Newt In A Tea Cup

{October 24, 2007}   Fascist Family Values

Edit: I have received a well-intentioned email from my older sister telling me that, quite frankly, I can do better. She is most probably right. In an attempt to displace her deep-seated feelings of inferiority that I did better at her at GCSE and A levels, she subtly inserts a comment regarding her uni learnings, my spelling and grammatical errors and lack of quoting sources. To which I reply; some of us actually have got jobs (you know, that work thing you haven’t touched since the end of college?) and the entire Ugly Betty Series to get through before it’s due back at blockbusters next week!

So here goes the post redux.

A few days ago I read an article in the Times where it says that a worrying number of Germans are starting to have nostalgia for the era of the Nazi’s. The leader of this radical rethink is Eva Herman. Herman used to hold down a job as newsreader however began trumpeting for the old values of femininity. Anyone who follows US politics will be familiar with the Schlafy’s of politics who make fortunes by insisting other women return to domesticity. Herman is keen to join them.

The Nazi kafuffle is to do with Eva deciding that the Nazi’s did great things with the roads and that their idea of family was quite spiffy really. The reason for this is that they had fabulous family values; you know, the three Ks (Kinder, Kuchen and Kirche).

This is exactly why anyone promoting family values is someone I instinctively avoid with a ten-foot barge pole. “Family” in this case stands for white, moneyed and “Values” means bigoted. In fact it’s pretty much a code word that can be used to signify the kind of Neanderthal political ponderings exactly the same way that “in my humble opinion” is usually followed by anything but.

I mean what kind of sick world are we in where the systematic killing of the disabled, militaristic jingoism, the active oppression and subjugation of women as breeding machines (who received medals for mass-producing) to supplement cannon fodder can be seen as family values?

How can the interests of our families be at such odds to the interests of the individual human being that forms the family?

Pah! Family Values as we know it is an illusion, I say!

Family Values are; love, compassion especially for those in trouble, understanding and respect especially for those who are not like us, a thirst for knowledge and understanding, a communal attempt to hoist each and everyone up instead of pressing people down.

Basically exactly what the feminist community is agitating for despite our reputation as wreckers of society.

The horrors of that era are simplified in a type of tunnel vision. The Aryan ideal is very narrow and anyone who didn’t fit it was out; homosexual, homeless, people with mental or physical disabilities, non-traditional women, pacifist, foreigners…Family values are the equivalent of propaganda posters- they look good and shiny but they are mass-produced dead, painted and eventually peel away under the rain of life to reveal a crumbling wall.

It seems to me that the important things in life are not things that can be measured or counted or dispatched with bureaucracy. When we start reducing relations to this in the name of morality we end in danger of forgetting the real faces behind the stories. No two people are the same and no two families are. This isn’t a defence of moral relativism but a rethink of what “moral” actually means.

No one can accuse the Nazis of being proponents of “moral values” by any stretch of the imagination. But “family values” are apparently not that irreconcilable with that type of fascism.

The fact that people can tie that together with “family values” shows that perhaps our idea of what a family should be is founded on misogynistic, exclusionary, bigoted ideas and traditions. Bringing this back may well be traditional, but it’s hardly beneficiary to anyone.

This article was very specifically focussing on the role of women and there is a certain backlash at the moment towards female upward mobility. Not a day passes that there isn’t some kind of article bemoaning how what women really want is traditional gender roles and abandoning advocating equal rights and opportunities to embrace passivity, baby bottles and unemployment is what we really need if we want to solve the problem of unequal pay/rape/discrimination; all variations on “don’t you women worry your pretty little heads. The men will take care of it and if we tell you it’s fair how dare you question it?”

Change is scary and uncomfortable so I can understand this nostalgia a bit. And yes, this is very familiar role and people like familiar because it may be brutal, terrifying and cost a thousand lives but at least you know where you stand; even if it’s barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

Don’t expect me to join you there.


{October 20, 2007}   JK said what now?!

In the same week that one of my mates skips out the closet so does Dumbledore.

No really. The slashers were right. Please adjust your seatbelts as fandom explodes and we are showered with jokes concerning wands, broomsticks and broom closets.

{October 10, 2007}   Same thing, Different time

Turns out that Jenna has started a trend of people chucking nooses here and there, every which way kind of like decorative Christmas baubles and tinsel. Of course, racism doesn’t really happen any more these days. It’s just a piece of string. And a cross is just a funky piece of woodwork, the vitruvian man is just a few chicken scratches and those white lines in the road are spilt paint and nothing more.

Shock at noose found on NY campus

Students at Columbia University were shocked by the incident
A black professor at Columbia University in New York has found a hangman’s noose left on her door.

Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

Gee, ya think?

I don’t like the way this article paints an incomplete picture of the events of Jenna. There is a cynicism that there must be some kind of excuse for this. The full story is hidden with just enough revealed so you can tell something upset people but it doesn’t quite correspond to the reaction. The reality is rather different but also rather predictable.

The idea of nooses being hung on the doors of professors and in institutes of learnings harks back to the early days of integration. It’s hard to see how this would be out of place 100 or 50 years ago.

Haven’t we, as cultures, moved onwards?

That’s seriously depressing.

Columbia University has not identified the professor who found the noose on Tuesday, but students say she teaches a class on racial justice.

That sounds like classic silencing techniques. And very familiar.

How does anyone break a cycle like this?

{October 10, 2007}   Oh, hell yeah.

Smith ticks off ‘obsessed’ hacks

You know, I think that’s a perfectly scrumptious descriptor for the misogynists that keep floating to the top of our countries scum life.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has told journalists “obsessed” with her clothes and cleavage “to get over themselves”.

Beautiful. The closest a politician will get to “Do I look bovered, ya maner? Ain’t my problem.”*


Commentators began focusing on Ms Smith’s outfits in July after she made her first Commons statement as home secretary.

In a sober update on terrorism that was well received by MPs of all parties, she said the UK would “not be intimidated” by failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow Airport.

But it subsequently appeared the attention of some press sketch writers had focused more on style than substance.

As well as male writers describing her as “a babe”, “pneumatic” she was also said to have a “home front” – female colleagues were outraged, dubbing the comments “misogynistic”.

But the home secretary is not the only politician whose style has come under the critical eye of journalists.


Over the years, acres of newsprint have been devoted to shadow Commons leader Theresa May’s footwear, including leopard print kitten heels, and ex-minister Ann Widdecombe’s changing hairdos.

A number of women MPs have complained that sexism in the House of Commons is rife.

Environment Minister Joan Ruddock said she became a particular target when she tried to address the issue of strip-searching of women in Northern Ireland in a debate on the army.

“I heard completely audibly in the chamber one of the men on the Tory side say: ‘Oh, I’d like to strip search you any day’,” she said.

Former Tory Cabinet minister Gillian Shepherd said one Conservative MP “called us all Betty” because “you are all the same”.

Doesn’t it reassure you our country is in such capable, progressive hands?

*Well… not quite…

Sourced from the Beeb

{October 10, 2007}   I’m in the papers!

Newt colony’s £70,000 relocation

A colony of endangered newts is being relocated for the 2012 Olympics at a cost of £70,000, it has emerged.

About £450 – the equivalent of renting a double room for a month in the area – will be spent on moving each newt to make way for a temporary cycle circuit.

The great crested newts will be placed in a safe area within the new facility in Hog Hill, Redbridge, east London.

The London Development Agency had to ensure the newts’ safety as the creatures are protected by law.

The new circuit will replace the Eastway Cycle Circuit in Stratford, east London, which will become the Olympic Velopark.

Great crested newts are the largest species of newt in Britain.

Their numbers have declined in the UK over recent years, due to the destruction and pollution of their breeding sites and terrestrial habitat.

It is hoped work will start on the new circuit so it is ready in time for the new year.

This story is making me go both 🙂 and 😦

PMS is one of those bete noir that I hate yet reluctantly acknowledge. I hate them because they are misused as a catch all to dismiss legitimate concerns. It’s also a big joke that quite frankly pisses off every women who has actually had any serious pain or symptoms. Our modern female hysteria, if you will. Oh, and the fact I’m feeling moody or in pain doesn’t change how much of an asshole someone is.

Except that regularly, like clockwork, I end up spending entire days crying, disappearing to cry in bathrooms when I go out (I once spent over a third of a lunch in a cubicle…), and drastically cutting back on my active social life. I start something, stare at it blankly then walk away in despair. It’s not depression because it comes and goes.

I went to the nurse today and we chatted about it. She thinks it’s most likely PMS and suggested some vitamin pills, that I keep a diary of symptoms and watch how my eating habits change.

So where does it leave me? I hate the fact of the label… but what else could it be?

Aah… puberty. The nostalgia of that crushing feeling of awkward self-loathing… Your body deciding that it will either take years to get to the same spot as everyone else or that it’ll rush so quickly that the rest of you is left miles behind… Don’t you wish you were back in time; sitting in a classroom crossing and uncrossing your legs, trying to figure out how to exit the room tactfully and gracefully, whilst smuggling a tampon like a ninja on a mission and simultaneously stopping everyone from seeing the back of your skirt because you’ve got a sensation that bits of your insides are seeping through your clothes into a red stain?

It’s about to get a lot worse in the fascist control-phobic systems…

The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That’s why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn’t have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, “Do you have your period?”

…It appears that at least a few other girls were also asked the same question…

The small Sullivan County school has been in an uproar for the last week. Girls have worn tampons on their clothes in protest, and purses made out of tampon boxes. Some boys wore maxi-pads stuck to their shirts in support.

After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now “part of the problem.”

Inquiring minds want to know… how they going to check girls are telling the truth about said period?

This is more a question of paranoia over concealed weapons than sexism… After all the only way to make sure that someone isn’t carrying any kind of weapon is making them go naked… incidentally…

Two days ago, state police say, a 16-year-old boy wearing nothing but a paper bag on his head streaked through the high school as students arrived. The boy was charged with public lewdness, a misdemeanor. He told police he was protesting the backpack policy.

Aaaw… Creepy arse officials but those kids seriously brighten my day. Do you think we could market this tampon jewellery? 🙂

It just seems appropriate, is all…

{September 22, 2007}   May I present my new girlcrushes?

Or how stereotypes make you loose money and make everyone miss out.

Wendy Cooling of Bookstart sounds damn cool to me and she gets it. So does Amanda Craig who sums it up; “Publishers are quite lazy on this issue. They know that girls are more likely to enjoy reading, so it’s easier for them simply to target them. They don’t seem to realise that boys are capable of just as broad a range of reading as girls, once they get started,” she said.

Literature is important because not only is it fun but it also enriches your experiences and paints a new extension on the frame throughout we see the world. If it’s really good literature it helps you vocalise what you’ve known all along. Growing up I would gobble down Enyd Blyton, The Odyssey amid a plethora of mythologies and Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Even now the benefits of such an education arise and it mostly comes from the fact it truly was an education that I pursued of my own volition and it was not a curriculum. Not only that but the more you read the more you can read. Look, I hardly enjoyed studying T.S. Eliot and, no I don’t understand what he was on about either (apart from doom, death, snobbery and sex naturally) but at least I didn’t have to look up every other word or reference.

Now imagine missing out on all those good books because some ass of a publisher decided to stereotype them to hell in a way that would make any self-respecting girl ashamed and any boy bullied.


Second girlcrush of the day: Emma Thompson.

As if Jane Austen and Harry Potter weren’t fabulous enough Ms Thompson is throwing down the gauntlet against the sex industry and prostitution.

There may yet be change in the air. Let’s get this rolling.

{September 11, 2007}  

Rest in peace Anita Roddick – An absolute inspiration in her legacy of showing the world that a successful business can be ethical.

{September 6, 2007}   My Rwanda

I find it quite hard to write sometimes, mostly because when I write to this blog it tends to be fuelled by a cocktail of anger and sadness. Desperation, I think. The truth is that I need to keep busy and at that point I’m naturally optimistic and happy. But when I’m not busy and my mind sinks back onto itself I end up feeling incredibly down. It’s predictable like clockwork; vacations are the worst. Those days I can’t face people so I spend what feels like hours fighting back tears and hoping no one notices. If it weren’t for the absolutely amazing friendships I’ve made throughout high school and the last two years of college I don’t know where the hell I’d be.

The other day my sister and her youth group were giving a talk about their experience in Zambia. After I overheard a mother berating her boy for not really saying about all that they learned and focussing on the Victoria Falls and Safari instead. I took pity on him because I know how hard it is to talk about that stuff when it’s so fresh – especially in front of people who you don’t think will understand.

So I talked to her about my own experience in Rwanda in 2005 and how much I’ve changed since then.

It was getting up to sing for our hosts that gave me the seeds of courage to become a confidant woman. I didn’t notice that for ages, but some of the things I’m happy doing now I could have NEVER done then.

Rwanda made me politically aware of social justice in a way I’ve never been before. The difficult questions of racism where thrown in our faces in a seriously uncomfortable way – the way people would gawk at my skin and act so honoured to see me was horrible.

And I told her how my predominant feeling was anger.

And this bit is completely messed up- I was angry at the poor people.

Because they had nothing and were happy to see us. Because they had nothing and still sat down and thanked us personally for the work of every Aid Agency in the country. Help is from white people and aren’t we white people too? Because they gave us food and hospitality when I would have said piss off in their place.

Because they smiled.

How dare they? They are dying! Living in squalor! The children have no parents and no clothes and no food! They have had a genocide for Christ’s sakes! Don’t they know what that means?!

That was wrong of me and yet my intentions were right.

When faced with those atrocities anger is appropriate.

Children are dying. Children are dying. Repeat that phrase with every inflection until you know everything it means.

The children are dying.

For all our wonders and technology and every single damn thing we have ever achieved the children are still dying.

Who is guilty? This is a crime. Someone must be at fault. Who? That’s something that I really don’t think any of us can answer properly. Yes, the big corporations don’t help but there are so many strands of culpability it is impossible to fix or blame one single thing. The closest I had to visualise this problem was what was in front of me. I was angry at the Rwandans because I was going through so many different experiences and shocks that all I was certain of was the smile on their faces which never flickered no matter how threadbare their clothes.

I felt like I was arriving empty handed and yet they were begging to receive 10 pence for a meal.

The anger festered a lot and I’ve been having to deal with it since. The important thing is that you focus the anger. I’m only responsible for me. It’s wrong of me to be upset at them for taking what they can from life. I don’t like that they think they have been blessed by a white presence; it is seriously problematic. But they have so little that means something – what’s the situation? Do I take that away? What is ethical here?

But where does the anger go?

I want to talk about something else. Most people know Rwanda for it’s holocaust. The HIV/AIDS infection rate is so high because of the mass rapes during the attacks. There were very, very few men that we saw, a fair amount of women and absolute legions of children under 14. Think about the reason why.

Under the insistence of our hosts we went to what was supposed to be a school before it became a memorial. Outside a man talked to us, but not really… His eyes were rimmed permanently red, his voice was quiet and his demeanour was like he was living in a reality transposed unto ours. But what really drew the gaze was the smooth, bullet sized indent on his forehead.

When the killings started the people had been maliciously told the school was a centre of protection in the hands of the French so 65000 flocked there. The water and electricity was purposefully cut off. They fought against the Tutsis with stones. It was a massacre.

He told us of how he fled through the rainforest, across the vertiginous hills and into the next country with that bleeding head wound. But only after hiding in the bushes and seeing his wife shot. The children were all buried alive around the school.

Today it’s quiet. Walk down the path beside the green grass where it’s kept even and no one comes. To your right there is an elevated mound and a flag flies above it. The solemnity and grief clocks the air and worms into your lungs so every breath you take is a prayer. God, no. God, why? No, no, not this. Please, God, please. Answer me. Where were you, God? Why? Why?

Behind the modern building there are some twenty odd typical African classrooms. The walls are bare, cracking a bit and the floor is grey slate. You walk down where children would have learnt to change the world; where they would be reading and playing and growing to help the country become something amazing. You’d visited a few classrooms the day before and had been amazed at their aptitude. The lessons are trilingual, the pupils had been apt and eager, well dressed with the girls in the blue uniform and the boys in brown. Here there is no one.

But first you smell something strong. When you look in the classroom what you see is a frozen moment of time.

The body’s have been dug back up and are thrown onto low tables. They are preserved in lime- bleached white, still wearing their clothes and some of them still have their hair. Every wound is visible. The position of the body has not been altered and the facial expressions are agony. The mouths are open, contorted in their last screams of pain that no one hears now or listened to then. They are still trying to scream.

The first classroom is full of only children. And so is the second. And the third.

You can’t step in the room but look from the door. You feel sick from the smell. They show you a pile of tattered clothes and shoes.

When you walk back out you understand what he meant when he said 40 000 people were buried under that mound with the flag on it. You imagine their stretching arms reaching, up, up but beat back with dirt thrown on them by caterpillar trucks.

Right then you understand something. And you feel the anger it brings.

Every single one of those contorted, smothered people loved, was loved, dreamed for tomorrow (do you know how precious being able to dream is?). They thought about things- Oh, my God, they imagined and reasoned and that blows your mind away. They had ambitions and families and they laughed. Do you remember that? Stretch your mouth open, get that rolling wave of sound rise from your throat and watch your eyes crinkle in the mirror. Isn’t that absolutely incredible? They liked things, saw beauty and created beauty in so many different ways. There is nothing so earth-shattering as seeing what a miracle this life is. You see that if there ever was an image of God it is right there in front of you. Think about what that means; what it really means when all the mundane is revealed to be something so astounding that we could not do anything but marvel about it if we truly understood it. People aren’t just people. They are everything they experience and more.

And someone decided to take that away – because they felt like it.

My anger made me a pacifist from that moment. Nothing and no one has the right to take someone and violently murder everything that they are and had and could be. It’s absolutely vile that it can even be considered.

When you leave the memorial at Murambi a group of children run up to you, hands out for money or a touch of your elusive pale skin. They’ve most probably worn the same shirt without changing it for years and now it’s a brown colour with stains and rips decorating it. Their feet are bare and they have no one to supervise them. Most must be orphans of war or aids. After a while death is all the same thing. In a few years time the malnutrition or the malaria will have killed a handful of them. If they survive to adulthood they’ll be old before their time and live in the drudgery of poverty with no options of escape or relief – not from the dirty muddy water which will surely infect their families or from the growing debt gnawing at the last portion of food. The girls will give birth in the dark alone when they are much too young and watch their children die or die themselves.

You know this.

They are still smiling.

Murambi Memorial Pictures. Not safe for anyone. But then, it wasn’t for them either, was it?

et cetera