Monthly Archives: November 2012

Aside

Oh, the lies we tell ourselves! And others, come to that

Whilst recently discussing reading material with a book-loving work colleague, who, like myself frequently finds herself mysteriously inundated with well-thumbed tomes, I ventured that she – like myself – might benefit from the purchase of a Kindle. Initially replying in the affirmative, she swiftly backtracked, qualifying with ‘…I do most of my reading in the bath so it’s probably not a good idea, and,’ – blush! ‘… ‘I’m sorry, that’s not an image you want in your head, is it?’

Umm… talk about a redundant apology! Me being a young(ish) red-blooded hetero and the lady in question somewhat of what is referred to in ‘adult entertainment/dating’ circles as a MILF (and if you don’t recognise that particular acronym them I guess you don’t move in adult entertainment/dating circles; but you’ve heard of Google, right?)…

But I’m digressing before I’ve even got properly started: it’s not adult entertainment that’s the subject of this short missive – quite the opposite, in fact. I hadn’t thought of Æsop’s Fables in years, until a complementary download of the same (plus Treasure Island and Pride and Predjudice) arrived in a bundle with my Kindle for PC app. How, I wondered, could I have forgotten these? If you were a kid of my generation, you couldn’t have been oblivious to these classics: children’s entertainment of the first order – albeit enetertainment with a serious – moral – purpose. Think Michael Crichton for kids. Geese and Golden Eggs; Hares and Tortoises; A Boy Crying Wolf – how could one forget these concise, erudite, pithy distractions, each concluding with those famous last words ‘…and the MORAL of this story is…’

And thus, beside scholarly and parental contrivances of right and wrong; before, sex, secrecy and shame came into the conscious equation; I learned the most important lesson about morals I was ever going to get – and lesson is the operative word here…

Æsop‘s characters get on with the business of their daily lives to varying degrees of success – but mostly by fucking up spectacularly. Furthermore – and crucially – they show that mistakes are not only NOT the end of the world but that they may actually have something worthwhile to teach us. Æsop‘s menagerie of furred and feathered protagonists don’t ingest their code of ethics ‘by the book’ (Good, bad or indifferent) or by rote: they live and learn; which is exactly how it should be – hence the ‘irony’ tag on this post. Æsop’s Fables were never meant to prescribe our morality – or proscribe immorality, for that matter – so much as to teach us that morality is something we must learn for ourselves. (In an age when ‘lessons learned’ has become trite workplace jargon – oft-recited, rarely observed; it’s comforting to be taken back to a time when our less-formed minds were more receptive). What they can do – and did do in my case – is plant a seed in our minds that continues to grow, quietly and unobserved whilst our minds were occupied with other, more immediate things. My primary school headmaster – an Æsop devotee by the name of Ralph Davies – was especially fond of the Golden Rule of ‘Do unto others…’ and I’d like to tell you I understood what that meant on first hearing, but if I did you wouldn’t believe me and rightly so. Hell, I’m still learning that one, although I’d venture that I’m getting a lot better at it. Well, a bit…

Whether the lady featuring in my (pervy little) opening anecdote was fishing for a compliment; being blandly self-deprecating or genuinely failed to perceive her own attractiveness I can’t be sure; nor from what manner of fable she acquired the habit. I would however, quite happily have done unto her as I’d have her do unto me right there and then, which some folk might consider decidedly immoral 😉

Æbsolutely Fabulist!

GBHIV

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North Shields resident, Les Pringle has been jailed for 3 years (on a charge of Grievous Bodily Harm) by Newcastle Crown Court for infecting his partner, identified only as Ms ‘X’, with HIV. With respect to Ms ‘X’, who has undoubtedly been wronged, the details of the case make me uneasy (for reasons I detail below) and it seems to me that it ought to be possible to address her injustice differently and in a way that might not unfairly – albeit unintentionally – stigmatize thousands of people living – in some cases unknowingly – with HIV.

Man jailed for infecting partner with HIV

Disclaimer: As a worker within Brighton’s HIV/AIDS community I must make it clear that any opinion expressed within this post is entirely my own, and is not necessarily reflective of opinion either within that community in general or my workplace in particular.

As an adolescent and teen during the ’80s I was aware as many were, of the sudden emergence of HIV/AIDS into the public consciousness. In fact, its appearance wasn’t as sudden as the explosion of information via the press, medical and governmental sources then suggested. Scientific research during the ’90s suggests the virus may well have entered the human population as early as the late 1900s – scroll down to ‘When?’ – taking its own time – as viruses are wont to do – to mutate into the pandemic HIV-1 strain that is devastating many parts of Africa, South/Central America, Asia and to a much lesser, though scarcely insignificant degree, Europe and the USA today.  Much has changed in the intervening years – at least in the relatively affluent minority world – both in terms of scientific understanding and medical treatment options. In the ’80s, people, mostly gay, were dying of ignorance, in defiance of the infamous government campaign. The ad hasn’t aged well, and appears melodramatic and alarmist by today’s more ‘enlightened’ standards; nonetheless it presents factual information succinctly: there was then – as now – no known cure; sex was – and still is – the main route of transmission; and anyone can get it. Given that this campaign was launched during the Thatcher administration – originator of Section 28 – it’s not insignificant that an easy opportunity to stigmatize minorities was bypassed in favour of responsible advice. Nonetheless, stigmatisation quickly emerged, and persists to this day. As much as we’re spoiled living in Brighton – a city that at its best welcomes, oftentimes celebrates, and at least tolerates attitudes, ideosyncracies and persons that more frequently provoke consternation and rub-up against taboo elsewhere – I’ve personally been taunted with cries of ‘batty boy’ and ‘AIDS man’ when leaving my workplace. Homophobia, racism and misogyny are still prevalent, here as elsewhere, and these bigotries bear strongly upon attitudes to HIV/AIDS and those affected by it.  It’s been said before, and bears repeating that anyone can contract HIV: in Brighton, Britain’s gay Mecca, it’s forgivable – perversely – to an extent to perceive HIV/AIDS as a mostly gay issue – not because it actually is but because we have a higher-than-average openly gay population from which most of the longstanding support networks and organizations have sprung. The Brighton AIDS Memorial notably features two figures, one male and one androgynous (but no female); scarcely reflective of the fact that nearly half the HIV+ population of the world are women. As our support networks – both established and emerging – begin to increasingly embrace the needs of women living with the condition it becomes ever more apparent that the burden they bear – in terms of stigma and responsibility – is as great as that of men if not more so. Many of those women belong to ethnic minority groups, African and Carribbean in particular – and whilst prevailing scientific concensus suggests Africa as the origin of HIV it is again important to emphasize that HIV/AIDS is no more a ‘Black’ issue than a ‘Gay’ one: such reductive thinking leads to taboos that complicate the path to diagnosis, treatment, management and – one hopes – eventaul cure (it’s worth mentioning at this juncture that African conservatives often employ the reverse strategy – stigmatizing HIV as a ‘White’, ‘Western’ issue to political advantage; a common dictatorial trope historically employed my Mao and Stalin; and contemporararily by Muslim extremists).

If readers charge that I’m labouring a point, then I plead guilty – albeit for good reason: 26 years since ‘Don’t die of ignorance’, stigma is still a huge issue around HIV. Common sense says it shouldn’t be – after all, it’s a virus, not dissimilar in many ways from the Common Cold, Herpes or Flu. The difference is the degree of stigma that accompanies these disparate illnesses: no-one is ashamed to admit they have a cold, even if stubborn pride prevents us from letting its effects disrupt our daily routine (worth noting how gender conceits play a role here too, however – ‘manflu’. anyone?). In the world of HIV, stigma can erect barriers that, in the absence of correct information and adequate support, can appear insurmountable. Fear of passing on the virus, or rejection in the face of declaring one’s status, can trigger depression and/or anxiety which in turn might lead to isolation and/or self-medication with alcohol and/or other drugs, which itself feeds into criminal/antisocial activity such as burglary and prostitution … And so on… The cost of turning a blind – or hateful – eye is often paid twice-over and more by protagonists and innocents alike. In a less judgemental world, the likes of Pringle may have had no qualms about declaring his HIV+ status. He may be a rampant misogynist with no concern for the welfare of his partners – I don’t know, I’ve never met the guy except thru press reports – but his is just one case among thousands and it would be a shame if it became a precedent – either legally or morally – for our society’s attitude to HIV transmission and the responsibility thereof. In an ideal world I’d not hesitate to hold him morally and legally accountable; but the fact is that we live in a society that, whilst undoubtedly fairer than some, is far from Utopian. The ethics of my workplace reflect this social climate: I’m held legally responsible under confidentiality policy to safeguard the HIV+ status of our client group. In practice this means not mentioning names of clients to third parties and not acknowledging clients – many of whom I’ve served and got to know rather well over my last decade in post – ‘in the street’, unless they first acknowledge me; the better to avoid awkward questions from others that might, inadvertantly, disclose their HIV status.

It seems incongruous, then, that an organ of the press is free to disclose the HIV status of a person – criminal or no – to the public at large. And let me clarify something: as much as I believe in human rights I don’t believe all such are sacrosanct. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to deprive (some) convicted criminals of certain of their liberties as part of their tariff; to suspend voting rights during the period of a sentence for example. Nonetheless, given the continuing stigma attatched to HIV+ status – and paticularly the potential for it to persist beyond the period of the sentence – it seems unfair for this information to be made public.

The challenge facing the legal system – and invariably impimging upon the notion of a free press – then, is how to balance the rights of the ‘offender’ with the safety of the public at large. In the main, I’ll err on the side of (potential) victims: this being of particular concern in the case of sex offenders – arguably including Pringle, given that he engaged in unprotected sex without informing Ms X of a potentially serious risk to her health – when the publication of the perpetrator’s (or alleged perpetrator’s) name may act as a catalyst for the testimony of further victims. The witholding (from the press) of alleged rapists’ names, for example feels counterproductive: on balance, I believe the need to redress a historic legal imbalance in favour of (mostly male) sex offenders oughtweighs an overemphasized regard for their material and moral reputation. In respect of HIV, if  there’s an argument for full disclosure as a means of counteracting misperceptions of the condition – and whilst that may find a historic precedent, in cancer for example, let’s not forget that that particular stigma took centuries to dissolve; with certain associations still lingering even now – then first-round trialling the process with convicted felons (risking an apparent vindication of bigoted associations of HIV/AIDS with criminality/immorality) is scarcely likely to raise public consciousness. It may, as Ms ‘X’ does – and as Jimmy Savile‘s posthumous unveiling as a serial sex-offender did – enable ‘victims’ to come forward; but at what cost?

HIV/AIDS has fallen short of its catastrophic potential in the minority world mostly because the improving efficacy – and wider availabilty – of treatment has begun to outweigh the social entropy that flows from stigma. We would do well to avoid enacting any kind of legal response that hinders that process. When Lord McAlpine acted – in fear and anger – to protect his besmirched reputation in the light of apparently mistaken revelations following the Savile scandal, it was natural to feel sympathy: nonetheless, one cannot help but wonder if his actions – however genuine their intentions – and the surrounding media furore, might have discouraged further victims from coming forward with testimony.

Stigma is a weapon of mass-destruction. In the early ’80s when AIDS broke big, the joke was that it stood for ‘Arse-Injected Death Sentence’. By 2001, in the words of Afrocentrist Hip-Hop artist Professor Griff it was an acronym for ‘Africa In Deep Shit’. Far from being a joke, his satire points up a serious issue that we can ill afford to ignore. McAlpine, perfectly understandably, acted in his own interest: as a society we need to act, and mould the law, for the greater good.

Aside

If you liked Kill List, or just British, black comedy in general, this is definitely one to watch…

Land of Sunshine

We don’t often do movie reviews in the Land of Sunshine but seeing that the good people at Den of Geek were kind enough to furnish me with a ticket to an exclusive screening it seemed rude not to.

Ben Wheatley’s last film  ‘Kill List’, was a bleak, gruesome and violent affair that delved into the dark world of contract killers. Sightseers is a bleak, gruesome and violent affair that delves into the dark world of, well, caravan holidays. Yes Sightseers is a comedy, albeit a very dark one.

It tells the tale of Chris and Tina. A new couple who are off on a caravaning holiday so Chris can show Tina ‘his world’. Tina is simply happy to get away from her overbearing mother who likes to keep Tina in a permanent state of guilt over a past incident. To explain much more would be to ruin it somewhat but anyone…

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A miscarriage of earthly justice

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One of the great things about Twitter is the way it cuts thru the  crap. The ongoing public and media storm, there as elsewhere, following the death of Savita Halapanavar is as polarised as it is predictable, feeding into a sensitive debate too-often dominated by rhetoric and political grandstanding.

As the placards carried by protestors outside Galway hospital (left) ably demonstrate, sometimes you can say more with less. Feeling shame for being Irish was a common theme among both women and men interviewed by journalists. Twitter‘s 140 character limit simply don’t allow much room for ambiguity or obfuscation. Hearts, feelings and predjudices are on show, bite-sized and easily-metabolized.

By way of example, here’s a brief exchange in which I participated in the early hours of this morning:

Lots of supposed pro-lifers advising “calm” over #Savita‘s death. No. A woman died a preventable death in an Irish hospital. Get angry.

@andgoseek A truly heart-breaking situation, and worse that it will [be] politicized and used to justify every abortion henceforth.

@StrongBadToo @andgoseek Already political tho. Let women take charge of their own health – no further justification needed imo

14h StrongBadToo StrongBadToo ‏@StrongBadToo

@andy_guls @andgoseek Typical male abdication, Andy, imo. Fi (the op) cares only for her politics, not for the person. Humanity is better than that.

@StrongBadToo @andgoseek Politics are personal; personal is political: no separation. Can’t abdicate that which was never mine…

@andy_guls @andgoseek Then you’re not human, Andy. Any woman’s (or baby’s) death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.

@StrongBadToo @andgoseek then by your reckoning you’re twice diminished by #savita‘s death. Mankind, eh?

(all emphases mine)

A short, instrucive exchange, leaving a reader in little doubt where both I and the anonymous StrongBadToo stand on the matter of abortion. Compare and contrast with the hedging and fudging that characterizes the statements of some of Ireland’s main political parties.

http://www.thejournal.ie/x-case-abortion-legislation-party-positions-675375-Nov2012/

Notable exceptions are Sinn Fein which believes that ‘…the difficult choice to terminate a pregnancy can be avoided by as many women as possible’ given investment in education and support; and The Socialist Party, which ‘…supports legislation that will give effect to the Supreme Court ruling on X. However we go further and support comprehensive, free, safe and legal abortion rights for women in Ireland, North and South.’

I’m amused by StrongBadToo‘s suggestion that in acknowledging women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions I’m abdicating (a responsibility? To who, and to do what?), But more so by the notion that this is ‘typical[ly] male’.  On the contrary, what is typical of the male establishment (and many within it, both male and female) thru the ages is a tendency to try and micro-manage the lifestyles and behaviours of its citizens utilizing every trick in the book, from seemingly-benevolent paternalism thru proscriptive legal and moral frameworks to undisguised hostility and brute force. Pro-life is of a piece with the established order in this respect. Assuaging the inevitable insecurity of privilege by kicking those whom you’ve subordinated in the teeth, or in the cunt, is not a recipe for human happiness; though it may well be a fine one for entropy and death, both actual and spiritual. And by implying that the responsibility for oversight of women’s reproduction is mine (even though I’m not human – perhaps he thinks women aren’t either?) whilst suggesting my abdication is ‘typical’ he’s surely contradicting himself and all available historical evidence in any case?

As men, our role in matters of gynaecology is fated by nature to be a supporting – and hopefully, supportive – one, by mutual agreement with our partners; and any attempts by force or stealth to upset that order is doomed to end in unnecessary aggravation and unhappiness for all concerned.

The specious argument for the pro-life position is illustrated more fully yet by comparing and contrasting their stance against euthanasia. When Tony Nicklinson took his case for legal assisted suicide to the High Court in the UK this year, he was inundated with appeals from pro-life advocates to reconsider. Nicklinson, whilst undoubtedly left in a vulnerable position by his illness, had, unlike the unborn, a voice: the notion that pro-life groups were best able to interpret and represent his interests is no more viable than a 17 week-old foetus. It’s the very mute-ness and dis-ability of a foetus that makes it such a perfect projector screen for pro-life fantasies of benevolent Godhood.  That position is scarcely tenable in the case of an adult such as Nicklinson, who besides being mentally competent and articulate has the support of a close-knit family; though as the former plays to the stereotype that women are incapable of making sensible decisions for themselves, so pro-lifers like to foster similar myths about the sick and disabled. Of the well who claim to know the sick better than the sick; men who claim to know women better than women themselves and mortals holding forth on the will of God, we ought to be rightly suspicious. Nicklinson died shortly after his High Court bid failed, having contracted pneumonia and also refusing food and water – hardly the peaceful and dignified end he was campaigning for. More the Euthanists’ equivalent of Gin, hot baths and knitting needles.

Ha! Who’s resorting to rhetoric now?! So let’s end this post, appropriately enough, where we began with the voice of the people, eloquently and poignantly expressed by one of the estimated 20,000 who turned out to protest Savita‘s death in Galway:

Aside

And by way of perspective…
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/blog/poll/2012/nov/12/george-entwistle-payout-poll Entwistle’s severance pay after 54 days of incompetence = the cost of being a vagina-owner over the course of a working career (give or take). Feminism’s gone too far, you say…

Men will pause

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A headline caught my eye today which stated that the average British woman is underpaid vs. her male equivalent by an eye watering £500,000 during her life-time. (I think our American sisters are in a similar situation).

Employers break the law for 37 years with no repercussions

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1975 (1963 in the US). That means it has been ILLEGAL for employers to discriminate against women in terms of pay for 37 years. Are employers still breaking the law every day?Yes. Is any government doing anything about it? Nope.

They must owe me a cool million!

I’ve been working since my early twenties. Since 1994, I have been paying the higher rate of tax at 40%. I don’t have dependents, haven’t claimed any benefits and have private health insurance.

So it looks like the government/my previous employers/ HM Taxes probably owe me much more than…

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Fresh from the vault (9) Brave

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Since the Jimmy Savile revelations hit the headlines and catapulted the issue of sex crime to the front pages – and not before time, it must be said – it’s become belatedly-apparent how long the issues and consequences of widespread child abuse have lingered in the collective subconscious . The recent offering-up of Steve Messham as a media ‘sacrificial lamb’ promted me to select Marillion‘s Paper Lies as my Youtube upload of the day – dealing as it does with tabloid exploitation of crime victims; the twin themes of sensationalism and profit underlying the media’s purported humanitarian sympathies. Quickly, though, I got thinking about its parent album, Brave (1994) and how it addressed the wider themes of child abuse and its consequences at a time when such things weren’t the media trope that they’ve latterly become, especially in the light of the Savile scandal and the subsequent tabloid snowball.

And it provides me with another opportunity to big up this most underrated of bands – no chore for me at the best of times – and deservedly so.

Brave lived up to its name, musically-speaking. After a deliberate stab at a more commercial rock sound – in the shape of their previous album, Holidays In Eden (1991) – this record marked a dramatic swerve back in the direction of the kind of long-form, moody and emotionally-charged, symphonic prog rock with which they achieved unlikely mainstream success in the mid ’80s. At a time when Oasis‘s brand of back to basics, good-time  Rock’n’Roll was the popular paradigm it was a given that if the record was a hit it could only be so by dint of standing out spectacularly from the crowd, as Kayleigh, and its parent album, Misplaced Childhood had done back in ’85/’86.  It would be nice to say that the gamble paid off but in fact Brave turned out, despite critical acclaim, to be something of a commercial nadir for the band. Artistically, though, it still stands as one of the high-points in their chequered history; albeit one that divides devotees to this day.

The album had – to utilise a popular cliche – a difficult and protracted gestation and labour. EMI, understandably keen to release another hit record were pressing the band for a quick recording and release, and with that in mind recruited Irish Indie producer, Dave Meegan to oversee the sessions. Meegan, counter to their (EMI’s) intuitions, enthusiastically indulged the band’s artistic inclinations, beginning an association that would eventually span four albums, notably fan-favourite, Marbles (2004). A spell at Miles Copeland‘s Chateau Marouatte laid the foundations for what would turn out to Marillion’s longest recording sessions to date – unsurpassed until 2012 and the sessions for their latest Sounds That Can’t Be Made opus. Beginning with lyrical sketches faxed by sometime contributor, John Helmer and the band’s long established practice of generating music by way of extended jam sessions, augmented by a few glasses of red ‘…and a bit of a smoke, to be honest…’ singer Steve (h) Hogarth soon brought in the nugget that would provide the conceptual glue for the finished piece. In his own words…

‘…the song ideas took me back to an intriguing radio broadcast from the Bristol police some years ago on GWR Radio. The police had picked up a young woman wandering on the Severn Bridge who refused or was unable to speak to them … I thought it was a great first page to a mystery story…’. The mystery story – a fictional backstory to said real-life incident – evolved into the tale of a girl living rough after fleeing a home life scarred by domestic violence – a sexually-abusive father and distant mother – which, turning on listener interpretation might end in tragedy or redemption. The original double-vinyl release accentuated the suspense of the story by way of side four being double-grooved: the girl’s fate – falling into the icy waters of the Severn or into the arms of a new lover – depending on how – or how carefully – one dropped the needle. In the interim, songs touch on the realities and consequences of growing up in an abusive family. the insidious influence of the media, peer pressure to conform, love, escape and the search for identity.

As an album that blew me away at the time of release, it’s gone thru phases of not weathering too well – sonically, at any rate – and the accompanying movie by cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware) remains a missed opportunity, a travesty of its rich source material in flagrant contrast to Alan Parker‘s transcendental treatment of The Wall. Nonetheless, there’s some beautiful music contained therein; and in the light of current events it feels eerily prescient and relavent. Being a rock opera it’s conceived to be listened to wholesale rather than piecemeal but to give you a taster, here’s a couple of sections that stand alone in their own right and hopefully capture the flavour of this ambitious project:

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Schofield’s ‘ambush’ of Cameron has provoked a backlash against rumour-mongering via social media and accusations of encouraging a witch-hunt. Personally I applaud his stunt – for that’s what it surely was – if it keeps the too-long-ignored subject of sex crime in the public consciousness. Many others agree, including this fellow WordPress blogger: