“Rihanna illuminati princess pushing satanic agenda”

After I posted a photo yesterday of the wonderfully obscure ‘Is Panadol made from dead people’s brains?‘ story from Uganda’s New Vision, a few people sent me through bizarre headlines they had seen from around the world.

I thought I would share my favourite of these stories.

This is the impressively odd headline that was tweeted from @TomSavoury from his time in Tanzania:

If anyone can find the text to this article please do contact me, I would love to read it.

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Is Panadol made from dead people’s brains?

The answer is of course, no. Panadol is not made from dead people’s brains.

In case there was any doubt though the New Vision, Uganda’s largest national newspaper, helped clear this up for us today. This is from page 24:

panadol
Wonderfully obscure!

A hat tip to my friend Malcolm who spotted this. 

 

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The new cabinet in full

david-cameron
Here is the complete new look cabinet. Complete with an Equalities Minister opposed to same-sex marriage, a Health Minister who thinks homeopathy works and a eurosceptic minister heading the Foreign and Commonwealth office.

Also note that after all the talk of a new look and bringing more women into the cabinet, this ‘new look’ does only involve a handful of women, 2 people who are not white, and, as far as I am aware, zero homosexuals.

It does though ensure that white, middle-class, Oxbridge educated men are still well represented. There is also a reasonable smattering of millionaires (the PM and DPM included).

Just to reiterate – these are the people who are running our country…

David Cameron – Prime Minister

Nick Clegg - Deputy Prime Minister

William Hague - First Secretary of State, Leader of the House of Commons

George Osborne – Chancellor of the Exchequer

Danny Alexander - Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Theresa May - Secretary of State for the Home Department

Michael Fallon - Secretary of State for Defence

Vince Cable - Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Iain Duncan Smith - Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Chris Grayling - Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Nicky Morgan - Secretary of State for Education, Women & Equalities Min.

Eric Pickles - Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Jeremy Hunt - Secretary of State for Health

Elizabeth Truss - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Justine Greening - Secretary of State for International Development

Alistair Carmichael - Secretary of State for Scotland

Edward Davey – Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Patrick McLoughlin - Secretary of State for Transport

Sajid Javid - Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Theresa Villiers - Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Stephen Crabb - Secretary of State for Wales

Philip Hammond - Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Also allowed to attend Cabinet:

Michael Gove - Chief Whip and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury

Francis Maude - Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General

Matt Hancock - Minister of State for BIS, DECC and Portsmouth

Esther McVey - Minister of State for Employment

Oliver Letwin - Minister for Government Policy, Lord Privy Seal

David Laws - Minister of State for Cabinet Office, Schools

Grant Shapps - Minister Without Portfolio

Baroness Warsi - Senior Minister of State, Faith and Communities

Greg Clark - Minister of State for Universities and Science

Jeremy Wright - Attorney General

Baroness Stowell - Leader of the House of Lords

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New Equalities Minister voted against same sex marriage

nickymorgan
Our virtual Prime Minister tweeted to tell us the new Education Secretary will continue as Minister for Women and Equalities.

Ignoring the slightly confusing fact that Cameron is wrong as she didn’t use to hold the equalities bit of the post he refers to (that was reserved the Sajid Javid), this does confirm that we now have someone who voted against same-sex marriage as the minister responsible for equalities.

Talking to her local paper Morgan said of the issue:

“There have been plenty of little changes down the years but what’s never been changed is that the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman. I think that was one of the issues people, especially those who asked me to vote against, found hardest to accept and it also tied in with my own Christian faith too.” 

Cameron’s government….fighting for equal rights, unless you are gay!

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Former Shell employee appointed as new Environment Secretary

truss
Today’s cabinet reshuffle has seen a number of high profile changes that have gripped the Westminster bubble (and let’s be honest, no one else).

One of the smaller changes that was pushed through was the departure of Owen Patterson from the post of Environment Secretary. Hynd’s Blog has reported before about how he doesn’t ‘believe’ in man-made climate change including the time when he managed to recite 10 separate climate change myths on national radio in as many seconds.

It is with considerable pleasure then that we see the back of him as he disappears back to the backbenches.

Replacing Patterson is the Conservative MP Liz Truss. Or perhaps a better prefix to her name might be ‘former Commercial Manager for Shell’ Liz Truss.

This employment history comes from her Wikipedia page which in turn references her own website biography. Interestingly though there is no mention of Shell on biography now….I’ll let you decide why she, or a government press spinner, might have taken this bit of information down before she is announced as the new Environment Secretary.

In case you are wondering about my use of Wikipedia, don’t worry, I cross checked it. We know that her employment history is true as she mentions it quite openly in a 2012 interview in the New Statesman.

All this said, we know very little about her views on the environment in general. We know that she pushed for solar panels to be put on school roofs but opposed ‘solar farms’ in her own Norfolk constituency…and that is about it.

Perhaps a more pertinent question for number 10 might be, what qualifications does she have to take up this role in the first place?

But hey, as we know, actually knowing anything about a cabinet brief is a side issue. The main criteria for promotion in this reshuffle seems to be to not be posh and/or male with the focus on being what is right for the Tory 2015 election strategy not what is right for Britain.

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[Jim Lockey and the] Solemn Sun: New name, new sound, new video

The band formerly known as Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun are back with a new name, new sound and brand new video.

Re-launching as ‘Solemn Sun‘ the Cheltenham based band have released a new video with a whole new sound to their last albums ‘Atlases‘ and ‘Death‘.


My advice, for what it’s worth, is make sure you check them out live. They have two dates announced:

AUGUST
06 – BRISTOL Exchange
07 – LONDON Old Blue Last

 

 

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Gaza: a week of conflict and violations of International Humanitarian Law

Gaza*Photo: The Guardian.

The on-going Israeli military operation in Gaza is now over a week old. In this week, 172 people have been killed according to Palestinian officials. The UN estimates that 77% of those killed are civilians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in UN facilities within the Gaza strip.

In the same time period nearly 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza according to Israeli sources.

It is civilians who are dying in the Gaza strip. It is also civilians who are living in near constant fear of rocket attacks across the south and west of Israel. These attacks that the last week has seen once again constitute a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) from both ‘sides’.

At the heart of IHL is the principle of distinction:

“The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”

This principle of distinction not only applies to people but also property.

Throughout the last week we have seen multiple examples of the IDF openly saying that it targets the houses of activists involved in armed Palestinian groups. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem highlighted the case Kaware’a family home which was bombed on the 8th July. The bombing saw the roof collapse killing eight people, six of them children. Another 28 people were injured.

This house was owned by Ahmad Kaware’a and his sons. The oldest of which is active in the military wing of Hamas. Even if no harm came of civilians in this attack, it is still unlawful as the house does not constitute a military target.

The UN have been very clear on the subject saying:

“The targeting of civilian homes is a violation of international humanitarian law unless the homes are being used for military purposes. In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets”

The last week has also seen an increase in the number of rockets fired from within Gaza towards the south and west of Israel. Armed groups within Gaza including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have continued to fire rockets either indiscriminately or with the specific aim of targeting civilians. Although no deaths have been reported from over 1000 rockets launched, by definition these rocket attacks are a violation of the principle of the distinction.

While some violations of IHL are new, many are much older than the recent media attention. For example, Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza is one that the ICRC has described as collective punishment which is in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under IHL.

Because Gaza is considered as occupied territory under IHL, Israel has a legal obligation to ensure the basic needs of Gazans are met. The blockade does the opposite impacting on food security, health provision, education and almost every other aspect of life.

In the last couple of days Oxfam has sent out another emergency appeal as the already bleak humanitarian situation deteriorates further. As an occupying power, Israel has a clear responsibility to the citizens of Gaza that it is too often neglecting.

Once again violence in this troubled region is leaving civilians on the front line of the conflict. IHL has at its heart the intention to protect civilians at times of conflict. For this to happen, both Israel and armed Palestinian groups need to respect these very basic standards.

 

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Was the highlander’s contribution to BBC’s Question Time a ‘Better Together’ plant?

You might disagree with the sentiment of this man’s contribution to last night’s ‘Question Time’ but you have to appreciate the passion…

There is debate though about whether or not he was ‘Better Together‘ plant in the audience. Personally, I think there is about as much chance of that as this chap being a ‘Yes Scotland‘ campaign plant.

 

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Film showing in Kampala: The Last Yak Herder of Dhe

The Mountain Club of Uganda proudly presents:

TheLastYakHerderPosterYou can see a preview of the film here:

Join the film showing facebook event page here.

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Green Cllr Ben Duncan thrown out of Green group after ‘hired killers tweet’

ben 4
A couple of week’s ago Hynd’s Blog reported on Green Cllr Ben Duncan tweeting his way into another PR disaster. I finished that article by asking:

‘one has to wonder how much longer they will tolerate Cllr Duncan and his off message, and at time highly offensive, online comments?’

Well today we got our answer. Today’s Brighton Argus reports:

In a statement issued this morning, Lisa Murray, chairwoman of Brighton and Hove Green Party, said: “The panel of inquiry has concluded that Councillor Ben Duncan should no longer serve as a member of the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton and Hove City Council.

“This follows his recent statement on Twitter concerning the armed forces which understandably offended many both within and outside the party.

“The panel concluded that since this recent incident follows a history of making comments in social media that many would view as inappropriate for someone in such a position, taken as a whole, Councillor Duncan’s actions amount to a breach of standards and judgement expected of a Green councillor, bringing himself and colleagues into disrepute.

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Hynd’s Blog in top 100 political blogs in the UK

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Hynd’s Blog has this month been catapulted to the dizzying height of the ’91st most influential political blog in the UK’ according to the online analysis site ‘e-Buzzing‘.

Hynd’s Blog is still not quite matching the pace set by Labour List, Guido Fawkes or Left Foot Forward who top the list but still…it is nice to know someone somewhere is reading my ramblings. And to whoever you are – thank you! You, the readers, are the difference between this online blogging hobby being something worthwhile or just another blogger exuding the signs of virtual insanity by talking to oneself.

So thank you, it is really appreciated that you take the time to visit Hynd’s Blog.

Well, enough of this sentimental mush….onwards and upwards.

More information:

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As Gaza is bombed why do I keep looking for the odd good news story?

Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza City survey the rubble of a house targeted in an Israeli air strike

Reports have cumulated overnight suggesting that at least 25 Palestinians have been killed and 70 injured as Israel launched at least 160 strikes on the Gaza strip.

The death toll – primarily made up of civilians – has continued to rise as Israel amasses troops on the border readying for a potential ground invasion. Militants within Gaza continue to fire rockets into Israel with at least 140 launched on Tuesday alone but thankfully, so far, with no casualties.

This violence in the south and west of Israel and in the occupied Gaza strip has also resulted in an upsurge of violence in the Occupied West Bank with reports coming in of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Defence Force.

Amidst this escalating violence many, myself included, look on with a growing desperation for any positive development to hold onto. It is perhaps because of this that I have seen this photo, and the accompanying story, posted on my social media feeds almost as much as the photos of the devastation occurring in the Gaza strip.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

This story of mutual loss and grief holds resonance with so many because not only does it deal with death – something which connects us all – but also because it shows the shared humanity in a conflict that too often removes any sense of such commonality.

It is an important story that I hope more people read**.

This said, it also made me reflect how people (once again, myself included) use the Israel/Palestine conflict to project their own values. I want Israelis and Palestinians to focus on their shared humanity more than everything that divides them. I want this so much that perhaps at times I convince myself that this view is shared amongst Israelis and Palestinians more than it perhaps is.

How often do you hear commentators use a variation of the phrase ‘the vast majority just want peace’ with nothing to back this claim up?

Obviously in the broad sense of the word ‘peace’, I am sure this is true, but how many people want a realistic collection of the characteristics that are needed to establish peace? I am not sure to be honest. Probably not as many as I would like.

To counter this I grasp onto the minority who conform to my pre-existing perspective in hope that it validates my own views and my own vision for potential peace in the region. I suspect this is one compelling reason why the above photo has gone viral with many left-wing friends – it supports a world view that validates their own.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that I face then is the task of facing up to the fact that lots of people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories don’t think like I do. Lots of Palestinians don’t want to accept a neighbouring state of Israel, a lot of Israelis don’t want to share Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state etc etc…*

While I am entitled to my views, as you are yours, I also have to accept the fact that we probably won’t be the ones who ultimately bring about peace. This has to come from within Israeli and Palestinian society (although I think we outsiders can help lay the foundations).

I was acutely aware of this during my time in the West Bank and Israel in 2012 and tried as much as possible to report the words of the people I met and to only offer a human rights framework for their words to help readers contextualise what they were saying. Inevitably though I at times failed and led interviews into the direction I wanted them to go rather than really listening 100% to what they wanted to say.

Equally I noticed on a number of occasions that some Palestinians I was interviewing would self-conform, either out of a sub-conscious desire to please or through strategy, and use peace/human rights language that sat comfortably in my articles but did not necessarily reflect the militaristic rhetoric that I heard in the coffee shops and in the fields when I wasn’t conducting formal interviews.

Since moving away from both Israel and the occupied territories it has become harder for me to put the emphasis on listening to what Palestinians and Israelis have to say on the subject rather than just projecting my own thoughts purely because I am not having daily interactions with them. This is one of the reasons I have been writing much less on the conflict in the last year or so.

All of this said I still think it is important that the international community (that includes you and me) keeps highlighting what is happening and calling for justice and accountability. I also believe that we have a role to play. The most powerful things I think we can do is to highlight the grass-roots efforts to bring about a non-violent end to the occupation. This in my mind includes the powerful story of the Fraenkel and Khdeir mourning families coming together to offer each other support.

The challenge though is how we do this without losing sight of the reality of normal people’s opinions that might sit less comfortably with our own (my own) liberal human rights dominated perspective whilst we cherry pick the few good news stories that make ourselves feel better?

 

*I am not saying these are the characteristics needed for peace, but they are examples of characteristics many feel are needed for peace and that many people in Israel/Palestine oppose. 

** UPDATE Since publishing this article it has emerged that the photo and the recent story I linked to on Huffington Post are not the same. The photo is from 2013. More here. The story however in the Huffington Post, to the best of my knowledge, is true though.

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UKIP MEPs turn their backs on the EU to face the far-right of European politics

When UKIP MEPs turned their backs in protest to the EU flag they embarked on creating some truly wonderful imagery.

They had hoped to create a powerful visual protest against the EU by turning away from the EU flag. Without realising though they all turned instead to face no other than Marine Le Pen, of Front National (FN) – the far-right French political party resulting in this wonderful image:

UKIP

*Photo New Europe

Of course, in the lead up to the European elections UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the man who orchestrated this parliamentary protest, spoke out about the ‘common ground’ between the FN and UKIP and the potential of working together in the European Parliament as a blocking minority.

Indeed Geert Wilders, the lunatic Eurosceptic leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, told the Guardian that hoped he could get Le Pen and Farage to work together in the parliament.

This overlap between the far-right of European politics and UKIP is seen in Farage’s recruitment of one rogue FN MEP into their political group (something which didn’t please Le Pen herself to much).

They are joined in UKIP’s ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ (EFD) by two Swedish far right MEPs whose party was founded by white supremacists (I read that they had to write specifically distancing themselves from white-supremacist views to be allowed in) as well as Lithuania’s Order and Justice Party (a party who themselves have had to deny links with Le Pen’s far-right FN).

A charming group huh?

I wonder how many 2014 UKIP voters realized that their vote was going to be used to help grow such a far-right grouping in the European Parliament?

I suspect not many!

european election results

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Why I won’t be voting for Labour’s David Drew or joining the facebook group attacking him

David Drew
Today I stumbled across the Facebook group, ‘David Drew, some facts’.

It is a curious repetition of three accusations against the former Labour MP for Stroud. It holds significance though because he is, once again, standing in Stroud in 2015 in one of the closest fought marginal seats in the country.

Which means that my vote is one of the few in the UK that will hold any sway in the outcome of the 2015 election. Put another way, these accusations, if they sway just a handful of people, might be the difference between Labour returning an MP in Stroud or not.

In short the three accusations made on the page are (not in my words but the groups):

1)      He is anti-gay because in June 1998 David Drew voted against lowering the gay age of consent from 18 to 16. He was in a v small minority (source).

2)      He is against woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, partly evidenced by this vote in May 2008 he voted for a reduction in abortion time limit, to restrict women’s sole use of IVF and to restrict hybrid embryos (source).

3)      He is anti-freedom of speech because in May 2009. He asked the home secretary to ban entry to the UK of Dr Philip Nitschke, the Director of Exit International, a Euthanasia Campaign (no source given).

The first thing to note from this list is that after a 14 year spell in parliament, the fact that they could only rustle up three things to disagree with him about is telling. David was a pretty good MP and I am sure he will continue to represents many of my Green concerns (social justice, environmentalism, human rights etc) very well if re-elected.

I have to say, much more so than the party he represents always does!

That said, my personal political disagreements with David do also contribute to why I will be voting Green in May and not for David/Labour. Although to reiterate the weight of my reasoning here rests on the party he represents, not David as a person.

If you take just the Facebook group’s first point around same sex consent age as a case in point. When I asked him in 2010 about why he voted against lowering the age of consent for same sex couples so it matched that of heterosexual couples he responded by saying it was because he thought no one, regardless of their sexuality, should be able to have sex before the age of 18 and that he wanted the heterosexual age of consent to go up!

Slightly horrified about this slightly patronising answer and wondering if he tells this to the young Labour voters he has out delivering leaflets that he thinks their sexual relationships should be illegal, I went on to ask him then why he voted against a 2002 motion to vote on his own government’s plans to allow unmarried and gay couples to adopt children. On this occasion he blustered slightly and said that there was problem in the detail.

Did he really think that same sex couples should not be allowed to adopt? Does he still?

My worry is that David does hold homophobic views and this in turn is a bit of red line he crosses for me…discrimination. If he doesn’t he needs to work MUCH harder to convince me of this. As someone who follows equality issues quite closely I have never heard a comment from him on this subject let alone an effective rebuttal of the above accusations.

So if David is reading this, I hope he doesn’t take this as an attack but an opportunity to explain his vote against same sex couples being allowed to adopt (and maybe to clarify whether he really thinks a consensual relationship between two 17 year olds should be illegal).

There are a list of other concerns I have with David which include the ones listed above (he is reported to have wanted the abortion limit to be brought down from 24 weeks to 12 weeks!). For me though, one of my central concerns are his views on the EU that put him so far on the Eurosceptic fringe of European politics that UKIP actually endorsed him at the last election and told their candidate not to campaign against him. I kid you not!

At a time when the UK’s strategic relationship in Europe hangs in the balance the last thing this country needs is another Eurosceptic MP.

All this said, I do like David. I think he is gutsy in his politics and I didn’t like the way the facebook group went about what felt like organizing a collective attack on him. Take for example their repeated claim that he is ‘anti-women’ because of his stance on euthanasia. It is sensationalist and in my mind overtly aggressive. Clearly David values and campaigns for gender equality and his opposition to euthanasia is based on his Christian beliefs not on any discriminatory attitudes towards women.

We need to hold politicians to account but I don’t think we do this by ‘going after them’. It felt to me that this is what the facebook group was doing.

But ultimately all of this sits far from the main reasons for not voting for David Drew. Simply it is the fact that The Green Party still best represents the sort of politics I want to see and so, assuming their candidate or the party does not cross any red lines for me between now and the election, this is how I will be voting in May 2015.

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Greens to win in Brighton and finish second place in Norwich according to Lord Ashcroft after latest poll

Green.
Lord Ashcroft’s poll of specific marginal seats has resulted in some good news for The Green Party.

Writing on his findings the pollster commented:

“The swing to Labour would have been even greater had it not been for the Green Party, which has attracted around one in seven Lib Dem defectors in these seats since 2010. I found the Greens in second place on 20% in Norwich South, and third on 10% in Manchester Withington. Indeed for every two Lib Dem defectors switching to Labour, one has gone to the Greens.

The Greens’ performance suggests they may have been identified as the new non-of-the-above vote for former Lib Dems who dislike the coalition and do not want to back any of the established parties. In other words, they could perform the same function for younger urban voters that UKIP currently does among older voters in other parts of the country.

In Brighton Pavilion (whose figures are not included in the overall calculations for the Lib Dem-Lab marginals), I found Labour on 33%, just one point ahead of the Greens, who were up a point on the last election. The seat will evidently be closely contested but on this basis I would not be surprised to see Caroline Lucas holding on next year.”

Lord Ashcroft’s polling has consistently found the Green Party to be on 6-7% of the national vote share – a huge increase on their 1% vote share from 2010 and leaves them not only as the main contender for seats such as Brighton Pavilion and Norwich South but also realistically looking to keep their deposits in a number of seats across the country.

This polling follows strong performances in May’s elections where the Greens elected an additional MEP (and as such they proudly point out they now have treble the number of the Liberal Democrats MEPs) and beat the Lib Dems into in the total vote share – 1.2million voted for a Greens compared to for the Lib Dems 1.09million. The Greens also gained 23 additional councillors at the Local Elections and are now the official opposition in Liverpool, Norwich, Solihull and the London boroughs of Lewisham and Islington.

Things are looking up for Green politics in the UK.

UPDATE:

The good folk at Norwich Green Party just tweeted me to say:

 

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Why today I’m reflecting on the deplorable killing of 3 Israeli teenagers

Israel
On hearing the news that 3 bodies have been found in the West Bank that are suspected to be the three abducted Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach,  that went missing almost three weeks ago I posted the following facebook status:

facebook

I was referring to the fact that some armed groups have claimed responsibility for the killings (inc an ISIS affiliated group, and Sarayat al-Quds, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad). If it is shown that one of these groups, or Hamas as the Israeli government keeps claiming, is responsible, then the killings would constitute a war crime.

Almost immediately comments began to follow that status update with comments on context and the atrocious backlash that the Palestinian population has suffered after the abductions in recent weeks. Comments came thick and fast about what we have already witnessed: Israeli forces’ arresting hundreds of Palestinians, raids and damage of property, enforced restrictions on freedom of movement, the continued widespread use of administrative detention and of course a series of killings.

From these comments I assume that people felt one of two things. Either that they thought that by condemning one act of violence I was somehow tacitly condoning another. And/or that some context was needed to the killings of the teenagers for those who read my facebook status updates to understand ‘the other side of the story’.

Whilst I strongly reject the first (for hopefully obvious reasons) the latter needs a bit more exploration.

I strongly agree with the assertion that context is important in understanding violence and human rights abuses. It is essential. I would be fascinated to hear anyone argue anything different. Equally, as a human rights activist the principle of impartiality is important – so I would be equally as passionate about condemning killing of civilian x as I would of civilian y.

The perpetrator is not important, but the context is.

With this said, why then would my facebook status not include the ‘other side of the story’ that so quickly emerged in the comments below?

Firstly, like so many, that status came as a result of reading about and then empathizing with all those affected by the killing of the three boys. It was a knee jerk reaction to a deplorable act. The words that came to hand was that of emotion and human rights, “deplorable act” “war crime” etc.

This facebook status wasn’t an essay, an analysis or trying to make any wider point. It was simply a comment on a deplorable act to illustrate that International Humanitarian Law condemns such behaviour.

Secondly though there is also an issue around comparing and/or contrasting people’s suffering. Not only do I find this morally uneasy but also at times pragmatically unhelpful. I am not convinced that trying to compare levels of suffering is helpful to anyone. In contrast, I can see others use the language of others suffering to perpetrate further atrocities. For me, the death of anyone’s loved one deserves a mark of respect, not a reduction of that life into a statistic to be used and abused for political ends.

With that said, a balance at this point then has to be struck. Clearly those in power are not following this line of thought and are already using these tragic deaths to justify furthering a pattern of events that have been occurring for much longer than the last three weeks.

Netanyahu has openly blamed Hamas for the killings and has promised revenge for what he described as a murder “in cold blood by human animals”. As a result we have already seen a sharp increase in the bombing of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli housing minister, Uri Ariel, has called for the extrajudicial executions of leaders of Hamas and for Israel to “start a wave of construction in the settlements in response to the murder of the abductees.” – something which in itself would be the cause of forced displacement, a myriad of human rights violations and is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

So simply ignoring the context isn’t sufficient either. Mourning the loss of innocent civilians whilst watching on at the on-going violations of others is as equally morally and pragmatically undesirable.

The challenge for myself, and others then looking to comment on these killings and the atrocious backlash being experienced across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is how we speak out in an equal and fair way without reducing people’s suffering to just statistics or worse, campaigns fodder.

This is something that I am still struggling with and thinking about. For now, I use human rights language. Hence my response as I tried to keep it simple when responding to one friend who asked about the killings of Palestinian children:

facebook 2

 

While some might think of human rights language as cold and legalistic, I think of it as a powerful liberal tool that encapsulates the importance of the individual. It is not always perfect but it does allow space for people to expand on individual violations when they want.

This morning I chose expand on the deplorable killings of three Israeli teenagers. This has no bearing on my thoughts on the other violations occurring in the region.

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Another PR disaster for Green Cllr Ben Duncan

ben 4
Green Cllr, Ben Duncan has stumbled into another PR disaster.

The Cllr for Kemptown in Brighton, notorious for being off message, tweeted on ‘Armed Forces Day’:

Ben

On this particular twitter PR disaster it took the Cllr nearly 48 hours to apologize:

Ben 2

And, as you might expect, this apology didn’t go down too well with some:

ben 3

The local party were quick to distant themselves from his remarks as well:

bhgreen 1

I keep referring to Cllr Duncan’s PR disasters in the plural because this isn’t the first time he has had to apologize. There was of course his 2012 apology for a remark about “murdering, raping and looting” during a debate on legalised cannabis cafes where he famously apologized with the phrase:

“I apologise unreservedly for mentioning rape in what was meant to be a light-hearted, ironic tweet…” 

Then there was that 2013 highlight where he was quoted in what was already a less than complimentary article about the Green Party in the The Guardian as saying:

“Jason Kitcat’s policies have time and again betrayed working people, city residents – and the electoral interests of the Green Party of England and Wales.”

Not exactly on message.

The Green Party with their lack of whip system is well known for accepting and encouraging internal disagreement and debate, but one has to wonder how much longer they will tolerate Cllr Duncan and his off message, and at time highly offensive, online comments?

You can keep up-to-date with Cllr Duncan’s online antics by following his twitter account @KemptownBen.

A hat tip to Charlotte Henry’s blog where I first saw this story.

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As the economy slips in importance to voters, Labour’s prospects suffer

After almost six years, the economy is no longer the most important issue facing Britain today’

This is the headline finding from the Ipsos Mori issues index published today.

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The polling, which asks voters which issues are the most important to Britain, has found that issues around race and immigration are now seen as the singular most important issue. The economy moves to second place, for the first time since August 2008.

These latest figures are part of a trend that has shown concerns over the economy slipping since 2011 from the notable spike that came soon after the onset of the financial crisis in 2008.

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The problem for Labour is that they have rallied around their ‘cost of living crisis’ campaign assuming that the economy will remain top of the list of voter concerns (as it had done for the last 6 years). This continued decline in importance to voters is bad news for Labour’s prospects in 2015.

Labour had established a good campaign on the ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ with strong messaging. Had the economic recovery been slower, or voter concern more consistent, then this would have provided a strong basis on which to campaign on in the run up to the General Election in 2015. As it stands however, it feels as though Labour are struggling to find their voice on other issues important to voters such as immigration let alone setting out a left-wing alternative that also addresses voters’ concerns.

If they fail to get this sorted this might well be the difference between government or opposition after May’s elections.

And of course, what is bad news for Labour is good news for the Conservatives who have been desperately trying to peddle the message that ‘they took hard decisions’ but that the economy is ‘back on track’ now they have cleaned up ‘Labour’s mess’.

The campaigns team in Tory HQ will be delighted with these Ipsos Mori findings.  However, the rise of the immigration/race issues that have traditionally played into Conservative hands may also fuel the continued rise of UKIP with their no-nonsense ‘standing up for Brits’ messaging.

These opinion polls are pulling all the major parties to the right, each trying to out do each other to sound ‘tough on immigration’. This phenomena has led to what some commentators are calling a bidding war on trying to sound tough on immigration.

Once again though this plays into Tory hands rather than Labour’s. The risk of Conservatives loosing votes by sounding too harsh on immigrants is small, for Labour this is a real possibility.

In short then, it might be a time for a re-think for Labour. How, with just over 300 days until the election, are they going to set out an attractive alternative that answers voters concerns on issues such as immigration, unemployment and the NHS?

I’m not sure they will be able to which is why at this stage I would put money on a Conservative minority government in 2015.

More information:

 

 

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A visit to Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda

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As we enter the long corridor a strip light overhead flickers for a final few seconds before finally joining some of the other lights in the corridor that have long since given up and now do little more than collect dust. The few remaining lights throw strange long shadows down the corridor next to the wheeled beds that rest head to toe along the side of the corridor. It reminds me of the Kampala traffic jam that stacks up outside the hospital in the choking city heat.

No natural light makes it into the corridor but somehow the faint smell of congested traffic makes it up onto the third floor of Mulago Hospital to intermingle with the smell of humans and disinfectant. Avoiding the few harsh strip lights that still work, patients lie either in the shadow of their own headboards or with their thin sheets pulled over their heads.

As I walk down the corridor I step carefully over the relatives, water bottles, half eaten meals and other day to day items that are dotted across the floor. The patients rely on relatives for not just company but also for a lot of the day to day care they need. The smell as you pass some patients makes it abundantly clear that some patients are not receiving the care they need.

I glance sideways making small talk with my eyes to some of the patients whilst trying to keep moving on and keeping up with the representative of Hospice Africa Uganda who I am shadowing. Dressed in the dark blue shirt with a golden collar that marks her out as a member of the palliative care team my host takes large confident strides that exposes her familiarity with the surroundings.  She doesn’t look down as she steps over brothers, books and broken bits and pieces. Instead she angles her thick note book that she is carrying towards the strip light above and looks over notes of the patients she is there to visit.

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We push through some thick wooden swing doors on our left into a room that has one of the young patient we are there to visit as well half a dozen others. The patient we are visiting has terminal cancer and relies on the visits of the Hospice Africa team to bring oral morphine to help her with the considerable pain she would otherwise be in. My host from Hospice Africa Uganda goes straight to her bedside and lowers herself and her voice as she makes confident but kind eye contact with the patient. Speaking in the local language, Luganda, my host subconsciously runs her fingers over the shoulder of the patient as she speaks.

I am told that they ask how bad the patient’s pain is and decide that the current level of morphine is suitable. The sister of the patient, herself barely out of her teenage years, looks on with the juxtaposition of her own youth intermingled with the inevitable death that rests so close to her own, and her family’s, life. Looking as though she is unsure of her role in the nurse/patient dynamic that plays out in front of her the sister reconciles her position by just being physically close to her sister. Both protective and supportive she leans on the bed side throughout the consultation.

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Selfishly my thoughts drift as the Luganda speech drifts around me. I start to think about how if I was diagnosed with terminal cancer I would want to be free, bathed in natural light and surrounded by fresh air not stuck in a overcrowded hospital. Almost immediately I catch myself and realise how ridiculous this thought is – all across Uganda there are patients who are dying of cancer in natural sunlight, surrounded by fresh air with their families who are also in insufferable pain because they have no access to the medical support they need. The pain medication, oral morphine, which the hospice team was there to deliver is little more than an aspiration to most cancer patients in Uganda – let alone early diagnosis and treatment.

Just before we leave, a colleague from the US organisation ‘Treat the Pain’ asks if the patient would like a Polaroid picture with her sister. For the first time a flicker of excitement crosses the patient’s face and she shuffles a symbolic couple of centimetres up the bed for the photo. Together the two sisters sit with their heads pressed together watching as their own images slowly appears in the Polaroid picture.

As we stand to leave we collect up our belongings leaving nothing but the sister, the patient and the Polaroid picture behind.

Speaking later when we are far away from the cluttered dark corridors of Mulago I talk to my colleague from Treat the Pain and we both reflect on how the photo felt like a symbol of how little we could offer as non-medical staff in such situations. The stories we write, the advocacy we engage in, and people we interact with will hopefully change the lives of many more patients to come, but for that one girl and her sister we could offer nothing more than a Polaroid picture – it felt useless.

I know in both my heart and mind that it is important to record stories, to take down testimonies, to photograph suffering. I know it, but sometimes it is hard to feel it in the intensity of the personal suffering you have barged in on, especially when you can offer so little in return.

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Click to enlarge the photos.

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A global look at the UK’s obesity crisis

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At work today I put my weight, height, age and nationality into the BBC BMI global comparison tool*.

Its results were stark. In Uganda (where I currently live) my body mass index (BMI) of 22.1 is higher than 71% of males aged 15-29. That said, it is also in the ‘normal’ range.

What caught my eye though was when I swapped around the country of residence to the UK. Suddenly it goes from telling me I have a higher BMI than 71% of Ugandan males of a similar age, to telling me I have a lower BMI than 78% of British males aged 14-29.

Both in Uganda and in the UK my weight to height ratio puts me in the minority – in Uganda for being bigger than average, and in the UK for being lower than average.

The fact that I have a healthier BMI than many Brits is perhaps not surprising considering that 67% of guys in the UK are considered overweight or obese (57% of women).

As an article in the Guardian notes:

“Fat, not thin, is today’s norm [in the UK].”

The same article however goes onto explain why we have stopped noticing how fat we are as a nation stating:

But studies show that we don’t notice because it has happened gradually and we have got used to seeing people who are overweight.” 

In short, if our friends and family are overweight, this reinforces a message that says we are ‘normal’ and not overweight.

This is of course nothing short of self-delusion. A form of denial with potentially serious consequences.

This self-delusion combined has allowed me in the past to put on weight to an unhealthy level. Like most people my weight fluctuates over the years. On one occasion a few years back I was slightly alarmed to notice that I slipped over 12 stone (76 kg – giving me a BMI of about 26 well into the overweight range) but I had not necessarily conceptualised that my weight was considerably too high or the health impacts that this was having.

This was partly self-delusion but also because I was surrounded by much fatter people.

I wonder how many other Brits (and middle-class Ugandans) would be equally alarmed now if they were to weigh themselves and place that on the BMI chart.

My guess is that many would be deemed ‘overweight’ who do not think of themselves as such.

Of course, this isn’t just a vanity thing, being overweight has serious health repercussions. For example, the length of your life is dictated by your weight, we know that on average moderate obesity cuts life expectancy by two to four years and severe obesity by an entire decade.

This is in part because obesity is closely tied to potentially serious and/or fatal conditions such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, and strokes.  

Although perversely I think it is easier to live an unhealthy lifestyle in Uganda (carb heavy diets, sugary drinks, cheap beer, busy roads discouraging walking and cycling etc) I think it is much harder to be in denial about your weight here because of the relative skinniness of those around you.

Coming back to the UK for short periods from living abroad in contrast I was shocked how visually obvious it was that we are in the midst of obesity epidemic.

This global perspective doesn’t remove my own levels of self-delusion (especially when the prospect of another cheap beer is offered) but it does mean it is harder to ignore the obesity levels of others around you.

More information:

* Before someone comments, I accept that BMI is a crass tool for an individual’s weight. It is simply used here as a signpost to a wider problem of obesity in the UK. 

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