Saturday, 27 February 2010

who says the girl with the dragon tattoo is unique?

The answer is 'loads of people'. Search for "stieg larsson" "unique heroine" if you don't believe me. Loads of people are wrong. The very first thing I thought on encountering her was, 'Oh my God! This character is exactly like Kathy Mallory!' My friend Sue thought the same thing. Kathy Mallory appears in a series by Carol O'Connell. I'm not saying they are the best books ever written, but I was completely gripped by the first five, which is the number I have read. Mallory is a great character.

Wait a second. Something's coming through the mist. I think the protagonist in Want to Play? might also be quite similar.

This is a public service announcement.

Friday, 26 February 2010

i hate this

Is what is happening in this picture brave? Maybe ballsy means, 'prepared to do something stupid'? In which case, the second half of the advert is as tautological as the first. But I don't think that's what the advert is saying. I think it's saying that clever people aren't brave. I know a lot of clever people. I'd be very surprised if they were of below average bravery.*

Basically, I read this advert, and it seems like a slimy and calculating mix of patronising and self-congratulatory, and I say to it: 'Fuck off.'

*Also, when they are drunk, which I imagine this girl is supposed to be, they do things that are ballsy/stupid, like this. That's not necessarily something to be proud of, by the way, but I don't mind it. Like I said, 'Fuck off.'

Thursday, 25 February 2010

song for sonny liston

Sonny Liston's story is well mythic, and you can read about it on Wikipedia if you want. I like that his gravestone reads A Man. But most of all, today, I like this quotation:
A sportswriter looks up at the sky and then asks you: 'Is the sun shining?'

Below is Mark Knopfler singing about Sonny. I like how bemused he looks during the intro.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

corn people

The Maya used to call themselves the corn people, because they depended on the plant so absolutely. Mexicans have a famously corn-heavy diet. But, says Michael Pollan, if you look at North Americans, you find that they are the real corn people. You can tell by looking at carbon atoms in the body and seeing which ones originally came from which plants. We're not that far behind, I dare say.

How come? I mean, Americans eat wheat flour rather than corn flour, for a start. Well, they also eat all that sugar I mentioned yesterday. And they eat meat, and how does meat grow big and strong? If it's in America, it eats corn. Chicken, pig, turkey and lamb are all fed on cheap corn. Carnivorous Salmon are being reingineered to get by on corn. And then there's cattle.

Beef cattle are being bred to turn corn into meat without getting too sick. They haven't got there yet, so most of them are ill most of the time. They get bloated because starchy diets stop them ruminating and a layer of foamy slime traps gas in their stomach so that a hose has to be quickly pushed down their throat to stop them suffocating. Or they suffer from acidosis because corn renders their stomachs acidic, which puts them off their food and makes them eat dirt and scratch themselves. Or their diet weakens their immune system so much that they get pneumonia, feedlot polio and a wide variety of other diseases that I've never heard of.

They can only survive on this diet for 150 days or so. When they are slaughtered at that age, a very high proportion have abscessed livers. To get them this far, they're pumped full of antibiotics - this is much the biggest use of antibiotics, and the one most responsible for the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

I don't know what to do about this. I don't want to become a vegetarian, but it's hard sometimes.

Pollan's book, by the way, is brilliant, and not just about this miserable stuff. It says that omnivorousness was vital to our brains' evolution because it meant that every time we made a food decision, we had to think about it. But, over time, we have stopped making food decisions and concentrated on other stuff. This was fine, healthwise, because different cultures evolved different diets based on locally available foodstuffs. These cuisines stood the test of time and deliver combinations of nutrients in ways that science has yet to fully understand, but which generally are healthy.

But the availability of monocultured and processed food has created a new dilemma. We can pick and choose a diet rather than eating within an established cuisine. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but we don't understand its implications. One offshoot is a nutrition industry which sees food in terms of its constituent elements - so much fat, so much protein, so many pieces of fruit and so on - rather than as part of a whole. This is confusing. People lose sight of the simple truths (eat less food, avoid processed products, focus on vegetables) in favour of sets of dietary components.

I might have bungled this precis. I read the book a few years ago.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

king corn makes you drunk or fat

In the early nineteenth century, Americans were drinking half a pint of corn whiskey per day. They drank it at breakfast, elevenses and all other times. It was a public health scandal whose hangover, ultimately, was prohibition. It happened because American farmers were unbelievably productive, there was a huge corn surplus, and whiskey was the best way to monetise it.

In the 1970s, America started dismantling forty years of policies designed to limit production, and there was another corn glut. The best way to monetise it this time was to turn it into corn syrup. From a standing start in 1980, this has become a ubiquitous part of the Western diet. It's in biscuits, cereals, ketchup and hams. Its ludicrous cheapness fuelled the supersize revolution (there was much less percentage in making fizzy drinks cheaper, for instance; but making them bigger and more attractive was a draw).

Via The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. You almost certainly eat a lot more corn than you think.

Monday, 22 February 2010


A lot of people don't think there's anything in astrology. On the other hand, I share a birthday with LaDainian Tomlinson.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

best. reply. ever.

Maybe this is everywhere already. I don't care.

(Today's BBC English as she is spoke highlight is from the website: 'Great Britain's women curlers secured a 7-4 verdict over European champions Germany for their third win in four matches in the group stages.' Verdict? Really? Those stones know their stuff.)

Friday, 19 February 2010

olympic brainmelt

I love the BBC. I think it's important, brilliant in ways that couldn't be rebuilt or designed and must be cherished, and if its carping competitors in the rest of the media succeed in getting it killed, they will self-interestedly have impoverished the nation, but a lot of the journalists it's sent to the Winter Olympics are hopeless. Listening to them fluff their links as if words have no individual meaning so long as the shape of the sentence is sort of alright makes me want to cry. The one I can remember from my breakfast five minutes of highlights went along the lines of, 'GB's women curlers bounced back from their loss to Switzerland and defeat of the World Champion Chinese to beat Russia.'

Which I wasn't going to mention, except that all my curling watching in the last few days meant that when I saw this picture in a thumbnail, I seriously first thought it was of curling, and even when I registered the clothes, I seriously first thought it was curling-in-inappropriate clothes.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

ceci n'est pas un francais

It is almost impossible to imagine that this is not a mock-up from a set of ye olde French cycling movie put together by a team as witlessly unimaginative, tired or pressured by time and cruel economics as the one responsible for Material Girl, but this is a literal, actual, early French cycling star. His name, also implausible, is Hippolyte Acoutourier, which is what I will call my second dog (the first will be called after my friend Ellis).

Henri Desgrange, the Tour de France's original organiser, called Hippolyte Le Terrible, whatever that means. He had a brother called Francois.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


I thought the film was good, for whatever that's worth. It benefited from being about 1995, which was the last World Cup before rugby became properly professional and international players stopped looking like normal people. And Mandela, who comes over as almost too good to be real, really was the real deal, and maybe if I had suspected too much airbrushing (rather than perfectly reasonable storytelling-smoothing-over) I would have been more resistant.

All of which is beside the point. Ever since I first heard about the film, I've been obsessed with what the meeting was like when the excited studio execs started chatting to brilliant Clint Eastwood about whatever winner he was lining up next, and he said, 'No worries: rugby.' and then, when they looked around nervously, he added, 'I can see you're worried. Let me put your minds at rest, it's set in South Africa and for the heroic central player, I've got the perfect guy: Matt Damon.' It must have been like a reverse Orange advert.

Monday, 15 February 2010

what happened next for miss sweden

If you have been waiting with bated breath ever since this, here is what happened to Miss Sweden:
‘You know the girl who was Miss Sweden?’

‘Yes, I saw her in Cannes. A charming and beautiful girl.’

‘Well, she had been having an affair with a character called Augeneau, who is the so-called “watch King” of France. He gained his power by organising the smuggling of watches from Switzerland into France using couriers climbing over the Alps. He’s a real gorilla.

‘Anyway, I got a frantic call from our friend, Miss Sweden, begging me to come to the Hotel George V. I rushed over there and up to Augeneau’s suite, to find him shouting and screaming at the girl. He suddenly ran to the next room and came back waving a gun. The girl screamed and ran to the door. Before I could stop him, Augeneau fired two shots, one of which hit the girl in the back.

‘I was afraid Augeneau would turn the gun on me, but I told him to put it away and let me call a doctor for the girl. The doctor confirmed that the bullet had broken her back and that she would probably be paralysed from the waist down for the rest of her life.’

Not for the first time, nor the last, did I reflect how often beautiful girls seem to get mixed up with the wrong sort of men.
The book is full of this stuff.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

heath robinson

This article makes me want to look at more Heath Robinson. It talks a lot about this picture:

It doesn't mention that HR's cat was called Saturday Morning. Here they are together.

(Via here.)


Since books cost so much more than television programmes to produce, it is perfectly sensible that ebooks are getting more expensive when telly over itunes is getting cheaper. If you want to spend as much on The Kilburn Social Club as possible, I strongly recommend the ebook via Waterstones, which is a pound more than the physical version.

(I have settled on 'ebooks' over E-Books and eBooks and whatever because the same confused process led us to 'email'. For elaborate science and polling leading to the same conclusion, go here.)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

gunfight at the old boffins' corral

In a gunfight, said this BBC story the other day, thinking is slower than reacting. Drawing first could kill you. Andrew Welchman did the research at Birmingham University (there really is a university in Birmingham), saying that hardwired responses are quicker and dirtier than cognitive ones. Niels Bohr did some similar work in Copenhagen after watching loads of movies where the reacter wins.

In The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football, by Paul Zimmerman, we meet little, slow, old* linebacker Larry Grantham, who should not be able to regularly make the plays he makes. He says:
Well, there's something to this being old ... [you learn to understand what a player will do by how he sets up] ... You've got to look for that first movement, and that's the time you react - not your brain, but your legs. Your brain catches on later. I look at one man, but I'm actually seeing about five. And there's absolutely no waiting involved

* These are relative terms

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Tuesday Morning Quarterback

Normally I rely on Mike Tanier for good non-American football jokes-slash-observations from the world of American football, but this is Gregg Easterbrook. Strong headline:
Does the Phone Work in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick?
Verizon ads say a new wireless phone works in "more than 220 countries." The United Nations has 192 member states.

almost too perfect

Here are a couple of lines from the book I'm reading in the loo. It's one my mum used to go on about loving when she was a teenager, and if you can identify I will be more surprised than I can say. These are two of the many lines that are my favourite so far:

1. 'The solitude he had hated when alone he had come to love'

2. The protagonist sees a lizard. The author wants to paint a picture of it. He writes that it was, 'a slender creature of nameless color but of exquisite beauty’. I can see it now.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

nearly famous

On a facebook page that isn't relevant, two people left messages the other day. Their names are Kelly Basinger and Sandra Bulk. Who was next? Was it Charlotte Theron, Meg Bryan or Sigourney Wiver? No, it wasn't.

On Thursday, I am doing this event, but unlike what it says, Mark Lawson isn't. He has a very good reason. It should be fun, I think.

I had some other admin to mention, but it escapes me.* Do, if you have a moment, follow Allen's link in the comment below the previous post. It will be worth your while.

Also, Geaux Saints.

*But not for long. Keep March 25th free if you want to hear an hour of songs and stories at The Good Ship.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

the wicked earl

If you follow everyone I follow, you might have already read about someone called The Wicked Earl. I've found another. Or rather, I've read about another in Katie Roiphe's still terrific Uncommon Arrangements.

John Francis Stanley (Frank) Russell, the second Earl Russell, married Mabel, the daughter of an adventuress who eventually accused him of being gay in a sensational trial. She also said he threw a cat at the ceiling, but he said he was just tossing it playfully in the air. Some people might say only the cat would have known for certain, but they are wrong. Cats don't know much.

While he was still married to her, Russell married Mollie in America. Roiphe explains:
Even though he had committed the fairly straightforward crime of bigamy, he was able to muster a great deal of outrage that anyone should take him to task. So convinced was he of his fundamental rectitude, his position as one lone crusader against a malign, nonsensical world, that the notion that he had done something flagrantly in violation of the law seemed not to occur to him
Later, he married Elizabeth von Arnim, who was a rich and sprightly writer who was attracted to strong men (she referred to her first husband in a memoir as 'The Man of Wrath'). Russell was sort of a strong man, though a stronger term might be more descriptive, since one of his childhood playmates later recalled that he tied her to a tree with her own hair. After various shocking stuff, mainly to do with his affairs, including one with Miss Otter, his secretary, von Arnim left him and he sued her for stealing his things. She hadn't, as the trial made plain. He acted very injured and sent her a bible with every reference to faithless wives underlined.

At this point, writes Roiphe, 'he began to focus more productively on his political career'. Wow.

Also, he queued all night to get England's first number plate, A1, he introduced the Highway Code and he abolished speed limits on the roads.

Also, Bertrand Russell was his younger brother. And one of his Harvard friends, George Santayana, became a philosopher, one of whose sayings, 'Only the dead have seen the end of war,' is often falsely attributed to Plato. If one of your sayings gets commonly attributed to Plato, you're doing ok.

shouldn't be funny

But I was on the tube yesterday opposite a man who A) had massive sideburns and B) was reading this:

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

john terry is a copycat love rat

Sometime US Captain John Harkes was dropped from the squad before the 1998 World Cup for refusing a position change. Nope. It was for sleeping with his teammate Eric Wynalda's wife, said Wynalda on Fox Sports yesterday:
There's a lot of similarities between what happened to us in '98 and what's happening now to England. It's an unfortunate time for England, because I know how that can affect a team firsthand. Obviously, we all know how we did in the World Cup in '98
The full story is on Deadspin.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

i know it's cheap

I honestly do, but funny names are funny, and so are great nicknames, and the NFL is full of them both. How can you not love The Mad Stork, Tombstone Jackson and Vitamin T Jones? Or a paragraph in a book which reads:
Chuck Fairbanks, newly arrived at the Patriots from Oklahoma, used [the 3-4 defence] in his second year at New England, with Sugar Bear Hamilton as his hose guard. Bum Phillips, who took over as Houston's defensive coach after a tour of duty at Oklahoma State, went 3-4 with Curly Culp in the middle.
The book in question is The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football by Paul Zimmerman. I strongly recommend it, like you care.

Monday, 1 February 2010

maybe you already know all there is to know about katherine mansfield

If so, this post is not for you.

I'm reading Katie Roiphe's brilliant Uncommon Arrangements, which is full of jaw-droppers. It's about unconventional early twentieth century marriages, and one of them is Katherine's to John Middleton Murry. In one page, we learn that Katherine grew up as Kathleen 'Kass' Beauchamp, daughter of an affluent New Zealand banker. She spent her girlhood in her room reading Flaubert and Wilde and playing her cello.

She arrived in London, had an affair with a teenaged violinist who smoked cigarettes out of a holder and got pregnant. Then she got engaged to a music teacher called George Bowden, wearing a black suit to the wedding. When they went to consummate the marriage, she 'lost heart' and ran away without explanation.

Then, travelling under the name Kathe Beauchamp-Bowden, she settled in a Bavarian hotel where, at some point, she miscarried. Reading this, I wonder whether the Bavarian hotel might not have been some kind of clinic. She became friendly with a Polish translator, Floryan Sobienowski, and I think you can guess what that means.* She got gonorrhoea, anyway. At this point, she was 22. When I was 22, I had done less of some things than Katherine Mansfield, and more of others.

* This reminds of a Wodehouse line I read the other day. The narrator is speaking to an explorer:
"Well, the natives seemed fairly friendly, so I decided to stay the night."

I made a mental note never to seem fairly friendly to an explorer.