Thursday, July 28, 2005


We're not in Kansas anymore...

Most of these pictures are of my High Street in Kings Heath, Birmingham, while the leafier ones are of a road near mine where two trees fell into a house and car. The tornado itself came through my back garden, but didn't damage more than a few branches.

Kings Heath is really eerie tonight, with no cars around but loads of people walking about in groups just looking at the damage together - frankly, it's more entertaining than anything else that ever goes on around here. It feels quite odd having all this happen within five minutes of my house, but - because I always miss these things - I was out in town at the time, so didn't see any of it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Of Poisons and Penguins 

Having been disturbed by the sheer number of profiles on dating site Gaydargirls which respond to the question "Favourite Author?" with variations on "Don't read much" (where's an intellectual dating site when you need one?) I was at last motivated to end my own four month hiatus from reading this week, picking up two excellent books I've had on the go for ages.

The Name of The Rose, by Umberto Eco, is easily one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read and is the better known of the two, so I won't say much about it. But a warning - avoid Eco's later Reflections on The Name of The Rose. Mostly composed of thoughts about the process of novel-writing, it added very little to a novel which really stands alone perfectly well. For the most part, Reflections just left me grating my teeth at Eco's constant references to "the most ingenuous reader", which made it abundantly clear that he'd rather his book had been read by no one but university professors trained in semiotics and medieval history. A real pity, since the original book, while consciously intellectual, manages to betray very little of the author's apparent elitism, and is much the better for it. There's not much that can beat reading about two groups of senior monks resorting to fists and name-calling in a discussion of whether Jesus Christ owned the clothes he stood up in, or a sex scene entirely composed of quotes from divine scripture.

Penguin Lost, by Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov, came out last year and is the sequel to Death and The Penguin. Nicely bizarre throughout, and often quite dark, both books are well worth reading, preferably without the 18 month gap between them that I had. The first book left Victor, a writer of obituaries for people who aren't yet dead, escaping a Mafia world he'd unwittingly and unwillingly entered into, by sailing away on a boat to the Antarctic which had been intended for his ailing penguin friend Misha, whom Victor had earlier liberated from a bankrupt Kiev zoo. Feeling guilty for this, Victory returns in the sequel, and spends 180 or so of 260 pages trying to find Misha, along the way becoming a speechwriter for a Ukrainian politician; having an affair with a dead friend's Muscovite-Korean wife; journeying to Chechnya, where he cremates the bodies of men from both sides of the war; and finally taking a team of disabled arm wrestlers to international stardom in Croatia.

This sequel isn't as well written as Death and The Penguin, but it speeds along nicely, and provides interesting reflections on Ukrainian society and politics, laced with Catch-22 style cynical humour (mostly revolving around the corrupt electioneering of Victor's boss Andrey Pavlovich) and with just enough of Misha to make fans of the first book happy.

Generally good stuff, and I'd recommend both Eco and Kurkov as holiday reading, and a good escape from god-awful wizards and barely-written crap about the Mona Lisa.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Go look 

There's a good and angry post from Lenin here about Jean Charles de Menezes, and all the rubbish people who are otherwise often intelligent are spreading about him and the circumstances of his shooting at the moment. I don't endorse the IDF comparisons, but otherwise I think Lenin's absolutely spot-on here. The number of people floating around the blog world at the moment who are willing to turn apologist for this vile murder is truly frightening.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bisexual men, awake! 

This story has been going round for a while now. According to a study conducted by the psychology department at Northwestern University, bisexual men don't exist. Self-styled bisexual men who were shown erotic films of both men and women under test conditions were found to be aroused only by one gender, 75% by men and 25% by women. Dr. Bailey, who was conducting the test, concluded that the majority of bisexual men must therefore be gay and not want to admit it for some reason, while the other straight men think of bisexuality as a "badge of honour".

An obvious point of criticism here is that the study only used a very small sample - 33 "bisexual" men - yet Bailey thinks this is enough to make his claims. But more importantly, even if the results obtained were proven to hold over a much larger sample, Bailey has no basis for drawing the conclusions that he does - that these men are either in denial or trying to be cool - since the only stimulus he uses is cinematic porn; he has made no attempt to examine properly-embodied human interaction, in which erotic stimulation can be much more subtle.

Procedural quibbles aside, Bailey's study is more fundamentally flawed for the reason that it ignores sexuality surrounding transgenderism. The attraction that many men and women feel for people whose gender is specifically ambiguous would belie any claims that they must be attracted solely to one gender. Actually, I've never met any men who've been attracted to someone transgendered, so I can't ask them whether they're only attracted to such people (which would reinforce Bailey's findings, but on a broader scale), but from the experience I have of women in these relationships it seems very unlikely, and I'd say that any study which ignores the range of human sexuality beyond three constrictive categories is invalid from the very start.

On the other hand, maybe it's true. I don't know whether I have any bisexual male readers (or indeed any male bisexual acquaintances, since all the men I know are either terminally single or in presumably monogamous long-term relationships (boring folk)) but if I do, you must defend yourselves - you're being studied out of existence!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Clouds, clouds everywhere, nor anything to eat 

Rory links to a site devoted entirely to the subject of airline meals. Slightly disturbing, it's a really dedicated effort, including descriptions and pictures of historic airline meals dating back to the 1950s. It's also quite useful for anyone with special dietary requirements today, as it tells you what sort of rubbish the airlines might palm off on you. I'm certainly pretty sick of being told, despite ordering a vegan meal when I booked tickets, that they have nothing to offer me but fruit. Next time this happens I'm just going to demand that they liquor me up instead.

Friday, July 22, 2005

All bleeding eventually stops 

On this day:

All from the excellent Daily Bleed, "A calendar of events your mom & pop forgot to tell you about..."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Murderous Thoughts 

Dave, commenting on Radio 4's Great Philosophers poll, argues that while followers of Marx - who won - have been responsible for countlesss deaths, followers of Hume have not been responsible for any. Now, leaving aside the fact that people who devote themselves to philosophy of any sort are often unhinged in other ways, I think Dave's wrong. After all, Hume wrote a couple of highly influential treatises on suicide, in which he was far from wholly condemning the act. Not many other really influential people have come out on the side of (at least rational) suicide. And since suicide is equally killing, there must be a good few deaths we can notch up to Hume's name...

However, it would certainly be interesting to compile a list of thinkers according to their murderous impact. Marx, Jesus...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

New Pledgebank pledge 

I will at the earliest opportunity, assemble in London in a public demonstration of respect to the victims of the July 7 atrocity, defiance of the murderers who carried it out and solidarity with the people of London

That is, of course, if I can (be bothered to) get down to London that day.

Pledge here.

Birmingham Evacuation 

Well, that was fun. Though I already knew bits of the centre were being cordoned off when I set out for work this evening (I work at a nightclub), I'd heard about places being cordoned off all over town after hoax calls in the past couple of days, so I wasn't too bothered. But then I reached the road leading up to work, and found myself confronted with police cars and hundreds of people walking the other way, including all the club's staff. Loudspeakers from all the police cars were telling us to walk away from the centre, and that there had been a number of controlled explosions.

People who'd already been drinking suggested everybody go to the local park and keep on partying. So it seems that while Londoners are 'stoical', Brummies are pure hedonists. And we'll have to wait and see whether these 'credible threats' really amount to anything...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Mating Rituals Of Slugs 

And moving on to the bizarre, file this under 'things you never wanted to find out when you can't sleep':

"...During courtship, two slugs will circle each other, often for hours, with both partners engaged in ritualized bouts of lunging, nipping, and sideswiping with their tails. The two slugs may also display their disproportionately large sex organs. The great gray garden slug's penis is nearly half its total body length...

...Now the slugs must disengage -- a challenge for two animals so amply endowed and thoroughly covered in sticky mucus. After long bouts of writhing and pulling, the pair may resort to what scientists call apophallation."

Need an illustration of this wonderful process? Of course you do. And a video of its denouement? Naturally.

It's like slowing down to watch a car crash...


I don't really have anything to say about what happened yesterday that others haven't said already and better. I figured that most of the people I know in London would already have too many people trying to contact them, so I've opted for the 'I guess I'll find out if they got hurt eventually' route. But there are some good posts over at John B's, and, since Michael's discussing the indomitable British spirit, I thought I'd add this picture, made by jslayeruk, which Lorna sent to me earlier:

And this quote: "It's hard to panic the British. They've dealt with the Blitz, the IRA, the Silurians, the Zarbi, the Daleks, the Cybermen..."

Sunday, July 03, 2005

America's Best Christian 

I've belatedly discovered the wonderful site of Betty Bowers - "Love The Sinner - Hate Their Clothes!" Particularly fun is her analysis of Bush's girly boy tendencies. He is, apparently, quite fabulous.

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