Coming soon… A history of noise

Noise.

It fills our lives. It is something that is so constant that I doubt any of us really experience true silence except perhaps on a few occasions in our lives. There is the daily burr that forms a soundtrack to our lives that we barely pay attention to any more. There are the phones chirruping away, cars passing, doors closing, papers shuffling, colleagues talking at the water cooler, footsteps in the corridor. The list is endless.

In more peaceful places there is still noise: the wind in the trees, birds singing, the sea on the shore, the rustle of grass as we walk. Even now, in this house, with no music playing, the windows double-glazed and with the heating currently off, I can hear the whirr of the computer’s fan and my fingers clicking on the keyboard (and what a joy it is to be typing on a real keyboard, not a laptop or a Blackberry). At other times there might be the creak of pipes or the sound of the house settling after the day or a distant siren howling through the town.

Interestingly, pretty much the world’s quietest place isn’t in the middle of nowhere at all. It is at Orfield Laboratories, in their anechoic chamber:

anechoic chamberAnechoic means echo free and this chamber is designed to completely absorb sound waves and create an experimental space in which there can be absolute silence. Somehow or other I suspect that I would end up being driven mad by the sound of the blood rushing in my ears!

Anyway, browsing Facebook, the feed of an old friend with whom I wish I kept in better touch flashed up a link to a blog: Noise – A human history. Starting Monday 18 March, this 30-part series will explore the role of sound in the past 100,000 years of human history As it says on the blog:

“Recorded on location around the world, it will take us from the shamanistic trance-music of our cave-dwelling ancestors, the babel of ancient Rome, the massacre of noisy cats in pre-revolutionary Paris, and the sonic assaults of trench warfare, right through to our struggle to find calm in the cacophony of a modern metropolis. This is not about sound in the abstract: it is about sound as a matter of life and death, pain and pleasure, feeling and intellect. People, and their past behaviours, are at the heart of it.”

Sound has always fascinated me – how we become attuned to some sounds and not to others, how music can bend our emotions, how people communicate, how we hear the world when we actually stop to listen. Something tells me that this series will be quite special.

Check it out – and those of you who enjoy quality radio, listen out for it.

Rape: the shocking failure of our legal system – and our media

According to figures released by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics, more and more incidents of women being raped in England and Wales are being recorded:

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

Rape of a female

13,902

14,589

14,767

Rape of a male

1,172

1,303

1,274

That is a total of 47,007 incidents of recorded rape over a three year period.

And the number of convictions for rape in that same period (and yes, I know there is no absolute read-across between the offences and convictions)?

1,372.

Yet these figures don’t reveal the horrific extent of rape and serious sexual offences in England and Wales: the report also shows that 57% of women told someone but not the police of a rape or serious sexual assault. 28% told no-one.

And then the questions…

There were “only” 40 non-custodial sentences for rape in 2011. Excuse me? Why were there any?

Apparently “Since 2005, there have been fewer than seven Suspended Sentences Orders (SSOs) given each year for rape of a female and none have been given for rape of a male.” What does the fact that any SSOs have been given  say about differences in perceptions between rape of a female and rape of a male?

Another shocking statistic is that, on average, it is 722 days from the moment someone is raped until the completion of the case. That is almost two years of reliving the hell of what happened in order to secure justice. Why should someone have to wait so long?

There are  so many important questions that arise from this report it is difficult to know where to start.

The figures should hit home like an iron bar hammered in your face.

They should be screamed across the  front page of every newspaper. They are utterly appalling – and reveal a shocking affront to justice that reminds us we are light years from ensuring that rape victims receive the support they need to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

And now, in the wake of Leveson, is the ideal time for the press to demonstrate their worth. After all, we’ve had plenty of self-indulgent hand-wringing in recent months, most notably about the important role played by our newspapers in our public life and democracy. In his evidence to Leveson, The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, extolled his paper’s virtues (Para. 60):

“It distils complex important issues of the day, including politics, finance and law into concise readable copy which educates and entertains.”

So, on a day when official statistics reveal such a shocking failure of our investigative and legal processes, on an issue that clearly straddles law and politics, what was this bastion of our free press’s front page?

The_Sun_newspaper_front_page

Perhaps we would expect such crassness and double-standards from The Sun. But what were the front pages of most the other main UK papers today?

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Only two national newspapers ran the story on their front pages: The Independent and i – the quality tabloid off-shoot of The Independent:

Metro, the newspaper given out free in major cities, also had it on its front page.

Where were all the others?

Where was The Guardian,  never usually bashful in its self-promotion as the left-wing champion of women’s rights and awareness of issues that particularly affect women? Who knows. It certainly doesn’t consider this report front page news. Even after the Savile report was released, The Independent still had this story as a second headline on its website. By contrast, it was the 17th headline on The Guardian Online – appalling.

What does this lack of interest say about a media more concerned with itself than getting to the core of issues that affect hundreds of thousands of people in the most horrendous ways?

It is a corroboration of the silence and inaction that characterises our society’s approach to rape – an approach that continues to allow rapists to escape justice. With Savile, with the horrors of Steubenville and Delhi, perhaps this might just change. Perhaps. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that any of these are, in and of themselves, the answer.

As Deborah McIlveen, policy and services manager at Women’s Aid, told the Independent:

“Despite all that is known about rape and sexual violence, the justice system still fails to hold most rapists to account and so fails to deliver victim safety, public protection and management of perpetrator risk. These men are free to continue to rape and this is unacceptable, harmful and illegal.

“Most rape victims can identify their abuser, and many of these will be their partners or ex-partners.  This ongoing failure to secure convictions will continue to leave women and young people vulnerable and in potentially risky situations.”

And as spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales told the Independent:

“The figures are shocking but sadly not that surprising. There has been lots of publicity and measures put in place to try and increase the conviction rate around rape and sexual abuse. But it looks like it is not having as much effect as we would like.

“It is a chicken and egg situation: women do not report offences because they know they are very unlikely to get a conviction. They know they would have to put themselves through a system which is very traumatic and are likely to come out at the other end with no justice.”

If it matters to you, read the report for yourself. Ask questions.

And don’t be silent.

Bob Newhart on the origins of tobacco

“Bob” Newhart, born George Robert Newhart in Austin, Chicago in 1929, is an American actor and comedian with a fascinating and varied career. I first came across him guesting on Desperate Housewives.

In awarding him a Peabody Award for the Bob Newhart Show in 1961, the board said:

… a person whose gentle satire and wry and irreverent wit waft a breath of fresh and bracing air through the stale and stuffy electronic corridors. A merry marauder, who looks less like St. George than a choirboy, Newhart has wounded, if not slain, many of the dragons that stalk our society. In a troubled and apprehensive world, Newhart has proved once again that laughter is the best medicine.

His routines are characterised by a deadpan delivery and one of his classics is entitled “Introducing Tobacco To Civilisation”, performing a very funny riff on how we started smoking.

Sometimes humour stays fresh across the decades.

The games we played – childhood’s adventures

BBC History magazine had an article in its Christmas edition on the dangerous games played by children in Tudor England. With fond recollections of my own childhood games I was curious to see what mischief our ancestors got up.

True enough, some of the stories were very sad, recounting how children had met their unfortunate demise whilst playing, but the games themselves were nothing special or dangerous. Rather, youngsters then, as now, met tragedy in a pond or lake or with an item falling on top of them.

Somehow, on reflection, my own childhood games seem rather more hazardous. Weekends were an adventure playground.

There was “Stick Wars”, where four of us would split into two teams of two and roam the local woods, Coombe Wood, with its “Creepy Copse” or the “Sandy Hills” tucked away in a bushy enclave on Westley Heights and the product of centuries of toil by local badgers. (It was years before it was I realised it was “Creepy Copse” and not “Creepy Cops”, the tall pines giving me small-child nightmare images of evil tree-police ready to snatch us out of the evening gloom). There we would give ourselves a “time out” to gather suitably-sized and suitably-shaped sticks and twigs that could be flung at each other. These turned into mammoth reconnaissance efforts, donning second-hand army fatigues and wellies, buying walkie-talkies, and making clear to families and walkers up from the town and trying to enjoy a little countryside that these were our woods.

What little horrors we were.

My regular partners in games were my brother and two eldest cousins, Matt and Sarah, and we spent virtually every weekend together between the ages of six and sixteen. As the years went by, we added my sister Ellie and odd friends (odd as in random, not odd, though some were certainly quirky – eh, Bob?). It was either Matt and me or Sarah and me, never siblings together, and we could spend a goodly while deciding what mischief to get up to. Back then, 2pm to 5pm was a significant portion of a life-time and seemed to last forever.

We were lucky in that both families had extensive gardens with an adjacent field, very differently shaped, but both sporting a tremendous variety of sheds, trees, nooks, crannies, and hidey-holes.

Sticks were reserved for public spaces. For our own gardens, and depending on the season, we opted for acorns and apples, knowing that one of those catching you on the leg would sting like hell or leave a splendid, thumping bruise. We’d skulk about gathering windfalls and stashing caches of ammunition under bushes and in old coal scuttles. And then we would unleash the pain, always bemused when a glancing blow to the head reduced one of us to tears and drew down the wrath of one or other set of parents.

On one memorable occasion we were joined by Horst, a rather severe and strong German who was the brother of a friend’s friend, who rather missed the point of these games with their stealth and dexterously-flung missiles. Instead, he appeared on the brow of a hill carrying a tree trunk and yelling who-knows-what in German at the top of his voice as he charged us down. Thank goodness for Matthew and his Herculean strength, who managed to flatten him in spectacular style.

Elastic bands – the thicker variety that are rarely seen today – were strung together in threes, fours and even fives to make lethal catapults for firing gravel from the drive or grit from a felt roof. We perfected weapons with ranges of a solid two or three hundred feet, if the trajectory was suitably angled and the bands powerful enough. A careful watch was kept for parents who might not appreciate the stones peppering the lawn and dulling the blades of the Mountfield mower.

Field cricket was a potentially lethal affair. Many lazy days were spent playing cricket in “the field” under sweltering Summer suns, on a full length wicket with a makeshift backing net of fruit bush netting or chicken wire. We played with leather and willow, no fear – and no pads and gloves (except when Brian, my friend and neighbour, invested in them, tired of his bruises and in receipt of more pocket money than the rest of us). But the pitch was uneven and I liked to bowl. Having reached six foot early and being an adept strike bowler, I spent hours learning where the ball bounced best for maximum impact and avoiding the ditch on the run-up. When dusk became twilight and the light impossible for finding balls in bushes or under blackthorn we would retire scratched, exhausted and happy, ready to resume the next day.

Then, finally, there was “That Game”, so infamous we still recall it today with a wistful, evil glint in the eye, which is still spoken of in hushed terms, and which we wonder if even at our age we could perhaps play one last time. Were there any rules? Probably. I recall a violent combination of British Bulldog, the tag variants of off-ground touch and run-outs, and wrestling. It was best played in the dark, outside, torches both a boon and curse. How no-one ended up cracking open a skull on the stone wood bunker which served as a base at Matt and Sarah’s place I have no idea.

So. Sod the Tudors. Langdon Hills in twentieth century Essex is where the dangerous games were at.

We’re just lucky we survived.

Words we (I) hate

Marist Poll, the polling organisation that works out of Marist College, has released details of its survey of the most irritating words in the English language. Obviously, this has a US slant, though it’s surprising how they actually tick a box on this side of the Atlantic, too (perhaps because some are clearly American):

  1. Whatever
  2. Like
  3. You know
  4. Just sayin’
  5. Twitterverse
  6. Gotcha
  7. Unsure

I’d like to chuck in the following words/phrases:

  1. Aks (the word is “ask” – and no, you don’t sound “street”)
  2. Lulz (it’s not a word – it’s derived from the text speak acronym “lol” and you sound a prat)
  3. Fleg (don’t even go there)
  4. I personally (grrr)
  5. Shouldn’t of (have!)
  6. Absolutely (yes…)
  7. Sick (it does NOT mean good – it is what happens after you’ve been a dick and drunk too much – or caught the norovirus)

Please feel free to add your own pet hates.

Outrage at Californian rapist’s appeal secured on an arcane legal anomaly

The phrase “The law is an ass” was coined in a play entitled “Revenge for Honour” that was probably written by Henry Glapthorne and published by (and frequently mistakenly attributed to)  George Chapman in 1654.

Both the title and the wrangle over identity are bitterly ironic, following the decision of the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn a three-year sentence for rape on the basis of an arcane legal anomaly dating back to 1872.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Court of Appeal has interpreted the statute thus:

A man who impersonates someone in order to have sexual intercourse may be guilty of rape only if the victim was married and the man was pretending to be her husband.

You can read the full opinion of The People v. Julio Morales here, where a picture is painted of a young woman (identified only as “Jane Doe”) enjoying a night out with friends, going home, deciding not to have sex with her boyfriend as they had no condoms – and then being raped by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. It is quite clear that in any right-thinking understanding of the concept of rape, Julio Morales is guilty without question. Indeed, reading the judgement, the prosecution contend that he admitted his guilt. Yet, because she was unmarried, and he was impersonating a boyfriend, not a husband, he is apparently not guilty of rape.

So what the hell sort of legal system allows this sort of specious contention to come between a young woman, whose life has been wrecked, and justice?

As a non-lawyer, who could scarcely believe what he was hearing on the radio this morning, I can only think that it is a legal system in which the moral compass of those who interpret the law is subordinated to the irrelevant technicalities of archaic legislation, almost certainly written by men, to benefit men, at a time when General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby was chasing Indians back across Lost River in the Modoc War. Had you heard of General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby? I hadn’t until I started looking at this case and what else was going on in California in 1872. I doubt that “Jane Doe” had either.

Take time to read the opinion.

And forget the technicalities for a moment. Think about those involved as merely people. The victim. The lawyers. The perpetrator. Think about them as merely people in a civilised society. Think about the purpose of the law in that civilised society. Think about its purpose in a modern, socially-aware Western democracy that contends it is working to make its communities secure places in which everyone, regardless of gender, can live, love, play and work safely. Contrast that purpose with what we can only imagine its nascent role to be in the early 1870s, four years before the last stand of George Armstrong Custer and the Sioux Nation at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Which of those lawyers behind the appeal could possibly look that woman in the eye and say that the in 21st Century Los Angeles of today they were acting in all good conscience, believing that their client did not actually rape her?

So there we have it. A young woman in 2012 is brutalised and subsequently denied justice because legislators and lawyers derive their basis for legal decision from a past that is completely irrelevant to her life experience today.

Yes, the Court of Appeal urged legislators to act. Yes, legislators have agreed to act.

And yes. The law is an ass.

I hope the retrial of Julio Morales proves otherwise – and provides a measure of justice for “Jane Doe”.

Fun theory: or how to make boring “good” stuff fun to do

The Fun Theory is a very entertaining little site that looks at ways of encouraging healthier or more civic-minded behaviour by making things fun to do. Yeah, yeah, there’ll be a bunch of kill-joys who’ll mutter and moan about social engineering as they choose to throw their litter on the ground or break the speed limit (check out the site for that one), but it’s an intriguing idea that turns many ideas of functional municipal design on their head.

Here are two of my favourites.

In the first clip they ask if they can persuade more people to throw their rubbish in the bin if they make it fun to do. In the second, they ask if they can encourage more people to use the stairs than the escalator if, again, they make them fun to use.

I think this has something going for it.

The world’s deepest bin

Piano stairs

Cold calling, Bockwurst and dying manners (mine)

It happens at least three times a day, according to my telephone’s log. Sometimes it can be three times an hour.

Someone I don’t know, in a place I have never been to, places a call through a robot dialler and attempts to convince me that, despite a suspiciously subcontinental accent, they are called Belinda – or jauntily assures me with a pleasant Scottish twang that I signed up to receive marketing calls from their clients (what sort of imbecile would knowingly do that?!).

Who are these people who make these calls – and how has it become socially acceptable to force yourself on someone’s time like some irresistible cyber-pedlar? When did it become okay to ignore the pitifully ineffective Telephone Preference Service system so that a student in Glasgow or a housewife in Bangalore can drag you out of the loo, only for you to hear the ghost in the machine click and the line fall dead, your tormentor waiting until you resume your thronely duties to try again?

Sometimes, in my more conspiratorial moments, I wonder if TPS sells lists of numbers just to piss us off.

It is yet another mark of the slow and painful death of manners in the modern age (see Kino rage: the death of cinema etiquette (or… Be quiet!)). It strikes me as quite ironic, really, that while political parties – generally not the most popular of organisations – go to great lengths and expense to ensure their phone lists are TPS-compliant, following the guidance of the Information Commissioner’s Office, it is companies, sales canvassers and charities – yes, even sodding charities – that regularly show a maverick disregard for the law.

So, in an act of defiance which makes me feel a little more like Han Solo (assisting rather than leading the Rebellion), I have taken to rarely answering my land-line unless I recognise the number – or I want a little sport.

Callers for my ex-wife, who left ten years ago, or my ex-partner, who left a year and a half ago, are met with a stunned silence and a stifled sob, before being angrily told they have just dredged up the most painful of memories that I have spent many years trying to bury. (Just to be clear, for anyone who might be concerned I am suffering relationship-related PTSD, this is not true.) In the wrong moment, callers for “Is that Mr Williams?” may simply encounter the version of me that has suspended all rules of civility and receive a stream of epithets worthy of the bluest sergeant major. More mischievously, I might assent to their request to speak to him if they provide the right password. That can be a source of some bafflement.

Or asking extremely technical and detailed questions, before declining.

Or simply answering “yes” to every question.

And finally, those concerned people from Windows (yeah, right) who are at pains to tell me that there is a problem with my computer and that I need their very expensive computer services are usually flummoxed if I request details of the IP address they logged for my computer. Or better still, if I deny the existence of the computer at all and express my concern that there is clearly one planted in the house and operating without my knowledge and request their assistance locating it.

I don’t buy this crap about them “just doing their job”. Of course they are – but their job is intrusive and bloody annoying. If I were being paid to walk around behind people in the street in a giant sausage suit and stick Bockwurst in their ears I would be rightly pilloried for being an annoying arse. “Just doing my job” is not a defence that would get me very far – particularly if those people had paid for a service in all good faith that expressly prohibited people from following them around in giant sausage suits and sticking Bockwurst in their ears. Therefore, when you interrupt the film I am watching, or the book I am reading in the bathroom (currently the rather brilliant collection of short stories by William Trevor), or the long-range sniper shot I am just about to take on the Operation Firestorm map, you’ll have to forgive me if my reaction abandons socially acceptable norms.

In responding like this, I realise that the last laugh is probably on me. I am adopting behaviours that further erode the Blyton-esque values of trust and politeness and goodwill and friendliness that were the bedrock of my growing-up and which seem increasingly absent in many of today’s social transactions.

But they started it. They broke the rules first. Not me.

So. Game on.

Other tips for dealing with cold callers greatly appreciated.

Shameful: Republicans block renewal of the Violence Against Women Act

It should have been a bipartisan no-brainer, something that politicians from all sides could unite around when there is so much else on the political agenda that is a source of division.

After all, it had spent eighteen years on the statute book with support from both the GOP and the Democrats. Indeed, when it was renewed in 2005, it passed the House of Representatives 415-4 and served as a legislative beacon in the civilised world of the real difference law-makers can have on the lives of the vulnerable and damaged.

Yet, this week, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refused to take up the bipartisan Senate renewal bill S.1925 and its proposed revisions and so, for the first time since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act is no longer on the statute book. Stop Street Harassment and other bloggers have reacted with understandable fury.

So what did the Violence Against Women Act do?

It wasn’t some wishy-washy social liberal piece of over-regulation. It was making a real difference to the lives of people that otherwise would have suffered silently, unable to seek redress against those that abused them. The Hotline, the national domestic violence hotline website, is clear about the progress that the Violence Against Women Act achieved in tackling domestic violence and other violence against women:

VAWA 1994 – Congress, in passing VAWA 1994, envisioned a nation with an engaged criminal justice system and coordinated community responses. VAWA 1994 fostered:

  • Community-coordinated responses that brought together, for the first time, the criminal justice system, the social services system, and private nonprofit organizations responding to domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Recognition and support for the efforts of domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and other community organizations nationwide working everyday to end this violence
  • Federal prosecution of interstate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes
  • Federal guarantees of interstate enforcement of protection orders
  • Protections for battered immigrants
  • A new focus on underserved populations and Native victims of domestic violence and sexual assault

VAWA 2000 – Congress improved on the foundation established in VAWA 1994, including:

  • Identifying the additional related crimes of dating violence and stalking
  • The creation of a much-needed legal assistance program for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Promoting supervised visitation programs for families experiencing violence
  • Further protecting immigrants experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, by establishing U- and T-visas and by focusing on trafficking of persons

VAWA 2005 – Congress took a more holistic approach to addressing violence against women. In addition to enhancing criminal and civil justice and community-based responses to violence, VAWA 2005 created notable new focus areas such as:

  • Containing provisions that exclusively serve to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence but also include immigration protections to alleviate violence against immigrant women that previous legislation had tried, but failed to alleviate
  • Developing prevention strategies to stop violence before it starts
  • Protecting individuals from unfair eviction due to their status as victims  of domestic violence or stalking
  • Creating the first federal funding stream to support rape crisis centers
  • Developing culturally-and linguistically-specific services for communities
  • Enhancing programs and services for victims with disabilities
  • Broadening VAWA service provisions to include children and teenagers

So what was it about the Senate bill, proposed in April 2012 by senators Pat Leahy (Democrat) and Mike Crapo (Republican) and approved by the Senate by 68 votes to 31, that was so objectionable? It ensured that there was proper protection for immigrants, LGBT communities and Native Americans. Clearly, this is something that the majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives found objectionable and so they introduced their own bill,  H.R. 4970, which gutted the Senate bill of those provisions – even though the President had already indicated he would veto it for its inadequacies. Congressman Michael E. Capuano (Democrat) has a simple yet devastating summary of H.R. 4970’s weaknesses on his home page:

Among other provisions, the 1994 VAWA allowed immigrants who were being abused to petition for their own independent legal status. This part of the law protected individuals who were living in the country legally as the spouse of a citizen or a lawful permanent resident. It gave them the ability to report the abuse and remove themselves from a dangerous environment without fear of deportation.

H.R. 4970 weakens that provision in an important way. It eliminates a requirement that abuser-provided testimony or evidence be corroborated before denying a petition for independent legal status. What does this mean? Currently, abusers who deny that they are inflicting harm must submit some evidence that they are actually telling the truth – testimony from a family member, counselor or law enforcement personnel, something besides their own statement.

H.R. 4970 rolls back that provision. Instead of requiring some supporting evidence, this bill simply requires that the word of the alleged abuser be weighed against the word of the abused. Just on the basis of that, a petition for independent legal status can be denied. I want to be very clear; this has nothing to do with illegal immigration. Anyone covered by this provision is already here legally. There is no credible reason to weaken a part of the law that has been in place since 1994.

H.R. 4970 does not include provisions that would protect Native Americans who are being abused. Currently more than 50% of all Native American women are either married to or living with someone who is not a Native American. However, tribal courts do not have the authority to pursue charges against non-Native Americans. Instead, someone who is abused is forced to seek help through federal or state law enforcement. That help is all too often located hours away, creating a barrier when it comes to reporting abuse. The Senate bill would simply have given tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Native Americans who are accused of domestic violence against Native Americans.

H.R. 4970 also fails to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) victims. It does not include Senate-passed provisions that would prohibit VAWA-funded programs from discriminating based on sexual orientation. And it doesn’t add LGBT victims to the STOP Grant program, which funds domestic violence support initiatives. Studies have shown that members of the LGBT community do face discrimination when seeking services, including being turned away from domestic violence shelters. These provisions are simply about equality. Sexual orientation shouldn’t matter. Abuse is abuse and help should be there for everyone who needs it.

Over 100 organizations oppose the House version, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Women’s Law Center, the American Bar Association, the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Congress of American Indians. I voted NO.

The debate on House Resolution 656 of 12th May 2012, seeking to authorise H.R. 4970, makes for depressing reading and gives a clear indication of the ideological divide that has led to the politicisation of an issue that should unite politicians, not divide them. In the words of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke:

This egregious bill is another example of this Republican-led Congress waging political warfare on women.

H.R. 4970 would roll back years of progress and bipartisan commitment on the part of Congress to protect vulnerable immigrant victims of domestic violence, stalking, sex crimes, other serious crimes, and trafficking. Choosing one type of victim over the other.

So the Violence Against Women Act has expired. The Senate Bill attempting to renew it with necessary extensions has been abandoned. And, rightly, the Republican-gutted substitute will go nowhere.

In the end though, whilst politicians wrangle, it is the victims of domestic and sexual violence who will suffer.

And for those of us across the Atlantic, who often see our cousins leading where in a few years’ time we follow, we should pay particular attention to the societal signals that this determination to put ideological considerations above the safety of women and communities sends us. Rather, we should be relentless in our desire to work across the political divide to tackle violence against women and recognise that by prioritising spending and political attention in this area all of society benefits.

To do otherwise is shameful.

Kino rage: the death of cinema etiquette (or… Be quiet!)

What is it about cinema? I’ve always loved it and we are spoiled today with an array of multiplexes. With their smaller studio screens they have even recognised that there is a market for art house and foreign cinema, as well as the latest blockbuster, so even those of a more discerning taste can find something to watch.

However, today’s excursion to Skyfall, a second viewing, mid-week and starting at just about tea time, was an eye-opener as far as the behaviour of other cinemas-goers  went. Perhaps at 40 I am becoming a curmudgeonly old git. On the other hand, perhaps my twat toleration levels are severely depleted. Anyway, herewith some handy thoughts to make communal viewing a more pleasurable experience, inspired by unprecedented levels of cretinous behaviour at today’s screening.

Start time

It used to be that you had to buy a local newspaper to find out what was on at the local cinema. Now, though, with a little initiative, you can find the start time listed online. Ain’t technology great? Knowing when the film begins is Very Handy. It means you don’t have to walk in after the adverts, after the trailers and after the opening sequences. Yes, that goes for all TWELVE of you that did that today. You can actually enjoy the whole film (!) if you turn up on time.

Seats

Cinemas generally allocate seats. You can find your seat reference handily printed on your ticket. Don’t be a twat and pretend that you didn’t know you were sitting in the premium seats when you only paid for standard. It’s only embarrassing for you when you are asked to move.

Fidgeting

Sit still. I realise this is a challenge in our ADHD-addled 21st Century world, but honestly. The length of the film can be found online. If you can’t sit still, don’t bloody ruin it for the rest of us by fidgeting like an arse and making your chair squeak.

Food and drink

It’s a cinema. Not a restaurant. Of course have a snack or sweets. But EAT QUIETLY. And certainly with your mouth shut, unlike the munching fules that insisted on rustling their popcorn today before chomping away with their mouths open, so we could all share in the sonorous delights of their mastication.

The loo

Go before the film. Trust me. It’s the best plan. As above, you can tell how long the film lasts. You know how long you can usually go without going. So go before. And don’t order that bucket-sized Pepsi which is a diabetes bomb waiting to explode. You never know when you are going to rub up against the person who won’t move or stand up to let you out. Plan ahead.

Phones

Does this really need saying? Turn them off! You are not James Bond, even if you think you are. You are not going to be called into action. If you are awaiting an important call, or are concerned about the welfare of someone else, get your priorities right and get out of the cinema. It’s not like you have to wait years for it to come out on DVD. You are NOT more special than the rest of us and you really can survive without a text message for two hours. There was a time when people went their entire lives without sending or receiving texts. No, honestly. It is true.

Talking

Don’t! Again, does this really need saying? The odd whisper? Of course. A gasp of surprise? Definitely. Laughter? If appropriate. Talking? NEVER!

And finally?

Follow these simple rules and enjoy the film. Or else…