Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...Love and Rockets

I have a confession to make: I discovered Love and Rockets -- and by extension, Bauhaus -- because of "So Alive." I'm a late-comer keener who fell in love with their one big hit. Sue me!

It didn't take me long to explore backwards and enjoy all their previous albums...and to discover, like Concrete Blonde, that their hit single didn't sound like anything else they'd ever done. Love and Rockets were psychedelic, strange, and beautiful. Their vocal harmonies sounded natural in a way that most manufactured pop doesn't, and they wrote songs about unconventional subjects that appealed to THIS jaded teen.

Plus Daniel Ash was a brilliant guitarist and he looked good, though in retrospect...err, not so much.

The first song I REALLY fell in love with, though, was "No New Tale To Tell." Let alone being their best song ever (in my opinion) I also think it's a notable pop song -- so many explosive moments of solid melody -- and when people don't understand this I can only shake my head.

In case you're wondering about the blobby-headed creatures in the video, those are "The Bubblemen." You see, all three members of Love and Rockets were sort of oddball nerds that invented several mythologies that traveled through their albums, and those Bubblemen were a part of it...they even released an EP under the name (and it's not half bad either).

Eventually the band seemed to have thoroughly distanced itself from its Bauhaus roots, and the two songwriters -- David J. and Daniel Ash -- began moving in different directions. Their albums became increasingly fractured as a result, with J. and Ash's compositions standing in stark comparison with each other. That's not to say the later albums weren't GOOD, just that they were more like two EPs mashed together. At the same time their solo releases lacked lustre as well, though Ash was collaborating with beautiful genius Natacha Atlas (who he was married to at the time).

They also started experimenting more with trip hop and electronica, which tended to sound more "curious" than "good." I do like their later albums but they certainly aren't as good as the first wonderful bunch.

Initially I thought I didn't need to "talk up" the band because I assumed they were still well-known. Now, after hunting fruitlessly for current videos or quality live clips, I've begun to wonder whether Love and Rockets have fallen into total obscurity, wrongly labeled "one hit wonders" because they made an unlikely song that didn't even sound like them. That would be a bit sad.

Albums to buy: "Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven," their debut, probably has the most likeable and consistent sound, though their self-titled "Love and Rockets" album sounds better today than it ever did (and has been released with their long-unheard EP of "swing" numbers). Albums to avoid: "Lift," their last one, is mostly blah. For fans only: pick up "Sorted!", the DVD of their collected videos...all the band members had considerable graphic design skill and their videos were ALWAYS fun.

Teasing Dreams

I sometimes think that the only reason we dream is to trick us into getting out of bed.

When I wake up and am still in confused semi-awareness, I remember my dreams as reality and I think that the world's a really interesting place.

"Gotta get up! They're making a movie in Antarctica with a commissary that serves deep-fried cheese fingers, and every town has a house where the gay kids think up fabulous disguises, and a rotten banana is chasing the boyscout. What an incredible world we live in!"

Then I turn on the light and realize that I WON'T be going to Antarctica today...instead I'll just be going to breakfast, which is nice but not NEARLY so exciting.

Maybe if we didn't dream we'd never turn on the light?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cuddly Goths and Cute Little Vandals

I've just finished watching the awkwardly titled "Terry Jones' Barbarians," a series that challenges the traditional (Roman & Catholic) conception of barbarians as vicious, uncivilized brutes.

During four episodes, Jones introduces us to seven different groups that were labeled "barbarians" by Rome: the Celts, Goths, Dacians, Greeks, Parthians, Huns, and Vandals. In each episode he explodes the myths that most of us have been taught in school, showing that all of these groups were much more civilized and inventive than Roman scholars would have had us believe. This isn't a surprise when it comes to the Greeks, but it certainly is when you're reading about -- say -- Atilla the Hun.

This could be a lot of fun to watch but it comes across as a wildly skewed presentation, partly due to Jones' obnoxious snarkiness, partly due to the manipulative music and editing, but mostly because the facts presented are a selective laundry list of "good barbarian traits" versus "bad Roman traits." Never once does he say a nice thing about Rome, and whenever he mentions a repulsive action by the barbarian tribes he does so as a "goofy aside." Because torture and mutilation is sort of funny when the Huns do it, I guess.

I suppose you're meant to recognize the snarkiness as a joke and the selective details as balancing out a terribly one-sided history, but coupled with the otherwise serious tone, the traumatic "WHOOMP-WHOOMP" editing, and the camera that zips around like a terrified housefly it begins to sound like propaganda...which is pretty silly considering the issue is hardly a burning one at the moment.

I learned some interesting things. I am skeptical about some of the details. I was annoyed by the overall style.

Psycho-Gifts for Christmas!

While the Victorians loved their Freud, the '20s were all about behaviourism and personality tests...everybody was taking quizzes and using behaviour modification to keep their children in line. Skinner hadn't arrived on the scene yet but Watson was very, very popular.

This is the first time I've seen the fad so obviously presented in The New Yorker. It's a Christmas advertisement for Wanamaker's Department Store in the December 8, 1928 issue.

The advertisement claims that Wanamaker's has analyzed the neurotic complexes of "the world and his wife" (!), and that you should purchase Christmas gifts for people based on their own personal complexes.
To start this game we hand you a little book which lists suggestions for gifts under psychological classifications...

Start the game with your friends.

Play the game of choosing psycho-gifts. It is fascinating...

A treasure hunt, indeed, that will give you a greater Christmas thrill than you ever had before.
Forget the fact that behaviourism didn't believe in complexes per se, this could still be fun if they were using the good, old-fashioned, traditional Freudian complexes. Should you buy starchy underwear for the man with castration anxiety, or orthopedic shoes for sufferers of an Oedipus complex?

But no. As you'd expect, the "complexes" as illustrated are actually just a list of vague personality "types," making the astute observation that children only HAVE one type: "Children."

A treasure hunt that will give you a greater thrill? Nope, just another sad gimmick to get you to buy Christmas gifts. But I don't understand why the bellhop has an exposed catheter, let alone why the housewife is admiring cat poop on the brand new rug.

A Very Stinky Lunchour

The last time I quoted a conversation between two prototypical "Stinkies," the transcription was referred to as "a weird sort of poetry." I couldn't have agreed more.

Now I'm happy to present you with an extended transcript of BOTH SIDES of a stinky conversation, including a bonus "Muffy vs. Stinky" moment at the end.

During lunch today at Tim Horton's, the stinkies sat down at the table next to me as I was trying to write on my portable "Alphasmart Neo." The male stinky (Robert) wears suspenders and looks a bit like a turtle. The female's plumage is brighter -- pink shoes and fuzzy baby-blue pantsuit -- but her mental abilities appear far below Robert's...she repeats herself endlessly and always seems to be annoying him.

Their conversation here starts with the two of them sitting down, then the female stinky lurching to her feet and asking:

You want a donut?

No, I don't want a tea donut, ohhh.

One honey dip. You want it?


She buys a box of timbits and puts it on the table, then stands.

You be here for a while? I'm goin' home now.

You don't need that coat.

I'm cold, my back's cold.


I don't wanna get cold on my back. I'm goin' home now. You want your coat?

NO I don't want my coat.

Goin' home now. Goin' home now.

She leaves the store. Robert, alone, sits quietly for a while, then he starts leaning toward me and saying "Ma'am? Ma'am? Ma'am?" I ignore him because I know that if I make any sort of response, he'll start talking and he won't leave me alone.

Fortunately he is interrupted by the store's mentally handicapped employee. This is amusing because the employee really likes Robert, but Robert obviously DOES NOT return the sentiment. The employee keeps telling Robert not to eat donuts because they're bad for his health and will give him a belly. The employee won't go away. He thinks Robert is his best friend.

I become aware that even the stinkies have a pecking order and I feel less bad for ignoring him.

Eventually the woman comes back. She talks with Robert for a bit, and soon I start transcribing again.

It won't last that long. Won't last that long. Got a honey dip, another honey cruller, one honey dip. Got that one. He doesn't like that, you know that? Doesn't like honey cruller. He won't eat that cruller.

How do YOU know what he ain't gonna have?

One boston cream that he'll eat tonight. One boston cream that he'll eat tonight. I tole you.

(A moment of blissful silence).

They makin' honey crullers. You think they makin' honey crullers? You think they makin' honey crullers?


Two of them back there. They two of them. You think they makin' honey crullers? You think they makin' honey crullers?

Suddenly Robert leans toward me and starts saying "Ma'am? Ma'am?" again. I ignore him, pretending to be busy. The female stinky asks him what he wants and he says "I wanna know if she gets a SIGNAL on that thing," gesturing at the keyboard. "MA'AM! MA'AM!" The female stinky says "She's busy" and Robert says "I don't care, I'LL GET MY ANSWER. MA'AM! MA'AM! MA'AM!"

He is now literally YELLING at me and the people in the store are looking at us. I glance up at him and he says "Do you get a signal on that thing?" I say "no" and go back to typing.

The female stinky says "That's a guy, not a ma'am." However confused the female stinky seems to be, I suddenly realize that she's the more socially capable one.

Robert is very disgruntled, muttering at an old lady nearby who's been staring at us. The old lady says -- by way of obvious explanation -- "She's busy," and Robert says "He wants to be like that? He wants to be like THAT?" There is some degree of gender confusion going on now. I continue typing as though nothing's happening

Eventually he calms down. I don't dare transcribe any further now that he's got his eyes on me.

Scrutable Poetry Corner: "Observe the Conventions"

Continuing to prove my amazing taste in scrutable poetry, here's one by Olive Ward from the December 1, 1928 issue of The New Yorker.
What's a girl to do
If the man she's mad about
Prove a bit untrue?
Shoot him for a gadabout?
Take the veil? or brew
Hemlock? Oh pooh-pooh,
Do as the Romans do:
Lug another lad about.
Yet another mysterious '20s poetess...I can't dig up any useful information about her.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Parking in Uptown Waterloo

Personally, I'm thrilled that they're putting a small park in front of Waterloo Town Square. There are certainly other parks in the area, but none of them are adjacent to food or shopping so they have never attained "central meeting place status." I want a place where I can sit and read, surrounded by lots of other people who are socializing and eating and having a break between shopping sprees.

I can also tell you that when things get really hot in town, a park is a blessing and a parking lot a terrible curse.

But you see, the park will replace a certain number of parking spots around the shopping mall, and a lot of people are outraged by this. They say that it's hard enough to find parking in uptown Waterloo as it is, so replacing that parking lot with green space will drive people away from uptown businesses.

Now, I walk through uptown Waterloo every day so I get a pretty good sense of where people are parking. I agree that cars are constantly cruising around the entrances to Waterloo Town Square, getting frustrated because they can't find a spot...A SPOT WITHIN THIRTY FEET OF THE DOORS.

Maybe I'm just particularly able-bodied, but there is a huge free lot next to the mall -- right across Willis Way -- that is NEVER more than 1/3 full. That lot is literally a minute's walk away from Waterloo Town Square -- and by extension the rest of the uptown shops -- but most people would rather drive their cars around the entrances than walk for more than a few seconds at a stretch.

I have only recently begun driving again so perhaps I'm missing something, but I simply don't see a "parking for shoppers" problem in uptown Waterloo. There certainly seems to be a logjam of city workers who need to park in the garage adjacent to the bank -- something needs to be tweaked there during rush hour, for sure -- but if you want to park within walking distance of the shopping, YOU CAN.

I made the mistake of asking one of the nice employees in the mall when the new park would be built, and she went off on a surprising tirade about it all. Strangely, her objection was NOT to the removal of the parking spots. She said the new park would "attract all the bums, bring in more alcohol, become dangerous..."

And I was like, "the bums are already IN uptown, and the park is going to be tiny and full of businessmen on their lunch." It had never even OCCURRED to me that the park could somehow be a "safety issue," being as you'll be able to walk from one end to the other in fifteen seconds.

I can only assume that this bizarre "dangerous park" thing is a fallback complaint after somebody deflated complaint number one ("not enough parking") by monitoring the mostly-empty lot next door and presenting their results.

Sometimes I jump to conclusions without having all the facts. But until somebody can explain to me why they can't park within walking distance of uptown -- with or without the new park -- I can only assume that those folks are lazy bums who'll be surprised to learn they actually have feet.

An Urge to Skin the Noisy Cat

Oh, jeez. For the last few days my cat has been demanding food at 5:00am. I have ignored her, locked her out of my bedroom, and given her a hard swat on her famous bum, but if anything this morning she was TWICE as bad. And when I finally DID feed her at 7:30am she didn't even EAT any of it, which means she wasn't particularly hungry beforehand.

My cat and I have a "don't give me no guff" relationship; she learned long ago that pestering me doesn't help, and she generally only meows obsessively when she's communicating an urgent message (like "mouse in the vent!" or "radiation cloud!")

But I've noticed, recently, that her needy meowing has slipped the bonds of necessity and become sheer annoying petulance. I think she's becoming a bit senile.

Anyway, this 5am breakfast demand has got to stop, if not least because it probably wakes my neighbour up. But the only way I can stop it is by continuing to ignore her.

Reuben's Strikes Again

I can't help imagining Evelyn Herbert opening The New Yorker on December 1, 1928, and shouting "Those NOSY STINKING BASTARDS!"

Yes, the folks at Reuben's restaurant have done it again. I think this is my favourite so far.
Masses of brightly burnished gold floated gracefully through our door the other November eve. A scientific phenomenon? Well...that's hardly the right appellation for the glowing, golden voiced EVELYN HERBERT, is it now? And though our heart was elsewhere, we could not help but notice, later, that not one delicious morsel of Reuben's priceless Chicken Madiola was escaping Miss Herbert's fork!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Madly Revolving Neighbours

What is it about my apartment building, anyway? DOES IT SUCK SO BAD?

Nobody manages to live in the unit next to me for more than a few months at a time. Sometimes this is good -- as with the chain-smoking woman and her psychotic dog -- but now it turns out that I'm losing the first REALLY GOOD neighbour I've ever had there.

My definition of "really good" is "I barely know he's there." I haven't written about him because I don't him to get angry and stuff gobs of feces into the air vent. I also don't want to jinx a good thing...traditionally, as soon as I say a person is "quiet," that person decides to open a boozecan and take up the drums.

I just learned today -- through secondhand gossip -- that my mysterious neighbour is moving out soon. My first thought was that he got tired of hearing the Doctor Who theme across the wall, but chances are he viewed this apartment the way so many people do: as a springboard to a house. May his first home be a happy one.

Since he'll be leaving and I can no longer offend him with personal details, let me tell you a little bit about him:

* He's a fantastic trumpet player, but he only plays it in moderation. One day his teacher came over and they did a jazzy back-and-forth that was actually worth listening to. I'm glad he doesn't play it all the time, but it's nice to hear him play occasionally.

* He eats very early breakfasts. Each weekday morning at 4:30am I wake up to the smell of bacon and eggs drifting through the cracks in the walls. Do you know how hard it is to fall back to sleep when you're smelling such a thing?

* For some reason, a female visitor in a little red car would always come over and park in the middle of the parking lot. Like, she wouldn't park in an actual parking spot, she would just pull in halfway and leave the car as an obstacle for everybody else to get around. She was otherwise extremely nice, and to this day I'm unable to figure out why she did such a thing.

So no more mysterious neighbour. As usual I offer up my semi-monthly "Unit A Prayer," which goes something like this:
Please God, don't send me a loud person.
Make sure they're gentle and peaceful and odourless.
Definitely no pets.

Please God, give them quiet feet on the creaky stairway
and no loud parties in the parking lot,
and a sleeping schedule that's identical to mine.

If they MUST have a pet, make it a lizard or a turtle.

Please God, provide them with open minds
and a friendly, considerate attitude.
May their intercourse be fast,
and may I stay downwind of their stinky food.

If there's a baby I will die.


Those Second Act Scotts

Originally I thought this was a strange wisecrack about the sexual habits of the Scottish people, but it's really about people who come into the theatre late. The first paragraph of the advertisement contains a string of references that I will explain below.
Just when the body is discovered or the third one from the left looks your way, the Scotts arrive. Their seats are never Robinson Crusoes (two in the aisle, if the old lady from Dubuque should inquire.) Men, otherwise kindly, grow apoplectic and stout ladies make "tut-tut" sounds. But no one knows the reasons for the tardiness of the Scotts. We do.
In true theatrical form I'll leave the explanation for this baffling mystery until the end.

* "Just when the body is discovered..." Obviously a reference to the inevitable climax of the first act of a mystery play: after the scene has been set and the characters introduced, one of the characters is found dead. Mystery plays were extremely popular in 1927, though in 1928 they seemed to be going on the wane.

* "...or the third one from the left looks your way..." A reference to those who tried to catch the eyes of chorus girls, a line of whom appeared in every musical show. Stories and articles from the '20s often make references to one particular girl who "stood out" from the line as prettier, more intelligent, more talented, or more tragic than the rest. She's the one whose eye you tried to catch...just before those darned Second Act Scotts barged in.

* "Their seats are never Robinson Crusoes..." I've never heard this one, but it's explained in the text. I imagine the aisle seats were called "Robinson Crusoes" because they were sort of distant and stranded from the rest, but I can think of lots of other equally bad explanations if you care to hear them.

* "...the old lady of Dubuque..." This was a running gag since the inception of The New Yorker. Their editorial policy was that the paper "wasn't written for the old lady of Dubuque," implying that their articles would be sophisticated. The OLOD got referenced a lot in the paper, particularly by advertisers trying to be clever.

SO WHY WERE THE SCOTTS LATE ALL THE TIME, ANYWAY? Because they were too busy eating really good home-cooked meals made of Guasti Sherry! This was bona fide alcohol, but so salted that only a homeless anchovy would dare drink it.

As a side note it's unusual to read an advertisement that basically says "these people are REALLY ANNOYING...because they use our product."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...The Legendary Pink Dots

I have never been as loyal to any band as I have The Legendary Pink Dots, so this is a difficult entry to write; my love is a deep and long one. So let's start with the how I became involved.

In 1990 I was obsessed with Skinny Puppy. While waiting at the Kitchener bus station I got into a musical discussion with the janitor there, and he told me I should listen to "The Tear Garden," a collaboration between Skinny Puppy and the Pink Dots. I picked up their CD ("Tired Eyes Slowly Burning") and I was absolutely was the most incredible music I'd ever heard. I still think it's one of the greatest albums ever made.

So I started buying Pink Dots music, but it was a difficult and expensive thing to do; the only store that carried their back catalog at the time was "The CD Bar" in Toronto. It didn't help that I didn't know anybody else who liked them; even today their fan base is small and scattered.

It's impossible to describe what the Pink Dots sound like because they change styles so frequently. Their early music was a mix between Beatles pop and electronic experimentation. In the mid-'80s they gradually transformed into a goth/industrial hybrid. After that they moved on to psychedelic space-rock funk, now doing a bit of a mish-mash that I'm not 100% fond of.

The most noticeable element of their sound, however, is the voice of Edward Ka-Spel, lead singer and constant member; some people think he sounds whiny, which I totally disagree with. You either like his vocal style or you dislike the band.

They have only made a few (somewhat regrettable) videos, but thanks to their open recording policy you can find hundreds of live clips online. Here they are during the peak of their "psychedelic space-rock" period (1995) playing "Clockwise." Co-founder The Silverman is playing keyboards on the right, and on the left is wacky sax-player Niels Van Hoorn, the friendliest guy you'll ever meet in a club.

So that's one side of the Dots. Here they are -- ten years later -- getting a little bit nastier. It's yet another reinterpretation of an old Dots song ("Love in a Plain Brown Envelope"), a live performance after the departure of Canadian funky-dub bassist Ryan Moore.

They tour North America every year (with few exceptions) and word is they'll be here in the fall, so if you see that they're playing in your town, do yourself a favour and check them out. But be forewarned: their discography is huge and their mythology is even bigger. If you want to know a bit about their older (more obscure) work, check out my Legendary Pink Cassette Cross-reference blog, a work-in-progress and my small contribution to ongoing Dots scholarship.

Albums to buy: Nobody will ever agree on this, but most people recommend either "Crushed Velvet Apocalypse" (angry) or "The Maria Dimension" (spacey) as a good "first album." Albums to avoid: I really didn't like "Nemesis Online" or "Hallway of the Gods," but some people think those are the best. For fans only: any of the limited special edition works produced by small labels such as BLRR, usually requiring a turntable and a thick wallet.

And keep in mind the many solo projects and collaborations by band members...much of that stuff is darned good if you can find it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Poor People

I've just finished reading William T. Vollmann's "Poor People." This comes at a good time, because Kitchener/Waterloo's panhandlers sprout in the springtime like daisies, and every year I wonder: who are these people, why are they here, and how do their lives relate to mine?

During the last twenty years Vollmann has been traveling the world and asking people: why are you poor? I think he'd hoped to find a "lowest common denominator" key to poverty by doing this, but as he points out at the beginning of the book, people who are uneducated, busy, uncertain, and in pain often do not have the time or means to analyze and express their circumstances. So most of the responses to this question are flippant or contradictory.

Vollmann's approach is observational and he does his best to be cross-cultural as well. One of his early stumbling blocks is that "poverty" isn't a quantifiable quality, especially when you compare hobos in North America with office cleaners in China. Poverty is hopelessly entwined with the culture of the poor person and the status of the observer.

Vollmann finally decides (with many reservations) that poverty is "wretchedness" below the specific culture's "normal" level, and he defines several elements which help to define the poverty lifestyle: invisibility, deformity, unwantedness, dependence, accident-prone-ness, pain, numbness, and estrangement. He provides case studies for each element, as well as 128 full-page pictures of the people being interviewed. The pictures deserve an entire book of their own.

The book does not offer any solutions, either for governments or individuals. Poor people generally request "more aid, better directed," but that is such a difficult thing to organize and supervise that it simply never happens.

After exploring all the facets and difficulties of poverty through the interviews, the best part of the book (as is often the case with his work) comes in the final chapters, where Vollmann describes how the poverty of others affects HIM. His family has been living for years next to an abandoned lot where transients are always sleeping, and very early he realized that he couldn't help those people and -- what's more -- that he had to "keep the door closed" against them. He candidly describes his fear of poor people in his own backyard, people who WANT something from him and have very little to lose by trying to snatch it. He also talks about his exasperation -- tempered with some understanding -- when they destroy his property or try to intimidate him, no matter how nicely he tries to relate to them.

"Poor People" is definitely his most accessible work, and I'd HIGHLY recommend it as an entry point into Vollmann's wonderful, terrible, and deadly world. But be forewarned that he doesn't have any answers, and the book is REALLY a list of questions. It won't teach you how to deal with the next person who asks you for money but it will at least make you consider why you may or may not refuse.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Harpo Profile

I was excited when I came across an extensive profile of Harpo Marx in the December 1, 1928 issue of The New Yorker. I couldn't wait to read a contemporary account of his life -- written during the run of the stage version of "Animal Crackers" -- and I'd actually be able to contribute something to this blog OTHER than Frigidaire advertisements!

But then I realized it was written by Alexander Wollcott. Oh hell.

Only Wollcott -- and his flippant associates of the Algonquin Round Table -- could turn Harpo Marx's life and behaviour into a boring (and largely incomprehensible) profile. The Wollcott technique? Using sly, dry, ironic language to twist little-known personal anecdotes into descriptions of how gosh-darn unusual Harpo was and -- by extension and association -- how clever Mr. Wollcott was.

This was the entire problem with early New Yorker issues, this reliance on witty bon mots and self-aggrandizing style that managed to make even the most interesting subject sound like...well, a bunch of rich and cynical critics sitting around in a restaurant, trying to top each other's stories with a combination of embellishment, dry humour, and wordplay.

Is it any wonder that I reprint the newspaper advertisements more often than anything else?

Monday, May 19, 2008

May Photojourney!

There are lots of new pictures in The Flickr Photojourney, which you should go look at AFTER reading the three posts below...they explain the context.

In the meantime, though, here's a picture which needs NO's "Frenzy," the Angry Wig!

Frenzy, the Angry Wig!

The "Stereotypical Canadian Boor-Hick" Test

How do you know if you're a stereotypical hockey-playing Canadian? When a beer company brands you as such, that's how. Here's an advertisement I found in the Club Abstract bathroom. It annoys me.

Another Banal Beer Advertisement

I crave the approval of a beer company's ad campaign, so here is how I measure up to their concept of "Canadian."

* I don't drink beer very often, but if I did I would certainly replenish "the cooler" (because we all drink beer in the woods, eh?).

* I don't talk during another country's national anthem, but I also don't go to places where national anthems are played (not because I don't like anthems but because I don't like those sorts of placed).

* I most certainly DO shave below the neck, wow!

* I have shoveled my neighbour's driveway, but only because she made me feel guilty about it.

* I do not consider it a bad thing to talk about work on a long weekend (during which, of course, I am always in the woods drinking beer out of a cooler, eh?).

* Jesus, no, I have not "made a ball out of hockey tape" (this is the point in the test when I start to get annoyed)

* I don't hang around gym showers, but no, I wouldn't pee in one. I DO know that some people think it's okay to pee in their OWN showers, however, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

* Yes, I always say "sorry" when people bump into me. Of all these stupid stereotypes this is probably the most accurate.

* Why would I have my fingers behind my back? What sort of sneaky jerk do you think I am? I don't know what this one means but it sounds childish and stupid.

* If I were to EVER "cheer for a goal" I'm sure I wouldn't spill anything, because -- you know -- I am not an infant.

* The last time I was "the goalie" was when I was six, and that was because my sister knew it would hurt more.

* I agree...the driver should pick the music.

* Have I ever "thrown a hat on the ice?" Which ice is that? Is this a stupid hockey thing again? I don't wear hats and -- if I did -- I would respect them too much to just throw them around.

* I will happily end an email with a smiley face. :)

* Yes, I do put a loonie on the pool table to claim the next game.

* It would be silly to NOT bring utensils on a camping trip out of some general principle of "Canadian-ness." Do Canadians tend to eat with their hands? I guess only when they're in the woods, making a ball out of hockey tape and replenishing the cooler.

* I'm doubly Canadian because I help strangers out of snowdrifts and then agonize about my motivation for doing so.

* You should ALWAYS get in the lineup with the most competent cashier. At the local Valu-Mart there are two cashiers who are positively GLACIAL, and even if they only have one person in their line I'll always choose a different cashier...and I always get out first.

* I will not respond to any statement which contains the word "dudes." My annoyance has bubbled over, yo.

* No...I don't need lighter fluid to start a fire, in the woods, with the cooler etc.

* If my "buddy" is not allowed into a bar for a reason which I think is silly, I will happily go elsewhere. If my buddy isn't allowed in because he has a behavioural problem, however, I will stand and cheer as the bouncers kick him down the ramp and into the parking lot.

The Great Duckling Rescue of 2008

Every year a stupid duck decides to lay her eggs outside my workplace. This would be fine if she weren't laying them in a ten-foot-high concrete planter that the ducklings can't climb out of; safe from predators, yes, but a deathtrap for tiny things that have yet to learn to fly.

In the past, many of the ducklings have either died in the planter or managed to escape only after the mother had given up, becoming dinner for local crows and cats. Their pitiful peeping cries were a terrible thing to hear. I couldn't stand it anymore.

So 2007 saw the inauguration of the first annual Great Duckling Rescue.

The problem with the GDR is that the planter is full of thick evergreen shrubs that have been growing for eight years; now they're an impenetrable, spiky mess. Under this the ducklings run hither and yon while myself and a brave volunteer get sliced to bits by evergreen thorns, trying to simultaneously hold the rigid stems away from the ground and catch tiny little things that run away at 30kph. In 2007 we also dealt with a dive-bombing mama duck, though this year she stood politely aside while we did our rescue operation.

The Dumbest Duck in the World

Apparently we saved fifteen ducklings this year. Before you say "wow, that's a lot of eggs!" let me point out that two more babies died instantly upon hatching, and another two eggs just never hatched at all (I guess my cubicle wasn't a very good incubator).

Some of my fellow employees think I'm crazy; their objections range from "survival of the fittest" (are we preserving a "stupid nesting behaviour gene" in the duck population?) to "nature is cruel" (yes, I know). Sorry, I can't just sit there and listen to animals die.

The day wasn't all downy sweetness, however; when I first climbed into the planter I think I stepped on a slow duckling and broke its neck. It was alive for far too long as we rescued its brothers and sisters...I won't go into details because it was pretty awful. But the rest of the birds seemed pretty happy, and when the mother walked away she was literally floating on a hovercraft of little bustling animals.

How she's going to PROVIDE for that brood is another matter.

Ducks Alive!

The Muffypod Takes a Powder

I have a love-hate relationship with my iPod; I love the convenience of it, but I deplore what it has done to my concept of music.

I used to view a song as part of an entire album, just a piece of a larger work, a work that consisted of both exceptional and substandard songs. Now, for me, a song is an isolated object. My patience for album-listening has gone down. These days I tend to listen to songs on "shuffle" instead.

On Saturday night my MuffyPod became suddenly corrupted. They always tell you not to unplug iPods when they're doing "busy stuff" on your computer, but in my experience the MuffyPod will sometimes do "busy stuff" until the cows come home (and then the cows get angry because they can't shut it off either). So I'll occasionally rebel against convention by unplugging my iPod when I shouldn't, and by doing so I have totally trashed the poor thing, leaving me with 864 songs out of the 12,000 that used to be on there.

This was my first (somewhat childish) emotional response:

MuffyPod Takes a Powder

Then I got greedy.

"Hey, why bother uploading all those songs back into this piddly 6oGB iPod...I should just buy a 160GB one instead!"

Yes, but...

"Why commit myself to years of uploading songs using a USB 1.0's REALLY time to upgrade my computer! I actually need to buy a new iMac!"

Yes, but...

"If I buy a new iMac, I shouldn't splurge on a brand new iPod right away...I'll get the iMac first -- next weekend, probably -- and then buy a new iPod somewhere down the road."

So you see how I've convinced myself that the failure of my iPod actually justifies the purchase of a WHOLE NEW COMPUTER. And it really DOES make some sort of sense, or at least it would if I hadn't just bought a car and if I actually had a piece of furniture to put the new computer ON.

Thanks, MuffyPod...your legacy will be credit debt and a brief return to "album-oriented" song appreciation. The god of technology works in mysterious ways.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Zsa Zsa Becomes Famous for Her Strength and Her Bum

I always knew that Zsa Zsa was destined for super-stardom, but I wasn't quite sure how until now:

News article with Zsa Zsa picture.

(I'm not sure how NowPublic works exactly, so the picture of Zsa Zsa's butt might not be the secondary image when YOU look at the page).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Scrutable Poetry Corner: "Dowager"

In keeping with our commitment to totally unambiguous poetry, here's "Dowager" by Ruth Brown.
They used to call her "Kitty" when
She frolicked in the nineties. Men
Still make her flutter helplessly;
Her kind of femininity
Is at its best behind a fan.
Although she's fat she never can
See any sense in dieting--
Her friends say, "Poor old lonely thing!
We must invite her here for dinner,"
And then forget, while she waits in her
Hotel apartment hopefully
With photographs for company.
I generally enjoy Brown's poetry in The New Yorker, but I'm afraid I can't tell you anything about her; she only contributed between 1928 and 1929, and I can't find any online references to her (since she is not the blues singer of the same name).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Right to Life Parade

Just in case you missed the annual K-W Right to Life parade, don't cry, I watched it for you. It happened last Saturday and seemed to last from 10:26 to 10:27 am. I got a little bored at the halfway point -- I was on my way to breakfast, after all -- but at least I could keep them all in my vision at the same time.

For some reason they had balloons. Maybe they wanted to make it look like there were more people.

"The Canadian Settler's Guide"

Society is hanging by a thread. As the movies keep reminding us, all we need is a nuclear war, a viral outbreak, a terrorist strike, or a polar bear attack to bring all of our modern machinery to a shuddering halt. We are literally inches away from the stone age, and I don't mean the kind of stone age where we wear fur bikinis and fight dinosaurs. I mean the kind where we all die because we're too stupid to know how to make our own bread.

I picked up Catherine Parr Traill's "The Canadian Settler's Guide" because, after the zombies bring down our entire fragile infrastructure, I want to lend a helping hand when the time comes to reconstruct the world. I want to offer more practical knowledge than just how to boil Kraft Dinner and accentuate a lip-line.

The fact that you can't grow insulin in a garden sort of makes my whole plan moot anyway, but I want to AT LEAST build a whipsaw and plant some cabbage before I die.

So Traill's book -- written for the new 1855 Canadian immigrant -- has proved helpful. I now understand the importance building a veranda around even the meanest hovel, and I know one should keep the chickens in a coop while one is planting the crops. I have learned the best way to prepare fried corn (boil it first) and how to make a tasty beer out of beets. I could, if pressed, make a rag rug or a candle or a delightful pigeon pie, and I could tell you how many bricks a yard of clay will make (460), and I could even recite a verse of "The Scottish Immigrant Song":
The little gowans tipped wi dew
That 'mang the grass shone brightly;
The harebell waving in the breeze
That bowed its head sae lightly.
When Mrs. Traill devoted a section of the book to "the ague," however, I had to chuckle. "Oh those simple Victorian people, mistaking food poisoning or a tight corset for some mysterious vapor-disease." Little did I know that -- holy cow! -- malaria was a serious problem in Ontario throughout the 1800's. No wonder a spoonful of Epsom salts didn't help.

So when the world comes crashing down, feel free to stay with me for a little while. We'll have a quilting bee, clear some land, and dig a pit to put the potatoes in. But now that I know where rennet comes from, YOU can make the cheese.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Food Canal

With much thanks to Fleishmann's Yeast -- a product consumed by those who REALLY think that their bad breath starts in their intestines -- here's a confused young man and his stomach:

Thanks, confused young man!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

High Noon at Six P.M.

It was the first warm day in weeks. Zsa Zsa had been begging to go outside. After dinner, at 6pm, I strapped her in her harness and we sat on the porch.

Zsa Zsa was thrilled. She descended the steps into the back yard and ate some grass. I read my book and luxuriated in the sunlight. Everything was good.

Suddenly I became aware of the unnatural stillness. Zsa Zsa had bunched herself up and her ears were flat, and she was staring at a shape creeping around the corner.

Penny. The neighbourhood tough-cat. The little town terror. Come for a fight.

We froze into a silent tableau, the three of us, staring. The cats began to vocalize, coaxing strange moans out of their throats. These moans would start low and then cycle up into looping howls, gaining in volume, interspersed with hisses and alpaca spits.

Penny began to move, making slow ninja steps around the edge of Zsa Zsa's reach. The howls grew louder, their hackles rose, I was witness to a kitty showdown the likes of which I had never hoped to see.

I wondered: should I interfere? Penny was twice the size of Zsa Zsa and she's used to fighting in the wilderness, but I didn't want to wound Zsa Zsa's pride by pulling her inside; maybe she could do it. Maybe she could win. Maybe I should let her try.


A twig snapped.

STRIKE! Penny lunged and battered Zsa Zsa with her paws. Zsa Zsa got a few pitiful swipes in and then she turned and ran, back up the porch, the battle lost. Once again Penny was victorious.

I jumped up and chased Penny away. Zsa Zsa was not wounded but she had entered a mind-altered state, growling and hissing in consternation and shame. When she had calmed down a bit I inspected her for wounds, then picked her up and put her back on the battleground, thinking this might bring some of her confidence back. She hunkered down and growled, hissed, howled, hackled.

Ten minutes later she was back inside and meowing for treats. She may not remember the conflict but *I* have learned a lesson. Next time Penny approaches my cat, I'm going to punch her in the nose.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Love and Truth" at the TICOT St. Patrick's Day Fundraiser

In March I went to Toronto to participate in a St. Patrick's Day TICOT fundraiser. I've already blogged about the joys of the trip, but here's a snippet of one of the numbers I performed ("Love and Truth" by Mother Mother), filmed by Craig and uploaded by Morgan James.

Those two ultra-sweeties also send me a DVD containing a full version of the other number I did (which I'll upload soon), along with a collection of additional cool and surprising stuff. Do you have friends who unselfishly send cool things through the mail? I hope so, especially if they send them to me!

Incidentally, this clip uses a new relativistic video process...since it travels near the speed of light you'll notice that the colour of my dress changes depending on my motion relative to yours. I've always wanted to be red-shifted!

The Limitations of a Sim, or, Hope for the Dwarf Fortress Addict

"Simulation" computer games grab me and they refuse to let me go. There's something about my personality that loves playing god with small collections of simulated humans, even if the simulated humans are just washing their dishes.

Along comes "Dwarf Fortress," which is not only an elaborate social sim but also caters to my OTHER game obsession: procedurally-generated worlds in which I can build and populate elaborate environments. This sort of game is the best drug ever for me. It goes straight through my eyes and into the pleasure centers of my brain. It's so good it's like mainlining breakfast, without the annoying waitress and the babies crapping on the highchairs.

But fortunately there seems to be an unavoidable flaw in all simulations. This flaw ultimately dulls the thrill and returns me to my pre-addicted, regularly-blogging self: sims are fun as long as there are more "real-world" details waiting to be exposed to the player...

...but the more detailed a game becomes, the more monotonous the gameplay ends up being, because the real-world is actually horribly dull.

For instance, I really enjoyed "The Sims" until I realized it was essentially an endless routine of getting my simulated people off to work on time, which is so realistic that it actually sucks. Likewise a game like "Alpha Centauri" where the problems boil down to getting your simulated units from one part of the world to the other; in my REAL life I finally bought a car to reduce that sort of monotony. Why should I put up with such things in a piece of escapist entertainment?

It's typical that, when I started actually having dreams about "Dwarf Fortress," my dreams were always about moving rocks from one place to another. I'd wake up in the morning feeling as though I'd worked all night in a warehouse, moving junk around from one place to another, then moving it back again later on. Most of the gameplay in "Dwarf Fortress" really comes down to that...

...and it's terribly dull and the exact opposite of entertainment...

...but that's the limitation of an accurate simulation: everyday life REALLY IS about moving stuff around all day, whether it's money or food or your body. The only reason we stay sane is because we forget the number of times we've washed our hands and the number of socks we've picked up (and believe me, the Dwarves in "Dwarf Fortress" are ALWAYS leaving their socks around).

So, my sim-hungry brain craves the most accurate "real life" simulation possible...but my brain is simultaneously uninterested in the mundane tasks that are 95% of real life. "Dwarf Fortress" could only sustain my interest if it got even more ridiculously detailed, but by doing so it would only become more tedious as a result.

I suspect this applies to the high-end modern simulations as well, games like Grand Theft Auto 4 and The Sims 2. I'm sure there's a point in the "fun sim" equation when the lines of "tedium" and "realism" meet, where the player cannot cross.

For my own social future that's surely a good thing.

An Intimate Glimpse of Four Young New Yorkers Reveals Their Preference for Best Pajamas

I don't usually bother reading the New Yorker advertisements for large department stores, but this one (November 24, 1928) for Best & Co. is fun.

Pajamas are just pajamas in most shops, but at Best's they are works of art! Simple, comfortable, distinctive, and gay as the light-hearted young things who wear them.
Such an "intimate glimpse" of these light-hearted and simple young ladies...err, young things. It doesn't look staged at all! The advertising copy tells us that Miss Marguerite Shea "displays her latest dance step, in colorful broadcloth pajamas with fast-color black braid piping." Meanwhile Miss Virginia Maurice, Miss Marty Simonton, and Miss Katheryn Baltus look on.

What *I* want to know is why they're wearing rubber boots and dancing in what appears to be a dormitory. They're so distinctive and gay, those young flapper-things of the '20s!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ooh-La-La: Paris in the Spring!

The aforementioned all-new Daily Muffy is online now!


Just in case you're new to this concept, the idea is to present a new picture every day, meanwhile telling a more-or-less coherent story. This one is the story of how Tim and I went to Paris...and you can view it here. The pictures will be unlocked every weekday morning and you can view them at different sizes, comment on them, see them on a map, check out the growing's all so gosh-darned interactive!

Special thanks to Jenn Wilson for suggesting a way of doing this using Flickr. Hopefully it all works! Please let me know if you have any problems or suggestions.

I'd Buy Anything By...Komeda

I have probably already mentioned that I flirted briefly with Sweden. I can't give a good reason for why this happened, but it had something to do with being trapped in a dead-end job and feeling like my horizons were shrinking, and that I'd better get out and see the world before I grew too old to really enjoy it.

What better place for a socially-neurotic Canadian to go but Sweden, which is like Canada but more so? I put off actually TRAVELING there by plunging into Swedish history, language, and culture (though I didn't go so far as to try Surströmming, being of a delicate disposition weaned on things that smell good).

During my "Swedish wannabe" phase I ran across the music of Komeda. They exemplified the hip, unselfconscious, unclassifiable nature of so many great Swedish bands that I was hearing at the time...even if many people thought they just sounded like Stereolab.

They only released a handful of albums (only two of which were in English) but they mixed styles in a way that still sounds great today: part lounge, part rock, part laid-back retro electronic. To illustrate their eclectic nature, here's their first hit single, "Boogie Woogie/Rock 'n' Roll," silly on the surface but well-tempered with considerable skill. Don't worry, cubicle surfers...this is the version WITHOUT the bare tushes.

Their second English album ("What Makes It Go?") was much slicker, and it seemed like they were being groomed for North American college radio. Their video for "It's Alright Baby" might not have dispelled inevitable comparisons with The Cardigans, but it sure was fun.

Then they disappeared. Then end.


But wait! I just discovered that they released another album in 2003. I'll have to order it so I can justify the "I'd Buy Anything" designation.

Albums to buy: You don't have a lot of choices, but "What Makes It Go" is the easiest to find and considered my many to be the best. Albums to avoid: "Pop PĂ„ Svenska" is a tad larval and monotonous, and...well, it's in Swedish. So that would also put it in the "For Fans Only" category.

Mother's Day in the Rural Badlands, Amongst the Antiques

I spent much of the day with my mother. I love eating and shopping with her. Since we're both socially-cautious people, it's sort of delightful that we've managed to warm up in particular situations -- eating, driving, shopping, drinking -- sheerly through observation, empathy, and the same cautious approach you use when making friends with strange animals: extend the palm, let them smell you, don't lunge or grab, next time bring treats.

We went to Angie's Kitchen in St. Agatha. When I was very young we used to go there frequently, but that was thirty years ago, so all my memories are of dark woodsy corners and paper placemats with connect-the-dot swans. This Angie's Kitchen experience was a little different as we'd come during a traditionally hectic day, and we were inexplicably seated at a huge empty table in the middle of the room. It felt like I was at a conference, sitting beside my mother because the table was far too wide to sit facing each other at opposite sides.

Then we went shopping in Shakespeare, which over the years has become a flypaper-strip meant to catch tourists on the way to the Stratford Festival. It's baited with antique shops. I saw things there that I might actually buy, if I had a lot of money and I had more concern about my personal space. My mother liked the weatherbeaten stuff that looked slightly decayed, whereas I am unable to eat around such things without thinking of fingernail dirt and feces. The one item I decided to buy -- a sort of art deco yoga ornament which could be explained away as an "interpretive dancer made in China" -- ended up having a cracked leg, which wasn't my fault, honest.

(When you are prevented from buying something because it turns out to be broken, don't despair! You've saved money that you can spend on something else, like a belt or a down payment on shoes! You should be happy!)

Speaking of spending money, I decided to re-learn pumping gas. After two months of driving my car to such far-off locales as Paris, Wellesley, and Philipsburg I still had a quarter tank of gas left, but fuel-efficiency can only get you so far: it was time to finally brave the pumps. I was astonished to learn that my mother has been shelling out for full service all these years and has never pumped gas herself, so we combined our experience (and our ability to follow written instructions) and came out feeling empowered and fulfilled. The price for this experience? $50. Less than I'd expected.

Here's hoping you had a good mother's day, and that you both did something new, and that your breakfast sausage was ladled out by a cheerful buffet lady wearing a clean smock.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Things Fall Apart

It is SO HARD to keep ahead of life's inevitable decay. It seems like every day I am confronted with yet another trivial piece of wear-and-tear that requires my attention: a burnt out lightbulb, a dirty litterbox, a full garbage can, a dirty tub, a carpet covered with lint and shucked-off cat claws.

It occurred to me recently that, with the exception of the spontaneously-generating sowbugs in my basement, stuff is falling apart around me all the time. Only by expending our carefully-conserved energy can we keep ahead of the rot. No wonder I get exhausted! No wonder I'm discouraged! No wonder I can't play "Dwarf Fortress" all day!

I manage to ignore this "everyday decay" until my environment becomes unlivable, or until I need to do laundry. Then I go into a flurry of superficial cleaning: empty the garbages, collect the recycling, pay the bills, move a pile of useless junk from the center of the room to the corner that I reserve specifically for the storage of useless junk.

When I'm done I feel vibrant and alive and capable! Then I feel like I deserve a treat, and-how! Minutes later -- with the surface barely scratched -- I'm watching a movie while things fall apart around me again. The dust collects, the pop cans pile up, the plants die.


Ronnie O'Vera, you were a good cactus, and the only plant that thrived under my care. I don't know why you finally died -- the long winter, the botched re-potting, the bugs that arrived with that other plant my mom bought me -- but when I pulled your hard, curled-up carcass out of the dirt I felt a tiny twinge of remorse.

I didn't love you, but I'll miss you. Rest in landfill.

Huck Finn

I need to get this off my chest: I just finished reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and I don't have a clue what I should say about it. It's like coming back from Niagara Falls and trying to find meaningful adjectives to describe the falls that haven't already been used. "Huck Finn" has been analyzed to death; what more can I possibly add?

Only that I thought it was amazing, funny, touching, witty, and fascinating. I hear that it is Mark Twain's best book by a longshot so I probably won't pick up his other books, but nobody could write such a masterpiece without being consistently brilliant in SOME other way.

Critics love to slam the book's final chapters, and I have to agree...they are total crap: forced, repetitive, pointless, and a complete letdown from the subtlety and fine-honed logic of the rest of the story. Don't let that spoil it for you though...if you're looking for a fun and sometimes painful adventure through a sharply-observed long-lost time and place, definitely give "Huck Finn" some of your time.

It was almost better than "Dwarf Fortress." Almost.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Would you believe that Victoria and I actually went to PARIS in order to take pictures for a "Daily Muffy?" It's true! C'est vrai!

This first in a new season of "Daily Muffy" episodes will begin on May 12th, in a brand new format and location. Stay tuned for all the details!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Coming Up!

I haven't just been sitting at home playing "Dwarf Fortress." No indeed, I've been planning all sorts of special events.

First off, hopefully I'll see some of you at "La Cage" tonight (Friday) at the Walper Hotel, starting at 6pm. I won't be performing, just playing the music for the performers themselves, but it's always a fun and professional event in support of Tri-Pride...come see!

On this coming Thursday (the 8th) come to Club Renaissance for the next installment of "Glamourspunk!" It's an extension of the regular Ren Glitter Nights, coordinated and hosted by Victoria Parks with some help from me. So far these shows have had some of the best local talent (and the best crowds I've ever seen) so you're probably missing out if you don't show up.

Then, on Saturday May 31st I'll be performing at Guelph's Pride Party and Dance. Last year they gave me my own hotel room...maybe this year they'll give me the entire hotel?

Other than that there are some SECRET plans: operations "Ooh-la-la" and "Maid of the Mist." I can't tell you more, but let's just say that the "Daily Muffy" will be back soon...maybe as early as next week! Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

From the Mouth of the Optometrist (Plus, Chicken Brains)

I've been getting a lot of conflicting advice about my glasses: should I be wearing them all the time or only when I need them? Will wearing them prolong the quality of my eyesight, or vice versa? If I don't wear them constantly, will I ever get used to them?

I should have known that my OPTOMETRIST was the person to ask. Here's what he said, for the enlightenment of future generations:

* The reason the world looks strange when I'm wearing the glasses is because of my astigmatism. If this persists, they can reduce the power of the lenses.

* Given my age, my eyesight will not deteriorate any slower whether or not I wear glasses. Likewise, wearing them will not in any way weaken my eyes.

* In order to adjust to the glasses (the distorted world and the feeling of strain) I should wear them pretty much constantly for a week. At the end of this period I can wear them whenever I want to...when I put them on the adjustment should happen much faster, and when I take them off I will still adjust back to not wearing them. This is not a permanent change (see "Chicken Brains," below).

* By wearing them constantly I WILL get used to how sharp and clear the world can be. When I take the glasses off I will probably miss that sharpness.

So I'm in my fourth day of forcible adjustment. Wearing the glasses at work has been a lot of trouble because I need to struggle to focus on things that are close-up...and I spend all day looking at close-up things. I have not been the most efficient and useful worker this week, spending part of my time staring in an unfocused way at the top edge of my computer monitor and wishing that the day would end.


Perceptual psychologists LOVE their prism glasses. By putting these glasses on various creatures at different ages and seeing how they adjust to displacement, they can learn an awful lot about the brain and its wiring.

In one of my classes the professor described an experiment commonly done with chickens. They put glasses on a chicken to displace its vision about twenty degrees, then they watch it try to peck at a seed on the ground. Chickens will continually peck twenty degrees away from the seed, never coming anywhere near the target. They can't adapt.

Most mammals, however, adjust to this displacement eventually through an unconscious mental process. To demonstrate, the professor brought volunteers to the blackboard, made them wear the prism glasses, and asked them to repeatedly and quickly strike out with a piece of chalk while aiming at a spot on the blackboard. I was one of these volunteers and we all reacted the same...the strikes started off far from the target, but gradually reduced the distance until they were bullseyes. Our brains had made an unconscious adjustment, and even though the target still appeared farther to the left than it actually was, our hands could reach it with very little error.

One volunteer, however, was totally unable to hit the correct spot. His errors remained constant. The professor announced to the class that this volunteer had the brain of a chicken, and the nickname "chicken brain" stuck.