Friday, 24 June 2016

Cameron's legacy on marriage

The Prime Minister, resigning because of a narrow defeat on the EU referendum, wishes to be remembered for gay marriage. In other words he wants to be remembered for the most flagrantly un-conservative measure ever foisted on an unsuspecting electorate by a so-called Conservative. As noted in a piece by the Christian Institute, if Mr Cameron had given voters a referendum on gay marriage it would almost certainly not have gone through ( Instead, he disguised his push for the destruction of marriage as it had been understood for millenia as a mere redefinition, a consequence-free expansion of marriage to any gender pairing, and moreover as something that is sweetly and innocently legitimised by 'love' alone. It's ironic or perverse that Mr Cameron should choose to resign over a genuinely democratic vote that didn't happen to go his way, yet request to be lauded for the high-handed imposition of a policy he denied even having before his re-election. Either way, it's doesn't say much for his views on the value of democracy.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Referendum day is also Widows' Day

Today, June 23rd, is Referendum day here in the UK. Every year and everywhere it is also apparently International Widows' Day: This recognition of the plight of widows worldwide was launched in 2005 and recognised by the UN in 2010. We've all heard of International Women's Day, but widows don't get much of a look in, which is probably why I'm assuming hardly anyone has heard of this particular day, as indeed I hadn't until earlier this week. Widowhood is by definition unsexy and nobody really wants to know. Whereas widowers are the most likely men to remarry (according to a study a few years ago), the re-marriage prospects of a widow, especially one with children, are among the lowest. In developing countries the very social status of widows is basically next to nothing. In advanced Western countries we still benefit from the enlightened, Bible-based view that widows and their children (i.e. orphans) are worthy of special care and protection. I for one, widowed in 2000 at the relatively young age of 37, with two very young children, am extremely grateful  for the state assistance I have received. I fear, however, that its continued existence is merely the last gasp of a formal regard for the family. It could all too easily be swept away by continued devaluation of traditional marriage and motherhood and especially by the new sanctification of  non-gender-specific notions of marriage and parenting. Is the surviving partner in a lesbian marriage a widow? Is she a widower? Is the surviving partner in gay marriage a widower, or perhaps a widow? Much easier to eliminate the category altogether than deal with this logistical tangle, in the same way that the words 'husband' and 'wife' are being eliminated from official documents. How the hard-won, Judaeo-Christian attitude to the care of widows and orphans will fare in such a society we will have to wait and see. But the current climate doesn't bode well for Western widows and orphans or for those of developing nations, for whom the repercussions of our ideological upheavals are likely to be even more severe.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Hillary bares arms

Hillary Clinton speaks against the right to bear arms yet does so while baring her own arms at every opportunity. By choosing to wear tops with three-quarter sleeves for speeches, Mrs Clinton seems determined to inflict on everyone the sight of her fleshy white forearms.

Why do this? The shapeless coat-dress tops already make her look like a Teletubby. The podgy flesh recalls the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the gestures that expose her arms to the camera come across as both school-marmish and overly intimate. It's a disturbing combination.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Considered opinion be damned

Social and political discourse has taken even more of a downturn this week, following the massacre in a gay night club in Orlando at the weekend and the fatal attack on a pro-EU MP in Yorshire yesterday. All too soon after each tragedy, blame has been heaped on people whose considered opinions go against what is being promoted by government as the only acceptable mode of thought. In the U.S. that means that anyone who supports the second amendment or does not agree with gay marriage or transgender bathroom and locker room use is somehow complicit in the atrocity in Orlando. In the U.K. it means that anyone who is for Brexit is somehow complicit in the murder of Jo Cox. This is of course outrageously wrong and profoundly insulting. Worse, the unlogic involved, held with such deep conviction, is a similar form of madness to that which animated the actual culprits.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Caster Semenya and the women's 800m

Gender and intersex issues are likely to be in the volatile Rio mix, should the Olympic Games proceed as planned this summer. These issues will make an interesting addition to worries about venue readiness, the threat of violence both social and terroristic, and the Zika virus. One certain gender controversy will revolve around 800m runner Caster Semenya. The word 'intersex' is now often mentioned somewhere near Semenya's name. When she first emerged as a star athlete about six or seven years ago, Western countries and athletics associations were censured for questioning the sex of this barrel-chested woman who looks like a man, and for being so crude as to require her to submit to gender testing. This year, it seems that her defence will be couched in terms of gender identity/fluidity, and woe betide anyone who questions that. South African Semenya is also a woman of the moment in that she has 'married' - and paid the bride-price for - her long-term female sexual partner. Though the gender testing from a years ago revealed an unusually high testosterone level, Semenya has now been exempted from having to take testosterone reducing drugs. The result is that whereas during her time of hormone dampening her performances slowed accordingly, she is now surging ahead in Diamond League meetings as an unbeatable force. She makes the top athletes she is competing against look as weak as kittens. The official line is that only Caster herself is worthy of sympathy. But what about every single one of those other athletes, the ones with normal, female testosterone levels, whose effforts and sacrifices are now all pointless? Semenya's times so far - let's say 1:55 - are admittedly not in the league of David Rudisha's 1:40, but she has achieved them apparently effortlessly, barely breaking a sweat and not breathing hard, while the elite athletes coming in behind her are collapsing with fatigue. She has been coached by former 800m star Maria Mutola (from Mozambique), who faced similar controversy about her masculine looks when she was dominant. No question, Mutola was very 'butch', but in my opinion she was more obviously female than Semenya. And she was not unbeatable. (The same could be said about former javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread, and no doubt lots of others too.) The problem is ultimately not one of looks (variable, unreliable) but of testosterone levels. The problem has no counterpoint, for a male athlete with unusally low testosterone levels would be a non-starter. Or a woman who identified as male. That person would simply would not be an athlete of anywhere near the caliber needed to compete against men at the highest level. None of this is Semenya's fault, as far as we know. If, as Semenya has apparently said, 'God made her that way' and that's all right with her, then good for her as an individual. But does it necessarily follow that she gets to overturn the lives of others athletes en masse? In the interest of not just this year's 800m runners but potentially of female athletes in all disciplines, a testosterone threshold for women athletes should be arrived at, one that doesn't make normal-level athletes look like under-achievers. Arrived at with the athletes themselves, agreed on, and then maintained.