24 February 2009

Accidental candour

'The proofreader and typesetter at the outspoken Southern Metropolis Daily have been fined for an article that went a step too far – even for one of the few newspapers in China willing on occasion to challenge the censors.

The proofreader was outraged when he was presented with a story from a junior reporter that fell into line with the mainstream newspapers that lavish praise on the activities of Communist Party officials.

He described in flattering terms how a local party leader in southern Shenzhen had celebrated the Chinese New Year making dumplings with a group of migrant labourers. In his final paragraph, he wrote: “Since they have never dined with such a senior-level leader before, all the migrant workers were all very excited to see such a great leader.”

But this was not the line that ended up in print the next day. Once typeset, the proofreader was so disgusted by the phrase that he circled it and made the annotation: “Such arse-kissing!” He felt that the traditional propaganda tone was not in keeping with the policy of one of China’s most hard-hitting newspapers.

However, the typesetter did not realise what the phrase meant and simply added it into the reporter’s copy and sent the newspaper off to be printed. Thus the January 22 edition of the newspaper carried the line reading: “Such arse-kissing really makes me excited.”

About 420,000 copies were sold although editors were swift to delete the phrase from the online edition'

- The Times, 24 February 2009

20 February 2009

Alan Bennett

'I was born and brought up in Leeds, where my father was a butcher. As a boy, I sometimes went out on the bike delivering orders to customers, one of whom was a Mrs Fletcher. Mrs Fletcher had a daughter, Valerie, who went away to school then to London, where she got a job with a publishing firm. She did well in the firm, becoming assistant to one of the directors, whom, though he was much older than she was, she eventually married. The firm was Faber and Faber, and the director was TS Elliot. So there was a time when I thought my only connection with the literary world would be that I had once delivered meat to TS Eliot's mother-in-law.

A few years later, when my dad had sold the shop but we were still living in Leeds, my mother came in one day and said, 'I just ran into Mrs Fletcher down the road. She wasn't with Mr Fletcher; she was with another feller - tall, elderly, very refined-looking. She introduced me, and we passed the time of day'. And it wasn't until some time later that I realised that, without it being one of the most momentous encounters in western literature, my mother had met TS Eliot. I tried to explain to her the significance of the great poet, but without much success, The Waste Land not figuring very largely in Mam's scheme of things.

'The thing is,' I said finally, 'he won the Nobel Prize.'

'Well,' she said, with that unerring grasp of inessentials which is the prerogative of mothers, 'I'm not surprised. It was a beautiful overcoat'

- Alan Bennett, Writing Home, London, 1994

19 February 2009

Italian military excellence

'By the end of the 1930s ... the [Italian] army was woefully far from the levels of modernisation required by new, more mobile forms of warfare. One experienced officer, General Ettore Bastico, warned against idolising the tank and wanted to "reserve our reverence for the infantryman and the mule", while as late as 1940 the deputy chief of the army staff, General Mario Roatta, let it be known that he opposed the abolition of horse cavalry'

- Ian Kershaw, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed The World 1940-1941, London, 2007

How to excite a cricket statistician

'The result of a premier two club cricket match played at Palmerston North Boys' High School recently was nothing short of amazing. The Boys' High 2nd XI batted first and scored 155, United batted second and scored 155. When Boys' High came out for its second innings, they scored 169 all out and, wait for it, United did the same, 169. Ties in cricket are rare but identical scores must be akin to winning Lotto. International statisticians have heard about it and have gone all hormonal'

- Manawatu Standard, 19 February 2009

17 February 2009

Consequences of the downturn

A Chinese businessman recently held a competition to winnow down his collection of mistresses from five to one, in response to straigtened circumstances brought about by the economic downturn.

[The businessman] hired an instructor from a modelling agency to judge a private contest he held at a hotel in May, but he did not tell the women about his intentions. [One mistress] Yu was eliminated in the first-round beauty competition and a woman surnamed Liu eventually won after dominating the drinking round, the report said.

However, one of the jilted mistresses was enraged and took her revenge by driving her former lover and the other mistresses off a mountain road. In the ensuing crash she was killed and the man and the other mistresses were injured. The man's wife also divorced him when she found out. Damn you, bank collapses and your unintended consequences!

- Source: Yahoo/AFP, 17 February 2009

[Courtesy of Kate]

Edit 24.02.09: Afraid this one was made up by a journalist, who has just been fired from his job at a Chinese provincial daily paper. It ain't in the least bit true, but it's still a good story! See the last paragraph of this Times article.

He who cast the first kilogram

BBC Online recently polled its readers on the vexed topic of displaying metric weights of rugby players in its sport commentary graphics, rather than the old-fashioned imperial measurements of stones and pounds. This was in response to the comments of the Tory member Philip Davies MP, who the BBC reports, ‘claims most people who follow Six Nations rugby on TV would better understand the weight of players and packs if the figures were shown in stones and pounds rather than kilograms’.

Obviously this is a matter of negligible importance, and as some of the commentators on the BBC site point out, the MP might be concerned that this comment establishes his public profile as an elected representative with rather too much spare time on his hands. But it does remind you that despite Britain having gone metric in 1971, there’s still a great many people who haven’t caught up. The nonsensical tabloid campaign in favour of ‘metric martyr’ shopkeepers is one example, but I suppose this is just a symptom of the half-hearted approach taken to the metric system in Britain: road signs and speed limits were omitted from the change-over, so drivers still operate in miles rather than kilometres.

As an aside, Wikipedia notes that while 'traditional units are still used in many places and industries', only three countries have failed to officially adopt the metric system: Burma, Liberia and the United States.

- Source: BBC Online, 16 February 2009

12 February 2009

This constant clamour for apology

I'm sorry. I'm very sorry, but I don't accept those bankers' apologies. I found them offensive. A preening pack of middle-aged white men in suits, parroting the instructions of their PR advisers. Utterly insincere. An apology was not enough. A heart attack would have been better. One each. Or a stroke, just like the new NHS advertisements: face droops, arms fall limply by the side, meaningless drivel issues from the mouth, and their head catches fire.

I'm sorry if that offends any middle-aged white men. I apologise if my remarks have been misconstrued to cause offence to people in suits, or to the suit-making industry, which is struggling in these difficult times, and about time, too; frankly I wouldn't care if they all went belly-up and the bankers had to walk around naked with their shrivelled privates dangling beneath their smug little white paunches. I apologise for saying I wouldn't care if they all went belly-up. I also apologise for any offence I may have given to people with shrivelled privates. I am sorry if my remarks have offended heart-attack or stroke victims. I apologise to anyone whose head has caught fire, and I am sorry I said "victims" when the correct phrase is "persons of heart attack" or "cerebrally vascular-accidented individuals". I also apologise to anyone who may have found my finding the bankers' apologies offensive, offensive.

On the other hand, I do wonder what the hell is going on and why everyone has become such milquetoasts, so sensitive and quick to be affronted and just so generally bloody wet.

I apologise to everyone for calling them affronted, sensitive, wet bloody milquetoasts.

I find this constant clamour for apology offensive. I demand a full apology.

- Michael Bywater, 'It's PC gone mad! How did taking offence become a national obsession?', Independent, 12 February 2009

11 February 2009

A curious case

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
On general release

'The film has won an astonishing 13 Oscar nominations, only one short of the record set by All About Eve. This is mystifying. It is a tedious marathon of smoke and mirrors. In terms of the basic requirements of three-reel drama, the film lacks substance, credibility, a decent script and characters you might actually care for. That it should be pitching for the most coveted of prizes in cinema is a far stranger fiction than the story itself'.

- James Christopher, The Times, 7 February 2009

10 February 2009

The misstep to goathood

'Mortimer Matz, a legendary public relations man who has represented more than his fair share of fallen heroes, said most of them enlist him only “after they make the misstep to goathood and then they want to be redeemed. A sure road to redemption is to find a child who has fallen onto the tracks in front of an oncoming subway and jump upon the child, covering its body and saving a life. Then phone Oprah. Otherwise, try and outlive everybody. The public is mainly unforgiving.”'

- New York Times, 9 February 2009

Dumbing down

The Herald reports that Prof James Flynn of Otago University has found that IQ levels of teenagers in England have declined by two points from 1980 to 2008, but that the IQ of those English teenagers in the top 50 percent of IQ ratings have declined by six points over the same period:

Professor Flynn suggested that the falls could be down to lifestyle changes, including more time spent in front of the television or playing video games. And a growing tendency in schools to "teach to the test" was affecting youngsters' ability to think laterally.

"While we have enriched the cognitive environment of children before their teenage years, the cognitive environment of the teenagers has not been enriched. Other studies have shown how pervasive teenage youth culture is, and what we see is parents' influence on IQ slowly diminishing with age."

Perhaps English teenagers are too busy playing tinny music on their mobiles (without headphones) to read a book. That’s all they seem to do on my bus, anyway.

- Source: NZ Herald, 10 February 2009

06 February 2009

Are reality shows setting unrealistic standards for skanks?

Should America's skanks be watching skanks on television whose skankiness exceeds the levels of skankiness that they themselves might realistically achieve?

In The Know: Are Reality Shows Setting Unrealistic Standards For Skanks?

04 February 2009

Arkansas ice storm

Beautiful photos documenting the frozen results of an ice storm in late January. My favourite is the frosty traffic lights on page 3.

Ice Storm

[Courtesy of Fark]