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Images of Sofia

by Helen Tue Jul 29th, 2008 at 01:13:37 PM EST

Much threatened, I've finally got some pictures of Bulgaria to show off, but i thought we'd start with a short tour of the capital, Sofia.

And so, rather than walk we'll start the tour in the tram depot

Read more... (5 comments, 381 words in story)

It's always about the restrooms

by Helen Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:18:16 PM EST

Sorry - a bit of a whinge I'm afraid

I was having a conversation with a lesbian friend yesterday about her inability to be honest with her girlfriends. She said she had problems talking to women and I (daftly, I know) said she didn't seem to have any problem talking to me. At which she said "but you aren't actually a woman".

Of course she was embarrassed, and I couldn't stop myself from making things worse by saying it was okay as it was a common sentiment in lesbian feminist (ie wimminist) circles. Of course, in mitigation she made the valid point that she's known me for 25 years, only the last five of which as a female (we didn't speak for the first year as she disagreed with my transition). Now I don't mention this in order to publicly embarrass her, but because it allows me to discuss the public acceptance of transgendered people. Because it is that very perception, that I and other transgendered mtfs are not, nor ever will be, really women that underlies almost all of the disussions on the subject, even when it's not explicitly mentioned.

Read more... (21 comments, 1137 words in story)

Stealing a Mile : A possible Bellydance Ancestry

by Helen Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 01:20:05 PM EST

Where does bellydance (see footnote) originate ? Sadly, despite the mythologies of some, the answer is pretty much unknowable. This is because, for most of its evolution, bellydance and its progenitors were largely undocumented, Either only being mentioned by suggestion, or described in censorious terms by westerners who failed to understand what they saw. But nevertheless it remains possible to put together clues and remnants and piece together what might be called a possible ancestry. Or, at least, a more historically credible one than any currently going around.

However, it is important to try to tell this story as reasonably evidenced as possible, explaining the many assumptions involved, because today bellydance is swamped in what may be charitably described as "fakelore" versions of its history. These fables have sprung up largely to fill the gap of a known origin and which resonate with a self-image that many western women who practice bellydance wish to maintain. Yet these stories are such a garbled concoction of wishful thinking, demonstrable fantasy and smorgasboard Herstory that it diminishes the credibility of all those who repeat them. Worse it allows a whole series of deeply unattractive present day policies to be defended under the guise of "tradition". Yet the absence of a definitive, or at least a properly documented, history makes this fakelore difficult to challenge.

So, all I can venture is : If you think this version is the equivalent of being given an inch and stealing a mile, you should see all the alternatives.

Read more... (9 comments, 1758 words in story)

European Championships 2008 - Predictions

by Helen Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 09:07:47 AM EST

Okay, the European Football Championship start tomorrow so I guess that we should have a thread that's separate from the OTs so that it can hang around for a while.

Group games 7 - 18 June

Quarter finals 19 - 22 June

Semi-finals 25 - 26 June

Final 29th June

Predictions required for group qualifiers & winner.

Read more... (56 comments, 146 words in story)

Now they have hope..God help them

by Helen Tue Jun 3rd, 2008 at 05:08:21 PM EST

I'm not being cynical or wordly-wise, butwhen I read Kid Oakland's diary on dKos I felt a shudder of fear.

A Change is upon us.

Our nation will never be the same. We speak to the world tonight, and we speak with a new voice. We look out at the world tonight with new eyes. And behind the visage of our candidate, Senator Barack Obama, stands that vast quilt of assembled faces that make up the diversity of our great nation. Republicans and Democrats, independents and progressives, the engaged and the disaffected, the rich and the poor, the rural, the suburban and the city folk alike.

Forging unity out of our diversity is the essential aspect of our American story, and in 2008, that is our Message to the World. There is nothing we can't do when we work together. We are many, but we are one. We are, as Senator Obama so powerfully expressed it four years ago: the United States of America.

And in that voice, in that victory, in this precious moment in our long journey as a nation, we can all be proud.

..fear for progressive voices in the USA. Because I realise, I understand, that it must have been beyond terrible to live in George III's benighted land for the last 8 years. To have lived under the creeping conservative strangulation of the last 30 years, to have felt each and every hope crushed, every last stand flattened. I feel the pain and empathise, but now they have hope. God help them.

Read more... (69 comments, 777 words in story)

Transition Towns : Post Peak Oil Localism

by Helen Mon May 12th, 2008 at 03:01:23 PM EST

I've been playing Cassandra here for some time, saying that Peak Oil is going to have a massive impact on our way of life. Not just in the obvious things we expect, but almost certainly in ways we cannot yet appreciate. I've already addressed these ideas in a couple of diaries as well as  constant stream of comments.

Eastern Europe - Right-sized for the 21st Century

The Era of Globalisation is (almost) over

Indeed, the consequences of Peak Oil underpinned my diary London - Dying like a dinosaur where it seems obvious to me that, without cheap oil, most people cannot get to work and suppliers can't deliver their food. London cannot economically survive Peak Oil. It has been pointed out that right now most towns have about 3 or 4 days stocks of food and little opportunity to develop resilience.

So it now seems like I'm not the only person who is thinking that we need to move away from the cheap transport paradigm and create a new localised economic model.

Promoted by Migeru

Read more... (65 comments, 743 words in story)

How UK Labour turned Tory

by Helen Mon May 5th, 2008 at 05:21:20 AM EST

PiGL asked the following question in Jerome's diary Grangemouth Strike - Anglo-disease in action ?

What happened to the Labour Party, anyway? When did it get taken over my Maggie Thatchers more clubbable nephews? I think we should all rue the day that Tony Blair was born. But that of course is a cheap shot at any single poltician, no matter how loathsome. What broader forces acted to bring these men to power?

So what did happen ? I guess the whole story starts with the Winter of Discontent in 1978/9

Diary rescue by afew

Read more... (73 comments, 591 words in story)

Talk Talk : Elegy and eulogy

by Helen Thu Apr 3rd, 2008 at 10:05:51 AM EST

With any suddenly successful band, there is always the pressure of "how do we repeat that ?", a question that degenerates into the panic of "well, what do we do now, cos we can't repeat that ?".

It's the dilemma that faced Pink Floyd after "Dark side of the Moon" and RadioHead after "OK Computer". The former messed around with non-musical instruments for 18 months before they realised they were being silly and made Wish You were here instead. Or you could do as RadioHead did; try to sabotage their careers with a series of increasingly almost deliberately rambling anti-statements which availed them nothing but continued platinum status. Eventually they gave up and made "In Rainbows". Their virulently anti-corporate worldview makes and retains their counter-culture hero status, even when the music hasn't always justified it.

But there are other paths.

Read more... (10 comments, 996 words in story)

LQD : 1215 and all that

by Helen Wed Apr 2nd, 2008 at 01:17:09 PM EST

Steve Richards wrote an illuminating column in the Independent last week about the probable line of reasoning used by Tony Blair to justify the war in Iraq.

When there are highly controversial policy areas, Labour worries hugely that the Conservatives might be on the more popular side of the argument. It is determined always to keep Rupert Murdoch's newspapers on board. It is fearful of its own past, including perceptions that it was anti-America and soft on defence............

If he stayed close to the US on Iraq, he could never be accused of being anti-American and indiscriminately pro-European. On this basis alone, Mr Blair was never going to break with George Bush over an issue as multi-layered in its complexity as Iraq. It was too risky...........................

Yet Mr Blair supported Mr Bush partly because of where it left him in relation to the US, Europe, the Conservatives, his party's vote-losing past and the media. It was, from his fearfully defensive perspective, the least bad option.

Read more... (10 comments, 932 words in story)

Alcohol and the problem of taste

by Helen Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 01:37:12 PM EST

There is an interesting article in the Guardian today, Tipping Point whose focus is more on the affect of climate change on viticulture. But buried within it are explanations of problems I have identified, not just in wine, but in beer : The issue of the creeping increase in strength.

Read more... (54 comments, 908 words in story)

Our enemies have watches, but we have time

by Helen Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 05:35:15 AM EST

Perhaps this should be seen as a companion piece to afew's excellent essay - The "Afghanistan" Problem

A useful place to start is Magnifico's blast recently

"I'm an American and I'm confused by Sec. Gates. After six years of the Bush administration combining Afghanistan and Iraq and saying how they are both the frontlines on their "war of terror", now Gates comes along and tells me that I'm confused when I combine them.

Bush fails to defeats the Taliban and al Qaida in Afghanistan, because he invades Iraq because it is the frontline on his "war on terror". So after six years of the U.S. being distracted by Iraq, Afghanistan is slipping back into the hands of the Taliban and al Qaida. So how again are these two occupations not combined?  I think Bush clearly wants NATO to bail him out of the mess he created by invading Iraq and not finishing what was started in Afghanistan. Does Gates think Europeans are idiots and no long term memory? The Bush administration has been combining Afghanistan and Iraq ever since September 12, 2001.

This is the problem, there is a confusion of means and purposes. Of course, being cynical, US post-911 policy was never really about tackling terrorism; let alone the causes of the terrorist impulse. It was just a war for military- corporate welfare with a side order of oil.  

Diary rescue by Migeru

Read more... (18 comments, 2021 words in story)

The ET US Presidential Primary caucus.

by Helen Wed Dec 26th, 2007 at 09:40:47 AM EST

Although I have a sneaky suspicion where most of our sympathies lie for next US President, I think it would be fun to see whether there is any difference between the viewpoints of our american friends here (irrespective of where they reside) and those of us in the rest of the world.

Read more... (141 comments, 143 words in story)

The Song Remains the Same

by Helen Mon Dec 10th, 2007 at 09:21:00 AM EST

Tonight at the O2 arena in London (formerly the Millennium dome) Led Zeppelein will perform a full concert for the first time in 29 years. Even if I had wanted to, it would have been impossible to avoid the buildup to the concert. It is on the TV news and in the papers (although the Guardian has sniffily downplayed it - the editor, Rusbridger, must have had his ticket application refused).

We all know that Led Zeppelin ceased when their drummer, John Bonham, died. However, in recent years his son, Jason Bonham, has worked with the band members on various projects. He also played with them in a short unofficial reunion a few years back, which he concedes was embarrasingly bad. However, all concerned sem determined to do better this time and much rehearsal has taken place.

So will it be any good ? It all depends on the criteria you choose. If they choose to adapt their songs to cope with Plant's much-changed voice then it could well be good. The Plant/Page "UnLedded" adventure of a decage ago showed how this could be achieved, but if they try to wade in with hopes that Plant can match his mid-70s pomp then things could get sad.

Which is, of course, why I have not even attempted to get a ticket. It might be good, but it won't be the same. And I honour the  the still-burning-bright memories of LZ Earls Court '75 far too much to want them over-written with conflicting views of an older and different interpretation.

Read more... (7 comments, 1170 words in story)

How Serbia spoilt best laid plans.

by Helen Sat Dec 8th, 2007 at 12:43:05 PM EST

Look at a road map of Central and Eastern Europe. The profusion of motorways seen to the west begin to peter out as we enter the new accession states. Yet, they are still there, Czech republic has a couple of good international highways, so does Hungary. And, despite the civil wars, the various countries that comprised that old Yugoslavia have several good roads : They was, after all, parts of the "sensible" capitalism-minded communist country and trade with and through Yugoslavia was quick and efficient.

So trade-wise Greece never had any problems with being a part of the EU, aside from needing to catch a ferry to get to Southern Italy, the rest of europe was a couple of days motorway cruising away. Bulgaria orientated all of its transport into Serbia to take advantage of these roads, including the main lik with Istanbul.

Diary rescue by Migeru

Read more... (28 comments, 804 words in story)

Eastern Europe - right-sized for the 21st century ?

by Helen Sat Dec 8th, 2007 at 06:32:14 AM EST

As mentioned here a fortnight ago Romania has 750,000 horse carts officially registered. I'm told that Bulgaria has a few hundred thousand as well. And it's hard not to notice them, especially in Romania, where the horse (or donkey) cart seems to be the principal vehicle for local transport.

Diary rescue by Migeru

Read more... (17 comments, 287 words in story)

Thoughts in a Waiting Room

by Helen Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 04:01:47 PM EST

Slowly, I'm writing a series of diaries on some of my experiences as a transgendered person. Here in the diary "In the land between Blue and pink"  I discussed what it was like to be unwillingly male, and the processes I went through to find myself about to transition. So, I guess, now I have got to the point where I describe some of ways in which transition happens. As I've said many times, gender change happens between the ears rather than between the legs. I think, looking back, I am surprised both at how much I changed, yet how little.

Changing gender is a major decision, not just for yourself but for every interaction you have in society. It is the most primary piece of information people use to determine how to react to you, judge you, even see you. Yet, I am amazed that some people do it so lightly, such as those who come to regret it invariably casting doubt on the rest of us who agonised for years over our decisions. Equally I have been occasionally disappointed to discover that some people imagine I myself did so on a whim, it's really quite insulting.

Nevertheless, one January evening I found myself outside a doctor's surgery struggling with myself not to flee from the consequences of what I was about to do. Even at this stage I was debating the decision with myself and obviously many thoughts ran through my mind. So many that I wrote them down that night;-

Read more... (7 comments, 1184 words in story)

London - Dying like a Dinosaur

by Helen Tue Oct 30th, 2007 at 06:42:20 PM EST

Officially, the population of Britain is about 65 million, with estimates of increase suggesting that it might rise to 70 or maybe 75 million by 2030, or 2050 or some other fantasy time in the future we don't have to plan for.

However, even that may not be the end of the story, the Independent claims that the present real population may be much higher.

It is the statistic that dare not speak its name, though eventually it must. ......So don't forget you read it here first: the population of the UK is presently somewhere between 77 and 80 million.

Consumption - that's the thing. Based on what we eat, one big supermarket chain reckons there are 80 million people living in the UK. The demand for food is a reliable indicator; as Sir Richard Branson says, you can have all the money in the world but you can only eat onelunch and one dinner. I have a second, respectable, source. A major, non-commercial agricultural institution reckons there are 77 million of us in the UK. Again, its reckoning is based on what we eat.

However, whether the population is 65 million or 80 million, the reason why most commentators complain is that at least a third of that population, and probably the majority of that phantom population, are crammed into the south east. As that is where the commentators are also based, their impression is of a country desperately over-crowded.

Again, officially the population of London is a paltry 7 million. However, the population of the "Home Counties", ie a circle approx 100 miles around london, is officially nearly 20 million, plus who knows how many unregistered. After all, most of the unregistered are where the money and opportunities are.

And the problem is, the South East doesn't work. Not anymore. Slowly, year by year, London is suffocating and fewer swollen pegs are fitting in their holes.

Read more... (65 comments, 1561 words in story)

We have been betrayed before

by Helen Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 03:01:04 PM EST

Some of you may have seen references on various blogs recently regarding a situation with the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) in the USA. The idea of the legislation being that gay people will be protected from being fired or otherwise discriminated against because of their sexuality.

The reason why this has suddenly become contentious is that senior Democratic representatives, liaising with the HRC (US gay Human rights Campaign), decided that the gender conformity portion of the bill, ie the bit that protects the transgender community, should be jettisoned in order to make it more likely to pass. Apparently the reasoning is that they imagine that some Republicans might be persuaded to vote for the employment rights of gay people so long as they look "straight". However, if weirdo trannies are included the bill will fail. What they fail to mention is that such calculations are irrelevant because Bush will veto this bill whatever.

Now one can argue the pros and cons of this decision endlessly and, let's be honest, the arguments in the gay blogosphere have seemed endless (and repetitive), but whatever the merits, they are of little relevance here in Europe. However, one of the claims that seems to have taken root amongst the antis is that many gay men cannot seem to remember when the T got added to GLBT, but that it seems to have been a recent concept. This has led to the idea that, as Joannas-come-lately, the trannies can be thrown off the bus because we haven't paid our dues and our needs are politically disposable. Well, as they say, those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, so maybe a short history lesson is in order. Especially as I've heard similar things being said here in Europe, mostly by "feminists" who ought to know better.

Read more... (9 comments, 2067 words in story)

The Limits of Libertarianism

by Helen Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 10:16:35 AM EST

We have often criticised in passing the simple-minded economic nostrums of Libertarians and their child-like belief in unregulated free markets. So it was a pleasure to read
 George Monbiot in the Guardian
today with an interesting anthropological analysis of market ideology in relation to the collapse of the Northern Rock bank in the UK. I know that it's not done to take one article and more or less make it into a diary, but i didn't want this to be lost in amongst all the other stuff in Salon.

Read more... (13 comments, 906 words in story)

Sketches of Bulgaria

by Helen Mon Oct 8th, 2007 at 11:43:42 AM EST

Without wishing to trample on Gradinski Chai's (who has been missing a while I think) privileges, I visited Bulgaria last week and these are some of my impressions of that corner of the country I visited.

It is just above Greece and in terms of temperature it feels like it. Summer temperatures in Sandanski (250m levation) reach 40+ which means that anyone who can has a hut up in the mountains above the town where they commute from town to sleep from June to september.

Less economics and more travelogues! — promoted by Migeru

Read more... (6 comments, 957 words in story)
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