November 30, 2007

November 28, 2007

Give 'Em An Earful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 23, 2007

November 22, 2007

Thanks A Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy freakin' Thanksgiving.

November 19, 2007

Just Because...

I haven't procrastinated enough lately.

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

November 18, 2007

Boston Charm

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

November 16, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CLV

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

November 15, 2007

Trouble Bruin

Seen in the Boston Metro:

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

I hear puns aren't funny.

November 14, 2007

Insufferable Highbrow Humour

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

CUSTOMER: Ah, well, perhaps—

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

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


November 09, 2007

November 07, 2007

Rant Cubed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good night.

November 04, 2007

Campaign In The Ass

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

November 02, 2007

November 01, 2007

Two Plus Two Equals Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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