Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Go Gay, Go Green

In an article in the Guardian last week, someone was asking if they were to do just one thing to help save the planet, then what would have the most impact. Among the answers given was "don't have any children". Well, think of all those dirty disposable nappies. And you're not only having to be concerned about your own carbon footprint, but those of all of your descendants. If you don't have kids, then at least when you die, that's the end of your polluting ways.

So it got me to thinking, maybe being gay is quite an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Perhaps I shouldn't worry as much about my trips to New York and Vancouver and the fact I drive a car. As Ultrasparky jokingly suggested to me "You can fly to work!"

Except maybe gays aren't that green after all. Think about how much "product" they use - the fake tan, the Clinque Emergency facemasks and scruffing lotions, the three types of hair moulding gel, not to mention all those illegal chemical substances, and the conscipicuous consumption of seventeen holidays a year to Gran Caneria, Thailand, Palm Springs, Sydney etc. Not to mention the fact that gay men are supposed to only wear their clothes once and then throw them away because they only remain fashionable for 3 days.

Of course, the majority of gay men I know get their clothes from Next and Marks and Spencer, disapprove of fake tan and go on worthy walking holidays in the UK. One of my gay friends recently sent me an incredibly tortured email apologising for the fact he was driving down to Bristol to see me, rather than taking the train: "It's just too complicated, I've tried to arrange a car share but can't find anyone!"

And quite a few gay men who I know came out quite late on, and are Dads. But that's not to stop me from touting homosexuality as an environmentally friendly lifestyle. I reckon it should be taught in schools - a kind of reverse Clause 28.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bloody tourists

I was going to write about my fab weekend in London with Ultrasparky, but he beat me to it.

The Gilbert and George exhibition - the one thing that I noticed in their art was the complete absence of women (I didn't even see any drag queens). In the catalogue we were given, it said that they had been criticised for using rent boys in their art, which they claimed was inaccurate. I guess the enormous wall of adverts for rent boys was just an oversight then.

I'm afraid I'm not as observant as Ultrasparky - I didn't even recognise James McAvoy until he was pointed out to me - I thought he was just another Saturday night thug on drugs. The area around Soho and the centre of London was horribly busy - I kept thinking about Solyent Green.

Camden was as busy, silly and fascinating as I remembered it. I lived there during the summer of 2000 - sought out my old lodgings and caught a glimpse of my landlord outside - but I didn't go over and say hello - because I wasn't sure what I would say. We found a great stall at Camden Market selling rare DVDs and videos. I bought a copy of Up the Junction, which I watched last night (Hilda Baker plays a comedy abortionist in it!)

It was a good weekend though - great weather - no work committments and a good catch-up session with a friend I don't get to see nearly enough. But like Dan, I was glad to get the train home and have a lie down in a dark room afterwards.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hello Poodle

Aren't poodles the campest thing in the world? Every time I look at the above picture (which is often), I start laughing. Perhaps it's the quizzical way the head is tipped on one side, the green "fashion" neckerchief that's been accessorised so jauntily, or the ridiculous shaving style, making it look like it's got a big powder puff on its head. Poodles are so silly and fab.

They were very popular on the council estate I grew up on in the 1970s, particular among working-class older women who were a bit above themselves. Both my friend's Mum and the women who lived over the road from us had white poodles (both called Peppi).

My great-aunt Ethel also always had poodles, although hers where black. She always had to have two at once, and they were always called Mimsy and Trudy. If one died she would go out and buy another one immediately and give it the name of the dead one. So there was always a Mimsy and Trudy when I was growing up. Aunt Ethel didn't had any children, so Mimsy and Trudy were indulged. Utterly. They were the most neurotic, high-maintenance, whiny dogs in the world. I guess that's inbreeding for you.

Until me, Aunt Ethel was the poshest member of our family and everyone was a bit (or a lot) scared of her. She wore a real leapord skin coat (before it became common) and her home was always a treasure trove of kitsch, and it was one of the happiest days of my life when she gave me her Sensational 70s Reader's Digest boxed set of 10 albums, each one consisting of a different year from the 1970s.

I think my love of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford stems from having a great-aunt Ethel. I have noted a tendency for gay men to have somewhat fabulous or camp aunts or mothers - and I think Ethel was one of my influences. A mixture of Aunt Mame and The Snow Queen. When I am older I think I will get a Mimsy and Trudy of my own. Just as long as I don't have to be seen outside with them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What do you think of Lubin Odana?

Click on this link to an Interactive Johari Window and choose 5 or 6 words that you think best describe me. You don't have to give your name if you don't want, though if you do me and set up one yourself, I'll do you. The point of it is that it gives you a better idea of how others see you and whether that matches how you see yourself. It's the latest blogger craze.

Thanks to Tom for the link (I described him as complex, dignified, intelligent, proud and self-assertive).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Someone else who didn't like Mondays

Another gun massacre in an American education establishment (with 33 dead, including the killer, Cho-Seung-hui, it is the worst one yet). More than ever, this is a tragedy that has been played out on the media, with bloggers such as this one abruptly switching from reporting the usual banal stuff that students get up to, to suddenly finding themselves prime media bait. There is something ghoulish about it all. Go into any branch of HMV or Borders and look among the DVDs - most of them will have lots of films depicting students getting massacred, usually in inventive, sometimes humorous ways - such films have been staples of horror since the 1970s. On other shelves you may see PC games, most of which involve shooting at things. And if there's a books section, don't forget to check out the "True Crime" shelf, where you can probably read about all the other high school shootings that have happened. Rest assured, that if you can't get enough of CNN, BBC, Sky and Fox, who are wetting themselves over this big bit of hot news - viewing figures will go through the roof, then it'll all come out as a book in a couple of months and someone will make a film or even a mini-series of it. There might even be a computer game. And how likely is it, that sooner or later, a copy-cat killer will try the same thing.

Well that's the media covered, who else can we blame? On the campus news website condolences rush in from around the world, heavily peppered with people (a lot of Brits) saying isn't it time for America to ban guns and then others saying "if the campus hadn't been a gun-free zone the killer would have been 'taken out' within a few seconds and the tragedy wouldn't have been as bad" (yes, but they are missing the point somewhat). Others chime in and point out that the UK still has gun crime and guns are illegal (again, missing the point). While others get very annoyed by the fact that people want to talk politics when people are dead. Campus authorities themselves are being blamed, because there were 2 hours between the 2 sets of shootings. People are even latching on the fact that the killer was South Korean. And then other people are latching on the fact that people are reporting that the killer was South Korean. If only we could somehow blame paedophiles, it would be a media royal flush.

And in other news, at least 13 Iraqi soldiers were killed in an ambush in the northern city of Mosul. But nobody paid much attention to that though.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The devil wears Prada and so do I

I have bought a pair of Prada sunglasses (they come with a "certificate of authenticity"). I swear I only went into the shop because my fella wanted a new case for his glasses. I have now become one of those people I hate - a label queen.

We had a friend visiting for the weekend and it was oddly nice weather for April so we spent most of the time outside. He is a bit old-fashioned (28 going on 74) so we took him to a country house. I'm afraid I was in a bit of a bad mood because we had to queue for ages to get in and then it turned out to be one of those places where you're shunted from room to room and made to listen to someone tell you the history of every chair and painting. In detail. I got into it in the end though. At least the National Trust have only done the downstairs so far. However, country houses themselves put me in a bad mood. I'm always fine until I see the tennis court. Then an overwhelming sense of class rage comes over. Anyone who was that wealthy that they could afford the space for a tennis court - it brings out the revolutionary in me. My friend very sensibly pointed out that I wasn't doing so badly myself and that I was lucky to be born into a first world country when millions of people were subsisting on a starvation diet - and I suppose he has a point. He is one of those people for whom money does not equate with happiness. He lives frugally and takes pleasure from "the small things in life". He said that if he ever came into a lot of money he would give it all to charity. Then my fella piped up and said that he would use it to sponser bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds so they could go to university. I then said that if I had a lot of money I would use it to buy fabulous homes in cultural capitals across the world and spend the rest of my days travelling between them and generally being fabulous. Why do I always end up feeling like the horrible person in one of Aesops' fables?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Big Talk

At the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count web site, you can paste some text into a box and get an instant analysis. I pasted my last blog entry in there and this is what it said:

Details of Writer: 34 year old Male
Date/Time: 13 April 2007, 7:23 am

LIWC dimensionYour dataPersonal textsFormal texts
Self-references (I, me, my)1.6211.44.2
Social words6.639.58.0
Positive emotions1.472.72.6
Negative emotions1.622.61.6
Overall cognitive words6.637.85.4
Articles (a, an, the)
Big words (> 6 letters)21.3513.119.6

The text you submitted was 679 words in length. Generally, the more words in a text, the better. Ideally, it is best if you have at least 100 words to analyze. In the table, the average word usage of highly personal texts (e.g., where people write about emotional experiences) and more formal texts (e.g., descriptions of objects or events) are presented. The numbers refer to the percentage of total words that were submitted. So, if the table reports a 11.4 for self-references, that means that 11.4% of the words in the text were self-references. In the space below, we briefly describe each of the LIWC categories:

Self-references: People who use a high rate of self-references tend to be more insecure, nervous, and possibly depressed. They also tend to be more honest.

Social words: Social words are words that make reference to other people (e.g., they, she, us, talk, friends). Generally, people who use a high number of social words are more outgoing and more socially connected with others.

Positive emotion words: The more that people use positive emotion words (e.g. happy, love, good), the more optimistic they tend to be. If you feel good about yourself, your more likely to see the world in a positive way.

Negative emotion words: Use of negative emotion words (e.g., sad, kill, afraid) is weakly linked to people's ratings of anxiety. People who have had a bad day are more likely to see the world through negatively-tinted glasses.

Overall cognitive words: These are words that reflect how much people are actively thinking about their writing topic. Examples include: thinking, wonder, because, knowledge.

Articles: The three article words - a, an, and the - account for a large percentage of the words we use. People who use articles at a high rate tend to be more concrete and impersonal in their thinking.

Big words (words with more than 6 letters): Use of big words is weakly related to higher grades and standardized test scores. People who use a high rate of big words also tend to be less emotional and oftentimes psychologically distant or detached.

So it turns out that I like using articles and big words, making me concrete, impersonal and detached, and I don't make many self-references. I guess it depends on the blog entry in question. And I thought I was a pretty emotional guy!

In other news - I am growing a beard. I look like a contestant on Survivor. It started off as a skin infection (probably a shaving cut) so I laid off shaving for a couple of weeks. It's got past the itchy stage now. I may keep it for a while. Beards are very 1970s.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I hate the news

Dead Pope John Paul is halfway to becoming a Saint. Apparently a nun with Parkinson's Disease wrote his name down on a piece of paper and she was magically cured. The Catholic top brass in Rome have declared it an official miracle, and now John Paul only has one more to go and then he gets to be sainted. It's so crazy you couldn't make it up. And more worrying, the more "sane" religious people, including Tony Blair, have kept very tight-lipped about it all. Why aren't derisive howls of laughter being directed towards the Vatican?

Most of the time, I would probably describe myself as a Guardian reading, Alpen eating, leftie liberal. But I don't agree with liberal politics exclusively. The problem is, that liberals end up trying to please and appease so much, that weird paradoxes result, particularly when they try to show tolerance towards groups that are actually very intolerant themselves (like many organised religions). A number of news stories over the past few months have resulted in some rather bizarre debates, where, (to me at least) the "answer" should be pretty obvious. Should female teachers be banned from wearing the hijab? Should parents be banned from smacking children in shops? Should the Mayor of London have apologised for slavery? One thing that news-makers like to do is "present a balanced story" - even when it's actually not that balanced. Take yesterday's "scandal" over those captured British armed forces personnell selling their stories to the media. For a short time, that became the bigger story than the story itself. Should they have sold their story? The news was full of the fact that "critics" had complained about it. I listened to the tv news for a good few minutes before it transpired that these critics were a handful of relatives of soldiers who'd been killed in Iraq. It made me wonder whether such "critics" themselves had been sought out by newspapers who'd failed to secure exclusives with the captured military personell and were now indulging in a bit of sour grapes reporting of their own.

News-makers are desperate to sell papers and they attempt to manufacture and shape "news" whenever possible, if it will result in more sales. And people rarely seem to be aware of how much news is actually just public relations or advertising fluff. As an academic, I occasionally get to see the "other side" of news-making. This is how it works. A business who produces a product such as computer games, a soft drink, mobile phones etc will get a PR firm to approach an academic on their behalf, and ask them to conduct some "research" into a particular subject. The academic will be then paid (usually a few thousand pounds) to do a "study" on something - which could involve giving out a questionnaire to a few students. Sometimes the PR firm will cut out the middle man and do the "research" themselves. The research is usually vaguely related to the product that the company want to sell. After that, a press release is put out which offers the research as "news". It gets reported in many newspapers, on the radio, and on the web. The BBC news website usually has at least one of these "news" stories every day. They often involve statistics such as "1 in 5 people have moved house due to neighbours from hell" or "formulae" such as one for making the perfect bacon butty. Often, the advertiser's name or product being sold is worked into the article somewhere. It looks like news - it's backed up with the name of an academic and some statistics - but it's actually an advert. Academics don't get paid that much, and most of them are rather vain - so they like getting their names in the media - we also get told we should try and "engage with the community" - there is some justification them for prostituting themselves with such ridiculous bits of "research".

But the more I learn about the news, the less I trust it. It's a big con.