Category Archives: society

A tax on decency

These folk are collecting in Tescos South Queensferry this weekend http://edinburghnw.foodbank.org.uk/ and of course I bought tinned spuds, pasta sauce, UHT milk, tinned fruit and jelly as requested. But the regular donations page of their website is broken so the momentum built up by this weekend’s outreach cannot be turned into regular donations.

Besides which. What the actual fuck?

This is Cameron’s Big Society – it imposes a voluntary “decency tax”. This tax is paid only by those of us who think “there but for great good luck go I” and pay out in the hope that our tins of potatoes and suspended coffees will make any kind of a blind bit of difference, and in the sickening awareness that no, they really don’t.

I should not be giving tinned food to Foodbanks, I should be paying taxes which fund benefits that enable people to buy their own food.  I should not be buying suspended coffees, I should be paying taxes that fund housing benefits for the houses people actually live in, not the non-existent theoretical houses that don’t exist so they selfishly and fecklessly end up on the streets. No-one should be forced into the desperation that makes them beg for charity from strangers, they should be claiming the support that they are entitled to from any half decent society, and that society should give them the helping hand they need to get up and out of poverty.

And yes, I know the argument that benefits breed a culture of entitlement. But who is really displaying entitlement here? The person terminally ill with cancer who is “fit for work”? Or the trust-fund Tory who stashes their money offshore? The CEO paid tens of millions of pounds, building up enough wealth to keep their grandchildren in coke and botox all their trashy lives? Or the poor fools forced to work for them for free because it’s “experience” and “without experience they won’t get a job”? The Energy Company bosses making millions? Or the people freezing to death because they cannot afford heat and food?

People freeze to death in their homes. In a western country. Just because it is winter.  Which comes around once a year.

This is what the Tories do – they make taxation optional. Only pay to help others if you want.  If you don’t want, no problem. That’s fine.  Really.

Yeah, right.

But yes, I do want. So yes, I handed over the tinned spuds, pasta source, UHT milk, tinned fruit and jelly in the knowledge it’s a band-aid stuck down on top of gangrene.

But I really shouldn’t have had to.

Feminist mammoths

The current upswing of feminism is rightly re-igniting debates about bodies and judgementalism.  As the meme goes

If you want a bikini body, put on a bikini

The idea that our bodies are there to be judged is common-place and getting more-so.  In the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame  women step out, we show off, we reveal and display ourselves (our long legs, our cleavages, our baby bumps, our  holiday tans and bikini bodies), we bare ourselves.  In relationships we are happy, proud, smiling, or with mystery men.  In Dacre’s world, women cannot do something for its own sake or for ours, only for our audience of watchers or because of a man.

I  have a tattoo.  (Stay with me, it’s not as wild a change of subject as you’d think).  I could never see the point in a tattoo I couldn’t see, so it’s on my forearm and I chose mammoths because I like them.

They raise the question though, of who is the tattoo actually for?

It’s hard to work out what they are, especially from a distance. The design is based on cave paintings and is an awkward mix of line-drawing and shade. The only time they’ve been complimented spontaneously was once in a pub when I stood up with my arm held horizontally, reaching for the back of a chair.

Mammoth Tattoo 01 Mammoth Tattoo 02

In Daily Mail terms they are a failure. But from my (literal) perspective, they are great, and I love them.

Mammoth Tattoo 03

I like seeing them trample down my arm towards whatever it is I am doing. (Hitting “post” in three… two… one….) They are a comforting sight first thing in the morning.  They even have names, though I am ashamed to admit this.

So, is a tattoo for person who has been tattooed or is it for other people?  Well, as it turns out, this particular tattoo is for me.

These aren’t just mammoths, they are feminist mammoths,

The day we noticed the world had changed

This post is a response to my friend Ash Pryce’s post: Living History: a Look Back on 9/11

I remember 9/11 very well because I wasn’t working that day and I watched from about 15 minutes after it started to be shown on the UK news. So I watched the second plane go in and the towers go down.

One of my strongest memories is of being aware that no-one knew what was happening, no-one knew what would happen next, how many were killed (40,000 people worked in the twin towers, so the final figure of 3,000, published days later, seemed like a merciful escape). The tv pundits didn’t have any briefing notes, there weren’t any alliterative sound-bytes from Alistair Campbell. We were suddenly, disorientingly off-script. Anything could happen that morning.

I knew that the world had irrevocably changed. Of course it actually changed a while before: 9/11 was the symptom, the part of the plant above ground, the final signal that we could see. But I knew that the world was about to become darker, nastier, less predictable, less trustable, less secure and less safe. That it would never be the same again.

You are right, ten years is an interesting time-span. It’s long enough for children to turn into adults – five years doesn’t do that – but short enough for adults to feel it was just the other day. And as you point out, twelve years or more is a recognisably long period of time.

So, ten or twelve years on – yes, the Americans and their allies took war to Afghanistan, to Iraq and (hush, don’t mention it) to parts of Pakistan. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay radicalised young men who would otherwise have just spent their teenage years playing street cricket on waste-grounds in Bradford or Finsbury Park.

The other kicker though is the electronic supervision we all live with; with every connection observed, every interaction noted. Orwell, Gibson and Stephenson are overheard in a bar. This is inextricably mixed in with the Randian neo-conservatism that combines a vicious sense of personal entitlement and malign greed and a willful rejection of science and the vindication of a monotheistic faith. It’s an evil mix, and it is bringing about the downfall of the US with the rest of the West tumbling after.

So in the short term, by say 2006, not much had changed much. But the world we live in now, and the world it is shaping to be, is a fuller realisation of dystopian post-democratic, techno-totalitarianism that even I imagined, cynical and fearful as I am, cynical and fearful as I was twelve years ago.

Goodbye NHS – we miss you now you’re gone

The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it - Nye BevanWould I lose my job to save the NHS? Yes, in a heartbeat. In a fraction of a heartbeat. Even in this shitty economy with the shitty attacks on the unemployed. If that was all it took to save the NHS I would be typing my notice now.

Would I lose my job in a futile gesture of distress that will be ignored by a minority government with no mandate for what they are doing? Well, no. And it is eating me up. Which is why I am typing this at half past four in the morning.

Today the NHS is 65 years old.

Earlier this year the Tory government and their Lib Dem partners killed it.

In April, the coalition government passed legislation which means that NHS service provision must be put out to tender and so hefty percentage of every pound spent on healthcare in this country must go into the pockets of the likes of Richard Branson and the MPs with financial interests in UK healthcare companies. They were kids voting for Christmas. They passed this legislation despite the fact it was not in their manifesto and they have no mandate to do so. The media were silent while they did it; the good guys found the story too complicated to tell, the frightened guys were silent because they were cowed by the Leveson inquiry, and the venal guys were lined up side by side with the MPs and their friends in the healthcare companies.

The NHS was imperfect, especially after so many years being undermined by New Labour. But it is no where near as imperfect as the smear stories masquerading as news items these last five years would have you believe. The smear stories are propaganda designed to let us assume that it’s not worth saving.

The thing is, if you ask the question “what do we do about the NHS?” the answer must not be “sell it off to the lowest bidder”. We are already seeing that profit-taking companies fail to provide an improved service, that they actually provide worse services, and that they force people who work in the most emotionally demanding jobs in the world to work in perpetual crisis mode. This is not only bleeding patients for profit, it is bullying staff for profit too.

Today those who care to fight for free healthcare for all are marching for the NHS. But I can’t be with them because I have a presentation to give on Monday, and I lost three days this week to migraine, and I am not prepared to lose my job in a futile gesture.

I’ve marched three times in recent years, each time against the Labour government, once for peace, and twice to protest their ignorant destruction of rural life. I did not feel as hopeless then as I do now. But what I learned is that a government driven by dogma will ignore a million peaceful people in the streets. And revolutions since the start of time show that raging mobs produce governments no better than the ones they overthrow.

Democracy is broken. I don’t know if it ever really worked but here it is broken. MPs milk the system for expenses and sell their votes and influence to whoever will pay them. The whores I’ve known have all been infinitely more honest.

What frightens me is that there is no place in the world and no time in the world that I can think of where freedom has been sustained. I think of all those acts of British rebellion from Wat Tyler, to the Levellers, to the Luddites, to the Rebakkah Rioters, to the Jarrow Marchers, to the General Strike of 1929, to the Miners in the 1980s, to the million of us who marched for peace in 2001, and know that all the government have to do is say “la la la, we can’t hear you”. The only way to overturn an established order, it seems, is over their dead bodies, and that’s no solution.

I have come to suspect that the stirling example and unprecedented experiment in justice and social democracy of Europe in the last 65 years was only possible after the shock of a world war, and a war in which fascism was defeated by the collective actions of coalition governments. By, in fact, the will of the people.

The late 1940s were, I suspect, the only moment in history when the NHS could be established, when enough people were used to acting in consort for the greater good of their fellow men and women. At every time before and since we have been fractured into little silos of selfishness and self-interest.

And today I will go to work to keep my job, because I no longer believe that peaceful protest works. And when the election comes round, I shall cast my vote because, like a beleaguered spouse, I keep faith with democracy though I no longer trust it.

And now I shall take some triptanes (which cost me nothing) and some asprin (which cost me 35p) and go back to bed because crying gives me migraines, and migraines are the reason I can’t go to London in the first place.

PS – apologies for spelling mistakes and typos.  This piece is posted as written, which is something I never do these days.

The problem of Stuff

My problem is not acquiring too many things. My problem is to do with getting rid of the things I already have.  As a result I am surrounded by Stuff which fails William Morris’s test that I either know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful.  I keep stuff only because I find it too agitating to throw it away.

The one I share my hoard with bought a copy of this book the other day and we read it with separate feelings of awkwardness and unease.

My particular epiphany was that I feel an obligation to dispose of things responsibly.  I cannot blithely throw something away unless it is useless and biodegradable.  I have to reuse, reduce recycle, in every way I can.  

This is inhibiting.  Yesterday in an effort of self-liberation I threw away a perfectly reusable jiffy bag. (I have boxes of the buggers upstairs on a shelf, waiting for the moment I need them).  I don’t mind throwing away the bio-degradeable kraft paper outer, but the bubble-wrap inner makes me feel uneasy. Why can’t jiffy bags be filled with paper waste any more?  Note the tense of that sentence: it makes me feel uneasy now, even though I threw it away yesterday.  Yes, it was worse at the time, but the agitation remains. We should not fill landfill with plastic bubble-wrap.  We certainly should not fill our seas with things that we use once and which then bob around for hundreds of years, killing marine animals for generations to come.

http://blog.etoncorp.com/index.php/2013/04/green-perspective-how-long-trash-really-lasts-infographic/

Although this is not quite a compulsion for me, it’s more than a moral imperative which I can comfortably ignore.  Every time I went to a beach the last time we were on holiday, I ended up filling  bin bags with rubbish.  I am shocked and horrified by the amount of trash blowing in the wind.

But it’s not just about preferring recycling to landfill. It’s avoiding waste in the first place.  My Grandmother could Not Abide Waste. She and my Ma raised me, and both were adults during WWII and both had a pack-rat sense of scarcity. Both kept things “in case they were useful”, like the jiffy bag. And both would be horrified by the idea that two people can fill one wheelie bin in a week.

So the only way I can dispose of something in good working order is by making sure someone else gets to use it.  Freecycle saved my sanity the last time I moved house.   Before Freecycle I had a “jumble sale box”.  (I remember picking over it once to make sure any erotica I was giving to the Village Hall did not have my name in it. Small village, small world). I take things to Charity Shops, give them to friends, give them to volunteer groups and charities.  Plastic toys upset me hugely; why can’t they still be made of wood? I’ve had three bags of  toys in my shed for four months waiting for me to take them to a charity which cleans them and gives them to impoverished children.

I do feel a sense of relief having read the book. I stand by my logic (we should be far more careful with plastics, we shouldn’t waste landfill on things that still work), but I now know my agitation is unusual.  It’s helped me throw things away rather than keep them, like the jiffy bag, and it is energising my attempt to find new owners for the things that are too good to bin.

The next thing is to strengthen my resolve to get rid of family things and things I’ve been given.  Not sapphires.  I am keeping those.

Talking about their g-g-generation

I wrote several  posts which I never set live for some reason.  This post is 5 years old, which makes it a period piece now in its own right.  But as a snapshot of March 2008, it’s interesting.  

There used to be a thing called a “Generation Gap” separating Squares (who’d been alive during WWII and many of whom had fought in it) from those who were cool or hip, or both. It went away for a while, but it’s back and this time it’s the Baby Boomers who make embarrassing attempts to get it, or else don’t realise there’s anything there to get.

TV from the 1960s and early 1970s is full of brylcremed men in suits and ties trying hard to dig the scene while being blandly humiliated by clever, scruffy young men in their early 20s. The kids got it and their elders didn’t. Punk said it again, but the first of the Punks were the last of the Boomers.

The gap is wider at some times than others and in the early 1980s, the gap narrowed for a while. Yoof cultcher took over the asylum: Jools Holland and Paula Yates presented the Tube, Janet Street-Porter Janet Street-Pontificated, Tim Bell and the Admen (now there’s a name for a band) told us Labour Wasn’t Working, and Ben Elton gave us his “little bit of politics”.

However, if we measure the width of the gap using the ludicrous questions that judges ask, then the gap is clearly broadening again. Less than 12 months ago, [2007] more than a dozen years after Netscape was launched, an English judge said: “I do not understand what a website is” during a criminal trial for cyber-crime. It may have been an attempt to clarify the issues for the court, but didn’t he realise just how much of a plonker the question would make him sound?

By the time Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1995 the Boomers had in fact lost their grip. There was a commentary piece in the Sunday Times about parents who thought that they were the Zeitgeist being bewildered by the global tidal wave of adolescent grief about someone the parents had never heard of. What goes around comes around, daddio. You dig?

The Boomers and the eldest of the Gen Xers try hard enough, but their pages on MySpace or FaceBook (my pages on MySpace and FaceBook) are as wincingly embarrassing as the brylcremed presenters trying to ingratiate themselves with Lennon or Morrison or Jagger. The the generation gap is back, but this time  the younger generation is simply ignoring their elders and slipping into electronic places and spaces their elders don’t even know exist.

Last night I watched a scaffolded and bouffant Peter York take us on a whistle-stop tour of the London advertising industry from the 1960s to the 1980s in The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man. Bloated and wrinkly boomers sat there claiming “they shall not see our like again”. As if we care. Old admen never die, they just become uncreative.

But no-one  made the point that there is astonishingly creative, innovative and clever stuff going on, but it isn’t on TV or print media any more.  It’s in games [and Apps] and on YouTube. These guys – or whoever edited their interviews – appeared not to have noticed. They seemed entirely unaware that they no longer has their finger on the pulse. A heart monitor, more like.

Feminism should be a dialogue not a dogma

This one has sat in draft since February 2008.  I tried editing it to say the same things more crisply, but wanted to say slightly different things instead, so I’ve left it as it is.  I had been lurking the trans-phobic rad-fem Michigan Womyn’s Festival stooshie when I wrote this.

The world is changing around us all the time: the world of 10 years ago was surprisingly different from the world today, and the world of the late 1980s even more so.  So far, so obvious.   But this means that political absolutism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  The world changes too much and too fast for any political or social dogma to last.   All political views are specific to the place and time in which they are held.  The ideas that last the longest either have a basis in scientific fact (racial equality) or else they are wishful thinking (the idea of human rights) . 

So what should feminism be like, if it’s a dialogue not a dogma?  Well undogmatic, for a start.  Sentences such as “all men are rapists” are meaningless.  So meaningless you’d think they would be impossible for an intelligent woman to utter, let alone for intelligent women, (sorry womyn) to listen to.  The idea that trans-women pollute spaces occupied by “womyn-born-womyn” is another spectacularly nasty piece of feminist dogma.  But the world is changing, including the space in the world that transssexuals can occupy and the way that children are raised, and unless one can demonstrate scientifically that all men are rapists, the statement is semantically void.  Unfortunately it’s got a snappy little ring to it, and appeals to a certain kind of self-righteous and vicious mind.

In fact, the example of science is an interesting one.  Science is just the sort of conversation that I would like feminism to be.  At the edges of science – where science is being done – are conversations.  Ideas are discussed with colleagues and turned into hypotheses, presented at conferences, tested experimentally, reformulated, restested, written up, peer-reviewed.    The world that science inhabits does not change physically (planets don’t start spinning backwards, the laws of physics don’t change in response to a new PM in Number 10), but the world that science inhabits moves onwards, as the boundary between what we know and what we don’t know changes.

Academic feminism goes through the  motions; I certainly get the impression that academic feminists like a good rant and love conferences.  But feminism lacks the rigour that science has, because it cannot test its ideas empirically.  But instead of recognising that the world it inhabits changes all the time, it seeks the reassuring solidity of fundamentalism.