Feminist, Atheist, Right Wing, Cat Owner, Seeks Understanding

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English: Angry woman.

I’m sure she’s very nice when you get to know her.

If you have an account with any social networking site, the chances are you have been encouraged to complete an ‘About’ box and let your viewers, friends, or followers know something about you. 

We love to pigeonhole people, although we usually don’t like being pigeonholed ourselves.  Being able to compare new people to others we already know and compentmentalize them, gives us a rough idea of what to expect from our acquaintance with them, or reading their blog.   This can lead people to make assumptions that your views and attitudes are similar to other people in the same mental shoe box as you; ie, atheist = aggressive anti-religion.

In a conversation with close friends recently I described myself as a feminist, to which one friend disagreed.  As someone who gets on with men and looks feminine, this fact was not possible in his mind.  Feminism no longer simply means equality and has become somewhat of a derogatory term.  A sad fact that has been discussed widely recently. 

Am I right wing, or left wing?  Well…. broadly right wing, but this does not mean that I’m waving the flag for Cameron, that I’m wealthy, went to public school, or that I don’t know where to get a cheap pasty!  If you look closely at many of the main party policies there is often little real difference.  For example, look at plans for the economy from both Labour and the Conservatives and see if you can ram a sponge finger through the gap.

Of course, we all know we shouldn’t stereotype people, even though we seem hardwired to do so, but how else can we make a judgement about someone we come across online?  I feel for those who join dating websites and know that above description would scream ‘Eternal Spinster’!  Even the compulsory ‘GSOH’ wouldn’t save me.  After all, have you ever met anyone who didn’t think they had a good sense of humour?

So if I don’t tell you anything about myself as an introduction to this blog, please forgive me.  I can tell you that I’m English, female and fit roughly into the categories above, but don’t hold it against me.

Aside

The Return Of Calamity Clegg And Why You Should Not Make A Public Apology

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There has been a lot of apologising of late.  It’s not just Nick Clegg who has been pulling muppet faces of regret.  From Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Kelvin McKenzie apologising for the reaction after Hillsborough, to the senate nominee, Todd Adkin for “Using the wrong words in the wrong way” when not understanding the meaning of rape, to the Chief Whip for verbally abusing a police officer in Downing Street.  Andrew Marr and Kristen Stewart have publically apologized for indiscretions and Oscar Pistorius for accusing his rival Alan Oliveira of cheating.
 
Apologizing expresses regret, but the reasons for regret are varied and are not necessarily repentant.  Todd Akin may regret his words, but he has not taken back his statement which claimed that women could not get pregnant when the victims of “legitmate” rape.  He is certainly not sorry enough to quit, despite his shocking lack of empathy and understanding of human biology.  Kristen Stewart is sorry that she hurt those closest to her, but making a public statement to this effect does not dispel the feeling that she would be far less sorry if she had not been caught.  Oscar Pistorius apologized only for the timing of his outburst and not for the accusation. 
 
If some of these apologies appear false it may be because studies have suggested that observers are more critical about an insincere apology than the person they are intended for.  When an apology is made publicly we think we can detect any small indication of insincerity.  This is only based on one set of studies conducted by Risen and Gilovich in 2007, but would explain why we are more likely to accept an apology from a partner or work colleague, (maybe it’s flattery or the desire to come across as a forgiving person), but less able to forgive a wrong done to someone close to us.
 
Part of me feels sorry for Nick Clegg.  I’m reminded of the nickname that Chris Huhne’s office came up with during the Liberal Democrat leadership contest – Calamity Clegg.  He’s like a small puppy running around in circles for positive attention, but he just can’t help weeing on the carpet. 
 
Clegg may well be sorry for making a pledge he couldn’t keep, although likely more sorry that it has damaged his political career rather than sorry for the implications for students.  Although the timing of the apology, just before his party conference, can be viewed cynically, he must regret not thinking through the reality of the situation at the time; that he was unlikely to get into power outside of a coalition and both Labour and the Tories were not against tuition fee rises.   It all rather smacks of a lack of forethought.  The question is, do we need a senior polititian who, at best, induces pity and comparisons to incontinent dogs?  For whom the best thing I can think to say of him is that he does a Beaker impression which rivals my own?  I suspect not.
 

Facebook For Introverts

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Cheeses

Cheeeeeese. Yeah.

I was recently berated by a friend for untagging unflattering pictures on Facebook.  I fail to understand why you would not impose some sort of quality control on your online photo albums and she fails to understand why I cannot “get with it”.  I have other friends who tell me I should use Facebook more often.  This is one of those situations where none of us is right or wrong, it just means that although our timelines and walls are generic, the personalities behind the contents are very different. 

Of course this should be obvious.  If you are not a person who indulges much in small talk and is quite introvert in company, it is likely that you will not feel comfortable broadcasting every small moment or event online.  People who are outgoing and sociable, are perhaps likely to be more cheery and open online.  

It is not that I have a problem with social media, after all I appear to be blogging and I also have accounts on Twitter and Pinterest, but the way I choose to use these sites may be different to the next person.  I enjoy being able to keep in touch with far flung friends and seeing pictures of old friends’ children in their new school uniforms, but I am just not inspired to share the minutiae of my everyday life. 

If I feel I have something interesting to say, it is more likely to be here, or at my kitchen table over a cheeky red wine and a pungent lump of cheese.  I may even find unflattering photos funny within the circle of my close friends when they’re not displayed publically for all my work colleagues, acquaintances and friends of friends.  Maybe I am not ‘with it’ and maybe I lack a sense of humour, but I am never going to be comfortable with producing an ongoing broadcast of my life, either on, or offline.

Aside

A Gay Day For Human Rights

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Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin.

Richard Dawkins.  He married a Dr Who companion.

There is nothing like a good spat between Christians and secularists.  The pious and the militants locking horns over the thorny issue of who is right without hope of compromise.  You know it will only be a matter of time before Richard Dawkins sweeps in with his wispy grey locks flying around in the face of religious doctrine, while the Archbishop of Canterbury sways around speaking in a voice which conveys wisdom while adding nothing of consequence.  If you are really unlucky Delia Smith will add her opinion to the party, but without bringing homemade cakes.

Today sees the return of the story of four British Christians who are due to take their cases for unfair dismissal to the European Court of Human Rights.  Two ex-employees of BA and the NHS claim discrimination for wearing crucifixes at work and two others for refusing to provide sexual therapy and civil ceremonies for gay couples.

Surely you cannot complain of being discriminated against, while affectively discriminating against gay people and being unable to perform your job and offer the services expected of you in a non-religious work role.  Christians cannot be exempt from treating gay people equally; neither can their beliefs be a trump card over all other beliefs and life styles.  In the same vein, although less offensive, Christians cannot wear jewellery in a workplace where it is not acceptable for their colleagues to do the same.  This is not discrimination, but a request from their employers to treat everyone equally and abide by the same rules and codes of practice as their colleagues.

If the rulings in these cases are over-turned by the European Court of Human Rights, the implications are far worse than asking someone to remove, or cover a piece of jewellery.  The message will be that it is fair to expect special treatment if you are a Christian and worse that it is acceptable to be prejudiced against others.

What would Jesus say?

Back Peddling

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English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...

Although I am not interested in cycling, or particularly bothered about doping allegations, I was fascinated by Lance Armstrong’s recent statement, regarding his decision to stop fighting to clear his name. 

If Lance had bothered to Google himself, he may have come across this article

http://liespotting.com/2011/06/liespotting-lance-armstrong-part-2-expert-analysis

where the author dissects an interview Armstrong gave in 2005 and points to particular comments and body language which he believes indicate that Armstrong was lying about his drug use at that time.  Instead, in his recent statement Armstrong seems to be repeating the same mistakes he made in 2005.  Silly Lance!  Disregarding his decision to walk away from the controversy when the going got tough, his language and phrases alone read like a ‘How Not To Lie’ lesson.  Not once does he actually claim he did not take performance enhancing drugs.  Instead he gives vague statements aimed for us to question why anyone could possibly accuse him in the first place.  He states that he has never failed a drugs test, has always made himself available to take them and asks “What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?”

But most of all he continually states that the whole business is unfair, one-sided, full of “heinous claims”, “punishing me at all costs”. He claims to have been part of a “witch hunt”, a “charade” concocted by the USADA and a target for bullying and threatening tactics.  This kind of language serves to enhance his status as an innocent victim.  From now on he will “no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances”  Isn’t this the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears, shouting “it’s not fair” and running away?  Or is it me being unfair?

Silly Ideas – Part 1. Babies At Work

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computer

I’ve tried turning it off and on again, but I think there’s Calpol in the hard drive.

If you work in a shared office, the chances are that your patience is tested daily by colleagues who talk too loudly on the phone, or have a nose blowing habit which shakes the walls. So how would you feel if one of your colleagues was allowed to bring their baby in every day?  Apparently this happens in some workplaces in the US and some UK companies are considering adopting the same policy.

For those who love babies and can cope with the idea of Farley’s Rusks ground into their keyboard, this is fine, but surely I can’t be the only one who is filled with horror at the idea?  The workplace is a professional and adult environment.  It is not possible to present a professional image to a colleague or client, or concentrate fully on a task with a baby screaming in the background.

It is probably true that many workplaces are not flexible enough when it comes to childcare arrangements.  However there are many people, particularly it would seem in the public sector, who regularly cover for parents who are looking after sick children, or attending school concerts.  Then there are those who can only book annual leave once their colleagues with children have bagged all the good weeks throughout the summer and are are expected to work every Christmas and bank holiday.

The harsh and maybe unacceptable truth of bringing up children in the UK, is that one parent, (generally the mother), has a difficult decision to make about their career. Having a child is a huge responsibility, but it is also your choice. Personally, I would not want to have a baby sitting next to me at work, but if my work place adopted it I may not have a choice.

The answer to helping women advance in their careers will not come from allowing them to take their children to work, or expecting others in the workplace to be more flexible to accommodate them.  It will only come from a change of attitude and money the UK does not have have.  Every time the issue of childcare is raised in the media, somebody mentions how Scandinavian countries appear to have the matter sorted, so why can’t we follow their policies?  For one thing Swedish parents are able to share their considerable maternity/paternity leave and they pay so much more in tax than we do that it is not unreasonable for them to expect free childcare.   In the UK it is still considered odd for a man to take on even an equal share of childcare even though he might like to.  Yet it makes sense to have a second parent on hand when one can’t make a doctor’s appointment due to a work commitment.

Until we are happy to pay more tax, (research shows we claim to be happy to until it comes to voting for parties with higher tax policies), or prepared to be more enlightened with the division of family chores, there seems little hope for change in the near future.  In the meantime, be prepared for breast milk in the office fridge, the smell of dirty nappies and baby dribble on your Blackberry.

Clean and Lean

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English: I made this raspberry sherry trifle a...

Where’s yours?

Finally the slimming public have knocked Dr Dukan from Amazon’s top ten food books and replaced him with the younger, shinier, glamorous wellness guru to the stars, James Duigan.  This shining example of health and chest hair was always destined to win the hearts of serial dieters with his complete lack of qualifications in science and diet and a wealth of celebrity endorsements.

The Clean and Lean diet book informs us that food such as sugar, alcohol, processed foods and fizzy drinks are not making us fat because they are full of calories, but because they are full of toxins.  Eating a ‘clean’ diet and purchasing James’ expensive supplements will in turn clean out your excretory system and enable you lose weight.  The reason you have not been able to keep weight off when you’ve undertaken other unscientific, malnourished diets is because your body is toxic.

No fad diet can be trusted unless it recommends the minimum of two litres of filtered water a day and James duly complies with this comforting and baseless advice.  Feed your body with food that makes you feel ‘amazing’ he says.  Unfortunate for those of us who feel amazing eating a family sized trifle in one sitting.

His books are full of pictures of bikini clad beauties that are perhaps supposed to help with his visualisation techniques, but will probably be of more interest to your husband.  James’s lovely, lean wife, Christiane, fully endorses her husband’s work in the introduction to his recipe book; maybe his next book will contain a reference from his mum.

To be fair to James, if you just followed his recipes you would lose weight, but do we really still need to be told to eat more fruit and vegetables and less processed food?  What you’re buying into is the myth of detoxing, both through food and the Epsom salt baths which he claims will draw toxins out of your body.  This regime is not going to give you the body of James Duigan’s muse, Elle Macpherson and in your heart of hearts, you do know this.

Warning – Reading This Article May Cause Cancer.

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English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

A stock picture of a cup of coffee.  Example of lazy and unimaginative article writing.

Recent research has concluded that only a small number of readers make it through to the end of a news article. This suits most newspapers who can present misleading and misinterpreted data as sensational news stories, but cover themselves with a caveat in the final paragraphs.

Examples this week include the Daily Express, “Drinking three cups of coffee a day could be key to beating Alzheimers disease”. This concludes with a statement from the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, that this is a small study and while intriguing “the results do not show that caffeine can prevent the condition”. In the Daily Mail we had, “Autism could be triggered by very low doses of anti-depressants or other chemicals found in water supply”, followed up much later in the article with “There’s simply not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions.”

The Mail and the Express may be easy targets for criticism, but the Telegraph were among many news agencies this week who jumped on the scaremongering statement that children who undergo CT head scans triple their risk of developing a brain tumour or leukaemia.  This headline is based on research, stated further down in the article, which suggests that for every 10,000 children under 10 who have a head scan, there is one extra case of each of these diseases.  Bearing in mind that CT scans are mostly used to check for potentially serious internal injuries, it’s difficult to argue that this small increase in risk outweighs the benefits of the scan.

Do the British public have themselves to blame for accepting such drivel?  With many of us not prepared to pay more than 20p for a daily newspaper, can we expect quality journalism and do we want it?  Our best selling papers and magazines only confirm the British public’s insatiable thirst for sensation and celebrity gossip.  It appears that people are more interested this week in the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite shoes and Madonna’s manky toenails, (both covered in the Express and Mail), than the truth behind the causes of autism.

Newspapers are full of stories copied from press releases and wire stories without any form of background checks or research, (a practice known as churnalism),  This is obviously a quick and cheap way of obtaining stories along with other dodgy practices like phone hacking, which meets a demand in the market.

So, we get what we pay for, but we should read the small print carefully – unless it comes with pictures of Madonna’s fungus infested nails.

The Olympic Fun Run

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If you’re the kind of person who is entertained by seeing who can run faster, throw further and jump higher than anyone else, you’re in for a fun summer.  The Olympics are coming to town via the scenic route, thrilling crowds up and down the country with a stick of fire.  For those of us who have seen fire before, the most exciting moment so far has been guessing whether or not David Beckham would set fire to himself. 

The purpose of this grand tour is to “knit the bonds of peace between nations”.  At least this is what Hitler said when his advisors came up with the idea for the 1936 games.  So successful was this “bond” that many of the countries on the route that year, including Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were shortly invaded by Nazi troops. 

Assuming that none of the 8000 nominated flame bearers this year have any desire to invade the home counties, why should we be interested?  Maybe this is what the organisers felt when they invited celebrities to take part.  The press and public are unlikely to line the streets for a housewife who has been chosen for her contribution to her community, but they will come out in force to see Chris Moyles jog a couple of hundred metres in a pair of polyester pyjamas.  

Thousands lined the streets in Wales this week perhaps due to rumours that Tom Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones were lined up to take their moment to shine.  In the end the crowds had to be satisfied with Dr Who. 

At least Matt Smith can probably spell Cardiff which is more than can be said for Will.i.am.  With no connections to the UK, other than recent appearances on a peak time television programme, he wasn’t able to spell Taunton in his Twitter commentary.  He was, however, able to thank Coca Cola for allowing him to take part, which maybe tells you more about this corporate media circus than any other Olympic headline.

Mitt’s Magic Mormon Pants

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Mormon Temple Garments

Mormon Temple Garments (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s plenty to titter about when it comes to the Mormon religion. For starters a founder who translated a religious text from golden plates he couldn’t show to others on orders of a angel, polygamy and sacred underwear.  There’s much talk in the states about Mitt Romney’s faith as an active member of the Latter Day Saints and whether this is appropriate for a world leader.  

One of the many problems for Romney is that the Book of Mormon states that it is a sin for a white man to marry a black women.  Having black skin is attributed to being cursed.  Romney is adamant that he does not agree with this.  Being up against a black president is maybe not doing his case any favours here, but it’s thought that even black voters who disagree with Obama’s policies will not vote for a mormon.  The church only started to allow black priests in 1978 and the number of black members in the USA is still only thought to be between 1-3%.  However, memories are short.  It was only 14 years earlier in 1964 that segregation ended.  In the early part of the 20th century it was fine for all good religious people to kick up a fuss if a black woman refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger.

There is also criticism that women are treated as second class citizens and are not permitted to hold a post in the LDS church, but this sounds strangely familiar……

Then there’s polygamy, but this is no longer part of the modern day manifesto and is only followed by a small number of fundamentalists.  It is also illegal.  

In the unlikely event that Romney becomes the next president, should we be worried?  Should we be more worried than some of us were when we heard George W Bush state his belief that God had chosen him to lead his country, or that Blair had decided to sent troops into Iraq after praying to God.  Even Gordon Brown stated his belief that religion should be encouraged in public life and that the lessons of the gospels need not be kept separate from political life.

Maybe it is the unknown, the weird and the slightly comic aspects of the LDS that have people worried.  After all, it’s not because they commit more crimes, or become suicide bombers.  The feeling is that Mitt is unlikely to win the election and we may never find out if his pants are on fire and how many of his beliefs he has played down for his political campaign.