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My favourites » You know you're a grad student when you start referring to stories like Snow White et al

March 02, 2007

Sun Worship

I read this BBC article today.

Basically in Peru they have discovered these two thousand year old structures which span the rising and falling of the sun and the towers allowed people to view the sun near the solstices. So pretty indicative of a solar cult.

And I thought to myself. Why not?

People always tell me I lack faith and should look to religion to deal with my spiritual bankruptcy. But I have always struggled with the concept of believing in God as I feel there is insufficient proof.

But everyone can see the sun and knows it exists so worshipping the sun makes perfect sense. At worst I get a good tan. At best my sacrifices pay off and the sun shines on me in a figurative as well as a literal sense.

So I am busy assembling a sun cult. Recruiting priestesses as we speak. Naturally I am the High Priest.

January 07, 2007


Watched the Mel Gibson film the other day. Beautiful visuals and really felt you were watching in on life unfolding. Was unremarkable and a bit too gruesome for my tastes and was basically just a long long long manhunt. The Mayans like the Aztecs had a civilisation built on superstition and involving huge amounts of human sacrifice and were constantly at war. The movie was full of wanton cruelty and I lost count of the number of people who were slaughtered….that is the thing that upsets me about humans. I can be selfish but I would never intentionally hurt someone (emotionally or physically) let alone kill them unless it was in self defence or defending family, friends or a loved one.

The rise and fall of civilisations fascinates me and a historian I forget made the astute comment that civilisations destroy themselves from within before they can be destroyed from without. This was a backdrop to the film and naturally they blamed the Gods and sought to appease him with human sacrifice.

But plenty of themes…..

Human greed…..a rather charming creation myth was told along the lines of man was made with a hole in him, a hole he fills by wanting and taking and he will continue to take until the world has no more to give.

Family…........divorce wasn’t really an issue in the film, although lots of husbands were killed off so plenty of single parent families. But a theme was certainly devotion to family and how desire to protect and look after your family can give you superhuman strength.

Superstition…..superstition is a really really dangerous thing but a sort of safety net people use to deal with the frightening fact we know so little about the world and there is so much random chance. It is also an instrument of control in the same way that religion can be used for this purpose.

Disappointingly the historical accuracy was terrible. I think Mel got the Aztecs and the Mayans mixed up. The Mayan civilisation ended a good five hundred years before the Spanish arrived. They also were not anywhere near as bloodthirsty as the Aztecs.

January 04, 2007

St Elmo's Fire review

I watched the best film tonight. St Elmo’s Fire. It is billed as “A Group of Friends just out of college struggle with adulthood. Their main problem is they are all self-centred and obnoxious”. Most of them are also in love with unattainable people and clinging to their college days when they clearly defined roles (the Frat boy, the party girl etc).

Basically they are all part of the “Me generation” and only care about instant gratification and personal advancement; loose in morals. It is hard to feel much sympathy for them but at the same time you are left thinking perhaps it isn’t their own fault they turned out that way, perhaps it is a fault of society.

You see all the cliched problems: drug addiction, unrequited love, debt, the pressure to succeed, promiscuity, and just a lack of moral fibre which are just as relevant today as then.

The question the film asks is are these problems indeed real or just St elmo’s fire….a natural part of growing up and something we all deal with.

I won’t ruin the plot too much! But I will outline some of the characters:

Billy is the frat boy who cannot hold down a job and is a bad father and husband and is only good at playing the saxophone and getting girls into bed.

Wendy is the least selfish character and devotes her life to helping people but harbours a crush on Billy.

Kirby is a sensitive and slightly unstable guy who develops an obsession with a pretty older nurse and is probably the most lovable stalker there is.

Jules is a slutty party girl who sleeps with her married boss to support her drug habit.

Alec is an yuppie wannabe politician who is desperate to get married to his girlfriend but has no intention of giving up his womanising.

Leslie is Alec’s girlfriend who is reluctant to marry Alec.

Kevin is a depressed writer who is secretely in love with Leslie.

Basically they all have their own trials and tribulations and some of them grow up and others do not. The subplots eventually collide leading to a grand finale. All the while they remain friends but eventually drift apart.

Some nice quotes

“They thought they could be friends forever but forever does not last”

“There are several quintessential moments in a man’s life: losing his virginity, getting married, becoming a father, and having the right girl smile at you.”

“You know what love is? Love is an illusion created by lawyer types like yourself to perpetuate another illusion called marriage to create the reality of divorce and then the illusionary need for divorce lawyers.”

“It’s St. Elmo’s Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them… there was no fire. There wasn’t even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you’re making up all of this. We’re all going through this. It’s our time at the edge.”

The basic point is that none of these kids really have any problems other than those they create for themselve

January 02, 2007

My New Years Resolutions

1) Get back into the habit of doing regular exercise…....cos it gives me a buzz and gives me more energy and makes me a nicer person to be around. The problem is I can only be bothered to work out in summertime as half the fun of being in shape is flaunting your body.

2) Do some volunteer work…...this is hard because I want to a) make a difference and b) help people who actually deserve to be helped. I have this elitist view that the vast majority of poor people are poor because they are lazy and have a sense of entitlement that they deserve everything on a plate. I might do some sort of mentoring in inner cities or something. I figure young people are at a vulnerable age where they can so easily fall off the tracks and rather than concentrate on education get caught up in drinking, underage sex, drugs and crime.

3) Take up a new hobby. Most of my hobbies are quite solitary so I should really take up a hobby that will help me meet some more people my own age as at the moment my social life centres around a few friends from university and a drinking buddy. Unfortunately Im convinced most people my own age just socialise in bars and clubs so if I went to some sort of class or society it would be just full of old people. Need to find something that would be full of young people that I would enjoy doing as well!

4) Limit my coffee drinking…..I suffer from insomnia and it probably has something to do with excessive caffeine intake. I get into a vicious circle. I have insomnia so don’ get much sleep. So im exhausted in the morning. so i need coffee to keep me from falling asleep in class (and im the teacher so that won’t do) but that keeps me awake at night. Not to mention how expensive getting a coffee in London is these days!

5) Do some independent travel…...while I have all these dreams of going to tropical islands, living on a ranch etc I generally am too lazy to organise anything and opt instead for the family holiday which involves staying in nice hotels in civilised countries. But this year Im determined to actually go somewhere!

January 01, 2007

My first rave

While I claim to be a man of the world, truth is I have had a fairly sheltered youth. Ive never been offered drugs, never done drugs, never really ventured outside of the nicer parts of London, never been mugged, never been beaten up, never got into a fight, never been in jail, and never drunk till Ive passed out.

So naturally I ended up at a rave entirely by accident. I was with a friend and the London parties were hideously expensive to get into. So he says “I know a guy who knows of a party at a reggae bar in North London”. I think “Hmm. I do like a bit of Marley” so go along with it.

The moment we get off the tube I realise I am in a really really deprived area. The people milling around the streets have either a look of intense suffering on their face or just look cold and hard. I make the mistake of looking at a guy and he starts saying “What you looking at cuz?” and gets a bit of an attitude. I placate him and say “Nothing. Im just waiting for a friend and bored. Im not looking for any trouble”. He started swearing at me trying to rile me. I just take it. He tries to push me around a bit but I just restrain him. Eventually he gets bored and says “can i have a pound to get some wings”. I give it to him and his hunger gets the better of him and he disappears into the night.

My friend’s friend shows up. He is a skinhead with a short stocky build and a goatee. But he seems nice enough and claims to be a student nurse. We make our way to this club.

It turns out to be a deserted warehouse and there is an assortment of freaks queueing up. Girls with skinheads, white men with dreadlocks, piercings all over, multicoloured hair, people who look like famine victims….I feel very out of place wearing smart jeans, a Kenneth Cole white shirt and a wool coat. I think I was something of a novelty and people kept staring at me. Well at first. After a while people were too stoned to notice.

I had a walk around and surveyed the “scene”. The music was very odd and left me feeling most bemused. Im informed it is called trance. Unfortunately I think you need to be stoned or mentally ill to appreciate it.

We went upstairs where people were “dancing”. There was no rhythm so I just copied everyone else and felt faintly ridiculous. I flailed my hands around as if I was having an epilectic fit and let my eyes glaze over and kept my mouth open and let my tongue hang out.

I saw these rooms where people were snorting cocaine and injecting themselves with needles.

I did acquire a hippy admirer. This girl with blue and green hair, bald patches, lots of piercings and little discernible body fat launched herself at me and said “Happy New Year” flung her arms around me and attempted to kiss me. I dodged the kiss and gave her my cheek. I tried to get away but she followed me around. Eventually I just said to her “Look it would never work. When we go on our honeymoon youd just set off the metal detector at the airport”.

I got bored very quickly once the novelty wore off and also felt really tired. So I sulked in the corner and ate chewitts until my friend was ready to go.

December 31, 2006

Obituary to James Brown

I loved James Brown. Not in a homo-erotic sense. But loved his music, his style, his personality, the man just made me feel good.

He just had so much energy and it was infectious. Hell, my middle name is Indolence, but when James Brown comes on the radio even I start shuffling my feet and writhing my body with a manic intensityand work myself up a cold sweat.

Of course he was a bad man and did quite a lot of time in jail, did drugs, was abusive, drove too fast, apparentently beat his wife and lots of other stuff I probably do not know about. But some of the most talented people are often hopelessly flawed but regardless of what you want to say about them as people you just have to admire their talent and all the pleasure it has brought people.

Obviously his music was amazing but I also LOVE his lyrics. Stuff like:

“Ow! You’re too much.
You’re the end.
You’re so hip, baby.
You know just where it’s at.
You’re beautiful, mama.
Most of all, you’re honest.
There’s no doubt you’re out of sight.”

In these lines Brown communicates the “wow” feeling you get when you meet a girl that is all that. To this day “out of sight” is the highest compliment I can give a girl.

“I’m ready to get up and do my thing
I wanta get into it, man, you know….
Like a, like a sex machine, man, “

These immortal lines need no explanation. Enlightened doctors prescribe James Brown’s “Get Up I Feel like Being a Sex Machine” as an inexpensive and altogether more potent alternative to Viagra. After all James Brown continued to exude raw sexuality well into his 70s.

“Wo! I feel nice, like sugar and spice
I feel nice, like sugar and spice
So nice, so nice, I got you

When I hold you in my arms
I know that I can do no wrong
and when I hold you in my arms
My love won’t do you no harm”

And finally these lyrics from “I Feel Good”

The best thing about Brown is his songs are uplifting and to Brown love and infatuation and lust were little more than really really good feelings and people often lose sight of that and intellectualise them too much getting too soppy and romantic. You get caught up in wondering where things are going, what it means, whether love will last, and all that crap. But you just gotta enjoy the moment and that good feeling and Brown gets that.

But even Brown could tug at the heartstrings with the pleading Please Please Please

“Please, please, please, please me (You don’t have to go)
Baby please, baby please, please me (You don’t have to go)
Baby please, baby please don’t go (You don’t have to go)
Don’t go, I said baby, don’t baby
I love you so (You don’t have to go) “

Im not very good at begging but that is ok because with girls I let Brown do my begging for me. Of course if I could sing with the same feverish intensity as Brown (not to mention in tune) then id have more success. But im working on it!

A less well known example is found in Try Me>

Oh I need you (I need you)
Oh i need you (I need you)
Oh oh walk with me (walk with me)
Talk with me (talk with me)
I want you to stop my heart from crying
Walk with me (walk with me)
Talk with me (talk with me)
And your love stops my heart from dying
Oh I need you (I need you hoo hoo)

Once again Brown is on top form. Notice how powerful the use of repetition is, as is the powerful images of Brown’s heart crying and dying. The girl’s love is sustenance to Brown’s heart and this is why he needs her. While a beautiful thought it is also terrifying how dependent Brown is on this girl. And I guess this is the dark side of love.

And finally a personal favourite:

“Bewildered, lost in a dream
In the love I need why did we part
Bewildered, has love, has love died dear
Wishing your heart could feel
What’s in my heart
Must I have sleepless night
And endless days
Oh love why did you keep my soul
Without a spark I’m in the dark
Bewilderdd, I need your, I need your I need your guiding hand
I’ll never, no I’ll never understand
How you can love me, how you can love me
How you can love me, how you can love me
How you can love me and leave me Bewildered, bewidered “

This is just so bloody poetic I cannot get over how good it is. The song is even better.

Finally on a lighter note

“I don’t care ha about your past
I just want ho our love to last dee
I don’t care darlin’ about your faults huh
I just want to satisfy your pulse


When you kiss me
When you mess me
Hold my hand
Make me understand

I break out – in a cold sweat”

Just wow!

Wet and Wild

I am kinda weird in that my favourite weather is dark, wet, windy and bitterly cold. I guess I enjoy braving the elements as well as the amazing feeling when you return to destination and can strip off your wet clothes and take a warm bath and cuddle up next to the fire and feed the mighty appetite you have worked up.

The thing is we are pampered too much and used to soft living. We have lost the element of life that shaped and defined our ancestors: survival. But when I am out in a storm something stirs in my blood and I feel alive.

December 27, 2006

Instant Rapport with the working classes

From an early age my mother tried to indoctrinate me with the idea that society is stratified by class. For simplicity she adopted the old “U” and “non-U” distinction. But generally resorted just to saying something or someone was “plebby” or “common”. For a long while I believe that I was somehow superior to “common people” just because I had a public school education, had professional parents and spoke reasonably well.

But then I became a teenager and began to question everything I had been taught and learnt to think for myself. I had lengthy conversations with the cleaner, the painter and the builders that used to come round to my house and struck up friendships. I even briefly dated the daughter of one of our cleaners. Most of all I became a humanist and believed that all these notions of class just created boundaries between people and that we had to break down these boundaries and judge people not on their class, their race, their manners but the content of their soul. But to my great disappointment it was a two-way thing. While I no longer dismissed working class people as being “common” or beneath me, they continued to dismiss me as “posh” or “stuck up”.

I realised then that the only way to fulfill my dream of acceptance amongst the hoi polloi was to become a chameleon and immerse myself into their lifestyle and learn to blend in.

I started off with that most working class of pursuits: manual labour. No-one would employ me as I did not have any work experience. I was shattered but did not give up. My indulgent parents ordered some bricks for me to play with. So I hung around in the garden in the scorching summer sun with no top and a baggy pair of jeans and built a wall. Naturally I punctuated it with endless cups of sugary tea and strung the work out so it took me a whole summer to build the wall.
I asked a few of my female friends to walk up and down my garden so I could whistle at them and make rude comments and call them “luv”.
I even developed a passable Cockney accent.

At the same time I really got into weights and developed that most working class of bodily ornaments: muscles. I even got a fake tattoo.

The next stage was to go to a pub. A proper pub. I sat down and ordered a beer. I was careful not to order a foreign import. Instead I ordered several Worthingtons which sounded very English, salt of the earth and all that. I knocked several back to the admiration of the other drinkers. “Tough day at work, mate” one of them commented. I said “Yeah, they think we are slaves or something. Nearly broke my back lifting all those bricks”. They sympathised. Encouraged I went on “They think they are better than us just because they are richer. But we got something they will never take away from us: pride and self respect”. They nodded in appreciation then said “Hey, you see those birds over there, a bit alright aren’t they?” I rose to the occasion and said “Yeah a nice bit of T and A. That bird there looks well up for it! Wouldn’t mind her as me missus”. I go over to her and say “Alright luv. You are well fit”. She replies “F**k off”. I go over to my new friends and say “she’s a lesbian”. They nod understandingly.

Worth noting are some subtle verbal techniques designed to gain rapport:

Firstly the all purpose use of the word “mate”. Instant rapport.

Secondly in this case class divisions work in your favour. Make it clear it is them against us and you are in!

Thirdly objectify women. Working class people have not been exposed to the feminist movement and do not realise that leering is bad manners and it is not appropriate to compliment a woman’s breasts. Most of all they are not women but birds. Overfamiliarity is to be encouraged and when you meet a girl for the first time it is essential to call her “luv” to ensure she realises you are of solid working class stock.


Do not be scared to discuss feelings. Only last week a builder asked my mother if he could get off work early as he had an appointment with his therapist. My mother later commented “Whatever happened to the days when the working classes simply drowned their sorrows with beer? No wonder they overcharge.”


Out of all the Christmas presents I got the most amusing was a “rap” from a female fan.

“You know he’s down with OPP,
And loves hittin’ that ethnic booty.
Goes by the name of Count Roger,
He got those blue eyes and that soft blond hair.
Facts and stats are his game,
All the other homies are in comparison tame.
His government’s Matt but kids call him Teach,
He’s playin’ this world like life at the beach.
Got this mistress who his ma hates,
But that don’t stop him from makin’ those dates.
Also got him a Down Ass Bitch,
Who writes him lil’ raps kinda like this!”

Obviously it contains a lot of poetic license but it amused me so I thought Id share it with my readers.

December 22, 2006

Shop till you drop

I HATE shopping but unfortunately sometimes I get dragged to shops invariably by female friends. I dunno why, it is not like I suggest it and it is not as if I am their boyfriend so hardly my duty. But then I am invariably flattered they agree to be seen in public with me, especially in shops where by dragging a few paces behind and looking bored out of my mind I am sure people mistake me as their boyfriend. The things I do for female company!

My kind of shopping is internet shopping or that rare “all in one store” shop where you can be in and out within half an hour.

I do not understand the female obsession with shopping. It seems a very painful experience, trying on endless clothes until you find something that fits, waiting in queues, and fighting with other girls over sale items. Obviously the aim of the whole exercise is to look good compared to other girls in the hope of attracting men. But girls do not seem to understand that guys care very little about what they wear provided it is as revealing as possible.

My female friends constantly complain that I dress like a slob wearing T shirt and jeans. I try and defend myself saying Im going for the “too cool to care” look. But it falls flat. A few weeks ago I got talked into going clothes shopping with a friend. Unfortunately I am a sucker for flattery and my friend was going on about how I have a great body and she’s seen all these clothes Id look great in.

So I go along with it and infuriate her by rejecting every single pair of clothes she recommends and sulking when she insists I try yet ANOTHER pair of trousers. She then made this kinda hippy comment about you needing to believe in the clothes you are wearing. I forget but basically it let me off the hook.

In favour of the less strenuos life

After a hectic year or two I have finally reached a comfortable level of boredom which gives me the space the think and the time to blog my thoughts.

Christmas is a very sucky time of year as while does give me the chance for festive meetings with friends most of them are too busy with girlfriends/families to properly hang out. So I have all day to kill. I spend some time watching TV, some time playing music, some time reading, some time exercising. Basically dividing the day into units.

That is what I really miss about university: being able to see your friends all the time and spend as much time as you like with them. Nowadays all my friends have jobs, girlfriends or boyfriends or both, and even scheduling a meeting once or twice a month is a major accomplishment. So I have resorted to making “drinking buddies”: semi-employed people with no friends who are willing to at the drop of a hat meet me for a drink. However conversation is not very stimulating and is basically like the guys in King of the Hill we just go “yip, yip” and take turns to sip at our beers.

At the moment I am continually talking about going to a tropical island, lying on a beach during the day, drinking rum and chatting to island girls at night while listening to calypso or barring that 80s pop songs. I have always admired people who are easily amused and feel like most things it is a matter of practice. The problem with the Western World is that there is too much stress and pressure and competition.

Somehow we got it wrong. Once the problem of survival and the associated stress was overcome we should have just stopped. But greed takes over and instead of wanting to just survive we want to thrive. But the more you get the more you want and you just end up unhappy. Far better just to live a simple life devoted to simple pleasures.

Some of the happiest people I know (well want to know) work at this barbers in Brixton and spend their time sitting on chairs, smoking weed, listening to reggae and whistling and making comments about passing girls.

The other happy people I know (well want to know) sit around a gym all day (on benefits naturally) and admire themselves in the mirror, having long conversations with their friends and leering at girls. I spent most of my year at Cambridge doing that (well replace gym with health club and add on a sauna a steam room AND a jacuzzi) and it is a wonder how I managed to get a Masters.

The other happy people I want to know are surfer dudes who lap up the sun in California chatting up blondes with extensive surgery on the upper half of their body and every hour or so riding a wave.

These people have their priorities right. Laziness is frowned upon in society but it is really a virtue.

I am still holding out for my tropical holiday but until then I am doing the next best thing: turning the heating up, wearing swim shorts, and listening to Wham “Club Tropicana”, while sipping very very fruity cocktails.

June 22, 2006

On gym bunnies and male bonding

I am a member of a gym. It is probably the only clean-living part of my life and prevents all the junk food I eat from being turned into unsightly rolls of fat. I also quite enjoy it in a masochistic kind of way. I like the idea that I am paying to do manual labour and it makes me feel less soft and pampered. I kid myself that if I worked on a farm, a gulag, or in a coal mine or as a lumberjack I would not be found wanting.

I take particular pleasure in simulating death as i heave heavy weights and groan in agony, all the while keeping my eyes glued on the conveniently positioned mirrors which seem to plaster the walls in any decent gym. I don’t know how they do it but the gym mirrors are incredibly flattering. I am quite happy to stare at myself as I curl dumbells for hours, when usually I avoid mirrors like the plague.

What I also like about gyms is that there is a sort of brotherhood amongst the men, at least when there are no females around. A common ritual consists of asking a man to “spot” you. This consists of him standing over you while you bench press (lying supine lower an iron bar with weights attached to your chest and then press the bar towards the heavens). Generally it is de rigeur to use far more weight than you can manage while having your “spotter” hold the bar and say “it’s all you”. The “spotter” is also required to shout “push”, “come on baby” “one more rep”. For this is the closest men come to the pain of giving birth.

Other male bonding activities consist of complimenting each other. This is analogous to women complimenting each other on their hair. But with homosexual undertones. And less bitchy and envious. Actually that is not true. Often it is VERY bitchy and VERY envious.

For examples:

“Wow nice abs. Cubed, dude!”
“Whoa tight glutes. What do you do to tone those peachy buttocks of yours?”
“Love those guns. Can I have a feel? (feels and emits a contented purr)

Of course to lose one’s respect for mankind entirely it is worth flicking through a muscle magazine featuring bloated and oversized boy-men. Invariably these men are “posing”. Or to be more specific flexing their muscles while marinaded in orange fake tan and wearing briefs the size of a postage stamp. Of course these guys are on steroids, but all of them when asked what their life goal is reply “To be even bigger”.

But I am digressing.

All joking aside there is a camaderie which is quite nice. Even if you are skin and bones like me you get respect from the other guys just for trying and going past your comfort zone. Most of life is concentrated with eliminating pain, instead pampering us all to a life of comfort and ignoble ease. Going to a gym with the intention of putting your body through agony all in the quest of vanity. Well that is something very very noble.

Of course it is pretty much wasted effort if like me you are too lazy and stressed to eat properly and often skip workouts because I am feeling tired. Consistency and discipline is the key to improving one’s physique and neither of those traits are my fortes but when I do get things together I am amazed at what is possible even for someone like me with very poor genetics.

Moving swiftly on to girls girls girls.

Girls are branded into two varieties in gyms. Gym bunnies and regular mortals.

The latter are the everyday english gal who scrubs up nicely but in sweat pants and panting for breath and red faced aren’t the most attractive sight in the world. But I have a lot of respect for them. Too many girls these days eat crap, don’t exercise and get away with it while they are very very young but then get older and get married and then balloon in weight and wonder why their men aren’t attracted to them anymore.

Gym bunnies are the girls who never sweat. Who look like they’ve stepped off the catwalk even after an hour on the treadmill. Unlike the other girls who wear sweatpants and baggy T-shirts and look incredibly embarassed and self-conscious the whole time; they wear very very very little. Very tight hotpants and a low cut T-shirt that clings to their
toned hard bodies. They have a haughty expression and if they catch you staring at them glare at you and make you feel very very ashamed of yourself.

Like today there was this girl in denim shorts around the size of postage stamp which served only to accentuate her long long legs which were toned and tan. She was doing some sort of yoga routine.
In the end I could not take it any longer and rushed out of the gym and went home and turned on the TV and watched Carmen Electra’s aerobic striptease for some good healthy guilt-free leering.

Many times I have been trying to work out lines to talk to these girls all the while being very aware that

a) They are probably stronger than me
b) I would hate to get expelled from the gym for sexual harassment
c) That these goddesses would never want to go out with a mere mortal like me

But I cast these negative thoughts out of my mind and brainstorm while I mindlessly pedal on the stationary bike. And come up with some sample pick up lines

But first of all I think to myself I should pay more attention to my appearance

So starting with attire I think the following should cut it

Tight lycra shorts, a head band, a wife beater with “Lonsdale” on it….(so she thinks I box)....and a towel with a puppy on (so she knows I am sweet and sensitive)

Now for the hard part: finding an excuse to talk to her

Came up wit the following

1) The macho approach

Accost her once she has finished her set and ask her if I can “work in with her” (alternate exercises). Then when it is my turn load the bar up with much more weight than I can handle, ask her to spot me, end up crawling from underneath the bar with an embarassed look on my face, and then say “Well, er, just coming back from injury y’know. Then ask if I can spot her and deliberately while she is not looking add an extra plate or two to the bar so she ends up struggling and I get to rescue her from impeding death. Then in her gratitude she says “Why thank you sir, where would I be without ah strong hunk of a man like you”

2) The X-rated approach

Me: “Mmm, I see you are working your thighs”
Her: “Yes I sure am
Me: I know a great exercise for that
Her: “Oooh tell me tell me, I want nice toned legs like yours
Me: Well it is a partnership exercise
Her: How do you mean?
Me: Well it is an exercise you do with a partner
Her: You have me intrigued, teach me
Me: Well it works best on a bed, the bed, ah, because it is soft it adds to the resistance of the exercise making it tougher
Her: Makes sense, lets go!

3) The compliment approach

Me: Hello, I don’t mean to disturb you, but I just wanted to say I love your definition and the symettry of your physique
Her: Thank you (warily)
Me: Do you er want to grab a protein shake with me afterwards so we can discuss training, life and how many children we are going to have?
Her: (slaps my face)

May 14, 2006

Boris and ME on Higher Education

Was alerted by a (well?)wisher to Johnson's blog. Although sadly not written by him it is a treasure trove of witticisms, insight and most of all a vision that Boris has of a better Britain. The following is typical:

"I agree passionately and vehemently with the assertion that higher education is of great value to the economy….we will defend and vindicate higher education irrespective of how much it delivers to the UK economy because we believe it is a wonderful thing and an end in itself – and a great and civilising force that does immeasurable good to the young people of this country. It makes them – on average – richer, healthier…so well done, Universities UK."

What eloquence. Every sentence carefully crafted to contribute to an irrefutable logical progression which showboats not only Johnson's humanism but his grasp of what really matters. To Blair and Brown higher ed is just a force towards equality: the more we get into higher ed the more we can erode class differences and create a pool of future Labour voters. To achieve this they have dumbed down exams to much that most of the state school freshers at Cambridge can't even add up.

What is worse education is designed to bring about conformity and homogeneise us into people incapable of independent thought and trained to never question anything told by a figure in authority (aka Blair, Brown et al). What use is democracy if the electorate are incapable of independent thought or scrutiny of the government's performance? When we are so useless with figures that we are oblivious to the lies, lies and damned statistics Labour manafacture each day, and incapable of realising just how much Brown is screwing us with his armoury of stealth tax increases and slow erosion of every single incentive one might have to save or invest: thereby creating a nation totally and utterly dependent on the state.

Like communist Russia centralisation and targets have taken on a new meaning under New Labour. it is only a matter of time before they produce five year plans for just about every issue on the political agenda. Everything is instrumental to some target, helped by Labour's myriads incentives rewarding those who meet the targets and punishing those who fall short. These targets however seem to change every second day and worse seem to get even more and more separated from what really matters.

Take education again. Our target is to get 50% of the nation into university. As such we make exams easier, because that is the quick fix and let the busy Labour press office release statements such as "record A level grades" etc etc which the stupid tabloids lap up.
They kid people into thinking they are smart and owe it all to Labour and their "enlightened" education policies. They raise the aspirations of the graduates who fill South Bank and De Montford making them think that not only are they in a decent university but can realistically expect to compete for graduate jobs (newsflash: both of those are POLYTECHN!CS). Of course they can't and end up spending three years going into huge debt only to end up doing the same job flipping burgers they could have done at 18.

The worst thing though is this belief exams are the be–all and end–all. We teach students to pass exams based on highly prescriptive syllabi and like Gradgrind in "Hard Times" believe that cramming a kids head with facts is education. Poppycock. Education is about teaching people how to think and understand the world we live in. it is about planting the seed of intellectual curiosity in the hope it will blossom and bear fruit. it is about realising the tranquility that can only come from a well–ordered mind and the synergy , that exists between a well–trained mind, imagination and a fountain of acquired knowledge, that is responsible for the development of genius.

May 03, 2006

The joy of junk ma!l

Just when life could not get any more surreal…...a weight loss plan made in heaven….time to raid pater's wine cellars and drink myself stick thin. Makes perfect sense after all how many fat alcoholics do you see?

Can you lose weight with Omega 3 and Red Wine?

A weight loss of 32 kg in just 4 months

A combination of Fish Oil and Red Wine is the latest trend in weight loss. The inventor of this hugely popular weight loss method is Dr. Yang Ming–Quan, a medical doctor who used the method to lose 32 kg in just 4 months! Best of all, he has been able to keep it off many years.

How Does it Work

How does this method create such a magnificent result? Dr. Yang explains the science behind the popular yet simple method for weight loss. According to Dr. Yang, fish oil from deepwater fish is a rich source of the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are essential to human body. Omega–3 fatty acids have a number of reported health benefits but specifically for weight loss they can inhibit the liver from producing excess fat, improve thyroid function, decrease insulin secretion, and improve cell membrane permeability. If your body is deficient in Omega–3 the amount of Omega–6 in cell membrane increases leading to factors that promote weight gain. There are secondary benefits from Omega–3 consumption that relate to weight loss. Because Omega–3's promote emotional wellbeing it may contribute to a healthier, more balanced diet. Omega–3 also benefit insomnia and constipation, two common symptoms of people suffering from obesity.

Why red wine?

Red wine is not only an alkaline beverage that can help adjust body pH, it's also rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that is important to overall metabolism. Red wine also contains beneficial antioxidants called flavonoids which are protective of the cardiovascular system.

How does red wine combine with fish oil to produce these markable weight loss results? Dr. Yang says that the alcohol and tyrosine in the red wine heat up the human body and speed up metabolism rate. Adding to that the Omega 3 fatty acids improve thyroid function, decrease insulin secretion, and boost metabolism. The resulting effect is an accelerated rate of the burning of fat stores.

What's the formula?

Because human metabolism is least active during sleep, drinking 100~200 ml of red wine along with 1 tsp (5ml) of NutraSea HP Pharmaceutical fish oil 30 minutes before going to bed can stimulate the body to burn fat while you sleep. According to Dr. Yang, in order to obtain maximum result, late night snack must be prohibited.

April 29, 2006

Economics….truly the dismal science

For intellectual masochists economics takes some beating. Many mathematicians have said the stuff i do is harder maths than anything they have done in their degree. And applied maths is how i would describe the degree.

Basically economics is a series of assumptions (supposedly axioms—–in accordance with the geometric method…but far from verifiably true) which leads to some logical implications and predictions about consumer and producer behaviour, the impact of certain policies etc.
Despite the unrealism of many of the assumptions, as they supposedly predict well that is all that matters….or so Friedman would have you believe.

For example very few of the population would be able to solve the devilish algebreic functions economists use to model decisions. But because real life behaviour approximates the behaviour one would take if one solved these equations then economic models are thus valid.

In addition a considerable amount of theory is based on revealed preference: if a consumer chooses good X when faced with a choice between X and Y then he prefers X to Y and we can construct a preference ordering X>Y and from it an ordinal (rank) utility function. Of course we are assuming stability of consumers preferences and a whole host of other unrealistic assumptions such as transitivity. So basically we are explaining consumer behaviour using er consumer behaviour…a circular argument.

We also have that most especial creature "home economus" rational economic man who is presumed to be both maximising his utility AND making consistent choices. Sadly this mythical beast has never been sighted in real life and just remains a figment of economic imagination.
Moreover any challenges to the idea of a self–interested man trying to maximise his utility can be easily met by incorporating amongst other things "altruism" into his utility function. Amartya Sen challenges this line of reasoning by introducing the idea of commitment: doing things that harm your wellbeing because it is the right thing to do, rather than because you get some sick pleasure from saving drowning puppies.

Other economists have introduced notions such as bounded rationality, use of rules of thumb and even herd type behaviour where we do what every one else does as we lack the information to make the best decision. A fascinating application of this by Paul Ormerod looks at network economics with a certain number of "celebrity types" who are able to influence the behaviour of others resulting in ripple like effects through the network

Another fascinating application of derived utility functions are attempts to aggregate preferences to get a social welfare function and use this to inform notions of how to maximise happiness or justice etc. The latter represented by a Rawlsian SWF where we maximise the utility of the least well off individuals in society. The problem of course this literature faces is the requirement to make interpersonal comparisons to get a complete social welfare function, something which economists are loath to do. One fun logical absurbity is the famous Paretian Impossibility theorem which says the only consistent social choice mechanism is one where you have a dictator (albeit a benevolent one)

Something which has been confined mainly to the periphery of economics is institutional debates over which is best: central planning or free markets. Fascinating stuff.

Oh and of course we have good old Keynes and his brand of socialism which involved pumping loads of money into the economy via public works programmes (a strategy used by Hitler which is kinda ironic) with resulting multiplier effects.

Keynes is pretty much mud for most economists as his theories lack mathematical (micro) foundations..despite being more logical to the impartial observer.

Preferred to this is a theory built up on dynamic programming (basically deriving a time path of optimal decisions) and using this to see the impact of changes from steady state. As you may guess…maths maths and more maths and none of the beloved graphs of good old economics 101.

Moreover a brand of statistics called econometrics is used to empirically test the mathematical models economists so enjoy making. This is basically dressed up curve fitting and the relationships they derive break down invariably when predicting into the future. It is absolute hell to learn.

Second to this for sadism is microeconomic theory especially general equilibrium theory, a series of mathematical proofs invoking numerous fixed point theorems and separating hyperplane theorems, involving my beloved Walrasian auctioneer and the "core". Of course like every other theory relies on loads of ludicrous assumptions which theory can only accomodate for to an extent.

Thirdly in this triumvarate of incestruos marriage with mathematics is game theory. Yeah it is a cute idea and logically appealing. But once you introduce mathematical notation, bayesian updating and the bloody Folk theorem it is a task fit for the underworld.

April 28, 2006

A follow up on interviews (serious and angst ridden…you have been warned)

Last one i accidentally had on just me, so to get that one some attention and provide a more serious take on interviews and allow me to let off some steam…..:

Basically in my opinion the system is fucked up. There are too many graduates chasing too few graduate jobs. The old system of "he went to a decent university got a 2.1 seems a nice sort we'll hire him" doesn't work. Now the power is with the employers. Compare this with 20 years ago when if you had a good degree from a top 10 university you could more or less take your pick from a whole host of well paid fun jobs.

There also seems to be an anti–intellectual bias in the workplace for all but the most "geeky" jobs. The buzz words are team skills and people skills. Even in jobs which involve spending all day glued to a desk number crunching (most city jobs)! People with better than required grades are viewed with suspicion…sure they're smart but are they introverted loners who have spent years hitting the books rather than being a team player and learning the "soft" skills. Will they question your authority rather than obediently "Yes Sirring" every request no matter how odious?

As graduates are very hard to differentiate on paper (even the jobs where my qualifications got me to the shortlist i was still up against around 50 candidates for the one job), the onus is on the interview. This gives an immediate advantage to those lucky souls who don't get completely tongue–tied with a mixture of nerves and adrenaline like i do, and those who can hide their irritation and boredom when asked stupid questions like:

What part do you usually play in a team?
(im the one who does the bare minimum and takes credit for the hard work of others)

How do you deal with difficult people? Give me an example
(generally i add them to my hit list and plot sadistic deaths for them in my spare time. Carry on asking me these stupid questions and you'll join the list)

Where do you see yourself in five years time
(in prison or in an institution)

What have you learnt from your work experience?
(that so long as you stay at your desk with the computer on and a look of intense concentration on your face, people don't realise you are actually spending your time figuring out how to spend your monthly salary or thinking which of the 200 channels on sky you are going to watch tonight)

How would you describe yourself?
(impossibly good looking, remarkably intelligent, charm personified and God's gift to women and hardworking…ok maybe the last is pushing it too far)

How do you deal with pressure?
(Sing la–la–la and engage in escapist activities like blogging until i forget all about my approaching econometrics project deadline)

How do you motivate yourself?
(isn't that supposed to be your problem?)

Anyway you get my drift.

What is worse is there are thousands of bushy tailed bunnies who would willingly sell their souls to prospective employers, offering a lifetime of serfdom in return for a decent salary. These strange animals glow with lust and give you poisonous glances at group assessments while beaming at the executives. They have prepared answers to every question imaginable which they reel off with practiced charm, and they know more about the company than the CEO

What is a boy meant to do?

Like many other smart graduates with good grades i have a sense of entitlement and don't see why i should prove myself to employers. ive got the grades, got the extracurricular, got the work experience….now give me the job!

Of course deep down i know id make a hopeless employee. im aloof, easily bored, have a low frustration tolerance and hate getting up before noon and like to have a mid afternoon nap. Not to mention my fondness for long coffee breaks.

But THEY aren;t supposed to know that until AFTER they have hired me.

April 24, 2006

!nterv!ews Part 1 (fl!ppant)

Today was yet another interview. if memory serves correctly my 20th or thereabouts. Usually for city type jobs you get a screening interview from some dumb blonde who phones you and asks you "competency questions". These phone interviews are all the rage. Some of the most reputable companies use them. Which is odd considering they consist of some dumb blonde without a GCSE to her name earnestly reads questions from a sheet and asking you to speak slowly because she didn't go to secretarial college and can't do shorthand.

Today i actually got invite to the company for an onsite interview. While it is one hell of a hassle not to mention expensive getting from Cambridge to the City, it does usually mean you get to talk to someone important who is in the position to give you a job or at least invite you to a selection centre.

But no that was not to be. While i was waiting in reception, my long legs outstretched and my face set in the id rather watch hell freeze over expression, a pretty young thing with a short skirt comes into the room. i raise an eyebrow at her and smile a lascivious smile mentally estimating her a confidence interval for her bra size (see stats is useful!).

She says to me "Are you Mr Rogers?"

i stifle my desire to say "Why, would you like to be Mrs Rogers?" and nod.
She replies " im G and ill be interviewing you today".
i roll my eyes thinking was hoping for someone more senior but maybe she is some shit hot career gal type.

This notion was dispelled as she sat me down and began to HR speak at me. This consists of a series of cliched questions narrated in a monotone. Here is how i would have liked to answer

Her: Why did you apply to us?
Me: Cos you pay well and i need the money to pay child support and fund my hooker habit
Her: What skills can you bring to this company?
Me: i have a talent for timewasting, having studied econometrics i can predict any financial or economic variable to the nearest billion, and i can produce powerpoint presentations with a theme tune and animated dollar signs
Her: Do you have any medical problems
Me Yes but you'll only catch them if you sleep with me
Her: How do you see a typical day as a research analyst
Me: Arrive late and hungover. Spend most of the day harassing secretaries. Take long business lunches with fictional company executives all of whom seem to be female, young and unprofessionally dressed. Then space out for a few hours, then count the seconds till my day is up.
Her: Have you applied to any other companies?
Me: Yes they all rejected me, that's why i applied to you
Her: Do you have any questions youd like to ask me?
Me: Yeah what is your company on workplace romance (raises an eyebrow)?

April 20, 2006

A new definition of hell

Hell has always been a key part of Christian theology and even the Ancient Greeks with their philandering Gods and their pagan rituals had a notion of hell….examples include the punishment of Siphysus who had to keep rolling a boulder up a hill and could never reach the top.
Hell is usually associated with the afterlife as a punishment for a life of sin and licentiousness. Firestone and brimstone.

But it would appear that Belinda Carlisle was only half right. Heaven may be a place on earth but so is hell. It exists in the Cambridge economics computer lab where I will be 24 hours a day for the next two weeks until my econometrics project is due in. I will take momentary breaks to blog just to keep some form of contact with the outside world and prevent Stockholm syndrome, where I start to enjoy myself, setting in.

For anyone who cares my project is on assessing the extent to which low capitalism firms have higher sample mean returns than would be predicted by a Capital Asset Pricing Model

If you think….ooooh finance…sounds like fun let me dispel this delusion. Finance or at least the form taught at university is total applied maths and statistics. They don't teach you any of the useful things like how to perform insider trading without getting caught, or how to pick decent shares (most of the theory relates to a silly belief that markets are completely efficient and thus any attempt to beat the market is doomed to failure), or how to dress the part in the city (pinstripes, braces, hornrimmed glasses, slicked back hair and power shoulder pads), or even how to set up offshore accounts and launder money. Hell they don't even supply for cocaine for that authentic city trader experience. There aren't even any girls around to sexually harass in the great tradition of the City (of course this does mean Im not going to get sued 1 million in a compensation suit which I guess is a good thing).

And forget greed is good. The university researchers who make up all this nonsense get paid sweet FA while the barrow boys who think Beta is what you do to your wife, and assets are found on the upper region of a girls body and a random walk is what you do when drunk earn millions a year


Back to the grindstone I go

April 18, 2006

The Crucible…..review

Went to see Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" loosely based on the Salem wiitch trials. Im too lazy to summarise the plot suffiice to say that some hysterical girls get caught dancing at night and making incantations a few take ill and they blame the older women on the village and a witch hunt ensues. In the course of this an ex servant who was dismissed by the protagonists wife for having an affair with him gets set up and to save his wife the protagonist lies and says he is in league wiith the devil. At the end he is given the choice to confess and give his signature in a testimony to avoid hanging with the view of pinning up this confession in public. He refuses ending with the line you and God both heard my confession but I wiill not give away my name

OK a few interesting issues

1. The fragility of the system of trust and the limits of our claim to knowledge

Now we are to a large part motivated by personal interest especially when it concerns life or death issues and if telling a lie saves our life we will invariably do it. To try and mitigate this motive law generally is more lenient on those who confess as opposed to those who are found guilty. We also have laws against perjury or perverting the court of justiice and require witnesses to swear they are telling the truth etc.

You see things like keeping promises and telling the truth are essential in cooperative society as we need to trust others or else we end up in a situatiion where everyone is paranoid and unable to enter any agreements or transactions with others for fear of being screwed and are always looking both ways for fear of being knifed in the back. We also believe in justice and fair play.

Now with the witchhunts we get an extra ingredient to fuel the fire….the unknown. Knowledge is gained mostly through experience and partly through the use of logic. But there are very few axiomatic truths and a lot of things are impossible to prove absolutely. Say we say all swans are white. Now however many white swans we see, we cannot say categorically that all swans are white as we only need to see one black swan to refute this notion. Also some issues like the existence of God or for that matter the existence of the devil or withcraft or the supernatural are unprobable. We can say that there are no sightings of any of these but this does not mean they cannot exist. They are mostly a matter of blind faith and used to explain the unexplainable.

As was pointed out by the judge in the play the work of the devil is observed only by the victims or those in league with them. Now those in league with the devil are obv gonna lie so we have to rely on the testimonies of the victims unless they can be proved to be false.

This provides a fertile breeding ground for lies to propogate aided by the self-preservation motive which leads the accused to confess even if innocent and to shift blame to another. Little wonder things like witch hunts, show trials can occur amongst seemingly rational human beings. And this isn't just a remnant of the past. The McCarthy witchhunt happened as recently as the 1950s. Nowadays the equivalent is rape….a girl can accuse a guy of rape and lacking genetic evidence or witnesses it is a v difficult situation as the only people often who really know the truth are the accusor and the accused both of whom have incentive to lie. Similarly if a man confesses he gets off pretty lightly while if a court wrongly convicts him he can get screwed.

What can we do in a world where the only motive we have to play fair and tell the truth is a sense of conscience (which in most people is fickle and in self preservation or the motive of personal gain can take the backseat)? We are taught that telling the truth and keeping promises are good as they lead to benefits in the long run via faciliating cooperation etc. We also try and incentivise truth tellings….economics geeks can look at revelation-mechanisms and notions of punishment in repeated game theory. Religion tries to get people to play fair by the stick and carrot mechanism of hell and heaven. Sen (an Economist) looks to a notion of commitment whereby people do things even though they are not in their self interest because it is the right thing to do. Christian moral philosophy looks to the conscience and the idea of an internal judge which evaluates our actions and guides us.

But none of these are a cure all. In the end we should do the right thing no matter what using the best of our rationality to determine what the right thing to do is and do it regardless of the consequences. We may get hurt or even die but we can rest safe in the knowledge we have lived an honourable life and despite our mistakes our motives have been pure.

Not for the recognition of others as reputation is often artifiicial and very few people are in a position to form a balanced opinion of you and a good reputation can be earned through deceit, lies, and having Alastair Campbell on your paybook. But integrity and being able to look at your face in the mirror is what matters.

Now onto the thorny philosophical issue of what is the right thing to do. We can fudge this by acknowledging the existence of an innate conscience either God-giiven or part of the make up of man. But if we refuse to accept these things then we are forced to accept that conscience is a product of society and our upbringings. Again this is something hard to prove or disprove…as motives are multifaceted and often conflicting. When we decide not to steal it is in part because we fear legal punishment, or because we acknowledge that if everyone stole then shopowners would stop selling things and we would no longer be able to buy bread and be forced to grow our own food (while guarding our crops night and day for fear of theft). Or maybe it is because we are brainwashed into believing it is wrong to steal.

And if conscience and a code of ethics etc justiice etc are socially constructed then we can argue that they have been adopted and propogated because in the long run we believe universal or near universal adoption of these principles would mutually benefit the majority of society.

Anyway for the most part we have a decent idea of what is right or wrong and basically to have integrity we have to do what we know to be right whatever the circumstances. Occasionally we will have ethical dilemnas and then we can appeal to reason and try and detach ourselves from the situatiion and ask what we would advise someone to do in the same circumstances.

Occasionally we will get screwed from doing the right thing but that is life and I truly believe in the long run we will prosper from unwaveringly doing what we know to be right. For compensation and reward for our right actions does not only happen in the afterlife but within our lifetime we will surely be rewarded for maintaining our integrity.

April 15, 2006

Essential fashion accessories…or how not to dress

I freely admit I have no dress sense whatsoever. Here are my essential fashion accessories

1. Novelty T-shirts….current favourite is a Family Guy one with Stewie on the front, old faves include one with My Little Pony on the front, one with Yoga Bear….a bear contorting itself in the name of fashion PETA are up in arms….one with a Teddy Bear on the front, My Boris Johnson one and one with

"Sex is evil
Evil is sin
Sex is forgiven
So get stuck in"

and of course the Warwick Debating one wiith El Presidente on!

2. Faded jeans covered in ink stains and highlighter pen. I have a tiny waist and thick legs so to avoid them being skin tight I usually wear my jeans extremely low slung so most of my rear and hips are showing, cos Im too lazy to buy a belt

3. Endless hoodies…I have at least 10. I used to disapprove of them (see back entries) but noW Boris wears them I am never seen without one

4. Sunglasses…I adore my sunglasses. Bought them on holiday in the Canaries from an African with a huge grin (no doubt because they are fake and I was stupid enough to pay 20 Euros for them). They are silver with nice thick owl coloured stick things that keep your sunglasses on your ears

5. Ski boots and slippers and sandals I invariably wear these instead of shoes and never with socks. Trainers without socks are another essential.

6. Wife beaters….adore these and have hundreds

7. A Panama hat I got from Marks and Spencers last year

8. Horn rimmed glasses I wear to look smart

9. A cordurouy jacket and matching trousers in a sandy colour

10. A sports jacket with a houndstooth pattern

11. Anything pink…T-shirts, shirts, polo shirts