Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why this headline bothers me

This headline bothers me (warning, it’s a link to the Mail, don’t go there by mistake if you don’t want to).

It reads:

Jealous boyfriend who stabbed ex-girlfriend 83 times after wrongly accusing her of having an affair is jailed for life

Why is the part in there about wrongly accusing her of having an affair?  Doesn’t it imply – admittedly obliquely – that it would have been perfectly understandable if she had been having an affair?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The war on Peter Hitchens

Peter, addiction is not a moral failing. It’s not something you can just walk off like a cramp. It’s a compulsion that can dominate every part of your life, whether you continue to abuse substances or not.  You can stop abusing substances but you can’t stop being an addict. It’s a misery you’ll face every single day, for the rest of your life. Imagine what it’s like to crave a feeling you tell yourself you can only achieve by doing something that hurts you and the people you love. 

I don’t understand why I have to explain this.  For all the anecdotes about people quitting heroin with no difficulty, there are countless more about people ruining their lives, countless more about people who struggle for decades, countless, countless more stories about potential wasted, loves lost, abilities unfulfilled.

This is a matter of profound sadness and something to be compassionate about. What it’s not about is the ego of a whelp. Peter, you lost the argument because you decided in advance what your position was, based on what popularity you could scrape from your horrible Daily Mail readers.  And now you’re retconnig because you have a column. It would have been a lot less shit if you’d invited Perry – or any other addict – a platform to reply.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rage monster

I have turned into the HULK.  My head hurts and I ripped a sock. This is why:


A college deployed an anonymous sexual assault reporting system. It was swamped with fake reports at the same time Brave Heroes on r/MensRights happened to be discussing doing exactly that.

Clap….brave heroes….clap.  Clap yourselves on the back. High five each other in the knowledge of a fabulous job well done.

An associate professor at that college, Lisa Wade, said a brilliant thing:

The men targeting Occidental's anonymous report form are mad that women are being listened to, that men's voices are no longer given so much power that they can effectively drown out the voices of women. They're mad because they're not the only ones that matter anymore. I get it. To them, it really does feel unfair. Something really is changing. They ARE being demoted — from a superior to an equal — and it feels wrong to them because they're so used to being privileged, to being the most specialest girl in the whole world.

But in the meantime, real reports of sexual abuse are being drowned, real people are being discouraged from reporting sexual assault and real, hateful, fucktangles are convincing each other that this kind of behaviour is perfectly alright. It’s the norm. It’s the default. 

No more. We all know that this will slide under the radar unless we make sure it doesn’t. I’ll do my tiny little bit. Do yours.


(Thanks(!) to Dan J for getting me riled.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

My privacy hurts

I’m not going to give this too much analysis. I don’t have time.  Twitter has fundamentally changed what blocking means.  It’s bad for several reasons.  Here are two:
  1. Certain Twitter users relentlessly RT people they disagree with, all the better to enable their own followers to ridicule those people and – especially – all the better to intimidate them into silence. This is abuse. It would be nice if victims could prevent their abusers doing it. Let’s be clear: the issue is not that retweets are possible. I know that public tweets can be retweeted anonymously or pseudonymously. The objection is to hostile people retweeting as them, to their equally hostile friends. Think about bullying at school. The worst part wasn’t what individual people said or did.  The worst part was the shared contempt the victim felt everyone had for them.  There was nowhere for the victims to turn and that’s how bullying works  In my case, bullies targeted my previously best friend so that he turned against me in order to get them off his back.  This is the sort of behaviour we need to discourage, but exactly the sort of behaviour Twitter has just made easier. Global conglomerate empires, don’t do that.
  2. It shouldn’t be Twitter deciding (and indiscriminately changing) what blocking means.  It should be users. Why can’t users decide the semantics of a particular block? Some people I just don’t want to hear from again. Some people I don’t want following or retweeting me because they are bullies.  Why isn’t that my decision? 
Twitter needs to understand that people need better control over what it does with people’s stuff. We can still have a great social network. We can still have such things as freedom of speech.  And we can also make it harder for people to easily and relentlessly bully others, if we want.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Update: I don't have the slightest doubt that bullying behaviour on social media can be the cause of ailments like PTSD as well as triggers. If you bully people on Twitter or defend people who do, then fucking shame on you. You are a terrible person. If you bully people on Twitter because they've been hurt on Twitter, then you are not even anything resembling a person. If your position is really that a person can't be traumatised by systematic bullying then I really don't think you count as a person, so you won't be posting here.

Oh I don’t know much about triggers. I don’t have much terrible in my background.  But let me tell you a thing.  I had a friend once who was… well, she was a force of nature.
My favourite story about her is this: she took me to a pub in the Yorkshire Dales. We got blocked in by the various cars and lorries of a film crew. They were filming Hearbeat. She was quite nervous because as it turned out she was off her fucking tits on LSD and also she had stolen the car we’d turned up in.

I was, what, only just about 17, but I had to tell all these fancy TV people that we needed to manoeuvre this (stolen) car from out between their wagons and trailers while she was, as it turned out, tripping fairly badly. It took a good half hour.

I didn’t say she wasn’t a liability, but I’ve never met anyone like her.

So here’s the thing. She died. Of AIDS. Well, of complications arising. It was pneumonia or something like it that she died of.  I was with her when she died.
And I will tell you this: I thought the shock of so much life leaving the world would never leave me, but it did, eventually.  Years passed and I started to remember the good (and frankly insane) times.
But there are triggers. Things that make me cry, from time to time. Colours, smells, textures, foods, stupid, blithering fucking acts. These remind me of someone who was more human than anyone else I’ve ever met.

My point is that almost anything can be a trigger. My cat rolling around because she has nothing in the world to care about. My wife reaching toward me because she thinks I might be sad about something.  These things can make me cry uncontrollably.
The new things trigger the old things. 

People contract PTSD for all sorts of reasons. Shitty fucking things happen to people;  And PTSD can be triggered by anything: things that have nothing to do with the original trauma.
Let me say that again: the trauma could be rape, violence or other horribleness.  But the trigger could be anything at all.

People being horrible on Twitter could certainly be a trigger.  Why would anyone say it;s not?

Thursday, November 28, 2013


A few years back I was a contractor at a well-known telecommunications company.  Which happened to be called ntl. No two parts of it were not insane.  I was only there for six months but I could easily write five substantial posts about seriously deranged goings-on.  Not today though, I’ll just pick one.

My immediate boss happened to have a desk next to the window.  However, she wasn’t entitled to a window seat because she wasn’t important enough.  So one day some people came and built a cube around her desk so she couldn’t see outside..

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bulls, don’t do that: Justice done, baddies look unhappy, goodies look happy

In his first Diskworld book, Terry Pratchett wrote about how cameras are hypnotic and that people will act in blithering ways as suggested by anyone wielding one.  The Daly Mail seems to have this down to an art form.  They never miss an opportunity for people who feel wronged to look sad and supposed scofflaws to look happy. They’ve sure as shit got it the wrong way round in this article.

A good thing happened today. A little justice was done.  I’m sorry to link to the DM, but I couldn’t resist the sub-head:

Bulls said they thought that any sex outside marriage was 'a sin'

I’m pleased that they asked some bulls, but these ones seem especially judgemental.  I grew up on farms and I know what bulls get up to. Animal, mineral, vegetable, they’ll do pretty much anything to anything.  I have plenty of stories about having to make repairs after a bull made sweet, sweet love to our garden fence.  And they weren’t gentle. 

Hypocrites. They must be #FtBulls or somethng.

Anyway, the Christian owners of a B&B who turned away a couple for being the same sex as each other have been told not to be so fucking stupid and fined. This case has been going on for ages and trickling through the various layers of courts as these things do. Finally, they’ve run out of courts and the decision is presumably final: they are guilty of discrimination against this couple and that’s that.

Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said:

Homosexuals can enjoy the same freedom and the same relationships as any others. But we should not under-estimate the continuing legacy of those centuries of discrimination, persecution even, which is still going on in many parts of the world.

Well, yes. Like here, for instance. That was the entire point of the case.  I don’t really understand the point of her “but”. But her verdict was certainly right:

Dismissing the appeal, Lady Hale said that the Bulls' decision to deny Mr Preddy and Mr Hall a room was an 'affront to their dignity' and that they should enjoy the right to have a relationship like any other heterosexual couple.

It should be an affront to everyone’s dignity, the Bulls’ included, small-minded, bigoted disgraces that they obviously are.  They want to deny certain people rights which means they think of them as less than people.  Bulls, don’t do that.

It’s good, though, that the Mail thinks it’s important to inform us the the UK Supreme Court is “the UK's highest court”.  I’d never have guessed.

The Bulls’ defence was that they weren’t homophobic. They wouldn’t allow anyone to sleep together under their roof if they weren’t married.  This has to be one of the stupidest defences of all time. They weren’t being accused of homophobia (which isn’t a crime) they were being accused of discrimination, which the entire backbone of their defence rested on. I’m not a lawyer but using the actual charge as the mainstay of your defence seems kind of foolish.

They said:

We are just ordinary Christians who believe in the importance of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

They can believe in the importance of that tiresome phrase all they like. But that wasn’t even the issue here.  The issue was that they wanted to tell gay people they couldn’t be gay near them.  It was discrimination and bullying and the Bulls ought to be ashamed of themselves. But they are not. I hope you have your bigotry bingo cards to hand, you’re going to need them.:

Britain ought to be a country of freedom and tolerance, but it seems religious beliefs must play second fiddle to the new orthodoxy of political correctness. 

Somehow, we have got to find a way of allowing different beliefs to coexist in our society.

But the judges have sidestepped that big issue, and reinforced the notion that gay rights must trump everything else.

I’m not even going to bother. Pick apart this idiocy yourself if you can be bothered.

Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said:

What this case shows is that the powers of political correctness have reached all the way to the top of the judicial tree. So much so that even the Supreme Court dare not say anything against gay rights.

Combine that with gay marriage, and it's a recipe for all sorts of threats to people who believe in traditional marriage.

This ruling is another slap in the face to Christians, and shows that the elite institutions are saturated with a liberal mindset which cares little about religious freedom.

And then he said:

Parliament needs to reform the law to allow a more reasonable approach which balances competing rights.

There are no competing rights. By definition we’re all (within some shared context such as citizenship of the same nation) supposed to have the same rights. That is what a right is. There are no competing rights, just people who decide that others shouldn’t be allowed the same rights they are because they are not proper people.

And it turns out those people are wrong, legally now, as well as in EVERY SINGLE OTHER SENSE.

So, good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Attention whore

Stats reveal I’m getting even more attention from the pit since I was suspended from Twitter.

Nobody came here before that, what do you slymes make of that? You fucking idiots.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

She was never told why she was hauled away

Because of my frivolous suspension from Twitter at the hands of a bullying idiot, I’m unable to widely distribute news of this horribleness:


I hope he’s proud.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

PZ points it out: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/11/20/transgender-day-of-remembrance/


I can’t believe Sylvia Browne died while I’m suspended from Twitter. It’s like a kind of torture. I’m pretty sure she did it on purpose.  Surely it’s a human right to have the freedom to have a fucking field day about a psychic who even predicted her own death incorrectly?

Browne was the most beastly and horrible (and expensive) of all those awful psychics.  Unfortunately, she left a legacy.  Her son miraculously inherited her magic and will continue to spirit the money out of grieving and vulnerable people’s pockets.

Well, change is bad, I guess, so at least we have this small mercy.

Today in local news

Father appeals for return of stolen ferrets.

I really need to move somewhere else.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


My followers and followings on Twitter seem to have been removed with the suspension of my account. Do you think I’ll get them back if my account is reinstated?


I’m no longer a twitizen. I’ve lost some friends.Or Twends, possibly. No, fuck it, friends. I’ve lost contact with friends because people wanted to prove a point about how women should shut up.


My Twitter account has been suspended. As far as I can remember, I didn’t violate any of the rules. The people who reported me though – and bragged about it – they violate the rules all the time. They’ve threatened me, they’ve lied about me, they’ve accused me of rape, rape apology apologising for rape apology and non-specific abuse of women. I haven’t done any of those things.

I guess some people are offended by descriptions of my cat’s activities and my pointing out certain types of injustice, ignorance and fucktanglery. The Slymepit will be running short of cookies issued to the people who complained about me.

I expect it will blow over. I’ve done nothing wrong and perhaps my account will be reinstated. But I’m sick of it. I’m sick of bullying. I’m sick of being the target of abuse when all I’m trying to do is help people who are abused.

Yeah, boo fucking hoo, but I get to complain sometimes.

Monday, November 18, 2013


OK, a trigger warning: I’m linking to the Daily Mail.  Sorry.

Nikki Sinclaire is an MEP who happens to be transexual.  Nobody seems to particularly care either way that she’s trans.  Nobody except the Daily Mail, obviously, who calls her “sex-change politician”. You’re probably thinking that the only reason there’s a story in the DM about her at all is because she’s trans.  If she opened a supermarket, there’d be an article about Trans Woman Opens Supermarket.  But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. You’d be underestimating the DM. 

Because the article is about how she’s not only trans but lesbian and was turned into a lesbian by being raped.  Seriously. This is their headline:

Sex-change politician says she became lesbian after being raped four years after she became a woman

Note the not-especially cunning use of the word ‘after’ to imply some sort of causality that doesn’t exist.  She’d already realised that she was attracted to women and had a sexual relationship with a woman before she was raped.  She appears to have said that the attack (understandably) made her “very anti-men” but the DM does everything it possibly can to imply that she became lesbian because she was raped.  Because that’s what happens.  Lesbians hate men, you see.  They had a bad experience with a man and decided to become lesbians as a result. It’s not at all that they just happen to be attracted to women.  I guess this also implies that lesbians can be ‘cured’, doesn’t it? They just need a good fucking, right?

Distasteful as this undertone - wait, did I say undertone? It’s clearly an overtone – is, the Mail has more horribleness to offer.  The devil is in the details.  The weirdly irrelevant details that the article trots out.

For example, the Mail thinks it’s important to stress that Ms Sinclaire’s gender reassignment was carried out on the NHS. Why is that detail important, exactly? What does it have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing at all.

And this is just plain weird:

After the attack, which she said left her feeling vulnerable despite being brought up in the capital

Um…. What? It’s surprising when people brought up in London feel vulnerable after being raped?

Then there’s this:

she went with a nurse friend to a hospital in Dartford, Kent, where DNA samples were taken and medics photographed her bruised body.

Am I being oversensitive here or is this a desperate attempt to make the process appear somehow salacious?  What is the purpose of mentioning the photographs or her ‘bruised body’? Isn’t the point that she reported the rape? 

Miss Sinclaire said that she had begun to feel attracted to women shortly before the attack, and had her first sexual experience with a woman with a lesbian she met playing pool in Liverpool.

Again, why is it important that she met a sex partner while playing pool?  It’s an astonishingly pointless detail, why did the Mail find it necessary to include it?

[She] has a long-term female partner who shuns publicity

Does she? Does she ‘shun’ publicity?  That phrase looks calculated to make it seem like she has something to be ashamed of.  I can’t help but wonder what shunning she’s done.  I’ve no idea. But I wouldn’t exactly be surprised if she was accosted on the street by an ignorant reporter and didn’t want to say anything.  What a bitch, eh? But I’m just angrily speculating.

Angry? Did I say I was angry?  When I wrote that I hadn’t read the comments. Holy Cocksucking Christ, the comments. Don’t look at them unless you haven’t had your fix of rage and disgust yet.  You’re going to be close to overdose as it is.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Found story

About a year ago I started to write a story for children.  I didn’t finish it though because I was busy and it wasn’t very good.  I found it on my disk the other day when I was looking for something else so here it is. What the hell. Hopefully I’ll finish it one day and no one will read the finished article either.

­­The woman who stole the stars

There was a little girl, once, who grew up to be the woman who stole the stars. She probably didn’t mean to, at first. Who would? But she’s the reason there aren’t any stars any more and she was an agent of chaos who ended up forgetting what chaos is and why she wanted to steal the stars in the first place. It’s a strange story and much the stranger for being true.

The woman began as a tiny thing, something you could hardly believe had a person inside it: a baby. We know better now, but in those days we thought that babies were stupid and didn’t know anything. This was forgivable: babies hardly ever made any discoveries in those days and their wars – which have always been an indicator of advanced civilisation – were mostly waged on the basis of things that are comforting to bite. It was a more innocent time. For all of that, babies were wiser in those days. They didn’t wear suits back then. Instead, they wore nappies so that they could poo and wee in situ while going about their daily business. It was an elegant arrangement and historians have long associated the fall of humanity – and the eventual stealing of the stars – with the abandonment of nappies as standard and stylish wear. They might be right for all I know, but that would be an exception. Historians are hardly ever right. They deliberately forget and erase from history many inconvenient things. Historians will tell you that there have never been any stars. They’ll tell you that historical babies knew no cosmic secrets and never, ever invented any such thing as the Star Hammer.

The Star Hammer is the dark, spikey shape that crosses the moon every nineteen-and-a-bit days. We call it The Stammer now and we’ve forgotten why it was made and what it did. I think – people like me think – that we forgot about it because all the historians are babies and the babies don’t want us to remember what their kind did.

People like me? There aren’t many of us left, now. We’re the people who know the truth about history. We’re custodians of knowledge and the keepers and tellers of stories. Back when telling stories was allowed, we were called sciencers and our stories were all about how the world worked. We had a trick – a method – of knowing whether our stories were true. Or at least whether they were provisionally true, which meant that they fit with what we knew about the world at the time, but might turn out to be wrong later on if we found out more. For example, the sciencers once thought that the world was made out of things that were a bit like springs. The springs were there so that things could interact with each other. When you push something, it pushes you back. When you walk around on the grass, something is pushing you down and stopping you flying up into the air. The sciencers thought this was done by something a bit like springs. It made sense at the time. But later on, some sciencers realised that there weren’t really any invisible springs. The world, they realised, didn’t really work as if there were springs everywhere causing everything to work. They crossed out that story and that’s how we know now that everything works by something that’s a bit like elastic.

But the point is that the sciencers were made to forget how to tell whether stories are true and their powers were reduced. All they – we – can do now is tell the few stories we remember and for the reasons you already know, we hardly ever dare do even that.

The woman who stole the stars is a story. A story is an account of real or fictional people and the things they did. We’re not allowed to tell stories these days, but lots of people do it anyway. Well, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? That’s what drove you to find the cave and the citadel and my office. You want to know about the woman who stole the stars.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My phone doesn’t work hard enough

I don’t ring anyone up or answer when people ring me, because I’m a misanthrope.  But my phone does a lot of other things such as email and social media and that’s why I have one.  But I don’t feel like it’s working hard enough for me.

I do a few other things with my phone, too. I’ve written about them before.  They involve using rat nests of hairy string to turn NFC tags into contextual switches.  That is, bumping a tag does different things depending on the context it gleans from the phone’s sensors.  For example, a tag might do different things in different locations.  Or at different times.  Or if it’s dark.  With the right software you can do some cool things.


I have an NFC tag by my bed.  When I bump the tag at night, it puts the phone into blocking mode so it doesn’t beep or flash when notifications arise.  When I bump it after my alarm has gone off, it turns off blocking mode.  When I bump it in between, it starts the torch app so I can navigate around in the dark.

The next stage is to set the torch to turn off when I’m in a room that’s light enough: I’ve got downstairs without waking my wife up and turned on the light.


When I bump a wrist tag while I’m at an airport, my phone goes into flight mode.  Then when I’m at an airport and at low altitude, flight mode turns off automatically.  When I bump the tag for a second time, my clock is set to local time.


This one isn’t interesting in itself, but there’s some different coolness involved.  I have a tag fixed inside a pocket of my jacket (you’ll be surprised to learn that I have a geeky jacket with a million pockets. One is a pocket in a pocket with velcro which seems designed to hold an emergency coin or something. There’s an NFC tag in there).  When I put my phone in that pocket, it connects to my bluetooth headphones and sets the volume to the right level. Wearable computing! Ish.

But I still think my phone isn’t doing enough for me.  One of the many apps I plan to write when I have time is one that’s aware of all the many, many sensors on my phone and the many things it can do.  It will let me define contexts dpending on the output from sensors and other things such as time, whether a particular email or text has arrived, what devices are connected, what networks it can see etc. and define rules that trigger actions depending on that context.  As I say, I’m doing some of this already using existing software and hairy string, but I want to go a lot further.

Maybe I want my phone to know when I’m walking (it has sensors for that!) and it’s dark and I’m in a dangerous place and tell someone where I am.  Or maybe if those conditions are true and I bump an NFC tag, I want it to call 999.

Maybe I want my phone to know when I’m walking from work to the statin and tell me when the next train is and whether it’s delayed. Maybe it could recommend that I get a taxi (it could check the traffic reports on that route or just make inferences based on the time of day),

Maybe I want to bump a tag when I’m standing outside a pub and have my phone tell me which of my friends are inside (and maybe how long they’ve been there…)  Perhaps I want to bump the same tag outside a restaurant and have my phone show me the menu.  Or outside a shop and have it tell me when it closes.

And of course, I want all this information delivered to a Google Glass or a similar sort of device.

That’s what I want my phone to be doing for me.  I don’t understand people who say they just want their phone to make calls. Frankly, I could do without the actual phoning part of phones altogether.

I’ll be writing some apps like this next year when I’ve finished my current work.  If anyone wants to test them, they can.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

When policies don’t work

I sometimes explain to people that I’m a computer scientist and so have – flying in the face of public opinion – very broadly transferrable skills.  The ability to make useful abstractions, systematic diagnoses and to understand complicated things as a whole, as parts and as the sum of parts are examples of basic training in CS. By-products of such training – if it’s done well – are critical thinking and sensitivity to when things don’t seem quite right.  Valuable. But there are side-effects too.We always have to worry about The Way Things Are Done.

Here’s a footling example that I enjoyed a little bit. It was our group meeting today and we were reminded  that the rules for expense claims now state that you can claim one alcoholic drink with a meal. You can’t claim more than one and you can’t claim even one unless there’s a meal.

The CS response to this is that it had better be a fucking big drink (I’m thinking those giant ornamental glasses they sometimes have behind bars to advertise some drink or other) and that if you want a drink on expenses but aren’t hungry, you should order a meal and not eat it, just so you can claim the drink on expenses. The taxpayer takes the hit for a meal and a drink instead of just the drink. Food is wasted. The world gets a bit poorer.

But there’s an even worse problem. I’ve been subject to it, although not recently. When you’re a young research fellow or PhD student at a conference and you go out for a meal with a bunch of important professors, your boss will invariably take the bill, ask you to pay it and claim it back.  But of course that only works if the profs are operating according to the same rules. Chances are they’re not and students certainly sometimes get saddled with bills they can’t claim back.

The lesson is this: if you’re going to write a policy, you need a computer scientist. Lawyers and administrators can’t seem to do it.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Touching cloth. I mean base. Probably

I’m ridiculously busy at the moment. I have a million things to write in exactly no time. You probably think I’m exaggerating.  But the world turns, generating annoyance I have to complain about.  Here’s a quick digest:
1. “Up to”. Adverts, don’t do that.  It’s almost always entirely meaningless.  I saw an advert for teeth earlier. I don’t know whether they were selling teeth or products that do something to people’s teeth but they had someone in a white coat who was described as a dentist. She said that “up to one in two people” might get gum disease at some point. So the absolute upper limit (according to the advert, which provided no evidence at all) of people who might (or presumably might not) get gum disease is exactly 1/2.  Even if the number is accurate, it’s not a useful statistic. “Up to” is one of those phrases designed to be just complicated enough that people don’t think about it.  It sounds good in either direction. Up to 1/2 of people (might) have gum disease, OH NOES! Up to 87% of people say homeopathic biscuits cured their gout. AWESOME! It sounds kind of official and kind of scientific but a) it’s not and b) it doesn’t say the slightest thing about whether the product actually does what it says.  I hate “up to”. If there’s an actual proper study, quote the results. If not, stop selling products that claim to solve the problem you’ve probably made up out of whole cloth anyway.
2. ‘Clinical studies’ for stupid shit: 78% of 214 people said the product made them look 37 years younger. I don’t know what the advertising rules are for this sort of thing, but for fucks sake: they always ask such a tiny number of people and the percentage of people who agree is always surprisingly low.  Call me Old Mr Cynical, but perhaps more thorough research has shown that people don’t trust studies that are too conclusive: maybe 90-odd percent seems unrealistic. But it doesn’t matter because the claim is obviously meaningless unless we know about how the studies were carried out.  It’s well known that some companies – some cosmetic companies, for example – survey their staff rather than members of the public as they suggest.  This would explain why 214 people were surveyed instead of ten times that.  There’s also nothing to suggest that they didn’t cherry-pick the survey.  Perhaps they chose the 214 people from a larger survey who cumulatively gave the required figure of 78% in agreement because that’s what research indicated was the most credible figure. Wouldn’t be hard to arrange, would it?
3. “Wiki says…..” Which wiki? Do you live in 2004? There are countless wikis. How difficult is it to specify which wiki?  If you tell me to look something up on ‘wiki’, you should know by now what I’m going to do.
4. Cruelty. By definition, there’s no excuse for cruelty. Don’t do that. You don’t have to be all that nice, I’m not. But there’s no need at all to be cruel. Don’t be cruel.
When I was a kid in a Church of England school, I was taught that while the ten commandments are all very well, they can all be boiled down to “love god” because if you loved god you wouldn’t do any of those bad things.
By the same token, I think we could probably replace a shitload of commandments with “don’t be cruel”.Not being cruel requires action: it’s cruel to allow people and animals and possibly plants and fungi to suffer if you can prevent it.
So don’t be cruel. And if you make adverts for a living, you’re automatically being cruel to me.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I’ve mentioned this before but I’m sort of proud of it. Proud because an off the cuff remark went viral and scandalised absolutely everyone who knows me. Absolutely everyone.

My obnoxiously religious sister named all her children after what she considered admirable Christian figures. So for no particular reason I told a couple of people that she’d decided to name her nearly-born son Herod.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – believed me.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – told everyone else.

I still laugh out loud about how this worked itself out. Everyone I knew was convinced that the kid’s name was Herod.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Who not to fuck

In this day and this age, a whole lot of people seem obsessed with telling people who they aren’t allowed to fuck.  Sometimes it’s anyone of the same sex.  Sometimes it’s anyone they’re not married too.  Often, they’d much rather force a child to have sex with someone she doesn’t want to than allow consenting adults to have sex with the people they do want to.  This is a perspective so warped that I hardly know where to begin.  Which, of course, isn’t going to stop me trying.

When I started this post I intended to joke about the fact that so many of the people in power around the world seem oddly concerned with telling adults what sorts of sex they’re allowed to have.  I had a list of reasons why this might be so and sarcastic comments about each of them. But it turns out I couldn’t find any humour in it after all.  It’s not funny. It’s not not funny because people are suffering. As awful as that is, you can make it funny by mocking attitudes and the bigots who hold them.  It’s not not funny for that reason, it’s not funny because of one of the items in my list:

Lots and lots of people are bigots and people in power are just a representative sample.

See? That’s not funny at all.

There’s something about sex that makes people feel entitled to judge. In fact, they feel compelled to judge.  Even people you might not generally think of as bigots are at it.  Women are sluts if they have ‘too many’ sexual partners. They’re frigid if they don’t have enough.  If they make themselves look attractive, they’re asking to be raped.  If they don’t, they obviously need a good raping to loosen them up.  Homosexuals are defined entirely in terms of their sexuality: they’re homosexuals before they are people.  Sometimes they aren’t even people. Often, they’re trying to convert everyone to homosexuality.  Sometimes they can do what they want behind closed doors but they shouldn’t force it down people’s throats by, you know, mentioning it or kissing in public or trying to adopt children.

Why is this? Why do we so easily feel so highly qualified to decide and – at length – tell people who they should and shouldn’t be fucking?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Exposing Feminism PBPR part 2

Part 1 is here. The source is here. Knock yourself out.  Here is part 2:

6.Myth: Girls have been shortchanged in our gender-biased schools

Fact: No fair-minded person can review the education data and conclude that girls are the have-nots in our schools. Boys are slightly ahead of girls in math and science; girls are dramatically ahead in reading and writing. (The writing skills of 17-year-old boys are at the same level as 14-year- old girls.) Girls get better grades, they have higher aspirations, and they are more likely to go to college.

Maybe girls are just smarter.  Wouldn’t that explain the ‘evidence’ just as well?  Fortunately, this is something we can test!  What would it mean for a school to be biased toward one particular gender? I’m not an expert but since we’re all making stuff up, how about this: the amount of time teachers spend with kids.  We could test whether attention from teachers made kids more likely to succeed in education, couldn’t we?  And then we could measure whether girls or boys tend to get more attention.  Other measures might be devised.

Have studies like this been carried out?  I’ve no idea, but I’d be surprised if they hadn’t. But it doesn’t matter: it’s the sort of test we’d need to do to determine whether girls are just better at school or whether the school system gives them an unfair advantage.

Another issue is that this claim is very US-centric.  As I understand it, boys have enormous opportunities in US schools that girls do not. I’m talking in particular about sport scholarships.  In many places, girls are severely disadvantaged.  In many places, they aren’t allowed to go to school at all or are attacked with acid or bullets if they do. Those girls don’t get the chance to get better grades or go to university.  But if this is true in the US (I’ve no idea whether it is) then let’s not just assert that it’s because schools are biased toward them.

Is this a claim feminists actually make anyway?

7. Myth: “Our schools are training grounds for sexual harassment… boys are rarely punished, while girls are taught that it is their role to tolerate this humiliating conduct.”

(National Organization of Women, “Issue Report: Sexual Harassment,” April 1998.)

Hey, a source! Too bad I don’t have time to verify it.  Let’s assume it’s legit for now.

Fact: “Hostile Hallways,” is the best-known study of harassment in grades 8-11. It was commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 1993, and is a favorite of many harassment experts. But this survey revealed that girls are doing almost as much harassing as the boys. According to the study, “85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys surveyed say they have experienced unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with their lives.”

Sneaky.  The statistic quoted, assuming it’s correct, doesn’t say much useful about harassment, does it? It’s no surprise that both girls and boys tend to experience harassment but the author doesn’t say anything about the extent, degree or type of harassment.  Is harassment of boys as routine and endemic as it is of girls?  This is something else we can test and – again – I expect somebody has.  But the author doesn’t seem to have looked.  He’s found a stat that seems to fit his preconceptions and that’s good enough for him.

(Four scholars at the University of Michigan did a careful follow-up study of the AAUW data and concluded: “The majority of both genders (53%) described themselves as having been both victim and perpetrator of harassment — that is most students had been harassed and had harassed others.” And these researchers draw the right conclusion: “Our results led us to question the simple perpetrator-victim model…”)(See: American Education Research Journal, Summer 1996.)

More smoke. This does nothing to either confirm or refute the ‘myth’.  It’s saying something completely different.

8. Myth: Girls suffer a dramatic loss of self-esteem during adolescence.

Fact: This myth of the incredible shrinking girls was started by Carol Gilligan, professor of gender studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gilligan has always enjoyed higher standing among feminist activists and journalists than among academic research psychologists.

Ad hominem.  Attack the argument, not the arguer.

Scholars who follow the protocols of social science do not accept the reality of an adolescent “crisis” of confidence and “loss of voice.” In 1993, American Psychologist reported the new consensus among researchers in adolescent development: “It is now known that the majority of adolescents of both genders successfully negotiate this developmental period without any major psychological or emotional disorder [and] develop a positive sense of personal identity.”

I think we’ve lost sight of the myth here.  The author seems to be suggesting that there’s a persistent claim that girls suffer from a loss of self-esteem during adolescence more than boys.  Is this really a common claim by feminists? But either way, the cited study seems to suggest there’s no differential. So isn’t the claim correct? I sure as shit had a crisis of self-esteem during adolescence and so did absolutely everyone I know.  That includes some girls.  I survived it. So did everyone else who is still alive. 

I really don’t see what point is supposedly being made and I certainly don’t understand what the supposed evidence says about the claim one way or another.

9. Myth: Gender is a social construction.

Fact: While environment and socialization do play a significant role in human life, a growing body of research in neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology over the past 40 years suggests there is a biological basis for many sex differences in aptitudes and preferences. In general, males have better spatial reasoning skills; females better verbal skills. Males are greater risk takers; females are more nurturing.

I’d love to see this ‘growing body of research’, but of course none of it is cited.  I wonder why. Stating a thing doesn’t make it so and 40 years of studies with the same outcome ought to have dredged up enough evidence to cite, right?  Apparently not.  Perhaps those four decades also chivvied up some evidence that aptitudes and attitudes are not determined by biology alone.  To make an argument, the author would have to demonstrate why those studies are flawed and the ones that happen to support his conclusion are not.  He doesn’t do anything even similar to that.

If the author were concerned with whether or not gender is a social construct, he’d focus on ways to test that. Do girls automatically like pink regardless of culture or do they like pink because they’re taught that they should? That kind of thing.  But he’s not concerned with that, he’s concerned with re-enforcing the gender roles he thinks ought to exist.

Of course, this does not mean that women should be prevented from pursuing their goals in any field they choose; what it does suggest is that we should not expect parity in all fields.

If you could take a month off work to strive night and day to come up with a better excuse for sexism, do you think you could? Let’s turn the argument around to reveal what the author really means: women can’t do some stuff as well as men, so we get to treat women like idiots. Poor little things, trying to do men’s work. We indulge them, bless their hearts, but they can’t expect us to pay them the same as men or treat them with the same respect.

More women than men will continue to want to stay at home with small children and pursue careers in fields like early childhood education or psychology; men will continue to be over-represented in fields like helicopter mechanics and hydraulic engineering.

First, hilarious choice of macho occupations. Second, isn’t this begging the question?  It’s such transparent bullshit that I’m not even going to bother teasing it out.

Warning: Most gender scholars in our universities have degrees in fields like English or comparative literature–not biology or neuroscience. These self-appointed experts on sexuality are scientifically illiterate. They substitute dogma and propaganda for reasoned scholarship.

If they are university scholars, aren’t they appointed by the university?  In what sense are they self-appointed?  Besides, the term' ‘gender scholars’ is deliberately and stupidly vague.  What does it mean?  Do all these ‘gender scholars’ have the same sort of outlook? Do they make the same claims?  Is it the gender scholars who came up with all these supposed myths?

10. Myth: Women’s Studies Departments empowered women and gave them a voice in the academy.

Fact: Women’s Studies empowered a small group of like-minded careerists. They have created an old-girl network that is far more elitist, narrow and closed than any of the old-boy networks they rail against.

Citation needed.

Vast numbers of moderate or dissident women scholars have been marginalized, excluded and silenced.

Citation needed. Look, just asserting something doesn’t make it so. Haven’t you understood that yet? If your claim is true, it’s interesting. If it’s just made up, it’s worthless.

I don’t know how to go about measuring empowerment.  But I know a silencing tactic when I see one. The author is asserting with no evidence that women’s studies is no good based on no stated criteria so women should probably just shut up and stop being annoying.

So there you have it: the 10 most common feminist myths debunked, apparently.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Looks like time for a point-by-point rebuttal part 1

I do love a good point-by-point rebuttal.  It’s a form of art sadly neglected in these days of Twitter.  It’s also time-consuming and I’m really busy, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

BEHOLD. Behold, that is, if you have a strong stomach and piss-poor logic doesn’t cause you to erupt in boundless rage 

This is a site called Exposing Feminism.  Its slogan is “Feminism is MAN-HATE. EXPOSE IT”, so you pretty much know what you’re getting from the word go.  The article is called “The 10 Most Common Feminist Myths”. You might think it would contain such items as “Feminists are all hairy lesbians” or “All feminists hate men/want more stuff than men get/need a good fucking” but those didn’t seem to make the cut.  This leads me to wonder “most popular according to whom?”  To whoever wrote the article, I suppose, since no source was cited.  It’s always good to fire off a rebuttal to the title even before getting to the article.

I’m not going to dispute the statistics in the following as it would take far more time than I have.  But the arguments are hilarious, so I’ll tackle those. I’m also assuming the author is male. Sue me.

So here (according to someone) are the 10 most common feminism myths:

1. Myth: One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

Fact: This mother of all factoids is based on a fallacious feminist study commissioned by Ms. magazine. The researcher, Mary Koss, hand-picked by hard-line feminist Gloria Steinem, acknowledges that 73 percent of the young women she counted as rape victims were not aware they had been raped. Forty-three percent of them were dating their “attacker” again.

So if a woman is unaware that she was raped, it didn’t happen?  I wonder if Koss really said that the women didn’t know they’d been raped.  I wonder if she said something more along the lines of some women saying they didn’t feel they could really classify it as rape because it was by their partner or they were drunk or that she kindasorta led him on before saying no to sex… But even if the claim is accurate, not knowing that what happened to you was rape doesn’t make it not rape.  Dating one’s rapist after the event doesn’t make it not rape either.  Many people stay with their partners after suffering domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Does that make it not abuse?

Bonus points for ‘hard-line feminist’ and ‘hand-picked'’, by the way.  How else was the researcher supposed to be picked?  A fucking lottery?  Whether Steinem is a ‘hard-line feminist’ or not is irrelevant.  The integrity of the study is.  I haven’t seen the study and it isn’t cited, so I can’t tell.  The article does cite some other papers suggesting they refute Koss’ study but mysteriously doesn’t explain how they do so. 

The one exception is "According to this study, campus police reported 1,310 forcible sex offenses on U.S. campuses in one year. That works out to an average of fewer than one rape per campus.)” That’s not quite the same thing, is it?  That’s a statistic about sex offenses reported by campus police and says nothing at all about the number actually committed. Based on the titles alone, the other papers cited don’t seem to be talking about the same statistic either.  But I haven’t read them, so I could be wrong.

Rape is a uniquely horrible crime. That is why we need sober and responsible research. Women will not be helped by hyperbole and hysteria. Truth is no enemy of compassion, and falsehood is no friend.

And a thousand expensive irony meters bite the dust. Why do these people always need to tell us that rape is bad?  I think most of us can take that as read, can’t we?  Could it possibly be that they realise they’re being horrible rape apologists and need to throw down a smoke bomb and run away?

2. Myth: Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Fact: The 75 cent figure is terribly misleading. This statistic is a snapshot of all current full-time workers. It does not consider relevant factors like length of time in the workplace, education, occupation, and number of hours worked per week. (The experience gap is particularly large between older men and women in the workplace.) When economists do the proper controls, the so-called gender wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.

There are numerous studies that show – by a variety of measures – that women in general earn less than their male counterparts. I don’t have time to look them up now, I’m afraid, but that fact is not in dispute.  I don’t know whether the figure is 75% but that doesn’t matter.  This is a tactic you’ll come to recognise from the author.  Dispute the specific figure, not the problem.  Demolishing strawmen isn’t difficult. That’s the point of strawmen. But this guy seems to get put in a headlock and paraded around by his own strawmen. It’s a bizarre display of incompetence.

But none of this matters, according to the author, because when you take into account exactly the right things, the wage gap becomes ‘vanishingly small’. That’s not very difficult to arrange.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t say what ‘vanishingly small’  means or what those ‘proper controls’ are.  He does make some unjustified assertions though.  For example, he writes about education (are women in the workforce less educated than men? In most Western societies at least, this seems doubtful). He also writes about occupation.  If the measure he’s writing of really does ignore occupation, what should we conclude?  Either that women are somehow unfit for higher-paying occupations or that they find it more difficult to get into those occupations in the first place.  Are either of those things true? I know which I’d put my money on.

And then there’s the supposed ‘experience gap’.It’s pretty clear that he’s talking about childcare here.  I’m amused by how specific he is: it’s ‘older women’ who have the biggest experience gap, presumably because younger women haven’t had children yet.  This is a testable hypothesis: presumably younger women have more similar pay to younger men, then?  Do they?

But the most hilarious point is the ‘proper controls’ part.  We can always control variables until they say what we want, at which case we describe them as ‘proper’. That isn't science, I’m afraid.

There’s another citation for this ‘myth’, but again the author doesn’t explain what this source says that refutes it. You’d think there’d be some gleeful quotes, wouldn’t you, if the source said what he says it says.

3. Myth: 30 percent of emergency room visits by women each year are the result of injuries from domestic violence.

Fact: This incendiary statistic is promoted by gender feminists whose primary goal seems to be to impugn men.

Is it? Where? If it’s so common, you’d think he’d provide a few examples, wouldn’t you? That way we could judge whether the people who promote this statistic (assuming there are any) are really ‘gender feminists’. And then we can ask ourselves whether that matters.  The people who promote anything are necessarily people with an agenda. Does that mean we should discount what they say?  Is only totally disinterested comment – contradiction though that is – worthy of attention? So far, all we have is ad-hom.  Without evidence. And with a gigantic assumption about the goals of these unspecified feminists.

But again the author is disputing the figure rather than the issue. Does the exact percentage matter? What percentage would be acceptable? 

Two responsible government studies report that the nationwide figure is closer to one percent. While these studies may have missed some cases of domestic violence, the 30% figure is a wild exaggeration.

This is pure genius.  “While there’s no evidence for this, it’s scientific fact." Please. Once again, I don’t know what these ‘responsible’ government studies actually say or whether they’re talking about the same statistic. I don’t know whether the methodologies and controls are comparable. But, I’m willing to bet, neither does the author.  But I could be wrong. Perhaps the author has read and understood the sources and knows that they are directly comparable. But wouldn’t he say so?

The fact that anyone is subjected to domestic violence is horrifying.  The fact that it happens to women more than to men is horrific for several reasons.  The most horrific reason is that it suggests that men are consistently able to get away with it: that it isn’t soundly enough condemned and that people like our author feel justified in being apologists for domestic violence.

4. Myth: The phrase “rule of thumb” originated in a man’s right to beat his wife provided the stick was no wider than his thumb.

Fact: This is an urban legend that is still taken seriously by activist law professors and harassment workshoppers. The Oxford English Dictionary has more than twenty citations for phrase “rule of thumb” (the earliest from 1692), but not a single mention of beatings, sticks, or husbands and wives.

Holy shit. The origin of the phrase is hardly relevant to the multitude of women who’ve been hit with sticks. Can’t we agree that husbands beating their wives with or without sticks is horrific and not quibble about the origin of a phrase that’s purported to limit the extent of the violence that can be done?  What is the author even trying to achieve by describing this ‘myth’? 

Well, I suppose he’s saying that because a particular phrase doesn’t – in it’s origin – specifically advocate the beating of women with a certain size of stick, then….. feminism is wrong.  Or that it’s totally OK to beat women with really really big sticks, it’s impossible to say.

Fact: women with broken eye sockets are unlikely to take solace in the fact that the phrase ‘rule of thumb’ probably isn’t about beating wives.

OK, I’m being slightly facetious. I’m ignoring the implication of the phrase that there’s a tradition of beating wives with sticks and the author’s presumed thought that debunking the phrase debunks the reality of the tradition. Yeah, I’m not being facetious at all, am I?

5. Myth: Women have been shortchanged in medical research.

Fact: The National Institutes of Health and drug companies routinely include women in clinical trials that test for effectiveness of medications.

Hilarious. I expect they do, but does that mean they research and develop medicine specifically for women as much as they research and develop medicine specifically for men? 

It says no such thing. It’s an irrelevant statistic.  Why not isolate the diseases that are specific to mostly men and mostly to women and then see what research goes into each? That would seem relevant.

By 1979, over 90% of all NIH-funded trials included women.

This is another stupid, deliberately misleading  statistic. If we are to detect a bias, surely we also need to know what percentage include men? And we’d also need to know about the different illnesses men and women can get, how treatable those illnesses are and – sadly – the economic value of researching, building and distributing the treatments. 

The indignant assertion that “we do some research about women-illness, what are you complaining about?” speaks the usual volumes.

Beginning in 1985, when the NIH’s National Cancer Center began keeping track of specific cancer funding, it has annually spent more money on breast cancer than any other type of cancer. Currently, women represent over 60% of all subjects in NIH-funded clinical trails.

Certain types of cancer are known to be more successfully treatable than others and we know more about some forms of cancer. Incremental improvements to existing drugs are going to generate more trials. That doesn’t mean that there’s less effort being put into other forms of cancer. Those are the factors we should consider. I expect lots of people have done that. This author doesn’t cite any such study, only the ones that – based on title alone, apparently – seem in his head to support his pre-determined opinion.

That’s part one. I’ll get onto the top five in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More on e-books

You see, this is a good attitude.

Plus, those books of Gaiman’s aimed at children are hardly recognisable as being such, which is exactly as they should be. They are good books with good, complex stories and interesting characters. Very much like Pratchett’s books for children, which every adult should read.

I vaguely remember but can’t find a quote by Terry Pratchett along the lines of:it being easy to write stories about animals that can talk but a lot more difficult to write ones about people who can think.

In my memory and possibly entirely made up, this was a dig by Pratchett at things like Harry Potter. Bland, formulaic, repetitive crap with no interesting characters and the same ‘story’ un every single book.

Both authors deal with magic. Here’s how they differ:

Rowling relies on the Subjugated Child With A Destiny. This is such an over-used and over-rated trope, no wonder everyone got sick of it.

Pratchett wrote about children who have difficult things to do and did them. His books are about learning to be what they think they are. Rowling’s books are about telling children how bland and stupid they can be.


Friday, October 11, 2013

More royal stupidity

But relatively benign this time. Just an old lady complaining about how the world has changed. And – unusually – nothing to do with Charles Windsor.

The queen is apparently very concerned that children are reading ‘too many’ ebooks and ‘not enough’ paper books.

I can certainly see that making books cheaper and easier to distribute, store and carry would harm our nation’s children.  We wouldn’t want our kids to have – in practical terms – a vastly increased choice of reading material because of search and recommendation engines.  Bookshops – at least, the chains – have long been disappointing places, stocking mostly the top X fiction titles and filling the rest of the space with cookery books.  Buying a paper book from Amazon is entirely different.  The choice is as close to infinite as makes no practical difference and there are reviews and recommendations and things-similar and what-people-also-boughts.  Buying ebooks is exactly like that except without the wait or delivery costs. I can certainly see why this would be bad for children.

Worse still, thanks to the Guttenberg Project, we can get classic books that are out of copyright for free.  We wouldn’t want increased access to books for people who couldn’t otherwise afford them, would we?

I understand – I really do – that many people enjoy the format of printed books.  They like the feel. They like the smell. They like it when books are well-used and a bit dog-eared and naturally fall open at favourite places.  They have romantic and nostalgic feelings about reading.  They remember when they were transported to magical worlds as children and for some reason associate that with print technology, rather than the – you know – words and their own imaginations.  I get that and don’t insist that people read e-books.

So it pisses me off when people – especially monarchs – decree that ebooks are bad. They’d prefer to deprive kids of the advantages solely because the books they used to read looked a bit different. 

Needless to say, the queen is also worried about video games.  Perhaps she’d prefer that kids joust instead.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Oh, some blasphemy

Oh, I don’t know, let Satan spunk on a wafer or something. The holy ghost probably wouldn’t approve of that.

Do you think I’m joking?

I’m not, look: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/10/05/flying-witches-and-africans/

Swaziland has set a maximum height for witches to fly on broomsticks.

Hopefully it will next crack down on all those two-eyed cyclopses, un-horned unicorns and mermaids with legs.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Who I am, how I came to be part 2: I hope things are better now

I nearly died from complications arising from osteomyelitis when I was a kid. Osteomyelitis is a disease of the bone or marrow and it’s quite nasty.  In my case, it seems to have been caused by some bacterial infection latching on to a trauma to my shin.  Someone kicked my shin really fucking hard a few days before I got ill, so it’s assumed that was the trauma.  I don’t know where the infection came from.

Anyway, I was very ill. I had a very dangerous fever, pain like you wouldn’t believe, a leg that was as swollen as and the colour of a space hopper and a feeling I can only describe as acute sadness. I just wanted to cry all the time and I don’t think that was just because I felt ill.  I think it was a symptom.

My parents thought I was making it up and sent me to school.  School didn’t like the look of me on little bit and send me home again.  My mother – I have to say, in very bad grace – took me to the doctor.  I had heard the phrase ‘visibly paled’ but hadn’t seen it before. The doctor visibly paled and sent me directly to hospital. He said my mother should drive me because it would take too long for an ambulance.  This was surely hyperbole: the doctor’s surgery was five minutes walk from the hospital. But I expect he was trying to impart the seriousness of the situation.  I’m glad he did. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital I was hooked up to a drip and rattling from the number of antibiotic pills inside me.

I’ve no doubt that the doctors at the hospital saved my life or – at the very least – my leg.  But when I look back at it decades later, I see some extraordinary things about my treatment, which concern me.

First, on the day I was admitted, I was flitting in and out of consciousness. When I was conscious, I was scared. My mother had to go back to work and my dad was at work too, so I was completely alone in an entirely unfamiliar environment. I expect this is not uncommon, but the staff didn’t seem to notice. They didn’t tell me what would happen to me. They didn’t tell me the rules. How was I supposed to go to the toilet when I couldn’t get out of bed? Well, you ask the nurses, of course, but nobody told me I could.  They seemed to be doing really important things and I felt that I should just know this stuff and was stupid for not knowing it. I guess the nurses and doctors assumed the same sort of thing. So this is the first concern: there was no orientation. Nobody told me that if I needed something I should just ask.  Humiliatingly, when I was finally desperate enough I did tell a nurse that I needed the toilet and she brought me a bottle. I didn’t know that what I really needed to ask for was a bedpan. You can speculate how that worked out.  But I just didn’t know any better. I was alone and scared and didn’t know how these things worked. It seemed stupid to me, but I’d been to school so was used to nonsensical rules.

Then the doctors treated me. They certainly saved my life and I have no complaints about that.  But they never told me what they actually did to me. They seemed to assume I didn’t need to know because I was a child. Decades later I asked my parents what the doctors told them about my treatment but they couldn’t remember.

They told me nothing at all. I  was instructed to not eat or drink anything (but not why) and then had an operation. I still have no idea what that operation was. I expect that it removed some necrotic tissue and possibly marrow. But nobody ever told me what was going to – or had been – done to me.

These days, that strikes me as odd. I hope things are better now, I hope doctors and nurses orient children better when they get to the hospital and explain to them what they’re going to do to them and why.  Perhaps they assumed my parents would do that, but they didn’t. I don’t feel fear very often, but I felt it then.

I hope kids today aren’t as scared as I was.  Do you want to know what scared me most? I’ll tell you.

After my operation, my leg was in plaster. After a few days a doctor came to tell me that he intended to put a window in my leg. HE WANTED TO PUT A WINDOW IN MY LEG. IN MY FUCKING LEG. I thought that he wanted to put a piece of glass in my leg so he could look inside. I did not want that. But I didn’t know I could object or even ask about it.

It turned out that he just wanted to cut a section out of the plaster on my leg so he could look at how much my flesh was rotting. Which was a relief at the time, but doesn’t seem like that now I come to talk about it.

But anyway, I hope that these days kids get treated like himans when they go to hospital. I didn’t feel cared for, I felt scared and helpless, at the most vulnerable time ot my life.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

First fossil

When I was about 7 I found a perfect Ammonite fossil, about 3 inches across. I found it half buried in some mud in a river bank.Due to some malfeasance on behalf of an ex-girlfriend I don’t have it today (she borrowed it to put in her fish tank and never gave it back) but it was one of the things that inspired me to choose a career in science.

I often wonder about that fossil.  The only explanation for it’s location is that someone dropped it there. But this was not a place likely to be visited by many people. It was where I went to be alone, very much in the middle of nowhere, 20 minutes walk from any building across fields and rough ground. The chances of my sitting in that exact spot and putting my hand on a piece of stone and deciding to dig it out are surely astronomical. And yet there it was.

The fossil and the coincidence both impressed me and this was about the time I started to get seriously into pop-sci books.  It’s fun to think that if that fleeting astronomical coincidence hadn’t happened, my life might have been completely different.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A year of blasphemy, day 3

Fucking nine year olds isn’t and could never possibly be OK.

A year of blasphemy day two

The holy spirit is a dick.

A story

My leg is hurting so much that I can not get anything useful done today, so I’ll tell you a story instead.

Years ago I had a German girlfriend. One week we went to visit her family in Berlin. It was the first time I’d been to Berlin. In fact, it was my first time away from the British mainland.  The wall was down but there was still a striking difference between the East and West. The West was much like every other modern city except that the utilities were housed in pipes that sprouted out of the pavements and ran along in the air for a while before changing direction for no apparent reason and eventually plunging back into the ground or into buildings. The East was strange.  My girlfriend’s parents lived in a tower block. There were maybe five such blocks arranged around a plaza.  They had originally been issued to families by the state and when the wall came down they were basically given to those families.  Many of which immediately moved out because the flats weren’t in great condition and now there was nobody to do even pretend maintenance and nobody had any money.  So the families that remained spread out into unused flats.  My girlfriend’s parents lived in one flat and she and her brother had their own flats in the same building from the time they were both young teenagers.  Pretty sweet, right?  We stayed for the week in her flat.

After we’d settled in, we went upstairs so I could meet her parents. Shamefully, my German was even worse then than it is now and they didn’t speak much English.  The first thing my girlfriend’s father did after shaking my hand was to give me a magazine with a grin on his face. 

It turned out to be a German edition of Playboy. This is not what I expected when meeting my girlfriend’s parents, but Germans tend to be less inhibited than the English so I thought what the fuck and flicked my way through it, turning it sideways at the centrefold and trying to take exactly the right amount of interest in the contents while miming small talk.

My girlfriend didn’t say a word all this time.  But she had a slight smile on her face, which in hindsight should have tipped me off.

She explained afterwards, with much hilarity, that her grandfather had invented the machine that makes thermos flasks.  The magazine had a calendar of significant world events in the back and – this being a German Playboy – it included the invention of this machine and a short profile of its inventor.

It turns out this is what I was supposed to be looking at.  But instead I went right ahead and scrutinised every page with obvious interest and curiosity. During the first ten minutes of meeting my girlfriend’s family.

It turned out to be an interesting trip. We went shopping for clothes in a shop that sold them by weight. There were no changing rooms, but that didn’t stop people simply stripping naked in the middle of the shop and trying on clothes.  We went to bars in the student quarter which were just people’s houses.  Seriously, we sat on their sofa watching TV while they served us warm beer in ordinary cups out of kegs that had cats and dogs sleeping on them. These are all completely brilliant ideas.

Years and years later I lived in another part of Germany and it was nothing like that although still completely brilliant. I expect Berlin isn’t much like that any more either.  If so, it’s a shame. Places should be more like that.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A year of blasphemy day one

Piss up a cross, Jesus. And the holy spirit you rode in on.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How hard did they try?

This conference, which seems to be some sort of pop-science event, had this in the FAQ:


Q: I am a fanatical, misandristic ‘feminist’. May I drone on about the lack of women in the line-up and despatch abusive, bigoted, mis-spelt, ungrammatical missives to the organisers and presenters?

A: No, Please save your talents for Twitter and Facebook, that is what they are for.

We’re actually very disappointed that none of our female invitees accepted, but that is just how it was. As scientists we have no choice but to accept reality. Wanting something to be otherwise does not make it so.

Reading very carefully between the lines and squinting real hard, I think I can just about detect a hint of attitude there.

They’ve changed it now:

We tried. We failed. The event was set up at short notice and as it happened, of all the excellent people we approached the only ones available on the day were men. We knew this wasn’t ideal and questions would be asked, so we tried to make a joke about it.

We tried. We failed. Should have been spotted by us, but as soon as our attention was drawn to it – via Twitter – we removed it. That only added to the confusion as some people saw the reactions without always knowing what was being reacted to.

So, sorry. It’s not through lack of effort the line-up is wide-ranging in the nature of their brilliance but entirely mono-gendered, but it is our fault the attempt at levity about it fell flat. And we do appreciate the efforts of all those who drew our attention to the error.

So, to be fair, they apologised.  But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

First, How did they imagine this was an acceptable joke in the first place?  They obviously knew that there was an issue with the line-up being exclusively white and male. They obviously knew that they might (rightly) receive criticism for it.  Rather than saying they tried and failed, they ‘joked’ about the people who might criticise them. And by ‘joked’ I mean ‘created a vicious strawman plainly intended to ridicule people with genuine concerns about a pernicious problem in conferences and in wider society’.  If you screw up, it’s your fault, not the fault of people who criticise you and much less the fault of a deliberately nasty mischaracterisation of the people you imagine might criticise you.

Second, I can’t help but wonder how hard they really tried, especially given the attitude in the original ‘joke’,  I wonder how many women and non-white people they invited to the conference.  I wonder whether they were more willing to be flexible to accommodate people like Dawkins or the other billed speakers. It’s unacceptable that a conference about the popularisation of science is filled exclusively by white men because it reinforces the incorrect but popular view that there are few women in science, perhaps because it’s more of a guy thing. I don’t want to seem as though I’m telling people how to run their conferences, but shouldn’t diversity have been one of the primary motivations of a conference like this?  They really couldn’t find a single speaker who was not white and male? Come on.

For all I know, of course, they tried really hard and things just didn’t work out. But I have my doubts.  The apology doesn’t seem very sincere.  They say that the ‘joke’ should have been spotted by them, not that it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. This makes me doubt their commitment to diversity.

It’s also unclear who they are apologising to. To the people they aggressively mischaracterised as fanatical, misandristic ‘feminists’?  They were not mentioned in the apology.  To the people they hurt by wasting an opportunity to put women and minorities at the centre of a high-profile science communication event and then treated the affair as a joke?  There is no evidence that they even understand the issue.

It looks to me like a standard not-pology.  They’re sorry they got caught.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Who I am, how I came to be. Page 1

I was born in North Yorkshire, England. I’ve been almost everywhere but haven’t seen anywhere as stark, as beautiful and as starkly beautiful as parts of that county. It’s a place with bones and the bones poke through. I don’t just mean the geography, I mean the people, too. The people of the Dales are as hard as nails. But they’re at the same time as soft as butter. They can treat their families like strangers and cry like a baby when their sheepdog dies. The environment shapes the people and it shaped me. For the worse as much as for the better, but here I am.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Some impossible things before breakfast

I came downstairs this morning and found a set of bluetooth headphones in the middle of the floor.  This was strange because I lost those headphones nearly a year ago, in Leeds.  Or so I’d believed.  I used them on the train on the way to Leeds, then couldn’t find them when I got on the train home.

I went through my bag several times, even though I always put the headphones in the one, small, zipped pocket. I emptied the bag out when I got home and the headphones were not there.

Of course, they must somehow have been in there anyway. They must have fallen out (somehow) somehow without my noticing and (somehow) got lost in the house for a year, even though there’s nowhere they could have been where I wouldn’t have come across them in the course of all those months. And then Fortran must (somehow) have found them and decided to play with them, leaving them in the middle of the room when she was done.

That’s a lot of somehows.

The only other plausible explanation is even less likely.  After a few days I replaced the lost headset with an identical one.  I suppose it’s conceivable that I’ve been using both headsets interchangeably and (somehow) failed to notice.  It seems virtually impossible that I wouldn’t have tried to put one of them in my bag at some point when the other set was already there.  Or maybe Liz is fucking with my head.

Whatever the actual explanation, I don’t know what it is.  But I make that at least four impossible things before breakfast.

Monday, September 02, 2013


I posted a comment here. My intention was to complain about bits and bobs from my childhood to show certain people what whining really is (those people don’t even know what whining is, I;m the expert). But I ended up thinking HOLY FUCK, HOW COULD THEY DO THAT TO ME?

I was caned quite a lot at school. There were two methods:

1. You were forced to hold out your hand – often held in place by a third party – and were struck up to a dozen times on your hand by a special instrument designed to deliver as much pain as possible, More on that later.

2. You were bent over a table with your trousers and underpants round your ankles in front of the whole class and were beaten on the arse with the same torture device, with everyone watching.

The cane was a bendy wooden whip designed for the purpose. I don’t believe they were issued to teachers, I expect teachers had to buy them, Which means that there were shops specialising in devices specifically designed to inflict as much pain on children as was dubiously legal.

And the nation was outraged when caning was abolished,

Friday, August 30, 2013

And we think we know what rape looks like

And we think we know what rape looks like.

Another stupid meaningless equation that Simon Moore probably wishes he’d written

If this site was named for anything in particular, it was stuff like this.

Look. At the state. Of that.

Simon Moore: making shit up isn’t science

The Daily Mail reports that

Finally, scientist discovers recipe for the perfect 99! Flake should sit at 45 degree angle and ice cream should be -15°C

I don’t know what we scientists have been wasting our time with doing things like curing cancer and trying to protect everyone’s privacy.

The ‘scientist’ in question is Professor Simon Moore, a psychologist at London Met.  He doesn’t seem to be actually a professor, but that’s OK because he’s a shit.

Simon Moore is one of those ‘scientists’ who is available to comment authoritatively on absolutely everything regardless of whether he has any expertise in that area. He’s a journalist’s wet dream. He’s bound to be on countless speed dials.  Every time anyone has money burning a hole in their pocket and wants a vaguely sciency-sounding piece of made-up crap, not-Professor Simon Moore steps up.

Here are a few things he claims to have professional expertise in:

  • The perfect 99
  • Pheromones
  • Hot or not: the rules of attraction, love and sex
  • Violence in movies
  • The secret lives of cars
  • The safest music to play when driving (Coldplay, in case you’re wondering, which I sincerely hope you are not)
  • The best volume for driving music
  • Hot drinks promote warm feelings
  • How to make your house a home (he’s suddenly an ‘environmental psychologist’ in this article, whatever one of those is)
  • Weird psychological tricks to make customers happy
  • Proof that astrology is nonsense (duh!)
  • Why crying is good for you
  • Flirting
  • Proof that men really do prefer blondes
  • Why people like horror

And on and on and on and fucking on.

You might be thinking that this man isn’t motivated more by money than learning. Perhaps he really is a towering intellect and a true renaissance man. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.  I picked this quote from him entirely at random. It was the first quote from him outside the ice cream article that I found. Ask yourself: is this something a proper scientist would say?

A psychology lecturer has defended the low age restrictions of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight. Simon Moore, who researches violence in films at London Metropolitan University, said few children would be adversely affected by Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in the 12A-certified film. Dr Moore said: "You can't say the stimulus of a film is going to have an effect on all children. If that was the case, why aren't there any reported stabbings in cinemas?"

I blame the media more than I blame Moore. He’s quite clearly a money-grabbing egotistical wanker, but it’s the media and companies driving truckloads of money into his house who are the real villains.  They want a sciency-sounding reason that their Stupid Shit of the Day is true and they have no intention of doing anything more strenuous than using the first button on their speed-dial.

It’s Wakefield on vaccines all over again, no lessons have been learned. People died, but journalists didn’t think they might change their behaviour.

There’s another guy who does this, isn’t there? He has the perfect formula for everything anyone asks him about, regardless of how little sense they make. I seem to remember he invented a formula for the perfect arse, or something, having been told by his patron that whatever his exhaustive research uncovered it would be Beyonce who had the perfect arse.  Or maybe it was the perfect legs or the perfect walk or something. I doubt it would have made the slightest difference to the result.

Personally, I couldn’t give the slightest fuck what angle the flake is stuck into my 99. I care when they cut the flake in half and stick it in like it's a full one, though. Bastards.

Edit: I was wrong. It was Jessica Alba: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/sep/01/1

Whoever she is.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I’ve been reading some Neil Gaiman books recently and started thinking about gods as depicted in fiction. 

When the god in question is one of the monos, he seems to be almost always the one true god, even if the author is an atheist.  There aren’t any other gods flitting around.

When there is a pantheon of gods involved, there usually seems to be other panthea as well.  If you find a Norse god in a novel, it seems to be the rule that you’ll find Greek gods as well.  And Hindu ones.  And maybe gods from no particular tradition that exist because people believe in them like Pratchett’s Anoia: the Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers.

In fact, neatly, there are examples from both Pratchett and Gaiman, since they have both written books with many panthea of gods and they co-wrote a book about a monotheistic god.

I’m sure there are loads of counter-examples.  Perhaps irreligious authors from a Hindu tradition write books featuring just the Hindu gods, I’ve no idea.  But I’d quite like to find out.

It just struck me as quite interesting.  Is this something to do with the pervasiveness of religion?  Do we cultural monotheists, even if we’re atheists, still on some level see pantheistic gods as somehow less real than the already unreal monos?  Or am I just reading too much into it?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


In 1987, Volkswagen ran an advertisement in the UK, which turned out to be hugely controversial.  Here it is:
Volkswagen Golf advert ~1987
That’s because the song (Changes by Alan Price, which was used in the 1973 film O Lucky Man!) used the tune from a Hymn (What a friend we have in Jesus).

This was seen by many in Britain as unforgivably blasphemous and there were endless far-too-serious news reports and letters to editors and comments on current affairs shows.  “How dare they?”, people said, “how DARE they use an old song that happened to use an even older tune from a yet older poem to sell cars?”  Even my very Christian parents seemed uncomfortable about the fuss. On the one hand, it was just a tune.  On the other, everyone else was calling it blasphemous, so maybe they should too?  I think in the end they took one side each as a sort of no-guilt compromise and refused to speak of it ever again.

It’s not as though religious music hadn’t been used in adverts before.  I can’t help but speculate that the advert’s featuring a powerful woman taking matters into her own hands and making her own decisions might have had something to do with the ire.

But I think it shows (anecdotally) how the Church of England’s grip on the UK has loosened over those few years. It seems inconceivable that there’d be such an outcry now.  The grip is still there, but I sometimes feel optimistic that it’s hanging on by the fingertips.  The CoE still has far too much impact on this country. Too many people jump when they pop up and shout boo.  The media swivel their eyes and ears to clergy when something bad happens. There are too many clergy in the House of Lords.  Also, we have a House of Lords.

But the vast majority of people, even, I think, the vast majority of Christians, just don’t care about stuff like this any more, which has to be a good thing.

My father in law reminded me yesterday of another example. Until 1994(!) it was illegal – with some exceptions – for shops to open on Sundays.  The reasons were almost entirely religious, of course. It was often justified by the claim that Sunday trading would pressure employees into work and away from their families but nobody was particularly fooled.  And when that changed in 1994, the country didn’t collapse.  Shops just hired feckless teenagers to work on Sundays and the worst that happened was that everyone had to put up with sullen, disinterested service. Considering this is Britain anyway, it was hard to tell the difference.

And now, of course, the most devout of Christians happily shop on Sundays. They already did, in fact, in those areas that were oddly exempt prior to 1994, which happened to be those things that would be particularly inconvenient if they weren’t allowed.

Anyway, changes indeed.  Changes for the better.  I see worrying trends in the UK.  We have creationism in schools.  We have schools refusing to ‘promote’ (i.e recognise as not bad) homosexual relationships.  We have interfering bishops and media terrified of upsetting the religious.  We have Sharia courts and religious schools.  I’m not convinced these are blips and there are countless more inequalities to tackle.

But we also seem to be moving closer to secularism both continuously and apace.  When I look back over 25 years or so, I can’t help but feel the warmth of optimism in my blackened, shrivelled heart.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It’s the same evidence, we just analyse it differently


The Conservapedia entry on Elevatorgate (the incident, not the troll) is hilarious.  I won’t give too much away because I don’t want to spoil the joy of reading it, but a couple of things stand out right from the start:

1. At no point does the entry actually describe what happened during the incident or what Rebecca said about it in her video.  It calls it “an incident which occurred in an elevator” and that’s all it says.

2. The whole thing was about Richard Dawkins, didn’t you know?  It’s about how Richard Dawkins is a bad man because he’s an atheists and atheists are bad people.

Most of the article is about the negative impact Dawkins has had on his beloved atheism because of Elevatorgate.  Oh, and the global decline of atheism compared to the explosive rise of Christianity occurring as a result, naturally.


Saturday, August 10, 2013


I’ll keep this short.

If you have a good reason to believe someone is a rapist, your duty is to warn potential victims. It’s very bad when people are falsely accused of rape but incalculably worse when people are actually raped. There is simply no contest.

So be as sure of your facts as you possibly can but don’t be scared of naming names because of what might happen to you. 

Another thing: accusations are real things. Repeating them isn’t breaking some kind of code of fucking silence. It has to be OK to repeat allegations. Let’s be aware of the consequences of doing so, yes. But let’s also be aware of the consequences of not doing it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Groomed to be a participant in her own assault

This is heartbreaking and heartbreakingly common. Look at this part:
I was engaged to my rapist– had been engaged to him for almost a year by the time he raped me. He sexually assaulted me… I honestly don’t know. The number of times is probably in the hundreds. Looking back over our relationship, he had been grooming me for that moment for literally years. It had started small– minor things I could brush off as cute, as innocent, as harmless, but things still done to me without my consent. Slowly, so slowly I couldn’t tell what was happening, everything intensified. And, through it all, he made absolutely certain that I knew beyond all doubt that there was no such thing as no. If I said no to anything– if I didn’t instantly answer when he called, if I didn’t immediately change my clothes when he told me to, if I didn’t comply with every request the second he made it, I was punished.
He also made it brutally, horribly clear that he was not interested in only demanding and taking– if I was not at least a semi-active participant in my own assault, he would punish me for that, too.
Another aspect of this sort of grooming is that victims can end up initiating physical encounters in public even if they don’t want to. This can ruin the victim’s credibility if s/he later reports abuse:
He would have directed me to his parents– because he had made sure they witnessed me “initiating” physical things, like cuddling and touching and kissing. He had the entire campus on his side– he leveraged his popularity and his fame against me, deliberately doing everything within his power to discredit me as that “crazy bitch.” Years after I’d graduated, students still knew who I was, and what I’d done to him.” And the police would have marked my report a false allegation, and I would have been dismissed as a liar.
Forgedimagination also wrote a previous post, this time about consent. Inevitably, some random man turned up to explain to her how false allegations of rape are really bad.
This is why bringing false allegations into conversations about rape and consent is so damaging. We aren’t reacting negatively because we don’t think that false allegations are horrible, or that false allegations are insignificant and easily dismissed, because they aren’t. We are reacting this way because we live in a world where false allegations are the dominant narrative. Because false allegations are a nearly-universal part of any conversation about rape, when a woman says that she is a rape survivor, one of the first things that becomes a part of that conversation is suspicion, cynicism, and dismissal.
That, that and especially that. Read the whole thing. It’s hard. But read it anyway, if you can.