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September 2009

August 2009

Friday Ephemera

The booze death calculator. // Bomb shelters of note. // Pig candy, bacon buttercrunch and maple bacon lollipops. (h/t. Mr Eugenides) // Carnivorous vegetation. // Sex and magnetic resonance. // Moscow’s sewage system. // Splashes and sound waves. // The evils of pan and scan. (h/t, Coudal) // Make your own Green Lantern power ring. // How Scientology looks to people who aren’t unhinged. (h/t, Dan) // The amazing Spider-Camel. It could happen, people. // A chart of time travel in film and TV. // Flying machines. // When flying machines stop flying. // And, via The Thin man, it’s the return of Ms Liz Brady

Corrupting the Proles

Germaine Greer shares her thoughts on the impending demise of Big Brother:

Let’s hope the final series has the Man himself dragged out of his hiding place, arraigned by the housemates who are the worse for the experience, and sentenced to condign punishment for perverting the nation’s taste. That I would watch.

Yes, of course, viewers must be the victims of unseen forces they cannot possibly comprehend. At least viewers of popular, commercial television. Viewers of, say, David Starkey programmes, not so much. But viewers of Big Brother? Their tastes have been perverted. Endemol and Channel 4 evidently took something of a risk by spending vast amounts of time and money on a programme for which no popular appetite could conceivably exist - not until the public had been suitably duped and perverted. And presumably Germaine knows this because she knows what popular taste ought to be. I’m sure there’s an irony in there somewhere.

Big Brother was one of those shows, as Friends was in its day, that young people watched in order to find out how to be themselves.

Did they, really? Is that what young people do? How does Germaine know this? Alas, she doesn’t say. She does, however, tell us:

Unfortunately what they learnt from Big Brother was that a girl who is plain or assertive is to be avoided. Any female who fails to hide the fact that she is more intelligent than the people around her is to be reviled. The feistiest girls are tossed out of the house, one by one, until only the meek are left. Of nine Big Brother winners, only three have been female, and that includes Nadia Almada (who had undergone gender reassignment only eight months before). Women get a far rougher ride from both housemates and viewers than do gay men, however waspish and over the top. Big Brother leaves us with a lasting impression that British misogyny is crueller and more pervasive than British homophobia.

This being the Guardian, nothing must divert Germaine from the obligatory victimhood hierarchy – it’s practically contractual - even if this requires some wild extrapolation. (Had the majority of winners been female, this could no doubt be construed as the result of some lascivious patriarchal gaze… and thus more damning evidence of pervasive oppression.) But wait a minute. Isn’t the Big Brother audience – and particularly the voting audience – disproportionately gay and disproportionately female? What then of the alleged homophobia and misogyny? And doesn’t the win by the plain, feisty and assertive Nadia Almada - in one of the series’ most rapturous and popular final nights – suggest something other than bigotry and hatred?

Despite Ms Greer’s own truncated appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, which she described as a “fascist prison,” and despite her grumblings about the series’ morally corrupting effects on those she considers “weaker than [herself],” the Guardian columnist saw fit to make subsequent paid appearances on Big Brother’s Little Brother and Big Brother’s Big Mouth.

Here’s Ms Greer in happier times.

Elsewhere (12)

Counting Cats in Zanzibar highlights the work of Professor Sabri Abd Al-Rauf and the importance of a fragrant bride:

The mother [of the bridegroom] and other female relatives may look at the bride’s hair and neck, and may smell her private parts… But the groom is forbidden to look at any part of her except her face and hands.

The video of Professor Al-Rauf being interviewed has an endearingly demented quality, as these things often do. But it’s probably worth noting that the professor previously appeared on Saudi Arabia’s Iqra TV, explaining to viewers the finer points of wife-beating. Specifically, that, “beating [one’s wife] doesn’t mean beatings with a rod or beatings that draw blood… The beatings are intended to instil fear… declaring that [the husband] isn’t satisfied with this wife.”

The Quackometer takes issue with the Society of Homeopaths:

The result of this careful study was that the homeopathic treatment was no better than a placebo. But the homeopath authors do not conclude that homeopathy did not work; they speculate the tablets had not been stored properly or that the wrong combination of sugar pills was made. At no point do they propose as a possibility that homeopathy can have absolutely no effect on a third-world child with [diarrhoea]. 

And Deogolwulf spies a contender for Greatest Comment Ever by a Guardian reader.

Fondling Information

Readers may recall Silke Hilsing’s flexible interface prototype, Impress, (mentioned here), which allows users to squeeze and grope their information, modifying its features. Another Hilsing project, Virtual Gravity, gives a physical weight to data, with heaviness depending on, for instance, an item’s importance or popularity.

The point? I’m not quite sure. But it’s pretty and it’s blue.

Racism Detected

While I was at the coast yesterday, the Guardian’s Peter Jones addressed a matter of pressing import:

My girlfriend and I were watching TV at home when the advert for appeared on our screen. I had seen the ad before and not thought anything of it. However on this occasion, my girlfriend, who is Ukrainian, turned to me and said: “I don’t like this advert; it is very offensive to me.” I mentioned it to a friend who said his Latvian lodger also found it offensive.

The gravity of a claim to be offended should of course be measured by the rush to air it in the face of widespread bewilderment. It’s the modern way. In fairness, Mr Jones does go on to explain why the agency in question, VCCP, is propagating “racism”: 

The advertisement centres on the word “market” – a word that eastern Europeans/Russians pronounce “meerkat” – using talking CGI-animated meerkats. The sole point of this… is to highlight the idea that east Europeans cannot pronounce the word market properly when they speak English.

Wait a minute. Do Latvians, Poles and Slovaks really pronounce “market” as “meerkat”? Romanians too, and Ukrainians, and Russians? This is news, at least to me. Still, it’s good to see a Guardian contributor making such bold assumptions in the name of anti-racism. And aren’t meerkats – actual meerkats, not imaginary talking ones in smoking jackets - found primarily in Africa? The plot thickens.

It struck me how racist it was to parody what is now a significant part of the British population in this way… It is also the case that as so many people from eastern Europe were so new to the country that they would not want to be seen to be causing trouble. It then dawned on me that this ad was targeting a sector of the population who would be unlikely to fight back.

Ah. It’s targeted oppression, see? A watertight case. The fiends.

I once attempted an affectionate parody of a friend’s Brummie accent. No doubt that confirms my barely-latent hatred of all people from or around Birmingham. And viewers in Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia are doubtless still fuming at the explicitly racist horrors of “Beware the Judderman.”

Friday Ephemera

Beautiful tornado. (h/t, Steynian) // Even monsters need a tea-break. // Gentlemen’s magazines of the 50s and 60s. // Tilt-shift sports coverage. // Light painting. // Calculating pi. // Prefabricated housing. // Rooftop gardens. // Whiskey stones. When ice just won’t do. // Mosque bling. // The mysteries of condom testing. // Dishwasher of note. // The DJ pedestal. // Reduce your odds of dying in a plane crash. // Toilet signage. // Wim Delvoye’s Anal Kisses. // The Antarctic Film Festival. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Scala and the Kolacny Brothers.

Attractive Creatures

Much to my embarrassment, I hadn’t considered some of the mortal dangers faced by giraffes. 

“If there’s a lightning leader already approaching the ground, it will certainly look for something tall to hit in its immediate vicinity,” says Professor David Smith of the University of California’s physics department. “Since water is pretty conductive (particularly salty water), your giraffe is a pretty good conductor and probably does attract lightning pretty well.”

Oh, it gets sadder and a little bizarre:  

Lightning strikes may be a significant danger to giraffes in environments that have few tall trees and are topographically or geologically predisposed to attract lightning. One eyewitness report suggests that, during lightning storms, giraffes lower their heads and may even compete with one another to become lower in height… Between 1996 and 1999 the Rhino and Lion Reserve near Krugersdorp, South Africa, had two of its three giraffes killed by lightning - the third animal, a juvenile, was also struck but survived. Betsy the giraffe was killed by lightning at Walt Disney World in Florida in 2003 in front of lots of witnesses.

I’m guessing the combination of giraffes and lightning isn’t something readers had given much thought either. See? We’re learning together.

The Testing of Assertions

Hardly anyone is going to openly defend muddled thinking or disrespect for evidence. Rather, what people do is to surround these practices with a fog of verbiage designed to conceal from their listeners – and in most cases, I would imagine, from themselves as well - the true implications of their way of thinking. George Orwell got it right when he observed that the main advantage of speaking and writing clearly is that “when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”

Further to this, this, this and any number of things in the archive, the following may be of interest. Here’s Alan Sokal, speaking in Stockholm, May 2009, on the scientific worldview - and its opponents. Targets include practitioners of pseudo-medicine, theologians and the priestly caste of postmodernist bamboozlers. It’s a long speech and Sokal’s own leftist reflexes intrude a little too often, especially towards the end, but there are nuggets to be had. There’s an amusing schtick involving the substitution of theological fuzzwords with something more direct, and this, on religious truth claims:

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