21 February 2007

Simpletons

“Almost all Tories are simpletons – the simpletons of what passes with them for ‘tradition’, we could say (as is proved conclusively by the way in which they have defended themselves – how they hastily close all the stable doors long after the horses have all disappeared; also by their rare instinct for closing all the wrong doors, behind which there never were any horses).”
– Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man.

18 February 2007

The news you need when you least expect it

The Mangalorean reports a mummy was captured at a home in Hampton Bays, New York. The mummy was watching television, apparently not even the accursed undead can resist the hypnotic inanities of the idiot box.

Increasing numbers of Americans deny the existence of Bigfoot. Imagine how this must make the Bigfoots feel. Why are Bigfoots the last minority group it’s acceptable to hate?

Jack Hylton foresees a hellish future for Whitby:
“[T]his is a sure way to make our town stink in the summer months and bring more rampaging rats breeding and the scavenging sky gulls that keep ourselves and our tourists awake. Breeding will be out of control when the rotting bags (not in dustbins) will be torn apart and are open invitation to encourage the many rats to breed more. To think they wish to let part of the tourist information centre off to a cafe franchise. When this emits horrible smells in the hot weather around this area, this will chase more of our tourists away."
Happy President’s Day.

11 February 2007

I become a translucent doughnut

Initial hopes the discovery of a “reclusive” sea creature resembling a "translucent doughnut" would lead to a revolution in snacking (imagine something like a fresh lobster tank, only filled with living donuts) were dashed after scientists determined the animal, Diazona angulata, was filled with deadly toxins.

Speaking of creatures, I frequently scan the pages of Whitby Today hoping to find there’s been another sighting of the mysterious Sandsend Blob. None has been reported, though the appearance of a different kind of animal recently drew quite a crowd to Whitby Harbour - a seal pup, which looked to be trapped on the rocks "next to the bandstand". It turns out the juvenile pinniped was only resting, and after being annoyed by the local authorities scampered down the beach to the water’s edge, then "headed out to sea after its short stay in the town maybe to return one day soon in the future."

Maybe someday the Blob will return, too.

Oh, is that all

Among the modest aims of Presidential candidate Barry H. Obama is to “usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.” Does this mean he wants an end to smoking bans? It seems not. Despite being a smoker himself, his speech suggests the sort of “freedom” he wishes to usher in the new birth of resembles government programs my taxes must pay for.

07 February 2007

She'd prefer an astronaut

The nation is transfixed by the melodramatic story of Lisa Nowak, the lovesick lady astronaut (as a boy I dreamed of becoming an astronaut until I learned there’s no smoking in space). Police officials claim Nowak "stealthily followed the victim while in disguise and possessed multiple deadly weapons,” but then list the deadly weapons as “pepper spray, a BB-gun, a new steel mallet, knife and rubber tubing.”

Pepper spray is not deadly. A BB-gun is not deadly. A steel mallet has the potential to be deadly - so does a softball bat. If it’s an ordinary metal hammer and not a Donkey Kong-style giant clobbering mallet it’s misleading to describe it as deadly. Knives also have the potential to be deadly - so do matches. If the knife in question is a folding or utility knife, describing it as deadly is a gross exaggeration. Rubber tubing, even if used as a garrote, is at most less deadly than rope, and sane people don’t consider rope deadly. Must our authorities be dishonest about everything?

UPDATE: According to this tastefully headlined story in The Australian the BB gun was loaded “and set to fire,” and like my mother always warned carelessness with a loaded BB gun can easily lead to someone’s eye being taken out ("and if that happens you’ll never get to play with that damn BB gun again, Mister"). I remain baffled by the rubber tubing.

05 February 2007

We can't even spell our own gangs right

The bleachers offered a view of the Rockies, forty miles west, and, against them, the towers and cranes of downtown Denver. But his focus soon drifted to the plank on which he sat, which had been freshly tagged with gang graffiti. Studying the elaborate red scrawl, he said to his friends, "The person who did this tag didn't know how to spell the name Chici." The Chici 30s, a local gang, were in ascendance at Manual now that members of their rival gang, the Oldies, had dropped out. "See," he said, "they think the word 'Chici' begins with a 'Q.' "

"So what's the right way to spell it?" someone asked. It was quiet then, until the girl with the ponytail protested, "Norberto, stop looking to me like that, like you're some teacher!"

"Well, I don't care to know," another boy said. "I don't like those dudes, remember?"

"No wonder the whole city thinks we're stupid," Norberto said, addressing a recent turn of events that some on the bleachers still refused to accept. "Like, that's our education in a nutshell--we can't even spell our own gangs right."
- from “Expectations”, by Katherine Boo in the Jan. 15, 2007 New Yorker, an account of Denver, Colorado’s Manual High School, its mostly Mexican student body, and the unsuccessful efforts of the exceptional (former editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal and self made millionaire) Denver Superintendent of the Schools Michael Bennet to change it.

Manual is a terrible school:
“Last year, Manual High was one of the worst schools in Colorado. “Nine out of ten students failed the state writing test; ninety-seven of a hundred failed the math test; one in five freshmen graduated. This wretched showing belied the fact that, for a decade, Manual High had been the object of aggressive and thoughtful reforms. The most recent was a million-dollar intervention by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, begun in 2001, which turned each of Manual's three floors into an intimate mini-school, with its own principal.”
Many of the boys at Manual High are in gangs. The Norberto quoted above is a former gang member and convicted drug dealer. Many of the girls are pregnant. The photos illustrating the article suggest nearly all of the boys and girls are fat.

Attempts to help Manual’s students go beyond the class room:
“Aides rode the bus with pregnant girls, showing them a school where they could bring their babies, and argued with parents about the value of a high-school diploma. A band of outreach workers, the educational equivalents of repo men, arranged part-time jobs and night-school curricula for other resisters.”
The considerable effort does not translate into results:
"Last year, on the tenth-grade math test, only thirty-three African-Americans in the entire district passed," [Bennet] resumed flatly..."Thirty-three--in the entire city and county of Denver, Colorado. And only sixty-one Latinos."
The decision is made to close Manual High, and its students are given the opportunity to attend their choice of the other, better (i.e. less Mexican) Denver schools. Those who think vouchers a cure-all take note: this causes most of them to drop out of school entirely (which seems to make no sense, but think about it from the teens’ perspective):
“A hundred and sixty-eight Manual students were scheduled to attend South [a “large and racially diverse school...which offered courses ranging from Japanese to Advanced Placement music theory”] that fall. A hundred and five of them hadn't shown up.”
“Expectations” is not currently available on the New Yorker website, for the time being at least the text can be found here.

03 February 2007

Repent!

From Jamaica comes word of a strange beast on the loose. Scott Town banana farmer Maas Helton describes his terrifying encounter:
"It was around 3 o'clock inna di morning. Mi decide fi get up early and go inna mi field. Mi and mi dog go round a di back and mi only see when the dog walk off. So mi stand up one side fi see where him a go. Den mi hear one digging noise and mi look and see something a dig up di banana tree. Mi frighten now and bend down behind one bush and a watch. Mi see di dog walk up to di creature and den mi just hear whoo, whoo! When mi hear dat mi gallop weh left all di dog! Dem bwoy out a road say mi too fraid, but mi nuh care!"
Helton is convinced the creature hypnotized his dogs:
“Mi have four big dog and none a dem ever make noise when di creature come around. Is like him hypnotise dem wid him eye dem."
Many in Scott Town believe the creature is of supernatural origin, even a demon of some sort. A few think it’s an out of place kangaroo. Others note how, except for the legs, snout, fur, and taste for bananas, this creature is eerily reminiscent of the infamous Sandsend Blob.

Winter in Omsk is orangey and cold

Last week orange snow fell on Russia in the Omsk, Tomsk and Tyumen regions of West Siberia. Russian authorities have been unable to determine the cause of the orange snow, but remain confident it poses no health hazards.