Friday, September 30, 2005

Diabetes Stories 

The website for the project my mother's been working on for the past two years was launched today. It contains recordings and transcripts of 50 interviews she conducted with diabetes patients of all ages across the UK. It's pretty good, whether or not you're interested in the subject matter.

The idea behind the project, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, was to try to get a picture of patients' experiences from the beginning of the last century, when diabetes was mostly a death sentence, up to now, when researchers are hoping to find a cure. It's a lot more interesting than it sounds, but of course it is mostly intended for those with a prior interest in diabetes, whether patients/families or researchers. I thought I'd do my filial duty and give it a link anyway, though.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

How to sleep with Morrissey 

Urban Outfitters have designed some bed linen to suit Smiths and Morrissey fans everywhere, as well as anyone else feeling particularly hopeless about their love life. The sheets (a horribly cheery pink colour) have written on them "Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me", which is, incidentally, the song from which this blog took its name:

"Last night I dreamt
That somebody loved me
No hope, no harm
Just another false alarm"

Ring of Fire 

The Johnny Cash musical has arrived, and it's heading to Broadway. The director has said that the show will neither feature a Johnny Cash character, nor a story trying to artificially weave the songs together. I'm not sure what else it could be - a tribute concert? A group of people constantly calling to a JC character located somewhere off stage? I guess it could be quite fun if it were a completely independent play which just happened to feature characters fanatical about Cash, playing him at random moments between arguments etc.

Anyway, most of these tribute musicals are complete rubbish - Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You etc. But we'll have to wait and see with this one, I guess, as there probably aren't so many English people who would want to see it...

Friday, September 23, 2005


Has any human ever been killed by a sheep?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Much needed parody 

Can be found here [Via Katryn]

The shrinks weigh in on same-sex marriage 

The American Psychiatric Association's board of trustees voted in July to take a position in favour of same-sex civil marriages - a controversial decision which has been defended by the APA's president in Psychiatric News:

Many studies have now established that marriage is associated with clear benefits, including better mental and physical health. It is a stabilizing force in our society that enables individuals to make public their commitment to each other and receive acceptance and support from others. Further, research indicates that same-sex partners have the same capacity to form long-term relationships as do heterosexual individuals. To deny this recognition increases the stigma and related distress often experienced by gay and lesbian individuals in other facets of community life...

...Marriage by gay and lesbian partners arouses irrational prejudice and fear, but as psychiatrists, we must take a stand on issues that have a clear impact on the mental health of our patients and of persons in the community at large. As an organization, we seek also to promote human rights and freedom from discrimination. Psychiatry leads the way for the rest of medicine on this important issue.

The APA's full position statement can be read here.

While it's good that they've taken an egalitarian stand for those queers who buy into that sort of thing, I'm annoyed by the assertion that marriage "is a stabilizing force in our society". Sure, if you mean the stability imposed by a straitjacket. A psychiatric association should be able to recognise the suffering that can be inflicted by cultural pressures such as the marriage norm. The fact that many, if not a majority, of people want to get married says nothing about how beneficial this institution really is. It just shows how little people are able to conceive of other arrangements as ideal, even now. We're encouraged to see promiscuity as a blight on society, and relationships involving more than two people as a freak show. Even if you've conformed and settled into a two-person, long-term bond, your relationship isn't valid until you've signed the right forms and made it a threesome with the law.

Although I genuinely do believe that all people should be given the same choices in life, I'm even more convinced that these choices will be severely limited if they're merely equalised. The more freedom we have to marry, the less we have not to marry; and quite contrary to what conservatives claim, it is for this reason that the legalisation of gay marriage would actually strengthen this hallowed institution.

This doesn't mean gay marriage shouldn't be legalised, though. After all, the struggle which I'm discussing really isn't a gay struggle at all, but one existing between those who can be happy in society's straitjackets, and those who cannot. The reason for my ambivalence concerning gay marriage is that if it does get the go-ahead, there'll be a lot less of us to make that struggle. And perhaps at heart I'm a opportunist, because I'd rather have people fighting on my side through necessity than have no one fight at all.

Monday, September 19, 2005


On a more fun note, it's that time of year again: Talk Like A Pirate Day!

In honour of this occasion, apart from speaking all pirate-like, you can take the pirate personality test, discover your pirate name, and even translate your piratical mutterings into German!

Feminist Party Feud 

This is quite interesting:

A controversial new feminist party that advocates "queer" rights and marriages involving two or more people is threatening to implode in a mess of bitter catfighting just a week after it announced its intention to contest next year's government elections in Sweden.

Last week, two founders of Feministiskt Initiativ (Feminist Initiative), the country's first feminist party, walked out after a series of angry clashes over its political direction... [One of them] said she felt "conned" by the way the party had moved away from its initial promise of being a broad church, and accused the leadership of being much worse than the patriarchal organisations it seeks to overthrow...

...According to a survey conducted by The Gothenburg Post and polling organisation Sifo before the row, at least 10% of the Swedish electorate said they would consider voting for the radical new party at the election. But the popularity of Feminist Initiative - which is anti-monarchy, in favour of a six-hour working day and considered outlawing words like "male" and "female" at one of its controversially closed, academic-style meetings - is being undermined by accusations that members who do not share a specific, radical attitude towards gender issues are being intimidated. [One of the women who resigned] claimed Rosenberg, 47, who has also been criticised for her haughty attitude to the Church, had said that Feminist Initiative could not tolerate "any bloody old-wives politics"...

Launched in April, Feminist Initiative have been patronised by some as the "radical feminist Spice Girls", while others have been likened them to a women's coffee club. One paper last week accused them of damaging gender relations, while elsewhere they have been branded them "a matriarchal dictatorship"... But Expressen journalist Britta Svensson said Feminist Initiative raised important issues that the male-dominated parties don't dare to touch, such as why women dominate those pensioned-off early by their employers. "Part of the media reporting of FI doesn't look like media analysis," she said, "but witchhunting."

Always hard to know how accurate reporting is of this sort of thing, as this article says, but I hope the Feminist Initiative does resolve these issues, as it would be interesting to see how such a movement fares at election time...

The struggles of sexual liberalism 

After prompting from several friends, I've been beginning to work my way through the novels of Michel Houellebecq. I might comment on them more when I've finished them all, but I thought I'd just note down this nice quote from his first book, Whatever (crap title translation from "Extension du domain de la lutte"). The narrator is musing on his co-worker's unsuccessful sex life:

"...in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization... It's what's known as the law of the market. In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal econmic system certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude. Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society"

As the French title makes clear, this passage seems to be the very heart of the book, and it's an interesting bit to think about. It reminded me of a passage in Civilisation and its Discontents where Freud is arguing that destroying private property wouldn't solve the problems of civilisation, as he thinks the communists argue it would, because the sexual prerogative, and the differentiation that comes with it, would remain, and with it man's natural aggressive instinct.

Perhaps the problem is that even with complete freedom in the economic and sexual spheres these inequalities and struggles would recreate themselves; or perhaps it's just that this "freedom" isn't worth the name when it merely serves to gloss over and perpetuate the differences already created by the workings of our (bourgeois) civilisation.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Have your say on Citizens' Day! 

This is Birmingham City Council's cheerful slogan for Citizens' Day on 18th October. The Council's planning to set up a "Talking Tent" in Centenary Square that day, where people can tell councillors if they:

This all sounds fine enough - a bit too watered-down multiculturalist for me, but not too objectionable. Unfortunately, that's just the official poster. The language in which the council is discussing this more generally quickly degenerates into pretty dire Business Speak:

"We want... to give senior managers, officers and representatives of the City Council, the opportunity to observe, listen and learn from those who they might not have the opportunity to engage with, in the normal course of events... [The event] is also intended to support a corporate approach to consultation, which fosters imaginative modes of engagement and consultation to reach as broader [sic] range of people and communities as possible." (my italics)

So in practice Citizens' Day becomes something more like Patronising The Public Day. These managers and councillors represent - and presumably live in - a very large city, in which most income groups, races, religions, sexualities etc. are pretty well-represented (in numbers, anyway). Surely they should have tried to "engage with" these people before now? Or at least, this engagement shouldn't be seen as something so unusual as to deserve pigeonholing into its own day.

As for "imaginative modes of engagement and consultation", I'm currently having horrible visions of a balding middle-aged councillor coming out with a toe-curlingly bad "Representation Rap" at some point in the day. So I just hope that for once my imagination is more cruel than the Council...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pride & Prejudice 

I had the pleasure of seeing this new film in an early preview tonight. It was a pleasure, and I hadn't been entirely sure that it would be, so I'm in a pretty good mood now. I never saw the 1995 TV series, so I've no comparisons to make, but I thought that Keira Knightley made an excellent Lizzie Bennett, while Matthew MacFadyen really warms in the role of Mr. Darcy as the film progresses. Judi Dench is commanding, as usual, if not particularly remarkable as Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and Tom Hollander makes an excellent Mr. Collins.

In its favour as a book adaptation was that it took pretty much complete control of us as we watched it. It wasn't until I was discussing it with my family in the car on the way home that I remembered all the pieces of plot and scenes from the book which are missing here. Some of these are more important than others - trivially, I found it interesting that in the film Lizzie's character is a genuinely bad pianist, where in the book her playing seemed to have a sort of 'unpolished charm'. More importantly, there's very little of Wickham or Georgiana, and much less of Mr. Bingley's sister than might be expected.

The film really emphasises the comic aspects of the novel, and in cutting down some of the romantic angst of the original it also manages to be one of the fastest paced period films I've ever seen. This works to make it all the more enjoyable and recommendable to people who don't usually like that sort of thing. It had me laughing out loud in several places, and Knightley (true to director's orders, according to one interview) manages to avoid sultry period-pouting throughout. In fact, she manages to carry off all the different emotions of Lizzie Bennett with such subtlety and variety of expression that I've had to completely abandon my earlier opinion of here as being merely the new Winona Ryder - someone to replace the worn-out model post-shoplifting disgrace. Knightley really is much better than that - she's everything Ryder seemed to be in Heathers, yet spectacularly failed to be thereafter. And hopefully she'll be doing much more very soon.

One annoying thing - Jane Austen has this terrible power to leave people talking in affected Austenesque tones after they've seen any adaptation of her works. (She's like Shakespeare in that - I lost count of the number of annoying people trying to sound like they were in Romeo & Juliet back in 1996). Unfortunately I'm not immune to this sort of thing, which means that the return of my regional accent, which had been gradually making a comeback after three years lying dormant in Oxford, may be held back a bit longer. So it'll probably be quite a while yet before anyone hears me saying "Oroit bab?" "Yeah, bostin'!"

Monday, September 05, 2005

Philosophical humour 

Spurred into looking for philosophical theories of humour by a comment Chris made in the post below, I instead found several pages of philosophy-related humour. These are all fairly geeky, but I enjoyed them anyway. Here's some of the bits that made me laugh:

Proofs that P:

I know that P is true because I teach it to my undergraduates. Therefore P. [John Searle]

It would be nice to have a deductive argument that p from self- evident premises. Unfortunately I am unable to provide one. So I will have to rest content with the following intuitive considerations in its support: p. [Rawls]

Someday someone might discover that P, and I want to get the credit. Therefore P. [Colin McGinn]

The argument for not-P has seven steps, and I'm way too old for that. Therefore P. [John Searle (again)]


Substance - an accident waiting to happen
Substance abuse - medieval philosophy
Thing-in-itself - marked by a condition of extreme ontological shyness
Polis - abandoned city north of the Republic
Praxis - how do you get to Polis? praxis, praxis, praxis...

Causes of death for the philosophers

Augustine: Hippo
Bentham: Fell off his stilts
Berkeley: Divine neglect
Hegel: Gave up the Geist
Kant: Found the means to his own end
Plato: Caved in
Rawls: Unveiled
Rousseau: Contract job
Vico: Recycled

And finally, it's philosophical porn movies.

How to abuse logical analysis... 

Found the following in an article I was reading this morning ("Persons, Animals and Ourselves" By P F Snowdon):

"Why is [the ex-parrot sketch in Monty Python] so funny? The explanation... is that the predicate-modifer 'ex-' forms a new predicate, when concatenated to a predicate F, which counts as true of an item i, at a time just in case i was F but is no longer F at this time. Abiding predicates cannot sensible be modified in this way; nothing ever is an ex-F, where F is an abiding predicate... The humour of the remark... lies in this logical incongruity."

Because "ahahahahaha - oh, the logical incongruity!" was exactly what we were all thinking when we watched that sketch...

Friday, September 02, 2005

The "Third World" in New Orleans... 

I made the mistake of watching ITV news today, and was treated to several different reports with pictures of suffering people and devastation, all of which described New Orleans as being like a 'Third World/developing country'. And I couldn't help bu think - 'Is that because everyone in those photos is black?' It seems to be black people in these communities who have been worst affected, true - and there's no surprise there - but there are plenty of white people on these films. They're just not treated as The Other quite yet... (In one report, the narrator even said that the scene "would shame even a Third World country". Because of course these countries are damn proud of devastation in general, right?)

The only people actually interviewed on these films were white, and this allowed them to show off their signs saying they'd shoot looters and spout off about the government. Meanwhile, the only voice black people had was when they were seen crying for help from the Convention Center and screaming in hysterics en masse. None of these people were giving their story. So - people being denied their individuality in crisis? Yep, maybe that does sound like a developing country after all...

The Debunking White community on livejournal has pulled up a much more blatant example of racism, though, quite shocking even when you expect this kind of thing. Captions accompanying AP photos on Yahoo News show the difference between those who "loot" and those "find" is basically reducible to the colour of your skin. Interestingly, the latter photo - shown on the DW link - has now been removed by Yahoo: "To our readers: This photo was removed from Yahoo! News at the request of AFP. Yahoo! News statement on photo language controversy."

So at least there are some people out there pulling the news services up on these things. But it;s obviously not enough.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Not there yet... 

The Birmingham Post reported today that David Miliband - that Blairite sell-out of a son to Ralph Miliband - thinks Birmingham is still failing to reach the "premier league" of European cities:

“Britain’s cities were once a by-word for decline and depopulation but, in the past 20 years, business is better, quality of life is better, services are better. However, the European premier league for cities has very high standards, and we have got to ask ourselves what gets Britain’s cities to the top of the premier league.”

He goes on to say:

“The Birmingham renaissance happened rather earlier than in other British cities. The commitment to arts and culture put Birmingham on the map – but you can’t live by culture alone.”

This, of course, must be why Birmingham seems intent on destroying anything remotely cultural it has to offer (other than the CBSO and the Birmingham Royal Ballet - and if those weren't named after the place, they'd probably go too) closing down jazz venues in favour of strip clubs, making every cinema a multiplex clone, letting theatre shows get shut down thanks to ignorant intolerant bastards etc. And what do we have in place of culture? Shopping. Hurray! Because having three HMVs instead of two, and a massive Selfridges selling things no one wants to buy, is just bound to show people how important we are.

Anyway, Miliband has suggested, following the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry (which naturally has the customer's interests at heart), that the way to get Birmingham into the Premier League of cities (where is this league? who sponsors it?) is for the city to have an elected mayor. Because copying London is of course just the way to prove that Birmingham's a vibrant and interesting city in its own right...

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