Tuesday, 29 September 2009

best nicknames in sport

The ones I am mostly loving today are Frederick 'Mysterious' Walker, a nineteenth century baseballer, and Ed 'Too Tall' Jones, a 1980s American footballer.*

Not big news, you think, and you are right. But I just wanted to include this YouTube clip which I find funnier every time I watch it. It is some kid also nicknamed Too Tall and the bit I can't stop rewatching is about 40 seconds in when six goldheads who clearly don't want to tackle him run into each other as if auditioning for the Keystone Cops. I barely noticed it the first time, but by the twentieth... (Maybe this is a metaphor for how I repeat jokes until people more or less want to kill me. Maybe it is not.)

*In late-breaking news: the Denver Broncos' first round draft pick is Knowshon Moreno. Interesting first name. It comes from combining his father's nickname 'Knowledge' with his mother's name Varashon**/***
**This would have given me the name Geolope, and I am sorry to have missed out on that
***Who the hell knows where 'Varashon' came from?

Monday, 28 September 2009


Maybe you have a job. If so, you might not have seen the money4gold adverts. The business model is simple - send gold and they melt it down and pay you. There are a couple of different companies, but I like the adverts fronted by the woman with asymmetrical blonde hair. My favourite bit is where she pronounces 'bullion' as if the first syllable rhymes with Hull. My favourite bit also where someone says, and I paraphrase, 'I just took all my old scrap gold and...'

Now where is all my old scrap gold? I'm certainly not going to send off all my old gold, or my all new scrap gold, but all my old scrap gold, I've had it with that stuff. Call me Montezuma. I mean Moctezuma.

not his real name

Because so many NFL stars are called made-up weird names like JaMarcus, DeSean, Leveranues (a total misspelling on the part of the authorities, since he is pronounced Laverneus), I find it funny that so many of them have such prosaic names (Fred Taylor, Fred Jackson, Thomas Jones, Jonathan Stewart).

Chad Johnson is a pretty normal name. His second name was Javon, which is more like it. I mean it is Javon, but his surname is no longer Johnson. He legally changed it to Ochocinco to reflect his shirt number (85, which should more correctly be 'ochenta y cinco', but that would be, like, a stupid name). He's a really good player, by the way. He walks the walk.

I really like Chad Ochocinco. He has raced a horse and his children are called Jicyra, Chad Johnson II, Chade and Chaiel. He's an Arsenal fan.

Friday, 25 September 2009

star trek, sugababes, pratchett

When the last original Sugababe left the band, I bet loads of newspaper articles I didn't read talked about the whether a broom is still a broom when you've replaced the handle fourteen times and the head seventeen times. My favourite bit of writing saying it's the same band/broom is in Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant, when the dwarves' king says:
This, milord, is my family's axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y'know. Pretty good.
I mean, this is as nice a common sense defence of the piece, but in the context of the book, it is really excellent.*

Anyway, I planned just to post the above, until I was looking for the quotation and found it on a page about the Ship of Theseus. I knew the axe thing was an old philosophical question, but I didn't know the specifics, and now I do.

The Ship of Theseus - is it the same after all the bits are replaced? - is the Ur-formulation of this question (in the western canon, anyway). John Locke's example was to do with his socks (all his postulations rhymed with his name). The French have Jeannot's Knife. The American's have George Washington's axe and so do I. I wonder what I could get for it on the open market?

Because I am a moron, I had never really considered how this is analogous to the whole problem of stepping in the same river twice. It is also the root of some philosophical problems involving matter transference. Is a teleported thing the same thing? (I have never been the same since I teleported.)

*I have a long term plan to blog about Pratchett's books in chronological order. You must be thrilled about this.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

imperfect sub-editing

I am not going to write about Pravda every day, but this is funny. It is a picture (headline: Giant Squid caught in Gulf of Mexico) with a caption. I reproduce in full.

Others who chose one-shoulder gowns included Elisabeth Moss in a bronze creation by Reem Acra with a heavily embellished neckline and Sigorney Weaver in a red David Meister. Hayden Panettiere was a retro glamour girl in a red draped J. Mendel that matched her bright red lips, UPI said.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

cure for cancer is found!

Obviously this amazing news and we are very pleased. Although. It is from Pravda. In the latest of my two popular analyses of Pravda news stories:
An Italian doctor discovered something simple that concerns the cause of cancer. Initially banned from the Italian medical community, he received a standing ovation at the American Cancer Society when he presented his therapy.
Wow! This is amazing and so on and so forth. It is interesting that they do not name the doctor, but maybe he is a secret medical benefactor of some kind.
The doctor noted that all patients with cancer have thrush.
I would be interested to know if this is true.
It was already known to the medical community, but was always treated as an opportunistic infection by fungi - Candida albicans.
But this seems crazy! ALL cancer patients have a thing but doctors didn't think the salmon of causation might swim the other along the stream! All doctors must therefore be crazy.
The doctor found it very strange that all types of cancer have this characteristic, i.e., there are several types of tumors but all have in common the appearance of the famous ulcers in patients.
All doctors except one. Thank goodness for the nameless Italian ex-banned doctor (I must look for someone meeting this description next time I want a really important diagnosis).

(Incidentally, I was once in a punk band called The Famous Ulcers.*)
So they may be experiencing results of the opposite - he thought. The cause of cancer may be the fungus.
Again I say: thank goodness for this guy.
And to deal with this fungus, we use the simplest medicine known to humankind: baking soda. So he began to treat their patients with sodium bicarbonate, not only ingestible, but methodically controlled on tumors. Amazing results started happening. Lung, prostate and bowel cancer disappeared as if by magic, along with the Canker!
This is incredible! So what you are saying is that cancer is caused by thrush and cured by baking soda! No wonder the embarrassed medical establishment is keeping it a secret.
Thus, many patients were cured of cancer today and their exams prove the extremely positive results of treatment. For those interested in more on the subject, follow the link (in English): do not stop the video in the link below, the doctor speaks in Italian, but it has subtitles.
Do not stop the video.


There is no video. On the other hand, we finally learn the name of our mysterious benefactor. He is Dr T Simoncini, a Roman oncologist (the best kind).
There the methods used for application of sodium bicarbonate on tumors are shown. Any tumors can be cured with this simple and inexpensive treatment. Looks like a joke, right? It was news in the U.S. but it never came here (for various reasons).
For some reason. Like our media are mad! Or in the pay of the international drugs industry. Thank god we can be freed by baking soda. Actually, what about cakes? Do cakes cure cancer? How many cakes would you have to eat?
This is even though the book of Homeopathy recommends treating tumors with Borax, which is the homeopathic remedy for canker sores. After all, this is some good news in an environment in which there is so much bad.
There is so much bad news, like cancer kills loads of people and millions of pounds are spent trying to find out why. But there is a tiny bit of good news, which is that we have found out why and if they eat cakes that will be the end of the problem.
Again, the question remains: why does the mainstream press not give more coverage to this? Not on TV or on radio or in newspapers of wide circulation ...
Yes, why? What are they good for?
Absolutely nothing.
Say it again.
Who forbids them from reporting?
Is it Britney Spears? I bet it's Britney Spears.
The doctor had to build his own website to disseminate his work to cure cancer (or at least in many of its forms), using only a solution of sodium bicarbonate to 20%. Imagine!
Baking soda, one thing that we find in any pharmacy or corner drugstore. This link is the video, where the Italian doctor shows the evolution of treatment in 4 cases until their complete cure: http://www.cancer-fungus.com/sub-v1pt
Again, no.
If you want to see it in English, Italian or Portuguese, go to this site and click on the little flags on top of the page and it changes to the language you want: http://www.cancerfungus.com/simoncini-cancro-fungo.php
Oh me of little faith. This time I do get the video to work (with Portuguese subtitles). Maybe hard work would get English subtitles, but do I want to work hard on this? I do not.
Certainly, the laboratories are not interested in spreading this news, after all there are big money profits on drugs they manufacture for a serious disease that can be cured simply with sodium bicarbonate to 20% that costs some simple cents.
Good enough to convince me.
Translated from the Portuguese version by LISA KARPOVA, PRAVDA.Ru
Maybe there was irony in the original?
Speak the truth and shame the devil on Pravda.ru forum
This is the funniest line in the piece.

(I wonder why Dr Simoncini was formerly banned? In 2006 he was convicted by an Italian judge for wrongful death and swindling. There are reports of a Dutch woman who died soon after having loads of baking soda injected into her breast. I could find the details of these things, but telling the truth and shaming the devil isn't my job, it's Pravda's. Here is an analysis by someone who had more time.)

*No I wasn't

Monday, 21 September 2009

strictlywatch (i can't title this properly for reasons of suspense)

It is the early nineties. Peter Sagal is a serious young New York playwright. If you know my friend Stephen Brown, think of Peter Sagal as being a something like him in his work and aspirations.

He writes a play called Cuba Mine about the revolution, inspired by seeing a telly documentary about Cuban revolutionaries being executed on television. Those of you who know Stephen Brown will realise that this was a heavily researched, highly intelligent, intense piece of drama. Probably with good jokes, but basically heavy. Lawrence Bender, post-Reservoir Dogs, wants to produce it as a movie. He buys it. Changes it. Changes it more. This is Hollywood. The film doesn't get made and Sagal has left the project by now (though he hasn't disowned it).

A decade later, Bender sees a way to produce this story which has been hanging around, metamophosing in various ways. The result is Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

I don't think I could love this story more. It is my homage to all the Strictlywatchers and to the late Patrick Swayze, who was good in Point Break.

Friday, 18 September 2009

the little death

This changed how I think about Kipling.

Mary Postgate is a spinster companion-slash-governess character. She sort of loved her charge, Wynn, who went off to fly planes in WW1. He talked to her about bombs. When she hears of it, she says 'It's a great pity he didn't die in action after he had killed somebody.' Then she talks a lot about him, and all his things.

Then some Germans bomb near her, and a six-year old girl is killed horribly, cut to pieces. Soon afterwards, she is burning Wynn's things, and she comes across a downed and injured German airman. He groans for the doctor, and she says, 'Stop that!' and stamps her foot. 'Stop that, you bloody pagan!' Kipling goes on:
They were Wynn's own words, and Wynn was a gentleman who for no consideration on earth would have torn little Edna into those vividly coloured strips and strings. But this thing hunched under the oak-tree had done that thing.
Mary decides that she's going to wait until the German is dead.

She looks at the Destructor where Wynn's things are charring. Then:
she leaned on the poker and waited, while an increasing rapture laid hold on her. She ceased to think. She gave herself up to feel. Her long pleasure was broken by a sound that she had waited for in agony several times in her life. She leaned forward and listened, smiling. There could be no mistake. She closed her eyes and drank it in. Once it ceased abruptly.

"Go on," she murmured, half aloud. "That isn't the end."

Then the end came very distinctly in a lull between two rain-gusts. Mary Postgate drew her breath short between her teeth and shivered from head to foot. "That's all right," said she contentedly, and went up to the house, where she scandalised the whole routine by taking a luxurious hot bath before tea, and came down looking, as Miss Fowler said when she saw her lying all relaxed on the other sofa, "quite handsome!"
Tell me this isn't about what I think it is. I have sort of not believed it several times, and gone back to it, but it is, isn't it? Isn't it? I don't think I have sex on the brain.


I went to the Firestation Book Swap yesterday. You should go next month. Even if you can't manage it, you should definitely do it on November 26th, because I will be one of the guests.

The chat was excellent. I am definitely looking forward to reading more Kate Clanchy, not only because she seems to be being played by Tamsin Greig. We talked briefly about Kipling, which reminded me that many moons ago I promised to blog about a dirty story Kipling once wrote, and which I will do later today.

Non-book-related questions from the jar are an excellent idea.

Swapping books: apparently last month everyone brought good books; this month everyone brought rubbish. I brought Fences and Windows by Naomi Klein (I get the importance of mentally undisciplined gadflies, but I can't bear reading them) and I quickly worked out that any trade would be to my benefit. So I picked up e by Matt Beaumont, which I have read a couple of times before, and which I think is terrific, deft, funny, brilliantly plotted, incredibly pacy, etc. I thought that I would be able easily to persuade people that it's slightly crappy cover undersold it, forgetting how often I fail to persuade people to do anything I want. Still, their loss. The only books on offer that I really wanted were Inside the Whale and Arthur & George.

But next month, I will be taking a good book. And the month after, a brilliant one, in a transparent attempt to curry favour.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

dudley marjoribanks invents a dog

You want a better dog? It's not going to be easy, but you can do it.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the British hunting classes were desperate (desperate, I say) to breed the perfect retriever. Previously, hunting dogs had either been pointers telling you where to shoot or chasers like deerhounds and borzois. But shooting birds was getting easier, and you really needed a soft-mouthed, good-swimming, highly tractable dog to go and fetch them. There were water spaniels and setters and so on, but the magic moment came in the arrival of the labrador, or Lesser Newfoundler.

This had been bred in Newfoundland as a fisherman's helper on a more practical scale to the classic Newfoundland, which is the size of a bear and has webbed feet (great line from a poem I can't be bothered to go and find now: 'Who bred what with what to get a Newfie dog?').

As D Caroline Coile so rightly says in The Golden Retriever Handbook, 'The ingredients were all there. Now all that was needed was a master to combine them, the conditions under which to test them, the resources to refine them. And a lot of luck.'

Cometh the hour, cometh the brewery heir. Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks was a serious sportsman with an estate on the Tweed and a lot of great dogs, but the defining moment in his life (I do not think I exaggerate) came with the chance addition to his kennels of a golden-coated retriever owned by a cobbler.

(When I read this sentence, I sort of wondered if that cobbler's golden-coated retriever might have been the first golden retriever, which only goes to show how much I know. I mean, that cobbler didn't get created Baron Tweedmouth or have millions of pounds or anything.)

He bred this retriever to his tweed water spaniel, Belle (tweed water spaniels are now extinct), and she had four yellow puppies, Crocus, Cowslip, Primrose and Ada. Stupid names for dogs, I think. Cowslip bred with red setters and a tweed water spaniel (and anyone else who fancied having a go, as far as I can see), and these progeny bred amongst themselves. A bloodhound element was later introduced. I bet it was.

(I can't see any mention of labradors, but maybe that is where the original golden cobbler's dog comes in.)

These dogs were attractive and talented, which is half the story. They were owned by rich, famous sportsmen, and that's the other half. This really is a story about what success is like in life. Also, history fans, this mania for breeding is taking place around Darwin-time. If you think people like Darwin weren't influenced by it then you're nuts. And if you think that people didn't then start tinkering more post-Darwin, you're also nuts. Causality is the salmon that swims both ways in the stream.

Tweedmouth and his family sent dogs around the world, including Canada, with the Hon Archie Marjoribanks (sounds funny out loud) in 1881.

The Canadians didn't take the dog to their hearts immediately though, says Cindy Moore.

No, that wouldn't come for fifty years. The Kennel Club in Britain accepted the first goldens for registration in 1903, and a few brave souls in Canada messed around with them, but it was only in 1930 with Colonel Sam Magoffin's imported Speedwell Pluto that public interest was really aroused. The Canadians never looked back, and nor did anyone else. Probably the only reason I am going into this is to post this picture, and tell you the names of the dogs in it:

They are, from left to right, the (I think Canadian since it isn't specified) champions Rockhaven Lempi, Lassie, Harold, Amber, and Maihi, the American and Canadian champions Speedwell Pluto and Wilderness Tangerine, both imported from the UK. I bet you can buy clothes in 'wilderness tangerine.'

I could probably find out more about Col Magoffin, but I'm not going to.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

an unbelievable fact


The world's gone made for the hilarious Lord Aberdeen. But just who was this guy?

John Hamilton-Gordon was only Governor General of Canada for five years (1893-8) but in that time he oversaw four Prime Ministers, the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and discovery of gold in the Yukon. He was ballsy - dismissing PM Tupper who refused to go after losing the 1896 election because Tupper said Wilfred Laurier wouldn't be able to form a government (Laurier did fine, thank you).

He travelled to the Maritimes*, where he visited Alexander Graham Bell, and Cape Breton, where lots of locals still spoke Gaelic. He was made an honorary chief of the Blackfoot and Six Nations peoples. He and his wife (original name Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks) were keen on sport, and curled, sleighed and hockeyed.

She, by the way, was the first President of the International Council of Women and founded the Victorian Order of Nurses, which was dedicated to caring for people in their own homes. They were both keenly interested in the welfare of ordinary Canadians, and transformed the Governor General's role from being an Imperial figurehead into being a symbol representing the citizens, a sort of popular tribune. This is what Wikipedia says, anyway. I imagine it describes Lord A, but his successors? I just don't know.

Half of Canada is named after him, it seems.

He was widely believed to be the model for Lord Loam in JM Barrie's The Admirable Crichton - the Aberdeen's were rumoured to dine with their servants from time to time - but this was denied by Barrie.


Because Lady A's dad was Dudley Marjoribanks, brewery heir, low-flying Liberal parliamentarian and later Baron Tweedmouth.


He invented the golden retriever. True fact. Tomorrow I will explain how.

*Three Provinces of the Eastern seaboard, like you didn't already know.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Johnny Unitas or Ernst Hanfstaengl?

These are my two favourite names today. Partly because they are great names, but mainly because you couldn't make up better ones for what these people were.

Johnny Unitas was a superhero American football quarterback (his surname was an Ellis Island phoneticisation of the Luthuanian Jonaitis). Hanfstaengl was Hitler's foreign press chief, and at the World Economic Conference in London in 1933 (yes, I am still slowly reading Lords of Finance) one observer found him charming, but a Nazi to the tips of his tailoring - he favoured a milk chocolate suit, with matching shirt and tie. This is something Alastair Campbell could not have pulled off.

Monday, 14 September 2009

my equal favourite shoe

I lost it last Thursday. On the same day, I lost my favourite pair of trousers. They are par Berghaus (by Berghaus).

How did this happen? I don't know. Both losses were inexplicable.

third world war

Just in case you are only following the (sad) story of Caster Semenya via this blog: the BBC says that she's almost certainly has an intersexual condition (probably not the right expression). I don't know what this means in terms of her athletic career.

But certainly it is an incredibly complicated scientific problem - almost certainly one with no clear solution. South Africa's Sports Minister, the Reverend Makenkhezi Stofile is almost certainly a top international endocrinologist, and so he is taking a measured and sophisticated view of the issue. 'Caster is a woman', he says. 'She is our heroine. We must protect her.'

On one level, yup, ok, go for it: Caster has (almost certainly) been brought up a girl and this is a nightmare. But flat-out denying science, even if science isn't giving us either the answers we want or even clear answers is, well, whatever. Still, a desire to protect Semenya, a vulnerable young woman (I think she's a woman, basically, since we don't have a proper middlesex term, and it's what she thinks of herself as, and not unreasonably) is a good one.

Then the Reverend Stofile was asked what would happen if she were barred from future competition - there is little chance of her being asked to hand back her recent World gold medal, since no one, including her, was aware of the issue, and it would be blatantly unfair - and he replied: 'I think it would be the third world war.'

Stofile is the kind of idiot you don't need in a position of responsibility, and who South Africa's crappy, AIDS-ignorant, misogynist new President would pick to set fire to the oily troubled waters.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Scrabulous Street Names

I've walked past this sign in Hampstead, where I have a house,* for years, and I still find it funny. What was going on? Had they run out of Os? Or did they just not notice? And I love the fact they couldn't be bothered to fix it. I also love the fact that at some deep subconscious level there is an understanding of the QU rule.

*I mean: where I go to hospital

Thursday, 10 September 2009

i want to see some blood

said a small girl on the train the other day. I didn't hear the context.

Here's a nice bit of Alexander McCall Smith. Scotland Street = super relaxing, in a good way. He's wise and morally interesting, and deceptively lucid. Matthew has seen some neat schoolchildren in Western Australia:
'It's very nice,' said Matthew. He felt a momentary guilt, embarrassment perhaps, that sh ehsould think such an old-fashioned thought, but it passed. There was nothing wrong, he reminded himself, in appreciating a bourgeois paradise when every other sort of paradise on offer had proved to be exactly the opposite of what paradise should be.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

i'd rather be dancing

Which is great for me, because most of the time I am. I'm doing this show tomorrow. It's going to be super, and so on and so forth, and feel free to come if you can persuade the Pleasance Theatre to sell you tickets (the only reason there are still tickets is the Pleasance didn't let anyone buy them in August). This hasn't left me much time for filling your screen with jewels.

Anyway, because it's been forever, some quick and topical Cuppy*:
On Cortez's return to Spain, he took featherwork, vanilla, parrots, herons, jaguars, dwarfs, and Albinos. He also took four Indians for Charles V, who didn't know what to do with them. In return, Cortez was made a marquis and given a one-twelfth share in all his future discoveries.**
In Aztec Mexico, things which could not be expressed by pictures were not expressed at all. Even so, it was hard to tell what they were getting at. For instance, a man sitting on the ground denoted an earthquake. Well, it made sense to them.
Some things in Aztec were named merely coatl, and others just atl. There was also a youth named Tlapaltecatlopuchtzin. This was the last straw.

** A chief in Cuba inquired whether there would be any Spaniards in heaven. When told yes, he refused to convert to Christianity.***

*Topical for British Museum fans, anyway.

***This sounds too neat to be true. Or at the very least as if the chief was speaking to posterity rather than asking a real question. I'm not saying it's not a good story.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

wesley mercer

A couple of years, when I was in New York for a production of a musical I literally helped write, I went to the unfinished and massive cathedral of St John the Divine. Cathedrals are great, etc. In it there was a 9/11 memorial, and I can't remember precisely why it caught my eye, but it was to a guy called Wesley Mercer. Maybe there was a picture. If so, it was of a dignified black man with glasses and a moustache.

He was the seventy year old vice-president of security for Morgan Stanley who had served a tour in Korea and two in Vietnam. He was on good terms with his ex-wife, and his surviving daughter, Linda, a schoolteacher. He didn't own sneakers or jeans, and he wanted to, and did, carry himself in a way that inspired confidence.

He was survived by his devastated partner, Bill Randolph.

Monday, 7 September 2009

i've heard that 'the last good kiss' by james crumley has the best opening sentence of any detective novel ever. do you agree?

Tricky. As a historian, I hate superlatives, but James Crumley's novels are superlative. The start of The Last Good Kiss is definitely good:
When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

a riveting fact about my ears

If you look on websites devoted to that sort of thing, people endlessly slag off the white earphones you get as standard issue from Apple. I love them. They fit in my ears perfectly; they stay snugly in while I am running without blocking off sound dangerously; and so on and so forth.

But the stupid buts of rubber around the speaker-mesh shreds and falls apart in about six months. It's maddening. I wear almost no other thing out on earth except for these. It is a major calamity in anyone's book.

Friday, 4 September 2009

information overload and the future of health

Maybe for some insane reason you don't listen to NPR's Planet Money podcast. Maybe you do, in which case you heard about this a week ago:

Ok, so the US is trying to sort out its healthcare system. Lots of problems, one of which is that people who vote tend to be already covered, and if you ARE covered, it's a good system. In Europe, we think everyone should be covered, and we're right, but that doesn't mean the NHS is the best method, or that there's any perfect method. But the problem with any change is that some people win, and some people lose, and it's well hard selling anything to people who'll lose by it because they'll make the most noise.

But we have to choose, because we're getting better at medicine, but the really good bits cost a ton, and we just can't give everyone perfect care, because resources won't allow it, but when we choose everyone gets antsy, but, but, and so on. We can understand the problem intellectually, but no one's worked out how to sell a solution (because all the solutions are compromises).

But back to the plot. Last week on Planet Money, a Chicago-school free market guy was talking about his research, and saying that the nightmare problem whose policy implications people are only beginning, if that, to get their heads round is the crisis of having too much information.

He started saying that of course we don't want insurers knowing our genetic predisposition to disease, because then two babies born on the same day suddenly have radically different insurance premiums, one of which might be prohibitive, and destroy his or her quality of life from a very early age. Ok.

But if individuals also have that information, we can make our own decisions about where and how to opt into insurance, and insurers will not get enough in premiums to cover the unlucky - that's how insurance works. We spread the risk, but if we're almost sure our house won't burn down, we won't insure it. I simplify radically, as always.

So this guy reluctantly thinks some kind of compulsory insurance is the only way, but you can tell he isn't happy about it.

Basically, healthcare / old age care are the policy nightmares of the developed world and the economics of them are riveting and a bit depressing. Planet Money isn't depressing, though. It's funny. There was a great one on the economics of modern piracy where all the pirates had time-sheets.

Why the hell am I blogging this? I'll tell you a very funny story from another NPR show later.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

sporadic prostitutes conquer moscow

Once in a while, a Pravda story deserves the full treatment. I mean, the site is weird, with its endless fascination with Russian armaments, the naughtiness of all former Soviet republics, the weirdness of America for electing someone black, the lunacy of vegetarians, etc., but this is particularly , er, is nasty the right word? I mean it's one of the words. But it's also funny in its gruesome way:
Russia's Institute for Social Research said in the beginning of the year that many Russian women (five million) would have to walk the streets because of the economic crisis and the growth of the unemployment rate. The researchers dubbed the phenomenon as ‘sporadic prostitution.’ The term means that a woman may make her living as a prostitute two or three times a week and stay a respectable woman during the rest of her time. ‘Sporadic prostitutes’ do not intend to save money – they do it when they look for jobs or when they need cash before they get paid at work.

Many Russian officials say that there are no prostitutes in Russia because there is no law that would regulate prostitution as a source of income. However, if one googles for “prostitutes Moscow” it turns out that there are at least 200,000 of them in Moscow alone.

Really. Google tells you that? I did that Google and got 173,000 hits, and I would be surprised if each hit was advertising a different prostitute. I mean, more than surprised. Maybe Pravda had done a lot more research and gone through these 173,000 sites finding out how many prostitutes each one advertised. Maybe not, though.
‘Sporadic prostitutes’ can easily be seen among many other photos of scantily clothed women looking like porcelain dolls.
Not totally sure what this bit means.
“Why do I have to spend anything on a photo shoot if I am not going to be a prostitute for a long time? I need to make some money for my summer holidays and that’s it,” a woman, who introduced herself as Evelina said.
Because of all these sporadic prostitutes (sorry, sorry, it's a serious issue but the phrase makes me laugh), men are getting confused (stupid men):
The effect that sporadic prostitutes produce among their clients – “I’d never thought that you’re a prostitute” – attract clients’ attention. Moreover, many men are ready to pay more than they do visiting a regular brothel. “They are different than usual prostitutes. Their profession does not affect them
, there are no signs of immorality in them. She is just a girl next door.
Really, though?
This feeling attracts men,” sociologist Elena Fedotkina says.
She doesn't sound like a very good sociologist.
“However, women can be attracted to this occupation which can make many of them go straight to the bottom afterwards,” the specialist said.
I thought a rude thing when I read this the first time. I'm sorry. A sociologist AND a specialist, though. That sounds good.
Why do women become prostitutes?
Good question, and one not completely answered by the above. Or by the below.
34% - poverty
17% - impossible to explain
14% - a wish to lead careless lifestyle
14% - no other choice
9% - loose conduct
Unlikely editorialising
6% - unemployment
6% - natural predisposition
Unlikely editorialising.

The only thing that adds up in the entire piece is the percentages to 100, and that surprised me.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

read this

Especially if you write, but even if you don't.

The Google book deal is something I keep meaning to try to get my head round, especially given my not particularly famous stance on e- as the inevitable direction of a lot of reading, and now there really isn't time, and I bet that's what everyone thinks. It's the same is facebook and privacy, which it isn't like at all: something profoundly transformative that happens with not bad intentions and done by mostly people who have never had anything particularly wrong happen to them and who go about it without imagining the worst-case scenario. I am simplifying radically.

I'm glad Nick Harkaway has simplified it less radically, and I profoundly agree with him. Also, read his book. It's really good.

kilburn social club reviews and other housekeeping

I've said in another post that there's no graceful way for me to comment on reviews, so I won't. All I will say that it is easy to find thelondonpaper's one, which was negative (and where is thelondonpaper now? Coincidence?) but it is almost impossible to find some of the best ones, because they were on the radio. When I have sorted out a proper, more coherent web presence (soon, people, soon) I'll have a page of links and so on and so forth, but for now, here are some radio quotes which are nice if you are me, and which make me seem boastful if you are not.

Alex Heminsley said, on Radio 6:
It's the kind of book I can imagine people would get quite obsessed by ... he's taking liberties with reality, but it still creates a real world which you feel like you're in when you're reading it ... if you read it, you'll really want someone else you know to read it, or to meet someone else who's read it. It's the kind of thing if you saw someone at a party and they'd read it too, you'd want to spend half an hour dissecting it.
I did the Simon Mayo Books Podcast (with Richard Bacon, because Simon Mayo was away, which was a pity for me, though RB was good, because I think Simon Mayo is brilliant, but all is not lost, because they want me to review on the panel later this month). Tim Bowler said:
ambitious in the most quirky sense ... a very, very complex, multilayered book, very playful book, it's got a marvellous sense of the ridiculous ... I thought it was tremendous. And the talking football - it's worth buying the book just to find out about the talking football.
Helen Dunning said:
The ambition and the scope of the book, I thought, were tremendous ... I think your talent for developing different elements of the story is quite extraordinary - the sisters, Esther I thought was amazing, she was like a cross between Sue Ellen and Joan Collins. I also liked that the footballers [have] their own philosophies and ideas about what football means to them.
and Tony Bradman said:
I think the football scenes are great, actually. It's very, very hard to write about football well, there's a whole vocabulary, there's a whole way of writing about it that most people fail at, so I really enjoyed those. It's a 500 page book and you do seem to put absolutely everything in it all at once ... I'm kind of worried about what you're going to do next.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

previously unreleased material

I am doing a spoken word evening at The Good Ship at eight. I went last month as research and the main things I noticed were that everyone seemed extremely used to doing spoken word evenings, and that none of them were reading disconnected chunks of novel. Everything was coherent and complete. Thus, tonight, er...

I will do something from the book, but I am not yet sure how to give a sense of completeness. I might also read something new.

If I were Andrew Kaufman I could basically read all of All My Friends Are Superheroes, which you should also do, but not necessarily out loud.

Or read any of the zillions of short descriptions of superheroes therein. For instance:
The Projectionist can make you believe whatever she believes. If she believes interest rates are going to fall, and you have a short conversation with the Projectionsit, you will too. If she believes that no, in fact, you didn't signal when you turned left, causing the Projectionist to ram her car into the back of yours, so will you.
Her downfall began when she fell in love with the Inverse. She absolutely, 100% fell in love with the Inverse. She projected all this emotion onto him, but the Inverse, being the Inverse, simply reflected the opposite of everything she was sending.
Strangely, neither the Inverse nor the Projectionist can let go of the relationship.

Chip was born with a chip on her shoulder. It's an immensely heavy chip, a chip that weighs so much it forced her to develop superhuman strength. But the chip on Chip's shoulder weighs so much that only her super-strength could remove it, but she can't use her super-strength until she gets rid of the chip and she can't get rid of the chip without using her super-strength. She appears no stronger than any regular.