Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pens aren't redundant, yet

I guess I'm a bit old-fashioned. I prefer a book made from card and paper to a digital device, despite failing eyesight - that's why I use a magnifier. There's skill in typography, graphic design and illustration, and I'd rather be able to take examples off the shelf than switch on a machine. And although I type on a keyboard quite a lot, I still use fountain pens and propelling pencils. While I was working as a humanist celebrant, interviewing clients meant writing pages of notes in longhand, as I never learnt shorthand. I know that some celebrants would take out a laptop and type as they interviewed, but that never appealed to me. It placed a barrier between you and the client, who might rattle on, oblivious to your scribbling, but could be distracted by the clicks of a keyboard.

In a recent article in The Economist, the importance of handwriting is explained. The article is about American schools, where children are being taught how to write again. I don't know what's happening in British schools but when I was last in one they seemed to be scribbling a lot, though there was no sign that they were being taught how to write well.

The article begins,
Researchers are also aware that more than mere pride in penmanship is lost when people can no longer even read, let alone write, cursive script. Not being able to exchange notes with the boss or authenticate signatures, for instance, can hurt a person’s chances of promotion. More importantly—and intriguingly—though, learning to join letters up in a continuous flow across the page improves a child’s ability to retain and understand concepts and inferences in a way that printing those letters (and, a fortiori, typing them on a keyboard) does not. It even allows insights gained in one learning experience to be applied to wholly different situations.
So, maybe being old-fashioned is actually a good thing?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If L'Oréal really sold anti-ageing stuff...

I enjoy Helen Walmsley-Johnson's contributions to Standard Issue Magazine. In her latest piece she has a go at the anti-ageing nonsense being peddled by cosmetics companies. She wrote,
From this energetic stream of thought prompted by just one 30-second advert you would be correct in assuming that I have a problem with the whole ‘anti-ageing’ terminology. I loathe and avoid anything which includes the following words on or in its packaging or advertising: ‘perfect’, ‘renew’ or ‘renewal’, ‘correct’, ‘revitalise’, ‘restore’, ‘firm’, ‘regenerate’, ‘plumps’, ‘lift’, ‘anti-wrinkle’, ‘smooth’, ‘rejuvenate’ or promises to ‘turn the clock back’, ‘blur’ or ‘reverse visible signs of ageing’. So that leaves me with… not a lot actually.
I read this soon after I'd seen an L'Oréal advert on the telly - the people who are supposed to make Helen Mirren look gorgeous - and was confused by all the make-up - the made-up words they use to describe their stuff. I mean, what the heck is "2% Vitamin CG and 6% Pro-Xylane". I know about Vitamin C, but CG?

Helen (not Mirren, the author of the article) says that in the UK "we spend a staggering £2.2 billion on cosmetic skincare". I'd have to take issue with that. I'm not part of the "we", since I don't spend anything on cosmetic skincare, just a few squid on moisturiser that I forget to use and some sun screen that my dermatologist says I should use, on account of having had skin cancer.

I used to wear make-up on special occasions. I've given up now, since poor eyesight has led to poking myself in the eye with a mascara brush too often - one of the advantages of failing sight is that I can't see my wrinkles very well any more. I tend to forget I've got lipstick on and wipe it off with serviettes or my sleeve. I've better things to do with my pension than swell L'Oréal's coffers. Besides, none of it is anti-ageing; it's all superficial. Some cream with Pro-Xylane in it (whatever that is) won't fix what's going on under the skin, which is inevitable. If I read that we spent even a small proportion of that £2.2 billion on chocolate or cake or gin, I'd understand.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Why France?

I've noticed that some people have asked why France should have suffered more terrorist attacks than other European countries and the UK recently. The young man who killed so many people in Nice was from a Tunisian family. The Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan Concert Hall killers were of Algerian descent. France has a large number of Muslims whose families originated in its north African colonies of Algeria and Tunisia. Many are descended from immigrants who were originally welcomed, who've worked in low paid jobs and raised several generations. Yet they're still not well integrated. Many live in socially deprived areas, in poor housing, and suffer discrimination and prejudice. Even those who've gone to university and succeeded in the professions will tell stories of discrimination, like black people here and in the US. Young French Muslim men are more likely to be either unemployed or in poorly paid jobs than other French citizens. We don't know much about the Nice killer so far, but home-grown terrorism is more likely when there is a pool of resentful, dissatisfied, under-employed young men, many with a record of petty crime, and some with severe psychological problems. Daesh might inspire them to kill, but it's unlikely that their motives will be wholly religious. France has a problem, and it's been brewing for a long time. There are very few who'll resort to murderous acts, but it doesn't take many.

Click here to learn about French Muslims in an enlightening account by Al Jazeera.

Click here to hear how the Danes have a different approach to dealing with vulnerable young Muslims.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Letter to my MP about the referendum

Dear Mr Cartlidge,

It's ten days since the catastrophe and I'm still filled with a mixture of anger and disbelief, like someone who's come home to find a bunch of moronic teenagers have had a party in my house and totally wrecked it. But if that were the case, it could be fixed. I'm not sure that the post-referendum mess will be.

None of this was necessary. Mr Cameron wanted to appease the anti-EU section of your party, so he said we could have a referendum. It was a party political decision and not in the public interest. He must have thought that he'd get a Remain win to settle the matter, once and for all. Having lost the gamble, he's washed his hands of the whole affair and left the ambitious leaders-in-waiting to fight amongst themselves, while those of us who aren't Conservatives can only look on in despair.

I signed the No.10 petition calling on the result to be set aside. The referendum was won by a slim margin with a mixture of fraud, bare-faced lies, and an appeal to the most prejudiced sections of society. Leave campaigners, mainly Messrs Johnson, Gove and Farage, based their campaign on claims that were untrue, and that have been shown to be untrue. The first two were mainly motivated by personal ambition while Farage is simply the most ignorant, racist egomaniac to disgrace the UK in the European Parliament, where he rarely attended debates or committees except to insult other members. The rubbish press, mainly the Daily Mail (which lauded Hitler in the 1930s), the Express and the Sun, repeated these lies and elaborated on them with more inflammatory nonsense. I asked a friend who planned to vote Leave why she would do so and she repeated verbatim the £350 million a week to the EU and massive Greek influx claims, among others. She was one of many ill-informed voters who determined the outcome.

Considering the low turnout in the European elections and the fact that hardly anyone could name their MEP, no one should have been surprised at the general level of ignorance about the EU. The issue was and is complex, yet there was little attempt, even on the Remain side, to inform. Sloganising back and forth was as far as it got. Our membership should never have been decided by a referendum that had no more validity than the throw of a dice. Mr Cameron gambled away our future, but mainly the future of our young people. At 71, it won't affect me much but it will affect them.

I have no confidence in any of our senior politic leaders at this time, of any party. In fact, I think that party politics and the first past the post system are anachronisms. It's time to overhaul the system, though I can't see any of those who've gained power attempting to do so; they're all too busy putting their own interests before national interests. And when I say "national", I mean British interests, before the kingdom is divided.

Since the referendum result is meant to provide guidance to the legislature, there appear to be grounds to reject it. The result wasn't decided by fair means. I urge you to support any attempt to challenge a move to invoke Article 50 and to expose the fraudulent claims of the Leave campaign.

If you haven't already done so, I urge you to watch what Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University (an expert in EU law) has to say about the referendum, which was won through "dishonesty on an industrial scale". You might also like to familiarise yourself with an EU document, The Code of Good Practice on Referendums (a PDF), if you haven't read it.

To paraphrase Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi, you and your fellow MPs are our only hope. Please demonstrate that Parliament is capable of taking decisive action to avoid a disastrous and irreversible decision. The European Union is far from perfect, but it can be improved. For so many reasons, we're better off in than out.

Yours sincerely,
Margaret Nelson

Note: Mr Cartlidge was on the Remain side.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Party politics is dead

Party politics is dead; it doesn't work any more. I've thought so for ages. Ideologies inhibit creative thinking and a willingness to compromise. Anti-intellectualism, here and in the US, deters intelligent, professional people from getting involved, so government departments are run by people who haven't a clue what they're talking about. Petty rivalries seem to mean more than actually getting anything done. The biggest challenges we face - climate change, population increase, mob violence, among others - are ignored or given limited attention. Career politicians become increasingly divorced from reality. Middle-aged men dominate everything. Real education is discouraged, because it results in young people who are ready and willing to challenge the absurdities. Hardly anyone has been taught how to think, so can only react. In the vacuum that's been created, nastiness flourishes.

Andreas Whittam Smith thinks there might be a way to sort things out, but that depends on a willingness to do so.

Julian Coman forecast the death of party politics three years ago.

Whatever happens, party politics is incapable of salvaging much out of the Brexit mess. I wish there was some reason to hope things might change.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Gullibility, prejudice and ignorance

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”
                                                   ― Albert Einstein
Example 1:
After the second world war, there was a housing crisis. Thousands of prefabricated or system-built homes were built, made from sections manufactured in factories and assembled on site. In my area, some of these council houses were falling apart. Made from steel-reinforced concrete, the steel was rusting away, the concrete was crumbling, and they were damp and draughty. There was no point trying to repair them, so a decision was made to sell them for a token amount to a housing association that could demolish and rebuild, providing the tenants with lovely new homes. Some tenants had foolishly already bought their homes through Mrs Thatcher's right-to-buy scheme. I heard that a few had phoned the council when things inevitably went wrong to ask to have them fixed. Told that they were no longer the council's responsibility, they were dismayed. Then, as their neighbour's homes were demolished around them, they were upset that they weren't going to be rehoused too. One or two tried to sell their houses. No one was interested.

Example 2:
During the EU referendum, large numbers of people were convinced that hordes of Turks were poised to join all the other millions of immigrants about to invade our shores. They believed that £350 million was sent to the EU every week, and that we got nothing in return. They believed that the EU acted like a dictator, running our country from Strasbourg and Brussels, though most of them probably had no idea where Strasbourg is. They believed that the EU was responsible was whatever was wrong in their lives, and the Brexit campaigners and right-wing press fed this general sense of dissatisfaction and injustice with lies and more lies. These people weren't necessarily unintelligent. They just didn't use the brains they were born with. Gullibility, prejudice and ignorance prevailed. As the economic and social consequences of their decisions start to affect them, who will they blame next?

Friday, June 03, 2016

Looks aren't everything

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
                   ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
Just been reading about a woman who had chemotherapy for cancer and lost her hair, like Victoria Derbyshire, and how it affected her. I didn't need chemotherapy when I had cancer, I'm happy to say, just radiotherapy and surgery, followed by Tamoxifen for 5 years, but I wouldn't have been bothered about losing my hair and I wouldn't have worn a wig, which sound horribly itchy. I do remember a couple of my sister's friends visiting me in hospital and being surprised that I wasn't bald, as though they'd expected my hair to fall out within days of surgery. They made me laugh, though I was reminded of Madame Defarge, sitting knitting next to the guillotine, waiting for the heads to fall.

I wasn't offered a false boob, whatever they call it - a reconstruction? - so I'm lop-sided, but would have refused. After reading about various implant problems more recently, I'm glad I did. The alternative is what I call my pink jellyfish, a prosthetic breast that fits in a pocket in my bra. These days I only wear that on special occasions. Bras are uncomfortable, and now that my spine is twisted I doubt most people notice as long as I wear loose tops.

A counsellor I know recently told me that the way some women care so much about their appearance is understandable, but I don't really understand it, though I accept that it's about self-esteem and confidence, and that many women lack both. Men may feel the same, though they have the added disadvantage of not being encouraged to talk about it.

Over the years various bits of me have had to be removed, so I have a few scars, but I care more that I'm still alive than what I look like. I hear of women who'll say that they feel "less of a woman" because they've lost a breast or whatever, but what of the thousands of women who are disfigured by birth defects, accident, illness or injury? Are they any less female? Anyone who regarded them that way would, I suggest, be ignorant and prejudiced. Sadly, there are plenty of ignorant people about, but it's they who are lacking, not us.

Click here to read about the Indian women disfigured by acid attacks.