Tuesday, 29 March 2011

cannon and ball, poetry, religion

Found this the other day. The whole thing is worth reading. They were Britain's biggest double act. Bobby - I hesitate to call him the funny one so let's just say he was the one with the moustache - couldn't spend the money fast enough. He drank, he boozed, he 'saw as many women as he could'.

Despite all this Bobby had been searching for the truth about God for some time. Having looked into many different religions he started to read his Bible. "I liked the Old Testament best, and was enthralled by the way they sometimes didn't eat certain things. I even stopped eating bacon sandwiches for two years, despite the fact I really loved them. What I really felt was very dirty, and I knew I needed forgiveness.

Read that again. He stopped eating bacon sandwiches for two years even though he really loved them. That is what God is about.

What about Tommy Cannon? "I couldn’t believe it when he stopped getting drunk, but at first I just put it down to Bobby going through another one of his 'phases'" explains Tommy.

They break box office records on gospel tours and have just enjoyed one of the biggest panto advances of their careers. The website adds: Bobby is actually a brilliant poet. His chosen prayer is the closing section of a poem he has written called 'Power of Praise'.

Please forgive me, but I find it hard to apologise,
To be able to see the other person's point of view.
But deep inside, behind all this sinful pride,
I want to be just like you.

This goes on for another five verses, which I won't post here because it is protected by something called 'copywrite law'.

Friday, 25 March 2011

mad men

Front of the Mad Men DVD I have has a ***** from Metro, attached to the quote: AS NEAR TO GENIUS AS TV GETS. Who lets people like this near a typewriter? It's not quite 'This drags digital radio kicking and screaming into the 21st century', which was another Metro line a few years ago and might be one of my all-time favourite pieces of nonsense, but it's bad.

Or maybe the reviewer really does think telly can't be genius. He shouldn't be reviewing it if that's the case, but I bet it's not the case. I bet he's just an idiot.

(And surely someone at the DVD company noticed. I mean, you want the stars, and Metro is something a lot of people read, but why not just go with 'GENIUS' and the *****?)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

crab bucket

Glenda is from the Sisters (crap bit of the city). She's hard-working and fierce. Her friend Juliet is beautiful and she's been on the front page of the newspaper, which Glenda doesn't approve of, really, because it's not a proper job and you can't trust it. But Pepe, who put her on the front page and who is also from the Sisters, says that's just 'crab bucket'. Glenda doesn't understand.

Later, she's buying crabs. The bucket doesn't have a lid because if one tries to climb out, all the other crabs grab it.
Crab bucket, thought Glenda as they hurried toward the Night Kitchen. That's how it works. People from the Sisters disapproving when a girl takes the trolley bus. That's crab bucket. Practically everything my mum ever told me, that's crab bucket. Practically everything I've ever told Juliet, that's crab bucket too. Maybe it's just another word for the [crowd]. It's so nice and warm on the inside that you forget there's an outside. The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is you ... The realization had her mind on fire.

A lot hinges on the fact that, in most circumstances, people are not allowed to hit you with a mallet.
So what if Juliet only has a vocabulary of 700 words?
There are more than enough people who were stuffed tight as an egg with words, and who would want to see any of them on the front page?
I was going to be dismissive about anyone who is dismissive about Terry Pratchett, but what's the point? There will always be crabs.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

penguins and sexy mermaids

Pretty pictures today, basically.

First, via @sambaintv, there's this collection of black and white photos. It says they're unexplained, although I think I might have a dart at some of them. Not antler boy. Really not sure what's going on with him.

I'm only posting this one because we all like penguins.

They come from a bigger blog. The link's on the page. The next lot are via I am not sure which sci fi fan, but they are magic. The first pair is for any reader of this blog who who loves puns. You know who you are.

The next is for anyone who likes sexy mermaids, which, as with penguins, is all of us. You will remember from previous posts that this must be, although the picture is rather unclear on the matter, a melusine. The picture is generally unclear on biological matters. Otherwise, it's magic. Oh, wait. Looking at it again makes me see that the merhorse is being ridden sidesaddle. Well, I call that a swizz. There should be more melusines.

But the original collector of these pictures think this is the best, in terms of intriguingness and the rest. I agree.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

stats, the tsunami and avoiding being an idiot as far as possible

Patrick is a software manager in central Japan. He wrote a great post on how badly the tsunami was reported by the west in the early stages. Read the whole thing. A couple of highlights:
At about 800 miles long, [Honshu, the largest of Japan's four very large islands, and the one which was hit] stretches from roughly Chicago to New Orleans. Quite a lot of the reporting on Japan, including that which is scaring the heck out of my friends and family, is the equivalent of someone ringing up Mayor Daley during Katrina and saying “My God man, that’s terrible — how are you coping?
That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization. Every engineer in this country should be walking a little taller this week. We can’t say that too loudly, because it would be inappropriate with folks still missing and many families in mourning, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
A few friends of mine have suggested coming to Japan to pitch in with the recovery efforts. I appreciate your willingness to brave the radiological dangers of international travel on our behalf, but that plan has little upside to it: when you get here, you’re going to be a) illiterate b) unable to understand instructions and c) a productivity drag on people who are quite capable of dealing with this but will instead have to play Babysit The Foreigner.
He's decent on the nuclear issues, too, though he was writing before the situation got worse.

On that front, though, you've probably already read the BBC's incredibly sensible piece about nuclear dangers. I mean, since it is clear, concise and should allay the sillier fears, it should be up front and repeated every six minutes. OH, WAIT, you can't even get a link to it from the main BBC site on the tsumani, even from the excitable page about the nuclear reactors.

In a nutshell, people get hysterical about nuclear danger because it seems more weird and freaky than other more real dangers. After Chernobyl, psychological problems were much more prevalent than physical ones. And:
The perception of the extreme risk of radiation exposure is also somewhat contradicted by the experience of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been followed up for their whole lives.

By 1992, over 40,000 had died, but it has been estimated that only 690 of those deaths were due to the radiation. Again, the psychological effects were major ... a whole-body CT scan as part of a medical check-up ... can deliver you a dose equivalent to being 1.5 miles from the centre of the Hiroshima explosion.
People are nuts re risks involving the words 'nuclear' and 'cancer', basically.

Friday, 18 March 2011


Everyone loves penguins (when you meet someone who doesn't love penguins, keep a bloody wide berth). Last night I went to the Royal Opera House for less than it costs to go to the cinema in Swiss Cottage and I saw three short ballets (I am not big on ballet, unless it's brilliant ballet, but I really love penguins). See below.

The main thing, though, was that I made some excellent pasties to eat, and despite the filling being in pasty, in tin foil, in two bags, the whole of my section of audience smelt of pasty until we'd eaten our pasties during the first interval. I spent a lot of the first ballet, which was, indeed, brilliant, being a bit ashamed.

The ROH, which I had never been to because I am so nekulturny, is amazing. The bar really does look like it's floating in the sky. And the tea was reasonable and the delicious cake was cheap. And, like I said, the ticket was cheaper than the cinema.


My favourite line in any acknowledgment ever written:
My thanks are due to my former wife Margaret, whose patience would shame Griselda and whose loyalty certainly shames me.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

people crazy

Specifically, the people who design Schuh's shoe return policy. Every few years I can't resist a pair of new shoes, because I like to look pretty. Three people in Schuh, and two pamphlets with my shoes, said that they have a brilliant returns policy: if I return them within a year, unused, they'll refund or exchange them. Do some people really take shoes home, dither over whether to put them on for a year and then return them unused? It seems unlikely.

rejection letters

Marbury's got a couple of great rejection letters on his blog at the moment. I read this in The White Monkey, book four of The Forsyte Saga yesterday:
Oh! and while we’re about it — I’ve got to refuse Harold Master’s new book. It’s a mistake, but they won’t have it.”

“Why not, Mr. Mont? ‘The Sobbing Turtle’ was such a success!”

“Well, in this new thing Master’s got hold of an idea which absolutely forces him to say something. Winter says those who hailed ‘The Sobbing Turtle’ as such a work of art, are certain to be down on this for that; and Mr. Danby calls the book an outrage on human nature. So there’s nothing for it. Let’s have a shot:

“‘MY DEAR MASTER,— In the exhilaration of your subject it has obviously not occurred to you that you’ve bust up the show. In ‘The Sobbing Turtle’ you were absolutely in tune with half the orchestra, and that — er — the noisiest half. You were charmingly archaic, and securely cold-blooded. But now, what have you gone and done? Taken the last Marquesan islander for your hero and put him down in London town! The thing’s a searching satire, a real criticism of life. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be contemporary, or want to burrow into reality; but your subject has run off with you. Cold acid and cold blood are very different things, you know, to say nothing of your having had to drop the archaic. Personally, of course, I think this new thing miles better than ‘The Sobbing Turtle,’ which was a nice little affair, but nothing to make a song about. But I’m not the public, and I’m not the critics. The young and thin will be aggrieved by your lack of modernity, they’ll say you’re moralising; the old and fat will call you bitter and destructive; and the ordinary public will take your Marquesan seriously, and resent your making him superior to themselves. The prospects, you see, are not gaudy. How d’you think we’re going to ‘get away’ with such a book? Well, we’re not! Such is the fiat of the firm. I don’t agree with it. I’d publish it tomorrow; but needs must when Danby and Winter drive. So, with every personal regret, I return what is really a masterpiece.

“‘Always yours,


Sunday, 13 March 2011

danger, danger!

A film called GOAL II: Living the Dream is on the telly at the moment. Sky's programme guide has this to say about it:
A young footballer from the slums of Los Angeles accepts a transfer to Real Madrid. Contains behaviour which could be imitated.
It's a pretty broad caveat. They don't put it on Midsomer Murders, oddly.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


The people who run badminton are as incompetent and ridiculous as all the other sportocrats. Their latest wheeze is to stipulate that female players must wear skirts (or dresses) in sanctioned competitions, because it's prettier. You probably know this already. I'm always the last person to find these things out. Anyway, the International Brother- and Sisterhood of the Shuttlecock is going batshit.

You'd have thought that everyone would have just laughed-slash-ranted-indignantly, like they did when Sepp Blattered about women footballers looking better in microshorts. But no, on May 1st, when qualifying starts for the Olympics, Rule 19.2 comes into force. The 25-Man committee of the BWF is adamant. Oh, sorry, that's 23-Man and 2-Woman.

This editorial in Badzine (yes, in news you dream of being true, the world's #1 badminton magazine is called Badzine) tackles the issue head on. Jan Lin, a female shuttler as well as a sportswriter, talks to a friend in badminton, who replies,
“But I’ve never worn a skirt in my entire playing career!” she said with a mixture of horror and sadness in her voice.
Quite right, you might be thinking, but Jan Lin thinks it's 'a Catch 22. Good idea, poor implementation, and, women won’t listen anyway.' What? She really thinks it's a good idea? She credits the men involved with wanting to improve the commercial appeal of the sport. But, keen student of the past that she is, she says:
If history is to be learnt from, then the 1960s women’s liberation movements offer many valuable learning points. This is not to say that there is no way to dictate the preferred attire for women in sport but if branding and commercial development of the sport is a concern, then policy makers have got to take a more artful approach in attaining the desired outcome of this ‘dress-up’ policy.

It starts with understanding how women work. There is a common fallacy that women dress up for the primary motivation of attracting the bees and butterflies. Not true. A woman just wants to look good, whatever her definition of ‘good’ is, and whenever she comes around to realising that looking ‘good’ is often directly proportional to positive self-esteem. Women are also creatures of envy and many are slaves to fashion trends à la the ‘if she has it, I want it too’ syndrome.
In a nutshell, show us pretty things and we will run after them like magpies. I'm not 100% sure this is the main lesson to be learnt from the 1960s liberation movements. Anyway, when Jan is asked her opinion on outfits by fellow shuttlers, and she says they're not flattering, the clothes never reappear. You might think all this is a bit retrograde, but Jan movingly adds that 'Women are less in control of fashion than fashion is in control of them.' And 'not all men look good in suits or ‘polo’ shirts' either:
Some men are just made for the simple round-neck tee-shirts or sleeveless tops for their delicious oversized muscles. I’m all for ‘if you have it, flaunt it’.
Jan's anti the rule, but she's funny about clothes.

Friday, 11 March 2011

my granny, the thief

Actually, not my granny. This is from Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics, by William Donaldson. It is typical:
Bunty McSkimming (1921-) embezzler. A former Sunday school teacher, McSkimming took up crime at the age of 76, later offering the explanation that 'my cooker was on its last legs'. In 1998 she became secretary of the Glasgow Tree Lovers' Society. With hindsight, the society's chairman, Colonel Archie Carstairs was able to say that the appointment had been a mistake, and that Miss McSkimming's habit of smoking cigars had aroused the suspicions of a senior member, Mrs Pugh.
The Society had £80,000. McSkimming took the lot. 'Her explanation that she had been investing in children's charities was not accepted.'

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

hold the front page

This is a comment on the previous post, but it's poetry and deserves a wider audience:
Matthew said...

Apropos nothing, today's Guardian: David Cameron has suggested that a court was too lenient in fining a man £50 for burning poppies at an Armistice day event. The prime minister said Britain should make a "stronger statement" that the incident was "completely out of order and has no place in a tolerant society".

no fly zone

I shouldn't opine on this, since I'm pretty ignorant, but lots of people do who are even more ignorant, and this is less opining than throwing a thing out into the wind.

A friend of mine is writing a play about Iraq, and one excellent scene that probably won't make it into his final cut is all about the uprisings in 1991, which Saddam's planes crushed while the Allies didn't enforce a no fly zone. When they eventually did, the rebels were dead. It's not a scene about simple answers, but it's about how everything hard costs something, often lives, and military force is a real part of the story, and dictators don't stop until someone makes them. And about how our taste for intervention wavers depending on its most recent results. I've been thinking about the scene a lot this week.

(The scene also has some good jokes, and it's sexy. And it's likely to be cut. Just imagine how good this play must be.)

Monday, 7 March 2011

three duck-shaped aliens

I have mentioned the recursive sci fi bibliography before, I think. It describes books and (mainly) stories which feature science fiction as a plot element. I find it hard to resist:
Andersson, C. Dean, Fiend
T. T. Dysan is a mass murderer of children who goes to a comics convention in Texas where he knows many of his potential victims will be gathered. Also attending the convention is Joe Clark, there to sell his new comic book heroine Toxique. Both of them run up against Medea who is spending her immortality killing the murderers of children.

Resnick, Mike, "Harry, Larry, Barry & Frankie"
Three duck-shaped aliens arrive at the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention—L.A.con IV—with the intent of conquering the Earth. Frankie Thomas (a.k.a. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet) convinces them that they should all go out into space to save planets, right wrongs, and defeat evil. This takes place in an alternate universe where Frankie Thomas did not die before the convention. Contrary to what Craig Miller says in the story, these aliens are not minions of NESFA.*

*New England Science Fiction Association. There is some complex in-referring going on, and I am not privy. Frankie Thomas played Tom Corbett, Space Cadet in the 50s. He's one of those child stars who didn't transfer into being an adult star, says Wikipedia, which is tough on him, since he was 34 when playing TC, thought TC was in his teens. From 1979 to 2002, he wrote novels and stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. He went to loads of conventions, still fitting into his space cadet uniform. He was buried in it, aged 85.

you don't see this every day

Child playing sport (this one's for Kate and Molly):

Friday, 4 March 2011

obama is great, american mortgages are crazy, dimwitted cats

1. American football might not happen this year because of a labour dispute (no free market in American football, you see). It's all very stressful and there have been calls for Obama to step in and resolve it. He said this, brilliantly:
We’ve got owners, most of whom are worth close to $1 billion, you’ve got players who are making millions of dollars. My working assumption at a time when people are having to cut back, compromise, and worry about making the mortgage and, you know, paying for their kids’ college education, is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the President of the United States intervening.

I’m a big football fan, but I also think that for an industry that’s making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way. And be true to their fans, who are the ones who, obviously, allow for all the money that they’re making. So my expectation and hope is that they’ll resolve it without me intervening, because it turns out I’ve got a lot of other stuff to do.

2. America's housing crisis is not like ours for three main reasons:
- There's a lot more of America to build houses on.
- The 'vanilla' mortgage has been a 30 year fixed-rate offered/insured by Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae. This is probably stopping because it is insane in how much it favours borrowers, especially when...
- US mostly can't chase borrowers for their other assets. Borrowers can just walk away. Not like Europe, etc.
(Thank you Planet Money for the second two of these. The first I worked out for myself.)

3. This is the neatest pro-iPad thing I've read. It says the obvious thing well (comparative specs are just not the point, whatever tech websites say):
People buy iPads because a 2-year-old human or a dimwitted cat can figure out how to use one.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

go beavers!

Caltech has 950 undergraduates and doesn't offer athletic scholarships. The Beavers, its basketball team, hadn't won a game in its division for 25 years. They did, in the season finale, last Tuesday night. The crowd, including at least one Nobel laureate (I hear from Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast), went bananas. Here's a little bit of ESPN video.

But the real reason to click on the link is to listen is the last line, which is either a brilliant joke or a brilliant irony. I haven't time to listen eight times and work out which it is.

(The women's team finished the season 0-25.)

check when someone tells you something is true that you really want to believe is true

I don't know much about the blog Liberal Conspiracy, but it's just published a story encapsulated thus:
BBC journalists have been instructed by senior editorial staff to use ‘savings’ instead of ‘cuts’ in their news coverage, Liberal Conspiracy has learnt, in order to offer a “rosy” picture of government announcements.
Clearly, this is a story that Liberal Conspiracy wants to believe, and so do I, and so will half the Twittersphere, and so on.

I don't not believe it. The difficulty is that it is the result of unnamed 'sources' within the BBC. Yes, of course, one has to protect sources, but there are too many cases of peopel hading behind that phrase as an excuse not to confirm a story properly before printing it. British journalism (and blogs are even more to blame) has an incredibly lax attitude to fact checking if someone is saying what it wants to hear. This is really only a story if it is BBC policy or affects major news programmes - after all, the BBC has billions of employees with different political views. The bit that seems rum to me is that someone would be 'instructed' to offer a '"rosy"' picture of government announcements. Does that sound like something that really happened?

Let's be clear, I can believe someone told someone to use savings rather than cuts. I can believe this was politically inspired. I can also believe someone thought it was politically inspired when it wasn't. There are presumably some cuts which are more accurately described as savings, just as there are some which are more accurately described as cuts.

Oh, wait a second. I'm ranting.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

my gossaert!

If there's one thing everyone knows about me, it's that I'm mad for the early Northern renaissance. I was well interested in the National Gallery's Gossaert exhibition.

If there's one thing everyone knows about Gossaert, it's that he's the first major Northern Renaissance painter to be directly influenced by going to Italy. He has gone through peaks and troughs, and he's sometimes been thought of as absolutely one of the top guys, and this exhibition is to show why. It's really, really good.

I thought, and let's be clear that I am pretty ignorant:
1. He still seems very Northern. I'd kind of expected fleshy voluptuousness, but it was much more dispassionate, clean and bright, all of which I like. Clinical without being cold.
2. He is unbelievably good at the patterns on the edge of clothes. If you don't think this is a thing that can amaze you, be prepared to be amazed.
3. I think he is one of the very goods, not one of the greats, which doesn't mean this isn't a terrific exhibition.
4. Durer is one of the greats. There is a woodcut of his, Samson and a lion, which is one of the best things I have ever seen. It is worth the price of admission. The decision and crispness (which might be as a result of a restored woodcut, I am not entirely sure) are just astonishing. I hummed and hawed about whether to include a picture of it here. I am doing so, but it gives absolutely no idea of the real thing.

Quite soon, I think, I will place a list on my website of artworks I wish to commission. I have been meaning to do this for ages.