Saturday, 30 August 2008

I had a dream...

Last night, I had a dream about Barack Obama.

I dreamt he was walking across a podium to shake hands with Gordon Brown and dream me thought - ah, he's president. That shifted to meeting him at a bookstore, where I picked up something on John McCain (a diary? papers?), hugging it to my chest, and he looked over at me, because I'd made it clear that I was supporting him. I looked back at Obama and said, "You know what they say - hold your friends close, hold your enemies closer. Don't forget that." We had a laugh over that, and he went to leave.

"Mr Obama," I said, as he headed for the door (it looked like Borders in Oxford).

He turned round, slightly impatient, wanting to leave.

"Remember that," I continued. "and also remember - 'Be wise as a serpent...'"

He replied, somewhat impatiently, "I know, I know..."

I *think* he was going to continue, but then I woke up. (possibly with 'harmless as a dove'?)

From the surreal to the real, here is Obama's acceptance speech from the Democratic National Convention. No, he didn't go as far as I would have liked him to on some issues, but I understand why. Let's get him in the White House first. His understanding of the balance between individual and mutual responsibility is a breath of fresh air, as is his refusal to mudsling at McCain. He can leave that to me.

You can take the girl out of America...

but you can't take America out of the girl. Certainly not a Washington suburbs girl who cut her teeth on political discussion via the McLaughlin Group and Agronsky and Co. I used to stay awake on those sticky Washington August nights every four years, watching the National Conventions, caught up in the excitement of the upcoming election. There was nothing like it.

It should come as no surprise that I was born in an election year. One that should have been won by a Democrat, one that would have been won by a Democrat, had he not been assassinated after making a post-California primary victory speech.

I felt utterly betrayed when Al Gore was robbed of the presidency in 2000, even more so when GW Bush was re-elected. I feel so battered by the Bush administration, even across an ocean, that I wasn't going to vote this year, for the first time since I was 18. I thought it didn't make a difference.

But the man I voted for in 2000 convinced me otherwise:


Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn’t really matter who became president. Our nation was enjoying peace and prosperity. Some assumed we would continue both, no matter the outcome. But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn’t matter.

Take it from me, if it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, we would have pursued bin Laden until we captured him. We would not be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis; we would be fighting for middle-income families. We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution; we’d be protecting the rights of every American regardless of race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. And we would not be denying the climate crisis; we’d be solving it.


Today, we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000, though it may be even more obvious now, because John McCain, a man who has earned our respect on many levels, is now openly endorsing the policies of the Bush-Cheney White House and promising to actually continue them. The same policies? Those policies, all over again? Hey, I believe in recycling, but that’s ridiculous.

Amen. Now if someone would only let me fall asleep in this reality only to wake in an alternate 2000, where my feet fly down the steps to turn on teletext and I whoop for joy, rather than sit down in shock. A reality where I get to relive the last eight years, savouring the phrase "President Gore", where GW Bush fades from memory as one of the many who lost the election.

For those of you who want to hear it in full, here it is. I'll be posting Michelle Obama's speech, and Barack Obama's too - what amazing speakers they both are. We could have a black president of the United States of America. Someone who, as Al Gore said, "
His life experience embodies the essence of our motto – e pluribus unum – out of many, one. That is the linking identity at the other end of all the hyphens that pervade our modern political culture."

Yes, I live in hope. So sue me.

It's time for a change - for a broader-minded, more equal, more compassionate world. A world that knows that it is steward of the planet, not unbridled consumer.The next election, where it all begins, is yours, America.

Make it so.

Friday, 29 August 2008

My personal DNA

This is my type, apparently. Comments welcome.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Just because...

...the pope wouldn't want me to, I'm posting this picture of a sculpture in Museion, a museum in Bolzano, Italy. Bravo to them for standing up to maintain freedom of art.

Poor guy, he'll never be able to drink the rest of that beer...

And as for the Vatican, I'm just trying to rib it.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

For God's sake, pt. 2


Why is it Catholic priests feel the need to put their feet in their mouths on a regular basis? Fr Rungi, founder of the 'nun beauty contest', had proposed putting pictures of nuns with 'profiles' on his blog and letting his readers decide the winner. Hair up or down, wimple or no, preferably naked...oh, sorry, no, he didn't say that.

I had to sit back, outraged yet amused, as I read his comments on 'inner beauty' with Sophia Loren as his prime example. Then, like Fr Voldemort halfway through a sermon, he torches his point by forgetting to place filter between brain and mouth and speaking the truth, rather than continuing to build up his false logic:

Do you really think nuns are all wizened, funereal old ladies? Today it’s not like that any more, thanks to an injection of youth and vitality brought to our country by foreign girls.” He said there were nuns from Africa and Latin America who were “really very, very pretty. The Brazilian girls above all.

Inner beauty, indeed, Father. You keep lying to yourself and everyone else, like so many of your colleagues.We all know what you're doing in the privacy of your bedroom when you think about those 'Brazilian girls' - or was that girls with Brazilians?

Mind you, a commenter at the Times made a very fair point:

"Makes a pleasant change to have a priest interested in the beauty of young women.
--Iain Rae, Tunbridge Wells

And despite the sexist pig nature of Rungi's idea, I have to agree. A Catholic priest interested in women who have attained the age of majority makes a refreshing change indeed.

Monday, 25 August 2008

For God's sake...

will someone PLEASE LET CATHOLIC PRIESTS HAVE SEX? We all know they're doing it on the sly anyway, but the secrecy/repression is leading to all sorts of weirdness. Let's just bring it all into the open and let them be completely themselves.

This is so wrong on so many levels, I don't even know where to start. So I won't, except to say it raises 'sexist pig' to an entirely new level. Suggested by the nuns themselves, my ass.

Kate, would love your thoughts on this.

Sunday, 24 August 2008


I had an interesting discussion about conflict with a friend on Thursday.

In discussing the particular situation that had given rise to the conversation, I stated that I felt conflict was needed to push institutions out of the status quo. I'm sure you're all gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise.

It was good to be talking about the issue at hand, but I steeled myself for the inevitable "I don't think conflict is the way to go; instead, I think gently pointing the way/listening/trying to placate works much better," that everyone from Catholic priests to shopkeepers trot out. Right on cue, there it was.

Fair point of view, but it's almost like someone is saying, "Isn't using conflict a bit primitive, dear? I know you haven't caught up yet, but there are better ways." I tend to become furious out of all proportion to that underlying assumption, since every last one of them has seen me use many other ways of dealing with a situation. They mean well, but it comes across as patronising. It prevents us from defining conflict and talking about WHY it can be very useful.

Defining conflict is never an easy thing, and unfortunately, when the word comes up, most people tend to think explosions, war, blowouts that mean the end of a friendship/relationship. It's no wonder, considering the Latin root is as follows: L
conflīctus a striking together, equiv. to conflīg(ere) to strike together, contend (con- + flīgere to strike. We all know what happens when you strike two pieces of flint together, or when metal drags on tarmac: sparks, often leading to fire. We forget that fire is our friend as often, if not more so, than it is our enemy. We think conflict and we picture the wildfires that kill and destroy, the ones we can never put out until it's far too late. We forget about the times that fire warms, cleanses and tempers.

We also forget that when we strike things together, we shape them: it was a primitive way of making jewelry or tools; in modern times, think of the sculptor's chisel or diamonds grinding against eachother whilst spinning in opposite directions to shape eachother. Think about the phrase 'knocking the corners off (of someone)', meaning to shape the personality, to bring it to maturity - the image of 'striking together' is evident.

We do conflict a disservice when we think of it only at its extreme. Conflict, at its most basic, is simply, "I disagree. We aren't on the same page." There are many forms of conflict, from sitting down and discussing issues calmly and openly to full-fledged war - and yes, there are cases where the latter can be justified, none of them occurring as we speak.

Conflict is as certain as moonrise and the tides. We are different people with different experiences and beliefs, at some point we ARE going to disagree with or want something different than someone close to us. Pretending you don't is a lie - to yourself and to them, and it undermines the integrity of the relationship. If you carry on pretending, eventually you will lose the very relationship you are trying to save.

Why? Because at its heart, conflict is about engagement. If you refuse to come into conflict with someone, you are refusing to fully engage with them. You are only ever offering a part of yourself. And that's never good enough - for a relationship to be real, you need to be fully yourself with the other person: light, dark, and everything in between.

Now, I'm NOT saying, "Say whatever you want when you want," which is what a lot of people think conflict means. THAT is just naked aggression, or hostility veiled as 'telling the truth'. Conflict is about admitting differences and speaking your point of view, listening to the other person's, and finding a way forward together. It's not about bullying, domination, fighting for the sake of it. Conflict needs resolution, and in that resolution, you may find yourselves closer than before.

Paradoxical? No. Conflict is honest in a way that placating and pointing ways forward are not - it allows the other person to speak their mind and allows BOTH of you to decide the way forward. Unilaterally making a choice for someone else by avoiding conflict becomes manipulative: parental, passive-aggressive, or simply pushy.

Of course, just like anything else, conflict can be badly done - you can say things you don't mean to say; lose control and yell; have a full-fledged war when what you really need is negotiation. It may be that you've buried the conflict for so long that when you face it, it's like a dam bursting and you can't control it. It may be that you're facing someone who can't cope with disagreement and is playing dirty.

As in all things, practice moves us towards perfect. I've recently discovered a great way to enter conflict, thanks to Martha Beck:

"I'm feeling X (feeling) because of Y (evidence). Tell me where I'm wrong." Beautiful. It states your feelings, but admits that you may be misinterpreting. It also lets the other person know they're going to be listened to, and that you're invested in communication, not proving that you're right.

Conflict done right, round 1.

Why am I so invested in conflict as a way of engagement and communication? I grew up in a house where reasonable discussion wasn't much of an option: my father is a control freak extraordinaire, my mother adapted to living with it, and I was seen as an extension of them. Anything that demonstrated my individuality was stomped on as quickly as it appeared: wanting to be a surgeon (my father said, "To be a surgeon, you need to have good hands. Your gross co-ordination is fine, but you don't really have any fine co-ordination" - I was about 5); disagreeing with my father ("You've been brainwashed by your friends; you can't think for yourself."); being emotionally invested in my friendships ("They don't mean anything; you can only trust your family." NOT.). There are times when 'gently pointing the way' or reasonable chat is not an option. Your father kicking you or your mother pulling your hair happen to be two of them.

With a background like that, it's no wonder that conflict is one of the first things I try to generate in a relationship. If we can argue safely; if we can say, "I disagree" safely; if I can trust you to still be there when you don't like how I act or what I believe, I know I can trust you 100%. Whether it's Dom saying, "I think you're wrong"; Greg giving me what I call the "Facebook klaap"; Nick saying, "Bitch" or John saying, "Some of your views horrify me," I know that every last one of them will catch me when I fall. Because we can argue and still love, I know I'm safe.

Yes, conflict can keep you safe - you may think conflict can kill; but lack of conflict is just as much of a murder weapon. A young alcoholic died because the people who could have forced him into rehab (under obedience) didn't. Obviously there were dozens of other people who could have done the same, from family to friends, but no one wanted to engage in the necessary conflict.

So, it seems that conflict can be good for your health - get engaged.

Friday, 22 August 2008

MMR - a paediatrician's daughter rants

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. *MAJOR headdesk* God, if I could consign Andrew Wakefield to the 8th circle of hell, I would do it in less time than that which separated Phelps and Cavic in the 100m butterfly. For God's sake, people, the study 'linking MMR to autism' was done on TWELVE, read that, TWELVE, children. Autism would show up around the time of the MMR vaccine because *that's when it becomes evident ANYWAY* - the study needed to look back at the child's history to see if there had been slight developmental differences that would have indicated the presence of autism. Later studies have found that to be the case. For those of you about to argue 'rapidly rising rates of autism', you need to think about how diagnostic techniques have been improved and how the autistic spectrum has been expanded to include syndromes like Aspergers.

For those of you worried about Wakefield's repuation, don't:

Nine months before Andrew Wakefield and London's Royal Free hospital medical school unleashed a global scare over the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, they filed, on June 5 1997, the first of a string of patent applications for theoretically vastly profitable products which could only succeed if MMR's reputation was damaged. These included a purported safer measles vaccine - a potential competitor to MMR - and treatments for bowel disease and autism. All were based on claims that measles virus in MMR was at fault.

I'm not an expert in these things, but I'm thinking that might tank his study. Shame on Lancet for poor peer review - 12 is not a number you use to start a general panic, and it was down to them to determine if Wakefield had competing interests. Someone should have been asking some questions. The press is also to blame here: the investigative reporting should have been done in 1998, not 2004.

But in the end, it's down to us to ask questions about what affects our lives. I really wish the general public would learn to question numbers and applications of the scientific method more often - you can't make decisions about the issues that have an impact on your life without knowing how to read surveys, percentages and so on. Michael Blastland's summer school is a great place to start.

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. ~Aaron Levenstein

So get savvy and get asking.

I'm not sure why Americans, in particular, don't stop and think, "Wait, I got MMR - it has been licensed since 1963. Suddenly, in 1998, it's linked to autism? Absolute pants. Had there been a real link, it would have been noticed far sooner than 3.5 decades later." It's time we stopped unconditionally believing what we're handed by the media and started digging, asking questions about agendas or following our noses when things seem fishy. With the internet, research is as easy as it has ever been. DO IT.

You'll find that Edward Jenner invented the first vaccine by inoculating his children against smallpox (now eradicated, thanks to...vaccination) with cowpox. Those of you opting out on religious, philosophical and 'every other kid is vaccinated' grounds will discover the precious importance of 'herd immunity' - which means that at least 85% (and in the case of some diseases, over 90%) of the children (herd) need to be vaccinated for those diseases to be held at bay. In the States, the percentage of fully immunised children is 77%. Hmmm. It would appear that banking on herd immunity is a bit like playing Russian roulette with 4 bullets chambered.

When the means is readily available, it's NOT someone else's responsibility to make sure your child doesn't suffer a devastating childhood disease - it's YOURS. And not just for the sake of your child, but for the sake of those in your midst who are immuno-compromised: the elderly, the very young, the transplant patient, the cancer patient.

Vaccines are safe and getting safer - they're safer today than when we had them. They'll be safer tomorrow. God knows, they've always been safer than chancing a dance with a disease like rubella or diphtheria. Don't believe me? Look at the developing world.

Ironically, it's the efficacy of MMR and other vaccines that has allowed parents to think "my kids don't need it", because they have absolutely NO memory of just how devastating a disease measles can be. Worried about a non-existent risk of autism? Watching your child suffering with encephalitis after catching the measles or unable to move after catching poliomyelitis because you didn't get them vaccinated will cure you of that.


Is that a risk you're willing to take?

Monday, 18 August 2008


...look it up. I would like to tip my hat to the four wonderful years I spent teaching at a Modern Orthodox Jewish school by passing on this little Yiddish lesson - this book has just shot up to the top of my Amazon wishlist:

Here's a crib sheet if you need one. Now go and learn, farshtaist? There'll be a quiz later.

Ten things I learned on a grown up slumber party

1. If I get home and change into pyjamas straightaway, the world will not end. In fact, it feels wonderfully decadent.
2. If I get up on a Saturday morning and don't shower and change OUT of my pyjamas straightaway, the world will STILL not end. It still feels delightfully decadent.
3. I can live for a day very easily without knowing what people need from me.
4. Ciaran Hinds is hot, hot, hot, and the best version of 'Persuasion' was filmed the same year as the best version of 'Pride and Prejudice' - 1995.
5. You cannot compare the size of your cleavages by weighing your boobs on a kitchen scale. (No, we hadn't been drinking. Much. I only had a bit of Malibu in my Pepsi.)
6. Some of my friends cook one hell of an English breakfast.
7. I should laugh till I cry at least once a week.
8. It's ok to say, "I'd like some crisps, please," and not feel like you're putting your hostess out.
9. Half-fat sour cream and chive dip SUCKS ROCKS, even if it's from Waitrose. Eat full fat dip; drink semi-skimmed milk.
10.You may only be 8 miles from home, but a slumber party still feels like a holiday - at any age! (Even if you can only stay awake till 1am...)

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Phelps v Cavic

"Seeing is believing"...

or "Things aren't always what they appear"?

In the case of Michael Phelps (a fellow Marylander), it looks like the latter. I saw the finish of his 100m butterfly from above over and over again, convinced that Cavic had really won, but wondering how the timers could have been so off. I also knew what I really wanted were the pics from the underwater camera to see if Phelps had really earned his 7th gold of the Games, equalling Mark Spitz's record.

So when I got home from Ruth's, I googled Phelps Cavic, and came up with definitive proof that the gold medal was really Michael Phelps' and not Milorad Cavic's. If you look carefully, you'll see that even Phelps' body is slightly ahead of Cavic.

And if you're still not quite sure, look here and here to see that Cavic's hands are really inches from the wall.

Absolutely amazing, considering that Michael took an extra half stroke awfully close to the finish. It was a crucial last second decision and was completely counterintuitive; it would SEEM to make more sense to glide long with a dolphin kick, as you're more aerodynamic. Taking a half stroke means interrupted rhythm, extra resistance, a bent it worth the extra propulsion?

In Michael Phelps' case, the answer is a resounding 'Yes'. But even HE thought it had cost him the race before he looked up at the scoreboard. From USA Today:

As they approached the finish, Cavic still was slightly ahead. Cavic began his glide into the wall, arms out straight underwater, and Phelps made a split-second decision to take a fast half-stroke, although a glide is usually the more effective finish.

"I really thought that cost me the race, but it happened to be the direct opposite," Phelps said.

So even the man himself hadn't been sure it was the right decision. He just did it.

He went against all the conventional, documented swimming wisdom and won.

There are any number of lessons to take away from this race: never give up, never let up, be gracious in victory and defeat and so on.

But the one *I'm* going to take away is this: when you're doing what you're meant to be doing, what Martha Beck calls 'following your North Star', your intuition locks in and everything falls into place. It doesn't become easy - it wasn't for Michael Phelps in this race - but somehow, it just works in the most jaw-dropping, deus ex machina ways. And it doesn't have to be a struggle.

No need to go west - follow your star and head north instead.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Who's really emasculating men here?

I was reading an excellent blog post on the compensation for rape victims being cut if they had consumed any alcohol. I'm not going to redo Melissa McEwan's superb work here.

I read Michael White's piece at the Guraniad and Roger Graef's rant at the Daily Mail. Having reached the target heart rate for my age, I wondered if I needed to exercise today.

Now, I'm HUGE on personal responsibility, ask any of my friends - it's one of my bugbears. So, yes, you need to do as much as possible to keep yourself safe.


Being drunk may make you a more inviting target. But it doesn't make you RESPONSIBLE. If you fall over and bang your head on a lamp post when you're pissed, your responsibility. If someone picks you up and throws the inebriated you into said lamp post, THEIR responsibility.

I was chewing over the arguments of Michael White, Roger Graef, et. al., and came up with the following objections:

1. They seem to think that rape is about sex. Sex is the FORM it takes, but rape is really about violence and power. Whether it's date rape or stranger rape, you're overriding someone else's free will. That's about getting off on overpowering someone, NOT on having sex.

2. If a criminal is drunk at the time of his crime, he can plead *diminished responsibility*. Yet if a rape victim has been drinking, she is seen to have *increased responsibility* for what happened to her. You can't have it both ways. If someone has been drinking heavily, they are non compos mentis, and *therefore CANNOT GIVE LEGAL CONSENT*. So if she's drunk, the answer is already a 'no'.

3. The cut in compensation can come with the consumption of ANY amount of alcohol - one glass of wine, which leaves even a lightweight drinker like me stone cold sober, could case CICA to cut the compensation by a third.

4. Women should dress so that men aren't provoked into rape. Women should always be stone cold sober so men aren't provoked into rape. Women should walk in a way so that men aren't provoked into rape. Does someone see a pattern here? What's the underlying assumption?

The underlying assumption in all these arguments is that women are responsible adults who can control how men behave by what they do. Men, on the other hand, are creatures who have no control over their actions/passions and need to be controlled/manipulated by the behaviour of others.

Whoa. When I worked that through, my head snapped back hard enough to give me whiplash.

Always, always, men like Roger Graef and Michael White, religious fundamentalists, anti-feminists and the women who support them, have pointed the finger at feminists for making men feel insecure, for treating them like children or objects, for 'stealing from them' and not allowing them to be men.

I almost believed it. But I always thought that if that was the case, the men in question needed to take responsibility and say what they felt, rather than just 'letting women run all over them', or whatever the stock phrase is.

But the underlying feminist assumption is that men and women are *equals*: women should take responsibility for their own lives and the choices they make. So should men. Which means...feminists assume men are capable of taking responsibility for themselves, so if women are drunk, feminists assume that men will choose to either protect them or leave them alone.

Hmmm. Doesn't sound like emasculation to me. Sounds like empowerment.

Maybe it's time to treat all this the way one treats a magic trick: look at the hand they're trying to distract you from. So, what does the patriarchy really expect/believe.

1. Patriarchal societies expect women to act in ways that make them take responsibiity for men - whether it's playing games when dating so he feels 'in control'; bearing the brunt of the modesty injunction of most religions (I once had a rabbi tell me that men and women had to sit apart because "Men can't control themselves."); or pretending to be less smart/earn less so as not to damage his 'poor fwail ego, awww.'

2. Meanwhile, tell men that they're threatened on all sides by people not their own race, religion or gender and that they must defend their territory, especially against those evil temptresses - I mean, after all, look at Eve, right? It's all HER fault we're here. Remind them that they need to be told what to do, how to think (down to what they're allowed to find attractive) and protected from temptation, since they're inherently full of passions they can't control without help from the...patriarchy, also made up of men who can't... yeah, you see what I mean.

3. Tell women that despite the fact they're powerful enough to be responsible for every evil a man commits, they're NOT capable of working, voting, having the rights they give to men - you know, those same men who have to be told what to do/believe/be. Remind them that they are evil and responsible for the fall of the entire human race and need to be contained for their own good.

4. Create such an atmosphere of fear and suspicion that men and women rarely talk and are always at odds.

5. Having created such an atmosphere, slip on velvet slippers, sit back in front of the fire and remain in firm control. Rinse and repeat with other races, religions, political systems, etc.

Is it just me, or does the patriarchy have the lowest opinion of men possible? To quote an exchange between Nick and myself from the Shakesville discussion:

Finally, as a woman, I'm just sick and tired of taking responsibility for men's behaviour by how I dress, walk, glance, whatever.

And as a man, I'm insulted by the idea that I need women to "correctly" dress/walk/glance in order to manage my behaviour and urges. Not raping is easy; it's not a struggle, it's not a dilemma, and I don't need any female help to get it right. I just need a conscience, and it's interesting how it's never the feminists saying I don't have one.

THANK YOU. You know, I've always felt like the finger pointing at women - from Eve to feminists - is a distraction. Maybe it's time we treating it like a magic trick: look at the hand the patriarchy doesn't want us to see. I have a theory we might find that it's the patriarchy, not feminism, that's emasculating men by infantilizing them.

The demand that women should be responsible for the way men behave is insulting* to men - at least to me - as you put so well in the paragraph starting "THANK YOU." (and thankyou for what you said, personally and generally).
* Not that I'm going to dispute that it's an insult which pales beside the unconscionable burden it puts onto women.
But yes, it's never the feminists that paint me as an irretrievably innate sexual predator who needs female help to conquer my evil drives. Feminism puts far more faith in my, and any man's, conscience than the patriarchy does. Which is rather humbling in the light of how many women here have good reason not to.

Boys and girls, I think we've been had. From anachronistic rape laws to forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe to enforced celibacy, it has never been about anyone's good. It has been about making it easier to control someone through fear (think of the erosion of civil liberties post 9/11) or isolation (by keeping people at loggerheads), which makes people unsettled and more likely to look to external authority for rules that give them a sense of security.

That's what cults and abusers do. Women and minorities aren't the only ones getting screwed over here - men are just as wounded, if less visibly. Every time we refuse to allow someone to take responsibility for their actions - white or black, male or female - EVERYONE suffers.

We need to start asking questions, looking at the underlying assumptions, and remember that
when someone is generating fear, they most likely want control.

No, it's not that simple. No, it's not a perfect or complete analysis - I've only started thinking it through, and it's only one factor of many, I suspect. Yes, it's more complicated than what I've just written. Yes, there are members of the female gender and minorities who take advantage and play the victim, just as there are members of the male gender and majorities who take advantage. But that doesn't make it ok to live our lives by a system who maintains its raison d'etre by pitting us against one another. We have to start change somewhere.

To quote Twisted Sister and so many others through history:

We're right/yeah
we're free/yeah

we'll fight/yeah

you'll see/yeah

oh we're not gonna take it

no, we ain't gonna take it
oh we're not gonna take it anymore.

So come on, lads, put your hands in ours and let's start walking towards a brave new world.

And should you feel your balls being lopped off, look to those who won't let you grow up.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Make me a Christian...NOT

Every Christian who watched C4's "Make me a Christian" on Sunday evening must be having a *headdesk* moment.

I tuned in because it was the only channel working on Sky and was ever so sorry I did, but it had all the compulsion of watching a car crash. The star of the show was the evangelical Reverend George Hargreaves, whose fortune comes from the gay club business. (Yes, you read that right.) Playing his little Christian poodle ministry coterie were Rev. Joanna Jepson (CofE), Fr John Flynn (Catholic) and Pastor Wale Babatunde.

The group to be brainwashed - oops, I meant helped - ranged from an affluent family of four looking to spend time together (hint: no need to be Christian, just turn off the damn Gameboy) to an atheist biker who'd had a Christian school education and, in describing it, gets the award for the best quote of the episode:
"There was as much love as you'd get from Fred West at a patio party."

One member of the group was a pagan lapdancer obsessed with her physical image, which led to lots of money being spent on how she looked - surgery, clothes, shoes, you name it. She joined the group because she knew that deep down she was unhappy and she was looking for something more. You'd think Rev. Hargreaves would find this promising, right?


Instead, he went into her house and removed all her books and her pagan paraphernalia. Fine, she needs to live as a Christian for 3 weeks. But the derogatory running commentary, with the Cotton Mather classic,"You're on a trajectory to hell," made me want to jump through the screen and push him out the window. It wasn't so long ago, Reverend, that you were on that same trajectory. Her self-esteem is as fragile as spun glass; a little more compassion might be in order, perhaps? How about
"You know, this is where you are, but you know you're not happy and you're looking for a better way. Let's try to find that way together - and remember, Jesus is crazy in love with you no matter what you've done and where you've been. Let me tell you a little bit about where I was 25 years ago..."

Ah, but this isn't about her finding HER way to Christianity. It's about her finding YOUR way to Christianity. Mea culpa. So the deal is that you destroy what's left of her self-esteem, then pat her on the head and tell her what to believe, then praise her when she behaves and tear her down again when she doesn't. How very David Koresh of you.

But, erm, not very Christian.

The Catholic priest seemed inoffensive enough, shyly offering a picture of Our Lady and one of the Sacred Heart (read: Jesus in drag) for them to put up in their house. The girlfriend objected when a crucifix was put up, stating her discomfort with the violent image. Fair enough. I didn't hear much else he had to say, so more on him next week. You're off the hook, Padre.

Reverend Jepson - forsooth and forshame. I expected far more out of you as a woman priest; you have to be twice as good to get half the credit. First off, WHAT was with that first look - your shirt unbuttoned to your cleavage, with your collar around your throat like you were a stripper on her way to a bachelor party. Girlfriend, the GokFather, along with THE Father, would have given you a well-deserved smack. It was disrespectful to your office and didn't do you any favours when you were telling a randy young man to stop treating women as sex objects, while YOU looked like something out of a BDSM catalogue. You cleaned up later, but your words at the abortion clinic were just...crap, really. You didn't engage with the issues, you just quoted.

To be fair, neither did anyone else. There was no meeting the seekers where they were, showing them any kind of compassion, no acknowledging that maybe the issues weren't as black and white as they pretended they were.

The greatest crime? Not paying attention to what each seeker needed. The first lesson any good minister needs to learn is to *listen* and to hear what ISN'T being said, as well as what is. There was a lot of pain, fear and anxiety in this group, and the pastors either bypassed it or steamrollered over it. Pastoral skills: F.

I understand their anxiety that Christianity seems to be in trouble, that they only have three weeks, that they're on national television. But that's no excuse for treating people as possible spiritual punters rather than the spiritual *beings* that they are.

They could do worse than taking the example of their first Teacher. For a quick start, I'd recommend the following. It should be familiar:

"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee..."

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


I nipped into church on Sunday to see my friend John and have a proper chat. We managed a bit in the Social Club (now pretentiously termed the 'Parish Centre' and equally devoid of personality, to boot), but the real conversation always waits for our walks along the old railway line at Walsingham.

I WILL blog John (have been meaning to for ages) at some point, but he once again demonstrated an astute awareness of my character when we were chatting in the car on the way home:

John: ...but I know I grate on some people.

Irim: Hey, I grate on EVERYONE.

John: Yes, but for you, it's a hobby.


Saturday, 9 August 2008

On joy

In my last entry, I tell a friend he has much passion but little joy, and ask what is tearing at his soul.

But what IS joy? I believe it to be far deeper than happiness or pleasure: it is the stillness of the deep ocean whilst the surface tosses and turns during a storm; joy is an undercurrent to the changing emotions of our lives. You can love life beneath anger or the intense pain of loss.

It shows in all sorts of ways: taking pleasure in ordinary things, such as a Krispy Kreme doughnut or the feel of cotton against your skin; anticipating new experiences; living every moment fully; finding a gift in a less-than-optimal situation.

It was the latter - and perhaps a touch of the first - that brought that undercurrent to the surface for me today. Rachel and I went to the cricket, meeting Mazz & Mark and their friends Greg & Mel. The start was delayed by rain, we had an hour of promising cricket, then rain fell again as lunch approached.

Rach and I went off to grab some burgers, and as we were heading back to our seats, we passed Mazz and crew on their way out to a pub to catch the rugby whilst the cricket was rained off. We went back to our seats and munched on our burgers under my big white brolly (mentioned on TMS), then sat back to wait for the rain to end.

It was futile - play was called off three hours later.

But Rach and I didn't stop laughing. Whether we were listening to TMS or the "Shane Warne song" (I do not lie), chatting with the stewards (who wondered why we were so amused), answering, 'So what is X like as a shag?', or checking out the SA players on their balcony with betfair binoculars, we didn't stop giggling.

That turned to outright guffawing as we played 'Marry/shag/push off a cliff (lethal or non-lethal)' with sets of cricketers. For those of you that don't know the game, you're presented with a trio of men/women and asked whom you would marry, have great, uncommitted sex with (read: like a man) or push off a cliff. You are not allowed to duck the question and say, "Shag all three of them, of course!"

For example: David Tennant, Daniel Craig, Jonathan Frakes.

I would: Marry David Tennant, shag Daniel Craig, push Jonathan Frakes off a cliff (sorry, Riker - nah, not really).

Sad it may be, but we got hours of amusement out of it. The best answer came with this trio:
Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones.

No-brainer for both of us: Marry Colly and push Geraint off a cliff (lethal. Sorry, dude, you've dropped way too many catches to be spared).

Which left one choice for Ian Bell. We looked at eachother under the white brolly, hesitant to commit ourselves. Then Rach had a stroke of genius:

"And have a headache when the time comes to shag Ian." We roared with laughter...

...and sheer, unadulterated joy in eachother's company. At one point, I looked over at her as she whizzed through songs on her ipod, thinking how blessed I was to count her as a friend for her genuine kindness beneath her cynicism, her humour, her support, her wackiness. She absolutely rocks, and is more like a sister than a friend.

At that moment, sitting at the soggy Oval with rain pounding on the white brolly, fully present in the moment, I finally understood where joy was to be found.
Not in earthquake, wind or fire -

but in the still, small voice of our everyday lives - even when your ass is wet.

A challenge...

"I have never known a novice with so much passion and so little joy. What tears at your soul, brother?" --Cadfael, The devil's novice

Not a novice, but you know who you are, boy-o.

Please, turn around and face the demons before avoiding them destroys you or even kills you.

They will be some of the best friends you've ever had, I promise you. And though only you can face them, you will never be alone. So many would be there to help.

All you've ever had to do was ask.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Who you gonna call?

When Ghostbusters goes a bridge too far...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Goodness gracious me

From the foreword to G. Sherwood Eddy's "The Students of Asia", 1916:

"India is stirring from her sleep of ages. For centuries Ignorance has drugged her senses and numbed her comely limbs. To-day, her best friends bestir themselves to expel the heavy fumes of ignorance and let in the pure sweet light of knowledge and wisdom. Foremost in this task are missionaries of the Anglo-Saxon race, Christian men and women who are bearing to the farthest and darkest corners of the Eastern world the torch of civilization and progress, spreading the truths of Christian hope..."

I'd pass you the bucket, but I'm using it. Yes, I know it's in the context of colonial Britain, but still. He seems to conveniently forget that Harappa and the Indus civilisation was flourishing whilst his precious 'Anglo-Saxon race' was grunting in tribes and wondering what to do with berries and two pieces of flint.

Ignorance? Sanskrit (and I suspect Ari will back me on this) literature is among the richest and most complex in the world, not least because of a rich and complex religion and Holy Book that is far more subtle and has a more complex understanding of God than the Western Bible. Christianity is religious colour by numbers compared to Hinduism.

So Mr Eddy's ancestors come to India, salivate over the spices, clothing, tea and natural resources; take as much of what they want as they can; make a bloody fortune on it; prevent natural development of the culture by not letting the people do for themselves; leave the place in such a bloody mess that over a million people die (ok, that was 30 yrs later, granted) - and he and others have the nerve to believe that?

Funnily enough, I don't see a Taj Mahal in England. Ignorant and slumbering, my (not so small) ass.

Thank God I've got enough of a sense of humour and history to laugh that ass off during my rant.

Monday, 4 August 2008

It just had to be done...

I love the men in my life and men in general, really. I was touched when a male friend told me he loved how I was a feminist but didn't want a penis (except to be able to pee standing up) and was appalled when another male friend said I treated him as if I wanted to lop his balls off. That probably means I have the balance right.

My boys are delightfully male - protective, thoughtful, polite, funny and fabulous: 'Manly men', my friend Ari calls them. And they are, in the best sense of the phrase. Therefore, I know they'll find this sign as funny as I do - they'd certainly agree that a certain segment of the male population needs to have that happen to them. In fact, I can think of a man or two they'd like to see me do that to. The most dreaded words from my male friends about a guy I'm discussing with them are, "I'd like to meet him," delivered calmly and evenly.

Then I usually make sure they *don't*.

But my boys are usually right: more often than not, it's not like the guy in question WAS using it.