Sunday, March 11, 2012

Some other responses to the good Cardinal Keith O’Brien:-

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said the government's consultation on gay marriage was not aimed at forcing religious groups to endorse same-sex marriages. He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "We're not seeking to change religious marriage and we're not seeking to impose it on religious groups. What we are saying is that where a couple love each other and they wish to commit to each other for their life then they should be able to have a civil marriage irrespective of their sexual orientation."

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, a former equalities minister, said she thought it was right to have same-sex marriages. She added: "I don't want anybody to feel that this is a licence for whipping up prejudice. What you're talking about is individual people and their personal relationships, their love for each other and their wanting to be in a partnership or getting married. I think we should support that."

Margot James, the first openly lesbian Conservative MP, accused the cardinal of "scaremongering". She said: "I think it is a completely unacceptable way for a prelate to talk. The government is not trying to force Catholic churches to perform gay marriages at all. It is a purely civil matter."

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights organisation Stonewall, said: "When you read the insulting tone to which Cardinal O'Brien descends on marriage you sense an argument already lost.

I'm in favour of civil partnerships and equality. But, you can not in my view redefine marriage on a whim” Peter Bone Conservative MP "It wasn't in our manifesto. It wasn't in Labour's manifesto. It wasn't in the Liberal manifesto. Nobody in my constituency before this row has ever come up to me and said this is an important issue that needs to be dealt with. It came completely out of the blue and it should certainly not be put before the next general election." Mr. Bone said he believed marriage could not be anything other than the union of a man and a woman. "I'm in favour of civil partnerships and equality. But, you can not in my view redefine marriage on a whim."

Mr Cameron publicly supported gay marriage at last year's Conservative Party conference, and the Home Office said last week the government believed a loving and committed couple should "have the option of a civil marriage irrespective of their sexual orientation".

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone will launch a consultation later this month on how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples. She has said she wants to challenge the view that the government does not have the right to change marriage traditions. "It is the government's fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better," she said.

Many church leaders believe gay marriage would represent a further significant step in marginalising traditional religious values in society.

The Church of England’s stance is it will not allow its churches to be used for civil partnership ceremonies unless the full general synod gives its consent. And now some individual comments:-

For the first time I can remember, I find myself in agreement with a cardinal. For the VAST majority of people in this country the word marriage describes the union of a male and a female, hopefully for life and predominantly for the purpose of raising and nurturing the next generation. As he say's, with all the legal rights already in place, the redefinition of the word marriage is the issue here

I find it increasingly unacceptable that most religious leaders sit in their ivory towers and decree the terms of the religion that they are representing whilst holding an ever diminishing understanding of society as a whole. It’s sad that the positive aspects of a religion are lost as these people increasingly marginalise not only themselves, but also the religion as a whole.

It is purely a civil matter and nothing to do with religion, why can't they have a purely civil union, and leave marriage as it was intended to be? A civil union is, to all intents and purposes, a 'marriage', at least according to the legal has all the legal protections and rights of a marriage...why is that not enough?

Marriage equality sends a strong message to young people that gay relationships can be just as committed and loving as heterosexual relationships, reducing bullying and emotional damage done to gay kids.

Friday, March 9, 2012

When I was a kid I remember we used to play a card game called Happy Families and I wonder if it is still played today or whether computer games have taken over entirely and such innocent pastimes belong well and truly to the past. The pack of cards consisted of a number of families, the butcher’s family, the baker’s family, etcetera and consisted as I remember of mom, dad, son, and daughter, the perfect module. The idea was to collect as many families as possible by asking opposing players if they held a particular card. If they didn’t you lost your turn to ask. The person who ended up with the most cards was the winner. What brought this to mind was my never ending wonder at the reasoning of the human mind: how it makes excuses, how it explains, how it analyses, how it arrives at conclusions true or false. Of course nurture plays the biggest part in your thinking. If you’ve been brought up to believe that something is true and you continue to believe it then your thinking will most definitely be biased in that direction. Think of fanatical Nazis who were willing to continue fighting and to die in an almost destroyed Berlin even when they knew it was all over and the Russians were baying at their heels.

The government's plans for gay marriage have been criticised by the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland. He said the plans were a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right". He said the idea of redefining marriage, which David Cameron has said he supports, would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world". He said it was wrong to deliberately deprive a child of a mother or father. "Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father." Really? How come I never thought of that?

So the Cardinal has found a new and previously unmentioned reason for opposing gay marriage. (I still hate that emotive word and wish it had never been used but there you are, for good or bad it is there.) He’s not maintaining that homosexuality is unnatural or any of the other reasons put forward for homophobia but because every child deserves a mom and a dad – i.e. Happy Families!

Right Cardinal O’Brien just think for a moment and carry your reasoning on a step further. What about (a) Divorce? Now I know divorce is forbidden to Catholics but Catholic couples do separate so children of those marriages do not have both a mother and a father. They are with one or the other. Outside of the faith divorce is now so common the lack of both parents is even more obvious. And what about (b) the unwanted children who are farmed out to homes and foster parents thus losing their own natural mummy and daddy? And what about children who lose their parents at an early age through an act of God - an accident for example? (c) What about unmarried mothers? There was a time, not so long ago in fact, that when a girl gave birth out of marriage it was considered shameful and a disgrace but today kids hardly into their teens are popping them out like peach pips with no thoughts of marriage and in many cases don’t seem to know or care who the father is, and the boy certainly doesn’t want to know and accept the responsibility. There was a case fairly recently of a boy who had fathered six children all from different girls, thought nothing of it and was all for carrying on in the same fashion. Maybe he was a catholic and believed contraception to be a sin. But those six children do not have a daddy and more than likely will not have one. Give me your thoughts on that, Cardinal O’Brien. And finally what about those children born to abusive parents and whose lives are a misery, sometimes ending in early death, for example baby Peter who suffered 160 injuries before he was murdered. I shouldn’t think if he, so young, had been in a position to chose, would he have cared about having both a mummy and a daddy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I know it might seem a bit late, or a bit early, depending on your point of view, to talk about Christmas but an article in the news caught my interest. All right go on, say it, he’s on his hobby horse yet again, we’re back to religion. The article is headed “Is Christmas Under Attack?” Well, it wouldn’t be for the first time. In the seventeenth century the Puritans decided Christmas had become too much of a raucous boozy festival and banned it as idolatrous and this was continued by the Puritans in New England. Christmas was celebrated by most people in England as an occasion of revelry, of overeating, of drinking. Christmas was a rowdy holiday.

In America up until 1894, December 25th was just another twelve hour working day but then, in that year, it was made a legal holiday.

So what is Christmas and how did it start? Basically it is a festival celebrating the winter solstice. The Romans called it Saturnalia, the date December 22nd, and they lit lamps and candles to hold off the winter dark, hence our Christmas lights. When Christianity became the accepted religion in the fourth century the church did not ban all the pagan customs related to the solstice but absorbed them and no one knows the actual date of Jesus’ birth but December 25th is as good a guess as any. The solstice was observed in the Germanic countries by Yule and the Christmas tree appeared in the 15th or 16th century. I doubt anyone today has the facility to burn a Yule log but other pagan symbols like holly and mistletoe are still with us.

Perhaps the article’s headline is slightly misleading: it’s not Christmas that is under attack but all the phenomena that surround it and that really have little to do with celebrating Jesus’ birth. Cards came in officially in 1843 and we now have electronic greetings and it’s big business but just how many Christmas greetings actually mention among the happies and the merries the name of Christ? Oh we get pictures of the stable and the three wise men but offhand I can’t think of much else in the way of Christian symbolism. There is no doubt though that Christmas is a booming industry and booms ever larger and longer with each passing year. There is a huge ‘Christmas Shop’ in North Carolina, open all year, that is a treasure trove of tacky tinsel and trinkets, all glittering red and gold, a child’s wonderland, and when I visited it in mid-summer, it was heaving and doing a roaring trade. But to the article - Dozens of US congressmen have pledged to protect Christmas from attempts to undermine it. So is the West's foremost public holiday really under attack? One of the most famous family scenes in history, the nativity, appears to be facing threats from all sides. A tug of war is going on over a nativity setting on a courthouse lawn in Texas, with the Freedom from Religion Foundation urging it be removed or an atheistic solstice banner put up nearby. In South Carolina, a state hospital has banned a nativity scene from its premises. It's part of a wider assault on the Christmas tradition, say some Christian groups, who also point to a rule barring congressmen from sending Christmas cards through the official congressional post. Theirs is a very modern crusade over the place of religion in public life that has been taken up on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, rumours the very name "Christmas" had been replaced in some places by "Winterval" provoked outrage. I should think so too – bloody ridiculous. Political correctness in England has led to a downgrading of Christmas, for example nativity plays in schools, in case those of another persuasion have their noses put out of joint, this despite the fact that, when questioned, those of other persuasions say their noses aren’t put out of joint. Then there are town councils that have toned down their Christmas themes for fear of causing offence.

In the US Congress 67 Republicans have sponsored a non-binding resolution "the sense of the House of Representatives is that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas". The resolution "strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas" and "expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas".

Republican presidential contender Rick Perry used a recent advert to complain that children could no longer celebrate Christmas openly, and that President Obama had launched a "war on religion". “There's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas.”

But if anyone is fighting against Christmas, they seem to be losing the battle. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans celebrate Christmas with most incorporating religious elements into the observance. "We're inundated with Christmas," says Max Brantley, a journalist and political analyst in Arkansas. "Christmas is not in danger, and the notion that the US congress needs to waste time with a resolution that asserts it's in danger is just silly." But many believe there is a battle to fight, to preserve the Christian traditions, and it's a conflict in which they are in ascendancy, with the vast majority of people on their side. No doubt, even if battle lines are somewhat obscure, in the words of the old hymn, ‘Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…’

Monday, March 5, 2012

Let’s talk about shit. Hey, whoa there, boy! Why would anyone want to talk about shit? It’s something naice people do not mention. Well, for one thing it makes a change, not necessarily the most agreeable one, but a change nevertheless and, after all, we all have to do it, even the Queen of England. What made me think of it was, we watched again that delightful television series, ‘The Victorian Farm’ in which a Shropshire farm, derelict for 150 years was brought back to life by an intrepid trio; with local assistance when necessary and, when we got to the end of it, I said that something was missing. We had every aspect of Victorian farming life both agricultural and domestic but never was there a sight of or mention of a privy. The closest we got to any form of personal hygiene was Ruth in the bedroom standing in a basin having what passed as a shower by pouring water over herself from a ewer –and it was cold! Brrr! Now in an earlier series, ‘Tales From The Green Valley’ where our intrepid trio plus two went further back in time, to 1620 in fact, and lived the life of a Welsh farm of the period, we did actually have a privy. In fact we had a derelict privy that had to be demolished and replaced. So why was such an important aspect left out of the Victorian one I wonder? Maybe it was just nobody thought of it or considered it to be unimportant. But, whether you like it or not, it is a subject to be discussed.

In China twenty women invaded a gent’s toilet as a protest at the lack of facilities for women and have threatened to take their protest to Beijing. In one Indian state where there simply are no toilets at all, an official said women should not be expected to defecate in public. Presumably that means it’s okay for men to defecate in public. I remember as a boy at boarding school, a group of us walking through a wattle plantation, if one was taken short, it was down with the trousers and squat right there and then while the others stood around and waited, and wiping one’s arse with a clump of grass. There was no feeling of embarrassment or shame. It was just something one had to do. After all shitting in public is nothing new. Which palace or castle is it in England that has a privy, or a ‘necessary house’ as it was called with a row of eight seats? Presumably my lords could talk of weighty affairs of state whilst relieving themselves. I mentioned in an earlier Blog about the guy somewhere in Asia (I can’t remember where) who won a prize for producing the biggest dump and I believe the palace of Versailles has fifteen hundred rooms and not a privy in sight. With a couple of thousand or more people shitting it soon mounts up. Presumably when one part of the palace became uninhabitable they simply moved to another part while the servants went in to clean up. And I have sometimes wondered how theatre audiences managed in the days before theatres had toilets. I presume the ladies had their servants provide them with a chamber pot and the men could go outside and piss against the wall (where the chamber pot no doubt could also be emptied) – but what did they do if they were suddenly taken with a dose of diarrhoea? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And what about early doctors studying a patient’s faeces in order to make a diagnosis?

Also growing up in South Africa one was warned never to eat fruit or vegetables bought form itinerant Indian farmers without washing it thoroughly as they fertilised their land with their own faeces. But there is nothing knew in that. In Georgian London and other cities, and even earlier, night soil men collected the town’s sewage to cart it into the countryside where farmers used it as fertiliser.

Privies of course do come in various shapes and sizes from a hole in the ground to Turkish: that is just two places to put your feet while you squat, not always easy for the old and infirm, to ones one which you sit down in comfort and read a magazine. I believe when the Greeks first heard of flush toilets they were aghast that anyone would want such a thing inside the house. Then there is what I call my magic privy which was in Liberia. In the early morning I was directed to this little hut inside of which all I found was a floor of clean white sand. On being reassured that this was indeed a toilet I used it and, when I visited it later in the day, all I found was a floor of clean white sand. When the old flush toilet in the courtyard here was pulled down the builder went everywhere trying to discover where all the shit had gone and failed to find any. Where oh where could it have gone to? So you see, it is a fascinating subject with many ramifications, hardly any of which have been touched in this little essay. For example I have ignored the sexual aspect of shit (yes, we’re back to sex) euphemistically known as chocolate by copraphiliacs, one story of which goes, I don’t vouch for the veracity of it, that in Victoria’s glorious reign a certain member of the royal household who was of a somewhat fastidious bent but also into shit had a special bed made with a glass canopy so that he could lie there and watch the young lady squat and do her stuff without the necessity of wallowing in or swallowing it, dabbling or paddling in it. Good clean fun wouldn’t you say?

I don’t know just how many expressions there are using the word shit but the Italians have a good one which is ‘Eat shit and die!’ And on that note I’ll call it a day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

For the past few days I’ve had my nose buried in a thriller – ‘Guilty As Sin’ by a writer previously unknown to me (not surprising when one considers the hundreds and thousands of writers there are – can’t keep up with them all.) Anyway her name is Tami Hoag, she is American and she has written a number of thrillers, one of which ‘Night Sins’ (Ms Hoag has a thing about sin obviously. There is another one called ‘Sarah’s Sin) has been made into a mini-series by CBS. The reason why I’ve been rooted in this novel, all 605 pages of it is because plot-wise it’s great and I had to get to the end to find out how it all finishes. The fact that I had a slight suspicion who the unknown villain was is immaterial. It was only a suspicion, though finally confirmed. Isn’t that what thrillers are all about? The Agatha Christie kind anyway? Having to try and guess the identity of the murderer before you get to the end with a sigh either of frustration or satisfaction.

The book seems to follow the pattern of so much American crime writing (Karen Slaughter for example or John Grishom) in that its cast of characters consists of lawyers, cops, judges, district attorneys and, in this case, a mad professor of psychology and his protégé which makes a change. So okay, so good but why oh why do novelists feel they have to write romantic scenes, love scenes, sex scenes of the most toe curdling kind? Do we really need five pages of what he did to her and her reaction? All it does is hold up the story which, until that moment has been flowing along very nicely thank you. The writing here descends to the banal, the trite, the clichéd even. Leave romantic encounters to the Barbara Cartlands and other romantic novelists of this world and get on with the nitty-gritty. It’s no wonder there is an annual prize for the worst bit of writing on sex. I’m not saying Ms. Hoag’s is the worst but it is certainly boring.

Anyway it hasn’t put me off reading anything else by her so if I come across another title I’ll go for it and I’m sure I won’t be disappointed. Just keep off the sex please. Ms. Hoag.

I will continue now though with a couple of real life sex scandals and what never ceases to amaze me is that the victims, if they may be called that, always seem to wait for years and years and years before making their allegations. The story is a veteran assistant coach for Syracuse University's basketball team has been put on administrative leave amid accusations he molested young boys. Bobby Davis, now 39, told sport network ESPN that Bernie Fine molested him repeatedly for 10 years from 1984. See what I mean? We are in 2012 – 28 years have gone by, why has he waited this long? The allegations come after a former Penn State coach, Jerry Sandusky was arrested on charges of sexually abusing young boys - accusations he denies. He says he regrets showering with young boys but denies being a paedophile. We had a master at my school that always showered with the boys but I don’t remember anyone thinking it odd and there were certainly no allegations of sexual impropriety.

Bernie Fine - who has been the assistant basketball coach at Syracuse for 35 years - was accused of abuse by two men, Bobby Davis and his step-brother Mike Lang. Both men said Mr. Fine molested them for multiple years, often reaching into their shorts and rubbing their genitals.

The incidents allegedly occurred both at Mr. Fine's home as well as on the road, including at the 1987 Final Four, the US college basketball tournament. So, if the boys knew their genitals were going to be rubbed, over ten years note, and ten years is a hellava long time to put up with something you object to, why did they go to Mister Fine’s home or hotel room in the first place? Head basketball coach Jim Boeheim defended Mr. Fine, telling ESPN the university had investigated the same allegations in 2005, and concluded they were unfounded. Nevertheless Syracuse police have opened an investigation into the allegations, saying they will interview both Mr. Davis and Mr. Lang. It wouldn’t be the first time, or the last, that teachers have been accused of misconduct and, although it must be true in some cases and serious damage can be done, the accused who are innocent find their careers blighted, their lives ruined by these allegations and I would still like to know why they are made 28 years later. The excuse that ‘we thought no one would believe us’ might be true after one or two episodes but after ten years? This ten years still makes the mind boggle. How old were the boys when the abuse started. Even if as young as seven, and they couldn’t have been much younger, that would make them seventeen when they allege the abuse ended and at seventeen they still said nothing?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I know the recession has had dire consequences for many people, some of whom have lost their all, but here is a good story for a change. The recent economic downturn has hit Pakistanis as hard as it has people in the west, forcing many to sell off their businesses and try a fresh start. Having lost the bookshop he owned for 30 years, Shiraz Ahmad decided to get on his bike and do something about it. He now rides a rickshaw loaded with books of every description and earns a living selling to bookworms street to street. ‘They used to come to me,’ he says, ‘now I have to go to them.’ Happily it would seem trade is brisk and there is no tax on his rickshaw. Continuing with the economic crises, food in Greece gets more expensive by the day, as does everything else (petrol is now 1.82 a litre) and some Greeks are doing their shopping elsewhere, out of the euro zone where food is cheaper. This applies particularly to those living in the north on the border with Bulgaria. But is it a case of swings and roundabouts? You need to fill up the car with that very expensive petrol to make the trip.

Growing up in Durban, South Africa one was quite used to seeing Indians walking around in what looked suspiciously like pyjamas but one hardly expected to find the same phenomenon in Europe. However, it would seem the Irish can be rather reluctant to get out of their nightwear. A notice has appeared at a Dublin social welfare office warning claimants that "pyjamas are not regarded as appropriate attire when attending Community Welfare Service at these offices". It is believed the decision was made after a number of people complained and it is not the first time sleep wear has made headlines. Two years ago, Joe McGuiness, the principal of St Matthew's Primary School, Belfast, sent a stern letter to parents saying wearing pyjamas on the school run was "slovenly and rude”. Last year a head teacher from a school in Middlesborough, England, also asked parents to get properly dressed before the school run. Evidently some parents are not only wearing their pyjamas when they drop their kids off but when they pick them up and even attending meetings in them! Do they ever get dressed? Maybe they just can’t afford to. The issue gained even more prominence when a Tesco store in Cardiff, Wales, put notices up asking customers not to shop in their pyjamas or go barefoot. The manager said it was because other customers could be offended. People have been seen walking around Mayfair in London in their pyjamas and evidently the fashion houses of Paris and Milan have gone into promoting pyjamas in a big way. Columnist Joan Birnie said night wear "should only be worn in the house. It's slovenly, it's wrong - pyjamas are for wearing to bed. They are definitely not for outside wear," she said.

It is STILL raining! Since well before Christmas I doubt we have seen more than ten hours of sunshine and last night we had it big time including a thunderstorm, howling gales and hail like pigeon eggs. The previous day I discovered my study was flooded. Somehow the water managed to seep in beneath a double glazed window and my desk and the floor were awash. We have had everything except snow – maybe that’s still to come. It might be the end of Feb but who knows?