Monthly Archives: December 2013

Celebrating Rape

Who can I rape today, to make the angels rejoice?

This month I have, as one does, found myself singing a few carols. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re a seasonal fixture for any singer.  On the whole it’s not a bad thing: some pretty tunes, a lot of nostalgia, and occasionally something with musical interest. Though of course it becomes really nasty when muzaked through a sound system into a public place.

One of these was a new setting of the words of “the angel gabriel”. Unfortunately the setting is about as dreary as they come, and being slower than the well-known tune, I couldn’t help noticing those words. Glad tidings of …. well, of the Droit du Seigneur[1]. The right of the feudal lord to first claim on a new bride’s virginity. I can’t claim to know the history of such rights, beyond the fact that Enlightenment artists like Mozart and da Ponte took the p*** out of it wickedly, and their 18th century audiences would presumably have known what they were talking about – just as a modern audience understands about slavery or Harper Lee’s Mockingbird.

Is the Droit du Seigneur in fact a form of rape? By modern standards, there can be little doubt. Rape no longer implies violence or even coercion: rather the definition centres on a notion of consent. A notion fraught with such difficulties as to raise questions over whether consent can exist if a woman is too drunk to know what she’s doing, or is mentally disturbed[2]. But I think the Droit du Seigneur looks much more clear-cut: where there is compulsion, there cannot be valid consent. So when the carol says:

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
To Him be as it pleaseth God she said

she is – in modern terms – merely paying her taxes with good grace.  The alternative of struggling vainly against the inevitable would be akin to mounting a legal challenge to your tax bill: futile and self-destructive.

OK, the Christmas story is a Droit du Seigneur, which is in turn a pretty clear case of rape in today’s terms. And we celebrate it unthinkingly. One silly carol may be negligible, but the whole culture surrounding it is not. We all know this story. We teach it to our children from infancy, so by the time they grow old enough to understand or question it, it’s become second nature to them: so deeply rooted that they wouldn’t think to examine it, regardless of whether they believe in christianity, or in any part of the christmas story as historical.

Much of the world is celebrating rape today, and the angels are rejoicing.

[1] Bear in mind that Virgin Birth was perfectly common in biblical times. It was only much later that the word Virgin took on its modern meaning precluding the sexual act.
[2] Could a man being similarly drunk or disturbed work as a defence?

Amazon grief

I’ve been trying to buy a new toy.  Since (recently) first reading about treadmill desks, I’ve realised that’s exactly what I need to benefit both my productivity and my physical condition.  Sitting at a desk has never really seemed a sensible posture (and difficulty with some desks and chairs is one of the main reasons I gave up working in a regular office).  Standing for any length of time is no solution: it’s uncomfortable and fatiguing.  But walking, yes, I can walk for many hours and enjoy it, and I’m at much less risk of back pain than in a chair.

Having googled for vendors in the UK, I found very few candidates.   Amazon selling this one at £805 seemed far and away the best candidate, so I ordered one.  But at checkout, it told me Delivery: 3-5 days, leaving a serious risk they’d try to deliver while I was away from home.

OK, I’ll try asking support about how flexible delivery is: can I order today but arrange delivery sometime later when I’ll definitely be around?  I select “Pre-order queries” from amazon’s chat menu, and type my opening question:

Me: Hi, if I place an order today, but your delivery folks give me a time when I won’t be around, how easy is it to change it? I’m away for a week.

After some time, I get a non-reply:

Ankush:Hello, my name is Ankush. I’ll be happy to help you today.
Me:Do you have my question?

More time, and another non-reply:

Ankush: [me] yes I have you question and I will also try my best to give you a resolution so for that may I have your order number?

Dammit, not only has the idiot not read my question, it seems Amazon’s system has completely ignored my careful selection of “pre-order questions”.  I repeated (cut&paste) my original question, but after several minutes more gave up in disgust.  OK, postpone this order.

Last night I returned to the browser tab where I had my Amazon order: 3-5 days from now will be just fine.  I note the price now shows not as £805 but £840, and curse a little.  But I proceed to checkout …

… where it now wants a whopping £1500.  So this delay due to Amazon’s sick joke of “support” is going to cost nearly double.  Soddit, I might just have paid £1500 for a life-changing gadget, but I’m sure as hell not paying Amazon £695 for messing me around!

So, back to google: can I find any other options?  There’s another potential candidate here, but does it really exist?  I tried ‘phoning them today to ask about it: they promised to get back to me but haven’t, so it’s not looking promising.

Where else can I look?

The right side of history

The world’s favourite Elder Statesman dies.  The world’s media are filled with his story, and (for a change) the volume of coverage does seem merited.  What can I add to miles of newsprint?  Probably nothing meaningful, nor should I try.  History is being written, but I am no historian.  But there seem to be crucial questions none of the media care about.  Can we draw lessons from Mandela’s story for the present and future?  Where might the next Mandela come from?

Let’s brush over his achievements.  The figurehead for his people’s struggle, and their first black president elected by a process we can recognise as democratic.  The achievement that really reflects credit on him is to have brought about that democratic change without a bloodbath, and indeed with an extraordinary level of goodwill that didn’t just evaporate as soon as something got tough.

What’s altogether more interesting is the context.  What made Mandela as a great figurehead and eventual president was surely his long imprisonment.  Yet he was imprisoned as a terrorist, and that was real.  His imprisonment was prolonged by his consistent refusal to renounce violence, and it was former president de Klerk who had the courage to make the first move, and release a man publicly committed to violence against his country.  That must have been as unthinkable for some at the time as it would be now to release Michael Adebolajo (having first convicted him) and enter into dialogue with him.

Of course they did release Mandela, he rewarded them by negotiating in good faith, and the rest is a history much happier than those of so many newly-created or liberated countries.  Perhaps there was a greater force at work than any individuals: the force of history.  For history was firmly on Mandela’s side, and many elements of his story (though not their combined whole, nor I think the happy outcome) were matters of historical inevitability.  The force of history is perhaps the most crucial difference between Mandela and his era’s other high-profile leader of an oppressed people, Yasser Arafat, who did renounce the violent struggle and make many other compromises yet never achieved a happy outcome.

Where is today’s Mandela?

If history is to be of use, we need to be able to draw lessons from it.  Are there other potential Mandelas out there perhaps ready to step up to the mark and bring other conflicts to a resolution?  I don’t see any obvious candidate, but then I wouldn’t expect to.  Even if the media and supporters draw the world to a candidate – as they did with Mandela – we would still be faced with a profile of a candidate who could be anything from a great statesman to a complete nutter.

What about de Klerk’s role: the incumbent in power who can seize a moment in history and make that critical first move towards reconciliation with his historic enemy?  People in power are easier to see: after all, we’ve heard of them.  Those in conflict, fighting terrorists, holding political prisoners, should in principle have a great prize for the taking if they can identify a Mandela amongst their enemies.

Those fighting the so-called War on Terror must be prime candidates, and should be looking hard for their Mandela in Guantanamo Bay and such places of ill-repute.  Yet as of now we appear to be firmly in denial: there is no force of history ready to thrust a peace process on us.  Perhaps a real candidate for the Mandela role could have been Hakimullah Mehsud, so recently on the point of entering peace talks before someone killed off that process?

When Mandela was tried and imprisoned, he had a public and media spotlight which led eventually to his elevation and his country’s reconciliation.  Those who assassinate their enemies, or kidnap and hide them forgotten are denying themselves that prospect.  The contrast between due process – however harsh – in Apartheid South Africa and denial of any such process towards some (not least the Pashtun people[1] as a whole) today is indeed disturbing.

[1] Commonly described as “the Taliban” in reports of conflict, especially when they’ve been killed.