US Food Standards – the new Surrender Bill?

As the second round of US-UK trade talks is now underway, I pray that prime minister Boris Johnson isn’t considering lowering our food and animal welfare standards to those of the United States. We were sold Brexit as enabling Britain to set its own standards – becoming a “world-leading” nation, in the campaign vernacular. Having lower standards imposed upon us from across the Atlantic would be the precise opposite of that.

A lot of people don’t seem to understand what the big deal is about chlorinated chicken, so let’s lay this out one last time for the cheap seats: it’s about animal welfare. The US needs to wash chicken carcasses in chlorine because the creatures are raised in intensive, cramped, inhumane and insanitary conditions, and so grow-up deformed and riddled with disease (which then enter the human food-chain – heard of Covid-19, anyone?). Then there’s the hormone-injected cattle and pigs (run a web search for ractopamine if you’ve the stomach for it). Of course, if you don’t care how your food gets to your plate, how the creatures lived or what might get passed on to us then I suppose it’s not so much of an issue…

If Brexit is to be any kind of a success – and no matter how you feel about it, we must now hope that it will – then we as a nation simply cannot accept these inferior standards, over which we would have no say. If we truly want to be “world-leading” then we must set a path by insisting upon quality and compassion, in farming and in all trade: otherwise all the sacrifice will have been for nothing.

The Prime Minister claimed last year that an attempt to pass a law making a no-deal Brexit illegal would have construed a “Surrender Bill” but the truth is that any agreement we reach with the US that fails to uphold our food and animal welfare standards will be known forever as Johnson’s Surrender Bill. That would shame our nation for generations to come.

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Language: common usage complaints

There are a great many misuses of language which are becoming increasingly common of late and they need to be corrected. “Oh, but everybody does that!” Perhaps, but just because lots of people believe the same wrong thing, doesn’t make them right. That sort of thinking is how religions get started.


It has become habitual for people to say that they “binged” a series of television programmes or a set of books, and I mentally wince every time I hear the word used in such a context. Bingeing was a term I never encountered with positive connotations when I was younger: binge-eating was associated with eating disorders such as bulimia, when sufferers would stuff themselves with lots of unhealthy food before throwing up so as to maintain their emaciated appearance; binge-drinking was associated with Friday and Saturday nights of excess or lads’ holidays, also usually followed by throwing up. Of course, these days everything has to sound as though it is an activity of excess, and binge-watching certainly sounds more exciting than, “Yeah, I vegetated on the sofa for sixteen hours straight.” You’re not an adventurer, you’re a slob. It’s enough to make one want to throw up.

“Oh, I’m a little bit OCD about that!” No, you’re not. You’re really not. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a debilitating condition that makes it nigh-on impossible for sufferers to participate in normal life; you’re just an intolerable attention whore trying to make yourself sound interesting. And failing abysmally.

Incidentally, when somebody accuses me of being OCD because I like things to be put away properly, rather than just leaving them strewn about all over the place, that’s their disorder which I am attempting to correct. The O stands for obnoxious; I’ll leave you to work out what the C stands for yourself.

Then there’s the abuse of words so that they no longer have any meaning. “You’re a hero for signing this petition!” Really? Because, back in the day, a hero would have to save the village, kill the dragon and rescue the maiden – now all that’s required is a quick flick of the wrist? Well, at least that can be done from the comfort of one’s own home…

“What on earth am I complaining about?” you might ask. And you’d be wrong. It’s “What on Earth…?” because it’s a variation on “What in the world…?” and the planet is Earth. “What on earth…?” is “What on mud…?” and it would be a ridiculous question to ask because it disregards most of the surface of the planet: sea, sand, rock…

Oh, and learn to sign a letter. If you don’t want to use “Yours faithfully” (for someone whose name you don’t know) or “Yours sincerely” (for someone with whom you are familiar) then just use “Thanks” or “Regards”. Please don’t use “Best regards”, “Kind regards” or, worse, “Kindest regards” – it isn’t a bloody competition and nobody needs to feel that you’re looking upon them fondly. Get a grip.

Benevolent felicitations,

Fles

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Incitement of Violence?

I must say, I am pleased that the police decided to take no action against Jo Brand over her quip, with regard to people dousing Nigel Farage, “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” which he apparently saw as being “incitement of violence”.

A great many others might suggest that incitement of violence was when Farage stated at a rally that he would “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines” if his (never explicitly defined) vision of Brexit isn’t delivered; that incitement of violence was when he declared – in a country where racist right-wingers now march with increasingly confident aggression on our streets; the same streets upon which MP and humanitarian campaigner Jo Cox was brutally murdered in broad daylight by a man shouting, “Britain First!” – that he was happy for any who propose aught but the hardest of Brexits to be branded as “traitors” and “enemies of the state”.

The landscape of this country has been changed, perhaps forever, thanks to Farage and his ilk spouting their nationalistic poison – if that isn’t naked incitement of violence then I don’t know what is – and yet now he bleats that he felt threatened by a joke. He wants to count himself lucky that he hasn’t had to experience the atmosphere that he’s caused for so many members of our broader cosmopolitan society, most of whom have contributed a damn sight more to our nation than he ever has or ever will.

Mind you, Jo Brand was quite right in the far less reported remainder of her comment: “I think milkshakes are pathetic, I honestly do, sorry.” Indeed they are: doesn’t anybody pee into a bottle anymore?

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Advertisement Not ‘Fit’ For Purpose

I wrote this in 2014 but it seems I never got around to posting it. At the time, Honda had run into trouble with the advertising campaign for its new car, the Fit. In a promotional video, initially available only on YouTube, it was suggested that the Fit was a perfect ‘fit’ for anybody’s life except– and here’s the kicker – not if you’re a narcoleptic. Because narcoleptics fall asleep unexpectedly, you see. Ha-ha.

Unfortunately for them, one narcolepsy sufferer, Julie Flygare (author of “Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of Narcolepsy”) had her eyes wide open, just not quite wide enough to see the funny side of her condition. So she started a campaign on Change.org and got the company to remove the ad. Indeed, Honda issued a full apology, saying that they “did not intend to hurt those affected by the condition.”

Precisely why sufferers might have been so upset was made clear by amateur film-maker Sarah Elizabeth, who made a video responding to the jibe, which you can see for yourself on YouTube. Her added voiceover rather diminishes the funny as she details what suffering from narcolepsy is like:

There is no such thing as a funny medical condition.

Narcolepsy is an uncontrollable, neurological disorder and auto-immune disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness, excessive daytime sleepiness, frightening hypnagogic hallucinations and, in some cases, cataplexy.

Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle control or strength that leads to feelings of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control. This can be anything from slurred speech to total body collapse. It is often triggered by intense emotions, even good emotions like laughter.

One study has suggested that the average healthy person would have to go three days without sleep to feel as tired as the average narcoleptic.

Narcolepsy is very difficult to treat because the exact cause is still unknown. There is no cure.

Still think narcolepsy is funny? We aren’t laughing.

Unfortunately, despite being pulled by Honda, the advert did still go on to run on some US television networks. Naturally, this was upsetting for sufferers (of whom there are some 50,000 in the US alone) and led to a lack of understanding and tolerance in those who they encounter in their day-to-day lives, which are hard enough already.

What sufferers are hoping now is that, by way of retribution, Honda might drop off a donation to Project Sleep, a narcolepsy charity which is funding research into the condition and looking for a cure… between naps, at least.

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Being British

I’ve never been one for patriotism or national pride, because it strikes me that nationality is really just an accident of birth (and birth itself is more often an accident than most people would probably care to admit – even pregnancies which weren’t merely the unwanted side-effects of leisure activities often turn out to be regrettable mistakes in later life: a point to which I’m quite sure my own parents would readily testify).

Nonetheless, people often seem to have an unwarranted affinity for things which they consider to be national institutions, and thus many companies which trade in the UK have seen fit to bolt the word “British” onto their names. Obviously, some of these are or used to be nationalised industries: the British Broadcasting Corporation is still wholly British; British Sky Broadcasting has not long since resisted a hostile Australian takeover bid, and British Leyland is now long defunct.

Of the remainder, a great many appear to be British in name alone. To illustrate my point: British Petroleum has eighty-five subsidiaries in tax havens, British American Tobacco has forty-one subsidiaries in tax havens, The Royal Bank of Scotland (trading under both Royal and the name of a British colony) shelters from tax through one hundred and twenty-one subsidiaries, and Lloyds TSB (which used to be part nationalised and incorporates the Bank of Scotland) has one hundred and thirty-five offshore tax-dodging operations.

From my minimal investigations (because this stuff really does get quite boring pretty fast), British Gas, British Telecom, British Airways, British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace do still appear to pay the bulk of their tax in the UK – although, given the tax breaks and public subsidies which some of them receive, I guess that might be hard for them to avoid.

Then there’s the British Transport Police. Obviously, they’re still state-run, and thus in the pockets of the establishment, for nothing else could explain why they haven’t yet made any arrests of our past or present transport ministers, not to mention the directors of many of the privatised train operating companies. Of course, it is possible that I’m misunderstanding their role…

Another company still trading on public loyalties is the National Health Service. That name won’t be able to hold credence for very much longer, though: as privatisation bites, it will no longer be national or focused on health. Nor a service, for that matter.

As for celebrities, don’t even start me on Benjamin Britten or the somehow Swedish Britt Ekland. [And where in the hell is Ekland, anyway?]

By far the worst offender of all, to my mind, was British Home Stores, which wasn’t even based in Britain for tax purposes. Sir Philip Green (presumably knighted for his contribution to avoidance of contributions) nonetheless somehow managed to become a government advisor, despite routing all of his companies through his wife, who is a tax-exile resident in Monaco.

I am of the opinion that, if a body wishes to trade under a national association, then it ought to pay tax in that country. This would at least show some allegiance to the nation which it purports to represent. Which brings me somewhat clunkily to political movements.

First of these which I wish to address is the English Defence League. Pah! Never mind their politics, I’ve seen their placards: most of them can’t even spell or punctuate properly. I think I’d rather leave the defence of English to schoolteachers, thank-you very much.

My particular objection, though, is that the British National Party uses the word British in their name. This is especially wrong, I feel, because it suggests that they are in some way representative of the British people when, in truth, their membership consists almost exclusively of small-minded, unintelligent, minimally-educated, ill-informed and bigoted racists… Oh, hang on a moment, I think I get it now.

Posted in Nationalism, Patriotism, Tax-Avoidance | 1 Comment

The First Cut

As recent news stories have highlighted, female genital mutilation is a disturbingly common evil which needs to be eradicated as a matter of urgency. It is, quite simply, a heinous abuse committed by those entrusted with a child’s care and protection. In truth, however, we must go further than merely ending that practice: all genital mutilation needs to be stopped.

Circumcision, as we euphemistically term the genital mutilation of boys – and, make no mistake, mutilation is what it is – is inexplicably tolerated by society, but it is also an egregious wrong performed on a child, and the acceptance of that practice normalises the act of genital mutilation upon children. Both procedures hark back to a time when sexual pleasure amongst all ages was considered to be sinful – an idea espoused only by puritanical zealots. Such dark-ages thinking has no place in modern society and it ought to be consigned to the history books.

As to those who will no doubt claim that the performance of these archaic rituals is demanded by their belief system: religion has its place, but that place should not be cowering in guilt, shame and fear but in celebrating life and the perfection of creation. The butchering of children should be no part of it.

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News Review – a cockeyed look at the week that was

Blowhard Boris

At the start of the week Boris Johnson tweeted “Crumbling Corbyn betrays Leave voters”. What Boris seemingly fails to understand is that our political representatives are tasked with looking after the interests of our nation and its citizens – a concept which, admittedly, does appear to be somewhat alien to the tousle-haired one. Democracy can be fallible, as has been clearly demonstrated in recent history by the election of Donald Trump as US President, the near-naming of the UK’s polar research ship as Boaty McBoatface, and the aforementioned Mr Johnson having being elected Mayor of London. Twice. As it goes, the best interests of our trading nation might well be better served by remaining in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, in which case the true betrayal would surely be to leave without even considering that option.

Besides, were Boris Johnson genuinely concerned about politicians not “betraying” British citizens then perhaps he ought to be acting more conscientiously to ensure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen who continues to languish in an Iranian prison while her baby daughter Gabriella has spent the last 23 months without her mother. That’s the sort of thing a Foreign Secretary is supposed to be doing with his time, not concentrating all of his efforts on a stealth leadership campaign.

Notwithstanding that, Boris Johnson went on to argue that the UK had to come out of the customs union in order to be able to do free trade details because, in his words, “You can’t suck and blow at once.” Perhaps not, but he certainly seems to be giving it his best shot…

At Least they’d be Useful…

Also this week, in the Right’s latest round of increasingly fevered attacks, Liam Fox described Jeremy Corbyn and his fellow left-wingers as being “useful idiots”. Not a great commendation, I’ll grant you, but it still sounded like an outright admission that Labour would be able to form a more capable administration that the current incumbents.

Meanwhile, members of the public keep complaining that our government doesn’t seem to be committed to representing the British people in Brexit negotiations, despite the fact that David Davis, Michael Gove and Liam Fox reveal themselves to be hopeless, half-witted numpties at every turn…

Last week, you might recall, David Davis said that Brexit Britain won’t turn out to be anything like Mad Max. That’s a real shame because, given the paltry talent and ability on offer from the Brexit trio, not to mention the rest of the Cabinet, we most certainly do need another hero.

Charity Begins at Home

In response to allegations that those entrusted to provide vital help had abused their positions in order to take sexual advantage of those suffering hardship, the Conservatives have pledged to stop funding external organisations, preferring to “set up our own systems now.” Could it be that, after decades of dogma-driven outsourcing, the Tories have finally found something that they reckon they would prefer to do in-house?

Hairs and Graces

Politics aside, the story last week of the Great Yarmouth school which banned the haircut ‘Meet me at McDonald’s’ (a grade zero or one on the sides, then disconnected with a perm or curly on the top, set sitting forwards) inspired me to pick a name for my own follicle stylings. I have a grade one on the sides, then disconnected with virtually nothing remaining on top but for a tiny remnant of hair sitting forwards, which will henceforth be known as a ‘Meet me at KFC’

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Children in Headscarves

Fatima Laiba Aftab wrote a most eloquent and persuasive letter in the Evening Standard recently defending girls’ freedom to wear the hijab:

Girls should be free to wear the hijab

 I AM 10 and go to a primary school in London. I am so disappointed by the news about schools not allowing young girls to wear the hijab. I do not wear a headscarf at my Christian school but some of my friends choose to do so and the school has no problems with this.

I wear the headscarf when I go to the mosque but I know my religion does not teach me to wear one yet. I feel sorry for my friends who want to wear a scarf but aren’t allowed.

At school we are taught not to force our views or opinions onto others, so why are they doing this? It is so confusing and distressing.

School should be a happy place where we can learn, make new friends and respect each other. It looks like this is not true for religious people, especially Muslims, who keep getting targeted.

My friends and I do our best at school, help our teachers, raise money for charity and are good to people. This is what our religion, Islam, teaches us. Believing in a religion or wearing a scarf does mean that I am an extremist.

She’s quite right, it should not be banned – what kind of a society would we be if we started to legislate on the clothing that people were permitted to wear? – but there is nothing wrong with encouraging young girls to question the appropriateness of the garb. I have seen a number of letters and articles in various publications claiming that children under eleven years of age should not be encouraged to defy their parents’ beliefs, but the truth of the matter is that this is precisely when it is most crucial to reach out to children: while they still have questioning minds and before social conditioning can be indoctrinated into them.

[Incidentally, this latter-day insistence that parents always know best and that we shouldn’t suggest otherwise for fear of causing offence is quite simply, and entirely demonstrably, wrong. The primary focus of teachers and of society as a whole ought to be protecting the interests and wellbeing of children, not tiptoeing around their parents’ sensitivities. Teaching is a skill and a calling; anybody can have kids – hell, Fred and Rosemary West had five.]

The wearing of the hijab, or of any kind of covering, is not a symbol of devotion or of modesty but one of oppression. The idea that women ought to hide themselves away from the world has nothing whatsoever to do with religion – it is not mentioned in the Koran or in any holy book anywhere – and, unless we are to presume that God is ashamed of half of creation, there can be no justification for it.

Resenting women taking pleasure in their appearance is the start of a road that leads to indignant disapproval of them enjoying sex, and it’s a path that is abundantly adorned with the victims of acid attacks and of female genital mutilation. Dressing for “modesty” has nothing to do with god or divinity and everything to do with men suffering feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.

The wearing of a veil is solely symptomatic of the engrained societal subjugation of women. Allowing young girls to be made to feel ashamed of their appearance is wholly wrong, and their covering themselves up is a retrograde step that is pressed upon them – a step that should be resisted most strongly. The imposition of inequality should never be regarded as a cultural issue: equality is a fundamental right and anyone who believes differently is, quite simply, wrong.

So did we ought to question primary schoolgirls about their wearing of headscarves? I’d say absolutely we should! Education is about teaching our offspring to question and challenge boundaries, not wrapping them in the ignorance of ages. Our children are our future – we need to let them choose their own paths and we need to impress upon them that they go on their way in the world as equals.

Posted in Education, Equality, Feminism, Freedom, Inequality, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boris Johnson’s Vaulting Ambition

With his nakedly populist demands for more money for the NHS (with no source specified this time, in contrast to 350 million previous untruths), Boris Johnson has once again exposed himself as being a shameless blaggard. Surely nobody can now continue to regard him as a serious politician, given that he is quite evidently unable to apply himself meaningfully to any role (his manifest neglect of his duties as Foreign Secretary in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being a case in point).

Boris is self-serving, duplicitous and untrustworthy: nothing that comes out of his mouth seems to serve any purpose beyond that of self-promotion and yet, despite the truth of this being abundantly clear to all, it is quite apparent that this self-styled court jester still harbours ambitions of leadership.

I wonder if he’s considered joining UKIP…

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A New Hope?

We are living in an age in which we have had to adopt industrial farming techniques in order to sustain the diets of our burgeoning human population (resulting both in over-cultivation of the land and some dubious-at-best standards of animal welfare); an age in which our oceans are being flooded with litter and pollutants while our atmosphere is being choked with fumes; an age in which we are once again contemplating resorting to building on our precious green belts in order to accommodate our swelling (and swollen) numbers. Perhaps, in light of this, we ought to see recently reported falling male fertility rates as a good thing. The plain truth is that the survival of our species – and, indeed, our planet – may well depend upon this natural correction. Life is a fragile gift that we have taken for granted for far too long.

[Besides, a shrinking population is only really bad news for an economy that has become overly reliant upon a steady stream of cheap labour to supply the short-sighted capitalist model of continuously expanding markets, which is effectively a pyramid scheme. We would do well to remember that pyramids have only ever ended one way: entombing the wasted wealth of dead civilisations.]

Indeed, I would contend that we should see the forthcoming drop in birth rates as a fresh opportunity for humankind: the dawning of a new, post-industrial age in which we can aspire to develop a Utopian, peaceful society capable of stretching to greater accomplishments, freed from the need to compete with each other for diminishing resources and space – an age of art, exploration and invention: one in which we can leave a genuinely positive mark on the world, rather than just relying on our progeny to be our legacy.

After all, realistically, what other alternative do we have?

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