Tag Archives: Blog

The end

It had to come at some point. It just did.

I feel sadder than you can imagine writing this. But this is, for now at least, the end of Hynd’s Blog.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how I hoped to fit blogging into my new job and life back in the UK. It was an ambitious plan that I really wanted to make work because I have, in an odd sort of way, grown to really love this blog.

Sadly though, despite the optimism (something that I like to think optimises the last 5 years on this blog), despite the support from so many friends, family and complete strangers, despite the very best of intentions, I just have not been able to implement this plan.

A number of factors have forced me into this situation. There are two that spring to mind.

Firstly, not having enough time to research topics that are close to my heart has pushed my writing closer and closer to either the descriptive or the repetitive of others opinions. Descriptive and repetitive are two adjectives that act as nails to an analytical blog’s coffin.

Secondly, the metaphorical biting of my virtual tongue that I referred to in my previous post has, sadly, pushed the content on Hynd’s Blog closer and closer to the mundane. Again, not the best adjective to be associated with a blog.

A little about the second point:

I am no longer just having to worry about my own reputation – something that it is easy to be flippant about – but also one of an elected Mayor. Most civilised readers of this blog would find it hard to comprehend the level of sinister attacks some are willing to make against the Mayor. I have little doubt that some of those attacking him would happily do this through personally attacking his staff. It is the opposite of the old adage playing the ball not the player.

It has already got to a stage where not saying something online leads to quite unpleasant personal attacks.

In an effort to not fuel these trolls I realise that I have moved beyond the cautious and into the utterly mundane. With the odd exception, I have not written anything of any particular interest in the last few months.

For someone who is surrounded by inspiration, innovation and interest and who is driven by intrigue into it all, this realisation profoundly saddens me.

I cannot see this situation changing and so part of my decision to end Hynd’s Blog is based on a desire not to see it limp on for the coming months.

Looking back though, Hynd’s Blog is something that I remain profoundly proud of. It has dipped in an out of the top 100 influential UK political blogs, it been visited by hundreds of thousands of people and most of all, it has, on the rarest of occasions, succeeded in convincing people to change their minds on a given subject.

I am proud beyond words of what Hynd’s Blog has grown to be and I hope that at some point, it will have a future.

With all this in mind all is left to say is a huge thank you to you for coming along for the ride – it has been a blast!

Steve

PS – I plan to cross-post anything I publish elsewhere so stay signed up if you want to be notified of when I post these occasional articles!

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Filed under Blogging, end of Hynd's Blog, Hynd's Blog

On the need for radical constitutional reform

This is a guest post from Mike Assenti (yes that Mike Assenti) who writes on the need for radical constitutional reform in not just Scotland but also Wales, Northern Ireland and even England!

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP - one of many comfortable conservative backbenchers

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP – one of many comfortable conservative backbenchers

The votes are in and Scotland has (just about) voted against independence. This makes me feel a curious combination of relief and disappointment – relief as I think the union is the best outcome when looking at it rationally; disappointment for the Scots in that they have missed a golden opportunity to break from the dysfunctional, condescending Westminster.

Some support for the No vote came about in part because of the last minute scramble by the establishment to promise further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. This was met with the response by many (particularly on the English right) that we should see wider constitutional reform than just Scottish devolution, with further devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland, and even some form of English devolution.

In this, I find myself in the curious position of agreeing with the likes of John Redwood and Nigel Farage.

It’s a little disconcerting.

However, much of the focus of how this should be achieved seems to be on answering the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’. Posed in 1977 by the anti-devolution Labour MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, this issue is about whether non-English MPs should be allowed to vote on matters that only affect the English. As more and more devolution has taken place, this question has taken on more importance, with England ‘missing out’ on being able to set its own agenda.

There is no good answer to this question as it is currently posed. One proposed solution would be to bar non-English MPs from voting or debating on purely English matters. This would see the creation of two tiers of MPs – the English able to vote on everything, and the non-English who are restricted on certain matters. Where would this leave perfectly capable non-English MPs who form part of the government? Where would this leave any non-English Prime Minister? Would it have been possible for Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling to be PM and Chancellor if they were prevented from participating in ‘English only’ issues?

I cannot see how this solution is anything other than completely unworkable.

The problem is that this question is being asked with the wrong mind-set. A contributing factor the Scottish Independence movement is the perception of being ruled by the English. Historically the English conquered Wales and Ireland, and these countries were then ruled by the English. When parliament deposed James II/VII in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for the crimes of being Catholic and promoting religious tolerance, they ended the reign of the House of Stuart that had united the Scottish and English thrones in the first place.

Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, the English have been, at best, the senior partners, and at worst, the absolute rulers of the other nations. Even within England, there is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that everything is skewed towards the South, and in particular London. If we can face up to and try to fix this mind-set, then we can have successful devolution that would leave a far greater proportion of the population feeling enfranchised, with the same powers available for all of the UK’s member nations.

Here’s my proposal of how we might achieve this.

We continue to have a Westminster based House of Commons and House of Lords. This is the British Parliament, and the seat of the British government. They are responsible for dealing with matters that affect the entirety of the UK, such as foreign policy, high level monetary policy, etc etc. The size of a constituency is made far, far larger, such that there are of the order of 25 constituencies across the UK. Each constituency elects around 10 or so members via a PR system (STV?), leading to around 250 MPs – less than half the current number.

We continue to have national assemblies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and we create a new national assembly for England. These assemblies are responsible for dealing with matters that affect each individual nation. Each assembly is devolved the same amount of power.

No one can serve on both a national assembly and in the British parliament at the same time. Each assembly is free to choose their own electoral system based on the wishes of the electorate. I would personally favour STV for the English assembly, with around 30 constituencies electing around 150 members. The English Assembly should not be based at Westminster, and ideally shouldn’t even be in London. Choosing Manchester or Leeds would have the beneficial effects of moving some power away from its current ludicrous concentration in London, as well as providing a boost for that area and helping to close the North/South divide.

Of course, we all know none of this will happen.

Challenging the status quo is not an easy thing in this country, and those in charge have extremely vested interests in avoiding change. The hallowed, ancient systems of government currently in place are revered by the old guard, with all their pomp and tradition better suited to the 18th than 21st century.

A system of PR would drastically reduce the number of both Tory and Labour MPs, as well as removing safe seats for idle back benchers of the ilk of Geoffrey Clifton Brown. Forcing members to choose between UK politics or English politics is also unlikely to be popular with MPs used to being in charge of the whole lot. Reducing the number of MPs will obviously result in many losing their jobs, but this would be necessary to help to pay for the change. It would of course be expensive as well, but that in itself should not be a barrier to long over-due constitutional reform that would be a huge investment in the politics of the future.

Whilst we’re on the subject of constitutional reform, maybe it would be a good idea to actually write a constitution. The UK is one of very few countries worldwide without one – the others being Israel, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

The Scottish Independence referendum has brought the question of what our United Kingdom is and what it should be into the foreground, and perhaps now is a good time for all Brits to discuss and agree on these issues. If we really are Better Together, then let’s explicitly define our relationship, making sure that everybody is represented, that power is fairly distributed and that the restrictions and legacies of the past are not all that define our common future.

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VSO: The life of an accompanying partner in Uganda

In January 2013 I moved to Uganda with no job. Why? To be with my fiance who was volunteering with VSO. Within VSO I had the official title of ‘accompanying partner’. This is an article that I wrote for the VSO blog about what life is like for an accompanying partner. 

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Sat on a fold-down seat I felt the flow of night air leaking in through rust holes of the dilapidated bus that had come to pick us up from the airport. The bus jerked forward with every change of gear as we made our way through the still busy streets of Kampala in the early hours of the morning. Sat with a dozen VSO volunteers from around the world including the UK, America, and the Philippines, I joined in the slightly constrained conversation as everyone simultaneously tried to chat to other new volunteers, take in their new surroundings and also contextualise the myriad of thoughts and feelings that rushed through their heads.

For me, as an accompanying partner opposed to a VSO volunteer, I was the exception on the bus. I was the only one without something lined up, a structure to fit into, and a sense of knowing what was going to follow. But, just like the other volunteers, I had the support of the astonishingly well organised VSO Uganda office.

Taking part, and being made to feel part of, the first week’s in-country training was incredibly important to me. As an accompanying partner I was specifically invited to take part in all the sessions and to feel part of the ‘VSO family’. It meant that for the first week I had structure, a formal and informal support network, and also a chance to ask all those questions that had been queuing up in my mind: How much is the bus into the centre of town? What should I say if someone asked me what my views were on issues around religion, sexuality or politics? How do I greet someone in Luganda and how many people in Kampala use Luganda as their first language?

Even though I didn’t have a volunteer placement lined up, I did have a plan for what I wanted to do in Kampala – and that was to find a job.

As such, in the following days and weeks after the in-country training I used the little Luganda I had attained already to charm my way past bored looking security guards into different offices of NGOs to leave my CV and covering letters with receptionists. Those early days of walking Kampala’s dusty streets were a real learning curve for me. Coming from working in the Middle-East I had to unlearn the reserved habits I had picked up and learn to embrace the Ugandan enthusiasm, friendliness and passion for life. In retrospect I am pleased that I had those couple of weeks to get to know the city that would become my home in my own time.

Just over 5 weeks later I was invited for an interview at the African Palliative Care Association. The role was to become their Communications Officer which included editing the online health news website, ehospice. Just 6 weeks after arriving in country I started work in their office just a few kilometres from our new house. Everything very quickly seemed to slot into place and my previous life in the Middle-East and London seemed a long time ago.

With the small matter of the job sorted, this enabled me to spend more time looking into the rest of life in Uganda. Very quickly Anya and I joined the Mountain Club of Uganda and headed out into the mind blowing countryside that Uganda has on offer. In the last year we have visited Uganda’s many national parks to spot the big game, learnt to kayak on the rapids of the river Nile and explored some of the highest peaks the region has to offer. Uganda has so much to offer and Anya and I have every intention to explore as much of it as we can in our remaining time here. (See our blogs to see more of our travels).

Thinking back to that bus journey from the airport with all the new VSO volunteers seems strange now. The strangers that I was talking to have become close friends and in some cases almost like family. The streets that flashed past the window have now become my home and I don’t even notice the rickety old buses that lurch around Kampala’s congested city streets.

Steve blogs at www.stevehynd.com and tweets at @steve4319.

Steve’s partner Anya is a VSO volunteer Education advocacy officer working at the Forum for Education NGO’s of Uganda. She blogs at http://anyawhitesideblog.wordpress.com/

VSO welcomes applications from couples wanting to volunteer together, however we respond to demand from overseas partner organisations and it is rare to receive a request for two volunteers for the same location at the same time that will match both of your skills.

If it is not possible for both people to volunteer with us, the other option is for one person to volunteer (it could be either of you) and for the other to go along as an accompanying partner. This is fairly common and it is usually possible for the accompanying partner to find paid or voluntary work when they are in country. In this case we would only cover the costs of the VSO volunteer, but we would do our best to ensure things like accommodation are suitable for two people.

Find out more about volunteering abroad with VSO.

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2013 and the future of Hynd’s Blog

When someone tells me that they read my blog I feel truly honoured. The fact that someone has taken a few minutes out of their day to read my thoughts on a subject matter is really appreciated. In fact I can’t put it into words how much it is appreciated.

I still find it hard to believe though. I find it hard to believe that people, other than friends and family, would be interested in what I’ve got to say. But they seem to.

The pace at which Hynd’s Blog has grown over the last year is as inspiring as it is terrifying for me.

One measurement of this growth is in the number of people reading the articles. The number of people visiting and reading this blog is important to me. Not because it gives to my already over-inflated ego a boost but because it relates to why I do this – why I spend hours every day tapping away on my computer.

I write Hynd’s Blog because I care. I care about people. I try to, in my own way, promote a more tolerant, free and fair society. I guess Hynd’s Blog is my way of contributing to the wider movement of change towards this vision.

This is why I continue to publish articles that challenge lazy lingering prejudice, hatred and discrimination. Whether it be on sexuality or anti-Semitism, freedom of speech or dyslexia, gender or religion, I try to express a moderate, progressive and liberal alternative to the mainstream narrative that drives so much of the hatred, intolerance and regressive attitudes that blight so many communities in the UK.

Hynd’s Blog is my attempt to shout into the winds of misinformation. When people catch just a little of what I am saying it begins to feel worthwhile.

The fact that 2013 has seen so many new readers come to Hynd’s Blog gives me the motivation to keep going, to keep writing, to keep believing that change is possible.

So, if you’re reading this now…thank you! It is your potential to be part of the change we so desperately need that drives me to want to keep going with Hynd’s Blog. You’re the reason why I am here now, when I am meant to be relaxing with a mince-pie in hand, writing an article.

Without you, Hynd’s Blog is nothing.

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Dan Smith on Britain and languages: “The world is laughing at us”

Blogger and good friend Dan Smith recently wrote a reply piece to my article “Britain: Is it time to consider living, studying or working abroad?”. Here is an edited version of his blog. To read the full article click here.

For a start, I implore you, the British public, to get out of our wonderful rainy little island and explore the rest of the world.

So in this respect I couldn’t agree more. I deeply regret not taking the opportunity to study abroad whether on a free Erasmus scheme as part of my degree or by taking a full degree over the puddle. Europe has excellent Universities and you can learn a second language while you’re at it.

You could even take up the opportunity to do an apprenticeship in another country like the two thousand or so young Brits apprenticing in Germany with Siemens and earn while you learn.

But to counter this, if you’re studying an employable post graduate degree in the UK there are plenty of funding opportunities. The Panasonic Trust with the Royal Academy of Engineering, for instance, provide opportunity for £8,000 of funding for sustainable engineering MSc courses.

If you put engineering/science, environment and sustainability in a funding application then people fall over themselves to hand you cash.

Then there’s working in Europe. This is where it becomes trickier. I’ve done it and know plenty of other linguistically challenged people working in certain hubs of Europe. I was in Geneva where there are many businesses and international NGOs all working in English. The same can be said for Brussels and I’ve been assured that many of the large international corporation’s lingua franca is English too.

But that’s where it ends.

The simple fact is that if you want to live and work in a European country you will eventually need to speak a different European language. And we’re terrible at it! I’ve been relentlessly ridiculed by my European friends about this, most of whom could speak 3 languages but often multiple. These aren’t linguists or teachers, they’re everyday run of the mill people, like me and you. And it’s a similar story on every other continent in the world.

Britain, we suck at speaking other languages!

So if I, Steve, you, or any other British person truly wants to go work in Europe I’d suggest we take a long hard look at our linguistic capabilities first.

Steve also suggested we go work in Germany because they’ve got terrific employment rates. They’ve also got a terrific education system and primarily operate in German – but they are nice about speaking English. It’s certainly not impossible, I have good friends doing just that, but it’s not as easy as he portrays.

Or how about we all emigrate to the colonies for the good life of cheap beer and endless sunshine?

Well, first of all, Britain tried this a while back and it didn’t really go according to plan. Secondly, just like Germany, to work (or indeed get a work visa) in many of these countries you need a productive skill set. Fortunately for me Engineering is on the list for most visa fast track systems.

Uganda, like many African countries, has a skills shortage and a huge unemployment problem. Unlike Germany it has an education system that is not meeting the needs of the populace.

Furthermore the economy, although growing, isn’t big enough to provide jobs for all of the young people that do have skills and education. So unless you, dear British comrade, have useful skills to offer or can produce employment opportunities for the thousands of unemployed Ugandans, the government doesn’t really want you.

And so it shouldn’t.

Just because you’ve got a sociology degree from the University of Hull and a burning desire to help poor Africans (or perhaps just to live the good life in a sunny country) this doesn’t mean you should come to do a job that you wouldn’t be qualified for in the UK.

Britain does produce many highly qualified and useful people. I passionately believe that we could be leading the way in socially beneficial business, engineering and research. As a country we really do have the experience to do that and as a global population we need more people doing it.

But if you want to export your skills to another country, whether in the EU or the rest of the world, you need just that – skills.

Apart from that we all need to learn some languages.

Britain, the world is laughing at us.

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What is palliative care? Views from around the world

ehospice has today launched a series of articles looking at different understandings of palliative care from around the world. Each edition (there are currently 10 around the world) has produced an account of one person’s understanding of what palliative care is, and why it’s important to them. These articles include accounts from patients, carers and health care professionals. 

On the Africa edition of ehospice I wrote this account after speaking to my colleague, Mackuline Atieno – a Kenyan palliative care nurse. 

Palliative care is…accepting that “death is a part of life”

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Mackuline Atieno, a palliative care nurse based in Kampala, sits patiently, thinking carefully before answering:

“When you find life, you also find death because death is a part of life.”

The question she had been asked was simply, what does palliative care mean to you? When asked to elaborate Mackuline once again exhibits a thoughtful nature and an articulate manner.

“Palliative care means that you have to live life well no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. If you have a life-limiting illness, you have to find the best way to live with that because you only have one life. And when death comes, all we can do is deal with it the best we can.”

Mackuline Atieno is a Kenyan palliative care nurse who is currently studying for a Masters in Medical Anthropology, working for the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) whilst also still finding time to be a full-time mother.

Mackuline grew up a long way from Kampala in Iten, a small Kenyan town high in the hills. 

When Mackuline was growing up the village was “quite rural” with few health care facilities. Mackuline explains, “We had just one district hospital that provided basic care. When I was growing up I had not come into interaction with palliative care.”

From an early age Mackuline experienced death but at the same time, as with many cultures, she was also encouraged not engage with the subject.

“I stayed with a relative who had HIV/AIDS but I know that [residents of Iten including the Keiyo and Nandi Tribes] have a real fear of the dead. It is a real challenge about how to deal with death, how to talk about it. There is a story [in Iten] that says when people were close to death they would take them to the forest with a long rope and pull on the rope. If the person did not pull back they knew they were dead.”

As a young professional Mackuline left Item to study nursing at the University of Moi in the neighbouring town of Eldoret. Here Mackuline had her first experiences of interacting with death in a professional setting.

“I was in a Labour ward where the mother died on the table. I remember coming out of the Labour ward and the relative was looking at me intently and I just shook my head. Looking back, this is such a bad way to send a message. I was not able to do justice to this patient because of my fear of how to handle such a situation.”

Since training and working in palliative care, Mackuline has become much more used to talking about, and supporting others, in issues around death and how to deal with difficult situations. Looking back on these early experiences Mackuline commented that, “You do not even need to speak sometimes, palliative care is in the attitude with which you approach someone. That can be good enough. If nothing else, I can be with a patient.”

It was also however during these early nursing years that Mackuline started to develop specialist interests that she would take with her into her palliative care career.

“It was in this time that I became interested in paediatrics. I really felt like I needed to give myself to help children, especially children’s palliative care because that is something few people are comfortable with talking about.”

This interest has continued throughout her career. Just last week Mackuline was featured on Ugandan national television talking about the new UNICEF/ICPCN report on child access to palliative care in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mackuline now works for APCA where she is responsible for supporting Kenya, Gambia, Rwanda and Zambia in implementing and integrating palliative care programs. However, Mackuline continues to work with a passion for learning. Now studying for a Masters in Medical Anthropology, Mackuline insists that only by understanding individuals within their cultural heritage can you truly hope to offer effective palliative care.

Part of this Mackuline says is, “to breakdown the paternalistic nurse/patient relationship and start to learn from the patient. Once you understand and are interested in where they have come from you can start to do better palliative care.”

When asked what palliative care has taught her Mackuline once again looks back to her early days as a nurse before responding:

“From my first experiences I felt helpless, as soon as I did my first placement in Hospice Africa Uganda though I stopped feeling so helpless. In palliative care you can support someone who is dying. You see a situation where there is no stigma, where people who are dying are smiling. Palliative care has also taught me never to give up.”

As well as supporting her patients Mackuline has adopted a ‘palliative care ethos’ in her own life. Just before rushing back to work Mackuline commented: “There is always someone who is in a worse situation than you who is enjoying their life. I think I have to live my life well. When death comes, we just make the transition as comfortable as possible. Until then we can just live in the reality we have been given.”

*You can read more personal stories from around the world on ehospice:

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From San Francisco to Namibia – Father Rick Bauer on spirituality in palliative care

This article was originally published on the Africa edition of ehospice


“I’m a Catholic Priest. I did my seminary from 81-85. The seminary was in San Francisco. I entered it just wanting to be a country priest, and then HIV hit and it changed my life. It changed my understanding of church and what church could be. I knew nothing about palliative care and all of a sudden I was surrounded by people who were dying.”

Sitting in the warm afternoon sun, Father Rick Bauer relaxed back into his chair. It was clear that he was used to explaining how he was taken from his home in the US to travel across sub-Saharan African, driven by palliative care and a desire to limit human suffering. Very quickly it became clear that his early years as a priest in San Francisco were formative for him in developing his interest in spirituality as a part of good palliative care provision.

“So in the earliest days of the pandemic it was pastoral care, the doctors were saying there was nothing more we could do. Nurses would be leaving trays of food outside the rooms of the guys refusing to go in.”

His words were clearly carefully chosen – balanced between wanting to portray the reality of what he and others had felt at the time whilst clearly conscious of how common rhetoric around HIV and AIDS  had moved on since the 1980s.

“I mean…we were scared, I am not judging them. But it was up to us to carry these trays in, you know? Others didn’t want to be in there, but for me I saw no choice. There were guys needing help. People ask me if I was scared and I just think it was holy stupidity. I just saw a tray of food and a hungry guy. I don’t know, I guess yeah, I was scared.”

Father Bauer is now a specialist in spirituality in palliative care and is in Johannesburg, South Africa where he is taking part in a workshop on spirituality at the joint African Palliative Care Association and Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa 2013 Conference. Having spent much of his working life in different parts of sub-Saharan Africa, he now lives in Namibia where he continues to work with spirituality and palliative care.

“I spent 15 years managing HIV care and support organisations, first in Tanzania and now in Namibia. But now I am doing lots of things…one of which is teaching in palliative care and how to integrate spirituality into palliative care.”

Spirituality is included, alongside physical and psychological care, as an integral part of the WHO definition of palliative care. Despite this, it is often confused or misunderstood as just looking after the religious needs of a patient.

Father Bauer, however, was insistent that good spiritual care did not necessarily involve religion but rather that it depended upon each individual patient’s needs. Once again, he referenced his early experience with HIV patients in San Francisco to illustrate this point.

“When HIV first hit, the first thing to come up was good counselling practice. We are talking about active listening for example. I don’t think people have to be ordained or anything to provide spiritual care, but at times this can be useful. When someone is dying they have questions. You’re not there to answer them but to listen.”

The difference between psycho-social support that a patient needs and the spiritual support a patient needs is often blurred. Father Bauer offered a simple distinction for practitioners to consider when interacting with patients.

“The ‘Psycho-’ is about myself – for example, if I have been diagnosed with cancer what are my worries or concerns? The ‘social’ is how this then relates to my family my friends. The spiritual care is about helping to ask some of those deeper questions.”

It is common, as people approach the end of life, that they have questions and concerns about deeper, spiritual questions about what, if anything, happens after death. Father Bauer is insistent in pointing out that often patients have a deep spiritual need to also look back and reflect on their lives and what they have achieved.

“There is a growing emphasis on forgiveness. Social workers are seeing it’s important and this is such as spiritual concept. I can train someone on how to give an apology or even accept an apology – that’s a social thing. The spiritual thing is how to really forgive someone, or to forgive yourself. Again though, this is just about being there 100%, to be with a patient to listen to their concerns.”

Spiritual care, in one sense, is a simple amalgamation of soft skills such as active listening. Done well however, it also involves an in-depth knowledge of different cultural and religious factors to understand the specific need each patient.

“Not everyone will be trained in spiritual care, but everyone can listen in a way that puts the patient at ease. Just be there for them,” said Father Bauer.

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The end of Liberal Conspiracy

This morning Sunny Hundal, the Editor of the left-wing blog Liberal Conspiracy, announced that after 8 years of blogging he was no longer going to be up-dating the site.

Over the last few years, Liberal Conspiracy was kind enough to publish a series of my articles. These included:

Liberal Conspiracy has given me a platform to write about issues that I am passionate about. It also provided me with a wealth of interesting articles to read and learn about.

It will be missed.

In an industry that focuses so much on negative attacks and smears, I thought it only right then to publicly thank Sunny and everyone else over at Liberal Conspiracy for everything they have achieved over the last 8 years. They have often provided a positive left-wing alternative voice in opposition to the dominant mainstream media of the day. As I said, this will be missed.

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Millions in Africa do not have access to morphine and suffer unnecessary preventable pain

This article was originally published on Left Foot Forward, Britain’s No 1 left-wing blog

Palliative care

Palliation – literally, the removing of symptoms of life-limiting illnesses such as pain – has been brought sharply into focus in Africa due to the dual burden of an ageing population and an increased disease burden.

To give just one example, 70 per cent of people living with HIV worldwide live inside sub-Saharan Africa, a region which constitutes only 12 per cent of the global population.

Millions of these people in sub-Saharan Africa require palliative care to address the medical/physical, social psychological and spiritual challenges as a result of the life-limiting illnesses.

Despite the large demand, there is still little palliative care provision across much of Africa. Many countries do not have any element of palliative care: no hospices, no formal training for medical professionals, no or little integration of palliative care into national health systems and often little public awareness.

It is estimated that only 9 per cent of countries in Africa have palliative care integrated into mainstream health services.

One of the largest challenges facing pain relief efforts in Africa is the availability of, and access to, oral morphine. It is thought that Hospice Africa Uganda, a centre of excellence of palliative care in Uganda, can mix a three week supply for a patient for ‘less than a loaf of bread’.

Despite this, oral morphine is still not widely available to most Ugandans, let alone the rest of Africa.

Bernadette Basemera, a palliative care nurse based in Kampala, explains part of the problem:

“Morphine wrongly incites fear: Doctors wrongly fear patients becoming addicted, the police wrongly fear drug related crime, and members of the government fear falling short of international drug control frameworks.”

As a result of this fear, millions do not have access to morphine and suffer unnecessary preventable pain.

In recent years however, there have been signs that this might be a thing of the past. In the last two years alone four countries – Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania and Mozambique – have all adopted stand alone palliative care policies.

Although policy development does not immediately translate into oral morphine availability, a number of countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Namibia Ethiopia and a few others have improved access to oral morphine. Meanwhile Hospice Africa Uganda, in a partnership with the Ministry of Health of Uganda, continues to produce and distribute oral morphine whilst at the same time offering training courses to practitioners from all over Africa.

At the heart of these developments are passionate workers like Bernadette. Once again working late, Bernadette describes why she wants to work in palliative care, saying:

“Palliative care is the sort of care that you would hope you and everyone you care about receives. No one wants to think of a loved one suffering unnecessarily.”

Bernadette offers a simple motivation for her work in palliative care. This simple motivation, however, could benefit millions of Africans. Palliative care needs to be rolled out, and people like Bernadette might just be the way to make it happen.

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Israel/Palestine – reflections of a tired peace activist

When things get to a certain ‘bullshit factor’ I think I subconsciously switch off. It is a sort of self-defence mechanism against insanity.

I think it happened about three years ago with climate change. I can tell you that climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity blah blah blah but I don’t find myself lying awake at night worrying about it.

To be honest, I only really think about it when one of my more solid activist friends tweets, writes or speaks to me about it. The rest of the time it swirls around in my head evading any solid thoughts, let alone actions.

I have been dwelling on this particular thought over the last few weeks, thinking I really should pull my finger out and do something about it when it suddenly struck me that I have also switched off about Israel/Palestine.

The observant amongst you will have noticed I have barely mentioned it in the last few months on these pages.  A very personal bombshell that I doubt anyone reading this will care very much about.

I have subconsciously wondered off from all those people whose hands I shook, coffee I drank and that I made all those ill-thought out promises to, “I won’t forget this hospitality”, “I will do everything I can”, “I will write” etc etc.

Staying for a short period of time in the West Bank was a deeply moving experience and one that I would recommend to most people. For me, it helped put a lot of things in perspective and yet, perversely, for some it also seems to annihilate all sense of perspective.

I still care passionately about the people that I met, and with less rationality, the people I didn’t meet that live in the troubled towns and villages that I visited.

But, as much as I try and muster the will power, I am simply no longer reading Ma’an News, I have stopped listening out for what Peace Now has to say and worse of all…I no longer feel the fire of injustice that burned so fiercely when I hear about arbitrary arrests, midnight incursions, rockets and all the other bullshit that occurs on a daily basis in Israel/Palestine.

What’s happened?

I don’t know exactly. Of course, partially time… I moved countries, moved jobs, got engaged. Life moved on and before I realised it the memories that loomed in my rear view mirror that once loomed so large slipped out of sight.

Partially disillusionment, my ‘moderate’ approach (showing empathy towards people regardless of their belief, religion, skin colour, nationality etc) seemed to win me surprisingly few friends and the few friends it did win me were, so I was told, sell-outs or people ‘pretending to be moderate in order to be extreme’ (an accusation that was also regularly thrown at me).

I guess most of all, I got as tired of talking to people who weren’t listening and the people who were listening got tired of listening to me.

Don’t worry; this isn’t me giving up just being honest with myself, with you.

Just because something is difficult it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The improbability of peace in Israel/Palestine remains a weak defence for the inaction of the majority. I will proudly call for the improbable and fight the uphill fight but, being honest with myself, I can see I will be doing it at a lower intensity…dipping in and out of the insanity, commenting when I feel the strongest and feel it to be strategic.

Perhaps that is what I should have been doing from the start.

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Murray – my entire generation needs you to win.

Born in the 80s, an entire generation has grown up in sporting misery. Each one of these Oasis listening losers (myself included) is now looking to Murray with the same mindless optimism with which they looked at any other Brit that showed the slightest ounce of talent.

My generation – the born in the 80s but wore anoraks in the 90s – can summarise our childhoods with the combined images of Gareth Southgate holding his head in hands after his meekly side-footed catastrophe in 96 and Tim Henman’s year-in-year-out almost success. We are a whole generation for whom sporting life is defined by huge potential and then inevitable failure.

Tim Henman for example, once a household name in the 90’s with an entire hill at Wimbledon named after him is, in the cold harsh light of retrospect, a laughing stock in the commentary box and, in a twist of British self-deprecating humour, a synonym with male inadequacy in the sack (think crashing out at the semi).

But this up-bringing, with all the psychological trauma it entails, has raised an army of Brits marked by mindless optimism.  Against all odds, against anything history dares to teach us – we still aimlessly believe in any Brit (born or bred) that shows the slightest ounce of talent.

Take Steve McClaren and his merry band of over-paid under-performing fuck ups as a case in point.

Back in 2007 we honestly believed that under Steve McClaren we could not only qualify for Euro 2008 but actually do well. I remember being sat in a pub as the reality of not qualifying sunk in. The genuine sense of surprise from those around me was almost laughable. Everyone honestly thought we should, could and would do well. What parallel universe were we living in?

It is with nerve racking anticipation then that we now edge towards the final stages of another major sporting event with a Brit in good shape and looking, very possibly, on course to win. Murray plays the (gulps) semi-final of the men’s singles tonight at Wimbledon.

In a single moment one man has an opportunity to rectify so many wrongs. All those times we have limped off, held our head in our hands, slumped back in our armchairs…they will be confined to books of history rather than the contemporary watershed for our nations sporting success.

Worse of all, I think Murray realises the weight of this mad national psyche that rests on his shoulder. Last year, when Murray memorably broke down in tears while addressing the Centre Court crowd after losing the championship match, he said through his tears, “I’m getting closer.”

It’s bloody heartbreaking.

This army of failure hardened children of Thatcher are this afternoon going to flock to TV screens with an inevitable self-indulgent sense of expectation.

Despite being able to step back and see all this, something in my mind labeled ‘born in the 1980’s and slightly disturbed’ will click in and I too will be there screaming at a TV screen believing, feeling and anticipating every point.

It’s going to be a long weekend, but hey it’s been a long 27 years.

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The race to replace Cameron might come down to recognition rates

The race to replace Cameron is well and truly on.

Cameron’s lack of popularity within his own party is well documented. The pertinent questions are now ‘who’ and ‘when’ – not ‘if’ he will be replaced.

So to start with the ‘who’ question. Ladbrokes offers us a reasonable overview (erring as always on low risk predictions):

Four names May, Hague, Boris and Hammond- only two credible though: Boris and May.

Let me explain why by starting with Boris.

Well, people respect Boris in a way they simply don’t the other serious contenders (May, Hague and Hammond). They also know who he is – recent polling by Lord Ashcroft showed 94% of people recognised Boris’ picture, and significantly 91% got his name right.

In contrast, Hammond was recognised by 23% of people and only 10% of people got his name right. Ouch.

I still maintain that Boris would be as much a disaster for his party as he would the country – but if the Tories want to run this experiment I am more than happy to pick up the popcorn and watch their implosion.

A straight Boris win then? Not quite. It boils down to the crucial ‘when’ question.

If Boris is to take over from Cameron before the next general election he needs to overcome three quite big challenges:

  • To become an MP
  • Not to piss off Londoners by appearing to abandon them
  • Keep the rabid backbenchers happy

Tim Montgomerie (for whose opinion I have a certain amount of respect) insists this is all possible – I though, remain dubious.

If Boris is to become leader Cameron has to stay leader until after the next general election. This is in itself highly unlikely with everyone assuming Labour will win a (small) victory at the next elections.

So, if a leadership election is called before the next general election the Conservatives are left with three choices:

  • May – by far the most likely to win. Has being a woman on her side, is at least recognised by half of the public and certainly will keep the rabid right happy. Whether she can win the party an election or not is another question.
  • Hague – although popular, it would be hard for Hague to go back to his old job without it being seen as a step backwards. It is also worth remembering how atrociously unpopular he was last time he was in the job.
  • Hammond – as already suggested, it is hard to make a case for leading a country if no one knows who you are and is often mistaking you for Jeremy Hunt.

May is the only credible choice.

In short:

Predication A: If Cameron goes before the next election then May will take over and last only a few years as Conservative leader before she loses the next election and then the party slumps even further in the polls. This might then open the way up for Boris.

Prediction B: If Cameron hangs on in there, then Boris may well come through as the next leader and will last until just after the 2020 elections and leave behind him the chaos of a divided party, in-fighting and a catastrophic electoral defeat that makes the 2015 results look not too bad.

Either way – things are not looking good for the Conservatives. Their only hope? Labour continuing to flounder.

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What definition of an emergency excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

I remember back in 2009, alongside millions of others around the world, I took to the streets to demand that our leaders stop playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with our future and secure a legally binding climate agreement.

While some at the time expressed frustration through violence at the failure of Copenhagen, all I remember is the crushing feeling of defeat as our leaders floundered.

In the words of Mark Lynas, Copenhagen was a “disaster”. It is hard to disagree with him on his use of adjective.

Since then, despite knowing all too well the severity of the risk that we as a species face, I have lost my voice and my heart when it comes to climate change.

This apathy is not unique or very surprising, but nor is it particularly helpful.

It is not unique because I know through speaking to friends and other ‘environmentalists’ that others have experienced a ‘post Copenhagen slump’.

It is not surprising because we are getting to a stage where we have to choose the worst of some very bad options. In the classic moral question where you ask if someone would pull a switch to divert a train from killing a group of people if you knew your actions would kill one person, no one expects that person to pull the switch with enthusiasm.

Equally though, this apathy is not particularly helpful because it runs the danger of throwing us even further away from tackling climate change and avoiding the most serious of consequences – large scale human death.

This is why I owe a huge amount to my wonderfully articulate and courageous friend, Dom Aversano, who this week metaphorically shook me out of this apathy.

Dom is one of those guys with an admirably solid moral core and who oozes determination and passion – in a very self-effacing English sort of way!

This week Dom took to the pages of the Huffington Post to write about how we have now exceeded 400 ppm of carbon in our atmosphere. If like most people, you’re thinking… ‘what the hell does that mean?’ Dom provides a nice summary:

“On 9 May this year the number of parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere exceeded 400ppm for the first time in at least 800,000 years. Anything above 450ppm dangerously risks pushing us passed an irreversible tipping point. This is would mean the climate is then out of our control… The end result is a planet 6°C warmer and no longer capable of supporting our current civilization.”

In short, we have just slid past another milestone that edges towards not just being slightly fucked, but proper fucked.

Dom quite rightly asks, why then are our leaders not calling this a national state of emergency?

Cameron did call a Cobra meeting (where politicians get together to show that they are doing, or planning on doing, something about a national emergency) for the tragic death of Lee Rigby a few weeks ago. He has failed however, to hold an equivalent meeting whenever he is told of how climate change will cause of the death of millions or even possibly billions of humans.

Figures vary dramatically on the current death toll from climate change. The World Health Organisation estimates 140,000 deaths as a result of climate change. Kofi Annan’s organization, the Global Humanitarian Forum, puts the figure closer 300,000 every year.

There are various estimates out there extrapolating this into the future. The Daily Mail recently ran with the figure of 100 million deaths by 2030 – although I am not sure how we can know anything more accurate than ‘a lot’.

What definition of an emergency is Cameron using that excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

I hope that most readers would agree that these sorts of figures do constitute a national ‘emergency’.

It is well established that they only way to reduce the likelihood of us suffering the worst consequences of climate change (like the upper estimates on the number of deaths) is to reduce our carbon emissions.

Dom, in his Huffington Post article, signposts us to how the government is fairing in this respect. In 2012 the UK’s carbon emission went up 3.9%.

To put this into context, around 11% of the world’s GHG emissions come from within the EU and every other nation state in 2012 saw a reduction in their GHG emissions apart from…you guessed it, the UK!

Despite such as urgency for action – made only more so by the fact that a ton of GHG emissions saved today is worth more than a ton saved in a year – our elected representatives have in the last week voted against imposing strict emission targets.

My own elected representative,  Neil Carmichael MP, has voted against his Conservative Party colleague’s , amendment that would have removed carbon from the energy production cycle by 2030.

Word’s fail me in the face of such short-termism. And so I will finish with the words that Dom finished his article with:

 “It might be said that talk of asteroids and destruction to civilisation is alarmist, polemical, and childish, but the great climate scientist James Hansen said in response to the unprecedented Arctic ice melt last summer that “We are in a planetary emergency”. In the face of such a stark warning it is childish and irresponsible not to respond, and polemical and alarmist to ignore the scientific community’s advice. We owe it to the children of today, and the future, who are relying on us to act now.”

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A response to: “May the wicked scum responsible for bombing the Boston marathon rot in hell”

This a guest post by my very good friend, Mike Assenti.

Yesterday someone I have a great deal of respect for posted the following on Facebook not long after the news broke of the Boston Marathon bombing:

“May the wicked scum responsible for bombing the Boston marathon rot in hell.”

This really pissed me off.

Far be it from me to undermine the serious and tragic nature of this horrific act – having run a couple of half marathons I know very well the fantastic and generous atmosphere of these sporting events, and can think of few times when so many people who have worked so hard to raise money for charity are all gathered in one place. At the time of writing, 3 people have died and over 150 have been injured, many terribly, and I feel nothing but compassion and pity for those affected. However, something about the extremity of the hate in this kneejerk reaction has really gotten under my skin, particularly given my affection for the person concerned. Unfortunately, they are far from alone, and so this blogpost is an attempt to counter the attitudes present in this and many other reactions to these and similar events.

There are a number of issues here, one of which is the general response to atrocities that take place in the West compared with the far more everyday occurrences elsewhere in the world. In the run up to elections this weekend in Iraq, a spate of car bombs have killed dozens (http://goo.gl/22imY), and injured hundreds more, but the mundanity of these events demotes the story way below Boston and Thatcher, and I have no reason to think that it won’t continue to do so.

I can’t remember seeing a single Facebook update from my friends or family on these bombings. To be clear, I am not making any sort of judgment on those people who have not erupted in outpourings of sympathy for those victims in Iraq – I am as guilty as anyone else of allowing the whole event to pass by as another unfortunate background event. Lurking somewhere in the back of my head is the Scroobius Pip lyric from ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ (http://goo.gl/JFGV)

“Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries, as to those that occur in English speaking countries”.

Another issue is the condemnation of this attack when considered next to other, ongoing killings, such as continuing US drone strikes. This is summarised, amongst other related issues, far more eloquently by Glenn Greenwald in his first point from this article: http://goo.gl/wKgbK. He writes,

…”it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid.”

There are a number of pretty astonishing statistics when you look at the death tolls from US drone strikes, not least the 174 children killed in drone strikes in Pakistan alone over the last decade (http://goo.gl/QU1qi). The quantities of these attacks have ballooned under Obama’s presidency, no doubt devastating countless lives and families, the vast majority of which are civilians caught in the crossfire. Should President Obama be held accountable for these deaths? There’s certainly a strong argument that he should, but until recently the silence on the issue of the very principle of these drone strikes has been deafening.

I think that the most important part of this is the need to refrain from jumping to conclusions before there is sufficient evidence to form an opinion. Already many in the American media have been unable to resist speculating whether this is an Islamic Jihadi attack (http://goo.gl/tVtz6) in the same vein as 9/11, despite there currently being no evidence to support this. Having said that, the sheer lack of evidence so far in this incident means that most have little choice but to remain open minded at this point. We simply do not know who set off these bombs or why they did so.

In Norway in 2011, Anders Breivik set off a car bomb killing 8 people, and shot a further 69 at a youth camp, most of which were teenagers. In response to his ultra-right wing views and apparent lack of remorse during his fair and open trial, the vast majority of Norwegian people displayed astonishing courage and conviction by maintaining their support for the democracy and tolerance to which Breivik was so opposed (http://goo.gl/ZRF1H). They reacted to a terrible tragedy calmly and sensibly, with compassion for the victims and justice for the perpetrator (true justice, not a mob lynching), and in doing so displayed remarkable strength as a society.

Whatever the investigation into these bombings reveals, it is likely that the reasons behind this attack are complex and multi-faceted. Obama’s drone program takes place for a multitude of reasons, many of which would seem reasonable to those of us in the West, but likely less so to the victims of a drone strike.

In my personal opinion, little is gained from the expression of hate by ANY party, whether verbally or through violence. The attack on Boston last weekend was a despicable, tragic, pointless act, and those responsible must face justice in a fair, transparent way with all of the complex evidence present, whoever they are. Similarly, we must try to look through this same prism when considering these other acts around the world, regardless of their frequency, and regardless of who commits such acts. Better still, the people of Norway have demonstrated that it is possible to do so with courage and magnanimity even in the face of great tragedy and loss.

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Filed under Far-right politics, Human rights, Middle East, Politics, Social comment

Children’s Rights under Occupation

This is a guest post by Jane Harries, a friend and a colleague living in Yanoun where I spent the last few months. An unedited version of this article can be found here.

How do children fare under occupation?  From the children in Yanoun and the surrounding villages we can see there are restrictions here which children in the UK don’t face – lack of facilities such as play areas and swimming pools which we take for granted. Children’s drawings portray guns and tanks, showing the underlying fear and trauma which comes from witnessing armed settlers and army incursions.  One of the testimonies to the success of EAPPI’s protective presence in the village is the fact that the children feel safe to play in front of the International House.

What about the treatment of minors by the occupying power?  We had a glimpse of what this can mean when we visited Bassam Nadar and his son Muhammed in the village of Madama, west of Yanoun, and listened to their story.  Recently, as the villagers’ wheat was getting ready for harvest, settlers came down from the mountain and set fire to the fields.  The villagers went to try to extinguish the flames, including Bassam’s two sons, Mohammed (17 years) and Ahmed (15 years).  They had succeeded in doing so when an army jeep turned up and arrested the two boys, accusing them of starting the fire.  They were taken to Huwara military camp, then to the settlement of Ariel’s police station, then back to Huwara and eventually to Majidu prison in Israel.

Bassam heard of the boys’ arrest through a journalist from Nablus, who had been with them, had photographs to prove their innocence, and intervened on their behalf.  After numerous phone calls, Bassam found out where his sons were and eventually – on the third day – they were released – but on the condition that he went to Ariel police station and paid 2,500 Shekels for each son.  He was advised by a lawyer not to pay, so Bassam went to Ariel police station and told the Israeli police he was unable to do so.  His phone number was taken but – up until the present time, nothing further has happened.

In quiet measured tones Bassam’s eldest son, Mohammed, told us his story in his own words.  He and his brother had been blindfolded and handcuffed whilst being transported between the different sites for interrogation, and nobody informed them – or their family – where they were.  The soldiers had put their feet on his head and joked as he lay on the floor of the jeep.  In Ariel police station his picture and finger prints were taken.  Only on the third day was he able to speak to his father.  When the two brothers were eventually released, this was at the border miles away from their village.  It was with the help of a taxi driver that they were eventually able to make their way home.

This story illustrates a disregard by the Israeli army and police for human rights, even in the case of minors.  Palestinian minors are dealt with under military rather than civilian law. This two-track system of justice which supports discrimination and undermines any rule of law illustrates to the Palestinians that they are second-class citizens and that there is no system of redress.

We can only imagine how children are affected by the fear and violence they experience, either directly or indirectly.  Bassam told us that his younger son is still suffering psychological problems from his experience of being arrested by the Israeli army.  As an occupying power Israel has an obligation to treat civilians humanely and never to discriminate against them. (Article 27, Fourth Geneva Convention). Israel is also a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).  For Palestinian children on the ground these obligations may seem far from the reality.

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Hynd’s Blog: 2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats have prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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