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My British Asian Armpits4August experience

by Guest     August 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm

by Taran Bassi

For those of you who are unaware this past month has seen a campaign called ‘Armpits4August’ take place.

Confused? Well think of it like this – Movember for women, but for our armpits. Organised to raise awareness of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) that affects many women it is urging others to explore a main side effect; excessive hair growth.

Although being Asian guarantees me to have an eternal golden tan there is another consequence that is kept a closely guarded shameful secret by fellow Asian females. We are hairy. There I said it and I have exposed my fellow sisters!

The majority of Asian females are hairy and those who insist they are not are either one in a million or simply lying. As if being hairy and living in a society obsessed with strict hair free ideas of beauty was not bad enough – our hair is dark and therefore so much more visible.

The focus placed on British Asian females to be hair free is more complex than the narrow ideals of beauty within Western society and the fear of being viewed as ‘masculine’.

Instead, to be hairy and to embrace this is seen as a hesitation and challenge to fitting into a Western way of life. Within British Asian beauty guides and advice columns the obsession with hair removal is on par with the obsession to be light skinned.

Now – I have long battled with this and found myself trying to justify my hair removal regime to be necessary as my dark hair is more noticeable than that of my blonde-haired acquaintances. But I decided to stop feeling shameful about my body hair and I have spent the past month participating in Armpits4August.

My experience? Well it seems that many people felt compelled to be offended on my behalf for my own body hair. I had no issue in wearing sleeveless tops, but I was surprised by the reactions of others.

They ranged from being asked simply if I was a lesbian? To being branded ‘disgusting’ and even being told that luckily for me my face was pretty enough to pull off hairy armpits – erm thanks? What I have learnt is that body hair scares many. Especially dark visible hair.

My physical challenge to beauty norms allowed others to consider me to be vile, unhygienic (I actually smell really nice) and strange. But what I think is really strange is how the idea of a hairless woman is now accepted as a norm, even though all humans have body hair.

I have the option to remove the hair that I have grown for the last month and escape this criticism, but for those with PCOS the solution is not as simple as that.

So before judging a female for being ‘hairy’ and labelling her as ‘weird/dirty/gross’ just remember it is just hair – and the only thing strange is not its presence, but your own narrow minded reaction.

Taran Bassi blogs here and tweets from here.

UKuncut plan road blocks to protest Legal Aid cuts

by Newswire     August 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm

The anti-austerity network UKuncut are planning to undertake “mass civil disobedience” against what they described as “dangerous changes that will destroy democracy”.

They said this week they plan nationwide road blocks to protest against government plans to cut legal aid.

The statement went on to encourage other groups from around from around the country to organise similar road-blocks on October the 5th.

The group was unapologetic as to the disruption that would be caused, saying “We know that this will be disruptive. We know that it will stop the traffic. But we know that this kind of direct action works”.

Other direct action groups including Disabled People Against the Cuts and Plane Stupid also plan to join in.

The plans emerge following a week in which England’s most senior family judge described government plans for legal aid as ‘disconcerting’ and suggested that ‘something needs to be done’.

Last month the government was forced to backtrack on a key part of the reforms, that of removing the right of legal aid defendants to choose their solicitor, following protests.

The government claims that changes will improve efficiency in the legal system, but this claim has been challenged by research showing that the estimated £6m savings will be dwarfed by £30m in knock-on costs.

Cameron’s tragedy is that he fails in even understanding the point of leadership

by Chris Dillow     August 30, 2013 at 12:59 pm

David Cameron is a terrible advert for Oxford PPE. He's long been ignorant of economics – as his prating about the "nation's credit card" and the "global race" attest – but his defeat last night suggests he knows little about politics and history too.

It's a cliche that this was a failure of leadership. I suspect, though, that it was a failure to even see what leadership is. Leadership is the art of getting people to follow you when they don't have to; if they do so because they must, you're not a leader but a boss.

But leadership in this sense is not just about speechmaking and doing the right thing. It's about getting dirty, and using the darker arts of politics.

One such art is timing. If your position is strong, you should act. If it's not, you should wait. Had Cameron waited until the UN inspectors have reported, his case would have been strengthened by reports of the incendiary bomb attack on a school.

But there's another failure. Leadership also means identifying potential oppenents and cajoling them – maybe nicely, maybe not – into supporting you. And at this, Cameron has long been poor. Fraser Nelson says he's "aloof."

And only a few months into his permiership one Tory sympathizer wrote:

There is little affection for Cameron on the Tory benches. His regime is chilly, even aloof. MPs who cross him know that they are unlikely to be forgiven. Slowly, the numbers of the disaffected and dispossessed are growing.

Contrast this with two great American leaders – Abe Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson. Their success rested on not so much on them taking the moral high ground – the best that can be said for LBJ's "moral compass" is that it wasn't quite as defective as Nixon's – but on their ability to twist arms, and appeal to low motives.

Their precedents are, I think, relevant. Both men faced parties which were loose and fissiparous, which is the condition of today's Tories. Not only are they intellectually divided – for example on both social and economic liberalism – but they are also socially so; the Cabinet might be full of public school millionaires, but the backbenches aren't.

His long failure to close this gap means that Cameron lacked both the ability to convert potential rebels and the trust which was necessary to induce people to follow him on what would have been a speculative venture.

In this sense, there's a tragic aspect to Cameron. He has thought of politics as (by his own lights) a noble venture – as when he pushed through gay marriage and in his desire to stop crimes against humanity. But politics isn't just that.

Sometimes, to win a moral crusade you need immoral means. Leadership isn't about being like Martin Luther King, but being like Lyndon Johnson. 

Five thoughts on Cameron’s humiliation over Syria

by Sunny Hundal     August 30, 2013 at 12:37 am

Wow. It is extremely, extremely rare for a sitting Prime Minister to lose a vote on going to war.

Here are my five quick thoughts.

1) There is now almost no prospect that Britain will join the US in action against Assad.

Cameron has been humiliated so badly I doubt he’ll go back to the House of Commons on Syria, especially as he will now have to take his cue from Ed Miliband. And he hates taking Miliband’s lead more than anything else. This has now become more about the politics in Westminster than the people of Syria. Besides, according to some tweets, he has dismissed any more action on Syria anyway. Defeat on a another vote would have likely to have led to a confidence motion.

2) It is too easy to say that Cameron lost because the isolationist wing of the Tory and Labour party are dominant. But people forget we went into Libya to take out Gaddafi not long ago!

No, Cameron lost because he wanted to rush into Syria and dismissed any caution or calls for proper evidence. He misjudged the mood on both sides of the House and assumed that no one would defy him on a vote of war. That’s why he lost.

3) This is clearly very humiliating for Cameron, but I’m also wondering where it leaves Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader abandoned the party’s traditionally anti-war or at least cautious position in favour of siding with Cameron. And now they’ve both been handed a defeat. At least if Clegg took a principled stand he would have gotten back some support.

4) To underline how complicated this conflict is, the Muslim Brotherhood chief in Syria has been criticising the United States for not intervening in Syria earlier.

5) I was for British intervention in Syria to warn Assad about the usage of chemical weapons. It’s unclear where President Obama stands now but I hope he will present the full evidence to Congress and militarily warn Assad anyway. If Assad steps up usage of chemical weapons now, part of the blame will lie on Cameron’s obstinate behaviour.

Update: I’m sick of sanctimonious people saying I should stop talking about Westminster and its implications, instead of what this means for the people of Syria. As I pointed out earlier – this was a feeble intervention that would have made very little difference. Even US action is not going to be about stopping the bloodshed or deposing Assad. I wanted the UK to join the USA in this but either way it would done almost nothing to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

Update 2: If anyone still has doubts that chemical weapons are being used in Syria, see this short BBC film from last night.

Watch: Galloway caught re: Syrian chemical weapons

by Sunny Hundal     August 29, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I didn’t realise George Galloway was so brazen.

Last week: Israel supplied the chemical weapons to al-Qaeda in Syria.

Today: I said no such thing.

(video via @iamthebeef)


Update: here’s the original

Western intervention in Syria? I wish it actually was

by Sunny Hundal     August 28, 2013 at 4:47 pm

There are some commentators who write about international affairs entirely through western eyes. Of course, The United States is the most powerful nation on earth and spends more on weaponry and defence than the next 10 countries combined.

But the US doesn’t always dictate events, and doesn’t always have its finger-prints on everything. I find this attitude a bit patronising and racist – other countries across the world have their own agendas and constantly interfere in foreign affairs for their own ends. ‘The White Man’ doesn’t control everything, much as many self-styled anti-imperialists like to believe.

In 1971 for example, India’s PM Indira Gandhi stuck up two fingers at the US and, with explicit guarantees from the Soviet Union, liberated Bangladesh from the murdering Pakistani armies. More recently, India and Pakistan meddled in Afghanistan along with Iran and the USA to help create instability before the invasion of 2001.

The civil war in Syria is a case in point. Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have been intervening in the region for years to bolster Assad and keep him armed against the rebel army. On the other side, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have lined up against Assad and have been helping the rebel forces.

Saudi Arabia is key here because it has also been funding the Egyptian army coup against the Muslim Brotherhood (which it sees as the real danger) – despite pressure from the United States not do so. Anyone who thinks the ‘Muslim ummah’ is united and speaks with one voice should come back to reality.

So the strongest argument against US, UK and French involvement is: why the hell should we get involved in this huge mess? Stay the hell out!

And that’s a strong argument. Except it’s a bit bogus.

The USA, UK and France aren’t actually planning an intervention. And this certainly isn’t a humanitarian one.

Sure, the news media is in overdrive and to most people it sounds like Iraq all over again. There is a lot of sabre-rattling and discussions about chemical weapons and UN resolutions. There are strong statements being issued by every major politician vaguely related to all this. Media commentators are salivating all over the media.

But most of it is hot air designed to rattle Assad. What we’ll actually see are a few missiles being dropped on Assad’s key military targets from warships stationed much further off. There will be some carefully targeted attacks on weapons shipments to deprive Assad of firepower. That’s likely to be it.

Unlike Libya, there aren’t even immediate plans for a No Fly Zone and nor demands for regime change. Many of you won’t believe it, but wait until this so-called intervention starts.

And why are we taking such feeble action? Because Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. This means we either make a big show so as to dissuade him and others, or risk usage of chemical weapons proliferating. And that’s it.

This isn’t a humanitarian intervention. Our politicians have dressed it up as such, and commentators are arguing against intervention on that basis, but we should stop pretending it is. (If it were me in charge I would have done something before 100,000 people got killed in Syria. I would have intervened in Congo and other places too). But ever since the lies over Iraq there is no appetite for foreign intervention and so we’re stuck with angry words and feeble threats.

Syria is already a battleground with lots of foreign players interfering in its affairs. The United States won’t even come close (if they wanted to, here’s what they would do).

Ten ways to win your online petition-driven campaign (at

by Guest     August 28, 2013 at 9:10 am

by Katherine Sladden

Since launching in the UK in May 2012, – the world’s largest petition site – has seen its UK user base grow to almost 3 million people, starting, joining and winning campaigns on issues they care about.

What makes some petitions fly and why do some not catch the imagination? Here are my ten top tips for using the site to win your campaign.

1. Tell your story
When Nic Hughes died of cancer and his life insurance company refused his family’s claim, his best friend Kester wanted to fight for justice. Kester didn’t bother explaining the in-and -outs of the insurance claim, he simply told the story of his incredible friend and the family he left behind. It was enough to get 60,000 backers who helped secure a pay-out for the Hughes family. Not everyone loves causes – but we all love a story. Tell yours.

2. Don’t be so formal
“We the undersigned” is the least engaging first sentence ever. The best petitions on read like a news story not a policy briefing. Be engaging and use simple language – it won’t just be your supporters that understand the issue better, it will probably be more convincing to the decision makers to.

3. It’s not a petition, it’s a community
Everyone that signs your petition is someone saying ‘I agree with you and I want to help’. Get them to help you. You can email the people that sign your petition through so think about what you can ask them to do. Kester got his supporters to call up the insurance company, Caroline got women to dress up as historical figures and turn up outside the Bank of England. You’ll often be surprised by the enthusiasm of your supporters.

4. Don’t get hung up on numbers
Thanks to the government’s e-petition site, 100,000 signers has become a defacto figure for petition success. The parliamentary debate idea is a myth (lots of petitions lower than 100k have been discussed; while lots at 100k haven’t). It’s not the numbers on your petition that matter, it’s the campaign that goes with it. The vast majority of winning campaigns on have far less than 100k supporters.

5. It’s not all about Twitter
Forget Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed (as lovely as he is) building movements online is about storytelling, Facebook and email. If you really want to get your campaign trending on Twitter or get a bunch of new signers – send an email. Twitter is where you can speak to media and celebs but Facebook and email are better for new signers and engagement. Use them all.

6. Find the little big thing
When the Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry would no longer be on a five pound note Caroline Criado Perez thought it said something profound about how women’s’ achievements are celebrated. She won her now infamous campaign and by doing so inspired a huge media debate about sexism. Big issues are important, but can be tough to make sound urgent. Think about the little thing that makes the big thing come to life.

7. React fast
When Jo, a sexual abuse survivor, heard that a lawyer and judge had referred to an abuse victim as “predatory” she started a petition. It was up and running before the press have even picked up the story. By that afternoon she had thousands of supporters, the next day she was telling her story to the media and soon charities and the Prime Minister spoke out in support. Less than 48 hours later she had won her campaign.

8. Put yourself in the target’s shoes to change their mind
Take some time to think about who is the most important decision maker you are trying to reach and what motivates them – their brand, customers, voters. Then break down your campaign to target each of those elements.

9. Celebrate every win
What motivates supporters is winning. If you get a result, even if it is small, tell them and celebrate it. Releasing the power you have to make change is addictive and gets people coming back for more.

10. Victory comes in lots of forms: be agile
IDS doesn’t live on £53 per week. Lucy hasn’t won her campaign to get topless images off Page 3 – but both campaigns have had impact in different ways. For one week in April the debate on welfare shifted – while for twelve months media sexsim has been highlighted through Lucy’s campaign. Embrace progress, report it back to supporters and keep campaigning.

Labour statement on Syrian intervention

by Newswire     August 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, speaking after meeting the Prime Minister in Downing Street, released this statement this afternoon:

The use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians is abhorrent and cannot be ignored.

When I saw the Prime Minister this afternoon I said to him the Labour Party would consider supporting international action but only on the basis that it was legal, that it was specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons and that any action contemplated had clear and achievable military goals.

We will be scrutinising any action contemplated on that basis.

(by everette)

If Israel continues to target Palestinian families, what’s the point of a ‘peace process’?

by Ben White     August 27, 2013 at 9:01 am

Human Rights Watch this weekend released a must-read item on demolitions in Israel that they say are intended “to drive [Palestinian] families off their land”, part of a wider regime of “forcible transfer” and “discrimination”.

The report notes that some 3,800 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli home demolitions since Prime Minister Netanyahu took office in 2009.

The continuation and even escalation of Israeli violations of international law during peace talks illustrates that the official “peace process” only serves to protect Israel from accountability over its policies. What Palestinians actually need is a protection of their basic rights and an end to the impunity enjoyed by the state of Israel.

Early yesterday morning, Israeli forces invaded Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah and shot dead three residents, wounding many more. The killings come a week after the IDF shot dead another Palestinian in Jenin.

Israel has now killed 13 Palestinians in the West Bank this year.

Even before the deadly raid, there was yesterday’s approval of the budget for an expansion of Ramat Shlomo settlement – along with millions more in government money for a “national park” operated by a right-wing pro-settler group in illegally-annexed East Jerusalem.

The country’s Housing Minister personally helped dedicate new settlement housing over the weekend, declaring a Palestinian state “will never happen“.

Soon after the announcement of the resumption of peace talks a month ago, the Israeli government put 91 Jewish settlements on a national priority funding list, while official figures showed three times as many settlement housing starts in the first quarter of 2013 compared to 2012.

And it is not just the settlements (Amnesty International points out they are a war crime): just last week, dozens of Palestinians were displaced by the demolition of their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

That is why the British government and others need to go beyond support for the deeply flawed US-managed negotiations and mealy-mouthed disapproval, and instead use real leverage and sanctions against a state which, without meaningful consequences, will continue to colonise and kill with impunity.

The simple reason why international intervention in Syria is necessary

by Sunny Hundal     August 27, 2013 at 8:30 am

There are a lot of good arguments against military intervention in Syria – ranging from the view that any intervention would only inflame the bloodshed to criticising specific proposals and scenarios for intervention.

I’m not denying that many of them have merit, even if a direct comparison to Afghanistan and or Iraq is ridiculous (to wit: the terrain and size is vastly different; there is strong support from other Arab countries; there’s no oil there). Furthermore, Syrians have been trying to bring attention to their plight for years. Besides, there is almost zero chance of UN or Nato soldiers landing in Syria for a similar ground war.

So the key argument for limited intervention now is about the specific usage of chemical weapons, not the long-running civil war itself. President Obama’s limited options means he can’t decisively finish off Assad, but he can at least punish him strongly for the recent escalation.

As the Washington Post points out:

Any U.S. military action, Carney said, would be a response to “the prohibited use of chemical weapons against civilians.” Kerry emphasized repeatedly that “there must be accountability for those who use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” What he did not say at any point was that the United States would be entering the war to decisively end it or that the time had come for the world to remove Assad from power.

There is little reason to think that American cruise missiles or airstrikes will dramatically change the course of the war, much less topple Assad. The Assad regime has a huge military advantage over the rebels, and the fighting is city-to-city, neighborhood-to-neighborhood.

So let’s stop with the straw man that we are going for a full intervention in Syria.

The question for those against any intervention is: is it right to sit by and watch states use chemical or biological weapons against their people, setting a precedent for others to do the same?

Of course, the United States isn’t consistent on the matter since it kept silent when Israel has used them. But arguably, such united international condemnation makes it harder for the United States and Israel to use them in any form in the future too.

Either way, the case for united international action when a state use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons on people is powerful. For this simple reason alone there has to be strong action against Assad now or it sets a terrifying precedent for the future.

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