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Makes me proud to be British

December 23, 2013

Continuing the unprecedented run of warm and fuzzy feelgood posts on my blog over the last six months or so I’m finishing my 2013 commentary with three experiences in the last week that have made me particularly proud (and lucky) to be British …

TimBL takes a stand on web freedom hypocrisy

ingsoc-prop1As a regular nominee and occasional winner on the various ‘Greatest Briton’ lists, inventor of the World Wide Web and all round good local bloke – when Tim Berners-Lee speaks, I listen and when he worries, I worry too.

This week he was the figurehead of a collaboration of free speech advocates and leading activists who have written an open letter highlighting the hypocrisy of member nations of the Open Government Partnership.

I am less proud of the fact the UK is one of those hypocritical member nations but in 100% agreement with the simple point that the western world doesn’t have a leg to stand on in protesting about lack of web freedoms elsewhere in the world when its leading members are complicit in running one of the largest surveillance networks the world has ever seen.

Commenting on the exposure of what organisations like the US National Security Agency have been up to in secret it says …

“These practices erode the checks and balances on which accountability depends, and have a deeply chilling effect on freedom of expression, information and association, without which the ideals of open government have no meaning.”

Kings Cross creativity

I’ll admit to becoming one of the growing legions of Candy Crush Saga addicts over the last year. Aside from it being a lot of fun to play, I marvel at the ingenuity and creativity of its invention.

ccs1As an occasional gamer, I only really have a nodding acquaintance with the various platforms. titles and developers – which is gained more these days from watching my kids play. My eldest was hooked on the latest Grand Theft Auto earlier in the year and I was pleasantly surprised that despite its reputation for violence she could see it and play it for what it is – a pastiche of contemporary America. She also enjoys it as it reminds her of her school visit to the US a couple of years back when she spent some time in Los Angeles and I have enjoyed watching her speeding around the amazingly well rendered streets of Los Santos. I hadn’t realised until this year that the GTA series is a British production.

Likewise, until I read an article this week, I hadn’t realised that the pure ‘genius’ that is behind Candy Crush Saga is also British and that the developer, King, is based in Kings Cross, London.

And while I’m on the subject of Kings Cross and British creativity  I must give a special mention to Harry Potter. The highlight of our family trip to the Orlando theme parks last month was undoubtedly the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and it is exciting to see that the fantastic re-creations of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade will be joined next year by re-creations of Kings Cross ‘Platform 9 3/4’, a real Hogwarts Express and Diagon Alley.

I remember watching an interview with some respected British business people during the depths of the recession a few years back and it was emphasised that creativity was the key to our nation’s economic recovery.

Judging by the levels of creativity illustrated by the three emerging British icons mentioned above I think we have some excellent reasons to be cheerful.

Welfare that is well fair

I am proud of our welfare state. It has supported and saved my disabled parents admirably during their lives and continues to do so in old age. Any society that can restore the hearing of an 80 year old man should be applauded in my view but, looking at it objectively, it also illustrates the dilemmas facing our health service every second of the day. Obviously I know from first hand experience what a horrible affliction deafness can be but to other observers I can understand why they might question the economics of restoring an old person’s hearing versus treating a younger person who has a life-threatening illness.

florida-shack_2612476One of the most haunting things I have seen first hand this year was while riding a motorcycle around the suburbs south of Orlando. One thing you experience quite quickly when you leave the areas of high rise hotels and apartments and sprawling  developments of holiday villas is the basic and run-down condition of your average Floridian house. In fact ‘house’ is a poor description of what, in a surprising number of cases, are just dilapidated wooden shacks. If they didn’t sit within quite large plots of land and have bright sunshine beaming down on them, they wouldn’t look out of place in an Indian slum or African township. It is also a reminder of a book I read a while back that observed the modern-day slavery that is endemic in the US sunshine state.

But it wasn’t the state of native Floridian housing that shocked me or the way that immigrant workers are treated. On this particular trip it was pulling up at a red on a crossroads and looking across to a bench on the side of the road on which was sat a white guy that I’m guessing was in his mid to late 50s. He had his left trouser leg rolled up to the knee to reveal a badly swollen calf and ankle that was clearly infected, blistering and bleeding. It was about twice as bad as a lower leg infection I picked up earlier this year while scratching myself on rocks when snorkeling in the Med. Just remembering how sick that made me feel and how painful it was to walk on for several weeks made me sympathise with the sign he was holding up. Scrawled on a piece of cardboard were the words “Can’t work, please help”.

Now when I returned from Spain back in the summer, I headed straight for the local NHS surgery and within the space of an hour I had two courses of strong anti-biotics to whack the infection with quickly and the reassurance that if there was no improvement I would be in hospital ASAP for intravenous drugs. It took a month and both courses to get to grips with the infection fully and I still have marks on my leg six months on. It was certainly a wake up call to me that these type of things should not be treated lightly in an age of increasing bacterial drug resistance.

Just prior to our trip to the US this year, the country was in a state of partial shutdown due to the crazy political brinkmanship over the government deficit. During our two week visit, the Republican tinged Florida news channels seemed to be taking every opportunity to take a dig at what’s being dubbed ‘Obamacare’ – the President’s flagship initiatives to help make the US a fairer society.

Whenever I hear the term ‘Obamacare’ from now on I’m going to remember what I saw on the ‘streets of America’ this year – not the Disney theme park version but the real streets of America.

And then I’m going to be very thankful that I was born British …

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