The Old One

Five ways I know I'm getting old:

(1) Songs from my youth are on Radio 2. The BBC runs eleven national radio channels, among them Radio 1 for contemporary pop appealing to teenagers, and Radio 2 for tedious old farts politely referred to as "over 35s" - who don't like loud or strange music but also aren't into classical or jazz.

When I was in Radio 1's "target demographic", Radio 2 featured morning programmes dedicated to songs from stage musicals, and evening programmes for big band dancehall stuff from the 1940s and 50s.

Now it's got Human League, Ultravox and (oh the horror) Status Quo.

(2) Recession and mass bankruptcy. Coalition and Conservative government. Casual racism from the public and simpering patriotism in the newspapers. Idiots saying "I'm not sexist, I love pretty girls", TV news being thinly disguised advertising for other programmes, and the Brain Drain.

All things I spent half of my adult life being told were gone - and good riddance. Yes, I remember them all from the last time. At least I don't remember them from the time before that

(3) I don't associate much with people my own age - because they're boring.

It's a jolt to realise the thirty six year old man in the pub pontificating on subjects he know nothing about as an elder to a skinny-jeaned group of students half his younger than me.

(4) I automatically expect the next big thing to be the same shit in different packaging. The iPad - a glorified netbook. Lady Gaga - early Madonna with even worse dress sense. The latest political theory - trickledown Regenomics. Another royal wedding - another PR stunt.

(5) Questions like "What am I supposed to be doing with my life?" overshadow questions like "What do I want to do today?"

I had my midlife crisis when I was fifteen. Another one is just not welcome.

Streetwise Sunday - Stuffed Edition

The last Streetwise Sunday of the year...and I think the last for a while. So, as with everything else at christmas, there's three helpings, plus a little extra, even though you don't really want it.

First, the large cooking bowl I found on a pavement. At the time, it was filled with stale dogfood that must've been there for at least a week. I dumped the contents into a bin, took the bowl home, washed it...and weeks later Mother made a christmas cake in it.

I'd like to show you the cake, but I'm eating the last of the second christmas cake as I write. So here's the bowl in it's pristine state.

The term "street furniture" can refer either to things like cars, lamp-posts and homeless children that you tend to see outside, or to the result of a home or pub that's just had a refurbishment - and leaves the defurbished furnishings (furbishings?) outside for, well, anyone who might want them.

And the mysterious thing is, no one ever does. Not even me.

Our third helping is...actual food. Specifically, a microwavable lasagna-for-one (price GBP1) on the pavement outside the university's biomedicine department. Now, the people who mostly eat these things are the unemployed, students, the retired, and the otherwise bankrupt. I'm at least two of these, and I quite like them.

So, who inhabits the university at christmas, and which rooms have microwaves? Postgrad researchers...and the offices of postgrad researchers. So I think I have a fair idea who microwaved it, then threw it out of the window in disgust.

Unless they were recreating the famous apocryphal experiment of dropping things off the leaning tower of pizza. Except it wasn't pizza, it was lasagna.

And the bonus?

Christmas is a time for togetherness, for getting a little bit drunk and enjoying yourself doing something silly, and for big sparkly trees.

Either that, or the time for the council to put up a big sparkly tree outside the guildhall, then putting a fence around it with dire warning not to go anywhere near, just in case people get a bit drunk and do something silly, like climbing up the tree until it topples over, dumping them hard on the they can sue the council from hospital.

The One Day of Christmas

"Sir, I protest! I am not a merry man!"
- Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation

This year I got exactly one text message wishing me a merry christmas. It read "Happy Christmas. Your vid gave me a stiffy". I think I'll have it framed.

Most of the assorted great aunts and uncles, Nth cousins and their offspring - the ones who made childhood christmas so tense and unpleasant - are now thankfully dead, estranged, in homes or in, er, Canada.

Even my brother decided he'd rather spend the season with colleagues rather than family, which is fine. So it's just two retired parents, three parrots, five dogs, an indeterminate number of mice, several tones of accumulated junk and one currently unemployed and penniless teacher - spending most of the time in separate rooms. Finally, a family christmas we can actually enjoy.

I was going to do a twelve-days-of-christmas type list, but most of them are ones. So here goes:

Here are twelve things of christmas that came to old Kapp-y...

One night on youtube
Far too much chocolate
One book of science
Crap Doc Who Special
One drunken phonecall
Old films on TV
One mislaid wallet
Cold in the nose....
One family noshup
Big indigestion
Refrozen snow
And a txt msg about a stiffy

Last Christmas (but One)

Two christmasses ago I spent the holidays backing up a few hundred gigabytes of data from hard drive to DVDR. Now I'm backing up much the same data from DVDR to external hard drive.

That christmas I got a present - thermal underwear. This christmas, it's so cold I couldn't manage without it. Back then I was awake most of the nights and asleep most of the days, living on tea with powdered milk, and chocolate biscuits. Now...well, I had to replace the old kettle.

I was putting off the hard work of writing lyrics by developing a collection of virtual synths. Now I've got a chorus and half a verse in front of me...and I'm coming up with a way to add a little unpredictability to mixing desk EQs.

I was getting nostalgic with a lot of old recordings I'd made of 70s Dr Who episodes. This year it's Blake's 7. The cold virus probably isn't the same one either.

But one thing is different this time. I've been given my very own christmas tree.

Happy Sleighbells to you, and may your new year resolutions last longer than your new year.


Someone's sent me an ebook. It's called "Answers to Non-Muslim's Common Questions about Islam" by Dr Zakir Abdul Karim Naik, published by the Islamic Research Foundation.

Instead of me editorialising, why don't I just summarise what it has to say, and you draw your own conclusions? Here goes:

1) Why is polygamy allowed in Islam?

Most religions (including Christianity and Hinduism) allow polygamy - or at least don't explicitly forbid it. It's secular laws that limit marriage, even though men are biologically promiscuous - which science proves.

Islam is better than all the other polygamous religions because it's the only one to warn you not to have more wives than you can cope with.

2) Why not polyandry?

It's forbidden because women only need one man, and besides if she had more than one husband it might not be certain who the father of her children is - and that would be, er, bad.

3) Doesn't Islam degrade women?

Every other civilisation does, and western culture turns women into sex objects while pretending to free them. Sexlessness is dignified in women.

And the veil prevents rape in some unspecified way.

4) How can Islam be a religion of peace when it's been spread by conquest?

If Islam were a religion of violence, all the non-muslims would have been executed when Muslim armies invaded their country.

5) Are Muslims terrorists?

"The policeman is a terrorist for the robber."

6) Why aren't Muslims vegetarians?

They can be.

7) Why do they slaughter animals by decapitating them?

Because it's quick, relatively painless...and it lets the nasty germ-ridden blood flow away.

8) But doesn't eating meat make people violent?

Not if they only eat herbivores.

9) Isn't bowing to the Kaaba (that giant black cube in Mecca) idol worship?

It promotes unity among Muslims, so it...isn't.

10) Why aren't non-muslims allowed to go to Mecca?

Immigration control is good when we do it.

11) Why can't Muslims eat pork?

The Qur'an says so - just like the bible. Plus pigs carry disease, and aren't monogamous - "Many times after dance parties, they have swapping of wives".

12) Why can't Muslims drink alcohol?

The Qur'an says so - just like the bible. Plus "8% of Americans commit incest...Almost all cases of incest are due to intoxication".

Oh, and "ALCOHOLISM IS NOT A DISEASE - IT IS SATAN'S HANDIWORK". (Yes, that part is all in capitals.)

13) In law, why are two female witnesses equivalent to one male witness?

Women are more emotional than men, so less accurate.

14) Why is a woman's inheritance half that of a man?

Occasionally it isn't. If "the deceased has left no ascendant or descendent but has left the uterine brother and sister, each of the two inherit one sixth".

And men need more because they have families, which women don't.

15) Is the Qur'an the word of God?

Here I can quote the full text:

"(to be corrected and provided after a few days)
* apprximately 5 pages"

It would appear Dr Naik hasn't got around to writing this part yet.

16) How can you prove life after death?

Science can't prove it doesn't exist, so it's logical to believe it does.

If there's no afterlife, morality is impossible.

The justice in the afterlife balances out the injustice in this one.

17) Why are there sects in Islam?

All the other sects don't read the Qur'an right.

18) What's so special about Islamic ethics?

Under Shariah law, reported rapes and thefts are low.

19) If Islam is so good, why are Muslims as bad as everyone else?

It's media slander, it's just a few rotten apples giving the rest a bad name, and some non-muslim historians say the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a wonderful person.

I don't know about you, but I find it perversely comforting that although customs and cultures are so varied across the world, drivelling bullshit is the same everywhere.

Out of Africa

I was offered a job. Actually two jobs. Actually two jobs for me and one for a friend.

I'd get to be a teacher of general English in a school, and a teacher of Business English in a prestigious university in the capital city. Combined, the wages come to around USD1000 dollars per month, plus free food and lodging, in a country where everything's really cheap.

The other job is running the school, for the same sort of deal. USD250 per week disposable income each.

There is, however, one tiny niggling problem. It's in Khartoum, which is in the Sudan, which is probably just about to have a civil war, and where white folks and gay folks are not notably popular.

I knew there was a reason they were so desperate for me to sign the contract so quickly.

Oh, but there has been another offer. From people I've found to be much more educated, friendly and non-judgemental than almost everyone in Britain. The affluent middle class of the stable, rich, technologically, Saudi Arabia.

National stereotypes: Less confusing than reality, but just as absurd.

No Worries

I've a nasty feeling I'm going to look back on this part of my life as a happy one. Because I've got no major problems - just a constant stream of minor irritations.

This evening I got a phone call saying could I please come to the university for twenty minutes to help out with poofing a thesis. Fine - I do a lot of poofing, but I'm not averse to proofing as well, which is what they actually wanted.

So I stomp along the slippery remelted snow, and when I arrive...another call saying please wait (in the cold) for ten minutes. And there will be food!

The student arrives when promised...and has us stomp for another ten minutes to his flat, where he's very kindly decided to cook for us both before doing the work there. It's lemon chicken with rice, and lots of trimmings - very nice.

Of course, I'd just eaten a large meal before leaving and I was already feeling stuffed would have been impolite to mention that. Just like it was impolite to mention that the requested twenty minutes had become three hours I'd apparently agreed to.

So three hours later, after midnight, he says he'll call me at six AM. Ah no, I chuckle, you mean six PM - you've got them mixed up before, remember? No, he means six AM, because there's a load more work to do and he's left it till the last minute and it's due in the day after.

So, this is Kapitano, the man with no problems, about to sleep off quite a lot of indigestion in preparation for an early phone call on the day of rest.

Streetwise Sunday - Christmas Come Early Edition

Yes, I do believe in Santa Claus! And I can prove He exists!

Walking home I found, within five minutes of each other...a glove and half a fizzy drink.

Followed by something to go with the fizzy drink - two chicken mayo half sandwiches.

Followed by something to wash them both down with - half a can of coke.

If I have food poisoning tomorrow, I shall also believe in the devil.

Weekend Woundup 6

All the tweetlike thoughts I've stumbled on recently and thought they'd look good on the sideblog.

The first words of wisdom are "I don't know".

The second are "And neither do you".

All political questions resolve to one: Are you on the side of the bully, or the victim?

There are those who state their principles clearly, and those who live by principles too unclear to state.

The former are harmless bores, the latter are the best and worst of people.

An authoritarian is someone who answers your question only to make you stop asking it.

when someone says they love you, they're trying to blackmail you into loving them - whether or not they do love you.

A 'Love Story' is a fiction where this coercion does not exist, and is always effective.

Love that dies is preferable to love that turns bitter.

It's easy for me to forgive others for being right. The hard thing is to forgive myself for being wrong.

Recognising that the establishment intellectuals are wrong does not entail believing the anti-establishment proletarians are right.

Socialists who are not proletarians lose nothing by failing to see this, so they often do fail even though they have a word for precisely this failure - workerism.

The moment someone describes their work as 'Subversive', it ceases to be so.

A one sided debate will only convince those who are already convinced.

When encountering a group: find the leader and assume they're incompetent until they prove otherwise. This saves time, as almost no leaders deserve their power.

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

"The Nice Must Go."
- Not Frank Herbert

"Don’t overestimate your reader’s knowledge and don’t underestimate their intelligence."
- Tim Radford

"You educate people by explaining complex ideas in a simple way, not by explaining simple ideas in a complex way"
- Ed Young

"Dignity isn't something that can be bestowed on another, it can only be taken away."
- PZ Myers

"After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."
- Mr Spock

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird."
- Richard Feynmann

"You simply cannot solve problems that you do not want to identify."
- Dierdrie Walker

"There is a boy across the river
with an arse like a peach,
But alas, I cannot swim".
- The Wounded Heart, Afghan poem

"Secrets are only as secure as the least trusted person who knows them."
- Bruce Schneier

"A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things."
- Herman Melville

"One Trot faction
Sitting in a hall
One Trot faction
Sitting in a hall
And if one Trot faction
Should have a nasty squall
There'll be two Trot factions
Sitting in a hall."
- Alex Kelly

"A is for Beginning"
- Paul Morley

"Beauty's where you find it."
- Madonna, Vogue

It may be true that we all have one good novel in us, but who's to say it's the one we write?

"The notion of objectively ordering works of art seems bizarre to me."
- Roger Ebert

"Something is missing."
- Paul Morley

Streetwise Sunday - Poolish Edition

Either someone was carrying a kiddie's paddling pool and dropped it on the pavement upon realising they didn't have children, or this is the sad remains of the council's latest efforts to persuade us we're a summertime seaside resort.

They do that periodically, before someone points out that you need sun for that kind of holiday.

A Gay at the Races

People used to tell me "Opinions are like arseholes - everyone's got one but no one wants to examine each other's".

They used to tell me that quite a lot - and chuckle as though it were (a) funny (b) insightful (c) true and (d) something I hadn't heard a hundred times before.

Opinions can be like arseholes of course - there's usually a big hole at the center, there's a lot of shit behind them, some people seem to spend their lives sucking up to someone else's, I don't show mine in public very often, and they generally benefit from being strongly fucked occasionally.

The same people used to tell me things like "Everyone is genetically nationalist so there's no point in fighting it" or alternatively "Everyone is naturally xenophobic but I've overcome it through willpower". As though these were not the arsehole-like opinions they'd opined about earlier.

Different people told me things like "Black on black racism is a myth created by white racists", or "The whole notion of race is pseudoscientific rubbish and if only everyone realised that they'd stop hating".

(In fact there is a useful - though vague - idea in biology called "race", which neither racists not anti-racists differentiate from its pseudoscientific namesake. Neither group knows or cares about science, in my experience.)

By a quirk of fate, I'm currently spending half my waking hours with middle eastern men. No, not like that - I'm helping out with the wordprocessing side of writing PhD theses. With the nice side-effects that I'm (a) getting acquainted with fascinating and complex ideas in genomics and proteomics, and (b) getting acquainted with people who can help me get a well paying job sometime soon.

Yes, they know I'm gay, and have so far shown no inclination to throw rocks, tell me I'm evil, or cast out demons - which places them some way above the local evangelical christian church, which did once order Satan to stop controlling me. Though it also provided me with a boyfriend for a week in 1992.

But oh dear. What should I hear from my scientist friends in a conversation about an African colleague who'd just left the room? "These black people - if you look at them the wrong way they'll kill you".


There are a number of good reasons to neglect your blog.

  • Having nothing interesting to write about
  • Having nothing interesting to write about that would stretch further than a twitter post
  • Having not much free time
  • Being too tired to blog in what free time you have because you're so busy the rest of the time
  • Being kidnapped by space aliens and rectally probed for quite a long time

One of the above is not a reason I haven't been updating recently. I'll try to do better.

Streetwise Sunday - Fitness Fad Edition

You decide to get fit. What's the first thing you do? Come up with an exercise regime? Stop eating chips? Go on ebay looking for cheap treadmills? Tell someone?

No, before you do any of that, you've got to have the right clothes. Jogging shoes, training suits, and maybe one of those nifty pedometer plugins for your iPhone. So, all fired up, you go to Sports-Stuff-R-Us and get your gear, because you've got to do this fitness thing properly, right?

Then a week later you're so pissed off with feeling exhausted all the time while still being exactly as fat as you were before, you throw the gear out of the window.

This is one item I thought about taking home but didn't.

The White (Photo) Album

I live in the town where Charles Dickens wrote that insipid potboiler about ghosts and Tiny Tim's big turkey. Some things haven't changed much since the christmas he wrote it.

There are christmas trees, and trees that look christmassy. They look nothing alike.

It looks...gloopy. Gelatinious. Like an enormous dump of egg white or...something.

We have a big open-air TV screen in the town square. I'm not absolutely sure when or why it was installed - maybe it was for the last olympics. In any case, it's usually tuned to the BBC's 24-hour news station, which means we get to stand outside in the snow, watching a snow-topped plasma screen three metres across, telling us how there's a lot of snow about lately.

There are three things you can do with snow. You can annoy people by throwing it at them, you can write your name in it, and...