Cooking with Mummy…

… today, we made cheese and ham breakfast muffins.

Heavily modelled on an M&S magazine recipe, we adapted to what we had in the house.
If you want to make the same, you will need:

300g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
a few grinds of pepper
3 beaten eggs
225ml milk
1 heaped tablespoon hummous
25g parmesan cheese
5 slices of ham, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
Handful of basil, chopped
125g cheddar, chopped
Extra parmesan to top

Heat the over to 190c, 170c for fan ovens.  Put some silicone bun cases into a muffin tin.  It’s amazing how precise toddler wanted to be about this.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Grind pepper in.  Add the eggs, hummous, parmesan and half the milk, and stir to make a kind of batter.  This is fun and messy.  Add the rest of the milk slowly so that it doesn’t get too sloppy.

Fry the ham and shallots in the olive oil (despite toddler’s protests, this was my job…). When shallots are golden, tip into the batter.

Add the cheese – we used some cheese slices so toddler could tear them up and chunks are best but you might want to grate or chop some up so that it melts through the muffins as they cook.
Rip the  basil and add to the mixture.

Now, spoon into the bun cases, filling to just below the top of each case, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on the top.
Make sure you look in through the oven door as they cook to see them rising!
Once cooked, take them out and cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then put on a rack to cool further.

Eat while still warm.

If you want them to be a bit more sophisticated, you could serve with scrambled eggs. Or bechemel sauce.  Mmmm.

PS the photo is not our muffins – need to download my phone photos for that…

Are potatoes the root of all evil?

The chiropracter sorting my RSI said to me that he wanted to test whether I was sugar sensitive, and that I can’t physically deal with all the stress I’m under at present.  Tell me something I don’t know…

I should explain, last week I had the migraine from hell.
I’ve had migraines since my teens but far more of them following a car crash I was up to one or two a week. The headache clinic at St Georges hospital in London helped sort it out a bit and then a prescription drug keeps it under control, and I’ve managed my migraines relatively successfully for a year or so.
But this one snuck up on me. I’d taken the drugs for it a few days earlier when I thought it was coming, but it arrived without warning on and I couldn’t even get out of bed with the light sensitivity and nausea.

I hadn’t mentioned to the chiropractor but as he felt my neck he asked whether I’d had a really bad migraine this week as I was holding my head as if I had.
After the various cracking things that help sort it all out, he pushed two points in my stomach which were very painful (apparently this is an adrenal acupuncture point).
He asked about the stress I’m under at the moment and established that this was very high indeed and multisourced.

Now I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to lose some weight for quite some time and I’m increasingly convinced that it is part of my body’s reaction to stress that I seem to cling onto the weight even when doing the things that have in the past helped me lose weight.

We talked about this and he tested my sensitivity to sugar – I’m not to my knowledge diabetic and can think of many reasons to cut back on it but “sugar sensitivity” is a new one on me.
But having seen myself that I could not perform the same exercise as well after sugar as before, I’m beginning to think that Sportacus has a point.

And in order to help control the migraines further (as well as help kickstart weightloss) he suggested avoiding sugar – at least until my next appointment in a month – and cutting out potatoes, replacing them with sweet potatoes.

So given there’s so much sugar in everything, this is an interesting challenge…
Why are potatoes so bad for you?
I know that the starch has something to do with it.  And  they get a separate points value at Weightwatchers rather than being part of the free vegetable allowance.
But do they contribute to my migraines?
Are they in fact the root vegetable of all evil?

Not convinced but I’ll give it a go – but I reserve the right to go a bit Rincewind about them… within limits of course…

Burka bans, Brussels and bended knees


…the niqab is a feminist dilemma… and a European one…

Eurogoblin today reported that the three Presidents of the EU – Council President Van Rompuy, Commission President Barroso and Parliament President Buzek met with religious leaders from across Europe to discuss poverty and social inclusion.


Image of leaders family photo from Flickr under Creative Commons licence

What’s faith got to do with poverty and social exclusion?
While it is possible to argue that it should be the duty of all to mitigate against poverty and social exclusion, we have a choice.
Either, we say that the state should provide and by means of “fairer” or “progressive” taxation that can be spent for the good of all.
Or we say that the Big Society will provide, because as responsible citizens we should rail against and commit ourselves to the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
In most Member States the reality is somewhere between the two – the state takes some tax from us in the name of that purpose, but as it is not hypothecated we’ve no idea what percentage actually goes on these projects locally, regionally, nationally.  All we do know is that a huge number of people are homeless or do not feel themselves to be part of the wider community.
And the reality is that it is often faith groups that step into the breech.

Let me give you a small and very parochial example.
I’ve spent today at the Rare Breeds Centre – a kind of farm zoo and current home of the Tamworth Two.
This was the Ashford Baptist Church toddler group outing.  Some anonymous donations via the church and lift-sharing arranged by the ladies from the church who run the toddler group made it possible for a big group of us to go out for the day, with our packed lunches and have fun playing at the farm without having to pay for anything.
Now this may not sound like much, but the majority of people there don’t have holidays, don’t go for days out because incomes are low and costs when several children are involved just aren’t compatible.

In fact, most of the toddler groups in Ashford town centre are run by faith groups – not religious, in that we don’t require membership of a church to attend and we don’t “spout religion” at people who come.
But we do use the church hall, the organisers tend to be from one church or another and the children’s holiday club which is based around bible stories is advertised.  There’s no obligation to attend that either.  I don’t actually attend the church that runs this toddler group but I do approve of its open, inclusive approach and that it genuinely welcomes everyone, of all faiths and none.
There is a non-religious Sure Start centre, and a toddler group was started that declared that it was “an alternative to all the church-based play groups” but I can no longer find any details about it online.  The situation is a little different for play schools for pre-schoolers, not least because 12-15 hours worth of state funding is available.

That’s not to mention the soup kitchens, the event organisation, the small but helpful charitable efforts  that almost go unnoticed generally but help to keep heads above water.
So in these ways, we try to help with the physical needs of those around us.  Jesus commands us to this  – give him that asks of us our coats our shirts also.  There’s no sin in being poor – although the comments about workhouses etc. on the government’s spending cuts website suggests that some people today feel there should be.
Jesus also spends a lot of the sermon on the mount talking about the poor being blessed, the meek inheriting the Earth, everybody selling their possessions, and rich men having less than a camel-through-a-needle’s chance of entering Heaven…  Oh and for more on “the poor will always be with you”, see this link.

But surely it’s not just Christians that do this?
Of course not.  It is just noticably Christian-dominated around here – one of the things we noticed on moving here was the huge number of churches.  I’m sure in other areas of the country there are thriving synagogue toddler groups, muslim women’s get-togethers and more.

I know that charitable works are a requirement of some faiths, and that performing them is not only good for the individual but also good for the community.

But please don’t think that Christians do these things in some kind of effort to earn their place in heaven.  If you read the Bible, we don’t have seven things we have to do to (nor do we have to follow the rules of the old covenant in Leviticus), that just not the Christian position.
While some parts of the church have attempted to create structures and rules to make it easier to understand actually reading the New Testament shows how hard Jesus and the early Christians worked to say – no, that’s not ever going to be enough, God forgives you, accept it and that’s it.
And so when it comes to charity, we do these things because God himself has paid the price for the sins we have commited and we want to praise him and make his world a bit better.  going to church reminds us of this, because just like everyone else we find it hard to find time and hard to feel motivated all the time.

But you don’t have to be a person of faith to do this?
Of course not.  Humanism is after all placing the human at the centre where others place God.  But it is humankind and not the self that needs to be the centre.
And if it is hard to feel motivated without external help as a person of faith, imagine the sheer bloody self-motivation required to do it without and keep it on track and not self-serving.  It would take a stronger person than me to do that.

Is there a place for faith in the EU?
But I digress.
Does religion have a place in the EU?  Indubitably.

Look at the fuss about the Constitutional Treaty and whether there should be a reference to religion within it.

One religion?  It is indisputable that the present Europe was shaped by the Christian faith, Catholic and Protestant, and also by the enlightenment and the freedom to question (itself part of the true nature of protestantism) from which modern atheism takes its roots.

But even as a practicing Christian I’m still not sure that the Constitutional Treaty should have had a reference to this (and at the end, the Lisbon Treaty doesn’t).

I don’t think that we can always claim that all decisions taken in a state can truly reflect the ethos on which the state evolved.  To claim that we do everything in the EU on the basis of our faith/ faiths is to deny the nature of compromise by which decision-making to cover many conflicting and competing interests take place.  While it’d be great to think that all the politicians and policymakers were doing as Mark Greene suggests and remembering in their work that they are a “might policymaker for God”, I’m pretty clear that the UK expenses scandal shows that it is all too easy to forget how to do the right thing.

But the future of Europe looks multifaith rather than secular.
For all that we might try to draft rules of public engagement that exclude religion, that we might ban people in public office from actually mentioning the thing that shapes, inspires and drives them, most people across the EU have some sort of belief.
This may be in something ranging from “spirituality” and the supernatural, through humanism to the deification of science or money, to agnosticism, deism, right through to following an established faith.
Human beings bend at the knee.  This is not a design flaw.
How on earth can we expect decent policymaking if asking people to deny their fundamental belief systems?

And that brings me to the burka question…

Should women in the EU wear the niqab or the burka?

This is a European question in the sense that it is currently being asked all over Europe.

As Eurogoblin pointed out, the recent burqa ban overwhelmingly passed by the French parliament last week (335 votes to 1).
The Belgian lower house voted on a ban in April 2010 (note the handy BBC guide to different veils.
The Dutch were debating this as far back as 2006.
The Spanish parliament is also likely to start debating their own burqa ban this week.

And the UK? Immigration Minister Damian Green has said that any ban on religious clothing would be awfully “un-British”.  And he’s right.
Freedom of the individual is a very British concept and the idea that a woman might be fined as in the Netherlands for wearing something expressing their religion is distasteful.
I’m not sure I’d want to live in a UK that imposed on me whether or not I could wear a sign of my faith outwardly, and if this is a move away from the mealy mouthed illiberalism that clamped down on it through uniform policy, sudden changes to health and safety policy and statements from the NSS.
Besides, have you been to the West End in London?  This particular Nation of Shopkeepers could find itself hit in the profits if rich middle eatern visitors could not dress as the wish to shop.

So there’s no common approach.

Is the burka ban a European issue?  It seems Vivianne Reding thinks not – I hear that when asked about it, she said that this was an issue for national governments and not something that she would touch with a bargepole.

But as the Commissioner for women and equality (and fundamental rights, and justice), Commissioner Reding also needs to think about the burka as a feminist issue.
And that’s a dilemma.
On the one hand, equal rights means the right not to be subjected to men’s control, nor objectified.  Women should be able to work – or not to work – as much as they like, and so should men.  They should be able to dress as they want to dress…
Ah.
Because what if a woman want to celebrate her faith and her devotion to her God by wearing a headscarf, a veil, a chador, burka, hijab, niqab etc. ?
What if she’s not being oppressed into it by bullying male members of her family or her husband but has chosen freely and in full knowledge of the implications of what she is doing both religious and worldly to separate herself from the world?
Surely fighting for a woman’s right to self-determinism extends to her right to cover up if she wishes too?

So these are hugely tricky issues.  But we don’t live in the lyrics of “Imagine”, we live in the real world in all its messy, diverse glory.
God inspired, uplifts and makes us more than we can be by ourselves.  Europe needs that to flourish, no matter what flavour that inspiration is.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Doing the job: debating the top euroblogs?


Well, if the Waagener Edstrom list of the most influential euroblogs was designed to provoke debate, it certainly has done amongst the eurobloggers.

Jon Worth, the fifth most influential according to the list, had to invite himself to the study’s launch.
Nosemonkey, whose authoritative, informative blog is regularly nominated for best blog awards finished outside the top 10.

Eurogoblin
, Mathew’s Tagsmanian Devil(top 20!) and EURoman (a site I’ll admit I’d never heard of before today have all critiqued in a lot of detail.

For me, a few thoughts:
1)  the USA is being held up as the model against which to judge how influential the EU blogosphere is – but is that a realistic comparison?
Is it actually what people writing euroblogs are aspiring to?

Importing a methodology used in the US and the comparisons with the US blogging scene as if this something that the Euroblogosphere should be aspired to become like may also have added to the distortionary effect.

The EU is not the USA, and I don’t think it’s right to say one if  ahead of or more advance than the other.  The US doesn’t have the multicultural, multilingual diversity of the EU at its federal level, so while an English-language blog in the US might have a widespread influence, one in Brussels might have a lesser impact, similarly one in French, German etc. as the potential audience reading in that language for interest and pleasure is smaller.
Plus with Jon Worth announcing he’s moving to London, Nosemonkey in London, ghost blogger Julien Frisch until recently in Germany, Joe Litobarski in Italy, is labelling it  the “Brussels Blog” survey really getting the full EU blogging picture?  I agree with EURoman Christian, local interpretation of EU stories is definitely an important factor.

I’m also not convinced that there has to be “a purpose”- the best euroblogs from my reading perspective are those where the author’s found something of interest and run with it because they are interested, not because they are paid to do so, or are single purpose.

Eurobloggers that are most interesting to me tend to be amateur rather than professional journalists – that’s why the alternative views can prevail.

While the excellent bloggingportal team tries to galvinise us into something more coherent, the actual effect has been a bit like trying to herd cats.

2)  What are Eurobloggers writing about?
While in the US the Washington world is probably exciting enough to fully occupy bloggers, most EU blogs I read seem to also have interest in other things – whether that’s Jon Worth’s sportsblog or Joe Litobarski’s musings from Ethiopia.

I’m an occasional euroblogger, who, through a combination of not-covering-some-things-because-I-value-my-job and blogging on things other than the EU (primarily parenting, feminism, local issues and faith), is never going to make it high up the Euroblog rankings.

That’s fine by me – I was flattered to even be listed in Fleishman-Hillard’s citizen blogs list for just that reason-

4) Where did the blogs under consideration come from?
While I understand that my own blog’s too random to fit the primarily EU-focussed criteria, I’m a bit surprised that none of the blogs of the EU girl geeks appear even to have been in consideration: where was Europasionaria? Euonym? Lino the Rhino?
Or did I just miss the longlist of blogs that were considered?

3) Twitter is where it’s at…
While eurobloggers do try to take time to comment on each other’s blogs, as Eurogoblin points out, it’s Twitter where we really talk to each other, share information, views, debate and discuss.  And all in 140 characters.
The last great Euroblogger meet-up online was hosted on Skype in the end, with Twitter and Googlewave elements.
So we have to ask – to shape debate in social media- whether our individual blogs are the place where that’s done most effectively is a debate for another day…

Just desserts?

Or why Rupert Murdoch ought to care about clafoutis…

The tree in our garden turns out to have edible cherries.
This is fabulous – I love cherries and my mum and I picked loads of them yesterday.
They are small, dark Chanel Rouge Noir in colour and sweet, with a slight sour note.  Perfect.

We have so many I decided to cook them, and searched my cookbooks in vain for a clafoutis recipe.  The only one I could find required me to make a custard first, and with a migraine coming, that was too much.

So I went online.
The first two recipes Google found were on the Times Online website.  But guess what?  They are now hidden between the £1 a day, £2 a week pay wall.
Did I pay it?  Did I heckaslike. I found the recipe at the excellent Green Chronicle
And it was delicious.

The thing is, when I find a recipe on the Guardian’s website, I often get distracted.  I end up reading Comment is Free, looking at different bits of the news and enjoying more of the lifestyle bits of the paper.
I used to do that with the Times website, but really what I’m after is the recipe.
Or the Alphamummy debate, or the theatre review that I was looking for.

But nothing makes me particularly inclined to pay £1 to get the recipe.

I already pay a TV licence and have access to the BBC.  I pay Virgin Media and have access to Euronews, Sky, CNN, Al Jazeera English and more.
On top of that there’s Google news and any number of online news outlets.

I used to buy the Guardian, the Times or the Independent pretty much interchangeably if I had a long train journey – otherwise reading a newspaper other than Metro is a luxury I’ve learned to live without.

And now we do so much more online, there’s a realm of excellent citizen bloggers out there who do not have pay walls and provide excellent news commentary, often better than the paid columnists in the mainstream media (I’d rather read Nosemonkey than Jan Moir any day).

So I don’t know whether the paywall is the future of online newspapers or not.  All I know is that it has made me feel less inclined to read the Times overall, and certainly not willing to link to anything that might mean me or my few readers shelling out £1 a day to read it.
If fewer, dedicated subscribers is the business model that works, then it just makes me worry about the quality of what I’d be getting behind that paywall anyway – less now, more in 10 years time.
I’m sure the clafoutis recipes would be fine, but you know what I mean.

A sporting chance

(picture from www.parentdish.com)
Just heard an interesting piece on Women’s Hour about why so few women are involved in sport in the UK.

To be honest, I’ve never really enjoyed sport.
I always came 4th (out of 4) in the running races at primary school.
I was always last or second to last in being picked for teams.
I was always allocated the Wing Defence role in netball and the equivalent in hockey.

The only time I really enjoyed participating in anything sporty was when we breifly introduced tag rugby at school (turns out I’m stronger than I look, but don’t like getting covered in mud).
I used to sort-of enjoy tennis, but I’m left-handed.  This means lots of people tell you that you will have a big advantage if you can build a strong backhand, but you get stuck on the far side of the net and given occasional attention while the “normal” righthanders are coached through the next bit of the normally righthanded coach’s plan.
I also liked it when my House discovered that, given the way points were given for sports day (5 points for taking part, 10 for third, 15 second, 20 first, plus extra points for decent times and distances) meant that if we all did as many events as possible, no matter how badly we performed we stood a chance of winning the House Sports Cup. And we all applauded each other.

After school, I didn’t really do sport.  I did musicals at university, learning dance (as it turned out, the beginning of 10 years of ankle trauma).
I did yoga – brilliant, and genuinely leaves you aching.
I tried pilates (awful, repetitive) and as a bit of a departure, and inspired by a PhD student working at the same office as me who was a third Dan, I tried Tae Kwando.  And damaged my ankle so badly (originally damaged by the tap dancing) that I ended up on crutches.
So I learned that, as I’m not motivated by competitive sport,  the often mocked “it’s the taking part that counts” really means something.
What wrong with that?
As far as I can see it’s the sporty, competitve people telling me that you have to be the best and that excellence is all that put me off sport all together.
Rather than dimiss my view on this, perhaps if there was a chance to take part in something, building skills.
Women’s hour spent a few minutes on a mums-organised non-competitive netball team – no scores kept, everyone changing positions and teams.
I wonder if I’d get bored though, as it does rather emphasise the pointlessness of it all.

Now of course, time is an issue.
I have a Wii Fit but get little chance to use it.
I work three days a week, walking to the station in the morning and dashing back to collect my son and babysitting until my husband gets home, which can be really late.
Weekends are filled with trying to go out as a family, seeing friends and family, mowing lawns, cooking, and trying to combat the tiredness the rest of the week engenders.
On the days I don’t work there’s playgroup, play dates and chores – housework and paper work, all of which take time.
And I don’t work full-time as I actually want to spend time with my son, and there’s precious little exercise that we can do together and would actually get me fit – swimming with a toddler is babysitting in water. And if I stick him in a gym creche, I’m hardly spending time with him, am I?

But I’m way too fat now, and need to do something about it.
Given the time factor, it’s probably going to have to be something both a two year old and I can do together.
I’m wondering about both of us trying horseriding, which should be relatively easy to find lessons for in our new semi-rural life?
Or may be the local rugby club does a mum’s team (or could do one)?

If you know of a fun, amateur sports group in Ashford that doesn’t require you to be any good to take part and caters for toddlers and their mothers, give me a shout!

Really radical healthcare

I’ve just seen the letter from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to public sector workers asking for how and where cuts should be made.
Focussing the media vocabulary on cuts is missing a trick.
It sounds as if the interest is solely budget deficit reduction.  But this is not the whole story – the solution should also deliver a good service for the public.

Today’s proposed reform to the NHS is not perfect but is long overdue.

While some things (like getting a consultant’s appointment within a fortnight, or a doctor’s appointment within two days, including after work and at the weekend) have been great, I’m still not clear how some of the targets made any sense.
Anything that resulted in patients being admitted to hospital for a few hours in order to avoid an A&E waiting time target being missed is a nonsense.
After all, if you’ve ever tried to get discharged from hospital (as we did with my baby son), it can take 12 hours and a lot of tears and turn into a Kafkaesque nightmare.
I’ve also never understood the Value for Money argument for the Primamry Care Trusts – as far as I have seen their job is to duplicate letters coming to patients from the GPs surgery and from the local hospital (an extra letter from the PCT each time I got one regarding smear test appointments, for example).

But the Private Sector Lite idea that has been proposed is really not that radical.  Look, if you truly want money to follow patient, it needs to mean a real market in the public healthcare system.
Scary rightwing idea?  Not at all.  The model here is France and Belgium.

In Belgium, an insurance-based system (with a decent fallback for those in need) is run by mutuals.
That means no expolitation by insurance companies trying to screw their own customers and avoid paying out a la USA.
While each mutal has a different “ethos” (I used Mutualite Socialiste the first time I lived there, Partena the second, and my husband Mutualite Chretienne) essentially they all do a similar job and don’t have shareholders getting rish off the good health of the scheme’s participants.

What makes the Beligan system seem so radical if you are a Brit is that any genuinely quality provider can sell services within public healthcare system.
The ground floor of most of the apartment blocks on the big boulevards in Brussels feature a number of brass plaques.
Each building offers one or two GPs, or a gynocolgist, a physiotherapist, a dermatologist, a sports therapist…

Reputation counts – GPs are not in control, offering their patient one or two choices of hospital-based appointments – they provide a referral for a specialist and the patient chooses who they want to see.  The mutual says up front how much of the treatment they will refund depending on how public/ private the specialist is – an appointment at a private hospital will be partially refunded (at say 60%) whereas one at a public hospital might be refunded at 85%.

Oh, and in Brussels, it is possible to self-refer if necessary.
The mutual might not refund the appointment, but the truly free market means that it is possible to find someone to see you if you can’tget a referral but are worried about something.

So ultimately members of the public determine where money goes.
Public health with a bigger role for the patient – now that’s radical…

Her Excellency, at last

Women bishops.  What exactly is the problem?

The arguments against seem essentially to be:


– Jesus didn’t have female disciples amongst the twelve.

Given he was so counter-cultural, if it mattered to him surely he would have done.

– Women were clearly excluded by Paul in his letters to the early church.

1 Corinthinans 14, 34-35 is the best known passage covering this.

– Tradition matters, women have never held these positions and why should we bow to modernity when we resist other secularist, relativist approaches.
After all, of the church had bent to every cultural change there would be church weddings for divorced people, gay marriage…

– Man has dominion over woman, and not the other way around.
This is clear from Adam and Eve, was the cultural norm of Old Testament society and is explicitly set out in Paul’s letters.

If you want to read some more about the arguments against, then Bibleprobe is probably the site for you.  If you are of a liberal disposition, you might want to bolt your computer to a table so you don’t accidentally throw it across the room.

What are the arguments in favour of women clergy?

Well, let’s start by attempting some redress of the antis argument. The Catholic website www.womenpriests.org sets out seven good reasons, but let’s focus in on a few…

– there were indeed no female disciples in the twelve – but Jesus was counter-cultural in his treatment of women.

(see this excellent article at www.freeminds.org and this one at the Sophia Network which sets out these arguments far more clearly than I could have done alone).
Jewish men did not speak to women in public as Jesus did (Samaritan woman by the well in John 4).  Jesus comforted the widow of Nain and had compassion on a prostitute.
Women did not take part in public prayer and were segregated within the Temple. But Jesus preached to women and men alike.
And look at the roles of women in Jesus’s life.
Without the artificial conflation of Mary Magdalene with a prostitute mentioned in preceding verses, and without the ridiculous over-interpretation of a “kiss on the mouth” in the gnostic gospel of Philip, we can see the importance and privilege of her role – and she was one of the first to see the resurrected Jesus.
Martha and Mary hosted Jesus equally to their brother Lazarus and studied at his feet.
Joanna and Susanna seem to have funded Jesus’s mission (Luke 8), and Phoebe and Priscilla were early church leaders, and the Freemind article lists further examples of both Biblical and early church history examples of women in senior ministry.
By the way, while none of the named twelve were women, it would have been odd indeed if women had not been present at the Last Supper – it was an all- family meal of religious significance!  Just because the medieval artists excluded them doesn’t mean that they weren’t there…

– Paul was writing to specific churches in specific circumstances
Leaving aside the idea that Paul is such an advocate of celibacy and the inferior status of women because he was himself divorced, what circumstances at the time would mean Paul would take a particularly strong line?
At Ephesus, the cult of Artemis, where women were understood to be superior to men, was the starting place for many of the new Christians.  Another possibility would be the bizarre Gnostic heresies at that time that the women were spreading false doctrines about.
In Corinth, the influence of the Oracle at Delphi was a problem – over-enthusiasm about speaking in tongues amongst the women in the congregation seemed to be linking them too closely with the way the women supported the high priest there.
So relegating women to a quiet, submissive role, allowing men trained in Christian theology to set the direction and not to make a “local version” incorporating rites from other religion.

– Tradition does not exist completely unchanged – why uphold some elements and abandon others?
There is evidence that women were church leaders in early Christian history.  The banning of women from leadership roles in the fifth century shows that they were leading prior to that – so why should we uphold a decision made by Fifth century men over previous decisions?
We also need to question why the word meaning “Deacon” was translated identically for Phoebe and male church leaders in some parts of the Bible, then translated as “servant” in other parts, and that it is the latter that is used to justify saying that she had a different status.

Women are now more educated, more likely to have jobs outside the home, can vote equally to men and are no longer the property of their fathers and passed to be their husband’s property on marriage.  They can own property and income in their own right and – like Joanna and Susanna – can dispose of that income as they wish.
Presumably there were many opponents, male and female, of each of those changes.
But no one outside the Taliban would now argue that as men have always been educated only men should be educated outside the home.

Is Christianity just misogynist?
Arguments about this sort of thing give succour to the theme that actually Christianity is just misogynist.

Radical 1970s feminists tried to reestablish the scared feminine (as indeed does Dan Brown) on the grounds that Christianity has been pursued over the centuries in such a way as to subjugate women.

God (the father) creates Adam (a man) and from Adam’s rib creates Eve (a woman), the only time in the history of humanity that woman has been born of man.(it does – who God chooses to speak for him is very important and we surely should not be narrowing our view of who is “acceptable” when the story of Christianity is that God doesn’t go for the big and obvious…)

Eve not only gives into temptation from the serpent, she also persuades Adam to do so too, and so he is punished for listening to her.

With women set up as the fall guy from the beginning, is it any wonder that church tradition – whether Judaism or Christianity- excluded women from official leadership roles?

If you read the comments added to newspaper websites on this story today, you’ll see a whole load of neoatheist sniping, saying who cares (fine) or that women must be allowed to “propagate lies” equally with men (not fine).

This suggests that this doesn’t matter, but it does.
The real argument to have is the battle against the world that believes what we believe to be at best lunacy and at worst dangerous lies.
The lesson of Christianity’s history is that who God chooses to speak for him is very important and we surely should not be narrowing our view of who is “acceptable” when it is clear that God doesn’t go for the big and obvious…

Liking, learning, languages

Looking at the Petit Filous ads, I wonder – can you get a lifestyle from a language?

One of the great things about Facebook is that you ccan get back in touch with people. Today, I’ve been looking at the photos of my Frnech friend’s new born son.
French friend? Yes, I apologise for the turn of phrase.
When I was younger, we made friends with the people staying in the next door gite, while on holiday near Colmar.  As it turned out, they actually lived about 40 miles from us and I spent my teenage years learning French with a purpose.  It all seems so much more worthwhile when you have someone you want to be able to talk to.
Through this I enjoyed what we shared as culture, and  the differences too.  I gained access to a whole different way of thinking and a way of looking at the world.

I also speak some Spanish.  I chose to do so because my 13-year old self thought that it was better to learn a language spoken so widely in the world rather than German, spoken in only one country.  Now I’ve several Germna speakers in my circle of friends, and no one Spanish speaking.  I keep feeling embarrassingly monoglot.

So when it comes to teaching my son languages, I want to start early.
After all the theory behind language lessons in primary schools was about cutting money and improving GCSE results by not requiring a lang- I’m sorry, was about children soaking up languages more easily early on so that they learn a love of them (I guess this is the same theory of learning that leads to atheists saying that children should not learn about God’s love until they are old enough to decide to do so…)

But while it is natural to me as a francophone that my son should learn to speak the language of our neighbours, is it rational?  Is it the most useful thing he could do?
What about Spanish?  My theory still holds, plus I found travelling in California that it was very useful to speak Spanish. Even Gerorge W Bush spoke Spanish.
What about the language of the BRICs?  As Europe and the US decline as world powers, surely there’s a point to learning Hindi, Chinese, Portuguese, even Russian?

We’ve decided to start with what we know.
After a few goes yesterday, learning in English and French, my son now sings:

Fairer Jacker, Door May Voo, Sonic May A Tina, Ding Dang Dong!

Which isn’t bad for a first go.

We have the Muzzy VHS tapes in French and Spanish too.
These were given to us by a lovely B&B owner in Salisbury (we’d highly recommend a stay there, and please also make a donation to the Meningitis Trust if you have some spare pennies).
We need to dig out the video from the roof to be able to play them, but we think it might be time to get them going…

There are apparently lovely Fench clubs here in Ashford too, including holiday clubs for toddlers, so may be starting with what we as parents know, and starting with French.

Then the rest! Ciao…

The Brussels Lost Generation

There’s something striking about the British Foreign Secretary’s speech today.  While the idea that this is one of a series of “repositioning” speeches is interesting, and the wider world politics are interesting, for EU geeks (and there’s a lot of us), here’s the interesting section…

we are determined as a Government to give due weight to Britain’s membership of the EU and other multilateral institutions.
It is mystifying to us that the previous Government failed to give due weight to the development of British influence in the EU. They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we are now facing a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU where early decisions and early drafting take place.
Since 2007, the number of British officials at Director level in the European Commission has fallen by a third and we have 205 fewer British officials in the Commission overall.
The UK represents 12% of the EU population. Despite that, at entry-level policy grades in the European Commission, the UK represents 1.8% of the staff, well under the level of other major EU member states.
So the idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain’s influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction. Consoling themselves with the illusion that agreeing to institutional changes desired by others gave an appearance of British centrality in the EU, they neglected to launch any new initiative to work with smaller nations and presided over a decline in the holding of key European positions by British personnel. As a new Government we are determined to put this right.

Now, it’s great news that the lack of Brits in Brussels is being acknowledged.  It is after all one reason why the European Fast Stream (EFS) has been reconstituted.
Graduates of the UK with French or German A-level (grades A-C), I’d urge you to try for this.  The EFS as an interesting way of getting EU policymaking experience in an environment where what you do actually counts.

But if there’s a gap at Director level (and there will be as the 1973 intake of Brits retire), and a shortfall of Brits overall, bringing in more Brits at ground level will mean it takes time to get them to filter through to senior roles.  And if issues like adding a language to gain a promotion are still prevalent in the coming years, then only the few will actually make those dizzy heights in any case.

It is in the spirit of genuine interest from the outside that I float a few radical suggestions I’ve come across today:
i) lobby for the UK staff already in the Commission to get key roles- other Member States are not shy about doing this, so there’s no need for the UK to be shy either.  At the moment, other than at Cabinet time, Commission contacts indicate the UK is less prominent in doing this (or just subtle?);

ii) really think about what key positions are: for example, France seems to put a lot of effort into securing Head of Legal Service jobs across the Institutions- why?  Because interpreting EU competence is a key role…

iii) think about pursuing parachutage, for example using temporary agent contracts to address the deficit in the short term.  There are quite a few UK experts with wider ranging EU experience (from UKRep to SNEs, to the UK’s last Presidency of the EU) that understand the EU’s inner workings, and, combined with their knowledge and experience of policy development and delivery at the national level too, could provide a valuable service to the EU overall until that next generation filters through.

I’ve written before about why I’m not going for the next concours.
But the problem goes much wider than just me and the husband/ mortgage/ children/ part-time issues I faced in taking that decision.

There is a lost generation of Brits – there was nearly a decade without a generalist, English language concours, and an awful lot of bright, capable and (by now) experienced Brits who missed out as the accession of ten new Member States lead to the necessary prioritisation of fonctionnaires from those countries.
Even those that passed recent concours haven’t necessarily actually found jobs at the end of it.

Surely seeking to put some of them in as temporary Heads of Unit would help sort out the problems identified in this very interesting speech?