Friday, 31 December 2010

lords of finance (again)

I know I bang on about this book endlessly, but the thing I have been thinking about it for the last month is this: we look back at the Great Depression as a thing which started with a crash, and that was a nightmare, and then it took ages to get over it. When you read the book, what you see is a series of shocks taking place over a number of years, after each of which people - bright people - thought the problems were over, and then there would be another one. The really bad stuff wasn't the stuff that happened immediately.

Then I think: Eurozone.

In addition to these thoughts (depressing, worrying thoughts, in a nutshell), I also think that there is a comical tendency in a lot of pundits to be gloomy about everything, and that if you're a halfway competent historian you should at least remind people that loads of people have always thought everything's going to hell in a handcart. The boy got eaten by the wolf in the end, but I sort of mostly reckon that most things for most people will be better in the future than they are now, like they mostly always have been. They might not be, and let's not use it as an excuse for complacency, and I might not be among the people they will be better for, but they always have been before, and I like those odds.


(Last night I dreamed. Can't remember the details, but there was definitely food poisoning. Now must help cook for twenty people.)

Thursday, 30 December 2010

i have gone mad

I think we can all agree that it is insane to quote people making comments on websites. Everyone knows that, alongside the reasonable ones who do things like comment here, there are driveling lunatics everywhere you look, and the Guardian ones aren't better than the ones at the Daily Mail.

Having said which, Giles Coren wrote a piece about women in comedy today. I am not a website commenter, so I am not going to comment on it. Here is what some other people thought.

'Blame political correctness. No comedian wants to suffer the treatment handed to Benny Hill, Bernard Manning & Jim Davidson.' This is not someone being satirical. It really isn't.

'How about this.. Let men do the jokes..... and put women in charge of the Banks. The world would be a much happier place. Just a thought.' Just.

'The answer is simple. I give you Morgana from Channel 4 as an example why female comedy is not widespread or mainstream.' This answer is simple.

'women arent funny, the only time there funny is if they fall or there being thick without noticing. for the record = miranda = a boring phenom and not technically a woman.' Again, I am 99% certain this is for real.

'The trouble is, there are no decent male comedians either. The rubbish mascarading on TV as comedians is pathetic. None of them can tell a joke without it being full of sex or mocking the disabed. Bring back Ken Dodd, Bernard Manning Jim Davison and the like. They were REAL comedians.' This one is my favourite.

What am I doing here? What am I doing? I'll stop now. As usual, as well as the fools, a lot of people are horrible. Much more horrible than these guys. (These are all guys.)

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

run, white boy, run

Because I am nice, Santa gave me a present this year (normally I am not nice). It's a book about the 1908 Olympics, and I would be shocked if it doesn't provide more anecdotes than the one which opens Chapter One*, which is as far as I have read:

Lieutenant Wyndham Halswelle was representing Great Britain. His talent had been spotted serving with the Highland Light Infantry during the Boer War, and he returned to win all kinds of championships, and 'set a Scottish record for 300 yards that was not beaten until 1961, when Menzies Campbell, later for a time to be the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, took it away from him.'

What? Really? Did you know this? Does everybody? The people I was with didn't, but maybe they were the only ones. It does seem odd that I didn't know it. You probably know it. Sorry. 300 yards is a sort of nonsense event, but Ming held the GB 100m record from 1967-1974, which is for real. He was known for a time (as various others have been since) as 'the fastest white man on the planet.'

* Dr Badger Cries 'Foul!'

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Watch this right now

(It's via @isihac on Twitter, which, I think, is basically Graeme Garden.)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

sky, virgin, bt, talktalk

Is it at least possible that broadband, and internet in general, is a sort of magical technology which has been developed incredibly quickly and that it is not at all easy to provide, and on the whole these companies do it well, but there are lots of things that can go wrong, and when they do they are not very simple to fix unless you really know what you are doing?

I appreciate that they might sell the thing differently - they might say: look, you might be lucky, we have a system which very often works and is like magic but sometimes things go wrong and it could be one of loads of things, most of which are your fault because you're even more inexpert than even our most inexpert engineers. Or they could employ better people. We would have to pay more then, though. That tends to cause a fuss.

And of course it's frustrating for us, because we depend on the magic, like it's electricity or water, but it is fundamentally more complicated to deliver in a working fashion than electricity or water, or the phone, and unlike them it's been around for six hours.

I'm really not saying it's not frustrating. I've been very frustrated by it. But it is also, sort of, like magic. And it's part of the whole, in general, people forgetting that the internet is an amazing piece of engineering, made of real stuff, that is hard to maintain and costs a lot of money.

This was today's bathtime thought. Usually I read.

Monday, 20 December 2010

beaver, utah

Deep down, you knew I'd find out more about Beaver, Utah, where Mr Flake ranched his cattle.

With a population of 2,500, it's the largest city in Beaver County. The second largest city, Milford, only contains 1,500 (with a large Recreation Committee, including volleyball supremo Haylee Beebe, the least likely person ever to be a character in A Void/La Disparition). Stupid Minersvelle hasa population of fewer than 1,000, so it's just a town. Greenville, scarcely worthy of note, is an unincorporated community.

That's pretty much it for Beaver County. Though, I dare say, you would be interested to learn how it got its name. As Wikipedia so clearly puts it, Beaver County 'was named for the abundance of beavers in the area. Its county seat and largest city is Beaver.'

The City is more interesting than the County. It punches well above its weight in terms of famous residents. As well as Mr Flake, who was just passing through, it was the birthplace of Philo T Farnsworth, who invented the television, up to a point*, though what that really means is he worked out cathode ray tubes, and Butch Cassidy.

Butch Cassidy's first crime, as a minor, was to take some jeans and pie from a shop whose proprietor was absent, leaving an IOU. A jury acquitted him. Bet they felt pretty stupid later on.

* He also built a nuclear fusion device.

Friday, 17 December 2010

endearing, arizona

On the ongoing US Tour, we've reached Snowflake, Arizona. It's a little Mormon town (pop. 4958) with a big temple.

It's semi-famous because it was the home of Travis Walton, one of the best-known alien-abductees, and subject of the movie Fire in the Sky. Its Wikipedia page is well sweet, almost as sweet as Bluntisham-cum-Earith's, and similarly local-written:
Football is one of the Biggest Attractions in the White Mountain Area. The Lobos are always a Dominant Football team. When you come to the White Mountains you must be sure to come to a football game, if you come in the fall.
All of which is as nothing, however, compared to this fact: it is called Snowflake because it was founded by Mr Snow* and Mr Flake**. I heard about this on This American Life, where they didn't make anything of it, because they're classier than I am.

* Mr Erastus Snow. He was converted after his brother, Zerubbabel. My brother is called Alex
** Previously a cattle rancher in Beaver, Utah

Monday, 13 December 2010


It is cold, and I have a cold. Coincidence? Or conspiracy! Etc.

On the upside, though the commissioning process was eccentric and details remain unclear, I might have a song on Loose Ends sometime upcoming (fear not, regulars, I did not write the music - that was the excellent Philip Pope); and I more or less know what to say at tomorrow night's Literary Death Match.* More or less.

And if you think that's good news, then you'll love this week's match report, which features the name of a real person that I heard for the first time last night. The name is well worth the click.

* Regulars (again) will be surprised to see me described as the Santa Claus of Kilburn. I don't know why they'll be surprised, because I am. I've only ever heard one person described as that and it was me, on this site. I am the Santa Claus of Kilburn.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

alms for oblivion

One of my various brilliant collaborators has been telling me to read Simon Raven's Alms for Oblivion sequence for about two years. He finally pressed volume one into my hands the other night. It is, predictably, the bomb.

It's mostly humans being vile, frequently in dialogue, but he periodically throws in a passage like this:
Here was the birthplace of the first man, no innocent Adam in a beautiful garden but a cold, hungry beast who must slink and kill. Here was the human spirit in its raw and primordial essence, as it was when it stirred for the first time and awoke to tear its crimson path down the millennia.
Here's another piece. It's just one character's view, and hopelessly reductive and so on, but reminded me a lot of Julian Gough's excellent Prospect piece about how and why the artistic establishment undervalues comedy*:
'That's the boring thing about women,' Carton Weir remarked. 'If you just say, "Let's have a bit of fun," they look shocked. But if you say something portentous, like "Darling, I'm so unhappy," they'll drop flat on the nearest bed. Your unhappiness makes the whole thing serious, you see, not as serious as marriage would, of course, but at least it removes any suspicion of levity, and levity outrages their female conceit. The result is that if one wants a woman one has to go moaning round pretending to be unhappy. Too tedious. Which is why,' he concluded brazenly, 'I prefer boys.'
* It's been linked to a lot on Twitter lately. I think Stephen Fry is at least partly responsible.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


I have a load of open tabs. So:

1. Love's Fowl is an opera, in Italian, inspired by the Chicken Little story but going far beyond it. It sounds unbearably twee, but this year's This American Life collection of Poultry Stories - actually 2003's on repeat - played sections and translated them. They are dry, witty, everything that turns something really high quality but offbeat into the good sort of cult.

2. Actually, that This American Life episode also starts with an amazing story about two sisters and a duck puppet, and follows it with two episodes of the brilliant Chickenman. TAL is about the best thing, and this was a crackerjack episode. Here's more Chickenman. I wish I'd listened to this before I invented Cricketbat (see a couple of posts lower down).

3. Via Light Reading: a story about bees producing red honey because they had been eating vats of sugar dyed with the same dye used for Maraschino cherries. The honey was horrible.

4. Via Marbury: great story about super high-tech cyber-terrorism taking down Iranian nuclear facilities.

5. I'm doing Literary Death Match next week. I have to represent a holiday. Unless I hear of something better, I am going to represent Bhutan's Blessed Rainy Day when you bathe outdoors to get rid of bad deeds, obstructions and defilements, and then you have porridge.

a skill

(Via New Yorker's Out Loud podcast. It's actually quite amazing if you close your eyes.)

Monday, 6 December 2010

martina navratilova - crime writer

You can't stop sports stars from writing mystery novels. I'm reading - very slowly - one written by Jack Hobbs and set at a Lord's Test Match in the 30s. Why Miss Jones gave it to me. Ted Dexter wrote one too.

And I have just bought Breaking Point, which annoyingly turns out to be the second of Martina Navratilova's Jordan Myles books. I think there isn't a third. JM is a spunky tennis-champ-turned-investigator. I love the cover. The publishers had a think and decided, rightly, that the appeal of this book was Martina Navratilova. So they put her on the front, with a laptop, on a Harley. There's nothing not to like.

The opening of paragraph two is one of the great moments in all modern fiction:
It is Paris, eight years ago. The day is unpredictably warm, as it is likely to be in May during the finals of the French Open...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

i am under the sun

and therefore I am nothing new. As BeijingCat pointed out in the comments to yesterday's post, other people have enjoyed the tortured world of superhero timelines at least as much as I do. This is the fake version little less crackers than all the not-fake one. I think it's the sort of thing Borges would have written under the circumstances, assuming Borges is the guy I am thinking of.

No, wait, it's not a fake. It's another real one. This still leaves the Borgesian project open, continuing to assume that I am right about Borges. I'm on it, people, I'm on it:
First awakened by the release of interkenetic energy following the death, or elimination at least, of Dr Immortal at the hands of The Riever and The Power Beyond, Cricketbat is half-cricket, half-bat. Like a cricket, he can jump many times his body length, but he doesn't need to because, like a bat, he can fly. This makes him existentially angsty, a situation not improved by the fact that he has complex, multi-lensed eyes like a cricket, but is also blind, like a bat.

In the Silver Age story, Spiderman versus Cricketbat, Peter Parker explained to Cricketbat that bats are not actually blind, this is a myth. This made the situation worse, if anything.
There's more. I just don't have time right now.

Monday, 29 November 2010

peace, brothers and sisters

When the stultifying oppression of modern life becomes overwhelming, I seek solace in the contortions of people trying weave coherence out of the seventy-years-tangled skein of hyperbolic superhero narratives. After not very long it starts to read like one of the Hagar begat Agar passages of the Bible or a badly translated Edda. I find it peaceful:
Eternity came into existence when the universe was formed (along with Death, Oblivion, and Infinity) and spontaneously assumed the collective consciousness of all living things in the Universe. He is every living thing and every living thing is him; thus he controls everything in all plains of existence with the exception of the Living Tribunal, who maintains the cosmic balance of power. Eternity is the physical incarnation of time, whereas his sister Infinity represents space. Also, if Galactus ever dies or does not exist, the opposite of Eternity, Abraxas, would come into being. Eternity is guarded by Captain Universe.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

happy thanksgiving

A thing that keeps cropping up in articles about Thanksgiving, a thing that is clearly a joke Americans get, is turducken. I didn't know what it was, and now I do. It's deboned chicken in deboned duck in deboned turkey. It looks like this.

It's cultural place is partly to do with the NFL, to my joy. John Madden, legendary coach and analyst, chuntered on about it a lot on air during the traditional Detroit Lions Thanksgiving game (like having the Premier League's annual Boxing Day fixture always featuring West Ham). Basically, it looks like it didn't used to be much of a thing, then it became a joke thing the way good jokes become things (like the deep fried Mars Bar). I don't know how much of a real thing it is. You probably haven't noticed but one of the funny things about it is it contains the word 'turd'.

Whatever, I bet it tastes good.

Monday, 22 November 2010

i'm not on holiday

But I am against a set of deadlines - Tall Tales on Tuesday (Peckham) and Thursday (Kilburn), for a start. Also Diary of a Nobody. Also the next book and the Wodehouse/Gershwin project.

Normal service will be resumed.

Friday, 19 November 2010

hold the snide

Ever since I read this, I have been meaning to post the following, which is right up there with my all-time favourite things. I first read it when I was writing a dissertation on Machiavelli. Roberto Ridolfi wrote biographies of Machiavelli and then his friend and patron, Francesco Guicciardini, who was a very considerable historian and political thinker in his own right. This is how Ridolfi's biography of Guicciardini ends*:
Since then thirty years have gone by. Before ending this Life, which brings to a close these thirty years of study, and perhaps all my studies, rising one last time from the papers of messer Francesco, I went back to the near-by church of Santa Felicita to see his tomb. I went to take leave of him, but also as one returns to certain pages one has read in order to understand them better.

It was a melancholy parting, even more so than partings generally are at my age in which man begins to die away. And on that that marble at the foot of the high altar in the ancient romanesque church, I at last understood why Guicciardini, rich and without male children, who had lived more as a great nobleman and great master than as a private citizen, proud, greedy for honours and to be distinguished among his fellows, should have wished to disappear like this, and leave his bones and his name unmarked by any stone in this family grave. Always true to himself, the great realist merely consented to the disconsolate reality of death.
As translated by Cecil Grayson. Don't forget him.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

conduct unbecoming

Scarborough and Whitby is a traditionally Tory seat and people often wonder who its most interesting MP was.

Sir Paul Latham was elected in a 1931 by-election when the not-uninteresting Sidney Herbert, son of a New York heiress, resigned. In 1932, he took over Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex and finished its restoration the following year. He was exempt from military service, but signed up at the start of WWII all the same.

In 1941, while serving with the Royal Artillery, he was arrested for 'Improper Acts' with three gunners and a civilian. He tried to kill himself by driving his motorbike into a tree. He was court-martialled, found guilty of ten counts of improper conduct and dishonourably discharged. He was imprisoned for two years without hard labour. He resigned his seat.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

how immortal are you?

I literally don't know. I also literally don't know what keywords I used to stumble into a superhero forum discussing the question, 'aside from thanos with the infinity gauntlet, can anyone out there kill deadpool PERMANENTLY !?!?!'

The questioner goes on: 'can darksied? can galactus? eternity? shuma gorath? professor x? dr. doom? dr. strange? lobo? or even ego?' Given the plaintive tone, I think it's only fair to say that the questioner's handle is 'Ego'. Is Ego being pestered by Deadpool? Is this a forum where superheroes discuss each other's powers before picking a fight?

I do not know enough about Superheroes to venture an answer, not knowing who any of these characters are, though I'd quite likely to study at the faculty staffed by Drs Doom and Strange and run by Professor X. 'The Human Juggernaut' immediately replied: 'the one above them all can kill deadpool. The Beyonder might as well.' These guys have great names and they're obviously really powerful. I'm not sure whether I more want to be called The One Above Them All or The Beyonder.

Then 'Deadpool' replies! 'We don't know the extent of Deadpool's immortality,' he writes. 'We know he can walk around without a heart or lungs, and that he can heal from just a hand.' Deadpool is clearly just being modest about the state of his own-self-knowledge because Vance Astro leaps into the fray:

'What do you mean we don't know the extent? He can recover from any injury period. It goes on as far as it can go. He returned from a liquid state. There is nothing that can happen to him that he can't come back from. Unless some like throws him out of a space ship or he gets sucked into a black hole, but how likely is that? If Galactus for instance ate Deadpool, we would probably never see him again but it's possible he is alive somewhere within Galactus. I believe Eternity could take his immortality away making him just a guy with healing factor who can die. Then he'd be easy to kill.'

So, Vance Astro, you admit he can be killed! We just need to get Eternity onside. (It would certainly be a more elegant solution than having him swim around in bloody Galactus. Who knows when Galactus might do a poo, which is a point Ego makes in his/her/its next post.)

But Vance Astro has an answer: 'To my knowledge ... Galactus doesn't shit.' What Vance Astro doesn't know isn't worth knowing, and I mean that.

There is more where this came from. (As far as I can tell, Ego has not killed Deadpool, and none of the major players, like Eternity or The Beyonder, has turned up. They're too big for forums.)

Monday, 15 November 2010

the last picture show

I've been meaning to watch it for years, and I finally did last night. It's terrific, which you can find out from anyone.

But if you are like me, you might have been assuming that it's a Jeff Bridges/Cybill Shepherd film, which is how it's usually advertised. That's because Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd were famous by the time I started hearing about it, for which reason they were the focus of Texasville, the sequel. But no, because the real star is a guy called Timothy Bottoms, who looks quite like Rob Morrow in early Northern Exposure.

So what happened to Timothy Bottoms? Apparently, he nearly became a superstar. According to imdb, he acted when he was a boy, and then he toured Europe in 1967 'along with the Santa Barbara Madrigal Society, which sealed his aspirations'. Yup, that'll do it.

Things slowed down for him in his late twenties, as a result of 'outgrowing his awkward adorableness' - again something I am sure many readers will have sympathy with. He does an uncanny George W Bush impression and he splits his time between acting 'and his other great love of training wild horses at his two ranches near Big Sur, California.' You might think he has no dark secrets, but imdb says that 'On the sly he has worked as a surveyor's assistant'.

dressage monday

This was via @jojomoyes. In my experience, you do not have to be a dressage fan to enjoy it. Apparently, the little horse in the corner is some form of dancing horse legend.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

apropos of nothing much

There is a telly advert for the Canary Islands which I have just seen for the second time and which strongly implies a woman is having regular sex with a polar bear.

do something about it

Note. I have had to explain some elements of fantasy football for UK readers. If you are one of my regular readers, this is likely to be a post of less the normal interest to you. It is to a purpose.

One of my favourite writers, Lawrence Block, has said that when Person X tells him they have a great idea for a novel, and why doesn't he write it and then they can go halves no the proceeds, he replies that he actually has some spare ideas himself that he hasn't got round to writing, and why doesn't Person X write one of them and they can go halves on those proceeds?

Ideas are easy. People have good ideas about things all the time. Even you have probably had one. This post is about an idea lots of people must have had which would make millions of people's lives (very slightly) better, but which no one has made happen. Or it is a post in which I have got something obvious wrong.

I play fantasy American football. It's a brilliant game. Unlike other fantasy sports I've been instantly bored by, each footballer is only owned by one fantasy team, and the fantasy teams play each other in a league. It's exciting. It's the linchpin of a ginormous industry whose top analysts are paid seven figure salaries by companies like ESPN. I love this fact. I love that it's a derivatives industry where a player's value is separate from his value to an actual team, and that it ballooned during the recent boom in derivative trading. I love that you can have a job called 'Fantasy Injury Expert'. It's a metaphor for everything.

The biggest problem with the game, which players complain about relentlessly, is that the format starts to break down if two or three teams in the league stop participating (usually because they're losing). Games against those games become walkovers and skew the standings. Everyone gets very frustrated. I am new to the whole thing, and am experiencing my first big frustrations with it.*

If only something could be done about it! But something could be, couldn't it? and are two of the many sites running hundreds of thousands of these leagues. These are huge operations. All they need to do is create an Automanage function. The algorithm behind this would not be very complicated. These elements might not be perfect, but they're a start:

1. Any player on a team's starting line-up who is injured is automatically replaced with the bench player with highest projected score.
2. If no player in that position is available from the bench, then the player in that position with the lowest projected score for rest of season is automatically replaced by the Free Agent with highest projected score for rest of season.
3. A manager can disable the automanager if he thinks he can get by one week without a Defence/TE whatever, but only for one week.

And so why doesn't this function exist? I literally don't know, but I am going to find out. It seems like a small piece of computer programming would massively improve things. In fact, it's so obvious that there might be a glitch in my thinking. But I have looked for reasons and discussions and haven't found anything. Do tell me if I'm being a fool. It wouldn't be the first time.

* These frustrations are less today than usual because in a miraculous development in the league where I have the weakest of my three teams, which is really hurting at running back, someone has just agreed to trade me Adrian Peterson in exchange for Matt Forte and Dez Bryant. It's not even a PPR league.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

not all croatians are bad people

This one didn't get the memo, though. At least one memo. He's called Vlatko Markovic, and he's the head of the Croatian Football Federation. He's just told a Croatian daily paper:
While I'm a president of the Croatian Football Federation, there will be no homosexuals playing in the national team
Even by the bottom-feeding standards of the people running major sports organisations, this is astonishing stuff. Surely even FIFA have to do something about it. Markovic added 'Luckily, only normal people play football'. Apparently, says the BBC's Caroline Cheese, 'normal' is a mistranslation. It should be 'healthy'. Much better.

For what it's worth, I think Croatia shouldn't be allowed to play international football until they prove that they have a gay player.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

eurosport ident

The tone is portentous, the music is thudding. It is about two downhill skiers:
The American, fast and fearless. The German, poised and precise...
... the commentator, casually racist. It's quite sweet, really, that they don't realise. On the often very good Front Row this week someone praised football for having kicked out racism, at least in the UK. It largely has, in many ways. But player stereotyping is still funny.

(Also, when Fighting Talk's four panelists were asked to name sport's most influential women, three of them picked the wives of sportsmen. I like the way the show lets panelists be honest and politically incorrect from time to time, but that was a low moment.)

You don't have to like American football or know anything about it to enjoy this. (It came via Dave Gorman on Twitter.)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


This is basically just a geogblog these days, but after the wild excitement of not knowing anything about Bulgaria, I realised that I didn't know anything about Tomsk. Do you?

Here is the news from Tomsk:

Newsflash 1 - in the mid-19th century, a fifth of the population were exiles. 'But exiles were sent to Siberia!' you are thinking. More fool you. Tomsk is in Siberia.
Newsflash 2 - by WWII, 1/12 Tomskians were students, giving rise to the nickname, 'The Athens of Siberia'. Hmm. Athens? The other Athenses got that way for other reasons than being studenty? It should be somewhere with nothing else but students. Like the Keele of Siberia.
Newsflash 3 - The local football team is called FC Tom. I think FC Tom would be a good character to be a friend of Norman and Enid Oklahoma. Maybe the crusty but lovable judge?
Newsflash 4 - That picture is a satirical monument to Chekhov (I've often thought of putting up one of those). He made an unflattering mention of Tomsk on his way to Sakhalin. As if Sakhalin is much to write home about.
Newsflash 5 - Tomsk has museums of local history, wood carving and oppression.
Newsflash 6 - The Mayor of Tomsk is is Nikolay Nikolaychuk. The previous Mayor, a guy called Makarov, was suspended from his post pending the outcome of criminal proceedings. Nikolaychuk represents the United Russia party. They got the second-highest number of votes in the last elections. The highest number went to the Pensioners Party.

That was the news from Tomsk.

Monday, 1 November 2010


TKSC is one of the 'Staff Favourites' or whatever the shelf is called in the Waterstones in the O2 Centre on the Finchley Road. I liked this a lot when I first saw it, and I liked it even more today when there was a different little card describing why. Maybe it was the same person saying different things, but don't think I'm not a cheap date. Don't think that.

(First firework of the season. Like firework displays. Don't much like fireworks going off randomly on Kilburn High Road.)

do you realise??

... that Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips is the official rock song of Oklahoma? (The State Vegetable is the watermelon, the State Percussive Instrument is the drum*, the State Soil is Port Silt Loam** and the State Meal is fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas.)

I have long been a fan of Norman Oklahoma as a character name. I think he should be married to Enid Oklahoma, which was originally called Skeleton Station. Some official didn't like that so he renamed it after a character in Tennyson's Idylls of the King. A Pulitzer prize-winner once wrote: 'A trip to Enid was surely a marvelous treat, the stairways one saw being the very least of it.'

If the stairways were the least of it, who knows what the most of it was. Maybe the grain storage capacity, which is the third highest in the world.

* Oklahoma must have been pretty near the front of that queue. What the hell did you get if you were 50th? Wait. I know what you got if you were 49th, according to Wikipedia: nothing. Poor Alaska.
** Medium-textured, reddish in colour. Alaska got Tanana, which is a mis-spelling of banana. Just kidding. It's well-drained, moderately permeable and weathered from limestone.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

run, ricky, run

At 33, Ricky Williams is well old for an NFL running back, and he is still very good. Partly this is because he took some miles off the clock by missing one season to study holistic medicine and another to play Canadian football while he served a suspension for taking marijuana - connected either with the holistic medicine or his bouts of clinical depression and social anxiety disorder. He's a Hindu vegetarian member of PETA and teaches yoga (Wikipedia says he joined the Toronto Argonauts because he could teach free yoga lessons at a local Toronto yoga facility, but I bet he could have taught free yoga lessons in lots of places). He was briefly a spokesperson for anti-depressant Paxil. He isn't any more. He told ESPN that marijuana was much more effective.

Here are some of his recent tweets:
- I'm excited! I got a new juicer today and made cantaloupe juice!
- Trig class kicked my butt tonight! Wow!
- When I look around, I see a lot of people that could benefit from having more money.

I really like Ricky Williams.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

don't shoot the sheriff

I've just been asked to sign a petition against George Osborne dodging £1.6m tax by paying accountants to find loopholes. I'm not going to sign it. If there are loopholes, he is not dodging the tax and he doesn't have to pay it.

On the other hand, it's a terrible example he's setting, consonant with the actual tax-dodging tendency and the allied belief lots of entitled people have that the illegal things they do aren't crimes. They don't get that one tax dodger hiding money in Switzerland cheats the public exchequer more than thousands of spongers. And there is a big question to be asked about a Chancellor who doesn't close loopholes he is making a fortune out of. I'd sign a petition asking him to close the loophole.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

tax dodgers

The agreement with Switzerland means that tax-dodgers hiding money there will have to pay tax on it. On the Today programme, John Humphreys (I think it was him) asked if this meant 'ordinary people' who had done everything above board and had other reasons for keeping money in Switzerland might suddenly find themselves penalised? 'No,' said the tax expert. If they were doing everything above board, they would already have declared their interest. A surprised John Humphreys (probably) asked the same question two and a half times in such a way that it sounded to someone like me that he was realising that his money in Switzerland, as advised by a clever accountant, is actually a tax dodge.

Then the tax expert pointed out that the real thing is that this undeclared money will now be part of the capital taxed as part of inheritance. 'The taxman,' he approximately said, 'will prey on us from beyond the grave.'**

Get a grip. These things only catch you if you're a tax dodger. Inheritance tax is an important way of redistributing unearned income. I know I have said this before, but almost all the people who ever write about inheritance tax anywhere are rich enough for it to be very annoying to them, and I don't blame them for being annoyed, but that doesn't mean it isn't a very important thing. After all, tax dodging is rich people stealing money from everybody else, and it's loads and loads of money.***

**NOTE** I think it is important that people can build up money for their children. So what it all comes down to is where you draw the line. The unearned income that sticks to property is massively unfair on people who do not own property. I am happy for people to persuade me I am wrong in this.

* Who are these guys? 'Ordinary people' are all over political discourse, and they're starting to annoy me.
** I had the actual quote in my head when I started this post. It escapes me. It was better than this.
*** They don't think the law is right, but that doesn't matter. People don't get to make and choose their own laws, and god knows, these are the people with the most influence. I dare say they'll find other ways to dodge tax, but that's fine. Criminals keep committing crimes, police have to keep chasing them. That's how it works.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

who is the greatest american baseballer ever to play in japan and also be cursed by colonel sanders and become a democratic senator?

Yes, you are right. It's Randy Bass. After a spotty career in the American Major Leagues, he joined the Hanshin Tigers in 1982 and went won four consecutive league batting titles. He turned around an underperforming team, and the Tigers won the Japan Series in 1985.

After the J Series win, nutty Tigers fans stood on a bridge and shouted the names of the team in order, and someone looking like the player named would then leap into the Dotonbori Canal (filthy).* No one looked like a bearded 31 year-old from Lawton, Oklahoma (seat of Comanche County and home of the annual Prince of Peace Easter passion play**). So they found a Colonel Sanders statue and threw it in instead.

Big mistake. Everyone knows that the Colonel doesn't take that kind of thing lying down. The Curse of the Colonel has kept Hanshin from victory for 25 years and counting. Fans tried to find him, and failed.*** They made offerings, but he didn't listen. It is all very sad. (Colonel Sanders was a real person. In animated adverts he is now voiced by Randy Quaid.)

Bass retired in 1988. He made visits to Japan as a cultural ambassador, which is the sort of thing Oklahoman voters love, and so they made him a Democratic State Senator in 2004.

* I have no idea why they did this.
** Yes, the one commemorated in the 1949 movie, Prince of Peace.
*** Eventually found last year during some construction work.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

the spy who loved me

It's been a while since I annotated any Pravda.
Former spy Anna Chapman starts brilliant career in fashion and showbiz

Starts a brilliant career? I want to do that!
Anna Chapman, who was deported from the United States to Russia several months ago as a result of the spy scandal between the two countries, has started a brilliant career in the world of fashion and show business.
Oh, well, I've heard that somewhere before, so maybe it's true.
The sexually appealing woman, who proved to be not a very good spy
Sexually appealing! Not a very good spy! This is my perfect woman!
in one of the most humiliating operations for Russian secret services, has found a gap which she could fill perfectly.
Oo-er, missus! No. Wait. That doesn't work properly. It would need to be a boy spy
In her new activities, Russia's probably most popular redhead is now known as "agent 90-60-90,"
Who by?
Italy's La Repubblica wrote.
I remember now. Italy's La Repubblica gets to name all Russia's spies. It was part of a deal Berlusconi worked out in return for forcing Luis Vuitton to make the KGB a load of special spy bags
Chapman officially took her new role
as agent 90-60-90. Before then it was unofficial
last Thursday at Moscow's Soho Rooms club as she attended Maxim magazine party.
I am writing this, ironically, at a party in Soho's Moscow Rooms club She appeared at the party as one of Maxim's Russian 100 sexiest women.My reasons are the same
Thus, Anna Chapman comes along with Russian most beautiful models, singers, TV and film stars.
Oo-er, missus! It works this time.
The sexy spy arrived at the party wearing a beautiful red gown. She was accompanied by two bodyguards, who escorted her to the VIP zone of the club. Chapman spent the whole evening in a company of Maxim Russia editorial director Ilya Bezugly.
Editorial directors get all the hot chicks
Anna was seen drinking champagne and chatting with him.
As previously stated, she is not a very good spy
Many believed in Russia that Chapman would be able to make a career in politics.
I am not one of them
She became very popular in her hometown of Volgograd after the spy scandal.
Anyone can be popular in Volgograd
A pro-Kremlin movement even offered her to become an honorary citizen of the city.
In spite of it being her hometown, she needed to become an honorary citizen?
The head of the Volgograd division of Russia's Liberal and Democratic Party, Alexander Potapov, said that Chapman could run for the State Duma, if she wanted to.
I bet a lot of people could, if they wanted to
Apparently, Chapman decided to choose a different path for her career.
Several weeks ago, she posed in miniskirts for men's magazine Zhara
For the next week, you couldn't keep the smile off the editorial director's face
The magazine reported highest sales records after the publication of Chapman's photos.
What were they of? Oh, no, wait, I get it
A scandal broke out afterwards when it became known that Anna had posted a behind-the-scenes photo from the photo session on the net. The photo was said to be even more provocative than the session itself.
How is this possible?
News agencies said that Chapman violated the terms of her contract with the magazine and could be put on trial for that.
All the other editorial directors were just jealous.
Anna Chapman, born as Anna Kushchenko, was earlier doing business in the USA and Britain. She moved to Great Britain in 2003, after she married Alex Chapman. She was working at NetJets Europe, where she was in charge of documents connected with the company's deals with natural persons.

She moved to the USA in February 2010 and started her own real estate business there. Chapman was arrested after she was seen in a company of a Russian official. US secret services believed that Chapman was delivering secret information to the official.

(The picture is from AC's iPhone app. She challenges you to a game of poker. If you win, you get to see more pictures. God knows how you would ever get to photos of Anna Chapman via any other method.)

Monday, 18 October 2010

a modest question

Has a pizza delivery company ever employed anyone who has passed their moped test?

Friday, 15 October 2010

the writer on the edge of forever

It looks like you have never heard of Harlan Ellison. He's the ludicrously prolific sixties sci fi author (Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, etc.) who's still alive. Among his award winning stories were "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman, I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World and the collection Angry Candy.

He fights with more or less everyone, names baddies after kids who bullied him as a child and sent a copy of everything he published to a professor who told him he had no future as a writer until the professor died.

In other people's fiction, 'Ellison's Star' is a particularly hot and unpredictable White Dwarf star in a Star Trek novel, he's an angry television talking head in Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns ('[soon we'll] be eating our babies for breakfast'), a comic series called The Justice League of America features a flashy, insecure writer called Harlequin Ellis whose stories somehow become reality, and many more. Perhaps my favourite is The Flying Sorcerers, a 1971 novel by Gerrold and Larry Niven. The pantheon of gods in this story are all named after various SF writers. Ellison becomes Elcin, 'The small, but mighty god of thunder'.

He was the subject of a documentary by the same people who did Grizzly Man. Apparently they are both terrific. I have seen neither.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

campaign for real history

A History of the World in 100 Objects - big up the BBC and the British Museum - has been breathtaking. My favourite so far I think was about Pieces of Eight. Will Gompertz, the BBC's Arts Editor, wrote about the series today:
We did not need to see them. [Neil MacGregor's] real purpose was to tell the stories locked inside the things. The history of the world is not best told through pre-existing books or verifiable accounts. Even where such documents exist, they are partial and subjective.

Objects are much more reliable story-tellers.
How, Will Gompertz? Pick up a piece of eight and tell me its story. Tell me that you got there without using partial and subjective documents. Objects are one type of source. They are all we have where paper documents don't exist, and they help us ask questions and help unlock the stories of unlettered peoples. But they do it in ways that are as least as partial and subjective as 'documents'. I like Will Gompertz, but this is nonsense.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

a far off country of which I know nothing

On seeing some reference to Bulgaria on the Kilburn High Road a few days ago, I realised that Bulgaria is almost certainly the European country of which I know least. I've ended up reading things about the Balkans here and there, and the dissassembly of the Russian Empire, but Bulgaria - nothing.

Let's see what a few minutes online can do about this problem.
- Newsflash: there were two (2!) Bulgarian Empires
- Newsflash 2: Thrace! Thracians are one of the types of Bulgarians. Oh. Hang on. Something is coming at me through the mist. Might Count Belisarius, top Roman general of the difficult Goth-fighting, Justinianish years have been a Bulgarian? Yes, he was. I'd forgotten I knew that. Count Belisarius, by Robert Graves, might be my favourite book. It gets to be part of the conversation
- Newsflash 3: Holy Roman Emperor Basil II was called the Bulgar Slayer. This doesn't sound good. He took down the first Empire but he wasn't so bad - he used the Bulgarian nobility (as per every Empire from Rome to Britain) and recognised the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid. I call that generous
- Newsflash 4: the country has a dense network of 540 rivers
- Newsflash 5: its citizens rank second in the world (2nd!) in SAT/IQ scores
- Newsflash 6: it has the oldest treasure of worked gold in the world (5th millennium BC)
- Newsflash 7: world's second largest exporter of bottled wine
- Newsflash 8: Bulgarians shake their heads for ‘yes’, nod for ‘no’ and produce 10% of the world's rose oil. Is that a lot? How much rose oil does the world produce?
- Newsflash 8: according to, much of Sofia's stylish nightlife is in lounge bars with leather sofas. One of the more informal is called By The Way; the beautiful people are attracted to Motto, with its attractive decor and comfy sofas. The Bulgarians are nuts for sofas
- Newsflash 8: 8 is the international maximum amount of Newsflashes, that's why I did two of them

This is just the start for me and Bulgaria, but the potatoes will be ready.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

sawfish news

Not many people know much about sawfish, and I mean that. The Pristidae family, not unlike my own, is little-studied. They are critically endangered and not to be confused with sawsharks (Pristiophoriformes) just because they look like them. (Did you know the shark is a type of fish? It just gets worse and worse.)

Why do they have those fierce-looking saws? Well, that is just your prejudice speaking, because the saws look more like television antennae than saws, and the peaceloving sawfish use them to detect electrical currents. These currents are in other fish, and after detecting the other fish the sawfish spring upon them and slash them furiously with their saw, after which the other fish put up little resistance to being eaten.

I am interested in sawfish because they grow to be 30ft long and weigh two tons. If you believe Wikipedia, you will believe anything, including that TC Bridges claimed to capture a record-breaking giant one in 1927. Anyone who knows anything knows that TC Bridges did not in fact make this claim. It was another explorer altogether.

Sawfish, like other elasmobranches, lack a swim bladder. There are seven types, or more, or less (fewer). Considerable taxonomic confusion pertains to the extent that the situation has been called chaotic. One thing I do know is that the pups are born live with a protective membrane over their saws. The membrane is not to protect the saw.

The Aztecs revered sawfish as an 'earth monster'. It is almost hard to believe the Aztecs lost.

(Will Cuppy read everything there was to read before publishing his animal essays. I do not. That is not the only difference.)

Monday, 11 October 2010

world's laziest translator

What do I know from translating? I was looking at the presentation box of some Chambord liqueur the other day. It claimed to be made of 'framboises and various other fruits.' I looked at the French text, which said the drink was made of 'framboises' and 'mures'.

Did the translator literally not know what mures were? Or could he not be bothered to look at a dictionary? And translating 'framboises' as 'framboises' smacks of someone who knows that 'framboise' is either raspberry or strawberry, but the dictionary is all the way over on the other side of the room.

In other drink news:
In Hell's Best Friend: The True Story of the Old-Time Saloon, author Jan Holden tells of a bar called The Humbolt in Washington state where, in the late 1800s, it wasn't wise to order cocktails at all. "When a stranger asked [the owner] for a Manhattan, he poured whiskey, gin, rum, brandy, aquavit and bitters into a beer mug, topped it up with beer and stirred it with his finger before serving it."

Friday, 8 October 2010

oh yes, i'm back. from outer space


1. There are still a couple of tables free at this dinner if you want to hear me talk about writing, or meet my sometime collaborator Marie Phillips, or some nice people.

2. This year's Mighty Fin Xmas Show is The Diary of a Nobody, written by John Finnemore and Susannah Pearse. It's a crackerjack. If you want tickets, do not tarry. I'm bored of telling people that I mean this; I am bored of people crying when they don't get into things after I have told them this. I am bored, bored, bored.

3. But this is the real stuff. My back is not that much of a back any more, but it is just enough of a back for me to struggle through some hockey, and therefore, after an absent 2009-2010 during which I was very well deputised for, I'm back on match reports. I will put up the regular link in a tick. Old-time readers will be hysterically excited. New-time readers: here and here are a couple from a while back, to get you in the mood. When I call them my best work, I'm not joking. (I never joke.)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

the fishing monks of dendy sadler*

This is a headline in the current Classic Angling. If I thought I was agog when I read this then I didn't know what agog was, because the strapline underneath reads:
The pictures of monks by Dendy Sandler have captivated more than just anglers. But as David Beazley points out in this extract from his book Images of Angling, the pictures were probably never part of a set, and his fishing monks are actually friars
Wow! Dendy Sadler sounds like an idiot!

There is a Saki story, one of my favourites, about a painter whose irritating neighbour demands he 'do something' about an ox that has got into her living room. He paints a picture of it. It is a sensation, and thereafter, all he ever sells is pictures of large animals indoors. Well, in 1875, aged about 20, he exhibited Steady, Brother, Steady!, a picture of fishing monks. I haven't been able to find a copy of it online, but it has a big pike in it.

Beazley writes,
If Steady, Brother, Steady! Had given Sadler his first taste of fame, his next depiction of monks fishing consolidated it. Thursday is probably his most famous picture. Painted in 1880 and exhibited at the Royal Academy later that year, it was acquired by Sir Henry Tate and was one of the first three pictures that he bought in anticipation of his Tate Gallery, which he opened in 1897.
Needless to say, 'Further paintings of monks fishing followed.'

But, a Canadian Professor called Hoffman says, Dendy Sadler is very misleading about monks. The habits are those of friars, who did not live in walled communities as shown in the backgrounds, and who wouldn't have been allowed to fish for food as a leisure activity. An art historian friend of his adds, the picture 'can say no more about medieval monks and their fishponds than Asterix can say about ancient Gaul.'

* This sounds like the title of a Morse episode from the classic period.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

bat, egg

I turn on Commonwealth Games over lunch. Brendan Foster is commentating on a heat of the 100m. Richard Thompson, a very good Trinidadian, is winning. Brendan says, 'and outside him is the young Jamaican in the Batman mask. Yes. As expected, Thompson wins, and he will be a strong challenger for Mark Lewis-Francis and everyone else in this championships...'

Wait. What? I think you're thinking what I was thinking.

They did track down Ramone McKenzie for an interview afterwards. It was the usual post-race masterpiece.

Int. - I've got to ask you: why the mask?
RM - Ever since High School they call me the Batman.
Int. - So that is why you wear the mask?
RM - No, they call me the Batman because I wear the mask.
Int. - So the mask came first.
RM - Yes, the mask come first.

Picture here.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that jizz. also, talking horses

Jizz, in bird taxidermy (and I think other taxidermy, subsequently) is the sense of truth - a something about the animal that makes it feel as if frozen in life. At the World Taxidermy Championships in 2005 (I think this is when she was writing her book), Melissa Milgrom chatted to one of the judges. He said that you can't produce still life unless you really, really know the animal you're trying to create:
When I walk into that room, I see versions of nature that are distorted and wrong, and then every so often I see the real thing ... but it's rare. It's the jizz that will tell them apart: the nervous action ... the jizz is made up of everything.
Elsewhere, Milgrom visits Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, home to Victorian taxidermy fan, Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe (and all the little Harpur Crewes).

This picture, part of the Calke Abbey collection illustrates the fable of a proud young colt who will not work for man until he is persuaded of the right way of things by a wise old horse. On reading this description I thought:
1. Animal Farm this is not.
2. It is not a totally dissimilar premise to that of Warhorses of Letters, one of my and Marie Phillips more haunting recent works.

Note. That zebra/lion affair above. The lion is supported by its tail touching the zebra, which is supported on one hind leg. It's very flashy, but the best in show is usually a fabulously jizzy wren or rat.

Monday, 4 October 2010

red tape and tory morons

Look, I do not hold with tedious 'Tory = evil' bleatings, but this from the BBC drives me nuts:
[Osborne] told the Conservative conference the cap would be set at the amount "the average family gets for going out to work", which is about £26,000 a year.
Does Osbo really not immediately see that IF he wants to do this thing (it will never viably happen) then he will instantly need an enormous, highly sensitive bureaucracy to manage it?

Has no one in the coalition got the brain God gave fish? How can they be crapping on about red tape AND putting in place screeds of rules which, in the purely rhetorical service of 'cutting waste' and 'improving efficiency', mean that bureaucracies are forced to spend enormous amounts of time (time is money, you idiots) administering petty regulations about day-to-day spending, et cetera. It is already gumming up some previously efficient bureaucratic units. What it will do to the Health Service remains to be seen. It is 'common-sense' policy making from people who know the words 'common sense' plays well but have no common sense. It drives me crazy.

(I am not drunk.)

whither the lobster

What I knew about Elsa Schiaparelli before very recently: she is famous for shocking pink, and Dali made her a pink polar bear; she designed this dress with Dali and Wallis Simpson wore it; she was the biggest thing going in the thirties, though Coco Chanel proved more durable.

Now I know that she wrote a book of sexy poems and was punished by being sent to a convent, where she went on hunger strike, after which she was sent to London to become a nanny, where she was the inspiration for Mary Poppins. She married a psychic and her granddaughter married a psycho before dying on one of the planes which crashed into the Twin Towers.*/**

* Berry Berenson, who married Anthony Perkins. Her mother, Elsa's daughter, was Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, known as Gogo.
** A fact in this post is not true.

Friday, 1 October 2010

dark palace

I know I went on about it a while ago, but I don't think I quoted many highlights from Frank Moorhouse's brilliant Dark Palace, his League of Nations sequel to the equally good Grand Days. So:
She had passed across some great line in her life. She had tendered her resignation from motherhood. More, she had acknowledged -- and accepted -- her perhaps less than complete life. Ultra posse nemo obligatur, as Bartou would have said. 'No one is obliged to do more than he can.'
I was going to do another couple of bits, but out of context, they sound... Maybe when I have enough time to transcribe a half page. It's really good.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

robot salander

Earlier this year I did an event at the LSE called 'How Would a Robot Read a Novel'. A computer program called Alceste had 'read' The Kilburn Social Club and, based on various complicated algorithms, broken it down into its constituent parts. Alceste thought the book was (I can't remember the specifics, but this was the shape of its breakdown) 40% about relationships and friendships, 20@ about business shenanigans, 20% about football club things and 20% about trees.

I finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest yesterday. It was very gripping. If you plugged it into Alceste, I reckon it would come out as 15% about someone called Salander, 15% about someone called Blomkvist and 60% about a Palm Tungsten T10.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

bloody elk

Irish Elk are crazy. They are the ones you see in museums and think cannot be real. Viz.

Still Life, the taxidermy book I may possibly have mentioned, discusses the reasons for their extinction. Were they hunted to extinction? Was it that their antlers over-evolved and their skulls basically couldn't cope? Maybe, though
other theories say that climate change and habitat loss from early humans ... made it impossible for it to find the phosphorous- and calcium-rich plants it required to regenerate new antlers every year. As a result, the species developed a type of osteoperosis and died out. This is the theory that most scientists adhere to today
When I read this, I thought about how deeply scientific theories, like historical ones, are rooted in the societies which produce them.

As I am sure I've written before, in the tons of history books I have read in the past decade, I have noticed the primary focus shift from discussions of the precise structure of decision-making (the sort of micro-detail historians concentrated on during the illusory, Fukuyaman post-historical present) to analyses of what constitutes effective government. How do you actually, effectively get stuff done. (How do you establish and maintain the rule of law? - much more pressing in a post-Iraq War world.)

Now, I worry about setting this down in the context of science, especially if it is going to be read by a lot of muddle-headed English literature graduates who might think I am saying that everything is relative and there is no real truth, in history or science.

Of course, no one is unbiased. No source, history or document is free of its author's prejudices. Everything human contains some error. But simply because we are writing the histories and doing the science that answers today's questions doesn't mean we are getting them (fundamentally) wrong.

So each generation produces a new definitive biography of Hitler. And they each look at an aspect of him. Thus with the elk. Most scientists look at climate change explanations today. They get funding for it; and climate change is very important to them. But the climate change might not have been a problem for the elk if they were not being hunted. And having no calcium-rich plants would have been fine if they had not grown such stupid antlers. So in a time when we are worried about conspicuous consumption we might focus on the stupid antlers, and I bet people did during the late nineties. Nasty man in the seventies. Now, man plus climate.

None of these explanations is wrong. All of these things are part of what killed off the irish elk. Probably.

(This reminds me of a CSI episode where a series of sheer accidents ends with a girl in a suspicious dumpster. It's all about the whole picture.)

Monday, 27 September 2010

maybe this makes me a ghoul

Terry Newton killed himself yesterday. He was 31 and a former GB rugby league star. He was serving a two year suspension for taking performance enhancing drugs. It is, by any standards, a very sad story, and I feel very sorry for anyone who knew him.

Under the circumstances, it is blackly funny that Bradford chairman Peter Hood said of him: "He was the ultimate professional."

Saturday, 25 September 2010

sick pet genius

How clever is your pet. Is he or she clever enough to know that when this happens, it is, as the BBC puts it, a 'sick prank'?

While this symbolises its mad Chinese owner's love? By which I mean self-regard.

Looking back, I see that this post is not very intellectually coherent. I think they're bad things to do to animals, but people do worse. There are a range of similarities and differences between the cases that would make an interesting longer study I do not have time for. It would lead us via man's relationship with nature into more taxidermy, so you're probably grateful too.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

not pravda

Not to downplay the geo-political nightmare of the race for Arctic resources, but it does sound like the premise for an Ealing comedy, especially when you get chumps like Sergey Zavalyov, deputy director of Rosenergoatom, the proposing to operate floating nuclear power stations to create enough juice to keep the operation going. His take on the possible dangers: "We can guarantee the safety of our units one hundred per cent, all risks are absolutely ruled out." Oh, well, my fears are allayed.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

still alive (dead)

I can't promise to write about anything other than taxidermy for ages. I am still loving Still Life, and I am on a chapter about Potter's Museum of Curiosities, which was sold off in tragic bits and bobs a few years ago, which is a story I remember from Classic Angling, which reported from the auction (giant tuna head, among others). When the stupid Smithsonian needed to clear out its whale hall, the blue whale ended up on eBay.

And yesterday, looking for a picture of the Reynard thing underneath, I blundered across Ravishing Beasts, where Rachel Poliquin posts regular updates of a project which began as a doctoral thesis at MIT, and which had (I dare say) its culmination at an Poliquin-curated exhibition last winter at the Museum of Vancouver, which I would love above almost all things to have gone to.

The pictures are relentlessly excellent. How about those stags? How about that crochedermy? Rachel Poliquin and Melissa Milgrom are my current heroes.

Monday, 20 September 2010

grotesque but foxy

You are probably wondering which taxidermological exhibit the crowds went nuts for at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. The answer: Reinecke the Fox, a comical depiction of the Reynard myth put together by the Royal Museum in Stuttgart's Hermann Ploucquet. The only competition was Ploucquet's tableau of a frog shaving another frog. The queen loved that one.

You can see why it started a craze for anthropomorphically posed animals ('the grotesque school'). As the excellent Still Life explains, there were violining crows, squirrels playing Romeo, huge kitten weddings and frogs doing almost everything (Montagu Browne, in Practical Taxidermy, wrote, that frogs are much the best mirth inducing characters. Monkeys, the second-best, are 'not half so funny').

Bonus fact: in birding, 'jizz' means the general impression and shape of a bird. Good taxidermy should capture a bird's jizz.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

sexy kapitoil

Right, I am taking Kapitoil to bookswap tonight. Among the very many good things about it: how Teddy Wayne writes about sex.

Here, our virginal, techie, Muslim hero is in someone's room. This is [virtually] spoiler-free.
I don't remember all the details. I wasn't as nervous as I always predicted I would be, probably because of the alcohol, but when I had difficulty releasing her bra she slightly laughed and made me feel like a novice. I don't believe I was very skilled, because I didn't truly know what actions to take, and at one point I remembered [another girl] and I temporarily lost the desire to continue.

But it was still mostly pleasurable, and I spent much time touching her left breast and observing how it felt like nothing else on my body and nothing else I had ever remembered touching, and the pleasure reached its peak at the end, when it was as if my system crashed but in a delightful way, and for several seconds all my thoughts were voided, which never happens to me. After we finished, we rested on our backs without contacting and she said, 'I came really hard, twice.'
And then I truly started to think about what I had done. I wondered what my mother would say. Possibly she would understand, because she was modern, but she might also say that I was rejecting not only Muslim values but also personal values, e.g., I didn't know or even respect Melissa very much and the main reason I was with her was because she was sexy and I wanted to prove that I could obtain her so that I would also feel sexy, which was never something I was invested in before.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

something i saw on the tube

Just found this note-to-self from 22nd July:
I think yes. I think it is silly to worship a snake god.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Tony Blair vs Donovan McNabb

Regular readers will know that my main Nemesis, globally speaking, is a guy called Mike Tanier who writes for Football Outsiders and The NY Times, among others. I don't confer Nemesis status on monkeys, and last week Tanier wrote a brilliant essay on the disjointed, illogical structure of publicly agreed hatred that made me think of the ludicrous way it seems impossible to enter into any kind of rational debate about Tony Blair without some idiot declaring, as if it were an undeniable truth, that TB is 'evil'.*

Tanier was writing about Donovan McNabb, the quarterback released this summer by the Philadelphia Eagles (Tanier's an Eagles fan). Philly has a 'robust sports culture', and McNabb is hated by a huge and increasing number of vocal fans who don't understand stats and blame him, despite his having been the most successful QB in franchise history, for never having won a Super Bowl.

Tanier calles these people McNabb Denialists. They will not listen to any form of argument. The clear facts are that Philly has had its best ever NFL decade, that McNabb has clearly been a major part of this, that he holds all the major Eagles passing records, that he was, conservatively according to the stats, the fifth of sixth best QB for the decade of his prime (a great decade for QBs in general), and that he never behaved in a way that brought his organisation into disrepute.

The Denier agenda is that he only cared for numbers, choked in big games, and that his team-centred demeanour was all an obvious front for a selfish passive-aggressive agenda. They say he didn't win 'big games' but he won a load of them. They basically define big games as ones he lost.

Read it yourself, even if you don't know about American football. It's as nice a dissection of an irrational mindset that solidifies into a comfortable truism as you're likely to read this year. The explanation of 'two sides' is particularly recognisable to anyone who gets told at dinner parties that science vs aromatherapy is just 'two points of view'. The Tony Blair thing is slightly less of a neat fit, but it is what I instantly thought. The way in which people persuade themselves to one side of an argument as if they never felt anything else and in denial of all common sense is incredibly annoying.

Ok, fun to finish. In this year's Football Outsiders Almanac, the site's head honcho Aaron Schatz wrote the Buffalo Bills chapter. Buffalo is the smallest media market in the NFL and it's a perennial problem, especially when the team has spent a few years without any identity or charisma. Schatz signs off: The Buffalo Bills have now gone ten seasons without making the playoffs. Unless the rest of the AFC East completely collapses, 2010 will extend that streak to 11. Usually that’s one louder, but when a team falls in Buffalo, it doesn’t make a sound. Tell me these guys aren't good.**

* Important note: you can't say that anyone bleating 'Blair is evil' as a truism is being silly and not say the same thing about people who say 'Thatch is evil.' The world isn't black and white. Surely, for goodness sake, we all know this?
** My all-time favourite Tanier piece, I think, is also about McNabb - it's a Beau Geste inflected piece describing McNabb's departure that perfectly captures the awful tedium of football reporting (here and in America) between seasons. You absolutely don't have to be into the NFL.

Monday, 13 September 2010

my computer works again

In celebration of this and also the Normans season on the BBC: William was a fine figure of a man, tall and swarthy, but he wasn't really Matilda's type. Matilda was Matilda of Flanders, and very rich. She had fancied an English guy called Brihtric (known as Brihtric Meaw, or Snow, or Whity), but he had repelled her advances. And then William had Matilda horsewhipped in Bruges, at which point she married him, and they had ten kids and a lot of fun.
As you have probably heard, William got his title of Conqueror in 1066, when he won the Battle of Hastings and was crowned King of England. Matilda went over in 1068 for her coronation, had another baby, and went home again. And what do you think she did about Brihtric, or Whitey? Well, history is mostly guesswork, but it looks as though she robbed him of all his lands, ordered him thrown into jail, and had him murdered to show him what was what. This proves that love is a wonderful thing and that one should think twice before turning it down, no matter how bashful one is.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

no greater love

According to the Sky description, Danielle Steel's No Greater Love is about Edwina, who becomes a woman and then loses her parents and lover all on one terrible night. She's on the Titanic. I haven't seen Titanic. Titanic might be totally different.

Gary Rhodes really is the King of Literally: 'This is literally baking powder'; 'Literally give it a little stir'; 'Literally pour in the wine' and so on.

In other news: I would probably swap computers with you.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

what's the problem, mr wolf?

I love it when you call me Mr Wolf.

The problem is the not insignificant chance that my hard drive is on the verge of terminal disintegration and so in the small pieces of near-fully-functioning computer time I am trying to do actual work.

Normal service will be resumed shortly. I hope. I really hope that my hard drive is not disintegrating.

(There will be more taxidermy. The book I am reading, since I scandalously forgot to link below, is Melissa Milgrom's Still Life. Amazon reviewer says: 'If you're interested in taxidermy this is a must have!' Well, duh. That's not the point. The point is that this is incredibly interesting if you're not particularly interested in taxidermy. There will be also be more NFL.)

Monday, 6 September 2010

standing on the shoulders of giant elephants

I'll say what I like about Sri Lankan taxidermists, and one of those things is that their art form, if it is that, and it might be, reached its publicly highest pitch with Clarence - known as Carl - Akeley, after whom the American Museum of Natural History named its Hall of African Mammals.

Akeley was a perfectionist obsessive who spent fifteen years planning, designing and developing the techniques to bring off a set of huge dioramas, featuring lots of elephants and his very favourite gorillas (The Old Man of Mikeno, the Lone Male of Karisimbi, Clarence, various others; most of which he shot for the purpose). One of the key things about taxidermy, as you know, is that it is about the recreation of individual animals. Trophy stuffing preserves generalities.

So, every elephant, for instance, was sculpted as an individual. Tanning the skins, turning them from 2.5 inch thick hides into supple inch-thick leather (without losing, it was said, a wrinkle, wart or tick hole) took two weeks of daily work. These days, for fairly obvious reasons, the World Taxidermy Champions frequently focus on regularish sort of animals done brilliantly rather than crazy animals done mightily. Fair enough.

Akeley sculpted, obviously. Proof of the pudding is in the sculpture of the lion hunters on the right. And lots besides. I am reading a book about taxidermy, by the way. I got it at one of the bookswaps and it's cracking.

Bonus fact: Akeley invented shotcrete, a kind of concrete you could fire from a hose. He found this useful during WW1 when he served as a major in the Corps of Engineers. The first cement gun was used to fortify the Panama Canal. Akeley never wore uniform, because if he did he wouldn't be able to call his colonel a 'damn fool'.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

want a piece of me?

Yaroslav the Wise (otherwise the Lawgiver): would be attending, had he not died in 1054*

If you do want a piece of me, and history suggests that whoever you are, you do not, then you have so many chances in the coming period that it might be almost like we are friends. Marie Phillips has listed some of these opportunities also. You could pretend to be her friend as a way of stalking me, or vice versa. It's just a suggestion.

Further to all which:

1. Tall Tales 4. On Thursday 30th September, there will be, if you have been to Tall Tales before, more of the same and some of the different. Emma Beddington is in the house. So is Marie. John Finnemore and Susannah Pearse will present another heartrending mini-musical about Unsung Heroes. Also, again, Toby Davies, whose brilliant stories are online. And Benet Brandreth with his lies. And others, including but not limited to an inspiring story of Kilburn life and the further adventures of the Warhorses of Letters.

If you want to come, super, but please do email first to make sure the numbers stay under control. This is the official email account

2. On October 22nd, there's a literary dinner in Windsor which eleven writers will be helping host, for charity and organised by the excellent Melanie Gow.** The authors include me and also some nice people, and we move around between the four courses. As you can see, this means that you only have a 7/11 chance of avoiding me altogether, but if you fail then you will only have to sit on my table for 1/4 of the dinner.

* You are wondering how old this made him. I cannot tell you. His early years are shrouded in mystery.
** Among the authors not attending is Suzanne Enoch, author of The Care and Taming of a Rogue.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

me, me, me

I was on today's episode of Fry's English Delight talking about a robot reading The Kilburn Social Club. It's a good show. For the record: it doesn't mention that the robot was surprisingly good in allocating most of the story to relationships and only a smaller amount to football; and while I do describe a grim bit of Kilburn in downbeat terms, the cutting room floor has me explaining at length how much I love Kilburn and how the grim and defeated look of the residents at the time of speaking was down to the bleakness and rain of the day in question.

I am reading Kapitoil. I'm a third of the way through. It's terrific.* Leaving which aside, isn't that a great cover?

* Usual disclaimer - I got a copy via my agent, who also represents Teddy Wayne, but when I got it, I was ironically on the verge of buying it, so I don't feel very compromised.