The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

My Photo
Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Last night I watched a few episodes of Penn and Teller's Bullshit. In case you haven't heard of it, it's an informative and humorous program: picture Mythbusters with passionate cursing and, instead of urban myths, societal/political/religious myths.

The duo attempt to expose the bullshit (hence the title) of certain practices, etc. Topics range from the predictable Bible bashing to the more original and interesting environmental hysteria. has some episodes, though I don't know what proportion these ones represent.

One particular episodes was especially enlightening for me: recycling. Yup, that's right: recycling is, to a certain extent, bullshit. Turns out it costs a whole lot more and, in some cases, is actually detrimental. They cite the piece, "Eight Great Myths of Recycling," along with its author as corroborating evidence. If nothing else, this piece should be a great icebreaker at cocktail parties.

Their piece on environmental hysteria was also very informative. Not only are most radical "environmentalists" clueless potheads, but they have spread much misinformation, probably in an attempt to be heard. Did you know, for instance, that there are more trees in the world now than eighty years ago? Did you also know that, contrary to popular belief, landfills are not running out? It would merely take a 100 square mile landfill to contain all the trash the U.S. will produce in the next century. Turns out that what we were told about recycling as kids turns out to be false.

At times it seemed to me that the show is espousing a conservative ideology, but there is definite evidence to the contrary: the show, after all, bashes the Bible and the notion that prostitution should be illegal, so the underlying politics of the show, if any, is difficult to pin down.

Like Mythbusters, their modus operandi is hardly beyond reproach. In one episode, for instance, they debunk conspiracy theories, such as the famous 9/11 one, the Kennedy assasination, and the Moon landing. What bothered me is that I have seen respectable and credible people question the standard moon landing narrative, but Bullshit turns to one rural American wackjob as a representative of the theory that the moon landing was faked. That's hardly balanced.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Gospel of George

10 tips for Hard Working by George Costanza.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Simpsons Stole Some Serious Stuff

The Simpsons is well known, among other things, for its countless allusions to other cultural productions (movies, celebrities, literature, etc, etc). The show has also become a source of allusions itself, and has entered the cultural vocabulary.

However, I discovered today that the Simpsons, for the first time, as far as I know, plagiarized a joke from another show.

I was watching an episode of Saved By the Bell: The College Years ("The Rave") today (please don't ask me why), and at one point Zack Morris complains that a warehouse he thought abandoned had suddenly become not so abandoned. After relating this anecdote, he mutters, "Stupid economic recovery!"

Most of you will probably recognzie this line from the far more popular Simpsons. In the episode in which Homer fakes kidnapping Larry Burns, C.M. Burns's son, an identical scene occurs: while evading the law, they both run into what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. However, as they enter it, they are alarmed to discover that the warehouse is full and bustling with employees and machines, to which Homer exclaims, "D'oh! Stupid economic recovery".

Just to set the record straight, the Saved By the Bell episode aired in early 1994, whereas the Simpsons episode aired in November of 1996, over two years later. Given the quality of the writing on the Simpsons, I had originally assumed that the joke originated with that show, but the dates clearly don't check out.

It is quite possible that this joke was taken from yet another cultural production (show, book, article, etc), that I'm not aware of. Any ideas?

This raises a legal question: are (very brief) jokes copyrighted? I seem to recall another even more manifest example of this phenomenon when I saw a B or C list comic (possibly Carlos Mencia, but I'm not sure) copy verbatim a fairly lengthy joke Bill Cosby made famous about 25 years earlier. So far as I know, no legal action was taken.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Soccer Update

I watched the Champions League final, the most prestigious tournament in Europe, today with a couple of friends who actually watch soccer (more on that later). One of my friends was understandably heartbroken by Chelsea's loss in the penalty shoot out.

In case I haven't said so before, the penalty shoot out is bullocks!

Man U played well, but the last 60 minutes or so were definitely Chelsea's.

To all you wannabe Manchester United "fans" out there: bugger off! You never even watch soccer, much less know it, so don't support a team you never f@#% watch!! Man, that pisses me right off.
Of course, it's easy to hop on the bandwagon of the winning team. Every four years, I see people who know nothing about soccer suddenly becoming "experts" on the subject, and they invariably "follow" one of the two bandwagon teams: Brazil or England.

My friend J.C. (not Jesus Christ) devised a simple test to determine which one of your peers is a bandwagon hopper, and its genius is in its simplicity: simply ask the suspected bandwagon hopper to name 3-4 players (aside from Beckham, who isn't a real player anyway) on the team they ostensibly support. 99% of the time, they will be speechless. I hate these f@#% people!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Finally, some good news!

Looks like my hard work has paid off: I'm going to get published!

I submitted an article on Roman Jakobson (the 20th century linguist) to Neophilologus, a respected Dutch journal, a few months ago. I received the email this morning informing me that it has been accepted (pending some bibliographical tweaking).

So I didn't waste most of last summer working on this.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Humorous 18th Century Anecdotes, vol. I

I was reading Peter Martin's biography of Edmund Malone, the last great 18th century editor of Shakespeare (in many ways, also the most important). However, I only wanted to share a humorous line with you from the book, nothing more.

While working on his edition of the works of Dryden, Malone came across a manuscript. However, the handwriting was so bad that, according to Malone, 'the sagacity of an Oedipus is requisite to decypher every second word' (p. 230).

The next time you come across particularly unintelligible handwriting, feel free to use the above.
This is why I got into the 18th century :-)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Turkish Rambo

This has to be the greatest movie ever made. How the AFI missed it, I'll never know.

Be sure to check out Turkish Star Trek, which is infinitely better than the original.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back to the Future, then the Past, then...

Tonight I watched what is probably my favourite movie of all time for maybe the 5th time.

It may seem cheesy, but, for me at least, this film is profoundly nostalgic, and it leaves me with that warm, fuzzy feeling that is desperately lacking these days.

Among other things, the film reminds me that the 80s was a generally optimistic decade. Starting in the 90s, we entered the age of irony and pessimism. That reminds me: I hate the baby boomers! Why? Because they had it all: they grew up in the golden age of America (50s); had free love and drugs in the 60s; did coke and disco in the 70s; made money during the real estate boom. By the time the world went to hell in the 90s, they were too old to care (I must credit Dennis Miller with this analysis).

The mind-blowing experience of Marty meeting is parents as teenagers still gets me everytime I watch the film. Wouldn't it be great if we could all go back and see what our parents were really like?

As I watched the film tonight, I was started thinking about how much the world has changed in the years since the film was released in 1985. The differences between 1955 and 85 are obvious, but oddly enough, in the 23 years since the film came out, not much has changed. We have cellphones, computers, portable music players, etc, but earlier forms of those devices existed back then. If Marty (or Doc) came to the year 2008, it wouldn't look all that different from 1985. Unlike the the span between 1955 and 1985, there have not been any epochal or monumental changes between 1985 and now. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just something to consider.

Poor Michael J. Fox: he was one of my favourites growing up, and now he's plagued with Parkinson's. That hurt me as much as finding out that Christopher Reeve (Superman) got paralyzed back in 1992. If what I have said about our current zeitgest, which originated in the 90s, is true, then their fates are somewhat symbolic manifestations of it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Edward Said said wrong things

Today I finally acquired my copy of Ibn Warraq's Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism from I rarely buy new books, especially hardcovers, but I read Warraq's Why I am Not a Muslim (published years befre 9/11, in case you were wondering), and I appreciate his efforts, so I wished to support his latest enterprise financially, although I am, in the words of Falstaff "as poor as Job."

I admire Ibn Warraq because he tackles issues which are currently taboo. Thanks to Islamofascists (which are not all Muslims, just the ignorant and insane ones) and ignorant Western liberals, certain myths about Islam have been allowed to proliferate. Warraq's mission seems to be the undermining of these myths, for insance, that Islamic civilization and/or theology are sunshine and lollipops and beyond reproach.

In his latest monograph, Warraq points his gun on Edward Said's very influential Orientalism, which more or less founded the study of Post-Colonialism. It also set the tone for much of it, that is, the topos of East/Orient as victim of Western machinations. Warraq takes issue with many of Said's more theoretical/philosophical points, but he also demonstrates how Said made several historical gaffes. For instance, Said wrote that Islam first spread to Asia Minor and then Northern Africa. Of course, this is simply not true as Northern Africa was Islamicized as early as the 7th-8th centuries CE.

As his title suggests, Ibn Warraq wishes to defend the West from the rancour of such critics as Said. He demonstrates that the Orient (whatever that means) has been historically as bad as the West (slavery, empire, etc). For whatever reason, we in the West tend to this of ourselves as evil, whereas the Orient was simply unblemished. Warraq also wishes to demonstrate that Orientalism, as it was founded and developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, was not always inextricably bound with imperial interests (as an example, Warraq points out that Said completely ignores German and Hungarian orientalists of the period, and that neither of those nations had a vested interest in the Orient).

I'm expecting a very interesting and relatively quick read, as Warraq has a talent for providing a wealth of data and argument without giving the reader a headache. His prose is always very clear without a hint of pretension, which is a welcome relief (to be fair, Said himself is very readable, which is one reason why I do respect him).

Of course, given that Warraq's thesis and material is not politically correct (very little these days is, anyway), the academy will probably never hear of it. If, however, this is a subject that interests you, I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book. If you do, the next time you meet someone at a party who raves about Said, that person will have some powerful intellectual competition.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Customer is Often Wrong

I wake up each day thanking the Deity that I no longer work in retail.

This piece is a very intelligent, common-sensical deconstruction of the notoriously inaccurate adage "the customer is always right." In fact, the author demonstrates how observing the adage can actually be detrimental for businesses.

As always, captain obvious strikes, but I suppose that obviousness eludes most people. Running a business, like driving, is mostly common sense, which I'm sad to say is not so common. In my many years of retail service, though I had very few problem customers, I made it tacitly clear that my level of service would diminish as a customer's rudeness, often unprovoked, escalated. The problem is with managers, who will usually bend over backwards to satisfy the most unreasonable customer, leaving their employees feeling useless and powerless. It's also amazing how few managers would ever condescend (in the 18th century sense) to say a simple "good job tonight" to an employee. Unbelievable.

This reminds me that I must write my long awaited piece on how communism is far from dead since it still lives on in the retail sector. Simply put, despite appearances to the contrary, retail businesses often (if not always) operate using a Communist, not capitalist, underpinning.


Here's another classic that I read about 7 years ago on writing college papers. It no longer rings true for me, but it sure did at one point in my life not too long ago.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Saturday High at the Movies

Harold and Kumar:
Escape from Guantanamo Bay

It's been four long years, but the sequel to Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle finally came out last month. I saw it on Tuesday night, the same night of my move, so I was somewhat tired and wired when I saw it.

I won't go into a needlessly long-winded review as most people have already made up their minds about the H & K movies (you either love 'em or hate 'em). I have to say that, although the sequel was decent, the first one is much better. However, this fact is probably owing to factors beyond the film's control, namely that the first film set the bar (and expectations), and the ubiquitous and incessant previews showed about half the jokes. The sequel also lacks the charm and freshness of the original, but again, that is a burden virtually every sequel must contend with.

In short, if you liked the first one, you will most likely like this one, though not quite as much.

For the record, following my viewing of the first film about 3.5 years ago, a few friends and I made the trip to Detroit, MI (worst city I've ever seen) from Windsor, ON, to visit the then legendary Whitecastle. To put it simply, I'm not surprised that such places don't exist in Canada because they must violate every health regulation in the book. Without the slightest hyperbole, I can confidently say that Whitecastle makes McDonald's look like gourmet food by comparison. As if this weren't enough, there was a sign at this particular location in the parking lot which read [sic]: "No drug deals". Charming.

I've been off comps for a little less than a week, and though I haven't recovered from that monster, I need to make up some RA hours from last term and begin my correctorship for a friend/prof. I was very fortunate to get the latter, so no complaints here. I will probably begin my thesis proposal in late May/early June. Being ABD is going to take some getting used to.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Super Happy Fun Time

I realized this might be a year or so late, but I recently discovered a site in which you can create your own South Park character. You can create one to look like you. This is the best I could come up with so far:

Have fun

Thursday, May 01, 2008


It's been a busy week, so here's what happened:

-I wrote my final, major comprehensive exam (18th century). I thought I did well but was nevertheless nervous about the results. Turns out I did very well on the written and destroyed the oral, so needless to say, I was pleased as punch about that. Now I'm officially ABD (All But Dissertation). I still need to keep reminding myself that I don't have any pressing reading, etc. Anyone who has done comps (at least in an English department) knows how brutal the process is.

-I finally moved into my new place. Call me picky, but I'm thrilled that I'm out of cracktown. My new place is also ten times better in every conceiveable way: it's bigger, quieter, nicer, etc, etc. It really would take me about 200 pages to explain everything.

I'm probably going to go into caveman mode for the next week to reboot my system.