A Gift, From Me To You.

A conversation I was having with a chap on Twitter this evening inspired me to make a list of 5 books that I think you may enjoy.  Books that I love and treasure, and ones that I think everyone should love and treasure.  Call it a wee gift, from me to you.  They are in no particular order, though the first book is the one I recommended on Twitter this evening, and the one that prompted this post.  I hope you enjoy them.  This may, or may not, become a regular feature.

Fup, by Jim Dodge.
Fup, is quite simply a wonderful little book.  It has a duck, a boar, a gentle giant making fences, and an immortal grandfather who spends his days distilling Ole Death Whisper whiskey.  I first read this book on the train between Glasgow Central and Wemyss Bay, and devoured it in less than 45 minutes.  It’s a book I haven’t read in a while due to giving all my copies away – they don’t come back – but it still has me smiling like a loon just thinking about it.

Sombrero Fallout, by Richard Brautigan.
Richard Brautigan is one of my very favourite authors.  I think it is tragic he is seemingly not very well known.  Sombrero Fallout is unlike anything you will have ever read.  It is surreal, absurd, profound, concise, bittersweet, and quite beautiful.  It is the tale of a writer’s lost love, and of an ice cold sombrero that falls to earth bringing chaos to a small town in America.  Brautigan has a style all of his own, short sentences that deserve to be read out loud for the pleasure they bring as they trip off the tongue.   All of his books are fabulous, but this is my personal favourite.

The Good Fairies Of New York, by Martin Millar.
This is a book that took me by surprise.  It was sent to me by a good friend of mine in Scotland, a guy who I would think the last person to recommend fairy stories.  But this is a fairy story with a difference.  It’s a story about two kilted, punk fairies on the run from their clans in the UK, who end up in New York.  There is sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, fighting, and more crazy fairies than you can shake a stick at.   With one of the most memorable opening pages I have ever read, this is another book that made me laugh out loud, a lot.

Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut.
Kurt Vonnegut is quite possibly my favourite writer, and Slaughterhouse 5 is probably his most famous book.  It is a satirical black comedy, with a dash of sci-fi, and personal memoir thrown in.  It is ostensibly about Vonnegut’s experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden at the end of World War Two, but it is also very much more than that.  This is a book both funny and disturbing, horrific and humane, serious and surreal, which should be required reading for armchair generals everywhere.

Hunger, Knut Hamsun.
This is an incredibly intense and powerful book about the travails of a desperately poor writer trying to make enough money from day to day in order to live.  Rarely have I had such an emotional involvement in a character.  Here is man who’s pride leads him to the very edge of starvation, a starvation that is somehow made palpable for the reader.  The test of a good book, for me, is in it’s memorability.  I have only read this book once, about ten years ago, an ex-girlfriend has my copy, and I can still remember the emotional rollercoaster it put me on as if it was yesterday.  And by no means is this an irredeemably bleak book, it has many humorous episodes too.

Advertisements

It’s Rape, Jim…. A Clarification.

I have had quite a bit of feedback following the publication of my blog post “It’s Rape, Jim.  But Not As We Know It.”   To all who took the time to offer me constructive criticism, thank you very much indeed.  The following is some clarifications and updates based on the negative comments I have received in recent days.

While I was writing in the opening paragraph what rape meant *to me*, and not what it meant in Law or in a dictionary, I acknowledge that my impressions were naive and poorly written.  Rape does not need to be accompanied by violence or the threat of violence.  This point was put strongly to me by posters to the blog and by female friends of mine, some of whom have actually been victims of rape.  So I apologise for my limited perspective as shown in that opening paragraph, and readily concede I was wrong.  As a poster called EdinburghEye pointed out, there are multiple varieties of rape, and not all require violence or menace –

1.  You could set up a situation where, without saying a word of menace, you make clear to the woman there are unpleasant consequences to saying “no” to you.  (a) You’re her boss or have influence in her career (b) You’re say the driver and you make a sexual proposition in the car miles from anywhere (c) you’re a lot bigger than your target, alone together, and she couldn’t physically stop you and you make that clear.

2.  As you say, you could just wait until she’s asleep and then do what you want.

3.  You could get angry and unpleasant if she says “no” until she learns from fear of your temper not to say “no” even if she really isn’t feeling anything sexual for you any more.

4.  In the context of a long-term relationship, you could become a nagger for sex such that your partner knows she won’t get any peace, once you demand sex, until she gives in.  Then you can rape her regularly because she knows that she has no choice until the day she decides to ditch you.  And you might be a very pleasant person otherwise. You can even tell yourself it’s not rape, even though she doesn’t want it, because she “consents” – ie she knows the consequences of saying “no” mean you will keep on at her and whine and moan and refuse to let her sleep no matter how tired she is, because you don’t care what she wants, only what you want.

And that is the essence of rape. Overriding what the other person wants: just taking what you want.

I accept all of this without reservation.  My critics are right on this point, and I was wrong.  I ask forgiveness for any offence my myopic view may have caused.  A fabulous article about what rape actually is can be found on the EdinburghEye’s blog.  I found it very informative indeed.

It was put to me by some that, as a man, I have no idea about sexual assault, rape, and predatory males.  This is not quite true.  I was a victim of an attempted sexual assault by a man when I was about 13 or 14.  A man, who I did not know, but who knew me as a player for the school football team, approached me one Sunday while I was out for a walk along the shores of the River Clyde at Dumbarton.  He pulled a knife on me, and pushed me to the ground.  He tried to pull my trousers down while waving the knife in my face.  Somehow I managed to struggle free and ran faster than I ever have back home.  It was a fortunate escape.  It turned out the man had a string of offences against young boys to his name.  In mitigation, I would say this event has possibly coloured my view of what rape is or is not.

Regarding the allegations against Julian Assange, I acknowledge that to echo George Galloway’s view on what the allegations amount to was hasty of me.  If the allegations are 100% correct, they amount to far more than “bad sexual etiquette” as George stated.  They amount to a criminal act (in Sweden) if true.  Initiating sex without a condom with a person who has expressly asked you to use one, is more than just bad form, it is a terrible liberty to take, and arguably a sexual molestation offence.  Whether it amounts to ‘rape’ or not is another matter altogether.

“If initiating nocturnal sex with a sexual partner who is half asleep is rape, then every girl I have ever slept with is a rapist, and so am I…”

When I wrote this I was thinking of the many, many times I have woken to find a girlfriend playing with my penis, or even engaging in penetrative sex.  This has happened to me several times.  I do not regard that as me being raped.  But I accept that it is of a different order of magnitude from that alleged against Julian Assange, as I, for one thing, am unlikely to end up pregnant.  Neither did any of my girlfriends try anything that I had previously refused consent to.

I hope this addresses some of the concerns that have been put to me.  I still think the pursuit of Assange stinks to high heaven, but I am open to persuasion.  If there is anything else, please feel free to get in touch.  I am not arrogant enough to think I am always, or even mostly right, and welcome differing perspectives and viewpoints.  Thanks again for reading, and commenting.

http://www.thenation.com/article/169632/julian-assange-justice-foreclosed#  (interesting article with VERY interesting comments)

“It’s Rape, Jim. But Not As We Know It.”

*NOTE* – As has been pointed out to me by a few people, my wording here is far from ideal.  Rape does not necessarily need to be accompanied by violence or the threat of it.  I shall be writing a further post to clarify in due course.  Thank you to all those who took the trouble to offer constructive criticism.  I really do appreciate it.  *END*  1.9.12
My response to feedback received can be found HERE.

  ******************

Rape.  Such an unpleasant word that it should have it’s own sentence, so as not to contaminate the words around it.   For me it has always meant forced sex with violence, or the menace of violence.  I see the victims as battered and bruised, crying, often abandoned.  And more often than not this is compounded by a judicial system that doubts, fails, and ultimately humiliates those seeking justice.  Ask any woman, the society we live in does not move heaven and earth to provide justice to victims of rape or sexual assault.  Very far from it in fact.

But it would appear things are rather different if the alleged perpetrator is called Julian Assange, the Editor-in-Chief and founder of WikiLeaks.

Suddenly it seems heaven and earth will indeed be moved in order for justice to be done, what with the UK government threatening to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy in order to arrest Assange and have him extradited to face questioning over allegations of rape and sexual molestation.  There are those who deny this was a threat, but one has to bear in mind the language that diplomats use with one another.  Threats are couched in the most banal terminology.  Here I think is the killer sentence –

You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.”

Quite a change from 1998 then, when the UK refused to extradite General Augusto Pinochet to Spain, to face charges of genocide and terrorism.  And also quite a change from June this year, when the UK refused to extradite to the US a man suspected of raping children.

Which kind of throws into serious question William Hague’s claims about Britain’s “blinding obligations” under “international law”.  You’d think if William Hague was so concerned about ‘binding obligations’ and ‘international law’, he’d also be an advocate of nuclear disarmament and the prosecution of Tony Blair for war crimes.  But no.

When Jack Straw, the Labour Home Secretary, denied the Spanish request for the extradition of Pinochet, he cited the unique circumstances, saying the case was “unprecedented”, and that he was “in uncharted territory”.   Jack Straw in this case used his wide discretion and was said to have been obliged to “consider the personal circumstances of the alleged offender and any new evidence since the committal.”  Which is a considerable distance from Hague’s strict adherence to “binding obligations”.

So why the different approach to the extradition of Julian Assange?  For many, including activists from Women Against Rape, and the feminist author Naomi Wolf, there are good reasons to be suspicious of the uncommon zeal being shown in the efforts to get Assange extradited, and the “glaring aberrations” in the handling of the case.

It is widely believed that Assange’s ultimate destination is the USA to be prosecuted for his political work with WikiLeaks.  And this is the number one reason why he is in the Ecuadorean Embassy today, to avoid the terrible fate of Bradley Manning, namely torture, solitary confinement, and the possible death penalty.  Assange has stressed repeatedly he would readily travel to Sweden today and face the allegations if he could be assured there was no risk of him ending up in the hands of the US authorities.

Yet to mention these issues is to run the risk of being labelled a “rape apologist”, as George Galloway, Tony Benn, John Pilger, and even the ladies from Women Against Rape have found in recent weeks and months.  Galloway, in particular, has been slaughtered for calling Assange’s behaviour nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette“, and saying that even if the allegations of the two women “were 100% true” they would not constitute rape.

My guess is that Galloway based these remarks on the leaked Police transcripts of the interviews with the women involved.  Another aberration in the pursuit of justice, but very interesting nonetheless.   Here is the account of the incident –

They sat on the bed and talked and he took off her clothes again.  They had sex again and she discovered he’d put the condom only over the head of his penis but she let it be.  They fell asleep and she woke by feeling him penetrate her.  She immediately asked ‘are you wearing anything’ and he answered ‘you’.  She told him ‘you better not have HIV’ and he replied ‘of course not’.  She felt it was too late.  He was already inside her and she let him continue.  She couldn’t be bothered telling him again.  She’d been nagging about condoms all night long.  She’s never had unprotected sex.  He said he wanted to come inside her, he didn’t say when he’d done it but he did it.  There was a lot running out of her afterwards.

She told him what happens if she gets pregnant.  He replied that Sweden was a good country for raising children.  She told him jokingly that if she got pregnant then he’d have to pay her student loans…….”

Personally, I agree with Galloway to the extent that the above does not describe “Rape” as I have understood the word most of my life.  There is no violence, no hint of it, and no expressed refusal of consent.  In the circumstances above, I think one can be forgiven for thinking there would be a “reasonable expectation of consent”.   As I wrote on my Facebook page this morning, “If initiating nocturnal sex with a sexual partner who is half asleep is rape, then every girl I have ever slept with is a rapist, and so am I.”   I guess this makes me some kind of prehistoric, misogynistic rape apologist too.

But still, the allegations need to be tested in a court of law.  Everyone wants that.  I have read no serious commentator suggest otherwise.  While Sweden and the UK refuse to use their ‘discretions’ in this particular ‘uncharted waters’ to assure Assange of no forward extradition to the USA, the pursuit of justice will stall.  If the UK and Sweden are really interested in getting justice for these two women, then all it will take is a few little words – “No extradition to the US on Wikileaks related charges.”  It really is that simple.

*Further article responding to criticism of this post – HERE.

Further reading –
Debate between Women Against Rape advocate and Bonnie Greer.
In Defence of George Galloway, Huffington Post.
Glenn Greenwald on extradition myths.
Ruth Hull – The Persecution of Assange is a Persecution of Women Worldwide.
Greenwald again, on the Media contempt for Assange.
Seaumas Milne, Don’t Lose Sight Of Why The US Is Out To Get Assange.
US intends to chase Assange, cables show.
Craig Murray – America’s Vassal Acts Decisively and Illegally
John Pilger, The Pursuit of Assange is an assault on freedom.
Guardian, leaked police reports.
Bradley Manning Support Network.

.

The Creepy Crawlies of Newton Ferrers.

I was a little bored on night-shift the other night, so to while away the hours I took a few photos of the local nocturnal bug life.  I even made a movie of a snail, Helix Aspersa, an ugly little bugger up close, reminiscent of the beast from the movie Predator.  Though maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, enjoy…

A Common Shiny Woodlouse

The Common Shiny Woodlouse, or Oniscus asellus.   I knew them as ‘slaters’ as I was growing up.  Horrible things, I have never liked them.  It’s body armour is called ‘epimera’.   At the rear there are two pointy bits called ‘uropods’.  You can tell it apart from other woodlice by these, and by the antennae, or ‘flagellum’, which is in three segments.  The eyes are a group of shiny black bumps knows as ‘ocelli’.   These little beauties are found all over the UK.

A Leopard Slug I think…

This, I suspect, is a Leopard Slug, known as The Great Grey Slug, or Limax Maximus.  It may be a rather young one.  Slugs are hermaphrodites, so it is no good telling them to ‘go f*ck themselves’, as they would.  It is said on the interwebs that slugs can travel at speeds of up to 0.00726mph.  Certainly they travel at a pace that allows for a high degree of accuracy in measurement!  And did you know that some slugs have over 25,000 teeth?  Well you do now.  Sweet dreams.

Helix Aspersa, Common Garden Snail

This snail spent the entirety of my night-shift climbing the stairs towards the office and then back down to where it started from.  It took about 6 or 7 hours, a round journey of about 3 metres.  For nothing.  And I thought sheep were stupid.  A snail’s eyes are in the tip of it’s tentacles.  These beasties too are hermaphrodites, having both male and female sex organs.  Yet, apparently they prefer to mate with one another.  There is a lot of love in the world of l’escargot.

At the foot of the stairs…

Where am I going?

And last came the spider…

Possible Orb Web Spider

I am not sure about this wee beauty, but I think it may be an Orb Web Spider ( Araneus Diadematus), but I am not 100% sure.  Nevertheless, it’s a pretty little thing.  If anyone knows what kind of spider it is, I’d be obliged if you’d let me know.  Thanks.

Oh, and before I forget, here is a wee video of a snail.  It is my first venture into wildlife documentary filmaking, so please be kind.