31 March 2009

punful punishment or fun

Most newspaper copy editors are the worse culprits for making up bad puns. Hence, an odd article in the New York Times
March 28, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor

Pun for the Ages

THE inglorious pun! Dryden called it the “lowest and most groveling kind of wit.” To Ambrose Bierce it was a “form of wit to which wise men stoop and fools aspire.” Universal experience confirms the adage that puns don’t make us laugh, but groan. It is said that Caligula ordered an actor to be roasted alive for a bad pun. (Some believe he was inclined to extremes.)

Addison defined the pun as a “conceit arising from the use of two words that agree in the sound, but differ in the sense.” “Energizer Bunny Arrested! Charged with Battery.” No laugh? Q.E.D.

Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies. Odds are that a restaurant with a punning name — Snacks Fifth Avenue, General Custard’s Last Stand — hasn’t acquired its first Michelin star.

How have the great comic writers regarded puns? Jane Austen puns once, in “Mansfield Park,” and it serves to impeach the moral character of the offender. Mark Twain’s first book, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” enamored reviewers with its punlessness. There are “no contortions of words,” said a London paper. “His fun is entirely dependent upon the inherent humor in his writings.” The 20th century’s finest humorist, P. G. Wodehouse, doesn’t use them.

Shakespeare, however, does. Many are bawdy: puns operate, after all, on double entendre. Yet the poet is guilty less of punning than wordplay, which Elizabethan taste considered more a sign of literary refinement than humor; hence “puns” in seemingly inappropriate places, like a dying Mercutio’s “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

The true punster’s mind cycles through homophones in search of a quip the way small children delight in rhymes or experiment babblingly with language. Accordingly, the least intolerable puns are those that avoid the pun’s essential puerility. Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin, was a specialist. He could effortlessly execute the double pun: Noah’s Ark was made of gopher-wood, he would say, but Joan of Arc was maid of Orleans. Some Whately-isms are so complex that they nearly amount to honest jokes: “Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred.”

Whately shows us that it is the punner himself who gives his art a bad name, by so frequently reaching for the obvious. Nothing vexes so much as a pun on a name, for instance. Yet even these can rise to wit if turned with finesse. Jean Harlow, the platinum-blond star of the 1930s, on being introduced to Lady Margot Asquith, mispronounced her given name to rhyme with “rot.” “My dear, the ‘t’ is silent,” said Asquith, “as in Harlow.” The writer Andrew Lang asked his friend Israel Zangwill if he would take a stand on an issue. Zangwill wrote back: “If you, Lang, will, I. Zangwill.”

Why do puns offend? Charles Lamb, a notorious punster, explained that the pun is “a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.” Surely puns silence conversation before they animate it. Some stricken with pun-lust sink so far into their infirmity that their minds become trained to lie in wait for words on which to work their wickedness. They are the scourge of dinner tables and the despised prolongers of office meetings, some letting fly as instinctively as dogs bark and frogs croak, no longer concerned even with drawing applause; they simply can’t help themselves.

I asked a friend of mine, an inveterate punster, whether he punned while on dates. “Sure, I pun on dates,” he replied. “On prunes and figs, too.” And well he might, considering the similitude between puns and fruit flies, both of which die practically the instant they are born, but not before breeding others.

But low as puns may be, they have been known to appeal to the loftiest minds. Samuel Johnson hated puns, but his friend Edmund Burke, whose intellectual powers daunted even Johnson, was notorious for pun-making (e.g., “What is [m]ajest[y], when stripped of its externals, but a jest?”) Still, Burke was conscious of his sin, revealed in an incident recorded in a friend’s journal: “Lord Mulgrave called to Burke one day at our table with a ‘so, Burke, you riot in puns now Johnson’s away.’ This made good sport for my lord and for the company, but Burke changed color and looked like Death.”

With Burkean contrition, I confess that in a Thai restaurant not long ago, following my company’s attempt to order three curry dishes, I suggested that we not get “curried away.” Punning, it seems, like every non-deadly sin, is easier to excuse than to resist.

Joseph Tartakovsky is a student at Fordham Law School.
On the contrary, a fast delivery of a pun is an indication of a quick wit. I think word play is rather clever.

30 March 2009

sci fi saviours

One would think that science fiction is futuristic and completely non-religious. There was a great article in (New York) City Journal
There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed.
A familiar story to Christians. Change a few details, and it's The Matrix or Superman Returns.

In fact, stories about good triumphing over evil, such as Star Wars have religious undertones.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, as many fans found out after watching the finale, was about god.

Even in an imagined future, we all want to be saved.

29 March 2009

name this shrimp

The Australian Marine Conservation Society is auctioning the naming rights (scientific name) for a newly discovered species of shrimp.

About the Shrimp
This newly described species is a mysterious little creature living in the cool dark depths of our South-west oceans. Despite living 400m below the surface, this shrimp species has a jewel-like appearance. Morphing from yellow to green, this spectacular shrimp is covered in scarlet spots and sports a toothed crest across the top of its body, which gives it the delightful appearance of having a mohawk. It is in the group or genus of shrimps known as Lebbeus, and is waiting for you to place your bid and choose a unique species name that will go down in scientific history.

Name the shrimp after yourself or perhaps a loved one. What a unique and amazing gift it would be!

About the Campaign
Proceeds from this auction will go towards protecting WA's globally significant oceans. The region (see map) is incredibly special, with over 80% of the marine species found nowhere else on the planet.

Less than 1% of our South-west oceans are protected in marine sanctuaries, where all life is safe from harm. AMCS is working with a coalition of conservation groups to establish large marine sanctuaries to protect WA's outstanding marine wildlife. Your bid will help us get there.

So far, the latest bid is AUD 3050 on eBay.

Now as for the common name, how about Horse Prawn?

28 March 2009

football - round 1

w00t, the footy season proper has begun (from Thursday anyway) and I did not miss a second of this game live on (subscription) television.

BRISBANE 2.1 5.3 14.6 14.11 (95)
WEST COAST 6.2 9.4 11.8 13.8 (86)
Goals: Brisbane: R Hooper 4 D Bradshaw 3 J Brown 3 T Johnstone 2 A McGrath M Rischitelli. West Coast: M LeCras 6 A Hansen 3 D Cox D Kerr Q Lynch S Hurn.
Best: Brisbane: R Hooper T Johnstone J Patfull L Power D Rich. West Coast: D Cox M LeCras S Hurn D Wirrpanda.
Umpires: Hayden Kennedy, Shane Stewart, Michael Avon.
Venue: Gabba.

Wow, what a turnaround from the third quarter. Well done boys.

Bam Bam (photo by Darren England for Courier Mail)

JPat (photo by Darren England for Courier Mail)

Earth Hour - Vote Earth

We participated in Earth Hour last year (from 8 to 9pm) and half way through this year's Earth Hour (which started at 8.30pm). The lights may be off, but the television (and computer) must stay on as my football team is playing at the moment, and in the lead.

From Earth Hour website
Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

Whatever effect it might have, the most significant is global solidarity.

26 March 2009

public weighing

Clever marketing of Fitness First in Rotterdam created by N=5.

Public shame as a motivator. Still, original and creative.

25 March 2009

headline of the month

Okay, it's the second one for March, but takes the cake. Originally printed in The Times, but The Australian just had to make up a different headline
Name shame causes Cock shrinkage but Wang is on the rise
Gutter journalism indeed! ;-)

24 March 2009

politician pet register

Crikey, an independent news website (mostly political analysis), has a pet register for our federal politicians.

I liked this entry
Warren Snowdon, the Member for Lingiari (ALP): According to Snowdon's office, the Honourable Member for Lingiari has an ageing Jack Russell called Hercules. To their knowledge Hercules does not have a blog, but might soon get one, seeing as this is par for the course for pollie pets.
Dogs having blogs? Who'd have thought!

23 March 2009

Tata's Nano

Indian car maker Tata Motors has developed the world's cheapest car, the Nano. It will probably cost around 130 000 rupees including on-road costs such as dealer charges and taxes. That is under US $3000.


Herein lies the the dilemma. Such a cheap car gives poorer families in India greater opportunities. With more cars comes congestion, pollution, use of more fossil fuels, further green house gas emissions etc

At one time, Ford's Model T sold for a similar price in today's terms, $300 in the 1920s.

Perhaps people should be discouraged from driving and owning cars.

22 March 2009

goodbye Galactica

Battlestar Galactica - one of the finest television dramas (albeit science fiction) has now finished after four seasons, beginning with a mini-series.

It was brilliant. No wonder the United Nations likes it.

21 March 2009

the lion man

I wrote about Kevin Richardson back in July 2007.

Here is some recent vision from Associated Press

Kevin Richardson may be crazy, but the lions probably consider him to be a member of their pride.

19 March 2009

They don't deserve to be known as 'dog lovers'

An awful story in the UK Daily Telegraph.
Britons abandon dogs as they quit Spain

British expatriates are dumping their dogs by the side of motorways or leaving them to starve in boarded-up villas as the credit crunch forces them to abandon their Spanish dream and fly home.
The puppy kennel at the Adana rescue centre in Estepona which has seen a steep rise in abandoned dogs
The puppy kennel at the Adana rescue centre in Estepona which has seen a steep rise in abandoned dogs Photo: FIONA GOVAN

Rescue centres along the Costa del Sol report that their intake of animals has almost doubled in the last year, leaving them full to overflowing with some 1,000 abandoned dogs - and unable to care for any more.

Although it is not always possible to be certain who owned the abandoned dogs, these figures and the experiences of animal welfare workers suggest that scores of Britons, defeated by the credit crunch, have simply flown home and left their dogs to fend for themselves in Spain.

Despite the UK's reputation as a nation of dog lovers, one rescue centre manager claimed that when it comes to abandoning pets "the British are the worst culprits".

Among the worst cases encountered were pets left tied to balconies or released at popular nature spots in the vague hope that a dog walker might find them and take them in.

"It's incredible," said Maria Stevens, kennel manager at the Adana animal rescue centre. "People find the time to pack up their furniture and other belongings and yet their pets' welfare is an afterthought."

At the centre in the hills above the resort of Estepona, more than 150 dogs are crammed into enclosures designed for only half that number.

"We simply don't have the room for many more and yet they keep coming," said Mrs Stevens, 47, explaining that until last summer an average of 90 dogs were held at the centre at any one time.

She pointed to Sally, a cocker spaniel with her nose pressed against the fence. "She's an absolute sweetie but she is suffering trauma after being found in the central reservation of the motorway near the airport. God knows what her owners were thinking."

Recently three small dogs were found in a boarded up villa on the outskirts of Estepona weeks after their British owners left because they could not keep up their mortgage payments.

"It was an incredible act of cruelty," said Mrs Stevens. "The dogs had been left some food and water but if a neighbour hadn't heard the barking and called us they would have eventually started eating each other before starving to death."

At the AAA rescue centre near Marbella, its administrator Celia Lago said: "It's always the same story. People have to go home to their countries because their dream life hasn't panned out here in Spain but it's the animals that suffer. And the British are the worst culprits."

Mrs Lago explained that British quarantine laws made it especially difficult for returning British expatriates to take their dogs with them. She said the pet passport scheme, which allows animals clear of rabies to be brought into Britain, can take up to seven months and cost £1,000 in vet and kennel fees.

"The Germans or Dutch just put their pets in the back of the car and off they go, but the Brits don't have that option," she said.

Her centre is currently caring for 200 abandoned dogs, and in the last two months it has dealt with a total of 300 dogs - almost double the number for the corresponding period last year.

If this trend continues, the centre estimates it could face an intake of up to 2,000 dogs in 2009 compared to 916 in 2008. Most of these, Mrs Lago said, were abandoned by expatriates.

An estimated million Britons have made their home on the Costas. But as unemployment reaches the highest in the eurozone and with the pound plummeting against the euro many are now returning home.

"That doesn't excuse the huge number of British people who just abandon their pets," said Mrs Lago. "A dog is like a member of the family. They wouldn't just leave their children behind would they?"

Animal lovers have already become distressed to see so many dogs roaming the streets. Susan Broadley, 60, a property management agent who has lived in Estepona for 27 years, rescued a dog that was in "a terrible state", coaxing it into her car. But, she said tearfully, it had to be put down.

“People don’t seem to realise that turning their dog out to fend for itself is a form of cruelty. It’s horrible and it’s happening more and more,” she said.

Unbelievable. RSPCA in the UK should be given the power to lay animal cruelty charges.

18 March 2009

Tintin's batting team

I totally missed a very amusing analysis of Tintin's erm sexuality by Matthew Parris in The Times (UK)

Billions of blue blistering barnacles, isn't it staring us in the face? Sometimes a thing's so obvious it's hard to see where the debate could start. What debate can there be when the evidence is so overwhelmingly one-way? A callow, androgynous blonde-quiffed youth in funny trousers and a scarf moving into the country mansion of his best friend, a middle-aged sailor? A sweet-faced lad devoted to a fluffy white toy terrier, whose other closest pals are an inseparable couple of detectives in bowler hats, and whose only serious female friend is an opera diva...

. . . And you're telling me Tintin isn't gay?

Um okay. He then provides 'evidence'

Background and origins: A total mystery. Tintin never talks about his parents or family, as though trying to block out the very existence of a father or mother. As psychologists will confirm, this is common among young gay men, some of whom find it hard to believe that they really are their parents' child. The “changeling” syndrome is a well-known gay fantasy.

Other sources on background: His Belgian creator, Hergé, whose only and enigmatic reference to Tintin's origins was to describe him as having recently come out of the Boy Scouts.

Early career: On January 10, 1929, Tintin first appears, spreading Catholic propaganda in the church newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, where in his comic strip he visits Russia (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets) to describe the horrors of Bolshevism. Early entanglements with High Church religion are, I fear, all too common among young gay men.

His journalism: Claiming to be a journalist, Tintin's only recorded remark to his editor (on departing for Moscow) is “I'll send you some postcards and vodka and caviar”. For a cub reporter on his first assignment, a curious remark.

Subsequent career: Appearing sometimes as a reporter and sometimes as a detective journalist, Tintin's baffling failure to show any evidence of dispatching copy to a newspaper (except once) or any sense of deadlines in his life has always puzzled his fans. It is possible to dismiss him as a mere dilettante but more likely that he was some kind of spy. As the remotest acquaintance with (for instance) British espionage will confirm, secret intelligence has always attracted gay men. I myself applied for and was offered a post in MI6.

Domestic circumstances: Tintin does not, in fact, move in with his sailor-friend, Captain Haddock, until 1940 (The Crab With The Golden Claws). As is so often the case with male homosexual couples, a veil is drawn over how and where the couple met, but Tintin and his mincing toy dog Snowy are invited to share Haddock's country home, Marlinspike Hall. The relationship, however, is plainly two-way, for although when Haddock first meets Tintin (before the sea captain's retirement) he is drinking heavily and emotionally unstable, he is calmed over the years, settles down and is finally ennobled by his younger friend's companionship when, in Tintin in Tibet, he offers to lay down his life for him.

Other friends: Almost all male - as are their friends in turn. Indeed, only Professor Calculus displays any attraction (though frequently confused) towards the opposite sex. However, he never marries.

Thomson and Thompson: Tintin first meets the flamboyantly moustachioed couple on a cruise in 1932 (Cigars of the Pharaoh), learning to distinguish between them by their different moustaches. The Thomson and Thompson life is a fancy-dress party: the pair love dressing up in exotic costumes and are once mobbed in the street for their Chinese opera costumes (The Blue Lotus). On other occasions they are seen (often with their signature bowlers still on) in striped swimming costumes, and a variety of folkloric garbs, always absurdly over-the-top. There is no evidence that either has ever had an eye for women, let alone a girlfriend.

Rastapopoulos: Even Tintin's evil arch-enemy, a cigar-smoking movie impresario and drug dealer (alias: Marquis di Gorgonzola) who is first encountered at a banquet in Chicago (Tintin in America), is never given the blonde on his arm or villain's moll that one would expect. He remains solitary.

Snowy: The only unambiguously heterosexual male mammal in Tintin's entire universe. We know that because of Snowy's tendency to be distracted by lady dogs: a tendency in which he is consistently foiled by his master and by Hergé's plot. Pity this dog, wretchedly straight and trapped in a ghastly web of gay human males.

Bianca Castafiore: “The Milanese nightingale” is the only strong recurring female character in Tintin's life, and his only identifiable female friend. A fag-hag if ever there was one. With her plump neck and beauty spot, this vain, self-dramatising diva with an ear-splitting voice is genuinely fond of Tintin. Significantly, Bianca refuses to remember Captain Haddock's name, calling him variously Maggot, Hammock and Havoc. Equally significantly, Haddock detests the very sight of her. Perhaps most significantly of all, Tintin's creator, Hergé, hated opera.

Peggy Alcazar: So apart from a diva fag-hag, the only other remotely significant woman in Tintin's life is a curler-wearing virago. Peggy Alcazar, the butch, bitchy, bullying, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking, flame-haired wife of General Alcazar, may well have been lesbian.

Supporting cast: In fact I can count only eight figures identifiable as women (about 2 per cent) from the complete list of some 350 characters among whom Tintin moves in his life. There are no young women at all, and no attractive women, in any of his adventures.

Oh please, what more could Hergé do to flag up the subtext? Well, you say, how about a real affair of the heart, a proper gay relationship, rather than a convenient domestic arrangement with an old sailor?

Step forward Chang Chong-Cheng, the Chinese boy whom Tintin meets in The Blue Lotus when he rescues him from drowning, who later appears in his dreams, and for whom he is prepared to lay down his life, and finally rescues, in Tintin in Tibet. In this story Tintin hears of a plane crash and dreams that his friend Chang was on board but has survived. He sets out on an odyssey to Asia to find him.

Only three times in his life is Tintin seen to cry: most affectingly when he is temporarily persuaded that his friend Chang has died. But Chang is alive, as Tintin suspects when he finds Chang's teddy bear mislaid in the snow. Chang has been trapped by the Abominable Snowman. Tintin rescues him. This, written after Hergé had had a nervous breakdown and split from his wife, and the story of which he was most proud, completes a change in Tintin's outlook which begins in The Blue Lotus. Over time Tintin's attitude alters from that of a Belgian chauvinist and narrow-minded young Catholic adventure-seeker to being a tolerant, almost peace-loving, teddy-bear-hugging seeker after truth. In The Blue Lotus he sympathises with the lonely Yeti, now deprived of Chang's (enforced) company, and even refuses to call the Snowman abominable. Tintin has seen the folly of prejudice. In Hergé's last (unfinished) story, Tintin and Alph-Art, the youth is even seen as a motorbiking peacenik, wearing a CND badge on his helmet.

The time-sweep of these stories, 1929 to 1983, may have altered Tintin's attitudes but never his appearance. He remains about 16 throughout. But then, as we all know, gay men don't age as others do. He was probably moisturising.

We'll never know. Tell yourself, if you like, that it was just that Tintin hasn't yet met the right girl. Or maybe that it's only a stage he's going through. But if you expect a Belgian Catholic born in 1907 to have unmasked the hero of his blockbuster series of comic adventures as an out-gay activist and homosexual icon, you expect too much. Hergé was no Andy Warhol (Hergé's great admirer). But Snowy saw everything; Snowy knows all. And Snowy never tells.

No Mr Parris. Heroes are noble and asexual and rise above such human foibles as sexuality. Superman can never be with Lois Lane. Really. Now as for Tinky Winky and SpongeBob SquarePants, they aren't even remotely human.

See also reaction to Matthew Parris' article in The Times.

17 March 2009

give us this day our daily baguette

British expatriates living abroad write in to the (UK) Daily Telegraph about their lives "as an expat". There was a brilliant piece by Gill Baconnier about bread and France.

In French the word for friend is copain, which comes from the Latin cum pane (with bread) and is the person with whom you share your bread.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the French invented bread, but it was probably the Egyptians: however, while few people have heard of eesh baladi, nearly everyone knows what a French stick is.

Along with strings of onions and smelly cigarettes, the baguette – that thin loaf of crusty bread that makes a sandwich as long as your arm – is an enduring, albeit hackneyed, symbol of France.

The elongated form of the baguette was created in the early 20th century and was invented for townspeople who lived near a bakery and could buy their bread fresh, twice a day. The bread was made to be eaten on the same day as purchase and this is still the case.

I have tried wrapping leftover baguette in a tea towel; I have put it in a plastic bag overnight; I have popped dry bread in the microwave; I've sprinkled it with water and baked it in a hot oven, but the result is always the same – day-old French bread tastes like carpet slippers.

Bread has been the staple diet of the French for centuries, even if they are now eating a mere five ounces a day as opposed to the two pounds they were eating in 1900. The Ancient Gauls ate their food off a thick slice of bread called a tranchoir and when told to "finish your plate", that's exactly what they did. This custom lasted well into the 14th century, although the wealthier classes would give the sauce-sodden tranchoir to the poor to finish off.

The quality of bread eaten was an indicator of wealth and the whiter and finer the flour, the more expensive the bread. At this time, the humble peasant had to make do with coarse, black rye bread that he made himself – but not before he'd paid tax to his overlord to grind his flour in the communal mill and more tax to be allowed to use the communal oven.

As if that wasn't humiliating enough, he often had to add straw or even clay to the grain when times were hard, producing a loaf that, I suspect, closely resembled the "100 per cent natural high-fibre rustic bread" you can buy for a small fortune in any organic bakery today.

The rising price of bread was one of the reasons for the French Revolution. The harvest in 1788 had been extremely poor and the population was starving. At the beginning of 1789, riots broke out throughout the country, and not for the first time.

People were demanding work and bread and it was then that Marie-Antoinette – a little half-baked herself – was supposed to have suggested that if there was no bread, they could eat cake instead (actually, she didn't say that, but I wanted to get that joke in about her being half-baked...) Later, in 1791, the Constituent Assembly fixed the price of bread and decreed that bakers could only bake one sort of loaf, the "Equality Loaf", made from three parts wheat flour to one part rye.

In the 19th century, the mechanical kneading machine was invented and bakers no longer had to knead their dough by hand – or with their feet, which had been the case for some types of bread. Consumers were hostile to the idea but professional bakers welcomed the chance to lighten their workload.

Further changes followed, including the replacement of brewer's yeast with baker's yeast and the use of steam ovens over wood-fired ones until finally, in the 1950s, bread was being made in what is known as industrial bakeries, thus becoming plentiful and cheap. In the face of this competition, 6,786 traditional bakeries were forced to close down between 1968 and 1975.

Today, shops known as "baking terminals" sell bread that they have bought frozen and partially baked and which they have finished cooking in their own ovens, to con you into thinking it is homemade. American and British-type sliced bread has also become popular – I have even seen it sold without crusts: pale and limp and wrapped in cellophane. It's enough to put you off your croque monsieur...

Thankfully, there are many for whom bread is still the staff of life and 36,000 traditional boulangeries continue to flourish in France (that's one for every 1,500 inhabitants). Each region produces its speciality in a myriad of shapes and sizes, some flavoured with walnuts, raisins, bacon, olives, basil or garlic and others with names that read like poetry: fougasses, flûtes and fibassiers, polka, choine and gâche.

In Grenoble, where I live, the owner of the upper-crust bakery, the Talemelerie (from the old French word for "baker"), has invented forty types of bread himself, including the Méridional, with aniseed and raisins, and a loaf made with cranberries.

The feast day of the patron saint of bread, Saint Honoré, is celebrated on May 16 and events that include processions, free breakfasts and bread tasting are held throughout the country. And once a year, the Grand Prix of the Parisian Baguette (yes, really), is organised by the City of Paris, the victor walking away with a prize of €4,000 and the honour of providing the president with his daily bread for a year.

Now, that's what I'd call a real breadwinner!

Hmmm.... croque monsieur

16 March 2009

faux poor

I like the term faux poor coined by the (UK) Daily Telegraph
Meet The New Faux Poor

With wealth out of fashion, the super-rich are trying hard to flaunt their poverty-stricken credentials.
By Celia Walden
Pouring champagne at Ascot racecourse
Photo: GETTY

Being rich can be such a bore. Choice, that most precious of things, is taken away when you can have it all. The hotels, restaurants and bars you frequent are restricted to the accepted few, the designers you wear prescribed with the same rigid authority as the way you wear your hair, the expressions you use and the company you keep.

Also, the things you are (decently) allowed to complain about are lamentably few. Then along comes the credit crunch, knocking you off the Forbes 2009 Billionaires List, which reveals that even Bill Gates is £12.2 billion the poorer (although he has still managed to knock Warren Buffett off the perch as Britain's richest man).

You wait and wait to feel the hit to your daily life, closing your eyes and holding your hand out like a child waiting to be chastised – and nothing happens. First comes the euphoria ("I won't have to change a thing!"), then the disappointment: no delicious commiseration sessions over apple martinis at Cecconis, no enforced eBay shopping to pride yourself on, and no travelling on the bus to find aubergines for 5p less.

As the country unites in Blitz spirit, you stand alone, a blushing figure with a disgracefully expensive It-bag. Unless, of course, you pretend...

That, according to this month's Tatler, is what the tribe christened the New Faux Poor do. They tell lies too, about being forced to downsize their houses, bonuses and expense accounts, while exaggerating the amount of money they've lost, chance of redundancy and the number of times they use public transport.

They sack members of their household staff, just because everyone else is doing it; develop a utilities conscience ("even Gates tells his wife to turn the bathroom light off these days"), force the caterers to park up the street before a dinner party; wander, shuddering but brave, through the aisles of Aldi and back out again, empty-handed (but resolved to tell everyone just how marvellous it was).

Such fraudulence is our default position, says Peter York, co-author of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. "Humble and threadbare is what the English do best. This recession has given us a lovely excuse to behave in a way that comes quite naturally to us. The boom times went against the grain of our national character. Now there is a delight in rediscovering poverty. It's good old Marie Antoinette again: the rich are throwing themselves into it and loving every minute."

Desperate to chime with the zeitgeist, artfully distressed millionaires and billionaires are competing against one another to show just how far their fortunes have been reduced. "I told people my tan was fake the other day," says one Notting Hill princess. "Well I couldn't say it was from Verbier, could I? I didn't tell anyone I'd even been skiing this year."

Just this month, Vogue reinstated its More Dash Than Cash column, dolling out "40 Tips for Fabulous Frugality" to the NFPs (it's extraordinary the dresses you can pick up for just under £500 these days).

Nor are men exempt from the trend, says York. In fact, they're leading it. "Very wealthy men have been sporting the faux-humble, frayed-collar look for years, so I expect there will be more of that to come."

Postcode snobbery, as always, is rife, only inverted. "I tell people I live in Shepherd's Bush now, rather than Holland Park," says one banker, suffering from the geographical confusion politicians have been afflicted by for years. Openly enjoying opulence is also a no-no.

The tables of Cipriani and the Ivy are still full, of course - what better place for the NFPs to flaunt their new parsimony? "Just the one glass of champagne for me," they'll say, delighting in such unnecessary frugality, "and maybe two starters instead of a main. I always thought the portions were positively American here, anyway..."

After a few too many forbidden Bollingers the NFPs will confess that perhaps things aren't quite as bad as they could be. They have lost money, of course, but there's a fair amount left in the pot. Should the pose ever become reality, though, this game might not be so fun to play any more.

Regardless of economic conditions, flaunting wealth is terribly vulgar. Unless of course, everybody is doing it.

15 March 2009

the land of opportunity...

One can understand how cities like Mumbai have 'slums' like Dharavi.

When the richest country on earth, especially one of the wealthiest states and one of the world's largest economies starts boasting a slum building up in the state capitol, it makes you wonder who is worse off.

14 March 2009

as smart as us

Monkeys floss and chimpazees plan.

Some primates may possibly be smarter than some humans.

12 March 2009

R is for rupee

Reported in The Times of India, Indian currency, the rupee will soon have its own symbol
A contest to find a sign for Indian rupee
6 Mar 2009, 0419 hrs IST, Daniel P George, TNN

CHENNAI: The Indian rupee will soon sport a new sign. The Union finance ministry is organising a public competition to design a new symbol for the currency like the dollar sign $.

The successful designer will be awarded Rs 2.5 lakh, but will have to surrender the copyright to the government of India.

According to a circular (No 10/8/06-Cy.II) issued by B S Rawat, deputy secretary, department of economic affairs, ministry of finance, most countries in the world have distinct identification symbols for their currencies, but there is still no official currency sign for the Indian rupee. Only `Rs' is used to represent it, and India shares the abbreviated form of the rupee with Pakistan, Nepal, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.

Reserve Bank of India officials welcomed the move and said the initiative should have been launched decades ago. RBI and finance ministry officials said the search for a symbol was also related to India's growing influence on the global economy.

The jury of examiners comprises seven members drawn from institutes such as Sir J J Institute of Applied Art, National Institute of Design, Lalit Kala Akademi, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts as well as officials from the government and RBI. Members of the jury will look for symbols that represent the widely accepted historical and cultural ethos of the country, the circular states.

Among the guidelines mentioned for designing the sign are that it should be applicable to a standard keyboard, and be in the Indian script or a visual representation. A participant can send a maximum of two entries. The shortlisted designers will have to make a presentation before the jury; each of them will receive Rs 25,000 for their efforts. The last date for submission of entries is April 15.
The most logical symbol would be an R with a line across it. The Sanskrit symbol would also be neat.

11 March 2009

when looks seem to matter - Shakespeare

Now that William Shakespeare appears to be better looking than first thought (see for example, The Guardian, New York Times), some historians are revising their opinions of his personal life.

the recently discovered Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare

Looks seem to matter.

10 March 2009

corporate drivel

Some philosophers, particularly in France, misappropriate scientific concepts when they want to sound impressive about nothing. Alan Sokal knows all about this.

It doesn't stop there. It seems that physics concepts are now being misappropriated by marketers. See for example, this article in The Guardian
Metaphorically speaking, Pepsi's gibberish is hard to swallow

Ben Goldacre
Saturday 7 March 2009

An extraordinary document called The Pepsi Gravitational Field has been leaked on to the internet. The claim is that this 27-page wonder represents a successful $1.5m (£1.05m) pitch to make a slight modification to the Pepsi logo. Welcome to the science of PR.

"By investing in our history and brand ethos we can create a new trajectory forwards," they explain in the opening pages. This is entirely reasonable. A cognitive linguist by the name of George Lakoff has done some fascinating (and no doubt gruelling) empirical work on metaphors in English literature. He has shown, for example, that we often conceive of the abstract in terms of the concrete: anger is an overheated fluid in a sealed vessel, emotional states are locations, and fascinatingly, we don't just talk about things in this way, we may also reason using these metaphors.

How else can you explain the fact that "baby, we're riding in the fast lane on the freeway of love" is so instantly meaningful to us? Perhaps - and this is speculation - we think about abstract things using brain hardware that originally evolved to deal with more simple visuo-spatial manipulations.

pepsi logo

I am open to new ideas. Lakoff may or may not be entirely correct, but he is not throwing words around at random: his ideas are often coherent and stimulating, and they may have explanatory force for real world phenomena. Let us return to the Pepsi document. It is gibberish. "The investment in our DNA leads to breakthrough innovation and allows us to move out of the traditional linear system into the future". This is accompanied by a helpful diagram, which is reproduced here for your delight. "The Pepsi DNA finds its origin in the dynamic of perimeter oscillations," they explain. There is talk of an "authentic geometry". "The breathtaking colour palette is derived," they explain, "using a scientific method of colour assignment based on the product's essence and primary features." They go on to discuss "attraction theory", and the "Pepsi proposition".

This involves the "establishment of a gravitational pull to shift from a 'transactional' experience to an 'invitational' expression." The accompanying diagrams show a "typical light path" being subjected to gravitational pull, and then the gravitational pull of Pepsi. The words "relativity of space and time" appear next to a curved light beam, but the diagram for Pepsi shows many Pepsi logos, distorting the human path through "typical shopping aisle".

Here we find further parallels with conventional physics. "The universe expands exponentially with f(x)=e^x (1 light year = 671 million miles per hour)." One light year is not - if I can anally interject - 671 million miles per hour. Maybe that works because "the Pepsi Orbits" "dimensionalise exponentially".

This might be a useful moment to mention that the new logo is basically the same as the old one, except one of the curves has been changed a bit to look more like a smile.

The Arnell agency has yet to comment on the veracity of the document, but Pepsi certainly announced a revamp in October last year, and from reading his work, Peter Arnell does quite like the word "dimensionalise". At a recent news conference, he also compared his advert for SoBe Lifewater to the achievements of Thomas Edison in inventing cinematography.

And even if this is an elaborate 27-page long spoof, the horror is that it's believable. Across huge swaths of the world, scientific reasoning is regarded as decorative: a rhetorical stance, or a speech in a white coat from a 1950s B-movie. We live in a world that has indulged these buffoons for so long that they think they are heroes, while nerds are regarded with contempt. Our only hope is that after the robot wars, you will all starve, cold and in the rain, wearing leaves and eating mud.

27 page document can be found here (6MB PDF, right click to save)

It's up there with French philosophical texts as amongst the most stupid ever written. Good for a laugh.

Incoherent gibberish enough and a physicist's joke.

09 March 2009

oh dear leader...

Reported by AFP
NKorea's Kim wins parliamentary seat: official media

SEOUL (AFP) — Leader Kim Jong-Il has been unanimously elected to a seat in North Korea's parliament following a 100 percent turnout, state media said Monday.

Sunday's elections for the rubber-stamp Supreme People's Assembly featured only one pre-approved candidate in each constituency. But analysts are watching them for clues about an eventual transition of power in the impoverished communist nation.

Kim, 67, was standing in military constituency 333, a lucky number in Korean. The new assembly will vote later to confirm him as chairman of the National Defence Commission, the country's most powerful body.

The central election committee said "all the voters of Constituency No. 333 participated in the election and voted for Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army Kim Jong-Il," the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

"This is the expression of all servicepersons' and people's absolute support and profound trust in Kim Jong-Il," it added.

Voting for the parliament did not take place in 2008 when its five-year term expired, amid speculation over Kim's health. He is widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August.

Seoul officials say he has recovered well and is in control, but his health and age have inevitably led to talk abroad about who will succeed him.

The report was the first on official media on Monday about the outcome of the elections.

Duh! Only one pre-approved candidate. Of course the vote would be unanimous.

Even dictatorships can call themselves democratic (as in Democratic People's Republic of Korea - DPRK), if they let people vote, even on one and only one candidate.

Vietnam. Check. Singapore. Check.

07 March 2009

where no one has gone before...

From NASA (6 March 2009)
The Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft lifted off on time at 10:49 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spectacular nighttime launch followed a smooth countdown free of technical issues or weather concerns.

Kepler's mission: to peer closely at a patch of space for at least three-and-a-half years, looking for rocky planets similar our own. The spacecraft will target an area rich with stars like our sun, watching for a slight dimming in the starlight as planets slip through the space between.

"Kepler is a critical component in NASA's broader efforts to ultimately find and study planets where Earth-like conditions may be present," said Jon Morse, the Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The planetary census Kepler takes will be very important for understanding the frequency of Earth-size planets in our galaxy and planning future missions that directly detect and characterize such worlds around nearby stars."

I wonder how long before planet earth becomes uninhabitable due to rising temperatures and sea levels. Is there a link?

06 March 2009

headline of the month

From The Observer (UK)
Support child labour
From one of Britain's most progressive newspapers.

04 March 2009

You can never have too many friends

I found this article from the BBC rather interesting (3 March 2009)

What's the ideal number of friends?


By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

The more friends you have, the more you earn, says a study. But modern life can allow little time to maintain meaningful relationships, so what's the optimum number of friends?

It's widely accepted that friendships are invaluable to the soul but few of us were aware that they could also boost the bank account.

A study of 10,000 US students over a period of 35 years suggests the wealthiest people are those that had the most friends at school. Each extra schoolfriend added 2% to the salary.

The researchers said this was because the workplace is a social setting and those with the best social skills prosper in management and teamwork.

Toks Timson
Toks Timson, 41, from Croydon, has 707 Facebook friends
'I actually know or have met or worked with or went to school with or am related to at least 550.
'The others are just friends of friends or random adds from people.
'Having that number of friends is a lot of work for sure. I'm a bit of a raver and also someone who makes friends easily.'

If a wide circle of friends is taken as a popularity indicator, does that mean the more you have the more successful and happy you are? Or can you have too many? What is the best number?

The average number is about 150, says leading anthropologist Robin Dunbar.

It may sound like a lot, but think of your Christmas card list - 50 cards to 50 couples = 100 friends.

"It's the number of people that you know as persons and you know how they fit into your social world and they know how you fit into theirs. They are a group of people to which you have an obligation of friendship."

They usually consist of an inner circle of five "core" people and an additional layer of 10, he says. That makes 15 people - some will probably be family members - who are your central group and then outside that, there's another 35 in the next circle and another 100 on the outside. And that's one person's social world.

Aristotle said friends must have eaten salt together
Philosopher Mark Vernon

Friendships help us develop as people, says Mark Vernon, author of The Philosophy of Friendship, but the very term "friend" covers a whole range of relationships. You have a very close friendship with your partner but with others it may just be a common interest or history or simply children the same age.

"Aristotle said friends must have eaten salt together and what he meant is there's a sense that people have lived a significant part of their life together. They've sat down and shared meals and the ups and downs of life.

"You really have to have mulled over things with them to become really good friends and there's only so many people you can do that with.

"You can have friends because of what you do together or enjoy something together like football or shopping, but they're not as profound friends as those who you love for themselves because of something in their character. And it doesn't matter what you're doing with them, even sitting alone in a room."

'One in, one out'

There's a limit to how many close friends like this you can have and it's probably between six and 12, he says.

"I think this idea that you can have virtually limitless numbers of friends does water down the concept of friendship. I think it's one of those things where less is more."

Not if you're a socialite like designer Nicky Haslam, who recently threw a party for 800 friends. But even people who don't inhabit the heady world of fashion and celebrity have too many friends to manage.

A newspaper columnist once told of her shock when, having struck up a rapport with a man over dinner, she was told at the end of the meal he had no vacancies for friends. He was operating a "one-in, one-out" policy. Six months later she received a card stating he was now available for friendship.

That's an extreme example but many people view their friendships scientifically and regulate them accordingly.

Penny, a 35-year-old mum of two in Brighton, says she has 12 good friends but of those would only really confide in four
'There's not enough hours in the day or days in the week to see everyone.
'Certain people ask if I'm around to meet and I don't really want to commit because I've got other people I want to see.
'So you do start streamlining, but your oldest friends are always there.'

Julie, a 34-year-old PR consultant in London, says she has three categories of friends. Firstly there are nine close friends - the Premier League - whom she could ring any time of day or night and they would drop everything and come if necessary.

"I try to see them every few weeks and speak at least once a fortnight. I have a rota in my head and try and ring one of them each night as I drive home from work. It shows how pressured we are for time that speaking to friends is multi-tasking."

Julie's next social group has about 20 people, mostly men, whom she would see every couple of months, then there are more than 100 people beyond that on the outer fringes - friends from work, friends from her last job and friends from travelling.

"There are two people whom I don't really want to stay friends with but I don't have the heart to say no to. People I used to work with, they invite you to dinner and then you feel you have to invite them back, but you really don't have the time and it gets really stressful, especially since getting a boyfriend.

"I want to spend two nights a week with him, two nights to myself at home and two nights at the gym, so that leaves one night to see people."

US sitcom Friends
Far-fetched it may be, but five close friends is about average

There is a perception that as society has become more mobile, and traditional family bonds have loosened, friendships have become more fleeting. But on the other hand, modern technology has meant we can stay in touch with more people than ever.

"First email, then mobile, and now social networking sites like Facebook have made it much easier for people to grow their circle of friends beyond their immediate inner circle," says digital media expert Dan Clays of BLM Quantum.

"But the swelling is predominantly in the outer-reaches of their circle, and often the fringe group. If you were to examine the profile of someone's group of friends on Facebook, the probability is that a large contingent were accepted as friends out of curiosity and after an initial exchange, the level of dialogue slows down to a trickle."

This is especially apparent in the 16-24 audience group, the digital generation, he says, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to maintain that contact later in life.

But maybe we're too fixated on numbers, says Mr Vernon.

"Ask yourself about the quality of your friendships, not about the quantity."

For the sake of friendship, some names have been changed

Is it possible to be popular but not actually have many friends? Is it possible to be charismatic while introverted?

Are acquaintances, with whom one has longer conversations, friends of some sort? Do people maintain all 150 friends continuously? Surely one loses touch with a fair percentage.

03 March 2009

navel gazing

The (UK) Daily Telegraph has reported that Austrian scientist Dr Georg Steinhauser has solved the the mystery of belly button fluff.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, he said the scaly structure of the hair enhances the 'abrasion of minuscule fibres from the shirt' and directs the lint towards the belly button.

"The hair's scales act like a kind of barbed hooks," he said. "Abdominal hair often seems to grow in concentric circles around the navel."

The researcher, from Vienna University of Technology also asked friends, family and workmates about their own belly button fluff.

Dr Steinhauser established that shaving one's belly will result in a fluff-free navel - but only until the hairs grow back.

Other suggestions for keeping the navel fluff-free include wearing old clothes, as they tend to shed less lint than newer garments, which can lose up to one thousandth of their weight to the belly button over the course of a year.

A body piercing can also be used, with belly button rings particularly effective at sweeping away fibres before they lodge.

Australian scientist and broadcaster, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki actually won an Ig Nobel prize in 2002 for his study on navel lint.

The ultimate exercise in navel gazing that yields results.

01 March 2009

kangaroo culling

Kangaroo culling has always been controversial. Without managing numbers in the absence of natural predators, even more starve to death - a slow and painful death. I know which is more cruel.

We should be eating roos instead of cows. They are not endangered.

Moving kangaroos elsewhere is just relocating the problem.