Benjamin Clementine: male ‘Nina Simone’ of 21st century

Benjamin ClementineHe comes on to the stage barefoot, somewhat shy and is almost whispering when he talks. But, when hitting the chords and starting to sing, with his authenticity, humbleness, massive voice, non-fictional and bold lyrics and life stories, – he grabs your soul, unlocks it, picks one piece after another and metaphorically strips it. Benjamin Clementine. Not for the fainthearted. Male ‘Nina Simone’. October 29, 2014 London


Festival for the mind

After hosting two TED events in 2011 and 2012 The Guardian/ Observer decided to organize this year their own (sort of) event inviting inspiring people to inspire other people to do too all sorts of amazing things. I have never attended a live TED event, but this day-long Guardian’s event of IDEAS totally exceeded my expectations and, i think, TED has a serious competitor. I did not feel bored for a minute. Such ‘world changers’ like – Chido Govera, who from an orphan girl in rural Zimbabwe has become a successful entrepreneur, activist and educator, Michael Twitty, who is questioning the conceptualization of ‘American food’ and campaigning for adequate representation of Afro-American culture in America’s food history, Jack Monroe, who is fighting against food poverty in Britain, and Emmanuel de Merode, who is working in the Eastern DRC preserving Virunga National Park from exploitation of natural resources through illegal activities – are a live evidence of what happens when a human being follows Giles Duleyhis/her passion and how changing the world starts from individuals. Individuals, who may have nothing except belief in themselves, determination and ability to dream.

Giles Duley’s story was incredible. He as a war journalist/ photographer lost his 3 limbs about 3.5 years ago and just recently has re-started working again. His greatest joy now is to be able to move from being a subject of a story (journalist who lost 3 limbs) to being again an author of stories from conflict zones.

Similarly, Edwyn Collins, a musician who has suffered several strokes and had temporarily lost memory, brought me to tears with his singing. That unimaginable desire of not giving up was very touching.

Thanks to technology (meaning, skype) audience could also have an indirect presence of Edward Snowden. When he was asked how he could leave behind all of that material wealth/ well-being and family/ girlfriend, which to so many would be a ‘paradise’, he said “it’s not about me. i’m just a mechanism of revelation.” His sense of responsibility to gain back rights of individuals supersedes his personal life interests. Courage to leave one’s comfort zone, risk his life, have no chance to return home and live in unknown – that’s truly extraordinary. Conchita Wurst

Last but not least, i was very pleased by the selection of amazing musicians – Benjamin Clementine, Conchita Wurst, Tinie Tempah, Rokia TraoreRokia Traore – who shared their own stories about dreams, challenges, fights, success, achievements. All of these talented people have gone through difficulties and challenges, each in their own way. But inner strength, hard work, patience and practice has made their dreams true. Benjamin Clementine I wish i could pack and hide somewhere half of the inspiration i gained today and could use on grey, gloom days to remind me of what’s possible and to send away doubts.

price of attitude

Recently i was talking to someone from HR industry in London, a middle-age British man who is very sympathetic towards the small Baltic countries which he sees as younger Scandinavian sisters. He said, “you know, we recently interviewed someone from Lithuania! But,… she did not get a job”. I frowned and asked “why? Wasn’t she good enough?”

He said, “well, we asked her where is she from and she said she is from Lithuania. We asked if she is Lithuanian then. She replied that she is Lithuanian Russian putting special emphasis on ‘Russian’. Then i asked if she knows then Lithuanian language too to which she replied “yes, i was forced to learn it”.

“wow”, was my reaction.

He said, “i am well aware that it may sound like a prejudice, but that was it; i genuinely believe this is a wrong attitude.”

The morale of the story: one’s attitude has price.

EU elections 2014: how to get the voters to the polling stations?

Upcoming EU elections (from 22- 25 May) have renewed public debate about the low voter turnout and thus crisis of democracy in Europe. UK voters, particularly in case of EU elections, have always been quite passive: in 1999 only 23% of the eligible voters voted, whilst in 2004 and 2009 it rose to 38% and 34% respectively. Politicians and campaigners are worried that  this year the trend of decreasing activity will continue and various initiatives are planned to encourage people to take part in these elections.

Besides a very complex voting system which includes registration long time before elections, my simple question is: how on Earth one can expect a great voter turnout if the elections are organized on Thursday? I would find it close to impossible to get the time off, go to a polling station and give my vote. Moreover, there are so many people who do hourly-paid work which would mean that they would incur loss in income if they chose to vote instead of working. With the exception of Latvia (voting on Sunday, 25 May), Czech republic and Slovakia (voting on 23 and/or 24 May) and Ireland (voting on Friday 23 May), the rest of the EU countries organize the elections on Saturday, 24 May (check for reference here). Why UK wants to stand out and organize elections on Thursday? what is the rationale? Is there a logical reason of not doing it over the weekend?

In 2009 in Latvia voters’ turnout was about 56%. What if there is a direct correlation between the election day and voters’ turnout?

How to solve London’s immigration problem?

This week the Evening Standard organized a public debate on immigration in London where the speakers’ panel represented a wide variety of opinions which have been expressed in the public in the context of EU enlargement, upcoming General elections in 2015, London’s public services, multiculturalism, unemployment etc.

On the ‘no to immigration’ side the argument is that immigration hurts people at the bottom of the society – those local low-skilled British people with low-income, therefore London should be controlling immigration in terms of quantity and quality (they do not mind though having highly-skilled immigrants who make high added value to the economy and boost UK economy’s competitiveness globally). They say that in the last 10 years about 1 million people have come to London which creates a massive pressure on the public/ social services here – health care, schools, transport system, housing and employment opportunities. Those who oppose immigration argue that whilst London celebrates its multiculturalism, there are also lots of segregation, safety problems due to immigration; it makes downward pressure on wages and increases competition for public services.

Those who support immigration argue that immigrants make greater net contribution to the economy than local people. They also challenge the very concept of who the pure British person is as almost every Londoner can name their own ancestors coming from another country and culture. They say that British people are just lazy, spoiled, with different work ethics and salary expectations than the immigrants. Local people lack technical skills and therefore building and construction sector, which is one of the drivers of economic growth, is attracting lots of immigrants who can easily out-compete and outperform the local people. Is this the fault of UK education system or the people itself? I guess, that’s one of the ‘1 million dollar’ questions.

But, what i really missed in this discussion and all the other public debates on immigration generally, is a perspective of an immigrant. And, not only that but an ability to see this ‘problem’ or ‘phenomenon’ (whichever word you use; depends on how optimistic or pessimistic one is) in a much wider, global context. Human workforce rotates around capital, therefore – the higher the concentration and centralization of capital (London – the centre of global capital market!), the higher attraction of people to the place where this capital is. It’s a common sense. And it is fair. One country cant support and gain from freedom of movement of capital on the basis of the competitiveness of the business without supporting and accepting also the freedom of movement of labour/ human capital. If that’s not the case, then it’s a robbery on a global scale.

If UK and London really thinks that it cant have endless streams of people coming over to live on this island (there have been worries of overcrowding), then it should be ready to promote more equal distribution of the capital (de-liberalization of the financial markets, closing tax havens to prevent multinational companies from avoiding tax in countries where they work, stopping race-to-the bottom etc), let other countries to grow (prefer fair over free trade and not promote brain-drain) and therefore prevent people from moving (they will have good enough jobs back home). London should admit that there is a direct correlation between it’s concentration of global wealth and concentration of global population. If London thinks there are limits as to how big it can grow in terms of its population, then probably the sad truth is that there are also limits as to how big financial/ capital centre London can become.

From immigrant’s perspective, London or UK is definitely not the place where one would move because of the weather or nice climate; also, London is very fast-pace, competitive, stressful, expensive. So many people (just imagine all the Caribbeans, Italians and Spanish! they suffer here) would simply prefer to stay where they are but due to the economic situation in their home countries, they are coming over to London for jobs.

If UK really wants to limit immigration, it should think of ways then how it can help improve employment opportunities in the countries from where the most immigrants come. That will not only improve UK’s image, but also support growth of other economies, let people make enough money to prevent them coming over to UK and give then more jobs to the local people in UK. Everyone will be happier!

Another solution i would offer is increasing the minimum salary to a level when even doing the simplest job – cleaning, shop assistant, picking and packaging berries etc – will let someone to earn decent salary to live a decent life without relying on social services (check out Norway as a case study). It will increase the costs for businesses, but it will also then maybe solve the problem of dependency of British economy on immigrants who are not work-shy and are ready to work for 5-6GBP/ hour. For candidates in the next General elections it is now a political choice: to stay on the side of British people (getting votes) or British/international businesses (getting financial support).

50km walk. Yes, i did it.

So, it’s done. it took me 8h 30min or, if excluding meal break, 7h 45min to walk 50km (6.5km per hour)! It rained less than i thought, no single blister and everyone loved my Photo0107‘walking shoes’ (check out the El Naturalista shoes, they are not only cute, they are also extremely comfortable!) . I was among 2300+ people who were walking either 25km, 50km or all 100km fundraising for various organizations and good causes.Route-Map-Thames-Path-Challenge-Bishops-Park-Putney-Bridge-Runnymede-Henley-29-September-2012-1024x688

But more importantly, at least in my case, I did it for myself, to test my own limits, strength and stamina. I like to walk and i do it a lot but i never had walked more than 20km or so in one go, so committing to 50km walk was based on my inner belief in what i can rather than what i know i can. And my conclusion is that we have to trust ourselves more than we usually do and stop building limits in our minds what’s possible and what’s not. If we want, we most likely also Thames Path Challenge 50kmcan.

After the walk it was not easy to get home, but today I feel much better and i am sure tomorrow i will be totally fine and happy to walk again. Big thanks also to all my supporters who helped me to raise funds for RedR UK (422GBP!!). My fundraising page will be still open for some time therefore all the last minute supporters – you can make your donation here – Thank you! And remember, you gain by giving!

a shopping bag

…just after a young couple got off the bus, a man sitting next to me suddenly changed his seat to where the couple was sitting. I thought he just wanted to have more space. But after a little while i realized that the couple had left a shopping bag on the bus and the young man was calculating in his mind what to do with this bag.

..but then as the young man turned his head to look outside the window he started to wave the bag up in the air; he saw the man, who got off in the previous bus stop without his shopping bag, running after the bus. The man, who found the shopping bag, stopped the bus and gave the bag to the owner.

I smiled.

To the young couple this evening could have turned out to be a very upsetting one as a result of the lost shopping bag; however, instead of that there were only max 2 minutes of stress after which the couple was again reunited with the bag. And this all thanks to a help from a stranger.

There are probably more good people around us than we dare to think. And, in moments like these, i feel that there is hope. Hope for a slightly better world we live in.