Category Archives: politics

Gosh, That Was a Busy Day

Yesterday proved unexpectedly busy, what with going to the Utilise Social Cafe and then to a canvassing training session by the Labour Party.  Those were the planned events; but on my way home from the cafe I ran into Jan parking her bike.  This happens a lot these days, since she’s in Loughborough every Saturday, and it fell out that she was on her way to a pub.  Who am I to resist the promptings of fate?  I promptly fell in with her and accepted the generous offer of a drink, which took care of the intervening time until I went to Unity Building for the canvassing.

Canvassing is something I’ve often thought about doing but was too afraid to ask, the thought of knocking on people’s doors and asking them to vote for us being somewhat daunting.  So it was good to have some training in this area and next week I will be going out with some other reddish bods and doing it for real.

After the canvassing came another unplanned event.  At the cafe I got talking to a couple of women who go there, and they told me about a demo that afternoon against racism and for – well, peace and harmony and stuff.  I’m aware that this sounds a bit like Neil from The Young Ones, but there it is.  About half a dozen white British people and twenty or so Muslims turned up to stand around a banner and chant at the passers-by and marketeers who were packing up the Loughborough market.  I made up a couple of chants which were generally admired.  Well, I am a poet after all…

I shall be doing a write-up on this for the Loughborough Echo, exhorting people to stop tarring all Muslims with the same brush.  (Not you guys – I know you would never do anything so crass.)

So that was yesterday.  And a jolly good Saturday it was too.  Today I shall be mostly… going to Quaker meeting and then heading off for lunch to celebrate Alan’s birthday.

Kirk out

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…Call Me Daniel Blake

When Ken Loach’s films work, they really work: I’ve met the man in real life and he is impressively self-effacing, putting ordinary people and their stories at the centre of his films.  And having been on the dole myself in the ’80’s I totally got ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

In the 1980’s things were both better and worse.  They were worse in the sense that unemployment was much higher (zero-hours contracts notwithstanding) and that was especially true where I’d ended up.  In the North West there literally were no jobs, especially not for a shellshocked teacher who absolutely refused to go back to the chalk face.  I guess I could have gone on sickness benefit, but I resisted the medicalisation of my mental illness and decided to face it out without the dubious help of anti-depressants: I still maintain this was the right approach for me.  But I know in my soul the grinding despair of unemployment: the feeling that you are judged by others; the impossibility of finding work no matter how you try, and the never-ending financial hardship.  Matthew Parris, then a Minister in the Thatcher government, did a TV programme where he ‘tried’ living on unemployment benefit for a week: he planned to save £3 and ended up sitting in the dark with no heating.

But I was lucky: I had a family who could help, and in the end (though very reluctantly) I returned home for a while and eventually found work.

Daniel Blake is not so lucky: he has to stop work as a carpenter when he suffers a heart attack.  His doctor signs him off but when he tries to claim ESA (sickness benefit) his claim is refused.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the story of one man’s attempt to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucracy and human indifference and retain his self-respect.  After he is defeated at every turn and ejected from the Job Centre (or whatever they’re called this week) he gets a spray-can and writes his testimony to the world on the wall:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5168192/mediaviewer/rm3244179200

This is his attempt at finding a voice in the midst of defeat and degradation.

I won’t spoil the ending for you but go and watch the film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5168192/?ref_=nv_sr_1

And in case you think it’s mere left-wing propaganda, here are a selection of ESA stories from the media:

http://www.independent.co.uk/topic/esa

https://welfaretales.wordpress.com/category/employment-support-allowance/

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/the-30-cut-to-esa-explained/#.WN4y5zFtnDc

In the interests of fairness, I tried to find some positive stories.  Here’s what I found:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=esa+success+stories&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

There’s to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that what happened to Daniel happens to many people and that claims are routinely refused.  Whistle-blowers in the ‘service’ talk of a culture of trying to put claimants off so as to save money.  Of course, these services are now privately managed, meaning that there is a need to generate profit.

Words fail me: I just feel desperately sorry for people caught in this situation because I could so easily be there too.

If you’re in this situation and need help, don’t despair.  Help is available here:

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/sick-or-disabled-people-and-carers/employment-and-support-allowance/while-youre-getting-esa/challenging-an-esa-decision/

Kirk out

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael

The flow of trans thoughts never seems to abate, partly because the media are awash with the stuff; and the most recent addition to the maelstrom is ze.  It looks like a bad rendering of French, but it is in fact an attempt at a non-gendered pronoun.  Now in theory I’m all in favour of this; in fact I have long lamented the absence of a gender-neutral pronoun in our language.  Hitherto we have had to resort to they, which sounds a little impersonal, belonging as it also does to animals and objects.  But what I object to is the attempt to enforce its use by means of emotive bullying.  A few months ago it was reported that Oxford University Student Union required students to use it rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’, though it’s only fair to say that they subsequently denied this: however there is a lot of expectation from trans and non-binary people that everyone should remember and use the correct pronouns.

Of course as a matter of politeness people should be called what they wish: but whereas I’d be annoyed if, after repeatedly asking someone to call me Liz, they persisted with Elizabeth, I have to recognise that Liz is an understood abbreviation; it’s in common usage.  People don’t have to get their heads around it.  This is not the case with ze, and The Press Association has recognised this in their recent advice to journalists:

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/03/27/journalists-told-to-ignore-gender-neutral-pronoun-ze/

Then again, there was a time (and I remember it) when Ms was new and not many people understood it; but with perseverance it became accepted.  It is now rare to find a form on which Ms doesn’t appear as an option.  Mx has been proposed for those not wishing to declare their gender – or, presumably who consider themselves non-binary, but has yet to catch on.  Besides, there has to be a limit to the number of options.

The problem with this proliferation of pronouns is that a) people may struggle to remember them and b) won’t understand the need for them.  Do most people – Jo and Jane Bloggs – have a clue what non-binary is, or even know it exists?  As the Academie Francaise is continually discovering, it is pointless passing decrees on what language people should use: unless and until we have a society like in ‘1984,’ people will continue to talk about le weekend, le parking and le camping –  and until and unless people want a non-gendered pronoun they will continue to use he and she.

As I have said before, we – as a society – have had a debate about issues such as homosexuality and gender equality and on both issues we have, by and large, come to a consensus.  There will always be people who disagree, but there is now widespread acceptance of the belief that homosexuality is not a choice and should therefore be treated on a par with heterosexuality: likewise most people accept that women should be treated on a par with men.  But we haven’t yet had that debate about transgender folk, and we need to have it.  Most people are baffled and confused; they don’t understand what it is and where it comes from, let alone how to deal with it.  And issuing a series of fiats is just not helping.

Kirk out

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And What Am I?

So, following on from  this post:

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/15116

I want to ask the following question; who or what decides who we are?  Who or what is the ultimate arbiter of identity?  I guess in previous generations it was decided by factors such as social class, occupation, nationality and so on: Kwame Appiah gave a series of talks on this as the 2016 Reith lecturer called ‘Mistaken Identities’ in which he covered culture, nationality, colour and creed.  He could easily have covered gender as well: there’s certainly enough debate going on about this at the moment.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00729d9/episodes/player

Although ‘debate’ is perhaps something of a misnomer for what is basically a boxing match.  On one side we have the traditionalists who think men should be men and women, women: in the same corner are the TERFs  who believe that a trans woman is not a ‘real’ woman.  And in the opposite corner stand the trans community and their supporters who maintain that a trans woman is, and always has been, a woman.

So how does this work?  In what sense is a person born with male sex and reproductive organs, who develops chest and facial hair along with other secondary sexual characteristics, a woman?  Explanations are not readily forthcoming: neither is it easy to have respectful debate, with those on one side saying often very rude and hurtful comments and those on the other stating that anyone who doesn’t accept them is effectively denying their right to exist.

But what makes a trans woman a woman?  Explanations are long on what a trans person isn’t and very short on what they is.  Basically they throw out biology and genetics as indicators of gender and seem to say ‘I am what I feel I am.’

I can’t go along with this.  Quite apart from my own issues with what gender dysphoria can do to a heterosexual marriage, I cannot simply throw out biology and agree that your gender is whatever you decide it is.  (And yes, I realise this is not done on a whim, but still…)  This makes no sense to me – and neither, I suspect, does it make sense to most people.

And there’s the rub: because what concerns me is that an orthodoxy is emerging in academic circles, where one view is being promoted and debate is not encouraged.  Some speakers (notably Germaine Greer) have been banned from campuses for expressing certain views, including anti-trans opinions:

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/campus-censorship-an-epidemic-at-uk-universities-as-aberystwyth-edinburgh-and-leeds-named-among-most-a6818896.html

Free speech or hate speech?  Is expressing anti-trans views to a mixed audience, as some have claimed, like shouting fire in a crowded room?

What do you think?

 

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

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Beware the Ideas of March

I’ve never been quite sure what an Ide is, but I am told that today is the Ides of March – or at any rate one of them: other Roman days include the Nones and Calends, and I don’t know when these are.  But! today’s post is about ideas, not Ides; the word just comes in handy for a silly pun.  And I’m afraid it’s yet more trans stuff because the Ideas just keep coming.  (See what I did there?)  Because I seem to be coming round a little bit to the TERF position (if you don’t know what that is, see this post:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/free-speech-or-hate-speech-terf-wars/)

As I understand it, the position of TERFs is that transgender women are not real women and that their existence ‘invades female space’.  Now I wouldn’t go that far – and especially I wouldn’t be as rude as Germaine Greer – but I know what Jenni Murray means when she talks about men retaining their privileges when they transition, in that they attained positions of power as a man which they then keep, or that like Lauren Jeska the athlete recently in the news, they win races with the physical strength they were born with as a man.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-39266777

The trans position is generally that the trans person was ‘always’ a woman (or man, but I am focussing on female-to-male here).  As my previous posts have shown, I am struggling to make sense of this: I don’t believe you can simply throw out biology as a determiner of either sex or gender.  (I’ve gone into this quite recently – just scroll down a couple of posts.) It seems clear that those ‘born’ male often retain characteristics thought of as male, such as muscle bulk and a prominent jaw: in particular when they have a certain degree of physical strength, it seems unfair that they are then able to take advantage of this by competing in sports as a woman.

Why is there such an explosion in transgender stories at the moment?  Is it simply an issue of the day?  Have there always been the same number of cases?  Is it because surgery and therapy are easier to access?  Is it because society is more tolerant than before?

I remember the odd transgender story from my youth, notably Jan (formerly James) Morris – but nothing like we’ve seen in recent years.  Why is that?  It’s tempting to wonder whether some of it is due to the rise in women’s rights.  If you can live as a woman without losing caste, why not?

Hmm.

Kirk out

 

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Good News is No News

It has probably not escaped your attention that the news nowadays is unrelievedly gloomy.  Douglas Adams spotted this decades ago when he invented a spaceship powered by Bad News, since this travelled faster than light:

http://www.clearwhitelight.org/hitch/harmless.txt

At Quaker meeting this morning a Friend spoke of rationing their intake of news: later on another Friend spoke of the wisdom of avoiding news bulletins first thing in the morning or last thing at night: because in the morning it colours your day at a time when you’re just waking up, and late at night it affects your sleep.  Midday is considered to be the best time: and whilst that doesn’t work for me as I’m otherwise engaged, I do generally allow an hour for waking before I put on the headlines.  I listen to the main news at six, though I usually find myself switching it off and turning to some joyous music on radio 2 instead – because what I hear generally causes me to feel either angry or depressed, neither of which is good for me.

Of course it’s important to keep up with what’s going on – but there’s a question as to how far the mainstream news actually informs us about real-life events.  There is a bias in everything; and as Owen Jones points out in his book ‘The Establishment’, at the moment it is a pro-business and (god help us) a relentlessly anti-Corbyn bias.  This can be seen in the BBC as well as most newspapers.

I could have a rant about political bias, but what concerns me most right now is the bias towards the negative.  As I said in the post about drama, happiness is considered dull: only misery, it seems, makes good news.  So that even when a positive item makes it onto the agenda, it is usually qualified by doubts about how long it will continue – doubts which are never expressed, say, about a war or an economic crisis.

I don’t think this is necessarily conscious and deliberate: the news outlets may even be unaware that they are doing it.  They may simply think that this is what news is: good news is no news.  But it means that our vision of the world – as we see it through these outlets – is overwhelmingly biased towards the negative; and (which should concern them more) it means that people like me are reaching more and more for the off-switch.

Kirk out.

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Sexual Harassment? Nein Danke

I’d like to apologise to gay men for today’s post as I realise the scenario I am about to unfold is highly unlikely, but it’s the best I can do.  So here’s the thing: a while ago after Donald T***p had come out as a predatory crocodile with his talk about grabbing women by the p***y and after women the world over had called him out on normalising sexual assault, a man I happened to be talking to (a friend of a friend) began to opine that being grabbed by the genitals was a fairly minor affair.  Before the argument could get out of hand, he’d been shushed by our mutual friend and we got on with having dinner.  But later, I began to think about how one can explain how it feels to such a bloke.  How do you get this across?  Because saying, ‘imagine if a woman were to grab you by the d**k’ just doesn’t cut it.  That situation is not the same because the power relationships are not the same – and that’s exactly the point.  To grab a man by the genitals might be construed as a come-on; to grab a woman by the genitals, quite apart from being painful, is not only an assault but an assertion of power; even of possession.

So, the best I can do to convey what the Donald Trump ‘genital grab’ might be like for men, is as follows:

Imagine you work in an office where the Big Boss is gay.  He’s aggressively, flamboyantly gay and if he fancies you, you’d better watch out.  Don’t get in the lift with him, don’t bend over anywhere near him and don’t do anything that might be misconstrued as encouragement.  At all costs, avoid being in the same room with him.

Now, imagine that despite your precautions – wearing high-necked shirts and loose-fitting suits and never, ever making eye contact – the Big Guy takes a fancy to you.  He is so arrogant that he thinks because he fancies you he has a right to do something about it; so he calls you into his office so he and his colleagues can have a good look; he gets you to run errands and whenever you pass in the corridor he makes personal comments like ‘my, you’re a big boy aren’t you?’  Every day he swings by your workstation and hangs over your chair to look at your computer screen, all the while making suggestive comments.

Of course your instinct is to get the guy in a dark alleyway somewhere and deck him.  But that would be unwise; because first of all this guy is powerful.  He works out and could probably deck you first; and then you’d be out of a job.  But even if he doesn’t, he never goes anywhere without a couple of henchmen, so you’d be mad to try.  You could always change jobs of course, but chances are in every workplace your boss is going to be a horny aggressive gay guy.

So that gives you some idea of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of workplace harassment.  And once again I apologise for the analogy – but it’s the best I can do.

Kirk out

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