Category Archives: Uncategorized

Skull vibrations, baby

A moment of nerdery that is also close to home: scientists have a theory about why we don’t recognise or like hearing our recorded voices played back.

The answer is interesting (and my title is a spoiler alert) but it’s also something I struggle with. I find it so hard to listen back to my speeches or interviews, but I know it’s one of the best ways to improve and to learn what you do well too.

So, grit your teeth, listen back to yourself and learn to be a better public speaker. And if it sounds like a hot mess, it’s probably all in your head.

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Where does it hurt?

I don’t have a hot take in me for the events of today: the Turkey attack. Germany’s. The news that UK-made cluster bombs are being used in Yemen. Amnesty’s report accusing the Burmese military of perpetrating crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.

Right now we need the arts more than ever: poets, comedians, artists, sculptors, writers, painters…

So a poet then, with the words for these times:

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.” – Warsan Shire

 

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Top Trumps

So, that happened.

As I’m writing about it in other capacities, which I will post here later, all I’ll say for now is this:

  1. It’s the done thing to say that not everyone who voted for a racist (misgoynist, fascist…) is racist (misogynist, fascist..) themselves. Ok. But these attributes were clearly not a deal breaker, which means you are….racist-adjacent? I think that nuance has been lost on the KKK, who are now loud and proud, alongside your garden-variety casual bigot. It would be great if less time was spent trying to carefully whittle out the nuances of the Trump voters and coddle their feelings and more time spent looking out for the minorities who feel thrown under the bus – or, perhaps even challenging racism as emphatically NOT the response to any grievance, real or perceived. NB: Loss of privilege is not persecution.
  2. It wasn’t a working class revolution. Nor was it about the “left behind”. The one thing that trumped every identity (Christian, women) was whiteness. But apparently, this isn’t white supremacy. So… is this white supremacist-adjacent? That nuance has been lost on minorities, who overwhelmingly voted for decency (and yes, email scandal or no, I’ll take average politician over cinnamon Hitler).
  3. We need playwrights, artists, poets and comedians more than ever to tell us the truths we need to hear. The New Yorker’s 16 essays on Trump’s America is a good start.
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The Briefing Room

On Thursday I was on the BBC’s Briefing Room programme talking about Black Lives Matter UK. For those that listen, my intake of breath towards the end wasn’t deliberate and sounds more dramatic than it was meant to be!

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2016-a-geddon

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 is a dumpster fire. Between the deaths, Brexit, the impending US election, rising xenophobia and racism across Europe, terrorism, natural disasters…

Every year has its horrors, but it does feel like the status quo is being given an almighty shaking down this year.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but it’s scary. Some of what has been unleashed – racism here, for instance –  is truly horrific, but I suppose it was there all along. Perhaps this is the year of things coming to light, being laid bare, a mirror held up to ourselves.

After all, there’s Trump and there are the baying crowds cheering him on.

There’s Farage and now the spectacle of so-called mainstream politicians nicking not only his clothes but his manifesto.

The Establishment, intellectually exhausted and/or simply unwilling to admit that the neoliberal consensus has failed the many, takes comfort instead in populism. It is willing to “listen” and”pander” to only the most extreme and rightwing voices, deriding the res of us as the “metropolitan elite” – as if prejudice is a justifiable response to poverty..as if only poor people are racist. They offer no solutions. We have big problems, but our politics is small, its view of our humanity diminished, its perspective on that of the “other” even more so.

For me personally, the last few months have been a wild ride – highs and lows, sweet moments and heartbreak. There comes a point when you start to fear that this might be “it”, maybe you can’t come back together again, hope – and in my case, sleep – deserts you. A few more things happen and you start to wonder, is this the worst year ever?

Maybe.

But you rally. You always do.

I am hopeful that the 2016 tide will also turn. Maybe we won’t have President Trump, though the effects of this vituperative campaign, as with Brexit, will be felt for a long time to come. Things have been said and done which cannot be undone.

T’was ever thus.

We rally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aliens before Africans

So I was happily reading on the BBC site about the latest finds from King Tutenkhamun’s tomb (closet archaelogy fan) – with new X-ray technology they are going over artifacts and discovering all sorts of new details about ancient people and their way of life – when I got to this line:

The researchers say the presence of iron – along with levels of nickel and cobalt – “strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin”.

I’m sorry – what?

For starters, I was a little peeved that the story was filed in the Middle East section and not Africa, but this isn’t really on the BBC. The authors of the report into the artifact actually wrote that, in all seriousness.

We would sooner believe that aliens – ALIENS – which we have no proof for yet (though I’m not ruling it out, the universe is massive) made this fancy knife from meteor rock before we believe that AFRICANS (just erase all those Liz Taylor-as-Cleopatra-style movies from your mind) could possibly have made it?

Couldn’t they have found the rock and made it? Given all that we don’t know about the Ancient World, could it not be that people did it? Why is that so unbelievable?

A lot of the conventional history on Egypt (that Egyptians were somehow European, set apart from the rest of Africa) has been debunked in the excellent history book by Malian academic Cheikh Anta Diop – The African Origin of Civilisation, which changed my whole perspective as an 18-year old history student.

Amid all the talk for the decolonisation of economics and other subjects in academia, it’s clear that archaeology could do with a shake-up too and is still mired in a particular context.

At the time that the Easter Island statues and pyramids were discovered, people of colour were barely considered human. Early explorers couldn’t believe that they could do it. Since then we’ve had all sorts of finds that show that explorers who were not European went all around the world. That people who were not European made stuff.

Stuff that wasn’t “discovered” and countries that didn’t “exist” until Europeans found them.

 

And they wrote the history books.

They still do.

 

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A British Bill of Rights. Again.

I’m tired of being poised for this stupid shoe to drop. Although the proposals for the British Bill of Rights are in the Queen’s Speech, word on the (nerdy) street is that in reality, they’re on the backburner while Cameron battles to keep us in the EU.

For excellent analysis on this, I recommend Jack of Kent, the blog by David Allen Green, in particular this post looking at the Tory gesture politics of all this. I would add that as always, gesture politics of this sort has serious long-term consequences but hey, that’s not bothering the likes of Theresa May when they pull on familiar and useful levers – immigration, human rights (which is in a way about immigration too).

Also recommend this video by Rights Info on human rights:

And finally, an excerpt from a speech by Lord Bingham, which I think sums it all up – regarding why a “British Bill of Rights” would somehow be better than what we currently have. (sidenote: just occurs to me that Brexiters are also selling this  watered down rights argument in nationalistic packaging. According to them, Britain would be Great again if the EU would just let us go – but we’re already so Great that it’s hard to fathom how we ever ended up needing anyone else in the first place – and apparently also a little stupid to let ourselves be duped into this evil plot*)

The rights protected by the Convention and the Act deserve to be protected because they are, as I would suggest, the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being.

Let me briefly remind you of the protected rights, some of which I have already mentioned.

The right to life.
The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved.
The right to liberty and security of the person.
The right to a fair trial.
The right not to be retrospectively penalised.
The right to respect for private and family life.
Freedom of thought,conscience and religion. Freedom of expression.
Freedom of assembly and association.
The right to marry.
The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights.
The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation.
The right of fair access to the country’s educational system.
The right to free elections.

Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British?

There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.
Human rights are not, however, protected for the likes of people like me – or most of you. They are protected for the benefit above all of society’s outcasts, thosewho need legal protection because they have no other voice – the prisoners, the mentally ill, the gipsies, the homosexuals, the immigrants, the asylum-seekers, those who are at any time the subject of public obloquy. – Lord Bingham

 

*see: Hitler. Apparently, that’s another lever everyone (Boris) is pulling lately.

My London

For once, the polls weren’t far off. Sadiq Khan won with a record share of the vote, which I found affirming. And relieving.

Ironically, as the results rolled in pictures were circulating of Sir Lynton Crosby, the architect of the racist politics that Zac espoused in his campaign, being awarded his knighthood for “services to politics”. He’s also the mastermind behind Boris’ previous campaigns and the Tory party General Election win so I can see why they adorn him with laurels.

But London? My London said no.

I don’t think there’s much more to be said on this than what was written by Media Diversified’s Chimene Suleyman.

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Not Leftovers

I was incredibly moved to see this advert about China’s “Leftover Women”, the phrase for women over 30 (maybe even slightly younger than this!) who are not married.

It’s meant to be an empowering ad for a cosmetic company, so yes, consumerism and all that, but in a few minutes it goes to the heart of an issue that’s close to so many hearts – including mine.

I don’t feel like a “Leftover Woman” but being over 30 and unmarried has its frustrations and anxieties, particularly if you harbour hopes of having children one day.

It’s usually more about others than you, though. A single woman is sometimes perceived as a threat by attached women – no one quite knows what to do with you when it’s mostly couples socialising together.

And there are the assumptions – that you must be very picky or impossible or that you have a lot of free time and money as a result.

A while ago I would have probably written quite bitterly about the assumptions that some people make that your life is somehow less meaningful, particularly if you’re not a mother. Or about how you can be perceived as a failure.

But I’ve been on a journey. I discovered that I was becoming a bit bitter because felt like a failure. Looking at other people’s joy (sigh, social media) began to grate. The endless Facebook posts and photos of engagements, weddings and children chafed, irritated me.

At the time I was reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, now one of my favourite books of all time. In it, she writes (about covetise or envy):

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offence at the beauty of it”

That really resonated with me. I prayed. I reflected. I sat for a time with my (frustrated) hopes and expectations and tried to practise more gratitude for the place I was, rather than hankering after the place I wanted to be. (Perspective: it’s not like I am singularly obsessed or anything; let’s just say that every so often -more so if I went on Facebook – this feeling of ‘failure’ rankled.)

Now, I watch that video and it resonates with me, though I am lucky not to feel pressured by my family to settle down. And I am able to share my friends’ joy.

But most of all, things feel unbelievably sweet. Perhaps because I’m happy with where I’m at* instead of focusing on the alternative.

*Incidentally, where I’m at is a busy place because I’ve barely had time to blog for myself. But I’m back!

 

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Flounce to the Right

The dramatic media “Why I’m leaving..” article has really had form in the last year or so. First they were all leaving London, then it was the Labour party. Last time I checked, we all survived.

A change, then, to have it coming from somewhere other than the Guardian – this time, Tim Montgomerie in the Times: “Enough. I’m Quitting the Conservative Party” (behind a paywall).

Clearly, there are internal politics in the Tories at play. But I find his objections interesting.

First of all, he says that it’s Thatcher who got him to join the parties, not because she was right but because she was strong. She did what she said she would – on the EU rebate, the Falklands etc.

Yay…?

Anyway, Tim’s point is that Cameron hasn’t done what he said he would – on the deficit, on the debt, on immigration, and the EU deal is a farce.

I agree. Sort of.

Firstly, I think it’s interesting that he’s not so concerned with whether any of Thatcher’s or Cameron’s positions were right so much that they just did what they said they would. We’ll come back to that later.

I’m not one to come riding to Cameron’s defence but Thatcher’s world was different. The Falklands was a storm in a tea cup compared to the threat of Daesh and the like; a time when warfare was straightforward and you could see your enemy. As much as it’s part of the British nation myth, the Falklands is basically a rock off the coast of South America with less than 3,000 people on it. And some sheep. So, yay for colonialism, mostly. He credits her with ending union militancy and boosting Britain’s internal narrative of decline. OK, fine.

All realistic goals in so far as there were clear steps to achieving them, whether you agree with them or not. The things he faults Cameron for, though, are not.Like…

Reducing immigration – a stupid pledge that politicians keep making because they can’t tell the truth – that we live in the 21st Century and you can’t have the free movement of capital and not people; and Europe needs immigrants to support their ageing populations. That’s before we get onto the figures; that falling emigration affects the statistics as well. A ridiculous target (tens of thousands) was given and duly missed, because it had no foundations in reality. What they have been doing (Theresa May) is mainstreaming racism and passing legislation that punishes migrants and is tearing families – yes, British families too – apart. I assume that someone is enjoying that.

He points out that the Treasury is still borrowing £75million a year and debt is up, so Osborne has failed on his own targets too. Perhaps if the Tories had spent less time pinning a global financial crisis on Labour and hacking away at everything with a machete in the name of austerity (which the OECD and others said was not the way to growth) this wouldn’t be the case. But again, to my mind the Tories have been getting on with what they wanted to do – namely, cutting the State to the bare bones, privatising what’s left, flogging what they can to their mates in the city, and cutting welfare. It appears that ideologues have been having a field day. The fact that is isn’t working (great employment figures masking underemployment, greater inequality etc) is a failure of the ideology. Montgomerie doesn’t think Cameron is doing enough. They’ve done plenty. It’s just not the right thing.

And the EU. Thatcher got a rebate, Cameron got….well, we don’t know yet, there’s a peculiar charade underway. Suffice to say that no deal he could ever get would satisfy sceptics and those who want to stay in will want to stay in deal or not. As for the rump of people in the middle, let’s not pretend the EU debate has any roots in reality or common sense. It’s an emotional discussion and people will vote with their hearts. Because it makes sense to stay in. But like immigration and failed ideology, that’s not something people want to hear.

So maybe telling the truth and doing the right thing does matter, after all.

 

 

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