You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Blazing a Campaign Trail

The U.S. Presidential campaign is well underway, with several state primaries, caucuses, and thingamabobs having already taken place. The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas will not, of course, endorse any particular candidate, feeling that all the current participants are quite adequate for their fair share of laughs.

However, as the poltical battle is shaping up as big news, and as we love current events the way Oprah loves Deal or No Deal, I thought I'd give you a quick run down on the recent progress of the candidates.

  • Hillary Clinton recently demonstrated surprising emotion by breaking into tears at a campaign rally in New Hampshire. Later though, the tears were revealed to have been the side-effect of the candidate having grinded her teeth to the nerve endings, after losing to Obama in Iowa.
  • Mike Huckabee has taken a whirlwind tour of South Carolina, where he played the bass guitar, extolled his tax proposals, and ran commercials claiming that Mitt Romney might just be the secret Spawn of Satan. Later, the Huckabee campaign explained that the ads were, "Unfortunate," "Unsolicitied," "Uncalled for," and "Cool!"
  • John Edwards' hair is reported to be considering leaving the campaign, disappointed at Edwards' maladroit campaign strategy and his constant over-application of moisterisers.
  • Rudy Guiliani was reported to have been sighted at a campground in Northern Florida. However, after further investigation it turned out to have merely been Bigfoot.
  • John McCain wrestled three people to the ground, bit the head off a chicken, and physically lifted a VW Bug over his head during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire. Campaign staffers blame a Geritol overdose.
  • Barack Obama came to South Carolina with an extremely positive campaign message. When pressed for policy details, and other specifics, Obama responded, "Whatever they are, I think we all can feel very, very good about their future."
  • Mitt Romney continued to hammer away at criticisms of his Mormon religious beliefs and the few microscopic imperfections on his rock-like chin. He also promised that as President that he would not be beholden to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, as they would have to extravagantly lobby him like everyone else.
  • Fred Thompson got to South Carolina early to get a head start on campaigning there. After a round of golf, 3 naps, and a massage, the Thompson staff began planning next week's events.
  • Ron Paul supporters were seen harassing an older man, accusing him of hiding the "truth about 9/11" and "secret government intelligence." After 20 minutes, the supporters realised that they were badgering their very own candidate. Paul responded to media questions about the incident by saying, "I get that all the time."
  • Dennis Kucinich was seen over the Columbia, South Carolina aeroport, in a cigar-shaped flying object of undetermined origins. Strangely enough, the object clearly had a bumper-sticker that said "Obama 08."
  • The Libertarian and Socialist candidates for President were seen sweeping up after a very large rally. At least we think it was them. We're not sure.

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Osama bin Lennon?

One of Osama bin Laden's son's wants to be a peace activist.

I suppose next, Justin Timberlake will declare an abiding desire to write Classical Art Music, and Britney Spears will resolve to become a Carmelite Nun. Maybe I'll even take up blogging maths.

It doesn't help that Omar bin Laden's path to peace activism is a bit dodgy:

1. Lived with Osama bin Laden in Sudan until 1996, whilst the Al-Qaida leader plotted terror.
2. Lived with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan until 2000, whilst the Al-Qaida leader plotted terror.
3. Trained at an Al-Qaida terror camp whilst living in Afghanistan
4. Married a saucy 52-year old British woman who now calls herself "Yoko."

Well, I suppose he's getting somewhere with number four.

Actually, that one was a bit off. The former Jane Felix-Browne now calls herself "Zaina Alsabah," which is Arabic for "Looks like Yoko Ono," strangely enough.

The AP article notes that Omar doesn't criticize his father. This is quite a shame because offering a bit of criticism towards a death-sowing, murderous, head-lopping blaggard like the elder bin Laden would be a relatively simple start on the road to peacenik-dom. One pithily-worded press release about the old man's bombing and decapitation fetish and Bob's your uncle - instant peace activist credibility.

Of course, saying something like that might also result in Omar and Yoko getting blown up like a holiday cracker. The elder bin Laden's not exactly known for his tolerance and sense of humour about these things. He's really not known for his tolerance and sense of humour about anything. Osama's idea of a punch line is an actual punch to the face... with an axe.

Anyway, bin Laden's hot for peace progeny has got a smashing idea for calling attention to peace: A 3,000 mile horse race across Africa.

Sort of like John Lennon dressing up in fatigues, I suppose. Well, at least the proceeds would go to charity. Hopefully, no one gets trampled in the process.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yoicks, and a Degree!

According to the BBC, Nottingham University plans to offer a Master's degree in "Robin Hood Studies."

I think I'm going to hold out for the Doctorate in "Loch Ness Monster Studies." Just be wary of those reading for their M.D. in "Crippenology."

In any case, the catalogue of course studies for the Robin Hood degree is fascinating. I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy from a very reliable anonymous source with third-hand connections to the university custodial staff. My favourite detail is that the university has replaced the traitional academic garb with something more appropriate for the subject matter. Students reading for a Master's in Robin Hood will wear the following to their classes:

Meanwhile, the course/module descriptions are every bit as charming:


  • RHS 100 - Stealing from the Rich and Giving to the Poor - This module explores the practical economic benefits and challenges of the redistribution of capital in a primarily agrarian economy. The difficulty of massive redistribution via highway robbery versus authoritarian decree is examined. Students will gain practical experience in the use of thin green tights as a market management tool and will also discover why Prince John and The Sheriff of Nottingham were such gits.
  • RHS 203 - Little John and Kinesiology - This module examines the ways in which the brute force of legendary sidekick Little John can be applied to everyday physical tasks, such as opening jar lids, emptying wastebins, and roughing up the local skinheads. Students will learn how to wield a quarterstaff on a log bridge and will consume large quantities of venision in an effort to build up protein levels. Students will also practise the basic elements of "John-Fu."
  • RHS 204 - The Musicology of Alan-a-Dale - This module addresses the musical development of 12th century bard-dom in the person of Alan-a-Dale. His career is closely examined from pub singer to lounge lizard to the songbird who constantly gave Robin and his men away in Nottingham Forest and was eventually beaten to death with his lute. Clsoe attention is also given to the significance of the lute as an instrument of both ballad music and bloody violence.
  • RHS 301 - Friar Tuck and Drinking Theology - This module delves into the exigisis of aeseticism and pub culture. Subtopics include Winning at Darts whilst Paralytic, Writing a Cracking Sermon whilst Blotto, and Wandering the High Street at Night - A Spiritual Journey of Discovery.
  • RHS 307 - Will Scarlet: Ponce, or Fop? - This module analyses the metrosexual fashion sense of Robin's scarlet-robed, merriest of men in the context of the homophobic, tights-wearing 12th century. A large part of the module is devoted to the age old question of Will and King Richard the Lion Hearted - Did they or didn't they?
  • RHS 401 - The Feminism of Maid Marian - This module Marian's feminist politics in close detail with special attention to the technique of manipulation of the patriarchal autocracy via the damsel in distress ploy. Also, a variety of historical evidence is presented contending that Maid Marian not only burnt her bra, but also the undergarments of several of Robin's men whilst they were wearing them.
  • RHS 405 - The Physics of Robin's Archery - This module carefully analyses the physics behind Robin's most famous shots. Prerequisites included Quantum Mechanics I and II, The Physics of Many-Worlds Theory, Time Curvature in Black Holes, and Special Cinematic Effects (available from the Film Studies department at the University of Kent).

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Hell on the Morning Wireless

As I've been driving the Littlest Fando to school in the mornings this year, I've been forced to listen to a good deal of the morning wireless, or as they say in Texas1, the "ray-dee-O." The Littlest Fando likes the music. Unfortunately, the morning presenters, or disk jockeys2 ("DJs" for short), love to talk, talk, talk and talk some more.

Then, after that, they'll play a song and talk over part of it...or most of it, even.

There are times in the morning where I will switch around from station to station, looking for some hint of a melody or harmony. This necessarily leaves out 98% of hip-hop, which is no great loss in my estimation. Nonetheless, often the only music I can find is one station where the two DJs on-air are doing karaoke of a popular or classic song. After about 5 seconds of their tuneless caterwauling -the audial equivalent of on-screen mugging (both the lame comedic kind and the criminal variety), I'm back looking for the hip-hop. At least the lack of a tune is deliberate there.

One of the worst things about morning radio is that the content of the programmes is decidedly un-kid-friendly. One day, we were headed to school and the host of my child's favourite station was talking with a guest co-host. The guest co-host then proceeded to nonchalantly explain how he went on a dirty weekend with a young woman, paying for everything, and wound up alone in the room at night whilst she gallivanted with the local Hispanic help. His punch line was that she came back to the room late one evening and said that she learnt some Spanish words she'd never heard before that night.

I had to explain to the Littlest Fando that the words were probably "piƱata," and "frijoles," when in all likelihood they were the Spanish equivalent of "shag," and "hoo-chi mama!" I didn't even attempt to tackle the whole "sharing a room" bit. Instead, I just shook my head and clicked my tongue disapprovingly.

I suppose it's a positive thing that the morning host hasn't invited him back. Of course she may have simply thought to herself, "What a loser."

Raido has always been a strange bird compared to television. The adverts are usually overproduced, often with sound effects that are really only suitable for a science-fiction dramatisation. I could understand a deep, synthesised voice with huge amounts of reverb and delayed echo in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or a remake of War of the Worlds. However, it's hardly the sort of thing to make me suddenly buy a used car...Crash and burn a used car in a stadium, yes; make a large down payment, no.

The worst adverts are the ones for the stations themselves. They always have a lot of listener-caller testimonials praising the amazing restorative powers of that particular station's playlist. Since, I don't believe that radio broadcasts cure the clap or dropsy, I'm left thinking they'd be better off doing some honest advertising:

"I listen to WXYZ 93 FM because my radio's broke, and I can't change the station!"

"I listen to WXYZ 93 FM because the DJ's all sound like puppies!"

"I listen to WXYZ 93 FM because I just won a prize on this station and what the hell else am I supposed to say."3

My biggest complaint is the incessant attempt by morning disk-jockeys to prove that they are, more or less, comedians. Insipid, poorly improvised banter of the sort found on morning radio wouldn't get you past the Monday night open-mic night at a public library, much less a into a legitimate comedy club. I realise they are trying to fill a lot of air time, but there's a simple solution to that: Shut your gob and put on another tune.

Nonetheless, for those unfortunately necessary moments when on-air talking is required, I would offer the following advice:
  • Don't try to be funny, if you are not naturally funny.

  • Even if you think you are naturally funny, ask someone else, preferably someone who doesn't like you that much. If they think you're funny, then you stand half a chance, unless they hate you and are lying so as to public humiliate you. Even so, that's funnier than most morning material.

  • While some material down in advance. No, seriously, write down a lot of material. Only use the best 10-15%. Leave out all the jokes that use the word "fart." That should take care of most of the editing right there.

  • Don't tell jokes and stories as if you think you are the funniest person who ever lived. For that matter, don't just talk in blathering, extended monologues about what a great morning it is and how fun your co-shost is as though you were the funniest person who ever lived. (This is, in my opinion, the most serious problem facing morning DJ-dom.)

  • While you're at it, if you must speak, at least tell us who sang the last bloody song you played. We'd really like to know.

Of course, there are other options that provide some escape from the morning, insipid, popular music, disk-jockey programme. These consist of:

  • "Public" radio - This is a collection of left-wing presenters working dilligently to bore listeners into submission by reading the news pompously and talking in rarified tones about "culture" just before they finish the show and go out for hot dogs and Budweiser.

  • "Talk" radio - This is a combination of right-wing presenters working dilligently to badger listeners into submission by talking about the news in panicked tones, whilst selling publications and coffee-mugs on-air.

It's definitely a step up.

1. I don't live there, I've just heard that this is the way things are done.

2. Apparently because they all wear jock straps whilst on air, even the females.
3. This is "Rule #1" when calling in to a giveaway at a radio station. If you win, you have to praise the station on-air. Quite frankly, it's always seemed a bit much to me for a couple of cinema tickets or a CD of "Loverboy's Greatest Hits."

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