Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hack Mentality and the Easy Life

'Hacking', in computer-tech speak, used to mean taking clumsy short-cuts that get a job done without finesse.

Now it's used to mean clever and simple ways to get the job done without complication.

Is this because a prevailing modern trend espouses speed but downplays quality?

Bad Life Hack photo via

I like simplicity, I like to reduce complexity where possible, but editing things from your life is a time-consuming process; a simple lifestyle requires sustained effort and frequent maintenance checks. 

photo via
Clear spaces don't just happen.

Silver bullets, sound-bites and short-cuts are starting to define this decade, at the depreciation of hard work. Quick, bland and unhealthy food is a bad answer to an important question. People want instant results and instant replies. Self-belief is touted as the only requirement for success while effort, dedication and acquiring skills are forgotten.

Hard work has a value; endeavour has a place in life. Without it the results of our endeavours become cheap and disposable.

Short-cuts have their place, but they should never be standard practice. A speedy, disposable life risks becoming worthless.

Kyoto zen garden photo via
Tranquility takes time. Clarity comes from effort. True value is not abitrary and comes from hard work.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Demotivational and Nihilistic Werner Herzog Quotes on Bleak, Depressing Backgrounds

I saw Herzog quotes that were over standard and very cheerful, but dull motivational images and thought "That's not right, is it?" 

Images accompanying these words need to reflect Herzog's words, not look like everything else. Here are my versions.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Happy 35th Birthday Hermione Granger

As many people will know, J.K. Rowling determined the birthdays of her main characters. Hermione's birthday is September 19th 1979, making her just turned 35.

It shouldn't be underestimated how beneficial an effect both the character of Hermione Granger and the actress who played her, Emma Watson, have had and are continuing to have on young people's concepts of what is possible for women and girls.

 For 17 years and counting, children have read about a brave, intelligent person who fought evil and didn't have the slightest romantic interest in the hero. The fact she was female is largely irrelevant. Whether Emma Watson's prettiness detracted from the character's originality or further challenged the traditional Hollywood-friendly female stereotype I can't say, but I will say that since becoming the focus of attention for the media and for children she too has become a fantastic role model.

The first children to read Harry Potter are now in their twenties and waves of new readers and fans appear every year, my own daughters among them. Each of those readers is, in the context of our society, tacitly asked a vital question: If Hermione can, then why not me? Why not any girl?

Linked below is Watson's speech to the United Nations at the launch of the He For She campaign to address the slide into alienation that has occurred within feminism and the ostracisation of men from what is an issue that affects everyone. Her intelligence and humility are palpable. The issue is one close to my heart and central, when men are included, to many of society's ills, as Watson herself points out far better than I in her speech.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Men and Women Are Not So Different

Today I read an awful piece of nonsense claiming to be an insightful and amusing clarification by “international marriage speaker and comedian Mark Gungor” of the differences between how men and women think.

First sentence of the intro: “It's no secret that men and women have always had difficulty fully understanding each other.” Well maybe that’s because of all the money to be made by people insisting there are innate ‘differences’ between the way men and women think, even though the science doesn’t back this up and ALL the evidence is anecdotal, usually involving confirmation bias and double standards. E.g. a man telling you what to do is showing leadership qualities, a woman doing it is being bossy.

The ‘secret’ isn’t that men and women have difficulty understanding each other, it’s that they have difficulty understanding themselves and project their issues onto a mythical gender difference because it makes life seem simpler. I once had a 50 year old woman tell me her and her female friends had all collectively decided to dismiss all their marital problems as a result of “how men are different”, saying that if they hadn’t they probably wouldn’t have been able to cope with continuing their relationships. Now there’s scientific for you! Given the option of opening a can of difficult and painful self-analysis-worms who demand unshrinking honesty that might lead to a divorce and will definitely bring uncertainty into their lives, people choose not to and instead invent a nice, simple excuse for their problems so they don’t have to think about them too hard.

And so on to the piece itself. Oh dear lord, it gets so much worse!

To make sense of this post you’ll need to read the whole, ridiculous thing (sorry). I’ve dealt with each of his points in sequence, but not quoted him. Here goes.

Women are not more complicated and men are not simpler.

“Very unique” is not only meaningless it’s also, even if we ignore the terrible use of language by a professional speaker, applied to half the population of over 7 billion humans so not unique in any way.

“Having sex or watching sports” is an offensive stereotype of male interests.

Our brains are not made of small boxes. I’m not just being picky, this is bad thinking in terms of understanding psychology and an over-simplistic model of how brains function. The problem with bad thinking about thinking is that it actually shapes how we think and how we process things. Myths about the brain lead to terrible, terrible decisions.

The whole ‘separate box’ concept is ridiculous and utterly wrong. It’s non-functional even as a working model and can be torn apart easily: I am a man and I want to get to my sports game but don’t know how to get there. I am at a loss so I miss the game and go outside to wash my car instead. Utter nonsense. If there were ‘boxes’ of any kind (which flies in the face of current research) they would all overlap or we’d fail at even the simplest tasks.

The wire analogy is idiotic. A wire consists of a line of material. Each point of that material must be touched in sequence and it’s impossible to travel along inside it by jumping out from one point to jump back in at another. Unless you’re soldering on other wires as bypasses, but by that point the ball of wire analogy is redundant and it starts to look more like a road network (a much better analogy perhaps, for all brains).

Emotion is not an energy, it’s a system of prioritising and of choosing the appropriate response.

Women are not better at remembering things than men. Women take an interest in certain things, probably because of our culture’s influence, and like to remind men what they’ve forgotten. Meanwhile, in my experience, women are very resistant to any discussion that highlights what they’ve forgotten, and then that conversation itself gets forgotten, leaving only a dull resentment in the air. To briefly indulge in the male stereotype mentioned above, if you think men don’t remember things ask a football fan who was playing when they won a trophy several years ago and who scored the winning goal; ask a Warhammer 40k fan to briefly (hah!) outline the event leading up to the Horus Heresy; ask a Star Wars fan why the Jedi were defeated and why Darth Vader became a bad guy. After that you come and tell me men don’t remember anything. The pertinent question is *why* men tend to remember some things that are culturally more acceptable and encouraged for them while women tend not to take an interest in those things and focus on other sports (more women like tennis than football) and social activities (family get-togethers rather than game nights with friends). Ask me what a close friend did in college and I might not know, but ask me what character he played in our Dungeons & Dragons campaign and I’ll tell you all about it along with a few tales of his adventures.

Memories don’t burn in your brain forever, they’re recreated from the available information each time you recall them, but this information is inextricably linked to whatever emotions you feel at the time. Try to recall an event while depressed and you’ll remember the bad things about it and even add a few. Remember something while happy and it’ll be a much more positive experience. Memories are flawed and fluid things, fundamentally untrustworthy and often self-serving. Rely on them at your peril.

Saying men care about nothing is offensive and demonstrably wrong.

Saying women care about everything is silly and demonstrably wrong. Even those women who do care a lot often don’t “love it” that their lives are spent on such a level of engagement with other people’s issues. Those with the highest levels of empathy in caring professions such as nursing are the ones who ‘burn out’ quickest and then protect themselves behind a hardened façade.

Everyone has a “nothing box” and it’s utterly stupid to say otherwise. Csikszentmihalyi called it ‘flow’.
He’s suddenly changed the metaphor. Previously boxes stored things we took out but this one is actually more of a room we go into? Hogwash.
Even if we allow for this, the “nothing box” is idiotic. If a box is the thing we store and process thoughts in then by getting into the box we become the centre of our attention. If he’s asserting that we take “nothing” from the box and contemplate it in some manner that’s logically unworkable and sounds more like a complex Zen concept like “be yourself”, which is also unprocessable because the moment you consciously act in a manner you believe to be your relaxed self you are no longer relaxed. Trying not to try is an impossibility. Storing and processing a ‘nothing’ is another. The process of ‘Flow’ is not limited to men.

I haven’t been able to find the University of Pennsylvania study of how men “think about nothing”, but I did find this, a highly critical piece about how insistent people are that men don’t listen and all the pseudoscience and wrongly applied science they use to back up their nonsense idea.

Saying women can’t stop thinking is utter bilge. Women can meditate. Women can achieve ‘Flow’. The ‘nothing’ he talks about that drives women crazy is, in reality, selfishness. It comes from a man sitting around the house watching telly or playing games or going to the pub and leaving a pile of washing up or a screaming child or the vacuuming not dealt with. That’s not a gender thing, it’s a cultural thing that stems from concepts of ‘women’s work’.

What all of this boils down to is what people of both genders are interested in. What they get enthusiastic about, what gives them pleasure, causes them stress, reduces or increases anxiety. Caring, remembering, connecting, listening, it’s all something we only do if the subject itself seems important to us. There are many things women don’t care about or pay attention to, I know this because I’m a geek with a non-geek wife. I have female geek friends though, so it’s not a gender difference.

The issues here are culture, sexism, confirmation bias, selfishness, relying on stereotypes, dismissing other people’s interests as unimportant, considering our own priorities as being the only ones that count. If you take a moment to re-frame the issue you’ll notice that gender is irrelevant and both genders do exactly the same things as often as each other.  

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Yes, the Highest-Grossing Animation of All Time is a Film About Women

Because Hollywood runs like blind evolution, resisting change until a random mutation re-writes the rules.

Please feel free to copy and share this meme. Let's see more stories about women made into films and TV series. 

Images from DC (New 52) and Disney (Frozen). 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Why This is a Big Year for Brody Dalle

How does a good album get bad reviews?

Movies sometimes get slated for stupid reasons unrelated to their quality (like John Carter). I’ve never worked in the music industry, but I’m betting it’s the same deal.

Spinnerette 2009

Spinnerette’s self-titled album came out in 2009 and wasn’t well received. After The Distillers broke up, music journalists and fans wanted More Of The Same from frontwoman Brody Dalle, but her new project was a different thing. Perhaps people weren’t listening to Spinnerette with the right kind of ears. If you eat biscuits after using mouthwash they taste disgusting. Remember that, kids.

NME said things about the track ‘Cupid’ that were not accurate. I'm not reproducing it here because it was just nasty. It wasn't even a critique, it was a reaction to disappointment, the words sneered out between gritted teeth. You can’t type objectively with clenched fists.

I only recently discovered Brody Dalle’s music. I’d heard a little before, but not paid attention. That’s no reflection on her talent.

Spinnerette at Virgin Fest, Deer Lake Park in 2009
(image via Wikipedia)

I grew up listening to both punk rock and heavy metal in 1970s England, the decade and country of their birth. My teenage step brother introduced me to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and the older boys I hung around with played a lot of punk and new wave. All on vinyl, of course, or cassette tapes. The soundtrack to my childhood was equal parts The Sex Pistols and The Muppets. I was making pocket money choices between Topps Star Wars trading cards and Buzzcocks singles. The Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats, Lene Lovich, Blondie, The Clash, Ian Dury were in Top 40, as well as Kate Bush, Abba, the soundtrack to Grease and a lot of disco. Electro-pop was still obscure, Tubeway Army were the exception, meanwhile prog-rock kept mostly to the album charts out of sight of the masses’. Punk appealed to me more at that age than the other music it was bumping shoulders with and gobbing at. I used to pogo at school discos. Jeremy Maidment wrote ‘fuck’ on the back of my jacket in felt-tip pen, but I was terrified my mum would see. I wasn’t a proper punk. I was eight years old. In my teens and twenties in the 1980s and 1990s I mostly listened to heavy metal and rock, then eventually what at the time we called ‘dark trance’, although now trance is something different. I just arrived in my mid-forties and I’ve dropped most of the metal, but intelligent, well made rock is still my favourite kind of music among a pretty eclectic mix.

The Distillers. Quite a long time ago.
(image via

I’ve caught the odd scraps of Distillers songs, that’s all. The recognisably American take on punk gave it more of a rock feel, but it didn’t draw me in. I didn’t know the difference between The Distillers and Spinnerette because I wasn’t paying attention. I knew Dalle had her own career and just happened to be Josh Homme’s missus. I only heard of her in the first place because of who she’s married to and it’s a damn shame because she’s worked hard not to be mistaken as someone coasting along on her husband’s shirt-tails. She plans to get where she’s going on her own merit.

If I had to choose a favourite band it would probably be Queens of the Stone Age, so at some point I was bound to hear Dalle’s music. I don’t like mentioning QotSA in this post because that’s what everyone does. This is just for context and to say that Like Clockwork, one of my all time favourite albums, grew on me little by little during a masterful publicity campaign until I finally realised just how much I loved it. Kind of like the way I fell for my wife.

It was my wife who first played Rated R to me in 2001, and she played Dalle’s single ‘Meet The Foetus’ to me a couple of weeks ago. I was a fan of Garbage years ago and I like Shirley Manson so I listened with interest, but I wasn’t blown away. I wouldn’t expect to be either, and maybe that’s what makes me different from music journalists. It was OK for a first listen and I hung around looking to see if Dalle was playing guitar or bass, so, obviously, I knew nothing about her at that point. That was actually a good thing, that’s what this post is mainly about.

I don’t instantly like most things. When I do I usually haven’t noticed the flaws yet. Flaws and imperfections aren’t the same. Flaws get in the way, imperfections make a thing unique and may take a little learning to appreciate. When I grow to love something it’s because of it’s imperfections, not despite them.

(image via Gigwise)

TV shows that I’ve grown to love have taken me three episodes before I got them. By five or six episodes I’m hooked. I have to nurture my empathy for the characters. When I care about them I’ll see the nuances that make that show stand out from all the others.

Food or alcohol that I love is rarely a first-try deal. I like gin, but the first time I drank it I only suffered its botanical peculiarity to get me through a surreal three-day convention of erotica. I was working on a friend’s stall selling old film posters left over from the 1970s British fad of sex comedies. The dissonance of hardcore imagery and near-naked glamour models in an atmosphere empty of intimacy and honesty made my head spin. All the women workers I spoke to found their customers annoying or even repugnant. Everything was just for show and the smiles were plastered on. So much sex, yet nothing sexy at all. Gin helped, but it wasn’t until twenty years later I found myself choosing it over beer.

Lovely Hendrick's, they even make a tea set to go with it.
(image via Wikipedia)

Many of my favourite songs did nothing for me the first time I heard them. Why does this happen? Why do we take time to like things? Because have expectations to overcome, pre-conceptions to discard; we have to lose the pre-packaged context we bring to the party before we hear, see or taste anything other than what we expected. Maybe we just put a new frame around the picture that feels more comfortable. We can’t completely lose the filters we’ve spent our lives setting up so maybe by spending time on something we cycle through a few filters until we find one that fits.

Spinnerette, in the end, caught my attention with a hat, bleached-out lighting, meticulous make up and a lopsided downwards-sneer to the left.

Screen cap from Ghetto Love

After watching the video I found myself humming the tune a lot. 

Catchy much?

I went back and played it again a few more times. I listened to the album frequently. I bought it. I listened to Coral Fang and took an interest in Brody Dalle as a musician and songwriter, reading and watching interviews and checking for tour dates. I liked what she said and how she said it. Dalle and her husband seem like very smart, wise people and I can’t help but like them.

Then I started hearing that Spinnerette had been badly received. I won’t quote any more here, the reviews I read don’t deserve it. They were petulant diatribes that delighted in hurling thinly-veiled insults at Dalle. They painted a ludicrous picture of a woman who had lost her talent because she grew up.  They described her life between albums as empty space, her time in the studio spent decorating, her music backward-facing by fifteen years. Even if the sexism hadn’t tipped me off, it’s plain to see the poor reviews came from punk fanboys lashing out like jilted lovers at their fantasy woman who dared to move on. They wanted the iconic sweaty black hair, smeared make up and fire-breathing vocals and didn’t care that it came with a self-destruct sequence that was already well under way. People who don’t change are dead. Pitchfork called the album a “perplexing project” and that sums up their problem. Perplexing to a Distillers fan maybe, but for me coming to it from the angle I did it’s a very good album.

Distillers days

I read Dalle’s responses, her own take on the album, reasons for not continuing as Spinnerette and choosing to record under her own name, and her descriptions of her circumstances when she wrote the songs. I read about how The Distillers broke up and their aborted attempt to get back together, and why Dalle now feels she’s moved on. The tracks on Spinnerette were written while Dalle was depressed and into some heavy drug use. The lyrics of one of my favourites shows that plainly enough.

Caught lust, tie a noose around my neck
It's the unexplained that gets you when you obsess
I believed saying the truth would change the way that I felt
Lying to God ain't easy, when you're already in debt

So long my friend
We'll never meet again
I tried so hard to stay
It's too late for me

If all the love in this world isn't enough
Where do you go? Who do you trust?
I find myself wrapped in the arms of emptiness
I can't stop running away, can't find a place to exist

So long my friend
We'll never meet again
I tried so hard to stay
It's too late for me

I understand where these songs came from, I can glimpse the person who wrote them. People who come back from life-destroying addictions have scars that tell us stories about the human condition.

So what’s my point here? Just this: an artist moves on.

Because people change.
(image via Last FM)

Reviewers and fans expected the old Dalle from The Distillers and they found something else. They heard sounds that reminded them of 90s pop-rock like Garbage, maybe because Manson and Dalle both have deep, powerful voices. They were reminded of something from the past so to them the sound was out of date. I disagree. Dalle’s punk rage had given way to a production-heavy ride through a range of styles. Her versatility surprised me, her complexity as a performer and songwriter surprised me. She says the album contains a bit of everything, including the kitchen sink and I wonder if she says it like it’s a bad thing, because what I hear is a solid collection of songs. Sex Bomb might not seem to share much DNA with The Walking Dead, I don’t care. There are themes and riffs that pull the album together. There’s no need for a tight and tidy package showing us what we already knew she could do. This is the album of a woman pushing herself past the boundaries she’d set for herself years before; it’s a butterfly’s first flight out of the chrysalis. Or maybe a big scary blood-red moth.

Columbia silk moth
(image from

Brody Dalle the solo-artist is a different thing again to Spinnerette. With uncanny timing, I got into Spinnerette just as Dalle started releasing singles for Diploid Love. I went looking for an explanation of why she went solo. Dalle says Spinnerette, a complex studio album, doesn’t work live and that may be all there is too it. Elsewhere she said she wants to be happy and live a happy life. I doubt that would happen if she was touring with songs about suicide and drug addiction. She’s moved on from that time, that sound and that album. I’m dealing with it.

Diploid Love (released April 2014)

The Cover to Diploid Love shows Dalle grown up. Messy yet clean hair, head thrown back in a classic belligerent punk pose dressed in consciously non-punk1950s clothes. Her mouth open but not sneering. She might be inviting you in or telling you to fuck off. Maybe both. She’s doing things how she wants to, combining and transcending her roots and influences.

She’s come a long way since The Distillers. What do you expect? Brody Dalle is not preserved in aspic. She’s not a marble statue carved in 2004. She isn’t the torchbearer of 21st Century punk. Her career isn’t a museum exhibit. A 24 year old punk became a 35 year old mother of two and hasn’t lost one ounce of talent in the process. It’s not her responsibility to keep a genre alive. Artists who give fans what they want are betraying themselves and walking a path to nowhere. Culture on demand is no culture at all, it’s pastiche, it’s lip-service. Soulless and stale. Artists create, they don’t obey orders.


I’m excited about Diploid Love, even though from what I’ve heard so far it’s a big departure from Spinnerette. I have a feeling this is going to be a good year for Dalle and that her music will get a lot of attention. This isn’t her first flight out of the cocoon, this is solo Dalle with her wings flexed and tested. My advice, and this goes for experiencing anything new, is to lose your expectations and open your mind as wide as that fucker goes, then settle back and enjoy the ride.