Taking Teddy Bears to Gaza

I take off my sandals, for this is holy ground.

Sitting in her sometimes sunny garden in a small town outside of Glasgow, my mother (with the same span of years as the Queen) looks at the twenty-two pictures I show her from the Twitter account of the Rev. Kate McDonald, ‘an Appalachian Scottish Episcopal priest serving in the Church of Scotland in Israel and Palestine’.

The first photo is of this year’s Pride parade in Tel Aviv. Rainbows and the Star of David. The Sabra are a handsome people but I don’t see any smiles in this picture. This parade is controversial inside and outside Israel. It is opposed by Orthodox Jews, by the Muslim majority states of the Near and Middle East (including the Palestinian West Bank where same sex relations are criminal and Gaza where they are punishable by death) and denounced as ‘pinkwashing’ by Western liberals.

On Saturday I plan to attend a small, new, Pride parade taking place on the Isle of Bute, a promontory a ferry ride over the Clyde Estuary. I usually attend both Edinburgh and Glasgow parades. I take my dog, who loves the attention. I can remember when homosexual ‘acts’ were criminalised here in Scotland. I remember when the age of consent was six, then two, years above that for heterosexual ‘acts’. My heart was moved when I attended a civil partnership in Cardonald and the gallus MC, wearing a pink fringed Stetson, said ‘right let’s have the grooms to lead us in The Slosh’. I cried when the people of my country decided ‘it’s time’ to legislate for equal marriage.

The next two photos are street scenes from Gaza. A man under the bonnet of his car, the typical webs of two-thirds-world electricity cables on the graffitied concrete walls and (looking closer) the holes in the concrete and in the beautiful patterns of ventilation tiles. A thin donkey harnessed to an empty cart waits patiently in the sun while two wee boys are in a shaded doorway, one winding something on a stick. Fairy lights above a closed shop.

Then, two blonde White women, both wearing a voluminous white blouse and a long black skirt, trundle smart suitcases and tote Lululemon bags (from the store in Glasgow?) bearing inspirational messages that are full of plastic-wrapped teddy bears from the congregation of Dunfermline Abbey, on the ‘long walk through no-man’s land between Israel and Gaza’.

Two photos: the rusted sign in English and Arabic over the steel plates and delicate tracery of the gate of the Ahli Arab Hospital; and Suheila Tarazi the Director, gesticulating with a pen as she says: ‘We are part of a mosaic picture – whether Christians, or Muslims, or Jews – and we have to keep this hospital as a witness of Christianity working in Gaza…we are small instruments to do God’s work.’

Then Fr Mario, in his Catholic black clericals and white collar, makes a point sitting on a worn brown sofa with a white phone behind him on the painted cream wall: ‘Our work is to preach about hope & pardon & forgiveness.’ Kate tells us that there are roughly 1,100 Christians in Gaza, 138 are Catholic (out of a pop. of 2 million).

Three photos titled ‘Morning beach walk in Gaza’ and the first just looks like flotsam and jetsam at the tideline until I notice the rods sticking up out of the sand. They might be seaweed. They might be barbed wire fence pickets to deter boats landing. The second has lovely smiles from girls in a peach, plum or black and white mosaic hijab, Kate’s in this selfie and smiles too. She’s not wearing a hijab. An attractive face, strong and honest, and determined, but there’s tension there. How could there not be? Then there are covered stalls on the beach and what I recognise as cabanas. A fishmarket? A marina beyond the harbour wall (is the harbour open at all?) and the city beyond. Grey cloud covers most of the blue sky.

Three photos from Rafah, near the border with Egypt, ‘glimpses of Gaza’. So this must be a neighbourhood or region. Concrete walls, bars on windows, washed underwear, shalwar kameez and a prayer mat hung out to dry in the sun. A white Subaru (is it a taxi?) driven by a bearded man with a smiling woman beside him and someone in the back, a big air conditioner outside a Wataniya mobile shop where three men look at plants on a horse-drawn cart. People wearing white herd sheep past buildings and white cars and carry what may be hay or wool on a cart.

Then thirteen little kids, with all the expressions that kids have everywhere, kneel around a multicoloured fabric circle (was it a balloon?) and play cat’s cradle with a smiling woman in a fawn hijab with white lace trim with coloured plastic bins and shelves full of toys and books. Beside two beach balls, surreal lines of poetry in beautiful handwriting on foolscap paper: ‘All of this gets in front/ All the world’s esophagus/ an[d the] Arabs/ […]’. A mystery, to me.

But Kate’s caption is clear: ‘Today the teddies were delivered to Lubna at the Near East Council of Churches to be distributed at their clinics which provide healthcare and psychosocial support to children throughout Gaza. Thank you @abbey_church @churchscotland!!’.  And a smiling young woman with a white cloth hairband carrying a more serious wee tot wearing a pink bolero top with puffed sleeves with a bow in her Champaign coloured dress and a Kirby grip in her hair. A slighty older woman with black hijab and glasses gesticulating in an office with a poster on a cork board behind her with Arabic and the red kangaroo of Australian Aid. And then the teddies. In a big transparent vacuum sealed clothes storage bag, with a sign from Dunfermline Abbey: ‘A Labour of Love’.

Four photos from Hilarion Monastery. Kate says it’s ‘a site dating back to the 4th century & an important part of Gaza’s rich cultural heritage.’ Red tulip roses (?) with flower and thorn, outside, and inside a beautifully preserved leafy floor mosaic with a baptismal font in the centre. A basket of grapes in the centre of a patio mosaic with a surrounding peacock, a horse, an ibis, a swan, doves, a dog – and is that a hippo? Beyond the patio is the city. How will such treasure, the patrimony of humankind, survive?

Kate says goodbye to Gaza with the interculturally comprehensible Wataniya Arabic ‘W’ inside a heart on the concrete roadsign that reads ‘I love Gaza’.

Twenty-two photos. One for every letter of the alphabet I learned, lazily, at university where I studied alongside candidates for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. Hebrew is a language that some ancestors of mine may have spoken. Although the matrilineal descent was broken, when my German great-grandfather came to London, if the patronymic was passed down faithfully, then one of them may have been Aaron, brother of Moses, liberator of the oppressed.

In my naïve youth, I spend four months washing dishes and picking mangoes on a kibbutz opposite Tiberias, where the Rev Kate is stationed. There was no wall then but there was always war. I learned a little as I sat with Scottish and German girls making anklets and friendship bracelets, eating baklava and drinking endless cups of Arabic coffee from a lovely porcelain demi-tasse all afternoon with a Bedouin called Ali in his shop just off the Via Dolorosa. Leaving, I looked out over Jerusalem and thought that the only conclusions I had come to were that the Holy Land is so beautiful, and the situation so complex.

Thirty years on, I haven’t learned anything more.

But this I know. If ever there was an image of priesthood, it’s this: a woman walking a careful line through no man’s land. Taking teddy bears to Gaza.

Teddy Bear



Sex, Lies and HIV

They seem like two open and shut cases. Two young strong gay men, one Black, one White, one American, one British, one a College wrestler, one a hairdresser, both (apparently) repellent in character and (evidently) attractive enough to persuade multiple other young men to have sex with them, ‘bareback’. In one case, the persuasion not to use condoms may have been aggressive. No, it wasn’t the Black guy. In the same case, condoms may have been sabotaged.

Why were they prosecuted? Because both tested positive for HIV antibodies, at least some of their sex partners also tested positive for HIV antibodies and at least one had recently tested negative. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Or was it?

Although the report on Darryl Rowe by the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales today is fairly concise and factual, the reaction on UK media has ranged from an icky fascination with Rowe’s DIY cure for HIV to the inevitable I told you so’s about ‘gay plague’. On the other side of the Atlantic, there was, of course, the usual homophobic and racist reaction to a sexually active gay man with the compounding sin of being Black ramped up by plague panic but this was accompanied by a grave concern – absent in the UK media – about the ethics of HIV criminalization laws.

Michael Johnson was initially jailed (2015) for 30 years for the twin crimes of “recklessly infecting and recklessly exposing a sexual partner to HIV” but after appeal (September 2017) the sentence was reduced to ten years. Darryl Rowe has been charged with the twin crimes of causing grievous bodily harm and intent to commit grievous bodily harm. I’m no expert on Common Law (we have Civil Law in Scotland and I’m no expert on that either) but I doubt that Rowe will face 30 years, or even ten, for GBH. Ironically, whereas Rowe was accused of post-coital taunting of his passive sex partners (and cutting the ends off condoms) Johnson was only ever found guilty of reckless behaviour.

Is that it?

Not according to the author of Are You Positive? an informative novella written in 2008, updated in 2010, by Steven Davis, centred on a fictionalised version of one of the many trials in the USA of men accused of recklessly infecting another man or woman with HIV. Davis centres his story on the evidence of expert witnesses who testify that, among other quirks in the official version, the notion that antibodies equal active virus was unheard of before HIV.

There are many, many quirks in the officially accepted story that HIV causes AIDS. Among them is the fact that the original statement, made to the press by Margaret Heckler, then US Secretary of Health and Human Services, in April 1984, was: “HIV is the probable cause of AIDS” (italics mine). When Dr Kary B. Mullis, co-winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, now used to identify HIV proteins, sought a scientific reference for this statement, his search was in vain. Peter H. Duesberg, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berekely, points out that Karposi’s sarcoma, the once iconic disease of AIDS (watch Philadelphia) was so clearly linked to gay men’s use of poppers to facilitate passive anal sex that even the gung-ho virus hunters of the US Centres for Disease Control investigated it in 1981 and in 1991 (briefly) considered taking KS off the growing list of diseases associated with AIDS.

All of which is beside the point.

Jessica Matthews reports (originally on http://www.cnbc.com):

In six U.S. states, individuals living with HIV who are found guilty of knowingly exposing a partner are required to be registered as a sex offender. They can face felony charges, or felony-level punishments, in 32 states.

She goes on to give the establishment medical view of progress in antiretroviral therapy:

But as breakthrough HIV drug treatments and medical studies show there is essentially no risk of sexually exposing someone to HIV while taking antiretroviral drug therapy (ART), states are being forced to play catch-up to the science, and stigma, of the AIDS virus.

ART – or even HAART for those coinfected with Hepatitis C – is certainly better than AZT, the first HIV treatment which is now recognised as responsible for countless deaths (and now routinely prescribed to babies who have HIV antibodies). What Matthews omits to mention is that there is a great deal of risk – especially of sudden liver failure – to anyone on even the newest anti-HIV drugs.

My point is that judicial deliberation is based on the evaluation of evidence, not on maintaining a cosy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, not on performing a convenient public relations exercise intended to calm the general population as the government is seen to be doing something, and not, especially, on no-platforming unfashionable expert witnesses simply because they refuse to do all of the above.

Darryl Rowe is nobody’s hero and Michael Johnson does seem, at least, selfish. But the former should not be prosecuted for refusing drugs officially acknowledged to be harmful, the latter should not be prosecuted by a Bible Belt mentality that still sees all Black young men as rapists, and neither should be prosecuted for crimes of bodily harm when the only universally acknowledged bodily harm associated with HIV is that caused by antiretroviral ‘therapy’.


Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his photo “Crossed Fingers” into the public domain.


I first encountered the activist sense of the word woke on Twitter – used by a young gay man whose partnership with an ally has quite simply revolutionised LGBT-inclusive education in Scotland (and provided the followers of the campaign with a rather touching bromance). I don’t feel qualified to judge whether he’s woke or not, but he’s certainly not asleep! My next encounter with this usage was on watching the Netflix series Dear White People – which if not its origin has certainly popularised the usage. The series follows on from the 2014 film of the same name and it was, I must admit, at first a disappointment. The film was so punchy and I didn’t mind the very obvious lectures in Black American history scripted as conversation because I was learning things I didn’t know in an enjoyable way – and that’s good education in my book. The series continued with this style but it seemed at first to rather run out of steam plotwise and instead to spend a lot of screentime on the beautiful body of the patrician Black character Troy – with accompanying gasps of pleasure from his female entourage.

Then everything changed. In a horrible scene, when all the previous action (two men pushing each other around, in the middle of a lively mixed-race party, in an argument over who can use ‘the N-word’) stops; all that can be heard is the terrified breath of a Black man as he slowly reaches for his student ID, pleading with the two White Campus Police to keep their fingers off the trigger of their guns pointed at him. I’ve described this character simply as ‘a Black man’ because that is all that these trigger-happy cops see. In a push-about between US and THEM, the White cops totally ignore the combatant whose skin colour they share, other and ostracise and are prepared to execute this beautiful young man whose intelligence is already established on campus, whose activism is unselfishly motivated by knightly service to his lady love (currently attached to a White guy) and whose only crime was to insist that an insult re-appropriated by his community should not be repeated by those outside it.

This series, this film, and these kinds of killings only happen in the US of course. And everyone knows that Americans are crazy. So here in Britain, and especially in Scotland, we don’t need to think about it. Because it doesn’t happen here.

I wish that were true, rather than being something that I tell myself because the truth is so inconvenient. As inconvenient as the thought that Cressida Dick was promoted to head the Metropolitan Police after (denying) ordering the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, and that the unnamed officer who shot this unarmed man five times in the head (only following orders) in a tube train in front of terrified passengers – did so not because he had run in terror, nor because he was wearing a bulky jacket, or texting, or changing buses in a rush to get to work, or even because he was a person of colour but because the head of the Metropolitan Police and the unnamed officer and many of the White cops in the UK and UK Borders officers are violently, murderously, racist.

But in Scotland we know that these kinds of killings only happen in London where everyone is crazy. Or Birmingham perhaps. Or Leeds. Not in Glasgow. I know that we’re not racist in Glasgow. Especially not in Glasgow’s West End where I work with international students and used to live. And not even in Royston, East End, fondly known by my father’s generation (growing up there) as ‘the Garngad’. Home of the displaced Irish, they famously raided the local dump and rained down blocks and bedsteads on the Orange Walk when they dared to change their route – and didn’t do again. I laughed at that story. I didn’t think what it would be like to be at the receiving end.

I didn’t think because it’s inconvenient. Scotland needs self-confidence, self-determination. We don’t need contrary voices. Like that of my Iranian friend who lives in Royston and tells me that it’s ‘the Irish’ who are the worst racists. Because I can hide my ethnicity in several envelopes. When it suits me, I’m European, then British (rarely does that suit me!) then Scottish, then Irish. My surname isn’t Scots and neither is most of my ancestry a generation or so back. Scots Catholics feel about Ireland the way Tolkien’s elves feel about the lands beyond the Sundering Seas. We treasure the Emerald Isle. Just don’t ask us to live there.

So when my Nigerian boyfriend told me he’d narrowly escaped being beaten up by 15 White youths, in Royston, I was annoyed. He’s 6 foot 1, plays mid-field defence in football (soccer), as well as being an intelligent College student devoted to helping asylum-seekers, he’s currently the most handsome and the fittest man on the face of the Earth (I’ve checked). What business has he to go around Glasgow almost getting himself beaten up?

And when he told me that his friend, on another occasion, had not escaped. That he’d dragged himself, bleeding, into his highrise flat. And lain there for three days. Because he was an asylum-seeker. And didn’t have free access to medical care. In the UK. Where everyone, supposedly, has free access to medical care. I started arguing.

And then I looked it up. It’s true. People seeking asylum in the UK are being refused free access to medical care. Even though this is illegal.

He died.

Somehow his friends got to him and somehow got him into A & E.

Where he died.

Racist people who look like me and my racist country governed by people who look like me contrived to kill a man who looked like my boyfriend.

He died.

People die. Black people die. All the time. We, dear White people, are killing them.

My friend Kelvin, who runs a church where everyone is welcome, preached a sermon on Sunday (6th August 2017) about the Transfiguration. You can watch the video clip under Latest Sermons. Kelvin mentioned many things: Moses as liberator of slaves; Elijah as prophet of the oppressed; anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; our image of God; Jesus not as enthroned King but revealed in love. And I recalled the reading, from Matthew 17: 1-9. The disciples are afraid at what they see…“but Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise and do not be afraid.’ And when they opened their eyes, they saw no-one but Jesus.”

I once asked a Black Caribbean friend what White people could do to help Black people best. Her answer was simple: “Love us”. At the time, I thought it a rather impractical answer. I don’t now.

When we are touched by love, when we are woke from our fear and open our eyes to behold our fellow human beings in truth. What shining glory is before us, transfigured?

Reggie DWP

‘Reggie’, Dear White People

Guerrilla Litter-Picking

Like many men my age I’m liable to sound off a bit. On occasion. For good reason. And there are many good reasons to be angry about many real issues. However, anger can become a default emotion for many men my age. It’s the other side of depression and (perhaps) it’s better out than in. Inward anger is linked by the more holistically minded to many bodily symptoms of ill health – and even the most Cartesian of medical minds admit that stress induces high levels of cortisol with a knock-on effect that’s not only bad for the waistline but is linked to Type 2 diabetes etc.
Grumpy is a stereotypical attribute of older men but vary the adjective a little and other stereotypical irascibilities come into focus: peevish, waspish, nippy, surly, petulant, bitchy, thin-skinned, aggressive, high-maintenance, demanding, hard to please, not amused. There are many manifestations of habitual anger and a bit of wordplay will ensure that’s there’s one demographically suited especially for you.
Nowadays many of us feel that we are justified in having anger as a default reaction to the wrongs of the world. We would all be quite happy if not for the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, if not for climate change denial, if not for cruelty to animals, if not for racism and homophobia and misogyny, if not for the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, if not for Teresa May and Donald Trump. If only these things would change, we would get back to being out usual bubbly happy-go-lucky selves. If only.
And just Zenning out or doing yet another spa weekend/ Tough Mudder/ Marvel Comics Movies binge/ (insert favourite displacement activity) can feel a bit of a cop-out. What do we do? What can we do? In the face of all that’s wrong, isn’t that the basis of our communal, continual, ever-present, exhausting, anger?
And for those of us whom the powers-that-be (higher, lower or just purgatorial) have tasked with the burden and duty and privilege of caring for a specific vulnerable person (or several at once) then all these political concerns become so personal that at times it’s simply unbearable.
And that’s when I take my trusty Ben for a walk. Along the banks of the beautiful Forth and Clyde canal. Which winds beside the remains of the Antonine Wall, one of Scotland’s most unknown, unprotected, and uncherished cultural legacies. And on that walk through this place of Victorian and Roman imperial heritage there are empty bottles of Buckfast (cheap fortified wine made by English monks) and cans of beer and their plastic rings and the supermarket plastic bags they came from, tossed about. If they haven’t already been smashed/ thrown into the canal or set on fire along with the grass.
And it usually makes me angry. But tonight, I found myself thankful that the local youth had had the grace (this time) not to chuck the bottles at the stank just below the swings. An empty bottle is better than a broken one. And on my way back, Ben still sniffing and gambolling about – because his default emotion is either highly energetic or very lazy joy – I picked up the plastic bags, snapped apart the plastic beer rings and put them and the cans and the bottle in the bags, took them home and recycled them.
It’s not much. It’s just guerrilla litter-picking. I don’t do it all the time. But when I do engage in this little sporadic and disorganised warfare against hopelessness, I can feel my cortisol levels drop and my grumpy face relax. A little.
There are so many of us. We have such energy. Just think what we could do. Just think what we do do. Now and Zen.


Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her photo Old Bridge on Canal into the public domain.

Triage and Tyranny

1855. You are sitting outside a large medical tent in the freezing winter on the shores of the Black Sea. Future generations will know this is the Crimean War. To you, a young woman from a sheltered background with scant medical training, it is Hell.
Here they come.
The tent behind you is partitioned in three. To the right, the wounded soldiers likely to survive without medical intervention; in the centre, those likely to die without medical intervention; to the left, those likely to die; outside, those already dead. There are three exits from the tent. The word ‘likely’ does not mean very much, but it’s the best that can be done in the circumstances.
As the first one approaches, stretcher supported by brothers in arms, you know that your split-second decision for right or left or centre (or outside) is likely to save some lives and to end others. If you do nothing, many more will die. If you try to save them all, many more will die.
You steel yourself, thrust down your feelings, and begin the first, rapid, assessment.
This scene is an imaginary illustration of very real events that have been taking place just behind the front line in many wars for many years. A complicating factor, and there are many, is that there are only so many doctors and there’s only so much time. So only those most likely to survive will receive treatment. Any time wasted on those to the right or left means more of those in the centre will die – as some will anyway. This necessary categorisation, in these circumstances, is not only life-saving; it is almost certainly a sentence of death. Someone has to do it.
As morality deals with good and evil; ethics deals with right and wrong. Their relationship is complex. The kind of ethical decision-making employed by the young woman in the illustration is today called ‘utilitarian’ – meaning that such decisions are based on their utility, i.e. the good that may come out of them. Several modern philosophers are associated with utilitariansim but the foremost champion of a single ethical imperative outweighing all others is the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Kantian ethics, deriving ultimately from Plato’s Socrates (via a misreading of Aristotle) had great influence in Nazi Germany and, as I show in my thesis, continues to have great influence in the United States of America.
What a horrible thing to say! How can I compare a courageous young woman doing her best to save lives against all odds in hellish circumstances, with Hitler and then with the Land of the Free?
Firstly, as the classicist Prof. Martha Nussbaum shows, Kantian ethics are an attempt to avoid the tragic conflict of opposing ethical imperatives. In other words, the young women sitting outside the tent in the Crimean War avails herself of the clarity of these ethics so that no matter the particularities of each wounded soldier (the one whose blue eyes remind her of her brother, the one who pleads for life because of his pregnant wife, the one who has high rank in the Army) she is able to make a decision based solely on the greater good: saving as many lives as possible.
I cannot fault the exercise of Kantian ethics in those circumstances. Grave problems arise, however, when frontline decision-making becomes the basis of ethical conduct in times of peace.
Kantian ethics rely on the total removal of all other ethical considerations opposing the main imperative. A key part of this process (as modern philosopher Dr Mary Midgley shows) is the reduction of particular people and particular circumstances into universal categories. (Also reduction happens, as I show in this book, by use of language.) So, for example, sandy-haired Private Benjamin Jones, 33, a nonconformist lay preacher and amateur boxer, married and faithful to pretty brunette Nelly Jones neé MacDonald, although in love with his lieutenant, who has three kids (the youngest coincidentally resembling the postman), doting parents, a dog and likes fishing, becomes ‘suppurating wound in the thigh’ and is sent to the left (to die).
The reason why frontline ethics are a problem in peacetime is that the only thing that recommends them is their simplicity. I’m not for a moment saying that triage is simple but Kantian ethics are designed to respond only to the greatest ethical imperative and ignore all the others. As Prof. Nussbaum shows, this is the reverse of Aristotle’s teaching that it is the particulars of each person and circumstance that most surely guide us towards a wise ethical response. Not simple, wise.
This kind of sensitivity to particular ethical situations is recommended by moral philosophers such as Rev. Charles Curran, the American theologian who was in frequent conflict with Pope John Paul II. What concerns me is that it is a sensitivity increasingly under threat as more and more organisations worldwide are affected by American corporate values.
Charitable organisations are especially vulnerable as they often flounder in terms of effectiveness, communication and organisation so a hard-headed person unafraid to make tough decisions may seem like a godsend. The catch is that such decision-making may indeed be tough, for anyone with much humanity, but for those hardly burdened by conscience it is quite simple: set goals, clear obstacles, forward march!
Further complications arise because charitable organisations are full of people who feel it is uncharitable not to think the best of others. So if a candidate for a powerful position shows psychopathic tendencies, these may be interpreted as ‘focussed’ or ‘business-minded’. Freud’s rather innocent example of such tendencies (a girl who likes a boy she met at a funeral hoping for another funeral to maybe meet him again) shows that they are not just shared by the criminally insane. In fact, a recent survey of top companies found that a fifth of CEOs shared these tendencies.
It’s a commonplace in the more smug varieties of chicklit and womens’ magazines to poke fun at males (never men) making up the majority of those on the autistic spectrum; on the other end of the same spectrum psychologists are concerned that women (never females) who make up the majority of those on the psychotic spectrum are not receiving support as the condition is so badly publicised.
Adding all this together with the everyday sexism that still abounds and the trend in the third sector is for organisations to be run by someone high on the psychopathic scale, with immediate subordinates (or support from Head Office) of men who find it easier to stick rigidly to rules than interact with changing human situations (as emotional particularities are so overwhelmingly complex to interpret) and with women in the majority of grassroots workers and many of them self-sacrificing and painfully sensitive to the opinions of others.
On top of all this may be the hothouse effect that occurs when communities are cloistered canonically, isolated geographically or otherwise shrouded in secrecy due to the vulnerability/ naivety of their client group or the difficulty in getting staff. An insistence on ‘professionalism’ may mean that dissenting/ abused employees and volunteers are prevented from expressing anything other than the party line – as the psychopathic boss controls formal communication and informal communication is condemned as ‘gossip’ unworthy of good people, scandalous to the public/ clients and contrary to the exemplary values of the school/ church/ home/ charity/ community. The hallmark of the psychopath is the inability to recognise or feel any remorse for the harm they have done to people, so they move effortlessly from sadistic treatment of an individual to community schmaltz with a beaming face of innocence.
There is much wisdom in the co-dependency awareness movement but what it may fail to grasp is that everyone involved may sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing:
– Laying down the law
– Sticking to procedures
– Self-sacrificing and keeping silent
As we watch in awe the debacle of American democracy, it may help to realise that the unprecedented administration is a symptom, not a cause, of frontline ethics applied in peacetime.
The reduction of complex situations to simple categories of right and wrong, the dehumanising of people, the control of the people by force and censorship of the free speech, these are the hallmarks of military crisis and in such times the Ancient Romans accorded special dictatorial powers to a designated senator (usually a consul). The Ancient Greeks called this person a Tyrant.


Thanks to Linnaea Mallette who has released her photo ‘Funny Hospital Sign’ into the public domain.

Fascism & Families

At least this time of the year, TV nuclear families are a little more extended. There could be up to 12 people round the table noshing into some unfortunate fowl. That’s three times the usual number because, as we know, the usual number of family members is four. Three of these have blonde hair, one has black hair, all four are White and nominally Christian and preferably Protestant (even if evidently Jewish). We know this because this is how things have always been. Always and in every place. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel; Abraham (and everybody else); Jesus, Mary and Joseph; all royal families and our own family. The one we all grew up in. It’s reassuring.

There are, it has to be admitted, certain types who have other ‘arrangements’. These people are usually foreigners, not nice, heretics, and noisy. Trains don’t run on time where they come from. In our TV town, neighbours greet each other and everyone leaves the door open. Even though they immediately plonk keys into a wee bowl on the wee table right next to the unlocked door. Well, we can’t expect TV to mirror reality exactly.

So where does this black haired White man with his Nordic spouse and offspring hail from? The answer’s in the question. The clues are an adjective and a verb. The verb relates to a greeting that was originally pronounced ave and in more modern times salve and heil. The adjective describes the location of this fascist fantasy.

Mediterranean fascists (normalised as black haired White men) fantasised about ‘raising the colour’ – that dreadful expression familiar to anyone with experience of colonial racism. Have you ever wondered why so many White women, as distinct from White men, feel the urge to dye their hair blonde? The black haired White husband with the blonde White wife and two Nordic children has become so normalised on TV portrayals of generic families that it’s now unremarkable.

Umberto Eco, in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, an archaeology of fascist family memory, shows just how explicit was the erasure of multicultural Mediterranean identity in children’s and adult literature sanctioned by church and state in Italy and Spain during the reigns of Mussolini and Franco.

This erasure continues today. Extended families are like unexpected gifts of puppy dogs. Just for Christmas. They have no place in today’s TV nuclear family. Fascist dictators may have initially encouraged large families, with the connivance of the Catholic Church, but family size can always be altered at the convenience of the state. ‘Two will do’ is a eugenic command that TV has obeyed.

So when you see a Mediterranean patriarch with his peachy Uberwife and a pair of apple cheeked children, think about all the households you know, with all their other arrangements. Think about how this TV fascist family makes them feel.

It’s not all tutti frutti, is it?


Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing ‘public domain vintage painting of a family outing’ into the public domain.

culture wars

Election fever hasn’t really hit Scotland yet. After the Referendum, when democracy was on the table, I just don’t know anyone who’s excited about it. Not that there isn’t a political process going on, among the grassroots, but no-one seems to be in love with the parties. A brief survey from a voter who, like so many, doesn’t attend rallies and doesn’t even listen to political spin, but does have a vote:

No-one loves a Tory. Nuff said. The peg-on-the-nose school of New Labour tactical voting have forgotten that we’ve heard it all before. Do I really need to even mention the LibDems? The SNP were riding high but their support of the Named Person policy is alienating their heartland from conservative families to radicals concerned for civil liberty. The Greens would do better if they came across as Scottish, in touch (at all) with the working class (Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, you were morning star of hope, why did you fall so far?) and actually embraced the diversity they’re always banging on about. Disdain of cherished values is never attractive to voters (PH isn’t even trying to win hearts and minds for the Assisted Suicide Bill among the faith community) and they were latecomers to the campaign Independence. No, we really don’t like being compared to an English county, thank-you, even a big one. Everyone else is either a nutter or a fascist.

So what’s my vote? Probably SNP (we don’t know that the Greens can actually govern and their flakey arrogance doesn’t help) but with a peg-on-my-nose. Meanwhile, here’s my contribution to some resolution on the ‘culture wars’, which govern American elections and are a major (and largely unheeded) factor over here:


  • Abortion is the most divisive issue in the ‘culture wars’ and one way or another it affects us all yet no-one is listening in this debate that is not worthy of the name
  • Good women on both sides are being pushed into the front line in this conflict by obsessive men aware only of their extreme ideology
  • In the name of feminism and in the name of religion, women’s human expressions of ambiguity are being censored by both sides
  • Under the old patriarchal tactic of ‘divine and conquer’, man-made ideological divisions are preventing the solidarity of women on common ground:
    1. resistance to (gender-based) forced abortion
    2. resistance to (class/ ethnicity-based) forced sterilisation
  • Men are utilising both pro-life and pro-choice stances to leave pregnant women in difficult circumstances to do all the ethical heavy lifting and to cope with the physical and emotional aftermath of birth or abortion alone
  • Rather than focusing solely on changing the law, Life Choice encourages women to find common ground in the material and emotional support of women who want to give birth but are under economic and social pressure to change this choice
  • Rather than braying their disdain of any women who does not agree with their absolutist ideology, Life Choice challenges men on both sides to shut up, to stop confusing the issue with non-related topics, and to support women by dismantling misogyny
  • This little book is inspired by the Sabine women who dramatically presented an alternative to conflict, by affirming the relationships we already have with one another, no matter what side we are on
  • Life Choice imagines mixed groups of pro-choice and pro-life women collaborating for better choices and campaigning for workplace crèche facilities, for equal pay and opportunity, supporting breastfeeding in public, for a ‘revolving cradle’ policy in maternity hospitals so that mothers in fear of their lives do not have to give birth on park benches but may do so in anonymity   

When we, as a society, as a species, ask women to give birth to our young, we are asking for an act of heroism. Some women, in some circumstances, refuse that act. Some wish they had and some wish they had not. Instead of vilifying or coercing women in regard to their choices, would it not, squeaky clean ideology aside, make more sense to provide women with better choices?


‘War Hero Memorial’ by Tammy Sue released to Public Domain