Friday, 12 December 2008

What Women Want

An article in the Guardian's G2 today about a 33-year-old woman going through what sounded like hell and high water to freeze her eggs because she hadn't met the right man yet reminded me of an article I read in The Telegraph three months ago.

The Telegraph article reported that a survey of 3,103 men and women commissioned by vitamin supplement firm, Vitabiotics, had revealed that 56 per cent of the women questioned would ask a male friend to father a baby with them if they felt they had not met the right partner.

Expectations are so high it is as if we think life is always happening somewhere else.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Islam and the Future

Since the Mumbai bombings - which the Muslim Council of Britian condemned immediately - "the problem with Islam" debate has resurfaced. Islamic extremist attacks and the growth of Islam in Britain are fears which lead some people to believe Western freedoms will be under threat in the years to come.

What I have been arguing is that we should support moderate Muslims to have a stronger voice in our society so that journalist and commentator, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown isn't the only token liberal Muslim people can point to.

This week there has been some good news. I discovered the Christian Muslim Forum on Sunday. On Thurday morning, I heard Mona Siddiqui, a British Muslim academic, on Radio Four's Thought For The Day. And today I came across Dervla Shannahan Hussain, a gay Muslim convert, on The Guardian's Comment is Free pages.

There has also been stories in the press this week about the Runnymede Trust calling for faith schools to open their admissions to all children in order to break down religious barriers and improve integration.

I hope more good news will follow!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Who Owns The Progressive Future?

Last night former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas, Left Wing academic Beatrix Campbell and Guardian economist Aditya Chakrabortty were at Kings Place in Kings Cross, London, debating who will own the progressive future.

In their five minute speeches, not one of them talked about what role religions would play in that progressive future so my hand shot up as soon as the chair, Guardian journalist John Harris, opened the debate to the floor.

Only Beatrix got to answer my question - and that was only because John pushed her. Sadly, her perspective was downbeat and, for the large part, dated. "Religion is about patriarchal domination," she said. "I have great unease about organised religions playing a role in the future."

How can she not know how much has changed since the 1970s? In the Methodist Church, for example, there is nothing stopping women taking the top positions. Women are involved at all levels of the institution and many men recognise women as agents of change. In the Church of England, women are fighting to become Bishops. Revolution is happening from within. Writing religion off as essentially "patriarchal" actually feels oppressive when you are aware women are making head way. How can Beatrix not know about feminist theology? Surely, supporting women of all religions to shift ground within what used to be a male-only run dominion is the way forward.

And as for her comment that "institutionalised religion" is the source of war mongering - Christianity teaches peace. Quakers preach pacifism whatever the price. Many faiths have been involved in pushing social justice to the forefront and lobbying for equality. Faith drives a number of people to fight for these causes. Why don't we acknowledge this?

A progressive future without a spiritual forum would be a bleak one. Many people will want to look for more meaning in their lives than just their mortgages. I don't think religion and spirituality should own the progressive future, but I think they should share a part.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Nazi Desensitization

Civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti has come out in defence of disc jockey Jon Gaunt for calling Redbridge councillor Michael Stark a "Nazi" during his TalkSport radio programme.

The Independent reports today that human rights defender, Ms Chakrabarti has written a letter to TalkSport, which suspended Mr Gaunt after he made the "health Nazi" slur against Cllr Stark for a policy on banning smokers from fostering children, and has thrown article 10 of the Human Rights Act at them.

In her letter, the Independent reports, she calls his dismissal "bizarre" and "disproportinate".

I wonder: If Mr Gaunt had called Cllr Stark a "health terrorist" would Ms Chakrabarti have written the same letter of defence?

Nazi is an extremely loaded word and to deload it should cause outrage. We all know what it means, but the way some people throw the term around today - I am thinking of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone who likened a Jewish Evening Standard journalist to a "Concentration Camp guard" for asking him a question following a party at City Hall in 2005 - it seems we are in danger of forgetting.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Taser Guns

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was clearly on a war path with her idea to issue police with thousands of Taser stun guns to the tune of £8 million.

Thank Goodness the Metropolitan Police Authority has no intention of sanctioning increased availability of the 50,000-volt weapons in London, saying the extra 10,000 guns would "spread fear and damage public confidence in the police". Too right. It is a world away from the Met's "streetwise" initiative reported in The Times last week where youngsters in East London meet informally with officers to pass on their tips about stop and searches.

The kind of role play workshops between police and young people, which are happening in Waltham Forest and elsewhere in the capital, is the kind of thing that will improve community relations, rather like Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams.

Bringing out more Taser guns, which, according to this morning's Metro and this morning's Times, were deployed 600 times in the past year, but only fired 93 times, is a waste of public money - rather like ID cards - and will serve only to foster fear and loathing instead of tackling it. Research by Amnesty International has also shown that Taser guns have been linked to hundreds of deaths in the U.S. and Candada.

Tasers aren't toys any more than they are the key to reducing crime.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Smug Generation

How long will the Left Wing press stay silent on this story run by the Right Wing press today? - "Fawning parents are creating children who expect success to fall into their lap". The Telegraph has run it on its front page and The Daily Mail on page three.

"Modern parents heap so much praise on their children that they are creating a 'smug generation' with little idea of the real world," roars The Daily Mail picking up on research based on 40 years of results from an annual U.S. survey called Monitoring the Future.

Surely, we should be celebrating the fact that our youngsters are "full of self-confidence" and not crippled by self-doubt. I can clearly remember hearing the adage "children should be seen and not heard" when I was a girl (but not from my parents).

That's not to say that poor learning engagement should be rewarded while anything goes - including the erosion of traditional teaching. When a child learns how to read, she is empowered. But a child taught by a teacher who thinks empowering her learning skills will turn her into a big head will feel the iron entering her soul.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Price of Art

The Independent newspaper reported today that artist Damien Hirst has come out and said that the art market is overpriced. The Stuckists will rejoice! I, for one, am glad that Hirst, who is worth £200 million, has come out and talked about the price of art - when Piers Morgan interviewed Tracey Emin last month, she skirted around discussing the price of her art.

Hirst's line is: "Art is worth what the next guy is prepared to pay." I think that misses the point. Art pricing is based on what YOU are prepared to pay.

A friend of mine recently struck a deal with an artist who said he would sell his two canvases for £120. But my friend said that was underpriced and he wanted to pay more. So he paid him £150.

It would be revolutionary if Hirst made the price of art the subject of his next work. But that isn't likely to happen any time soon. "You feel as if you are touched by God," he is quoted as saying in reference to his success on the art market. And elsewhere in the same article: "That is what artists want, for people to hang the works on the wall."

But the best line is this: "As an artist, you don't stop making art because people are not buying it." It would be great if Hirst plonked his next idea in the middle of Leicester Square, next to all the portrait artists who sit in the wind and the rain everyday, and said: "No one is buying this -this isn't for sale."

I wonder what would happen and how long Hirst would be able to hold out?

Friday, 14 November 2008

9/11 Conspiracy Theorists

The other night as I was walking to Donmar Warehouse from Covent Garden Tube, I spotted a man on the corner of street shouting, "The truth about 9/11!" and waving a bunch of DVDs in the air. I took my headphones off and stopped because just a couple of weeks earlier in a Vegan Cafe in Hackney, the guy I was with was trying to tell me the same thing - that 9/11 was an American conspiracy.

How many people actually believe this?!

The man on the street corner was from a political organisation called We Are Change in London and was giving out free DVDs with "explosive evidence" that would supposedly dispel the "myth" that if a Drone Boeing 737 explodes in the middle of a tower block, the building would not then crumble to the ground but be able to withstand the force. An advert for Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth run by Richard Gage was all over the DVD cover release with plenty of information about where to give him and his organisation "financial monthly commitment". How big an industry is this movement?

I have just checked out the website where there are also calls for an investigation into the "truth" behind the 7/7 bombings. What, exactly, would that truth be? That the 7/7 bombers were M15 agents supported by the CIA and the Bush administration?!

The paranoia permeates into the Obama era...