Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The good guys and their gadgets

 Guest blog from Sorted editor Steve Legg

We all know men love gadgets and technology. Whether it’s mobile phones, gaming devices, music systems, sports gear, cars or other electronic equipment, we share a special relationship with gadgets.

We often use gadgets to impress each other with the tiniest video camera, the most expensive, function-laden watch, or the fastest computer. Arm wrestling, bike racing and drinking competitions are no longer the main ways of proving our masculinity; it's these gadgets that do the trick these days. They’re the new way to show off wealth, taste and knowledge. We just can’t help it, it’s in our genes.

I inherited it straight from my dad, who had every conceivable gadget, although he didn’t always get it right. Classic gadget disasters back in the ’70s included a Sony Betamax video and later a Laserdisc player. Don’t tell anyone, but years later I bought an Amstrad E-m@iler. How embarrassing.

Anyway, I digress. Back in the here and now, a team of Dutch lads known as Terre des Hommes Netherlands are using their technological gifts and knowhow to make a real difference; not with faster, stronger or smaller gizmos, but to rescue vulnerable children across the world. It’s gadgetry at its best.

Terre des Hommes Netherlands chose to do something about a rapidly spreading form of high-tech child exploitation that has tens of thousands of victims in the Philippines alone involved: webcam child sex tourism.

Predators from around the world have, until now, felt safe and anonymous. Using fake names and paying with untraceable prepaid credit cards, men from rich countries go online to look for children in developing countries and then pay these children to perform sexual acts in front of webcams. It’s the darkest side of men and their gadgets.

However, the Netherlands-based child rights organisation is using technology to shine light into this darkness. It has gone undercover to expose this growing group of sexual predators.

With innovative, cutting-edge technology that would make any gadget geek weep, the virtual character Sweetie was created. This computer model was made piece by piece to look and sound like a real girl. They captured the movements of a real person, applied them to her and used an application to control her every move.

Within weeks of going online, more than 20,000 predators from around the world had approached the virtual ten-year-old requesting webcam sex performances. But this time their supposed anonymity couldn’t protect them.

With the help of this virtual ten-year-old Filipino girl, researchers identified more than 1,000 adults in 65 countries. The video footage of the child predators has been handed over to police authorities around the world.

I love it. I love a good news story about the internet and hearing that the good guys have gained an advantage. And I love to hear that men are taking a stand against sexual exploitation and using their ‘toys’ to protect children whose childhoods have been taken away. 

Read more from Steve in Sorted magazine - click here to buy your copy (or copies) today.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The most wonderful time of the year?

I absolutely love the excitement that surrounds Christmas: decorating the tree, carols by candlelight, wrapping presents, the cheesy movies; the whole shebang. 

I love picking out Christmassy foods at the supermarket while bopping along to the classic tunes that can just about be heard over the general hubbub of people filling their trolleys with mince pies and mulled wine.

But sometimes we can get so caught up in the trimmings of Christmas, we forget about the important things. First, the reason that we celebrate Christmas in the first place: to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Second, that we are called to care for those that are less fortunate than us, a message that was close to Jesus’ heart.

So this week’s news that hunger in the UK – the seventh-richest country in the world – has reached public health emergency levels is a complete disgrace! An estimated 60,000 will be without food over Christmas this year! 

How are people going to bed hungry right under our noses? How are elderly people dying because they cannot afford to heat their homes? And how are families finding themselves without homes at all?

Now I realise that these problems exist all year round, not just at Christmas, but at this time of year we should be doing more, not less, to help those in need. Nobody should be without food, heat or shelter this Christmas!

So what can we do to help?
  • Find out where your nearest food bank is and take advantage of two-for-one offers when you’re next at the supermarket. You may not have tons of money to give away, but there are ways to give without bankrupting yourself.
  • Sign Jack Monroe’s petition calling for parliamentary debate on hunger in the UK. Did you know that 350,000 people received three-day emergency food rations from food banks between April and September this year alone?
  • Give sensitively. Maybe you have a neighbour, colleague or friend who is struggling to make ends meet. Find a way to help without being patronising. Perhaps you could take round a Christmas hamper, or better still, invite someone to share Christmas at your home. Maybe an elderly person you know will be spending a lonely Christmas at a residential care home or hospital this year. A half-hour visit could make all the difference.

The Bible speaks a great deal on this subject. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 tells us not to harden our hearts against our “poor brother”, while Leviticus 25:35 and Isaiah 58:6-7 go a step further, suggesting that the poor brother/homeless person is taken into our homes and supported.

Proverbs speaks extensively about meeting others’ needs and being generous to the poor (and the blessing that comes with it):
  • Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”
  • Proverbs 22:9: “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”
  • Proverbs 14:21: “Whoever despises his neighbour is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”

Jesus himself spoke extensively on the subject, for example in Luke 3:11: “And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’"

These verses are summed up nicely in 1 John 3:17-18: “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

So let’s remember those in need this Christmas, and throughout 2014.

Finally, if you’re already doing all this and want to address the spiritual needs of those around you, why not use Christmas as an opportunity to invite a friend to church or to a carol service?

Or why not give them a gift that introduces them to the Christian faith? Yup, you’ve guessed it! Sorted and sister magazine Liberti make excellent Christmas presents for people of all faiths and of no faith. You can buy a gift subscription for one special person or a bumper box to distribute among friends and strangers alike.

Finally, check out this clip from The Piano Guys to get you in the Christmas mood. It’ll blow you away.