Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Heroes - Liz Lemon

Sometimes you aspire to be them, other times you're accidentally almost halfway there.

"I'm really sorry about what I did. And I know you can't forgive me but just to even things out, here is all my weird secret stuff. I have been sexually rejected by not one, but two guys who later went to clown college. I get super nervous whenever I hear a vacuum cleaner because when I was a kid, my mom used to turn on the vacuum to drown out the sound of her and my dad fighting. Which is why I rarely vacuum my apartment. Like, never. I have had three doughnuts so far today. Once in college, I pooped my pants a little bit at a country steaks all you can eat buffet and I didn't leave until I finished my second plate of shrimp. A couple months ago, I went on a date with my cousin. Wow, I am a mess. There is an 80% chance that in the next election I will tell all my friends that I'm voting for Barack Obama but I will secretly vote for John McCain. Here's one: when I was a kid, I used to put on my fanciest nightgown and then I would mix orange soda and cream soda in a champagne glass and I would sit in the dark and watch The Love Boat. Consequently, I have some weird sexual fantasy stuff about Gopher from The Love Boat. And I lied. I have had five doughnuts today."

"Sorry, I dropped it (the lego train) when I was pretending it was my penis. ROBOT PENIS"
"I'll cut you so bad, you'll have a chin. You'll ALL have chins!"

Anxiety Therapy

As part of my cognitive behavioural therapy, I'm supposed to admit all of my perceived faults to a friend, in order to make them real and less evil and invented in my mind. Instead of burdening any of my acquaintances with this load of pseudo-psychology bullshit, I'm writing it all down here.

Anxiety is not the most fun affliction to suffer from. I'm not going to pretend it is the worst thing a person could have, because quite frankly it appears to be a wuss' disease that a normal person would take in their stride - but this is the whole "deal" with it, the whole aspect of it that makes it so unbearable at times; it convinces you that you are weak, which makes it worse.

I used to suffer severely from depression, and although I have perked up quite considerable, the whole ball ache of social anxiety disorder is still raging it's way though my personality like a 1990's BSE scare through the newspapers. I just wanted to note down how ridiculous my affliction is, so that:
a) other people who suffer from anxiety can laugh and say "me too"
b) people who do not have it can laugh and say "that is retarded".

So, where to start? I sometimes have panic attacks on the bus to work. My panic attacks are almost exclusively situated on public transport, probably so as many strangers as possible can witness my breathing exercises and assume that I am a madwoman. However, one of my most spectacular attacks was during the ordering of a meal at a pub in Lancaster with my good friend Sophie. Apparently choosing a sandwich can sometimes be enough to tip me over the edge. (In the end I chose grilled Mediterranean vegetable with mozzarella - a god choice, but slightly spoiled by my continuing need to bolt through the doors into the icy street.)

Anxiety is not always characterised by panic attacks, though. The main annoyance of it is an almost constant feeling of nervousness, on a par with waiting to go into a gym hall full of hard plastic chairs to either get injected with something or take a maths exam. Sometimes, I will be so anxious about where a TV programme's story is heading that I will have to make an excuse and leave the room. I currently have stomach ache because Liz Lemon decided not to move to Cleveland, even though I have seen this particular episode of 30 Rock almost half a dozen times. Sometimes the music in adverts and films make me want to cry, and I think it's just because of the mounting tension. I do understand that this makes me sound clinically insane, but I can assure you, I am not alone in this.

I feel sick whenever my phone rings, dating back to the days when my boss used to ring me to tell me I was late for work despite having the day off, so that I would cover a shift thinking I was supposed to be in anyway. Trains are my safe place because you are never in any one place at any time, and so none of the views are relateable to experiences I have had - catching trains however, makes me want to run all the way home and hide under my bed. Once I threw up simply because I was in London.

If I forget what I'm talking about in the middle of a conversation, I go dizzy and the room starts to go out of focus. I have once fainted because I forgot somebody's name while talking to them. If I have to approach somebody I have never met, I will unintentionally offend them as a means of breaking the ice, as having people hate me is better than thinking I'm a gibbering weirdo. I have punched a lot of my friends, simply out of embarrassment. I am not supposed to drink because it makes me belligerent, but I do anyway because otherwise I can't control the unlimited spray of boring anecdotes that come out of my mouth in order to mask silence which I perceive as awkwardness.

I go out of my way to solve other people's problems because it gives me a sense of control. Once my contract is over this Christmas and I move back to Leeds, I have no idea what's going to happen, and it scares the shit out of me.

So there it is - Anxiety basically means you have a phobia of being alive. Now aren't we all glad I'm on medication?

Check your anxiety symptoms here: NHS.com

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition Fees and the Education Thatcher (thanks Sophie)

And so it has been passed that higher education fees will be rocketed up into the night sky like a huge dollar sign on a big roller coaster train made of paper money and mid-grade cocaine. All the parades and signs and letters to MPs didn't do much to stop the inevitable, but it was not entirely futile. It gives the future researchers of the "I love the 2000s" series some nice poignant pictures to show during a monologue by a 70 year old David Quantick about how awful the Tories are, and also it gave us all a chance to let off steam. Even I, the poster girl for "I care, but not enough" sent an email to a Lib Dem MP I felt betrayed by (Greg Mulholland to name names, a man who has sent me a signed letter in the past stating his categorical resentment of tuition fees). It has been a time of anger and confusion, of bitterness and long drawn-out sighs of hopelessness. Now, as the dust begins to settle, and the students trudge back to their individual Jarrows, we can all see that voting for this future simply because it was different, was definitely a bad decision. We should have stayed with the Vogon. At least he was good with figures and didn't just cut things off willy nilly when he accidentally caught sight of the country's debt in a mirror on his way to the bathroom.

What do these tuition fees actually mean though? Well to me, a recent graduate and total narcissist, they mean very little. The money I owe (pushing the £15,000 mark) piles on £20 a month, and will do until I pay it off, sometime between the birth of my second child and the day I leave work on a sabbatical for nervous breakdowning all over a conference hall. To others it has a heavier meaning; my sister for example, who begins her course next year, will be looking at tuition fees of up to £7000 a year - this is solely tuition fees, of course. On top of this she will be looking at paying for accommodation, child care, and general living. This is of course why there has been such outrage over the new charges. Why should the price of higher education be so high? Why should students now pay more than their parents or even older siblings for the same degree of education? Why should professors and lecturers be laid off in order for universities to make up monetary costs brought by cuts?

One of the points being argued emphatically in the press at the moment is the effect higher university costs are going to have on the ability of poorer people to enter higher education. On Channel 4 news tonight, MP David Hynes claimed that far from suffering from "bad debt", thresholds and payback schemes would prevent future graduates from actually feeling that they were paying anything back at all. The threshold will be £21,000 a year. Currently, it is £25,000. To put this in perspective, if you earn £7 an hour, you will be liable to pay back your allocated £21000 debt, for as long as it takes. Taking anything out of a nearly minimum wage pay packet is noticeable, and to claim that it would go almost unnoticed is not only unbelievably whimsical, it seriously undermines the real problems a lot of households face on a regular basis. Struggling with money is now a British pastime. Many more people than you'd imagine come from families where £1 own-clothes-days at school were dreaded, because £1 meant potential bus or lunch money being spent to simply wear old jeans and a t-shirt. Simply brushing off debt repayments with a casual "ahh, you'll never notice" is patronising, and it is wrong.

I think about my debts every day, but they mean nothing to me. It seems such a preposterously large number that I'm almost sure it has been invented. This is how future debts will appear to future students. The idea that poorer classes will be put off higher education may have a founding in truth, but really, if a person wants to go to university, they will, and their debts will remain unpaid for decades after their graduation. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the university participation rates of poorer people were among the highest for the past twenty years. Participation rates have grown, but funds have shrunk, leaving the prospect of incoming students the only means of a steady income for higher education institutes. No wonder university was tube-fed to me all the way through high school. Universities are businesses now, and the more students they have, the quicker they can knock down those old halls and build a new sports centre. Will higher costs mean less students? Of course it will. Professor Nicola Miller who spoke with Jon Snow about the issue said rather heroically concisely of her concerns that in the very near future she will be forced to decide which of her staff to lay off, being that teaching staff are the only steady outgoings a university has to make. Less renowned professionals, less full-time dedicated staff, less highly-regarded experts to come in from the outside and do talks. She foresees a future of overstuffed lecture theatres and part-time lecturers, just qualified and paid much less than those previously dominating their role. University won't be a staggering world of creaky varnished wood and  learning, it will be plain rooms filled with disillusioned people making sparse notes about the bare minimum that will be required for them to achieve a grade.

Who needs university anyway? Eight months after recieving my 2:1 in the post I am still working in retail. Don't bother. Just get that sun-drenched bar job in Australia and get the hell out of the UK before nurses and accountants take to the streets in protests more violent than a Rambo sequel, and the life outside your front door becomes Kidulthood world. Somebody get me a visa and a gin.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Julian Assange and the Wrath of Sweden

Wikileaks has caused quite a stir, I think it's fair to say. I tried to ignore it for quite some time, being that I'm suffering from stress at the moment and I thought it would do my heart no good to get involved with something so deep and meaningful. However, when a story makes it into every single paper as a slightly different entity, I become interested.

As Roy Greenslade noted in his blog last week, the strangeness of Assange's case is not in what he has done, but how differently his actions on Wikileaks have been interpreted in order for America to be able to arrest him. America as one singularity, that is. The flag-waving, deer-shooting, God-loving America we all like to pretend is just a hilarious joke for Jon Stewart to roll out every day, but which then gets folded back up and put in a dusty cupboard in the back of the studio. Of course, Sarah Palin, the woman who inspires anger and violence in every human being on the planet (she made me punch a door once) has decried that Wikileaks and therefore Julain Assange to be "Anti-American" - whatever that bandied-about phrase actually means - and senior republican Mike Huckabee (not a cartoon bear, as I had hoped) has called out for his execution, claiming that "anything less would be too kind a punishment".

That, in case you hadn't noticed, is a pretty severe declaration for someone who fist-smashingly demands freedom and a just society in front of the star spangled banner.

It isn't just republicans who are baying for Assange's blood though, so don't start feeling all superior and British. The Daily Mail have reported the whole affair with a very interesting slant - calling on his current sexual offense allegations in Sweden and reporting several times that he suffers from manic depression; adding that Americans are calling him a terrorist and claiming that he has put lives in danger.

Let's just think about that for a second. He has put lives in danger for spreading memos and information already being passed by those who rule over us. He has endangered our wholesome little lives by revealing that Hilary Clinton ordered diplomats to spy on members of the UN. Luckily not all of our press coverage has been so childish, and despite The Sun, The Times and The Telegraph largely dismissing Wikileaks as either dangerous attention-seeking or a bally good laugh respectively, they have all printed large swathes of Assange's work, leaving the public in no doubt as to his (and his now adversaries') intentions.

I tend to agree with John Naughton when he says that either we live with a Wikileaks world, or shut down the entire Internet. Either governments accept that their misgivings about other ministers, their underhanded deals, their snide comments about backbenchers, campaigners or their own supporters will be revealed at some point by another person who has some idea of how to find incriminating documents (if Assange didn't do it, let's face it, somebody else would). What next? Do we ban all passage of information from the powers to the proles? Do we arrest all those capable of uncovering secrets and place them in high-security solitary confinement until they blubberingly promise not to tell tales on their masters? If that is how we supposedly keep our countries safe, then perhaps everyone should have their abilities to communicate revoked. Even a do-gooding low-down member of a corporation can occasionally find a slightly dodgy memo. What then? I once heard a previous boss of mine call his manager a dickhead. Does that mean I have to go to jail now for endangering the rights of big business?

Then there is the whole awful business of Assange's Swedish sexual assault case. According to an article in The Guardian, in the past, Assange has dismissed the allegations, stating on Twitter: "The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing." He believes that Sweden is acting under the heavy influence of America, using smear tactics to humiliate him into handing himself over to the authorities. His lawyers are refusing to extradite him for trial, claiming there is insufficient evidence to say it is even worth sending him over. Nevertheless, it does give critics the chance to claim that not only is he mentally ill, he is also a rapist. Which is nice to have on the front of a paper when the only other news is dominated by snow ploughs and late trains.

Assange is now asking his supporters, much diminished by his handling of Afghanistan war logs, to help him make bail should it come to that, which he predicts will be somewhere in the region of £150,000. Quoted in The Australian newspaper; "As far as I can see he (Mr Assange) hasn't broken any Australian law," Senator Brandis, a QC, told Sky News. "Nor does it appear he has broken any American laws."

 So while the debate rages on about whether a potentially invented sexual assault case has anything to do with sharing secret documents meant for our superiors' eyes only, I suggest we start up a new debate, thanks to @Selectronic on Twitter. "Finding Julian Assange hotter by the day. Come find me when all this blows over @ " Assange - would you?
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