News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Governing body is the real culprit


It is not easy being in charge, especially if it is in a highly competitive environment and also the subject of great, and conflicting, emotions. Keeping a cool head in that sort of situation is going to test anyone, no matter how experienced they are.

That is why we should not all be jumping up and down criticising South African rugby referee Craig Joubert for making one mistake. Granted the error in awarding a penalty was crucial as it meant that Scotland was knocked out of the World Cup and that Australia won through with that fateful kick.

World Rugby has since said that having reviewed television coverage of the incident that a penalty was not the right decision. But, of course, the result of the match cannot be changed just because the referee made a mistake.

As a former football (soccer) referee, I can sympathise with Mr Joubert. Referees have always needed to make rapid decisions about events in a match. And they are always expected to get them right; 100% correct, 100% of the time. If only humans could achieve such greatness.

For years now, referees in US sports have had the ability to review TV coverage of incidents and to take decisions based on what actually happened. Furthermore, an aggrieved team can protest a controversial decision and demand that it be reviewed.

In the world of rugby union, however, the use of modern technology is more restricted. Referees can ask the TMO – Television Match Official – to confirm that a try has been scored or to identify any reason why it should not be awarded. The TMO can also draw the referee’s attention to some foul play that was missed by the three on-pitch officials.

So far, so good, but the rules do not allow the TMO to be consulted on other aspects of play. That is why, in the case of the Scotland v Australia game, Mr Joubert did not consult the TMO. He was not allowed to do so. Nor was Scotland allowed to protest and demand that the decision be reviewed as that right does not exist in rugby.

Where does that leave us? Scotland out unjustly, Australia through unworthily and Craig Joubert being criticised unfairly.

Meanwhile the real culprits are escaping almost unnoticed. World Rugby has reviewed the same recordings that the TMO could have used to prevent this happening; World Rugby has said the referee was wrong but I believe he is not really to blame.

The responsibility for the fracas must rest solely with the sport’s governing body. It has the technology ; it has TMOs. Let referees use them to ensure this sort of mistake never happens again and also allow TMOs to take the initiative and insist on a review if a mistake is being made.

Furthermore, why not give teams a limited number of appeals during a match? Cricketers already have that, as well as baseball and American Football teams, so let rugby have that as well.

Sports administrators and rule-makers need to take action now. The technology is there, it is time to let it be used in all circumstances. It is, after all, the 21st century.



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Uncertain future of circus animals

Thomas Chipperfield ad Lion

Animal welfare is an issue of some importance. It matters more to some people than others but the elimination of cruelty and mistreatment is important. Where it lies in relation to human rights, domestic violence and cruelty to children is another matter.

But, today, this blog will concentrate purely on animal issues, especially those animals that perform in travelling circuses.

As a young boy, my dad took me to see Chipperfield’s Circus when its tour came to our town. It featured all the usual types of acts including elephants, ponies, lions, clowns and a glamorous female trapeze artist who performed on a single swing. There was no safety net and, several weeks later, she fell to her death.

In those days, no mention of cruelty reached my ears and the show was greatly enjoyed by an appreciative audience – especially the children. How attitudes have changed over the years since then. These days, the number of touring circuses has fallen dramatically and the number of acts involving performing animals even more so.

The training of wild animals to perform unnatural tricks for the entertainment of humans is now generally frowned upon. Over the years, there have been widely-held concerns and a few allegations about training methods; concerns and allegations that have been based on the use of cruel training techniques. Another area that has come under the spotlight is the facility for housing the animals while on tour.

Now, Chipperfield’s is in the news again. In the UK, the country’s last remaining lion tamer has said he’s determined to keep touring in the face of protests from animal rights campaigners and some politicians.

Thomas Chipperfield is from a family that has been running circuses for seven generations; circuses that have included lions and tigers doing tricks on command. However, this past summer, his tour of Wales has been troubled by protesters picketing the venues and, allegedly, intimidating landowners who rent property to the travelling circus. The Welsh Government has also stated that it will investigate whether or not to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Mr Chipperfield says his animals are well cared for – and accuses animal rights campaigners of spreading lies. He said: “The opposition to this has existed for a long time but it’s only recently that it’s gained a significant foothold because of misinformation that’s put out and so easily spread. Animal rights groups can send out propaganda to thousands of people based on dated and carefully selected footage which has no relevance to myself.”

His travelling circus, which has two lions and three tigers, passed inspections to operate in Wales but was refused a licence to operate in England this year when the Department or Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said the big cat sleeping area was too small, and recommended it to be enlarged.

In response, Mr Chipperfield has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the cash needed to build a new enclosure ready for next season.

There are only two other circuses left in the UK that use wild animals and, in 2007, the last major report into animal welfare in the UK found little evidence that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses was any better or worse than those in zoos.

Whether you think zoos are a good idea or not is another matter but, except for dolphins and whales, they don’t generally train animals to perform. And, to me, that is the main issue. Hopefully, they are trained with kindness but being expected to perform unnatural tricks for our pleasure has to be wrong.

Circuses can continue with just human acts but, if wild animal acts are banned, what happens to the animals? To be blunt, instead of being assets, they would become costly liabilities. And, in any business, costly liabilities are axed.


Pic: SkyNewsScreenGrab  Thomas Chipperfield face-to-face with lion.

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Teenager with cancer receives cruel hoax offer

Alexis 1

How very cruel-minded and warped must someone be to make a fake offer of a $40,000 anonymous donation to pay for a sick girl’s cancer treatment. Yes, you read that correctly, the offer was a fake.

Just imagine how the teenage girl and her family must have felt when they discovered the offer was, in reality, a hoax. Add to that an image of the hoaxer somewhere being gleeful with the pain caused. Let’s hope the police do something.

It is disgraceful, inhumane and inhuman behaviour. It is the callous act of a coward.

Last month, Alexis Gould, of Utah, was diagnosed with stage three neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects the nerves, and her school launched a fundraising effort to help pay for her treatment.

Then Alexis’s family were delighted to learn that an anonymous donor had stepped forward to offer the lump sum. They must have thought that their dream had come true or that their prayers had been answered. But they came down to earth with a massive bump after a few days when Alexis’s mother Emily discovered the money was not there and never had been.

With an amazing attitude of calm, and great fortitude, Emily said to the Press: “It was a little bit hard, but we never wanted it to detract from the genuine love and support that we received from so many.”Alexis 2_edited

So, instead of dwelling on the obvious disappointment or wallowing in self-pity, the family has galvanised itself for action by concentrating on the positives. Emily said: “What others might deem as little acts of kindness, or little acts of love, mean the world to us.

“While $40,000 is a lot of money, it meant no more to me than the people who are struggling, who are living paycheck to paycheck and who donated five dollars.”

A Go Fund Me account has now been set up in Alexis’ name, and in one month has raised $29,000. That’s a tremendous amount but more is needed. Can you help? It doesn’t matter how small it may be; it might seem a cliché but it is true that every little bit helps. You can help this teenager who has just started high school by donating at her appeal site:


Main picture: Huffington Post


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Online petitions, money and punishment lashes

change petition

Online petition sites, on which anyone can start their own appeal for support for a cause in which they are interested, seem to have taken off in the last couple of years.

But, be warned, once you sign one petition, you will get email after email from the sites aiming to get you to support more of them. Of course, you can stop these unwanted emails but many people will be reluctant to do so in case they miss a petition that they would really like to sign.

This first grabs hold of you after you accept an invitation to sign a petition for a cause that you feel is worthy of support. And that is where the problem lies with these sites.

For example, once you have signed a petition online, it sends an email thanking you and suggesting other petitions you might like to support. However, often these petitions are for totally dissimilar causes.

That’s ridiculous. In this computer-led world, indeed you might even say computer-dominated, it should not be beyond the bounds of any online petition company to assess the causes you have supported in the past and only offer similar ones after that. Of course, that will be easier once someone has signed a few.

So, when faced with being asked to sign a petition for a cause that doesn’t interest you or with which you disagree, you just ignore it. Another site, acts in the same way and there are plenty of others. What’s more, emails offering updates on petitions already signed will almost always ask for monetary donations to further their causes.

Whether any petition, let alone an online one, has any real impact on the decisions of those in authority is a moot point when, in reality, decisions are based on a rage of factors not a petition. The wording of some petitions leaves a lot to be desired and on others the demands made on one person ignore what is already being done.

A petition recently online referred to the case of a 74-year-old British man lashes in saudiwho has been in prison in Saudi Arabia for a year and now faces 350 lashes that, it is feared, may kill him. The petition calls upon UK Prime Minister David Cameron to do something. The fact is, though, that his government is already doing all it can. A petition is just not needed and will not help the man avoid the lashes. Perhaps a petition to the King asking for clemency would have been more likely to help but, then again, probably not.

What was this man’s crime? He was arrested after homemade wine was found in his car, not a criminal offence in most countries but this is in Saudi Arabia which is a Muslim nation. A simple mistake, you might very well think, but he has lived there for 25 years, he must have known that he was breaking the country’s strict laws.

To be sentenced to so many lashes does seem an excessive punishment for anyone to endure but that is another matter entirely – and not the subject of this online petition.


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If we complain then we must praise too

new year party_edited

Unlike people from many countries, the British seem to be well known for their reluctance to ‘make a fuss’ or ‘cause a scene’. They would rather walk away and never return than complain.

Of course, that is a grossly unfair and wide ranging generalisation but, being a Brit, it is one that I feel justified in making. Another sweeping generalisation is that Americans won’t keep quiet if they have unsatisfactory products or service. Anyone who is familiar with the Fawlty Towers tv comedy series will know that in one episode an American character lives up to this reputation by making loud complaints about the atrocious service in the hotel.

Undoubtedly there are exceptions to both those ‘rules’ and one case of a Brit standing up to a bar owner comes to mind.

It was on New Year’s Eve almost 40 years ago when a couple in their 20s were out for the night with his parents. To cut the story short, a few minutes before midnight the bar owner let people from the general bar into the function room. The family was dancing but returned to the table to find it had been taken by other people. Even the ladies’ handbags had been moved aside. A few choice words and the family reclaimed the table but were seething.

Then the midnight hour arrived and afterwards the older man said he was going to write to complain about what had happened but his son believed the there was no time like the present and complained to the owner who was behind the bar. The exchange was terse and ended with the son saying that he would be reporting the matter to the licensing authority.

Within two minutes of returning to the table, however, the owner’s wife appeared and asked what it would take for him not to complain. Coolly and much to his dad’s surprise, he said that only a full refund would do. Another minute later and she returned with the cash. They left happy with the outcome.

Whatever attitude people in general have about making great jobcomplaints, there is one practice that seems to be overlooked by the majority of us. That is making sure that our praise for one or more employees is made known to their superiors. Yes, I know that individuals can be rewarded with tips or gratuities but that does not tell the boss how happy you are. Giving praise where it is due is just as important, if not more so, than making a justifiable complaint.

Saying thank you or giving praise does not hurt us. So, let us all try to be fair. If you’re not afraid to complain, you need also be prepared to say ‘well done’.


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Thanks to those who love their jobs

bride paramedic

An off-duty Tennessee paramedic has hit the headlines, been on television and been featured on social media. And all because, before leaving the church to go to the reception, she was alerted by phone to a car accident involving her father and grandparents who were making the same journey and were then about two miles away.

So, wearing her long white wedding dress, Sarah Ray and her new husband, also a paramedic, rushed to the scene ready to use their skills to assist anyone who was hurt.    

News Channel 5 in Nashville reported the incident had happened after another vehicle allegedly jumped a red light and ran into the back of the family’s car.

On reaching the scene, they found that her 72-year-old grandmother had suffered serious enough injuries to see her taken to hospital for treatment. Sarah said she had to reassure her grandmother that the crash had not ruined her day.

The bride’s mother, Marcy Martin, took a photograph of her daughter holding up her wedding dress as she walked away from the scene, with a police car and a fire engine in the background.  The picture has since received much attention, with well-wishers calling her a hero.

Mary said: “I love this photo because it shows her true character.”

Then the bride’s employers got into the act by posting the picture on Facebook with the following comment: “How dedicated are you to your job? Sarah Ray, Paramedic with Montgomery County Emergency Medical Services, was photographed on her wedding night working the wreck of one of her wedding guests. Now that’s dedication…she stopped to assist on the way from the wedding to the reception! Thank you, Sarah, for loving what you do!”

Loving your job leads to doing great things like this.

Another example took place in Bristol after the Kids Club charity stopped operating. People who worked at the Island drop-in centre and had lost their jobs overnight returned the next day as volunteers, such was their dedication to the youngsters. They put their love for the job and the children before their own needs.

Now, the Creative Youth Network has taken over the running of the centre with funding from Bristol City Council, and is employing nine of those who refused to walk out on the children while still more continue to volunteer.

I cannot claim to do anything as noble as Sarah the paramedic or the former Kids Company employees but I do know all about loving my job.

During a career that started in 1970, yes 45 years ago, I have worked as a journalist, a public relations professional andliking do even spent five years as a senior manager in a tourist attraction. In all those work environments there were the usual ups and down of everyday life but the only job that I really loved was the years spent as a journalist.

I love being creative and my experience in journalism is probably the main reason that, although I have a disability that prevents me from going out to work, I am able to write for my blog. These days, my time is my own, so on a good day, I might write a number of articles and then nothing for a few days. Employers don’t tend to like that.

Loving your job, or something else that you do, brings me to this picture that was on Facebook. The text on it is classic. It reads: ‘Doing what you like is freedom; Liking what you do is happiness’.

Let’s all be happy.

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World inter-faith movement needs inclusivity


Representatives of religions from across the globe are meeting up in the USA, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions that opens in Salt Lake City today, 15th October.

The parliament is, perhaps, the greatest international inter-faith movement and draws followers from a multitude of religious beliefs including Paganism, Islam, various denominations of Christianity, Buddhism – the list goes on and on.

There are major important absences from the list on its website as it sees that neither the Anglican nor Roman Catholic Churches will be taking part officially – and neither will the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latterday Saints, otherwise known as Mormons, despite Salt Lake City being their headquarters. Without that form of involvement, can it really be a Parliament of the World’s Religions? More needs to be done to encourage greater inclusivity.

Roman Catholic Women Priests will be there but that group can hardly be said to be an official representative of the church.

Its calls upon us all to ‘reclaim the heart of our humanity’ and invites everyone, of whatever faith, to work together for a world of compassion, peace, justice and sustainability. And the 2015 Parliament includes sessions on women, emerging leaders, income equality, violence and hate speech, climate change and, last but not least, indigenous peoples.

That all sounds like truly meaty stuff that I can see will be close to the hearts of people everywhere but while I agree that the issues regarding women should be discussed, I find it impossible to agree with this year’s inauguration of the Women’ Assembly.

For the life of me, I cannot accept that setting up a Women’s Assembly is in any way a good idea. I know some will welcome it as the only way to advance the female cause but, to me, it smacks of sexism and separatism – neither of which are good for women nor the world’s religions.

There is a plenary session of the Parliament that will be focussing on women and that should be the way forward. Yes, women’s issues are important but it is precisely because of that importance that they should be discussed by all, men and women together, not in a ‘Women’s Assembly’.

That assembly is said to be offering five days of special programming devoted to women, religion and spirituality that will be ‘fully integrated’ into the overall Parliament. That sounds good, the integrated part, but just having a Women’s Assembly is divisive, outdated and an unwanted form of segregation.

Integration, not segregation, must be the way forward.


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A change for both time and date


Have you ever been confused about dates being labelled as BCE or CE, or times of the day being quoted as UTC?

They are certainly not what most of us grew up learning at school, so it is easy to see why these terms might cause us to hesitate or, at least, ponder for a moment or two – and maybe more.

If, like me, the dates you were taught at school were either BC and AD, then what exactly do the newer classifications mean? When did they start to be used – and why?

First of all, the traditional BC and AD come from the time that our current Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582. They are taken, of course, from Before Christ and Anno Domini – Latin for ‘In the Year of Our Lord’. I suppose it is not really surprising that Pope Gregory XIII settled on the supposed year of the birth of Christ as the dividing point.

However, in this age of diverse faiths and secular views, it seems that the Christian based division of history is no longer justifiable or politically correct. So what could be done to make our dates more acceptable to all? Short of developing a whole new calendar?

Easy really, keep the calendar the same but just change BC and AD to something not based on the Christian faith. So, beginning during the 1990s AD became CE for ‘Common Era’ and BCE for ‘Before Common Era’. What could be simpler? The USA still became independent in 1776 but now, instead of AD, it’s CE 1776.

The change is more acceptable to all faiths and it also avoids the confusion as to when Jesus was born. It simply no longer matters.

Of course, if you are a Christian, you can just replace the word ‘Common’ with ‘Christian’. There is a way around everything.

Now it is time to look at UTC. What on earth is that?

We are probably all used to different time zones in various parts of the world. Just to look at a few, for example, the USA has four mainland zones – Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern – the UK has one – GMT –  while most of mainland Europe is on its own time zone – Central European.

Then we have the issue of putting clocks forward by an hour in the summer, often referred to as daylight saving time. Just to add to the confusion, the USA and Europe start and finish their daylight saving times on different days; Europe in October and USA in November. To be awkward some American states do not alter their clocks at all and in the UK once clocks go forward GMT becomes BST or British Summer Time.

UTC is Coordinated Universal Time, the order of the initials decided by another language. It is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is, within about one second, mean solar time at 0° longitude, the line that passes through Greenwich, London, and it really is the same as GMT except for scientific purposes. Oh and UTC stays the same, summer and winter.


Pic: The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, UK. The line in the foreground marks the position of the 0° line of longitude that divides the eastern and western hemispheres.

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Random acts of kindness can create a more caring world

one at a time

Tales about people being kind to one another have been popular and frequent in social media and now more of us are urged to do the same under the umbrella term of Random Acts of Kindness, something akin to the good deed of the day for which the Boy Scouts (to give them their old title in the UK but still current name in the USA) were renowned.

One example was highlighted by the daughter of an elderly man who had gone shopping by himself. He had got what he wanted, waited to be served at the checkout and reached the cashier, all his shopping had been scanned and packed. All he needed to do was pay but, horror, he then realised he had left his wallet at home.

Imagine how the poor man must have felt! But not for long as the woman right behind him insisted on paying for his shopping, saying that she was sure that he had been kind to others in his life and that it was now her turn to be kind and his turn to be on the receiving end.

What a wonderful random act of kindness.

There are so many other examples that there is absolutely no way that even a small cross-section can be mentioned here but I must recount one that I heard about recently. This was on Facebook and concerned a young boy who had previously lost both his parents and was living with his aunt. Naturally sad, he just wanted to be happy again. A worthy cause for random act of kindness, I am sure you will agree.

But nothing could be further from his mind. Instead, he asked his aunt if she would buy him some toys, he didn’t want anything big or expensive, just small toys that wouldn’t break the bank. The good aunt agreed and took the young boy shopping.

Once he had the toys, he suddenly started giving them away to other people he met in the street while his aunt looked on, somewhat bemused I have no doubt.

Asked why he had done that, his reply was classic. He said he had got fed up with so many sad faces around him; he just wanted to see some happy smiles again!

All of a sudden, or maybe I have just not noticed it before, there are social media sites actually promoting random acts of kindness and it would be unfair of me to single out one over another but if you are on Twitter, please check out #randomactsofkindness as most sites seem to be found there.

Just imagine what could be achieved if everyone performed just one such random act of kindness. It could be the first step towards creating a more caring world in which it is normal that we look out for one another. What a great place that would be.

Worldwide Kindness Day is Friday 13th November while International Acts of Kindness Week starts on 9th and runs to 15th February and includes St Valentine’s Day (and, note to self, my wife Lisa’s birthday) but there is no need to wait until either of those dates. Perform a random act of kindness as soon as you find someone with a need for one.

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Today’s the day Columbus did NOT discover America


Today, 12th October, has for many years been dedicated to the memory of Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer who discovered various places and claimed them for the Spanish crown who financed his expeditions.

Of course he is best known as the man who discovered America – except he didn’t.

On this day in 1492, Columbus completed his first voyage across the Atlantic to land on an island in what is today known as the Bahamas. He named the island San Salvador. He actually thought that he had reached India by sailing around the world, which is why he called the native people ‘Indians’.

Subsequent adventures found him landing elsewhere in the Caribbean and South America, leading to colonisation by Spain.

However, contrary to what many believe, he never set foot in North America and that means that he did not discover the land that would eventually become the United States of America. What is strange, though, is that Columbus Day is a national holiday in the USA. The holiday is always the second Monday in October; this year that day just happens to be the 12th.

It was in New York, in 1792, that Columbus Day was first celebrated in honour of the heritage of its Italian-American community. This eventually led to President F D Roosevelt, in 1935, declaring it a national holiday.

Over the many years since then, various states within the US have given the holiday different names, including Indigenous Peoples Day, Native American Day, American Indian Heritage Day and even Discovery Day.

Across the Atlantic from America, Columbus’s exploits in the name of Spain are marked in various ways including a monument in the city of Barcelona.

The date of his first step on land, 12th October, is also a public holiday in Spain.

The celebrations there originated in 1935 when it was known as Dia de la Hispanidad, marking Spain’s involvement in the Hispanic community around the world. The country had to wait until 1981 for a royal decree setting it as a national holiday.

Just six years later, the holiday’s name was changed to Fiesta Nacional. That is one of Spain’s two national days; the other is Constitution Day, on 6th December.

The reason why the Fiesta Nacional, literally national party (in the festive sense of the word), on the day associated with Columbus seems to be a bit of a compromise between those who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and the country’s history, and others who wanted to commemorate Spain’s growing democracy. That is something I can understand in a nation that for some years was controlled by a dictator.

Changing the name from ‘Hispanidad’ also had the politically significant effect of removing any trace of a connection to Spain’s history of empire-building and colonialism.

When Lisa and I arrive in our home in the southern province of Almeria, we will have missed the Fiesta Nacional for this year but there is always Constitution Day to look forward to in December.


Pic: Although no authentic portraits of Columbus are known to exist, this work by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519, is thought to be a reasonable likeness of the explorer.

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