Saturday, May 13, 2006

Action Figure Theater

Becca's been posting on and off over at one of her blogs, No Smoking in the Skull Cave, and one of the things she does that I enjoy the hell out of is a comic strip called Action Figure Theater. Since I enjoy it so much, I thought I'd link to the various episodes right here.

Episode I: Colin Farrell's House Party
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Episode II: Cheesy Fantasy Action Story #300,812
Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Episode III: The Muppets Meet Lindsay Lohan
Part One, Part Two

Episode IV: The Muppet Driller Killer

Episode V: Colin Farrell's Holiday Party

Barbie: What a Doll

An Action Figure Nativity

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Well, I wasn't expecting something historically accurate, but the Irish conquering England? They move the story to Arthurian times (though no Arthur is present) and then say that the various British tribes are trying to unite to fight their overlords... the Irish? Luckily, the movie's enjoyable enough to overlook this incredibly silly leap of logic. It's not a bad movie at all, but it doesn't match what I felt was the high quality of Kevin Reynolds's previous film, The Count of Monte Cristo. James Franco almost manages to be completely free of contemporary mannerisms (and he tried very hard), and Sophia Myles is very beautiful and brings some weight to Isolde. As Lord Marke, Rufus Sewell is dignified. The love triangle is very fact, this is probably the best version of the King Arthur story I've seen yet. The characters are out of another myth, but that's essentially what this is. My only problem with the movie is the slow pacing; some of the film tends to drag, despite the beautiful scenery and the seriousness of the story. Excellent combat scenes, too, and probably Anne Dudley's best score work. ***1/2 stars.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Family Research Council Wants Your Children to Get Cancer and Die

I've been calm lately. Nothing big and political that was pissing me off in the immediate. Just concentrating on finals and posting cartoons and pictures of pretty women. But then I started reading the new issue of Discover and found this story: "The Battle Over the Cervical Cancer Vaccine Heats Up." And now I'm pissed. They have bugged Jack Barron.

The issue here is a vaccine developed by Merck for the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a DNA virus; there are 100 strains, most of them harmless, but they carry the power to cause changes in the cells themselves, which can lead to abnormal tissue growth. Sometimes this is something as simple as a wart, but about 30 are sexually transmitted and can cause genital warts and, more seriously, cervical cancer. According to Wikipedia, it is the most common sexually transmitted infection, causing over 99% of cervical cancers. But, and this is the wonder of nature, it can also cause anal and vulvar cancers, penile cancers (though rare), some nonmelanoma skin cancers, precanerous cell growth, and laryngeal carcinoma. It is estimated that 80% of sexually active adults have been infected with one or more genital HPV strains at some time.

And it takes a decade to cause cancer. Or more. Which means that you can be infected with it as a teenager and not know about it until you're in your thirties. And you know it, usually, because you get cancer and eventually die.

Now, most responsible scientists and medical doctors don't want people to die, so we've been kind of trying to cure cancer for a long time now. Merck has made successful tests with a vaccine which might be approved within the next few weeks, or even days, by the FDA. So now we can all sit back and relax and cure at least some cancer, right?

Well, there's one catch. According to Lauri Markowitz, a medical epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control: "In order to get the vaccine to the most people before they are exposed to HPV, we want to give it to them before their sexual debut." In other words, kids need to be vaccinated before they get the disease, and there is some talk of making it a state requirement for girls to be vaccinated around the age of eleven. And there's resistance to this.

Naturally, this is coming from parents' groups and their witch doctors; no real doctor could be against the saving of lives. Hal Wallace, head of the Physicians Consortium, which I can only assume is some kind of rune-reading bone-worshipping cult, says that this beneficial, health-promoting social program would send a message "that you just take this shot and you can be as sexually promiscuous as you want." Boy, some parent somewhere has to turn everything into a discussion about sex, don't they? Markowitz responds: "It doesn't look like fear of sexually transmitted diseases prevents people from being sexually active, so removing that fear is not going to affect people." Finally, a little pragmatism.

The Family "Research" Council is, like all people who are fooling themselves, proabstinence, and they have their shorts in a twist, too. They are promising to oppose any measures to legally require vaccination, as usual. At this point, I can only assume it's because they're against the saving of lives in any way. Can the FRC, for once, get a clue? They don't have to fuck your little girl up the ass to get the vaccine in; it's another vaccination, just like for the mumps or the measles. One shot, and it's done.

Alan Kaye, chairman of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, shakes his head (I assume) while asking: "How could we deny our children and grandchildren a win against cancer? Why would we?"

The perfect question to ask right now, Mr. Kaye. And the only answe I can come up with is this: parents are terrified that they're going to have to talk to their children about sex. And that makes them feel yucky and ooky and other childish euphemisms for unclean. Apparently, members of the Family "Research" Council (and the research has to be in quotes, because they seem not to believe in science, disease, physics, or anything besides guarding their children from knowledge) feel that, in order to get their children vaccinated against a cancer-causing disease, they're going to have to explain sex to them. Can you imagine, someone explaining sex to their eleven or twelve year old daughter? Oh, wait... isn't that what you're supposed to do as a parent? People in the F"R"C say sex shouldn't be explained to kids until they're about fifteen. Fifteen!? That's way too late. These assholes act like if they never tell their kids about sex, they'll never figure out on their own that it exists and that they have a natural instinctive drive to do it. A lot.

But why does this even enter into it? So what if your kid is vaccinated against a cancer-causing disease? It's just another shot. When I was a kid, I got shots for the mumps. I didn't ask what it was for, I just knew you had to get your shots. Fuck, I still don't know what the mumps are! But I never got them. You just tell your poor, sheltered, ignorant, precious little future rape victim that she's getting a shot so she doesn't get a disease. Case closed.

How dare you? How dare you assholes decide that you have the right to legally block efforts to make a cancer vaccine mandatory. How dare you come out in favor of a disease instead of a potential 2500 lives a year. Hear me now, Family "Research" Council: your kids are confused. They hear about sex, and someone's always willing to show them how to do it. Most of them are probably already fucking. You people are sick, sick motherfuckers to put your own comfort, your own relief at having an extra three or four years to stick your heads in the sand and pretend not to notice that your children need help figuring out who they're going to be as adults, above a possible cure for some forms of a disease that will ravage their bodies and minds much more than a nooner ever will.

On second thought, maybe the vaccine should be voluntary. Then maybe cancer can wipe out another generation of you fundamentalist assholes, who think natural human urges are evil because they might be uncomfortable, and who put the sanctity of a made-up fairy tale character above the lives of your fellow humans. Even when they're your own children.

More Spelling Matters

A while back, I talked about the controversy in Naperville over creative spelling. I wasn't really sure how I felt about it then. We've talked about it a few more times in my linguistics class since then, and I'm still not really sure how I feel about it. But the unit we're on (our last; the final's tomorrow) deals with how language has changed over the centuries, and it's got me thinking about this creative spelling again.

In my textbook, Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language and Linguistics, Ninth Edition, the chapter on language change gives some interesting examples. Now, I'm also taking Early English Literature, so I know the scholarly problems inherent in older texts. Spelling wasn't standardized hundreds of years ago, and the history of the English language is... well, at best, it's tricky. It's an offshoot of the Germanic family, which descends in an unbroken line from Proto-Indo-European. But because the Angles and Saxons (German speakers, basically) conquered the Britons, there's some Brythonic crossover, and Brythonic (Welsh, Breton, and the dead language Cornish) is a Celtic language family. And then the Norman invasion brings French, an Italic language, into the mix. Hell, the rules of English are based on Latin, because Latin was considered more beautiful; but English is not a Latin language, which is where a lot of problems come from.

So, back to the examples. Religious texts abound from the Old English and Middle English period, so the text gives examples from bibles; specifically, the Lord's Prayer. And the changes in English between each period is somewhat vast, though it basically remains the same.

The Old English example is from around 1100:
Faeder ure thu eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod. Tobecume thin rice. Gewurthe thin willa on eorthan swa swa on heofonum. Ume gedoeghwamlican hlaf syle us to daeg. And forgyf ud ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfath urum gyltedum. And ne gelaed thu us on costnungen ac alys us of yfele. Sothlice.

I've taken some liberties to make up for the fact that I can't make certain symbols like the thorn or the eth or the ash on this post. Or at least I don't know how to.

But look at those words. This is the kind of thing that makes me laugh when I see movies about people who go back in time and can speak English fluently with the locals. It's a lot like German; formal and complex. This isn't phonetic, either, these are the actual words. Look at this word heofonum, which means heaven. And look also at gyltedum, which basically means guilts. At this point in English, we had the -um ending which meant the word is the object of the sentence. The language is so formalized with affixes that you could, quite literally, take every word in a sentence, rearrange them, and not change the meaning of it. The final word, sothlice, means truthlike, or truly. That's kind of a nice ending.

Now here's the Middle English example, from 300 years later, circa 1400:
Oure fadir that art in heuenes halowid be thi name, thi kyngdom come to, be thi wille don in erthe es in heuene, yeue to us this day oure bread ouir other substance, & foryeue to us oure dettis, as we forgeuen to oure dettouris, & lede us not in to temptacion: but delyuer us from yuel, amen.

See how much the language has changed in three centuries? Because the Norman Invasion made French the court language of England, which means it was also the language of scholarship and government, English took one hell of a beating. Middle English bends to the influx of new words while trying to retain some of the British/German flavor of Old English. So we have new terminology, less formality, and, interestingly, the whole thing's a run-on sentence. To save space, welcome the ampersand (this symbol: &), and welcome amen, which is a French word. Communication in England has changed, though the methods stay the same.

The book next provides an example from Early Modern English, 1611; in other words, the King James Bible:
Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdome come. Thy will be done, in earth, as it is in heaven. Giue vs this day our dayly bread. And forgiue vs our debts, as we forgiue our debters. And leade vs not into temptation, but deliuer vs from euill: For thine is the kingdome, and the power, and the glory, for euer, Amen.

Basically it's Elizabethan, same as Shakespeare. Note the transposition of u for v, and vice versa. Just two centuries into the future, and the language has undergone another major shift.

Before I get to the book's final example, I'd like to mention the Lord's Prayer the way I learned it growing up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Still a little formal, and basically derived from the King James text at some point between 1611 and when I learned it in the early eighties. Our version went like this:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. They kingdome come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, for ever and ever, amen.

Sometimes we would say trespasses instead of sins.

This next example, which the book labels "Contemporary English," is hard for me to grasp:
Our Father, who is in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come into being. May your will be followed on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us this day our food for the day. And forgive us our offenses, just as we forgive those who have offended us. And do not bring us to the test. But free us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

It's quite alien to me; it feels like one of those ultra-literal translations of foreign movies. But I still know what it means. I know the words. And even though the form of the words changes, the meaning tends to stay the same. Language, like life, evolves over time, and in the case of English it seems to tend more and more towards simplification. Old English words like hwit, hrof, and hlaf have become, at some point, white, roof, and loaf. The Celtic language England started with has weathered and adapted the Germanic of the Angles and the Saxons, the Latin of Christian missionaries, the Scandanavian of the Danes who once ruled the land, the Norman French of William the Conqueror, the influx of Greek during the Renaissance, and the languages of England's various colonies and Pakistani, Indian, and Arabic immigrants. Did you know a large number of freshman English majors spell have as haf? The language is still pulling towards simplification. It's already in the way we pronounce, the way we advertise, the way rappers spell, and the way we write emails. In 200 years, people will be looking at the way we write now and calling it complicated.

My professor said in class on Thursday: "As English teachers, parents will look to you as the bastion of defense against the language changing or being reshaped by your students. But I don't know how in the hell you're supposed to stop it. It's going to happen on its own no matter what we do about it."

That's why, when I hear that kindergarteners are doing creative spelling, I don't run around like Chicken Little screaming "The standards are falling! The standards are falling!" Because this is only natural.

And to think I'm going into professional editing...