What Freedom

Freedom is a noble ambition for many and a struggle against oppression for some. In Western liberal democracies we cherish the notion that our freedoms are protected. But how vulnerable are they in today’s volatile  economic battleground?

The United Nations and NATO were established to end conflict and bring nations together to resolve conflict. However, as we have seen in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and numerous conflicts around the world, military power is still favoured over international diplomacy and negotiation.

Here in Belfast the peace process has been largely successful. Some dissident groups and paramilitary organisations continue to live in the past, but disagreement is resolved politically, not by force of arms.

The separate communities of nationalists and unionists are still suspicious of each other, and their political representatives play the ‘them and us’ game. Sinn Fein are accused of using the Equality agenda to “get the bastards”, the DUP refuses to back an Irish Language Act, and has provided the controversy over a green energy scheme prompting another election in less than a year.

The peace dividend here not only promotes trade and encourages investment, but allows young people the freedom to associate with diverse communities of people. Gay rights, respect for foreign cultures and those with disabilities are issues that are work in progress. But there is a healthier climate to encourage freedom for all, as long as we continue to jaw jaw rather than war war.

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The Health of the Nation

smoking banA couple of news stories caught my attention recently. The NHS has started a programme for its staff to look after their well being, recognising that the emphasis had focused too much on the patient and not enough on their staff.

The other story on the radio this morning concerned an organisation that prohibits its staff from smoking, either cigarettes or electronic cigarettes, in the workplace and outside.

In the first story I applauded the initiative, and welcome a more enlightened view by management. The second story is more problematic. Smoking in the workplace is illegal, but extending that ban to smoking outside working hours (during the lunch break etc.) smacks of dictatorship. The freedom to do yourself harm is a tricky one, but if I choose to eat too many cakes or over exercise would anyone be in favour of restricting my choice?

Weed

Is it good or evil? A plant that may be wild or unattractive, is often uprooted and burnt. The aroma of burning weeds can be nauseating and an insult to the gods. Sacrificing a goat is not so easy these days, but if barbecued meat is your thing,you’ll know where I’m coming from.

The debate about weed (in its more youth-centred parlance) trundles on with shifting viewpoints about medical and psychological ill effects. Politicians admitting or denying whether they inhaled, does not raise the quality of the argument either for or against. MS sufferers have been allowed to use cannabis as a form of pain relief. Californians have been rushing to find illnesses that they can adopt in order to be exempt from prosecution and obtain ‘legal’ weed. The Dutch are fed up with stoned tourists clogging up Amsterdam and are taking measures to restrict the sale of weed to foreigners.

Hemp is a material that is legal in more countries than the stronger forms of cannabis because of its diverse usage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp

How can we protect the vulnerable from harmful drug usage, and still offer responsible adults a choice about their lifestyles that does not trample all over their freedom?