Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rick Pickings

Winterval is a great time for watching a lot of TV. Mr Cru and I have had a relatively quiet one but it did give me the chance to see a few films. The usual soppy festive nonsense in most cases - I don't want to spoil the ending but Santa does get all the presents to all the good little boys and girls just in time after all. And some good stuff like Atom Egoyan's moving The Sweet Hereafter. But of course there was also some rubbish. Step forward Rick.

Rick is the story of a nasty man who gets his just desserts. So far so good. What he does wrong is be rude and unpleasant to people. His just desserts are - well taxis won't stop for him (bad) and his daughter gets raped and murdered (very bad). But it just left me wondering about whether the daughter got her "just desserts". I mean early on in the film she does log on to a saucy web chat-room, oh and she wears a low-cut dress, she also drinks alcohol. But then she gets RAPED AND MURDERED. So there's a nice moral message for us all at Christmas: Don't act at all sexual if you don't want to be murdered... (And yes I know it's based on Rigoletto, but it's heavily interpreted and just because it was acceptable then - which it wasn't in a lot of cases - doesn't make it acceptable now).

Another one for my list of the worst films of all time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Miss Chastity

I am not exactly a fan of the Miss World competition (surprise!) but surely if it's not to be banned for objectification of women, it should instead be banned for gross hypocrisy. The event which features women from around the world being judged on the basis of their appearances in off-the-shoulder dresses and the notorious swimsuit round has now told Miss France to step down because she's been pictured in a magazine eating yogurt in a seductive fashion. Seems that the competition is for the most beautiful naive virgin on the face of the planet. How pathetic.

On a related note, I had coffee today with a friend who lives and works in the middle east and we were talking about the state of women's rights out there - obviously not good. One point he made which I thought was very interesting was how women's rights are affected by the insistence that they receive no sex education before they are married. Men meanwhile are taught by male relatives and often bought prostitutes as coming-of-age presents (mmm, how to foster a positive attitude to women in your children part six...). As a result women when they get married often don't know the mechanics of sex and what they should or shouldn't expect. This of course leaves them hopelessly open to abuse.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Women and Unicycles

I'd be angry if I wasn't laughing so hard at this pathetic BBC article. It claims that an "expert" - Sam Shuster (should that be shit-ster?) from (wait for it) the University of Norfolk reckons men are funnier than women because "humour comes from testosterone". Well so far already I'm smelling a bit of a rat because the whole issue of what is and isn't funny is very personal. Some people might like a testosterone-charged angry act. Others would rather watch the Mighty Boosh or Jimmy Carr - hardly likely to be taking Ricky Hatton on in the ring any time soon.

But now lets talk about his research method. Apparently he went round the country on a unicycle and noticed that men made more jeering comments at him. That doesn't sound to me like a good test of who has a sense of humour. It might be a good test of who has had too much to drink today already or who has the least self-respect, but I hardly think jeering a unicycle is the indicator of a superior sense of humour. His other claim is that there are more male comedians. True enough but there are more male plumbers too and that doesn't necessarily mean testosterone makes you more interested in human excrement.

And of course this idiot has been funded by money from us the taxpayers to do this "research". Now I'm all in favour of funding education and research. I think we should encourage scientists. However I would really rather my personal taxes were spent on those scientists curing cancer and AIDS and figuring out how to slow down global warming, not unicycling round the country seeing how many jeers he gets. I mean was there seriously a conversation with Shuster in a careers office somewhere along the lines of "Well Sam, the bad news is the circus won't take you - they've got too many unicyclists, they're only hiring tightrope walkers at the moment. But the good news is the University of Norfolk are interested..."

Even more pathetic the BBC, also funded by my money, through the license fees then goes and prints the story, as though it were a piece of important conclusive research. Which is how the headline-only reading public may well take it, especially those who already wanted an excuse to think that anyway...

I was on BBC Leeds earlier talking about this though and we did talk about some of the great comediennes - Jo Brand and Victoria Wood. Then when asked to name the best up-and-coming comediennes one of the other panellists said Sarah Millican (pictured) and ... me!

This Is Awful

Jamie Lee Jones testifying to the US House Judiciary Committee about being raped by her co-workers at Halliburton/KBR. Highlights two things - firstly that hiring corporate "defence contractors" to work in war zones is a bad idea. Corporate activity is supposed to be limited by laws which apply in the areas where they operate. There are no laws in war zones. Secondly - as we've been saying for a long time - rape is an act of aggressive violence, it has nothing to do with sexual desire. Jones was left needing reconstructive surgery on her breasts - that's not the act of someone feeling sexually aroused - it's the act of someone feeling violent hatred. Sickening.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Contractual Obligations

Well we all know I am no fan of supposedly pro-women site Jezebel. However there are some stories even they and I agree on. One of which is that this is an outrage. Turns out the "defence contractors", i.e. private security firms like Blackwater, and the one in this case, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, out fighting in Iraq, have such dubious legal status that their employees can get away with rape.

There's an issue generally with these contractors. An article in today's (yesterday's since it's past midnight now) Independent - sadly in the pull-out bit so no link - about the way that warfare has changed. Once upon a time we lined up in neat rows and popped off shots at each other. Of course it was still brutal but we knew for the most part what was going on, and who was at risk. Nowadays it's all much more of a big gray area. We can't tell who's an "enemy combatant" and who's a civilian. And that's not just because Al Qaeda (or whoever we're told it is we're fighting in Iraq, I keep forgetting what bullshit I'm supposed to fall for this month) don't wear uniforms and carry name-tags, it's also because we've got all these different groups of people out there involved with military operations but not actually under the direct command of the military. Which makes it a lot harder to tell an aid worker from someone who might kill you. Blackwater recently killed 17 civilians. No-one is quite sure how to deal with it.

And in the midst of all the confusion of course we get rape. To go with the murder.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This Year In Sex

Alternet has published a list of their top sex-related stories of the year. Here's my take on them:

"Top 10 Sex and Relationships Stories of 2007

10. Is Open Marriage the Modern Couple's Answer to Infidelity?
By Joslyn Matthews, Sirens Magazine
Why does open marriage work for some married couples and destroy others? The answer could be that for it to work, you need to be in an extremely healthy relationship."

Do modern couples need an answer to infidelity? I know plenty of successfully monogamous couples. I think the answer to modern couple's infidelity is honesty - discussing what you want, what you feel relationship would benefit from. Do whatever you like, but do it honestly.

"9. Don't Look Gay: Why American Men Are Afraid of Intimacy With Each Other
By John Ibson, American Sexuality Magazine
Why do adolescent boys often leave empty seats between each other when they go to the movies? It's a product of the culture of male homophobia in America which pushes men to avoid intimacy and gay stereotypes."

Certainly true that in the UK too there is a real phobia for a lot of men about looking or acting "gay" or "girly". It's homophobia, misogyny and it's very much encouraged by the media and big companies who can use it to sell stuff.

"8. Why Men Should Be Included in Abortion Discussion
By Courtney E. Martin, AlterNet
Locking men out of conversations about abortion often comes at a great expense."

Men are involved in abortion discussions - when they have a good relationship with the woman in question. If they don't - why would you discuss what happens to your own body with someone who is hostile to you? We're not stupid.

"7. Is Monogomy Natural?
By Anneli Rufus, AlterNet
A lifetime of love versus a quick roll with a stranger. It's funny how we can have two seemingly opposite urges at the same time."

No it's not. It's clearly "natural" to have both a desire for a lasting relationship and an urge to have a lot of sex. More importantly however - does it matter if monogamy is "natural"? It's "natural" to cr*p in a ditch but I for one choose not to live with men who do so. Human are supposed to be civilised, so we can choose for ourselves how we behave and what we do, we are not slaves to our own "natural" urges.

"6. The Deeper Meaning in the Republican Sex Scandals
By Susie Bright,
Another two gay-bashing, Klan-loving, pulpit-slurping Republicans have disgraced themselves. But there is much more we can learn from the improprieties of David Vitter and Bob Allen."

I think it's pretty obvious that the people shouting the loudest about the un-godliness of homosexual sex are the ones finding it hardest to repress that urge within themselves.

"5. Can Women Separate Love and Sex?
By Jennifer Armstrong, Sirens Magazine
Sex, like eating, is a biological drive, and you will lose your mind if you repress it for too long. But some women stave off the need much longer than others."

Of course many women have sex without falling in love. I know I have, I know I am not the only one. I also don't think you'll lose your mind if you don't have sex. Nor do I think sex is like eating - you'll die if you don't eat, if you don't have sex you'll just have to take up another hobby to fill the extra time. If the biological drive gets too much for you - I recommend masturbating.

(Note: within a week someone will have found this page by googling the phrase "I recommend masturbating"!)

"4. The Sexual Self-Interest of the Cuckolded Wife
By Susie Bright,
How does Suzanne Craig, wife of the outed senator, stand next to her liar of a husband at a press conference and not hurl her guts?"

More generally why do women put up with men who mis-treat them? Well they figure on whatever misguided logic that the investment of time and effort they've put into the relationship is worth something and they don't want to throw it away rashly before they've looked at the options. Or they were only in the relationship for career reasons/money/etc to start with. Or they believe God wants them to "stand by their man". Or they've been taught by society that it is a woman's responsibility to make relationships work so they're blaming themselves and trying to make things right.

"3. Do Women Enjoy Chocolate More Than Sex?
By Danielle Egan, The Tyee
Author Joan Sewell says so in her new autobiography where she embraces her low libido. The media have hailed her book as "brilliant," but scientific literature disagrees with her theory."

Depends who makes the chocolate and who's having the sex. Mr Cru vs a couple of Quality Street - I'll take the former, some unattractive slimeball vs a nice big chunk of Lindt and Sprungli - I'll be switching to the latter. As for low libidos, I think the media these days does have a very "sex is all that matters" attitude so if you've a low libido and you're happy that way, good for you. Of course it could be a symptom of some other problem - physical or mental - so best to check, but if not then it's up to you whether you want to see it as a problem. The real issue is that while low libido for women is often not seen as a problem - a man who doesn't want much sex is swiftly dosed up with viagra. There's a real sense that for men libido is closely related to identity. And that's messed up.

"2. Is Pornography Really Harmful?
By Michael Bader and Vivian Dent, AlterNet
In response to Robert Jensen's controversial book, Getting Off, two clinical psychologists debate the intersection of violence and sexual fantasy."

Yes pornography really is harmful. Thousands of reports, all over the world, yes it's hamful. Why are we still having this debate?

"1. Pornography and the End of Masculinity
By Don Hazen, AlterNet
Mainstream porn has come up with more ways than ever to humiliate and degrade women. Why, then, is porn more popular? Includes an excerpt from Robert Jensen's new book, Getting Off."

Porn is more popular than ever because it comes up with ever more ways to humiliate and degrade women. That's what it's readers want. And that's why it's harmful.

Young and Responsible

There is a new documentary coming up about young carers - children who look after their own parents and households as well as trying to keep up with their school work. The documentary, or at least what I can see from the trailer is about how these kids manage it. The bigger question for me is why we're allowing this to happen in our society. In the trailer there is a brief moment when Melissa - 12 and a carer for her mother who has serious mental health problems and serious mobility problems - says "we tried to get help from social services but they wouldn't do anything".

Why not? What is the point of social services if they don't intervene in cases like this? Basically they've worked out that young children don't know any better and won't make a fuss if they're told that they have to do all the work, so they don't do anything because they can get away with not doing anything. I suspect, I should add, that the actual people who work at SS are run of their feet, but the issue is they don't have enough staff and resources.

This is another thing which could be picked up in my annual questionnaire in schools.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ask The Experts

Well this is exactly why expert witnesses are needed in rape cases. Grinning orange twat Micheal Flatley has been accused of rape. His defence is built around the notion that the woman had a "relaxed and happy" breakfast with him the morning after the alleged incident. Any half decent expert - someone with experience at a crisis helpline or rape crisis medical centre - would tell you that it's very common for rape victims to act "normal" immediately after the incident.

There are two reasons why this would happen. Firstly the victim having been aggressively raped may fear further physical attack, or other repercussions - losing their job, being blackmailed or discredited by malicious rumours if they allow their rapist to know that they intend to report the crime. They may also blame themself for the rape, it's not just men in our society who can believe that women bear some responsibility for their own rape, so they may be ashamed and not want people to know about the incident. Secondly, the victim may be in denial. Having willingly gone out with, home with and trusted someone who turns out to be a rapist, they try to convince themselves that the incident didn't happen and reassure themselves that they were right to have trusted the guy and that they do have a good relationship.

Having stayed for breakfast is no defense against rape. I'm pretty appalled the BBC would report it as though it were. Maybe we need rape experts not just in courts but also in journalists offices.

He was cleared of the charges and has now won a case awarding him $11m in damages from his accuser. Surely since no-one was in the room with the pair at the time of the alleged incident, while we cannot say with 100% certainty that he did rape her, we also cannot say with 100% certainty that he didn't. I can understand a decision saying there's not enough evidence to convict him, I can't see how she can be prosecuted for bringing the case. And what message does this send to other rape victims wondering whether or not to bring a case against their attacker?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Makes Me Want To Nuke!

Several months ago I signed a foolishly optimistic online petition to the government that somebody forwarded to me which proposed the following:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Re-channel money from a trident replacement and unnecessary wars to health, education, housing and peace projects.
... we are wasting our money at a time when we need peace in the world - think what a society we could have if we spent less on wasteful war."

Pretty straightforward stuff. Today Gordon Brown paid lip service to the whole idea of collaborative government with the response linked here.

No doubt in the interests of on-going collaboration Mr Brown will be delighted to read my response to his response...

"the Government remain committed to working towards a safer world"

Right, which bit of making the world a safer place was the whole killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis planned under?

" which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons."

Clearly our current modern world has no need for nuclear weapons. Otherwise how exactly do you explain the run away success of Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, ... and the Solomon Islands? Countries without weapons clearly don't get attacked by those with. Otherwise there'd just be us nine left (US, UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel).

"However, proliferation risks remain, and while the size and readiness of global nuclear capabilities has reduced markedly since the end of the Cold War, large nuclear arsenals remain and are being modernised."

Who is going to attack us? The US, Russia, China and France seem unlikely and are all on the non-proliferation treaty anyway. India and Pakistan are only a threat to each other (unless we decide to "help" that is). North Korea is, well, right next to South Korea and Israel is totally surrounded by Muslim countries, I don't think either of those guys would give us a look in. A report out in the US this week says Iran hasn't been building working on a nuclear program for years now. The evidence from the "terror" attacks in the UK so far is that an incendiary device and a parking permit are beyond their capability, I don't think nuclear is the next step.

"The Government have carefully considered the threat and concluded that the risk of the re-emergence of a strategic threat, emerging nuclear states and state sponsored terrorism is such that despite our best efforts, the conditions have not yet been met to enable to UK to give up its nuclear deterrent."

The issue here of course is the use of the term "deterrent". Its not a deterrent - it's a threat. The implication is that an individual willing to push a button and kill millions of people in another country would be put off by the risk that someone might come back and hurt a few million peasants in his own country. The guys with their fingers on the nuclear buttons around the world all have access to high quality nuclear bunkers. It's the rest of us who don't. As Marcus Brigstocke said around the time I signed the original petition "There's no such thing as one-all in a nuclear war.". In fact given what we now know about the fragile state of the planet, the chances are that even one unreciprocated nuclear explosion could be enough to tip the planet over the edge into uninhabitability.

"Costs for the renewal of the UK's nuclear deterrence are similar to other major defence equipment and are less than 0.1% of GDP or around 5-6% of the defence budget."

Sure but the defence budget, what's that been doing lately? Oh that's it - rising sharply. Look at this quote from the MoD's own site "the Defence budget is set to increase from £29.7Bn in 2004/05 to £33.4Bn in 2007/08. In real terms (i.e. after inflation) it represents average annual growth of 1.4%. It will amount to longest period of sustained real terms growth in planned Defence spending."

"As only nuclear weapons can provide a deterrence against nuclear threats..."

Right, but we have nuclear weapons and Iraq doesn't, we're at war with them. So there's no deterrence, but we're still not using them. So something else works.

"...the Government has decided that this investment in the defense of its citizens is worth paying."

The government then, is very wrong. The public don't want Trident replaced.

"Since coming to power, this Government has already increased the investment in our schools, hospitals and overseas aid."

Now firstly Labour have been in power so long that the cost of everything has increased dramatically since they came to power. Secondly, when they talk about increasing investment in our schools and hospitals of course they forget to mention that some of the extra income has arrived in return for handing over ownership of those services. That's why we now have state-funded creationist schools, playing fields being sold off and hospital closures every other week. Overseas aid has only really increased due to overwhelming public pressure and even then Labour has yet to follow through on some of it's generous-sounding pledges. Finally funding may have increased, but are the services offered getting any better? Clearly not. Our schools and universities are sliding behind those of other nations, our children live the worst lives in Europe, women in labour are being turned away from hospitals, cancer drugs are being refused to the dying, waiting lists are now the norm, dentists are rarer than intelligent remarks from David Beckham and the third world is in the middle of a massive AIDS epidemic. If that's the effects of an increase in investment then the word "mismanagement" springs very quickly to mind.

Swiftly followed by the words "Needless nuclear proliferation"

Any further comment Mr Brown?

The Shoddy Shop

Stopped in to the Body Shop on my way today. Used to be you could rely on that place to be making an effort to do the right thing. Today I discovered:

1. Prices have gone up massively. Used to be reasonable, now £11 for a lipstick.

2. They don't really do recycling any more. You used to be able to bring containers in for a refill, which saved some money, but they don't do that any more. They weren't even sure if they could recycle bottles if I brought them in.

3. Almost every purchase comes with a free gift - a bag containing at least four small items, loads of packaging for very little impact. Would be much better to give away a single bottle of something as a gift (or keep prices lower and drop the freebees).

4. Tons of pressure on customers to hand over personal data. Savings and more free gifts if you give your name, address, phone, number, DoB, email, etc.

5. Pushy shop staff. I was asked six times in ten minutes if I wanted any help. Even when I said "no thanks", they persisted. "Just checking out the scents?", "Just looking for Christmas presents?", they'd get on very well with my Granny actually (sorry Gran).

6. Poorly informed staff. One member of their team told me "If you get a second home fragrance you'll get a free gift". I didn't buy any home fragrance but I still got a free gift. And when I asked at the till if there was another gift with home fragrances I was told "no".

7. Not enough till staff. Four empty tills versus one staffed till - this is supposed to be Christmas holiday season! So six members of staff wandering about annoying customers and no-one to serve them once they've been harassed into buying whatever they didn't really want. And given that each customer reaching the tills has to be given a free gift, told if they're missing out on a free gift and offered a Love Your Body loyalty card which is then filled in at the till, this meant a line had formed more than ten customers long.

Ho hum, I guess corporate overpriced goods and bad service is reaching places previously thought to be out of bounds.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Open Invitation

Mr Cru and I will both be celebrating our birthdays this coming Saturday 8th Dec from 8pm at the newly refurbished Princess Louise pub on High Holborn. Everyone is welcome whether we've met you before or not, and you're all welcome to bring friends too. Some of us might go to the OBJECT meeting beforehand which finishes at 6pm so just time to grab stomach-lining food (sushi!) and get to the pub.

How Frightening Is This?

A big bunch of old weird-looking white guys in too much make-up trying to sound likable while telling millions of women that they believe their bodies are not their own property... Puke.

Them and Us

An Amnesty Intl report says that laws forbidding rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse are not enforced in Uganda. Women apparently often don't report these crimes because they know nothing will be done. "The vast majority of cases of violence against women are not reported to the police because most victims have lost hope in getting any kind of justice." the report claims and "Amnesty International researchers ... spoke to scores of women, girls and their families about the discrimination they suffered while trying to access justice, and the culture of impunity around cases of rape, domestic violence, assault and other forms of violence against women."

So a bit like Britain then. And people say feminism's not needed any more...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

You Decide!

Meet Lusty Linda... But is it hilarious comedy or is it outrageous misogyny? You decide! Oh and if you decide it's hilarious comedy, go back and decide again because you were wrong.