Sunday, 29 November 2015

How do you tell your child that Dad has Cancer?

Cancer ceases to be an impersonal issue typified by a leaflet that drops through your letter box asking for donations or an ad on TV which distracts you because you think that these things will not happen to you. These things only happen to other people, you tell yourself. But, as I found out, it can happen to you, to anyone. 

There are so many ways in which a story of cancer can be told. There is the viewpoint of the sufferer himself/herself, the spouse's worry, the child/children, wider family members and friends. I have a daughter and her father was diagnosed with Cancer in May this year. This is the viewpoint that I have chosen - the heartbreak that was involved in having to tell my daughter that Dad had Cancer. It was one of the worst moments of my life so far. 

I have wanted to write about about this experience for 6 months in the hope that I could help someone going through the same experience or that someone who had been there before me could impart some wisdom. The session at Blogfest 15 titled - 'Giving it away: The public stories of our private lives' finally gave me the courage to do so. 

My daughter had just sat her first GCSE exam paper in early May. Our lives were galvanised around seeing her through a stressful time. Her father had been for what we thought was a routine check up two weeks before her first exam. I thought no more about it and, frankly, neither did he. Soon after he went for a follow up appointment and was told that he had Stage 2A Melanoma and that more tests would have to be done to discover how far the Cancer had spread.The world felt like it had caved in. 

I found out while I was at work and was about to attend a meeting with my boss. I had to duck out of that one to compose myself. I went out for a walk. Being in the midst of a busy world brought home the realisation that life, somehow, carries on. We had decided almost straight away not to tell our daughter till she had finished her exam, some 6 weeks away. This meant that I had to appear 'normal' at all times. I was to find out what that meant till the middle of June. 

Going home that evening from work was one of the hardest journeys that I had made knowing that I would have to interact with my daughter in a way that did not alert her. I managed it by the grace of God. 

When someone is diagnosed with Cancer one of the best ways of dealing with it is to share the burden. It was hard for me to call friends and family up for fear that my daughter would over hear me. I sent texts instead. They were all told to keep it a secret in the interim. We were overwhelmed with how every single person (about 25 people in total) agreed with our decision and declared support. 

The diagnosis, however, had battered my self-esteem. I was worried about telling people by texts. Just like it is bad grace to break up a relationship via text, I wondered about the efficacy of informing loved ones the same way of bad news. One close friend of 34 years did not respond immediately. At this stage I was worrying about the smallest things in an irrational manner. I sent this friend another text apologising for having had to have informed him in an impersonal manner. I have saved his reply. It simply said: "Jane, you can contact me on any subject at any time, that is what a friend is for."

There were so many times when I wanted to yell at the top of my voice, "your father has Cancer", and I almost did one Sunday when he cooked our daughter a roast and she took one bite and pushed the plate away. At this stage we didn't know how wide spread the Cancer was and were trying to stay positive while frequently giving in to bouts of pessimistic despair. 

I looked for advice on how the news should be broken to my daughter. I had to be careful not to leave a search history on the family computer. It felt like we were all in a speeding car heading for a crash. 

His exploratory operation was scheduled for the third week of the GCSE exams. Two days before the operation I had to present at a board meeting. I put on one of my favourite suits and on my way to work discovered that I had lost enough weight that the skirt was sliding down my waist. I had to sit down while giving my presentation for fear that the skirt would end up around my ankles. 

After the exploratory operation he was weak and ill and by some dint of luck our daughter did not seem him in this state because he was asleep when she came back from an exam and was out the next day before he woke up. I informed her school about the domestic 'chaos' in fear that she would find out and be unable to carry on with her exams. The school put a process in place to support her if that had transpired. Till this day she wonders how she never guessed at anything and is amazed that everyone else, the frequent visitors to our home and the pastoral officers at school asking after her well being, knew about it. 

During this time Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote a letter about how she and her children were grieving over her husband's death. While her sorrow was a thousand times greater than mine, I read and re-read her letter many times to prise any pearl of wisdom to help me. 

When the letter from the hospital arrived giving the appointment date and time for the full results of his operation to be given we were appalled to discover that it was scheduled for the day after her last exam. After much soul searching and conversations with friends and family we decided that it was best to tell her straight after her exam had finished. There was no time for a gentle lead in. 

I lived in a state of dread all day on 18 June. To all outward purposes it felt like a normal day. At 10.30pm that night, after she had been out celebrating the end of the GCSEs with her friends, we sat her down and told her. Even writing about it now, almost 6 months later, makes me feel clammy. She cried and cried and went outside to call her best friend. I could hear her sobbing uncontrollably. 

The next day the three of us went to the hospital for the early morning appointment. Think of a day that is as furthest away from a Happy Christmas day and you will land on where our feelings were. He went in and came out an hour later. The Cancer had spread to his Lymph Nodes but the operation had been successful in removing it all. The diagnosis of Stage 2A was unchanged. Relief. Sheer relief. The dark fear that had gripped us for almost two months was gone in a second. 

He is still at a 5 year risk of it progressing and has quarterly check ups. For now the sea is calm. My daughter obtained 5A*s and 5As in her GCSE exams. Our strategy had worked. I am left with a lasting sense of respect and sympathy for those who have a Cancer diagnosis of a much later stage and for their children, spouses and family and friends who share the burden. 


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Being a Feminist Mama - how did that happen?

Taking Feminism further through Feminist Mothering

This article was originally published by the Red Elephant Foundation which is an initiative that is built on the foundations of story-telling, civilian peacebuilding and activism for sensitisation on all drivers of peace - gender, race, nationality, colour and orientation. The initiative is titled "Red Elephant" to stand out as a vehicle that projects stories that must never be forgotten: stories that show you such courage that you should never forget, and stories that show the world such profound lessons that the world should never forget. In doing so, the initiative aims at creating awareness and opening up channels of communication towards creating societies of tolerance, peacebuilding and equality.

Being a Feminist Mama: How did that happen?
There is a photograph of my daughter when she was aged two, which I took and particularly cherish. She is looking into the camera and there is a touching transparency of total trust and belief in me as her mother. I can pinpoint that moment as being the pivotal one when I became a Feminist Mama. It dawned on me that I had to become an empowered mother if I was going to raise a daughter to realise her potential in a patriarchal society that still trips females up. Feminist Mamas challenge gender stereotyping in every facet of life thereby helping to create a society in which they and their children can thrive. My daughter started a political blog at the age of 10 and is the youngest political blogger in the UK which has attracted some attention. People are constantly amazed at a girl being involved in politics.

What does the term "Feminism" mean to you? One hears of so many different interpretations, and of the war of words that challenge each interpretation...

Feminist mothering does cause some controversy because it challenges the traditional picture of a mother who enjoys staying at home tending to everyone’s needs excepting her own. To me, Feminism is a multidisciplinary approach in pushing forward the female agenda for equality. Feminist Mothering takes the concept of Feminism further - mothers who wish to extend their feminism to child-rearing.  

Bringing up a daughter at any age is possibly not easy - back then, things happened covertly, and now, things still happen covertly - albeit with a little more dialogue and awareness. What do you see as the most significant issues in the process of bringing up your daughter?

Violence against women and the normalisation of the sexualisation of childhood are the two most worrying things for me. Betty Friedan, author of ‘The Feminist Mystique’ published in 1963, wrote about how clothing manufacturers were making adult style underwear for girls and how girls were not prioritising their education because their only expectation for themselves was to conform by getting married soon after leaving school. Have things moved on a lot since then? Yes and no, is my answer. It was not that long ago that girls’ were aspiring to be a footballer’s wife or girlfriend. ‘WAG’ (wives and girlfriends) was the acronym used in the Britain. Many young women are still conditioned by a desire to attract male attention and, more worryingly, feel validated by it. While there are no formal barriers to female education one wonders why more women are not going into politics or the science fields which are still seen as male arenas. I want my daughter to have a strong sense of worth and self-esteem that is shaped by her own actions and decisions and to gain a good education. It is the latter that allows women to have economic independence.

As a feminist, do you hope for your daughter to be one, too? What is your most important piece of advice to her?

My daughter who is now 16 spoke at an international Feminist Mothering hosted conference by the Motherhood Institute for Research and Community Involvement four years ago.  She said that Feminist Mothering had helped her “…reach her potential” and had given her confidence and a sense of security. She also spoke about the positive messages of gendered education (where the mother teachers her children to recognise and overcome boundaries that face girls). My most important advice to her is to always retain her religious Christian faith and Feminist values. The anti-religious feminist movement blames organised religions for the oppression of women and they are right in some ways. However, interpretations of religious texts are often constructed by the patriarchy and it is possible to practice a faith without compromising on one’s gender.

What does being a woman mean to you?
Feminist Mothering in the third wave has to be the most exciting period in feminist mothering history so far. When the feminist mothering scholar Adrienne Rich wrote her book ‘Of Woman Born’ in 1976 women were still trying to figure out ways to push back against the traditional construction of a mother. In fact, Adrienne Rich did not offer a solution in her book and many feminist scholars have since come up with answers. Also, the advancements in social policy, technology and the birth of protest movements have allowed me to develop a progressive maternal identity. I was involved with Occupy London which opened my eyes to the way the capitalist system affects mothers; being a blogger brings me into contact with the feminist online world; and enlightened social policy takes into account the many intersections and dimensions of womanhood e.g., mother, woman of colour, single, married.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

When women are stereotyped due to their job titles

This often happens. I meet someone new, as I did over the weekend at a Halloween Ball, and the question is inevitably asked within minutes of first introductions, "What do you do?". Your answer immediately sets in motion a process whereby you are judged, boxed and shoved into a pigeon hole where other job titles that have been stereotyped languish.

Your job title is enough to invoke sexism.

As an example, I am Private Secretary to the Chief Construction Adviser to the Government but nine times out of ten people assume that I am a secretary in the traditional sense of the word or a PA. My job is vastly different from this and entails ensuring that my boss is adequately prepared for all his public engagements and I often accompany him to meetings and have input at these meetings. Being female and having the word 'secretary' in my job title immediately renders me a victim of female stereotyping.

Don't get me wrong, I think being a secretary in the modern day of a digital office is bloody hard work and their multi-tasking skills are second to none. There is no 'but' to this either. What my gripe is about is the stereotyping of women due to their job titles or their place of work. The inherent misogyny in these assumptions are condescending.

Not all women who work in the medical profession are nurses, some are doctors. Not all women who work in the caring profession are carers, some are managers. Not all women who have 'secretary' in their job titles are secretaries or PAs. Sometimes the stereotyping is misplaced because there are men who are secretaries and carers. But, to prove my point, let's remember that Hilary Clinton was the 'First Secretary of State'. Then there are company secretaries who handle the governance structures of companies.

One's job title and choice of work place can be a minefield of misogyny and I am calling this out as a feminist mother. Do I want my daughter to grow up in such a world where her job choices are presupposed by the rules of misogyny? NO!

What I particularly detest is the look of 'I am having a fantasy right now' that passes over a man's face every so often when I trot out my job title. I feel sorry for nurses and secretaries whose jobs have been objectified by male lust. Whenever I see a nurses outfit for sale as a sex aid it makes me want to scream.

After having fought for equal rights in the work place and for equal pay it seems like the precursor to these feminist fights should have been over recognition of a woman's job title.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

15 US Soldiers Give a First Hand Account of Fighting in Afghanistan

The following question was posed to US Soldiers: "Soldiers who've fought in Afghanistan, what preconceptions did you have that turned out to be completely wrong?" The responses were shocking, revealing, and incredibly insightful. Everyone should read this, there is a lot to learn here.

1. It is hard enough taking the life of an absolute enemy wearing a uniform. Now you need to kill someone who may or may not be a real enemy, or may be one part time, or may be one because some other asshole has a gun to his kid's head. It is a sad cluster-f*** of a mess.
- BoBoZoBo

2. They told us we were going to fight the Taliban. But it turns out, there is no way to know who is Taliban, or what Taliban is, or what they look like.

A guy will be bringing his kid to your clinic one day, then shooting at you the next. You'll make friends with a kid on an airdrop, then see that kid slit another kid's throat on patrol a week later. There is no "enemy" and no goal. The people don't even understand who you are or why you're there. Many of them believed we were invulnerable demons. One elder tested this theory by sending a small child to try and stab me in the back with a knife, which was made by welding a blade onto an old .50 cal casing. Kids dig up mines, bouncing betty's, and old russian munitions and set them off like firecrackers.

The place is a f***ed up maelstrom with no conceivable sense of morality, justice, benevolence, or community. Every single person is just trying to survive.

3. That they had any idea why we were there. We'd ask them if they knew what 9/11 was, and they had no idea. We'd show them pictures of the World Trade Center on fire after the planes hit, and ask them what it was...their response was usually that it was a picture of a building the US bombed in Kabul (their capitol).

Kind of mind blowing that they're being occupied by a foreign military force and have no idea why.
- Xatana

4. That Afghanistan was an actual country. It's only so on a map; the people (in some of the more rural places, at least) have no concept of Afghanistan.

We were in a village in northern Kandahar province, talking to some people who of course had no idea who we were or why we were there. This was in 2004; not only had they not heard about 9/11, they hadn't heard Americans had come over. Talking to them further, they hadn't heard about that one time the Russians were in Afghanistan either.

We then asked if they knew where the city of Kandahar was, which is a rather large and important city some 30 miles to the south. They'd heard of it, but no one had ever been there, and they didn't know when it was.

For them, there was no Afghanistan. The concept just didn't exist.
- gzoont

5. I heard of an Australian Special Forces patrol that went out into the mountains and came across an isolated Afghan village. They thought the newcomers were the Soviets. No idea that one war had ended and another one had started.
- lookseemo

6. About the fighting we did. I had in my mind that it would be these organized ambushes, against a somewhat organized force. It may have been like that for the push (Marjah), but once the initial defense was scattered, the fighting turned into some farmer getting paid a year's salary to go fire an AK47 at our patrol as we walked by. I mean, no wonder there was so much PTSD going doesn't feel okay when you killed some farmer for trying to feed his kids, or save his family from torture that next night. It feels like shit actually.
- Xatana

7. Most afghans are polyglots. Many of the most rural, uneducated, near medieval living people could speak 3 or more different languages.

We were briefed that there were two languages spoken in Afghanistan: Pashto and Dari. In fact there are dozens of unique languages. Each isolated valley and village had their own language. Some sound very persian. Some sounded like archaic greek. There was a village in the north that sounded like a tone language. My team tried to record an many local languages as we could. We had terps ask questions in pashto and had them answer in their local language. Unfortunately cultural mapping was considered intelligence gathering and all our recordings were classified. So somewhere at the NSA there are recordings in soon to be dead languages asking a village Elder to share the oldest story they could remember about his village.
- llvihearsevil

8. I expected everything to be desert and mountains, but I spent as much time in orchards as I did anywhere else while I was there.

Also, a lot of the people didn't want us there any more than they wanted the Taliban there. Ultimately they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives.
- m_k88

9. That we would be fighting the Taliban. The majority of people we managed to detain had been coerced into shooting at us by the "Mujahideen" (which is made up of all sorts of people) who had kidnapped or threatened their family.

The most glaring example of this was when our FOB (Forward Operating Base) was attacked by a massive VBIED (truck bomb) that blew a hole in our wall. Suicide bombers ran into the FOB through the hole and blew themselves up in our bunkers. Every single one of them had their hands tied and remote detonation receivers (so they couldn't back out).
- ciclify

10. Soldiers tend to train for fighting at sub-500 metres. At least I always had. Not being able to see the enemy wasn't completely out of the norm for training, but they were usually within the effective range of our small arms.

Come to Afghanistan and we were getting fired at by invisible enemies on the side of mountains a kilometre + away. We hardly knew we were getting engaged, let alone went into contact drills.
- Tilting_Gambit

11. Their concept of food. In their culture if anyone had food they were to share it with everyone around them. This is even if you only have enough for one person to have a snack. It was almost as if they didn't believe food could be owned by a person. Some of the Afghans I worked with would be offended if I ate anything and didn't offer them some.

I guess also that I would actually be working with some Afghans. I didn't expect that to be a thing.
- turbulence4

12. That it was all arid desert. At one point in my deployment my team had to dig irrigation trenches because our tents were flooded past our ankles. At another point in my deployment I was trudging through what was essentially a jungle.
- Monster-_-

13. That everyone was going to be dirty and poor like in those "help a poor starving child" commercials. I remember being really suprised to see kids running around playing in dirt roads and everyone was clean. No dirt smudges on their face or anything.

Also there were these 2 little girls with the most unbelievably white dresses I have ever seen standing by the side of the road watching our convoy roll by. Very surreal.
- Maikudono

14. That it was really a war. It's just people sustaining other people, with a lot of nothing actually getting done. As someone who was a gunner for most of my tour, we mainly did transportation missions from Kabul to the eastern province. We never saw any action, and to this day I thank God for that. The fact that a lot of my time outside of convoys was spent either sleeping, eating, or gaming surprised me I suppose, but in the end, we're just there to provide presence, and not expected to actually accomplish anything.

The amount of awards given out back in Kabul for people simply hitting a high quota of maintenance repairs threw me off to. There were times when I was looked down upon for not working everyday in a shop and instead being on convoys. The worst part of it all was losing a friend to suicide after returning home safe. That was something I never expected to see happen and it still messes with me to this day.
- windwhiper

15. I was mortuary affairs in 2008 during my first deployment to Afghanistan and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never had to fight, but I was constantly dealing with the remains of 18-22 year old soldiers that had been blown into pieces or burned alive due to HMEs and IEDs.

Seeing your fellow soldiers and countrymen brutally killed in such a way that is easy to see as cowardly turned me into a budding racist pretty quickly. I hated the Islamic religion and the people in Afghanistan and I had an opinion similar to the whole "just nuke em all" mentality.

But one day we were called to the hospital on base to remove a dead civilian local national (which we often did if they died in our hospital or on base) and it turned out to be a 3 year old little girl that was shot with AK-47 fire at a fairly close range. Her father followed us to the morgue as we had to get his permission to take her into our care because we were males and all that, and he didn't seem particularly bothered by his daughters violent murder imo.

It wasn't until we placed her into a hand-made casket and draped the Afghanistan flag onto it that his emotions came out. When we began to load the casket into the back of a truck to transport her off base, he lost it and collapsed onto the casket containing his little girl. We were holding her at the time so we nearly lost it, but were able to set her down as he gripped the flag and the casket and wailed louder than any wailing I would ever seen.

I don't know if you've ever seen a grown man truly cry as if he'd just lost everything, but it's surprising how much it affects you. I realized in that moment how wrong I was about everything.

Doesn't it make you wonder about the merits of war? 


Sunday, 11 October 2015

First It Was The Cricket Test, then British Values and Now It Is Baking

I have lived in this country for 34 years and I am completely exhausted from jumping through hoops and shooting imaginary balls into moving goalposts to prove that I am a worthy ethnic minority. Sometimes it is no fun being an ethnic being. In fact, it takes a terrible toll on us. Witness me writing this blog on a Sunday evening while I leave my curry to burn on the stove.

The rules of engagement in a majority white country requires people like me (ethnic people, in other words) to constantly evaluate ourselves, our likes and dislikes, our loyalties to such an extent that we feel like we are filling in a Japanese HR form. Everyone knows that Japanese corporations extract their pound of flesh by requiring workers to do exercises in the morning at their desks and to sing songs that pledge undying loyalty to the company.
Image result for pictures of multiculturalismPaying one's taxes isn't enough. I have never even claimed benefits eventhough I am a proponent of the welfare system because I was born and brought up in Asia where I saw people live in shanty huts who could have done with a leg up in life if a welfare safety net had existed. On top of all this I am remarkably tolerant of the white majority who appropriate our culture by turning our normal staples of rice and curry ( I only speak for Asians here) into a treat such as a 'Friday night curry take away' or the wearing of a Sari to an Indian friend's wedding because "Saris are so exotic".

Years ago Norman Tebbit, a former Minister in Thatcher's cabinet, proposed the cricket test. This went something along the lines of if you were an Asian watching a cricket match between England and an Asian country whom would you be cheering on? This test proved to be a non-starter when Asians started playing for England and Asian spectators cheered these players on. It left everyone feeling so confused that I am not surprised that Asians didn't give up cricket and play some other game like Badminton.

Then we had the 'British Values' test whereby Asian immigrants had to somehow prove that their values co-existed with the British ones. This hit a solid wall when debate after debate took place about what 'British Values' really are. Answers ranged from people scratching their heads and declaring "Dunno" to high intellectual debate about the meaning of citizenship and the rights of it. Ofsted stepped in in November 2014 and declared that schools had to promote British values. I asked my daughter who takes PSHE very seriously whether she had learnt about British values and her answer was "I have no idea". Seeing that we pay a lot of money for her to attend private school her articulation of the negative brought some relief than a "Dunno" would have.

See where I am heading here? No? and you expect me to know the rules of the game.

Image result for pictures of bad cakes

Lastly, we now have the baking test. I have not watched a single episode of the Great British Bake Off. I only know about the presenters because they are featured in the press so much. My only worthy knowledge of the programme is the fact that Paul Hollywood had an affair. I read it in The Guardian, my daily newspaper. However, as soon as I heard that a Muslim head scarf wearing woman called Nadiya Hussain had won my prediction was that it would be turned into a race centred pivotal point for multiculturalism. Voila! it has. You see Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein and he has been harangued endlessly for being a Muslim even though he is not.

Rather predictably the Daily Mail waded in pronto and has accused the BBC of social engineering. To be fair, white contestants of the programme have been pilloried for not adhering to some British stereotype who bakes lovely cakes.

I will never cut it, personally speaking, and I am not talking about slicing beautiful cakes up either. I don't know how to bake. My daughter has always gone into school on cake days with one bought from a high-street supermarket. I don't understand cricket and don't watch any of it. As for British values, I stand some chance here because I read Law and Ofsted defines 'British Values' as 'democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith' but I thought these were universal moral codes.

I give up. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Paul Krugman on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn

A great piece from the nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman on Jeremy Corbyn and the fortunes of the Labour party. 

Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time leftist dissident, has won a stunning victory in the contest for leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. Political pundits say that this means doom for Labour’s electoral prospects; they could be right, although I’m not the only person wondering why commentators who completely failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon have so much confidence in their analyses of what it means.

But I won’t try to get into that game. What I want to do instead is talk about one crucial piece of background to the Corbyn surge — the implosion of Labour’s moderates. On economic policy, in particular, the striking thing about the leadership contest was that every candidate other than Mr. Corbyn essentially supported the Conservative government’s austerity policies.

Worse, they all implicitly accepted the bogus justification for those policies, in effect pleading guilty to policy crimes that Labour did not, in fact, commit. If you want a U.S. analogy, it’s as if all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 had gone around declaring, “We were weak on national security, and 9/11 was our fault.” Would we have been surprised if Democratic primary voters had turned to a candidate who rejected that canard, whatever other views he or she held?

In the British case, the false accusations against Labour involve fiscal policy, specifically claims that the Labour governments that ruled Britain from 1997 to 2010 spent far beyond their means, creating a deficit and debt crisis that caused the broader economic crisis. The fiscal crisis, in turn, supposedly left no alternative to severe cuts in spending, especially spending that helps the poor.

These claims have, one must admit, been picked up and echoed by almost all British news media. It’s not just that the media have failed to subject Conservative claims to hard scrutiny, they have reported them as facts. It has been an amazing thing to watch — because every piece of this conventional narrative is completely false.

Was the last Labour government fiscally irresponsible? Britain had a modest budget deficit on the eve of the economic crisis of 2008, but as a share of G.D.P. it wasn’t very high – about the same, as it turns out, as the U.S. budget deficit at the same time. British government debt was lower, as a share of G.D.P., than it had been when Labour took office a decade earlier, and was lower than in any other major advanced economy except Canada.

It’s now sometimes claimed that the true fiscal position was much worse than the deficit numbers indicated, because the British economy was inflated by an unsustainable bubble that boosted revenues. But nobody claimed that at the time. On the contrary, independent assessments, for example by the International Monetary Fund, suggested that it might be a good idea to trim the deficit a bit, but saw no sign of a government living wildly beyond its means.

It’s true that British deficits soared after 2008, but that was a result of the crisis, not a cause. Debt is also up, but it’s still well below levels that have prevailed for much of Britain’s modern history. And there has never been any hint that investors, as opposed to politicians, were worried about Britain’s solvency: interest rates on British debt have stayed very low. This means both that the supposed fiscal crisis never created any actual economic problem, and that there was never any need for a sharp turn to austerity.

In short, the whole narrative about Labour’s culpability for the economic crisis and the urgency of austerity is nonsense. But it is nonsense that was consistently reported by British media as fact. And all of Mr. Corbyn’s rivals for Labour leadership bought fully into that conventional nonsense, in effect accepting the Conservative case that their party did a terrible job of managing the economy, which simply isn’t true. So as I said, Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising given the determination of moderate Labour politicians to accept false claims about past malfeasance.

This still leaves the question of why Labour’s moderates have been so hapless. Consider the contrast with the United States, where deficit scolds dominated Beltway discourse in 2010-2011 but never managed to dictate the terms of political debate, and where mainstream Democrats no longer sound like Republicans-lite. Part of the answer is that the U.S. news media haven’t been as committed to fiscal fantasies, although that just pushes the question back a step.

Beyond that, however, Labour’s political establishment seems to lack all conviction, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And this means that the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Yahoo boss and her 'limited maternity' leave

How long was your maternity leave? A year, six months? Well, well, you are obviously never going to be CEO material, much less one fronting a global brand name. Maternity leave, especially anything for longer than two weeks, would probably be considered a 'girl's blouse' in the machofication  world of pregnancy as evidenced by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. She has announced that she will be taking 'limited maternity' leave after she has given birth to her twins who are due in December.

While Mayer hasn't defined 'limited maternity' the yardstick to go by is the two weeks that she took off after having her first child in 2012. The pop-them-out and life as normal brigade must be cheering at having a high profile cheerleader. For me, her announcement represents the tedium of yet another high-profile female boss vowing to take 'limited maternity' leave because life must go on as usual in much in the same way that the business world worships at the altar of BAU (business as usual). In fact, Mayer uses words like 'hard work' and 'thoughtful prioritization' to describe how she will balance life post-birth. Reading her statement reminded me of the HBR (Harvard Business Review) management books that offer similar advice advice for the workplace but applying these to babies?

What annoys me is the reductive messages being sent out about maternal health care. Maternity leave exists for a reason and this is to do with the mother's own health and the care of the baby. Blimey! After two weeks of having my daughter I was still not in a fit state to be able to distinguish between night and day, let alone juggle the work of the deregulation of the telecommunications industry (my job at that time) AND the every 8 seconds demands of a newborn. I don't think I was being a wally either.

Mayer's decision backs up my theory that women in boardrooms/high positions hardly ever break new ground for the rest of ordinary women folk. In fact, by Mayer's own admission, she does not consider herself to be a feminist. Contrast this with Hilary Clinton, who calls herself a feminist, who would leave the office at 5pm to send a signal to her staff that a work/life balance was crucial to their wellbeing. Who would you rather be working for? 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

On the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima why does a threat of nuclear conflict still exist?

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Events in history which involve mass killings and destruction always elicit calls along the lines of 'never again' when these events are recalled on anniversary days. Today is the 70th anniversary of when America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima which destroyed five square miles of the city and killed between 90,000 to 166,000 people. Peace movements have been vocal in their condemnation of nuclear capability and have called for disarmament. There is more than enough evidence of Hiroshima to show leaders and policy makers and the global population the destruction that nuclear weapons can cause so why then is the world still facing a growing threat of nuclear conflict?

Russia spends more than a third of its defence budget on nuclear weapons. China is increasing its stockpile. Pakistan is buying battlefield nuclear weapons. North Korea, it is alleged, has 10 nuclear warheads. The question is not about which country has a bigger nuclear stockpile but, increasingly, becomes one about which country will push the button first?

Six years ago President Obama spoke about the dangers of the world becoming complacent about nuclear weapons. Today is a good reminder of why we cannot be complacent.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

What Would A Fiscal Policy For Women Be?

Women's concerns and worries are often portrayed as being a sub-set of the wider problems that beset an economy and seldom do our issues come across as being those that concern society as a whole. Hillary Clinton, however, has managed to do the latter and has announced that the days of issues being dismissed as women's issues are, "Well, those days are over". 

According to Hillary Clinton, "“We can’t afford to leave talent on the sidelines, but that's exactly what we’re doing today....We not only shortchange women and their dreams, but we shortchange our country and our future.”  She is a strong advocate for equal pay, paid family leave (including maternity leave), flexible working, affordable child care, paid sick days, increased minimum wage and other employee benefits such as training which will help break the glass ceiling.

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While women in the UK enjoy paid maternity leave, flexible working and training packages in the workplace America varies because it does not have a welfare state that has fostered an ideal of thinking beyond the narrow confines one's individual sphere of life. Putting aside these differences Hillary's positioning of women's issues as being mainstream ones will help tremendously in lifting awareness of just how crucial women are to the running of an economy.

The most salient recognition to take away from Hillary Clinton's proposals is the fact that she has identified the state as a medium for changing policies that affect women's lives. If she wins the Presidential Race in 2016 she would have positioned the state as being central to implementing feminist policies. According to latest polls, Hillary is set to win the Democrat nomination and the Presidential race. A win for Hillary would translate into an immense leap for women's rights in a country which often sets the trend for worldwide change.

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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Dimitris Christoulas of Greece

Picture this, a young man commits suicide by jumping in front of a train because he has lost his job and the prospect of finding another job is almost nil due to austerity cuts. His individual story maybe a tragedy but his death is only another statistic in a figure totalling 10,000 suicides over a period of five years. To put it into context, that number could represent the total population of a village in Britain. Picture this, an elderly gentleman puts a gun to his head and shoots himself because he is afraid of the very real possibility that he will have to scrounge for food in dustbins. 

Now, stop picturing these tragic scenarios and start coming to grips with the fact that these two scenarios are real life events that have occurred in Greece. The young man killed himself in May this year. The elderly gentleman, Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself in 2012. Both deaths were attributed to austerity. In fact, Mr Christoulas left a suicide note which blamed the Greek government of the day. He wrote: "...annihilated any hope for my survival and I could not get any justice. I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end before I have to start scrounging for food from rubbish bins.”  Angry Greeks called his death a 'murder' and that it had sent a strong message to the world about Greece's struggle under austerity.

Greece will be voting on 5 July on whether to accept or reject the deal that it has been presented with by the Troika (International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank). The deal put on the table calls for raised taxes and cuts in spending in Greece. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, decided to call a referendum after repeated dead-end efforts to get the Troika to negotiate on more favourable terms to the Greek people. 

According to The Guardian newspaper, if Greece had signed up to the Troika's demands the country's debts would still be 118% of GDP by 2030. Currently, the debt level is at 175% of GDP. 

As ever, where there are austerity cuts there are pixels of human stories that make up a picture of misery and hardship which question the wisdom of austerity. There are two ways of looking at Greece: it has to answer to its' political masters who are the Troika and Germany as they are the creditors and where money is owed it has to be paid; and secondly, where the debtor is not able to pay back because previous repayments have resulted in very little benefit but high costs in the form of people starving, killing themselves and being unable to buy medication that they need to keep them healthy. 

The choice that Greeks face is whether to continue with the status quo which will bring a guaranteed more of the same or whether to vote for 'Oxi' (which means 'no') that will result in their PM being given a mandate to negotiate for debt relief.

I know which one I would choose but I don't live there.  I have had some fantastic holidays in Greece and it is a country full of hospitable people who go out of their way to provide good service. Whatever the outcome I hope that the story of people like Dimitris Christoulas will be remembered and factored into the potential human cost of any post-referendum negotiations that take place. 

All the best Greece


Monday, 22 June 2015

Has Anything Changed for Black Americans?

Parishioners attend the first church service four days

A little girl turns up for Sunday service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church after the shooting incident which killed 9 Black people. People have drawn comparisons between this picture and the one below of little Ruby Bridges who was the first Black American child in 1960 to attend a previously all White school. Ruby was aged 6 at that time and had to undergo a terrifying experience for the simple act of trying to get an education.

This is Ruby's story:

As soon as Ruby entered the school, white parents pulled their own children out; all the teachers refused to teach while a black child was enrolled. Only one person agreed to teach Ruby and that was Barbara Henry, from Boston, Massachusetts, and for over a year Barbara taught her alone, "as if she were teaching a whole class."  That first day, Ruby and her adult companions spent the entire day in the principal's office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day.

On the second day, however, a white student broke the boycott and entered the school when a 34 year old Methodist minister, Lloyd Anderson Foreman, walked his 5 year old daughter Pam through the angry mob, saying, "I simply want the privilege of taking my child to school...." A few days later, other white parents began bringing their children, and the protests began to subside. Every morning, as Ruby walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her; because of this, the U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower, who were overseeing her safety, allowed Ruby to eat only the food that she brought from home. Another woman at the school put a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and protested with it outside the school.

Has anything changed?


Sunday, 21 June 2015

White Woman Poses As Black Woman

Do people in a multicultural society adopt racial identities of others? I know of White teens who love rap music. I see White teenage boys walk around with their jeans pulled down below their underwear like the rappers do. There are mixed-race girls who classify themselves as White despite bearing a darker skin colour. Then there are mixed-race children whose skin colour is White, like my daughter, who consider themselves, well, mixed-race rather than identifying with one colour. 

It's all enough to do your head in isn't it? To add a further complexity which trounces all other racial complexities is the case of a White woman who is not mixed-race but who passed herself off as a Black woman for 10 years. It isn't the 10 years that gets me so much as the fact that someone went to all the trouble to change their identity to join a group that is much discriminated against. 

rachel dolezal white black

Rachel Dolezal, was a civil rights leader who worked at the National  Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington. She was well known in her fights for racial equality but her parents outed her last week by telling the press that Rachel was their daughter and was not mixed-race in anyway. There was not even a smidgen of racial cross-overs in her ancestry. They were all White throughout their lineage. 

Rachel has since attempted to defend herself. In her words: "I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices...Please know that I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me, it's about justice". 

Putting aside the legal considerations about whether she misrepresented herself in her employment contract, I think Rachel ought to be reemployed because anyone who goes to such lengths to fight anti-racism is a keeper. Anyway, according to social scientists (e.g Ruth Lister), race has no scientific basis as a classification of peoples because there is greater genetic diversity within groups classified as 'races' than between them. Race is seen as being a social construction rather than an empirical fact. If somebody wants to adopt another race then good luck to them. I thought Eminem was a Black rapper when he first came on to the music scene till I saw a photo of him some months later. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Rick Perry Classes Charleston Shooting As An 'Accident'

Rick Perry is running AGAIN for the Republican nomination to be the candidate for the American Presidential Election and it is quite clear from this video that the Republican party has learnt NOTHING from their losses of the last two elections. When a White man who sports an apartheid badge goes into a church in a Black area and shoots 9 Black people dead it is NOT an accident. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Oh For The Days When Mountains Were Associated With 'The Sound of Music'

'Climb Every Mountain' had a raw appeal. Julie Andrews' vocals drew you into the song and made you feel as if you were on a journey of some sort that involved tearing yourself apart. The second line, "Search High and Low" only served to reiterate the point that you were being asked to make a decision to forge a path in life which involved getting out of your comfort zone.

So it was not to be with the young people who climbed a mountain last week in Asia and went straight into their normal routine of behaving as if they were at a nightclub in Ayia Napa. The clothes came off, cameras out and then a finale which involved waterworks. For an oldie like me there was only disappointment. The association with the mountain of a childhood memory of  'Sound of Music' was thrashed.

While I attempted to play 'Climb Every Mountain' in my head as a way of cleansing the whole dreadful fiasco people kept asking me for my opinion. Every so often a question would pierce my thoughts, 'What do you think about ....mountain...?. I was suddenly cast in the role of Asian cultural expert. This operates in the same way as when English people go to great lengths to tell me about their Asian friend and provide me with a description of the person plus their name and then look at me expectedly, hoping that I know this friend. This is as funny as me asking an English person whether they know Matthew who studied law with me, has red hair, comes from Lincoln and whom I lost touch with. (Seriously, does anyone know where he is?)

As for the mountain, Dan Jones in an op-ed in the Evening Standard, 12 June, wrote that: "Local politicians are blaming this disrespectful act for causing an earthquake...I suppose they may consider themselves lucky that they were not visited by the girl who last summer gave 24 men blow jobs in a Magaluf bar...The mountain would probably have exploded".  I was finally able to laugh after reading this.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

What Do Working Mothers Need?

I started off my morning like many other mornings with a delayed train and subsequent bus journey to work which meant that I got into work late. This happened yesterday too and the journey took 35 minutes longer than it ought to have. The only upside to a longer journey is that I get to read my newspaper, The Guardian, in full but even this silver lining is not silver enough to compensate for a delayed start to one's work.

What a working mother needs is a proper transport infrastructure that does not let her down with a regularity which makes her grind her teeth before even getting into the office where she then has to fight for equal pay, advancement opportunities and the scourge of 'presenteeism' which makes people think that you are skiving if you are not actually sitting at a desk in the office (thus negating the whole concept of 'flexible working').

With so much emphasis on productivity in our economy and endless debates about why it's low I would suggest that transport or a deficiency in the transport system is a contributing factor of productivity. Whenever there's a transport workers' strike the press and politicians are in uproar about how the economy has been brought to a standstill for ONE day yet people are getting into work late everyday which negatively drip feeds productivity levels if measured in time units.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Are You a 'Lazy' Mother who Feeds her Child Instant Noodles?

The mother police are out again and this time in India. The sales of Maggi (made by Nestle India) noodles has been banned in 13 states by the ruling party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The reason for this ban is because "the new generation of mothers are lazy, hence they feed their children on Maggi". 

Hands up those of you who have given your children instant noodles? I would put up my hand if I could but that would prevent me from typing this blog post. Heck, when I resorted to throwing a pack of noodles into boiling water it was because I: (A) couldn't be bothered to cook a meal from scratch; and (B) it was also done when I was short of time and my daughter still had to be fed. Option A, by the BJP's premise, makes me a lazy mum and, under option B, I am still being a lazy mum. 

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In other words, the Indian mother police have made every real life experience of cooking noodles a sort of crime. While cooking noodles does not seem have been classed as a crime, the moral aspersion cast may as well convict you. So, even if your cat was drowning and you had to rush out and save it before taking it to the vet to have it checked out, came home exhausted and trembling you still would not be able to cook noodles because of the moral magnitude that lies behind the ban. 

Much like the big lottery hand that used to feature in ads with a booming voice going: "It's you" the stigma of cooking noodles will jar your conscience and you will go to sleep thinking "it's me, I am a bad mother".

In a country with great inequality where poor children scrounge in dustbins for food I would have thought that a ruling party would have bigger pressing concerns to deal with than the oppression of mothers through a food ban.