Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I was editing an article on transvestitism today. I managed to get a big picture of Eddie Izzard in, although I ended up having to leave out the part in the caption about him being an 'executive transvestite' because I needed the space.

For various reasons I won't go into (rather secretive publisher) I had a copy of this DVD cover sitting on my desk all day today.

In Harm's Way is your bog standard 1960's second world war movie. It follows various semi-heroic characters (mostly in the navy, I think) as they fight their way across the south pacific.

Now as you can see, the cover isn't exactly a work of art, some pretty grievous photoshop work and poor composition. I kept looking at it out of the corner of my eye all day and right towards the end I figured out what was weird about it.

Look at the ship on the front cover, the big one. Notice anything out of place, for a film that was made in 1965, and set entirely in the Second World War? Like, I don't know, the microwave transmitters; the anti-aircraft missile launchers; the automated gun turret?

I asked one of my co-workers (who is a military historian) and he confirmed what was bothering me; that isn't a second world war battleship. It's not even close, they looked like this. He informed me that it was a spruance-class destroyer, and a little Wikiwork (helped by the fact that its number is clearly visible on the side) informed me that this ship is in fact the USS Deyo - an anti-submarine destroyer built in 1980.

So the person who designed this cover used a picture of a boat that wasn't built until 15 years after the film was made, and about 40 years after the boats used in the film were built.

Yes, I know its nerdy, and I know that I have a rather strange knowledge of military hardware for a generally peaceful person, but come on, that's pretty shoddy.

I'll write something at least vaguely interesting soon, I promise.



Cows tend to align north-south

I expect the researchers got some odd looks from their labmates, but hey, it's interesting.

I'll think of something to say here soon, probably. I've just had a bit of a numb brain week.


Thursday, August 21, 2008


In general I'm a pretty squeamish person. I'm not generally one to fearlessly expose me to stuff that I don't like, whether it's people, ideologies, or music. For some reason though, this doesn't extent to every area of my life. Because, whilst I abhor the rantings of bigots and idiots, I always find there to be something strangely fascinating about them when I encounter these rantings in written form.

In the past my compulsion to read the views of idiots has led me to read page after page of moronic ranting on the 'have your say' section of the BBC website, even, on the worst days, to deliberately subject myself to the comments underneath youtube videos. At the moment though, it takes a slightly (but not greatly) more sane form. I've been reading a lot of reviews on Amazon-US recently, for reasons to do with work, and I've found myself gravitating towards the one star reviews.

I've found that regardless of whether they are saying things I agree with or not, the negative ones always seem more passionate than the positive. I relish it when I find a book with 10 reviews and an average customer rating of 2 stars.

Today though, I started to go that little bit further. I'd find reviewers whose output appeared to be particularly hateful or stupid, then I'd go to their profile page and read all the reviews they'd written. Sometimes this led to amusing little snippets of life, such as the woman who wrote a disparaging review of a self-help book on erectile dysfunction, but then a glowing positive review of a vibrator a few weeks later (yes, Amazon sell pretty much anything). Other times though it provides you with a fascinating character study.

Take, for example, this person - whose reviews display a charming mixture of strongly conservative views, and hints of just about every flavour of bigotry you can name. All coupled with a tendency to make things up, exaggerate, and launch off-topic personal attacks. I'm pretty sure that the books he writes positive reviews of are ones that he's actually read, but I'm not sure whether his vast number of reviews of books that he finds disgusting indicate that he's good at creative reviewing, or that he's a masochist.

I'm assuming it's a he. It seems like a fair thing to assume, when you read the reviews.


On an entirely unrelated note, Man Man are rather good. Certainly the creepiest use of xylophone I'd heard in a long time. And "It Overtakes Me" by the Flaming Lips has one of the coolest bass riffs I've heard in a while (cool partly for the riff itself, and partly for the crunchy and delicious bass sound). The video there is a little weird, but the recording is sound.


Thursday, August 14, 2008


Anna Ternheim makes pleasing noises, she's another one of those ethereal yet catchy singer-songwriters that seem to make up a significant proportion of the Swedish export economy these days.

Also, this tour lineup actually made me squeal with glee - Future of the left and Ted Leo, joy! - but alas, in order to see it, I would have to emigrate or hide in someone's cupboard for a month.

One other thing. Not musical; shop, I'm afraid.

I was reading a lot of stuff about the American reproductive law controversy, and I was looking through lists of bestselling sex education books that actually boast that they contain no anatomical diagrams or safe sex advice. Between that, and a load of Christian advice books which all seemed to be based around the idea that women only ever have sex because men pressure them into it, I was seething at my desk for most of the morning. The safe-sex thing I can sort of understand the logic behind, although I don't agree with it, but what possible advantage is leaving out the anatomical diagrams going to have?

My dad's suggestion was "well, I suppose if you don't know where the vagina is, it would make sex rather difficult... Perhaps it's a sort of abstinence thing"


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Victoria Sponge Cock

Today, in my work-related researches I came across the following abstract. I'd been reading a lot of po-faced postmodernist gender theory that morning and this reminded me of the interesting, and sometimes a little bizarre, possibilities of academic study. It also made me laugh, because I'm juvenile like that.

"Getting a Piece: An Ethnographic Look at Erotic Cake Purchase"

Emily Wentzell
The Johns Hopkins University,
Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality
and The Johns Hopkins Department of Anthropology

This paper uses ethnographic data gathered from a Philadelphia erotic bakery to explore individuals’, particularly African American women’s, use of erotic cakes. People often understand “traditional” identity and morality as sexually and emotionally repressive, and use the cakes to assert “nontraditional” selves in which sexuality is joyfully integrated into life. Many American rituals, like birthday parties, involve cake and can be understood to inscribe “traditional” mores via celebration in traditional forms. Erotic cakes function not simply as humorous party centerpieces, but also as vehicles through which individuals revise the structure of these rituals, breaking perceived taboos and pushing social boundaries. Through this revision, individuals craft rituals that assert, support, and re-inscribe participants’ “non-traditional” identities. Erotic cakes, like humor and erotica/pornography in general, exist within interlocking and mutually dependent forces of perceived repression and transgression, providing pleasure through their challenge to what individuals view as the repressive force of “tradition.” Because cake purchasers are enculterated individuals, erotic cakes sometimes serve as sites for the support of certain “traditional” social standards such as heteronormativity, yet simultaneously provide a powerful tool for individuals to target and alter certain ill-fitting norms. Erotic cakes are particularly well suited to African American women’s needs, since their form matches that of the “textured” joke prevalent in black humor and women’s subversive humor, and speaks to a particularly damaging “traditional” association of black women with food preparation and lack of sexual control. However, individuals from multiple racial, sex, and sexuality groups use erotic cakes as an indirect vehicle for social redefinition.

PDF here.

One of the reasons why I'm not hugely enthusiastic about doing postgraduate study at the moment is because I fear that as a humanities man I'd never be able to pursue ideas like this. I worry that I'd just end up being prodded by my advisor into writing something indistinguishable from the output of the postmodernism generator.


Monday, August 11, 2008


I was displeased with my fellow commuters today, I feel a line was crossed. I'm fine with commuters being unpleasant to each other - pretending that all the other people aren't there, or at least aren't real people, is an important way of keeping your composure when shoved into a sweaty fat man's armpit - but I don't like it when innocent bystanders get caught up in it.

I'd just got off the train at London Bridge - music on and loud, marking the page in my big book of Chekov with my finger, lost in my own thoughts - when I saw the following sight on the flight of stairs up from the platform. There were two women on one side of the staircase at the point where it turns into the tunnel that leads to the escalator, they looked really agitated and were looking at something on the other side of the stairs. On the rest of the stairs was the cattle-pen-thick river of commuters stomping up the stairs. Hmm. I thought, tourists, and I directed myself towards the other side of the stairs when the people were flowing faster. As I got to the bottom of the stairs, however, I saw what they were looking at. There was a small child, a boy of about 4 or 5, no taller than my waist, crying his eyes out and occasionally trying to penetrate the crowd of people and cross the 12 foot wide staircase. No-one who walked past seemed to be paying the slightest bit of attention to this, men or women. When I got level with the kid I stopped, tried to smile in the friendliest way I could manage, and hoped that the people to my left would stop too and let him cross (three people walked head first into my back in these few seconds). Unfortunately, I'm a big scary bear, even if this kid wasn't scared already, so he just looked at me, terrified, and didn't move an inch. Luckily a woman of about my mum's age stopped next to me, said something in a soothing tone of voice and led this him across to his mother.

The whole thing probably took about six seconds from start to finish but it left me in a bad mood for the rest of the journey home. I don't understand how people could just look at that kid and think to themselves (if they thought anything at all) "it's OK, the stairs will be clear in a minute or so, if no trains arrive on the other platform". I'm really not a cuddly child-friendly person, probably given another second of being shoved in the back I would have walked away from the kid out of embarrassment, but I can remember the feeling of being small and lost in a public place, if only for a few seconds, and wouldn't just ignore a child in that situation.

I am disappointed with my fellow unthinking automatons, and hugely grateful to the kind woman who saved me from ending up hating myself all the way home for walking away.


Friday, August 01, 2008


As I mentioned last night, I’m now back from my trip to Wales and I suppose I better write something about it. I went, with my family and some extras, to a place called the Gower peninsula, in south Wales, staying in a campsite near the village of Rhossili. The Gower is a strange place, all rolling hills and sheep, lots and lots of sheep. As far as I can tell, the Gower was a horrific backwater that remained rustic and rural when the rest of Wales launched themselves into the industrial revolution with great enthusiasm. The only innovation that they seemed interested in taking from the world around them at this time was Methodism, which they took to with the same vigour as every other part of Wales.

The religious denomination favoured in an area wouldn’t seem to be that important at first glance, but it seems to have had a substantial effect on the landscape of the land, long after most of the chapels have been boarded up and forgotten. The most important legacy is, of course, the chapel.

They are small, squat buildings, architecturally unadorned; they vary from being pretty in their simplicity, to being plain boxes grotesquely spattered with neoclassical decorations, like stone pillars on the side of a warehouse. They manage to be beautiful, however, by always being put in amazing places. I don’t know whether this was motivated by a desire to make people really work for their church, or something, but they are almost always in elevated positions, high on hills and mountains above the towns they serve. It means that their plain austerity acts as a counterpoint to vistas and landscapes more beautiful than anything that would be allowed in a protestant church. It made me think of this poem by Wallace Stevens -- which I’ve never really understood, and still don’t think I do, but it seems apt.

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens Anecdote of the Jar

I think it’s because I’m from a big city, one where the buildings are often pretty, but the landscape as a whole generally isn’t, but this opposition always makes me happy, like a kind of deference on the part of the locals to the world around them. Sadly I don’t have a picture of the most striking example of this; a utterly dull grey box of a chapel that sat on the top of a hill next to a shimmering, cascading waterfall. I do have a picture of the waterfall though.

The thing that makes the Gower remarkable is that in 1956 it was designated to be an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (mostly because it was such a pristine backwater) which means that planning regulations are extremely tight there, and very little new building goes on. Between the Methodism and the planning department, the Gower is left, tragically, with a dearth of decent pubs, or any pubs at all.

It has no shortage of nice beaches, however, beloved by English surfers (we’re not talking Hawaii-grade surf here, but it’s enough to work with apparently, and closer to home). I didn’t surf, obviously, because I have no sense of balance and wouldn’t look good in a wetsuit, but I did swim in the sea quite a lot. It has to be said, however, that quite often my swims were cut short by the feeling of hypothermia setting in (there’s nothing like swimming away and then being struck by the thought ‘my kidneys are cold… that’s not good’).

I like swimming, I’m like a seal in that I’m slow and ungainly on land, but can more with a little more grace when gravity is no longer an issue. I’m unlike a seal in that I can’t breathe through my ears, which is another one of the ways in which I feel that evolution has short-changed humanity -- along with our absence of tails, and independently movable ears.

There’s loads more to say, but this is all I’ve managed to say before I got distracted by shiny things (well, shiny thing – my new bass is still awesome) I might write some more on the subject when I remember - I feel I should write something about the peculiar delights of camping - but it won’t be for a few days as I’m heading up to my brother’s this weekend for a weekend of computer games, loud music, and drinking – to recover from all that nature and rustic living.