Not for the squeamish
Samantha brought this (Georgia House Bans Genital Piercings for Women) to my attention. Between her bursts of outrage, I got the impression she wants an explanation for why the law is necessary, and especially why it applies to women but not men.

I'm afraid I can't explain it to Sam. Georgia didn't seem to be in the 19th century last time I was there. And I can't imagine this going down too well in Little Five Points.

I'd also be quite interested to know the thinking behind the legislation. When places I like do things that are wrong, it pisses me off.

I'm no fan of piercings (or tattoos for that matter). It's always seemed unnecessary mutilation of the perfectly lovely human body and in the case of tattooing, pretty much irreversible. And if asked my opinion on whether someone should get something done, I advise them not to. If they still decide to go ahead... well, I've said my piece so I might as well forget it, politely admire the art or shiny thing, and get on with life.

(The only thing that makes me slightly mournful is when blood donors get punctured or painted, and take themselves out of the loop for 12 months. But I guess you can't live your whole life around blood donation, even if there are far too few people who already give.)

The point is that if people want a tattoo or piercing, and it's not hurting anyone else (well judging by some reports, not hurting in a bad way, at least), then I don't see what business it is of anyone else's, especially not a bunch of fossilised, conservative Christian, Washington wannabes.

I may not want it doing it to myself, but I'll be damned if anyone can justify why people oughtn't to be allowed to.

Who'd have thought that in the 21st Century we'd still be coming up with doozies for dumblaws.com?


The one thing that really sets Muslims apart from their cousins in Abraham is how very keen they are on their martyrs.

With one obvious exception, for Christians martyrdom was never that big a deal. For those few people on whom the title was conferred, it always seemed to have something to do with a selfless act of defiance in the face of oppression, rather than simply getting killed, in whatever circumstances. Even then, they pretty much gave up on the idea round about the time of Joan of Arc. It might have something to do with the fact that compared with the Big One, the rest didn't carry quite so much weight.

But Muslims? They're not quite so discriminating. To them, martyrdom is still a very important part of Islam, so every member of the faith seems to be eligible.

Eight-year-old Palestinian boys shot by Israeli soldiers are martyrs, Arabic journalists shot by American soldiers are martyrs, even men and women who blow themselves up along with innocent civilians - they're martyrs too.

One might question whether they'd all really earned the title or, more importantly, the air of heroism that accompanies it, but hey, the one undeniable thing is that for Muslims, this martyrdom thing is serious.

You'd think that anyone seriously trying to resolve a disagreement with an Islamic people would try avoiding the whole issue of death in the name of faith.

So why, I ask myself, is the Israeli government quite so keen on adding to the number of martyrs with one of the biggest heavyweights in many years? What did they think they'd gain by assassinating Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas? Just what bit of the Islamic psyche didn't Ariel Sharon understand?

Yes, Yassin may have played an integral role in plotting the downfall of the Israeli state by masterminding an indefensible campaign of terror against ordinary Jews, but killing him was a great mistake. Although he would have continued to cause Israel damage had he stayed alive, he will create much more destruction now he's dead.

Yassin knew he was ageing, crippled, weak and didn't have too much longer left in this world. The suicide bombings would have continued while people searched for a lasting peace, but ultimately Yassin would have died of old age and his followers would have dissipated or turned on each other in a struggle to succeed him. But in killing the Sheikh, Sharon gave him just what he wanted: to die a martyr for Islam and let his name and cause live on for ever.

Where before there was just Yassin preaching hatred, now many more will repeat it in his name. He'll be deified. Countless numbers of passionate, hot-headed, young Palestinians will seek to avenge his death. And that will only bring far more pain on the state of Israel, and the majority of ordinary Palestinians in return.

This may all sound quite anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, or anti-Muslim. I assure you, that's not what's driving it at all. It's frustration with the minorities on both sides who are holding back the majorities in their respective communities.

I deplore Israel's often violent suppression of the people whose country they were given by the west (2,000 years of suffering persecution does not give you the right to dish it out yourself once you're The Man), I abhor the fact that they went beyond their agreed borders to occupy Palestinian land, I resent the fact that I'm not allowed to use the word Palestine at work, and that I have to remind myself that a great many Israelis want to be rid of the conflict and live in symbiotic peace with their Arabic neighbours.

Yet with people like Ariel Sharon and (you've guessed it) Dubya in power, the situation is never going to improve.

On the one hand, Sharon is a bully. He thought he was being strong, sending a message to the militants, by killing Yassin. But in reality, fearful for his own position, he was giving in to the bigoted hardliners around him and resorted to the only thing he truly understands: warfare. The truly strong, brave man would have held out against the hawks and continued to seek a peaceful solution. Sharon is not, and never was, that man.

As for George, although he's not the only president in US history to have not only leaned towards but leaped into the pro-Israel camp, he's using the T word to validate Israel's action, and to justify not doing anything about the worsening situation, save occasionally mumbling about the roadmap to peace.

Things wouldn't look so bleak if the map was even in the car. But it's not. George never wanted to go down that road in the first place. Commercially speaking, a peaceful Holy Land offers no more than a warring one (indeed, a cynic might say the fighting floods the coffers) and in terms of political capital, it's much more beneficial to keep the Israeli hardline apologists in Washington sweet.

Given the chance the roadmap could lead to peace. Instead it's lining Barney's basket.


One year on from the start of the Iraq war, and George is still claiming he did the right thing.

No apology for the false premise on which the war was started, no apology to the families of those who died and still die each day as a result of that false premise, just a smug self-satisfaction that he got his way and bagged the man who was nasty to his daddy.

Now he's using it to try to secure another four years in the White House.

In the first of his big election rallies in Florida, Dubya mocked Democratic candidate John Kerry for claiming he had a lot of support from overseas, but wouldn't say from whom exactly. Bush smirked: "I'm not too worried because I'm going to keep my campaign right here in America," and the crowd went wild. Predictably enough the chant of "USA, USA" rang around the hall.

Electorally this is all well and good. One expects people to have pride in their nation and party at the time of a political showdown.

But underlying this token piece of electoral oneupmanship was the disdain for the rest of the world that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration, and which hit its lowest point when he and Tony went against the world to invade Iraq.

Bush knows that he doesn't have popular support in most countries, but that doesn't matter. He needs no one's permission. Threats and emotional blackmail were enough for him to build his coalition of the willing. Most countries are lucky even to be worthy of Dubya's contempt - why should he waste valuable grey matter on caring what the President of Lithuania thinks?

An innocent America is suffering for its association with this imbecile. (The American people are innocent, of course, because the popular vote was not with Bush in 2000 - something else he bullied and bludgeoned his way into). And friends of mine are among those suffering.

Just ask Wendy, a great advert for the American Midwest (and the US in general). She's spent a lot of time in Sicily since the start of the war and been frustrated by the flack she's drawn as an unwilling proxy for Bush and the US foreign policy.

Wendy and tens of millions of decent Americans like her don't deserve this treatment. For some, it may even strengthen their impression that the world hates America itself, and that they should re-elect Bush just as a show of defiance.

We can't allow that to happen. But we need to get our message right, and not all those who want to see changes in Washington and London are making the best of the time they have.

As Bush was making his speech, people around the globe were taking to the streets to protest about last year's military action. Many of them were calling for the troops to pull out of Iraq immediately.

But that would be a mistake even larger than the initial invasion. Bush may have rid Iraq of a gruesome dictator, but he did far more damage to the country than many people feared.

Ordinary Iraqis are dying as a result of terrorist attacks almost every day, and if international forces leave the violence will only get worse. The saddest thing is, those of us who opposed the war from the beginning knew this would happen.

We can't abandon Iraq now. It's our mess and we should clear it up. And anyone who thinks the job will be done by the time power's handed over to Iraqis in July is a bigger fool than Dubya.

But that doesn't mean we should make Blair and Bush stay until they finish the work. There are men and women far more capable than these two, and we should ask them to make right everything which has gone so wrong.

Let's map the way for the Iraqi people by demonstrating that a nation's leaders should care more about ballots than they do about bullets.

After all, isn't that what we bombed them for?


A year older, but apparently no wiser.

No, not another birthday, but this year's show at London School of Contemporary Dance. Last year's performance, my first experience of the medium, left me feeling befuddled and bemused. What was going on? Did that dance have a story line? And why did one piece rely so heavily on jugs of water?

But this year as Thomsk's squeeze, Jane, was one of the featured choreographers, I was determined to enjoy and embrace the experience more than the previous time.

I'm afraid to say I failed. Despite my best efforts, I still don't understand contemporary dance as an art form.

For the most part Jane's dancers were moving in seemingly unconnected ways, with little or no narrative structure or reflection of the music.

After watching the piece, Thomas said he defied anyone to watch it and not feel something.

Sure, I felt something: confused. Oh, and the stream of bubbles falling from the ceiling at the end was pretty. And a couple of those dancers are very cute indeed.

I may be wrong, but I think the artist was looking for more than that. Indeed compared to those created by some of her classmates, Jane's piece didn't score that high in the abstract stakes.

I'm not used to feeling like a philistine. It irritates me.

I understand and enjoy literature, cinema, theatre, music and many aspects of fine and modern art. Hell, when it comes to the latter, I even get the intention behind The Oak Tree (a glass of water on a shelf halfway up the wall) and a piece called 1,000 Individual Items I once saw in Copenhagen, although I did need this one explaining.

The same was required last night.

I did have an inkling as to what it may have been about (a love triangle) but Jane treated that suggestion with the charitable good humour of a mother entertaining a young child's naive, simplistic and just-plain-wrong observation.

Yet she wasn't willing to explain her creation to me. All she'd say was that it was up to the viewer and that my opinion was as valid as anyone else's. And that's no help at all. Structure me, dammit! Impose your vision!

I don't want my hand holding all the way on this journey, but at least give me a clue as to where I might be starting from.

But no dice...

So what's my problem? Is it that I'm uncultured or uncreative? Or possibly that I'm unfeeling? After all, I've never cried over death, so something must be up with that part of my psyche.

Or maybe it's just that I've never been sufficiently subtle or eloquent in terms of physical expression. I do words much better than I do actions. Leave that to those better suited. So maybe it affects the way I see dance - perhaps I'm physically dyslexic. It'd certainly explain my cack-handedness and lack of balance. If I can't write body language, why should I be able to read it?

There is one ray of light, though - Josh has caught the dancing bug, and already has two universities willing to train him. Apparently he has exciting potential and natural talent, according to those with an eye for it.

So with a sibling wanting to go down this path, it looks like I'll get more chances to broaden my mind.

I just hope he'll take me through it step by step.


Three highly significant pieces of news today.

In the interest of brevity (and excitement, dammit) I'll cut the crap and go straight to the chase, with the winners coming in reverse order of importance, as is the tradition (or old charter, or something):

3. Thomas is currently mid-production of a docudrama for Channel 4 and some cable history channel about a group of Victorian explorers who go off to the Arctic, get trapped there for five years, and end up dead. In order to shoot some of the big, wide landscape scenes, he's being taken to Norway for a week to act on a glacier. This much is not new information, at least not to me.

What is new, though, is that the location for the shoot is none other than that which was used for the battle on the ice planet Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. This alone ensures that while Northwest Passage may not be our kid's largest role, this must surely be the coolest production in which he's ever been involved.

2. My biscuit-hunting saga is almost at an end. In 17 days, it will be mine, along with a sizable mountain of debt. And I may even be able to say the F word. More of this to come. Trust me. :)

So you'd think something pretty amazing would have to have happened to knock that into second place. And you'd be right.

1. You may recall that about a year ago, I mentioned Jos who (for those not already familiar) two years ago at the age of 25, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Although things were beginning to look better this time last year, there was still some worry about whether it would return.

But today I learned that Joseph's doctor told him he was 100%, straight up, absolutely, unquestionably, non-negotiably in the clear, and that he never wanted to see him again. Ever. Period. Or else. So there. Beat it, mister.

This is, without doubt, the best news I've heard all year.

So other than successfully wooing Anna Friel and finding the killer blow to Bush's presidency, I can't think how today could have been any more positive.

You just know tomorrow's going to be a come down. :)


If there's one thing that 10 years with the Corporation have taught me, apart from that a bar in the office can easily be taken for granted, it's that journalists can be exceptionally rude people.

When I left the BBC's God Squad to join the fourth estate, a colleague told me that while I may be leaving to pursue a career in journalism, she hoped I wouldn't become a journalist.

Dear Maggie, lifelong Methodist, stalwart of the religious affairs department, social scene and union, a woman for whom the cliche larger than life was intended, who turned down Terry Venables in their mutual youth but couldn't say no to West Indian bowler Joel Garner, and guardian angel during my six years in the same office, had not one good word to say for journos. Awful people they were in her reckoning.

But I couldn't understand what she meant, and put it down to a clash of cultures, between the craftspeople of production and the hacks of BBC News.

Now, of course, I realise she was at least partly right.

I mention this, because certain colleagues seemed determined to spend today doing their best to remind me of the fact.

There are parts of the Beeb in which the words please, thank you, and sorry are seldom heard. I realise and accept that in the high pressure environment of breaking news in which we work, a civil tongue can be a self-indulgent and sometimes detrimental luxury. With one eye always on the competition, and the other on our standards, there's relatively little time for social niceties and shooting the breeze compared to, say, a career in PR or the clergy.

Admittedly some areas have developed more of a reputation for curt behaviour than others, and a great deal of this can be attributed to the tough exoskeletons certain working environments mould around the people who inhabit them.

But when seasoned journalists performing one role are reluctant to call those filling another, because they know they'll get shouted at, isn't something just slightly wrong with essential lines of communication?

And when one is asked not once, but twice, in the same day to prepare, promote and perform something specific for a sister service (call it News Allday, for the sake of convenience), which will not only take a load off their shoulders but also add value for their viewers, one feels part of the team. It's not a busy, hectic news day, you're making more work for yourself, but pleased to be helping out for the greater good. One big BBC, multi-tasking to the best of its abilities.

Except for when you do everything you're asked, and then get completely ignored and cast aside.


Without telling you to stand down, that your efforts won't be required, sorry mate, thank you, next time though.


Am I whingeing? Maybe a little. Plans change, of course, and items get dropped. That's the reality of live broadcasting.

But to get bumped twice by the person in the space of three hours, without so much as an apology or by your leave, well...

That's just plain rude.


I've been wanting to share this snippet from Al Franken's excellent Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them ever since I read it. The extract itself isn't written by Franken, but comes from an article in the Columbia Journalism Review, concerning everyone's favourite Australian media magnate, Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch uses his diverse holdings... to promote his own financial interests at the expense of real news gathering, legal and regulatory rules, and journalistic ethics. He wields his media as instruments of influence with politicians who can aid him, and savages his competitors in his news columns. If ever someone demonstrated the dangers of mass power being concentrated in few hands, it would be Murdoch.

What a delightful attack on one of the world's most loathsome men. Rarely have words both thrilled and incensed me to such great effect.

If you fancy weighing in yourself, try this.

As for Franken himself... well, he's given me a lot to ponder. More of that later.


You may recall my sorrow last year at the passing of S Club. It was one of the first truly dark moments in music in this embryonic century.

Now with teenagers across the country reeling from another blow after Bryan's departure from Westlife, I'd like to take this opportunity to deny any rumours and assuage any fears that might be out there:

I really couldn't give a toss.

Frankly, I'm quite glad that Westlife finally appear to have encountered the beginning of the end. The departure of a member is so very often the thin end of the wedge for bands of any nature, but particularly those which were constructed to fit a marketing formula: with an ingredient missing, they don't taste right.

Take That couldn't live without Robbie, the Spice Girls lost their taste for group fun without Geri, the little one who could sing took the best (and I use that word very much in context) bit of East 17 with him when he opted for an early bath, and the Boyzone foot soldiers knew the writing was on the wall as soon as the words "solo single" came out of Ronan's mouth.

Yes, Atomic Kitten survived losing Kerry (no biggie) and Heidi (very much the Sugababes' gain), but you know what they say about cats. Hopefully now, though, this particular one has been put in a sack with some bricks and dropped in the Mersey.

And S Club did remarkably well to persevere as long as they did after Paul left, but the clock started ticking as soon as the 7 was ditched from the band name.

Now Westlife, in turn, are a man down.

By many accounts, Bryan was the most charismatic member of the group. Boys, the rest of you are screwed.

I won't pretend to have been a fan or hung on every word each of them said, but it strikes me that the Irish draw on their least engaging young men to form their boy bands. In a nation full of character and packed with born charmers, is it really coincidence that the most marketable talent comes without personality as standard?

And their music has been just as lacking in life. It takes real absence of talent to make average songs by great artists (Billy Joel, Abba) sound even worse. And those aren't the ones that were specially written for them.

So while the rest of Westlife boys have vowed to carry on without their fifth member, it can only be a matter of months before we hear the last of their bland ballads and saccharine covers.

Now if we could just do something about Blazin' Squad...


I have nothing to hide.

This time last year I was much more an item of gossip in the office than I'd ever been. Now, I'm seemingly out of the running.

Naturally there are things I don't talk about, but that's out of respect for other people. But even so, I have nothing worth saying about my personal life, nothing worth sharing. None of the stories is salacious. There's nothing about whom I may have the hots for, just because I'm feeling cold.

Friday night in the Windsor Castle (former workplace of our kid and favoured haunt of Madonna) saw those present going through a list of colleagues' names in search of rumour and tittle-tattle. Not much was unearthed. The odd bit of who's seeing whom, but nothing groundbreaking.

And even though my fellow drinkers were observing gossip protocol of not talking about those present, no one was slightly interested in what was happening in my life. Partly because they knew they could get it here, but partly because they guessed there was nothing I felt the need to share.

My policy of not fancying people is obviously paying off. If only it wasn't such damn hard work.

I wish I had something to hide.


It's World Book Day (except for Jen, for whom every day is book day). Hooray!

To do my bit, I've started a new book: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. So far it's everything I hoped for. Read it.

There's also a How Well Read Are You? quiz on my work site.

Much to my shame, I scored a measly five out of 10.


Thankfully this year the Academy showed they could have got their decisions a lot more wrong. Clean sweep for Return of the King, recognition for a fine actor in Sean Penn, and relatively easy on the saccharine.

Even so, Sunday night's Oscars ceremony posed more questions for me than it answered:

Just how much did Sir Ian McKellen have to drink before agreeing to be interviewed by a BBC reporter while swaying backwards and forwards, doing what looked very much like a potty dance, and insisting that Return of the King had won not 11, but 27 Oscars?

Exactly, scientifically, how good did Scarlett Johansson look? And how come Sean Connery got to sit next to her?

How empowering was it to see Peter Jackson not making too much of an effort to fit in with the LA types?

Why did Tim Robbins and Sean Penn, usually voices of Hollywood's conscience, give politics a bodyswerve?

Just how much did they spend on that opening montage with Billy Crystal in the movies? And does it mean we're saved from Charlie's Angels 3?

Please can Liv Tyler wear glasses more often? Please? I'd gladly pay.

Why was Michael Douglas wearing those ridiculous shades when his wife CZJ was on stage?

Can Sofia Coppola be sure that she won't be the last, as well as the first, American woman to be nominated for Best Director?

Does Chris Penn ever think he might have chosen his roles badly?

Will I ever get over Susan Sarandon?

Did Tobey Maguire hope that beard would get him mistaken for a Hobbit?

Could Bill Murray have looked more pissed off when not winning the Best Actor award?

When Billy Crystal thanked all the servicemen and women around the world, did he remember to include the ones 'liberating' Haiti as he spoke?

And most importantly... what about the rum?