The EU Referendum – Part 2 – The right not to vote

June 19th, 2016

In the UK, we have the right to not vote. In Australia, we don’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. It is legal in Australia to go the polling centre, get your attendance recorded, collect a ballot paper and then leave it blank before putting it into the ballot box. But you must attend – or pay the fine.

In the UK, voting is not compulsory. People may register to vote if they wish (and are eligible). And once registered, they may vote, if they wish. But there is no fine if they don’t.

There are pros and cons to this. In the case of the EU referendum, not only do campaigners have to convince people to vote to leave or to remain, but they also need to convince people to register and to actually vote.

People voting to change the status quo are probably more likely to actually go and vote.  Though if it is close or if it looks like the people wanting change may win, then this might encourage more people to vote.

It is also worth noting, that when Australia had a referendum in 2000 about becoming a republic, not only was a two thirds majority required, but also a two thirds majority of states. I believe in this vote in the UK, it is simply who has the most votes regardless of how close it is.

I’m not sure which system is best. I’m just interested in the differences.

While I’m on the technicalities of the system, it is probably worth mentioning again, that I’m really not happy with the UK’s definition of ‘secret ballot’. In the UK that means no one looks over your shoulder when you vote. Your ballot paper however, has a number on it that links to your name. It is possible for the authorities to track who (or what) you voted for. I’m not that bothered in this case because I’m happy for the whole world to know which way I am voting in this election. But I am very unhappy that voting is not truly secret. (I’m also not happy that many people in the UK don’t know this.)

The EU Referendum – Part 1 – Who should decide?

June 19th, 2016

There is a referendum coming up soon (23rd of June 2016) in the UK, where we get to vote on whether we stay in the European Union or leave it.

And this brings up many questions.

Perhaps the first is whether this is a decision which should be made by the general public.

On the one hand, democracy is based on the principle that the people should have a voice in decisions being made on their behalf. This is an important decision and it will affect the lives of all British citizens, so it is only right that the citizens should have a say.

On the other hand, it is a complex issue and is perhaps best left to the experts to decide which option really is the best.

I am not an economist. I am not a lawyer. I am not an expert on immigration, or human rights, or benefits, or the health service, or terrorism, or security. I honestly do not know what all the implications are of leaving the EU.

And I am certain that this is true for the other voters as well.

No matter how informed we are, we are not experts. And, there are some questions that I think no one knows the answer to. And we won’t know them, until it all happens, we can only make best guesses. So perhaps it should not be for us to decide, but for those who can exercise expert judgement.

But this is a moot point. The referendum is happening. We are deciding.

Africa

June 19th, 2016

I’m heading out to Africa later this year. I have never been and I am very excited.

I’m starting with 2 weeks in Rwanda for a holiday. I then have 5 weeks of teaching in Uganda. I’m then going to spend about 6 weeks making my way to Cape Town. I’ll probably be going through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and then into South Africa. I’ll be climbing Kilimanjaro on my way and catching lots of interesting trains. Once I get to Cape Town, I’ll be meeting a friend for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year. And then back to London. Probably.

I’ll be travelling alone and playing it by ear. I am really looking forward to it and I think it will be the biggest adventure yet!!

I have no idea at the moment what 2017 holds for me. I currently have no plans, though I am likely to be applying for jobs in development. But I don’t really know which continent I’ll be on, which country, which city or which career I’ll be pursuing. And I’m fairly certain that between now and then my plans will change several times. 🙂

And I do know, from past experience, that my trip to Africa will change me in ways I can’t yet imagine. I welcome that change, and I don’t want to make choices now that the post-Africa Kath won’t want to keep. So I’m keeping things open and seeing where the wind will carry me.

Working in Banking

June 19th, 2016

I am back in London working in the banking industry.

I am working as a business analyst for one of the world’s biggest banks.

I am doing this because they are paying me obscene amounts of money each day. And with that money I can go to Uganda later this year to teach. I can use this money to give myself some financial security. I can use this money to help me to do more volunteering or development work next year.

It is a good use of my skills. My line manager is fantastic. The work I do on a daily basis is helping to improve the way the bank meets its regulatory obligations (and that’s about helping customers and about doing the right thing).

But even though I’m in the good bit of the bank, I am not happy about this. I do not like working in the banking industry and I think I probably won’t again. I find the entire industry to be very unsettling. And with only a few exceptions, I find the people and the culture to be uncomfortable.

But they are paying me enough so that I am able to support the work that Volunteer Uganda are doing. I am able to contribute to education and sanitation projects. When I have a particularly bad day at work I come home and donate to Amnesty or Save the Children or I loan money via Kiva. And I am able to go out to Africa later this year. It will be nice to be travelling again.

Free Speech

February 27th, 2015

A blogger (Avijit Roy) was hacked to death in Bangladesh. He had received death threats. He and his wife were attacked in public as they left a book fair.

I had never heard of him until now. I have not read anything that he has written and I have no idea whether I would have agreed or disagreed with any of it. But this doesn’t matter.

It makes no difference whatsoever what he wrote or how he wrote it. It makes no difference if he was American, Bangladeshi, or anything else. It makes no difference whether he was an atheist or religious. It makes no difference whether he was critical of Islam or anyone or anything else. It makes no difference whether he had brown eyes or blue, black hair or blonde, whether he was male or female, old or young, rich or poor.

Absolutely nothing justifies this horrendous act. All violence is wrong. All killing is wrong. All persecution and creation of climates of fear is wrong. Free speech, regardless of what it is, is absolutely vital. It is crucial that we all have the right to freely say whatever we want to say. It is also important that we use this right wisely and with care for others. I deliberately censor the writing that appears on this blog for very many reasons. But that is due to discretion and not fear.

Very few people read my blog. And I don’t imagine that anyone really cares much about what I say. Not to the point that anyone would think it worth threatening me to stop me saying what I want to say. But stories like this make me want to shout from the rooftops!!!

There are things that I say that might upset people. Some of my writing is critical of religion. Some of my writing is critical of different aspects of different cultures. Some of my writing is controversial.

There are things that other people say that I disagree with. There are things that other people say that offend me. There are things that other people say that I simply don’t care about at all. But I will defend their right to say it. The only way we can move forward and solve the myriad problems that plague our planet is through education, discourse, patience, tolerance, understanding.

So today I stand with all bloggers, speakers, writers, opinion-holders, commentators, journalists, educators, thinkers. We all should be able to say/write/think whatever we like without fear for our lives and our safety.

Why we need V-Day

February 14th, 2015

V-Day is February the 14th. It is a day to raise awareness of violence against women and to support survivors of violence.

I’ve posted on my blog and on Facebook about violence against women and about women’s rights. And I usually get quite a bit of support about the issue from most of the men and women I know. Which doesn’t surprise me. Most of the men and women I know are intelligent, lovely, good-hearted, wonderful people who fundamentally care about equality, peace, justice, dignity, human rights.

But sometimes I get challenged regarding the focus on gender. And challenge is always welcome. I get challenged about the focus on “women’s rights” rather than a focus on “rights”. I get challenged on “violence against women” rather than “violence”. I get questioned on whether it is useful to disaggregate by gender since that exacerbates the segregation and just highlights differences. I get asked whether violence is in fact a gender issue at all. And these are valid points to raise – though I disagree with them. And I don’t think any of them negate the requirement for a focus on issues relating to violence against women and women’s rights.

V-Day is about violence against women. It doesn’t preclude any other focus on violence against men. And yes, violence against men is an issue. However, in most cases the violence against men isn’t because they are men, while in most cases the violence against women is because they are women. More men die in war, more men commit suicide, more men die violently than women do. All of this is true. None of this negates the fact that violence against women (because they are women) exists and is systemic and is culturally accepted (and in some cases encouraged) and is widespread and must stop.

Violence against women includes domestic abuse, rape, female genital mutilation, battery, murder. It includes dowry murders, honour killings, stonings (e.g. as punishment for adultery), forced marriage, child marriage. It is committed by boyfriends, husbands, brothers, uncles, sons, fathers, other family members and strangers. In rare cases, it is committed by women.

UK statistics that explore the gender differences of domestic violence show that domestic violence against women is more likely to recur. It is more violent. It has more severe psychological consequences. It is more likely to be associated with a culture of fear. Domestic violence is the major cause of miscarriage and stillbirth. 40% of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner whereas only 4% of male homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. Women in the UK are affected by female genital mutilation, forced marriage and domestic violence. Violence against women in other parts of the world is much, much worse.

So we need V-Day because there are very many women around the world in fear for their lives. One billion women will be beaten or raped in their lifetimes. We need V-Day because in many cultures women do not have the same rights as men and that makes them vulnerable to violence.

But we need V-Day because there are men in the UK who don’t think that violence is a gender issue. They think that because men suffer that this means that violence affects everyone (which is does, but not in the same way). They think that women in other countries suffer but that this is not the case in the UK. So V-Day is a day when we can offer support to the women who have survived violence. And V-Day is a day when we can educate people (men and women alike) that violence is a gender issue (even in the UK, even in 2015).

And V-Day is a chance for all of us to celebrate the freedom, the security, the safety that we do have.

Learning to Lead

February 14th, 2015

Ballroom dancing is done in couples. And in the couple there are clearly defined roles. One person leads and the other follows. In the case of choreographed routines it doesn’t really matter since both know what they are doing beforehand anyway. But when freestyling it is important that one person is directing the movement – the leader.

The steps in the dances are different between leader and follower. The leader is often showing off the follower and the follower is the one who usually does most of the turns, dips, etc.

In the vast majority of cases the couple is made up of a man and a woman. The man leads, the woman follows. In most international competitions, same sex couples are not allowed and it is not allowed for the woman to lead.

In the Arthur Murray context women are very strongly discouraged from leading and men from following. If a group class consists of 10 women, no men and one teacher then the teacher will dance with each woman in turn and the nine other women will practice the steps by themselves. The teachers all know the leader’s and follower’s steps and will swap between two with ease. In fact, we don’t usually say “leader’s steps” and “follower’s steps” we say “man’s steps” and “lady’s steps”.

The gender distinction between men and women is very clear and almost never challenged. Jokes about masculinity and femininity are often made when the teachers swap between leading and following. Male teachers will often pretend to be quite ‘girly’ when they do the lady’s steps, and female teachers sometimes act ‘macho’ when doing the man’s steps. Male teachers have done performances as followers, but wearing dresses. The interesting thing about this was that while it was done for comedy effect, one of the male teachers is so elegant and graceful that he was absolutely beautiful when he danced (and not comedic at all). He wasn’t feminine or girly or silly. He was simply a wonderful dancer.

While dancing, it is certainly traditional that the man is taller than the woman and stronger than the woman. The woman wears a dress (long and flowing in ballroom and skimpy and tassley in latin). But these things are not required. Sometimes a shorter male teacher will dance very successfully with a taller female student. And they look amazing.

Having said all of this, while dancing, we don’t actually use our reproductive organs. So it should make no difference physically whether the leader is male or female. The differences seem to me to be quite clearly social, cultural and traditional.

And I’m not a big fan of gender differences based on society, culture and tradition. They don’t sit well with me.

So I’m doing my bit to change it.

I’ve asked my teacher to teach me to lead. And after a small amount of persuasion he agreed. And I was really rather nervous for the first lesson. But completely without foundation. The lesson was fabulous. Leading is hard (I knew it would be). It uses muscles that I don’t use when I dance as a follower, but that isn’t surprising either. But I’m enjoying it! And since the lesson I’ve done some practice with some of the other students. And it’s great fun!

I love the different challenge that leading entails. Knowing about leading helps me to be a better follower. Knowing about following helps me to be a better leader. Leading is a different approach to dancing and that is fascinating. It is a physical and intellectual challenge. And one that I enjoy very much! Leading is not harder or easier than following. They are different. Some people are probably more suited to one than the other. The same can be said for the difference between ballroom dances and latin dances, one set aren’t easier than the other, but some people are certainly more suited to one than the other. But working on both does help to make a better dancer.

So it’s only a small step. But I am doing my little bit for challenging gender roles! (And having a lot of fun in the process.)

Inspiration

November 20th, 2014

A friend of mine recently asked me what was inspiring me.

One of the reasons why he is my friend is because he asks such interesting, thoughtful questions. He has such a yearning for knowledge and understanding and communion. And it is something that I very much want to be a part of. But because he and I live in different parts of the world, we don’t catch up in person as often as we would both like. But that’s ok. That just means we have to make the most of the time we do have together. And one of the ways in which he gets to the heart of what is happening in my life is to ask me what is inspiring me.

And it’s a serious question that deserves serious thought and attention. And it’s not trivial. It’s not easy to answer. But the more consideration I give to the answer (both during the conversation with him, and on reflection later), the more I am able to actively harness that inspiration.

In general there are very many things that inspire me: wonderful people, education (in any form), social justice, stories of people who grasp life with both hands and actively live it, a fascinating book, beauty (a frozen spider’s web on a branch in winter, a forested mountain range, a waterfall, maths and logic, poetry), my job (depending on what I’m doing in my job at the time: creating spreadsheet/database systems that improve efficiency, teaching), helping others, smiles and laughter.

At the moment people, smiles and laughter are large causes of inspiration for me.

But probably the biggest thing currently is dancing. And that’s because it has so many of the other elements interwoven into it.

  • There are wonderful people (my teachers, my fellow students) who I love talking to and laughing with and dancing with.
  • There are patterns and maths and music: a precision to the structure, a beauty to the form.
  • There is a challenge to myself to develop my skills. To improve. To train my body and my mind to work in ways it has never done before.
  • There is an aesthetic component, though that is not so much about me watching others dance, nor is it about how I think I look when I dance, it is about how I feel when I dance – the beauty in the movements of my body and the movements of his body, the synchronicity, the team work (when we do it right we complete each other).
  • It’s about the simple joy of moving.
  • It’s about education. How I learn the steps and the technique and the style. How I create patterns and schemas and how I integrate the new information into those patterns and schemas. How I think about physics and maths and muscles and music. It’s about how he teaches me. How he translates the world that he knows so well into something that I can access and take part in. About how I learn from watching others around me.
  • It’s about communication. How he leads, how I follow, how I respond to his body. How we tell a story to an audience (even if it is an audience of just the two of us).
  • It’s about thinking and not thinking. About feeling. About creativity. About call and response.

And it is just magical!

So my passion for my other sources of inspiration has not dimmed. And inspiration in any form feeds inspiration in the others. And it feeds itself.

And for me, a very big part of leading a happy, wonderful, fulfilling, successful life is about being inspired and thriving on that inspiration. And feeding it. And growing from it.

So I am dancing. And I’m inspired. And I’m happy.

Happiness

November 20th, 2014

I’m a happy person. I smile a lot. I bounce a lot. I love life.

And some people ask me how I manage to be so happy all the time.

The first thing I say is that I’m not happy all the time. But I don’t like not being happy so I try to restrict the not happy times to a minimum. I also try not to share the not happy times with all and sundry. So I guess I probably am happier a lot more often than very many other people. And I certainly appear to be happy more often than many others.

What’s the secret of my happiness? Well, it’s somewhat simple. And yet really rather difficult at the same time.

I make a conscious decision to be happy. I work on discovering what makes me happy. And I do as much of that as I can. I understand that I can’t devote all my time to things that make me happy. I also need to do tedious household chores so that my housemate doesn’t kick me out (that would make me majorly unhappy). I need to work (and my job doesn’t always make me happy) so that I have enough money to pay my bills and pay for the things that make me happy.

Now this all sounds simple. And it is. But it does require effort. I actively need to work out what makes me happy. And what is the right thing to make me happy at any given time. And I need to cultivate moments in my life where these activities are possible. Here are some of them: drinking a decent cup of tea, meeting up with friends for a good chat, conversations with friends that leave tears of laughter running down my face, falling in love, great productive arguments with friends about important issues that get me really fired up, dancing, reading a good book, eating good chocolate, watching something good on TV, making bread to share with friends, hot showers, sleeping in. The list does go on (as do I!). 🙂

So that’s step one.

Step two is about choosing to be happy. That’s about looking for happiness in everyday situations. It’s about choosing to take joy in the cup of tea, rather than just drinking it. It’s about actively seeking out happiness rather than waiting for it to pop up and say hi. And the amazing thing about this is that happiness is a habit. Once you start looking for it, it becomes so much easier to see it. And then you don’t have to try so hard to find it anymore.

Step three is about making other people happy. Happiness is contagious. And once you start being a source of happiness for other people then their happiness creates a virtuous circle that spreads and does find its way back to you.

So it’s easy: I make myself happy. I choose to be happy. I make other people happy.

But it’s also quite tricky: it involves a concerted effort and some hard work (at times).

But it is completely worth it!

And being happy makes me happy!! 🙂

Back in the UK

October 2nd, 2014

I’ve been back in the UK for a day and half at time of writing. And what a day and a half it has been.

I’ve brushed my teeth with tap water. I licked my fingers when I was eating cheese on toast. I ate cheese on toast. I ate cheese and it was even better than I remember it! I have used idioms and slang and spoken quickly and mumbled. I have worn socks. I have used toilet paper. I have had hot showers. I have clean feet. I chopped vegetables and a piece of mushroom feel from the chopping board to the bench and the bench was clean enough that I could pick up the piece of mushroom and throw it into the frying pan with its mates. I have lain in bed rejoicing in the peace and quiet (no ceiling fan, no monsoonal rain, no dogs, no shouted arguments, no religious observances). I have walked along the pavement and looked up at the buildings rather than down at my feet to see what I’m standing on. I’ve made myself cups of tea whenever I wanted them (with no sugar). I’ve drunk soy milk. I’ve been to a pub. I’ve washed clothes in a washing machine and they smell wonderful! I’ve watched crappy TV in English!

And most importantly, I’ve met up with some of the most wonderful people in my life. I’ve talked, I’ve laughed, I’ve joked. I’ve made new friends.

And I’ve danced. And words fail completely to express how incredible it was to be dancing again.

I loved my time away. I’m looking forward to going back again next year. But I’m really enjoying being back.

One of the wonderful consequences of my exceptionally transient lifestyle is that I spend a lot of my time rejoicing in the newly remembered wonders of my current location. And it has the added benefit of giving my friends something to laugh about each time I get giddy about drinking tap water! 🙂