December 29, 2008

Questionable Marketing Material of the Day

In the pile of mail that came through my building's communal mail slot today:
[Picture of disrobing woman]

[NEIGHBOUR'S NAME HERE IN BLOCK CAPITALS],

You've been selected to enjoy PLAYBOY for under $1 an issue, our absolute lowest price! And get a FREE DVD!
Oh boy! I bet my neighbour is just tickled pink that the rest of the building knows he likes to tickle his pink! I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that publicly announcing someone's penchant for pornography is probably the best way to guarantee that he or she won't send you any further money.

The skeeziest thing is that all you need to do to start the subscription is check a box and return a detachable second postcard (which already has his full name and address printed on it), and they'll bill you later. So anybody could just take this thing and get the guy his free Nude Celebrities DVD sent out without his ever knowing why. Doesn't that strike anybody else as, I don't know, slightly irresponsible?

That's not to say I won't do it though. Heh.

December 28, 2008

Border Troll

Drove back from Toronto today, and had the following, slightly bewildering conversation with the nice man at the U.S. border:
HIM: Why are you driving a rental car? Where's your vehicle?

ME: Um... I don't have one.

HIM: [raises eyebrows] You don't own a vehicle?

ME: I mean, I have a desk chair with wheels, does that count?

HIM: It's because of people like you that the American auto industry is in such trouble.
Those last two lines may not have actually happened. I think this is closer to the truth:
HIM: [raises eyebrows] You don't own a vehicle?

ME: No.

HIM: Do you have a driver's license?

ME: [reaching for wallet] Uh, yes, right here.

HIM: [dismissive wave] Oh, I don't need to see it.

ME: Um... Okay.

HIM: How old are you?

ME: Twenty-five.

HIM: Just made it in time — they won't let you rent a vehicle if you're under twenty-five, right?

ME: I — Well... No, they won't.

HIM: Okay, you're free to go.

ME: Thanks... I think.
Welcome to America — where not owning a car is terrifying and confusing.

December 26, 2008

December 24, 2008

New Features

For a while now Blogger has been adding some useful features that I've wanted to include here, but they're mainly supported only through the Layout system rather than the Template system that I've long been using. The differences are mainly under-the-hood — but I've resisted switching to Layouts because I don't understand the coding as well, and so can't really control the way the page looks as competently.

Anyway, it got to the point where the benefits of the features I wanted to add outweighed the design problems they were going to cause me, so I decided to make the move. That's the reason things look a little different now (I've had to doctor an existing Blogger Layout rather than use my own), but on the bright side there are now a few extra bells and whistles for readers:

1. Inline feeds. The "Me, Elsewhere" section of the sidebar now links directly into the RSS feeds for the other blogs where I write. That means that instead of a simple link, the sidebar now displays a snippet of the most recent post I've written for each site.

2. Post labels. The new "Preoccupations" section of the sidebar provides links to thematic pages of posts. So, for instance, if you want to see all the posts I make that prominently feature puns, you can just hit the "Puns" link and it will display only those. This part is still a little buggy as I've had to retroactively tag posts, and I don't have much patience for the process — but moving forward this will provide a nice way to let readers follow only what they want to.

3. Blogroll. The blogroll now displays only the five most recently updated sites by default, along with the title of the most recent post and how long ago it was published (you can still see the entire list by clicking "Show All"). This reduces some of the clutter on the page and keeps only the most relevant information upfront. It also stops me from having to tinker with the blogroll manually — if someone stops writing, they'll just drop off the front page automatically.

4. Archives. Archives are now sub-divided into year/month drop-down menus, rather than the unwieldy list of twenty or thirty links it once was.

5. Feeds. There are now more options for syndicating the blog. Most importantly, the default feed address has changed, so please update your RSS readers!

As usual, if you notice any problems with the redesign, let me know. And please feel free to suggest Preoccupation categories for future inclusion.

And of course: Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2008

Off-Colour Thought For The Day

This must be a great time of year for teenage masturbators. Every other month, frantic yells of "DON'T COME IN!" from behind closed bedroom doors are a cause for suspicion. But in December, whenever a parent enters their pimply-faced darling's room and is met with a retreat from having just hidden something under the bed, they'll just think: "Aw, Billy must have been wrapping my Christmas present. How sweet!"

Of course, the cat'll be kind of out of the bag when this happens four times in one week and then all there is under the tree is a greetings card with a gift voucher to Marks & Spencer inside. But still.

December 20, 2008

For The Record

Dedicated readers will know that I have a long-standing annual tradition of whining on my blog about how crappy my birthday has been. For instance, in December 20, 2005:
Fuck it all to hell, it's my birthday, and it's been pretty shitty so far, and I will bitch and moan if I damn well want.
Then, December 2006, I didn't even have a birthday, really, because I was in transit to Australia – so I left London on December 19 and arrived in Sydney on December 21. And last year:
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.
This year, though, I am happy to say that I have had one of the most enjoyable birthdays in recent memory. Dinner and drinks with friends last night, and today a combination of coffeecake, lounging around, shopping, and well-wishes. Huzzah!

Be sure to tune in next December 20 for a rousing return to "I Hate My Life And Everything In It."

December 19, 2008

December 17, 2008

Don't Tread On Me

In the past week I've been hit by two bikes.

Now, obviously, if I had to chose one form of transportation to be hit by twice in one week, I'd probably pick bicycle over pretty much anything else (though hot air balloon is a surreal enough image that I might be swayed that way, too). But really, I'd rather not be hit by any form of transportation, ever, so let me say this to all Boston cyclists:

Why don't you learn how to ride a fucking bike, already, huh?

Specifically, why don't you get it through your thick, rarely-helmet-clad skulls that when you are on a bicycle you CEASE TO BE A PEDESTRIAN! It is therefore highly inappropriate for you ride on sidewalks, particularly if you're in the habit of taking corners at twenty kilometres an hour without looking around for potential collisions or using a bell.

And, once you're on the street, where you belong, you actually have to (this'll be tough to grasp, I'm sure) OBEY THE RULES OF THE ROAD! That means you have to STOP at pedestrian crossings, ESPECIALLY when there are witty and attractive creative writing grad students using them as you pass.

And finally, take off those stupid lycra shorts. You look ridiculous.

Hmph.

December 14, 2008

The Mighty Ducks

From BBC News: Shoes thrown at Bush on Iraq trip
A surprise visit by US President George Bush to Iraq has been overshadowed by an incident in which two shoes were thrown at him during a news conference. . . .

In the middle of the news conference with Mr Maliki, [an Iraqi television journalist] stood up and shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," before hurling a shoe at Mr Bush which narrowly missed him.
"This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog"? Since when was Randy Jackson an Iraqi television journalist?

Rather than comment extensively on this story, which I'm sure several million other bloggers will be taking care of, I will now provide you with a series of shoe-related puns — because I know stupid wordplay is the only reason most of my readers keep coming back:

What a shocker — he even told the security guy he was planning to attack Bush, and they STILETTO him in!

I guess Iraq is just ready to give Bush the BOOT!

Bush told reporters he was disappointed at the Iraqi journalist's display of haTREAD!

Maybe the guy was trying to perSUEDE Bush that the Iraq invasion was a mistake!

This sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable — the Iraqi press corps really need to TOE the line!

After ducking the shoe, Bush just shook his head at the journalist and said, "MULE regret this!"

It's weird that Bush got a shoe thrown at him; I thought Kerry was the FLIP-FLOPper!

And...

After the attack, Bush said he was appalled at the journalist's INSOLEnce!

Wah-wah.

December 12, 2008

December 11, 2008

Unfortunate Headline of the Day



No comment necessary.

December 10, 2008

Babelfish Poetry, Part II

A continuing series of poems written by me, A. Ladd, and the Babelfish translation engine.
"To Other Tables"

It was born:in Peter.
Formation: high philological
Creation: stories, article.
Which was on the table: boiled potato, fried chanterelles, fresh-salted cucumbers,lettuce, black bread.
Thank you.

December 07, 2008

Plus Ça Change...

When I first started blogging (a little over five years ago now!), my seventh ever post was about an experience I had at a breakfast place in Beacon Hill called The Paramount. They have an odd system there, where you go in, immediately get in line, give your order directly to a short-order cook, and then wait while he cooks it right there in front of you. Only once you have your food, fresh off the griddle, do you pay and find a table.

Anyway, they've had the same cooks there ever since I found it six years ago, and every time I go in I'm in constant awe of what they do. Without ever writing anything down, they manage to juggle up to ten or fifteen orders at a time and always end up getting the right thing to the right person within four or five minutes. They also manage to do this without ever flinging hot egg in their irritating customers' faces, which may be the more impressive feat.

See, being in Beacon Hill, their clientele is made up largely of insufferable upper-class douchebags who have more money than manners, and because, day to day, they manage to insulate themselves almost entirely from the working class, they have no idea how to act appropriately when they are forced to interact with them. This means that, because these particular short-order cooks are Hispanic, anybody who ever took a bit of high school Spanish (or watched Univision once "for the cultural experience") attempts to converse with them in Spanish. Here's what I had to say in 2003:
Hey! I have news for you, Mr Linguistic Genius! Not only will a short order cook be perfectly aware of the words 'two' and 'please', but a native speaker of Spanish is not going to be impressed by your knowledge of the words 'dos' and 'por favor'. Maybe if you knew the Spanish word for omelette, or, you know, any Spanish word that you couldn't pick up from watching Sesame Street, he would have been a little impressed, but frankly I doubt it. If a Spanish person came up to you and said 'Two omelettes please', I don't think you'd be too astounded (probably just a little confused).
I'd like to reiterate that sentiment now. Because yesterday when I went to the Paramount, the guy in front of me said:

"¿Cómo estás, amigo?"

And then continued to pepper his order with such masterful linguistic flourishes as "grazias", "bien," and, when three minutes had elapsed without food being placed in front of him, "¿Dónde está los huevos, hombre?" (n.b. *I* realise that it should be "¿Dónde están los huevos?", but Dingbat McRicherson apparently did not. And "hombre"? Don't even get me started.)

So, listen up, would-be Friends Of The Worker: I know you live in Beacon Hill, which means you probably voted Democrat and think that this makes you a socialist (and also, this year, that you are entirely un-racist). But whatever the hell it is you think you're doing by speaking your mangled, inaccurate Spanish to the guy cooking your omelette for minimum wage, it's not impressing anyone. In fact, it's about the most irritating fucking thing that anyone can do during a social interaction as seemingly innocuous as ordering breakfast. So do us all a favour and save it for your maid.

December 05, 2008

December 03, 2008

It's Behind You!

No new writing here today, I'm afraid. But I do have a new post over at Vernacular, and, even more exciting...

My first (allegedly) printworthy rant! Head on over to the Weekly Dig and check out my piece about how the internet is ruining our lives.

(Side note: an unexpected pleasure of being published elsewhere is that I can now blame any questionable word choice or punctuation on the copyeditors, no matter how patently unreasonable that is.)

November 30, 2008

Feeling Superior In Harvard Yard

As is my wont, these days, I wandered down to Harvard Square this afternoon for coffee and the discussion of writing. On my way there, a furrenner accosted me:

HIM: Excuse me, 'ow do I get to zee university?

ME: Um... Which university? [Because, you know, there are a couple in Boston, even in the relatively compact environs of lower Cambridge: Harvard, Lesley, Radcliffe...]

HIM: You know, 'Arvard University. Zee main building.

ME: Well... Harvard has about thirty different buildings. Is there one in particular you're trying to get to?

HIM: I don't know. Maybe zee law school?

ME: That's on the other side of the river.

HIM: Ah. Where is zee subway, then?

I mean, it seemed like he was just a tourist looking to "see" Harvard, so I directed him to the main yard — but on a Sunday afternoon, what was he even expecting at "the main building" anyway? A guided tour? Tea and scones? Bloody Europeans.

--

Now, just so you don't think I'm an insufferable snob who makes fun only of clueless tourists:

On my way home, I stopped in at the Harvard Coop to look for a book I needed by an Egyptian author named Nawal el Saadawi.

Pop quiz, part one: how does one correctly alphabetize Arabic names with particles like "el" and "al"?

(Answer: you ignore them; they're the equivalent of "the".)

Pop quiz, part two: where did the bookstore of the *cough* most prestigious university in the world file the work of Nawal el Saadawi?

(Answer: under "E". And not even, for God's sake, between "El A___" and "El Z___", but between "Ellis" and "Elterman". Oh dear.)

November 28, 2008

November 26, 2008

Pings To Do On A Rainy Day...

I've recently been having some real kooky problems with my MacBook's wireless connection, and though I have nothing really very constructive or interesting to say on the matter, I have just spent close to three hours dicking around trying to fix it and feel like a rant. And if blogs aren't good for esoteric, ill-conceived rants, well then what the hell do I have a blog for in the first place?

It all started maybe a week or so ago — my MacBook suddenly just stopped connecting to my Airport router while in the living room. This was mighty perplexing, as my Airport router is in the living room, and my iMac next door connects just fine.

Then, on Monday, I came down with what I think was food poisoning, and spent the entire day prostrate on the couch. During this time I realised that my MacBook will connect while in the living room, but only if it's at a ninety-degree angle to the router. My technical side found this extremely frustrating because, well, it's COMPLETELY FUCKING IRRATIONAL, and I resolved that, as soon as I had my strength back, I'd get to the bottom of the issue.

Well, the bottom of the issue seems to be that some combination of MacBook/Leopard just has inherent Airport problems that Apple is unwilling to address officially (Google it if you don't believe me — the New York school board recently put a moratorium on all new MacBook purchases until unidentified wireless issues are sorted out). Allow me to illustrate with a ping summary that probably only Vinny and Dustin will appreciate:

Average ping time, iMac to Airport (via wireless): 0.900 ms
Average ping time, MacBook to Airport (via ethernet): 0.600 ms
Average ping time, MacBook to Airport (via wireless): anywhere from 1.400 ms to 1300.000 ms

The weirdest thing is that it's not a problem with the MacBook's wireless per se, as it connects just fine to the network at Emerson. That means it's a proprietary problem affecting communication between flagship Apple product #1 (MacBook) and flagship Apple product #2 (Airport) — not really what you expect from the Justin Long guys. But then, they're beginning to get a bit feckless with their newfound popularity, so I suppose we should all get used to it. Sigh...

November 21, 2008

November 20, 2008

Puerility

From BBC NEWS | Scotland and Times Online: Beavers arrive for spring release

Please now enjoy a series of amusing double entendres:
Iain Valentine, from the Royal Zoological Society, said the captures had been a "complicated process". . . .

"[One] complication was that beavers are primarily active at night."
POW!
Simon Jones, from the Scottish Beaver Trial, said: . . . "Beavers hold the potential to create new wetland habitats which in turn increases the appeal to other native species."
WHAM!
[He continued:]"We are excited to get the trial underway and really see what benefits beavers can bring to Scotland."
KAPLOOEY!
Simon Jones, the project manager of the Scottish Beaver Trial, said that evidence from mainland Europe showed that the animals had not damaged farming, forestry or fishing interests. “If you held a straw poll of European farmers they would look at you in bemusement if you held up beavers as some kind of economic threat,” he said.
ZORPAYA!
The young salmon are not at risk from the beavers, which are herbivores, but once they were trapped in the shallows, they could fall prey to sawbilled birds such as mergansers cormorants . . . .
. . . and? . . .
. . . and shags
SPLABANGO!

November 16, 2008

Okay, Okay, Okay!

From AOL News: Teen Wins Lawsuit Against KKK Members
[Plaintiff Jordan] Gruver, backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed the personal injury lawsuit last year seeking up to $6 million in damages from the Imperial Klans of America and two of its leaders — Edwards and "Grant Titan" Jarred R. Hensley. . . .

The suit alleged that Edwards, Hensley, and the Imperial Klans of America as a whole incited its members to use violence against minorities.
Gruver also filed a related suit against bears, alleging that they shit in the woods.

Now, let me be clear, I fully support any and all attempts to put an end to the Klan in all its forms — I'm just a little flabbergasted by the content of this lawsuit:
[Gruver] was severely beaten by members of a Ku Klux Klan group because they mistakenly thought he was an illegal Latino immigrant . . .

The jury found that the Imperial Klans of America and its founder wrongfully targeted 16-year-old [Gruver], an American citizen of Panamanian and Native-American descent.
So what the complaint boils down to is not that the Klan targets minorities, but that they mistakenly targeted Gruver? WTF?!
According to testimony, three members of the Klan group confronted Gruver in July 2006 during a recruiting mission at the Meade County Fair in Brandenberg, Kentucky. They taunted him with ethnic slurs — inaccurate ones — spat on him and doused him with alcohol.
Whoa, whoa, whoa: inaccurate slurs?! You have gone too far this time, white supremacists!

The sad thing is, even though several of Gruver's assailants have also been through criminal proceedings, they weren't charged with hate crimes. Because they were hating on him inaccurately, I guess.

Okay, AOL News, round things off with something hilarious:
At an earlier court deposition, Edwards demonstrated his contempt for [the lawsuit] by tattooing a profane reference to it on his freshly shaved head.
Lovely.

November 14, 2008

November 11, 2008

Barack Fact Attack

From The Telegraph: Barack Obama: The 50 facts you might not know

I'm not quite sure why the Telegraph is reporting these now, but their fifty surreal Obama minutiae give Chuck Norris facts a run for their money.

For instance, perhaps all we starry-eyed liberals dismissed the whole Marxist accusation a little too quickly:
He wears $1,500 (£952) Hart Schaffner MARX suits (emphasis mine)
He's also left-handed, says the Telegraph, much like the German troublemaker — to say nothing about what left-handedness suggests about a person's (ahem) political leanings.

And the terrorist thing might not have been so far off, either; in college, Obama's nickname was "The O'Bomber", allegedly because of his skill on the basketball court. And speaking of basketball courts, did you know Obama plans to install one in the White House grounds? I'm pretty sure that's not what the founding fathers intended — as I'm sure you all know, Clinton is the only other president who has ever dribbled in the White House.

For those of you worried about Obama's manliness, rest assured:
He can bench press an impressive 200lbs
Although,
He visited Wokingham, Berkshire, in 1996 for the stag party of his half-sister's fiancé, but left when a stripper arrived
And,
He applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar while at Harvard but was rejected by the all-female committee.
Those with Oriental superstitions might be alarmed at the preponderance of the number four in Obama's life:
He repaid his student loan only four years ago after signing his book deal

His house in Chicago has four fire places . . .

He owns four identical pairs of black size 11 shoes
And
He and Michelle made $4.2 million (£2.7 million) last year
I think, though, my favourite Obama fact is that he is a two-time Grammy winner — no WONDER he snatched the election!

November 10, 2008

It's the Way He Would Have Wanted It

From Netscape and BBC News: Monks Brawl at Jerusalem Holy Site

See, I'm glad the election is finally over, because it means that stories like this can finally start getting the attention they deserve again.
JERUSALEM (Nov. 9) -Israeli police rushed into one of Christianity's holiest churches Sunday and arrested two clergyman after an argument between monks erupted into a brawl next to the site of Jesus' tomb.

The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
Seriously, this is fantastic! Christian brothers pummelling each other at the tomb of Christianity's most vocal proponent of brotherly love! Hipsters can't even hope to be that ironic!

An Armenian clergyman blamed the conflagration on the Greeks:
"The Greeks have tried so many times to put their monk inside the tomb but they don't have the right to when the Armenians are celebrating the feast," he said.
The reporter replied, "Yes, the crow casts a shadow on the Sepulcher at dawn," and was then handed a locked briefcase by the Armenian.

The Greeks, on the other hand, maintain that they were protesting peacefully, and merely blocking access to the Edicule for the Armenians — who then started the brawl. Eventually, the Israeli riot police were forced to intervene, according to spokesperson (this just gets better and better) Micky Rosenfeld, who I imagine said:
"Hey, you guys: take it easy, already. Capiche? Fugghedaboudit!"
Best story ever.

November 09, 2008

Goodbye, Waistline!

Something I've lamented about North America ever since I first moved here is the impossibility of finding good, real fish and chips. By "real" fish and chips I mean: fish that is cooked in batter that stays slightly slimy on the inside (sounds delicious, I know), and chips that are hand-cut and softer than they are crunchy. Anyone who has ever eaten fish and chips in Britain will know exactly what I mean, and they'll also agree, I'm sure, that North American attempts are usually a big disappointment: the chips are just big french fries, and the fish may as well have come from the freezer section of the supermarket.

I've actually always found it surprising, especially given that I've tended to live in places in North America with significant populations of Anglo immigrants (however many generations removed), that the market for real fish and chips has not been able to sustain at least one or two good chip shops when the alternative is so poor. But there you go: I've never come across the real thing on this continent.

UNTIL TODAY.

Two weeks ago, The Battery opened in Brighton Centre, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Boston's public transportation. It purports to be an "authentic Irish chipper" and, I can very happily say after going there for lunch today, it lives up to the title. They have fish suppers (with real fish and real chips!), battered sausages, a variety of British beverages (Lucozade, Ribena, Lilt, etc.), and even, if the tattle on Yelp is to be believed, deep-fried Mars bars — though I didn't see the latter on the menu. They even have curry sauce for your chips, a culinary invention so ludicrous that only true Brits and Irish folk can appreciate or even really understand it.

Now, of course, "real" fish and chips is kind of a ideological construct rather than an accurate reflection of reality, because there's a lot of regional variation even within Great Britain: Edinburgh fish and chips are different from Glasgow fish and chips are different from London fish and chips — and Irish fish and chips are a different creature altogether. But while my lunch at the Battery was not exactly what I retain fond memories of from home, it is without a doubt the closest thing I've had to Edinburgh fish and chips in the years that I've been searching for them on this side of the Atlantic. And it was freakin' delicious.

So I encourage all my readers, in the interest of developing the market enough to sustain this fantastic new addition to Boston dining, to make their way to Brighton Centre and dig in. Just don't forget your heart medication.

--

In other news, CWG is now the first hit when you Google "Conversations With Greatness"! This is quite a coup after years of languishing in second place behind some half-baked motivational radio show, which has now, it seems, gone under. So my condolences to them, but hurrah for me!

This blog, on the other hand, continues to attract such august search terms as "sodomy in concert" and "artificial vagina" — but I think that's par for the course.

November 07, 2008

November 05, 2008

Barack The Vote

So, there we have it: Obama wins. As many of you know, I went into last night feeling hopefully pessimistic about his chances (kind of like cautiously optimistic, but less so), and I'm glad to have been pleasantly surprised by the results.

Not as pleased, mind you, as the town of Obama, Japan, who went a little wild. ("Obama" means "little beach" in Japanese, which is actually kind of ironic, because when Obama the man is getting kinky in the bedroom he likes to be called a little beach.)

Let's be clear, though. I thought the Obama/Biden ticket was a lot better than the McCain/Palin ticket, but that was mostly down to the Palin part. In fact, I think McCain would have made just as good a president as Obama (notwithstanding my disagreement with his position on a few key issues) — and before you pounce on me for being some sort of closet conservative, please remember that it was only five or six years ago that even King of the Liberals Jon Stewart was begging McCain to run as a Democrat. He's not a bad guy, even if he ran a bad campaign, and he's repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to doing what he thinks is best for the country. That's a pretty valuable presidential quality, if you ask me.

Now, in a broader context, Obama was probably the better choice in this particular election for his international cachet, if nothing else. The reaction around the world to Obama's win can best be described, I think, as a giant sigh of relief, and these days that's not insignificant. (The only exception to the positive international reaction has been in Britain, where people have been setting fires up and down the country all day, I can only assume in protest.)

And there's also, of course, the symbolic value of finally having an African-American in the Oval Office, which is also an important victory. The BBC certainly thinks so, even if their choice of accompanying advert was a little unfortunate:



In the end, then, yeah, I'm glad Obama clinched it. But it will not have escaped my dedicated readers that I've always been a little skeptical of him, and I am by no means relinquishing that skepticism, at least not yet. He still seems to me more style than substance, more idealistic than pragmatic, and overall lacking — yes, I'll say it — in experience, and these are all things that worry me. I'd still much rather it was Hillary going to Washington in January.

I'm willing to give the O-man a chance, though — I just think we should all reserve a little bit of our elation and jubilance until we see how well he actually does the job.

November 04, 2008

Election Fever

With the polls just now closing in the first east coast states, Fox News is grabbing the coverage bull by the horns:

'Three Stooges' Headed To Big Screen
Larry, Moe and Curly have gotten the greenlight from MGM Studios, and the Farrelly Brothers, the comedy team behind "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber," are now casting their slapstick dream.
Somehow, I don't think this was what Wolf Blitzer had in mind when he told me I should have my laptop out as I watched his show tonight.

So far, CNN has told me that Obama has had trouble capturing the white evangelical vote, and that Republicans seem to have favoured McCain. I guess I may have to rethink my predictions.

Incidentally, my title tonight is "Election Fever" because I seem to be coming down with the flu. But that's not going to stop me going to bar later on to watch the results because, frankly, whatever happens I think I might need a drink.

So, I'm off to bite my nails, stay hypnotised by Anderson Cooper's silvery hair, and await the inevitable hangover of democracy.

October 31, 2008

October 30, 2008

The Most Exercising I've Done All Week

My absentee ballot arrived today — I vote in Florida, not Massachusetts — and so I can now proudly say that I voted in The Most Important Election In History EVER #347.

The funny thing about voting absentee is that you're suddenly flung into a world of local politics that ordinarily fly entirely underneath your radar. So, while I was relatively comfortable filling in the oval for the presidential/vice-presidential election, it took me a little longer to work out how I wanted to fill in the other twenty-three.

I'll admit, it can be hard to take seriously referenda on issues that really have no bearing on my everyday life — especially when those issues are in Florida, because a lot of the time I'm not that happy with any of the choices available. In the last election for senator down there, for instance, I couldn't find a single candidate that was anti-gun, pro-choice, or anti-Iraq. (I think I ended up voting for the incumbent because his name was Melquiades and he never loses anyway.) This time, at least, I've been blessed with a state congressional candidate who is all of the above and pro-environment, to boot, but she's running against a nine-term incumbent with approximately six thousand times more funding, so I'm not too hopeful.

Then the ballot begins to get into stuff about judicial district judges, and I really have to fight the urge to fill in ovals at random (I almost voted to retain one guy just because he had the same name as a character from 24). By the time it gets into county stuff I usually figure that anyone who cares enough to run for the Soil and Water Conservation board probably knows what they're doing, but I at least attempt a half-hearted Google of the candidates to make sure they're not on the sex offenders register or anything.

Sometimes, of course, this can be quite entertaining, like this article about the race for county sheriff:
In a time when citizens are demanding tax cuts and revenues are decreasing, Johnson said he is capable of building more public-private partnerships to pay for some of the Sheriff's Office's capital needs. . . .

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Johnson recalled, he raised private funds to buy a high-tech piece of homeland-security equipment.

"We were able to buy that bomb robot," he said.
BOMB ROBOT FOR SHERIFF!

Then, hopefully underestimating their readers' vocabulary, the article explains:
Experience — who is better qualified? — is also an issue in the campaign.
An area where, in fact, it seems there are few differences from the presidential race:
Johnson says it's him. . . .

"I know what's it's like to be shot at . . ."

Vaughn, of course, says his experience is broader. . . .

"I also conducted investigations in odometers," Vaughn said.
Anyway, now that I've voted, I can legitimately stop giving a shit about this election campaign — and let me tell you, I feel as liberated as an Iraqi circa 2003. You should all try it!

October 29, 2008

He Can't Abiden it

I think this is the single most amazing thing I have seen this whole damn campaign.



Best question: "How is Obama not being a Marxist?"

I would write more, but my girlfriend is sitting here on the couch watching me type this and it's a little awkward. Though she did come up with the pun in the title. (That's all you have to do, ladies.)

October 27, 2008

Telling Porkies

From Newsvine: Spicy pork sausage found in 'soiled diapers'
MCALLEN — Customs inspectors scored the makings of a barbecue when a 21-year-old South Texas woman declared several soiled baby diapers at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing.

Suspicious of the chunky diapers, inspectors with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the international bridge in Hidalgo found several links of spicy pork sausage, or chorizo, inside.
And the award for best double entendre in a 2008 AP story goes to...
The Mission resident . . . was fined $300 and her chorizo was seized.
Wah-wah. If only it had been a dude! I would have died.

On a vaguely related note, does anyone find it unsettling that chorizo is an anagram of rich zoo?

October 24, 2008

October 22, 2008

Miss Take

From Newsvine: Miss Teen Louisiana arrested, loses crown
BOSSIER CITY — Miss Teen Louisiana is losing her crown 11 days early after being arrested on charges of leaving a restaurant without paying and carrying marijuana.
I think, for the sake of clarity, that should read:
...leaving a restaurant without paying [comma] and carrying marijuana.
Also, "Bossier City" has got to be one of the most awesome names for a city in the whole United States. Now we know where all our wives and girlfriends should move to, am I right, fellahs? Zing!

Ahem.

October 21, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

The U.S. presidential election is now just two weeks away, but polls are still showing many voters undecided. If you're dithering over who should get your vote, here's a quiz that might reveal where your true allegiances lie:

1. If you were at a party with Obama where the senator ended up having far too much to drink, would you hold his tie back for him while he vomited?
A. Yes (+1 point)
B. No (-1 point)

2. McCain needs help moving — where do you draw the line?
A. Grand piano (-2 points)
B. Wardrobe (-1 point)
C. Box of linens (+1 point)
D. Cindy (+69 points)

3. Both candidates come to your house for Christmas dinner. Who gets the last drumstick?
A. Obama (+1 point)
B. McCain (-1 point)
C. It's a trick question, Muslims don't celebrate Christmas (-2 points)

4. Marry, murder, sleep with:
A. Biden, McCain, Obama (+1 point)
B. Obama, Palin, McCain (-1 point)
C. McCain, Obama, Palin (-2 points)
D. Biden, Biden, Biden (gross).

5. You're stranded on a desert island with both candidates. Who do you eat first?
A. Obama (-1 point)
B. McCain (+1 point)
C. Whoever makes the first Lord of the Flies reference (+2 points)

6. McCain:maverick::Obama:______?
A. Hope (+2 points)
B. Change (+1 point)
C. Fist bump (-1 point)

7. If McCain were going out of town, would you water his plants for him?
A. Yes (-1 point)
B. No (+1 point)

8. Futurama marathon on Comedy Central or Obama fundraiser?
A. Futurama (-1 point)
B. Fundraiser (+1 point)
C. Tivo (+2 points)

9. Which word best describes John McCain?
A. Old (+1 point)
B. Experienced (-1 point)
C. Triangular (-2 points)
D. Jesus (-3 points)

10. The candidates corner you outside the voting booth and each promise to break your kneecaps if you don't go their way. Who are you more afraid of?
A. McCain (+1 point)
B. Obama (-1 point)
C. Nader (-9,933,122 points)

If your score is positive, you're probably an Obama supporter; if it's negative, you prefer McCain. If your score, somehow, is zero, you should probably move to Florida.

October 19, 2008

Penny Führer Thoughts

From AOL Sports: Holtz Apologizes for Hitler Remark
ESPN analyst Lou Holtz apologized on air Saturday for mentioning Adolf Hitler during a college football studio show the previous night.
I'm sorry, he's in trouble for mentioning Hitler? What is this, the Ahmadinejad school of broadcasting? I think it's okay to acknowledge that the most notorious dictator in history actually existed. Sure, maybe a college sports broadcast is not the most tasteful or cogent place to do so, but let's be honest: where else are the people watching going to learn about world history?

What Holtz actually said was
You know, Hitler was a great leader, too
which, okay, does sound bad, I'll admit. But if you look at it in context, it's actually a valid point that's been made in many respectable intellectual arenas before.

Holtz isn't saying that Hitler was a good leader in that he accomplished good things while he was in power (in the same way that we might say, for instance, that George W. Bush is a bad leader) — he's saying that Hitler was a good leader qua leader; he was good at getting people to follow him. And that's true and worth remembering, if only so that we know not to do everything that the first charismatic guy with a moustache who comes along tells us to do (I'm looking at you, Geraldo).

So give Holtz a break. Inappropriate timing is not a crime — it's just inappropriate. And if we punished it every time it happened, well, this blog would be out of business, for a start. And nobody wants that, do they? (At least, not until I've reported on manscaping.)

October 17, 2008

October 16, 2008

How to Shave Friends and Depilate People

Okay, so even though I know I'm pretty important and influential, that's not an opinion I'm used to other people expressing. You can imagine my delight, then, when the following email appeared in my inbox yesterday:
Hi, I'm writing from a PR firm to tell you about something that may be of interest to you or your readers at Plethoric Pundigrions.
Finally! The blog train has arrived! All these years of poring over obscure news articles, obsessively Photoshopping pictures of world leaders, and making Marxist in-jokes that barely anyone finds funny! It's all paid off!
It's called Shave Everywhere, a site that supports Philips' Bodygroom line of personal grooming or "manscaping" products.
Well, that's fantastic. The net worth of my entire creative oeuvre over the last five years is the opportunity to be a corporate shill for ball-trimmers. Please, tell me more.
Currently, the site has two areas, one featuring "the bathrobe guy," which launched last year to great acclaim . . .
"The Bathrobe Guy"? I think I heard about him on a documentary about sexual predators the other day...
The other is something new that just launched: the Manalogues, a series of performances to get men talking about "real life accounts from the frontlines of male bodygrooming."
Hmm... I don't even know where to begin with this one. Do they even have time to groom their back hair in Iraq?
If you're interested I'd be happy to get you a Bodygroom to try out for yourself.
Whoa. Free STUFF?! What say you, readers? Would you find the blog more enjoyable knowing that I were well "manscaped"? Or should I do what my parents always told me and not give my address out to strange women who write me unsolicited emails?

How sad would it be if this ended up being the peak of my writing career?

October 10, 2008

Easy, Son

From Popeater: Gang Rape Rap for Austin Powers Actor
Joe Son, who played the shoe-throwing character Random Task (prompting the Mike Myers line "Who throws a shoe?"), was hit with a slew of charges on Oct. 1, including . . . two felony counts of forcible sodomy, two felony counts of sodomy in concert by force, seven felony counts of forcible oral copulations and one felony count of sexual penetration by foreign object by force.
Ahem.

...drumroll please...

...deep breath...

...

Oh, BEHAVE!

Thank you very much.

Also, doesn't "sodomy in concert" sound like something that would happen at a Peaches show?

Conversations With Greatness CC

October 05, 2008

Mohandas, Mo' Problems



This is all I have been able to come up with after an hour of scouring the web for blog fodder.

I think the problem I'm having is the @£#@*!!!! election. Do you realise that I have been making election jokes for almost twenty months, now? (See? See!) I'm burnt out. I've said all I wanted to say, made all the jokes I want to make. I don't even care that Vice President Barbie has thrown her hat in. I'm not interested in Obama's "attack" ads ("erratic"?). McCain could eat the face off a Swift Boat veteran tomorrow, and I wouldn't even crack a smile. I just want November to come, explode in our faces, and go, so that we can move on to the next news cycle.

But in the meantime, the only thing generating headlines is the campaign, the bailout, and the football. And I find none of the above particularly interesting, so am not particularly moved to blog.

However, I would like to point out this article on Salon.com, about the history of sex in videogames:
The first mainstream pornographic game would be "Custer's Revenge," which came out in 1982. . . .

In the game you move a naked General Custer across the screen, avoiding Native American arrows, toward a voluptuous Native American woman, who has her hands and legs tied to a cactus. Your job is to get to her, have sex, and once you have enough orgasms or she has enough orgasms it starts over and you're back on the other side of the screen. You get to do it again, only there are more arrows coming. That was the whole game and it sold 80,000 copies.
Now, I'm not one to make spurious associations, but the very same year that Custer's Revenge came out, the recession officially ended. So maybe somebody can release a video game based on the life of a concupiscient Martin Van Buren, and this whole economic collapse thing can be put to rest.

October 03, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CXCIX



BAM! Two political references in one comic strip!

September 30, 2008

Jail Time!

From BBC NEWS | Scotland: Scottish crime 'lowest since 80s'

Oh, brave new world!

From BBC News | Scotland: Scots jail numbers at record high

D'oh!

So, apparently the reason Scottish crime is at an all-time low is because all the CRIMINALS are ALREADY in PRISON.

Or, I guess, heh, you might say, tee-hee... They're all loch-ed up.

September 27, 2008

Things That Make Andrew Feel Old, #19935

This week, in the freshman writing class that I teach, I was having one of my students read out a passage from a book so that we might better discuss it as a class. It was a personal essay by a writer who was lamenting his typewriter's usurpation by a word processor, and the student read thus:

"I feel forever confused by RAM, DOC, and . . . duh— . . . does . . . ? Dose . . .?"

Barely able to contain my sobs, I looked up from my own book and quietly corrected her:

"It's pronounced DOS."

And she just shrugged her shoulders and continued.

See also: Fonz (pt. 1); Back to the Future; Fonz (pt. 2).

September 26, 2008

September 24, 2008

What Doesn't Kilt You Makes You Stronger

From BBC NEWS | Scotland: Bid to keep kilt-making in check
Some of the country's leading kilt-makers are meeting in Perth to determine exactly what is, and what is not, a Scottish kilt. . . .

They want to create a blueprint for the traditional kilt-making industry. . . .

Kilt-maker Ruthven Milne said: "A kilt is a traditional garment, not a fashion garment."
Boy, I'll say.
"There is a certain length it should be. It must be about an inch and a half from the floor when you are kneeling and it is pleated to the pattern that is in the kilt itself."
But if your kiltmaker asks you to kneel in front of him, ask him to buy you dinner first.

According to a representative for Skillfast-UK, the kilt sector contributes about £350m per year to the Scottish economy — or about one-and-a-half days worth of Iraq. So clearly, all we need to do to offset the cost of the war is really step up global kilt production. Who wants to kneel down first?

September 22, 2008

A Moment of Seriousness

It was with much thrill and delight that I discovered Tony Blair was to make an appearance on The Daily Show last week. After all, Jon Stewart is one of my favourite comedians, and Tony Blair is one of my favourite politicians — the combination was bound to be a winner.

But actually, I found the interview kind of upsetting, if only because it tapped into some much broader (very deep and important) thoughts I’ve been having about the world lately — thoughts that are no doubt related to the tone of the current election campaigns, though I suspect not caused by them entirely.

See, it seems to me that in among all the big ideas that are getting thrown around these days — and here I’m referring not just to all the promises of hope and change and hope again, but to the whole spectrum of abstract ideas, from democracy to freedom to unity to tolerance to whatever — the much more important idea (and I admit, it’s an idea too) is getting lost: the idea that, in the end, hey, we’re all just people.

I started feeling this way, I think, after an ah-ha! moment I had while in Dubai. Ramadan was beginning as I arrived there, and the stores were littered with endless posters promising special promotions for the holiday season: Discover the holy month with new Ramadan applications from Nokia! Break your fast this Ramadan with a family bucket meal from KFC! And at first I found it kind of funny, in my jaded, cynical way, that this religion that we’re always being told is so obsessed with holiness and purity was succumbing so readily to such tacky hucksterism.

But as I was sitting staring at that KFC poster (admit it, you thought I’d made that one up, didn’t you?), it struck me that, really, it wasn’t any different from the sorts of posters KFC puts up all over the United States at Christmastime. But then, of course it’s no different; just because you take your religion seriously, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to make a living. Why shouldn’t capitalism be just as well established in the Middle East? (And, yes, I realise Dubai is hardly Mecca, but I think it’s still a fair point.) All this nonsense we’re fed about the clash of cultures and the strange, spooky world of Islam obscures the fact that, Islam or not, the Middle East is just a place where other people live out normal, prosaic lives, just like ours. In that respect it’s not so different from New Jersey.

And that really was a revelation for me. I mean, obviously I don’t deny that there are palpable differences between the West and the East, but suddenly those differences seemed to pale, to me, in the face of something as simple and as profound as everyday human life.

Anyway, to go from this quasi-mystical serenity straight back into OBAMA WANTS YOUR TWO-YEAR OLD TO HAVE SEX made the latter appear, as you might imagine, a little more vulgar than perhaps it would have otherwise. And it highlighted to me just how much we’ve forgotten about our common denominator, even within the United States. We’re so caught up in these big abstract ideas — gay marriage! Freedom of religion! The right to life! The right to choose! — that we fail to understand that each and every person who takes a different stance from us on one of these issues is still a person, with a family and a job and a collection of hopes and worries that is overwhelmingly similar to the ones that keep us awake at night.

And more than that, they are people who we live and interact with in a civilized and friendly way on a day-to-day basis. It makes no difference to me if the guy driving my bus, or teaching my class — or even just smoking on the street corner — thinks abortion is wrong, or whatever. He’s just another person who lives his life without ever, really, causing any problems in mine. But when we spend all day hearing about how THEY want to take away OUR RIGHTS, you can’t help but get a little leery of the bus driver, you know? Even if he’s just blindly standing up for his beliefs the same way we’re blindly standing up for ours.

Which brings me back to Jon Stewart. Now, if you haven’t watched The Daily Show much, perhaps you don’t know just how anti-Bush and anti-war Jon Stewart is — but I don’t think there’s a public figure who’s been as consistently vocal against the occupation of Iraq as he has. So naturally, with one of its architects sitting two feet away from him, he couldn’t help but sink his claws in just a little. He poked and prodded and pestered Tony Blair with questions, and jibes, and comments that were almost sneering, until the ex-PM got very serious and said, with regard to invading Iraq:

“When you take a decision like that, I hope . . . it’s not an easy decision, it’s not one you take lightly, it’s one with an awesome responsibility . . . You never take a more difficult set of decisions . . . But you know, in the end you have to take a decision. You have to come down on one side or the other. And these are things you then live with for the rest of your life — and so you should.” (emphasis mine)

And then, even in the face of such gravitas, Jon Stewart went on to badger him for another five minutes.

Okay, so it wasn’t an apology. It wasn’t an admission that he made the wrong choice. But it was a very poignant, very honest answer, in response to a very difficult question. And while history will show whether or not he was right or wrong, at that moment, when Tony Blair decided to invade Iraq, he was a human being who was put in an awful, terrible, difficult situation, and he did the best he could. He knows it’s caused death and suffering. He knows he’s caused death and suffering, on a scale vastly larger than any of the people who we label vicious criminals and put away in jail. And now he’s sitting here, in front of thousands of strangers, admitting to his sins.

And if that doesn’t change what’s happened, if that doesn’t make things right — then so what? Can’t we stop and appreciate the horrendous burden that this person suffers with? He didn’t want to be Prime Minister so he could decide whether to invade other countries, but it happened — and he had to deal with it, and he still has to deal with it. I know I’d be suffering if I were in his position. And that’s why, if it had been me sitting in the interviewer’s chair, at that particular second, I would have stopped giving him a hard time.

Maybe that’s the reason I’m not a talk show host. But it seems to me that if the big ideas, no matter how noble, can obscure humanity — the biggest idea! — with such success, well: perhaps it’s time for us to start ignoring the big ideas. Let’s forget about our lofty ideals, for a moment, and remember that even the pro-life homophobe is a person (and so, of course, is the gay abortionist). They pay their taxes and drive their kids to school and wonder if their savings will still exist next month. In the end, in fact, they’re just like us — and if you deny that, you’re no less warped or fanatic than you imagine them to be.

So why can’t we just cut all this crap for a while, and try to get along? No one is out to get you. No one wants to make you suffer. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a pro-life movement, or, for that matter, a pro-choice one (or pro-war, or anti-war, or whatever). But a person’s not a demographic, a person’s not an abstract belief, and a single person is certainly not the war in Iraq. People are people, and, regardless of anything else, they deserve, at a minimum, to be treated that way. For shame, Jon Stewart. For shame.

September 19, 2008

September 18, 2008

Outlet Shopping

Gosh. I think eight days must be a record-length hiatus in the history of my blog(s). And do you know what? I think it's affecting me; I've been feeling really out of sorts the last day or two, for no particular reason.

[Edit: Actually, if you discount CWG, there was an 11-day gap between posts in February 2006. I felt pretty out of sorts then, too, but I think that was mostly down to having had my ass recently dumped.]

Now, the empiricist in me sagely clucks that the connection is probably spurious — that the same hectic schedule that's been robbing me of blog time is also what's responsible for dampening my mood — but the writer in me, well... He's kind of a romantic. And he thinks that I've grown so used to my creative outlet over the last five (!!!) years, going without it, suddenly, has left me dysthymic. (Then again, why listen to that hack? He's not even really using the word dysthymic correctly.)

Anyway, speaking of hectic schedules: this semester I am teaching three days a week, working at Ploughshares the other two days a week, and taking two classes on top of that (one of which is run by a frankly hilarious man who thinks that two books a week is a manageable workload). Plus occasionally attempting to have a life outside Emerson. Occasionally.

But I do seem to be falling into a routine, finally, so with any luck I will be back to angrily ranting about the world on my blog (rather than to unsuspecting members of the public) within the next couple of days. And CWG, of course, is back tomorrow.

September 10, 2008

Spare Us Your Change

At a town hall meeting yesterday, Obama lashed out at the McCain-Palin ticket's promise to clean up Washington, saying:
"You can't wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."
Ummm... Mr Obama? Have you met you? This is probably about the point where Jon Stewart would play a hilarious montage of clips in which you call for change about three umptillion times.

Oh, wait, sorry — I'm being told that you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, as long as you also sprinkle it with some salt called hope.

I mean, seriously, is this what we have been fucking reduced to? Can't either candidate appreciate the irony in the fact that they are both calling for the same thing — and that thing is CHANGE?!!

Let me tell you something, Obama-Biden-McCain-Palin: I don't want any fucking change, okay? I want concrete stuff. I want good healthcare and a better economy and not to have to hide my US passport when I'm abroad. So why don't you all shut the hell up, stop trying to see who can end up in the changiest YouTube remix, and actually do some real fucking work, huh?

Ahem.

September 08, 2008

Sparking Up a Dubai

So, finally: Dubai.

It didn't really dawn on me that I was going to the Middle East — the real life Middle East! — until about four hours into the flight, when I happened to turn on the flight tracker and realised, with a sobering jolt, that I was directly over Baghdad. That kind of put my five-star resort holiday in perspective. Kind of. (Seeing Baghdad on a flight tracker map is only slightly more meaningful than seeing Baghdad on an evening newscast map, as far as feelings of identification go.) But it certainly did remind me that even a five star hotel in the Middle East is still — well — in the Middle East.

And, sure, as the Middle East goes, Dubai is pretty Westernised: anyone a tourist is likely to run into speaks passable English, and they have consumer capitalism up the wazoo (though not literally, obviously, as that would contravene Islamic law). There are McDonaldses everywhere, and Starbuckses everywhere, and, to be honest, pretty much every Western chain you can think of — from Dunkin Donuts and Second Cup to Applebees and TGI Fridays (that last one I find particularly hilarious, since Friday is, of course, the Islamic day of worship).

But still, it was my first trip to the Middle East, my first trip to an Islamic country, my first real trip to another culture — and, dammit, Westernised or not, I was determined to find it interesting.

Although, actually, my first real thought about the Middle East when I landed was not so much interested as it was inane. I saw a guy in traditional Arabic garb — white tunic, head dress held in place by ring on head — and thought: "Gee! He looks just like something out of a Tintin book!" (I really did.)

And then, after that, to be honest, I didn't find much to get excited about, for a while. The place reminded me of just one, big, Muslim Vegas: big boulevards, glitzy hotels, a lot of desert, and, at night, a buttload of neon lights (again, not literally). The only things missing were the gambling and hookers — which I suppose some would argue is what makes Vegas Vegas — but I really couldn't shake the feeling of deja vu for the first couple of days.

More tomorrow; I'm still fighting the jetlag, and I think it's winning.

September 07, 2008

Dubai Dubai Doo

A full and resplendent treatise on Dubai will — with any luck — follow in the next few days. In the meantime, please enjoy this fresh set of fun facts about the emirate:

Dubai is an Arabic word meaning “Place of many grotesquely fat tourists who are unaware of the existence of sunscreen.”

•The official sand of Dubai is sand.

•Ninety percent of all buildings in Dubai are taller than ninety percent of all your buildings. Wuss.

•Dubai is home to the world’s only indoor black diamond ski run. It is literally made of black diamonds. Wuss.

•The world’s first form of air conditioning was invented in Dubai, a central “cooling tower” built into every home. The innovation made a small fortune for its creator, Mohammed al Sears-Roebuck.

•Old Dubai sits on the so-called “Dubai Creek”, which is where the expression “Up the creek without a paddle” originates (paddles are illegal in Dubai).

•There is a strict curfew enforced in Dubai for under-21s and anybody who is not made of gold. If you are under 21 and not made of gold, you are pretty fucked.

I am in Heathrow and pretty bored.

September 01, 2008

Palin Comparison

Oh, okay, I get it: so the Dems have a black guy, the Republicans have a chick, and now come November everyone is going to have to be either racist or sexist. Unless you're a Nader voter. In which case you're both, and kind of a douchebag.

Some facts about Palin:

•At 44 years old, she is three years younger than Obama. Despite that, the average age of the McCain ticket is still over a decade older than Obama. (Full disclosure: the average age of the Obama ticket is actually slightly higher than that.)

•In school, Palin was nicknamed "Barracuda", because of her tendency to savagely attack small fish.

•Palin is in no way related to former Monty Python member Michael Palin, although she still has several pictures of him on her mantelpiece.

•According to the BBC, Palin finally adds "newsworthiness" to the Republican campaign. Ouch!

•Although many have pointed out that, as vice president, Palin will be only "a heartbeat" from the presidency, it is more accurate to say that she will be only "a heart attack" from the presidency.

•Republican strategists hope that Palin will appeal to the several million women who voted for Hillary Clinton, because women are too stupid to tell the difference between liberal feminists and pro-choice nutbags.

•As Palin is a pro-drilling former beauty queen with a son in Iraq, it is scientifically impossible for her to be more all-American.

The end.

[Reflections on Dubai, coming soon!]

August 29, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CXCVI



I'm off to London today, and Dubai tomorrow, and then getting dropped right back into term and teaching the week after — so CWG is taking its annual two-week hiatus. We'll be back on September 19.

August 28, 2008

Aye For An Eye

From The Scotsman: Young Scots risk losing their sight in bid to get blind drunk

Just when you thought our national drinking habits couldn't get any more embarrassing...
Experts are warning about a new trend among young people that is aimed at speeding up the process of getting drunk – pouring shots of alcohol directly into their eyes.

Known as "one-in-the-eye", it involves using shot glasses in a manner similar to that of eye-wash.

Despite the risk of blindness, users hope that by absorbing the alcohol via the membranes of the eye, it will enter the bloodstream more quickly and have a stronger effect when it reaches the brain.
Presuming there is a brain there to begin with, of course.

Now, having just reached the end of the Fringe, I'm not exactly one to be talking about responsible drinking habits, but pouring vodka into your eye? Why not just smoke a cigar with your anus? At least you might get a few weeks of YouTube celebrity out of that.

Sigh.

August 23, 2008

Oh, Go On Then

I've had several requests for more Fringe blogging in the past few days, and though my show intake has been rather lower than usual this year I thought that, going into the final weekend, any Edinburgh readers seeking last minute tickets might benefit from a rundown of the best I've seen this year. So.

3. Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late But Live. I generally find Stewart Lee's stand-up to be overrated, but I think in large part that's because I don't really enjoy his utter-contempt-for-the-audience-and-general-situation persona (at least, I think it's a persona, but I suppose he really could be that bitter). In any case, this most recent of his comic "plays" involved him only at the writing stage, and without his dour dragging-down of the punchlines, it's an hour of delightful (albeit painfully pomo) material. The basic premise is that Sir Walter Raleigh is hosting an evening of entertainment for the assembled modern-day crowd -- which is an odd setup, as the characters are sort of half historically "accurate" and half selectively aware of the present (mainly as a vehicle for punchlines) -- but while that works okay, the real oomph of the show comes from Simon Munnery's turn as Elizabeth I. It's classic high-status/low-status conflict and Munnery milks it for all it's worth -- his Elizabeth is the most eccentric, haughty, demanding character I've ever seen on stage, and watching her make Raleigh jump through hoops is (pardon the expletive) absolutely fucking hilarious. Four pundigrions.

2. Adam Page Solo. Page is one of those loop-box musicians who seem to be a staple of pretty much every Fringe festival I've ever been to (you know the type: they sample themselves live and then loop them back and layer them to create the illusion of many different sounds going on at the same time). The difference between Page and the rest is that while many of his ilk rely mainly on the perceived novelty of the technique, he is a fantastic musician who plays fifteen different instruments and even a carrot (and while that latter one may sound like a cheap gimmick, it's actually a pretty cool sound). It's a very fun, very musical, very interesting hour. Five pundigrions.

1. Simon, Helen, Nick, and Pete Call a Conclave and Elect a New Pope. Does what it says on the tin: the four eponymous comedian friends open the house dressed as cardinals (and one archbishop) and proceed to write out nametags for each audience member. The audience are then also pronoucned cardinals, and the interactive show a conclave at the end of which one audience member is elected pope. There are jokes, challenges for the candidates, and lots and lots of ridiculous Catholicism trivia. It may sound a bit dubious but it's such a fun, light-hearted, and deeply funny show that I have no problem pronouncing it my favourite of the year. Five pundigrions.

August 22, 2008

August 17, 2008

Annals of Customer Service, Volume 4,213

The Edinburgh Fringe has a blanket no-refunds-no-exchanges policy on its tickets, except, obviously, in case of cancellation or other major venue cock-ups. Usually, though, those are not the reasons people give for wanting refunds; over my four years I've heard 'em all, from "It was listed in the comedy section but wasn't funny," to "It was advertised as a mix of comedy and DJing, but it's two hours of comedy and then two hours of DJing, which isn't really a mix," to "I was drunk and heckling, and got thrown out."

My job, as supervisor in the box office, is to enforce the policy, and it can often be quite unpleasant — though not for the reasons you might think. Getting yelled at doesn't bother me — indeed, when someone is being really disagreeable, it can be inordinately satisfying knowing that you're having an argument you can't lose — it's the people who just genuinely had bad luck and didn't make it to their show to whom I hate saying no. I mean, I'm not a monster — I can put myself in their position, and I know that if I'd dropped twenty quid on tickets for a show I didn't get to see, I'd be upset about it. But people try to cram so much into their schedules during the Fringe that a few missed shows are inevitable, and if we gave refunds to everyone because we felt bad about it, well, we wouldn't make any money, would we?

Anyway, like I said, it's the nice ones that bother me; but the people who get nasty are just asking for it. Case in point was a guy who came in a few days ago who had not listened to the calls for his show, had arrived late at the door, and had finally been turned away because of it. Naturally, he believed, this entitled him to compensation, and when I informed him this would not be possible he began to get rather confrontational; he spent twenty-five minutes (literally!) arguing about it, and tried just about every tactic he could think of to change our mind.

First there was the semantic wrangling over the nature of the situation: we say no refunds or exchanges, he claims that he is asking for neither a refund nor an exchange (just free tickets for another day); we say he arrived late, he claims that by his watch he had been on time. At that point he even shoved his watch over the counter at me, and proceeded to explain that when the big hand is on the eight and the little hand is on the five, it means that it's twenty to six. I'm not entirely sure why he thought being insulting would help his cause, but it was definitely his next tactic. Five minutes later, he broke out the classic line: "Look, thirty pounds is a lot of money. Not all of us can be flown over here on trust funds from America, you know."

That was about when I decided that I'd had enough of him. (Imagine being called rich and spoilt by a toff in corduroy trousers and a London Fog waistcoat!)

Then, the man who'd been standing in line behind him — who, after fifteen minutes, was also getting a little fed up — helpfully chimed in: "Fuck's sake, mate, they've already said no to you, give it a fucking rest."

At this Mr Toff turned around and said: "Fuck off. They haven't said no, yet, anyway." Which I (and my colleague Tom, who had also joined in the fray by this point) though was an excellent opportunity to say a decisive "No!" to him, in unison. Mr Toff and the other guy then resumed swearing at each other and probably would have gone to blows had Tom not led the other man away to handle his request.

But Mr Toff was not finished yet, and launched into his third tactic: "Look, there are how many different spaces in this building? And they all have the word 'Belly' in them. It's confusing. How am I supposed to know where the right stage is?"

And, having lost all my patience by this point, I replied, "I appreciate that it's confusing, sir, and I am sympathetic, but with all due respect there are fifty-six other ticket holders sitting upstairs right now who managed to work it out, and your confusion is not really our responsibility."

I could carry on describing the exchange, but I am all too aware of how tiresome this sort of conversation can become, so I will leave it there. In any case, it's time for my daily dive into my stacks of trust fund money.

August 16, 2008

The Strict Attorney

To ensure that I can help bring hope and change and whatnot to The Greatest Country In The World™ come November, I recently renewed my absentee ballot in Florida. As an added bonus of spreading democracy, I am back on the mailing list for a whole muck of campaign leaflets regarding a number of upcoming local elections.

Like the race for the office of State Attorney in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida. Hold on to your hats!

Taking a page out of Mitt Romney's book (now there's an election winner), our first contender is John F. Tanner. (I don't actually know if that's his middle initial, but it sounds good, don't you think?) His campaign slogan is the grammatically infuriating:
Re-Elect Tanner State Attorney.
Proven. Effective. Leadership.
Yes, that's right: vote Tanner. Adjective. Adjective. Noun. I mean, for God's sake, is this an election campaign or a linguistics experiment?

Tanner proudly boasts that his office has sent eighteen murderers to death row — which I guess makes pretty good sense as a campaign talking point in an election for state attorney between two Republicans, but still, doesn't it sound tawdry? "Eighteen dudes are going to die because of me. Vote Tanner."

Not that he has much competition, anyway, as he's a four-term incumbent with approximately four times as much money as his opponent, Asian immigrant Charles Tan. In fact, pretty much the only thing that could throw the campaign off course at this point would be the entry of long-time local lawyer Bob C. Tannest.

Okay, yes, sadly I made that up. His real opponent is JR Larizza, a former state corrections officer from Jacksonville. But frankly, the competition ain't too stiff. The most impressive boasts on Larizza's campaign website are probably these:
RJ has numerous extended family members and many friends whom he enjoys sharing his time with [sic] when the opportunity arises.

RJ follows the Latin phrase "Carpe Diem" - seize the day.
So, a social butterfly Latin scholar versus a murderer murderer. Who do we think stands a better chance?

Be sure to tune in next week for my coverage of the exciting race for West Volusia County Hospital Authority Group A, Seat 1, between Tracy Lunquist, Voloria Manning, and (this one I'm not making up), John Adams.

August 15, 2008

August 13, 2008

Cooked Apples

From Newsvine: Fire burns building at Apple HQ in California
CUPERTINO — Firefighters have put out a blaze that burned for more than three hours at the headquarters of computer maker Apple.
I guess fire is just a risk you have to take when your computers are so blazingly fast.

Firefighters had to use so much water to put out the conflagration that several rooms in the building were flooded. Staff then engaged in a spirited round of bobbing for Apples.

Wa-wa.

August 08, 2008

August 06, 2008

I'd Rather See Ladd Mags

From BBC NEWS | UK: Lad mags 'linked to social ills'

Loath though I am to side with the Tories over, well, almost anything, I find much compelling in a recent speech by Conservative MP Michael Gove.
"Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available," he said.

"We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men what they think they're doing.

"They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude."
I'm slightly less comfortable with his attempt to link the magazines to "relationship breakdown and fatherless children" — as if a magazine alone could do that! — and of course, a spokesman for lad mags (what a job, eh?) latched on to this second, more unreasonable suggestion in his rebuttal. Deftly ignoring the core issue — which is, natch, that lad mags are fucking disgusting — Jonathan Shephard said:
"Michael Gove raises deep and complex social issues which reach far wider than simply reading a magazine. To try to create an unsubstantiated cause or link between these issues and men's magazines is unrealistic. "
That's a bit of a cop out, I'd say, since these magazines are still part of the deep and complex culture that produces them, and reining in their worst offences certainly wouldn't do any harm. I'm not talking about pornography, really, but about the misogynistic attitude underpinning these magazines. At least Playboy publishes Joyce Carol Oates occasionally, you know? Nuts and Zoo are more like Hustler without all the vaginas.

Let's just take a brief sample from the Nuts website, shall we? On the front page alone you are invited to see "Ronaldo's NEW Babe Topless", to "Assess My Breasts" (yes, I had to read it twice, too), and to start a fight ("Fighting hurts! Have you got what it takes?!"). Zoo's isn't much better, offering "75 Real Girls In Bikinis!", "100 Best Bloggers' Boobs!", the "Top 20 Football Feuds!", and, of course, the eternal existential question: "Sammy Braddy: Britain's Best Boobs?".

(Obviously it's possible that all of the people who buy Nuts/Zoo consume it with as critical an eye as I do, and thus the magazines do not contribute to negative attitudes towards women as much as it might seem. But if the comments on that last article are anything to go by, it seems unlikely: "No way! Seren's boobs are the best in Britain, hands down, no contest! . . . Those nipples are rank! Same with the face!" opines one; "Why aren't more women so attractive," laments another. "It a curse for us all.")

And perhaps I'm just feeling a little jaded because of all the drunken twats that take up permanent residence in Edinburgh at this time of year, but when you have to encounter walking Nuts magazines on a daily basis, you really begin to wonder if maybe we shouldn't be a little more concerned about the generation they're breeding.

As usual, I am slightly horrified by the old crankpot I seem to be becoming.

August 02, 2008

They Should Practise Safe Sex

I was on my bike coming home from work last night, around 3:30am. Biking when the clubs get out on a Friday night in Edinburgh is not a particularly pleasant experience, as, evidently, the perceived hilarity in pretending to lunge dangerously towards cyclists increases exponentially with every rise in blood-alcohol level.

Shouting, "Look at that cunt on a bike," also seems pretty directly correlated.

But I was willing to forgive all of that because of what happened when I cruised into my neighbourhood's main street. A man and a woman were staggering home ahead of me, and as I neared them the woman turned around at the sound of my approach. At first she got out of my way, but then, as I slowed down to move past her, she thought better of it and shouted:

"Hey, you! Stop a minute!"

I slowed down even more and she put a hand on my shoulder.

"You don't have a condom, do you?" she asked, looking conspiratorially at the man walking along with her.

"Sorry," I said. "I really don't."

"For God's sake!" she said, falling back towards him. "Why don't guys carry them around anymore?!"

"Easy now," said her soon-not-to-be lover.

Already speeding up again and riding off, I looked back over my shoulder. "Good luck," I said, in their general direction. And I really meant it, too.

August 01, 2008

July 31, 2008

Family Fun

So, today is the Underbelly's opening day. Our press launch went off well last night, including, most notably, a brief excerpt from the "Jim Rose Circus" during which a woman painted a portrait using her rectum and then signed it with a Sharpie gripped in her vagina. Lovely.

This is actually pretty out there, even by Fringe theatre standards, but every year there are a number of shows who do share something in common with Jim Rose Circus: their alarmingly misleading name. I often wonder if Fringe artists are in secret competition with each other to try and make box office staff's lives as unpleasant as possible, by giving their decidedly unsuitable-for-children shows titles that sound like a good-natured family romp:

FATHER: Oh, look honey! A circus! Let's take the kids!
MOTHER: What a splendid idea! I'll buy some tickets right now without reading the blurb!
FATHER: Pass me that Sharpie, will you?

The other show we have this year that treads the line is "Little Red (A Fairy Tale)". A fairy tale! Wonderful, right? Except that actually the show is an adult exploration of loss and family life that will terrify and upset children to their very core (although, to their credit, the company do describe the show as not suitable for children).

In other news, Winnie the Pooh has died.

July 25, 2008

July 23, 2008

And So It Begins...

Today was my first day back at the Underbelly for the year, and I was privileged enough, within my first five minutes in the office, to overhear this snippet of a phone conversation between the venue director and an act:

"No, no, no, no, no. You can perform a simulated sex act onstage — not a real one."

To which nobody, of course, batted an eyelid. Ah, the Fringe.

Speaking of which, no show reviews this year, I've decided, unless I feel particularly wowed/moved/disgusted. I will instead be reporting on Fringe and venue gossip as I see fit — like the fact that the Fringe Office is in the throes of moving to a new ticketing system called Liquid Box Office, and, in the software's inevitable teething stage, has been unable to actually print any of the 150,000 pre-sales they've taken. Oops.

Grauniad has the official story; in the meantime, my advice to anyone travelling to Edinburgh and wanting to buy tickets in advance is to hit up edcomfest.com: here you can buy for shows at any of the big four venues (Underbelly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance, Assembly Rooms), on a tried and tested ticketing platform; once the Fringe officially starts, though, the Fringe office should (barring a major disaster) be up and running smoothly.

July 22, 2008

Biraq Obama

FINALLY! Hope and change come to Baghdad!

From Newsvine: Obama in Iraq

Visiting Baghdad over the last two days, presidential candidate Barack Obama met with high-ranking Iraqi officials and received a military briefing from General David "Yes, Surge!" Petraeus. Then, once business matters were out of the way, he took a helicopter tour of the city's major sights, and played a spirited game of hide and seek with the Iraqi police force.

Although Obama said little to the members of the press during his visit, he promised "fuller impressions" after he's left the country.

"I've been working on a mean Talabani," remarked the senator, donning a pair of spectacles and holding his finger under his nose to represent a moustache. "Wah-wah-wah, I'm Jalal Talabani!" he said, before removing the glasses, winking at the press, and saying, "And there's plenty more where that came from, just you wait! My Maliki is pure gold!"

The tour continues.

July 19, 2008

Segue of the Year Award

Seen on Asylum.com (which, startlingly, has very little to do with political exiles):

July 18, 2008

July 16, 2008

And the Peabody Goes to...

I was watching the BBC lunchtime news yesterday, and in particular the segment about this local council dispute over speed camera funding. The Conservatives want to take speed cameras out; Labour wants to keep them in. The reporter concluded his coverage with this hard-hitting, in-depth analysis:
"I suspect what might happen is that they'll reach some sort of compromise."
POW! WHAM! INCISIVE!

Speaking of excellent use of our license fees, this story needs another pass by a copyeditor with brains:
He even had a fertility test, but he felt confident about the outcome.

"I know I've got no problems," he said.

"I've got a daughter all ready. I know everything is working properly."
I'm sorry, she's all ready for what, exactly? To help him pass his fertility test? To go skydiving?

Oh, what the hell, here's one more:
The man was white, 5ft 7in (1.70m), of stocky build and with spiky hair. He was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, the police spokesman added.
Ahem. Unless you put a comma after t-shirt, I believe you are describing Don Johnson.

So tell me: is the Beeb getting worse, or am I just noticing it more?

July 15, 2008

Plane Nonsense

From Newsvine: FAA re-evaluates JFK runway procedures
The runway safety system announced Monday involves lighting systems to be installed at 19 more airports over the next three years. The lights change color to signal when a runway is safe to enter or cross.
That's it? The new, high-tech runway safety system to prevent collisions is traffic lights? Oh, brave new world!

The FAA also released this picture of another planned innovation:



I feel safe.

July 14, 2008

Obama Hates Satire

From BBC NEWS | Americas: Obama team decry satirical image
Barack Obama's team has decried The New Yorker magazine for a cartoon cover depicting him in traditional Muslim garb and his wife as a terrorist. . . .

The image, drawn by Barry Blitt and featured on the front cover of this week's New Yorker, shows Mr Obama wearing traditional Muslim dress, while his wife, Michelle, is dressed in combat trousers and carrying a machine-gun.

The couple are shown standing in the Oval Office, greeting one another with a "fist bump", with an American flag burning in the fireplace, and a portrait of Osama Bin Laden on the wall.
Yes, clearly meant to be taken seriously, then.

Okay, I can understand how Obama's press team probably cringe at anything depicting him as a Muslim/terrorist, because I'm sure they see that as one of the biggest image problems they need to combat.

What I can't understand is why they're worried about the freaking New Yorker. I mean, talk about a slam-dunk, 100% absolutely definitely going-to-vote-for-Obama-regardless-of-anything demographic. In fact, probably the only thing you can do to get New Yorker readers not to vote Democrat is to slam New Yorker satire. Oops.

And anyway, do we really think that anybody who sees this and takes it at face value isn't already a frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing nutbag who wouldn't vote for Obama even if the other guy were in the midst of eating a baby?

Pick your battles, people. Pick your battles.

July 13, 2008

At Least They're Taking a Stab At It...

From BBC NEWS | UK: Shock tactics for knife carriers
Young people who carry knives will be made to visit hospitals where stabbing victims are treated, in a bid to shock them into changing their behaviour.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said seeing "gruesome" injuries would be a tougher deterrent than [jail].
Right, but how do we think stabbing victims are going to feel about a constant stream of STABBERS passing through their hospital ward?

"Oh, don't worry, chaps! In fact, take a jolly good look! I'll get close to as many stabbers as necessary to keep from getting stabbed again!"

"Hello, Rodney! Fancy meeting you here! Say, no hard feelings about that brawl the other night, eh?"

...

Why not just STOP SELLING KNIVES TO PEOPLE?

On an unrelated topic, did you know that there is a town in Alaska called "Unalaska"?

July 11, 2008

Zing!

From Newsvine: Cheney to have routine checkup on Saturday

As is customary in such situations, Bush will temporarily assume control of the country while Cheney receives his medical attention.

Conversations With Greatness CLXXXIX

July 10, 2008

Old Habits Die Hard

From Newsvine: Obama: Iranian missile tests call for more talks

The AP ran this story early yesterday morning about Iran's missile tests:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says that Iran's missile tests highlight the need for tougher threats of economic sanctions as well as strong incentives to persuade Tehran to change its behavior.
Except that the original version broadcast by the AP had a subtle but important difference in the first sentence. See if you can spot it:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says that Iran's missile tests highlight the need for tougher threats of economic sanctions as well as strong incentives to persuade Baghdad to change its behavior.
Oops.

July 07, 2008

Please Go Quietly Into the Night

The other day, in what can only be described as a misguided, alcohol-induced state of mind, I went and saw M. Night Shyamalan's latest attempt at something that could be loosely described as a movie, The Happening. It's best summed up, I think, by the following editorialised version of its poster:

Essentially, the plot is that the all the trees in the northeastern United States decide that they have had about enough of human beings, and so start releasing a chemical that turns off the "don't kill yourself neuron" in the brain (I am paraphrasing, but only just). This causes all the unfortunate souls who happen to walk by a tree during the movie to kill themselves in an ever-escalating series of dramatic and artfully photographed ways: a woman stabs herself in the neck with a barrette; a man steers his car into a sixty-mile-per-hour crash; a gardening crew set down their harmless chainsaws and hang themselves from trees using nooses made from hose.

Meanwhile, protagonist Mark Wahlberg takes a trip through increasingly smalltown and stereotyped Pennsylvania, spouting wooden dialogue to whoever will listen, eventually ending up with his estranged wife and his co-worker's daughter in the house of a gratuitous crazy lady who has no contact with the outside world and yet a dinner set instantly recognisable as Ikea houseware. And just when it seems like there's no way for them to escape tree-induced suicide, and you're gasping at what little tension Shyamalan has managed to build, he deflates the entire movie with his lamest surprise twist yet: there is no surprise twist. Instead, the trees just decide — for reasons that are never explained — to stop producing the deadly chemical, and life goes back to normal, except for the tacked on epilogue where the trees in Paris start doing roughly the same thing to a gaggle of typecast Frenchmen ("I have to remember to pick up my bicycle after work": "Mon Dieu!"). The movie then ends, mercifully, and we are left to ponder its message. Fear the trees? Treat the trees better? Fear Pennsylvanians?

It's bewildering, risible, awful, and worth seeing only for the hilarity of all the shots of trees rustling menacingly, and, of course, the tree-mendous potential for puns it provides (e.g. "Gosh, the plants are getting quite a-grass-ive!"; "Their bite is worse than their bark!"; "I hope things work out oak-ay!"; etc.). My rating: one half pundigrion.

July 04, 2008

July 03, 2008

Lincoln Blogs

I have been remiss in posting this week, and for that I apologise; I have been busy with moving (among other things).

However, I was moved to scribble a little something here today by this week's particularly inane Newsweek cover story: Who Was More Important: Lincoln or Darwin? (which is presumably what the "(mostly)" refers to along the top there).

The article starts off with the startling observation that both Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day (so were George W. Bush and Sylvester Stallone, but you don't see anyone clamouring to stop the presses there, do you?); it then meanders through several thousand words of watery, biographical generalisations (eg. "Both men had restless, hungry minds"), a paint-by-numbers summary of each man's greatest rhetorical accomplishments (natch, The Origin of Species and the Gettysburg Address), and finally, after admitting it's kind of a stupid question, asks: who was the greater man?

The answer, perhaps not surprisingly coming from an American magazine in the week of July 4, is Lincoln — because, the reasoning goes, someone would have worked out evolution eventually, but Lincoln's contribution to world (ahem) history relied more or less entirely on his inspirationally great fantastic amazingess as a person. Indeed, the author notes sagely, more books have been written about Lincoln than about any other person except Jesus — so basically, Lincoln is Jesus, and we're hardly going to argue that Darwin could trump the son of God, are we? It's just lazy rhetorical back-patting all around, and I hope that the two joint Lincoln-Darwin biographies forthcoming are not quite as paltry.

Um... Happy Fourth of July.

June 27, 2008

June 24, 2008

Apple and the Appalling Apostrophe

As some of you may know, I'm kind of an Apple fan. I have been using Macs since I was four years old — way before they were cool, obviously — and have a healthy well of respect for the company despite the numerous times I have suffered at their evil-bastard-hood. Charging iPod Touch users for software updates was bad enough, though that wasn't the worst thing they've ever done to me — let me weave you a tale.

When I was fifteen or so I was a lonely kid, and one of my many extremely cool hobbies was running a small website devoted to all things Mac. I wrote software reviews, created art on a Mac, provided links to other Mac websites... It was fantastic, let me tell you. And it had an awesome name, too: ".Mac". I came up with that all by myself, and was pretty damn proud of it. I'd soon attracted the attention of two other teenage Mac geeks and before long we were publishing a monthly newsletter, hosted, on the initiative of one of my co-authors, at www.dotmac.com.

This must have been in late 1999.

So then, in 2002, a few months before Apple's .Mac service was made public, they sent us a cease-and-desist letter claiming that we were infringing on their Mac trademark. Except "cease-and-desist letter" doesn't really capture the tone they used therein, which was actually extremely pleasant. They even offered us £300 to give up the domain! To three eighteen-year-olds, this was exciting stuff. £100 each! Just imagine all the beer! So we gladly accepted and the cheque was soon in the mail.

And then Apple launched their $100 a year subscription service and promptly made ten squillion dollars. £300 must have seemed like a pretty good investment for them. Needless to say I was pretty pissed. It was pretty much the dirtiest trick Apple has ever pulled, as far as I'm concerned — bribing children! They may as well have offered us a bag of candy each. And yet, despite all that, I've still bought three Macs and three iPods since. I even caved and bought a .Mac subscription eventually — though, man, am I bitter about it.

Now, though, they have gone too far:



With your PARENT'S money?! Unless daddy cheated on mommy and is paying your tuition in alimony, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the copy should read: "with your PARENTS' money." What a boneheaded, unbelievable, glaring mistake. Poor show, Apple. Poor show.

Ahem. I will now purchase a new iPod.