Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Musical Monday (a day late) - Strange choice this time,

It's been a couple of months since I did a Musical Monday post, mostly because I am admittedly a lazy wench, and partially because I couldn't decide on a song to post up.  However, on Sunday, a pang of reminiscence caught me out of the blue and I went searching for a melody that always haunted me in my childhood.

Haunting is the best way to describe this song.  Song is probably not quite the word to use either.  I am referring to the Azaan, or the Islamic call to prayer.  Like I said, odd choice.  Whilst I hold no particular reverence for the religion behind the call to prayer, nor did I ever enjoy the ritual itself, I did always enjoy the sound of it.  I guess it's the talent of the imam to make it sound just so. 

That's something I wondered about religious music.  As humans, we are attracted to certain melodies, chords, rhythms and sounds, so it wouldn't be any wonder why religion would use music as a way to attract followers as well and bring together the communities.  In this case, the Azaan is calling the community to pray together.  I remember the evening calls in particular, mostly because it would just start to turn dark, so the sky would be a heavy mix of pink and purple with dark and white clouds, the air would be cooling down but still carry that hint of humidity and I would have just finished my homework, dangling my feet over my grandparents' balcony as I ate or drank something sweet.  I suppose, ironically, those moments were when I cared least for the call of religious obedience and just revelled in my childhood freedom. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Rape: Be prepared!

You know, is it really that hard for some people to drum up some empathy for a victim of rape?  They've been through enough already - violated, humiliated and abused, left broken, afraid and vulnerable.  The last thing they need is for more grief to come from somewhere that should be helping them.

This being the case, I suggest avoiding getting raped in Kansas.   Especially if you fall pregnant as a result.  This month, legislators have approved a ban on abortion coverage on general health insurance policies, the only exception being if a pregnancy risks the life of the woman.  No other exceptions - not even a pregnancy as a result of sexual assault.  Sam Brownback, the Governor of Kansas, has been hard at work it would seem police abortions in his state - he already approved restrictions on late-term abortions, health and safety standards for abortion clinics and getting doctors to obtain written parental permission for minors' pregnancies.

Lance Kinzer, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (and Republican) said it best in the article when he said that "this bill includes very crucial pro-life language".  However, I get the feeling he wouldn't have had to spit it out like I just had to, along with another delightful quote "The fundamental issue here is not — although I wish it were — the ability to further limit legal access to abortion, but rather who pays".  I could ALMOST buy that he was truly concerned about the financial welfare of those hard-up businessmen who must have to shell out bags of money for abortions.

Oh yeah, about the whole businessmen thing? Apparently the banning of abortion coverage on company health insurances is also apparently good business sense.
Supporters of the bill argue that it will protect employers who oppose abortion rights from having to pay for policies that cover the procedures.
"I would view this as an important conscience protection for Kansas business owners."
So this bill isn't to protect the women affected by unwanted pregnancy, oh no no no.  This is to take care of the poor business owners who find it offensive that a woman has the choice to not be pregnant.  This is to help all those pro-lifers make it even harder for a woman to have an abortion.  This is to help all those repugnant far-right Republicans shove their version of morality and justice down people's throats, all the while screaming it's God's will, dammit! 

What's even sadder is that other states are looking to Kansas as an example for similar legislations, undoing the work of previous Democrats who fought to protect the rights of women in these states.  Democratic State Rep Annie Kuether sums all this up well - that women are basically treated as second-class citizens. 

In fact, to drive that point further, State Rep Pete DeGraaf has compared planning for pregnancy as a result of rape as being on the same level as planning for a flat tyre on your car. 
Bollier asked him, "And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with a pregnancy?"
DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, "I have spare tire on my car."
"I also have life insurance," he added. "I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for."
Yeah, because every woman should be aware she could be raped at any given time!  Why, it seems almost logical; she's only a second-class citizen after all.  And hey, it's also one of the few places in the world where it's the victim's fault if she does get raped, outside of say Saudi Arabia, Africa and Pakistan.  Oh, but don't tell the Republicans that, they hate being compared to those "savages". 

My friend, Grace Barton, has a proposal for DeGraaf, actually.
"Can I put something to him? Can we ban his health cover for AIDS if he gets raped and catches it?"
 You know what, Grace?  Doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Never too young

Chris Whitehead from Cambridgeshire is a brave young man.  With the warmer weather that usually signals the summer, school kids obviously want the chance to wear cooler uniforms.  However, due to school policy brought into effect two years ago, boys at Impington Village College aren't allowed to wear shorts in the warmer months.  In protest, Chris attended school in a skirt, thanks to a loophole that didn't prevent boys from doing so.  He reasons that it's discriminatory against boys as girls were allowed to switch to skirts come summer time, but boys have to remain in long trousers.
In the summer girl students are allowed to wear skirts but boys are not allowed to wear shorts. We think that this discriminates against boys. I will march in a skirt with other boys waving banners and making a lot of noise.
I will be wearing the skirt at school all day in protest at the uniform policy and addressing the assembly with the student council, wearing a skirt.
I find it really uplifting that this young man was able to find the courage within himself to make a bold statement for what he perceived to be a wrong in school policy.  He has been cited as being interested in politics as a career.  Good luck to him, I say.  If he can hang on to his guts and his strong principles, then I can see him becoming a valuable asset in the world of politics.

Extra thought:  With the loophole in their uniform policy allowing boys to wear skirts, could this not be an opprtunity for possible transgendered boys to feel more comfortable in school?  I know kids can be cruel and bullying rife in any school, but this is an opportunity or and inspiration for others to use in their own fight for equality in school.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Of blasphemy and double standards

Personal story time!

I work in a rather enclosed office in a supermarket with five other women, although at most there is only three of us in at a time.  Coversation varies greatly between us all depending on which mix of women are in there.  Today, I was in work with two of them - one of them being the oldest in the office (for ease sake, let's call her Mary).  I was happily going about my work, filling in some forms when I come across something in one of them that made me exclaim in surprise.  Both women turned around in shock and berated me for swearing.

So what did I say?


It was my turn to turn to them in shock - it's barely swearing, I argued.  Worse had been cried out before by people on the shop floor.  Then Mary looked at me quite poigniantly.  I was being told off because I was blaspheming.  I don't know whether I hurt my situation with them at the time by laughing out loud.  Neither of them had ever come across as hugely religious, though Mary had proven herself to be quite conservative in the past.  It got me thinking though; my Dad had raised me to respect language but to also realise that sometimes words are just that.  Words.  At the time, he was trying to teach me that swearing wasn't all that a big deal if used right (humour, anger etc).  As such, I treat a lot of my own speech like that - I try to think about what I say and how I say it (easier written than spoken, I'll admit) but in the end, I'm not going to spilt hairs over how I use words to whomever, relevant censorship and borders applied, of course (I'm not going to openly swear in front of children, for example).

But what really tickled me was when one of the managers came in for their usual checks - mid-conversation, he declared "JESUS CHRIST!"  I immediately turned to Mary and cheekily responded "He used Jesus' name in vain, how come he can get away with blasphemy?"  She was ready for me, with a less than witty comeback. 

"It's unbecoming for a lady to swear."

Well Jesus Christ riding on a pogo stick from the bloodiest pits of Hell.  I guess I'm no longer a lady then.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

There's definitely something in the water

And it most certainly isn't healthy.

The Zamzam well in Mecca is considered holy to Muslims as being magically sprung when Abraham's son Ishmael kicked the ground when he was particularly parched to tears and Allah created the spring for the little mite to drink (no thanks then to his poor mother who ran from mountain to mountain to find her son a drink in the desert). 

I hope little Ishmael didn't drink too much of that water though because it would seem Allah had the last laugh on him.  Scientists have managed to get a pilgrim to Mecca to bring them a sample of Zamzam water to test.  What they found was high levels of arsenic in the water; three times over the maximum limit considered for safe drinking, not to mention high levels of nitrates and bacteria. 


I had the dubious pleasure of drinking the water a couple of times.  I remember my mother coming home with the little terracotta bottles, presents from relatives who could afford to go to Mecca on Hajj, and pouring me a glass of the stuff.  I can't say it was particularly refreshing, and thinking back, I do remember it tasting...different to the water I was used to grabbing from the tap in the kitchen.  Now I know why.  Nothing like a nice glass of diluted arsenic to get the tastebuds tingling. 

All joking aside, it is worrying that people are clamouring to drink this poison so willingly, just because they think it came from a sacred well.  And that it's being supplied in the UK (how they manage it, I don't know - export of Zamzam water is illegal).  But it's there on the shelves in London, in Islamic books shops, being sold to people who by all accounts are drinking it regularly.
"They depend on it, they don't drink anything else," said the owner of an Islamic bookshop in Upton Park.

Those people are killing themselves, pure and simple.  It's not the first time either that Zamzam water had caught attention.  In 2005, the Food Standards Agency did encounter the fake(?) bottles of water in London and they had high levels of arsenic back then too.  You'd think by now the people drinking it would figure out it wasn't healthy for them.  Heck, the fact that Saudi Arabia have made it illegal to export the water comercially would make them think twice about buying the stuff from the shelves anyway. And with this damning evidence, one would hope that the authorities in Mecca would put a stopper in the well, too.  But, given that the pilgrims don't want to believe their precious holy water might be killing them, it's not going to happen any time soon.

Friday, 6 May 2011

I know what I'll be doing on the 8th of November

Grabbing a blanket, a flask of hot chocolate and maybe a pair of binoculars and let the universe entertain me.

The huge rock, dubbed YU55, will pass within 201,700 miles of our planet in November.
The best times to view it will be between 23:28 on 8 November and 07:13 on 9 November (UK time).
Okay, not the most romantic of names for something that will no doubt be spectacular in the sky, but nonetheless, I have no doubt it will be a sight to behold.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Jim Jeffries is a funny man.

Why haven't I heard of him before? 

Warning, don't watch if you're sensitive, easily offended and general dislike caustic humour.

Found at 1 2 3 Religious Comics

Got yours in?

Today's a voting day in the UK yet again.  However, unlike voting for who you want to stay in the Big Brother house, who to get to the next stage of Britain's Got Talent or who you want to watch on Eurovision (which is next week, for those who like their annual dosage of high octane cheesy pop like yours truly), voting on the AV Referendum isn't as rivetting or as popular. 

I have to admit, I was a little floundered myself by the whole thing when I first heard it.  New voting system?  What's wrong with the old one?  HOW does the new system actually work?  Research was a little touch and go for me because I have to admit, voting does bore me a little bit.  Okay, a lot.  But then my Dad's words popped into my head - If you had the chance to vote and didn't take it, you have no room to complain if you don't like the end result.  So I decided to take a little time out today to read up on the alternate voting system.  At the moment, the current voting system is First Past The Post, which is basically whoever gets the most votes in.  It's not entirely flawed - it's direct, it's simple, it ensures one clear winner.

Or does it?

After all, if you only get one vote, but you vote for an unpopular person, then you'll have to make do with the knowledge your voice wasn't heard and someone you probably really didn't want in power gets in.  There is a sense of "tough luck" about it and having to put up with someone else's decision trumping yours.  It's also flawed in that if there's no single clear victor, then the Government has to go into a coalition like is has at the moment with David Cameron of the Conservatives and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.  People thought this was a good thing initially - even though David Cameron is the Prime Minister, Nick Clegg could still speak up for the Lib Dem voters and get some of his policies through, right?  Not so - Clegg has unfortunately proven he hasn't a backbone when placed next to Cameron.  His policies have been watered down to near enough non-existance, his own supporters have lost faith in him and he's become a bit of a joke as a deputy PM.

On the other hand, the new vote system being proposed is a numbering system that sounds complicated at first, but only if you don't concentrate.  The MP you most want in power is labelled as "1", your second choice as "2" and so on.  And you needn't number all of them, just the ones you support the most in the order of your own preference.  Then those first choice votes get counted up.  If one person gets 50% or more of the first choice votes, they get in.  If there's no such clear winner, then the person who gets got the least is eliminated and using the wonderful tool known as maths, you distribute the remainder 2nd, 3rd etc votes to their respective MPs.  This process continues until one person clearly comes out on top.  In theory, it means the end of coalition governments and extremist groups like the BNP won't even have a look in.  It's also been said though that it was only an excuse for Nick Clegg to ensure a victory for his party next election.  But to the people who say this, I ask this - wouldn't his party only get a victory if he gets a lot more second choice votes as well?  And it's not entirely a bad thing.  If you don't want him to be in with a chance at all, just don't put him down as your second or third choice, or as a choice at all.  You still have a say in that, after all.

Some people have complained this system is unneccessarily complicated, but is it?  I admit I found it a little confusing at first but that was down to the poor explanations I came across.  I probably haven't explained it all that well either myself.  Though I did draw parallels to one system that's in popular use at least once a year in Europe.

(Side note: I have grown rather fond of Graham Norton's commentary - he's a good step from Terry Wogan.)

See, not honestly that hard at all when you think about it.  And if someone is obviously popular, then they will win anyway.  The least popular ones still won't get in.  And you can still sit well in the knowledge that even if your first choice didn't win, your second choice might.  And isn't it better than letting your last choice get in at all?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Dancing on graves

As you will have no doubt heard, one of the most high profile criminals in the world has been killed in Pakistan.  Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda and the man behind the deaths of hundreds of innocents, was shot dead in his compound during a US raid on his home.  When I first heard the news yesterday morning before work, I felt some grim satisfaction about it.  The world can heal a little bit more now that there is one less madman killing in the name of some ill-placed ideal and expert manipulation.  However, as the news broke through the day as I was listening to the radio, I felt a different grim sickness in my stomach.

Yes, Osama bin Laden was a vile, evil man with no compassion for fellow human beings.  Yes, he killed without hesitation.  Yes, he made many many lives miserable.  But is his death really a cause for celebration?  A lot of people, most of them being American, seem to think so.  The raucous cheers of joy from the streets of New York and the noise of jubilation was something akin to a street party.  Is it really right that we celebrate the death of another human being?  People have been saying that justice has been done, but wouldn't a better practice of civilised justice be to bring him to trial in a court of law, to judge him in front of millions and hold him accountable for his crimes?  It was good enough for Saddam Hussein, why isn't it good enough for Osama bin Laden?  A lot of people seem to believe that making him stand in court would be too humane, but wouldn't it be a better example to him?  Why should we stoop to his level and regress to barbarians?  We should be better than that. We are better than that.

I have said this a lot to people in the past 24+ hours, but it still holds true to me - death should never be celebrated.  Death should never be "right".  Sometimes necessary, but never right