The Sun’s barefaced hypocrisy on baring boobs

The sun

Today, The Sun published the ‘shaming’ story, ‘New sex game shame for topless Brit birthday girl in Magaluf’.

Putting aside whether or not it is in any of anyone’s business what a girl does on her 18th birthday it is worth just taking a moment to highlight the paper’s barefaced moral hypocrisy when it comes to baring breasts.

The Sun goes to great length ‘to celebrate’ the ‘bare-breasted beauties’ (see this 40th anniversary ‘celebration’) that they have daily on their page 3, but don’t seem to hesitate to talk of the shame that this girl is supposed to have felt for choosing to get her boobs out for a drinking game.

So which one is it – is The Sun celebrating natural beauty, in which case I personally look forward to the page 2 cock close-up juxtaposed next to the boobs, or, are we shaming people for getting their naughty bits out?

Of course The Sun is not the only paper to sink into a moral hypocrisy as they try to appeal to both middle-England’s sense of perpetual outrage and to the dispiriting fact that half naked pictures sell papers.

The other example that springs to mind is The Daily Mail’s obsession with fighting the ‘sexualisation of childhood’ whilst at the same time running pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a “tiny wetsuit” and “skimpy bikinis”.

For what it is worth I personally feel a lot of sympathy with the ‘celebrating natural beauty’ argument but just feel that is not, and indeed, cannot, be properly ‘celebrated’ in a society and newspaper industry that is so depressingly dripping in overt sexism.

Perhaps even more importantly though, I just feel that this sort of barefaced hypocrisy deserves to be highlighted.

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The Scottish vote for independence should be a celebration – change is happening.

This is a guest post from a good friend and current Phd student, Charlie Langan.

Edinburgh
A quick disclaimer to start: I will not be voting in the Scottish referendum. When there was the possibility of having a postal vote, I believed that neither side had provided any substance to vote for . Since then however, I believe that the Yes campaign has provided a story to believe in. Given the opportunity, I would vote Yes.

Yes for a chance to change both Scotland and the UK for the better.

The starting point of the debate though, which is often overlooked, is whether there is a problem with the state of the Union.

There is evidence that the system is not currently working. I am more and more ashamed of the news stories about the UK that make it to Uganda where I live. Despite not being patriotic, I find myself with, increasingly regularity, volunteering my Scottish status to separate myself from these stories. This is something I have never done before.

The turn to aggressive, confrontational and emotive attitudes and policies on immigration, the European Union, tax and social welfare among other issues coming from the UK, seems to me at odds with the progressive political agenda coming from Scotland.

As an environmental economist working on climate change, I recognise the strength of Scotland’s devolved policies based and founded upon science. However, I do believe that Scotland is running to the limit of its powers and is being constrained. Without being able to set taxes and create incentives, it is difficult to nudge people into making decisions that are better for the society we want to be.

Scotland has shown ability and aptitude to develop strong policies giving, at least me, assurances that Holyrood could probably handle sectors such as the economy (and by most measures better than the current UK government performances in health, education and environment sectors).

I think there is a lot of similarities between the current debate on independence and climate change.

Climate change is a problem, but it took a long time to really understand how it affects us all. Scottish and UK society, national priorities and policies aren’t in harmony, and the differences are perhaps becoming irreconcilable.

In this light, the debate boils down to do we need to change or not. It is a lazy argument that change is too risky just because it’s change. Those who refute change on the principle of change are often those have gained too much power under the status quo and don’t want the boat rocked (the equivalent big oil lobby against the green economy and taking action on climate change). The argument heard is often it’s too expensive to change, and closer examination such claims are generally unfounded.

If there is a consensus that a problem exists and there is a need for something to be done, the debate turns to what is the solution for a better Scotland and a better UK?

The problem here is evaluating any solution, as this requires making predictions of the future, or a new future or a new paradigm. Climate models using hundreds and thousands of years worth of data are made to look like child’s play compared to trying to model the complexity of economies. Those who claim certainty are un-honest, and there are many uncertainties making definitive answers difficult. But we are quite good and familiar at managing the risk of unknowns.

In many respects the Yes campaign has been taking a systematic approach to think through the key issues and logically trying to plot the best course that Scotland could follow if independence is chosen; i.e. identifying risks and proposing management. I don’t like Alex Salmond, nor do I attribute all the successes of the Scottish parliament to him, but I have become to believe that he and the Yes campaign continues to capture the progressive nature that exists within many Scottish policies. Drawing upon the scientific wisdom, it’s not the result that counts, but the method used that shows your success.

The Better together campaign have never unpacked themselves; is it “we are better together” or “we would be better together”? I have already dismissed for the former, but the latter – how – what could Scotland gain? What could the UK gain? What can both parties bring to the table that is not already there? What solutions is the no camp providing? Why have we never seen a better together vision for the future of Scotland? What will be on the table if a no vote is returned in the referendum and discussions turn to devolution max? How valuable would UK membership be to Scotland, if we all find ourselves outside the EU?

The nature of the independence and climate change debates has also been similar in that: the no campaign has been taking on the role of the climate sceptics, focusing on trivial or false corner stones of the debate (the hypothetical currency), distorting the wider picture of the debate (its all about the economy), and resorted in threats (you can’t depend on oil). I look forward to future comparisons with the UK debate and eventual referendum on the EU membership; will it also focus on these boring issues?

But here perhaps we are better together, working toward building commonality between Yes and No, then we can rationally and logically take the final step to spilt or not. I would like to see real discussions on pros and benefits of both camps visions’ for the future of Scotland.

Scotland should be giddy with the opportunities in front of it, not cowed into worrying about making the wrong choice. After all, the debate should be a celebration, change is already in motion and in this sense Scotland has already won!

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Video: ‘This is Uganda’

There are lots of reasons why I love living in Uganda. Equally, it never ceases to frustrate me the distorted and perpetually negative way Uganda is so often portrayed in my home country of the UK.

It is partly because of this I wanted to share this video I have stumbled across. Not because it encapsulates ‘Uganda’ like the title suggests but because it gives just the smallest of glimpses of some of the many wonders that Uganda holds.

If nothing else I hope that it will entice more people by to come and see for themselves everything this place has to offer.

This is Uganda – 2014 from Anne und Björn Fotografie on Vimeo.

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Book review: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

This is a copy of a book review I wrote for the UK edition of ehospice news.

Harold Fry
If ever a fictional book has illustrated the importance of ‘spiritual care’ as an integral part of palliative care, it is Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’.

Joyce’s heart-warming novel charts the unlikely story of Harold Fry. Harold is a retired Englishman who embarks on 600 mile walk from Devon to Berwick to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer. The walk, or pilgrimage, increasingly becomes interlinked with Harold’s own grief and spiritual pain as he becomes convinced that by undertaking such a walk he can not only keep his old friend alive, but also repent for the mistakes he has made in years gone by.

Although Harold’s friend Queenie is in a hospice with terminal cancer, the reader only gets brief glances at the physical, spiritual and social pain that she is experiencing. Joyce alludes to a lack of family or friends but this, it feels, is only mentioned to add impetus to the protagonist’s pilgrimage.

Indeed, it is Harold, and at times his wife Maureen, who the reader becomes best acquainted with. On a base level the reader begins to empathise with Harold’s tortured emotions towards Queenie and this only heightens throughout the walk.
From the beginning of the walk and the book the reader is aware of a pain lying just underneath the surface of Harold. Only as the walk, or as Joyce sometimes refers to it, ‘the journey’, develops do we begin to understand the nature and severity of Harold’s pain. Throughout the book one cannot help but draw parallels between Harold’s journey and other patient’s journey towards death.

What stands out in this novel though is the way Joyce cleverly explains to the reader how pain goes so much further than just the pain experienced by the patient. Friends, family and, of course, colleagues can be, and often are, effected by death and the process of dying.

Using this holistic understanding of pain, understanding it as more than just physical but also spiritual and social that can and does impact on friends and family as well the patient, Joyce takes the reader on a powerful emotional journey that is sadly too often out of reach in other novels that touch on issues related to death.

Using Harold’s well-being as an extended metaphor Joyce cleverly intertwines Harold’s hopes, emotions and fears with those of the readers and lets you experience the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Harold’s walk.

The context of which this journey is undertaken – the quintessential English landscape – is, I believe, mistaken by many as being the central theme to the book. Indeed in the reviews published on The Guardian or The New York Times, the life-affirming story and the societal implications of what it means to be ‘English’ or ‘Spiritual’ in the 21st century are drawn out as key themes.

For me, these were side-issues all playing in and relating to how we understand death and the role someone’s spiritual pain can play in that process. I took from the novel, and I believe this was intended as a key theme, the universality of spiritual concern and pain – something which palliative care practitioners have been advocating about for a number of years now.

This is illustrated in the fact that the issues around spiritual pain are shown from the perspective of an atheist (Harold). Regardless of religious beliefs we all have the potential to feel spiritual well-being and of course, pain.

Even when faced with the ultimate twist in the final chapters Joyce still refuses to deviate from what I felt to be the core theme of the book – Harold’s deeply personal anguish and how this not only impacts on those around him, but also on his own ability to be at one with himself.

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ remains one of the few fictional books I have read that deals with spiritual pain around dying adequately. This is not to say it deals with these issue comprehensively, merely that it acknowledges it to be a central part of what it is that makes us human.

It is perhaps this unlikely source of shared humanity that makes this first novel such a triumph and pleasure to read despite the difficult subjects it addresses.

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Ice Bucket Challenge: Pour a bucket of water over my head? Not in Uganda I won’t

This is an article that I wrote for The Daily Telegraph about why I didn’t complete my ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ but did make a donation to Water Aid. 

telegraph 2

You can read the whole article in The Daily Telegraph by clicking here

You can watch the video below

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Stroud Green Party announce candidate for the 2015 General Election

Stroud Greens
On the back of polling putting the Green Party on 11% of the vote in Stroud the local party have announced their ‘party parliamentary candidate’ as Chris Jockel.

You can read more about the announcement here.

More information on #GE2015 in Stroud: 

  • UKIP’s PPC is Caroline Stephens. You can read what I think of her here (summary: she holds no grasp on basic science).
  • Labour’s PPC is former MP David Drew. You can read why I won’t be voting for him here (summary: I still have no answer if or why he thinks it’s OK to discriminate against LGBT people).
  • The Conservative’s PPC is standing MP Neil Carmichael. You can read everything that I’ve written on him here (highlights include him thinking its cool for the body who are meant to be looking after our health to invest in tobacco).

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General election 2015 polling analysis for Stroud

The Lord Ashcroft polling for Stroud gives us a unique insight into the constituency’s voting intentions ahead of the general election next year. As it is the constituency where I will cast my vote it is only natural that I have given it a little more scrutiny than other seats.

Firstly, in line with national predictions, and let’s be honest, common sense, the poll confirms that in all likelihood Stroud will, once again, return Labour’s David Drew.

The headline (weighted) figures show:

Labour 41%

Conservative 30%

UKIP 11%

Green 11%

Liberal Democrat 6%

This would be comparable to a 6.5% swing away from the Conservatives. For reference it is worth comparing this weighted polling to the 2010 constituency result:

Stroud

Labour jump 3% from 2010, Conservatives drop 11%, the Lib Dems drop 9%, Greens gain 8% and UKIP gain 9%.

As I will discuss later – the collapse of the Lib Dems may be key to the 2015 election result.

In line with the national picture we can see the coalition partners bleeding support with the junior partner faring the worst. It is interesting then to see where these votes are going.

According to the polling, 71% of 2010 Conservative voters are sticking with their party. Although lower than the national average this is still reasonable suggesting their key task is ensuring their voters turn up on election day. However 11% and 13% respectively of the 2010 Conservative vote stated they plan to vote for Labour and UKIP.

Only 3% of 2010 Conservative voters plan to vote Green or Liberal Democrat. This suggests that the Lib Dem hope of picking up ‘soft conservatives’ might well be unrealistic in the Stroud constituency. Equally, it suggests that the Green belief of being strong on environmental/rural issues will not return the votes they would hope for in the rural Conservative strongholds of the constituency.

In contrast to the Conservatives, only 23% of the 2010 Lib Dem vote plan to stick with their party. 30% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 plan to vote Labour, 20% Green and 17% Conservatives. Labour’s success in this constituency is heavily dependent with the national campaign of ensuring Lib Dems stay unpopular.

In Stroud however they have the danger that the Greens will sweep in and take a large number of these votes on the back of the well funded negative campaign Labour has launched against the Lib Dems. Locally in the coming months we can expect to see tough campaigning from both parties in the south of the constituency around Dursley – the traditional Lib Dem [no longer] stronghold.

Only 6% of 2010 Lib Dem voters stated that they plan to vote for UKIP.

Interestingly the Labour/Green battle is further highlighted in the important 18-24 year old demographic where both parties are securing a large vote share (52 and 21% respectively). From this we can once again expect to see visits to sixth form colleges as both parties aim to make the most of the Lib Dem unpopularity with young voters (just 7% in this poll).

Perhaps a key area for The Green party might well be tuition fees as they are the only party that still opposes them and of course, it is the flagship Lib Dem bashing policy.

The Conservatives on their part will continue to sing from the ‘economic recovery’ hymn sheet trying to paint Labour as irresponsible. We know this will appeal to their core vote but this polling suggests that this won’t be enough to win them the seat. They have to reach out of their comfort zones – something which they currently show no signs of doing.

The concluding point though has to be this: With near-by constituencies such as Chippenham (where the Lib Dems are expected to lose a very good MP in Duncan Hames) we can expect to see little from the ib Dem in the Stroud constituency which really means their 15% of 2010 votes is up for grabs!

Whether or not Labour secure enough of these votes might well be the difference between a Labour win and a Conservative hold. From a Green perspective, they too must be looking to make ground in the south of the constituency. This could be a double win for them if they look to reach out and secure new ground in the south of the constituency as this is the place where they can pick up the most new votes whilst also not being accused of campaigning on Labour’s doorstep.

The count down to May 2015 in Stroud begins…

*A total of 1,000 Stroud residents were surveyed in the poll, with prospective voters asked who they would support when thinking specifically about their own constituency and the candidates standing.
** The Green Party are the only main party who have yet to announce their candidate for Stroud.

 

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The difference between Suarez and Balotelli

This is an article I wrote for the newly re-launched new-look ‘Tattooed Football’ site.  

suarez
Others, far better qualified than myself, have written at length about the similarities between Suarez and Balotelli. The ‘issues’ around their behaviour patterns have been examined, re-examined, and talked about to death. All in just 24 hours of the news breaking that Balotelli will be joining Suarez’s former team for just (and I used the word just loosely) £16 million.

It seems only right then that I take a few moments to write in defence of Suarez by highlighting what sets him apart from Balotelli.

To start though I must first clarify, I am no cheerleader for Suarez. I think he is an egotist and a fool – albeit a talented one. I was vocal in condemning him for his racism, his weird biting habit (3 times now – that we know of), and stated clearly that I thought it would be a disaster for Arsenal if they signed him – like the striker had hoped.

What sets Suarez apart from Balotelli (who has a similar, if slightly more ludicrous, list of indiscretions) is that despite all his flaws you knew that he would work hard for whichever team he was playing for that day. At the heart of Suarez is a footballer and an exceptionally good one at that.

The same, fundamentally, cannot be said for Balotelli. The man seems to perform on his own agenda, his own timeframe and almost entirely removed from any managerial guidance.

In a CNN interview Jose Mourinho famously recalled a suitable anecdote from his time at Inter Milan to illustrate this point:

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

The game is, and always will be, about Balotelli. Suarez’s selfish moments could be, at times, crippling but overall Suarez looked to be a team player. With Balotelli it is almost like the opposite is true – that he is basically there for himself but at times he has flashes of brilliance that can redeem weeks, months or even years of bad attitude, stupidity and selfishness.

What Liverpool fans must come to terms with is that their team has just purchased Balotelli. All you’re getting is him, nothing more nothing less. You’re getting someone who has the talent to be one of the best players of a generation but none of the hard work, commitment and mental focus that is required to get there.

Liverpool’s gamble is that they think – for some unknown, or yet to be proven, reason – that they can install this in him.

So, if you’re wondering how Liverpool managed to pick him up for just £16 million, a fraction of what the player should surely be now worth, it is because there is only a fraction of a chance that he will slot into the Liverpool team, only a fraction of a chance that Brenden Rogers will be able to do what other great managers have failed to do and control him, and only a fraction of a chance that this signing will be about Liverpool rather than the on-going Balotelli show.

In light of this ‘just £16 million’ suddenly seems like little more than an expensive gamble taken in the turmoil aftermath of the unwanted departure of Suarez.

Only time will tell if this gamble will pay off.

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Video: Scottish independence debate highlights

Here are the highlights from the last leaders debate before Scotland votes n whether or not it wants independence:

Interestingly, in contrast to previous debates, early opinion polls are showing Salmond and the ‘Yes’ campaign coming out on top. 71% in the Guardian/ICM poll say Salmond won the debate. If reflective of the electorate in general this is huge late victory for the Yes campaign.

The Guardian further broke down their findings stating:

Guardian

This late victory for the Yes campaign comes as a crucial life-line for the Yes campaign who have been consistently trailing in the polls (latest You Gov survey found 51% to vote No and 38% to vote yes).

There are now just weeks left for voters to make up their mind before Scotland goes to the ballot box on September 18th to decide its future.

How do you plan to vote? Do you think Scotland can go it alone? 

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An averagely dressed male reflects on his [lack of] fashion sense

My socks... read into them what you will.

My socks… read into them what you will.

A friend of mine and an all-round nice guy, Mr Andrew Lansley, has just started a fashion blog called ‘Averagely Dressed Male’.

The blog is a simple idea:

Starting September 1st 2014 I will document what I wear every day for a year. The only problem is I have no concept of fashion and despise shopping for clothes.

It is, I thought, a nice concept and a counter balance to the media narrative that we must all worry and be judged by what we wear. Andrew will be showing us, day in day out, what he happens to be putting on that day whilst at the same time asking himself some pertinent questions around his clothing choices.

My initial reaction to the blog was one of immediate solidarity. I am someone with close to no fashion sense and who, quite frankly my dear, couldn’t give a damn what I look like. This feeling was confirmed when I saw him post a picture of a rather rancid pair of boxer shorts with rips in…. Boxer shorts with rips in that also just happened to look almost identical to a few pairs I own.

tumblr_inline_naku1xfU1b1qzz3ab

Andrew’s boxers (pants) – not mine!

That said, his post made me reflect on my fashion/clothing choices. Whether I like to admit it to myself or not, I guess I do have a style of sorts and this style is one of pretty boring conformity.

This realisation alarmed me slightly. Anyone who knows me can testify, conformity is not something that sits easily with my personality. As such I started thinking. How did I end up wearing such utterly boring clothes?

Well after mulling this question over my lunch-break (dressed in black chinos, a FCUK shirts and M&S boxers – only my socks offering a glimmer of interest), this is what I came up with…

My rule to fashion and clothing in general is a simple one: clothing (and/or fashion) should be there to enhance your chosen life-style not limit it.

For some (certainly not me) this might mean taking joy out of following the latest fashions from around the world and being the first to bring that style to the high street. For others (a bit more me) this might mean buying the latest outdoors clothing to be able to perform at a particular sport better.

For me though my day to day clothing choice is more often a negative choice. Essentially my day to day clothes are whatever I can get my hands on for free or very cheap that enable me to function as part of everyday society. I don’t really care what I look like, but I don’t want what I look like to limit my interactions with people.

When people are looking at your t-shirt rather than listening to what you’re saying, the chances are your fashion choice has fallen foul of my basic rule – it is limiting your life not enhancing it.

In this sense, I wear a shirt to work because people would frown upon me if I didn’t. Outside of work though I tend to wear shorts, t-shirts (often free) and flip flops because most people I hang around with are friends and don’t judge me (too harshly) on what I wear.

This approach is in many ways an anti-subculture attitude to fashion. What I wear and what I look like really doesn’t define me. While I take pride in my actions and words, my clothes are there as a slightly unavoidable extra in my life. Others that I politically or socially identify with in contrast will go to great lengths to ensure their image defines them.

While many people that I call friends use their image to fit with their perspectives on life, I tend to let my life mould my image.

At a job interview/wedding/funeral you will normally find me in a suit. Up a mountain you will normally find me in outdoors gear. At a house party you will normally find me in the before mentioned t-shirt, shorts and flips flops.

I want to be comfy, I don’t want to be judged, but I’m not too bothered if I am slightly uncomfy or if you judge me a little bit. As long as we can still be friends, I’m easy!

At an initial glance the flip side to this is that my fashion sense (or lack of) is driven by conformity. But, after thinking about it I also think something slightly more subtle is going on.

To start with most of my clothes come from charity shops in the UK.

My clothes are purchased whilst supporting good causes (even if I am not passionate about animal welfare you can’t really begrudge giving a dogs home one quid in exchange for a t-shirt). It turns a de facto necessity (being clothed) from something that perpetuates a global system of inequality and materialism into one that supports circular product-systems and a form of charitable giving.

This is a double win in my mind.

It is, in this sense that my fashion clothing decisions are a sub-conscious (I never actively decided to reject high street shops and do still sometimes venture into them out of necessity) rejection of the mainstream conceptions of fashion.

In one sense I often look like an image of conformity, in another sense I reject the whole notion of materialism, fashion and consumerism. This combined with a slightly ‘don’t actually care that much’ attitude sometimes peeks through in my not always on the mark fashion decisions.

Very rarely though will you find me making a statement through my clothing (how do you explain your socks then Steve I hear you ask…no idea!)

I fully support Andrew’s ‘Averagely Dressed Male’ blog idea. I think there are lots of issues to be discussed – even by those, including myself, who initially reject the idea of fashion. We are all in one way or another products of our surroundings and trying to understand how those who fit outside the media driven narrative of fashion fit into those surroundings is an admirable one.

Roll on September when his fashion blog starts for proper.

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3 steps to improving Uganda’s education system

This is an edited cross-post from Anya Whiteside’s blog.  

uganda-september-008 (1)
Education in Uganda is in crisis. This is not an exaggeration, it is a fact. Out of all the children who start school in Uganda, only 33% complete primary education. This is compared to 84% in Kenya, 78% in Tanzania and 81% in Rwanda. In addition, many of the children who do remain in school are not learning. In fact, less than half of children in P6 reach the defined proficiency levels in numeracy and literacy.

I could continue with the facts – 1 in 20 children of school going age have never enrolled in school at all, 84% of teachers want to leave their jobs and on average teachers are absent from the classroom an equivalent of 2 days a week – I could go on but you get the picture.

Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, with 49% if the population under the age of 15. This crisis in education is their crisis, and it is a crisis for Uganda. Given all of this, I have inevitably spent a lot of my time here trying to work out why education in Uganda is in such a crisis and what could be done to improve the situation.

There are many, many answers to this question. I could talk about the drop in education funding – the dilapidated classrooms and shortage of textbooks. I could talk about the plight of Uganda’s teachers – badly paid, de-motivated, poorly supported and badly trained. I could talk about the failure of Universal Primary Education – free education in name only as children have to pay for textbooks and uniforms and parents have disengaged from a process they have been told is now the state’s responsibility. I could talk about corruption, inefficiency and the politicization of education funding. I could talk about all these things and more and they would be true. They all contribute to the problem.

Yet the thing that is continually baffling the Ministry of Education, NGOs and big donors in Uganda is what to do about it. Because time after time after time ‘interventions’ , ‘solutions’ and ‘projects’ have been designed to improve education here, but things do not seem to be getting significantly better – in fact if anything they are getting worse. Books have been provided, teachers have been trained, all manner of stakeholders have been ‘sensitised’ over and over again. Vast amounts of money have been thrown at improving education in Uganda, yet the system keeps spiralling out of control with a will of its own.

Despite all this, I cannot feel completely hopeless about it. You can never feel completely hopeless in Uganda – the vivacity, friendliness and strength of the Ugandan people forbids it. But I do feel that Ugandan children – from my grinning, squirming neighbours’ kids to the children exploding with excitement at the Mzungu passing by their village – deserve better. This is why I continue to battle to try and understand what ways forward there can be in this bubbling bureaucratic melting pot that is education in Uganda.

One necessary step is to look beyond the dilapidated classrooms, lack of books and fed up teachers to try to unpick some of the systematic and underlying causes of Uganda’s broken system. There needs to be a public debate in Uganda as to what these are and some hard choices may need to be made on prioritisation of funding – both how much should be allocated to education, and which parts of the education sector the money should go to.

One underlying issue that hits me in the face wherever I look is the lack of accountability and incentive from top to bottom in the education system. In the government education system here there seems to be little benefit in doing your job well and little consequence to doing it badly.

Teachers face an incredibly difficult job in Uganda and teaching has become the last option that people choose when they can’t get a job anywhere else. Add to that the fact that neither promotion or pay are linked to performance and very few teachers are held to account for what they do, and it is easier to understand why so many education interventions are failing. In this context providing new books, building beautiful spangly classrooms or telling communities they ‘really should send their children to school’ will have a limited impact. After all it is not ideal to teach children under a tree, but it is possible if you have a teacher who really wants to teach, and a system that supports that teacher to do so.

Instead I would argue that money could be best spent improving some of the broken systems at the heart of the education crisis in Uganda. There are three I suggest should be particularly prioritised:

  • Creating a functioning scheme of service that links teacher (and all education officials’) promotion to performance.
  • Overhauling the entire teacher payroll system so that teachers are paid on time and so-called ‘ghost teachers’ (those teachers who don’t exist but are on the payroll, meaning the money being paid to them is going somewhere else) are removed.
  • Investing in inspection and ensuring that the follow up is rigorous – no head teacher should be allowed to rape children because he is mates with the right people. This also means working on how to ensure the Directorate of Education Standards at central level and school inspectors at the District level can work together to ensure proper follow up and accountability.

These are not the only issues that need to be addressed in the education sector in Uganda, but from my time here I feel they are some of the central ones. Mending Uganda’s education systems will not be easy, but it is the only way that education in Uganda will be improved. Without political will and funding to do so, we will continue to see sticking plasters trying to mend a gaping wound.

More information:

(Steve adds) If you are interested in education in Uganda you might also be interested to read:

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2014 Banff Mountain Film Festival comes to Kampala

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is being held in Kampala Uganda at the National Theater on the evenings of the 2nd and 9th September 2014. The tour consists of an incredible collection of short adventure films from across the world.

You can buy your tickets from the theater box office.

Not convinced yet?

Check out this preview:

See you there!

BANFF

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Video: Dwarf wears hidden camera for a day and reveals people’s insensitive reactions

“The next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what their day might be like, think about all the events of their life leading up to that point, and think about their day — and think about what part of their day you want to be?”

This pertinent question was posed at the end of a short documentary film by Jonathon Novick.

Novick is a dwarf with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. One of my absolute best mates also has achondroplasia and I have had the eye-opening, if deeply depressing, experience of seeing the intolerance and insensitivity with which the public respond to him.

In 2013 I did a short interview with my mate. In that interview he responded to a question asking if he had a message to the people in the street who take photos of him what it would be, with this answer:

“Just stop, for a moment, and think: What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why would you or your friends find that photo or film to be of any value or interest? What does that say about your character, as an adult, and how you think about and respond to people who are different? What if I was your brother, son or cousin? How would you see it then?”

This answer and the questions he poses chime closely with the one posed by Novick. Essentially it is asking for a degree of empathy, a smattering of consideration and just the smallest amount of basic manners. The fact that this is missing from most people’s interactions with dwarfs is deeply telling.

Please do watch this 6 min documentary and take it on board:

 

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Green Party hold new MEP’s former council seat in Stroud by-election

Molly with Martin

New Cllr Martin Baxendale with MEP Molly Scott-Cato

The Green Party have held onto the Valley Ward seat on Stroud District Council which was formerly held by their new MEP Molly Scott-Cato.

Earlier today they announced the results on their facebook page:

Valley Ward

In May the Green Party secured 166,447 votes in the South West region (11.10% of the vote) which saw Molly Scott-Cato elected as the first ever Green MEP in the South West. This in turn sparked the by-election that was held last Thursday.

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Israel/Gaza, Leo McKinstry and his lunatic extremist violent ideology

There is nothing special about the Daily Express’ Leo McKinstry. He is one of many journalists who will go to any length to defend Israel’s actions, however brutal, disproportionate or unjustified they may be. In his latest Daily Express column, a little unpicking highlights the extremist ideology that sits behind his words that allows for such unwavering support of a massacre of innocent Palestinians.

express
This is not the first time Hynd’s Blog has taken issue with Leo McKinstry’s writing. Back in 2012 my friend and social commentator Eugene Grant wittily quipped that if there was a fit for work test for journalists, McKinstry would surely fail it for his coverage of the debate around benefit claimants.

Fast forward two years and I have once again had the misfortune of stumbling across one of his deeply misleading diatribes. This time the case in point is the Gaza/Israel conflict – a subject that lends itself all too easily to hyperbole, hatred and crass generalisations.

Within a few paragraphs McKinstry throws out a paragraph that, although must be saluted for its invariably inventive alliteration, must also be picked apart:

“In practice denouncing the Jewish state means siding with the malevolent, murderous forces of jihadism, a stance that not only represents a complete inversion of morality but a ­suicidal disdain for the interests of western civilisation.”

Three words in and we have a problem…’denouncing’. No mainstream politician in the UK has denounced Israel. In fact the opposite, politicians have gone out of their way, even when criticising Israel’s actions, to reiterate that they are ‘friends of Israel’ – whatever that actually means.

But, even if you do ‘denounce Israel’, as some people (but not the politicians McKinstry is referring to) do, then how this then leads people to inevitably ‘siding with the malevolent, murderous forces of jihadism’ is a mystery that remains sadly locked in the inner depths of the editorial room of the Daily Express.

The vast majority of human rights organisations that are then invariably are used and quoted by the politicians McKinstry is so desperate to attack, go to great lengths to highlight human rights violations by both the Israeli actors and Palestinian ones.

Criticising one side’s human rights abuses does not act to excuse the others. This complex moral concept is, I will admit, a difficult one to grasp when smashing your fingers in fury at your keyboard.

But all this is just the tip of iceberg. Next, McKinstry offers us a journalistic lesson in the importance of context stating:

“The present conflict was started by Hamas firing rockets at Israeli civilians and since the beginning of July more than 2,800 of these ­missiles have been launched.”

That’s right, he actually says that this ‘conflict was started by’. In true playground philosophising McKinstry throws out the perpetual eight year old’s defence of ‘he started it’. Some might consider the origins of this modern conflict to stem from deep rooted differences, understandings of history, claims of land, hurt and loss through generations of war dead….but nope, McKinstry assures us it was ‘started by’ Hamas firing rockets.

Now might be a good time to remember that Hamas only officially came into existence in the late 1980’s, some 20 years after the start of the military occupation of Gaza that still, technically, exists today.

This is not to say that Hamas is not partially to blame for the present conflict, far from it. All that is being addressed here is this bonkers assertion that Hamas could solely be blamed for ‘starting the conflict’ like McKinstry suggests.

Britain would not tolerate an ­aerial assault without striking back so why should Israel?

Putting aside my own pacifist leanings for one second to glance over at what most mainstream politicians and commentators are saying…we can see that most people are not saying that Israel can’t or shouldn’t defend itself, only that it should do this in line with International Humanitarian Law. This in short says things like, try not to kill civilians, don’t bomb schools and mosques etc. Not big asks, but apparently too big for the Israeli Defence Force to comply with as the list of alleged war crimes now runs longer than one McKinstry’s titillating tabloid tirades.

But, Israel’s actions are justified by the morally bankrupt McKinstry as he implies that if Israel didn’t kill civilians, keep an entire population under a harsh military occupation and repeatedly commit war crimes then a global Islamic jihad would come and impact us all…

Instead of traducing Israel western politicians and the media should face up to the terrifying global threat of fundamentalist Islam, of which Hamas is a key part. We see that threat all over the world from the turmoil in Libya to the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, from the stoning of women in Afghanistan to the savage persecution of Christians in Iraq.

Some really concerning issues he raises, but once again, in McKinstry’s eyes we only have 2 choices to address these issues:

  • traducing Israel western politicians or
  • facing up to the terrifying global threat of fundamentalist Islam

Remember, there is no either or here. It is one or the other. You choose.

And once again, let’s not get bogged down in the specific geo-political circumstances that might have given rise to very different factions of radical Islam that now manifest themselves in violence in different parts of world…why would we want to do that…let’s instead use a term that I honestly don’t think McKinstry knows the meaning of ‘Jihad’ and suggest they are all the same.

Of course, there is an irony here. These violent forms of radical Islam are, at least in part, a reaction of blinkered extremists and reactionaries who are unable to deal with the multicultural societies the modern era has ushered in. It doesn’t take much to spot that this description fits comfortably with someone else this blog post addresses…

But that’s unfair I hear you cry, many Islamists are violent in their small minded idiocy. Well, stick with me, we haven’t got to McKinstry’s finale yet…

In a comically dire reinforcement of his extremist ideology used throughout his article that justifies any action, however brutal, by Israel, McKinstry goes onto say:

“Only by defeating terrorists can peace be achieved.”

Violence you see dear reader, is the only solution to violence. We must go to war to prevent war.

The logic of a lunatic fanatic that looks to justify Israel’s action no matter how horrific they are.

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Video: Highlights from Scottish Independence TV debate

With just weeks left until Scotland votes on independence, the leaders of the opposing campaigns took to our TV screens last night to debate the pros and cons of independence.

Here are the highlights from the debate:

After watching the highlights I would be interested in your views. If you had a vote, how would you use it? Do you think we are ‘Better Together’ or that Scotland should vote ‘Yes to Independence’?

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Breaking: British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Officer resigns over government policy on Gaza

warsi
Baroness Warsi the [former] Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government has resigned over her government’s policy regarding Gaza.

Baroness Warsi was appointed Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2012. She was previously Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio.

Although a relatively minor figure to resign from the cabinet, this will further highlight the diametric opposite positions of the government and the official opposition on the Israel/Gaza conflict. Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, has been vocal in his attacks on the Prime Minister highlighting his ‘inexplicable silence‘.

For more follow The Guardian’s live coverage.

UPDATE:

Seconds after publishing this, top Labour figures have started tweeting their support for Warsi and pushing the ‘inexplicable silence’ line…

UPDATE 2:

Here is a copy of Warsi’s resignation letter:

Warsi letter

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7 points on International Humanitarian Law and the Gaza/Israel conflict

ICRC logo
Before reading these 7 points on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) please remember that IHL is not ‘best practice’ in a war zone, nor a reflection of my aspirations. It is merely a set of legal minimum standards that warring parties must abide by, nothing more, nothing less. 

1. Hamas’ rockets attacks are often, by their very nature, violations of IHL.

The rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups such as the military wing of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad are often Russian-designed “Grad” rockets. These are widely considered to be so inaccurate that they are incapable of being targeted enough to distinguish between military and civilians. Combine this with the fact that they often launched toward highly populated areas means that they are often, by their very nature, violations of IHL.

2. Neither Israel nor Hamas are prohibited by IHL in fighting in Gaza but the density of the civilian population and infrastructure does impose extra responsibilities on them.

IHL demands that all parties in the conflict “take all feasible precautions” of loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects (houses, hospitals, mosques etc – I will come onto this more later). Fighting in such an area undeniably makes it harder for the warring factions to distinguish between civilian and military targets but it does nothing to reduce the obligation of the parties to make these checks. Where there is doubt, the assumption has to be that it is civilian and thus protected.

In the Gaza/Israel example, Hamas has a responsibility to ensure that it avoids locating potential military targets in close vicinity to civilians. It also prohibits the use of human shields – something which has been seen in previous conflicts but so far there has been no confirmed evidence that this has happened in the latest fighting.

However, even if Hamas is keeping weapons within civilian areas or buildings, this does not remove any of the obligations imposed on Israel under IHL to take into account the risk to civilians when seeking out these otherwise legitimate military targets.

3. Although Israel normally sends warnings while Hamas doesn’t, this doesn’t impact on their responsibilities to civilian populations.

Israel has widely publicised in this latest round of fighting that it sends ‘knock on the roof’ explosions as warnings that larger attacks are soon to be happening while Hamas rarely if ever sends warning of rocket fire.

IHL requires that warring parties give “effective advance warning” of attacks that may effect civilian populations. Because of the density of the civilian population in Gaza this means in practice that virtually all attacks should have such warnings. The idea is that the warnings would allow for civilians populations to leave the area.

However, if the civilian population refuses to leave, they are still protected persons under IHL. In short, even after delivering an effective warning, Israel must still take all measures to ensure civilian life is protected.

4. It is not just people who are protected but also civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and yes, even the homes of Hamas officials.

Israel has openly stated that in this latest round of fighting they have targeted the homes of Hamas officials. While IHL allows for the targeting of military leaders who are ‘in action’ it does not allow for the targeting of leaders at any time. Attacking the home of a Hamas official who was not present at the time would be an unlawful attack on a civilian object that if carried out intentionally would constitute a war crime.

Something similar applies for schools or religious buildings such as Mosques. However, if any of the above are being used for military purposes, such as a military headquarters or an arms store, then they become legitimate military targets.

The exception to this simple ‘it’s civilian unless you show it is being used for a military purpose’ rule are medical facilities that hold a special place status under IHL.

Like all the above they are considered civilian targets unless they are used for a military purpose. However, Israel then has a further obligation of showing that they were being used to cause them actual harm before they can become a legitimate target.

5. Collective punishment is a war crime

Undertaking actions that aim to punish a population as a whole for things that they have not personally done is a war crime.

6. Why the is no Israeli or Palestinian being dragged to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for these violations of IHL?

The ICC has a mandate to investigate, charge, and try people suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed after July 1, 2002.

Quite a few Israelis and Palestinians fit this description. However, the court can only exercise jurisdiction over these crimes if: The crimes occurred in the territory of a state that is a party to the ICC treaty; The person accused of the crimes is a citizen of a state that is a party to the ICC treaty; A country that is not a state to the ICC treaty accepts the court’s authority for the crimes in question by submitting a formal declaration to the court; or The UN Security Council refers the situation to the ICC prosecutor.

At the time of writing neither Israel nor Palestine are a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC. Israel has signed the statute but not ratified it. Palestine submitted a declaration in 2009 to accept the courts mandate but this was rejected at the time over the ambiguous nature of whether or not it was/is a state. Since then, Palestine has been voted in to the UN has a non-voting member state (confirming in the eyes of the international community that it is a state). However, since that has happened Palestine has not sought the court’s jurisdiction or signed and ratified the Rome Statute.

Thus, in short, the court’s jurisdiction does not cover Israel/Gaza.

7. There are lots of people and organisations who have written, researched and published on this issue that are a lot better sources than me. 

And I suggest you read them. For more on IHL, human rights and the Gaza/Israel conflict:

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Breaking: Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law null and void after Constitutional Court ruling

Breaking news: Uganda’s Constitutional Court has decided that the anti-homosexuality law is ‘null and void’.

The Constitutional Court found that the speaker of parliament acted illegally by moving ahead with a vote on the law despite at least three lawmakers objecting to a lack of quorum.

Despite this ruling, homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda as it does it most other African countries. Section 145 of Uganda’s Penal Code, which remains in force, continues to criminalize “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”. The harsher penalties that were introduced under the 2014 legislation though such as life-imprisonment for ‘repeat offences’ no longer apply.

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Children in war zones – how do we respond?

I co-authored an article for the International Children’s edition of ehospice looking at the impact that war has on children and what the response should be from the palliative care community. I thought I would share it here as it explores some interesting subjects around how the medical community responds to disasters…

“Jon Snow of Channel 4 news appeals to everyone to raise their voices against the war raging in Gaza and talks about the adverse effect this war is having on children and young people. This article asks what the palliative care response should be to the increasing death toll of children in war zones around the world.

In recent days reports have emerged from Gaza of the growing child death rate and the devastating impact this is having on families, friends and the community in the Gaza strip. One such report was that of Channel 4’s Jon Snow. His impassioned account of what he has witnessed during his recent trip to Gaza makes for difficult viewing.

At times clearly moved by what he has experienced, Snow reports on the impact that the bombing is having on children saying:

“Those people who live in Gaza are young. The average age is 17. That means that a quarter of a million is under the age of 10 years,”

He goes on to explain that when a densely populated area such as that of Gaza is targeted, it is inevitable that some of the civilians killed will be children. In the most recent upsurge of violence Snow’s report estimates that 1310 children have been wounded and 166 killed, with these numbers rising every day.

The long-term and short impact this is having on children and their families is almost impossible to quantify.

It is of course not just in Gaza that children are suffering.

From Ukraine to Syria, from the Central African Republic to South Sudan we are increasingly seeing how children are being affected by war. Not only in the death statistics but also through the exposure to the brutality of war we can see the devastating impact on children’s lives that will be felt for a generation to come.

The palliative care response
“How do we respond as a palliative care community to these distressing reports?” asks Joan Marston, CEO of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network. “Where there is so much suffering, what are we as the “experts” on death and dying doing to help those in regions that are difficult to reach; and how do we provide and justify palliative care when there are so many other conflicting needs that must be met?”….

Read the full article on ehospice

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