30 November 2009

You'll have someone's eye out with that

The famously pain-resistant Vikings might have approved of the latest fad sweeping Sweden. Nail beds are becoming popular with health-conscious consumers convinced that lying on rubber pads embedded with sharp, plastic pins is good for them.

Hindu fakirs favour a wooden bed bristling with metal nails, but the spiky foam version does the job nicely, says Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson, a 46-year-old yoga instructor and writer who uses one every day and describes it as being “quite painful actually”.

“The back looks picked at, as if with a fork”, when a person gets up off the mat. But then “you relax and feel nice again”, she told The New York Times.

Users often claim relief from insomnia, migraines and asthma, while a more zealous group believes that the mat can cure everything from schizophrenia to dandruff.

At times these Nordic nail bed devotees seem like a cult: 3,000 of them gathered recently in a Stockholm park, placing their mats in the form of the rays of the sun. They sang mantras and fell asleep.

Not everyone is convinced of the benefits, however. The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper concluded recently that there was “nothing that even approaches a scientific proof for the effects” of the nail bed.

In response, the largest manufacturer is organising medically supervised trials to monitor 30 regular users.

- The Times, 29 November 2009

29 November 2009

Chaplin on cocaine

The sale and distribution of cocaine has been illegal in America since 1914. This scene from Charlie Chaplin's classic 1936 film Modern Times illustrates the importance of avoiding hard drugs, or imprisonment, or something like that.

[See also: Never do cocaine with Woody Allen]

24 November 2009

The dog ate my cricket bat

'Never before in the history of cockamamy excuses has a player offered up anything quite as lame as Abdul Razzaq's reason for missing a match. Due to fly to Mirpur for Abahani's Premier Division Cricket League match against Gazi Tank, Razzaq got as far as the airport when his phone rang. It was, he says, an anonymous tip-off that the match had been called off because of the Eid holiday. So he cancelled his ticket, turned around and went home. The only problem being that it wasn't true.

"What we learnt is that someone from Dhaka, in the name of an Abahani official, gave him a call and told that the league matches will resume after the Eid vacation and that's why he cancelled his ticket," said a genuine club official. "He took the decision from the airport but surprisingly he didn't even check with the agent."'

- Andy Bull, 'The Spin' cricket newsletter, 24 November 2009

23 November 2009

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- UCLA Psychiatry Dept advert, LA Weekly, 13-19 November 2009

20 November 2009

For those who seek a slightly merrier Christmas

'Customs officials at the Los Angeles Harbor received a shipment from China listed as Christmas ornaments. But when they opened the "presents" Tuesday, they found 316,000 bongs and pipes.

“They’re very colorful and big,” said Cristina Gamez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Some of them are like 2 feet tall.”

Gamez said glass bongs and pipes, contained in nearly 860 boxes of cargo, are worth about $2.6 million [...]

Gamez said no arrests have been made, and an investigation is pending. She said that it is illegal to import, export or sell drug paraphernalia in the United States and that all the items would be destroyed'

- Los Angeles Times, 19 November 2009

17 November 2009

Modern parenting

'Anxious parents - the midnight Googlers who repeatedly seek advice from experts - learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticise, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, 'model' angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag. Increasingly, nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect. The educator Alfie Kohn, writing recently in the [New York] Times, condemns the timeout - the canonical punishment of recent decades - declaring that it is more honest to say you are 'forcibly isolating' your child. Even an approach as seemingly benign as awarding gold stars, Kohn warns, is a manipulation that 'teaches children that they are loved' only when they perform a 'good job'.

So what should you do when a child throws a tantrum? Many parents, determined not to be cruel or counterproductive, latch on to pre-approved language from books. Walk through a Manhattan playground and you'll hear parents responding to their dirt-throwing, swing-stealing offspring with a studied flatness. A toddler whirling into rage is quietly instructed, 'Use your words'. A pre-schooler who clocks his classmate is offered the vaguely Zen incantation 'Hands are not for hitting'. A kid demanding a Popsicle is given a bland demurral: 'I'm sorry, but I don't respond to whining'. (The preferred vocal inflection is that of a customer-service representative informing an irate caller that the warranty has, indeed, expired). The brusque imperative 'Say "please"!' has been supplanted by the mildest of queries: 'Is there a nicer way to say that?' The efficacy of this clinical approach has not been confirmed by science, but it certainly feels scientific, in part because the parents conduct themselves as if their child were the subject of a peer-reviewed experiment'

- Daniel Zalewski, 'The Defiant Ones', New Yorker, 19 October 2009

14 November 2009

Northern hemisphere rugby

'A week in Wales and all the drama over [the citing of All Black first five Daniel] Carter was a stark reminder of how nauseating the northern hemisphere perspective on the game can be. The Welsh media spent six days building their own side up with little balance or perspective. The reaction of [Welsh coach Warren] Gatland and his coaching team was to then blame someone else for the loss.

Meanwhile, over the border in England, there was an unrealistic sense of expectation about the clash with the Wallabies. The return of Jonny Wilkinson was not going to suddenly enable England to play fluid, enterprising football. Wilkinson gave them more direction; more confidence and more accuracy with their kicking game.

But if you don't play with the ball in hand at club level and develop passing, running and handling skills - then you can't suddenly do it at test level just because Jonny is back'

- Gregor Paul, NZ Herald, 15 November 2009

Wellington wind

'The great drawback to this place is the wind. There are grey, tearing days which perhaps explain the high suicide rate and undercurrent of neurosis'

- Author Patrick White in a letter to Fritz Krieger, 25 March 1961

06 November 2009

Generating a buzz

This German marketing stunt deploys micro banner ads attached to live flies, which is guaranteed to raise both product awareness and the likelihood of infectious insect-borne diseases.

[Via Guardian Viral Video]

05 November 2009

How not to be a secret agent

In 1985 French secret service agents planted bombs on board the Greenpeace protest vessel Rainbow Warrior, which was moored in downtown Auckland and was shortly to protest against France's nuclear test programme in French Polynesia. One crew member of the ship was killed in the blast. Some of the agents responsible for the attack were later caught by the New Zealand authorities, in part due to the number of mistakes the agents made during their mission:

- Arousing suspicions of locals by sailing Ouvea [their yacht] into the hazardous Parengarenga Harbour
- Crew of Ouvea arousing interest of customs inspector by the spotlessness of the yacht (which didn't appear to have sailed the South Pacific), by having three new, uncreased and unmarked passports, by not fitting yachting stereotypes, by having no cameras aboard despite one crew member being a photographer
- Driving on the wrong side of the road and almost causing an accident, thus alerting a bystander who noted the vehicle's registration number
- Not understanding that internal New Zealand toll calls are traceable
- Using and abandoning a Zodiac, an expensive rubber dinghy, that was noticed because of its rarity and desirability in New Zealand
- Dumping two oxygen cylinders with French markings, which were so conspicuous they were reported to police and could be traced to a Nice manufacturer of special equipment for French armed forces
- Acting so suspiciously on Tamaki Drive, Auckland, that their van registration number was noted and the police called
- Returning rental van to Auckland airport and demanding a $130 refund, instead of leaving the van in airport car park
- Inconsistencies in Turenges' stories
- Turenges both having Swiss passports issued in Paris on the same day with wildly different serial numbers
- Turenges keeping file of receipts on their 'honeymoon'
- Turenges speaking French in front of a New Zealand police officer who was French-speaking
- Being conspicuous for being rude wherever they went
- Being such bad actors
- Phoning numbers in Paris traceable to the French security services
- Getting caught

Source: Mary Trewby, Beachcomber: A New Zealand & Pacific Miscellany, Auckland, 2004