Mines Advisory Group

The reason I’ve been quiet over the last couple of days is because I’ve been performing in a short play called Inch by Inch, written and produced by Susan Timmins with Freya Inkster, designed to raise money for the charity Mines Advisory Group (MAG).  It was a fascinating production; I played a trader called Steve who attends an arms convention but enters this limbo world where two Laotian mine-clearers rail against his selfish ignorance.  Steve is unaware of their presence but by the end some of the message gets through.  The outdoor stage was covered in bundles of clothes, each representing a victim from a country with existing mines or other unexploded ordinances, which the characters interacted with throughout the play.   It was a great experience which I highly enjoyed and learned from – even despite the vicious showers we had to perform in!  A local news website wrote about it here.

Photo by Roxane Permar.

If you’re unaware of their work as I was before joining the production, MAG works towards clearing areas of mines and bombs (particularly cluster bombs) left over from conflicts.  There’s generally an assumption that the humanitarian disaster ends with the war, but often it continues long afterwards.  All over the world, from Egypt to Angola to Somalia to Iraq, and particularly in Laos and Vietnam, the problem still persists.  I read a horrifying figure yesterday which stated 1 in 300 people  in Angola are missing a limb due to either the civil war or from the aftermath.  Children are especially at risk because it is difficult to teach them about the dangers and they often run through areas to play, unaware of what could happen.  It’s horrific.  They operate by a humanitarian criteria, conducting missions which will have the greatest benefit for a community rather than concentrating first on the area covered.  They also train and provide employment for locals to make a difference in their own communities.

It’s a wonderful charity – I’m humbled by their dedication and bravery, and by their constant struggle to create a better future.  My contribution has only been very small but I hope it can go some way to helping with their valiant work.

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Homelessness

Bit of a belated post here, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.

Every time I travel into a large city, which for most of my life has been once or twice a year, I never fail to be shocked by the homelessness pandemic I always find.  Having been brought up in a society where even oficially homeless people have some sort of roof over their heads, it’s incredibly shocking to imagine a life of ‘sleeping rough’.

For years, I’ve never been able to decide on the morality of giving money to those who beg.  If they’re selling The Big Issue, or doing some other means of getting money, then fine, it’s more clear cut.  But I guess I feel it should be the state’s responsibility to ensure everyone, at the very least, has a house to live in (and ideally a job, too, though that clearly has not been a priority for any government in decades – the cynical side of me would say most modern governments actually want some unemployment, but that’s digressing).  However, I have quickly come to the conclusion that, although creating a system in which many people need the charity of others to survive is wrong, to simply ignore someone in such need is also wrong.

However, there has to be balance.  It is unreasonable to suggest giving money to every single homelessness person you meet, else you’ll soon be going a similar way (so widespread the problem is).  So, I guess, to ease my conscience, perhaps just giving money to one or two homeless people a day would suffice.  A quota, if you like.  I don’t know.  If everyone did this, rather than the majority who are desensitised and do walk past every day, surely their plight would improve? 

One issue is that, quite often, homeless people do spend the money they receive on alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.  When I was last in Edinburgh I gave one man a small amount of money, and later passed him smoking a cigarette.  I don’t judge him for this by any means – in such an empty, purposeless life, you would grasp anything which could provide even the slightest escape.  So I don’t see this as a good reason to ignore beggars.  There is also the issue of people faking being homeless – although I’m inclined to want to give someone money simply for the mental endurance to sit for so long in the cold, ignored and detested by society for all of that time.  I was told the other day that you can supposedly identify a true homeless person by whether they make eye contact or not; someone with experience of the streets will not, because theyre so used to being spat at or otherwise abused.

Indeed, I am increasingly noticing simply how demonized homeless people are in society.  “Oh, he’s just a stupid hobo,” is something which would not surprise or even shock me if I heard it casually said.  “That coat makes you look like a homeless person LOL!”  Because it is a situation so few people can relate to, and don’t expect to ever experience (I do not see myself being homeless in the future, for instance, even though I know it’s possible), it becomes easy to brush off their woes as self-inflicted.  I could be wrong, but I believe very few people truly understand the issue of homelessness, or care to try.  I certainly don’t.

I think, if I ever see the opportunity, I may at some point volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, or something along those lines which would allow me to actually meet and speak to homeless people, and to better understand them.  Or, I suppose, even speak to the ones on the street – show them that not everyone in society despises them, and perhaps help ease even a tiny fraction of the loneliness.  We must all do what we can.

The Immorality of Lottery Tickets

The idea of lotteries really, really annoy me.  They’re the biggest con in modern history, as well as a highly negative reflection on the human race.  Let me explain – I’ll concentrate on the UK’s ‘National Lottery.’

Firstly, the Lottery shows how we as a society, or perhaps as a species, are obsessed with money.  Every week millions of people in the UK spend money on a lottery ticket.  Tickets cost £1, so over a lifetime someone could easily spend thousands of pounds on lottery tickets.  The chances of simply winning this back once is about 1/80,000 and the chances of winning a jackpot are 1/14,000,000.  Some people will buy more than one ticket a week.  So millions of people are, effectively, throwing thousands of pounds away in their lifetimes for no gain, no investment, no returns.  They know this yet they continue anyway.

This has the more sinister side effect of, very gradually, concentrating wealth.  The lottery is, when simplified, a system which literally takes money from the majority and gives it to the minority.  A very, very small number of people become millionaires at the expense of a gradual attrition of the rest of the country’s money.  It’s the perfect system.  People pay into it, or should I say are conned into it, by the hope of winning a fortune.  It’s a caricature of pure capitalism, only without the shame.

This wealth leads to power because, in our society, money = power.  It’s not as much of a problem in the UK as it would be in, say, the USA, but money still gives someone massive influence.  Not in the form of corruption – I would hope – but in other, more subtle methods, such as in investments or trusts.  I don’t claim to know a lot about how rich people use their money, and I hope I never will, but the fact rich people are powerful cannot be denied.  Giving an average, random person this much power – or any unelected person for that matter – is deeply irresponsible as a society.

Now I know there are good sides to the Lottery.  A significant amount of profits are taxed by the government, which can then (in theory) be used on services in the welfare state, or on infrastructure, or any other investment which helps the people of our country as a whole.  In addition, huge fortunes which are left unclaimed regularly end up being donated to charity, which will be a massive benefit in this Age of Austerity to struggling causes.  However, having positive points does not stop the Lottery being the immoral con that it is.