the phones and the emails, and he clearly had no intention of letting Mr Ashworth know of my problem.

Sir Peter Solsby...now Mayor of Leicester.
A well deserved promotion
You may know that i have been unwell, and in the last 7 years have had just under 60 operations. I started my Law degree as a mature student in October 2009, at a university nearer my hospital, and with the support of lecturers and university staff who realised that my studies could be interupted. I just about managed to finish my first year, but had to abandon my second year in April 2011 so that i could undergo a series of 13 operations over a 5 week period. So i "interrupted" my year and hope to be well enough to return to university in October. Were i fit enough, i would be working over the summer. Unfortunatly i am not, and have been relying on overdraft and gifts to keep me afloat.

Calculations last week made me realise i needed more help finaicially, as i have found i must pay back one of my student loan payments as i interrupted the year...this adds up to some £1,500. I applied for Employment and Support Allowance, and have today been told that i am not elegible as am considered a "full time student". To be eligible for benefits i must show them evidence that i am NOT a student.

Social Mobility is always a big campaign point, and its something i generally support. Empowering people out of poverty etc etc. The system of benefits is inflexible. In an age of austerity, the rules might need tightening. What they do not do is empower people out of poverty. To be eligible for benefits i must be out of full time education. I must now quit university in order to survive. Hows that for empowering people out of poverty?

Liz Kendall...not even my MP but her staff
were willing to help as much as they could
His predecessor, the excellent Sir Peter Soulsby, and a neighbouring MP (Liz Kendall) have been a great help to me in the past. I must give a name check to one of Ms Kendall's staff, Justin, who took the time to advise me this afternoon, even though i was out of his constituency. I presumed to expect that level of service from Ashworth...he has no interest in such mediocrities.

I am left with a medical condition that, at the moment, means i cant work. I cannot get any more help from university, nor can i get help in the form of benefits. I cannot speak to my member of parliament about it as his ring of steel has no intention of passing messages on to him. I have only one choice...to survive i must quit university. Despite my grumblings, university was a big opportunity for me. I love studying law. I have met some great people through my course, and through this blog. Despite my efforts to return to work, the thousands of hours i give as a Special Constable when i am well, and a lot of hard work at university, i find myself with no support when i need it the most...and my next door neighbour has been on job seekers for 5 years and never leaves the flat. Fair?

I need your support, will you help?

This post is part of a series

  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)

Evening Quickie: Our Solution part 2

Building on my article on solutions to the death of society i wanted to introduce a new element.

I was talking to @Shevvs about the causes of criminality this evening. Its clear the topic is huge and complex, and we will never truly bottom it out. Despite that we need to have the confidence tackle it through trial and error.

@Shevvs quite rightly pointed out that it is unfair of anyone to suggest the root of criminality is poverty and single parenting. Both of us have had a difficult upbringing, and we both have turned out to be good people with high morals and and a passion for justice. So it's unfair to focus purely on sociological issues, so we must look at the other factors that effect criminality.

I think the most significant factor is 'the person', aka the psychological factors. We are in the process of finding out who the offenders were during last weeks disorder and it is becoming more and more obvious that the backgrounds of the offenders are varied. Its not just poor people...its not just single parents...its not just quality of upbringing.

The government must look at psychological reasons in addition to sociological reasons and i have a solution that could help tackle the psychological factors.

Every young offender that is convicted of a crime must undergo a psychological assessment followed by a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) counselling. This may be done in combination with a suspended or community sentence. Once they have undergone this treatment it is hoped that they have learned that they are able to take control of their lives with positive behaviour rather than negative. Obviously it won't work for everyone, but if we can change the criminal behaviour in half of the young offenders i believe it will have a big impact on social cohesion, crime levels, and social mobility.

This would cost a lot. It would be difficult to measure its success. There is no guarantee that the offenders will even turn up to the sessions. Despite this i am certain that a 6 month/1 year course of CBT would teach these young offenders to take control of their lives...

...we cant keep handing solutions on a plate, the only thing that will make a difference involves young offenders learning to take responsibility.


PS. this was written at 4am, so appols for spelling etc

ACPO v Bratton...and not for the first time

The rumours about Bill Bratton becoming the next Commissioner turned out to be only partly true. As much as Cameron may have wanted it, Theresa May shut him down on a technicality. It was shrewd manoeuvring by Theresa May. She has demonstrated the ability to deftly navigate the minefield of police politics while tactically positioning herself to stop her boss from making a potentially career ending decision.

Sir Hugh Orde, President of ACPO
(Source)
She has demonstrated a genuine affinity to, and understanding of, the police service for which she is responsible, something that cannot be said of any Home Secretary in recent history. Her management of this potentially explosive situation demonstrates a political skill set of a Prime Minister...i tip her for the top job should it  become available.

The Home Secretary has Cameron on a short lead and as a compromise solution Bill Bratton is to be appointed to an advisory position, for which he will not be paid.

I have a liking of Bill Bratton that's born out of respect. Its difficult not to have respect for such an accomplished police officer, manager, and leader. His wealth of knowledge and experience is unprecedented in the UK and his offer to advise our government on policing issues is an opportunity that i am afraid is going to be missed due a defensive attitude by our senior police officers.
Today ACPO boss, Sir Hugh Orde, has made it clear that he is unimpressed with the appointment and to some extent I tend to agree with him. Our police chiefs are a proud bunch...and rightly so. They are the best of the best, and I say that without hesitation. But we are entering a period of high unemployment, high social tension, and ever increasing poverty. It's been 25 years since we have had riots of the kind we had last week, and in planning for such situations it makes sense to take advice. The global pooling of police intelligence, knowledge, experiences, advice, policy and tactics makes sense, and i see Bratton's appointment as a tentative step in the direction of global interoperability...something that is way overdue.

Bill Bratton
(Source)
In defence of ACPO, I don't see that our Chief Constables and Commissioners have given the government any reason to doubt their ability. They are good at their jobs, yet Bill Bratton's appointment could be seen as a lack of government confidence in our police chiefs. I think this is just born out of the law of unintended consequences, but am disappointed that Cameron had not considered it.

There is one characteristic of our chiefs that always make me proud to be a police officer, and that's turning a negative into a positive. Despite how they might feel, Bill Bratton does represent a resource of skills and knowledge that can be picked at to improve how we work.

Hugh Orde makes the point that Bratton is experienced in policing a very different criminal element. He says that the styles of policing "are fundamentally different from [the uk]".
Its my turn to be unimpressed now...Hugh Orde is not behaving how i would expect a police chief to behave. He is setting himself up for a conflict between the police service and the government. A conflict that could damage the relationship between police and government, and make the 'Bratton opportunity (Part 2)' worthless.

Despite how poorly the Bratton opportunity (Part 2) has been managed by the government, it's a chance for Hugh Orde et.al. to show the police service has it's ego in check, and is still a service that learns.

What's 'the Bratton Opportunity Part 1'?...Boris's unfinished business Take a trip to the discussion forum to find out the gory political details.

Community Launched

The most enjoyable part of blogging is engaging with readers. In the last couple of weeks the number of comments has increased, and i am seizing on this opportunity to launch a community. I hope that it will become a place where my readers, fellow bloggers, experts etc, can discuss in more than 140 chars, at a much more relaxed pace.

There is already a great debate going on about benefits, and i expect a lot more to come. To make sure this community is a success i am reaching out to all my regular readers and ask them to register as a member of the community. Once thats done, i'd love to get to know more about you so i encourage you to post a little bit about yourself. Whatever way you choose to use this community, i look forward to chatting with you.

Riot (Damages) Act...

I stand by my assessment of the definition of Riot. Taking into consideration my research this evening, we cannot define a riot during the event...it cannot be said that someone is part of a riot. However, they can be tried for the offence of rioting, but for a prosecution to be successful they need to hit points to prove. The hardest one is common purpose, or joint enterprise. The prosecution will need to prove an element of forward planning by a group, which isnt always easy.

So for someone to get a pay out under the Riot (Damages) Act, the exact offender will need to be identified. He will then need to be tried, and that process will lead to a decision about his status as a rioter. If he is found to have been part of a joint enterprise, consisting of 12 or more people (etc, see section 1 POA86), then the victim can make a claim.

If the offender isn't identified as a rioter, the Riot (Damages) Act does not apply.

To get a pay out from the Riot (Damages) Act a person would have to apply to the Police Authority, and the authority would have to inquire as to the truth of the claim. This would require the hiring of extra staff, adding to the massive financial burden that will be facing them when they are required to pay out. This is a payout that police authorities cannot afford, and it should be for the government to ensure that the costs are covered so PAs can focus on the job of policing.

It is much better to have a much larger central pot of money. It would save the Police Authorities a lot of money, which they do not have. It would make it a lot easier for people to claim, as they would not have to go through the courts.

Just a reminder to people that the Executive cannot over rule the Legislature. David Cameron is wrong...his error is in the best interests of those seeking to rebuild their lives and busineses

Our solution...

So there are loads of ideas going around on the best way to deal with those involved in the recent disorder. Now we are coming out the other side of it, thanks to our police, its a good time to give it some proper thought.

The criteria i think we need to fill is;

- Doesn't add an extra burden on society
(source)
- Doesn't put offenders in a financial position that they cannot afford the basics required to live; food, water, clothes, electricity.
- Gives back to the community that they have taken much from
- Is a punishment that is taken seriously by the offenders, and society...justice must be seen to be done
- The punishment gives the offenders a chance to turn their lives around
- A failure to comply leads to a substantive punishment such as a custodial sentence

I've been bouncing ideas around the twitosphere and between us @girlgatsby  and i have come up with the ideal solution.


Where the only aggravating factor is the disorder, and that disorder did not involve physical violence towards another person, they should be given a long community service order. That order would last up to a year, and include at least 4 full days work. Over the year they are giving something back to the community, and learning to work to a structure. For one day a week they would attend some form of education, be it 'back to work' workshops, computer skills, literacy skills or whatever. It would be my hope that after the year they feel like they have the confidence to turn their lives around. If they fail to meet the community order, they will find themselves be given a custodial sentence.

Thanks to @girlgatsby for her great ideas...do you agree? do you disagree? let us know!

 

Afternoon quickie: Riot or not?

The media has used the word "riot" so often over the past few days it would be easy just to accept that as a fact. Casting an eye over the relevant legislation, you find a different story.

(Source)
Section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986 defines a riot, and defines a violent disorder. For those people who have not studies law, an offence is made up of two parts...an action element (Actus reas) and a mental element (Mens Rea). For the offense to be 'complete' each part of the offense must be satisfied. Lets look through the definition of riot, and see if we can put a tick next to each element.


s1(a) Where 12 or more persons (tick) who are present together (tick) use or threaten unlawful (tick) violence (tick) for a common purpose (i dont think so...cross) and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety (tick), each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.

It could be easy to dismiss this as a irrelevant semantic issue, but it has a huge effect on the clean up. According to the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, residents and businesses can sue the Police Authority for compensation. Of course, the police authority doesn't want that huge extra financial burden during a time when they are having to make massive cuts. The news on the twitosphere is that the PA are saying that this legislation is out of date. Unfortunately that argument will not stand up, as it was last referred to in 2008 after the Yarls Wood riots. During that case, it was taken that the law was still valid, and i suspect that has set a precedent that must be followed.

So if its not a riot, what is it? Section 2(1) defines the offence of Violent Disorder;

Where 3 or more persons (tick) who are present together (tick) use or threaten unlawful (tick) violence (tick) and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness (tick) present at the scene (tick) to fear for his personal safety (tick), each of the persons using or threatening unlawful violence is guilty of violent disorder.


I have no doubt that i have oversimplified this, as you never predict the outcome of a case. But i hope that the government is going to create a compensation fund to try and get these small businesses and residents back on their feet, something that is essential to our economy, and to our happiness.

NOTE: I have done some research on the test of "common purpose". Insted of using "common purpose" its easier to replace it with "joint enterprise". They mean the same thing, but joint enterprise is how it is laid out in law.

So for the courts to convict under s1 Public Order Act they must show that there is a more than 12 people involved in a joint enterprise. For a joint enterprise to exist there must be some element of forward planning, and it is this point to prove that will be very difficult to pin down.

Police firearm fired at officer...not for the fire time

Headquarters (South),
where the incident happened
(Source)
It has been confirmed this afternoon that the bullet that somehow became lodged in a police officer's airwave terminal was one issued to police firearms officers. The IPCC has often been mentioned in press reports, but has been drowned out due to the violent disorder that followed the shooting. Once the disorder has been brought under control, which i expect to be tonight, the inevitable inquiry will be launched alongside the police and IPCC investigations. The Home Affairs Select Committee is going to have a lot on it's plate considering it is in the middle of taking evidence on the News of the World scandal. Talking of the News of the World, the Murdock clan are hoping that their misdeeds will be forgotten about. It will be for Keith Vaz to ensure it is not.

I find it astonishing that a police firearms officer would discharge a weapon into a colleague. If you have met these guys and girls you will know that they take the issue of firearms safety very seriously, so i am looking forward to find out what happened, and its only fair and proper that the officer involved be dealt with appropratly...the Duggen family at least deserve that.

This is the only area of criticism for the police. I have never been prouder of my colleagues. Seeing them dressed in PSU gear makes it very easy to forget that these officers are human beings. There are no doubt thousands of families worried sick that their loved one will be injured or worse. I hope that that worry is tinged with pride.

.44 Magnum Revolver, similar to that fired by
a TVP firearms officer.
(Source)
Returning briefly to the issue of the bullet in the radio. This isn't the first time that a firearms officer has shot a colleague. In 2007 a Thames Valley Police firearms officer, PC Micklethwaite shot a civillian Police Enquiry Control Room Operator in the abdomen while running a firearms awareness course. The IPCC investigation [pdf] concluded by commenting "We find it astonishing that the systems and procedures were not in place to prevent [the discharge of live round] occurring that led to this life changing incident".

I mention this case as it's circumstances are very similar to those of Mark Duggen. In the TVP case PC Micklethwaite was convicted and was "...fined £8000 and required to pay £8000 costs. TVP was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,000". Having undergone that very same firearms awareness course with TVP the following year, i can tell you that these courses are no longer run in a classroom. I was surrounded by very nervous firearms instructors while we were shown deactivated examples of various firearms. Ammo was no where to be seen...

PS. For officers who have never seen the publication "Learning the Lessons", its highly recommended for police officers and control room staff.

Lets do the Met again

The Metropolitan Police have faced some difficult times of late. The top echelons of the service have come under relentless criticism for as long as i can remember. Each new story i read seems to demonstrate either poor management, systemic incompetence, or outdated operational resilience. I've said before that the met is an anomaly, they are expected to be all things to all men. On the one hand we want them to take on huge responsibilities in terms of national strategy, and on the other hand we want them to be a local force that deals with local issues. It is the weight of two conflicting responsibilities that makes the Met unwieldy and ineffective.

(Source)
The Home Office itself has faced similar criticism, often from current and former Home Secretaries, and frequently from the press. For example; in 2006 the Home Office consisted of 6 ministers covering; criminal justice, prisons & probation, security & counter-terrorism, policing, crime prevention & anti social-behaviour reduction, immigration, asylum & border control, crime & security, and equalities & criminal information. I have written them out in full so you can see that the Home Office has responsibility for all of the most critical areas of our society. Imagine being a new home secretary, a former postman maybe, and finding yourself with such overwhelming responsibility. Knowing you are never going to be able to get to grips with every sub-department, agency or body, you have to rely heavily on your ministers, under-secretaries, and civil service. What's worse, if any of them make a mistake the you will be expected to resign [pdf]. I introduce you, ladies and gents, the curse of the Home Office. Thankfully the formation of the Ministry of Justice has broken that curse. It appears that, after some time haunting the corridors of Westminster, the curse has daintily settled atop The Yard.

(Source)
The solution to the Met's current problems is by splitting it into two forces. The Metropolitan Police itself must focus on policing London, keeping its residents and visitors safe, and solving 'normal' crime. The National Crime Agency (NCA), as discussed here, should be responsible for everything else. National strategy, co-ordination, national emergency, and high profile investigations. Most importantly they should deal with any crime that risks compromising our system of democracy...they are many modern examples, and the Met have failed to prove they are capable of the sorts of independence we expect.

Tottenham Riots...another Farm

(Source)
The news this morning is awash with the overnight Tottenham disorder. Disorder of this scale isn't new to London. Since the 1980's Londoners have been faced with Broadwater Farm disorder (1985), Brixton "Riots" (1981, 1985, & 1995), Poll Tax protests (1990),  Isreal-Gaza protests (2009) and Student Loan protests (twice in 2010). The story shown on the news this morning was a familiar one. It sent a shiver down my spine, as violent disorder of this kind always does, because of the death of PC Keith Blakelock.

PC Blakelock was murdered by assailants unknown during the Broadwater Farm disorder of 6th October 1985. His murder would have been avoided had the police culture was guided by principles of proportionality, legality, and necessity.

Learning from mistakes secures a better future, has the met learned from the mistakes of the Farm?. The day before the Farm's disorder a young black man named Floyd Jarrett was arrested. He came to the attention of local officers due to an 'allegedly suspicious tax disk'. Four police officers searched the family home. I will leave you to decide on the motivation, proportionality, legality and necessity of that. In the house was Floyd's mother, Cynthia, who had a weak heart. During the search she collapsed and died. This was, in their eyes, a death at the hands of the police. YesterdayMark Duggon was shot by police firearms officers.

(Source)
The relationship between the police and the black community was already very strained. The black community felt victimised by what they thought was a racist police force. History has proven them right.

The death of Cynthia Jarrett triggered demonstrations the following day, demonstrations that were aimed at the local police station. Yesterday, 300 people marched from Broadwater Farm to Tottenham police station.

In 1985 the tactics for controlling large scale disorder were weak. There was no strong command, poor decision making, and eventually all officers were withdrawn from the Farm. PC Keith Blakelock and colleagues re-entered the farm to protect the fire service while they fought fires. Sadly, Keith Blakelock was separated from his team and was brutally murdered.

The current disorder has resulted in many officers being injured. I hope that we have learned from the death of Keith Blakelock that the public will hold us to account if we make a mistake.

The problem comes when that public feels disenfranchised, all they have left is violence...

Grandmother left dog in severe pain...because she was lonely

Pauline Spoor, gets little sympathy from me
(Source)

One of my readers shared this article with me, and as an animal love i am enraged. It isn't often that i write an article and stay firmly on one side of an argument, but in this case i find this pet owner abhorrent. What makes it worse, is the Mail is orchestrating a disproportionate amount of sympathy when people like this deserve, regardless of how humiliating it is, to be punished. 

This 71 year old was given an electronic tag for animal cruelty. Despite her Labrador's pain from severe arthritis conjunctivitis she refused to have him put down as she relied on him for company. She said she was humiliated by the electronic tag, and is quoted as saying "I’ve never hurt an animal in my life. To be given a tag, I thought was disgusting". 

Well i find her disgusting. I can appreciate that she relied on her dog for company, i really can. You may remember my article on how i had to give away my kitten. I loved my little girl, and relied on her a lot for company just like this 71 year old, Pauline Spoor. I had been having numerous operations, and coming home to my cat was the only thing that kept me going. Just like Pauline I had limited mobility, and Meowey (my kitten) kept me company. But at 8 months old she was ready to take on the big wide world, and my flat didn't give her the space a big kitty needs. So i found her a new home, and let her go. It was one of the hardest things i have ever done, if you read the article i posted just after she left for her new home you will see how i felt. Despite how much it hurt, it was the selfless thing to do, it was the right thing to do, and it would have been crewel of me to have confined her in my flat after she had been spayed, and had the stitches out. I look back at it as a hard decision, but a good decision and am proud of myself for making it at the right time.

However, Pauline Spoor was more concerned with her own feelings than the fact that her dog was in severe pain, and that really does disgust me. It is right that she got punished in court, and in many ways i feel that it's right that she feels humiliated for what she did.

I know that i started this article by saying i was staying firmly on one side, but i am going to stray slightly. Despite my disgust at Ms Spoor, i do thing that a tag was an inappropriate punishment. She posed no threat to her community. What's worse is that she is now confined to her house in the evenings and overnight at a time when she is feeling vulnerable due to the loss of her dog. The court should have taken account of the reason for her ignorance, loneliness. The humiliation, and the paying of court costs was punishment enough for this stupid woman.

Dexter. Left in severe pain,
and helpless to do anything about it
(source)
Maybe the court felt this was a good opportunity to make an example out of her. Maybe they wanted to send out a message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated, regardless of age. Maybe the court also wanted to send the message that a selfish motivation, no matter how much sympathy it generates, will not form a defence.

The headline, if you haven't already seen it, is "Grandmother convicted of animal cruelty and made to wear electronic tag... for being too upset to put elderly dog down". And the paper, if you hadn't already guessed, was the Mail. The Mail have once more fallen at the first hurdle, getting its facts right. It is clear, even from their own story, that this 'Grandmother' wasn't convicted and tagged for being too upset to put an elderly dog down. She was convicted for forcing her dog to suffer due to her own selfish motivations. It is like saying "Ollie convicted of murder and forced to stay away from home while in prison...for worrying that my knife set wasn't getting used enough. She disgusts me, as does anyone who harms animals. 

To conclude this rant, i want to link this article with the one on assisted suicide i did last week. My source reader shared this article as a comparative piece on the moral and ethical factors on assisted suicide. The biggest issue that it raises, for me is;

Is someone who advocates euthanasia in animals a hypocrite if they do not advocate it in humans? 

Are there any other issues that it raises?