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,