Philobiblon: April 2006

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Philobiblon has moved

This is now the former site of Philobiblon; I won't be posting here any more, although I do plan to keep the site up for at least a while, possibly even in the long term, to keep links alive. The new site still needs a few tweaks, but is more or less functional.

Sorry, I know it is a pain, but could you please adjust your bookmarks and blogrolls? (The address is - so at least I've finally got rid of the annoying disparity between the name of the site and the address.)

I hope you'll like the new design - critical comments and suggestions will be most welcome.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fine play based on obvious ideas

There are some interesting characters in 15 Minutes, which has just opened at the Arcola Theatre. Maggie (Moira Brooker) is a veteran television documentary-maker battling to come to terms with the "reality TV" age. Her married (to someone else) boyfriend Robin (Tim Block), is a cynical old Fleet Street hack - a type I recognise all too well. Maggie's "subject" is Toni (Carly Hillman), a rebellious youngster who after a stretch in Holloway is trying, sort of, to get her life into line, not helped by her angry young man Mason (Ashley Rolfe).

These are familiar - perhaps too familiar - characters, but a combination of solid writing and excellent acting take them beyond the stereotypes. The problem with the play is clear, however, in its title. 15 Minutes refers - the programme explains - to the Andy Warhol quote about fame, something that has gone beyond cliche to the point of joke. The story here is of the exploitative and partial nature of "reality" TV. Yes? And it is about how subjects can sometimes turn the tables and become (for their "managers") all too active agents. Yes?

These ideas are simply too familiar, too obvious, to make an entirely satisfying evening. The writer, Christine Harmar-Brown, has a real ear for dialogue and an eye for dramatic movement, but she needs to find some bigger themes, bigger ideas, to explore.

That doesn't mean you won't have an entertaining evening at the Arcola. The acting is top class, and director Paul Jepson does interesting things with giant television screens that shift uncertainly around the stage. But don't expect to spend a delicious after-show dinner at the many excellent restaurants around the Arcola fervently arguing the issues it raises. You'll have said and heard it all before.

Links: The Arcola, with online booking. The production continues until May 13.

What to do with a swede...

My organic delivery box has held them for weeks, and they've been sitting at the back of the fridge, looking reproachfully at me whenever I opened it. I've tried straight boiling them, but they really don't taste great.

But I did find this recipe and while it is a bit fiddly for my taste, it does produce seriously yummy soup, and the sort of thing that is ideal for using the scraps around the place. (I skipped the celery and added sweet potato, and am using yoghurt instead of cream, although really it could do without a creaming agent.)

No this isn't going to turn into a cookery blog, but this was a real discovery!

How not to travel (and not to write about it)

After one brief, disastrous journey (to Bali as a green young Australian, with the sister of my boyfriend, who insisted I do the bargaining for her, then complained about the results), I've always travelled alone. Sure there are times when it is tough, but mostly it is wonderful - you talk to waiters, to people on buses, to passing strollers. You get enmeshed in the local world in the way that a couple - that self-contained unit - never do.

If I ever set out on a journey with the specific aim of writing a book, I'll certainly do the same thing. That intention was only confirmed by reading Frances Mayes' A Year in the World. The book is subtitled "Journeys of a Passionate Traveller", yet the only passion she seems to feel is for the husband with whom she travels. As a self-contained unit they sweep (not around the world, as the title misleadingly proclaims), but around the Mediterranean, like a couple cuddling in their living room watching a video.

The result is a book that reads like a school report of "what I did on my holidays". Well, that's a little unfair; there is a reasonably sophisticated account of the culture of the destinations - although the sophisticated habit of tossing in local words when English would do perfectly well does become irritating. And it seems every meal, even every instance of window-shopping, is recounted in agonising detail:

"We stop to gaze at a window arranged with trays of candied fruits, gleaming like jewels. The prince perhaps partook of cedro candito, those huge gnarly lemons, almost all peel, as well as the whole candied oranges and lemons, and the array of marzipan fruits, and piles of torrone bianco con fighi secchi, white candy with nuts, and dried figs."

The other irritating thing is the details of travels that we really don't want, don't need, to know. As the kids who gather at the youth club next to my house would say: "Duh. Too much information."

"Three hours later Ed becomes violently ill. I am alarmed at his fever and clammy skin. He spends the night in the bathroom throwing up. His stomach feels ripped and turned inside out ... he's so weak he cannot life his arm. I'm on the phone calling our doctor in Italy, who says this probably is simple food poisoning, not salmonella, since the heaving has stopped after only a few hours. I write names of medicines he recommends, hoping Hafid can help at the pharmacy... Hafid arrives and says Ed ate too much, it often happens when guests come to Fez because the food is so good.
By midmorning Hafid has found various pharmaceuticals, and Ed is sleeping as if in a coma. I try not to think of the man who dies in Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky, leaving his neurotic wife to become a harem prisoner."

To translate that, he got food poisoning. Everyone knows the symptoms. We can do without the description, and the hysteria. You feel absolutely lousy. Then you recover. With a bit of care you are about as likely to die as from a stubbed toe.

Mayes is well known for her memoir Under the Tuscan Sun, which is a decent-enough read about restoring an ancient abandoned house and living in a foreign country. But she's someone who should obviously stay at home; the road really doesn't suit her. If you'd like to really travel this part of the world, I'd recommend Tim Macintosh-Smith's Travels With a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah, with a writer who embraces the cultures and lives he encounters. And he travels alone.

Morning reading

Common sense on trafficking: police are threatening to report brothel customers for rape if they use the services of women they know to be trafficked.

Men who visit a sauna, brothel or flat where foreign prostitutes are working will be being asked to ensure the women are there of their own free will before they pay. If they suspect a woman is working against her will, they will be urged to contact Crimestoppers and provide police with the establishment's location.

I won't celebrate too much, however; I'll wait for the first prosecution, and the first conviction.
Proving that internet culture can break down even the most ingrained aspects of national cultural, The Times's Japan correspondent reports on the behaviour of his very own "troll".

Mr Kita (or “kitaryunosuke”, as he signs himself) plays a unique part in my life — he is my conscience, my nemesis and the closest thing I have had to a stalker. Early every morning, he logs on to the websites of the British newspapers and the BBC. He is interested in China, the Middle East and in coverage of Japan by foreign correspondents — especially, it seems, in articles written by me. These he carefully translates into Japanese and posts on to his weblog accompanied by the most violent and inventive abuse I have encountered in Japan.
It truly restores your faith in the Japanese language reading the things that Mr Kita writes about me, and his blog is an education. He’s called me a baka, of course, but that’s only the start of it. I have been denounced as a “charlatan”, a “rotten devil foreign reporter”, a “low-class foreigner” and — perhaps my favourite — “the private parts of The Times”.

"Good" schools get that way by selecting "good" pupils. Talk to any parent looking for a school for their child and they know this, but a survey has, surprise, surprise, found that head teachers even admit that they ignore admissions rules supposed to stop the cherry-picking. I do like the Guardian's angle on this bad behaviour:

Just about the only thing teachers and the government can unequivocally agree on these days is pupil behaviour. It's getting worse and something needs to be done about it. Yet the third Headspace survey of headteachers, carried out by Education Guardian and EdComs, administered by ICM and published today, suggests some heads might care to reflect on their own behaviour before pointing the finger at their pupils.
Less than three-quarters of the 822 headteachers who responded to the questionnaire said their school's governing body followed its admissions code of practice to the letter - 13% of secondary and 20% of primary heads said they "mostly" followed admissions procedures, while 4% of secondary and 2% of primary heads admitted they followed them only "to a limited extent". Astonishingly, 5% of secondary and 2% of primary schools claimed not to follow any part of their admissions codes.

So the pupils they reject all get dumped together in neighbouring schools, which then have problems. Surprise, surprise.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Do not adjust your set...

Yes, should you have happen to have had Sky News Live at 5 on at about 5.45pm British time, that was me on there talking about blogging. Almost as much of a shock to me as it was to you ...

The occasion was the six-month anniversary of their blog.

Reading and listening

Radio 4's Women's Hour serial this week is I Leap Over The Wall, by Monica Baldwin, about which I've previously blogged (here and here) - a brilliant tale from a woman who entered a sequestered order of nuns just before WWI broke out, then emerged in the middle of WWII. (You can only listen through the website - no podcast.)

And the Telegraph has a story with the words "sex" and "archives" in the same headline - and it is even worth checking out.

The plastic brain

A piece today in the Guardian about an address to the Lords by Baroness Susan Greenfield expressing far-reaching fears about the effect on the human brain of the digital world.

The brilliance of Baroness Greenfield's speech is that she wades straight into the dangers posed by this culture. A recent survey of eight-to 18-year-olds, she says, suggests they are spending 6.5 hours a day using electronic media, and multi-tasking (using different devices in parallel) is rocketing. Could this be having an impact on thinking and learning?
She begins by analysing the process of traditional book-reading, which involves following an author through a series of interconnected steps in a logical fashion. We read other narratives and compare them, and so "build up a conceptual framework that enables us to evaluate further journeys... One might argue that this is the basis of education ... It is the building up of a personalised conceptual framework, where we can relate incoming information to what we know already. We can place an isolated fact in a context that gives it significance." Traditional education, she says, enables us to "turn information into knowledge."

Now this is the comment writer's version of the speech, but on her account it does seem to be - as one commenter says - an astonishingly Luddite one.
That was the "basis of education" in the 20th-century, but a historically specific one. It was heavily text-based, but that was a function of relatively cheap print, a trend that began in early modern times, when the equivalent of the Susan Greenfields of the time were of course exclaiming about the dreadful effect on the human mind of all this flood of print.

The brain is an astonishingly plastic organ, and no doubt those of children and adolescents are developing different to they were a couple of decades ago. But it is developing in the world as it is now, FOR it is now. Damn good thing too!

But some aspects of the human psyche probably don't change much. An army major in Australia is commendably trying to save the memory of the men mentally crippled in the trenches of WWI, who suffered just in the ways that veterans of Vietnam and more recent conflicts do.

Madness and the Military: Australia's Experience of the Great War, by Michael Tyquin, is the first comprehensive study on mental illness in World War I. It shatters the stereotype of the tough Anzac, an icon that he argues Australians look up to today - but which never existed.
Major Tyquin says of the soldiers who were "mentally shattered" by the war - some of whom recovered, though many did not - "I think we've erased them from our public memory. We like to celebrate Anzac, and I use 'celebrate' now because I think we're getting away from the original intent.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Traditional 'wisdom' is anything but...

As the victim of an overweight childhood encouraged by the "it is only healthy baby fat", I was taken by this:

"BREAST-FEEDING mothers have been given potentially harmful advice on infant nutrition for the past 40 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has admitted.
Charts used in Britain for decades to advise mothers on a baby’s optimum size have been based on the growth rates of infants fed on formula milk.
... breast-feeding mothers were wrongly told that their babies were underweight and were advised, or felt pressured, to fatten them up by giving them formula milk or extra solids.
Health experts believe the growth charts may have contributed to childhood obesity and associated problems such as diabetes and heart disease in later life."

Then, wives who work are 50 per cent less likely to see their marriages fall apart.

"Wives' economic activity... contributes to the continuing resilience of marriage as a social institution," the study concludes.
...Separate new research on single dads has challenged the accepted wisdom that a woman is always the best partner to bring up the children, with growing numbers of new men becoming self-sufficient fathers."

The demonisation of the young

I was at a party with a lot of lawyers last night, and there were some truly hideous ASBO stories floating around. (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: these direct people - in about half of the cases - children, not to do certain things, on the pain of their contravention making that action criminal - and imprisonable - when it would not otherwise be.)

Classic was the case of the female alcoholic - harmless, cheerful, but the neighbours didn't like to see her sitting on a park bench with her White Lightning (super-cheap cider, the preferred drink on the street). She got an ASBO forbidding her to have an open alcoholic container in the street; so the next time she sees a police officer she smiles cheerfully, raises her bottle and politely says "cheers" to him. Six months in jail - bang. And next time it will be two years. And soon she'll be spending life in prison for drinking in the street. (And they wonder why the jails are full.)

It is even worse when the targets are children - children as young as TEN - as the government's own "youth crime tsar" has complained today:

Professor Rod Morgan, the Government's chief adviser on youth crime, today issues a warning that children as young as 10 are being labelled with "the mark of Cain on their foreheads" because of the furore over anti-social behaviour.
Calling for a radical rethink in how we deal with unruly teenagers, Professor Morgan says that discretion should be exercised in cases where children are being sent to court for offences that would once have been dealt with by a slap on the wrist. ...
Record numbers of children are being sent to court, although the actual level of youth offending has remained the same over the past decade. Ten years ago about a third of the 200,000 children in the criminal justice system every year went to court. Today the figure is closer to half.

I was watching a group of local 12-year-olds doing something mildly destructive recently (what they were being destructive with was some already broken frames for temporary fencing, so I didn't intervene) and realised that the messing around they were doing would once have been regarded as perfectly normal, whereas now sooner or later someone was certain to call the police.

Until even very recently in London there were derelict sites, building sites, places where a group of kids would build a den and muck around, smashing up waste materials, making lots of noise, sorting out their own battles independently of adults. That involved, no doubt, more than the occasional nasty injury, more than a bit of bullying, and a level of risk that would be considered wholly unacceptable today. There are, however, now virtually none of those spaces left; they are boarded up, fenced off, guarded by security men and dogs. The kids are doing exactly the same things they used to do, but now risk being criminalised for them.

And yet, as this Observer story makes clear, children still find spaces to vanish into as runaways. But they are, I suspect more hidden, private spaces than in the past, and hence far more dangerous ones, particularly for the girls.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A right to housing

A neat little snippet from the latest issue of Green World, the Green Party magazine.
"In Wales, landless peasants would work round the clock to complete the shell of a "tai unnos", or one-night house, as a right of tenure would be gained if smoke was seen rising from the chimney before sunrise on the following day. The shell could then be finished off and added to as time and resources allowed."

Here's the BBC's version (which seems rather more doubtful about the legal position), and a bit on the archaeology of a settlement apparently so constituted.

Weekend reading

I've written elsewhere about theories that humans have been, until very recent history, as often prey as predator, and there's an interesting piece on this here. It also highlights how other higher primates remain vulnerable - was surprised to read:

Our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, are prey to humans and other species. Who would have thought that gorillas, weighing as much as 400 pounds, would end up as cat food? Yet Michael Fay, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Geographic Society, has found the remnants of a gorilla in leopard feces in the Central African Republic. Despite their obvious intelligence and strength, chimpanzees often fall victim to leopards and lions. In the Tai Forest in the Ivory Coast, Christophe Boesch, of the Max Planck Institute, found that over 5 percent of the chimp population in his study was consumed by leopards annually. Takahiro Tsukahara reported, in a 1993 article, that 6 percent of the chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park of Tanzania may fall victim to lions.

Janice Turner offers some sanity on the Cherie Blair hairdresser story. It is simple really. If the media would stop writing stories about Cherie's appearance, she could stop having to go to such lengths...
Why has the status of the teaching profession gone down? Probably because its pay has gone down.

Research by the Guardian, using data from the Office for National Statistics, shows, for example, that teachers got 50% more than average pay in 1966 but now are barely above the average.

So perhaps what the government should do if it really wants to improve schools is do the same thing that it has done to GPs' pay:

GPs are back in the news as their average pay has reportedly climbed towards £100,000. Their last officially recorded mean average of nearly £70,000 was nearly two and a half times the average salary. Forty years ago, however, they were earning three and a half times the average. The latest rises in their pay have been part of a deliberate policy by the government to address a shortage of doctors.

Is a GP's job more difficult than a teacher's? I suspect not.

Friday Femmes Fatales No 53

Ten brilliant posts, and ten new (to me) women bloggers worth waiting for.. that's why they are Femmes Fatales.

Starting out on politics this week, Stacy on Cafe Politico looks at the Bush regime's treatment of the media. Don't ask questions seems to be the best strategy; otherwise you might get thrown out. Crabbi, on A Curmudgeonly Crab (great name!), sees a small sign of hope in the attendance of gay and lesbian families at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Then a genuinely new blog, and an interesting cross-cultural international project, Jen on Speaking Up, Speaking Out is seeking personal accounts of domestic violence. "I decided that these silences must be broken, and that I wanted to be a part of helping that to happen."

Dr Socks on Reclusive Leftist reflects on the position of the British Queen (in the week of her 80th birthday), and the general fascination of the monarchy.

Then, going on the road, on Workers dojo a look at the place of trade unions in Russia today - and some pictures...

And an on-the-spot report on India Ink on the state of Katmandu; Basia Kruszewska reports on how curfews don't apply to tourists, but "the Nepali god is crying".

Marie Javins reports on (the just renamed) No Hurry in JC about her feelings on leaving Spain. She asks "what now?" the sort of question many travellers encounter when they get "home".

Turning personal, the Snow Crow, on A Crow in the Snow, has a cautionary tale about the fact that anything you post on the net will eventually come back to haunt you. And on My Wabi-Sabi life, Melissa J White reflects on the the effects of the passing years. Some things change, some stay the same.

Finally, a little history to remind us we're come a long way. Allison Meyer O'Connor on EHearth has an account of what life was like in early 20th-century America. "This was in the days when people used to heat with little tiny stoves, or they’d have one heater in the middle of the room, and everybody would huddle around it."

If you missed last week's edition, it is here.
Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here. It really does make my life easier!


... that the site has been down for a few hours. What the instructions I found for importing a Blogger blog to it don't say is that the process wipes out the Blogger template.

And of course there were other complications. (Aren't there always with such things!) The import process has only taken posts from 2004, not 2005 or 2006. Any helpful suggestions as to what to do now to get the rest of the posts over will be gratefully received.

Here is where it is all going - not the final look yet, but heading in that direction.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Two retrobloggers for your reading pleasure

Spend a few minutes, or hours, with Katherine Mansfield (in her journal), or W. N. P. Barbellion (an amazing early 20th-century character oh whom I confess I was previously unaware).

Thanks to Paul, of the amazing Bibliodyssey, for the Mansfield link.

The good news and the bad news

The Australian state of NSW has introduced a provision for previously given evidence to be used in rape trials should a retrial be required (which usually occurs for technical legal reasons). This followed a case in which a rape victim, understandably, declined to go through the ordeal of giving evidence a second time. That's the good news.

The bad news is that this is such a low priority for officials that nothing has been done to install cameras to tape evidence in case it should be required (which in these days of cheap electronics should surely be a pretty simple, and not very expensive, task.)

So courts are having to rely on transcript evidence, surely second-best for justice.
Then definitely the bad news, at a school in Britain pupils are to be subjected to THREE DAYS of religious nutter creationist propaganda.

As its supporters have become more vocal, creationism has become an increasingly contentious subject in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently warned that creationism should not be taught in schools, and the National Union of Teachers last week demanded new laws to prevent the teaching of creationism in science lessons.
Organisers of the trip declined to reveal the name and exact location of the Lancashire school on Mr Mackay's speaking tour, citing the need to protect staff and pupils from unwelcome attention.
...Mr Mackay, who has a geology degree, has conducted digs around the world where he has excavated fossils which he claims prove that the Bible was literal truth.
His website argues that the theory of evolution was introduced by Satan and that the idea has already undermined Western society and must not be allowed to spread to the Third World.

Then a well-done to Tim Worstall, the "Britblog roundup blogger", who has a comment piece in The Times today on the cuts to compensation for miscarriages of justice.

The proffered reason, to save £5 million a year, is simply beyond satire. The Government, in its infinite wisdom, annually disposes of about £500 billion of the nation’s production: denying those innocents unjustly banged up will save some 0.001 per cent of public expenditure. Just to provide some context, the £5 million saving is less than the £5.7 million spent in 2003 on subsidising the swill bins at the Houses of Parliament. No, it can’t be about the money.
The mark of a liberal society is that more care and attention is paid to those innocents wrongly found guilty, than to the guilty who escape justice. Any criminal justice system designed and run by fallible human beings will make mistakes. The important thing is how we react when a miscarriage of justice occurs. Shamefully, under the Home Secretary’s proposals those who find their guilty verdict overturned at their first appeal will have no right to compensation. For others compensation will be capped at £500,000.

Tim and I disagree on many things, but on this I entirely agree with him.

Time to stop sending catalogues?

I read today about a neat protest against Victoria's Secret, which mails 395 million catalogs annually [in the US], most printed on virgin paper. The protesters want it to use recycled paper - a start, but not, I'd suggest enough. Why, in the multimedia age, do we still need to not only print on paper, but then ship that vast weight around countries (and even across the world) - consuming lots of fossil fuel in the process?

I recently rang up Land's End, a particularly egregarious offender in sending vast numbers of catalogues, sometimes it seems at weekly intervals, and asked them to stop. "Don't you like us any more?" was the line of questioning. "No," I said, "if I decided I need any more white T-shirts or similar, I will look on the website."

Surely it is time for companies to at least provide the option of not getting catalogues? By all means send me a regular email with special offers etc, or reminding me to visit your website - I think the environment can bear the electrons - but don't use 20th-century methods of promotion; you'll only annoy me.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A most amiable king

My 19th-century blogger Miss Frances Williams Wynn is today indulging in a good old gossip about French royalty - particularly the Duke of Orleans, Louis Phillipe, later the the last French king.

I found that Sir Coutts, like myself, believed what they said to be true, that Louis Philippe had not sought the painful pre-eminence in which he finds himself.

Her informant is one Sir Coutts Trotter. As his name suggests he was involved with the famous bank (being principal partner and it seems from this reference very much a working one) - making his dinner with Miss Williams Wynn an interesting example of "trade" and aristocracy intermixing. (OK, I suppose it was a superior form of "trade".) I also found a detailed account of his burial place (in Hendon).

The other London

One reason why I enjoy canvassing is the glimpses it provides into the many styles of London life. Some of the glimpses are, however, almost unbearably sad.

One group that arouses such emotion are the South Asian women who meet you at the door with a look very close to terror in their eyes. It is, I think, a varying mix of a fear of encountering a world that is strange and foreign, and that they've probably been warned against, fear that their behaviour will be judged inappropriate by husband or mother-in-law, fear that their lack of English skills and other "life skills" will be exposed.

I thought of them when I read the story of a Bangladeshi woman treated with great sense by a judge, who gave her a suspended jail term.

Rahella Khanom, 24, caused the five-month-old boy in her care to suffer fractures to his breast bone and ribs as she tried to rid him of evil spirits, Southwark Crown Court was told.

The story reveals how, despite living in London for years, she was effectively still kept in a Bangladeshi village:

The judge said that Khanom’s strong cultural and religious beliefs, and the fact that she had been forced by her husband to live in isolation since coming to Britain from Bangladesh, meant that there were exceptional circumstances in her case.

So sad, so sad for the child, who suffered brain damage, and so sad for any children she might have, who will have a parent unable to be any sort of support in their world, and, of course, so sad for her, able to develop to only a tiny fraction of her human potential.

Small but revealing

Sometimes it is the small(er) things that really reveal the fundamental nature and mindset of regimes. In America, the Bush government is reclassifying as "secret" material already placed in the National Archive:

Documents have been disappearing since 1999 because intelligence officials have wanted them to. And under the terms of two disturbing agreements — with the C.I.A. and the Air Force — the National Archives has been allowing officials to reclassify declassified documents, which means removing them from the public eye. So far 55,000 pages, some of them from the 1950's, have vanished. This not only violates the mission of the National Archives; it is also antithetical to the natural flow of information in an open society.

An open, democratic society? That's the last thing that Bush and his controllers want. Might result in resistence to the latest foreign adventure or environmental destruction.

In Britain - and this is a "little thing" only in that a relatively small number of people are likely to be affected - the Blair government is planning to both drastically cut payments to people wrongfully convicted of crime, but to entirely abolish a millennia-old principle, "innocent until proven guilty".

Mr Clarke acknowledged that a move to a "not proven" verdict would be a major change. "It would be a radical change. We are going to have a look at it. The time has come to assess it," he said.

Behind this is an anti-liberty, very Daily Mail rightwing attitude that we are the respectable middle classes and they - anyone in the dock - must be the dangerous other. And if they happen to be found not guilty - by a jury of their peers - it must have been a mistake, for the instruments of state authority are always right.

But sometimes the little things also demonstrate individual creativity and initiative. Sussex ambulance service has created a series of first aid instructions for MP3 players.
The project was the idea of a paramedic, Stuart Rutland, who said that he hoped it might help in an emergency. "I like to go running and listen to music - but what if I turned the corner and somebody had collapsed? I have 11 years of paramedic training, but not everyone will. It's just about what to do in those moments before an ambulance arrives.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The power (and democracy) of the blog

From the Guardian:

Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a "disproportionately large influence" on society, according to a report by a technology research company. Its study suggests that although "active" web users make up only a small proportion of Europe's online population, they are increasingly dominating public conversations and creating business trends.

The article goes on to say that half of European web-users are "passive", not contributing to content at all, while a quarter only respond when prompted. But of course if you turn those figures around the other way, it means one-quarter of web-users are now actively contributing to the media, and thus, the article argues, exercising an influence on society - which compares to the old days or old media, when a tiny fraction of a percentage point were contributing. That's a pretty substantial democratic leap.

A nice companion piece to this: an interview with Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing, with a short list of its "coups".

Bellow it from the rooftops...

The Carnival of Feminists No 13 IS UP, and Terry has done a spectacularly good job. It ranges widely in space and time, from that increasingly backward state where it is apparently becoming increasingly difficult to buy even condoms, let alone any other form of contraception, to the discrimination against older women in the Jewish world, to the progress made by women in Pakistan and that not made in the Caribbean, where Christian leaders refuse to take on the issue of domestic violence.

A whole world of feminism is there: please check it out, and help to spread the word!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A new medical condition

A discovery for medical science: I've identified a new syndrome - leafletter's knuckle. After delivering about 2,700 Green Party leaflets over a couple of days, most of the skin has gone off the knuckles on my right hand (the result of paper cuts and encounters with letter-boxes that seem to have been adapted from a design for mousetraps).

I've also had lots of encounters with deadly basement flat stairs, and some horribly bodgy lifts. At the fourth rattle and the fifth squeak, I think: "I'm glad mobile phones were invented; at least it will be easy to call the fire brigade." That is often followed by the thought: "What was this building called again?"

Reading and listening

Carnivalesque No 14 is now up on Earmarks in Early Modern Culture and it is a fascinating "Cabinet of Curiosities", with a particular focus on women's history, from the diary of an aristocratic figure (Lady Shelburne) to Takeri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified by the Catholic Church. Do check it out! (And thanks to Kristine for giving my posts such a great run.)

On the listening side, I've just heard the second programme in Radio Four's Fascinating Deaths series, and it was again excellent, this time about the 2 million-year-old Taung child - the first identified Australopithecine found.

Women explode from traditional society

It looks like India is producing a new "Bandit Queen".

The report:

Three years ago, 16-year-old Jagari Baske vanished from a remote village in the Indian state of West Bengal. But unlike most girls her age who suddenly flee their homes in the country’s conservative countryside, she was not eloping with a boyfriend opposed by her family. Instead, Baske ran away to join Maoist rebels who claim to be fighting for the rights of the rural dispossessed but who have been responsible for a wave of killings this year as they step up their battle with the state.
Now 19, Baske is described by security forces as a dangerous foe. "Jagari is fearless and a crackshot," said a senior intelligence official in West Bengal’s capital, Kolkata. "She is ruthless and has taken part in dozens of Maoist attacks in the last two years."

Food for thought there for those opposed to women in Western militaries. You've got one of the most patriarchal, restrictive-to-women states on earth, and women are emerging from it as fighters, warriors even you might say.

Lest anyone should think I'm celebrating this, I stress that such extremes usually only emerge from societies under extreme pressure, and societies where many other women are suffering horribly without rebelling. As this report says:

Poverty among the region’s traditionally marginalised tribal people-who make up many of the movement’s guerrillas and sympathisers-is a major factor in driving women into the hands of the Maoists in a matrilineal society where mothers and wives play the dominant role in managing families. "Most of them cannot afford one square meal," says Ajay Nand, police superintendent in Maoist-infested West Midnapore district of West Bengal. "With money and food assured, some women do not think twice about joining the rebels.

And as the Cambodia Killing Fields demonstrated all too clearly, when you allow such pressure to build up, nasty events tend to explode.

Monday, April 17, 2006

An alternative, feminist, pin-up

That great Sydney tradition, the Royal East Show, has one seemingly inexplicable, but highly popular, element - the woodchopping. In a small arena, a line of people armed only with an axe line up for the starting gun. Then the chips fly and they'll each slice through a hefty lump of wood in no time at all. Why is it so popular? I suspect it has a lot to do with the Australian mythology of "The Bush", the theory that Australians are bushies at heart, despite living in one of the most urbanised societies on earth.

I learn from the Sydney Morning Herald that the Americans are now competing in force, and their lumberjills (wince) are presenting an alternative image of womanhood. Not at all bad... every woman should know how to chop her own wood. (Before you ask, yes I am a dab hand with an axe. Never chopped down a whole tree, but have split up a lot of firewood in my time.)

To something closer to most people's - and particularly women's - working reality, being a waitperson. This article sets out the realities of this job in America - where the workers are almost entirely dependent on tips for their livelihood. Theoretically, this is supposed to be the ultimate in "performance-related pay", but the article explains that the actual level of service has almost no effect on the level of a tip: "How sunny it is outside has the same impact on a tip as good service does."
And finally, good environmental news. Hate to say it, but this will probably have more effect than a thousand sensible messages: the US glossy magazines have decided that "Green is the new black".

"Vanity Fair, the self-confessed bible for America's high rollers, has emphatically embraced the green cause. Inside a leaf-coloured cover, an alpha list of names from Julia Roberts to Robert Kennedy Jnr, and George Clooney to Bette Midler are sending a message to their President and all those still in eco-denial. "Time to get real, " the magazine tells its 1 million buyers. "Global warming is the problem ­ the biggest problem. It's not a matter of when any longer. It's here. Green is the future ­ the only future."
Hot in pursuit, Elle magazine ("go green with our round-up of the best organic treatments for your body") will unveil its own environmentally friendly issue this week for May with a competing clutch of celebrities, including Cameron Diaz, television star Evangeline Lilly, supermodel Carolyn Murphy, and ­ yes ­ Robert Kennedy Jnr."

The reality still has some way to go to catch up with the rhetoric, however:

The "green edition" [Vanity Fair], critics calculate, has used up 2,247 tons of trees. And that's not to mention the production of 4,331,757 pounds of greenhouse gases, 13,413,922 gallons of waste water and 1,744,060 pounds of solid waste.

Elle at least managed to print on recycled paper.

A coup attempt, and a great scandal

My 19th-century retroblogger, Frances Williams Wynn, is today writing on one of the great 19th-century European scandals, that of Caroline Ferdinande Louise, duchesse de Berry.
From Wikipedia:

She was the daughter of Francis I of the Two Sicilies and married Charles Ferdinand, duc de Berry in 1816, thus becoming duchess of Berry. She became an important figure during the Restoration after the assassination of her husband in 1820. Her son, Henri V, was named the "miracle child" because he was born after his father's death and continued the Bourbon line.
She unsuccessfully attempted to restore the Bourbon dynasty in the reign of Louis Philippe (1798-1890), known as the July Monarchy. Her failed rebellion in the Vendee in 1832 was followed by her arrest and imprisonment in November 1832. She was released in June 1833 only after giving birth to a child and revealing her secret marriage to an Italian prince.

Dumas wrote up her story at the time, and Baroness Orczy wrote a biography in 1935, but there doesn't seem to have been much done on her since. (Unless anyone can tell me of other material?)

The Deutz mentioned is the man who betrayed her to the French authorities. Miss Williams Wynn thinks he was the baby's father, but that doesn't seem to be the view of the modern sources.

Appearing on 'Life Matters'

Australian readers might have been surprised this morning to hear something sounding familiar on their radios - I did a long interview (which covered a lot of ground about the Carnival of Feminists and other blogging topics) on Radio National's Life Matters.

You can find the podcast, or listen through your computer, here.

I am not sure that I will listen to it - experience suggests that I will think on every second sentence "Could have said that better", and of all the things I should have said but didn't!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Final call for the Carnival of Feminists

Don't forget that you've only got a day to get in your nominations for the Carnival of Feminists No 13, which will be posted on I See Invisible People on Wednesday.

The theme of the issue will be “Feminism and Challenges - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.” Possible topics including: self-determination in health and mental health care, disability issues, transgender issues, issues of aging, integration of religion and feminist beliefs, economic issues, etc.

Nominations can be sent to ISeeInvisiblePeople AT or through the online form.

Friday Femmes Fatales No 52

Late again this week. Sorry. Am I regretting putting a day of the week in the name? Yes. Have I been a journalist so long that I should know better? Yes. Sorry. Will do better.

So, the ten brilliant posts, and ten new (to me) women bloggers worth waiting for...

First up, a huge find, (thanks to the latest History Carnival), The Old Foodie, who has a daily posting about food and history. Friday was - what you didn't know? - St Lidwina’s Day, and her herb is borage. The Foodie not only tells us all about its culinary and medicinal properties (it might, modern science says, be useful against eczema), and a recipe - not any old recipe, but one from the "first English cookbook", from 1390, from Richard II's cooks.

Staying on the food theme, want to know how to make your garden into a feast? On Eat Your History, Deborah offers her practical, spectacular example. (Although the California climate must help.)

And while on gardens, on The Ethel Experience, a wonderful range of pictures from the Chicago Botanical Gardens. No 1, 2, 3 and 4. The swans (No. 2) are in there to make up for the fact that I didn't get to take any pics of the many I saw while cycling the Thames path today. (I was too busy just keeping up with the group.)

Moving into the workplace, Simplicus, on the group effort Blogging the Renaissance, has a post that will have resonances for academic readers (in fact for anyone who socialises professionally). She reports on the social traps and frustrations of the academic conference. On The Hag's Mouth, The Hag reports on staff from failed but cool companies who use them as models at staff meetings. (I've been reading a fictional account of the dotcom crash, so this really resonated.)

Turning to books, on Between an Oxymoron and a Redundancy (what a great name!) Lucyrain starts to read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and finds a sentences that speaks volumes to her. Then, getting artistic, Lisa on Digital Medievalist (no, not a contradiction), offers thoughts on the National Gallery's attempt to buy a portrait of John Donne.

Turning personal, Caron on Women Creating the World is hoping to create a community of debate. She's looking now for thoughts on dealing with difficult family relationships.

Then OK, The Chronicles of Hermione Granger Reed is a dog blog, but it is a very classy dog blog, not written in the dog's voice, and this post has an hilarious twist in the tail... it involves Harvard Law school and mange.

Finally (and this comes with the warning that it might be upsetting to some), two shattering posts about itinerant thinker's gradual discovery of the extent of health problems of her foetus Annabel, starting with the 19-week ultrasound. Part 1 and Part 2. (The story has not yet been finished.) Those producing hysterical vitriol about "late" abortions should be made to read this. (Not of course that they will - might interfere with some of their comfortable preconceived notions.)


If you missed last week's edition, it is here.


Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here.

It really does make my life easier!

Spring on the Thames path

Well, having managed not to fall off my bicycle and into the Thames, I'm back from my jaunt. The Thames path is gorgeous in many places and the English spring was doing its stuff: the new lambs were gambolling, the daffodils were blooming in the churchyards, the coxes at Henley-on-Thames were bawling at their crews, and the flocks of parakeets were swirling. (Those of you who find the last of that group odd; yes they were originally Australian, but escaped pets are apparently naturalising very successfully, and in large numbers, in the south-east of England.)

There was also a hovering raptor, but I wasn't close enough to the front to hear the identification. I wasn't Tail End Charlie ALL day, just most of it. This was a group I would never have kept up with were it not for the large numbers of otherwise irritating stiles that dot the path. We made it from Reading to Windsor (and some people set off to cycle on to London - though not on the Thames path, since it had taken us from 10ish to 4 to get that far.)

That was at least 35 miles, about half of it on non-sealed paths, forest tracks and straight out rough fields - and those soft and spongy river meadows are damn hard riding. I may have done a bit more than that - the juddering shook loose the speedo magnet; my knees are swearing it must have been at least 40 miles total for the day, and they might even be right.

UPDATE: in case you should think this means I'm a "real" cyclist, read this post to discover what real cyclists do.

SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to Barry, the organiser, I learn that the raptor was a red kite, "Very rare a few years spreading".

History carnival, and an apology...

First the apology, to those who've asked and those who haven't: yes Friday Femmes Fatales is running late again this week. (Hopefully it will arrive tonight.)

Now the excuses: Green campaiging (1,000 newsletters out in the past two days, and 2,000 sitting reproachfully on the floor that should mostly be delivered before postal ballots go out at the end of this week for the May 4 election), and I'm working on an all-new, shiny Philobiblon. There's nothing but a rough layout yet (no content), but it is, for anyone who feels like being a design critic.

And today I'm off on a jaunt - to cycle the Thames (well as much of the Thames path as I can manage).

But would I leave you without anything to read? Of course not! History Carnival No 29 is up over on (a)musings of a grad student. I haven't had time for a proper read, but it looks like a cracker.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Four per cent of domestic attackers jailed

It really hasn't been a good week for women's view of the "protection" of British law. After the "cautions for rape" cases earlier in the week, today it emerges that only 4 per cent of men convicted of domestic violence are sent to jail. Fifty-nine per cent are fined, which strikes me as a particularly stupid penalty, given that it inevitably penalises the victim as well as the attacker, in affecting the family budget(directly, if the couple are still together - as sadly they all too often still are, or indirectly if the father is providing child support); surely if you are going for non-custodial sentences a community service would be more appropriate?

Now I'm not, even on an issue like this, a Daily Mail "lock 'em up and throw away the key style person. Jailing should be rehabilitative purposes and, where necessary, for the protection of the community. (And that protection might be particularly necessary if the couple are still "together".)

But I'd like to see a comparison between a group of "domestic" assaults and "non-domestic" ones, grouped by the seriousness of the injuries caused to the victims. I suspect this would show that domestic assaults are still being treated as "less serious", and particularly that "respectable", relatively wealthy men who can present well in court are getting away with them, with a fine that will have little or no real meaning.

The government reflex of "make a new law" is not, however, likely to deal with this problem. The problem is not the law, or even the magistrates and judges, beyond the fact that they represent their societies. What needs to change are attitudes that make victims feel this is "just life", or "their fault", and attitudes among police, juries, lawyers - in fact everyone, that something "domestic" is somehow different to a random attack in the street. (Something that is actually statistically highly unlikely.)

To put this in context:

The annual BCS [British Crime Survey] estimate says that there were about 401,000 incidents of domestic abuse in 2004-05. However, the special BCS study points at more than a million victims each year, with 15.4m incidents involving threats or force happening each year in England and Wales. Researchers say the number would be even greater if the many sexual assaults that take place within the home were also included.

It should not be forgotten -- indeed it should be celebrated -- that we have come a long way in only a couple of decades in at least recognising that these assults are crimes. We still have a long way to go in treating them with proper seriousness.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fear prowls in Zimbabwe

Fear is on the prowl in Zimbabwe - in, sadly, the real Zimbabwe, and in the Zimbabwe of Fraser Grace's Breakfast with Mugabe, the RSC New Work production now at the Soho Theatre. The beast first unleashed, perhaps, when a group of Australopithicenes turned first on a sabre-toothed tiger and made themselves not prey but predator, the beast of revenge, of the anger born of suffering, is here. It was reined-in, controlled, soothed, managed - so miraculously - in South Africa by Nelson Mandela, but not in Zimbabwe.

So it is appropriate that Grace should build his play around a psychiatrist - a white, liberal psychiatrist who's spent his life studying the intersection of western thought on the brain and African spirituality - called in to treat the problems of President Robert Mugabe (Christopher Obi), who's being tormented by a ngozi, the angry spirit of a former comrade-in-arms. The psychiatrist, Andrew Perric (David Rintoul) - in appearance and voice all bluff, red-faced classic settler type - is patently aware of the dangers of his position, but determined to turn the President into "Robert", the patient. Although his motives might just extend beyond a doctor's desire to heal.

The lighter relief - this is always dark comedy, but there is no shortage of laughs - come chiefly through Grace Mugabe (Noma Dumezwemi). She is brittle, smart and grasping, with no illusions about the way modern Zimbabwe functions. Grace doesn't fear ghosts, but has a healthy horror or her husband's mental instability. Her scene with the strong-arm bodyguard Gabriel (Christopher Obi) - no angel he - conducted entirely in Shona, except for two key words, "Mercedes" and "Coupe", is a tiny comic masterpiece of writing and acting. READ MORE

Women freed and women trapped

Given all the concern about mental health, some interesting figures are out indicating the UK suicide rate is the lowest since records began in 1910. Partly this is due to measures that have reduced the availability of methods of suicide, the experts say, but there is another factor:

One of the most dramatic falls in suicide rates is among 45- to 75-year-old women, which are down to a third of the level of the 1960s.

The Telegraph, given its ideology and audience, struggles to deal with this, saying:

Women aged 45 to 75 are also apparently happier these days despite - or perhaps because of - soaring divorce rates, leading to a reduction in suicides among older females.

I'd say it is definitely "because of". Something to think about when you next here a commentator thundering on about "family values". That was where "family values" got you.
And to point to the proponents of faith schools. Polly Tonybee has a lovely thundering piece about them this morning, wondering why the government is so in favour of them when 64 per cent of voters are opposed to them.

Ask most Labour MPs and they abhor the devious abuse of religious schools and the segregation they cause. It's not "choice", since most parents would never choose faith schools if they were not the flag for assembling the better pupils locally. Baroness Morgan, until last year a close Blair ally as No 10's director of government relations, spoke out boldly against religious schools in the Lords. (Note how everyone leaving No 10 suddenly speaks their mind - and it is rarely the mind of their leader.) ICM polling shows that 64% of voters think "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind" - a surprisingly strong position. So what on earth is a Labour government up to - and why don't Labour MPs refuse to let this happen?

She's barred, of course, from the Guardian's pro-Labour position from answering that question - perhaps the fact that the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary are religious fanatics has something to do with it?
My mail box has been full lately of accounts of the latest "honour killing" horror, this time in Germany, involving a Kurdish family of Turkish background.

Forced to marry a cousin in Turkey as a young girl, Ms Surucu later broke with her Turkish-Kurdish family in Berlin and was living independently with her five-year-old son, to the intense disapproval of her relatives, prosecutors said.
Ayhan Surucu, 20, who confessed to pulling the trigger, was sentenced to nine years and three months, close to the 10-year maximum allowable as he was a minor, aged 18, at the time of the killing.

Such crimes seem to come around, all too sadly, in regular cycles, but I've been musing about how many cases there must be that don't get to this point - all of the girls and women who must be terrorised into submission, into submitting to rape by their "husbands", behind the cases that hit the headlines. And how many suicides there must be...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What the Romans did TO us (i.e. women)

A recent popular history television series ran along the lines of What the Romans Did For Us - with lists of all the usual "civilising influences" - "concrete, fast food to frescos and lighthouses to loos".

Yet having just finished Boudicca's Heirs, by Dorothy Watts, I also know what the Romans did to "us" - if you count the (roughly, very roughly in their case) half of the population that is female as "us". Watts work is subtitled "Women in Early Britain" and is an up-to-date (2005) account of what the archaeological record reveals (with also notes of how this matches the historical record).

The overwhelming, almost shattering, fact is that while in the preceding Iron Age numbers of men and women were pretty much matched, soon after the Romans arrived there is a suddenly shift in the nation's graveyards - the number of women drops significantly. The only explanation, Watts concludes, is that the Romans brought with them, with all their "civilising" influences, the previously unknown practice of female infanticide - and female infanticide to the level of the worst of India or China today, that saw up to seven per cent of the women "lost".

You might ask where the babies' bodies went, but the Roman practice was that infants and young children were not -- at least until the influence of Christianity -- buried in "adult" graveyards, but in domestic or city contexts where bones, if they survive at all, will only occasionally be found. Also, children being abandoned were usually just dumped, rather than killed, so their bodies would usually have fallen to scavengers.

It is worth noting too that when the Romans went, so did the practice of female infanticide. (Although the arrival of Christianity does appear to have ameliorated it.) It was only in the Saxon burial grounds, however, the sex ratio is restored to natural equality.

Watts's writing is often technical and detailed (she goes into all the statistics and the potential factors that contributed to them) - this is certainly not an "introduction to the women of Roman Britain book" - yet in the end her conclusions are clear, if undramatically presented:

"In Chapter 2 the burial evidence was extrapolated from 16 sites from the late pre-Roman Iron Age. It was shown that there were equal numbers of males and females in Iron Age cemeteries. When those figures are compared with those of the Roman period (M=57 per cent, F = 43 per cent), it is obvious that there was a decline in the number of females being reared." (p. 53.)

Even those women who survived this early danger were likely, the archaeological evidence suggests, to see their status decline as Roman influence took hold:
"In most sites in the Iron Age females had larger and deeper graves than men. The graves with the largest dimensions were in fact for women from the earliest cemeteries studied - the Aras burials in East Yorkshire, dating from the third to the early first century BC." (p. 72)

Yet, Watts makes clear, the archaeological evidence suggests that women could have strong positions within elite families - being in higher numbers than males among what she describes as "status" burials - those that featured lead and stone coffins, and/or had the bodies packed with variously constituted "plaster", which probably started as a Christian practice to try to preserve the body for Judgement Day, but then spread more widely. But the top men were most likely given even more status in death, in mausolea, vaults and enclosures, which are overwhelmingly given over the male bodies.

Also, that doesn't mean girls, once they had been chosen for survival, were not valued. The graves of adolescents and young women are frequently rich and well marked. Indeed, she suggests that there was for girls who died before marriage were "dowered" in some way in the grave, in a ritual for which it appears there is no literary record.

"At Dunstable, a teenage girl had three bronze bracelets on her left wrist, two bronze and one iron ring on her left hand, and a necklace comprising 61 small glass beads around her neck; an 18-year-old also had a pile of jewellery in her coffin ... At Lankhills, a young woman aged 17-20 had, besides a spindle whorl and hobnailed footwear, seven bravelets, two rings and some beads..." (p. 83)

Wherever possible (which isn't all that often), Watts records the human details behind the archaeological statistics. These are the simple human tragedies that could be Any Time, Any place. Simplicia Florentina was aged just 10 months when she died in York, mourned by her father, a soldier of the Sixth Legion. Her coffin refers to her as a "most innocent soul". That, combined with her name, suggests the family was Christian, as does the enclosure of the child's body in plaster. (p. 145)

That story might be balanced by that of Claudia Crysis, who died at Lincoln at the advanced age of 90. Probably a freed slave, her name came from the Greek, meaning gold, and she must have had golden luck to have lived to such an age in Britain, for one of the things that emerges, perhaps surprisingly, is that few people lived beyond the age of 45, unsurprisingly given the evidence of their bones, which show rampant malnutrition, particularly outside the wealthier urban centres, the dangers of childbirth, and the rates of infectious disease.

Beyond the evidence of the graveyards (so information-rich and as Watts says, with advances in DNA technology likely in the future to yield far more data), she conducts a brief survey of what can be known about the lives of these women before they reached their final resting place - their daily work and leisure activities, their religious beliefs and activities. The answer still, all too often, is "we don't know".

This is, however, a fast-moving area - with an enormous amount of data added to the records every year, even if only the occasion "sexy" find makes the newspaper headlines. To give just one example, Watts notes that in her study of 1991 she concluded there were 13 cemeteries in fourth-century Britain that might be seen as Christian. Just over a decade later "to that list might now be added the cemeteries at Bletsoe, Newarke Street Leicester, and Shepton Mallet." (p. 147) It seems unlikely, however, that the basic conclusion of what the Roman did to us will be overturned.

A women's story through male eyes

The basic story of the Salem witchcraft trials is well known. At its centre was a group of young women who made increasingly wild accusations about spirits, demonic possession, and malevolent attacks. It is these young women, led by the spiteful, slighted Abigail (Elaine Cassidy) who open Arthur Miller's powerful exploration of the story, The Crucible.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's version - its first Miller production - has just transferred to the Gielgud in London. This is a powerful, classy effort (as you'd expect), with a highly topical theme. Miller wrote the play in the Fifties, when McCarthyism was at its height, and today, with restrictive new laws forbidding "glorification of terrorism" coming into effect today, and a scent of panic in the air, it is again all too relevant.

The three hours never drag, as a small Puritan town gradually implodes into a frenzy of wild allegation. Miller presents, and the production magnifies, one potential slant of the conflict, as a class and generational war that sees the poorer, younger women finally getting their revenge against the older women and men who've used their labour and heavily disciplined their lives.

The production makes particular effective use of the pregnant pause, the long heavy silence, its actors arrayed in carefully composed tableaus that are almost picture-perfect, within stone-grey wallls that hold - just - the threat of nature, or sexuality, of change, without. READ MORE

How the "other half" live

Living on a council estate, you get occasional, sometimes shocking, insights, into how the "other half" live. I just had pushed through my door as junk mail a "refinancing offer" from a finance company, offering rates of 15.3 per cent on secured loans on a property, and 8.1 per cent on secured mortgages (both of those would be "average" figures).

Pretty bad, although I suppose fairly par for the course for people with bad credit records, County Court judgements etc. But then reading the fine print, I found that "there will be a fee for mortgage advice ... normally 3% of the mortgage balance". Three percent of what is probably near the total value of a home, for organising the mortgage! (And nothing specifies if this is still applied even if no loan results.)

This is the underbelly, the dark side, of Thatcher's "right to buy" revolution, and indeed London's property revolution, on which Anatole Kaletsky is writing today. Some "right to buy" people have done very well out of it, but some have been left with crippling maintenance and general debts, and end up with no equity, and no home.

Kaletsky concludes that London's property market has largely been decoupled from British economic performance, because the city's economy is so dependent on the global economy, but that it reconnects through people selling their homes here and moving out to the rest of the UK. Fine if you've got enough equity to do it.

The non-religious Settlement

Interesting comment piece in the Guardian this morning, which suggests that the post-Civil War settlement between the Church of England and the government and society involve a tacit agreement:

Safe though he was, the nice country vicar in effect inoculated vast swaths of the English against Christianity. A religion of hospital visiting and flower arranging, with a side offering of heritage conservation, replaced the risk-all faith of a man who asked his adherents to take up their cross and follow him. The nice country vicar represented a very English modus vivendi between the sacred and the secular, with the sacred, in swallowing many of its convictions, paying by far the heaviest price for the deal.
In exchange for a walk-on part during major family occasions and the opportunity to be custodian of the country's most impressive collection of buildings, the vicar promised discretion in all things pertaining to faith: he agreed to treat God as a private matter. In a country exhausted by wars about religion, the creation of the nonreligious priest was a masterstroke of English inventiveness. And once the priest had been cut off from the source of his fire and reassigned to judge marrows at the village fete, his transformation from figure of fear to figure of fun was complete.

I tend to broadly agree with that, although not with his next step - he wants to restore the fiery religion, I'd like to take this historical progression to its logical conclusion - get rid of the religion altogether, run the church as a community centre and choose a community worker to do the visiting, tea drinker and marrow-judging.

While I'm talking history, if you're a history blogger, watch out. The UK glorification of terrorism act comes into effect today. Be careful what you write about those Vandals....

You know you are getting old when ...

... after spending a whole day pulling together the paperwork for your tax return, you think: "Next year I will organise this better", then a second later think "who am I kidding? Of course I'll continue to file the papers in a heap on the floor for months at a time. I always have."

Still, I rewarded myself by going to see the RSC's The Crucible (brilliant - report later today) and strolled home through the West End enjoying the emergence of the rituals of the spring mating season (even if the weather still isn't co-operating). The provincial flocks in their best new denims were pouring out of Les Mis on to the tour buses that had entirely blocked Shaftesbury Avenue, while outside the nightclub near Oxford Circus Tube, a chorus of pavement T-shirt-sellers had set up a melodious version of "Skinny, Hoodie, Skinny, Hoodie" for a band whose name I couldn't quite read upside down.

Call for nominations: Carnival of Feminists ...

The next carnival is sweeping up fast, and with a lot of the world celebrating Easter soon, make sure you don't miss out!

The second call for nominations is up - the suggested (although not compulsory topic) is "Feminism and Challenges - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.” Possible topics including: self-determination in health and mental health care, disability issues, transgender issues, issues of aging, integration of religion and feminist beliefs, economic issues, etc.

They can be sent to ISeeInvisiblePeople AT, or submitted via the nomination form.

Please help to spread the word!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

'Licence to batter'

Imagine the case: a bloke is down the pub, has a drink or two too many, loses his temper with a man at the next table who is, he thinks, "looking at me funny" and beats the hell out of him. Duly hauled before a magistrate, he says: "Sorry. Really sorry. Didn't mean any harm. Won't do it again." The magistrate says: "That's all right then. Here's a slap on the wrist."

No, I can't imagine it either. But that is what is proposed, at least for cases of domestic violence, in new draft guidelines.

MEN and women who attack their partners should have the chance to avoid being sent to jail if they appear genuinely sorry for their violence, according to sentencing proposals published yesterday.
Instead, wife-beaters could receive a suspended prison sentence or community order. The proposals also recommend that perpetrators of domestic violence attend courses to tackle their offending, even though it is too early to know if they are effective in curbing violence.
The head of the leading domestic violence charity attacked the draft guidelines. Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: “It would be a travesty if the Sentencing Guidelines Council proposals on domestic violence come into effect. In short they give men a licence to batter women as long as they are able to put on a remorseful act in front of a judge.”

That fits nicely with an excellent interview with Catharine McKinnon, whose latest book, Are Women Human? has just been published.

She writes: "[T]he fact that the law of rape protects rapists and is written from their point of view to guarantee impunity for most rapes is officially regarded as a violation of the law of sex equality, national or international, by virtually nobody."
Are you suggesting that rape law enshrines rapists' points of view, I ask MacKinnon? "Yes, in a couple of senses. The most obvious sense is that most rapists are men and most legislators are men and most judges are men and the law of rape was created when women weren't even allowed to vote. So that means not that all the people who wrote it were rapists, but that they are a member of the group who do [rape] and who do for reasons that they share in common even with those who don't, namely masculinity and their identification with masculine norms and in particular being the people who initiate sex and being the people who socially experience themselves as being affirmed by aggressive initiation of sexual interaction."

Coverage of the Green Party local election launch

The BBC goes very straight:

The Green Party hopes to have more than 100 councillors after the local elections in England on 4 May.
The party is calling for good local services within walking distance and protection for local businesses.
The Greens already have 70 council seats including six in Oxford, where they hold the balance of power.
The party's Caroline Lucas told the BBC they did not expect to win overall control in any council but were hopeful of boosting numbers of councillors....

The politics wonks' site,, is into the numbers:

Launching its poll push on Tuesday, the party said it was fielding a total of 1,294 candidates.
There will be a particular focus on London, where 567 of the candidates are standing.
Camden, Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham and Merton are among the London boroughs where the party is hoping to make gains...

The Guardian, meanwhile, takes the anti-Conservative, national politics line:

The Greens are grateful to David Cameron for pushing environmental issues up the political agenda, the MEP Caroline Lucas said yesterday as the party began its local election campaign.
But Ms Lucas, who represents south-east England in the European parliament, added that the Tories had no policies to back up their claims to care for the environment. She believed their leader's promise to lead a green revolution was a case of "the emperor's new clothes", which was bound to backfire.
At the Greens' press conference in London, Ms Lucas said every time Mr Cameron was asked "to deliver on a specific policy proposal, you see him ducking and diving, slipping and sliding".
She added: "When people see the lack of substance behind his rhetoric, that can only do us good."...

I went out for a short canvassing session on the council estate on which I live last night (when the rain stopped). And I was surprised anew at the highly positive response I got. The Labour Party really is in the stink with its traditional supporters.
I was also pleased to see this morning that Jean Lambert, the other English Green MEP, has taken up the case of the murdered Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit.

MEPs Jean Lambert, from Britain, and Frithjof Schmidt, from Germany, also asked the Council if it had communicated to the Thai government its concern over security threats to Somchai’s wife, Angkhana.
Angkhana has been threatened on several occasions and warned not to pursue her husband’s disappearance, most recently last month.
The issue of allegations of torture by members of the Thai security forces and its effect on Thai-EU relations was also raised by the MEPs.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Aphra Behn's tomb...

An interesting query from Holly, who's been contributing to the "really dead women authors meme" about the location of Aphra Behn's tomb in Westminister Abbey, and why she isn't in "Poets' Corner".

I happen to have sitting beside my bed in my "to read" pile Maureen Duffy's biography. It says:

"Thrysis [Thomas Sprat, "Birmingham's old chaplain, who was Dean of Westminster], I believe, was responsible for her burial in Westminster Abbey on April 20th, no doubt backed by Burnet and by those of sufficient wit and position not to mind the odium or satire that accure to them from such an act. She lies in the cloister and not among the 'trading poets' in poets' corner, but with the Bettertons and Anne Bracegirdle." (p. 294)

So it sounds like she was classed as "theatre" rather than "literature".

There's an image of the tomb here.

Can anyone add to this?

Little reassurance in rape "cautions"

More emerges on yesterday's story about offenders being cautioned for rape, none of it reassuring:

RAPISTS who are cautioned are being put on the sex offenders register for a maximum of two years after the Government relaxed registration rules three years ago.
Young rapists go on the register for only a year from the date on which they are cautioned after admitting the sex attack, The Times has learnt. Yet a rapist convicted in the courts and given a jail term of 2½ years is on the register for the rest of his life.

The NHS might be bad at managing dying, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, the private sector nursing homes are even worse. This is something as a society we really, really have to get better at.
And I won't give away the ending, but if you want to hear a detailed tale of the death of a mammoth in England about 700,000 years ago, Fascinating Deaths from Radio Four is well worth a listen. (Not a podcast - you can only do it through the computer, and it doesn't say how long the link will work for, but usually it is at least a week.)
Australia has new draconian employment laws. One of the effects:
Unions will take legal action after workers were docked four hours' pay for stopping work for 15 minutes to collect money for the family of an employee killed on a construction site.
The workers were docked for taking unprotected industrial action under the Government's new workplace legislation.
CFMEU organiser Martin Kingham said about 25 workers stopped for up to 15 minutes last Friday to take up a collection for the family of building worker Christos Binos, 58, who was fatally crushed by a concrete slab in Melbourne last month.

The company says the law gives it no choice, and if it did not dock the pay, it could lose government contracts and be fined itself.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Beauty and fashion as a cultural construct

This is a postcard postmarked in Bristol at 10pm on April 11, 1907, labelled "Miss Edna May". That anyone could have considered that hat a flattering or attractive piece of fashion is beyond me...

I think this must be the actress who was born Edna May Nutter (can see why she dropped the surname...) although the photographer (or perhaps retoucher) has done a good job in this pic in hiding her "horse face". (Who says the past was genteel?)

The message on the back, sent to a Miss E.M. Ingles of 71 Marle Hill Pde, Cheltenham, is equally blunt: "Dear Eva, Just a postcard to help you on. Can you let know by Sunday morn. the name of the Sec.y of the Education Cmm.ttee for Cheltenham. That means I want a letter. Yours etc. Percy."

The tone is definitely exasperated and blunt. You have to wonder why it mattered...

UPDATE: Thanks to Penny, who in the comments pointed out that I had the wrong actress Edna May.

A caution for rape. Rape?

The Times is reporting today that in the last year for which figures are available (2004) 40 offenders (who admitted the offence) were cautioned for rape, i.e. they got a bit of a talking to down at the police station, and that was that.

It is one of those stories to which the first reaction is horror, but listening to various explanations this morning (very young offenders for whom psychiatric treatment has been arranged and even younger victims, or crimes that occurred decades ago) I suppose there may be cases where it is appropriate - at least it puts the attackers on the sex offenders' register, which helps to protect others. And it may save victims giving evidence in court - although of course that just highlights what an ordeal that still is.
Of course many women around the world get even less protection - attempts are now being made to save the life of an Iranian woman, Nazanin:

Amnesty International has said the woman was 17 when she reportedly admitted stabbing to death one of three men who attempted to rape her and her 16-year-old niece in a park in Karaj in March 2005.
Now 18, Nazanin was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
Amnesty International and human rights workers said they had been unable to contact her family, and did not know whether legal appeals were scheduled.

An interesting comment piece in the Guardian not so much for its contents - a fairly standard debate about "the Enlightenment", what it was and what it is today, but the fact that it is structured pretty well entirely as a reaction to Guardian blog material.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Add your five early women authors to this cumulative meme...

A brilliant idea, which I just found on Heo Cwaeth. This is a collection of pre-1800 women authors. You take the existing list, and add five of your own.

So, the existing list (taken straight from Heo Cwaeth, who describes it as "the really dead women authors meme". She also links to many of the texts, but I'm still defrosting after a very cold, wet afternoon of canvassing, so I'll send you back to her for those):
Bardiac's Starter five:
Behn, Aphra - Oroonoko
Christine de Pisan (aka Pizan) - The Book of the City of Ladies
Julian of Norwich - Revelations of Divine Love
Locke, Anne (aka Ane Lok, etc) - A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner
Marie de France - The Lais of Marie de France

Dr. Virago adds:
The Paston Women - The Paston Letters
Margery Kempe - The Book of Margery Kempe
Anonymous - The Floure and the Leafe(Her reasoning for this is on her blog)
Lady Mary Wroth - Poems

La Lecturess adds:
Anne Askew - The Examinations of Anne Askew
Mary Sidney - Psalms
Anne Finch - Poems
Katherine Phillips - Poems
Teresa of Avila - Life

Amanda adds:
Bradstreet, Anne: collected poems
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Fama y obras póstumas
Lanyer, Aemilia: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
Wroth, Lady Mary: Urania

Medieval Woman adds:
Trotula - The Diseases of Women
Female Troubador Poets:- La Comtessa de Dia - "A chantar m'er" & other Trobairitz poetry excerpted.
Hrostvitha of Gandersheim (c.930-c.1002) - Plays Gallicanus & Dulcitius (My note: She wrote a few more plays and poems listed on this post here.)

Heo Cwaeth adds:
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) Scivias and Liber Divinorum Operum (plus a whole bunch of other stuff I plan to address later in a MWIA post)
Rachel Speght (1597 - Some time after 1621) Mouzell for Melastomus and Mortalities Memorandum
Anna Comnena (1093-1153) The Alexiad
Frau Ava (1060-1127) First named German poetess. "Johannes," "Leben Jesu," "Antichrist," "Das Jüngste Gericht" (That's in MHG)
Dhuoda (9th century, inexact dates) Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son (at Sunshine for Women) and a dual-language version from Cambridge UP

And my additions:
Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (A lady in waiting to the Japanese empress c. 965AD) Favourite extracts here and here.
Eliza Haywood The History of Miss Betsey Thoughtless (1751) (and much else)
Chen Tong, Tan Ze and Qian Yi, authors of The Peony Pavilion: Commentary Edition by Wu Wushan's Three Wives (1694) They were his successive wives, by the way...
Isabella Whitney, The Copy of a Letter, lately written in meeter by a yonge Gentilwoman: to her unconstant lover (1567) and A Sweet Nosegay, or Pleasant Posy: Containing a Hundred and Ten Philosophical Flowers (1573)
Elizabeth Elstob, The Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue (1715).

Friday Femmes Fatales No 51

Building on my collection of 500 female bloggers - 10 each week. (Yes there are millions out there, this just seeks to highlight a nice range of them and give them a bit of publicity.)

Why "femmes fatales?" Because these are killer posts, selected for great ideas and great writing, general interest and variety.

The Publishing Contrarian, Lynne W. Scanlon P.E.A. (Publisher/Editor/Author), has been to a Harvard power breakfast, and provides an amusing account thereof.

Staying in the literary field, Jenny Davidson on Light Reading discusses a range of books that don't really deserve that title, including one on the place of the public intellectual.

On the Sigla Blog, Sinéad Gleeson ponders public spats between women, and the media's affection therefore, prompted by a row between Sinéad O’Connor and Mary Coughlan.

Turning personal, and coming with a warning that this is a very disturbing post, Jules on Depressed Single Mother commemorates the ninth anniversary of death of "the first person I ever fell in love with". She says: "I know that she really died because her father couldn't keep his filthy hands off his vulnerable, tiny three year old daughter."

Sage on Persephone's Box has a great collection of musings on sexual intercourse, and ignorance thereof among men, and some women. "I also briefly dated a health teacher once who was adamant that menstrual blood is made up of dead embryos. WTF???"

Koonj on HU, a group blog for Muslim women, reports on her victory, as a pregnant, about-to-give-birth woman, over doctors convinced they, not nature, knew best.

On Always Aroused Girl, moving on through the lifecycle, a description of the magic glider on the porch, and its place in soothing a stressed child, or adult.

Ozarque collects words for the sense of touch that we've (almost) lost: e.g. "felth - the power of feeling in the fingers".

Moving into political territory, on Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty, Maia reports on a New Zealand case in which three police officers were accused of raping an 18-year-woman. Again, it is not pretty reading; sorry. (I'm pointing there to one of the central posts, but it is well worth reading the whole succession, although it is a story we've no doubt heard the like of before. For a rape victim, the big problem, it seems, is to behave "properly".)

On Tired of Men, "a 20-something woman" finds that Canary Wharf in London (the new financial district) is a great place to find dinosaurs.

Finally, to finish on a cheery note, a post from Mom-101 on the Things I've Won in My Life, which reminds me of the "I Love My Computer" mug I won in an introduction to computers one-day course back when I was 20 (for writing a short "Basic" programme, if I recall correctly - which really does date me. There were these new things called computers, and I was about to buy my first one; it had twin floppy drives and no hard disk, for the record.


If you missed last week's edition, it is here.


Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here. (Thanks to Jonathan and Maxine in particular this week.)

It really does make my life easier!

P.S. Yes it is Sunday. Sorry!