Sunday, June 29, 2008

Beanz Meanz Heinz Meannezz

Why not use Write to Them to ask your MPs to support Diane Abbott's EDM to call upon Heinz to reverse their decision?

Actually getting more irritated now on finding this Heinz press release which says

Heinz has confirmed that it withdrew a UK TV commercial for Deli Mayo last week because it was not in accordance with Heinz’s long-standing corporate policy of respecting everyone’s rights and values.

"Heinz pulled the ad in the UK because our consumer research showed that it failed in its attempt to be humorous and offended people on all sides," said Michael Mullen, Director of Global Corporate Affairs for Heinz.

"Heinz apologizes for its misplaced attempt at humor and we accept that this ad was not in accordance with our long-standing corporate policy of respecting everyone’s rights and values," Mullen said.

Where was the offence it caused LGBT people? How is it respecting LGBT people's values to pull the ad because of a minority of people who can't understand what they see on screen? Heinzs clumsy attempt to pull back from this is annoying me more than their original cave.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Think tank slams paedophile paranoia culture.

An independent think tank has today blamed the government's increasing reliance on "anti-paedophile" criminal record checks for making UK adults scared to have any contact with other people's children.

Finally . Let's hope we slowly swing back towards some common sense on the issue. Still, at least the idea that anyone could bugger your children senseless and kill them is at least a progression from the prejudice that said that it was only something gay men did, I remember a few of my friends who said that they took extreme care not to be in any situation with children because they didn't want to open themselves up to the hysteria.

And we all remember the days of the Paedofinder General.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

'The Righteous Men' by Sam Bourne [NO SPOILERS]

I don't read that many thrillers, finding them to be rather formulaic and... what? Yes, I know... I know I read comics, I, no, I- Look, do you want to write this? No? Well be quiet then, don't make me put you in the green box!

Anyway, having read too many books where some middle-aged male with a fairly identikit standard life is motivated to discover a conspiracy of persons by either the kidnapping or murder of a close family member I now limit myself to only one or two a year, such as when they come up for a book group I'm a member of.

The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne is such a book. It's a couple of years old now and of the subset of thrillers called 'vaguely using religious imagery/theology'. Someone from the Mirror has helpfully given the publishers 'The biggest challenger to Dan Brown's crown' which should tell you most of what you need to know. Showing no inclination towards genre-busting at all it at least sets about it's appointed task with vim and vigour: Bodycount? Check. Ridiculous premise? Check. Personal stake? Yep, the wife is kidnapped. No real attempt to make any characters interesting but take time every few pages to remind us how tired and worried about his wife the main character is? Check.

I'm actually being rather unfair to the book. I nipped through this in a few days and it's actually fairly fun and, unlike Dan Brown, didn't make me want to stick two spoons in my head and call myself a strawberry sundae.


There is one major flaw I found with the book which is, I assume, the fault of HarperCollins and not of Bourne (nee Jonathan Freedland (and if the publishers are willing to expose an author writing under a pseudonym in his own book might it not suggest there's no point using the pseudonym?)). Anyone who was enamoured of The X-Files in the 1990s might have been foolish enough to try reading the awful tie-in novels. In one of the books Mulder and Skully are trying to work out what caused some scene of devastation. Mulder is throwing out ideas about goat-suckers and little grey men and next Thursday in the form of a really angry stoat but he's doing this in a book called something like 'Whirlwind' or 'Twister', which means we readers know that the correct answer is that it's some sort of mind-controlled wind vortex of some kind and we get impatient and cranky with the book until Mulder catches up with us, then we realise we're reading a crappy tie-in novel and try to kill ourselves out of self-loathing.

At 562 pages this book is already trying our patience and it takes about half of those for 'stock hero character' to work out what is going on, that someone is finding and killing 'Righteous Men'. Although a loathsome maggot of a man at least Dan Brown has the sense to give his books meaningless titles like Angels and Demons or The Dave Itchy Code that don't mean anything to anyone. It's no wonder that once 'stock hero character' works out the plot halfway through (and this is no fault of Freedland, it would have been difficult to work it out faster) the book changes gear as we lose our sense of superiority to 'stc' and the novel races along quite nicely.

So yes, if this book were a sweet it would be a stick of rock with 'totally average thriller' written all the way through it, it's probably about fifty pages longer than it needs to be but that's probably because you have to wait longer at airports for your holiday flights these days.


Sworn to virginity and living as men in Albania. A fascinating article about a dying trend in Albania, if all the men who would, of course, head the family died or were killed, then any of the women who were virginal and who swore to stay that way would take on the roll of the head male of the family, going out and doing 'male' jobs to bring in the money and run the family. And, it would seem, they were treated exactly as men by the society around them.

The tradition of the sworn virgin can be traced to the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini, a code of conduct that has been passed on orally among the clans of northern Albania for more than five centuries. Under the Kanun, the role of women is severely circumscribed: Take care of children and maintain the home. While a woman's life is worth half that of a man, a virgin's value is the same - 12 oxen. The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region plagued by war and death. If the patriarch of the family died with no male heirs, unmarried women in the family could find themselves alone and powerless. By taking an oath of virginity, women could take on the role of men as head of the family, carry a weapon, own property and move freely. They dress like men, adopt a male swagger and spend their lives in the company of other men...

Known in her household as the "Pasha," [Pashe] Keqi says she decided to become the man of the house at age 20 when her father was murdered in a blood feud. Her remaining four brothers opposed the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania for 40 years until his death in 1985, and they were either imprisoned or killed. Becoming a man, she said, was the only way to support her mother, her four sisters-in-law and their five children.

Lording it over her large family in her modest house in Tirana, where her nieces served her brandy while she barked out orders, Keqi said living as a man had allowed her freedom denied other women. She could work construction jobs and pray at the mosque alongside other men. Even today, her nephews and nieces said, they would not dare marry without their "uncle's" permission.

"I was totally free as a man because no one knew I was a woman," Keqi said. "I could go wherever I wanted to and no one would dare swear at me because I could beat them up. I was only with men. I don't know how to do women's talk. I am never scared."

But Albania is not so insular now and, with the slow march to equality for females, women don't need to be sanctioned as men to run things any more, so when these sworn virgins die out, there will be no-one to replace them.

(More pictures at the IHT's Europe page)

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Hurrah! An article about Thomas Beatie that explains that transpeople's relationships to their gender, sexuality and sexual organs is, whaddayouknow, more complicated than straight peoples.

Mr. Beatie is "making visible the fact that a lot of people's experience of making these decisions isn't about getting a penis or losing a penis." For many transgender people, [Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick] said, "genital surgery is not what defines gender, and that will be news for lots and lots of Americans," who may have trouble comprehending the idea that for some, anatomy does not define woman or man.

(Not just Americans.)

"Not a lot of transmen get what's called 'bottom' or 'lower' surgery," [Judith] Halberstam explained, referring to procedures like the one Mr. Beatie had, and to yet more radical interventions like hysterectomy. "If they want a penis, they don't want a micro-penis," she said. If what they want is to be men, she added, they see no reason why that goal is compromised by keeping their ovaries.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

How smart is the octopus? [via Pharyngula]

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We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Abolish the Position of Home Secretary.

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At Last, a Real Presidential Candidate For America

Vote for Mitt Zombie.

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Banksy is So Mainstream

I was in the Tate Modern Shop the other day, buying a Scanner CD. At the till I noticed that someone has produced a walking guide, for those people who like to troll around Brighton and Shoreditch, looking for Banksy graffiti in it's natural habitat. As I was buying two elderly ladies came up behind me, they also noticed the Banksy guide. "Oh Banksy, I do like his work. I think he's wonderful, don't you?" said one O.A.P. to the other.

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We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop making guns and selling them to people so that they can use them to kill us when we illegally invade their countries.

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Just when you think the Government has surely reached the pinnacle of offensive decisions and stupid ministerial outbursts they prove that actually, there's miles of virgin territory still to explore... Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justifies the decision to deport gay and lesbian asylum-seekers to non-gay friendly Iran on the grounds that they'll be perfectly safe as long as they are 'discreet' about their sexuality. This is offensive on many levels, just at random I'm going to go with Smith's pretence at not understanding why people claim asylum, if people could pretend to go along with the social norms of their countries they wouldn't be seeking to move away. And why should these people have to pretend to be straight? We've just about managed to get people in this country to accept that a person's sexual orientation isn't acceptable reason to attack or belittle them (no matter what that gay Chris Moyles thinks) and we would presumably be holding other countries to the same standard if we weren't following the openly racist foreign policy of News International. The Home Office now seems to be spending it's time trying to come up with arguments for sending back asylum seekers to unsafe countries where they face almost certain torture and/or death, just to try and curry favour with the Daily Hate Mail and The Sun. When a man faces the genuine danger of being sent back to a country where his boyfriend was killed then I really despair for the moral health of the country I was born in.

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George Carlin dies at 71.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Classic scenes recreated in Lego.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Excuse me, I have to go and look after my wok.

And while I wish that was some sort of euphemism for something really dirty I'm afraid it's a simple statement of fact. My mother gave me a wok, I cooked something with it, now I have to clean it properly. Honestly, if simple cooking implements take this much work then it probably explains the whole 'why I'm single' thing...


Christopher Orr insists that M. Night Shyamalan's new movie, The Happening, is so bad that he must, by necessity, spoil it like crazy in order to remove any mistaken desire his readers might have to go see the film. Frankly I didn't like The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable that much, so I got off the Night Crazy Train a long time ago, those of you still aboard might want to read this...

I want to see this, unless it turns out that we're just getting a reverse-order Jack.

I've not seen much news over recent days but it does seem as though the press has largely ignored the Iowa floods in favour of discussions over whether the black woman on Big Brother really had a hardcore crew of 'niggaz' ready to maim any housemates that voted her out and why David Davis is so hardcore and brave that he should become the next Doctor Who or something. Here's some big photos from flood central, my favourite being the first one, taken right next door to a twister.

[main links via]

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

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Religious belief means you are stupid. To be fair to God-botherers I would humbly suggest that the kind of belief where you believe something is true because someone wrote it down in a very old book and there's no way to actually test this, AND YOU ACCEPT THIS AS A PERFECTLY VALID WAY TO BEHAVE IN YOUR DEALINGS WITH OTHERS, is the sign of room temperature IQs.

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Daily Mail in double-win for article on drugs.

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It's pretty impressive to have an MP with which I agree totally on one particular subject act like such an enormous arse about it. David Davis, despite being a Tory who thinks we should bring back capital punishment, is normally surprisingly accurate in his criticisms of the Government's bizarre desire to take away our freedoms in order to keep them somewhere safe while assuring us that the restrictions they are replaced with are twice as slimming and comes in a variety of colours.

But why exactly did he feel the need to go off the reservation big time and go for the vanity shot? Resigning as an MP in order to force a by-election in his constituency, then standing for the seat, then claiming it's a referendum on the Government's security laws is ridiculous. His constituency, Haltemprice and Howden, has been a safe Tory seat for at least thirty years, possibly longer. If the seat couldn't be taken in 1997, when there were major fungal infections more popular than Conservative politicians, then what chance would Labour have when they are trailing the Tories in national polls? A by-election is not a referendum, in a referendum I get to express my opinion whereas in this by-election I don't, so claiming that it matters to anything outside of Davis' ego is just foolish.

However, the fact that Labour didn't announce within the first day that they weren't going to submit themselves to a completely unnecessary kicking which puffs up Davis AS WELL AS the predictable abuse they will get from the press makes me wonder whether they have become completely detached from reality. Are they really thinking "Hmmm, maybe we could win in a distorted by-election in a safe Tory seat to the incumbent"?

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to update harassment laws to prohibit religious bullying aimed at children.

The current laws on harassment are not sufficient to protect children from the sort of bullying that religious groups use every day to coerce children into obedience and belief. Threatening an adult with eternal torture may be distasteful but is not likely to result in psychological damage. This is not the case with children. The effects of religious bullying can be long-term and serious, from nightmares and depression to anxiety disorders and even suicide.

The fact that threats of damnation, torture and other extreme punishment are used routinely is clear evidence that existing laws are insufficient. We call on the Prime Minister to clarify the existing harassment laws by adding clauses outlawing any form of threat, supernatural or otherwise, aimed at children; and to provide guidance to the police and other authorities on the enforcement of these laws.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fathers 4 Justice Drop the H-Bomb on BBC News

Protesters from Fathers 4 Justice camp up on MP Harriet Harman's roof.

Reasons why no-one takes them seriously.

1) No-one looks good in spandex. Have you guys not seen the X-Men movies? It's difficult enough to pull it off when you're under 20, work out and have a massive Hollywood industry airbrushing your every frame. Being a paunchy 40-year-old makes you look like an idiot having a mid-life crisis.
2) Claiming that fathers being denied the access they want to their kids is the biggest injustice since the Holocaust is an incredibly dumb thing to allow yourself to be heard saying on national television. It's an incredibly dumb thing to be heard saying to anyone full stop.
3) Claiming a forty year lineage for your protest in an attempt to gain legitimacy for your movement. Have you tried the "fathers who don't get to control their children are the last group it's sociably acceptable to look down on" argument yet? It's very popular amongst those who can't distinguish between genuine discrimination and privileged minorities losing some of their power.
4) Claiming no other form of protest is open to you. I look forward to Tibetan protesters dressing up as Wonder Woman next time the Chinese Government come to the UK.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

This Charming Man [slight return]

After this comes news that the girl's mother, who left the father after he killed her, has herself been killed.

Two men ran from their homes to help. They rushed Leila to hospital and a passing taxi took the other two. But Leila died at 3.20pm, despite several operations to save her. As she lay in her own hospital bed receiving treatment, Mariam said that she heard someone saying that Leila had been shot in the head. But there were other mutterings that were clearly audible. 'I could hear people talking on the corridors and the only thing that they had to say was that Leila was wrong for defending her daughter's mistakes and that her death was God's punishment...

Police said the incident was a sectarian attack and that there was nothing to link Leila's death to her family. 'Her ex-husband was not in Basra when it happened. We found out he was visiting relatives in Nassiriya with his two sons,' said Hassan Alaa, a senior officer at the local police station in Basra. 'We believe the target was the women activists, rather than Mrs Hussein, and that she was unlucky to be in that place at that time.'

...Mariam has moved out of her home. But within hours of speaking to The Observer a close friend went to her new address to deliver a message that had been left for her at her front door. It read: 'Death to betrayers of Islam who don't deserve God's forgiveness. Speaking less you will live more.' She believes it was sent by Leila's killers. 'They want this story to be buried with Leila,' she said. 'But I cannot close my eyes to all this.'

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