Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ho, ho, ho!

If you knew this was Pope Benedict without peeking at the caption, you are one strange dude. Well, make that two strange dudes....

Original photo caption: Pope Benedict XVI, sporting a fur-trimmed hat in the rich red colour of a Santa hat, waves to pilgrims upon his arrival in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Wednesday for his weekly general audience. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Sure, I told a few whoppers about Iraq and al Qaeda -- one of them was this big!"

Original photo caption: President Bush delivers a portion of his speech for a second time for assembled news photographers after delivering his televised address to the nation from the Oval Office about the historic election in Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005, in Washington. Bush declared Sunday night that Iraq's elections signal the birth of democracy in the Middle East, arguing against a U.S. troop pullout while acknowledging the doubts of some 'that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day.' (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

For film critics: how to pronounce the names of Chinese actresses portraying Japanese geisha....

Since Shrub hasn't done anything particularly funny today, here is the Mandarin's short Mandarin pronunciation guide for film critics.

Dear film critics, fifty years ago or so, the mainland Chinese government decided to play a joke on you. They mandated a Romanization scheme for Mandarin called Hanyu Pinyin ("Chinese Phonetic Spelling") that uses a few familiar letters in unfamiliar ways, the better to make you mispronounce the names of the three Chinese movie stars pretending to be (or if you prefer, "acting" ) Japanese in "Memoirs of a Geisha."

Zhang Ziyi 章子怡

Zhang is her surname, but for some reason, she is often listed as Ziyi Zhang. "Zh" is the sound of the "j" in "Joe," not the sound of "s" in "pleasure." The "a" is the same vowel as in "father." So the "Zhan" part sounds like the English name "John." Then just change the "-n" to "-ng" and you have it.

Ziyi is two syllables. The first, "zi," is a buzzing "dzz" sound with no real vowel - like the final sound in "heads." The "y" in "yi" is there to confuse you. "Yi" isn't "yee;" the whole syllable is exactly the sound of "ee" in "meet."

Gong Li 鞏俐

Gong is her surname. The "o" in Gong is one of those trick letters. In this word, it represents more or less the same vowel sound as the "u" in "pull."

Li is easy, just like "Lee," as in "Ancient Chinese secret, Mister Li...."

Michelle Yeoh 楊紫瓊

The Mandarin will assume "Michelle" isn't a problem for most English-speaking film critics.

Yeoh isn't so easy. "Yeoh" isn't even Mandarin. It is Hokkien, the dialect of the area around Fujian Province, and also the predominant dialect of overseas Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia. [Michelle Yeoh grew up in the U.K., but was born in Malaysia and lived there until she was four years old.] The character for Yeoh , a very common Chinese surname, is pronounced yang in Mandarin and yeung in Cantonese. In Hokkien, it is pronounced something like the English word "you" with a nasal vowel sound, and perhaps a faint, soft "-ng" sound on the end.

By the way, Michelle's Chinese personal name is Ziqiong in Mandarin and something like Dzee-king in Hokkien. We will leave them for another lesson.

Now, the Mandarin is sure everyone is ready for a return to the usual cheap political sarcasm, aren't you?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Iraqi vote prediction: Shrub will win by a narrow margin in Al Anbar Province

where they will be voting on recycled Diebold voting machines left over from the 2004 Ohio presidential vote.

Original photo caption: President Bush speaks about the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary election during a visit to Philadelphia, December 12, 2005. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Condi's thinking, "Now, what am I going to do with all those whips, chains, and kinky black leather outfits...."

Yes, overseas detainees, you have been very, very naughty, but now it looks like Condi won't be punishing you quite as much as before:

KIEV (Reuters) - The United States, seeking to defuse European criticism over reports of abuse of prisoners, said on Wednesday it had changed its policy on interrogating detainees.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a trip to Ukraine, said U.S. personnel would be banned worldwide from subjecting prisoners to cruelty.

But Amnesty International immediately played down the significance of Rice's remark saying: "It is not a major concession."

It said it still wanted serious action by Washington over what it called cases of torture in U.S. bases.

"As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States' obligations under the CAT (Convention against Torture), which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said.

U.S. officials said her comments marked a policy shift toward the international convention on torture. Previously, the Bush administration had interpreted the convention as only applying to U.S. territory.

So, offshore detainees, this could be your lucky day. But, those of you detainees fortunate enough still to be here on the sacred soil of the land of the free and the home of habeas corpus and due process, well..., you're still shit out of luck.

Original photo caption: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks on during a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (not pictured) in Kiev December 7, 2005. The United States changed its policy on interrogations of detainees on Wednesday, putting a worldwide ban on U.S. personnel subjecting prisoners to cruelty, Rice said. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

And now, for someone completely different....

The Mandarin is wondering if the fun of being President is kind fading for Shrub. Three more years? Sounds like an eternity....

Original photo caption: Low job approval ratings continue to dog US President George W. Bush, pictured 02 December 2005, with three in five Americans saying they will choose someone 'completely different' when they next vote for president in 2008.(AFP/File/Jim Watson)