Saturday, 30 December 2006

Size wars...

On Wednesday, my friend Asta (who is basically an adored adopted mum) and I went shopping for her extraordinarily generous Christmas present to me - a winter jacket or coat. Now, when she told me she'd reconnoitred Edinburgh Woollen Mill's collection, I intuitively knew that was where we were going to find my coat - that feeling of absolute certainty settled in my solar plexus. So I should have known that I really needed to steer her away from Debenhams and just go straight down to EWM...

I confess - I *hate* Debenhams and never go in there for clothes - for cosmetics or perfumes, fine, or even, erm, essentials. BUT. NOT. CLOTHES. The layout by designer rather than type of clothing irimtates me beyond all reason, and the clothes are just too trendy and self-conscious. However, since Asta, a Berliner, was in full Germanic efficiency mode, far be it from me to disrupt her, I thought.

We started off with breakfast in the Debenhams cafe, which was fine. Then I started trying on coats. In almost every shop, I am a UK 14/16 (read US 12, basically). Put me in anything at Debenhams, however, and a UK 16 makes me look like I have Jordan's boobs (I love my cleavage, but I don't need to be made to feel that each individual component is the size of one of Jupiter's satellites) and b/c the top part is pulled tight around the back, my bum needs a sign that reads, "Caution: wide load". And the journey through Debenhams coatracks were no different - it left Asta saying, "You've gained weight, your bum is sticking out." I rolled my eyes affectionately and refrained from saying, "Well, of course. Because these aren't 16s, they're more like...12s (US 8)."

Onwards and upwards guessed it. EWM. Downstairs were the short coats, and the moment I tried on a 16, Asta noted the difference in size, cut and line. We asked about the long coats, which were upstairs.

And there it was - a long, gorgeous single-breasted coat in blackberry and a size 16. I pulled it on - and not only would I be able to fit an Arran jumper under it, I'd be able to fit the sheep it was knitted from without any trouble. Mission accomplished by 12.30.

But that got me thinking about the recommendation that an obesity warning be placed on all size 16 clothes. First of all, as you can see, there IS no standard size 16. I did not lose half a stone and several inches in the 2 minute walk to EWM. How can you put an across the board warning on something with such variation *across the board*? And isn't there quite a difference in shape between size 16s - for example, a 5'10" woman who is a 16 and a 5'0" woman who is? You cannot define obesity and health risk by a number on a label.

The AVERAGE size in the UK is...16.
The AVERAGE size 16 woman has a waist of 30-31". Since when is a 31 waist considered obese? Since we decided that it was ok to come up with a size 0, which by its very name says, "You are nothing. You do not exist." To wear a size 0 means you have to have a 22" waist...the AVERAGE WAIST OF AN *EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD*. Instead of obesity warnings, maybe we need anorexia warnings. Instead of harping on about Muslim women wearing veils, maybe we need to look at how we in the West veil women by forcing them into ideals of beauty that deny them breasts and hips and a real womanly figure. I asked one of my male friends once about size 0 women. His response? "EWWWW. If I fancied one of them, I'd be a child molester." (He feels the same way about Brazilians and Hollywoods.) Harsh? Perhaps. But thought-provoking, nonetheless.

So, I have a proposal: we're debating not treating obese patients on the NHS. Let's be fair - let's not treat anorexia patients on the NHS. After all, if you argue that obese people choose to put food in their mouths, you can also argue that anorexia patients refuse to put food in their mouths and thereby take up a disproportionate amount of mental health and hospital resources better used on people who are more likely to be successfully cured. So why is it ok to treat them and not obese patients? Because they're trying to fit the societal ideal of beauty and thus deserve our sympathy?

Either you decide that both sets are victims of their own choices and treat neither, or you allow that both sets have underlying issues that they cannot resolve on their own, and you ungrudgingly offer them the resources to deal with the problem, not the symptoms - at the microlevel, that will involve comprehensive psychological and nutritional plans to help individuals...and at the macrolevel, it will involve examining, widening and changing what we, as a society, define as beauty and value in ourselves and others - not just women.

If you're comfortable in your own skin, if you care about others, if you live life to the full - then you're absolutely gorgeous, no matter what size is on that Debenhams label.

Monday, 25 December 2006

I dreamed a dream...

Ok, I've been meaning to publish these one by one, but instead, you're getting a three-fer. Now how much would you pay? I'll throw in a Ginsu knife as well...

Recently, I've been having dreams that have me sitting bolt upright in bed at about 2.30am on a regular basis. I'm going to record the three most vivid ones - you know, the kind that you really *live* through and wake up from completely confused because you're in this reality.

Important things first: I always dream in colour and my biggest fears are tsunamis, tornadoes and spiders. The tsunami and tornado fears have the same root: the utter stillness/silence that I imagine in the moments that precede their arrival, the sense that all the energy is getting drawn out of the atmosphere, creating a vacuum that is about to be filled by immense destructive force. No spiders in these dreams. Oh, and you also need to know that I have NEVER been south of the equator. All thoughts/interpretations welcome.

Here they are in chronological order:

1. I was looking out to sea - it was a beautiful day, near sunset, but dark clouds were gathering, though the sea remained smooth. I knew I had to go out across it to go back where I'd come from, and I was trying to remember how I did it. Just as I was remembering that I needed to 'speed skate' across, the sky went dark and a line of F6 tornados came in my direction. I knew I had to go, so I started, and the line passed to my left, but continued in the distance as far as the eye could see. As I carried on, another line of F6s passed to my right, hemming me in. I could see blue sky in the far distance and kept hearing a voice saying, "Stay to the middle and you'll be fine. You can do this."
2. I had a dream where I was teaching using a smart board. Suddenly, on the board I was using,
up came a picture of a [white? is that possible?] skyscraper, and a voiceover said, "Irim, we
have a problem." In the next second I learned why from the faceless voice: "We're in Melbourne.
There's a bomb. The building's going to go at any minute. We need you to make a decision
about evacuation."
I have no idea why I was in charge; I don't know the city *at all* and I started to panic,
thinking exactly that: without any knowledge of the city, I had no way to make a decision of
such import. How many blocks? We couldn't do the whole city, but...20? 25? Suddenly, a calm,
assured, familiar male voice came up behind me, saying, "You'll need to evacuate about 30,
here's why...and because of the river..." I can't remember the detailed city information,
but I was swept by a wave of relief and made the decision:

"Evacuate the building - get a chopper to the roof to make it quicker, and evacuate a 30 block

Just as they finished, the building collapsed - but oddly, it had suddenly moved from the centre
of a crowded city into a field where it was the only structure - it was bright, sunny, and suddenly,
a child ran behind it - a beautiful, beautiful little girl...huge eyes, wavy blonde hair, pale skin.
She paused and looked straight at me...then ran off into the distance, down a dirt road leading
away from me. There were other children on the road and I noted that the weather was greyer in
the distance; she kept looking back over her shoulder, as if she expected me to follow her.
Down the audio line, I heard the distant voice say there had been no casualties, but above
that I heard the familiar voice behind me say, deeply relieved, "That was my niece. Thank you."

3. This dream is in present tense b/c it's still unresolved; whenever I read it, I feel like I'm
living it again, and I find myself incapable of changing it to past tense at the moment:

I'm in a huge house that's very light, and built on the water...and I mean *ON* the water,
not BY's floating on the water, not on stilts. I'm in a kitchen with a cathedral ceiling,
painted white, it's very bright. The house is HUGE and light, and I'm looking out a window that
stretches from floor to cathedral ceiling. Everything is grey: from the sea to the sky (mist/fog?),
there is no differentiation in colour and there is an eerie stillness, as if the world
were holding its breath, but there appears to be no threat. Suddenly, I look up from the paper to
see several tornadoes (about 5) approaching us from across the water - the leading one is fat,
light grey and straight, the one behind it is thin, black and curvy, and they're flanked by three
that are in between - I blink and they're gone, the scene tranquil again, but I know they're coming.

I go and grab my...husband? boyfriend? (for the sake of clerics reading this, let's say husband)
and tell him to take our girls downstairs. He nearly refuses and tells me to come down with
them - I refuse, and he asks me what I think I'm doing and when I'll be down. I respond, "Soon, I
promise," knowing it's the only way he'll go with the girls. At this point, the house gets a lot
darker and looks much more like the home I grew up in - the hallway, the entrance to the
basement, etc. I'm so anxious, I practically shove them down the steps, and then go
back to the kitchen to look out the window.

They're coming now, exactly as I'd seen them, and I'm not moving - I'm about to
face them down. As they reach the house, I wake up.
First dream, I can see the message of not going to either extreme, to keep to the middle, to keep my head. Second dream, I think part of the message is that if I am asked to make a huge decision, or to take a leap of faith, the information will come when I need it - so, as per Nike, just DO it.
The third one...still pondering. Please feel free to leave any thoughts at all - I look forward to them and dream analysis is one of my favourite things - I am a Jungian, after all!

A blessed Christmastide to all who celebrate it, and happy 2007 to all.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Mission impossible...complete

As of a week ago today, I had not sent a single Christmas card and had only gotten Christmas presents as necessary: I exchanged with Catherine and Elizabeth in November (I think I gave you Xmas cards, girls, if not, I apologise) and I took a birthday and Christmas present to London last week. For some reason, the Christmas spirit eluded me - I wasn't interested. The Advent hymns at mass had been lovely, but offered only a brief glimpse of said Christmas spirit. I'd bought my Christmas cards but found that the moment I considered writing them, I felt the need to clean the cats' litter tray...Holly and Poppy were seriously impressed.

I tumbled into this week unprepared: sans my usual list with 'cards' on one side and 'presents' on the other. Sunday was the sabbath, I told myself, no shopping then (plus, I was coming back from London). Come Monday, reality ran by and said, 'tag, you're it', thus ending my attempt to avoid it. Christmas was 7 days away; the time had come.

Occasionally, my life adopts a soundtrack. This week's: Mission Impossible. "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write out your list, post/hand out your cards, get all your Christmas shopping done, and get gifts to everyone before're excused if your friends are in Italy or Germany. This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds."

Lunchtimes, evenings after work (thank you, Borders and Thursday late night shopping!), Lodge duty, afternoon coffee - all these were fair game for the necessary shopping, writing, etc. as the "Mission Impossible" theme ran through my head. As usual, I found that once I started, it fell into place and started taking care of itself. I really need to learn to take the advice I used to give students, rather than living by the maxim, "Take my advice, I'm not using it."

And a funny thing happened on the way to shopping for friends' presents and sending cards with a personal line or two. As I wrapped them and gave presents to friends and saw their faces, Miss Scrooge began to edge towards the door. She was given her final notice on Thursday, when I grabbed a tag from the Giving Tree at Borders and bought something for a 7-year-old girl in hospital. Rach and I discovered it last year finishing our respective last minute shopping tasks, and it put the biggest smiles of the Christmas season on our faces. That's going to become a yearly tradition for me, I think.

Once the shopping was done, cards were posted on Thursday (and they have all reached their destinations - mazel tov, Royal Mail!), presents were wrapped, and all those who were in town had received theirs...the last one at 7pm tonight. Go me! Mission impossible accomplished, and more blessedly, the theme has faded from my life's soundtrack - for now.

Today, I did the next week's food shopping, saw off my last housemate, and settled in to cocoon over the next several days. The house, at long last, is mine for a few days...bliss.

I'm going to come clean - I'm spending Christmas *on my own* this year - and as much as I've loved the times I've been away and the people I've been with, I can't wait. I want to wake up late, schlep in my pyjamas, play air guitar to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on VH1 Classic, pop Christmas lunch in the oven, read, snooze and watch "Dr Who" and "Hogfather". My introvert needs a bit of pampering - there has been a lot of 'tugging at my skirts' over the year - and for a change, my introvert is going to get it.

Starting with a bath using a red, glittery bath ballistic from Lush.

Absolutely, erm, lush. Happy Christmas, everyone, and see you after "Ruby in the Smoke". Not that I'm planning my hols by the telly instead of religious observance or anything...

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Getting into the Qristmas spirit...

Brought to you by Tales of the Bitter Rose, the letter 'q' (what else?) and the Australian qoala bear - with many qongratulations to the Aussies for qiqing our qarse and regaining the Ashes with some fantastiq qriqqet - Irim gets into the holiday spirit:

With true love and qoala
Each other now embrace.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Indeed. And thanks to the Surrealist Christmas song generator, we now know the truth of what happened that night in Bethlehem long ago...

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The qoala of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

And on Epiphany, the wise men sang:

O qoala of wonder,
Qoala of night,
Qoala with royal beauty bright!

We Three Kings Of Orient Are
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Amen. Chanukkah sameach and Happy Christmas, everyone. Off to wrap some pressies...oh no, work, I meant work!

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Stranger than fiction...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the film "Stranger than Fiction" with my housemate Anna. We'd seen a trailer for it when we went to see "The devil wears Prada" and thought it would be quite interesting. We both loved it; at the end, it was interesting to hear the range of reactions as we walked out from "not that great" (someone down a mobile phone to her friend) to puzzlement to those that echoed our own.

The premise is simple: an IRS agent who has done things in exactly the same way (e.g., brushing each of his 32 teeth 76 times) for as long as he can remember suddenly hears a female voice narrating his life. That's fine as long as he's tying a single Windsor knot, but when he hears
neurotic author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is desperately searching for a way to kill off her main character - Harold Crick - say:

“Little did he know, events had already been set into motion which would result in his imminent death,”

he realises it's time to get help. He finds it in the form of the the splendid Dr. Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman), a professor of English literature.

Through romance, a desperate attempt to pinpoint the source of the voice, lines such as "I'm an IRS agent. Everybody hates me," and Harold's attempt to find meaning in his life - as well as his watch's attempt to get his attention - the film moves smartly through mostly predictable plot twists.

What really makes the film work are its sharp observations of human nature and the questions it raises. In one scene, Harold is on a bus, reading Kay Eiffel's manuscript and the death she has outlined for him (things only happen to him once they're typed, so the death is written out on legal size paper). What would you do if you were given that manuscript? Those sheets of legal paper - the ones you could change? What would you do if you were to die tomorrow?

*Hands up* Yes, as you've guessed from my blog, I'm one of those people whose idea of a great evening is to discuss questions like that over a bottle of white (or madeira or Bailey's or amaretto...) till 3am.

We admit to having a bit of that desire all the time - "Oh, I'd love to be 25 again, but only if I knew then what I know now." We'd love to give that 25 year old the manuscript and say, "I know it seems awful now, but look, it's going to open the doors to some wonderful things," or "Don't say that, you'll regret it a decade on. Let it go, it's not worth it." I'd like to believe that some part of me was able to reach back to that young adult I was and say, "It's going to be ok. Really. Bring that leg back over that railing, go inside and cry it out, and I'll see you in a few years."

So what would you do? One of the questions asked over that glass of wine included, "God comes down and says, 'Here's your soulmate, but there's a catch. You can have him, but he dies after a day/week/month. Now, here's someone else, you can settle happily with him, he's lovely, but you'll always be just a wee bit restless. You get him for 60 years. If you choose your soulmate, you'll be alone for the rest of your life.' Your reply is..." For me? The soulmate, every time. Then, it was because I wanted to be able to make that choice. Now, it's because I know I can. Of course the big question - as it was for Harold Crick - was "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?"

Funnily enough, as religious as everyone seems to think I am, I wouldn't go to mass, or seek out confession or last rites, or kneel in a church. If my whole life is a prayer - which it should be, and I hope it is - then I need to pour out my life as a libation, not in ritual. I would make sure everyone I cared about knew how much I loved them, I'd drink and laugh with friends, listen to their problems, people-watch, appreciate the beautiful world we live in...and make sure my will and organ donor card were in order, as well as give away my books to those who would love them. Rach, you get first dibs on the clothing, you fashion template! (I know you'll give most of them to Oxfam, but make sure your mum gets enough to replace what you're always 'borrowing'.)

Oh, and I'd remember to look back and love the ordinary things and moments that make up the main threads of the tapestries of our lives - as Kay Eiffel says near the end of the film:

"We must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties which we assume only accessorize our days, are in fact here for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives."

In fact, why wait? I think I'll start now.

Friday, 15 December 2006

A cricket prayer...

To amuse and cheer up all my clerical cricket fan friends, as well as those who are Catholic and Anglican laity. I'm not being discriminatory, it's just that they're the ones closest to the shape of the mass, and will thus understand the following re-write of the responses and the Eucharistic preface.

I am so going to hell for this, but it will be oh so worth it:

V: Blessed art thou, our new bowling attack, for limiting the Aussies to under 300 and giving our
batters an easy chance. We are sorry they wasted it.
R: Blessed be the bowlers in this match and all that follow.

V: Blessed art thou, Kevin Pietersen, no. 5 batsman, for helping our innings to over 200 and
holding the tail together. Please value your essential wicket more highly.
R: Blessed be Kevin in this match and all that follow.

Preface for the third day:

O game of heaven, it is right that we should always give thanks for you: you are the one
Game of the heavenly hosts. Through all eternity you are played by those in unapproachable light.

Source of summer joy and agony, you have shown us many things, you teach God's creatures
with every inning and help all men to understand the necessity of balance. May we always
remember that good bowling must be capitalised on by good batting, or we will always
lose, and never come to fullness of understanding of all your lessons for us.

United with the angelic teams, and in the name of every creature under heaven and the words
of 10cc, we too sing your praises as we say:

We don't like cricket, oh no, we love it.
I'd recommend not standing near me in a thunderstorm anytime soon...or maybe for the rest of my life.

Oh, and Chanukkah sameach to all my Jewish friends!

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Sexy Spanish...

Argh, this is going to entail a revealing confession.

Ok, here's the hard bit: I watch Classic FM's video channel. I'm sorry if that destroyed anyone's image of me as cool, collected, capable and classy. I'm cheesy and romantic and a load of other things. I ALSO WATCH VH1 CLASSIC AND MAGIC. AND "KNIGHT RIDER" IF I CAN FIND IT. TAKE THAT. *Ahem* So there. :)

Tonight, the video for "Regresa a mi" by the quasi-classical (rather hot) group "Il Divo" was on. And I fell in love with Spanish all over again. It was my elective language from 7th to 12th grade, and I just loved the way it rolled off the tongue (the upside down exclamation points didn't hurt either). If I'm being tender, it's the language I'll tend to fall into - somehow it's more given to that than English is - there's something in the combination of rhythm and sound. I've heard Italian and it's close, but it just ain't Spanish. Spanish flows like molasses around you; Italian can be too...staccato, to borrow a word. It's lovely, but.

Many of our books are Latin and Greek, quite a few are French and German - but nothing makes my day like finding an old Spanish book that needs cataloguing - the writing is so beautiful that just saying the Spanish to myself makes me smile - the structure, the sound, the vocabulary (yes, the letter q, too, though Latin takes the qake there!).

But I digress. I sat down and listened - for those of you that don't know, "Il Divo" has 4 members - American, French, Swiss and Spanish. The song started, and...finally, Carlos Marin, the Spanish baritone, sang his verse. Oh. my. God. Stiff competition for triple chocolate cake and great sex...

There is nothing like hearing Spanish sung by a native speaker (Julio Iglesias is a borderline case). It sounds obvious, but the difference between a very good non-native speaker and a native speaker is far greater than one might think - the inflection, the rhythm, the pronunciation (of course!), the fluidity, the...almost carelessness with which the language is used by a native just can't be touched. When Carlos opened his mouth, the Spanish came alive - painting images of Moorish architecture, flamenco, siestas and sangria...bliss.

The next sexiest thing in the language top ten is having an Italian saying Latin mass (damn, I said that out loud) - let me tell you, tripping off an Italian tongue, Latin could be resuscitated if it were found in Tutankhamun's tomb.

So, gracias, Carlos, for making my evening. Viva el espanol - o, en Espana, el castellano! (Arrgh, how do you do tildes on this thing?)

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Crowd control...

Whilst I was on the Lodge at church today (read: receptionist/shop assistant), I read an article that put forth a proposition that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about crowds:

James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, asserts:

"Assemble a bunch of randoms, ask for a real solution and you will get a clarity of answer born of disagreement and contest [emphasis mine]. Assemble a bunch of experts and you will get consensus, compromise and sycophantic specialisms." (
Psychologies, January 2007)

Proof for what my intuition has been telling me all along, and for those who have written that even science, that bastion of the search for pure knowledge and truth, has been directed and decided by social consensus.

Leaving science aside, my thoughts turned to the Catholic Church over the last 30 years or so, and the steady silencing of dissenting theologians: Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff. To the statement of the current pope that perhaps the Church would be better and stronger if it were smaller and more narrowly focused. My heart sank.

You see, over the last 11 years of my life in the Catholic Church, something has been nagging at me. There have been flashes of truth during that time, but something has constantly niggled, even during the beauty of a high mass in Latin. A sense that it' longer fully anchored, that it's no longer whole. A feeling that the colours have been washed out and the vibrancy lost. Most conservatives would tell you that's because of Vatican II. I would argue that it is because of the silencing of dissent has eliminated the need to really look at and put forth vigorous, coherent arguments for the doctrine of the Church and change them or develop them where necessary. Conflict is essential for development, because it makes us REALLY look at WHY we believe what we profess to believe: ten years ago, I opened my mouth to defend my support of the death penalty to my friend Catherine - and suddenly thought, "I don't believe a word of what I'm about to say." The discussion, diversity and sparring that arises from conflict gives the Church life, vibrancy, fullness and depth of passion and integrity; note that Christ's interactions with the Pharisees and those who challenged him - such as the woman at the well - are the most rich, vivid, riveting parts of the Gospel. Christ died for everyone - not just those who nodded and gazed up adoringly at him: the Catholic Church is for all. Reduce ourselves to just those who believe whatever they're told, and the Church will wither and die, like the branches that that are no longer anchored to the vine.

Hard to believe? Just look at many of the blogs ("Whispers in the Loggia" is a notable exception, Rocco Palmo is incredibly thoughtful; and of course, "Godzdogz" is fabulous) that say, "I believe everything I'm told by the Church without thinking, and I will defend her to the death, hooray! Anyone who disagrees with mother Church is being led by evil. I'll pray for them. *Big smile*" You can hear the vacant, helium, Stepford voices across cyberspace as the bottles of Papal Prozac pop open. It always fascinates me how those who profess to follow Christ neglect to notice how their smug intolerance and lack of compassion nail Him to the cross.

As for arguments, here are some snippets from an argument against same-sex marriage, widely hailed as brilliant in conservative Catholic circles:

  1. To deny driving licenses to the blind does not assume that they do not deserve equal respect and consideration as persons, but that they are different from other persons in respects relevant to driving. [Well, of course, because blind people driving would put others at risk. Gay people marrying does not.]
  2. Exclusivity, dependence, duration and sexual nature are not the relevant aspects why marriage is privileged by the State. They are only the conditions of those aspects that make marriage unique: the vital function of procreation and the socializing functions of bridging the male-female divide and raising children. [You don't need to be married to procreate; I've been bridging the male-female divide all my life; and healthy, happy children can be raised by any permutation of loving adults. And why would the State legislate it for those reasons? Is the writer afraid that if it wasn't legislated, people would stop reproducing and society would cease to be? Or that everyone would be gay? Not going to happen. The state makes laws about marriage so that it can define how it takes place, define it legally, tax it...essentially, so it can control it.]
  3. The other objection is that marriages fail, to the detriment of children, spouses and families at large. But if individual marriages are in crisis, the correct inference cannot be that social policy should institutionalize this failure rather than counteract it.[No one I know has ever made that argument in favour of same sex unions, but more to the point, legalising same sex unions does NOT institutionalise the failure of heterosexual marriage - it couldn't possibly, b/c homosexuals, by definition, don't WANT to engage in heterosexual marriage. It *broadens* the definition of marriage. For example, do dark and white chocolate 'institutionalize the failure' of milk chocolate? Or do they broaden the definition of chocolate, allowing more people to enjoy it?]
If this argument - one which a bright 12 year old could take apart with a dictionary by her side - is considered one of the best in the defence of Church doctrine on this issue, then Surowiecki's point is made. In the presence of healthy argument and resistance, this could have been a coherent, well thought out piece - I'd disagree, certainly, but I would have been able to respect and appreciate it. Instead, it is long-winded, fallacious and intellectually lazy, as so much Church discussion is these days, because there is no real challenge in the greenhouse. It's one big mutual admiration society - approving of the Grima Wormtongue sycophants, dismissive of the challenging Gandalfs...and like Theoden, will wake to find itself the weaker.

So, bring back dissent - challenge is no threat to those who have the truth, and as per Edward Murrow during the McCarthy years:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

Amen. And that goes for any human institution - God given or no.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Australia 2, England 0

Trust England to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory - or at least a draw. It was dire - the batters collapsed for 129, after an assured display of 551-6 in the first innings. A lot of people are screaming for Ashley Giles' head b/c he dropped Ponting on 35 in the first innings. However, they forget that McGrath dropped Pietersen, who went on to make more runs than Ponting - and Australia still went on to win. Now, I'm not a fan of the Ashley Giles selection, but he isn't why we lost. The problem runs far deeper than that. Whereas if Australia is behind, they'll give you two fingers up and relish the challenge, believing they can win, England will choke time after time - even as they're about to win...note the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, which England won, but should never had made it into extra time.

Whilst contemplatively slurping my chicken soup from Pret, let me share some thoughts - slightly edited from my TMS blog post - as to what's going on with our very talented team:

I've always felt that if you want to understand an organisation, look to the head - the ethos and mood trickle down from there. So if you want to understand a classroom, look to the teacher. A monastery, look to the abbot.

If you want to understand a team, look to the coach.

I think Peter English at cricinfo made an excellent point when he said that Duncan Fletcher's mood seemed to have infected the team on the morning of the 5th day after the optimistic end of the 4th. He sat there, arms crossed, immobile - you can see that mood reflected in Ian Bell - until now a confident, intuitive batsman in this series - doubting his teammate's call for a tight single. Colly KNOWS what he's doing - from both the batting and fielding perspectives - Bell just needed to *trust* him and go. Why didn't he?

It's the retrenchment mindset - don’t lose any, rather than go out to win. So when a healthy risk is taken, Bell baulks…b/c he can’t appropriately assess the risk - ANY risk is dangerous. And that’s the atmosphere Duncan has created. Only Michael Vaughan neutralised that to a great extent. You HAVE to trust your partner and TAKE THE RISK. That's the only way a team works. This incident where one teammate didn't trust another's calculation of risk is symptomatic of what ails the team and I suspect it's very telling re: Fletcher's leadership.

Fletcher strikes me as the type of coach who is really good for one thing: building teams from nothing and instilling stability and security (e.g., central contracts)...brilliant for us in 1999. However, he doesn't seem to know what to do once he has built the team - he's like a parent with an adolescent, unable to let go and allow for growth, increased risk-taking and independence whilst granting unconditional support. He's done well by us, but he now has a bunch of talented cricketers who need to be allowed to fly, not be kept on jesses. They need someone who would have been smiling this morning and said, "Go for it, boys, you can play your game. Watch Shane on this pitch - it ain't over, but get out there, you can do this." They needed encouragement and pride in what they'd done so far...and to be told to keep taking it to the Aussies - it looks like they were just told to survive the day. And if that's your goal in a contest like this - or lack of one, really - you may as well just hand over the prize now.

The way the English team is playing, they remind me of pupils I used to teach who had over-anxious, over-controlling parents. They would freeze b/c they were afraid to fail...but the freezing guaranteed that failing is exactly what they'd do.

Thanks for everything, Duncan, but you're impeding the growth and success of this team now. We need someone who can take a group brimming with talent and turn them into a team where partners trust eachother's decisions, have faith in their ability to take the necessary risks, and never say die. And someone who will make proactive, not defensive, decisions himself - letting the team know that "I know you guys can go out and win this - and that's what we're going for - whether we win, lose or draw." That is the difference between potential and champions.

Even the Aussies agree - to quote an article in "The Australian", 02/12/06:

Australia only became the world's champion team when Mark Taylor became captain and brought a positive attitude, sweeping aside Simpson's [ex-Australian coach] ghosts and bringing light where there was fear and darkness.

England needs an enlightened approach for the sake of Panesar and all those who follow him.

It is clearly not going to dawn as long as Fletcher continues to cling to his empire."

It may be coming from our archrivals, but...Amen.

Darren Lehmann, come on down - a South Australian who will tell the team to be careful when it's warranted, but who will inject some positive thinking and some Aussie bolshiness and grit into this side.

Bring it on. Losing this series could be the best thing that ever happened to the England cricket team.