exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

same as it ever was

by Jen at 11:07 am on 19.11.2011Comments Off
filed under: rant and rage

i’ve been watching the protests spread like a fire across my home country from afar – with cynicism-tinged pride. hoping fervently that the wild optimism of youth stoked by righteous anger is enough to effect real change. knowing in a stone-hardened part of my heart, that it is not.

the diversity of support for the protest by the masses of middle-class disenfranchised is astonishing – that so many who are, by all measures, still doing okay, yet feel the message of the #occupy movement resonates deeply with their growing disenchantment and fears for our future is astonishing. even more astonishing is the intense vitriol for the unemployed/unfortunate by those who want to defensively cling to the last shred of a tattered american dream – who have too much emotional investment in the idea that if you work hard enough in the u.s., you can succeed, to acknowledge the reality of what’s happening in front of their eyes.

but perhaps even more shocking, and more telling, than the attacks by the public, have been the attacks by police. over and over again, we’ve watched peaceful protesters be kettled, hit, pepper-sprayed, arrested. the police, who are meant to protect the public and prevent the breakdown of public order, are instead violently transgressing people’s constitutional right to peaceful assembly at the behest of those in power.

it would be even more shocking if only it wasn’t so painfully predictable. because this, after all, is what the plutarchy does. those in power attack those who attack the systems which keep them in power. it’s a pattern as old as the existence of society itself. yet for someone of my generation, who was a decade too late to witness the civil rights struggle, it is amazing to see it acted out in practice in my own country.

amazing and infuriating. because even as my own social justice passions are inflamed by the swelling crowds of the #occupy movement, the cynic in me knows that throughout history, the batons and gas and guns and shields have been all too successful in protecting the oligarchs who command them – whether democratically elected or not. what they cannot put down in spirit, they can easily crush in body.

i was also a generation too late for the vietnam protests – born 18 months after the horrifying, galvanising climax of the kent state massacre, where student protesters were gunned down in cold blood by the official forces in power. and as i watch video after video after video of brutality against the #occupy crowds exacted by armed people in uniform, forcibly trying to uproot a powerful idea that threatens to unseat those at the top, only one thought repeats: i hope to god i never witness anything like that in my lifetime.

but the cynic in me knows that the pattern that’s playing out before us is all too likely to end in bloodshed.

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always chasing men

by Jen at 8:49 am on 27.09.2011 | 1 Comment
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle, rant and rage, this sporting life

it’s not that difficult to rile me up pre-coffee in the mornings, but few things have had me seeing red like the article i read this morning, where the IAAF (the governing athletics body) have decided to completely strip the current women’s world marathon record holder of her achievement. that’s right: back in 2003, Paula Radcliffe ran the London marathon faster than any female has ever run 26.2 miles… but that’s no longer considered the world record.

why, you ask? what could have possibly come to light to require such a drastic move? what did Paula Radcliffe do? what rule could she have breached?

well, none. it’s just that the IAAF have decided, with the benefit of eight years of hindsight, that it was too easy for her – because it was a mixed race, you see, and she *got to run behind a man*. that was clearly an unfair advantage. and so they’ve taken that record away.

“you know that race you ran 8 years ago, where *you ran faster than any other woman in the world*? that race that has defined your career and your international standing? … PSYCH! not a world record! ha ha!” -IAAF

also: if you want to set a world record and you’re a woman? from now on, you’d better find an all women’s race to do it in, because otherwise it doesn’t count. so New York, Boston, London, Chicago, Berlin marathons? no need to do your best there anymore, ladies. apparently the IAAF think you just breeze along to the finish line… because obviously the men will have already done all the hard work of pacing the race.

(but wait: the men in a race have male pacers, don’t they? why yes – yes, they do. but for a woman to have a male pacer is unfair.

huh??!!?)

i suppose i shouldn’t be surprised by this unbelievably transparent bid to completely discredit women’s achievements out of hand. after all, this is *what the patriarchy does*.

the other day, the king of saudi arabia decided to allow women saudis to vote (four years from now). how very fucking beneficent of him, eh? women all over social media were hailing this as some great achievement. but let’s be clear: it’s not. what it is, is a male dictator who has decided to let women be just a millimetre less oppressed than they were yesterday.

this is what the patriarchy does. it sets the rules. it changes them at whim. it giveth… and then it taketh away. it is always reminding us who’s really in control. it keeps women off balance, and hungry, and grateful for every crumb they are thrown. after all, 2012 will be only the 8th time women have even been allowed to race the olympic marathon! shouldn’t we still pleased as punch about that?

no. no i’m bloody well not. i’m tired of having to fight tooth and nail to simply be *less oppressed*, and i’m tired of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance that’s designed to serve as a constant reminder that no matter how far we advance, we are still, and will always be, behind. it is a methodical form of continual humiliation to remind us that we still have to have our rights and achievements accredited by men in order for them to truly count.

so even if you run the fastest marathon in the world, it means nothing unless *they* decide it means something. the message here, ladies: as in the rest of life, no matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you fight, you’ll always just be seen to be chasing a man. and don’t you dare forget it.

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why? because why the hell not?

by Jen at 7:16 am on 9.08.2011 | 5 Comments
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

so i’ve found some words, after a sleepless night of sirens and smoke, obsessively monitoring the happenings further down my street. i’m not sure they’re the right ones, but in the light of day, this is what it looks like to me.

here’s why the riots last night happened: because why the hell not?

the riots are the product of an extensive underclass that is completely and wholly disengaged. who feel no respect for other people, because no one respects them. they’re a population of (mostly) young people who’ve been all wound up and let go, but not given any direction.

what have they got to lose? nothing, that’s what.

what they see day in day out, is people taking what they want without consequence. from the local thugs in the hood, to the bankers on telly. people do it to them, and they learn in turn to do it to others. it’s as much a part of the cycle as the poverty that disenfranchises huge proportions of the city, as much a part of the cycle as the ever- changing parade of politicians who promise much and deliver little.

this is what they see: nothing ever changes, nothing ever improves and no on is ever held accountable.

and the police? they act with the same kind of impunity. they stop-and-search on a whim, they expend their power against the most powerless. they kill and are exonerated, always. they pick, pick, pick at the scab that covers the old wounds of rampant distrust.

against that bleak backdrop, what’s a few store windows, a few nicked mobile phones? the likelihood of any repercussions to themselves is almost nil, but then again society has pretty much already written them off anyway. at least they get some new kicks out of the deal – and in a world where trainers/sneakers are a stand in for actual power and status, that’s not insignificant.

there is no excuse for engaging in crime, no free pass that entitles you to abdicate personal responsibility for your choices. no one believes anyone is “sticking it to tha man” by ransacking the Tescos Express. burning down people’s livelihoods and homes is a grotesque and unconscionable act. but if you don’t think that a “fuck you, i’m gonna get mine” attitude is the direct product of a culture where feelings of entitlement, detachment, and disillusionment are evident in abundance in daily life? well then you’re probably just as deliberately obtuse as the politicians who stuck their heads in the (holiday beach) sand for three days, hoping it would go away.

the police were outnumbered, but that hardly mattered – they’re only powerful in known, discrete, controlled situations. turns out they’re great a cracking down on protesters who get permits and stay tidily in groups, but what the last few highly publicised/televised demonstrations have shown is that they can do almost nothing against small mobile flexible clusters that swarm and spread then re-swarm.

even had they been more numerous, they were at a distinct disadvantage – because while properties and businesses were being smashed and torched all over the country, all they could continue to do was hope-against-hope that the rampaging mobs didn’t decide to turn against people, and the only way in which to de-escalate most of the situations, was to defer.

so instead, we sat in our houses in fear, watching our beloved city in flames, hoping it wouldn’t come to our doorstep. and i’m sure that like myself. people all around the country were praying that no one would get killed. because frankly, i shudder to think about the ways in which it could have spiralled even further out of control. i, like so many, was glued to the television and twitter til nearly daybreak, getting accounts of the violence happening less than a mile away from me in several directions. unnerved doesn’t begin to describe it.

and in the cold, sad light of a sunny morning of what should be a glorious day, but is instead a day of both national and city-wide tragedy and mourning, no amount of understanding gives any comfort. none of the words matter. because it is simply heartbreaking beyond all comprehension.

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and just hours later…

by Jen at 9:55 pm on 8.08.2011Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

london is burning all around me. literally all around me. one to three miles in any direction from my flat, things are ravaged and burned.

there are no words for how devastatingly sad this is.

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why babies in bikinis is not the problem

by Jen at 5:37 am on 5.06.2011 | 2 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

so david cameron is launching a campaign to purportedly help protect children from exploitative, hyper-sexualised commercial targeting by retailers, advertisers, and various media forms. the “let children be children” measures will include:

• Retailers to ensure magazines with sexualised images have modesty sleeves.

• The Advertising Standards Authority to discourage placement of billboards near schools and nurseries.

• Music videos to be sold with age ratings.

• Procedures to make it easier for parents to block adult and age restricted material on internet.

• Code of practice to be issued on child retailing.

• Define a child as 16 in all types of advertising regulation.

• Advertising Standards Authority to do more to gauge parent’s views on advertising.

• Create a single website for parents to complain to regulators.

• Change rules on nine o’clock television watershed to give priority to views of parents.

so for the sake of simplicity, let’s set aside the problems about using “morality” campaigns to divert attention from things like service cuts and the floundering economy (taking a page out of U.S. Republicans’ playbook there). and let’s set aside the idea that for someone who derided the “nanny state” that Britain had supposedly become under Labour, this is pretty direct government intervention in the arena of parental control.

what is most problematic about this initiative is this: it does absolutely nothing to address the root cause of the problem, and in fact, only amplifies an existing hypocrisy. this whole thing is just a big red herring. because the problem is not that children are being targeted for “sexy” clothing, or exposed to too many pelvic thrusts before 9pm (and if that doesn’t smack of “Elvis the pelvis” 1950s retrogression, i don’t know what does).

the problem is we’re not talking about children – we’re talking about *girls*. and the reason we are talking about girls, is because as a society, we expect girls to become gender-conformant and gender-performing women. women who must learn to be sexy, but not actually have (or god-forbid enjoy) sex. women who should wear high heels and padded bras and makeup, but never be seen as teasing or provocative, lest they incite men. women who must demonstrate sexuality, but never use it. women who must learn to measure their value by their perceived attractiveness, because that is what they will always receive the most reward and attention for. women who must never rebuff lewd remarks or glances from strangers on the street, even when they feel intimidated or violated. women who must aspire to look like the photoshopped plasticine images used to sell beer and cars and diet sodas, even if it’s physiologically impossible, and if they can’t achieve that, they are defective or deficient in some way, so they must never stop trying even if it requires surgical modification or starvation. women who must learn not inhabit their bodies, because their bodies do not belong to them – their bodies belong to the advertisers and pornographers and media to manipulate and sell for profit.

it takes a lifetime to learn to walk that fine line, even with the continuous bombardment of cultural reinforcement on a daily basis reminding us of what a sexy woman should be, what a woman must and must not do. we cannot possibly hope for young girls to understand the multitudinous nuances that society will expect of them as they mature. and god knows, the boys must learn it too – otherwise, how else will they know how to help the girls conform?

you see where i’m going with this, i’m sure.

the problem is, always has been, and still remains: until we stop sending this insane message, until we stop wrapping women’s worth in a tangled mess of conflicting and impossible sexual mores, until we stop valuing females based on their appearance and perceived availability as sexual objects, girls will never stop having to try to learn it and live it – and advertisers/media/entrepreneurs will never stop trying to sell it.

but people rarely stop to think: if it’s a problematic message for children, why isn’t it a problematic message for adults? it’s easier to pretend we can censor it, or control it, until kids are “old enough” to learn to handle it.

so my question is: at exactly what age is any of that bullshit appropriate?

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apropos of nothing…

by Jen at 5:36 pm on 3.05.2011 | 3 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

… if the fact that i won’t cheer the death of someone makes you uncomfortable, that’s your problem, not mine. i don’t run around telling people not to cheer – please don’t think you need to tell me why you feel perfectly justified in doing just that. everyone else feels entitled to opine away on how happy they are – but the minute i offer a dissenting opinion, i’m accused of finger-wagging, or even being unpatriotic (which, as anyone who knows me well will know, is a concept i find laughable.)

to be clear: my feelings are my feelings alone – i am more than aware that they do not coincide with the feelings of most other people i know. and frankly, i don’t care what your internal mental rationale is. but if my personal stance makes you feel defensive, that’s something for you to examine – not me.

that is all.

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it’s times like this, i feel like an alien

by Jen at 4:45 am on 2.05.2011 | 4 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

osama bin laden is dead.

i don’t even have a television in my sublet right now, and even without the hyperactive, in-your-face hyperbolic news coverage, it’s all getting to be a bit too much for me. my twitter and facebook streams were suddenly flooded with messages of jubilant rejoicing.

these are people i know – people i consider friends. and it makes me feel like i’m not even in the same universe, because all i can think of is how grotesque i find the display of glee in another human being’s death.

don’t get me wrong: i’m not shedding any tears for a mass murderer. i’m not sad for his death. but the joyous gloating in the killing of someone, is not something i can even begin to comprehend. it is *that* unrestrained glee which upsets me.

because it’s murder. the president ordered murder. my vote helped aid murder. my tax dollars helped finance murder.

should i be happy about that? the reaction from everyone around me seems to indicate that i should be. and yet i find it repugnant to even contemplate cheering.

the killing of osama bin laden does not balance the books. it doesn’t bring back even a single one of the thousands who died. and it doesn’t prevent future deaths any more than simply capturing him would have done.

what it does, is make the public feel good. it allows them to pretend that justice has been done. it satisfies their bloodlust for vengeance. what it does not do, is make any single one of us a better person.

i’m not trying to come off as high and mighty here. i fully understand the emotion that bin laden’s death brings back to the surface. we are all revisiting a piece of that day – i am too. but how can we ever achieve peace when we glorify death?

see, all those videos and messages that bin laden sent after 9/11? telling us how much *he* was reveling in the death? and how disgusting we found it. how barbaric and evil it seemed. celebrating death is vile business, and that’s precisely what osama bin laden did. it revolted us. and when i don’t do the same, in my own little way, i get to feel superior to that fucker. i am a better person than he.

but if my social networks are anything to go by, i’m nearly alone in this opinion. an alien being from another planet, who just doesn’t “get it”. even this evening, i’ve had people challenging my thinking, trying to change my mind, and justify their feelings to me. i’ve never asked them to, but i won’t/can’t change how i feel. and, in a sea of celebration that i find awful, i can’t/won’t sit silent about it either.

yup – must be an alien.

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on the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day

by Jen at 6:30 pm on 8.03.2011Comments Off
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

… i am most grateful for:

- my childhood copy of “Free to Be You and Me”. it was my first exposure to feminist and in a million subtle ways it would shape my view of my life as a woman-to-be.

- my local library for stocking it, and letting me check it out over and over and over again.

- and my mom. who modeled equality and capability for me every day. and still does )

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heart cuke? more like heart puke.

by Jen at 1:55 pm on 13.02.2011 | 3 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

this right here, is everything i hate about valentine’s day
heart cuke

the press release says:

“Valentine’s Day carries such an element of surprise we hope this year’s fun love cucumber will get hearts racing, whether it’s in a romantic packed lunch or a lovingly prepared salad.”

are you fucking kidding me?? if giving someone a heart-shaped cucumber is your idea of romance, you have big, big problems.

did people not think this one through? first of all: cucumbers – commonly joked about as masturbatory sex toys. secondly: cucumbers – only really ever eaten as a salad ingredient. which, since most shitty valentine’s marketing is aimed at women, only underscores a crappy diet food subtext. third of all: i don’t get it, who the fuck wants to get a cucumber? is it supposed to generate an “awww”? it’s a fucking cucumber – it doesn’t exactly show depths of emotion or feeling.

and worst of all, this represents the nadir crass, cheap, commercialised, sexist valentine’s day marketing. it’s not bad enough there are already cards and flowers and chocolates and teddy bears, we also have heart-shaped omelette pans, paper clips, key chains, ice cubes… and now cucumbers.

is there nothing people won’t manipulate for cheap sentimentality in the name of profit?

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“the chickens are coming home to roost all over this country”

by Jen at 10:23 am on 9.01.2011 | 6 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

there’s a lot we don’t know about what happened to cause the assassination attempt in arizona.

but here’s what i know, what we *all* know already. you cannot create a climate of intolerance, hatred and rage, without someone getting hurt. you cannot shout “fire” in a theatre – because there are unintended, but not unforeseeable repercussions. and you cannot have an environment where almost everyone gets a gun, without almost everyone getting a gun.

this is what the continued feedback loop of amplification and escalation of violent and inflammatory political rhetoric has come to, this is what all the Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, and radical Tea Party hyperbole has become the catalyst for: an assassination attempt.

this is the same congresswoman who had her offices vandalised, who’d received death threaths, and who was at the centre of one of the most highly politically charged elections this year, in the most highly politicially charged state in the country. she had an image of crosshairs put on her by no less than Sarah Palin. and she was shot point blank in the head by someone who appears to have mental health issues, but also a serious political motivation. this is not coincidental.

this was an assassination attempt, pure and simple, and assassination attempts are political, even when carried out by people who are mentally ill.

as pretty much every rational person acknowledges, the Palis and Becks of the world never really meant for someone to be killed.

but there are multitudes of people out there who are *not rational*. there are multitudes of people out there who with hairtrigger emotions and bulging temples shrieking at the top of their lungs about HITLER and REVOLUTION. the vitriol and hatred and rage has been escalating UNABATED for the past two years, and has been cheered and egged on by people like Beck and Palin who wrap themselves in flags and ammunition and foam at the mouth about “socialism” and “fascism”.

every time i see American news it makes my FUCKING GUT ROIL and my bloodpressure skyrocket. and i am a rational person.

you cannot drop a lighted match into a tinderbox, and then be surprised when it explodes. and maybe it wasn’t anything palin specifically said, or beck said which fomented this man’s hatred of government – but for the past two years they and other politicians) have been intentionally and deliberately whipping people into a frenzied hysteria for their own profit and purpose. you cannot engage in such acts, and then claim innocence when it all gets out of hand. when someone puts a microphone in your hand or a camera in front of your face and you begin to *claim to speak for others*, then you have a responsibility for your words and actions which you cannot conveniently discharge.

you cannot use language about “reloading”, and “second amendment remedies” and putting images of crosshairs on people and then feign horror when someone unbalanced connects the fucking dots into an image of a gun.

george wallace didn’t explicitly call for the assassination of martin luther king jr, but one cannot in all good reason, pretend that his wildly inflammatory rhetoric didn’t influence james earl ray.

this is what happens when violent words and images impact on violent people. this is what happens when violent people have ready access to guns. the end result is murder.

there are six people dead today, including a judge and a child. there is a congresswoman with a hole through her head fighting for her life.

this country, my country, has been ratcheting up the noise and agita to an unsustainable level – all rational thought and speech has been drowned out. it’s become a caricature of itself, representative of every horrible stereotype about America that I fight so hard to dispel over here, and which, every time i return, slaps me across the face as feeling completely alien to the country that (in spite of all its flaws) i love. these embers of discontent have been fanned by the becks and palins and tea partiers. the fire is officially out of control, and it threatens to engulf all that is good and sane and reasonable. if it wasn’t this guy, it would have been someone else – of this i am certain.

the only question that remains is whether the becks, the palins, the tea partiers, use this as an excuse for more incendiary argument and publicity, or as a wakeup call.

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#mooreandme – more on why rape matters

by Jen at 9:22 pm on 22.12.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

so in case you’ve never heard of #mooreandme, here’s the background: lots of “progressive” people in the u.s. media have been involved with discrediting and dismissing the rape allegations against julian assange.

one of them was michael moore. he went on keith olberman’s left-wing talk show, and the two of them laughed at the rape charges. they said it was just about a “broken condom”. (which it definitively is not.) moore called them “hooey”. he went on the bbc and did the same.

and sady doyle (who’s been pretty much the only feminist blogger i regularly read any more) took them on via twitter. she launched a campaign via the #mooreandme hashtag. she kept people tweeting at them (and donating to rape crisis centres) for seven straight days.

in a medium which is as fleeting as twitter, in a medium where hashtags regularly feature insulting misogynist crap, she kept thousands of feminist tweets flying at the brick walls for a week straight. day and night i would check the hashtag and see people from all over endlessly asking olberman and moore for public corrections and apologies, to acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations and the way in which they dismissed them. and when it came to light that michael moore would be interviewed by feminist and progressive television journalist rachel maddow, she began tweeting at her to enlist her help in getting moore to acknowledge the issue.

and sady not only got them to acknowledge it – she got them enlisted as allies. michael moore went on the rachel maddow show and said:

“Every woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted or raped has to be, must be, taken seriously. Those charges have to be investigated to the fullest extent possible,” Moore said. “For too long, and too many women have been abused in our society , because they were not listened to, and they just got shoved aside. . . .So I think these two alleged victims have to be taken seriously and Mr. Assange has to answer the questions.”

keith olberman said:

“Assange attacks the women (in a “tizzy”), prosecutors, compares himself to victims of anti-semitism: http://bit.ly/guvMSJ (AFP): “In an interview with The Times (of London) on Tuesday, Assange compared WikiLeaks’ ‘persecution’ to that endured by Jews in the US in the 1950s.” Actual Times piece is behind Murdoch paywall. Way to burn away more of your support and make yourself look like a misogynist at best, Pal. And no, the irony of ME tweeting this is not lost on me, #mooreandme”

they have *come around* to understand that when the question is (as rachel maddow put it):

“Can your suspicion about the forces arrayed against Julian Assange and Wikileaks — your suspicion about the timing and pursuit of these charges — coexist with respect for the women making these accusations against him and with a commitment to take rape allegations seriously, even when the person accused is someone that for other reasons you like?”

the answer must be yes. the only answer is yes. because to do otherwise is to contribute to the pervasive culture which makes it harder for all rape victims everywhere to report their rape. and when you are a prominent media journalist, when you consider yourself a political progressive, when you are a caring human, you have an obligation to avoid doing that.

sady doyle, at the considerable personal expense of death threats and rape threats and online harrassment and defamation, kept us all going with her persistence and passion for truth in the face of so many lies, so many obstacles, because:

“This happens, this happens OVER and OVER and OVER again, EVERY TIME. It’s not about Julian Assange. He isn’t a special exception. The way this case has been treated is not even unusual. This happens EVERY TIME a woman reports to the police that a man with a lot of fans and a lot of people in his corner has raped her. EVERY FUCKING TIME. They bully her, the people in charge bully her, his fans bully her, the media bullies her, until she agrees to fucking go away, so people can keep pretending that it never happened. So that it can disappear. So that women just agree to SHUT UP and MAKE IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO RAPE US AND GET AWAY WITH IT.”

this isn’t about julian assange. it’s not even about michael moore, or keith olberman. it’s about the women who report rape and are made to shut up and go away, and the ones who are too afraid of being told to shut up and go away to report it in the first place.

thank you, thank you, thank you sady. you’ve personally restored a little of my faith in humanity today. rape matters. it matters to women, and it should matter to the media too.

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atheists as the red sox, and the one sided “war on christmas”

by Jen at 7:37 pm on 14.12.2010Comments Off
filed under: rant and rage

it’s nearly christmas. for atheists, that means being inundated not only with sentiments about “christ being the reason for the season”, but also maligned as a root cause of mythical “war against christmas”, and (particularly unique to the uk), the anti-american, anti-”politically correct” sentiment that comes up whenever anyone uses “happy holidays” or attempts to be more inclusive.

even attempts by non-believers to reach out to other non-believers is seen as an affront to christians spoiling for a fight at this time of year.

to all the christians who somehow feel my atheism is a threat to their beliefs, here’s a hint: it’s not about you.

my atheism is not, in fact anti-religion, because it’s not about religion at all. i truly don’t care what you believe about virgin births or angels or holy ghosts. i may, in private, think such beliefs are silly or naive – but there are plenty of people who feel the same about my stance.

in my atheism, i can respect christmas as a lovely historic convention which encourages people to be better to one another. i am reminded of the way that my mother explained to me santa wasn’t real – she told me that once upon a time there was a person named Saint Nicholas, who embodied a spirit of generosity which we pay homage to this day. likewise, i think there was probably a wise person named jesus who once lived and spread a message of love and tolerance and a lot of people choose to commemorate his birth. i see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. i don’t think there are many who would.

but the fact that i don’t believe in god, or some benevolent/cruel supreme unearthly being, or a higher power of any sort has nothing to do with whether or not *you do*. it would be sheer hubris to think that i could persuade you of my beliefs, any more than you could persuade me of yours. that’s an exercise in futility, and to what end?

the fact is, i don’t think about your beliefs, or believers. at all. your christianity and your holidays don’t diminish my atheism in the slightest. which is why i can’t understand all the vociferous defensiveness ? christianity is unlikely to become an endangered religion any time soon. i don’t get the persecution complex at all.

as one columnist said:

If you are genuinely discriminated against, you’ll know it. They’ll burn your churches, refuse to hire your kid, not let you into the country club, etc. If you are genuinely discriminated against and you’re pissed off about it and you do something about it like fight back, then you’re smart.

If you are not genuinely discriminated against — if, in fact you are in the historical class of discriminators — and you’re in the driver’s seat anyway with all the money and the privilege but you start feeling like you’re discriminated against — you know what that’s a sign of?

Loser. Mental emotional moral political social loser.

and that’s what i think when i continue to read these accounts of the goliath-like christians who feel threatened by a bus ad, or a tunnel billboard. they have churches on every corner, and yet they protest they’re being somehow undermined. atheists account for a miniscule proportion of the population. is the entirety of christian faith really that feeble that a few non-believers can shake your foundation?

there’s a insider baseball joke about the rivalry between the red sox and the yankees, which may lend some insight. it goes, “yankees suck!”, “red sox… who?”

there are, of course a few boorish atheists out there, who will expend time and energy trying to actively refute religious doctrine. but frankly, that’s like pissing into the wind – hopeless, and just ends up making you smell nasty. but they are, in my experience, about as few and far between as those people who shout apocalyptic bible verses at you as you go into the subway.

so this season, perhaps it’s time for christians to demonstrate the tolerance jesus was supposedly famous for, and stop slanging inflammatory rhetoric around. after all, i’m no biblical scholar, but i’m pretty sure christ didn’t build a base of followers by naming and shaming people who disagreed with him.

as this author says:

If Christians want to win the war on Christmas, we need to stop fighting it. Enjoy the season, reflect on Christ, break bread with those you love, and look for opportunities to meet the needs of others. Such things will seem more authentic to a skeptical world and scream “Merry Christmas” in ways a retailer never can.

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solidarity with the students: why the protests are so important

by Jen at 1:35 pm on 10.12.2010Comments Off
filed under: rant and rage

over the past few weeks, London has been the scene of several massive student protests, with multiple smaller scale protests and sit-ins also occurring at major cities and schools throughout the country. the largest (and most raucous) of these protests was last night, which sparked violent clashes with the police in Parliament Square, and culminated in an attack on Prince Charles and Camilla’s car as it carried them to an engagement.

what were they protesting? the vote which made policy a trebling/tripling of the cost of a university education over the next several years. the cost of a bachelor’s degree in England has effectively just gone up 200%.

to put this in a bit of context, prior to the mid 1990s, a university education was effectively free for all, subsidised (like healthcare) through taxes. some means-tested tuition fees were brought in after that, but in 2003, the year i arrived in the U.K., the government voted to allow universities to set their own fees, up to a maximum of £3000 ($4700) per year. it has remained at that level until the vote yesterday which will (over the next few years) allow universities to start charging up to £9000 ($14000) per year. (it goes without saying that this is tuition only – books, living costs, etc., are extra.)

additionally, the new policy will abolish the education maintenance allowance. this is a small weekly stipend paid to low-income students from age 16-19 to help make it financially feasible for them to stay in school. this is because in the uk, compulsory secondary education (what americans think of as high school) ends at age 16. after that, students may take up further study (what amounts to vocational education, “college”, and pre-university preparation). however many students may just go straight into work.

right about now, the jaws of many of my american readers are dropping. or, as brits say, they’re gobsmacked. you mean university used to be *free*?? you mean they used to *pay* kids to stay in school?? you mean you could get an oxford or cambridge degree for less than $15000 total??

yes, yes, and yes.

which brings me to the point of this post: many american expats i know online are absolutely astonished that there is this kind of furore over the new fees. not only do many of them think it reeks of a sense of entitlement, but also that a system which comes to mirror that of the US more closely, is actually better – that using loans and scholarships to pay for a university education means that those who go will be more motivated to be successful, and that a degree will be more meaningful.

and although i used to feel somewhat similarly when i arrived in 2003, today i could not disagree more.

when i first got to the uk the year the £3000 “top up fees” were introduced, i could barely contain my disbelief. “they’re complaining about $5K a year for tuition?!? these brits don’t know how good they have it!” coming from a country where going into debt for higher education was an absolute given for almost all students, and where fees at even the less-rigorous state-subsidised schools could easily exceed $20K per year, it seemed to me that the whole uproar was completely disproportionate to the issue.

but as i’ve come to know a bit more about the priorities and political leanings of this country – indeed, as i myself, have become more and more british – i’ve come to understand why it matters so much. and it *does matter*.

the fact is, the U.S. system is broken beyond repair – people can spend a lifetime paying off student loans which hang over their head. the yoke of student debt follows them everywhere they go, in everything they do. it can impact job choices, housing options, credit ratings into perpetuity practically. so I don’t think comparisons with the US are fair.

some americans i’ve run across have said that because a university degree adds a measurable monetary value over one’s entire career in the form of higher salary and better quality of life, those who stand to reap those rewards should foot the funding bill. but the argument that “those who benefit should pay”, ignores the fact that a university degree is fast becoming a default requirement for even entry level jobs. and in a poor economy with high (and rising) unemployment, competition for jobs, both here and in the U.S., even those with degrees are having a hard time getting into work as the competition amongst educated jobseekers gets fiercer. after all, there is a rapidly growing contingent of recent graduates who can’t even afford to move out of their parents household, due to a dearth of available work.

the other thing americans often miss is that the U.K. system is predicated on the belief that (again, like healthcare), education is paid for by all because it benefits all through contributing to a greater societal good. i don’t have kids, or a car, yet i help pay through my taxes for the school and roadways infrastructure because they make the country is better. whether i can quantify it or not, i indirectly derive benefit from lots of things which i may help pay for, but never use myself.

finally, i strongly believe that an education should not be beyond anyone’s means. there is a strong class divide here in the U.K. (and in the U.S.) which according to all measures, continues to get wider. access to education is one of the few equalising forces which can help mitigate the gap between the haves and the have-nots. for the “working class” folk, a trebling of educational costs may not only actually put further education out of reach in real terms, but also acts as a strong disincentive to even pursue other means for those who may see it as a psychological barrier. if you believe that a university education is only something for the better-off, why bother striving for something you don’t think you have a hope of attaining? in a country where the net salaries are already often much lower than those of their american counterparts, this presents a worrisome barrier to those who are already struggling.

and so i find myself i find myself continually amazed at the clashes taking place in front of my eyes. since the election, this country has begun morphing into something i’m entirely unfamiliar with (not having been here during Thatcher’s regime). part of the reason people are so upset, is because the liberal democrats, who won seats in parliament by pledging to oppose fee increases, have done a 180, and are now largely supporting them – in particular, deputy prime minister nick clegg, who signed a pledge on record. so on the one hand, fuckyeah to the protesters, who, although they were unable to prevent the passage of the law, have managed to grip the country’s attention – nothing like teenagers mobilising to the streets to get media coverage! and brave as well, considering many of the police tactics employed against them. these students are passionate about policies which directly impact them. it’s hard to imagine something like this happening in the US, where tuition continues to skyrocket unabated and largely unprotested. the violence and destruction is taking place is deplorable – but as the “kettling” of the demonstrations has shown, when people see all the passageways in front of them being closed off, emotions boil over.

on the other hand, it is depressing as hell to realise that this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are more savage cuts to come, more protests to be fought, and more people to fall by the wayside. in many ways it feels like i’m getting out just in time.

but i know i’m truly British when it feels like i’m deserting the cause by planning to leave.

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why people need to stfu about “sex by surprise”

by Jen at 6:38 pm on 8.12.2010 | 2 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

so wikileaks spokesperson julian assange has been arrested and brought into custody (just down the street from me!) after being the subject of an international manhunt by interpol.

he’s been arrested on the basis of four allegations of sexual assault, including rape. to many, given the intense political pressure he’s been under due to the revelation of confidential government information, the timing of the arrest is all just a little bit too much of a coinky-dink.

because apparently the media and the public *know better*. last night and today’s news has been full of all sorts of articles with the explicit intent of diminishing, debasing, and discrediting both swedish law (under which the charges were made) and his accusers. so bullshit like this is being bandied about:

“Julian Assange: Captured by the World Dating Police” I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke. I understand, from the alleged victims’ complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women’s apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, ‘reading stories about himself online’ in the cab…Thank you again, Interpol. I know you will now prioritize the global manhunt for 1.3 million guys I have heard similar complaints about personally in the US alone — there is an entire fraternity at the University of Texas you need to arrest immediately.

(thanks, naomi-fuckin’-wolf!!)

People who saw Assange and the woman in the days after this incident is said to have occurred said the two displayed little if any obvious sign of tension or hostility; to some who saw them at the time, it was not clear their relationship was anything other than amicable and chaste.

The next morning, however, under circumstances which remain deeply murky, the sources said, Assange allegedly had sex with the woman again, this time without a condom. Then, after a meal during which the Mail says that the woman joked that she could be pregnant, they parted on friendly terms, with Miss W buying Assange his train ticket back to Stockholm.

(that’d be the credible msn weighing in, by citing the daily mail)

“Revealed: Assange ‘rape’ accuser linked to notorious CIA operative” -Swedish prosecutors told AOL News last week that Assange was not wanted for rape as has been reported, but for something called “sex by surprise” or “unexpected sex.”

One accuser, [AA], may have “ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups”

(if you actually read the article, the reputed “CIA ties” are laughable – also, way to out a possible crime victim by splashing her full name everywhere! stay classy.)

and finally, the coup de grace, daily mail

An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes.

The prosecution’s case has several puzzling flaws, and there is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation
What happened over the next few days — while casting an extraordinary light on the values of the two women involved — suggests that even if the WikiLeaks founder is innocent of any charges, he is certainly a man of strong sexual appetites who is not averse to exploiting his fame.

The pair went out for dinner together at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards they returned to her flat and had sex. What is not disputed by either of them isbthat a condom broke — an event which, as we shall see, would later take on great significance.

At the time, however, the pair ­continued to be friendly enough the next day, a Saturday, with Sarah even throwing a party for him at her home in the evening.

She had snagged perhaps the world’s most famous activist, and after they arrived at her apartment they had sex. According to her testimony to police, Assange wore a condom. The following morning they made love again. This time he used no protection. Jessica reportedly said later that she was upset that he had refused when she asked him to wear a condom.

Again there is scant evidence — in the public domain at least — of rape, sexual molestation or unlawful coercion.”

whew! so glad that’s settled then! as long as the daily mail says there’s no evidence. now we can dispense with the silly conventions of “investigation” and “trial”. what a timesaver!!

the funny thing is that all these articles quote each other in one big congratulatory circle-jerk, without any actual, y’know, *evidence*. (funny, the mail actually nailed that – even a broken clock…) probably because what happens in the privacy of the bedroom is rarely documented and distributed for edification of the worldwide media.

let’s face it – people are quick to decide that these are trumped-up charges by women who have some ulterior motive because that’s what they want to believe, especially wikileaks supporters. how can their whistleblowing hero possibly also be a sex offending arsehole?

but let’s look at the charges as they were presented to the british courts when assange was taken into custody.

“The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on August 18 “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.

The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.”

not quite so funny sounding now. huh. “sex by surprise” isn’t nearly as amusing when you’re talking about having sex with someone who isn’t awake to give consent. also, perhaps i missed it, but when did our own legal systems become so brilliant at dealing with sexual assault that we can all feel secure in laughing heartily at Sweden’s consent laws? HA HA!

look, whether you believe the allegations are politically motivated for the convenience and expediency of the multiple government witchhunts which are in motion, or you actually believe there may be something more substantial to the charges, what you cannot in any good conscience say is that *you know*.

none of us know. not yet, perhaps not ever. but that’s what the judicial system is for. so let’s all just shut the fuck up for a little while with the assertions that it wasn’t “rape-rape”, that these women are trying to deliberately trap assange, that swedish laws are stoooopid and silly (”sex by surprise” – ha ha! sex without condoms is a crime – outrageous!), and slanging about the same old myth about women who withdraw their consent post-coitally and call the cops.

let’s just stop already. really. enough.

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staying positive 2010

by Jen at 7:34 pm on 1.12.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: world aids day

it is once again world aids day.

this year, worldwide new infections continue to decline – hurrah!! and child-to-mother infections are declining as well – hooray! and with more people having access to anti-retroviral therapy, aids mortality is decreasing as well!

but as positive as all that news is, the flip side of that coin is that there are more and more people who are living with hiv, and living longer than ever before. this battle is far from over – funding is more important than ever to help ensure the downward trends continue, and that people living with hiv get the support and medication they need. there are still 10 million people who need anti-retrovirals, but aren’t getting them.

and it’s not just less well-off countries who are still fighting – in the u.s., the number of people living with hiv has grown 30% in the last decade. african-american women are 19x more likely to contract hiv in the u.s. than their white counterparts. and in 2007, the u.k. reported the highest ever number of new infections amongst men who have sex with men.

and we mustn’t forget that even with falling infection rates, hiv is still the number one killer worldwide of women of reproductive age.

we cannot get complacent!

there are 33 million people still living with hiv today.

you probably know one.

do something for them today.

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my silence on remembrance day

by Jen at 7:49 pm on 11.11.2010Comments Off
filed under: rant and rage

it’s difficult being a pacifist on veteran’s/remembrance day. i am awash in a sea of poppies commemorating “the glorious dead”.

to my mind, there is no such thing.

my facebook and twitter feeds are flooded with syrupy militaristic sentiment “honouring those who serve for us all” – including my several cousins in the military.

they haven’t served for me. they actively participate and support institutions which murder with my tax dollars.

during the two minutes of silence observed everywhere – at work, at schools, across the country – it is presumed that my quietude is a symbol respect for lives lost in battles on my behalf.

to me, all deaths in war are an ignoble failure to achieve peace.

but to speak out, or otherwise protest a holiday that i view as a tacit national veneration of killing and being killed, is a transgression of the norms that few would understand, a disrespect of the dead that i can’t bring myself to broach.

so i’m silent in the silence, and in my own internal way, wish for an end to the guns, the bombs, the machinations of senseless death that prevent the rooting of tolerance and peace. a wish for an end to the remembering, and the start of a worldwide silence that is the end of war.

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nope. not ever.

by Jen at 5:54 pm on 9.11.2010 | 5 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

nope. still can’t forgive him. ever.

LAUER: You talk about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. There’s another guy you write about in the book, Abu Zabeta, another high profile terror suspect. He was waterboarded. By the way, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, according to most reports, 183 times. This guy was waterboarded more than 80 times. And you explain that his understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation up to a certain point and waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold and fulfill his religious duty and then cooperate. And you have a quote from him. “You must do this for all the brothers.” End quote.
BUSH: Yeah. Isn’t that interesting?
LAUER: Abu Zabeta really went to someone and said, “You should waterboard all the brothers?
BUSH: He didn’t say that. He said, “You should give brothers the chance to be able to fulfill their duty.” I don’t recall him saying you should water– I think it’s– I think it’s an assumption in your case.
LAUER: Yeah, I– when “You must do this for–”
BUSH: But…
LAUER: …”All the brothers.” So to let them get to that threshold?
BUSH: Yeah, that’s what– that’s how I interpreted. I– look, first of all we used this technique on three people. Captured a lot of people and used it on three. We gained value– information to protect the country. And it was the right thing to do as far as I’m concerned.
LAUER: So if– if it’s legal, President Bush, then if an American is taken into custody in a foreign country, not necessarily a uniformed–
BUSH: Look, I –
LAUER: American —
BUSH: I’m not gonna the issue, Matt. I, I really–
LAUER: I’m just asking. Would it be okay for a foreign country to waterboard an American citizen?
BUSH: It’s all I ask is that people read the book. And they can reach the same conclusion. If they’d have made the same decision I made or not.
LAUER: You’d make the same decision again today?
BUSH: Yeah, I would.

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney “specially designed” to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner’s nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking…Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet…The CIA’s waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown.

…..

nope, not ever.

LAUER: This from the book: “I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low.”
BUSH: Yeah. I still feel that way as– as you read those words. I felt ‘em when I heard ‘em, felt ‘em when I wrote ‘em and I felt ‘em when I’m listening to ‘em.
LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?
BUSH: Yes.
LAUER: I wonder if some people are gonna read that, now that you’ve written it, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this–
BUSH: Don’t care.
LAUER: Well, here’s the reason. You’re not saying that the worst moment in your Presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.
BUSH: No, I– that– and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple.

Monday August 29, 2005 – Day of Katrina – Blanco calls Bush, saying, “Mr. President, we need your help. We need everything you’ve got.”
Thursday September 1, 2005 – 3 Days After – In a special report that is typical of the picture that television is conveying to the world, CNN Correspondent Adaora Udoji reports: “Three days after Hurricane Katrina, and the situation is getting more desperate by the minute. Thousands are still stranded in misery. . . . They are marching in search of food, water and relief. They’re surrounded by a crumbling city and dead bodies. Infants have no formula, the children no food, nothing for adults, no medical help. They’re burning with frustration, and sure they have been forgotten.”
Friday September 2, 2005 – 4 Days After – A convoy of military trucks drives through floodwaters to the convention center, the first supplies of water and food to reach victims who have waited for days. Thousands of armed National Guardsmen carrying weapons stream into the city to help restore order.

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stfu, stephen

by Jen at 3:16 pm on 31.10.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

“If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas. Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking: ‘God, I’ve got to get my fucking rocks off’, or they’d go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush. It doesn’t happen. Why? Because the only women you can have sex with like that wish to be paid for it.”

Fry, 53, continues: “I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want,” he said. “Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, ‘Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!’ But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?”

so sayeth mr. stephen fry. (and also here) now, i have no personal affection for mr fry, unlike much of britain. nor do i think as a public persona he is required to be infallible.

but i find his continued perpetuation of this stereotype of women as frigid to be insulting (and even potentially dangerous) for a few reasons:

a) it’s just flat out archaic – what’re we, in the 1950’s?

b) he’s a gay guy, speaking on something he knows nothing about

c) it insults women everywhere by implying that we only have sex either passively or manipulatively

d) the implicit passive role of women in sex is something we have fought long and hard to overcome – women have a right to their god-given built-in sexuality, including enjoyment, exploration and initiation of sex. reinforcing lazy stereotypes undermines that message, and diminishes the work of sex-positive feminism.

e) viewing women as undesiring, apathetic, or averse to sex *as part of their biological makeup* undermines the power and necessity of women’s active, engaged, willing consent as part of sex.

and if society don’t take women’s “yeses” seriously – how do we expect them to take our “noes” seriously?!

women have enough messages out there about how they can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t enjoy sex. we don’t need another clueless voice added to the chorus.

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it gets better

by Jen at 7:44 pm on 26.10.2010Comments Off
filed under: rant and rage

the “it gets better project” was launched in response to the recent tragic rash of lgbt youth suicides. but you know, you don’t have to be gay to have been tortured by bullying, and you don’t have to be gay to have felt suicidal.

i wasn’t the only kid who got bullied, and i wasn’t the only kid who ever considered killing themselves – but it felt like it at the time. i didn’t have the internet to help me feel less alone – but watching these videos now, “it gets better” is a truth that resonates so deeply.

yet it angers me that millions of adults have experienced this, survived it… and it still continues to happen. every day.

every day there are children on their way to school whose sense of worth is so low, their alienation and pain so great, that they want to end it all. and there are adults who see this and do nothing. there are teachers who see this and “try to stay neutral”. there are people with the power to make things better who fail to act.

it is fucking unconscionable that any child should ever, ever feel life is not worth living. it is disgusting that there is any adult who could help, who chooses not to. dan savage said it best: fuck you, children are dying.

it is lovely to know that there are strangers who are reaching out to convince kids to hang on. that it gets better – and it does. it so does.

yet it’s horrible to know that kids need strangers reaching out on the internet to convince them to hang on. when is it going to get better?

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poverty, mayor bloomberg, and coca-cola

by Jen at 4:03 pm on 8.10.2010 | 3 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

this post started as a comment conversation on facebook, and i thought it was worth sharing here.

it’s all about new york city mayor bloomberg’s plan to ban people using food stamps from spending them on soda.

“In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground — obesity and diabetes,” the mayor said in a statement. “This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.”

although many in the public are cheering it, this initiative is problematic, to say the least. it is punitive, paternalistic, and unrealistic.

currently in almost any american grocery store, you can find a two litre of soda for under a dollar. now walk over a few aisles and take a look at the price of milk, or fruit juice. there’s simply no comparison. soda is the cheaper option by far.

the reason that soda remains so cheap, is because it is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. and the reason that corn syrup is so cheap is because the government pays for it. it is the very height of hypocrisy that with the one hand the government is pumping massive amounts of money into corn subsidies that make syrupy drinks dirt cheap, and with the other hand, slapping the poorest people on the wrist for buying it.

of course, people are quick to point out that food stamps are public monies, and tap water is both healthier than soda and free from the kitchen sink. soda, on the other hand, has lots of unneeded calories and no nutritional value. and also, shouldn’t we be encouraging healthy choices by the poorer population, who have disproportionately higher rates of obesity, diabetes, etc.?

they’re right of course. tap water is free and healthy. i, however, don’t drink it. i don’t drink water because i don’t like it, and as someone who is not subsisting on public generosity, i get to make that choice without any public critique because i’m rich enough to not have the morality police breathing down my neck. no one looks askance at the 12 litres of soda i buy weekly. no one tells me i should be buying milk or drinking water instead. it is only the poor who have their food choices scrutinised by government, it is only the poor who are restricted to choices that we deem nutritionally worthy. and where does it end? pop tarts are nutritionally worthless as well. so is ice cream. so are chips. so is table sugar. some “juices” are actually far worse than sodas in terms of sugar and calories. yet these are not coming under fire – soda is a completely arbitrary political soapbox.

but it’s *public money*. surely by accepting public money, you agree to sacrifice some level of personal choice?

i don’t know – does trying not to starve mean you forfeit your right to a little human dignity? does it mean that you agree to a level of paternalistic intercession by the state which no one else is subject to? people are not poor by choice, and they’re generally already further punished by substandard housing, substandard education, and substandard healthcare. so we’re not bothered that our tax monies pay to warehouse people in conditions you wouldn’t let a dog live in, and that our tax monies pay for a school system that cranks out barely literate 18 year olds (let alone being able to budget, shop for, and prepare balanced meals) – but *god forbid* people buy soda!!

soda is a bandaid on a cancer. soda is something we can easily demonise and easily deal with. soda is something that makes us feel like we are doing something, without ever addressing any of the root causes. people who live in a state of food insecurity biologically crave immediate, palatable, calorific foods – in other words, junk. but we tell them, no – if you’re poor enough to need food stamps, you can’t buy a coke. not on our dime.

we can get all righteous about people on food stamps buying soda, without ever having to examine why people in the richest country in the world are on food stamps to begin with.

this initiative is not about actually *improving* poor people’s health. if that were the point, they’d do something about making sure you could get fresh vegetables in all inner city areas (you can’t), or making sure that the free lunch program didn’t serve processed junk foods (it does), or making sure that urban kids had safe open spaces to play outdoors and didn’t have pollution-induced asthma.

but health is a performance which expected of poor people (and other groups), not for their benefit, but for ours. their health belongs to the wider culture and society at large, and if they do not perform as expected, it is considered a moral failing. they receive public monies – they are expected to be healthy.

and if the point were actually about improving *everyone’s* health, then they’d just ban or heavily tax soda for everyone. which i wouldn’t like either, but at least it would be fair.

yes, poverty and poor health are desperately intertwined. but it’s not because of soda.

the other thing to consider? the profile of people on food stamps is changing. a lot of people on food stamps these days are not the most impoverished in society – they’re people who’re having a difficult time keeping food on the table because they’ve been laid off, or lost their house in the recession. they’re trying to scrape by, and ending up short of cash at the supermarket checkout. they’re not on the lowest economic rung of the ladder – they’re trying to avoid falling off the one’s just above. these days, in this economic climate, it could just as easily be you or i who find ourselves struggling and hungry. now think about telling me, or your neighbour, that we can’t buy a soda. society makes assumptions and judgments about people on benefits that they would never make if they knew the reality, and that gives them license to act in paternalistic ways that they would never accept for themselves. the general public gets to have an extra slice of cheesecake after a stressful day – someone on food stamps can’t buy themselves a mountain dew.

let’s call this what it is: punishing people for being poor, assuming that because they need handouts they are moral failures and that they are unable/unwilling to make healthy choices, and therefore making those choices for them – even when they are not healthy choices the general public themselves make. because the proportion of people on food stamps who are overweight and drinking too much soda is only a small slice of what is a huge national pie.

ultimately this is a public policy based on *one thing* – it is making an entirely ineffectual and symbolic stand against *one choice*. it’s like looking at the scraps of the thinnest security blanket we choose to give people who don’t have enough to eat, and arguing over *one thread* of it. and i’m not willing to argue over one thread when the real problem is the size of the blanket, or even more critically, the need for the security blanket in the first place.

so when you sit at your desk in the morning with a diet cola, or need a noon caffeine pick-me-up, or are thirsty after a long day at work, imagine finding yourself on food stamps and pouring yourself a nice big glass of tap water instead. think about how important that cola you’ve just been deprived of becomes – not because it’s that important in the grand scheme of things, but because mayor bloomberg said you can’t have it.

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all pent up with nowhere to go

by Jen at 5:30 pm on 24.08.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: rant and rage

america has made me angry these last few days. well, america can make me angry most days, if i let it, so perhaps my skin is just thinner lately, because every time i check the news, or log onto twitter, i feel this slow, hot burn begin in my stomach and spread up through my chest and into my brain.

sarah palin’s anti-woman sentiments cloaked as “feminism”. dr. laura’s hostile need to spouting the n-word at will. the naked racism on display over the manufactured “ground zero mosque” controversy. the 20% who claim to believe, in spite of all evidence, that obama is muslim.

all the intolerance and attacks and wilful, deliberate, obstinate ignorance just sends me over the edge. it makes my pulse pound in my temples, while the hot fever of shame and embarrassment at being the same nationality as these people crawls over my body.

i recently spouted off something to that same effect on facebook, and one of my stateside friends commented that it must be the distance that contributes to my naivete. not being around it all the time, only seeing it from afar, i am not jaded through enough exposure to be able to shrug it off like they have to. living in an environment where you’re surrounded by people who genuinely say and think these things, you must develop a sense of resigned antipathy. after all – you can’t spend your whole life being angry at ignorance and fear, or you’d do nothing else with all your days.

but what can i do? there’s precious little i *can* do. instead, i just get wound up, with no real place to channel my frustration, no way to effect change. i just seethe quietly (or not so quietly), raging away futilely on the internet, and hope that public sentiment will change with time.

i am powerless to do much more. and weeks like this, it feels like there’s nothing worse.

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