Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten Great Steven Wright One-Liners

Stand-Up isn't my favourite form of comedy. Sometimes it seems like a room full of canned laughter revolving around some guy of average comic ability trying way too hard.

Steven Wright barely tries at all. No-one, inside the world of comedy or outside, has a better deadpan than Steven Wright. That wry monotone is by itself an art form that no one else can master. But he uses it in service of one-liners that, at their best, are amazingly clever epigrams that one doesn't get immediately but makes up for lost time in laughter once it sinks in.

Steven Wright is one of the greats. Here are ten of his best.

1.EXISTENTIAL MAP: "I have an existential map. It has 'You are here' written all over it."Steven Wright

2.SPONGES: "Sponges grow in the ocean. That just kills me. I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be if that didn't happen."Steven Wright

3.IMMORTALITY: "I intend to live forever. So far, so good."Steven Wright

4.CANDLE SHOP: "I remember when the candle shop burned down. Everyone stood around singing 'Happy Birthday.'"Steven Wright

5.SECOND MOUSE: "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."Steven Wright

6.THE BEACH: "Babies don't need a vacation, but I still see them at the beach... it pisses me off! I'll go over to a little baby and say 'What are you doing here? You haven't worked a day in your life!'"Steven Wright

7.THE OTHER HAND: "On the other hand, you have different fingers."Steven Wright

8.SYNCHRONISED SWIMMING: "If one synchronised swimmer drowns, do all the rest have to drown too?"Steven Wright

9.CLOWNS: "I had a friend who was a clown. When he died, all his friends went to the funeral in one car."Steven Wright

10.WIDTHS: A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths.Steven Wright

Ten Foods That are Eaten Alive or Still-Moving

Ethnocentrism, the belief system in which the way your 'people' do things is seen as inherently superior by virtue of it being, well, your way of doing things is by and large a discredited, and seemingly abandoned, belief system - outside of the Republican Party anyway. Yet the one area where ethnocentrism is alive and kicking is in the area of cuisine. 'My God, I can't believe they eat that' is a common statement, usually followed up by some derisive comment about what life is like 'over there'. This affects Western perceptions of Asian cultures the most, and leads to the pathetic farce of a pig-headed bigot like Morrissey calling Chinese people a 'subspecies'.

Yet... there are things eaten out there, in Asia but everywhere, that certainly give me pause, make my heart race a bit faster and put me off my dinner. I do eat meat, but I can't see myself eating anything on this particular list.

You see, I'm of the belief that fought ought not to be moving as it's on your plate, or even in your mouth...

I've included an illustration of each. In some cases, it's ick-inducing enough. But since this is about moving food, obviously moving pictures are what's required. So I've included a YouTube link for each - my illustrations are actually stills from the linked videos. I like them instead of embedding because... well, in some cases, it takes a really strong stomach to get through them. You have been warned.

1.SANNAKJI: It's a weird list where this is considered one of the least exotic specimens. Sannakji, a specialty in Korea, is prepared from baby octopus. The baby octopus are not still alive. But having just been killed (and chopped up) for the preparation of the dish, the muscles are still moving. Thus the plate of seafood in front of you is squirming. Sannakji eaters need to be particularly careful that the suckers on the tentacles don't stick to the insides if their throats on the way down. Er, yum. YouTube link.Sannakji - Korean Baby Octopus Still Slithering

2.DRUNKEN SHRIMP: Technically, the term 'drunken shrimp' refers merely to shrimp marinated in alcohol. In many cases in China and abroad, the shrimp is boiled and then doused in liquor. Alternately, they may be dunked alive in alcohol and then cooked. But a third way to prepare the dish, not at all uncommon, is to keep the shrimp alive and, er, kicking. In this case the dish's name is very much accurate, as the alcohol stuns the shrimp and slows them down so that, while alive, they're not hopping about quite as much as they otherwise would. In other words, they're drunk out of their shrimp minds and completely unaware of their fate. YouTube link.Drunken Shrimp - Chinese Dish from Living Shrimp

3.YIN-YANG FISH: This one has a certain amount of YouTube notoriety, yet it is a very real dish of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese origin. The 'yin yang' part of the name refers to the fact that it's alive and dead at the same time - more to the point its bottom half has been cleaned and cooked in boiling water while its top half remains alive and gasping for air - by 'alive', I accede that it's a bit of a grey area. Perhaps it has actually died and is, like the others, exercising residual muscle contractions (à la beheaded chickens). But certainly a moving mouth on your dinner plate is a hard thing to shake off, and it certainly does appear to be alive,. perhaps saying, "Stop eating me!" in fish language. YouTube link.Yin-Yang Fish - Half-Alive Chinese / Taiwanese Fish Dish

4.IKEZUKURI: I have a bit of a problem with this one. Well, I have a problem with several of them, but this one seems unnecessarily cruel. See, I like sushi just fine. And I'm well aware that sushi involves fish that was very, very recently alive. But the fish kind of ikezukuri (there are other kinds, all involving 'dancing' seafood) seems to be about filleting and slicing the fish in the way one does for sushi, making every effort to keep it as alive as possible. The YouTube link shows a fish whose body now looks very much like sushi but whose head is still flopping about. Involuntary muscle spasms, I'm sure. But is this really necessary? YouTube link.Ikezukuri - Japanese Living Sushi

5.LIVE GOLDFISH: And of course this is a classic frat-boy stand-by: swallowing live goldfish. I hesitated to include this one, as it's not a form of sustenance, but it deserves inclusion as yet another example of how the 'twain' meet much more frequently than Rudyard Kipling would have us believe. The person in the YouTube link, Stevie Starr, is a rather impressive performer who has built a several-decades-long career out of the art of swallowing things and bringing them back up again at will. I was lucky enough to see him when I was in university at a venue of perhaps 50 people at the most, and I can attest that he is most certainly the real thing. Pretty amazing, even if the poor fish might disagree. YouTube link.Stevie Starr Eating Live Goldfish

6.OPIHI: Opihi are a particular Hawaiian delicacy - being a form of limpet or snail-like gastropod found in the waters of the Pacific. Opihi is said to be a particular delicacy in Hawai'i, and while it can be cooked, it frequently isn't. It's most often served raw. And by 'raw', I mean 'it'll move if you poke it with a stick'. Opihi can be added to a raw seafood salad, or it can be eaten directly from the shell. Either way, if it were an animal capable of fast motion (which it isn't), it would certainly be running away, given the chance. YouTube link.Opihi - Hawaiian Limpet

7.SNAKE HEARTS: While we're slowly descending into urban-legend territory (live monkey brains!!!!), snake is a very real item in southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Vietnam. Not to say there's anything very strange about eating snake, but plenty of YouTube videos can attest to the very alive nature of the snakes immediately until preparation. Now, keeping an animal alive until the moment of cooking is not that strange - think lobster for example - and you could make a good argument that fresher is safer. As with so many other things on this list, involuntary muscle movements are a part of life for people preparing this kind of food (frogs' legs do plenty of dancing). But in this particular case, the movements make it all the way to the table - and the appearance of a still-beating heart is just way too horrorshow for me to ever think, "hey, I should put that in my mouth and eat it". YouTube link.Snake Heart - Vietnamese Food, Still-Beating

8.CASU MARZU: Here's a weird thing about the internet: who'd have thought that it would take the most modern of technology to increase the profile of this, er, traditional cheese. Yet this Italian cheese has never been more famous. While Italy has an unparalleled reputation globally for its cuisine, it's a fair bet that when people think "Italian food", they're not thinking of this Sicilian cheese, which is, and there's just no way to put this politely, crawling with maggots. As they say, 'I kid you not'. This is a cheese that has been left for flies to lay eggs in. When the maggots are born, their digestion of the cheese (a process generally called 'rotting') apparently gives it its flavour. It's essential you eat it while the maggots are alive, apparently. Because eating dead maggots would be, you know, gross. Where eating them while they're still alive is just good ol' Sicilian tradition. YouTube link.Casu Marzu - Italian Maggoty Cheese

9.LARVAE: What a difference a YouTube video makes. Superficially the eating of grubs seems tame compared to other things on the list. I mean, Hakuna Matata, right? But please, for the love of God, do not click on the link to the video for this one. Remember, you can not un-watch something you have watched. Now the video is ultimately "Survivor" / "Fear Factor" rubbish, so it's hardly indicative of what we're talking about. But foraging for grubs is a common protein source in large parts of the world. Me? I'd prefer tofu. YouTube link.Larvae - Eating Live Grubs

10.OYSTERS: To remind us that eating living things is hardly merely a foreign phenomenon, and also to come back slowly from extreme grossness, I present the humble oyster. It's not a requirement that you eat oysters raw (there's that euphemism again), but it is the preferred way of doing so. A quick tap and it ought to slam its shell shut. Which, of course, is not something dead animals can do. And speaking of 'animals', here's something strange: there is a strain of vegetarian ethicists that say there are no ethical reasons not to eat oysters. I don't know the details exactly, but I guess an oyster lacks a central nervous system and has no 'pain receptors'. It has no consciousness and is, for all intents and purposes, indistiguishable from a carrot. Except carrots don't move as they slide down your throat. And they make cute noses for snowmen too. Carrots ftw. YouTube link.Oysters Eaten Alive

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ten Atheist Musicians

Atheism is much more prevalent in some fields of work than others. Scientists, for example, espouse atheism at a rate significantly higher than the general population, while, well, priests do not (that Mel Gibson film notwithstanding). I don't know where musicians show up on the list: given how many Grammy winners thank God at the podium, maybe not very high. Yet atheists show up in every walk of life, and here are ten musicians who don't seem to likely to break out into a renedition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" any time soon.

1.BJÖRK: The Icelandic symbol for weirdness has been quoted as saying, "If I get into trouble, there's no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself."Björk: Atheist

2.SIMON LE BON: Simon Le Bon, onetime tabloid fixture and lead singer of Duran Duran, speaks in detail about his spiritual journey: "Losing my faith was very gradual." He adds, "I started thinking, 'Well, what if it's just people trying to personify life? To personify the fact that there is matter, and that there is a universe? If there is a God, that's it. God doesn't have a brain, God doesn't think, God is just existence.' And when you get to that point, you realise, if that's what God is, then there's no such thing."Simon Le Bon: Atheist

3.PAUL HEATON: Frontman not only of the Beautiful South but also of the Housemartins, a 1980s band known in part for explicitly Christian lyrics penned by him, Paul Heaton is an unexpected name to find on this list. Yet Paul Yeaton is quite avowedly atheist, despite the message "Take Jesus - Take Marx - Take Hope" appearing on the cover of the Housemartins' début.Paul Heaton: Atheist

4.TRACEY THORN: Half of the popular English duo Everything But the Girl has the following to say: "I've always been an atheist. We grew up in a village and I was like, 'I'm not joining the Christian Youth Club'. Believing something that's unprovable is not how my mind works."Tracey Thorn: Atheist

5.MICKY DOLENZ: One of the Monkees, of course, and he was interviewed by The Onion as one of a wide range of celebrities to whom the question, "Is there a God?" was put. His interesting answer: "No. God is a verb, not a noun."Micky Dolenz: Atheist

6.ROBERT SMITH: The lead singer and sole constant member of decades-old institution The Cure, Robert Smith has stated, "I don't believe in god. I wish I did."Robert Smith: Atheist

7.LINTON KWESI JOHNSON: Perhaps less well-known than the other names here, but a personal favourite and a legend in the rather arcane musical field of 'dub poetry'. Jamaican-British, he speaks of the Rastafarian tradition in this way: as an atheist, "I couldn't reconcile myself to the idea that Haile Selassie was God."Linton Kwesi Johnson: Atheist

8.SHIRLEY MANSON: The lead singer of 90s band Garbage has been openly atheist since she was twelve years old and denounced religion as "bullshit" while at her dinner table.Shirley Manson: Atheist

9.RICHARD RODGERS: Of an older vintage than the other names on this list, the famous composer of American musicals is described in a biography as follows: "Richard became an atheist, and as a parent he resisted religious instruction for his children. According to his wife, Dorothy, he felt that religion was based on 'fear' and contributed to 'feelings of guilt.'"Richard Rodgers: Atheist

10.BRIAN ENO: Understanding Brian Eno can at times be a difficult and frustrating exercise, but give this one a try: "Well, I'm an atheist, and the concept of god for me is all part of what I call the last illusion. The last illusion is someone knows what is going on. That's the last illusion. Nearly everyone has that illusion somewhere, and it manifests not only in the terms of the idea that there is a god but that knows what's going on but that the planets know what's going on. Astrology is part of the last illusion. The obsession with health is part of the last illusion, the idea that there's that if only we could spend time on it and sit down and stop being unreasonable with each other we'd all find that there was a structure and a solution underlying plan to it all, for most people the short answer to that is God."Brian Eno: Atheist

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ten Legitimate Reasons to be Coulrophobic

People with no clue whatsoever appear to be mystified by the rapid increase of coulrophobia in Western countries. Where a generation or two ago, kids would (allegedly) flock to circuses and Christmas parades to laugh at the funny clowns, today children are more likely to run sreaming in terror. It seems to me that the real reason behind this change is as obvious as the bright red nose-ball on your face: people are more afraid of clowns today than they were in the past because people have finally come to their senses. Clowns are creepy and terrifying and have nothing whatsoever to do with humour. The ony possible reason I could find myself laughing at a clown is if I'm smiling while slowly... inching... away...

"Coulrophobia" in any case is a misnomer. A phobia is defined as an irrational fear of a specific thing. There's nothing irrational about coulrophobia, though. Being afraid of clowns is just common sense. Here are ten reasons why...

1.CHILD CLOWNS: Children are not just tiny humans. They are, in fact, concentrated humans, and nowhere is that more evident than in the spectacle of a child face-painted into a clown. All of the horror at half the size, children clowns are way creepier than their adult mentors.Child Clown)

2.CAN'T SLEEP; CLOWN WILL EAT ME: Bart Simpson understands coulrophobia. He might worship Krusty the Klown, but the bed that Homer builds him is so very creepy that it causes him to go foetal with terror. Clowns are evil, have twisted laughs, and eat children in their sleep. Once again, The Simpsons speak the truth.Can't Sleep; Clown Will Eat Me

3.CLOWNS IN HOSPITALS: A 2008 University of Sheffield study gained a fair amount of publicity for telling the world what it already should have known: children are creeped out by clowns. The study found an almost universal dislike for clowns among recuperating children, who find their aggressive and unchanging cheerfulness 'frightening and unknowable'.Robin Williams as Patch Adams

4.RONALD McDONALD: Make no doubt about it: Ronald McDonald is one creepy dude. I would bet that a significant proportion of the astonishing rise in coulrophobia in recent years has, in fact, to do with Ronald McDonald. In my personal case, the sheer horror I felt when I was a mere toddler at the threat of being put on that sick freak's lap for the purposes of a photo shoot still haunts me today. Now, in recent years Burger King has taken up the 'creepy fast food mascot' gauntlet and gone running with it, by bringing their king logo to terrifying life, Frankenstein-style. I give even odds that within a generation, regiphobia will also have reached epidemic proportions.Ronald McDonald, the Creep

5.SAD CLOWNS: If you have any doubt that clown-horror is something that originates entirely in the mind of the observer, and that the global cabal of Clowns Inc. sit around confusedly asking ourselves, "why don't people find us funny and amiable anymore?", consider the Sad Clown. This particular beast, who actively flaunts its unpleasantness, is proof that the Worldwide Association of Clowns is determined to make clowns symbolise every unpleasant emotional response that exists.Sad Clown, Still Evil

6.INSANE CLOWN POSSE: The Insane Clown Posse are less 'creepy' than merely 'ridiculous', a white hip-hop act whose prolific career revolves around a kind of 'evil clown' schtick and features a rabid cult following improbably titled 'juggalos'. The duo call themselves 'Violent J' and 'Shaggy 2 Dope', and their parade of dime-stor horrorshow cliché would be completely unworthy of mention were it not for the single thing that makes them truly creepy: Violent J says of his fans, "You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you're one of them. You're a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this and it might transfer over instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion." Shaggy 2 Dope adds, "In my definition, it doesn’t matter what creed, religion, or group you belong to. If you’re doing what’s right and are a good person, then you're right with God." Creepy.Insane Clown Posse, God's Pierrots

7.TIM CURRY: I've never read Stephen King's "It", though I know that even the softcover version is a suitable replacement for the phone book in helping young children sit at the dinner table. When it comes to the movie, all of King's literary horror techniques pale next to the sheer terror of casting Tim Curry in the role of Pennywise. Coulrophobia has a face, and it's Tim Curry's. In "A Clockwork Orange", they could easily have held open Malcolm McDowell's eyes and merely showed him this picture.Tim Curry as Pennywise in Stephen King's 'It'

8.CLOWN PORN: This just had to exist, didn't it? There's probably not a single subject out there that hasn't been turned into pornography, but I can't see how this particular, er, sub-genre can be anything but the wettest of blankets. In addition to horrifying and psychopathic, should we now add sexually deviant to the list of clown-like characteristics?Clown Horror

9.JOHN WAYNE GACY: Far more terrifying than the creepiest horrorshow depictions in book and film is the knowledge that evil clowns, sadists who use a clown costume to lure children into their depraved worlds of rape and muder, really do exist. Using a clown persona, John Wayne Gacy murdered 33 boys, sexually abusing many and burying most inside his house. The picture of him here, in costume as 'Pogo' is especially creepy only because we know what lies behind that smile. But taken out of context, this picture looks exactly like a million other clowns.Pogo the Clown

10.TIRIRICA: In October, 2010, a clown was elected in Brazil to the position of Federal Deputy by a resounding majority. Tiririca, whose name means 'Grumpy', vowed if elected to learn 'what it is a Federal Deputy does' and used a well-financed campaign to coast to an easy victory. Certainly there is some post-modern irony here, as he certainly collected votes from a disgruntled public who views all politicians more-or-less as clowns (his slogan was 'It can't get any worse'), but make no mistake: this is the first step. Clowns are taking over the world...Tiririca the Brazilian Clown Politician

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ten Words that Americans Spell Wrong

When Noah Webster released his dictionary, he described it as a 'dictionary of the American language'. The name choice was not incidental. It was very much a political statement. The idea that the USA and the UK (and other Commonwealth countries) are 'divided by a common language' is not only a huge exaggeration but is also decreasingly, not increasingly, true with time. One distinction that still exists, however, is spelling. To put it a slightly chauvanistic way, Americans still cling on tenaciously to Noah Webster's misspellings...

1.CHEQUE: 'Check' means 'look', as in 'check out that babe over there'. It's also a symbol, a/k/a a 'tick', that teachers give you when you've answered correctly. It's also what happens when you're one turn away from winning in chess. It's not, though, a piece of paper that takes the place of money. That one might be pronounced the same, but it's spelt with a 'que' at the end.Cheque (not 'Check')

2.COLOUR: Quite famous, this one. There are plenty of words ending in -our (parlour, flavour, labour and honour pop immediately to mind), and for no clear reason Noah Webster decided to excise the 'u' from each. Today, Americans tend to use the 'u' in the word 'saviour' for no other reason I can think of than because Jesus is special enough to warrant an extra letter.Coloured Pencils (not 'Colored Pencils')

3.GREY: Poor, poor colours. You know, you can take the simple sentence 'my favourite colour is grey', and have to completely change it to translate it to American. Why this perfectly spellable word got altered, I have no idea.Grey Parrot (not 'Gray Parrot')

4.MOUSTACHE: What is wrong with an 'o' followed by a 'u'? Why do Americans have to run around removing one of the two, and why is there no consistency? It's not like eliminating the 'o' here suddenly makes the word phonetic: that second syllable is still all over the place. By definition ornamental facial hair might as well have an ornamental spelling, right?Man with a Moustache (not 'Mustache')

5.JEWELLERY: Some words are just functional, some are ornamental. If you're talking about a word that is used to describe something ornamental, why give it a functional spelling, right? that 'le' in the middle is like a little intricate beadwork or a gemstone, added to the design to give it some richness. And beauty. After all, that's what we want from jewellery, isn't it?Jewellery (not 'Jewelry')

6.AXE: And they've taken one to this word, too, rather mercilessly. The poor word only had three letters to begin with. Why be so cruel as to hack one off? The Scrabble player in me thanks you, America, but still 'ax' is such a pathetic, mutitlated word. It makes me sad.Girl Carrying Axe (not Ax)

7.CATALOGUE: I couldn't actually believe this one when I first saw it (and neither can many Americans evidently, since it's not universal). I understand the fatwa against unnecessary French letters, but is it not plainly obvious that 'catalog', 'monolog', 'demagog' etc. are just ugly?IKEA Catalogue (not 'Catalog')

8.MANOEUVRE: This one seems like Webster, or someone else, just couldn't navigate the correct spelling, made a mistake, and then brushed it off by saying, 'I've spelt this correctly - it's just the American spelling'. I mean, I get it. The correct spelling is tough. But 'maneuver'? Just silly.Heimlich Manoeuvre (not 'Heimlich Maneuver')

9.YOGOURT: This word's just silly, really. The Brits spell it one way, the Americans another... the Canadians, bored of choosing, just go for the French spelling in an act of national solidarity, saving dairy producers the indignity of spelling it differently on either side of the container (even in French, there are different spellings, with 'yaourt' also out there). The American spelling, shorter like always, is a bit silly: 'yogurt'. But I think the British spelling, with its pointless 'h', surpasses it for ugliness.Yogourt (not 'Yogurt' or even 'Yoghurt')

10.BARBECUE: A personal pet peeve of mine. This is not really an American/everywhere else thing, actually. It's just a creeping, invasive mistake. It's not that tough to see where it comes from: the last two syllables sound like letters, leading to "Bar-B-Q" and, rather more uselessly, "BBQ" as short forms. Some people then presumably took it that each of those letters stood for a syllable, and thus was the first letter of the syllable in question: Bar, Be and Que. But 'barbeque' is not merely a mistake, it's a spit in the face of French spelling. Should we pronounce it 'bar-beck'?Barbecue (not 'Barbeque')