Posts Tagged ‘ News ’

#ranthill: gender and distinction

the IAAF have today announced that South African track star Caster Semenya will be allowed to continue her career after nearly a year of official uncertainty about her ‘status’, and the results of the tests she has been forced to undertake will remain confidential.

problems began for Ms Semenya hours before she won 800m gold at the World Championships in Berlin last year, as a ball of rumours that had been circulating for a while suddenly hardened into an official investigation into her entitlement to complete in women’s athletic competitions. without ever being explicit about exactly what evidence lies at the basis of the suspicions (and therefore inviting speculation that it was simply a combination of her being fast, tall and broad), the IAAF reported that Semenya would have to undergo ‘gender tests’.

as you as intelligent RQT readers will be aware, the notion of ‘gender tests’ is a quite ridiculous one. despite what the IAAF thinks (and to be fair the BBC, The Guardian and almost every other news agency failed to correct them), in proper terms gender could never be ascertained by a test, given that gender is, as C20th philosophy and sociology has taught us, a fluid quality that each of us performs. in this sense, the term ‘gender’ is not synonymous with ‘sex’, which is what the IAAF really meant but was perhaps a bit embarrassed to say. in the simplest terms, ‘sex’ relates to biology, whereas ‘gender’ relates to social identity, which is why ‘gender tests’ is a nonsense concept.

the deeper problem, however, is that while a ‘gender test’ would be meaningless, a ‘sex test’ wouldn’t necessarily prove any more helpful. the issue is that while much of Western society continues to think of biological sex as being an essentialist and binary concept – i.e. a person is either a man or a woman – in reality this is quite far from the case. as the brilliant work on theology and intersex conditions by Dr Susannah Cornwall – my talented partner in crime and life (known to RQT readers as simply ‘The Dr’) – has shown, there are all kinds of experiences that disrupt this over-simplistic conception of sex, the most fundamental of which being that science is finding it ever increasingly difficult to find any absolute basis for the distinction at all. (for more info on her work, read Dr Cornwall’s blog here)

we can probably all see that sex cannot be determined on the basis of the external appearance of genitalia, because there are many conditions that result in unexpected relationships between external and internal apparatus. however, likewise, the best research shows that internal sex characteristics, chromosomes and even the size of gametes (considered until recently the only reliable location of sex distinction) cannot be relied on to give a universal decree as to the sex of the individual under consideration.

the IAAF’s decision not to publicise the results of Semenya’s tests might seem like a gesture of solidarity with the athlete (if a much overdue one), but in reality, the likelihood is that they feel they cannot release the results without also being specific about what it was exactly that they were testing for and how. if they were to publish any results, the decision that they have made would be open to all sorts of contestation, in this and any future cases. what is more, they would be forced to formalise the criteria that they themselves use to judge sex in terms of categorising athletes, which thus far they have seemingly been as vague about as possible.

whilst few of us would deny that on average male athletes tend to have qualities that make them stronger, faster and more powerful than their female counterparts, this is and has to be a matter of averages, not law. would Rowan Atkinson enjoy a ‘natural’ advantage over Serena Williams at tennis? while that might be a somewhat flippant line of argument, it also highlights the fact that there are all sorts of other aspects of human physiological and psychological makeup that function to distinguish the performance of athletes.

Michael Phelps might stand as a good example. he is built like a swimming machine: he has an abnormally long, thin but muscular torso, a massive arm span compared to his height (6’7″ span, 6’4″ height), size 14 feet and super-flexible ankles. i have none of these attributes, but if i were an international quality swimmer, could i legitimately expect an athletic body to regulate to distinguish between Phelps and me? in other words, should there be a category for people who have these or similar traits, and those that don’t, or would that be ridiculous? when compared to sex, the difference is a matter of frequency of the occurrence of advantageous characteristics, but one could argue that at the highest level that makes little difference – i.e. an examination of the differences between an averagely built male swimmer, an averagely built female swimmer and Michael Phelps might put the set of differences between the first two bodies into an interesting perspective.

of course one of the really fascinating aspects of Semenya’s case was the blatant fog of orientalism (or whatever the equivalent is in relation to Africa) that hung around the story. those who suspected that Semenya has an intersex condition regularly painted her as a country girl, who came from a deep-dark region of South Africa where such conditions are more widely found and as such constitute a ‘normal’ part of life. This racist and patronising discourse of ‘oh is isn’t her fault, she’s too backwards to realise she’s a man’ would be disgusting enough if it wasn’t also unbelievably ill-informed. Semenya might have grown up in a rural area, but she now studies at Pretoria University and works with their state of the art equipment, facilities and coaches.

i have only huge respect for the way in which Ms Semenya has handled the fact that her body has become the site of such a strange and political debate. she has consistently come across as a gracious, confident and highly focussed individual and i hope she goes on to excel in the sport and to be an inspiration for all people who find themselves in a similar situation. what is more, i hope that the IAAF are called to formally justify all of their actions.

#tirednewsflash: arms around america


and finally, in uplifting news, the US Supreme Court has ruled that localised restrictions or bans on guns are unconstitutional and that all states must unrestrictedly allow the right to bear arms.

the ruling will mean sweeping changes to policy in many inner-city areas that have introduced tighter regulation in recent years to help to deal with localised gun crime. for example, it will end the ban on handguns in Chicago, where they have been outlawed since 1982.

given the proven fact that having easy access to guns, especially handguns, makes communities safer, the ruling can only be a good thing and something to be celebrated not just by residents of Chicago, but by all US citizens, those with family and friends in the States and even would-be visitors to the Home of the Brave.

The National Rifle Association, who campaigned hard to drive this issue to the highest level of American justice is today revelling in a decisive victory for freedom, liberty and the American way. “Like most NWA members, we live in Southern, small-town America”, drawled NRA spokesman Wade Sixlynch Jr., “but we are delighted that through our hard work and persistence, all the inner-city neighbourhoods across the country can now enjoy the same level of security and quality of life that we’all have down here. This ruling marks a great moment in American History.”

The US of A currently languishes under some of the worst personal security statistics in the world and it is hoped that this ruling will have a marked effect. “Lord knows, the only way is up”, proclaimed outspoken gun lover, right-wing lobbyist and evangelical pastor Pastor Elijah Monroe of Redwood Brook Jesus Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming, at the post-ruling press conference.

TiredNews™ understands that in the first five months of this year alone, 164 people were shot dead in Chicago because they didn’t have a weapon to defend themselves with. The Violence Policy Center estimates that the overall number of people that find themselves in this powerless position each American year is in the region of 30,000. people.

We can only hope that as a result of the Supreme Court’s actions all this needlessness will soon be laid to rest.


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#tirednewsflash: robbie no longer earle


Robbie, Earle of Wimbledon, has had what he might call a shocker, and is to be stripped of his hereditary title as well as having been sacked from his job talking about football on ITV. the queen, it has emerged, was so incensed when she heard about the Earle’s actions that she spilt her dinner all over her lap tray, and there and there promised to ‘relieve him of all his honours and ruin him’.

the scandal began when it became clear that Robbie (as he is now known) ‘gave’ 36 of his complementary tickets for Monday’s Denmark vee The Netherlands group match to a dutch beer company who then used them to smuggle in thirty six women. what is more shocking is the fact that the ‘women’ were made to dress for advertising purposes chest to thigh in plain, bright orange, for which they were subsequently herded up and detained by FIFA authorities. “I couldn’t believe my eyes”, one unbelieving fan later recounted, “all in orange, they stood out like several sore thumbs. It was like Guantanamo Bay all over again. Whoever the people responsible are, they should definitely lose any ancestral titles in their families.”

It has also emerged that ‘Why the fuck does Robbie Earle get 36 complementary tickets to each World Cup game when working class South African fans are having to pay extortionate prices?’ is exactly a question noone seems to be asking.

personal friend and god-son of the former Earle, Graham Taylor has come out today and said how sad and offended the incident caused him to be. “Everyone knows how much I do not like orange, and Robbie knows that even better than the next man. I’ve taken it quite personally.” Taylor, who phoned us to tell us about his tangential involvement, said that he will be spending the next few days in quiet seclusion with his family and out of the piercing glare of the media’s lenses, and that we shouldn’t try to photograph him today, outside the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town at around 12pm.

the whole incident brings back memories of the last World Cup in Germany, when the same dutch beer company tried to get fans to wear branded, promotional orange lederhosen to The Netherlands games. fans who took them up were forced to watch the matches in their vest and pants as the offending articles where confiscated by official FIFA and Budweiser police on the way into the stadia.

along with adrian chiles and Gerardgoalgate, this latest incident has put the spotlight back on how crap ITV is and on why noone likes it. an ITV spokesman told us that “Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfair, Paddy Power and Bet 365 are offering excellent betting opportunities at the moment and we feel that our viewers deserve to continually know about them and have the right to the freedom to have a wager if they so choose to do. Likewise will literally buy any car; any car – it’s amazing when you think about it isn’t it?”


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#tirednewsflash: the silent wastes


it has been revealed today, amid low levels of other news, that the two silent letters in the full name of journalist and eco-activist George Monbiot have, over the length of his career, added several pages to the combined output of all the paper sources that have featured his work.

author and The Guardian columnist Monbiot (pronounced Mon-be-oh) – 47, 41, 36 – is well known and formerly well respected for his ecological and political writing and campaigning, but this shock revelation is bound to have a significant impact on the sales of his many thoroughly researched and well argued books such as Captive State, The Age of Consent and Heat (no longer available in magazine form), as well as stimulating plenty of teasing and hair tousling from friends and neighbours.

Monbiot’s nemesis, frankly moronic Australian geologist and climate change skeptic Ian Plimer, with whom he has had a public and ongoing spat about whether or not there is anything to worry about, was heard to ‘laugh aloud’ when first shown the news concerning the impact of the silent letters. “You just can’t spell Ian or Plimer any bloody shorter than they already are”, said Plimer to us, on the ‘phone, “I dare you to, you can’t do it. Not that you need to, seeing as the planet’s just fine and doesn’t even need us to have short names. Georgey-boy thinks it does though, although apparently not enough to ever think of changing his name.”

the research, conducted by several research students from the Department of Sociology at the University of Bristol, near Wales, found that the words George and Monbiot have been printed in direct relation to him 489,511 times over his career, which taking Helvetica 11pt and the standard dimensions of the printable area of an average paperback book as our initial experimental conditions, equates to exactly ‘several pages’.

“We felt, given his profile, that it was very much in the public interest that the data regarding Mr Monbiot’s name be made public as soon as it was known” revealed Bristol University Sociology Department spokesperson Professor Christopher Wreeves, whose PhD students have also been responsible for unearthing the truth about Leslie Ash’s disastrous lip enhancements, piecing together the exact events that led up to the tragic death of Rod Hull, and the Hutton Inquiry.

as of yet we have been unable to procure a comment from Mr Monbiot himself, but we were able to confirm from a source very close to his comfortable looking Oxfordshire home that the Monbiot family is descended from French aristocrats the Ducs de Coutard, who fled the Loire valley in 1789 for fear of their heads, and changed their family name from Beaumont to cover their tracks. when asked to speculate on why they didn’t choose a more British sounding surname like Cholmondeley or Ravenstruther,  or why George wasn’t named Albert, or even Bertie for short, Wikipedia was unable to say.

all-in-all in, it’s been a rather uncomfortable day for Mr George Monbiot, and we like you wait with bated breath to see whether he bows to the now exponentially growing public pressure to put his money where his moniker is and drop the superfluous, planet killing silent tee and e.

gorge, the ball’s in your cour


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#tirednewsflash: mackenzie tweet in poll position


Stephen Fry has today revealed that a tweet about kelvin mackenzie composed last night during the former editor of the sun’s appearance on the BBC’s Question Time programme is currently the favourite in the Hay Festival’s Most Beautiful Tweet competition for which Fry is the judge.

kevtherev24’s brief tweet read simply: @hayfestival Kelvin Mackenzie, what a cunt.

“it’s the terse yet fragile quality of it that drew me in” gushed Fry, “plus most of the what we’ve received so far is frankly a load of old doggerel – did you see the item on the news last night which highlighted the then front-runners? crapola.” some voices have piped up against St Fry claiming that even though beauty is a thoroughly subjective notion, there is nothing ‘beautiful’ about The Reverend Kevin McNimbus’ tweet what so every.

“These are simply and unambiguously the ramblings of a religious nutjob”, wrote David Ike on his blog this morning, “That prancing queen would go way down in my estimation if he really went through and firsted that nonsense.” Fry himself has defended himself by way of the following logic – “it reminded me of the eternal truth couched in the last words of Keats’ Ode On A Grecian Urn ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’.”


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#tirednewsflash: unemployment plan backfires


the new government’s core key ‘unemployment reduction strategy’ pledge has been thrown into a hornet’s nest of a tailspin by the revelation that it has directly contributed to a rise in unemployment. the cornerstone of the strategy involved putting extra desks into Jobcentres Plus and inviting currently unemployed queuers to sit at them and have a job there. the key weakness in the system, it has subsequently emerged, is that queues at jobcentres plus and the somewhat identical original job centres that remain in particularly backwards areas, helped to keep the numbers of people registered as unemployed under control.

one of Leamington Spa’s newest ‘problem statistics’ gave us a glimpse into his miserable experience of the process thusly: “I jogged up Holly Walk on Thursday morning, as I would usually, and I noticed that there was no queue snaking out onto the street from the door of the Jobcentre Plus for the first time in my living memory. I gleefully took the opportunity to head inside and within eleven minutes I emerged officially unemployed. I related my experience to several ‘currently between jobs’ friends from my local Public House later that day and the next, and they all quickly followed my example.”

“We had hoped that the plan would cut unemployment and ease the problem of overcrowding at Jobcentres Plus and the few remaining Jobcentres that exist in backwards areas”, explained Chief Junior Strategist at the Department for Work and Pensions, Grant Nimble-Jackson, “but it seems it has backfired in a big way.” When I asked Brigadier Nimble-Jackson if he agreed that the fact that many people had received work through the scheme and, as far as can be known, no-one had lost it, must mean that although the recorded numbers of unemployed people have risen, in real terms unemployment has decreased, and he replied “Well, yes, absolutely. I mean, can we do that? With the numbers? Paul? Sorry, can you run me through that again, and can I borrow your pen?”

later,, I put it to him that standards of service in Jobcentres must surely have suffered from the influx of new untrained and in many cases unwashed staff, but he refuted that sentiment strenuously claiming that, “no, as our pre-pilot study indicated they would be, customer satisfaction scores are actually up”. however, when i pressed for more details and asked why on earth job centres would refer to their users as ‘customers’, i was bundled out of the transit van we had been using for the interview by some government issue heavies in what could only be described as suits and black glasses.

when it comes to the implementation of core government key area target strategies like tackling unemployment and the general use of statistics, it seems, at least for the time being, we are set to continue in the state that employed scientists call a ‘sense vacuum’, a ‘ridiculous knowledge hurricane’ and the ‘maddeningly empty conical flask of understanding’.


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#tirednewsflash: acute problem


a high school math teacher from Alabama has been suspended after the Secret Service became involved in investigating reports by a local newspaper that he taught his students about geometry by asking them to calculate the angle at which they’d have to aim and shoot in order to assassinate Barack Obama in a scenario mocked up on the blackboard. the county school’s superintendent chalmers Dr. Phil Hammonds confirmed that Gregory Harrison (no relation) has been placed on ‘administrative leave’ from Corner High School in Jefferson County while the matter is fully explained away.

However, it seems, however rhetorically shocking, that Mr. Harrison was initially only given a slap on the wrist by the school board ruler, with his suspension only having been initiated in response to the public outcry which flooded in once the story hit the national press. “no-one round here cared” one string-vested parent shouted at reporters from a slow moving truck “it was only when people from the north and washingtown got involved that the shitstorm began”.

Harrison’s fellow teachers have had mixed responses to his ill-advised illustration. one spanish teacher told us that she didn’t want to talk to us and that she was definitely an american and no-one could prove anything anyway. “i dint never voted for him, so to me he ain’t no president anyways” Corner’s head of Girls’ English and Typing, Angela Lansbury told a nodding Fox News reporter. Most other teachers just seemed annoyed by the damage the Secret Service had done to the Staff Room.

“It’s definitely not a race issue” confirmed the school’s optimistic Principal, “we’ve told them all over and over about that. I’m sure it could just have easily have been Nixon or van Buren or any of the white presidents up on the board in that poorly drawn cavalcade. In fact”, she added nonsensically, “they would have been much easier to do with chalk”.


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