Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Purple Monkey Dishwasher

Critical, ironic meme participation is the best kind of meme participation — but also proof that I use humor to mask my lack of any real personality.

(fig. 1a)
Hi, my name is called when others want my attention.

Never in my life have I been able to invent a previously unknown color.

The one person who can drive me nuts is aided by a dossier listing my various insanity triggers, I’d imagine.

High school was the setting of the popular NBC sitcom Saved by the Bell.

When I’m nervous my body is experiencing a psychological and physiological state whose cognitive, somatic, emotional and behavioral components work together to create a sense of apprehension and fear.

The last song I listened to was played at a low volume if it contained swears.

If I were to get married right now my best man/maid of honor probably someone who I felt would be physically able to participate in the wedding ceremony.

My hair is a vestige of my primitive ancestry.

When I was five not a legal voter.

Last Christmas marked the death of American singer-songwriter Vic Chestnutt.

I should be able to touch my elbows together. And I am.

When I look down I see snakes, if they’re down there, but I’m also opening my front to attacks.

The happiest recent event was complemented by endorphins.

If I were a character on Friends I’d be unlikely to be given as much screen time as the main castmembers.

By this time next year a baby that hasn’t even been conceived yet could be born!

My current gripe is a manifestation of deeper emotional issues, most likely.

I have a hard time understanding Hindi.

There’s this girl I know who began menstruating at puberty.

If I won an award, the first person I would tell would be confused as to why I had been assigned a ward until I clarified the miscommunication.

Take my advice when I express it to you through song.

The thing I want to buy is a warehouse full of food, since I’m apparently only being allowed a single purchase.

If you visited the place I was born you’d likely need to obtain a visitor’s pass from hospital staff first.

I plan to visit with neighbors and coworkers in order to earn their friendship and trust.

If you spent the night at my house I would prefer that I knew who you were.

I’d stop my wedding if I spontaneously combusted.

The world could do without the dodo bird, clearly.

I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than lick the bellies of two cockroaches.

The most recent thing I’ve bought myself was done so with a form of currency.

The most recent thing someone else bought me could have actually been stolen, for all I know.

My favorite blonde is freshly shampooed.

My favorite brunette is cut into a kicky summer ’do.

My favorite redhead is a specific red-colored, pigtailed Lego woman’s snap-on head adornment.

My middle name is nice.

In the morning I note the current time with “a.m.” (ante meridiem) instead of “p.m.” (post meridiem).

The animals I would like to see flying besides birds are either insects or powered by jetpacks.

Once, at a bar I was required to show my driver’s license upon entry.

Last night I was suntanning poorly.

There’s this guy I know who eats food and drives a car.

If I was an animal I’d be bad at drawing.

A better name for me would be given to me retroactively by my parents.

Tomorrow I am unlikely to be deported.

Tonight I am unlikely to worry about being deported.

My birthday is annual.

(Meme via someone else via someone else in accordance with how memes work.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

At the Corner Just in Time to See the Bus Fly By

Was it coincidental that the principal on Saved by the Bell was named Mr. Belding — a syllable that is essentially the word bell plus the noise a bell makes?

Men Who Love Translation Oddities

Well, one man, anyway: me. I’m sure there are others, but I’ll refrain from speaking for all of them.

This weekend, I was looking at a bookstore display for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire, the first two books of the late author’s Millennium trilogy. I’ve only read the first. The version of it that I bought — yellow and green cover with a Chinese dragon design — seems to be the most widely distributed one. It looks like this:

 I say it’s an effective cover, even if the colors displayed prepared me for a different sort of story than the one told in the book. Before I picked up my copy, I knew nothing about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — not that it was originally written in Swedish, not that it took place in Sweden, not even that it was a detective story. Just judging the book by its cover, I imagined that the titular tattooed lady was herself Asian, some vampy stereotype existing in a previous decade, maybe someone who could have existed in Robert Towne’s Chinatown. A dumb decision to leap to, in retrospect, but that’s why we’re cautioned against this very activity. Dragon Tattoo is bleak and graphic and, since it begins in the dead of a Swedish winter, not exactly colorful, at least in the literal sense. It grows and changes and eventually gets splashed with quite a bit of blood red by the end, and by the time I finished the last page I was glad I’d read it. Nonetheless, the cover caught my eye, and I don’t feel embarrassed to have the book resting on my shelf.

In the bookstore, I saw plenty of copies with this good version of the book, but also several of the Spanish translation, which, inexplicably, had a far worse cover — chromatically appropriate, maybe, but overall poorly designed and downright ugly.

See, rather than abstracting the titular character by focusing on her tattoo, whoever designed this garbage chose to depict her as a tattoo-less waif, distorted and cartoonish to the point that she looks like a failed attempt and drawing a realistic Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Clearly, someone hates Spanish-speakers and wants to deter them from reading the book. I also wonder why the title would have been rendered Los hombres que no amaban las mujeres, literally “The men who do not love the women,” instead of something using a form of the verbs odiar or detestar, which both mean “to hate.”

The Spanish version is a translated version of the original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, “Men who hate women.” Since the novel concerns various awful things done to several female characters, it’s actually a better title for the story, even if it wouldn’t have sold as many copies in the U.S. (Worst case scenario: Man with rage issues buys Men Who Hate Women thinking it’s a self-help book, only to get some awful, awful ideas.) Furthermore, as far as the first novel goes, the tatted-out Lisbeth Salander isn’t really the main character; she shares that responsibility with Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged investigative reporter who’s less sexy and overall less interesting than Lisbeth. (I’ve not read the series any further, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Larsson ultimately made the series Lisbeth’s story.) Putting Lisbeth at the forefront certainly seems to be the tactic employed by the people who marketed the Swedish-language film adaptation. Lookit:

There they are, Lisbeth and Mikael both, but it’s clear that Lisbeth gets more emphasis, just by virtue of where she’s situated in the photo. For this film’s subtitled, English-language release, however, the poster uses the same photo of actress Noomi Rapace but omits the actor playing Mikael entirely:

And, again, the title was changed to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, because it’s simply grabbier to us English-speakers.

The English title also fits better with the structure of the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire. In the original Swedish, it’s basically that: Flickan som lekte med elden. The theme doesn’t hold, however, with the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, as the original Swedish has it as Luftslottet som sprängdes — “The Air Castle that blew up.” The Spanish titles for these books, by the way, are La chica que soñaba con una cerilla y un bidon de gasolina (“The girl who dreamed about a match and a gasoline can”) and La reina en el palacio de las corrientes de aire (“The queen in the palace of the airflows”).

Translation, previously:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Zombie Paper

The ill-conceived scratch-and-sniff promo Nintendo put out for Earthbound. The jist of it? “Play our amazingly creative video game but first smell a fart.” Seriously.


The associated smells, if I remember correctly, are as follows, starting at top-right and moving clockwise: dirt, a mushroom, a hot dog, a banana, a burnt match and finally the aforementioned fart. Way to enhance the gaming experience, Nintendo.

And, once again, I must question the use of clay models. Why?

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Coin Heaven Quickstep

Another gem from the “cloudbush” message thread: The music that plays during Peach’s Final Smash move in Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a sped-up version of Super Mario Bros. 3 “coin heaven” music, which plays on the up-in-the-clouds map of the fifth world and whenever Mario finds one of those coin-filled bank vaults in the sky.

A neat little Easter egg for long-time Nintendoites that also reminded me of an additional less-than-obvious musical reference in Brawl. A post over at Cruise Elroy discusses in great detail how the the Ocarina of Time medley, which plays on Brawl’s Zedla-themed stages, seamlessly blends in snippets from the various songs that Link has to play throughout the game. They’re nearly impossible to hear until someone points them out, but they’re there. Neat stuff.

Previous posts involving stuff taken from the cloudbush thread:
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Eleven Emotional Stages of the Job Application Process

In order:

1. Hope

2. Fear

3. Shame

4. The belief that you don’t deserve a given job — or, really, nice things

5. Completely unfounded confidence that there’s no way you couldn’t get this job, since it was basically created with you in mind

6. Giddy joy

7. Snacky hunger

8. “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?”

9. The paranoid fear that Word’s spellcheck function has ceased to work and everything is misspelled and incorrectly punctuated

10. Momentary relief upon having sent off the application

11. More fear

Video Games for Girls! (But Only Sexy Girls)

During my New York week, my friends took me to Barcade in Williamsburg. It’s basically a drinking environment tailor-made for me, even if the available video games skewed a little bit towards the era immediately before the one I love most. Think of early- to mid-80s titles like Pac-Man, Punch-Out!!, Joust, Donkey Kong, Ghosts ’n’ Goblins, and Crystal Castles. (Sidenote, thanks to Wikipedia: The band Crystal Castles gets its name not from the video game but from She-Ra, as in “Crystal Castles, the source of all power.”) I played most of the games there, including some I hadn’t touched in years and others I’d never actually had the opportunity to enjoy in their original arcade forms.

While there, my friends Kristen and Hillary stumbled upon the Universal Games title Ladybug, a Pac-Man clone that seems like an early effort at making a game that would appeal specifically to women. The major difference between Ladybug and its inspiration would be that moving about the screen opens and closes “gates” throughout a given maze, alternately creating dead-ends and opening up new pathways, but all-in-all it’s very Pac-Man-like but with an even more feminine take than Mrs. Pac-Man. An 80s-era cartoon analogy: Most of the titles at Barcade would fall into the Transformers or G.I. Joe category of “games for boys” or the Muppet Babies category of “games for everyone,” but Ladybug was the only title I saw there that seemed to fall into the My Little Pony category of “games for girls.” Why do I say this? For starters, you control a ladybug, an insect whose name renders it feminine regardless of a specific bug’s biological gender. The game’s controllable ladybug zooms around a Pac-Man-style garden maze and fleeing enemy bugs, with between-level interstitials being conspicuously floral in theme. Whereas Pac-Man eats fruits and keys for bonus points, the ladybug chases down hearts — and, later, vegetables. (Horseradishes give yield the most points, notes Wikipedia.) And if you play the game well enough, you get treated to a little marriage scene — between a human bride and groom, not insectoid ones. Because that’s what every girl wants, right?

images courtesy of classic gaming

So it’s not like the game has you collecting cosmetic articles to dress up Princess Ephemerelle for prom, but it nonetheless seems pretty clear that the game’s makers had in mind more people who would read Nancy Drew rather than people who read the Hardy Boys.

The strange this about the game — aside from horseradish being prized, of course — is that while the original Japanese creators had girls in mind, those charged with introducing the game for American audiences seemed to choose a different tactic. The cabinet art — looking very 80s and very American — reinterpreted the on-screen bugs as sexy women dressed in bug costumes.


image courtesy of killer list of video games



images courtesy of

Weird, right? They’re not even Betty Boop-style cartoon women. They look like female superheroes — leggy, curvy and wearing tight but revealing outfits that wouldn’t seem to lend themselves to doing much besides posing and boning — when it wouldn’t have been more appropriate to show cute, googly-eyed ladybugs, perhaps shopping or having tea parties or receiving their home economics degrees.

So what happened?

I can think of two possibilities. The first is incredibly unlikely but fun to consider: Given the game’s inherent girliness, it could be that those packaging it for the U.S. release decided to sex it up a bit an effort to appeal to that small but dedicated base of lesbian gamers. Like I said, probably not the case, but oh! if it had been. What actually probably happened is that the translators presumed that games for girls wouldn’t bring in the quarters in the U.S. like they might have in Japan and did what they could to make the game more appealing to the typical arcade inhabitant: dudes. And being unable or unwilling to tinker with the game itself, they simply redressed the cabinet.

Whether this effort was successful, I can’t say, but I can say that I’d never heard of Ladybug until I saw it at Barcade. And I can guess that girls who might have played video games at the time wouldn’t have been any more attracted to Ladybug as a result of the sexy insects (insexts?) displayed on the cabinet. Except, of course, for those quarter-popping, joystick-waggling 80s lesbian gamers.

As interested as I am in how video games address gender, I’m infinitely more interested in how efforts to do so get screwed up along the way.

One last thing: In researching Ladybug, I came across an FAQ that listed the various collectible vegetables and associated points. I’m reproducing the list here because I have a weird affinity for information posted in list form and because some of you may have been wondering whether a video game has ever featured parsley, Chinese cabbage or sweet potatoes. Rest easy.
 _______________ ______
| Vegetables |Points|
|Cucumber | 1000 |
|Eggplant | 1500 |
|Carrot | 2000 |
|Radish | 2500 |
|Parsley | 3000 |
|Tomato | 3500 |
|Pumpkin | 4000 |
|Bamboo Shoot | 4500 |
|Japanese Radish| 5000 |
|Mushroom | 5500 |
|Potato | 6000 |
|Onion | 6500 |
|Chinese Cabbage| 7000 |
|Turnip | 7500 |
|Red Pepper | 8000 |
|Cherry | 8500 |
|Sweet Potato | 9000 |
|Horseradish | 9500 |

But how, exactly, does one differentiate between the blocky, on-screen representation of the horseradish and the Japanese radish? Now wonder about that.

Gender issues in video games, previously:
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Odd Compliments Given in Pop Songs

I thought of these three and couldn’t think of any more.

“She’s a hurricane in all kinds of weather” and “She’s a sensation / The reason for aviation” — Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line (Shake Senora)”
Seriously? She’s a hurricane even when there are no hurricanes? Even when it’s sunny? Even when there are tornados? I guess that one I can get behind, but the “reason for aviation” is pretty damn weird. Granted, Belafonte needed a good rhyme for sensation, but still that’s a lot to credit to someone — and also totally false. Equivalent: “My girl is so great that she’s the reason we have trees.”
“She's so high / Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite” — Tal Bachman’s “She’s So High”
Aside from the obvious strangeness of having a song called “She’s So High” be about a woman’s station in life and not about how much THC is in her system, the list of famous women the speaker compares his lady love to reads like one written by someone who didn’t go to high school. Cleopatra: powerful, not especially beautiful, committed suicide. Aphrodite: pretty as a peach but never existed, also prone to sleeping around. Joan of Arc: not known for her beauty but for her religious fervor, which got her burned at the stake.
“She’s the kind they’d like to flaunt and take to dinner” — Tom Jones’s “She’s a Lady”
It’s not that she’s especially beautiful, it’s not that she’s the kind of girl you’d want to go home with, and it’s not even that she’s necessarily a prospective trophy wife. She’s just acceptable enough to take to dinner. Maybe it’s not all that strange a compliment, but whenever I hear the line I picture Tom Jones taking some broad with giant hoop earrings to a Sizzler.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That Nymph Ain’t Dancing

A curious verbal note: the word calypso, referring to the Trinidadian style of music, has no known etymological connection to the Calypso of Greek mythology, at least according to the Online Etymology Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary. I find this very strange, especially considering the music genre’s origins in an island nation and the mythological character being famous for having been confined to an island.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Roman Feast of Turducken

For this week, a word that you’ll have little occasion to use unless you time-travel or decide to revive certain pagan traditions. (If you do either of these, please email me; I’m certain I’ll have many questions for you.) Often, when the Greeks combined multiple animals into a single entity, the result was a monster, such as the chimera (lioness + goat + snake) or the manticore (lion + human + shark, sometimes + dragon as well). The Romans, who I’m pretty sure would have known of these mix-and-match boogeybeasts, had one specific to their culture. It’s far less scary and, until the part with the bloodletting, kind of cute.
suovetaurilia (swo-vih-tah-RILL-ee-ah or swo-wih-tah-RILL-ee-ah, depending on how you pronounce your Latin) — noun: an ancient Roman ceremony in which a pig, a sheep and a bull were sacrificed.
Not unlike the kinda-sorta American counterpart, turducken, suovetaurilia — also spelled suovitaurilia — gets its name from the various animals who give their lives so that this thing can exist. In order, there’s the Latin sus (“pig,” which comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as swine and sow), ovis (“sheep,” like the English ovine, “pertaining to sheep” ) and taurus (“bull,” like the Red Bull ingredient taurine).


Decidedly unlike turducken, the animals involved in suovetaurilia don’t crawl inside one another matryoshka-style. Instead, they got paraded around the plot of land that was to be blessed by Roman bigwig deity Mars. Contrary to modern parade procedures, the grand marshals were usually slaughtered upon completion of the walk. The result, if the ceremony was performed properly: agricultural bounty.

May this be a lesson to today’s stewards of the land.

Previous words of the week:
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Mnemonic Devices for Remembering the Order of Planets (Minus Pluto)

For some time now, eccentric mothers throughout the English-speaking world have ceased to order their children ninety pizzas. Pluto being downgraded to a mere dwarf planet has rendered this handy-dandy mnemonic device irrelevant, and while “My very excellent mother just served us nachos” works okay, I guess, I think we can do better.

Some suggestions:
  • Many volatile educators maim juveniles suddenly, using needles.
  • Mice very enthusiastically munch Jerry Seinfeld’s uncle, Norman.
  • Mr. Valdez excitedly mimicked jiggly strippers until noon.
  • “My valuable excrement makes jewelry shine,” uttered Nancy.
  • My vulgar exclamations might just soften underwear nubs.
I am betting that no one who reads this blog can come up their own. Now prove me wrong.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Gomez by Any Other Name

Something I’d always wondered about: Why do all of the members of the Addams family have names that are sinister in one way or another except Gomez? Dark associations of Morticia, Fester, Cousin Itt, Thing and Lurch’s names are obvious. Wednesday gets her name from the line in the “Monday’s Child” poem — “Wednesday’s child is full of woe” — and Pugsley’s seems like a play on pugnacious or something thereabouts. But why should Gomez get a fairly normal name? A surname for a first name is hardly sinister.

Something I did not know: the members of the Addams family did not initially have first names. Only when the original Charles Addams comics were adapted for the 1964 TV show did the characters need to refer to each other. Addams chose all the character names himself, except for that of the family patriarch. For that one, he was considering both Gomez and Repelli, the former if the character were to be played as Spanish and the latter if Italian. According to the Wikipedia page, Addams left the final decision up to the actor who first played Gomez, John Astin, who chose to play the character as Castilian. Which is too bad, really, because Repelli strikes me as a better name and a better match for the rest of the family members’ unpleasantly themed names. So that explains where the name came from, at least, but not where Gomez came from or whether Charles Addams thought it had negative associations.

One more thing: The initial suggestion for Pugsley’s name, Pubert, was nixed by ABC, presumably because the network executives at the time didn’t realize that puberty is hilarious.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trojan War Motifs in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer

Spencer and I both saw The Ghost Writer this weekend. In discussing the movie, he pointed out something about a curious reoccurring scene: a gardener attempting to sweep up leaves from a beachside deck during a windstorm that keeps blowing more leaves into the area. A superficial viewing would lead one to believe that the scene is just comedic relief — and indeed a few people in the audience chuckled the last time we see the gardener, who eventually throws up hands in frustration with the impossible task. However, Ghost Writer is a Roman Polanksi film. And it doesn’t seem unlikely that a detail-oriented director like Polanski would stick a scene in just for giggles. Spencer didn’t think so, anyway. Via text: “So the man who was sweeping the patio is kind of a Sisyphus, yes?” I agreed.

Spencer then noted that in a later scene, Ewan McGregor’s character stands in front of a security system, the brand name of which is depicted in easy-to-read lettering as “Cyclops.” Since Polanski seemed to deliberately pointing out these elements — showing the Sisyphean gardener more than once, making the “Cyclops” brand name hard to miss — Spencer wondered if the film had additional allusions to Greek mythology. I thought about it a bit, and then it hit me: The argument could easily be made that Ghost Writer uses a series of allusions to Greek mythology to underscore the tragedy and pointlessness of the War on Terror by likening it to the Trojan War. It doesn’t fit perfectly, but it wouldn’t be as fun if it did.

So here’s a quick little analysis. Spoilers, of course. And please, go see the film if you haven’t. Hit the jump if you have — or if you enjoy being spoiled, you naughty rascal you.

Recall, if you will, the cause of the Trojan War: Helen of Troy. She’s famed as the most beautiful woman in the world, yet she’s just one person. Depending on your opinion of female beauty, she’s probably not worth a decade of war, countless lost lives and the annihilation of the city of Ilium, which I’ve heard had lovely parks. In short, the Trojan War was a war for nothing. Map the events of the Iliad onto contemporary politics and the parallels between them and the War or Terror are obvious. Like the Spartans sailing off in pursuit of a pretty woman, various international forces (but mostly Americans) invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that, in the end, didn’t exist. (Kind of like how Helen probably wasn’t the epitome of beauty she’s now reputed to have been.) Neat, huh? I’m sure the comparison has been used before, but given how nicely it works, I’m surprised the analogy hasn’t been used more often.

kablammo! helen of troy: greek bombshell and weapon of mass destruction

Ghost Writer
is all about the War on Terror — or at least a very thinly veiled version of the one happening in real life. The film centers on Tony Blair stand-in Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), disgraced former British prime minister, who is facing trail for war crimes for his role in delivering suspected terrorists to the CIA. In the midst of this, a writer (McGregor, whose character’s name is never revealed) is ghosting Lang’s memoirs into a book. In doing so, he stays with Lang, Lang’s wife, and various staffers in a Martha’s Vineyard mansion where Lang is temporarily hiding to escape the unmitigated hatred of the British people. By staying with the Langs, McGregor’s character gets to know them well, learns various secrets about their marriage and rise to political power and ultimately ends up investigating the mysterious death of his predecessor.

Though McGregor’s character initially suspects that the former prime minister was a plant by the United States government to guide Britain to act in the Americans’ favor, he eventually learns that the real CIA operative is Ruth (Olivia Williams) — Lang’s wife and the real political mind in the family. (Shades of The Manchurian Candidate and, of course, Macbeth.) So let’s consider this in the context of the Trojan War analogy: Just as the U.S. managed to rope Britain into participating in the War on Terror, so too did Menelaus (Helen’s legal husband) convince his brother Agamemnon to join in the Trojan War. Other than a brotherly bond, Agamemnon had no real motivation to join a war. I mean, why would anyone? In fact, the only reason that Menelaus got the support that he did is that Helen’s wise father, Tyndareus, made all of Helen’s suitors — among them, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax and Patroclus — make a pact that they would honor and defend whoever should win Helen’s hand.

In Ghost Writer, Lang resigned from office, essentially sending the Agamemnon figure in the story back home to his wife. If you remember the story of Agamemnon, the homecoming was a bad one, as his wife, Clytemnestra, axed him to death as he climbed into a bath. Her reasoning? Probably about three-fourths that Agamemnon sacrificed the couple’s oldest daughter, Iphigenia, in an effort to get good winds on the way to battle and one-fourth that he returned from the Trojan War with a concubine, Cassandra (the one nobody believed), who had given birth to not only one baby but twins. (My take: One baby would have been bad enough, but twins is just too insulting to bear.) A major departure that Ghost Writer takes from the Trojan War is that Ruth doesn’t directly kill Lang. Instead, Lang is assassinated by a British man — a former solider fuming that his solider son was killed in the war Lang chose to join. So Ruth killed Lang indirectly, given that she was pulling his strings and the entry into the war ultimately caused Lang’s murder. However, the person who physically pulled the trigger on Lang is a man who is angry about the death of his son, who has been sacrificed to aid a pointless war. And doesn’t that sound a bit like Clytemnestra? It’s a bit odd to consider, but it really does seem that Ghost Writer script has essentially mapped Clytemnestra onto two different characters.

What, then should we make of Kim Catrall’s character, Amelia Bly, the sexpot aide to the prime minister? According to a Daily Mail article on the Robert Harris novel from which Ghost Writer was adapted, she’s a re-creation of real life Blair aide Anji Hunter. For the purposes of this analysis, she’s also a Cassandra figure, not because people don’t believe what she says but because she’s having an affair with the Agamemnon character. The connection between these two is probably the most tenuous, especially considering that many don’t see Agamemnon’s relationship with Cassandra as a significant motivation for Clytemnestra to kill him.

It would be great, then, if I could make one more connection between the Ghost Writer characters and those involved in the Trojan War. The obvious candidate would be McGregor’s character, since he’s so central to the story. And when you consider that he’s the one who outsmarts the politicos and gets to heart of the various conspiracies and shady dealings that went down in the Lang administration, it seems he could likely be Odysseus, renowned for his cunning. McGregor’s character is also British, but travels to Martha’s Vineyard to work on the Lang book. As soon as life in the Lang household proves to be tumultuous, he seems to want out and long for home in London, where he eventually goes at the conclusion of the film. I feel safe making a parallel between McGregor’s character being trapped in the U.S. and Odysseus’s inability to return home to Ithaca for the ten years of the Trojan War and the following ten years of the Odyssey. And the fact that McGregor’s character never gets a name would seem to be a wink at Odysseus alias in the Odyssey, “Nobody.” Remember that when Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the cyclops, he identifies himself as “nobody” or “no man,” depending on the translation. And doesn’t that seem like an appropriate reference point for a nameless character whose role is to slip invisibly into Lang’s life and invisibly write up his memoirs?

In the end, the Sisyphus gardener and the Cyclops-brand security system are just tip-offs that something larger is happening beneath the surface of the film. Ghost Writer benefited, of course, from Polanski’s expert direction. But I feel enjoy it more for having these references, as they deepened the meaning of the film for me and helped me see connections between age-old stories and things happening today. I like the stories of Greek mythology. I like it when we’re reminded of why these stories are relevant. And I like it especially when they help to tell yet another great story.

A special thanks should go out to Zachary Mason’s novel The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which I just finished and which helped put the characters of the Iliad and the Odyssey on my mind. If you made it this far in this post, I encourage you to pick it up. It’s a joy for anyone who has ever loved the stories of the Trojan War and thereabouts and would like to see them brought to life once more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What’s a Jabroni, Anyway?

Surprise, surprise — I’m one of those people who will watch the “enhanced” repeat of last week’s Lost before the new episode airs. It usually happens while I’m making dinner. Tonight, during the rerun of the episode “Dr. Linus,” I noticed that Miles refers to the dead-and-buried 815ers Nikki and Paolo as “jabronies.” Didn’t catch it last week. So what the hell does that word mean?

The first hits I got for it on Google were at Urban Dictionary, so I guess it follows that jabroni is slang. According to, it’s a wrestling term that refers to someone who “loses in order to make another wrestler look good.” It’s synonymous with jobber. And according to the Rice University Neologisms Database, it can also be used as an insult for one wrestler to hurl at another.

The more you know. (Cue star. Cue twinkling rainbow graphic.)

Expressive Teeth and Travel Shampoo

Accidental bathroom art, captured wit the iPhone.


There’s symbolism in here, I’m sure of it.

Death and Verbs

So the masculine of widow is widower, right? So if a man can kick the bucket and widow his wife, then shouldn’t a woman be able to die and widower her husband? Apparently not. The verb for both occasions is widow, regardless of gender. It’s probably for the best, since widowering is way awkward to say. (“I’m sorry, I can’t talk on the phone right now. I’m in the process of widowering my husband.”) This is good to know — when my friends’ spouses all start dying, I want to not offend them by using the wrong verb.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How Deep Was My Dingle

I’m reviving a Back of the Cereal Box tradition that fell by the wayside: the word of the week. It’s my effort to appeal to the segment of my readership who use words. There’s a lot of you, it turns out! And to begin this new round of strange and wonderful words, I’ve chosen the most ridiculous-sounding one I’ve come across lately.
dingle (DING-guhl) — noun: a small, narrow or enclosed, usually wooded valley.
Great one, huh? According to Wiktionary, dingle is the diminutive form of dell — as in, the place where the farmer lives, as opposed to where the cheese stands alone. (That poor cheese.) I’m not familiar enough with antiquated English diminutive suffixes to know how dell might have become dingle, and, in fact, it might not have. The Online Etymology Dictionary makes no mention of it being a diminutive for dell, only that it was first noted to come into dialectical use around 1240 and entered literary use in the sixteenth century. In fact, it doesn’t even define the word as being small but instead as a “deep dell or hollow, usually wooded.” Finally, the 2010 Unabridged Random House dictionary has an entry for dingle that defines it as “a deep, narrow cleft between hills; a shady dell.” This entry, which I found via, claims dingle is related to the Old English dung, “dungeon” and the Old High German tunc, “cellar.”

And yes, the berries you find growing in the dingle would technically be dingleberries.

Previous words of the week:
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This Post Should Not Exist!

We have sprung forward, as of this morning, and now things happen earlier than they should. I say that this post shouldn’t exist because the Sunday that we spring forward has only 23 hours. The clock goes from 1:59 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thus, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, nothing could have happened in California at 2:01 a.m. on March 14, 2010. Ha! I have found a loophole! I am a Billy Pilgrim, skipping as I please through the malleable medium of time!

It’s… not as much fun as I thought it would be, I’ll admit. Anyone else a little tired?

EDIT: Above is the original post, as I intended to put it up. However, in actually going about entering the necessary data to make these words appear online, I hit a snag: Blogger actually wouldn’t let me post anything between 2 a.m. and 2:59 a.m. on March 14, 2010, hence the 1:59 a.m. time stamp. This chunk of time really doesn’t exist, at least according to the computers that run Blogger. I am no Billy Pilgrim. I have failed.

And, yes, I realize that computers are programmed to manually adjust their clocks when Daylight Savings Time comes and goes, but is anyone else surprised that the system won’t let users manually adjust it back? I mean, what if I was in Arizona?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Behind Every Sexy Woman Is a Camouflaged Armadillo

I have yet to fully research whether the theory put forth in this post’s title is true, however, I think the below image points to it being the case more often than not.


If you happen to come across any images that disprove the theory — that is, ones depicting sexy women without armadillos in the background — please send them my way.


Strangeness, previously:

Friday, March 12, 2010

So Many of Us! So Many of Us!

When I got back from the New Zealand trip, I found that my backyard had once again been conquered by the bamboo, new belly-high shoots representing a second wave of the attack that I spent the better part of November hacking into submission. Now, upon having returned from New York, I see that the leafy menace has begun a third wave. It’s creepy. Some of the hardier shoots have even upended large rocks foolish enough to sit in the spots the bamboo wanted for itself. This personification is no mere literary technique. I believe that the bamboo has agency, an agenda, and every intention of blasting apart my house from the floor up. We’re powerless to stop it.


Every time I step into the backyard, I think of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mushrooms,” which, by the way, is the first non-nursery rhyme piece of poetry that I can remember reading and liking. Here, then, is that poem, in tribute to the bamboo.
Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.
(I make tributes in hopes that the bamboo will spare me. I salute you, new leafy lord and master!)

Creepy plants, previously:

The Plant That Gets Your Nose Out of Joint

Consider the nasturtium, the hardy flower that you’ve doubtlessly seen growing in gardens or, really, roadsides or vacant lots or anywhere else its seeds happen to fall.


It’s probably a weed to many picky gardeners, but it should be said that it’s an edible weed. You can serve the flowers and leaves in salads. Their peppery taste makes them especially assertive greens — loudmouthed even. And it’s that quality that may have given the flower its name. According the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s believed that the strong taste and smell gave rise to the Latin nasitortium, “nose twist” or “nose tweak,” from nasus, “nose,” and a form of torquere, “to twist.” Which is funny. I imagine the nasal twisting isn’t so much literal as it is simply the sniffer-scrunching that happens when stink particles enter the nostrils.

One small problem, though: The plant I’m talking about originated in South and Central America, so Pliny’s explanation for the Latin name didn’t apply to this particular plant until 1704. The original nose-twister and the rightful owner of the name nasturtium is a form of watercress. As far as I know, this plant isn’t as widely grown and therefore has every reason to resent this knock-off nasturtium that stole its name.

Edible etymology, previously:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Less Intimidating Members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad

Recall, if you will, Kill Bill’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad: Beatrix Kiddo (“Black Mamba”), Oren Ishii (“Cottonmouth”), Vernita Green (“Copperhead”), Budd (“Sidewinder”) and Elle Driver (“California Mountain Snake”). Presumably, had Kiddo not made good on the imperative stated in the film’s title, Bill could have extended membership to other murderers. He did, after all, lack the redhead and brunette needed to make a complete set.

Among available, though far less badass, code names:
Because I just rewatched Volume One on IFC, that’s why.

Above: the eyelash viper, unless you think it can’t possibly be intimidating.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Saddest Story I Could Think to Tell

I’m at home.

Home, at the house I grew up in, means a lack of neighbors in the traditional sense. Other people do live near this house, yes, but not in the way they might in towns, where you can hop over in a minute and ask for a cup of water or a pound of sugar or a gross of bowling balls. (I’m not a cook and didn’t grow up anywhere typical, so the intricacies of recipes and neighbor-bothering escape me, you see.) However, it would be false to say that my family was isolated, strictly speaking. For example, cars pass by in the distance. (It’s more noticeable at night, when the headlights shine into my bedroom window from a mile away.) And also there are the animals.

sheep on the hill

The very young me assumed everyone grew up alongside such a variety of hoofed, furry, feathered, and clawed things. Why shouldn’t they? How could life be better in a place where you wouldn’t see herds of quail engaged in their polite little stampedes? And wouldn’t anyone be thrilled to spot a coyote in the summer, when their fur blends so well with the brown-gray brush in which they live?

I remember once noticing a fawn trapped on the wrong side of the fence in front of my house. It frantically ran up and down our edge of the property, while its mother did the same on the opposite side of the fence, her adult body apparently too big to squeeze through whatever hole that Junior had found — and then promptly forgotten about. By the time I walked down the driveway, the fawn was panting, too tired to run away from the scary two-legged thing coming toward it. Its skinny legs buckled and it just looked up at me. I did the only sensible thing I could: I scooped the fawn up — it didn’t fight me in the least — and lowered it over the fence. It eventually walked to its mother, and then the two just stared at me before slowly crossing over the hill and out of my sight. The interaction took only a few minutes, but I’m sure it shaped me, somehow, and probably for the better.

Interactions with the animals, however, were not always so pleasant. Watching a neighbor’s herd of sheep today reminded me of The Saddest Story I Could Think to Tell, as I refer to it. When I was an old child — that is, not quite a teenager but far from a toddler — my father decided that the two sheep we kept on the property, essentially as lawnmowers and firebreak-creators, should have lambs, as the experience of raising them would be a good one for my brother and me. Dad was right. However, only the twin lambs born to my ewe survived. The two lambs born to my brother’s ewe couldn’t have lasted for more than a week. I can very clearly remember coming home and seeing only the two ewes and the two black lambs moving in the grass. After a quick search, we found the two speckled lambs lying near each other and not far from their inattentive mother, their collapsed little bodies not visible beneath the level of the grass. “These things happen.” “It was probably the mother’s fault.” “She may have not been letting them drink milk.” If I remember correctly, my brother and I weren’t so much sad as disappointed — both in the apparent failure of the one bad ewe and the reduction of the total number of lambs from four to only two. My dad buried the lambs near the vegetable garden, where they joined the company of an Australian Shepherd, a rabbit, and a cat named Garfield that was neither fat nor orange.

The tragedy of the situation didn’t become apparent until the lambs were in the ground. Curiously, it was only then that the maternal instincts clicked on in the one bad ewe. At some point, she realized that she could not find the lambs she previously didn’t care about. Panicked, she raced around her pasture, calling out to babies that would never answer back. She probably had no clue that they had died. I’m almost certain sheep don’t understand death.

And that’s not even the sad part.

The “where are my babies?” despair continued into the next morning. I had fallen asleep listening to this very particular kind of bleating, and I wasn’t surprised that it had persisted through the night. Upon getting home from school the next afternoon, I found that the ewe was, at last, quiet. She was calmly eating grass and altogether behaving no differently than she did before she had lambs or while these lambs were dying. At the time, the very young me decided that she truly was a bad mother, as evidenced by the fact that she so quickly stopped caring about her missing lambs. Later on in my life, I thought back on this when I better understood how animals’ brains worked, and I realized that my initial conclusion was wrong: It wasn’t that this animal decided to stop caring so much as she simply forgot that she ever had babies and went stupidly, blissfully on with her life.

The English major spells it out: In a few ways, the story about the deer works as a thematic opposite to the one about the sheep. However, both affected me in a lasting way that I’m not sure I understand now or ever will understand. I’m tempted to say that the lesson doesn’t stop with animals and their young. On some level, I’ve opened these stories and pulled out from them something — a map? — that has given me some direction in life. I suppose I have to choice but to be grateful.

I will never again live in a small town and I will likely be moving soon to a large city. But I wouldn’t trade my childhood for any of the advantages a bigger city could have afforded the very young me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Saviors of the Universe Are Made From Clay

Scanned from the instruction manual for Secret of Mana: clay models of the three heroes.


Neat and all, but I’ll never understand what drives a video game company to make promo images our of clay, since it’s probably the medium least appropriate for translating pixels into something three-dimensional.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Samara Morgan in Isla Vista

Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: First, dig up that photo of my old college roommate passed out in the corner of the kitchen and bearing a striking resemblance to the corpse of Amber Tamblyn in The Ring. Next, put it right next to the original so as to accentuate how well she accidentally nailed it.

We had all seen The Ring and found scarier than the PG-13 rating led us to expect. I know I spent the night after I saw it trying hard not to think about the corpse of Amber Tamblyn, only to naturally think of nothing but. Later, after a party, someone woke up and went to the kitchen to get water. She opened the refrigerator door and the light from inside illuminated the room enough that she saw what initially looked like poor, dead Amber Tamblyn. Further investigation revealed Dead Amber to actually be another roommate, whose night’s activities had led her to believe that the kitchen floor would be suitable place for a nap. Of course, the event was photographed for posterity.

Here’s the corpse of Amber Tamblyn:

And here’s our roommate’s accidental rendition of it:

Brilliant, really. Oh college, how I miss you.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lost for Other Reasons, on a Different Sort of Island

I've been quiet. But I have a good excuse: For the first time in a while, I have neither time nor desire to sit in front of a computer and interpret the world through the words that come out of my fingers. Instead, I've been actually doing things, seeing people and making words with my mouth. More importantly, I've been doing so in New York, where there's plenty of things to be done, a seemingly infinite number of people to see, and so many words to make. (Big in that last category: “Excuse me” and questions beginning with the word “where.”) Today, however, is a cool-down day and my first real chance to think about the past week. Decisions must be made and I think my brain is slowly getting to a point that it can make them. Slowly. And definitely not in a manner that is conducive to the formation of words in the near future.

So in lieu of anything else, you get something that I'll throw together about Lost, a show that I've had a few opportunities to think about while in New York. It's occasionally a thematically appropriate show, despite my life's lack of smoke monsters. (So far.)

I actually had reason to think about Lost moments before I stepped out of the cab that drove me from the airport. In the show's first episode, the Losers hear the thing that eventually came to be known as the Smoke Monster. It crashes through the trees, all the while clicking and clanking and making all manner of machine-like noises that we don't usually associate with masses of air. One of the Losers, Bronx native Rose, notes that the then-unseen entity sounded familiar --- an odd comment that I don't think has ever been directly addressed on the show itself. The people who make Lost have admitted, however, that one of the noises incorporated into Smokey's repertoire of sound effects is that of a receipt printer as one might find in a New York City taxicab, hence Rose's familiarity. I'd heard this but forgotten it, until the moment my cab ride ended. And then bam! Lost, when I least expected it. Cue the signature Lost horn of alarm. Whaaaaaaaam! SURPRISING THING!

In explaining this little connection to Sanam, she one-upped me and admitted that she spotted on the subway a man who looked exactly like Ethan Rom, the creeper Other who tried to steal Claire's poor little island baby. (Further clarification: He's the one who looks like a melty-faced Tom Cruise, because he's played by William Mapother, who is Tom Cruise's melty-faced cousin.) Sanam managed to sneak a photo:

A striking resemblance, you must admit. Of course, given that someone recently stole all of Sanam's babies, it probably really was Ethan Rom. Whaaaaaaaam!