Politisplaining, Alt-Rightsplaining & Mediasplaining

Because mensplaining and womensplaining are old hat — sexism, like racism and other type of bigotry, is apparently mainstream again — I figured I’d introduce the new concepts that I think are (unfortunately!) going to be all the rage in 2017: politisplaining, alt-rightsplaining and mediasplaining.

(more…)

Open letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

Congratulations on your party’s recent election win. As an EU – not (yet) UK – citizen, I could not vote in this general elections and as such had no part in your victory. To be honest, I really don’t know who I would have voted for if I had been entitled to vote in this election; I consider myself a socialist, but none of the parties in this country appear to represent my idea of socialism.

At some point last year, my email address made it into databases used for various political parties’ mailings. I don’t mind. Time permitting I actually read the messages sent to me on behalf of you and other politicians and parties. Today I decided to attempt a reply, if only to find out whether the mail accounts used are of the annoying ‘no-reply’ type or if they are actually monitored by real people who will pass on any responses like this one. In 2015 fashion, I will post this open letter to you on my public blog as well, in the hope that other politicians might notice my ramblings too.

One of the issues that in my opinion has not been addressed sufficiently by past governments (including yours) is housing. Last month, the rent on my home in North West London increased by 36%. Yes, you read that right, THIRTY-SIX PER CENT. Like many others I am being priced out of London. Everywhere I go across London, I see homes being built, but usually these are billed as ‘luxury’ and that term is reflected in their price tags. Homes that are labelled ‘affordable’ may be affordable for higher earners and foreign investors, but they aren’t affordable at all when you compare them to London’s and Britain’s average incomes.

As much as I love London and wish to stay here, I don’t feel entitled to the city so if I cannot afford to live here, I am prepared to move elsewhere. One problem with that is, that there aren’t (m)any jobs in other areas. Another issue is that public transport is so ridiculously expensive that the cost of commuting into London for work would negate any costs saved on housing. Even though I do most of my freelance work remotely, from home, clients tend to want me to live near enough for me to turn up in person from time to time. Moreover, at times when I don’t have enough freelance work to cover all rent and bills, there are opportunities in London for part-time and/or temporary work to top up my income. Outside of London those opportunities are scarce thus the competition for them is fierce.

London does not need me as much as it needs teachers, nurses and other key workers. If I am priced out of London that’s not as bad as when key workers are. So feel free to ignore my whinges here, I am only one rather insignificant person, but the wider issue is a serious one: London needs the diversity of people of all classes, education types, incomes levels and so on and so forth, but it’s slowly losing it. London’s cosmopolitan melting pot of people is part of what makes it such a great city; greater than, say, Paris, where people appear to have been segregated per city districts, from the very richest in the heart of the city down to the very poorest in the depressing banlieus on the outskirts. I worry that’s what London could become like if, like now, the housing crisis is mostly being left for the private sector to resolve – which it won’t, at least, not by itself. I believe London’s free housing market needs more government intervention, way beyond shallow manipulation by way of help-to-buy schemes, mansion taxes, underoccupancy charges, rent controls or easing of planning regulations. What London needs is the housing supply to meet the demand for homes in ways that private investors and developers won’t provide without some serious public sector intervention.

I also believe that regions outside of London need more attention: local and national government will need to work together to push businesses to set up more than just call centres outside the capital. Doing so will not only relieve London, I think it will also preserve suburban green belts and rural beauty; more importantly, it might spur a much-needed culture change among business leaders, away from their London-centricity: London isn’t the only fabulous city in Britain with fabulous people raring to do fabulous jobs for any employers willing to offer them that opportunity. They just need to be given the chance.

The headline on your (PR agency’s copywriter’s) post-election mass email reads “now let’s make Britain greater still”. I’d be delighted to take part in any effort and am brimming with ideas towards achieving that, but I’m finding myself having to look at opportunities for work outside the United Kingdom, in places where one’s earnings might actually cover the basic cost of living. Not that I really want to go abroad – I love Britain, particularly London – but I feel I don’t really have a choice. Once again, feel free to ignore my individual whining and whingeing here, I am only one rather insignificant person. Besides, I may be anglicised, but on paper I’m still a foreigner, so my departure would benefit your net migration figures. So by all means hit me with a “Bye, Jo, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” However, the people you really do need to worry about now are those that Britain truly wants and needs, people who seriously make Britain great(er), because more and more of them can neither afford housing in British places where there is work, nor find work in British places where there is housing. Britain’s current economic recovery is slow – which in my view is a good thing – but it’s not as steady as one might want it to be. To me, Britain’s economy looks as yet rather precarious, just shy of frail. The last thing the country needs in such a tricky state is a brain drain.

If you really want to “make Britain greater” you and every other politician in this country really need to address the subject of housing. No government since the 1980s appears to have done this sufficiently and in my opinion that is at the heart of virtually every other issue Britain is currently facing. Let’s make Britain greater by ditching any party-political point-scoring on the matter and get to work.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Hughes

Safety net, leg up

A few years ago, on a number of occasions, suddenly people who I didn’t even know stood up to help me at times of personal crisis. To date I don’t know what I’d done without them, I truly feel they were life savers.

These good Samaritans, as I like to call them, taught me important life lessons too; it wasn’t that they taught me to give to others, because I knew how to do that and I did, it was that they managed to show me how to give to others without compromising on themselves and in ways that don’t fully provide for others but – better still – provided a safety net and a leg up, no more than that.

The best way for me to pay people back is to pay this forward by offering others a safety net and a leg up as and when I can. It’s a no-brainer I wish I’d figured out sooner.

At age 38 I’ve also – finally! – learned that I cannot solve other people’s problems nor make miracles happen. One of my landlord’s tenants – let’s call him Ahmed (not his actual name) – has severe issues with alcohol and drugs. (Note: my landlord is one of the people who I consider one of my life savers.) I cannot solve his issues or take away his demons but I do appear to be one of very few people who can at least on many occasions calm him down to a point where he doesn’t pose a nuisance or threat to others – such as the other tenants/neighbours – or to himself. But I also accept that I can only be there to help him if and when he reaches out for it because he wants to be helped. And I can provide support in a way that doesn’t compromise me or anyone else.

For anyone reading this who has little or no experience with addiction: think of the nicest, most personable person you know, and trust me when I tell you that if he or she were to fall victim to addiction to any mind-altering substance(s) (such as alcohol or drugs), he or she will turn into an a-hole. Apologies for the expletive but there is no friendlier way of saying it. Substance abuse turns the greatest human beings into a-holes, period.

Ahmed was forced to go cold turkey a while ago, when his welfare benefits were stopped. The landlord showed leniency allowing him to fall behind on his rent, we paid his utilities and got him food until we got him registered with the food bank. He had no means of inebriating himself. It made him very sick for a while but he got medical attention when needed, and then, for a moment, clean, sober and personal Ahmed returned.

It didn’t last. As soon as his state welfare benefits were restored a couple of weeks ago, he went back on the binge and back to being the a-hole addict. It is bordering on impossible to get someone in his situation the appropriate mental health care; people like Ahmed tend to become nuisance neighbours and recurring problems for police and emergency services to deal with.

They will get inebriated to the point where they cause problems, to say the least, get picked up by police or ambulance, taken to a police cell or hospital ward and less than 24 hours later, when they’ve sobered up, they are labelled “no longer a threat to themselves or others”, and they’re out on the street again until they get inebriated again, give cause to get picked up again, and so on and so forth.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the cops and EMTs out here to attend the same locations, the same people again and again because there is no appropriate follow-up to their work, but forget about the UK headlines of late about lying or otherwise dodgy officers, your everyday frontline street cops and paramedics do a [bleep]ing phenomenal job that I can not speak highly enough of. Seriously, I wish there were two IPCCs rather than one: besides the Independent Police Complaints Commission there should be something like an Independent Police Compliments/Commendations Commission. The same goes for ambulance personnel and other emergency services. “We the people” should really do more to get these people the recognition they deserve, because right now I don’t think they’re getting that.

Back now to Ahmed. Yesterday he hit rock bottom and phoned 999, stating he had a knife and threatening to kill himself with it. Out came the emergency ‘cavalry’ of police, rapid response units and ambulance, full well knowing that he might pose a danger to them as much as himself, but turning up and stepping in regardless.

He was taken to hospital, his home was made safe. When later on he managed to slip out of hospital again, he was searched for and found, and returned to the hospital. He called me late at night asking for me to come and pick him up. I convinced him to stay.

Some time after midnight the hospital phoned me asking me to come and pick him up to take him home. He had been medically examined and had had his psychological evaluation (colloquial: psych eval), and they had no medical grounds to keep him in the hospital. Thankfully I managed to convince them to at least keep him in the ward for the night, promising to come and pick him up this morning.

When I arrived this morning all that was left for me to collect were some of Ahmed’s belongings. Ahmed himself had already disappeared again. Hospital staff helped me search for him but we failed. There is only so much we can do.

As hard and cold as this may appear, all we can do now is to wait and see if and when he turns up again, which he will, sooner or later, and by then he will probably be under the influence of mind-altering substances. The cycle will repeat itself until he is truly ready to surrender himself, because there is no way for me or anyone else to get him sectioned under the Mental Health Act or otherwise detained for his own safety and recovery.

It’s not a situation I am particularly happy with, and I would love to see the system changed, but for now I am at peace with the idea that there is nothing more I or anyone else can do right now. I don’t feel bad, stressed or guilty about that anymore. I’ll reach out again as and when I have to, and I know others will, too. Safety net, leg up, remember?

Naturally I will write to ministers and MPs and find other ways to contact whichever powers that be to urge changes to (mental) health services and procedures to stop these repeat cycles that Ahmed and many other people currently move around in, because the current system clearly isn’t helping anyone and burdening many. Perhaps this blog post is a start.

Alistair Campbell’s course in attention seeking, lesson 41

Oh, the irony of posting this, to promote my other blog (and as such myself)… or perhaps I’m just a good learner?

Hashed! Alistair Campbell's course in attention seeking

Ron and Mike

Sometimes – not often – I bump into something so good that it would be bordering on criminal not to share. On this occasion, I felt that just passing on a link would be insufficient, as the original piece was in a language that only a small portion of the world’s population is able to understand. So I approached the author with the question if I could reproduce his piece in English, and he kindly gave me permission to do so. I really hope I’ve done his work justice. (If at any time and for whatever reason he chooses to withdraw his permission I will remove this post. This is, after all, his work, not mine.)

Ron and Mike
Original by Derek Otte
(translated into English by Jo)

Once upon a time, in a society not dissimilar to ours, a select group of people was legally in charge of maintaining public order and providing assistance to those who needed it. This group officially went by the name ‘police’, although society referred to it by other – less neutral and at times unfair – monikers. After twenty years of serving the community, none of these were new to Ron, an armed, uniformed veteran of the irregular shift pattern.

Ron was no stranger to anything anymore; verbal and physical assaults, stabbings and shootings, murder and manslaughter, suicides, road traffic accidents and other gruesome stuff, he’d seen it all. Over the years he had built a mental shield to protect himself against other people’s pain and hurt, although his compassionate nature prevented him from shutting off his emotions altogether. At times he’d find himself being kept awake by echoes of victims’ cries for help he had been unable to answer, and memories of moments when his own life had flashed in front of his eyes.

Ron had seen it all, yet never stopped doing his job. He felt it was his calling, and it had become second nature to him; a call of duty he had been born into coupled with an almost insane hunger for excitement. Ron wanted to serve a purpose. He witnessed the worst, experienced the impossible, dealt with inhumane situations and processed even the most awful of cases, always with the utmost sense of pride and duty. Nothing could get him down, not even the aggression – bordering on hatred – he felt his uniform provoked among some memers of society during every shift.

The hatred was something he found understandable, but nevertheless tough to deal with. He himself would find it difficult sometimes to distinguish right from wrong. Still, he would try to look beyond his occupational bias, knowing that respect is reciprocal – “You get what you give” – and his awareness that, at the end of the day, everyone’s human. Just like him. Though not so much like his colleague Mike.

Mike was a country boy who, upon graduating police training academy top of his class five years ago, had moved to work in the big city. Mike did everything by the book and particularly thrived when it came to maintaining law and order. During coffee breaks he would visibly revel in telling wild tales of his heroics on the job.

In reality Mike’s days were mostly filled with issuing tickets to ‘chavs’ and ‘muzzas’. Or ‘wogs’ and ‘gyps’, as he would call the ‘scum’ as well. Mike was an immoral prick. On cases of persistent domestic violence, where a woman would keep going back to her abusive spouse, he loved to come out with trite remarks of “fistfuls of love” and that “a man shouldn’t have to repeat himself”, which would always garner laughs among two-thirds of his colleagues.

Mike was a self-absorbed, narrow-minded dick who would sell his own mother if he believed it might get him ahead. Within the ‘macho’ police culture he’d stopped just short of sleeping his way to the top: he had bullied, elbowed, brown-nosed, arse-kissed and sucked his way up to a dominant position in his team and within the department. His job wasn’t his calling, it was just his job. A job with authority and a weapon – that’s what it was about for him.

It was that sense of power – and nothing else – that had made Mike join the force. A natural progression from his childhood days of being bullied, which had left him with a deep-rooted sense of inferiority that no one knew about. His self-esteem had long ago made way for a sense of emptiness that he’d been trying to fill with reproach by way of a big mouth and a pointing finger. Because he “ruled the street, god damn it” in a town he’d never even visited before he took on the job there.

In the past year Ron had been sentenced to Mike whenever they were partnered up on duty. Mike would often give civilians a pompous rollocking, thus escalating perfectly peaceful situations into explosive scenes in a heartbeat. Whenever the proverbial brown stuff hit the fan, Ron would be there to clean up the mess, only to hear Mike boasting afterwards to colleages and supervisors how “he had sorted it out”. In reality, the likes of Mike were the main reason behind society’s ever-diminishing faith in the police force, and as such in Ron.

Society would make no distinction between Ron’s professional demeanor and that of Mike, because the likes of the latter determined the police force’s public image. Ron would increasingly hear self-appointed experts spout their opinions in which he would find himself tarred by the same brush as the twits in uniform that generally deserved to be mocked, ridiculed, abused and condemned. Ron and at least 40 percent of his colleagues had given up the battle against this. They had either resigned themselves to this state of affairs or been slowly ground down by it until they could no longer cope.

I would have liked to have been able to talk about how Ron successfully managed to plead for stricter selection of candidates recruited for any roles with a level of authority. I would have loved to have been able to break the news that he had been promoted to a coordinating position within the police force. I would have liked to have been able to tell that the media and society were shifting their attention to what the likes of Ron had to say. But nothing could be further from the truth. Even I have to conclude that politicians have shown no interest whatsoever in the stories told by Mike’s victims.

After Mike beat up a drunk homeless man one day, supposedly because the guy had been resisting aggressively (even though another officer had stood and watched), local authorities sent Mike flowers as consolation to the public outrage poured onto him so undeservedly. Media and society were given yet another reason to pass their one-size-fits-all judgement on police as a whole and as such Ron found himself on the defensive again. Which was tragic, but understandable. Why?

The higher up in the echelon of police you look, the greater the proportion of Mike-like characters you’ll find. Every ‘Mike’ incident like the one above further deteriorates the police’s public image; in turn society’s faith in and respect for the force diminish. As this vicious cycle goes on and on there will be less space for nuance, and an ever-growing gap between government and society, no thanks to political and media intervention.

The solution for this problem is written between the lines of the above narrative. I think we’ve got a long way to go.

© 2012 Derek Otte. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.