Sticks and stones

April 5th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

I’ve been following with interest the ongoing debate about what the headline writers are now calling “the R word,” as in retard. The issue was given new impetus when White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who is famous for his foul mouth, referred to liberal activists as “fucking retarded.” He brought down on himself the wrath of disability advocates and a sharp rebuke from Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, not to mention a Facebook tirade from Sarah Palin, who never saw a bandwagon she didn’t want to jump on.

As a card-carrying logophile, I have mixed feelings on movements to ban the use of any word. On the one hand, I think political correctness can all too easily run amok: remember the fuss when a political aide to the Mayor of Washington DC used the word “niggardly” to describe a civic budget? On the other, I understand how painful the impact of words can be, especially when they are bandied about thoughtlessly. On yet another hand, if I had one, that is how most of the human race employs language, nine times out of ten. (I leave it up to you whether or not to include lawyers in the human race, which might affect these odds. Pardon my lame joke. Which, by the way, illustrates the problem, since ‘lame’ is another word with the power to offend.)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me! Nyah nyah nyah nyah!” Remember shouting those words on the playground … and then going home and crying your eyes out? It’s a huge lie; names can hurt like hell. But name-calling is just the tip of an iceberg; the real problem lies in people’s attitude to disabilities and to those who live with them. I had a very tiny taste of this attitude myself, many years ago, when I suffered some nerve damage during a spinal fusion and needed crutches to get around for a few months. Because I was not wearing a plaster cast or bandages, the crutches aroused intense curiosity in some people, who would debate aloud the possible reasons why I might need them. On one occasion, when I was on the train to work, a couple of women sat across from me, wondering what was “wrong” with me, and whether I should even be on a commuter train if I was “seriously crippled.” When I leaned across to explain why I was using crutches, they were quite offended at my interrupting their “private” conversation. Later, I mentioned the incident to a friend of mine, who had polio as a child and uses a motorised scooter. He laughed and said “You didn’t know? ‘Cripples’ are all deaf!”

Some of the bloggers in my blogroll have disabilities. Although society would lump them all together as ‘disabled,’ they are, in fact, a disparate bunch, with very little in common. FWD/Forward is a feminist blog with a number of contributors. As a feminist myself, albeit of the old bra-burning school, I find their points of view refreshing, trenchant, often provocative and sometimes shocking – which is how I believe feminists should be.

Planet of the Blind is another blog I like. It’s co-written by a professor of creative writing and disability studies at the University of Iowa and his wife, and also has a number of other contributors. It’s topical and interesting, and I highly recommend it.

We may think we’ve come a long way from the days when children born with disabilities were shut away in institutions, or displayed in exhibits for the ignorant to gawp at. The reaction of the Canadian media, during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, to Alexandre and Frederic Bilodeau proved otherwise. As I read the front page stories, salivating over Mr Bilodeau and his brother, I turned to The First Husband and said “WTF? (or words to that effect) Is the man a hero for winning a gold medal [assuming any normal person gives a shit!] or for acknowledging his brother, who has cerebral palsy, in public? This is sick.” Anna, a FWD/Forward blogger who takes no prisoners, wrote a terrific post about it. I hate to say it, but it was pretty damn’ inspiring! (Sorry, Anna.)

Stephen Fry on the Catholic Church

April 5th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

I stole this from Bock. I’m hoping he won’t mind. Also, one of Bock’s commenters mentions that the whole debate is available on both YouTube and

It’s been a while, I know …

March 31st, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

I found myself in mid-March with a couple of weeks relatively work-free, so I decided to have myself a little staycation. If I were a “real” blogger, I’d have used those two weeks to blog up a storm. But I think we all know by now that I am the merest dabbler in this here art form, so of course I did nothing of the sort.

Instead, The First Husband and I decided to re-decorate a guest-room, of which our empty nest now has four. In the interests of accuracy, I should explain that we did not actually ‘decide’ to take on this job; like Topsy, it just growed. It all began with TFH wanting to repaint a bathroom door, which had been badly painted first time around. While he was at it, I suggested, he should also repaint the closet doors in the guest-room, which were even worse. And, of course, as soon as they were finished, they showed up the all-round crappy paint job on the room itself.


It had been painted by my SIL, as a surprise for me, when I was too busy commuting 90 kilometres a day to and from work and onward to university classes every night to be bothered with it. And when I did have the time to care, I managed to keep it out of sight out of mind, because painting and decorating is one of my least favourite activities, second only to poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick.

My usual MO is to sigh heavily, within earshot of TFH, every time I catch a pained glimpse of whatever room I think needs some work. Eventually, he catches on and, because he’s like the Energizer Bunny, pathologically incapable of sitting still for more than 20 minutes, offers to paint/paper/tile/sand (pick one), if I will pick the colours and let him know what I want him to do.

This time started out no differently, but, in all conscience, I could not let him do it on his own while I blogged or Tweeted, so I guilted myself into working along with him. By the time it was finished, not only had we repainted the whole room, we also replaced the painted trim and skirting boards with oak, which I varnished while TFH rewired the lights, fan and lamps, and I finally got around to stripping and painting white a rather nondescript wooden bookcase that I picked up from a local garage sale a few years ago and filled with books, without bothering to refurbish it as I should have done at the time.

Even if I say so as shouldn’t, I think we did quite a good job.


And I finally assuaged my long-standing guilt over never having lifted a finger to help my father, during his countless papering and painting jobs around our family home in Dublin. My younger sister and her family moved into that house to live with my mother, after my father died, and undertook an extensive renovation. When they stripped the flock wallpaper off the old dining room, they found that previous decorators had left their signatures and dates. My father went one further. He left this message:

This room was repainted and papered from ceiling to skirting, between November and December 1970, by JR working after hours. Unlike [the previous owners], I cannot boast of family help. I got and was offered damn’ all. My wife and daughters ignored the whole job as if it was slightly indecent. Here’s hoping that the patsy who does the job in 1990 lives with nicer people or gets paid for it.

Sorry, Dad!

Plus ca change …*

March 3rd, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

In pursuit of my third New Year Resolution, I have been ploughing through books at a rate of knots since January 1st. Although I’ve been picking them at random from the foothills of Mount TBR, the last three have all turned out to be about anti-Semitism, in fact and fiction, in both ancient and relatively recent history.

Two, The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears and The Spanish Doctor by  Matt Cohen, are fiction. The third, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction by Martin Gilbertis fact.

The Pears novel takes place at three different stages in history: the 5th, 14th and 20th centuries. They are connected by a place, Avignon, and a manuscript, The Dream of Scipio. Written in the dying days of the Roman Empire, by a philosopher bishop, the manuscript is unearthed in the years of the Black Death by a poet, and rediscovered in the 20th century by an academic working in Vichy France. The thread weaving through these three epochs is the place of Jews in each society – despised, scapegoated, slaughtered at will by overlords, conniving clerics and frustrated peasants.

Driving through Germany in 2006, I noticed several plaques referring to Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. It took place on 10th November 1938, when Nazi stormtroopers and Hitler Youth rampaged through Jewish neighbourhoods across Germany, destroying synagogues and plundering Jewish homes and businesses. Wanting to learn more about the events leading up to the destruction, I picked up Martin Gilbert’s book, but it was buried in the pile of books until this week.

It’s a horrific read; chapter after chapter of unspeakable evil, occasionally leavened by the courage and decency of ordinary Germans who tried to help their friends and neighbours, only to be severely punished. The behaviour of most so-called civilised countries, haggling and parsing the number of Jewish refugees they would allow across their borders was disgusting. I cringed with shame when I read about the flat refusal of the Irish Free State to grant refuge to any German Jews, including children. It is worth noting that, after the War ended, hundreds of German refugee children were taken in by Irish families, including mine. My foster-brother, Hans lived with us for four years, before returning to his mother in Germany in 1949.
I’m just a few chapters into Matt Cohen’s book, which opens in 15th century Spain, at the beginning of the great era of Jewish persecution. Ironically, given current events, the pogroms follow an era of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Jews in Moorish Spain. As the Moors are driven out, the Inquisition moves in, and unscrupulous aristocrats and merchant-princes deflect the anger of the peasantry onto their Jewish neighbours.

While the two novels are beautifully written, teeming with colour and drama, Kristallnacht is fairly plodding – a bare recitation of names, dates and facts. But they serve to underline the horrors of life for Jews under Nazi rule, making it by far the most affecting read of the three books. In one particularly disturbing passage, a young Jewish man, during his time in a sub-camp of Dachau, overhears a conversation between a German mother and her six- or seven-year old daughter, as they walked past the camp, a few feet from the perimeter.

The child asked: ‘Mutti, was fur Menschen sind die?’ ‘Mother, what kind of people are they?’ to which the mother replied: ‘Das sind keine Menschen, das sind Juden.’ ‘These are not people, they are Jews.’

Years of unrelenting propaganda by Joseph Goebbels and his like, always referring to Jews as ‘scum,’ ‘parasites’ and ‘rodents’ had served to dehumanise an entire race.

Today, I opened my newspaper and read about a Toronto man who has been posting on an Arizona-based website, In his posts, he calls for “a genocide [to] be perpetrated against the Jewish populations of North America and Europe” and refers to Jews as “diseased and filthy,” and as “scum.”

* The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bloody hell!

February 26th, 2010 § 8 comments § permalink

One minute, I’m enjoying a leisurely latte with The First Husband, before heading out to meet Wisewebwoman for lunch. The next, I’m doing a face plank in the bathroom washbasin, spewing blood from my nose all over the porcelain and onto the cabinet.

As a child, I was prone to frequent, sudden nose bleeds. I’ve read that epileptics know when a seizure is about to happen, because they get a sudden strong feeling of deja vu. I’m not sure how or why, but I always knew when a nose bleed was about to happen. I would creep into the dining room and hide under the table, where I would sit and watch the drops of blood fall into my lap. The dining room was reserved for special occasions, with its ponderous mahogany furniture protected by dust sheets, under which I could bleed in peace.

The She Devil loved it when my nose bled in public. She knew that, if she danced around and made a fuss, the blood would flow faster and stronger, as fear made my blood pressure rise. As a teenager, she would bring her friends into the house and let them watch while she made my nose bleed. All she had to do was advance on me, pretending she would tear my blouse open, while chanting “Any hair on your chest yet, Chasaveen?” and, sure as eggs is eggs, my nose would begin to spurt. Her cronies thought it screamingly funny and came back again and again for a replay.

As the years went by and especially after The She Devil left home, the frequency of my nosebleeds decreased, and they had ceased entirely by the time I reached my mid-teens. This episode came out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever. And, unlike my childhood seizures, the blood was not a slow, crimson ooze. This was a fountain of bright scarlet, worthy of a candidate for the tender ministrations of Gregory House MD.

The First Husband was a Trojan. Despite his morbid fear of blood – he can’t even watch a gory scene on television, though he knows it’s just ketchup! – he brought ice and wet cloths and even cleaned up all the blood. He also tried to persuade me I should go to Emergency, but I couldn’t see the point. Like Jan, I don’t have a lot of confidence in doctors.

The really big issue, which no doctor could address, is that I missed my chance to meet Wisewebwoman. And I’m really pissed about that. We talked on the phone (me mumbling around a washcloth stuffed with ice) and agreed we will meet when she comes back to Ontario in April. I can’t wait.

Don’t get me started

February 13th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Unless you’ve been hibernating in a cave somewhere, you’ll know that the Winter Olympics have begun in Vancouver. Canada, of course, has been saturated with the stuff for months now, wall-to-wall coverage of torch runs through tiny towns from one end of the country to the other, relentless merchandising by HBC (nee Hudson’s Bay Company, incorporated in 1670 by King Charles II) of their deadly dull Olympic apparel, etc. etc. etc.

Not to put a tooth in it, the whole thing is driving me insane. Gazillions of dollars being poured out so that countries can parade their doped to the eyeballs athletes before the world and claim bragging rights as great nations because their ice dancers can out-pirouette some other country’s ice dancers, while a bunch of toothless geriatrics (aka the International Olympic Committee) lay down ridiculous procedural rules designed to protect their lucrative trade marks, at the same time ignoring blatant cheating? Give me a break.

Like I say, it drives me bonkers. But what makes me want to reach for the nearest weapon of mass destruction is the bloody so-called Olympic “anthem,” “I Believe.” With all due respect to the singer, who seems like a nice lass, not a bit of side to her, unlike her fellow-Quebecer, Celine Dion, who has completely lost the run of herself, that song makes my ears bleed. And the refrain, repeated endlessly as refrains are wont to be, “I believe that together we will fly / I believe in the power of you and I,” is like a thousand nails on a thousand blackboards. Hanging by his or her dangly bits is too good for whoever came up with that one.

Robin Hood rides again

February 10th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Beats the heck out of Susan Boyle

February 9th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Get Adobe Flash player