Making one’s mind up: Ira Glass or Rachel Maddow?


I have a couple of perfectly respectable posts percolating in my head at the moment, about things like marginalisation, intersections of -isms, and that kind of thing.

Or, at least, I had. Then, mere seconds after I’d been browsing around Rachel Maddow’s twitter, Hemant at the Friendly Atheist went and posted this:

As a filthy, fence-sitting bisexualist who can’t make her mind up about anything, never mind have a type, the juxtaposition of these two completely-different-in-all-respects people with nothing whatsoever in common was enough to make my brains turn to goo and come out my ears.

Seriously, though. Why won’t us Filthy Fence Sitters just make our minds up? How could a person ever, ever find it within themselves to have even a passing interest in such wildly disparate individuals?

Rachel Maddow and Ira Glass.

…and that’s all you’re getting from me today, I’m afraid. I’ll be busy gazing longingly at my screen and contemplating the joys of floopy wavy short hair, very large glasses, and insightful commentary.

(Also, I had this crazy idea about occasionally posting things that couldn’t be published as sizeable novels. How do you all think I’m doing?)

Drink from me and live forever: the case for Vampire Jesus.


I know that you lot are used to getting scintillating, intellectually challenging, and delightfully witty posts from me here at the Tea Cosy. Which is why, today, I’m dealing with one of the most pressing issues of our time. One of the major misunderstandings of the (Western) world. Something that affects us all.

I’m referring, of course, to what is traditionally referred to as Zombie Jesus Day. In recent years a large body of literature has grown up asserting that Jesus, a reasonably historically-relevant Palestinian from the latter-day Roman era, suffered beyond the end of his life from infection with a zombie virus. The evidence given for this hypothesis is based on several sources from the (almost) contemporary literature which describe Jesus as having become reanimated after his demise. This is, of course, a major feature of zombie infection. However, a more in-depth look into the symptoms of zombification leads me to doubt that this was, in fact, the condition which Jesus suffered from. I contend, instead, that he was infected with the relatively more benign vampirism strain of the undead family of viruses.

Continue reading over at the Tea Cosy’s new home! See you there 🙂

Unfortunate etiquette and why alternative medicine could kill you.


The other day, I want for lunch at my local entirely lovely veggie cafe. As I was munching away on my very tasty green curry, I happened to overhear what the people at the next table over were talking about. In my defense, the place was quiet and they were.. not. Also, I’m an inveterate eavesdropper 😉

These two people were having a conversation about illness. One of them had recently been diagnosed- with what, she didn’t mention, but given the rest of the conversation it might have been some form of cancer. The other had survived some form of cancer. They were talking about his experiences with his illness, and her plans for living with hers. It was.. a pretty intense conversation that they were having. And it was obvious that she was someone struggling to deal with a difficult diagnosis, and looking for support. Which he was providing, in spades.

Where this became worrying was when they started to talk about her options, and whether she would go for ‘the medical route’ or ‘alternatives’. He talked about how medical doctors don’t care about patients as people. How to them a patient is just a cog in the machine. How alternative practitioners, on the other hand, spend time with you and offer real solutions that are tailored to your own needs. And how meditation, positive thinking and art therapy could do more for her than any doctor.

I’m sure this man was incredibly well-meaning. And yes, I’m sure that he’s not wrong when he says that his doctors weren’t interested in him as a person. But, you know something? While art therapy and meditation are lovely things, and while thinking positively can do wonderful things for your outlook and ability to cope, they’re not going to cure this woman’s cancer. And, no matter what he thinks, they didn’t cure his. His unpleasant experiences going through the medical system for cancer treatment were, no doubt, real. But they’re still most likely the reason he’s alive today.

Right then, I wished it wasn’t considered the absolute height of rudeness to interrupt an intimate (if, in fairness, reasonably loud) conversation by telling a distressed woman that her caring friend was wrong, and that taking his advice could very well cost her her life. That she should do all the art therapy and meditating she liked, after taking the advice of her doctors and getting her ass into a hospital for some treatment. That maybe her doctors are a bit busy with making people better, are probably overstressed and overworked, and that if she has a problem with their not being able to take time to get to know her then it might be time to send a strongly worded letter to the Minister for Health. That yes, our health system is incredibly broken- but it’s still the only way she’ll get better. And that dying of untreated cancer is one hell of an awful way to go.

I wanted to say that, but I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. There’s nothing harmful about meditating, or art therapy (which, I gather, has many very useful applications), or positive thinking. But there’s something very harmful about thinking that these things are reasonable alternatives to evidence-based medicine. That’s the kind of thing that leaves people dying of treatable illnesses because they didn’t get medical help. Or because they tried the ‘alternatives’ first and by the time they went for medical help it was too late. The kind of misinformation that leaves people thinking that ‘alternative’ medicine provides effective cures for deadly diseases is incredibly dangerous.

And with that, I can’t think of a better way to leave you than with Tim Minchin’s Storm. So here you go:

On face veils and collectively growing the hell up.


There’s been a massive furore this week about France’s new law banning face veils in public. As usual, I’m getting in to this one a few days late- which is, of course, several decades on the internet.

So I’ll be quick(ish). If French women people want to wear a thing, they should bloody well have the right to do so. That right should not be limited by other people’s ideas on what constitutes good fashion sense. That right should not be limited by other people’s ideas on what their clothing says about them. Perhaps some bare minimum of restrictions might be applicable on grounds of public decency. But that’s about it, and even that is a thing I’m a little uncomfortable with.

There are a few grounds on which I’d like to talk about this. You’ll notice, however, that absolutely none of them involve making assumptions regarding the motivations of women who wear face veils. This is because I’m not a woman who wears a face veil. I’m not a Muslim. Hell, I’m not even vaguely religious, and I don’t exist as a religious or cultural minority where I live. Going around ascribing motivations and narratives to a bunch of people I don’t know, about an area we don’t have in common? It’s not only bad form, it’s also quite likely to be out-and-out incorrect.

Security

The major reason given for banning face coverings is that of security. If a person’s face is covered, you can’t identify them, and therefore they could get away with all sorts of mischief. It sounds plausible, doesn’t it? So I did a bit of googling to see if I could find out about all the crimes being committed by women wearing face veils. It seems reasonable to assume that legislators would only go to the trouble of banning a thing if it were already causing problems. Surely if it’s such a major issue, there would be no trouble finding out about the waves of veiled gangs robbing banks and service stations with impunity? No such luck. The major crime being committed by women covering their faces seems to be.. covering their faces. Oh, and also being the victims of assault by bystanders outraged at their fashion sense. Charming, that. Given that this is a bunch of people who’ve been subject to an awful lot of scrutiny, the fact that I can’t find any reports of them actually committing crimes is remarkable.

Participation and Democracy

The ability of women to participate in society while wearing veils on their faces is another issue that seems to come up, time and time again. If a woman covers her face, you see, she is immediately rendered silent and identity-less. She can’t speak for herself, because a thin layer of fabric absolutely prevents a person’s voice from being heard.

You know, I’m trying very hard to take this one seriously and lay off the snark. But, damnit, it’s just too easy. And it seems to me that if a person finds women wearing face-veils to be entirely silent and impossible to interact with, that’s most likely a problem on their side. I’ve never seen much difference in people’s ability to ask for directions, or complain about the weather or how crowded the bus is, or squee over awesome toys in the Science Museum, based on whether I can see their face or not. But then again, I’m not going around glaring at people because of what they’re wearing either. And I may not have ever worn a face-veil, but I have had some odd haircuts in my time. And the people who are inclined to glare at the woman with a shaved head simply didn’t get to chat to me at the bus stop.

Also, if someone is going to be reclusive due to their beliefs, or if they feel excluded from society because of their beliefs, forcibly altering their dress code isn’t going to change that. The only thing that’ll do that is if relatively privileged people get up off their asses and quit marginalising them.

Sexism

Ah, this old chestnut. I love this one, I really do. You see, if a woman wears a face-veil, it’s sexist. If she wears heels, that’s sexist as well- except when it’s unprofessional not to, and they can’t be too high. Ditto to makeup. Also if she wears a bikini, it’s sexist. And so is a burqini! Covering up is prudish. Not covering up is slutty. If you shave your legs you’re a victim of the patriarchy, and if you don’t you’re a fuddy-duddy humourless unsexy feminazi. But like I said to the (impressively awesome) Nahida over at the Fatal Feminist, a veil is a piece of cloth. A piece of cloth! Pieces of cloth aren’t sexist. Pieces of cloth don’t infringe on people’s rights. People do that. And maybe- just maybe- the major thing that’s sexist isn’t face-veils, or bikinis, or heels or makeup or burqinis, but the fact that women are constantly judged as women for the choices we make in how we present ourselves.

Listen, it’s absolutely possible that some women who veil their faces feel pressured to do so. But if you take away their right to cover, then you should probably take away my right to shave my legs as well. Because I sure as hell do feel social pressure to do that one, and everyone knows that unless we make choices in an absolute vacuum they cannot be meaningful. Right? Also, all you need to do is confiscate our fabric and our razors, and sexism will miraculously disappear!

Totally Not Racist, Right.

Oh, this one. You see, in defending the face-veil ban, it’s been argued that it’s actually nothing to do with Muslim women. It’s just a general ban on covering your face. Which is unacceptable in our society, amirite?

Interesting, that. I suppose that’s why a few months ago in the Big Freeze, everyone was up in arms over all of the non-Muslims covering our heads with hats and our faces with big, chunky scarves. Rendering ourselves almost unrecognisable in layers and layers of jumpers, coats and gloves, with nothing visible but our eyes. Staying indoors as much as possible, only leaving the house when we absolutely had to, and definitely covering as much of our faces as possible without restricting our vision. I guess that for those couple of months this winter, practically the entire country were security risks, the victims of extreme sexism, and unable to participate in society?

Or is it okay to cover ourselves up if it’s because of the weather, but not when it’s our choice? A choice which is statistically more likely to be made by (gasp!) brown people? And this is not racist… how?

That bit about growing the hell up.

Here’s the thing. Whatever way you slice it, the ban on face-coverings in France is absolutely an attack on Muslim women’s right to freedom of expression. In extension, it’s an attack on everyone’s freedom of expression. As with all of our rights, my right to not cover my face is meaningless if it isn’t a choice. It’s meaningless as a choice if it would be imposed anyway. Taking away the rights of those who choose to express themselves in a certain- harmless*- manner invalidates all of our autonomy and right to self-determination. Doing so in a pointed attack on an already marginalised group only furthers their marginalisation. As a society, we need to grow the hell up and realise that there is no conflict between Muslim women and Western women. Many Muslim women are Western women, and many of those Western women want to dress how they please. In a society which supposedly values individual freedoms, who are we to take those freedoms from ourselves?

*There have been mentions of increased risk of vitamin D deficiency in people who cover up. This would be a sensible argument in favour of banning covering if there were no such thing as vitamin supplements, and if any and all unhealthy behaviours were banned. But you can take my cookies, my cherry brandy cocktails, and my occasional days spent doing nothing but playing video games from my cold dead hands.

Geeky enough for you?


Reading a recent post over at Geek Feminism about geeks and geek-adjacent women and the perception of women as un-geeky when around (particularly male) geeks, I appear to have been struck with yet another minor identity crisis.

You see, left to my own devices I have plenty geek cred. I really, really like the analytical, theoretical aspects of my field. The last time I decided I needed a new hobby (last week) I ended up with a giant book of calculus, a pen, several sheets of paper and a cheerfully furrowed brow. The time before that, I decided to learn a whole new language partly because I wanted to see how my brain learned to deal with communication happening with entirely different senses and body parts to the ones I was used to. I describe knitting as ‘fluffy algorithms’. I cheerfully own my cognitive biases and will equally cheerfully point out yours. I’ve spent years working in a library, for Pete’s sake. Oh and yeah, I spend way too much time playing video games and like collecting dusty old sci-fi books. I hear that counts as well. But here’s the thing. I live with an origami-wielding statistician* and the McGyver of computer science**. Compared to these people? I am, as The Statistician describes, Little Miss Girlie-Girl Popular from the planet SocialConventional. Her words, by the way, not mine.

Reading over that post at Geek Feminism, there seems to be an undercurrent that in order to be a geek, one has to be a techie. Now, I’d always seen geekery as being less a specific interest and more a way of doing things. I see geekery as being that tendency to get really-really interested in things, the desire to take things apart (literally or figuratively, depending on context!) and see how they work, the constant hankering for more knowledge and more understanding, the peculiar and unique interests. Normally, but not exclusively, existing alongside a reasonable dollop of having been That Geeky Kid.

Now, I know that there’s a lot to be looked into about how women’s geekiness is devalued when it happens to exist adjacent to an also-geeky man. But they’re doing an awesome job of that over at Geek Feminism. What I’m curious about here is this: what does the word ‘geeky’ mean to you? How do you define it? Also, how do you define not-geeky? I’m interested!

*Check her out, by the way. She doesn’t post often, but when she does it’s gold.

**He claims to be a recovered engineer, but we have significant doubts.

Genes, iron, the plague and me.


Picture of a DNA double helix.Science is awesome. You know that, right? If you’ve been reading here for more than five minutes, you’re probably aware that I spend an awful lot of time being gobsmacked at all the incredibly fascinating and awesome things that people find out, and the depth and richness this gives to our understanding of the world around us.

Also, if you’ve been reading for more than five minutes, you may be aware that I’m of the social sciencey persuasion myself. So one of the things that really gets my niftyawesomenessradar tingling is stuff that relates to us. People. Society. How we tick and who we are. Where we come from, what we do, why we do it.

Which is why I’m fascinated by a genetic disorder that seems to be cropping up in my family. A few of my close relatives were diagnosed with haemochromatosis in the past year or so, and the rest of us have all been sent off to our various doctors for testing. It’s a bit of an annoyance, but no big deal- it’s ridiculously common, easily treated, and if you catch it early enough will do you pretty much no damage.

Then I heard that it’s incredibly common here in Ireland. And I, of course, wondered why. It turns out that haemochromatosis is associated with increased plague resistance. Yep, the bubonic one.

And there’s the thing. I don’t know about you, but I tend to see any historical period before my grandparents’ time as impossibly distant. While I’m aware that i had ancestors then, I have little to no reference for them. The people who were around then just don’t seem connected to me- our lives are so different, our experiences and the cultures that we live in so far apart.

But then I find out that the people I am closely related to (and possibly me) have genetic markers conferring greater than average resistance to the bubonic plague in every cell of our bodies. And suddenly I’m there, suddenly there’s the empathy and there’s the connection. My ancestors survived the plague. They got the plague. They got sick. They were scared and felt godawful and they thought that they were going to die. Were the people around them scared of them? Were they shunned in their illness? How long did they see the people around them getting sick and dying? Did they wonder why they had been spared?

Suddenly they become human. They become real people. Suddenly I can see them as like my current family- knowing which ones of us would be that essential little bit more likely to survive, and which to die. Suddenly it’s so clear how you and me and everyone are directly tied to these people, those unbroken lines of inheritance telling us so much about the lives that they have lived. Writing our weaknesses and strengths on our bodies.

Frickin’ awesome, I tell ya.

Existential awe and earthquakes.


I’ve been vaguely, undefinably unwell for the past week, in that way that is signified purely by an overwhelming feeling of lethargy and ‘offness’. I’m not sure how that’s relevant, to be honest, except in the sense that it’s only now that I’m feeling vaguely human again, and inclined to respond to the things around me.

I walked to the shops a little while ago, the bright, shiny round moon lighting the indistinct shapes of clouds and the spaces between dark branches. Leonard Cohen in my headphones, a comfortably cool breeze. It wasn’t half bad, as moments go.

And then I was struck by one of those moments. The ones where you’re just doing your thing. Where you’re halfway to the supermarket and you look up at a bright star and you’re struck with the earth-shattering awe of “Holy fucking shit, that is there and real and I am here and real. And there’s a fragile little beam of light that could be turned aside by a mote of dust coming from that, but in billions and billions of miles nothing did, until it hit my eye.”

BAM, and there I was, teetering on the edge of existential awe, dizzy with the knowledge that me and my mp3s and my suddenly-too-light jacket are standing on the thin, thin crust of a rock hurtling through space at incredible speed, and the only thing keeping me from falling off is the warping of space and time themselves by the immensity of that rock.

And then I looked down, to the road in front of me, the trees and the cars and the people. And remembered that in all that immense, awe-inspiring grandeur, we’re the only ones that we know of who can do this. Who can write blog posts and pop down to the shops to pick up some dinner for each other and look up to the sky and realise that a beam of light could spend light-years never once being interrupted by a speck of dust until it hits our eye. Who can go out at night to gaze at the sheer enormity of it all, and bring along a thermos of cocoa to keep ourselves warm.

I couldn’t work out which one to be more awed by, which one was more inspiring and beautiful.

And then it hit me. I remembered where we are, that this thin crust of rock I’m standing on isn’t the stable thing it’s always been to me. And that, as it tends to do- as it should do- stopped me on my tracks. Because, of course, this universe with its mind-boggling distances and forces and complexities, is just what makes up everything around us. It’s not just a thing to stare into space and imagine. It’s rocks moving under your feet, and it’s waves higher than your house crashing over you and wiping away your life and everything you love and worked for. It’s real water, real rocks, real radiation risking and taking the lives of real people. Who are working their asses off to try and repair, try and rebuild, try and make sense of what can happen in a day.

The universe is pretty, but it doesn’t give a crap about you and me. Except for the bits of the universe that are you and me.

So, eh, you lot have donated to organisations working on disaster relief, right? Or, if that’s not affordable, pointed people who can afford to in the directions of some? And not just for Japan, mind. Haiti could certainly still do with a few £$€s, and they’re not the only ones. Cause, well. Not to be overly smushy or anything. But between you, me and a few light-years of rocks and empty space? We’re the only ones who give a crap.