Tuesday, 30 March 2010

the woman on the right never used ayer's hair vigor

I am not guesting on facegoop (for some reason.) This is from The Colonist, a New Zealand newspaper, 2nd Feb 1910. A woman with great hair (who is, let's be very clear, is on on the left) is being seduced by a cad (my reading of situation). The advert says she owes to it much of your youthful appearance and attractiveness. I think, though I don't write for facegoop, this is a lot of pressure to put on some Hair Vigor, even from a company that nearly rhymes with 'hair'. On the right, a woman with as far as I can tell very much shorter hair is standing waiting for her more suitable beau (my reading of situation).

I don't think the picture below will be big enough to make the situation clear enough, but you can go and look at the real thing here.

That's not why I was reading The Colonist. I was looking at book titles. Here were the latest ones available to the discerning NZ-based reader:

- It Can Never Happen Again (2 volumes, should have called second one It Can Never Happen Again Again) by William de Morgan
- Troubled Waters, by Headon Hill (what do you call a man sleeping on a slope?)
- Broken Earthernware by Harold Begbie (Harry Potter of its day)
- All at Sea, A Novel of Life and Love on Liner, by Lillie de Bathe (Mrs Langtry (yes, that Mrs Langtry, doing celeb novel (Lillie de Bathe is funnier name for royal mistress if world is, as many suspect, a smutty comic book)))
- A Simple Savage by GB Burgin (no joke)
- Tropical Tales by Dolfe Wyllarde (you'd get bored of spelling that out over the phone)
- Poppea of the Post Office, by the author of A Commuter's Wife (I *loved* A Commuter's Wife!)
- She loved Him by Chas Garvice (but then, she never met me)
- Miss Bretherton, by Mrs Humphrey Ward

Monday, 29 March 2010

petition to replace west hampstead with east kilburn

One of the things I had most fun with writing The Kilburn Social Club was doing the slightly-alternative local geography. My favourite bit of that was turning West Hampstead station into East Kilburn station. Yesterday, The Good Ship, home of many excellent events, sent me a facebook petition about this very thing. It is not linked to me; I do not know Chrissy Tignor, the creator; but I love it.

you don't have to say you love me

Pick of the Week sometimes just makes you go, 'Wow!', assuming you are me. Last night I only caught a few minutes, but they included an interview with Clem Cattini. He drummed on some number ones over the years, including Rolf Harris's Two Little Boys, Bennie Hill's Ernie (the Fastest Milkman in the West). Clive Dunn's Grandad, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road and Whispering Grass, sung by Windsor Davies and Don Estelle off of It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

So what? Novelty records need drummers, even if they are longlasting enough to still be drumming when it's time for the Peter Kay version of Amarillo. So, I repeat, what?

Well, he was also the drummer for Tom Jones's It's Not Unusual and The Green, Green Grass of Home and I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing by The New Seekers. And Make it Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More by The Walker Brothers, and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Dusty Springfield. And Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman (one of those songs you definitely know even if you couldn't have named it) and, and this is my favourite one on the list, Kung Fu Fighting.

This is literally not the half of it. He has drummed on 45 number ones. You can do that kind of thing as a session musician, I suppose, but Clem also, by the way, in addition, was one of Les Tornados, who released Telstar, which was the first song by an English band to reach No.1 in the States. I've just listened to about ten versions, most of which are great but none of which are as good as Les Tornedos.

The version on this video is not great, but it was the last time Les Tornados played live, assuming we can believe YouTube (I would check it elsewhere, basically) and you get to see some drumming from The Cat if you watch for a bit.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

is this why i pay my license fee?

I go to the BBC Radio homepage most days. One of the things that regularly rotates onto the page is a selection of 'recent' blog posts. So, for a month and a half, I have been reading this:
Recent blog posts:
Weddings seem to be all the rage at the moment...
Greg James' blog - Radio 1
10:22 03 Feb 2010
Either blog more regularly, Radio 1, or don't blog. Also Sprach Plenty More Fish.

Friday, 26 March 2010

am i a miner?

I have probably blogged about this before - I only have seven or eight regular thoughts and four of them are about tuna, so it seems likely - but I can't find it. Feel free to skip if you know what's coming.

I've just read this post from Marbury about the fact that arts funding is likely to be cut for the same reasons that everything is going to be cut, and I agree with him, as usual. Arts funding is a sign of civilised society but there is less money around and everything is being cut, so what can you do? And so on.

My question is: art funding is usually described as a subsidy for uneconomic stuff, and it probably is that, but has anyone done maths on how it underpins the artistic sector's contribution to the overall economy?* The existence of a vibrant theatrical, literary and artistic culture, partly funded by the taxpayer, may allow the emergence of Andrews Lloyd-Webber and JKs Rowling. OR, and I totally accept this, it may have no influence at all. But I think it probably does.

Because, when you look at what Britain exports, at the literal stuff we make to sell, one of the big ones is artistic product. We haven't got big uranium mines. We don't have forests full of lovely valuable trees. But we have to make stuff to sell. Artists make stuff to sell. This is by no means on earth a direct parallel, but factory owners depend on having raw materials to produce products for sale, which employs people in factories and shops and so on. I have been to a factory turning stuff I made up out of nothing into a saleable artifact, and lots of people were employed in this process.

What role does a writer have in an economy. Is it (in some queasy way) analogous to that of a miner or farmer? I am not pretending I don't have a very easy life, etc., etc., but I do think writers and so on should sometimes point out that, unlike most people who complain about them being spongers, they actually make stuff, which is the primary motive economic act.

All this could be gibberish. I absolutely accept that, and would be happy for someone to explain.

* The real maths. I've heard too many people say, 'For every £ spent on A we get £2/£6/£x back. What's the best maths on this, done by people who aren't just quoting each other's columns as if they are evidence.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

life is learning

Once upon a time I reviewed Richard Mabey's lovely Nature Cure. Ever since, I have periodically tried to remember some of the excellent new words it taught me. The only one I thought I had succeeded in nailing down was 'ideolect', meaning the distinctive language and verbal tics a sub-societal group develops and sometimes uses in order to enhance its own cohesiveness. As it transpires, the word is 'ecolect'.*

The one I am always maddened to forget is 'isophene'. This is a line (like an isobar, etc.) linking the dates of first flowerings of a particular plant.

Other good ones included tarpans and koniks, which are types of wild horses.


*Coined by Hugh Sykes Davies

book covers

I have promised to do a book cover round-up, for some reason, and I haven't yet, for some reason. I saw this one today. The book is by one of my favourite authors. I think it's excellent.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

tall tales, thursday night

*
Er, I have mentioned this before. If you are planning to come and haven't told me, then you had better do so quickly. You know how sometimes people pretend that they are nearly full in order to persuade other people to sign up to almost empty events? This is not like that.

* No one has asked me why this picture of a black lab is the emblem of Tall Tales, and I don't know.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

would you trust this man?

There may not be anything in graphology, who knows?, but in this signature I see a serious-minded thirteen year old trying out a load of things and settling for something that looked cool, and not changing it when he got older.



I had some pretty bad handwriting tics in my teens, and I am more embarrassed about them than about most of the stupid things I have done in my life, but I moved on. On the other hand, I'm not the President. Swings and roundabouts, roundabouts and swings.

things that have stuck in my mind over the years

Some things you read tickle you, and they come back to you again and again over the years. For me, as I've said before but it bears repeating, this is one of them (from The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies):
‘Isn’t that the Odeon?’
‘No, this is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Good-night.’
This, from The Great American Novel by Philip Roth, is another:
I refuse to apologise or explain or verify any remarks I have ever made to anyone over the telephone, face to face, in my sleep, in my cups, or in my solitude. I refuse to participate in this lunatic comedy in which American baseball players who could not locate Russia on a map of the world – who could not locate the world on a map of the world – denounce themselves and their team-mates as Communist spies out of fear and intimidation and howling ignorance, or, as is the case with that case named Baal, out of incorrigible human perversity and curdled genes
Curdled genes is the bit that I use instinctively from time to time, though for some reason I always remember it as 'sheer curdled genes'

Monday, 22 March 2010

the kids in the conference room

is the New Yorker essay that has inspired me not to become a business guru. In a nutshell, it's about how McKinsey became, in the nineties, the next prize for high achievers to win after an Ivy League education. The writer, Nicholas Lemann, explained how the consulting vogue followed the 1950s high achievers' vogue for working for the CIA, the 1960s vogue for joining the Peace Corps, the 1970s vogue for working for Ralph Nader and the 1980s banking boom. Pretty comprehensively banking returned in the 2000s. Lawyering and civil servicing never went away, but the others were the most competed-for jobs in each era. I only have his word for it, and I'm sure he's simplifying, but I've no reason to doubt him.

The thing that fascinated Lemann when he wrote in 1999 was that while Ivy League universities had always sent alumni into a narrow tranche of jobs, they had until fairly recently selected from a similarly narrow tranche of schools. By the nineties, however, they were national institutions which gathered talent with fanatically scrutinised dedication to merit and diversity, and STILL were sending them out, via a sort of funnel, into vogue professions, and especially consulting. It's a really good essay.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

i know which came first

The chicken and egg thing has always driven me crazy, since it's obviously the egg (I am assuming you are an evolutionist). So, following on from yesterday, here is an example of how to be a business guru*:

HOW TO TURN YOUR BUSINESS INTO A CHICKEN
(a story about the eternal verity of thinking outside the box told via the illustrative metaphor of the chicken and the egg)

1. Understand that it's the egg. This shows you have seen through the cluttering fog of a timeless trope into the fact that there is a clear and simple answer to what people think is an insoluble problem

2. Since you need a new kind of egg before you can get the magic thing it will turn into, you need to know how to produce new eggs. There are two ways. One is cross-breeding, which means taking ideas from different areas and reapplying them; the other is mutation, which is looking at present systems and working out which changes will produce something that is beneficially different from what currently exists

One day I will not turn this insight into an actual book.


* The reason I am focusing on being a business guru is that I'm reading a New Yorker essay on McKinseys in the nineties and a book about Henry Ford. You will hear more about both of these things. Be still your beating hearts.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

advice for business gurus

I was speaking last night with a friend of mine who wants to work out a new wise thing about business. My thought on this: basically, it is unlikely that you can work out a way to make an hour seventy minutes long. So, wannabe business gurus, don't dream about splitting the atom. What you need to do is:

1. find an eternal problem - time management, team dynamics, whatever - that is more than usually pertinent today - in conditions of recession, resource scarcity, whatever
2. find a way of describing how to deal with this problem that resonates with the present crop of people dealing with the problem - information overloaded, short-attention-spanned, matured in a period of prosperity

There aren't that many problems in the world, and there aren't that many solutions, but they always feel new to the people facing them, so if you can come up with a way of tooling an eternal verity to a specific situation, then you are being genuinely innovative and helpful. This, wannabe business gurus, is my advice.*



* As you will have spotted, this derives, like everything, from good historical practice. Every generation needs a new definitive history of the Nazis, because different things about that story are differently relevant to different generations. Ten years ago, in Fukuyama's post-historical present, the driving historiographical concern of the books I was reviewing was the location of decision-making. It was interesting, it helped you understand how big organisations operated on a minute level, and so on.

But since 9/11, and especially since the regime changes in the middle east, the focus has shifted to what constitutes effective governance. What kind of institutions and processes produce effective results in terms of security, stability and legitimacy?

A. I worry I've blogged about this before; and B. This is just a trend I think I noticed over a few hundred books - it is faintly conceivable that I am wrong.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

human resources

Pretty much anything from cod to cocaine*, if you look at it right, turns into a way of seeing the world more clearly. Sport is an obvious one, since it's got humans red in tooth and claw, on and off the pitch, with added dimensions of history, storytelling and money.

The NFL's annual human resources jamboree culminates in next month's draft, where the worst teams get first choice of the best new players entering from the college system. Pretty much everyone thinks a boy named Suh, a huge defensive tackle, is the best player. Pretty much everyone in the mainstream media had him being picked first by the hopeless St Louis Rams from December, when they first started putting together mock drafts, until about three weeks ago, when they finally started to catch on to the obvious truth that defensive tackles don't win you games. The player that you can't win games without is quarterback, and even if the quarterback options aren't amazing (Bradford, Clausen), the Rams should still pick one:
In business terms, drafting Suh over Bradford or Clausen would be like giving the best IT guy ever a 7-figure salary when you don't even have a CFO. That computer whiz could be the best IT guy in the history of the planet, but devoting all of your resources to him would eventually force you to file for Chapter 11. On the bright side, you'd never have a single computer virus!
This is from Walter Football, and WF has been making this point for months, basically, along with a load of other things that the major media sites are starting to say now. It's a really good comment on economic value.



* Cocaine, by Dominic Streatfeild (it really is spelt like this) is terrific. I have bought it for lots of people over the years, none of whom looked that pleased to receive it, all of whom thanked me when they'd read it.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

give it the old razzle-dazzle

A little-known fact is that dazzle is my favourite type of camouflage. Credited to Norman Wilkinson, a marine artist and naval lieutenant, it was a way of painting big ships that made it hard for U-boats to work out which direction they were travelling and how fast, consequently making it harder to torpedo them.

Even if the camouflage didn't work, and it did, it would have been worth doing. Just look at the Empress of Russia:



Or the Argus:



The beauty queen of the dazzle world was the Gloire - the bottom of these two pictures is her in all her Gloiry:



The top, however, is perhaps the most deceptive dazzle painting I have seen. And if you think that's the most interesting thing about the picture, wait till you get a load of the ship's name: the USS Mahomet.

The only sad thing about dazzle-painting is that it was done in colour. Here is a crudely colourised version of the Gloire. I have no idea if it is based on any real description:



If you spend as much time as me in Monte Carlo, you'll never have seen this dazzling yacht there. It was painted by Jeff Koons. Even he does something right once in a while.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

ufos visit caister again

This is from the Yarmouth Mercury, from last September. I'm surprised there wasn't more made of it:
IT seems Caister could have become a popular holiday destination for tourists from out of space, as well as visitors on earth, as another strange ball of light has been spotted in the sky over the village.

Noel Galer, chair of Hemsby Allotments Association, was visiting Caister High School for a concert evening on Saturday when he noticed what looked like a bright star out at sea as he stood in the school's grounds.

But he said the “star” was brighter than normal and moving quickly towards the shore, changing colour as it approached to red and yellow. The UFO was making no noise during its 8.30pm visit.

“There was no noise. It was just a light that drifted off towards Yarmouth. It did not seem to follow intelligent controls, but went to the south before going upwards,” he said.

Last week Caister resident Emma McGlave spotted five UFOs silently following each other over Caister.

Have you seen any UFOs in the Yarmouth area? If so, phone Mercury reporter D– B– on ...
The Hemsby Allotments Association, let's be clear, don't elect just anyone to be their Chair.

Monday, 15 March 2010

they can be fearful of things they do not know

A Hungarian Vizsla called Yogi won Crufts. I didn't know much about Vizslas, so I looked them up on Pet Planet.



Classic retrievery sort of dog. Very doggy. Nothing controversial, weird or cruel. Don't go to the dog pages of Pet Planet if you haven't got some time on your hands, though. There's so much to learn. For instance:
The exact origin of the Hungarian Vizsla is a bit of a mystery, some say their ancestors existed centuries ago and others say they were developed in the 20th century
I am not a top international biologist, but their ancestors definitely did exist centuries ago.



But what about the Canaan Dog? Incredibly, it's not a man-made breed, and wild ones are still introduced into the breeding population in the middle east. They're territorial and strong, and the Israeli army use them for guard work. Also:
At the age of about 10 months Canaan dogs go through an insecure phase. They can be fearful of things they do not know
And the Belgian Shepherd Dog? It is
the only breed in the world that comes in 4 varieties

Friday, 12 March 2010

tall tales, march 25th

People are always asking me how come I never organise shows in Kilburn featuring Benet Brandreth hectoring the audience at a length no one will be able to control, not even Benet; John Finnemore and Susannah Pearse doing a great new mini-musical; some inspiring moments from the collected works of Emma Belgian Waffling Beddington (that is her real name) and Hannah Why Miss Jones; and what amounts to an public information discussion about sexy mermaids?



Well, all I can say to those people is: your time has come. Tall Tales will be at The Good Ship on the Kilburn High Road on March 25th. Doors open at eight, show starts at nine and lasts between 65 and 80 minutes, depending entirely on Benet. If you want to come, it might be sensible to book (some of these people, I'm not saying which ones, are incredibly popular). To do this, email talltalesnight at gmail.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

good day for bloomsbury

Assuming that all they care about is what I think of them. I finished TC Boyle's The Inner Circle, which I thought was terrific (Kinsey, sex, grown-up, nothing that might get in a Bad Sex Prize short-list in spite of a all the opportunity in the world). And then I got sent a copy of WG's Birthday Party by David Kynaston. Quite apart from the fact that, as I've said before, I think it's terrific, one of the very few British sports books that deserves to stand alongside American ones like Moneyball and Boys of Summer, just look at it:



This doesn't actually give a sense of how pretty it is. It's quite small, and the colours are soft. The paper is a perfectly chosen off-white.

coverup

There will be more coming on this subject. But, just quickly, I have seen three covers for Me Cheeta (which you really should have read), and I have loved them all. UK hardback:



US hardback (not quite as good, but still...)



And paperback, which I think is the same here and there.



Do some books just lend themselves to having great covers? What are other language versions of Me Cheeta like? Do you know, I'm going to find out.

***

Hmm. Didn't see any others in cursory look. Look had to be cursory because I need to go for a run and be showered before the World Cup Semi-Final with Germany. Thank goodness for Zing (Sky 789) which is showing it live.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

nutrax for nerves

An example from Murder Must Advertise of why Dorothy L Sayers is better* than Agatha Christie:
All over London the lights flickered in and out, calling on the public to save its body and purse: SOPO SAVES SCRUBBING--NUTRAX FOR NERVES--CRUNCHLETS ARE CRISPER--EAT PIPER PARRITCH--DRINK POMPAYNE--ONE WHOOSH AND IT'S CLEAN--OH, BOY! IT'S TOMBOY TOFFEE--NOURISH NERVES WITH NUTRAX--FARLEY'S FOOTWEAR TAKES YOU FURTHER--IT ISN'T DEAR, IT'S DARLING--DARLING'S FOR HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES--MAKE ALL SAFE WITH SANFECT--WHIFFLETS FASCINATE. The presses, thundering and growling, ground out the same appeals by the millions: ASK YOUR GROCER--ASK YOUR DOCTOR--AS THE MAN WHO'S TRIED--MOTHERS! GIVE IT TO YOUR CHILDREN--HOUSEWIVES! SAVE MONEY--HUSBANDS! INSURE YOUR LIVES--WOMEN! DO YOU REALIZE?--DON'T SAY SOAP, SAY SOPO! Whatever you're doing, stop it and do something else! Whatever you're buying, pause and buy something different! Be hectored into health and prosperity! Never let up! Never go to sleep! Never be satisfied. If once you are satisfied, all our wheels will run down. Keep going--and if you can't, Try Nutrax for Nerves!

Lord Peter Wimsey went home and slept.


* A stupid word to use. It is shorthand for, 'a better and more interesting writer, in my opinion'

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

this time it's different



One of the main things that economic gurus like me look out for as a danger sign of a bubble is people saying 'this time it's different.' Here, be still your beating hearts, is a feature on house prices in Beijing. I might not have clicked on the link had this blog's Beijing correspondent not described the bubbly nature of Chinese real estate over library coffee a couple of week's ago. Some highlights:
Despite the fear of a bubble here, Mr. Tong said his prices were just right, particularly because of so much hidden wealth in China...

Tomson’s prices are soaring. The most recent apartment sold for about $2,300 a square foot. The average luxury apartment in Manhattan sold for just under $1,900 a square foot in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to Prudential Douglas Elliman real estate.

Indeed, for the price of a Tomson apartment in Shanghai, a buyer could easily purchase a 6,000-square-foot home in Los Angeles built by Frank Lloyd Wright and now for sale ($10.5 million), or a 52-acre site with a 22-room residence in New Canaan, Conn. ($24 million).

But a sales agent at Tomson Riviera says this is the future financial capital of the world, not the dying one
Hmm. I wonder what a sales agent at Tomson Riviera would have to gain from... But I'll stop. The Chinese government is nervous, but it's making a fortune from the sales, and we can all use all the fortunes we can get, even if we are the Chinese government. I'm sure everything will be fine.

Monday, 8 March 2010

i have seven kids that live in five different states

I have seven kids that live in five different states.* I made some wrong decisions in my first two years in the league. Now I have to take on the responsibility of being a father to my kids. I can separate my personal life and off-the-field issues from football ... The mothers [and I] try to work out a schedule where I can see my kids. I talk to them on IChat and Skype. We try to find different ways for me to be in their lives, no matter how it is.
This is Antonio Cromartie, who has just signed for the New York Jets. Some commentators wonder whether New York might be a dangerously exciting place to be given that he has off-field issues. It seems unlikely that New York could be going to make these off-field issues worse.


* In case you think this means there are five women involved, think again. There are six. Someone had sex with Antonio Cromartie twice. Or had twins. Or, and I think this is unlikely from context, he is an unusually hands-on sperm donor (if that isn't an unfortunate turn of phrase).

friday night lights

Every Autumn Friday, the Permian Panthers play high school football in front of twenty thousand fans. They are the biggest thing in their isolated community. Friday Night Lights follows the Panthers' 1988 season. It's an amazing microcosmic dissection of racial divides, rules perverted by economics and winlust, and the joy and despair of playing sport in the spotlight:
I also found myself haunted by something else, the words of a father with a son who had gone to Permian and had later become a world-class sprinter in track.

He saw the irresistible allure of high school sports, but he also saw an inevitable danger in adults' living vicariously through their young. And he knew of no candle that burned out more quickly than that of the high school athlete.

'Athletics last for such a short period of time. It ends for people. But while it lasts, it creates this make-believe world where normal rules don't apply. We build this false atmosphere. When it's over and the harsh reality sets in, that's the real joke we play on people ... Everybody wants to experience that superlative moment, and being an athlete can give you that. It's Camelot for them. But there's even life after it.'

With the kind of the glory and adulation these kids received for a season of their lives, I am not sure if they were ever encouraged to understand that. As I stood in that beautiful stadium on the plains week after week, it became obvious that these kids held the town on their shoulders.
Anyone who thinks it's just a book about what happens in schools probably doesn't understand much else either.

Friday, 5 March 2010

folding chairs for hundreds of pounds

We need some folding chairs. I typed 'folding chair' into Amazon to get a lie of the land.

Wow.



This book costs £675.75. Amazon are discounting it by £119.25 and, thank goodness, it is eligible for Free Super Saver Delivery. If you want a used copy, you can have one for £838.18. This is the paperback version, by the way. God knows what the hardback cost.

politicians versus bbc

Politicians have had a pay rise. The BBC reports it as, 'MPs to get nearly £1,000 pay rise'. They do not report it as, 'MPs pay rise lower than inflation'. Why, do you think?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

surreal google

If you have a website, you can use Google Analytics to track how many people visit your site and how they get there. The keywords people type into Google before arriving here are many and varied, and a surprising amount involve women putting live fishes up their arse. Analytics even tells me how many people arrived via which search term, which in practice means dozens of one-hit wonders like 'stupid bernie', 'one shrimp! hello' and 'box of oranges'.

But when I looked today, Analytics listed a search term which had produced no visitors to my blog. That term is 'is simon mayo vegetarian'. Why only that one? There must be hundreds of millions of search terms which haven't tempted anybody at all to dip their toes in these monster-filled waters. What about 'jelly wombat king (name of)'? Or 'naked celebrity chef in champagne bottle'? Or...

I could go on.

my flat has gone down in value! burn the witch!

We make our lives within the cycles of capitalism, and they shape our existence as inexorably as the cycle of seasons and weather and plenty and famine shaped the lives of our peasant ancestors. For the most part, we feel that we understand what makes the money come, and where it goes, not a whole lot better than our rural fathers understood what made the rains come and the crops grow. Like them we are are left to brood, pray, and occasionally sacrifice a fisher-king ... when the plains seem too brown
This is the opening of Adam Gopnik's essay on Thorstein Veblen in The New Gilded Age, a collection of pieces from the New Yorker.

When I bought The New Gilded Age I was in the first flush of my New Yorker love. I'm incredibly glad I did. It's about the culture of affluence and plenty, and, who knows, the current financial problems might just be the point at which we finally realise that we literally do have to pay for things. I re-read large chunks of it every couple of years. I particularly recommend Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg, which was my first intro to the Gladwellian style of brilliant, reductive storytelling that was totally convincing on an intuitive level (see Lewis, Michael), Moby Dick in Manhattan and Our Money, Ourselves.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

i am my own guest. also glee

I wrote this week's Sunday match report. Long-term fans will be aware that match-reports for Spencer firsts and seconds over the last seven years constitute my finest body of work. I have not been posting the link this year because I've been unable to play. I am slowly returning to fitness, though. You must be thrilled to learn this.

(If you have been carrying on reading in my absence, you will have noticed that I am not the only person at Spencer who writes excellent match reports.)

Unconnectedly, I have been watching Glee. Sometimes, it's been terrific. Sometimes it's been not that great. The character consistency makes my particular Glee Club think that the episodes are written by a team taking part in a to-be-screened reality tv programme in which talented writers are only allowed to give each other very tiny hints as to what they are producing. It has a very Chinese Whispers quality to it.

Connectedly, I have series-linked Glee on the new box. It was installed by a tall lean man with short hair and a silver moustache who looked and sounded like a Colonel from a particularly nasty recent central European war. He had a picture of a cat hanging from the mirror of his van.

Unconnectedly, the verse before the song lyric quoted below are:
And I am this great, unstable mass of blood and foam
And no emotion that’s worth having could call my heart its home
My heart’s an autoclave
Unconnectedly, I have seen the first mocked-up paperback cover for The Kilburn Social Club, and I like it.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls

Just listening for the first real time to Heretic Pride by The Mountain Goats. The above line definitely caught my attention, and then three lines later was a Cheers reference.

I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls
On a cliff above the ocean, howling wind and shrieking seagulls
And the dream went on forever, one single static frame
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name

Monday, 1 March 2010

don't pick china

These are the rules of a game (not a good game): you can choose where you are born. You cannot choose when, or what stratum of society you will occupy. Any date is as likely as any date - you are not more likely to be born recently simply because the world is more populous now. Pick a place.

Basically, unless you are a lunatic, you want to minimise your chances of having an unremittingly grim and brutal life, because your chances of lucking out and being rich are minimal. Western Europe and the USA score pretty highly. They are fertile. Obviously, there are lots of wars, but things are more fine than not and you can grow stuff. Russia tends to be run by maniacs, but there is a good chance you are in some village miles away from the maniacs. But then you might be somewhere where nothing grows and winter is so cold that you have to basically hibernate.

So, you are thinking, peasant life in fertile China might be ok. And indeed it might. But before you make your decision, let me run you through some of most bloody wars in history: Number one is WWII, unsurprisingly. But at number two is the An Shi Rebellion (35m), at number four is the Qing Conquest of the Ming (25m), number five is the Taiping Rebellion (could easily have been 30m) and number eight is the Muslim Rebellion (10m). Four of the top eight are pure Chinese. The An Shi Rebellion killed that many in the middle ages, when if you wanted to kill a lot of people, you had to do it the hard way.

Given that numbers one (WWII - 60m), three (Mongol Conquests - 35m) and maybe even six (Tamberlaine - 16m) didn't miss China, and that the number one human created disaster was Mao's famine (somewhere in the 30ms), it doesn't look great for the Middle Kingdom.

Of course, there are a lot of Chinese and the proportions are what really count. The Congo has been bad. I think that Namibia really suffered under the Germans (being colonised has never been a picnic, but the Germans and Belgians were HORRIBLE). I haven't time to really crunch the stats, but just look at those numbers for China. They are astonishing. And most of them happened a while ago. I think China's population was about 500m at the end of WWII. I don't know what it was before 1877, which is when the last of the non-WWII massacres took place.