Wednesday, 31 October 2007


I was writing an email to a friend today, and I had to say something about what I planned to do post-PhD. I started to say something about "the great beyond" and the image that came into my mind whilst thinking of what it will be like to be finished was that of Morgan Freeman's character walking away from prison when he is released at the end of The Shawshank Redemption (which is numbered amongst my absolute favourite films).

I told my friends this and we all laughed, and we made various jokes about failing to adjust to life on the outside. Deep down though it worried me for a little while, that this imagery was what I had subsonsciously associated to finishing my PhD.

And then I remembered Red's ultimate destination in the closing moments of the film, and now things don't seem that bad at all.

"You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory."

More tomorrow, the start of National Novel Writing Month. Tonight I need to plan.

Mr. President

I find US presidential elections very interesting. Partly it's because in Britain we don't vote for our Prime Ministers - only the party - so the idea of actually voting for a person is a sort of novelty. Also, to an outsider, the whole process seems so wonderfully Byzantine; full of terms like "caucus" and "primary" and "electoral college" - it creates and atmosphere of mystery and romance. We just tick the box for who we want to be our local MP, which is easier and more efficient but less quaint and consequently, to my mind, a bit dull. (And, it must be said, often we can't even get that right.)

Anyway, I was reading an article about the upcoming election today in an old Time magazine while I waited for Mamiko at the doctor's (I would never ordinarily stoop to reading Time, but at a GP's surgery sometimes you have to make do with what's available). It had a link in it to this site, which allows you to take a survey and work out which candidate is best for you.

My personal winner is somebody called "Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel", while at number two is "Illinois Senator Barack Obama", and number three "New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson". This makes me a Democrat, apparently.

At the bottom of the barrell - the candidate I'm least likely to support - is "Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo". Yeah, he sounds like a right twat.

Perhaps some of my cousins from across the pond can explain something about these people.

Incidentally, I've discovered that if you answer 'yes' to every question you end up with Rudy Giuliani, if 'no' you get Ron Paul, and if 'unsure' you get somebody called Joseph Biden (although that seems to be based on alphabetical order).

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Jeff Vader's Autograph

Started the day better than yesterday (i.e., I actually slept well), but then got a bit lost when I tried to write things for my new thesis chapter. Had a talk with somebody at break this morning about structure, and having talked about it things now seem to be back on track, but I had better keep this brief and get my head down this afternoon.

In fact, the only thing that I want to share with you today is the following video. In light of the conversations that noisms and I were having about Star Wars on Sunday it seemed a nice piece of synchronicity when a friend sent me the link to it this morning.

Back to maths now.

A Trawl Through the Telegraph

Here, to my mind, is the Israel-Hamas conflict in a nutshell: today the Supreme Court of Israel ordered the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to justify the fuel blockade on the Gaza strip, but at the same time Hamas is using Google Earth to find targets for its rocket attacks. And there you have it, folks: a democratic, free society where self-criticism is freely practised, faced by a collection of thugs and maniacs doing their damnest to kill lots of innocent civilians. You can make up your own mind which is which...

In other news, there is a man who had sex with a bicycle in court.

Don't get too excited: the story isn't as interesting as it sounds. He didn't take it doggy style in the dock in front of judge and jury; the headline writer should really have put, "a man who had sex with a bicycle is in court" - but nonetheless. One wonders how it is even possible, and why it is a crime. I mean, I understand why doing it in public would be against the law. But in private? It's not my cup of tea, exactly, but I hardly think the bike is going to be psychologically damaged and in need of therapy, or anything.

Monday, 29 October 2007


The clock's just struck 10am. For some unknown reason I woke up at 2:30 this morning. I've been awake pretty much for the last seven and a half hours, less a few random minutes of unconsciousness that occured between 5am and 6am.

I woke up, not from a dream, not from a nightmare, not even to use the toilet. I just woke up.

I lay there for about an hour. I paced the room. I had a drink. I charged my DS up because it came to me that the battery light came on as I finished my usual levelling up session on Final Fantasy III yesterday evening. I debated getting Blankets out to read (a graphic novel that I could read and re-read, and which definitely falls into the category of books that in one way I wish had been written just for me, and in another I want to tell everyone about how amazing it is - perhaps I will write about it in a separate entry soon) but decided that I should try to sleep.

Try to sleep. There it is, but thinking about it that is a strange expression. Or it seems that way at the moment.

Some ideas for my National Novel Writing Month novel came to me, but I think that they left me between 5am and 6am when I did get a little sleep. They must be in here somewhere. (of course, I'll be writing about National Novel Writing Month very soon, and most likely often throughout November)

I had a pretty good weekend all in all, saw Eastern Promises at the cinema on Saturday (I liked it), and then yesterday noisms and I dissected Star Wars and Revenge Of The Sith ("Why doesn't Anakin use the Force to crack Obi Wan's skull open? Or to pop his eyeballs?"). The week itself isn't off to a bad start, just a strange one.

I just feel here, but not here.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Rugby But With Helmets

So for the first time in history a regular, competitive NFL game was played in London today. Some gang of jokers called the New York Giants against a bunch of wankers called the Miami Dolphins. Yeah, I hadn't heard of either of them either.

(I'm just kidding. When I was a boy a friend of mine got into American football, and his favourite team was the Miami Dolphins, so I had heard of them.)

I watched bits of it. It was...okay. Rugby with helmets, basically, but less free-flowing and consequently much less exciting. During the micro-seconds when they were actually playing the game, rather than standing around with their hands on their hips watching the dozens of referees do stuff, it was fun. I worked out what the whole point of it was, anyway. The main rule seems to be: if something exciting happens, stop.

The differences with rugby are that there are about a billion more players, they don't do nearly as much, you can throw the ball forwards, and you don't have to actually ground the ball to score. Also, for some reason it seems each team is obliged to have one fatso with a big pot belly, who patently has no place on a sports field of any description.

It didn't win me over as a fan, to be honest, but I'll watch any sport quite happily - even curling, for God's sake - so it passed the time. I have to wonder what the purpose of the whole thing was, though. It obviously raised a hell of a lot of money - the 90,000 seater was filled to capacity. But in terms of "growing the game" I think the NFL is on to a loser. We already have two versions of rugby, so the niche that American football occupies in the US is pretty much full to bursting in Britain. It'll always draw crowds because people are curious to see what all the fuss is about, but I think that's the most it can hope for when it comes to expanding its fan base overseas. If any American sport can succeed in the UK it's probably basketball, because it's different enough from our native games that it faces less competition.

That said, cheerleaders I could get used to.

Thursday, 25 October 2007


Last week at football it felt like an uphill battle, almost like a chore to be playing - but I didn't end up feeling as rough as the week before, or as bruised...

...Three hours have passed since this week's match. My team was soundly beaten, all of our goals (six to their eleven or twelve) came in the last ten minutes. I caught a ball that deflected square off my chest - but the pain of that numbed the stitch that was building up in my side - and I got caught up in a lot more scrapes and challenges than in the last two weeks put together. Fifteen minutes before the end I challenged Andy, went in too fast, couldn't slow when I realised I had too much momentum - and ended up rebounding and spilling over on to the floor.

My legs hurt, especially my left ankle and my thighs. Back and ribs feel stiff, head feels heavy, and my body feels sore all over. I didn't score a goal, or even get a shot in.

And I have a big grin on my face. Roll on next Thursday.

Kids - who'd have 'em?

Mamiko and I were walking back from the supermarket earlier and ended up trailing along behind a woman with her two kids. As we walked, the girl, around nine or ten years old, suddenly and without warning turned on the woman with a rolled up magazine and yelled at the top of her lungs "I'll KILL you! I'll BATTER you! I HATE you!" before hitting her repeatedly on the shoulders and then moving to strangle her. Her older brother, who'd been traipsing behind and was clearly used to this sort of thing, immediately sprang forward and hauled his little sister off. The mother, needless to say, did nothing.

When did it become acceptable for kids to get away with that sort of thing without getting a clip round the ear, and how could society in general have let it come to this situation?

I often wonder these sorts of things. How a good intention (that children shouldn't be physically abused) could result in something fundamentally wrong (children no longer respect their parents). Time for Supernanny, methinks.

Psyching Oneself Up

Literally just about to run out and play football. After furious email slanging matches over the last few days, the trailer for 300 seemed like the best thing I could watch to get myself in the mood...

Something of substance soon, today has been all maths and corrections.

Eloi and Morlocks

Yes, it's true, everybody. Our worst fears are to be realised. In 100,000 years' time there will be two races of human beings on planet earth, just like H. G. Wells predicted.

Well, this is according to "evolutionary theorist" Oliver Curry at LSE, anyway. Apparently, people will become "choosier" in their sexual partners in the next 1,000 years, which will result in a super-race of beautiful, intelligent 'Eloi' becoming separated from the goblin-like race of 'Morlocks', as the ugly stupid people are taken out of the gene pool and forced by circumstance to mate with each other.

Utter nonsense, of course. Since when have human beings ever not been choosy about who they mate with? (Some are choosier than others - but won't that always be so?) What I like, though, is that it so obviously reflects the subconscious desires of the author, according to whom "Women will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair and even features." Phwaor, eh guys? Too bad we won't be around in 100,000 years to appreciate it.

But don't fear, ladies. There's good news for you too. (At least, those of you who end up being Eloi.) Men will "exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices, and bigger penises."

We still won't be able to remember to put the toilet seat down, though.

Here's an artist's representation of what we'll all look like in a thousand centuries:

Is it just me, or does this sound like the pipe dream of a mindless snob? "Never mind, in the future, us intelligent beautiful people won't even have to associate with the proles at all!" And you thought Social Darwinism and Eugenics had gone the way of the Dodo.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Affirmative Silliness

Apparently there is big danger now for the Springboks: despite being the strongest team in the world, it seems that politicians and politicking might be about the seriously undermine their success by imposing racial quotas on team selection.

Let me come right out and say: I understand the arguments both for and against affirmative action, and I believe that it can have a place in a society which is highly divided racially. There is a case to be made that unspoken racial prejudices exist even in countries where legislation has made those attitudes illegal, and a way of fighting those prejudices is to enforce changes in the workforce.

But not sport - and, specifically, not the national team of a country. Why? Not because it could potentially weaken the side - which is true; nor because it is unfair to the supposedly 'favoured' race, in this case the whites - which is true too; but because it has the exact opposite effect to that which is intended.

There are already a lot of black rugby players in South Africa, many of them playing professionally. What is more, two of the Springboks' star players - JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana - are black. This goes to prove firstly that success in rugby has nothing to do with race, and secondly to prove that the team management is not governed by racial bias in selection.

Bryan Habana

But by imposing a quota, the government risks destroying everything that the Springboks' management - and, more importantly, brilliant talents like JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana - have done for black rugby in South Africa, because it will forever taint black players with the suspicion that they have been selected not because they are the best rugby players in the country, but because they are the best black rugby players in the country. Not only that. It will also forever be a backhanded insult to the black population of South Africa, labelling them unable to progress as world-class rugby talents without aid from the government.

JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana have proved that untrue. They've proved that in the space of 12 years, the Springboks have changed from a parochial, backwards-looking bulwark of apartheid into a modern, unbiased reflection of their nation's diversity. That organic change might be scuppered irreperably by the interference of stupid politicians, and I find that disgraceful.

JP Pietersen

Monday, 22 October 2007

Message In A Bottle

On Friday I went to see The Police perform at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It was an absolutely fantastic show, something I've been waiting all year to see (ever since the rumours of a reunion tour started) and of course it felt like it was over far too soon. They performed for over two hours, playing songs that I loved and songs I didn't even know - I'm not what you would call a traditional fan I suppose. I really like their songs, I have a greatest hits album of theirs that I listen to all the time but I have none of their actual albums (something I aim to correct in the not too distant future).

Of course, I am too young to have been a fan first time around; according to Wikipedia, The Police disbanded in 1986 and I was only five then... Still, I don't know what it is, there is something about their music that resonates with me, really makes a connection. I'm a fan of Gwen Stefani, know many of her songs forwards and backwards, and had an amazing time at her concert last month - but her songs don't touch me in the way that the songs of The Police do.

I love how their songs go from the deep and thoughtful, to twisted songs about love and obsession (Can't Stand Losing You and Every Breath You Take to name a few), to the out and out joy and wonder of love that is Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (one of my favourite songs by any band or artist). I don't think that I had heard King Of Pain before the concert on Friday, but I really liked that too.

As I said, I don't know why their music connects and resonates like it does, despite thinking about it and trying to pin it down. Maybe I should stop questioning it, and just be thankful that it does...

What band/artist really does it for you?

Sunday, 21 October 2007

South Africa 15 - 6 England

So South Africa won the world cup. I'm glad about that. I think it's important that sport reflects wider realities than just what happens off the pitch, and rugby union means more to South Africa than it does to any other nation spiritually, politically and culturally.

I feel sorry for Afrikaners. In Japan I worked with four or five white South Africans - members of the diaspora of exiles which has slowly spread across the globe - and always found them funny, sharp and refreshingly blunt in speech; sort of like people from the North of England transplanted to the Transvaal. But they were all tinged by the same sort of melancholy: that circumstances had forced them to leave the country of their birth and that they loved.

I never got the impression that they'd left South Africa due to sour grapes, or hatred of black people. The reasons cited were depressingly similar to those which motivate most economic migration - lack of opportunities at home and too much crime and violence. But I also got the feeling that they felt somehow weighed-down by the shame of apartheid - which after all they had nothing to do with, being too young to have been meaningfully involved in its perpretration, but which nevertheless made them guilty by association. It's the same emotion that you can see in middle-aged and younger Germans, who still feel the crimes of the past bearing down on them - and are consequently uncomfortable with the easy and natural patriotism that much of the rest of the world feels.

The rugby team's victory in the world cup of 1995, and now 2007, is a great alleviater of that. South Africans of every colour are unified by sporting success, and just as the 2006 football world cup finally seemed to lift the German nation and make it acceptable to be proud of Germany again, so the Springboks' triumph on the rugby pitch means something more than just simply jingoistic one-up-manship. And the rest of the rubgy-playing world bows down and praises God that it wasn't boring old England - because another four years of crowing would have been too much to bear.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Blog Hypocrisy Day

I hate the idea of Blog Action Day with every fibre of my being. Why? Because all it achieves is a sense of self-congratulation: "I posted about how we should save the environment, thereby doing my bit." Well, here's the truth, everyone - nobody who doesn't care about the environment is going to be motivated to change by reading some angsty 17-year-old's "thoughts" on the matter, and while you were busy writing the damn thing, you could actually have gone out and, I don't know, done some volunteer work or something crazy like that. So the sum total of your efforts is effectively nil. But it gives you an inflated sense of your own moral standing - so I suppose the sum total is in fact in the negative.

Here's my post about how we should save the environment: all the people who are involved in Blog Action Day should throw their computers out of the window so they can't blog anymore and waste the earth's precious resources in the form of electricity.

Again and again

Another round up of bits and pieces today, as I really should be doing yet more corrections to my chapter. That proof I worked out the other day? Completely correct, but completely unneccessary according to my supervisor - by the end of my meeting with him this morning we had deduced something which was quite clear, and which arrives at the same thing, but I personally like my result better (well, I would, wouldn't I?).

Football again this afternoon. Hopefully this week I will pick up less minor injuries.

I keep trying to write something about this news article about James Watson, but I get so far before thinking that what I have written is a little bit rubbish and not what I wanted to say at all. So for homework I want you all to read the article and let me know what you made of it in the comments!

I also thought Bilbo's thoughts on a recent fatwa condemning Muslim women who marry non-Muslin men was a very good piece of writing. I understand the worries of a few of the commenters on the article, but essentially it's down to freedom of speech isn't it? If the guy who issued the fatwa (who lives in the US) has freedom to issue that fatwa, then surely Bilbo (as a US citizen) at the very least should have the freedom to say "I don't agree with this and this is why I don't agree with it"?

I'd write more, but I have to rush now to make some chapter corrections then go to football. Like yesterday I leave you with a comic, today from the always excellent Dinosaur Comics.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

So, so funny

In a break from the tutorial (more on that later, or possibly tomorrow), I just happened to see this article on BBC News, "Cheney, Obama 'distant cousins'".

Going back far enough of course, we're all distant cousins. I loved it for the following:

Mr Obama's spokesman, Bill Burton, responded to the news by saying: "Every family has a black sheep."


Edit: that quote is supposed to be big and bold. Stupid blogger. (quite possibly stupid zero_zero_one...)


I have a four hour computer tutorial to go and give in exactly twenty-three minutes, so I had better be quick about this. There are three things that I have seen on the Internet today that I thought I would share with you (well, there were other things too, but these were the three that piqued my interest).

Firstly, George Lucas has said that he has started work on the Star Wars live action series. I love Star Wars, I really do, but this is not news... OK, the fact that he has started work on it is news, but the actual article barely qualifies as news: there is virtually no new information that was not already known, the rest is just recycled or restated from other articles. I think that there should be some kind of filter against news like this, or some kind of pecking order so that it is automatically dropped down the news page (come on Web 2.0!).

Also on the BBC News website is news of a report that says obese people are not responsible for their obesity. I accept the argument that work in the "modern world" and processed energy rich foods are big factors, but you can still work against these factors. I even take on board the evidence that humans biologically store excess calories as fat with incredible efficiency, but that doesn't mean that we can't do something about it. What else does a government have to do in order to get the message through to people? Every other week a new report comes out that says "Guess what? People are fat!" but in our "It's not my fault" culture we're just passing the buck all the time. Face facts people: barring certain medical conditions, if you are obese it is because you have consumed more calories than your body could use for fuel, and you have done this often enough that it has made a visible impact on your body. YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

Finally this wonderful comic from Overcompensating has a punchline that really made me smile in a semi-horrified way:

Six minutes before the tutorial - I've even got time to get a drink and read through the problem sheet.

Cheerio for now!

My Future Career as an Expert

I think when I grow up I'd like to be a child-rearing expert.

I've been watching and enjoying [translation: my partner has been forcing me to watch] Bringing Up Baby, a documentary series examining six real families put into practice certain doctrines on babycare in the interest of finding out "which era got it right": the 50s (the Truby King method), the 60s (Dr. Spock) and the 70s (the Continuum Concept). (It seems like the 40s, 30s and 80s just never got a look in.)

For those not "in the know", the Truby King method is all about routine, discipline, and not allowing the baby to get in the way of your life. The Dr. Spock method is all about doing what you instinctively feel is right. (I think Dr. Spock was just so lazy he couldn't be bothered coming up with advice.) The Continuum Concept was developed by an anthropologist called Jean Liedloff, who visited tribal groups in South America and decided that their methods of bringing up children were just, like, totally organic and natural and awesome, and that parents all over the world should copy them.

By far my favourite is the Continuum Concept. I'm definitely going to put that into practice when I become a child-rearing expert. You can come up with all kinds of spurious, touchy-feely, unproved and best of all unprovable assertions, parcel them all up into one goopy package, and get paid millions for advocating it. Over the past few weeks we've heard, for example:

    • If you put a baby in a crib rather than sleep with it in the bed, it will "develop a sense of wrongness about itself." See what I mean? Just try proving that false.
    • You should carry your baby everywhere you go in a specially designed sling, because that way it will feel properly loved and cared for, and will also be able to take in, sponge-like, all the skills it needs for adulthood. And this is literal. Going to a dinner party at your boss's place? Bring baby along - the other guests won't mind it resting in a sling with you at the dinner table, or if it starts crying, or pukes. Not at all. They'll understand it's all just part of the "continuum".
    • Babies have to be involved in everything - by going everywhere with you, they absorb everything, and thereby become "confident and competent" adults.
    • It's fine for parents to "be physically intimate" with baby in the bed, though, because the baby won't absorb that. It's not old enough to notice, so don't worry about freaking it out. This might sound contradictory to the previous point. But that's the beauty of the Continuum Concept.
    • It's fine to let two-year-olds play with knives, because they will have seen mummy doing that and will understand to be careful not to, say, trip and fall over and impale themselves.
See what I mean? You might call the Continuum Concept half-baked, illogical, and just plain daft, but never fear - there will always be people gullible enough to believe it, and they'll be willing to pay you hand over fist for your "advice".


In other news, Sir Menzies Campbell has been "persuaded" to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats by his party. Ming Campbell probably isn't very well known abroad, and neither are the Liberal Democrats, who are the perennial third party in British politics, with exactly the kind of wet, floppy image you might expect from their name.

I'm interested in the story because it tells us that there is something very wrong at the heart of Western democratic politics: that image has not only become as important as policy - it has become more important. Ming Campbell is an incredibly intelligent, eloquent, dignified and honourable man, you see; but he's committed the cardinal error of being old. Nearing 70, in fact. And from the moment he was elected leader of the party, he became subject to a cynical, deliberate policy of ridicule by the two main parties - with the collusion of the media - for the sin of not being young.

The British political system seems willing to forgive any flaw in its politicians - you can lie, steal and cheat, and yet still find a home in parliament and even in the heirarchy of your party. But if you don't look smooth, boyish and bouncy, there is nowhere for you to go but the scrapheap.

In resigning, Sir Ming spoke of his frustration at the "quite extraordinary concetration of trivia which seemed to surround leadership". If that isn't an indictment of British politics as a whole, I don't know what is: a serious and heavyweight politician who just wanted to do his job seriously but couldn't escape from the obsession with the thing that matters least - image.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Proof and Wonder

I've spent most of yesterday and today (and some of the weekend) thinking about a proof concerning partitions that I needed for the chapter that I am currently writing up. It seemed something small and insignificant in a way, until I realised that the truth of what I was asserting was not as obvious as I thought and would require a separate Lemma/Theorem to show it (not sure whether it is a Lemma or if it is cool enough to be granted Theorem status).

Anyway, ten minutes ago I finally finished a proof of it, and the feeling is just great. I need to write down some more notation for it, as my pages currently have some diagrams representing things which I'll have to do algebraically, but basically I'm done. It was the last thing I needed for this chapter. Hopefully my supervisor will just find cosmetic changes needed from now on.

Yeah, it feels pretty sweet to have that done, and in the immediate seconds and minutes after completing it I wondered if there was anything that could top that today. Five minutes later I saw this video and I realised that something could.

Getting the proof is a wonderful feeling - then seeing something wonderful like an octopus' camouflage in action is utterly brilliant. Despite all the ugly things in life, this is an amazing world.

Hmm. I think that's me done for the day.

Patriarchal Script

The Chinese script is often seen as difficult and needlessly complicated. But it has a real elegance to it that you start to appreciate the more you study it.

I was thinking about this today while trying to get back on track with my Japanese. (I speak Japanese with Mamiko every day, so I've retained my fluency there, but my reading has gone right down the toilet.) While I was poring over my "2000 Basic Characters" book, I came across one that I hadn't seen before - myou, with the meaning of both "wondrous" and "strange".

Here's the interesting part. The constituent radicals of myou (the separate parts which combine to make the character) are those for "woman" and "small" - in other words, "a woman of small years", or a young woman. So, we could say that, to the ancient Chinese, a young woman signified something both wondrous and strange.

See what I mean about elegance of expression?

Of course, it points to the patriarchal roots of the culture which developed that mode of writing. Young women are only wondrous and strange to men. (I'm not sure it works the other way around...)

There are in fact lots of other characters which seem to demonstrate that East Asian culture is highly male in its outlook. The symbol for safety or comfort in Japanese, an, or yasu(i), shows a woman standing under a roof; that for "in the back" or "to the rear" can also mean "wife"; that for "man" is composed of symbols for "power" and "rice field" while for "woman", it is a figure with an empty space in the middle signifying a womb; for "father" there is a representation of a whip, while for "mother" there are two dots encased in two squares, signifying a woman and her child.

Of course, we should expect nothing less. I find it interesting, though, that to many Westerners East Asia is somehow more fully aware of the yin and the yang and of the value of the feminine. That might be true, but I suspect East Asian culture venerates the female in a much more "old fashioned" way than hippy types would wish it.

The history of the Chinese characters and the insight they give into a certain ancient way of thinking are endlessly fascinating for me. My favourite character has to be the one for "road", pronounced michi or dou in Japanese - it is the symbol for a path underneath that for a neck or severed head. Kanji historians believe that in the old days, criminals or prisoners captured in war would be beheaded and their heads paraded along the main pathways through a territory - so a "road" becomes associated with both travel and execution.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Here Kitty-Kitty

We don't have any pets any more, not since my sister's ancient goldfish Aladdin passed away earlier in the year. For most of my life we've only ever had goldfish, with two exceptions: a canary that we had when I was very little called Sunny (who I don't remember), and an albino rabbit called Hazel (my sister named her after the rabbit in Watership Down, and yes the Hazel in Watership Down was male) which we had for a year before some fatal condition developed.

Part of me likes the idea of having an intelligent pet, like a dog or a cat, but at the same time I have doubts that I would be able to take care of them properly. And plus I tend to have allergic reactions to animal hair, especially to dogs. I thought that cats were a big problem too, but when I stayed with my friends in Stirling in August I passed three days at their place with not even a sneeze at their cat Roo. When/if I settle down somewhere in the future maybe a cat could be possible...

In any case, all this is just a little preamble, a prologue for a conversation I heard at the supermarket checkout on Saturday as I was helping my mum unload the trolley. On the next checkout a grandfather was talking to his grand-daughter (she was around six or seven) as he unloaded his cart.

"...oh, and here's the cat food; what's that cat of yours called again Jenny?" She told him, and I thought I had misheard - evidently so did he, because he followed that up with, "What was that love, she's called Twinkle?"

"No grandad," she said, speaking slowly, as if to someone who was stupid, "She's called Pringles..."

A sign of the times I guess...

In unrelated news there were calls today for British schools to do more to combat childhood obesity.

I'll Special Rapporteur You!

If there ever needed to be proof that there is an insitutional bias against Israel in the United Nations, it's the recent comments by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories to the effect that Palestinian "terrorist" groups are like the French Resistance or Namibia's SWAPO guerillas - just a natural and logical military response to occupation.

Well, let's leave aside the fact that his comments were far beyond the remit of what a Special Rapporteur on human rights should be saying, and let's also leave aside the fact that nobody who is supposed, by definition, to be impartial should feel it acceptable or sensible to so obviously take sides. Let's also leave aside the question of Palestinian statehood and the occupation (an occupation which I oppose, in principle). Let's leave aside those things.

Let's just say, here and now, that only somebody who is either totally ignorant of history or who is only interested in political pointscoring could equate Hamas and the French Resistance; and something tells me that John Dugard is not the former. I would find the remarks unbelievable if I didn't know something about the UN and its long and ignoble history of anti-Israeli politicking. As it stands, it's still an outrageously stupid thing to say.

Here's the difference between the French Resistance and Palestinian terrorist groups, John Dugard (as if you didn't know): unlike, say, Hamas, the French Resistance didn't indiscriminately and deliberately murder German civilians, didn't execute homosexuals, didn't torture dissidents, didn't brainwash gullible young men into committing suicide, and didn't call for the destruction of the German State and the removal of the German people entirely from the shores of Europe. They fought a legitemate guerilla war against the German military machine - a logical and natural reaction to being occupied illegally by a foreign power. Then, perhaps more to the point, when the war was over they didn't decide that they should become the new government into the bargain.

John Dugard does know this, of course. You don't get to be a Special Rapporteur on human rights without having a decent brain in your head. But he went ahead and made the comments anyway. And there you have it, folks: what other conclusions can we come to except that a high-ranking official in the UN is either being disingenuous in order to make a point (at best), or creating propaganda with which to do down Israel (at worst)?

It would be enough to make the blood boil, but then again this is an organization who created a "world anti-racism" conference whose apparent sole aim is to compare Israel to apartheid-era South Africa and accuse it of ethnic cleansing and genocide, so I suppose we should be used to it by now.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

The Frogs or Les Rosbifs - That is the Question

I feel very conflicted about supporting English national sports teams. I was born in England, so it shouldn't be a problem, but my dad is a Scots-Irish Catholic from the slums of Glasgow - which, if you're not familiar with British politics, roughly translates as "English hater" - while my mum is Liverpool born-and-bred, which means her family came over from Ireland during the potato famine like most of the rest of the city's population; and like the rest of the city, they still identify more strongly with Ireland than England. So none of my blood is really English, I was born in an English city that is really a Celtic city, and my cultural roots are Catholic and Irish, which means I feel, at best, uncomfortable with English sport. Particularly since English sporting teams can be identified so readily with South-Eastern, red-faced, ale-swilling, brawl-loving, Cross of St. George-waving buffoonery of the highest order.

Motivating myself to support England against Australia is easy, because hatred of Australian sports teams - particularly the cricket team - is natural for anybody who is interested in sports that Australians play. And I can get behind England against Argentina. That taps into something primal; if there were ever two nations that could be described as having a personality clash, it's Britain and Argentina, and my blood is equally fired by England, Scotland, Wales, whoever, if it's against the Argies.

But when England play France it's more problematic. See, to the English, France are the Old Enemy - the country they've spent the better part of a millenium trying to do down, filled with people they've spent a millenium trying to kill in bloodthirsty wars. It's the country they love to hate. But to a Scot, the French are the absolute opposite - partners in the Auld Alliance, a centuries-long partnership forged in war and the one thing the two nations have in common: the desire to see England trampled in the mud. So my natural instinct and the way I was brought up scream out to me to support the French.

Bloody rosbifs.

It gets worse when I consider how much I hate English patriotism. I'm happy to consider patriotism as, broadly speaking, a "good" emotion: it's important that people should love their country, provided it doesn't become hatred of other people's. (Paraphrasing Clemenceau there; I might even have spelt his name right.) But the English really are the worst when it comes to that sort of thing. The Scottish turn up to a sporting tournament in kilts with bagpipes and everybody has a good time. The Irish turn up with shamrocks and Guiness and everbody has a good time. The Welsh turn up with inflatable dragons and weird hymns about blokes in castles and everybody has a good time. The English turn up and everyone thinks, "Fuck, here come the English."

How to resolve this essential duality in my nature? As any true fan knows, it's impossible to support one team when they play against one set of opposition, but to want them to lose when they play others. It's a quandary that I might never be able to resolve - like one of Derrida's undecideables, or something.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Nobelling, Pt. II

I had some correspondence with a friend regarding what I think about Al Gore's Nobel Prize, which I think expands on what I wrote yesterday (odd how you sometimes have to work through a thought process "out loud" in order to properly articulate it), and even though I wrote what I did to her last night after coming home from the pub off the back of a few pints, I think sums my position up pretty well:

"It's the Swedish Academy wagging their collective finger [I wrote] and saying, 'If you only you'd asked us to elect your president, silly Americans! The the planet wouldn't be in this mess!'

I hate that patronising impulse that we Europeans have. All this hand-wringing about why Americans are so stupid - but we never stop to look at ourselves and ask what's stupid about us.


The electoral process might have been fucked up, but that's a matter for the US to deal with internally. Who are the Swedish Academy to make sly hints about it?

As far as Al Gore being president is concerned, it's impossible to say without a crystal ball, but from what I've heard of him he's a compulsive liar, self-promoter and hypocrite, which probably makes him the same as all politicians...with nothing to recommend him above the rest.

I remember seeing a clip of him giving a speech in back in 1999, where he said, pretty much word-for-word, that "Sure we might make mistakes, but we're still the greatest nation the world has ever seen - we always have been, we always will be!" while pounding his fist on the lecturn and glaring wildly at the audience. That sort of thing makes me think, well, George Bush might have had his blow-ups with the Germans and the French, and might have treated the UN in an arrogant way...but at least he never came out with anything as blindly idiotic and jingoistic as that.

Anyway, I'm sick and tired of people - in the UK, the US, Japan, wherever - whingeing about the political choices that are made in other countries, or whingeing about the way people vote. Sometimes other countries elect leaders you don't like, and sometimes electorates don't vote the way you'd like, but you just have to deal with it. That's democracy, and if you don't like it, then try to change the system. Don't waste your time ranting about Bush, making jokes about how stupid he is, and feeling smug - which is what most Brits and Europeans spend their time doing when the issue of US politics comes up."

I think my US readers would be surprised at how the cheapest humour at George Bush's expense can pass for satire in Europe, ever since the election of 2000. And the worst thing is, most Europeans secretly love the fact that Bush won that election, because to them it proved all the assumptions they make about middle-America - that it's full of illiterate hill-billies - true. It confirmed all their blind prejudices about the US, and the impluse for them is to go ahead and give themselves a nice pat on the back for not being American themselves. And I find that impluse, frankly, revolting.

It's the same impulse that sees the European left almost revelling in bad news from Iraq because they see it is another nail in Bush's coffin, which sees them love the fact that a militant, fascist regime is now in charge of Gaza because it does down Israel and Israel is the darling of the US, and which sees them stick up for buffons like Chavez purely because his rhetoric is directed at US foreign policy.

It's a sad state of affairs that so many so-called intelligent, broad-minded and well-educated people can be so biased and blinkered in their thinking, but that's intellectual life these days in the political left in Europe.

Friday, 12 October 2007


So, the world has a new Nobel Prize for Literature laureate: Doris Lessing, the octogenarian sometime science-fiction writer, Sufist, feminist and ex-Marxist. I'm glad about that - I like Doris Lessing very much, ever since forced to read some of her short fiction by the lecturer in my Reading Science Fiction module I took in my first year of university. Oh, Doris Lessing, how I do love thee, let me count the ways:

  1. Unlike other writers who I won't stoop to naming (well, okay, Margeret Atwood), she was never ashamed to admit that she wrote science fiction, and her novels were often explicitly part of that genre. She once remarked that some of the finest writing of all time was science fiction - and the literary world needs people like that to stand up and say such things, given that the elites still regard the genre as pulpy tripe.
  2. She was a tough, strong and independent woman, but refused to let herself be caught up in the "ideology" of feminism. (She was very even-handed in regard to both sexes, saying in 2001 that modern women are 'smug and self-righteous' and 'too quick to denigrate men' - which was seen as a 'controversial' view at the time, but nobody noticed that she was indirectly pointing the finger at men too, for allowing themselves to be 'rubbished and cowed' by women.)
  3. She took her award with typical British self-deprecation, saying that "they can't give a Nobel to someone who's dead so I think they were probably thinking they had better give it to me now before I popped off."

Anyway, I noticed something interesting about the way the modern media works in the coverage of the story. Compare this report, from the morning, with this later one from the same news source. In the first, more truthful version, Doris comes across as a pugnacious old battle axe, saying "Oh Christ...I couldn't care less!" when first told about the award, before remarking, "I've won the all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all, the whole lot, okay?" and "I'm already thinking about all the people who are going to send me begging letters..."

But the later report abandoned the realism and altered her quote (the only one reproduced) to "I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all. It's the royal flush," which I'm sure you agree sounds much nicer but also much less sarcastic and much less interesting than the original.

The Committee really shot themselves in the foot with the Al Gore award, though. Say what you like about climate change and An Inconvenient Truth, what exactly does trying to save the environment have to do with World Peace?

I have a strong suspicion about Al Gore, you know. And it's this: the only reason why he has become something of a champion of the liberal centre-left is that he isn't George Bush. Such people like to watch him on TV or at the cinema and listen to him speak, gaze at him admiringly, and say "If only, if only he could have been President. The world would be such a better place." It's almost better for him and them that he lost, because it will forever be one of those "if onlies". And, as we all know, there is nothing more bitter-sweet than the noble hero who tragically fails at the last gasp.

But that's a pretty poor reason to award someone a Nobel Prize for Peace.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Walking Wounded

From 60 minutes of football:
1). A header went wrong and left me senseless for a few minutes.
2). I misjudged a kick and a ball I was trying to deflect came off my leg instead.
3). An elbow in the stomach.
4). The ball bouncing straight off my stomach (really stung).
5). Ball deflected off the top of my chest and chin - had I been six inches shorter it would have hit me dead on in the face.

I scored no goals, and only had a couple of shots at the goal as well, but all of this is much more preferable to last time when I got hit in the groin by a misjudged pass.

And I wasn't the last one picked!

(I was second to last)

Break In Service

First some apologies. I have to apologise to some people who have commented and who I haven't replied to; thank you for taking your time to comment on whatever nonsense I was writing about. I will work harder in future to return the compliment. I also need to apologise to noisms, who has been carrying this blog for the best part of the last two weeks by himself. We set out to have something where we both regularly wrote about whatever was occuring to us, and I've left it to him pretty much over the last few weeks. I've been crazy busy with work, but that's not a great excuse, and I will be working harder in future to write.

I think I might change my "writing model," and rather than worry about finding a subject that I can say a lot about, I'll write shorter, tighter posts about things I'm thinking or have come across (kind of like Warren Ellis' blog, but with a bit more commentary, not just links to cool and interesting stuff).

So what has been going on while I've been silent? Well, I've been forgetting to bring my kit in to play five-a-side football, but that all changes today. Despite my stupid phone waking me up at 5am ("BEEP! BEEP! BEEP BEEP BEEP! My battery is low, plug me in!") I'm going to play in a couple of hours. The last time was quite good fun, even if I don't particularly enjoy team sports (apart from rounders, as previously discussed).

The chapter of my thesis that I'm working on is going quite well, but just when I think I have something stated as cleanly as possible my supervisor will come up with some other idea. It's a little wearying, as the maths is pretty much all there now, it all comes down to re-writing and re-writing. I'm quite pleased though as I came up with a corollary to the main theorem of the chapter the other day, and while the notation I've written it in might be slightly off at the moment I think that what I'm trying to say is true. Presented it at a meeting this morning, where I was given a ton of corrections for the chapter.

All for the good though, and I think that I am still pretty much on track for submitting as planned.

National Novel Writing Month is fast approaching, and I'm starting to get ideas. I had one thing that I was planning out in my head, but I think that I have abandoned that now in favour of something else which is, I will be the first to admit, utterly ridiculous. It's an idea that is, broadly speaking, science fiction, but leaning towards mainstream fiction as well I guess. I'm not going to go into the idea just yet (in case I decide on something else) but some of the influences and inspirations are Mike Hammer stories, JPod by Douglas Coupland and a variety of songs I've been listening to recently (too numerous to mention).

And that's it. I should do some maths (well, typesetting).

Power! Unlimited Power!

I get a lot of my blog ideas from the Daily Telegraph. I'm not sure why, because I don't really consider myself a right-winger (or indeed any political persuasian, other than perhaps a commonsensist), and the Telegraph is probably the most right wing of Britain's "proper" newspapers. (It's often nicknamed The Torygraph, after the Conservative Party.)

I put it down to a trend I've noticed in popular and intellectual culture: generally speaking, even if you don't agree with their views, conservative commentators usually have much more interesting and thought-provoking things to say about a given subject than liberals, who, perversely (given that they're supposedly the 'free thinkers') tend to tow the party line and say exactly what they're supposed to. You rarely hear a liberal-leaning journalist say anything unexpected. And, worse, because they're so afraid of offending anyone, their views are generally unimpeachably banal and painstakingly anodyne - whereas conservatives are often unburdened by that concern and can rant on in flavourful and interesting ways.

Anyway, that wasn't what I really wanted to talk about, which was an article in the Telegraph today about The End of Wikipedia. There's a war on, you see. Between the Inclusionists (who believe that the point of the thing is that it's organic and created 'by the people', and therefore just about any article is justified) and the Deletionists, who ruthlessly eliminate articles they deem unfit, unnecessary or pointless. Apparently it has degenerated into factionalism, hatred and mistrust, as groups of moderators go around deleting, reinstating, chopping and changing articles at will.

According to the veterans, the flood of new entries has slowed to a trickle as the Deletionists gain the upper hand: whereby the principle was, in the past, to start an entry with a 'stub' article of just a few lines which might then be expanded at a later date, most stubs are now destroyed by over-zealous deletionists before they ever have a chance to grow. (Sort of like North Sea cod.)

"The old timers remember the early days when we used to say 'ignore all rules' and 'assume good faith', but people tend not to emphasise that now," says Andrew Lih, a turncoat from the deletionists to the inclusionists. Nowadays, he laments, the principle for moderators seems to be wielding a machete, not planting trees.

Very sad, but just goes to show that once you extend even a tiny amount of power, like the power to delete encyclopedia articles, to a group of people - in this case, the 1,000 or so moderators of Wikipedia - then a good number will use it in an abusive and authoritarian way. That seems to be one of those Fundamental Truths of human nature. From the Bolsheviks to the Sherrif of Nottingham to the Wikipedia moderators, we see it all through history.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Countries That Never Were

I think one day I'd like to write a study on 'the nations that never were'. I've already spoken in this journal about Abkhazia, the erstwhile independent State of North-West Georgia, which has been de facto independent since the mid-90's but never quite managed to convince the world that it should actually be a State. (One of the little pecadillos of international law is that whether somewhere becomes recognised as a State or not depends mostly on flukes of history and realpolitik.) I was also recently reading at Strange Maps about Freistaat Flaschenhals, the so-called 'Free State of Bottleneck', that existed in the demilitarised Rhineland after the First World War. Sandwiched between the American and French zones of occupation into a bottleneck shape, it was notionally independent from the Weimar Republic, and even had its own stamps and passports.

Most interesting for me, because it seems to have that air of romance about it that all stories of early Brazil have, is the Piratini Republic, centred in the modern-day Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, which claimed independence from 1835-1845. The following War of Tatters, as it became known, is famous mostly because Guiseppe Garibaldi, who later was the driving forced behing the unification of Italy, became involved on the side of the rebels. But there is something almost movie-like in quality about the story of gauchos and cowboys fighting for their independence from the repressive government.

You'll notice from the painting that the men in question are carrying German flags. One of the reasons for the rebellion was that the people of the Brazilian south considered themselves ethnically different from the rest of the country, being mostly of German immigrant stock. Even today, the population of the state has a distinctly German character:

Anyway, my love of alternative history has been brought up before. I sometimes like to imagine what the world would have been like had the Piratini Republic or the Free State of the Bottleneck lasted. Probably not much different, but there would have been two more countries at the World Cup, at least.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Male and Female Ears

We were watching a programme about male-female genetic differences this evening, where the main point seemed to be that men are good at focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all else (which means they can only listen properly to one thing at a time) whereas women are better at listening to and taking in sounds from different sources at once. (As always with these things, I find myself wanting to shout at the TV, "Tell us something we don't know!", but usually manage to restrain myself.)

Anyway, half way through a little speech by the attractive PhD-in-psychology girl they had on as an 'expert', I suddenly found myself realising that Mamiko had been saying, close by, for the past couple of minutes, "You're not even listening to me now!" - but I hadn't heard her because I'd been concentrating on a woman on the TV telling me that I wasn't able to concentrate on two sounds at once.

Ah, the irony.

The thing that women don't understand is, if only they'd say something that was actually worth hearing...

Old Photos

I was just having a look at Blogger Play (a little tool which shows all the pictures being uploaded to, in real time) and came across this - somehow it made me laugh very hard:

I'm not sure why.

Anyway, I quite like photographs that have been totally divorced from their original audience. They just exist for the viewer to interpret for themselves, and are somehow purer for that. Blogger Play reminds me of Look at Me, which is a site dedicated to "found" photographs: people can submit unknown pictures which they have discovered or found in the street, the rubbish, or the attic of a new house - usually with information about where it was found and if there was any writing on the back. Started by Frederic Bonn in 1998, it now constitutes a sort of online gallery with over 600 pieces. In some ways the pictures are an insight into another world - most of them are from the relatively distant past, and are from all over the world - but they're also a testament to how universal the impulse is to record family, friends and loved ones. It'll make you happy, but perhaps a little melancholic too; all these people who once had lives and families and concerns of their own, but now might very well be dead.

I like this one. For some reason it makes me smile; they look like old friends - neighbours, maybe - just relaxing on the balcony:

Redolent of another age, in the style of dress and the architecture. It's also interesting that the woman on the right has a cigarette in her hand. One thing you'll realise (or remember) from these photos is how, thirty or fifty or seventy years ago, everybody seemed to smoke. How odd that will seem to people in a hundred years time. "What is that thing she's got between her fingers?" you can imagine a kid asking in 2100 AD.

Anyway, one of those sites that you can become absorbed in and then suddenly realise you've spent an hour exploring.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Rugby Culture

I think like most sports fanatics, I perversely tend to take more pleasure in seeing the teams I hate lose rather than the teams I love win. That's probably why, when England beat Australia on Saturday, my elation at the final whistle (after the most pulsating, ridiculously tense game of rugby you'd ever see) was more in seeing the utter dejectedness of the arrogant Wallabies than in the joy of the English. Australian attitudes towards the English in sport often approach, I think, a kind of reverse-snobbery, where the English are always portrayed as snooty, prissy aristocrats strutting around looking down on everybody, while the humble Australian swagmen with their Waltzin' Matilda and cans of Castlemaine XXXX bravely and cheekily try to knock them off their perches. This paradigm is trotted out every single time an Australian sporting team face the English, despite the fact that, for years, their cricket and rugby teams have been light years better than the English. But no - the Australians are always the plucky underdogs and unfailingly on the side of the angels, and the English are the evil colonialist blue-blooded poms who deserve to lose.

So suck it up, Australia. We beat you, so there.

Even better was seeing France beat the All Blacks later that day. God, do I hate the New Zealand rugby team. Like Brazil in football, it's now reached the stage where the world's media have hyped their mystique so high that the players themselves have come to believe it, and turn up to every game and do their daft Haka and expect the opposition to just roll over and lament their own temerity for even bothering to turn up. Like Brazil, they usually spend the group stages of a World Cup thoroughly battering complete minnows like Romania, before meeting a team like France who have some guts and steel, whereupon they collapse like the arrogant bullies they are.

The Haka is the stupidest spectacle in sport, in any case. It comes from that same tradition that all the old British colonies seem to have, whereby an ancient culture that has been more or less totally stamped on and eradicated is then humiliated by having its heritage robbed by the same people who perpitrated the stamping. Like the boomerang, the didjeridoo, the head-dress and the totem pole, it's the product of a sort of colonial cultural ransacking; the final insult to the natives, whose once-treasured traditions are taken out of their hands to become a spectacle for tourists and TV cameras, and, in the case of the Haka, an Adidas commerical.

It makes me sick, and nothing made me love the French more for standing right up under the All Blacks' noses during the Haka in a co-ordinated tricolore, as if to say - "No, this is culture, you idiots."

Friday, 5 October 2007

Inheriting Unfairness

I'm not a huge fan of Bill Hicks (there's a line where comedy becomes tragedy, and encouraging a chronic depressive in his bleak worldview doesn't sound like my idea of a good time), but I'm right with him when he complains that the main thing in life that bugs him is that you never hear his point of view expressed in the media or in public generally.

For instance, all the talk of the town right now is this infernal "will-he-won't-he" question as to whether Gordon Brown will call a general election next week. A bi-product of this has been a flood of policy ideas from the Tory Party - an almost manic, thrashing about for votes - one of which has been the abolishment of inheritance tax for estates under the value of £1,000,000.

Now, am I the only person in the world who thinks that's a terrible idea? Apparently I am, because the only view on the matter which seems to be allowed to be aired is that inheritance tax is an evil canker on hard-working people whose money - earned from years at the pit-face - is being robbed from their children by a cynical government, and the only justification is that governments need to get money from somewhere.

Call me crazy, but I think there's a perfectly good reason why abolishing inheritance tax would result in an even more unfair system than prevails today: and it's that without inheritance tax, the rich will only get richer and the poor will stay the same. It seems obvious.

The children of wealthy parents already have enough opportunities in life. They have chances in education and chances in the job market that poor kids simply don't. They have parents who, while alive, can afford to give them loans and allowances that poor kids also don't have. And yet people think it's unfair to tax their inheritance and thus prevent them having the chance (and unearned chance, I might add) to make even more money and consolidate even more? Well, I call that crazy.

If you ask me, inheritance tax should stay where it is at a £300,000 threshold. Anything else is just a license for people who already have a step up on the ladder to get even higher.

But you'll never read that view in the papers. Possibly because most journalists stand to gain a considerable amount of money if inheritance tax disappears.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Stuff and Nonsense

I hate to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but you really have to wonder what the world is coming to, don't you?

Yesterday two firefighters were fined £1000, another demoted, and a fourth given a written warning, after they stumbled across four gay men having sex in a public park in Bristol; one of those men later accused the firefighters of being homophobic after being advised by an AIDS charity - and hence the punishment.

If there ever needed to be a line drawn in the sand at which we put common sense over political correctness, this is it. Let's make no bones about it: the rights of the men in question were not being infringed on by the firemen. Gay men in Britain have as much right as I do to have sex in private, and had the firemen broken into one of the complainants' flat and physically prevented them from having sex, then I'd be the first person to call that outrageous. They didn't, though. They were witnessing, and breaking up, the criminal act of lewd behaviour in a public place - but they were punished for it because the criminals were gay. That qualifies as patently stupid, unfair and ridiculous in my book, and I challenge any body (that is: any sane person) to disagree.

The worst thing about this kind of incident is that it gives the great, admirable notions of equality and non-discrimination a bad name. Those principles, after all, enshrine an important truth - that all human beings are of the same worth and value and that they are entitled to the same level of respect. But this kind of weak, idiotic pandering to the political correctness lobby is the exact opposite of that, because it effectively serves to suggest that minority groups have more rights than the rest of us: in this case, that gay men are allowed to have sex in public if they want, but other people aren't. It's a clear, blatant double standard - the exact thing that the principle of non-discrimination was created to avoid - and the reason why eventually there's bound to be a backlash.

The absolute nadir of the story is the role that the Terrence Higgins Trust - the AIDS charity - played in the affair. Not only did they instigate the original complaint against the firefighters. They then had the gall to say, in a statement to the Daily Telegraph, that "We work very closely with the police, but in this case the complainant asked us not to report this incident to [them]." In other words, they were willing to shriek from the rooftops that the Avon Fire and Rescue Service has homophobic firefighters, but they wouldn't report the matter to the police - because that would have meant the original crime of lewd behaviour being investigated. So, effectively, the complainant could have his cake and eat it: he could bandy about accusations of homophobia and discrimination, while at the same time hiding behind a shield of anonymity so as to avoid arrest. No such luck for the firefighters.

Talk about covering yourself with glory, Terrence Higgins Trust.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Last Night

I'm standing at my old bedroom window, and I look down. The back garden is a good distance below me, and there are lots of people down there. I'm not sure what's going on, whether there is some occasion that I'm forgetting or there are just a lot of people over for no other reason than it's a beautiful summer's day. It really does seem a lot further, it should only be three stories down... But it seems like ten... And there is no glass in the window...

The glare of the sun blinds me for a second, and I realise that I'm dreaming. I feel myself smile, and looking down I can just about make out people waving at me to join them. I check the glassless window - there's something there, but it's pliable, vague. The house is more than three stories, and I know that it should be just the three. I must be dreaming.

I step onto the ledge, my foot pushing through the indistinct glass, look down and see the people waving at me to join them and I know I'll be fine if I just fall. Maybe I'll fly, maybe I'll drop but I know I'll be fine. I step up and go to push out -

Panic pulls at me and I stumble backwards from the window, as a voice echoes one thought through my head: "What if I'm not dreaming?"

Then I woke up.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007


I think Mamiko is sick of rugby. But she knows by now that I'm the kind of person who can watch seven matches over two afternoons like I did at the weekend and still want more, so it's tough luck.

Anyway, it was a great world cup weekend, with Fiji scraping through 38-34 against Wales in possibly the best game I've ever seen, Scotland triumphing in an 18-16 nailbiter against Italy, and pandemonium in Paris as Argentina spanked the Irish 30-15. But spare a thought for the USA, who lost to South Africa 15-64 in Montpelier and leave the world cup without a win, but with heads held high after great performances against England and Samoa.

I have to say, I have a real liking for the USA rugby team. Partly it's because only seven of the squad are professionals (journeymen plying their trade in the English, Irish and French leagues), and yet they're still one of the most passionate, spirited and entertaining squads - proving again and again that the best sporting spectacles are not necessarily the most technically accomplished. It's also because they so clearly relish playing for their country, and are always visibly moved when they hear their national anthem before each game.

But mostly, it's just refreshing to see men who absolutely love the game they're playing - you can see it positively ooze out of them - in defiance of the fact that their country doesn't care much about it and probably mostly don't even know they're playing. Along with Portugal, who experience the same thing, the USA are the most life-affirming team in world rugby.

I know some Americans read this blog: you should all get behind your rugby team. The tournament's over, but I'm hoping in 2011 that the USA Eagles can turn up and manage some surprises.

Anyway, England v. Australia next Saturday. God, how I love England v. Australia. The rivalry with Argentina might have more sheer hatred, and England v. Germany (in football) might have more history, but there's no better feeling for an Englishman than watching the national team beat the Australians in any sport, and rugby's no exception. Roll on the weekend.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Levelling Up

For the last week I have been getting engrossed in Final Fantasy III on my DS. I told myself a long time ago that it would be a very long time before I went back to a Final Fantasy game, but in the end I just couldn't resist it (and technically my sister is responsible, she bought me the game as a thank you for giving her a gig ticket), and now I'm glad that I didn't resist. It's a little slice of perfection that fits in the palm of your hand, and even when I'm at work I'm thinking about what will happen next in the story, or how much damage my Freelancer will do if I just get his job level a bit higher.

I don't think that it will ever replace Final Fantasy X in my affections as my favourite RPG. FFX, as I approached the end of it, entered a special place in my mind, and joined a category that includes I Am Legend, Flowers For Algernon and Earth Abides, that is "media that when I experienced them I wished they had only been made for me, yet at the same time felt a great need to tell others about." So far FFX is the only game I've played that goes in there (though others, like Shadow Of The Colossus and Resident Evil 4, have come cloes) but now that I think about it I can't think of a single film that I would put in there.

(perhaps there's something about the nature of film that doesn't allow me to include it in such a way; for the first time the title of this blog becomes relevant...)

The only thing about nearly every video game RPG that I've played that grates after a while (and that I grew to forgive FFX for) is the process of "levelling up" - the tedious process of fighting battle after battle to improve your characters' stats, and thus make your future battles with bosses easier. FFX wasn't so bad for it, and it was quite far into the game before I got really stuck and had to backtrack; FFIII has more or less forced me to do it on three occasions so far, and it is the one black mark against the game in my playing of it so far.

For a long time I thought that levelling up was a cruel and unusual way that game developers imposed on gameplayers who really just want to advance through the story - for the most part battles that you fight in order to level up are fairly tedious affairs, fighting the same enemies over and over again without varying tactics, earning more and more experience until your characters stand a reasonable chance in battle.

Then in this last week I finished a small piece of research, taking all 249 knots up to ten crossings and putting them in a specific format. After constructing plait presentations again and again, and writing all of the information up, suddenly "levelling up" doesn't seem so bad...