Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A few reviews

I notice that although I've kept my reading list post pretty much updated, I haven't actually blogged about any of the books I've read. This might be in part because I've been re-reading a lot of Georgette Heyer and therefore shy about discussing it, and partly because I have multiple places where I review books. But I think my reading post looks a bit unloved without links to rambles about the books themselves.

Georgette Heyer : The Conqueror

Now Georgette Heyer is a bit like a bar of chocolate concealed at the back of the art cupboard; her books are a bit of a treat and naughty self-indulgence. She's best-known for her Regency romances. Heyer's women and their relationships would not stand up particularly well to feminist critique, so I take care to remove that particular hat when I read her.

However, she was actually a better writer than you might think and her historical research was meticulous to the point of obsessive. One of her books that I've re-read recently was The Conqueror. For this book, apparently she re-traced William I's steps on his journey from Normandy to clash with Harold in 1066, as well as thoroughly researching the period and people. The Conqueror is a fascinating take on the time. Having read this, I picked up a book on the Bayeux Tapestry, something I wouldn't usually have much interest in and was gripped; I will hopefully get it out of the library soon (once I've paid off my fines, ahem).

Ben Elton: First Casualty

The storyline is of a conscientious objector policeman being sent into the frontline to investigate the murder of a prominent war hero/poet and aristocratic gay man, Viscount Abercrombie.

The depiction of the first world war trenches and frontline environment seemed realistic. But some of the scenes of the novel were rather far-fetched: such as performing forensics under fire in an enemy trench, which stretched credulity somewhat. Ahem.

Elton leans a little too much towards the didactic in his depiction of the history and politics of the time, which was a trap he fell into with his comedy too. There were aspects which felt squeezed in, so he could cover all the issues he wanted to talk about, such as the suffragette's justified hatred of policeman (the Cat & Mouse Act etc).

I also felt that although Elton tried to depict a free-loving feminist, there was some unfortunate slip-shod thinking in it: *spoilers in same colour as background* I didn't like her sudden and desperate falling for of the hero, which seemed to undermine her independence, nor the fact that to be raped she had to be anally raped. This I think played into issues about "rapability": ie. a woman who is sexually active loses credibility or the ability to say no, (tropes about which there is much discussion on The F-word and in feminism generally). The teenaged girl who is threatened with rape earlier in the book: she is naive and virginal, so threat of 'just' rape is enough for her, but the sexually confident suffragette, she has to actually be raped and sodomised. I think it was unnecessary and smacks somewhat of the virgin/whore construct.

I liked the self-conscious questioning of the investigation of one man's murder in the context of mass-slaughter in the trenches and the futility of war. But it was difficult to tell whether some of dialogue was meant to be funny or po-faced, so I felt the book didn't quite work as well as intended. The protagonist himself wasn't particularly likeable and the ending seemed a bit rushed and too neat.

Overall, it was a reasonable thriller/crime novel. A decent read.

Steven Poole: Unspeak

This book takes you through the language that politicians and the media use and explains how important that vocabulary is. Words can disguise, deflect and mislead in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The book deals with what you probably already knew or suspected, but perhaps hadn't put into words. If you've ever listened to a politician or spokesperson and some of their wording just itched at you, this book may explain why.

To give an example from Poole's book, the insidious use of 'terrorist suspect' rather than 'suspected terrorist'. The two may seem interchangeable but the inflection and meanings which go with them are not. And a lot of time and thought is put into these matters of wording by the people introducing them. The problem with 'terrorist suspect' is that it begs the question and denies the principle of innocent until proven guilty. We can lock up 'terrorist suspects' without trial indefinitely and waterboard them because they're 'terrorists' first and 'suspects' a poor second. With 'suspected terrorists', you'd have to find out whether you could prove they'd done anything or not first, which would be mighty inconvenient.

I found it an eye-opening and thought-provoking read.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Something very simple made complex

There's a lot of debate over the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland, but you know, it's startlingly simple. The man committed and admitted statutory rape 30 years ago then did a bunk, and has been avoiding answering for his crime ever since. A full-grown man plied a 13 year old child with alcohol & tranquillisers and raped her.

It's a no-brainer.

I find it disgusting that some in the film industry support him and are arguing he shouldn't be extradited. How confusing it must seem to them for someone in that industry to be held to account for the crime he has committed. My goodness, why don't the films he's made make it all ok? What's the rape of a child compared to 90 minutes of glorious inspiring celluloid? Surely if one's evaded the law for thirty years one should just be allowed to get away with it for pure persistence.

Perhaps it's living in those shiny gold cages of privilege that makes it difficult for them to see what's so blindingly obvious to me.

Body Williams

What is Robbie Williams blithering on about in his new single, Bodies?

There's god and Jesus and the Bodhi tree and chemistry sets* and Gok Wan** and reflection perfections. And did Jesus really die for him or not?

There he chants his rhythmic senseless sentences (or sings even) and all I can think is, get some proper lyrics in. Is he arguing with his choir at the end? Why has he borrowed Buddha's tree? Is there some meaning to his warblings? Or is he just rhyming randomly? Or hoping to court controversy by saying Jesus did/didn't/did/didn't die?

Make sense, man.

* Well, chemistry.
** Well, "look good naked". Leave me alone, it's funnier when it's inaccurate.

You do it to yourself

In the local garage, there's a poster advertising pole-dancing lessons as the latest thing in fitness and female empowerment. Fitness, well, maybe: I grant you it must take some strength and agility to whirlygig around a bit of scaffolding. Female empowerment: nah, I don't think so.

It is again this thing of sexuality being the sum of womanhood, this twisted bastard born of our "post-feminist" society, (because after all we're all equal now, we all get paid the same for the same work, a whopping 6% of rapists get convicted, we never needed feminism in the first place, we've all always been able to vote and had the right to be educated & not to be raped in marriage, amongst other things [/heavy-handed sarcasm]).

Being or feeling sexy isn't the equivalent of being powerful. I can see it might help some women feel more confident, but it's through buying into something very suspect.

Fart music

There's a song on the radio, which squeals that someone has found shoes and is ready for the weekend. However, I persist in hearing it as "Oooh I'm gonna fart shoes and I'm ready for the weekend".

This neatly explains the squealing, I guess.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Facebook has myriad possibilities for social politics: it's a minefield.

I have recently been adding family, which posed questions. If I added my aunt and my cousin, would it be impolitic to fail to add my other cousin-with-whom-I-have-a-passive-aggressive-non-relationship? It's not that we are at outs, it's just that we don't interact.

And of course it puts her in the position of either seemingly rejecting my "friendly overture" (born out of not wanting to seem to dislike her or single her out by not adding her) or accepting me for the same reason that I'm trying to add her. I suspect we both would rather not be FB friends, but both probably thought not to be would be a political incident.

Ooh it's complex.

But I think FB has improved in the time I've been on there. The ability to hide "news" from applications which annoy me and not necessarily the people using them is a good un. I don't want to see the sort of slideshows some people think are amusing to send to others, for example, so it's good to be able to at a click dispose of such stuff.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What has a big streak of yellow running through it?

I often wonder about the experience of atheists in the US and whether the Bible-belt and religious right over there are as powerful as sometimes claimed. It seems so completely alien to the experience of being an atheist in the UK, which is frankly no experience at all. Day to day, nobody really gives a toss, quite rightly, and it's certainly never negatively impacted on me.

In the news though, a curious thing: that a British film on Charles Darwin, Creation, has apparently thus far failed to find a distributor in the US. The reason is believed to be the subject matter, which follows Darwin's personal life and alleged spiritual struggle, Christianity vs science. I say alleged, because I'm not sure that it was a big issue for Darwin. There's a terrible temptation to rewrite history and endow protagonists with prescient imagination for our own agendas, when writing a book or making a film about someone. A bit like the way Dr Who always hands Shakespeare that killer quote when he meets him.

Personally I can't see why evolution and god are necessarily incompatible (and neither can plenty of Christians and the RC church, if they know anything about it all). Besides, he's supposed to work in mysterious ways; it's part of the job description. Why would a lack of instantaneous kapowing creatures into existence be the god-killer?

Big cowardy custards, I say to those film distributors, if it's true.

It all seems so terribly unlikely somehow. It does not fit with the world according to Mephit, (which is of course the way the world should be).

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I haven't ebayed anything for quite some time and don't necessarily pay much attention to the messages it sends, so I was a bit taken aback when trying to put a few things up for auction to find it's changed the rules.

Now, if you attempt to put p&p different to the majority of other people on the same item, it won't let you (unless presumably it's lower). This is all very well, but it means that if you are a casual seller like myself you're forced to compete with bulk sellers who charge nothing for p&p. I'm selling something used and so I can't & wouldn't expect to sell it for the same price as the bulk sellers selling new. They're all 'buy it now' at fixed prices, and here's me trying to sell to the interested party at whatever price they're prepared to pay, so long as I'm not making a loss through p&p. I just sell off things I no longer have a use for, not ebay as a business. I used to start my auctions low, and the chances were, with me, that the buyer would get an absolute bargain. I always worked out the p&p fairly, using the online Royal Mail postage calculator, so I wasn't overcharging or making profit that way. I was genuine ¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º article ¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º honest ¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º Ebayer++++++++.

Now if I'm to cover my costs, I have to start my item at a higher price, which means Ebay can charge me higher fees for just starting an auction. This pisses me off.

I wouldn't have minded if part of the selling process entailed having to go through a postage calculator, but it does seem DuncanBanntyne-ridicklus this way. It's simply not a fair playing field and weighted against the small-time seller. Making sure buyers aren't ripped off is one thing, but I feel picked on.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Riddle me this

Why does my cat go out to eat grass and come in to throw up?

Couldn't he just damned well stay out?

Alas poor OS

After just over two weeks offline due to the death of our operating system, I feel a tiny bit pleased to be back online. Just a smidge.

I do think it was probably good for me to be forced to abandon my Lexulous games, and now that my computer has to have everything reinstalled, it might be better not to add that which allows me to play it.

It was amazing how many times I had to stop and work out another way of doing things when I'd usually go straight to the pc. I use it for banking and bills, for looking up trivia, for checking and comparing news, for contacting people, for work and volunteering times, for finding places I'm travelling to, for recipes, shopping, all sorts really; it was an incredible pain in the arse not being able to just nip online and do all that stuff. And things would pop into my head that I'd like to blog.

I discovered that my phone can fit about 130 pictures on it before it's filled: I'd never tested its capacity so far before. I discovered that the only thing I cared about that we might have lost on the pc were the photos and most particularly the last one of my gran when we took her out to Lanhydrock shortly before she died. I was delighted that we got them all back and I'm going to be spending the next few days catching up on backing up all those photos of which I spent my time bemoaning the potential loss.