Jury Service for Politicians

The results of biggest two latest elections (the EU referendum and the US election) has brought me to two key conclusions:

  • The general public is no longer intelligent / informed / clever enough to decide on complex political issues
  • Anyone that is egotistical / arrogant / selfish enough to want to be a politician should automatically be barred from being one

Now those two things make the current system of electing represented officials difficult, so I have a solution for that:

  • Members of the public should be randomly selected to be an MP in a similar way to the way jury service is done

Let’s be honest, most of us feel that a random selection of people could hardly make a worse job of things than our current MPs are doing, while with enough civil service support the people could learn enough about the issues to make informed decisions – the kind of decisions they can’t make during an election.

Thoughts?

– – –

So I’m joking about the above, but only half joking. I do think that these two recent elections have seen a shift in the democratic process and how information is shared, understood, accepted or rejected by the electorate. I think, not just because I don’t like either of the two results, but because of how both campaigns, from both sides, were run, that something might well need to change.

How they were the same

Obviously the two elections were for different things with different protagonists, however there were a number of similarities.

One of the first is that general commentators discounted what turned out to the final result, “don’t worry, this could never happen.” In fact that line was being repeated right until the count, in both cases, showed that actually it just had. Some of that is due to the inaccuracies of the poling (joke: for people voting in the US election the polls were wrong; for those voting in the EU referendum it was the Poles that were wrong!), but much of it is due to the natural bias of the commentators (me included) meaning that they just couldn’t believe it would happen, instead of analysing the facts.

Another similarity is the way the voting patterns were split by age – in both cases the older generations voted in the final result, while the younger generations were on the losing side.

However, some of the commentary I’ve seen today would suggest that it was the split by educational level that was more influential – those with lower educational attainment voting for Brexit and Trump.

From what I can see, the biggest similarity is that a very large proportion (a majority of those that voted) used their vote as a vote against the ‘establishment’. In the EU referendum it was the establishment of Europe and the fact that most of the major politicians were supporting it. In the US Hilary is seen as one of the most establishment figures and her very experience for the job counted against her as she was seen as one of ‘them’.

Now, I would argue that the result of that anti-establishment vote has produced a worse result for those that wanted a change. In the UK what we’ve done is handed even more ‘power’ to the Tory government that can now claim a mandate for almost any right-wing policy they want claiming that it’s what the ‘people want’, without the checks and balances that the European parliament provided, or as they’ve tried to do, without any checks and balances from the British parliament. While in the US they have elected a man that has shown less than zero interest in the rights of the ‘common person’ so far as he has ridden rough-shod over people to run his businesses.

It’s here now

I was angry after the Brexit vote and while anger is easy to understand it’s not going to solve anything. What we may to do is accept.

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I don’t agree with the moves to block the triggering of Article 50 in the UK. I don’t want us to leave, but I think it is more important that we respect the result of the vote. Nor would I agree with any blocking or disrespect of Trump becoming President (I don’t like the #NotmyPresident hashtag).

That doesn’t mean that we should ‘do’ something, but that something isn’t to be bitter and reject the results. I’m not saying that I know exactly what we should do, but just being angry is the wrong thing.

The Causes

For a while the narrative amongst the Remain voters was that the Leavers were misguided, that they didn’t understand the ‘real’ issues, that they were only ‘protesting’ and didn’t mean it. In a similar way most commentators didn’t believe that Trump would be elected as those people that were claiming that they would vote for him would somehow wake up or come round and realise their mistake before the actual election.

Maybe now is the time to accept that some people really do feel that these choices are the best way forward. Maybe they voted with conviction after looking at the options and actively made this choice. Maybe the alternatives presented to them they considered to be worse for them.

We may have to consider the possibility that these results were active choices by people.

For the EU referendum vote I strongly believe that the Remain side made a huge mistake in not clearly demonstrating the benefits of the EU (that could be a separate post of its own), but what they didn’t do was address the concerns of the people who were against Europe. It would seem that for both elections there was quite a strongly divided electorate and in both cases both sides really only talked to their own ‘team’. Certainly the losing sides failed to understand that there was real anger – and I mean real, even though it may not be ‘justified’ that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t real to those that felt it – and therefore failed to even attempt to address it.

The left needs to take some blame for this – and not just during these election cycles, but over the last 20 years or so. The view that multiculturism, gender equality, open borders etc etc are good things just hasn’t got through. These are the issues that have been roundly rejected, yet are the basis of much of left-wing politics.

Another key cause has been how the media and social media have been used. The reporting that someone said something, with limited, if any, fact checking by the mainstream media and the spread of memes and conspiracy theories on social media have greatly affected how people have received and processed the information they needed / wanted to make a decision.

Finally, I genuinely think that the current state of capitalism is a key contributor to this situation. What most people are angry about is the loss of their jobs, or the fear they will lose jobs. That we are not as affluent, as a society, as we once were or as we were promised we would be. They have been looking for someone to blame and the ‘others’ become an easy scapegoat. Yet it isn’t European or Syrian immigrants (in the UK) or Muslims (in the US) that have caused this. Instead as a society we have allowed spiralling salaries and the profit at all costs culture – and most of the costs are the workers and their jobs, or if not their jobs then their salaries.

A Trump win may be the best result

Having thought about this all day I do believe that a Trump win is possibly the best result from last night. Not for a moment did I want him to win, or support anything he has said through the election. But I’ll explain my two key reasons for thinking this:

If he had lost, and his supporters had lost, then the rhetoric of the final few days of the election would have immediately resulted in ‘a fix’ being called. If Clinton had won almost half of the US voters would have felt they had been cheated yet again by the establishment and I dread to think how that anger and disappointment may have been expressed. On top of that the Republican dominated Congress would feel obliged to restrict and hinder President Clinton as much as possible.

However a Trump in the White House might not be as bad as he was on the election trail. I’m still pretty sure he’ll be terrible, but I suspect that a combination of his lack of experience will mean he will need to rely in advisors and his ego will mean that he’ll actually want to be a popular president.

This may just be a vain hope, but we can just hope.

– – –

Caveat – I’m not a professional commentator, in fact I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about. This is just a rant in the aftermath of what, to me, is a truly shocking result. I’d be happy to hear more thoughts…

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Collecting pebbles in Salford

There’s a tradition that if you complete a channel swim you collect a pebble from the beach in France as a memento. This weekend I completed my Aspire Channel Challenge by swimming 1,000 metres at USwim in Salford, so I collected my ‘French’ pebbles in Salford.

screenshot-2016-11-07-18-09-15

Obviously, there’s still time to sponsor me: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patrick-smith-2016-aspire-channel-swim

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Nearly reached France

Today was going to be the day that I completed my channel swim and reached France. It didn’t quite happen.

It wasn’t because the water was too cold and I was suffering with hypothermia, it wasn’t because the currents took me and I wasn’t strong enough to keep swimming for another 3 or 4 hours, it wasn’t because I was exhausted and just couldn’t go on.

No, for me it was because I decided to stand around and chat instead.

You see, my channel swim isn’t in the actual channel, but is part of the Aspire Channel Challenge where people swim the equivalent distance (22 miles) in their local pool. I have 1/2 a mile left to go.

screenshot-2016-11-02-09-52-40

Although I didn’t reach France, I did have some lovely chats.

Firstly I chatted to Ali – like me she is doing the Aspire Challenge. I first spotted her great lap counting device (a stick, with wooden dominoes with a hole drilled into the middle so they could be added or taken off the stick as required) and so I commented on it and we got chatting.

Ali is the perfect example of who the Aspire Channel Challenge is for. She hasn’t swum for a few years (although seemed to have a great stroke), so is using the challenge as a personal motivation to get back into the pool. However on top of that she has a friend that was supported by Aspire a few years ago, so she’s also raising money to repay Aspire’s support.

The challenge is about fundraising and I’m not normally one to ask, but even if you don’t want to ‘reward’ my swimming, then please think of people like Ali’s friend and if you can spare a few pounds that would be great – please sponsor me here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patrick-smith-2016-aspire-channel-swim.

As well as Ali, I chatted to Scott about open water swimming and front crawl technique and then even had a work chat sat in the sauna!

So, although I didn’t reach France it was a great morning in the pool. And if I can stay in the water long enough I’ll reach France during my cold water dip in Salford Quays on Saturday morning.

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Half-way across the channel

I’ve signed up for the Aspire Channel Challenge again this year and it’s been a great way to keep me ‘honest’ and persuade me to go to the pool when I haven’t always felt like it – especially those first couple of weeks when I was still struggling with my back.

Well, I’ve been ‘honest’ enough that I’m now half-way across the channel.

screenshot-2016-10-14-10-21-36

Today I managed 2.2kms and actually swam two fairly quick kilometres – 18:40 and 18:53 respectively – which I’m very pleased with.

Of course the reason Aspire set this up is not to help people like me get back into swimming after back injuries, but instead to raise money. Please consider sponsoring me here.

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Men – it’s time to get angry

You’ve probably all seen and heard the recording of Donald Trump talking a few years ago. In it he talks about he feels entitled to grab women and sexually assault them because he was what… famous? Rich? Or just a man?

I’m assuming that it was inspired by the Trump news, but a woman on Twitter then decided to ask women for their stories, she tweeted this:

If you haven’t already go and view the responses to this tweet. Thousands and thousands of women recounting truly horrible stories. Gird yourself, but do read it.

But note one important thing – the original request was for stories of women’s ‘first’ assault. Not only, not if they ever have been assaulted. No. It asked for their first assault. Already implicit in that is that nearly all women will have been assaulted and that it will have happened multiple times.

This is horrific.

It obviously doesn’t need me to say that it is wrong, but I’m going to say it anyway. THIS IS WRONG.

It’s time for men to stand up and do something about this. If you’re a right thinking man you have probably heard the expression “every man is a potential rapist” and been appalled by it. How can they think of me like that? Well if you see all these stories and understand the fear of assault that many women live in, so any man – every man – can look like a potential assailant. By allowing this sort of behaviour to continue, or to be explained away as ‘boasting’ we are not only putting all women under threat, but we are also reducing men to potential rapists.

So, what can we do about it? Well, I think there are three key things:

  1. Stop
  2. Step in
  3. Support

Stop
Obviously the first this is to stop behaving like this. You may not think of yourself as attacker, but analyse your behaviour and amend it if need be. It is ok to find women attractive if that is your sexual persuasion, it is not ok to feel entitled to act upon that or expect any response to your attraction. Keep your hands, but also your eyes and comments, to yourself.

Step in
Don’t allow this to happen to women in your presence. We don’t have to be offended about this in relation to our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, granddaughters etc. We can just be offended by this because it is wrong. So let’s not let others get away with it. Call it out in real life and on social media. In real life it can be harder and it can be hard to step in without looking like another potential attacker, but it seems that the current advice – for verbal attacks at least – is to step between people and provide cover. If it’s not aggressive then sit next to the person being attacked and chat about something else, or just stand in front of the abuser to shield the victim.

Support
Listen – and hear – the stories woman tell. Believe them. Don’t belittle them. And DO NOT put it down to just ‘boasting’ by men, or boys being boys.

UPDATE

It has been suggested to me by some people that know this subject a lot better than I do that I add an extra step into the process, it is:

Step Up

This is a more general attitude shift. Don’t wait to see abuse before you step in (although still safely do that if you do see it), instead try to prevent abuse in the first place.

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I Has Cold Swimmed

After having had a back bad I’ve had to miss the entire open water swimming season this year. However, my back is slowly starting to get better.

A month ago today I posted that I had swum for the first time in months, well now I can say that yesterday I swam outside for the first time this year. Unfortunately I’ve missed the BLDSA season by a day – but I’m just delighted to get back into the water.

It happened at the final BLDSA event of the year at Lynn Regis. A few people camp over following the swim and although I didn’t swim in the event itself, my son and I joined in with the camping. Some of the campers then get up and go for a quick dip in the water on the Sunday morning. I’d taken my kit along, but wasn’t desperate to join in, until my son said he wanted to get into the water. I wasn’t sure he’d actually swim – I thought he’d paddle for a bit and get out – but he jumped in and had a quick swim (proud dad moment), so I jumped in after him.

Although I didn’t swim far I stayed in after he got out and spent probably around 20 minutes swimbling – it was great.

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The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs

I wasn’t able to watch this on Thursday night, however I heard a lot of chat about it on social media – not least because there is a reference made to cold water swimming. So I caught up with it over the weekend – and I’d advise you to do the same (catch it on iPlayer here).

The simple premise is that, as a nation, we take too many drugs and that there are many things we could do instead – for example the ‘high’ people get from cold water swimming was suggested as a treatment for depression. The three main areas of overuse of drugs that the programme highlighted were: use of antibiotics for viral infections; pain medication; depression medication.

One of the major problems that was shown within the programme was that we have been trained to believe that drugs / tablets etc will ‘cure’ us, so whenever we go to the GP we feel disappointed, let down and possibly ignored or badly treated if we don’t leave with a prescription for something – even if those drugs don’t offer the best solution, or possibly won’t help at all.

I agreed with the show and enjoyed watching it. I’m someone that doesn’t like to take tablets and for years would never, ever take anything. I’ve relented a little with things like pain killers, but I’m still hesitant. That said, I’ve recently been on some strong pain killers for my bad back, so I thought I’d share my experiences.

Initial Action
When I first injured my back I assumed it was muscular, so I went to physio and a couple of different osteopaths. They helped, but not enough, so I soon realised it needed something more. I have to say that the osteopath I saw was excellent, and he was suggesting I get in touch with the GP to see if I could get it addressed that way as well.

GP
I phoned up relatively soon after I did to book an appointment with my GP, but was told the next one was about six weeks away, which just felt ridiculous. I felt like asking, “should I book this now, then just phone you up to cancel it if I’m better or dead?” However, in the end I left it and did more osteopathy.

Eventually I phoned back to book an ’emergency’ appointment so I could be seen that day. I hate doing that, as not only do I rarely have an ’emergency’, but it seems to be the only way, so that’s what I did. Of course, this means that you get pot luck in terms of which doctor you see and I saw someone I’d never seen before.

He made me feel as if I was disturbing him. Wanted to look at my back, so made me remove clothes (even though the affected area could have been seen by moving / lifting clothes) which was painful to do and painful to get dressed again. He then told me off (or that’s what it felt like) for taking Ibuprofen and prescribed stronger tablets and pain killers without me even asking. I really had to push to be referred, which was the only reason I’d gone to the GP, but finally he said I could be referred “if I really wanted to.” I did, so he did.

There was no explanation of how long I should take the tablets for, or what to expect, no suggestion of a follow up appointment to check how I was getting on – I was just given hugely strong painkillers and told to get on with it. In fact they were starting to run out before I got to see the specialist, so I was able to extend the prescription over the phone.

Consultant
The first thing to note about this, is that although I had told I was being referred to a consultant I didn’t see a consultant, I saw a physio who works in the Pain Management Clinic. That said, he was good, took time to talk to me, discussed the situation with me and then suggestions two courses of action: have an MRI to rule out anything too serious; attend the pain management course that they run to help me find ways to alleviate (or cope with) the pain. I was happy with that and felt like I might be on to something.

Pain Management Course
This is split into two main elements: exercise that we should work through, then take away and do ourselves at home every day; a seminar session each week to help us cope not just with the pain, but all the surrounding issues as well (lack of sleep etc).

The idea of it is great, but in practice it has so far been a huge waste of my time every Monday morning. The physio running it has never asked me about my specific symptoms, where my pain is, what aggravates it, or how it may change and fluctuate – but she did manage to give me a ‘personal’ exercise programme by giving me a selection of the generic exercises on the sheet. Not once has she then further checked to see if I’m doing them right, or how I’m getting on with them and whether I should increase or decrease the intensity.

While the seminars are an incredibly annoying mix of powerpoint slides with crazy fonts, clip art imagery and spelling mistakes and personal anecdotes. There are some interesting nuggets in there, but they are hard to pick out.

Consultant 2.0
Today I went back to the consultant to discuss the results of the MRI. I was waiting over 40 minutes for an 11;30am appointment which meant things didn’t start well. They got worse when he started to read from someone else’s notes and had to disappear to find mine (leaving other people’s on full display for me). When he finally came back he was far less willing to listen to me compared to last time. Told me the MRI showed a bulging disk, that it would correct itself, that I should continue to exercise, that I can increase my swimming if I’m careful, that I should see him again in about six weeks. That was it.

– – –

My point in detailing out all of this is that I actively want to not take drugs, but the biggest issue with all of this is being given some personal care to let me know, from an expert opinion, what and how I should manage this process. At no stage during this process have I felt like the care is personal to me, is based on my body, on my pain / injury, or on my vision of what success may look like. I have been given a cookie cutter answer, which has included some strong drugs.

I don’t blame the individuals, although the three main people I’ve dealt with haven’t been great, I blame the processes they have to work within, for example the poor GP had to get me out the door as quickly as possible as he only had ten minutes with me. However, if we are going to get the public to request fewer drugs, then the medical professionals need to look them in the eye, give them time and give them an alternative plan that is bespoke to them. Unfortunately that seems unlikely in the current NHS and therefore we’re going to keep taking more drugs as they offer a placebo to real care.

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Longest swim…

Not ever, but the longest swim I’ve done in the past five months.

I’m slowly, tentatively returning to the water after a back injury. It’s great to be back in the water again, but I’m trying not to push too hard – just hard enough. There are two main reasons for this: 1) I’m still not certain what caused the injury, or whether the recovery will hold, so I don’t want to damage it again; 2) I’m really unfit and knackered!

However this morning I got chance to swim in the pool at Imperial College London (right by the Royal Albert Hall – a lovely location). The pool was great, it was full of fit students (and lecturers I presume) and I felt pretty good. So I pushed myself a bit further.

Today, dear reader, I swam a whole mile and even managed 3 x 500m in one go! Both recent records.

Not only did I really enjoy it, it’s also got me thinking about signing up for 2Swim4Life again!

PS – today’s swim was another as part of the Aspire Channel Challenge, please sponsor me.

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I’m swimming the channel tomorrow

Of course I’m not swimming the actual channel, but I will be starting the Aspire Channel Challenge.

The challenge is to swim the same distance as a channel crossing (22 miles) in your local pool over a 12-week period. It starts tomorrow (12th Sept) and runs until 5th December.

I’ve been struggling with a back injury this year so I haven’t done much swimming, so it really does feel like a challenge to complete the distance. However, I’ve been swimming a few times and I think I’ll be able to give it a good go.

Although my back is a bit better, it’s a long way from being right, so I’m easing myself into gently. At the moment my swim routine is as follows:
– 100m warm-up
– 4 x 250m swim
– 100m cool down

I’m hoping to gently increase both the total distance I can swim, as well as the distance I swim in one go, so I’ll increase those middle swim sets by 50m every couple of weeks.

The total number of lengths I need to complete to ‘swim the channel’ is 1416, while the above set is 48. So based on that, I’ll need to swim an average of 2.5 times every week for the duration of the challenge.

One of my personal reasons for doing the swim this year is to help with my motivation (to make me go to the pool 2 or 3 times per week), so for that reason, I’ve donated £22 to the cause (£1 per mile). I’d be really grateful if you could spare a few pennies too – please go here to sponsor me: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patrick-smith-2016-aspire-channel-swim

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The Aspire Channel Challenge

I’ve signed up again for the Aspire Channel Challenge.

Last year the swimming element of the challenge was easy for me, so I increased the challenge by doing it in 22 consecutive days. This year, after coming back from an injury that has stopped me from swimming at all this summer, it’s the swimming itself that will be tough.

Since I’ve been back in the pool in three swims I’ve managed to swim 1.8kms, so over 40kms for the channel challenge feels like a lot this year.

However, I’m going to do it and I’d love you to sponsor me here – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patrick-smith-2016-aspire-channel-swim (where you can read most of this blurb again).

As Aspire says: “Every eight hours someone is paralysed by a Spinal Cord Injury and Aspire provides the essential equipment, advice, housing and grants that spinal cord injured people need to live their lives independently. This is a big challenge, but the more I raise, the more of a difference I’ll make, so please be generous!”

And of course, you can sign up too if you want to take part in the challenge – just go here: http://aspirechannelswim.co.uk/

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