July 2005

I got into a discussion on cam.misc (the local newsgroup) on drunks in Cambridge (as it’s on cam.misc, the thread dissolves into local politicians saying it isn’t their fault and a discussion of Cambridge traffic). Apparently, the Mayor gave an interview to the local rag about it, which was picked up by the Torygraph. I also found an interesting article in the Observer, which accuses the Government of being double-minded about drink.

As I said on the group, in the case of the big chain pubs who blight the centre of town by disgorging drunks onto the narrow streets at 11 pm, I’d favour the police being a bit more rigourous in enforcing the law, which says that pubs may not serve someone who’s visibly drunk. Having the chains pay for extra policing also seems like a good plan. While, as the original poster said, it isn’t downtown Detroit, and as someone else said, this is part of a national trend, it’s also an observable fact that the city centre is a less friendly place than it used to be before the arrival of the big chains.

It’ll be interesting to see what effect the forthcoming liberalisation of opening hours has on all this: I’m not particularly optimistic, but I take the point that staggered closing times at least mean all the drunks aren’t on the street at once.

Brits have never been good at handling their drink, of course, but there seems to be frustratingly little official will to actually do anything about this at the moment (doing something about it does not equate to passing new laws, since we have plenty of those already, but rather, seeing them enforced).

Peter Watts came up with the presentation on the biology of vampires I mentioned a while back. He’s finally published two of his novels, Starfish and Maelstrom, on the web. You can download PDFs of them on his site.

The books tell the story of some physically and chemically modified deep sea divers, working on a powerstation built on a geothermal vent in the deep ocean, who find something unexpected down there (and no, it’s not aliens :-). The books have been described as dystopian, but I didn’t find them particularly depressing, possibly because I was enjoying the ideas so much. Watts’s characterisation is better than that of certain other writers with great ideas, though, with people who are believable, if not always very pleasant.

The other night at bluap‘s, I was muttering at somebody about parasites which alter a host’s behaviour to benefit the parasite, and mentioned that I’d read on Watts’s site that a parasite which affects rats and cats also affects humans, making women more friendly and less choosy sexually, and making men cantankerous and unkempt. I couldn’t remember the name of the beast, but it turns out that the organism in question is toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasite endemic in cats. According to the Times, it has the effects in humans I remembered. I think I was making slightly ranty comparisons to the unequally yoked doctrine of evangelical Christianity at the time, as that was where the conversation had started. Unlike Unequally Yoked, it’s not clear whether toxoplasma does benefit from modifying human sexual behaviour, or whether that’s a side-effect of the lack of caution it induces in the brains of the other mammals which host it. Still, it’s fascinating stuff, and the sort of thing which Watts explores in his books.

ladysisyphus wins at the Internet (contains spoilers for the latest Harry Potter book, sort of). Apparently The Wasteland is one of the most parodied poems in English literature.

scribb1e graduated on Saturday, and now has degrees in medicine and surgery. Cambridge’s graduation ceremony is marvelous pantomime: largely in Latin, with doffing of caps and each group of graduands in turn holding on to the finger of the person presenting them to be graduated. Mercifully, there are no speeches telling you how to be a good citizen or giving advice on wearing sunscreen (personally, I favour this version). The college Praelector did a good bit at lunch about how the Proctors used to be able to arrest young ladies caught about town with undergraduates and sentence them to a few weeks labour in the spinning house (mind you, if Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is anything to go by, being a Person of Quality meant you could get away with whatever you liked), but it wasn’t clear that we were supposed to draw from this example.

Speaking of things medical, I ran across the blog of Magnificent Bastard the other day, and liked it enough to read back through the archives. He’s funny, occasionally cynical, and writes about life and religion as well as the usual funny doctor stories.

This post doesn’t contain spoilers, and I’ll warn if I link to one which does.

scribb1e bought the new Harry Potter book, and I read it after she’d finished with it. I didn’t particularly enjoy the last one, which I thought was very long and which we both thought was confusing in places (I couldn’t honestly say I felt I could imagine what the interior of the Ministry of Magic was like, for example). I did like this one. I’m still not quite sure what the fuss is about, but it was enjoyable, well written and more coherent than the last book.

I’d already been spoiled for the book’s biggest surprise by the countless trolls on LJ with their marvelous flashing icons. It’s my own fault for reading Encyclopedia Dramatica (WARNING: Not Safe For Anything), I suppose: I’m a sucker for sarcastic toilet humour. I liked the mock spoilers broin posted in andrewducker‘s journal.

Apparently, some of the people who’ve been writing fanfiction about which characters will get it on have been disappointed. kenboy gives the fanficcers some helpful suggestions (contains spoilers). The people over at Fandom Wank have helpfully collated the very best of Half Blood Prince drama (even more spoilers). It’s all good.

Update: mistful posts some thoughtful comments (spoilerific) on the book.

Greasemonkey is an extension for the Firefox browser which lets you write little programs to change how websites appear. For example, ilishin has created a script which lets you expand collapsed LJ comment threads in place (that is, on the same page, rather than on a new one). It only seems to work with the standard comment layout at the moment, but I hope the author will fix that soon (if not, it doesn’t look so hard that I couldn’t do it myself).

I noticed that the later versions of Greasemonkey support a key/value database which persists when you shut down and restart your browser. This means that it’s probably possible to write something which remembers how many comments there are for an entry and will highlight items (on your Friends list, say) which have new comments. It might even be possible to highlight the new comments themselves, although it’s not clear how good the database is, so you’d want to avoid overloading it, I suppose. I was vaguely aware of Greasemonkey, but I don’t think I’d realised just how much it can do. Greasemonkey may be the thing which makes me switch from Safari to Firefox (it’s just a shame nobody has sorted out Mozex for the Mac, as that’d certainly clinch it for me, too: I miss being able to edit LJ comments in a proper text editor).

Think I’d better dance now.

This bloke in The Observer and Drink-soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for WAR both argue that a politicised form of Islam, which they call Islamism, is the new facism. They’re both careful to differentiate this from the views of the majority of Muslims in this country, but scornful of the excuses made for Islamism by their fellow left-wingers. I find them pretty convincing.

It’d be easy (especially for me) to say something like Richard Dawkins said after 9/11, blaming revealed religion for terrorism. Certainly, people who believe they’re going to heaven will be more prepared to die for a cause, and I cannot understand those whose human conscience takes second place to ancient writings or religious leaders, but the fact is that as yet, there’s no Black Ops division of CICCU blowing up atheists. Something else is going on. I wish I knew what it was, but the mentality of people who would blow themselves and others to bits for God is more alien to me than it ever was.

That said, after all this, I’m more sympathetic to tornewuff‘s quest to make the world a better place by doing away with religion (which you’ll need to join cantabrigiensis to read about, but anyone can do that), but that’s a long game, not a helpful suggestion for what to do now.

It seems it’s time to bring out an old classic, which I feel we will be seeing a few examples of in the coming weeks. So: Why the Bombings Mean That We Must Support My Politics.

My London friends have all checked in. Some of them might have trouble getting home, but all are safe and sound. Like many people here on LJ, I am proud of the reaction of our emergency services and of the sanity of the reporting by the BBC.

More when I’ve decided which of my policies you should now support…

Those two postings of theferrett‘s which I mentioned previously (you remember: this one and this later one) have produced uproar in the comments, with everyone accusing everyone else of being sexist and belittling rape. No doubt LJ Drama will be on the case soon. Anyway, in my previous posting, I said that theferret‘s opinion was probably a common male one without actually saying what my opinion of those articles was. So now I think I’ll stick my neck out…

This comment points out just what it is about theferrett‘s “I’d do ya” thing that doesn’t sit well with me: not that it is bad to admit that someone is sexually attractive, but that to be quite so blunt about it is unsubtle and reductionist (and, if that weren’t bad enough, unlikely to work). It’s common for people who don’t socialise well to wish that the whole business was less complicated, and even to say things like “why can’t everyone just be totally honest with each other from the outset?” (I’ve been there myself), but the indirection in courtship exists to allow both sides to negotiate without presuming more of the other person than they’re prepared to give. Even if you do just want sex, being totally blunt about it presumes too much.

As for dress, I think theferrett is right to say that a well-dressed woman shouldn’t be surprised if men look at her, but I’m not sure where to draw the line in what an admirer might do next: I’ve got very little history of hitting on total strangers, so as I said to lisekit in this thread, I don’t really know what the etiquette of it is. I reckon saying “nice arse” to a stranger is again assuming too much, on the other hand, I can’t see the harm in telling someone they look nice in a less blunt way. It may be that very popular women get tired of this happening to them all the time, but if we assume that both men and women want to get together, and that on the whole women still expect men to approach them, some unwanted attention is an inevitable side effect of this. But then, I’m not the one getting the unwelcome approaches, so I don’t know how common this is. I expect I’ll find out when I post this 🙂

Where I don’t agree with theferrett is when he says that he can’t blame men for repeated attempts in the face of total lack of interest from women. I’m not talking about getting to know someone and taking things slow here, and I don’t think he is either, but rather continual pestering of someone who’s said she’s not interested. His defence of this sort of behaviour is that there are some women on whom this pestering works. My response is that they’re not the sort of women you want to be anywhere near. Yes, those women should not behave in that way, since it encourages men not to accept that no means no, but neither should the men continue to chase after being told not to.

Finally, the people who seem to be LJ’s leading feminists (or at least, LJ’s most vocal feminists) do an appalling job of furthering their cause, even when they’re in the right. I’m assuming that they wish to bring other people to their cause, to evangelise, as it were, so that in time society will change. My experience with how Christians are taught to evangelise suggests that calling people names and refusing to discuss things with them except within carefully prescribed limits won’t win people to your side. If you want to change the world, you must unfortunately deal with large numbers of people you consider to be idiots without losing your temper.