Must Be Funny

Sorry, this is the best pic I could find.

Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000, or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000? Assume for the moment that prices of goods and services will stay the same.

Surprisingly — stunningly, in fact — research shows that the majority of people select the first option; they would rather make twice as much as others even if that meant earning half as much as they could otherwise have. How irrational is that?

Read the rest of this interesting LA Times article:

Why people believe weird things about money.

Party Time. Excellent. Be Excellent to Each Other. Party On, Dude.

Coverage of party pills is interesting. The police currently talking about illegal drugs, like MDMA, being found in small amounts in BZP pills will be interpreted by the average citizen (by which I mean, the average consumer of The Herald, who is by no means the average Kiwi) in predictable ways. Predictable, vague ways. Party pills have made a progression from being a “herbal high” – which they never were – to being a “legal high” to now being a vaguely illegal high. The vague illegality is not a matter of illegal additives in some pills (which, if it is a concern, is a matter for quality assurance), but rather the association in the minds of the public. It would not be insane to suggest that “party” and “pill” beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet contributes in some way to a sporadically whipped up public imagination. Nor is their association with raves and dance parties – ironic, considering their creator was looking for an alternative to illegal drugs he considered dangerous.

It’s also interesting to note that BZP is often referred to as a cattle-worming agent, in the same way that tasers are referred to as delivering 50,000 volts. It appeals to the public imagination, being able to say, “You know what they put in those things? Cattle-worming agents!” As if alcoholic drinks don’t include a topical antiseptic and cigarettes don’t contain rat poison.

But what’s most interesting of all is the fact that the matter has received any attention at all. To whom is it a matter of concern? A small fragment of generally middle-class kids use party pills – they mostly want to keep them legal. Their parents, I suppose, are the other concerned parties. The public is not put at risk by the drugs, and the number of people who died from alcohol-related causes in the last week is many times more than the number of people who allegedly died from taking party pills… ever.

But those middle-class parents make up a sizeable portion of the “average citizen” mentioned above – the demographic that provides numbers to the news sources of TVOne, TV3, the Herald, the Post, etc.

The vicious cycle of commodified news is frustrating. People are increasingly shown what they want to see, and they increasingly see what they have seen in the past. So it is that Anna Nicole Smith’s death belongs not in the human-interest slot after the weather, but rather as international news – not just a mention, but an actual whole story from CNN or the BBC. So it is that the classification of BZP is headline news.

What is importance in news? If it was measured in the potential for human suffering found in a particular issue, every night of 6pm news would begin with a piece about alcohol, or about working conditions and pay rates. That’s for national news. For international news, Iraq would still feature strongly, but Palestine would drop down the ranks, replaced by African countries we’ve never heard of.

Instead, we are given Anna Nicole Smith and the placement of a stadium. Speaking of the stadium, 6pm news shows happily provide us with 20 minutes of sports “news” each night. This goes unquestioned.

And of course it does. It would be suicidal for either TVOne or TV3 to replace their sports news with real news, because half the viewers would switch to the competition. Because they want to see sports news. If they see one “tonight on 3 News/One News” segment promising a story about killer party pills and the other about No Child Left Behind legislation in the States, they’re going with the party pills.

Where does the responsibility lie? Tricky for me, being an anarchist. People should choose for themselves, I might say, but then, they already have, and here I am complaining about it. So should the government legislate requirements for news sources to provide actual news? Sure, Ryan, no problem there – just the government deciding what is and is not news. So we need more critically thinking viewers to come out of a situation where they’re being systematically (though not intentionally) dumbed down and numbed down by news shows that compete with their rivals in a manner identical to competition between Sticky TV and Studio 2.

And once again, who am I to say that these things are or are not news? Do I profess access to some Platonic standard of importance against which I can measure Anna Nicole Smith’s death or the stadium placement or the All Blacks’ latest training schedule?

No, God is dead and value is relative. The consequence is that the only value is consistency with one’s own values, whatever they are: the only sin is hypocrisy. The only ground for argument is values held in common. So all that’s left to say is: come on, New Zealand, you don’t really care about this bullshit.


Happy Lupercalia, everyone. Yes, it’s that ancient Athenian holiday that celebrates the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. In the Year of Our Lord 496, Pope Gelasius I petulantly abolished Lupercalia and replaced it with the feast of St Valentine. Valentine was martyred for his faith, after a long life of… doing… something good… that God knows about, Gelasius assured everyone.

Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules is the first recorded instance of Probably Saint Valentine’s feast being associated with boning romance. He mysteriously wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Presumably Geoff was writing in code to avoid detection by King Richard II, for whom he wrote the poem. There is contention among scholarly circles as to what “chesing” your “make” is, though most agree that in the Olden Days, men were brides (“bryds”, in the Auld Lang Syne (“old tongue signifier”)), and they stalked women. With cheese. And the stalked women were their makes. WITH CHEESE.

Anyway, Valentine’s Day is a massive load of bullshit, perfectly suited to a society of people who like to be told when to be romantic and have their spontaneity made nice and obligatory. Here’s a sample conversation for your edification:

JOE: Hey. How’s it going?
RYAN: Good. How is it going with you?
JOE: Not bad. How’s things?
RYAN: Good. How are your things?
JOE: Good. What’s happening?
RYAN: Not much. What’s happening with you?
JOE: Not a lot. What’s new?
RYAN: This and that. What’s new with you?
JOE: Nothing interesting. Hey, what you doing for Valentine’s Day?

I’ll tell you another thing.

I’ll tell you another goddam thing.

Hearts don’t even look like that. They don’t look like that shape that “love hearts” are shaped like. If you, like, open someone’s chest up with a fucken knife, THEIR HEART DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THAT, MAN. THEIR HEART LOOKS LIKE A DARK RED SODDEN HEAP OF MEAT AND IT KEEPS ON BEATING FOR A FUCKEN WHILE AFTER YOU RIP IT OUT.

Happy Lupercalia, everyone! Smiley face!

The Funny Pages


Well, the Iranian “Holocaust cartoon” competition is over, and the results are in. As you no doubt remember, there was an amount of madness at the beginning of the year over “offensive” cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper – and subsequently a whole bunch of other newspapers. After all of that, an Iranian newspaper had a much better idea than rioting, and held a competition to make cartoons about the Holocaust.

The logic is not immediately apparent. Some Muslims get violently angry about some Danish cartoons – many more non-violently angry – therefore… mock the Holocaust. Doesn’t really seem to follow, until you consider that the Holocaust (and I am referring, of course, to the Nazi holocaust, not the Armenian one or any of the others) is one of those few remaining things in proper Western society that is sacred enough not to make jokes about. It’s in a delightful little group along with child molestation and, if you’re American, the military.

But what were they hoping to prove? According to al-Jazeera, when the announcement was made:

[The graphics editor] said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.

“The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,” he said.

The spelling mistakes there are not mine, of course.

The original reason for Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was to highlight the troubles writer KÃ¥re Bluitgen experienced when looking for an illustrator for his children’s book about the Qu’ran and Muhammad. Three illustrators declined his offer, citing events like the murder of Theo van Gogh by offended Muslims. At that point, the issue was self-censorship, not freedom of expression – that these artists refused to produce particular kinds of art for fear of violence against their person.

It quickly became about freedom of expression, however, when the ensuing violence became a kind of challenge to editors and publishers – “If you publish, we get violent. Therefore, if you don’t publish, it’s because we scared you into not publishing.” And because sane people don’t want a world where violence decides who gets to say what, a lot of people published. The original cartoons themselves really weren’t all that offensive – and yes, I do get to decide that – but the fires were fuelled by very offensive cartoons that hadn’t been published making the rounds and stirring up more anger.

Anyway, enter Iran’s biggest newspaper, Hamshahri. They say, “You want freedom of expression? Fine. We’ll publish cartoons that mock something sacred to you – the Holocaust.” And to my knowledge, there have been no riots or violence as a result. Some of the cartoons are pretty good, though.

Here’s one. (The images are links back to the site.)

And here’s the winner.

And another.

See the recurring theme there? They’re really not even trying to be offensive. None of the ones I’ve seen so far (there are many I haven’t) are saying anything like, “How do you fit a hundred Jews in a mini?” Most of them are saying, “The Palestinians are getting fucked over, and the world – especially the United Nations – is doing nothing to help them, because they’re too busy sighing about the Nazi Holocaust.”

It’s interesting that the original brief was “a cartoon about the Holocaust”, trying to make a point about freedom of expression. Presumably, it was expected that a bunch of really offensive submissions would be made. Instead, artists across the world have used it as an opportunity to make compelling points – some mistaken, in my opinion – about certain political situations. While Hamshahri missed the point a bit when they started the competition, it would seem that the artists did not.