Wednesday, October 30, 2013

oh HEROD

I’ve mentioned this before but I’m sort of proud of it. Proud because an off the cuff remark went viral and scandalised absolutely everyone who knows me. Absolutely everyone.

My obnoxiously religious sister named all her children after what she considered admirable Christian figures. So for no particular reason I told a couple of people that she’d decided to name her nearly-born son Herod.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – believed me.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – told everyone else.

I still laugh out loud about how this worked itself out. Everyone I knew was convinced that the kid’s name was Herod.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Who not to fuck

In this day and this age, a whole lot of people seem obsessed with telling people who they aren’t allowed to fuck.  Sometimes it’s anyone of the same sex.  Sometimes it’s anyone they’re not married too.  Often, they’d much rather force a child to have sex with someone she doesn’t want to than allow consenting adults to have sex with the people they do want to.  This is a perspective so warped that I hardly know where to begin.  Which, of course, isn’t going to stop me trying.

When I started this post I intended to joke about the fact that so many of the people in power around the world seem oddly concerned with telling adults what sorts of sex they’re allowed to have.  I had a list of reasons why this might be so and sarcastic comments about each of them. But it turns out I couldn’t find any humour in it after all.  It’s not funny. It’s not not funny because people are suffering. As awful as that is, you can make it funny by mocking attitudes and the bigots who hold them.  It’s not not funny for that reason, it’s not funny because of one of the items in my list:

Lots and lots of people are bigots and people in power are just a representative sample.

See? That’s not funny at all.

There’s something about sex that makes people feel entitled to judge. In fact, they feel compelled to judge.  Even people you might not generally think of as bigots are at it.  Women are sluts if they have ‘too many’ sexual partners. They’re frigid if they don’t have enough.  If they make themselves look attractive, they’re asking to be raped.  If they don’t, they obviously need a good raping to loosen them up.  Homosexuals are defined entirely in terms of their sexuality: they’re homosexuals before they are people.  Sometimes they aren’t even people. Often, they’re trying to convert everyone to homosexuality.  Sometimes they can do what they want behind closed doors but they shouldn’t force it down people’s throats by, you know, mentioning it or kissing in public or trying to adopt children.

Why is this? Why do we so easily feel so highly qualified to decide and – at length – tell people who they should and shouldn’t be fucking?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Exposing Feminism PBPR part 2

Part 1 is here. The source is here. Knock yourself out.  Here is part 2:

6.Myth: Girls have been shortchanged in our gender-biased schools

Fact: No fair-minded person can review the education data and conclude that girls are the have-nots in our schools. Boys are slightly ahead of girls in math and science; girls are dramatically ahead in reading and writing. (The writing skills of 17-year-old boys are at the same level as 14-year- old girls.) Girls get better grades, they have higher aspirations, and they are more likely to go to college.

Maybe girls are just smarter.  Wouldn’t that explain the ‘evidence’ just as well?  Fortunately, this is something we can test!  What would it mean for a school to be biased toward one particular gender? I’m not an expert but since we’re all making stuff up, how about this: the amount of time teachers spend with kids.  We could test whether attention from teachers made kids more likely to succeed in education, couldn’t we?  And then we could measure whether girls or boys tend to get more attention.  Other measures might be devised.

Have studies like this been carried out?  I’ve no idea, but I’d be surprised if they hadn’t. But it doesn’t matter: it’s the sort of test we’d need to do to determine whether girls are just better at school or whether the school system gives them an unfair advantage.

Another issue is that this claim is very US-centric.  As I understand it, boys have enormous opportunities in US schools that girls do not. I’m talking in particular about sport scholarships.  In many places, girls are severely disadvantaged.  In many places, they aren’t allowed to go to school at all or are attacked with acid or bullets if they do. Those girls don’t get the chance to get better grades or go to university.  But if this is true in the US (I’ve no idea whether it is) then let’s not just assert that it’s because schools are biased toward them.

Is this a claim feminists actually make anyway?

7. Myth: “Our schools are training grounds for sexual harassment… boys are rarely punished, while girls are taught that it is their role to tolerate this humiliating conduct.”

(National Organization of Women, “Issue Report: Sexual Harassment,” April 1998.)

Hey, a source! Too bad I don’t have time to verify it.  Let’s assume it’s legit for now.

Fact: “Hostile Hallways,” is the best-known study of harassment in grades 8-11. It was commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 1993, and is a favorite of many harassment experts. But this survey revealed that girls are doing almost as much harassing as the boys. According to the study, “85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys surveyed say they have experienced unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with their lives.”

Sneaky.  The statistic quoted, assuming it’s correct, doesn’t say much useful about harassment, does it? It’s no surprise that both girls and boys tend to experience harassment but the author doesn’t say anything about the extent, degree or type of harassment.  Is harassment of boys as routine and endemic as it is of girls?  This is something else we can test and – again – I expect somebody has.  But the author doesn’t seem to have looked.  He’s found a stat that seems to fit his preconceptions and that’s good enough for him.

(Four scholars at the University of Michigan did a careful follow-up study of the AAUW data and concluded: “The majority of both genders (53%) described themselves as having been both victim and perpetrator of harassment — that is most students had been harassed and had harassed others.” And these researchers draw the right conclusion: “Our results led us to question the simple perpetrator-victim model…”)(See: American Education Research Journal, Summer 1996.)

More smoke. This does nothing to either confirm or refute the ‘myth’.  It’s saying something completely different.

8. Myth: Girls suffer a dramatic loss of self-esteem during adolescence.

Fact: This myth of the incredible shrinking girls was started by Carol Gilligan, professor of gender studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gilligan has always enjoyed higher standing among feminist activists and journalists than among academic research psychologists.

Ad hominem.  Attack the argument, not the arguer.

Scholars who follow the protocols of social science do not accept the reality of an adolescent “crisis” of confidence and “loss of voice.” In 1993, American Psychologist reported the new consensus among researchers in adolescent development: “It is now known that the majority of adolescents of both genders successfully negotiate this developmental period without any major psychological or emotional disorder [and] develop a positive sense of personal identity.”

I think we’ve lost sight of the myth here.  The author seems to be suggesting that there’s a persistent claim that girls suffer from a loss of self-esteem during adolescence more than boys.  Is this really a common claim by feminists? But either way, the cited study seems to suggest there’s no differential. So isn’t the claim correct? I sure as shit had a crisis of self-esteem during adolescence and so did absolutely everyone I know.  That includes some girls.  I survived it. So did everyone else who is still alive. 

I really don’t see what point is supposedly being made and I certainly don’t understand what the supposed evidence says about the claim one way or another.

9. Myth: Gender is a social construction.

Fact: While environment and socialization do play a significant role in human life, a growing body of research in neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology over the past 40 years suggests there is a biological basis for many sex differences in aptitudes and preferences. In general, males have better spatial reasoning skills; females better verbal skills. Males are greater risk takers; females are more nurturing.

I’d love to see this ‘growing body of research’, but of course none of it is cited.  I wonder why. Stating a thing doesn’t make it so and 40 years of studies with the same outcome ought to have dredged up enough evidence to cite, right?  Apparently not.  Perhaps those four decades also chivvied up some evidence that aptitudes and attitudes are not determined by biology alone.  To make an argument, the author would have to demonstrate why those studies are flawed and the ones that happen to support his conclusion are not.  He doesn’t do anything even similar to that.

If the author were concerned with whether or not gender is a social construct, he’d focus on ways to test that. Do girls automatically like pink regardless of culture or do they like pink because they’re taught that they should? That kind of thing.  But he’s not concerned with that, he’s concerned with re-enforcing the gender roles he thinks ought to exist.

Of course, this does not mean that women should be prevented from pursuing their goals in any field they choose; what it does suggest is that we should not expect parity in all fields.

If you could take a month off work to strive night and day to come up with a better excuse for sexism, do you think you could? Let’s turn the argument around to reveal what the author really means: women can’t do some stuff as well as men, so we get to treat women like idiots. Poor little things, trying to do men’s work. We indulge them, bless their hearts, but they can’t expect us to pay them the same as men or treat them with the same respect.

More women than men will continue to want to stay at home with small children and pursue careers in fields like early childhood education or psychology; men will continue to be over-represented in fields like helicopter mechanics and hydraulic engineering.

First, hilarious choice of macho occupations. Second, isn’t this begging the question?  It’s such transparent bullshit that I’m not even going to bother teasing it out.

Warning: Most gender scholars in our universities have degrees in fields like English or comparative literature–not biology or neuroscience. These self-appointed experts on sexuality are scientifically illiterate. They substitute dogma and propaganda for reasoned scholarship.

If they are university scholars, aren’t they appointed by the university?  In what sense are they self-appointed?  Besides, the term' ‘gender scholars’ is deliberately and stupidly vague.  What does it mean?  Do all these ‘gender scholars’ have the same sort of outlook? Do they make the same claims?  Is it the gender scholars who came up with all these supposed myths?

10. Myth: Women’s Studies Departments empowered women and gave them a voice in the academy.

Fact: Women’s Studies empowered a small group of like-minded careerists. They have created an old-girl network that is far more elitist, narrow and closed than any of the old-boy networks they rail against.

Citation needed.

Vast numbers of moderate or dissident women scholars have been marginalized, excluded and silenced.

Citation needed. Look, just asserting something doesn’t make it so. Haven’t you understood that yet? If your claim is true, it’s interesting. If it’s just made up, it’s worthless.

I don’t know how to go about measuring empowerment.  But I know a silencing tactic when I see one. The author is asserting with no evidence that women’s studies is no good based on no stated criteria so women should probably just shut up and stop being annoying.

So there you have it: the 10 most common feminist myths debunked, apparently.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Looks like time for a point-by-point rebuttal part 1

I do love a good point-by-point rebuttal.  It’s a form of art sadly neglected in these days of Twitter.  It’s also time-consuming and I’m really busy, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

BEHOLD. Behold, that is, if you have a strong stomach and piss-poor logic doesn’t cause you to erupt in boundless rage 

This is a site called Exposing Feminism.  Its slogan is “Feminism is MAN-HATE. EXPOSE IT”, so you pretty much know what you’re getting from the word go.  The article is called “The 10 Most Common Feminist Myths”. You might think it would contain such items as “Feminists are all hairy lesbians” or “All feminists hate men/want more stuff than men get/need a good fucking” but those didn’t seem to make the cut.  This leads me to wonder “most popular according to whom?”  To whoever wrote the article, I suppose, since no source was cited.  It’s always good to fire off a rebuttal to the title even before getting to the article.

I’m not going to dispute the statistics in the following as it would take far more time than I have.  But the arguments are hilarious, so I’ll tackle those. I’m also assuming the author is male. Sue me.

So here (according to someone) are the 10 most common feminism myths:

1. Myth: One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

Fact: This mother of all factoids is based on a fallacious feminist study commissioned by Ms. magazine. The researcher, Mary Koss, hand-picked by hard-line feminist Gloria Steinem, acknowledges that 73 percent of the young women she counted as rape victims were not aware they had been raped. Forty-three percent of them were dating their “attacker” again.

So if a woman is unaware that she was raped, it didn’t happen?  I wonder if Koss really said that the women didn’t know they’d been raped.  I wonder if she said something more along the lines of some women saying they didn’t feel they could really classify it as rape because it was by their partner or they were drunk or that she kindasorta led him on before saying no to sex… But even if the claim is accurate, not knowing that what happened to you was rape doesn’t make it not rape.  Dating one’s rapist after the event doesn’t make it not rape either.  Many people stay with their partners after suffering domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Does that make it not abuse?

Bonus points for ‘hard-line feminist’ and ‘hand-picked'’, by the way.  How else was the researcher supposed to be picked?  A fucking lottery?  Whether Steinem is a ‘hard-line feminist’ or not is irrelevant.  The integrity of the study is.  I haven’t seen the study and it isn’t cited, so I can’t tell.  The article does cite some other papers suggesting they refute Koss’ study but mysteriously doesn’t explain how they do so. 

The one exception is "According to this study, campus police reported 1,310 forcible sex offenses on U.S. campuses in one year. That works out to an average of fewer than one rape per campus.)” That’s not quite the same thing, is it?  That’s a statistic about sex offenses reported by campus police and says nothing at all about the number actually committed. Based on the titles alone, the other papers cited don’t seem to be talking about the same statistic either.  But I haven’t read them, so I could be wrong.

Rape is a uniquely horrible crime. That is why we need sober and responsible research. Women will not be helped by hyperbole and hysteria. Truth is no enemy of compassion, and falsehood is no friend.

And a thousand expensive irony meters bite the dust. Why do these people always need to tell us that rape is bad?  I think most of us can take that as read, can’t we?  Could it possibly be that they realise they’re being horrible rape apologists and need to throw down a smoke bomb and run away?

2. Myth: Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Fact: The 75 cent figure is terribly misleading. This statistic is a snapshot of all current full-time workers. It does not consider relevant factors like length of time in the workplace, education, occupation, and number of hours worked per week. (The experience gap is particularly large between older men and women in the workplace.) When economists do the proper controls, the so-called gender wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.

There are numerous studies that show – by a variety of measures – that women in general earn less than their male counterparts. I don’t have time to look them up now, I’m afraid, but that fact is not in dispute.  I don’t know whether the figure is 75% but that doesn’t matter.  This is a tactic you’ll come to recognise from the author.  Dispute the specific figure, not the problem.  Demolishing strawmen isn’t difficult. That’s the point of strawmen. But this guy seems to get put in a headlock and paraded around by his own strawmen. It’s a bizarre display of incompetence.

But none of this matters, according to the author, because when you take into account exactly the right things, the wage gap becomes ‘vanishingly small’. That’s not very difficult to arrange.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t say what ‘vanishingly small’  means or what those ‘proper controls’ are.  He does make some unjustified assertions though.  For example, he writes about education (are women in the workforce less educated than men? In most Western societies at least, this seems doubtful). He also writes about occupation.  If the measure he’s writing of really does ignore occupation, what should we conclude?  Either that women are somehow unfit for higher-paying occupations or that they find it more difficult to get into those occupations in the first place.  Are either of those things true? I know which I’d put my money on.

And then there’s the supposed ‘experience gap’.It’s pretty clear that he’s talking about childcare here.  I’m amused by how specific he is: it’s ‘older women’ who have the biggest experience gap, presumably because younger women haven’t had children yet.  This is a testable hypothesis: presumably younger women have more similar pay to younger men, then?  Do they?

But the most hilarious point is the ‘proper controls’ part.  We can always control variables until they say what we want, at which case we describe them as ‘proper’. That isn't science, I’m afraid.

There’s another citation for this ‘myth’, but again the author doesn’t explain what this source says that refutes it. You’d think there’d be some gleeful quotes, wouldn’t you, if the source said what he says it says.

3. Myth: 30 percent of emergency room visits by women each year are the result of injuries from domestic violence.

Fact: This incendiary statistic is promoted by gender feminists whose primary goal seems to be to impugn men.

Is it? Where? If it’s so common, you’d think he’d provide a few examples, wouldn’t you? That way we could judge whether the people who promote this statistic (assuming there are any) are really ‘gender feminists’. And then we can ask ourselves whether that matters.  The people who promote anything are necessarily people with an agenda. Does that mean we should discount what they say?  Is only totally disinterested comment – contradiction though that is – worthy of attention? So far, all we have is ad-hom.  Without evidence. And with a gigantic assumption about the goals of these unspecified feminists.

But again the author is disputing the figure rather than the issue. Does the exact percentage matter? What percentage would be acceptable? 

Two responsible government studies report that the nationwide figure is closer to one percent. While these studies may have missed some cases of domestic violence, the 30% figure is a wild exaggeration.

This is pure genius.  “While there’s no evidence for this, it’s scientific fact." Please. Once again, I don’t know what these ‘responsible’ government studies actually say or whether they’re talking about the same statistic. I don’t know whether the methodologies and controls are comparable. But, I’m willing to bet, neither does the author.  But I could be wrong. Perhaps the author has read and understood the sources and knows that they are directly comparable. But wouldn’t he say so?

The fact that anyone is subjected to domestic violence is horrifying.  The fact that it happens to women more than to men is horrific for several reasons.  The most horrific reason is that it suggests that men are consistently able to get away with it: that it isn’t soundly enough condemned and that people like our author feel justified in being apologists for domestic violence.

4. Myth: The phrase “rule of thumb” originated in a man’s right to beat his wife provided the stick was no wider than his thumb.

Fact: This is an urban legend that is still taken seriously by activist law professors and harassment workshoppers. The Oxford English Dictionary has more than twenty citations for phrase “rule of thumb” (the earliest from 1692), but not a single mention of beatings, sticks, or husbands and wives.

Holy shit. The origin of the phrase is hardly relevant to the multitude of women who’ve been hit with sticks. Can’t we agree that husbands beating their wives with or without sticks is horrific and not quibble about the origin of a phrase that’s purported to limit the extent of the violence that can be done?  What is the author even trying to achieve by describing this ‘myth’? 

Well, I suppose he’s saying that because a particular phrase doesn’t – in it’s origin – specifically advocate the beating of women with a certain size of stick, then….. feminism is wrong.  Or that it’s totally OK to beat women with really really big sticks, it’s impossible to say.

Fact: women with broken eye sockets are unlikely to take solace in the fact that the phrase ‘rule of thumb’ probably isn’t about beating wives.

OK, I’m being slightly facetious. I’m ignoring the implication of the phrase that there’s a tradition of beating wives with sticks and the author’s presumed thought that debunking the phrase debunks the reality of the tradition. Yeah, I’m not being facetious at all, am I?

5. Myth: Women have been shortchanged in medical research.

Fact: The National Institutes of Health and drug companies routinely include women in clinical trials that test for effectiveness of medications.

Hilarious. I expect they do, but does that mean they research and develop medicine specifically for women as much as they research and develop medicine specifically for men? 

It says no such thing. It’s an irrelevant statistic.  Why not isolate the diseases that are specific to mostly men and mostly to women and then see what research goes into each? That would seem relevant.

By 1979, over 90% of all NIH-funded trials included women.

This is another stupid, deliberately misleading  statistic. If we are to detect a bias, surely we also need to know what percentage include men? And we’d also need to know about the different illnesses men and women can get, how treatable those illnesses are and – sadly – the economic value of researching, building and distributing the treatments. 

The indignant assertion that “we do some research about women-illness, what are you complaining about?” speaks the usual volumes.

Beginning in 1985, when the NIH’s National Cancer Center began keeping track of specific cancer funding, it has annually spent more money on breast cancer than any other type of cancer. Currently, women represent over 60% of all subjects in NIH-funded clinical trails.

Certain types of cancer are known to be more successfully treatable than others and we know more about some forms of cancer. Incremental improvements to existing drugs are going to generate more trials. That doesn’t mean that there’s less effort being put into other forms of cancer. Those are the factors we should consider. I expect lots of people have done that. This author doesn’t cite any such study, only the ones that – based on title alone, apparently – seem in his head to support his pre-determined opinion.

That’s part one. I’ll get onto the top five in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More on e-books

You see, this is a good attitude.

Plus, those books of Gaiman’s aimed at children are hardly recognisable as being such, which is exactly as they should be. They are good books with good, complex stories and interesting characters. Very much like Pratchett’s books for children, which every adult should read.

I vaguely remember but can’t find a quote by Terry Pratchett along the lines of:it being easy to write stories about animals that can talk but a lot more difficult to write ones about people who can think.

In my memory and possibly entirely made up, this was a dig by Pratchett at things like Harry Potter. Bland, formulaic, repetitive crap with no interesting characters and the same ‘story’ un every single book.

Both authors deal with magic. Here’s how they differ:

Rowling relies on the Subjugated Child With A Destiny. This is such an over-used and over-rated trope, no wonder everyone got sick of it.

Pratchett wrote about children who have difficult things to do and did them. His books are about learning to be what they think they are. Rowling’s books are about telling children how bland and stupid they can be.

Difference.

Friday, October 11, 2013

More royal stupidity

But relatively benign this time. Just an old lady complaining about how the world has changed. And – unusually – nothing to do with Charles Windsor.

The queen is apparently very concerned that children are reading ‘too many’ ebooks and ‘not enough’ paper books.

I can certainly see that making books cheaper and easier to distribute, store and carry would harm our nation’s children.  We wouldn’t want our kids to have – in practical terms – a vastly increased choice of reading material because of search and recommendation engines.  Bookshops – at least, the chains – have long been disappointing places, stocking mostly the top X fiction titles and filling the rest of the space with cookery books.  Buying a paper book from Amazon is entirely different.  The choice is as close to infinite as makes no practical difference and there are reviews and recommendations and things-similar and what-people-also-boughts.  Buying ebooks is exactly like that except without the wait or delivery costs. I can certainly see why this would be bad for children.

Worse still, thanks to the Guttenberg Project, we can get classic books that are out of copyright for free.  We wouldn’t want increased access to books for people who couldn’t otherwise afford them, would we?

I understand – I really do – that many people enjoy the format of printed books.  They like the feel. They like the smell. They like it when books are well-used and a bit dog-eared and naturally fall open at favourite places.  They have romantic and nostalgic feelings about reading.  They remember when they were transported to magical worlds as children and for some reason associate that with print technology, rather than the – you know – words and their own imaginations.  I get that and don’t insist that people read e-books.

So it pisses me off when people – especially monarchs – decree that ebooks are bad. They’d prefer to deprive kids of the advantages solely because the books they used to read looked a bit different. 

Needless to say, the queen is also worried about video games.  Perhaps she’d prefer that kids joust instead.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Oh, some blasphemy

Oh, I don’t know, let Satan spunk on a wafer or something. The holy ghost probably wouldn’t approve of that.

Do you think I’m joking?

I’m not, look: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/10/05/flying-witches-and-africans/

Swaziland has set a maximum height for witches to fly on broomsticks.

Hopefully it will next crack down on all those two-eyed cyclopses, un-horned unicorns and mermaids with legs.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Who I am, how I came to be part 2: I hope things are better now

I nearly died from complications arising from osteomyelitis when I was a kid. Osteomyelitis is a disease of the bone or marrow and it’s quite nasty.  In my case, it seems to have been caused by some bacterial infection latching on to a trauma to my shin.  Someone kicked my shin really fucking hard a few days before I got ill, so it’s assumed that was the trauma.  I don’t know where the infection came from.

Anyway, I was very ill. I had a very dangerous fever, pain like you wouldn’t believe, a leg that was as swollen as and the colour of a space hopper and a feeling I can only describe as acute sadness. I just wanted to cry all the time and I don’t think that was just because I felt ill.  I think it was a symptom.

My parents thought I was making it up and sent me to school.  School didn’t like the look of me on little bit and send me home again.  My mother – I have to say, in very bad grace – took me to the doctor.  I had heard the phrase ‘visibly paled’ but hadn’t seen it before. The doctor visibly paled and sent me directly to hospital. He said my mother should drive me because it would take too long for an ambulance.  This was surely hyperbole: the doctor’s surgery was five minutes walk from the hospital. But I expect he was trying to impart the seriousness of the situation.  I’m glad he did. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital I was hooked up to a drip and rattling from the number of antibiotic pills inside me.

I’ve no doubt that the doctors at the hospital saved my life or – at the very least – my leg.  But when I look back at it decades later, I see some extraordinary things about my treatment, which concern me.

First, on the day I was admitted, I was flitting in and out of consciousness. When I was conscious, I was scared. My mother had to go back to work and my dad was at work too, so I was completely alone in an entirely unfamiliar environment. I expect this is not uncommon, but the staff didn’t seem to notice. They didn’t tell me what would happen to me. They didn’t tell me the rules. How was I supposed to go to the toilet when I couldn’t get out of bed? Well, you ask the nurses, of course, but nobody told me I could.  They seemed to be doing really important things and I felt that I should just know this stuff and was stupid for not knowing it. I guess the nurses and doctors assumed the same sort of thing. So this is the first concern: there was no orientation. Nobody told me that if I needed something I should just ask.  Humiliatingly, when I was finally desperate enough I did tell a nurse that I needed the toilet and she brought me a bottle. I didn’t know that what I really needed to ask for was a bedpan. You can speculate how that worked out.  But I just didn’t know any better. I was alone and scared and didn’t know how these things worked. It seemed stupid to me, but I’d been to school so was used to nonsensical rules.

Then the doctors treated me. They certainly saved my life and I have no complaints about that.  But they never told me what they actually did to me. They seemed to assume I didn’t need to know because I was a child. Decades later I asked my parents what the doctors told them about my treatment but they couldn’t remember.

They told me nothing at all. I  was instructed to not eat or drink anything (but not why) and then had an operation. I still have no idea what that operation was. I expect that it removed some necrotic tissue and possibly marrow. But nobody ever told me what was going to – or had been – done to me.

These days, that strikes me as odd. I hope things are better now, I hope doctors and nurses orient children better when they get to the hospital and explain to them what they’re going to do to them and why.  Perhaps they assumed my parents would do that, but they didn’t. I don’t feel fear very often, but I felt it then.

I hope kids today aren’t as scared as I was.  Do you want to know what scared me most? I’ll tell you.

After my operation, my leg was in plaster. After a few days a doctor came to tell me that he intended to put a window in my leg. HE WANTED TO PUT A WINDOW IN MY LEG. IN MY FUCKING LEG. I thought that he wanted to put a piece of glass in my leg so he could look inside. I did not want that. But I didn’t know I could object or even ask about it.

It turned out that he just wanted to cut a section out of the plaster on my leg so he could look at how much my flesh was rotting. Which was a relief at the time, but doesn’t seem like that now I come to talk about it.

But anyway, I hope that these days kids get treated like himans when they go to hospital. I didn’t feel cared for, I felt scared and helpless, at the most vulnerable time ot my life.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

First fossil

When I was about 7 I found a perfect Ammonite fossil, about 3 inches across. I found it half buried in some mud in a river bank.Due to some malfeasance on behalf of an ex-girlfriend I don’t have it today (she borrowed it to put in her fish tank and never gave it back) but it was one of the things that inspired me to choose a career in science.

I often wonder about that fossil.  The only explanation for it’s location is that someone dropped it there. But this was not a place likely to be visited by many people. It was where I went to be alone, very much in the middle of nowhere, 20 minutes walk from any building across fields and rough ground. The chances of my sitting in that exact spot and putting my hand on a piece of stone and deciding to dig it out are surely astronomical. And yet there it was.

The fossil and the coincidence both impressed me and this was about the time I started to get seriously into pop-sci books.  It’s fun to think that if that fleeting astronomical coincidence hadn’t happened, my life might have been completely different.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A year of blasphemy, day 3

Fucking nine year olds isn’t and could never possibly be OK.

A year of blasphemy day two

The holy spirit is a dick.

A story

My leg is hurting so much that I can not get anything useful done today, so I’ll tell you a story instead.

Years ago I had a German girlfriend. One week we went to visit her family in Berlin. It was the first time I’d been to Berlin. In fact, it was my first time away from the British mainland.  The wall was down but there was still a striking difference between the East and West. The West was much like every other modern city except that the utilities were housed in pipes that sprouted out of the pavements and ran along in the air for a while before changing direction for no apparent reason and eventually plunging back into the ground or into buildings. The East was strange.  My girlfriend’s parents lived in a tower block. There were maybe five such blocks arranged around a plaza.  They had originally been issued to families by the state and when the wall came down they were basically given to those families.  Many of which immediately moved out because the flats weren’t in great condition and now there was nobody to do even pretend maintenance and nobody had any money.  So the families that remained spread out into unused flats.  My girlfriend’s parents lived in one flat and she and her brother had their own flats in the same building from the time they were both young teenagers.  Pretty sweet, right?  We stayed for the week in her flat.

After we’d settled in, we went upstairs so I could meet her parents. Shamefully, my German was even worse then than it is now and they didn’t speak much English.  The first thing my girlfriend’s father did after shaking my hand was to give me a magazine with a grin on his face. 

It turned out to be a German edition of Playboy. This is not what I expected when meeting my girlfriend’s parents, but Germans tend to be less inhibited than the English so I thought what the fuck and flicked my way through it, turning it sideways at the centrefold and trying to take exactly the right amount of interest in the contents while miming small talk.

My girlfriend didn’t say a word all this time.  But she had a slight smile on her face, which in hindsight should have tipped me off.

She explained afterwards, with much hilarity, that her grandfather had invented the machine that makes thermos flasks.  The magazine had a calendar of significant world events in the back and – this being a German Playboy – it included the invention of this machine and a short profile of its inventor.

It turns out this is what I was supposed to be looking at.  But instead I went right ahead and scrutinised every page with obvious interest and curiosity. During the first ten minutes of meeting my girlfriend’s family.

It turned out to be an interesting trip. We went shopping for clothes in a shop that sold them by weight. There were no changing rooms, but that didn’t stop people simply stripping naked in the middle of the shop and trying on clothes.  We went to bars in the student quarter which were just people’s houses.  Seriously, we sat on their sofa watching TV while they served us warm beer in ordinary cups out of kegs that had cats and dogs sleeping on them. These are all completely brilliant ideas.

Years and years later I lived in another part of Germany and it was nothing like that although still completely brilliant. I expect Berlin isn’t much like that any more either.  If so, it’s a shame. Places should be more like that.