Saturday, 31 March 2012


If you haven't yet or haven't in a while (especially if you live here!) be sure to go up to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja tower. It's a stunning view in any weather, even on windy, stormy Sundays like the last one. We live so close to the tower, literally only a couple hundred yards away, and cross in front of it almost every day which means we forget to take advantage of it! So when on Sunday, which was Óðinn's 6th birthday, he suggested going up into the tower on our way home from Amma and Afi's house on the other side of the church, I couldn't refuse. It had been too long since the last time and was such a fun and simple adventure on his big day.

That kind of "local's complacency" is one of the reasons I began this blog: I noticed that I saw things here on our hill (Skólavörðurholt - basically the triangle in front of and to the sides of the church, down to where Skólavörðurstígur and Laugavegur merge; this map is very cool) that the natives did not, or that they'd become so accustomed to that there was little wonder left in them. I did the same thing in Santa Cruz: I didn't go to the beach, only a mile away, nearly often enough. And when living in San Francisco as an adult I realized that I was starting to take for granted the stunning landscape and architecture that other people dreamed of being able to see with their own eyes. 

As an example, my mother saw the photo below with this wonderful paved design and couldn't figure out where I'd taken it. I'm sure most of my readers who've been up into the tower have taken a similar picture, and would recognize it right away, but for someone who walks over it many times a week, it becomes a practical blur.
Even though I've always felt a deep childhood connection to this part of Reykjavik (where my parents were raised) it is still totally new to me because I grew up in California. I discovered early on that even though we all adore a good landscape photo, we still love those photojournalistic/street images that remind us of our own personal experiences in a new place. To be able to say, Ooh, I've been there! I've seen that, especially with the little hidden gems sprinkled throughout a town or city, is a fun and intimate feeling. Maybe this concept of renewed wonder in the familiar is what is needed for people to really start collaborating on creating sustainable communities. When we stop to appreciate what we already have, finding ways to maintain our neighborhoods in a healthy way easily emerge. 

Friday, 30 March 2012

6 year old sweetness

He says to me, "Don't look! I am making a special book for you."

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sugar high

Lollipops and mini cornettos.... As a grown up, sometimes going through second childhood even just for a moment, is absolutely delightful!

When was the last time you had a lollilop?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Skreeeeem! The Sound Of Music

I feel a bit dirty for having actually used some law in my last blog.  That isn't what I went to university for years for, followed by that training contract thing and my post-qualification experience.  Back to the fluff you're accustomed to instead!

So, I travel to Salzburg a fair bit with my groups of lovely Americans. I delight in telling both showing them the locations used for the Sound of Music and telling them all the things wrong with the movie.  So here goes for some of the things you might not know and almost certainly don't need to know.

Stunning Salzburg: the Do-Re-Mi fountain/ Castle

Background to the Movie

It's based on a true story.  Maria Trapp (the "von" is illegal in Austria and has been since the end of WW1) wrote her memoirs in a book called the The Story of the Trapp Family Singers in 1949.  She negotiated a very bad deal and essentially signed away the royalties.  The book was made into German language films, followed by a musical, and finally the movie we all know backwards and watch every Christmas or Easter entirely drunk.  The movie has been watched by an estimated 1 billion people: the Trapp children received precisely directly $0 as a result.  Great business woman!

There are lots of factual inaccuracies in the movie.  Maria came to the family as a tutor for one of the kids, not as a governess to all.  This took place in 1926, so she had been with them for 12 years (and married to Captain von Trapp for 11 years) when the Anschluss - the setting for the movie - takes place.  The eldest child was a son, not a daughter; they had 10 children not 7.  The family was actually quite impoverished, having lost their money with the collapse of a private Austrian bank in the 30s.  The money came in large part from the Captain's first wife, Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of the inventor of the torpedo.  The Captain was a Ritter (Baronet, or Sir), not a Baron - having been rewarded for successfully sinking several British ships during World War One.  He was actually an Italian citizen (he was born in present day Croatia, but owned a property that was transferred from Austria-Hungary to Italy with the Treaty of Versailles).  After 1918 he was a plain old "Herr" - it remains a criminal offence to use noble titles in the Republic of Austria.

It's often said that when Rodgers and Hammerstein got hold of the rights to the movie, America was crying out for a saccharine coated story to cheer them up from the gloom and to distract them from the problems of a war in Vietnam (they had almost 200,000 troops there by the end of 1965), the shock at the death of President Kennedy, and on-going civil rights battles dividing the country.  The Sound of Music, with its sweet, cheery, innocent "loveliness" was an instant and massive hit.  It has remained one throughout the Anglo-Saxon world ever since.

Some Interesting Things About the Movie

Point number one is that virtually no-one knows the Sound Of Music in Austria, nor in Germany.  It is an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon.  Salzburg is the city of music, yes - but the music of Mozart.  (To be fair, he hated the place: there is a wonderful new modern art monument to him near the Salzach River.  It is a tall chair with a hole in it.  When I asked a city guide why, she quoted a letter from the 22 year old composer: "I hope it's not necessary to tell you that I care little about Salzburg and nothing at all about the archbishop, and that I shit on both of them.")

The only people who know the movie are those involved in the tourist industry.  Those Austrians who have watched it consider it unbelievably kitsch and faintly ridiculous.  References to "Schnitzel with Noodles" are found very amusing - no Austrian would ever combine the two.

The next thing is that if you know Salzburg, you know the sequences just don't work.  The kids come out of one place and then are to be seen 25 minutes' walk away on the other side of town after turning a corner.  The wedding church is in Mondsee, not at the Abbey, 27km outside Salzburg.  The graveyard scene looks vaguely like St Peter's cemetery - but actually it isn't half as beautiful if you've been.  In fact it was a set in a studio which had more space.  Also the monks would not allow the cemetery to be filmed in.

Leopoldskron: the lake/ gardens (but not house) from SoM

The "Von Trapp" villa is actually three different locations.  The gardens with the beautiful lake are at Leopoldskron.  The house exterior (it is nowhere near a lake) is at Frohnburg, a couple of kilometres away on the road to Hellbrunn Palace.  The gazebo was in yet another place, but has been moved to Hellbrunn.  Sadly, when I visited a week ago, there wasn't a trace to be seen of Rolf's fabulously and improbably tight trousers.  Oh - and if Liesl was 16 going on 17 at the time of the movie, I'm the Pope. Try closer to 26 going on 27....

No Rolf, No Tight Trousers *sad face*

All *interior* scenes were filmed back in Hollywood.  Therefore when you see Maria talking to the Captain in the garden, watch carefully.  The scenes were filmed as monologues in 2 different locations - you never see both the lake and the house together.  Maria is filmed with the lake behind her; the Captain is filmed with the house behind him, and they simply cut and pasted the sequences together.  Clever for the early 60s.  When anyone enters the house, the scene is in fact back in California, not in Austria.

The real Trapp house is in yet *another* location and does not feature in the movie at all.  It is now a hotel.  It gets great reviews.

Whilst the movie was filmed, all of the child actors, their mothers, Maria and the rest of the cast stayed in the beautiful 5-star Hotel Sacher by the river.  It was at this time known as the Österreichischer Hof.  Legend has it the name was changed as wealthy Americans staying there could not pronounce the name to taxi drivers.  Christopher Plummer alone stayed in the Hotel Bristol across the square.  He apparently didn't mind the noise of the children, but did mind their mothers.

Some Clangers

The movie is *full* of mistakes - part of which makes it so much fun to watch.  I seem to spot something new each time.  The very first scene announces we are in "Salzburg, Austria in the last Golden Days of the 30s" - watch out for the modern 15-storey concrete tower block on the far left close to the railway station.  The area was bombed to shit by the USAF during WW2 and the building in question is the Hotel Europa, fondly known as the "Cigarette Packet" locally and of 1957 vintage.

The opening sequence looks like it is a paid-for advert by the Austrian Tourist Board.  It takes about 10 minutes before the camera swoops in on Julie spinning round on the hillside.  Moments later she is rushing back on foot to the Nonnberg abbey - about 15 km away.

Maria famously rips down the curtains to make play-clothes for the children.  They dance around in them during Do-Re-Mi - but watch mid song as they change into a whole SET of other multi-coloured clothes - before changing back into the original curtain clothes.  Has a single window in Salzburg been safe from Maria's kleptomaniac activities during these weeks?

How many windows were harmed in filming this scene?

The Captain drives a lovely Mercedes-Benz cabriolet.  Its steering wheel is on the wrong side.  Austria drives on the right (and has done since 1918), yet the car is a right drive model.  It also has 4 seats.  This does not stop the family (7 kids plus 2 adults AND the ever so slightly sinister Uncle Max of the splendid "Gloomy Pussies" line) at various points from piling in.  Ten people in a four seater car is quite some going.  Bagsy not sitting on Uncle Max's lap :o

The movie has wonderful summer sunshine.  The birds are singing, the trees are in full leaf.  The kids are wearing adorable little curtainy Lederhosen: they even go for a dip in the lake!  Now consider the timing.  All this happens directly before the couple get it together (that scene where they do actually makes me feel suicidal) and then disappear off on honeymoon.  They come back to find Austria has been annexed by Germany.  The actual date of the Anschluss? 12 March 1938.  January and February aren't that warm in the mountains, kiddos!

The Real Life Maria

The real life Maria Trapp was by many accounts an utter battle-axe.  By contrast her husband was universally considered a lovely, sweet man.  He died in 1947 in the US.  Maria was extremely controlling with regards to her step-children and children and forced them to sing like puppets.  They sang beautifully on stage, which they had to do to earn money when they arrived in New York, but American audiences did not like them.  During one performance a fly flew into Maria's mouth and she nearly choked.  The children burst out laughing, as did the audience, and from that moment she realised that an American audience required entertainment, not just perfect harmonies.

There are various stories of Maria's daughters having nervous breakdowns and being found wandering in fields, having climbed out of the window of the ski lodge she eventually bought in Stowe, Vermont.  She certainly seems to have been a very difficult and not entirely stable individual.  She would attend performances of the movie and apparently lose herself and walk down the aisle of the cinema during the wedding scene, for example.  She actually married the Captain in the Nonnberg Abbey, not the church at Mondsee as in the movie.  The nuns refused to allow the camera crew to film inside and were incidentally horrified to see actresses having cigarette breaks outside the abbey (they could not stop the filming of the outside).

Its Enduring Legacy

All of this is of course utterly unimportant: the movie is utterly fabulous: good kitsch shite, and I love it.  You can probably tell from how much I know about it that I *might* have watched it more than once.  Ahem.  It has enduring appeal: thousands of people still go along to Singalong Versions that are held regularly.  Some idiots even get dressed up and take yodelling goats under their arms with them.  Ahem again.

WHO would humiliate themselves like this?!

Most recently the show has made it to Salzburg - with lyrics in German - in the form of a puppet show.  The puppets actually control puppets in the Lonely Goatherd song, which must be amazing to watch.  The Sound of Music brings millions in tourism each year to Salzburg.  Almost 50 years later it is still going *very* strong.  It is good clean fun, and we love it.

A More Serious Problem

The PROBLEM though is the utter whitewash of Austrian history.  The movie portrays Austria as the innocent victim, the object of Germany's aggression.  This is so far from the truth it is offensive.  I have heard the statistic that Austrians made up 7% of the population of the Reich, 25% of the membership of the SS, and some 40% of the management of the death camps.  Hitler was Austrian, as were Eichmann (chief implementer of the Final Solution), Stangl (commandant of Treblinka), Arthur Seys-Inquart (Reich Protector of the Netherlands), Odio Globocnik (lead administrator of the Death Camps), Amon Göth (of Schindler's List fame) etc etc .  This country was up to their eyebrows in the whole murderous chapter.

After the Anschluss a referendum was held: admittedly there was intimidation etc, but nonetheless 99.7% of Austrians voted in favour.  Hitler's reception in Vienna was rapturous.  Austrians threw flowers at the German tanks, rather than shooting at them.  Remember the Singing Contest scene in the Sound Of Music where everyone in the audience gasps and shakes their head when the Captain announces he will have to go off to Bremerhaven to join the Navy of the Third Reich?  (actually he did consider doing this in real life).  The 0.03% of Austrians who voted against annexation with Hitler's Germany could actually probably have fitted in the Salzburg festival hall.  The Nazis in Berlin were actually shocked at the utterly vicious spontaneous attacks on Vienna's Jews by their Austrian compatriots and tried to rein them in as they gave such bad publicity.

Orgasming Austrians in Vienna crowd to meet their Führer

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre continues to criticise Austria strongly for its unwillingness to put Nazi criminals on trial (the last was in the 1970s) and compares it highly unfavourably with Germany in this regard.  The "victim theory" is highly damaging to Austria's present and future.  Only recently I was in Auschwitz and visited the Austrian exhibit.  There was a massive disclaimer at the start from the Austrian government that said they realised how one-sided and historically inaccurate the exhibit is.  Things are changing, but only slowly.  The Sound of Music has widely perpetuated the "innocent little Austrian" myth abroad and this is actually very, very bad.

If you want to read some more serious thoughts on how dealing with history affects a country's present and future, have a gander of this by me, written during the Queen's visit to Ireland.

The Final Scene

The movie closes wonderfully with the family singing "Climb Every Mountain" all the way to Switzerland.  Had Mother Superior been wheeled out to sing this by the Austrians, incidentally, the Anschluss could no doubt have been prevented single-handedly.  The notes she hits would have stopped Panzers in their tracks and shattered glass in Munich, 2 hours away.

In any case: Switzerland!  Yes, it's around 350km from Salzburg.  That's quite a long way on foot, singing the whole way.  Actually the family in real life took a train to Italy, then a boat via Southampton to New York.  Oh and they weren't *exactly* upping and escaping from the Nazis either.  They came back to the Third Reich, entirely voluntarily, in the summer of 1939 and didn't leave again until well after World War 2 had broken out.

Last but not least, do you recognise the mountain in the movie?  I do.  It's the Untersberg.  Unmistakable.  It leads straight to Germany.  Not just to Germany, but to Hitler's Eagle Nest mountain hideout.  Yes, just the place to escape from the Nazis......

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Burger hopping: German Deli, Ampang Jaya

My burger experience rankings. Click on links to read more:
Sixth place: Chilli's Cheeseburger, KLCC/Midvalley

My bro told me about some really famous burgers around my area. I googled the burger places and we both started salivating just looking at the pictures...

So, i decided to go burger hopping to try all three places in one night. We wanted to go to OM burger first, but it was raining and that stall's business hours were from 8pm till 5am. It was only 7.30pm.

Thus, we headed to German Deli which was just a five minute drive from where OM burger was located.

German Deli was located behind a Petronas opposite ISKL. The deli has plenty of dining space. The first thing the waiter told us when he was giving us the menu was that we will have to wait 40minutes for our orders. Its probably because everything was cooked fresh annnnd there was omly one waiter. We were given one paper to check whatever we want. The thing tf and i did was send our oaper straight to the counter instead of waiting for the waiter to do it for us. That, i must say, was a smart move. The lady who placed her order to the waiter before us ended up being served her meal after we finished eating! And she got really angry....... So, self service is always faster xD

The deli specializes in burgers and hotdogs. We ordered their 500g Megathon beef burger(rn16.50) and foot lobg hot dog(rm16). If you like Carl's Jr burgers, its probably more worth it to head over ti German Deli as the price at the deli is cheaper and the burger is bigger.

Tf loved the beef burger. For someone who loves beef, i guess his opinion counts. I had half of the hotdog, which was juicy and good. I could only eat a quarter of the burger in the end and minus the bread. We also had mashed potato which i do not recommend. We also shared 1 liter of root beer. Their rootbeer didnt have much gas amd wasnt as sweet as the ones sold in A& W.

I was stuffed!

The next stop was Kaw Kaw Burger at Wangsa Maju. It was still raining. When we arrived, the queue at the burger stall was long! We opted not to wait and headed home instead. Im a tad bit glad we didnt try it coz i was really full.

Will contunue the burger hopping next weekend:)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Case Against Same Sex Marriage

I blogged a month ago on what I believe to be the compelling case in favour of same-sex marriage.  I've been watching arguments on the subject including the comments of people like Cardinal O'Brien and trying to understand their validity.  I've tried to set them out below in category form.  The first requires the longest treatment because of some woefully inaccurate reporting on the part of the Mail (repeated in the Telegraph).

1) This isn't civil marriage, it will be forced on churches

The government has expressly said that the proposed change relates to civil marriage and churches will not be forced to marry same sex couples (just as for example divorcees cannot marry in the Catholic Church: they set their own rules on this). 

The Mail today reported on the Strassbourg case of Gas/Dubois v France.  It relates to a lesbian couple in a French civil union, who complained that they were discriminated against because they could not adopt as a couple.  The ruling is in French and is here.  My French is no longer fluent, but I waded through it and also looked at the English summary which can be downloaded here if you are interested.  The court found against the couple and expressly recognised (as it has done before) that a signatory state has to the right to discriminate against same-sex couples by not allowing them the right to marry if it so chooses.

The Mail, and the Telegraph [See Footnote] in a near virtual copy of the original article curiously reported that "the ruling also says that if gay couples are allowed to marry, any church that offers weddings will be guilty of discrimination if it declines to marry same-sex couples".  That is a pretty startling aspect that would drive a horse and cart through the government's statement to the contrary.

It is also, as far as I can see, entirely wrong.  There is nothing that I can find in the French ruling or the English summary to this effect.  It is important to note that if there had been, of course, it would have been obiter in the sense that the court was looking at whether the couple had the right to adopt under a civil union, not considering hypothetical situations that do not exist.  Further, the English law doctrine of binding precedent does not apply to ECHR judgements, so it would additionally have provided persuasive guidance rather than hard case law to be followed.  But again, let's get back to the point: it's not in the ruling.

How has this apparently shoddy reporting happened?  A barrister friend and I challenged the Telegraph journalist @DonnaBow to explain and asked her if she had not confused the opinion of a "specialist in discrimination law" quoted with the actual ruling.  This specialist is the barrister Neil Addison.  He describes himself as a "Church going Roman Catholic" who runs the website and blogs at on such subjects as abortion, the gay B&B owners case etc.  He is obviously entitled to give his opinion on the ruling from the perspective of a committed Catholic, but for journalists to portray him as a neutral authority in this area is, I believe, misleading.  For a journalist to pass off his opinion as fact is negligent and wrong.

The "fact" that the ECHR would force same-sex marriage on churches was banded around by influential voices such as @His_Grace on his blog ("Churches WILL be forced to conduct same-sex marriages") and retweeted by opponents of marriage equality to back up their view that the law should continue to discriminate.  I suppose one can not criticise him too much for rehashing and believing a misleading couple of pieces of journalism, but it is irritating that he believes he is "quoting court judgement" and when asked to produce the relevant paragraph numbers refused to engage.  The irony of the tweet below is rather splendid in this light.

Let me summarise: the Gas/Dubois ruling expressly confirmed the right of ECHR states to discriminate against gay people in matters of marriage.  It did not discuss what I think is a key question of the interplay of the Article 9 Right of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion with the right of a gay person not to be discriminated against, where a state does have same-sex marriage.  The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Belgium all have full same-sex marriage.  Any court actions in these countries attempting to force a clergyman to marry against his conscience in these countries would, I am sure, have been widely reported.  Certainly nothing has reached Strassbourg.

This is only my opinion, but I think it is widely fanciful to suppose that, in the light of its repeated view that gay people can be discriminated against by their countries, Strassbourg would currently take on the church in this way and rule that the rights of a gay person to get married in church outweigh Article 9 rights.  It is scare-mongering, it is conjecture, and it is not based on any jurisprudence I am aware of to pretend it is fact this would be the case.

2) This is an Attack on Tradition

So was the ending of slavery, giving women the vote, decriminalising homosexuality and any number of other positive legistlative changes that conservatives fought tooth and nail against.  This is the weakest of arguments: society changes and tradition per se cannot be a valid reason to discriminate. Marriage has constantly been redefined: a point I make in my original blog at some length.

3) This is About the Protection of Children

This is actually quite a disingenuous and nasty argument.  By bringing in children, as Cardinal O'Brien did, he sought to muddy the water and appeal to age old prejudices that gay people are somehow not to be trusted around children.  Actually same-sex couples have the right to adopt children in this country.  Allowing same-sex marriage will do nothing whatsoever to the rights of gay couples to have or adopt children here.  That is simply not the question being discussed.

The same line is trotted out here by Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust: "the ruling from the ECHR [oddly, the same one that the Mail is claiming will force churches to marry same-sex couples] will embolden those whose concerns about same-sex marriage and adoption are not inspired by personal hatred and animosity, but by a genuine concern for the well-being of children and the welfare of society."  This is in my view dishonest and frankly, rubbish.

Some might think that the arguments forwarded in relation to "one man and one woman" being the best most stable model to bring up children in a family unit have some merit; however they could actually be far better applied to illiberal measures such as outlawing divorce, forcing couples to stay together, and to ban single people and gays from adopting.

4)  This is God's Sacrament

Marriage does not stem from the Bible, it predates it and extends around the world to countries of many different faiths.  Few serious voices would argue it is uniquely Christian: it demonstrably is not. Moreover the Church does not make the laws in this country.  Parliament does.  The leaders of every political party support same-sex marriage and it was in the Conservative Party manifesto.  The Church does have the right to be heard, but it does not have the right to dictate.  Most people in this country are not church-goers, and from what I can gather many church-goers (including Catholics) disagree with the position of their leaders on this issue.

This morning timelines were filled with the hideous story of the Dutch Catholic Church being actively involved in the castration of boys and young men who had been abused by priests as a "cure" for the victims' homosexuality.  This took place in the 1950 but the story is as much about the continued cover-up by the Church up to the present day.

I do not believe it is in any way necessary to resort to attacks on the Church by describing priest as "paedos and rapists" as I have seen on Twitter in order to counter their arguments against same-sex marriage.  However, I am utterly sickened by this and other stories and do feel that an institution that has systematically permitted and covered up such abuses has rather lost the right to lecture to me about my morality, my relationships and my legal status in civil society.

I also note that the small group of vocal opponents of same-sex marriage on Twitter (mainly traditionalist Catholics, but some Anglicans) were not discussing this hideous story at all today on their timelines.  Instead they were busy seeking to justify their desire to discriminate, based amongst other things most ironically on the protection of children.  This point has been well-made: the Church recently issued a pastoral letter condemning same-sex marriage, yet we have seen no such outrage at the abuses it has permitted.  It really is quite easy to become angry and sickened at this attitude.

5) It's Ours, You're Not Allowed It

How refreshingly honest it would be to hear this argument articulated.  It is in fact, as far as I can tell, at the base of every argument against same-sex marriage, no matter how it is dressed up.  This is a matter of discrimination per se: opponents believe they have the right to marry, but the state should be allowed to discriminate to withhold this right from others.

Discrimination is not necessarily homophobia, but its effect is to separate and to say one group is not equal to another.   It is the same as "it's just not right" which I suspect is also in the hearts of many people who don't like the idea, but can't or won't articulate why. 


On political issues - for example the reduction of the deficit and economic growth - there are opposing views and it is usually possible to see the various merits and come to a view.  The issue of same-sex marriage is for me quite different.  I cannot in all honesty give any of the above arguments any weight or merit at all.  Not one of them (other than the first to correct a factual mistake) deserves more than a sentence to dismiss.

There is one important last point  I want to add to here.  The Equalities Minister recently said that Church leaders are fanning the flames of homophobia.  I disagree and instead believe what they are doing is fanning the flames of prejudice against Christians.  I have felt a level of dislike and anger towards certain tweeters I really do not like in myself and am trying hard not to tar all Christians with the same brush.  I know there are lots of Catholics and other Christians who categorically do not agree with their church's position on this issue.  However, when an institution is so aggressively telling you that you deserve to be treated as a second-class citizen by your country because of its view on morality it can be quite a struggle.

Beautifully put Zac!
There is no argument against Marriage Equality that holds water.  There is no even vaguely convincing case to be made of the harm this measure would cause.  Not one straight marriage would be affected by it.  This is a nasty attempt to discriminate simply because you think you can.  You cannot be a "liberal Christian" and convince me that they are pro-gay, whilst at the same time telling me I deserve to be treated differently by the State, as a 2nd class citizen, based on nothing more than your own prejudice.

FOOTNOTE: since writing the Telegraph has now updated its story to remove the misleading aspects of the story, though it has left a photo caption that does not match the updated version.  The story additionally now makes little sense with this central plank removed, but credit and thanks to @donnabow for admitting her mistake and amending it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Don't be so gay!

I witnessed a good old Twitter spat a week or two ago about the use of the word "gay" in the sense of something being rubbish or naff.  It actually really got me rethinking my own position on the subject - which I'll try to set out below.

The Word Gay

Let's kick off with the definitions.  There are according to the Oxford Dictionary four distinct meanings of the word as an adjective:

The use of the word to mean homosexual has, I believe, come directly from the second and more specifically the third meaning.  This is quite a recent usage: the Telegraph was until recently insistent on the use of "gay" in inverted commas in a vain attempt to keep the original Enid Blyton type meanings.  I imagine it was originally a euphemism which from the 1950s which somehow connects to the alleged camp, flouncy, queeny nature of homosexual men.  If I'm correct in that, it is not exactly a neutral term in its origin.

Yay, Noddy is Gay!
This lack of neutrality is worth just noting for a second of course: unlike say the word "blind" we do have a problem with a completely neutral word for men who are predominantly attracted to their own sex.  Homosexual can make us sound a bit like exhibits at the zoo or scientific specimens, though I personally certainly wouldn't get as precious and agitated about it as as this writer criticising the Guardian for its occasional use of the term. 

Gay as an Insult

Much more recently the fourth meaning has come about.  I missed this at school: it is something of the 90s and 00s - but it is used in a negative way, that without doubt can be pejorative or insulting eg. "Don't be so gay" when condemning someone's behaviour.

The question is, does this matter?  My view was yes, of course.  If a word relates to sexuality and then used as an insult, this is a bit of a non-brainer isn't it?  However, I was surprised to see a 17 year old, backed up by his gay friends, saying that the use of the word in no way had homophobic overtones.  A Guardian article was produced in which a Brunel University sociologist Mark McCormack indeed confirmed that the phrase "so gay", used to rubbish things, is unrecognisable to teens as homophobic.  Do please click on the link and read it.

This is interesting stuff.  It started me thinking about the comparison with the word "black".  Black has a long history of incredibly negative usage.  Think of "Black Death", "Black Mark", "Black Wednesday", a "Blacklist", "Black Magic" etc.  If we were trying to come up with a neutral term to describe those of a darker skin tone than my pink colour, we would so demonstrably not use black and white to distinguish us.  However, English clearly has the space to maintain multiple meanings of the word - one inherently negative and one (at least in British usage) that is now quite neutral.  In the US many of course use "African American"; we do not use "African European" or "African British" here: as well as being horribly contrived, it would imply to me the person were less than 100% European or British if we did.

Has "gay" rapidly moved from its original 50s meaning, through to meaning homosexual, and then on to splitting between that usage and developing a non-homophobic one (that like black, was negative in origin)?  If the gay kids speaking on Twitter and Mark McCormack are to be believed, yes it has.

Twitter Discussion

Lots of people weighed in with their thoughts on the original Twitter conversation.  Many were friends I respect a huge amount, all condemned the use of "gay" in the sense of something lame.  One for example said that the use of the word in this way contributes to a low-level persistent negativity around the way homosexuality is viewed.  A teacher friend said she picks students up on this every time and tries to explain to them why it is objectionable.  I understand both and very much see where they are coming from.

I also know these people are motivated by a genuine concern about homophobia and specifically the bullying of gay teens.  From what I know anecdotally the situation for gay teens is far better than it was when I was at school, but it is still a long way from rosy.  Gay teenagers still are routinely bullied, self harm, and even commit suicide.  It is absolutely no joking matter and I obviously appreciate their concern in countering the issue.

Jonah Mowry: amazing brave gay teen who spoke out about bullying

The question is, however, are the gay teens who defended the use of the word, and the sociologist Mark McCormack correct - and in which case, is their concern actually misplaced and unnecessary?

My Perspective

I have to confess to never personally actually having overheard the expression "that's so gay" or "don't be so gay" in real life.  It is being used in schools: it is not something I would ever use myself as a 40 year old.  I have to ask myself as a gay man, if it would bother me if I heard it.  The answer is, of course, it depends on context and intent.  I've been called a cunt many a time in really a quite affectionate, loving way; being called an idiot, if said in a spiteful, insulting way could hurt me a lot more.  If you can be bothered, read my thoughts on the C-word here.  My conclusion is essentially "meh, it's just a word".  There is therefore no way I can answer that question on how I'd perceive "gay" said with this meaning in my presence without the absolutely necessary ingredients of context and intent.

I am of course not a gay teen however - I cannot say whether the use of the word in this sense at school around me would bother and disturb me.  It is their perception that matters, not mine.  For precisely this reason I am hesitant to join in the condemnation of the use of the word.  If gay teens are telling me they don't regard this as homophobic I really owe them a duty to listen to that.  Of course, they cannot speak for every teen that has been bullied or feels despairing and miserable about his/her sexuality - but they really are in a far better position to comment than I or my well-meaning friends.

Pulling People up on Language

The next point to mention is that the teen who used the word in the first place was obviously quite upset about the way that a group of adults weighed in on him and condemned his usage of "gay" - despite their being polite and (as I've stressed) well-meaning.  I know the guy and can genuinely not attribute any homophobic sentiments to him.  This brings us to a much wider subject, which is the way in which people can be the subject of having their language pulled up on Twitter.

We all know about Ricky Gervais' use of the word "mong" and the upset it caused.  I've seen people attacked for using "cunt" and being accused on Twitter of being misogynists for doing so.  I was also amazed I got away with posting the above recent tweet about the horse fountain in Salzburg without someone saying it is non-PC to use "retarded" in this light-hearted way.  (Now I've highlighted it on the blog it is of course bound to happen and someone will take offence.  I will just note in passing that the term MR (Mental Retardation) was invented specifically in the mid 20th century because the previous terms were considered offensive and this was neutral.  It is still an officially used medical term.)

The point here is surely that if you do not like the language someone uses, yes, of course you have the right to pull them up on it.  Do not be surprised however if their reaction is hostile and they view you as being controlling.  Perhaps also consider that if their continued use of particular language is offensive to you, you can easily and quietly remedy this by unfollowing.  I don't follow Ricky Gervais and might well have unfollowed him if I'd seen a "mong" tweet on my feed, but I honestly don't feel like getting all worked up about it and joining the ranks of the indignant and outraged Twitter users who condemned him en masse  I don't ever use the word myself, understand that it's very difficult to see in a neutral way, and that's good enough for me.

I genuinely do think twice on Twitter about what I say and find myself from time to time limiting my self-expression because I'm concerned about being picked on for saying something that someone won't like regardless of my intent and the context of light-heartedness, humour or flippancy.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I repeat, the 17 year old who used "gay" as "naff" has never said anything vaguely homophobic that I have seen.  Should he have to spend the afternoon having to defend himself to a group of people much older than himself on Twitter for an innocently intentioned comment that his own gay friends say isn't insulting to them?  My friends meant well in engaging with him, but I don't think he'll censor himself in the slightest in the future on the use of "gay" and several people just seemed to come away from the fractious atmosphere not having had a particularly pleasant half an hour.


Gay bullying exists in schools: it destroys lives and makes people miserable.  I'd genuinely like to know the views of other gay teens on whether they personally perceive the fourth meaning of gay to be offensive to them, whether they consider it contributes to an uncomfortable atmosphere for them, and whether they recognise it as homophobic.  I don't know the answer to this question and don't purport to answer it here: I have just revised my position from the one of seeing it automatically in the same light as something like "mong" and think the situation is a lot more nuanced than it first appears.

Holding Back Tide of Language: Quite the Task

Trying to hold back language usage and development, particularly amongst young people, also strikes me as a bit like trying to wash back a tide on a beach with a broom.  Actual individual taunts, intentioned hurtful verbal and physical attacks are what I believe deserve much more attention than trying to control a general use of language in this way.  Stop a kid from using actual homophobic abuse against another, most definitely - but what is the point in trying to censor an entire dictionary accepted meaning of a word if everyone is using it and (most importantly) if it does indeed no longer have a homophobic connotation?

We don't try to stamp out the use of "black" to describe race at school: what matters is kids behaving in a racist way through language or acts.  The real and overwhelming issue here for me therefore has to be the continuance of gay bullying, and whether schools and teachers are adopting and implementing effective policies in countering it.  This matters to me, not trying to stamp out a word that appears to have a rapidly changing meaning and history.

Please leave a comment - I'd genuinely be fascinated to read your views on this.

Monday, 19 March 2012


I seem to write this every March, but every March we seem to need to know it again: Spring is springing and Summer will come again. Promise : ) 

Also, if you're located on the Eastern Seaboard, why don't you treat yourself and a loved one or two to an evening Off Broadway at the new play Out of Iceland, "a comedy with heart." Here's a small blurb, sent to me by the production team to share with you all: 

Caroline Miller (Jillian Crane), an established writer from New York, is at a loss for words when she falls off an Icelandic volcano and awakes on the couch of a complete stranger. Hal Tanker (Michael Bakkensen) is the misplaced cowboy in charge of the grounds who nurses her back to health. Then there's Thor (Lea De Laria), Iceland's flamboyant troll who crawled out of the television one night to warn her about something – or did she imagine that? When their truck mysteriously disappears in the middle of “The Middle,” Hal and Caroline must face their biggest fears in a long night in one of the most mystical places on earth. Out of Iceland is a modern day fairy tale set at the end of the earth.

Definitely worth checking out!

Saturday, 17 March 2012


I like to say that English is Icelandic that went on a 1200-year journey around the world, and has now come home again. More and more often, to the chagrin of the elderly and the intellectual, English words slip out of the mouths and pens of not only internationally savvy youth, but of those who are deemed fit to lead this country in business, politics and the arts.  (Here's an informative set of lecture slides on the use of English at the tertiary, or university, level of education in Iceland by one of my favorite professors at the University of Iceland, Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir)

Even more frustrating to many is when journalists and reporters, held to very high standards here especially because they are disseminating info on events in the Big City to families on isolated farms way out on the edges of our island, slack off on their use of language. If we keep on at this rate, many fear, we'll end up like the Danish with their especially-incomprehensible Copenhagenese (very funny video!) a true horror for a country who's independence was gained in large part because Icelanders were able to claim a distinct cultural identity from their Danish overlords (the Danes had to capitulate: I've been told they had used the same argument against outside rulers in earlier times, but Danish history is a complicated series of land grabs and relinquishments, so I'm having a hard time backing that fact up.)

But if we consider that Old Norse - Icelandic for all intents and purposes - was an adventurous, seafaring language that eventually grew restless confined as it was to the cold North Atlantic, and longed for some sunshine, and maybe a little romance, it all starts to make sense. Heading south, borne on the lips of the most ævintýralegt folk, it mingled with and married the tongues of the Mediterranean and lands beyond to eventually become the world lingua franca in all its varied dress.

I respect the absolute dedication to our cultural and linguistic heritage and believe it to be crucial to our people to preserve it forever. I also, however, agree with Mr. Jay Walker that English is not a thing to fear, but the world's second language to be embraced along with any country's mother tongue. He calls it the universal language of problem solving, so that peoples and nations can engage in conversations about the state of the world we live in and our global hopes for the future. In addition, I like that languages are flexible and ever-evolving (for example, as recently as 1973 Icelandic academics removed the letter Z from the language) and very personal as well. How we tjá okkur (express ourselves) may be guided by the society we live in, but ultimately cannot be absolutely regulated, nor should it be. Inflection, pronunciation, word choice, rhythm, and even grammar use are like the features on a playground, which we can use to our best and most enjoyable and creative expression.

 So when my daughter blurts out something like, "sjáðu score-ið mitt" ("look at my score") instead of "sjáðu stígin mín" or when I say something like, "we need to see what the staðan is" (in stead of situation) it just comes naturally, and doesn't somehow feel rangt, or wrong. And when my son (who has taught himself to read and do simple multiplication already) refuses to say "sjötta" for "sixth" but says "sexta" instead because it makes more sense (in Icelandic, six is sex and seven is sjö ) he's actually right.

In formal and academic settings we use our best grammar and most excellent vocabulary, but we are playing with the creative aspects of language within our home and in our personal lives. Óðinn will realize soon enough that he can either always be "punished" for his variation on "sixth," or just do as everybody else is doing to appease the formal educational system. It will be his choice.

The first photo is from the Settlement Exhibition in downtown Reykjavik.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Dr Grumpy

When I am feeling down, i open Dr. Grumpy's blog to read. No one else has made me chuckle except him.

On another bizarre note, Urban dictionaries states that 14th march is Steak and Blowjob Day - Celebrated on March 14th, Steak and Blowjob Day is a holiday for men, celebrated the month after Valentine's Day -- a holiday for women. The idea is simple: no cards, flowers, candy or other whimsical... -

Monday, 12 March 2012


These boys at the pizza bar busted me snapping pics of them and played along, which was actually pretty cool. The girl never had a clue ( if you know who she, or the guys, are you can let them know they're internationally famous now ; )

 In other news, I got an email from a certain EE Ryan the other day asking if I'd like to read his novella and help to spread the word about it.

 It's called The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock and is "the fictional tale of a witty American college student and his ill-fated semester in Reykjavik." He sent me a copy and I had a fun jaunt following the lead character, Alex, into a specialized variation of local corruption with a surprise twist at the end. The Icelandic characters are simply and comfortably brought to life, and Ryan taps them for potential with their silences as much as with their words or deeds. If you love all things Icelandic, you should follow the link above and go ahead and read this book : )

Have you tried Dynamic Viewing yet?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Nokia miracle

I live on the sixth floor. Today, the electrician came to fix the air cond at home. He puts his Nokia handphone in his shirt pocket. His Nokia phone cost rm80 only.

Since he is fixing the aircond, he will occasionnally stick his head out the window as the compressor is there.

Twice he stuck his head out! So, TWICE his handphone slipped of his pocket and fell to the ground floor.

If you think about your phone that costs rm1k plus falling from sixth floor to ground floor, it might be broken into pieces. But, for this guy's rm80 Nokia handphone, he went down to retrieve it twice, and it was still intact and in working order. Amazing!!!

My mum was so fascinated by the phone and she kept on taking picture, sending it to my sister who works for Nokia in Vancouver... Lol.. And she asked the guy if he wants to try to drop his hp again for the third time..... Hah!

Good advert and promo for nokia, i must say....;)

Saturday, 10 March 2012


It's nearly time for Design March, or Hönnunar Mars, 2012, so I'm sharing a creation of mine inspired by life with my amazing Óðinn.

Living with such a rich imagination, such a boy imagination, and playing out with him his universes-spanning ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil via Lego and Playmobile is nothing short of entertaining, and sometimes educational too: a five year-old (mine will be six in fifteen days ;) often has a much clearer understanding of basic morality and the core nature of the human (and zombie, and skeleton, and alien pirate, and space ship Captain) psyche. Next time you get a chance to, build a world or two with a kid. It's highly recommended ~.~

Click here to see the rest of the photo shoot.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Lee hom's concert

Wang Lee Hom's concert was fabulous. Despite the rain, I was in awe with his stage performances. It wasn't my first time hearing about him BUT it was my first time going for his concert, first time listening to his songs and first time really taking a good look at his face. A Lee Hom fan squealed, "Oh my god!!! He is so cutttteeeeee!" ahaha

The rain did ruin my mood to take more pictures. So, I only had pictures of his starting performances. After that, the rain god started working till the end of the show.

I had three VVIP tickets. Uber excited about that since it cost rm800+ per ticket. I did not bother looking up his songs before the concert. I was like, "Just surprise me!".... Somemore i wouldnt understand what his songs were about.

Everyone had seats provided. So, it was rather convenient to move about. For instance, if i needed to go to the toilet, i would not need to find my way by pushing through the crowd. Seated concerts are so much more tidy and organised. Nobody will step on any other person's toe unless you slip on the muddy field. The only downside to a seated concert was, "how to enjoy the concert? How to scream?" Standing seemed like a crime since everyone was seated. Screaming while seated could get us sued as it was like practically screaming directly to the ears of the people seating in front of you. You will get stared at and jeling-ed.

Anyway, the rain did diminish my enthusiasm to let go and thoroughly enjoy if i were standing up. This was because my chair was those cushion. So it will be soaked if i didnt protect it from the rain. Furthermore, wearing the free raincoats provided was like being in my own personal sauna.

Other than the rain, lee hom gave an amazing performance. I loved that i could feel he made an effort to appreciate his fans. Twice, he was on a vehicle, singing while going around the stadium so that his fans had a good look at him. Never happened in a lady gaga or pussycat dolls concert i've been to.

Anyway, my opinion is based on his stage performance as i am not deemed 'fit' to comment on his singing because i have this switch which turns off in my head whenever i hear ppl speaking chinese. Its a habit thats hard to break. Its like when someone is having a conversation in chinese, my mind can just wander off and the chinese becomes non existent to my ears. Put me in a room with all chinese language spoken, i will still b able to concentrate on what im doing.

Nevertheless, the concert was a great experience... There was also a fantastic view of klcc and kl tower from the stadium.

Queen E and umbrellas

Queen Elizabeth colour coordinates her clothes with her umbrella! Too cute!!

Read here:

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Iphone games I can't get enough of:
Temple run
Draw free
High Noon

On another note, the latest ipad sounds attractive. But still....

Breast sagging?

As we grow older our boobs tend to head south.

A way to know if yours is sagging is by putting a pencil between the folded bottom of each of your boobs. If the pencil stays and doesnt fall off, its time for breast enchancements LOL

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


The mentality of a male chauvanist: "As a husband, he had to teach her to obey him."

Slapped her twice he did! Wtf. Why would we, females want to be in a relationship where we have to OBEY our other half??!! I love him, not because I want a moral teacher as my husband. I love him, not because I want him to be my dictator. Wtf.

It angers me that some men think they have the right to control their wives after marriage. Teach? Obey? Marriage is about compromise, idiot! Whatmore knowing he slapped his wife!!! Geez.... Why get a husband if it restricts your freedom to do what you like! Why get a husband when he expects you to be his slave! Why get a husband when you will be living in fear of getting bitched, slapped, kicked, punched, spat or even shot at eventually!