Sunday Readings –  Anne Sexton

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box. 

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin. 

All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird. 

Anne Sexton reads her own poetry — “Her Kind,” “The Ambition Bird,” “Ringing the Bells,” “Music Swims Back to Me,” and “The Truth the Dead Know.” Sexton was born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1928. She began writing poetry on the advice of her therapist in 1957, and won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems, “Live or Die.” Haunted by mental illness and personal torment, Sexton’s poems speak openly of a dark and unhappy world. Copyrighted,  however you can listen by clicking below.

Part 1 .au format (4.5 Mb), .gsm format (1 Mb), .ra format (0.6 Mb)

Ministers apologise for insult to Pope

The Government has apologised to the Pope over official documents that mocked his forthcoming visit to Britain by suggesting he should bless a gay marriage and even launch Papal-branded condoms.

Telegraph – By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent

The astonishing proposals, leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, were contained in secret papers drawn up earlier this month by civil servants following a ‘brainstorm’.

The ideas, included in a memo headed ‘The ideal visit would see …’, ridiculed the Catholic Church’s teachings including its opposition to abortion, homosexual behaviour and contraception. Many appeared to be deliberately provocative rather than a serious attempt to plan an itinerary for the September visit.

The proposals, which were then circulated among key officials in Downing Street and Whitehall, also include the Pope opening an abortion ward; spending the night in a council flat in Bradford; doing forward rolls with children to promote healthy living; and even performing a duet with the Queen.

In reference to the hugely sensitive issue of child abuse engulfing the Catholic Church, the Government document suggests that the Pope should take a “harder line on child abuse – announce sacking of dodgy bishops” and “launch helpline for abused children”.

The document was sent out by a junior Foreign Office civil servant with a covering note admitting that some of the plans were “far-fetched”.

Recipients of the memo were furious at its content and an investigation was launched. One senior official was found responsible and has been transferred to other duties.

Yesterday the Foreign Office issued a public apology…

…There is understood to be increasing unease at the Vatican over the level of hostility that the Pope is likely to face in Britain, with protests and even threats of arrest from secularists. The disclosure of the secret proposals is bound to deepen concerns and cause dismay among the country’s four million Catholics.

Further suggestions on the “ideal visit” list are that the Pope should reverse the Church’s “policy on women bishops/ordain woman” and that the Vatican should “sponsor a network of Aids clinics”.

Another of the three background documents, titled “Papal Visit Stakeholders“, lists figures and groups that the officials consider significant to the tour, and ranks them in order of how “influential” and “positive” each one is perceived to be.

The Queen, David Cameron, and Tony Blair are all ranked as highly influential and positive. It rates Susan Boyle, the singer, as more influential than Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster.

Wayne Rooney, the footballer, who was married in a Catholic Church, is considered to be a negative influence, as are Madonna, the singer, and Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist professor. “Pro-choice groups”, homosexual pressure groups and the National Secular Society are all viewed as negative.

The frustrated collector


I watch Eyjafjallajokull erupting and think of Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Center of the Earth. I had forgotten there were active volcanoes in northwestern Europe. Even more intriguing is the discovery that Iceland actually produces detective novels.We are talking about a land with 300,000 supposedly happy and prosperous people, where the murder rate is about two per year.

We might imagine that Icelandic crime novels would feature plots about financial fiddles, as in the novels of John Grisham, since it was (chiefly) the greed of bluff, honest Nordic fisher folk, bent on being players in global finance, that brought Iceland to its present state of bankruptcy.

But no. For the moment, Iceland’s noir exports are the writings of Arnaldur Indridason, featuring the adventures of the police inspector Erlendur Sveinsson. In Indridason’s recent book The Voice, the chief suspect is a record collector. A hardcore collector —not like the amiable caricatures in High Fidelity.

Indridason offers us a crash course in the underworld of music collectors —a really international network, where an Icelandic single may be sold at a fair in Liverpool by a Norwegian dealer, to Japanese buyers. The Japanese, he tells us, are “vacuum cleaners who travel the world, buying everything they lay their hands on.”

He falls into some exaggeration regarding the economic volume of this trade, his excuse being that he has to justify the presence in Reykjavik of a British collector, Henry Wapshott.  I happen to know that Iceland is hardly a Mecca of record collecting: everything there is far too expensive.

Moreover, being nouveau riche, the Icelanders are not distinguished for their interest in recent popular culture: “I have the feeling that people in this country mistreat records. They just throw them out. When someone dies, for example, the kin don’t call somebody who knows, to come and look over his collection.  It goes straight into the garbage.”

This apparent contempt, and the small publishing runs in a tiny country, explain the high prices fetched by certain Icelandic records. For example, the work of Björk before she started The Sugarcubes. In the book, Wapshott arrives on the island with money in hand, bent on buying up the unsold copies of a record only released there.

His plan makes sense: a music critic who knows his business does a shining write-up, covering a rare disk with praise, making an instant legend of it — having previously cornered the market in existing copies.

He can clean up, providing he knows how to place them on the market patiently, drop by drop, a few at a time. The Voice has all the usual suspects: prostitution, drugs, homophobia… But what interests us here is record collecting seen as a pathological condition. A woman cop sees collectors as “blind and repressed, like old monks.” Wapshott has a suspicious interest in children’s choirs, and is seeking out the records made by a child prodigy, who has been found stabbed to death.

The Voice takes place in an Agatha Christie setting — a hotel in Reykjavik, swarming with foreign visitors at Christmas time. As is usual in Indridason’s works, the protagonist is trying to put together the pieces of his broken private life even as he delves into the enigma of the murder.

Erlendur speculates that collecting—of music or of anything else betrays a desire to return to childhood, to the anal phase. He toys with the cliché that explains collecting as a compensation for frustrated sexual desire.

Search me. I’m not a collector, if that means collecting lots of records of a given artist or genre. I was once, but my mind cleared when I understood that the most obscure references, the most sought-after treasures, were usually devoid of musical interest.

So I prefer to have enough records, of many different musical styles. And to save my time for books such as The Voice—a magnificent warning about some parents’ toxic obsession for the social success of their children.

Pardon My French


ÉRIC ZEMMOUR, slight, dark, a live wire, fell over his own words, they were tumbling out so fast. He was fidgeting at the back of a half-empty cafe one recent evening near the offices of Le Figaro, the newspaper where he works, notwithstanding that detractors have lately tried to get him fired for his most recent inflammatory remarks about French blacks and Arabs on a television show. Mr. Zemmour, roughly speaking, is the Bill O’Reilly of French letters. He was describing his latest book, “French Melancholy,” which has shot up the best-seller list here.

“The end of French political power has brought the end of French,” Mr. Zemmour said. “Now even the French elite have given up. They don’t care anymore. They all speak English. And the working class, I’m not talking just about immigrants, they don’t care about preserving the integrity of the language either.”

Mr. Zemmour is a notorious rabble-rouser. In his view France, because of immigration and other outside influences, has lost touch with its heroic ancient Roman roots, its national “gloire,” its historic culture, at the heart of which is the French language. Plenty of people think he’s an extremist, but he’s not alone. The other day Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, sounded a bit like Mr. Zemmour, complaining about the “snobisme” of French diplomats who “are happy to speak English,” rather than French, which is “under siege.”

“Defending our language, defending the values it represents — that is a battle for cultural diversity in the world,” Mr. Sarkozy argued.

The occasion for his speech was the 40th anniversary of the International Organization of the Francophonie, which celebrates French around the world. Mr. Sarkozy said the problem is not English itself but “ready-to-wear culture, uniformity, monolingualism,” by which of course he meant English. The larger argument about a decline of traditional values has struck a chord with conservative French voters perennially worried about the loss of French mojo.

The issue is somewhat akin to Americans complaining about the rise of Spanish in classrooms and elsewhere, but more acute here because of France’s special, proprietary, albeit no longer entirely realistic relationship to French. French is now spoken mostly by people who aren’t French. More than 50 percent of them are African. French speakers are more likely to be Haitians and Canadians, Algerians and Senegalese, immigrants from Africa and Southeast Asia and the Caribbean who have settled in France, bringing their native cultures with them.

Which raises the question: So what does French culture signify these days when there are some 200 million French speakers in the world but only 65 million are actually French? Culture in general — and not just French culture — has become increasingly unfixed, unstable, fragmentary and elective.

Globalization has hastened the desire of more people, both groups and individuals, to differentiate themselves from one another to claim a distinct place in the world, and language has long been an obvious means to do so. In Canada the Quebecers tried outlawing signs and other public expressions in anything but French.

Basque separatists have been murdering Spaniards in the name of political, linguistic and cultural independence, just as Franco imprisoned anyone who spoke Basque or Catalan. In Belgium the split between French and Dutch speakers has divided the country for ages…]

The race to discover Viagra for women

According to some accounts almost half of all women suffer from sexual dysfunction. But does it really exist? And would a female Viagra make any difference?

Guardian – Polly Vernon

…  The world’s pharmaceutical companies have been consumed by the race to find a remedy for female sexual dysfunction ever since the late 1990s when Pfizer gained FDA approval for Viagra. Viagra – so very effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men – has proved to be a “blockbuster” drug: a billion-dollar-generating marvel of a product. It worked, it changed lives; it was a sexy drug, in every sense of the term. It became clear that there was a great deal of money and power in the field of sexual dysfunction. Money and power that could be multiplied, if the market were expanded – which it would be, if pharmaceutical companies could sell drugs to women, as well as men.

Vivus had a particular interest in tapping the market. In 1996, 14 months before Viagra launched, Vivus gained FDA approval for Muse – a suppository which, when inserted into the male urethra shortly before sex, improved blood flow to the penis thus alleviating the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Muse did extremely good business, until Viagra launched. It had sales of $130m before Viagra, and $59m in the year afterwards; these figures have dwindled ever since. Men preferred a pill to a suppository and abandoned Muse en masse…

… What do we even mean by a “lack of desire”? How do we know that lack of desire is a medical condition, as opposed to a condition relating to the fact that we just don’t fancy our partners any more? Or that we’re not feeling especially sexy temporarily, for any number of other reasons. How we feel about our bodies, or how tired we are, how stressed, how anxious, how fat we feel… Between 80 and 90% of women, after all, are believed to have body-image issues. And if FSD equates to a lack of arousal – how much arousal is normal arousal? What’s the end goal for medication? Loads of orgasms? Constantly desiring our partners, feeling constantly available to them?

What’s a normal sex life, anyway? Anyone? Three times a week, three times a month? Three orgasms, each and every time? Who has the right to tell us we’re not measuring up? How do they know? Are the attempts to treat FSD about helping women; about a woman’s right to a fulfilling sex life? Or are they about the drug companies’ attempts to medicalise female sexuality for financial gain?

Perhaps Liz Canner and Orgasm Inc has it wrong, then. Perhaps not.

The British Medical Journal suggests I speak to an investigative journalist named Ray Moynihan about his research into the treatment of FSD. Moynihan published his first article on the subject in 2003 in the BMJ. It was entitled “FSD, The Making of a New Disease” and it caused uproar internationally, sparking the debate on whether or not FSD exists. Moynihan was inspired to write the article after a friend sent him a press release on Alista. Like Liz Canner (who interviewed him for Orgasm Inc), Moynihan discovered he couldn’t easily move on from the subject; seven years later, he has just completed a first draft of a book devoted to FSD. “Its working title,” he tells me, “is Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals.”

Moynihan is at home in Byron Bay, Australia, when we speak. He’s just come in from a salsa class. I ask him if FSD exists, and he laughs.

“That’s the $1bn question. That’s the question the book asks. Let’s just say: it’s a good question to be asking at the moment. It’s a good question for as many people as possible to ask – and particularly women.”…]

The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox

TIME – By Nancy Gibbs

There’s no such thing as the Car or the Shoe or the Laundry Soap. But everyone knows the Pill, whose FDA approval 50 years ago rearranged the furniture of human relations in ways that we’ve argued about ever since.

Consider the contradictions: It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken regularly by people who were not sick. Its main inventor was a conservative Catholic who was looking for a treatment for infertility and instead found a guarantee of it.

It was blamed for unleashing the sexual revolution among suddenly swinging singles, despite the fact that throughout the 1960s, women usually had to be married to get it. Its supporters hoped it would strengthen marriage by easing the strain of unwanted children; its critics still charge that the Pill gave rise to promiscuity, adultery and the breakdown of the family.

In 1999 the Economist named it the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, but Gloria Steinem, one of the era’s most influential feminists, calls its impact “overrated.” One of the world’s largest studies of the Pill — 46,000 women followed for nearly 40 years — was released this March. It found that women who take the Pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, yet many women still question whether the health risks outweigh the benefits.

Maybe it’s the nature of icons to be both worshipped and stoned, laden with symbolic value beyond their proportions. Because the Pill arrived at a moment of epochal social change, it became a handy explanation for the inexplicable. The 1950s felt so safe and smug, the ’60s so raw and raucous, the revolutions stacked one on top of another, in race relations, gender roles, generational conflict, the clash of church and state — so many values and vanities tossed on the bonfire, and no one had a concordance to explain why it was all happening at once.

Thus did Woodstock, caked in muddy legend, become much more than a concert, and leaders become martyrs, and the pill become the Pill, the means by which women untied their aprons, scooped up their ambitions and marched eagerly into the new age.

That age has seen changes in social behavior that continue to accelerate. In 1960 the typical American woman had 3.6 children; by 1980 the number had dropped below 2. For the first time, more women identified themselves as workers than as homemakers.

“There is a straight line between the Pill and the changes in family structure we now see,” says National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill, “with 22% of women earning more than their husbands. In 1970, 70% of women with children under 6 were at home; 30% worked. Now that’s roughly reversed.”

Today more than 100 million women around the world start their day with this tiny tablet. So small. So powerful. But in surprising ways, so misunderstood…]

The hypocrisy of child abuse in many Muslim countries

Child marriage and pederasty are tolerated in Muslim societies where homosexuality is strictly condemned

Guardian – Shaista Gohir

Some Muslims are fond of condemning western morality – alcoholism, nudity, premarital sex and homosexuality often being cited as examples. But Muslims do not have a monopoly on morality. In the west, child marriages and sex with children are illegal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Muslim countries.

I recently saw the documentary on the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan. It exposed an ancient custom called “bacha bazi” (boy for play), where rich men buy boys as young as 11 from impoverished families for sexual slavery. The boys are dressed in women’s clothes and made to dance and sing at parties, before being carted away by the men for sex. Owning boys is considered a symbol of status and one former warlord boasted of having up to 3,000 boys over a 20-year period, even though he was married, with two sons. The involvement of the police and inaction of the government means this form of child prostitution is widespread.

The moral hypocrisy is outrageous in a country where homosexuality is not only strictly forbidden but savagely punished, even between two consenting adults. However, men who sodomise young boys are not considered homosexuals or paedophiles. The love of young boys is not a phenomenon restricted to Afghanistan…

… Whatever one’s view on the prophet’s marriage, no faith can claim moral superiority since child marriages have been practised in various cultures and societies across the world at one time or another. In modern times, though, marrying children is no longer acceptable and no excuse should be used to justify this.

I find the false adherence to Islamic principles and the “holier than thou” attitude of some Muslim societies similar to the blatant hypocrisy and double standards of 19th-century Victorian Britain, where the outward appearance of dignity and prudishness camouflaged an extreme prevalence of sexual and moral depravity behind closed doors…

… A too-passive attitude in dealing with child abuse has rubbed off on Muslim communities in Britain, too. I have heard many stories at first hand of child sexual abuse and rape, which show that the issue is not being addressed at all. Those who have had the courage to speak out have been met with reactions of denial and shame. Such attitudes mean that children will continue to suffer in silence. Sexual abuse of children happens in all communities, as has been revealed by the recent Catholic church scandal. At least, they have finally started to take action. Muslim communities should learn from this and also start being more open, instead of continuing to sweeping the issue under the carpet.

I am finding that more and more Muslims feel it is their duty to criticise others for actions they consider sinful – quoting the following popular saying of Muhammad to justify their interference:

“If you see something wrong, you should correct it with your hand and if you are unable to, then speak out against it and if you cannot do that, then feel that it is wrong in your heart.”

I wonder how, then, Muslims can remain silent when it comes to the sexual abuse of children?