High, low, yo: 25.07.15

I’m trying something out here, so bear with me. In my effort to be a better blogger and to concentrate on writing, which has been wandering of late, I want to start a more regular feature. High, low, yo will comprise of three small parts: a high point in the news (a genuinely good news story or schadenfreude), a low point (self-explanatory) and yo – something that happened to me in the day. Let’s begin.

Low

Sadly, another day begins with another shooting in America. It’s a tragedy with heroes, an obvious villain and a clear cut solution. Well, to everyone on the outside, it appears obvious but progress is non-existent. 

For this latest awful shooting, it appears that the immediate cause is a deep-seated misogyny, yet that doesn’t explain the ease with which John Houser was able to buy a gun. The underlying cause helps to explain the anger motivating the murderers, however we cannot keep palming off these tragedies into the outskirts of excuses: ‘he was racist’ – yes but there are many racists who do commit murder; ‘he was anti-feminist’ – ditto; ‘he was religiously confused’ – ditto ditto. All of these have a common theme running through them which is the ready access to guns. Remove the guns to save the lives. Which is easier said than done when the monolithic second amendment stands in the way. Confounded by an 18th Century piece of paper.

High

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has spent £31,400 on travel expenses between 2010-2013. It should also not be forgotten that Speaker Bercow was meant to be a disinfectant, cleaning Westminster up from the stench of the expenses scandal. Whilst he may not be fiddling his expenses in the same way as he predecessor, it does make me question the prices that the chauffeur cars are charging and how I can become involved in that racket.

Yo

I met Lola and Sophia, my twin ‘first cousins once removed’ (an ugly turn of phrase, if e’er there was one) for the first time. Both had almond eyes that were intently gazing on their surroundings, taking it all in, studying every face, toy and movement as if it’s a work of art. Yet to a couple of 8 month olds, it is art. There is nothing more important and interesting than their own wiggling fingers. Plus, it appears that fart noises are universally funny.

Naughty Netanyahu and Dissenting Democrats

Congress is ramping up for the arrival of the Israeli Prime Minister leader Benjamin Netanyahu to its hallowed dome on Tuesday. He is the five time winner of the ‘We Wish You Were A Republican’ award and yet, for the first time in living memory, some senior Democrats are thinking of finding themselves busy when he is due at the lectern.

The speech is likely to contain the Greatest Hits of ‘Iran away because you want to hurt me’ and ‘Existential Threat’ (a 1980s New Romantics number with a killer keyboard solo) but with a hidden track of ‘Being Here: My Election Boost’. The reason for anger stems from Netanyahu’s combination of performing the Tel Aviv sidestep by snubbing Obama and using Israel’s most powerful ally as a pawn in his election campaign.

Netanyahu: The Man with the Frozen Hand.

Netanyahu: The Man with the Frozen Hand.

With the pro-Israeli lobby financially supporting so many members of Congress (see here), those that are dissenting are trying to find cleave a difference where previously there was a solid stone wall and doing so by relying on a nuanced logic that does not typically operate in media. Instead they need to find new excuses for not being at the speech, such as:

  • rumours that Netanyahu is going to read spoilers from House of Cards Season 3. Those busy Congresspeople who haven’t caught up with the travails of Frank Underwood feel it is safer to stay away rather than have the highlight of their televisual year spoiled
  • they were busy trying to finish crocheting an ‘I Love Israeli’ cushion
  • putting an Ikea flatpack desk together
  • inadvertently spending hours trying to craft the perfect off the cuff, snarky tweet
  • got locked in a birdcage
  • became a kitchen porter and spent 8 hours peeling potatoes

We will have to see what the reaction and repercussions to avoiding the speech will be – but with political engagement trending downwardly, can you really blame them?

Cruz Control

Ever ready to provide grist to the satirical mill, the Republican leadership has selected Ted Cruz to chair the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, which as the name indicates happens to be NASA’s governmental overlord. In case you thought that another Ted Cruz had been voted into Congress in the last election, you are sadly mistaken. Ted Cruz is still the same Ted Cruz that denies climate change, telling CNN that the “data are not supporting what the [climate change] advocates are arguing”. Oh Ted Cruz. And NASA is still the same NASA that has a climate change section on its website and states: “Most scientists say it’s very likely that most of the warming since the mid-1900s is due to the burning of coal, oil and gas.”. Needless to say, there are many light years between those two opinions.

If Cruz can readily deny what is now considered mainstream science, I wonder what his opinions of other well-trodden scientific truths are:

  • Did we go to the Moon, or was it a conspiracy by television manufacturers to boost sales?
  • Is the Mars Inc publicity team behind the recent explorations of our second nearest planet?
  • Was the Apollo 13 mission just a long viral campaign for the Ron Howard film?
  • Was Ted Cruz given this assignment with the hope that he would be taken on a field trip on a big rocket?
  • Or was it to bring him closer to science and discredit him to his Republican base?*

*I do realise that this assumes a type of logical coherence missing from so many of the Party’s decisions.

European Parliament Elections: You don’t have to scream into a pillowcase…yet.

In the wake of the European Parliament election results, the UKIP MEPs will be smugly dancing (the middle-aged, middle class, awkward white type of dancing) all the way to their well remunerated jobs. Of which, they are disgusted about; but will take them on with a sullen grimace.

With a portion of the electorate wondering what in holy hell went on in 27.5% of the voting booths, we are now left with a confused and fragmented citizenry.

Image

A true man of the people….

In response to this uptick in support for UKIP, more air time, column inches, and blog….space (?) has been devoted to mocking them, calling them racist, bigoted and homophobic. Whilst portions of the party may possess some, few, many or all of these traits, we should not ignore what millions of people are saying. It doesn’t need to be agreed with, but acknowledged. We can’t just ‘listen to the feedback’, the erstwhile response of a disappointed politician, we have to take action.

Mocking UKIP is not a viable strategy any more, we can’t wholly laugh away their policies. Candidates, yes, positions, no. During the run-up to the election, one of the refrains was ‘I don’t care who you vote for, just not for UKIP’; can a democracy really be founded on such apathy? Political parties, commentators and those who like living in a positive society need to start offering a real alternative to the yellow-toothed attraction of UKIP.

Parties should also steer away from pandering to the perceived wants of those that voted UKIP and actually try and steer public opinion. Yes, have more conversations about immigration, but be brave and defend those that come over and show up British natives. Yes, agree that the EU is flawed, but the UK will be floored without it. Yes, agree that politicians are usually quite a grey group of people but learn how to juggle or tell a decent joke. Be human.

In essence, don’t belittle, be big.

 

Of Protests and the Media

With Ukraine, Thailand and now late entrant, Venezuela competing for the title of World’s Shoutiest Nation, the manner with which their anger is disseminated to the wider public has come under scrutiny. Framing and bias are all words that are thrown about with abandon in blogs and the media but usually only to describe the other side’s media logic. The hypocrisy goes unreported.

Happy Protestor

To look at Venezuela, la protestation de la jour (pardon my French), it seems as though the majority of media coverage so far consists of commentary than actual reporting. Facts, like international organisations, seem to be scarce on the ground but that will not stop the news machine whirring into action. In a sharply local dispute, the anger from both sides is being directed toward the Western media. The ‘opposition’ decry the mainstream media organisations for ignoring their demonstrations and subsequent government crackdowns; of course, as the protestors need the oxygen of publicity, they would never argue against more coverage. However, I have a hard time understanding their argument, especially considering the US favours and supports the opposition movement. Why would American media resist the opportunity to show the Venezuelan government as corrupt and stopping democratic protests with truncheons? And yet the government say the media coverage is biased and influenced by right-wing propaganda. Both can’t be right.

For those not on the ground, the question is of who to trust. Even in the past few days alone there have been mountains of reports: news coverage of the protests; commentary bemoaning the lack of international media attention in the face of beatings and killing of demonstrators; and further words about how the many reports filed are all supporting the rich, anti-democratic opposition (though this seemed almost the dictionary definition of ‘apologist’).

What should we do: placard up and join the protestors against the elected dictator, shake our heads at the anti-democratic action as after al, it was an election; or sit idly by and watch as the death toll rises. Once again, international spectators are left in a morality play with no clean resolution and a heck of a lot of misinformation to guide us.

EU’ve got to be kidding me

Yes, I couldn’t resist the title, it is like a headline from The Sun but that is probably the only positive contribution they make to the debate.

Like a farter on a roundabout, the debate over the EU smells and returns all too often. Migrants this, straight bananas that; only negativity makes its way through. Of course a few of the thousands of EU employees do something stupid once in a while, but it must be said that Westminster doesn’t manage policy roll-outs all that much better. Yes, the EU has a tendency to over-reach and develop it’s own governmental logic, but resolving that can be achieved by active collaboration with other member states, rather than cutting off your nose to spite your largest trading partner.

As the Eurosceptics grow ever more feverish, like Gremlins after midnight, those that are pro-EU need to step up and be more than mere Euro-apologists. There needs to be a proper articulation of why membership matters, especially as it isn’t a difficult case to make. For a long while, politicians have been content to be led rather than lead public opinion and yet we still wonder why our public sphere is weaker. Elected officials have to counter the lazy claims of UKIP and use facts (sadly a rarity in this debate) to trump scaremongering.

The EU isn’t a perfect democratic vehicle, but it would be hypocritical to criticise it from our beaten up banger.

Democracy is great, but you have to accept the nutters

Protests are fab. The placards and chanting are infectious, and that is not even getting onto the rare pleasures of kettling or tear gas. I mean, who doesn’t love a good cry? This is why we should all be cheering the developments in Egypt, with the protests leading to the ousting of Mohammad Morsi, right? People marching, standing their ground and making a change (albeit with a little help from the military, whom they suddenly LOVE) is surely the purest form of democratic expression?

Look at the lasers!

Well, not really. Having millions of people in the streets demanding a change in leadership does not and should not over-rule the results of a democratic election. Yes, Morsi was a twerp, but he was a twerp that the majority of the Egyptian people voted for. Whatever reasons given for the Muslim Brotherhood being elected in the first place (split opposition, a Moses promulgation caused heavy traffic on the A43), it should not be confused for a specific idiosyncrasy of Egypt but regrettably a feature of most developed democracies (Google ‘Britain’ for more information).

Often in protests, the silent majority is overlooked in favour of those on the streets; the tyranny of the extrovert. In this instance, the millions of people demanding change in Tahrir Square are dwarfed by the 80 million or so sitting quietly in their homes either in a state of passivity or tacit support for Morsi. Though the self-aggrandising, arrogant nature of the protestors attracted the world’s attention, it meant they forgot the point of the Arab Spring: the right to be heard not the right for their demands to be heeded. The passion and overall aim of their demands were laudable, and whoever brought the massive stadium laser should be a national hero, but the stifling single-mindedness of the beliefs is not any different to that of the Mubarak regime.

As outsiders, it is important to remind ourselves (as well as be reminded by the media), that protestors only represent a small portion of the population as a whole, and often a very narrow demographic (young, a bit angry), and should not be extrapolated to cover the rest of the nation. Egypt is probably better off without Morsi, but next time make sure the whole country gets a say, not just those with lasers.

So, What Should I Do With Myself?

I am now rapidly approaching that time in life, where I would like to know what I am going to do with my life.

Some people are lucky; they knew ever since they were knee-high to a millipede that they wanted a life more ordinary and trained to be a lawyer or an accountant. Sadly, I never had and still don’t have such a luxury. I know which paths I do not want to go down (deep sea diver, bus driver, gynecologist), but at the same time, my desires are either vastly unworkable (speech writer for the President of the United States (I watched too much of the West Wing)), or just extremely vague: I would love to work from home or be my own boss. Yet when it comes to working out the ‘what’ is, my mind wanders onto issues far more mundane. So that leaves me with a yearning to do a rather intangible ‘something’, an insatiable itch that seems destined to remain unscratched. I am prepared for action but just not sure what I should be doing.

I have interests; sure there are things that I love and am fascinated by, but either I don’t know how to make a career from them, or my skills aren’t matched to it. Take politics for instance; regular readers (splutter) know it is one of the main passions in my life, but it is populated for the most part, by singularly egocentric, career focused, business jargon spouting blandards (ironically, those that don’t understand the concept of public service), so not the kind of atmosphere I want to be a part of.

Being a freelance researcher, would be the best extension of that; having the freedom to be your own boss, whilst engaging with fascinating ‘stuff’ every day. But, like so many other things, it is nepotistic to the hilt and, understandably enough, potential clients would like to know that you have experience in the industry before they hire you.

In essence, I am left with nothing save from my education and my smiling face, which isn’t enough to hang a hat on, let alone build a career around. So if anyone does have an idea or suggestions on where to go from here, or would just like to invest in me (…), I am open.

The Leveson Report – Reading between the criticisms

With the publishing of the Leveson Report on Thursday, after seemingly 237 years in the making, those instantly critical or dubious of the conclusions have come out of the woodwork faster than Gary Barlow on a slip-n-slide.

1. With the earnestness of a nun at the Vatican, all of the leading newspaper and TV organisations have dutifully focused on the importance of the report and its wide ranging implications for the future of the press, but no one has really taken a step back and questioned the place of newspapers in our society. With circulation diminishing year on year, it feels like regulating on a new type of stable door after the horse has bolted. There is seemingly little forethought as to how newspapers will operate in a world full of iPads and the Mail Online; if more newspapers reduce their publishing frequency or become a digital only entity, like Newsweek, then the difference between a regulated media outlet and one that is not, will be rather stark and absurd.

Lord Leveson

Lord Leveson with his magic report

2. The new Ofcom style regulatory body that will be established (Ofpap anyone?) will herald the first press law since the 17th Century, and the Conservatives don’t like it. Their main reason for ‘hating on’ Leveson is the ‘mission creep’ fear that politicians today have about their counterparts in the future. Apparently they are creating a vehicle for the future government control of the press, which in turn raises many interlinked points:

  • A ‘vehicle’ that can alter the future sounds like a time machine – is that where George Osborne has been hiding whilst it is being built?
  • When is this expected government takeover of the press likely to take place, as we can keep a look out for it?
  • Do politicians really distrust the future iterations of themselves that much? Though saying that, I suppose they know the wants and desires of politicians better than us mere mortals. Maybe we should take their warning with a greater seriousness than we have so far.

3. The reaction of most of the newspapers is of collective shock at how their industry has been slandered by Leveson. But lest we forget the ‘last chance saloon’ of the 1990s, and to be able to drink in such a salubrious establishment there must have been one or two other bars they were thrown out of because of raucous behaviour. Newspapers are a public entity with a moral duty to upload to society, and that was destroyed with phone hacking, profit maximising, politician entrancing behaviour.

4. People bought the papers out of their own free will. So surely we, the people should accept some share of the blame

There isn’t a magic elixir to solve the ills of press behaviour whilst maintaining the ideal amount of freedom, and I think it is time that that fact was acknowledged a bit more by those in power. Much like a teenager that has misbehaved once too often, the press will have to be grounded until it has learnt it’s lesson and only then will it be allowed to go out by itself again, but hopefully with more wisdom and greater responsibility.

The U.S. Election from the other side of The Pond

The site of so much drama and glamour over the years, the US political system is viewed with a certain amount of jealous affection by us in the UK. At their core both American and UK politics are exactly the same: both predominantly feature middle-aged (mostly white) men in nice suits trying to speak as tepidly as possible yet at the same time attempting to stay on the right side of the Accountant Line. But putting British and American politicians side-by-side is like comparing the glamour of Mad Men to the Office; Ricky Gervais to Don Draper.

Yes, they both use balloon arches, but what looks tacky in the UK, looks exciting and innovative over there. Both use words such as: ‘change’ and ‘freedom’ but doesn’t American freedom just seem so much more alluring, more free? British change appears like a political ploy, nigh on impossible in such a staid society.

Maybe that is my British cynicism coming though, maybe I should try to be more wilfully optimistic like Americans.

Barack the Tired and Mitt the Mist slug it out. But why?

Though throughout this election cycle there has definitely been a dampening of spirits amongst the electorate. Both the supporters of the Democrats and the Republicans are trying to get fired up despite the best efforts of the candidates. Barack the Tired looks as if he wants to sleep for the next four years and would happily sit this cycle out and run again in 2016. Whilst Mitt the Mist is a man lacking in substance, someone lacking in a developed emotional range and imagines the middle-ground as a place you can say anything to anyone in the hope that they will vote for you, even if it contradicts a previous stance.

But to me, Romney is not a statesman, he is a local politician who can’t cut it internationally (is it that difficult to turn up to the Olympics and smile?) The Mitt-ster has only enthused his base because Obama must have been solving some logic puzzle during the first debate. The fundamental lack of choice for Americans is not just unfortunate, but more an indictment on the polarised toxicity of politics in recent times.

Even after four years, Obama still oozes charisma and cool; and whilst he has let down his supporters with his penchant for drone strikes, he has had some of the largest obstacles to overcome in recent memory. Namely, a Republican Party willing to roadblock any substantial policies that Obama put forward and then label him an ineffectual President. The move to the right (read ‘crazy’) of the Republican Party seems a vote killer to us over here but apparently a large portion of Americans are happy voting against their best interests (a refutation of Rational Choice Theory if ever there was one) and placing trust in unelected corporations rather than elected officials. And the Party’s oppressive use of the word freedom in every sentence which works at cross-purposes to it’s definition, serving to ensure all Americans conform to one specific, dizzyingly contradictory notion of it (Protect the Constitution (apart from the mentions of Church and State), stop the Government interfering in our lives, apart from the times when it acts as a medical safety net – they have to remain).

So hopefully you can see why we are entranced by American politics not just in Britain but around the world; here is a country with an actual ideological debate (albeit one-sided), where passions frequently erupt and where we can view from afar with a joyous sense of superiority mixed with a tinge of disappointment as the closest thing we in Britain have to a political celebrity is Boris Johnson.