Quotulatiousness

March 1, 2015

Kay S. Hymowitz asks “How smart is 50 Shades of Grey?”

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Writing in City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz discusses what the book and movie say about modern women:

In her standup act, comedian Whitney Cummings scoffs at the claim that men like strong women. “Sorry, I’ve watched porn,” she says. “Men like Asian schoolgirls with duct tape on their mouths.” In that vein, consider the popular idea that women want sensitive men who do the laundry without being told. Sorry, I’ve read — and now watched — 50 Shades of Grey. Women like men who tie them up and flog them in a Red Room of Pain. With duct tape on their mouths.

I’m only half-kidding. The film’s reviews, like the reviews of E.L. James’s 2011 book, are full of well-deserved snark about its inane dialogue, flat characters, and contrived plot. But the story’s wild popularity suggests that James knows something most of us don’t about the mix of lust, romantic longing, and post-feminist morality that swirls inside the brains of young women today.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that this particular pornographic fantasy has seized the global female imagination at the same moment that rape and sexual violence against women has become a leading social justice cause. The coincidence is heightened by the fact that the story’s protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a coed on the cusp of graduation. She is in many respects an ordinary, modern college girl. She’s independent, a little boozy, cash-strapped, and working her way through school in a hardware store. She drives a battered Volkswagen beetle. Yes, she is a virgin. But that’s not because she’s a prude — “Holy crap, no!” as the feisty heroine would put it. She just hasn’t found a guy who pushes her buttons. That is, until she sacrifices her virginity and good judgment to the highly practiced sexual power of the brooding and distinctly un-politically-correct billionaire Christian Grey, a man of “singular tastes.”

[…]

But if James takes care to make the sex between Christian and Ana so consensual it could pass muster at University of California campus tribunals, she perhaps unwittingly points to the limitations of such consent. Though James wrote her novel before the current spate of questionable campus rape accusations, she all but predicted them. Ana’s consent is shaped not by enthusiasm for Christian’s predilections, but by her desire not to lose him. Consent seems a misleading word to describe this state of mind.

The prevalence of pornography — and, now, of 50 Shades itself — is bound to fuel this sort of youthful confusion. We can and should prize consent, but most 18-year-olds know little about their own motivations. Ply young men and women with images of extreme sexual adventure, barrels of liquor, and empty, unsupervised dorm rooms, and sexual assault is bound to remain in the headlines.

QotD: Being a house-guest in a family home

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I knew that if he slept at “Beggarbush” he would be up in time; I have slept there myself, and I know what happens. About the middle of the night, as you judge, though in reality it may be somewhat later, you are startled out of your first sleep by what sounds like a rush of cavalry along the passage, just outside your door. Your half-awakened intelligence fluctuates between burglars, the Day of Judgment, and a gas explosion. You sit up in bed and listen intently. You are not kept waiting long; the next moment a door is violently slammed, and somebody, or something, is evidently coming downstairs on a tea-tray.

“I told you so,” says a voice outside, and immediately some hard substance, a head one would say from the ring of it, rebounds against the panel of your door.

By this time you are charging madly round the room for your clothes. Nothing is where you put it overnight, the articles most essential have disappeared entirely; and meanwhile the murder, or revolution, or whatever it is, continues unchecked. You pause for a moment, with your head under the wardrobe, where you think you can see your slippers, to listen to a steady, monotonous thumping upon a distant door. The victim, you presume, has taken refuge there; they mean to have him out and finish him. Will you be in time? The knocking ceases, and a voice, sweetly reassuring in its gentle plaintiveness, asks meekly:

“Pa, may I get up?”

You do not hear the other voice, but the responses are:

“No, it was only the bath — no, she ain’t really hurt, — only wet, you know. Yes, ma, I’ll tell ’em what you say. No, it was a pure accident. Yes; good-night, papa.”

Then the same voice, exerting itself so as to be heard in a distant part of the house, remarks:

“You’ve got to come upstairs again. Pa says it isn’t time yet to get up.”

You return to bed, and lie listening to somebody being dragged upstairs, evidently against their will. By a thoughtful arrangement the spare rooms at “Beggarbush” are exactly underneath the nurseries. The same somebody, you conclude, still offering the most creditable opposition, is being put back into bed. You can follow the contest with much exactitude, because every time the body is flung down upon the spring mattress, the bedstead, just above your head, makes a sort of jump; while every time the body succeeds in struggling out again, you are aware by the thud upon the floor. After a time the struggle wanes, or maybe the bed collapses; and you drift back into sleep. But the next moment, or what seems to be the next moment, you again open your eyes under the consciousness of a presence. The door is being held ajar, and four solemn faces, piled one on top of the other, are peering at you, as though you were some natural curiosity kept in this particular room. Seeing you awake, the top face, walking calmly over the other three, comes in and sits on the bed in a friendly attitude.

“Oh!” it says, “we didn’t know you were awake. I’ve been awake some time.”

“So I gather,” you reply, shortly.

“Pa doesn’t like us to get up too early,” it continues. “He says everybody else in the house is liable to be disturbed if we get up. So, of course, we mustn’t.”

The tone is that of gentle resignation. It is instinct with the spirit of virtuous pride, arising from the consciousness of self-sacrifice.

“Don’t you call this being up?” you suggest.

“Oh, no; we’re not really up, you know, because we’re not properly dressed.” The fact is self-evident. “Pa’s always very tired in the morning,” the voice continues; “of course, that’s because he works hard all day. Are you ever tired in the morning?”

At this point he turns and notices, for the first time, that the three other children have also entered, and are sitting in a semi-circle on the floor. From their attitude it is clear they have mistaken the whole thing for one of the slower forms of entertainment, some comic lecture or conjuring exhibition, and are waiting patiently for you to get out of bed and do something. It shocks him, the idea of their being in the guest’s bedchamber. He peremptorily orders them out. They do not answer him, they do not argue; in dead silence, and with one accord they fall upon him. All you can see from the bed is a confused tangle of waving arms and legs, suggestive of an intoxicated octopus trying to find bottom. Not a word is spoken; that seems to be the etiquette of the thing. If you are sleeping in your pyjamas, you spring from the bed, and only add to the confusion; if you are wearing a less showy garment, you stop where you are and shout commands, which are utterly unheeded. The simplest plan is to leave it to the eldest boy. He does get them out after a while, and closes the door upon them. It re-opens immediately, and one, generally Muriel, is shot back into the room. She enters as from a catapult. She is handicapped by having long hair, which can be used as a convenient handle. Evidently aware of this natural disadvantage, she clutches it herself tightly in one hand, and punches with the other. He opens the door again, and cleverly uses her as a battering-ram against the wall of those without. You can hear the dull crash as her head enters among them, and scatters them. When the victory is complete, he comes back and resumes his seat on the bed. There is no bitterness about him; he has forgotten the whole incident.

“I like the morning,” he says, “don’t you?”

“Some mornings,” you agree, “are all right; others are not so peaceful.”

He takes no notice of your exception; a far-away look steals over his somewhat ethereal face.

“I should like to die in the morning,” he says; “everything is so beautiful then.”

“Well,” you answer, “perhaps you will, if your father ever invites an irritable man to come and sleep here, and doesn’t warn him beforehand.”

He descends from his contemplative mood, and becomes himself again.

“It’s jolly in the garden,” he suggests; “you wouldn’t like to get up and have a game of cricket, would you?”

It was not the idea with which you went to bed, but now, as things have turned out, it seems as good a plan as lying there hopelessly awake; and you agree.

You learn, later in the day, that the explanation of the proceeding is that you, unable to sleep, woke up early in the morning, and thought you would like a game of cricket. The children, taught to be ever courteous to guests, felt it their duty to humour you. Mrs. Harris remarks at breakfast that at least you might have seen to it that the children were properly dressed before you took them out; while Harris points out to you, pathetically, how, by your one morning’s example and encouragement, you have undone his labour of months.

On this Wednesday morning, George, it seems, clamoured to get up at a quarter-past five, and persuaded them to let him teach them cycling tricks round the cucumber frames on Harris’s new wheel. Even Mrs. Harris, however, did not blame George on this occasion; she felt intuitively the idea could not have been entirely his.

It is not that the Harris children have the faintest notion of avoiding blame at the expense of a friend and comrade. One and all they are honesty itself in accepting responsibility for their own misdeeds. It simply is, that is how the thing presents itself to their understanding. When you explain to them that you had no original intention of getting up at five o’clock in the morning to play cricket on the croquet lawn, or to mimic the history of the early Church by shooting with a cross-bow at dolls tied to a tree; that as a matter of fact, left to your own initiative, you would have slept peacefully till roused in Christian fashion with a cup of tea at eight, they are firstly astonished, secondly apologetic, and thirdly sincerely contrite. In the present instance, waiving the purely academic question whether the awakening of George at a little before five was due to natural instinct on his part, or to the accidental passing of a home-made boomerang through his bedroom window, the dear children frankly admitted that the blame for his uprising was their own. As the eldest boy said:

“We ought to have remembered that Uncle George had a long day, before him, and we ought to have dissuaded him from getting up. I blame myself entirely.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy – The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Uploaded on 6 Sep 2011

Sometimes, a body gets a hankering that only Leonard Nimoy singing about hobbits while surrounded by 60’s pixie chicks can sate. Fortunately, we live in a world where those hankerings need not go unfulfilled!

This was originally filmed in 1967, on a variety show called Malibu U. The colour portion of the video is from “Funk Me Up Scotty,” a 1996 documentary from BBC2 about the musical careers of the cast of the original Star Trek. The show cut the last verse and an instrumental/dance interlude, which I’ve restored using black & white footage from I know not where.

QotD: Equestrian statues

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is a lot of folklore about equestrian statues, especially the ones with riders on them. There is said to be a code in the number and placement of the horse’s hooves: If one of the horse’s hooves is in the air, the rider was wounded in battle; two legs in the air means that the rider was killed in battle; three legs in the air indicates that the rider got lost on the way to the battle; and four legs in the air means that the sculptor was very, very clever. Five legs in the air means that there’s probably at least one other horse standing behind the horse you’re looking at; and the rider lying on the ground with his horse lying on top of him with all four legs in the air means that the rider was either a very incompetent horseman or owned a very bad-tempered horse.

Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight, 2010.

February 26, 2015

QotD: The basis of the music industry

Filed under: Business,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Bad players buy expensive guitars over and over because they figure it will make them better players. The entire music instrument industry is based on it. There’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, poised to be something more, but still a spare part on his more notable brother’s stage, with a borrowed Telecaster, a guitar as useful as a boat oar, putting the lie to that whole idea. People take drugs because they think it will make them as interesting as interesting people that take drugs. The entire drug industry is based on it.

Sippican Cottage, “Mind If My Little Brother Sits In?”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-06-15.

February 22, 2015

On a lighter note…

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scott Alexander rings the changes on the “x walks into a bar” joke … but it’s not a bar, it’s a coffee shop:

Gottfried Leibniz goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista says he’s lucky since there is only one muffin left. Isaac Newton shoves his way up to the counter, saying Leibniz cut in line and he was first. Leibniz insists that he was first. The two of them come to blows.

* * *
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel goes up to the counter and gives a tremendously long custom order in German, specifying exactly how much of each sort of syrup he wants, various espresso shots, cream in exactly the right pattern, and a bunch of toppings, all added in a specific order at a specific temperature. The barista can’t follow him, so just gives up and hands him a small plain coffee. He walks away. The people behind him in line are very impressed with his apparent expertise, and they all order the same thing Hegel got. The barista gives each of them a small plain coffee, and they all remark on how delicious it tastes and what a remarkable coffee connoisseur that Hegel is. “The Hegel” becomes a new Starbucks special and is wildly popular for the next seventy years.

* * *
Adam Smith goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a muffin,” he says. “Sorry,” says the barista, “but those two are fighting over the last muffin.” She points to Leibniz and Newton, who are still beating each other up. “I’ll pay $2 more than the sticker price, and you can keep the extra,” says Smith. The barista hands him the muffin.

* * *
Ludwig Wittgenstein goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a small toffee mocha,” he says. “We don’t have small,” says the barista. “Then what sizes do you have?” “Just tall, grande, and venti.” “Then doesn’t that make ‘tall’ a ‘small’?” “We call it tall,” says the barista. Wittgenstein pounds his fist on the counter. “Tall has no meaning separate from the way it is used! You are just playing meaningless language games!” He storms out in a huff.

* * *

Ayn Rand goes up to the counter. “What do you want?” asks the barista. “Exactly the relevant question. As a rational human being, it is my desires that are paramount. Since as a reasoning animal I have the power to choose, and since I am not bound by any demand to subordinate my desires to that of an outside party who wishes to use force or guilt to make me sacrifice my values to their values or to the values of some purely hypothetical collective, it is what I want that is imperative in this transaction. However, since I am dealing with you, and you are also a rational human being, under capitalism we have an opportunity to mutually satisfy our values in a way that leaves both of us richer and more fully human. You participate in the project of affirming my values by providing me with the coffee I want, and by paying you I am not only incentivizing you for the transaction, but giving you a chance to excel as a human being in the field of producing coffee. You do not produce the coffee because I am demanding it, or because I will use force against you if you do not, but because it most thoroughly represents your own values, particularly the value of creation. You would not make this coffee for me if it did not serve you in some way, and therefore by satisfying my desires you also reaffirm yourself. Insofar as you make inferior coffee, I will reject it and you will go bankrupt, but insofar as your coffee is truly excellent, a reflection of the excellence in your own soul and your achievement as a rationalist being, it will attract more people to your store, you will gain wealth, and you will be able to use that wealth further in pursuit of excellence as you, rather than some bureaucracy or collective, understand it. That is what it truly means to be a superior human.” “Okay, but what do you want?” asks the barista. “Really I just wanted to give that speech,” Rand says, and leaves.

* * *
Voltaire goes up to the counter and orders an espresso. He takes it and goes to his seat. The barista politely reminds him he has not yet paid. Voltaire stays seated, saying “I believe in freedom of espresso.”

* * *
Thomas Malthus goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista tells him somebody just took the last one. Malthus grumbles that the Starbucks is getting too crowded and there’s never enough food for everybody.

QotD: Getting exercise with a bicycle

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are two ways you can get exercise out of a bicycle: you can “overhaul” it, or you can ride it. On the whole, I am not sure that a man who takes his pleasure overhauling does not have the best of the bargain. He is independent of the weather and the wind; the state of the roads troubles him not. Give him a screw-hammer, a bundle of rags, an oil-can, and something to sit down upon, and he is happy for the day. He has to put up with certain disadvantages, of course; there is no joy without alloy. He himself always looks like a tinker, and his machine always suggests the idea that, having stolen it, he has tried to disguise it; but as he rarely gets beyond the first milestone with it, this, perhaps, does not much matter. The mistake some people make is in thinking they can get both forms of sport out of the same machine. This is impossible; no machine will stand the double strain. You must make up your mind whether you are going to be an “overhauler” or a rider. Personally, I prefer to ride, therefore I take care to have near me nothing that can tempt me to overhaul. When anything happens to my machine I wheel it to the nearest repairing shop. If I am too far from the town or village to walk, I sit by the roadside and wait till a cart comes along. My chief danger, I always find, is from the wandering overhauler. The sight of a broken-down machine is to the overhauler as a wayside corpse to a crow; he swoops down upon it with a friendly yell of triumph. At first I used to try politeness. I would say:

“It is nothing; don’t you trouble. You ride on, and enjoy yourself, I beg it of you as a favour; please go away.”

Experience has taught me, however, that courtesy is of no use in such an extremity. Now I say:

“You go away and leave the thing alone, or I will knock your silly head off.”

And if you look determined, and have a good stout cudgel in your hand, you can generally drive him off.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 20, 2015

QotD: Post-modern conspiracy theories

Filed under: Humour,Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To the feminists and their allies we owe the coining of the phrase “heteronormative,” which describes the moral terror that all good people are expected to feel for walking around with their bigoted heads full of the notion that, however tolerant or even indulgent we may be of our more exotically inclined friends and neighbors, there exists such a thing as sexual normalcy, and that our norms are related to that which is — what’s the word? — normal. Conservatives are of course inclined to account for the great variety of human life as a matter of fact if not as a matter of moral endorsement: William F. Buckley Jr., upon being told that at most 2 percent of the population is gay, replied that if that were really the case then he must know all of them personally. The heteronormative is right up there with “rape culture” and various distillations of “privilege” — white, male, etc. — that together form the rogues’ gallery populating progressives’ worldview, which is at heart a species of conspiracy in which such traditional malefactors as the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers have been replaced with disembodied malice that can be located anywhere and at any time it is convenient to do so.

Like the old-fashioned conspiracy theorists they so closely resemble, progressives regard any resistance to their risible claims regarding the all-pervasive power of patriarchy/heteronormalcy/white privilege/etc. as nothing more than evidence of the reach and strength of the conspiracy’s tentacles. A regular at a coffee shop I used to frequent was known to one and all as “Conspiracy Theory Larry,” and had an explanation for everything — everything — that was wrong with the world, and my derision was enough to convince him I was a junior-league Illuminatus. (I can only imagine that he was confirmed in his suspicion when I joined National Review, which after all was founded by this guy: “William F. Buckley Jr., the American publisher who heads the elite Janus mind-control project at NATO headquarters, was the most awful of all of them. [Ed: “Them” being reptilian shape-shifters.] Quite honestly he used his teeth a lot. He used to bite a lot. He got pleasure out of hurting people by biting them after he shape-shifted. To this very day I have an aversion to that kind of thing.” I suppose one would.) If forays into gender-role adventurism are met with so much as a raised eyebrow, it is, in the progressive mind, evidence of a monstrous evil. As in a good conspiracy theory, every evil must be in unity with every other evil, which is why progressives can see no difference between a social norm that assumes boys do not normally wear dresses and one that assumes homosexuals will be put into concentration camps.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Gender-Neutral Dating”, National Review, 2014-01-11

February 16, 2015

How Neal Dewing copes with those irritating “dry spells”

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Federalist, Neal Dewing explains how he uses woodworking as a helpful method of getting through certain marital disputes:

There comes a time in every marriage when a man finds himself banished from his lady’s bedchamber for some perceived offense. A trifle, nonsense in most cases, but God help you if you argue with her until she realizes you’re right (which, of course, you usually are). If you successfully dispute her irrational arguments, the trap is sprung and she’ll proceed to catalogue every single one of your past lapses. At this point, my friend, you’ve entered what we in the marriage game like to refer to as the normal state of things a dry spell.

The most important thing to remember about dry spells is that they happen to everyone. This is the case even if you have married an infinitely patient woman who doesn’t find fault in every piddling thing you do and certainly never expects you to tidy up the bathroom counter every day, because she knows fully well you’re just going to use all that stuff again so it just doesn’t make sense.

[…]

Any man who sticks to his guns will experience a dry spell sooner or later, but there are ways to cope. In fact, it can be a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement.

What better activity for a man with some unanticipated free time than carpentry? There are few better ways to relieve stress than taking a length of wood into your hands and manipulating it until you’ve achieved the desired result. It can really clear your head. With a few practical guidelines you’ll be up to speed and navigating dry spells with practiced ease.

The first order of business is to identify a project. For this exercise, we’ll go with something fairly easy that will take up some time. You like to sit around, as your wife never fails to tell people loudly enough for you to overhear. So how about a bench? I’ll run you through the steps of this basic woodworking project, which should be enough to carry you through until she works up the nerve to apologize.

Step 1: Materials

It’s important to have all your materials in place before beginning. You can obtain these from a lumberyard or one of the big home improvement stores.

  • (1) 2×10
  • (2) 8’ of 2×2
  • (2) 8’ of 1×4
  • (2) 2×4
  • Wooden dowels
  • Wood screws (1.5” & 3” length)
  • Paint or oil-based stain

You’ll also need some tools. If you are missing a few of these, go borrow one from an older neighbor. He’ll have them. He’s been there. Plus, at this point you should take advantage of any excuse to get out of the house.

  • Drill
  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw or compound miter saw
  • Swanson® Speed® square
  • Pencil
  • 2 sawhorses
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask

Depending on how much time you spent hiding planning, visiting the lumberyard, and jawing with the neighbor, you may well have eaten up most of a day. Don’t feel like you need to finish this up in an afternoon. She probably hasn’t let it go yet, knowing her, even though this is obviously a ridiculous thing for her to be mad about.

You can pick this up tomorrow. Have a beer. Stay strong.

February 15, 2015

They call it “Great” Britain, after all

Filed under: Britain,Europe,Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Great-Britain

H/T to Think Defence for the image.

Let’s make no mistake, Great Britain is great, the clue is in the name after all.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously uneducated, or French.

And not only that …

Without Great Britain the world would be a poorer place in every regard.

Lets just remind ourselves why…

We gave the world democracy, common law, the Bailey Bridge, tanks, gravity, the worlds most common second language, Led Zeppelin, fair play, queuing, the backhoe loader, metal bridges, modern economics, the industrial revolution and Hollywood villains.

The Beatles, Morris Dancing, penicillin, HP sauce, Top Gear, the World Wide Web (your welcome), One Direction, Carry On and Simon Cowell.

Tea drinking, chicken tikka masala, Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, battered Mars Bars, the BBC, the mini (car, roundabout and skirt), the Spice Girls, Darwin, football, Marmite, rugby, cricket, golf, tennis, ping pong, pubs, tea, sharp suits, Spitfires and the fact there are homosexuals, lesbians and transsexuals in the armed forces and no one gives two shits.

With our friends and allies stood against the Nazis, invented the railway, sarcasm, MRI scanners, the screw propellor and a proper breakfast, been on the right side of the Napoleonic, First, Second and Cold War and gave the world steam power, the Mexeflote, Wallace and Gromit, roast beef dinners, the Dyson, Doctor Who, television, telephones, text messaging, GMT, electric motors, lawn movers, spotted dick, sewage systems, the thermos flask, the jet engine, carbon fibre, the flushing toilet and polyester (just for the RAF), pencils, radar and the Bank of France (ha ha ha).

QotD: Bicycle saddles

Filed under: Humour,Quotations,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I said: “It irritated me; it must have been worse for you. Then there are saddles,” I went on — I wished to get this lesson home to him. “Can you think of any saddle ever advertised that you have not tried?”

He said: “It has been an idea of mine that the right saddle is to be found.”

I said: “You give up that idea; this is an imperfect world of joy and sorrow mingled. There may be a better land where bicycle saddles are made out of rainbow, stuffed with cloud; in this world the simplest thing is to get used to something hard. There was that saddle you bought in Birmingham; it was divided in the middle, and looked like a pair of kidneys.”

He said: “You mean that one constructed on anatomical principles.”

“Very likely,” I replied. “The box you bought it in had a picture on the cover, representing a sitting skeleton — or rather that part of a skeleton which does sit.”

He said: “It was quite correct; it showed you the true position of the—”

I said: “We will not go into details; the picture always seemed to me indelicate.”

He said: “Medically speaking, it was right.”

“Possibly,” I said, “for a man who rode in nothing but his bones. I only know that I tried it myself, and that to a man who wore flesh it was agony. Every time you went over a stone or a rut it nipped you; it was like riding on an irritable lobster. You rode that for a month.”

“I thought it only right to give it a fair trial,” he answered.

I said: “You gave your family a fair trial also; if you will allow me the use of slang. Your wife told me that never in the whole course of your married life had she known you so bad tempered, so un-Christian like, as you were that month. Then you remember that other saddle, the one with the spring under it.”

He said: “You mean ‘the Spiral.’”

I said: “I mean the one that jerked you up and down like a Jack-in-the-box; sometimes you came down again in the right place, and sometimes you didn’t. I am not referring to these matters merely to recall painful memories, but I want to impress you with the folly of trying experiments at your time of life.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 8, 2015

Refuting the “Golden Age of Television” meme

Filed under: History,Humour,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A few years back, Livejournal user Squid314 took issue with the idea that we’re somehow enjoying a great era of TV programming lately:

As I mentioned in my last entry, I’ve been watching Babylon 5 lately. It’s not a perfect show, but it has one big advantage: it’s consistent and believable.

Contrast this with Doctor Who. Doctor Who is fun to watch, but if you think about it for more than two seconds you notice it’s full of plot holes and contradictions. Things that cause time travel paradoxes that threaten to destroy the universe one episode go without a hitch the next. And the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, and the Doctor’s biology gain completely different powers no one’s ever alluded to depending on the situation. The aliens are hysterically unlikely, often without motives or believable science, the characters will do any old insane thing when it makes the plot slightly more interesting, and everything has either a self-destruct button or an easily findable secret weakness that it takes no efforts to defend against.

[…]

So Doctor Who is not a complete loss. But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called “World War II”.

Let’s start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn’t look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn’t get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn’t even mind the lack of originality if they weren’t so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren’t that evil. And that’s not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he’s not only Prime Minister, he’s not only a brilliant military commander, he’s not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he’s also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he’s supposed to be the hero, but it’s not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

[…]

…and then, in the entire rest of the show, over five or six different big wars, they never use the superweapon again. Seriously. They have this whole thing about a war in Vietnam that lasts decades and kills tens of thousands of people, and they never wonder if maybe they should consider using the frickin’ unstoppable mystical superweapon that they won the last war with. At this point, you’re starting to wonder if any of the show’s writers have even watched the episodes the other writers made.

I’m not even going to get into the whole subplot about breaking a secret code (cleverly named “Enigma”, because the writers couldn’t spend more than two seconds thinking up a name for an enigmatic code), the giant superintelligent computer called Colossus (despite this being years before the transistor was even invented), the Soviet strongman whose name means “Man of Steel” in Russian (seriously, between calling the strongman “Man of Steel” and the Frenchman “de Gaulle”, whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot).

So yeah. Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don’t even try to make their stuff believable.

QotD: The trouble with tandem bicycles

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is always unpleasantness about this tandem. It is the theory of the man in front that the man behind does nothing; it is equally the theory of the man behind that he alone is the motive power, the man in front merely doing the puffing. The mystery will never be solved. It is annoying when Prudence is whispering to you on the one side not to overdo your strength and bring on heart disease; while Justice into the other ear is remarking, “Why should you do it all? This isn’t a cab. He’s not your passenger” to hear him grunt out:

“What’s the matter — lost your pedals?”

Harris, in his early married days, made much trouble for himself on one occasion, owing to this impossibility of knowing what the person behind is doing. He was riding with his wife through Holland. The roads were stony, and the machine jumped a good deal.

“Sit tight,” said Harris, without turning his head.

What Mrs. Harris thought he said was, “Jump off.” Why she should have thought he said “Jump off,” when he said “Sit tight,” neither of them can explain.

Mrs. Harris puts it in this way, “If you had said, ‘Sit tight,’ why should I have jumped off?”

Harris puts it, “If I had wanted you to jump off, why should I have said ‘Sit tight!’?”

The bitterness is past, but they argue about the matter to this day.

Be the explanation what it may, however, nothing alters the fact that Mrs. Harris did jump off, while Harris pedalled away hard, under the impression she was still behind him. It appears that at first she thought he was riding up the hill merely to show off. They were both young in those days, and he used to do that sort of thing. She expected him to spring to earth on reaching the summit, and lean in a careless and graceful attitude against the machine, waiting for her. When, on the contrary, she saw him pass the summit and proceed rapidly down a long and steep incline, she was seized, first with surprise, secondly with indignation, and lastly with alarm. She ran to the top of the hill and shouted, but he never turned his head. She watched him disappear into a wood a mile and a half distant, and then sat down and cried. They had had a slight difference that morning, and she wondered if he had taken it seriously and intended desertion. She had no money; she knew no Dutch. People passed, and seemed sorry for her; she tried to make them understand what had happened. They gathered that she had lost something, but could not grasp what. They took her to the nearest village, and found a policeman for her. He concluded from her pantomime that some man had stolen her bicycle. They put the telegraph into operation, and discovered in a village four miles off an unfortunate boy riding a lady’s machine of an obsolete pattern. They brought him to her in a cart, but as she did not appear to want either him or his bicycle they let him go again, and resigned themselves to bewilderment.

Meanwhile, Harris continued his ride with much enjoyment. It seemed to him that he had suddenly become a stronger, and in every way a more capable cyclist. Said he to what he thought was Mrs. Harris:

“I haven’t felt this machine so light for months. It’s this air, I think; it’s doing me good.”

Then he told her not to be afraid, and he would show her how fast he could go. He bent down over the handles, and put his heart into his work. The bicycle bounded over the road like a thing of life; farmhouses and churches, dogs and chickens came to him and passed. Old folks stood and gazed at him, the children cheered him.

In this way he sped merrily onward for about five miles. Then, as he explains it, the feeling began to grow upon him that something was wrong. He was not surprised at the silence; the wind was blowing strongly, and the machine was rattling a good deal. It was a sense of void that came upon him. He stretched out his hand behind him, and felt; there was nothing there but space. He jumped, or rather fell off, and looked back up the road; it stretched white and straight through the dark wood, and not a living soul could be seen upon it. He remounted, and rode back up the hill. In ten minutes he came to where the road broke into four; there he dismounted and tried to remember which fork he had come down.

While he was deliberating a man passed, sitting sideways on a horse. Harris stopped him, and explained to him that he had lost his wife. The man appeared to be neither surprised nor sorry for him. While they were talking another farmer came along, to whom the first man explained the matter, not as an accident, but as a good story. What appeared to surprise the second man most was that Harris should be making a fuss about the thing. He could get no sense out of either of them, and cursing them he mounted his machine again, and took the middle road on chance. Half-way up, he came upon a party of two young women with one young man between them. They appeared to be making the most of him. He asked them if they had seen his wife. They asked him what she was like. He did not know enough Dutch to describe her properly; all he could tell them was she was a very beautiful woman, of medium size. Evidently this did not satisfy them, the description was too general; any man could say that, and by this means perhaps get possession of a wife that did not belong to him. They asked him how she was dressed; for the life of him he could not recollect.

I doubt if any man could tell how any woman was dressed ten minutes after he had left her. He recollected a blue skirt, and then there was something that carried the dress on, as it were, up to the neck. Possibly, this may have been a blouse; he retained a dim vision of a belt; but what sort of a blouse? Was it green, or yellow, or blue? Had it a collar, or was it fastened with a bow? Were there feathers in her hat, or flowers? Or was it a hat at all? He dared not say, for fear of making a mistake and being sent miles after the wrong party. The two young women giggled, which in his then state of mind irritated Harris. The young man, who appeared anxious to get rid of him, suggested the police station at the next town. Harris made his way there. The police gave him a piece of paper, and told him to write down a full description of his wife, together with details of when and where he had lost her. He did not know where he had lost her; all he could tell them was the name of the village where he had lunched. He knew he had her with him then, and that they had started from there together.

The police looked suspicious; they were doubtful about three matters: Firstly, was she really his wife? Secondly, had he really lost her? Thirdly, why had he lost her? With the aid of a hotel-keeper, however, who spoke a little English, he overcame their scruples. They promised to act, and in the evening they brought her to him in a covered wagon, together with a bill for expenses. The meeting was not a tender one. Mrs. Harris is not a good actress, and always has great difficulty in disguising her feelings. On this occasion, she frankly admits, she made no attempt to disguise them.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 6, 2015

QotD: Listerine

Filed under: Business,Health,Humour,Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The stuff had an unpalatable reputation — no one likes the taste of Listerine, which is why Listerine had to come up with Flavored Listerine. Perhaps people respected it because it did taste so horrid; you could well imagine it was killing germs by the millions, because it tasted like death in your mouth. If Listerine Toothpaste had been flavored with mint or Pepsin! or Iridium! or some other brand-new ingredient, surely they would have told you up front. Unmodified “Listerine” is a warning.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2015-01-20.

February 5, 2015

QotD: “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”

Filed under: Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Can we shut up about weather for a while, especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place? It’s only 2015, but it seems like we get storms of the century about every three to six months. Our parents famously walked three miles (uphill both ways, mind you) in sub-zero and scorching temperatures in shoes made of detergent-box cardboard while also mining coal and smoking unfiltered cigarettes by the carton. And here we are, snug in our all-wheel-drive vehicles and Gore-Tex weather wear, demanding work and school be canceled on a 40% likelihood of snow flurries.

Summer has heat waves, winter has snowstorms, get over it. Ever since The Weather Channel first went live in 1982, Americans have been in love with “weather porn,” those swirling animated displays of pixels that change from green to yellow to orange to red to blue while moving rightward across your TV, computer, or smartphone screens. We stand transfixed like 12-year-old boys looking at a centerfold for the first time as reporters dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman stand in the rain and tell us… it’s raining. Or, worse yet, that it’s not raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing.

Part of the weather hype is driven by hysteria over global warming, which means that weather — once delivered by genial weirdos like Willard Scott and David Letterman — is as big a deal as the latest American misadventure in the Middle East (for the record, I believe that climate change is taking place, that human activity is part of the cause, and that the best way to deal with it is to remediate its effects rather than simply pull the plug on human progress).

As one Twitter wag put it in response to the non-blizzard of the moment, “Remember: no snow = global warming, lots of snow = global warming, less snow than you thought = global warming.” The important thing being, of course, that we always feel bad about ourselves no matter what’s happening.

Nick Gillespie, “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”, Time, 2015-01-27.

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