Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Esperanto, the world's saddest and most pointless language.

A recent hit-and-run visitor to No Good Boyo's blog has attempted, like some seedy drug pusher, to tempt us to read about his dull, aspergerish obsession with invented language. I merely warn as a public service that Esperanto is a complete crock of sh*t.

I say this for a number of reasons:

1) It's totally artificial and thus totally lacking in a soul - there is no literature, no folklore, no songs, no opera...

2) It was invented by a European and therefore is laden with useless fripperies like declensions (ack).

3) In wasting time learning Esperanto, one misses out on the joys of learning a real language - how can one impress one's date by ordering fluently in an Esperanto restaurant or flirt with a dark-eyed Esperantina (or suave Esperantino, according to gender and/or inclination)?

4) Most horrifically, one is limited to conversation and social interaction with other Esperantists, a fate that has all the free-spirited appeal of going to train-spotters' meetings or joining the Socialist Workers Party.

Now I must in my pre-emptive defence point out that I am not against learning languages; quite the opposite - I speak several aside from English to a greater or lesser degree of fluency. But they're all real languages. And heck, there are enough of them out there without having to invent any more, especially ones that lack all the appeal of learning languages in the first place.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Six random things.

I have been tagged by Scarlet Blue - which I consider an honour and a privilege, btw.

The challenge is to reveal six random things about myself, so here goes:

1) I was reportedly conceived in Wales (I have my mother's word for it); in Pembrokeshire of all places.

2) I suffer from (or perhaps 'enjoy') a genetic condition known as hyperbilurubinaemia or Gilbert's Syndrome, which I have passed on to at least one of my two children. While it makes you prone to jaundice, it has the welcome side effect of giving you very low cholesterol levels and thus a degree of protection against heart trouble. Up to 5% of the population have this; since it's considered benign it isn't tested for and I only found out when being tested for something else, which I turned out not to have. Gentle reader - you may in fact have it too. If so, I propose we form a support group to eat bacon sandwiches and plum duff and snigger cruelly at people who eat Benecol.

3) I was the first Briton ever to sing macapat in the royal palace of Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat in central Java, a distinction somewhat tempered by the fact that it's so obscure even most Javanese haven't got a clue what it means.

4) On my second day at school I had a live python placed around my neck. You see, we had 'the zoo man' (Mr Whittle his name was) come into my infant school to show and talk about various creatures; everyone volunteered to hold the cute furry ones but when it got to the snake I duly put my hand up and then realised, to my slight discomfort, that I was the only one whose hand was up.

5) I got married three times in my life. All on the same day, and to the same woman. Multi-cultural relationships can get like that...

6) When I was 17 I painted all my finger- and toenails gold. In my defence, I removed the said nail varnish on the last night of the school production of Midsummer Night's Dream, in which I was playing Puck.

Having fulfilled this duty, I hereby tag Boyo, Mrs Boyo, Gadjo Dilo, MC Ward, Scaryduck and The Stirrer.

Was that alright, Ms Blue?

UPDATED EDIT: Tag rules: Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Write 6 random things about yourself. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Indonesian pornography - a definition

One of the most hotly contested issues in Indonesian politics for the past few years has been the draft bill on 'pornografi dan pornoaksi' which has been grinding through the parliament (the DPR) for a while now.

Rarely is it possible to trace a controversial law to an individual enmity; but on this occasion it is. Let me tell you a little story...

Once upon a time, there was a dangdut singer called Rhoma Irama. Dangdut is a form of Indonesian pop sounding curiously like Bollywood film music and associated with working-class Muslims, but culturally bearing more than a passing resemblance to Country and Western. Anyway, by the 90s Rhoma Irama's star was on the wane - associated with an old-fashined, un-hip form of music and gradually descending into paunchy middle age, the one-time "King of Dangdut" decided to jack in the music business, become what one can only describe as a "born-again Muslim", and entered parliament as a celebrity candidate for an Islamist party. (Think "country-and-western singer known for rhinestone suits finds Jesus and gets elected as congressman for South Carolina".)

And then, a new dangdut star emerged onto the national stage - young, energetic, female, curvacious and decidedly too raunchy for the imams, who started having fits watching her videos, which they nonetheless forced themselves to watch as a moral duty. Yes, it was the time of the 'Ratu Ngebor' (the drilling queen, named for her trademark hip-swivelling dance), Inul Daratista. Suddenly, dangdut had a new monarch and Rhoma Irama was left blinking in the dust. (The opening words of the song you'll find by clicking her name run "O audience - ladies and gentleman, all who are here - please forgive me if I get a bit se-xxyyyyy ")

And did the old duffer take it graciously, perhaps writing a song for her and inviting her for dinner to discuss dance moves? Did he heck - in an unbelievable display of spite, bile and political opportunism, he forbade her from singing any of his old songs and railed against her to any crowd or media outlet that would listen about how she personally endangered the morals of the nation. Following which, he introduced a bill in the DPR outlawing "pornographi dan pornoaksi" - pornography and, er 'pornoaction'. Pornoaction being a term for any 'obscene act' performed live, including - in fact especially - Inul's sell-out shows and TV appearances.

Mind you, she's actually relatively discreet. There's a form of music known as campursari, the female performers of which get even raunchier than Inul.

Anyway, having let the genie out of the bottle, Rhoma Irama soon found it out of his control. In vain did the government point out that pornography was already banned by a perfectly clear law; in vain did many point out that despite that law's existence you can buy hard-core DVDs from under-the-counter cardboard boxes in any market in the nation; no- he went right ahead regardless. And here a fresh problem emerged - there isn't one Islamist party in the DPR, there is a whole bunch of them, most with only a pathetic handful of MPs, all jostling madly to distinguish their indistinguishable policies. And so when Rhoma Irama stood up and said "I think we should ban sexy dancing", that served as a cue for a rival MP to chip in with "I wholeheartedly support that idea, but call for the new law to ban women going bare-shouldered in public as well as sexy dancing..." and so on, like some insane fundamentalist version of the game 'my aunt went to town'.

Finally, this week, The Jakarta Post finally came clean with the working definition or pornography that these zeebs are going with:
"man-made sexuality materials either in the form of drawings, sketches, illustrations, photographs, text, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, poetry, conversations, gestures, or other forms of communicative messages through various kinds of media; and or performances in front of the public, which may incite sexual desire and or violate moral ethics in the community" [sic]

Well, that's perfectly clear then, isn't it? I fail to see how, under this definition, I - anybody - could get through the average day without falling foul of the law as interpreted by the kind of bone-headed, permanently angry zealots who will see it as their holy duty to enforce it on everyone else (the linked clip shows members of the "Islamic Defenders' Front" - a self-appointed vice and virtue squad - attacking a pro-religious tolerance rally in Jakarta on 1 June this year).

Like the puritans who left 17th century England for the Americas, the reality of their complaint is not that they are being oppressed, but that they are being prevented from oppressing everyone else. And this proposed law gives them the excuse to harrass scantily-clad women (i.e. anyone not wearing what they believe to be modest dress), non-Muslims, and anyone enjoying themselves.

I shall be deeply disappointed in Indonesia if it passes.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Minor intellectual peeves

There are some common misconceptions, received opinions, slips and so forth which really irritate me.

Here are a few of the most egregious:

"This begs the question..." No it doesn't. 99 times out of 100, when people use this phrase, they mean "this raises the question...". "Begging the question" is a term with a specific meaning, describing a logical fallacy where you smuggle in your conclusion as an assumption, thus appearing outwardly to prove something which you haven't in fact proved at all. This is such a useful term that it would be a shame if we were to allow the likes of Evan Davies (a persistent offender) to wreck it for us.

"If Napoleon had won Waterloo... .... he would have reigned peacefully as Emperor for decades". No he bloody wouldn't have. He would have had to face Blucher's Prussians within 24 hours, and then go on to face an even larger Austrian/Russian army under Schwarzenberg - who had kicked Napoleon's sorry ass at Leipzig - and even had he defeated that, he would still have been blockaded by the Royal Navy and facing open hostility from the whole of Europe. It bugs the hell out of me when people seem to assume that the Napoleonic wars were scheduled to end in 1815 no matter what, with Waterloo being a kind of "penalty shoot-out" with the winner taking all.

"Beautifully designed..." OK, so if this phrase is used on, say, Top Gear or The Gadget Show, I'm not quibbling. It's the careless use of the word 'designed' in writing or TV programmes about natural history that bugs me, partly because it is simply wrong and partly because it offers a shred of comfort to moronic creationists. Nobody designed it, it evolved.

I'm sure others have their own list of pet peeves, of some of which I am doubtless guilty myself; but having got that off my chest I feel curiously cleansed...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The precocity of my other offspring...

Yesterday, Guthlac told a highly colourful story about a duck, a time machine and a packet of maltesers. Or something.

Strange the things children say - yesterday in the park, while I was walking my daughter to school, I overheard the following:
"No Kieran, you can't skim your bag over the pond"
"But I want to hit a duck!"

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Hello leather puppet!

In pursuit of a subject that had perhaps better not be made fully public - at least not outside a court hearing - I was recently explaining to No Good Boyo the semantic flexibility of the Malay/Indonesian word 'kulit', which can mean either skin or leather depending on the context. It appears as part of the term 'wayang kulit' (wayang meaning 'shadow' or 'puppet' depending on context), which refers to a form of shadow-puppetry using flat puppets carved from buffalo hide. The term 'shadow puppet' is the most appropriate English translation of the term, but that needn't stand in the way of a random Indonesian with a small dictionary.

Now picture the scene: Along the arcaded west side of Jalan Malioboro, the main drag of Yogyakarta, stand hundreds of stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, craft stuff and the like to wandering tourists, both domestic and foreign. To lure the foreigners, most vendors have learnt a modicum of English sales patter. Thus one will be accosted every few yards with "Hello -hat?" "Hello - batik shirt?" "Hello - poster?" and so forth. On one memorable occasion, I was accosted by a puppet-seller with the words "Hello - leather puppet?"

I mentioned this to a fellow Java-loitering SOAS student, and we decided to adopt it as a form of greeting, though with more of a Leslie Philips intonation (we also pioneered a form of improvised street-theatre which involved holding public Alan Bennett-type dialogues in loud, Lancashire-accented Indonesian to the consternation of passers-by who would suddenly realise that they could understand every word spoken yet still have not a clue what we were on about - usually the desirability of having "a proper sit-down meal").

Upon her return to London, I wrote her a postcard bearing the salutation "Hello leather puppet!" It was picked up by her boyfriend, who confronted her gently but somewhat anxiously about it, asking "Is there something about your relationship with this man you haven't told me?"

There wasn't. She duly explained and he saw the funny side, to the extent where he and I have subsequently greeted each other the same way. Just as well really, considering he's about 6'7"...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Boyo - Les Cahiers de Conversations

Many of Boyo's readers will doubtless have built up their own mental pictures of the man as legendary wit and conversationalist, much of it stemming from Boyo himself.

Without predjudice, I offer this charming eavesdropping, as Boyo and a colleague walked in to start work. Boyo waved merrily to me, and I waved back as he disappeared into the nether reaches of the building.

The colleague - who understandably wishes to remain anonymous - came over to her desk next to mine and said in a pleasant, conversational tone "We were just talking about having a squirrel attached to one's groin. At a children's party..."