Notepad on Life

September 16, 2017

Trying to untangle racism, we tie ourselves in knots

Filed under: politics,TV — - @ 11:46 am
Tags: , ,

For reasons I’ll save for another day, I have little time for Diane Abbott MP, but had she been looking for shoulders on which to cry this week, I would have gladly suspended hostilities and offered her mine.

For if this white man despairs of our fumbling approach to race, what must a black person like Ms Abbott make of it all?

The Shadow Home Secretary was on breakfast TV, describing the caveman-level abuse with which she has had to deal in her time in the public spotlight. In doing so, she happened – surprise, surprise – to say the word “nigger”.

And Britain listened, took to heart another object lesson in why vigilance against racism must be unceasing, and inwardly re-affirmed its efforts to be part of that vigil.

Ha! If only. No, what Britain actually did, because obsession with trimmings over substance is symptomatic of our national shallowness these days, was to ooh and aah over the use of the word “nigger” on television. Oblivious to such details as context and the skin-colour of the person uttering the word.

It’s hard to know who exasperates you more, such witless sheep or the shepherds who lead them…

Diane Abbott reveals online abuse — and shocks viewers with N-word – Metro

Diana [sic] Abbott says N-word during morning TV interview to highlight Twitter abuse – International Business Times

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott uses n-word on live breakfast television – Evening Times

‘Kids are watching’: Diane Abbott says ‘n***** b****’ live on GMB…but offends breakfast TV viewers and gets a dressing down from Susanna Reid – Daily Mail (the ‘dressing-down’ bit, incidentally, is hogwash)

Note some of the Tweets cited in the Mail report, accusing Abbott of “swearing” while “kids watching”. While genuine swearing involves words that illuminate nothing, however, the MP’s words illustrated all too clearly how far the fight for racial equality still has to go, and half-decent parents, I suspect, would seize upon their children listening to a grown-up simply telling it like it is as a prime learning opportunity for those parents to manage.

So much pointless obsession with syntax. So easily distracted from the bigger picture behind it. In a land that has bought into the childish ‘N-word’ convention wholesale, though, perhaps we should expect no better.

Has anyone ever stopped to think the ‘N-word’ protocol through, or did they simply not care about the hugely condescending assumption that underpins it – that black people are so stupid, they cannot tell the difference between “nigger” being employed as a verbal weapon and being employed simply because it is pertinent to a constructive debate between responsible adults about race and the language thereof?

How ironic that an attempt to make nice with minorities ends up patronising the hell out of them.

And yet the malaise spreads. Even supposedly more enlightened newspapers insisted on tying the real issue in didactic knots. The Independent began well – Yes Diane Abbott said the N-word on TV this morning. If you’re complaining, you’ve got your priorities wrong, but after the scrupulous employment of beeps and asterisks (is sugar-coated reality really the province of a national newspaper?) it went from bad to worse.

Having asserted that, “it seems to be emerging that non-black people wish to gain control over who can and can’t use this word, the contexts where it is acceptable and what impact it has”, the article itself then endeavours to do precisely that:

“Non-black people…have become so used to their privilege that they cannot begin to comprehend that there is a word that they have no right to use, whilst black people can use it – or not – as they choose.”

Apart from objecting to the proposition that anyone ‘owns’ language, I think the author has the wrong word under the microscope. Forget the red herring of ‘ownership’; ‘context’ is the crux. Is the word, any racial epithet for that matter, being employed in a missile-hurling contest, or merely as ancillary verbiage by people trying to establish where we are and where we need to be when it comes to race? If it’s the latter, then leave them be, because your way of doing things, ‘N-word’ zealots and nitpickers generally, is getting us nowhere.

You put me in mind of people trying to bring an unruly hedge under control, armed solely with nail-clippers. How frantically you snip away at the periphery, all the while telling yourself that you’re ‘helping’ and yet all your audience sees is the same old messy privet.

Lose the clippers, find yourself an axe, and hack away at the roots instead. Then we can talk.


Reference to racial slurs in serious, civilised debate is one thing. If you are going to employ them in satire, though, you need to be damn sure you have all your ducks in a row. I don’t think Sarah Silverman makes her case in this clip but I add it because, in light of what I’ve written above, I do think it’s a sample of what healthy debate on this topic looks like.

Give it another decade, alas, and conversation like this will probably lead to prosecutions, by a Society still convinced that you can lance a boil with cotton wool.


September 12, 2017

Believe it or not, Church decline is bad news for all

Filed under: Culture,philosophy,Religion — - @ 12:21 am
Tags: , ,

It was good to see little in the way of overt glee from the non-religious camp when the latest damning Church of England statistics emerged last week.

“…how can the Church of England remain in any meaningful sense the national legally established church, when it caters for such a small portion of the population?” wondered Andrew Copson, Humanists UK’s chief executive, while Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called for “…a serious debate about the place of religion in our society.”

All fair enough, and, in Copson’s case, possibly the only time humanists and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder, for reasons masterfully encapsulated here by Giles Fraser.

I would suggest, however, that crumbling church numbers also present a problem for those for whom mere atheism is not enough. The underlying mantra of The God Delusion – that if we could only put this silly religious nonsense behind us, Mankind could embark on a golden age, celebrating science instead of Holy Communion – has been seized on by many since its publication. Not so much the atheism lobby as the atheism-looking-for-work lobby, they have sought to elevate non-belief from a negative to a positive.

We can’t give you God, but we can give you this instead, is the gist of their evangelism: minds focused on earth instead of empty heavens, looking out for one another instead of for the Second Coming, celebrating evolved reality over myth. No more religious wars on the macro scale, no more judgmentalism on the micro level. Net result? Everyone just calms the hell down.

You wouldn’t have to be the world’s greatest PR guru to spin that little lot but you might be struggling to shore it up after a week like the last one. For with our national religion in full-blown retreat, we should be seeing the green shoots of this alternative utopia in Britain now, surely? With faith ploughed under, fallow minds should be starting to latch onto the humanist creed, with all the happy consequences it portends. At least one Sunday supplement should have picked up on the new, more mellow Britain emerging around us.

Er, not quite. These are mere snapshots to the contrary, but see how many more follow in the next few days, weeks or months: a full-blown brawl breaking out in a Cambridgeshire church yard; someone gunning down a 14-year old child in London. The latest manifestations of what one journalist previously called “the astounding prevalence of fury” that he notices whenever he returns to the UK from foreign assignments.

Walk among the public as I do each day and see it for yourself, the increasing chippiness of people when matters are not quite to their liking, as if anger were the sole release valve to an inner despair. Note the insularity, and the erosion of those myriad small courtesies that our parents took for granted.

Ponder then, the contradiction of a secular philosophy that decrees that life is all we have, and the diminishing reverence with which that same life is regarded, should it be unwanted, past its sell-by date or standing between a criminal and his loot.

No, that ‘golden age’ penny just doesn’t seem to be dropping. If the Church of England looks increasingly irrelevant, those who inflate non-belief into an alternative lifestyle look increasingly like poker players, bluffing with a handful of nothing.

September 9, 2017

Schools’ Big Lie – a letter to my niece

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 10:13 am
Tags: , ,

Dear ……….,

I was delighted to learn of your successful GCSE results and I wanted to congratulate you and wish you all the best as you enter Sixth Form and the next phase of your education.

At the same time, though, I wanted to offer you some advice, because some of the things your mother told me about the way schools work these days and the pressure they place on young people, concerned me greatly.

Some pressure is always good, of course. It drives us on to succeed and so brings out the best in us. Too much pressure, however, is no good at all, and I found it very depressing to hear that no sooner have schools stopped pressuring their students over GCSEs than they start pressuring you over A-levels and university places.

It is important that we take time to stop briefly and savour our achievements in life, and the school summer holiday used to be the perfect opportunity for that. You would, hopefully, do well at your end-of-year exams and then have a clear six-week break in which to enjoy that achievement and rest, ahead of the next year’s challenges.

I understand from [my son] that things are different now. He tells me that in every summer holiday during his time at secondary school, he had homework to do in readiness for the following year. You will have heard of the expression ‘the rat race’ – it used to be something only adults had to worry about, but it seems that children are now expected to join in as well.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to this for you these next two years, but if it does, I want to offer a little advice to help keep your head above water.

Schools lie to us, I’m afraid. They mean well, but they do lie.

They will try and tell you that the next two years will shape your entire life, for example. This is not true – they may be influential but in the end, your destiny lies in your own hands. Read biographies of successful men and women and you may be amazed at how many of them left school with nothing, yet went on to do great things. You are already ahead of them.

Schools talk about guiding you into ‘good jobs’, but beware. Those ‘good jobs’ might come with fancy cars and big houses but they also often come with stress, 16-hour days and misery. Don’t drift into one of those ‘good jobs’ like I did; make it your mission these next two years to identify what you’re good at and what you’re interested in and see if you can spot a career where those two things meet. Like me, you may be in your thirties before you get there but the sooner you start figuring out where ‘there’ is, the better. And whatever your careers teacher might tell you, there are only two definitions of a good job – it pays your bills and you look forward to going to work in the morning. You find a job like that and it doesn’t matter what car you drive; you’re still one-up on 95 per cent of the British workforce.

Oh, and the idea that you must go to university to amount to anything – this may be their biggest lie yet. It’s an option, not a ‘must’.

Schools also act like the pressure they put you under is all for your benefit. This is only partly true. The better you do, the better they look and the safer their jobs are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t respect them but don’t buy into all their hype. Remember, you will shape your destiny; they will play only a small part in that.

None of this means you should just amble through the next two years, of course. Education remains a wonderful opportunity and it is one you should take with both hands. It isn’t failure that makes old people bitter; it’s the chances that they never took; opportunities that are gone forever. You don’t want to be that person when you’re old and grey, so work hard now. But work reasonably hard: preserve your leisure time and your health, for both are equally valid elements of a good life.

For all the talk of projected grades these next two years, I believe you have just one objective between now and the summer of 2019 – that you walk out of your final A-level examination knowing that you have given it and those before it your very best shot. If you can honestly say that, then you will cope with whatever the results may be.

In some respects, a good school does its job long before its students sit GCSEs or A-levels. It fires their imaginations, gets them engaged with the world around them and makes them unafraid of hard work. If you take those qualities into the outside world and keep hammering at Life’s door then it won’t really matter how many certificates you have in your pocket. Somewhere, that door will open.

With my love and very best wishes,

August 30, 2017

Confucius, he say…

Filed under: philosophy — - @ 1:18 pm
Tags: ,


I can’t share this with enough people today. Once you’ve stopped laughing, the underlying philosophy is inarguable.

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if it might be a genuine quote.

August 28, 2017

The university route is not a universal truth

Filed under: Education,Kids — - @ 12:11 pm
Tags: ,

34846001785_0b81bea157_zNice piece by Toby Young in CapXFree schools are working – just look at their GCSE results – but I was irked by the un-challenged assertion that channelling every pupil into university should be a de rigeur objective of schools everywhere.

No. Their objective should be switched-on youngsters, engaged with the world, its problems and opportunities alike, and fully accepting that nothing it offers will come to them by right, but must be worked for. Making them excited about the next phase of their lives once the blazer’s retired, that should be a teacher’s primary goal, for life’s doors rarely remain closed to someone who’s committed to hammering at them until they open.

Once you’ve got them pumped up for life’s journey, however, you do them a grave disservice if you imbue them with the notion that it follows only one road. Some people just don’t want more academia by the time they are 16 or 18: they want to be out in the world getting their hands dirty, not mulling over abstract concepts in a seminar room.

By all means, let them know that university can be theirs if they want it (money permitting, but that’s a whole new debate) and show them what it could mean for them, but don’t fall into the polarised mindset that university is the summit, with every other route into the workforce falling short of it. I have a son who sensed a certain detachment from his teachers once it became apparent that he wasn’t Oxbridge material. It could have been someone else’s son, though, and I doubt this deplorable attitude would have dismayed me any the less.

Letters after your name are just one strain of success, to be celebrated no more loudly than the kid who walked away at 16 and is now driving his/her own Merc at 22, while employing 30 people, or who makes furniture or works of art for whom customers routinely pay four figures.

If this distorted university-for-all mindset really has taken root in our schools, I would suggest that educators who are paid to broaden minds might like to take a look at their own.

[Pic courtesy of School of Media and Public Affairs at GWU]

August 26, 2017

Two things that damn Britain, conveniently eclipsed this week

Filed under: business,Consumer,politics,Religion — - @ 7:57 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Pic courtesy of Claudio Sepúlveda Geoffroy

Maybe this is why we fixate on the mundane interaction of planets.

Because no-one’s re-creating 1930s Germany up there.

No-one’s making a mockery of ‘rest in peace’ up there, just so that businessmen can get to their destination 15 minutes faster than previously.

And while no-one’s saying that eclipse specs are stylish, they’re still a better look than holding your nose.

February 21, 2017

Why ‘stressed’ Jane is right to sue lottery that made her a millionaire

Filed under: Consumer,Culture,Women — - @ 12:17 am

Pic courtesy of Smart Winners

Living in a council flat and earning just £8 an hour as a temp, a terrible thing happened to Jane Park in 2013.

She won one million pounds on the Euromillions lottery, aged just 17.

Her life since, she claims, is a ruin, although some might call it a parable.

She has bought the cars, the real estate, the fake breasts. She has sought to share her good fortune with a man, only for him to throw it back in her face. She is discovering that a worthwhile return on a windfall is not measured solely in percentage points.

Now, after inviting the nation to feel her pain through the media, she has her heart set on that other must-have Millennial accessory. After the boob-job, comes the lawsuit. In the latest manifestation of an age beyond satire, she is considering suing Euromillions organisers, Camelot, for making her a millionaire. To spare others from a similar downfall, she believes people should not be allowed to buy a lottery ticket until they’re 18. Something to chew on for those who would blithely hand the responsibilities of the voting booth to 16-year-olds.

“At times it feels like winning the lottery has ruined my life,” she told the Sunday People. “I thought it would make it ten times better but it’s made it ten times worse. I wish I had no money most days. I say to myself, ‘My life would be so much easier if I hadn’t won.’

“People look at me and think, ‘I wish I had her lifestyle, I wish I had her money.’ But they don’t realise the extent of my stress. I have material things but apart from that my life is empty. What is my purpose in life?

“I’ve read about other lottery ­winners who’ve just blown it all and I can totally see how it can be done. I was stuck in front of a financial adviser who was using words like ­investment bonds. I had no clue what they meant,” she added.

It wasn’t my initial reaction, but having mulled over this infuriating story, I actually hope Ms Park gets her day in court. For while her education has clearly begun, with the realisation that money can’t buy happiness, it appears to have stalled, reflecting little credit on those around her. Never mind the financial adviser lacking in empathy, or what is entailed by the “ongoing support” that Camelot insists it has offered: I would be interested to know if any of her nearest and dearest at least tried to advise her against using the words “winning the lottery” and “stress” so close together in a public forum.

So it looks like leaving this to the judge could be Park’s last hope: an older, wiser head who, after considering her claim, might gently counsel her on leaving the money to the machinations of compound interest for the time being and finding purpose and genuine satisfaction through helping those who really need it.

Before teaching her another important life lesson, and telling her and her lawyer to sling their hooks.

January 27, 2017

O Canada – sexual assault exposes West’s ‘terminal niceness’

Filed under: foreign,immigration,Kids,school — - @ 9:44 am

Pic courtesy of Harlow Heslop

Countless women descended upon Washington DC last weekend, determined to prove that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by the electoral college system. They’re not backwards in coming forward, women nowadays, be it the marchers, the breast-barers, or the actors with a cause.

I just wish they’d mobilise with equal fervour when it really matters. When a 14-year-old Canadian schoolgirl is sexually assaulted, for example, only to have it put to her afterwards that she needs to cut her assailant some slack.

This latest tale of bleeding-heart madness is said to have begun at what should have been a happy occasion: a high school dance at Fredericton High School, New Brunswick.

“Speaking on condition of anonymity, the girl’s mother said two Syrian students attempted to grind with her daughter at the dance, before one of them began groping her breasts and forced his hand inside her underwear, touching her vagina.” – from The Daily Caller

If the poor girl thought the worst of her ordeal was behind her once her attacker backed off, she could have been forgiven for wondering who was the villain here, once the school’s victim support kicked in.

“…vice-principal, Elaine Kilfillen, worried that the alleged attacker “will become a target in our student population once the rumor mill gets going.” The girl’s mother claimed that school officials encouraged her daughter to understand the alleged attacker’s perspective and consider the effect her clothing may have had.” – ibid. [point of order here – if she’s allowed to remain on school premises in unsuitable clothing, Fredericton High; that one’s on you]

The culprit, who denied the accusation, was suspended for one week. His victim, whose own ‘sentence’ will probably last rather longer, should the allegation be true,  is in therapy.

This account comes from just one or two secondary news sources (disturbingly, a possible reason for this is suggested at the foot of this post) so a cautionary note must be sounded. Should the story be solid, however, then it would be the latest recurrence of a familiar pattern. The Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens speculated for some time over what would happen when political correctness towards women collided head-on with political correctness towards Islam. Slowly but surely, we are beginning to find out. Islam wins.

Oh-so-enlightened Western civilisation makes all the concessions, and what passes for civilisation in parts of the Middle East presses on gleefully through the doors we hold open.

The school’s reported attempt at compassion ensures only that there will be more emboldened young men, more attacks, and more traumatised young women. Former muslim Nabeel Qureshi sets out here (starting at the 3:55 mark) exactly where this misguided approach is destined to lead us.

“I think the term that’s being used for it…is ‘terminal niceness’. We’re being so nice and politically correct, to things that are willing to rip us apart, that it will be the end of us.”

As I write, meanwhile, Emma Watson’s Twitter feed makes no mention of Fredericton, and the town’s edition of the Washington march appears to have had eyes only for a caucasian male with bad hair.

And on the theme of ‘familiar patterns’ – if this tweet is true, then this is another one…

January 23, 2017

Child poverty not just a money thing

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 9:26 am

Cropped from a pic by Steve Rhode

She works with disadvantaged children. The type so damaged by broken homes or dysfunctional parents that conventional education can’t cope with them; they need one-to-one lessons in handling life before they can even think about handling school.

She’s making inroads already with her latest charge. So immersed did he become in one of their recent days out together that he briefly forgot himself, as he pointed to something that had caught his eye.

“Look mummy…” he shouted.

The ultimate professional compliment, wrapped around a cry for help so searing, she said it cut her in two.

You can’t throw money at that kind of deprivation.

January 19, 2017

Bag it, PM – voter empathy trumps matching outfits

Filed under: Appearance,politics — - @ 1:56 pm

Sometime, the small things are the big giveaway.

Ostensibly, Prime Minister Theresa May has impressed me so far. Her wish to be a government for all and not just some, struck the right note. Her pursuit of Brexit, after campaigning for Remain, has been so dogged, I occasionally wonder what the catch will be.

Others, of course, wonder if she has a plan at all, never mind a catch. Time will tell if my belief that politicians and businessmen would rather do a deal than leave money on the table, is vindicated.

This, however, is the first chip in her veneer. When the economy is uncertain, the National Health Service shaky and the future unclear, I just think a truly savvy leader would recognise that the £995 handbag is best kept for off-duty moments.

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