Archive for July, 2013

Meritocracy, privilege or equality?

Good morning all. Wednesday brings my guest blogger, Rambler5319, and his post prompting by a certain new arrival on the UK scene…

 

Last week LLM mentioned the birth of a certain baby: George Alexander Louis – one who is now 3rd in line to the throne here in the UK. (According to the statistics he is just one of 14,000 babies born in the UK last week.) The birth has stirred up interest in a particular area over the past week or so – privilege and the benefits it confers on later generations. Some people are not happy about those who simply inherit a pot of money or land or a title, and don’t have to work for it; others are quite content to live in a society where there will always be inequalities. My reason for writing about the subject is that the BBC dedicated a whole programme on the radio to a discussion on the subject. They have a discussion series called The Moral Maze and it tries to tackle controversial issues; it uses the format of a panel who question “witnesses” (3 or 4 on each prog) who come to state their case on the subject for the week.

Many folks consider life (in general) is unfair: those with money and privilege seem to get access to jobs, education and many other opportunities, those without don’t. The difficulty comes when we or the state take the view that the “playing field” should be levelled so that all have an equal opportunity to get the position under consideration be it a place at university, a job or membership of a club or team. How can it be done? Some would say we already have that in that anyone can apply but that it’s an equality of outcome that would be the best solution. For that to happen though certain things would have to be put in place which might seem unfair to those who do not get what they believed they deserved.

First principle to think about is – do we believe in the idea that if you work hard and get the results you need in exams for instance you should get the place that was offered? However if we then have a situation, as has happened in the UK in recent years, that for example the government wants more people from, as they put it, poorer sections of society to go to university how can that be achieved? Their answer is that you help them with maybe some extra teaching or finance or bursary payment. This though puts the university admission system under great strain because how do they decide between two candidates applying for say one place? Do they admit a person from a poor background who needs financial aid or say a middle class person who can afford to go because their parents simply have more money than the poorer person? Do you see the problem? Yes, they can admit say 10 people from poorer backgrounds to various courses but in order to do that 10 people from what is considered a higher social group have to be excluded. Is that fair or is it simply what we would call social engineering – making a university population a cross section of the wider society in terms of its social & financial groupings? Is that more morally right? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on the academic achievements of the candidates for the places and other factors come in afterwards? If the grade required in a particular subject is for example a “C” and there are two applicants – one has an “A” and one a “B”. Suppose the B grade applicant is from the poorer background – can you see the problem? Why should one way be more right than another? How many students from poor backgrounds would we expect to find in say some of the top universities like Oxford or Cambridge? It is not simply a case of grades it is also one of expense once you’re there. A further problem arises if, as history tends to confirm, that the people from the poorer social grouping, for one reason or another, don’t do as well academically as those from the more affluent neighbourhoods. Again this is not necessarily down to the child. It may be that the school itself has a poor record and one of the reasons for that might be due to poorer quality teachers ending up in say schools in poorer areas. The child may have come from a family in which education was not valued & books were not read. It could even be that the parents were just not interested in the child; perhaps it was not even wanted. There are a number of possible reasons and we can’t just blame or highlight one.

Second principle to think about is that of inheritance. Is it morally right that you or I as a parent should seek to do our best for our children? Do we believe that if we work hard and accumulate wealth during our lives that we have the right to pass it on to our children? In other words should you get what are called your “just deserts”? I think most people would say that this system seems fair – if you work hard, you get the rewards. Again we can do this in a number of ways but in the final analysis a big question is about what we leave behind for them. Suppose the parents “work their socks off” so they can pay off their mortgage so that their children can inherit their house and not be in debt. Should those parents be penalised for having worked really hard to be able to leave their children money or property or whatever? One speaker in the programme suggested that those who leave “excessive wealth” should have it taken off them. When challenged by the panel as to what he would define as excessive of course he couldn’t and also couldn’t say who should do the defining. The panel’s conclusion was quite simply that his idea amounted to straightforward theft!

Another speaker used the phrase when speaking of the opportunities that it was “unacceptably unfair” to those at the bottom of the social scale. As with the previous point, he was unable to properly define “unacceptably”. In the end he went down the route of saying that some things were unacceptably unfair but not all. He then went on to discuss the idea of rewarding those who “fulfil their potential”. In other words if you are not so clever academically and are expected to attain a grade C and you then do or perhaps achieve even higher, say a B you should be rewarded. This is a nice idea but think about this – suppose a student who was expected to achieve an A just misses it and gets a B. If both are applying to the same university, who is more deserving of the place? – Both have got B grades but to whom would you give the place if you had to make the decision? And why?

The last speaker came up with another generalisation: it’s unfair that bright kids from poor working class backgrounds are losing out to middle class kids who are less bright. I’m not sure how you could prove that. Surely I’d be just as “right” to say that bright middle class kids are losing out to bright working class kids because the latter are being favoured by the social engineering going on in higher education entrance procedures.

Now there isn’t time to go into all the arguments for & against but it seems clear to me that it will be incredibly difficult to move from our present position. Consider this – those who say the present system is unfair because a certain person only “got in” or “got the job” because they were born into a higher income family, than those who did not, haven’t got a practical alternative. If the current system is deemed unfair then how can you replace it with one which bestows favour on lower income groups in order to level things up a little? That just means there will be similar cries of unfairness by those who qualified but were discriminated against in the interests of some social policy either by the state or the institution concerned. You will simply be replacing one unfair system with another unfair one. So can anything help? Do we just have to accept that, as has been the case throughout history, in a society where money buys things those with the most can buy the most of whatever it is – material possessions or access to jobs & education? Is it unfair that one is born into a rich family and one into a poor?

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Something pretty sad happened about ten days ago. A man I cared about was killed by the state of Texas.

The following week, I received two letters from him. That was wierd. I was in a pretty wierd place about the whole thing anyway. It felt sort of like it had happened but more like it was a story I was telling people about an imaginary world. An imaginary world where we kill each other to teach others that they shouldn’t kill each other. We strap them down and give them an injection and watch for 22 long minutes while they gurgle and choke and die.

This world sounds too crazy to be true. So maybe it’s not true, I told myself. Maybe this whole episode is happening in my mind.

And so, as time went by, I went from being pretty gutted half of the time and disbelieving the other half, to now total disbelief. There are no more letters arriving in the mail from him.

He is fading from my mind. I don’t know how to make myself understand that it has happened. It feels that maybe the whole thing never existed, maybe he never existed?

Walking into the high security unit last month in Texas and talking on a telephone to a man behind a glass screen seems like it happened a million years ago. In my imagination.

The whole thing is getting harder and harder to comprehend. Occasionally, when I do sit and think about it and this suddenly awful feeling washes over me, I quickly move my thoughts onto something else before the sorrow overwhelms me.

I’ve been moving my thoughts on pretty efficiently for ten days now.

And I’m worried I won’t ever be able to understand what’s happened because I’m doing the moving-on thing automatically now.

So now I don’t know what to do. How to move on. At the moment, it seems I have relegated him to a compartment in my mind that I’m not sure I’ll open again.

But this man was important to me. He meant a lot. He was a real person and his life must not be allowed to mean nothing.

I guess I’m asking you all what I should do? How do I live with the awfulness of what has happened but not spend all day feeling miserable?

Rubbish adverts

Omygoodness, where to start? There are so so many rubbish adverts on TV at the moment, I’m beginning to think there’s been some big meeting and an agreement to only show nonsense.

The first one that springs to mind is the one for Sure deodorant. It’s awful. There are lots of close ups of women’s faces looking all serious and tough. And the voiceover goes something like this, “Women are strong. Not strong with an asterix. Strong. And strong women sweat…” etc etc blah blah, Sure is the best etc.

There are million things wrong with this advert. I am prime example of what is wrong with this advert. I am a sweaty gal. All I have to do is walk a little way down the road and I’m starting to get warm. So I am a woman and I sweat. Am I strong? Not so much. I’m not noted for my strongness, I can tell you that. So what am I to do? I do sweat. But I am not strong. Am I allowed to use Sure. Or do I have to be ‘strong.’

Also, the strong thing is like nothing to do with anything else in the advert. They basically just go, “Look at these strong women. Now buy Sure.”

It’s just nonsense. It’s words that someone threw at a page and read them out in the random order that they landed. At the end it says something like, “Sure. Because we’re strong.” Ridiculous.

Next up is an advert for some phone company, O2 or something. There’s a cat sitting around then it decides to be like a dog for a day. It does all these dog things and runs around then at the end, it tells me to log onto be-a-dog.com or whatever the website address is. Now this annoys me. It’s like, “We’re not going to tell you what the advert is for. We’re just going to give a web address and you have to come and find out what the advert’s about for yourself.”

I’m sorry, no. No. This is not what adverts are for. First you do something to grab my attention, then you tell me what it’s for then you tell me why I should get it then I make up my mind. If you only do something to grab my attention and I’ve got to bloody faff around on the internet to find out what is being advertised then you’ve lost me. I’m sorry. I’m out. This thing you’re advertising could be great, could change my life. But you’ve lost me. Don’t make me do your job. If I ever did log on, it would be to find out what phone company not to use.

The same with gocompare.com. The most irritating adverts. Even worse when they started trying to get on side with the public and take the piss out of themselves. Awful. In such contrast to the relatively amusing comparethemarket.com adverts. I remember a friend asking me about something like insurance and I was like, “Don’t use gocompare! Don’t use them! On pain of death!”

There’s another one for some double glazing company. There are six burly guys outside a house and a bald guy comes out shouting indecipherable words. He walks up to the camera still shouting then a website address comes up, then the advert is over. All in the space of about ten seconds. And I only know it’s double glazing cause I looked it up when writing this post. Nothing about the advert indicates double glazing. It’s awful. It’s rubbish. It offends me.

I’m going to stop there otherwise I’ll keep writing all morning. There are so many to choose from!

The time I won a dance competition

Firstly, I’d just like say a huge congratulations to myself for passing the 500 post mark earlier this week. Woop woop for me! To celebrate this, I have an apple and rhubarb cake in the oven.

In the meantime, I would like to tell you a story about the time I won a dance competition. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t realise I had so many skills. You knew I was talented but this was a side of me you hadn’t seen yet. Yes, I know. Calm down, calm down. Let me tell you the story.

My friends and I were travelling around Asia. One friend had been living and working in Thailand in a town called Khon Kaen so we spent some time there on our trip. In Thailand in April, at the beginning of the monsoon season they have a big street party called Songkran. In the whole country. And they seemed to be doing it in Laos too when we were there. It lasts about three days and the basic premise of it is that everyone throws water and talc at each other.

Yep. Talc. Talcum powder. People have it all over their hands and when you’re jammed in a big crowd, they will work their way around and smother everyone’s wet faces with talc. Not sure why.

It can turn into an all out war with the water throwing. People get high tech water guns and use water that’s had ice sitting in it. They soak everything and anything. People sitting on a bus. People just trying to walk to work. Anyone’s a target.

In amongst all this, there are bits of entertainment being put on in the streets, to keep the revellers happy. There are different stages with performances or competitions etc. And one of these, on the day we were there, was a dance competition. As we approached the stage to see, the man with the microphone was asking for one more participant.

Somehow, without consciously expressing an interest, I was being pulled/pushed/carried onto the stage. And I was the final participant!

Before I had time to realise what was really happening, the music came on and I was ordered to dance. And dance I did! They were screaming and loving it. I was dancing and loving it. And there was general lovage all around. I felt like a major Hollywood celebrity!

Whilst getting down with my bad self, I decided to do a little sideways lunge type of move, to mix it up a bit, you know? With being completely drenched from Songkran, the thin fisherman’s trousers I was wearing, stuck to my skin so that when I lunged, the seam on the inside of the leg just ripped.

There I was – dance, dance, dance, then RRRRRIP! Oops! My cool sideways lunge move stopped immediately and I changed to more standing-up-straight-and-not-bending-legs-moves.

Then the music stopped and microphone man asked the crowd to shout for their favourite. He pointed at each of the other three, who had been very good dancers. Then he pointed at me and the shouting was louder. Now I’m not fooling myself that I was the better dancer. I was, however, the only foreigner up there plus I had split my pants live on stage so I think it made me look a bit exciting and that got me through.

I was handed a t-shirt which read ‘YAMAHA’ and told that it was my prize. So I took my t-shirt and my broken pants and off I went, the official Dance Competition Winner!

The weather and us

We in Britain have quite an involved, emotional relationship with the weather. I imagine most countries have a dependence on their weather in some way but as a Brit, the reaction to this year’s weather has amused me lots.

It was cold. Very cold. For a long time. Now I’m not one to moan about the weather, mainly because it’s all over the place so I figure there’s no point being so attached to it as it’s bound to not be doing what you want it to. Also, as a generally quite hot person, I much prefer things to be a little colder so that my body temperature comes out somewhere in the middle! I love going for a walk when it’s cold and I can see my breath. By the time I’ve walked for five minutes, I’ll be really warm anyway.

So this winter, this long never-ending winter, when it was cold for seven months, I did not complain. I prefer swimming outdoors when it’s raining or cold too, because most people don’t like it so they go to the indoor pool. Which leaves the pool empty for little me and I don’t have to get mad because it’s so full and people aren’t following the Swimming Pool Rules. I like the comfiness of wearing a big cuddly coat, which I can only do in extreme cold because I get hot so easily. I also like dragging out the Downstairs Duvet while watching a film in the evening. The winter forces us to be cuddly and to cook hearty warming dishes like beef stews and cottage pies and apple crumbles. All the things, I like.

When the complaining about the cold continued on into May and early June, it became hard to defend my position, especially given that the garden was looking a little sad, none of the trees were bearing fruit and all the bees were dying. I felt sorry for the bees, as I like them. I’m all into the bee scene.

Small talk during the last weeks of this long winter pretty much only consisted of weather-chat. Whilst in work, when a customer entered the shop with their umbrella and their big winter coat and scarf, they would just look at me with a look on their face and we both knew that weather-chat was on the cards. It became unavoidable. And so I made polite small talk about the weather.

“It’s been too long now, hasn’t it?” I would say.

“I’m still wearing my winter coat, in June!” I moaned.

“Snow?! In May! Unbelievable!” I exclaimed, all the while thinking that I didn’t mind it so much.

When I got up first thing, dressed in my jarmies, and the cold hit me, I’d grumble a bit but it was nothing a cup of tea couldn’t handle.

And then it warmed up. We stopped moaning about the cold and rain and the sun shone. My goodness, did it shine!

And we, the British, we were excited! Brilliant! We sat out in parks and ate icecreams and acted like we were on holiday. We loved it!

Me? I was sweaty and uncomfortable. I was not really having fun. My new job required a half an hour walk and not very much shade along the way. So I arrive at work feeling gross. So I have to take extra clothes to change into. But then I work all day and get hot and disgusting. But I don’t have any more clothes to change into. So my walk home is in already sweaty disgusting clothes. Then I get hot on the walk home and by the time I arrive home, I’m just a mess. It doesn’t make for a very attractive Laura.

And then the weather got really really hot. Too hot. We spent a lot of time inside, hiding from it. We moaned. Yes, we moaned. Because it was too hot.

This time I joined in. I’m not mad for hot weather anyway, as you’ve guessed, so my moaning was genuine.

Then there were thunderstorms so we rejoiced! Ah, what a relief from this overwhelming heat! Thank GOODness! Phew!

Then we saw the forecast for this weekend said there are going to be more storms and rain… And guess what happened?

We moaned. We moaned because we had a weekend away at the coast planned and a birthday party outside down by the river and the damn rain had spoiled it all! Fist-shaking and despairing came into play. And we lamented the awful British weather again!

Are you keeping up with this? I’m not sure I am. Let’s go from the top.

1. It was cold. We moaned.
2. It was hot. We rejoiced.
3. It got hotter. We moaned.
4. It was stormy. We rejoiced.
5. More rain was forecast. We moaned.

Poor weather. When we seem happy about something, he does more of the same and then we moan!

(I personally, am always moaning about extreme heat. I think I was an Arctic explorer in a previous life.)

He’s got a sweaty back

Emily at The Waiting has told me to write something again. So I must. I must do what she says. She says I should write about ‘the time we almost melted.’ So here goes.
image

My first memory of extreme sweatiness is always the day two friends and I walked to the market in Laos. We were in Vientiene, the capital and travelling to Vang Vieng in a minibus in the afternoon so we decided that in the morning we would walk to the market. This journey turned out to be the most ridiculously hot journey I’ve ever taken in my life.

We walked and we walked and we walked. And we sweated. Boy, did we sweat! My over-the-shoulder bag strap was pressing my t-shirt tight onto my skin so that there was a bag strap shape in sweat when I took the bag off. That day was the first time I’ve ever felt sweat gather in the crease between my bum and my leg then break free and run down to my knee. I’ve never felt so disgusting in my life.

When we got to the market, I bought a new t-shirt because the amount of dry patches were so few it was embarrassing.

Later that same trip, the three of us were in a little cafe in Lopburi near the monkey temples and this man came in and sat down. Now, the three of us can get pretty childish if left to our own devices and this poor man had the same problem I had in the Laos story above – when he took his backpack off, the shape of the backpack was printed on his t-shirt in sweat.

Well! It was too much, we couldn’t contain ourselves. You know that Justin Timberlake song, Sexyback? It just so happens that singing Sweatyback instead fits perfectly and is much much funnier. So we sang it. Then we giggled uncontrollably. Then he stood up and left without having ordered anything.

I think he heard our song.

Last but not least, my most recent melting episode was on Monday, my first day in Ham House. I was wearing a top that wasn’t very breathable. It was yellow (I should have gone with safe black or white, given the high chance that I might be sweating) so I was quite clearly overheating for everyone to see.

I just had to ignore it and keep on like nothing wierd was happening and I didn’t feel like my organs were being cooked on a barbecue.

Just a normal first day on the job. Sweat and awkwardness. That’s me.

I can see now, why they wanted me on board.

Jobs I’ve Had (and Headaches I’ve Endured)

No Page Left Blank

After stumbling across this post from lazylauramaisey I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve had over the years and I thought, hey…why not share?

Papergirl for the Cape Breton Post
This was the first job I ever had and believe it or not I think it was one the longest ones I ever had. If I’m remembering correctly, I started the route in the eighth grade and didn’t quit it until I went to college. Sometimes my mother would drive me because the route was a few streets away from where we lived, but a lot of the time I walked as well. It wasn’t a bad job for the most part, and at Christmas I got some pretty nice tips, but there was this one family I spent five years wanting to strangle. They were as rich as any family can be in Cape Breton, and it was…

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