December 31, 2007

Too Fool For School

From The Scotsman: Teachers' compensation payouts hit £180,000
THE catalogue of injuries suffered by teachers in Scottish schools was revealed today, with compensation totalling more than £180,000 paid out to staff this year...

Among [the successful claims] was £1,750 for a teacher who sustained serious damage after a kick to the groin, and another who received £2,300 after a punch in the face caused a fractured cheekbone and broken nose...

Ronnie Smith, the general secretary of the EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union, described the amount paid out as "extremely worrying".
Really? That's what you find worrying? Personally I was a little more concerned by the fact that teachers apparently can't go to work without having to worry about being kicked in the groin.
Meanwhile, falls were revealed to have generated the most payments for teachers. A teacher was awarded £20,000 after a slip in a corridor... and another received £1,500 after a back injury caused by the collapse of a piano chair.

One teacher received £8,500 after slipping on a wet floor, and another was given £5,000 when a trip over a schoolbag caused facial injuries and a detached retina.
Good Lord! Where do these people teach?! The McCallister house?

Maybe I'll reconsider my goal of becoming a teacher. I'm quite fond of my retina/cheekbones/groin.

December 30, 2007

In Memoriam Netscape Navigator

From BBC News: Web icon set to be discontinued

With apologies to E.J. Thribb (17 1/2)

So, Farewell then,
Netscape
Navigator,
Trailblazing browser
Of the web.

"Netscape encountered
A fatal
Error
And had to close (-307)."

That was
Your catchphrase.

Alas!, there is no
Error
In the story of
Your demise.

But you will
Always be remembered.
Thanks, Mozilla:
The little internet
Explorer
That could.

December 29, 2007

You Don't Know How to Jack

From The Daily Record: Scotch Pie Threatened By Lack Of Bakers
The Scotch pie... bridies, butteries and plain loaves [could be] threatened by a government block on food industry training grants.

Labour finance spokesman Iain Gray said: "Traditional Scottish baking icons like the pan loaf, the plain loaf, the buttery, the bridie and Scotch pie could be threatened as the skills to bake them are not passed on."

The Scottish Association of Master Bakers is fighting to overturn the decision.
Wait, the Scottish Association of what?
Master Bakers
*giggle*
Gray said: "For Scotland to perform in a competitive marketplace... it is essential that we produce the next wave of master bakers."
Well said, sir. We need to make it clear to the younger generations how important master baking is; if we don't take a hands-on approach, our children might never become master bakers. They'll be ignorant of even the most basic steps in master baking: raising their loaves, how to handle a rolling pin, and, of course, proper beating technique.

In any case, this is a dangerous precedent; if we don't take a stand on food training grants now, countless other vital programs might get stiffed. Dairy workers could end up unable to produce cream. Butchers will be incapable of tenderising their meat. Farmers won't know how to choke their chickens! Who knows what might be coming? Or not?

Sometimes they just hand you this stuff on a platter, you know?

December 28, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CLXI



Friends: why not resolve to try something new for 2008, and purchase some tasteful Conversations With Greatness merchandise? You'll be the envy of all your hipster friends!

December 27, 2007

I'm A Freud Not

Last Christmas (and I remember this quite clearly) I was at the airport on my way to Sydney and bought a copy of Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder, fully intending to read it. Instead, it followed me forlornly from continent to continent, always in my to-read pile, but never quite at the top. When I moved to Boston I was convinced Rubenfeld's hour was at hand, but, alas!, school and The New Yorker got in the way, and it wasn't to be. TIoM made one more transoceanic journey with me when I came home last week, and on Christmas Eve, finally, after twelve months and several thousand miles, I started reading it.

And it was awful.

Well, okay, let's be fair. It's not awful if you take it as a piece of junky airport pulp reading (and, honestly, even if that's how I had been coming at it, a year of expectation would probably still have been hard to match) — but it's certainly not packaged as airport junk. It has a tasteful, understated, artistic cover, adorned with rave reviews from every major British paper (saying things like: "spectacular", "vivid", "intelligent", "intriguing", "dazzling", etc.), and a heartily commendatory sticker from Richard and Judy's Book Club (≈Oprah's Book Club, North American readers).

Even the plot synopsis doesn't really seem like your typical pulpy crapfest: a historical novel about Sigmund Freud's only visit to America, in 1909, into which is inserted a murder mystery that Freud's American disciple (and to a lesser extent, Freud himself) is enlisted to help solve.

So what's the problem? Well, first of all (and you'll excuse me if my current studies make me think this is kind of a big deal): the writing. Rubenfeld doesn't really write that beautifully (as the Sunday Telegraph would have you believe); he's a law professor and legal writer, and, well, it shows. The prose lurches from stale to stiff to turgid — and all the wild variation in between! — and does various, fairly confusing things, like switch narrative perspective every two pages. The protagonist, Younger (Freud's American lackey), has a narrative thread all his own in which he speaks in the first person — which would be fine if he didn't also appear regularly in the omniscient third person narrative that tells the rest of the story, or if the two narrators were in any way distinguishable other than Younger occasionally saying "I".

Then there's the plot, which, I will admit, gets pretty tense in the middle third of the book, but is otherwise summarily absurd. There are so many crosses, double crosses, deceptions, hallucinations, and so forth, that by the end of the novel we discover that the murder scene that opens the book wasn't actually a murder, and the murder victim didn't actually exist (I kid you not). In the meantime the whole motive for the actual crime hinges on a bizarre and misogynistic marriage in which husband and wife have never had sex — either because the husband doesn't want to risk the wife getting pregnant and ruining her figure, or because the wife thinks she'll have more control over him this way — and instead have a bedroom life that consists entirely of him tying her up and pretending to force fellatio on her. Again, I kid you not. Apparently Rubenfeld didn't get the memo that it's, um, kind of terrible to depict women as a series of willing orifices for men's unwanted semen.

All of this does, of course, allow Rubenfeld to work in an extraordinary amount of Freudian theory, which I presume is what the reviewers meant when they said that the book works on many levels. That, and Younger's frankly mystifying ruminations on the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet, which make up yet another narrative thread running the length of the book — and which are dull, out of place, and, as an interpretation of Shakespeare, not much to write home about, either. (There's also a tacked on subplot about the neurology-psychology wars in medicine in the early Twentieth Century.) It all comes off as an attempt at intellectual showboating, except that the showboat is a rusty canoe and the intellectual is seriously out of his depth.

When the novel's not busy trying to be clever, it's busy trying to get itself optioned by Paramount. You can almost hear Tom Hanks delivering the protagonist's dialogue, and as a Hollywood thriller this would undoubtedly work better: all the chaff of Freudian and literary theory would be discarded, and the audience would have less to time to think over the details of the mystery and realise, with a jolt, what Detective Jimmy Littlemore does in the final chapter: "That doesn't make sense."

Now, obviously the phrase "that doesn't make sense" is a pretty common gambit in mystery novels (and I won't even begin to comment on the named-for-a-Fifties-public-information-film Detective Jimmy Littlemore, who plays Tweedledee to Younger's Tweedledum). But typically, when a mystery writer resorts to such a gambit, he or she then goes on to have the protagonist explain why, in fact, everything does make sense. Not so with the normally erudite Younger, who responds to Littlemore's statement with a dismissive, "Oh, I don't know." That's a direct quote, and the conversation continues as follows:
"Some people feel a need to bring about the very thing that will most torment them."

"They do?"

"Yes."

"Why?" asked Littlemore.

"I have no idea, Detective. It's an unsolved mystery."
Which I guess Rubenfeld thought might be kind of an unsatisfying ending to a mystery novel, so he tries to distract us with the saccharine conclusion of Littlemore's closing line: "That reminds me, I'm not a detective anymore… The mayor's making me a lieutenant." Hosannah!

But I don't wish to mislead; although that's Littlemore's closing line, the novel doesn't quite end there. We are still forced to submit to the metaphorical fellatio of Rubenfeld taking us through a Dragnet style epilogue (in which each character is given a neat, one-paragraph tying-up-of-loose-ends), and a gleefully gloating Author's Note, in which we are informed that, even if the events and/or characters and/or dialogue in the book seem unbelievable (and he does explicitly mention all three), they are all drawn directly from real life! Don't we feel silly for our skepticism! The problem is, real life doesn't have to work to make us believe it, whereas fiction does — and in between writing his punctiliously researched Freud-Jung interchanges and setting the women's movement back about a hundred years, Rubenfeld has sadly skipped over that all-important element of any good mystery novel: plausibility.

Of course, I suppose this all pointless post facto sniping, because Rubenfeld has made his million already. Dan Brown would be proud; I just want to sob quietly into my unpublished manuscripts.

December 26, 2007

Epidaft

During one of my habitual late-night tours of the internet, yesterday, I came across a page of famous last words, and was pretty tickled to discover that James Joyce, that great author of impenetrable modernist gobbledegook, is reported to have uttered before dying:
"Does nobody understand?"
Yes, well, I think you brought that one on yourself, James.

Jacques Derrida, on the other hand, went positively Hollywood Tearjerker as he lay dying:
"I love you and am smiling at you from wherever I am."
Which, honestly, is kind of disappointingly diaphanous coming from the man whose major contribution to Western thought is, by his own admission, so ridiculously difficult to grasp that even he can't define it (though perhaps this explains why he is smiling at us wherever he is; maybe ROTFLHAO is more like it...).

Beethoven's last words have always charmed me:
"Friends, applaud, the comedy is finished."
But, because I feel like this could have been yanked directly from a Conversations With Greatness panel, I think my favourite discovery last night was Karl Marx's last remark:
"Go on, get out — last words are for fools who haven't said enough."
I guess it's kind of morbid that I spent Christmas looking up dying words. Oh well.

December 24, 2007

Hotscot's Directorial Debut

If you didn't know (and I'm not sure why anyone living outside Britain would), one of the longstanding Christmas traditions in this country is that the reigning monarch delivers a Christmas message to the masses every Christmas day (we make 'em work for our tax money!). George VI used to have his broadcast over the radio, but, by the time the Queen was in charge, enough people had TV that she pretty much immediately switched mediums to make herself seem like less "distant" a figure.

Anyway, now the royal family have launched their own YouTube channel so that, once again, the Christmas message will reach the public on the most modern of available mediums — this year's broadcast will be uploaded to YouTube at around the same time it appears on the Beeb. For nostalgia's sake, the original televised message from 1957 ("Heppy Christmas") is also available to watch.

The Royal Channel also includes a couple of silent news reels from the very early days of film, including this one of Queen Alexandra visiting London's West End. I thought it was a little too silent, so I took the liberty of adding in a soundtrack, in my very first YouTube video:

Incidentally, this was also my very first experience with the new iMovie included in iLife '08, and it is awful. They have managed to thoroughly ruin the UI and make it about the most unintuitive thing I have ever seen Apple's name on (indeed, the "UI" may as well stand for unintuitive). I actually had to watch a bunch of the web tutorials to even figure out how to do the relatively simple things I was trying to do. The sort of advanced editing you used to be able to do on iMovie would be virtually impossible now, which I suppose is because they want you to buy Final Cut Pro — just like the way they've disabled Mail on the iPod Touch because they want you to buy an iPhone. Frankly, this sort of money-hungry douchebaggery is getting a little too habitual for Apple. Is it really not possible to run a successful business without being evil? Sigh.

On that note: Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2007

December 20, 2007

Happy Birthday To Me

Thanks for all the birthday well wishes. As usual I spent almost the entire day in transit — left the house in Boston at 5am, arrived at destination in London at 10:30pm. I then proceeded more or less immediately to the pub to ensure that at least one birthday drink (other than the cup of British Airways coffee) would be forthcoming. Now, twelve hours later, I'm back at Heathrow to fly to Edinburgh.

For the plane I bought myself a copy of Brainiac, by Jeopardy! champ and record-breaker Ken Jennings. To my surprise and delight, it was not a quick 'n' dirty fifteen-minutes-of-fame cash-in, but rather a wry and gentle look at the history of trivia in the United States, coupled with profiles of a number of its quirkier devotees (kind of like Wordplay, but in book form). Along the way, Jennings interweaves the story of his own obsession with trivia, from his quasi-OCD childhood devotion to comics and quiz shows, all the way up to his 75-show run on Jeopardy! (which includes a number of Alex Trebek zingers that are far superior to anything SNL ever managed). The whole thing is written with deft wit, humility and even, occasionally, some poesy. Perhaps the best part, though, is that each chapter has built-in, footnoted trivia questions, so you can play along as you read.

It's a particularly interesting comparison for me, because I also just finished reading The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (famously adapted for the movie Adaptation). Orlean makes a living from her writing (The Orchid Thief is based on a piece she did for The New Yorker), whereas Jennings is a "mere" software engineer — but although both books have a pretty similar theme and structure — personal story/reflection interwoven with in-depth history of a relatively obscure field and its fanatics — Orlean's feels stilted and overwritten where Jennings' is more varied and nimble. Not that Orlean is a bad writer or Jennings a great one (all his physical descriptions of people involve precisely two facial features, and one is almost always the eyebrows), but Jennings nails the nonfiction book format and leaves Orlean kind of floundering in her own bloated prose. (And yet, while Orlean's book is adorned with rave reviews from a who's who of highbrow book criticism, the best Jennings' manages is The Rocky Mountain News — which seems a bit ridiculous.)

Anyway, highly recommended.

December 19, 2007

Plagiarisn't

One of the classes I took this semester was called 'Teaching Freshman Writing': a course about the various pedagogies of college composition, and a prerequisite for applying for a teaching job next year (which I plan to do). It was a fun class, and the readings we had to do for it were generally interesting and thoughtful.

However, the article we had to read in the last week — "Sexuality, Textuality: The Cultural Work of Plagiarism", by Rebecca Moore Howard — was an infuriating piece of cultural studies pseudo-argument, and I can't hold off tearing into it any longer.

Its main point is actually a good one, and made convincingly right there on the first page: a survey of college English teachers all over the United States was unable to provide any meaningful consensus as to the definition of plagiarism, and if we can't define plagiarism how can we reasonably continue to punish students for doing it? From there, though, the article descends into a sticky morass of bizarre feminist rhetoric based on questionable evidence and logical fallacy.

Item: Moore points out that cultural studies scholars have long acknowledged that there's no such thing as originality, and it would be impossible for anyone, anywhere, to ever cite "all" their sources. (Such an undertaking, it is alleged, would require a full "history of the writer's subjectivity," whatever that means.) Moore also points out that plagiarism policies imply that all student work must be original and/or fully cited, which, clearly, is impossible if you maintain that the preceding point is true. Except that really what she's doing is taking concepts from two completely separate arenas (literary theory and university bureaucracy) and conflating them; "originality" in the literary theory sense is not the same as "originality" (read: "not plagiarised") in the university bureaucracy sense, and so there's really no reason why a piece of work can't be "not original" and "original" at the same time.

I could make all sorts of stupid arguments if all I had to do was compare different definitions of the same word. Like, a tiger is an animal, but some people also speak of Asian Tigers, which are rapidly growing economies in southeast Asia. But how can something be an animal and a rapidly growing economy at the same time?!! That's ABSURD! Therefore, there is no such thing as southeast Asian economic growth (or there's no such thing as tigers; take your pick).

Item: Moore begins her argument by using cultural imagery that "shows" how authorship is denied to women. For instance, a common metaphor for creative writing is the author being inspired by a muse. Because muses are beautiful females, and because "being inspired" is synonymous with boinking (Moore says; it's news to me), and because our culture requires compulsory heterosexuality, women can't have sex with muses and therefore can't be authors. I mean, never mind that these are vague cultural notions that have no basis in any kind of empirical reality and are deployed only in a tiny smattering of the situations in which authorship is discussed — apparently when Margaret Atwood turned up at the publisher's office with The Blind Assassin there was a hot lesbian sex scene before any contracts were signed.

If you think that's a tenuous argument, your head may well explode at the next one. Not only are women never authors, but, in fact, they are always plagiarists. I have to cite Moore's own words on this one, so you can appreciate their breathtaking ridiculousness:
Plagiarism is a disease; disease is of the body…; and the body, Aristotle and his successors have convinced us, is the feminine… Hence plagiarism, through its association with the female author who is mad, is a female madness. (p481)
Did you catch that? Plagiarism = disease, disease = body, body = feminine; so plagiarism = feminine.

But why stop there? I propose the following: plagiarism = disease, disease = body, body = feminine, feminine = maternal, maternal = reproduction, reproduction = creation of something new. Ipso facto, plagiarism = creation of something new, ergo thus QED. Did I just blow your mind, or what?

Item: This is actually a continuation of the last point, but is easily the pinnacle of the article's fatuity — so I thought it deserved its own subheading. After having established that authors "must" be male, Moore tells us that plagiarism is analogous with sexual transgression, and because there is only one sex act that is exclusively performed by men upon women, "plagiarism is a form of rape" (p482); "plagiarism amounts to one man's raping another man's female property" (p483). Never mind the obnoxiously sexist suggestion that men can't be raped — I wonder how Moore can reconcile the assertion that "plagiarism is feminine" with the idea "plagiarism is male sexual violence".

Actually, it's not really fair to call Moore obnoxious for saying that men can't be raped, because a mere two pages later she corrects (read: contradicts) herself: "the victim of plagiarism is the victim of homosexual rape. The male author has been raped by the male plagiarist" (p484). I don't really understand how this fits into the tangled web of syllogistic gender nonsense that Moore has spun (men are authors and plagiarists and rapists and victims; women are not authors, but they are plagiarists, but they're not rapists, but they are muses), but I think we can safely say that what Moore is really trying to do here is make a sort of metaphorical argument about how the practise of writing is maybe more complex that we might have thought.

Oh, no, wait, my bad:

Item: This is my favourite, actually:
Are sexual preference and plagiarism simply incidental associations, or are hierarchical gender and sexuality integral to our fundamental concept of plagiarism — integral to the cultural work accomplished by that concept?

My answer to this last question is "yes".
Well, it doesn't take a raped muse to tell you that Ms Moore just answered "yes" to a question that is manifestly not a yes/no question, but thankfully she goes on to elaborate that, in fact, these are not merely incidental associations: the fundamental meaning of plagiarism really is rape.

I guess my biggest problem with the whole article is that, no matter how pithily I debunk it here, Moore (or any other cultural studies wonk) can just turn around and say that of course I'm not convinced, because these cultural assumptions are so deeply ingrained that I don't even realise it — and all I'm doing by badmouthing Moore is perpetuating the very structure of gendered oppression that she is trying to destroy.

But is that really a fair argument, or is the purpose of cultural studies essays like this more accurately to demonstrate to other cultural studies scholars what a swell intellectual the author is through his or her ability to employ the abstruse language of the academy?

My answer to this last question is: (c).

December 14, 2007

December 12, 2007

Hat Trick

From Newsvine: Southern Miss Hires Fedora As New Coach

Hmmm....

(C'est un entraîneur.)
Under Fedora in 2004, the Gators led the Southeastern Conference in six offensive categories.
That year's team was controversial, of course, as many parents and health professionals insisted the players should have been under Helmet.

December 11, 2007

The Crying of Lot 11

From Newsvine: Terror Hits on the 11th

This news story lists seven terrorist attacks from the past six years that have occurred on the 11th of whatever month it was at the time.

Well, really, it only lists six, because one of them occurred on November 9, 2005 (which the AP sagely notes would read "9/11" if you used the "day-first, month-second system").

But what does it all MEAN?! That we should lock ourselves in underground bunkers on 11/11/11? That a certain chain of American convenience stores is a spawning ground for political extremists? That next year's upcoming Star Trek flick will be an act of terrorism? That it was a really slow news day at the AP?

Sorry for relative silence lately: as soon as I have my last final project out the door, I will once more be happily and excessively blogging away.

December 07, 2007

December 06, 2007

You Of Broken My Heart

Let us consider the phrase:
Please take your receipt when it's completed printing.
Here the "it's" contraction – which generally stands in for "it is" – has in fact taken the place of "it has", which in print it looks a little odd, but in speech is basically acceptable. Still, if you were going to expand the phrase fully, the grammatically correct sentence would be:
Please take your receipt when it has completed printing.
Unfortunately, someone at CVS didn't get the memo, and when I used their self-service checkout last night the friendly recorded voice said to me:
Please take your receipt when it is completed printing.
Now, it's a well-known fact that I strive to be a pompous authoritarian when it comes to correct usage, but even I would forgive this mistake if it appeared in print. This, though, was a spoken command! Countless people must have listened to this before it made it to the CVS in Central Square! And not a single one heard it and thought: "Gee, that doesn't sound quite right"?! What is the world coming to?

PS. Next semester I am taking a copyediting class, so if you don't enjoy my rants on grammar you may as well stop reading now.

December 05, 2007

Department of Tautological Politics

From Newsvine: Former Mass. Governor Endorses Romney

Umm... Of course he does?



No, obviously, the actual former governor of Massachusetts who endorsed Romney was William F. Weld, who held the office in the early to mid-Nineties. He defended Romney's tax cut record, waxed lyrical about New Hampshire, and then
the Harvard-educated Weld broke into French to say, "Each to his own."
Well la-de-da!

Weld's Francophilia actually presages a new batch of Romney ads that will appear next week, among them:
Mitt Romney: Un jour sans vin est comme un jour sans soleil.

Mitt Romney: Honni soit qui mal y pense.
And, of course:
Mitt Romney: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?
I wish my knowledge of French proverbs were better.

December 03, 2007

Craig's List

From Newsvine: Paper: 8 Men Claim Encounters With Craig
BOISE — Eight men say they either had sex with Sen. Larry Craig or were targets of sexual advances … at various times during his political career … the Idaho Statesman reported [Sunday].
The Idaho Statesman cited interviews with four named and four anonymous informants, all of whom described the Idaho statesman as having made sexual overtures towards them. The Idaho Statesman acknowledged that these men had little in the way of evidence, although there was also nothing in their statements to disprove their allegations about the Idaho statesman.

The Idaho Statesman contacted the Idaho statesman for a comment on the story, but he and his office declined to reply directly. Instead, the Idaho statesman emailed a statement to the Associated Press, which read:
Despite the fact the Idaho Statesman has decided to pursue its own agenda and print these falsehoods without any facts to back them up, I won't let this paper's attempt to malign my name stop me from continuing my work to serve the people of Idaho.
In an editorial, The Idaho Statesman responded in kind, saying:
Despite the fact the Idaho statesman has decided to pursue his own agenda and print these falsehoods without any facts to back them up, we won't let this senator's attempt to malign our name stop us from continuing our work to serve the people of Idaho.
In total, three men claimed to have had sex with the Idaho statesman, amongst them a former male escort who alleges he was paid $200 by the Idaho statesman (no word on how much he was paid by The Idaho Statesman).

November 30, 2007

November 28, 2007

Give 'Em An Earful

I was down at my dad's place while in Edinburgh last week, and found a leaflet that had been shoved through the letter slot, advertising the ancient folk remedy of Earcandling. Written in hilarious German pseudo-English, the pitch (web version) was full of fascinating background and sage advice, such as:
Earcandles have a purely physical function. A light suction action (chimney effect) and the movement of the flame create a vibration of air in the Earcandle, generating a massage-like effect on the eardrum. This induces a pleasant feeling of warmth... The whole ceremony brings a wonderful relaxation, a deep sense of security and a feeling of happiness which is seldom experienced.
Or:
Earcandles are used by setting them alight. Beware of the fire hazard!

...When preparations are complete, your partner sits comfortably next to you.

He/She should light the Earcandle at the unlabeled end and place the non-burning end gently into the outer ear passage. [Emphases in original – just in case, presumably...]
My fancy tickled, I retired to Google to see what else I could find out about this venerable and time-honoured healing technique.

Amazingly, the professional medical community finds the practice of inserting flaming cloth into your ears a little alarming. For example, Health Canada notes with the brute charm of a 1950s public service announcement:
The practice of ear candling has recently become popular as an alternative therapy. Some promoters say it is an ancient treatment that can cure a number of medical problems. Don't listen: ear candling is dangerous, and has no proven medical benefits. [En Français]
Interestingly, the anti-earcandle lobby seems to have its most vocal contingent in Canada, which provides, in addition to Health Canada's admonitions, articles from NOW Magazine (Toronto), and even the CBC:
Toronto ear-nose-and-throat specialist Dr. Rick Fox first heard about ear candling when a patient arrived in his office in incredible pain...

Fox spent that Christmas day reconstructing the man's ear for a treatment he says doesn't work at all...

[He] told Marketplace that, for most people, the wax in their ears is not a problem. He says a good ear is like a good oven – and performs its own self-cleaning.
Ears are like ovens... So that explains why steam comes out of them sometimes!

I don't know what the strong anti-earcandling streak says about Canada, but it's still tame compared to the official American line:
FDA has never cleared or approved a marketing application for ear candles for any... therapeutic uses...

FDA has undertaken several successful regulatory actions including product seizures and injunctions since 1996. These actions were based, in part, upon violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which pose an imminent danger to health. Specifically...

The label of the “device fails to bear adequate directions for use since adequate directions cannot be written for the device’s purported use," Section [502(f)(1)]. [Emphasis mine]
Whoa! Earcandles are so useless that no language exists to express any possible use they might have. That is a pretty tough line, no? I think this is possibly the first time the US Government has invoked Derrida in defending its regulatory decisions.

If, after all this, you are not all earcandled out, YouTube has a number of videos demonstrating the usage and alleged results of the product. Otherwise, consider yourself a little cannier for the next time you're in the market for otological treatments.

November 23, 2007

November 22, 2007

Thanks A Lot

Okay, I guess I have to provide a little context for this one.

My mum just had to have an operation and is in hospital for a few days – and since those days happened to fall over Emerson's Thanksgiving break, I'm in Edinburgh 'til Monday. (She's doing fine.)

Since I was going to be at home, she arranged to have a satellite TV engineer stop by so that the enormous, million-inch flatscreen TV she bought a year ago can finally start actually receiving TV signals.

You may now consider the context section of this post concluded.

About ten o' clock this morning the phone rang. While normally I'd be peeved at having to wake up that early after my first night of jetlag, I was, in fact, already awake, thanks to the renovations being done in the flat upstairs. Apparently these require obnoxiously loud drilling directly above my bedroom, starting around eight-thirty.

Okay, so I guess this is really the end of the context section.

Anyway, the phone rang, and it was the Sky engineer saying that he couldn't find a parking space. Parking in central Edinburgh requires a murderous singularity of purpose at the best of times, so I was neither shocked nor sympathetic, but as it happened a space opened up right in front of the flat as I was on the phone with him, and I told him as much.

A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time it was the Sky customer service department – apparently unaware of their purview – calling to say that the engineer couldn't find a space and so wouldn't be able to install anything today. Now, notwithstanding the fact that (given my previous remarks on parking in central Edinburgh) this effectively put the kibosh on us ever getting Sky installed, the empty space was still out front and I pointed this out. With an impatient sigh, the man put me on hold while he conferenced with the engineer.

After a minute or so: "Okay, fine, he'll drive back around the block, but you have to go stand in the space so nobody else takes it." (I swear I am not making this up.)

I dutifully went downstairs, and a minute or so later the engineer pulled up, shaking his head at me as he rolled down his side window.

"Can you not get in there?" I asked.

"Well, mebby," he said. "But I'll no' get ma ladders off the roof."

"You could take them off first and then pull into the space," I helpfully suggested (there's plenty of room to double-park during the day).

He ignored that completely and proceeded to attempt the most half-assed parking job I have ever seen, eventually stopping with the van's nose still hanging out into the centre of the street. "Never mind, I'll come have a look at what needs doin', first," he said, getting out.

I took him upstairs and showed him the situation. He then asked to see the back garden, where the dish would be going, so I took him outside. He had a thoughtful wander around for about thirty seconds, looking from the wall to the sky and back again, rubbing his chin calculatorily.

"We've got a wee problem," he said, walking back over to me.

"I'm shocked," I said. (Okay, fine, I only thought that.)

"See, this tree's in the way, we'll no' get a line of sight. The dish'll need to go on your chimney, so you'll have to rebook for a Special Heights Team to come out."

("Special Heights Team"?! Are they midgets or something?)

"I see," I said, and sent the roguish scamp on his way with an affectionate tousle of his hair.

So, in summary, Sky is a great option for residents in central Edinburgh, unless you live in a tenement with parking problems and trees nearby.

Happy freakin' Thanksgiving.

November 19, 2007

Just Because...

I haven't procrastinated enough lately.

The new font is a little different in size, so I'll be tweaking a few of the spacing elements some more over the next day or two.

November 18, 2007

Boston Charm

Saturday I was catching the T home around 7 or 8pm. When my train finally pulled in, it was absolutely packed, in a London/Tokyo people-needing-to-be-pushed-on-board sort of way, but I managed to squeeze myself in. As it rolled away from the station, the driver came over the intercom to make an announcement.

T drivers have long made entertaining use of the intercom on Green Line trains. A few weeks ago I had a driver who tried to imitate the pre-recorded robotic voice between stops. When I lived here in 2002 there was a guy who worked the C-line who regularly cracked jokes to his passengers. On Saturday, my driver had this to say:

"Folks, if you're just joining us, here's the deal. There's a young lady on board named Christina, who's just told me it's her birthday, and I think we should all sing happy birthday to her. Are you with me?"

To my surprise, the crowd gave a pretty enthusiastic cheer (this would never have happened on the Tube, and not just because it's impossible to understand what Tube drivers are saying over the intercom).

"Okay, then!" bellowed the driver. "On three!"

And so it was that a sardine tin of an E-train jauntily belted out Happy Birthday as it swept through the darkness underneath the Common.

--

The next morning, I caught the E-train back downtown. A group of still-drunk (I hope) Northeastern boys were at the front of the car and, suddenly, recognised a friend of theirs on the street outside the train. Naturally, they did what anyone would do in such a situation: they all mooned him.

November 16, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CLV



PS. It turns out that this CWG was actually fairly prescient.

November 15, 2007

Trouble Bruin

Seen in the Boston Metro:



Neither was entirely sure why the other was there. Said Ference: "I thought my manager said I'd get to grab an ass." (Said Grabauskas: "I thought my PR team said 'We could get a celebrity to appear with you, fer instance'.")

I hear puns aren't funny.

November 14, 2007

Insufferable Highbrow Humour

I was walking through Chinatown yesterday and I passed a hair salon called "Dada Hair Styling," and I thought: why would anyone want to go to a Dada hair stylist? It seems like it's just asking for trouble.

--

CUSTOMER: Hello, I'd like a haircut please.

MARCEL DUCHAMP: Non! I will give you an anti-haircut!

CUSTOMER: Um, well… I was thinking maybe just clean up the back and sides and take a little off the top?

MD: Why do you cling so stubbornly to your bourgeois ideals of "back" and "top"? You must reject such notions! I will trim the false consciousness of your hair! Its superstructure! Its praxis!

CUSTOMER: Okay, but, um, I have my annual review on Monday and I'd kind of like to look my best for it, so…

MD: Look your best?! Pfah! Only by rejecting the aesthetics inflicted on you will you truly make headway in society. I will give you a haircut that screams, that insults, that calumniates! Then you will destabilise traditional modes of evaluation and any basis for review will be rendered irrelevant!

CUSTOMER: Ah, well, perhaps—

MD: [Puts a blonde costume wig on CUSTOMER's head] Magnifique!

CUSTOMER: I knew I should have gone to the Neo-Classical Hair Salon.

[Fin.]

November 09, 2007

November 07, 2007

Rant Cubed

This interview includes references to my top three most ranted about things: Steven Pinker, Freakonomics and evolutionary psychology. So I guess I had better rant about it.

Satoshi Kanazawa is the co-author of the recently published (and apparently gunning for some kind of record subtitle) book, Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire - Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do.

You can tell that the book itself must be really worth reading when the title attempts to appeal to every potential readership demographic.

So, take us into it, Dr Kanazawa.
DC: In a nutshell, what is “evolutionary psychology”? …

SK: Evolutionary psychology is the application of evolutionary biology to human cognition and behavior… It is premised on two grand generalizations.
Ah, yes, grand generalisation, the basic premise of every rigorous scientific theory.
SK: For any evolutionary change to take place, the environment has to remain more or less constant for many generations… When the environment undergoes rapid change within the space of a generation or two, as it has been for the last couple of millennia, if not more, then evolution can’t happen because nature can’t determine which traits to select and which to eliminate. So they remain at a standstill. Our brain (and the rest of our body) are essentially frozen in time — stuck in the Stone Age.
Seriously? First of all, see this post.

Now, although the argument being made here is not strictly the same, it is another grand generalisation that, natch, is at least as startlingly idiotic as the linked one, and my same pithy précis applies: evolution acts on genetic diversity, so regardless of whether or not you think "nature" is "capable" of determining what traits to select, the only way evolution can ever "get stuck" is if every single human on Earth was genetically identical, which can never happen.

Sure, we're not going to see species wide changes that evolutionary psychologists of the future (if, God forbid, they still exist in the future) can talk about the way they do now – but that's more to do with the fact that there are now six billion members of our species spread across every surface of the world, and there's just no way a single trait could filter through to all of them in the same way that could have happened with our sympatric ancestors of fifty thousand years ago. Really what you're saying is that evolutionary psychology is stuck because it's never going to be able to move past the same stupid timeframe that it's been so doggedly and unjustifiably obsessed with from the start.
One example of this is that when we watch a scary movie, we get scared, and when we watch porn we get turned on. We cry when someone dies in a movie. Our brain cannot tell the difference between what’s simulated and what’s real, because this distinction didn’t exist in the Stone Age.
Right, that's why cave paintings exist. And, sorry, doesn't evolutionary psychology also try to explain the biological basis for subterfuge? And isn't subterfuge a type of simulation? And aren't you a douchebag?
If you build a house on top of a lake on the assumption that water is solid, it will inevitably collapse and sink to the bottom of the lake, but if you recognize the fluid nature of water, you can build a successful houseboat. A houseboat may not be as good as a genuine house built on ground, but it’s better than a collapsed house on the bottom of the lake.
Okay, fuck you and your houseboat hating. Now you have really crossed a line.

Oh, and in case you were wondering why beautiful people have more daughters: roughly speaking, the argument is that beauty is a more advantageous trait for women than for men, so in an evolutionary setting it makes more sense for beautiful people to be predisposed to have more daughters.

This argument, of course, relies entirely on contemporary ideals about beauty that have diddly-fucking-squat to do with what was going on in the evolutionary psychology melting pot of fifty thousand years ago. Do you think homo erectus's girlfriend spent hours shaving her legs before a date? Do you think the cover of Almost People magazine was littered with photographs of the Neanderthal glitterati? Do you think, in short, our australopithecine ancestors gave a shit?

You can make an argument about "beauty" being an evolutionary trait insofar as physical attractiveness often signals generally healthy individuals – but it's just plain boneheaded to then look at Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and come up with a doozy of a cowpat like, "Women like to have affairs with good-looking men, but they don’t necessarily want to marry them, unless of course they are also rich and powerful." RICH and powerful?!?!?! Correct me if I'm wrong, guys, but I'm pretty sure MONEY came about long after evolution allegedly "got stuck". I mean, Good Lord.

I could carry on, but it's late and I think I've made my point. Evolutionary psychology is useful inasmuch as it forces us to consider biological factors when attempting to explain human behaviour. But evolutionary psychologists like this – the ones who continue to insist that biology is the only thing worth talking about, and who extend the field's purview far beyond where it should be – can suck my highly evolved balls.

Good night.

November 04, 2007

Campaign In The Ass

From Newsvine: Clinton Says Criticism Goes With Lead
CONCORD — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that her status as the Democratic presidential front-runner — not her gender — has led her male primary rivals to intensify their criticism of her.

"I don't think they're piling on because I'm a woman. I think they're piling on because I'm winning," Clinton told reporters…
Yes, excellent point, Hillary. Gender shouldn't have anything to do with the public debate over who can best run the country. I applaud your frank and enlightened take on the issue of gender in American life. Anything else to add?
"I anticipate it's going to get even hotter, and if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen. I'm very much at home in the kitchen," she said.
Oh, good grief. I wonder what the rejects from her soundbite-making machine were.
"I anticipate the tactics in this race are going to get even dirtier. Thankfully I'm a dab hand with a duster."

"I anticipate that, in our media intensive society, the key to winning this election will be presentation. Thankfully, I've got some of the prettiest lipstick on the market."

"I anticipate that, in today's political climate, the successful candidates are the ones with the more socialist policies. Thankfully, I'm comfortable in pink."

"I anticipate that, as candidates start to panic and appeal to the lowest common denominator, the campaign is going to get even more dumbed-down. Thankfully… Well, you see the connection."
Clinton's comments come in the wake of her latest campaign push, which claims that the six men in the race constitute a "pile on" against Clinton, the only woman.

"Don't be preposterous," responded Barack Obama in a press conference. "Besides, six men one on woman is more correctly called a gangbang, not a pile-on."

--

Meanwhile, posterboy Republican douchebag Mitt Romney has launched a new TV ad attacking Clinton for her lack of experience. In the spot, Romney compares Hillary's time in the White House to an internship, saying:
She hasn't run a corner store. She hasn't run a state. She hasn't run a city. She has never run anything. And the idea that she could learn to be president as an internship just doesn't make any sense.
Of course, what does every American voter think when they hear the words "Clinton" and "internship" together in a sentence? Romney actually released a series of bumper stickers to go with the new campaign. They read:

"DO YOU WANT A COCKSUCKER FOR PRESIDENT?"

Which, now that I think about it, has a nice ambiguity to it coming from Romney.

So, come on, Hillary, let's see some of that mature political dialogue in your response to this latest transgression:
"Governor Romney is a very experienced flip-flopper who has taken different positions on nearly every important issue facing the nation," Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.
Seriously? Flip-flopping?

I tell you what, American Presidential candidates, I have an offer for you. I don't care who you are, Republican, Democrat, Huckabee, Kucinich… If there is a single one amongst you who can get to next November without using the word "flip flop", you have my vote, no strings attached. Hell, I'll even vote Cocksucker if he can keep himself and his five bratty boys from saying it.

Because, frankly, "flip-flopping" has so little to do with the practicalities of being President, I don't really care who you think is a flip-flopper or why. I just want to be able to read one news story about the campaign without wanting to slap myself in the face with a flip flop. Deal?

November 02, 2007

November 01, 2007

Two Plus Two Equals Five

Watch on MSNBC: Tasered Student Says He's Sorry
Tasered student says he’s sorry

With his Taser-aided YouTube infamy little more than an electric-shock-destroyed memory, University of Florida student Andrew Meyer appeared on the Today show Thursday with his mother, father, attorney and, of course, the hard-hitting yet boyish guile of Matt Lauer.

And what did the "WHAT DID I DO WRONG?!!", "DON'T TASER ME, BRO!" firebrand have to say for himself?
"I violated the rules of the forum and was disruptive. I now realize that in order to be heard, one must act within the appropriate time, place and manner."
As his attorney looked on approvingly, Meyer explained that he was sorry for his actions, particularly for any ill-repute he may have cast on the University of Florida. The incisive yet handsome Matt Lauer listened with a incredulous disgust he could barely contain behind his well-groomed eyebrows. After establishing that Meyer had written three formal letters of apology (to the University, its President and, in a particularly obsequious move, the Chief of the Campus Police Department that left burn marks on his flesh with their controversial crowd control device), Lauer asked the million dollar question:
"So wait, wait, wait – let me make sure. Were you wrong, or were the police who Tasered you wrong? What's your opinion on that?"
If you listen very closely at this point in the clip, you can hear Meyer's attorney's blood pressure rise. But he needn't have worried. With a grimace and a stutter that only hint at the weeks of psychological conditioning, witness coaching and media training he's doubtless received (oh, and did I mention the Tasering?), Meyer responded from the depths of his freshly de-spined being:
"You know… I think— I think that the police… The police were… acting— They were doing their job, is what they were trying to do. I think that… I'm here to talk about the important issues, not the sensationalist issues, not the tabloid journalism that the media wants to cover about the Taser, about me personally."
Ho, snap, Matt Lauer. I think he just compared you to the sensationalist tabloid journalists.

But wait! I didn't finish that quote! Meyer actually does go on to talk about the wider context and important issues that his Tasering highlights:
"I think it's important that Americans realise that we have an election coming up, and your vote might not count!"
I know, right?! Isn't it awful?!! It's like, people are trying to suppress your voice in a democratic forum! Just not literally. Obviously.

Meyer finishes up:
"You need to realise that there are important issues in this country that aren't being discussed."
Oh, don't worry, Andy. We're quite aware. We watch The Daily Show.

The trenchant yet hunky Lauer attempted to continue his line of questioning, suggesting that perhaps Meyer was merely acting contrite in order to avoid prosecution. This is, of course, a preposterous suggestion, and Matt Lauer should be both ashamed of himself and a dreamboat for implying that the penalties for attempting to participate in a political forum are so intimidating as to quash open and honest debate amongst citizens.

Naturally, Meyer's attorney then Tasered Lauer and the interview ended.

Sigh.

October 28, 2007

Productivity

[Edit: My dad wanted a print resolution version of this, and since the original file was just too low-quality I had to remake it from scratch. I took the opportunity to add in a little extra pun that really should have been there to begin with.

Also, if the comments on this post are anything to go by, the ladies really are forming a line! Sweet!]


In my literature class last night we were discussing Sartre. I was having a little trouble staying focused (shocking, I know), and, I'll be honest, I think pretty much the only thing I got out of the whole class was a stupid doodle that provided the inspiration for this:



Form a line, ladies.

October 26, 2007

October 24, 2007

Ghalimaufry

From Metronews.ca: Why Democracy?

When I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I was waiting to meet someone downtown and was browsing through a copy of Metro I'd picked up on the TTC. They had an interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, which seemed like a pretty big scoop for Metro. Too bad it was freakin' awful.

They only got five questions (I guess Boutros is still pretty busy these days), and these were they:
1. Can terrorism destroy democracy?
Okay, a little buzzwordy, but could provide some interesting insight.
2. Is God democratic?
Hmmm... Getting kind of weird... What's your follow up?
3. Are women more democratic than men?
WHOA! Who's conducting this interview, anyway? Ali G?
4. Can democracy solve climate change?
Phew, okay, seems like we're getting back on track a bit, now...
5. Who would you vote for as President of the World?
Andrew has encountered a fatal error and been forced to close.

I think it is a testament to the fact that Boutros is such a fantastic diplomat that he managed to answer all these asinine questions without once sodomising the interviewer with a dunce hat. I mean, "President of the World"? Why not ask him who should be King of the Galaxy?

In summary: Boutros Boutros-Ghali = good, Metro = bad, God = democratic. Apparently.

October 23, 2007

Indignance

From BBC NEWS | World | South Asia: Monkeys attack Delhi politician
The deputy mayor of the Indian capital Delhi has died a day after being attacked by a horde of wild monkeys…

The city has long struggled to counter its plague of monkeys, which invade government complexes and temples, snatch food and scare passers-by…

One approach has been to train bands of larger, more ferocious langur monkeys to go after the smaller groups of Rhesus macaques.
A species of gorilla are then given machine guns to control the langur monkeys. Meanwhile...

From Newsvine: 6 Elephants Electrocuted in India
Six Asiatic wild elephants were electrocuted as they went berserk after drinking rice beer in India's remote northeast, a wildlife official said Tuesday.

Nearly 40 elephants came to a village on Friday looking for food. Some found beer, which farmers ferment and keep in plastic and tin drums in their huts, said Sunil Kumar, a state wildlife official.

They got drunk, uprooted a utility pole carrying power lines and were electrocuted.
Tragically, a number of pink elephants standing nearby were also killed.

Gosh, India has some pretty hilarious problems, huh? Wild monkeys, drunken elephants… I'm really glad the Western media gives stuff like this an equal amount of coverage to all those boring problems that nobody wants to hear about. You know, like water shortages, human rights abuses, pollution, over-population, or rising inequality? I mean, who really wants to worry about that dull stuff, anyway, when we can read about monkey infestations?

No, no, you're right, I'm being a little unfair. The Western media does publish lots of non-hilarious animal-related stories about India. For instance, they often report on how India's wildly out-of-control globalising economy might lose or gain you money. Also, I believe the cricket is covered every now and then.

And, okay, there are lots of pressing problems in the Western world that are more relevant and of immediate importance to Western readers – but if you are going to publish stories about India every now and then, can't you at least pretend that you care about the people there beyond their ability to entertain you and/or make you richer? Drunken elephants are pretty funny, but if I'm going to read one story about India in a day, I'd still much prefer it to have some substance.

SOMEBODY LISTEN TO ME!

October 19, 2007

October 14, 2007

Blind Leading the Blind

From BBC NEWS | Politics: Cameron sees how US tackles gangs
David Cameron has been examining how Los Angeles deals with the problem of street gangs…

Mr Cameron said the city was trying to deal with similar issues as those faced in the UK.
Yes, I hear the drive-by croquet matches are getting pretty nasty in Windy Bottomsford these days.
Los Angeles has had a major problem with gangs for decades and is one of the crime capitals of the world…

Today, dozens of gangs operate with hundreds of members and police say more then half of all murders in the city are gang-related.

Last year, gang violence rose by 14%.

Mr Cameron said the UK could learn from the authorities in Los Angeles.
I'm sorry, learn what, exactly? How to repeatedly kick itself in the crotch?
CAMERON: Say, we don't have a serious gang problem in the UK. Why don't we make things more like Los freakin' Angeles?

TORY BACKBENCHERS: [general murmurs of assent]

CAMERON: And another thing! I'm going to go to Burma to learn about representational democracy!

LABOUR BACKBENCHERS: [general cries of protest]
Mr Cameron also met with his populist conservative role model, the Terminator.
Mr Cameron said he hoped to emulate the governor.

"My wife said to me: 'How are you going to explain to an American audience what sort of Conservative you are?' I said 'I'll say look at me and think of Arnold Schwarzenegger'."
Cameron added: "And think of William Hague as my non-identical twin brother, Danny DeVito."

Too obscure?

October 12, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CL



Folks, I am just tickled pink to announce the biggest upgrade to CWG since Marx bought a fedora.

If you point your browser towards www.c-w-g.net, you can cop a feel of the new, swankified CWG microsite – it's got Flash, it's got a heap of new guest star bios and, most excitingly, it has a link to the new CWG online store where you can satisfy all your capitalist urges by purchasing a variety of Marxendise.

I don't know about you, but I just peed myself.

October 10, 2007

Can't... Stop... Making... Lolcats...

However, I think I have created the ultimate in self-referential internet meme humour:



Okay, I have a problem.

October 09, 2007

Blast From The Past

You know what I haven't done in a long time? Make ranty fun of a "lifestyle" article from the bowels of the intraweb. To that end, I proudly present a plehtoric pundigrions cherry-popping.

From MSN Lifestyle: 10 reasons it's great to be single
10. Your shoe inventory is nobody's business but your own
Seriously, do you realize how much a full-time partner would complain about your shoe collection?
Oh, come on. Shoes? Really? Why not just write, "10. Crippling consumer debt"? Besides, we live in such heady metrosexual times, most men are only going to complain about your shoe collection because they're jealous that it's bigger than theirs.
9. The only mess in your home is your own mess!
Picking up after a man is a sure way to kill the romance.
Um, how about you don't fucking do it, then? Are we really still at the stage where women are expected to clean up after their patriarchal overlord? I mean, we live in such heady metrosexual times, most men... Oh.
8. Trust us; you'll have peace of mind
...but a poor grasp of colon usage.
7. Any night is girls' night
If you want to get all dolled up and hit the town with your friends... You can do so any night, without having to check in with you-know-who.
Alternatively, just don't date Lord freakin' Voldemort to begin with.
6. You don't have to deal with in-laws
Although, Lord Voldemort was an orphan, so I guess you could really go either way on that one.
5. It's all about you, all the time
You can do what you want, go where you want, eat what you want, wear what you want, sleep in when you want, get up when you want, shop where you want ...
I'm sorry, who are you dating that won't let you do these things in the first place? Job?
4. That big, comfortable bed is ALL yours
Hey, fellas, how is this different from when women are in a relationship, eh?! Eh! Am I right? Gimme some skin! Aw.
3. Birthdays and special occasions will never be forgotten
Because NOBODY will LOVE YOU ENOUGH to even KNOW them IN THE FIRST PLACE.
2. Your entertainment options will always be entertaining to you
We're talking about masturbation, right?
And the number one reason it's great to be single?

1. Independence: That's hot!
Instead of falling into a relationship just because that's what you think you should do, embrace your singlehood and just do it all for yourself.
I would buy this more if the two links at the top of the page under "Related Content" weren't:

(a) "How to find a husband", and
(b) "Asexuality" (as if the only alternative to not being in a relationship is chastity for now and ever more.)

(Although, actually, I guess that has kind of been my experience.)

(Sigh.)

October 07, 2007

Streets Ahead

From CBC.ca: Expert proposes 'naked streets' for Toronto
A new, provocative suggestion for making the streets of Toronto safer for pedestrians: eliminate all street and speed limit signs...

Right now, speed limits, red lights and clearly marked and separated areas for cars and pedestrians are the norm in cities all over the world. But that thinking is "all wrong" according to Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who says it is much safer to build what he calls "naked streets."
Interestingly, this is the first time a Dutch person has ever appeared in a news story alongside the word "naked" without the item having anything to do with actual nudity.

It sounds like an interesting approach. Tell me, Hans Moleman (ahem, sorry... Monderman), what is the insightful piece of cognitive psychology theory behind this suggestion?
Monderman says this scares drivers so much they slow down and move carefully to avoid hitting anyone.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones.

Monderman then excused himself from the interview to go see some actual nudity. Phew!

October 05, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CXLIX



If anyone needs me, I'll be in Canada for the weekend. W00t!

October 04, 2007

Pinker and The Brain

Speaking of missing important cultural events, I was so caught up in the Fiddy-Kanye battle around September 11 this year that something even more inane and trivial passed me by.

Steven Pinker released a new book.

Entitled The Stuff of Thought, it is (*yawn*) another "window into human nature".

Says Publisher's Weekly:
Bestselling Harvard psychology professor Pinker (The Blank Slate) investigates what the words we use tell us about the way we think. Language, he concludes, reflects our brain structure, which itself is innate. Similarly, the way we talk about things is rooted in, but not identical to, physical reality.
Or, put another way:
Bestselling Harvard psychology professor Pinker (The Blank Slate) investigates what the Words and Rules we use tell us about How The Mind Works. The Language Instinct, he concludes, reflects our brain structure, which is not a Blank Slate. Similarly, Overregularization in Language Acquisition (Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development), physical reality.
On a more meta note, I find the Pinker vendetta that this blog has developed fairly bemusing. Back in 2002, I read The Language Instinct for a project I was working on at Emerson. I even met and interviewed Steven Pinker for it (this was just as the Blank Slate was coming out so he wasn't quite as much of a celebrity yet). He seemed like a smart guy and I bought Blank Slate and mostly enjoyed it.

About the same time, Alison was starting at McGill and Pinker began to turn up all over the place on her reading lists. We both found it kind of funny that he was so ubiquitous and so this faux frustration developed whenever we saw his name anywhere (we were a pretty cool couple). As we both did more social science we found his sweeping rejection of a lot of it increasingly obnoxious, but it was still all part of the same playful animosity, which eventually became enshrined in the Pinker character in CWG.

Then, in true labelling theory style (see, social science isn't all bullshit), my anti-Pinkerism came to be seen as a key part of my blog persona, so I began to feel compelled to pound on him whenever the opportunity arose. Now, although I never had anything personal against Pinker (he was actually pretty nice to me when we met), the vendetta has taken on a life of its own and I can't really stop. But I feel like anyone stumbling on to this site will just assume I have an irrational hatred of him for no reason, which I really don't. I just think it's funny to pretend I do.

Psyche! He's a total douchebag.

Lolcrats

I don't know how on earth I managed to remain oblivious to the existence of Lolcats until last week, but now that I've discovered them, I have to say: they are a beautifully pure comic form. (i.e. They are freakin' hilarious.)

I will now jump on the bandwagon by using the medium to comment on current American politics.









Ah, the internet.

October 03, 2007

Benefits of a Canadian Education, #216

Although Emerson itself prohibits intoxication of any kind while on campus, that can't stop its grad students from going to the bar directly across the street from campus to get boozed up – and, indeed, it doesn't.

The Tam is a real dive, full of the smell of disinfectant and authentic American bar paraphernalia (neon Bud signs, neon Pats signs, bouncers with thick New England accents). There are plenty of other bars around Emerson that are plainly nicer, but the charm of the Tam lies, I think, in its cheapness ($2.50 a beer!) and the fact that you can be almost guaranteed to find someone you know there. Also, on Tuesday nights at 9pm, they have a Trivia night.

Every week the Writing program fields a team called "Grandma's Hot Friends", which starts off with a core of five or six people but subsumes any straggling students who walk in after class finishes at 9:45pm, so it often ends up being ten or fifteen. Normally I would be one of the stragglers, but last night my instructor let us out early so I persuaded a handful of my classmates to form a splinter group. Thus was born "The Evil Lincolns," much to the horror and affront of GHF.

The night started off well – we swept the first round with a perfect score, tying for the lead and beating out GHF. Suddenly they were looking over at us with contempt in their eyes. This was serious business. At first our defection was just a bit of fun, but now we solemnly realised that anything other than victory over GHF would irreparably brand us as overzealous upstarts.

Round two saw our first misstep. The question was, "On which river does Baghdad lie?" I immediately said the Tigris, but the rest of the group were unanimous that the answer was the Euphrates and I bowed to the majority (since I was only 90% certain). What folly!

One interesting aspect of this trivia night (something I've never seen in a trivia night before) is that you may bid how many points you want to win for a correct answer. Each round has four questions (plus a bonus question) and four potential bids (one, three, five or seven points); you get to use each bid once, so the strategy lies in bidding high on the questions you're sure of and saving the low bids for guesses.

Well, so seductive was the sway of the majority, we wasted our seven-pointer on the Euphrates, which was, of course, wrong. Even worse, GHF let out a cheer as the correct answer was read out. We were sick with defeat. These were indeed Tigris Tam Ills.

This started us in a downward spiral and by the final round were languishing in fifth place, nearly forty points behind GHF. Then came the final question. Much like Final Jeopardy, the final round can make or break your fortunes: you may bid any even number of points between two and twenty, but a wrong answer will lose you half your bid, so there's a potential thirty point swing to be had. We could never catch up to GHF, but we waited for the question with baited breath: at the very least we could catapult ourselves into a winning position (prizes are awarded to first, second, third and fourth places).

Our bid – twenty, naturally – was already marked on the answer sheet as the question was read out:

"Which Canadian province was the last to join the confederation, in 1949?"

Suddenly all eyes were on me. These were Americans, bear in mind; they knew nothing about Canada. As someone who had spent several years there, I was their only hope. I had a strange inkling that it was one of the eastern provinces, and I started to list them in my head. Nova Scotia... Prince Edward Island... New Brunswick...

Newfoundland.

If you had asked me straight up when Newfoundland had joined the confederation I would have looked at you with a blank stare, but for some reason 1949 felt linked to Newfoundland in my head (I will refrain from making a joke about it being the cumulative IQ of the island's population, as my ex-editor has often told me off for Newfie-bashing). We wrote it down and took the answer sheet to the compere.

Minutes passed as he tallied the final scores.

Finally he began to announce the final, winning positions. Our fingers ached from several minutes of being crossed.

We weren't in fourth.

We weren't in third.

But then: "In second place, the only team to get the final question right" – see, I wasn't just being judgemental when I said Americans know nothing about Canada – "The Evil Lincolns!"

Much cheering and happiness ensued. We hadn't managed to beat GHF, but in our triumphant finale we had narrowed their lead to just a few points and shown ourselves to be truly Trivial adversaries. They graciously applauded our efforts as we accepted our prize of twenty dollars. (They won thirty, but whereas our team had only five members theirs, by this point, had almost fifteen – so who were the real winners?)

Now, to work!

October 02, 2007

Burmadness

From Newsvine: Stallone and Crew Saw Myanmar Aftermath
LOS ANGELES — Sylvester Stallone says he and his "Rambo" sequel movie crew recently witnessed the human toll of unspeakable atrocities while filming along the Myanmar border.
Coincidentally, the people living along the Myanmar border said the same thing about the film crew.
"This is a hellhole beyond your wildest dreams," Stallone said. "All the trails are mined. The only way into Burma is up the river."
Ah, yes, good ol' Shit Creek, gateway to Burma for over fifty years.

Of course, Burma has more problems than just Sylvester Stallone, these days. Between its seditious monks, bat-shit insane junta leaders, military-enforced curfews, locked up democratic leaders and, worst of all (*shudder*), UN peacekeeping efforts, the country ain't exactly the safest place to visit. At the moment, the situation is so bad that the junta is scrambling to do some PR damage control. Notes the Beeb:
The military junta has tried to block news of the unrest filtering out. Troops are stopping young men on the streets and in cars, searching for cameras that may be used to smuggle out images.
Still, if you happen to be standing around next to a dead protester in Rangoon...
Are you in the area? Are you affected by the events in Burma? […]

You can send your pictures and moving footage to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to + 44 (0) 7725 100 100

When taking photos or filming please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.
Right, okay, check. Let me just get out my Cloak of Blissful Unawareness... Gee, it's a good thing I'm not in Burma, eh!?

I always preferred Myanmar, anyway.

September 30, 2007

Log Blog

One of the best things (oh, who am I kidding? After I stopped writing for them, the best thing) about Emerson's student newspaper is its 'Public Safety Log'. As an undergraduate, my dorm mates and I would delight in crowding around the week's Berkeley Beacon to read about the exploits of the campus police and, I am thrilled to announce that it has not decreased in quality by even one iota since the heady days of my youth.
Thursday, Sept. 20

• Police responded to a call from a security guard at 10 Boylston Pl. who said a young man entered the building holding his crotch. In lieu of a publicly available restroom, the man exposed his penis and urinated into a wastebasket. The man fled, and was not apprehended. Facilities management was called to sanitize the wastebasket.
Now, I'm no detective, but I think this quote from a few pages later, in a story about Emerson's scandalous gender neutral bathrooms, might provide a valuable clue:
The reaction from Emerson students, however, has been less vitriolic. Sophomore acting major Michael McNamara said he welcomes the unobtrusive change.

"If it makes some students more comfortable then I'm all for it," he said. "But I'd pee anywhere."
Back to the log.
Friday, Sept. 21

• Police responded to a call from a Resident Assistant in the Courtyard by Marriot Tremont Hotel who found distasteful material on a student's door. Officers arrived to find three phalli posted. The phalli were removed without incident.
How does one "post" a phallus? Is it like a Luther at Wittenberg sort of thing?

And now, to homework.

September 28, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CXLVIII



I know my blogging's been pretty sparse lately. It's partly because grad school's been keeping me busy (and I have less need for an outlet for my writing now that I have to write for school EVERY FREAKIN' DAY), but it's also because I've been putting a lot of my spare time into another project that will soon be wrapped up. After that I'll hopefully have time to rant a little more.

September 25, 2007

Just What The World Needs...

From Newsvine: State Department Starts 'Dipnote' Blog

A "dipnote", the blog sagely explains, is hip diplomat jargon for a "diplomatic note" – a formal communication between diplomats. It is certainly not an ill-conceived and easily-ridiculed name for a website showcasing the voice of US diplomacy, thanks to its (peculiarly apt) similarity to another word meaning "inept bonehead".

The blog is the brainchild of State Department employee Sean McCormack, "who came up with the idea for a blog during a recent trip to California's Silicon Valley with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice." I'm glad they weren't visiting New Jersey.
MCCORMACK: Condie?

RICE: Yes, Sean?

MCCORMACK: Being here, with you, in Hoboken... It makes me think...

RICE: Yes, Sean?

MCCORMACK: We should punch everyone in the world in the face.
I await the transferral of all diplomatic functions to Web 2.0. I'm pretty sure we could put the whole Middle East conflict thing to bed with a good Wall-to-Wall.

September 23, 2007

Moment of Silence

From Newsvine: Marcel Marceau, Famed French Mime, Dies
PARIS — Marcel Marceau, whose lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, died Saturday. He was 84…
Marceau will be buried alongside other French cultural dignitaries in Paris's famous Père-Lachaise cemetery, inside an invisible coffin with no lid.

September 21, 2007

September 20, 2007

Technical Terms

Seen on Newsvine:



Presumably that leading paragraph should actually read, in part:
The new Gammy-ray Large Area Space Telethingummy to be launched next spring doesn't see visible light like our eyes, but gammy rays, the most energetic photomatons in the electromagnetic spectrumabob.
Ahem.

September 19, 2007

Should've Pict On Someone Their Own Size

After the cultish following that emerged around John "Dinnae Fuck Wi' Glasgow" Smeaton earlier this year, Scotland has increasingly been revealed as a hotbed of vigilante justice. Who knew?

First, just a few weeks after the attack on Glasgow Airport, was the story of Mohammed Afzah, a former bodyguard to the Pakistani Prime Minister who now, naturally, runs a corner store in Edinburgh.
A knife-wielding robber … ran into the Edinburgh shop owned by Mohammed Afzah … and demanded money.

Mr Afzah immediately adopted his martial arts stance and shouted "I'm ready - come on" at his assailant …
The robber swiftly fled, leaving Afzah chuckling triumphantly to the theme from Dragnet.
The suspect is described as being white, about 6ft tall, aged between 30 and 35, with short brown hair and an Edinburgh accent.
Oh no! A white guy with an Edinburgh accent is lurking somewhere in Edinburgh! What's the police line-up going to be, a satellite photograph? A Hearts match? A haystack?

Then there's the story of Helen McAdam, a seventy-one-year-old who single-handedly foiled an armed bank robber back in February.
Mrs McAdam described how she spotted a security guard being held up at gunpoint as he was about to load a cash machine with money.

The guard handed over a cash box containing £19,000.

Mrs McAdam said she lost her temper…

She said: "I tried to hit him with my handbag. I was angry. When I swung it he was away like a shot."

Mrs McAdam then chased Carlin and memorised the make and colour of his getaway car and a partial registration.

She handed the details in to Tesco before carrying on with her shopping…
The supermarket was having a seasonal promotion on cans of whup-ass.
In court Mrs McAdam referred to the security guard who handed over the money box as "a wimp."

… Mrs McAdam was said to be relaxing at a beauty salon for her weekly hair appointment as Carlin was led away to begin his sentence.
Okay, so maybe two incidents doesn't constitute a "hotbed", but seriously, it's like the whole country is slowly becoming an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.

September 14, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CXLVI



You know, this may seem like it's inspired by my FHM rant the other day, but I actually wrote it a week and a half ago. Go figure.

September 13, 2007

Stamp Duty

From Newsvine: Jury Duty Stamp Released
WASHINGTON — A new postage stamp celebrates jury duty as an important way for Americans to serve their community.
The stamp goes on sale on Wednesday, although the Postal Service expects that most Americans will try to find a way around having to buy it until next year.

(And when they do finally get one, they will be able to tell you exactly where you can stick it.)

September 11, 2007

Busted

From The Guardian: Girl, 14, appeared topless in FHM
FHM has been censured by the Press Complaints Commission after it published a topless photo of a 14-year-old girl without her consent.
Quick! Humorous and topical list of things FHM could stand for!

For Hot Minors
Fourteen? Hardly Matters
Felonies Have Materialised
Flustered Her Mother

And, my personal favourite:

For Humbert Magazine

Okay, back to the story.
FHM said it received around 1,200 photos of women either topless or wearing lingerie for publication each week. It added that it was "extremely surprised" to learn that the girl was 14…
Well, I'll bet. I mean, I'm sure they have pretty rigourous procedures to make sure that the anonymous pornography they get sent is above board.
It added that it was "extremely surprised" to learn that the girl was 14 "as she certainly appeared to be older", the PCC reported in its ruling today.
Oh, okay. So in the above sentence "pretty rigourous procedures" should be replaced with "Sweaty Joe".

Folks, I don't mean to get all alarmist conservative on you, but this just seems like it demands more than a slap on the wrists from the Press Complaints Commission. As far as I can tell, although the complaint was upheld, FHM is obliged to do, um, nothing; they've agreed not to republish or syndicate the picture (what saints!), and have offered to write a private letter of apology to the girl (the generosity!), but otherwise face no punishment whatsoever.

This is hardly surprising, as apparently the greatest sanction the PCC can actually enforce on any publication is that
the editor is obliged to publish the Commission’s criticisms in full and with due prominence.
This is much preferable to fines or legal action because, apparently, it means that
editors have to publicise to their staff, rivals and readers that they have broken the rules agreed by all editors. Such a sanction – which calls into question an editor's professional judgement – is a far greater deterrent than fines.
No, see, what calls into question the editor's professional judgement is the fact that he publishes photos of fourteen-year-olds topless – in fact, that he publishes photos of women using an honour system for photo releases:
The magazine had been informed that the complainants’ daughter was in a cohabiting relationship with the person who submitted the photograph and, in those circumstances, no further enquiries about the image were made.
So, basically, all a man needs to do is take a picture of a woman, with or without her consent, then send it in to FHM with a note saying, "It's cool, bro, I'm banging her," and FHM will be happy with that. Doesn't that seem a little, I don't know, MIDDLE AGES to anyone? How does something so flagrantly sexist manage to pass itself off as "harmless fun for the lads"?

I would say I was going to boycott FHM, but considering I don't buy it anyway that wouldn't be much of a statement. Any bright ideas, anyone?

September 09, 2007

Family Fun

I normally try to stay away from posting chat transcripts on my blog – it just seems a little too self-indulgent. But my (twelve-year-old) brother made me so happy on MSN today that I had to share.
Carlo: look at this awesome emoticon
Carlo: :yoshi
A Good Ladd: didn't work
A Good Ladd: I'm using a weird version of msn though
Carlo: oh ok
Carlo: its mario on yoshi
A Good Ladd: I can't believe they have an emoticon for that
A Good Ladd: what emotion is it supposed to represent?
Carlo: uh.....
Carlo: let'sa go?
I wonder which gene controls COMIC GENIUS, because clearly my family has it IN SPADES.

September 08, 2007

Make Way For Pundigrions, Pt. 1

I have now been back in Boston for four full days. They've mostly been spent doing very productive yet boring things, like getting a phone, orientation, convincing the Emerson Health Services people that, in fact, Britain no longer has endemic plague - that sort of thing. Today involved more assembling Ikea furniture than I would normally care to do.

Living here again is a fairly surreal experience. I’m living with Adrienne and most of the same furniture we had in Montreal, but in the mornings, instead of us both getting ready for 10am classes like we used to, she gets up and puts on work clothes and goes to her responsible, adult job, and I dick around reading The New Yorker on the couch for a few hours – it’s a bit like one of those sitcom episodes that shows you some hypothetical future with the characters all doing hilariously ironic things.

It’s also pretty surreal being back at Emerson. In some ways it hasn’t changed at all (every damn thing on campus is still branded purple, right down to the ink in the free pens at orientation), but in some ways it’s a little unrecognizable. They’ve sold up all the Back Bay property they had when I was here, and squeezed the whole campus into a bunch of newly constructed buildings at the Boylston-Tremont corner of the Common.

Most spectacular out of all their new buildings is the Max Mutchnik Campus Center, which is exquisitely Emersonian for two reasons:

1. It’s named after the creator of Will and Grace. (Granted, I don’t think that's the primary reason he got the building named after him, but still.)

2. Its nickname (for all Emerson buildings must have a nickname) is ‘The Max’ which, the astute among you will realise, is the name of the hip student hang-out from Saved By The Bell. I can’t work out if this is intentional or not, but I’m assuming, given how much TV Emerson students watch, that it must be.

The other big new building is the Tufte Performance Center, which is tucked in behind the library. I had occasion to visit Tufte the other day for the very-impressive-sounding Student Services Fair. The name made it out to be a bustling room full of all manner of stalls with helpful staff and enthusiastic volunteers (I had SSMU Activities Night in mind); instead it was corridor in which five tables were set up:

1. Coffee table.
2. The Boston Police Department.
3. The Student Counselling Center.
4. The Writing Assistance and Resource Center.
5. The Office of Off Campus Student Services.

Whereas most of the stalls at least had personnel, OCSS was completely unmanned and consisted (this is not even a little bit of an exaggeration) of a sign saying “Off Campus Student Services” and a map of the subway system. Nothing else. Which is kind of amusing considering Emerson only has enough room to house about a quarter of its students, so most of its students are "Off-Campus".

I think that's enough for now, but rest assured there will be many more pithy Emerson jokes in the coming weeks.

September 07, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CXLV

Technical Difficulties

Sadly, my iMac has been delayed on its way over from Britain, so I can't post Conversations With Greatness today.

HOWEVER, I would like, instead, to draw your attention to the unofficial Conversations With Greatness "fan club", which Google Analytics unearthed for me yesterday.

It's in German, but I had my dad translate it for me, and this is what he came up with:
The first entry on the thread says "It pretty much matches my sense of humour". The second says "Hey, I think the site is really not bad at all,
the Letters to Marx section is really super". The third says (I think):
"Oh man, I'm cracking up :-). Really nice". The fourth says; "Just
beautifully silly".
In my impatience to find out what was being said, though, I ran it through Babelfish as well - and the results were a lot more entertaining:
Thus mean humor triffts to the majority. hey, I find the side genuinly not bad, letter on Marx section is genuinly super. I heard, the Admin is called in rl the Hermes WAR I NOW FINITE OF STARS?!?!?!?!? Oh one, I luggage me away! ; -) Very beautifully. simply only wonderful bloed.
Anyway, clearly whoever said Germans don't have a sense of humour was way off.

September 05, 2007

Plane Rude

Between packing, feeling gross, and wanting to spend as much time with people as possible before I left Edinburgh, I haven’t had much sleep the last week (or, hell, the last month, really). So when I got on my flight to Boston yesterday I fell more or less immediately into a beautiful slumber. For about half an hour.

Then, I was suddenly awoken by somebody shaking me by the shoulder. Groggily, I opened my eyes to find the guy sitting in front of me turned around and with his eyes fixed on me.

"Your knee was digging into my back," he said, with a look that seemed to express both irritation and an attempt at helpfulness at the same time.

Now, if I had been more awake and slightly less apologetic by nature, I would have said something along the lines of: "Yeah, well your fucking chair is crushing my legs – welcome to commercial aviation. I hope you're not expecting a gourmet lunch."

Of course, what I actually said was, "Nurgghhh? Oh. Sorry."

He looked expectantly at me for a few seconds, like I was supposed to say something else. ("May I please amputate my legs and pummel myself with them for the rest of the flight as bleakly ironic penance for my horrendous behaviour, sir?" perhaps?) When I continued to look at him blankly, though, he huffed, turned back around, and reclined his seat as far back as it would go. Which I think we can all agree was a stupendously mature thing to do – so naturally, I responded by calling the flight attendant and telling her he was trying to set his shoes on fire.

--

Adrienne has done an amazing job of setting up the place here, and I would like to issue her with a giant, blog-based hug, in addition to all the gratitude she’ll be getting from me in person. You're awesome, dear.

September 01, 2007

Show Off

The Witching Hour. This year was The Witching Hour's third year at the Underbelly, and, seeing it for the first time, I can see why they keep coming back. The basic premise is that the host (this year the extremely funny Steven Harvey) makes a few yuks as an intro, riffing on horror cliches and poking fun at the venue and audience. Then it all gets a little more theatrical and we're told that our car has broken down and we've taken refuge in an old mansion for the night. Cue a cavalcade of celebrity guests (different every night) to tell ghost stories, intercut with Harvey returning to add a few of his own. It's all done between 11pm and midnight, roughly, so the crowd is at that happy level of drunk and it all just comes across as good fun.

Then (and this is why I understand their preference for the Underbelly) they cut all the lights and, being as we're in an underground cave (famed for being haunted) we're plunged into complete darkness. Harvey then suddenly drops all pretence of stand-up comedy or light-hearted storytelling and proceeds to scare the absolute liquid crap out of the audience for about five minutes solid. It was exquisitely timed and carried out, and I can honestly report that not a single member of the audience (including all the big butch men) left without an anxious grimace on their face. Really, really excellent. Five pundigrions.

Ola Onabule. A British soul sensation whose catalogue blurb lists as a dubious honour his having been the only musician invited to perform at the Spice-Beckham wedding. Onabule takes the stage with a seven-piece band and a large stack of confidence, and subsequently belts out song after song of slick jazz/funk/soul ditties, pausing every now and then for some tiresome London banter with the crowd. The band was technically proficient and Onabule's voice a treat, but the songs (like so many contemporary soul/funk acts) seemed to all blend into one, fairly limited bassy sound after a while, and the end result was pleasant but hardly memorable. Three pundigrions.

Craig Campbell. Craig's a Canadian comic from out West who some of you may know as Ed the Sock's co-host on Ed's Night Party. He has a very no-nonsense, Canadian sense of humour, and a keen sense of timing and of the ridiculous. He spends the first ten minutes or so of the act ad libbing banter with the audience, which I have to say is one of the most impressive things I saw all Fringe. One of the women in the audience was a fish biologist and, boy, did he go with it! He did fish biology jokes for a full two minutes, and they were funny and, I presume, pretty unprepared. The rest of his material, too, came across as spontaneous and energetic, and the show was entertaining from start to finish. Favourite line: "I love the way Scottish people party: 'Let's drink til one of us dies... And then kick him and call him queer'." Five pundigrions.

Aeneas Faversham Returns. A Victorian sketch show from some of the country's best comedy performers, The Penny Dreadfuls. Most of them are ex-Improverts (the main Edinburgh improv troupe), now based in London where they do a variety of comedy shows year round. Aeneas Faversham was their show last year and marked the first year they tried the 'Victorian' thing; basically, they all wear vests, long black coats, and cravats for the whole show, and most of the sketches have a sort of old-timey theme/content to them. I think most of them would actually work fine as 'straight' sketches, too, but the gusto with which the performers deliver their lines in their booming RP accents really makes it work.

They were the sweethearts of the Underbelly this year, selling out every night but two, and it was well-deserved. The material is sharp and the performances are convincing, and they have a couple of sketches in which the whimsy is so well-tuned you'd have a hard time not cracking a smile. A couple of the bits are slightly hit-and-miss, though, and frankly they would have done well to replace the weaker new sketches with some of the real zingers from last year. Still, a healthy four pundigrions from me.

Terry Saunders: Missed Connections. A hint to all Fringe performers: if you have an important critic in one night, get your tech to propose to you at the end of the show, and you're pretty much guaranteed a good review. Terry Saunders does a sweetly poignant show about love, fear and taking chances, but mostly what I remember is when his girlfriend/tech hijacked his slideshow in the last two minutes and inserted a few extra words along the lines of "Let's get married." The venue, which was packed to the rafters (mostly with venue staff who knew what was coming) burst into joyous tears as the unassuming Saunders stood, gobsmacked, in the spotlight, nodding and accepting from his thick daze. I think the show was pretty good, too, though. Four pundigrions.

James Dowdeswell: Wine. Dowdeswell bills his show as an hour of humorous discussion and stories about wine, which it sort of is, but in a kind of disappointing way. Mostly the wine thread is used as a jumping board into vaguely related tangents on other topics, which I think would have been okay, but he was too scared to really pounce on his punchlines - so the stand-uppy style fell a little flat. What worked best was when he was taking us through how to taste a glass of wine, but he seemed too much like a nervous kid at show and tell to really achieve the warm authority that the show demanded. A nice idea, but let down by its production. Three pundigrions.

--

Thus ends my Fringe reviews. In all I was pretty pleased with the quality of shows this year; my reviews have been overwhelmingly positive rather than overwhelmingly negative, which I think says something about the seriousness with which many acts take the Fringe now. Long may it continue.

Anyway, I'm moving to Boston in two days, and should really get packing. As usual, there will be something of a blog lull over the next little while as I get settled, but CWG will appear on Friday if nothing else.