Speling iz funne!

What might I diagnose from this?
guardian01 This is what happens when you get rid of all your sub-editors. The hack doesn’t appear to be at fault because in the article she gets it right and this image comes from the front page.
It was actually sunny for most of the day until some time this afternoon when the cloud started gathering and, predictably, when I went to Carrefour after school to do a little shopping, it started raining. It’s so humid out, though, that you just don’t care.
It appears that I was right about the former barge dock. I thought they were going to fill it in, but I then got a little suspicious and began to suspect that it was going to be transformed into a duck pond, which seems to be the state of affairs at the moment. The large pile of concrete blocks has been shifted further over yet again, and I’m beginning to wonder whether the whole thing is going to be a park or an extension to the otherwise moribund 古街. The site on the far side of the wall is also being levelled out. Again, this was being done by diggers with fist-sized buckets. It begins to make me suspect that not only does Chinese have no word or phrase for “bulldozer”, but the very concept is inexpressible in the language. If you try to say “machine that moves large amounts of earth at one go”, you get “migrant worker”.
I had PAL 1 for the last time this term today and I’ll see PAL 2 for the last time ever tomorrow morning. After that, they’re someone else’s problem and my holiday begins. The end-of-term dinner has now become lunch on Friday.


What do you think you’re doing, you ‘orrible little man?!

No more blogging for you, you shower.
It’s been both wet and sticky today, which is never a good combination when you’re forced to wear a rain coat and even the jaunt from home to school has you stewing yourself from the inside out. So much for breathable fabric. Then the sun decided to appear a little later, which probably made the day even more humid. In fact, it’s sunny at the moment, which is nice to see because of the Shroud of Greyness™ which has enveloped the city for so long. The cloud even has some definition.
Meanwhile, there was high canine drama at school this morning when we could hear a dog yelping. I thought that it might be dying as that other dog did, but three of the creatures emerged from the bushes pursuing this mangy, dun-coloured dog, which ought to have kept running, but didn’t, and the fight continued for a time on the lawn. It was not an ill-tempered tussle, either, but an attempt by the pack to kill the interloper. At one stage, I thought they’d done just that, but it seems that a student coming back from the gym after class interrupted the attack, allowing the dog to escape while the pack scurried off in the opposite direction.
I’m not sure where these dogs come from or why the school tolerates their presence, but one of the attackers was wearing a collar. I’d guess the intruder at least was a stray because they all seem to be a dirty, light beige colour (as I noted when I was living in 奔牛).
I saw the last of AS1 this term today. They behaved with all their usual assiduity and I cared as much as I normally do. I made some slight alterations to a couple of the references I’d written for students in the class so that they were a little more personal, but the others I’d written couldn’t be altered without changes being deservedly detrimental to their chances.
In army news, our boys in green can no longer go on dating websites, job search websites, or blog. I assume that most Chinese soldiers spend time drilling, standing guard, saluting, and cleaning[1] the general’s fleet of expensive foreign cars, which vacuum up most of the country’s military budget.
I see from the Beeb that Google is still simpering about China. I do wish that they wouldn’t force us to go to Google HK, but allow us our particular choice of Google when we search for stuff. I don’t want to get sent to some site unless I’ve made a conscious choice to go there.
I see the Guardian has an article entitled, Babies, A mother’s guide. Well, mothers, the baby is the puking, pissing, shitting, squalling pink thing. Or is that your husbands? [Perhaps you should’ve read the guide first. –ed.] Luisa Dillner has written a piece on tension headaches, which seems a little more useful since I’m pretty certain I know what babes look like. [That’s babies, you idiot. –ed.]
I’m beginning to think that the dock on the building site is being turned into some sort of feature, but I’m not sure what. There’s no sign that it’s being filled in. Perhaps the area is going to be turned into a park.
1. It’s possible they salute and clean the cars.

We can remake it, better, stronger, more Mel Gibson

Edge of Darkness.

Edge of Darkness was an iconic miniseries starring Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker (as Colonel Jedburgh) about the exposure of shenanigans in Britain’s nuclear industry after Peck’s daughter played by Joanne Whalley was murdered. The premise of the film is the same, but it’s been transferred to the States. Bob Peck has now become Mel Gibson, and Joe Don Baker has not only turned into Ray Winstone, but has also been demoted to captain. 

While the story in the film version has remained the same, some of the details appear to have been altered for American audiences. Gibson has his violent revenge on the man who was behind his daughter’s death. Jedburgh kills the Republicans who were behind the scheme, but is then killed by a security guard. In the original, the heavily irradiated Jedburgh went on a rampage when the army came for him. 

I’d say that if the original version of Edge of Darkness is out on DVD and you’ve never seen it, then that’s the one to get. This version does what it can, but constrained by time, it lacks the depth of the series.

Me and Orson Welles.

Richard is a schoolboy by day and thesp by night. He ends up playing Lucius in Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre in New York in 1937. Welles is brilliant, but egotistical, arrogant, and unforgiving. Richard falls for Sonja, the theatre’s secretary, but learns the hard way that relationships in the world of entertainment can be mere dalliances or matters of policy.

Richard and Welles eventually cross swords, and the latter wins him over, but only so that the first night of the play will be a success. After the performance is over, and Richard is circulating around the room (but tellingly left out of the conversations), he is informed by one of the other actors that he’s been fired. Welles, though, is too cowardly to do it himself. As for Sonja, she’s after a Hollywood producer, and Richard goes back to being a schoolboy.

This was surprisingly entertaining. For a film I bought on a whim, with a title that sounds a little cheesy, this was much better than I was expecting. Christian McKay (who turns out to be from Bury), who played the part of Orson Welles, dominated the film, but Zac Efron, who I know in name only, did a reasonable job as Richard without simply wandering around being pretty and shallow. The dialogue was quite snappy at times, and didn’t try to be boringly serious. I think I also liked the film because it was light and didn’t seem to be pretending to be anything else. Some of the other films I’ve seen recently look even more leaden in comparison.

Two more for the pot

Hot Tub Time Machine.
After Lou tries to kill himself, his friends Adam and Nick, accompanied by Adam’s nephew, Jacob, take him to the ski resort where they used to stay when they were younger. They all have problems of one sort or another. Lou can’t grow up; Adam latest relationship has failed; and Nick’s wife is cheating on him. The boys get drunk in the hot tub at the hotel, and with a little help from some illegal Russian energy drink, they wake up the next morning to find that it’s 1986 and that to everyone else, they look as they did in their twenties.
It’s instantly decided that the only way to get back to 2010 is to do exactly what they did on that particular holiday. This means that Lou has to get beaten up; Adam has to break up with his girlfriend and get stabbed with a fork; and Nick has to have sex with some girl, which he agonises over even although in 1986 he wasn’t married. Meanwhile, Jacob learns the mystery of his paternity – Lou is his father. Lou starts using his knowledge of the future to his advantage (although that doesn’t quite work); Adam meets a reporter who’s more his type that his vapid girlfriend; Nick phones his future wife, who’s only nine, and roundly abuses her for cheating on him.
Once the hot tub has been repaired, Lou announces he’s not going back. Nick decides to stay as well, but Lou throws him into the tub and when they get back to the hotel, there’s a DVD waiting. Lou is now rich and successful, having used his knowledge of the future. The reporter is at home when Adam gets back. Nick is about to go ballistic on his wife when she reveals that someone phoned her when she was nine, which put her off being unfaithful.
As a comedy, this is fairly weak stuff which you probably need to see at the cinema with some mates after you’ve got a bit tanked. It was really a teen or twentysomething film about middle-aged people going back in time to when they were the movie’s target demographic, but for those of us who lived through the 80s and are the same age group as the older protagonists, it didn’t resonate. Our film would be one of trying to change the past, finding that we couldn’t, and accepting that we achieve little by regretting what happened. We can, instead, only change our present.

The Bounty Hunter.
An American trope film. This is yet another of those films in which Mr and Mrs Ex-Spouse are thrown together and find that the spark of love is still there. I wonder if these sorts of films are made by Catholics, whereas the ones in which the ex-husband is part of the wife’s posse, forever hanging around at her place, are made by Protestants. Well, there’s my whimsical thought for the day.
And is Jennifer Aniston ever going to stop playing Rachel?

Uniform weather

Taking the fore out of forecasting.
It’s been grey and hazy with occasional hints of brightness for the past four days as if we’re living in the Kingdom of Greyness where Dullness reigns and colour has state-authorised muteness. When the haze turns dark grey, it rains, but briefly, usually around lunchtime, it seems, and that’s about it. The sun can occasionally be seen shrouded by the clouds, but its presence is seldom more than a hint. It must make weather forecasting a rather easy business. Probably we’re copping the edge of the weather system that’s been bringing floods to southern China just as a lot of the murky weather here is pushed our way by typhoons and tropical storms.
huishan sofa
Since it was about time I went on one of my aimless adventures, I headed over the canal and roamed this way and that, apparently circling around until I ended up on the north side of 锡惠 where they’ve been building the Huishan Ancient Street, although it was a long way from being complete by the looks of it. But for people wanting a little quiet relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the ancient street, there was this sofa sitting in a nearby park.
After I’d circled back round and headed over the bridge beside the school, I went up to the intersection where all the building work is being done, and turned right because that’s the way my nose led me. It led me to this line of boats which, I assume, are used for fishing because the man on the boat in the foreground isn’t just mending the net, but has fish caught in it. My best guess was that these vessels were tied up beside a (fish) market, but there was no sign up at the gate as I passed by.
Meanwhile, the former barge dock, which was nearly cutting the building site beside our own, derelict 古街 in half, has now been slowly being filled in while Zebedee still bounces around injecting pipes into the soil. In fact, there’s another Zebedee and another site office near the bridge at the far end where 县前街 passes over that branch of the canal. A mobile crane, which is now resting after its exertions, seems to have moved a pile of large concrete blocks from one part of the site to the other for no apparent reason that I can see. I do much the same with books and DVDs on the bed in the room I use as a study. The apparently pointless shuffling of material seems to be being repeated by an orange digger nearby, which sits on a low mound of earth and transfers dirt from one end to the other. If the soil isn’t being taken away, then a lone ditch digger with its hand-sized bucket seems an inefficient means of doing a job which ought to be done by a bulldozer.
Another digger with a pneumatic drill attached to its arm continues to break up the concrete one fragment at a time. For a country with such a megalomaniac approach to construction projects, this all seems rather small-minded.
It seems reasonable to guess that the barges which have been puttering along our branches of the canal are probably ferrying material from the building sites in town because it’s probably easier to transport material that way than negotiate the centre of Wuxi. The cargo in the boats looks like mud or muddy water, and they often dock at the building on the far side of the 春申路 bridge although I can see no particular reason for this. The barges might just be there while they’re waiting for further instructions before they then ferry their cargo to its final destination, and the building, which appears to have nothing to do with their activities, is a convenient anchorage.

It’s curvy and wet

It’s around thirty years since I read the first three books in the Riverworld series which I can remember well enough to know that this rendering (and by that I’m inclining to mean the breaking down or pulling apart of something) has stripped the stories to their barest essentials. For books as rich as the Riverworld series, a low budget TVM was a waste of time.

Beyond Sherwood Forest.
This ought to have been subtitled “The SG1 Extras’ Reunion” because more than one member of the cast was either a bit-part or extra in SG1, and the director was Peter Deluise. This is one of those DVDs which you should throw at your enemies not because it’ll hurt them physically, but because no one would like to be pelted with this sort of half-witted drivel. Oh the humiliation.

St Trinian’s 2. The Legend of Fritton’s Gold.
I know of St Trinian’s by name only since I’ve seen neither Ronald Searle’s original work or any of the other films. Thus I have no point of comparison, but must judge this on its own merits or lack of them.
Back in the 16th century when 18th century ships of the line were sailing around, a notorious pirate, Fritton, pops by to swash his buckle and departs with the threat that Lord Pomfrey will track down the treasure one day.
At modern day St Trinian’s, the girls are arriving for the new school year. I don’t know whether Searle had his characters in tribes, but with the Americanisation of the UK, I don’t imagine schools there are without their tribes: airheads, chavs, geeks, emos, etc. Someone is discovered to have sneaked into the library in search of a ring for which she’s been offered £20,000 to recover. After failed negotiations, the modern Lord Pomfrey, the head of a secret, misogynistic organisation, sends in commandoes to get the ring. After the first wave is beaten off (no, that’s not a double entendre), the second succeeds, and Lord Pomfrey is triumphant.
There is, however, a second ring which the girls track down to a boys’ school before going after the first ring. Once joined, the rings lead our heroines to the Globe Theatre where they find that Fritton was not only a woman, but also Shakespeare, and the treasure which she left behind was her last play. (Educational message in there somewhere. Boys would’ve left gold, but boys, as any fule do kno, are stupid.)
It seems that Lord Pomfrey has won the day and is sailing off down the Thames when the girls, having commandeered their own vessel, retrieve the manuscript and blast his vessel out of the water.
Potentially a decent enough story, but probably would’ve been better set 50-60 years ago when grrl power would’ve been subversive and the antithesis in expected and actual behaviour different. This lot aren’t really different at all.

The film of the video game

Dante’s Inferno.
I spotted this in the DVD shop by chance because it was right at the front of the stack. When I started watching it, I suddenly realised that this was the animated version of the recent video game. In this version, Dante is a Crusader who gets home to find that Beatrice has been murdered and her soul has been seized by Satan because of a certain indiscretion committed by Dante during the Crusade. Dante is not some weedy Italian poet, but a rather buff soldier who’s so tough that he has a cross of ribbon sewn onto his skin.
He travels into Hell, guided by Virgil, and has to fight various enemies, including his abusive avaricious father (something Freudian about that). Dante also finds that his mother is in Hell for committing suicide, but being a good Italian boy, he uses his cross to release her.
He also meets Nessus, who not only helps him traverse some difficult terrain, but has also been transformed into a double-D cup babe (by the standards of centaurs). (The classicist in me abhors these inaccuracies.)
Anyway, as you might’ve guessed by now, he has to fight Satan in the final boss battle.
The DVD actually included the extras for once (pirated versions often don’t), including a trailer for the game, which looked much better than the animated version. However, the game itself wasn’t that enthusiastically received.

Alice in Wonderland.
Years have passed since Alice visited Wonderland and just as she is expected to accept a proposal of marriage from the rather delicate little Lord Fauntleroy, the White Rabbit lures her down the rabbit hole again. Things start out in much the same way as she makes her way into the garden, but Wonderland is not as she left it.
Instead, Alice is destined to fight the Jabberwocky for which she needs the vorpal sword which is in the Red Queen’s possession and guarded by the bandersnatch. Alice goes to the castle, gets inside, and manages to recover the sword. She flees to the castle of the White Queen and finds that she really must be the queen’s champion. There’s a big battle and Alice wins the day.
When Alice returns to reality, she rejects the proposal, but being a thoroughly 19th 21st century woman, suggests a business alliance with little Lord Fauntleroy’s father.
Who would enjoy this film? What’s the target demographic?
Alice never really seemed to be in any danger, and there was never any doubt that she’d defeat the Jabberwocky. The Knave of Hearts posed, but never went Darth Vader on anyone. The Red Queen shouted a lot, but never got to be a brutal, callous tyrant. The Mad Hatter did get to be mad, though, and no one cared anyway. In the end, I felt the film was dissatisfying because, I guess, Burton was probably constrained too much by Disney’s rose-tinted-spectacles view of the world. This is why I wondered about the target demographic, because the film doesn’t seem to know where it should be aiming.
And since the film was by Tim Burton, you just know that his girlfriend, Helena Bonham-Carter, was in it; so, too, Johnny Depp and his mate, Paul Whitehouse; and pretty much anyone else who’s one of Timmy’s usual cast members.

The Court of the Air

By Stephen Hunt.
For some reason, Molly Templar and Oliver are being hunted by assassins as their country, Jackals, comes under threat from the fanatics of Quatérshift and their backers, the evil gods of Wildcaotyl. As it turns out, Molly is the second-to-last person able to operate the sole surviving Hexmachina from the last time the Wildcaotyl tried to conquer the world, and Oliver is actually a human-feybreed hybrid who is another line of defence against these malevolent foes. There’s a big battle, it’s very messy, but our heroes win the day.
The Court of the Air is a mélange of a book. I can imagine it as steampunk-themed anime or manga. I can see elements of Neongenesis, RahXephon, and Last Exile in it, and the kind of monsters in anime which have muscles that grow muscles (e.g. the mutant boomers in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040). It has elements of our world thinly disguised as something exotic in that Jackals appears to be Britain, the revolution in Quatérshift seems to be a combination of the French and Russian Revolutions, and Tzlayloc seems to be an Aztec priest. The eponymous Court of the Air itself seems to have little or nothing to do with most of the story apart from an occasional reference to their observation of the action.
It’s not an easy story to get into without a certain amount of patience or pig-headedness. Hunt has liberally larded the book with jargon without either explaining it in the text or in a handy glossary. In some instances, the intended meaning is obvious (e.g. combinations are trades unions; a pensman is a journalist), but in others it takes quite awhile before Carlists, flash mobs and graspers can be properly understood. Philip Pullman used some jargon in His Dark Materials, but it was lightly applied to colour Lyra’s Oxford. Hunt is unsubtle and probably lost a lot of his audience because of the amount of opacity.
Some of the writing leaves a little to be desired. In some cases, it’s incomplete sentences; in others, it’s run-on sentences; and in others again, it’s unsuitable diction. The writing seems a little immature at times.
However, criticisms aside, Hunt has created a world rich in (borrowed and adapted) detail, and once readers get far enough into the book past the obfuscatory lexicon, it’s a cracking enough tale. It might also be worth reading twice over to pick up some of the references from the first occasion which would not have meant much.
Next up is the Kingdom beyond the Waves.

What about “Stargate Chimera”?

Stargate Universe.
I have to wonder how the makers of Stargate Universe managed to peddle the series to the studio execs. A group of humans gets stranded on a malfunctioning spaceship (ST: Voyager; Stargate Atlantis to a lesser extent) a long way from home (a little ST: Voyager; more like Red Dwarf). There are tensions and conflict between the military and civilians in the expedition (Battlestar Galactica), and even a little (serious) religion (Galactica). The chief scientist is a massive egotist (Rodney McCabe in Stargate Atlantis; McCabe lacked Rush’s unpleasant, devious streak); the chief civilian is a whiny bitch (the president in Galactica). The chair from which the Ancients’ knowledge could be downloaded turned the first guy who sat in it into one of the Cylons which controlled the motherships in Galactica.
Other than that, the series was entirely original because there was no third-party villain like the goauld, the Replicators, or the Ori, and there was slightly more explicit sex. It does have a bona fide nerd who, unlike Daniel Jackson, has never heard of the gym and thinks that abs is something from mathematics. In fact, just as the spaceship, Destiny, is on autopilot, dropping out of hyperspace for some unspecified reason which the crew than has to work out, the series seemed to have no particular direction either. We did get some bad, blue alien scroungers, but they don’t seem to be an on-going menace, and probably the cgi priced them out of the series.
I got the impression that Richard Dean Anderson (now looking old and pudgy), Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping all got wheeled out to try and boost the ratings. (Or should that be “collect big fat pay cheques for cameo appearances”?)
The final episode really did look like a final episode with little or no chance for our heroes to survive, although I see that there is going to be a second series. Whether Stargate Universe will last as long as the fairly short-lived Stargate Atlantis, we’ll have to wait and see. Probably the other idea which got peddled to the studio was Stargate Deep Space Nine. I wonder what that might’ve been about.

Some brief thoughts on pinyin

The muddy world of transcriptions.
One of the things I forgot to mention about Joe Bennett’s book was the lack of his use of pinyin (拼音) for the few Chinese words he included and his assumption that because it’s not a transparent system of transcription, it’s another instance of oriental obscurantism. It’s true that you can’t know the pronunciation of Chinese from pinyin without first knowing what sound each letter represents and, in the case of some vowels, the context, but it’s also true that you can’t know how to pronounce any language from its writing system, even those in which spelling reflects phonemic-level pronunciation with a high degree of accuracy. English, as we all know, is fairly hopeless because the spelling and pronunciation of the standard language parted company long ago.
With pinyin, as with any language, you have to learn what sound each letter represents. As I said, for some vowels, the context is important because, for example, the i of 四 sì “four”, 士 shì “scholar” and 戏 xì “play” is different in each case. The first two are often described as a prolongation of the consonant, the former sounding like a high central vowel, and the latter like a rhotacised vowel; the third is the only one which is a high front vowel.
It struck me that pinyin is the sort of system of transcription which a structuralist linguist might devise within the constraint that only the letters of the Latin alphabet, as used in English, should be employed to do the job. From an English perspective, although some of the values of the letters are utterly opaque, others such as t and d seem fortuitously cunning because English t is inherently aspirated, while d, in an initial position, is half voiced so that they do sound, roughly, like Mandarin /th/ (t) and /t/ (d) respectively. On the other hand, it doesn’t work with c /tsh/ and z /ts/ because it appears that /s/ doesn’t just suppress the aspiration in /sC/ clusters in English, but also in /Cs/ clusters. While English speakers may hear a contrast between /ts/ and /dz/ as the way in which we pronounce c and z, that’s not how it works in Mandarin. In fact, I find that the pronunciation of c sounds more like /tšh/ (i.e., an aspirated English ch) than the aspirated version of the affricate /ts/.
Once you are familiar with pinyin, you know what you’re doing, but you have to surmount that initial hurdle so that you don’t keep telling everyone, as one of my erstwhile colleagues once did, that she came from “Zizilan” (to be pronounced as in English) because the x’s of xīnxīlán (新西兰 “New Zealand”) are, roughly speaking, palatal fricatives, and not /z/ as we pronounce word-initial x in English.