Monday, 30 August 2010

The Ultimate Psychological Test for the Chilean Miners

This is an amazing story which I've been following over the last week or so. I've become fascinated by it.

33 miners who have already been trapped for over 3 weeks now face a wait of up to four months before being rescued!

Video footage of the 33 Chilean miners trapped in the San Jose gold and copper mine.

Everytime I see or read a report on this story, I immediately think this is going to be turned into a film. It has to be!
One of the trapped miners has been writing a diary of life in the mine, his name's Victor Segovia. I imagine that any future book or film will use this diary as the source material.

At the moment it's the psychological impact on the men that's really been capturing my imagination.

The miners must have experienced that initial euphoria of realising the outside world had discovered they were still alive, only for their hopes to be dashed when they're told it could take up to 4 months to get them out.

Although demoralising to hear, as experienced miners they would have had their own realistic assessments of the timescale needed to get them out.

They've been told four months, but this may have been said for psychological reasons so not to get their hopes up. To be given false hope and unrealistic estimates would be much harder for the men to deal with.

Even though the video shows the men in good spirits, I did read that a few of them didn't appear in the video. There are concerns that some of them of experiencing symptoms of depression.

The miners are essentially serving a type of prison sentence, with extreme physical and mental chanllengers to overcome.

The fact that there's 33 of them may be of some benefit in this situation. With a larger group they should hopefully find it easier to keep morale up. But there's obviously going to be days when even the most optimistic members of the group are going to feel depressed by the whole situation.

If there are positives the men can take, it's that they do have contact with their families and the outside world. Through the pipe that leads to the surface, they've already received cards, books, video games to fight the boredom.

In terms of their physical and mental health they're receiving medicine that includes anti depressants and some of the men are even getting remote therapy sessions.

Another interesting fact I discovered, is that the miners families have been banned from discussing particular topics during telephone and video conversations; these include where the blame lies for the collapse of the mine, and the actions being taken against the mining company.

What I wasn't aware of, is that the mining company and owners of the collapsed mine have had a history of accidents.

This sounds quite a sensible approach, as such discussion could only go towards creating more distress for the miners and their families.

This story is clearly going to run for the next few months and until the miners are rescued. I can't remember coming across a similar type of story before, which partly explains why I'm so interested by it.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Big Brother's finished, now get ready for Seven Days.

I've been reading about a new reality TV programme starting on Channel Four at the end of September called Seven Days.

The show will follow the lives of up to 30 people from different backgrounds who live and work in Notting Hill, West London.

The producers have chosen Notting Hill, as it's known internationally, and has a diverse range of people and where you can find extreme wealth and poverty existing next to each other.

The show will be filmed along the lines of a conventional fly on the wall documentary, but the difference with Seven Days is that it will be edited at the same speed as most reality tv programmes, so that you see characters reacting to current events.

One area that the show is looking to be a bit different is that it hopes to have more direct viewer interaction. Viewers will have the chance to make suggestions to characters on what choices they should make in certain aspects of their lives.

For example, if a character was deciding whether to go on a date with someone. Viewers would be able to make their feelings known on what the character should do.

Now that I've heard about it I'm definitely going to watch the first couple of episodes and see how it all works. You know it's the sort of programme that people are going to be talking about when it starts.

I've always watched a number of reality TV shows and it's been interesting to see how the format has evolved over the years.

After years of loving Big Brother, even I eventually became bored of it and gave up about two years ago. With a hole in my reality tv schedule, I've now progressed onto American shows like The Hills and The City.

It took me a long time to get into these two shows, but then I slowly started getting hooked without even realising it.

They're reality TV shows but you've got real life people essentially playing themselves in their own real life Soap Opera.

Although The Hills was meant to be a fly on wall show looking at the lives of a group of 20 somethings living in Los Angeles, Wikipedia's synopsis of the show, said that many story lines were 'loosely scripted'.

What this really means is that most of what you watched wasn't 'reality' but actually characters and scenes being edited and manipulated to create never ending tensions, conflict an evolving story lines.

I don't expect Seven Days to follow the format of The Hills, but being a little sceptical you have to ask how real will this new show be?

It all depends on how hands on, or hands off producers want to be in managing the storylines of the characters involved.

With a lot of these reality TV shows, producers always start off with these intentions of showing 'reality' or letting the audience decide on particular outcomes, but you know that over a period of time they find it almost impossible not to start interfering with the format to keep viewers interested?

In soaps it usually means giving characters conflicts, tensions and dilemmas to deal with and overcome. I suppose that's what most people face in everyday life, but not everyone's issues and conflicts make interesting telly. I know mine don't!

Is this new show going to start manipulating characters and scenarios to keep viewers interested?

Secondly, you have the characters themselves. You may start off as just a normal person in these shows. But when your life starts to become a soap opera for others to watch, you yourself become somebody else, a reality tv star. You have a public persona. Is your life real life, or a storyline in a tv show?

Why have the people starring in the show put themselves forward. Do they want to become stars? Or promote themselves and lives? This is what I'm interested in finding out.

The Executive producer of Seven Days has said he was partly inspired by social networking sites like Facebook. I've spoken about Facebook before and how it encourages more and more people to live their private lives in the public domain.

I suppose a show like Seven Days is a logical extension of this. More people seem to get a greater sense of value in themselves if they know their everyday life has a ready made audience ready to consume every little detail.

As the programme hasn't started yet, I'll have to reserve my judgement on the characters until I see them. Then I can find out what's motivated them to appear in the show.

The first episode of Seven Days can be seen on 22 September.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Is the Countryside Racist?

This was the question asked by a writer called David James Smith in the Sunday Times magazine a couple of weeks ago.

In the Times feature, Smith who's white writes about the experience he and his black wife and four mixed race children have after moving from west London to Lewes in East Sussex. He believes that his family have continually experienced subtle forms of discrimination.

Having read his article he doesn't give any clear examples of outright racism. It's more a case of incidents he calls 'microagressions' which are perceived to have a racial element to them.

The report caused controversy back in Lewes, with many residents angry and upset at Smith's portrayal of the town. There were a lot of strong feelings made about his report on local internet messages boards.

The consensus opinion seemed to be that Smith was seeing racism where it didn't exist. He was being overly sensitive, and making mountains out of mole hills.

In last week's Sunday Times they then had a follow up feature in the main paper asking whether the countryside was a hotbed of racism. Having finished reading the magazine report, I knew I wanted to write something in response. Some of the points Smith made seemed to reflect more of a culture clash between city and country life rather than racism.

Another point which I thought about, was the different perception levels people can have when it comes to considering what might be considered racist or prejudiced behaviour.

Smith and his family decided to move from London to East Sussex for the typical reasons people give when they leave big cities. Lack of space in London, high crime, a better quality of life for their kids etc.

He describes Lewes as being a modern town but not when it comes to race. He objected to locals using the term 'coloured' which was commonly used to describe black people.

He then went on to talk in more detail about the experience of his wife and kids. His wife stands out when she's out in the town centre, she began to feel uncomfortable being so visible within the local community.

Other incidents are highlighted which he sees as undermining his children's self confidence as mixed race children. His son was told by a school friend he had 'big nostrils' a teacher describes his daughter's hair as being 'all frizzy'.

Two things struck me. Firstly, people from the city regardless of their colour and particularly from London, go into the countryside with their own preconceived ideas and prejudices about what people are going to be like in the countryside.

Smith talks about Lewes being overwhelmingly white. My question to this is why would it be anything other than predominantly white?

Outside of London and other major cities in the Midlands and the North, there are still many areas of the UK which are almost exclusively white. Multiculturalism doesn't exist. Is it really fair to criticise such places because of this?

When ethnic minorities started coming to this country they went to places where the jobs where. This was mainly in the big towns and cities not in England's countryside.

As a minority you can sometimes visit areas where you know you're going to stand out, and subconsciously you can be looking for signs of racism from people which may or may not exist. I think there's some element of this in his article.

Smith complains that his wife is known in the town because she is one of only a handful of black people, but I'm not sure if you can complain because his wife and kids can't 'blend' in within the local community. What were they expecting in East Sussex?

As an outsider who moves to a small community you are going to stand out. Interestingly enough, on a visit a few years ago to the Caribbean island of St Kitts which is where my mother's family come from. I went to the village where my grandparents were from.

Local villages looked and stared at me as they knew I wasn't from the village, the fact that I was also black didn't matter, I was an outsider I stood out. To me that's countryside life.

The second point I wanted to talk about was the term 'coloured'. I'll be honest and say I'm not comfortable with it, it's an outdated term.

I find it's mainly older people who use it. I'd be surprised to hear anyone under the age of 50 use it. In saying this, I wouldn't take offence as it's not being used in a derogatory way.

This leads onto my final point with regards to how people perceive comments and situations, and how they interpret them.

Smith argues that comments directed at his children undermined their confidence as mixed race children, particularly his son who he thinks is vulnerable to the stereotypes and low expectations society has of black boys.

I understand what he's saying here, but the family have moved away from London siting urban crime as an issue, something that affects young black boys disproportionately.

Having moved to the English countryside for a safer environment he complains that his children stand out at school and the local schools don't do enough to acknowledge black history and culture?

I'm not convinced that Smith really acknowledges the pros and cons of city and country life.

As for the point that his son's friend said he had big nostrils, part of me can't help but think 'get over it'. Maybe that's being harsh, but compared to some of the stories of abuse my mom suffered as a child in the 1950s and 60s he should get things into perspective.

As for myself, I think I was quite lucky as a child. Although I grew up in a mainly white area of Birmingham, racial abuse was rare, but I still received the occasional ignorant comment. 'Why don't you go back the jungle?' is one that stands out.

Ok, it's not nice, but it didn't crush my self esteem, you've got to have other positive influences in your life to counter-balance negative ones. That goes for anyone.

Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to city and country life. The advantages of country life appeal to both white and ethnic minorities.

It's unfair to complain that the countryside isn't as diverse and culturally aware as London. Why criticise rural Britain for not having this level of diversity. If you move to the countryside you've got to be prepared for such differences.

As for David James Smith's family, for all his complaints about the countryside lack of racial awareness, they're still living a relatively privileged and comfortable middle class life. Many of the economic and social disadvantages that some of Britain's ethnic minority communities face will not be experienced by Smith and his family.

Friday, 20 August 2010

One in Five Americans think Obama is a Muslim

What is it with some Americans who still believe various conspiracy theories against President Obama?

A poll that's been published this month, reports that 1 in 5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.

I found this video below which I thought was great, as it highlights just how ridiculous these beliefs are - it's also very funny!

This Muslim story isn't a new revelation. You've got elements within the Republican Party and conservative political commentators who have consistently questioned Obama's legitimacy as President.

I wrote about this last year in my blog which you can read here. This Muslim story is all part of a rightwing strategy to emphasis Obama's 'otherness' how he's not like most Americans. These Muslim rumours have been promoted to undermine the President and raise doubts over his legitimacy.

With all the euphoria of America electing Obama its first black President, it's easy to forget there are millions of Americans who hate him, and hate who he is and what he represents.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The first 100 days of the Coalition Government

As seems to be the political norm these days, whenever a new government or president is elected, we have to have the first 100 days progress report. Today it's the turn of our new Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition.

Do you remember during the election campaign all the warnings of how terrible a hung parliament would be? How it would lead to a weak, ineffective, and impotent government?

How things have changed. It seems we like this new form of collaborative government after all.

Have a look at this BBC slide show I found which details the first 100 days of the Coalition.

So what have we learnt from the first 100 days? Well I think this is as good as it could get for the Coalition. There's still that honeymoon glow about things, a sense of novelty about this new politics, but at other times it all feels quite natural.
You still hear stories and rumours of potential disharmony. Business Secretary, Vince Cable was meant to be struggling with having to work with Tories, although he has come out and denied all this.

I see deputy leader of the Lib Dems Simon Hughes as a potential 'troublemaker'.

Today he was calling for backbench Lib Dems to be allowed to veto policies put forward by the Cabinet.

In the Conservative ranks, you've got the likes of maverick backbencher David Davis, figurehead of the Tory right, referring to the government as 'Brokeback coalition' a slight dig at the political love affair between Cameron and Clegg.

So there's still loads of potential for increasing coalition tension and we haven't even got to the proposed spending cuts taking place yet.

We're in that phoney war period, a bit like in 1940 when the country was waiting for the Second World War to begin properly.

We don't have any German Luftwaffe planes about to attack, but we're all waiting for those spending cut bombs to drop. We know they're coming it's just a matter of when.

Later this year Labour will elect its new leader. I can confidently and boringly predict it will be someone with the name Milliband. We'll then resort back to more normal party politics when we have a proper Opposition, this will put the Coalition under more scrutiny.

I feel quite comfortable with the new Government at the moment, but I have this gut feeling that the Lib Dems have more to lose from this arrangement than the Tories.

The Lib Dems made the right choice by joining forces to prop up the Tories, but as the spending and benefit cuts start to bite it's going to put more pressure on the party.

It's telling that their opinion poll ratings are already significantly down on what they were earlier in the year. They may not have an easier 100 days in office as this.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The White Women on the Green Bicycle

This is the title of the book I’ve just finished reading.

I’ve not had much chance to read many books recently, except for McNae’s Essential Media Law for Journalists. Having passed my Media Law exam back in April, I won’t be picking it up for a while. I'm glad I've got time to read some fiction again and do my first book review.

The book’s written by Monique Roffey and has been short-listed for this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction.

The story is set on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and revolves around two characters, George and Sabine Harwood who move from England in the late 1950s to begin a new life on the island.

George immediately falls in love with Trinidad, while his wife Sabine struggles to adapt. Feeling isolated and alone she begins to find some outlet for her unhappiness by writing letters to the country’s political leader Eric Williams.

Williams is the leader of the new national party who goes on to become the first Prime Minister of Trinidad following independence from Britain in 1962.

The strange thing is, Sabine writes hundreds of letters to Williams but never sends any of them to him; instead she keeps them all in boxes.

It’s only years later in 2006, when the story begins that her husband discovers these letters. He finally realises some of the unhappiness and secrets his wife has kept from him and becomes desperate to prove his love for her.

Not quite sure where Trinidad is? Take a look.

View Larger Map

I have to admit, when reading my description back it doesn’t sound like the most appealing of stories.

An unhappy white woman doesn’t like life on a Caribbean island in the 1950s. She becomes a talking point for locals by riding a green bicycle everywhere, before writing letters to an unheard of former Caribbean Prime Minister.

In saying that, I absolutely loved this book. It’s a real celebration of Trinidad; it’s people, culture and landscape.

It’s also a love story between George and Sabine and their overall relationship with each other. But what I really liked is that it’s just a story about people and people’s lives. That's what I enjoy reading about.

Finally, you’ve got the historical aspect of the story which tells you what life was like in the Caribbean during the 1950’s and early 60’s as British colonialism was coming to an end.

I suppose the fact that I’m Afro Caribbean myself made this story naturally appeal to me. I know all about West Indians leaving the Caribbean to come to England in search for jobs. My own grandparents were part of that generation; but I know very little about the struggle for independence that took place in places like Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean.

Sabine is acutely aware that she is a member or a white ruling elite, who are increasingly resented by the black population. They’re no longer wanted, and this knowledge only increases Sabine’s feelings of not belonging.

The author also manages to convey the sense of change that was happening on the island through the charismatic leadership of Eric Williams. Through a number of rallying speeches delivered in the capital, Port of Spain, he begins to galvanise the black population to take control over their own destiny, reminding them that colonialism had been for the benefit of the British and not the native islanders.

British colonial rule was finally coming to an end all over the Empire, and it was time for Trinidad to claim its own independence.

I’ve read a few online reviews about the book and it seems I’m unusual in being a male who’s read it. That doesn’t bother me. Most fiction I read tends to be written by male authors, so it’s good to try and diversify your reading habits.

Most of the reviews have been quite positive, but I did come across one blog where a number of people commented that the book’s theme of one person’s alienation and problems adapting to a foreign country, are quite common and popular with publishers. They felt this type of story had been told a number of times already.

There were also criticisms that the black political struggle the book highlights, are told through the eyes of a white character and how this political change affects the white community on the island.

Personally I didn’t feel that the struggle for black political power was overshadowed or diminished by this. In some ways the fact that Sabine is a white British/French expat made the story more intriguing to me.

I think as a reader you can take the book in a number of ways. You've got the love story between Sabine and George; then the story of Trinidad itself, the island and its people. Finally there's an historical novel of a country finding its freedom.

I’d certainly recommend it, as it’s one of those books that when you finish, you feel a little bit sad because you’ve enjoyed it so much.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

I thought Charles Taylor was on trial? Not Naomi Campbell

I didn't think I'd be writing about the 'Blood Diamond' trial again, but it's in the news everyday now.

Yesterday and today we had the actress Mia Farrow and Naomi Campbell's former agent give evidence. Both of them contradicting Campbell's earlier evidence.

Because of this you've got elements of the press making Campbell out to be the villain here. Have they forgotten that there is someone standing accused of war crimes?

If you look at today's Sun headline, they've clearly made up their minds on the matter, declaring Campbell to be a liar.

So you've got two stories contradicting each other, it's up to the jury to decide which evidence they believe to be more credible.

But who's to say Farrow and Carole White aren't lying or mistaken in their recollection of events?

There's no point in pretending that Naomi Campbell doesn't have an image problem.

She's one women I wouldn't want to get into a row with, and besides you wouldn't know what objects might be aimed at your head! But some of the coverage is a little unfair.

She didn't do herself any favours by telling the court that she didn't want to be there, and that her appearance was one big inconvenience but she's not the one standing trial. It's Charles Taylor!

Let's get some perspective here, she's an international supermodel who's a bit cut off from the real world. She's not perfect but at the same time she's not an alleged war criminal.

This trial has been going on for 3 years and I can't believe that the outcome is really going to come down to the evidence of a couple of celebrities.

I'm beginning to think the prosecution have got it wrong by calling Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow as witnesses. It's turned the trial into a soap opera and overshadowed the real story of a former political leader accused of some truly horrific war crimes.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Who's watching you on the internet?

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new pair of Converse trainers, before doing so I had a look on the official Converse website to check the name and style of the trainers I wanted.

A few days later having bought the trainers, I logged onto Facebook. I wasn't on there for long, but I couldn't help noticing the number of adverts that appeared on the side of the screen advertising Converse trainers.

Somewhere in the internet world it was noted that I'd been looking for a pair of Converse.

I didn't descend into a panic, but it made me think that someone or something was monitoring my internet movements. I have to say I wasn't totally comfortable with this.

It looks like I'm not alone. In today's Sunday Times they had a report entitled 'Every click you make, They'll be Watching You'

The report looked at the growing unease many people now have about secret internet devices that monitor and store details on their internet activity.

The Times report said this type of monitoring is known as 'behavioural advertising'. Your internet use can be tracked and information on your internet activity can then be sold to advertisers. They can then bombard you with advertising based on the type of websites you've been clicking on.

When I hear about such things I instantly think the worst. It's the thin end of the wedge, that if taken to its logical extreme will only lead to an encroachment of people's privacy.

I was relieved to hear there are other critics and campaigners out there, arguing against the use of this kind of data monitoring.

They've warned it could lead to us all living in a more surveillance style society. One where increasing amounts of information on people are collected and made accessible to other companies, organisations, and people.

You can't deny that the internet has probably been one of the greatest inventions in our lifetime, but when I read stories like this it reminds me of some of the dangers that exist with the internet.

Today it might be a group of over zealous advertisers, tomorrow, it could be governments monitoring our movements. Call me paranoid, but this is how these things begin.

Hopefully we won't get to that stage, but if you're like me and you're worried about this internet stalking, there are a few things you can do.

The main one is to monitor and delete your 'cookies'. What are cookies I hear you ask? This is the software that keeps a record of the websites you visit.

They're mainly harmless and keep information on your usernames and passwords for various websites, but cookies are a footprint of your internet activities.

Go to 'Tools' and then 'internet options' on your computer. This then gives you the chance to delete your internet browsing history along with your recent cookies.

I do normally delete these cookies every few months. But reading this report has made me think I need to do it more often. I'm not having people following me as I wander around the internet.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

'Blood Diamonds' are not Naomi's best friend

What a bizarre situation we had this week, when one of the world's most famous supermodels turns up to give evidence at an international war crimes court.

Naomi Campbell gave evidence on Thursday as a prosecution witness in a case against former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

Taylor is accused of 11 charges of war crimes, which include murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers. Much of this relates to a civil war which took place in the neighbouring West African country of Sierra Leone.

I watched Campbell giving evidence on Sky News thinking 'Does she really need to be there?' But considering her giving evidence was the biggest news story of the day, this has raised the profile of a case that's been going on since 2007. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I knew nothing about it.

Did the prosecutors really need to hear evidence from Campbell to make their case stronger? She certainly made it clear she didn't want to be there.

They'd argue yes, in that by proving Campbell received diamonds from the former president, he was directly linked to the blood diamond trade.

The allegation is that he received these 'blood diamonds' from rebel forces fighting in Sierra Leone who helped finance their conflict by mining the diamonds. Taylor then paid for the diamonds with weapons given to the rebels.

Before this week I only knew two things about Liberia. Firstly the African football legend George Weah came from Liberia, and secondly it was a country set up and run by freed African American slaves in the early 19th Century. Not much I know, but probably more than most people.

As for so called 'blood diamonds' until Kanye West came along with his track 'Diamonds Are Forever' which highlighted the mining of diamonds in Sierra Leone I'd never heard the term.

So it looks like without one of Hip Hop's biggest stars, and a supermodel giving evidence at a war crimes court, I wouldn't know anything about this story or issue.

I'm not suggesting prosecutors used Campbell specifically to raise the profile of this case, but having one of the biggest names in fashion and other celebs like actress Mia Farrow giving evidence has certainly helped bring this story to many people's attention.

I know we're used to celebrities being involved in charity work and endorsing international causes and campaigns, but this is a new twist in the power of celebrity culture.

Maybe it's also a lesson for some of the world's dictators and corrupt leaders. If they court the world of celebrity it may come back to haunt them in ways they never imagined.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The European Athletics Championships

I've been watching the European Athletics Championships every night this week from Barcelona. There's been some great performances from the British team.

The current group of British athletes might not have the same number of household names as in previous years, but this week's performances have been one of the best from a British team.

In the end we finished third in the medal table behind Russia and France, winning 19 medals overall. It seems the tough love approach from UK Athletics chief, Charles van Commenee is paying off. It's great to see and bodes well for the Olympics in 2012.

Ok, you can argue the standard in some of the events aren't truly world class, but it's still important for our athletes to get into the winning habit and deal with the pressures of championship competition.

What I've really enjoyed is that many of the events have been truly competitive. Without having the American and Caribbean sprinters, and the East African distance runners, we've seen some real competition and surprise winners on the track.

After football I've always considered athletics to be my favourite sport. Despite the decline in popularity in recent years and the never ending problems with drug cheats, I still love the sport.

Mens 100m Final

The BBC pundit and athletics legend, Michael Johnson made a good point about the 100m final which I agreed with. He said this 100m was really fascinating because it was a major final that didn't involve Usain Bolt.

As much as I love and admire Bolt for what he's done for sprinting and athletics, he's in a league of his own at the moment. In this week's final you genuinely didn't know who was going to win.

The final had an extra edge with the two favourites, Dwain Chambers and the new French kid on the block Christophe Lemaitre. Chambers divides opinion within athletics on whether he should still be competing following his drug ban, I'll come onto this in a minute.

As for Lemaitre, I'd never heard of him until this week. But as the first white sprinter to break the 10 second barrier he's being hailed as the 'Great white hope' of world sprinting.

Looking beyond the racial cliches, it's been good to see a new name and talent emerge. If he happens to be white then so be it.

As for the race itself, with 40 meters to go it looked as if Chambers was going to win the title, but Lemaitre came from quite a way down to snatch it, with Chambers being run out of things and finishing a disappointing fifth.

The winning time was nothing special, but Lemaitre is only 20 years old and his technique is a little ragged. If he sorts his technique out and stays injury free it's going to be interesting to see how he progresses in the next few years.

Despite Chambers performance, there was British success with Mark Lewis-Francis claiming the Silver medal. I've felt in the past that Lewis-Francis was one of the great underachievers of UK athletics.

So much was expected of him after his success as a junior and he's never quite lived up to that early promise. I can't believe this was his first major individual medal.

He's shown a lot of character to come back, especially after his lottery funding was stopped. He's still only 27, so hopefully there's time for him to have more success at major championships.

Dwain Chambers - Should he still be competing for Britain?

This is a tough one. Everytime a major athlete tests positive for drugs, it's another nail in the coffin for athletics.

Dwain's problem was that after he was banned his attitude did him no favours. He seemed to suggest that nobody could seriously win major titles without taking drugs. I remember seeing an interview with him where he made this point and I thought, I don't have much time for you. You're killing this sport.

To be fair to him his attitude has changed and you get the impression that he realises how lucky he is to be back competing on this stage.

I think for me he should be allowed to compete if that's what the rules say. He's committed the offence and served his ban and is entitled to start competing again.

The main problems I have is the inconsistency applied to drug cheats. UK Athletics says he can compete, but the British Olympic Association say he can't compete in the Olympics for GB. The Diamond League, the group of top level athletics meetings in the world will not invite Chambers to compete in their events.

The second issue I have is that once an athlete returns from a drugs ban they may start competing as a 'clean' athlete but the affects of taking drugs previously may still be there in terms of physique and muscle build up. An athlete could still be gaining an advantage.

As an athletics fan, I believe all athletes are representing the sport to the rest of world. They know that if they're caught taking drugs they're damaging the credibility of the sport.

The likes of Chambers may well come back as reformed characters, but even if they come back the damage has already been done. In the world of athletics there will always be a stain on that athletes character.

I have nothing personal against Chambers, and will support him as a British athlete in major championship, but I can't see that I'll have the same level of affection for any of his victories as I would do for other athletes who have never taken drugs.

Are Black people better runners than Whites?

A controversial subject, but I'm going to discuss it.

There was a great article on this in yesterday's Times which raised some important issues.

This topic has come up again following the success of the new European 100 and 200m champion Christophe Lemaitre. The first white person to run under 10 seconds for 100m. His personal best is nothing special but because he's white this debate has been re-opened

It's a subject that many don't want to discuss, but the Times report mentioned a book by the American Journalist Jon Entine entitled Taboo:Why Black Athletes Dominate Sport and Why We're Afraid to Talk about It.

He argues that there are natural differences between different races and these differences should be confronted, something which liberal establishments fail to do.

Clearly black people have dominated sprinting for decades, but Entine points out that the success of black sprinters is limited to a small number of sprinters whose ancestry can be traced back to West African coastal states.

I've heard this before. You don't see any top sprinters from East Africa, from Kenya or Ethiopia who tend to dominate in the middle and long distance events.

The reality is that many black people aren't very good at sprinting at all, so is it right to say that black people are better sprinters than whites?

Within the 'black' population of the world there is a huge variety of genetic diversity. Just because a small sub group of sprinters whose DNA originates from West Africa have proved successful, it's unrealistic to believe they can represent the sporting ability of an entire group of people who all happen to share the same colour pigmentation.

Another great point that the Times story made was that none of the major West African nations which include countries like Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone have ever won a medal at Olympic or World level in sprinting.

It's seems so obvious but it's true, sprinting has always been dominated by Americans and more recently athletes from the Caribbean. Just to complicate things further. Most black people from America and the Caribbean will have some white ancestry. As someone of Caribbean origin I know this is a fact within my own family.

If the best sprinters in the world all have some white European DNA in their genetic make up where does this leave the argument that blacks are better sprinters than whites?

When you think about these things you realise it's all a lot more complex and complicated then you first realise.

The Times report mentioned a Dr Yannis Pitsiladis from the University of Glasgow, who found there was no unique genetic evidence for the success of American and Caribbean sprinters after taking DNA swabs from elite sprinters.

I think I agree with the belief that much of the success of sprinting from black American and Caribbean athletes is down to cultural and environmental factors.

In Jamaica sprinting has become their national sport. The idea of success breeding success is certainly true in their case. You're also seeing the same in the Bahamas and Trinidad who also seem to be producing a conveyor belt of sprinting talent.

If there are any conclusions to be drawn, it's that the idea of 'race' is quite arbitrary. It's just a label. Within any race of people there is a huge amount of DNA variation which makes the idea of that one race is athletically superior to another unscientific, dangerous and highly unreliable.