Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Not Santa's Little Princess

If my mother wrote this article on Christmas Eve, I'd have low hopes for getting what I want for Christmas. Peggy Ornstein wrote this fantastically feminist piece for the New York Times on Christmas Eve. And by fantastically, I mean fantasy. It's such shrill scaremongering that it's quite hilarious. Apparently Disney's fastest growing franchise is "Princess", a generic pink royal character that every girl wants to be. Or at least, play dress up to look like one. And Peggy's outraged."More to the point, when my own girl makes her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom — something I’m convinced she does largely to torture me — I worry about what playing Little Mermaid is teaching her. I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen? On the other hand, maybe I’m still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can “have it all.” Or maybe it is even less complex than that: to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what’s wrong with that? "
I particularly like the my-3-year-old-as-intentional-princess/patriachary-annoyance theme. Well, Peggy's very quick to sweep all the perceived ills of modern girls to the feet of the Princess and lay the blame right at her twinkle toes -There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception. What’s more, the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine. And in a survey released last October by Girls Inc., school-age girls overwhelmingly reported a paralyzing pressure to be “perfect”: not only to get straight A’s and be the student-body president, editor of the newspaper and captain of the swim team but also to be “kind and caring,” “please everyone, be very thin and dress right.” Give those girls a pumpkin and a glass slipper and they’d be in business.
Of course, there are no studies declaring princess=bad. Common sense (if we’re allowed to use such a commodity when discussing princesses), would dictate that the very women who have realised the feminist dream of independence played with dolls. And didn’t need feminist reconditioning to forget the experience. Foisting feminist interpretations every game played by preschoolers and the colours of their dress up is madness – can you imagine a pink Batman to remove the violent, masculine tones of the current black?

Peggy shares her great fear, a rather rare fear among parents, I would imagine - that by denying the princess, you'll run the risk of messing up their "gender constancy"  - What if, instead of realizing: Aha! Cinderella is a symbol of the patriarchal oppression of all women, another example of corporate mind control and power-to-the-people! my 3-year-old was thinking, Mommy doesn’t want me to be a girl?.....By not buying the Princess Pull-Ups, I may be inadvertently communicating that being female (to the extent that my daughter is able to understand it) is a bad thing.
Of course, no article about children's toys would be complete without celebrating the toy-serial-killer that lurks in every princess -  There is spice along with that sugar after all, though why this was news is beyond me: anyone who ever played with the doll knows there’s nothing more satisfying than hacking off all her hair and holding her underwater in the bathtub.

Then there's a rather long section about superhero princesses who have "grit and grace" and princess that resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs — doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks. Frippery. Fun. Why should we give up the perks of our sex until we’re sure of what we’ll get in exchange? Why should we give them up at all? Or maybe it’s deeper than that: the freedoms feminism bestowed came with an undercurrent of fear among women themselves — flowing through “Ally McBeal,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Sex and the City” — of losing male love, of never marrying, of not having children, of being deprived of something that felt essentially and exclusively female.

Peggy, selflessly on our behalf, braves the world of children's toys - from the innocent pink of princess to the hot, sexy pink of the porn star slut waiting to burst forth your average 8 year old.  She faces the dilemma – early sexualistion of children or the early patriarchal pink brainwashing? I would choose the innocent pink, but then again, unlike the children featured in the article, I didn’t get to go on trips to toystores or demand every toy I saw on TV. My mother, in her wisdom, exerted full control over what toys got brought into our house. Such a discipline almost seems too simple a solution to the quandary Peggy’s warring feminist notions poses.

But Peggy's story has a happy ending - no doubt, through Peggy's careful questioning and constant feminist scrutiny, her daughter wants to be a fireman. Is this the moral of this (long) story? If you're a good enough feminist mother, ever on the watch out the devious anti-feminist Disney consumerist moves, you can let your little princess wear pink and she'll turn out alright? Alright is defined by Peggy as " I still hope she’ll find her Prince Charming and have babies, just as I have. I don’t want her to be a fish without a bicycle; I want her to be a fish with another fish. Preferably, one who loves and respects her and also does the dishes and half the child care."

Is Peggy making the point that the alternative is the truly frightening vista? That the pink princess marks the decline of womanhood as we know it - the next generation of women will be pink wearing, alternately obese and anorexic, non-softball playing, depressed, pregnant “little women at home"? Men will take over the world again and professional feminists like Peggy will be able pinpoint Matteo and Disney as the great architects in the mass exodus of the most well-educated and long-living female generation back to their cage at the kitchen sink? Rest assured though, we'll have always have women like Peggy, author of the forthcoming book "Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, An Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, A Romantic Night and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother", to point out the traps and the obvious (non-research based) "atomic bombs" placed in the princess's path to becoming a fireman.


Pondered Them In Her Heart

Christmas was short as I was back at work today. I hope all of you had the laidback, indulgent and peaceful Christmas I had.
One line from midnight Mass has been playing in my head over the last few days.
Luke 2:19 - And Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
Regardless of what way you look at it, the Bible is a remarkably succinct and blunt book to read – if you believe the birth of Jesus was truly God becoming man, the plain words contrast the fanfare one intuitively expects for such an event and if you think it’s a load of codswallop and a great conspiracy to extend power through centuries, it’s hardly a gripping page-turner.
But the quiet introspection of a young woman, who, contrary to all her dreams, has just given birth among animals in a cave to a baby that an angel told her was the Son of God, seems unrealistic in this day and age.
I was trying to imagine myself in Mary’s place – fair enough she headed off fairly quickly to spill the beans to Elizabeth, but I can’t imagine pondering such things in my heart. First of all, I’d expect a digital camera to be somewhere in the vicinity to capture any moments I might have missed out on (probably because I was trying to get the zoom right on the camera). More than likely, there’d be some video footage for youtube too. Most of my friends know me as a rather bitchy venter, so the mobile would start hopping and the story would be told with gasps and soundbite wisdom. I’d probably blog about it and look up virgin births on wikipedia. Then Jesus would be sent to a crèche in Lucan, I’d be commuting to the city every day and the next time I’d sit down to have good think about the whole thing is during an ad break.
I recently heard a priest talk about giving retreats to married couples – one of the exercises he had them do was to sit in silence with each other for 20 minutes. Most of them found the time interminably long and afterwards, were amazed at the power of that silent togetherness to rediscover something about their relationship.
I must confess to a disturbing lack of pondering and silence in my life – probably the only time I regularly do anything in total silence is when I clean the toilet as there’s no in there and wearing one’s iPod while using Domestos just seems wrong.
I used to go on a weekend silent retreat once a year – by the time I got into the silent thing, it was time to go home again (which reminds me to book one for next year).
I regularly crave silence, and appreciate it but often feel like I’m missing out on some indefinable action. And yet when I’m buzzing about the place, accompanied by friends, music and radio, I feel like I’m a spectator with no time to appreciate, to savour, to understand – to ponder.
From the perspective of the Christian, Mary was spectacularly gifted, blessed among women for many things, but from my current perspective, the gift of unadulterated pondering seems the sweetest.

The Year of The Inkifada

Back in Feburary, I vacillated between being for and against those cartoons. I was rather conflicted and confused.

Reason's blog Hit & Run links to an interview with the editor of the magazine responsible for the cartoons, Flemming Rose.
They exercept this interesting point from him -
I think the left has betrayed its own ideals in this case, because the publication of the cartoons is exactly about what the left has been fighting for in the past 150 years—free speech and the right to challenge religious authority and to challenge a religion that, in fact, favors the oppression of women. [Muslim extremists] do not accept the equality between the sexes. They do not accept equality from representatives of different religions. They specifically say, "Our religion is better and should have favorable treatment compared to other faiths."

But I think it has to do with the fact that the left—at least in Europe, I can't speak about the left in the United States—views the Muslims as the new proletariat. They're the new oppressed minority that they have to defend. It shortcuts all rational thinking. [Islamic radicals] can say and do almost anything, and it will be explained away by saying, "These people are victims."

It also has to do with the legacy of the Second World War and the Nazis and the establishment of the United Nations and the fact that it became taboo to speak about cultural differences in Western Europe because of the imperial legacy. It's very sensitive to be critical toward a culture. It's taboo, no matter how oppressive that culture might be in itself.

They left out the next 2 paragraphs -
It was once an underlying understanding in the West that when these immigrants come to our part of the world, they would become like us. If they just stay long enough, they will become like us. But that changed. OK, if they can't become like us, then we'll have to accept and acknowledge them as they are. And so the West developed this ideology of multiculturalism—that you have to accept and recognize any culture on its own terms, no matter how oppressive it might be.

The left is trapped in that position. It's very counterproductive toward the Muslim community, because by treating them like a weak, victimized minority, they in fact make it far more difficult to Muslims to integrate.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Best of 2006 Albums (according to me)

Making my “Best of this year” list is always a rather difficult chore for me (check out my 2005 version which featured 19). This year out of the 127 2006 albums I’ve got I’ve picked 25, with notable others bringing the total list up to 54.
The Irish blogosphere’s best ofs  - Sinead Gleeson ; In Fact Ah; Fergal @Tuppenceworth.

  1. Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
I listened to this so much when I bought first that when the 3 concerts in the Point came around last month, I didn’t think I’d be able to listen to it again. The concerts were amazing and the album withstood the fatigue test.

  1. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
The first song, Crane Wife Part 3, is possibly the best rock/indie song of the year.

  1. The Weepies – Say I Am You
Deb Talan’s delicate voice brings their lyrics to perfection – “Thunder rumbles in the distance, a quiet intensity / I am willful, your insistence is tugging at the best of me  / You're the moon, I'm the water / You're Mars, calling up Neptune's daughter / Sometimes rain that's needed falls  / We float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall”

  1. Cat Power - The Greatest
It’s certainly her greatest album.

  1. Alejandro Escovedo – The Boxing Mirror
I was a little bitter with Alejandro after I bought a fairly standard tribute CD to him to support him with his Hepatitis C. The Boxing Mirror has assuaged that bitterness and more.

  1. The Gossip – Standing in the Way of Control
Missed them in the Temple Bar Music Centre, and while I don’t like the politics, the energy on this album is amazing.

  1. The Minus 5 – The Minus 5 (Gun Album)
The Minus 5’s “Down With Wilco” album didn’t prevent Wilco and REM bandmembers from singing Scott McCauughey’s songs. (That version sounds better than mentioning that Wilco of course played on “Down with Wilco”)

  1. Hem – Funnel Cloud
I love Hem. I know not many people have heard of them, but they’re making some of the most consistently beautiful music today.

  1. Seth Lakeman – Freedom Fields
I blogged about this album back in April - But unlike Damien Rice, Dempsey or any other of these new folk/acoustic/singer-songwriters from these islands, Lakeman is an original, singing his own songs about, well, “Freedom Fields” is about the 1643 Civil War. And he sings about it like he was there. (I doubt Damien Rice could even spell 1643.) He plays the violin like he means it. The production is immaculate and the album was made in his Devon kitchen. The drums are reminiscent of red-coated garrison men, marching with the sun reflected in their brass buttons, before their canons explode. He sings about mermaids, mariners, riflemen, soldiers who came “a courtin a maid, took her home, stole her beauty, took no gold” and the like.

  1. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat
Rising up with fists.

  1. Isobel Campbell with Mark Lanegan – Ballad of the Broken Seas
A surprising duo delivering the goods.

  1. The Killers - Sam’s Town
From track 5 on, it’s superb. Pity about the first few songs.

  1. The Blood Arm – Lie Lover Lie
Almost standard 2006 indie rock, but as the track 7 says “Do I Have Your Attention?”, one is tempted to throw fists to the wind and scream wildly.

  1. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go
Unless he developes a latent ambition to become 6th member of Boyzone or record a duet with Red Hurley, The Prince, will always be on my top albums list
  1. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
It’s a standard choice for 2006 best albums list, and it deserves it.

  1. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
A great album. And a great concert in Crawdaddy a few months ago.

  1. M. Ward - Post War
An Americana triumph.

  1. Shooter Jennings – Electric Rodeo
My effusive praise back in May still applies - This album inspires me to get to a greasy bar stool in Carolina with a large bottle of Jack Daniels before driving away in a beat up pick up truck with Shooter beside me and playing loud on the stereo. “You can’t see the tears behind my aviators” and his heartfelt admissions of caninicide – I’m in love. Or lyrical lust or something. My holidays are over, so I’ll have to settle for the next best thing. Men of the Red Cow Inn watch out

  1. Amos Lee – Supply and Demand
His sophomore album seems to be more lyrically memorable and RnB tinged than his first – and is way better. Night Train is simply gorgeous.

  1. Kelley Stoltz – Below the Branches
Introduced to me by Sinead, she’s dead on about this one.

  1. Eric Church – Sinners like Me
Probably the only artist on this list that I wouldn’t mind having a poster of in my bedroom – Eric Church is a pretty gorgeous country singer – and what’s a rightwing girl to do but swoon when she hears lines like this – I believe that gas is too damn high / The tax man and the devil share the same address / I believe dogs are better than cats / And I believe that Jesus is comin' back before she does”. He’s even got Merle Haggard singing a tribute song to himself. As he sings himself - I know where I come from: How 'bout you?

  1. Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World
Perhaps the most raucous bluegrass band around, this album is faithful to a tradition that deserves the creativity and virtuosity of this group and their producer, David Rawlings.

  1. Ollabelle – Riverside Battle Songs
Gospel, bluegrass, country – it’s all here with fab vocals.

  1. Bob Dylan – Modern Times
Better than some of the new stuff, not as good as some of the old stuff, but holding it’s own.

  1. The Wailin’ Jennys – Firecracker
Named after Waylon Jennings, these girls know how to sing folk.

Best of the Rest –  (kind of in order)
Sparklehorse - Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain
Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
The Be Good Tanyas – Hello Love
Amy Milan – Honey from the Tombs
The Duhks – Migrations
Crooked Still – Shaken By A Low sound
Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Joanna Newsom  - Ys
The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes
The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
Drive by Truckers – A Blessing and A curse
The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
Calexico – Garden Ruin
T Bone Burnett – The True False identity
TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
The Subdudes – Behind the levee
Howe Gelb – ‘Sno Angel Like you
Lambchop – Damaged
Ray LaMontagne – Till the Sun turns Black
Paul Simon – The Surprise
Damien Jurado – Now That I’m In Your Shadow
Matisyahu – Youth
The Little Willies – The Little Willies
Josh Ritter - The Animal Years
Islands – Return to the Sea
The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely
Slaid Cleaves – Unsung

The Leftovers = (I had them all typed up to make the list so here they are) =
ALO – Fly Between Walls / Muse – Black Holes & Revelations / Ben Harper – Both Sides Of The Gun / Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope / Imogen Heap – Speak For Yourself / Joan As Police Woman – Real Life / Built to Spill – You In Reverse / Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris - All the Roadrunning / Tom Waits - Orphans / Yo La Tengo-I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass / Allison Moorer - Getting Somewhere / Rosanne Cash - Black Cadillac / Van Morrison – Pay the Devil / Tom Petty – Highway Companion / Thom Yorke – the Eraser / Shearwater – Palo Santo / Sarah Harmer – I’m A Mountain  / Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man Soundtrack / Roseanne Cash – Black Cadillac / Lou Rhodes – Beloved One / Carrie Rodriguez – Seven Angels on A Bicycle / Josh Rouse – Subtitulo / Jolie Holland – Springtime Can kill you / Jerry Lee Lewis – Last man standing / Hem – No Word From Tom / The Elected – Sun, Sun, Sun / Cara Dillon – After the Morning / Califone – Roots and Crowns / Bonnie Prince Billy/Tortoise  - The Brave and the Bold / Beth Orton – Comfort of Strangers / Pajo – 1968 / Band of Horses – Everything All the Time / Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Etiquette / Centro-Matic – Fort Recovery / Dave Alvin – West of West / Deftones – Saturday Night Wrist / Elvis Costello / Allen Toussaint – The River in Reverse / Emily Haines – Knives Don’t Have Your Back / Fionn Regan – End of History / The Fratellis – Costello Music / G. Love – G. Love’s Lemonade / Johnny Cash – Personal File / John Legend – Once Again / Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You / Julie Roberts – Men and Mascara / Kasey Chambers – Carnival / Lindsey Buckingham – Under the Skin / Magic Numbers – Those the Brokes / Mary Lorson & Saint Low – Realistic / Mindy Smith – Long Island Shores / Peter Bjorn and John – Young Folks / Rhett Miller – The Believer  / Rhonda Vincent – All American Bluegrass Girl / Shawn Colvin – These Four Walls / Shawn Mullins – 9th Ward Pickin Parlor / Teddy Thompson – Separate Ways / Tom Russell – Love and Fear / Willard Grant Conspiracy  - Let It Roll / Willie Nelson – Songbird / Jens Lakeman – Oh You’re so Silent Jens / Brigitte Demeyer – Something After All / Richard Buckner – Meadow / Chatham County Line - Speed Of The Whippoorwill /


Sunday, December 17, 2006

How Many Albums Did You Get in 2006?

Attempting to do a best of 2006 album list. I got a little confused with 2005 albums I listened to in 2006 and 2006 albums so I decided to make a list of the 2006 albums in my itunes.

I’ve 127.

Heard Harry Crosbie talking about music and property on Eamonn Dunphy’s RTE radio 1 show on Saturday morning and he discussed how there is simply too much music/books/TV/films and now quantity has replaced quality.

I know there are several albums in that 127 I’ve long dismissed, but still, I think I might have an addiction.


Blog Binge

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. Work, sick sisters (who are fully recovered now – thanks for all your caring comments), socialising and that common blogger complaint – the editor that lives in your psyche and tells you not to post that crap, have all contributed to my radio silence.

However, I have been fairly up-to-date with my reading of other blogs. Unfortunately many of the blogs that I once looked forward to reading have fell into disrepair – Richard Waghorne, Fiona deLondras, alt tag, Gavin, Disillusioned Lefty while I have began to read some newer ones – Cedar Lounge Revolution, Fatmammycat and Semperidem.

So here’s a little binge – a compilation of posts that I have clipped over the last few weeks….

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I disagree with the lowering of the age of consent or the recent case of the couple who fought over their IVF embryos in the High Court. Cedar Lounge Revolution has a good post on embryo research, even though I disagree with them - especially in light of the news that umbilical stem cells have been used to grow mini-livers, currently used in drug testing.
The other heart wrenching case involving parents fighting over children was the Baby Ann case – Sarah Carey had a good post on it.

I’m not that big a fan of David McWilliams, and wasn’t overly impressed with his tv series – Sarah wasn’t either. And An Spailin Fanach highlights the case of the celtic tiger mums who can’t “bake” Rice Crispie buns.

Rainy Day by Eamonn Fitzgerald is one of my favourite blogs – his posts on “Lord Baker” and “In the Well Below the Valley” are typical.

Irish Eagle links to an article that I found thought provoking – John O’Sullivan on how dictators are judged – Pincochet bad, Castro not quite so bad (Well, Gerard Depardieu’s certainly fond of him).

David Quinn and Richard Dawkins had a fantastically robust debate about God on Ryan Tubridy in October – transcript and mp3 here. While Quinn beat Dawkins there in my opinion, Damien Mulley links to YouTube video of Dawkins having a go at a Christian college student.

There was a “storm in a 32AA cup” as infactah blogger, Colm put it. He summarises it, but essentially it’s about female bloggers. I won’t go into my I’m-not-a-feminist-and-therefore-don’t-care-if-women-blog diatribe again (but you know I’m thinking it).  I appear on the pro-female version of the expert list under Health as a student doctor. Thankfully I’m a student no longer.

Which brings me onto my must-read-every-day blog – NHS Blog Doctor – I’m just after filling out my IMO survey on the role of doctors in Ireland. The HSE is planning to implement a “hospital at night” policy similar to the 1 run rather unsuccessfully by nurses in the NHS. Dr Crippen produces a frightening read  - especially about nurse practitioners - useful in small doses but very dangerous when they turn into “quackitioners” – prepared to be scared when you read these posts - quackitioners; what New Labour is doing to the NHS and a houseman’s tale.

The Democratic party’s performance at the recent midterms, while unsurprising, disappointed me a little – however this article perked me a little – Jonah Goldberg on the GOP - The GOP came to power in 1994 promising lean government, and became the party that needed to unbuckle its pants and loosen its belt two notches after every lobbyist-paid meal. The GOP once had the reputation of being able to run government like a business and wars like a finely tuned machine. But under compassionate conservatism, government became a faith-based charity….. It's to the Republicans' electoral advantage to take positions that shock the conscience of Rosie O'Donnell. It's also true that the Iraq war is unpopular; that's because it's not going swimmingly. If it were otherwise, Iraq would be a political boon to the GOP. Now, you might say, "Yeah, and except for the brief unpleasantness, Mrs. Lincoln had a wonderful time at the theater." But it is not the conservative position to botch wars. And contrary to the slanderous codswallop you've heard for the last year, conservative principles do not require flooding New Orleans. While we're on this point, corruption and cronyism aren't core planks in the conservative platform either. Rep. Don Sherwood (R., Pa.) lost his seat because of an alleged personal scandal, but I can assure you there's nothing in the works of Edmund Burke that says a good conservative should try to strangle his mistress.In other words, just as Democrats insisted, the GOP's drubbing had more to do with incompetence and scandal than program and ideology. Indeed, if the conservative base hadn't been disgusted with Republican management, and if so many Democrats hadn't run as social conservatives, the GOP might have done just fine in this election.Republicans lost because they behaved like self-indulgent politicians, not purists. Conservatives care a lot about ideas, so that's where we'll try to assign blame. But the ideologues aren't to blame. The Republicans are..
And Richard Delevan lays out the bad news for the Irish when the Dems win.

And to probably the most important current affair recently – Britney’s underwear, or lack thereof = Cathy Young links to a Hit & Run post by Kerry Howley on vaginofascism. As she said - Appeasement is futile; the only proper response to vaginofascism is total war.