27 October 2007

World travels online

My buddy John's india trip blog is up and running. His World cup blog was essential reading throughout the tournament so this one is worth a look.

25 October 2007

Dutchies win solar race

The Dutch team Nuon has won the World Solar Challenge across Australia with its car Nuna 4. From the ABC website

It has crossed the finish line on Adelaide's northern outskirts at about 5:00pm ACST, having led for most of the journey from Darwin since the race started on Sunday.

The Dutch entrant was about 45 minutes ahead of its nearest opponent at last report

Nuon. That's my energy company.* Who just let me negotiate my monthly contract payment downwards by 30 euros with a single phone call. Nuon who are running prime time adds with archive footage of floods, devastation and disaster, a rousing folk song that end on a black screen with large lettering "The climate is changing". "Sign up to our climate reductieplan" at the end. Out ahead of the Australian Feds on coming to grips with that one.

*and no, I haven't gone with green power yet. Sorry Australia, I'm just not sure if I can afford the regular tariff before I go leaping into green ones. The monthly charge here is about the same as the quarterly charge there. I ride a bike instead of taking any motorised transport, does that count?

24 October 2007

Europop frippery

I see this clip at least once a day on the local music channel TMF. It makes me happy every time.
Diet coke and pizza, please/ Diet coke I'm on my knees, screaming /Big Girl you are beautiful
You take your woman, and multiply her by four/ Now a whole lot of woman needs a whole lot more ...

It says on Mika's myspace that he was born in Lebanon and rasied in Paris and London. Go mika, you euro-dog.

20 October 2007

Verbs really say a lot

Had my first Dutch lesson this week. Three hours on a Wednesday night. On approach I wasn't sure if it was going to be "immersion" like I did for Spanish in Argentina where the teacher speaks nothing but v-e-r-y sl-o-wly in the language being taught and uses lots of drawings on the board and mimes to get to you started. This is a pretty good method for an international school where you can't assume what people's first language will be, and it worked pretty well to force me to listen and speak early on.

But I wondered if that would be torture for Dutch, with all those guttural sounds and weird hooting consonants. But no, she did the introductions and started the lessons in English. I felt like I was cheating, because apart from me the other students are from Spain, Bulgaria, Russia, China and Portugal! All with English as a second language. Amsterdam really is an international city, I guess.

So it all went ok, you can totally see the links to English - the word for verb is "werkwoord" - i.e "work-word". I pay pretty close attention to this stuff as I seem to spend half my professional life teaching English speakers to use their own verbs correctly.

But on the subject of verbs , I had a somewhat wistful moment on the way home from class. (10 pm, drizzling, cold). In Spanish some of the very the first verbs I learned were cantar, bailar and gustar - "to dance" "to sing" and "to be pleased by". Oh yeah, and desayunar "to have breakfast". We did a quick starter session on regular verbs in Dutch class too. The group was asked which ones they had heard or picked up. And what were they ? Werken, eten, drinken, slapen. "work, drink, eat, sleep." Er, what was that about language reflecting culture?

(Although pretty much the first Dutch noun I've learned both prior to and during class is fiets, bike, which is kind of cool.)

11 October 2007

Do the dishes, dammit

Oh the joy and relief! A tops lady called Deborah Cameron, who is a language professor at Oxford University no less, has written a book about why the ideas propagated in books like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus'" are mostly a load of old tosh. Some of her big myth-busting concepts are that saying men's and women's brains are somehow hard-wired differently plays straight into the hands of conservatism and of fixed roles for men and women. That there is no real data to back it those ideas up anyway. That psuedo-science about communication implies that as humans we cannot change our roles and the nature of our relationships. She likens the language myths as akin to some forms of social Darwinism, too. Here's some great quotes from the Times:

The first point to make is that in the past 20 years we have become obsessed by communication,” she says. “And that’s not just in relationships; it’s in customer care, it’s in politics. All problems are seen to be communication problems.

“If, for instance, anyone disagrees with someone else, it’s seen to be because they don’t understand each other. Well, actually you could understand me and still disagree with me. Likewise, if a train is delayed or cancelled, all anyone’s interested in is whether there is an appropriate announcement. Communication has become a substitute for actual problem solving.

“Where this relates to the Mars and Venus books is that they say problems in relationships between men and women are all down to communication. The misunderstandings are not, for instance, about the fact that men and women are both vying for jobs, or power, or status, or time. That’s quite comforting to a lot of people."


There is, she thinks, something regressive, deeply conservative, in this outlook because what it seems to be saying is that we can’t change.

In the Mars and Venus world view, women stay women, chatting (probably too much) and being unable to say exactly what they mean, while men get on with their straightforward competitive existences. It’s a view, she feels, that does neither men nor women any favours.

“I realise that women are peddling this stuff as much as men,” says Cameron. “There is a cheap way for women to feel good in this myth. They are portrayed as sympathetic, good at communicating, whatever. Men, on the other hand, are autistic, inarticulate Neanderthals. If you’re a woman, that’s a way of feeling good about yourself when it’s still quite likely that the man you’re with earns more money than you. It’s a big trap for women.”


Even when there is less on the line, men can use the miscommunication ticket to their advantage. Ask any man who has failed to do the washing up after being asked, “Do you think you might have time to do the dishes?”

“Of course everyone knows what is being talked about,” says Cameron, “because in other situations men can understand and make indirect requests. But it’s sometimes convenient for one party to misunderstand. The Mars and Venus myth says this misunderstanding is an inalienable fact of male and female relationships, but it’s not. The only thing you’ve proved is that the man is a lazy arse.”

And the data (lifted entirely from the article above):

Myth 1: women talk more than men Nonsense, says Cameron. In a popular self-help book, The Female Brain, the claim is made that women say 20,000 words a day and men only 7,000. This statistic has been widely reported in newspapers and journals but has since turned out to be erroneous and based on no real research. It has since been removed from the book.

In fact a number of studies have found that men speak more than women, although others found that women speak more than men. A recent study by the University of Arizona, on a group of undergraduates, found that both sexes spoke an equal number of words a day – 16,000.

Myth 2: men and women communicate differently More hogwash, says Cameron. Linguistic studies have shown that men and women share a 99.75% overlap in the way they communicate. If there are differences in the way the sexes communicate, they are infinitesimal.

The only real markers of difference between men and women are that women smile more and spell better, and it is, says Cameron, only a “moderate difference”.

Myth 3: men’s and women’s brains are hardwired differently when it comes to language This area, says Cameron, is more difficult. Brain scans show that, when men talk, they use almost exclusively the left-hand side of their brains, whereas women also use parts of the right side. But, according to Cameron, this has had no bearing on how we communicate.

The only proven effect of this neurological difference between the sexes, comes in the case of severe head injury. If men suffer an acute injury to the brain, they are more likely to lose their speech faculties than women, because other parts of the female brain are able to take over.

Myth 4: men interrupt more than women The evidence suggests women interrupt as much as men do. Cameron argues that some men, naturally, will interrupt more than others. The dangers of grouping men together is that the differences between men and women are so slight, whereas the differences between men and other men are more interesting.

When, and how people interrupt, argues Cameron, is much more about power and social relations than the genetic make-up of the sexes.

If you dig it and want to read more chunky extracts - there are three posted at the Guardian with more ripper quotes about how the amount people talk in a social situation has a lot more to do with status than gender, for example.

3 October 2007

Spending spree

Unlike my lovely crafty friend at Machen-machen, I'm not on any kind of no-buy or make-only stretch. Mostly because I can't sew for shit, but also I try not to be too exuberantly materialistic most of the time. Okay you hard-core freegans and dead furniture collectors out there - not as restrained as you that's true - don't mind the Ikea if only I had a vehicle to get those lovely flat packs home in. But since moving over the Atlantic, I have discovered the joy of internet shopping.

Oh man, it's the shit. First, John Safran. And we do still have a few episodes to go and the extra features too. So I think that's worth the price really. And now... wait for it - the complete. series two. Doctor Who. box. set. It arrived in a brown cardboard carton. Just like the sci fi porn that it is. And its got a holographic cover. Sigh. So much entertainment in one little package. I was about to post what it costs, in the spirit of confession. But no, that's a bit embarrassing. Lets just say it was quite a lot.