Happy New Year everyone. As we approach a brand new, fresh year I am hoping that some things may happen to give me some optimism for the future. But I am struggling to foresee anything that might work that magic?
I won’t look to this UK government to suddenly wake up, look around them and see what an utter mess this country is in. To pick one area where they could help, the NHS, they have cancelled all non-essential operations for January – apparently it is NOT in crisis!!?? Then there is the 3.4% fare rise on our railways whilst earnings have not risen sufficiently to make this hike affordable. Let’s not forget poverty, how could we forget that the past Christmas saw more homeless children than ever before. Which takes us nicely onto the lack of affordable housing whilst around 610,123 homes remain empty in England; 31,884 in Scotland and 23,131 in Wales.
I won’t look to the environment as we leave a year riddled with extreme weather. The fingerprints of climate change experienced throughout 2017 have featured supercharged storms, hurricanes, floods and heatwaves through to bushfires. 2017 has seen it all.
So I’ll move onto world peace or the lack of it. With the crisis in Gaza, the rise of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria and the international stand-off ongoing in Ukraine, it can sometimes feel like the whole world is at war. And experts believe this is actually almost universally the case, according to a think-tank which produces one of the world’s leading measures of “global peacefulness” – things are only going to get worse. Out of 162 countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s latest study says that just 11 countries were not involved in conflict of one kind or another.
Without even mentioning Donald Trump or North Koreait is looking like a rather bleak year that we are entering. Yes, little babies are fantastic and wonderfully full of potential but what sort of world will they grown up in? The planet upon which we live is beautiful and nature is wonderful but human beings are working hard to pollute it. Technology is a whole other bag of worms offering some potential advantages and some threats with multi-national companies in charge of whole banks of knowledge about us. We must not walk blindfold into this brave new world. If I have depressed you, I am sorry, and beg you to reply to this Blog with some ideas about 2018 that may cheer us up?
PS. What a shame these images by my favourite printmaker, Kathe Kollwitz, still resonates nearly a hundred years after they were created.
Once politics was, if not simple then at least understandable. There were parties on the left and parties on the right, and they would stay roughly at either end of the spectrum, fluctuating into the centre and out again; but you knew, and so did they, which side of the centre they belonged. Then you had the parties in the centre that had to fight off incursions into its space from one side or the other. Tribal loyalties saw to it that you would usually follow your family’s lead when placing your X on the polling card. But now conviction politicians are gone. Candidates promise anything to get votes. Elected politicians appease reactionary popular opinion; unpalatable stories are called fake news. No one wants to listen to elite groups who, they argue, consider themselves superior to everyone else.
It feels like everyone is playing by different rules; change has spread right across classes, gender and the country. Austerity is hitting some communities badly whilst others continue much as they ever have; buying necessities like foreign holidays, fast cars and super wide televisions. The government continues to cut funding for further education and the NHS but can find enough to commit to Trident and nuclear weapons. Many young people want to know what the point in cramming their heads with knowledge is when experts are no longer valued or guaranteed work once they are crammed with arcane facts.
The financial crisis caused by the banks hit everyone except the banks themselves, who are still getting richer. Terrorist fanatics are killing indiscriminately across Europe and the need to gather information means that personal liberties are being invaded.
It seems obvious to me that now is the time to have a serious discussion about how our society works and what our priorities should be to prevent the very poor getting poorer and the very rich getting, well anything they want. Should we look to the Nordic countries and raise Taxes so that our schools and hospitals work? Should we know what proportion of our taxes go to what? And should the disgustingly rich pay at a higher rate of Tax than the ‘Just about Managing’ people who feel they have been left behind and forgotten?
In other words, do we want politicians discussing things that don’t really matter? Do we want a higher moral and honest tone to the debates in the House of Commons – with no booing or braying? Or shall we forever be talking about what we can screw out of our neighbours just to leave them all alone for a while? And seriously, do any of us really think that this is a brave little country hitting way above it’s weight against larger, calculating, unscrupulous and less plucky competitors?
Fifteen years ago, the United Nations decided to mark the new millennium with a series of targets aimed at improving the lives of the world’s poorest people. The Millennium Development Goals focused on eradicating poverty and hunger – improving maternal and child health – and more.
The targets were supposed to have been met this year. But we were told yesterday on BBC2’s Newsnight, that 800 million people are still in extreme poverty and that in Chad one in three children are severely undernourished – a condition which is irreversible. And with one in four of the world’s children stunted this must be the world’s greatest health problems.
With world population doubling every twenty five years and our life expectancy increasing (except in Chad, of course) this planet of ours is heading for more problems and more human tragedy. Help must be given to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. There are many awful things happening worldwide that need our attention but surely this should be our number one priority?
I don’t suppose anyone who reads my words will examine them with as much attention to detail as I write them. I would be very happy if that were not the case, if a whole range of people did spend hours poring over my words, but reality tells me that is probably not happening.
So it may come as a surprise that I am worried about my so-called valorisation of women pioneers of the highly sophisticated calculating machines and their spin-offs. I am concerned about the unexpected consequences of a handful of women, many years ago, who helped develop nuclear and atom bombs? By this I mean that Jean Jennings et al, and Grace Hopper did help develop those weapons of mass destruction with their work at ENIAC. Why should I hold women up to closer scrutiny than the many men involved in computer technology. I know there are many people out there now involved in designing new, remote ways to kill our enemies. It is unfair surely?
Is it because there are so few women in that world and they just stand out more, or is it that women are, perhaps, too equal to men? It has become clear to me today that women should be, better. More humane, compassionate and considered. That is what I expect. When I found they had feet of clay, my heart sank and I was forced to accept that we humans are, at heart, all fallible. When the Nazi guards explained that they were only obeying orders, we dismissed this as merely an excuse, we can’t hold those American women up to a lesser scrutiny than the other small cogs in rotten machines who let bad things happen, can we? We are all capable of making the wrong decision and therefore we must always be careful of the consequences of our actions, espousing the next new things, following orders blindly, before actually thinking them through.