Will the Quill is Dracula

He should be dead, but he keeps coming back.

Shakespeare suffers slings and arrows of SATS fortune. It’s been awhile since I saw a story like this in The Guardian. Obviously RSC profits are down and they need their major donors – schools – to return to the fold and fill their coffers again.

Jacqui O’Hanlon, the RSC’s director of education, said: “School managers will not release teachers for a day’s training because Shakespeare is no longer seen as a priority. If that’s the message being given to teachers and the message pervading schools, what impact is that going to have on the wider entitlement young people have to engage with Shakespeare?”

Shakespeare never was a priority, but because he’s been raised to semi-divine status, it’s heretical if anyone doesn’t think the sun shines out of his arse. And what’s all this about “the wider entitlement young people have to engage with Shakespeare”? What entitlement? Is it part of the con­sti­t­ut­ion? What utter nonsense.

Barry Sheerman MP, the committee chairman who raised the issue at a hearing this week, said: “It’s quite chilling if schools don’t want students to go and see Shakespeare if it’s not examined.” Government edicts on the curriculum were reminiscent of “Soviet Russia” and teachers were “too frightened” to complain in case they weren’t promoted, he said.

And how many of Shakespeare’s plays have you seen, Baz? In how many of them could you understand every word regardless of changes to the English lexicon over the past 400 years? How is it chilling if Shakespeare is neither seen nor heard nor examined? Oh, I see. You’re not really as bothered about Shakespeare as you are about chucking a few rocks at the government. What exactly do government edicts on the curriculum really have to do with Shakespeare? The agèd demi-god is being recruited for financial purposes by the RSC and political purposes by some Commons sub-committee chairman.

As I’ve said before, I think it would be rather a good thing if someone finally admitted that Shakespeare is largely incomprehensible to modern audiences and that it’s time to pick on some other antique, but more recent author as the focus of the literary world’s idolatry. Of course, there’s already someone to fill that role – Jane Austen. She’s two centuries old, a literary idol, being an author whom no one is allowed to dislike, and her English is at least generally comprehensible; but her limp satire on the painful social habits of the age won’t appeal to most boys, which would entail a specially edited volume for them. Thus, a revised opening to Pride and Prejudice:

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a sniper rifle must be going to frag some Strogg.
However little known the accuracy or skillz of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the Makron’s minions, that he is considered as the rightful target of some one or other of the soulless mechanical puppets of Stroggos.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that the Strogg base is let at last?”

Now the boys are reading and they don’t even notice the subtle and insidious love story between a member of the GDF (Elizabeth Bennet; “Enemy infantry spotted!”) and a putrefying Strogg trooper (Mr Darcy; “I require stroyent!”). Whenever one of the Bennet girls captures a husband, she can say, “Spawn host created”.

Once again, I call for Shakespeare to be pulled down from his pedestal. School children can thank me later by buying my edited-for-boys version of Pride and Prejudice when it’s published. It’s also about time the RSC stopped thinking that it had some right to anything but an audience of fanboys; and it’s also about time it stopped trying to make people feel guilty for not worshipping Will the Quill.

Never mind the signals; just keep driving

I’m invited to a party.

At around six o’clock, the intersection where 文翁路 hits the river can be a dire confusion of traffic. If motorists are one species of stupidity in China, the cyclists and electric-bike jockeys are another. The guiding principle of the latter pair is that it doesn’t matter what the signals are doing – red, orange, whatever –; if the way is clear, then they go. The particular custom remains disconcerting for me because it’s exacerbated when a minor road crosses a more major one. As I’m heading across the intersection of 文翁路 and 文庙前街, I have to contend with a stream of cyclists and e-b jockeys who, being innately inattentive, need to be watched closely. The latter often speed along with, it seems, little regard for anyone else.

Although motorists are more constrained by traffic lights, their principle at meeting these impediments to the advance of the aspiring Chinese middle class, corrupt officials and arrogant members of the armed forces is that if the car ahead was already in the intersection when the lights changed to red, it’s all right for them to follow. The result is a tailback which then impedes cars approaching from their flanks. Elsewhere (i.e., countries where motorists show a reasonable degree of civilised behaviour), you might expect the traffic trying to cross to wait until the tailback has wormed its way to safety, but, of course, that never happens. When the light is green, it’s time to go; never mind anyone else.

As I said, the traffic at this particular intersection can be dire around six o’clock. Tonight, it was dire++. Something was blocking traffic heading south so that when the lights turned green as I headed east to High Fly Pizza, there was no way for the traffic to cross, although it didn’t stop it trying. There were so many cyclists that the lights had changed back to red before most of us were able to cross by squeezing through the gaps. Because I was too far into the intersection myself to change my mind, I kept going, keeping a very wary eye out for any idiot motorists approaching from the right.

When I did get to High Fly, I, being a regular customer, was immediately invited to attend the establishment’s ninth birthday party next month. I’m informed that there will be cake.

[09.11.13. Since then, High Fly has been ejected from its former premises because the building was refurbished, and has been relegated to the one restaurant near the Shangri La in Chengdu.]

I’m so clever, oh so clever

And will no doubt do something really dumb in the not too distant future.

pìtī "grebe"In his latest translation, Chris was having problems with a couple of bird names. One he managed to identify as a Northern Eagle Owl, but the other was being more troublesome because the characters weren’t showing up. I couldn’t find the creature in my big dictionary, but my character dictionary yielded the answer: the bird in question is a pìtī grebe. 

I was having no problems seeing the characters, but I was having problems finding them in the CJK character set. They weren’t to be found in charmap under the option of simplified Chinese by pinyin or under Chinese characters by radical. I checked using Babelmap and then started poking around in the Extension B block, which I knew to be quite extensive. Not having had any luck there, I turned my attention to the Extension A block, and there they were right next to each other. Their Unicode hex numbers are x4d18 (䴘) and x4d19 (䴙). 

If you’ll forgive me for saying so, 䴘 seems to be a rare bird and is probably a bound morpheme because my character dictionary pointed me straight to the first character. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that while people know what a pìtī is, they night not know the characters for it.

I must admit that since I have no idea what a grebe looks like, one could bite me on the arse and I’d be none the wiser of the identity of the culprit. My Concise Dictionary of English Etymology gives “F. grèbe, of unkn. orig.” Skeat, on the other hand, claims that it comes from Breton krib comb, kriben a tuft of feathers on a bird’s head, but I’ll assume his information is antiquated.

“Fire anywhere you like,” said the captain with a nonchalant wave of his hand

“You can’t possibly miss.”
The entry about a person’s pop-psych profile based on their blog led (with a certain inevitability, I think) to the world of readability tests. I’d long since forgotten that Word comes with a couple of these things – the creepily named Flesch Reading Ease, which sounds like it should be a measure of how difficult it is to frag zombies in Left 4 Dead, and the less creepily named Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level. To use these, you have to run Word’s mind-numbingly dim grammar checker. It wasn’t until I tried it on this sentence

After doing a search online for the phrase “readability test”, I found (or, was reminded) that Word includes the results for a couple of readability tests, although you have to run that ridiculous grammar checker first.

that I learnt how stupid the thing was. If I run this through the grammar checker, I get the following items of information:
  1. Passive sentences 100%
  2. Flesch Reading Ease 36.3
  3. Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level 17.1
As far as I’m aware low… Hold on. Passive sentences 100%?! There’s one passive verb form in that sentence, which was added as an afterthought. How, pray, does this thing come to the conclusion that all the sentences are passive? (And I’m not even going to start pointing out that verbs have passive forms; the rest of the sentence is merely along for the ride.)
I assume that a single sentence will produce somewhat skewed results, hence the low reading ease score and the high grade level score (the exact meaning of which I don’t understand).
Nonetheless, the moral of the story is that you should stay away from these things except as childish amusements to be tormented with sentences that they don’t understand.
Meanwhile, from Cotton’s translation1 of Montaigne’s twenty-second essay from the first book, we have

He seems to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom, who first invented the story of a countrywoman who, having accustomed herself to play with and carry, a young calf in her arms, and daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, when grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it.2

which I break down thus:
He seems to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom,
who first invented the story of a countrywoman
having accustomed
herself to play with
and carry, a young calf in her arms,
and daily continuing to do so
as it grew up,
obtained this by custom,
when grown to be a great ox,
she was still able
to bear it.3
(This is as good an example as any why you have to be well hard to read Augustan English prose; but I digress.) Without the few extra inflections French has, it does rather sound like the phrase “when grown to be a great ox” refers to the countrywoman rather than the animal itself.
1. Actually, from Hazlitt’s edition. The 1711 and 1743 versions are identical to each other and similar to this. The basic structure of the 1759 version the same, but the phraseology differs in several respects. All of them make the women seem to have grown into an ox.
2. Montaigne says

Celuy me semble avoir tres-bien conceu la force de la coustume, qui premier forgea ce conte, qu’une femme de village, ayant apris de caresser et porter entre ses bras un veau des l’heure de sa naissance, et continuant tousjours à ce faire, gaigna cela par l’accoustumance, que tout grand beuf qu’il estoit, elle le portoit encore.

Frame’s 1958 translation says

That a man seems to me to have very well understood the power of habit who first invented this story: that a village woman, having learned to pet and carry in her arms a calf from the hour of its birth, and continuing always to do so, gained by this habit, that even when he was a great ox she still could carry him.

3. The basic principle is to split the sentence where a new clause begins. Verbs which don’t bear the main sense of the verb phrase such as seem or appear or continue are analysed as pseudo-modals. I’m not sure whether to include the adjective able in this group, nor whether have X do should be included with have to do, which I’d treat as a modal, or whether the former can be broken down into [have] [X do]. This is why I have “accustomed/herself to play”.

Shame on me

For not knowing about Europeana.
Dante to dialects: EU’s online renaissance. According to this article in The Guardian, Europeana (unavailable at the time of writing), which is a project to digitise works of European culture, got so hammered by hits on its opening that it had to be taken down.
I have to confess that I’ve never even heard of the project, although the whole thing was driven by the French, which I probably why I’ve never heard of it. Nonetheless, Europeana should be a useful addition to digital libraries available online, providing access to a collection of material that most of us never get to see in the flesh.

Book vandals.
History’s missing pages: Iranian academic sliced out sections of priceless collection. This story, also from The Guardian, is about some despicable book-mutilator. I can appreciate Kristian Jensen’s words:
“You cannot undo what he has done…
“It makes me extremely angry. This is someone who is extremely rich who has damaged and destroyed something that belongs to everybody.”
People who make me wince are those who borrow books and turn down the corners of pages to mark their place, or bend the book double with no respect for it or its owner. I don’t do these things when I read my own books nor anybody else’s. I know that as I read a book, the spine is likely to get bent, but that’s from holding the book open and not from brute force. I’ve regretted lending books to people on more than one occasion because what got lent is reasonable condition came back looking like it’d sojourned in a medieval torture chamber.
I can imagine a romantic film in which you see Winona Ryder on a bus reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice bent double, which would then encourage people to think that such vandalism was romantic, especially on a bus. If people want books you can bend double, publishers should accommodate such a vulgar, uncouth rabble.

I’m a thinker

Yeah, I suppose I do have too much time on my hands.

Via Language Log (My brain hurts), we have a story about a site called Typealyzer which allegedly analyses the language you use on your blog to produce a profile of you as a person. It’s a bit like those ridiculous Quizilla quizzes about what Fullmetal Alchemist character you are. So I threw Green Bamboo into the machine and this is what I got:

ISTP – The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.
The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Is that a reasonable description of me? I suppose that like horoscopes, the description will fit someone approximately so that more than one description might be applicable to me without being an exact fit. The one above works until it gets to the fun and action part and then becomes a bit of a fantasy.

I note that whatever I happen to be talking about on my blog at any one time will affect the analysis. Recently, I’ve mentioned Montaigne a few times; the presence of quotes from various translations, not being my words, must skew things a little. If this was a monothematic blog, the result might be different again.

Typealyzer even gives you a graph:

Mr Bamboo's brain

which I note looks suspiciously like the one the boys at Language Log got, although they’re more feeling than I am by about a millimetre.

But the blogspot version of GB has me down as

INTP – The Thinkers
The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.
They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Again, I can’t disagree with the analysis entirely, which I think is even closer to me than the other one. Nonetheless, it still works on the basis of being approximately right, which merely goes to show that we’re a melange. Our personalities may predominantly be one thing, but there are always bits of this and that in them as well.

I also note that the graph that accompanies this analysis is barely any different from the one above.

Mr Bamboo's other brain

The only difference is that this is a little less S and a little more N, but somehow that changes the outcome. I can only see the difference clearly by tab switching in PSP to animate the two images.

I tried Chris’s blog. The resulting analysis is

ESTP – The Doers
The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.
The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus.
They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

I must admit I don’t really recognise him from the description. I’m not sure Chris would exactly describe his job as action-filled.

Matt’s blog gets the same result. Well, he has been doing some travelling recently.

I think that’s enough silly fun as lunchtime beckons.

Blame it on lunchtime

The Chinese school day.

Ever since I came to China, I’ve always thought of the school day as being ridiculously long, starting around 7am and lasting until 5.30pm (winter) or even 6pm (summer). But for the first time last night I did a calculation and found that the total amount of classroom time here is six hours (nine forty-minute periods) which, as it turns out, is only an hour more than my day (six fifty-minute periods) when I was at high school.

It’s the number of periods which Chinese pupils have and the length of lunchtime which distort the length of the day. A two-hour long lunch break pushes back the start of the day to an uncivil hour and pushes forward the end to teatime. If lunch was to be shortened by an hour, the start and the end of the day could be shifted by half an hour each. That wouldn’t be a bad idea because hordes of school children wouldn’t come charging out onto the streets during the height of rush hour.

I’m not forgetting evening study either, although I wonder whether that’s used by parents as a form of babysitting. Outside the school just before the pupils exit at about 8.30pm, there’s always a line of expensive looking cars parked outside. I assume that many of them belong to officials (I needn’t call them “corrupt” because that’s their default setting) who have had tea, shagged their concubines, and have now come to take the kids home.

There are a couple of caveats, though. PE classes seem to be one chance for kids to slack off with the occasional inconvenience of a “test”. I often see more than a few of them standing around doing nothing. And if the Senior 1s can have our pointless conversation classes, that means they have at least one lesson going spare. Similarly, what class do the Senior 2s in our programme miss in order for their lesson with us to be accommodated within the school day? Or are we a free period when they’d otherwise be studying or doing homework?

Nonetheless, the Chinese school day is far too long even with a two-hour long lunch, which far from being a time to relax is just another opportunity to study; or for the dunces, to play the game which passes for basketball among Chinese school children.

[12.09.14. It can get worse. When I first came to Wuxi, the start time was the usual – horrible o’clock –, but the end of the day was fairly flexible, and for the first year at least, I’d leave school more or less after my final class for the day unless I had some planning to deal with. That changed with a fixed departure time that we managed to get pulled back to 3.40pm before it got shifted to 4.00pm. Lunchtime also got brutally shortened, which I never liked.

Because the headmaster of the main school hates us, it seems that he probably decided to enforce the contract more rigorously, which means that our day typically runs from 7.00am to 4.50pm, with only an hour for lunch. At least at my first school in China, I could go back to the dorm, but we’re in prison school for the whole day with no chance of having a lie-down.]

You get published

And some time after, appear in a footnote.
By chance, I found a couple of references to Montaigne in Samuel Butler’s Hudibras. From Part I, Canto I (ll. 37-40)
For’t has been held by many, that
As Montaigne playing with his Cat,
Complains she thought him but an Ass,
Much more she wou’d Sir Hudibras;
39 As Montaigne &c.] Montaigne, in his Essays, supposes his Cat thought him a Fool, for losing his Time in playing with her.
The other reference, from Part II, Canto II (ll. 11-14), is a little less complementary.
Dispute and set a Paradox,
Like a straight boot, upon the stocks,
And stretch it more unmercifully,
Than Helmont, Montaigne, White or Lully.5
5 Michael de Montaigne was born at Perigord… His paradoxes related only to common life; for he had little depth of learning. His essays contain an abundance of whimsical reflections on matters of ordinary occurrence, especially upon his own temper and qualities.
I’ve reached the nineteenth essay (which is the twentieth in modern editions, the fortieth in Florio and Cotton having been promoted to the fourteenth for reasons I don’t know at this time), which isn’t exactly heavy going, but the length makes it tiresome. I really need a three-dimensional copy of the Essays.
I’ve also found that Google Books has a mostly complete (?) copy of Donald M. Frame’s 1958 translation, which is much more readily com­pre­hensible than one version or another of Cotton’s; yet I can’t help but feel that Frame’s translation lacks the quaint charm or linguistic challenge of the older rendering. I’ve just found via Amazon UK that you can buy a copy of Cotton’s translation published last year. I suspect that this may be Hazlitt’s edition, but there are no details about the book beyond the author and translator.

Since it’s today, it must be

My Mum’s birthday.
It’s time again to wish my Mum a Happy Birthday. I expect she will’ve been busy doing those things that people at the age of 67 – waking up, thinking they ought to get up in a couple of minutes, nodding off, waking up etc. And after a hard day of nodding off, it’s time to go to bed again. Or she might’ve gone shopping at the supermarket – up one aisle and down the next only from different directions on each occasion so that the place seems to have sixteen aisles instead of eight; you can hear them all commenting how much bigger these modern supermarkets are and how tiring it is to walk so far. “Twenty-five years ago it only had eight aisles,” they say; and everyone else says, “That’s right. So it did.” Then they look at the aisle numbers and conclude that they probably need to buy new glasses because the aisle number looks like an 8, but has got to be a 16; otherwise eight aisles are missing.
And then it’s time to go home to nod off for a couple of couple of minutes.
Happy Birthday, Mum.

Six Feet Under

Dead and buried.

Quincy (a colleague of mine when I was in Chengdu – Mr. B) lent me Six Feet Under about six months ago. The programme is about the Fisher family who run a funeral home. The hook is the death of the paterfamilias, which brings home Nate, the oldest son, who is vehemently opposed to having anything to do with the family business (which is as good as hanging a sign round his neck saying, “I’m going to be involved in the family business”). His younger brother David has been the dutiful son, but he’s frustrated with the development of his life. Their younger sister, Clare, began the series as a school girl, but then ended up at art school. Their mother has a kind of 50s mindset and is as deranged as the rest of them in the most annoying way possible. The whole family is seriously messed up; they have relationships with other messed up people. They employ a guy called Rico as a restorer who eventually becomes a partner in the business.

Basically, no one in the family is capable of having a normal-ish relationship, or a relationship with anyone they’ve never had a relationship before.[1] Nate meets Brenda on a plane as he’s flying home for his father’s funeral. They have a shag, but Brenda becomes the love of Nate’s life. She’s messed up and they part. Nate then marries Lisa who dupes him into getting her pregnant and is later murdered by her brother-in-law. He then gets back together with Brenda, but he’s still not happy for some unfathomable reason. David and Keith love each other; then they hate each other; then they love each other. It’s endlessly irksome. Clare prefers a succession of boyfriends who are all a bit off their trolleys, apart from Brenda’s brother Billy whose trolley is in a different time zone in another universe. Their mother Ruth goes from one man to another until she marries George who – please try to look surprised – is barking mad; and then she starts shrieking like a lunatic. Rico had his own problems with his wife, who turned into a drug addict before separating from him for a time after he was unfaithful out of frustration with her. Their dialogue tended to be Rico, “Wow”; Vanessa, “I hate you.”

And so it went on and on and on. It wasn’t just the characters who were noisome, but also the stories. Vivaldi, it has been said, wrote the same concerto 300 times. A similar comment could be made about SFU. It should be said that David and Keith eventually stopped doing the whole love-you-hate-you routine, and that Clare ditched loony leftie boyfriends in favour of a right-wing lawyer. Just for something different, Nate’s brain exploded in one series, but that wasn’t enough to end it, and a second brain explosion was necessary to terminate SFU and everyone’s misery.

I survived into the third series before I stopped watching it, and only resumed again just recently, mainly for want of anything new to watch. I did see the very first episode on the telly about seven years ago, but I must admit I didn’t feel anything compelling about it. My lack of compulsion, a consequence of my irritation with most of the characters, continued while I watched it. I didn’t like it any more after one series or the next. I started yelling rude things every time Ruth, the personification of a dull, dowdy matron, and a veritable American TV cliché of the shrill, anally retentive materfamilias[2], appeared on screen; but – and how cunning is this? – she was always banging one guy or another. Perhaps it’s time to watch Dexter again.


1. I think this is an instance of Schrödinger’s Cat or the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Even when a new character appears, the relationship with one of the main characters is the same, hence this isn’t the paradox it seems to be.

2. Marge Simpson is the same – apart from the bonking. Maternal characters in the American mind seem to be conservative, authoritarian, humourless, and dis­ap­prov­ing; and they all seem to have got stuck in the 1950s. One of their functions is to stop the boys from enjoying themselves or doing stupid things, activities which may be one and the same thing.

[20.08.14. The following was originally part of an entry I posted on the 15th of March 2008. I deleted the rest of the post and I thought I’d append this fragment to the review.]

The weather has been improving, and we’ve had some pleasant days this week, although today is wet, thus thwarting my plans once again to hit the DVD shops. Mind you, I still have plenty of Six Feet Under to go, although I may take a break from that. Right now the second series is feeling a little static.

David: Stop being such a bitch, Keith.
Keith: Stop being such a bitch, David.
Nate: I love you so much, Brenda. By the way, my head’s going to explode.
Brenda: I’m a nympho slut with an insane brother and California parents.
Nate: I’m going to marry this New Age crap-spouting freak instead.
Mother: I’d like to have a shit, but my anus is just too tight. Where are the 1950s? I know I put them somewhere.
Clare: I’m, like, this troubled, angsty teenage girl who’s, like, all artistic as well. Anyway, you’ve seen me in every other film or TV programme which has a teenage girl as a character. I mean, I’m not even that original.
Omnes: Shut the f_ck up, Clare.
Father: I’m dead, which probably makes me the most interesting character in the series.
Federico’s wife: I’m shrill and demanding without ever thinking whether my demands might be feasibly met by my husband. Hey, look at me. I might be an immigrant, but already I’m TV’s version of an American housewife.

I’m hoping SFU’s going to pick up, but at the moment, it’s not catching my attention. Might be time I took a break from it and watched something else.