Other Politics

I’m away for a while, curating Media Diversified’s Other Politics series. Check it out.

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Other Politics

Today was the launch of Media Diversified’s new political series, The Other Politics, curated by me. Here’s the first post.

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The TV debates or Macho ego fest

Tortured. That’s the only adjective for the ongoing negotiations over the TV election debates. This morning Radio 4 had Michael Grade (former BBC chairman) chastising the broadcasters for throwing their weight around by threatening to “empty chair” Cameron, who is refusing to engage in the format they have suggested. He’s only agreed to one debate so far, with all the parties. The head-to-head with Miliband is dead in the water.

Cameron is tactically right. I think the debates can only help Miliband seem somewhat normal and electable. The public image of him is not so great, but he appears to come across better when he talks to people. If I were Cameron’s adviser, I would also try to avoid giving him a possible “Nick Clegg 2010″ moment. Also, when Cameron gets mad, he turns puce and looks petulant. There’s that. He was also right that it made no sense to have UKIP in  one of the debates and no other smaller parties, who have equal or more representation nationally.

Labour’s also quite right: Cameron is running scared. They know full well they have a lot to gain and not much to lose.

The broadcasters have a point too; it would no doubt be a TV event.

But, here’s where they’re all wrong. They’re all dishonest. This has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with ego, spin and entertainment. And it’s that sort of thing that fuels disengagement with politics.

Cameron’s insistence on including other parties was a stalling tactic. He doesn’t get a cookie* for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Labour is so fixated on Cameron that they forgot to pretend to be pleased at the inclusion of other parties, including the Greens, their competition on the left. The broadcasters want ratings. The fact is, if this was about democracy, we wouldn’t have American-style TV debates, we would have debates on issues eg foreign policy, with the appropriate party spokesmen doing the talking. Because even though we’ve all watched a lot of West Wing, House of Cards and Veep, the fact is, we live in a parliamentary democracy so we vote for parties, not leaders. Their debate format obscures, even distorts this fact. Furthermore, is 3 minutes enough time to do anything more than give mindless platitudes and simplistic soundbites?

This is one of the most critical elections for years. Fresh off a referendum on the future of the union, we’re looking at (apparently endless) austerity. The monstering of the poor, the immigrant and whatever other scapegoats we can find. The possibility of flouncing out of the EU while marching to the beat of the UKIP drum as politicians kowtow to an aggrieved, vocal minority who bleat about being marginalised from their comfortable platforms on the BBC and the broadsheets. There is a lot in the balance. And everyone is playing macho games.

*the Scooby snack of justice

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Acapella

Random, I know, but this post is an ode to Acapella! Done well, it’s amazing. I think I’m also a child of a particular era – Boyz II Men, Az Yet, En Vogue – a time when strong vocals and harmonies were the thing.  I’ve blogged before about Naturally 7 and Acapella (the gospel group) but today I was introduced to Pentatonix. Covering Beyonce. From Bills, Bills, Bills to present day, via all the good ones. The memories!

Penatatonix

 

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Scottish scare stories

Funny. Labour is on the ropes, apparently, forced at every turn to deny that it would join in coalition with the SNP. It’s mischievous political reporting in my opinion, but the messaging used by the Tories in their briefings betrays an unease with the UK. Or, rather, with Scotland. The message appears to be, “Don’t ally with those people who want to tear this country apart”. So, when it’s not immigrants or the poor who are the outsiders of the day, it’s the Scots, whose democratic choices are seen as some sort of subversive plot to undermine the country. The SNP has more of a mandate than UKIP, who are deferred to as the self-appointed voice of England. Little England. A miserly, miserable, nostalgic England of moral pygmies. But hey.

The real, sobering fact shouldn’t be the prospect of a left-wing coalition, but that so many Scots feel ambivalent at best, hostile at worst, towards the UK. That so many feel that they would have nothing to lose and all to gain through independence. And is it any wonder, when the prospect of a coalition with a party that’s not in England stirs up this undercurrent of hostility, this sense that the Scots are outsiders here to rip up “our” UK? Why not build a country which offers a fair deal and a positive vision to all of its constituent parts?

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Oldtown Funk

This group of senior citizens giving Uptown Funk an African, vintage makeover is everything. I might as well go home because Friday is officially DONE.

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Great vocals

I am actually too tired to tackle Emma Barnett’s rant on racism and the ISIS schoolgirls in today’s Telegraph. In summary: “There are real racists, like Chelsea fans and UKIP councillors. That’s full-fat racism. Saying the ISIS schoolgirls should be considered as adults is not racist. It’s my view. You don’t know me. I’m not a racist. Skimmed milk etc etc.”

My thoughts on this are basically:

1. *yawn*.

2. Being a “nice”person (or not being a UKIP councillor) doesn’t mean you’re not perpetuating a stereotype or upholding a racist structure. And no, I don’t know you. If the pre-requisite for calling out this behaviour was knowing someone, we’d never get anything done. However, if you’re hanging out with racists, that’s going to be questioned. And if you say or do things that are racially insensitive or racist, then, yeah, that’s going to be questioned too.

3. *sigh*

4. Racism isn’t a pantomime act; while the more egregious displays are violent or plain ridiculous and invite public opprobrium, the more garden variety racial insensitivity and/or implicit racism is much more common and much harder to counter. It’s often done through ignorance. And yes, while motives do matter, it still must be challenged. (even among allies/friends).

5. *bangs head on desk*

Actually, that was more than I planned to say. The reason I titled this post “Great vocals” is because I have been listening to some beautiful voices. The ones in this list are all male, as it happens.

My prize for group vocals: Naturally 7 singing a cover of Coldplay’s Fix You. Not sure why I always like Coldplay covers but can’t stand the band themselves.

My prize for bringing sexy back: Al Green. (of course)

And finally, the prize for just being so silky smooth: Gregory Porter. (yes, again. I will celebrate him and Hot 8 Brass Band about once a month, ok?)

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“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

It starts at home

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Measure for measure

CaptureIt’s been interesting to see how the results of a BBC survey of Muslim attitudes has been reported. The BBC headline is that the majority of British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals’. For the Telegraph and the Times among others, the newsworthy information was the fact that 27% of those polled sympathised with the motives behind the attacks. Others followed the BBC headline. The most interesting contribution I have read today is Ian Dunt from politics.co.uk , who deftly highlighted some of the underlying values revealed by the survey – not necessarily limited to those being surveyed:

“It’s difficult to compare the results of the BBC survey on Muslim opinions with the rest of the population, because no-one else is ever asked these questions – but it’s probable Muslims are actually more loyal to the UK than the general public.

Today’s BBC survey found 95% of Muslims are loyal to the country. There are no similar measurements for the general public.” – Ian Dunt

Ian goes further, and in my opinion to the heart of this general line of enquiry:

“The fact these questions are never asked of non-Muslims speaks volumes about the higher standards they are held to and the levels of proof they are required to provide. A terror attack by Muslims, be it by Isis or the lunatics in Paris, is always followed by demands, often in respectable newspapers, for Muslims to publicly distance themselves from them. These demands continue even when Muslim leaders have already done so, suggesting they are motivated by suspicion rather than reason.” – Dunt

And about that 27%….

“However, it is important to disentangle sympathy for motive and sympathy for action. We might sympathise with the motive of a homeless man who steals bread, while condemning the theft itself. Sympathising with the motives behind the attack is different to supporting it.

The background of the survey offers some indication of the context in which these sentiments are expressed. Muslims are afraid. Forty-six per cent said being a Muslim in Britain is difficult due to prejudice against Islam. Thirty-five per cent said most British people did not trust Muslims. Twenty per cent of Muslim women felt unsafe, as did ten per cent of Muslim men.

If these levels of discomfort and insecurity were expressed by any other ethnic group it would lead the headlines and hand-wringing editorials about where we’d gone wrong. Instead, it sparked headlines about the level of minority sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attack. That in itself speaks to the intellectual environment in which Muslims are forced to operate. The abiding message is that they refuse to integrate and that their culture is incompatible with western society. They are a problem to be solved.” – Dunt

This is the rather febrile atmosphere in which Cathy Newman saw fit to lie about being “ushered” out of a mosque. Why? And in which Grace Dent refers to the girls who left to join ISIS as “cool headed, elegantly pulled together, determined young women”, mocking in particular the grieving and bewildered parents who made a TV appeal clutching their girls’ teddy bears. Are they wrong? Yes.  Worryingly, inexplicably misguided? Oh yes. Are they still children? Yes. An excellent riposte to that is over at Media Diversified: “The Denial of Childhood to Children of Colour“.

I don’t have the answers, but I know that this atmosphere doesn’t help. And the disingenous pleas for the Muslim community to somehow defeat the nihilistic, warped ideology of ISIS by themselves, as if the horrors of that group are visited on “us”, in the “West” alone… as if Muslims aren’t their main victims (in terms of numbers) – aren’t helping. ISIS, like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, claim to be Muslims but they’re really power-hungry murderers using their version of Islam as a handy ideological cloak for their bloodstained campaign. They’re a problem for us all.

A few weeks ago I heard an impassioned press conference by a US mother whose three children ran away to join ISIS, the younger two influenced by their older brother.  I cannot remember whether they managed to apprehend them in time, but I do recall that she condemned their actions and wept for her chlidren, for her loss. She also addressed ISIS directly: “Leave our children alone.”

Children.

Their children.

Ours.

 

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Women Fashion Power

WOMEN-FASHION-POWER-Graphic-300-x-400I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum last night.

It ticked all of my boxes.

The evening talk, after the museum officially closed, was preceded by a private view of the exhibition of itself, that charts changing fashion and social status  for women. It looks at mass movements that affected ordinary women and those who occupied positions of power, from the early twentieth century until today. There were profiles of powerful women in positions of leadership from Ancient Egypt to China, but overall it primarily had a European/US focus. It was staggering to see how at times women have subverted the world of men, either by co-opting men’s dress or reclaiming their sexuality. There was a great section on the suffragettes and women leaders from different spheres of life from politics to business to human rights. Corsets, bikinis, beach pajamas (I want one!)…it’s all there.

It really made me reflect on my own style and preferences.

Then came a fascinating talk by Lauren Rhoomes of Akhu designs on the politics, spirituality and history of African textiles. Her focus was primarily on West Africa, but it was an engaging and informative talk, followed by a great head wrap workshop. Now I know how to do the great head wrap styles that I see around London.

Rhoomes also brought along some beautiful textiles from Nigeria that have been handed down through the generations of her family. She expounded on the weaving and printing techniques in Ghana and Nigeria in particular, and also made a powerful statement on the fair trade aspect to the textile trade, especially with the influx of cheap textiles from China.

I would give the whole experience five stars out of five if I had to rate it. The exhibition is a must-see, and I was privileged to hear Rhoomes speak with such authority and pride on African textiles, fashion, symbolism and craftmanship.

 

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