An unjust war…

A few weeks ago, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’d heard of it, I had the impression it was to do with religion and land occupation, but that was about it.

Now I know a few more things about it.

I know that people are dying, that children are dying. I know that it’s something which divides people across the world. I know that there’s no easy answers and I know that it’s complicated beyond words.

Every time I read something about it I change my mind and then change it again. I look for a side to support because I thought there was always a right and a wrong. But not this time, maybe not every war is fought for a just cause.

I hear which governments are supporting which side and realise it’s got to be much more to do with power and money than justice and peace. It doesn’t help me come to any conclusions.

What can we do? What can be done? Demands to stop selling Israel weapons and to publicly condemn them are made and are being ‘considered’ by the people who matter.

I get used to hearing the new death count on the radio far too quickly. It’s starting to become just a number, it’s too many to comprehend.

A ‘die-in’ takes place in my local town to protest the lack of action against Israel and people play dead in the middle of Sainsbury’s until they have to close their doors. Radio 4 talk about one anti-Israel protest in Berlin, Hitler’s name is chanted and it chills me to my bones.



In defence of Dawkins (kind of)…

There’s been a bit of hooha over the past day or two about some comments that Richard Dawkins made on twitter. Essentially these comments provoked a lot of extreme reactions from people because they centred around the issues of sexual assault and rape. And I’m torn because in all honesty I agree with Dawkins’ basic argument it’s just such a shame that he can’t get out of his own way and present things in a manner that doesn’t piss so many people off.

I used to be a big fan of Richard Dawkins when I was a teenager and was in my angry atheist years. Now that I’m a little older I guess I’m slightly less sure. Not about the atheist part, I’m still pretty convinced of that, but of the best way to present those arguments to the world. Something that seems pretty obvious is that offending people and calling them stupid doesn’t work.

Anyways, back to what he said the other day. You can find the info here and Dawkins’ defence of it here (it’s pretty long so I’m kindly summing it up for you below in case you can’t be bothered to read it).

Dawkins makes the point, if in a somewhat unnecessarily harsh and blunt manner, that there are some types of sexual crimes that are worse than others.Which in an abstract sense seems to me  to be a statement of fact.

What we’re asking judges to do when they make rulings on sexual assault and paedophilia cases is to quantify the severity of these offences. The point of the legal system is to make rational and logical decisions about the appropriate punishment for a crime. An issue which is so fraught with emotional responses such as this means that it’s extremely vulnerable to being influenced by these responses.

If you ask a mother, father, sibling or the victim of sexual assault themselves what the punishment for the perpetrator of the crime should be, of course they would wish all sorts of pain and suffering on them. Most people would, which is why we aren’t the ones making the decisions.

Those people that make the decisions need to feel free to make these choices in as fair a way as they see possible. Often they’re unimaginable choices but they have to be made by somebody. We all want to live in a world where this isn’t an issue but for now locking up anyone who has committed a sexual offence for the rest of their lives isn’t a viable solution. Everyone makes mistakes.

I hope I’m not coming across as dismissive of those people who have gone through an experience of sexual abuse, I’m so sorry if that’s you and I have so much sympathy with you. All I want to say is that if we’re going to have a scale for the severity of crimes which has to exist in order to help us to decide on their punishment then that needs to exist for sexual crimes as much as it does for killing or stealing or harming another person.

When we hear about rape we immediately have an emotional response which is often more extreme than for other crimes because the resulting damage can be so awful, to allow that to cloud judgement of a situation, however, is wrong. I believe that was what Dawkins was trying to say, I just wish he’d said it without insulting so many people. When he makes the point that this issue is one which provokes a lot of extreme emotions, then it seems he should have considered that when he made those statements, there was definitely a better way to make the point he was trying to make.

I doubt he’ll change, he’s a man in his seventies who believes in logic above anything else and has made a career out of being divisive, but it’s a shame because he does sometimes makes a good point. Hopefully this time he’s at least learned that 140 characters is nowhere enough to talk about rape.

That’s all for now


Politics..., Uni Life...

First Lady love…

I’m currently in the process of beginning research for my dissertation which is handed in next year. I’m writing mine about the role of the First Lady (I study American Studies).

From the small amount of research I’ve done so far I’ve learnt some things about them which I didn’t expect at all.

Things like…I don’t like the sound of Jackie Kennedy nearly as much as I thought I did and yet Nancy Reagan sounds a lot nicer than I was expecting. Or the heartwarming fact that these women have something of a support network with previous First Ladies assisting and advising the new one to the role. This comes regardless of differing political views.

And I’ve been saddened by the sacrifices some of these women have had to make. Whether it be staying with a man they didn’t love for the sake of the presidency or losing the man they love to the stress and pressure that caused their ill health and eventual death.

I guess it’s easy to forget that these women are just ordinary people who, in most cases, didn’t choose to be there. I’ve found myself going in with a certain expectation which comes from nothing other than what I know of their husband, exactly the problem they were facing while they were First Lady and something I should know better than to do.

The concept of the First Lady is so very American to me. Here people care very little about who the Prime Minster’s wife is or what she’s doing or wearing or saying. Unless she does something horrendously wrong she can live her life fairly unnoticed by the general public. The difference between her and the First Lady is startling.

The First Lady and her family are under the watchful eye of the country constantly. The First Lady must be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect hostess. She is under immense pressure to fulfill those roles along with the knowledge that her actions could help or hurt the country’s opinion on the man she’s doing it all for, the man she happened to fall in love with (or not in some cases), the man she married.

The idea that these women are ‘just a wife’ is bizarre if you learn a little about them. The vast majority of them have worked full time at being the First Lady. They spend hours working for their chosen causes, replying to letters, making visits.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that there’s so much to learn about each of these First Ladies and I’m excited to find out more!

The more I read the more I’m in awe of these women. I certainly couldn’t do it.

That’s all for now



Feeling hopeless about politics…

I wrote this a few weeks ago while I was still at home. It was after a conversation I had with my Dad and it’s just been sitting in my notes since then. I keep meaning to post it but then changing my mind because it doesn’t really fit with my blog. Today I figured I’d just post it though because I read over it again and I actually quite liked it (which makes a change). 

My Dad has been a huge influence on my political thought, as many people’s parents are, and he has shaped my feelings about politics not only in an ideological sense but also in that he has prompted in me a natural interest in politics as a subject.

I don’t claim by any means to be an expert in politics. I don’t know much about a lot of it but I have a strong sense of what I think about an issue should you place some relevant facts about it in front of me and I really do care.

My parents were teenagers and young adults in the sixties. My Dad in particular was always heavily involved in politics throughout all of his adult life. That is, until a few years ago.

When my Dad talks about being a student in the sixties it sounds so exciting. I compare it to what my experience of student life in relation to politics is now and it seems a world apart.

Granted, I don’t actively seek out political groups at university but that’s mainly because I have no idea which one I would choose. None of the three major parties which are likely to have student organisations appeal to me and joining any of them would seem like a failure in a way, a white flag waving that I’ve given in to their insistence to fight for the middle ground.

When I hear my Dad talk nostalgically about his student days it’s not the fact that everything was going his way or that the party he wanted was winning which prompts that sentimentality, in fact, for the most part, they weren’t winning. It was that there was dialogue, there was a fight, there were protests and sit ins, there were people that cared.

Now it feels like no one cares.

I don’t talk about politics much with my friends. The majority of them don’t have a particular interest in politics, which I suppose is fair enough.

Sometimes I feel like caring about politics is seen as mildly irritating or annoying by people in my age group. I have been told to stop talking about it before. I have had people roll their eyes and try and change the subject. I have, most patronisingly, been told to ‘calm down’ because I was getting particularly passionate about an issue.

I’m not sure that this is all down to a lack of interest. This is down to a climate that makes us feel like we can’t change anything. Maybe if people felt like having an opinion was worthwhile, if they felt like having a debate with someone and trying to change the way they see things would make a difference then people would be more interested in talking about politics. Now people think ‘what’s the point?’

This is not the way the world is supposed to be. This is not the way a democracy is supposed to be.

I know that if I sit in a room with a group of people and have a discussion about politics it isn’t going to change the world, I’m not naïve. But it’s a start isn’t it?

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I even have one answer to the problem of apathy. Sometimes I feel like the time when people were excited about change seems so long ago. But then I realise that that isn’t the case, my parents lived through it…hell even I lived through it a little bit.

For a brief period in the nineties people were truly hopeful for British politics. Some of my earliest memories are of going leafleting with my dad for the Labour Party, of putting up campaign posters and visiting people’s houses. There were a group of us kids all around the same age who grew up together, whose parents were all passionate about change.

I was 6 years old during the 1997 election campaign when Tony Blair was elected. Of course, I had no idea what was really going on, but kids are perceptive. I still remember how excited everyone was, how hard people were working and how happy those times were because there was hope and because people cared.

Of course, that didn’t turn out all that great and Blair failed our country and all those people that worked so hard to get him elected.

But that optimism, that was in my lifetime, I remember that if only vaguely. Now all I see is people who have given up and I wish I knew what to do.

That’s all for now


My Year Abroad..., Politics...

Martin Luther King and the speech that changed everything…

I find it very difficult to write about ‘serious things’. Take this post, for example, I sat down to write with all the enthusiasm and interest I normally have when I start writing. But then I just sat there staring at the keyboard.

I think there’s two main reasons why I struggle with it. The first is that I worry that I don’t have the skill to do a subject such as this justice, I can write about silly things and happily ramble on, but if I’m given a serious and important topic I panic a little because I think maybe my writing ability won’t live up to the subject matter at hand.

The second problem I face is that I don’t feel like I have the authority to write about something like this. I have never been the victim of racism, I have never lived in segregated America or really even seen much racism taking place. So, with that said, what right do I have to say anything at all on the topic? I suppose it’s a fear of being wrong, of having someone who knows a lot more than me tell me that I should shut up and go back to writing about my life; the only thing I know well enough to be able to comment on.

This is a stupid attitude, don’t worry you don’t need to tell me. If we all only stuck to writing about things we’d personally experienced then how would we ever get any balanced opinions? In fact, often an outsider is able to see things which someone directly involved is unable to. Also, of course many of the people writing about historic moments, even from fairly modern history, weren’t there because they most likely weren’t even born when it took place!

I apologise if you feel like this note on Martin Luther King Jr. doesn’t do him or his life and work justice but I’m writing it anyway because I feel like I need to break through this barrier that stops me from writing what I want to, this blog is meant to be the place I can do that after all.

Last night I watched a BBC programme with my parents about the run up to King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which was to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of that day. As you would expect, the programme was equal parts touching and inspiring. It got me thinking about my own personal experiences of America when I was living there.

When I was on my year abroad I was lucky enough to take a trip to Washington DC. My most prominent memory of that trip is when we went to the Lincoln Memorial. I stood at the top of those steps, probably just a few feet away from where King stood and made the speech that changed everything. I looked out and imagined what it must have been like for him to stand there and see those hundreds of thousands of people listening to what he was saying, all there because of him and the people standing around him on those steps. In that moment I thought about what had happened there and I remembered the fact that a few weeks earlier I’d watched Obama get sworn in for his second term and it felt like all those problems from 50 years ago had gone away for good.

Several months later, at the end of my year, I went travelling around the states with some friends. As I’ve written about before, we went to many sites which were key players in the Civil Rights Movement. Some were inspiring, such as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN – once a sight of devastation as Martin Luther King lost his life just across the street from it, now a museum which fills you with joy at the distance the country has come.

Some were not so inspiring. When we drove through the city of Jackson MS we were shocked. We went to the visitor centre and got a driving tour booklet which directed us to various key sites related to the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these sites looked like they had been forgotten…abandoned. This was not the shining example of progress we had become accustomed to seeing, we were saddened by the fact that a city which had been so important to such a passionate and long fought movement had been left in this way. The booklet we had, clearly published long before we were given it, claimed that much of the city was undergoing restoration…due to be completed in 2002.

When I was in Baltimore MD, a friend and I were stopped by the police who had been radioed to come and find us. We had gone on the hunt for Edgar Allan Poe’s house which is, unfortunately and unbeknownst to us, now in a particularly dangerous neighbourhood. When the police found us they simply told us we had to leave, when we asked why they said ‘you’re two young, white girls in a black neighbourhood, it’s not safe’. This kind of clear division along racial lines was something I had never experienced before and it shocked me deeply. Here was me naïvely watching Obama on TV and thinking that all the problems of race had disappeared and yet there are places where police patrol simply to keep the peace between people of different races. It might sound stupid, but I had no idea.

I’ve read a lot of people’s opinions about the impact that Martin Luther King, and in particular the speech he made that day, had on the success of the Civil Rights Movement. While most are praising him, I’ve read some that doubt his impact, that question whether that day did what it said it did. I guess when you go to a place like Jackson, and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceburg; we all know the facts when it comes to the inequality which is still prevalent in the States, it’s easy to argue that there’s still so much to be done. It’s just as much, if not more, of a situation fraught with extremes as it was in the 60’s; while King was going for meetings in the White House, black people throughout America were struggling, now Obama is in the White House and yet there are still plenty of African Americans who have no hope of ever fulfilling their American Dream.

So, of course, it takes looking at how far America has come, not how far it has left to go. America is a wonderful country, something which I learned when I lived there last year, and not an opinion which is shared by many who aren’t Americans themselves! I regard Barack Obama highly (you can read my top fives on him here) not only for the reasons mentioned in that blog and for the fact that I tend to agree with him ideologically but because he has had to face the struggles of a country which is only just beginning to understand its own views on race. There are many problems which the U.S still needs to overcome but, that being said, I don’t believe you could doubt for a minute the impact which King’s work and that speech had on improving the situation. He instilled in those thousands of people that were watching 50 years ago a feeling of hope and a determination not to give up which is how America got to where it is today.

Something I like to think about is how King would react if he knew that Obama was in the White House, if he knew that his work had allowed that to happen. It makes me feel better about the world.

That’s all for now

My Year Abroad..., Politics...

My top five things about Barack Obama…

One of the main reasons I was so excited to come to the US this year was the fact that I would be present for an important moment in American, and World, history.

Can America re-elect their first African-American president?

Since being at SUNY I’ve been taking a course which takes a real-time look at the Presidential campaigns of both Obama and Romney. In all honesty, sitting in a class full of third year political science majors is pretty intimidating to a British student who knows fairly little of the workings of the American system. After a few initial reservations, I stuck it out because I know there’s a lot I can learn from these people and my professor and I want to be involved with this election in some way, even if it is just as a spectator.

I’ve always had an interest in politics. My parents were members of the Labour Party(back in the pre Blair/Brown years) so I have memories of being taken out leafleting when I was very small and playing with the kids of other Labour Party parents at meetings. Lots of my parents friends, who I’ve grown up knowing, are from that circle, although their membership in the party has declined dramatically in recent years for obvious reasons! Anyway, because I’ve grown up having lots of intense discussions about politics with my family, I can’t help but enjoy following the Presidential election. On an ideological level I am fully in support of Obama gaining his second term. I’m sure anyone who has an interest will be well aware of the differences in the candidates so I figured I’d list a few other reasons why Obama is the obvious choice.

1) He’s Left-Handed

So being a lefty myself, I feel an affinity with all those that have had to struggle all their lives in a world created for right-handed people. Of course I’m joking, honestly being left-handed makes very little difference to my life but I can say that I’ve never met a lefty I didn’t like and some of the ones I do know happen to be incredibly awesome…I feel sure that this applies to Obama as well.

2) He’s read all the Harry Potter books

So Harry Potter is almost definitely one of the best things to come out of Britain. I’ve read all the books myself as well as having had them read to me by my Dad, just as Obama is reported to have done with his own daughters, and he claims to love them all. Anyone who can juggle being President of the most powerful country in the world and getting quality Harry Potter time in with his kids is a pretty impressive guy, worth a vote just for that I’d say.

3) Celebrity endorsements

My mum is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and, thanks to her, I also enjoy a bit of Brucey now and then. Known for his political activism, I wasn’t surprised when she sent me a link to an article on his website today in which he stated his reasons for supporting Obama in the upcoming election. You can find the article here if you want to give it a read. Having read this, I thought I’d check out which other celebrities have voiced their support for the President. A quick google search returned an entire Wikipedia page devoted to celebrities in support of Obama including Will Smith, Beyonce, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Hathaway, Leonardo Dicaprio…well you get my point. What I can gather, therefore, is that Obama’s a pretty popular guy (with a very attractive fan base!). I’m sure Romney has the odd celebrity backing him, but with Springsteen on side, all I can say is, who can argue with The Boss?!

4) Obamacare

So one highly contentious policy issue is Obama’s creation of what critics have termed ‘obamacare’, which attempts to decrease the amount of Americans who cannot afford insurance and reduce the overall cost of health care. What the Affordable Care Act does try to do is ensure that all Americans will have access to affordable healthcare when they need it. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been brought up in a strongly left leaning household but I literally cannot fathom why anyone would be opposed to this concept, even if only for the reason that a healthy society is a more prosperous one.

5) He’s just really cool

Not only is Barack Obama a pretty great president, but he’s also probably the coolest guy to ever have lived in the White House.

Whether he’s commenting on a parody of himself singing Call Me Maybe, being photographed drinking a pint of Guinness or dancing and singing on national TV, Obama is undeniably cool. Despite his opposition attempting to use this against him in the recent campaign, Obama’s ‘coolness’ is what makes him so special as a president. Who can really say that they wouldn’t want to have a drink and a chat with President Obama?

So there you have it, my thoughts on who should take the next four years of presidency. Of course it makes little difference what I think, and since most of my readers are also British, all we can do is sit and watch the next few weeks unfold. All I would say is that, regardless of who you’re going to vote for, if you can vote then please do. I could go on for days about how strongly I feel about people using their vote however little difference they feel it makes, I have come across so much apathy about the presidential election since I’ve been here and I just hope that on the day people make the effort to go out and make a choice.