Category Archives: Rants

What exactly is the human race for?

‘Society shouldn’t be organised around child protection.’

– Claire Fox, Newsnight, 23rd October 2012

One of the courses I took in my biological sciences degree was called behavioural ecology. It’s the study of animal behaviour, and how that behaviour helps an animal to live its life (pretty much). One of the main things we’d talk about with any animal was mating and how it cared for its young.

Swans, of course, mate for life, and both male and female help build the nest, keep the eggs warm, and feed the chicks. Female dunnocks, by contrast, will mate with as many males as they can get away with, and get food to feed chicks from all of them.

Let me tell you about lions. When lionesses are on heat, they’ll have sex as often as every 15 minutes. And they’re on heat for about four days. Sounds fun, but exhausting. There will be several adult males in a lion pride – the theory is that lionesses mate frequently so that any particular shag isn’t that likely to produce offspring. This means there’s no point the males fighting over it. It reduces conflict within the group.

Lionesses do most of the hunting, while the males stay at home and watch the cubs. They are wise to be on the look-out – every so often the males in a pride get ousted by a group of other males (these will be a group of brothers and half-brothers, who’ve left their home pride when they reached adulthood). New males will kill any cubs under two, as this makes the mothers come into heat, ready to bear more young.

It’s all fascinating stuff, if you like that sort of thing (and I do), but do you know why we spent so much time studying mating and child-rearing? It’s because, in biological terms, passing on its genes is the POINT of all organisms.

Some animals – like most frogs – go for the scattershot approach. Have loads of eggs (often thousands) and leave them to it, and some of them will survive to adulthood. Some animals – like elephants, King penguins and humans – will usually have only one offspring at a time, and invest a lot of care in getting it to the point where it can look after itself. Their social groups are organised entirely around rearing their young.

In fact for all animals, how they rear their young is a massive deciding factor in how they live their lives. Are they solitary? Do they live in pairs? In groups? What kind of groups, organised in what ways? Child-rearing plays a big part in explaining why in each case.

Human children are helpless for years, they require a huge investment in resources before they are old enough to reproduce successfully themselves. And that’s why humans have always lived in large groups.

Which brings me to professional contrarian Claire Fox’s appearance on Newsnight last night. It was a discussion about child protection, in the wake of the Savile revelations. Ms Fox doesn’t seem to have any expertise in child protection (which is ironic, given that her sister Fiona, at the Science Media Centre, constantly bangs the drum that we should only listen to scientific experts on every single matter).

I guess though they’d got Fox in because Camila Batmanghelidjh was on, arguing for protecting vulnerable children. Claire was probably the only person they could find to take the opposite position, who wasn’t actually Gary Glitter.

As quoted above, Ms Fox said, ‘Society shouldn’t be organised around child protection.’

I just couldn’t disagree more with that statement. Yes! Yes, it should! That’s exactly what society should be organised around! What on earth should it be organised around if not that?

Organising our society around protecting children is the biological norm for complex animals. Are we so much smarter than dolphins and elephants, because we’ve organised our society around making the most money and fucking up the planet instead?

Maybe you’re not a breeder, for whatever reason. Odds are, you’ve got relatives or friends who are though. You maybe give them presents or help out with baby-sitting or pick them milk up from the shop during the weeks (months?) of new-parent-hell.  Or maybe you’ve just been a shoulder to cry on for an exasperated parent at the end of their tether.

Biologically, whether you breed yourself or not, the human community you belong to helps raise children, because it’s too hard for one person (or one couple) alone. Even ignoring biology, personally, I think socialising the next generation of humans and turning them into happy, functioning adults, is pretty much the point of the human race. What is it we hope for for the future, if not that? Otherwise we may as well all give up now and let the cockroaches take over.

If humanity was organised in a rational way, it seems to me that this is what all our resources would be focussed on. Looking after kids and turning them into happy, stable adults who realise their full potential. I’ve met too many people whose childhoods fucked them up completely. Never mind all the people who are doing kind of OK, but could have been that bit happier, more secure, more fulfilled, with the right help at the right time.

You may think that space exploration, or composing symphonies, or baking really amazing cakes is more important for humanity. But the way to get the most space exploration and symphonies and amazing cakes in the future is prioritising kids today. Because that’s how you get amazing adults tomorrow. Anything else is just shortsighted. And shortsighted, as it happens, seems to be a description of the civilization we find ourselves in.

Why are children hungry, in one of the richest countries in the world, while we pay footballers millions of pounds a week? We pay nursery nurses £15k a year, while people doing useless jobs with no benefit to society like advertising execs and commodities brokers are on tens of thousands more. While Claire Fox appears on Newsnight saying that we shouldn’t over-react to Savile. Do we really, as a society, value adverts and financial speculation that much? And children so little?

Stop this drilling madness

BRRRRRRR!

I was woken at 9am by a loud drilling sound today.

BRRRRRRR!

Yes, today Saturday, the day after Friday night.

BRRRRRRR!

It would go for 30 secs, then stop for a couple of minutes, then start again.

BRRRRRRR!

You’d think, ‘Fucking bastard drilling! Oh, it’s stopped, maybe I can get back to sleep…ARGH, NO ARGH!’

BRRRRRRR!

Now I’m staying at my boyfriend’s who lives in Stokes Croft in Bristol. It’s a mixed, somewhat bohemian area. There are some families and young professionals, but there’s also lots of students/artists/other people who stay up late.

BRRRRRRR!

And it’s Saturday bloody morning. I’m betting most people on the street had a late night last night. This includes my boyfriend, who works in a bar, and didn’t get home until 6am.

BRRRRRRR!

So who would think it was reasonable to make that much noise that early on a Saturday? I’m naturally an owl. Left to my own devices I’d sleep from 2am-10am. And yet I would never start drilling at midnight. Even though I’m prepared to bet that more people on this street are awake at midnight, on your average day, than are awake at 9am on Saturday.

BRRRRRRR!

And why the fuck can’t they shut up!

I was so furious I pulled on some clothes and stomped outside.

“Excuse me, I DON’T THINK IT’S REASONABLE TO MAKE THAT NOISE AT THIS TIME. IT’S 9AM ON A SATURDAY, EVERYONE WAS ASLEEP.’

BRRRRRRR!

The man with the drill turned round and said,

‘It says in my contract I’m allowed to make noise from 8am.’

Now let’s unpick this for a second:-

  1. Why does a person think this is a reasonable response? Are rules and regulations the only arbiter of behaviour? Have we lost any sense that getting along with others requires compromise and consideration?
    There’s loads of things that we try to avoid doing (even though they aren’t illegal), just out of consideration for others. Wear perfume that smells of durian fruit. Invite people round for dinner and serve up brussel sprouts. Repeatedly use up the last bit of milk without getting more.
    We don’t only decide what to do according to what the rules say. We think about how our actions will affect others. This is the basis of how we live in social groups any bigger than a single person. And yet somehow rules are treated as the supreme arbiter. As a substitute for consideration.
  2. Why, why, WHY are there regulations which say that builders can make all sorts of noise from 8am? To me this is a time when many reasonable people are still asleep. I realise a lot of people are awake then. But then a lot of people are awake at midnight and we aren’t allowed to make noise then.
    I’ll tell you why, it’s cos those bastard early rising people have convinced everyone they are somehow morally superior and we should respect their sleep, but they don’t have to respect ours. They stitched us all up at breakfast meetings.

I said,

‘I don’t care about the rules. It’s 9am on a SATURDAY. I’m betting 90% of the people on this street got to bed after 2. You’re waking everybody up!’

He said,

‘Well some of us have to work.’

Which I thought was pretty snippy. Here it is again, the moral superiority of early rising. As if no-one who goes to bed late ever does any work.

I said,

‘Yes, like my boyfriend, who works in a bar and got home at 6am, and you just woke him up.’

That shut him up for a minute.

‘Err, well, I’m sorry about that, but…’

Unusually for a Friday, I’d actually gone to bed at a sensible time, and not even had a drink. It’s a lot easier to get righteous on other people’s behalf I find. I said,

‘Who do you work for? Who do I complain to?’

He got back on his defensive tip,

‘They’ll just say the same as me, I’m allowed to make noise from 8am.’

Gloriously, a voice came from behind me,

‘Just answer the question!’.

Me and drilling man both look round, to see a woman in her nighty hanging out of a window across the road.

‘We don’t care what you sodding think. Just tell us who you’re bloody working for!’,

she shouted.

He could see I had the mood of the street behind me, but he wasn’t happy about it. He suggested I read it off the back of his t shirt.

It was Hudson Plumbing and Heating Services, 0117 902 5820. I brandished my notepad and wrote it down. They’ll certainly be bottom of my list for all my plumbing needs from now on.

When I called them (I was still proper blazing), I was told that they were working for the council, with a stipulation that the work must be done within 24 hours, because it was for a disabled lady and her mobility is impaired without the repair. Now obviously I want disabled people to have whatever repairs they need to be able to get about. But I also want everyone on the street to be able to get sleep.

I’m betting that if the woman in the house had been doing her own repair (or getting a relative or friend to do it), then they’d have acted like a person, and thought ‘I don’t want to piss everyone off’, and started a bit later in the day. But somehow large organisations don’t behave like people, and the people within them stop behaving like people too. And really, without wanting to sound too ‘Thought for the Day’, isn’t that exactly the same problem that caused the banking crisis, global warming, and all the bad stuff?

So I propose we all think about how we can make organisations stop acting like psychopaths, and start acting like socially-adjusted human beings, as a matter of urgency.

And we also stop with this absurd moral judgement over where people’s body clocks are set. Your chronotype is just natural biological variation, like height or hair colour. Being an early riser doesn’t make you better. And in this part-time, working-from-home, 24 hour economy, shouldn’t we recognise that plenty of people are asleep at 8am, and they’ve every right to be? I’ll vote for anyone who promises no drilling before 10am. Noon on weekends.

Vodafone really don’t like paying tax, do they?

Vodafone can obviously afford lots of clever accountants to minimize the tax they pay. Whereas I certainly can’t, and I’m guessing you can’t either. Their accountants are so clever they funnel profits from different Vodafone companies around the world through a subsidiary based in Luxembourg – which is a tax haven. Thanks to this, they paid just £1,400 tax last year on profits of £3.5bn.

Yes, that’s right, £1,400 tax on profits of £3.5bn.

Now I saw that and I thought, ‘Bloody hell. *I* paid more tax than that. On a lot bloody less money. And I’m just a person, not a huge company.’

Then I thought, ‘LOADS of people pay more tax than that. I bet shop assistants in Vodafone shops pay more tax than that.’ So I thought I’d check.

I found out that retail advisers in Vodafone stores earn ‘up to’ £8.98 an hour.

Based on a 37.5hr week, that’s £336.75 a week, £17,511 a year.

Assuming our imaginary retail adviser is under 65, not registered blind, etc, their personal allowance (for 2010/11) was £6,475.

Which leaves £11,036 they have to pay tax on, at a rate of 20%.

So our shop assistant would have paid £2,207.20 in tax – i.e. £807.20 more than the Vodafone empire did on profits of billions of pounds.

So yes, amazingly enough, Vodafone paid less in tax than a shop assistant working in one of their stores. Is it me or is that batshit crazy?

‘Shadow’ of Health and Safety? Fuck you, Cameron

My Granddad was a miner. When I knew him, he had half a finger missing on his right hand. He’d lost the rest of the finger in an accident down the mine.

My other Granddad was a butcher. He had half a finger missing too. An accident with a mincing machine.

Great Uncle Tom had a finger missing. An accident in the factory where he worked. Starting to see a pattern?

Basically, it was normal for working class men of that generation to be missing a finger, or a toe, or have some other minor disability, thanks to a workplace accident. Deaths and serious injuries were rarer, but still far more common than they are now.

These accidents were entirely preventable – with protective clothing, or safety guards on machinery, or different procedures. But safety equipment is expensive, workers’ rights were low, and profits were more important than the bodies of working class men.

Today, in the UK, the number of workplace fatal injuries is 0.6 per 100,000 workers. (2010/11 figures)

In the USA it is 3.5 per 100,000 workers. (2010 figures)

Yes, that’s right, nearly SIX TIMES higher. In the UK 171 people died in workplace accidents in 2010/11. If we had the USA’s rate of deaths it would have been 997 people.

Now this isn’t because knives are sharper in America. Or workers more clumsy. Or bones more breakable.

It’s because we have better regulation and more accountability in this country and a pretty effective Health and Safety executive.

So Cameron can fuck right off with his ‘shadow of health and safety’ nonsense in his party conference speech. I think a much bigger shadow is those 800+ extra people who’d die at work if we had US-style Health and Safety here. Of course they wouldn’t be Cameron’s sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, so maybe he doesn’t have to worry about it. But I think they are people who matter anyway, and I think they are worth protecting.

UPDATE: I’ve just been told about this petition, started by Deborah Orr, for a national memorial to workers who died in the service of industry. We’ve got plenty to the glorious war dead, why don’t we recognise those who’ve died at work?

Flak Jackets and Cocktails

As it happens I was in Kathmandu during the revolution in 2006. (It was a bit of an accident on my part, you know how it is). Most of the coverage outside Nepal would have given you a very misleading impression of what was going on.

The uprising was mostly peaceful, and unanimous. The entire country wanted to get rid of King Gyanendra. Everyone from rickshaw drivers to lawyers were joining in the demonstrations. All Nepalese political parties had put aside their differences to protest together against the King’s dictatorship.

The only violence I was aware of was initiated by the security forces. Unless you were a protestor and the army decided to shoot at you, you were in no danger. The city was tense, but orderly. Outside of the frequent curfews, everything was open as normal.

And yet this wasn’t the impression you’d have got from watching the international news. CNN was easily the worst (repeatedly peddling the King’s line that Maoist ‘terrorists’ were to blame for ‘violent clashes’, etc). But even the BBC was showing us a Kathmandu I didn’t recognise from, you know, actually being there.

One particular news report sticks in my mind. The BBC correspondent was standing on the roof of a building, wearing a flak jacket, with burning rubble visible behind him. His stance, his delivery, the framing of the shot, all communicated the impression that he was practically in a war zone, risking life and limb. How brave! How manly!

Later that evening I saw the same BBC correspondent, in a bar I frequented, drinking cocktails. Sans flak jacket, funnily enough.

Now I’m sure there are many reasons for this kind of misrepresentation, which would be grist for another post or two. At it’s simplest, perhaps it’s just a bit of exaggeration, a desire to look cool. To have chicks think you’re brave. To get ‘good pictures’. Burning barricades make better TV than expats drinking in bars, after all.

But the problem is that the way you report things affects the future. It affects other people’s responses. What people THINK is happening usually matters much more than what is actually happening. It took a while, with Nepal, for the international response to catch up with the reality of an oppressive and tyrannical King and a desperate people doing their best to reclaim their country.

So I wish the journalists who unanimously went with ‘scary anarchist’ front pages would stop and think. Does that accurately reflect what happened at the student demos? Or are you being a bit of a prat and trying to make it all look a bit more exciting?

And if it doesn’t reflect what really happened, whose interests does it serve, and what are the likely effects of this misrepresentation?

Men can be feminists too

I am, it’s no secret, an arsey feminist. I also – again, no secret – love men. As people, I love men’s humour, their loyalty, their straightforwardness. Some of my best friends are men and I’d trust them through anything. My Dad and my brother are two of the kindest, funniest, loveliest people in the world and I’d walk through fire for them if I had to. (Dad, Nathan, if you’re reading this, MISS THE NEXT TWO PARAS).

And, quite frankly, when it comes to the physical appreciation of men, I bow to no-one. Short ones, tall ones, fat ones, thin ones, blondes, brunettes: In my time, I’ve loved ’em all. I love some for their great big bear hugs, some for their lithe nimbleness and grace. I love their multifariously-shaped, eager, jutting cocks and their pert little arses. I love lying in their arms, I love holding them in mine. I love smelling their skin and playing with their body hair.

I love lying in bed and having a tickling fight to see who has to go and make a cup of tea. I love giggling in the dark when you should be asleep but you’re telling stupid jokes instead because there’s no grown-ups to tell you to settle down. I love being late for work because neither of you could resist some loose-limbed tangling.

Ultimately, I love the sense of partnership, and the childlike joy, that comes from allowing yourself to be naked (in many senses) with another person. And I don’t see that that’s possible if you don’t view each other as equals.

We have to treat each other as people, first and foremost. We were all children together once, falling off haystacks and running in the street. That essence of happy, skipping, curious, freedom is still there inside all of us, underneath all the social conditioning crap and caution.

If we can treat each other as equals a women can joyfully and unashamedly seduce a man, not coyly submit cos girls aren’t supposed to like it. A man can admit his fears and a woman can comfort him.

The world, as we can see, is a great big mess, and we’re all in it together. Can we please be friends with each other and try to make the world better for all of us? Men, you have sisters, mothers, lovers, daughters, friends. If you’re not a wanker (and you’re not, right?) you want them to have the chance to grow up happy, secure and strong. You want them to reach their potential and have free choices in life. We want the same for you.

Men can be feminists too. You can truly love women, you can stand up for them, you can respect them. You can challenge men who don’t – because frankly, those sort aren’t going to listen to people like me. And if justice and a better world aren’t enough incentive, men who truly love women (and women who truly love men) will have much happier relationships and better sex – scientists have proved it.

Today is equal pay day. Because of gender pay disparity, on average, women work the rest of the year for free, while men are paid. This is not fair. It’s also a reason for widespread childhood poverty (as so many single-person households are headed by women) which leads to social exclusion and a multitude of social issues. There are many reasons for gender pay disparity but they include entrenched sexism, and women’s reticence, compared to men, about pushing themselves forwards.

Research shows that women – whether because of the way they are socialised or because of innate gender differences doesn’t really make much odds at the moment – are less likely to ask for pay rises. They are more likely to assume that working hard but not blowing your own trumpet will lead to recognition.

And saying ‘women should just be more forthright’ is not a sufficient solution. Research also shows that women who do behave ‘like men’ get a more negative reaction for it. It’s one of those irregular verbs – a man who stand up for himself is strong and decisive, a woman who does it is aggressive and strident. (Bad news for me, obviously:-)).

So if you’re a man who loves women, if you care about your mothers, sisters and friends, if you want to live in an equal world, what you can do is be aware of these things. You can think about how the world is different for you and for the women in your life.

If there are women who work for you, don’t wait until they ask you to think if they deserve a pay rise. If there are women you work with you could praise them where they won’t praise themselves, and raise the issue of gender parity where appropriate.

Dearest men, join us, and be a feminist too. You have nothing to lose but your stiff upper lips, and all the world to gain. We’ll happily love you, hold you when you cry and run to your arms for comfort when we do. We’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you against the world, if you’ll do the same for us. Please help us, we need you. We can’t create a better, equal world on our own.

I’ve had one, have you?

The husband shouting at the abortion protesters video that’s been doing the rounds today made me cry when I watched it. Maybe this is because in March 2000 I had an abortion. If I hadn’t, I’d most probably have a child celebrating their 10th birthday any day  now. And of course I think about it – as I always do this time of year. And lots of other times.

I’m not saying this because I’m desperate to over-share, but because roughly 30% of adult women in the UK have had one, and yet most people don’t talk about it. People go around feeling like they are the only one and it makes it harder. Harder to deal with, harder to talk about and make sense of your feelings, harder to come to terms with the decision you’ve made.

30 years ago in this country most people thought they didn’t know any gay people, and it was easier for many to be unreflectingly homophobic. A much bigger visibility for lesbians and gay men – in the public sphere, but also in the private sphere – has meant that far fewer people are knee-jerk homophobes. It’s also made it easier (hopefully) for people coming to terms with their sexuality. They aren’t the only gay in the world any more.

It would be nice if we could do the same for abortion.

I got pregnant unintentionally. I’d been in a relationship for 3 years, we’d got a bit lax, we were on holiday and had been drinking and the condoms were in the other room. My spur of the moment calculation had suggested I was well away from the danger zone. A schoolgirl error.

I wasn’t ready for motherhood – although I would have coped – but I felt that the minimum moral action to count as a human fucking being was to seriously consider keeping it. He didn’t. A child right then wasn’t in his plan – five years, he thought. It may sound stupid but I stopped loving him. I didn’t want to tie my life forever to someone who was being such a heartless cunt about the whole thing. An abortion seemed to be the best option.

Yes it was my (our) own fault. Yes, I berated myself for the consequences of my laxness for an innocent ball of cells. Yes, it was emotionally excruciating and I wouldn’t forgive myself if it happened again. I could never have another abortion.

I was 29 when I had mine. I knew friends who’d had them and who I could talk to. But it still fucked me up. I still found it an incredibly hard decision to make. I still cried and cried. I still worried I was being selfish and a terrible person. I still tortured myself looking at pregnancy websites and working out likely due dates, star signs and considering names.

How much harder must it be to be a teenager and feel like you might be the only person in the world who has done this terrible thing? When wankers like this are putting pictures of foetuses on the side of buses to give you an entirely unnecessary guilt trip? When you might be hiding it from your parents, your classmates, your teachers, and having to go round pretending everything is OK, while certain smells make you want to vomit, glimpses of prams make you cry and you know perfectly well, every second you are awake, that an alien creature is growing right inside your body?

I feel sad sometimes, but it was still the right decision for me. It’s the right decision for a lot of people. And better than the alternatives.  I want those scared teenagers – I want everyone in that situation – to hear that and be able to talk about it.

I’ve never met a woman who took the decision lightly. We don’t need sanctimonious pricks giving us a guilt trip and making us feel more terrible than we already do. We need to be able to say, you know what, I had an abortion, lots of people have. We’re allowed. Stop sticking your bloody noses in and trying to make us feel shit about it.  I refuse to feel ashamed.

Winterval FTW!

They stole our midwinter festival. We’re stealing it back.

So this time of year you start to get all these bullshit tabloid stories about ‘them’ banning Christmas in favour of Winterval. As we know, they are based on total lies and paranoia-promoting hysteria. Such is the tabloid way…

There even exists offensive, witless crap like this film trailer all about how the atheists stole Christmas.

Apparently Christ is the reason for the season. How stupid are these fucktards?

Do they really think Jesus’ Birthday just happened to be right next to the winter solstice, and on the same day as Mithra’s birthday? Just happened to be at exactly the same time as a pagan feast, celebrated for centuries by the very people the early church was trying to convert? And that Middle Eastern baby Jesus just happened to love a load of clearly pagan Northern European stuff like holly and mistletoe and fir trees?

Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw, wouldn’t that be a load of crazy coincidences?

Or maybe, just maybe, the Christians stole Christmas off someone else, who had it first?

So I started thinking, what would Winterval be like? Maybe kind of pagan, and raunchy, all blazing fires and hedonism.

I started thinking I’d quite like to have the Winterval I imagined, instead of our anaemic, marketing-opportunity, 27-shopping-days-to-go, matching napkins with holly on, Songs of Praise, central-heating Christmas for sanctimonious poker-arses.

I started thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a big Winterval lobby and we could all choose to celebrate that instead? I mean, let’s compare and contrast:-

Christmas

  • The Queen’s speech
  • Sherry
  • Family arguments
  • Endless adverts for perfume and compilation albums
  • Monopoly

Winterval

I think we can clearly see that Winterval would be a lot more fun. Plus the Daily Mail hate the idea, so it must be good. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to the Winterval preparations now!