Sunday, 29 January 2012

Gonestrwydd gyda'n hunain

Gwrando ar sgwrs am onestrwydd ar Bwrw Golwg ar BBC Radio Cymru bore ‘ma.

Mae gonestrwydd llwyr yn anghenraid cyn y gall unrhyw un ddod i berthynas â’r dwyfol. Rhaid i ddyn fod yn gwbl onest gyda’i hunan cyn y gall yn ddiogel dderbyn mynediad i deyrnas yr ysbryd a delio gydag o. Fel y dywed Morton Kelsey yn ei lyfr Encounter with God, ‘All others are either turned away or they find themselves entangled and enmeshed in the darker sides of spirituality, for God does not like false faces.’

Ychydig iawn o bobl sydd â’r dewrder a’r gwrhydri i ganiatáu i’w hunain ddod i ymwybyddiaeth lwyr o beth ydynt, a pha bethau sy’n gudd o’u mewn, a phan nad yw dynion yn fodlon gwneud hynny, mae’n amhosib iddynt gyfarfod Duw.

Dyma’r prif reswm pam na all rhai pobl, sy’n gwbl analluog i fod yn onest gyda nhw eu hunain, adfer o ddibyniaethau ar alcohol a chyffuriau eraill. Rhaid iddynt, yn gyntaf, ddinoethi eu hunain yn llwyr. Dim ond wedyn mae’r broses o drawsnewid eu bywydau yn gallu dechrau.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The hustling of booze at times resembles something akin to drug pushing

These are difficult times for supermarkets, price wars, falling profit margins and talk of closing huge out of town retail sheds dominate the news, and now the spectre of the Prime Minister giving consideration to minimum alcohol pricing.

Inventive solutions to these testing conditions are necessary, and it seems that Sainsbury’s has decided to sell as much cheap alcohol as possible before new regulations are introduced.

Sainsbury’s supermarket on Queen Street in Cardiff now sell a litre of white wine (or rose, if you prefer) for the bargain price of £3.20, slightly more than the price of sandwiches, a price which is guaranteed to make excess consumption an inevitability.
What could possibly motivate this pricing policy, given that the majority of evidence based research indicates that alcohol pricing has a clear relationship with excess consumption and alcoholism. All the studies that have reached the headlines in recent years seem to agree, cheap booze costs lives.

The packaging of this ‘special offer’ is interesting in itself as it is branded under the ‘Basics’ range, and sold at the queue-line for the automated tills in huge quantities.

Cheap alcohol, sold in a bargain product brand (perhaps to confuse it with the kind of cheap dietary staples that families desperate to make ends meet in a recession might buy) sold in plastic bottles with screw caps – the discerning wine buff is unlikely to be the target market.

More likely, the target market is the kind of person who values cheap alcohol, the sort of person who on a daily basis does the arithmetic of booze, calculating price against percentage per volume.

Sainsbury’s has perhaps considered that the golden age of bargain basement booze sales is drawing to a close, and that there might be few opportunities to sell the drug at so low a price as now.

Making hay while the sun shines, is, of course, a primary consideration for businesses, but if the troubles of our times are teaching us anything at all it should be this: We are more than businesses, our hearts and souls cannot be plotted into an Excel spreadsheet, we have higher responsibilities to one another than the simple mechanics of profit and loss.

The hustling of booze at times resembles something akin to drug pushing, and to sell a powerful, addictive and poisonous substance at the queue line for tills as if it were an impulse buy is a deliberate, calculated and cynical act.

Ironically, in many supermarkets, sweets and chocolate have been removed from the tills because harassed parents have often felt pressurised to buy their children unhealthy treats while doing the weekly shop.

It reveals volumes about our times that a Diary Milk or a Twix can be removed in the interests of customer health and well being, and be replaced by cheap alcohol instead.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Faustian pact

Cynicism is a word that is so frequently over used these days that gradually, over time, it loses its strength, its meaning becomes diluted. It takes financially difficult times like the ones we live through, and will continue to live through for years to come, for mercenary individuals and businesses to raise predatory practices to new heights.

There is something unique, in economic terms, about a casino, it is the only business that offers neither a product, nor a service, it fails to create anything (other than perhaps the illusion that some kind of success or wealth is possible) and instead feeds upon our very human need to feel risk, reward and excitement. Unlike smoking, which was known to be addictive for decades - and until court action wrung the truth out of the tobacco companies was not public knowledge - gambling's addictive qualities have been an open secret for centuries.

At precisely the time that ever greater demands for financial prudence are being imposed on the poorest, at precisely the time that essential services are being pared back to the bone, the Coalition are giving online casinos and betting chains carte blanche to entice another generation into indebtedness, addiction and despair.

Take the case of Think Bingo, the current sponsors of the Jeremy Kyle show. The entire point of commercial broadcasting is to find an audience and capture it with entertainment, and then deliver that audience to an advertiser who is likely to be able to sell something.
In the case of the Jeremy Kyle Show, described by Judge Alan Berg as:"A morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil", and that it was "a plain disgrace which goes under the guise of entertainment" and "Human Bear Baiting," gambling advertisers have chosen to ally their harmful and dysfunctional with a programme that seems to echo their values.

With a largely low income and often unemployed daytime audience, the show, once sponsored by Learn Direct, has forged a rather Faustian pact with Think Bingo to increase the indebtedness of its viewers.

Given the fact that the show claims to be a forum for good, a means by which contestants (if that is the correct term?) and audiences are helped, encouraging them to hand their hard earned money over to mercenary gambling magnates is quite a breath taking act of hypocrisy.

Given the fact that Jeremy Kyle himself deals with all manner of addicts on his show, creating an aggressive simulacrum of recovery for sick and desperate people, while in reality providing prurient viewers with an underclass Barnum and Bailey circus for them to gawp over - its association with gambling advertisers should open our eyes to its absence of any legitimacy.

Interestingly, Kyle himself said: "...Sometimes people need to be stripped bare before they can be helped."

By this he meant that his programme had some valuable role in deconstructing and deprogramming dysfunctional people, but perhaps it is time we exposed more than the private miseries of others in order to sell addictive and destructive 'entertainment'?
Soap opera Emmerdale is sponsored by Tombola Bingo, and whilst Emmerdale has higher production values and actually pays its actors instead of using a constant stream of damaged people, the fact remains that a much loved family drama is being used by big gambling businesses in much the same way that a fisherman uses a fly.
Cockney national treasure Barbara Windsor has been picked exclusively because of her demographic appeal to be the public face of Jackpot Joy, and it is no coincidence once more that the bulk of adverts featuring her are broadcast during the day. Bored, frustrated and despairing people, often unemployed, are the 'mark' in a multi billion pound sting.

We are told, repeatedly, that we are 'all in this together', that the current economic crisis is akin to the spirit of the Blitz, that national and social unity should prevail and that a pragmatic, stoic and typically British spirit of 'keep calm and carry on' should prevail.

Are any of these slogans in use in the head offices of large online gambling companies, or in the conversations had between their lobbyists and their friends in all three major parties?

It is doubtful. Because as we all try to muddle through together, to keep calm and carry on, there are powerful predatory forces encouraging harmful addictive behaviour, who see other people's poverty, desperation and sorrow, not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

24 Hour Alcohol Delivery Services present a mortal risk for alcoholics

In the past week, Wynford Ellis Owen, Director of the Welsh Council For Alcohol and Other Drugs visited an alcoholic engaged in an ongoing battle with alcohol addiction.

What confronted him as he stepped through the front door was a scene from hell.

In a recent blog post Wynford described the alcoholic's home as the prison of "…A still suffering alcoholic in the throes of active addiction with vomit all over the place – in Pyrex bowls and plates; on the settee; on the carpet; in the sink on top of her soaking, dirty plates; all over the bathroom; saturating her pillow and matted in her hair – and urine drenching her bedclothes and the stench permeating the whole flat. This alcoholic is being supplied with alcohol by a new breed of pariahs, the alcohol home delivery services, which she accesses by computer or telephone during the night."

In the last decade, drinks manufacturers have been inserting into their adverts the words 'Please enjoy Jack Daniels/Jacobs Creek/Stella Artois responsibly', placing the responsibility for the outcomes of drinking squarely on the shoulders of the drinker.

Is it not time that the drinks manufacturers now communicated a similar message to retailers and wholesalers of alcoholic drinks, asking them to 'Please sell our products responsibly'?

The commercial practice of selling alcohol by home delivery 24 hours a day makes the word irresponsible rather redundant. There is no legal sanction against this practice, and unlike alcohol sales on licensed premises, there is no penalty for selling alcohol to an already intoxicated person or under-age person.

Given that the market for late night parties that unexpectedly run out of wine or beer is probably rather small, the Welsh Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs believes this trade thrives on alcoholics and has found at least one example where this is demonstrably the case.

The government, both in Wales and in Westminster must act to ensure that this new and unregulated frontier in the drinks industry is forced to adhere to the highest standards of responsibility, or be forced to cease trading.

However, beyond government action the home delivery sellers of alcohol must take strenuous action in order to distinguish themselves from common drug pushers, benefiting from a veneer of legality.

The fact that it is legal to sell alcohol to a dying alcoholic at any hour of the day or night should not be confused with the idea that it is right to do so, sellers of addictive and toxic products like alcohol should actually have a higher moral threshold than other retailers, given the risks to health and wellbeing that their products pose.

Monday, 2 January 2012

A few things which I regard as very important as we start on a new year

A while ago, I wanted something from a certain shop. I used to call there regularly. This particular day, however, when I tried to open the door, to my great surprise, it was locked. I knocked several times, thinking that the shopkeeper for once had overslept. Eventually, after banging at the door several times, it was opened and I could see that the shopkeeper was very wide awake indeed.

“What do you want?” he asked angrily. And then after a second thought, he said, “Alright, come in quick.”

As soon as I was inside, he locked the door again.
There were no other customers inside only myself, but there were two or three other people behind the counter, all very much occupied.

“My word, what’s going on in here?” I asked. “You all seem very busy.”

The shopkeeper answered, “It’s stock-taking time here I’m afraid, and we are closing the shop today so that we can get on with the job.”

Of course, I felt somewhat guilty and offered my apologies for interfering with their work.

Now, don’t you think we ought to do something like that at the beginning on a new year? I mean, spiritually, of course. Ought we not to look into our hearts and thoroughly examine ourselves to find out how it is with us as we face a new year?

The times are evil. There’s not much shine on our spiritual life is there? Our stock has surely got very low and the prospects are not at all bright. Let us therefore take stock of our resources. For in a certain sense, life is a business concern. A book was publishes several years ago and its title was: This Business of Living.

“What do you do when you set about this complicated job of stock-taking?” I asked the shopkeeper. “What is the first thing you do?”

“Well,” he said, “the first thing I do is to close the shop for a day or two. There is a notice in the window to that effect and obviously you hadn’t seen it, or you wouldn’t have been banging on the door a few minutes ago. It’s quite impossible to get on with this stock-taking with customers coming in twos and threes all day long. So we close the shop.”

A very good idea, don’t you think? We too could do something like that. Shut everything out; forget for a while the cares of the world, the problems of every day life, so that we can give our whole attention to the things that matter.

Wordsworth, in one of his poems, says:

‘The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers’

How true that is. In order to examine ourselves thoroughly and take stock of our spiritual resources, we must shut the door tight and lock it so that we can concentrate on the priorities of life. So, the first thing we’ve got to do is to shut the door; close the shop.

“What’s the next step?” I asked the shopkeeper. “What do you do next?”

“Well,” he said, “we make an exact list of everything we’ve got in the shop. By doing this, we find out what we are most in need of. We find, for example, that we have a good stock of one thing but that we are dangerously short of something else.”

We too must do something like that – take stock of all that we have; count our blessings, as it were. No shop is ever empty of goods. Neither is life. We all have what we might call assets – things that are of value to us and to other people. Health – that is one very precious thing. Food and clothing – they’re two others. We need all these things. We have friends, families, sponsors, and the good things of this world. Let us be grateful for what we have already in stock.

But to know just what we have in stock is only part of the purpose of stock-taking. The main purpose is to give us some idea of the things we are short of; the things we must order for the future.

Some things are more in demand than others. Go to any shop and you will find that there are many commodities there that are only asked for occasionally. But there are other things, like bread and milk, for instance, that we must keep constantly in stock - things that are needed for day-to-day living.

Life is like that too. Food and clothing, health and happiness – we want all those things. But if we examined ourselves in this manner, we might discover that there are some things that we are short of, things that are we are desperately in need of – such as discovering the secret of serenity or experiencing wholeness. You might have everything else – good name, character, wealth, friends, and all that. Yet, that is not enough. There is one thing you haven’t got – wholeness maybe - and until you get that, life is no good.

There is a lot of cheap stuff on the market today – wealth, pleasure, and so on, and we are in danger of cramming our lives with these things. But there are other things too, things that neither moth nor rust can corrupt; things that will stand us in good stead in this life: faith, hope, trust and love.

There was one other thing the shopkeeper told me. “When stock-taking,” he said “I also get a chance to clean the shop from top to bottom. You have no idea how much dust there is here, and I take this opportunity to clean the place out.”

This is another thing we could do to our advantage. When we examine ourselves, and take stock of our lives, a lot of ugly things will no doubt come to light. Habits that we have formed unawares – they will all come to light and we shall feel ashamed of ourselves.

Here is a chance for us at the beginning of a new year to cleanse our minds and souls and to rededicate ourselves to that which is pure and good and leads to sound recovery.

I wish you all a happy New Year and all that's good for 2012.