Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Charity giveaway 

The First Post is running a giveaway - the Charity (from their shortlist) which receives the most votes on its website will receive £10,000. You can vote for your favourite charity of the ones listed here by clicking on the red box which says "Help a charity win "£10,000". It's quick and free.

All the charities are good, so it's a matter of personal preference, of course, but I recommend the Terrence Higgins Trust (partly because I'm using a computer in one of their offices now). The charity does amazing work, helping people live with HIV and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections through its promotional and campaigning work, as well as running local groups helping sex workers stay healthy and get new work. STI infection rates are on the rise again, so now is a particularly good time to be supporting their work.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kafka On The Shore 

I've just finished Murakami's latest (translated) book. Yesterday, while I was sitting on a bench outside the National Film Theatre café in London, reading away (I'd meant to see a film, but got so gripped by the book that I didn't bother), I suddenly realised that the person next to me was reading the same book. I've never really read much fashionable literature, so nothing like that's ever happened to me before. I suppose I'd get it a lot if I read Harry Potter. I wanted to ask this man if he was enjoying it, and I smiled at him briefly, but I didn't have the nerve to strike up a conversation.

Kafka On The Shore alternates different narratives which eventually intertwine, without completely combining, much like one of his previous books The Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World. In one of these (the only first person narrative here, which is unusual for Murakami) Kafka Tamura begins by informing the reader "On my fifteenth birthday, I'll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in a corner of a small library". This he proceeds to do, getting involved with Oedipal prophecies, 30 year old love stories and WWII soldiers along the way. Meanwhile, Satoru Nakata, an old man whose bizarre accident as a child left him able to talk to cats but unable to read or do much else, finds himself journeying for his own reasons, rains of fish and leeches accompanying him along the way. Much else happens, but since I'd recommend the book, I won't bother ruining it for anyone here.

I know a lot of other Murakami fans have been disappointed by Kafka, and it's certainly not his best book, but in terms of its scope it had the makings - at least for the first half or so - of a great classic for him. Perhaps that's why people were disappointed, since it doesn't end that way. But I'm used to being slightly disappointed with Murakami endings now. I forget books very quickly, but I'm pretty sure that even The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - easily his best book - had a slightly irritating conclusion. It's as if Murakami, having created all these incredible worlds, has no idea how to return them to a conclusion in line with what we expect in this world.

As a result, I never expect to be entirely satisfied with his books anymore, but they're all the more enjoyable for that. This one was a particular breath of fresh air, because for once it didn't feature the stock types which fill too much of his work - a middle-aged self-unreflective muso male obsessing about a nubile and precocious teenage girl. There is a sexy young woman, but she doesn't feature highly, and though the consciousness of some of the main protagonists occasionally borders on the middle-aged muso, he steers clear of it for the most part. Instead, we get a lot of sex - more than usual I think - featuring some fairly controversial scenes and at one point a particularly memorable Hegelian prostitute.

Murakami's always very good at slipping in details which show how well read and cultured he is, in all sorts of different areas, and these are usually things which enrich his work. This time around these references were more philosophical than usual, and while the Communist lorry driver is great fun, and that prostitute entertaining, occasionally these became a bit jarring, the ideas touched on too superficially to be worth it. Something that certainly works as a recommendation for Kafka, though, is that it left me wanting to go to the library and find several of the other books and CDs it mentions. It's just a shame I've no Murakami left to read, though at least he's one of the few authors I like who's not dead, and thus permanently unproductive. Even if Philip Gabriel isn't the best translator in the world, though, I hope he gives us some more soon. I could learn Japanese and save him the effort, of course, but I think that would take longer...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Genre-crossing classics 

I don't always enjoy the game in I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue where one song is sung to the tune of another, but one recently aired episode hit on a true classic: The Smiths' "Girlfriend In A Coma" done to the tune of "Tiptoe Through The Tulips". There's something about the true music hall fervour with which Tony Hawks sings 'Do yooooo... really think she'll pull through?' which is really magic. It left me picturing him wearing a top hat and holding a cane in both hands, while strolling across a stage and smiling evilly; an image both delightful and slightly terrifying. If anyone wants to hear a copy of this, drop me a note and I'll send it to you...

Not quite the same, but I've also always enjoyed songs covered in new genres, particularly country-style covers. One of my favourites in this category is The Gourds' cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" - country music never previously sounded quite this low down and dirty - but thanks to Lorna, I've also just discovered Hayseed Dixie's fun bluegrass cover of Motorhead's "The Ace of Spades". Fiddles and banjos run wild... It looks like Hayseed Dixie devotes itself to this kind of thing in general, so the band may be one to watch out for for all those "rockgrass" fans out there (and I know you are many). Another, more alt.country, classic is M Ward's lounge piano/acoustic guitar version of Bowie's "Let's Dance". Truly beautiful.

I've written here before about how much I like Cat Power's folky, chorus-less cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", but for truly bizarre genre-crossing Stones covers no one can beat industrial band Laibach (whose catchphrase might as well be 'exploring the fascist undertones of pop music'), who did an entire album of covers of "Sympathy For The Devil", some of which sound truly diabolical. Nevertheless, given the right inspiration, making a very different song your own seems to be a pretty good bet if you must do cover songs...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Legs eleven, bigotry heaven 

Yes, it's white liberal bingo! How many of these boxes can you tick off? [Via Lorna]

Monday, August 08, 2005


I was very amused to see that someone found my site today by searching for a "conventionally attractive lesbian". Sorry to disappoint you!

Committed To Waiting? 

I've just discovered Wait Wear, the committed Christian's way to proclaim their commitment to pre-marital abstinence. Except that, if they brought some of the items this site sells, there wouldn't be much left to wait for. Unless it's a Christian thing to be a tease: "Well, you've got me wearing nothing but my briefs, but sorry honey - No Vows, No Sex! Hahahahaha!"

A press link from the website also says: ""Whether you are a teen, young adult, single parent or born again virgin; Wait Wear will help serve as a reminder to the commitment you have made to remain celibate until marriage". Single parent? No one told me Mary had come back to Earth just to buy underwear...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Love In Action 

A minor but perhaps significant step forward. John Evans, a founding member of one of the earliest gay conversion groups, Love In Action, has written a public letter to say that it doesn't work. He discusses personal tragedies involving supposed conversions, as well as the large number of leaders and early members of such groups who have come to realise that they will always be gay.

Well, we knew all that already, but it's important, because it's keeping up a focus on this particular group - Love In Action - which is already under investigation for its methods (if not its principles), thanks to the supporters of a teenager who was sent to one of its camps early this summer. If LIA can come to stand for all such "ex-gay" groups, then an increasing number of well-meaning people will realise what crap they are, and maybe one day they'll disappear entirely, and religious groups will find other ways to deal with their LGB members - hopefully ways which are more humane.

Hell and Damnation 

Searching for reviews of the film Damnation (Karhozàt) by Hungarian director Béla Tarr, I discovered instead Damnation University in Hell, Michigan. DamU offers degrees in the school of hard knocks (awarded for showing "remarkable feats of retrograde prognostication"), the school of television ("possession of a hyper-developed right thumb from years of flicking"), the college of labor relations ("creating a camaraderie among your employees based on fear") and the college of agriculture ("talking to plants, waiting for a response, and nodding knowingly when you hear it") among others.

Now that's the sort of prestigious institution I really want a degree from...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Census 2011: Important 

The consultation document for the 2011 census is currently circulating, and at present the position of those running the census is that sexual orientation is among "those topics where there is insufficient evidence of user demand to justify inclusion in the 2011 UK census." From section 3.5 of the consultation document:

"A user requirement for information on sexual orientation has been identified. The Census is not seen currently as an appropriate vehicle for collecting this information. This is due to the compulsory nature of the Census and issues of confidentiality, disclosure and accuracy together with possible non-response effects. It is possible, however, that information about sexual orientation could be collected in other surveys."

It is vital that sexual orientation be included in the census, from an equality perspective as well as from the perspective of HIV and broader health planning. We now have civil partnership registration beginning in December, employment equality regulations in the workplace and a forthcoming Single Equalities Act. To have all this, and yet still be effectively invisible as a proportion of the population, is insane. The Single Equalities Act in particular will legislate "against discriminatory behaviour in the provision of goods, facilities and services for LGB people". What's the point if there are no reliable statistics available to assess what goods, facilities and services LGB(T) people need?

Moreover, it's annoying because it's encouraging people to think that it's okay to be ashamed of being queer; that, unlike the vast majority of other defining characteristics, sexuality is one which truly should remain in the bedroom and not in the streets. There is no other 'survey' which has the reach of the census; however much it affected response-rate, the responses a sexual orientation question would receive would provide a set of statistics otherwise completely unavailable.

Anyway, there's something we can do about this, but we only have a few days:

Responses to the survey can be made using the form found here (for 'Organisation' I think it's permissible to write 'none' if you don't represent any LGBT group) and should be sent to the following e-mail address: Censustopics@ons.gsi.gov.uk. The questions on the form are a little odd, but Annex A at the bottom of the consultation document gives help on how to answer them, and please feel free to contact me for suggestions too. But basically it's worth just repeating forcefully the need - for whatever reasons you think most compelling - for sexual orientation to be including in the 2011 census (1) for improved service, and particularly health service, provision (2) as essential demographic data, useful for academic and other research (3) for its interest with regard to the spread of LGB population across different geographical areas, age, ethnic groups and genders.

Please pass on this information and call for responses. We only have until Friday this week (5th August). In particular, pass on the information to any relevant organisations you know. One of the problems, and the reason there has been so little 'demand' is that a lot of the smaller relevant groups still haven't heard anything about this.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In A Dark Time 

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke, author of this angsty poem and some others which are less so, died 1st August 1963. I missed this by a day, but then I've been distracted. It must be nice to be dead if you're famous, because then people celebrate you twice a year. I'd hate to die on my birthday.

UPDARE: And there's another poem here, kindly copied out by Gorky.

Tap your heels three times... 

Thinking of Dorothy, as the tornado-hit people of Birmingham have been doing a lot, lacking any other comparison, I was led into a conversation with a friend about the ending of The Wizard of Oz. Given those shoes, and the power to go wherever you wanted by saying 'There's no place like "X"', who would really, knowingly, choose to go back to Kansas? Even without the whole extended family being pretty rubbish thing? Surely it would be preferable to say 'There's no place like Disneyland' or some such...

But then, given that there's more than one Disneyland, sci-fi consistency issues arise. We decided for amusement's sake that Dorothy would be split, so that there would now be clone Dorothys, each inhabiting one of these places sharing a name. Of course, this led us to decide that the best claim to make would be 'There's no place like McDonalds!' But then, what would become of this clone army of small girls in blue dresses with all those annoying little dogs? Would some of them go wild and become hookers, while others tried to rescue them from the moral degradation of their new lifestyle? What happens when clones meet? Now, that would be a whole new film...

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