Friday, June 12, 2009

Stun Guns Are Still Dangerous Weapons

New South Wales Police have long been campaigning for the more widespread introduction of the Taser stun gun to provide officers with a non lethal option in dangerous confrontations. For many, it would seem obvious that it would be preferable to be shot with a stun gun than with a real gun, but there are others who still hold concerns about the use of such weapons. Critics warn that while Tasers are considered non lethal there have been significant numbers of controversial deaths associated with the devices in the United States. Today, a man died in Queensland after reportedly being shot with a Taser three times.

This is not the first death in Australia, and it has yet to be established whether or not there were other contributing factors, but it would appear that there is enough evidence to warrant concern that Tasers may not always be non-lethal. Previously a man in the Northern Territory has died last month after being hit with a Taser, and another man died two weeks after he was subdued by a Taser in New South Wales in 2002. While other factors are almost certainly involved, it has yet to be established just exactly what the risk of death is when somebody is subjected to the electric shock of a Taser.

The real question is not whether or not a Taser is a better option than a standard issue Police pistol, because obviously the bullet is far more likely to kill a person than the Taser. The real question is the protocol to be applied to the use of the Taser, and under what circumstances. The problem is that when such a device is commonly assumed to be non-lethal it tends to promote a different attitude to its use. It becomes far easier to become more casual, more complacent about the possible risks. It becomes far easier to draw a Taser when an officer might hesitate to draw a pistol.

Recent stories from the United States would seem to support this view. For example, a 72 year old great grandmother is threatening to sue police in Texas after she was “Tased” for resisting arrest. She had been stopped for speeding and was arguing with the officer. When she was threatened with the Taser she said “Go ahead, I dare you!” so that’s what the officer did. In another case, a small chihuaha dog was tasered by police officers in Ohio. The problem is that the idea that the Taser is safe can promote the careless, casual, and even reckless misuse of the weapon.

Simply describing it as “non lethal” is enough to give people the wrong idea. It is still a dangerous weapon and must be described as such. If police are to be entrusted with its use, they must be trained to treat it the same as a pistol, and consider it to be a measure of last resort. If the operational use of such a weapon is not properly regulated there is too much opportunity for it to be misused and abused as a means of depriving people of their rights. To treat it as anything other than a weapon is to trivialize the power that it permits the user to wield.

Having said that, I still believe that both the police and the community would be better served by having Tasers available as an alternative to pistols, under suitably appropriate regulation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Kangaroos Have Got Loose In The Top Paddock

Crikey! First, our Prime Minister was in hot water over calling for a “fair shake of the sauce bottle, mate”, and now he’s being dragged over the coals because he also said that “Blind Freddie could see that…” Turn it up, bluey, what’s happened to the dinki di Aussie spirit of a fair go? Apparently some dingbats have taken offence because it’s supposed to be derogatory of blind people, but surely the drongos have missed the boat. The good oil is that the original “Blind Freddy” wasn’t a blind bloke at all. He was probably a rozzer called Frederick Pottinger, who had trouble finding the whiskers underneath his nose, let alone the infamous bushranger Ben Hall.

Whether or not that’s ridgy didge isn’t 100% certain, but either way it’s bleeding obvious that the expression isn’t supposed to offend anyone. Blind Freddie has been a proud Australian icon for generations and has been immortalized in literature, music and was even the name of a blues band from Canberra. He has been mentioned by countless politicians in the past, not just our Kev. But as we gradually become a nation of pikers, whingers and nongs, it seems that nobody is fair dinkum anymore, and we are all expected to start talking like the Yanks, or worse, the bleeding Poms.

Fair suck of the savaloy, Sheila! Is nothing sacred? Can’t a bloke call a spade a bloody shovel anymore? Strewth, Ruth, common sense is becoming as scarce as hen’s teeth. What’s next? No more dead horse on the meat pie? No more lizards flat out drinking at the billabong? No more jolly swagmen snatching jumbucks on the road to Gundagai? Isn’t it enough that we have to get permission from the thought police before we sing Christmas Carols at Christmas time?

Strike a light, the kangaroos have got loose in the top paddock, as this politically correct nonsense spreads like cane toads, and with just as much poison. We might cringe at the adventures of Barry McKenzie, who really was a Barry Crocker in more ways than one, but he was our Barry, and as much a part of who we are as lamingtons and pavlovas. Our Kev is guilty only of preserving our national heritage, not of perpetuating prejudice. Blind Freddy isn’t derogatory of blind people, only of stupid ones, and Australians have always enjoyed poking the stick at them. So fair shake of the sauce bottle mate, our lingo might not always be pretty, but it is colourful and entertaining, and if taking a shot at the tall poppies is no longer acceptable, then we have lost something worth more than all the tea in China.

And I’m pretty sure even Blind Freddy could see that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shared Care Principle Sound, But Decisions Are Not

There are never any simple solutions when it comes to marriage and relationship breakdown, but when it comes to child custody arrangements the complexity is magnified by an exponential factor. One of the legacies of the Howard government was a reform of family law and child custody arrangements which for the most part has been successful and generally beneficial. The starting principle is that the best interests of the child should be paramount, and that encompasses the concept that any child should be entitled to a relationship with both parents. Unfortunately, that’s where the complexity can reach the point where those good intentions can actually deliver a paradoxical situation which fails to serve the best interests of anybody.

The concept of “shared care” sounds like a good one, and it is intended to not only provide the child with that opportunity for a relationship with both parents, but also to engender a sense of responsibility in those parents to remain engaged with the process of caring for the child. However, there is increasingly widespread concern among both the legal profession and health professionals that the impact on very young children may be the reverse of what is intended, undermining rather than promoting their wellbeing.

A study conducted at Flinders University has found that shared care arrangements ordered by the Family Court are forcing infants under the age of 12 months to spend one week with Mum and one week with Dad. On the surface of it that might not appear to be a problem apart from the logistical inconvenience of shuttling back and forth, but when you consider that many of these infants are breast fed the problem should become immediately obvious to anyone with an IQ above room temperature. While there is no particular cut off point recommended for weaning a child from the breast, the conventional wisdom is that anywhere up to 12 months is reasonable, and some mothers prefer to breast feed even longer than that. Most health experts recommend a minimum of six months for the child to experience the health benefits of natural feeding.

This is such a blatantly fundamental issue that it is difficult to understand how the law was drawn up without recognizing this simple truth. But that’s not the only concern. There is also evidence to suggest that sending very young children to spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other is also destabilizing and can undermine their emotional and psychological wellbeing. It can erode the sense of security that comes from having an established home base. Whether or not it causes any lasting psychological damage is less clear, but surely common sense should tell us that such an arrangement is less than ideal.

There has been much concern in recent years about men’s rights and the importance of fathers remaining in contact with their children, and rightly so. Fathers should also have both rights and responsibilities, and when there is a requirement for financial support to be provided it can be seen as grossly unjust if the mother tries to restrict or even refuse access to the child. But that’s why this is so complicated. And that’s why it is sometimes easy for those involved to forget that the whole thing is supposed to be about the best interests of the child. The basic principles of shared care are correct, but the practical application has unfortunately resulted in decisions that seem to defeat their own purpose.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ramsay Is The Nightmare

This is not the first time that I have suggested that it is wrong for Gordon Ramsay to be so handsomely rewarded for behavior which would be punished in anybody else. He makes millions of dollars out of appearing on television and abusing people. That’s it. It’s not about the cooking, it’s not about helping others to improve their cooking skills, it’s all about the confrontation and the shock value of viciously abusing people who are unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves. The foul language and the temper tirades directed at people in subordinate positions is supposed to be some kind of “tough guy” act, but it is not tough at all. In fact it is pathetic and vile. And yet people watch the shows and buy the books.

The trouble with rewarding bad behavior is that it encourages the behavior, and so long as acting like a spoilt brat earns him serious money, Ramsay will keep on doing it, and it will progressively get worse. The inexplicable, pointless and just downright nasty attack on Tracy Grimshaw is an illustration of this. It’s as if he thinks he’s just a cheeky boy, and as long as he’s cute enough he can get away with saying anything. So he becomes more and more outrageous until the point is reached when it goes too far, it’s not funny anymore, and then he might wonder why he’s getting criticized for doing what he has always done.

In some respects it is similar to the antics of drunken footballers, revered as heroes one moment, and then castigated for not knowing when to stop. Or the Chaser’s War On Everything, a television show built on the idea of targeting sacred cows, and unapologetically daring to say and do the unthinkable, but which lost its mojo by failing to understand that a joke actually has to be funny before we can forgive the offense it might cause. In the same way, Gordon Ramsay has been rewarded for breaking the rules, and has forgotten that there is a difference between being comical and being a brat.

The worst of it is the fact that this man gets paid to be a bully at a time when we are struggling with the challenge of bullying in schools, bullying in the workplace, and anti-social behavior generally. It’s not his fault that other people are rude and obnoxious, but as long as it is seen to be a passport to success we will continue to struggle with those problems. Rewarding him for that behavior is not just wrong for him, and unfair to the people he attacks, but it is also an insult to the rest of us who are trying to tell out kids not to use bad language and not to push people around.

I don’t know whether or not he is any good at cooking, because I don’t care to watch his show. But I suspect that anyone who needs to rely on such tactics to aggrandize himself most be severely deficient in his abilities in other areas. Certainly, such behavior in anybody else would prompt questions about his mental stability. I don’t care what he does in his private life, I just don’t think we should have to put up with him in public any more.