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Maria

It’s been a week since Elon Musk, funded by a distasteful assortment of backers, bought Twitter. In no particular order, some thoughts on what it means for various groups.

Employees
Predictably, swaths of US employees have been sacked without notice or compensation, in contravention of Californian law. Many of them were sacked soon before share ownership rewards were to deliver. All of them were ordered a week ago to work “24/7” on objectives the new management deemed urgent. For the several hundred at-risk or sacked employees in the UK and Ireland, there are legal protections which may be harder to ignore. But breaking labour law is at worst subject to fines, so simply a cost benefit operation for firms who can break the law with impunity. (Following a UK ferry operator sacking all its ship workers and immediately employing agency staff earlier this year, there is a growing case for strategic and profitable law-breaking on this scale to be criminalised to create a genuine disincentive. I don’t see the next Labour government having the backbone to do it, however.)

The US employees will find themselves out on the street with no health insurance. That’s catastrophic, and stop-gap insurance cover is prohibitively expensive. I availed of it myself over a decade ago, and it was more than a thousand dollars a month – not the kind of money you have lying around when you’ve just been sacked. Many senior Twitter managers resigned before they were sacked, and the mass lay-offs were clearly in the post, so many employees – the ones with the sense not to work 24/7 to keep a job they were likely to lose, anyway – will have taken steps to stay in contact with former colleagues once they’re locked out of their work messaging channels. The levels of chaos and dysfunction inside Twitter right now can only be imagined. Relatively few workers are unionised, and in these situations many people think they can keep their jobs by screwing their co-workers or just ignoring abuse, so those who remain will be in an increasingly toxic situation. It can be fifty-fifty as to whether the lucky ones are those who got sacked or walked early on. [click to continue…]

Settling in for the long haul

by Maria on July 5, 2022

A couple of tweets flicked across my screen in the past week or so from people I don’t know asking how, perhaps a year or two in, the knowledge settles across your shoulders that you’re not recovering from long covid and may not ever fully recover, you, well, deal? No surprise; I have thoughts and feelings about this. But, surprise (to me anyway); the series of moments when it seeps into your bones that no one and nothing is coming to rescue you are emotionally just really fucking hard, and I’ve shied away from thinking too much about this period of my life. Partly because I read the tweets from these people who may have this and far worse ahead of them, and I don’t want to make any of it the tiniest, least perceptible bit harder. But also because that time for me was a long interstitial of brain fog and denial, hopes raised and dashed, chasing after a doctor or a programme or sure fire cure of some kind and just being repeatedly floored by disappointment while slowly realising I was no longer, really, a person in the world, a person with friends and fun and any kind of over-arching telos in my life, and partly because I HATE stories that resolve with ‘I just had to get used to it and when I did, things didn’t get better but I felt slightly better about them.’

Reader, I just had to get used to it.

This will be a digressive piece. I come at these things and flit away, a bit like the tweets that flash up from people saying stuff like ‘my parents are starting to believe the doctors and are telling me it’s psychological, I just don’t want to be well, I have literally nowhere else to go.’ I mean, what do you do with that? You can say, well, this is a mass disabling event, there are so many more of you now that even doctors are staying sick and occasionally even saying ‘ok it’s real now even I get it’, so there’s more chance you’ll be believed and hundreds of times more money going into real research than did for the last couple of decades. But that’s not going to help the college student who’s returned home to a stalled life and a support system that seemed encompassing at first, but which is now coldly, methodically, pulling its arms away when the kid doesn’t recover in a socially acceptable period of time. (And that scenario, to be fair, is still the Cadillac of long covid support systems.)
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Crimea

by Maria on March 2, 2022

I visited Crimea in 2005, and just this morning found a half-written piece about it from ten years later. There was a whole strange adventure that followed in the fragrant midnight streets of Yalta. Maybe I’ll finish it some day. It’s not like any of us is ever going back there.

Yalta

The official story is that Kruschev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 to commemorate three hundred years of Russian and Ukrainian togetherness. But I heard he was drunk and sentimental one night and got carried away with a grand gesture. The story is better than the truth.

We were a group of academics, journalists, teachers and policy wonks traveling Ukraine the autumn after the Orange Revolution. In Kyiv, we met the student-leaders of Maidan Square, now focusing at their studies. They spoke MBA-accented English and fluent Powerpoint. They planned a bright future in a prosperous and west-facing Ukraine.

Breakfast in Kyiv cafes was cream with cream. Sometimes cream with pastry. But mostly cream. Kiev was like Petersburg, but smaller and more charming, with cobbled streets, markets stalls selling country produce and Soviet memorabilia, whimsical Orthodox architecture in primrose yellow. In city bars we skipped dinner and ate garlic-infused lard laid a centimetre thick on black rye bread, sliding it down with neat vodka.

I got chatted up at a reception by an attractive, louche man. His side line – everyone had one – was starting political parties in the north east of the country, around Donetsk. That was where votes were cheapest. Once they had enough support to elect a couple of MPs, He would sell them, just like Twitter farms raise and sell puppet accounts. The going rate for a political party was about a million US dollars, which seemed expensive if you thought of it as a way to buy influence. It was mostly a way to become and MP and buy immunity from prosecution. I asked him what his day-job was. Official at the Ministry of Justice, it turned out. It was all a great joke that everyone seemed to be in on. The only person not laughing was our guide, Valentin, a somewhat forlorn pro-Russian professor.

Come on, I told him a few days later in Crimea, These are just teething problems. Democracy will flourish. The Kremlin’s ‘political technologists’ have been sent packing. We were walking on a raised path decked in early autumn wildflower, by the deep and curved strait from the Black Sea into Balaklava. From the 1950s till the fall of the Soviet Union, submarines had coursed silently down the strait from a vast underground facility. They would lurk in the Black Sea, nuclear missiles armed and pointed silently at Europe’s capitals. Valentin gestured across the grassy hill that hid the underground caverns the subs had slept in, though the base had long since had its copper ripped out and sold to the new telecoms companies.

This won’t end well, he said. It never does. [click to continue…]

Russian invasion of Ukraine

by Maria on February 24, 2022

This is basically an open thread on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

I’ve been to Ukraine, met a clutch of its early 2000s political and student leaders, a couple of writers, sat at a board table in Crimea and eye-balled the deputy governor as he refused to answer my question about mistreatment of the returning Tatars (Stalin expelled them en masse and the returning few post-1989 suffer terrible discrimination). So many of us are just nauseous this morning, worried for people we know and horrified by what it means for Ukraine and all of Europe (and Taiwan, and and and). All I will say is you’re lucky if you don’t live in a country whose ruling party has been bought and paid for by dirty Russian money. And we’re all lucky now, who aren’t sitting on a blocked road, fleeing, or clutching our children in a metro station underground, or wondering what good a rifle is against a motorway full of tanks.

Churched

by Maria on January 24, 2022

My first ever short story has been published, hurray! It comes out of an odd ritual called ‘being churched’, that used to happen in Ireland well into the 1970s (schoolmates in Tipperary in the 1980s told stories of it happening to their mothers after the birth of older siblings). What may have begun as a blessing and thanks after a baby is born was often practiced as a required cleansing ritual before a woman would be let back into the church building. There were always stories of women who’d chosen a name for their baby but found when it was brought home from church the child had been baptised something else – as typically the churching took place some weeks after baptism, so mothers often missed the christening. The idea of a post-birth woman as unclean is pretty repellent, especially in an essentially theocratic state that kept women pregnant through many of their fertile years. It stuck in the craw of many at the time.

The other thing the story is about are the marooned generations of Irish in London – people who came over from the 1950s onward, pushed out by economic and social stagnation, and who rarely got home again. The pre-Ryanair generations’ ties with home were more or less cut, and they often felt they hadn’t done well enough financially to return. The Irish Embassy in London has a lot to do with the Irish Centre in Kilburn, which is a social hub for many left behind by the Celtic tiger. I always feel there is a quiet care and respect from them for so many of our people who have aged past any chance of return and wouldn’t feel at home in Ireland now anyway. Walking around my south London neighbourhood with my dog Milo, I’ve made friends with several erstwhile Kerry and Connemara men who often talk of going home for a visit, but never actually do. Failing health is one reason, and the death of siblings who they might have stayed with – the parents of course long since gone.

They speak in idioms that sound anachronistic to most Irish people today, but are how people talked when they were young. I’ve tried to capture that in the story, though it probably makes it sound a bit Oirish to the modern ear. The guys I chat to are also pretty racist. A couple of weeks ago, one of them was giving out about “immigrants”, and I said “But sure we’re immigrants.” He went uncharacteristically quiet for a moment, and then roared laughing, agreeing that indeed we are.

Here is the opening. The rest of “Churched” is at Lunate.

“I don’t know how it is in Ireland now, but here if you want to see old people and babies, go to Mass. Mass is full of people you don’t see most places except the dole queue or A&E which is full of drunks with a bang on their head that might be a brain bleed and babies with runny noses that might be meningitis. We see the babies first. A sick child goes downhill fast but a drunk with a sore head will always be looking for company.”

The Great Resignation

by Maria on November 27, 2021

I love the various screengrabs that go around Twitter of an American working in the service industry being treated like crap by their manager who just doesn’t get that labour shortages mean power has shifted, and end with the worker quitting. They’re so popular I can only guess some are fake to hoover up extra likes, but the sentiment is real and the data seems to back it up. The Great Resignation is real, probably driven by deaths from covid, caring responsibilities and, it seems, older people leaving the workforce. In the UK, about a million Europeans have left the country, 700,000 of them from London by the first covid summer. Not that you’d know it from most newspapers. You have to infer it from the calls by government ministers for students to pick rotting vegetables and mothers to put in a shift in an abattoir after they drop the kids to school.

I used to always think having suddenly fewer of a certain essential group gave that group more power. Then I read sometime in the late nineties about China’s ‘one child’ policy, how it drove termination of pregnancies with girls, and how scarcity drove kidnapping and general mistreatment of the surviving girls and women as they grew up. Employers and governments have two choices; adapt the labour market to accommodate workers’ greater choices in the new reality, or punitively try and force them to continue behaving as in the old one. Or in the UK, complain about ungrateful (insert minority category)s, do corruption to personally buy yourself out of the broken system, and rail against reality while throwing dead cat after dead cat on the table. In this way, the ‘great resignation’ can mean both people resigning from shitty jobs and conditions, but also becoming fatally resigned to them.
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Contingency, or some other thing

by Maria on November 8, 2021

I’ve been thinking about how so many stories touch on the idea that another life or even world is almost perceivable but impossibly far away, under normal conditions, but the heroine can see different versions of the future or choose different paths, etc. Or the whole ‘sliding doors’ thing, where a critical moment splits a life in two. Those stories are delicious, not just because we get to explore versions of what might have happened, but because they satisfy a deeper intuition that our sister-lives are almost touchable. (I will only ever recommend Jo Walton’s ‘My Real Children’ as the best, most profoundly compassionate and practically wise branched narrative any of us is likely to encounter.)

When my husband Ed was deployed to Afghanistan, I wrote him letter after letter, not quite able to believe that the blue envelope could exist both in a military quarter in Scotland and, soon after, a base in Helmand. (Letters! The original time travel machine, and the best.) Or that he might have walked out the door five months before for what we couldn’t yet know was be the last time. (It wasn’t.) We often spin contingency around tragic or life-altering events, the ‘if only’s’ about humdrum decisions that set in train outcomes we so desperately wish hadn’t happened, and whose precipitating actions seem so trivial, so mundane, there must surely be a way to take them back. Even stuff like taking the stairs and not the lift at the airport, and just missing that flight. You feel like you can almost reach back and grab yourself of just a few minutes ago.

When I was a university student, my father was involved in a serious car accident. At home looking after my younger siblings, I heard his deeply familiar footsteps come down the hall. In the moment the door handle turned, I both knew it must be him and that it couldn’t be. Both seemed equally true, and until the person came into the room, my father was just as much walking into the kitchen as he was lying in an ICU. (The steps were my older brother Henry’s. I just hadn’t realised they then had the same gait and also source of shoes, i.e. my mother…)

Of course, a lifetime of reading Borges and SFF and popular science about quantum physics is inevitably going to create a fractally abundant way of thinking and feeling about what is only ever plain old contingency. Or just provide more metaphors that dissolve on contact with the inability to express how weird it is that time moves inexorably forward when we, surely, can just. not. Or could sidestep it beautifully in defiance of the expected rhythms, if we, too, had Dune’s choreographer Benjamin Millepied (he of Black Swan/Natalie Portman fame) teaching us how to move.

(By the by, I’ve not seen anything about how very, very French the sensibilities of that film are, from its director to its male lead to Charlotte Rampling’s perfectly ‘learning nothing and forgetting nothing’ Bene Gesserit abbess, to its very slightly orthogonal aesthetic relation to imperialism in the Arab world. Also the music, though I may be wrong about that.)

Anyway, I was just wondering if other people have that ‘can almost reach out and touch it’ feeling about branched lives, or other forms of intuitive disbelief about continuity, causality and contingency, or perhaps I’m calling it the wrong name entirely. How one moment leading straight to the next, and one thing inexorably causing another just seems unlikely, at very large and very small scales. I’m not entirely convinced about the middle one, either.

Does this mode of appeal to other possibilities predate late twentieth century literature and physics, or do we just use new models and metaphors to describe something people have always felt? Or was there – oh no! – a complete fracture in how we conceive of this, or perhaps just the mental model of how we make peace with it, and now there’s no going back? Perhaps what I’m calling contingency, which seems also to contain the idea of its own unsteadiness, is just a secular form of disbelief in the primacy of the present. Was it always thus?

Hierarchy of the Grift

by Maria on October 6, 2021

Recently I was trapped in a room with a beautician trying to upsell me ‘treatments’. She handed me a glossy brochure for a process that involved lying down on a bed with a large inflatable bag secured around the waist, and having carbon dioxide pumped into the bag. This would, I was assured, cause my lower half to become thinner and less lumpy. It would cost several hundred pounds. I nodded, smiled, refused all offers, and left at the earliest appropriate moment, feeling quite grumpy about the utter crap marketed to women to stoke and then assuage our insecurities. There’s no point saying ‘No thanks, that’s bullshit pseudoscience and frankly insulting,’ because that would be rude. The only market signal permitted is ‘No thanks’.

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Space

by Maria on September 14, 2021

ONE

I used to think novels were these telos-fuelled trams you hop onto, not like the trams of a normal European city with lines forming meshes that tent-pole at exchange points to condense traffic and the importance of certain neighbourhoods, imposing a new behavioural topology on top of whatever geography was already there, but more like the Luas in Dublin which has just two lines that are only thematically north-south and east-west, were built at the same time but did not interconnect either physically or fare-wise, despite multiple people and agencies pointing out the rank stupidity of this, and so force you to travel in a single dimension, along one obtusely pre-determined line. You get on and off the tram, or put the book down and pick it up again, but you can only ever travel forward to the end or back to the beginning, the way novels retroactively unravel their meaning as the conclusions reframes all that went before. Though, the way numbers are going, long-form fiction seems less city trams than heritage railways tended by hobbyists and devotees, going nowhere much at all.

This was my way of thinking, anyway, before I got really into audiobooks and learnt that some special few stories are not journeys but places. Those places are both a subset of reality and bigger than it, and evert into us as we immerse into them.
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What is Ours is Only Ours to Give

by Maria on May 4, 2021

Kim Stanley Robinson’s books are how I think about the future. I’m not exaggerating when I say they’re how I manage to think about it at all. They provide much of the temporal and political context in which I do my work, which is to say, they educate me and let me know I’m not alone. Future uses of data and networks are a tiny part of The Ministry for the Future (TMFTF), just as tech policy only counts, now, insofar as it serves our species-wide effort to survive and perhaps flourish. TMFTF does some thinking on how network and information technology – specifically, social media and blockchain – can do the genuinely liberatory work they’ve long been hailed as making possible. I’ve worked in tech policy since the late nineties and will talk mostly in this piece about ways that might work sooner and better to get us to a desirable tech future, and one that gets less in the way of dealing with climate crisis. (I use ‘climate crisis’ as shorthand for the cluster of anthropogenic extinction events described in TMFTF.) [click to continue…]

The last time I

by Maria on February 18, 2021

The one-year anniversary of the last time I met a friend in a café is coming up. I’m glad it was such a good one. I met the marvellous Francis Spufford, occasionally of this parish, for a coffee in the British Library. I had a flat white and a kind of cake/biscuit hybrid that came in a plastic wrapper, and was energetically reassured by the person at the till that there was no mistake in my bill of almost eight pounds. (A café scene in Fleabag comes to mind, when Phoebe Waller Bridge charges twenty-five pounds for a plain tomato sandwich and the exasperated customer just says “London!”) Astonishing to think of now, but we sat at a table in the atrium – inside, no less – surrounded by other tables of people, near the main entrance, with people walking past, breathing, every moment. We talked about the pandemic from China then ravaging Italy, and how people in the UK and elsewhere didn’t seem to believe it was coming for us. There was a stillness and strangeness in having our eyes turned, horrified, to the east in that weeks-long moment when so many, and all the UK’s leaders, put their fingers in their ears and sang ‘la la la’ to the storm that irresistibly propelled them into a future to which their backs were turned. (My apologies to the angel of history.) But even then we knew the fascinated horror was all for naught. We agreed that a lifetime of reading science fiction, especially my favourite sub-genre, post-apocalypse, gave us at most a two-week head start on everyone else in understanding the gravity of what was about to happen.
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Remembrance – Excerpt from The Law of Kindness

by Maria on November 11, 2020

I posted this a few days ago and took it down, but I’m giving it another go because it’s 11/11 and nonfiction doesn’t really get at my feelings about Remembrance and what it’s used for. Below is an excerpt from my novel in progress, The Law of Kindness.

It’s about an Irish woman who’s married a British army officer and can also write letters back through time to her younger selves. She’s probably a bit cattier than I am about the whole thing, and she’s writing this diary entry while ill and sometimes confused, but it gets at some of the complexity of feeling about Remembrance and its uses that people may feel when they have particular and very recent soldiers in mind who ‘shall not grow old’.

Wiltshire, November 2011

Robert’s back three weeks from Afghanistan and he can still hardly look at me. It’s all ‘babes’ and soft touches on the back of the hand, but will he look me in the eye or kiss me on the lips? He will not.

Christ, it’s all death around here all the time. Remembrance Sunday. I’d forgotten how brutal they are. Or is it like mercury. It builds up over time till you’re poisoned for life? We’d a nice few years of just hanging around, squashed into a pen within range of the Cenotaph and chatting to whoever was nearby, waiting for Robert to go past. When he’d find us afterwards, he’d be pink-cheeked with cold and glowing with this odd swirl of pride and the sweeter kinds of sorrow. He’d quickly squeeze the baby, give me one of those kisses that’s more like a question and peel off for an afternoon drinking with the boys. Back when we were in London, semi-detached from the army. And last year we were here, but pre- not post-tour, so I didn’t know any of this battalion’s injured or dead, and the bereaved parents only come for the first year or two, after. And with all my appointments and tests and all the rest of it, I barely paid attention, anyway.

But this one. Fuck me but it nearly did for us. Only a week after the post-tour medals parade. Whose idea was that? The wheelchair parade, more like. What a wretched, wretched tour. I’d kept up with the deaths, just a couple, thank God, but I’d no idea there’d been so many life-changing injuries. I don’t know why Robert barely mentioned them, or Angela. At least I had a chair and a blanket for the first parade, the medals one. Angela and me, sitting up like queens. And Camilla even came, so that made three. She sent her attendant off twice to refill my hot water bottle. God be with the days of having three nervous wees before meeting her and phoning Dad to tell him and tease his can’t-help-himself pride. Irish people and the royal family. Honest to God. Angela and me giggling as we go over the cleaning lady’s work in the CO’s downstairs loo, then seal it off three days before Camilla comes because royalty can’t possibly relieve themselves where we mortals have recently been. But she couldn’t do enough for the families during this tour and she was lovely to me at medals parade, commanding mugs of tea and asking was it the proper Irish one. Builder’s tea, she says, like it’s an ironic joke. I’d to tell her to stop being so nice or she’d make me cry.

And no one face-planted, no guardsman’s jaw. The usual only half-joking remarks there should be a wives’ medal. General on a mission to talk for five minutes to each of the injured. Two and a half hours. Six degrees Celsius. Children keening with boredom and cold, but the littlest ones in the warmth of the welfare at least, looked after by the 2 Fusiliers wives. Cake after, and fizz in the Mess, not that I could touch it. Robert wanted me to skip medals parade altogether. He was afraid I’d get pneumonia. Weird how ‘you’ll get pneumonia’ goes being a mad thing people say when it’s cold to something that could actually happen. ‘It’s an invitation, not a summons’. Sounds like something he read. But people will feel sorry for him in a not-good way if he doesn’t have a wife in a smart coat looking admiring then oblivious as the men mess up an overly complicated drill, never a strong point, forget about post-tour, a couple of stragglers losing the run of it, then a whole section gone the wrong way altogether, the RSM’s voice cracking into a strangled squeak as he sorts them out and us three queens in our big leather chairs brought out from the mess, trying to lighten the moment but not giggle too obviously. But I said that already. [click to continue…]

Sister Ben / Margaret MacCurtain / Peig

by Maria on October 7, 2020

“They always bring up the toilets as an impediment to women. It’s always the toilets.”

In a seminar room in University College Dublin, some time in the spring of 1994, the historian and campaigning Dominican nun lectured final year students on twentieth century women’s history. I don’t remember if the examples Margaret MacCurtain gave us were from her own research – she was a copious and generous supporter and sharer of other scholars’ work – but her quotes from Irish politicians from the 1920s through the 1940s were bizarre and hilarious. Several generations of men had dutifully conveyed the sad but apparently insurmountable fact that women could not participate fully in public life because sports facilities and the buildings of state did not have women’s toilets. Margaret MacCurtain would rock with laughter, letting the ignorant men’s words speak to their own ridiculousness, and then barrel straight into a detailed and sympathetic analysis of why so many post-Civil War Irish women politicians were radically discomfiting. (Short answer; many were the widows and sisters of men shot by first the British and then by the Free Staters.) That was her to a ‘t’ – pulling together the cultural, the structural, the individual and the contingent practicalities that make history thick, urgent and real.

Ireland’s bravest and most beloved historian died on Monday night. Margaret MacCurtain, known to UCD students of the nineteen-sixties as Sister Ben (short for her assigned religious name, Benvenuta), was a Dominican sister and social activist who pioneered feminist history in a country (and a university department) that insisted there was simply no such thing. With other scholars, Sister Ben painstakingly established both a new area of research and the importance of women in the long struggle for Irish independence both before and after the foundation of the state. Working with Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University, New York, she established a channel of exchange between Irish and Irish-American historians whose scholarship first challenged then supplanted many complacent narratives of power with an almost infinitely diverse flora of ‘up from below’ reclamation any annaliste would be proud of. [click to continue…]

Story ate the world. I’m biting back.

by Maria on September 23, 2020

A piece I wrote elsewhere in March is doing the rounds again. ‘The Prodigal Tech Bro’ is about the privileged place in professional interactions and public discourse given to men who used to work in senior positions for tech platforms and are now surprised and disturbed by what those companies do. It points out how the ex-tech executives’ “I’m was lost, now I’m found; please come to my TED talk” redemption arc misses out a key part of the narrative groove they use to slide back into our good graces. It’s the bit in the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son where he hits rock bottom in a pigsty and decides to go home and beg to be taken on as one of his father’s servants. Ultimately, he’s forgiven, much to the chagrin of the brother who stayed home and did the work, but the original Prodigal Son understands where he went wrong, and more importantly who he has wronged, and believes all the long walk home that he will never regain his former status and comfort.

A new documentary on Netflix, The Social Dilemma, is about the harms of social media. It centres the wide-eyed gradualism of a former tech executive named in my piece, amongst others whose careers have followed a similar trajectory from poacher to … someone who thinks we should maybe sometime think about hiring some more gamekeepers, if that’s ok, though obviously not the radical gamekeepers, and definitely not gamekeepers who think their job is something more than game-keeping the herd so ‘we’ can conveniently shoot or farm it.

The film repeats the same failing of the former tech execs – it assumes that the privileged people who made the mess we’re all in should be at the centre of the conversation on how to clean their shit up, crowding out once again those who have suffered because of their shit, or who’ve wrecked their careers by speaking loudly about the existence of this shit, and – crucially – limiting our thinking about what we do now to the homeopathic solutionism of the slurry-drenched insider who is already defined by his insistence that what looks, smells and acts like shit is not, in fact, shit. [click to continue…]

Fatherland

by Maria on May 26, 2020

What grinds my gears the most about the Dominic Cummings affair (Cumgate, oh how we laughed) is his insistence that a routine childcare problem was a circumstance so exceptional it required him to decide, as the Man of the Household, to flout the rules everyone else has endured. But this piece is not about childcare. It is not about the extreme lengths to which elite men will go to avoid looking after their own goddamn kids. It is about male violence.

The exceptional circumstance which Cummings claimed as his excuse to flee London while contagious with a deadly virus was a hard-won exception, fought for by activists and experts in the face of initial government indifference and then belated, patronising acquiescence. But let me put into words the bit about the “exceptional circumstance” we assume doesn’t need saying because it’s as obvious as air; this exception is to deal with men’s violence against the women and children of their household.

When lockdown started and required everyone who wasn’t a key-worker to stay at home, women’s shelters around the UK pointed out at first calmly – assuming it was just an oversight by the Prime Minister’s all-male inner team – and then increasingly loudly, the obvious truth our society thinks too normal to plan for or even mention; that violent men routinely injure, rape and kill the women and children locked into their households. Lockdown meant lock-in for the women and children shut in with angry, confined and – as consumption patterns quickly showed – drunk men.

Do you remember the half news cycle back at the start of lockdown, the violent deaths of a whole family for which the police were not seeking a suspect? Probably not. Two women a week, dead. It’s just normal. The operation and ultimate outcome of male authority and rage in the confines of the family home is so normal it’s not news, it’s not exceptional, it’s not even worrying or problematic. It’s just a one-off tragedy, every single time. Twice a week. Every week. So you see, after a while, don’t you, that it is effectively government policy.

Which is why activists had to strain every muscle and shout as loud as they could to get the exception introduced into lockdown that women and children may still flee violent men. Even if the government had long since shut most of the shelters they could flee to.

So for the architect of lockdown, the “brains” behind the policy that didn’t for a moment consider it significant or worrying that more women and children would be murdered, to use this hard-won, life-saving exception as the justification for fleeing London because he couldn’t find a babysitter, is disgusting. I write for my living and I don’t have a better way to describe how grotesque that is. [click to continue…]