Monday, 31 December 2007

New Year's resolution

Well, it's that time of year again - we're going down the waterfall of 2007 into 2008. Whilst watching the "House" marathon on Hallmark this weekend (what better way to end the year than watching Hugh Laurie, sex god?), I was stopped in my tracks by this Marc Cohn song:

How many roads you’ve traveled
How many dreams you’ve chased
Across sand and sky and gravel
Looking for one safe place

Will you make a smoother landing
When you break your fall from grace
Into the arms of understanding
Looking for one safe place

Oh, life is trial by fire
And love’s the sweetest taste
And I pray it lifts us higher
To one safe place

How many roads we’ve traveled
How many dreams we’ve chased
Across sand and sky and gravel
Looking for one safe place

I've spent my life journeying, looking for or trying to be that one safe place - from trying to take up as little emotional space as possible, searching for the closeness and trust I never had with family, to trying to be a shelter for others. Sometimes I've done well, sometimes not - my story is a very human one.

Listening to this song yesterday, these lines hit me the hardest:

Oh, life is trial by fire
And love’s the sweetest taste
And I pray it lifts us higher
To one safe place

In one of life's sweetest paradoxes, to find the love that brings safety, your journey can't be one of looking for a safe place - love can only find you when you're willing to take a risk and fully engage in life.

Suddenly, I realised that my journey needed to be about living my life to the full - stretching, taking risks, loving, being willing to fall from grace.

My New Year's resolution? No more searching - falling or flying, the love I find on the journey will bring me to that one safe place.

Roll on, 2008.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto

Years from now, when asked where I was when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I will respond, "I was at lunch with a Pakistani friend who was flying out to Pakistan that evening. If the question is where was I when I heard, I was at home, it was 16.20, and I went to the BBC website ON A WHIM. There it was."

I remember the execution of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, just months before we were due to visit Pakistan for the summer. I wasn't really affected - my parents weren't Bhutto supporters, and my father read news of Bhutto's death with grim satisfaction. I didn't really understand what was going on: as long as my relatives were ok, I was fine.

My late teens and twenties were a time of separating from my Pakistani identity. Even so, I cheered Benazir Bhutto as a western-educated woman who wanted to rule in an Islamic country. No matter how much my father cut her down, I always secretly hoped she'd get into power - a western-educated woman as Pakistani Prime Minister! HA! Take that you pompous, Muslim, South Asian male jerks!

Then she went for an arranged marriage. I, and many other girls of Pakistani heritage trying to straddle East and West, felt betrayed. So I didn't pay much attention when she was elected Prime Minister. I carried on my merry way, turning my back on my Pakistani identity.

Let's be clear here: Benazir Bhutto was no saint. She promised advances for women during her tenure as Prime Minister and didn't deliver. She saw the Taliban as a 'stabilising force'. She might have been guilty of corruption. Hero worship has no place here.

She was as complex as the country from which she came - an extremely privileged woman who spoke out for the poor (though actions are harder to find); a proponent of democracy who ran her government and party like a dictator. Full of contradictions, ever tough - but those were necessary qualities in an area with the worst gender rights record and the most corrupt political system in the world.

Whether one supported her wholeheartedly, felt that she betrayed her education in Western democracy, or felt she found it impossible to resist becoming part of a corrupt system, one cannot deny that she loved her country and gave her life for it. Her fate and that of Pakistan's were inextricably entwined; she lived and breathed Pakistan, even when she was thousands of miles away.

That sense makes the news of her assassination even more frightening.

I didn't expect to be hit by it the way I was; when I saw it on the BBC website banner, I just stared, unable to absorb it. Benazir Bhutto. Assassinated. I immediately turned on BBC News 24 and stared at it for 2.5 hours before I realised we weren't actually going to hear Pervez Musharraf's speech in full, nor was there going to be anything new for a while.

Mind-numbing, someone called it. Yes. But so much more. Shock, grief, horror, anger. Fear. And a sense of something being ripped away. An awareness that whether this was a master stroke designed to destabilise Pakistan and drop it into the hands of Taliban clones or whether this was a horrible miscalculation by one of her opponents, possibly even Musharraf- today, evil won a battle in the long war. And I'm feeling so much more I can't even begin to verbalise now.

But what I can verbalise is this: I don't want to read any more crap like the stuff on the BBC "Have your say", where the most recommended comment is the offensive "That's the way politics works with The Religion of Peace," and another is "Pakistan - what a wonderful place it must be." HOW DARE YOU. YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE PEOPLE AND THE COUNTRY, YOU XENOPHOBIC JERK. SHOW SOME RESPECT.
The people I want nearest me, the people I want to talk to about what I'm thinking and feeling are the ones who know Pakistan and love it, who can understand what I can say, but more importantly, what I can't. That's one friend flying to Lahore as I type, and another who had the nerve to tell me I was more Pakistani than I wanted to admit to.

Oh God. This can't be true.

We all thought she was indestructible, that she'd always be there. Her narrow escape in October, when 140 of her supporters were killed and 400 wounded, reinforced that belief. We couldn't imagine Pakistan without her.

Now, we have to.

Rest in peace, Baji.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Mona Lisa Smile

I'm a sucker for life-affirming, cheesy drama. Add a feminist twist to it, and it's irresistible - so when Mona Lisa Smile showed up on Channel 5, it became must-see pre-Xmas fare.

And in its last lines came a sentiment that resonated deep within:

"Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

If your *real* concern is for truth, you cannot limit yourself to a particular tradition, definition or image...and you will never find the whole truth within an institution.

Because the truth, which sets us free, cannot be owned by any one person or institution. Anyone who tells you they have "the truth" is lying. The truth cannot be contained.

That truth which sets us free breaks down those walls, turns our lives upside down, shatters our definitions and images and leads us into places we've never imagined - and to the place we spend our whole life searching for:


Even if it isn't what you expected it to be.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

O Holy Night

I may not sing or play an instrument, but nothing moves me like music. If I need to feel after being numb for too long, work through problems or be brought closer to God, nothing does it like music. From Thomas Tallis to Def Leppard, from Bach to Bollywood to Shania Twain's "Man, I feel like a woman" (and yes, I dance around the house to that), if those closest to me can't reach me, music will. Music can reach places the spoken word can't, and the story that lyrics tell allows us to face our stories at one remove.

Thank God for the Welsh. (Calm down, Robert G.) With an accent that turns their speech into song, it's no surprise that they produce world class singers the way Bollywood produces films. I've often suspected Welsh babies could hold a tune from the moment they were born - I'm sure many a Welsh paternity suit has begun with:

"That's not my baby. You've been sleeping with an Englishman."
"Baby can't be 100% Welsh - he cries flat."

Well, the X Factor's Rhydian Roberts is no exception - a baritone who soars into the tenor range as easily (and as often) as I pick up chocolate, he has wowed the judges week in and week out with his vocal ability and both OTT camp and understated performances. To quote judge Simon Cowell (known for his scathing comments): "If we're going to award the prize to the person who has been consistently, actually, brilliant throughout, we'd have to give it to you, Rhydian."

Many people have argued that his training has eliminated any emotional tenor (pun intended) from his performances, but my sense is that they feel that way because what they call 'emotional' is actually histrionics. Genuine emotion is most often understated - you sense it rather than see it. What Rhydian's training has done is modulate his expression of emotion and given it a greater range by increasing the shadings. No one listening to this rendition of 'O Holy Night' can argue that he sings without emotion or passion. He just doesn't need fireworks to show it.

People's complaints show how frighteningly incapable we are of reading or understanding the infinite expressions of emotion - most people only recognise or acknowledge emotion when it is extreme.

Back to music. "O holy night" is one of my favourite carols - for its intensity; for lyrics like 'a thrill of hope: a weary world rejoices'; for ranging from hushed awe to opera.

And, most of all, for that penultimate "O night divine..."

Ah, you think, yeah, the dramatic, spectacular bit. What was that about understated?

No. That's not what it's about for me. It's about having a voice and being able to let go. When you grow up not having a voice, or moderating your voice so others don't get hurt or upset, or remaining silent so others don't get angry, having a voice - a *true* voice - seems a million miles away. You either keep quiet, censor, or when you have to, defend. You rarely make a strong statement from the heart.

Making that statement from the heart and singing that penultimate 'O night divine' require that you let go. You cannot speak from the heart if you are controlling or holding back. Likewise, that penultimate 'O night divine' requires that you surrender to the music and trust your voice. If you hold back, you become physically incapable of singing it.

So many people think that because I pipe up and disagree or fight my corner, a true voice is the least of my problems. That's a defence, a barrier. What and whom I love, my dreams, joys, hopes, fears, sorrows, darkness, my beliefs (the real ones, not the censored ones I offer so you're not offended) - *that* is my true voice. Few of you have heard it, even in passing. Those very few of you who make it safe enough for me to speak it consistently, thank you from the heart.

The last four weeks, the universe has been teaching me to set boundaries. From a friend who has yet to explain and really apologise for brushing me off when I'd travelled 70 miles to a friend who felt that accusing me without really listening to or engaging with me constituted a fair discussion, my life has been about saying, "I will not be treated like that. I will not be abused or taken for granted."

So I haven't really had a chance to speak out with my real voice recently.

Which is why, when I first heard Rhydian sing that penultimate 'O night divine', I wept. Hitting that note with a rare clarity and sureness, he held it, loud, long, true.


As all our real voices should be.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Criminal minds...

is one of my new favourite television shows, not least for the erudite quotes at the beginning and end. Tonight's juxtaposition of quotes at the end - apparently contradictory, said by the same person - was one of the best yet:

"It is better to do violence, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."

Still not sure who it is? This quote should help:

"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary. The evil it does is permanent."

That sounds more like the version of him that we revere...the man is Mohandas Gandhi. What does that first quote really mean? He's saying that it is better to be violent, if that is your truth, than to claim a position of nonviolence as a lie because you are incapable of doing something about a situation.

True nonviolence is not a position of weakness: it is the position of ultimate strength. It is only when you are deeply rooted and secure in who you are that you can even contemplate true nonviolence as a position - and I'm not talking about just guns or knives. I mean the violence we do to eachother on a daily basis: judging eachother;
the subtle bullying, trying to pressure others to 'fall into line' with the rest of the group for their own good; the parent who criticises and controls endlessly because 'praise would make you lazy, and criticism will make you work harder'. On a show I was watching, I heard a woman claim "I'd call myself aggressive. I'm strong." Aggression isn't about strength; it's about fear. It is the ultimate in weakness- it's proactive violence - getting in there before someone else does.

Being in control is not always strength. And to quote a favourite book, "That which yields is not always weak."

But what about violence 'in the name of good'? The snipers and police officers who kill hostage takers, terrorists, people who place our lives at risk? Responding with force to an invasion? The death penalty for those who commit heinous crimes?

I'm not saying nonviolence is easy, especially in a world that communicates through violence so often. There are times when a show of strength is needed, no question. But responding with more force than is needed crosses the line into violence. And you can't help but wonder what happens to the hearts of those snipers and executioners over time.
Like faith, like following your principles and being true to yourself, it's a choice you make over and over, every single day.

The evil violence does is permanent. Just ask those one or two generations down from an alcoholic or the survivors of a violent event beyond our imagining.

Yes, but what about revenge? What about when someone hurts you or someone you love, and all you want is justice? All you want is for them to feel in pain the way you feel in pain? All you want is fairness?

"Before you embark upon a journey of revenge, dig two graves." --Confucius.

"Yes," you may say, "but it would mean the world to me. Then I'd be fine. It would be over, and life would be fair."

To which I would respond with a final quote - taken out of context, true - but it shows the true price of violence, even that done for the best of reasons:

"For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Big bird...

Tonight, I read at mass (God, I *adore* Isaiah) and at the Advent Carol Service at Church.

Smooth as silk.

But I haven't been to Benediction in years. So when Joseph read the Divine Praise:

"Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete"

out of my mouth comes:

Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the ParaKEET."

Hopeless. I started giggling, picturing the Holy Spirit as a giant, brightly coloured bird. No dignity. Mind you, I suppose the liturgical colour for Pentecost is red. On the other hand, green and yellow might clash with the tabernacle veil. Best to stay with a neutral white dove, I think.

I told Ruth on MSN, just now, and her response has set me off again:

Irim says:
I read at the Oratory Advent Carol service
ruth says:
how did it feel?
Irim says:
I haven't done the divine praises for a long time
Irim says:
Instead of saying the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete
Irim says:
I said, "The Holy Spirit, the...
Irim says:
ruth says:
ruth says:
God, the Macaw!

Can't you just hear the conversation:

Jesus: Father, you can't do that. You need a neutral.
Father: I quite like bright colours. And the Holy Spirit is supposed to be creative and inspirational. What's wrong with a macaw?
Jesus: Ok. Let me hold Him up to a Pentecostal tabernacle veil.
Father: The red looks fine.
Jesus (raising an eyebrow): AND THE BLUEY PURPLE?
Father: Ah. Indeed.
Jesus: Look, Dad, you know I love you. But there are going to be liturgical colours from deep to reddish purple, green, gold, white, red... you need to go neutral. We're talking grey, brown, black...that sort of thing.
Father: So: pigeon, sparrow, crow. Mmmm. Lots of choice. And the crow's voice - oi, you trying to kill me here?
Jesus: Don't be a Jewish mother; it doesn't suit you.
Father: You backtalking me? I'm putting you in the world, I can take you out. Your mother doesn't have to say "yes", you know.
Jesus (*thinks*): Ooh, let me see: born in a manger, laughed at, spat on, nails driven through my hands and crucified. Oh no, Daddy, I don't want to miss THAT!
Father (managing a straight face): I've got an idea...
Jesus: I'm all ears.
Father: White is the new black.
Jesus: Eh?
Father: A dove. He'll go with everything, lovely voice, not too flashy, not too dull. Pure looking.
Jesus: *Snorts* But you just LOOK at white and it gets dirty. Hard to keep it immaculate.
Father: Son, that's your job.
Jesus: Oh. (looks crestfallen) You didn't mean that about Mum saying 'no', did you?
Father: See you at Christmas, Son. I've got a present for you.

Monday, 3 December 2007

She has floppy ears...

is one of the most amusing 'mis-hearings' of the lyrics that back up Peter Gabriel in one of his most surreal and fabulous songs, "Games without frontiers".

I was hypnotised by that song when I first heard it a quarter of a century ago, and it's still an all-time favourite. It's a testament to the fact that enduring popular music isn't the anodyne, ungrammatical, uninteresting, talent-show cr*p that's coming out now - I've been curious about Peter Gabriel's references for *25* years. That's not going to happen with Girls Aloud or Westlife now, is it?

Ok, time for my confession: I heard those lyrics as "She's so popular." Actually, they're "Jeux sans frontieres" - French for "Games without frontiers".

Directly from songfacts:

"Kate Bush sang backup - that's her singing "'Jeux Sans Frontieres'." (I thought it was Peter Gabriel doing falsetto)

"Gabriel got the idea for the title from a 1970s European game show of the same name where contestants dressed up in strange costumes to compete for prizes. A version of the show came out in England called "It's a knockout," giving him that lyric."

The 2nd verse of the song begins:
"Andre has a red flag/ Chiang Ching's is blue/They all have hills to fly them on, except for Lin Tai Yu.

"Andre could refer to Andre Malraux (1901-1976) the French statesman and author of the book Man's Fate, about the 1920s communist regime in Shanghai. Red flag may refer to Malraux's leftist politics. Chiang Ching could refer to Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists - hence, the rightwing Blue Flag. Chiang's forces lost the civil war in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile.

"Lin Tai Yu may be Nguyen Thieu (1923-2001), South Vietnamese president during the height of the Vietnam war. After the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, England, and later to the United States where he died in exile.

"The lyric could refer to the fact that while leftist politicians like Andre Malraux had a secure position in France, and rightist leaders like Chiang Kai Shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those caught in the middle like Nguyen Thieu were pawns in the Cold war and had no secure country. This could also be a reproach to either Thieu or his United States backers, saying that he was now a nobody."

Marvellous. How many songs have THAT much learning packed into 4 minutes? How many songs haunt you for a quarter century? And even if the above surmise is incorrect, how much do you learn from researching and debating what it means?

All in the guise of a catchy tune.

The song does something else that all good pop songs should: it taps into deeply held emotions. When I first heard it, it helped me articulate my feelings that adults were playing silly games with other people's lives, so they could fly their flags from as many hills as possible. The chorus - "If looks could kill, they probably will/in games without frontiers/war without tears" also tapped into that fear of those of us growing up during the Cold War in the Reagan era - the fear of imminent nuclear war, vividly brought to life in movies such as "The Day After" and "Threads". Little did we know how soon it would lift, and that the end of the decade would see the demise of the Berlin Wall.

Since that time, pop doesn't hold the same appeal - I can't think of a single song that has the impact of Paul Hardcastle's "19" or Peter Gabriel's "Games without frontiers". There's no attempt at intelligent writing or tapping into real emotions, no Dylanesque social commentary, no interest in the world at large, just a self-absorbed obsession with looks and puppy love. I'm a bit worried that this generation will be ruling the world in a couple of decades, and they don't seem to care enough to write songs about it or debate what's happening in it. The time to start is now.

Mind you, no one will ever be able to surpass "Games without frontiers":

It's a knockout.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Golden compass

Before I start, let me say that I far prefer the original title Northern Lights, and don't approve of the dumbing down of the title for Americans. They need to learn.

But this isn't about Philip Pullman's marvelous trilogy, Dark Materials.

It's about the people in your life who are golden compasses.

I've thought about this on and off for a long time, but last Saturday's ordination put me in a reflective mood, and I finally pulled it all together.

Saturday's ordinand to the diaconate is someone who has been a member of the community in my church since October 2003. I'd seen him around for about 18 months before that. I found him unsettling - in part because of his build and his economical movement, which reminded me of a fighter, but mostly because he 'felt' like a coiled spring - everything from voice to movement was measured, controlled, but it felt like a hurricane was being held in; there was an incredible tension, a dissonance between inner and outer that made me wary and uncomfortable.

His rigidity and marriage to rules - Jesu pie, there were days that I wanted to shake him and remind him that flexible trees are the ones that survive strong winds and come upright again. I began to think of him as Br Rule-Keeper. Let's just say that the mental intonation was not complimentary.

But discomfort makes me very watchful - and the more I watched, the more wariness turned to (grudging, at first, I'll freely admit) respect and affection. He was gentle with children, and unlike others I have known, had a healthy adult-child relationship with them: he wasn't trying to be one of them, he was the adult and they were the child, and the kids loved him for it - no chaotic, hyper childishness that's fun for a while, but not something you can lean against or trust. Just quiet solidity and the occasional teasing. His actions matched his words...I didn't like him, but when he promised me he would do something, it was done. No drama, no whingeing, no lies...just action.

In my world, that's worth a hell of a lot.

Oh, we still spar and roll our eyes at eachother. We'll never agree about the Catholic Church, rules, orthodoxy, any of it. I still want to shake the pedant (sorry, m'dear, but you can be) out of him and get him to loosen up a bit and put some emotion into it, especially when catechising the masses. But I'd bet you my last tuppence we agree on the *principles*, even if our expressions of those principles are 180 degrees apart.

But his stability, his demand for things to be thought out, makes him something more precious than that friend who always agrees with you: it makes him a compass. But what does that mean?

I was reading one of Rachel Naomi Remen's stories of a young man who came to counselling after his father died - he was an artist; his father was an insurance agent, accountant or something along those lines. He spoke of their fights, how he struggled against the direction that he felt his father wanted him to take, the security his father insisted he have.

Then he won an exhibit. Afterwards, one of the judges came up to him and said, "How could we not give it to you? Your presentation answered every single one of our objections. Clearly, you had thought everything through."

And the son got it.

His father was a compass. The son didn't have to take his father's direction, but because his father always pointed north, the son could mark his chosen direction from his father. And his father had forced him to be able to defend the direction he chose to take, to ground his dreams in reality.

So it is with Br Rule-keeper. I'm sure, since he sees Catholicism as the One Truth, he would prefer that I keep to a direction far closer to his. But he always points north, so whatever direction I choose to take, if I mark it from him, I will always travel true.

And I've finally realised that, as an iconoclast, I don't really want the whole system to come down at once - I want it to *change*. The edifice may have to be taken down and rebuilt, but it must happen systematically, and not in the form of a collapse. That needs rule-keepers.

He's not alone in my life: I'm blessed with friends who are compasses of all shapes and sizes. From my ex-supervisor-the-kindred-spirit to cynical Rachel to midnight sidhe and Moses, from the somewhat-distractable-but-intuitive-friend to the "How long have you had a thing for unavailable men?" mate and the "A
nd he missed out on getting his boner seen to by u! what a step in the wrong direction! :)" cheekily affectionate male friend, none of them are what you expect a compass to look like.

But they always point true North - and allow me to mark my heart's direction.

Thank you. I love you all more than you will ever know.

Beware of those that look like compasses. My father looked and sounded like a compass, like the paragon of stability, but he was one of the most controlling, emotionally unavailable men I have ever met. A current male friend's bearing and orthodox pronouncements give him the appearance of authority and compasshood, but scratch the surface and you find someone whose emotional unavailability and need for control rivals my father's, except it is more like being in the middle of a tornado than a Siberian winter, not least because he drowns it in alcohol.

Trust me: don't go there. Taking your direction from someone who is running from their own pain, from themselves, will only ensure that two people are lost, not one.

Don't forget to try to be a compass to others - always point true to your heart's direction, to what you really believe, and you will be someone else's true North.

I said I wasn't talking about Philip Pullman. I lied.

After all, what is Pullman's golden compass? An alethiometer, derived from the Greek meaning "truth measuring instrument". Ask the golden compass a question and it will give you a true answer - but you have to be able to interpret the symbols to know what that answer is. It won't always be what you want to hear. But it will always be what you need to hear, and you can mark your direction by it.

So pay attention to your compass, and treasure it. S/he is, after all, one of life's most precious gifts.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

A question of faith...

from the Bishop of Oxford's sermon this morning during chapel at work (they're evangelicals, remember?):

"For me, the mark of an authentic faith is that the person isn't about whether they're really religious or not, it's whether
or not they are fully alive ."


He continues:

"I've known people whose faith has diminished them, made them smaller. It has prevented them from fully engaging in life."

He has articulated one of my most deeply held beliefs. As a Catholic in my church, my faith is measured by whether I receive communion on the tongue or on the hand; whether I go to a mass where the priest's back is to me; how well I can worship at a priest's feet; how precisely I follow the rules.

But looking around me, all I see is death. People dead to the world, to joy, to God.

As per a favourite poet:

"And an old priest said, "Speak to us of Religion."

And he said:

Have I spoken this day of aught else?

Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,

And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?

Who can spread his hours before him, saying, "This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?"

All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.

He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.

The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.

And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.

The freest song comes not through bars and wires.

And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.

Your daily life is your temple and your religion.

Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.

Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,

The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.

For in reverie you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures.

And take with you all men:

For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair.

And if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles.

Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.

And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.

You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees."

--"On religion", The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

So you'll pardon me if I judge your faith not by your ability to parrot or follow the rules, but by how you live your life: how you treat others; whether you will risk fully engaging in a mortal life that brings love and pain, happiness and sorrow in equal measure; whether you will risk everything for love, mortal or divine; whether your faith opens you up to others or makes you shut them out, creating a world of 'us' and 'them'.

I have seen 'faith' diminish too many people - they have become small-minded, narrow; desperate for the approval of their superiors; joined the 'more perfect' religious life to run away from their issues and to lead an easy (read: avoiding responsibility) life; they amputate parts of their personality until they fit a soulless mould and there's nothing left of the person God created.

Shortly after that, Bishop John made a point that wasn't explicitly related, but I think ties in beautifully to his comments above.

"When I'm afraid, I lock the door. But when I lock myself in, am I locking Christ out?"

That's the real question, isn't it? "Perfect love drives out fear" - and makes you unlock that door - and yourself.

The truth shall set you free.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The head fake

This is the best lecture I've ever had, given by a professor I've never met. Carnegie Mellon University professor, Randy Pausch, is dying of pancreatic cancer at 47. CMU has a tradition called "Last lecture" - every year, a professor gives the lecture they would give if they were dying. This year, they renamed it "Journeys". As Randy said, "Damn, I finally nail the venue and they rename it."

It's 85 minutes long, so be sure to have the time to watch it in a single sitting. I've chosen this version because it has the introduction by his friend, Steve, but the download at Blip seems to have better sound. Your choice.

Trust me, if it were between this and "Spooks", Randy would win, hands down.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Bring them home

Enough is enough. Isn't it time that the Royal Festival of Remembrance became just that - a festival of *remembrance*? Last year, I spoke of how haunted I was by cataloguing books from 1910-1920, and how lads entering university in 1912 or 1913 rightly looking forward to golden years studying and punting found themselves on the muddy fields of Ypres.

In this year's Royal Festival of Remembrance, John Simms read us a letter from Passchendaele written by Jack Mudd to his wife Lizzy and their two little ones, taking us back across the years, reminding us of the true cost of war:

Dear Lizzie, it's nearly six months since I saw you, how I long for you and the children. God bless you all. I love you more than ever. I want nothing more to take you in my arms, what a lot of love we have missed, but please God it will make it all the sweeter when I see you.


Please God it won't be long before this war is over, we are pushing old Fritz back, I don't think he will stand the British boys much longer, and then we will try and keep a nice home. I will know the value of that now.

Why can we not know it always? Four days later, Jack was not present at roll call, and his body was never recovered from the knee deep mud and slime at Ypres. Lizzie remarried a friend of his from the same battalion who was badly wounded, but she kept his last letter in remembrance of their happiness. Her daughter donated it to the Imperial War Museum, granting us the privilege of a window onto their love.

No more. No more stories of young men dying on their 24th birthday in Basra's field hospital whilst his twin holds his hand. No more men and women coming home irreparably wounded - physically, spiritually and emotionally. No more young widows and widowers. No more orphans.

No more young men dying for old men's wars.

From Laurence Binyon:

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

And finally, please...

God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there.

He is young,
He's afraid -
Let him rest,
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

Just bring them home. For always.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

My telly shame

I'm sitting on the sofa on a Tuesday night, having just careened through a sublimely tense, gripping episode of "Spooks". Another episode (having to do with nuclear triggers for Iran) is on at 22.30. I'll be watching it.

In between, I'm catching up with one of my favourite (hence the shame) trashy telly programmes: BRIIIIIIDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDEZIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!

Yup, I confess, I watch Bridezillas - it's one of the more amusing pieces of social commentary around. It has given us some of the best television 'slag offs' ("Good for you. Grow a dick," is one I like so much, I've adopted it) around. And it makes me grateful to be single.

(ARGH. A groom just said, "I don't want to deny you anything in life." WHERE'S THE PUKE SMILEY WHEN I NEED IT?? "It's 20x more than anything I've written a cheque for. We could have bought a house with this," he continues. ARE THERE ANY MEN LEFT IN THE WORLD? REAL MEN WITH BALLS? Buy the damn house. Pie Jesu.)

"It's a good way to spend my parents' money." *Snort* We went through women's lib for this? Come on, Manhattan brides, pay up! Buy your own jewelry, your own wedding dress, your own party. These boots are made for walking, remember? Just make sure they're on your credit card.

Here's a hint, boys - this Bridezilla? She's the real woman you're marrying. If she's like this planning a party, what's going to happen when a real crisis arises? If you want to see what a person is really like, watch how they treat the people who serve them and how they react to a crisis. You've got the opportunity to observe and then get the hell out of there.

And girls, a reminder - a wedding is for a day; a marriage and good friends for a lifetime.

"Something's bothering me about this dress. I'm not sure what it is."

You look like Little Bo Peep, sweetie, that's what's bothering you. Cf. Andie McDowell in Four Weddings. May I offer you a shepherd's crook and a lamb to go with that? Only £5000.

Hmmm...maybe we need a "Bridezillas: five years on" series...I could see it going down well...

Ooh, the first strains of next week's "Spooks". Sorry, gotta go. Mwah, dahlings.

Right after I buy that matched diamond necklace and earring set...

Monday, 5 November 2007

State of emergency

At midnight on Sunday, 4 November (Pakistan time, so GMT +5), Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. Opposition politicians, including cricketer Imran Khan, were placed under arrest, as were many other Pakistani citizens. The Supreme Court was disbanded just days before they were to rule on the legality of Musharraf's election.

Predictably, the UK and US howled in outrage. Condoleeza Rice, a woman who betrayed her gender and race by becoming part of an administration that hates both, has done what a true Republican does - threatened to pull Pakistan's aid package.

Hmmm. Let's see what happened in the weeks preceding the state of emergency, shall we? Islamic fundamentalists taking hostages in the Laal Masjid; 130 people killed in a single suicide bombing; more people killed as various outbursts of violence occur. We all know Al-Qaeda wants to isolate Pakistan from the West and turn it into a draconian Islamic state. They're punishing Pakistan for being close enough to the West to receive American aid.

And so, when Pervez Musharraf reacts the only way a Pakistani president knows how to react when the country is falling apart, Ms Rice, who doesn't know a damn thing about the culture or history of the place - and doesn't have the sense to ask anyone who does - threatens to isolate the country even further, destabilising it and driving it right into Osama's hands.

Not too surprising, since she actually believes that George W. Bush sees non-whites as equals.

Do I agree with what President Musharraf has done? Absolutely NOT. Do I understand in light of the culture and the way Pakistan works? YES. And the way to get Pakistan out from under this is NOT to push Musharraf further into the corner he's already in, but to talk to him and help him find a way out.

And let's be honest. Does either the US or the UK have a leg to stand on? The US instituted the Patriot Act; tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib; locks people in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. When I went back for a wedding four years ago, despite the fact I carried a US passport and had a US accent, I was asked rather aggressively, "Why are you here?"

I very nearly responded, "I was born and raised here, and carry an American passport, you c**t. Tell me, what are *you* doing here?"

I thought better of it and said I was going to a wedding, but I filed it away. Along with every time I got patted down by a man on my way to the plane, not because of the way I acted, but because of how I looked.

The UK doesn't fare much better - no pics of them abusing prisoners of war, but their Prevention of Terrorism 2005 Act, allowing the imposition of 'control orders' on those suspected of terrorism, doesn't give them the moral high ground. You know you're in trouble when one of your own judges calls your law 'an affront to justice' because it violates the European code of human rights.

To quote a favourite youtube video (see below):

"I AM afraid of the dark. I'm afraid of other things, too. I'm afraid that Western government is using terrorism as a Trojan horse to limit civil liberties..."

That is exactly what Western government is doing - it is using the fear generated by terrorism to exert greater control over a people who trust it less and less.

So if I were you, Condoleeza and Jacqui, I'd keep my mouth shut about human rights. You don't want to be looked at too closely - with centuries of constitutional liberties behind you and peaceful lands, you don't have the excuses that Musharraf does.

Amnesty International is watching you.

If you'd had any sense, you'd have brought the children of immigrants, like myself, on board. No one can hate Muslim extremists more than those who have grown up fighting the repression of Islamic culture so they can be free to be themselves - especially the women.

In my darkest revenge fantasies, I'm standing on a football pitch surrounded by pyres, on which burn the bodies of every single Taliban and Al-Qaeda member, along with every male of his line - each one shot, execution style, by a Muslim woman he abused.

No one can hate them more deeply than we can. No one wants to see them ripped out, root and branch, more than we do.

If you'd done your homework, you'd have known that. Instead, you assumed a Muslim monolith. You've paid for it in time, resources and goodwill lost.

Why are you here, indeed.

Sorry, Condo, you were saying, about Pervez Musharraf and the state of emergency...

no? What's the matter, cat got your tongue?

Or did you think you might want to take the plank out of your own eye before you remove the splinter from his?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Basmati rice scandal

Tilda has done it - betrayed the South Asian matriarchs.

Basmati in a microwave.

My mother would die. Her mother would kill.

Soaking the rice; cutting the onions; measuring out the water; getting the golden crunchy bottom - every single step was part of a ritual, passed on from mother to daughter.

To end in the MICROWAVE? Never.

"Sanjay is my only son - handsome, loving. Now, of course, he's brought shame on the family."

"What happened?"

"He cooks his basmati rice in the microwave. 48 hours I was in labour with him - for this? TWO MINUTES IN A MICROWAVE? Can a microwave replace a mother?"

Every South Asian mother would rise up against this sacrilege.

As do I. Mine takes at least 11.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The perfect anthem...

I've been cheated.

I've lived in two countries with completely rubbish national anthems - one about a war, one about a current ruler. Neither is really a paean to the land or the people who make a nation what it is. Each land has better options, but opted for the ones they have now.

Lately, of course, I've been singing this one constantly. I'll write more about why in another entry, but suffice it to say that the anthem is in four languages and ends with "Let us live and strive for freedom..." Absolutely. Those are the sentiments that a national anthem should have: love of country, representation of her peoples and a sense of moving forward together.

This weekend, I was messing around on youtube, and I thought, "Oh, I need to hear that national anthem so I can take the piss out of it." Found it easily enough...

and discovered an anthem that moved me to tears - a perfect blend of music and words. Watch it - the harmony on the first verse is incredible.

Rach will smirk, but I can take it, so here goes:

Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea:
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare,
In history's page let every stage
Advance Australia fair:
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands,
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands,
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.

It brims with love and gratitude to the land, her beauty and the wealth she brings them through their own hard work; a joy in living and sharing that prosperity with those "who've come across the seas"; and a resolve to move forward together to advance Australia fair.

I know no land is perfect, and that in reality, Aus has the toughest immigration rules of them all. But anthems are about ideals: what we're living and striving towards.

And this one should be adapted for and taken up by all humanity - to advance our Terra fair.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Aye ken reed...

"In order for children to read, all the studies show that we need to teach children how the alphabet works..." --Jim Rose, author of the Rose Report on literacy

Makes sense, right? Not if you're the head of a teachers' union, or if you're the children's laureate.

In this country, 20% of children leave primary school at 11 incapable of reading at an 8 year old level. Ten years ago, that figure was 33% - that's ONE CHILD IN THREE. IN ONE OF THE MOST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD...AND ONE THAT BITCHES ON ABOUT IMMIGRANTS NOT BEING ABLE TO SPEAK OR READ ENGLISH.

Thank God it's a country that understands irony. Most of the time.

I'm livid. Absolutely furious that a country that claims to put children and education first has schools full of teachers who cannot - or will not - catch students falling through the literacy net.

Why, you ask? Surely, it's simple enough. Teach children what the letters and diphthongs sound like, and they'll learn to string words together- they'll have the tools to attack reading, work out words they don't know, and feel competent, right?

In other words, the way we ALL learned to read - phonics.

Oh NO, says NUT and the children's laureate, couldn't possibly do that. It's BORING. God forbid the children should actually have to do work that isn't fun.

The children's laureate was shown trying to instill a love of literature into students he's working with - and with them stumbling over their reading, with him reading parts for them and them repeating it back, he argues against phonics, claiming it will kill their love of reading.

Erm, and you would be a shining example of that, would you, Michael? Because, my dear, at your age, I'll guarantee you that you learned to read by...phonics. And funnily enough, it's older generations - those who learned by phonics - that seem to enjoy reading most.

To get to the point where you can ENJOY reading, you have to read fluently. You have to feel confident in your ability to face unfamiliar words, sound them out, go "OH! That's e-l-e-ph-a-n-t...elephant," pat yourself on the back and carry on. If you stumble across an unfamiliar word and you use 'context' or 'whole word' methods, you're f***ed. What are you going to do if you can't sound it out, if you don't know blends, dipthongs, phonemes? Guess from the word shape? "Oh, it has a long neck, it must be 'giraffe'?"

You need to understand how the parts work, what their function is, how they fit together before you can understand the whole. Just like nature builds the proteins that give creation its infinite variety from amino acids generated by a nucleic acid code, words are built from letters and sounds. To understand proteins, you need to understand the nucleic acid code, amino acid properties and how they fit together. It's the same with words. Or anything else.

You need to build your foundation on rock, and stop pretending that shifting sand will do as well.

So it takes a bit of drill - make it fun, as some of the teachers on the show did - make a song of it, give them actions to go with the sounds, help them string words together. This isn't a 'right wing agenda' - going back to basics is just common sense. How you TEACH the basics is up to you.

I'm not a phonics dictator - I strongly believe in parental involvement, reading to your child, using context to determine *meaning*, instilling kids with a love of literature. But you need to give them a solid foundation on which to build their infinite variety of houses...and that means giving them the ability to work through reading themselves by teaching them how the alphabet - which makes up their words - works.

Literacy isn't just about reading words on a page - it unlocks worlds of reality and imagination; the ability to express yourself and understand others when they choose to do the same; it gives a child confidence to face the world, because she has the tools to understand what the world is telling her. It makes it possible for her to fly.

So doesn't that make it criminal for us to clip her wings when we refuse to make literacy possible because we're afraid of 'boring' her? After all, once she learns phonics, it's a skill she'll use automatically for the rest of her life. She's not going to be going "B-u-gg-e-r" when she's 12, now, is she?

Quit kvetching because you have to learn a new way of teaching a child to read, or you have to spend a little extra time catching a child in that safety net. Or because YOU found it boring as a child. This isn't about you, it's about our children and their future.

Now let's get reading.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Still being lazy...

I'll be writing a proper blog entry soon, but first, a big thanks to James Buchanan (aka Gary Barlow) for putting this on his Facebook status. I'm actually STILL laughing - again. For those of you who don't know the song or the artist this refers to, please go here first:

Loved it. And to those of you who voted and made me a wolf - an animal I've always been deeply fond of, and would have chosen as a totem - thank you. Of course, I'd have been proud to be a tiger too.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Let him offer me a better place...

This is how I came to learn, then, dandled on a former adept's knee, how blessed Elua came to be; how when Yeshua ben Yosef hung dying upon the cross, a soldier of Tiberium pierced his side with the cruel steel of a spearhead. How when Yeshua was lowered, the women grieved, and the Magdalene most of all, letting down the ruddy gold torrent of her hair to clothe his still, naked figure. How the bitter salt tears of the Magdalene fell upon soil ensanguined and moist with the shed blood of the Messiah.

And from this union, the grieving Earth engendered her most precious son; blessed Elua, most cherished of the angels.

I listened with a child's rapt fascination as Brother Louvel told us of the wandering of Elua. Abhorred by the Yeshuites as an abomination, reviled by the empire of Tiberium as the scion of its enemy, Elua wandered the earth across vast deserts and wastelands. Scorned by the one God of whose Son he was begotten, Elua trod with bare feet on the bosom of his mother Earth and wandered singing, and where he went, flowers bloomed in his footprints.

He was captured in Persis, and shook his head smiling when the king put him in chains, and vines grew to wreath his cell. The tale of his wandering had come to reach the ear of Heaven, and when he was imprisoned, there were those who answered. Choosing to flout the will of the One God, they came to Earth...

...It came then to the One God that his persuasion held no sway over Elua, in whose veins ran the red wine of his mother Earth, through the womb she gave him and the tears of the Magdalene...The One God pondered long, and sent not the angel of death, but his arch-herald to Elua and those who followed him. "Do you stay here and love as thou wilt, thy offspring shall overrun the Earth," said the herald of the One God. "And this is a thing which may not be. Come now in peace to the right hand of your God and Lord, and all is forgiven."

Blessed Elua smiled at the arch-herald, and turned to his boon companion Cassiel, holding out his hand for his knife. Taking it, he drew the point across the palm of his hand, scoring it. Bright blood welled from his palm and fell in fat drops to the Earth, and anemones bloomed. 'My Grandfather's heaven is bloodless," Elua told the arch-herald, "and I am not. Let him offer me a better place, where we may love and sing and grow as we are wont, where our children and our children's children may join us, and we will go."

The arch-herald paused, awaiting the One God's response. "There is no such place," he answered.

...Our mother Earth spoke to her once-husband, the One God, and said, "We may create it, you and I."

--Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Dart, pp. 12-13, 15-16

Let him offer me a better place - let his religion offer me a better place - one of passion, laughter and sensuality,
where we may love and sing and grow as we are wont...and I too, will go. Until then, neither the One God nor any of his self-styled owners of the 'one truth' will persuade me to an eternally bloodless and passionless land.

Love as thou wilt, and the blessed Elua will ever guide thy steps.

And so I shall.

Monday, 24 September 2007

A rare moment...

of schmaltz from me.

I am, as much as it is possible to be, a member of the Jim Henson generation. I was born in the time period that "Sesame Street" was in pre-production, and was a young toddler when it first aired. Some of my favourite early memories revolve around Sesame Street sketches - particularly the somewhat psychedelic "D/Doll" sequence, and Bob McGrath was my very first crush (he was superseded by Harry the Monster and Kermit, then Brendan Pelarski in the first grade).

When I outgrew "Sesame Street", there was "The Muppet Show" at 7.30 pm on Saturday nights, with its array of stars, and the ongoing sagas of "Pigs in Space", "Veterinarian's Hospital" ('the continuuuuuuing story of a quack who's gone to the dogs') and "Muppet Labs" (poor Beaker!).

And just as I grew into them came the richer, magnificent and somewhat darker "Jim Henson Hour" ("The Storyteller" half was some of the best television I have EVER seen), "Labyrinth" and "The Dark Crystal".

I grew up with Jim Henson. He was always there. Until...

I'll never forget my brother ringing me in 1990 to tell me that Jim Henson had died. I told him at least twice that he was kidding and wouldn't believe him. In the end, as we all know, I had no choice. None of us did.

For years, I've been looking for this clip from the show with Bernadette Peters - it made me cry then, though I only understood why when I was much older. The second half is the same song done as a tribute to Jim Henson - watch it the whole way through, even though you have to listen to the song twice.

You might even find yourself shedding a tear.

It has been almost 18 years, Jim, and we miss you still. Thank you for letting me - and so many others - grow up in your world.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

My daemon, pt. 2

I nearly had a heart attack today when I saw my daemon appear as a spider. Then it clicked...there are 12 days before it settles into final form. SO, before it does, please take the test and be *honest* about how you see me. Can't wait to see what it turns into next week.


Friday, 21 September 2007

My daemon...

as per Philip Pullman's definition - if I lived in Lyra's world, this would be the representation of my soul. Agree? Disagree? Comment and let me know:

Another quiz says that my daemon is a goose. I was offended until I was reminded that one of my favourite characters had a goose daemon: Serafina Pekkala, the witch queen. As per Wikipedia:

Serafina Pekkala's dæmon is Kaisa, a large grey goose who is capable of being separated from Pekkala by long distances, as is normal with the dæmons of witches... Witches own nothing, and so have no means of exchange save mutual aid.

There are men within the witch society who serve the witches, or who can be taken for lovers or husbands. Witches are said to be capable of appreciating men for their
beauty, intelligence, and bravery (we do indeed); but due to the witches' long life-span, the men appear to grow old and die almost at once. This is said to cause the witches great emotional pain.


Witches fly on branches of Cloud-Pine, and equate flying to living, as Serafina states: "A witch would no sooner give up flying than give up breathing. To fly is to be perfectly ourselves." Witches see themselves as subject to fate, yet they feel they must act as if they are not, or "die of despair". THAT sounds like me. Wait for me, Serafina, I just remembered where I put my broom...

Friday, 14 September 2007

Only 493 days, 13 hours and 28 minutes

From the Times - and before any conservative American readers (of which I hope I have exactly ZERO) shoot off, the Times is considered a conservative paper over here, so no "But Europe hates Bush" bull****:

"The 21 nations that make up the Asia- Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum account for half the world’s trade. They have, however, long suspected that the biggest member, the United States, did not take it seriously.

President Bush did nothing to dispel that impression yesterday when he forgot the name of the event, referred to his Australian hosts as “Austrians”, and engaged in a public spat with the President of South Korea. To make matters worse, the security measures of the Sydney police were breached by a team of comedians, including a man dressed as Osama bin Laden.

Mr Bush flew to Australia via Iraq, and during his keynote speech to businessmen in Sydney he behaved like a man in the throes of jet lag. Many will sympathise with his mispronunciation of the South-East Asian militant organisation Jemaah Islamiyah, and his struggle with the name of the Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. It was forgivable when he walked the wrong way off the stage and had to be guided by John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister.

But when he referred gratefully to Mr Howard’s forces in Iraq as “Austrian troops”, he had perhaps used up his credit. The worst mistake was made in the third sentence of his speech. “Thank you for being such a fine host for the Opec summit,” he said, confusing the 12-member Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries with the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. “Apec summit,” he said quickly in correction. “He [Mr Howard] invited me to Opec next year.” But that wasn’t true either."

Thank GOD I haven't had to live under this idiot, who should have choked on a pretzel years ago - at least his father is an intelligent and gracious man, even if I disagree with him. How he and Barbara could have spawned this creature is beyond me.

But let's leave that aside. I have a question for my countrymen. You watched him for FOUR years. You knew how lacking in intelligence and analytical ability he was, how lacking in integrity (the joke of the decade being that the man who executed more prisoners than anyone else had the NERVE to institute a "Sanctity for Life" day - go join the hypocrite pro-lifers who bomb abortion clinics and shoot doctors in hell, won't you?) he is, how corrupt his cronies are, how this man will lie to do what he wants rather than what is best for the country, how incapable he is of listening to anyone.


Ah, yes...if we break it down by IQ, it all makes sense:

1 Connecticut 113 John Kerry
2 Massachusetts 111 John Kerry
3 New Jersey 111 John Kerry
4 New York 109 John Kerry
5 Rhode Island 107 John Kerry
6 Hawaii 106 John Kerry
7 Maryland 105 John Kerry
8 New Hampshire 105 John Kerry
9 Illinois 104 John Kerry
10 Delaware 103 John Kerry
11 Minnesota 102 John Kerry
12 Vermont 102 John Kerry
13 Washington 102 John Kerry
14 California 101 John Kerry
15 Pennsylvania 101 John Kerry
16 Maine 100 John Kerry
17 Virginia 100 George Bush
18 Wisconsin 100 John Kerry
19 Colorado 99 George Bush
20 Iowa 99 George Bush
21 Michigan 99 John Kerry
22 Nevada 99 George Bush
23 Ohio 99 George Bush
24 Oregon 99 John Kerry
25 Alaska 98 George Bush
26 Florida 98 George Bush
27 Missouri 98 George Bush
28 Kansas 96 George Bush
29 Nebraska 95 George Bush
30 Arizona 94 George Bush
31 Indiana 94 George Bush
32 Tennessee 94 George Bush
33 North Carolina 93 George Bush
34 West Virginia 93 George Bush
35 Arkansas 92 George Bush
36 Georgia 92 George Bush
37 Kentucky 92 George Bush
38 New Mexico 92 George Bush
39 North Dakota 92 George Bush
40 Texas 92 George Bush
41 Alabama 90 George Bush
42 Louisiana 90 George Bush
43 Montana 90 George Bush
44 Oklahoma 90 George Bush
45 South Dakota 90 George Bush
46 South Carolina 89 George Bush
47 Wyoming 89 George Bush
48 Idaho 87 George Bush
49 Utah 87 George Bush
50 Mississippi 85 George Bush

Jesus wept. And then wanted to come down and kick your apathetic, unthinking asses - after he'd gotten over the fact that he'd wasted his time dying for you.

That's better. I've wanted to say that since 2004. At least you made a start by giving us a Democratically controlled Congress last year.

But for God's sake, people, quit giving the rest of the world reason to see you as an imperialistic, self-absorbed, materialistic nation, who thinks that it owns the entire world and thinks it can do whatever the hell it wants. You don't and you can't. If you have power and resources, you have RESPONSIBILITIES, not just rights.

Stop acting like an adolescent and grow up. Care for your own - money isn't all there is, and socialism isn't necessarily a bad thing. Learn from others. Learn ABOUT others. LISTEN. CARE for others - you're proud of your resources, use them to make the world a better place, not an angrier one. Realise that you're only a thread in the tapestry of this world, not the whole damn thing. Deal with your anger and pain, and become more compassionate. Make those of us who were born of you and are living elsewhere proud - make us want to own you rather than deny you.

Hilary and Barack...we're counting on you. And if you win, don't forget Al Gore.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007


Oops, it has been more than three weeks...sorry, folks.

Well, the news is that the funding at my last job ran out, which I'm gutted about, because I love my friars.

Since then, I've picked up a job writing educational resources - which is great, but my first assignment is 35 little booklets that - no matter how hard I try - I can't do in an hour each. The deal is that it should take 20 minutes for the mental map (almost there) and 40 minutes for the questions, answers and surfing the web for extra material and further reading. I am SO not there - that's taking well over an hour for me.

Part of it is that I don't know the subject. Part of it is that I'm new at messing around with mind maps.

But most of it is that I am incapable of dashing off anything except notes and things that I don't give a toss about. I'm a TEACHER. These are resources for teachers. They MATTER and I cannot give them less than 100%. The deadline was yesterday, and I'm nowhere near done - I've been at my computer for about 12-14 hours a day since Saturday: by Monday I'd done a full week's hours.

I've finally admitted that I can't do it in time. Even if I were quick, that's 35 hours of work. And I had to start over on Friday because my old computer died. What made me say 'yes' when I knew bloody well the answer was 'no' unless I had supernatural speed bestowed on me from the Charmed Ones' Book of Shadows?

As I'm now blogging, I think you can all guess that I can't do the 12 hour days anymore. I've hit the wall.

I've been listening to 'Au fond du temple saint' and Azam Ali (The cold black key from 'Pan's Labyrinth').

When this lot is done and a couple more things are sorted out, I'm going to Disneyworld.

Well, maybe Wales. But definitely the sea.

And back to a 40 hour week, even if I am working from home...

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A child of Partition on the 60th anniversary

Partition - "a division of property among joint owners or tenants in common or a sale of such property followed by a division of the proceeds." Antonyms: unity, unite.

One word. Not often used in English, and then without emotional charge.

Unless you're from the Indian subcontinent, where the word packs as much power as nuclear fission.

Partition. Always with a capital "P".

"There can be no question of coercing any large areas in which one community has a majority to live against their will under a government in which another community has a majority. And the only alternative to coercion is partition." --Louis Mountbatten

With those words, and with a stroke of the pen from Cyril Radcliffe (a man who had never lived in India, and was thus seen to be 'neutral') the Indian subcontinent was granted its freedom on 14 August 1947 as two separate nations - India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines.

"This concept of a divided India was based on the fantastic concept that nationality was based on religion. That made no sense to me." --Nyantara Sanghal, Jahawarlal Nehru's niece

Lines on a map cut right through the middle of people's lives. And nowhere was this truer than in the state of the Punjab, which was split in half, where Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus lived peacefully in integrated communities. Fifteen million people had to move; at least one million died. The Punjab went from a state of tightly knit communities to five rivers running red with blood, all with the stroke of a fountain pen.

Only once has anyone in my large [5 sibs on dad's side, 8 on mum's] family EVER talked about Partition except to celebrate 14 August, or to say briefly that they left Jalandhar for Lahore/Sahiwal/Hujra etc.

So the first time I really understood what had actually happened was whilst watching a 2005 programme on the series 'Dispatches' called 'Young, Angry and Muslim' about the Pakistani Muslim community here. It was well-done, narrated by a Pakistani Muslim [Navid Akhtar], unsettling, for all the reasons one would expect - radicalisation, the anger of the communities, and so on.

Then I looked up to see the trains.

Never, ever had I seen any footage of Partition, of the resettling over the border - until that day, when they showed three minutes of footage. The fear on the faces, the sick children, the elderly on the backs of wagons packed with people, or on trains that looked eerily like ones that had left Germany not 10 years before.

But this time, *I* was the one looking for familiar faces. My grandparents, in their 40s. My parents at 10. My uncles, aunts...they all looked like family...

And I heard my father's voice, at a family gathering a few weeks before I left the States to come here, speaking for the first time about Partition in my hearing, about a cousin who had promised to get them out, but took his girlfriend's family instead...and pushed them off as they tried to get on the truck. The fury and bitterness in his voice frightened me even as it made me want to put my arms around him. But our family has never been a close one, and my arms remained by my side.

My father's is only one story amongst millions. There were the trains that crossed the borders full of corpses; the houses that were burned; women who were raped or killed so that they wouldn't be raped; the refugee camps and children dying of disease; neighbours turned to enemies.

"I miss my friends. I didn't understand why they had to go. They didn't want to go. They were pushed away. And I thought "Why?" Sixty years later, I still think, "Why?" What did anyone get out of it?" --A Sikh reflecting on his childhood friendships with his Muslim neighbours

"The girls in the Muslim school [in Amritsar, on the Indian side] were stripped, marched out and systematically raped. I looked in the faces of those watching on to see if there was any compassion. I found none." --a Sikh in Amritsar

Muslim gangs destroying the Hindu quarter in the stunning, cosmopolitan city of Lahore, described by those who lived there then as tolerant, vibrant and the height of fashion; Sikhs attacking Muslim villages; Muslims and Hindus at eachother in the Punjab and Bengal all stand as proof that religion doesn't restrain our animal urges; when used by politicians to create fear, nothing is so effective as religion at unleashing them.

"Lahore used to be such a beautiful city, a tolerant city...there was a saying in the Punjab, 'You haven't lived until you have been to Lahore.' We [Lahore] have become more intolerant, more backward, more pseudo-Islamic." -a Muslim now living in Pakistan

One 80-year-old asked Shobna Gulati, a British Asian star who had gone back to India to trace her roots, "They had one language, one land. How could they do this to eachother?"

One land. Muslim, Hindu and Sikh it may be, but the Punjab is one land. One is Punjabi first, then their religion, and only THEN are they Indian or Pakistani. We farm. We are people of the land.

And so, even amongst this horror, there were stories of hope - Hindus hiding Muslims in their homes when the mobs came; Muslims knocking on their neighbours' doors to tell them the mobs were coming and they needed to leave.

This summer, the BBC has put together an "India-Pakistan 07" series, and the archives, including radio programmes from the past, can be found here. It has provided me with much food for thought, and surprisingly, a great deal of healing.

I've watched stories about schoolchildren in Kalkotta teaching street children how to read and write; I've grinned at the joy of people throwing coloured powder at strangers on the street during the festival of Holi; I've listened as British Asians traced their families' paths through Partition and seen them choke up when they arrived at their parents' childhood homes. I wept when people who had been through unimaginable violence said that they didn't blame those who perpetrated it; that they were only troubled when the memories returned. Watching people who could be my aunts, uncles and grandparents in dusty towns like the ones I used to visit as a child; feeling my shoulders drop the moment someone spoke Punjabi felt like coming home. Something dislocated snapped back into place.

Finally, I understand. I understand why my parents, who left Jalandhar with only the clothes on their back, were so desperate to hoard things and buy a bigger house AFTER I moved out. Why they wanted us to become doctors so we'd always be financially secure, whatever happened. I understand why I could never turn away from the subcontinent and be completely Western, even though I was born and raised in the States. What 'white boy' means when he gives me that half-smile and a twinkle when he says, "You are so Pakistani." And why I could never feel at home in Roman Catholicism.

I am Punjabi. Not Pakistani; Punjabi. And one day, I will make that pilgrimage to Lahore, Hujra, Sahiwal to visit those I love, then cross the 'border' by foot and go to Jalandhar to see the home my ancestors knew.

Partition marked our parents, and it has marked us. We are Midnight's children.

I should have grown up visiting relatives in a Punjab where travel between Lahore and Amritsar was commonplace; where the neighbours I called "auntie" and "uncle" and the children I played with could just as easily have gone to a gurdwara or a Hindu temple to worship. A world in which 14 August 1947 was a cause for unmitigated celebration of freedom and the word partition meant nothing more than a divider between two rooms, or a division into portions and shares.

And was always spelled with a lowercase 'p'.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Food for thought

William Lobdell's sojourn on the LA Times religion beat is a fascinating journey. I'm looking forward to thoughtful comments on this, though please remember: his lack of faith is NOT a reflection on or criticism of those of you who are deeply committed to your religion - at one point, he even mentions that he envies a friend of his who has that faith. So don't feel the need to defend your church; he's not attacking you. Just listen to how he got to where he is.

Do follow the link in his article to Amy Welborn's entry on the case concerning Fr Uribe. Be sure to read the comment thread - it's fantastic.

I think he says it all - I'm at about the same place with regard to organised religion, though I still believe in God - so I don't have much to add here except a quote sent in by one of the people commenting on his story at the LA Times site:

"Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness -- an act of trust in the unknown." --Alan Watts


Thursday, 19 July 2007

I've just joined...

a Facebook group called "Petition to revoke the independence of the United States of America".

I don't think reprinting the mission statement/letter to American citizens breaks copyright, as I suspect I've gotten in an email before. My one question is, "Where do I sign?"

To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories.

Except Utah, which she does not fancy.

Your new Prime Minister (The Right Honourable Gordon Brown MP, for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a Minister for America without the need for further elections.

The House of Representatives and the Senate will be disbanded.

A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium." Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour'; skipping the letter 'U' is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters.

You will end your love affair with the letter 'Z' (pronounced 'zed' not 'zee') and the suffix "ize" will be replaced by the suffix "ise."

You will learn that the suffix 'burgh' is pronounced 'burra' e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to re-spell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you can't cope with correct pronunciation.

Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up “vocabulary." Using the same thirty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "uhh", "like", and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.

Look up "interspersed."

There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn't have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary, then you won't have to use bad language as often.

2. There is no such thing as "US English." We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of "-ize."

3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard. English accents are not limited to cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier).

You will also have to learn how to understand regional accents --- Scottish dramas such as "Taggart" will no longer be broadcast with subtitles.

While we're talking about regions, you must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is "Devon." If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become "shires" e.g. Texasshire, Floridashire, Louisianashire.

4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys. Hollywood will be required to cast English actors to play English characters.

British sit-coms such as "Men Behaving Badly" or "Red Dwarf" will not be re-cast and watered down for a wishy-washy American audience who can't cope with the humour of occasional political incorrectness. Popular British films such as the "Italian Job" and the "Wicker Man" should never be remade.

5. You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen", but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.

6. You should stop playing American "football." There are other types of football such as Rugby, Aussie Rules & Gaelic football. However proper football - which will no longer be known as soccer, is the best known, most loved and most popular. What you refer to as American "football" is not a very good game.

The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays "American" football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football.

Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a difficult game. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American "football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies).

We are hoping to get together at least a US Rugby sevens side by 2008.

You should stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the 'World Series' for a game which is not played outside of North America. Since only 2.15% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. Instead of baseball, you will be allowed to play a girls' game called "rounders," which is baseball without fancy team strip, oversized gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.

7. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because we don't believe you are sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will require a permit if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

8. The 4th of July is no longer a public holiday. The 2nd of November will be a new national holiday, but only in Britain. It will be called "Indecisive Day."

9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap, and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.

All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts. You will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call 'French fries' are not real chips. Fries aren't even French, they are Belgian though 97.85% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called "crisps." Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat.

Waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.

11. As a sign of penance 5 grams of sea salt per cup will be added to all tea made within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this quantity to be doubled for tea made within the city of Boston itself.

12. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling "beer" is not actually beer at all, it is lager . From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer," and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as "Lager." The substances formerly known as "American Beer" will henceforth be referred to as "Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine," with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as "Weak Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine." This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in the Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.

13. From the 10th of November the UK will harmonise petrol (or "gasoline," as you will be permitted to keep calling it until the 1st of April) prices with the former USA. The UK will harmonise its prices to those of the former USA and the Former USA will, in return, adopt UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US gallon -- get used to it).

14. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.

15. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.

16. Tax collectors from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776).

Thank you for your co-operation.