Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sarah Carey and the silence of the lambs



Photo by racka_roadrunner (Flickr)


I may make part of my living out of counselling and this attack on therapy from Sarah Carey's GUBU blog may date from before Christmas but it's still too good to miss. She wends her way from a lamb falling down a river bank to childhood memories of farm pets and from there she launches a broadside at the therapy business. Her basic thesis is that you might be better off allowing your mind to repress the bad memories from the past instead of dragging them up and upsetting yourself with them. She might be right too - my basic training is in Reality Therapy which sees the solution to our problems as lying in the present and the future and which, as an approach, stays out of the past as much as it can. Anyway, never mind me - read her article here which is more fun and wittier than anything I'm likely to come up with.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holly: a cross dresser without the glamour on the Manhattan subway

Holly's hair was a mess. It was dishevelled with bits sticking out here and there. This could have been the result of a day's hard work but I have a feeling that Holly (whose name I have made up) wasn't really any good at doing her hair anyway. Neither was she any good at applying makeup. The makeup just didn't conceal the ridges in her face and the lipstick was too bright. This is what comes of being a woman in a man's body but with a man's brain in the cosmetic and dressing department.

You could tell that Holly was man by her big hands, big frame and the man's face behind her makeup. There were no rings on her fingers. She was, I speculated, on her way home from work with two colleagues, women. She sat beside them on the subway from Canal Street to Times Square admiring a top that one of them had bought. In this, and in the way she sat demurely beside them, she was all feminine. Regardless of her hair and her makeup, the women seemed to accept her as one of themselves.

Holly was in her fifties and I wondered how many years of pushing in among the girls she had had to go through and what it had cost her to get to this point. There was nothing glamorous about her. She had to go to work like anyone else. Her fake, furry jacket could have come from a charity shop. She wore ordinary jeans and scuffed boots. If she wanted an operation to change her gender I doubt if she could afford it.

So she does what she can to be who she is and I had the feeling, as we stopped at Times Square, that she just might have been the most courageous person on the train.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A career in alcoholism: man in Manhattan

“I am a career alcoholic.“ Tony, all smiles, energy and with a bottle of Bud in his hand, materialised beside me one evening in a bar in Manhattan where I had gone to shelter from a drizzle, have a drink and get a little peace.

Having established my name and country of origin, he told me about his career as an alcoholic. “It makes me feel good,” he declared. “What else matters?” I agreed. He was in that state of elation which, in some people, can turn ugly in a second if you put a different point of view.

He seemed in good shape for a guy who had made a career out of being an alcoholic. He was fifty years old, he told me. His hair was jet black, he was only a little overweight and he was light on his feet. Tony hopped around quite a lot as he talked and he sometimes danced in place to the music.

“Lose the hair,” he told me. “It will take ten years off your age.”

There was much that I couldn’t understand of what he said because he spoke so fast. For instance, I could not make sense of his explanation for why he, personally, knows global warming is real. “See this burn mark?” he said at one point, putting his hand to his forehead, as part of his explanation. There was nothing there but I said I had seen it anyhow.

Then he started talking about his ex-wife, “the evil one”, and how she had unsuccessfully tried to get his kids to say he had molested them.

“I am telling you this because you are elder,” he said. I am definitely going to lose the hair, I told myself.

He took out his wallet and showed me photographs of his kids. They were graduation photographs, three girls and a boy, all looking happy and proud of themselves.

He told me I was a good listener. Not bad, I suppose, when all you’re trying to do is avoid an argument.

Two young women, maybe in their twenties, came into the bar and sat down. Tony started to chat them up. The young women laughed it off but Tony’s attention had definitely turned in their direction.

I said goodbye and left. I expect he is still dancing in the bar in Manhattan, chatting women up, explaining global warming and showing pictures of his kids to other customers. I hope the career works out.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Link between depression and heart disease needs our attention


Photo by Adoodi (Flickr)

Poorer outcome for depressed patients

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 18th December:

The link between depression and heart disease is not often written about, perhaps out of fear of causing distress to people with one or the other of these conditions or with both. But to remain silent about the link is to deprive people of information that could save their lives.

The latest research, from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, confirms earlier findings that people who are depressed following a heart attack are significantly more likely to die during a follow-up period than heart patients who are not depressed. This outcome has been found in follow-up periods ranging from six months to more than six years in different studies.

Other research suggests that people who are depressed are more likely to suffer heart illness in the fist place than those who are not depressed.

Quite how it works is not clear. One theory is that in depression the brain’s regulation of the production of sticky platelets in the blood is impaired, that this brings about an increase in the production of the platelets and that this in turn can lead to an event such as a heart attack.


Effect on behaviour

However, It is also possible that the poorer outcome for depressed people following a heart attack is related to the way depression affects their behaviour. For instance, people who are depressed can find it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise, to take their medication or to modify their diet. If they are smokers, then giving up smoking will be far more difficult when they are depressed. All of these things, let’s face it, are hard enough to do when you’re not depressed.

In these instances, one can see how easily depression can leave a person more vulnerable to future heart problems.

What matters in all of this is to understand that depression is a real issue that needs to be taken very seriously after a person has a heart attack or develops another heart condition.

Depression not surprising
We need to remember that when you have a heart attack your whole view of yourself, your health and your life changes. So it’s not surprising that for some people this leads to depression.

One can also see how a person who led a very stressful life before a heart attack could become depressed afterwards at not being able to give the same energy to the issues about which he or she was stressed. If they have had to give up the work they used to do, then the emotional impact can be very, very strong.

It is important, if somebody close to you has heart disease, to recognise that depression may cause them to fail to exercise or to fail to comply with their medication or dietary requirements.

In such a case the issue of depression should be raised with the GP who may refer the person to a counsellor. If you prefer to contact a counsellor directly you can get the name and telephone number of an accredited counsellor from the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy at 01-2723427.

Exercise and mood
It is also helpful to encourage the person to carry out faithfully the exercise regime prescribed by the hospital or by the GP. Aside from the physical health benefits, exercise is known to improve the mood and is an important ally in the fight against depression.

I have directed this advice to people close to the person with depression because it can be hard for the person who is depressed to motivate himself or herself to do these things.

But if you have had a cardiac problem and you are not depressed, follow that exercise regime that the doctor advised: it will keep you in good shape psychologically as well as physically.

I’ve used the word ‘link’ in talking about depression and heart disease throughout this article because what we seem to know is that there is a very definite link between the two but what we don’t know is exactly how that link works.

There is, nevertheless, a link which is all the more reason for doing something about depression instead of letting it drag on and on - especially the wake of heart disease.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crimes against women - an Islam thing or a culture thing?

Somewhere in Iraq at this moment there may be a young women locked in a room by her family with a can of oil and a box of matches. For the 'honour' of the family she must kill herself by burning herself to death. There is no escape. Monstrosities like this and the commonplace murder of women in Iraq for offences such as being seen talking to the wrong person or dressing in ways disapproved of by the militias suggests that crimes against women are particularly encourged by Islam. But this disturbing report by Mark Lattimer in The Guardian suggests to me that there are cultures which are toxic to women and that it is this rather than Islam or any other religion that bears the responsibility. Still, I'd love to hear some plain language condemnation by Muslim spokesmen/women of this nightmarish behaviour insofar as it's done in their name.

(This is the complete post. Ignore 'Continue Reading' link below)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Christmas but only if you want to - there's no law about it




Photo by krisdecurtis (Flickr)

Avoiding an unhappy Christmas creates problems

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 11th December:

There is no law written down anywhere that obliges you to have a Happy Christmas.

I think that is important to say at this time of year. The marketing industry would have us believe that everybody else is going to have a wonderful Christmas because they’re buying the right drinks, driving the right cars, wearing the right clothes, eating in the right places and, well, generally doing everything right.

Every man, this myth would have it, has a glamorous girlfriend or wife on whom the snowflakes fall gently under the stars as Santa appears around the corner in his sleigh. There is a blazing log fire inside. The children are all cute and would never dream of calling you, their father, a dork.

Of course, it’s not true. Moreover, we know it’s not true but somehow we contrive to feel aggrieved or even guilty if we are not happy enough at this time of year.

The problem with insisting on being happy at Christmas is that we can inflict extra pain on ourselves and on others when we fail to achieve this ideal. Drinking too much, taking drugs, fighting with people and brooding and moping are all things we do to try to get rid of negative feelings. Very often, though, we would do better to allow ourselves simply to experience the negativity which, if it is allowed to, will pass. Allowing it to pass means not talking endlessly to yourself about what’s going wrong but getting on with whatever it is you need to do today.

Other people
Consider the matter of involvement with other people. This is the time of year when most of us have closer contact with colleagues, friends and relatives than at any other.

That’s fine. We need involvement – it’s good for our mental and physical health. But we need to be able to accept that not all of this involvement will be unalloyed fun.

For instance, some people simply do not enjoy office parties at which you get to spend ages listening to some very drunk person explaining to you how he would reorganise the purchasing department if only the management had the good sense to put him in charge.

Similarly, visits to relatives are not always an unalloyed pleasure around Christmas. Some visits will be boring, others irritating . But despite the irritations, we know involvement with other people can be life-saving. We are less likely to be depressed and less likely to take our own lives if we have good relationships with others.

But to be with people we have to have the capacity to put up with feeling negative some of the time. We humans are contrary. We can be a bit spiky with other humans. We tend to be motivated more by what we want than by what the other guy wants. So we’re not as easy to be with as we would like to imagine.

Develop tolerance
Therefore in order to be with people we need to develop a tolerance of discomfort and annoyance because these are all part of the package.

I think this is especially so around Christmas Day and St Stephens Day. What seems to happen is that people who can usually tolerate each other good humouredly for an hour at a time are put into a sort of social pressure cooker and made to stay there for hour after hour. The pressure rises as alcohol is applied. And yet if people can get through the day without the lid blowing off, they are likely to feel a glow of well-being for having been there.

But what will blow the lid off is the person who cannot tolerate being irritated or discomfited and who makes sure everybody else gets to know about it.

Now, I would like you, me and everybody else to have a happy Christmas. But if you are going to be unhappy or irritated, at least don’t worsen the experience by feeling angry, guilty or aggrieved about the fact.

In short, if you want to be unhappy or fed up go right ahead and be my guest. Bah. Humbug.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fathers and daughters in business together

John Flannery & Daughter, auctioneers in Charlestown, Co Mayo are among the few Irish firms I could find in a Google search which used "& Daughter" in its trading name. Despite changing attitudes the designation is still unusual. The issue is explored further in this item on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour which asks, Do fathers and daughters make good business partners?

Link:

BBC - Radio 4 Woman's Hour -Fathers and daughters in business together

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Campaigns target domestic violence by men and women




Report from Women's Health Council, book by Amen founder

Some years ago I met a group of people with physical disabilities and, in the course of conversation, I asked if all of them had been born with their disabilities.

All had except one, a woman who had been so badly beaten by her husband that he had left her disabled for life and unable, ever again, to live independently.

I thought of her when I read, in a new report from the Women’s Health Council, that in Europe more women die or are seriously injured every year through domestic violence than through cancer or road accidents.

The report acknowledges that men suffer violence at the hands of women– but all the evidence, I’m afraid, suggests that men carry out most of the violence that occurs between the genders.

What’s going on with men who are violent towards their female partners? A few, I suspect, don’t know any better. It’s what they grew up with. Most people who see violence at home avoid repeating it in their own relationships later on. Some, however, may think it’s the thing to do.

Others, though, seem to have a pathological need to control their partners. Everything: what she wears, who she sees, how much make-up she puts on, who she talks to at work, who she telephones, when and how she does housework, has to be controlled in detail.

I suspect that behind this pathological need for control is a dread of losing the other person, a certainly that she will leave unless she is put on the very tightest of reins. The irony, of course, is that these control freaks generally end up losing their partners anyhow – by holding on to them so oppressively they drive them away.

New book by Mary T Cleary
Women who are violent and abusive to their male partners may have similar motivations. A new book, That Bitch – protect yourself against women with malicious intent, written by Mary T Cleary, founder of Amen, and journalist Roy Sheppard, describes instance after instance of such behaviour.

I don’t like the title, which was chosen to shock, because I think it creates an unnecessary barrier between men and women on this issue. That said, the book does a good job of highlighting one big problem concerning violence by women towards men. This is the reluctance of men to speak out because they have a realistic fear of not being believed or of being sneered at.

No slap, just tickle
An interesting campaign to bring together both of these aspects of domestic violence – men as perpetrators and men as victims – has been launched in the UK. The No slap, just tickle campaign aims to help men speak out against, and overcome, domestic violence, whether they are victims, perpetrators or bystanders.

The inclusion of perpetrators may seem odd but many violent men go through periods of remorse and this is something that can be built on by a campaign like this. The campaign urges men who perpetrate violence to have the courage to seek help and to understand that domestic violence is never acceptable. There are programmes to help such men, run by MOVE Ireland in ten locations around the country and contact numbers are given on the website.

The No slap, just tickle campaign encourages men who are victims of domestic violence to “have the courage to seek help – even if you have the impression that it will make matters worse. As a man you are no different to the countless women who have spoken out about domestic violence and freed themselves from it.” Amen can be a helpful resource to men in this situation.

And the campaign encourages men who are aware of situations of domestic violence to “urge the person in question to seek help – whether as a victim or as a perpetrator.”

Domestic violence is a choice. The men and women who perpetrate it do not, for example, have uncontrollable urges to beat up their bosses at work. Therefore if they beat up or torment one person and not another they are exercising a choice. That is a fact we need to bear in mind at all times.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Indian Government makes neglect of parents a criminal offence

We're used to the concept of parents having a legal duty of care towards their children but the idea of a reciprocal legal duty is, so far as I know, unheard of. Now, the Indian government may be about to change all that by introducing a legal obligation on children to look after ageing parents, according to the Reuters India story below.

Link:

Govt makes neglect of parents a criminal offence | Top News | Reuters

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Separation and unemployment contribute to suicide, report suggests




Photo by Bethany L King (Flickr)


New Irish report on suicide


Connections with other people constitute an under-valued source of psychological well-being. As we become more individualised - not knowing who our next-door-neighbour is, spending more time in our own rooms with our own technology and so on - we ignore, at our peril, evidence of the links between isolation and mental ill-health. Further evidence for that link was reported in The Irish Times on Tuesday 27th November by Barry O'Keeffe.

"Separated men and women have high suicide rates, far higher than married people, according to new figures published last night," O'Keeffe wrote. "The figures also show that unemployed men are four times more likely to take their own lives than men in employment.

"The suicide rate of women who were unemployed was five times higher than that of women in employment. Women who were 'engaged in home duties' had a similar suicide rate to the employed.

"The report, which was launched last night in Dublin by Dr Jimmy Devins, Minister of State for Disability and Mental Health, was compiled by the National Suicide Research Foundation. Commissioned by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, it examined deaths which occurred in the Republic in 2002. Of the 1,800 deaths into which an inquest was held, 495 were recorded as deaths by suicide.

New data
"The researchers were given access to what is known as form 104 for the first time. This is a form which gardaí complete for coroners' inquests to determine the cause of death, when such deaths are thought not to be through natural causes.

"'It is the first time that Irish data has shown separated people to be a high risk group,' said Dr Paul Corcoran, deputy director of the National Suicide Research Foundation. 'It is worth looking into, in terms of suicide prevention as the number of separated people in Ireland is increasing.'

"Dr Corcoran said the study of inquested deaths was the first time such data had been separated out from general data collected by the Central Statistics Office (CSO)."


Highest rates are in young men
As in traffic deaths, overall, the study found that the highest rates of suicide were among young men, according to the report.

In general, two-thirds of men who died by suicide did so by hanging, whereas for women, the most common forms of death by suicide were hanging, drowning and drug overdoses.

On the issue of whether alcohol was involved, Dr Corcoran said the data was not reliable, as it seemed at odds with generally accepted data on suicide, ie alcohol dependence seemed to be underestimated as a factor.

The report found that an above-average number of deaths happened on Sundays and Mondays. It said accidental deaths peaked on Sundays, whereas suicide deaths peaked on Mondays.

For each of these categories, the rate was at least 20 per cent higher than average on these days. Suicide deaths were least common on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with 17 per cent fewer deaths than average.

Link to spring and summer
The data demonstrated that suicides peak in late spring and early summer (April to June). Dr Corcoran said people would expect such deaths to occur more in winter, but these findings bore out similar studies around the world. It also found that about half of suicide deaths occurred around the home of the deceased, compared with 26-30 per cent of the accidents and homicides.

"The data indicated that a final communication - generally in the form of a written note - was made in 30 per cent of suicide deaths.

Dr Corcoran said the data was limited in respect of occupation of the deceased. However, he said, there seemed to be a high rate of suicide among semi-skilled and unskilled workers, including builders' labourers, assembly line workers, security guards and bar staff.

He cited Australia where a major initiative had been launched to target young men in the building industry, where it was thought that issues such as bullying had led to suicides. "We should consider launching similar initiatives here," he said.

Forms not satisfactory
The data was based on the 104 forms, which are completed by gardaí for inquests, giving details about the deceased and the facts surrounding the death.

Dr Corcoran said it was not the fault of the gardaí, but these forms were not always satisfactory. The report recommends that some changes be made in these forms to provide more accurate information.

In addition, Dr Corcoran said some different mechanism needed to be developed to collect more in-depth information on the medical and other contributory factors associated with suicide.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Perfectionism linked to a range of emotional problems.

Perfectionism may be responsible for more emotional and mental health problems than we think, says this article in the New York Times.

Link:

Perfectionism - Psychology - Mental Health and Behavior - New York Times

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Keeping in touch with the kids: tips for fathers working away


(This is the text of my That's Men for You column, published in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 27th November 2007):

Advice from fathers.com

You’ll see them at the airports every day: the business travellers, all suited up, tapping away on their laptops or talking into their mobile phones. But they’re more than business travellers. Many are parents, fathers and mothers whose work means they spend more time in airports, planes and hotels than they do in their own homes.

It is doubtful if there are very many of them who particularly enjoy this aspect of their work. That’s especially so if they have children waiting for them back home.

Still, not everybody has the luxury of giving up a job that pays the mortgage in order to spend more time with the family and, indeed, not everybody wants to.

Keeping in touch
There’s a marvellous website called fathers.com which has advice for fathers in this situation. It also has advice for other kinds of fathers – divorced fathers, non-cohabiting fathers, adoptive fathers and so on.

The tips on fathers.com are as applicable to mothers who travel a lot on business as to fathers. Here’s a selection:

– Call the kids every day. Might seem obvious but if you don’t plan for it, the call might not get made until after the children are asleep. Even if you’re not travelling, you can always make a habit of calling the kids – or at least texting them – if your work runs into the evening.

– Tell the kids they’re welcome to call or text you any time they like on your mobile phone. If you’re not available, they can go to your voicemail. Expensive? Sure, but is it the most expensive thing you’re going to be doing this week?

– If you have small kids, leave handwritten notes for them before you go. Hide them where they can easily be found so the kids can hunt for them. This wouldn’t work with teenagers unless you attached money to the notes, which I do NOT recommend.

– Plan your business trips to be as short as they can reasonably be, to maximise your time with your family. I realise that in many workplaces there are macho idiots – male and female – who will sneer at this idea but you don’t have to give into this nonsense unless the macho idiot is a boss who might threaten your job in retaliation.

– If you’re away for a long time you might record a message to them on your digital recorder or on that souped-up mobile you conned the company into buying for you. Transfer the message to your laptop and email the recording to them.

– When you get home, talk about family matters before you talk about your trip. That way you’re emphasising that the family is where your priorities, and your heart, lie.

– Whether or not you travel a lot, ask yourself if you really have to spend all this time at work or if you’re putting in long hours because you want to? If you suspect you might be putting in more hours than you need to – after all, work can be more fun and exciting than being at home – then consider the concept of “emotional work.” This term refers to the effort people make to maintain relationships, especially their emotional side. It’s work in the sense that it often involves giving attention to people at times which you don’t really want to give them attention. But the concept can help you to plan to be at school events and so on which might otherwise never make it onto the to-do list.

– Consider delaying projects or seeking more family-friendly deadlines to give you more time with your kids. Of course, you don’t have to say this is what you’re up to – as a warrior in the corporate jungle I’m sure you are well able to come up with a line of bull to explain why you might want to push out deadlines.

Maybe not all of these suggestions are your cup of tea but pick one or two you could implement, try them out, and see what difference they make.

The website, as its name implies, is at www.fathers.com and if you’re a parent of either gender, it’s worth your time.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Watching her father shaving - from a poem by Nancy Gandhi

Nancy Gandhi is a poet who lives in Chennai in India and whose blog Under the fire star is a treasure . Here is a stanza from one of her poems called Pretend. I love its affectionate portrayal of a child's view of her father:

Her father's shaving. He makes a foamy beard,
draws the razor in a lawnmower swath
to smooth skin.
"Shave me too, please!"
He removes the razor's two-sided blade,
squirts her face with shaving cream,
shows her her beard in the mirror.
She stands very still
while he shaves off the foam.
She wants to have a moustache
when she grows up.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Early death risk for men in routine jobs, statistics suggest

Men in routine jobs, such as bus drivers and refuse collectors, are more likely to die early figures show, says this BBC story. The Office for National Statistics data showed routine workers were 2.8 times more likely to die by the age of 64 than high-level managers.

Link:

BBC NEWS | Health | Bus drivers' 'early death risk'

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Breaking up is so undignified to do say Tubridy Show guests

(This is the text of my RadioScope column which appeared in The Irish Times on 20th November, 2007):

How to break up and how not to break up

The cover of a magazine at our local newsagent’s proclaims: “Ziggy – why I dumped Chanelle.” The cover of the magazine beside it screams: “Chanelle – why I dumped Ziggy.” (That's Chanelle above right.)

The aftermath of breakups is not always edifying. After model Katy French got dumped by her boyfriend when he walked in on her doing a perfectly legitimate lingerie photoshoot, she allowed his subsequent text messages to her to be published in a newspaper.

She probably shouldn’t have done, it she told the nation on the Tubridy Show, but she felt good about it at the time and, actually, she still feels good about it today.

The programme was exploring the whole business of breaking up and what happens afterwards.

The grieving process

All agreed that a break-up is followed by a grieving process for at least one of the two people involved – but the grieving seems to work differently for men and women. Men think the way to grieve is to follow the principle that “the best way to get over one woman is to get under another,” said John Breen, whose play “Falling out of love” is touring Ireland at the moment.

Women, said counsellor Betty Drury, grieve by networking with other women and talking through their feelings over two-hour lunches.

Starting again
Afterwards, there is the question of meeting someone new. Like many another person whose relationship has broken up, Katy French can’t stand the thought of going through the motions of the dating game again. She has learned through therapy that it’s ok to be with herself, alone, for a while and that she doesn’t have to be in a relationship, or surrounded by people, at all times.

John Breen believes that having your heart broken is not an entirely negative experience: it makes you value true love all the more when you eventually find it.

And breaking up can be liberating for a person who is escaping from attempts by the other person to change them, Betty Drury observed.

The programme did a vox pop in which opinion seemed divided between those who believed breaking up should always be done face to face and those – mostly women – who advocated doing it by text.

Which prompted Katy French to observe that women “don’t give a hoot” about the process of breaking up once they’ve decided to do it. Men are far more likely to be cautious and to mumble and mutter their way through the whole thing.

How and how not to do it
And what’s the best way to break up? Do it honestly and without delay, advised counsellor Betty Drury. Otherwise you steal the other person’s precious time for weeks, months or years as you string them along.

But don’t do it like the guy who rang his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend, said he was out of credit and asked her to ring him back – and then dumped her at her own expense.

You can hear the programme again at http://www.rte.ie/radio1/thetubridyshow/

Monday, November 26, 2007

Accepting your death and talking about it to those who will stay behind

(This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 20th November 2007)

Channel 4 programme points the way

A man in his 70s who spent most of his life in the practice of Zen Buddhism recalled an encounter concerning death.

It had occurred many decades previously when he was training under the eye of an old-style Zen master. He had been contemplating the subject of death and had become rather comfortable with it, thanks to many hours of meditation.

Foolishly, he informed his Zen master that he no longer feared death. The master responded by jumping on top of him – they did that sort of thing in those days – and commencing to strangle him.

The attempt went on until the student had almost lost consciousness. Luckily, he had previously spent some years at sea and had learned how to take care of himself. He managed to land a punch on the jaw of the master and to free himself.

When he regained his breath, he berated the master for almost killing him.

But, the Zen master replied, I thought you told me you had lost your fear of death?

I presume the Zen master was trying to convey, in a way which would be barred by health and safety regulations nowadays, that if you say you have lost your fear of dying you are probably fooling yourself and anybody who believes you.

Death in other cultures
The dread of death seems to be common to people in Western cultures but this isn’t always so elsewhere. There’s a tribe in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean which believes that everyone dies at 40. Even if, after reaching 40, you are walking, breathing and talking, you are still, essentially, dead. I apologise, by the way, to anybody who is staring down the barrel of the Big Four Oh but do remember that this is Micronesia we’re talking about.

Far from struggling against the idea, people over 40 seem to see the whole thing as a form of retirement. For instance, they don’t work as hard anymore. After all, they’re dead. What do you expect?

This acceptance of death and dying is found in many Buddhist traditions too. Indeed, in those traditions in which there is a belief in reincarnation, the ambition is to get to a point at which you can finally die and don’t have to be reincarnated anymore. That’s an attitude most of us in the West find baffling except when we’re sitting in a traffic jam on the M50.

In facing our own deaths, there is the question, if we know it is coming, of what to say to those who are closest to us. Many men, I suspect, would be inclined to take a sort of stoic attitude to it and to speak about it as little as possible. We would try to be good, strong men who are not going to upset other people by talking about our deaths. But in fact, talking to our partner and children could help to ease the pain for everybody.

The Mummy Diaries
These thoughts were prompted by the Channel 4 series, “The Mummy Diaries” about how mothers facing death through terminal illness interact with their children. The first programme in the series was reviewed by Olive Travers in last week’s TvScope so I won’t to into the details here. But essentially it seems to bring great comfort to children and partners if the mother talks to them about what is going to happen and if they gather up memories for after her death (these include letters, to the children, memories, advice for their future lives and so on). In other words, the whole family becomes involved in what is happening to one of its members.

It all seemes so much healthier than denying that anything is going on at all and keeping everybody isolated in their own world of pain and fear.

The final programme in the series is on Channel 4 next Thursday night. It’s worth watching. None of us knows when we might have to deal with the issues it raises but the approach it promotes has an enormous value, in my opinion, not only for mothers but also for fathers who are facing death through a terminal illness.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Court rules children's removal from State unlawful

Appeal in 'Mr G' case rejected

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a mother of twins against a High Court judgment that found their removal from the State and retention in Britain without the consent of their father was unlawful.

In the "Mr G" case, the father brought a successful action against the mother, who took them to England in January.

Link:

ireland.com - Breaking News - Court rules children's removal from State unlawful

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

25 ways to approach a woman at work and not get sued


Cautious note a sign of the times

These tips on the Bootstrapper blog are pretty good on all the ways to approach that person who has caught your eye - and heart - at work. I guess it's a sign of the times that the tips are couched as ways to "not get sued". Is the average female really that ready to call a lawyer? Is it really true that you shouldn't ask someone out more than once if they refuse the first time? I knew someone who asked a girl - this was back when there were girls - out several times, politely, before she reluctantly agreed. Then she married him. Then she divorced him. Gee, maybe Bootstrapper is right.

Link:

Bootstrapper » 25 Ways to Approach A Woman At Work And Not Get Sued

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How the Family Mediation Service helps separated Dads and Mums negotiate Christmas and other issues

Service also helps parents who have never lived together

(This is the text of my article on the Family Mediation Service which appeared in The Irish Times on 13th November 2007)

Christmas is more than a month away but for parents who don’t live together there is just a short time left to work out who will see the children and when, during what ought to be a joyful occasion.

What presents should be bought? Who should buy them? Should one parent buy an expensive present which the other parent has already told the children they cannot have? If the children are young enough for Santa to visit, who will be there when they open the presents, or will Santa have to visit twice?

Issues such as these can exceptionally emotional, difficult and painful at times like Christmas.

“I never saw my youngest child coming down the stairs to find her present,” said one father. “And I never had the opportunity to bring my children to my parents’ grave on Christmas Day.”

These are the sort of problems which the Family Mediation Service, part of the Family Support Agency, deals with all the time. The mediation service aims to help couples – married or unmarried – to settle issues between them when they are separating. These include the important issues of finance and property but also the important issue of the future relationship with the children.

The service also helps people who have never lived together to sort out parenting problems.

Parenting flashpoints
Potential flashpoints which parents living apart would do well to work out in mediation include communions, confirmations, holidays and even children’s parties, says Polly Phillimore, the service coordinator for the Family Mediation Service.

People working on separation or maintenance agreement may want to deal with these things later, but “later” could come sooner than they think and could find them unprepared.

In general, it is better to make agreements about such issues in the relatively calm atmosphere of a mediation session than on the other parent’s doorstep.

What works now?
The first step, says mediator and area-coordinator Sheila Healy, is often to “look at what’s working at the moment.” Who is involved right now with bringing the kids to school and getting them home? Who brings them to and from their extra-curricular activities? Seeing what contribution each parent can make to this in the future may allow the whole process to flow more smoothly.

Indeed, says Polly Phillimore, where parents make plans in this way, the children sometimes get to see more of both parents after the separation than they did before.

The same principle, of seeing what already works, can be helpful in looking at the issue of Christmas.

“It’s helpful for the parents to ask what are the family traditions?” says Sheila Healy. Do the children and the family always go to granny in the morning and then somewhere else in the evening? Do they always go to the graveyard at a particular time of the day?

“Can we build something around this?” asks Ms Healy.

“Families often have certain things they do that are key to their Christmas Day,” she says. “Perhaps all the family gets together in a particular house.” In such a situation might it be feasible for both parents to be there?

It can also help separated parents enormously if the grandparents can put to one side their feelings about one or other of the parents and can make them welcome at Christmastime.

On the question of Santa and presents, parents sometimes agree that both of them will be in the house when the children open their presents, says Sheila Healy.

Where there are two families and two sets of children involved parents may need to be aware of the potential for jealousy over presents between the two groups of children.

They need to work out issues such as how a parent will feel if the other parent’s new partner is there when presents are delivered. Again, these issues are better handled in the mediation room than on the doorstep.

Ray Kelly of Unmarried and Separated Fathers of Ireland talks of fathers who have no visitation rights on Christmas Day simply because the visitation days laid down in a court order don’t happen to include the day of the week on which it falls. If these matters can be sorted out in mediation, an enormous amount of conflict and pain can be avoided.

Always parents
The work which the family mediation service does in relation to children is based on the premise that the parents, even though apart, will always be parents.

The service was set up in 1986 and has over 14 offices around the country. Many of its offices have waiting lists and it may be difficult to get an appointment before Christmas at some of them – but issues concerning separation and parenting don’t vanish at Christmas.

There is more information on the family mediation service at www.fsa.ie and its headquarters telephone number is 01-6344320.

See Tips for making Christmas better for separated parents (below) for summary of points from this article.

Tips for making Christmas better for separated parents

Start early and see what worked before, mediators advise
  • Parents need to talk to each other soon rather than later about Christmas arrangements.
  • It can be helpful to look at what has worked for the family in the past. What is the usual Christmas routine? What “makes” Christmas for the children?
  • Has there been a tradition in which the extended families meet on Christmas Day? Can this occasion be continued and can both parents be present?
  • If there are small children, is it possible for both parents to be together when they are opening their presents from Santa?
  • Parents may need to agree in advance on what presents will be given. It can create difficulties if one parent gives the children an expensive present to which the other parent has already said No.
  • If there has been a tradition of visiting family graves, can a way of doing this be worked out for both families?
  • Can grandparents or other members of extended families put their feelings about one of the parents to one side to facilitate them to be present, for a time at least, on Christmas Day?
  • 8. If one parent is delivering Christmas presents will, or should, the other parent’s new partner be there? It may be wise to discuss this in advance or at least to be sensitive to the issue.

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Family goes for potential son-in-law bald-headed

Police in India's Assam state have received a complaint from a prospective groom against his would-be in-laws for allegedly thrashing him for not disclosing that he wore a wig to conceal his baldness.

Link:

ireland.com - The Irish Times - Tue, Nov 20, 2007 - Family goes for potential son-in-law bald-headed

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Maintenance and true love

This marvellous poem by UA Fanthorpe was posted by Sarah Carey on her great and feisty blog, GUBU. To read other poems sent by her readers in response go to her post here and check out the comments.

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget the milkman, which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters, which knows the way the money goes, which deals with dentists
And road fund tax and meeting trains, and postcards to the lonely
Which upholds the permanently rickety elaborate structures of living; which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing to my brickwork;
Insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dry rotten jokes,
Remembers my need for gloss and grouting;
Which keeps my suspect edifice upright in the air,
As atlas did the sky.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Off-topic: Africa to pay for Europe's "green policies"


In efforts to make quick and symbolic gains in Europe's otherwise failed policies to curb climate gas emissions, environmental and anti-globalisation politicians are aiming at Africa's few economic success stories, says this story on afrol.com. Campaigns to buy locally produced food and travel to local destinations particularly hit out against African products.

Link:

afrol News - Africa to pay for Europe's "green policies"

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Off-topic: Executing child offenders in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen

One of the most shocking photographs I ever saw was of nooses being put over the heads of two teenage boys who were being executed in Iran for having sex with each other. Now Bock the Robber has this list of boys and girls who are under sentence of death in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen for crimes committed when they were under 18. While he used the headline "Islamic Savages," I happen to think - and he probably does too - that most Muslim countries are outraged by such executions and by Islamic extremism in general.

According to this article by Amnesty International, "Iran has the shameful status of being the world’s last official executioner(1) of child offenders – people convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. It also holds the macabre distinction of having executed more child offenders than any other country in the world since 1990, according to Amnesty International’s records."

In the past three years, children have been executed in China (1), Sudan (2) and Pakistan (1), according to Amnesty. Iran is the only country to have executed children this year.

stopchildexecutions.com lists people, mainly teenagers, over 18 who are under sentence of death in Iran for offences committed when they were under that age....



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And here is the rest of it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Net veteran Grohol's five tips for a successful marriage


This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 13th November, 2007:

There are lots of people out there promoting products which will purport to tell you how to have a successful marriage – but when the advice is relayed by John Grohol (pictured above right) it’s worth our attention.

Dr Grohol, a clinical psychologist, is one of the pioneers of useful information on the internet. He launched his Psych Central website at www.psychcentral.com in 1995 at a time when relatively few homes anywhere had an internet connection.

Since then, Grohol has published thousands of articles based on mainstream research and has made them available, at no charge and in plain English to anybody who wants to read them.

Grohol reckons he’s cast an eye on about a thousand articles on how to have a long-term successful relationship or marriage. None of them, he complains, seem to capture the core ingredients he has found important in long-term relationships.

He believes there are five such core ingredients. Here they are:

First: Compromise. You may have found your soulmate but that doesn’t mean you’ll agree on when to put out the bins, how to discipline or reward the children or what time you should be home from work on a Friday night. So unless you both learn to compromise, your day to day disagreements could turn into something much worse.

Second: Choose your battles carefully. Once you accept that you and your nearest and dearest are never going to see eye to eye on everything – because that’s the way people are – then the wisdom of this piece of advice becomes obvious. Is it really worth fighting over the cap being left off the toothpaste or the toilet roll being turned around the “wrong” way? Mightn’t it be better to reserve your fighting time for more important issues, such as family finances or children?

Third: Communicate, preferably not in the middle of a row. The notion that “If you really loved me you’d know how I feel” is, to put it politely, bull. Even a psychologist would not know how you felt about anything unless you actually told him or her. So tell. And if you want to be heard, do it when you’re at peace, which hopefully is most of the time, and not when you’re fighting.

Fourth: Don’t hide your needs from yourself or your partner. If you’re unhappy with working too much, or not working enough, with the amount of affection or sex in the relationship or with anything else that really matters, you need to admit this to yourself and to discuss it with your partner. Otherwise these unexpressed needs can corrode the relationship.

Fifth: Recognise the importance of trust and honesty. People in long-term relationships need to be able to depend on each other. This is why betrayals of trust hurt so much and why the worst aspect of an affair, for instance, is that betrayal of trust.

If you do these things will you have a peaceful relationship? No, of course not. Much of the advice above is based on the recognition that permanently peaceful relationships are not a human possibility. And, curiously, once you recognise that, your relationships can become deeper and more loving than before because you are accepting the reality of the other person.

It is as though we are shut into a room and each is allowed to look out through one of the windows in that room – but not the same window as the other. So you’re both in the same room alright, but what you see and what your partner sees are different. Each needs to accept that the other person’s reality is different, sometimes radically so. And who knows which ‘reality’ is the right one?

So to me, what is important from Grohol’s five points (Click here for original article) is for each partner to accept that, in many ways, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Each needs to give up on the effort to turn them both into chalk and chalk or cheese and cheese.

That said, please don’t ask me to put the bins out when I’m watching I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Thanks.

  • Note: John Grohol has written a generous response to this post on his blog here.

Is abuse risk higher with non-biological live-in boyfriends?

US data suggests that the risk of child abuse grows when a man who is not the children's biological father moves in, says this story from Associated Press.

Link:

Newsvine - Abuse Risk Seen Worse As Families Change

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Irish kids today - good news, bad news

This is the text of my article in The Evening Herald on 14th November, 2007:

The good news from the latest research by Barnardos is that relationships between parents and children today are in good shape.

The bad news, in the just-published survey by the childcare organisation, is that we now have worries which did not exist – or not to the same extent – when today’s parents were children.

Eighty per cent of parents say their children have a better childhood than they had themselves and just over half believe their relationship with their children is better than the relationship they had with their own parents.

And in a technological age, relationships continue to be top priorities for parents and children. When children were asked what made for a happy childhood, they put ‘a loving family’ at the top of the list. So did their parents. For children, friends came second and a safe community third.

Parents have fears about the safety of children and about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Bullying is a major concern for parents and children.

In a good example of technology as a double-edged sword, parents find mobile phones beneficial for keeping in touch with their kids but they worry about those unsupervised phone conversations teenagers have with other teenagers.

Nevertheless, and as every parent knows, technology is a big priority with children. Over half the children interviewed for the survey – and by extension probably over half the nation’s children – are using social networking websites such as Bebo. That’s an awful lot of children. In effect, these networking websites have become a vast, national – sometimes international – conversation, mainly involving children and teenagers.

Nothing wrong with that, in itself. But parents cannot be blamed for worrying whether the conversation is always safe and unexploitative. And who can guarantee that?

That said, this parent’s view is that sites such as Bebo offer teenagers unprecedented ways of maintaining and expanding friendships and that the pluses probably outweigh the minuses.

The issue of the time that parents get to spend with children produced interesting results. Essentially, people seem to think that other people are doing less well than they are themselves. For example, three quarters of parents surveyed believed they themselves were spending enough time with their children but that the rest of Irish parents were not. Some of this failure they put down to the demands of work. However, 80 per cent of children and young people believe parents and children are spending enough time with each other.

But is interaction between parents and children under threat from the phenomenon of televisions and DVD players in the bedroom? The survey found that three out of ten 5-9 year olds have a television in their bedrooms. One out of seven 1-4 year olds has a TV in the bedroom.

As Barnardo’s chief executive Fergus Finlay put it at the launch of the report yesterday, “There must be some ground for concern, though, in the finding that an extraordinary number of young children have televisions, and often DVD players, in their own rooms. A child who spends too much time alone is less likely to be a happy child, and less likely to be able to sustain relationships. The fact that a quarter of our children up to the age of nine are supplied with their own televisions is something we ought to be thinking about.”

Nevertheless, the overall picture appears to be a positive one. But, as Finlay reminds us we cannot either ignore the fact that one child in nine lives in poverty and that one in three finishes primary school unable to read or write. Children with a disability, as Finlay put it, are ignored and discriminated against. And as the economy and government spending tighten it is vital that these children in particular should not be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ouch! Men have a higher pain threshold than women - or have they?

A detailed investigation suggests that men have a higher pain threshold than women - but were the lads faking it?

Link:

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: Ouch! Men have a higher pain threshold than women

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

30-something single Irish females - desperate women in baggy trousers, bachelors claim

This (a little late) is the text of my Radioscope article in The Irish Times on Tuesday 30th October 2007:

Irish women in their thirties: are they slobs, desperate to get their hands on a man at any price? That’s the sort of impression I took away from this discussion with bachelors on Ryan Tubridy’s radio show. I’m afraid the views of the two bachelors in the studio, Paul and Joe, will have made them few friends among the female of the species.

Paul (39) is a property developer which must make him a desirable catch in our society. He has left a long-term relationship and is single.

Irishwomen are badly dressed, they wear baggy trousers and flat shoes and have short hair, he complained to Tubridy in the text message that got him onto the programme.

When Tubridy asked him to read out the text he amended “Irish women” to “some Irish women” but this may not be enough to spare him the wrath of females scorned. Joe complained about women in their early thirties, in a rush to get married and have kids. During the Golden Minute – the first minute of an encounter, he explained – these women size up the suitability of any potential new partner. I’m not quite sure how they do this – perhaps they look at him with an odd squint or something – but Joe reckons he can sense this going on.

The ones who are the most desperate are the ones who don’t look after themselves, Paul chimed in diplomatically.

Tubridy had interviewed single women the previous week and, judging by the segment he played back to the bachelors, they are as critical of men as the men are of the women. Irishmen, they said, don’t know how to flirt, have an underlying shyness, tend to be rude and once women get to a certain age they (the women) become invisible.

Is there a clue in all this as to why these people, men and women, have not yet found permanent partners?

Mind you, Joe doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. It’s great, he declared, to be able to watch whatever you want on TV all day long and to give yourself lots of space – a declaration which probably brought a nostalgic twinge to some male, married listeners.

In fact, he feared, there is a danger you could get so fond of this life that you could end up permanently on your own but that’s not what he wants.

Chris, who is fifty, found it harder to meet Irish women as he got older so he went to England to meet the apparently less ageist women there. He is now living in the Isle of Wight where he seems to be surrounded by interested females.

And Paul informed us that the new trend among Irish guys is to go out with East European girls. They’re very slim, he said, and they look better than their Irish counterparts. So there.
You can listen to the programme which includes the interview with the lads here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Male And Female Adolescents Equally Victims Of Physical Dating Violence, Study Shows

Physical dating violence affects almost one in every 11 adolescents, with males and females equally affected, according to research presented at the American Public Health Association’s 135th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Link:

Male And Female Adolescents Equally Victims Of Physical Dating Violence, Study Shows

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High Death Toll After Severe Urinary Complications In Men Over 45

As many as one in four men admitted to hospital with acute urinary retention will die within a year, finds a study published on the British Medical Journal website.

Link:

High Death Toll After Severe Urinary Complications In Men Over 45

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kidults - refusing to grow up gracefully


This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 6th November:

Are you by any chance, a kidult? A kidult is an adult who has never really grown up and who is in no hurry to do so. Generally speaking, kidults are in no hurry to grow up because they’re having too much fun or they are scared of taking on responsibility, or both.

The kidult has been around for ages. I remember Gay Byrne reading out letters on his radio programme from mothers fed up with sons who refused to grow up but preferred to lie around being fed and watered by their parents. These letters tended to elicit an outraged response from the ‘Give him a good kick up the arse’ brigade.

I wonder what happened to these kidults? Did they run into strong women who took them in hand and made men of them? Did some of them find wives who took up where mother left off? Perhaps some are still sprawled on the sofa preparing to apply for the pension as mother, now in her 80s, keeps them in beer, cigarettes and pizzas.

But today’s kidult, as I understand the concept, does more than lying on the sofa.

Do you, perhaps, put on short trousers and a baseball cap, worn backwards, at the weekends and go skateboarding around the streets of our great cities? If so, you may be a kidult and that may be the kindest thing you’ve been called in a long time.

If you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s and you go out on the pull (you are not, of course, married) do you ignore women of your own age and head straight for girls in their 20s? If so, you are definitely a kidult.

Do you spend hours with your PlayStation 3? Kidult again.

Perhaps you even jet off to London now and then kit yourself out in a school uniform and dance, drink and snog the night away at the school disco scene? (Let me say straight away, in case there is any confusion about this, that I only know about the school disco scene because I looked it up on Wikipedia. It’s a long time since I’ve been in short pants.)

I may have given the impression here that the kidults of the past were exclusively slobs who lounged around on sofas in their parents’ living rooms. This is not an entirely complete picture.

Many of you may not know that there was a time when there was no such thing as an ATM machine. So if you ran out of cash in the evening or at the weekend you were in trouble, especially if you were a kidult looking to impress the girls. One kidult I knew solved this problem and enhanced his status by opening a bank account in the Dublin Airport branch of the Bank of Ireland which was open outside normal hours. If he ran out of money at the weekend he would simply nip out to the airport in his snippy, jazzy car and make a withdrawal. This sort of thing was just perfect for impressing the sort of girls who were impressed by this sort of thing.

There are, let it be said, female kidults too. You are still a student in your 30s? If so, you may well be a female kidult, a sort of eternal schoolgirl who doesn’t have to face the world for as long as Daddy keeps paying the bills. Does Daddy still pay for your health insurance? Does he take your car for its NCT test? All these may be symptoms of the female kidult. Here’s another sign: has your boyfriend put you on his credit card? If so, you are probably a kidult and he is probably an eejit. Don’t let him get away.

The phenomenon of the kidult goes back even further than the time of Gay Byrne. Bachelors were taxed in ancient Rome. And early in the last century, the Italian government imposed a tax on bachelors unless they had joined a religious order and taken a vow of chastity.

Now there’s an idea for the next kidult you spot skateboarding around the IFSC.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Loss of Intimacy

BBC Woman's Hour on the impact of losing an intimate relationship with a partner.

Link:

BBC - Radio 4 Woman's Hour -Loss of Intimacy

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Sexy walks 'keep men off scent'

A sexy swing of the hips may attract admiring glances, but it is not a covert sign a woman is ready to breed, according to researchers.

Link:

BBC NEWS | Health | Sexy walks 'keep men off scent'

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Men targeted for chlamydia tests in UK

A new strategy aimed at increasing the number of men in England screened for chlamydia has been launched.

Link:

BBC NEWS | Health | Men targeted for chlamydia tests

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Early Preventive Intervention For Disruptive Boys Can Improve Education And Reduce Later Criminality

Early preventive intervention for boys at high risk of antisocial behaviour can improve their educational chances and reduce later criminality, a new Canadian study has found.

Link:

Early Preventive Intervention For Disruptive Boys Can Improve Education And Reduce Later Criminality, UK

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sex changes accepted but thugs can still make life a misery


This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 30th October:

When Lib Dem Jenny Bailey (on right in pic) became Mayor of Cambridge earlier this year, the UK media sat up and took notice.

Media interest was spurred by the fact that Ms Bailey had been born a man but had a sex change operation about fifteen years ago.

Moreover, the Mayoress – traditionally the Mayor’s wife – would be Jennifer Liddle, (left in pic) her partner, who was also born as a man and who also had a sex change operation.

But though the media took an interest in this development, it was a fairly mild interest. A few articles appeared and that was that.

All of which indicates acceptance nowadays of the use of surgery to change gender – and that this is no longer seen as a barrier to high political office at local level underlines that acceptance.

Ms Bailey’s two sons, aged 18 and 20, live with her and her partner. When the media contacted Ms Bailey’s former wife she had nothing but praise for the person who had been her husband. She described her as “totally selfless” and said she would make an excellent Mayor.

Then last week, on Joe Duffy’s radio programme a person in Dublin who is undergoing preparation for a sex change related a rather different experience. She was born a man and for many, many years has been bullied by local thugs because, she thinks, she keeps herself to herself. Her life seems to be entirely dominated by the behaviour of local children. She chooses to do her shopping only in the early morning when the children are at school. Once they get out, she stays in.

She wears feminine tops and trousers but not skirts or dresses. In order to receive sex-change surgery in the UK she will have to live as a woman for a year and then be assessed. But to do that is impossible where she lives. If she left her apartment dressed fully as a woman, she would not, as she put it, know what was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. To venture out in women’s clothes would require a degree of courage and recklessness which few possess.

At one level, her story is simply about the acceptance of low-grade thuggery at official and community level. Her story also, however, shows that while persons with a sex change in one setting may become the mayor of a city, there are other settings in which such a venture is very risky indeed.

On reading such stories the question will, no doubt, arise in many people’s minds as to how successful these sex changes are and whether they bring people the improvements they hope for in their lives.

There is now some interesting evidence that indeed surgery to change gender from male to female is largely successful and that those who have such surgery are largely pleased with the results.

The research was done by the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in the UK. Researchers looked at the early experiences of more than 200 patients and they did detailed follow-ups with another 70.

In the early stages, almost nine out of ten patients were happy. What was the situation after more time had passed? The research team was only able to conduct detailed interviews with 70 longer-term patients. This, the explained, is because people who have this operation want to get on with a new life and therefore can be hard for researchers to contact.

Of the 70 (average age 43 years), more than three quarters were happy with their appearance following surgery. Eight out of ten said their general expectations had been met, according to a report on the research in the journal BJU International. Almost one in four were having intercourse regularly. Two thirds were happy with the depth of the vagina that had been constructed for them.

So it looks as though sex-change operations work well and that this phenomenon is increasingly accepted by families and, in most cases, by society at large.

All of which throws into question the whole nature of identity and how we define ourselves. But that’s another story.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Homecoming King and King

At Davis High School in California, they've just elected a gay couple at the school to be homecoming king and king says Ed Brayton's blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Homecoming King and King

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Family law system 'shambolic' - report

A report published today has described the Irish family law system as shambolic and overcrowded. Dr Carol Coulter's report also said it was remarkable that the system worked at all.

RTÉ News: Family law system 'shambolic' - report

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Rugby - a guy thing or a gay thing?



The "homo-erotic nature of rugby" is explored in this Woman's Hour item broadcast by BBC Radio Four during the recent world cup, when rugby fans of whatever persuasion didn't have the time to listen to it. The pic shows the Emerald Warriors, an Irish rugby team made up of gay, heterosexual and bisexual men. Well, aren't they all, but at least this one is explicit about it.

BBC - Radio 4 Woman's Hour -The homo-erotic nature of rugby

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Irish family courts not biassed against Dads, report suggests

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 23rd October:

We hear allegations that the family courts are so biassed towards men that separated and unmarried fathers have no chance of getting justice. That the media are not allowed to cover these cases, even under conditions of strict anonymity, adds fuel to the fire.

That’s a pity: the latest report by Dr Carol Coulter on behalf of the Courts Service paints a picture of judges who, faced with deep parental conflicts, do their best to ensure that fathers and mothers have access to their children. One might argue about the amount of access in individual cases but the idea of a blanket prejudice against fathers is not borne out by Dr Coulter’s report. Here are some examples:

– A mother whose separated husband cut her maintenance from €1,000 to €750 a month because she had reduced her hours of work asked Judge Murrough Connellan to increase the payment to €1,300. She said she had reduced her working hours because one son had behavioural problems. The judge said the point of maintenance was to keep the “parties in the manner to which they had become accustomed” and he told the father to pay €1,000 a month. He also granted an access order for the father to see his sons in the middle of the week and not just at weekends as had previously been the arrangement. The mother had said she considered access to be very important.

– Judge Bridget Reilly granted an hour’s access a week to an unmarried father who had never seen his 10-month-old daughter and who had been jailed for assaulting the mother’s parents. The man had also sought joint guardianship. Judge Reilly told him that though it was a very good idea for a father to be a guardian, as an unmarried father he had no right under the Constitution. The access would take place at the home of the mother’s brother. She also made a maintenance order under which the father would pay €100 a week and she told all parties to return to court so she could check how the arrangement was working.

– A father went to court because he believed his access to his children was being frustrated. This, he said, included at least one occasion on which he was denied access to his children at his sister-in-law’s house even though he was there in accordance with an access order. The mother told the court that the boys did not want to be with their father. Judge Murrough Connellan said neither was a bad parent “but together you have got into a destructive pattern, quarrelling, and this is making it very difficult for your children to grow up.” He recommended they attend mediation and put their own egos aside for the good of the children. He would not change the existing access order and expected the parents to work out together how to manage it.

– Judge Gerard Haughton was critical of a mother for making unsubstantiated allegation in court. This arose when an unmarried father sought joint guardianship of two boys. He said he wanted to be appointed guardian in case anything ever happened to the mother. The mother’s solicitor said the father provided no maintenance as he was on long-term disability. However, the judge dismissed this point as irrelevant. Given that the man was on long-term disability his failure to pay maintenance could not be held against him. Social welfare was “subsistence…you can’t criticise for non-payment out of subsistence.” The mother said one of the boys had been caught selling stolen items he had got from the father and that the school had told her the father “brainwashes” the boy. Judge Haughton said it was “grossly unfair” to raise matters for which no evidence had been produced in court. He granted joint guardianship, saying all he had heard from the mother “is suggestion and innuendo.”

There is much, much more than this in Dr Coulter’s report in her excellent and informative Family Law Matters. The series can be downloaded from the www.courts.ie which is the website of the Courts Service.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The future's female in top professions

Women will dominate the top professions in the future because they are getting higher points in their Leaving Certificate than men.

The future's female - Latest News, Education - Independent.ie

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The unspoken crime of male rape

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 9th October, 2007:

Male rape is a hidden crime of our time. Rape crisis centres increasingly hear about male rape but few cases ever come to trial. Yet Dublin Rape Crisis Centre says 12 per cent of its clients are male and that it expects this proportion to grow.

The phenomenon of male rape is concealed mainly by the reluctance of its victims to come forward. Heterosexual men may fear that they will be accused of being gay. Gay men may fear that they will be seen to have put themselves into circumstances in which rape could take place. In other words, they fear what has often prevented female rape victims from coming forward, namely that they will be accused of having asked for it.

Indeed, the tendency to blame rape victims for what has been done to them has been well established in research. And men are more likely than women to blame the victim. Therefore, one can see that a man who is raped might be more reluctant, for this reason, to come forward.

Matters are complicated where the man has experienced a physiological response of arousal to whatever acts were performed. Indeed, some rapists aim to bring about such a response as part of the abuse of the victim and to deter him from going to the police. The response, if it occurs, is no more than a mechanical one, so to speak, and it in no way mitigates the enormity of the crime that has been committed. Nevertheless, the victim may feel shame and embarrassment and therefore be reluctant to reveal what happened.

Male rape is carried out by both heterosexual and homosexual men. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that most male rapes are carried out by heterosexual men. This is understandable when you realise that rape has less to do with physical attraction that with power, control and rage. Therefore it is not necessary to be in a gay ‘setting’ or environment for a rape to happen – it can happen anywhere and to anyone. And it is more likely that the man will know his attacker in some way than that the perpetrator will be a complete stranger.

Yet the rape is traumatic and help is needed. For instance, research into this phenomenon would suggest that a man who is raped is more likely than a woman to be gang-raped. There is also a real possibility that he will be physically assaulted in other ways as well.

We read and hear about horrific physical attacks on women who are raped. These attacks amplify the effect of the rape itself. The same is true of male rape victims.

Traditionally, we think of prison as a place in which men can be sexually abused and raped by other men. I have never heard of cases of rape in Irish prisons. But we know, from research and investigations, about the rape of men by men in US and Australian prisons. This is often jokingly referred to in American movies in a way that would never happen in relation to the rape of women.

Do we believe that Irish prisoners are somehow inherently more decent than US or Australian prisoners? I don’t, and I suspect that sexual abuse and harassment of men in the prisons is also a problem in this country but one we never hear about, possibly due to a combination of shame and fear.

Men who have been raped can and do recover but this is more likely to happen and to happen more quickly if they get help. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is at 1800 778888 and its email address is rcc@indigo.ie. There are almost 20 rape crisis centres outside Dublin and you find information on them by going to the website of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and clicking on the “contact us” link.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted but you are not yet ready to seek direct help, at least read the material for male survivors of rape at http://www.secasa.com.au an excellent Australian website. Click the “survivors” link on the front page to get to the material for men.

See also earlier post on this topic: Male rape - a hidden crime.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Transsexual wins landmark case after epic 10-year battle

THE Government is legally obliged to revise the law on the rights of those who have changed sexes following a landmark decision in the High Court yesterday .

Transsexual wins landmark case after epic 10-year battle - National News, Frontpage - Independent.ie

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Will humans marry robots in 50 years?


The idea of a human falling in love with a creation made of steel and silicon seems rather far-fetched today -- even the most "realistic" robots seem more creepy than endearing. But people already do form attachments to their robots. People treat Roombas like pets, and soldiers form strong bonds with their minesweeping robots.

Cognitive Daily: Will humans marry robots in 50 years?

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