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?

NFL.com and espn.com 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.