Monday, 26 September 2011

while i am being pointlessly grumpy

I am off to dinner at a restaurant, which I hear is very nice, whose website features one picture and it is the above. It's hateful, isn't it?

hello john hooper

I hope you Google yourself.

In case you are not John Hooper, John Hooper keeps writing about the Amanda Knox trial. He's not the only person to repeat and repeat the salacious quotes given them by rotten Italian policemen - 'She is an enchanting witch' and so on. I mean, some irresponsible idiot at the BBC has used the headline 'Knox is diabolical, lawyer says' as if they are not repeating this and giving it spurious validity.

But it's John Hooper who is getting both barrels because he writes about it a lot for The Guardian. Sorry, the guardian. And the guardian are the sort of people who think they know better.

He (and the BBC, and the rest) can mealy-mouthedly say that they are just reporting the news by repeating the stuff the Italian prosecution is saying. And they can say that Knox was found guilty. Of course they can. I am not accusing them of doing anything illegal. All I am saying is that my opinion is that they are incompetent, rabble-rousing hacks.

To repeat (and sorry, loyal readers who have heard this at various points before), I am confident in the innocence of Amanda Knox.* So is everyone, without exception, who I know has read The Monster of Florence, a book by New Yorker journalist Douglas Preston describing a previous case monumentally mishandled by the same prosecution team - a simple case which they built into a conspiracy theory edifice of preposterous proportions.

If you have read the book and disagree, I would be extremely interested to hear from you. If you haven't read the book, then I am not that interested in your opinion, given that it will be based on things written by the likes of Hooper, which tend to come down to 'No smoke without fire'. I mean, if you can read The Monster of Florence (and if you are making your living reporting on Amanda Knox you should do this) and report the things Prosecutor Magnini says with a straight face, then I'd be surprised if you can tie your laces without sticking out your tongue.

Ok. Calmer now. Maybe it's Hooper's editor's fault. Maybe. God knows there are a lot of ropey editors who say 'We have to give both sides of the story' even when the story is about something like astrology. But if I were Hooper, I'd have my name removed from anything which did not quote, in detail, some things which make it clear what kind of a guy Magnini is.

* The third guy, the one who was not one of the two middle-class kids that the prosecution later decided were part of a diabolical orgy cult, has said in private that they weren't involved. He said this to a not very reliable witness. On the other hand, his original defence was along the lines of: he had sex with Kercher, then he went to the loo, and while he was there someone else came in and killed her.

Friday, 23 September 2011

business meetings

Jolly busy. Tall Tales is next week, with some usual suspects (Brandreth, Davies, Finnemore, Leslie, Phillips) and some unusual suspects (Howarth, Stares (YES, STARES), Wilby). Ticketing, in case you are new, is simple: please email us in advance and you will be on the list. If you do not, you might not get in. Email is talltalesnight at gmail.

Part of being busy has been Tall Tales and the next L&O podcast, and part is that I have started the last edit on the feverishly-anticipated Great Tuna Novel, and another part is that I have had four or five sort-of-business meetings recently, what with this, that and the other. At all of these meetings I have ended up drunk (I am just a little guy). I have a massive new-found respect for actual business people who go to three or four meetings a day. I have no idea how they do it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

explicit archers

I was listening to The Archers the other day, like I can't seem to stop myself doing. Caroline had gone to visit Elizabeth, or it might have been the other way round, and they went into whoever's office it was. I can't remember the next line word for word, but it was near enough to, 'Sorry about the state of my office - it's a bit of a glory hole in here.' I re-wound and checked.

Well. Either someone writing The Archers has heard the expression 'glory hole' and thinks they know what it means, or someone involved in The Archers was having a little fun and trying to slip something through the net, assuming everyone who read it would either like the joke or just take it to mean 'mess'. Maybe loads of Archers listeners will pick up the phrase.*

* What happens when you think you know better than other people, but you don't? Posts like this, that's what. Read the comments.

Friday, 16 September 2011

seriously, just call me nicholas

I went to the Wellcome Foundation's excellent museum the other day. In it is a picture by AC Hemming who I have not been able to find out much about. This isn't it, but the Hemming picture is clearly based on this one. It is of a Welshman called William Price and I have been able to find out about Price, haven't I just.

He was a doctor and lived to 93, and his last words were 'Bring me a glass of champagne'. Seems like the sort of doctor you'd want, except he also wandered around in fox-skin hat and red clothes with green letters embroidered onto them. Why? I am not sure, but he was an arch druid and the things can't have been unconnected.

He thought the world was made by God out of a snake's egg by a supreme father god. It wasn't. When he was in trouble for being a Chartist, which was earlier in his life, he fled to France dressed as a woman. He was still sane then, or sane enough.

He married Gwellian in a druidic ceremony and they called their first child Iesu Grist. He died very young, and Price cremated him on a hill near Llantrisant. The authorities didn't like it (nothing has changed) but he said there was nothing in law to forbid him and he fought a law case, which he won. He also sold three hundred commemorative medals featuring the cosmic egg and the snake that laid it. Win win.

He had another son he called Iesu Grist. He believed this one was the second coming of Jesus Christ. Maybe he thought that about the first one too. Well, the first one wasn't, and the second wasn't either. He also had a girl called Penelopen (he was Welsh, rather than dyslexic).

After William died, his wife married a road inspector, became a Christian and renamed Iesu Grist 'Nicholas'.

There's more, of course. You might think he was a nutter, but 20,000 people went to his funeral. Will you be so lucky?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

whither the antiwhale

Charles Fourier lived from 1772 and 1837, and according to Wikipedia, 'some of Fourier's social and moral views, held to be radical in his lifetime, have become main currents in modern society.' Among the ones which have not are that, as the world became more harmonised:

a Northern Crown* would encricle the Pole, shedding a gentle dew; the sea would become lemonade; six new moons would replace the old solitary sattelite; and new species would emerge, better suited to Harmony: an antilion, a docile and more serviceable beast; an antiwhale, which could be harnessed to ships; an antibear; antibugs; and antirats. We would live to be one hundred and forty-four years old, of which one hundred and twenty years would be spent in the unrestricted pursuit of sexual love.

Yes, I am back on The Worldly Philosophers.

* I am not clear on the nature of this 'Northern Crown'. I bet Fourier wasn't either.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

see me live! see a cartoon rabbit give birth!

Where I tricked you was that the two things are unconnected.

Ian Leslie, who is great which you should already know if you slavishly follow my links, has written about how he doesn't like calling events he does 'gigs'. I second that.

Tall Tales is a comedy night featuring various, including Helen Arney, Emma Beddington, Benet Brandreth, Toby Davies, Gareth Edwards, John Finnemore, Laurence Howarth, Hannah Jones, Susannah Pearse, Mike Westcott and me, and it takes place in Kilburn every two months. Do come. Less regularly, it takes place at festivals like Lewisham's, where it is taking place this Friday. You'll be there if you know what's good for you because Ellis Sareen will be reprising the role of Ernest Hemingway.

And, while I'm housekeeping, you will notice if you follow the Tall Tales link above, or this link, that Listen & Often's rolling upgrade now includes a super banner design from this guy, of which more of which kind of thing will follow. The second Listen & Often podcast, which is a Tall Tales spin-off and called L&O because someone had, is on the site, or on iTunes. Subscribe to it and, only if you like it, rate it. If you give it a bad rating, we have designed a thing you won't understand that will gnaw out the insides of your computer like it's one of those baby wasps that eats the caterpillar its mother laid eggs in.

The third L&O podcast will be available in the next week or so. Toby Davies and I are going to have a conference about setting a specific date for the monthly release. The conference will take ages. It is possible that we decide to make it more frequent. We'd like to, but it takes a certain amount of time to do, even for me, and I don't do the production side.

The rabbit birth scene is in the cartoon above. It's a Polish cartoon about a mole called Krtek, which I was put onto by Scott Pack, the host of Bookswap, an event I am sometimes lucky enough to co-host with him or Marie Phillips, when one of them can't make it because they're at a gig (Scott) or making a Hollywood movie (Marie). It's really quite something.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

pretty in pink

Adam Hayes designed the cover of my book. Interestingly, the version on his website is this one, which was not the one which was sold. I like it.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


In the endless battle to have my favourite name in the NFL, a new contestant:

The Texans signed Mister Alexander, a rookie from Florida State, to the practice squad after waiving him. His parents named him Mister so if anyone shortened his name to MR, it would mean "Mentally Ready".

'Mark Robert' would have been more likely to be shortened to 'MR'. Though people usually use your surname so he would probably be 'MA'. In which case, they could have told him they called him Mark so that if anyone shortened his name, they were shortening it to 'Mentally Alert.'

If they wanted him to think his name was some kind of analogue for 'Mentally Ready', and seeing as though they were prepared to call the kid Mister Alexander, I think they should have called him 'Mentally Ready Alexander'. Though that would have made him sound like a character in a children's book. I could understand their choice if they made it because they liked the name 'Mister' or even if they 'thought it would be funny'.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

oscars and republicans

Over at Grantland, where I bet you don't spend much time, is a report on early films which might be Oscar contenders. A bit like yesterday's post, this is about sausage-making, a story of how something tasty really comes into being. It's fun:

This year, the number of Best Picture nominees — which could be anything from five to 10 — won't be revealed until the contenders are announced in January, and will be in large part determined by the number of first-place votes each movie gets on the nominating ballot. So if you're an Oscar follower, you'll be hearing one number again and again in the next few months: 5 percent. That's the minimum overall portion of first-place votes that a movie needs to get into this year's Best Picture race, which translates to about 250 voters saying, "Yeah, I think that's the best movie of 2011." That means that right now, Best Picture hopefuls are sort of like Republican primary contenders: It doesn't take much to stay in the game, but somebody, somewhere, needs to love you even if a majority of voters think you're stupid.

What's great about this new system is that it will encourage Oscarologists to think of the Academy not as a monolith with a uniform, hidebound aesthetic, but more accurately, as an accidental confederation of wildly disparate and conflicting factions and constituencies, any of which can become the target of niche campaigns.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

one millions pounds!

I hate it when 'journalist' (or 'politician', frankly) is used in popular culture as a term of abuse, as if these people are ipso facto deceitful, mendacious, etc. It's just nonsense.

However, partly because of the fact that everyone wants free stuff so newspapers don't have money to pay for research which takes time, which means staff journalists have to churn out tons of words a day; and partly because it's the easiest thing to do and lots of journalists are lazy (unlike you, I'm sure) a lot of silly press releases get parroted as journalism.

Slate published a great dissection of how this works last week, with respect to NFL contracts. The Philadelphia Eagles, their reformed dog-killer quarterback Michael Vick and Vick's agent all wanted to announce a $100m dollar contract. They colluded in the creation of one, even though it was absolutely impossible that the six-year contract would ever be paid. In a nutshell, the Eagles can cancel well before the end, and also the sixth year (worth $19m in this case) is forfeited if he plays a third of ANY of the first three years. Thus that sixth year is moot, since under those circumstances, Vick would have long since been cut.

Vick will get about $50m, if he plays well, and about £40m, if he doesn't. Anyone can do this research - it takes five minutes - but newspapers don't bother and so the headline gets repeated. It's not a long piece, and it's about the same process that creates cancer scare stories, and a hell of a lot of others.