Monday, 28 September 2009

Why I'm seething

Getting a woman drunk in order to have sex with her rape.
Giving a woman drugs in order to have sex with her ... is rape.
Having sex with a woman who has said "No" ... is rape.
Having sex with a woman below the legal age of consent ... is rape.

Roman Polanski did all of these things. He is a rapist. He has plead guilty and has been convicted.
Instead of going to jail, however, Polanski hopped on a plane and fed-exed himself to France, evidently thinking that he is a genius and as such above such bourgeois mundanities as the law.

And instead of asking him who the fuck he thought he was and hauling his ass to jail, the world nodded and went "Oh, right, of course. He's a genius. How rude of us to have bothered him in the first place." (Because really, what would have become of us if he hadn't given us, the poor, non-genius masses, the wonder that is "Pirates".) And they left him alone. They left him alone for years, and that idea of poor, poor Roman Polanski as a victim of heavy-handed "justice" (which was probably motivated by envy, anyway) took root and festered, until people were saddned that poor, poor, Oscar-nominated Polanski couldn't attend the award ceremony.

And now that he has finally (FINALLY) been arrested, people who have power and a voice, people who really ought to know better, are outraged and - it would seem - almost insulted on a personal level. Frédéric Mitterand has apparently said that this is "a terrible thing and very unfair." Bernard Kouchner called it "not nice at all."

D'you know what I think is a terrible thing? A society that teaches men that being a genius means you can rape girls.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

It's that time of the day again...

...I'm scoffing and bitching at the TV.

[Note: This is in the larger context of President Obama's reaction to the arrest of Professor Gates.]

Watching the news here, you get the impression that 1) the President called the arresting policemen stupid, and 2) that he started a race controversy when he did so.

As for 1) "...acted stupidly..." does not equal "are stupid". Adjectives and English tutees also have trouble with those. Still...condemning actions or condemning actors. I would say the difference is somewhat significant. But that's just me.

And about 2) the tensions regarding race, and the controversy around racial profiling in particular are not Obama's creations. In a very twisted way, it would be great if they were. Because then it would be easier to resolve...6 months worth of baggage are a lot easier to work through than a country's entire history and the history of colonialism and imperialism before that.

And yet, shocking as it is, that merely made me roll my eyes.
What really bugged me was one simple question, from the news anchor to their correspondent:

Can a black president really be neutral in a conflict about race?

Such a simple question, yet so very revealing. I hate this assumption. That Caucasian isn't really a race. That a cottage cheese-complexion precludes a racial agenda whereas all other complexions come with one automatically (and it's completely uniform, too). That isn't just preposterous, it also flies in the face of reality. Blatantly. Sometimes it's even wearing distinctive white robes and hoods, or brown uniforms.

En lieu of a lengthy and half-informed diatribe about othering, I'd like to humbly suggest somebody who can be neutral in a conflict about race:

Saturday, 20 June 2009

On Silences

I haven't posted here in about two months, but not for lack of topics to talk about.
To be frank, there was too much.
I still haven't regained my balance, so I'm never quite sure what to write about, which of the voices in my head and heart are worth listening to, and how to verbalize my thoughts in a way that at least offers some clarity for myself, let alone for others.

So I've been silent here. Don't get me wrong - I was still yelling and cursing the TV, but even discussing some of these topics with anybody seems beyond me.

First, it was Sri Lanka. How am I supposed to wrap my head around several days of fierce fighting over a patch of land the size of the field next to my house? I must have spent hours just looking at that field, and with each look, there seemed to be fewer answers.

Then it was the EU elections, which I still can't think about without tasting the bile in my throat.

And now it's the elections in Iran. I watch the news obsessively, I follow some blogs, I try to keep up with Twitter, although that seems a superhuman task. And in every picture I see I look for my friends. I don't write to them, because I can't seem to find the words. Everything I come up with seems insufficient at best, or ignorant and self-indulgent at worst. So I leave it and keep watching the news, and the posts, and the tweets. And I stay silent, even as I bite my lips in helpless furstration.

I think that Sean came closest to what I've been wanting to write. Even when he is speechless, he is still more eloquent me. And I'm grateful for that, because simply reading his words, knowing that they are out there, made me feel less alone, and just a little bit less helpless.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Quick Hit

Because you should never allow a good hype to go to waste, the Pussicat Dolls have recorded their own version of "Jai ho!". For those who haven't been paying attention, that's the Academy Award-winning song from the Showered-In-Academy-Awards "Slumdog Millionaire".

Anyway, the new version is called "Jai ho! (You Are My Destiny)", and I just saw the music video that goes with it (sorry, I can't find it on YouTube).
Fun fact: I can count the number of people from the subcontinent on one finger - he's called A.R. Rahman.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


It freaks me out really badly when people take narratives I'm familiar and comfortable with and twist them to make them scary. It's particularly bad when it's fairy tales.
Neil Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples" kept me up half the night, and his "The Problem of Susan" pretty much ruined Narnia for me.

And today, as I sat there, peacefully staring at my TV in that brain-in-standby-mode I find so soothing, I stumbled across this:

Great. Has anybody seen my security blanket?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Michelle Obama's Garden

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm a big fan of Michelle Obama.
She's a great woman, and planting a vegetable garden sends a message I like (not to mention the fact that it's fun).

Having said that, could somebody please explain to me why "Michelle Obama's Vegetable Garden" made the headlines on the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF [link in German]) today?
What exactly is the news value for non-blog-reading-international-politics-craving Austrians? (Actually, what's the news value for blog-reading-international-politics-craving Austrians? I read about this yesterday.)

Why should we care about this? And what's next? More flag pins?

Just to let you was Dijon mustard.

Friday, 20 March 2009

More from the Pope

During the busy schedule of his visit to Angola, the Pope found time to ridicule the idea of abortion for health reasons:

"He also criticized what he called the "irony of those who promote abortion as a form of 'maternal' health care." The pope was referring to an African Union agreement signed by Angola and 44 other countries that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is endangered." [From here.]

If he weren't all about apostolic gravitas, he would totally have added the airquotes to that.

But - fear not - there was also time for genuine irony:

"Particularly disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and exploitation which causes such humiliation and trauma."

From anybody else, I would greet this statement with energetic agreement. From him, I can't quite get rid the taste of bile in my mouth.

Oh please...

Yesterday, Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life in a psychiatric institution. For those who have been spending the last year underneath a rock, in a cave in Antarctica, or on a space station, feel free to google. This post is not about him.

This post is about something I read here this morning.
The Times of London has seen fit to borrow a page from her tabloid cousins and achieved a hattrick of righteous preaching.

First of all, note the large picture at the top of the first article. If they had photoshopped it to include fangs and fiery red reptile eyes, and stamped "Monster!!!" across the man's face, the message couldn't have been more clear. The picture is the first thing we see, taking in the headline only afterwards.

And what a headline it is: "No plans for investigation into police and social service failings"
That combines willful ignorance of the fact that people have been asking those questions for almost a year, with the wonderfully enlightening powers of hindsight. Clearly, something went terribly wrong, here. Nobody is denying that. But saying that "it should have been obvious" or that "questions should have been asked", is a pretty cheap shot by itself, especially if it comes from such a completely safe distance.
Next, the author takes issue with the fact that there are no plans "for new laws such as a sex offenders list". This assumes that reactive legislature is always a good idea, which I'm not so sure about, and that sex offenders lists are effective, which, again, I'm not entirely sure about. But they are flashy and high profile, playing as they do on both the public's fears and the need to *see* the authorities take decisive action. Anyway, the rationale for bringing up a sex offenders register in the context of this particular case eludes me. A previous rape conviction does not automatically mean that the man was bound to turn on his own daughter or her children next. And what was the register supposed to accomplish? Ban the man from having any contact with his children and grandchildren? On what grounds?

Later on comes the following gem regarding Elisabeth's testimony:
"That was the decisive moment in one of Europe’s most extraordinary trials – Elisabeth the martyr had become an avenging angel."
Maybe, just maybe, she will eventually even become Elisabeth the human being. But I'm not holding my breath.

On to the second headline, another one for the ages: "Josef Fritzl: Austria locks up a monster and shuts its problems away"

And here we go:
"It seems like closure for a country that has worried more about its tarnished image than about the alarming deficiencies that the case has exposed in society, in its welfare and judicial systems, even in its attitude to manhood."

Here it comes - sweeping judgement about the entire society of phony under-the-rug-sweepers. Cue the Kampusch-reminders, and hey presto, we're back to the tried and tested narrative of Austrian denialism. This is not to say that this denialism doesn't exist, on the contrary, we're even better at that than we are at skiing. Rather, this is to say that people whose understanding is superficial at best, from societies with their own issues and horror stories (Jersey, anyone? Soham?) set my teeth on edge with that kind of sanctimonious tone. I was actually waiting for the Hitler allusion at that point, but it didn't come. Small mercies.
"That is how Austria wants to see this man: as a once-in-a-century freak, a devilish criminal who has no bearing on the rest of the country."

Because isolating a country as the only place where such things could happen is a far more reasonable thing to do.

And then, there's this: "Josef Fritzl: Austria must examine itself"
Yes, do you hear that, my fellow countrypeople? We must. Mummy told us so.
"The trial of Josef Fritzl has only answered the question of his guilt or innocence. More urgent questions for his country have been left cloaked in shame an silence."

First, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the evocative, almost poetic language of this subtitle. "Cloaked in shame and silence" - beautiful. Entirely free of fact or even actual content, but definitely beautiful.

Here, the author complains about the fact that the trial lasted only three and a half days. Why? We've all seen the evidence, Fritzl had confessed and entered a guilty plea, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. What else was there to be done? Should the family been put on the stand, in front of cameras, for a couple of days worth of cross-examination each? Should there have been reenactments?

Then, this author contradicts her colleague in a sudden attack of reason -
"And it serves no useful purpose to generalise about a nation or culture on the basis of an aberration. More particularly, legislation designed to ensure that no such crimes could be committed again, even behind the locked doors of private homes, would be intolerably intrusive for any free society."

- just to follow up with a swipe about how Austria isn't really trying all that hard to come to terms with what happened. Look! It's our old friend denialism!
"What it needs is answers; answers to questions that go to the heart of Austria's national character even if the original case does not; answers to questions that, for the most part, have not yet been asked."

This thrilling insight is followed by what I assume are meant to be those hard questions, except that they really aren't all that hard, if you know the meaning of the word hindsight. The author also kindly provides the answers to those hard questions herself.
For example, social services visited the house several times...
"but never reported any anxieties about the “upstairs” children or a father who later told his court-appointed psychiatrist that he was “born to rape”. Why not?"
Leaving aside the obvious solution already contained in the sentence (I give you a hint, though, - "later"), I'll say it was because the "Born2rape"-shirt was always in the wash when socialworkers came to visit.

The article poses several more of those hard questions and follows up with a chaser of victim blaming about Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie.
But in the end, we're back at the beginning:
"As Fritzl begins his sentence in a secure psychiatric hospital, Austria must ask itself the tough questions that were not asked at his trial. Among the most fundamental is whether a culture of cronyism and secrecy has shielded incompetent police and social services from urgently needed reform. On the evidence of the Kampusch and Fritzl cases, the answer is yes. And that means, sooner or later, that it will happen again."

And this is where my real problem lies. The tone is wrong, wrong, wrong. And so are the questions.
Of course there are questions that have to be asked, and measures that have to be taken. But this needs to be done by people who understand the context.
What the Times fails to take into account is that this crime took place in a country that regards itself, crime-wise, as an island of blessed innocence. Women walk home in the dark, children walk to school on their own, and ten years ago people outside the major cities didn't lock their doors, because people knew each other and nothing ever happened. Suspecting horror in such a context would have been as absurd as suspecting horror on "The Waltons". It wouldn't have occurred to people.
As I said, questions have to be asked, and measures have to be taken. But righteous wanks from a safe distance are not helpful.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Dirty Words

Spot the contradiction, anyone?

"I am by no means a feminist, but I am definitely for equal rights."

Kelly Clarkson, during a visit to Austria for the Women's World Awards Gala.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Public Service Announcement

I just wanted to take a moment to say that I've been really busy with completely irrelevant stuff And now I also have a cold, which makes me whiny and drowsy and means that I'm glued to my bed (which is a boring and desolate place, hidden behind a mountain of cold medicines).

But I still felt the strong urge to make the following proclamation:

I am totally, madly in love with Jon Stewart.
I think that man has one of the sexiest minds on the planet.

Thank you.
Carry on.

Monday, 9 February 2009


There are cages. Cages!!!

More Church Ranting

In the last few days, I have learned more about the laws and procedures of the Roman Catholic Church than I ever wanted to know. As it turns out, the bishops whose excommunication Pope Benedict revoked are still under suspension. I'm not entirely sure what that looks like - maybe they are back in the arms of the Church, but held at arms' length.
On the other hand, excommunications are traditionally only revoked once certain pre-set conditions are met. It's the same basic system as confession - your sins will be forgiven, IF...
The Society of Saint Pius X, for the first time ever, was not given conditions. There were none. Not even three Hail Marys. Officially, this step was taken to start a dialogue towards reconciliation.
This, in turn, begs the question whether reconciliation is an option, considering that we're talking about a group that called Pope John Paul II an apostate. They reject Vatican II as a whole, from the part about priests facing the congregation during mass, all the way to the part about Jews being our "elder brothers in faith" rather than "the unenlightened murderers of Christ".
The latter is why the current issue is about more than one Holocaust-denying nutjob who clings to debunked "theories" in the face of a reality he doesn't care for. Williamson is extreme, if not actually in his opinions (I wouldn't know...although I have my hopes, and my suspicions), then at least in his willingness to publicize them. The SSPX advocate a return to that deep-rooted antisemitism that has taken centuries to cultivate.

The message this sends is worrying.
It's clumsy, because the current Pope is a German man above a certain age and will therefore always have to be wary of being perceived as antisemitic, even if he were morally flawless and actually knew what all those Communications Staff in the Vatican were there for.
It's embarrassing, because the Vatican's refrain of "This was not anti-semitic because the Pope is not an anti-semite" is a fallacy anyone calling themselves a scholar ought to be ashamed of.
It's disingenuous, because the other common theme from apologists, about the importance of reaching out to those who can be brought back into the fold, seems to hold true only for those to the far right of the spectrum. Theology of Liberation is discouraged, to say the least, Feminist Theology is, at best, laughed at, and even ecumenical dialogue has been scaled back.
But all of this could, probably, be explained in some way or another, if it weren't the last in an ever lengthening string of worrying messages.
It follows the re-instatement of the old-fashioned lithurgy for Good Friday Mass, complete with the prayer for Jews to see the light and accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Historically, progroms along the lines of "Baptism or death!" were likely to start after Easter. That's just one of those odd coincidences, I guess.
There have been other messages, too, harkening back to the good old days before God became "dear": Stating that the indigenous population of Latin America was "yearning" to be conquered and christianized was a feat of revisionist history that puts Holocaust-denial to shame. There were voices lower down the church hierarchy that called the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina divine punishment for "moral pollution". (The priest who used those actual words in a sermon has just been appointed by Rome to become a Bishop in Austria. Just to let you know that such callousness Has Consequences.)
Apparently, it isn't enough to go back to the 15th century. It's time to go right back to the Old Testament. Whee!

But I'm afraid it will rain manna from heaven before this Pope apologizes, let alone changes his course.

[My internet connection is trying my patience today, so you'll have to forgive me for not citing/linking my sources. Der Spiegel has good coverage online, and Google, as always, is omniscent.]

Sunday, 1 February 2009

How evolutionary psychology is letting me down

I'm a heterosexual woman. I like children. I'd even like to have some of my own (in the not too immediate future).
According to evolutionary psychologists, I should be an instant expert in all things child-related.
My instincts should just take over, switching me to super-maternal auto-pilot. In some situations, that would be awesome. Because I'm really, really, *really* helpless with babies. Put me in a room with children above the age of 2, and I will love it. But babies...I don't really know what to do with them. I don't know what they want from me. Hell, I'm absolutely mortified that I might break them.
That's why, when I was sitting in a café with one of my best friends yesterday, and she wanted to go to the toilet, she handed me her little girl with the words: "Okay, I need you to be very brave now." She wasn't talking to the baby, and she wasn't kidding either, because she knows me very well.

Amazingly, I didn't break the baby. I didn't even make her cry (Go me!!!). But that mixture of nervousness, and helplessness, and vague dread didn't go away until my friend came back.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Space Opera Galore

I'm a sci-fi nerd. Only a few people who have spent any amount of time with me (or read my blogs) are unaware of this fact.

So, naturally, when I stumbled upon a very, very sweet deal on Babylon 5 DVD Box Sets (all five seasons of them), I stopped, blinked, drooled and promptly hoisted my debit card.
I remembered watching the show on TV and liking it, and I was aware of its acclaim for complexity, depth, good dialogue, and also - indirectly - saving DS9 from total irrelevance ^^

Surprisingly, the show holds up not only to the cult status, but also to my own fond memories.
If anything, I love it more than I did before, although I admit this might be because I'm no longer 12 years old. (Also, the sheer number of gratuitous roundhouse kicks adds a hitherto underappreciated level of awesome.)

For the Region 2 DVDs I own, the images have been digitally remastered, which has improved the quality (although it still pales in comparison to HDTV and serves only to demonstrate just how dated the CGI really is by today's standards), which is great and follows the convention of changing something (no matter how small) for the DVD release to make it new and exciting.
Unfortunately, everybody got soooo excited about enhancing the image and animating a really crappy DVD menu, no attention was paid to the sound. And trust me, they should have done something. Anything. The relative volumes of dialogue and effects/music are so different, it's impossible for me to let the remote out of myhand for even a moment. I have to turn up the volume to get what people are saying, but then a jumpgate opens, or something explodes, or somebody wins in the casino, or a fucking tree falls over in a fucking forest, and the sound is so loud it's almost painful, so I turn the volume back down. But then they cut back to people talking, ... *sigh* Especially the battle sequences are no fun at all that way, and I haven't even started on Season 3, where the real fun "the Great War comes upon us all".

But even without their screeching sound effect at a volume that makes my ears ring, those Shadow ships are still right up there among the creepiest things ever seen in television sci-fi.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

On a roll...

I was raised a Catholic.
Having been born in one of the most important sites of Catholic pilgrimage in Europe, there never seemed to be much of a question about that. It is the way things are. The way it is done. Alternatives were (and still are), at most, something purely theoretical that happened to other people.

The issues I have with my faith as a whole and the institution of the church in particular don't belong here. Suffice to say that I'm not happy, and I haven't been happy for a long time.

But lately, the church has really been on a roll.
Let's recap:

- Homosexuals are as big a threat to civilisation as global warming (and they go to hell).
- Women who take the pill make men impotent (and they go to hell).
- Women who don't dress the way Bishops would like them to are basically asking to be raped and mistreated (and they probably go to hell).
- Women who marry Muslims are in for a pile of trouble (and probably go to hell).
- Men who wear condoms, because they want to be safe are just being stupid (and probably go to hell).
- The President who repealed the Global Gag Rule is "arrogant" and aiding and abetting the "slaughter of innocents" (he's SO going to hell).

But there's no reason to worry, because denying the Holocaust is perfectly alright.
Great move, Ratzi!
Stay classy.

Seriously...if I weren't absolutely sure that it would break my grandmother's heart, I'd be out of this club in an instant. (And if they go on like that, I might just chance it anyway.)

Note: I should probably have added links to this post, but it's the middle of the night and I can't be arsed, so I'll just refer you to our Google overlords.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

No pressure...

Today, I came across "President Obama - The Book" in a bookshop.

Of course, the Inauguratathon was awesome, and the First Couple's stamina was admirable. (Did they really visit ALL the banquets?)
Killing all those pieces of Bush legislation that were still in the pipeline was great, and suspending the military tribunals in Gitmo was even better (I'll go back to worrying with the Human Rights lawyers sometime next week, when the giddy glow wears off).

But a book? After less than 24 hours??

(And yes, I *know* it was written even earlier than that, which makes the whole thing even more surreal.)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Richard Falk on Gaza

Richard Falk, Superhero of International Law and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, is on Al Jazeera's "Riz Khan" today.
He is the go-to guy for nuanced analysis from a perspective of peace and peace studies.
Some of the stuff he wrote on the assault on Gaza can be found here.

I developed a major academic crush on the man when he became the first person to explain Int Law to me in terms I actually understood.

Monday, 5 January 2009


This list of the "20 Most Annoying Liberals of 2008" gives an honorable mention to Christopher Hitchens, and an actual place on the list to Chris Matthews.

There are only two ways to explain this:

1. The list came from a parallel universe and came to us through a distortion in space-time. Or

2. The definition of the word "liberal" has been changed to "any person/media outlet with the audacity to say shit I, Selfrighteous Rightwing Judgmental Fuckface, don't agree with" while I wasn't looking.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Switching off...

I watch and read lot of international news. What that means is that while I get live coverage of war, famine, pestilence, and all the lesser known Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I miss the uplifting stuff that makes it bearable. No surfing dogs or miraculous quintuplets or images of the Virgin Mary appearing on slices of toast.

So, every once in a while, my brain will just take the decision out of my hand and switch me off out of sheer self preservation.
Today, that meant that instead of watching this, I spent my afternoon playing a hidden object game that didn't require any higher brain function.

I don't normally do that. I'm not a serious gamer anyway, but once I get hooked, I will stay hooked. And if, after five hours straight of riddle-solving and finding 25 white quills in the white snow outside the white window, I do not want to reach a screen that says "Congratulations, you have solved every riddle and freed the soul of the Headless Horseman. The curse of eternal torment has now fallen onto you. Har har har." Yeah...great. Way to lighten up my day.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Starting 2009

For many people, the new year started at midnight last night.
My personal reckoning works a little differently.
For me, the new year doesn't really start until I've heard the last few notes of the Radetzky Marsch. (I may or may not be one of those people who clap along at home - I'm not admitting to anything.)Justify Full

I'm talking about the Vienna New Year's Concert, played every year by the Vienna Philharmonic.
It's broadcast live on TV (to over 40 countries, apparently), and watching it is probably the only unshakeable new year's tradition we have in our house. We don't really get into the spirit of the night, normally. We don't do the lead-pouring-thing, we don't waltz into the new year, and we don't always eat pork on New Year's Day. But every year, without fail, we watch the New Year's Concert, and I love it. (Here's a taste.)

What I don't really know is why I love it.
The thing is, while I don't hate classical music, I won't actively seek it out, either. I know some of the most famous stuff, and there are a few pieces I absolutely love, but the times when I actually dig up those CDs or watch a concert on TV are few and far between. I know what I like, even if I can't articulate why. For some strange reason, my basic argument of "It sounds nice" is dismissed by people who take their music seriously ^_^"

I guess there's just something incredibly reassuring about starting the new year with a set of melodies that are both timeless and completely familiar. And while I'm philistine enough to not hear whether a polka is conducted by Muti or Barenboim, I recognize Strauss music when I hear it, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.