Monday, 30 April 2007
Sunday, 29 April 2007
In any case, I'm glad that the elections have given all those normally dour souls something to chuckle about - even if it's not the Nationalists' pie in the sky policies, whose sheer lunacy appears to have gone unnoticed by a public whom, if opinion polls are correct, is ready to vote for them in droves. The Lib Dems should be careful not to be forced into coalition with nationalistas. After 8 years in government we're in danger of looking power-hungry rather than principled if we simply take up with them after proclaiming we wouldn't - even if they drop their independence referendum idea.
Not only do their spendthrift policies play to the populist gallery but they are happy to overlook the fact that Scots are extremely generously subsidised by the Westminster exchequer, whose continued generosity is likely to be the only way their promises can be paid for. The irony... Furthermore, the myth of an independent Scotland in Europe, modelled after the success of Irish integration, fails to recognise we would benefit from almost no cohesion or structural funds, which are currently going to the Poles, Bulgars, and Romanians to help them climb out of a Communist era economic blackhole. I think it's a good idea in the long-term, but it's no cure-all and smacks of auld-alliance thinking rather than europhilia per se.
My personal aim is to secure more than 7 votes in my constituency on Thursday - since that's the number of party members we have - to help shore up our national vote. Any fewer and I'll assume I've even managed to make some enemies in my absence from the campaign trail..Fingers crossed!
Friday, 27 April 2007
His Turkish background makes it difficult for him to be gay. And yet it also makes it difficult for him to feel fully European. As a result of these identity conflicts, we concluded, the idea of belonging anywhere is illusory. Maybe that recognition is why he feels so free to go wherever in the world a job might take him. 8 years in Belgium, he says, is long enough for one lifetime.
As this experience illustrates, anyone who has ever stepped outside their national or cultural boundaries to a meaningful degree will discover that home, which was once so physically real, suddenly exists as no more than tempting nostalgia. Once you start bringing new influences, priorities, and understanding into your life from diverse sources, it is almost impossible to go back - simply because you are not the same person that you were before. And home itself will not recognise you.
So our selves shift over time. Indeed, that is what the transition from childhood to adulthood has always implied. But if that shift occurs in a framework of competing influences, it can create a sense of profound dislocation. Either we stop resisting change, and become creatures of circumstance who exchange costumes and personae with each curtain call. Or we live exclusively within our own little communities. Brussels may be marginally warmer, less efficient, and have better food, say, than the UK, but that doesnt stop many English Exiles from being as determinedly English as ever, since they've never allowed the place they refuse to call home from impinging on their consciousness. Other approaches are never really called into question because they are relegated to the margins.
Both choices, it seems to me, have significant implications for our sense of self. Clannishness suggests that our identity is fixed ad infinitum by the influences - however arbitary - of our childhood culture (in my case this seems even more ridiculous given the fact my parents only moved to the country of my birth by accident) . Chameleonic tendencies, on the other hand, suggest that there is no self beneath the surface, just a system of learned responses to deal with, and render comprehensible, the environment around us - and thus no real value.
The only alternative to this - admittedly nihilistic - vision is synthesis. That is to say, the process of interrogating, weighing and ordering competing influences which are then incorporated into our changing selves in new and unexpected ways. This, in turn, leads to an understanding of the self as a fluid entity which is constantly calling itself into question and renewing itself. But that creates its own challenges. And the most major of those is to be prepared for the isolating effects of an individualism which can divide you from your origins but, as my friend maintains, is also the price of freedom.
Thursday, 26 April 2007
Sunday, 22 April 2007
Well, I know we are all supposed to relish challenges and I suppose I do have a stubborn streak...BUT....this seems like a major commitment. Moreover, I'd always harboured ambitions to make it to the age of 28 instead of keeling over on the kerb from dehydration, since this was the age my tarot-reading aunt (whose psychic abilities have been confirmed by a number of friends and relatives) assured me I would meet the love of my life. Having said that, the world being a cynical place, it might be better to die before you give up hope of that ever happening.
However I have discovered of late that I am indeed capable of enduring long periods of unpleasantness. The fiasco over my latest batch of essays (incomprehensible philosophical polysyllables dictated by a German pedant combined with the longest working hours in the history of mankind) which led me to shut myself in my room for the best part of three days reveals this, I think. Therefore, I am quietly confident that if I can cope with Habermas without having jumped out of the window to end it all, then I should be able to muster up the self-discipline to go running around the city. Even if I don't finish the course til the next morning!... Anyone else survived such an experience?
Saturday, 21 April 2007
Rumi, the Mevlana, believed that all religions were dedicated to the same end via different paths - each revealing a different aspect of the deity. Jonathan Sacks, Britain's Chief Rabbi, said something very similar in his book 'The Dignity of Difference' which was intended as an antidote to the clash of civilisations thesis. Because it embodies these contradictions, I found the following passage by white, French, Muslim author Abdennour Bidar, rather poignant:
"Terrible impuisance de l’esprit occidental modern à franchir la Méditerranée ou le Bosphore! L’islam, la spiritualité, la sagesse? Dieu, l’unité de l’existence en une seule Vie universelle? Tout cela faisait sourire ces jeunes esprits élevés dans la conviction d’une supériorité de la science et de la philosophie athée sur la religion, et d’une surprématie de la rationalité occidentale sur la vision du monde “pré-logique” des cultures religieuses! Claude Lévi-Strauss écrit que “le barbare, c’est d’abord l’homme qui croit à la barbarie”. Comme l’Occident m’a semblé barbare, alors, lui qui croit tant être ‘la civilisation’ et rejette les autres dans cette fameuse barbarie imaginaire, née de l’ignorance, de l’incapacité à reconnaître l’intelligence et la culture sous les dehors de la difference".
Wednesday, 18 April 2007
I'm not going to go so far as to say these things are totally fixed - sometimes someone, somewhere, with no backing apart from their own CV slips through the net. But most of the time, the preferred candidate is lined up before the first outside applications have been sifted through and the selected few flown to Brussels at their own expense for what, essentially, constitutes a sham interview. Which is ironic considering that 'transparency' and 'accountability' are the watchwords of the day.
Now this is partially the fault of an inflexible recruitment system which mirrors that of the civil service - and thus fails to meet the needs of a political institution which wishes to employ people loyal to certain party principles or members. So I can see how a number of potential recruits could fall by the wayside simply by having no obvious connection to political life.
However sometimes it gets ridiculous. Like when you want to promote someone. Of course, this being European bureaucracy, you can't just reward someone with more money or a higher grade for doing a good job. That's why permanent staff can spend the best part of their working day out to lunch with no negative consequences. You have to find them a better position as and when one becomes available.
Which explains why an advert to recruit someone on 'equal opportunities grounds' appeared one day on a website, more or less specifying the height, weight and culinary preferences of the guy the unit in question wanted to promote.
I feel sorry for those who waste their time and energy applying for these things from outside.
Tuesday, 17 April 2007
However, I would like to link to my photos, which I am putting up on Flickr. Thanks to Nora for the idea...You can see them here or in the links section of the blog
Friday, 13 April 2007
Wednesday, 11 April 2007
Is it true that supposedly free Western women are in fact locked into a spiral of submission as strong, if not stronger, than that exhibited by other, more explicitly misogynist cultures? Fatema Mernissi - a Moroccan feminist and sociologist - gives an interesting exposition of this thesis in her book 'Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems', in which she compares the differening tactics employed in the West and the East to ensure female obedience to male standards.
Now Mernissi is rather controversial, in so far as she views the hijab as a symbol of masculine control of women, rather than a religious duty per se. However, setting that issue aside, she may be right in observing that '"size 6 is a more violent restriction imposed on women" than the segregation (and potential anonymisation) of women in the public sphere imposed by the veil.
At this point most 'women of the free world' would probably throw up their hands and accuse her of talking nonsense. Yet she makes quite a convincing case that most Westerners are caught in a system of 'magic entrancement' where we spontaneously accept subservient positions in relation to men. This is manifested not through rhetoric (which tends towards an empty feminism) but in our subsconscious assumptions which are shaped by a tacit acceptance of 'woman' as the object, rather than subject.
This is evidenced, she notes, by our choice of fashion (determined for, and by, the male gaze), partner (who, in order to be conventionally attractive, should be older, physically stronger, and better paid or educated than we are), or reluctance to age which we combat with cosmetic surgery or increasingly costly cosmetics.
If what women strive to be (thin, beautiful, desired, and yet independent and successful) is the product of the male imagination then there is little intellectual space left to argue for alternatives. The fact that feminism itself is seen by many women today as a dirty word (despite evidence that we continue to be discriminated against, in everything from pay to promotion structures) is surely significant in this regard.
By contrast, she argues that male domination in the East has traditionally taken a physical rather than mental form. Rather than constructing women in their own image, she argues that the act of imprisoning women in a harem or forcing veiled anonymity onto them is less psychologically damaging and offers more hope for revolution, than its Western counterpart - despite the fact that women's rights in much of the Muslim world are so frequently violated.
I don't know how true this all is. But I certainly feel that many Western women believe what men fundamentally want is a partner who will 'Soit Belle et Tais Toi', as the saying goes. An intelligent, healthy and successful woman in our society is seen as a threat, and therefore, as ugly - because she is violating male norms of femininity. Just think - Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Cheri Blair. All vilified and mocked in the press for their 'manly' ways. It's as if, when a woman no longer ressembles a fourteen year old virgin she must become invisible - or suffer the consequences.
Something to think about at least.
Tuesday, 10 April 2007
Today I went to get a parking permit for work. Pretty simple, I thought to myself, just bring the documentation and driver's licence and le voila!
As if. I go there and fill in the form, but after standing in a very long queue (while of course the numerous staff at the other - unoccupied counters - sat and watched us wait without lifting a finger: de rigeur in these parts) I discover that as I haven't photocopied said documents I will have to go and do that before the matter is taken any further.
I proceed to the photocopying room to discover that one is en panne and the other has a paper jam, so give up and break for coffee. Eventually I locate another machine in a different part of the building, and have the precious sheafs in my hand at the counter - once again - when I am informed that these are in fact the wrong documents. What they require is a certificat d'immatriculation.
Well, I try and explain that as far as the UK Government is concerned these are the ONLY relevant documents for my car. Whatever this certificat may be it doesn't exist in my possession. But, protests the hapless administrator, the documents you've brought are not the ones our form requires! What to do?
Here is where an element of hope seeps into the seemingly impossible bureaucratic Catch-22 I've got myself into. The guy suddenly gives up. Seeing I'm in for the long-haul (and clearly not in the least bit fussed by the regulations himself) he looks around furtively, sees no one is watching and says - OK, just give me what you've got.
So I am now the proud possessor or one parking vignette. Total time elapsed in its procurement - 2.5 hours. Not bad for Belgium. This thread is to be continued I fear. I'm on such fertile territory!
Friday, 6 April 2007
I have always wanted to go to a job interview and be entirely honest in response to questions. For example:
"Why do you want to work for this company?" - "I don't really, I just need the money".
"Why did you leave your old job" - "I couldn't stand the manager, the pay was terrible and I was bored out of my mind".
Of course, I am much too much of a sissy to do any of this in real life (though, who knows, maybe my older self will enjoy that sort of challenge). But I was so impressed when my friend Jonay showed me his last resignation letter. Let this be an inspiration to you!
My name is Jonay Pelluz, my pay number is XXX/XXXXX and I have been in Royal Mail working, or what it's really true, trying to look busy when the manager is around, for more than 3 years and when I think about this I am surprised I didn't leave before. I am writing this letter because I want to resign from my job as of 11th September 2006. I suppose at this point of the letter you are thinking why?
I resign because the job is affecting my health, I am going back to Spain, it's deeply boring and I am sick of it. Although, to be honest, I resign because I miss:
The Spanish Tapas,
The Spanish Tortilla,
The Galician Octopus,
The Spanish Ham(onsito),
The Spanish Sun,
To have a night out until 8 o'clock in the morning,
And more things that I don't write because I don't think you are interested about them.
On the other hand I have to say, I will miss:
The English beer,
The English barbecues,
The English breakfast,
The English humour,
All my friends in the Post Office,
And my flatmates.
So, take care."