Moments of Permanence

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And on another topic completely Dec. 11th, 2009 @ 04:13 pm
So, recently I read about two people.

The first is Mary Kingsley, author of Travels in West Africa. Mary Kingsley is remarkable among European explorers in that she believed, and argued passionately, that the idea that black people were inferior to white people was flat wrong.

She was not some radical progressive, by the way - she was entirely against the women's suffrage movement. She was extremely conservative. She just wasn't a racist, and was a distinct anti-colonialist.

Another person who hated colonialism was the utterly brilliant Alexander von Humboldt. von Humboldt's travels to colonial territory were in South America, where he covered amazing amounts of ground and did phenomenal research, more-or-less single-handedly inventing the concept of ecology - the idea of the interconnectedness of ecosystems.

During his lifetime he was hugely and tremendously famous. Sadly, later on everyone started paying too much attention to Darwin and not enough to von Humboldt.

Sadly doesn't really cover it enough, to be honest. Darwin's ideas (well, as much as they were his at all, but that's another matter) are all well and good, but have been used to justify some pretty horrible things, while not necessarily doing even a tenth as much good as it would have done the world at large, in a very literal sense, had people paid more attention to ecology and the environment from the 19th century onwards.

Alas, Darwinism can be used to justify colonial pillage of anyone you can outgun, while von Humboldt's notions require you to be respectful of nature and the environment and to be careful about messing with the food chain and the delicate balance of ecosystems, and that's much less fun.

Big Damn Heroes: Vital Medical Services Edition Jun. 13th, 2009 @ 10:57 pm
Dr. LeRoy Carhart, of Bellevue, Nebraska, says he will begin training his staff to perform late-term abortions.

Less than two weeks after George Tiller was murdered, I call that courage. In the wake of a terrorist attack, Dr Carhart, who previously performed late-term abortions only at Tiller's clinic in Kansas, is stepping up, refusing to be intimidated.

Dr Carhart is a big damn hero.

From his wikipedia entry:

On 6 September 1991, the day of the passage of the Nebraska Parental Notification Law, arsonists targeted Carhart's farm, setting fire to his home and a 48-stall barn, along with two other buildings and numerous vehicles. The attack killed two family pets and 17 horses. The fire, which had started in seven different locations on Carhart's property, was never deemed arson and no one was prosecuted. Carhart stated that he received a note the morning after the fire claiming responsibility and likening the deaths of his animals to the "murder of children". At the time of the fire, abortions had been a small part of Carhart's surgical practice; afterwards, determined not "cede a victory to the antis", Carhart began performing abortions full-time.


He's 68 years old, and by the sounds of things, he's an ornery old bastard. More power to him.

In memoriam, though I will never forget May. 12th, 2009 @ 09:33 pm
So here's the thing: I'm having a difficult day, and a very difficult evening. My brother-out-law has, with some difficulty, been getting me through it... and then I picked up a couple of photos I'd printed out, and was reminded of something.

Someone.

My grandmother.

My grandmother was the most amazing woman I've ever met. She was wonderful - kind, Christian in the best possible - and only the best possible - sense of that word. Generous of spirit, and indomitable - she went back to university in her seventies and got a B.A. in Art History, after which she volunteered at the Art Gallery while she made an approach to doing postgraduate work. She delivered Meals on Wheels and went to aerobics. She took little old ladies on outings - little old ladies who were younger than she was. She was in her 80s before illness slowed her down.

She died on the 7th of September, 2001, a few weeks before her 85th birthday.

My grandmother is my role model, my inspiration, everything I want to be. She was and remains my greatest hero.

Two photos of her below the cut. Both were taken during the Second World War, when she was serving in Egypt. She met my grandfather there - he caught shrapnel in his thigh, and they met while he was recovering. Then he went back to the front. They married in Cairo after the war - both in uniform.

The first is of Grandmother and a man called Taki. All I know of Taki is this: they shared the office that is visible in the background (behind the truck she called her "station wagon"), and he apparently loved having his picture taken.

The second is of Grandmother and three of the Women's Auxiliary Ambulance Service - "WAUSies". My grandmother is the one on the left. The other women are recorded as "Bina, Tubby and Kay".

Pictures below cut. )
My grandmother was a farm girl from the north of Scotland, thousands of miles from home. I don't know whether this photo was taken before or after she learned that her baby brother, an RAF fighter pilot, had been shot down and killed in France; she visited his grave there in 1965.

I miss her deeply.

Big Damn Heroes, Middle-Aged Glaswegian Woman Edition May. 2nd, 2009 @ 03:37 pm
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving




I'm sitting home alone, and I'm bawling. My housemates are all out looking at formalwear, and nobody I know seems to be online.

I've been hearing vague mentions of some woman named Susan Boyle - "even odder than Paul Potts", apparently. I decided to get around to finding out what people were talking about, and looked her up on YouTube.

Which turned up this.

She sang I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables, which would be pretty heartbreaking, except I'd also scanned her Wikipedia biography, which is a pretty heartbreaking story that combined with those lyrics to tear me to sobbing pieces.

She was the youngest of ten children. Born when her mother was 47, oxygen-deprived at birth, bullied at school and nicknamed 'Susie Simple'. Attended Edinburgh Acting School but left to look after her ailing mother. Did that until her mother died. Tried to become a singer before, but had given up on that after being rejected and in some cases mocked for even trying. (After all, look at her... she's so dumpy and plain, right?) On stage before she sang she looked nervous and awkward and weird.

Almost gave up on even trying Britain's Got Talent, but her mother had so wanted her to do it... so after her mother died, she decided to try, in tribute, though it still took persuasion from her voice coach because she felt too old. She's 47 now and she's been employed for six months in her life - the rest has been occasional government training courses, volunteering for her church, and looking after her mother. People still make fun of her and call her names, because she lives alone with her cat since her mother died.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed




And she walked out on stage, and the massive crowd and judges radiated: who does this old bag think she is? A middle-aged spinster who lives with a cat named Pebbles in a tiny village in Scotland? Who has to pause in her intro to remember a word like "villages" (she's been diagnosed with learning disabilities, and we all knows that's code for stupid and subhuman, right?) and reacts weirdly to people laughing when she admits her age? How dare she?

She says she wants to be a professional singer and the audience titters.

In the teeth of that, she sings with strength and surety and what sounds like confidence. And she doesn't break as the sneers turn to a standing ovation.

I feel ashamed that I've ever thought my dreams were gone because I'm all of 28.

At the same time I think the people who still make derisive comments about how weird she is should be ashamed of themselves too, because after a life like that, to be standing there with dreams intact and the strength to get through going on stage? She's a hero.

Current Music: Susan Boyle - I Dreamed A Dream
Current Mood: awestruck


Holy mother of... Chelsea Apr. 25th, 2009 @ 10:36 am
I, wow.

In case those of you who wondered why I ever supported Hillary Clinton are still wondering. Video and transcript of her smacking some ass who's questioning whether the Obama Administration is "seeking, in any way, to weaken or overturn pro-life laws and policies in African and Latin-American countries" the hell down in the most brilliant and powerful way.

I know she has her flaws. I know she made mistakes on the campaign trail. But I still think she's an admirable woman, I still think she's brilliant, and I am so, so glad she is doing what she is doing in this area, and I am so, so glad that Obama is a president who'll let this be part of his administration's foreign (and domestic) policy, despite the wingnut uphill.

The more things change... Apr. 3rd, 2009 @ 09:53 am
After a conversation with [livejournal.com profile] troubleinchina, I'm reading about race riots. (Detroit 67, Los Angeles 92.) I was aware of the Rodney King Riots, as they're called, at the time, but I was eleven years old. So much of what I'm reading is new to me.

The thing that's kind of horrifying is that the victims of violence in these things are generally the innocent, and the individual incidents that triggered both riots really weren't worth it. It seems clear that in both cases it's a matter of tensions rising until something is going to break.

But the thing is, I'm getting choked up by heroism and kindness this morning.

The instances:

In 1743, a woman was convicted of stealing a shoulder of mutton from a Whitechapel butcher. It turned out that her husband was ill, and her children starving, at the time of the theft. The jury returned their guilty verdict in a mumble, to indicate they thought she deserved compassion. The judge replied, "I hear you, gentlemen," and imposed the token fine of one shilling.

Which the jury proceeded to pay.

No age is without kindness.

On the first day of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a white truck driver, stopped at a traffic light, was dragged from his truck and beaten. News helicopters filmed and broadcast every blow. The police had been ordered to withdraw for their own safety and never came. Reginald Denny was rescued by a black man named Bobby Green, Jr, who was unarmed but nearby and, having seen the broadcast, rushed to the scene and took Denny to hospital in Denny's own heavily-laden truck. Denny recovered after brain surgery. Bobby Green, Jr, is a big damn hero.

Minutes later, Fidel Lopez, a Guatemalan immigrant, was brutally attacked. Reverend Bennie Newton, a black minister who ran an inner-city ministry for troubled youth, physically placed himself between Lopez and his attackers and said that if they wanted to kill Lopez, they'd have to kill him too. He then took Lopez to hospital.

That, too, is real heroism.

I am, literally, crying right now, because human nature never changes, and there is always cruelty and savagery and nobility and kindness and heroism. I honestly believe that so long as the good people keep trying, the bad people can't truly win out; racism is still around, sure, but you can't tell me things aren't better than they were fifty or a hundred years ago.

And there are heroes.
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