In praise of: Shiny Happy People

Click to see video (Youtube) 

Michael Stipe has sometimes been rather apologetic about his 1991 pop pastiche, Shiny Happy People.  I’m not an R.E.M. fan but I admire the few works I’ve heard, so until comparatively recently, when I spoke to my sister who is a great fan of theirs, I didn’t even realise there was any controversy over this beautiful song.

I probably first heard it on The Chart Show one Saturday in 1991, when I was working in North East England and raising a young family.  I’ve always loved intelligent, satirical writing so the idea of having a fundamentally sad song with upbeat lyrics and music attracted me.  As a sixties pastiche it works well, and Stipe’s delicious, tortured voice gives the performance the vital edge that explodes the myth of the words and music.

I’ll admit that I still don’t understand why it is regarded by so many fans as a mistake of any kind.  It’s a song that works as pop and as satire, finely judged and perfect.

Obama, McCain and the “shy conservatives”

The comfortable leads for Obama/Biden recorded by every national poll in the 2008 election in the past month could be giving a misleading view of the intentions of the voters, for a variety of reasons. Continue reading

Worldwide trend towards liberalization of abortion laws

The September issue of the journal International Family Planning Perspectives carries an encouraging summary of worldwide trends in abortion legislation (here, and see news article on Medical News Today.)  This is a regular report, compiled once a decade.

The news is almost universally good. 

Since 1998, 20 countries have made substantial changes in their abortion laws… Sixteen countries added indications that moved them from one of our categories to another, or recognized rape, incest or fetal impairment as grounds for legal abortion. In contrast, only two added restrictions that moved them from one category to another. In two countries where abortion laws are made at the state level, significant liberalizations occurred in several states. Other countries…maintained existing indications for abortion but adopted changes affecting access to the procedure.

This is a review of legislation only–in practice the social conditions, availability of abortion facilities, and the opinion of the prevailing government, may also have a key effect on the practical availability of safe abortion.  However viewed as an indication of the responses of legislators to the needs of women, this is promising.

The atheist bus campaign

I love the atheist bus campaign.

i have, however, issued the following official statement:

Fucking hell it’s the second day that they’ve got more than £77,000.

At this rate you won’t be able to move in central London for exhortations to enjoy yourself.

Oh wait…

Okay, but I will say this

I never understood the “hockey mom” thing. Was that supposed to be a claim that she wasn’t spending lots of money on her looks?  Because if she hadn’t, I’d say she was even dumber than she sounded.  But if there are people who are surprised that the Republican Party spent a lot of money making Sarah Palin look as good as she could look, then there are a lot of Americans who are more stupid than Sarah Palin,

And really, if you think it’s wrong for a political party to make its candidates look as good as they can look, then really I give up.

What’s the point?

A rest

Perhaps like much of the rest of the world, I’m holding my breath until November 5, 2008.  During the past three weeks my thoughts have not strayed far from the subject of the elections in the United States.  But I am British, not American.  For this reason I do not have much to say on this blog at present.

My opinions on this subject are not difficult to divine, but I will not use this personal blog while my mind is so strongly preoccupied.

Popular support for Connecticut ruling allowing same-sex weddings.

Newsday reports that the University of Connecticut surveyed 502 adults over the weekend for the Hartford Courant on the subject of the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that people are entitled to marry someone of the same sex.  The poll shows 53% in favor of the rulingand 42% against.  Republican voters tend to oppose it and Democrat voters tend to support it.

Catholics tackle the abortion issue

Roman Catholics form a large proportion of voters in the United States, around 25 per cent.  They’ve seldom been considered a particularly monolithic voting block, however.  A report in the Washington Post on October 8, 2008, highlights a new poll that examines the attitudes of older and younger Catholics to traditional Catholic hot buttons associated with the so-called “culture wars”,

The teaching of the Roman Catholic church on contraception and abortion is particularly draconian: they are both forbidden, and in this election the American church hierarchy has gone out of its way to discourage any Catholic from voting Democrat because of the Democrat “pro-choice” policies on abortion.

But attitudes towards abortion in the Catholic church are changing, if the opinions of younger Catholics in a poll from Public Religion Research is correct.  Half of all Catholics disagree with their church and say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.  In younger Catholics (18-34) this rises to 60 per cent.

This comes at a time when, according to a report released by Pew Forums, most Americans are becoming wary of church involvement in politics.

Another factor of interest is the recent intellectual dissent within conservative Catholicism itself, when Douglas Kmiec, a well respected conservative legal scholar, endorsed Obama for the Presidency. Elsewhere, Kmiec argues that the battle to ban abortion has been lost, but Obama’s health policies will lead to a reduction in abortions. This hasn’t made him popular with the Catholic clergy, but there is clear evidence that the laity have become practised at such nuanced judgements for some time, despite the single-issue exhortations of the bishops.

Away from the soundbites and the headlines and the simplistic “child-murder” slogans of the anti-abortionist core, Catholics continue to exercise their judgement in balancing issues of faith with more practical matters of how the world’s most powerful republic is to be governed.  Each new generation is more liberal than the last.

The economic trough

An amusing little satire by AC Grayling in today’s Guardian.  It should be pretty obvious what his target is.

“It is a truly pitiable spectacle to see so many frightened flatulent hogs dashing fruitlessly about, begging for the keepers to come and clean out their feeding troughs and to administer medications to solve their digestive crisis.”

Connecticut becomes third US state to recognize same-sex marriage

Mirabile dictu!

Reuters reports, October 10, 2008, that the Supreme Court of Connecticut has struck down a state law banning same-sex marriage.  This makes Connecticut the third of three states of the USA that permit couples to marry if they are of the same sex.  The court overturned the rulings of lower courts and recognized that the marriage ban did “cognizable harm” and infringed on a “fundamental right” of same-sex couples.