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, 20 July 2009

Britblog Roundup 231

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:02 pm

Welcome to the 231st edition of the Britblog Roundup.  Forgive the uncharacteristic terseness of my introduction, but I have reached an advanced stage of sleep deprivation induced by the relentless onslaught of dust particles on my lungs and the consequent impossibility of drawing breath with ease whilst reclining.

Blogging

It is quite gratifying that for once this section does not begin with outrage at the latest encroachment on our freedom of expression.  Those particular storm clouds have receded, beaten back by the summer sunshine.  For the moment, at least.

Judging by the number of vote-soliciting exercises involving cutting and pasting the rules accompanied by a bit of gentle wheedling or less subtle instructions, the story of the week that in the minds of many of the regular contributors to the Roundup eclipses all else is Iain Dale’s annual call for nominations for inclusion in his Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10.  A bit of recognition can never do any harm, especially in the blogosphere where rewards for effort tend to be restricted to a badge of honour in the sidebar and, given the congregation of hosts and readers of this Roundup it does seem appropriate to publicise the ritual in spite of its limitations.  In Mr Dale’s own words: “There are many ways of measuring a blog’s popularity.  Wikio and Technorati have complicated logarithms which measure the importance of incoming links and traffic.  Google Analytics does it by measuring how many people visit.  But the TP poll gives blog readers the opportunity to vote for the ones they like and visit most often.  It’s not scientific.  It’s impossible to achieve 100% balance and no one pretends it’s perfect”.

Jim Jay of The Daily (Maybe) interviews Councillor Sue Luxton (of the Green Ladywell blog) about the blogging experience with some interesting insights into how her role as a public figure influences what subject matter she feels she can and cannot include.  However, there is plenty to empathise with when she sets out the low points: “trolls – I’ve had petrol heads making quite personal remarks because I had the audacity to support 20mph speed limits, someone accusing me of supporting the Tamil Tigers and others who try to turn any topic into a discussion on their pet issue.  Also writing post after post, not getting any comments, and wondering if anyone is reading it (happens less often now).  Occasionally feeling a slave to the blog or guilty when I haven’t posted after a busy week”.

Politics

In Democracy Diner, Mark Thompson of Mark Reckons serves up a splendid satire of democracy’s blemishes and discontents, continued with aplomb in the comments section.

On the issue of party funding, Stephen Tall of Liberal Democrat Voice asks the pertinent question To tithe or not to tithe?

Jennie Rigg of the eponymous blog is seduced by a meme, cataloguing her political achievements by the tender age of 17 in Monday, bloody Monday and what I was doing at 17.  With admirable humility, Jennie acknowledges the shortcomings of this particular piece of copycat light-heartedness: “At 17 I was elected chair of the debating society on the back of beating the Labour Party into fourth place representing the Monster Raving Loonies in the 1992 mock general election.  My reasons for choosing the party were simple: I was, at that stage, an adherent to [sic] the misguided and childish notion that all politicians were as bad as each other, and the best thing one could do was take the piss.

And this is the key, really.  At 17 I was full of misguided and childish notions.  I had yet to go to University and have On Liberty as a set text by the wonderful Stuart Toddington.  I had yet to be introduced to media spin, and the workings of local government by Dr Mike Feintuck.  And I had yet to develop the research methods which doing a law degree instilled in me.  My ideas were all secondhand.

[...]

I was immature, and so were my political ideas.  I was horribly wrong on many things, and woefully idealistic on others.  And yet I was convinced that I knew The Truth, and that when I was old enough I would Show Them, and that I was going to Change the World.  I was 17″.

How refreshingly realistic an appraisal.  The only person amongst my cohorts at school who was remotely politically aware let alone active at that age was my friend Maggie who supplemented her uniform with a PLO scarf (until barked at to remove it on a monotonously regular basis) and whose casual wear of choice comprised an army surplus stores combat jacket.  Rebelling against her middle-class privilege, she espoused Communism with a fervour only matched by my religious zeal as a fundamentalist born-again Christian.  Whilst she memorised Russian irregular verbs, I prayed for the salvation of her soul and we devoted fruitless hours to the attempt to convert each other over Viennese coffee at an establishment so snotty prams were not permitted to cross its threshold.  She left to study medicine at 17 whilst I stayed on and that was the last I heard of her until very recently when she traced me via my parents’ address and she told me she had become a Buddhist – how typical, a religion without a God!

Responding to a report by the Canadian Privacy Commission, Letters from a Tory explains why Facebook should be illegal: “I think most people have realised that you need to activate some privacy settings on Facebook to prevent your profile being accessed by people who are not your ‘friends’ but, unknown to many, Facebook is still allowed to throw your personal information to developers.  Facebook’s own privacy settings page says: ‘When a friend of yours allows an application to access their information, that application may also access any information about you that your friend can already see’.  So, according to Facebook, if your friend signs up to an extra little programme on Facebook, it is perfectly acceptable to hand over all of YOUR personal information including your picture, date of birth, address, work history, relationship status, all your photos and a whole lot more.  How can this be legal in the UK?  How can we have such little respect for people’s privacy that we allow a company to just hand over extremely personal information?  Now, you could argue that no-one is forced to use Facebook and you don’t have to put too much personal information on there, but the way Facebook is set up deliberately sets the default options to allow sharing of your personal details.  This is totally unacceptable.  Every website and company operating online should work on a simple premise: you can’t give out my personal information unless I actively allow you to.  Preying on people’s ignorance or lack of IT skills in order to harvest personal information is wrong and Facebook is clearly not the only offender in this respect.  However, unless we put in place some privacy laws that not only stop the paparazzi snooping on people’s private lives but also stops companies stealing personal information without permission, this situation will only get worse”.

I unreservedly share the author’s qualms, which is precisely why I have avoided setting up an account, adopting instead a variety of Internet aliases for each of my online activities (blogging, publishing academic articles, gaming and so on).  Perhaps there is a generational factor at play, as my teenage son carelessly strews details of his identity all over cyberspace without batting an eyelid, much less losing sleep over it.  However, I have serious objections to the de facto uneraseability of a profile and the commercial exploitation of my every whim (true, I am not always consistent in that I do own a supermarket loyalty card, though I try not to think too hard about the implications, whereas a survey that the local postman popped through my letterbox on the pretext of cutting waste by eliminating non-targeted advertising was treated with derision, promptly consigned to the paper recycling pile, as it was breathtakingly shameless in prying into the minutiae of my existence, seeking to siphon information on everything from my income level, the extent to which I spoil my Guinea pigs, holiday plans and the like).

Facebook has come under fire for perceived moral muddle-headedness, as illustrated by Andre Oboler’s piece in The Guardian, Facebook gives hatred a hand: “Facebook has decided not to remove groups that deny the Holocaust.  This policy contradicts its own ’statement of rights and responsibilities’, which clearly states ‘you will not post content which is hateful’.  Facebook seems to be ignorant of the inherent danger of Holocaust denial, the deeply hateful nature of it, and international efforts against racism.  It either fails to understand the responsibility it has to society, or it has placed profit far above morality”.

His conclusion: “The internet requires regulation, just as film, television and computer games do.  If companies such as Facebook abdicate that responsibility, it suggests government intervention is needed to prevent an internet-powered surge in racial hatred.  The spread of racism and hate is not something that can be left to chance or the whims of the private sector.  Working against hate, bullying and racism must be part of the price companies pay when they offer an online social environment as their product.  In the meantime, more than 68,000 people have joined the Facebook group ‘United Against Holocaust Denial On Facebook’.  Facebook, get the message and remove the hate!”

In Ban the Internet!!! Charlotte Gore takes issue with Mr O in no uncertain terms: “Requires?  Surely it is not the internet that requires the regulation.  It is politicians and idiots like Andre Oboler, the article’s author, that demand and ‘require’ these things to be regulated.  It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s always worth remembering who benefits?

It’s not even worth debating this moron’s specific argument.  The point is he wants to use fascist tools against fascists he doesn’t like, as a way of trying to stem the tide of fascism on the internet.  Anti-Fascism FAIL.

Free Speech is a wonderful, wonderful thing Andre.  You brush it aside too easily”.

Personally, I agree that Mr Oboler’s approach is too heavy-handed.  Surely the odious Holocaust deniers and their ilk are already contained behind the cordon sanitaire of mainstream opinion.  Let them slaver in their delusional little circle of the woefully ignorant.  Their own words ought to be enough to condemn them in the eyes of any sane individual.  Let those so inclined mark their disapproval by joining the group Mr Oboler mentions if they are afraid that their silence might be misinterpreted as agreement (I find the increasing pressure to take a public stand by participating in various “Not in my name” actions slightly worrying, as it parallels the “guilty until proven innocent” attitude currently functioning as our Government’s operating assumption.  Even the overwhelming need I feel to distance myself from the unsavoury villains by including this crystal-clear disclaimer in itself constitutes proof of the existence of the imperative to avoid being tainted by – erroneous – association.  The fact that the sensible majority would never vote for the slobbering throwbacks of the extreme right is more than amply reflected in the tiny number of seats that they obtain.  Let me reiterate: tacit approval is not the correct conclusion to arrive at if I do not take to the streets in protest that they won any seats at all).

Matt Wardman of The Wardman Wire paints a chilling picture of how miscarriages of justice and socially corrosive hysteria can result from well-intentioned efforts to clean up the Internet in Is Operation Ore on the Skids at Last?  Can we now roll back paedomania?

In days of yore, criminals were put in the stocks and pelted with rotten cabbage leaves and overripe tomatoes transmuting community anger at their misdeeds into highly tangible form.  These days, as the Bring Back Birching Brigade would no doubt lament, the tearaways of today get off lightly by comparison.  In Community Payback: Modern Branding, Harpymarx castigates Jack Straw’s plans for inflicting humiliation upon juvenile miscreants between the ages of 10 and 17 by forcing them to carry out their community service sentences in attire that quite unambiguously advertises their penance, namely, high-visibility jackets with the slogan “Community Payback”.

One of the dilemmas facing contemporary society is how to reconcile respect for human dignity and humaneness (minimising distress) with traditional morality, in short, how to confront those who have crossed the line of acceptable behaviour with their transgression and mete out a fitting punishment.  Some contend that we inhabit a “victim culture” where self-proclaimed experts are soft on deviancy and devote their energies to absolving the perpetrators of responsibility whilst failing to give adequate redress to those left damaged.  Against this backdrop, plans to attach electrodes to the brains of hoodies to gauge their emotional responses to images of angry faces and to attribute gang membership to defective genes fit in with the overall logic.  Harpymarx does not approve: “I am highly cynical and sceptical about these studies as they smack of biological reductionism and determinism.  Human behaviour is viewed through a biological vacuum.  There is more to us than DNA and biology, humans are far more complex.

Actually, on the subject of scanning brains, here’s a thought.  Instead of scanning the brains of NL clones (I wonder if there’s a ‘NL gene’?) how about checking whether they have a backbone…?”

Dame Suzi Leather of the Charity Commission, has been causing ructions by threatening to withdraw the charitable status of two private schools if they do not overhaul their bursaries schemes to make more places available to children from less wealthy backgrounds.  Cue righteous indignation from Simon Heffer in The Telegraph: “Last week I visited a superb public school, which had done me the honour of asking me to present the prizes on speech day.  It, like many private schools I have seen, was no nursery of privilege or affluence.  It is a place that allows parents on modest incomes to buy for their children the sort of education the state sector largely fails to provide: and fails to provide after 12 years of a sectarian government that said its first three priorities were ‘education, education, education’.  Such parents make enormous sacrifices to send their children to these schools.  These are all clichés, I know, but let me repeat them: they drive battered cars, they have frugal holidays or no holidays at all, they re-mortgage their houses.  They expect no sympathy: it is their choice.  But it is a choice the utter failure of the Government forces upon them”.

Juliette of the new adventures of juliette walks off victorious with the pun of the week award in her bittersweetly humorous take on the subject, Opportunity Mocks: “Without readily available bursaries on tap, you’re going to get these bright kids going to the local comprehensive with their friends from primary school.  Part of a dull, undistinguished, lumpen mass of anonymous humanity.  In this environment, they’ll quickly get absorbed into the ebb and flow of comprehensive life – and learn to be exactly the same as everyone else.

When, with the help of a bursary, they could be standing out, unique and special, making the most of their individual potential and abilities.  Like their unique ability not to be able to afford the school trip to Verbier.  And their unique ability to be the only kid in the class without their own tennis racket.  And their unique ability to have their life made a misery 24/7 from the moment they rock up in a ten-year-old Nissan with the cheapest trunk known to humankind.

Given a bursary, these children will be in a position to discover sports and activities they’ve never even dreamed of before – and at which they may quickly come to excel.  The 100 Metres Running Away.  The inscrutable Oriental art of Bushido, which involves hiding behind a bush when you see the rich cool kids coming.  They’ll even have the opportunity to develop their potential in the dramatic arts, as they try to convince the matron they have a temperature so they won’t have to face the others in the changing rooms for games.  And all of this will take place in the glorious no-expense-spared settings that you’d normally expect to pay a hell of a lot of money for”.

One of Juliette’s replies to a comment brought memories flooding back: “Being a nerd at the local comp is also better, because – no matter how bad things get – you can console yourself with a small crumb of knowledge.

Barring an unforeseen meeting with Steven Gerrard or a big break in Nuts magazine, the local Kewl Chix are going to end their lives weighing twenty stone and sitting behind a Tesco checkout.

Tragically, this is a consolation you don’t get in a posh school – where even this small and fragile future hope can be filed straight under NGFH (Not Gonna Fucking Happen)…”

Although I won various bursaries (beating the crap out of private school pupils in the process), being labelled the “swot” consigned me to outcast status.  Two particularly unpleasant incidents haunt me even from the safe distance of over two decades: having bricks lobbed at me, which thankfully missed, as I was determined not to give my tormentors the satisfaction of breaking into a run to escape their ire and being abducted at knife point by a fellow pupil who forced me into a classroom full of my detractors for interrogation.  I dulled the pain of isolation through study and the church, driven by the desire not to suffer the kind of fate Juliette so eloquently sketches out (in which undertaking I succeeded, apart from the 20-stone bit!).  Indeed, I did not mingle with the products of a fee-paying education until university, where they oozed a confidence and sense of entitlement that left me tongue-tied and intimidated in their wake.  We dubbed them the “OK Yahs” because of their plummy accents and took pleasure in outperforming them.  Social mobility through education will always be dear to my heart, as it permitted me to escape the dreary confines of my housing estate and home country.  Having been on the receiving end of class hatred, with zero expectations as its most muted and least virulent form, I believe it is vital that the means be provided for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to unfold their potential.  I achieved my aims through a combination of natural ability, hard graft and refusing to listen to those who were hell bent on keeping me down and I do not have a recipe for an ideal policy.

Molly of Gaian Economics outlines Ten Ways to Challenge Capitalism That Wouldn’t Frighten Your Grandmother, whilst Natalie of Philobiblon cites A small example of how our economy went terribly wrong.  The latter takes Harry Whewell’s The seeds of an idea from 1980 as its starting point, in which the journalist ponders the devastating impact of something as seemingly trivial as buying bird seed instead of scattering yesterday’s crusts over the lawn: “He [the owner of the local garden and pet food store] had no idea why people were no longer content to feed the birds in their garden on scraps, as had been done from time immemorial, and he didn’t seem very interested in the question either, but it niggled away at me.  Old ladies and lonely flat dwellers had to buy tinned meat for their cats because the meat they bought for themselves had little or no waste, but was there anybody who could not find crumbs in their cake tin, stale slices in their bread bin, and bits of bacon rind in the sink tidy, enough to keep half a dozen sparrows, two blackbirds, and a robin happy?

Taking an early morning walk on Wednesday another thought struck me.  Where did the packers get their supplies?  Were the wild grasses harvested from woods, lanes, and fields, perhaps by country children who made pocket money thereby?  If so – and it seemed more likely than that they were grown as crops on specialised holdings – then might not this be a rather bizarre way of interfering with nature?  A charm of Cheshire goldfinches might find one autumn that its normal supplies of thistle seeds had totally disappeared, the plants having been stripped by foraging schoolboys and the seeds sold to pet shops in Manchester”.

Natalie counts the environmental cost: “And when you think about it, he’s absolutely right.  (And to add in today’s concerns: all of that seed was shipped, using fossil fuel, to the mixing plant, packaged in plastic bags made from petroleum products, shipped likewise to a superlarket, and very likely carried home in a private car).

Meanwhile, the same people who are carefully pouring this into the bird feeder, are most likely throwing large quantities of perfectly good food – certainly good for the birds – into the waste bin, from where it is carried in lorries to a landfill site, where it will eventually produce globally warming methane”.

Looking up from the keyboard, I can see the greenish ball of fat and seeds dangling from the veranda in plastic netting for the consumption of the pair of blue tits that nest in the brick by the guest bedroom’s window year after year.  Their broods have been nurtured on the stuff and we never cease to take pleasure in the sight of them abseiling down the lace, an acrobatic feat that their rivals, the sparrows, cannot match.  There is no excuse for us not to deposit the uneaten rolls on the sill, although larger birds, such as the wood pigeons that currently forage for the fallen leftovers from the blue tits’ frenetic excavations, might be attracted in greater numbers.

In Mainstream media’s responsibility? Vicky of Green Girls Global expresses her dismay at GMTV presenters for extolling the virtues of cheap labels, glossing over their production in sweatshops in developing countries: “How opportunistic and irresponsible, in a time of economic instability and money worries, to tell a mass audience that this is the way to enjoy fashion cheaply; not to mention patronising coming from a group of women who earn salaries most of us could only dream of.  If they wanted to promote fashion that doesn’t cost a lot of money why not talk about charity shops, vintage shops, customising clothes and even the high street shops with more positive ethical credentials?  Traditional values of designer fashion were to create beautiful, well made and stylish garments that would last for years, not some throw-away item to be bought for one night out”.

Feminism

Penny Red fulminates against Conservative Party social engineering policies, demonstrating why for her the term “Compassionate Conservative” is and remains an oxymoron, in Torygeddon 1: Every Family Matters?: “The Family – what does it mean, this ephemeral concept that makes Tory policymakers so very moist and excited?  It doesn’t mean any old bunch of people bound together by blood and love.  Ian Duncan Smith’s vision of The Family as propounded in his new policy paper, Every Family Matters, is the relatively recent kitsched-out 1950s incarnation of the nuclear heterosexual brood: you know, one man and one woman bound in holy wedlock, living together with their genetic offspring, him in the office, her in the kitchen.  Well, that rules out my family for a start, and probably yours too.  And yet Tory wallahs – not even in power yet but already slavering to sink their teeth into Labour’s social reforms – get all gooey over The Family.  All you need do is have a shyster mention ‘ordinary families’ as distinguished from the rest of us scum, and Tory spinsters start wetting their little knickers.  Every Family Matters wants to actively force men and women, who have been drifting gratefully away from the ball-and-chain-live-with-it moral mentality for generations, back into the heteronormative marriage model.  If Tory plans are initiated, they will institute a compulsory ‘cooling off’ period of three months before divorce proceedings, offer tax breaks and benefits bribes for married couples, and demolish Labour plans to offer the same recognition to unmarried couples and civil partners, as well as boring us all with a whole pile of ‘Pro-Family’ rhetoric”.

She quotes Johann Hari’s reaction to the document, which strikes a blow against Tory orthodoxy, When divorce is the right choice: “At first glance, the sociological evidence shows that the kids of broken homes or single parents are more likely to drop out of school, slip into crime, and become drug addicts than children whose parents stay together.  So the solution is, to Cameron, obvious: keep parents together using the tax code and thse problems will slowly be reduced.  Stop Jimmy’s mum and dad splitting, and Jimmy will be more likely to stay in school, on the right side of the law, and off drugs.  Isn’t that what the stats show?

A major study has just shown that this is based on a simple misunderstanding of the evidence.  Professor Kelly Musick and Dr Ann Meier of Cornell University have carried out a study of children whose parents stay together for the sake of kids.  We all know some: parents who can’t stand each other, but have made a hard-headed decision to stay together nonetheless.  They are exactly the kind of people who would be glued back together by Cameron’s policies if they succeeded in their goal.

It turns out their children do worse than any other group – including those of divorcees or single mums.  If you are raised by arguing parents who stayed together only for you, then you are 33 percent more likely to become a binge-drinking teen than if you have a single parent, for example.

Having parents locked in live-in combat damages children more than having separated parents, or just one single parent – and the damage lasts well into adulthood.  The offspring are more likely to have bad marriages themselves, and more likely to have children at a very young age.

It makes sense.  Would Jimmy rather have a happy mum and dad who live apart, or depressed, stressed, angry parents sharing a bed?

So Cameron’s first glance at the figures turns out to be wrong.  He was comparing divorcees and single parents to happy two-parent families who want to stick together.  But happy two parent families who want to stick together are not what his policy would create.  If he had an effect at all, he would be tying together miserable couples who would otherwise have split.  To assume you would get the same sociological outcomes from them is an Enron-style accounting error”.

He rejects the hankering after a more innocent world viewed through the distorting rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia: “In the real past – as opposed to the phantasm of Tory creation – divorce was low not because every couple was living in a happy wholesome hearth, but because the door of divorce was barred shut.  You don’t have to read much Victorian fiction to see that no matter how much a couple detested each other, they were trapped behind binding vows.  Women, of course, suffered worst, since they were largely trapped in the home, and if in desperation they tried to flee, they lost their children, their homes and their reputations.

Far from being a time we should pine for and try inexpertly to rebuild, we should be proud we have left this behind for a more civilised and compassionate world.  Isn’t it a strength that we accept that marriages fail, not because of wickedness or moral laxity, but because of ordinary human incompatibility?  Yes, it brings some problems – but this study underlines that they are far less than the problems of imprisoning people in dead marriages, and lecturing them it’s for their own moral health”.

Clare Laxton holds one of the almost completely overlooked aspects of the Coroners and Justice Bill up to scrutiny, its implications for women who kill their partners after years of abuse in Real Justice?: “Clause 44 looks at loss of control as a partial defence to murder.  The important part of this clause for me, is the fact that a person cannot be convicted of murder if their loss of self control has a qualifying trigger.

Clause 45 deals with that ‘qualifying trigger’, stipulating that fear of serious violence from the victim is a qualifying trigger for loss of self control and subsequent murder/assault.  This means that women who kill their partners after prolonged abuse and violence [or] fear of violence from their partner will have this counted as reason for their actions.

Clause 46 abolishes the defence of ‘provocation’ that is often used by men in cases when the prolonged abuse and violence that they have brought on their partner has finally ended in their death.  This defence often means that while women serve life sentences for the murder of their violent partners, men often get away with suspended sentences or short sentences because they claim they were ‘provoked’ by their partner”.

Julie Bindel comments on this discrepancy in Driven to kill: “Men commit almost 90% of domestic homicides, and the victims are their female partners – who have often been previously battered by their killers.  On average, two women die every week as a result of domestic violence.  For men who kill their partners, the defence of provocation is tailor-made.  Provocation will reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter if the defendant can show that things were said or done to provoke them, causing them to experience a sudden loss of control.  In such cases they will often justify their actions by claiming that they ‘just snapped’ or ’saw red’.  Judges have been known to express their sympathy for men who claim they were nagged or cheated on by their partners, but often appear to have little for women who kill after being raped by their partners or experiencing domestic violence.  This tends to be because when women who are being regularly beaten by their partners kill, their dominant emotions are usually fear or despair – not exactly a sudden, explosive ‘loss of self-control’”.

In Eve Was Framed (Chatto and Windus, London, 1992), Helena Kennedy explores the concept of provocation in law in greater depth: “Provocation is a defence to murder and only to murder.  In any other case, such as assault, it can only provide mitigation.  If a defence of provocation is successful and reduces the charge to one of manslaughter, the court still has to pass an appropriate sentence.  Women invoke self-defence or provocation defences infrequently, and the reason is that the legal standards were constructed from a male perspective and with men in mind, and women have a problem fulfilling the criteria.  the question for the jury in a case where provocation is raised is whether a reasonable man might have suffered temporary and sudden loss of self-control so that he was no longer ‘master of his own mind’ in circumstances similar to those described in the evidence.  The issue is one of opinion, not law, but the judge has considerable power in the way in which he presents provocation to the jury.

Little account is taken of the cultural differences between men and women and the way that our socialisation affects our responses.  Women are much less likely to respond to provocation immediately, for obvious physical and psychological reasons, and therefore self-defence and provocation are less available to them.  But the legal standards are built upon ideas of instant ignition and a hotheaded rush to action.  The spark has to be immediate, an assault which requires self-protection or a blow, a curse, an insult that goes to the core of a man’s being.  judges try to create a parallel analogy, the trigger to violent reaction being terrible insults against a woman’s chastity or her way of life, both of which are male ideas of what might make a woman run amok.

the majority of women convicted of homicide kill a member of their own family or someone with whom they are intimate or whom they look after.  It is rare for a woman to kill a stranger.  In 1987, 36 per cent of those convicted of murder had killed their husbands (a crime which in former times was indicted as treason).  In the majority of those killings there was a history of cumulative violence towards the woman, yet a significant number would fail the test for provocation.  Fortunately for most of the women – or unfortunately from another perspective – the toll of violence usually means they are able to invoke a defence of diminished responsibility, suffering as they almost invariably are from depressive illness or post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse.  By and large this reliance on their psychiatric state takes the sting out of the other defences, because the women are then sentenced with appropriate compassion, but there will always be women who slip through the net.  There is also the principled concern that women should not so readily be pushed towards a pathological explanation for their behaviour, an argument which seldom troubles women looking at prison bars, who understandably value their liberty and the companionship of their children above all else.

It is well established that retaliation and revenge have no place in our legal code, and if a woman is seen to bide her time and to strike when her attacker’s defences are low, she is seen as playing dirty and loses the protection of the law, unless she can invoke mental disturbance.  It matters not that she may have been subjected to years of beating and may feel that no other avenue is available to her.  If she makes a deliberate decision to kill she is guilty of murder, even if at the time she is no longer mistress of her own mind.  Temperature seems to be all important.  If the crime is to be reduced to manslaughter the act has to be seen to be in the ‘heat of the moment’ with no time to ‘cool off’.

The immediacy principle makes no sense when the provocation takes the form of long-term abuse.  When a person lives with persistent violence and alcoholism she often becomes overwhelmed.  Her whole life is out of control.  She would not be thinking rationally for some time, and her feelings often would not manifest themselves as ’snapping’, in the form of the crazed outburst, but may seem more controlled: a snapping in slow motion, the final surrender of frayed elastic” (pp199-201).

Once again at The F-Word, Anna Corbett chronicles the epiphany that fundamentally altered her view of the world in Confessions of a brand new feminist: “I was sat in one of the computer rooms of my university trying to find the motivation to start an essay.  next to the computers as usual were leaflets advertising various events, sports clubs and rooms for rent.  Procrastinating, I started to read through them and came across a small slip of paper from the women’s committee.  I wish I’d kept it.  It was only a few short sentences on how careers traditionally considered men’s preserve, such as the police, were better paid than those traditionally followed by women, such as nursing.  This, among numerous other issues, contributed to the pay gap between men and women.  An idea swam through my mind that would characterise my next few months: I’d never thought about it like that before”.

Culture

Carl Gardener at The Wardman Wire reviews Sacha Baron-Cohen’s latest outrageous incarnation, Brüno, discovering serious social critique beneath the brash surface: “Yes, the film gets lots of laughs from gay stereotypes: Brüno loves sex with incredible mechanical contraptions, has to call hotel security to get him and his boyfriend out of chains, and calls his agent while having his anus bleached.  But the real target is the homophobia and bigotry of others.  the climax, at Straight Dave’s TV fight show, is the most hilarious, frightening expose of violent redneck homophobia you could see – Brüno needs a fence to protect him from American men so pumped up with anger at the idea of homosexuality that baron-Cohen really is in danger.  And one of the rednecks is brought to touching, sickening tears at the thought that even this oasis of true butchness could be tainted by the gays”.

Over at Liberal England, Jonathan Calder is offering a chance to Win James Robertson Justice.  Not literally, as in a set of reliquary bones, but a copy of James Hogg’s biography of the great British actor.  All you have to do is answer five questions correctly – hurry on over!

In a beautifully evocative essay showing how celebrity biographies become subtly (and insidiously) interwoven with our own recollections, Martin Newell of The Wild man of Wivenhoe reminisces on the demise of Brian Jones, The Blond Stone: “I couldn’t get the news out of my head.  I think it was then that I realised that The Sixties, if there really were such a thing, was over and by default, so was my late childhood.  I now realise that I had a kind of breakdown at the time.  I didn’t recognise it as such but certain others did and after quitting my job I was dragged to the doctor’s by my mother and medicated with some rather crude drugs.  Poor old Brian.  The establishment and the straight people all around me were actually glad he was dead.  I couldn’t believe the world could be so cruel and nasty.  I pored over every detail of the circus surrounding his funeral.  I had my haircut as closely like his as I could.  I looked at pictures of him.  I wrote poems and songs about him, and as you will imagine, they were the work of a sixteen year old boy of fragile mindset”.

Miscellaneous

Philip Wilkinson of English Buildings draws our attention to a once ubiquitous item of street furniture, as embedded in the British consciousness as the other two icons in the same shade of red, double-decker bus and the postbox, but which with the victory of the mobile is rapidly attaining endangered species status, the old-fashioned phone box.  I echo him in supporting the Adopt a Kiosk initiative launched by BT: “The kiosk, minus its payphone, remains in situ, as a visual amenity, for future generations”.  Settle Town Council has converted one such booth into the Gallery on the Green, whose curators welcome postcard-sized submissions.

The Ill Man similarly encourages us to make a simple contribution towards making our urban surroundings a little less bleak with another idea I wholeheartedly endorse, the Ten Thousand Bulb Appeal: “Just think about that for a minute.  A wave of colour amongst the concrete and tarmac, defying the fag butts and making a rather drab corner of the city look so much better.  This is what we’re trying to achieve at our Townhead garden site currently tended to by [former Britblog Roundup host] Clairwil, Michael and myself”.

When you consider that the city in question is one whose mythology revolves around poverty, children dressed in hand-me-downs lurking in dank tenements never penetrated by a ray of sunlight, but with the warm-hearted generosity and unpretentious welcome of the working class (the difference between the largest agglomeration in Scotland and the country’s snooty capital neatly encapsulated in the witticism that if you arrive in genteel Edinburgh at around five in the evening your host will begrudgingly enquire “You’ll have had your tea?” whereas on the opposite coast, the citizens of Glasgow will phrase the query slightly differently, “You’ll be wanting your tea then?”), all the more reason to donate directly or help out by dropping by the Squidoo site dedicated to the work of the intrepid Guerilla Gardeners.

Tarrying for a moment longer on the floral theme, Ruth of Meanwhile, here in France transports us to the Lavender Harvest.

Cocktails and Records introduces us to a list of The most liveable cities in the world…ever! as compiled by Monocle magazine.  Without giving too much away, only two in the Top Ten are located outside of Europe, none in the USA (sniggers with Schadenfreude).  Having spent three years of my life in one of them, Copenhagen, I was reminded of the culture shock that awaited me as I moved to my present abode of Waffle Central, swapping the bracing sea breeze for the stuffy bourgeois uptightness of the place of my employ.  I was seven months pregnant at the time, the prospect of single parenthood weighing me down as heavily as the two suitcases containing my accumulated worldly goods.  As the escalators were out of order, it took me over two hours to emerge from the station, the commuters disgorged from their trains strategically averting their eyes (this unwillingness to spontaneously help the vulnerable par for the course in a country where teenagers do not give up their seats in buses and trams for the elderly and infirm even as the latter’s arms are nearly ripped out of their sockets when the vehicle lurches at foolhardy speed round a corner).

David Keen at The Wardman Wire gives a blow-by-blow (if not quite wicket by wicket) account of Day 3 of the England versus Australia match in Can you sing ‘Jerusalem’ in Cardiff?

Barrister Simon Myerson of Pupillage and How to Get It, which as its title suggests, dispenses handy tips for those aspiring to an analogous position within the legal profession, sets out the results of a survey rating the courtesy or lack thereof with which job applications were treated by Chambers across England and Wales.

The downside of the media obsession with swine flu is vividly evoked by Suzi Brent of Nee Naw: “I’ve just come back from three weeks’ leave and found the service absolutely inundated with calls from people who think they have swine flu.  No one seems to have taken any notice whatsoever of the NHS’ advice, which is to ring your GP if you are worried that you may have a touch of hamthrax.  (The only expectation is if someone develops life threatening symptoms as a result of the flu, which is extremely rare and usually only seen in people who had poor health to start with).  No, the general public have cleverly decided that they want to take their piggy germs to a hospital where they can spread it to thousands of sick and pregnant people and on their way infect a poor ambulance crew who will then go off sick for a week, leaving our resources even more stretched”.

They ought to take a leaf out of the book of poor Susanne Lamido, Britblog stalwart, who sensibly contacted her doctor to ascertain what was wrong: “Was informed it is so common round here they have stopped testing people – got to take Paracetamol to reduce the fever and to keep the temperature down.  However, if I have real difficulty breathing then and only then it’s time to call an ambulance.  In the meantime somebody healthy has to go to collect a document entitling me to antiviral medication.  Have been advised rest, keep at home as much as possible and avoid close contact with children”.

I am sure that I speak on behalf of all readers and nominators when I wish you a swift recovery and return to blogging, Susanne!

Finally, staying with the medical theme, but on a lighter note, Reynolds of Random Acts of Reality recounts Catching Something Other Than A Cold: “‘I’m going to have to take a look,’ I tell the woman and she lifts up her skirt to show me her genitals.

In training school there were two things that we were told to be wary of causing offence, the first was traipsing around Mosques in our boots.  The second thing was that Muslim women don’t want men who aren’t their husband looking at their bare flesh – strangely enough, when someone is about to deliver a baby they don’t seem to care.  I would guess that common sense tends to trump religion when you (and your husband) are scared and in pain.

I tilt my head to one side, trying to visualise exactly where the baby is.  Then she pushes again and I deftly side-step the gush of amniotic fluid as it shoots past my ear, it’s nice and clear which suggests that the baby hasn’t pooed in it.  The un-professional part of me gives myself a mental high five for not getting caught by the spurting body fluids”.

Next week’s Roundup will be hosted by cabalamat at Amused Cynicism.  As always, nominations should be submitted to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com  For a full statement of editorial policy, a list of the upcoming hosts and a complete archive of the Roundup since its inception, consult the Britblog Roundup Central website.

1 Footnote

  1. Cheers for the plug for the bulb challenge!

    Comment by Clairwil — Monday, 20 July 2009 @ 8:04 pm

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