Education In Texas!

I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a good thing that children in Iraq are no longer taught from textbooks that proclaim Saddam is a great leader. Meanwhile, in that great state of Texas, a new health textbook has been approved for the eastern part of the state. Shall we look at some of the changes between the old edition and the new edition? Why, yes, let’s.

The sex hormones your body produces may make you interested in romantic relationships with others. Friendships and dating relationships help you prepare for adult relationships.

Seems reasonable enough. But no! It needed to be corrected!

The sex hormones your body produces may make you interested in romantic relationships with the opposite sex. Friendships and dating relationships help you prepare for stable marital commitment.

bangs head on the table. But wait, it gets worse:

If you discuss the issue of homosexuality in class, discuss it respectfully. Be aware that someone in your class may be homosexual or related to someone who is homosexual, or have a friend who is homosexual.

If you discuss the issue of homosexuality in class, be aware that Texas law rejects homosexual marriage. Students can therefore maintain that homosexuality and heterosexuality are not moral equivalents, without being charged with “hate speech”.

Aside from making me want to cover all of Texas with deadly VX gas (I know what you’re thinking: “Glass or plastic?!” I hear you cry. Well, glass is probably more biodegradable), does the paragraph even make any sort of logical sense? Because Texas rejects gay marriage, you can say anything you like?

Surveys indicate that 3 to 10 percent of the population is gay. Opinions vary on why some people are straight, some are bisexual, and others are gay.

The idea that as many as three people in a class of thirty could be gay was obviously too controversial for a Texan class, so it was replaced with:

No one knows for sure why homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals as a group are more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use, and suicide.

Well, if that’s true (which I suspect isn’t, to be honest), how about this for a stab in the dark: Because scum like you want to trample on their rights, harass them, assault them, and ideally, you’d like to see them wiped off the face of the planet? I know I’d certainly depressed if the ruling Government thought I was immoral and something to be stamped out.

And, if you’ll excuse me for stooping to clichéd comparisons, it reminds me too much of this question from a 1930s German textbook:

A modern bomber can carry 1,800 incendiaries. How long is the path along which it can distribute those bombs if it drops a bomb every second at a speed of 250 kilometres and hour? How far apart are the craters?

Texas: You useless, cretinous morons.

currently playing: Camera Obscura – Books Written For Girls

We apologise for the interruption of this show

Yes, the web server fell over AGAIN. Sigh. Does anybody know any of a reasonably priced webhost that offers a 100Mb package plus Perl/CGI suport? I think I’ll be moving as soon as I can afford it…

currently playing: Rainer Maria – Ears Ring

WARNING: Contains Techy Gubbins

I guess it’s that time again, you know, the one where I speak out on an issue that’s currently raging in the blogosphere. Exciting stuff, I know.

The issue of the moment is, of course, the Google Toolbar, an application that sits in your web browser and provides a helpful interface to some of Google’s facilities. The fuss is all about a button called “AutoLink”, which, when you press it, changes un-hyperlinked addresses, Federal Express tracking numbers, and ISBNs into hyperlinks that to Google Maps, the FedEx tracking page, or Amazon, depending on what it finds. So, for example, if I was to write 531 Carmicahel, Chapel Hill, NC 27514 here, then pressing “AutoLink” would change the text to a link which would show exactly where that is.

(Incidentally, if you’re currently living in 531: I’m sorry for the junk mail that you get in my name. But I would like to point out that it wasn’t me who signed you up for the NRA leaflets. Or the Elizabeth Dole updates. Oh, and I wish I could say how to make the room appear bigger. I don’t think it can be done. Go next door and gaze in envy at 532, who is paying the same money as you, but appears to have a much bigger room! (It’s actually only an inch wider, but it means you can get the bed against the window, which changes the whole appearance of the room))

Anyway, reaction on the web to this new feature has been slightly perplexing. You might have thought, as I did, “well, that’s a cool trick,” and promptly forgot about it. I think most people did, but there’s a vocal group of people objecting to AutoLink. Their complaints range from wanting Google to open the APIs involved so third parties can add their own links and change where the current annotations go to (sensible, and Google has already added different options so you can go to MapQuest instead of Google Maps, for example), to a bunch of people screaming that Google has now become evil and that this is the end of the web as we know it.

I really can’t see the problem. Dave Winer’s essay against the Toolbar goes all over the place, making incorrect statements about how it works (AutoLink-added links change the cursor when hovered over, thus they are different from normal links), and spending most of its time worrying about what AutoLink could do, instead of what it does. This seems to be a common theme amongst those argument against AutoLink; I’ve read tens of weblogs that all talk about how it automatically changes web pages, but it does no such thing. It sits, patiently, doing nothing until the user clicks on the button. Only then does it look out for items it can link, and if something is already linked, it does not change that like. So it’s not going to rewrite your Amazon Associates Code and give Google all the money you were making from sales.

There’s also an argument that says that Google is violating the copyright of the web author when AutoLink is used. Tosh. It’s no different from buying a book, underlining passages, and writing notes in the margin. Plus, copyright infringement is mainly concerned with redistribution, and that doesn’t happen here - it’s just a page on a user’s computer, which she could change herself is she wanted to, or write a browser plug-in that did the same thing. Would that be unacceptable to the anti-AutoLink camp? Is Bloglines bad because it takes RSS feeds and republishes them without the author’s consent (hey, I wasn’t asked. I’m cool with it, though)?

How do I feel about AutoLink? I think it’s great. I love the idea of having an option to find more information about what I’m reading (it’s similar to the BBC News Wiki idea, in a way, or the Accessible Odeon pages), and as a web author, I don’t mind if people want to do things like this to my work. It improves their web experience, and I’m all for that.

currently playing: Delays – Lost In A Melody

How Does It Feel To Link Me Like You Do?

Sad news from Cuba. Looks like the state is recentralising, possibly to consolidate power for Castro’s successor?

World Jump Day! The science behind it is highly suspect, but it’s an excuse to jump up and down, so who cares?

Customized iPod shuffles!

What the Oscar Presenters and Performers got in their prize bags (warning: may make you wonder just why these people, who are probably quite rich in the first place, need all this stuff).

The history of Vimto!

A bizarre Japanese Flash game.

Origami Apple Macs and iPods!

currently playing: ABC – Show Me

Oscars 2005: FCC PTC GO!

But first: Channel 4’s 100 Greatest series. I mean, really. Now, it’s not a innovative format, but it could be good. Perhaps if they chucked out the ‘annoying comedian of the moment’ linking clips, beat the graphic scriptwriters over the head with a grammar guide explaining the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, and dropped the sneery tone that all the talking heads seem to have (“Oh, it was crap, wasn’t it? Mind you, I did spend every afternoon watching it” – there’s no need to be ashamed of your childhood), it could be a fun programme. Say, chop the list of featured shows to 50, get rid of the Internet voting aspect, and actually talk about the programmes themselves instead of bringing up the Captain Pugwash myths yet again. In tonight’s 100 Greatest Cartoons, there was some lovely moments, including seeing footage from David Jason’s voice recording sessions on Danger Mouse, and what I think may have been the first broadcast on British television of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opening sequence. Yet, instead of attention being called to these things, it felt that they were just thrown in because Channel 4 could get the rights cheaply, and they’d extend the running of the show by a few minutes. In the end, it just becomes another couple of hours dedicated to laughing at the past. Which sucks.

(And no, I wasn’t just annoyed that Transformers was dismissed in thirty seconds. The cartoon series wasn’t all that good, at least in the writing, but it could have stood to have a little more discussion about say, that it was one of the first major toy-tie-in cartoons, that it still runs to this day in a modified form, and hell, considering the tone of the show, you would have thought that as the film features characters swearing, it would have been a easy choice to have a stand-up comedian saying “they SWORE? In a kid’s film? WOW!”)

Anyway! The Oscars 2005! The organisers have revealed themselves to be big Youssou Ndour and Neneh Cherry fans, as tonight’s telecast is on a seven-second delay (I’m so sorry). The PTC has the FCC on speeddial, just waiting for Chris Rock to come on-stage, and celebrating that it may soon become cheaper to start a nuclear incident rather than show parts of the body on broadcast television. Yay progress!

To be honest, I’m not sure about tonight’s ceremony. For a start, I haven’t seen most of the nominated films, so I don’t really know what I want to win (except for Best Animated Picture - if Shrek 2 beats The Incredibles, then there really is no justice in this universe). It’d be nice for Kate Winslet to pick up an award, but there’s no chance of her doing so. The films that are going to win tonight are Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, and Ray. We know this because they won all the other awards, and the same people vote for the Oscars as the SAG awards. Plus, the changes to the format are irksome. It sounds nice to say that some people will not be given their Oscars on the stage to speed up proceedings, but what this means is that the winners of Best Make-Up, Set Design, and other backroom categories won’t have their moment, because the organisers wouldn’t dare to do the same for the Best Actor award, would they? And I liked those speeches by the winners of the smaller awards; they’re always more personal than the winners of the big categories. So boo to that.

(And what’s the deal with having Beyonce sing three of the nominated songs? Why can’t Minnie Driver sing her song? It just doesn’t make sense)

And every year, I forget that there’s the annoying “Countdown” bit beforehand. Look! people walking inside! How exciting!

And already, I miss the BBC. Adverts are also quite annoying.

I think I can hear the PTC dialling already. But indeed, the “imagine you work at the Gap, and your till is $90 trillion short” routine was funny.

Best Art Direction! And the first change - all the nominees are on stage. What happens to the losers? Oh they just get to clap while the winners get their Oscar. The losers have disappeared. Dropped through a trap door, I guess.

Okay, starting here: The Give Renee Zellweger A Chip Foundation! Because she looks terrible. Empire Records, dear! You looked absolutely fine before - and scary with losing all that weight. And, as predicted, the Supporting Actor award is in the old format, because you can’t mess with the stars, can you?

Eh? Why were they playing the Star Trek theme when heading out to a break?

Robin Williams thinks he’s hosting. But no worries, because The Incredibles won Best Animated Feature! Aww, Brad looks very awkward. But sweet.

Best Make-Up! Cate Blanchett is at the back of the hall, where all the nominees are sitting together, and the winners get to go to a small microphone to deliver their speech, because they’re not good enough for the stage (Lemony Snicket won by the way).

Beyonce’s first song of the evening is in French. And would probably sound better if the original singer was doing it…

Okay, that may be the funniest Oscar segment in a long time

Scarlett Johansson: This year’s Science/Tech awards, or “We send a beautiful girl to mock the geeks” Party.

Edna Mode! EDNA MODE! EDNA MODE!

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett.

Oh, and Best Documentary: Fahrenheit 911 was ineligible because it was shown on TV during 2004. No clips from the documentaries this time, just the winner: Born Into Brothels (hurrah! As Super-Size Me irritates me a lot: surely it’s not rocket science to think that eating junk food exclusively for a month is incredibly bad?)

Mmm, Kirsten Dunst…oh, and The Aviator wins Best Editing.

THE SINGER OF THE COUNTING CROWS HAS A HUGE SPIDER ON HIS HEAD! SOMEBODY TELL HIM! BEFORE IT CONSUMES HIS BODY!

it’s always fun when they let drunk actors in for the British bits…

Best Adapted screenplay! Sideways get its consolation prize for being popular with the critics.

Best Visual Effects, and boy does Zhang Zyi look uncomfortable up there. Spidey 2!

Having people dedicate shows to “The Troops” is odd. You wouldn’t get Stephen Fry giving a shout-out to the British Army during the BAFTA telecast, would you?

Al Pacino looks like he’s spent the past week living on the street. Giving Sidney Lumet the Lifetime Oscar. Pauline Kael is rolling in her grave. Morgan Freeman is not going to let go of his Oscar. For Anyone. (and hey, Kael may have hated him, but I like Serpico and Network!)

Oh, how much money would we give to have Jay-Z be behind the Phantom mask?

“Comedy Superstar Jeremy Irons!”

Best short: Wasp. PTC reaching for that speed dial. If they understand British…

Best Animated Short: Ryan

Best Cinematography (presented by the lovely Kate Winslet): The Aviator, meaning that Passion of The Christ isn’t getting anything tonight.

It’s a good thing that nobody actually watches the inbetween bits. So far, nasty works about the Daily Mail, and a very drunk Will from Will and Grace.

Best Sound Mixing: Ray

Best Sound Editing: The Incredibles!

Best Documentary Short (Natalie Portman’s dress is ugly): Mighty Times: The Children’s March

I guess Rock isn’t too enamoured with the changes either. Anyway: Best! Original! Score! Finding Neverland!

Martin Scoresce gets to hold an Oscar. “Yes, Marty, you can hold it. BUT YOU’RE NEVER GETTING ONE!”

Josh from the West Wing ducks. Yo-Yo Ma plays the Death List.

Puffy? What’s he doing there? Please, no more Beyonce. Please.

Prince is going to speak! Prince! Prince! Although it seems he doesn’t really want to do it…Best Song: The Motorcycle Diaries! Someone tell Collin!

Sean Penn has a sense of humour failure live on stage. It. Was. A. Joke. Annnnd best actress goes to: Hilary Swank. Boooooo. I expect a reissue of The Next Karate Kid soon, people.

Incidentally, where did they find the woman Oscar presenters for tonight? They appear to be seven feet tall!

SNIPPETY-SNAP, Rock!

Best Foreign Picture: The Sea Inside

Best Original Screenplay: Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind! Yay! Charlie Kaufman!

The women from Desperate Housewives have been drinking. Quite considerably. They look as if they’re going to jump Jamie Theakston at any moment.

Best Actor: Jamie Foxx

Johnny Depp is wearing a Gonzo fist tie-clip, which is pretty cool.

Best Director: Clint Eastwood. The Academy: making Marty cry. Every. Single. Time. Although he did laugh. I guess they want him to be like Kubrick…

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby. Boo again.

So, the Curse of Marty strikes once more. Boo and hiss, even if The Aviator wasn’t his best film.

Right, off to bed.

currently playing: Oscars 2005

London Part Two: Bring Your Raincoats 45s

The Windmill is tiny. It’s just a pub really, A small bar section, a few tables, and a little stage. Probably about enough room for fifty people. A cozy venue.

The concert was organised by a London-based magazine, Unpeeled. This had something of an unfortunate side-effect: everybody seems to know each other. Now, going to a concert by yourself is bad enough. Seeing that practically everybody else knows each other - a whole new layer of soul-destruction. Also, the bar doesn’t use Coca-Cola to mix vodka and coke, which I find unforgivable (especially when they have bottles RIGHT BEHIND THEM!).

But, after about ten minutes of wishing the ground would swallow me whole, I headed to the stage section, and waited for the bands to come out on stage.

First up, Strange Idols. They were the only English group of the evening, and sadly, they weren’t up to much, sounding exactly like any random indie band from Sarah Records (i.e. quite twee, a bit jangly, lots of ‘ooh oohs”). But they were pleasant enough, and didn’t stay too long, so I can’t complain too much.

Sweden then makes an appearance in the form of Speedmarket Avenue, proving that every indie band sounds better when a trumpet is involved. Actually, they weren’t bad at all, and the female singer had a lot of fun with the two drunk guys that were in front of me (and to the side, when the alcohol proved too much for them).

Whenever I talk about Saturday Looks Good To Me, I always say that they’re “thift store Motown”. And I don’t mean this in a derogatory way at all. After all, what is a thrift store but a chance to take old things, repackage them, combine them with other things, and make something new, exciting, and unique. That’s how I feel about this band.

Fred Thomas, (the Kevin Rowland of the group) is wearing a Factory t-shirt. That’s a quick way to my heart. Betty Barnes is dressed in a short yellow dress straight from the 1960s, with red leather go-go boots and a ladder in her tights (and that probably tells you how close I am to the band). They start playing Lift Me Up, and the first two rows of the audience go nuts. I find myself dancing with the girl singer of Speedmarket Avenue, which is a plus point for small gigs, I think (okay, so it was more alongside, but hey, let me have my moment). They mostly play songs from the recent two albums, which is fine by me, because I don’t have the first yet. Meet Me By The Water is an transcendent live as it is on record, melting hearts in the first five rows even as the first chords begin to play, then launching into a storming version of Underwater Heart straight afterwards. I want them to play Ultimate Stars, and they do, complete with the Be My Baby drumbeat (when you have something as perfect as that, you might as well use it), and there’s fun boy-girl interplay during The Girl’s Distracted (eye-covering! Mock slaps!).

It’s so much fun. The band plays really well, and they’re loving the crowd’s excited reactions to them. We get dance moves during Ulitmate Stars! Fred delivers an odd version of Dialtone, telling us that some people think the world will end in 2010 (silly Fred, everybody knows it’s 2012), and alters the lyrics to celebrate being in Britain; there’s something charming about the way American’s say “pint”, as if it’s some quaint word from a Shakespeare play. They even swap singers with SpeedMarket Avenue at one point. It’s a shindig. Or a hootenanny. I can never remember the difference.

It ends with a song that I don’t know, but the band says that we should have “a dance party, because that’s what we’re here for”. So we do. I’ve saved the pint of the other singer of SpeedMarket Avenue, am back dancing with them, and a girl is sweeping a XL-1 digital camera across the audience. Meanwhile, on stage, Betty is sticking her microphone into a saxophone and dancing around. It finally comes to an end; they apologise, so that they’ve had a wonderful night, perhaps the best of the tour, but there’s a curfew and they have to stop. But the bar lets them have one more song: Until The World Stops Spinning, with more Be My Baby steals and more dancing from all concerned.

The embarrassing bit of the evening: they’re coming off stage, and I go up to Fred. I first discovered this band two years ago, just before I went to Washington D.C. for a week. While I was away, they played Chapel Hill. And just before I went back this October, they played again. I had been in email contact with him as well; I bought a tour CD, and asked if they were touring Europe soon (that was a year ago). So I went up to him last night, introduced myself, and said how glad I was that they’d made it over. It came out more like “IwasinChapelHillandmissedyoutwicegoodtoseeyouinEurope!” He said that he was glad I finally got to see them, and didn’t run away screaming from the mad fan in front of him. So hurrah!

EDIT: The last-but-one song was most likely Girl of Mine, which, having heard it again tonight, makes me realise why I walked down Brixton last night thinking that I had just seen the American equivalent of Dexy’s Midnight Runners…

currently playing: Saturday Looks Good To Me — Meet Me By The Water

London In Two Parts, Part One

Some things will never change. The North can suffer from huge snow drifts and nobody bats an eyelid, but as soon as a few centimetres fall in London and its environs, all hell breaks loose. Mad panic in the streets, lions and lambs lying together, and the lashing of the Apocalypse Horses in their stables. I got into Oxford with minutes to go until I had to catch my bus to London, because the Bicester-Oxford route was delayed by an hour (and there was no snow on the roads either, so I’m just going to blame Stagecoach and be done with it).

Oxford Tube buses have plugs by every seat. I approve of this. I don’t approve of batteries that last for 15 songs, however (I left the iPod at home, because I thought the hard drive might freeze in the cold weather. I am as much part of the problem as anybody else concerning the weather).

Anyway, London! Lots of fun. I wandered around Camden for a while, buying some belts which, thinking about it, are almost definitely supposed to be worn by women, but I like them so I don’t care. Then, to Regent Street. And the Apple Store.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The Mac Mini is so cute! It’s the size of a fat CD case, and so lovable! If I ever manage to get a job that’ll give me the opportunity to spend £350 on a new computer, I’m so going to be spending it on the Mini.

I pulled myself away from the joys of Apple, and headed off to Oxford Street, where I went into a clothes shop that I was certain sold men’s clothes as well as women’s, but after a minute or so, realised that this wasn’t the case, and so beat a hasty retreat into the more manly world of a bookshop. Oh yes. Okay, so not that manly, really.

Then, it was time to find The Windmill. I went off to Brixton, and started walking down the road towards the venue. Only I chose the wrong road, and walked past housing estate after housing estate for twenty-five minutes as the light faded away. After getting a little worried, I looked at a helpful map (did I bring a map? Of course not! I knew where I was going!), I discovered I had made a little mistake. Luckily, a bus back to Brixton Station shortly turned up, and I was back on my way, discovering The Windmill at half-past-five. Which meant that I was only two and a half hours early. I think that’s a record.

(My idea of turning up fashionably late is to arrive ten minutes early. If I’m running horribly late, I might turn up at the exact time when the event is supposed to start. It’s a curse.)

Deciding that I wasn’t doing to spend two hours sitting outside on my own, I went back to Oxford Street to get something to drink. I know Starbucks are evil and all, but they do good chocolate cookies. And I’m totally up for selling my soul to the corporate world for a hot chocolate and a cookie. Eventually, I thought about heading back to Brixton. But there’s a slight problem.

The Underground seemed to have given up. There were huge queues at all the Oxford Circus entrances, and nobody was going inside. I started to panic - it was almost half-seven now, and the doors opened at eight! I might miss something! I stood in the queue for about ten minutes, before I had the idea of catching a bus.

And now a public announcement: remember that the old Routemaster buses WILL pull away from you, even if you are stepping onto the bus as they do so. I learnt this the hard way, picking myself up off the road as the bus rolled past. But, eventually, I made it back to The Windmill, and thus, to the concert…

(at ten-past eight! HORRIBLY LATE!)

currently playing: M.I.A. – Sunshowers

Wednesday Looks Good To Me

Expect a quiet couple of days here, as I’m off to London tomorrow to see Saturday Looks Good To Me (having sorted out overnight accommodation). So no access to a computer for over 24 hours! How will I cope!?

currently playing: Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices

Hehehe

I want a magic cravat!

currently playing: Saturday Looks Good To Me – Meet Me By The Water

The Vincent Black Shadow

I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.

Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005.

currently playing: The Clash – 1-2 Crush On You