Is technology worth an arm and a leg?

During my customary morning trawl through the pages of the BBC News website, I was shocked to stumble upon an article about a 17-year-old boy in China who has recently sold a kidney in order to buy an iPad.

Assuming/hoping that the headline would prove to be misleading, I proceeded to read about the antics of “Little Zheng.” As I read on, my jaw [almost literally] dropped. The young Chinese boy had been lured into a preposterous arrangement – £2,077 for one of his kidneys – by an advert on the internet. Little Zheng’s parents knew nothing of the whole affair until he brought home an iPad and a laptop – probably a rather tactless move on his part! I guess the rather large scar across his stomach would have been something of a giveaway too…

So a boy sold his kidney to buy a computer, but what of it? People in the UK are always donating organs without an eyelash being batted; why is this particular case newsworthy?

The story of Little Zheng is unique in that it raises a lot of moral questions. Yes – what happened was illegal and dangerous, and Zheng showed a remarkably awful decision-making proficiency. But I think the shock factor of this article lies beneath the illegality of Zheng’s actions and the health risks entailed.

Firstly, I’d like to explain why it is so universally unacceptable for humans to sell body parts for personal wealth. I take no issue with those who wish to donate organs posthumously; in fact, I’d say that it makes a lot of sense to do so. The issue in Zheng’s case was that he sought to sell his kidney for personal gain, ignoring the interests of the man with a greater need. Organ donation is not illegal in China – in fact, the legal operations are performed by much more highly-trained and skilled surgeons – so Zheng cannot argue that his act was one of goodwill. “I’m saving a life” is a legitimate reason to lose a beautifully crafted and fairly important part of your body. “I’m getting the latest iPad, a new suit and a laptop…but it’s okay because I’m saving a life” is not. No no no.

So what drove the Chinese teen to such take such drastic action in his pursuit of the latest technology? I have no doubt that his desperation stems from a mixture of advertisement-induced compulsion to purchase and a strong degree of peer pressure. I don’t know Zheng’s background, but I’d suspect he is one of two “scenarios”; he is either “the poor kid with rich friends” or “the cool kid with a reputation to maintain”. I should be a psychologist. If this is the case, I’d argue that the fickle nature of commercialism and the brisk advancement of technology proved detrimental to his decision-making capabilities, and regularly have the same effect on other members of the younger generation.

I’ve barely scraped the surface of an issue that could be debated and discussed for hours upon hours, but I’ll leave the thinking up to you. If you want to read the original article, you can find it here [although there’s not much there that I’ve not mentioned]. You can form your own opinions, but in my mind there are very few things that I’d give an arm and a leg for. An iPad 2 definitely doesn’t make that list.



Flog the blog; save the cat!

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I’ve been a busy man, but it’s nice to be back at the keyboard at Although I’ve been stockpiling a lot of news, views and abuse, I can’t promise that this post will mark the start of an era of regular blog updates. I’ll dedicate this particular insert to Mr Dan Partridge, who has successfully bullied me into freeing up some time to flog a little more mileage out of this faltering blog.

I’d like to talk about the Iberian Lynx [Lynx pardinus]. No, I am not referring to a brand of men’s deodorant [although that’s also a magnificent thing]. I am actually talking about a big cat. If you don’t know what a Lynx looks like, think “puma-meets-house cat and then grows a magnificent beard” … or just google “Iberian Lynx”. Both techniques are equally effective.

So why would I like to talk about these unfortunate-looking felines? Well, 10 years ago the Iberian Lynx was in severe danger of being wiped out. With just 100 of them left, things weren’t looking pretty for these kitties [although if 8 out of 10 cats survived and had 9 lives each, they’d do just fine I reckon]. The cats, which are found in Spain and Portugal, were threatened with extinction by habitat destruction, loss of prey and [most heartbreakingly] indiscriminate trapping by landowners. The human race looked set to wipe out yet another brother from another [breed of] mother. Then along came the Olivilla Breeding Centre with a masterplan that put Animal Rescue’s adventures to shame!

The Centre, near Santa Elena in Andalucía, took in a number of lynxes in a last-ditch effort to rescue the once common Iberian Lynx. Using “high-tech surveillance” and “assiduous zoological care”, Olivilla has trebled the population of this Lynx from 100 to 300 in just 8 years. Whilst the process has been costly [£28m of public money is rather a lot for the sake of 200 animals], it is a remarkable story of a people who have an admirable awareness and appreciation of their history, culture, wildlife and lifestyle.

To let the Iberian Lynx suffer and perish at the hands of human “development” would have been criminal. Nature’s had it tough recently – we’ve hardly been kind to it [see: Rainforests, Oil Spills, Cheap Air Travel] – and it’s not exactly been making happy headlines either [see: Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Floods]. Let’s remember to admire and preserve the beautiful aspects of nature because once we start looking we realise we’ve been blessed with a beautiful world!


Ali Manir: Not Just Another News Story…

Meet 20-year-old Ali Manir, a man brimming with energy and adventure.

Haider Ali Manir. Pic: Northern Constabulary

Mr Manir went missing on Ben Nevis, Scotland, about a week ago. He was hiking the mountain with his cousin, but weather conditions deteriorated into blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. Despite his cousin’s best efforts to convince him otherwise, Ali continued in his quest to conquer Britain’s highest summit – adorned in only a pair of jeans and a light jacket.

Tragically, fortune did not favour the brave. The body of Ali Manir was discovered on Ben Nevis last Sunday by a Mountain Rescue team. At just 20, Ali had probably been looking forward to a lot of things in life. Yet one swift change in the weather, and those dreams were lost on the side of a mountain. It’s scarily easy to read these stories out of interest without ever feeling any sort of remorse or shock. We get much too caught up in reading news for the sake of being up to date with the world. Yet this story slapped me pretty hard in the face, and not just because I associate with Ali’s passion for reaching the top – especially when the scenery is as beautiful as this:

When you see the name of someone you know in a news headline, it makes your stomach turn. Ali Manir was a delightful young man who I knew from my schooldays – he may have been in the year above me, but we knew each other by name and we even went on a camping trip to Wales together with the school’s Cadet force. I still distinctly remember the delight he took in challenging [and beating] everyone in the arena of arm-wrestling. Although he was more a familiar face than a friend, he was a familiar face that I wasn’t expecting to see on the BBC website underneath the headline of

“Ben Nevis hiker found dead”

About 26 months ago my good friend Bruce passed away in a similarly tragic accident, albeit bicycle-related. Although I’m now accustomed to a much quieter [and duller] life without Brucey, the weeks/months after his death provoked a lot of thought and discomfort in the empty space between my ears. Up until that point in my life, I’d never experienced the death of a close friend. Suddenly I found myself distraught, vulnerable and needy. I put on a brave face in public, but it was a shock to the system that really kicked some unhelpful complacency out of my system. I found myself consciously making an effort to be wholesome in my conversation, to fulfill my promises to others and be diligent and dedicated in my work and service.

I feel that in the past half a year or so, I’ve neglected these qualities. I’ve rediscovered the ruts of selfish motivation and personal gain. I’m disappointed that it’s taken circumstances so extreme as these, but learning of Ali’s death has put some deep [and much-needed] perspective back in my life. I’m not saying that setting plans in place for the future is a bad idea – if we are to have any sort of direction/purpose/success in our endeavours, they clearly need to be well thought out in advance – but merely that we need to remember to be ready for tomorrow. If you were to die tomorrow, what do you think would happen to you? How will you be remembered? I’m more bothered about the first question.

My thoughts & prayers go out to Ali’s family and friends at this time.