ashwednesday: ocean (Default)
I wish I could write something about the hideous events in Norway. This morning, getting up to see that the death toll was far higher than had been estimated yesterday, I read about teenagers trying to swim for their lives - swim for their lives, like something that would happen in a teen slasher movie but it's real - and I started crying. It's almost impossible to say anything about it that doesn't feel trivial or obvious.

I think that's why so many more people have jumped on tweeting/facebooking about Amy Winehouse's death. This followed a predictable pattern: people tweet that she's died, say it's a tragedy/waste of her talent etc. People instantly write blogs about how the media/fame/attitudes toward addiction are to blame. Other people tweet about how this isn't that big a deal compared to what's happened in Norway and we should all get some perspective. A little circus right there, of course, the way there always is at the death of a celebrity. People understand the circus; it's easy to pick your particular ride on the carousel and go with it, whether you're riding the "I love Amy & I'm going to listen to Frank all night in tribute" horse, or the one that's "I'll compile a list of other musicians in the 27 club and say she was one of them/say she doesn't really compare" or the horse that's all about how you are watching the real news, not focusing on the death of one drug addict.

Facebook and twitter are great for the fast dissemination of small gobs of opinion. When it comes to the slaughter of a hundred people, many of them juveniles, it's harder to find something valuable to say. Indeed, most of the responses to the Norway killings have been, in one way or another, about Muslim extremism and how this attack fits into a modern preconception of what "terrorism" means. It became, almost instantly, yet another way for the Left and Right to argue with one another. Arguments which, of course, move us away from the reality of what has happened into the comfort of ideological discourse. When it comes down to it, most of us will look at the pictures of the police searching the grey waters and the sundappled trees of Utoeya and find ourselves unable to speak. Around this tragedy we can say all sorts of things. The media is already analysing Anders Behring Breivik based on a few scraps of public knowledge; people are talking about how unfair it is that this is not going to make people suspicious of blond white men the way the aftermath of 9/11 and July 7th made people look askance at Muslims; discussions are arising about freedom and comparing the Norwegian government's response to other western nations' responses following terrorist attacks, even though it is really far too early to know how this will impact on Norwegian life. A number of these discussions are important, but they are still not really about what actually happened. There's a reason we have, for example, a minute's silence in tribute to our fallen dead in World War I. Sometimes, in the face of great loss, there is nothing that can be said.
ashwednesday: ocean (Ocean to the granite shore)
A bitter Good Friday it is today, with rain lashing down from a leaden sky. The church was as cold as December through the hour and forty minutes of the service until at the very end the clouds broke and sunlight streamed through the emptying church - a sort of reversion, one would think, of the appropriate weather for Good Friday. Surely the sky should darken, the clouds roll in, as we exit in mourning for the crucified Christ? It seems a dark sort of Good Friday indeed, with the Vatican once again putting its foot in its mouth in a fairly spectacular fashion. There are so many dark clouds of late. And yet -

I have said a lot about this already this week, and once again T.S. Eliot does it better, anyway (though for a change I'm not quoting Ash Wednesday). He may have been an Anglican, but Eliot always seems able to turn to words the own fumblings of my own lazy Catholic heart. This strikes me today:

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away -
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Good Friday is a day to be tested, not to be comforted. I think of the disciples, the agony of despair they must have felt, seeing Christ crucified, the sun pulled down from heaven as the earth fell dark. If they could bear that, what should we not be able to bear? That our hearts can be broken is a sign that our hearts love, and Good Friday is a day of love stripped of its pretenses, of its grace, a day when love is blood and death and a hope that is closer to agony than comfort. O Man. O God.

Perhaps then it is fitting that the sun came out after the service today, as we turned away from the cross, the empty tabernacle. This is only one ending.

I want my church to shine. But I understand that everything, from our institutions to our innermost beings, are seen through a glass, darkly. Arms outstretched, listening for the Word, and its echoing liturgy, I make my way forward, in bright hope.
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
Note: this is Jesus Bizniz - if that makes you uncomfortable, do move along...

See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Zechariah 9:9-10

It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.
Pope Benedict's letter to Catholics in Ireland, 19 March 2010

"...He performed a sexual act on me. At that very moment he murdered my soul."
German victim of sexual abuse by a priest

I've been wanting to write about the paedophilia scandal which has once again reared its head in the press, but I have not been sure how to do it. I do not have anything to say that has not already been said about the terrible crimes that were committed against children by men who were trusted by those children and by those communities. There is little more monstrous than the abuse of children. How do I articulate the disappointment I feel in knowing that my Church covered up crimes against the vulnerable? Such things can make it harder to hold up one's head and pronounce oneself still proud to be a Catholic, even in the face of such evils. And yet I still have such faith in my Church. How can I reconcile this disappointment with my love?

click to continue reading )
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
Why must British people complain so much when the weather gets warm?! Especially since they complain a lot when the weather sucks. It seems to be part of the British condition to be constantly bemoaning the weather. I myself enjoy the fact that the weather is over 20C. Admittedly over the weekend the grey skies and humidity of approaching 100% made the warmth quite uncomfortable, but the skies are fairly clear today. As someone who finds English winters pretty depressing - it's not the cold, but the lack of light - I am glad for dry, warm days with daylight from 4am to 10pm! I must soak up the Vitamin D while I can. But at least the "heatwave" does give the BBC an opportunity to wheel out an article about how we can defend ourselves from the sun, accompanied, appropriately, by pictures of Africa and the Mediterranean.

In more sensible health news, ovarian cancer remains worryingly difficult to spot. As someone with PCOS, I am apparently at slightly higher risk of this form of cancer, so it's something I'm interested in. Unfortunately symptoms of ovarian cancer are non-specific and can be mistaken for many things, so it's often not diagnosed until very late. Only 30% of women diagnosed with it are alive after five years, which is a sobering statistic. Breast cancer has a far better survival rate, perhaps partly because it has a far higher profile. No one talks about ovarian cancer. That needs to change.

And since I'm apparently doing some kind of health round up, here is a ridiculous article that claims overweight celebs make "dangerous weight gain appear normal". Yes, the vast swathes of fat celebrities all over British TV are encouraging us to eat more! Very few overweight people appear in the public eye. The increased rates of obesity are a result of poor diet and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, not celebrities apparently making fat "cool". This sort of article just underlines the notion that if you're fat you should apologise for it. I am certainly not a fat activist; medical evidence strongly suggests that being very overweight shortens life expectancy, contributes to health problems, and reduces quality of life. However, unhealthy weight varies from person to person - and the kneejerk reaction against fat in the media has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with appearance. You can be a token fat person on TV, so everyone can see how marvellously accepting your producers are. Or you can be one of hundreds of skinny people. If you have larger than average breasts, you get to be "curvy" and to be heralded as some kind of realistic model of femininity. (Apparently Nigella Lawson, a size 8, is "curvy" for this reason.) If you're "curvy", you'll get to give lots of interviews to magazines where you're encouraged to say how much you like being a down to earth example of a healthy body shape. If you're one of the rare fat people, you will be expected to make humorous remarks defending your body size - but you'll also be expected six months down the line to lose a lot of weight and to talk about how much better you feel, ideally on some sort of Fat Camp TV show. If you're very thin, expect that magazines will frequently post candid photographs of whenever you lose or gain weight. You will be criticised for the former, and you will be "congratulated" on the latter, but in tones that suggest that really your photo is there to make people feel glad that the skinny bitch has bloated up. If you're a woman who doesn't fall into any of these categories, well, you won't be on TV, will you? So no worries there, then.

I close with a picture of Crystal Renn, one of only a very small number of women who are famous for being plus size models. She looks fabulously high fashion, even though her thighs aren't fabulously thin. The sad thing is that this is seen as a notable fact.

ashwednesday: ocean (Default)
As even the BBC is unable to get inside Iran, I looked to Twitter instead, where brave and ordinary people in Iran are microblogging about their lives - when they can get through blocks put up by the Iranian government. Here are some examples; I think they stand without need for comment.

Mousavi supporters are having "Calmness will beat the bullets" placards and standing near TV/Radio station's mosque. #IranElection

my fellow student is telling me of the horrible things Gov officers did to them when they were under arrest. & I'm crying#gr88

Iranian Army, Basiji, Foreign forces blockading Tehran University, Protesters. Travel in groups, take side streets.

Do not dig out shrapnel in wounds,doing so can hurt it more. نه از گلوله انفجاری در چاه زخم, می تواند کار را هر چه سریعتر حکومت آسيب ببيند.

Gmail and Yahoo messenger is filtered too. They are blocking all the communication means. #iranelection

People have been receiving random automated calls of “You have participated in the protests" to scare them. #IranElection

we have info that tehran uni will be attacked tonight - have contact inside - says uni blocked #Iranelection

confirmed by farsi twitters: around 2000 basiji is now standing in front of dorms.

Masood just called (he's OK), his laptop is destroyed & unfortunately gov intelligent found and arrest Reza at shariati Hospital.

gas eye solution 1/2liquid antacid like Maalox 1/2 water Always irrigate from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside #iranelection

ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
When you hear the word "pandemic", what do you think of? Perhaps the Black Death, or The Stand. Something world sweeping with a high casualty rate. The definition of a pandemic, however, has nothing to do with casualty rates; it is simply to do with the geographical spread of a disease. The WHO has to be alert to situations like this, but the general public does not need to freak out! The panic-mongering by the press has been really irritating me. So far there have been 27,737 cases of H1N1, and 141 deaths. That gives a casualty rate of 0.51%, and most of those deaths were in a LEDC whose health system and infrastructure are unreliable. Of course governments and the medical community can't be blase about risks like this, and there is always the possibility of mutation... But the average person can't anticipate the risks, and so I do wish the media would stop having hysterics about it. Over here in the UK things quietened down on the Swine Flu Watch front when the media got obsessed with the expenses scandal, but now that's dying down it seems like we're going back to H1N1 again. All very tiresome.
ashwednesday: ocean (Default)
...The mind boggles.

PRIMARY school pupils are to be shown a film about the dangers of terrorists as part of an organised safety day.

More than 2,000 10 and 11-year-olds will see a short film, which urges them to tell the police, their parents or a teacher if they hear anyone expressing extremist views.

The film has been made by school liaison officers and Eastern Division’s new Preventing Violent Extremism team, based at Blackburn.

It uses cartoon animals to get across safety messages.

A lion explains that terrorists can look like anyone, while a cat tells pupils that should get help if they are being bullied and a toad tells them how to cross the road.

The terrorism message is also illustrated with a re-telling of the story of Guy Fawkes, saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York. It has been designed to deliver the message of fighting terrorism in accessible way for children.

More on this insanity here.
ashwednesday: ocean (Ocean to the granite shore)
ROSS: Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes
Savagely slaughter'd: to relate the manner,
Were, on the quarry of these murder'd deer,
To add the death of you.

MALCOLM: Merciful heaven!
What, man! ne'er pull your hat upon your brows;
Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.

MACDUFF: My children too?

ROSS: Wife, children, servants, all
That could be found.

MACDUFF: And I must be from thence!
My wife kill'd too?

ROSS: I have said.

MALCOLM: Be comforted:
Let's make us medicines of our great revenge,
To cure this deadly grief.

MACDUFF: He has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene III

Is there anything sadder than the death of a child? Perhaps the suicide of his grieving parents. What terrible grief there can be in loving, how quickly can love give way to despair. I wish that Kazumi and Neil Puttick had been able to use their love for each other as a way of riding through the great swell of their grief, that their support of one another could have been a lifeboat, however flimsy. But it seems that all they felt was left was one last and terrible act of togetherness. The rest is silence.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
You know that the MP expenses furore has become a really big deal when a newspaper like the Torygraph is holding "socialist" MPs up as a good example!

In some ways, the storm that has arisen over MPs expenses really feels like a tempest in a teacup. Similar expenses have been claimed in years gone by, and it feels as if this story is a good filler now that people aren't worried about swine flu. (Today I received a leaflet from the government, by the by, on how to protect myself from swine flu - possibly a bit late, guys?) Many of the expenses that MPs can claim seem reasonable considering the remit of their jobs. The fuss over the accidental claiming for 2 adult films by Jacqui Smith - clearly an embarrassing mistake - reflects a desire by the press to feed gossip to a public that is increasingly dissatisfied with its government. On the other hand, it does seem like a lot of people have really been taking advantage of the system; the fact that so much money can be spent and the rules have not been broken suggests a need to reform those rules (a process which has in fact already begun). This is particularly annoying when I think how I have worked for central government departments on several occasions, and I know how carefully civil servants are expected to watch their expenses - it would be nice if MPs did the same.

It seems that a lot of the queries about expenses comes from the practice of owning second homes. Most MPs require a base in London as well as in their constituency, and MPs are not paid so lavishly that running two households is necessarily easy. I do think that greater common sense could be applied to the way second properties are run, however, and I like Kelvin Hopkins' suggestion:
...I have signed an Early Day Motion calling for the nationalisation of all second homes. If the state owned flats and rented them out to MPs, there wouldn’t be any problems about second home allowances or switching homes from one place to another and you wouldn’t have these problems with capital gains tax.

This would of course involve a substantial initial outlay from the government, but in the long term could be beneficial, I think. The Prime Minister's residences are owned by the state; why not do the same with MPs' properties? Obviously, I'm not an economist, so I have no idea if this idea has any weight...

Anyway, this is all by-the-by when we consider the more important breaking news of the moment... Peter Andre to divorce glamour model Jordan. And here we were all rooting for those crazy kids to make it.


ashwednesday: ocean (Default)

January 2013

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