The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival gals started up the #sodemeaning campain on Twitter / other social media as a response to the suggestion that Burlesque was demeaning to women, which came in the rejection letter to their request to book the Hebden Bridge Picture House. (which I blogged about last time) Lots of people who are involved in Burlesque, and don’t feel in the least “demeaned” have contributed.  But it got my little etymological brain thinking and wondering about this whole demeaning thing.

What does it mean, to demean? (what is de meaning of demeaning…?)Who demeans? Is an action demeaning? Can it be? Who gets to decide?
And also the term “objectifying” – which is also used, and was repeated several times in the town hall meeting the other night. I know it is a commonly used term and concept – I get entirely what it means in the context – but I hate the word. I find it nonsensical.

The dictionary definitions of to demean are interesting.

To demean: cause a severe loss in the dignity of and respect for (someone or something):
To demean oneself: to do something which is beneath ones dignity.

So lets throw in dignity too:

the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect:
a composed or serious manner or style:
a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect:

So – people are saying that Burlesque causes a severe loss in the state of being worthy of honour or respect of women.

Or, – Burlesque causes a severe loss in the serious manner or style of women.

Or, – Burlesque causes a severe loss of the sense of pride in themselves and self respect of women.

Or. Burlesque is beneath the dignity of women …

I see an awful lot of subjectivity here.
And a horrible concept that anything a woman does can be used as an excuse to deem her un-“worthy of honour or respect”. Doesn’t matter if a woman wobbles naked on a pole with pencils up her nose and a teacosy on her head, she’s a human being, a living creature and so is worthy of honour and respect.  If other people choose not to treat her (or any woman) without honour or respect, it is not her actions which cause it and are at fault, rather their reactions, attitudes, and subsequent behaviours. Ditto if people think less of women because Burlesque exists, – is that Burlesque’s fault? (or – lets face it, we say burlesque, but people don’t seem that bothered by the singing, comedy, dancing – it’s nakedness, or the removal of clothing they don’t like)

Burlesque causes a severe loss of the sense of pride in themselves and self respect of women.  – This is about how a woman feels about herself, and only she can know. If someone performing Burlesque feels such a loss in pride / self respect, then God yes, stop it immediately, put down the feathers, step away from the sequins, it’s not for you. But most performers I have heard comment say the opposite. It has increased their confidence, their pride, their self respect.  Or let us think about if it is the woman watching who loses her pride, etc. Again, many audience members express the feeling that there is something about Burlesque which they find empowering and confidence building. Granted not every woman might feel that way. People’s attitudes to nakedness and sensuality are widely different. Someone might see  a woman joyously bouncing nearly nude with sparkly tassles on her nipples as fun, funny, celebratory – someone else might find it embarrassing and tasteless. Neither is wrong, both are right – for themselves.

And what then for the “Women” in general – not the performers, or the audience – the general category of women. Does it affect their pride in themselves that other women do this? That this exists? And if it does, is that something that can be helped – a valid reason to stop the continuation of an activity which, as has been noted, other women find empowering. Or is it possible that there is more going on in the mind / life of the women who object – that may not be solved even by the disappearance of the Burly crew?

Leaving us with Burlesque is beneath the dignity of women. It is something unfitting for them to do. Who says? Who gets to say what is fitting for women? Presumably not men – but, did we get together and have a vote, to say, this is what x amount of us want to be included in the list of activities fitting for a woman to do – therefore we will all be held to it? Was this the same vote that meant there is a sneer on the face of some professional women who hear of someone choosing to stay home and look after the household and/or children? Which said we should all pursue “equality” with men by pretending to be them in the business sphere?

Oh – I missed one out.

Burlesque causes a severe loss in the serious manner or style of women.

I should hope so too… Maybe they have a point 😉

Equality of opportunity I take to mean that everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, age, political belief etc. – should have equal access to opportunities for education, employment, healthcare, etc etc. Not that we should have access to things we didn’t have before, but no longer do, or take pleasure in anything which may have once figured in a more restrictive scope of woman’s capability.  No one should be forced into any form of work, or feel they have no option but to do a kind of work they don’t want to do – but that could equally be scrubbing floors as it could stripping. Whatever work someone does by choice, they should not be exploited, they should be given fair reward. But if someone enjoys what they do, is well rewarded and in no way coerced, we should respect that choice.

A brief note on objectification too – which we will take to mean that which makes a woman be viewed as a sexual object. I agree there is too much in society which presents women in this way – and only this way. I object to Page 3 and Lads mags – because they objectify, and dehumanise women not just in the imagery but also in the associated text. I don’t object to pictures of naked people. Is a nude portrait objectifying? If not why not?  And – what about those moments you want to be viewed as a sexual object? Not just a sexual object, but you want someone to notice that aspect of you, while accepting there is more to you than that alone. Might be for personal, intimate reasons, or perhaps public, performing reasons. Are women not allowed to choose to be objectified, even for a little while?

Objections to the above (using the word object too much now) – seem to me to not be about the “object” or “action” – not the performance, the body, the picture – but about the behaviour of certain men in response to those stimuli. And yet we seek to place the blame on Burlesque. Cover up we say. And yet in another voice might condemn a culture which requires women to wear a burqa to protect men from sin.  Men are capable of learning self control, and knowing when something is and isn’t appropriate. That men misbehave, are rude, letcherous, and occasionally abusive and criminal – is never the fault of a woman, but the men themselves.

Response to Craig Whittaker MP on gay marriage

Just sent this letter to the Hebden Bridge Times in response to their reporting on his blog entry the other week. Don’t know what it’ll look like if published so here is unedited version.

I was dismayed to see the views of Mr Whittaker re-printed in the Hebden Bridge Times (and supported in a letter last week) – although I suppose it gives the opportunity to comment, which his original blog did not.

It saddens me that Mr Whittaker feels that this how he should represent his constituents – which he cannot be unaware include the higher than average proportion of people defining as gay or bisexual in the area in and around Hebden Bridge.

Marriage – the recognition of a union between two people, has been around longer than the state, longer than the church, longer than the law. It comes from a desire to bond with someone, to seek to pair with them for life. Only later has it been deemed necessary to have the union blessed by God, or recognised by the state. Much of this control coming out of the concept of a transfer of property (the woman) from old to new owner (father to groom).

This is not how we view marriage today. Times have changed and in this respect many of us have reformed to an earlier consideration of marriage. The desire to have our union recognised and celebrated by family, friends, and the society / state in which we live.

The rights and recognition extended to one citizen by the state must be extended to all. Next year, I marry my current partner (a man). But had I remained with one of my previous partners ( a woman) this right would have been denied. It is absurd and unequal. The fudge of Civil Partnership was a cowardly complication of the issue – a welcome step – but if it is not marriage, then it is not equal to marriage. Now we have two unequal institutions, one closed to same-sex partners, one closed to mixed-sex couples.

To say marriage is about children, (as he does in his blog) in this day and age, is nonsense. Not to say that I don’t believe that a preparedness to enter into a commitment with your children’s mother / father is not an admirable thing – but what then of those later in life, past the menopause, or infertile? No marriage for them? Or same sex partners with children (adopted, or conceived) – why do their children not deserve married parents?

Perhaps, there should be a legal compact between parents and children that is separate from marriage / civil partnership, which also constitutes a contract with the child and the state, promising to care for, feed, educate and respect the child to accepted standards. We should recognise there are many kinds of parent – biological, adoptive, familial – people who have a responsibility in bringing a child into the world and / or bringing them safely up into adulthood regardless of whether their own romantic and sexual unions are successful.

The consensus in much of society is that marriage is about two people, these two people should love one another and want to try and stay together as long as they live. Whether they can or do have children together is irrelevant to those vows. They don’t cease to be binding if the woman fails to conceive, or an adoption application falls through.

The bottom line is, Mr Whittaker, if you fail to extend to another person a right that you enjoy yourself, on the basis of some characteristic of theirs that you do not share, that is discriminatory, and it very much is a civil rights issue. If in 50 or a hundred years time, society changes, and other definitions of marriage are proposed, it is up to them to decide what they believe is right. Times change. Slaves are not 3/5th of a free man, women are not property, homosexuals are not outlaws. Be a man and treat others with the respect you hope to be afforded yourself.

All Riot on the Western Front


Thanks world. I was on a high. Really, I was.  Hopefully it’s still there somewhere, but yesterday I got so sad and just despairing that my lovely high went away for a bit.

It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. No one can deny it. But what saddens me most is the unutterable stupidity we’re surrounded with. The unutterable selfish stupidity of those rioting and looting. The unutterable selfish stupidity of those who say, bring in the army, lock them all up for ten years, evict them from their homes, shoot on sight. And even to some extent, though I probably sit more here than anywhere, the unutterable selfish stupidity of those who take the opposite view of “well, what do you expect, given all the poverty, deprivation, and inequality”.  Three separate sets of blind stupidity, none of which will actually solve anything.

All fires need a spark to set them off, and by all accounts this one was the spark which triggered the bullet from a policeman’s gun, which shot and killed Mark Duggan.  While there is an investigation into the events, it’s doubtful we’ll get  a real picture of what happened.  Only those who knew him know what truth there is in descriptions of his character – whether he was an all round family man, anxious and paranoid and/or a known drug dealer previously “known to the police”. Or all three. Doesn’t really matter.  Even if he was carrying a gun – (and if he was involved in, or moved in circles with those involved in drug dealing, it’s probably an if not sensible, understandable move from a protection point of view) – the only point at which there would be justification for the police to shoot, would be if it was pointed at them.  And then, I don’t know what the rules are, but I would hope there was a “shoot to disarm or distract” before “shoot to kill”. They say the weapon doesn’t seem to have been fired – but unless there’s footage, or independant witnesses, we won’t know if it was pointed.  However, accidents happen.  We’ve all seen films where someone “reaches for their wallet”, and gets shot because some jumpy cop thinks their going for their gun.  Fear is a horrible thing, and armed policemen and women are not immune to it.

However, as is pointed out, over at Cogitare Aperiat, at least 333 people killed by the Met police since 1998 [why 1998 btw? 13 years is an odd sample size. Is it because 333 is a nice round number?] with no convictions to speak of.  Whether the people involved are innocent of any crime is kind of also irrelevant – because we’ll never know, they never got to go to court even if they were accused.  Not all are even in circumstances where death should be a possible outcome.  Accidents happen. But if no-one is ever brought to book for the unlawful killing of a person in their custody, then suddenly no one will believe an accident is an accident. Like the boy who cried Wolf – when an accident actually does happen (whether this was or not we don’t know) – people will view everything the Police does that isn’t put their hands up and admit guilt, as obfuscation, stalling, cover up.

Yes, police deal with people who commit crime. Even murder.  But they don’t always get it right, and they aren’t all full of love for their fellow man. Some have a strong belief in society and want to keep it safe, some want the authority, the “permission” to feel better than x bunch of other people. Some are downright bullies or racists.  Just like sadly there’ll always be some people who go into the Army because it’s the only way to legally kill someone. And someone you don’t know, in a country far far away at that.  Humans, whether their uniform is black, blue, khaki, or closer to hooded tops or baseball caps – are all falible, and some are not very nice.  Even back in the day when we had the death penalty (and please god let us not get it back) people were entitled to a trial before being taken for the long drop.

So I can understand the peaceful protest that occurred on Friday, of people angered and saddened by yet another death, of another father, another son, at the hands of someone who they don’t believe will be dealt with fairly and openly.  I can understand the frustration which might mount in some, if answers don’t come quickly enough. If they are not dealt with sensitively or with respect by the police. I can understand shouting, kicking things, maybe even smashing windows of the police vehicles/ buildings – though this is the point I would expect other people to step in and say – don’t Son, it’s not worth it. It will only get you into trouble.

I don’t understand how violence and looting and fire-raising have anything to do with anger at a person’s death.  But like I said, that’s just a spark.
However. This is where one side steps in and says, well, what do you expect… all the cuts… deprivation… inequality…

It’s one of those things isn’t it. One of those troublesome questions – take two people, put them through the same upbringing, one will turn out one way, another entirely different. Some people manage against all the odds, to become respectable adults, hard working, peaceful, loving, sharing. Others fail at education, fail at or do not even enter employment, see no connection between themselves and “society” or vice versa, don’t think twice about breaking the law, and are quite happy to jump on a bandwaggon and steal and smash stuff, so long as everyone else it.

What’s the difference between the two?  For my mind, it’s attitudinal.  The first person, set of people – sees the state that they are in, the hardship of their lives, and is able to say “I deserve better than this”. Then, with that pride, they look around again and see what it might take to change it. As they grow up, they see the opportunities that are offered to them by life and society. They see school, they see libraries, they see parks, swimming pools, clubs. And importantly, they take their pride and with it say, this is what I am entitled to.  I deserve to go to school, to study, to ask for help and receive it. If people try to cajole them into thinking it’s not cool, or worthwhile – they shrug them off and remember. They deserve a good life. They deserve food in their mouth, a roof over their head, a clean house, respect. And as long as they have respect and pride for themselves, they make the connection that the first and most important person who can do damage to you and disrespect you is yourself. If you step off, and start behaving like someone who doesn’t want, nor deserve a better life, then you won’t get one.

It’s hard. If your family, your community, is entrenched in a belief that certain things aren’t for them – I’ve seen it in black and white families alike. You don’t even get to know if you want something or not, if everyone is telling you you can’t have it.

The current round of cuts are horrendous. Don’t get me wrong. They have made life bloody hard for a lot of people and will be removing opportunities for people to better themselves left right and centre. But they haven’t caused this. They may have reminded people how little the political elite, and those who support them, know, or much less care, about their lives – and thus given them a spur not to care about what they want in return. But the seeds of this were sown many years ago. When the parents of these young people were growing up in poverty, or trying to succeed, and somebody said there was no such thing as society. That there was no reason to help other people who weren’t helping themselves.  Who cultivated an unequal, prejudicial state of affairs, that good people have been trying to resolve ever since.  Cuts and lack of investment to the services people at the poor end of society need to keep afloat – that started long ago.

I strongly believe, Governments should be there to help society provide what is needed to keep society ticking. They should do this by taking the required taxes, and using them to provide what is needed.  You decide on the need, and tax accordingly. Need does not just disappear because you don’t want to pay tax, or ask people to pay tax. If you give people what they need, and don’t ask for appropriate tax, you get a deficit. You don’t remove the need just because you want to get rid of a deficit. It doesn’t vanish. And these needs are about getting that better life.  The people at the top, who don’t want to pay more taxes, are saying, we don’t want to help the bottom get a better life. And yet – the banks get in trouble, it’s money from everyone’s pot, which should be going to provide what people need, which gets used to sort them out. And yet – still the people at the top don’t want to help.

Schools, Support for families, Educational support allowances, Libraries, Employment and training support, Hospitals, Doctors, Midwives, Social Workers.  The state has to provide enough. The community has to provide more – has to work together to build up the pride and sense of self esteem in people who are born with nothing – so that they respect themselves to take what is offered by the state – that education, those services, and realise they are doing no-one but themselves a favour by doing it.  The media needs to think about how it reports things, about what role models and ambitions we give to children. The family needs to be strong – and by family, I mean whatever form it takes. Melanie Phillips blind faith in the father figure ignores the many well brought up children of single parents out there. Taking responsibility for your children is however part of that “better life” people need to be ready for. Everyone needs to get back to expecting better of one another, and helping out those who are struggling.

But the individual has to make themself someone who sees a good life as a better life, and believe that they deserve a better, longer, freer life -and want it more than they want a free TV, trainers, or a night of violence.

Because once you do that final “fuck you” to the world, and throw yourself in at the deep end – showing your community how much you care about them, along with the police, or authority, you profess to be annoyed with –  then it’s hard to come back from that.  People’s lives have been ruined by this. Not the police, not the politicians. Not even most of the shop owners who will hopefully be insured. But the families of the people who died. The poor people living in rented flats who have had everything turn to ashes. The people who will be out of a job while shops are repaired – if indeed they come back to life.  I don’t think most of the people looting and being generally wankers give one stitch of a thought to Mark Duggan, except in a, yeah, that’s another thing, kind of way. But there are kids out there – the youngest arrested is 11 years old.  People calling for them to be thrown in jail for 10 years.  What then? Our prisons are already overcrowded, and not enough is done within them to rehabilitate people, and prepare them to be useful citizens when they leave. A criminal record is yet another thing which will make life harder for them. It’s fine to say tough, but if you can’t care about their lives, then care about the lives of the people they will commit crime against when they are released.  Think about the money you will have to pay towards their upkeep in jail, their unemployment benefit when they can’t get a job, the policing of their unchanged attitudes and behaviours when they get out.

I understand all angles of this. It’s shit. It’s stupid. And until we actually find a way for us all to start caring about eachother again, and share some moral standards – it’s just going to go round and round and round. Same as it ever was.  What do I think should be done? Start with Community service – work to clean up your mess. Then work in the community you have trampled. Work with the disabled, the elderly, the sick. People who have a whole load more to deal with than just what society chooses to throw at them and still manage not to be idiots. Compulsory education or training until you have a useable qualification or skill – failure not an option. And then compulsory employment. If no one else will give them a job, then society must. The markets don’t like people who are hard work. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you ignore them, they will bite you in the ass. But, I kind of think this should be a template for life anyway. No one should leave prison without qualifications or skills, and an offer of work. No one should leave school unable to read or write, or communicate effectively. People need education, love and support like they need food, otherwise they just will not thrive. Society needs to be our broad church.  I’m not a religious person, but I doubt there were many devout christians, muslims, sikhs, or other believers out there. Not because they think God will punish them, but because religions offer moral guidance and a community which does hold eachother to account. If we are a largely secular nation now, then the state must recognise that it needs to do something to build a replacement for this, which includes all parts of society.

Anyway. Fingers crossed for calm this evening. And my love to you all.

Some other people’s thoughts I didn’t find space to link to:

Five Quick Points about the Riots

A crowd psychology analysis of the riots

The London Riots: On consumerism coming home to roost

Riots reveal two disparate worlds

London Riots – including great video

Riots, Sell Offs and Cascades

I dag er vi alle Norske

Words cannot express the sadness I feel, the sorrow and horror at the weekend’s horrible events in Oslo. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Norway, both those who have lost people close to them, and those who have had their peace shattered by this vile and violent act of hate.

Among the people who jumped to the sad conclusion that this had to be the action of Islamic terrorists, in those hours before the news filtered out about the true assailant – was a friend of mine. Someone who has been, I think, dallying more and more with the ideology this man was fueled by.  I don’t totally believe that my friend really believes a lot of it at base. I don’t know – but I think it is a symptom of a deeper malaise, which is seeking an outlet for anger and frustration.  He has his issues – and when those issues get worse, his racist, or anti-multicultural outbursts become more severe.

I have another friend, with similar issues, whose outlet came at the other end of the spectrum, on the left-wing, anti-fascist side. While he had always held those views, illness made him more paranoid and extreme in his outbursts.

But not every extremist is ill.  I don’t think they’re necessarily in their right minds, but they aren’t all ill.  Sadly.  Illnesses can sometimes be cured.

I’m not sure how you cure this malaise. This deep dissatisfaction with the way of the world, and the conviction that the world must be the way you want it or none at all.  It is shared by terrorists of all flavours. Far-right, anti-muslim, anti-marxist, white power thugs, Irish republicans or loyalists, Islamic fundamentalists seeking to impose Sharia law, Christian fundamentalists blowing up abortion clinics in the US. That thing which makes people think they have the right to change a world, (which may not be perfect, but which the vast majority are happy with to some extent,) into something which is just how they want it.  No live and let live, no agree to disagree, no compromise, no collaboration or cooperation.  My way or the highway. Or the high powered semi-automatic machine gun.

That’s the difference.  We all have different opinons, beliefs, values.  We may not like eachother, we may not like everything about eachother’s cultures, religions, or lack thereof.  But what makes one man bitch and moan, but generally just keep to himself and avoid the things he finds particularly offensive – and another go out and take the lives of others in the most horrible, inhuman way?  There are many steps to such outright abandonment of all that is good and decent in us – starting with the murmuring of jokes, the cruel comments, the rallies to “defend the English way of life” – which somehow mean drinking yourself stupid in Wetherspoon’s and then shouting vile racist abuse in city centres, fighting with those you disagree with, destroying property if you can get away with it, costing towns and cities thousands of pounds in policing and clean up costs.  I understand the need to counter this which leads the Anti-Fascist contingent to stage counter demonstrations, but I don’t think the anger which is whipped up, and the equally agressive stance shouted back gives a good impression when you are trying to show the others up for the knuckle draggers they are.

Those rallies, the EDL, the BNP – if they are the “acceptable” face of the far-right in this country, we know that there are other, hidden faces. The good old NF, Combat 18, these other murky organisations which use the waters of the world wide web to communicate and organise. This Norwegian nightmare styled himself a new Knight Templar – somehow shooting children in the back and the head is chivalrous perhaps.  What is his vision of how the world should be?

I got into a debate some time back with a BNP supporter on my old blog.  I argued that if you don’t like something, there’s always the opt out – you don’t like Carnival, or the Mela – don’t go. You don’t like curry, or polish sausage, don’t eat it. You don’t like R’nB or Hip Hop, don’t listen to it.  The world is full of options.  Why do you need to deny other people the option of taking part if they want to?

Laws are there to protect people of any religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation. If people feel hard done by, and can prove it – let them use those laws like anyone else. If you can live your life the way you want to live it, then why can’t others?

But then I have that thing which makes this easy for me. I see us all as people, as brothers and sisters. Human beings in a common global drama, each responsible for the others, a thread of compassion and empathy joining us all.  I don’t want to do better than someone else, if I can only do better by putting another human being down.  I don’t want cheap clothes if they have to be made by people earning 10p a week, I don’t want a council house if someone else needs it more than me.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Norway have marched in memory of those lost in this attack. They stand in dignity and pride, not prepared to be bullied into losing what it really means to be Norwegian now. That is how you defend your way of life. Not by fighting like animals in the street, not by shouting abuse. You stand up and say – what on earth do you have to offer us which is better than this – our common strength, our honour, our love. We all need to do this, across the globe.  Just as Arab nations are standing up and proving they are better than the dictators and juntas who hold on to power through might and fear alone. We need to show people who would break our communities into a million fragments, that we may be different, diverse, and even entirely incompatible at times – but that when we need to, we can stand together for peace, and human kindness.

No News is Good News.

I will not count my chickens. I will not count my chickens. I will not count my chickens. I will not count my chickens. I will not count my chickens.

Oh, sorry. You caught me trying not to get too excited.  The current events relating to News of the World and News International as a whole – escalating and expanding, like a computer virus spreading exponentially from link to link, speeding up as it goes, reaching the point of no return…  Sorry, there I go again.  I will not count my chickens.  I will not expect that this will bring the whole stinking monolith tumbling down. I will however keep my fingers crossed. And any progress is better than none.

I am sorry that the staff of the News of the World were scapegoated. They probably had little, if anything, to do with that particular part of the scandal. They were treated shoddily, but if they were surprised, then I think their opinion of their erstwhile employer a little naive. Of course at least now they can claim some kind of martyrdom – whereas had the crisis not broken they would probably just have been made redundant, or shunted to the Sunday Sun in the next couple of months anyway.  Moving forward the restructuring has allowed the redhead to dodge a bullet, News International to make a big gesture, and probably saved them a bunch of money in the proper administration of the redistribution of resources. Not to mention that pesky rumour that by closing the paper they are allowed to get rid of its assets – with all that troublesome evidence on them.

But guess what Rupe? The gullible masses aren’t having it.  They know that the easiest thing you could have done was offer up Rebekah Brooks, tied her to the stake, and offered to light the fire beneath. But instead, you gave too much, and yet not enough. It made people think, if this is damage limitation, what might the damage you’re worried about be?  Plus – those people you’re dumping on the dole, even if some of them are journalists – aren’t living in luxury lined ivory towers. They have lives, families, bills to pay. Like your readers. You’ve just said that their needs are nothing beside Brooks’ need to keep her job despite having been at the helm of the paper at the time these particular practices were rife.  So the clamouring for blood goes on.

The hacking scandal is disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, I am as outraged as the next outraged person. But it is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  I have long had a problem with News International, the spindly fingers in every pie. But not just  them. All elements of the media are poisonous to different extents. Some are potentially life threatening, some just turn your stomach.  I look at Fox News in the US and despair.

A few questions arise here. What is news? What should be in Newspapers?  Secondly, what means are acceptable to use to obtain that news? And once obtained, how should that news be delivered.

David Beckam’s sex life is not news.  The bizarre names of his children is not news.  Not to say that these things might not be of interest to someone other than his wife, but it’s not newsworthy stuff.  It’s gossip. There are plenty of outlets for gossip these days. I’m not interested in gossip – but if people are, let them go read it on the internet, or in the plethora of magazines full of brightly coloured crap, skinny women, and contradictory stories on anorexia and cellulite.  The gossip is a smokescreen, taking up space that should be used to discuss real news.

Not to say that sex lives can never be news. Obviously there are cases where they might be.  If stories emerge which are significant – I don’t know, maybe a minister has an affair with the owner of a company to whom they subsequently grant a big fat contract. Then the details of the affair are not the issue, the corruption is.  Whether there have been shenanigans in the House of Commons, really isn’t the point.  This talks to the “how” of news.  The “how” of news is really what I have a problem with. Why I have been against News International titles, and Associated Press etc since I was old enough to read. Also why I’m not that keen on the Morning Star or Socialist Worker for that matter, though I may be more prone to agree with their general jist.

Every story has a number of angles. Every story has an origin, evidence, or lack thereof to back it up.  If a paper gives more emphasis to one angle than another, or fails to report evidence that inconveniently doesn’t support their agenda, or beef up or misrepresent issues – then the only real reason behind this is that it is trying to persuade you to agree with it.  In fact, it will probably couch the persuasion in such terms that what they write is blatantly true, and you’d be an idiot to think there was anything more to it than that.  Educating the masses was a dangerous move. It gave people power to learn about the world and how it works, to change their circumstances, to challenge the status quo.  It was a clever sod who decided to subvert that power by taking the media, the main place those people would go to learn, and using it to shape their opinions into a nice, obedient mass.  Tell them what they should care about, and tell them what they should think about it.  If people want to know why there is such a furore from some about threats to libraries, it’s because they are the other vanguard of that access to knowledge and education that liberated the working classes.  Convincing people they don’t want to learn, to read, don’t need access to information – is another way of making sure that we don’t make trouble.

How do you think policy is made? How do you want it do be made?  Do you want MPs to a) do whatever they feel like doing, b) do whatever they think will get them good headlines, or c) do what is right and best for the country, based on the best available evidence?  When the press hold such sway over public opinon, the danger of B occuring is ubiquitous.  So all a multi-billionaire news empire owner needs to do to get his way, is get his outlets to report stories in such a way to support his aims, wait for the public to react, and then point the loaded weapon at the political machinery in the country of their choice.

What is crucial about all this is that politicians haven’t had much choice in the matter for a long time. In a two headed system – you couldn’t stand up to the monster alone, because it would just go and support  the other side, and keep its influence.  It has taken something to show up the vile underbelly to the consumer – to the readers, to turn public opinion against him. It only takes a moment.  And it took the politicians a while to realise that moment was here – and to realise that there was a chance to stand together against it.

I don’t dare to hope it will crumble entirely. That suddenly the Daily Mail will start reporting with compassion, or the Star put some nice cardigans on those poor chilly girls.  But I will let myself hope that people will think a bit more about the paper they pick up – and why the people behind it are so keen that you buy their paper over everyone elses. It’s not just the money. They’ve got more of that than they could ever feasibly spend.

I could go on and on, and I have. But really, fingers crossed everyone. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and I recommend this if you’re interested : http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Media-are-Doing-Politics/dp/1841199001

Strikingly not just about pensions

Tomorrow I put my money where my mouth is. My first ever strike. I only recently joined the union at work- ten years after starting there. Remiss really. I didn’t join straight away because I was on a temporary contract and thought the money better off in my pocket. I didn’t join after that because I was told that I would have to join Prospect, as a member of professional staff, and I wasn’t overly impressed by them. PCS is the biggest union, and upon investigating it after the recent onslaught on the public sector, I discovered I was actually allowed to join them too. Not that I think it is right that there are three unions in our Department- (more in others or so I’ve heard) does someone not get the concept of union? Unity is strength? When was the last time members of First Division went out on strike for the protection of the rights of the lowest paid in their organisation? I bet Ministers would soon notice if there were no-one about to give them briefings.
Anyway, beside the point. I’m now a union member, and as such am striking tomorrow because my union has voted to do so. But let me be clear. I am not striking, as has been loudly proclaimed in the media, to protect my pension rights. Nor do I think that is what was asked on the ballot. I am striking in protest at all aspects of the strategy being followed by the government, of cuts and changes to public services upon which millions of people rely, and which hit hardest those least able to manage without the help of the state. I don’t object to some changes in my own personal pension conditions. I think it should be more sensitively thought out than just “pay more, work longer, get less”, and should be aligned with measures to improve private sector pensions. But I do object to valued services being closed because local authorities have not been given enough resources to continue providing them, even though they are needed. I object to the fact that many people with disabilities and mental health conditions have been hurled into a world of uncertainty where essential supports have been removed, and they face being told by someone with little understanding of their case history or condition that they are “fit for work”, even though there are alarmingly few employers out there who are willing to make the adjustments (even if only in attitude) necessary to enable them to do their jobs. Attitudes like that of twonk MP Nadine Dorries, saying people can’t be that disabled if they can tweet all day. Well, if I’ve missed all those vacancies for home based tweeters with flexible hours, forgive me. But the biggest disability many people with “impairments” face is the employer’s inability to see that jobs can be done in different ways. That 9-5 isn’t everything, that speed isn’t always best, that equipment is available to help, that not everyone in a team needs to do the same job in the same way to be of equal worth.
Slight tangent, sorry. I’m not striking for me. Well, not just me. Yes, I signed up for certain conditions of service in choosing to do the job I do, in the public sector- ok pay, good holiday and pension, compassionate employers with values I believed in. Instead of say, becoming a banker. Amazing salary, long hours, high risk, lots of perks, oh yeah, I doubt their pensions are too shoddy either. But not so much on the ethics.
I believe the state is there to meet the needs of the people. You determine what those needs are, then figure out how to provide. You don’t say, I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to need that any more. There is money in this country. It needs to be better shared out. I did some very basic sums today. Looking just at income tax, never mind corporate or capital gains etc. Figured that if everyone of working age were receiving the average salary, income tax and NI receipts would be about £3.2 billion (at most). Instead, they are over £140 billion. What does that tell you about how many people are earning far more than the national average wage? And those are the ones actually paying their tax. Imagine if they all took a little less money for themselves, paid their workers more, allowed them to stimulate the economy by you know, buying things. Going out, using services. Keeping pubs open (even with the duty on beer). Imagine if they paid a little more tax. Or, instead they provided free childcare for all employees, invested in public transport, sponsored local leisure and entertainment facilities in partnership with govt. (see I’m not totally anti big society) Imagine if companies paid graduate taxes in line with the number of the employees they had who they required to have a degree to get their job? It would stop it being used as a first line of recruitment sifting, and give some very competent non-graduates a chance.
Imagine if we didn’t bomb the shit out of everywhere at the drop of a hat. Imagine if MPs salaries were means tested. Or if they were required to pay them back if they earned more than twice that figure in the years following. See, there are plenty of alternatives. These cuts are ideological. Taking this approach to reducing the deficit is like those programmes where people pay off their mortgage in two years. Except they’re doing it with your money. Transfering the debt to the populace, be it in student loans, foreclosures on houses, increased pension payments which eat into your disposable income. Tomorrow I will lose about £100, a quarter of my monthly disposable income. The same I think I will lose if (when) the changes go through. But I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing it for people who have my day’s wage or less to see them through a week or a month.