Mad Men

Series 3.

What was it? Two weeks? Fourteen days? A fortnight? Yup, having seen the second series of Mad Men, I’ve now seen the third, which revealed that there were a few episodes missing from the second. What did I miss? The British firm buying Sterling Cooper and Betty announcing she was pregnant, thus leading to a reconciliation with the errant Don.

Series 3 starts with life not quite back to usual as Sterling Cooper’s new owners go Thatcherite on them. Don made friends with Connie Hilton, who was obviously the lunatic grandfather of the more famous contemporary celebutard. Don also began an affair with his daughter’s school teacher and Betty (who seems to have gone from 60s thin to 21st century thin since the programme started) discovered Don’s secret. This and a thing for a suave political campaigner has led her to decide to divorce Don. Meanwhile, the series ended with the main characters decamping to a hotel room to restart the business after they learnt that the British firm (something like St John, Cuthbert and Cliché) had sold Sterling Cooper.

I suppose Don was probably like a lot of his generation. They’d married the princess, produced an heir, and then wanted someone else, but faced with divorce would not have considered to be an acceptable option. It’s the Odysseus Syndrome: he can bang your wife, but you can’t bang his.

As for the minor characters, Peggy Olsen continued her rise through the ranks – getting high in one episode to achieve this end. She also ended up banging Duck Phillips who had been instrumental in the sale of Sterling Cooper, but who seems to have been subsequently sacked for his treachery. (Another laecuna because of the episodes missing from the second series.) Don discovered Sal Romano’s secret, which eventually got Sal fired after a contretemps with an overly familiar client. Sal’s wife also finally seems to have realised the truth after his rendition of the Ann Margaret advert for some diet soft drink. Did they really have diet soft drinks in the 60s? I’m sure that real Americans in the 60s drank full fat soft drinks, and if it wasn’t high salt, high sugar, high cholesterol and high tar, it was an un-American cigarette. Roger Sterling’s jailbait daughter had the misfortune to get married the day President Kennedy got assassinated. (As a historical side note, I believe my Mum and Dad were on their honeymoon at the time.) Marilyn Monroe also bowed out earlier in the series. Joan also bowed out for a time, but had to find work after her husband failed to get the post he was hoping for. he then had the brilliant idea of joining the army as a surgeon just as a war in some country called Vietnam was hotting up.

I still can’t tell whether the men are meant to be insane mad or infuriated mad. Still, bring on the fourth series.

The guy who plays Pete Campbell still looks like he ought to be playing Jimmy Olsen, or delivering the post and saying, “Gee, that sure is swell, Mr Draper. When I grow up, I want to be an ad man just like you”, or be a schoolboy called Prendergast who’s always falling face first into muddy puddles.

Why use one derivational morpheme when several will do?

A non-infinite number.

I was over on gamespot reading the first impression of Napoleon Total War when I spotted this phrase:

a non-infinite but extremely high number

Quite an interesting concatenation of prefixes there. If something is finite, it has bounds or limits; if it’s infinite, it has none; and if it’s non-infinite, then it has bounds again. Let’s see what Google pukes up on these words.

finite: 8.52 million results
non-finite: 96,200 results
infinite: 41 million results
non-infinite: 17,500 results

I was wondering whether there would be a sufficient number of instances of “non-infinite” to suggest that finite’s days might be, er, non-infinite.

I’m not surprised that the number of results for “finite” falls far short of those for “infinite” because in my mind, the word gets labelled as formal and (semi-)technical. But I wonder whether “infinite” might, in due course, end up being lexicalised in general use so that “non-infinite” becomes the more usual word for “finite”.

Nor would this be the first time that a language has opted for some prefixed word form over a bare stem. In Vulgar Latin, I believe that a lot of verbs which had no call for a prefix in Classical Latin were replaced by some prefixed form of the same verb. Or is this merely an impression I have?

Gonna take a sentimental journey

1953? No, 1853.
I’ve been marking the AS class’s persuasive essays this morning, and what an effective job they’ve been doing persuading me that it’s not permanently 1953 in this country, but actually 1853 because of some of the sentimental drivel I’ve been reading. I’ve got to that point where the comments I’m writing are ceasing to be civil as I read that voluntary programmes “make the world warm”, and how my little darlings were all off at some orphanage just recently, taking sweets to the orphans. I’m not sure whether this is genuine or whether it came off the Internet (either in English or Chinese) or whether it has spread from a single source in the class or whether it’s a well-known piece of mawkishness from, say, Senior English for Schools.
The AS class is meant to have written a persuasive essay on (mandatory) voluntary work for high school children. The book’s American; the sentiment’s American; their writing casts them, rather improbably, as American school children because they can’t make the jump to think about this from a Chinese perspective instead. This is particularly marked in a couple of essays which are pastiches of two articles in the book. At best, the essays are argumentative rather than persuasive, although the bounds between the two types are probably rather fluid.
As for the arguments themselves, a couple of students were claiming that instead of having even a tiny amount of leisure time as an escape from the overbearing, overlong, critical-thinking-lite Chinese education system, they ought to be using that non-existent time to work some more. Duh.
I’m pleased to say that by using the AS English Language paper mark scheme, I’m dishing out suitably low marks as a corrective against the ridiculously high marks that the marking criteria in North Star force me to dispense. But they all (PAL included) need some sense of perspective because every time they get good marks for their writing, reality – that the meaningful content of their writing is fairly mediocre – disappears behind that 8/10 they got. Sooner or later, something they write in English is going to be marked principally on content rather than language, and their ideas are going to be found wanting. I haven’t wholly abandoned the linguistic aspect of all this, but the AS class are meant to be doing a course in academic English and I don’t see why their writing shouldn’t be marked on the basis of its academic quality.

The Traffic Report

City centre stupidity.
Yesterday when I was heading to school down the back street, I was tailing a car whose driver kept pulling over in the face of on-coming traffic to allow the other car get by on a lane which is about one-and-half carriageway. It was very decent of him considering Chinese motorists all think they’re 车皇帝. Anyway, we’ve almost got to 人民西路 when he pulls over again. This time there’s some woman on one of those antique three-wheelers. She’s one of those blocky late middle-aged peasant sorts with a regulation military/lesbian haircut and a wardrobe in matt brown (aka rural chic). It seems that she’s trying to sneak between the car and the side of the road – which ain’t gonna happen. She doesn’t appear to be trying to stop either and ends up scraping into the car on one side and knocking over a parked scooter on the other.
Perhaps she was trying to brake, but like a lot of the electric bike people, instead of getting the brakes of their bikes seen to, they use their feet and opt for the Fred Flintstone method of braking. The stupid thing is that our cycling Sappho-like can’t have been going that fast in the first place.
I went to Carrefour after tea this evening to get a couple of things. As I hit 中山路, I saw that the police had stopped a taxi and I mean police plural. There were three motorbikes blocking the taxi. The boys in blue might’ve had orders to check for unlicensed drivers and he might’ve tried to do a runner. Naturally such events draw an audience and leave me free to speed across the intersection without the electric bike people getting under my front wheel as they snail away once they’ve even noticed the light has turned green.
When I got home this afternoon, I found a notice up in the lift about yesterday’s Incident in Building 36! It happened at about 10.30am and seems to have been caused by cigarette butt (as I guessed) being discarded out of a window. There were various injunctions about not doing such things and about taking dry washing in.

Incident at Jinma

Conflagration at Corruption Towers!
Local twit burns washing.
Clothing retailers predict an increase in November profits.
wuxi_fire01 I got home for lunch to find a group of people, including two camera crews and a couple of policemen, standing around in the turning circle outside Building 36. They were looking up at some­thing, but I couldn’t tell what until I got up to my place and had a look out of the window. It appears that someone either on the 16th or 17th floor set fire to their washing. Whether it was done deliberately or was an accident, I don’t know, but I’d say the latter seems more likely since the police didn’t seem especially bothered when I entered the building. The charred remains of whatever caught fire are on the window ledges and the fire, it seems, was wholly external.
So there you are. A world exclusive from the Mr Bamboo News Agency (a wholly independent subsidiary of Mr Bamboo plc).
Intrepid local reporters cover the story.
© 2009 Mr Bamboo News Agency
No truth ever knowingly left unembellished.

As the weekend closes

Your intermittent dose of nothing.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the W3C website and had a look at the state of HTML. I was curious about table mark-up. HTML 4.01 introduced colgroups and cols which didn’t make much sense and were bloody bothersome to implement. I was having a look through HTML 5 at some of the new elements and wondering why. It seems to be a continuation of those tags which have a purpose but never get used for it. I’m sure that the <section> element will be totally useful for, er, something. Or the <aside> element, which is supposedly the linear version of the sidebar and which can already be rendered as a sidebar using a table. Such things would be all well and good, but they seemed to be designed for programs to parse (or whatever the appropriate term is); only I’ve never heard of a single, say, db program which uses mark-up in that fashion. I bet there are plenty of sites which use the <dl>, <dt> and <dd> tags without actually using them as they’re meant to be used.
I’ve finally reached the interesting part of The Woman in White. Marian eavesdropped on Sir Percival and Count Fosco, but caught a chill (rain being a disease-bearing medium; at least in Victorian England). The section narrated by the hypochondriac Frederick Fairlie is quite amusing, his view of himself being at odds with who he is. I see from skipping forward in the book a little that Walter Hartright is about to return to England at long last.
DVD shopping this afternoon but not much worth bothering about apart from the third series of Mad Men. I didn’t know there was a third, not that I’m complaining. Don had abandoned the trip to California and was bonking semi-Euro jailbait. I assume that nothing bad will happen until his wife finds out and he then spends the next seven series claiming that they were “on a break”.
indie Meanwhile, the sub-editors have nodded off again. This is from an article in The Indie a few weeks ago. Perhaps if the Queen has a tantrum, she might well sit on a thrown [sic]. I spotted another sub-editorial oversight in The Guardian today. “Spanish puppets satirised the countries political and sporting figures until the programme went off air in 2008.” Countries? How droll. Or, in the spirit of the paragraph, How drill.
Weather: blue sky and sunshine; probably bloody cold overnight.
The perennial question: where am I going for tea tonight?

Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning

“Watch out for the sheep.”
wuxi_dawn I’d been expecting it to be dark this morning because that’s how it’s typically been when I get up on those mornings when I have to be at school when normal people would still be on the final reel of that night’s dream. But instead, it was rather light and picturesque. Unfortunately, this was all of the clear sky we saw today. The cloud was have none of it and soon had us hidden beneath a dull grey blanket. As you can imagine, it’s been bitterly cold, although whether we’re in for snow, I don’t know. It was dry today both in the no precipitation sense and in the desiccated sense.

Of snow and solutions

The Australopithecus of snow.
When I went to school this morning, it was drizzling proto-snow which the wind dashed against me like some sort of icy sandpaper. It eventually stopped around lunchtime, but if we do get snow overnight, an event which is currently well within the bounds of possibility, then it’ll settle because the dryness of the air, which is ravaging the skin on my hands, has sucked up all but the deepest puddles. We even had a burst of sunshine this afternoon which briefly turned the classroom an orange colour before vanishing a few seconds later. Thus November 2009 continues to strive for the prize of Worst November Evah™.
The heating is now on in our office, and about bloody time. I’m still hoping that this is just a cold snap, but it’s been going on for over two weeks now. Linda’s birthday came and went on Sunday, but it was still cold; my Mum’s birthday was yesterday, but it’s still cold. Time passes and the weather shows no signs of offering us any respite.
As one of my recent posts made clear, I found marking the mid-term exams to be a tedious, irritating process which was not accomplished with my usual celerity. I was frustrated with the artificially high marks that I was dishing out for the PAL and AS writing. In EFL you’re marking things like lexical and grammatical range and accuracy, task fulfilment, coherence and cohesion, and organisation. You never get to mark the writing for ideas, which is not, of course, the object of the exercise. It does mean, however, that you have to read you way through a lot of bollocking nonsense and then give it 8/10 because it does exactly what the marking criteria demand. That’s good from an EFL perspective, but it may be misinterpreted as an indicator of an academic quality the essay doesn’t have.
I mentioned my sense of despair that such dismal writing could still receive such good marks to Colin who said he’d felt the same way while he was marking the exams.
I was thinking about this last night and wondered about using a mark scheme for essay written for an AS- or A-level English exam. This wouldn’t be aimed at the PAL classes, but rather the AS class, who may have an overinflated sense of their own genius. I’m also thinking that they’ll come down to earth with a thump when their first university essay receives a mark falling far short of the marks they’ve formerly been getting for their English because their ideas have never been subject to scrutiny.
I’ll still make the usual corrections and observations to the AS class’s weekly (weakly [sic!]) essay, but I’ll also be giving them a mark using the mark scheme for an English language paper which has objectives very similar to the North Star book we use. Thus my little darlings will be getting a mark which reflects the academic quality of their writing a little more accurately. In the lingo of the mark scheme, I’d say that the writing I see out of the AS class is Band 4 or 5, which translates (perhaps not accurately) into 24% – 50% (a C-grade or lower, I think).
Barack Obama is in town and saying the usual sort of thing American presidents are expected to say when they come to China. I wonder what the point is since the Imperial Court won’t be waking up tomorrow, allowing free speech throughout the land and unblocking blogspot, typepad, wordpress, facebook etc. I suppose Mr Potus has to have something to say or he’ll be reduced to, “It’s nice to be here, er… Really great… And nice… Did I say it was nice?”
I finally watched the second series of Mad Men. Still baffled by the title since there seems to be little insanity or anger, and the theme music and opening title sequence seem very 21st century. It seems a decent enough series, although I wonder whether the novel setting is merely disguising nothing new.

Winter’s back

Icy Siberian blasts and all that sort of thing.
Are we in for a long, cold winter this year? The first icy blast came at the start of the month followed by a week which culminated in a curiously humid weekend; which has since been followed by miserable wet weather; and now gelid gales from Siberia, which have sent the temperature plummeting faster than a Spanish teenager’s hand, batter the fair(ly new) city of Wuxi.
As long-term readers might recall, the last time I was in this part of China (2005-06), the temperature not only dropped steeply during one week that winter, but to celebrate, the heating at the school was off as well. And to celebrate this occasion, the power to the air con unit in our office has yet to be switched on again. I’m sorely tempted to go and buy one of those small fan heaters. Besides, it’ll deprive someone of some of the money they’re undoubtedly skimming off the electricity budget. I don’t know when the heating is meant to come on, but I think it’s usually some time this month.
This has got to be the coldest November in China that I can recall (although while it’s cold and grey here, Linda has told me that it’s sunny in Chengdu). I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if we had snow, and I’ve been told that it’s meant to get even colder. Fortunately, it hasn’t been raining today, which would be adding insult to injury. Actually, the wind is the insult to the injury at the moment. Rain would be the icing on the cake. If there was one thing about Chengdu apart from grey skies 367 days of the year, it was the general absence of wind for about 364 days of the year.

If we have to suffer

Let’s have some pictures.
wuxi_dawn wuxi_night
A couple of days ago I thought I might end up writing Chinglish if I was exposed to too much of the stuff. Now I’m heartily sick to death of the witless drivel I keep having to read about how we should treat animals. I’ve long since passed the point where I hope never to see the sentence “Animals are our friends” again. Once upon a time (as I’ve mentioned), I might’ve excused dim pronouncements like this one because the writers are non-native speakers and I should make an exception for that. But whether you have full command of a language or not, that can’t be an excuse to make such idiotic claims as “Animals are our friends”.
I see, though, my little darlings are not alone. According to Google, there are 347,000 instances of “Animals are our friends”. Well, they’re all wrong. Animals have no conception of friendship, although they do have a sense of hierarchy and may even be capable of co-operating if the outcome is mutually beneficial. I suppose that friendship among humans might’ve evolved from such animal considerations.
But to continue debunking the attribution of human characteristics to animals, I note that your cat or dog would quite happily start eating your cooling corpse without a second thought. Is that what friends do? (Actually they might in some cultures.) I know some of you will be thinking that pet cats and dogs are friendly, but I’ll bet that they’re merely substituting us for others of their own kind and behaving accordingly. All right, take carnivores – big cats, bears, wolves, sharks, killer whales. To them you’re just hominid burgers waiting to happen.
What about higher primates? Not a chance. A chimpanzee will quite happily rip your arms off and use them as back scratchers.
The other, less frequent phrase which also irritated me was “Dogs are honest”. No, they’re territorial. If you tell a dog to guard the finest cut of meat (in full view on a plate) and leave it alone for half an hour, it’s going to eat the meat. It has absolutely no concept of right or wrong with regard to its actions. Nor will it have the faintest inkling what you’re talking about if admonish it for eating the meat. Dogs are neither honest nor dishonest. They live in accordance with their instincts, as all animals do.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, I can’t even give the answers to the writing section of the exam the mark they really deserve because the demonstration of intelligent thought or its absence is neither here nor there in my considerations. Once you’ve seen the same cretinous statements time and time again, it gets very hard not to make some very sarcastic comments. Or scream.
The next day. Don’t get me wrong. I like cats and cats tend to like me, but I found the repeated attribution of human characteristics to animals to be rather annoying. Probably such declarations are due to my little darlings’ inability to express themselves in a more sophisticated fashion in English, thus bringing us back to the old hypothesis that these dim pronouncements are due to the writers’ limited proficiency in English.