Naming And Shaming On Social Media Can Cost You Plenty

Social media. What a revolution. Not a day goes past, without just about every one of us being on it, in one form or another. It helps us keep in touch, find love, get work, be empathetic to one another. No end to the possibilities. But like every rose it has its thorns. And people are just starting to understand the implications of what it means when things go horribly wrong on social media, especially in terms of issues like privacy and public shaming. But a recent case in an Australian court has provided some sort of clarity on one issue relating to personal privacy. A West Australian woman was awarded almost $50,000 in compensation from an ex-boyfriend who posted sexually explicit videos and photos of her on Facebook. It was a significant legal ruling on the law of personal privacy. The case involved a woman called Caroline Wilson, a fly-in, fly-out worker at Fortescue Metals Cloudbreak mine in the Pilbara in outback Western Australia. Fly-in workers originate from other parts of Australia but they are attracted by the high wages and superior working conditions offered by mining companies desperate for skilled labor.

Wilson took her ex-boyfriend and former colleague Neil Ferguson to court after he posted 16 photos and two videos of her on his Facebook page. The court was told that Ferguson posted the sexually explicit material after Wilson ended their relationship via a text message, which judging by his subsequent behaviour, was the least that Ferguson deserved. In a series of expletive-laden text messages to Wilson, Ferguson said the photos were “out for everyone to see … Can’twait to watch you fold as a human being.”

What a charmer.

Wilson, became aware of the posts after being told by friends around 5.20pm on August 5, 2013. And they were subsequently deleted around 7pm after she begged Ferguson to remove them. Wilson’s lawyer, argued his client was entitled to an injunction under the law of breach of confidence to restrain Ferguson from re-posting the material, along with compensation for loss of wages, embarrassment and distress.

According to legal experts, there are very few Australian cases where a plaintiff, in a breach of confidence case, is entitled to compensation for emotional distress, as opposed to economic loss. The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released a report in June setting out elements of a potential civil action for serious invasions of privacy that would allow damages to be awarded for emotional distress. However, the Australian Government does not support the new law. The ALRC also said it was “desirable” for Parliament to “clarify the courts’ powers to award compensation for emotional distress” in breach of confidence cases.

What was really interesting about the case was what the judge said: “By posting the photographs and videos on his Facebook page, the defendant made them available to his approximately 300 ‘Facebook friends’, many of whom worked at Cloudbreak.”

The judge referred to a 2008 Victorian Court of Appeal decision, Giller v Procopets, in which a woman won compensation for emotional distress after her former partner distributed copies of sexually explicit videotapes of the couple. The judge said this was the only case he could find in which a superior court in Australia had grappled with the same issues. He also made the important observation that the events in the Giller v Procopets case took place in 1996, but technological advancements had “dramatically increased the ease and speed” of disseminating images and other material.

And that is an extremely important distinction. If anything, it makes the transgression far worse, than it might have been in the past, in terms of dissemination.

The judge ruled that Wilson was entitled to an injunction and $48,404 in compensation, including $35,000 for emotional distress and $13,404 for loss of wages while on leave. Ferguson was sacked from his job as a result of the incident. Quite frankly, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him.

As you might expect, this case has the legal fraternity in a tizz. Associate Professor ,David Rolph, a media law expert at the University of Sydney Law School, said the case “indicates that breach of confidence might provide a remedy for addressing a lot of personal privacy concerns”. But he noted that applying existing causes of action to new situations that do not “ fit neatly” may distort the law and have unintended consequences. “My own view is that if privacy is a value that’s worth protecting it’s worth protecting directly and we should think about that in a broader, more comprehensive way,” he said.

A legal precedent has been established. The law has dealt fairly severely in a social media case of naming and shaming. Hopefully it will make potential future perpetrators think twice about indulging in similar behaviour. We can but hope.

Most Women Don’t Wash Every Day, So What’s The Big Deal?

An interesting question was posed the other day. It went something like this: How keen are we to be clean? Clean as in hygienically clean as in washing our bodies. We still primp and pamper ourselves more than any of our ancestors. But quelle bloody horreur. The time for personal grooming is being squeezed out of our busy lives. It is being squeezed out as far as women are concerned but it’s probably equally true for men. What do I base this on? A survey, of course, conducted on more than two thousand women aged 18 to 50, by a British cosmetics company. Even if you don’t completely believe the findings they are nonetheless interesting and worthy of a discussion.

Four out of five women admit they don’t shower every day, and a third say they can go for three days without washing their body. The survey also found that almost two thirds can’t be bothered removing makeup before they go to bed, and one in eight own up to not brushing their teeth before they sleep.

When it comes to washing in the morning, only 21 per cent of females take the time to shower or have a bath every day, with 33 per cent admitting to leaving it as long as three days from wash to wash.

But to be fair, having a shower or a bath daily used to be a pastime only for the wealthy upper-class. Back in the days before we had convenient plumbing, almost no one would bathe every day.and almost everyone would have simply “freshened up with a quick wipe” in the morning and evening – which, according to that survey I mentioned is what 57% of women in 2015 are doing. It became, very much, a 20th-century routine to always include a daily bath. Later on, this morphed into taking a shower, by far the easiest way to wash off the dust, sweat and fatigue of a day’s hard work. This is what public baths were originally created for, when very few people had a bathroom; and we all know that coal miners had to wash before they would eat or sleep, as is true for those in the building trades today.

So where did this non-washing suddenly spring from? Eighty nine percent of those surveyed, blamed evening and morning tiredness for their lack of showering or bathing. I’m sure some people would be digusteded by this revelation. But is it disgust that is misplaced? Cleanliness maybe next to godliness but it is relative. Human bodies do not disintegrate if they are not washed for days even three or more days. So maybe we should be more forgiving of those who do not have the time or the energy for an evening or even morning grooming ritual. Maybe the time has come for us to acknowledge that most people lead busy,busy lives that get increasingly hectic as the day progresses. Many people have other things to do by 6pm, such as looking after children and cooking meals, worse still they haven’t even left work yet. Morning showers are more frequent, but not always possible in a family situation. I’m making a lot of excuses here. Just saying.

The curious finding in the survey is that parents, who don’t take an early evening bath, still regard it as an absolute ritual to bathe their children at 6pm every day. The why is because they are training their children in the habits of cleanliness, handed down directly from Victorian nurseries. But how effective are their efforts? How many parents find that their children’s grooming and tidying routines go on vacation immediately the children leave the surveillance of the parental home? The survey has an explanation for this. It may well be that the 63% who don’t bother removing make up or brush their teeth before bed, are young adults. They presumably have more important things to do with their time. But according to the experts ironically they will still, in all probability, train their offspring exactly as their parents trained them, because this is what humans do. It is how standards are maintained and passed on.

As one commentator pointed out, the really sad aspect of the survey is that even in the 21st century, personal grooming time is still a relative luxury, because we are still time-poor. We have almost completely lost sight of the extensive life-work balance that used to be the essence of the philosophy of Hygeia. Now I’m sure you all know about the philosophy of Hygeia. For those that don’t, Hygeia was the ancient Greek goddess of health. She gave her name to the philosophy of hygiene. The cult of Hygeia started in Athens in 600 BC, in connection with the cult of Athene, goddess of wisdom and purity. Statues of Athene and Hygeia stood at the entrance to the Athens Acropolis. Hygeia was a young goddess, daughter and chief attendant to Asklepios, the god of medicine. She was in charge of cleanliness and how to live a long life. She had two other medicinal sisters: Panacea (‘Cure-All’) and Iaso (‘Remedy’). The Romans named her Salus. In classical sculpture she was often shown holding or feeding a large snake, the symbol of medicine. Her other official symbol was a large water basin. Statues of Hygeia were erected in all the major healing centres in the temples of Asklepios. The cult of Hygeia was first spread about Greece in response to the bubonic plague, a disease symptomatic of poor hygiene.

In Greek ‘hygeia’ means ‘soundness’ or ‘wholeness’. Hygiene in medicine was about maintaining the ‘wholeness’ or ‘health’ of the body and keeping it fit. Hippocratic doctors formulated a philosophy of hygiene that covered almost every possible aspect of health – including mind, body and the environment. The influence of this philosophical thinking continued to impact on public health reforms during the past two centuries.

But with the passage of time and the Industrial revolution, hygiene became confined to the idle rich. They had the time because everyone else was too buy working to live. But reforms in working-hour legislation gave us a minimum of 10, then eight, working hours per day; then Saturday afternoons off; then Saturday mornings off; and finally the half-days that shops used to have on Wednesdays or Thursdays to allow workers time off for playing sport. All of these gains were painful and hard fought for and won from employers, but they’ve gradually been eroded by the pace of modern living. As one commentator observed, working hours have increased, under the same advanced capitalism that demands excellent personal grooming but spares us little time in which to perform it. Personal hygiene is now squeezed into our five-day working week, in an average office day which now ends (for both men and women) at 6-7pm rather than 4-5pm – if they are lucky.

As in the past, Saturday is still often the only day that allows time to get a haircut, or (these days) a pedicure, manicure, or a massage. You can get time off for the doctor or a dental emergency, but not the hairdresser, the yoga class, or for playing sport. So what does this all mean? Is it all just one giant excuse for being incredibly lazy and unhygienic? Or maybe we just don’t have time to be clean, at least not every day. The French don’t seem to have any hang ups about this. I’m sure it was Napoleon, who in a letter to Josephine, wrote, I will be home in a week. Don’t wash. That’s definitely pretty dirty.

Old Age. These Days You’re Over The Hill, Down The Other Side And Starting A New And Amazing Journey. Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Different

I’ve been thinking about growing old quite a bit recently. Some may say too late, you’re already there. But funnily enough, I don’t see myself that way. As a child born in the 1950s, I am technically old and certainly middle-aged. But you know what? When it comes to living I say that glass, she is still half full so I give the two-fingered salute to old father time. But how long can I, should I, expect to live? Well, if your name is Ezekiel Emmanuel and you happen to be President Barack Obama’s health advisor, then the answer is 75. That’s how long Emmanuel wants to live, or so he says. He wrote an extremely provocative essay in the Atlantic Monthly, titled: Why I Hope To Die At 75, an argument that society and families and ourselves would be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly.

Emmanuel writes: “Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value. But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic. By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. “

Already I am thinking Ezekiel Emmanuel is, quite frankly, talking through his hat. I mean on what basis is 75 an arbitrary cut off point? But for the sake of a debate let’s humor him. Emmanuel says over recent decades there was an increase in longevity but also a significant downside. That increase was accompanied by an increase in disability. In other words, we’re living longer but becoming more incapacitated. To bolster his argument, Ezekiel cites research from Eileen Crimmins, a researcher at the University of Southern California, who assessed the physical functioning in adults, and analyzed whether people could walk a quarter of a mile; climb 10 stairs; stand or sit for two hours; and stand up, bend, or kneel without using special equipment. The results show that as people get older, there’s a progressive erosion of physical functioning. More importantly, Crimmins found that between 1998 and 2006, the loss of functional mobility in the elderly increased. In 1998, about 28 percent of American men, aged 80 and older had some form of functional limitation; by 2006, that figure was nearly 42 percent. It’s even worse for women. More than half of women aged 80 and older had a mobility issue. Crimmins’s conclusion: There was an “increase in the life expectancy with disease and a decrease in the years without disease.” As people live longer their ability to function with normal mobility gets shorter. According to Emmanuel, health care hasn’t slowed the aging process, it has slowed the dying process. As far as Ezekiel Emmanuel is concerned, old age is just bad news that keeps getting worse. He writes: “ Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases.

“We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower. It is not just mental slowing. We literally lose our creativity.” But having argued the point in quite extensive detail, Emmanuel comes to the end of his piece and does the full cop out. He says: “ Seventy-five years is all I want to live. I want to celebrate my life while I am still in my prime. My daughters and dear friends will continue to try to convince me that I am wrong and can live a valuable life much longer. And I retain the right to change my mind and offer a vigorous and reasoned defense of living as long as possible. That, after all, would mean still being creative after 75.”

It’s called having a bet each way. Emmanuel, a bioethicist, says he hopes to be dead by 75, having lived in his words a complete life. He won’t medicate, take a flu injection or even swallow an antibiotic, but then reserves the right to change his mind, which he is perfectly entitled to do. But what is the point of advocating being dead by 75 if you don’t really mean it? And, all of these ideas coming from a senior Obama advisor, implies that he must be trying to influence Government health care policy. But even if he isn’t, Ezekiel Emmanuel, will in all probability, change his mind when he creeps closer to that magic figure of 75, assuming he lives that long. Interestingly, he has identified an important issue. Despite what Emmanuel says, I firmly believe age is a state of mind. And depending on which state, that mind happens to be in, has a large bearing on how well you will fair as you get older. But you are fighting an uphill battle. A fair and humane society should respect an individual at every age. But that can’t be the case when Governments and economists and even the media talk about the problem of old age. An Australian researcher, Doctor Patricia Edgar, has written extensively about the issue of aging. She says American National Institute of Ageing studies show that negative stereotypes about ageing, images of the elderly as “senile”, “frail”, or confused, can become debilitating, self-fulfilling prophecies. “ Seeing or hearing gloomy examples about what it is like to be old can make people walk more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular system, affecting health and longevity,” Edgar says.

She points out the result is hardly surprising. Tell anyone, at any age, they are a burden, with nothing to contribute and they will begin to believe and act accordingly. Here’s something that might surprise. Despite many of the resounding, negative observations, a significant percentage of older Australians and I suspect people from other countries as well, are living, breathing testimonies of how wrong you can be. They are living fulfilling lives , increasing their contribution to the work force. I’m not just talking about my generation of baby boomers who seem to be a unique social experiment. It’s the group directly following the baby boomers, which represents a larger demographic and will create an even larger bulge in the paid labour force. So what is the best way to correct the myths and develop responsible and productive policies that actually benefit older people? According to Patricia Edgar we should start with a new definition of ageing.

When is someone said to be old? Research says life expectancy above 30 is a very modern phenomenon driven by public health measures and falling infant mortality. Life expectancy at birth was 35 in Sweden shortly before 1700; in Italy around 1880; and in Russia around 1910. In Australia today, life expectancy for men who are now 65 is 85 and for women it’s 89. Older people represent the fastest growing demographic in society.

Yet, as Edgar points out we are still mired in the perception that 50 is the beginning of old age. South Australia’s Ageing Plan is based on interviews with Australians over 50. At that age we are entering “the second half of life”, not heading for God’s waiting room.

According to Edgar, by treating this stage as a period of aged obsolescence, we create a non-existent problem and undermine a resource, which could have significant benefits for society. She says in the 1950s, Americans identified adolescents or teenagers as a group distinct from children, with special needs. It also made sense to split the childhood demographic into two distinct groups with children living with their parents for longer, entering the workforce later, marrying later and life expectancy increasing proportionally. Edgar says it’s time to recognise that middle age, like childhood, is now lived in two stages. We’ve evolved to a point where the first stage involves work and the second, activity before old age. We don’t simply stop work, and then die as we did in the early 1900s. Retirement is from the paid work force but it doesn’t mean you also retire from life. Edgar says it’s a time of maturity, broadened by experience. A time for giving something back and finding satisfaction in a range of activities, like volunteering, childcare and mentoring. Contributions, that should be recognised and valued. It’s a generation that might not figure in measuring a country’s GDP, but strong communities can’t exist without them. Patricia Edgar claims the media doesn’t help by frequently getting it wrong in promoting the concept of some kind of intergenerational war. It is a rare for a family not to view the interests of the young as the over-riding concern of parents and grandparents. Income flows from the old to the young more so than the other way around, a fact that is often conveniently ignored. Edgar says it isn’t difficult to see that the attributes of the very old are being dismissed way too early. And given our increased life expectancy, the term “old” should mean someone over 85, not 65 and certainly not 55.

According to Edgar, social, medical and cultural policy needs to catch up with this dramatic change in our life cycle. We should stop talking about retirement and “having a well-deserved rest”. Working until the age of 70, if the jobs are there, and there’s no discrimination in the workforce, makes perfect sense. And the reason for continuing to work doesn’t have to only be as a way of earning an income. It can prevent decline. For too many people, retirement leads to cognitive, emotional and physical obliteration.

Edgar says people living an active life after 55 have much to give. As a society we need to think about redesigning our long life journey. There is a growing body of research suggesting that health and satisfaction post 50 plus, is an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. We have become used to thinking that education is solely for the young. Instead we need to think about education as a life-long process.

According to Edgar, the choice is ours to make. We are experiencing a longevity revolution. And if we have enough will and imagination, it has exciting potential. Yes even for you Ezekiel Emmanuel. And, you should tell your boss in the White House.

Does A Happy Valentine’s Day Mean Getting Rid Of The Hair Down There?

It’s Valentine’s Day. I like to think of myself as liberal and tolerant. Ready to embrace the new and the different. I’ve discovered VD clearly means a lot of different stuff to very different people. Not just flowers, chocolates and a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant. So I guess that explains if not accounts for some of the strange rituals performed in celebration of the day. Or not. Mmmm. Maybe not. Let’s just call them strange and leave it at that. This is definitely bizarre. Quivering with anticipation and ready to emerge from hibernation, after yet another long, cold winter, millions of Americans, apparently, have engaged in, what can loosely be described, as a thinning of their nether regions. We are told by reliable sources, that this is a ritual as old as time itself. But this year’s pubis shearing is expected to be among the largest and most bountiful in decades, with more than 20,000 tons of short and curlies shorn by Feb. 14.

“My boyfriend and I are going to see, As You Like It, and then enjoy a nice candlelit three-course dinner,” said Brooklyn resident Lydia Simonson, who, along with her fellow Americans across the country, will prepare for Valentine’s Day by carefully crafting or thinning their pubis. She, along with many other hopeful VD lovers, will soon excuse themselves from their daily grind and retreat to a nearby bathroom, to tend to their lady garden. “It’s going to be so romantic,” Simonson said.

Funny, I don’t see the connection. But, what would I know?

Imagine, tiny scissors and electric razors flying off drugstore shelves, while all across the country legs dangle precariously over open bathtub drains. According to statistics from the National Depilatory Council, (yes there is such a body) the week before Valentine’s Day is by far the busiest time of the year for shaving, trimming, sculpting, playful pattern-making, waxing, and even ‘manscaping’, the genitalia. I am pretty sure ‘manscaping’ means making it pleasant for a man to look at.

Whoa.

Let me butt in here and give my twenty cents worth. Call me old fashioned but I prefer women to look exactly as nature intended. If you happen to be hairy downstairs so be it, I say. Consider it to be part of your personality. And if anyone should dare offer criticism, tell em to shove it. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. “David and I are going to take a long walk around the park and then maybe on the way home we’ll stop and grab some ice cream,” said Julie Stibbons, a Dallas-area design consultant who recently made use of grooming shears, a pair of tweezers, and two magnifying mirrors to contribute her 0.4 ounces to the nation’s total raw hairscape. “I wonder if David will send me flowers at work like last year, Stibbons said, whose smooth vaginal region will show no signs of stubble for days, if not weeks to come, “He’s just so wonderful.”

While this year’s pubis shaving promises to be prolific, experts say the United States and much of the Western world has undergone many personal grooming phases over the years. In 1947, the first year that records were kept, Americans only mowed about 1.25 tons off their “genital lawns,” while in the mid-1970s private edging was so rare that documentation had to actually be abandoned until 1981. But with the booming economy of the 1990s, the U.S. suddenly saw smooth as the way to be, for men and women and, as VD approached, a huge resurgence in both shearing, plucking and waxing.

Not lyrically I should hasten to add.

“There’s a huge spike every year in the first half of February,” said Brooks Watson, head of sales at Schick, makers of the TrimStyle razor for women. “The rest of the year, Americans generate about 50,000 tons of total trimmings, but in the week before this special holiday we see a massive jump. It’s a veritable clear-cutting down there.”

I would offer the observation that the only element missing is for someone to yell timber.

According to Schick’s marketing research, during the VD season, American pubic hair removal rates briefly approach those of Brazil, traditionally the smoothest country on the planet. While Americans seem willing to slash and burn it all off for their annual celebratory day of romance, personal trimming still varies by the season, and plummets to levels almost as low as Greece during the week of Thanksgiving. And believe it or not, there are some Americans willing to talk about it. Publicly I mean. “If I trim the shrubs, the tree looks bigger,” said Jeremy Wertz, resident of Boise, Idaho, standing in front of his hall mirror with a pair of scissors “See? Worth the itching, if you ask me.

Actually, Jeremy, we didn’t ask but thanks for telling us anyway, While many consider the practice a time-honored tradition, not all Americans share Wertz’s enthusiasm.

Thank God.

“I’m not going to let corporate America dictate the date or time at which I choose to groom my genitals,” said Denver resident Marcus Shannon, adding that Valentine’s Day was “invented by the razor industry” to sell grooming devices. If the truth be known, VD was invented to simply sell, per se.

Again, according to that august body, the National Depilatory Council, the nationwide surge in concern for matters follicle,  is understandable, However, spokesperson, Donna Spaulding, urged caution. “We all want to look good and feel desirable, but it’s important to keep things in perspective,” Spaulding said. “In the end, you want people to love your pubic region for what’s inside, not just for how it looks.” Donna, how right you are.

But if that isn’t enough to make you want to leave things alone down there, how about some good, old-fashioned fear. Genital injuries have increased five fold over the past decade due to our propensity to shave the nether regions. According to a study by the University of California, the majority of injuries involved razors. And get this. In 2009, the State of New Jersey even considered, but later abandoned, the idea of banning bikini line waxing after two women were infected, and hospitalized, in a Brazilian waxing that went wrong. According to at least one American GP, pubic hair serves a purpose. When pubic hair is removed, it causes tiny wounds that can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Having it is a sign of our entry into adulthood and should cause neither shame nor embarrassment. Amen or Awomen to that.

When There Is No Humanity And The Justice System Gets It So, So Wrong

Hate to be negative, but humanity and the capacity of the criminal justice system to get it right, are an interesting dichotomy. Yes dichotomy. Rarely, if ever, are they singing from the same hymn book. Instead of being at one and working together, one or the other, or both, go missing in action. But, every now and again these noble principles are forced to undergo a pressure test. In this case pushed under the legal microscope, in the form of the re-hearing of two criminal cases that certainly tested my faith in humanity and represented dramatic illustrations of how the American justice system got it terribly, terribly wrong. In the first example, a New York man, spent 29 years in prison for kidnap and murder, finally walking free after a judge overturned his conviction, saying it was based on a false confession.

David McCallum, was aged 16, when he was arrested for murder in 1985. Now, 30 year later, and a man approaching middle age, he was overcome with emotion after a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge exonerated him. All I can say is, thank God for a crusading District Attorney who saw a wrong and knew he had to right that wrong. The packed courtroom broke into loud applause on hearing the ruling. McCallum and fellow teenager, Willie Stuckey, also 16 at the time, were arrested for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner in Queens. Children discovered Blenner’s body on disused land in Brooklyn. He’d been shot once in the head. McCallum and Stuckey, were arrested a short time later and confessed to the crime.  Each suspect initially blamed the other for the murder during videotaped interviews, but both quickly recanted. But their confessions were not worth the paper they were written on. Their confessions had contradictions and what the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth Thompson, called “false fed evidence,” or details about the crime that appeared to have been provided by others. McCallum and Stuckey had long maintained their innocence. But a jury convicted the two teenagers in 1986 of second-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon. Stuckey died of a heart attack in prison in 2001 at the age of 31, but McCallum, who is now 47, persevered in the attempts at clearing his name. His efforts were boosted when his case was championed by Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, a former professional boxer, who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1967, and spent 19 years in prison before being freed. Carter wrote a deathbed letter to District Attorney Thompson, asking him to investigate the case. In the letter, Carter wrote of McCallum and Stuckey: “Their two confessions, gained by force and trickery, are not corroborated even by each other; they read as if two different crimes were committed.”

District Attorney Thompson said he needed little persuasion to re-examine the case. And his subsequent inquiry found no DNA or physical evidence or credible testimony, to link McCallum or Stuckey to the abduction or the killing. As bad as this case is, the news just gets worse. At a news conference, Thompson said he had “inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful conviction cases.” In other words, there were many more cases just like David McCallum. A Conviction Review Unit established by Thompson and headed by a Harvard Law School professor, has resulted in the overturning of nine convictions this year.

In the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Assistant district attorney, Mark Hale, told the judge, that the McCallum and Stuckey convictions were tainted by false testimony and their confessions were “the product of improper suggestion, improper inducement and perhaps coercion.”  Prosecutors said the convictions in the murder of Blenner in October 1985 had been marked by inconsistencies. While Stuckey told the police that three shots were fired, McCallum said there had only been one. Each described the other as being close to the man when he was shot, but neither had evidence of skin stippling, which often accompanies a shooting at close range. Both suspects said the murder took place at night but the medical examiner said the time of death was 3:15 pm. Among other evidence that Thompson said was discredited, Stuckey confessed to making a comment about a Buick Regal to a woman in Queens about an hour before Blenner’s abduction. The woman told detectives that the two men she encountered were in their 20s and that one had braided hair. The descriptions did not fit either Stuckey or McCallum, who both had close-cropped hair. The District Attorney suggested that the comment about the Buick Regal had been fed to Stuckey, perhaps by the police, to make the confession look more authentic. Thompson said additional doubt was cast on the case when prosecutors began to believe that one of the main witnesses, testified untruthfully. That man, whom Thompson did not name, was the first to link Stuckey to the case, telling investigators that he had given the murder weapon to an aunt who then transferred it to Stuckey before the killing of Blenner. The aunt, Thompson said, refuted the account. McCallum’s shoulders sagged as the judge announced, “I will dismiss the indictment.” He rested his head on a table in the well of the court, as one of his lawyers and the mother of Stuckey, patted his back.McCallum left the courtroom to applause from dozens of supporters, McCallum’s mother sat next to her son in court, gripping his hand and comforting him as the judge overturned the indictment. She later left the court in tears, refusing to talk to the media. McCallum, dressed in a white shirt, beige jacket and khaki pants, emerged from court with a smile and hugged his overjoyed family as dozens of supporters clapped. He then briefly spoke with reporters in a courthouse hallway. “I feel like I want to go home, finally,” he told reporters, admitting that he had at times lost hope of being freed. “I’m very, very happy but I’m very, very sad at the same time,” he said, adding he wished that Stuckey walked free with him. “This is a bittersweet moment because I’m walking out alone,” he said. “There’s somebody else who is supposed to be walking out with me but he isn’t, and that’s Willie Stuckey.” He said his first wish was to walk on the footpath, and then go home and enjoy his mother’s cooking. He had no special requests, saying that after 29 years of prison food, anything she cooked would be wonderful. His mother rushed to embrace her son in the corridor. “I kept praying and hoping for this day to come,” she said.

Despite spending all that time in prison for a crime he didn’t do, David McCallum could at least walk to freedom. The same couldn’t be said for a black 14-year-old teenager,named George Stinney, who was sent to the electric chair more than 70 years ago, wrongly convicted of the murders of two white girls in a segregated mill town, in South Carolina. Finally, a modern day judge reviewed the case, overturning Stinney’s conviction, saying the state committed a great injustice. George Stinney was a child when he was arrested in 1944 and convicted of murder in a trial lasting one day —and then executed. All of these events taking place in a three month time frame, and without an appeal. The speed in which South Carolina delivered its ‘justice’ against the youngest person ever executed in the United States, in the 20th century, was found to be both shocking and extremely unfair, according to a Circuit Judge. “I can think of no greater injustice,” the judge wrote. Stinney’s case, long spoken of by civil rights activists, as an example of how a black person could be wrongly convicted by a southern justice system that sanctioned legal discrimination, when investigators, prosecutors and juries were all white. The two girls, aged 7 and 11, were beaten to death. A search by dozens of people, found their bodies and investigators arrested Stinney, saying witnesses saw him with the girls as they were picking flowers. Stinney was not permitted to speak to his parents, and authorities later claimed he confessed. His supporters said he was a small, frail boy and so scared that he would have said whatever he thought the authorities wanted to hear. They said there was no physical evidence linking him to the murders. In the saddest part of his story, his executioners noted he was so tiny that the electric chair straps didn’t fit him, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

This year, a Circuit Court Judge heard testimony during a two-day hearing. Most of the evidence from the original trial disappeared long ago and most of the witnesses were dead. It took the judge nearly four times as long to issue her ruling, as it did for George Stinney to go from arrest to execution. The judge’s 29 page order included references to the 1931 Scottsboro Boys case in Alabama, where nine black teens were convicted of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death. Fortunately, the convictions were eventually overturned before the teens went to the gas chamber and the charges were dropped. In the George Stinney case, the Circuit Judge made a point of saying that Stinney did not even get the consideration of an appeal. So, finally there is justice, and some humanity, for George Stinney. What a shame and a travesty that he wasn’t alive to appreciate it.

Who Would Want To Be a Whistleblower? If No-one Does, We’re In Big Trouble

There is a species currently threatened with extinction. Climate change is not to blame. Nor is Darwin’s theory of evolution, or some chance discovery made by Sir David Attenborough in the Galapagos. I’m talking about whistleblowers. These are people, who, at grave risk to themselves, reveal information that the public has a right to know about. But at this moment in time they have a bullseye on their back. They’ve been turned into targets of opportunity, as governments around the world, try to control all of the exit routes on the information superhighway. Before he became the US President, Barrack Obama, said he valued whistleblowers. He promised to protect them. But, sadly, what he said was not what he meant. They turned out to be weasel words. Promises, worthless and empty, as you might expect from politicians and the morally bankrupt. Instead, Obama declared war on whistleblowers. And a man called Jeffrey Sterling is one of the casualties. He is a former member of the CIA, who was involved in a top-secret operation to provide Iran with bogus plans to sabotage its nuclear program. His career story reads like a James Bond novel.

Sterling joined the CIA in May, 1993. Two years later, he became operations officer in the Iran task force of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia division. He held a top-secret security clearance and had access to sensitive information, including classified cables, CIA informants, and operations. After training in the Persian language in 1997, he was firstly sent to Bonn, Germany, and two years later to New York City to recruit Iranian nationals as agents for the CIA and also as part of a secret intelligence operation, codenamed Merlin, which literally gave intentionally flawed nuclear designs to Iran, in 2000.

Here’s how it worked. From early 1998 to May 2000, Sterling had assumed responsibility as case officer for a Russian with an engineering background in nuclear physics and production, which the CIA employed as a mule to pass flawed design plans to the Iranians. In April 2000, Sterling had a significant falling out with his employers. He filed a complaint with the CIA’s Equal Employment Office alleging racial discrimination. The CIA subsequently revoked Sterling’s authorization to receive or possess classified documents and placed him on administrative leave in March 2001. Sterling’s lawsuit, alleging he was the victim of racial discrimination, was dismissed by a Federal judge after the government successfully argued that pursuing the case would involve the disclosure of classified information. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, ruling in 2005 that “there is no way for Sterling to prove employment discrimination without exposing at least some classified details of the covert employment that gives context to his claim.” Sterling was one of only a handful of African-American case officers employed by the CIA. He was ultimately fired from his job early in the Bush administration. The prosecution alleged that Sterling tried to blow the whistle on Operation Merlin by trying to give evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003 and when that didn’t work he decided to leak classified information to New York Times reporter and author James Risen for his 2006 book, “State of War.” Sterling then faced charges under the Espionage Act. The Justice Department portrayed Sterling as an “angry” and “vengeful” man who was “disgruntled” rather than righteously upset with corruption and cover-ups. Prosecutors alleged — and the jury agreed — that Sterling was trying to get his revenge on the CIA when he talked to Risen about a CIA operation that was meant to deter Iran’s nuclear program. The case drew special attention when federal prosecutors initially sought to subpoena Risen to testify against his will. Though they won in court, the Justice Department ultimately decided not to force the reporter to take the stand and give evidence at the trial. Risen had vowed to go to jail before he would reveal any sources. Federal Attorney-General Holder said that the verdict proved “it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.” Since his department’s legal battles with Risen, Holder has tightened the guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists. The trial itself was a spectacle, with CIA officers testifying behind a retractable grey screen as they described suitcases full of cash, clandestine meetings and fictitious back stories. The case against Sterling was largely circumstantial — there were no recorded phone conversations or captured e-mail exchanges that show he passed leaked classified information to Risen — and that omission required prosecutors’ to delve deeply into Sterling’s work and the details of Risen’s book. According to the prosecutor, Sterling was the only potential source who had a relationship with Risen, knew of the information and had a motive to discuss his clandestine work. They argued that the book — which suggested that the secret operation might actually have helped further Iran’s nuclear research — was somewhat inaccurate and that it cast Sterling as a hero and the CIA as hapless fools. “Jeffrey Sterling’s spin is what appears in the book,” prosecutor Eric Olshan said. Sterling’s defense attorneys argued that several people, other than Sterling, could have served as Risen’s source, and they suggested Sterling was unlikely to have given the reporter any information. In any case, they argued some information in the book could not have come from Sterling, because it addressed matters that happened after he left the CIA or contained details that he would not have known or remembered. Sterling became only the fifth person in the history of the United States under the Espionage Act, to be charged with mishandling national defense information. In a hearing at the U.S. District Court in 2011, Sterling’s defense attorney, Edward MacMahon, entered a not guilty plea. But Sterling was convicted of espionage on January 26, 2015. His defense attorney Barry Pollack said after the hearing that Sterling’s lawyers plan to take the case to a higher court “This is a sad day for Mr. Sterling and his wife,” Pollack said. “We will pursue all legal avenues with the trial court and on appeal to challenge Mr. Sterling’s conviction.”

What is significant here is that the Sterling case is not the first of its kind against whistleblowers. Other people who have tried to speak out  include former National Security Agency manager Thomas A. Drake, and former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter. Federal authorities are still considering whether to lay charges against several high-profile individuals in other investigations, including former CIA director David H. Petraeus, veteran State Department diplomat Robin Raphel and retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright. Dan French, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York who now does corporate work for a prominent law firm, said irrespective of whether prosecutors won or lost the Sterling case, they would in future aggressively prosecute whistleblowers. “I just think they’re going to bring these cases continuously to demonstrate that type of conduct by a government employee or a government contractor is going to be prosecuted, because the risk is just too grave,” he said.

Very bad news for anyone who believes in upholding free speech, and keeping our Governments accountable.

Following A Celebrity Diet Takes Courage And A Certain Kind Of Madness

Personally, I’d rather be dead than live the life of a celebrity. Even if you paid me, I wouldn’t. There’s not enough money in the world for starters. And for a start, neither your life nor your privacy is your own. Not to mention the dieting. Wait a minute. Let’s mention the dieting. Ever wondered how they look so stick thin? Or, as one observer put it, look as if a strong gust of wind, would blow them off their feet? Well yes, cosmetic surgery might have a lot to do with it. The other reason is because they don’t eat. And, even when they do, they don’t eat what anyone would call real food. So, if they don’t eat real food, what, pray tell, do they eat? That is a very good question and one that New York writer Rebecca Harrington pondered and pondered. She eventually discovered what they ate or more importantly didn’t eat. But the discovery was nowhere near enough food, for thought, for Harrington. She needed to walk in their shoes and literally eat what they ate. So she did. The result was more than a year spent sampling 14 of the wackiest celebrity diets on the planet, all of it taking place in her West Village kitchen. Then she wrote a book about her experiences called ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having.’ It details what she describes as her brave journey into the madness of the slimming regimens of the fabulous and the famous. It was a coming of age for Harrington in more ways than just writing about crazy diets. No paying just lip service, this was full on walk the walk. Harrington whipped raw eggs into warm milk for breakfast because that’s what Marilyn Munroe did. “I understand now why her life was so hard,” the 29-year-old Harrington says. She believes Marilyn Monroe’s food habits were those of an unhappy person. “She ate in an illogical way, having things like raw eggs in milk, then nothing all day, steak and carrots for dinner and then a hot fudge sundae late at night.” On the Munroe diet and with her blood sugar levels going completely crazy, Harrington didn’t lose any weight. But, she did almost faint into a subway grate, which, of course, was nothing like Marilyn’s iconic, white dress moment.

Harrington says she can only admire the iron willpower of celebrities and their diets, coming to the conclusion that only someone who is constantly photographed in their bikini, or their underwear, would want to put up with such misery. As part of her research, Harrington scoured magazines for the weirdest recommendations of anyone qualified by a famous name and zero expertise, from Cameron Diaz to Pippa Middleton to Karl Lagerfeld. Harrington says that in instances where a celebrity hadn’t written a cookbook, all she had to do was Google a star’s name followed by “diet” and she got “a million results.” Then she modelled her life on each one for 10 days at a time, if she could ‘stomach it.’

On “The Karl Lagerfeld Diet,” Harrington drank diet Coke all day, then at night she would desperately probe for any speck of meat from the diet’s prescribed protein in the form of a tiny quail. “A quail is entirely claw, ” Harrington says. “ I don’t know how it became a French delicacy.” Harrington found Sophia Loren’s diet to be particularly harsh. “She has these delicious pasta recipes but the amount you can eat is so small that for the rest of the day all you can think about is how you want to eat more pasta.”

Elizabeth Taylor’s 1988 diet book was called “Elizabeth Takes Off.” Harrington followed the plan for two weeks claiming it was a huge challenge. “She ate the grossest food I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Harrington says. “And I was hungry all the time.” And there were days when she found she just couldn’t stomach a Taylor meal. For example, the night she put a piece of steak on bread slathered with peanut butter, Harrington says she gagged and couldn’t finish it. Another Taylor recipe called for mixing tuna fish with tomato paste, scallions, grapefruit and mayonnaise. The food was so appalling, that Harrington basically starved herself thin. She lost 6 pounds. “I think Liz was drunk all the time,” is how Harrington explains Taylor’s wacky diet. “It turned my stomach.”

But Harrington says Elizabeth Taylor sounded like a fun person. Greta Garbo not so much. In fact the Garbo diet could best be described in a way not dissimilar to her name. “Every recipe contained something disgusting,” says Harrington. “There was raw eggs and orange juice, or this awful celery loaf with loads of pureed celery, spices and breadcrumbs.” Garbo followed the advice of nutritionist Gayelord Hauser, who trumpeted the benefits of “wonder foods” like yeast, molasses and wheat germ.

The prize for having the most effective of all the celebrity diets went to Beyonce. Harrington says she decided to first try the Master Cleanse that Beyoncé used to slim her curves followed by the Herculean diet she devised to lose the pregnancy weight following the birth of her daughter. The Master Cleanse entails drinking lemonade dosed with cayenne pepper and maple syrup up to 12 times a day. “Master Cleanse is the scariest diet ever because after a while you lose all desire for solid food,” says Harrington. “But the minute you eat solids foods you love solid foods again.” Next up was Beyoncé’s post pregnancy diet on which the new mother lost 60 pounds over three months. Harrington found the protein rich menu really hard particularly since she combined it with a two hour, daily workout just like Beyonce. Typically she’d begin the day with egg whites, then turkey and capers for lunch, snack on cucumbers in vinegar and finish with yellowtail sashimi for dinner. In 10 days, Harrington shed 10 pounds — making Beyoncé’s combined diets the biggest loser in body weight.

And what did she make of the somewhat eccentric Gwyneth Paltrow? Harrington says she is an admirer. “I can’t help it, I like her.”. And she loved eating like Paltrow, following the recipes in the star’s cookbook, “It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.” But there was one drawback with the Paltrow way that was pretty much a deal breaker. “Oh my God, it’s so expensive,” Harrington says. “I’m still suffering from how much I spent.” Just buying a week’s worth of basics was US$155 and after that, Harrington says, it seemed like she was constantly paying for expensive fresh fish. Harrington says the food was good and when she served Paltrow’s fish tacos at a dinner party one night, her friends couldn’t stop raving about them. Over 10 days, Harrington lost four pounds. “If you were a millionaire, it’s not only the best way to diet but the best way to live,” says Harrington. “The food is delicious.”

In the discipline stakes there was no going past Madonna’s macrobiotic diet. Her regimen eliminates wheat, eggs, dairy and meat while concentrating on “something called sea vegetables.” And, it includes a total ban on sugar. “It’s incredible, she cuts almost everything out of her diet,” Harrington says. “She’s super disciplined and awesome, but the diet is unsustainable.” Harrington followed a cookbook written by Madonna’s former chef, Mayumi Nishimura, titled “Mayumi’s Kitchen.” She also purchased the “Addicted to Sweat” DVDs from Madonna’s trainer, Nicole Winhoffer. Already suffering from recipes where a complete meal consisted of barley combined with seaweed, Harrington found she could barely follow the “insanely difficult” workouts. “I’m basically dying on this diet,” she wrote in her book. “I don’t know how Madonna lives.”

Victoria Beckham’s diet was just too hard. “It’s one of those diets where you eat an impossibly small amount of food and then declare yourself full,” Harrington says. Beckham’s Five Hands Diet isn’t original but Harrington says Beckham always makes a lot of noise about whatever super strict diet she’s following in the moment. Beckham claims that Five Hands was how she lost the baby weight following the birth of her daughter. According to Harrington, you only eat five handfuls of food a day. And she was surprised to learn that the allowable portions are not really the size of a full hand, but only the amount that fits into a palm. Harrington found she could fit two small eggs into her palm, but had difficulty measuring the kale smoothie. She lasted only one day, before switching over to Beckham’s other diet, the Honestly Healthy alkaline diet. She purchased the book Beckham tweeted about, “Eating the Alkaline Way,” by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson. One recipe had her making falafel from seeds and carrots. It wasn’t a success, just a mess. The next meal was soybean broth with vegetables. It was so terrible, Harrington says that she threw it away. Harrington lasted 2 1/2 days and lost no weight at all.

Harrington’s commitment to her research is revealing and truly disturbing. She suffered through bad skin, mystery rashes and salmonella in her quest to live the celebrity life. “I was incredibly hungry on every diet,” she says. “A lot of them made me feel ill. I left feeling bad for them. People are obsessed with celebrity diets. It’s one of the most commonly asked questions.”

But is it really what the celebrities are eating? “I have no idea,” Harrington says. “They could all just be eating nothing and smoking cigarettes.”  Sounds about right to me.

Til Death Us Do Part, But Only If I Know All Of Your Secrets And Lies

Every now and again, I get reminded of what a strange, strange, world we live in. Mad even. Hollywood once made a very funny (I thought it was hilarious) movie called: It’s a mad, mad world. It shows how a bunch of strangers can, through the right set of circumstances, behave completely irrationally and out of character or simply show their true nature. Take your pick. In truth it’s probably a bit of both. And once the dye is cast there is no end to the madness.

These days, social media seems to act like a full moon and make people do things they wouldn’t normally do. Here are the latest pieces of insanity currently in vogue. As you might expect, it’s got a lot to do with men and women getting together. But first we must ask the leading question: How well do you know your significant other? It’s a question having a major effect on how we shape our dating experience. People are using web searches and social media to investigate a person’s history before they even go on first date. A recent survey discovered that information from Facebook is now being used in a third of all divorce cases as well. With social media we can discover all sorts of information about another person such as previous employment, old flames, school sports teams and last week’s embarrassing party photos. But getting back to the question: How well do you know your significant other? The answer is not very well at all according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, the information gap is so alarming for some, that they are employing, wait for it, private investigators to look into the background of their significant other before contemplating a tying of the knot. According to the report, private investigators across the Unites States are saying that business is booming in recent years from clients who basically “ want their sweethearts investigated for potentially deal breaking habits and secrets.”

You might think it a little strange that this trend is taking off now. After all, we seem to know more about a potential spouse now than ever before. But one reason might have something to do with what I would call perverse psychology. One private investigator told the Wall Street Journal that all of this available data is actually inciting people into seeking even more information: “What they are getting is just enough information to make them curious.”

But it’s not just the availability of information about a partner’s past that is fuelling this trend. It’s also because these days, many of us seem to have more of a past worth investigating. “In a world where people are taking longer to get married, and accumulating more relationship baggage, I think many adults today are understandably nervous about going ahead with a major relationship commitment or engagement,” says Brad Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project. He notes that given this long pathway that men and women are taking to marriage, “it’s no surprise that people are hiring private detectives or other services to look into their partner’s background.”

According to the Wall Street Journal report, while some of us may think that being choosy about who to marry and therefore trying out multiple long term relationships will help to make us as sure as we can be about the person we eventually settle down with, the opposite may be true. The more relationships we have before marriage, the more likely we are to cheat on a spouse. The report says having all these relationships (and getting to watch on Facebook the lives of the ones who got away) only makes it harder not easier to reach a decision about who to marry. It’s an interesting perspective. The report goes on to say that once we marry, it can have the effect of making us less satisfied with our choice. We crave more and more information in order to be sure we’ve found Mr. or Mrs. Right, but how much is too much? Don’t we already have enough background to judge whether our partner is the one? After all, two thirds of couples who married in 2012, lived together for more than two years before they walked down the aisle. We already know our partner’s preferences when it comes to everything, especially their favourites, from brand of toothpaste to sexual positions. So what’s left? A lot, as it turns out. One relationship expert researching a book on interfaith marriage, was surprised to learn that more than half of the couples didn’t talk about how they wanted to raise their children before they sealed the deal (and that was just among the ones who already had kids).

She wrote: “ How is it possible that in all the deep, late night conversations that led you to believe this person was your soul mate you never got around to ( talking about) faith and family? “

So is it all about having the right conversation and asking the right questions of each other? The report goes on to say that the information gap is not limited to religion. It also concerns finances. In her book, The Starter Marriage And The Future of Matrimony, Pamela Paul wrote about couples who failed to reveal to each other that they had major financial debts. One woman neglected to tell her husband that, for a number of years, she earned no income and her father was paying all of her expenses. How does this kind of information, you might ask, just slip through the cracks in long term relationships? According to the experts, for one thing, we don’t often get the right input from our family and community when it comes to significant others. In her book, Pamela Paul reports, that “all the divorcees (she) interviewed said their parents gave them no direction about marriage beyond telling them upon their engagement it’s as long as you’re happy.”  And as much as we might think living together is the ultimate test for whether a relationship will succeed, the reality of the matter may be completely different. According to these experts it is very easy to live under the same roof with someone and not have any conversations about planning for the future. You can chat endlessly about who leaves dirty laundry on the floor or whether they’ve ever mopped a kitchen floor but what about having the serious chats about finances or children? Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, recently told the Atlantic magazine, that “Living together doesn’t charm or doom you; it is not whether you live with your partner as much as how you live with your partner.” She added, “I am not against living together, but I am for, young adults being more aware that it is an arrangement that has upsides and downsides.” One of the downsides is surely that cohabitation often gives people the illusion of true intimacy while at the same time allowing partners to conceal the most important pieces of information. But, is hiring a private Investigator really the solution to discovering this kind of information? You could always try being a bit more of an open book. You might also find you achieve the same result without the aggravation or the expense.

First Class Women Who Get Second Class Treatment When It Comes To Celebrating Their Lives

It’s always good to be reminded of how far we haven’t progressed. In two thousand and fifteen years of civilization we still treat women as second-class citizens. The glass ceiling, restricting career growth for women, remains largely un-shattered. Women still earn less than men even though they do the same job. And women are expected to make all of the career sacrifices when it comes to raising a family. In fact the second class tag seems to be especially apparent when the woman concerned has a led a first class life that achieved greatness. Take acclaimed Australian author, Colleen McCullough, who recently passed away at the age of 77. McCullough was a neuroscientist before she discovered that she had a supreme talent for writing best sellers. Her book, The Thorn Birds, sold 30 million copies worldwide. As you would expect with someone of McCullough’s stature, an obituary was written ostensibly to celebrate her high achieving life and published in an Australian national newspaper. Here is the opening paragraph. You be the judge: “ Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nonetheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “ I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”

Now, you might want to ask what did we learn about Colleen McCullough from that introduction? Forget about the fact that she was a best-selling author. What is more important is that despite her ‘plain’ looks she could still attract a man, and that, ladies and gentlemen is worth celebrating. Of secondary importance was the fact that McCullough was a woman who penned The Thorn Birds, still the highest-selling Australian book of all time. And after working as a neuroscientist in Sydney, she went on to write that particular book during her time in the neurology department at Yale University. This is a woman who also wrote an acclaimed and methodically researched, seven book historical series called Masters of Rome, which won her diverse fans including Newt Gingrich. She is someone who accomplished an astonishing amount during her life, and here she is, reduced in a moment to her looks and her ability to attract men. As one columnist wryly observed, you could be forgiven for wondering if the obituary really wanted to say “Well, she was fat and not much of a looker, but somehow she managed to do ok in life, bless her”.

Now, if you think I am over-reacting, or being thin skinned, consider this. When Bryce Courtenay, an equally successful Australian author died in 2012, his obituary in the same newspaper began: “ Bryce Courtenay, was one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, touching the hearts of millions of people around the world with 21 bestselling books including The Power of One.”

A comparison of the two opening paragraphs speaks volumes.

Sadly, this is not an issue restricted to this particular newspaper, even though it is a clear and hideous example of it, or to McCullough herself. When the accomplished and brilliant rocket scientist, Yvonne Brill, passed away in 2013, the New York Times was strongly criticised for their obituary, which began with:

“ She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said. “ But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communication satellites from slipping out of their orbits.”

Once again, a woman’s life full of incredible accomplishments is reduced to her position in relation to a man, and how good she was as a mother and a cook. As another columnist pointed out, the very fact that these outrageous obituaries are still being published, demonstrates how little has changed, and how women’s lives are still disrespected. It shows us that a woman’s physical attractiveness and relationships with men have greater weight than her personal accomplishments.

Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist, as well as a woman and a mother. As if all three were mutually exclusive. Colleen McCullough was plain and overweight, but she was warm and had wit and could attract men. These ‘attributes’ were hardly worth mentioning at all, let alone in the first paragraph of her obituary. What a shocking indictment that the summation of the exceptional lives of these two women, centred around their roles as wives, mothers or their ability to attract men.  Brill invented a rocket propulsion system for keeping communication satellites in orbit. But as far as the New York Times was concerned it was only worth a mention in passing.

That is not to say that personal relationships, husbands, wives and children are not vitally important in many people’s lives and should be included in a retrospective. But, all too often, women are firstly classed and summed up by the roles they play in a relationship, rather than by their personal achievements. The life of a brilliant male scientist would never be reduced to his looks, or how many wives he had. He would be remembered first for what he achieved in his career.

The McCullough obituary also dived into personal details of dubious relevance, such as the fact that her father was revealed to be a bigamist, and that she had married a man who was 13 years her junior. Seriously, so what?

Yes, evidently you can be a neuroscientist who wrote a mega-selling series of books in your spare time, but what will be most remarkable about your colorful life will be the fact you didn’t let your ‘plain’ looks hold you back.

I am so glad that social media rode the crest of the wave of disbelief in response to the patronizing McCullough obituary. With tweets like:

“Award for worst opening lines of an obituary goes to “… #everydaysexism pic.twitter.com/xmQogrR58P — Joanna McCarthy (@joanna_mcc)

“McCullough was a successful writer & neurophysiologist, but “she didn’t let being fat & ugly get her down” was the best they had. — Sophie Benjamin (@sophbenj)

“Colleen McCullough died this week, though of course her relevance as a human died much earlier, when she started overeating.” — Anna Spargo-Ryan (@annaspargoryan)

As yet, there has been no response from the newspaper concerned regarding the outcry over its canine of an obituary. But one columnist writing in a rival newspaper took the same approach to a noted male author, rejigging their obituary to reflect what was described as this brave new era in posthumous hatchet jobs:

“J.R.R. Tolkien was, a touch shrivelled and certainly orc-esque in his latter years, he nevertheless was a prolific and talented fantasy weaver.”

Touche.