Dress down Friday

Friday’s the day when dressing down in the office becomes appropriate. (Actually, in certain areas of my office every day is a dress down day.) It’s the one day of the week when I feel that wearing jeans is ok – more than ok, as it’s essentially my floor’s end of the week uniform.

The problem with jeans is that they can be uncomfortable – you know how it is when they’ve just been washed and haven’t stretched out again? They’re absolutely the worst thing to take a nap in, or wear after a big meal. But fear not, some bright spark has come up with the solution: Pajama Jeans.

Oh yes, they look like jeans and fit like jeans but are lined with ‘dormisoft’ fabric to make them feel like PJs. [Incidentally, you’ve got to love the person who made up a word based on Latin origins – dormio = to sleep – thus ‘dormisoft’ means they must be soft enough to sleep in. Presumably this also makes it look terribly scientific.] Don’t believe me? Check out this infomercial and I’m sure you’ll be convinced:

This week it irks me that I’ve had a full five day week while in America they had yet another public holiday [at this moment, please ignore the fact that I had the day off on Wednesday to shop]. Presidents Day seems to be an odd holiday, but I’m probably just a jealous Brit who loathes the fact that we have many dark weeks with no public holidays from January 2nd until whenever Easter falls – and this year it’s falling rather late for my liking. Anywho, I did derive some amusement from the holiday because someone out there decided to order the 43 Presidents in order of hotness. (Before anyone comments that there were 44 Presidents, actually there weren’t – the numbers just got messed up because Grover Cleveland was President for two non-consecutive terms.)

I love a good list and I’m a big fan of American history/politics (at one point I could list a significant number of them in order, it’s not a great party trick), so this was an intriguing read. For a start, #1 is neither of the Presidents that you might expect it to be and George W. Bush is ranked ridiculously high (within the top 10 in fact). Definitely worth a perusal.

You know who came in at #9 on that list? Reagan. And what controversial defence policy was he responsible for? The Strategic Defense Initiative – otherwise known as Star Wars, which enables me to link (albeit tenuously) to a fabulous video…

Star Wars fans, have you ever wondered how you might explain the world of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to your offspring? I mean, it’s a pretty big deal – some might say it’s practically a religion. Fortunately, some American dads have pondered this question and these are their thoughts:

(By the way, whatever your feelings for Star Wars, that video’s worth watching just for a cute teeny-tiny baby sporting a knitted Yoda hat!)

Finally, it simply wouldn’t be Friday without some amusing animals. This week I offer you Hats for Cats.

Academic Friday Fun

It’s not often that I find a fun object for Friday on a Monday and manage to resist posting it (or sharing with anyone else) until Friday. [Though, just to show my dedication to the cause, I’m writing this on Wednesday in case I didn’t get chance later in the week.]

Discovered via Grazia TV (of all things!) this is the Yale Admissions Office’s way to sell itself to students last year – an all-singing, all-dancing explanation of why you should choose Yale as your Ivy League school of choice…

This is a particularly apt choice for today as a year ago yesterday I was in New Haven, stocking up on Yale memorabilia and generally pretending to be Rory Gilmore. [Excuse me while I dwell in a brief moment of “I want to be on holiday now” depression……………………..and I’m back.]

Yes it’s immensely cheesy. No, you can’t possibly need to know that much about the Connecticut college. Yes, you will get “Wo-oh-oh-oh / That’s why I chose Yale” stuck in your head and hum it at random moments. No, their representation of the attractiveness of their student body is probably not accurate. But it’s great and has amused me once, if not twice a day every day this week.

Also, you may spot a familiar face. The guy who extols the merits of residential colleges (denim shirt & an excellent man bag) is none other than internet sensation Sam Tsui who’s specialised in one man polyphonic renditions of classic hits – I mentioned his Michael Jackson tribute at some point last year. His version of Owl City’s Fireflies is also rather fabulous [incidentally, their album Ocean City is most definitely worth a listen] and you can now find a whole album of Tsui’s renditions on iTunes and Spotify. His friend and musical partner Kurt Schneider wrote the score for the Yale video – mark my words, that guy’s going to write a Tony award winning musical one day.

If today’s a particularly dull day for you, or you simply love a good internet distraction, this pair also created College Musical – kind of a grown up pastiche of the High School Musical genre – with ridiculous song outbursts at random moments. It’s a pleasant way to spend half an hour.

Now, if someone could write a musical about my life (I’m sure research would be a thrilling topic for one), I know that my life would be a lot more fulfilling…

Show choirs – how the Brits have missed out

On Monday night I missed out on two TV gems – the penultimate episode of Glee and Gleeful: The Real Show Choirs of America – I’d have been severely miffed, were it not for the fact that I was in musical theatre heaven. (Enjoying Sister Act with my sister, how appropriate.)

Catching up on Gleeful the following day, I was alternately fascinated and horrified by the insight it gave into a world that Brits knew little about until the arrival of Glee on our shores. Basically, show choirs seem to exist to give US teenagers the opportunity to fulfil musical theatre fantasies that we have to recreate in our own homes. For example, I witnessed a girl singing Defying Gravity with full, twirling skirt à la Wicked’s Act 1 finale – we have to make do with jumping on/off furniture to emulate the same moment… [When I say ‘we’, I know at least two other people who do this, so it’s not simply my own fantasy!]

The show began by illustrating the supreme naffness of British choirs. I’ll refute the ‘naff’ label – we have an admirable choral tradition in the classical vein, we’re just not much given to showing off in an all-singing all-dancing style. After all, where would He Who Shall Not Be Named be without our passion for traditional choirs?

The suggested inferiority of British school choirs versus the Glee Club tradition got me thinking that perhaps I’d been brought up in the wrong country. It dawned on me that had we had show choirs in good old Gloucestershire, I’d have been Co Show Choir Captain because, being (joint) queen of my year’s music nerds, I was Choir Captain – so surely it goes to follow I could have made the same rank in Glee world? (Given my dancing and acting skills are virtually nil I realise this is a massive assumption to make, but in my head it made sense!)

The role of Choir Captain was an odd one. My co-captain, Clair, was an excellent musician and thoroughly deserved the role. I can’t quite recall if there was some kind of contest for the job or whether no one else actually wanted it, perhaps I got on board simply by being a good friend of hers – it certainly wasn’t owing to any kind of musical genius on my part!

I have few memories of this job, but do remember fighting for badges, mainly so there could be an addition to our prefect (or in C’s case, Deputy Head Girl) badges on our jumpers. Pride came before a fall though, as we were eventually issued with hideous things that we only wore when formality demanded it. Most of the time we acted as music department dogsbodies – taking choir registers, hunting down no-shows, tidying the music cupboards, and presenting end of concert gifts. There were just two moments of glory:

1. Pippin Choir [our school was named ‘Ribston Hall’, apparently there’s an apple named the ‘Ribston Pippin’ which is how this choir got its name…make your own judgement on the kind of school I went to.]
This was a ramshackle collection of 1st years singing a Christmas song chosen & arranged by us (I chose, C arranged). We were completely in charge – rehearsals, performance – everything, a total risk! Thus far, it has been my only experience of conducting, which I vowed never to repeat, not being entirely comfortable with the whole audience only seeing your backside thing…

2. The Boar’s Head Carol [A version similar to, but not as dramatic as ours can be watched here.]
At the beginning of the Christmas concert’s second half, it was traditional for the Upper 6th (i.e. final year) girls to enter singing a somewhat dramatic version of this medieval carol, while carrying a papier maché boar’s head aloft. The Choir Captains were responsible for its organisation and it was the single-most controversial moment of our 6th form career (even after the hotly fought Head Girl contest – that’s a whole other story!) owing to high competition for solos. Reflecting upon this, it seems this tradition was the closest we got to show choir drama…

Americans get divas, costumes, choreographers and trophies – we got cloaks, home-made lanterns and a papier maché pig. It’s really not the same thing at all and I feel a little bit cheated.

Incidentally, you might have been hoping that this post would come with photos. It doesn’t and I make no apologies for that fact. Photos of me, as a teenager, on the internet? Never. Going. To. Happen. 

Feminine Friday Fun

– Yes, this is a belated post, which, though it looks like it was written last week, can’t fool those that read this on RSS. No, this post wasn’t written last Friday – I didn’t get chance amongst the whirlwind that was my social life – but I didn’t want to leave it till the end of this week.
– Also, if you are male and of a sensitive disposition, this might be a bit much for you. No apologies.

According to the Guardian, Kotex have got on the wrong side of the American media by having the temerity to use the word ‘vagina’ in TV commercials for sanitary products. Even after swapping the biological term for ‘down-there’, two TV networks still wouldn’t run the ad. We (or rather Americans) live in a funny, screwed up world…

This article led me to a very random YouTube channel which basically promotes one of Kotex’s new lines [other sanitary products are available…] using utterly hilarious (and often improvised) ads. My personal favourite would have to be this one, taking the mick out of every stereotype used in the ads TV networks do think are appropriate. White leotards? Check. Dancing? Check. Flowers? Check. Mysterious blue water? Check.

Even better was the improv in the feminine hygiene aisle of a grocery store, where a guy asked passing customers for advice on what product he ought to buy for his girlfriend. The advice from other guys is hilarious…“What about long ones?” “I don’t know, is your girlfriend tall?” or, the comment from an old lady when asked why they used cardboard “well it’s a man’s world, men make things that are stupid”. Classic.

It’s especially amusing that whilst this is being banned stateside, we in Britain are being treated to a mysterious line of adverts for loveyourvagina.com. Posters on the tube use all kinds of euphemisms to attract attention – only this morning I spotted a man stop and look intently at one at Baker Street – it was very much like this one, spotted by Jimmy Carr and posted on Twitter with the caption: “Saw this poster on the tube. Not sure what I’m meant to do? Guess I’ll just type ‘vagina love’ into google see what happens.”

The product in question? The ever amusing Mooncup of course! Good on them for creating a bit of a sensation. Though, I notice from their Twitter stream that apparently you can’t show a tampon on an ad that’s being used on the underground, so it seems we too have our issues…

PS – Just in case you feel this is a rather random topic for a post, I decided last year after discovering the situation in Zimbabwe and the Dignity! Period campaign that it was stupid to get hung-up on such a mundane, everyday topic. It’s attitudes like those held by TV Execs that helps exacerbate situations like these, simply because of embarassment.

Points of View

Early last week I had an e-mail from a university housemate who I’ve not seen since graduation (he returned home to the States) – my only point of reference for what he’s been up to has been Facebook. The point of the e-mail was to highlight the website he’s created but also bring to the attention of his former classmates the controversy it seems to have been generating.

His site – Mondokio International News – aim’s to provide a ‘world’s eye’ (the Italian translation of ‘mondokio’) to news stories. Essentially, its ethos is that you can’t fully understand an individual news story unless you can hear a range of perspectives on it. The site consists of translations, back-stories and other material from around the world relating to major (and minor) events.

It’s a very sensible idea. I’m kind of surprised that no one thought of it sooner. The historian in me realises that you can never take one person (or even one country’s) viewpoint on an event, because it will always be tainted with some kind of bias. In fact, you don’t need a Masters in history to know that – I believe it’s pretty much the first lesson you learn in the subject at Secondary School.

However, it seems some disagree with me. My friend recently wrote an article about the project for a local magazine in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. The editorial for the publication read:

One quote from the article reads: “Bias is simply the application of a point of view. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. What is wrong is the belief that one culturally-specific perspective has more intrinsic worth over another”. Oh, how I wish I could believe in this statement. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? The fact of the matter is it isn’t—and the powers that be should accept that every perspective from every country can’t and shouldn’t be given the same degree of respect and legitimacy for reasons too obvious to mention. Anyone remember the phrase—‘Respect has to be earned?’ Consider the world today. Must I really go into detail?

The argument seemed to be that we shouldn’t be giving too much credence to the points of view of nations such as Iran or North Korea, because they are undemocratic governments and thus do not deserve our respect. But surely in context, their views have just as much worth as anybody else’s?

Perhaps we Brits take this for granted. We are lucky to have a choice of media outlets, that although ranging in their political leanings, give us the opportunity to read a variety of perspectives and don’t censor events. I think it says a lot for our press that when another American friend was living in Mozambique during the last election, he was using the Guardian & BBC to keep up to date with the latest news, rather than American sources.

I’m not America (or American) bashing, but perhaps the problem of being such a large nation is that it results in a tendency to be insular. Europeans are aghast when they hear how many Americans don’t have a passport, let alone travelled outside of the Americas – but do they actually need to, when their own country is so vast?

I think it was Bill Bryson that once wrote: “go to America and see your own country fall off the map”. Back in September when the tsunami hit the South Pacific I was in New York and it wasn’t until I checked the Guardian website that I learned how severe the damage was in Samoa and that it had affected Tonga too. The American news were full of the impact it had had on American Samoa. When events like that happen it’s the local press I go to – New Zealand or Australian sites for an overview and a local Tongan paper for eye-witness accounts. But I only know about those sources because it’s a part of the world I’m close to. To have different perspectives brought together in one place would definitely be a good thing.

Media in America is censored. Issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict are never reported without bias, to the extent that American issues of global publications like Time can be significantly different when articles are featured relating to it. (I can’t remember the specifics, but a few years ago the European edition included a long photo essay about human rights issues amongst displaced Palestinians which was completely omitted from the American edition.) Even in Britain, we could do with more variety in the viewpoints we hear.

Yes, there will always be bias. Yes, we should always be cautious about the motives behind different opinions. But surely, bearing this in mind, all points of view should be considered?