Abstract: Autobiography or confessional? The title is not plagiarised from the literary offering by a certain Mr. Tim Griggs, but that of a short story that has been languishing in my archives for over ten years, an ironic comment on the requirement in modern Western society for a female to be attached and the difficulties in attaining this state of “bliss”.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Britblog Roundup 185

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:15 pm

Welcome to the calamitous edition of the Britblog Roundup made possible thanks to the caving in of a 280 square metre section of a certain ceiling, which sent eight tonnes of rubble crashing down onto the dissenters’ benches (had the Chamber and galleries been occupied, the estimated death toll would have been thirty-five). Amidst the chaos, disruption and abandonment of comforting routine, I invert the customary running order, commencing with:

Blogging and Censorship

It saddens me that on practically every single occasion when I have acted as host of late I have been compelled to include such a section (indicative of a trend, which we must stand up against). Bloggers do not as a general rule enjoy the protection that being on the payroll of a major publication might entail (opportunities for malicious persecution to be given instant publicity, any legal costs of defending against accusations of libel borne by the paper) and our relative vulnerability might appear to render us a soft target for those who wish to muzzle their critics.

A week is a long time in the blogosphere and, I am relieved to report, in this particular instance, we have a happy ending. Although the threat has been averted, the story possesses more than historic interest, as the principles at stake are too important (democratisation of information inter alia). Hopefully the case study will prove a salutary lesson, which might suffice to deter bullies in future (I am an optimist).

By way of a preface, allow me to echo the sentiments expressed by Phil of A Very Public Sociologist in the comments to his Solidarity with Harry’s Place, where he writes: “(…) what really matters to me is that either Jenna Delich or someone acting on her behalf has threatened legal action, action that could possibly see a popular blog closed. If the action is successful how long will it be before other blogs come under attack?”

Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium sounded the alarm in Harry’s Place taken down by host.

I find it truly dismal that ISPs can be so utterly craven, although I realise that ideals are not an essential when turning a profit, and that the relationship between the owner of the server and the blogger is impersonal, its basis a purely commercial transaction. Nevertheless, instant capitulation to the slightest pressure before verifying the truth of the charges levelled strikes me as pathetic, all the more so when you consider that all a determined blogger needs to do is create a back-up version out of the reach of the long arm of British law that cannot be forcibly shut down (which is precisely what happened when the material re-appeared on Blogger in the form of The Jenna Delich Archives).

Snoopy the Goon of Simply Jews pointed out the hefty dose of irony involved in Jenna Delich took Harry’s Place down or coalition of the muzzled burns their strawman: “Aside of the current UK law on libel being ridiculous, there is a supreme irony in the way the two lowlifes mentioned above behaved. These two belong to a small but vociferous crowd of “anti-Zionists” that chronically complain about being muzzled by everyone – from the Zionist lobby to the British Royal Post. And look what have they perpetrated. It will be quite difficult for them to revive their favourite strawman now, I am afraid”.

Returning to Phil for a moment, no blogger can afford to remain complacent, regardless of their feelings about a given site: “Personally, I have very little time for the politics peddled on HP. Warmed over social democracy plus humanitarian imperialism plus trenchant Zionism do not suit my radical palate. But they have as much right to push their rubbish politics as any other blogger, regardless of how distasteful they can be at times. So down with the complaints, the writs and the threats of court action, and away with those of censorious intent. If you’re stupid enough to make the kind of mistake Jenna Delich did, then you should take the blowback on the chin, not scrabble around for a lawyer’s letter”.

Modernity Blog devoted several postings to the issue, carefully setting out the background in depth in Mr Cushman, Sue Me Too, part 1; part 2; The Implications of Silencing Harry’s Place and culminating in a comprehensive demolition of the flimsy plea of ignorance in For UCU Activists – How To Avoid Re-posting from Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan or White Power Web Sites.

Unity of Ministry of Truth exposes the farcical nature of the whole sorry episode (I can write that with hindsight in the knowledge that the attempt failed) Harry’s Place sued over typo?: “Absurdly, the bone of contention here appears to be nothing more than an errant hyphen. In the article which revealed Delich’s gaffe, HP published a blurry photograph of Delich which sported the caption, “Sheffield-based academic, Jenna Delich – links to far right websites associated with the Klu Klux Klan”, when it should, of course, have read ‘“Sheffield-based academic, Jenna Delich, links to far right websites associated with the Klu Klux Klan”.

The hyphen could be viewed as introducing a measure of ambiguity as to the precise meaning of the word ‘links’.

If you’re minded to take the photograph, and its caption, entire out of its original context then you could, at a stretch, argue that the word ‘links’ may be being used as a noun in the sense of indicating an association between Delich and David Duke, rather than as a verb indicating that Delich had made a connection to David Duke’s site by sending UCU members a hyperlink, in which case you might also reasonably conclude that its takes no small amount of intellectual dishonesty to try to level a claim of libel on the back of [a] premise that [is] so fucking thin it’s practically mono-molecular. The full article is wholly unambiguous in explaining the nature of Delich’s act of linking to Duke’s website and that’s more than enough to make any suggestion that Delich has been libelled a complete nonsense”.

Finally in this brief sampling of reactions, Britblog’s very own Mr Eugenides added his voice to the outcry in Harry’s Place taken down.

It would seem that humility is in short supply in these days of aggressive posturing, sackcloth and ashes are so last century. If you believe you have been misrepresented, issue a refutation, or, if you come to the admittedly unpleasant realisation that you are in the wrong, be honest, admit it. My tactic has always been to ignore my detractors when their utterances are unsubstantiated, relying on readers’ intelligence and discernment to weigh up the plausibility of the evidence after careful examination. Whilst acknowledging that I am eminently fallible, I have every confidence that anyone who takes the time and trouble to examine my words is capable of distinguishing between manifest idiocy, a blatant misreading/distortion and a valid swipe. If the slanders persist, politely engage with them. Or, I reiterate, face up to the unpalatable fact of having committed a grave error and do not compound it with a further error of judgement.

Bullies consistently underestimate one crucial factor: the solidarity between bloggers, which transcends political divisions. Our sheer numbers are enough to tie you up in the courts for more lifetimes than allegedly the boast of your average moggy and the ripple effect ends up doing infinitely greater damage to your reputation than if you had bothered to demonstrate why our allegations are unfounded (though here such a course of action would have been a lost cause). When will the moment of epiphany finally arrive?

Try as he may, Charles Crawford perceives nothing sinister in FCO rules pertaining to what may or may not be disclosed following retirement in Diplomats Gagged: “The problem at the heart of all this is twofold:

  • weak Ministers in a weak government annoyed at some disloyal former civil servants’ memoirs, but themselves pouring fuel on the flames by employing their creepy armies of SpAds who hope to cash in when they leave office by throwing around internal gossip
  • a serious incongruity between (a) any norms laying down post-career guidelines for publication, and (b) the fact that huge amounts of stuff can be prised from the system anyway via wily Freedom of Information Act applications.

In short, not a sinister attempt to censor until death. Rather the normal muddle of a democratic society”.

As a footnote to the inexorable creep of censorship, Dummies for Destruction in Pants, discusses an alarming intrusion perpetrated by a (now former) member of staff at a major bank (isn’t it morally uplifting to witness such efforts backfiring?). Worth reading for the deliciously wicked retaliation based on a fictitious great-grandmother’s maiden name…

Politics

Cabalamat of Amused Cynicism in OMG, I must be a terrorist! dismisses a guide to suspicious activities with the withering sarcasm it so richly deserves. Indeed, I would have included this under humour because of its sublime idiocy, only I fear the joke is on all of us: “Do you own a computer? Use a mobile phone (particularly a pay-as-you-go one)? Do you own luggage or travel places? Do you own a vehicle, or hire one? Do you own a camera?

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, then according to a poster put out by the Metropolitan Police, you’re a terrorist suspect”.

The present Government seems absolutely determined to criminalise the entire population with its endless onslaught on our liberties embodied in the DNA database and its plans for ID cards with fingerprints and retina scans. For a dictatorship to function, its lackeys must cultivate an all-pervasive atmosphere of suspicion, intimidating its subjects so that they never dare to speak their minds and do not feel the slightest twinge of remorse at shopping each other to gain advantage. Admittedly I am exaggerating (one major element that is missing for a genuine dictatorship, of course, is the brute physical coercion to extract compliance), but the incremental erosion of our freedoms (which the Hungarians referred to as “salami tactics”), the most glaring of which has been the sanctioning of lengthy periods of detention without trial ought surely to shake us out of our apathy.

Jim Jay of The Daily (Maybe) hosts the Carnival of Socialism.

Harpymarx in Who cares for the carers…? highlights a report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee putting forward proposals about compensating that neglected group for their efforts, to ensure that they are not penalised financially because of failing to qualify for a full state pension: “The cynical would of course forgive you for saying that there looks to have been a degree of electoral calculation. Imagine a Tory election campaign having to tell a chunk of voters that the tax cuts for the rich are going to be funded by their Carers Allowance being cut back. The charitable might say that NL are finally cottoning on what a social democratic government should be up to”.

It is indeed a scandal that their sacrifices have been so assiduously ignored, perhaps because they are women, whose “natural” propensity for nurturing has not been deemed worthy of reward and whose careers are regarded as dispensable anyway?

In a second contribution, Charles Crawford delivers a justly scathing verdict on the flaws and inconsistencies of British foreign policy in relation to the Balkans in Ralph Waldo Emerson On Kosovo/Georgia: “In short, Washington and London were struck by (and yielded to) the intensity of tiny Albanian nationalism, but underestimated the intensity of far mightier Russian nationalism. I warned London myself about this risk several times as HM Ambassador in Poland. To no avail.

In all the weary meanderings under New Labour about the UK’s foreign policy objectives/targets/priorities and (now) Policy Goals, is not this a comprehensive – and unforgivable – blunder of basic professional technique?

Yes.

How will the mass of states round the world react now?

Most will be privately aghast at Russia’s banal power-play to dismember Georgia.

Some may think that this is a reason to move to recognise Kosovo but not Abkhazia and S Ossetia, as a gesture of protest against crass Russian land-grabbing beyond its borders.

But I suspect that the great majority will keep avert their eyes from this shambles, torn unhappily between deriving private satisfaction from the unedifying disagreements between UNSC members on this core international law issue – and fervently hoping that violent separatist urges in their own respective parts of the world are not given new impulses”.

Chive Turkey of Olly’s Onions salvages humour from the otherwise depressing news that overcrowding in our jails is to be tackled by the construction of sprawling institutions, which has been given a nickname amenable to puns in Prison watchdogs, Tartarus residents object to Titan jails: “‘The plan is to have Tantalus unsuccessfully trying to drink water or eat grapes that are always out of his reach,’ National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards president Peter Selby says. ‘And Sisyphus has to roll a rock up a hill for eternity? Health and Safety won’t be happy. Where are the cost-benefit studies on all this?’”

In Class in Modern Britain (Houndmills, Palgrave, 2001), Ken Roberts addresses the phenomenon of politics as one career option amongst many: “There has been a major shift in the relationship between paid politicians and the people. The political parties used to be composed of active members who were broadly representative, in socio-demographic terms, of the parties’ voters. In this sense, the parties represented broad sections of society. Elected representatives gained their positions on the basis of their skill in saying, and putting into effect, what other members willed. But politics no longer works in this way; nowadays the young adults who remain active in politics for years and years tend at least to envisage paid careers as elected or unelected politicians. There are fewer active stalwarts who do not expect such careers, and the activists who become elected representatives in all the parties tend to be from the same social backgrounds – university educated, with subsequent career experience either confined to politics, or in management or the professions.

Today’s politicians are more of a distinct career group, but, even so, they are probably better informed than ever before about the state of public opinion. All the parties pay for regular opinion surveys and run focus groups to ensure that they remain in touch. The leaders want to know, and they are in fact well-informed about what all classes of people are thinking. None want to ignore any substantial sections of the population (…) Election campaigns are now fought through the media. Active members are not as crucial as they once were. Parties that are represented in parliament are able to draw some funds from taxpayers. They continue to need, and to seek, contributions from individual members and supporters, but in practice they rely heavily on corporate sponsorship – from trade unions and business in the case of Labour, and from business alone in other parties. Needless to say, the manner in which grassroots party members are treated, often bypassed, by their party leaders, can only reduce the rank and file’s incentives to engage in long-term political activity” (pp239-40).

Along similar lines, Jeremy Hargreaves roundly rejects the claim that Politicians today have narrower experience than their predecessors? Rubbish: “(…) compared to the politicians of say a hundred years ago, most politicians today have far far more contact with the whole very wide range of people that they represent. If you had written to, say, Churchill asking for help with, say, a piece of casework about, I don’t know, the immigration status of a member of your family, or asked Stanley Baldwin to help you access more benefits from the Government, I don’t think you would have got much help. Compare that to the huge amount of casework which most MPs do for their constituents today, from the articulate complainers to the most genuinely needy, and it’s clear that politicians today have far far wider experience of the issues and problems in the constituency than their predecessors. Certainly no MP today could conceive of getting away with only visiting their constituency only once every few years as its MP (as Churchill did) – and imagine how a candidate would be crucified by their opponents for standing for election in two constituencies in the same General Election (as Gladstone and many others in his day did). Compared to them, someone today who has come straight out of university to spend say ten years as a leading local councillor, has far wider experience of issues, from helping the poorest to dealing with the business world.

Quite simply, the extension of the franchise, reinforced strongly by the campaigning techniques first introduced by the Liberal Community Politics movement of the 1970s and now predominant in all parties, has transformed the relationship between politicians and their electorate, and vastly broadened the experience and understanding of MPs, leading councillors and other elected figures”.

Behind the hankering after a Golden Age when all politicians were patricians as opposed to grubby careerists trespassing in the hallowed halls of Westminster from the lower orders it is possible to detect disgruntlement at the impudent challenge to ancient and entrenched privilege. However, the constraints of dependence on the patronage and favour of the party elite no doubt encourage rigid conformity to central doctrine, the prospect of demotion or ejection stifling personal conviction and principled disagreement.

Decca Aitkenhead’s interview with Alistair Darling in The Guardian, in which the Chancellor set out his gloomy assessment of the state of the economy and little by way of relief for the future, attracted widespread attention amongst bloggers. As a personality, Mr Darling is not exactly charismatic or inspirational, reminding me of his native environment, the wind-lashed, austere island of Lewis with its muted colours of storm cloud grey, peat brown and heather purple, whose inhabitants are renowned for their eschewal of extraneous verbiage, who cringe at the outward display of emotions, purging it from their speech, and for their dislike of excess and brashness (quite laudable traits in some respects and distinctly rare amongst his caste). He appears to have absorbed the humourless impulse of that last bastion of stern observance of Sabbath piety (the swings and roundabouts in children’s playgrounds are chained up on Sundays as the Lord ’s Day is not to be polluted by frivolous distractions and amusements).

This passage in the interview caught my eye: “His wife has moved down to Downing Street, and when they went for a meal with another couple recently, and tried to order a second bottle of wine, ‘the waiter came over and said ‘too much wine’. In a loud voice. So we stuck to the one bottle for the entire meal’. Another meal out with his press adviser was reported in the News Of The World as a decadent affront to struggling families. ‘It’s just the way things are,’ he says, matter-of-factly. ‘It’s understandable’.

I wonder what it must be like for someone whose career had been hitherto blameless to find himself publicly upbraided by wine waiters. ‘Well, I think most people understand perfectly well that most of the problems they face are international. However, that doesn’t help sell their house. I was at a filling station recently, and a chap said, ‘I know it’s to do with oil prices – but what are you going to do about it?’ People think, Well, surely you can do something, you are responsible – so of course it reflects on me’”.

Chris Dillow of Stumbling and Mumbling with his usual alacrity reveals the deficiencies in the Chancellor’s reasoning in Darling: the worst for 60 years?: “1. GDP. This fell 1.3 per cent in the worst four quarters of the 1991 recession. The Bank of England reckons the chances of a repeat in the next four quarters are a roughly two standard deviation event – less than a one-in-20 chance.

2. Unemployment. The consensus among independent forecasters is that the claimant count will rise by around a quarter million – to 1.1 million – by Q4 2009. In the 1981 and 1991 recessions, it rose three times as fast. It rose twice as fast in 1975.

3. Household incomes. Yes, these have been squeezed recently. But independent forecasters expect the squeeze to abate next year, and for real disposable incomes to rise 1.1%. In the worst point of the 1981 downturn, they fell 2%, and in 1977 – when incomes policy bit – they fell 4%.

4. House prices. OK, so these’ll fall. But this means diddly squat. House prices are not net wealth. Many people gain from falling prices.

5.Financial conditions. The stock market has risen in the last few weeks. The All-share’s dividend yield is 4% – slap in the middle of the range (3-5%) generally considered to be a long-run normal rate. People who are staking money on the UK economy, then, don’t think we face a crisis. Contrast this with 1974, when some people genuinely thought capitalism would collapse”.

John Band of Liberal Conspiracy in Bad Chancellor. Bad Journalists, agrees that Darling’s prognosis is faulty: “This is absolute, shimmering, festering poo on a stick”.

Two Doctors in It’s over, darling likewise contest his take, the reality being more apocalyptic than he makes out, understating the dimensions of the problem: “It’s not primarily about a credit crunch. Like the dot com bust before it, we’re seeing the end of a bubble spun up by market players and governments to try and fend off something worse. Its symptoms are grim, sure, but the underlying problem is that we’re well into the dying days of the cheap oil economy, more commonly known as globalisation”.

Chicken Yoghurt laments the inconsistency of Darling’s contradictory statements on former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander: Respectfully not likeable. Perhaps the Chancellor is shrewder than we gave him credit for, at least as a judge of character (before the somersaults of denial that is).

As the summer slump draws to a close, deprived of ammunition from closer to home, bloggers have been gazing across the Channel for inspiration. James Grieves of Scribo ergo sum cautiously greets the launch of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in A Short Glance South: “At the moment, in fact, that most objectionable feature I can find in it is the name. ‘Anti-capitalist’ is easy enough to do, its presenting a workable, feasible alternative that always proves the tricky part for socialists (revolutionary or otherwise). Committing yourself to criticising capitalism is a far less interesting goal than stating your conviction to present a supplanter system that you will introduce in its place”.

Indeed, dramatic developments across an even larger body of water certainly call for comment, more specifically the selection of Ms Palin (reputedly not as well-travelled as her comic genius namesake, famed for enduring bone-cracking massages from women with the build of retired Olympic shot-putters in Eastern Europe).

Mick Fealty of Brassneck presents a measured review of media reactions to McCain’s running mate in Sarah Palin steals the end of Barack Obama’s Convention.

Speculations abound as to McCain’s motives for choosing her. The Heresiarch of Heresy Corner in First Lady? voices his approval: “(…) if I were John McCain, she is the one who I would have chosen as my running-mate. In fact, she strikes me as not only the right choice, but the only plausible contender – unless there were another 40ish, relatively independent, middle-of-the-road woman available. She isn’t black, but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

To counteract McCain’s negatives, she had to be relatively young, and she probably had to be a woman (though he might have got away with a man who was black or Latino). In a campaign likely to be dominated by visuals as well as visions, it also helps that Palin has the looks of a former beauty-queen”.

He goes on to muse whether McCain has hit upon a cunning means of siphoning off support from the Democrats, particularly those miffed at Hillary having been passed over (I agree it was rather churlish of Obama): “Sarah Palin is everything Joe Biden isn’t: not experienced (but why does she need to be?), not a Washington insider, not an old white guy. To Hillary’s army of female supporters, who yesterday said ‘Yes, we can (just about)’ when asked whether they could, after all, swallow their disappointment and lend Obama their vote, Sarah Palin presents an interesting dilemma. Do they vote for the candidate who promises many of the policies they want to see, or do they vote for the woman? A no-brainer, you might think, especially since Palin’s traditionalist stance on abortion (…) is unlikely to be to the taste of many ardent feminists”.

Cranmer of the eponymous blog positively glows with praise for her in Sarah Palin for vice-president – an inspirational choice: “She is in her mid 40s and really quite beautiful. But it is not for her aesthetic qualities that Cranmer is delighted by the choice (though they help), but because this remarkable women manages to combine having a large family (five children – one with Down’s syndrome) with a successful career, first as Mayor and then as Governor. Her eldest is in the army, and her youngest is still mewling and puking. She can clearly multi-task, being adept at running Alaska, carrying a baby and bringing up a family simultaneously.

And Governor Palin is a Protestant Evangelical Christian. Moreover, she is strongly ‘pro-life’, not like the à la carte Catholic Joe Biden who supports abortion. It will be difficult for any ‘pro-choice’ group to attack her on this, not least because she lives every day with the very real difficulties of bringing up a Down’s child – a child which the vast majority of pro-choicers would have denied the right to life. And not only is she pro-life; she is pro-marriage, hunts, fishes, and enjoys dog sledding and drilling for oil”.

In other words, McCain’s choice is astute rather than smacking of desperation: “And yet while there is a constitutional requirement for the separation of church and state, there is still a very significant contingent – made up largely of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals – who do not believe in the separation of faith and politics. And since, for the majority of these, the issue of abortion outweighs all others, it is most certain that they will now flock to the McCain-Palin ticket.

Barack who?”

Abortion is equally symbolic for feminists. If we were to be compelled to surrender ownership of our bodies to priests or politicians, it would propel us straight back to the Dark Ages. Control of one’s body is fundamental to personal autonomy and, as such, is non-negotiable. As Andrea Dworkin states in Right-Wing Women (New York, Perigee, 1983), abortion is viewed with loathing by conservatives: “Right-wing women regard abortion as the callous murder of infants. Female selflessness expresses itself in the conviction that a fertilised egg surpasses an adult female in the authenticity of its existence” (p32). Indeed, she is quite unflinching in her dissection of the rationale underlying their distaste: “right-wing women accuse feminists of hypocrisy and cruelty in advocating legal abortion because, as they see it, legal abortion makes them accessible fucks without consequence to men. In their view, pregnancy is the only consequence of sex that makes men accountable to women for what men do to women. Deprived of pregnancy as an inevitability, a woman is deprived of her strongest reason not to have intercourse. Opposition to birth control is based on this same principle.

Right-wing women saw the cynicism of the Left in using abortion to make women sexually available, and they also saw the male Left abandon women who said no. They know that men do not have principles or political agendas not congruent with the sex they want. They know that abortion on strictly self-actualising terms for women is an abomination to men – left-wing men and right-wing men and grey men and green men. They know that every woman has to make the best deal she can. They face reality and what they see is that women get fucked whether they want it or not; right-wing women get fucked by fewer men; abortion in the open takes away pregnancy as a social and sexual control over men; once a woman can terminate a pregnancy easily and openly and without risk of death, she is bereft of the best way of saying no – of refusing the intercourse the male wants to force her to accept. The consequences of pregnancy to him may stop him, as the consequences of pregnancy to her never will. The right-wing woman makes what she considers the best deal. Her deal promises that she has to be fucked only by him, not by all his buddies too; that he will pay for the kids; that she can live in his house on his wages; and she smiles and says she wants to be a mommy and play house” (pp103-4).

I for one hope that disillusioned Hillary-ites won’t vent their frustration in a protest vote that would end up doing more harm than good and side with Zhora Moosa of The F-Word in The ‘race’ is on: “Is it more important to have a woman, any woman, in the White House than a pro-choice President that is a man? No. Don’t do it America – a woman does not a feminist politics make!”

Gene of Harry’s Place in John McCain’s disturbing choice wisely counsels us to take a long hard look at whom Ms Palin associates herself with, more particularly the extent of her involvement in the 1996 Pat Buchanan campaign. As I tend to give American politics a body swerve, the article’s link to the Anti-Defamation League’s record of the nauseating bilge Mr B has spewed over the years proved as illuminating as it was revolting. I will confine myself to quoting his views on gender as published in the Washington Times in 1983: “Rail as they will against ‘discrimination,’ women are simply not endowed by nature with the same measures of single-minded ambition and the will to succeed in the fiercely competitive world of Western capitalism…The momma bird builds the nest. So it was, so it ever shall be. Ronald Reagan is not responsible for this; God is”.

Culture

In the light of the vigorous resurgence of militancy amongst the religious, full marks to cabalamat of Amused Cynicism for reminding us that the Bible is not all shepherds, mangers, angels, lambs and doves, but that, far from being timid or evincing compassion for the frailties of His creations, the Old Testament God is vengeful, bloodthirsty and eager to mete out terrible punishments for disobedience in A great book for Bible studies. What Christianity (and monotheistic religion in general) boils down to is regulating, or more accurately, suppressing female sexuality and handing over control of fertility to men, coupled with the denial of full humanity to women. The not so glad tidings can be summarised as subordination and inferiority as divine design (against which struggle is mere folly and wasted energy), the systematic oppression of women expressing the “natural order”. As the no-nonsense illustration shows, men are more than willing to enforce their domination through violence in the face of female disobedience.

Given that it exposes scriptural teachings in all their nonsensical ugliness, I wholeheartedly endorse cabalamat’s conclusion: “This is just the sort of book that ought to be used in compulsory religious education lessons in schools” (for further excerpts I recommend Hemant Mehta’s source piece at the Friendly Atheist).

Continuing on the theme of religion and its implacable hostility towards women, Natalie Bennett of Philobiblon introduces us to Gary Macy’s The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West in The other story of Abelard and Heloise. The Church’s pathological unwillingness to concede any semblance of authority to women as manifested in the controversy over women’s ordination is nothing new: “And, Macy adds, Abelard was far from alone in this in his time, but by the end of the 12th century, the memory of women’s ordination was being written out of church history. One of the early proponents of the “it never happened” school was Rufinus, writing between 1157 and 1159, who defined “real ordination” as ordination to the altar and everything else as mere commissioning to a job. Consequently, Macy concludes: “In one of the most successful propaganda efforts ever launched, a majority of Christians came to accept that ordination had always been limited to the priesthood and the diaconate and that women had never served in either ministry”.

In a delightful essay Roy Booth of Early Modern Whale demonstrates that a rodent famed for its drowsiness was firmly ensconced in the English imagination long before dozily popping its head out of a teapot in The early modern dormouse. One of many fascinating quotes pertains to their use in remedies for a variety of ailments. Glad that medical science has advanced since it was penned in 1607 (I for one certainly prefer the contemporary hearing aid): “A live Dormouse doth presently take away all warts being bound thereupon. Dormyse, and field-mice being burnt, and their dust mingled with honey, will profit those which desire the clearness of the eyes, if they doe take thereof some small quantitie every morning. The powder of a Dormouse, or field mouse rubbed upon the eyes helpeth the aforesaid disease. A Dormouse being flayed, roasted and anointed with oil, and salt, being given in meat, is an excellent cure for those that are short winded. The same also doth very effectually heal those that spit out filthy matter or corruption. Powder of Dormice, or field-mice, or young worms, being mixed with oil doth heal those that have kibes on their heels, or chilblains on their hands. The fatte of a Dormouse, the fatte of a hen, and the marrow of an Ox melted together, and being hot, infused into the ears, doth very much profit both the pains and deafeness thereof”.

Chris Partridge of Ornamental Passions acquaints us with the architectural splendours of Southwark Health Centre, Walworth Road SE1. The motto above its main entrance proclaims “The people’s health is the highest law” – if only today’s NHS would take this injunction to heart!

That stalwart of the Britblog Roundup Peter Ashley of Unmitigated England once again shepherds us in the direction of a hidden pearl, more specifically, a baptismal font in St Mary’s, Wellingborough, so exquisite that even the most hard-hearted of unbelievers would be cured of their affliction at the mere sight of it in Atheists and Dolphins.

Whereas no human artefact could induce me to genuflect in worship of an invisible oppressor, if you must insist on a deity, then Mr Ashley’s vision (supporting Durkheim’s thesis) pottering about and generally minding his own business is less harmful than many other contenders: “(…) my God is tending his Gertrude Jekyll-style cottage garden, his snowy white locks disguised under a Panama hat, occasionally mopping his brow with a big red-spotted handkerchief. Whenever a motorbike roars noisily by his front gate the rider mysteriously falls off at the next bend”.

The ever-enjoyable Camden Kiwi casts an expert eye over Shane Meadows’ Somers Town, the Movie.

Jonathan Calder of Liberal England reminisces about memorable performances at the Festival at the Edge in Polly Bolton: Call of the Siren with a helpful clip from Youtube for those of us unfamiliar with the singer.

Feminism

Louise Livesey of The F-Word laments how the results of a survey of 1,527 people conducted by the Yorkshire Building Society carried out as a vehicle for advertising an insurance product were contorted by the Daily Telegraph to suit its political agenda in Gender Role Research Misrepresented (again – yes I know we shouldn’t be surprised.

The source piece at easier.com attests to the longevity of traditional concepts concerning appropriate gender roles: “Gender stereotypes are alive and well with research showing the top three things most valued by men in their partner being domestic tasks, namely, taking care of the home (44%), cooking (39%) and cleaning (33%). Women, on the other hand, most value good listeners (41%), financial stability (38%) and their partner being a great parent (27%). Domestic tasks appear further down the list with only 12% of women relying on their partner to do the cleaning”.

I share Louise’s dismay that men’s priority is for a live-in skivvy to provide for their comfort.

Penny Red cogitates on the reasons behind the rise in demand for penis enlargement surgery in Eeep: “It’s not only the mentally ill who mutilate their genitals in private: you can pay a surgeon to inflict far more radical damage, a snip (literally) at £3-12,000. I’m talking, of course, about the booming industry of surgical penis ‘enlargement’, the nearest male equivalent to labiaplasty. We’ve all had versions of those relentless spam emails, offering in poor English to furnish us with a magnificent schlong for the price of a university education. Well, they keep coming because some people keep clicking – millions of anxious men and boys, in fact, all over the world, every day.

Yes, it’s fucking political. Male sexual neurosis is massively damaging, to feminism, to society, and to men themselves. This is not male apologism, or backsliding, it’s one feminist’s request for more discussion of a damaging socio-sexual taboo, in the context of a blog post in which I get to shout ‘COCK!’ a lot.

There, I’m glad I got that out of my system”.

Commercial exploitation of anxiety about inadequacy, literally not measuring up, now blights the lives of men as well as women: “The cultural markers of femininity are worn like a cloak and meticulously judged – from breasts to width of the waist and hips to degree of ‘curviness’ to hairstyle to set of the face and features. For men, only one specific part of the body is sexualised, and it’s kept under wraps, endlessly mythologised and certainly not featured in any fashion spreads. Feminists might argue that because women’s whole bodies are inevitably sexualised, men have it easier. Those feminists are right: men do have it easier. But that doesn’t mean that men don’t get a raw deal too – where little girls grow up seeing examples of perfect sexual bodies plastered everywhere they look, little boys experience the opposite – the cock is spoken of in hushed tones and never revealed, fictionalised, aggrandised, reduced to a few furtive glances in locker-rooms and arcane priapic symbols scrawled on playground walls and toilet cubicles”.

Miscellaneous

Reynolds of Random Acts of Reality provides a taxonomy of suicides in If They Hadn’t Woken, which alerts the reader to a slightly macabre anecdote from Area Trace No Search, recounted in Ambos and Tea Spots: “Both of the ambo lads were paramedics, who usually work on the solo fast response cars. One night shift in the very early hours of the morning, they had parked up by the river next to each other for a chat and a cup of tea, whilst waiting for the calls that never came.

Of course, warm drink, heaters on, both of them fell asleep.

As one of them described it “The next thing I know, a pissed wailing banshee is hammering on my window and screaming at me”’.

Kate Fox, in her brilliantly funny examination of our foibles and deficiencies, Watching the English (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2004) deems our recourse to choreographed exchanges highly instructive: “Social dis-ease is a shorthand term for all our chronic social inhibitions and handicaps. The English social dis-ease is a congenital disorder, bordering on a sort of sub-clinical combination of autism and agoraphobia (the politically correct euphemism would be ‘socially challenged’). It is our lack of ease, discomfort and incompetence in the field (minefield) of social interaction; our embarrassment, insularity, awkwardness, perverse obliqueness, emotional constipation, fear of intimacy and general inability to engage in a normal and straightforward fashion with other human beings. When we feel uncomfortable in social situations (that is, most of the time) we either become over-polite, buttoned up and awkwardly restrained or loud, loutish, crude, violent and generally obnoxious. Both our famous ‘English reserve’ and our infamous ‘English hooliganism’ are symptoms of this social dis-ease, as is our obsession with privacy. Some of us are more severely afflicted than others. The dis-ease is treatable (temporary alleviation/remission can be achieved by using props and facilitators – games, pubs, clubs, weather-speak, cyberspace, pets, etc. – and/or ritual, alcohol, magic words and other medications), and we enjoy periods of ‘natural’ remission in private and among intimates, but it is never entirely curable” (pp401-2).

Swiss Toni of Swiss Toni’s Place recalls his experiences of the politeness reflex, avoidable interactions and the pitfalls of allowing oneself to become ensnared by small talk in It’s a fashion that we follow that we should be forgetting… I am sure we can all empathise with: “I sometimes find myself having terrible dilemmas when I see people that I vaguely know standing in a queue that I’m about to join. If I join the line behind them, then small talk is inevitable because horrible, awkward, forced small talk is clearly much better than blanking someone and pretending that they’re not there. This happens quite a lot at work, and I have to say that I will quite often delay my coffee for 5 minutes just to avoid a mildly uncomfortable social situation. It’s ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous, but there you go”.

Anne of I like takes us on on nostalgia-filled visit to the Museum of Brands and Packaging, in a charming and lavishly illustrated evocation of the days of hallowed memory when dire warning labels and nutritional analyses did not take up half the packaging of anything we were likely to ingest in Brands R Us, which I am sure will strike a chord with many of my compatriots: “It’s funny how the merest glimpse of a product can take you back decades. For me it was the sight of Mackintosh’s Toffee Cup which I used to love. Seeing it through the glass I was instantly transported back to childhood, going to the paper shop to buy one, unwrapping the thin foil and biting into it. The toffee was really light and thin and would make giant toffee deathslides when you took a bite. It was more delicate than a Cadbury’s Caramel so I used to kid myself that I was quite refined eating one, probably with a can of Top Deck to wash it down”.

Jason Cobb of onionbagblog warns us that the upsurge of interest in cycling prompted by the Olympics can have its drawbacks in Crash Course. Although the main focus is on the absence of track etiquette among the “Beijing boys”, I was amused by the revelation that beneath the eco-friendly, quiche-munching, sandal-wearing façade, even cyclists succumb to petty rivalries: “Welcoming new riders to Herne Hill is all very well, but as with most sports, there is both a competitive, and snob factor on show. Especially so in cycling, where in all honesty, it really is All About the Bike.

The hired frames from the Herne Hill lock up stand out from the hand crafted, titanium track bikes. And then there’s the lycra…”

Ooh err!

To close with a smile, diamond geezer’s hilarious tips for the advanced procrastinator, lists 100 unproductive activities. A snippet ought to be enough to whet the appetite: “(…) watch a DVD, watch all the DVD extras, watch the DVD again with director’s commentary”. Or: “(…) flick through all the channels on Sky and end up watching a carpet cleaner infomercial because there’s nothing better on”. Or: “(…)check your email, check your email again just in case, have sex (n.b. side effects may include keeping you busy for an additional 20 years)”.

Next week’s Roundup will be hosted by Natalie Bennett at Philobiblon. As usual, please submit your nominations to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com

2 Footnotes

  1. First, a word of thanks to our host (as per that rubric above): many thanks for this round-up, which provides a lot to read on a dull Monday.
    Second, a little nitpick that’s meant to be helpful, so apologies if it’s merely infuriating: in the phrase “Sheffield-based academic, Jenna Delich – links to far right websites” the only hyphen is the one after “Sheffield”, and the thing that comes between “Delich” and “links” is a dash.

    Comment by Copyediting Freak — Monday, 1 September 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  2. No worries CopyeditingFreak, I don’t feel in the least bit annoyed :)
    I didn’t write those passages myself – they are a direct quote from the site concerned.

    Comment by Chameleon — Tuesday, 2 September 2008 @ 3:29 pm

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