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.