Archive of ‘Opinion’ category

This Girl Can

One of my rugby friends recently copied a link to this post on the lovely These Girls Do blog, which I promptly started reading obsessively.

The name of the blog is inspired by the This Girl Can campaign. I’d vaguely heard of it, seen one of their print ads on the tube, but it hadn’t really registered until l I watched the full campaign ad. Don’t ask me why, but it brings a tear to my eye.

love that it’s encouraging women to be strong, to get stuck in, tomato-red heads and sweaty hair be damned. It’s such a rare and beautiful message in a world where being female is unnervingly about looking perfect all the time, not a hair out of place, smelling of daisies. Girls stop exercising aged 12 because muscles get in the way of looking skinny. Muscly girls are butch, muscly men are hot. Women are encouraged to exercise to be skinny, not to get strong. There is something so wrong with all of the above.

This year, I finally started something I’d wanted to try for years. Rugby.

It’s messy, it’s scary at times, it fucking hurts, and there’s nothing else I’ve found that makes me feel quite so capable, quite as much like I’ve found what I was made to do (well, all of me apart from my right hamstring tendon apparently). It’s the least traditionally feminine sport I can think of, and I love it for that very reason. Rugby celebrates strength, perseverance, courage and not giving a shit about what you look like.

When I put on the number 12 shirt, it always fits a little snug around my arms. It makes me feel fantastic – too strong for this shirt, and too damn strong for the opposition. And when I get on the pitch, with the other 14 girls in my team, I know that every single one of these girls can - and will – kick your arse.

And that? That feels amazing.

That’s what this campaign is about to me. We should encourage all girls to look for that high. We all can.

What exercise makes your heart sing?

In Which Quitting Sugar is Awfully Irrelevant

It’s strange to write about eating experiments when awful things happen in the world. I’ve been absolutely horrified reading about the Charlie Hebdo attack, and the subsequent violence. My heart was in my throat watching the heroic actions of the French police who secured the best possible outcome in a heartbreaking, terrifying situation. It feels wrong to not mention it, and simply switch back to writing about quitting sugar. But it feels equally off to write about it at great length, almost appropriating a tragedy that isn’t mine.

I’m so relieved that after the ISIS fear mongering that followed the resolution of both hostage situations, no further attacks took place today, in Paris, or London, or any of the other places these cowards try to cast a cloud over. Stay safe, everyone. Je suis Charlie.

Food & Fitness

So, I’ve decided I want to get fit.

Eight months of hotel living with the associated restaurant meals (never without a side of garlic bread or a sweet dessert – or both) and zero exercise means I’ve gained just under a dress size. It’s nothing to be overly worried about when you still fit into a size S and M, and I’m determined not to obsess over it too much, but I’m uncomfortable with it nevertheless. My body feels different.

It’s been approximately five months since I moved into my own flat. The good news? I don’t seem to have gained any additional weight since. In fact, I think I’m losing weight slowly. But it’s too slow for comfort. So I’ve decided to revise my eating habits, since I don’t believe in crash diets.

First off, I’m going to try something akin to Christine Kane’s best smoothie in the world for breakfast. It seems delicious, and a lot healthier than my usual nothing much or cereal with vanilla custard (I don’t like milk). There is some debate about the spike in insulin levels brought about by fruit, which may lead to weight gain (especially in The Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferris which the Londoner had lying about – its diet bans fruit altogether), but ultimately, I believe consuming fruit in its natural form (i.e. not dried or in the form of juice) can only be a healthy thing. In moderation, of course, like all other food.

About that diet – I believe it’s effective, no doubt. But I struggle with any diet that bans entire food groups. It doesn’t seem healthy. This particular diet has a weekly binge day on which you go nuts and eat everything under the sun, which you must adhere to lest, for women, menstruation ceases. It ceases. That can’t be good, right? In addition, any diet that requires nutritional supplements is simply not something I’m willing to sign up to. I want to get my nutrients from food, not pills.

One thing I did take from that diet is that protein rich meals seem to trigger certain biochemical responses in the body that encourage it to burn fat. Something to keep in mind.

Lastly, I balk at the word diet. In our times, it doesn’t describe the sum of what someone consumes – it’s a word with restrictive connotations, the very mention of it makes me recalcitrant and obstinate. I don’t want a diet. I want to adjust my eating habits to be healthy and sustainable, not restrictive. I want to feel energetic, nourished and strong – not famined and weak. I suspect my current eating pattern is too rich in carbohydrates, so a shift to more of the green stuff is likely beneficial.

Based on some reading, this is where I’m at:

  • fruit smoothie for breakfast (with almond milk instead of fruit juice or dairy – fructose-rich, sure, but full of fiber and nutrients in its natural form)
  • explore the concept of protein-rich breakfasts and meals in general (as there is some evidence to suggest this aids fat loss)
  • reduce simple carb consumption (no “white carbs”, i.e. white flour/rice – try wholegrain alternatives, and eat these in moderation, limit potatoes and maize-based carbs)
  • resist the omnipresent snackfood at work (try this while working at a nut and snacks production site for a bit of a challenge)
  • exercise regularly (two to three times a week)
  • take up walking/hiking alongside my gym visits (easygoing exercise outdoors – healthy and natural on many levels)
  • cook one recipe from a cook book once a week (to expand my repertoire and create exposure to new ingredients)
  • explore adding legumes to my diet
  • only drink soft drink on weekends
  • remember Michael Pollan’s genius conclusion: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (I’m ordering his book In Defence of Food as I write this.)

Any ideas/comments/experiences you’d like to share?

Fully Engaged, Writing

Today, I’m writing. I’m writing on a topic that is very dear to me, and current at the moment due to a report that just came out. The report focuses on the actions of five police officers who shot at a mass of hooligans at a beach party in the summer. In total, 21 policemen used their weapons for so-called warning shots, but these five officers ended up aiming at the crowd as well. Eight people were wounded, one man did not survive. Although the police were not the only party shooting, the man turned out to have been hit by a police bullet.

I find it unfathomable that these five police officers were deemed suspects, even if only to fortify their judicial position. What kind of a justice system do we have when police officers, people who do the job to the best of their ability under the most harrowing circumstances, are the ones who have to answer for the riots? If you catch a bullet after warning shots are fired, this most likely means you didn’t back off or lie down, like any sane person would. You were right there, at the front of the aggressive mob, cause bullets go in straight lines. Of course this doesn’t mean you deserve to die, nobody does, but you made a grave error in exhibiting such hostile behaviour towards a small group of police officers. Of course everyone exclaims that he was such a nice bloke who never did anything wrong and wasn’t aggressive at all, but he was there. In the line of fire, at the forefront of an angry mob. It’s an unlikely location for someone who wasn’t in any way engaged in the troubles.

It is most regrettable that a life was lost. But to blame the few officers who were left to deal with a war zone, with no guidance or response from their superiors? I find it despicable. These people weren’t kill-happy, or aggressive hooligans; they were officers with serious concern for their safety, who had made every effort to show that they were serious about demanding the mob come to a halt. They should not be suspects. They are heroes for staying and trying to deal with the mess to the best of their ability. How is this justice?

So I sit by the heating, next to the bare magnolia tree where finches and tits fly close to steal off with a few sunflower seeds, and I write. I’m trying to be coherent, but it’s hard to pour outrage into bite-sized, logical chunks. I will write this article, though. It needs to be written.

Raging Headache

I don’t know if it’s a side-effect of the swineflu vaccine shot I got last Saturday, or just a cold or flu that was due, but I’ve had a raging headache since Saturday. It feels different from what headaches normally feel like to me. It doesn’t have that knife-in-the-head sensation; rather, it feels like a band around my head that’s tightening. It hurts..

That said, there is nothing more headache-inducing than the paranoid comments regarding the H1N1 vaccine that are pandemic on the Internet. Have these vaccines been tested thoroughly? No, they have been tested as best as possible given the time constraints. There is no time to pussyfoot: fairly simply put, if I contract swineflu, I run a serious risk of losing my life. Many people in the high risk groups that are now receiving their first shot in the Netherlands are in the same boat. Our immune systems do not have the strength to ward off a flu, any flu, much less a flu that seems to be killing perfectly healthy young people.

Conspiracy theories are flying left right and centre, and it’s doing my head in. Are there side effects to this flu shot? Yes, much like there are side effects to every flu shot I’ve ever received (and I’ve been getting them for 12 or 13 years now). I don’t see the point of spreading all this fear, when it is pretty simple: if you are in a risk group and you contract the swineflu, you run a serious risk of losing your life. The vaccine gives you a much better chance at survival. It’s not that hard.

Will there be side effects? No doubt. Will some people die as a result of the vaccine? In all likelihood, yes. Will many, many lives be saved by it? YES. I’d rather this stuff was tested more thoroughly too, but time’s a luxury we cannot afford. I need some form of immunisation before I come into contact with this flu, or I’m screwed.

All these laymen claiming to have it all figured out piss me off. Can you keep me from dying as a result of swineflu? No? Then shut the hell up.

The Audacious Scaredy-Cat

I don’t remember ever being particularly good at making decisions.

The way I see it, there are two types of decisions. I’m fine with the first category of in the moment, now-or-never situations. I’m impulsive and optimistic enough to make the most of an opportunity at happiness or success when it’s presented to me, even if it’s something new and therefore slightly scary. I go with my gut feeling and simply follow what my heart’s telling me deep down. Ratio doesn’t even get a look in.

But then there is the other kind, the type where the remnants of Statistics 101 in my academic brain go into a frenzy, the kind of situation where the outcome isn’t so clear-cut. Contrary to spur of the moment opportunities, which are fairly straightforward: do this and the outcome will be x; don’t do this and the outcome will be y, the plot thickens. Any decision where I’ve got time to weigh my options inevitably ends up spinning me out: my brain conjures up not two but at least seven different possible outcomes involving varying degrees of pain, confusion and frustration. I get scared of getting it wrong, even through rationally there is no right or wrong, even though I know that even if a decision doesn’t work out, there’s one blessing in our straightforward time continuum: I’ll never find out what could have been if I’d done things differently. Still, you hope for some sign from the universe, something to help you decide one way or the other.

Sometimes I think that perhaps it’s best to turn any decision into an on-the-spot one, so I don’t end up having spent twenty-odd years of my life worrying and going back and forth. (And sometimes I think that perhaps I’m using too many words held together by dashes, but that’s a different worry.) I’ve also adhered to the “When in doubt, just do it!” school of thought (and its cousin “When in doubt, travel.”) I’ve found that yes, it’s scary when things don’t turn out the way you thought they would, but somehow, you always land on your feet. I’ve experienced that, because I went ahead and did it anyway, caution-to-the-wind-style. Sure, everything you fear might go wrong may actually go wrong, but simple odds are they won’t. I’ve experienced Sod’s Law firsthand and had absolutely everything fall apart, but in the end, I got up and had an unexpectedly wonderful time anyway. You get back up and amazing opportunities present themselves, things you couldn’t have thought of and orchestrated if you’d tried. I’d imagine it’s pretty lonely in an ivory tower. You’d never have access to these elements in a safe little pre-downfall world. Once you’re down, and back up, you meet new people, do new things, see new places and live. That’s got to be worth something.

I try to be courageous about these things; I try to remember that it’s better to make mistakes in a big world than stay safe and unfulfilled in a self-confined cage labelled “What If”. Mistakes, unhappiness and pain aren’t permanent states of being after all, but they are valuable experiences (though I like to differ at the time). I’d rather shoot and miss than stand there complaining that nothing is going the way I want it to – cause nothing is going anywhere at all. It requires courage to damn all risk-assessment to hell and do it anyway, though, and I do think you take more hits when you put experience first and self-preservation second, to such an extent in fact that your worries about how much more you can take nibble away at your confidence and courage. There’s a fine line between stout an stupid, courageous and careless, fearless and foolhardy, that I find myself wondering about these days (my love for alliteration, on the other hand, I readily admit to). I know I’ll survive no matter the outcome, but should I let myself be defenseless?

Which brings me back to an all too familiar conundrum: will I, or won’t I? Do I choose safety and calm, or audacity and the knowledge that I truly tried to make something out of life? It makes me wonder how other people navigate these situations.

I try to be courageous, but it’s damn scary sometimes.

On Monetizing the Hate

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to engage in the debate of the hate directed towards Dooce. The fact that she’s on my blogroll should give you some idea of where I stand, but something else has emerged that I can’t help but believe demands that we, people of the Internet, speak out.

Heather Armstrong, writer of, gets a lot of hatemail. She has said so many times, and I’ve always read it and gone, “jee, sucks, oh well” and forgotten about it. She’d occasionally publish some of the best crackpottery sent her way, and it would be a laugh. Only recently have I come across websites apparently primarily devoted to Hating Dooce. It’s like a hobby. Except, I’m completely baffled as to how grown women might engage daily in ripping apart someone they don’t know personally. These aren’t comments along the lines of “meh, boring” or “that blog sucks”, these are deeply specific vitriolic judgements of Heather and her family.

How is that OK? How do other women, mums even, think it’s OK to berate Heather’s children? If you think she is setting a bad example, how is berating someone a better example? I cannot for the life of me fathom how one can cross that line and feel like a just and moral person, a cruisader of All That is Right, an example to ones children. Calling a househusband gay because… actually, why? (I won’t even go into why one might even consider using that as an insult.)

I don’t understand how it is OK to go from a perfectly acceptable position of disagreement (because of course you don’t have to love Dooce) to outright attack. No one has that right, no matter how convinced they are of their own opinion. You can respectfully disagree, emphasis on respectfully; you can set out a well-argued piece on why you disagree with what Dooce does. Of course you can. There are people out there who are honestly concerned and that’s fair enough. I don’t agree with every decision Heather Armstrong makes, but I respect her enough to realise she is a grown woman who has a right to live her life the way she chooses to. The fact that she chooses to write about it does not mean her life is fair game. It doesn’t give you a right to tell her how to live her life, or worse, to try to take her down. If you are so thoroughly convinced you are much, much better, for the love of all that is good and true, focus your energy on taking the top spot, not on taking her down. There is a difference, and it bottles down to dignity.

Do you honestly feel justified trying to ruin someone’s life? Is that something you are OK with? Because if it’s something you enjoy spending your time on, there’s a long list of murderers, paedophiles and rapists you might want to send a comment or two first.

The snarkiness is unparalleled. Amusingly, Heather decided to shrug it off as best she could and have a laugh: she’s now “Monetizing the Hate”. In a move of astounding unoriginality, the anti-crowd have now started a site to Monetize the Love. Sadly, love isn’t nearly as amusing as misguided angst, so I dare say I know who’ll be raking in the cash here. I suggest Dooce bathe in it while claiming to be snorting coke off both her children’s bellies. Because she can. And because no amount of high school bullying will change the fact that Heather is doing the best she can. I think she has made a brilliant life for herself. You don’t have to agree: you are free to quit reading her website at any time. Isn’t that a better option than taking the choices she makes regarding her life personally? No matter how much you disagree or despise her lifestyle, parenting choices, aesthetics, language or luck, there are certain things you do not get to say about other people. Not in public. Yell at your kitchen counter, if you must.

Yes Heather fights back and ridicules. But she’s not stooped to such lowly attacks on people’s family members or mental state yet. She appears to be trying her best to laugh it off, and given the sheer amount of rage out there, I think she’s doing admirably. Don’t like her blog? Hit the little red cross in the top right corner and live blissfully ever after.

Please, can we stop the name-calling? Can we cease ganging up on people like it’s high school? Can we discuss disagreements respectfully? And as an umbrella question of sorts: how can we as women demand respect and expect to be taken seriously when this is how we choose to publish ourselves online? I just hope the blogging world can find some way to be much more than this.

PS. This made me laugh. A lot. And yes, the Leonie in the comments at the bottom is me. I signed on with my actual name, e-mail address and website address [edit: or I did until they deleted the website info and “unlinked” my name – don’t want to be sending any visitors my way now! That one referral in 24 hours really sent my stats through the roof!]. I guess my point is that you can be angry or sarcastic, but there’s no need to be vile, and if you’re not vile, you don’t need an alias. Want to fight? Fair enough. But fight fairly and use rhetorics, not retardics.


I’m going to introduce this post by saying that I am extremely angry right now, and completely morally appalled, as well as sick to my stomach. This post will no doubt offend, but you know what? It can’t be more offensive than what’s happened to Stan Storimans, so you can deal with it.

Russia, today you lose the war of lies and the right to complain about unfair portrayal in the world media. You killed a Dutch cameraman, just doing his job. Do you think that’s just another rumour, another prejudiced lie? Have a look at the photo below the cut. You couldn’t talk yourself out of this one with all the deceitful tongues in the world.

He wasn’t in South-Ossetia, or Abkhazia. He was in Gori, Georgia, and your weapons killed him. You killed someone who was in Georgia trying to tell the world what was really going on, showing the world what he could see. He can’t do that anymore, because of you. You’ll have to make do with whatever media portrayal you receive now.

You are no longer just in South Ossetia or Abkhazia on a fake peace-keeping mission. You have crossed even further borders and are bombing and attacking Georgian towns like a big bully. Every promise you made “We are just here to keep the peace!” “We respect the integrity of the Georgian borders” “We are only helping out in South Ossetia” “Oh, and Abkhazia” “Oh, scratch that, we are invading a foreign country and we’re not going home until the Georgian army are back in their barracks.” – every promise you made you’ve broken subsequently. You betrayed the trust of those journalists trying to do everyone a favour by reporting the truth to the world. They thought they were safe, because you said they would be, because you said you would not invade Georgia, or bomb it. Why should anyone trust a word you say anymore? You have just proven everything, every judgment you deemed unfair and assumptuous. You’ve proven it all.

Tell me, can you look at the photo below (under the cut because it’s very disturbing) and tell me you are just and righteous? Does it break your heart and make you feel nauseous like it does with me? This is the (near) dead camera man, in the back of a car. This is his colleague, the presenter, clinging on to a dead man’s arm in a state of complete shock. Covered in blood. Traumatised. (more…)

More about South Ossetia

I should probably explain why I felt like writing yesterday’s piece on the war in Georgia. There are several reasons. One, I fear the consequences of this war, and what it will mean to life in Europe (oil-wise, for starters) and life in the world. Russia’s conduct in Georgia and other countries’ response will have political implications on a worldwide scale. Either it has stopped what the rest of the world was too slow to stop, or it has crossed internationally acknowledged borders. Both possible truths have severe implications. Two, my boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend Masha (see her blog here) is Russian and in Russia, which makes me curious and determined to see both sides. As I wrote before, this is not a war of people, it is is a war of power and governments, the victims of which are the dead and wounded in Georgia, be they Georgian or Russian. I’m interested in finding out what the news in Russia says.

My latest source of utmost amazement (and not in a good way): what’s the deal with these Russian warships in the Black Sea, which left from a Ukranian port? This has been confirmed by Ukranian authorities, which threatened not to let Russian war vessels return to its port because it didn’t want to be drawn into a military conflict, according to the BBC. South Ossetia isn’t even remotely close to the sea, but the other dissident Georgian region, Abkhazia, is. From where I’m standing, it looks a bit suspect. After all, one would hope Georgia would never be so stupid as to attack Russia via the Black Sea – simple number crunching (and the fact that the Georgian army have a grand total of 8 combat aircraft, compared to Russia’s 1809 (source: “Bodies are lying everywhere. It’s hell.” in: The Sunday Times, 10 August 2008) would define it as kamikaze. Why is Russia moving its ships out? Why did it sink a Georgian ship?

I guess the root question of all this is – why do Russia think they have a right to interfere with military force in a foreign country? Is there something we are not being told? In a comment to her post here, Masha mentions that Russia apparently appealed to the UN for help. I can’t say I’ve seen that mentioned in any of the articles I’ve read so far. This page on the BBC website lists some Russian opinions. I think their compassion is beautiful, but one comment astounded me: Natalia Vedeneeva from Central Russia says:

“It’s difficult to say who is right or wrong. Russia is defending its own citizens and it did try to persuade Georgia to stop. Russia was forced to start military action.”

This argument fails, because the only reason Russia claims to be defending its citizens on Georgian soil is because it handed out passports to the majority of citizens of South Ossetia. That’s not how it works in polite politics. That is not respecting internationally accepted borders. If these new Russian citizens don’t like it in South Ossetia, i.e. Georgia, they should go “home” to Mother Russia – surely it is implied that that is where their allegiance lies, if they call themselves Russians? If they want to live in Georgia, they’ll have to accept that they are Georgians, at least until such time as South Ossetia becomes an independent state. The international response to Kosovo has shown that the world is not opposed to regions breaking away to form their own country. Patience, not war or a demonstration of Russian power, could create Ossetia.

At the same time, if reports are true that the unprovoked Georgian army attacked Tskhinvali at night, killing hundreds, Russia is doing an in essence admirable thing. It is trying to save people. The issue is the execution. It would be a more ideal situation if international troops, further removed from the situation, could make up a peace-keeping force. There would be much less room for hot-headed responses on both sides, since both Russia and Georgia have something at stake here. That said, in this scenario time was most likely of the essence, meaning Russia moved in instead of waiting for international red tape to get its act together, in hopes of saving the lives that would otherwise be lost in the waiting line.

Either way, it’s turned into one big mess, with losses on both sides. I wish the cease fire would be accepted, so that politicians have time to screw their heads back on and have a civilised discussion about the future of South Ossetia, before it runs out of citizens.

The Thin Veneer of Peace

I guess today’s news just shows, oncemore, that the veneer of peace, civility and cooperation is ever so thin. Russia has invaded a dissident province of Georgia, or has come to the rescue of Georgians with Russian passports who want an independent country, depending on how you look at it.

At this stage, I think it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, but there are a few things I’d like to discuss. The first is that, as far as I can tell, Georgia originally only carried out its military repercussions in South Ossetia, internationally recognised to be within the Georgian borders, although a long-standing wish to be independent must also be noted. I’m not quite sure why Russia thought it appropriate to interfere in a foreign country, unless a genocide of sorts is indeed underway, in which case NATO or the UN should be involved, not simply Russia. A genocide or “ethnic cleansing” does seem unlikely from a country that has recently tried to join NATO, but stranger things have happened.

As far as someone far, far away from the actual events can tell, it’s once again about money and land. I sympathise with the South Ossetians who want a country of their own, but this is not the way. Similarly, the Georgian government should probably have a long, hard think about how far it is willing to go to keep an unwilling part of its territory. But Russia? Russia should probably clear off or provide adequate proof to support the claim its made: if there is a genocide underway, NATO or the UN, not Russia, needs to send troops. Giving Georgians Russian passports does not entitle the Russian government to claim the province of South Ossetia as the land of its citizens, and thus territory on which it may rightfully wage war. At this stage, it looks like a questionable, umbrageous way of annexing land, or at least the power to rule this land. Russia can hardly blame Georgia for trying to maintain South Ossetia with force – after all, it refuses to award independence to Chechnya, and has shunned no means there. Neither Russia nor Georgia is being very gracious about dissident regions, but in this case Russia is the pot calling the kettle black. There is of course the ethnic difference between the residents of South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, but if that was ample reason for independence, Russia as the massive country it is today would not exist.

Is this about oil, then? About the only pipeline that provides Europe with Central-Asian oil without passing through Russian territory? Is it about Georgia’s blatant goal of transforming itself into a Western country? And which means does it deem proportionate? Russia and Georgia have been verbally aggravating each other for a while now. It seems Georgia bit off more than it will be able to chew as far as South Ossetia is concerned, although why this bite has suddenly become Russian cuisine is unclear. I’m not blaming people, I’m blaming governments. Governments which, for a whole range of reasons, can sometimes seem wholly out of touch with their people.

This could get messy. Better start stocking up on petrol then.

Perhaps I’m missing something. Feel free to point it out, I’d love to discuss this further and to try to understand what is going on. The comments are at your service.

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