Tuesday, May 20, 2008

there's nothing magical about fathers

The Guardian reports on the discussion of whether lesbian couples should be allowed IVF treatment:
But "there's nothing magical about fathers," says Susan Golombok, professor of family research and director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, and co-author of Growing Up in a Lesbian Family. "Fathers who are very involved with their children are good for children. But fathers who are not very involved - they aren't as important, and can even have a negative effect. It's a very simplistic notion to think that fathers are important just because they're male."

Don't boys need male role models? "The thing is that fathers make absolutely no difference to their children's development of masculinity or femininity," she says. "Studies that have looked at single-parent families have not found that boys are less masculine or girls less feminine. In fact, it seems that parents make very little difference to the masculinity or femininity of their sons and daughters. The peer group is more important, and the stereotypes that are around them in their day-to-day life. Even in families where parents try hard to influence their children's gender developent, where they try to stop their sons being very masculine, for example, and try to make them more gender-neutral, actually find that whatever they do makes no difference whatsoever. Fathers are important more in terms of emotional wellbeing, not in terms of role models."

As for the lesbian issue, says Golombok, "There's now been more than 30 years of research in Europe and the US, that has found very consistently that children raised in a lesbian household are no different from children in heterosexual families, both in terms of their psychological adjustment, and also in terms of their gender development, and in terms of their relationships with other children.

In (neo-, meso- and paleo-) Pagan societies, there are and were many models of bringing up children (and many models of gender). Some tribal societies don't bother to keep track of who is the father of which child; some are patrilineal, some are matrilineal. In India, they have a saying that "It takes a whole village to bring up a child." We should be much more worried about the loss of the extended family, and the tribal community in which a child can get advice and help from any member of the community, not just its parents. The 'nuclear family' model seemingly advocated by the Conservative party is claustrophobic and probably dangerous to children on the grounds that abusive practices can happen within the four walls of the home without anyone else finding out (especially if the family is outwardly respectable). Other traditional societies have extended families to share childcare. Even if a child did need a role model of the same gender (which Professor Golombok's research seems to show is unnecessary), you could aways have a gay couple and a lesbian couple sharing the parenting.

So we need to rethink our society's model of what a family is; and we also need to rethink the primary position we give to gender in considerations of many issues where it is irrelevant.

Of course, individual dads may well be very magical indeed - but it's not their maleness that makes them so, but their unique style of parenting.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Celtic field systems

I have just created a Google map of Celtic field systems on Claverton Down, Bath (near where I work). You can see some of them as quite big banks on the ground, but the aerial photos on Google maps also show them up quite nicely.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Worst Poetry Ever

It has to be said that William McGonagall's poetry was pretty dire:
"So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay..."
And Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, immortalised by Douglas Adams, wrote some dreadful stuff, but fortunately his output was not as prolific as that of McGonagall, and he had the excuse of being young at the time:
The dead swans lay in the stagnant pool....
They also smelt a great deal.
Some of Wordsworth's stuff is pretty dire, for example The Thorn (from which Coleridge fortunately persuaded him to omit the worst lines:
'Twas three feet long and two feet wide,
I measured it from side to side.
My friend Bo (currently expelling blatant beasts) found some pretty turgid stuff by James Fenton:
Real sample: 'This is Utopia./ I came here from Ethopia....Have you ever met an Arab?/ Yes I am a scarab...' The mind boggles. ... I have since read James Fenton's Selected Poems (Penguin). They are excruciating. I turned page after page staggered by their ineptitude. ('Soldiers die, / Why why why?')
As the critics said, very much like chewing shoe leather, or the total destruction of language.

Personally, I find the poetry of Thomas Chatterton to be unbelievably bad; anyone who rhymes "pugilistic oafs" with "fisticuffs" without intending irony cannot be seen as a great poet. I am surprised that the Romantic poets liked his stuff so much.

And we must not forget the indefatigable Felicia Hemans, author of "the boy stood on the burning deck" (possibly the most parodied poem in the language, and one of the worst possible sentiments for a poem - do what you're told, even if it's completely pointless and you're going to die).

Of course, there may be worse poets than this that no-one has published. We must be thankful for small mercies.

Go California!

Yay! The State of California has re-legalised same-sex marriages. I particularly like this bit of the ruling:
there can be no doubt that extending the designation of marriage to same-sex couples, rather than denying it to all couples, is the equal protection remedy that is most consistent with our state’s general legislative policy and preference
Also available from the New York Times (with photos of happy couples celebrating).

And according to the BBC,
The decision is expected to re-invigorate the fight for same-sex marriage rights nationwide, say gay activists and legal experts.

This makes me so happy.


Tomorrow I am going to IDAHO:

There are 77 countries in the world today where it is a criminal offence to be gay. These countries punish women, men and children because of their sexuality and in seven countries the punishment is death.

An International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) provides a platform for everyone to make a powerful statement to demand improvements for the quality of life for LGBT people both overseas and here in the UK. The 17th May can be used to raise awareness of homophobic issues that are negatively impacting on people’s lives and to showcase success stories where a positive change has been achieved.

IDAHO, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, takes place on May 17th every year. It was on this date, in 1990, that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cowans sack "wizard"

Teacher Jim Piculas does a magic trick where a toothpick disappears and then reappears.

Piculas recently did the 30-second trick in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land 'O Lakes.

Piculas said he then got a call from the supervisor of teachers, saying he'd been accused of wizardry.

"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue, you can't take any more assignments, you need to come in right away,'" he said.

Piculas said he did not know of any other accusations that would have led to the action.

The teacher said he is concerned that the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.
Oh for goodness sake - when I was a teacher, I outed myself as a Wiccan, let students play on computers when they shouldn't, and definitely deviated from lesson plans (especially the time when I tried to get the kids interested in CAD by suggesting they design a weapon of mass destruction). It's obviously because Florida is the state where they want to stop teaching evolution and teach intelligent design instead, and they're so fundamentalist they even think conjuring is a snare of the devil. Er, hello, Land o' Lakes, this is the 21st century, not the 17th.

Monday, May 12, 2008

when I was six

When I was six years old, I saw a UFO. And I mean Unidentified Flying Object. I have no idea whether it was of terrestrial origin or not. It was late at night, and I looked out of my bedroom widow, and I saw this thing (a drawing is on the right) hovering over the trees in the park. It was glowing, but seemed curiously flat - not curved or anything. I was scared, so I got back into bed and hid under the covers. That was it - there were no other phenomena associated with it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

meet Yseult...

Hahahahaha! Just tried out the hilarious new Pagan name generator (don't worry, this is an example of Pagan self-mockery, it's not serious).

Its suggestions so far:

Gender-neutral: Wolfe Nightshade Artemis
Female: Yseult Autumn Amber
Male: Ossian Midnight Bear

Clearly I need a pretentious moniker like one of these. That's where I've been going wrong all these years, using my real name.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

being human

Hurrah! The BBC has commissioned a series of Being Human. This makes me very chuffed, as it was one of the best things on telly for ages.

It's set in Bristol, with a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost as the main characters. It's like a supernatural version of This Life, and it's got humour, pathos, and laconic laid-back style. It's written by Toby Whithouse (of Torchwood and Dr Who fame) and it's really well written.

It's about what it means to have an identity, to have friends, to have a life - even when you're undead. It's about sitting around in the pub with your mates, except your mates are a little bit stranger than average... Basically the three main characters don't want to be supernatural, they just want to be normal. And the werewolf is Jewish, by the way.

You're gonna love it.

If you haven't already seen the pilot episode (aired as a one-off in March), badger your friends till you find someone who recorded it, and watch it.