writer's block


Fear and Loathing in America

On-line Christian Soldiers
writer's block

Chapter 1: syetenb

WARNING: What follows is the very essence of TL;DR. You may actually be slightly less intelligent after reading all of it. No one should do so. There is one confirmed case of a poor American girl who read this whole page, and now all she can read is Dan Brown books. In an Australian accent. Don't be like Becky. Do not read this page.

There follows an exact transcript, without any editing, of an email I sent to syetenb in 2007, master of a website which proves god exists. I'm posting this now because of a long debate Sye had with Matt Dillahunty last week which makes total mincemeat of everything Sye stands for.

The only alterations are as follows: numbers inserted by me refer to the notes at the bottom; some formatting HTML so the words don't all run together, mainly the addition of line breaks; and the italicisation of all syetenb's remarks, to make it easier to tell apart our respective contributions. This email was the last email that was sent in our exchange. During this exchange it was made clear that we gave permission for our words to be reproduced, so I'm not doing something behind his back. I was given to understand that he put my stuff on some Christian website for others to discuss, but I have no evidence of this.

Is it universally true that 1 + 1 = 10 in the binary system, or is it arbitrary? Is it universally true that if you add 2 OBJECTS to 2 OBJECTS, you get 4 OBJECTS, or is it arbitrary?
Well now you're just playing around with words. I managed to prove your theory incorrect*1, and you're grasping at straws. Just accept that you made a mistake and move on.

How do you account for universal truth, and the universal, abstract, invariant laws of logic according to your worldview? You see, each of these are only steps to the proof on my site, yet each demonstrates the inconsistency of your position.
I don't agree with that at all.

Well, it would show the absurdity of your position, but no, I want you tell me if you believe that only things which can be demonstrated to be true are valid beliefs. (as the question states).
You're asking if the only things which can be demonstrated to be true are valid beliefs. Well, if you regard valid beliefs as necessarily true, thenyes.*2

Alright, what is the evidence that your ability to reason is valid?
I went through this before with you, on the site.*3 The ability to reason we have is the only one we have to work with. If you show me some other system with which to compare it, maybe I could see what you're trying to get at.

You are the one who said that the steps to my proof had other options, this is the FOURTH time I am asking you to provide them, since you won't, it is glaringly obvious that you can't. By the way, I can easily point to options you have missed. For instance, you neglected to include in your first step "I believe that God created everything out of nothing."*4
No, that option is covered with "I believe that things can be created out of nothing." Are you coming to realise the answer to your own question yet?

Your argument is that the steps to my proof have other options, yet you provide exactly zero.*5
No, I think we're getting around to it. If I just told you the answer you're looking for, you wouldn't understand. You have to be brought to see it for yourself. You're getting there though. As you can see above.

I don't blame you one bit for not wanting others to see your arguments.*6 I would be more than happy to have these e-mails posted, but I understand why you do not. Quite simply I have asked questions that you cannot answer according to your worldview. Let me summarize:
I really don't care where you post these emails. You have my permission to do so.

1. Is it universally true that 1 + 1 = 10 in the binary system, or is it arbitrary?
The adoption of a binary system in the first place is arbitrary.*7 Try to focus - stay on track.

2. Is it universally true that if you add 2 OBJECTS to 2 OBJECTS, you get 4 OBJECTS, or is it arbitrary?
Hmm. I can think of cases where that would not be true.*8 So I guess it's arbitrary.

3. Do you believe that only things which can be demonstrated to be true are valid beliefs.
I don't accept that what you're asking is a valid question.*9

4. How do you account for universal truth, and the universal, abstract, invariant laws of logic according to your worldview?
I don't. Things are what they are.*10

5. What is the evidence that your ability to reason is valid?
That's not a valid question.*11

6. What are the other options to the steps to my proof, which you claim exist?
I'm bringing you around to them with each email. You're doing very well. Don't panic.*12

You can continue to play the dodge and weave game and avoid my questions, but I will not tolerate your attempts to do so much longer.
Tolerate?*13 You emailed me, Sye. I don't care about converting you to atheism. I don't care if you never believe what I believe. I have no intention of trying to convince you that I am right. I think most atheists are like that. They really don't care. It only becomes a problem when a religious belief causes governments to disobey their own laws, or when government funds are used to pay for religious agendae, etc. I don't believe in god, any kind of god. I think the world we have is the one we've got, and we should probably worry about this one instead of worrying about what's going to happen after we die.

But you know, you believe that Jesus can remove the stain of sin from your soul, or whatever, and well done you for that. Hope that whole thing works out.

Thing is, people who do not collect stamps,*14 do not make list of myths regarding the religion of non-stamp collecting!
That's because people who do not collect stamps are not subject to the same level of ignorance and stupidity as atheists are.

Nice try though.


*1In trying to provide an example of something that was universally true, syetenb made the fatal mistake of using 2 + 2 = 4 as an example. 2 + 2 = 4 only makes sense if you accept a decimal system, which people have done seemingly for no other reason than we have ten fingers.
*2Here, I demonstrate how syetenb was begging the question, despite the way this question was phrased. If you express X in terms of X, you're really not moving anywhere. If you read what he's asking carefully, you'll see what I mean. It's one of the first things you learn in philosophy 101.
*3This refers to an earlier, protracted posting session onon an Irish message board (now defunct) which turned quite nasty pretty early on. He, and his partner in Christ, A*4*J were making all sorts of strange claims and becoming irritated when their arguments were disproven. Eventually A*4*J stopped posting, and syetenb was banned from the site for trolling. Unfortunately, there are no penalties for trolling in real life.
*4I don't know where he got this one from. I state quite clearly in my proof that the option for creating yourself is included. Maybe he doesn't know what ex nihilo means.
*5I didn't tell him that he neglected to include an option for some things being completely true some of the time. I honestly didn't think he would understand. My hope was that I could get him to see it himself. A quick check of his site reveals that he has not yet taken account of such an obvious omission.
*6Like note 4, I have no idea where he got this. I never told him I didn't want anyone to see what I wrote. My response confirmed that position as clearly as I could.
*7Well, it is. He was searching for some absolute truth, and as I found counter-examples, he kept moving the goalposts. It's a big field, but eventually he would run out of places to move them.
*8For instance, holes. Or raindrops.
*9This question he was asking is utterly nonsensical. It's the equivalent of asking if you think reason is reasonable, or if whiteness is white. It looks like a real question but it's completely meaningless. From our exchanges on the message board, I think syetenb honestly believes that if you ask someone a question that has no answer and they don't answer it, you've achieved some sort of debating victory.
*10I am indebted to Ludwig Wittgenstein for this elegant and often stunning rebuttal of some of the more insane theories of reality or knowledge.
*11Again, he's asking me how I know reason is reasonable. Which is like asking how I know a triangle has three sides. It's a triangle because it has three sides. Argh! Even several months later, in these footnotes, I'm getting frustrated that people this retarded are allowed to live.
*12Sadly, this was the last email in the exchange. As I noted above, he has not changed his site to adjust for reality. Even Alan Greenspan has now acknowledged that his model of reality had a fundamental flaw.
*13I was becoming more frustrated, as you can see, with the advanced retardation with which I was being regularly presented, masquerading as debate. This was one email, folks. One out of fuck knows how many. And I read them all. His use of the word "tolerate" seemed especially patronising, and frankly mysterious, as he emailed me first.
*14This was a reference to an analogy I made about those who regard atheism as "just another religion". I made the point that atheism could only be another religion in the same sense that not collecting stamps was a hobby. He almost made a valid point here, but fell at the last fence of logic.

There's more

Apparently this guy is a professional troll. On a whim, I put his name into Google, and discovered this same guy trolling: James Randi's forums, where he had his ass handed to him; Free Thought Forums; and even some Christian Forums! In every one, he presents the same broken arguments. Every time, several people try to explain where he's going wrong, and every time he either refuses to accept their arguments or just ignores them. Other people who have noticed the passage of this troll through their field of influence include this guy and this guy. I'm starting to think that he has some psychological problem, given that he seems to be annoying every single person he comes across online. Furthermore, his condescending attitude seems to be in direct opposition to the amount of posters who regularly prove him incorrect. Does he really believe that he's right and everyone else is wrong? Very possibly. If so, then he should be pitied rather than disdained, and maybe Christianity is the best place for him.

I'll let Stephen Law, editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and senior lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London, have the final word: bullshit.

Gareth Hanrahan's Guide To deadEarth
writer's block

In 2000, my friend Gareth Hanrahan came across a new role-playing game. He was not pleased. His review of that game has gone down in international role-playing history as one of the funniest things ever written on the subject. It's also a very handy Guide To How Not To Write A Roleplaying Game.

If you have any interest in role-playing, or funny things, or cool people, feel free to follow Gareth on Twitter. Any oddness in terms of formatting is because I cut and paste it from a website into Notepad and then into LiveJournal. I'll fix the formatting later. Just read it now.


I went, I saw (it's quite a nice site, technically speaking), and I downloaded the deadEarth player's guide and the deadEarth's GM's guide. This entire review is based on material found in them - I didn't bother looking at the rest of the site. I guess this review could count as a derivative work, and as the book says "You do not have the right to create derivative works of or makea profit via deadEarth without the prior expressed written consent of Anarchy inK Corporation. If you disagree, feel free to fuck off!"

So, anyway, here's something "something new, fresh and different", to quote spamboy. Y'know, I wouldn't dream of posting something like this if you morons hadn't spammed the Blue Planet forum.

The Player's Guide
Ooh. 51 pages long. Cunningly, it's actually only about 25 pages long. The pages use two text columns, but they only put text in one of the columns on each page. And they alternate which column has text in it each page.

Stop the revolution, I want to get off.
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Star Trek Fan Fiction Fan Fiction
writer's block
Here's something you might already know - your government is lying to you.

"But wait a minute," you reasonably interject, "how can you know what country I'm in or what my government is doing?"

Well, you deluded sap, this is part of the lie. If you are living in the year 2014, then your government is either directly (through force) or indirectly (through an increasingly organised series of incentives) run by the United States. Your biggest nightmare has come true.

Maybe you don't care. You probably shouldn't. Maybe the overt or covert American forces piloting your country's economy are doing a better job than your homegrown weasels could ever do. You don't know.

 I'm 38 years old in what you know as the year 2014. This means that during my formative years, during the last half of secondary school and the first half of my university education, there was a show called Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST: TNG) flying into our television sets every Saturday.

I have not seen all the episodes. I've seen most of the first season, when they had a blonde girl in charge of security, and I've seen most of the second season, with the weird doctor no one liked, and a smattering of episodes from the remaining five seasons . I haven't seen any of the TNG movies, although I started watching the new reboot, with the young actors and the lens flare. I wish I had paid more attention.

The first thing I remember after coming out of the box is Commander William Riker and Lieutenant Worf of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-D pointing phasers at me, accompanied by two nobodies. I pointed at their red shirts and said the first thing that popped into my head, which was, "You guys should be extra careful today; I have a feeling you might end up dead."

In retrospect, it is entirely understandable why they took this as a hostile threat and strong-armed me through familiar corridors and a turbolift to the brig.

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"... come in... and say this shit to my face..."
writer's block

Chilton Nix

The tl;dr tale of one man's journey through Hipster Film Appreciation 101

(this will take some time)

Diane is a friend of mine. We both like movies and we talk about them all the time. One day, this happened:

I unintentionally misspelled his name, but whatever. The point is that I wouldn't be able to take anything he says seriously, because "Chilton Nix" would be written beside it. I realise this makes me shallow and possibly OCD, but I think it's important to be honest about these things. Then this happened:

and, presumably by way of explanation, this:

Everything's going fine so far. I like movies and I like talking about movies and Diane knows this, so co-opting me like this is not a big deal. What's the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen...

You don't need to read all of that; in fact I recommend, for the sake of your sanity, the most cursory of skims. The original David Lynch clip is 30 seconds long and consists entirely of him complaining that you can't see a movie properly on your iPhone. This would seem to be obvious, but it sparked a "debate" because of the inveterate pseudo-intellectual hipsterdom of everyone. I tried blowing it open, but the very act of engaging these people means that I was dragged down to their level. Whatever. I don't mind slumming it every so often. Then (!):

I have no idea where he got the idea that I was "sticking up for Diane". The only conclusion that I can come to is that he only read the bits where I was making fun of his name and skipped everything else. In movie discussions, as all over the internet, as in life, you should never hold strong opinions about things you don't understand. Also, there's a time when you should stop trying to use intimidation as a debate tactic, and that time is your tenth birthday.

Then, he sent me a private message:

I'm not sure what he thought was going to happen. Luckily, I have many years experience of smacking down assholes. Maybe he would learn his lesson and quit poking the bear. Also, I realise the beatnik/hipster thing was lame, but I didn't have time to prepare. Don't worry, it gets better:

"Come into Barnes & Noble and say that shit to my face." That's probably the high point of this entire exchange. So, unless you're a completist who finds the DVD extras of Adam Sandler movies fascinating, you can now return to your usual programming and thanks for reading.

Anticipating the possibility of his return, I had some time to prepare some better material, as you can see. I wanted to say "geography teacher" when it was pointed out to me by a concerned citizen that the phrase "geography teacher" did not carry with it the same sense of outdated gaucheness that it does in my part of the world. So I switched it, with reluctance, to "gauche history lecturer". I don't know why I bothered; he probably doesn't even know what "gauche" means. Well, maybe in the back of my mind I was planning this page. Then this:

He linked me to his blog. He claims below that "it gets sent automatically", which is odd because it wasn't "sent automatically" with every other message. So I think he's lying. I think he wanted me to see his book blog so I would be blown away by how clever he is. Well, maybe if I was prepared to deal with the sloppy grammar, spelling, syntax and catastrophic style.

So I suggested some ways to improve the thing. It's easier to read things when you don't have to machete your way through a jungle of badly-written sentences. I also offered to re-write it (without touching the content), something which I was absolutely prepared to do. Then this:

He's made the classic "They laughed at Galileo" error, which is the upshot of his fourth paragraph. Yes, they did laugh at Galileo; but Galileo wasn't a genius because people were laughing at him. In the same way, making something unreadable doesn't make it clever.

James Joyce often wrote a kind of inspired gibberish, but he had an encyclopedic vocabulary, and a fundamental understanding of how language works. Chilton is no James Joyce: he just writes regular gibberish. I offered him five specifically-tailored ways to immediately improve his blog, but they would work as well for any, including my own (I have been known to throw an ellipsis in where it was in no way required).

Also, it's kind of cute that he doesn't know what "hipster" means. That's a sign that someone's a hipster, by the way. They'll either viciously deny it, or, "What does 'hipster' mean anyway?" We need to spread these tips around the internet so we can learn to spot them in the wild.

Now this is where it went weird. He wants me to help with his film project. But he frames this request by trashing my friend Diane in a remarkably petty and bitter fashion. He proudly told to "go fuck herself", and apparently she's "a little freak" and "too Aspergery". Ironically, there are two Aspergery people on this page, and neither of them is Diane.

Whatever comedy value he had was now lost. I don't really care what he said about me, because I can make jokes about it - but I don't have much time for trashing people who can't aren't part of the conversation. If I have something to say, I'll say it to you directly (as this thread proves). Accordingly, I sent Diane these screencaps and blocked and deleted Chilton Nix. As he probably Googles himself nightly, he'll see this as soon as it loads into the Google cache, so I'll post any outraged dumbass emails I get, should he be stupid enough to present his hindquarters for another word-whippin'.

Fake Word of the Day XIV
writer's block
An occasional series where I take something for which there is no word and invent a word for it.

fobbogy - a forced apology that was the result of so much background arm-twisting that it almost sounds sincere.

onine - of, or pertaining to, onions.

shumfle - anything you do to reduce the noise level of your bathroom activities (esp. when in someone else's house).

frip - the sudden, small shot of comfort and security you feel when you look at your fuel gauge and it's on F.

trine - someone on a reality show who's not there to make friends.

jinket - someone who, when asked to explain something, uses song lyrics instead of just telling you.

fauxla (pr. Foe-la) - anything that conspicuously isn't Coca-Cola.

chone - to make the same typo more than four times.

irrelibint - someone who appears on otherwise serious television (esp. political talk shows) for no other reason than because she is pretty.

wen-wen - the unnecessary bit before the start, or after the end, of a pop music track.

parsemious - descriptive of something that looks like it should be a word, but turns out not to be.

remorse code - the series of circumlocutions and euphemisms you only use when talking about something you've done that you're ashamed of.

Related: If you like this sort of thing, you might like Fake Word of the Day XIII, which contains links to all the other Fake Word of the Day pages.

"Cocaine-addled paedophile"
writer's block

Mike Perkins

Chapter 1: Fraud, Cocaine and Paedophiles

I have a friend called Andrea. She is a music teacher. The man who taught her music is called Mike Perkins. Mike feels an affinity with her because they both share an interest in music and teaching it to others. One fine Facebook day, Andrea posted a status update asking if she should pursue her university studies or further her music qualifications.

This screencap has been edited, but only to take out posts by other people.

As you can see, I humorously suggested that she should give up music entirely as it was a waste of her time (the joke being that she already makes a successful living from it, and presumably could only do even better if she chose to follow that road). Mike then chose to poke his humourless oar in * and take everything seriously. So seriously that he had to list his material possessions and the precise specifications of his plasma television ("42 inch panasonic 400 Hz").

Now, in my time I've had to deal with a fairly broad cross-section of people who make this world a worse place. Some of them blindly follow religion. Some of them are well-meaning but just misguided in a few very specific areas. Some of them are actively trying to hurt other people. And others are just morons who haven't thought anything through but still insist on developing strong opinions. If this page teaches us nothing more, let it be this: You should never develop strong opinions about things you don't understand.

It's been my experience that each of these categories of people are not open to reason, or any sort of correction. If attempts are made to explain the error, they will incorrectly interpret this as an invitation to a debate, and hence a validation of their stupid opinions (as Richard Dawkings said about refusing to debate Creationists: "It would look very good on their résumé; not so good on mine").

Accordingly, there are two strategies for dealing with these people, and you will see me execute these strategies all over the internet: 1. Assume that the bonkers opinion is true, and take it to its logical conclusion (the hope being that the person will be confronted with the stupidity of his opinion in a more direct fashion). 2. Ironic sarcasm leveraged with hyperbole and ridicule.

As a career in music is a perfectly reasonable option, the former strategy was denied me, and so I was forced into the second option. I first suggested that his hostile, aggressive and excessively materialistic attitude was the result of too much cocaine, which I assumed he would understand as a joke, because I know nothing at all about him - certainly not enough to be able to arrive at such a conclusion with any authority. And yet in his next message ("I have never taken drugs") he handed me that authority! He took it seriously! I had incorrectly assumed that accusing him of being a cocaine fiend would be ridiculous enough. Well, what's worse than being a cocaine fiend? Being a paedophile! So in my next post, I accused him both of being a paedophile (based on something he said about being friends with Andrea when she was 10 years old), and that Mike Perkins wasn't his real name. Surely now he would understand that I'm not actualling accusing him of anything?

That didn't happen. He took my accusations of paedophilia seriously, although he seems to not have noticed the allegation of fraud. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I'd never come across someone that utterly defeated me before. I had signalled that I was joking in as clear a manner as I could (although in retrospect maybe I should have accused him of bombing the World Trade Center), so I gave up. That's right. For the first time ever I actually gave up. I told him I was just fucking with him (post number eight in the linked thread) and that I was sure he's lovely, and also how I thought the accusation of grooming should have been enough to understand what I was doing. This should really have been the end of everything. What happened next is what catapulted Mike Perkins from run-of-the-mill idiot onto a shelf high above all our heads, for which we need a whole new word.

He refused to accept my retraction. Despite the fact that I said in plain English that I was fucking with him, he continued to post as though I were still genuinely accusing him of being a cocaine-addled paedophile. I had completely lost interest in the thread at this point; I honestly thought his answer was going to be something like "Oh. Well, sorry. But you're still an asshole. LOL." or something like that. I didn't consider for a second that the following level of retardation was even possible in another human being.

The rest of the thread is me attempting to underline my retraction and attempting to explain why it was funny. I don't like explaining my jokes, but sometimes the explanation can be funnier than the actual joke. And for the remainder of the thread, he continues to not get it, either wilfully, or because he honestly doesn't understand.

That was a few months ago. Skip ahead to July 2, 2011, when this wonderful exchange occurred:

This screencap has not been edited in any way. This started with him putting the movie Sucker Punch into Andrea's "top 3 films of all time" without consulting her, and by regarding someone rapping over a Queen track as "awesome". I echoed the consensus opinion that it's not very good, but you might like it if you want your movies to look like video games.

This screencap has not been altered in any way - and thank fuck I took this when I did, because the whole thread went into weird mode straight afterwards. You can see there are differences. My first thought was that he deleted his message to make things worse for me. But then I looked at it again, and one of my messages is gone too (the one with the fantastic line about One Tree Hill)! And I know I sure as hell didn't delete that slice of comedy gold. As Andrea was clearly not online at the time, a more reasonable explanation would be that whatever Facebook glitch caused my post to disappear probably also caused Mike's post to disappear. Sadly, this logic escaped Mike Perkins, who soon after threatening me with legal action and all sorts of racist whiny gibberish, sent this seemingly triumphalist message to me as a personal Facebook message:

"It hasn't gone. It's right here right now." He is clearly under the impression that I deleted my message. He hasn't noticed that his own message is missing too! I should probably take it as a compliment that he's paying attention to everything I say to the exclusion of everything else around him, including his own contributions. And although he says with a hilarious attempt at menace that it's "off to a few other people as well", he actually sent me the same message five times, so I was seriously entertaining the possibility that he had made some sort of mistake. Then this appeared on my Facebook home page:

I'm imagining Mike typing his sternly-worded email of complaint to Facebook HQ in his dimly-lit Dickensian flat in inner city London, fingerless mittens turning down parrafin lamps as the evening draws to a close, the yellow-green fog creeping its way around the cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages, conveying men at midnight to those who would indulge their dark complusions. I'm also imagining the poor bastard at Facebook HQ who probably had too much will to live to actually read any of the messages, and just hit a Send Warning button somewhere to shut Mike Perkins up. Maybe this will work, thinks my imaginary Facebook employee, maybe now Mike Perkins will quit whining. I never did check that box, and it just disappeared after a week; I acknowledge nothing!

Chapter 2: Defamation 101

Before we get into the legal morass of jurisdiction and how it's more or less impossible to nail anything down online, "defamation" is a legal term for something very specific: spreading lies about someone which causes them measurable harm. Obviously, making stupid jokes isn't covered. Sometimes even saying obviously hurful and nasty things without humour isn't covered, and in fact, not a single case ever taken against Facebook or any Facebook account for defamation has been successfully prosecuted (although that won't stop some people from taking money from people dumb enough or angry enough to think they have a case). Not a single one. In this particular case, for instance, the judge threw out the case because the people had set an earlier precedent of making obviously outlandish statements for the purposes of mockery, but you could throw that case out for a number of reasons. Facebook is, as are all social networks, full of uptight assholes getting offended and expecting someone else to be responsible for it. So good luck with that, Mike Perkins.

But let's say that the comedy exception doesn't exist (which it does). Even in that case, he'd have to demonstrate that it caused him measurable damage (defamation doesn't give a shit about "emotional distress" - in other words, the fact that you got upset is your own fault, legally (and common sensically too)). He would be unable to do so, because the only people who saw that were on Facebook, where he's the only person (apart from his poor wife, to whom my heart goes out) who didn't think it was funny. Ironically, claiming that my business failed could be seen as defamation because, firstly, it's false, secondly, he clearly takes it seriously and expects others to believe it as a fact, and thirdly, it could be damaging to my future employment prospects (although being a business failure didn't do George Bush any harm).

He's made the mistake of assuming that becasue he finds something offensive, everyone else has to also. This is a fundamental disorder of humanity. When the divorce referendum was passed in Ireland, it only passed by 0.3 %. what this means is effectively half the country showed up to say not only do I personally disagree with divorce, but no one else can have one either! As you can see, at least in my country, this sort of disordered thinking is quite common. In reality, that fact that Mike Perkins got offended by something I said means fuck-all legally, and if he wanted to get into a legal thing, he'd have his ass handed to him, not by me, but his own lawyer.

Incidentally, after the little box went away, I read the Facebook Community Standards for the first time while researching this page, and the good news is that mockingly referring to someone as a pseudonymous, cocaine-taking paedophile does not violate ANY of the ten sections! Go click on the link; have a look. It's instructive.

Chapter 3: The 9/11 Controversy

Soon after 9/11, paranoid mutterings were made about one "M. Perkins" in relation to the World Trade Centre bombings. Although conveniently out of the country at the time of these terrorist acts, the FBI seems clear on the connection. Evidence gleaned from aggressive interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay was confused. Some miltants placed him in the airplanes on the day (which, as I've said, is impossible), some claimed he was one of the masterminds of the entire operation (with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atef), while still others said he was coincidentally in the background of a number of high-level meetings, but didn't know where he was or what was going on.

Initially reluctant to present himself to the authorities due in part to his paedophile past, and a cocaine habit which, in the words of a source close to Mike Perkins, "made David Bowie look like a Christian", eventually his legal counsel convinced him that offering testimony was preferable to the feds kicking his door down and dragging him away in a sack.

What happened during the following three days (the maximum allowable interrogation time before charging becomes legally necessary) is a matter of debate. All four people present differ in their accounts, but they all agree that his written evidence was confused, frequently contradicted itself, and seemed to imply a massive conspiracy of terrorists which including a network of fundamentalist Muslims who manned the major ports of Europe specifically to smuggle paedophiles into and out of various countries (mainly Italy, France and Germany). This conspiracy went "all the way to the top", although when challenged, he was unable to name anyone at the top, or the prime ministers of the United States or England. He then attempted to use his inside knowledge of this conspiracy to leverage leniency from "the judge", even though it was repeatedly explained that he wasn't being charged with anything.

Ultimately, the role of Mike Perkins in the World Trade Center bombing may never be known, but it behooves all right thinking people to ask the question: how many lives would have been saved if his threat to the community had been identified by law enforcement earlier? Probably at least three or four, I'd think. Maybe even five.

* Seriously. I have never seen a boat propelling mechanism that had such a low appreciation for the subtle art of ironic sarcasm.

Los Angeles Dating Site Profile
writer's block
This is what it looks like:

I’m not your typical LA girl. I am from [somewhere with a cooler climate] but I moved here for the sunshine and my career. I like [some combination of the following]: hiking, yoga, Runyon Canyon, social cause X, reading [Sedaris / Palahniuk / Murakami], listening to [Radiohead / Muse / Mumford and Sons / The XX], farmer’s markets, Whole Foods, and Wes Anderson movies.
Now, since everyone has written the same thing, it’s hard for me to see exactly how you’re not the typical Los Angeles type. Analysis: engaged.

You’ve travelled a lot because, after all, your parents’ generation didn’t work so hard for you to get barefoot and pregnant at 22 and you now feel that “seeing the world” has given you more life experience and credibility. Maybe you’ve even ventured into a Third World country (Mexico doesn’t count), which you can now wax poetic about over $20 martinis.

You think voting Democrat somehow shows you’re a compassionate humanitarian, thinking that the difference between them and Republicans is chocolate-vanilla, when even a cursory analysis will reveal more of a dark chocolate/light chocolate contrast.

You say that you love animals, despite the fact you claim ownership of them, give them human names, and sometimes dress them in human clothing. In other words, you’ve just anthropomorphized them to fill the childless void in your life.

Despite your proclaimed activism in the cause of social issues, you have an unnerving amount of products produced by Apple, one of the most egregious operators of evil, pseudo-enslavement of people in developing nations.  Also, just one of the little social events you’ve been to in the last month could’ve financed a permanent system of potable water for an entire village.

You can buy a nice faux-bohemian lifestyle, you can buy a “green” eco-friendly car so you feel less guilty about those plane flights to wherever, but you can’t buy self-awareness.

I’m not saying I hate you, but SHOW ME SOMETHING ORIGINAL!
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Impossible To Translate
writer's block
In 1915, Franz Kafka published "The Metamorphosis", about a man who turns into something else. The very first sentence of The Metamorphosis is

"Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt."

On the face of it, a fairly simple German sentence. Generations of proud English and German speakers, however, have had trouble with the last bit. 

The phrase "ungeheuren Ungeziefer", means "horrible vermin" (according to David Wyllie's translation) or "monstrous vermin" (according to Stanley Corngold's translation), but it's very difficult to translate. "Ungeziefer" definitely means "vermin", but English speakers are far more likely to mentally categorise "vermin" in terms of rats and mice. It makes your brain do a little skip, which is something any writer or translator wants to avoid. 

The description of a carapace and many legs and so on makes it clear he is some sort of insect, so "vermin" is no good; it's sending our understanding in the wrong direction. In 2002, Richard Stokes translated it as "monstrous insect", and the most popular translation (by Joachim Neugroschel) is "gigantic insect", but this is technical language, a description of phylum and class and contains nothing of the horror implied in the word "Ungeziefer", so "insect" is no good. Another approach has been to attempt to define exactly what kind of insect. A beetle? A cockroach? Vladimir Nabokov had a mild obsession with nailing down exactly what sort of beetle was intended, which is probably irrelevant to the point of the story, and in any case, no one can agree. As with all of Kafka's writing, it's less about accuracy of detail, and more about pushing a certain urgent, paranoid mood into your mind. The language we choose for our translation must be a translation of mood, not of words.

Wikipedia has the adorable "gigantic insect-like creature", which, although technically very accurate, is so self-consciously avoidant that it's taking us even further away from the text by thrusting an image into our brains and then refusing to define what the image is. Ian Johnson's "monstrous verminous bug" is probably the best translation, as it covers the idea of being too big, of being some sort of pest, and the word "bug" is admirably non-specific while meaning, essentially, "insect". Even this valiant effort, however, doesn't have the flow or snap of "ungeheuren Ungeziefer". This leaves us with Stanley Applebaum's "enormous bug", which sacrifices meaning for flow, but given that the entire King James bible was written under that mandate, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

There is a very interesting sub-field of linguistic anthropology called folk taxonomy, which is specifically the study of how people decide to categorise the meaning of their words (and things). As you might expect, this is often at variance with the real relationship between those words and things.  There are many examples of experiments run where subjects from different cultures are shown photos of a dog, and a tiger, and then a cat. They are asked which of the two first photos is "most like" the cat, without expanding on what they mean. The idea is to get the subject to determine what you mean, and decide accordingly. The results can sometimes be surprising. People connect words and meanings in ways that would never occur to you or me, and fail to understand the connections we make. And that's fine.

It's looking more and more like "Ungeziefer" is the translator's nightmare: impossible to translate while maintaining both the mood and the meaning. And that's just the first sentence. Next week on Impossible To Translate, I hope to get into the second sentence.

Fake Word of the Day XIII
writer's block
An occasional series where I take something for which there is no word and invent a word for it.

child corn - an unnecessarily shocking term for baby corn.

Jimmy Carter Effect - doing something good or useful about 25 years after it would have made a difference.

cowdog - a tiny, vicious, high-pitched, yappy dog that runs away as soon as you stand up.

pialogue - a conversation you get into for the right reasons, but you know exactly how it's going to go, and there's really not a lot you can do about it, and if you keep pushing it, you'll be the bad guy. Most pialogues end with the words "But I love him".

barratron - the sort of person who brings logical analysis to a situation which requires compassion and diplomacy.

twittle - a short text message or tweet that makes no sense at all, even after you fix it up.

fauxtee - an arrangement of facial hair that looks like the wearer was aiming for a different effect.

giblate - a customised license plate with so many substitutions and abbreviations that you have no idea what it's supposed to say.

schmoo - the feeling you get when you realise you've spent the last ten minutes trying to clone-brush away a bit of dust on your monitor's screen.

knibble - that part of your nose or ears that doesn't look quite right.

ovary acting - the various types of fake emotion with which some women manipulate everyone around them.

flubble - that little shudder generated in a stalled or slow car when another car whips past at speed.

Related: If you like this sort of thing, you might like Fake Word of the Day XII, and the official Fake Words page on my own website.

Fake Steering Wheels and Free Will
writer's block

In the opening credits of the Simpsons, there is a tiny clip of the baby wildly steering a car through a number of dangerous curves. Then we pull back and it is revealed that she is sat in front of a toy steering wheel, happily imagining that she is influencing the course of the vehicle, while her mother drives badly, because she is a woman.

As a metaphor, the toy steering wheel is very tempting. In a very boring 2007 article on SOA Policy, Rich Seeley compares Maggie Simpson's efforts to those poor deluded folk who think they can influence service-oriented architecture software. Lucky for you, this is not why I started typing today.

It was a toy steering wheel, it turned out. Lawes had a seven-year-old son he sometimes took with him on trips.

He said that the President of the United States ought to be given a wheel like that at his inauguration, to remind him and everybody else that all he could do was pretend to steer.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird (1979)

Now we're getting more interesting. A complicated political idea, a damnation of electoral democracy if you will, concisely delivered through a well-chosen metaphor.

Since your behaviour is already fully accounted for by physical antecedents, any distinct conscious goings-on would seem to be casual* danglers, themselves irrelevant to subsequent events. They would be like the toy steering-wheel which the infant on the passenger seat fondly imagines is controlling the car.

- David Papineau, Introducing Consciousness (2000) [*I believe this is a typographical error for "causal", but I may be wrong.]

And we're getting into the juicy stuff - the very nature of reality; or at least the nature of our perception of reality, which as any violent child wielding a small rock will reveal, are very much not the same thing. If, as some believe, everything has a cause, and everything would be predictable if we just understood the causes, then we have no free will. All our actions and beliefs and opinions are caused by something else, and those causes were caused by something else and so on. If we had but all the information we needed, we could predict what someone was going to do and say to the letter.

This is a dreadfully uncomfortable thought to someone who likes to think he has opinions, but history has shown that uncomfortable ideas are sometimes true. Papineau is not the only psychological philosopher to make use of this rather depressing imagery to help people understand what this lack of free will might feel like.

I read an article about consciousness by an English philosopher once (I forget the source but it could be What We Believe But Cannot Prove, a digest of essays from various scientists from different disciplines who tried to justify their evidence-free beliefs -  the subject of the Richard Dawkins essay was aliens) where she said she had more or less given up on any conscious decision-making. She just sort of let life roll over her, and did whatever popped into her head. The reason being, according to her, that most of what we interpret as decision-making is actually post facto rationalisation for whatever we've already decided to do. Think about that. It's very disturbing.

Your homework: the next time you have a normal, face-to-face conversation with another human, monitor yourself. When you answer, are you really making decisions about what to say next, or does it just sort of come out of you, and afterwards you assumed that's what you had intended to say? In the example of verbal conversation, there seems to be, at least partially, an automatic pilot. After all, if you were to consider your responses to everything, there would be large gaps whenever someone stopped talking. But that doesn't happen. If anything, people tend to frequently overlap during verbal conversation. Watch yourself the next time you talk to someone, and see if it applies to you. Then think about what that means.

And then good luck getting any sleep.

Facebook Profile Pic Translator
writer's block
Someone has friend-requested you, but their security settings are intensity in ten cities and all you have to go on is the profile photo. What can you tell about someone just by looking at a profile photo? Find out today!

(Description of photo): What it means.

(Self-shot in mirror, looking at preview screen instead of lens): So insecure that she can’t take her eyes off the preview for a SINGLE GODDAMN SECOND! Do not add.

(high-contrast): Hiding something. Unless you know what that is, do not add.

(holding a beer, other alcohol-related): Drunkard. Do not add.

(group shot): No individual identity, probably suggestible. Add.

(looking away, looking sad): Thinks she’s deep, but she’s chosen to advertise this depth with a Facebook profile photo, so she’s probably shallower than the shallow end of a child’s play pool. Hence, easily manipulated and predictable. Add.

(showing middle finger): This person has not yet learned how to channel her rebellious nature. Could be good for a quick laugh. Add.

(dresses like hipster/emo): Either a hipster/emo or (even worse) wants to be hipster/emo. Do not add.

(photo with girlfriend/boyfriend): Clingy, needy, no fun. Do not add.

(sunglasses taking up more than 60% of photo): Do not add.

(making ‘heart’ shape with hands): Obsessed with appearing “cute” to others. Unless you enjoy talking about unicorns, brightly-coloured socks, ribbons and rainbows, do not add.

(photo of something other than her face): This is worse than having something to hide. This is a complete abrogation of identity. Possible psychosis. Do not add.

(black & white): Thinks she’s arty. probably studying photography or “media studies” at some community college. Very easy to control, but there’s not much of a challenge so you’ll get bored. Whatever. Add.

(newspaper covering 75% of face): If the paper is upside-down, do not add.

(sad face & palm of hand behind rain-streaked window): Even other emos think this is a bit much. Do not add.

(big hair and big eyes peering over Corn Flakes cereal box): Something about this is very attractive. Add, and actively pursue. Years later, you can explain to your grandchildren that it all happened due to a whimsical Facebook profile photo and a sarcastic Livejournal post. Of course in my day we didn’t have Facebook. If I liked a girl, I was forced to exchange bundles of photos via regular post, and register my approval of her asinine statements by taking an announcement out in the local paper.

(primary school pic): Living on past glories, has made no friends in the interim. Do not add.

(cartoonized portraits): Utter self-loathing, wish she was her WoW character. Probably desperate for any sort of attention. Add.

(PG-rated bubble bath w/rubber duck): Whore. Add.

(child in foreground): This person is doing you a favour. If you don’t want to hear long stupid stories about this person’s child, as though it was the first child to do anything, do not add.

50 Shades of Shit
writer's block
My name is Gemini Grey, which is ironic because Geminis are supposed to be caring and gentle and I have recently been filling my life with some very un-Gemini-like things. I don't know what my parents were thinking. The good news is that I'm a successful businessman with my own helicopter and I wear nice suits. I'm not entirely sure what my company does, but I seem to have plenty of spare time to pursue my dark compulsions.

I had been trawling Craigslist for a long time. It seemed like years. Because it was, in fact, years. I was always specific about what I wanted. A younger girl, preferably of college age to avoid unpleasant accusations of statutory rape, but younger if she could keep quiet about it. I wanted an arrangement where I would essentially kidnap a girl and abuse her emotionally and sexually in my basement until I was happy, or she died, whichever happened first.

This was the text of my Craigslist personal ad: "Sexually abusive male looking for gullible, confused younger female (18-21, but don't bother answering if you're over 19), who answers to all, most or some of the following: cutter; daughter of a single mother; eating disorder (any); low self-esteem (the lower the better); into old guys; has ridiculous tattoos and/or piercings; redhead; has long-held, well-developed kidnap fantasy; Daddy issues (important); bisexual; finds it hard to get along with other women." It does no good to fuck around with these things.

I never got much of a response. Yes, my inbox was flooded with messages filled with rage, bitterness, judgmental gibberish and dark legal threats, but no one actually interested in exploring the edge of her sexuality. So I stopped posting ads and started trawling the 'Women Looking For Men' section. Very occasionally, I would see a possible hit, a girl was was clearly psychologically damaged, either through some sort of childhood trauma, or because she had just come out of an abusive relationship. However, after a few exchanged emails, it would turn out that she wasn't as damaged as she had appeared in her ad. There's nothing more annoying that a girl who claims to be a submissive but who won't just do what she's fucking told.

I don't remember when it happened, but I remember a light-bulb going off, and I decided that if a girl had some sort of rape fantasy, or kidnap fantasy, then it would surely defeat the purpose of the whole thing if we had it meticulously arranged in advance, if there were clearly-defined areas of agreement. If a girl has some deep dark sexual fantasy about being kidnapped, thrown in a basement and raped, well who the hell am I to stand in the way of that? I replaced the light-bulb and hatched a new plan.

Craigslist claims that there is no way for its staff to track posters. This is not true. In fact, given what they're being paid, it's very easy. I found a post that matched my needs, and I had her personal information within the hour. She was a student in some stupid college, doing a journalism course, probably in the naive belief that it would help her find a job in journalism. I never went to any college and I'm in charge of a company so big that no one's sure what it does.

None of this matters. You didn't come here to listen to how I made my money, or what I do, or why I do it. You want to know what I did to the girl. You want the precise details of the sexual violence I bestowed on her night after night. Before I continue, I would ask you to remember how these women are, and that she wanted all this to happen. Not secretly wanted, but very publicly, in Craigslist, which is probably the most public thing in the world after Facebook.

I'm not generally accustomed to driving myself around, but I thought it would be better to keep the potential witness-bothering to a minimum. She was easy enough to track down; she made no effort at all to hide her identity. I tracked her as she walked from her dorm to a restaurant with a group of her friends. I went in myself and had some hideous sushi, and then followed her again when they left. One by one, her friends peeled off the group until she was walking alone, stepping from pool to pool of street lamp light. I knew where her dorm was, and that I had a 200-yard window of opportunity or I would have to cancel until tomorrow. I am not a man who cancels things until tomorrow, unless there is some genuine reason why it can't be done today, like if someone's sick or something.

I stopped the car just in front and leaned over to the passenger window, which I had opened after some difficulty in locating the correct button. She leaned over so she could see my face and asked if everything was all right. I threw a cloth at her and asked her if that smelled like anything to her. She seemed reluctant to comply, but I used my suave, masterful charm to insist. Of course, it was chloroform, and once she passed out, I bundled her quickly into the trunk and drove home. Then our experiments in the limits of domination and sexuality could begin.

The first day was the hardest. She woke up, groggy, in her underwear, curled in a heap on the floor, chained to the wall. The chain went through a series of large metal hoops attached to the wall, and up to a pulley system I had installed on the ceiling, so that I could make her stand up any time I wanted.

"What the hell are you doing? Are you crazy?"

I had not anticipated the need for a gag. This would be a learning process for both of us. I explained that I had read her ad, and about my dealings with the Craigslist employee of negotiable integrity. She seemed shocked. She said it was just a joke and that I should let her go. Luckily I was prepared for such prevarications. I showed her the part of her posting where she specifically mentioned that any and all attempts of hers to escape or otherwise mitigate her circumstance should not only be ignored, but should be punished. So I kicked her in the ribs.

"This is what you want."

She denied it at first, as all women do, but eventually, after repeated kicking, she agreed that it was what she wanted. After some more kicking, she signed a legal waiver and a non-disclosure agreement. I wiped the blood off the forms and stored them securely with my other important documents. Now that I had secured what the legal meddlers refer to as "consent", I could get on with it, and after a few weeks, we settled into a pattern.

The abuse was mostly arbitrary. I never explained why I was disciplining her, even if I had a reason. She never knew if the punishment was for something she was currently doing, something she had done recently, or some time ago, or if it was conducted on a mere whim. If there was something expected of her which she repeatedly fail to understand through random punishments, she would be totally ignored. Hours and hours of begging and pleading for what she did wrong completely blanked. When eventually she got the hammer in the teeth she had been craving, she smiled through the blood and bits of broken bone, because it's the only affection she will ever know.

We had a safe word, of course - that's BDSM 101 - but I never told her what it was. Sometimes, if I was working her over with a cattle prod or nail gun (I called it a "nailfun"), I'd hear her desperately shouting hundreds of random words in-between the panicked screams. "Watermelon! Arkansas! Palindrome! Eclipse!" Stupid bitch.

Once, I stopped feeding her. I defecated onto a plate and put it into the mini-fridge I had installed in the basement. Then I pulled the chains so she was suspended from the ceiling with her arms over her head. After a few days, I came back, took the plate out of the fridge and presented it to her as a meal, saying "Poo is a dish best served cold." She had just enough energy left to weakly protest, "No, that's revenge..." She was right, of course, so I popped it in the microwave on high for thirty seconds.

There were no toilet breaks. I enjoyed watching her desperately trying to keep control of her bladder and her bowels. I masturbated furiously over her discomfort, both social and physical. And, often, when she released, so did I. I never cleaned her up. I liked to see her covered in her own filth, brown streaks of human waste tracking down her legs, pointing to a growing pile directly underneath her. And then I would release the chains so she would collapse into a heap of her own fecal matter. Looking back on it, I probably should have got the whole thing on tape.

She was usually too weak to put up much of a fight, or even to complain, but sometimes I screwed up and fed her enough so that she could talk. She threatened me during those windows when I removed the gag. That was always amusing. She said her father was rich and important and he would be sending people.

I had of course taken care of the problem of the parents, using my immense wealth to concoct some explanation their daughter's prolonged absence which would seem ridiculous in any other context. It was during one of her listless threats that I showed her the photos I had been taking of her parents every day since her disappearance. Her parents at the beach. Her parents watching the final of Big Brother. And her parents dressed as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Susan B. Anthony for Hallowe'en.

The only reaction she had to the photos was: "Is it November already?"

On her twentieth birthday, I unlocked the chains. She was too old now, and held no interest for me. I told her she was free to go, but she didn't believe me, so I carried her out to the car and eventually dumped her outside the nearest branch of McDonalds. I figured she would probably want to get something to eat.

We never saw each other again. Looking back on it now, I guess we just weren't compatible. The police came to the same conclusion, but they seemed to develop the theme to an unnecessary extent, even to the point of insisting I divulge the employee of Craigslist who helped me out. I refused to comply. I don't believe that people should get into trouble for being helpful. Eventually, the police hysteria will die down and I can get back to finding a suitable partner. Until then, remember me every time you type something on Craigslist. I'm not like the others. I'm your friend.

Fake Word of the Day XII
writer's block
An occasional series where I take something for which there is no word and invent a word for it.

quarm - the brief, hopeful silence between when an annoying car alarm (or phone ring) finally stops to when it starts again a few moments later

differong - when something's stupid and wrong, but you pretend that it's just "different" to spare the feelings of the Americans.

nicemare - a nightmare with a happy ending

jaff - to masturbate not for the purposes of sexual gratification, but because it's cold.

hojack - the technical term for stealing someone's girlfriend.

downlid - a proposed past tense for the verb "download".

mono berkin - on any social network with a private messaging facility, a passive-aggressive message on a public feed which is clearly aimed at a single individual.

woink - to steal something that no one wants.

ad hominem verso - praising the person who made the argument rather than dealing with the argument itself.

mubble - to achieve the absolute minimum familiarity with (or proficiency in) something you don't care for (or understand) with the hopes of impressing a girl.

candy bard - an artist who wearily gives the crowd what they want even though he dies a little inside.

getteau - (pl. getteaux) someone who is ashamed to be working class, pretends not to be, and so comes across as ridiculous.

Related: If you like this sort of thing, you might like Fake Word of the Day XI, and the official Fake Words page on my own website.

Korean Drama
writer's block

If you flick across the non-standard cable channels, you may come across a lot of Oriental garbage. There is a lot of Oriental garbage in the world, and they are not ashamed of putting most of it on television. I guess we have that in common.

Recently, I have had reason to watch Korean dramas, which are by all accounts popular. I made the joke that they were all the same, not just because all the actors look the same, but they seem to have the same plots and characters. Here is what happens in every Korean drama:

1. A woman is doing a weird screaming/crying thing. This must happen at least once every twenty minutes.

2. 20% of all the females in the show dye their hair a weird orange/red colour. No one else dyes their hair any colour except this orange/red shade, and it should be a steady 20% of all the female cast members.

3. There is an older lady who never smiles. This is broken up into 'lady who is always sad' (like Eunnim's real mother in My Bittersweet Life) and 'lady who is always angry' (like Su Young's mother in Ojakgyo Brothers). You will never see these characters in any other light. Ever.

4. There is some confusion over who the main character's (or her love interest's) parents are. Maybe someone's adopted, or the babies were switched at birth, but there's always something terribly wrong with the mother-child relationship.

5. There is some guy who looks like he's 15 years old in a position of some influence at a company. No one's sure, exactly, what the company does, but there are tense board meetings and feverish papers passed in hallways.

6. There's a young girl who likes this guy, but he likes some other girl, and there's some other guy who likes her and blah blah blah. You know? That sort of thing.

7. Some character is being judged ill because he's poor.

8. Women screaming and crying. All the time. About everything.

Related: Flip Channels

That's A Strong Word XII
writer's block
An (increasingly detailed) occasional series of things I hate. You should hate them too.

  • "I've never had any complaints LOL!" Well of course not; they're not going to tell you, are they?
  • "Of course I know! I just want to see if you know." You don't know, so shut up. Idiot.
  • People who don't understand the concept of a hypothetical question. Yes, I know That Would Never Happen, which is why I used the word "if", you fucking moron.
  • Karaoke
  • You're not an "associate". You're an entry-level employee and the company has apparently discovered the most patronising way to screw you over.
  • "I think I'm easy to get along with" Well of course you do, you shitbag - you're you! Pity the poor fools who have to deal with you on a daily basis.
  • "I had this really weird dream." Well of course you did! Who has dreams where everything goes completely normally? If you never have weird dreams, if the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you in a dream is getting the incorrect change in a shop, then you might need professional attention.
  • People who can't apologise properly. Just say you understand what you did wrong and you're sorry and that's that. If you throw in a bunch of excuses or reasons why you really did the right thing, then it's not an apology; it's just more of the self-serving bullshit that got you into this mess in the first place.
  • Taking a photo of yourself in the mirror so that photo is 85% camera. What the hell are you doing? If I want to know what a camera looks like I'll go to Best Buy.
  • "I hate to tell you / I hate to break this to you" No you don't, you lying sack of shit. You're loving every minute of this. I don't mind you being an asshole; just don't pretend that somehow it goes against your miserable, petty nature.

Related: That's a Strong Word XI (links to others)
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All The Single Ladies
writer's block

On the 9th January, ABC broadcast episode 2 of season 16 of The Bachelor, a terrible show which always brings in high numbers.  I'll be watching it, or at least downloading it afterwards. I don't even know why.

The Setup:

The producers find some rich, pretty guy who wants to find a girl to marry. The producers source a bunch of exclusively white women who are looking for a man to marry and they fight over him until one of them "wins". No bachelor has married the winning contestant in the entire previous fifteen seasons of this reality show, but whatever. Sixteenth time lucky.

The Problems:

1. The Bachelor: This season's beau is a likeable halfwit called Ben who co-owns and runs a vineyard in Sonoma, California. However, given that he seems to spend all his time dating women and screwing around on reality TV during what he readily admits is an extremely narrow window of harvest, one would be justified in questioning just how "co-" he "runs" the business. Ben was a contestant on last year's The Bachelorette, where Ashley Hebert turned down his offer of marriage the day after "road-testing" both him and JP (whom she seems to be marrying) as the camera pulled out of a candles-and-rose-petals bedroom in a scene which made me feel unwell (and I was fine with The Exorcist).

2. The Girls: I never had sisters, but I am aware of the concept. If you don't, let's all pretend that you have three sisters, who are average girls. Now let's say that they all want to go to the club and there's only one dress, into which they all fit. At some point during the ensuing melee, the mood would lurch violently from caring about the club towards eliminating the competition for the dress.

Now, let's take away your sisters and imagine twenty-five ambitious, fame-hungry young women specifically chosen to favour the emotionally unstable and/or psychologically damaged. Now let's imagine that you encourage them to get drunk with permanently and freely available alcohol. Now let's imagine that instead of a night-club, they're interested in a man, and instead of a dress, the avatar of this goal is network reality TV hegemony. OK? Good.

3. The Editing: Obvious musical cues are plonked on top of otherwise harmless exchanges, or conversations which would take on altogether a different hue if a different musical cue were placed on top of it. That's not canny editing; that's crass psychological manipulation. I don't mind a bit of psychological manipulation (for instance I felt like shit when Sherlock Holmes hurt himself in the last episode of BBC's glorious Sherlock, which was all down to the editing and music cues), but The Bachelor uses this so much that it's grating. "Feel happy now! Feel sad now! This is an energetic bit! This is sad again!" No one needs that. In addition, the previews they show you from upcoming episodes obfuscate, both in-show and as a break bumper on other shows. For instance, they show someone talking over someone else's actions, and reaction shots to completely separate events.

4. Unreality TV: The problem with fiction, as Mark Twain said, is that it has to make sense. Reality doesn't have that problem. But the broader implications of fiction vs. reality are that reality not only doesn't make any sense, but it doesn't even have a narrative structure or believable characters or any of the things that make us want to watch fiction. So, makers of reality TV have to find some way to take reality and shoehorn it into a narrative structure, and to almost invent personalities for the people in them to make it look as though they've changed and grown over the course of the series.

It's not optional, nor is it a happy consequent of reality television; they have to do this to justify the mere existence of the show. They have to create fictional problems and get their constructed personalities (cobbled together, as you will remember in paragraph 2 above, from people specifically chosen to be suggestible and easily manipulated) to genuinely believe that anything they do or say matters, that they're learning something about themselves, that they're improving themselves. In other words, they get sucked into their own fictional narrative which was written by some hack at ABC. And why not? They're on television.

5. Me: This is genuinely how I think when I'm watching every second of this thing. I can't turn it off and just "enjoy" the show, however the fuck I'd manage to do that. I like to imagine that I'm training myself to spot these little tricks, but am I getting sucked into my narrative? AND WHO WROTE THAT!?

Related: You Go, Boss (a semiotic analysis of CBS's Undercover Boss)

Jim Jeffries is a Cunt
writer's block
Last night, my friend Jennifer kindly provided an excuse for me to leave the house and took me to a comedy show administered by offensive mastermind Jim Jeffries at The Grove in Anaheim. Jim uses the word "cunt" a lot. I don't care about what words people use, but I don't like hearing the same thing over and over. However, he feels that Americans need to use that word all the time. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

The Grove is a pleasantly small venue. The seats were individual seats such as you might find at a wedding or a buffet rather than the usual cinema-style stadium seating. We were very close to the stage. There was a microphone and two stools, which led me to wander if he was going to interview someone, "maybe Mariah Carey". Before the performance, someone removed the second stool, probably because Mariah Carey didn't show. You know what she's like.

There was a warm-up act, Jacob Sirof, who seemed like he was just slightly, slightly off the mark of being a good comedian. For instance, he took drinks from his beer bottle in-between his jokes, whereas Jim Jeffries always went for a drink in the middle of a sentence. One looks like you're smugly waiting for the laughter to die down, and the other creates a sort of tension. Little things like that.

Sample Jacob Sirof joke: "What is it about watching cars drive in a goddamn circle (pause) that makes you hate black people?" Which is moderately amusing, but I had noticed earlier in the night that there wasn't a single black person at this gig. I'm not sure why. I've never heard Jim Jeffries make fun of black people, but there wasn't even one. I know; I looked hard. So for me the joke fell a little flat because it sounded like he was comparing his own gig to a NASCAR race, which made no sense to me at all.

Twenty minutes later, Jim Jeffries came out to an obviously receptive audience who started shouting up requests for specific jokes almost immediately. He was having none of that. Like most new media-savvy comedians, he understands that once you've committed a routine to DVD for sale, you can never do that again. It was all new material, and it was great.

He did a (non-racist) bit about sending a black guy to the back of the airplane. He did a bit about paedophiles who are probably better off molesting terminally ill children, the logic being that they can't carry the psychological damage into later life, "so in many ways, it's a victimless crime". He did a bit about actors pretending to be disabled (to the point of hiring "carers") so they can get disabled parts. He did a bit about parents of dead babies, who were probably bad parents, "and that's why God took your baby away". You know, all top-quality, five-star material.

When someone got offended by something, he tried to explain freedom of speech in a new way: "Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say whatever you like; it means you have to listen to things you don't want to hear."

At one point a drunk girl approached the stage and started abusing him, so he was forced to deliver a string of quick responses, mostly revolving around her presumed sexual promiscuity and how it may be linked to a lack of paternal attention. Eventually she became so obstreperous that he had her and her instigating friend thrown out, to the delight of all.

Even someone like me, who's only standing upright because the molecules of cynical hatred are holding hands, felt that some of it was a bit "Maybe he shouldn't have said that."

And that's a very good sign.

Flight Risk
writer's block
Sometimes I find myself on an airplane. It seems to happen a lot. Airports, especially in America, do their best to differentiate themselves in some way, or be unique in ways that takes away from the crushing, mind-grinding reality that your flight will not leave on time. In Denver International Airport, they have a very strange few bars of piano jazz before the shuttle train doors open instead of 'bing bong'. Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris has a crazy central area where the escalators cross each other, making it look like a cross between an MC Escher painting and something HR Giger might dream. And why not? They want to make it seem as though an airport is the sort of place we might actually want to hang out. Sadly, this is not true. Apart from that guy in that movie, there is not a single person who wants to do anything with an airport except leave it as quickly as possible. Everyone you see sitting in restaurants, browsing shops, chatting on phones at airports - none of them want to be there. They want to be somewhere else, as soon as possible.

I was on a flight, sitting on the aisle, with a large black lady beside me, and a small Filipino lady sitting by the window. I told the black lady that if she was ever offered food by any Filipinos, the correct answer was to refuse. They eat dogs, I told her. The Filipino lady interjected: "My mother never told me! I was seven and I thought it was beef!"* She had a son sitting in another row, sullen, mixed race, with hair and wardrobe designed to put everyone in mind of Justin Bieber. He was not handling the mild turbulence well. I told him I liked the song he did with Ludacris, but he just scowled at me. Or possibly delivered a knowing chuckle. It's very hard to tell with teenagers. I shared my opinion that I thought it was nice that Ludacris had finally done something his mother could boast about to her friends down at whatever black people have instead of bridge clubs. There was no response this time. When I turned back to my thee-seat section, I had missed the first part of some consternation.

A flight attendant was telling the black lady, in snippy tones, that her bag must be placed all the way underneath the seat in front of her. The black lady complied with an exaggerated "Have a nice day". The flight attendant came back. "If you have a problem following directions, I can tell the captain that we need to return to the terminal." "No," she said, "no problem."

"You know why we tell people these things?" continued the airline representative, oblivious to the irrelevancy. "It's in case we have to land quickly; someone could trip on your bag in the evacuation and die."

Someone could trip on her bag. And die. That's what the flight attendant said. Naturally I burst out laughing, which was rendered perhaps the more acute because she was leaning over me to talk to the black lady and her face was about two inches from mine. She turned her head slowly and give me a frown. Frowns are not nice when they're two inches away. Apparently, along with the threat posed by a bottle of Coke (competently dealt with by swift-thinking security agent in Philadelphia airport; I thank him for his service), sarcasm and mockery are now banned. I guess the crazy Muslims can now officially stop hating our freedoms.

These people must go on courses to memorise phrases and facial expressions to make customers feel like they're getting a personal touch - that they matter. These courses fail to appreciate that it doesn't work on an airplane when, after serving your drink, the flight attendant's eyes glaze over briefly, until they alight on the overweight guy whose fatty arms are hogging your armrest. She addresses him with an identical counterfeited amity, identical phrases and facial expressions. I just wanted a Coke, but now I am demoted to a cog in the wheel, a nothing; betrayed. Did the people who told her to say those things feel betrayed too? I don't know why they can't just say whatever they like to whomsoever they please. It seemed clear that this flight attendant had been bottling up her bitterness for some time, and the black lady beside me was poking at the release valve.

The Filipino lady reacted with a bit more grace: "I think, in an emergency," she said slowly, as the only one who would be affected by the hypothetical crisis, "I could probably step over it." The flight attendant just moved on, because she just had her ass handed to her. At least, that's what I like to think. In reality, she probably couldn't hear the Filipino lady, because some Filipinos have a very strong accent, living in the half-light of English where all Vs are Bs and all Fs are Ps, and all long vowels are short. For remainder of the journey, the lady and her son were referred to as "dogeater and Bieber".

I'm not concerned with what is or isn't "probably a good idea". I didn't get where I am today by doing things they were a good idea. I want to know is there an official position on sarcasm. When I come across stupidity, especially from authority, I instinctively reach for my sarcasm. The higher the authority, the higher I set it. Thus, for flight attendants, DMV clerks, etc, I will make relatively harmless remarks which will more than likely fly serenely over the heads of their targets. For prime ministers, CEOs etc. I will wheel out the big guns, and spend some time setting them up before firing. Sarcasm is a weapon, but it's not going physically take down an airplane, and it seems unlikely that terrorists will add it to their arsenal.

*She actually said "I was seben and taut it was bip."

writer's block
In 1994, Lars Von Trier wrote, produced and directed a show about a creepy hospital called Riget (Kingdom). It's very low-budget, with intentionally crappy camerawork and a really weird orange filter over every scene. It's about the most advanced hospital in Denmark, an experimental flagship of the Danish health care system, but supernatural madness is about to be unleashed.

By the end of the series, it's popping out everywhere, leading to the climactic final scene where the Minister for Health is touring the hospital only to find: an abortion being conducted in the neurosurgery unit; a liver transplant for a man who strenuously objects to the procedure; a neurosurgeon bricking up a wall in the basement; nurses having sex in the sleep disorder unit; and a severed head bouncing along the floor. Also, there are ghosts moving through the walls, the parking lot is sinking into the water table, the most gifted neurosurgeon in the hospital, recently arrived from Sweden, is rabidly prejudiced against Danes, and Udo Kier plays the head of a new-born baby who might just be the antichrist. It's in Danish, but it's worth hunting down some English subtitles for what might be the weirdest show you will ever see. And if you don't get what the hell is going on, Lars Von Trier himself tries to explain over the end credits, always reminding us at the end that we should learn to "tage det gode med det onde", take the good with the bad.

In January of 1994, Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness wrote and directed a show about a creepy hospital called Garth Merengi's Darkplace. Originally, I thought it was a parody of crappy production values of 80s television shows in general, and perhaps a gentle mockery of the horror genre. Having seen Riget, it seems unthinkable that they did not also see Riget and decide to make a comedy version, for that is what they have done. They both concern a creepy hospital with ineffectual security guards and night porters. They both concern a hospital built on the Danish/British equivalent of an Indian burial ground, giving rise to all sorts of supernatural unpleasantness. They both feature idiot doctors who don't seem to have any idea what they're doing, and seem all too eager to volunteer themselves for ridiculous medical procedures in the name of advancing medical science. They both have oddly-endearing rock theme songs with weird choral vocals on top, that are so out of step with the tone of the actual show, it's jarring. (This is the Darkplace theme and this is the Riget theme.)

Garth Merengi's Darkplace is screamingly funny no matter what your angle is though, with Matt Berry firing on all cylinders.

In March of 1994, Stephen King adapted Lars Von Trier's show into Kingdom Hospital, to mixed reviews, even among people who like it. Everyone seems to agree that it's not a bad series, but the best thing about it may just be that it will lead you to discover Riget for yourself.

The world of dark hospital dramas appears to be limited, but there must be room for more. The whole field of medicine is a mystery to most of us, and we subconsciously treat these modern wizards as if they were gods. There are elements of this horror and hubris in all medical dramas, even light-hearted comedies (scroll down to Fridge Horror). I guess it's all an expansion of that bane of Socrates, the fear of the unknown.

Summer, 1984
writer's block
My father was bookish by circumstance. I was bookish by choice. He is intellectual, well read, a functional atheist (although like most Irish people who are functionally atheist, he identifies as Catholic). A debilitating injury, which still adversely affects him at the age of seventy-six, put away any hopes of a sporting career. Sometimes I wanted to have an interest in sports to make him feel better about having a kid like me. Sometimes I made myself take an interest.

I was nine years old in the summer of 1984, the longest, hottest summer I've ever had during my short time in socialist Ireland, and there were many sporting events to choose from. The Tour de France is the biggest cycling race in the world, which in 1984 was run over 4020 km in twenty-three stages from the 29th of June to the 22nd of July. We were watching because we had an interest in the fortunes of Sean Kelly, who lived about fifteen miles east of our small Irish town. We lived in Clonmel and he lived in Carrick-on-Suir. Sean Kelly was very good at cycling, but ironically, he didn't really specialise in winning races. It turns out there are many ways to do well in cycling. If you have the fastest time, they give you a yellow jersey. If you're the best at climbing mountains, they give you a polka dot jersey. If you're good at everything (scored as points), they give you a green jersey. Sean Kelly always won the green jersey. He won these "green jersey" points so often that the people in charge of the points system had to fix it so he didn't win so often. But he did anyway.

We watched it every day on Eurosport, a satellite channel broadcasting all sorts of weird sports from all sorts of weird European countries. The theme tune, which has become permanently lodged in my head, was Tour de France by Kraftwerk, which is, like everything Kraftwerk does, amazing. We'd have the television on in the little room beside our kitchen, and when we heard that music, we'd drop everything and go to the television, and hear things like "peleton" and "failed a drug test this morning". But we would also see wonderful things, like grown men pushing tiny metal bicycles across two hundred miles of French countryside, and still have enough energy left for an uphill sprint towards the end; people running after the bicycles, cheering them on; sweeping helicopter panoramas of bucolic Provence villages; cyclists struggling to breathe as the oxygen thins out over the Alps; it's kind of amazing. That year, Laurent Fignon (the great French rider with the stupid ponytail) won, and Sean Kelly came in a very respectable fifth.

Six days after the Tour de France ended, the Olympic Games began in Los Angeles, less than sixty miles away from where I live now. We used to get up very early (6 am!!) and have orange juice and cornflakes and watch the madness unfold (thinking about it now, I'm not entirely sure why we got up so early, because Los Angeles is eight hours behind us. We should have been staying up late if anything). We were mostly interested in the track and field. We saw people jumping and running and vaulting over high bars and running around in circles. This was the year Carl Lewis first ran, and the last time Seb Coe was relevant.

On the 11th August, 1984, President Ronald Reagan assured us all that Russia had been outlawed forever.

On the 12th August, we were watching the Olympic Marathon loping its way through the mean urban streets of Los Angeles, when my father points at the screen and says, "That's hardly John Treacy is it?" John Treacy was a wiry guy from the same small town as Sean Kelly, Carrick-on-Suir. Sometimes we'd see him running past our house, but we didn't realise that he was running about twenty miles a day, and he was already an accomplished international athlete. And there he was, winning the silver medal, right in front of us.

My father was happy because Carrick-on-Suir is a tiny town and Ireland is a tiny country and by rights we should have our asses handed to us any time we leave its borders, but here we were running and cycling the rest of the world into the ground. When you come from Ireland, you find yourself automatically rooting for the underdog. I was happy because he was happy.

The only thing that makes my father happy now is contract bridge, and it's such a complicated, vile game that I can't have anything to do with it. The only excuse anyone can have for playing contract bridge is that it's a social game, which is the precise element of the game that my father has no time for, so I have no idea what he's getting out of it. I often describe him as "like me, but worse", but the truth is that he's like me, but better.


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