What a day.

Gaz is away til late tonight so I have 3 options:

  • Catch up on some more work, which I need to do.
  • Catch up on some housework, which I should do.
  • Have a bath and go to bed with a bottle of wine and a book, which I want to do.

Unfortunately after today the odds are looking likely on #1.

In the unlikely event that you’ve not already heard, today we – the UK – voted to leave the European Union. In my humble opinion this is a terrible idea for the country, for the economy and for people as a whole and so I voted to remain. However, little did I know – until this morning – it would also be terrible for me: thanks to the pound crashing to a 31 year low, a lot of the online services I rely on to do business (everything from hosting to Github, my accounts package, etc) have skyrocketed in price.

Unless the pound recovers quickly, it will become financially infeasible for me to continue using some of these services: I’m now faced with the prospect of moving half of my websites to UK based servers. (They’re not abroad because of an “indian call centre” money saving thing, sometimes it is better for a site to be hosted in the same location as its target audience.)

This means that in a month where my work output is already low because of my assault and ill health I may have to spend hours working on admin and migrations rather than ‘real’ work and projects which are already overdue.

Suffice to say I’m a bit pissed off about this whole bloody mess.

Still Boycotting Nestlé

As my post on my decision to boycott Nestlé is doing the rounds on Facebook again (and I mentioned it on twitter this week) I thought I’d write an update on where I am with it.

Firstly, it’s important to note that I’m not just sitting on my computer moaning about unfair marketing. I support Baby Milk Action with paid membership, and by buying their anti-Nestlé / pro-breastfeeding products. BMA are responsible for keeping Nestlé on their toes by campaigning against their unfair labelling of artificial milks in developing countries, as well as leading the way on campaigning against companies targeting health workers with misleading advertising, etc.

Anyway… the actual boycott. I have completely cut Nestlé purchases out of my life, having not knowingly bought a Nestlé (or Rowntrees, L’Oreal, Body Shop, etc) branded product in over 2 years. I accidentally bought some Buitoni pasta not knowing it was a subsidiary of Nestlé but that, I think, is my only slip up. Considering that — prior to the boycott — I would purchase several Kit Kats a week, drank Nescafé coffees almost exclusively, regularly bought Nestlé cereals, ice cream, etc I am quite pleased with how easy to cut the company out of my shopping basket when I put my mind to it.

Of course, even if we assume that I spent £1000 a year on Nestlé products, that’s little more than a pebble in the ocean for this huge multinational monster. But… my post has been seen by over 30,000 different people in 2 years. Who knows how many of those people have removed even just one product from their lives, or talked about the boycott with someone else. I know of several people who now boycott Nestlé because of my post.

Every time someone thinks twice about buying a Kit Kat, I feel like I’ve achieved a small victory.

The Nestlé boycott is the longest running boycotts worldwide and Nestlé are one of the most boycotted brands in the UK. It continues to be necessary because they continue to use underhand techniques to market their artificial milks (not translating safety information on labels in foreign countries, trying to weaken baby milk legislation in a country where thousands of babies die because of inappropriate artificial milk feeding etc).

As well as the baby milk issues, they are also boycotted because of their testing on animals, use of child slave labour to harvest cocoa, rainforest destruction etc

Why aren’t you boycotting them yet?

Update: Wikipedia has a full Nestlé product list including country-specific brands.

On the Divisive Issues of Parenting

Naomi, in response to a question on why women trouble themselves with debate on divisive parenting issues:

[…] keeping women occupied with relatively trivial parenting matters which our ancestors didn’t think twice about means we don’t have time or energy to recognise our true status as women alienated from the real world, frustrated in our efforts to succeed at work, excluded from politics or other influential activities, raising the next generation of toilet cleaners and bankers whilst being told we need hv advice and surestart to stop us messing up and not a lot of thanks for it, dissatisfied in our unequal relationships, often suffering from things which society considers taboo in conversation eg miscarriage, menopause, pain or complications from childbirth…we could be quite a grumpy and dangerous group of people if we weren’t so easily distracted by parentings mags and pretty slings

Review of The Politics of Breastfeeding

I finally got ’round to finishing the last few pages of ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business’ by Gabrielle Palmer. I bought it months and months ago, but as it’s not what I would call a dip-in-and-out read, it was very hard to gather the time and concentration needed to read it.

First and foremost, let me say that this is not a book that should only be read by nursing mothers. I think it should, at the very least, be read by all women. It encompasses so much; from the beginnings of the end of breastfeeding in certain cultures and how it’s being turned around by proactive governments, how multinational companies market breastmilk substitutes to deliberately undermine breastfeeding relationships, doctors and health care professionals who would have us believe that breastmilk isn’t good enough and most importantly, a woman’s right to feed her baby as she chooses without pressure or unethical influences from corporate bodies.

Reading the book frustrated me on so many levels. I’ve talked before about Nestle’s marketing practices before, but it goes beyond that. The origins of formula; unnecessary death of babies in both developed and ‘third world’ countries; the undermining of women because we’re “not good enough”/”not reliable enough” to maintain life (and this goes hand in hand with the medicalisation of birth and unnecessary interventions, but is not a subject I know enough about to comment on); the supplementing with formula without permission from mums; the strange habit of separating babies from their mums in hospital, etc.

The book is well written, and well referenced. The author, Gabrielle Palmer, is clearly passionate about her subject and not without credentials in the area (she was a breastfeeding counsellor in the 1970s and helped establish Baby Milk Action who are responsible for maintaining the Nestle boycott).

I have promised my copy to Hanna to read, but if anyone else is interested in reading this I would be happy to loan on its return. In the mean time, I recommend reading this extract (external). This book has changed the way I look at so many aspects of birth and infant care.

jemjabella is a Nestle Free Zone

When I was in school, my drama teacher told the class a story about women in Africa who’d been given Nestle formula milk samples shortly after they’d had a baby. They used the samples, believing that formula was superior to their breast milk, which led to their milk drying up. They were then forced to buy formula they couldn’t really afford, preparing it ‘watered down’ to make it last longer. In worse case scenarios, babies died either of starvation or of improperly prepared bottles1.

Out of ignorance, I assumed that these women were stupid believing that their breast milk was inferior, and promptly went out and bought a KitKat.

10 years later, I’m nursing my own child, and I come across this image:

woman breastfeeding male twin, girl bottlefed
Pakistani woman breastfeeding her son, bottle-feeding girl; picture taken by UNICEF

Unless you’ve seen this image before, it may shock you to realise that these babies are twins. The woman was told that she would not be able to sustain both babies, and so breastfed the male twin and had her grandmother bottlefed the female.

The girl died the day after the picture was taken.

After seeing this image, I bought The Politics of Breastfeeding2 so that I could learn the true extent of the problems of artificial feeding in undeveloped countries. As it turns out, the women affected by the free formula samples weren’t stupid… they were misled.

Misled by Nestle, primarily; misled by their saleswomen dressed as nurses telling new mums that Nestle artificial milks were the superior infant food; misled by health care professionals who were given kickbacks for encouraging mums to bottlefeed; misled by labels on cans of formula claiming “protects”, “more calcium”, “brain building blocks”, “brain nutrients” etc etc.

Despite multiple bans on various aspects of Nestle’s marketing, they continue to directly approach new mums, continue to market their artificial milks unethically, and continue to make misleading ‘scientific’ claims about the ingredients in the milks. Babies continue to die3 because of these milks, fed because of companies like Nestle.

And so, I boycott Nestle. I no longer knowingly buy any Nestle products (and there’s a lot of them!) No KitKats for me.

I’ve received criticism for supporting this boycott. “It’s a woman’s right to choose to feed her child how she wishes.” I totally agree. I am, and always have been, pro-choice. However, I believe in an educated choice. I believe that women should know both the implications and consequences of choosing to either a) breastfeed or b) formula feed. If ‘educated’ women like Sarah Jones (quote: “Bottle feeding is just as natural as a mother being able to breastfeed. It has the same nutrients and everything.“) think that formula and breastmilk are on par, we cannot expect women in undeveloped countries who many not have access to the array of information that we have, to be able to make that choice properly. Why? Because of the marketing of companies like Nestle.

ETA: If this entry touches you, please consider supporting Baby Milk Action: protecting breastfeeding – protecting babies fed on formula.

1 To prepare bottles properly you need access to clean, hot water. Hands must be washed. Bottles, teats etc must be cleaned and sterilised. Hands must be washed again. Boil water to prepare the formula with, letting it cool to no lower than 70 degrees C (powdered milk is not sterile, it needs to be that hot to kill the bacteria). Add the water to the bottle, then add the exact amount of formula. Cool the milk to the desired temperature by running the sealed bottle under a cold tap or by placing it in a jug of cold water. The whole process can take up to 45 minutes.

2 The Amazon link is ‘clean’; it does not contain my affiliate tag. I didn’t think it appropriate somehow.

3 WHO estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed.

Thoughts on UK Election Results

David Cameron is now prime minister. I’m annoyed, confused, bemused and anxious all in one go.

I made it no secret that I voted for my local Liberal Democrat candidate. Not only did I feel she had the most to offer my constituency but I also support the Lib Dem party on the whole. I voted the same way in the last election, too. I’m not stupid, I was under no illusions about the likelihood of Nick Clegg getting into power on his own. Nonetheless, it was more than a little frustrating for the Liberal Democrats to get a similar percentage of the votes to the Labour party and yet a fraction of the seats. Definitely not keen on our First Past the Post system.

Anyway, so… Cameron. I’ve blogged about Cameron before. He’s made several statements about unmarried families, broken homes etc. In his eyes, unless you’re married you’re not contributing to society. I don’t like this viewpoint, not least because I’m not married myself. It’s ridiculous stereotyping, and I know for a fact that I have and will provide for Isabel better than some married couples I know provide for their children.

All of our local Conservative MPs have voted against equal rights for gays. In fact — and this is why I’m bemused — I find it quite ironic that I’ve seen several people online quite loudly supporting the Conservatives and yet joining pro-Gay facebook groups. Hello, can’t have your cake and eat it. I don’t know how anyone can find it acceptable to support a homophobic party, personally.

I wasn’t keen on the Lib Dems forming a Lib/Con coalition. Firstly, because I don’t see how 2 parties with very different policies can work together. Secondly, because I have a feeling that the next 5 years are going to be hard going, and I didn’t want the LDs’ chances of actually getting in and forming their own government at some point to go out of the window as a result.

I’m willing to hold off judgement on Cameron’s suitability for the job until he’s been doing it a while, but given that I disagree with most of their manifesto, and dislike most of their MPs, I don’t see how anything positive will come out of this election for me.

The Politics of Parenting

Gina Ford — so-called “parenting guru” — has lashed out at UK Lib Dem party leader Nick Clegg after he hit out at her parenting manual. Ford, an unqualified former maternity nurse questioned Clegg’s maturity (ironic, given her lawsuit against mumsnet after mums shared a few views of their own) because of his comparison of The Contented Little Baby Book to “a sort of Ikea assembly instruction manual“.

My favourite part of her retort is her misguided idea that because the book has sold 1 million copies, that there are 2 million British parents following her advice. I don’t know what planet Ford is on, but this is as barmy as me suggesting that every one of my thousands of visitors over the years are loyal readers. In actual fact, my following is smaller by yards, and I imagine much of the sales of Ford’s book are by well-meaning and probably child-free friends and relatives who read the blurb and think it sounds amazing.

Back here on planet Earth we know that her advice to breastfeeding mothers is potentially detrimental to supply (babies suckle at the boob to encourage production of milk; her suggestion to top baby’s up with formula interferes with that) and her enthusiasm for cry it out/controlled crying techniques chills me to the bone. Her book and its followers are symptomatic of several generations of parents who think raising a child involves shoving a bottle in a baby’s gob and posting in front of the TV so as not to be an inconvenience to mummy and daddy.

As for Clegg… far from losing voters, I have a feeling this revelation of his choice of parenting method is likely to connect him to a lot of mums up and down the country.

I’m a Woman, Actually

I’ve thought about writing this entry several times over the past few years. Each time, I decided against it because I’m aware that there are plenty of women out there who have it far worse than I do. Women who have to work for minimum wage to support their kids. Women who have to deal with sexist comments or sexual harassment in the workplace. For the most part, though, I don’t have the deal with these problems.

However, I do have to deal with being a woman in a male-oriented vocation. I have to deal with insinuations and presumptions. I have to deal with the idea that I couldn’t possibly be a successful woman in IT because only men code, and only men play with computers. And it pretty much sucks most of the time.

It started when I was in college. Second year of my course I was the only girl in my class, putting up with sexism from both fellow students and the staff. I had to listen the female lecturers put themselves down in front of students because “teehee, [they’re] just a girl”.

When I got my first proper job as an IT technician for a local school, I was put down in front of colleagues and students on my first day. A male teacher, clearly feeling oh so superior despite being in such a position that he needed to ask for help, told me that he didn’t want my help, and that he wanted the help of a real technician (indicating to my male colleague).

When I ranted about the Macbook Air shortly after its release, Slate quoted me, attributing my words to “Jim Jabella, a British techie“. Jim. A male name.

And of course, yesterday’s hastily posted rant, which received feedback and criticism from Hacker News, reddit, and stumbleupon. Again, however, my opinions much attributed to “him” and “his”.

These examples are just the cream of the crop. I could mention the subtle digs I get on a regular basis; the stereotypical bullshit you read on the likes of digg and reddit from men who’ve act like they’ve only just reached puberty; the inane articles like “What Women Want”, “How to Please Your Woman” etc, but why bother? One stupid remark is one too many.

I have breasts. I have long hair, and big fluttery eyelashes. I have a pair of boots with heels, and I buy cute bags. I bleed from my fucking vagina for a week out every month. I am a woman. It just so happens that I’m a woman who can code, who writes PHP scripts, who likes to dabble with CSS and HTML. I’m a woman that pokes old hardware, who games on the weekend and has an opinion about almost everything. If you cannot bring yourself to double check before making assumptions about my gender; if you cannot respect the fact that it’s not just men in IT, don’t be surprised the next time I tell you to stick your “his” or “him” up your arse.

British VAT Change Affecting Online Retailers

I don’t know if you will have all heard (given that most of my readers are hailing from the USA) but the UK government has reduced VAT — the tax we pay on many goods and services — from 17.5% to 15% effective as of Monday 1st December.

While this is barely going to scrape the service of outgoing costs for the average billpayer (things like food are mostly zero-taxed anyway), it’s causing huge problems for many online retailers. Pre-packaged e-commerce solutions often have the VAT rate “hard-wired” in to them, which means that come Monday morning the developers of the software and those retained by the companies to maintain the websites are all going to have a bit of a headache.

On top of the mess being left in the hands of developers and business owners, there’s already cowboys jumping on the opportunity to market themselves as experts at tweaking VAT rates. Now how do you put that on your business card? “E-commerce website VAT tweaker”?

Anyway… my bespoke e-commerce solutions? Unaffected, of course. ;)

One Rule for Them

Remember how back in May last year I told you all that I thought that the Madeleine McCann kidnapping was neglect? Apparently the majority of you agreed with me. I’m sure there were others around the country who felt the same; others in positions of power who could do something about it. Yet, no, the family were treated as victims, and nothing was done about the blatant disregard for the children’s safety.

So why is it that 3 children have been taken into protective custody — 3 children much older than the McCann children — because a parent or guardian wasn’t home to supervise them? Why this total change on how we deal with parents who’ve got better things to do with their time than watch their own children?

One rule for them, another for the rest of us…

UK Teachers At It Again

A few years ago there was a teacher strike at Karl’s school and I made a few comments on it, inadvertently being quoted on the local newspaper front page. I thought I’d blogged about it but I can’t find the entry so it was probably lost in one of my many DB breakages.

Anyway, the teachers are at it again and this time the strike is country-wide, affecting some 7,800 schools according to the BBC. Nicely timed to coincide with year 11s revising for their big exams over the coming months. Apparently, they’re demanding a pay rise above the 2.45% offer they’ve been given because they work oh so hard and deserve as much money as possible.

The very fact that these people are getting a pay rise at all is something they should be grateful for. Year after year, which teachers are sat in their cushy jobs with their over-inflated pay, working short days and short years while teaching assistants, network managers, IT technicians, resource technicians, etc — all of those crappy jobs that go on behind the scenes that are just as integral to the running of a school as a teacher is — get bugger all. They’re looked over for pay rises, while the demands on their time rises.

Teachers get a starting salary of over £20,000. What does your average IT technician/teaching assistant/other support staffer earn? Around £12,000-£16,000. Teachers are given grants to train. What funding do support staff receive to train in the field, or to continue professional development after they’ve found a full time position? 0. Teachers get a “golden hello” for choosing to teach certain subjects. What do support staff receive for supporting those subjects? 0.

Do those support staff/etc get the same abuse from the same students, day-in day-out? Yes. Do those support staff work the same hours — or more often than not, more — simple to keep a school running as it should? Yes. Do IT technicians and network managers get dumped on with home computers, home Internet problems and irrelevant shit that should be taken to PC World? Yes. Do these support staff and technicians take work home even though they already have longer hours and shorter holidays? Yes. Do other graduates in other industries have to pay off the same loans, pay the same bills and the same rent/etc, have difficulty getting on the property ladder with no hope of a pay rise and no unions to support a strike? Yes!

When I worked as an IT technician, I was given little above minimum wage for my hours per week. I received no respect from the teachers, often being patronised because of my age (and because I’m a female in IT). I would support a class in the IT room — above and beyond my job description — while teachers sat at their arse surfing Facebook or Hotmail at the front of the class. I fixed the computers that the students punched and kicked because they knew the teacher watching wasn’t interested (not their property, not their problem). I did jobs that I shouldn’t have been doing because the teachers couldn’t be arsed.

While teachers have had their 19% pay rise (total) over the past 11 or so years, those people supporting them have knocked been back, receiving little or nothing. So do I support the teachers strike? No I bloody well do not. Let’s get some of the hardest working, lowest paid workers in the UK — in education and otherwise — on something a little more fair before we start dishing out extra to the already well-paid teachers.

(Note: individual figures dependant on location, individual school, etc.)

On Being Judgemental

I was reading Violent Acres today (this is not a new thing, I love that blog) and got sidetracked by Wide Lawns. WL had been invited to guest post on V’s blog, and chose to talk about being judgemental, and the collapse of our society because of other’s lack of willingness to do the same.

What struck me was not the actual post, but a couple of the reactions over on the Wide Lawns blog. As per usual, there are those who decided to take the whole thing a little too personally. “kirili” in particular; she blames WL’s opinion on the fact that she [WL] is married, white, thin, obviously well off and happy. She goes on to state (paraphrasing here) that WL shouldn’t possibly be entitled to said opinion because she doesn’t “understand their societal context“.

I have to say, it’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve read so far this year. I’m not married, or thin; I come from a family that for the most part was what you’d consider “poor”; I lived with both my Dad and Mum respectively, along with my 5 siblings, as part of a single parent family. I had to work my arse off to get to where I am — be it a great achievement in anyone else’s eyes or not — because I didn’t get everything handed to me on a plate like a large majority do today. I didn’t go to university and I don’t have a trust fund. I have come through my own struggles, emotional and otherwise.

Yet, despite all this — despite being one of those poor souls affected by society’s ills (sarcasm) — I totally agree with Wide Lawns post. A huge part of the problems in our society today are caused by the people that WL talks about, not the other way around as kirili would have us believe. The majority of these people have to choose their own path, but it’s a lack of ‘negative’ judgement on behalf of parents and peers that allows naive and damaging behaviour to continue. It forms a vicious circle of actions that — although once deemed unacceptable — are suddenly “OK”, “normal” even.

I chose a “better” path. I chose to strive for a good job and a happy home life. I chose to differentiate myself from the majority of my peers (who are saddled with debt, children and little hope of doing anything with their lives). I choose to take responsibility for my future and to distance myself from the mess that others make of themselves. If that makes me judgemental, then fuck it.. I’m proud of it too.