Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RSJS writes:

I have a scheme. It'll make me rich. And with minimal initial capital expenditure; in fact, for under $50 I can become a millionaire. Maybe. I just have to figure out advertising...

My idea is: "The Epiphany Hat".
OH yes, it's gonna be big.

Y'see, people go through sea-changes in their lives. Those sudden, shocking alterations in basic perspectives, wet paradigm shifts that shake the very bowels of their beings. Lives can change overnight. But the problem is, though the next morning one might float from one's bed on angel's wings and have one's path to school, work, the gym, the gay bar or whatever, paved in golden sunlight coalescing into yellow bricks beneath your ruby slippers (probably better suited for the bar than the gym, but you never know...), the problem is no-one else knows. You might think you're glowing with your newfound crotchful of lover-boy's cloying seed, or your new size 0 sundress, or high score in the maths paper in your groovy Nightmare Before Christ backpack but the passers-by don't Appreciate how Important the day is. How Significant and Sweet-smelling. Poor, ignorant fools...

That's where I come in. Cue fanfare and speed lines behind my tiny head. What one really needs on those brisk mornings blessed by the finger of the Lord is a simple way to let the world know you're new and/or improved, a totally different person who has so much more to give now you've Seen the Light or whatever. Sure, you find God and you clap on a crucifix and khaki pants. If you've found the Mighty Boosh you get a t-shirt and an eighties haircut. But what if you've found something without an easy indicator? A partner, a pet, a raison d'etre, a raisin muffin, or even something more intangible? Who makes intangible-themed t-shirts for shorthand revelation-signalling?

What you need is an all-purpose indicator. And I think "The Epiphany Hat" is the way to go. A peaked trucker's cap with either "I've had a epiphany, ask me what!" or "I'm a TOTALLY new person today, ask me why!" stitched in gold across the front. It is a perfect garment so the world understand that on that one day, You are New and Special and Taller. Unless you're special due to a new haircut – but that's a fucked reason to have an epiphany so don't waste my hat's time.

Now, how will this make me so very rich, you ask? Simple. I only make one hat of each design, for photographing. Because people will never actually want them. Ever.

Why? Because my target audience is the American fatty who survives their first day of a fried-cheese-free diet and wakes the next morning feeling like Kate fucking Moss, imagining there are ribs beneath their udders (guys or gals) and singing the Rocky theme song through fat-choked lungs. They'll be all excited and though the world can't see their miraculous weight loss (celebrated with a 42-ounce Coke from McDogbugers) they want everyone to know of the dawning of a new day. So they order my hat online, pay by credit card, and wait the six-to-eight weeks for me to deliver.

Which I won't, because within 24 hours the call of the grease will be too much and their new skinny self will be drowned in pig-lard and sugar-coated spare ribs and they'll be fatter than ever. If I'm lucky, they'll forget their impulse buy in their gorging and all their money is belong to me. If they remember later and query hat delivery we'll stall until their coronary. Or if they do demand a refund we'll hit them for massive service charges for doing exactly nothing and refund a pittance.

Those freaky kids who discover Manson and believe themselves to be the hippest and edgiest brat in the 'burbs gets a hat off the 'net late one night thank's to Daddy's Visa, then next day goes to school full of their unique brand of rebellion and excitement and mummy's eyeliner only to find the entire school's fringes have gone lopsided overnight and there's so many edgy kids there's no-one left in the middle except that guy who eats tuna from the tin and cries when you talk to him. Who will grow up to push all those fuckers RIGHT OFF THE EDGE, oh yes, oh, yes, he's right behind you cool bastards and you can smel lthe fish can't you, CAN'T YOU? Sobby McFishpants is coming for you, you counterculture curs! Rue the day! Grow wings! BOUNCE!...

What the fuck?

Right, who else? Oh, born-agains, perhaps, who quit when they find out the communion wine doesn't keep coming. Ninjas who find pyjamas don't make the man and there is a lot of rolling to be done on cold concrete floors before Sensei gives 'em a sword. Future hair-metalers who discover Rock God posing isn't quiiiiiiiite enough to be a musician (though is enough for pre-teen Myspace sex, thank god). Gym bunnies whose stairmasters will be inches thick in dust before their cap would have been due. All those try-and-fail fuckers who haemorrhage money and ideals for about 48 hours before collapsing exhausted and broke into their ruts – everyone else gets money from specific idiot audiences (the As Seen on TV crowd are fuckin' RAKING it in with the late night abdominator ads) but I'm targeting the whole mass of desperately unhappy fools clamouring for better lives through technology.

My hope is I'll con enough cash off the retarded herds to pay for my new Pilates classes. And a mountain bike as petrol costs are astronomical these days and I always said I'd start pedalling when prices got over a buck fifty. And with better earnings, I can eat Healthy! As I only eat fish and chips and pies as they're cheaper than macrobiotic clods of nuclear-free harp-seal approved peat. Not to mention the new wardrobe I'll need when I drop my winter weight from the winter of aught three... Hahah, those saps will pay for the new me! I need a hat...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

Today’s video is a genuinely creepy piece of work; which is doubly impressive given that it’s filmed entirely in claymation. From their album Jar Of Flies, Alice In Chains with I Stay Away, wherein the band stops off at a circus, and things are sent horribly awry by a mysterious boy with, as it happens, a jar of flies.

(As per usual, linked to rather than embedded because of the drop in quality that comes with embedding.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

Happy National Poetry Day, you artless fuckers. In honour of said, you get my three favourite pieces of poetry right now:

Busta Rhymes, with Woo Hah, which is silly, but has surprisingly clever rhymes (when you decipher them).

Sage Francis, with Got Up This Morning, one of the cleverer things I’ve heard in a long while.

And Taylor Mali, with The The Impotence of Proofreading, which struck a particular chord with the English Teacher in me.

Harry Potter: The Definitive Verdict

That Morthos Stare writes:

So, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.' I've read it. I am, as far as I can tell, the only person on this blog who actually knows what they are talking about in regard to the book, the series and the pornographic calenders the 'special' pre-orderers get.

So, is the book any good?

No. Not really.

It ends, and it ends in such a way that it isn't open to a sequel and that you know the villian is dead, which is fine. It doesn't contain a single surprise in its 600+ pages, however, and some (read: all but one chapter) of the prose is, quite frankly, not just a bit crap but a whole lot of inadequate English

But, then again, the comment about the prose doesn't mean much, does it? Most books you find on the shelves are poorly written. I mean, Rowling's prose is, even in its unedited state (because when she was subject to editing she was a much better writer), is much better than that, say, of Dan Brown or John Grisham. Rowling, at least, has complex characters who change over time. Dan Brown's Robert Langdon just gets to have sex.

And it's not even that well described.

So, Brother Morthos, was the series any good?

Frankly, yes.

Harry Potter is, osteniably about magic, in the same way that 'War of the Worlds' was osteniably about Martians. Both use a metaphor to explore 'issues.' Yes, that sounds like mumbo-jumbo po-mo, but its one of those things that has been true of literature well before Virgil got around to writing 'The Aenid.'

People like metaphors. They really do.

So what was Harry Potter about? Well, school, obviously. But also racism, authoritarianism, equal rights and a whole host of 'socially relevant' topics.

And they're not brief, lightweight treatments, either. The equal rights (in regards to gender, class et al) starts in earnest in book three, the abuse of institutional power in book four, and so forth. Rowling devotes large tracts of her increasingly big books to showing the injustices of the world, injustices children readers should be aware they are growing up with. Notably these injustices are performed not by evil adults but rather by people who simply don't question their beliefs. Rowling may not be a Kurt Vonnegut (who specialised in not having villians at all) but she does show that, Voldemort aside, people who do evil are not necessarily evil themselves.

Fans of genre literature like to claim that Fantasy and SF (Science Fiction) deal with 'issues' better than mainstream literature because it's easier to critique things via analogy than to try and deal with them directly. This isn't actually true, but people who wear anoraks like to blieve it so that they sleep better after a marathon session of comic books. Still, it does make it easier to relate morality; you don't find real-life Voldemorts but if you understand why they are immoral then you might be able to question the Don Brash's of our world.

One virtue to Fantasy over that of SF is the deus ex machina angle. Yes, I'm fond of 'magic.' Not so much magic but that fact that most Fantasy doesn't pretend to be scientific. Nearly all the supposed SF you will read is as based in science as dragons are based in biology. At least in Fantasy you don't get the prolonged attempted to justify a flight of fantasy; just drop in the conceit and let it drive the story. I think this is the reason why people prefer Fantasy to SF; no one really cares whether paedophile Arthur C. Clarke worked out how to get Sarah Silverman to Mars and back without suffering radiation poisoning. The endless justification of technology tends to hide the fact that these writers can't depict fleshed-out characters.

So, 'Harry Potter and the Seven Books of Increasing Length and Decreasing Quality...' They were books, are books and films and will, I suspect, be exasperating popular for decades to come. Rowling may not be 'big shakes' and her contribution to child literacy has not just been overrated but quite possibly imagined. Still, the books aren't slight, they aren't worth dismissing and they were worth reading.

If only because the books are entering the lexicon of our society, and responsible citizens are always well-informed.


I should point out that I'm not really a fan of either genre now; '...Deathly Hallows' is likely the last fantasy book I have any intention to read, and whilst I'm always up for an Iain M. Banks book I don't go out of my way to read SF. I'm not sure why I'm pointingt this out; possibly for some future archivist to go 'Hmmm, so that's when the music died...'

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Laugh or Cry?

Josh writes:

OK, seriously: Are they taking the piss or what?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

One student to another “You blasphemous, treacherous little leech!”
Me “Don’t hold back now, tell us what you really think.”
Student “Motherfucker!”
Me “Alright, start holding back a bit...”

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Obligatory fantasy rant

RSJS writes:

I've been thinking about literature of late, what with the latest Harry Potter hoopla – I love pulp literature, and still read Clive Cussler on flights around the country as its not too challenging and you don't lose the thread when hot towels and cold tea is profered by bored trolley dollies. My favourite book from my youth that I still read in my more hungover moments is "Have Spacesuit –will travel" by Robert Heinlein, about a young lad who accidentally gets to see the universe. But a book about a four-eyed twat with a wand and broomstick just leaves me cold.

And I'm trying to get to grips with why my some people go the way of the Tolkein trilogy, while I went the way of the Jedi. And I've decided to blame someone's god.

I've never been too fond of swords and sorcery stories, and I think the reason is the deus ex machina cop-out that is so often applied to the genre, namely "Magic". Magic bugs me: A few spells and incantations and Something Miraculous Happens, for no good reason. The act of chanting and mixing and spinning around stones nekkid results in a Holy Chicken appearing to bestow fatal pecks upon the Swamp Donkey of Doom or somesuch. It seems too similar to waving a smoking censer about and praying for a masculine child... I can't really differentiate between magic and the institutionalised begging to some benevolent sky-beard to fix everything – except in the fantasy realms the Big Dude seems to actually DO something. Kinda like in the Old Teatament.

It's not just that aspect, it's also the fact there doesn't ever need to be rhyme nor reason to magic, and it can basically solve or create any problem it likes. There is no structure, no governing laws that can't be broken by the word "magic". I remember a chap used to bemoan the telly show House because the punchline was always something so medically obtuse there was never any chance the audience could predict it – Hugh Laurie would just rattle off a dozen syllables, insult some folks, kill the patient thrice and cue the credits. And we'd be left none the wiser. House might as well wave a magic wand at the patient, and practically does – he gives his incantation no-one understands and suddenly Everything is Peachy. House is somewhere between Merlin and the Judeo-Christian God in that aspect – Ineffable, and grizzled of chops.

Maybe its not the idea "it's magic, go with it" that bugs me. Maybe its the laziness of it all. I'm a science-fiction nerd, and in that genre miraculous things happen all the time, but the authors are forever trying to explain the science behind it. Nanotechnology, cloning, time travel, laser-phaser-bobasers, Faster-than-light travel demonstrated with folded Playmates, all these things are pored over and researched and so when a sci-fi book says "And then Something Miraculous happens" there is normally a well-thought-out lead up (or caffeine-fuelled crazy lead up) to this. There are rules: authors try to predict how science will deal with things, how their ideas will be plausible. While "magic" is invoked as something basically bestowed for no obvious reason upon some mortar-and-pestle-wielding freak, science-fiction solutions try to have internal logic, and be created by people themselves. I guess I prefer this idea of the futuristic goings-on being manmade rather than just random "Unicorns appear when you jump down, turn around, and kill a newt, because the Universe is just kinda like that" bullshit.

Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, all the way back to Wells... I'm finding based on biographies that a lot of science-fiction authors I grew up reading are atheists. And I wonder if there is a link – atheists interested in the physical realm, in what mankind will become, while the more alembics and stuffed-alligator crowds look to a past with ogres and stoats and pixies and FUCKING ELVES (God I hate elves, since before their spokesfairy Orgasmo Bloom came along. But he didn't help). Atheists wonder "what can we do, where can we go, how do we do that?" and the fantasy twerps focus on "I know, goblins! Yay, goblins!".

Arthur C Clarke once suggested sufficiently-advanced science would be indistinguishable from magic, but you can bet when that science turned up in his books he worked his puckered old ARSE OFF trying to make this magic logical, reasonable, explainable. He never copped out and just typed "And then blue sparkly stuff flickered about and they all came back to life and went off for lashings of Ginger Beer". Perhaps if he did I'd have become inured to the irritations of fantasy at an early age and would be reading the Deadly Hallows right now. But thank fuck the old kiddie-fiddler didn't. He sometimes sacrificed plot to go off on mad fractal tangents but by gum, not a "Just so" dragon in sight.

Fuck Harry Potter and his prayers to a doting deity. And knee-jerk fundamentalists thought it was "pagan"... Eejits.


Josh writes:

OK, I thought everyone knew about this one by now, but I've seen it crop a few times lately, so just to be clear: "refute" means "disprove", not "deny". To refute a claim, you have to actually demonstrate that it's false, not just say that it is.

David Benson-Pope has not refuted the current claims against him, he's denied them (and not very convincingly at that).

Bonus pedantry! I haven't seen his in ages, but just in case it makes a comeback: "fulsome" means "excessive" or "overblown" -- "fulsome praise" is exaggerated and insincere, for example. People sometimes assume that it means "full" or "comprehensive" -- I was once told at a job interview that I had a "fulsome CV" (which the interviewer meant as a compliment). I didn't tell her that she'd actually just insulted me, not wanting to make a bad impression. Now that I think about it, maybe it was a test of my vocabulary to see if I'd make the correction -- or maybe she was surreptitiously insulting me and assuming I wouldn't get the insult...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

As a taster for those low (or not) on the borrowing list for What’s Left?:

This sounded awfully familiar...

Only the Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed as remote from modern life as the few thousand Leninists still trying to work out why the proletariat hadn’t put them in power.

And so, sadly, did this...

Outsiders don’t understand the enfeebling self-consciousness of political debate on the middle-class liberal-left: they can’t imagine the thoughts strangled and tongues bitten to avoid giving the smallest offence to audiences overanxious to find it. The director of a prison reform charity once told me that he struck all metaphors and similes from his speeches. Even if it was a bland cliché of ‘the government is like a rabbit caught in the headlights’ type, he wouldn’t use it because he knew half of his listeners would stop listening to him for thirty seconds as they double-checked that he had not unintentionally insulted a disadvantaged or ill-favoured group.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

Today’s gem is Sonne from Angry German Bastards™ Rammstein. A nice little video where they cast themselves as the Seven Dwarves, hooking gold-junkie Snow White up with her fix. She spends some time spanking them. I’m not sure if this is a punishment or a reward. Just watch the video...

Oh, and for anyone who wonders what they're shouting about, the chorus translates as "Here comes the sun".

(As per usual, linked to rather than embedded because of the drop in quality that comes with embedding.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

So, I see that Harry Potter And The Oh For Fuck’s Sake Just Fucking Die Already Why Can’t You is released today.

Reminds me of the article Span brought to my attention.

This one here.

On the one hand, I disagree with Lezard's implicit idea that children's literature should be written with as much of a flourish as its adult equivalent. In my last post on this issue I mentioned I’d read kid’s books UnLunDun and Skulduggery Pleasant. UnLunDun was passed to my flatmate, and is currently doing the rounds of various friends; Skulduggery Pleasant isn’t, simply because the language and ideas presented therein just aren’t complex enough to hold an adult’s interest for that long. However, I will be lending both to my students, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be enjoyed equally. Just because Lemony Snickett (as an example) is clever, it doesn't mean that children won't like reading books that aren't Lemony Snickett.

However, all the cretins who have argued that Harry Potter counts as valid adult literature need to realise the absolute, crushing truth of this part of Lezard’s article:

Here, from page 324 of The Order of the Phoenix, to give you a typical example, are six consecutive descriptions of the way people speak. "...said Snape maliciously," "... said Harry furiously", " ... he said glumly", "... said Hermione severely", "... said Ron indignantly", " ... said Hermione loftily". Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you're one of the many adults who don't have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn't make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.

I was discussing this issue last night with a friend who pointed out an exercise he was given by someone he knew: reread the first book in the series, find the several incidents of Harry going for a walk, and figure out how many of those times Rowling describes it as “stretching his legs”.

The answer is: all of them.

I’m pleased it’s raining on all you morons queuing for the book right now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read some Ghost Rider comics...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Books You Should Be Reading Number 26 Of A Bunch

Apathy Jack writes:

What’s Left? By Nick Cohen

In the early seventies, my mother searched the supermarkets for politically reputable citrus fruit. She couldn’t buy Seville oranges without indirectly subsidising General Francisco Franco, Spain’s fascist dictator. Algarve oranges were no good either because the slightly less gruesome but equally right-wing dictatorship of Antonio Salazar ruled Portugal. She boycotted the piles of Outspan from South Africa as a protest against Apartheid, and although neither America nor Israel was a dictatorship, she wouldn’t have Florida or Jaffa oranges in the house because she had no time for the then American President, Richard Nixon, or the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

My sisters and I did not know it, but when Franco fell ill in 1975, we were in a race to the death. Either he died of Parkinson’s disease or we died of scurvy.

This book should go on the reading list of anyone who actively identifies as left wing. Span, Mr Stupid and Hewligan spring immediately to mind (not because I think any of them are wrong-headed; just because they live close enough for me to lend the book to them) but also our friends on the right; Comrade Olthwaite for example, so they can get a leftist perspective with a lot of the dogma removed.

The book isn’t without its flaws; Cohen contextualises his arguments with history lessons that are many pages longer than they probably need to be to get his points across. That having been said, his points are good ones: In the years after the fall of Communism, being left-wing has stopped being so much about equal rights and employment relations (because of partial victories in those areas) and has become more and more about anti-Americanism. The most pressing example of course being those people who condemned the Ba’ath Party as totalitarians in the eighties, but who have become apologists for the regime, saying that it was Iraq’s business what Iraq got up to and there should be no condemnation or interference, since America decided it was an enemy.

Cohen further says that left wingers who conveniently ignore the reality of oppressive regimes - because if America is the villain, logic dictates that whoever is against America are heroes – are suffering from “the denial of a boy on the edge of a gang of bullies who can step back and smile innocently when the teacher storms into the playground”.

Sure, you might be saying that to ignore the horrors of, say Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide in Bosnia, is just silly, but Cohen points out a great number of left-wing thinkers who did just that – including quoting extensively from Noam Chomsky’s attempts to refute evidence of the genocide; evidence collected, as it happens, by the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, who you’d think would be pretty good at that sort of thing... (All-in-all, Chomsky takes a bit of a kicking in this book, so if you’re too big a fan, you might want to skim over chapter six pretty swiftly.)

Sure, I don’t agree with everything Cohen says. In Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, Moore’s myopia comes out when, in his desperation to prove that it was the titular Caucasian males who are responsible for the world’s ills, he declares Condoleeza Rice an honourary white man. The fact that Moore is right for a lot of his book doesn’t make this any less ridiculous a claim. In What’s Left?, Cohen starts to suffer a similar fate: he is certainly right when he says a lot of left-wingers are thoughtless apologists for unacceptable politics, but you start to see (in part thanks to his lengthy history lessons) that the left wing has never really met his standards. As it goes on, the book becomes less about how the left lost its way, and more about the fact that it has never actually lived up the halcyon potential of what it could have been. We can't reclaim a legacy that was never real.

That having been said, there is no doubt that there are many on the left (perhaps the majority) who are thinking in the way that Cohen talks about. So I do think that all of us still calling ourselves left wing should read the book, because, in the same way that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, we need to make sure that he’s not talking about us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Just when I think I'm out...

Apathy Jack writes:

I’ve just had a new student transfer into my class. She spent some of term one at Hoodrat, but I never got to know her, so I texted my old colleague the Creator to get the low-down.

Apparently, she is still on Hoodrat’s roll; this despite the fact that she enrolled in - and has been attending – another school for all of the second term, having left Hoodrat months ago.

Now, that’s not just inefficiency – there are specific legal guidelines to stop that sort of carryon from going unnoticed; and a fairly significant government agency that follows up on this kind of thing.

For it to happen would require either a frighteningly corrupt attempt to grub another few dollars of funding from the Ministry, or an inconceivable, almost aggressive incompetence on the part of my old employers.

I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, but I don't know if that makes it better or worse...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hey, a Bandwagon! Jump On!

Josh writes:

So it looks like Facebook is having its own little tipping point moment in New Zealand -- everyone starts talking about it, which starts everyone else talking about it and before you know it, it's Paris Hilton. One of the more interesting aspects to it is the class war that various people seem to be trying to foment between the users of it and MySpace. Supposedly MySpace is for lower class yokels and idiot teenagers, while Facebook is the preserve of the educated elite. Certainly Facebook seems a bit more mature in appearance and organization, but I don't know that that says much about its users.

Case in point: as part of my job writing documentation for a software company, I keep an eye on developments in software and website usability. This morning, I read an article on a hugely controversial development on Facebook that I hadn't been aware off (seeing as it happened a few months ago, before the site took off here). You see, on your Facebook home page there's this News Feed that has a bunch of one line summaries of all of your friends' recent activity -- Tom added a photo, Dick posted a message, Harry joined a group and so on. This saves you having to check every one of your friends' Facebook pages to keep up to date with them -- handy, no? That's what the Facebook developers thought when they unveiled it, and were therefore a little surprised when people hated it and organised protest groups with hundreds of thousands of members against it.

Why? Well, it's like this: Lots of people would add as their friends anyone who'd so much as looked at them from across the street, so that they could then brag about how they had fifty thousand friends and were more popular than Jesus. Of course, having added these "friends", they would then ignore them completely, since they were just after ego-padding, not actual interaction. Then comes along the News Feed, and suddenly they're inundated with updates about all these people they didn't care about. Worse than that, since they don't actually know most of these people or even remember that they added them, it appears that they're being updated on the statuses of a group of random strangers, which leads to the erroneous conclusion "hey -- if random strangers' details are being broadcast to me, that means that my details are being broadcast to random strangers as well! Gaah - invasion of privacy!!" And then with the screaming and the protests and the stupidity. Eventually everything settled down, adjustments were made, habits were changed and everyone was happy, but apparently it was a massive issue at the time (like I say, it wasn't big news here because Facebook wasn't on the local radar at the time).

The article I linked to looks at the whole issue from a usability perspective, asking what went wrong and what the Facebook team could have done differently. While they try to be fair about it, what it comes down to is that Facebook's users are retarded, and the Facebook team's mistake was in not realising how retarded their users were.

So much for your class war, then -- I mean, if the users of Facebook are supposed to be the clever elitist ones, then MySpace would have to be some sort of drooling, buck-toothed orgy of banal non-entities, talentless musicians and horny adolescents desperately soliciting webcam snaps of teenage girls in their underwear, which is clearly... Oh.

Never mind.

The Day Today - 17th July 2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

The Day Today - where is it from? Above is a sampler starring my boyfriend Steve Coogan. So now you know.

Speaking of poetry, and Tony Blair's legacy, is this by Simon Sing on Great Britain's "Maths Year 2000". Maths is apparently poetry, which I have no doubt accepting if I took the time to learn the language of mathematics.

"A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words . . . A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer."

At least there is a right and wrong in mathematics, so the parameters of (for?) the creation of aesthetically pleasing patterns are more defined.

Desmond Morris on how food should be for enjoyment - and if you find yourself putting on weight you should move around more.

I found this review of a piece of fiction on Wilde. I don't think I'll bother with the book myself, but I was intrigued by the following description of one of the protagonists:

Elfman's self-righteous narrator, Martin Frame, is a late-19th-century whiz-kid gynecologist who is medically years beyond his era, but he sees himself in another role—as a detective who tracks down and heals his patients' "hidden anguish."

Part of me REALLY wants to know just what a "late 19th century whiz-kid gynecologist" is like.

More on Beauty, this time in art. It looks like Barnett Newman's declaration "in 1948 that the impulse of modern art was "the desire to destroy beauty"" has run its course.

Over the past 20 years, the easiest way to do this has been to come up with something ugly: firebricks, foetus earrings, canned excrement. But ugliness, even if it is easier to produce in the short run, has the unfortunate habit of losing its edge. So what about a label that is really new and shocking - beauty, for example? You never know, it might catch on.

We learn also that modern art's ugly worship is the fault of the French. Lacan is mentioned, I bet Foucault had something to do with it as well. So artists might be moving back to creating works that are beauty is, but I still haven't worked out *just* what beauty is. I think that the answer lies in evolutionary psychology. Steven Pinker writes in one of his books that no matter where people are from they find pictures of African savannah - where we evolved - most pleasing to look at.

Was World War I necessary? asks Keith Windschuttle in this fascinating review of books by John Keegan and Niall Ferguson on the subject. I'm a bit of a Ferguson fan partly because of the whole counterfactuals issue, so it is interesting to see where Windschuttle thinks he falls down.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Day Today - 16th July 2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

Today's picture, the cat again.

First up, the brilliant John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on sending the army into Aboriginal communities.

Hewligan's got into gender differences, with real comments too!, instead of web crawlers telling him to get a bigger penis. I'm not too sure about some of the claims, especially number 6 "Beautiful people have more daughters". I think that depends more on intelligence. And seriously I am on the side of Josh and HORansome about the nature of the article and the claims it makes. But in any event, here is a good hard biological sex difference.

The researchers found that male reproduction genes evolve much faster than any other type of gene, including female reproductive genes.


"You can see there is very strong competition for sperm to fertilize the egg, and eggs don't compete to find sperm,"

And broadly on the same theme some pieces by Roger Scruton and Cathy Young on feminism.


When women forge their own "gender identity," in the way the feminists recommend, they become unattractive to men—or attractive only as sex objects, not as individual persons. And when men cease to be gentlemen, they become unattractive to women. Sexual companionship then goes from the world. All that it needs to save young people from this predicament is for old-fashioned moralists to steal unobserved past their feminist guardians and whisper the truth into eager and astonished ears—the truth that gender is indeed a construct, but one that involves both sexes, acting in mutual support, if it is to be built successfully. In my experience, young people hear with great sighs of relief that the sexual revolution may have been a mistake, that women are allowed to be modest, and that men can make a shot at being gentlemen.

And Young...

However, framing the issues in terms of a male "war against women" had some unfortunate consequences -- notably, a much-deplored tendency to depict women as perpetual victims and men as villains. Women's ill-treatment of men is either obliterated or excused, resulting in a quasi-Victorian sentimental insistence on female virtue and innocence.

Often, the same people who bristle at the notion that women may be less sexual or less aggressive than men insist that unwelcome sexuality in the workplace is always a male imposition on women and indignantly reject any suggestion that women may sometimes be the aggressors in domestic combat.

Also, one of the most pointless movies I have ever seen - Human Traffic - was on last night courtesy of C4. The Guardian has an intersting take on the pointlessness of the culture surorunding it.

The most important cultural development in music of the last two decades, meanwhile, has been the rise of another seminal form of middleman, the disc jockey. Once just a canny selector of records and twiddler of the volume fader, the DJ is now a godlike presence in the club, even if, like Pete Tong or Judge Jules, he never composes a second's worth of music himself.

The reason for this is exactly the same as the reason for the rise of the conductor, even though the material conditions of performance could hardly be more different - it is the physical absence of the originating artist. The electronic composer works in his bedroom with a tower of computers and synthesisers; his music is mass-produced and distributed on vinyl. So when the music gets to be heard on the dance floor, there are waves of appreciative joy swilling round the place with nowhere to go. The guy who made it happen isn't there. The audience wants to praise him like they should, but it's impossible. The DJ is there, however, waving crazily from behind his decks, and so the adulation flows to him, for want of any more deserving receptacle.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Apathy Jack writes:

Literary Musing The First

Originally uploaded by Brain Stab

Jack’s interior dialogue:

“Ooh, looky, an article saying, in effect, that reading gets you laid. Finally; validation for English teachers everywhere.”
“That’s not exactly what the article says...”
I said: Finally; validation for English teachers everywhere. And look: But before you trip off to the park clad in your most fetching sun hat and clutching your copy of the latest Jilly Cooper - be warned. Not just any book will do. Erotic fiction, horror, self-help books and the dreaded chick-lit were all, in fact, deemed turn-offs when it came to love between the covers. Of course women wouldn’t be attracted to anyone reading such nonsense!”
“Okay, Casanova, what are you reading at the moment?”
Atlas Shrugged.”
“You will never again know the touch of a woman.”
“No, wait! I’m also reading What’s Left: how liberals lost their way.”
“You’re going to die alone.”
“But... I have a girlfriend...”
“You won’t once she gets a look at your bookshelf.”
“Hold on! I’m also reading The worst person in the world and 202 other strong contenders, a book of social, political and media commentary by Keith Olbermann.”

Somewhere, a lone cricket chirps.

“Oh come on! What woman in their right mind wouldn’t want Keith's little Oberbabies inside them?”
“For the last time, it’s just you! Now be quiet and get back to your womanless library of obscure American political thought before you disturb the Actual People™. Oh, and try not to get too many tears on the pillow tonight, it’s getting uncomfortable to sleep on.”

Literary Musing The Second

David Slack (from whom I lifted the above Guardian link) points out a comment made at the original article (and they’re as worth reading as the original piece, in my opinion) that states: “Don't judge people for reading Dan Brown - judge people for not hiding it.”

I must say, I disagree. You shouldn’t be ashamed of what you read – even if you should be ashamed of what you’re reading. (That makes sense. Shut up!)

I give you for example: Harry Potter. Now, the Harry Potter series are children’s books. Over the last half decade or so, I’ve been barraged from all sides by cretins and idiots telling me that they're really adults' book disguised as kids' books, or that they can be enjoyed on one level for kids and another for adults.

Shut up.

They're children’s books.

But here’s the thing: that doesn’t matter. If you want to read a kid’s book: read a kid’s book. Don’t wait around to have growed-up covers with paintings of mystic symbols replacing the cartoon pictures of trains – just read the damn book. Before I started on my pile of politicy books, I read UnLunDun, which boldly announces that it’s China Mieville’s first book for younger readers, then I read Skulduggery Pleasant – also a kids' book, and not even trying to hide the fact. After I finish my current stack of books, I have a lot of comics I need to catch up on, so will be reading those on the bus to work in the mornings.

Something isn’t less worth while because it has a cartoon cover. I like the Narnia books, but they’re not for grown-ups; The Screwtape Letters is. I’ve read the first of Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and enjoyed it immensely, but it’s for kids; Adverbs is for adults.

So stop whinging and read what you like, dammit. (Unless it’s Harry Potter – I saw that movie yesterday, and I really have no idea what the fuss is about – some twenty-seven year old horse-blinder getting emo for two hours without a beginning or an end? Kids these day...)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

This week’s music video is Get Back by Ludacris. I like this one because of its deceptive simplicity; the thrust of the song is that he wants people to leave him alone (or to Get Back) and so the video is three minutes of Ludacris using his cartoonish, Popeye-like forearms to make them do so. Also, his decision to replace the traditional hip-hop hoochie dancers with fat women in purple twinsets pleases me.

(Fun piece of trivia: Ludacris’ forearm prosthetics were leftovers from the Hyde costume from the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Day Today 11/07/2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:



In an eerily prescient piece, considering what Jim Flyn has been saying this week, Charles Murray predicted that eugenics would be a cause of the left, just as it was. And no, I don't agree with everything he writes.

But I can illustrate the nature of the spillover with one of the few obvious possibilities—that eugenics will become a cause of the Left.

Now turn to the eugenicists’ political conclusion, that government should act to shape fertility patterns. It is not something that today’s Left likes to recall, but eugenicism was predominantly a movement of the British Fabian and socialist Left, not of Tories or the old Liberals. This political affinity was no accident, for a reason expressed by Sidney Webb, one of the brightest lights of British socialism. "No consistent eugenicist can be a ‘Laisser Faire’ individualist," he wrote, "unless he throws up the game in despair. He must interfere, interfere, interfere!" Sidney and his wife Beatrice were joined in their enthusiasm for eugenics by the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Emma Goldman, and H. G. Wells.

On a related note, here is E.O. Wilson (mentioned by Charles Murray) on Human Nature, and Virginia Postrel on one of the downsides of central planning .

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Poetry You Should Be Reading Number 1 Of 1

Apathy Jack writes:

Righto, based on Olthwaite’s post here, and the fact that it’s too rainy to leave the house, a digression on poetry, plus a list of what you should be reading.

The thing about poetry is, of course, that the vast majority of it is total arse.

Litterick raises the point in the comments of Eric’s post that poetry gets a bad rap because, to paraphrase, we all wrote bad examples of it when we were young and crap. Sadly, I have to disagree – I have never written a line of poetry in my life. I simply never got the point. If you wanted to write about something, I didn’t see why you needed to do so in iambic pentameter.

Now, I sort of get it. There’s a really good line in Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, which I’ll have to paraphrase, because my copy is currently in the possession of an ex-student, where Tom Robbins says that sometimes to say something properly, you have to fuck about with grammar to get your point across. Some things are better said outside the conventions of proper growed-up writing.

Not, of course, that that’s the only reason: Stephen Fry, in The Ode Less Traveled, states (and again I’m paraphrasing, for the same reason as last time) that saying something in a poem, while not being intrinsically better than saying something in prose, is more worthwhile, because it takes greater effort, therefore showing greater craftsmanship and, by extension, thought.

Hell, there are plenty of reasons to write poetry, and only one reason not to: the fact that it’s mostly awful. I make a point of teaching as much poetry as I can, but there are only about three poets whose work I’ve actually spent money on.

So where should you go for good poetry? Well...

Emily Dickinson. She is possibly the only “classic” poet who I can stomach for more than a few stanzas at a time. Her stuff is short, emotive, and powerful.

Roger McGough. I’ve mentioned McGough’s autobiography as being worth a read, and a heartily recommend his poetry – I use a bunch to show my Year 9s how one can play with words.

Glen Colquhoun. New Zealand’s most successful poet (in terms of book sales, at any rate; certainly the only one whose books you’ll see at every bookshop in the CBD). Here’s an interview where he talks a lot of sense about making poetry accessible to the reader. Colquhoun’s book An Explanation Of Poetry To My Father forms a decent sized chunk of my Year 9 poetry unit.

Taylor Mali. I love this guy, and have embedded one of his readings here. For those who want more, here is another, which I love.

Shane Koyczan
, as recommended by Arna in the comments of the previous post. Although I haven’t been exposed to a great deal of his work, anyone who can visibly move Brain Stab’s resident soulless monster RSJS is worth checking out.

Henry Rollins. Sure, you don’t want anything to do with Rollin’s unless you’re in a bad mood (or would like to be) but it’s very powerful stuff. One of the pieces from Eye Scream was used by a colleague of mine alongside Sylvia Plath in a Year 12 poetry unit about madness and paranoia.

And you know, that’s actually about it. Sure, they’re not the only poets I like, but they’re the only one’s I consistently like.

So, The Internet, I’ve got a few more days of holiday: what poetry to you think I should be reading?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Day Today 07/07/2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:


Happy Birthday little fellow - one year old today


After yesterday's disaster, I came across Alexander Nehamas, who was much more enlightening. Here we learn that To find something beautiful is to believe that making it a larger part of our life is worthwhile, that our life will be better if we spend part of it with that work. Which seems fair enough. But what use is it? Harold Bloom points out that immersing ourselves in beautiful literature will not make one a better or a worse person, a more useful or more harmful citizen., and here Theodore Dalrymple likewise notes that it is possible for a man with the roughest manners to have a heart of gold and wonders why is it that well-read people do not behave conspicuously better than those who have never read a book in their lives?

Whilst I search for the answer to that one, Bloom, through Nehamas, has thrust another problem before me. That of immersing myself deeply in the Canon [of Western / English literature]. I took English at high school through to seventh form but the curriculum was mercifully free of anything to do with English whatsoever - quite a feat to pull off over five years.

Now, I would like to find out about great writers and even poets (I was scarred for years by the shit Ted Hughes) but have absolutely no idea where to start. All I have are names, Wodehouse, Keats, Larkin, Dickens, Hemmingway and so forth. What should I read?

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Day Today 06/07/2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

There is always someone worse off than you.

Ostracized by society, thousands of India's widows flock to the holy city of Vrindavan waiting to die. They are found on side streets, hunched over with walking canes, their heads shaved and their pain etched by hundreds of deep wrinkles in their faces.

Biswas speaks with a strong voice, but her spirit is broken. When her husband of 50 years died, she was instantly ostracized by all those she thought loved her, including her son.

"My son tells me: 'You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away,' " she says, her eyes filling with tears. "What do I do? My pain had no limit."

"Generally all widows are ostracized," she says. "An educated woman may have money and independence, but even that is snatched away when she becomes a widow. We live in a patriarchal society. Men say that culturally as a widow you cannot do anything: You cannot grow your hair, you should not look beautiful."

Sometimes a thread has a comment's section where you just can't add anything because it's already been said for you, as Paul has done in this thread against a thoroughly disturbing and unsavoury (to say the least) fellow called "Morgue", and Paul a filthy pinko commie no less! And , credit where credit is due some Muslims in Britain have taken out advertisments comdemning the recent terrorist attacks - still with unnecessary riders, but it's a good start.

If you want to find out if Truth is Beauty, and Beauty Truth, then this interview at Salon sure as hell won't enlighten you as the interviewer makes an arse of himself. Is cynicism a formal philosophic school?...[Bowman laughs. Scarry doesn't.]

Today's picture is a tornado and a rainbow, considering recent happenings down south.

And since Mr Jack is talking video's, here's one of my favourites. "Little Trouble Girl" by Sonic Youth. Jack's "Everlong", by way of the Foo Fighters is excellent because the video fits the lyrics. I can't relate to "Litlle Trouble Girl", never having been one, but for some reason i find the video quite comforting, which may have not been Sonic Youth's intention considering they more often than not thrive on dissonance.

Apathy Jack writes:

Today’s music video is Just, by Radiohead. Most of you will have seen this, so you’ll know how good it is. I remember the first time I saw this one – it blew my freakin’ mind, man.

(As per usual, linked to rather than embedded because of the drop in quality that comes with embedding.)

Oh, and while we’re talking about music videos, Bitter, by Slipping Tongue (which you may remember from this post here) has run afoul of the Network Puritans, who took issue with the emo-child drugging herself into comfortable numbness, so between the hours of 6am and 9pm, a censored version where the drug use in only strongly implied will run – in the middle of songs featuring near-naked women throwing themselves bodily at men who sing about slapping hos and popping caps in the asses of sundry niggers.

But what do I know...?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Flat Game

That Morthos Stare writes:

Posted on behalf of Mr. H. O. Ransome (of 'All-Embracing But Underwhelming')


It's crap.

I'm currently in the market for moving and, like many a PhD student, I am also a pauper who can't really afford to live in Auckland. The rental market here is dire, and for more than one reason. Aside from the price (ideally, you are told, you should pay less than a third of your income on rent; an average flat near the University takes up close to half of my income (and, yes, once you move further out the rents do come down but the price of transport goes up) you also have to deal with the fact that the Palangi who decided to settle in Auckland kept persisting in the idea that Aotearoa was a tropical paradise; our houses are not built for the cold and damp that make up our otherwise pleasant climate.

(It is, at least, better than that of Old Blighty...)

A further problem for the impoverished flat-hunter is the fear that Auckland's housing market won't crap-out spectacularly for a little longer, which means that whilst it looks bad now it's going to be worse in a few months time. There is little point saving and scrimping because I'll never have enough capital behind me to properly fund this little venture. Indeed, if I get a flat now I have about six months of safely locked-down rent...

Thus I am in a quandary; keep looking knowing that it will cause despair or just give up and stay in, the horror of it all, the North Shore. Hmm, even typing that makes me feel queasy...

So what, Mr. Ransome, you might well be saying. Trite truisms and pessism might well make a MySpace post but this is Brain Stab. We expect content (not that we ever get it, however...).

Well, tough titties, I say. Complaining it is. Anyway, Josh is either about to orgasm over the 'Transformers' Movie or cast aspersions upon it. Frankly, he can't be trust; he liked 'Return of the Sith.'

A well-placed sui generis

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

...is a happy sui generis, courtesy of Jerry Fodor.

For example: there has been, for centuries, a debate going on between people who think that each of the various kinds of mental process is more or less sui generis, and people who think that they are much of a likeness, all consisting of the same elements although differently arranged. With occasional anomalies, the argument between homogeneous minds and heterogeneous minds aligns with the argument between empiricists and rationalists; and, far from being settled, it keeps popping up in unexpected places. Do you think that a classical education disciplines the mind for whatever pursuits it later undertakes? If so, you should think that learning Latin gives rise to intellectual capacities that are more or less equally in play in devising a foreign policy, or designing a bridge, or making money on the market. Similarly, if you think there's such a thing as 'general' intelligence - what IQ tests are supposed to measure - then you should also think that designing bridges and designing foreign policies manifest much the same kind of cleverness, albeit applied to different tasks. People who are good at the one should then be, potentially, equally good at the other. So Veblen held, maybe naively, that society ought to be run by engineers; and Plato held, maybe even more naively, that it ought to be run by philosophers.

And if you don't like that, here's an asteroid that looks like a cock and balls from underneath.

Rest in peace Mandhla, at least Rigor Mortis will have slightly less work to do.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In Poor Taste

Josh writes:

What's worse than a girafe with a sore throat?

A rhino with a prolapsed penis!

Oh shit, that wasn't funny at all -- they had to put him down and stuff. And people loved that rhino. Fuck. Um... SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!

*legs it*

Homework assignment

Apathy Jack writes:

Tonight on C4’s Homegrown at 10.30 is the premiere of Bitter, by Slipping Tongue. You should watch this. I have no idea what Slipping Tongue are like - there’s every chance they’ll suck - but the video was directed by Rajneel Singh.

Raj got into the press a few years back for creating The Fanimatrix – a Matrix fan film that was offered online and downloaded a few million times, making it one of, if not the most watched short film from a New Zealand director. (In lieu of the actual film here is the Wikipedia entry, where there’s also a spiffy picture of Brain Stabber RSJS about to be brutally schooled by the main character.) He followed it up last year with Big Bad Wolves, a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, which won a bunch of awards at sundry film festivals. (Here is the Big Bad Wolves site. Here are some of the publicity stills shot by the aforementioned RSJS.)

Bitter is Raj’s first music video, so even if the song’s rubbish (and you never know, it might not be) the video is guaranteed to be worth watching.

Apparently it will be the first played on Homegrown, meaning it will be (barring a few ads, I guess) the first thing played after The Daily Show, and will be over and done by 1035 if you have other shows/strict bedtimes/porn to be watched.

Tell me what you think, and I’ll tell Raj.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

This week’s music video is, in my opinion, second only to Everlong in terms of cleverness, narrative, song/video combination, and all of the other criteria for Awesome.

Knights of Cydonia, by Muse, because, frankly, there haven’t been enough science-fiction/martial arts/cowboy videos.

(Once again, linked to rather than embedded because embedding leads to loss of resolution, which would defeat the purpose of showing you visual spectacles.)