Friday, October 30, 2009

So drugs really do make jokes funnier ...

I may have watched a few Simpsons episodes in my time. Okay, so I can recite most of the first ten or so seasons. These days, however, I don't watch them as fanatically as I once did. There's no need, they are repeated endlessly. It seems prime time TV will never be without them again.

In fact, the Simpsons saturation has reached the point where I no longer bother to watch or record so-called 'new' Simpsons. Often because they turn out not to be new, but mainly because I know I can see them again, and again, and again ...

However, the yellow-skinned family of misfits is so engrained in our culture and our psyche that references turn up to them everywhere. One of the strangest Simpsons moments for me this year was a result of someone taking illegal drugs.

Now there's a Simpsons episode where evil forces try to move the local baseball team, the Springfield Isotopes, to Albuquerque. Homer manages to thwart the evil plans of the Mayor of Albuquerque and the heartless Duff corporation. The Isotopes remain in Springfield.

I'd always thought it was a funny episode, but this year drugs made it funnier. Manny Rameriz, a slugger for the LA Dodgers, tested positive for a substance that is used to recover from the effects of steroids, and was promptly banned for 50 games. That sounds like a lot of games, but each baseball team in the majors plays 160+ games a year.

As Manny's suspension approached its end he was allowed to work out and get game fit by playing for a minor league team in the Dodger's organisation. The team he played for was ...

... The Albuquerque Isotopes.

Thanks Manny. Shame you and the Dodgers 'got beat' by the Phillies in five games. But at least you made me laugh.

And to think I've always sworn off them myself.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jelly Shaped Person

My wife was forced by her work to travel to Auckland recently. I say 'forced' advisedly, as she never goes there of her own free will.

She brought back with her some plane food for our wee girl, who treats the overly packaged treats from the skies with the kind of reverence associated with cargo cults.

"Ooooh, plane food, plane food!"

Today's plane food was a Lolly mix. "Sweet Tooth: Enjoy our Kiwi lolly favourites" it proclaimed. By mix they meant a whole two types of candy; Milk Bottles and Jelly Babies.

Milk bottles, a bottle shaped treat that tastes a little like sweetened off milk, took a bit of explaining.

"When Mummy was a girl milk came in bottles ..."

This was greeted with some degree of skepticism.

However, it was the jelly babies that were the most perplexing of the two mixed candies, as the packet called them a "Jelly Shaped Person".

I'll admit that this moniker does suit me. I am, to a degree, a jelly shaped person. However, the jelly babies cut a rather trimmer figure than I do. It was a realistic body shape. The kind that would not lead to body image problems in the minds of children who were exposed to them. There were not Barbie Shaped Jelly People, or even Fashion Model Shaped Jelly People. They were, in fact, People Shaped Jelly Shaped People.

Or if you prefer, People Shaped Jellies.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Global capitalism in your living room

We got a phone call today from, judging from the accent and pronouncement of my last name, a call centre in India. Nothing unusual about that. However, it was about a free dinner at the Johnsonville RSA (Returned Servicepeople's Association) that we had been invited to by personalised* letter the previous week.

This is a new level of co-ordinated attack on our household by global capitalism. The "free dinner" looked to be some multinational time-share scheme presentation pressure cooker cover.

All this made me wonder how many countries were involved in trying to get me to go to dinner at the Johnsonville RSA? Would they be serving a suitably cosmopolitan meal? I was guessing it would just be cheap steak.

Yet all this international effort just for my money. It made me feel wanted. Just not in a good way.

Needless to say we side-stepped the meal. Sometimes a free steak is just not worth chewing over.

*I hope you noticed I keep those sharp z's away from my person as well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Safety first

Where do you stand on the whole 's' versus 'z' debate in spelling words like organised?

No matter what the rule books and spell checkers tell me I, for one, prefer the soft rounded corners of an 's', as opposed to the jagged, sharp edges of a 'z' next to my organ.

Safety first, even in spelling.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Hegemony of the US middle-class

It's Labour Weekend in New Zealand, and so my mind turned to the almost perfect system of labour (or should I say, labor) that a certain country's capitalism has devised.

Imagine if you will a system whereby your pension and healthcare were tied directly to your job. Without employment your health options and future living potential are severely curtailed. You retirement savings are tied into the stock market, so if Wall Street suffers so does your future. Your company offers you slightly discounted stock (in exchange for certain labor rights or in lieu of pay increases), so if the company suffers so do you.

Then imagine that in that same system employers can fire workers whenever they like for no reason at all. (Note: there may still be regulations regarding racism and sexism, but these can be worked around. For example, while you can't ask on a job application for an applicants race or gender, you can screen people with names like DeShawn, JaMarkus, Migel, or Kate. They still have to give their name; mwah ha ha ha!)

Imagine that the economy has up-times and down-times. In up times they tell you there's no need to give you pay rises, as that would impact on profits and the share price. You have shares, remember, so you wouldn't want the price to go down.

In down times they tell you they may have to cut staff (horror of horrors!) ... unless you all agree to a pay cut? Remember, your health and your future depend on you having a job. So of course you'll agree to a small (say 5%) pay cut.

Over time you'll see your wages go down. You'll want to make waves, but this is a system with very few strong unions (organized labour equals communism, and communism is what you'll find in hell when you die, you Pinko!). Besides, complaining could mean you get fired. After all, they can do that anytime, for any reason.

Imagine that? You don't have to. It exists, and has fans in all right-wing political parties across the globe. It may be coming to a country near you soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shocking stuff

Emily Veinglory recently posted this cartoon of hers on her Cliterature Blog. This probably says too much about what kind of person I am, but the first thing that came to mind, aside from it being funny, was "Oh my god, that vibrator isn't earthed ... that's really dangerous."

When I commented as such Emily replied; "The dangers of a ungrounded vibrator -- there should be a public service announcement about that.... "

(Office scene: two female office workers are looking over their shared cubicle wall at a co-worker, Bob, who is acting strangely.)

Sally: "What's Bob doing?"

Madge:"Well, Sally, he's clucking like a chicken and jumping up on people's desks."

Sally: "That Bob, he's not very grounded is he?"

Madge: "No, he isn't, Sally,and that's just fine for him. We all need a Bob or two in our lives to make us laugh."

Sally: "But you know what's no laughing matter when it comes to things being ungrounded?"

Madge: "What's that, Sally?"

Sally: "Vibrators."

Madge: "Oh, gosh!"

Sally: "That's right. You should always use a well grounded vibrator."

Madge: "I know I wouldn't want to put anything down there that wasn't grounded."

Sally: "So remember ... Before you make it buzz in your fuzz check to see if it got the right plugs."

Madge: "That's sound advice, Sally."

Sally: "No, Madge. That's ground advice."

(forced smiles and canned laughter)

Artwork copyright Emily Veinglory

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Super-whatshername-thing-person

One of the many stories I am working on at the moment is a superhero story. It's been hanging about in the back of my brain for a while now, and I've decided to let it bore a hole in my skull and escape.

However, the first sticking point is that I need a bunch of heroes and villains to populate my world (the story needs a pantheon of good and bad guys).

So, if any of you have suggestions for a good hero, or an evil-doer, I'd love to steal your idea and give you only token credit ;-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Snuff scene

I watched a child learn how to blow out a candle yesterday. It was fascinating.

He (my little nephew) was entranced by the flames on his father's birthday cake. He was watching them intently when suddenly they were gone! Blown out by his father.

The older kids at the table wanted to blow them out too and they were duly re-lit, only to be blown away again.

This started the wee nephew into paroxysms of wet expulsions of air. He wanted in on the act. Once more the candles were set alight.

At first his efforts were in vain. His huffing and puffing could not blow anything down or out. His mother, on whose lap he was sitting, helped him out with some well timed and aimed bullets of air.

He still wanted more. So once again the candles burst back into flame. This time he started to get some force into his blows. The candles wavered, fluttered, tried to fight back, but finally gave up the ghost. Victory! He had won the day. He still kept blowing none-the-less ... hitting them when they were down.

It seems the urge to control fire is a strong and primal one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rack off, Eugene

We went to see the Tchasikovsky opera Eugene Onegin last night. It was great, with a very talented cast, minimalist yet beautiful staging, and a good orchestra backing it all.

The plot of the opera was typically tragic, and had some contemporary parallels that came to mind, so here is my potted summary of the opera, updated and set in the Hutt Valley rather than 19C Russia.

Tanya spends all her time reading woman's magazines and trashy romances. She dreams of romance in a Mills & Boon kind of way. Her mother tells her to stop being so stupid. Romance is for the rich. She tells Tanya she should be more like her sister Olga, who has found a good, solid bloke.

Olga's current boyfriend, Lensky (a prop in their school's 1st XV rugby team), has his own car and enough cash to keep Olga happy. Lensky arrives with his mate, Eugene Onegin. Onegin, so-called for his habit of always saying, 'I'll just have one gin" before getting completely hammered, is a star winger on the rugby team.

Lensky and Onegin eye up the sisters, with Eugene saying he likes 'em a bit wet and romantic as they are easier to manipulate. So Lensky makes out with Olga in the back seat of his Escort while Onegin and Tanya wander about the school's rugby field talking about everything and nothing, and why it's important to lace up your boots tight before a match. The date ends with Eugene leaning in for a kiss and coping a quick feel.

The next evening Tanya is constantly checking her cellphone for any message from Eugene, but nothing comes. "But he said he'd call," she laments. She splits a tub of Tip Top and a bottle of Baileys with her aunt, who tells her not to worry so much. At 2am Tanya sends Eugene a long text in which she declares her undying love, and asks him to meet her after school behind the bike sheds.

To her surprise, Eugene turns up only an hour, and half a pack of menthols, after school finishes. She throws herself upon him, but he pushes her away and gives her the old, "It's not you, it's me" speech. He even throws in the whole "you're like a sister to me" line. Tanya is not impressed and cries so hard she ruins the other half pack of cigarettes.


At Tanya's sixteenth birthday party, Onegin has one gin too many and takes his boredom out on his best friend Lensky ... by flirting with Olga. Olga plays up to Eugene, as she is feeling a little taken for granted by Lensky. Besides, Lensky has a gimpy knee and has been on the reserves bench for the last few games, whereas Eugene is the top try scorer.

A bad DJ pumps out some loud dance beats. Olga and Eugene trip the light fantastic on the dance floor, turning heads.

Lensky gets jealous, and challenges Onegin to a fight.

The next day the fight gets out of control when Lensky pulls a knife. Eugene kicks him in the bad knee, however, and in the ensuing melee Lensky ends up dead. Eugene hightails it out of town.

Years later Onegin is in back in Wellington attending a Sports Award event he scammed a ticket to. We learn he has spent the last few years in Australia, lying low. However, there were no charges ever made against him. As he mills around the crowd of sports celebs he is surprised to see Tanya there. She's all glammed up, and is being fawned on by the paparazzi. He sees another familiar face, Gremin, who is the guy that played centre on the 1st XV, and was responsible for setting up all those tries Eugene scored back in the day.

Onegin asks Gremin who the babe is, and is told that's Tanya, Gremin's wife. Gremin it seems, was the real star in the rugby team, and has now been selected for the ABs after a stellar season for the Hurricanes.

Eugene manages to get Tanya to meet him in a back room, and he tells her that he's now in love with her. She admits to still finding him attractive, but she's with Gremin now. Eugene implores her to be his, and gets a little grabby. Tanya knees him in the bollocks, tells him to "rack off", and leaves him crying on the floor.

The End

(This is the bit where you applaud.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ghost writers in the sky

I belong to a writer's group that meets once a month, and yesterday we had our full compliment of four and a fascinating discussion on ghost writing.

One of our number has been employed to ghost write a memoir, and has encountered some sticky issues when it comes to his professional integrity. I won't go into personal details, but the basics of it are as follows...

The ghost writer is attempting to write with the voice of his subject.
The subject dictated onto tape many stories and anecdotes about his life.

-- In the tapes the subject is sometimes passionate, even salacious or controversial, about certain events and people.

-- The subject is reading and editing the drafts produced by the ghost writer.

-- There were many draft versions.

-- When editing the ghost writing the subject has removed or softened the passionate, salacious and controversial parts of most, if not all, of the anecdotes.

-- This has weakened the 'punch' of the stories considerably.

-- Not surprisingly, this has annoyed the ghost writer a little. He feels the subject is ruining the story of his life.

-- On the other hand, the subject is entitled to say, or not say, what he wants about his own life.

-- The ghost writer feels an obligation to honour the wishes of the subject.

Now the tricky bit ...
-- The person commissioning and paying for the memoir is not the subject. Rather it is the subject's son.

-- I'm guessing these are tales the subjects' family have heard, in whole or part, many times. They would have been told candidly and passionately, just like the tapes.

-- The son/employer feels the draft revision he has received is a little dull in terms of language. (He's right.)

-- The wider family also want input into the memoir.

-- The family, however, do not know of the process of editing multiple drafts that has led to the current status of the text.

-- Basically, there is a conflict between the person paying for the book and the person the book is about, but they are not having that conflict between each other, but rather through their interactions with the ghost writer. There are also other voices in the cacophony, and in my own small way I got to be a little squeak as well.

There are a host of issues that arise from the dilemma the ghost writer finds himself in, and these led to a lively discussion.
Who does the ghost writer have the greater responsibility to please? The person paying for the work, or the person whose voice he is writing as?

Does the writer have to be true to the 'voice' of the subject, or to the editing wishes of the subject?

How much of the 'writer' inside the ghost writer can you ignore when it comes to issues of style and form? If the client or subject wants what the writer considers is a poorly written final product, does that matter?

I came away from the meeting with my head spinning. It made my current writing dilemmas seem small by comparison.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I Hate Saturn

I just saw a short 'interview' on TV that made my brain implode. It was about 'sports astrology'. Okay, so it was on ESPN ... I can't expect too much from a sports network. After all, sports shows are all about useless and ill-founded predictions, so adding astrology to sports almost seems natural.

Several things struck me the topic, and I mean 'struck' as in hit me about the head leaving me reeling.

The interviewed woman plays Fantasy Football ... but I don't remember reading about her winning any Fantasy Leagues. Guess the planets don't work in fantasy-land, just in the real world?

She practiced "technical sports astrology", as opposed to, I'm guessing, regular sports astrology. Her analysis was based on birth times, but when those were not available the date would do.

A web search revealed technical astrology is also known as "Real" time astrology, and is used by a large number of sports astrologists ... most of whom have hit rates way below the ESPN 'experts', which is saying something.

Reading about on the web I encountered a curious mix of astrology, faith and sports betting, including one astrologer's blog which asked readers to pray for a team he had picked. I guess the power of prayer can influence the power of the planets?

The mix of sports betting and astrology probably shouldn't have astounded me so much. Betting on sports is generally a fool's game (unless you're betting against the Oakland Raiders). But to put your trust in an astrologer for your bets seems to be another level of idiocy.

The use of sports astrologers by sports teams scares me, but does explain all the draft picks made by the Oakland Raiders in the last decade.

The seeming endorsement of sports astrology by ESPN and some professional franchises is a little worrying. It implies there are people out there in sports that really think the position of Jupiter in the zodiac can have a bearing on a game. "Don't blame me coach, I was fated to miss that last second field goal ... it was in the stars!"

BTW: The picture is Andrea Mallis, one of the most well-known sports astrologers, pictured with the NY Mets mascot, Mr Met. She has just told him that they will lose the pennant race in 2008 after blowing a huge lead ... and that his stitches will be pecked out by a flock of seagulls while onlookers cheer.

The title of this blog is a tribute to Kyle Baker's wonderful graphic novel, Why I Hate Saturn, which is well worth a read if you can find a copy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Press Conference Hat Trick

The latest two weeks of school holidays are over, so I have a fraction more time to write now. Here's a random rant, while I try to organize my blog notes fro tomorrow.

Best political quotes of the week went to Silvio Berlusconi, who claimed in the one press conference that;
I am, and not only in my own opinion, the best prime minister who could be found today. I believe there is no one in history to whom I should feel inferior. Quite the opposite.

He then went on to say that;
In absolute terms, I am the most legally persecuted man of all times, in the whole history of mankind, worldwide.

However, it wasn't the paranoia combined with delusions of grandeur that really make the conference. It was when he explained how much his legal battles had cost him that the best gaff was made. Berlusconi claims he had spent;
... more than €200m in consultants and judges.

He then corrected himself to "consultants and lawyers", but the damage had been done. Way to go Silvio!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Revenge of the Brine Shrimp

The scariest advert on during cartoon time is one for Sea Monkeys. I remember the old comic book adverts for them in the seventies ... magical palaces underwater, families of sea monkeys playing together, a Utopian society of underwater minions to train to take over the world.

But they were just brine shrimp.

Now they're back. I guess every generation has the right to be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Boy Toys -- A Tribute WTF of the month

The Cliterature Blog often has WTF posts, so I thought I'd do one of my own, but it's more a grumpy old man flailing his fists at the world pointlessly.

The cable cartoon channels have become more and more advert heavy of late, and as we let our daughter watch Dora the Explorer in the mornings we are getting bombarded with adverts for kid's toys.

There is a strong gender divide evident in the ads. The 'girl toys' are all about caring, sharing, and "being you". Babies to feed, burp and change. Sick animals to care for. Clothes to colour, wear and share. Oh, and they are all pink. So much pink.

But the toys for boys. Well, obviously they are more about action, mayhem, cars, spaceships and monsters.

There's nothing unexpected about that. Disappointing maybe, but not unexpected.

The part that has me waving my grumpy fists in the air is that a number of these ads contain bad behaviour by the boys in the ads. The two links are examples. They imply that part of the 'fun' of playing with the toy is being obnoxious to others. They make such behaviour not only acceptable, but expected. It becomes part of the play experience ...

Buy this toy and annoy.

It's okay ... we've showed you how to do it. Spray the girl next door with fake dinosaur acid. Taunt your brother after you give him a hot-wheeled beat down.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying these kids are doing anything more than being kids. These things happen. Kids taunt, slime and spray others. My girl does it all the time. In real life the play is not as clear-cut along gender lines as it is in the adverts.

But why are the girls in these ads always the victims?

I know the answer. Sales. Gender differentiation is important in product branding, etc. But I can't help despise this ad-sanction one-sided gender-biased play.