Going Nuclear – What Does It Mean For Us?

With the cold nights drawing in and the heating in our homes being switched back on, the debate about energy prices is making its yearly comeback to the political agenda. However, with the news earlier this month that the building of the UK’s first nuclear power plant since 1995 is to go ahead, what does this mean for the ordinary citizen?

The last few decades has seen successive governments waver on their decision to make the shift from a reliance on fossil fuels to an increased use of low carbon alternatives, but a deal has now been struck and it’s down to the French and Chinese to help us become more sustainable as a nation.  

A lack of sufficient internal UK investment means that EDF of France and China General Nuclear Power will now take the lead in building a new plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. According to George Osborne, this outsourcing means, essentially, that the cost of the new plant is not coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket. Sounds great, right? Well, the old adage that “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” seems quite appropriate here. In fact, a “strike price” of £92.50 for every megawatt hour of energy produced has been agreed upon, which is almost twice the current market cost of electricity, and will most likely fall directly to the taxpayer anyway. 

To lesson the blow, on 21 October Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey claimed that the average energy bill in 2030 would be £77 lower than it would have been without the new plant. But critics were quick to pounce on his statement, asking if it was really possible to guarantee a consumer price over a decade ahead of time? “I can’t guarantee that. Of course I can’t”, came Davey’s response

However, the gripes don’t stop there. The Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley pointed out that if Hinkley’s entire output is tied to the rate of inflation for 40 years, the consumer could be faced with a “truly astronomical cost” by the end of the contract, something that Davey, Osborne and co. also failed to mention. 

The cost to the environment could also be high, as it’s not clear where the nuclear waste will be deployed to, a vital consideration that seems to be overlooked by the coalition’s proposals. The technology exists to create reactors that essentially consumes its own waste, leaving little negative impact behind, but the Government have bizarrely opted for an older model with no such capability.

A recent YouGov poll found that 46% of respondents believed that significantly shifting Britain’s reliance onto nuclear power would be a good thing, with 25% feeling it was bad and 29% not being entirely sure where they stood on the matter. This, combined with both the Government and opposition backing of nuclear power indicate that across the board, the majority of people are largely in favour of more plants like Hinkley. 

As well they should be, because they way we currently consume energy is entirely unsustainable for much longer. However, those finer details that directly affect our environment and utility bills that Ed Davey failed to address are the points that we, as consumers, need to be acutely wary of. 

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What’s In A Name? Quite A Lot Actually…

Hannah Slapper is a fashion, arts and culture writer according to her Guardian profile page, but that’s not what has gained her some attention recently. No, it’s her name. Last month, Hannah published an article about dating, but felt compelled to write a new piece a few days later clarifying that her real surname by birth is in fact, Slapper. (For those readers not familiar with British colloquialisms, ‘slapper’ is a term used to refer to a woman with, err, sexually promiscuous tendencies!)

Hannah is rightfully proud of her family name with its Yiddish roots and believes that it has stood her in good stead when job-hunting, as it has made her stand out from the crowd. But is this the case for everyone?

Philip Oreopoulos, an assistant professor of Economics at the University of Toronto carried out a study on the impact of ethnic-sounding names on job applications, and he found evidence of subconscious discrimination. He deducted that recruiters quickly scan through applications and faced with an unfamiliar-looking name, their initial reaction (whether they realised it or not) would be to have concerns about the person’s social and language skills.

Furthermore, a study published in The American Economic Review in 2004 showed that when duplicate applications were sent to employers, those with typically “white” sounding names received 50% more callbacks to interviews than those with names associated with black people, and that differential treatment still appears prominent across the US labour market.

Back in the UK, this is also an issue. Jorden Berkeley, a 22-year-old graduate from London was profiled by the BBC in 2012. She had little success when applying for jobs using her real name, and was surprised when a careers advisor suggested using her “whiter” sounding middle name, Elizabeth, instead. She found the response rate to her applications since has been through the roof.

2011 figures also show that overall unemployment rates for white women stood at 6.8%, while for ethnic minorities it was more than double that, at 14.3%. Admittedly, this could be for a variety of combined factors but there’s little doubt that having a non-white sounding name has an impact on career achievements, which is something that needs to be addressed by employers.

But it’s not all bad news for those of us with slightly less common names; there’s a guy called Barack Obama running the States, so perhaps we do have a shot at landing a good job!

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Dear Beauty Shop Owner…

Dear Beauty Shop Owner,

Yesterday, I was a patron of your business as I felt that my eyebrows were in desperate need of being restored to a human level, and so I elected to part with my money in return for a service I requested from you. You did a good job, but as I was leaving, you tried to give me something I had not asked for by very kindly letting me know that I had a lot of whiteheads on my nose, and that I “should really get a facial”.

I’m not insecure enough to be offended by the comment, largely because I’m not quite sure what a whitehead is, plus you unconvincingly disguised your desperation for me to spend more money in your shop with faux concern for my face. But I sure was annoyed. I had just about managed to squeeze in time to visit your establishment in between my numerous other life-enriching commitments including studying, interning and training for a half marathon. But wait! Cancel everything! I’ve got a particularly hideous nose that needs dealing with!

Your helpful suggestion reminded me that as women, we are constantly lambasted with recommendations that will make our lives better, and these tidbits of advice often revolve around our appearance. Magazines aimed at women are always telling us that we should be skinnier, we should have shinier hair or we should possess clearer skin. Where are the magazines telling us to be smarter, to work harder or to aim to be better people? When I eventually kick the bucket, I hope that I would have racked up a few genuinely valuable qualities and experiences that others would admire and respect, because a whitehead-free face is not usually something that people are remembered for.

But perhaps your views reflect the sad, sorry state of the world where attractive people tend to be more successful. Perhaps we’re not living in the meritocracy I had hoped we were, but one in which being better looking translates to getting a better job, or even to getting handed more lenient prison sentences.

And so while to you, your offer of a facial may have seemed like an off-the-cuff cheap sell, what you were actually doing is fuelling the discriminatory culture we live in where people aren’t judged on the important stuff like personality and achievements. No, instead we’re being judged by the amount of time and money we’re able and willing to invest on the most inanely superficial aspects of personhood that can only serve to damage and skew a person’s perception of what is truly valuable.

So in light of this, I will have to decline your offer.

All the best,

Almas (whiteheads and all)

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Would You Like Some Discrimination With That?

While travelling across the US with a friend earlier this year, we made the inevitable stop off at a McDonald’s to fuel up for our imminent 5-hour coach ride from New York to Boston. As my friend held our place in the queue for the bus, I popped in to order her the Happy Meal she had requested (no, she’s not a child, nor am I trying to cover up my own purchases by covertly referring to an alleged “friend” – trust me, I would have no problem admitting that, but I was in need of something much more substantial). Upon ordering, the server asked if the meal was for a girl or a boy, to which I answered “girl” and she placed a pink doll in the Happy Meal packet. Which bothered me. A lot.

From the moment we’re born, most of us are told that girls like Barbies, pretend kitchen sets and all things pink, whereas boys should be opting for cars, guns and superheroes. Whether it comes from our parents and siblings or school or the media, it’s impossible for these gender expectations to not seep into our lives.

But I don’t see these as harmless assumptions made based on ‘social norms’. Defined gender roles and characteristics that are established from such a young age (because apparently, Happy Meals are aimed at pre-tweens, not people in their twenties) seems to me like a sure-fire way to confuse young people about their identities and options in life.

Growing up with two sisters and a brother, I was lucky to have a solid mix of toys available to me. There were Cindy’s but also Meccano, tea sets and car racing video games. In fact, it took me a good few years of schooling to fully realise what was actually aimed at girls and what was aimed at boys, because as mentioned earlier, it unfortunately seeps into our lives eventually anyway.

But it doesn’t stop at choosing what toy to play with as a five year old. In fact, this is just the beginning of a lifelong issue. The Guardian recently ran an article about the desperate lack of women in technological industries, which, surprisingly, is falling in the UK as time goes by. It stated that it’s often seen as ‘cool’ for boys to pursue computer-based hobbies, whereas it’s a bit weird for girls to do the same, and so from the get-go, young female talent within technology is dismissed.

The UN agrees that this is a problem, claiming that it amounts to discrimination and an obstacle to nations’ progress, but if girls were encouraged towards scientific and technological subjects in school, they tend to excel, thus potentially filling the huge skills gaps that currently exist in those areas.

We need to start thinking about the long term consequences of boxing children into certain categories because while it may appear ‘natural’ and innocuous to assign young people to particular set of characteristics, this could be changing the course of their lives forever.

So let’s start by popping a toy truck into a little girls’ Happy Meal. 

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The 11-Year-Old Force To Be Reckoned With

Published just 3 days ago and rightfully becoming rapidly viral, a video of an 11-year-old Yemeni girl articulately explaining why she has moved out of her mother’s grip and away from the danger of being married off is too startling for words.

I don’t think anyone could put this disturbing plight any more eloquently than Nada al-Ahdal herself, so here she is:

From the moment she opens by maturely thanking journalists and viewers for their attention, to closing her statement with a shaming of her terrible mother, Nada has it spot on. Yet it’s desperately sad that she’s been forced to think and speak like an adult. Because she’s not, she’s 11.

The fact that a little girl has talked down on her entire country should come as a national embarrassment to the Yemeni government. They need to realise that when a child is threatening to kill themselves to avoid the bleak fate they know awaits them, and has to remove themselves from a dangerous situation, they have seriously failed that child.

I find it completely baffling how an eleven-year-old should have to tell her elders that it’s inherently wrong to snatch someone’s childhood, education, innocence and dreams away from them and plunge them into the wholly age-inappropriate world of marriage and sex.

Yemen, like many of it’s surrounding Middle Eastern neighbours, has a notoriously bad track record when it comes to women’s rights, or little girls’ rights as is sadly the case here. 2011 UNICEF figures show that only 31% of girls were enrolled into secondary school and 11% were being married off before the age of 15, with a third being wed before their 18th birthdays. With so few girls in education, and so many being married before they’re adults, what real future prospects of career progression and independence do they have? But I guess that’s not at the top of the Yemeni government’s agenda.

In a time when the fight for women’s right is as fervent as ever, and in an age when practices such as child marriage are at complete odds with 21st century ideals, these flagrant abuses of human rights cannot be allowed to continue. How young girls can be treated in such a throwaway fashion by their families and government is just beyond preposterous. As Nada succinctly puts it 37 seconds into her video; “They’re just kids”.

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An Uncomfortably Familiar Tragedy Repeated Sixty Years On

How is it possible in the 21st Century, with a supposedly advanced judicial system, that we can allow a man who shoots dead an unarmed teenager to be seen as not guilty of murder?

It defies all logic that George Zimmerman, a self-professed neighbourhood vigilante who actively pursued Trayvon Martin last year despite no provocation from the youngster, and pulled the trigger on him in the streets of Florida, should be allowed to go home. Pure and simple, he’s a racist killer who is a liability and the public needs to be protected from him.

This tragedy throws up two very ugly issues that constantly hound the US, the first being racial prejudice. The debacle over the weekend that was Zimmerman’s trial has and will continue to create greater racial tensions in a country that has worked ferociously hard to create equality in the last three-quarters of a century. This case is disturbingly similar to that of Emmett Till, with the outcome for those charged with his murder being echoed once again – how can that still be happening sixty years on?

Too many people have devoted their lives to ensure that black people can live without fear of discrimination and prejudice, and it’s sickening that those inherently valiant efforts can be so deeply damaged by the reckless actions of a suburban thug.

The second issue is gun control. The NRA have a particularly tacky quote on their website which reads; “If God didn’t make men equal, Stephen Colt did”, in reference to the 19th century firearms manufacturer who made the revolver commercially available in the US.  America’s biggest gun-advocating organisation really need to consider what they mean by equal before making such a bold claim on their site. What was equal about the night Martin died? Did he also have a gun on him to challenge Zimmerman? Or did he at least have a gun to protect himself? Absolutely not.

How many totally innocent people have to die in the schools, cinemas and streets of America before action is taken to eradicate the personal ownership of firearms in the States? And how long will it take for racial prejudice, discrimination and general ignorance not to be so powerful as to take an innocent life away? And to add further insult to injury, when will that same prejudice, discrimination and ignorance not be allowed to be so prominent within the so-called criminal ‘justice’ system?

I find the US a fascinating place and have enjoyed a lot of my time there, but it’s on days like this I’m glad I don’t have to call myself one of it’s citizens.

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The Muslims Are At It Again…

Another day, another Muslim terrorist attack. Or so, that’s what they’re saying.

Earlier today, two men in Woolwich (south London) brutally killed another, believed to be a soldier, with a machete. Both attackers were shot by police at the scene and are currently being treated in hospital.

Apart from this obviously horrific incident, I’m troubled by some other aspects of the day’s events; the BBC reported almost immediately that “senior Whitehall sources” had said the people carrying out the attack were heard to have said: “Allahu Akbar [God is Great]”. To me, this seems like the kind of flimsy, unconfirmed claim that you’d expect from the Daily Mail. And if these “senior Whitehall officials”aren’t ashamed or embarrassed to stand by their comments, why stay hidden under their veil of anonymity?

I’m surprised the BBC would publish such a statement. It’s lazy and reckless journalism like this that mounts increasing pressure and fear into the Muslim community, the vast majority of whom are peaceful, non-violent people who are constantly being scrutinised for the actions of a crazy minority.

Furthermore, the fact that the attackers are still in hospital implies that they have not yet been questioned by police, or if they have, details have certainly not yet been leaked to the public. Given the nature of this bizarre crime which seems more like a frenzied, random murder, rather than a political attack, it wouldn’t be a surprise if these two men had some kind of psychological issues, as is often the case with such random atrocities. Not that this would excuse their actions, but it would make it difficult to maintain that their actions were politically and religiously motivated.

Even if the attackers were mentally sound and Muslim and did call out an Islamic phrase, this does not mean that this was an attack from the Muslims to the West. These two men do not have the authority to represent the entire Muslim population, which currently stands at roughly 1.5 billion globally. Nor did the people who carried out 9/11, the London bombings of 2005 or the Boston marathon bombing a few weeks ago. So let’s treat them like the murderous criminals that they are, rather than take this as an opportunity to add fuel to this deeply damaging and unfair fire that innocent Muslims are left to deal with.

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