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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 24 April 2017

Last Chance Saloon

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My dear departed father-in-law was an Irish Catholic immigrant who ended up as a Conservative mayor.  As you can imagine, it was difficult for a Methodist Leftie to find things in common with him politically.

However, one thing we definitely agreed on was the need for each and every person to use their vote. And never has this been more important.

Last week, typically on the day after I post (thanks for the heads up, Theresa), a 'snap election' was announced for the UK.  This meant the government had to get the backing of Parliament for calling an election before the standard five years was up.  (The five year term is a relatively new measure.  When I was a researcher at Westminster in the 1990s - pre even Blair! - we lived in a state of battle readiness because you could theoretically have to fight an election at any time.  Doesn't look like the legislation has made much difference to this but anyway.)

And here we are, a week later.  The parties are all on the 'campaign trail', the press coverage is as one might have predicted and the general population seem utterly defeated at the thought of having to vote again.  I myself even tweeted that I despaired at what this election would achieve apart from another five Tory years instead of three.

However, in thinking about what to post on this blog in the throes of such apathy, I have come to the conclusion that, more than ever, we have a duty to  vote.  And those of us who do not agree with Brexit have a duty to do more than that if we are in so-called 'safe' constituencies for Brexiteers.  Even if you suspect your vote won't count for much, you should still vote.  I have spent years having my vote cancelled out by my opposing husband's.  It is a small victory if he forgets to go.  But I still vote.  People died, and are still dying around the world, for the right to vote in a free election.  The least we can do is to exercise our right.

But more than this, if you oppose Brexit, look at the lists of places where there is a chance of removing a Brexiteer.  And send money.  Go and help campaign.  Ring people you know there.

Last June, the unthinkable happened.  And as I have posted before, I believe it partly happened because people who usually feel disenfranchised, by the 'first past the post' system and by being ignored by Westminster, were led to believe they were voting to actually make a change.  The implications of this change were never properly explained to them by either side. 

This is the last chance to make our voices heard before we are taken out of the EU.  If we can't remove the Tories - but I believe we could - we have a responsibility to make the process of Brexit as difficult as possible for the hardliners to achieve.

Our ancestors fought for democracy.  We now need to fight for our descendants.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Messages

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A short post today, thanks to Easter childcare duties and to cracked ribs making it tricky to sit and type for too long.  (Long story, involving a horse and me who hasn't ridden in over thirty years and will not be doing so again any time soon).

I was looking at the news channels at 4am UK time today, thanks to the rib situation.  In the space of less than three months, Trump has brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.  It's not exactly an unexpected outcome but it is terrifying all the the same.  And as usual it is being compounded by the childlike tweets which issue forth from him.

And yet as this continues, here we are celebrating the Easter festival.  The birth of new life, all things Spring, the victory of Jesus against death.  Saviour of all.  If you were to talk to many of Trump's people - including 'evangelical Catholic' Vice President Mike Pence - the Christian faith is what drives everything they do.  They wax lyrical about finding God, dedicating themselves to Jesus, ad infinitum.

I think the Syrians might have something to say about the sincerity of these sentiments.  And the Afghans who were bombed with the biggest non-nuclear device every used.  And even the North Koreans who have, let's face it, been sabre rattling for years with little real action.  I am not defending Assad, ISIS or Kim Jong-Un in the slightest.  But it is hard to understand how American  'born again' Christians can believe it would be acceptable to authorise loss of life on such a scale.

Very little coverage was given this Easter to the Pope's Easter message, or so it felt.  I am not Catholic and do not relate to the idea of a world leader in that way.  But someone or something is urgently needed to bring perspective to a world teetering on the edge of war.  It will not be Trump, Kim Jong-Un, Putin or any of the other aggressives who pay the price of nuclear war.  They will have bunkers and will survive with their families and their flunkies.  Imagine if they bomb the rest of us to hell and they are all that is left to continue the human race...

Monday, 10 April 2017

No. Just No.

Today in The Guardian there is a piece about possible changes to entry requirements for the US.  Apparently, US authorities are considering compelling foreigners to hand over their social media passwords under a new ‘extreme vetting’ policy.  Non-US citizens could be compelled to give access to devices and personal data or risk being denied entry.  Click on the link above for further details.  It is quite legally technical.

I am more interested in the fact that this is even a conversation.  Even being considered.  If 'extreme vetting' begins to take hold, we will have the US denying entry to foreigners based on their digital presence.  We will have China which still censors/refuses so much internet content.  And we will have Russia where free speech is ever more dangerous.  What an example from the three biggest nations on the planet.  To say nothing of what goes on everywhere else or what other restrictions the Americans,Chinese and Russians are enforcing.

So how might this work for travel to America?  The article talks about the high level of discretion in the hands of border staff.  So will it just be a racist policy?  They will automatically ask to see your phone or laptop if you are black, Muslim etc.  Or will there be agents who pick on women?  And what about children - whose lives are conducted online far more than most of their parents?  Most under eighteens entering the States are on holiday.  Clutching their phones, tablets, laptops.

The process to enter the US is already tedious, even if you travel regularly.  They surely cannot inspect everyone’s devices as well?  And if, fearing refusal of entry, you meekly hand over your phone and show them your Facebook page or your Twitter feed, will it be based on what is on your timeline at that moment or will they trawl everything?  Would they keep lists of anti-Trump hashtags to use as markers?  Or lists of naughty bloggers (!)?

Other governments need to forcefully protest this.  The fact the Trump administration believes there is even a consideration for this to happen is extremely disturbing.

We and preceding generations have fought for freedom of speech.  Western governments have claimed for decades to be doing what they do national security-wise to protect our freedoms and our democracy (let's not get into that now.  Whole other nightmare).  

Where the US leads, we absolutely must not follow.  
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Monday, 3 April 2017

Doing the Numbers

Here in the UK, we do not live in a poor country.  We have infrastructure, facilities, services.  We can cope if there is a huge flood or some other disaster.  (Granted we don't have - so far - natural disasters on the scale dealt with by many countries but you know what I mean.)

Yet our government consistently tells us that there is no more money for the National Health Service, for education, for decent pensions.  Services like provision of care for the elderly or mentally ill are at crisis point.  But we have money for defence spending, for high speed trains to tear up the countryside, for the Royal Family.

How have we reached a point where we willingly accept that this is how things are?  Is it because once ministers and the media start talking in amounts by the million, it is so far-fetched that none of us can relate to the figures being bandied about?

My son regularly reports the price of expensive footballers to me.  He talks of figures in the tens of millions as if it is normal to pay that for the services of one, easily-injured human being.  And he does so because it is normal to him.  He cannot relate to the figures he is being given.

Maybe we need to start reporting what schools and hospitals need in terms which modern society can understand.  Here are a few examples I have come up with:

1)  If you Google 'how does it cost to build a new hospital in the UK', you get an estimate of around £90 million.  Last year, Manchester United paid just over £15 million for Paul Pogba.  Or, on a list of the top twenty highest paid footballers in the world, Ronaldo earned approximately £80 million in 2014 alone.

6 x Pogba's fee = hospital.

1 x Ronaldo's 2014 = nearly a whole hospital.  If that was 2014, he will have made at least £50 million a year since then, presumably (see how easy it is to bandy these numbers about?).

2)  Ed Sheehan is currently estimated to be worth around £50 million.  And in 2016, despite having the year off, the band One Direction made £89.9 million.

2 x Ed Sheeran = 1 hospital 
1 x One Direction's 2016 = 1 hospital

Now, if you are in demand and you work hard, of course you are entitled to your earnings, however madly out of proportion they might be.  I am not suggesting Ed should cash it all in and buy half a hospital or the One Direction boys should club together to do likewise.  These and the football numbers are just 'fun' examples.

Except, it is not fun.  Because we are being conditioned into thinking our country cannot afford the basics that such a developed country should be providing for its citizens.  And we are also being conditioned to believe it is acceptable for relatively few people to have immense amounts of wealth.  

This is not about communism, about taking away from those who have earnt or inherited (although taxes on the so-called super rich should definitely be increased).  It is about recognising the stupidity of accepting sub-standard services for the majority whilst reading - for entertainment - about huge sums of money being spent on sport, fashion, yachts, homes.  Even films are mainly spoken of in 'financials'.  How many millions they cost to make and how many they have recouped.  (£876.3 million globally for the new Beauty and the Beast apparently...)

Last July, the UK parliament voted to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent at a cost of £31 billion.  And 'just in case', the government has set aside another £10 billion in case of extra costs or over spending.  

That is around 344 hospitals for the budget, let alone the 'extra' £10 billion.  

Or how about this:

Research conducted by the Alzheimer's Society in 2014 for its report Dementia UK: Update shows that there would be 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK by 2015. This will cost the UK £26 billion a year.
Two-thirds (£17.4 billion) of the cost of dementia is paid by people with dementia and their families, either in unpaid care (£11.6 billion) or in paying for private social care. This is in contrast to other conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, where the NHS provides care that is free at the point of use.  (source: Alzheimer's Society)

Now there are some numbers to think about.