23 October 2008

Area Boy Enters Jumping-And-Touching-Tops-Of-Doorways Phase

BROOKINGS, SD — Local 11-year-old Dylan Adams entered the stage in childhood development Wednesday in which a boy feels the uncontrollable desire to run, jump, and touch the top of every doorframe he encounters. "It is perfectly natural for young males to start exhibiting a tendency to touch things that are slightly higher than they can reach from a normal standing position," child psychologist Gerald Bakerfield said. "In many cases, the child is experimenting with his newfound ability to make his own choices, whether that means jumping to touch ceilings, street signs, or low-hanging tree branches." Bakerfield added that Adams would soon progress from the jumping-and-touching-doorways phase to the crossing-your-arms-over-your-chest-turning-around-and-pawing-at-the-back-of-your-own-shoulders-to-make-it-seem-like-you're-making-out-with-someone phase.

- The Onion

22 October 2008

Don't sugar-coat it, Alan

Alan McGee of Creation Records fame has a few strong opinions about the Q Awards, just announced in London:
...in Q World (a dull place full of accountants and estate agents) the biggest band in the world are Coldplay: music for grown-up teenage emos, who, when not crying and writing bad poetry about sad colours, are giving a few pounds to Amnesty International charity workers, because that is what Chris Martin would do (weeping bitter tears for the world as he did so). Of course, Coldplay went onto win best album and why not? We are in Q World now...
If depression, blandness, and boredom would ever manifest itself in physical form, it would be the Q Awards. Someone actually said "there are no losers tonight, only people full of win!". No, there is one big loser: music. The Q Awards are the meaningless musical equivalent of Homer Simpson "winning" the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.
- Alan McGee, 'Why I hate the Q Awards', Guardian, 21 October 2008 
[Yeah, two Guardian articles in a row, losing my touch!  Disclosure: I still buy Q Magazine now and then, but not every issue like I did from 1993 to 2006]

21 October 2008

Is there something I should know?

Republicans in New Mexico have backed down from initial allegations of electoral fraud in the state, in which they produced a list of 28 possibly fraudulent votes cast in the Democratic primary, including one voter named Duran Duran.  Turns out there actually *is* a Duran Duran in the Albuquerque phonebook.  Oliver Burkeman comments that 'even so, Republican anti-fraud operatives expect to spend election day in New Mexico keeping an eye out for bad Eighties blow-drys and people wearing blazers with the sleeves rolled up'.
- Guardian, 21 October 2008

The meltdown explained

The economic meltdown explained for graduate students in comic form...
[Courtesy of AL Daily]

19 October 2008

Crowded skies

A cool 71-second video displaying all commercial airline traffic in the world in a 24-hour period. The route between Europe and the northeast of the United States is fluid and organic, but take a look around the rest of the planet too - it's a busy world.

24 Hour Air Traffic Video

[Courtesy of Deeknow]

16 October 2008

Optimists a rare breed

'Consternation at Newsweek, which published a poll earlier this week revealing that 86% of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction in which the nation is going - a historic low, coupled with lower approval ratings for George Bush than Richard Nixon ever had to confront. A further 4% didn't know how they felt. So who on earth are the 10% who think everything's fine? "The obvious guess is that the responders misunderstood the question," one reporter for the magazine speculated. "So maybe a few old ladies thought the nice Newsweek pollster said, 'Are you sad it's tied?' And they said, 'Yes,' because they thought their guy had a big lead." Intrepidly, he headed for the streets of Washington DC to find some of these sunny optimists. In the course of much questioning, he found five, two of whom were pretty clearly relentless optimists - the kind of people temperamentally unable to feel depressed about anything, no matter how catastrophic the economic news. Another two were Canadian. The fifth was drunk'
- Oliver Burkeman, Guardian, 16 October 2008

How not to break the ice

Police in Picton would like to speak to a man who has been belching at women in the town, thereby flouting the basic tenets of good manners and endangering the already tenuous grip on reality prevalent in small-town New Zealand life:
An unknown man has approached three women in the last two weeks, made inappropriate comments and belched in their faces before going on his way.  Senior constable Paul McKenzie, of Picton, said the man entered a shop in High St, Picton and carried on verbally at the retailer, again ending his performance with a belch.  "He badgers them with inappropriate comments of a non-sexual nature, but it is offensive to someone not expecting it," Mr McKenzie said.
- Marlborough Express, 16 October 2008

15 October 2008

How to finish an interview quickly

John Cleese discusses his technique for responding to inane interview questions:

Finally, she girded her loins, leaned forward in a haze of pheremones and Chanel, and purred,

“So, what exactly do you think of when you answer the call of nature?”

It took a few seconds to work out what she meant, and I decided the only fair response was to respond with perfect media-trained skill to which I felt sure she could relate - I answered her question with a question.

“Sitting, or standing?”

At which, she suddenly became confused, blushed, started to stammer, gathered her audio recording device and hurriedly left.

- Cleeseblog, 23 July 2008

13 October 2008

Hazy phrasing

'Literary theorists used to say that their most abstruse prose was "writing the difficulty"—that the sentences were tortuous because there was no briskly commonsensical way of representing a complex issue. Sarah Palin, alas, talks the difficulty. She may claim, as she did in last Thursday's Vice-Presidential debate, that "Americans are cravin' that straight talk," but they are sure not going to get it from the Governor—not with her peculiar habit of speaking only half a sentence and then moving on to another for spoliation, that strange, ghostly drifting through the haziest phrases, as if she were cruelly condemned to search endlessly for her linguistic home: "I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you."'
- James Wood in The New Yorker, 13 October 2008

12 October 2008

The stupid vote

The US presidential election is only a few weeks away so John Oliver, Senior Polling Analyst for The Daily Show, highlights the importance of a section of the voting public that seldom receives due credit for the pivotal role they play in deciding election campaigns: the stupid.

10 October 2008

Dishonesty is the best policy

A cranky local MP, Chris Ruane, has painted over a shopfront sign in Rhyl, north Wales, that has proclaimed the now-disused establishment to be "Rhyl's biggest receiver of stolen goods".  Ruane argued that 'the name is emblazoned across the front of the building, which sends out completely the wrong message about Rhyl'.  The sign had been in place for decades, and Ruane said that the sign was often used by the media to portray Rhyl in a negative light.
If it was up to me I'd relish the opportunity to live in a town in which the criminals are so helpful!
- BBC News, 10 October 2008  

De-boganising Upper Hutt

Council business services director Chris Upton summarised past feeling about the city in a report put out for public consultation.  "Upper Hutt has been tagged with a negative perception for many years," he wrote. "This is not just from people who live in Wellington, or people that knew somebody who drove a [Holden] Torana and wore a black jersey".  Poor perceptions had spread to "many developers, investors and retailers who carry negative connotations of our city - that is, if they even have a reason to think about Upper Hutt".
The newspaper article then goes on to spoil the effect somewhat by interviewing as many local residents owning Holdens as possible.
Incidentally, I have fond memories of a visit to Upper Hutt to see an Arts Festival play a couple of years ago.  The performance - the Maori drama 'Battalion' - was enjoyable, but soon the time came to return to the bright lights of Wellington City.  As I was unfamiliar with the layout of the Upper Hutt town centre, I got a little lost navigating through the many roundabouts.  Luckily I espied a sign - 'City Centre' - so I followed that, hoping to find the route back to the motorway and home.  Unfortunately I just ended up amongst more roundabouts, Pizza Huts and dairies.  Only then did I realise that the sign wasn't pointing the way to Wellington city centre: it was directing me to the Upper Hutt 'city centre'.  Something of an oxymoron there. 
- Dominion Post, 9 October 2008

09 October 2008

Dens of iniquity

'Puritans detested the theatre and tended to blame every natural calamity, including a rare but startling earthquake in 1580, on the playhouses. They considered theatres, with their lascivious puns and unnatural cross-dressing, a natural haunt for prostitutes and shady characters, a breeding ground of infectious diseases, a distraction from worship, and a source of unhealthy sexual excitement. All the female parts were of course played by boys - a convention that would last until the Restoration in the 1660s. In consequence, the Puritans believed that the theatres were hotbeds of sodomy - still a capital offence in Shakespeare's lifetime - and wanton liaisons of all sorts.

There may actually have been a little something to this, as popular tales of the day suggest. In one story a young wife pleads with her husband to be allowed to attend a popular play. Reluctantly the husband consents, but with the strict proviso that she be vigilant for thieves and keep her purse buried deep within her petticoats. Upon her return home, the wife bursts into tears and confesses that the purse has been stolen. The husband is naturally astounded. Did his wife not feel a hand probing beneath her dress? Oh, yes, she responds candidly, she had felt a neighbour's hand there - 'but I did not think he had come for that'

- Bill Bryson, 'Shakespeare', 2007

Overclocking debt

The famous National Debt Clock in New York has reached its own mini-Millennium Bug moment.  When the US national public debt figure reached $10 trillion last month, the clock was unable to show the full amount, because it only had 13 digits.  The clock's owners are adding two more zeroes, although when they need to use two more zeroes there may not be enough money around to pay for the electricity to illuminate the sign...

Perhaps we should take Matthew's advice and get clued up on how things ended up so shaky?

- Source: BBC News, 9 October 2008 

08 October 2008

Fixing a hole?

A birthday party was held in the street by local traders in Edinburgh... for a pothole.  Protesting at the time taken to fix the hole in Leith Walk, the traders erected a banner: 'Happy birthday hole - one year old'.  But to their surprise their mock birthday celebrations were interrupted when local tram-line contractors tore down the banner and began popping the balloons the traders had tied up.  A minor scuffle ensued:

Diane Taylor-Wallace, owner of the Snail Mail shop, said: "I'm still a bit shocked, it got nasty really quickly. I was in the shop chatting and I heard the noise of balloons popping and automatically thought some kids had got hold of them.  So I went out with my best stern granny look but to my amazement I saw all these grown men bursting the balloons"
See how upset people can get if you throw a party and don't invite them?

- The Scotsman, 7 October 2008

New Zealand ants found in New Zealand

An Invercargill family feared a biosecurity incident had occurred when they discovered ants inside a tin of Chupa Chups lollipops imported from Spain.  However, after further examination by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, it was revealed that the ants were... black house ants from New Zealand.  So, basically someone left the lid off a tin and this warrants a newspaper story?

- Southland Times, 7 October 2008

06 October 2008

Eagle-eye Cooper

From a book chapter on mapping the Earth from space:
'...the most fruitful of the Mercury missions was the last, the 22-orbit flight of Gordon Cooper in May 1963.  Cooper was equipped with a hand-held 70mm Hasselblad [camera] and with incredibly acute vision, 20/12 instead of the normal 20/20.  Because of the weather conditions below and the configuration of his orbit, nearly all of the best colour pictures Cooper took were of Tibet.  He passed over that country several times, travelling at an altitude of more than 160 kilometres and a speed of 28,000 kilometres an hour.
Cooper's report after the mission astonished everyone.  "I could detect individual houses and streets," the astronaut said, "in the low-humidity and cloudless areas such as the Himalaya ... area, the Tibetan plain, and the southwestern desert area of the US.  I saw several individual houses [probably large lamaseries] with smoke coming from the chimneys in the high country around the Himalayas ... I saw what I took to be a vehicle along a road in the Himalaya area and in the west Texas-Arizona area.  I could first see the dust blowing off the road, then could see the road clearly, and when the light was right, an object that was probably a vehicle"
Could this really be possible?  Or was Cooper seeing things?  Since the physiological effects of space flight were at that time largely unknown, a number of scientists suspected that Cooper, under the influence of prolonged weightlessness, had suffered hallucinations.  But subsequent investigation revealed that a large white-topped truck had indeed driven along that rather deserted southwestern highway at the exact time and place Cooper had reported.  
- John Noble Wilford, 'The Mapmakers', 2002  

05 October 2008

'Disaster capitalism'

Stephen Colbert interviews Naomi Klein about her new book 'The Shock Doctrine', which sets out how governments manipulate public opinion in times of crisis to advance hidden agendas. Despite the comedic setting this is an excellent interview, and I enjoy how even the friendly Colbert audience gasps a little when Klein makes some of her more contentious (but hardly radical) points.

03 October 2008

Breaching the peace

A man has been convicted of a breach of the peace and fined £100 in Scotland after admitting taking a photograph of an ill woman who had emerged from a bar to 'get some fresh air'.  Sebastian Przygodzki was arrested when the ill woman took offense at being photographed and called for police to intervene. 
Sheriff Kenneth Hogg said the matter "could be best described as exceptionally unchivalrous.  The lady concerned was entitled to her privacy and not to have a passing stranger take a photograph," said the sheriff.
So, just to recap, in Scotland it's not a breach of the peace to be 'ill' in a public place, but it is to take a photograph of it?  While I agree that taking the woman's picture was undoubtedly ill-advised and unchivalrous, that's a matter of poor manners, not a matter for a court.  And I presume the same legal test doesn't apply to nearly every paparazzi picture of Amy Winehouse?
- BBC News, 3 October 2008    

The price of credulous ignorance

...is apparently $44.99, which is the sum self-taught weather forecaster Ken Ring is asking for his annual publication of weather predictions for New Zealand in the coming year:
His predictions for this month are a lot of rain on October 24 and if you have something planned for the first 11 days of February 2009, cancel them and prepare for flooding.
Mr Ring is also a global warming skeptic, arguing that we shouldn't be fretting:
"Please tell your children to stop worrying. The planet is fine. Enjoy the planet. That what it is here for".  He said the planet's weather systems could never be affected by carbon dioxide emissions and it would not make any difference if all the CO2 currently stored in wood, coal and fossil fuels was released in the atmosphere all at once.  Even if it did, he said a warmer planet was not something to be afraid of. "We have a moral responsibility to create global warming because we need a warmer planet. We really do. A warmer world is better. Really. Life likes warmth."
Maybe I should give this weather forecasting lark a go too.  Here goes.  In New Zealand, in the coming year, it will rain, like, heaps.  Wellington will be windier than is strictly necessary, Auckland will be sticky and humid, Invercargill will be chilly, and as a blanket rule the nightly television news programmes will devote a comically large proportion of their running time to talking about the aforementioned weather, in lieu of actual news to talk about.   

- Source: Taranaki Daily News, 3 October 2008

01 October 2008

Members Of Twisted Sister Now Willing To Take It

NEW YORK — In a stunning reversal of their long-stated reluctance to take it, members of heavy-metal band Twisted Sister announced Monday that, after 24 years of fervent refusal, they are now willing to take it. "I acknowledge that we promised not to take it anymore, but things change. The world is a different place today, and with that in mind, we would like to go on record as saying that, starting right now, we are going to take it," read a statement released by the band's lead singer, Dee Snider. "To clarify, we would still prefer not to take it, but as of now, taking it is an option that we would be open to. That is all." Bassist Mark "the Animal" Mendoza also stated that, in regards to what he wants to do with his life, he no longer solely wants to rock, but would instead prefer doing other things, such as raising a family and working as a claims adjuster in Rye, NY.

- The Onion