Safety net, leg up

A few years ago, on a number of occasions, suddenly people who I didn’t even know stood up to help me at times of personal crisis. To date I don’t know what I’d done without them, I truly feel they were life savers.

These good Samaritans, as I like to call them, taught me important life lessons too; it wasn’t that they taught me to give to others, because I knew how to do that and I did, it was that they managed to show me how to give to others without compromising on themselves and in ways that don’t fully provide for others but – better still – provided a safety net and a leg up, no more than that.

The best way for me to pay people back is to pay this forward by offering others a safety net and a leg up as and when I can. It’s a no-brainer I wish I’d figured out sooner.

At age 38 I’ve also – finally! – learned that I cannot solve other people’s problems nor make miracles happen. One of my landlord’s tenants – let’s call him Ahmed (not his actual name) – has severe issues with alcohol and drugs. (Note: my landlord is one of the people who I consider one of my life savers.) I cannot solve his issues or take away his demons but I do appear to be one of very few people who can at least on many occasions calm him down to a point where he doesn’t pose a nuisance or threat to others – such as the other tenants/neighbours – or to himself. But I also accept that I can only be there to help him if and when he reaches out for it because he wants to be helped. And I can provide support in a way that doesn’t compromise me or anyone else.

For anyone reading this who has little or no experience with addiction: think of the nicest, most personable person you know, and trust me when I tell you that if he or she were to fall victim to addiction to any mind-altering substance(s) (such as alcohol or drugs), he or she will turn into an a-hole. Apologies for the expletive but there is no friendlier way of saying it. Substance abuse turns the greatest human beings into a-holes, period.

Ahmed was forced to go cold turkey a while ago, when his welfare benefits were stopped. The landlord showed leniency allowing him to fall behind on his rent, we paid his utilities and got him food until we got him registered with the food bank. He had no means of inebriating himself. It made him very sick for a while but he got medical attention when needed, and then, for a moment, clean, sober and personal Ahmed returned.

It didn’t last. As soon as his state welfare benefits were restored a couple of weeks ago, he went back on the binge and back to being the a-hole addict. It is bordering on impossible to get someone in his situation the appropriate mental health care; people like Ahmed tend to become nuisance neighbours and recurring problems for police and emergency services to deal with.

They will get inebriated to the point where they cause problems, to say the least, get picked up by police or ambulance, taken to a police cell or hospital ward and less than 24 hours later, when they’ve sobered up, they are labelled “no longer a threat to themselves or others”, and they’re out on the street again until they get inebriated again, give cause to get picked up again, and so on and so forth.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the cops and EMTs out here to attend the same locations, the same people again and again because there is no appropriate follow-up to their work, but forget about the UK headlines of late about lying or otherwise dodgy officers, your everyday frontline street cops and paramedics do a [bleep]ing phenomenal job that I can not speak highly enough of. Seriously, I wish there were two IPCCs rather than one: besides the Independent Police Complaints Commission there should be something like an Independent Police Compliments/Commendations Commission. The same goes for ambulance personnel and other emergency services. “We the people” should really do more to get these people the recognition they deserve, because right now I don’t think they’re getting that.

Back now to Ahmed. Yesterday he hit rock bottom and phoned 999, stating he had a knife and threatening to kill himself with it. Out came the emergency ‘cavalry’ of police, rapid response units and ambulance, full well knowing that he might pose a danger to them as much as himself, but turning up and stepping in regardless.

He was taken to hospital, his home was made safe. When later on he managed to slip out of hospital again, he was searched for and found, and returned to the hospital. He called me late at night asking for me to come and pick him up. I convinced him to stay.

Some time after midnight the hospital phoned me asking me to come and pick him up to take him home. He had been medically examined and had had his psychological evaluation (colloquial: psych eval), and they had no medical grounds to keep him in the hospital. Thankfully I managed to convince them to at least keep him in the ward for the night, promising to come and pick him up this morning.

When I arrived this morning all that was left for me to collect were some of Ahmed’s belongings. Ahmed himself had already disappeared again. Hospital staff helped me search for him but we failed. There is only so much we can do.

As hard and cold as this may appear, all we can do now is to wait and see if and when he turns up again, which he will, sooner or later, and by then he will probably be under the influence of mind-altering substances. The cycle will repeat itself until he is truly ready to surrender himself, because there is no way for me or anyone else to get him sectioned under the Mental Health Act or otherwise detained for his own safety and recovery.

It’s not a situation I am particularly happy with, and I would love to see the system changed, but for now I am at peace with the idea that there is nothing more I or anyone else can do right now. I don’t feel bad, stressed or guilty about that anymore. I’ll reach out again as and when I have to, and I know others will, too. Safety net, leg up, remember?

Naturally I will write to ministers and MPs and find other ways to contact whichever powers that be to urge changes to (mental) health services and procedures to stop these repeat cycles that Ahmed and many other people currently move around in, because the current system clearly isn’t helping anyone and burdening many. Perhaps this blog post is a start.

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North-West London, 2013

As posted on Path earlier today.

One thing I love about this neighbourhood is its diversity. You see and hear more of that in summer, when people live their lives more outdoors, or at least with their windows and doors open. The other night groups of young people were dancing Bollywood-style a few gardens down, yesterday featured cheesy Euro pop tunes from a Polish BBQ party further down, and this afternoon and evening the music and chitter chatter suggested someone was hosting a Yiddish party.

In amongst this, I sometimes have to laugh at my own ignorance… like this afternoon, when the Yiddish music was suddenly shortly interrupted by a tune rather more familiar to my ears: ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round…’ …because for all the ethnic variety, there is plenty of commonality everyone shares. Call it integration.

Plenty of folks deny there is any integration, because of the diversity of skin complexions on show down the High Road. Trust me, people do integrate here. They’re just integrating into 2013 London, which is different from 1963 London, which was different from 1913 London… people integrate into a ‘new normal’ in which there is simply more space for variety.

And however much brown and black people attempt to bleach their skins, while whites try various ways of darkening theirs, London (or any city for that matter) will never be as white and homogenous as it once was.

Just because none of us is likely to ever understand every single linguistic, religious or ethnic aspect of this modern society, doesn’t make that wrong, and most certainly doesn’t justify the intolerance, ridiculing or outright hate I’ve witnessed online just this weekend.

Which is what compelled me to write and share this from my humble abode in a cacophony – not clash! – of cultures. I wish folks would stop antagonising and creating problems that wouldn’t even exist if they hadn’t created them in their own narrow minds in the first place.

P.S. For people who think the above is ‘airy fairy’ and in denial of London or society’s issues, read again, because it’s not. There are plenty of issues that need addressing.

In fact, what I am saying is that there are enough issues already for anyone to put their shallow/narrow minds to creating even more problems by effectively making them up.

Try thinking in solutions rather than in problems.

Homophobe 100?

This weekend Amsterdam will be bursting with pride – Gay Pride that is. You don’t have to be gay to immerse yourself in what will be one great big whopper of a party weekend. And to celebrate that occasion, Dutch public radio, like previous years, decided on hosting the “Homo 100” (the “Gay Top 100”), charting the 100 most “Gay” (gayest?) songs, as decided by a public vote.

Which is where I’m started to feel a bit uncomfortable. (Please don’t misunderstand those words;
I am not taking offense, neither for myself nor on behalf of others… I am just feeling a tad uncomfortable here.)

You see, I am delighted to see how Amsterdam Gay Pride has grown from a one-day parade into what is still referred to as a ‘weekend’ even though events stretch across seven or eight days. In a country where plenty of people still like to (make others) believe they are a “tolerant nation” – which they’re not, really, or should I say not really (or even really not?) – it is great to see that you don’t have to be straight to get married or gay to enter a and civil partnership (oh Britain, how I wish…) and it’s fabulous that Gay Pride has really become a celebration among all people, irrespective of each individual party-goer’s sexual orientation. I sincerely believe that such legislation and events seriously contribute to a culture of equality and integration.

But that’s exactly where I’m feeling somewhat uncomfortable about this “Gay Hot 100” chart. Voting was open to everyone (equality!); I don’t think there would have been any way to set up the online voting system so that “only gays” would have got to put in their choice of “hot, gay music”, nor do I believe it would have been possible to track which percentage of online contributors was gay, bi, or straight. What that did do, though, is open the door to every (hetero?) Tom, Dick, Harry and their dog to put in what they believe to be “music gays like” or “gay music” or whatever you want to call it.

In other words, people get to express their prejudices and stereotypes, and that is what bothers me – this has become a charting of songs perceived as “gay” when I doubt you’ll hear (m)any of those tunes played in popular clubs that specifically market themselves to a LGBT audience (unless the clubs in the Netherlands are very different from those here in London). In that sense the “Home 100” is possibly more a “Homophobe 100” than it is a “Gay Hot 100”.

Doesn’t that risk reinforcing – rather than dispelling – bigotry?

Faking it? (2)

READ THE PREVIOUS BLOG POST ON THIS TOPIC HERE

In response to my blog post outlining why I don’t believe in the authenticity of the sexily-clad cyclist story, I received a tweet from @StreetsblogNYC saying that although there were “no direct witnesses” there was “compelling corroboration” of events with a link to their blog post A Long Explanation of Why the Biking-While-Sexy Story Is No Hoax;

“George Bliss and Marlo Medrano of Hudson Urban Bicycles, a West Village bike shop, confirmed that Rijcken described an encounter with NYPD when she saw them later the same day. … Bliss’s recap of Rijcken’s account more or less matched what Rijcken told Streetsblog last Friday.”

Is this meant to be the “compelling corroboration” referred to? Well, I’m sorry, but to me that’s just too flimsy.

“Medrano confirmed that she was wearing the skirt shown in the widely-circulated photograph of Rijcken on her bike.”

Errr… hold on now, doesn’t that contradict her story?

“Rijcken told the Daily News that she was ‘on [her] way back to the hotel when [the police stop] happened and I changed into pants.'”

Yup, I definitely spot an anomaly there.

If she went to the meeting first, why didn’t she tell the Daily News she was on her way to a meeting rather than on her way back to her hotel? Or did she get pulled over after the meeting but before getting pulled over (in which case Medrana would have seen her in her skirt but she couldn’t have told him about her supposed encounter with the cop as it hadn’t happened yet)? (While on the subject of conflicting stories, note that in my first blog post on this subject I already pointed out that some sources say it happened on April 30 and others on May 3.)

So far, StreetsBlog’s attempt to dispel the rumours only provides me with even more reasons to believe the sexy cyclist story to be a hoax, and it doesn’t stop there:

“Rijcken touts her expertise in “guerrilla marketing” on her LinkedIn profile

Hm, interesting, I didn’t know that before, but it adds to my belief her story is not genuine.

“[Rijcken] emailed Joanna Virello and Stephanie Musso, her American acquaintances who organized the New Amsterdam Bike Show, asking if the New York Press would be interested in the story. (The Bike Show is co-produced by Manhattan Media, publisher of New York Press and other local NYC outlets.)”

Now that compellingly corroborates a possible hoax, as it directly contradicts a statement Rijcken made on Twitter, claiming she “never went to the press or mentioned a bikename” and “just posted it on [Facebook]” (the Facebook page for VanMoof, that was, with a lovely picture of Rijcken – who also claims she is a former model – posing with a VanMoof bicycle).

Faking It? (2)Streetsblog.org close their blog post stating “the hoax rumors have made her plot even more successful”.  

Successful? 

Hm. Successful in getting herself and the bicycle brand she represents a lot of attention, indeed, but also successful in creating plenty of doubt on her own and her company’s credibility and integrity, as it could be perceived that VanMoof might be willing to lie to people (dissatisfied customers included?) and that Jasmijn Rijcken herself is perhaps not as good at guerilla marketing as she thinks she is (as the whole point about guerrilla marketing is that you don’t make it obvious it’s a marketing stunt!).

All that at the expense of the NYPD; no matter how much you do so on the back of other bad press, that’s just inexcusable and shows a ruthlessness that would frighten me off if I were a (potential) customer, business partner or even mere acquaintance of Jasmijn Rijcken and/or VanMoof.

On the off chance that Rijcken’s story is genuine and not a hoax, she simply lacked the foundation to publicise it in the way she did. However genuine an accusation, you just can’t take it to the press or even merely post it publicly on your (company’s) social media profile without anything more than just your own word for it. (This is where serious, commercial press/media outlets should hang their heads in shame as well, as many of them relayed the story without sufficiently checking its factuality and credibility.)

I feel sincerely sorry for Jasmijn if she indeed really got harassed by a New York City cop, but I am having a hard time believing a person who on the one hand claims to be a well-travelled world citizen with work experience in the US, Europe and India, and on the other hand tries to present herself as a naïve, almost frightened tourist who could and would feel (easily) intimidated by a man in uniform.

Also, if she did get harassed by the unnamed NYPD cop and then decide to take advantage from it by publicising (marketing?) it in the way that she has done, I hope she understands what damage that may do to how other women (and men!) who suffered harassment may be perceived by the public.

And if she really is as “overwhelmed” as she claims to be right now by what “one Facebook post” (and an email to the press?) could bring about, that, again, may only show she’s not quite the marketing expert and hype heroine she claims to be.

Personally, I am more inclined to believe this was all a deliberate hoax, and I would suggest that Jasmijn Rijcken and VanMoof issue a shared statement or press release in which they come clean about this marketing stunt and announce they will do something that might help them save face as well as make up for the bad press they gave the NYPD. Perhaps they could make a donation to the NYC Police Foundation, the NYPD Emerald Society or one of the other charitable organisations supported by the NYPD. And perhaps those media outlets stupid enough to fall for the hoax could make donations as well.

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Faking it?

A small part of this post was previously submitted as a comment to an article on Jezebel.com

Last month featured (less than) fifteen minutes of fame for Botox Mom. So far this month, we’ve had the Gay Girl in Damascus that turned out to be a married heterosexual man in Edinburgh. Then it turned out that the lesbian news site editor (s)he had been flirting with online wasn’t a lesbian female either, but in fact a straight, married construction worker in Ohio. Next up, I suspect, may be the revelation that Barbie buying her seven-year-old daughter a boob job voucher was nothing but a publicity stunt by human Barbie Sarah Burge to promote her plastic surgery company.

Great! If I wasn’t already critical enough towards everything that pops up in my news feed, now I find myself taking a rather cynical approach to all of it, as well. And that’s not a good time to see tweets linking to news stories of a woman claiming to have been stopped by police for cycling in a short skirt.

Faking It (Source)I’m not having this. Seriously, you can NOT expect me to believe this to be true. In fact, I’m pretty confident in thinking this was either a throw-away comment on Facebook that got out of hand, or a deliberate hoax conceived in a bad attempt at (guerilla) marketing. From the NY Daily News article:

“NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said: ‘Whether this story bears even a modest semblance of what actually occurred is impossible to establish without being provided the purported officer’s name and getting his side of the story.'”

There are no witnesses either, there’s just her story, and a picture of her posing, smiling, on a shiny brand new designer bicycle that isn’t commonly on sale in New York; did she bring it with her on her short visit to the city? Oh wait, there’s another clue in the Daily News article:

“As general manager of a Dutch bicycle company, [Jasmijn] Rijcken was in New York to attend the New Amsterdam Bike Show and hopped on her wheels that sunny day to experience biking in New York City first hand.”

Sure. And she thought it would make for some nice (free?) publicity to pose for a picture, post that picture to her company’s Facebook page with a story wicked enough to appeal to tabloid editors’ imagination? And I am supposed to believe this actually happened?! Well I’m sorry, but I don’t. But hey, it makes for a good story and there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? And while Jasmijn Rijcken has no proof for her version of events, I have no way of proving it never happened, either; I can, however, offer plenty of reasons to be sceptical in respect of the authenticity of the story.

As a blogger I have the privilege to self-righteously spout my views – and I don’t claim to do anything else here but exactly that, albeit with due care and attention. However, I expect serious press outlets like the ones linked in this post to do a bit more than that; to do some fact-checking, ask difficult questions, assess something’s actual news value, you know, those things that in my opinion may be expected from paid, professional journalists (as opposed to amateur bloggers). (And no, the word allegedly should not be put about ubiquitously as some Get Out Of Jail Free card.)

This sexily clad cyclist story hit various serious (albeit, in some cases, tabloid-type) news outlets in recent days, and we’re in June. The lady’s Facebook update reporting of this story with the accompanying picture is dated May 23, 2011; that’s nearly three weeks ago already, so this isn’t exactly current, is it? In fact, the story probably wasn’t even current at the time of said Facebook update, as this year’s New Amsterdam Bicycle Show in New York took place on April 30, and the incident with the police officer is said to have taken place around this date (some articles state it happened on April 30, others say it was May 3). This makes this week’s reporting on alleged events rather outdated and harder to check for factuality. Aside from that, the weather in New York around April 30 may not even have been particularly suitable for a bike ride in a short skirt with temperatures in the area apparently no higher than 67°F/19°C (average weather conditions around that time of year would certainly not entice me to pack a short skirt for a trip to NYC).

Furthermore, if Miss Rijcken felt indeed as offended and discriminated against as she claims to have felt, it makes no sense to me that she waited three-or-so weeks to make that Facebook post expressing how upset she supposedly was. Also, why didn’t she obtain proof (such as the police officer’s name and/or badge number) and seek people to corroborate her story (particularly considering her claim that she’s not the only one this has happened to)?

What I am trying to make clear is this: Serious, commercial news outlets currently face a lot of competition from bloggers. If they want to stay ahead of bloggers, perhaps they should distinguish themselves through quality and reliability, rather than resort to publishing opinion pieces and outdated (non-)stories or lower their level to badly checked (or perhaps even unchecked) expressions of (mis)information. Moreover, they have a duty of care towards their (paying) readership, as well as to society as a whole; people unfamiliar with the press and media industry, may be insufficiently aware of how press coverage may affect their own integrity, that of their business and that of other people or organisations involved (in this particular case the NYPD).

Secondly, I want people to realise the possible consequences of posting what they might think is an innocuous accusation on their social media profile; you never know who may pick up on your story and take it beyond your control.

Overall, I just want professional (i.e. paid) journalists and editors to stop treating their (potential) audiences as idiots and do the decent job of offering value for money by engaging in proper journalism. I am sick and tired of whiny mantras of how the internet is killing newspapers when perhaps a lot of the decline of the newspaper industry could be blamed on bad journalism.

In the meantime, I hope that non-journos reading this blog post will understand the importance of maintaining a critical approach to everything they read in the papers.

READ THE FOLLOW-UP TO THIS BLOG POST HERE

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