Tuesday, 9 February 2016

BBC radio report on effect of drought on Ethiopian schools is journalism at its best

I just listened to an amazing and moving report by Tim Franks from the northern state of Tigray in Ethiopia http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06zqq9n (21 mins onwards). He meets teachers, students  and families struggling with the drought. Children in an impoverished, drought-afflicted area turning up for school feeling tired, thirsty and hungry yet desperately wanting to gain an education to better themselves. One boy runs 15k each way to and from school. 

Tim Franks visits a mother who is sad to keep her grade A daughter at school some days to help her find water - but she has no choice. She lives in a tiny, mud-walled hut.

The interviewed children were charming, polite, keen to learn and spoke English fluently. They wanted to help themselves through education and help their country.

Contrast this with the situation in the UK where, sadly, there is all too often not enough respect for teachers and education from students and parents (and wider society). Where the concern we have is whether kids consume too many sugary, expensive drinks, not whether they have enough water in their bodies to stop them falling asleep. Where kids are often obese because they eat too much food, rather than those in Ethiopia who are fed using government-distributed grain and whose family goats struggle to stay alive eating dried out weeds. Where children in the UK often take their education for granted and where teachers are made to feel responsible for solving the 'problems' of society, while in Ethopia the children grasp keenly at any opportunity given them. 

Take a listen to this report and tell me that there really are so many 'problems' in our Western societies. We have so much, yet value so little. We're quick to complain yet slow to act to improve our own communities through volunteering. We blame government, or 'the system' while reneging on our responsibilities - to ourselves, our children, our communities. 

We have a lot to learn from superb journalism like this.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Wonderful article affirming the importance of creativity

The most wonderful, life-affirming article I've read in years which makes the case for creativity over computers and consumerism; music over machines. It's by concert pianist James Rhodes in the Sunday Times http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/homes_and_gardens/article1650693.ece. 

"I look around and it seems that we (myself included) have looked outside ourselves for a means of happiness for so long that we have, for the most part, quite forgotten what it is to inhabit that part of us that is immune to social media and iPad Pros. We need a way to turn our phones off, metaphorically as well as physically, and I am convinced that creativity is the solution we don't even know we are looking for." 

He recommends buying a cheap piano, or writing, or playing guitar, etc, etc.

My letter in The Times (http://slingerblog.blogspot.com/2013/11/letter-in-times-creative-importance-of.html?m=1) on the importance of creativity in schools. In my view music is shamefully ignored in favour of sport, so that now much of the creative music scene is dominated by privately-educated people, when music should be, and can be, for ALL).

Monday, 20 July 2015

My Times letter about high pay at IPSA


Sir,

Sir Ian Kennedy claims (letter, July 17) that Ipsa has been “conscious of the current climate of austerity” when setting MPs’ pay. It seems that this standard has not been applied to his or his senior staff’s remuneration. Ipsa’s last published salaries show the chairman receiving a pro rata salary of £182,000 and several senior managers more than £100,000.

Can it be that working as a senior member of Ipsa’s staff is more important than the work of an MP?

John Slinger
Warwickshire
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Online at The Times here

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

My LabourUncut blog: Labour has stepped through the looking glass

Labour has stepped through the looking glass


by John Slinger

Imagine if David Miliband had won the Labour leadership on 2010 and had taken the party to the right of Tony Blair, or even just continued where Blair left off in 2007.

Imagine if he’d led a centralised operation focused on the theorising and advice of a small group of advisers.

Imagine if he’d turned out to be an unpopular leader who had stuck to his central message that Labour needed to move to the right, entertain radical reform of public services, tackle the deficit through cuts and be avowedly pro-business, even though many commentators and many in his party thought that the cost of living crisis and pre-distribution were more important themes.

Imagine if he’d made some major tactical and PR blunders but that he managed to keep the party united and left-wingers had remained supportive and loyal (if ultimately unconvinced).

Imagine if he had stuck to his key narrative on the deficit and business before switching to the cost of living crisis with just a month to go to polling day and put it on page one of the manifesto.

Imagine he’d been level pegging in the polls for a year but in the end, led the party to a crushing and surprise defeat.

Imagine if, in the aftermath, rich backers from the right of the party were saying threatening things about leading left-wingers and spending their money to sign-up non-members to sway the next leadership race.

Imagine if his supporters, the so-called “Blairites”, argued that we lost because David hadn’t been allowed to be “Blairite” or right-wing enough and had been prevented from doing so by the lefties even though the lefties had been loyal.

Imagine if the right foisted an extreme right-wing candidate on the ballot and coalesced around him or her?
Imagine if silky voiced right-wingers took to the airwaves and spoke with utter confidence about the rectitude of their cause as if they’d won the election.

It’s hard to imagine but if you switch “right-winger” for “left-winger” then this is the Alice in Wonderland world being constructed by some in the Labour party now.

Sadly, it’s not fiction.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. 

Online at LabourUncut here.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Progressonline oped: To defeat the terrorists we must defeat defeatism


To defeat the terrorists we must defeat defeatism

John Slinger | 7 July 2015 |

Syrian rebel
The terrorist group calling itself Islamic State is far from defeatist – it believes it will win. Given the defeatism displayed by the international community, especially the west, who can blame them? Defeatism leads to inaction. Inaction has consequences, for the countries concerned and ultimately, as the horrific events in Tunisia show, for our citizens. Now that the group’s death and destruction is edging ever closer to our shores, our politicians are going to have to change the narrative and mind-set from defeatism to confidence in our ability to defeat our enemy.
Suppose a prophet of doom, in the months after 9/11, had predicted the following: Al Qaeda would morph into an even more extreme terrorist group which would opportunistically capitalise on instability caused by an ‘Arab Spring’; it would form a base in Syria, out-gun and kill off moderate rebels who the west and the world had abandoned, before overturning international borders and occupying vast tracts of land in Syria and Iraq; it would declare a caliphate armed with masses of very sophisticated, captured American hardware, threaten to invade several Middle Eastern countries, perpetrate genocide against minorities, destroy antiquities and launch terrorist attacks against western targets? Such a prophecy would have been dismissed as outlandish. That it has come to pass is no accident. It has occurred because of many factors, not least of which being the west’s defeatism and the terrorist group’s toxic combination of warped idealism and brutal realism, to which we have, so far, had too few answers.
The self-styled Islamic State must look on with glee as democracies such as ours contort themselves in anguish at the prospect flying our bombers a few tens of miles northwards in order to attack them in Syria, a country whose borders they have already rendered meaningless. This is the latest manifestation of a defeatism that we have shown ever since 2011, when the moderate rebels in Syria, who first rose up peacefully against Bashar al-Assad, began asking for external military intervention. The terrorist group noticed as we made a conscious decision not to intervene to protect civilians from the Assad dictatorship, not to arm the Free Syrian Army, and not to punish Assad for his use of weapons of mass distruction. They noticed when our leaders explicitly ruled out sending ground forces. How else did we expect them to respond to this defeatism other than to exploit the opportunity it presented?
Defeatism has its own internal logic. We all feel compelled to help our fellow humans, but in light of Iraq and Afghanistan, many people have become persuaded into thinking that military action only results in chaos. The narrative develops that “something must be done, but nothing effective can be done”. This simply isn’t true. The 1991 no fly zone over the Kurdistan Region of Iraq prevented Saddam from continuing his genocide against the Kurds, enabling them to forge their beacon of openness and democracy.  The Nato action against the Serbs ultimately ended the Bosnian conflict and prevented ethnic cleansing and British intervention in Sierra Leone prevented a catastrophe. Nobody seriously believes that the international community couldn’t have prevented the Rwandan genocide had it chosen to.
Yet since 2011, the West chose to allow the narrative to develop that Syrian air defences were impregnable. Senator John McCain, a man who knows a thing or two about air defences, dismissed this on Radio 4 in March 2012: ‘We spend nearly a trillion dollars a year on defence. If we can’t defeat the air defences of a third rate power then I have a great apology to extend to the taxpayers of my state. We are supposed to have the best capabilities in the world by far.’
Our leaders’ rhetoric simply isn’t being matched by reality. When the west’s hand was finally forced, when Isis occupied Mosul and later were a few miles from Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, president Barack Obama said that US policy was designed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” them. David Cameron said the words “defeat” or ‘defeated’ eight times when he spoke to parliament ahead of air strikes in Iraq last September. Following Tunisia, he now refers to the ‘existential threat’ posed by the terrorist group.
The prime minister and all political leaders must now decide whether they are willing to defeat this existential threat now, using whatever means are necessary, at least including special forces, or wait until the atrocities perpetrated against us are so hideous that they necessitate action. Prior to 9/11, the consensus amongst western intelligence was that Al Qaeda could be contained. This proved to be wrong and hugely costly in human lives. We must choose a judicious mix of military, economic and ideological action, but first we must defeat defeatism.
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John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and writes about foreign policy here

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A poem I wrote...

And after 
Amidst the profound mystery
A premonition of what's past compels
Eating up experience 
Touching tangible things
Hardwiring the heard
Searing sounds, smells, speech
Of little souls 
Capture it now
Before the glimpse goes

Friday, 22 May 2015

My London Evening Standard letter on valuing humans above statues in Palmyra

During the Syrian conflict, the international community chose not to intervene as 200,000 people died. But there wouldn’t be a more pathetic image of Western weakness than if action was taken to save Palmyra.

The world must create safe areas and a no-fly zone to protect civilians — it must be hoped that, even at this late stage in the conflict, we value human life over statues.

John Slinger