Monday, 25 November 2013

LOL Americans! Lazy transatlantic stereotyping

That hackneyed argument that "Only a teeny weeny percentage of US citizens have passports, and THAT's why US foreign policy is so bad!" is such utter bollocks.

1. Passports are expensive.
Up to $165, to be precise.

2. Foreign travel is REALLY expensive.
Unless you happen to live near the Mexican or Canadian border, you're looking at a long-haul flight, another several hundred dollars. Add in accommodation and holiday spends and you're probably looking at around $1k.

3. America is fucking massive.

Texas alone IS BIGGER THAN FRANCE. (Do you like how I managed to get abortion access propaganda in there?) You can travel for several hundred miles without crossing a state line, never mind an international border.

British people sneering at USians, using lazy kneejerk jibes to tell off their transatlantic cousins for being so insular and parochial, seem to imagine that foreign travel - for everyone, no matter where they live in the world - is as easy as booking a £25 Ryanair flight to Budapest or hopping on the Eurostar for a dirty weekend in gay Paris.


4. The stats quoted are usually plain wrong.
I've seen figures ranging from 30% down to 3.5%, but State Department figures show that around 42% of US citizens have passports - not counting the millions of immigrants, the vast majority of whom have passports by definition.

5. Who's making policy?
Sure, popular opinion has an impact on government figures, but that government is overwhelmingly made up of people with high levels of disposable income - those who can afford to go on fancy trips to Europe and the Caribbean and Asia and even the Middle East.

6. What policy? 
Over the last couple of hundred years, there have been two competing impulses in US foreign policy: interventionist and isolationist. Those who want to Make The World Safe For Democracy by punching dictators in the face with intercontinental ballistic missiles, and those who want to encourage the world to become free by being a "city on the hill", a shining example for others to follow. (You can argue about the purity of motives for intervention, and indeed for isolationism, obvs.)

Auto-anti-Americans using the passport argument are almost always complaining about interventionist policies. Surely a nation of people who can't be bothered to get passports or go overseas, who think that the US has everything and more than the rest of the world can offer, would be more inclined to an isolationist standpoint?

And when Americans do get it together to get a passport and make it to London, are we nice and welcoming, congratulating the intrepid travellers on their international spirit? Are we fuck. We bitch and moan about their pronunciation of Leicester Square ("Lye-chester! Hohoho! It's such an obvious intuitive spelling, only a colonial dolt could get it wrong!"), about the fact that they have the dashed temerity to take pictures of themselves outside Harrods, about their unpardonable rudeness in not having been born with a tube map tattood on their brains and thus occasionally having to ask for directions.

Basically, we're quite smug in the notion that Britain/England/London is the best place on earth, and also get really pissed off when people want to visit.


There's this nasty tendency in the British left to snigger across the pond, taking some cold comfort and a sense of superiority from the failures, both real and perceived, of US culture and politics.

"LOL no passports!" Because poor US citizens should be blamed both for the fact that they can't afford a thousand dollar holiday, and for geography itself.

"LOL their healthcare is terrible!" Because it's not like the Tories are privatising the NHS or anything.

"LOL they're fat!" Because... oh god, I can't even go there.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Helpers of God's Previous Foetuses

A religious group began staging public prayer demonstrations outside an abortion clinic on Friday and will continue to do so until it is shut down.
The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, which is made up of Catholics from across Hertfordshire, intends to continue praying outside the Danestrete Health Centre in Stevenage until the abortion clinic, operated at the centre by sexual health organisation Marie Stopes International, is no longer in use.
Anti-abortion protestors demonstrate outside Stevenage clinic
 The Helpers of God's Precious Infants.


Sorry, can't quite get over the hilarity of that. Give me a sec.

Okay! I've stopped laughing, for now at least. I've been typing this repeatedly all day, and due to my speedy-but-not-always-accurate typing skillz (honed in Yahoo chatrooms in my foolish, meatspace friend-free youth), I keep typing "The Helpers of God's Previous Infants".

Now I'm laughing again.

I do often wonder why anti-abortion protestors choose that, of all the possible causes in the world, to focus their time, money and energy on. (Like when people donate to fucking donkey sanctuaries. Have I mentioned recently that Britons give more money to donkey sanctuaries than to charities working to end abuse? I feel this bears repeating.) I mean, your money, your time, spend it how you want; you could quite easily tell me it's ridiculous to give my money to ASN and Rape Crisis when there are children starving in Africa, or whatever your pet cause happens to be: I think we've agreed that there is no universally accepted scale of The Worst Thing In The World, and therefore no official ranking on Who Needs Your Money The Most.

But the fact that anti-abortion protestors are all about saving the lives of God's Precious Foetuses while they're in the womb, and yet seem to lose interest the second those infants make their way out of the tunnel of love, does suggest that it's conceivable that their priorities have more to do with misogyny, with sex-negativity, with the desire to control women's bodies and social position, than it is with the saving of God's Precious Foetuses in and of itself.

Because when God's Precious Foetuses stop being Foetuses, and grow up into children and teenagers and adults with needs and problems and voices of their own, the anti-abortion movement - and the wider right wing to which it belongs - has fuck all Help to give them.

When God's Previous Foetuses experience drug addiction, mental health problems, homelessness - the anti-abortion right wing can be found privatising the health service, selling off council houses, pulling funding from addiction clinics and not donating to Mind or Shelter or Action on Addiction.

When God's Previous Foetuses live in the developing world, the anti-abortion right wing will be merrily denying climate change and buying goods made in sweatshops and propping up dictators.

And of course if God's Previous Foetuses grow up female, and fall pregnant and don't want to be, the anti-abortion right wing will be right there: waving placards and letting them know they're going to Hell and proferring empty promises of help if they just promise not to hurt God's Precious Infant. Once that Precious Infant is born, however, they've disappeared again - back at the clinic doors. More Precious Infants to save.

So hey, give your money where you will; do whatever combination of activism and volunteering that you feel does the most good in the world and keeps you more or less sane. But I personally feel my energies are better spent improving the lives of Previous Infants, because they are Precious too.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Bear-faced cheek

Things people do for charity:

1. Get in a bath filled with baked beans.

2. Jump out of a plane.

3. Stop smoking.

 Getting people to sponsor you to do something only works if this thing is gross, scary, or really fucking difficult. I could say, hey, sponsor me to stay in bed all weekend! but people would justifiably point out that staying in bed all weekend is something I would quite happily do on my own steam. (Or would, if I was allowed to smoke indoors. Seriously, my nicotine addiction is the only thing that gets me vertical most days.)

So when Children In Need exhort us to do a sponsored 'not wearing make up', what exactly are they suggesting?

That a woman without make up is gross?


That a woman not wearing make up is scary, or that the idea of not wearing make up is scary to women?


That not wearing make up is really fucking hard?


So on the one hand, because of The Patriarchy and that, many women do find it difficult or scary to present their natural, unadorned faces to the outside world. Because that world will judge them, call them mingers or dykes or lazy (while, of course, calling women who wear "too much" make up sluts and whores and flibbertigibbets).

But in the absence of that analysis, the campaign just suggests that going "bear faced" is, in and of itself, gross, scary, and difficult. Because women in their natural form are gross, amirite guys??

So here's my suggestion for a fundraising campaign: if enough people sponsor me, I will print off a picture of a bear, cut out eyeholes and smoking holes, and staple it to my face for the rest of November.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

I am a leaf on the wind

Content note: suicidal ideation. I know, shocker!

Fun times at Highbury Corner:

1. A crowd of Scousers, each wearing either a Liverpool shirt or a t-shirt exhorting us "Don't buy the S*n", chanting the horn part from Ring of Fire at John Power - him from Cast and The La's - who then lead the crowd in a joyfully endless rendition of The Fields of Anfield Road: possibly the most Liverpudlian thing that has ever happened. Certainly the Liverpudlianist thing that London has ever seen.

2. Caught short outside the Garage, my partner in crime announced that he was going to piss on Highbury Fields in order to show his disdain for rich people. I convinced him to piss instead on the Bowlby Centre to strike a blow against Mr Bowlby's sexist and ethnocentric theory of attachment. He did so. We were proud.

3. One of the yoga teachers at Highbury Leisure Centre likes to end the class with a Structured Visualisation where you imagine yourself as a beautiful golden leaf falling from the top of a mighty oak tree. Being me, I can't seem to help myself imaging myself as an exhausted depresso falling from the top of a multi-storey car park.

"At ten, the wind blows you off the branch," and you take the first step into the sky.

"At nine, you swirl upwards on a gust of wind, and eight, you begin your descent towards the earth below."

"At seven, you look around you, surveying the branches of your tree," and observe the couple fucking on the sixth floor of the car park.

"At five, you are halfway to the ground," approaching terminal velocity.

"At four, you can see every blade of grass beneath you," or in my case, the oily puddle congealing on the asphalt.

"Three, you swoop lower, two, you can almost touch the ground," one, you smash into oblivion as your head meets the pavement.


So, my question for you is: do I point out that this particular visualisation may not be the wisest to a minor subset of his audience? Risk getting Concerned Looks and patronising are you okaaaaaay?s for the rest of my yoga career? Might it save someone else? Would it be self-centred special pleading? Would it prevent everyone else in the class from a very special experience of Surrendering To Gravity? Plz help thanx.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Individual aspirations in a communal space, or, getting thumped on the tube

A woman thumped me on the Northern line this morning.

No, really. She thought I was pushing in line, so she walloped her arm out across my chest to stop me getting on the train, causing actual bruising.

I wasn't pushing in, but even if I was, corporal punishment by rogue vigilante citizens is probably not the best way to deal with such breaches of the social contract.

"People who wear so much perfume that it makes me choke should be shot."
"People who blare music out of those shitty leaky iPod headphones should be shot."
"People who think it's possible to read the Metro while walking briskly in a straight line should be shot twice, once for impeding the flow of foot traffic and once for their choice of reading material."

I have genuinely thought all of these things while taking part in the twice-daily battle that is Getting To Work Via The Underground. I have recently discovered that London has as many inhabitants as Scotland, Northern Ireland, North-East England and North-West England put together, which kind of explains why it's so fucking hard to get a seat on the Northern line. With millions of people sardined into a ridiculously small, old, frequently malfunctioning space, it's not surprising that tempers run high, with the smallest perceived slight provoking a storm of outraged tuts. It's such a Hobbesian, individualistic free-for-all, everyone desperately focused on their own needs to the point where they don't even see other people, except as obstacles; some days I hear the faint sound of hedge fund managers donning black capes and yodeling "KILL THE PIIIIIIIG!".

So I understand the urge to impose some kind of order, to stand up to selfish behaviour. I just don't think thumping people is the way to go about it. Two wrongs, like your mama always said.

I'm now trying to come up with better things to think when faced with such unholy transgressions as Leaving A Twelve Inch Gap Between Yourself And The Person Ahead Of You (WASTING VALUABLE CARRIAGE SPACE) or Overzealous Application Of Charlie Red (my perfume knowledge stops at about 1996, the last year I was able to smell them without choking). Wishing violence on the perpetrators of such heinous crimes leaves a rather bitter taste in one's mouth, especially after a thorough thumping.

"People who wear such perfume that it makes me choke should be sat down and informed that perfume sensitivity is a thing, and asked to adopt a 'less is more' approach."
"People who blare music out of those shitty leaky iPod headphones should be asked whether or not they consider their fellow travellers human beings, and, if so, why they think their right to listen to Celine Dion at maximum volume outweighs the right of thirty other people not to listen to Celine Dion, ever."
"People who think it's possible to read the Metro while walking briskly in a straight line should be requested to attend an army-style boot camp where they must perform rigorous feats of physical endurance, keeping their eyes on the Metro the entire time. Participants will be graded both on their athletic performance and retention of information from the rubbish free newspaper, with a passing grade being contingent upon adequate scores in both arenas."

Don't thump people, kids.