Good Cop Bad Cop – Another USA Double Standard

Many years ago I remember squeezing onto a dining chair with my best friend Caron and watching both our mothers and our maternal Nana’s playing cards with my aunty Cath, who, as was the way of such things back then, was actually my mother’s aunty. Fascinated as we were by the game I was equally intrigued by some of the words they were using and in particular the way they playfully used the word “bitch” as in you “sneaky bitch” or you “lucky bitch” whenever one of them usually aunty Cath, who was a bit of a card sharp, won a trick or a game.

Although mild by today’s standards, swearing and cursing was quite unknown territory for Caron and I as our parents had done their best to shield us from bad language, and even now, all these years later we still avoid using serious swear words in front of each other. Anyway, as the time went by Caron whispered into my ear a dare, which I at first refused point blank, because Caron’s dares and pranks had usually gotten me and pointedly rarely her, into trouble over the 4 or 5 years since we had learned to speak together. However, as was her way, she eventually bribed me with a share of her already half eaten bag of sweets. So I kneeled up on the chair and waited for the hand to reach its conclusion. As expected aunty Cath was again victorious, and at the point she leaned forward to sweep her winnings onto her ever growing mountain of pennies, I looked her straight in the eye and said ‘you lucky bitch.’

The slap across my face was so unexpected, I don’t think I cried for a good few seconds, particularly as I believe it was aunty Pat (Caron’s mother) who delivered it, because I think my own mother was so shocked the cigarette may have actually fallen from her mouth. “What did you say?” demanded my Nana.

Initially Caron’s Nana, Heather, had burst out laughing so I believe that was what emboldened her to say “Bitch, Anthony said Bitch.”
“Get out, both of you,” my mother eventually demanded, gathering her composure after rescuing our best table from a cigarette burn.
“But, but You all say Bitch,” I unwisely protested, although just quick enough to jump out of range of another one of aunty Pat’s slaps.
“Anthony…” my Nana said deploying her well developed way of using your name, as an implied final warning,” you will Do as we say, Not as we do!”
“But that’s not fair, I snivelled from the safety of the door to the stairs.
“You’ll learn soon enough young man, that life isn’t fair and that unless you do as you are told, there are usually consequences.”

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Earlier this week I was reminded of this episode from my boyhood and was surprised at the way I could still recall that real sense of injustice, which I felt back then after learning one of life’s lessons. I expect that it is a similar sense of injustice that has just been felt by many leaders of the Free World since finding out that the USA had been negotiating with terrorists for some time before swapping five high ranking Taliban / Al Qaida prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for a deserter called Bowe Bergdahl.

While we can of course empathise with Bergdahl’s family, the furious debate within the US has mainly been about constitutional and military protocol and the Presidents dubious right to override a 30 day minimum Congress consultation period surrounding anything so contentious. Indeed, Obama’s people have left so few stones unturned in their efforts to spin a justification for the paying of ransoms and similar prisoner swaps, that those sanctioned and carried out by the USA on the Barbary Coast of North Africa in the early 1800’s actually trended on Twitter just a few days ago.

As usual with the USA, when similar things have happened before, it is a case of do what we say not what we do. So that’s one rule for the self styled policeman of the free world but a different one for the rest of us. I have personally lost count of the times some US Secretary of State, or Ambassador to the UN or any other highly placed White House mandarin or spokesman has told us of their displeasure at learning that France (quite often) or some other country has done a deal or paid a ransom for the return of some hostages, military advisors or other. Their speeches often spiced with predictions of how this country or that is all but creating a trade in kidnap and hostage taking because the terrorists now know that the state will pay. Then more often than not their oratory works its way towards a mantra like: “we never negotiate with terrorists.” Although clearly now they do and have been doing for some time.


On Tuesday, with the stink of their double standard still up our nostrils, Barrack Obama did his level best to remind us that although they very occasionally have to be the bad cop, who reserves the right not to do what they tell us we should do, they are mostly still the good cops. He was in Poland announcing a $1bn package of military measures to bolster Europe’s defences in anticipation for the next time Vladimir Putin decides to help himself to a slice of a neighbours territory. As ever Obama’s speech was polished and packed a punch, unless you looked closely at what the USA is actually offering. A smudge of redeployment of personnel here and there in Europe, which would have almost certainly happened anyway and some limited help with munitions that are close to their sell-by date, some of which have all but been superseded within the US Army, and we can quickly see that it was just a good old fashioned shuffle of paper and numbers, which hasn’t fooled many people, and certainly won’t worry Putin too much, next time he decides to howl at the moon.

So remember this – next time you want to bend the rules to suit yourselves: Yes we do appreciate that the USA is mostly a force for good, but never take for granted the respect of your friends and allies, who still look to you for strong moral leadership in a rapidly changing world. Always remember that hard earned respect is easy to lose, even among old friends, especially if you continue to play the double game of insisting that we do as you say for the common good, while still expecting us to overlook what you actually did instead.


Do Your Kids Need a Devices Detox?

Last week in The Zen of Flying I described the stresses that we all go through when we have to fly anywhere. I often fly alone and because my son and I never flew together until he was in his teens, I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be to fly with one or two toddlers. More often than not the over-excitement of perhaps their first adventure into the air quickly turns to tears and frustration as they realise that they are not immune from the long queues and security checks, or endlessly told that they must stay strapped into a boring seat for those endless hours of childhood. So we are no longer surprised to see parents hand over iPads or other similar device once a plane is airborne.

However, what did come as a shock last week was the scale of the tantrum launched by a four year old in the seat in front of me simply because her mother had had the audacity to take the tablet away, after a stewardess insisted because we were landing at Bodrum airport. At one point I worried that the child might actually burst the vein that had suddenly appeared at the side of her face during the screaming fit, which lasted all the way through the arrivals lounge and out to a tourist coach, which I thanked my lucky stars I was not getting onto.


Of course the mothers parenting skills could and maybe should be called into question, but perhaps that is an oversimplification? What I got a sense of was almost like an addict being denied their fix, be it heroin, alcohol or nicotine. So when I read only yesterday that a whole generation of youngsters are becoming so reliant on their devices that they can eventually display the classic signs of a serious addiction, I was not in the least surprised.

By the age of seven, a child born in Europe or the USA will have spent an entire year (8,766 hours) of their lives looking at computer, TV and game console screens. By 13, it will be three whole years. So is it any wonder that recognised conditions like Facebook Depression and Cyber-bullying are on a steep upward curve as well as other more established problems caused by the sedentary effect of long periods of inactivity beyond typing at a keyboard or how child peer pressure can lead to increased blood pressure and extreme behavioural problems.

Is this a new thing? Surely someone somewhere would have looked into this? Seemingly not is the industry wide reply because for all the billions spent on research and development, none of the big boys like Apple, Microsoft, Google et al. have ever admitted that their products have a negative addictive affect… really? Nothing? Although when pressed on the matter you may occasionally get a high placed company exec to admit that there may be a problem but they have insufficient information to make that call. This is a little like the owner of a field of opium poppies telling us that they are simply growing the flowers for display purposes only and although they have heard that there may be some people out there, who use their poppies in another way, which ultimately destroys thousands of lives – it is simply hearsay as no one has formally made them aware of such a problem.

Of course most research (although we are told there is very little) would have been carried out by industry insiders, who ultimately decide what information is and isn’t released to the public domain. So no problem with that closed circle of control then? Why would they tell us there is a massive problem being stored up for society and the way society works if it will affect their bottom line profit?

If you don’t believe there is a problem (because no one at Apple or Microsoft has told you so) then ask the top executives of those and other IT companies, why most of them severely restrict the use of devices in their own children and perhaps more importantly, where they send their own children to school? Because the really odd thing is that most of them send their kids to schools, where phones and devices are actually banned. Why is that? How exactly have they come to the conclusion that this is the best way forward for their own kids, when all along they are spending millions on marketing to other peoples kids, whose heads are now rarely raised from one screen or other, be it at the dinner table, in front of the TV, in their rooms and oh yes in their school playgrounds?

At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in California’s Silicon Valley, where devices are strictly banned, at least three quarters of the children there are from families, where one or both parents work as top end managers and executives within the digerati – at the likes of ebay, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple… why exactly is that?

In conclusion I am not leaping from some Luddite closet with the intention of telling the world that all technology is bad or suggesting we go back to the time of pre-technical age teaching. All I am saying is that everything has its right time and that using iPads and phones to distract or babysit your kids is simply storing up problems for the future. Childhood is a very important time, where socialisation and things like sharing and learning to use your own imagination through play that doesn’t involve small characters being chased across computer screens by monsters or bad monkeys, is very important.


So let your kids be kids while they still can, because all the technology in the world will be waiting for them when they are older and able to understand that there is much more to life than computer games, your Facebook or Twitter friends or followers count and perhaps the most important fact of all – that their devices do actually have an off switch.