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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mommy knows best, even when she doesn't

Further evidence that courts all over the world believe Mommy knows best, even when she doesn't came with the news today that the High Court in Lahore, Pakistan, has ruled that Misbah Rana must leave her loving, affluent family and return to a bleak housing estate on the Scottish isle of Stornoway to live with her mother.

When I first wrote about this case, I noted how the child had sought her sister's help in fleeing her mother's care, and fervently desired to live with her father in Pakistan. This fact was confirmed again in court, when the child burst into uncontrollable weeping when the verdict that she would be forced to return to Scotland was announced.

It seems that the great social experiment of our era - the eradication of fathers from their children's lives - is continuing apace, even in countries previously seen to have tendencies to rule in favour of fathers, such as Muslim Pakistan.

Despite the fact that Misbah (or Molly as she was once known) has repeatedly acted and stated that she wishes to live with her family and father in Pakistan, where he is an affluent and caring man well respected in the community, it seems that the courts in two countries are insistent on ignoring her wishes.

Instead, they wish to foist her back into a bleak, windswept housing estate that is riven with drugs, and where she suffered racism, into the care of a mother who refused to even attend the hearing in Pakistan such is her love for her daughter.

A mother whose marriage fell apart after she had an affair, a mother who is apparently physically unwell, a mother who is accused of plying her own underage daughter with alcohol, a mother whose son Adam, Molly's older brother, left to return to his father as soon as he turned 18.

How is any of this in the interests of the child? Her interests have been expressed and utterly ignored. Instead, the British media were more than happy to accuse her father of abducting her, and reprinted her mother's lies that she was being taken to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. Thankfully, now that the full truth has emerged, their tone has changed somewhat.

But despite the augmentation of the media coverage, the facts remain heartbreaking. A child must be separated from the environment and family she loves because her selfish mother, who was not even inclined to attend the hearing about her daughter's future, wants her back.

And that's that, because Mommy knows best, even when she doesn't, in the eyes of the law the world over.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sorry seems to be the easiest word

Teflon Tone is, apparently 'sorry' about Britain's role in the slave trade. I wasn't actually aware that the UK was still trading in slaves. They're not? So why apologise now, two centuries after the evil practice was abandoned?

This stunt is reminiscent of his apology to Ireland for Britain's fault during the Irish potato famine, which was delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger back in 1997.

On the one hand, it's sort of nice that Tony at least recognises that these were great wrongs. On the other, his predeliction for looking up anniversaries of horrors to apologise for smacks of PR nonsense.

By apologising for things that happened generations before his birth, he can give the impression of being a compassionate leader, a Christian soul moved by the sins of his forefathers.

But if he really feels the degree of remorse about evil actions committed by the British state, why the reticence in assuming responsibility for those he actually caused himself, such as the current state of Iraq?

And if Blair was genuinely animated about the evil of slavery today, would British troops not be in West Africa, preventing child labour today, or in Darfur protecting the Black southern Sudanese from their northern kidnappers, or in Eastern Europe, where women are being trafficked into the sex industry?

Britain benefited economically from both the slave trade and the Irish famine, and while mealy mouthed apologies are possibly preferable to no apology at all, no reparations appear to be forthcoming.

Both Africa and Ireland remain torn by divisions caused by British overlordship to this day, and the continuum of British influence in the Middle East has been an ongoing reason for the many internecine troubles afflicting that region.

Will Blair's successor one day be apologising to the Iraqi people some time in the 23rd century? And if so, what good will it do them anyway?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Baby's called a bad, bad thing

I was reading last Christmas's cult non-fiction book 'Freakonomics' the other day, and was fascinated by the chapter on how what you name your child can actually harm them in later life prospects, as employers unconsciously discriminate when they see ridiculous names on CVs.

Then I came across this primer on parental naming cruelty originating in the States, which uncovers the full horror of the lengths some morons will go to to burden their children with preposterous names, because 'they're unique.'

The site is best enjoyed in its full glory, with a glass of beer in hand and no one in the house to come running when you scream with laughter at what some people actually thing passes for a decent name for their kid. It is compiled by a waspish and witty editor who scoured baby naming websites to uncover the delusions of some people who probably ought not be permitted to breed.

But permit me to highlight a few classics below:

I was thinking of naming my son Toolio. Does anyone know the origin on that one?
---[Jane] DeSac

I m thinking of naming my baby Vashara Rashea.

I am 7 months pregnant, and I am having a boy. I think i'm going to name my son Kakinston ,, What do you think... ??

It seems to me that the name "Scatman" is a great one. you know: after semi-singer and comedian Scatman Crothers. I keep envision having a son named Scatman. I can imagine everyone he meets saying, 'What a cool name.' Which is good because that way they'll have something to like about him even if his personality is really off-putting. Or if he's shallow or a bully when he's like 13, when he should be getting into punk rock or something. At least they'll think he has a hip name. But don't use it, cause I thought of it.

My daughter-in-law would like to name the baby River Sunshine. That's the first and middle names. I think he's going to be teased in school.

We named our son Ty. People always ask, is it Tyler, or Tyrone or Tyrus? No - just Ty. We have a long last name (Troutman), so we wanted to be sure that his name wasn't too long.

My husband and I have already decided to name our son Cinsere. It's unique and it will be the first name in our family that is non-traditional. Many of our family members disagree with our decision, but we have decided and nothing is going to change our minds. We appreciate their opinions, but it is our choice.

For a girl Tierrainney Mackanzie [last name]
for a boy Tristin Gabrielle Reese [last name]

I didn't enjoy the bad baby names pages because the first one I saw was D'Artagnan, which is the name of my son. His nickname is "Tag," so we don't think the name's difficult pronunciation is an issue. Most children seem not to notice his unique name, but adults can be rude. When I was a child, many other children had the same name as me, which I didn't like. I accept not everyone likes my choices of names, but I am upset when I think they are being rude. My children's names are Bayne, Quillon, Griffon, and D'Artagnan.

I'm expecting triplets in April and we've picked out the girls names: Alexana Chenaur and Kia Nicasey. the boy my husband wants to name Richard Allen, I think it's a bit boring and prefer Shaden Elijah. Last name Zane. What do you think? I prefer unusual but not to far out.
And so on, and so on. There are pages of this stuff, each worse than what has gone before, and all wittily commentated on by the compiler of the site.

The first thing to point out is that Americans have a real preponderance towards giving their kids Irish, Scottish and posh English sounding names currently. This, in conjunction with previous trends towards posh French and Scandinavian names, would seem to indicate a degree of subtle racism going on, even (or perhaps especially) among parents of ethnic minorities who name their kids in these ways.

The second thing to note is that it's happening here too. The other day, I heard a woman calling little Britney and Dane in for their dinner. And the neighbour's little moppet is called Shakira. I kid you not.

Now there's always been the odd punter with a risible name. I've met a girl called Annette Curtin in London, and my mate swears she encountered a Dutchman once called Jeroen Coch (pronounced 'Yer own cock'). But these pale into insignificance alongside Toolio DeSac and Shaden Zane.

I guess the moral of the story, other than laughing out loud at the pretension of some parents and feeling sorry for their babies, is that if your family has a tradition of Irish names and you continue it, your nippers are going to have no chance of a job in the US in years to come, as employers will simply assume that their parents were moonshine-swilling illiterates from the Ozarks.

John or Mary. Play it safe. You have been warned.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fair Play, Red Ken

Fair play to London's mayor, 'Red' Ken Livingstone for being probably the only politician in this hemisphere to own up to the fact that Muslims are being vilified on an unprecedented scale.

According to Ken, nonsense 'debates' like that about the veil have been deliberately fomented in order to avert the public's eye away from real issues, such as the devastation of Muslim Iraq by the British and American militaries.

"Over recent weeks we have seen a demonisation of Muslims only comparable to the demonisation of Jews from the end of the 19th century," says Ken.

This is actually a very useful analogy. Will we ultimately involve ourselves in statebuilding for the Muslim peoples we are currently occupying and killing, or will we simply commit genocide upon them? Or will we do both, as we did with the Jews?

In today's world, old habits continue to die hard. While the US-led occupation has directly caused over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq, we are still being told that Muslims are the 'terrorists' - a word which itself has become a grubby, meaningless mantra parrotted by those who invariably have the most blood on their hands.

Robert Fisk's superlative book 'The Great War for Civilisation', which is perhaps the only primer on the mess that is the Middle East any of us will ever need, makes this very point in such wonderful prose that it is worth quoting in full:

Terrorism is a word that has become a plague on our vocabulary, the excuse and reason and moral permit for state-sponsored violence - our violence - which is now used on the innocent of the Middle East ever more outrageously and promiscuously. Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. It has become a full stop, a punctuation mark, a phrase, a speech, a sermon, the be-all and end-all of everything that we must hate in order to ignore injustice and occupation and murder on a mass scale.

Terror, terror, terror, terror. It is a sonata, a symphony, an orchestra tuned to every television and radio station and news agency report, the soap opera of the Devil, served up on prime time or distilled in wearyingly dull and mendacious form by the right-wing 'commentators' of the American east coast or the Jerusalem Post or the intellectuals of Europe.

Strike against terror. Victory over terror. War on terror. Everlasting war on terror. Rarely in history have soldiers and journalists and presidents and kings aligned themselves in such thoughtless, unquestioning ranks. In August 1914, the soldiers thought they would be home by Christmas. Today, we are fighting forever. The war is eternal. The enemy is eternal, his face changing on our screens.

Once he lived in Cairo and sported a moustache and nationalised the Suez canal. Then he lived in Tripoli and wore a ridiculous military uniform and helped the IRA and bombed American bars in Berlin. Then he wore a Muslim Imam's gown and ate yogurt in Tehran and planned Islamic revolution. Then he wore another white gown and lived in a cave in Afghanistan and then he wore another silly moustache and resided in a series of palaces around Baghdad. Terror, terror, terror, terror.
When you hear the word 'terror', now is the time to stop, think and listen. To what extent are those dispossessed of their land, homes and even lives 'terrorists' in Palestine, while those who committed those evils upon them are not?

If North Korea and Iran are 'terrorists' for seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, how is America, the only country to use one, not?

If Saddam Hussein was a terrorist for invading Kuwait, how come those who invaded Iraq repeatedly in the past century - ie Britain and America - are not terrorists?

Terrorism is the word used to stop people questioning the persecution of Muslims in Western interests. And this brings me back to Red Ken.

"The attack on Muslims in reality threatens freedoms for all of us, which took hundreds of years to win - freedom of conscience and freedom of cultural expression. Every person who values their right to follow the religion of their choice or none should stand with the Muslim communities today."

We are living in Orwell's world of perpetual war, shifting enemies and Newspeak news broadcasts. If you truly value your freedom, the freedoms that Ken refers to, then the rejection of the 'terror' terminology and the defence of Muslim freedom of cultural expression and self-determination are the only things standing between you and total acquiescence to the Big Brother state.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

There's no such thing as a free lunch

... unless you're the worms of San Francisco, of course, who will soon be feasting on the father of monetarism, Milton Friedman, who died today.

If that sounds a bit harsh on someone who was esteemed as the father of the free market and a Nobel laureate to boot, then consider his legacy - Reagan, Thatcher, the massive growth in the wealth disparity between rich and poor over the past three decades, and of course bubble markets such as our own property boom.

Now, obviously Milt did not intend all of that to occur when he first championed monetarism. And in later years, he was an outspoken advocate of equality of access in education.

But there is little doubt in my mind that, visionary though Friedman may have been, his theorems have proved incredibly destructive in the hands of lesser minds over the latter third of his life.

The destruction of the British Miners in 1984, the degradation of the American working class into what Barbara Ehrenreich has termed 'canned labour', and of course the phenomenon of overseas outsourcing are all direct developments of Friedman's ideology being put into practice for the benefit of the few and to the detriment of the many.

His legacy, not presumably something he might have wished for, will be the enrichment of a tiny cabal of people worldwide at the expense of all the rest of us. His ideology, lacking as it does in human compassion, leaves itself open to the self-serving sociopathy of big business and big businessmen (and their puppet politicians.)

Farewell then, Milt. You've had your last free lunch, though the fat cats you inspired still have their head in the trough more than ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Global Warming is SO unfair

Here I am, in the hills of Northern Spain (in the preposterous republic of Basqueland), in mid-November, and the sun is splitting the trees. Not only that, but today and yesterday it was in the low twenties, centigrade wise.

Now, locals inform me that in times past, being in a mountainous region meant getting snowed on at this time of year. Instead, they´re wearing T-shirts to the shops and enjoying their swimming pools.

Meanwhile, in huge chunks of Africa, where the delightful combo of AIDS, war and corruption have already made life beyond difficult for most people, global warming is destroying what little arable land was left. Kenya, among others, is losing its farmland and, just as important, the habitats in which wild animals live.

And in Ireland, global warming has so far managed to lead to even more bloody rain than we had before.

My conclusion is that climate change is inherently unfair, and that those who benefit from it, like the Basques, should ante up for those losing out, like the Kenyans and the Irish.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

When I'm world dictator...

... the very first decree I'll introduce is that all advertisements of any kind must be able to PROVE all claims or face the loss of 50% of company profits.

"Because you're worth it?" Prove that EVERY SINGLE PERSON exposed to the ad is 'worth' it, ie they can all afford to purchase overpriced cosmetics. Since poor African feckers obviously can't, L'Oreal hands over the profits.

"Probably the best lager in the world?" Show us the test results of blind tastings held under clinical conditions in every country on earth, indicating that Carlsberg won on every occasion. There aren't any such tests? Oops, hand over the money you lying Danish gits.

Overnight, my blood pressure would be spared the excess lying of ponytailed advertising and marketing scumbags, and so would yours.

We'd soon see ads like 'Renault, decent enough cars that will rust after a while, though' and 'Casillero del diablo, it's mass produced cheap South American plonk but we're marking up the price for Britain and Ireland.'

Think about it. You could learn to trust the media again.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Man down

And the first casualty of the Republican Party's dismal performance in the US elections appears to be Donald Rumsfeld.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.

Now, will someone please charge him with war crimes and ship him to The Hague to make my joy complete?

This sudden move seems to imply that George Junior reckons it is Iraq that has seen the House and probably the Senate too fall to the Democrats.

Which just shows he really is as thick as people say, since it's clearly the falling house prices, spiralling budget deficit and rising unemployment. In other words, it's still the economy, stupid.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Getting rid of the evidence

In a totally unforeseen move, the US kangaroo court in Baghdad -

Sorry, let's try that again. The Iraqi High Tribunal has sentenced Saddam Hussein to death. He gets one appeal, then once that's refused (because it will be of course) he will be murdered by the state within 30 days.

I won't be weeping for Saddam, but it does strike me as a little odd when the White House has to issue a statement denying they were scheming for the verdict. Surely that's the biggest confirmation that they were?

Mind you, they probably would like rid of Saddam as quickly as possible. You wouldn't want him going and writing his memoirs in prison implicating all sorts of Western governments in all sorts of arms deals, now would you?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Wanted: New Stalker for Top Irish Model

So Glenda Gilson's stalking nightmare is over.

Following her 'court ordeal', in which the alleged stalker received a suspended sentence, 'top Irish model' Glenda expressed her relief to any tabloid entertainments correspondent who happened to be on hand.

Hence her preposterously eyebrowed gob on the front page of the papers today, not to mention on TV all day yesterday.

This leads me to a number of thoughts:

1. How much of a loser do you have to be to stalk Glenda Gilson? I mean, Jessica Alba I can see the attraction. Scarlett Johansson, fair enough. Angelina Jolie? Well, she'd probably be more likely to stalk you. But Glenda sodding Gilson?

2. How bereft of news are the papers when Glenda's stalker hell makes front page? Seriously, there isn't a person in the country doesn't see through this painful puff for what it is - which is another sorry and desperate attempt to promote GG as the future of television presenting in England.

3. Do we really not have better looking women in this country? Maybe I need my eyes checked, but it seems to me that you could trip over better looking girls than 'top model' Glenda, just by walking up Grafton Street at 3am.

4. What sort of a name is Glenda anyway? What were her parents thinking? I mean, is she supposed to be the Good Witch of the North or something?

5. Now that her stalker has been rightly chastened with a suspended sentence, what will Glenda do to keep generating the press interest? No one watches that obscure cable MTV rip-off she presents, and most people just groan and turn the page when they see her eyebrows selling some snake-oil tit cream or similarly ridiculous product. Perhaps she'll be looking for a new stalker to keep those headlines rolling in.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Getting a rise out of Chinese 'medicine'

It came as no surprise to me to hear that some unscrupulous Chinese medicine practitioners in Northern Ireland have been dosing their Oriental snake oils for impotence with Viagra.

This doesn't surprise me for two reasons. Firstly, I have first hand experience that Chinese medicine doesn't work, and secondly, Chinese people rarely pass up a genuine business opportunity.

If the GP's research is correct, and I appreciate the vested interests involved in his motivation for researching this, then it seems like some naughty Chinese medicine practitioners saw fit to take a substance that ought only be sold subject to a doctor's prescription and add it to some amusingly exotic looking and sounding herbal treatments to make them actually work, while simultaneously quadrupling the price for gullible Westerners.

Nice mark-up if you can get it. Since there are no formal qualification requirements to open up a Chinese medical practice, anybody of an Asian extraction can open up premises with some inscrutable Asian qualifications mounted on the wall, and sell quack cures to the gullible with relative impugnity.

And it's only when they get supergreedy and start adding generic Viagra to their impotence snake oil, and a vigilant doctor catches them out, does anyone stop to think of the potential dangers of these charlatans.

Does Chinese 'medicine' work? No doubt some of their herbal remedies have certain physiological effects. In fact, some of them are actually downright dangerous. And when they include prescription drugs, you can see how dangerous it can be to permit people with no medical training to be handing these substances out.

Once, on a trip to Beijing, I decided to visit the Great Wall of China and the Ming era tombs of the Emperors. Like so many tourists before me, I was kidnapped into a traditional Chinese medicine centre near the tombs, so that the operation could try to sell us shit we didn't need.

Or as they put it, 'to permit us the pleasure and excitement of diagnosis of our ails by the most estimable doctors of China.'

The brief backstory is that I was actually viciously hungover and also suffering the after-effects of a kidney infection I'd caught in Russia. My travelling companion, however, was in rude good health.

The experts of the clinic, dressed in white lab coats gave us a talk and then mingled to 'diagnose' us, by drumming lightly on our pulse points with three fingers. These people made a great deal out of having treated Chairman Mao no less back in the Seventies. It seemed churlish to point out he died shortly afterwards.

I was declared hail and hearty by my attendant consultant, albeit in need of something anti-inflammatory for my entirely unpained ankle. Its yin and yang were allegedly out of kilter, requiring a $20 purchase of some random ointment that was swiftly produced from a box and waved in my face.

My colleague, however, was warned severely about heart, kidney and liver troubles, and it was sternly advised that she part with nigh on $100 for seemingly randomly chosen boxes of pills and tinctures.

I refused and so did she, at first politely then with increasing annoyance and frustration. It became evident that our tour group was captured until someone parted with money for some quack cure.

Eventually, an American gave in and on we went. I noticed that he smartly dumped the 'cure' in a bin at the tomb site, later.

As with all placebo cures, there will be some who will claim miraculous results from the kindly attentions of their local well- (or ill-) meaning Chinese quack doctor with his amazing exotic array of Oriental herbs and preparations, so evocative of a medieval apothecary.

But the bottom line for me is that Chinese medicine is not evidence based medicine.

And medicine that is not evidence based,
medicine that seeks to diagnose by drumming on the pulse points only,
medicine that proffers expensive and potentially dangerous cures without first investigating whether patients are already taking medications,
medicine that thinks it is okay to adulterate snake oil cures with knocked-off prescription drugs,

- such medicine is bad medicine indeed.