Friday, April 30, 2004


I was spurred earlier today into a (very productive) search for bad and (at least tenuously) academic jokes, and was surprised how many of my friends have them ready to hand. I suppose it must be a self-deprecating instinct implanted in us all to avoid admitting that we enjoy our work. So here's a theological one, of sorts:

"A seminary student is about to finish his studies, when he is killed in a car accident. He goes and waits outside the Pearly Gates. Peter asks the first person in line, 'Who are you?' And then Augustine replies, 'I'm Augustine.' 'Prove it,' Peter says. So you talk for a time about the Civitas Dei, and Peter lets him in, saying, 'Welcome to Heaven, my dear friend.'

'Then Peter asks the next person in line, 'Who are you?' And Thomas replies, 'I'm Thomas Aquinas.' 'Prove it,' Peter says. So the two talk for a time about how Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics can enlighten our understanding of the Natural Law. And he says to Aquinas in turn, 'Welcome to Heaven, my dear friend.'

'Finally, it's the seminary student's turn, and so you ask him, 'Who are you?' He replies, 'Well, I'm, like, Nabal, and I was, like, studying all this really cool stuff in seminary about how we can bring together the best in, like, Christianity and New Age and other religions, and how it's OK to honor the goddess in our worship, and then this car, like, creams me, and so here I am.'

"Peter pauses a second, and says, 'Very well, then. You'll have to prove who you are, just like Augustine and Aquinas.' 'Augustine? Aquinas? Like, dude, man, who are they?' 'Welcome to Heaven, my dear friend.'"

Well, I did explicitly say the jokes were bad... Here's another:

'What do you say to a philosophy graduate?'
'I'll have fries with that please...'

And with that it's off to bed, before the great Oxford May morning tradition of listening to silly little boys sing Medieval Latin in an attempt to pretend they're not engaged in pure Pagan celebration...

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The words of a 'secular saint' 

Recently, not having my own anthology to hand, I was looking for some Primo Levi poetry online. The supply is very poor indeed - there are about three poems widely available on the internet, all of which are used as illustration to back up the traditional idea of him as 'Primo Levi: Holocaust Survivor'. But Levi was more than that - he was a chemist, of course, but also a really excellent writer, quite independent of his autobiographical work. I only know his writing in translation, but there seems to be quite a simple joy in reading some of his work. He has a sensitivity of approach rarely met elsewhere, and which of course was widely admired in his holocaust writings. But most of all I find this in his poetry, and since this is almost as little available in bookshops as it is online, I thought I'd make it my mission to post a few poems here every once in a while - whenever I have nothing of my own to contribute.

I'll begin towards the end, with my favourite poem, written in 1984 and translated by Ruth Feldman:


I wouldn't want to upset the universe.
I'd like, if possible,
To cross the border silently,
With the light step of a smuggler.
The way one slips away from a party.
To stop without a screech
The lungs' obstinate piston,
And say to the dear heart,
That mediocre musician without rhythm:
'After two, six billion beats,
You must be tired too, so thanks, enough.'
If it were possible, as I was saying,
If it were not for those who will remain,
The work left truncated
(Every life is truncated),
The world's turns and its wounds;
If it were not for the unresolved burdens,
The debts incurred earlier on,
The old unavoidable obligations.

For more information on Levi, there is an interesting interview with him here, dating from his first trip back to Auschwitz in 1982. There is an article here, discussing his last moments (and whether or not his death was suicide), and the biography by Carol Angier is also excellent (I haven't read its rival - two biographies were published two weeks apart in 2002 - perhaps someone can tell me if that's any good too).

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ten good reasons why I only listen to Radio 4 

The BBC has given us a list of the ten most played artists on radion in the UK in the last twenty years. And it's very depressing:

1. George Michael
2. Elton John
3. Robbie Williams
4. Kylie Minogue
5. Bryan Adams
6. Madonna
7. Phil Collins
8. Cliff Richard
9. Mick Hucknall
10. Paul McCartney

Now all of these are exactly the sort of middle-of-the-road easy listening rubbish you'd expect, but at least most of them have been around for most, if not all, of the period studied. But Robbie Williams' entry at number 3 must mean he's easily the most played person in recent years, which is horrifying.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

As old as the world... 

I've just returned from a very fine concert in London, a joint headline by The Handsome Family and Willard Grant Conspiracy. WGC were the better of the two, more technically proficient and with more layers to their songs, so that the listener could easily became completely immersed. Their songs were also more traditional than THF's, often adaptations of 19th century American folk and gospel songs, with an almost orchestral feel at times.

THF were simpler, more shambolic... and perhaps more fun. Rennie Sparks of THF certainly made the night, with completely insane interjections between every song. Some examples: 'I've come to the realisation that in order to play the banjo really well you have to kill a few people first' (unfortunately a crime of which she must be entirely innocent, if her playing is anything to go by); 'I wanted to write a song about the romance of ants, where the kings and queens fly into the air to mate. But instead we wrote a song about murder in the woods. It's got ants in it, though... I tried!'

Death, failed love and snake-handling bouts of divine intervention were the general subjects of the night, as they should be in all concerts with any pretension to be 'country' (Johnny Cash's last album playing between the sets made sure there was no let up in tone), and WGC certainly weren't going to upset that vibe, finishing as they did with 'the saddest song we know', called The Suffering Song: 'The suffering's going to come to everyone someday'. Beautiful.

Same concert plays again tomorrow night in reverse order at the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre. Highly recommended to anyone with a bit of time on their hands.


An old friend of mine has just started a blog with the intention of documenting her transition from Canada, where she's been living for the past year, back to England and the re-acclimatisation process. An interesting post there discusses the number of American films which have been shot in Canada - Toronto in particular - while the action of the film ostensibly remains in America. As she says 'you can spend a fortune on cinema tickets without ever realising you've become acquainted with Canada at all'.

This is of course the case with a great many locations, extending well beyond America's continental boundaries. So, in an SWP ranter fashion, we could suggest that cinema is a tool of the new imperialism; by this token, the entire world becomes part of the US, without Americans ever needing to leave home. Of course, we do it too, and most film making countries do. For many it's a matter of finance - cheaper to locate a film in Abu Dhabi than in Atlanta etc. - which is understandable, but, plot considerations aside, why not just set the film on location too? Many of the worst culprits are the ones for whom plot is such a minor feature - a mere cloak in which their beautiful stars to parade - that it really wouldn't matter if they stepped out of Howard Johnson's and onto the streets of India anyway...

Monday, April 26, 2004

Dogs copulating with Sarah Kozar in a doomed socialist utopia! 

Someone found this site while trying to discover 'why socialist arguments are false'. Given there's not much here which is terribly political, and that what there is is relatively left-y, they must have been very disappointed. Though quite why someone desperate to believe socialist arguments are false would need any of their own arguments, I don't know, since most people seem quite happy to rely on their instincts and half-baked half-remembered propaganda statements from their anti-Red literature of the fifties.

What with that, and the majority of my incoming traffic searching for Sarah Kozar porn and copulating dogs on huntley and palmer biscuit tins, I must have a lot of unhappy readers, for which I apologise.

Dylan for our times 

Which Bob Dylan song are you?

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

(Through 'hitting people on the head' Chris, with same results)

Continued on page 94... 

Since everyone else seems to have picked a favourite Private Eye cover from Michael's link, I thought I'd lower the tone by linking to something topical but thoroughly unpolitical:

Picture is taken from the excellent site 'Ugandan Discussions'.

In the news - Michael Jackson has sacked his defence lawyers, but rumours of his impending suicide appear to be false.

March for Women's Lives! 

The pictures from America of several 100,000 abortion rights activists marching in Washington are very heartening. I've been so pessimistic about the chances of people ever mobilising against the lying emotionally-manipulative pro-lifers that I was really surprised by the number of people turning out. Long may it continue - and let's hope it turns a few more people away from Bush at polling time.

From the organisers, here's a short page on 'why we march'.

Friday, April 23, 2004


I'm taking a few days away from the computer screen, struggle though it is. Back sometime early next week, I imagine.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Not so shocked... 

What I'd like to know in relation to the whole Ron Atkinson affair is whether his co-presenters reacted in any way which would suggest they were shocked by his comments. I'd guess not, since Atkinson says himself that he only realised the next day what he'd said (which is rubbish, because if he didn't know what he was saying, then he wouldn't have waited until he thought he was off-mic to say it).

But in that case I don't think the other presenters in the studio at the time are entirely freed from blame either, since I'd assume they were just as much 'on-mic' as he was and in the perfect position to tell him that his racist remark was unacceptable.

Worst song of all time? 

Now I'm no fan of Starship, Jefferson Starship or any of the post-Airplane incarnations of that group, but I still don't think that 'We Built This City' is the worst song of all time.

There are far too many candidates to ever make a final decision anyway. A lot depends on personal taste, of course, but I don't see how anyone could think that 'We Built This City' is a worse song than, for instance, the Cheeky Girls' 'Cheeky Song'. Nothing can justify that song's existence; and nothing can compensate me for having had to listen to it three times a night when I worked at the (gay) Nightingale Club in Birmingham.

Gay culture in general has a lot to answer for in making certain people icons - Kylie, Cher, Barbara Streisand - but this lauding of all that is awful seems part of a larger phenomenon of what it means to be young and English these days. We seem to think that there's something very special in our 'ironic' approach to complete rubbish. We vote crap singers with no personality into stardom 'ironically'. We push their records to number one 'ironically'. We live our entire lives to the sound of their beats, in every shop, pub and club, never escaping the noise. And still it's all so bloody ironic. The only irony in this is that somewhere along the way we've created a multi-million pound market for complete shit.

There are certainly a great number of songs which make you want to demand compensation for ever being forced to hear them. 'We Built This City' might well be ranked among them, but I can at least smile at its early eighties excess. Nothing could ever make me smile at The Cheeky Girls. Nothing could make Westlife forgivable; nor S Club 7 excusable. What's needed in this modern music market is less irony, more bloodshed. We must find them all and rip out their vocal chords. Somebody, think of the children!

Spy me happy 

I'm giving G-Mail a whirl after all, to see how intrusive the spam is among other things. See address in the sidebar.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Jawohl, mein Martin... 

[Via Dave] Tony Martin supports the BNP, National Front and UKIP. Well, knock me over with a feather, what a surprise. Fortunately for us, though, his 'support' doesn't add up to much more than his usual attention-seeking, since:

"I have not voted myself for 20 years and won't start now but others have to"

A sound command, leading from behind as is the English way. ('Captain Darling and I are right behind you' 'About 35 miles behind you, I believe'). He goes on to say:

"I have been to a BNP meeting in the last two weeks. It was held in the back room of a pub and the talk was of how it is the fastest growing party in the country."

Yes, no other party could fill the backroom of a country pub. I bet you had to put on a white hood to go in, too...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

"Let the people have the final say". 

Given Blair's obstinate refusal to use the word 'referendum' in his statement to the commons on the European constitution, I'll be interested to see what else the phrase 'let the people have the final say' could mean. I'm sure many flippant suggestions could be made, but I think quite seriously that his options, now everyone thinks he'll hold a referendum, will be quite limited.

I thought, perhaps, that it could mean making the constitution an election issue during the general election campaign - i.e. have acceptance of the constitution as a prominent part of the Labour platform, and gamble on (a) people not caring enough to swing away from Labour on it; and (b) the Conservatives still being too shambolic to get into power from the people who might swing away.

This seems to be the most likely option, since the general opinion climate makes it unlikely he'd ever put Europe out as an issue on its own. (Even Blair admits, in his latest party e-mail, that the campaign of the eurosceptics has been 'partially successful', or something like that - I deleted the e-mail quite quickly). But I'm sure there are other things he could do which could be interpreted as a 'yes' vote. Perhaps he could even branch into reality TV style technology and using a popular celebrity to back Europe while people texted in their votes.

The question with any possible option, though, would be whether he could actually get away with anything other than a referendum. As for most people Europe isn't that important, I reckon he could. But since he's so generally unpopular these days, it could go either way...

I'd give it all up for a chocolate bar... 

A survey has shown that 79% of people will give away their computer password for a bar of chocolate. 34% will give it away for no bribery at all, and a great many others will reveal it when asked if it has something to do with mother's maiden name or a pet. So it looks like most people haven't really cottoned on to the idea of online security yet...

Monday, April 19, 2004

Old enough for a shag round the back of the bikeshed... 

As one of the seemingly few supporters of lowering the voting age, I was disappointed by today's announcement from the electoral commission. I'll happily admit that even among those aged 16-18 there isn't much support, or even interest, for this idea. But for me the important thing is that those who do vote be 'mature' enough to do so; and the politically aware 16 year old is to me no less qualified in this respect than the average 30 year old.

By saying that at 16 people are old enough in general to make important decisions about their lives - with regard to sex, further education, smoking etc. - we have marked that age as a threshold to adulthood. This is fairly arbitrary, since most of us would admit that some are ready for such decisions earlier and many aren't ready until much later. But since we've picked this age, I don't see why the same considerations which make 16 suitable for these decisions can't apply to voting. Yes, the turnout rate will be lower overall; but I think the marker of democracy in this respect is the extent of the franchise, not the number of people turning up. It's entirely unfair to clued up 16 year olds to exclude them from something which people three times their age are equally capable of abusing.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Plato Ya Love To Hate-o 

Two great sites I've just found for the first time:

- The Skeptic's Annotated Bible. This is the full King James Bible, but without all the 'pro-bible' explanations of inconsistencies. Rather, it points them all out and shows us why 'Bible Believers' should be uncomfortable. I've never been a Biblical literalist, so I find it very interesting.

- Philosophical Powers [via Crooked Timber]. A site which casts great philosophers as superhero toys with special powers. I'm spending a lot of time with Plato at the moment, and I love the idea of a toy which comes with "Plato's guide to shadow puppets" and "special divided line accessory".

One of the things which has been in my head for a long time is either writing a book of short stories, or possibly something longer, setting political philosophy as fiction: Boys making cans of tomato juice and pouring them into the sea in a bid for ownership; The Levelled Down World versus the Divided World etc. But this site above gives an even better idea - philosophers as comic strip heroes!

Chemical & Biological Weapons Don't Scare Us - We Have Cabbage! 

Lorna found the following gem while flicking through a book called Folk Medicine by Jacques Vesseid (London: Quarter Books, 1976). It's in the section 'Minor Injuries and Mild Mishaps':

"A cabbage leaf dressing (preparation no. 5) is considered to be very effective in the treatment of anthrax. The dressing should be renewed every four hours. Should the pain become unbearable, however, a dressing should be applied at more frequent intervals."

So there you go. Chemical threats diminished in a very British way.

A Traditional Liberal 

[Via Norm] I never really thought of myself as traditional liberal, but I'm happy to be one among the rather limited set of other options this test offers. This means that I tend to be:

· Against pre-emptive strikes as a policy.
· Strongly supportive of gay rights.
· Of the belief that immigration has been good for this country.
· Supportive of affirmative-action.
· Oppose tax cuts as an economic policy.
· Of the belief that basic health insurance is a right.

All of which is basically true. Now if it just included a belief in the violent overthrow of the monarchy, the separation of morality from politics and a few other things like that, I'd be very happy...

Saturday, April 17, 2004

"When your sickness is in your soul" 

A novel approach to homework - 11 students in Australia have been told to write a suicide note for homework, causing complaints from some parents, and an apology from the school. But it seems like an excellent idea to me.

The assignment was set in order to make the students think why a character they'd been studying might want to kill himself, despite being admired by all around him. This is quite an interesting idea, even if taken simply as an exercise for an English class, which it was. But it could also be useful for whatever they call 'moral education' these days (those classes where you discuss sex, death and all the other big teenage issues). In general there's a great need for a more sober understanding of this subject - probably more so among the parents than among their children - and if something like this could provide it, then right on.

If nothing else, this could be a useful draft for the students' own suicide notes. Almost no one gets a chance to make a 'final statement' before death, and what even the most ungainly suicide can at least allow is the perfect exit on paper/film (American politician R. Budd Dwyer famously shot himself on TV, the video of which can be found on the internet if you look hard enough). For the cynical, it can be the perfect way to leave the world in style; for others just a chance to remove/lay blame. Either way, it's a lot more than most of us will ever get.

UPDATE: Chris gives a link to a great story from The Onion.

Jeffrey John 

Good news. Jeffrey John, the gay bishop that never was, has been appointed to a new senior position in the church. It's not a bishopric, but Dean of St Albans is pretty decent and likely to cause a bit of fuss. A nice little 'up yours' to some of the critics.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Dante's Inferno Test 

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Seventh Level of Hell!

Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Moderate
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Moderate
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Extreme
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Very High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Guarded by the Minotaur, who snarls in fury, and encircled within the river Phlegethon, filled with boiling blood, is the Seventh Level of Hell. The violent, the assasins, the tyrants, and the war-mongers lament their pitiless mischiefs in the river, while centaurs armed with bows and arrows shoot those who try to escape their punishment. The stench here is overpowering. This level is also home to the wood of the suicides- stunted and gnarled trees with twisting branches and poisoned fruit. At the time of final judgement, their bodies will hang from their branches. In those branches the Harpies, foul birdlike creatures with human faces, make their nests. Beyond the wood is scorching sand where those who committed violence against God and nature are showered with flakes of fire that rain down against their naked bodies. Blasphemers and sodomites writhe in pain, their tongues more loosed to lamentation, and out of their eyes gushes forth their woe. Usurers, who followed neither nature nor art, also share company in the Seventh Level.

Drill a hole in that substrate... 

I read two five star reviews today for the new album by Jim White. His website has been largely silent on the matter, so this was the first I knew of it. Great stuff. His first two albums were both excellent, though not to everyone's taste, and it sounds like this has just captured him even more closely. One to buy.

Taking the biscuit 

Amusing story in today's Independent about a sacked draughtsman at Huntley & Palmer's biscuit factory, who added 'naughty' images to a collectors' tin. Copulating dogs, lovers' behinds and a particular make of jam called 'shit' all feature. I wonder how many of these were used to offer tea and biscuits to the vicar before the details were discovered...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Be sure to get a shot of the relics!" 

I finally got round to seeing The Passion today. I think enough ink and print has been wasted talking about whether or not it's anti-semitic - I don't think it is. All the women in it are positive, and all but one of the women (I think) are jews. Of course, perhaps women don't count...

However, what I haven't read much about elsewhere is just how Roman Catholic a vision it is. They didn't miss a single opportunity to picture Mary as the strong women in the face of it all, the wonderful mother and 'lowly handmaiden'. While I imagine the real Mary must have been having as hard a time as anyone - even with the knowledge she had, she didn't have Jesus' knowledge, and even he seemed to be in doubt at times, so her 'strength in the face of it all' seems a little unrealistic.

More noticeable than that, though, were the lingering shots on every possible item which could become a relic. These items were there, they were treasured by some person - they must have been passed down! There's the stained cloths, the nails, the cross itself, and of course the shroud... Every collector's dream. The whole film seemed very much reminiscent of something Medieval, particularly with the constant appearances of the devil in many forms, which I would have thought it would be more sensible to downplay, given the obviously evangelising note. The more modern approach seems to be to downplay the more mystical aspects of religion whenever possible.

This film certainly didn't convert the people with whom I watched it. They had many objections to it, perhaps being a bit too cynical, but the one I most sympathised with was that the film was so obviously trying to convert people. It's hard to relax when you know something has a mission.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Saying 'Nyet' to Barbie Dolls 

The BBC highlights a story about Russia's competition for a Miss Universe representative. The winner on votes would have been a 15 year old 'anti-Barbie' girl, Alyona Pisklova, who had received 10,000 votes within 24 hours of the polls opening. Receiving twice the votes of her nearest competitor she has now been disqualified, supposedly because of her age. A protest site has been set up (mainly in Russian), which among other things claims that the votes for her were votes against "Cigarettes without nicotine and coffee without caffeine." Strangely Zizek-ian. Nowhere does it claim that people voted for her because they might find something other than the Barbie image attractive, though, which is a shame.

Others have interpreted the vote as a grass roots protest against the one horse race that was the presidential election, though I think that might be going a bit far. Certainly, the contest could hardly be called democratic when voting was restricted to the internet and texting, making it a wholly middle class affair. Nevertheless, a meaningful choice of candidates perhaps makes it more substantively democratic than other Russian elections, and the procedure is much more democratic than other Miss Universe selections, which are usually done by jury. The authoritarian hand of control has prevented any rocking of the boat in much the way one would expect too...

All this, while the State Duma is busy passing a bill which will ban, or (perhaps on a second reading) at least make nearly impossible, public rallies and demonstrations in many places in Russia. There has been some outcry - hence the possible amendment - but nothing like the attention which has been given to the Miss Universe contest. If the Barbie doll affair is a genuine bit of democratic protest, perhaps they should take it to the streets and see what democracy really means in Russia at the moment...

Reading matter game 

(Via Norm)

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

I'm in a library, so it's a matter of debate which the nearest book might be, but I'll take the one I'm actually reading:

"We can be sure, however, that the great extant Aristotelian works are not, in contrast to the Platonic dialogues, finished pieces of writing meant for publication."

I'm think that, insofar as this is a game, there's no point in telling people what book this is from. It should be left to others to guess (though at least two people would already know in this instance).

Or more fun would be to write the next sentence, or few sentences, in as improbable a manner as possible - "No, these works were meant to be taken apart and used as paper aeroplanes, small scraps of wisdom to edify the masses; from which practice modern propagandists have taken their cue, greatly aided by the invention of the aeroplane (whose real inspiration, contrary to what the textbooks will tell you, was this since forgotten Aristotelian model)."

A Slap In The Face Of Public Taste 


I don't usually pick up on Chris' dead socialists, but Mayakovsky, whose anniversary is today, is a particular favourite of mine. His part in the futurist movement is quite fun, and he's also on a dead-socialist-style list of mine of famous suicides. But unfortunately that list (about five years old), with all its accompanying material, has disappeared somewhere into the ether. All I remember from his entry now are some lines from his last unfinished poem, "At The Top Of My Voice":

The sea goes to weep.
The sea goes to sleep.
As they say,
the incident is closed.
The love boat of life
has crashed on philistine reefs
You and I are quits.
No need to reiterate
mutual hurts,
sorrows and pains.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Big Google Is Watching You 

I've always loved Google (though not to the degree of setting up a fan site), but having seen the new plans for a G-Mail service, I'm beginning to rethink my position. The new e-mail service is free, provided we allow the company to scan our private e-mail in order to target spam at us.

Now in some ways I wouldn't care, since I assume the spam would still be obvious and I would still delete it automatically. But given Google's current habits of tailoring the banner adverts it puts on some blogs to 'suit' the blog content - and the fact that they often seem to have nothing to do with one another - I can imagine all too well how disturbing the tailoring of adverts to my private e-mail could become. "This one's receiving death threats!" "Oh, just give her the cheap holiday spam - 'time to get away' and all that..."

Monday, April 12, 2004

Surgery or slaughter? I think I'll take the slaughter... 

""It's great that Mike and Matt can afford $10,000 worth of surgery each
in order to gain the respect of their peers, but I do with they'd
simply carried out a Columbine-style massacre instead. It would've been
cheaper. And funnier. And somehow less depressing."

From Charlie Brooker's review of the programme Famous Faces, in which normal looking ('ugly') teenage twins get plastic surgery to look like Brad Pitt.

Fact: Menstrual blood is bright blue 

For the men among you - all you ever wanted to know about tampons but were afraid to ask.

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable - really? 

I've always been firmly on the side of people who claim that The Smiths' lyrics aren't at all miserable for the most part, even in songs like 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', and where they are they're genuinely heart-rending, not just drudgery. But a conversation with Lorna, usually sympathetic to this message (since I say it often), suggests I may have gone too far. I've always found the following lyrics very funny:

What she said :
"I smoke 'cos I'm hoping for an
Early death
And I need to cling to something!

(From 'What She Said', on the album Meat Is Murder)

But apparently I may be alone in this...

Nice work if you can get it... 

An article in the Independent on Sunday (unfortunately I can't find a link to it now) reminded me that one of the great answers to 'where are they now?' is the one Paddy Ashdown could give: 'Well, actually, I'm effectively the absolute monarch of Bosnia-Herzegovina'.

Somehow, I can't see the same happening to Charles Kennedy, though it does suggest that allying oneself to a no-hoper party may be the way forward for personal political gain (though it doesn't seem to have done much for recent Tory leaders)...

Cake and sodomy Sleep 

(Via Jason) There's a new guidebook out which tells tourists all about the great British tradition of stopping everything for high tea (something akin to the pre-EU directive French lunch times).

As someone naturally nocturnal forced to live in the real world, I think some sort of institutionalised cake-with-afternoon nap would be a great idea. 2-4 we sleep, 4-4.30 we tea. Then the real work begins - for then we get to the Great British InstitutionTM of going down the pub.

"How gay were you?!!" 

Via Norm:

Doing it Greek style since 356 BC.
Which Famous Homosexual are you?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

"Yeah, baby. You were the King of Macedonia, and conqueror of much of the world; you're responsible for the spread of Christianity, as well as Hellenistic society and even the Roman Empire. Your power was feared for thousands of miles around.

And how gay were you."

However, if I'd changed my mind on sham marriages I would be Eleanor Roosevelt (interesting that the only difference between them is a willingness to marry).

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Suicide study 

I'm a bit late with this, but the latest issue of New Scientist highlights a very interesting study in India, which has shown that the suicide rate among women aged 15-19 there is the highest (known) in the world. With the worldwide average being 14.5 suicides per 100,000, the rate among these women is 148 per 100,000. In the West young men are three times more likely to kill themselves than young women, but this study seems to confirm a growing trend of evidence that women in Asia are more likely to commit suicide than men - perhaps indicating different societal pressures in some of these countries, especially among this age group, to do with marriage and purity for young women nonetheless influenced by 'Western' romantic ideals.

Condoms and Classics 

Safer sex for all Latinists! Or, rather, a reference to posts in the new blog, The Virtual Tophet (not to be outdone by The Virtual Stoa in either virtuality or archaic references). Being entirely uneducated, the name first reminded me not of ancient Jewish custom but of the little sweets once called Toffets, since changed to Toffee Poppets - indeed, perhaps the name change occurred when they realised the sacrificial implications. But the idea of virtual toffee floating through cyberspace was quite appealing, anyway...

Josephine's post with regard to the ABC approach to safer sex - Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use - reminded me of other misguided pieces of sex advice we've given to people over the years, including leaflets still floating around in some health centres, which tell their readers that the cap can help protect you against HIV/AIDS. I was also reminded of a bizarre conversation I had about 'back ender' condoms, when I was approached, as an 'LGBT expert', by the new welfare representative here a while back. I was asked if I knew where to get these 'gay condoms', as he'd been asked by straight people he knew to get them so they could have anal sex too. As far as I know, and I think it's on pretty good information, not only is there no such thing, but recent evidence suggests that you don't even need an extra strong condom for anal intercourse. So it's good to know such people are in charge of our protection advice...

And regarding classics, I agree with her completely that it shouldn't be taught in schools, despite also being surrounded by people who bemoan its decline. I was put off doing classics at university because I thought I'd never get anywhere in comparison to the people who already knew Latin and Greek, and I believe in my case I was right, or at least was right to choose politics, as it's in many ways changed my life. But there were others I've known who would have done fine and unhappily opted for other subjects not truly their vocation, just from fear of this. So yes, down with classics! (Keep It) Up with condoms!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Capturing The Friedmans 

The second of the two films, and another real life story, Capturing The Friedmans was a very odd and frustrating film to watch. The audience is constantly in the role of judge, whether intentionally or not. In the later 1980s Arnold and Jesse Friedman were charged with hundreds of counts of child molestation and rape, shortly after Arnold's collection of child porn had been discovered by the police. The film is a documentary, mainly composed of the family's own home shot footage, as the eldest son films them falling apart. But there are interviews, too, arranged by the director, Jarecki, so that only a small amount of information is released at any one time - and this in the same order as he received the information himself.

Particularly interesting are the juxtapositions of completely contradictory testimonies, from all those involved, and the gradual way in which things the family and others have asserted at one point are later re-interpreted, or forgotten, when they become inconvenient to the story they now want to tell. Again, no one comes away wholly innocent, no one wholly unsympathetic. There's a great confusion here, as liberal sympathies constantly pull some to the conclusion that it was a witch trial, while the evidence never allows one to stick with that conclusion for long.

The only point in the film which jarred for me, as for the most part I felt the way the footage was put together was not too leading, was towards the end, when Arnold's brother, who has been talking in places throughout the film, is suddenly filmed with his male partner. The way this is done - a sudden panning out from the one man to two - suggested that this was meant to be yet another 'revelation'; perhaps containing the suggestion that Howard, the brother, hadn't come away completely unscathed from his childhood experiences - was repressing memories of sexual abuse, which he denied - after all, and that these had repressed memories had tunnelled themselves into his own homosexuality. Cod psychology.

But for the most part the film was very well done, and careful never to get caught up in the hysteria surrounding every aspect of the case. And this lack of hysteria in relation to a subject more controversial than ever these days is quite a recommendation.


I've seen quite a few interesting films this past week or so, but two in particular stick out - neither very enjoyable, but both very compelling and very well done. The first of these was Monster, which I saw in previews. The film has been much praised in general, and if anyone takes the Oscars seriously, then Charlize Theron was a pretty good choice for Best Actress.

The film is interesting in that I think it's almost completely even-handed. No one's excused from blame, but no one, in fact, is a monster either. From the brutal rape which precipitates her first murder, to her final prostitution for the sake of her loved one, you get the feeling that Aileen Wuornos didn't have much of a chance - and that's a message the film states explicitly. But at the same time it makes sure that we know she at least went too far in the end. The directors knew that they couldn't play Wuornos up too far, couldn't suggest that her final punishment was in any way unjust.

Christina Ricci delivers a good turn, too, playing the fairly naïve Bible belt girl desperate to escape at any cost. You get the sense that Selby, her character, was really in love with Aileen, but that it was as much the flush of first experience as anything else and that more important to her was the opportunity Aileen represented for finding a new life where she could express herself. One of the most poignant moments of the film is when the two of them are at a fairground, and Selby is obviously coming on to another girl she's met, while Aileen, who's had to suffer for the money for this trip, looks on, heartbroken but strong. Certainly, she's never more sympathetic than at that moment.

The film belongs to Theron, certainly, but given the subject matter it could hardly have been any other way. In some ways it reminded me a lot of Boys Don't Cry. Both films are nearly unwatchable at times, but never does either film go too far, since the reality is more than enough to shock and pain the audience. No melodrama could do any better, and both Theron and Swank had the sense to stand back when necessary and let the story do the talking. And this is what makes both actresses deserving of any plaudits they get.

Friday, April 09, 2004

What the internet is really for... 

No, not porn. And certainly not 18th century translation projects. What the internet is really for is to allow insane people with no lives to waste their time on sites like this. But I'm sure the funding will start rolling in any day now...

Good Friday 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.
Yet you are the Holy One,
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Our forefathers put their trust in you;
they trusted, and you delivered them. "

There's an interesting review here of the cases which have been brought against Good Friday as a state holiday in the US, a cause which I support (though we haven't got much chance of any such attempts succeeding here, until we disestablish the church).

I support it because I see no reason for one religion to be favoured over another in a state where religion itself is unimportant to a great number of people. We should be allowed to take a holiday on Good Friday as Christians - just as people of all religions should be allowed to take time off for their holy days, and atheists should have equivalents - but we shouldn't be forcing it upon anyone else.

Also, since the holiday is increasingly becoming a dead letter outside the private sector, it's fairly meaningless to continue with it elsewhere.

Where's Wally Jesus? 

Yes, now you too can find Jesus.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The S & M Easter Message 

Children are being taught the joys of kinky sex young, as the Easter bunny is whipped on stage in Pennsylvania. Intended to teach children about the crucifixion and the real meaning of Easter, performers were quoted as saying 'There is no Easter bunny!'

And the Easter bunny of course responds, 'get thee behind me... yes, that's it!'

Maundy Thursday 

I'm going to be pretty busy over the next few days, and thinking other thoughts, but I thought I'd put up a piece each day for the season. So here's Wilfred Owen:

Maundy Thursday

Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed.
The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,
And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.
(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)
Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,
(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)
Young children came, with eager lips and glad.
(These kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)
Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed - my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)

Strangely, the first link I found for Owen was from a site dedicated to 'Famous British Paedophiles'. I assumed instantly that this was an 'exhume them and burn their bones!' sort of site, particularly since many of the suggested people seem to be more allegation than fact, but the site to which it's attached is the rather odd, and perhaps disturbing, Girl Lovers' Garden.

Here's a more orthodox Owen site.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Kill the peppy girl - every office worker's dream 

Satisfying fun.

Monday, April 05, 2004

"Slap me on the patio..." 

The Guardian reports that Ian Huntley's house has been demolished, following in the footsteps of the house belonging to Fred and Rose West. Since it's unlikely anyone would want to live in these houses, this makes sense, but taking away the rubble to prevent gruesome souvenir hunting seems a bit pointless really. Such 'souvenirs' might be in very bad taste, but I don't see what harm they do beyond that, and it's much cheaper than removing them at the expense of the council.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

2, 4, 6, 8, God is good, God is straight! 

Jason has pointed me in the direction of an article in yesterday's Guardian about sexual reorientation therapy. Some of the therapy mentioned, particularly that involving men using more 'masculine' vocabulary, reminded me of nothing so much as the film But I'm A Cheerleader. A great indie comedy, it centres on the experiences of Megan, a cheerleader who's taken to a camp designed to 'straighten' people out, after her family collect 'evidence' of her lesbianism. This evidence includes the fact that she's a vegetarian and likes listening to Melissa Etheridge.

A lot of the amusement lies in the minor details - RuPaul is cast as the 'ex-gay' male leader of the camp, but can't stop looking at the muscular boy passing by; the camp uniform is PVC in baby blue and pink; the girls are given corrective electric shock-giving toys for when they have sinful thoughts, which the goth girl ends up using for her own amusement... But the best bits are the gendered therapies, where the boys are taught to kick a football and cut wood (the axe flies into the woods behind them), and the girls are taught to cook and rear children. The final class involves simulated intercourse between the participants. At graduation, only 3 of about 16 participants remain, and the graduation ceremony is ambushed by people from the ex-ex-gay survivors of the camp, coming to rescue them.

While the film's very enjoyable, there's a serious point to be made, as the Guardian article shows. Most of the people who enter into reorientation therapy do so only because of family or other pressure - their cure is a function of their willingness to put themselves aside for their family. A large amount of this pressure is religious, and among the 'successful' changes found by one survey the great majority were said their religion was very important to them. This pressure exists in England, too, with the 'spiritual leader' of the Alpha course - designed to convert people to Christianity in ten weeks - famously comparing homosexuals with paedophiles, and the course in general promoting the wonders of 'cures' for homosexuality, while condemning even those straight people who see nothing wrong with it. There's a good article about this here.

The religious right continues to promote this attitude to sexuality. Even the most enlightened of the fundamentalists seem to believe that, while homosexuality may be something natural, any good Christian can repress these desires and embrace celibacy, if not heterosexuality. So, the choice seems to be a life of frustration (I approve of celibacy, but only when it's a real choice) or a life of denial...

I guess I choose hell-fire. Or more to the point, that's just the way I am - no choice involved.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Time wasting fun 

The penguin sports series continues, deaf to the cries of animal lovers. Here's Pingu Hurling.

And, for the more bloody-minded, a new version of the original.

A helpful googlebomb 

What is a jew?


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