Wednesday 23 March 2011

Has the media overplayed the nuclear threat in Japan?

This week I’ve been reading a few blogs looking at the reporting of the nuclear crisis in Japan.

What I've read suggests much of the media’s reporting has been exaggerated, sensationalist and an overreaction.

My own feelings are that I understand there's been a huge earthquake, then a Tsunami that's killed thousands of people and destroyed entire towns - but I don't know what to make of the nuclear threat. I'm like 'what does it all mean' I'm so ignorant about it all.

The crisis at Fukushima is one those stories where I'm relying almost completely on the media to fill me in and explain what it all means, as I have no knowledge of my own I can bring to the table.

I'm beginning to think that many in the media don't know that much about the nuclear threat either.

I've read criticisms on some of the tabloid press coverage, which you'd half expect, but I've also heard that even Channel 4 News hasn't always got the facts right. If you can't rely on Channel 4 News you might as well give up!

Whenever you hear about a potential nuclear disaster the word Chernobyl immediately gets thrown about, but from my limited understanding of the crisis - the threat of another Chernobyl is minimal.

From the reports I've read, the Japanese have handled the situation quite well when you consider that a 40 year old nuclear plant has been struck not just by a massive earthquake but also a Tsunami - of course it's going cause a few problems, but not necessarily a nuclear meltdown as some have suggested.

Maybe I've missed it, but it would have been great if there were more stories explaining why we have nuclear power and what it's used for; as well as explaining the benefits and dangers.

The situation in Japan also has a personal context for me as my cousin lives in Japan with his Japanese wife and two year old daughter.

The British government along with other countries have appealed to their citizens to leave Japan for their own safety. This is an overreaction.

My cousin's been keeping family and friends up to date with what's been happening on his Facebook page. He posted a great comment the other day explaining why he wouldn't be leaving Japan.

Living in Tokyo, he and his family are in no immediate danger, and besides he's made his life over there. I sensed that if he returned to England he would be abandoning the country that he's made his home.

There's also the small matter of the cost of flights back to England, and other issues like giving up your job, all your responsibilities, household bills etc.

My cousin suggested that I have a look at the this news site NHK Japan to get a local perspective on events.

Despite the problems at Fukushima it's important to remember that it's been the earthquake and Tsunami combined that resulted in the tragic loss of life and not a nuclear fallout.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Why is America taking a back seat with Libya?

Earlier today I was putting together a few thoughts on the Libyian crisis, particularly America’s more restrained stance on events.

There’s been some major developments this evening. French planes have taken military action against Gadddafi’s forces, following yesterday’s UN resolution to impose a no fly zone in the country.

Despite tonight’s events they’re not going to change my original thoughts.

In the last few days we’ve seen the international community come together to confront Colonel Gaddafi, but it’s been France and Britain that’s lead they way in reaching a UN agreement rather than America. Although America’s been involved, they haven’t been leading from the front in a way that we’ve become used to.

Earlier in the week I thought Obama was being too quiet on the Libyan crisis, he wasn’t showing enough leadership. However, I’ve begun to discover this might be a deliberate policy.

Under George Bush, America led the way in unpopular conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving the US deeply unpopular amongst many people around the world. I get the impression this is something that Obama wants to avoid at all costs.

Do we want America to always step up and take the lead in international events, or is it better that America occasionally steps back and lets others take on the responsibility?

Obama’s got a difficult balancing act to undertake. By allowing other nations to take the lead it could make him and America appear weak and indecisive. On the other hand I can understand the reluctance by some in the Obama administration to take a more low key role.

One of the problems with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is this: They were seen by many countries around the world as being exclusively US lead, with limited or no backing from the international community. Whether you agree with the rights and wrongs of those conflicts, America’s image suffered.

I can understand America’s reluctance to get involved in another Arab/Middle Eastern conflict. I also think that since Obama came to power there’s a different mindset at the White House.

Under Obama, America don’t always want to be seen as the country that automatically takes the lead when it comes to major international conflicts. If others can step forward then it looks better not only for America but for those countries who want to step forward.

Britain and France have pushed for the UN resolution and from a PR point of view its been great for David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Cameron seems to have 'arrived' as an international statesman and it's been a boost to Sarkozy's image in France.

Of course this is more than a PR exercise. Cameron and Sarkozy have managed to get UN backing and the support of other Middle Eastern leaders. It does send out a very different message to the rest of the world; one that says this is a joint international response, not lead exclusively by America.

America’s in a difficult position. On the one hand many people automatically look to the US to take an international lead, but many of us also complain when we feel that America is being too dominant and pursuing its own interests at the expense of the views of the rest of the international community. They can’t win.

It’s ridiculous to think America wouldn't have any involvement with the situation in Libya, but it’s been interesting looking at this different approach under Obama to that of his predecessor George Bush.

Happy Birthday Twitter!

The microblogging site Twitter is celebrating its 5th birthday today.

After being someone who couldn't quite see the point of Twitter - I’ve now become a converted fan. Despite my enthusiasm and the fact that Twitter has an estimated 200 million users, I still meet many people who just don’t get it.

I was talking to a friend at work who told me he’s been thinking about setting up a Twitter account. I got the impression he thought it was something he should do, but wasn’t really sure why he should do it.

As he’s interested in politics and has ambitions of becoming a local councillor, I immediately thought Twitter would be ideal for him.

Twitter could be a great way for him to increase his political profile, by making contacts, networking, getting involved in online discussions, and sharing information.

I’m not going to deny that Twitter can be trivial and pointless at times, especially if you have nothing to say – but if you know why you’re using it, have objectives and know what it is you want to get out it; then it can be very useful.

When you join Twitter you become a member a community. It might be community of people following a particular person - or you might have a community of people following you.

Twitter allows you to talk to these people in the same way you might in the real world. You can have discussions, debates; you can share information or just listen to other people. Depending on people’s motives and objectives there are lots of different outcomes you can get from Twitter.

We’ve seen with the recent political demonstrations in Egypt, that protesters used Twitter to organise and coordinate their protests. Companies and brands are using Twitter as an alternative marketing tool; developing closer relationships with their customers by having online dialogues with them.

Politicians, celebrities, and sports stars are using Twitter as a way of raising their profiles, speaking directly to their followers, counteracting any negative or false stories circulating about them in the media.

I use Twitter as an extension of my blog, when I don’t have a 500-word post to write, I can make a quick comment on Twitter that immediately updates on my blog. It’s another good way of promoting myself and my writing.

It’s also chance for me to chat to people I know, even when they’re not in the same room as me. Today I was tweeting during the Ireland/England 6 Nations rugby match. I was only tweeting the same things I would say if I was watching the game down the pub. My followers on Twitter and Facebook then have a chance to respond to any of my comments.

This is the key for me; you have to have something to say, or have something that’s going to add to the conversation of your followers, friends, and community. If you can get that right then Twitter starts to make more sense.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Youtube footage of the Japanese earthquake

I found these videos from Youtube over the weekend, giving you an idea of what it was like when the earthquake struck Japan on Friday.

Take a look - it's very scary.

This is the biggest earthquake in Japan's history. 8.9 magnitude - one of the biggest recorded in history.

The videos come from Tokyo which is around 230 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.

My cousin lives in Japan with his Japanese wife and young daughter in Tokyo/Kanagawa. Through the power of Facebook, he's been able to let all the family know that he and his family are fine.

He said things weren't too bad in Tokyo, but cars and buildings were shaking. Japan experiences earthquakes and tremors all the time, but my cousin said this was by far the worst he's ever experienced.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

My Favourite Blogs: Nothing shocks me, I'm a scientist

One of the things you notice as a blogger, is that you start reading lots of other blogs for ideas and inspiration.

It's great when you discover a blog that introduces you to a subject or topic that you never thought you’d been interested in.

This is what I found when I discovered a blog called Nothing shocks me, I’m a scientist, by freelance science journalist Angela Saini.

A few years ago I remember reading on article giving advice and tips on how important it is for journalists to build a brand. One piece of advice given, spoke about how freelance writers should develop a niche topic in which to write about and build their reputation around.

Angela Saini’s blog was given as a perfect example of a niche blog. Her niche is in science journalism. This is what she specialises in and what she’s good at.

Even though I didn’t particularly have a great interest in science journalism I decided to have a look, as I thought I might be able to gain some ideas on how I should develop my own blog and freelance writing.

I loved the way that Angela wrote about science. I’ve never considered myself to be a science type person (I’ve always been more arts and humanities) but she made a subject I thought I wasn’t interested in sound relevant and appealing. I soon decided to subscribe to her blog on my RSS feed and I’ve been reading it ever since.

Soon after I started reading the blog, Saini moved to India for 6 months to cover science stories for the BBC as well as beginning research on her first book called Geek Nation..

The book covers Angela’s journey through India in which she investigates why the country is set to become the world’s next scientific superpower. During the last year, she’s kept her blog readers up to date with various science stories from India as well as progress reports on how the book was taking shape.

Geek Nation was finally published last week on 3 March, and I have to say I was quite excited to see it released.

I’ve been reading Angela’s blog for the last 18 months and followed the progress of the book closely. Angela’s currently updating her blog readers on all the promotional work she’s been doing to promote the book.

On Sunday, I came across a review of the book in the Sunday Times Culture magazine. It was quite positive, and so far the book's been getting a lot of good feedback. After reading Angela’s blog for so long, I feel I now need to go out and buy the book.

Nothing shocks me, I’m a scientist, is a great example of a blog that introduces you to a new subject with an interesting, informative, and personal style of writing that grabs the reader and keeps them coming back. These are characteristics that all good blogs should have.

Monday 7 March 2011

Book review: The Help

I've just finished reading a fantastic book called The Help written by an American author called Kathryn Stockett.

The Help is set in the civil rights era of early 1960s Mississippi and looks at the lives of black maids working in the homes of white families.

The book focuses on 3 main characters. There's Aibleen who's raising her 17th white child, but mourning the death of her only son. Minny who's known throughout the city of Jackson for her brilliant cooking and sharp tongue; and white Miss Skeeter an a aspiring writer who's just returned from college to find that the black maid who raised her has suddenly disappeared and nobody will tell her why.

Going against the cultural norms, Miss Skeeter befriends Aibleen and Minnie and asks them to help her write a book detailing the personal experiences of black maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi.

Bearing in mind that Mississipi was arguably the Deep South's most racist and intolerant state, during the volatile civil rights period. The 3 women take huge personal risks for themselves and their families by writing the book.

When I picked the book up last year in Waterstones, I was immediately intrigued by the subject matter.

The story of racial intolerance and segregation in America's Southern sates is well known. What I find fascinating but also ironic is how so many white families would employ black maids to cook and clean in their homes, raise their children; but at the same time refuse to even allow their black maids to sit at the same table to eat, or use the same toilet in the house.

The Deep South spent 100 years after the end of the American Civil War keeping blacks and whites separate, yet there's such an intimate relationship between these white families and their maids.

The author's own family employed a maid called Demitri who she believed was part of the family. She even admits with some guilt that her family thought they were somehow making her life better.

I found this video clip of the author being interviewd by CBS's Katie Couric. It gives an interesting insight into Kathryn Stockett's motivations for writing the book.

The Help is set during a time that feels both distant but at the same time quite recent, this was another reason why the story appealled to me. You're constantly thinking about how much things have changed in relation to race in America, but yet you also remember how bad things were so recently.

This might be a generalisation, but I find a lot of men don't tend to read books written by women, especially books where all the main characters are women.

To be honest it doesn't bother me. This was excellent story that was well written with characters you felt passionate about.

The book's already been made into a movie which should be coming out later this year, I'm already looking forward to it.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Carling Cup Final: Arsenal 1 Birmingham 2

Finally Birmingham City have won a trophy!

Birmingham's shock 2-1 defeat of Arsenal in Sunday’s Carling Cup Final, provided me with probably the greatest moment I’ve had as a Blues supporter.

This was meant to be the ‘Beauty and The Beast’ Cup Final. Arsenal’s artistry and grace against Birmingham’s dull, hardworking endeavour.

Nobody gave us a chance of victory. It was assumed that Arsenal would comfortably win, and claim this season's first piece of Silverware.

I didn’t turn out like that. Birmingham produced a performance that all Birmingham fans will remember for the rest of their lives.

See The Cup Final in pictures.

As soon as I realised Obafemi Martins had an empty net in which to score the winning goal, I knew that this was finally our moment.

All the years of failure and disappointment that every Blues fan has experienced was immediately forgotten. You can argue that we got lucky following the mix up between Koscielny and Szczesny, but we deserved to win.

When I look back on the game there wasn't a single Blues player who didn't contribute or who's performance wasn't at least a 7 out of 10.

Apart from the obvious victory one thing that's made me really proud is the comments and reports from the media. They recognised what a superb achievement this was for Birmingham City.

BBC Sport's Phil Mcnulty wrote:

this was no "park the bus and hope for the best" win. It mixed discipline, determination and positive intent in equal measure.

The Guardian said:

'There was a boldness to Birmingham, who understood that a cup final is not to be wasted by cowering in the hope that luck comes your way.'

In the Mail

'It was the finest final we have seen at the new Wembley because of Birmingham’s defiance and determination'

And finally, I loved Dan Jones comment in the London Evening Standard:

'Birmingham beat Arsenal with organisation and opportunism, rather than intimidation and strangulation. It was impossible to look at their jubilant fans and not feel that they did not deserve their win'

We know many of the 'Big clubs' don't see the Carling Cup has a serious trophy, although it was ironic how important it suddenly became for Arsenal after so many years of not winning anything.

For the majority of football fans, the best they can hope for is seeing their club win the FA Cup of League Cup, and this shouldn't be sniffed at.

Birmingham's win on Sunday has provided me with one of greatest moments as a football supporter.