Friday, July 29, 2005
Dan McKay of North Dakota whose lyrical entry compares a woman’s breasts to the carburetors of a Triumph Spitfire. He’s a quantitative analyst at Microsoft and one can only say - don’t give up your dayjob, Dan!
“As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual."
The prize was named after Victorian writer Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel, Paul Clifford began with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. The line was plagiarized by Snoopy and it inspired the San Jose State University English Department to sponsor a prize for the worst opening line of the worst novel ever. Simply being mediocre is not enough, a little talent and zero judgment or taste is what the judges are looking for. It must not only be bad, but toe-curlingly, excruciatingly, mind-numbingly bad.
Bulwer-Lytton will go down in history as the man responsible for the phrases “the pen is mightier than the sword” and “the great unwashed”, and trivia buffs will be interested to know that his ancestral mansion was used in the filming of the movie Batman Returns. He’s a veritable genius compared to this year’s 2005 winners.
Here’s my favourite, written by Eric Winter of Minneapolis :
"It was high noon in the jungles of South India when I began to recognize that if we didn't find water for our emus soon, it wouldn't be long before we would be traveling by foot; and with the guerilla warriors fast on our heals (sic), I was starting to regret my decision to use poultry for transportation.”
The really terrifying prize for bad writing is that awarded for Bad Sex in Fiction by the Literary Review in December. This one is given for the most “crude, tasteless, often perfunctory” description of the sexual act. Our own Andre Brink was shortlisted with this passage from his novel, Before I Forget ...
"[It was] like a large exotic mushroom in the fork of a tree, a little pleasure dome if ever I've seen one, where Alph the sacred river ran down to a tideless sea. No, not tideless. Her tides were convulsive, an ebb and flow that could take you very far, far back, before hurling you out, wildly and triumphantly, on a ribbed and windswept beach without end" and “I would plunge into her from above like a diver in search of abalone.”
Last year’s winner was Tom Wolfe for I am Charlotte Simmons, and unlike most previous winners, he declined to accept the award in person.
This one is my favourite, from the 2000 list, Sean Thomas in Kissing England …
"It is time, time ... Now. Yes. She is so small and compact and yet she has all the necessary features ... Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman. She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa ... Aiwa".
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
It’s official, the medical profession has gone crazy, must be all the late nights thinking up ways to terrify us with pronouncements about every little aspect of our lives, coffee is bad, then it’s good, alcohol bad, nah have a glass or two, here take this pill, bang, oops sorry, says suicide risk right here in font size 2½ on the rice paper leaflet that came in the box. Eat fruit, don’t eat fruit, don’t eat between meals, graze all you want, don’t touch that bread or those oysters, but go ahead and eat as much bacon as you like because magic will melt that lard off your hips. Now we have a new scourge, one Dr. Jarl Flensmark from Malmo (lovely views in every direction) Sweden who says that schizophrenia is caused by high heeled shoes.
The doctor’s explanation is in authentic medicalese :"During walking, synchronised stimuli from mechanoreceptors in the lower extremities increase activity in cerebellothalamo-cortico-cerebellar loops through their action on NMDA-receptors. Using heeled shoes leads to weaker stimulation of the loops. Reduced cortical activity changes dopaminergic function, which involves the basal gangliathalamo-cortical-nigro-basal ganglia loops."
Translated it means the tensing of the calves stop the neuro-receptors setting off the release of dopamine, that feel good chemical we all want more of. Clearly the man has never worn a pair of high heels in his life, how exactly are you supposed to feel good when you’ve got blisters on both heels, your varicose veins are popping out and your toes are tortured into this year’s trendy little pointy shoe (and how much more pointy can those toes get?). No wonder dopamine isn’t surging through your corpuscles, you’re in pain. The good doctor also fails to explain why men become schizophrenic, unless shimmying into a frock and heels is more popular amongst men than commonly believed.
I think this is an entry to the Ig Nobel awards, medical research is a prime target for parody because 95% of public will believe whatever they hear after the words “researchers say”. For instance, researchers say ogling breasts makes men live longer, and fellatio can decrease breast cancer.
I did go onto some of the serious sites and turned up a number of surprising facts. Approximately 1% of the general population become schizophrenic, unless you’re Irish. In Southern Ireland you have a four times greater chance of hearing voices, which might explain the common belief in leprechauns and other little people. Researchers say it may be potatoes because when exposed to light they produce “a keloid called solanine which can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations”. Think about that when you slope down to your local caff for a packet of chips.
Other countries with a high rate of schizophrenia include Croatia, and some of the Scandinavian nations (Sweden perhaps?), but you’re at a lower risk if you live in the countryside.
Some doctors think it has to do with the genes, specifically chromosomes 13 and 6, unless it’s 42 and 17, or even 19 and 29. The University of Toronto says it is an uncommon variant of a gene called Nogo, although it could be a chemical imbalance or the enlargement of ventricles in the brain.
I did mention bread, didn’t I, but it’s even more lethal than you think, celiac disease, the allergic response to gluten, is another factor thought to contribute to schizophrenia.
If your mom was overweight and stressed out during her pregnancy, watch out and if your dad was over the age of 40, your chances of getting schizohprenia are doubled, and tripled if he’s over 50. If you're pregnant, steer clear of x-rays, aspirin and cats, yes some cats carry the Toxoplasma gondii virus and deposit it in THE litterbox, which explains a smell that can strip paint at fifty yards. Exposure to lead is another no-no and this includes some women’s and men’s hair colouring chemicals, so put down that Grecian Formula, you’re poisoning yourself.
If you were born in late winter or early spring, it’s your tough luck, the same publication which carries Dr Flensman has a report (PDF) on the effects of birth date on predisposition to schizophrenia. Maybe there’s something in that horoscope stuff after all.
There is one good piece of news, if you’re over 35 and you’re not schizophrenic yet, you can relax, and if you’re still think somebody’s out to get you, it may be because they really are.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Last week bare-breasted virgins rampaged through Pietermaritzburg to protest the virginity testing ban and it’s not the first time naked protest has been used in these parts. In 1990, a group of brave Dobsonville women stripped off to protest the destruction of their homes and in Cape Town , 21 women got together to spell out the word peace with their bodies. Naked protest has a long and distinguished history and is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence as a harmless but effective form of peaceful protest. I couldn’t be happier because I want to see Health Minister Manto’s face when 200 naked people show up on her doorstep to collect their ARVs. I want to see Robert Mugabe’s face when 700,000 homeless and naked people set up camp outside his mansion.
Lady Godiva was the first nude protester, she stripped off and rode through Coventry to protest oppressive taxes, an interesting idea for next time the taxman wants an audit. The first recorded naked mass protest took place in Canada in 1903, when a religious sect called the Doukhobors made bonfires of their weapons to protest conscription in the Czar’s army and graduated from pyromania to nudity, seeking to “walk with the simplicity and moral purity of Christ”. Naked protest and the politics of personalism The group was underwritten by the writer Leo Tolstoy, who donated the proceeds from his book Resurrection to their cause.
Ghandi plays a large role in the history of naked protest because he fused the idea of “principled lawbreaking” with mass political action, arguing for moral redemption through uncompromising dissent. Martin Luther King was the first to yoke this movement to the visual media and images of mass anger went out to millions around the world.
Boyd & Duncomb (Souweine) call naked protest “the politics of spectacle” wherein “mediatainment institutions are built around the packaging of the barely clothed female figure”. While this is undeniably true, the coverage of naked protest in the media far outweighs that of any other protest form and it’s hard to argue with success, just ask PETA.
The animal rights group has used the spectacle aspect of naked protest very effectively to bring attention to the suffering of animals in their “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns featuring supermodels. Naomi Campbell promptly fell off the wagon (and her platform heels) and modeled fur, as did Cindy Crawford when she abandoned her principles for a bunch of dead skins cunningly called Blackglama. PETA’s annual Running of the Nudes just had it’s fourth outing.
This is a trend that’s got legs because nobody in authority has figured out a way to deal with naked people en masse, the lone streaker is easily overpowered, but a crowd of nude people can pretty much go wherever the hell they want. The very idea of nakedness in public has a mocking edge, because suddenly everyone else looks ridiculously overdressed. It speaks truth to power in the most elemental sense and is safer for the participants because naked people are defenceless, they pose no threat and can’t reach for a weapon from pockets they don’t have.
Now here’s a naked protest I can really get into, organized by PETA, it protested the sorry lack of oral sex enjoyed by the poor suffering women of the world. Where do I leave my clothes?
Sunday, July 10, 2005
There is little chance that machines will ever replace people in the workplace and here’s why. Machines have to be transported at company cost to and from where they’re needed and kept safe once they’re there. Machines need tender treatment, they break down, they can’t be rushed and hurried or the contents of their “brains” explode for no reason at all (OK this sometimes happens to humans too), but most working people are trained to deliver themselves to and from work at their own expense, suitably dressed and equipped and perky enough to convince an employer to part with a paycheck. We spring for our own electric fencing, tasers, pepper spray and car alarms, we pay for most of our own nutrition and hydration, we’re the ultimate self-maintaining device but that really just isn’t good enough for today’s employers. Having taken most of a finger, they’ll have the hand and the rest of the arm too.
Chief Executive of the UK environmental agency, one Baroness Young is now urging staff to go down to their local M&S and buy thermal underwear so that employers can save on their heating costs. While I’m all for cutting down on the use of fossil fuels, why must I shell out of my own pocket so my employer doesn’t have the trauma of seeing me blue and shivering and bundled up like Nanook of the North when it’s his job to keep me toasty while I work on his premises? What next? Bring your own toilet flushing water? I’ve worked in places where you are expected to bring your own chair! When last did you find actual soft white two-ply toilet paper in the staff loo instead of that ghostly blue stuff that dissolves on contact with liquids?
It all started with the coffee thing. Time was when you sauntered over to the coffee pot and had a cup of fresh beverage that didn’t taste like floor sweepings. Then someone decided nothing could be added to the bottom line by dropping pearls before swine, and you are now expected to consume the very basic cheapest instant unspeakable chicory blend. I once worked for a guy who did not accept the fact that some people might like a spot of milk in their swill so he imposed a milk limit, with the result that the milk ran out by mid month and we resorted to the dreaded Cremora, which came to be known as “dust”.
Fancy some dust with your floor sweepings? I think I’ll bring my own, and that’s really what it’s all about. Bring your own, sucker, cos it’s swill or water out of the tap. That staff canteen where you used to get a decent meal at a reasonable price? Kiss that one goodbye, you’ll get a food court with Steers and a coffee shop where you can buy your own fancy pants coffee for R15.
It doesn’t stop there, apparently some companies believe that All Your Cellphones Are Belong to Us! You have your cellphone, which you bought and paid for yourself, right, and every now and then you buy a bit of juice to keep it topped up or maybe you’re paying those crushing “contract” bills, but you somehow have the quaint belief that it’s actually yours. Not so! Your number goes on the staff list or intranet and you are expected to take calls from all and sundry when you you’re sitting with a head full of foil twists at the hairdressers on a Saturday.
And then comes M-Web with an ad designed to help companies find out if their employees are surfing the Net when they should be working. I don’t know if this ad is supposed to be charmingly tongue in cheek, it’s done in a cartoony style, but M-Web advises companies who suspect their employees may be abusing their privileges to “employ an undercover IT guy to pose as a new member of staff. His brief : Win the confidence of the staff and cajole them into telling him which sites they surf and into sending him large mail attachments that may be clogging up the system. These can then be used as evidence against the perpetrators.”
Struth Bob, watch out for the new guy!
Thursday, July 07, 2005
I have a cactus shaped exactly like a penis, it even has a perfect sulcus, the fold between head and shaft so characteristic of the real thing, caused in the case of my cactus by changes in sun exposure and most probably a bit of watering overkill. The shaft’s still a little short but I’m feeding and watering it religiously and when it’s ready I’m going put it up for auction on E-Bay. I figure if Virgin Mary cheese sandwich and Michael Jackson toast are worth $50,000, I’m looking to finance my obsession with weird plants by sacrificing one of them.
Problem with cacti and succulents is that, like cats, one leads to another and another and before you know it you’ve got 9, then 47, they’ve replicated all over the house turning it into some strange moonscape of scary-looking alien plant forms spouting bizarre flowers, twisting themselves into cones and turning purple for no good reason.
I have a thing called a zebra-striped huernia and every now and then it springs a weird little flower, a purple button about an inch across, fringed with four pointy zebra-striped leaves that last for 2-3 days before closing and crumbling up. Some varieties have leopard skin spots, some are feathery, others shaped like starfish, most look like the kind of extra terrestrial life forms you’d find on Mars.
Collecting succulents is a great hobby and the best thing for people with ten brown thumbs because they’re almost impossible to kill and even if you do manage, who would know? If you live in a hail belt and have experienced the fourth hailstorm of the year shredding your garden to ribbons, you’ll be pleased to find your succulents battered but unbowed, they’re tough, they like it when you forget to water them, and you can just break off a piece, let it bleed and poke it into the ground to make another one.
What can you say about a plant that has only two leaves, gets its moisture from the air and can live for 2000 years? OK, a welwitschia is more a primitive pine tree than a succulent, but it’s weird alright, if I’m lucky enough to find one I’m going to do my best to persuade it to come home with me. How about a plant that looks like a stone until it sprouts a daisy or the one shaped like a square cow turd?
Could it be a conspiracy? We bring these plants into our homes, feed them, and watch with pride as they take over the garden. Could it be a cunning plot on behalf of aliens to infiltrate our homes before taking over the world, could the plants themselves be the aliens? It’s not a new idea, it’s been done many times in film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Attack of the Killer tomatoes, Little Shop of Horrors. In The Quartermass Xperiment, an astronaut returns to earth with a cactus, which wreaks havoc eventually turning him into a mutant version of itself.
I’m not taking any chances, I’m not letting them in the house. They’re out on the stoep where I can keep an eye on them, just to make sure. I slipped out to Gardenworld today and a couple of euthorbias and an orange aloe followed me home. I might need help soon.
And speaking of penises, I read about a succulent called Boesman’s Piel which droops when it’s dry and becomes erect when watered. It should be that easy.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
I’m getting a bit annoyed with the way the news media attribute emotions to the world when “the world” is made up of zillions of individuals, a large chunk of whom really couldn’t give a toss.
Remember when the new pope was being chosen and the “world waited with bated breath” to see a puff of smoke? I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t waiting with bated breath, I was going about my everyday life waiting with bated breath for the traffic light to change, waiting with bated breath for 4:30 Friday afternoon, and positively “on tenterhooks” for that dizzying moment when my paycheck hit my bank account before it started dissolving in front of my eyes. I had a passing interest in who they were going to choose as new pope, but my breathing throughout the event was remarkably deep and regular, and I don’t think I was the only one.
When someone dies, apparently the whole world mourns, whether it’s Mother Theresa, Princess Di or Ronald Reagan, there is a “huge outpouring of grief”. Really? I just think ag shame. I might turn down the corners of my mouth and think sad thoughts for a second or two, but my outpourings of grief are confined to close relatives, loved ones and the state of my bank balance. I can’t conjure up the actual tears without which mourning just isn’t complete, and it’s hard to squeeze out even half a drop for a politician.
I suppose in the old days people would have wept and gnashed their teeth when the king died because it had an enormous impact of their lives, but these huge public death-fests make me feel like a voyeur, people crying, people hugging each other, I’m sure it’s very emotional for the people concerned, but I’m left stone cold, especially if I didn’t like the person in the first place.
The world also shows lots of “outrage”, we’re often found to “watch in horror”, we’re frequently at “fever pitch”, which suggests that people are flooding into the streets and throwing rocks, whereas mostly they’re muttering to their friends and writing furious anonymous missives to the newspapers. I keep looking out of the window for the “firestorm of fury”, but people in my neighbourhood aren’t “voicing their anger” or “attacking” anything.
While I have no doubt that what the world needs now is love sweet love, quality cotton and a balanced international agenda, I’m not convinced that the world wants to work in India or that it looks to America for leadership. One portion does not a fruitcake make.
As for the useful habit of telling us what the world “loves” and “hates”, I don’t believe the entire world loves Bollywood movies or Orlando Florida, although I’m willing to grant that large parts of it might appreciate a good dick joke. I know that lots of people despise George Bush but I really can’t get up the energy to hate Americans, not when I’m wearing Levi’s, listening to Eminem and watching Johnny Depp.
The world watches … no it doesn’t, mostly the world yawns, scratches it’s bum and slopes off to the fridge for another beer.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
At last someone has come out and said it, manic depression is fun. In his book The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America, John D. Gartner creates a whole new category in the pop psychology genre, a condition called Hypomania which describes people who have all the fun of manic depression without the crash and crushing sadness for which whisky and the blues were surely invented.
Nobody uses the term Manic Depression any more, it’s now Bipolar Mood Disorder, which suggests that the person in front of you turns from perky joyous to suicidally wacko in a the blink of an eye. It’s supposed to be a less judgmental term than Manic Depression, and it seems to have become quite trendy as an excuse for spending a fortune on shoes. Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are two other fashionable terms which give the impression that sufferers leap all over the place like crickets on crack, which in some cases is true, but I wonder how many of those zillions of Ritalin prescriptions are really for the kid, I know of at least one parent who helps himself when he wants a buzz.
The term manic depression describes it perfectly and whether you get 90% mania 10% depression or an even 50-50, if you believe the doctors, you are sick and you need a pill. To call it a disorder is positively libellous; it’s nothing more than long or short periods of intense energy and massive output followed by long or short periods of being intensely grieved for your miserable sorry ass. In other words, the very stuff of life is now an illness that calls for expensive drugs.
In the Victorian days this condition was given the catch-all name of hysteria and the cure, for women at least, was a hefty session with a vibrator, which calls into doubt the notion that medicine has progressed very far in the last hundred years. Personally I think there are few psychological conditions that can’t be cured by a thorough session with a Magic Wand. I think Discovery Health should add them to their Vitality programme, it’ll work out a whole lot cheaper than endless Zoloft and Prozac prescriptions.
If you look on the Net aka the Oracle, manic depression is a terrible life threatening illness. Look at the symptoms of manic depression from the Black Dog Institute and tell me why this “condition” needs a cure :
“High energy levels, positive mood (OK), irritability (that taxi pulled right in front of me and stopped!), creativity (yes please), mystical experiences, including feeling one with nature in terms of appreciating the world around us (terrible thing, hey?). There is also inappropriate behavior, which encompasses things like increased risk taking (reality has a way of taking care of his one), increased consumption of alcohol and drugs (the liver has the last word), and saying and doing somewhat outrageous things (more of that please). Apparently spending money is another symptom (never heard of shopping?) and an increased libido (say it ain’t so) leading to relationships that are later regretted. To compound the problem, manic depressives dress colourfully and with disinhibition. I can tell you that my wardrobe consists of 75% black and I haven’t yet flung off my clothes in public.
About.com comes up with more, manic depressives have a tendency to “clang associations”, the association of words based on their sound, a condition for which a liberal application of lithium is prescribed. Have they never heard of poetry? Sure, if someone’s spouting off gibberish that makes no sense to others, they should probably get help, but I’m always going to choose the best sounding and most appropriate word and if it clangs, well who decides these things, literature professors?
Someone who is suicidally depressed, or delusional and unable to function can only benefit from a short period of medical intervention, but I’m not convinced that manic depression is a condition that needs the tender ministrations of the medical perfession (sick). Happiness and sadness are the human condition and there’s no pill that’s going to ease the burden of life, nothing’s going to help if you’re in a job you hate, or a marriage you despise. You can’t take a pill for poor self esteem or because you’re feeling guilty, or angry or humiliated.
All I can say if you suffer from this dreadful condition is to make the acquaintance of Messrs Justerini & Brooks and John Lee Hooker, and there’s no dispensing fee
Although lawyers and politicians are universally considered to be the ultimate in scum-sucking bottom-feeders, there’s a species that actually feeds off these people's faeces. They like to call themselves public relations consultants because it sounds nice, but their number includes corporate shills, apologists, media whores, pundits, lobbyists, publicists and other assorted flim-flam artists whose job it is to smooth over the bumps with such a thick layer of bullshit icing, they’ll convince you it’s really delicious. I’m not proud of it, I’ve buried it in another job on my CV, but I spent 6 months slurping up what I thought was gravy from the bottom of the pond, and one of the things I choked on was the strip club. PR for a strip club, doesn’t sound like hardship, but stick with me here because there's one way to make sex as boring as last night’s mashed potatoes, you turn the lights up.
We had other clients, but how we got this one was shrouded in mystery, somebody owed somebody a favour, which suggests that blowjobs were involved. The client, let’s call her Madame X, owned a string of strip clubs, but insisted this one was to be classy, the kind of club she’d always wanted to own. It was to be sophisticated and professional, very different from the tacky sort of place frequented by dribbling raincoat-wearing perverts.
We needed photographs, so I got quotes from some good girlie photographers, and presented their proposals to her but she decided her cousin had a perfectly good camera and he’d done lots and lots of weddings. Oh-K.
The big day arrived. The photographer strolled in with his camera around his neck, and the girls trooped out for their shot, and all I can say is despite the best attentions of the plastic surgery profession, it was clear that hours of airbrushing would be needed. One of the girls, no doubt afraid of her mom, didn’t want to show her face, she turned her head away every time he clicked, and he didn't seem to notice at all. The lighting was garish, the poses were frozen clichés, nobody but nobody would touch the pictures, but Madame X was delighted.
We sat down with the advertising agency, it seemed they also owed someone something, and they came up with logos, menus and flyers in short order and Madame X was pleased. We caused a stir in the morning traffic with girls in bunny suits shoving flyers through car windows. The tabloids gave us a mention. The moving billboard that travelled around the fine streets of Pretoria and Midrand was a giant pair of breasts, and you just can’t get more subtle than that. The tabloids started calling us back. One of the radio stations banned our commercial, but in PR no problemo, because when it comes to a strip club, there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Madame X was delighted.
Part of my job was to induce journalists to have lunch at the club so they could see how different it was from the usual tacky effort. How easy is that? Like wrenching Smarties from a sprog. I persuaded a staid Afrikaans daily newspaper to send one of their guys, and instead of the rugger-bugger sports writer, they sent a tiny blonde nervous-looking woman in baggy pants and one of those journalist foreign correspondent waistcoat things with all the pockets, who seemed utterly befuddled to find herself within the silver walls of Madame X’s establishment.
While I was assuring her of the fine quality of the place, the sheer class of the establishment and how different it was from the usual tacky places, three dancers assumed positions that would have made my gynecologist gasp. Then the food arrived, and let’s face it you don’t go to a strip club for the food, and it’s surprisingly hard to eat in a roomful of naked women and slavering men while simultaneously punting your product, and it didn’t help things when the Pofadder sales reps at the next table bought continuous table dances.
Then Madame X joined us at the table with her two partners, and The Sopranos had nothing on these two guys, all shark-striped suits and cigars, they kept their eyes on the figures on the stage, except when leering no higher than chest level. The journalist’s eyes darted around in panic, before long she remembered an appointment and managed to escape. No such luck for me.
We bought the newspaper faithfully all week, but she never said a word about her lunch date.
Madam X wasn't pleased
Monday, July 04, 2005
In one of those sniffy scoldings the clergy like to inflict on us from time to time, the Archbishop of Cantebury sets his beady eye on the Internet, which he says is “close to that of an unpoliced conversation”. Well yes, and we’d really like to keep it that way.
The world of cyberspace is not so much an unpoliced conversation as a new version of the wild frontier. It’s the return of the spaghetti western, go west young man, there’s gold in them thar hills.
We're living in the golden age of the Internet and long may it last, chaos and disorder reign supreme and the powers-that-be are quaking in their feather- trimmed slingbacks. The sky is falling on Chicken Little’s head and it’s only natural that vested interests are going to squawk as loudly as they can.
Take the issue of land, time was when you could ride your horse for a few days, chuck in some pegs and the land was yours until, whoops, reached the end of the land and the free-for-all had to stop. Because land was no longer infinite, value came into the equation; some areas became more valuable than others. On the Internet, no piece of land is worth more than any other, Amazon might occupy a large portion of attention space, but you and I, a bit of startup and a good idea can sit in Pofadderspruit and give the big boys a run for their money. It turns the zero-sum game on its head because space-greed makes no sense, land is infinite and because it doesn’t have any value per se, there’s no need to take any more than can be fenced off and maintained.
There’s no shortage of wannabe sheriffs patrolling the plains of cyberspace, they swagger down the street taking potshots at teenage file sharers and baby boomers downloading the Best of Zepplin, but still the rustlers come, sneaking in under cover of a dialup they snatch the new Coldplay in its entirety on the day it’s launched and mosey on down the mesa with their haul. All the marshals can do is put up Wanted posters about how it’s a crime and all that, when we all know those music varmints earn far too much money for their own good.
The saloons of the Internet are packed with beautiful women showing pink, hacker bank robbers, hacktivist cowboys and over in the corner cigar-chomping robber barons, owners of the satellites, the fibre optic cables, the infrastructure, being eyed out by the bandits of the open source movement. All those people who got suckered by the Internet bubble are nothing more than the naïve guy who strolls into town and gets cardsharped by the pro’s in the Crazy Horse Internet Saloon.
Bloggers are like old-style pamphleteers. Believe it or not, there was a time when walking down the street you were handed a pamphlet which you actually read before stuffing it in the bin. Sure the pamphlets weren’t for Tuscan-Provénce townhouse complexes and how to make impossible money working from home, but time was when anyone with a printing press could churn out opinion and shove it in the hand of passersby in the street. Scurrilous articles about the doings of politicians and the aristocracy were an excellent way to bypass the heavy hand of newspaper censorship and influence public opinion, and blogging is nothing more than a sneaky way to get yourself heard without having to become a continuity announcer on SABC. Some bloggers are more like revivalist preachers, setting up tents and ranting and raving about hell, damnation and evil, which brings me back to the venerable Archbishop of Cantebury.
“Paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry“ he bleats. Hmm, I don’t know what sites he’s been surfing, but for every bit of bigotry on the Net there are a hundred bits of counter-bigotry, and as for mayhem, anarchy, paranoid fantasy and self-indulgent nonsense, isn’t it fantastic?
Sunday, July 03, 2005
All this hysteria about the terrible things kids see on the Internet is nothing but cheap sleight-of-hand to take control of a great big bundle of unregulated chaos. The Internet is not a toy, it’s a powerfully subversive technology, in some ways more dangerous than a loaded gun. It’s time adults take back the Internet and send the kids outside to play in the fresh air, time to learn to say no, folks, before the Internet is rearranged around the proverbial six-year-old child, just like it is on TV.
It’s ten o’clock at night, I’m in a hotel room watching Lewis Black one of the funniest men on the planet, a man who cheerfully peppers his wit with loads of f-words. What happens? M-Net bleeps out every second bleeping word. Why? Because a six year old might be listening? Aren’t they supposed to be in bed asleep all clean and smelling of talcum powder? Shouldn’t they be restoring their neural pathways in the Land of Nod, dreaming sweet dreams of fairies and fluffy lambs? Since when did the world get rearranged around the agenda of the six-year old kid, whether you’re owned by one of those or not?
They get the whole day for their cartoons, space epics and breathless MTV-type tweenie programmes about what’s hot and like-cool. Whatever happened to the couple of hours after bedtime when parents got to fool around, have nasty, dirty, filthy sex, and watch whatever the hell they wanted? Is it too much to ask that we adults get to hear all the bad words we were forbidden as children now that we are parents ourselves? Can we see something a bit more grown-up on a Saturday night than Free Willy? No? Well guess who pays the bleeping television license?
OK, I’m not a parent, therefore I doubly resent the tyranny of tots who should be out in dad’s workshop inventing something that’s going to pay for their higher education. Don’t they play games anymore, whatever happened to fine motor co-ordination, no wonder the swings in my local park are looking so sad even the pedophiles have gone online.
The Michael Jackson trial held far creepier stuff than most places you’d go to on the Internet but that’s alright because it’s news. The penis attached to the President of the United States was talked about at length, but uh oh, that’s news again, grotesquely hideous serial killings, massacres, war, death, famine, news all news. I see billboards all day about microwaved cats and raped 3-year-olds, but tits and bums are evil - a six year old child might see them and .... and....
Sure they’re going to have to look up photosynthesis and Garibaldi for their homework, but child filter hello. It’s a parent’s responsibility to decide what their rugrats look at, and if they’re clever enough to flummox the filter, they’ve got the maturity to deal with what they’re looking at. If they happen to catch a snatch of something horrible, well that’s life as we know it. It’s the hours and hours of unsupervised, unfocused and aimless surfing that’s harmful, don’t they have rooms to clean?
Whoever this six-year-old child is he should be in the basement practicing the guitar he simply had to have so that he can become a rock god and pay his own Telkom bill. Or else he should be working, don’t kids work anymore? What’s the use of having them if they aren’t going to chop wood for you when arthritis turns your hands into gnarled sticks?
Short people have no business elbowing you out of the way so they can chat for hours to someone who may or may not be a cute 13 year old boy. Back off midgets, it's time for mommy and daddy to have some fun.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
There is one occasion when it’is perfectly acceptable for a grown-up heterosexual man to shave his legs, don a pink lycra all-in-one-unitard and go out in public and that’s when he’s sitting atop a crushingly expensive combination of iron bars and wheels called the modern bicycle. Have you seen what these people look like when they get off that bike? More to the point, have they? Don’t they have mirrors in their houses? It’s fine when they’re on top of their nimble little steeds, thighs all bunched up, smooth bronzed calf muscles flexing and straining, but take Lance Armstrong off his bicycle and, excuse me, he looks like a yellow alien with a bulge from the Planet Lycra.
I’m suspicious of fanatics of every stripe and cycling people tend to take normal bracing exercise further out into left field than is entirely healthy. If you can make gazillions of dollars winning the Tour de France every year until you’re 80, I can see the sense in it, but judging by the popping veins and frozen death-grin on the average cyclists face he’s in agonizing pain. I know there’s that natural endorphin thing, but beating your head against the wall is really only nice when you stop doing it. Is it some sort of attempt to live forever or a way to impose the will on a body that may have plans of its own?
It’s not that I’m envious or anything, but don’t cyclists have jobs? You see them at all hours hunched over the handlebars, trying to keep upright until the light changes, in their goofy Evil Knievel helmets and wraparound bumblebee sunglasses. Clip them over with your side mirror, entirely by accident, and you’ll never hear the end of it.
Due to frequent accidents and mishaps, they now want their own cycle lanes. Cycle lanes? How about pedestrian lanes just for starters, because it’s a fact that pedestrians came first and as the traffic safety ad so helpfully points out, we’re here to stay.
I once lived in a country with proper bicycle lanes and I owned one but guess what? The cycle lanes were full of joggers, mothers with double-wide prams and couples walking hand in hand. Sure there’s Holland, Germany, China, but those countries have a serious bicycle riding culture, not so here in South Africa where the colossal 4x4, driven by some tiny pin-headed woman who can hardly see over the steering wheel, rules the road. What chance does a bicycle have against two tow trucks on the way to an accident scene or on Louis Botha Avenue at 5pm?
And what do they wear to protect themselves out on the mean streets of Jozi at rush hour when nothing less than body armour would be called for, a clingy wisp of fabric with fetching red stripes.
Cyclists like to promote the view that they are persecuted by cars, which is true enough, but some cyclists have only themselves to blame. Time was when you could walk along the street and the only thing you had to worry about was having your cellphone snatched or being hit by a can thrown carelessly from a BMW. Not anymore. At least you can hear a car bearing down on you as you saunter along, but you’re flat on your back before you hear yourself scream and all you see are pumping buttocks whizzing away atop a Schwinn, his feeble sorry snatched away by the wind.
Then there are those massive alien conventions, the races where they take over the streets and you and I have to wait until they pass, kind of like funerals. My sister who lives in the path of the Argus dreads the coming of the hordes, apparently it’s impossible to cycle en masse without incredibly loud music of the thunk thunk thunk variety blaring out all day. It might sound alright when the wind is whizzing past your ear flaps, but it annoys the hell out of the earth-bound locals and scares the goats.
I used to go to the gym almost religiously, climb on a stationary bike and pedal away with the rest of the sweaty masochists. One day while I was pounding away, watching the next big virtual hill coming up on the screen, I looked out of the window and a cluster of bicycle riders wafted past. I had an epiphany, what was I doing on a bicycle going nowhere? Time to buy the real thing and feel the wind in my ears, the tang of real sweat, the adrenalin rush as a taxi cuts in front and stops.
So I gave up the gym, still can’t afford the bicycle, but you’ll never catch me in pink lycra and a hat that makes my head look like a penis.
Friday, July 01, 2005
I’m looking for a lawyer who will stop laughing long enough to sue my parents for giving me a happy childhood. The acquittal of Michael Jackson proves beyond doubt that a wrenching childhood whether real or perceived is a sure-fire way to be excused of even the most bizarre behaviour. We’re the same age, I look at where he is, I look where I am, I’m thinking early nights, fresh air, green vegetables, and wholesome family entertainment have deprived me of the success I might have achieved had my father beaten me black and blue.
I mention “perceived” because while MJ has spent many TV hours weeping piteously about his wretched early life, I know of about a zillion children who would swap school, PT, homework and tennis lessons for a chance to be a showbiz kid. Going on tour with your brothers instead of maths with Mrs. Pilkington, are you kidding? Having girls fling themselves at you at the age of 14, what’s your problem? Apparently he was subjected to abuse, which his father has denied, and hard labour, hello saltmines, hardly 12 hours a day in a carpet factory or out in the sun picking coffee beans. It was singing and dancing and being on TV, wasn’t it? He himself said nobody pushed him, he enjoyed it, “it was as natural as drawing breath”. While he was in the studio looking wistfully out at the children playing and wishing he could do that, those children were looking right back at him.
The whole thing revolves around the question of whether obscenely rich people should be able to buy whatever fantasy they desire without reference to prevailing norms and standards regarding reading smutty magazines and jacking off with other 10-year old boys. I think the answer has proved to be yes, so if you’re a parent ambitious for your kid, forget about early to bed, homework, regular meals and raising your child’s self esteem. Go ahead and give them a smack, Jesus Juice in a sippy cup, let them stay up late and watch porn movies. It helps if they can sing.
If you’re a child and extreme provocation fails to elicit a clip over the ear from a parent, sorry, you’ve got a horrible life ahead of you of working in an accounting office instead of your obscenely rich rock star dreams.
I have a telephone number that is two digits removed from that of Mr. Delivery, I get up to 10 calls a week for chicken korma, ciggies, Kit Kat and a six pack. There is quite clearly a serious problem of untreated dyslexia in my neighbourhood. I once got a call from a guy ordering pizza and when he found out he didn’t have Mr. Delivery on the line, he asked if I wouldn’t mind terribly going out and picking up a quattro stagione for him and bringing it to his house. He offered me R100, not a bad tip, but we agreed it would be easier, at least for me, if he were to try dialing again.
Best yet was a little boy who called six times insisting he had dialed correctly and that I was playing some sort of bizarre and sickening trick on a hungry child. He was absolutely insistent that he’d dialed the correct number each time and demanded to speak to the manager. The Manager informed him that his mother needed to take him to the doctor and have him checked out, whereupon the mother was heard in the background saying “Let me do it.” She did and I presume His Majesty got his cheeseburger at last.
Way back when I wanted to make extra money by working nights I thought I’d try driving for Mr Delivery, it sounded appealing, couple hours at night, tips, blah blah. Well, not exactly. I turned up for the interview in a horrible little office in the back of a worse building on a dingy street. The management were behind a cage, and the drivers, many Bulgarians and Pakistanis, sat in an office smoking one cigarette after the other until they were called whereupon they jumped to their feet smartish and ran out the door.
They don’t let you out until you’re trained and I was allocated a large gruff no-nonsense veteran, let’s call her Petronella. She’d been doing it for a long time and was full of tips and traps, mostly warnings about checking everything the restaurant put into the heating box. She wrote everything down meticulously in a notepad she kept above her sun visor.
“They rip you off all the time,” she said, her eyes blazing.
Our first order called for pickups at four different restaurants in the space of 10 blocks. Sounds easy enough, but there’s a parking problem, so you park where you can find a spot, get out and run into the restaurant, wait for the food, run back to the car, off to next restaurant, etc. Finally you make it to the customer’s house and are met by four drunk and rowdy men who pinch your bum and give you a five rand tip.
It got worse, we made a delivery to a house which was up a cliff and about 2 miles away from the intercom. Eventually a tiny figure came running down a path, arriving at the gate half an hour later panting. We handed over the parcel and went back to the depot, to be told that the restaurant had forgotten to pack the foo yong. My fault, a crucial mistake on my very first day. As we returned to the restaurant piloted by a fuming Petronella, trying no doubt to imagine the most convenient way of dumping me in a bush, I realized I was not cut out for a career with Mr. Delivery. Our total haul for the night was R7.50 delivery fee x 5 trips plus mingy-beyond-belief tips - equals … never mind, plus we had to buy petrol on the way back.
It’s given me a new appreciation for the ubiquitous black clad Mr. Delivery driver darting through the door as though his life depends on it ... it really does.
Crap job, but somebody has to do it.
PS If this sounds better than your own crap job, the rate is now R13.95 a trip. Tips are still paltry.