May 2008 Archives

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Launch Simon Woolley speaks in Liverpool Town Hall 001a.jpg Liverpool's Operation Black Vote programme was launched today in our Town Hall. This ambitious movement intends to establish an emerging generation of politicians of all 'races', cultures and faiths, who have been mentored early in their careers by existing councillors. The event this evening demonstrated that OBV's aim is shared by all our civic leaders, and that they believe they will indeed deliver.

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  launch Liverpool Town Hall 007a

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Cllr Anna Rothery 320x300 l 008a 08.05.29a Operation Black Vote: The next generation?   Keziah Makena 010a

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Cllrs Anna Rothery & Joe Anderson 011

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Liverpool Town Hall reception 026a 08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Janet Robinson & Francine Fernandes 365x385 027a

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Lord Mayor Cllr Rotheram & OBV participants 020a


Further information on Operation Black Vote.

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Social Inclusion & Diversity

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08.05.11  pink & black cotton reels  160x98  032a.jpg The Presidential potential of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is great. So how has this embarrassment of riches for Democrats in the USA seemingly become an advantage for John McCain and the Republicans, as the ‘race’ and gender agendas compete for dominance? Do progressive politics in race and gender need to collide?

The current – but perhaps soon to be resolved - contest for the Democratic Presidential nomination has revealed some aspects of the political process usually less visible to outside observers.

To understand what’s happening we probably need to look as closely at the (social) psychology of the evolving situation, as we do at the formal political process.

How did two of the most powerful and internationally visible advocates for equal rights find themselves head to head in the same contest? And what does it tell us about gender, 'race', and age in politics?

The prospect of candidature is daunting
Only the most stout-hearted would ever consider running for Presidential nomination. It’s a hiding to nothing for most contenders, it costs millions of dollars, and it requires vast amounts of personal time, energy, drive and gritty optimism.

So we’re not talking about ‘normal’ people when we consider Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

Testing the water
Sometimes, nonetheless, the time seems right.

For both Clinton and Obama the Bush administration’s record of failure offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Democrats to take the USA and the world by storm.

And for Clinton it represented the culmination – and justification - of a long period of influence on the global stage. She’d planned for several years to become the first ever female World Leader; and her experience gave her huge justification for this ambition.

Complex judgements
Obama’s situation was probably rather more complex. Did his family, worried about his safety, really want him to stand? Would his short time as a Senator be seen as inexperience or as a fresh face? Were race issues going to make things difficult?

But crucially, he will have asked himself, would there ever be a greater opportunity, a more open goal, for whoever was nominated by the Democrats? Best perhaps to put down a marker now....?

It has been said Obama promised his wife he’d only stand once. When could be better for establishing the first black President in office?

Firming the intent
There comes a time for all serious election candidates when they really believe they can win. Surrounded by supporters and campaign workers, they are, however inadvertently, at one remove from the cruel truth that there will be many losers but only one victor.

Presumably this moment came quite early on for Obama. He decided to stand and looks at present as if he will gain the Democratic nomination.

These are very delicate issues, but put bluntly, the contest appears to be developing – as surveys have largely shown – according to the usual lines.

Age, gender or race?
Both candidates have huge appeal to progressive Americans, eager to shrug off the turgid, backward-looking and deeply divisive Bush era. But there are differences not easily dismissed in who the two potential candidates ‘are’.

Clinton is an older (age 60), white woman, inevitably carrying the baggage which decades of deep political engagement bring.

Obama is younger, black and male; and his lack of baggage, because of the good fortune (at 45) of his comparative youth, compensates for his inexperience.

A hierarchy of preference
If things turn out as seems likely we shall have observed again the hierarchies which present in so many aspects of public life.

Given the opportunity to choose between two symbols of progressive - if not leftwing - politics, race is it currently appears perhaps less of an issue (overall?) for the electorate than gender.

Could it be that this consideration in some way enhanced Obama's enthusiasm for standing so relatively early in his political career? (Earlier in his career he reportedly told a male colleague, Jesse Jackson Jnr., that he, Obama, would only contest a Senate seat if the other man did not.)

Discomforting agendas
Many people across the free world - including me - would like to see Clinton and Obama together on the world stage, running side-by-side as Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. They are as good, in the context of US realpolitik, as it gets.

For some of us there remains nonetheless an unbidden sadness in the realisation that, even now, the odds are apparently stacked against a (any?) woman. More than half the population of the USA is female (an estimated 153 million, of a total population of nearly 302 million - of whom 240 million are 'white'); but there is - unless you consider Chelsea? - no immediately obvious female presidential successor to Hillary Clinton, if or when she pulls out.

Seeing things longer-term
To many younger people it seems Obama looks the more attractive option, for the reasons we have considered above. Some of us who have been involved in the equal rights movement for decades may, however much we genuinely want to see equality in 'race' just as much as we want to see gender, go along with that judgement with a heavy heart.

Perhaps the truth is this: Gender becomes more oppressive for many women as they experience full maturity - it's when hard 'family vs career' choices have to be made that the full force of being biologically female hits one. (And how many women under, say, 35 are ever going to run for president?)

On the other hand, for people of 'minority' race, especially if they're educated men, maybe the oppression lessens a little as maturity approaches and one's destiny is more one's own? I would like to think so, anyway - and would be interested to learn more from those who can speak directly about this.

Squaring the circle
These are delicate and difficult matters to discuss.

We are all a product of our individual genetic makeup, and of our socio-economic background, age and culture. No-one is immune from these influences; but everyone is fundamentally entitled to shape and take charge of their own way in life. To enable this to happen requires a very firm commitment, embedded at every level of society, to respect for equality and diversity.

To repeat: Progressives are seemingly spoilt for choice. Both Clinton and Obama are hugely refreshing and talented alternatives to the usual presidential offerings. Either would serve the equality and diversity agenda - so very essential for our future well-being and sustainability - really well.

A step forward or a step back?
But some of us, in spite of our earnest and well-meaning selves, are a bit weary of being the majority which is always and apparently irredeemably second in the race. Especially when, as is the truth for Hillary Clinton, we were there first.

How can feminists - advocates of a progressive perspective which at its best will always seek equality for everyone, female and male, black and white, aged and youthful - cope with the evidence apparently emerging that voters still prefer not to select a woman, if other progressive choices are available? (And, probably, those other candidates have recognised, and can benefit from, this usually unexamined preference...)

As Marie Cocco of the Washington Post puts it, we are now facing the 'Not Clinton' Excuse - and that could put things back a very long time.

A challenge Obama must resolve
Somehow the putative President Obama must show this is a challenge to his progressive credentials, and to the inner feelings of many disappointed women who in other respects share his progressive position, which he understands and can accommode.

Perhaps in the current situation the best we can hope for immediately is that Hillary Clinton is acknowledged by Barack Obama in some seriously meaningful way.

The worst possibility is that an extended and exhausting Clinton-Obama contest gives John McCain the opportunity he seeks to slip through the middle and retain the Presidency for the Republicans later this year.


Read more articles about
Social Inclusion & Diversity
Gender & Women.

Ratatouille Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive - it 'saves' energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it's good for us. So how can we make vegetarianism more often the diet of choice?

Nobody expects an immediate cessation of meat production, let alone a stop right this minute to diary farming. Many people, admittedly not all, will be happy for now to see the continued consumption of vegetarian diets could just be 'meat-free', with all the benefits that would bring.

But one of the things National Vegetarian Week can do is introduce us to the wide and tasty range of foods which a vegetarian diet includes and the reasons for choosing it. And it can help raise awareness of how to prepare and cook vegetarian ingredients.

Long-term business
And, most importantly, perhaps National Vegetarian Week can help along the debate about how in reality the transition to a more sustainable food economy might happen. There have to be ways to protect the livelihoods, for instance, of people who currently produce meat, but who in the future will need to farm differently. Food production is self-evidently critical for us all. It's the nature of the product, not the supply, which must change.

At last we're beginning to act (albeit far too slowly) to the idea that carbon needs to be conserved in our industial, domestic and transport arrangements, as does water.

Canny investors have already realised that now is also the time to get a grasp on how to make meat-free food an integral part of the move towards what we all hope will be a sustainable future.


Read more about Food (a series of postings on this theme)
Food, Facts And Factoids
Beans Or Beef? The New Eco-Moral Choices
Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?.

08.05.13 Synaesthetic 'Jewels' 124x120 031a.jpg The Balanchine ballet Jewels, premiered in 1967, was this genre's first three-act abstract work. Connecting the parts only through the artifice of contrasting gem colours - emeralds and the music of Faure, rubies with Stravinsky and finally diamonds, set in gold and white and silver to the rich tones of Tchaikovsky. This great performance art is synaesthesia in action, a gorgeous blending of colour, sound and movement which sometimes overwhelmed my own senses and occasionally did not.

Seeing Jewels performed this week by the Kirov Ballet at The Lowry, I was struck by how particular are the individual perceptions of synaesthetes.

Comparing performances
Having had the extraordinary good fortune also to have seen the Kirov Ballet, again with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, in the New York City Center just a month ago, I could compare my response to their performance then of shorter pieces and narrative ballet - Fokine's Le Spectre de la Rose, the exquisitely danced Dying Swan and Chopiniana - with that of the Lowry 'abstract' Jewels ballet programme.

These previous pieces had a logic and formulation quite independent of my own. Only when I was presented in The Lowry with the overt conjunction of colour, sound and movement for its own sake did I become aware yet again of my life-long synaesthetic tendency.

One-off perceptions
Put simply, I can immerse myself in a ballet story according to someone else's prescription. The creator of the dance has the floor.

But when confronted with another's interpretation of what sounds 'look like' and how music 'moves', I'm at a bit of a loss to understand how the colours and jemstones were selected. Faure is not emerald, he's citrine and alexandrite; Stravinsky is indeed quite ruby, but with deep-toned garnet, and his undertone is a fierce andesine-labradorite, not creamy gold; and whilst I can cope with Tschaikovsky as diamond, gold and silver, I'd rather he were the bluest sapphire and Brazilian tourmaline.

Synaesthesia
All of which tells us nothing, except this: synaethesia is an individual thing, and it's quite involuntary.

For me, this aesthetic confusion is just quite an interesting aspect of my perception, when I have occasion to notice it (most of the time, it's just too much part of my daily experience to be aware of). But for some few very gifted people it's obviously a central and compelling force in their lives.

... and creativity
I dare say Balanchine was a synaesthete; how else could he have dreamt up Jewels?

The multi-sensory neural wiring of synaesthesia, though probably less unusual than was first thought, can be challenging on occasion. Nonetheless it's surely a blessing for us all, not least when it results in the creation of performances which exist solely to celebrate art forms for their own sake.

Sometimes it's good - in our various and individual ways - to see art just as art.

08.3.10 Sefton Park protests   Nobody asked me  185x85  072aa.jpg Renovation of Liverpool's Sefton Park has not lacked controversy - especially concerning the removal of healthy trees (and thereby wildlife habitats) in order to improve sightlines for monuments. In protest at this there has been both formal objection from Friends of Sefton Park and anonymous direct action.

08.3.10 Sefton Park protests   Nobody asked me  Noticeboard 500x290  072a.jpg

08.3.10 Sefton Park protests Digger  500x450 099a.jpg

08.03.16  Sefton Park protests   300 trees felled 500x370 007a.jpg

08.03.23 Sefton Park protest   grotto noticeboard  017a.jpg 08.3.16Sefton Park protest  tree notice Help! 120x470  005aa.jpg

08.04.5 Sefton Park protest poem  500x300 087a.jpg

08.05.15 Sefton Park (Lynda Fon, Cllr. John Coyne, Martin Robinson - Friends of Sefton Park 'binding' the trees after they have been stripped) 500x370 005a.jpg

08.04.26 Sefton Park Protest poster Contact Louise Ellman MP  003a.jpg

08.06.12 Sefton Park Children's protest pictures in Cafe 500x300  025a.jpg

See also Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily?.

More articles on Sefton Park, Liverpool.

08.04.02 place laid for dinner 140x78 010a.jpg Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water.... Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

Modern society has moved from food as nutrition and survival to food as an element of our leisure experience. Until recently it's been seen by many as an issue to be left to dieters or even ‘health freaks’.

But now people are beginning to ask what food's about. The immediate answer to this question could be, it’s all very confusing. There are 'facts' and there are, it seems, 'food factoids'; and there are some consequences for action, when we think things through....

Here are some general headings and questions about food which may help:


Nutrition (Should we eat it?)
Strange as it may seem, for most adults there is still more concern about calorific value and ‘losing weight’ than there is about the nutritional value of what we eat. Almost everyone wants to be slim; yet despite concerns in many parts of the world about obesity and health relatively few people actually eat their fruit and veg ‘Five A Day'.

We as consumers still don’t fully appreciate nutritional information or understand the significance for our health and well-being of salt and other minerals and vitamins, various sorts of fats, fibre, ‘additives’, sugar, glycaemic index, units of alcohol and so on; and in some respects nor, completely, do the experts.

The healthy eating message is beginning to sink in, but questions around nutritional labelling and how to project the public health message continue to loom large.


Children eat too (Is food for kids especially important?)
Even (especially) for children, the health impact of being overweight, along with issues around longer-term well-being and educational outcomes, are now major concerns, as Jamie Oliver and his School Dinners campaign keep reminding us.

It is not altogether clear however that poor children necessarily have ‘worse’ diets than better off ones – possibly because even wealthier children eat ‘the wrong things’, albeit from choice (kids of all sorts it seems won’t eat their greens). But perhaps some groups consume ‘nicer’ food than others, even though the direct nutritional value - or not - of food consumed by children may (sometimes) vary independently of income.

So what more if anything needs to be done about family eating patterns, or advertising food to children, on the television and elsewhere? How much value should we put on meals together as a way to promote family well-being and cohesion?

And how important, as a good start, is breast-feeding? Should we as a society do more to encourage it?

Or should we emphasise exercise more than nutrition, to protect children's physical and mental health?


Organic? GM? Nano? Sell-by date? (Is it wholesome?)
Confusion reigns when we look at the science behind modern food production.

Is organicWho says so, and why is it so pricey?) What about free-range? What's a superfood? And do superfoods really exist?

Has the product we're about to eat, or an antecedent of it, been genetically modified? Is that good or bad? – and for whom? consumers, farmers or other people in the developing world? Also, how has it changed the food?

What of new techniques? Are any food nanotechnologies involved? Whatever would they be for? Are they good or dangerous?

Who decides ‘sell-by’ dates? And by what criteria?

Can we trust the Food Standards Agency, the government and European legislation and everybody else involved in food regulation and statutory labelling? What about the consumer organisations and the supermarkets? Who knows best?


Presenting, preserving and not wasting our food (Is tinned OK and who needs packaging?)
How can we tell whether tinned food is as good as frozen or fresh? How much packaging is required for hygiene and how much is, for instance, simply there to make food look good?

What's the relative energy and resource cost of different ways of preserving food?

And, crucially, how can we ensure that food we buy is not wasted? At present one third of food purchased - in restaurants, shops or wherever - in the UK alone is simply thrown away: hence the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Perhaps even with today's relatively higher prices we are more careful about food if we're locavors, when we know locally who grew or prepared it, and where, than when we don't?


Food miles (Does it cost the earth?)
Food travels the world in strange ways. We (in the UK) get tomatoes and lamb from the other side of the globe, yet we also grow them ourselves.

How to tell people usefully about the food mile cost of what they eat may be a moot point. It’s not just how many miles, or even carbon footprint: it takes some eight units of grain to produce one unit of beef; but some people still reckon that good value - including, no doubt, growing numbers of consumers in China and India, who have a preference for an affluent Western diet.

So sometimes the real cost or value can only be calculated by comparing what would happen if foods of equivalent nutritional or other sort of value were produced in a different way. And how would you put that on a label?


Biofuels (Is growing 'food for cars' acceptable?)
We all know that we're using too much oil, charging around in cars and planes when often we don't need to.

Biofuels seemed for a while to be the perfect way out of this - grow crops to substitute for more usual oils. But now, as the UK's Chief Scientist has said, we know there are costs too; some biofuels are neither sustainable, nor ethical.

And on top of this we must acknowledge that biofuels, like food for people, takes up valuable land space. The question is, what's the 'right' balance - if there is such a thing?


Water used (Will it increase global tensions?)
There is an emerging awareness that food is mainly water, and that water is the also the most precious (and sometimes wasted) commodity in its production.

If the beef-to-grain carbon ratio is high, the equivalent water ratio is many times more so. (Let us pass on the comlex issues around food for domestic animals and pets - there is an important balance to acknowledge here between these animals' functions as sources of security and comfort for people, and their costs to the environment - but who has looked at this balance?)

There are those who believe that water, not oil, will trigger the next global disputes; but as yet few of us have thought how to approach the global issues of water scarcity and food.


Food prices (Can we afford it?)
The cost of food against income has fallen for most of us in the first world over recent years. Now it’s beginning to increase again to more traditional levels – though it will probably stabilise - as global issues such as draught, climate change and biofuels impact on the market.

Food habits have changed from agrarian times, but often seem nonetheless to lag behind the reality of what's available, and may say more about cultural expectations or how a person ate when they were young, than about what's now regarded as 'best' for them (or, indeed, with modern advertising the converse may also be true on occasion).

Perhaps people need to know about less expensive and more nutritious alternative foods, if the ones they’re used to become more expensive, or may now be known to be less 'healthy'? But who can best tell them?


Commercial advantage and competition (Do supermarkets cause ‘food deserts?)
Allied to this is now a fear that supermarkets placed in disadvantaged or poor areas will result in so-called food deserts, where poor people can no longer afford to buy even the basics of a decent diet.

But some observers say that food deserts are really different types of access, or actually an urban myth or 'factoid'. Evidence for these food deserts is to date far inconclusive – indeed, some research indicates that when supermarkets come to poorer areas, both the economy and local people’s diets may improve.

So how can we indicate economic ‘value’ and nutritional benefit in the contexts of where people live, what they expect to eat and how they get access to their food?


Customs, symbols and traditions (What sort of foods for whom?)
Shared food has always been a way of bonding - we cut cakes and 'raise a glass', offer potlatch, drink tea and conduct many other ceremonies across the world to denote belief, position or togetherness.

Then there's the fascinating question of why different people in different places and at different times eat different sorts of food. Sometimes it's easy to explain - 'luxury' and difficult to obtain foods are reserved in almost all cultures and communities for conspicuous consumption on special occasions, for instance - but often there are other styles and patterns to eating too.

And what do we know about 'healthy' diets across the world? Why do people in some places live longer and fitter lives than others? What traditions and customs help us keep our communities intact? And is any of what we might learn about customs and habits of food consumption transposable from one community or culture to another?


Seasonal, allotments and home grown (Should we grow it ourselves?)
Locally produced foodin season' is the new mantra, but it can’t be the whole story. There are many localities which can’t provide the full spectrum of nutritional need. Varied diets often require varied sources.

Nonetheless, an appreciation of the cycles of nature helps us to understand how our food is produced and what makes it special. ‘Seasonal’ recipes draw attention to the possibility of ingredients with a low carbon footprint, just as allotments, smallholdings and local market gardens offer the possibility of learning about how what we eat grows.

Producing and sourcing food locally may not resolve all our problems, but they certainly have their place in the spectrum of things we as consumers can enjoy and need to know. How about allotments for everyone who wants one (there are long waiting lists in some places), and special efforts to grow – and eat - vegetables and fruit in schools and other community locations?


The food economy (How does all this fit into UK plc?)
There are many things to think about here; just ask the politicians, farmers and market gardeners. And that's before we get to talk about European subsidies and farming compensation packages...

That however is not the whole story. Slowly, we are grasping the interconnections between the economic impacts and needs of farmers and growers, and how official policies affect the welfare of the wider rural and urban economies. Never again, hopefully, will problems like foot and mouth be addressed without understanding the fragile complexities of the rural economy as such; and hopefully too in future the wider public will perceive the business and scientific complexities of matters such as animal vaccination.

But let’s understand that not all food needs to be produced in rural areas. There’s plenty of scope also for townspeople to develop opportunities and skills via commercial companies and social enterprises around food, as is evident from the popularity of city-based organic foodstores, local vegetable deliveries and farmers’ markets... not to mention the universal interest in restaurants and cafes in modern day society!


Food, farms and famine (What about the developing world?)
If opportunities for stabilising the food economy remain to be developed efficiently, effectively and well in Western economies, how much more so is this true for those parts of the globe where even the grain supply is critically under-resourced, and where water and food are in desperately short supply. These were the sorts of concerns of the Downing Street Food Summit in early 2008.

Many people would like reassurance that the food they purchase is ethically sourced and gives a fair return to the farmers who produced it. And we need to understand much more about the food supply chain, as Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy has been saying for years.

Movements such as Fairtrade are gaining wider recognition – plus a greater share of commercial shelf-space - and are critical to our understanding of food as a global issue.


Sustainability and ‘food security’ (Will there be enough food for everyone?)
There are those who fear we are sleepwalking into a global food disaster. We need to find ways of adjusting our eating habits (and other consumption) without delay.

Currently it’s said that humankind acts a though we had three planets-worth of resources at our disposal, not just one. And that's before we start to look at how population is increasing (in the UK as well as almost everywhere else).

It is also suggested that, in contrast to the current situation, the UK (and doubtless numbers of other nations) could with ease be self-sufficient for food if everyone were vegetarian - even though our lifestyle in the Western world is many times as water and carbon intensive as that of people in developing countries. Veganism, of course, is even more effective as a way of feeding everyone. Becoming 'selfsufficient-ish' (and largely vegetarian-ish?) can be achieved in most, except perhaps the most extreme, locations.

These last few observations offer a rather pointed context for all the other matters discussed above.


Read more about Food
and about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

What questions and views do you have about food?