Monthly Archives: October 2013

In praise of platonic TV friendships

Nicole+Beharie+AFI+FEST+2011+Presented+Audi+6bkch89jkXrxlucy-liu-herve-leger-07If there is one upshot about Autumn and the weather getting colder, it has to be the good TV shows starting up again. Two in particular have caught my eye: Elementarystarring Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller, an update of Sherlock Holmes set in NYC, and Sleepy Hollow, a riff on the tale of the Headless Horseman starring Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison.

What they both have in common, beyond mystery-solving and occasional crime-fighting is that they are buddy movies between men and women, which is refreshing to see. I really enjoyed the first season of Elementary, holding my breath for the inevitable moment when there was a hint of romance between Millier and Liu – but it hasn’t materialised. Instead there’s friendship and mutual respect, which is refreshing. I’m only a few episodes into Sleepy Hollow but the vibe is similar.

Obviously, another thing they have in common, which is also exciting, is that they are both ethnic minority women headlining their own shows – roles that would usually have been given to white actresses, particularly as their race isn’t constantly referenced in their roles. Increasingly, television is smashing the boundaries in a way that’s still to be seen on the big screen. Scandal gets all the attention – and it’s fantastic (and intense and fanciful at times too, in a way that only a show written by Shonda Rhimes can be – I say this as a Grey’s Anatomy fan) – but these shows deserve a round of applause too. And on the topic of Scandal, here’s a great Buzzfeed post on Kerry Washington and Nicole Beharie’s characters subverting the stereotype of the Strong Black Woman.

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Childless. Topless?

I hadn’t heard of Gloria de Piero MP  before this week when two stories concerning her really irritated me. The new shadow minister for women and equalities just happens to be childless by choice, something that would be unremarkable in a man but in a woman means you probably have a horn growing out of your head or cloven feet. A ridiculous blog by Liz Jarvis questioned if, as a childless woman, de Piero could empathise with mothers:

“A woman who is a mum can understand and identify with the discrimination faced by women who are childless by choice; but I’m not sure the converse is ever really true.”

Whether that’s true or not, and I don’t think it is, a minister has a responsibility to learn their brief and do the legwork to make sure that they do their job effectively. She may not be a mother, but I would expect de Piero to talk to mothers and do the research into the issues they care about.  I hope she does.

However, as a childless woman myself, and unmarried and not cohabiting to boot, I would argue that mothers do have a platform. If anything, politicians are only concerned with “hard working families”. We’re presented with two roles: mother and/or a wife/partner and if you’re neither of those, well, you don’t exist. I for one long for the day when a news organisations look to other places than Mumsnet or the other online mother’s blogs to get the “female” view.  That’s more to do with lazy journos than the mum lobby dominating the limelight, but the fact that all Prime Ministers in waiting have to beat a path to Mumsnet’s door shows that their platform matters. As a feminist I believe in solidarity and breaking down barriers. We should be supporting one another. Just because we’ve made certain choices doesn’t mean that we cannot empathise and fight for those who have made different ones.

Meanwhile, some news outlets are searching for topless photos of de Piero, taken when she was a teen. I can’t think this is anything but an attempt to embarrass her. She told the BBC:

“No one should have to worry that something they did when they were young might prevent them from serving their community or getting involved in politics at a local or national level.”

I agree. She made a mistake at 15 years old. How is that relevant when she is a 40 year old woman with a career? Would that we were all perfect, but that’s rarely the case. The public may be interested in seeing the pictures, but I don’t see how it’s in the public interest.

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Let them Come

If you haven’t already, check out the footage of the Intelligence Squared Debate at the  Royal Geographical Society. The motion: Let them come, we have nothing to fear from high levels of immigration. The speaker were David Aaronovitch, Ken Livingstone, Susie Symes, Nigel Farage, David Goodheart and Harriet Sergeant. I was particularly pleased to hear some female voices in the debate for a change!

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Or, in other words, pink. When the fashion world says “Natural” or “Nude”, it has always had whiteness as its default. Tights are my primary bugbear. Winter gets boring pretty quickly when you’re stuck with opaque black tights every day. But I was happy to find that Marks and Spencer does a range of tights for all skin shades. (I’m nutmeg, which is rather charming)

Another big trend that hasn’t gone away is the “leg-lengthening” nude heel. Now, I once got a pair of £10 bronze-brown shoes from Office in a sale which matched me perfectly but unfortunately they’re on their way out. I was despairing of finding a replacement until I happened to read about Louboutin’s new nude range. He’s done five different types of shoes in a range of colours to suit different skin types – a democratic nude heel, if you will. It shouldn’t be remarkable in 2013, but it is. The industry has a way to go, but where the high-end goes, the high street will follow, so this is a step in the right direction that could have a fairly big ripple effect.

Louboutin colour-match nude shoes.

However, at prices of £400 upwards I guess I’m still at square one (!)

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Go Home LOL

This week is apparently Immigration Week on Sky News. Which is nice, obviously, because we don’t talk about it enough. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch much of the coverage but they seem to have had an array of guests, including fact-checker, economist and all-round sensible person Jonathan Portes, which is encouraging.

That said, what a fortnight it has been: the Immigration Bill annnounced, the launch of Movement Against Xenophobia and Go Home text messages. Here’s my top of the pops:

  • Watching Hugh Muir get increasingly snarky.  His usually very lighthearted Hideously Diverse Britain column is becoming increasingly incisive with each Home Office immigration clanger. In his latest column (the title of which I’ve ripped off a bit) he addresses the Go Home text messages sent to actual British citizens.
  • Le Monde Diplomatique actually mapped Europe’s War on Immigration (their title, not mine) with some handy graphics that illustrate Europe’s visa system.

“We pretend to aid in development of poor countries, while in reality we export economic models that cannot work. And then we impose on their people our unattainable visas.”










  • Bobby Duffy, managing editor of IPSOS Mori polling organisation looks in depth at public opinion on immigration on The Conversation – and frankly, it’s a bit of a mess.

“Overall, then, any government or political party has real problems on immigration: concern is high, views ill-informed, government is not trusted, they have limited policy levers they can pull, and the areas in their control are the ones people are least concerned about (such as students and highly-skilled non-EU workers).”

  • And while we’re on the topic of governments, Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, said on BBC Question Time that the Go Home vans could yet be rolled out across the country. I don’t know why this has been reported as news because the Home Office has stubbornly stuck to that line since they hastily withdrew the vans following their “trial period.” They continue to say they’re assessing the trial, but refuse to respond to Freedom of Information requests or give details how and on what basis they will assess the success of the controversial ad campaign. They also steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the damaging and racist language used in the campaign – simply restating time and again that it is quite right for the government to seek to remove people here illegally. If nothing else, the media training has been a success: deflect criticism by restating a fact most people will agree on.  It’s strangely fitting: the Go Home campaign is more about publicity than effective policy, anyway.

And that, I would argue, is a real immigration problem.

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Why we shouldn’t trust the markets with civic life

You know that feeling when you’ve been bumping up against an idea, something that you’ve been thinking about for a while in a muddled sort of way – and then someone comes along and spells it out so beautifully that it’s like a light bulb goes off over your head? That’s how I felt watching Michael Sandel’s Ted Talk: Why We shouldn’t trust the markets with our public life.

“We’ve drifted, almost without realising it, from having a market economy to becoming market societies.”

“The more things money can buy, the more affluence – or the lack of it – matters…when money comes increasingly to govern access to the essentials of the good life: decent healthcare, access to the best education, political voice and influence in campaigns; when money comes to govern all of those things, inequality comes to matter a great deal. “

“With some social goods and practices, when market thinking and market values enter, they may change the meaning of those practices and crowd out attitudes and norms worth caring out.”

There’s a lot of heat and not much light in the press right now about capitalism and socialism – particularly when trying to figure out Ed Miliband. I think that’s more to do with his attacking of vested interests and accepted market assumptions than any principled concern that we’re a breath away from communism. He hit the nail on the head with his attack on the profits of energy companies.

I’m not a fan of his – nor of David Cameron or Nick Clegg – but I think he has hit a nerve. The truth is this: while economists quibble about 0.1%  of growth and whether this means we had a double-dip or a triple-dip recession, and celebrate that economy is recovering (on balance sheets anyway) – down here in the real world, people are hurting*

I see my energy bills soaring but energy companies posting record profits. I see the same thing going on in rail, water and eventually, the NHS. The idea of the common good resonates with me – especially now – and I think the press obsession with the binary capitalism/socialism dividing line is a way of dodging the more difficult questions – which need some answers.

The truth is that not everything is for sale. The private sector can’t do what the State should. It’s there to make a profit, which is fine, but the State has a mighty big lever it can use (sparingly) to level inequality – though it’s not the only tool – and that matters because we don’t all start from the same point. And we all benefit from what previous generations left behind. As Obama clunkily put it:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

I don’t have the answers and the press is having a 1980s ding dong rehashing the old arguments about political systems (spoiler alert: capitalism won and is still winning) but Sandel’s has (one) of the big questions:

“In the end, the question of markets is not mainly an economic question. It’s really a question of how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?”

*STILL hurting. Some since 2008, many since before then.

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Decision time at the AU

Today the African Union may withdraw from the International Criminal Court, which will effectively collapse it. Two days ago Desmond Tutu appealed to African nations not to do it, warning that:

“African leaders could kill off a great institution, leaving the world a more dangerous place.”

He launched a petition urging African countries not to break the ICC. The AFP news agency reported:

Tutu said the ICC was the world’s first and only court to try crimes against humanity, and accused the leaders of Sudan and Kenya, “who have inflicted terror and fear across their countries” of trying to “drag Africa out of the ICC, allowing them the freedom to kill, rape, and inspire hatred without consequences.”

This is all true. However, the ICC’s fate should not rest with Africa. There are some notable countries not party to the Rome Statute, not least America. Furthermore, the system of referrals means that some states will never appear before the court because they have signed up to it or have a defender in the Security Council protecting their interests. (SC members get to refer States and they all have to agree. See the problem?)

The reason that African countries feel persecuted by the ICC is because, well, they’re the only ones there. However, they deserve to be there. For African countries eager to shake off the shackles of the ICC, the question remains: what are you* going to do about justice? Lest we forget, the reason Kenyan politicians ended up there is because they failed to prosecute the perpetrators of the election violence in 2007 and 2008, as per the mediation agreement brokered by Kofi Annan. They handed him a sealed envelope with the names of the people responsible for inciting or facilitating violence, which was to be handed over to the ICC in the event that Kenya failed to hold these people to account on its own terms. Kenyan parliament could not agree to prosecute.

Meanwhile progress on the AU alternative to the ICC is slow and I don’t know** if it would be able to succeed where national systems have failed. Will African states club together to get Bashir et al off the hook at the ICC only to turn them over to another court, albeit an African one, eventually?***

In the midst of all this though is a tragedy, not remarked upon by the mighty AU, that illustrates why international justice matters for Africa: the hundreds of lives lost in Lampedusa recently. And not just the most recent tragedy; this has been going on for years. A lot of refugees are fleeing regimes like Eritrea, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, but the AU isn’t concerned with that. It’s worth reading Simon Allison’s take at the Daily Maverick: Lampedusa tragedy: We were all African refugees once | Daily Maverick.

These are the people a court concerned with international justice should defend. It could be an African court; but until that is a reality, and a working reality at that, I’d rather have the flawed ICC than nothing at all.

It shouldn’t rest on Africa to keep the ICC alive, maybe it’s time the rest of the world started to take ownership of it and, I don’t know, get some of the many, many other global war criminals in there. But until African states are even remotely bothered by the mistreatment of Africans by fellow Africans (or even their own people) and the imperatives of justice for the persecuted, I don’t think we should kill the one mechanism that tries to grapple with the issue.

*Call me a cynic, I just don’t think they care.

** I doubt it

***see above

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The gender card

When I went home to Malawi recently, voter registration had just started in some districts. I read newspaper articles in which President Banda urged people to register to vote, to stake their claim in democracy. The headlines were good, the copy was full of donor-friendly pro-democracy soundbites.

But by and large, the people I spoke to were unhappy about food prices, inflation, a weak currency, loadshedding and blackouts….and corruption. It would be foolish to pretend that President Banda doesn’t face misogyny as one of Africa’s few women leaders, but one of the criticisms I heard levelled against her most frequently is that she was absent.

In the beginning, when she took over following the death of President Bingu wa’Mutharika, foreign visits were an essential part of restoring donor confidence and the aid taps that had been turned off in response to his recalcitrant rule.  But they continued. She is gone for weeks at a time, often jetting in for a short time before taking off again. The day I left a frustrated newspaper editorial lamented the fact that she hadn’t had a press conference since June – and it was an ill tempered one at that. Whispers of incompetence swirl in the vacuum she leaves behind. And apparently, corruption has flourished, summed up in Jimmy Kainja’s hard hitting editorial: The loot and plunder at Capital Hill is a symptom of a rotten Malawi nation | Malawi Nyasa Times – Malawi breaking news in Malawi Her first press conference since her long absence following the UN General Assembly in New York and the cashgate scandal, though, left much to be desired.

To be fair, corruption isn’t new, but like her predecessor, President Banda refuses to declare her assets, hiding behind claims of misogyny. I’m not alone in feeling dismayed:

She has since been warned by the EU about corruption (a rare acknowledgement of her shortcomings by her foreign friends) and sacked her Cabinet, but steadfastly refuses to lead on this and so many other issues. Perhaps this will be a watershed moment, though, as even foreign headlines turn against her.

I want President Banda to succeed, but despite the fact that her opponents in the next election carry a lot of political baggage, she appears to be squandering her opportunity to lead Malawi in a new direction and to win a mandate at the next election.

Do better, Madame President – or we may not get another one. Now there’s some gender politics.

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CNN showcases African Fashion


African fashion is the gift that keeps on giving. There are new designers popping up all over the continent. What’s exciting is  to see that African fashion isn’t limited by designers using African prints. After all, we can see that at Burberry and other European fashion houses now. Instead there is a burgeoning industry pushing at the edges of style – and as long as an African designs it, it joins the diverse body of art that is African fashion. The only thing that I haven’t seen yet is a range of silhouettes, but that’s not a situation limited to African fashion. I know that this is partly about the market place, the international standard of what is desirable and beautiful. And yet – wouldn’t that be a great mould for African designers to break? CNN did a great showcase of some new and established names in African fashion. It’s by no means exhaustive, but certainly introduced me to some gorgeous new designs. In particular, Shakara Couture – a 1950s-influenced brand – combining some of my favourite elements: dramatic elegance, nipped-in waists, full skirts. And my love of Ghanaian fashion continues: Kaela Kay has so many pieces I want, but they’re all sold out, unfortunately. Watch this space.

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In which the absentee blogger returns

I’ve been away, but now I’m back. I’ve been…

On holiday1185456_10153251661450054_1711090220_n










Bedridden with flu (image not available – thank me later)








Then trying to catch up with work and studies




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