Friday, 6 February 2009

A week of no opinions ahead...

Well, no, not really.
But I will be away for a week.
Think of it as a field trip, during which I will not be posting but will be collecting material for future rants.

I hope you miss me ;-)

A rant for a rant: on Hitchens and gay adoption

Today’s rant is courtesy of Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday. And before you ask, no of course I don’t read it. The article – or rather an article denouncing the article – was forwarded to me by a friend. And then I did my research. And now I’m going to rant. Because Hitchens said what he said and because he’s not alone in believing it.

Hitchens claims that ‘the Thought Police’ forces him to ‘wave [his] little rainbow flag as the "Gay Pride" parade passes by.' It seems that he inhabits a different universe to me. Of course what do I know? I am heterosexual and may have missed the revolution of tolerance and open-mindedness that has swept Hitchens with it. Only you and I both know I have not missed the revolution because there hasn’t been one. There has been change in attitudes, but not enough of it and I have friends whose sexual preferences (a private matter if there ever was one) still cause problems at work and on the street. Insurance premiums remain higher for gay men even if they are in stable, long-term relationships and gay men and women still don’t have the universal right to protect their relationships via marriage – which, apart from a cake and confetti, actually means that everything they build together belongs to them equally and they can make medical decisions for each other, as partners should be able to.
Go wave your little flag at that Mr Hitchens.

But back to the point.
Hitchens’ gripe is that two Edinburgh children were taken away from a heroine-addict mother and put in the care of a childless couple in a stable long-term relationship and not in the care of grandparents that were deemed by social services to be too old and too ill. I don’t know if the assessment is fair. And neither does Mr Hitchens. But he goes out on a limb on this one and says the kids would be better off with their grandparents. Why? You guessed it. Because the couple that took them in is gay.

What’s his problem with homosexuality, you ask?
Well. First of all, homosexuals ‘tyranise’ him. Yes you do. ‘We show tolerance to “gays” and get tyranny in return’ he claims, because the entire gay community (in quotation marks, always, because he doesn’t like the cheeriness of the word ‘gay’ – his words, not mine) wants all of us to know what they do in their bedrooms. As I said, he inhabits a different universe to me.

But there is more. Hitchens continues:
‘We are forced to say that we think homosexuality is a good thing, that homosexual couples are equal in all ways to heterosexual married couples. Most emphatically, we are compelled to agree that homosexual couples are just as good at bringing up children as the children's own grandparents. Better, in fact.’
No, Mr Hitchens.
First of all, you are not forced to say any of those things and you are not actually saying them. Secondly, the question of ‘good’, ‘bad’ and fair is one that interests you and you alone. The rest of us just want to get on with life. And homosexuality is a fact of life. Has been for a few thousand years and does not need to be assessed as good or bad to be real. By you, least of all.

But yes we would like you to accept that heterosexual and homosexual couples are equal in all ways before the law. And as common law marriage is a bit of a sham, we would like people who spend their lives together to be able to get protection before the law and be married if they wish to be.
As for bringing up children, well, I wouldn’t say gay couples are better. I would say they are just as good. Because parenthood is about personal commitment, not sexual preference. A stable home is about love, care, attention, safety. What your parents do in their bedroom does not affect how they love you, as their child. With more and more cases of child abandonment, abuse, neglect and violence every day, I’d say we need to grab hold of love and stability where we find it and entrust children to people who can care for them, whatever their colour, creed, football team or sexual preference.

And, yes Mr Hitchens, I know several gay parents.
Do you?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Obama’s first stumble or my chance to say ‘I told you so’

Did I or did I not say that those cheering for Obama will be the first to criticise his inability to magically fix the world and ensure we all live happily ever after, like in the fairy tales, with royalty in our beds and white stallions in our stables?
I said it, of course I did. I told you so and I was right. And much as I love being right (and saying ‘I told you so’) this one is annoying me.

And it’s annoying me because Obama screwed up as much as because people somehow expect Washington and the entire political establishment to be new, fresh and clean ‘now that Obama is around’.

So today we wake up to banner-sized headlines – ‘Obama admits: I screwed up’. Why? Well, because he said it, obviously.
And why did he say it? Because being able to hold his hand up and say ‘mea culpa’ is part of the persona he’s projecting, part of the reason we liked him in the first place.
But did he screw up? Yes, of course he did. And I’ve got news: he will again. And again. And again. Because he’s human, because politics is a dirty game, because Washington is a tricky bio-system with its own rules of engagement. And because (oh blessed subjectivity) some of us will forever disagree with what he chooses to do.

But back to today. The man promised to clean up politics in Washington. That is a hard promise to keep for anyone without the magic wand I’ve been going on about. So what does his promise entail?
Effort. Relentless effort.
Well, he’s already not trying hard enough.
Tom Daschle, a former Democratic leader in the Senate and Obama mentor, had to withdraw as cabinet nominee because he had not paid his taxes.
I know places where no-one would blink at this, but America is not one of them and that is as it should be.

Obviously, this is embarrassing. Particularly because this is the third Obama appointee with tax problems. And that’s not counting one confirmation that went through despite the tax problems… One person is an accident. Four is a trend.
But does this trend say more about Obama’s insincerity or the pool of people he can pick from?
I’m not suggesting all politicians and politicos are tax evaders. But I am saying that angels don’t do politics. They leave it to humans. And humans err. A lot.

But to make matters worse, tax is not the only problem with Daschle, who has been making his living since leaving the senate in 2004 through informal lobbying and advisory work. Doing, in other words, exactly the sort of thing that Obama castigates as damaging to the political process.
As I was saying, embarrassing.

But I would not say Obama is insincere – at least not yet.
I’d say the first reality check has hit him and when it did, to use his own words, he screwed up.
Obama campaigned on the loftiest messages, he promised big, as people do during campaigns. But he’s not campaigning any more and the collision with the real world was inevitable and, considering, quite mild.

Obama must realise the real work begins now and his message needs to be tailored not to what he’d like to do, but to what he can do.
A steep descent but a necessary one.
Meanwhile, the rest of us need to come to terms with the fact that he hasn’t got a magic wand, he can’t just do away with the bad stuff and he can’t operate in a vacuum – past policy and the Washington political nexus will constrain him every step of the way. That’s how it will be and don’t say I didn’t tell you so because I’ve been saying it since before his inauguration. You just haven’t been paying attention.

So he screwed up. Big time.
He screwed up by over-promising. And by trying to brush this one under the carpet (saying that tax lapses are mistakes that should not stand in the way of confirmation) before deciding to come up and say I screwed up and let's move on. And by picking the wrong people to work with. Assuming that the right people exist in the first place.

No matter what he does, Obama will be better than Bush. But the gulf between ‘better than bad’ and ‘miraculous’ is huge and don’t tell me I didn’t tell you so.
Some of the questions facing Obama now have no good answers. Only different degrees of bad.
Some of the decisions he will make in the future, will be driven by political expediency and not lofty ideals.
Because he’s a new guy in the same old world with all the baggage of the other guy still on his back. And because angels don’t do politics, they leave that to humans.
And humans err. As Obama did and as Obama will.
And when he does, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Neo-ellines or ‘why I don’t want you blaming me for your character defects’

Enough is enough already.

I was browsing my favourite blogs this morning.
What do you want from me? I’m snowed in and work is slow.

So, while browsing, I stumbled upon a very interesting debate about whether the chaos that is modern Greece is cool or despicable; whether the general ‘it’s all about me’-ness you see in your everyday dealings is a trait of the rebelliousness and innate freedom of the Greek soul or a sign that ‘modern Greeks’ (Neoellines – the newbie Greeks) are a decaying civilisation.
This debate is neither new nor is it rare. Thinking about Greece, Greeks and all related problems as collective issues is not new. Neither is it helpful

So I say: enough already.
A group of rude, inconsiderate, narrow-minded gits who happen to be Greek are not the sum total of Greekness, no matter how many of them there are. And that’s not because ‘Greekness’ is something else. It's because Greekness simply doesn’t exist at this level.
How about we leave the motherland out of it and accept responsibility for our own defective citizenship, our own inability to function in a polite and considerate manner around strangers and our unwillingness to accept difference – of creed, politics, personal preference, colour, shape or football team?

Obviously enough, I do not consider myself as belonging to the group I castigate. You got me. And I know others like me. And I know many more who are not like me and are not like the ‘neoellines’ we all love to hate either.
We are all Greek, for our sins, and we are all ‘new’ enough, as in still alive and kicking. And complaining. About being parcelled up and labelled, burdened with behaviours we don’t condone or accept. Only that's not what most of us complain about. Rather the complaint is about the state of the neoellines, the state of us all. Well.
We are not all the bloody same. We are not even similar.

Obviously society exists. Obviously socialisation and the experience of living within a given society creates certain shared traits, common ground, recognisable behavioural patterns that are not necessarily meaningful anywhere else.
Yes, shared nationality gives you a nexus of meaning, a shared language in literal and symbolic terms. Yes you have narratives, stories, symbols and heroes in common – not to mention a language, religion and shared collective experiences courtesy of the school system, press and the thing called society.
But sameness? Shared personality traits? That, my friends, would not be nation, it would be a sci-fi thought experiment. Yet day in, day out we talk like we believe ourselves to be living in it.

If the ‘neoellines’ are overwhelmingly behaving one way, it does not follow on that they behave that way because they are ‘neoellines’.
Maybe they act like they do because it’s easy. Maybe they do it because they can get away with it.
And we make it easy because, those of us who disagree, let them get away with it.
And we let them get away with it by missing the errant person and deploring the state of the ‘neoellines’ as a whole. As if 'a whole' existed that was coherent down to the way we all drive, treat immigrants, scoff cynically at politics, dodge the taxman, park on the disabled ramp.
They get away with it because they make it about ‘all of us’ and we let them.

Well we are not all like that. And we are not all ‘the other way’ either.
And the sooner we say ‘enough is enough’ out loud and break the cycle of endless debates about the state of the neoellines, the better.

A bunch of inconsiderate bullies have been hiding behind a national banner long enough. And those who disagree with them shake their heads at the state of the neoellines as if they themselves do not fully belong.

Well, here’s some news for the new Greeks: no 'national character' in the history of humanity has determined behaviour to such depths and in such detail. Handy as it is to blame all ills on our shared Greekness, the joke is getting old and tired.

If every bad character trait, if every dark personality twist can be blamed on the burden and blessing of the national character, nobody will ever have to clean up their act. And that’s handy for some but awful for others and counter-productive for the group as a whole.

Who are the neoellines anyway?
Just over ten million people. as varied and different as the number suggests.
And if a bunch of them want to persuade themselves (and us) that their own indifference sum us all up, why the hell do we let them?

Enough is enough already.
We are not all the same damn it. And that’s a good thing.
And if you want to be rude, inconsiderate and narrow-minded, leave the rest of us out of it.