31 March 2010

Don't give up your day job to exercise: the coming shift in health directives

The rumours have been coming for some time. And then there was that Time magazine cover story last Summer, Why Exercise Won't Make You ThinA flimsy article it was, claiming that going to the gym makes us feel virtuous and incites us to eat more. The article though does allude to the surreal amount of exercise required to work off those trendy coffee chain lattes. In recent weeks, the evidence has been mounting: exercise isn't such a great strategy to lose weight.
Last week, obesity expert Eric Ravussin told the National Post that “the amount of exercise needed to lose significant pounds is more than most individuals are capable of. ‘But it is more true for the obese because they could never achieve the level of exercise which could make a dent in weight loss.’ “
The article goes on quote doctors who disagree with Ravussin but a new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association now recommends that women work out sixty minutes per day 365 days a year in order to maintain their weight as they grow older. The study is cited by Susan B. Roberts and professor of nutrition and psychiatry writing for the Daily Beast.
Roberts says the conclusions of the study are “absurd”. She adds “can we finally get rid of the propaganda that exercise is a panacea for weight problems? Far from encouraging women to hit the gym even harder, a study like this should send the message that although exercise has many wonderful benefits, preventing weight gain isn’t one of them.”
Remember these recommendations are for women within their ideals weight range. Overweight women face even more of an uphill battle. (BTW, the answer is that we should eat less, not exercise more)
Ironically, evidence that exercise is good for your mental health is mounting. Soon we’ll need to change the adage from mens sana in corpore sano to a sound body housing a sound mind. Of course, mental health does not only rely on exercise. There exist social science studies reaffirming the health sciences the idea that exercise is perhaps a small part of long life and health.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes a study of a small Italian community outside of New York City. Back in the sixties was when people starting dropping like flies from heart disease (the generation of Roger Sterling in Mad Men) but anecdote after anecdote led scientists to study this small town where citizens did not exercise more or ate better than surrounding communities. If you haven’t read much about longevity, the findings of the studies will shock you: members of the community led healthier and longer lives because of their bond. The community came from the same town in Italy and every member in it lived safely in the knowledge that they would never be alone, they would always have support and they would never be abandoned. 
In his TED talk, “How to Live to be 100+”, Dan Buettner lays out the common traits between “Blue Zones” communities, communities where people live longer than on the rest of the planet. In every community, people take long walk and have a plant-based diet but the strong link between them all in the strength of the community and the central role that elders play in those communities.

Of course, scientists and busy bodies who like to tell other people what to do with their lives are afraid of such talk. We’re catatonic enough as it is and these studies are only going to encourage people to remain sedentary. I don’t know if other people have an agenda but I certainly do. I hate gyms. However, I like to play. I suspect many contemporaries of my age like to play as well but play has been knocked out of them. It is also true that many of my friends would rather (pretend they) go to the gym than make the effort of arranging their schedule for us to commit to getting together and plaingy a sport together. We used to do it at McGill, meet and play soccer a few times a week but life does take over. And while we work ourselves to an early grave and exercise and wonder why we're not keeping the weight off, we are not working towards what science is discovering to be the best predictor of health and long life: bonding, creating a community, taking care of our elders and juniors.

Having lived abroad and having been positively slim every time I know what the clincher is for me: Iiving in an environment that doesn't have food ads everywhere and people talking about their weight all the time quiets down atavistic triggers in me and I am, simply, less hungry. Some people overeat more than others but over eating is, clearly, a form of self-abuse. We know this and yet there is little evidence of health and government initiatives to tackle this. Telling people to eat less and exercise more is easier that tackling free speech issues over advertising, going after multi-billion companies who put unhealthy and addictive ingredients in their foods, and working on creating a society based on emotional fulfilment and happiness.

Still, I wonder why we never take the holistic approach. This isn't the government's fault of course but current measures are failing and not steering us in the right direction. Parents, instead of spending one hour at the gym, should play baseball and hockey with their kids. We should all play together. It’s high time we realise it takes a village to raise centenarians. 

29 March 2010

The Hitch, Oxford and gay sex: tell us something we hadn't guessed already

So The Hitch had flings with men who wound up holding high office in Thatcher's government. And he was in love with another boy at boarding school and got almost expelled except they kept him on because they thought he might get into Oxford.

Where's the revelation? He's British, boarded and went to Oxford. The rest goes without saying. I hope he's got better revelations than these in his new memoir.

I expect much more from the man who stole my own heart by calling Mother Teresa a racketeer.

26 March 2010

Obama treats Netanyahu like "the President of Equatorial Guinea"

                                         Obama and Netanyahu in 2008

According to the London Times, an unnamed newspaper said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”. Thing is, the President of Equatorial Guinea doesn't get his jollies by publicly insulting Joe Biden with announcements of new settlements in East Jerusalem or by performing assassinations using British and Canadian passports. The President of Equatorial Guinea should demand better treatment next time he visits Washington.

Netanyahu didn't not pose for photographers at the White House, the President (of the US, that is) walked out of a meeting with the PM but told him he could remain and  "consult" with its advisors", and then, Barack abandoned Binyamin to go to a private dinner. 

It's been widely reported that Barack was incandescent when the East Jerusalem announcement was made. We're not talking about Hitler in "Downfall" here who loses it because his staff can't find him McNuggets. It's not easy to rattle Obama's cage. It is a well-known fact that Barack Obama is just as phelgmatic IRL as he appears to be in public. Obama, however, is also known to have a great sense of his own intelligence and brilliance. Netanyahu should have understood that to cause Biden to lose face so publicly was to cause Obama to lose face by proxy. Biden is the President's representative which is why he attends functions the President cannot.

Sorry to echo all the "Netanyahu got what he deserved" out there on the blogosphere, but, boy, does it feel good to see a little justice dispensed, no matter how insignificant.

25 March 2010

Dogs attack police car

Gotta see it to believe it

Two dogs attacked the bumper of a police cruiser in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have released dash cam video of a dog attacking the bumper of a police cruiser. One of the dogs was taken to a shelter and released today for "god behaviour".

The jokes here are so obvious, we'll refrain from stating them out loud.

Like Hell I'm Going To Let Some Black President Help Me Pay For Dialysis

Thank you Nanny Diaries for tweeting about this article from The Onion after which this blog entry is named. 

"Just who does this Afro-American occupant of the highest office in the land think he is, anyway? Look, I've got nothing against black people, but some of them act like the whole world owes them something. For example, important government subsidies on my dialysis."

I particularly like the line: "Can you imagine what'd it be like if he weren't just half black?"

Yes, it's funny except that the absurdity of the American right keeps catching up with The Onion's style of parody.

Some US lawmakers who voted for the bill have been victims of death threats and vandalism. Many Americans are livid because they now have health care. Watch this CBC Newsworld from the second minute to see evidence of violence and listen to angry phone calls.

No veil or no service in Québec

The Charest government has announced that new legislation "would require both public servants dispensing government services and citizens receiving those services to have their face uncovered," reports The Montreal Gazette. The government is selling it as an equality rights measure.

I've expressed some annoyance at the niqab in previous blogs (1), (2) and yet the new Quebec legislation is making me queasy. I guess I just wish women chose to remove the niqab of their own volition... and that the men around them would let them.

24 March 2010

David Mamet does comix?

Yes, and the Publishers Weekly reviewer is not sharp enough to catch Mamet's shameless lift of the character name (Roderick Spode) from Wodehouse.

[Publishers Weekly: The Trials Of Roderick Spode]
[The Trials of Roderick Spode (Amazon)]

P.S.: Eulalie.

Cameron does Palin; racist lesbians; Ella Mae Johnson

Ella Mae Johnson

Ella Mae Johnson went to grad school in 1926 as the first black student in Cleveland but she wasn't allowed to live on campus. She had a career as a social worker, spent her life dedicating herself to others. In 2009, Johnson just had to go to the Obama inauguration. About the new president, "My hope for him is my hope for the country". She passed away this week at her home surrounded by her friends at the age of 106.

You can hear and read more about Johnson on NPR's website

CB goes tawdry

Another proof gay people are just people: turns out that two GTA lesbians who were attacked by a black man had been taunting their black neighbours for months using the usually language like calling the kids "black tar baby monkey" reports the Toronto Star. One neighbour testified she called the police eight or nines times over the lesbians' behaviour.

I never cease to be amazed by members of historically victimised groups hating members of similar groups rather than feeling solidarity and compassion for them.

Cameron does Palin

Just a few weeks before the general election in the UK, Tory leader David Cameron makes an ass of himself in a television reminiscent of Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin during the last presidential election. At one point, Cameron asks to stop the tape so he can collect his thoughts, a bit like Palin's "I'll check it out and get back to ya!" 

23 March 2010

The Romanians are coming! (And it's Labour's fault)

Man leaves house for one hour two find a Romanian family had moved in when he came back. The family had been told by a Romanian shopkeeper that the house was empty and the couple could just move in and claim squatters rights. They got 100 hours of community service. The seemingly unrepentant couple found the house to be messy and were cleaning up. No mention of cleaning charges sent to the owner were mentioned.

You'll want to read this article. Actually, this is the Daily Mail so you'll want to pay particular attention to the racists comments readers have posted following the article. According to the comments, of course, the entire thing happened because of the Labour Party. Of course, The Great Catherine has a nose for lurid stories and she's the one who dug it up.

[Daily Mail]

Are mass market books bringing us all down?

This Guardian blog comments on the disgust from elitist corners about the recent wave celebrity novels and ghosted memoirs in Britain (one multi-million copie best selling memoir "written" by Katie Price, a professional slag who makes Pamela Anderson seem positively classy, distinguished and regal). Blog writer Robert McCrum nags the reader with a familiar refrain about popular culture being, well, popular, going back to the Middle Ages. He compares the printing press to the internet, few of the 16th century tracts and pamphlets of reportedly disreputable nature from that age survive, but McCrum is sure they must have been just as badly written as our emails and tweets.

The industrial revolution, he goes on, gave rise to a wide class of professional writers and just as in the Middle-Ages and Renaissance, those times saw great writers find their voice above the fray.

McCrum doesn't fulfil the promise of his blog subtitle, how mass market sales support better fiction, but one intuits that  it must be true. What's interesting however is whether recent mass market phenomena principally in the UK but also in North America have dumbed down the entire industry.

I'm always struck by stories about what ravenous readers people used to be in the Eastern block. In Russia, Pushkin was the best seller. All Russians knew their Dostoeysky backward and forward. Within  a couple of years after the fall of the Soviet Empire, Danielle Steel was the best seller. That's one hell of a cultural shift. Pushkin readers didn't start devouring Proust once bourgeois lit became available. Steel didn't expand Russian readership. She actually replaced Pushkin.  People went from reading the best that world literature has to offer to reading, well, something far from the best.

This is purely anecdotal but I've noticed a similar trend amongst friends with whom I studied literature. Most read a wider range of books in the years following graduation and many continue reading literature, classic and contemporary. Many, however, do not and are reading complete trash if they are reading at all.

I'm fine with walking the same earth as the likes of Dan Brown and if the revenue he generates means that John Donne's sermons remain available in paperback, then I appreciate his contribution. Still, there's that Martin Amis short story in which poets are treated like rock stars, put up at the Beverly Hills hotel when in town and in the old Soviet Union it was like that. Poets were rock stars. I'm not advocating communist censorship of course, but there is certainly something to the idea that the lowest common denominator has a way of bringing too many of us down to its level.

20 March 2010

The Real Brideshead

In the penultimate year of World War II, Evelyn Waugh obtained a three month leave. He asked for time off for the express purpose of writing Brideshead Revisited. Although based on events which focus on 1931, the urgency for writing this book was upon him. He told a friend he felt had to write the novel now or it would slip away forever. 

It took Waugh five months to complete the book. He wrote feverishly, two thousand fastiduously revised words every day on average.  He wrote the book in the same place where he fell in love with the Beauchamp family, the family upon which Brideshead is based on.

In 1931, Waugh had just converted to Catholicism when he befriended the Lygon girls. Their brother Hugh had just gone off with his father to France after convincing him not to commit suicide. Waugh had been close to Hugh at Oxford. 

Lord Beauchamp was a devoted father and a man of many talents. As Paula Byrne writes in Vanity Fair in an article based supporting the launch of her new book on Waugh, Lord Beauchamp was also a fan of embroidery. One of his works, "The Golfer", was showcased at the 1920 Paris Exhibition, "It depicts a naked golfer, raising his club as he concentrates on his shot. It was not just the golfers. Lord Beauchamp was said to have an 'exquisite taste for footmen'".

Homosexuality was accepted or ignored in aristocratic circles and Beauchamp's penchant was an open secret. His Lordship's brother-in-law, the second Duke of Westminster, hated him however and hired to private investigator to bring proof to King George. Many fabled retorts are attributed to the King as Westminster told the King that one of his knights of the Garter had dishonoured the "office'. One of them has King George replying he thought people went abroad to do such things. And abroad Beauchamp was dispatched, it was eternal banishment or dishonour at home. He left Britain accompanied by Hugh, an over-sensitive boy, who was the inspiration for Sebastian in Brideshead.

Beauchamp had just left Britain and his wife was divorcing him and also away from Madresfield when Waugh befriended the Lygon girls. They had been abandoned to the 136 room house which stood on four thousand acres, just like in the book, a group of kids running the place with only servants to look after them. Sibbell was twenty-four, Maimie 21 and Coote 19. Elmley, the eldest son served as an MP, dividing his time between London and his Norfolk constituency. The Lygon girls often gave parties but particularly adored Waugh who they asked over for dinner every night at Madresfield. It fascinated Waugh that the house was inhabited by the same family for eight centuries. Waugh was later closer to Coote who is Cordelia is Brideshead. Maimie was his favourite. She was a female version of Hugh.

Hugh would come back and forth. He had shaped Waugh's tastes and they had shared a great passion at Oxford. Homosexuality at Oxford was seen as a phase. It was chic to be queer and Hugh was a Peter Pan figure who refused to grow up. Very much like Sebastian in the book,it was adulthood that killed Hugh. His homosexuality, like his father's, did not regress upon graduation and he remained haunted by what happened to his father. Hugh succumbed to alcoholism and his family had to monitor him closely. 

The Lygon sisters refused to condemn their father and brother, both had given them so much love. Hugh died at the age of thirty-two. The girls were admitted to parties and led a full social life, but, tainted by scandal, they were not showered with respectable offers. Of the seven Lygon children (there was an older sister who was married and a younger son), only two left issue.

Upon reading a draft of Brideshead, Nancy Mitford recognised the Lygons at once. Waugh had a discussion with Coote before publication, explaining that the family was simply a inspiration. She did not appear to mind and often said that similarities between her family and Brideshead were exaggerated. It is well known Waugh remained exasperated at the focus on the family, insisting religion was the central theme of the book. Catholicism is the aspect most likely to unnerve both readers and critics of Brideshead.

We love to read a great story about an extraordinary family and Brideshead Revisited is certainly that. 

18 March 2010

Sandra Bullock latest victim of the Oscar-winning actress curse

Even though our "light" pieces are by far our most popular, we take no joy in announcing that there is trouble at the house of Bullock. Only a few weeks after the ceremony, the actress has become yet another victim of the post-Oscar-for-best-actress curse about which we wrote about earlier this week.

A tattoo model revealed to In Touch magazine that she was having an affair with Mr. Sandra Bullock whilst she was filming The Blind Side. The Toronto Star says today that Bullocks no longer live under the same roof.

Thanks to The Amazing Katarina, not to be confused with The Great Catherine, for flagging this one.

Alex Chilton dies

Alex Chilton died yesterday of a heart attack.

[NY Times]

17 March 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prequel book trailer

Book trailers: are they a good idea? We think so. If books can be publicised in magazines and on billboards, why not the youtubes and movie theatres near you?

This trailer is for the prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Elizabeth Bennet is suitably Anne Hathaway-ish, the tricorn hatted zombie is photographed in a gorgeous sepia green. Blood, gore, humour. It made us want to read it! In bookstores on the 23rd of March.

The Bennet sisters are ready. Are you?

[Comrade Bingo's Austen/zombies bookstore]

Think you're careful about your personal info online? Think again.

Universities are devising ways to figure out your social insurance number from info on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Of course, you think this doesn't apply to you because you don't post your date of birth on your Facebook account. But what if your friends post happy birthday wishes on your wall? If they are even remotely civilised, your friends won't refer to your age but that may not even matter.

And even if you don't list your hometown on your Facebook or Twitter account, there are computer mining programmes which will flag any mention of towns on your wall or your friends' walls until you or someone else identifies it as your hometown in passing.

A date of birth and hometown are enough to find the first three digits of a North American social insurance or, in the U.S., social security number. From there, further information mining can reveal the rest of your number and open the door to identity thief, or just spying, and the unravelling of your entire life.

Your friends are also used for looser forms of information gathering, the kind that governments and companies feast on, your sexual orientation (based on the number of gay friends you have), your political alliances, your purchasing power and habits. And so on.

The accuracy of such information gathering isn't perfect but computers are getting better at figuring you out.

An enlightening New York Times article reveals that the film rental company Netflix was able to increase its prediction of customer rentals by ten percent based on an analysis of customer rental history. 

Surely, there is somebody out there analysing the quiz answers Facebook users give. There's a reason for all those movie apps on Facebook, why they invest in hundreds of quizzes and ask for your ratings. It might even be mining those dreaded "list your 1000 favourite movies" Notes friends trade on Facebook. Although current privacy settings offer more assurances, there used to be a time when adding an application on Facebook meant giving the app unbridled access to your account forever, whether you kept the app or not. 

Facebook isn't the only source of information: "By examining correlations between various online accounts, the scientists showed that they could identify more than 30 percent of the users of both Twitter, the microblogging service, and Flickr, an online photo-sharing service, even though the accounts had been stripped of identifying information like account names and e-mail addresses."

Jon Kleinberg of Cornell tells the NYT:  “When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public — because increasingly, it is.”

But that surely isn't enough. Mobile phone cameras and CCTVs notwithstanding, what you say at dinner parties, barbecues, or as you walk down the street isn't (often) recorded. From Facebook accounts which can be deactivated but never completely erased, to message boards and other sites which will preserve your information, perhaps even in contradiction with their terms of use, what you say online exposes us in ways which you are only beginning to grasp.

Is the London Telegraph copying Comrade Bingo?

Yesterday's blog about the divorce statistics of Oscar-winning actresses got many more hits than the average Comrade Bingo offering and one wonders whether some Telegraph staffer in search of inspiration found themselves on our site. Oh, yes, the Telegraph puts forth a far less impressive case, a shorter list encompassing both best and best supportive actresses, but that could be clever disguising.

We're fine if the Telegraph uses us for inspiration but, in future, we would appreciate a mention.

That is all.


16 March 2010

Behind an Oscar-winning actress is a man . . . who was just leaving

Surely, Sam Mendes isn't so insecure I thought. After all, he's won the Oscar for American Beauty

The announcement of the Mendes and Winslet split reminded me of this 2006 Maclean's magazine article listing a staggering number of women who split from their male spouse within a year of winning the Oscar.

The article begins with congratulating R&B singer for admitting that he couldn't stand being called "Mr. Halle Berry" anymore. 

None of us flinched when Julia Roberts split from actor Benjamin Bratt because although she'd been with him for several years, Ms Roberts was a renowned serial monogamist in her salad days. The timing of the end of the relationship, after she won for Erin Brokovitch could have been a fluke.

And Charlize Theron didn't exactly fit the post-Oscar winning split trend because her spouse wasn't an actor. She and Stuart Townsend broke up after she won the Oscar. They got back together and split again this year.

But then there's Helen Hunt. Her five year relationship and one year marriage with actor Hank Azaria ended shortly after she won her Oscar for As Good as It Gets.

And Hilary Swank. Much was made of Swank forgetting to thank her husband, actor Chad Lowe when she won for Boys Don't Cry in 1999. They couple held on for fourteen years, until a few months after Swank won for Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

Not persuasive enough? Reese Witherspoon and actor Ryan Phillippe were together from 1997, got married, had kids and stayed married — until five months after she won the Oscar for Walk the Line.

When they presented an award together at the 2003 Oscars, Phillippe handed his wife the envelope, saying, "You open it, you make more money than I do."

Macleans: "The Oscar curse is not a recent trend. It goes back as far as 1944, when Jennifer Jones, best actress for The Song of Bernadette, filed for divorce from Robert Walker the day after the awards. Jane Fonda left Roger Vadim within a year of her 1972 win for Klute; Marlee Matlin and William Hurt's relationship ended months after her win for Children of a Lesser God; and the six-year marriage of Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh suffered the same fate after her 1993 win for Howards End. But the pattern has undeniably intensified in recent years. It's now so common that actress/screenwriter Carrie Fisher admitted earlier this year that she and her friends used to bet on how long a marriage would last after the wife had won an Oscar and the husband hadn't. 'Regardless of how big the man's box office was,' she said, 'once the woman received the statuette, it seemed that the days of the marriage were numbered. For some men, at least, a woman flaunting an Oscar can feel like deliberate emasculation, and spell doom for the relationship.'"

If Fisher's right and it doesn't matter how well the man is doing, then the end of Kate's Oscar curse (nominated a zillion times and finally won only last year) could have marked the beginning of the end in other aspects of her life.

Six women in ten years, six out of nine women because Hilary Swank won twice. It's easy to overstate this trend but every output about Hollywood confirms the ambition and rivalry of its couples. Could the statuette be too much for Hollywood husbands when in the hands of their wives. And who are we to say Jackie Collins is making stuff up? As Elaine Benes once told Jerry: "Every time I think you couldn't more shallow, you manage to drain just a little bit more water out of the pool". 

15 March 2010

Church Exposes Drought in Venezuela and other stories

Link to the National Geographic website and see the magnificent photos of a church in an area flooded after a hydroelectric dam was built in 1985 in Venezuela. A severe drought has exposed the church again.

"The church is now an ominous symbol of energy shortages in the country," says National Geographic.

Lady Jane Grey

TED posted a typically American "can-do" talk this weekend on Facebook. You'll meet few people more annoying than Gary Vaynerchuk, that brave man who suggests anybody can make millions (which obviously is a mathematical impossibility) because he did it once, started from scratch. That is, he started with a few dozens millions dollars of family fortune which he had partly built. Vaynerchuk claims you can make money from anything as long as you love what you do, including smurfs. "Some 36 year-old woman will buy it," repeating the marketing mantra that women are so undiscerning and stupid, you can sell them anything. 

Well, if everybody were to quit their jobs and do what they love, how many more millions of Tudors books, series, and souvenirs would we have to put up with? I'd much rather idealise historical men who loved their wives instead of killing them, but most of the innocent citizenry does not seem to agree with me on this. 

The blood thirst isn't a need that is quenched easily and the Tudors were peoples with scores (almost) of murderers. Another female victim was Lady Jane Grey, beheaded at sixteen by the Tudor crowd. Leanda de Lisle writes for More Intelligent Life about her ground breaking research for her book on the young monarch. De Lisle refutes sources which have described Jane as an abuse child and a victim of the Tudor and reinterprets her as an intellectually precocious child who play the alliances game and died in full control of herself. Why not? My next book: Edward VI was a smurf.

Sarah Palin used Canadian health care

Sarah Palin who told This Hour Has 22 Minutes that Canada should privatise its health care system, has admitted her family used to go the Canada to get health care, reports the Toronto Star.

“Believe it or not — this was in the ‘60s — we used to hustle on over the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing, and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse and I think, isn’t that kind of ironic now. Zooming over the border, getting health care from Canada.”

It is estimated that six million Americans will seek cheaper health care abroad this year.  

13 March 2010

NPR's Toxic Pet

The hosts of NPR's Planet Money are conducting an experiment with toxic real estate assets, spending $1000 for a 1/36 share in a mortgage bond which, before the Great Bum-out of 2009, had been worth $2.7 million.

For now, it's paying. But how long can the money keep rolling in? You can track their progress here [NPR] .

More at [Creditbloggers]

12 March 2010

I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

Just because I had an overwhelming urge to hear this song today, I concluded that everybody else should too. The incomparable Richard and Linda Thompson.

Effortful, tortured-wit blog title

Attempt at attention-grabbing first sentence inciting readers to watch yet another youtube clip in the full knowledge that readers are steered towards the most hilarious youtube clip one hundred and sixty-seven times a day. 

"But this one is different, trust me."

Green-eyed monster overreaching praise. If only this blogger had half the wit these kids in the vid have. Oh, yes, don't forget the self-loathing.

Doesn't matter. Very few of you will watch it anyway.

Mad Men dolls

As part of our continuing coverage of the enwackening of America, please take note of the new Mad Men line of Barbie dolls. (For real!) Clearly meant to smother any unintentional positive role model effect of the new Geek Barbie in a wash of nostalgic hyper-sexism.

But what's with Short'n'Skinny Joan?

And who wants a doll of Betsy anyw... ooooh, voodoo doll.

[NY Times]

11 March 2010

Working women blamed for disenfranchising mothers

"A tiny elite of career women have highjacked government policy," Christine Odone told the Today Programme.

The Telegraph which also covers the story slants its article to say that so-called ordinary women have deserted Labour when in fact this morning, Christine Odone admitted on Today that women are "deserting" the Tories in similar numbers.

The Telegraph "reports" that "The analysis of opinion polls claims that working-class females, who want to stay at home and raise children, are ignored by the feminist “sisterhood” typified by Harriet Harman."

The London broadsheet quotes Geoff Dench, a sociologist with the Centre for Policy Studies: “Women who value home and family life above a career are becoming disenfranchised. The feminist ‘sisterhood’ has clearly failed them, and the result is that they are withdrawing their support from the mainstream parties."

Dench found that although more and more women don't think that their place is "in the home", fifty-seven percent of working-class women believe that a mother who is employed full-time is hurting her family.

Because these results are so inflammatory, one wonders what parameters were used to define "working-class women" and "career women". Pay equity is still a harsh reality of our times and many women with careers make decidedly "working class" incomes. 

Christine Odone was virulent in her characterisation of "career women", a term she interchanged freely with "middle-class women". Clearly, not all middle-class women work but that doesn't matter because it's clear hear that what Odone is trying to do is to use class to divide women. Her contention is that career women use their position to influence policy to the detriment of other women. One extraordinary claim Odone makes is that career women can afford childcare and steer political parties away from policy of affordable childcare. I have never, ever in my life read or heard a woman opposing affordable childcare no matter how impressive her bank account. Career women keep "preaching independence and total autonomy whereas most women cherish interdependency with their partners". In others words, career women don't buy our right-wing crap about conforming to a model in which men are in control of the finances and thus every family member's every life choices, so we must demonise them.

Odone goes so far as to raise the spectre of these "disenfranchised" women potentially turning to the BNP.

Most of the above is an old refrain, you'll say, but I must say I didn't expect such drivel to covered noted media outlets. It is telling they did not ignore that drivel.

10 March 2010

Alan Bennett telling tales

Alan Bennett reads about his childhood in this new (could be a repeat) series for BBC7, Telling Tales. It's for old fogeys, at least for old fogeys at heart like me and for those who love seamless prose. There's nothing like Bennett's voice, with its feminine crackling tips and its deep resonant core.

The series started a couple of days ago but you can catch up for the next five days here.

09 March 2010

A gay friend would never have allowed Juliet to top herself over Romeo

Friends used to share knowledge, life before Wikipedia

I was just sitting there, mind deep in not so meaningful cogitations on the nature of my friendship with M. who periodically sends me titles of heady fiction to read whilst planting imaginative riffs referring back to a passage in a book we discussed about three emails (or one year) ago. These fiction-reading assignments come through email but my mind took me to some Charlie’s Angels scenario in which I’m hovering over a speaker phone and receiving literary missions. Nothing so strange to one as one’s own mind, right? Well then, I cogitated wrong and mixed up Charlie for that other guy who is actually in his office with the angels and I tried to remember his name.
Years ago, I could have waited for the next gathering with friends, confessed to my mental blank and got a booming collective “Bosley”! Or not. Even over email, sending out a query to a selected group of friends could spark and lively conversation, or at least hilarious put downs at one another’s mistaken answers.
That would have been in the embryonic days of the web. Today, you get “haven’t you heard of Google?” Or you get sent a link to Wikipedia. Wam bam thank you mam. Don’t get wrong, I have completely embraced the web and I’ll admit my survival as a human being has become partly dependent on both Google and Wikipedia. It’s so convenient. No more going to bed and being kept awake by some nagging factoid that got lost in one of the waiting rooms between your conscious and subconscious. On the other hand, such lost thoughts used to bring in a stream of other thoughts, like flipping through a catalogue or an old book, and finding other interesting images and words that trigger long ignored threads of knowledge or memories. Sometimes, I just wish the internet did have the answer to so many questions.
There was a time in human existence when I could get a ride back from a party with a flustered one: “I can’t believe he said Herzog directed Aguirre, what an idiot!” And look out the window and grin to myself. Yes, in some instances, it is pleasing to see an arrogant arse be put back is his place at the pulling out of the iphone; but what a missed opportunity to experience a mélée between pro and anti Herzog camps and, perhaps, fall victim to the persuasive powers of a charismatic one who manages to steer almost the entire crowd away from the factual truth. 
Too many of our conversations are no longer allowed the luxury of lack of closure. We can’t work it out together through an elimination process, fact is final and it inhibits conversational diversions. Travelling through thoughts within encounters but with a conversational GPS aids and never going down the wrong roads. How disappointing.
I don’t want to overstate this like one of those soft columnists who make mountains out every little aspects of contemporary life. And it is worth saying that the internet-ready mobile phones are a good tool against those machos who talk through their arse day in day out, especially on the go, when, until recently, their ridiculous contentions couldn’t be challenged. Now, these people have to wait until they’re out camping.
By the same token, we use each other’s weaknesses to our advantage. It may not be the most feminist thing to do but allowing a man to talk nonsense on a first date can allow both parties to relax and/or give the woman some time to figure out her early interruption to the night’s proceedings. Of course, no one HAS to look things up on iphone, but the very presence of two menacing devices on a restaurant table, eyeing each other like two colts at high moon could prove a deterrent to erroneous harangues.
And my friend M.! All the stories he tells me about his youth, like when Truman Capote and he smoked cigars... with Fidel Castro! Ok, he’s never told me such stories, but M. was the son of artists, he grew up in a castle and he is full of the most entertaining stories. Few of them include names I recognise and some just don’t ring true at all. I still enjoy them. 
I could look up his stories and one day I know I will. I would never go to library known for its vast Hollywood and socialites collection and pour over who was where and could Marilyn Monroe really have been in Monte Carlo at the time or was she shooting Niagara? With so many facts, all too accessible, one day I’ll forget my vow to keep M.’s stories alone and mindlessly find myself on Wikipedia and undo this fantastic character in my eyes.

08 March 2010

Look back at Alice: A.S. Byatt remembers Wonderland

In keeping with my curmudgeon-y film day, I declare I have no intention of seeing Tim Burton's Alice. One, I've got Burton's imagination down pat, I know exactly what the film is going to look like. Two, film makers are going to have to make good films rather than resorting to newfangled techniques, 3D, and other Oz-ean gimmicks to get my bum back in one of those movie theatre seats. Three, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is too important a book to me for me to see on film.

Thanks to Burton nonetheless. The brute force of the Hollywood machine has propelled all things Alice back on the tip on the culture's mind. It's a well-known story but not one that isn’t discussed as often as you'd think. Even in academia, few have attempted interpretations. The truth is no one really knows what to make of the books. Undeterred, A.S. Byatt admits in her Guardian article that Alice stands on its own, "it's different from other imagined worlds."

Time and space are different here, "progress in the looking-glass world is in mad rushes and jumps at inordinate speeds across the chessboard". It's some "other kind of order", perhaps one emanating from Carroll understanding of the order of nature. His background was in mathematics.

Alice makes you think about its language, it makes you, along with Alice, try to sort out a world that only keeps amplifying its resistance to analysis. Alice remains in control of her mind until she recognises this world’s she’s in for what it is.

Byatt makes a fascinating comparison between Alice and other children’s book of the time. Distinctive features of 19th century British children’s literature include, self-sufficience, the undefeatable armour of the British child. Also, British children keep their wits about them even as they are often taken to different, worlds and wonderlands.

This, I believe, arcs back to Defoe’s 18th century tale of Robinson Crusoe, a tale which heralds steely British nature. By recreating as much of the British world and his British-ness on the island, Crusoe can thrive in any desolate, barbarian setting.

These were times of indoctrination, in the unwavering superiority of the British empire, from Defoe’s time to its height, in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Alice, Kipling's Jungle Books and The Wind in the Willows were published.

British inner strength, the one that can see it through any jungle or wonderland, was originally based on the real time Robinson Crusoe, who was found on a deserted island, alive, yes, but absolutely barking mad. One has to wait until Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, to get a real taste of the frailty of the human mind (even British) when confronted with a “savage” environment.

In the end though, the hardiness of Alice’s mind and her self-control is not an unworthy trait to convey to young minds, especially young girl’s minds. And, it goes without saying that it’s Carroll’s imagination and our imagination of it that makes Alice a singular gem in world literature.

[The Guardian]


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