Tuesday, 31 January 2012


You may have read on the BBC that HMS Dauntless is being posted to the Falklands. There's always a warship there, the navy says, so it's no big deal.

You might not know that HMS Dauntless is affiliated with The City of Newcastle upon Tyne, Royal Grammar School Newcastle, Newcastle United Football Club, The Percy Headley Foundation in Forrest Hall and the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers.

At first I found these things a bit funny, but the more I think about them, the more I quite like them.

Monday, 30 January 2012

hey! it's a short inspiring photo essay!

I'm back from outer space. Literal outer space. One thing I did there was go to WH Smith because I had to catch a train and, as usual, I was fifteen minutes early. I got transfixed by this display:

'Brilliant' seems to be an self-help imprint working somewhere along the lines of 'for Dummies'. People who want self-help don't want to be told they're dummies, though. They're aspirational. They're brilliant.

One title leapt out at me and my co-traveller. We totally understand what confidence is, and presentation, but what is NLP? (If you know, then this IPE is going to be no fun for you. If you don't, read on.) We picked up the book...

We still didn't know what NLP was, but it sure sounded good. We opened the book. First up, the authors' page.

I like the sound of someone who has worked with entrepreneurs and children. I've done that myself and I turned out ok. I'm not a director at Quadrant 1 International, though. That, right there, is the difference NLP can make. I am glad Pat Hutchinson has written another book about NLP, and I am beginning to hope that it mainly says what NLP is. One day I want an enviable record of results.

Anyway, what's next?

Ah, the contents. The impact of words is something I do think about actually. It has had the odd fantastic outcome, but I would like more of those. I wonder what beliefs I could adopt that would accord with NLP? Buddhism? Scientology? Flat-earthism? It's hard to say at this point.

Sorry, facetious. This is just contents. It isn't their job to provide definitions. The next page was the Introduction, which would explain, presumably:

'NLP can change your life'. Well, in a small way, it was already changing mine. But this could be the start of something much bigger - relationships, management skills, success in EVERYTHING and general BRILLIANCE were only a book away. Still, unfortunately, no clue as to nature of NLP. But I had never been more keen. So next page:

Ah, a brief history! Wait? So brief it doesn't even say what NLP is? That is too brief.

And then, finally, 'It does what it says on the tin'. Obviously, given the previous, this is a very ironical chapter title, but we were so grateful that we were finally told 'neurolinguistic programming' that neither of us minded.

After that, there was barely time for me to photograph another page of these bullshit books, surrounding the very brilliant Michael Lewis's The Big Short as if they were fit to share its air, and to be upbraided by a security guard because I was not allowed to take photographs in WH Smith, and for me to say, 'Really?' and for him to say, 'It's company policy,' and for me to speculate, 'I think that's not true, and you're just saying that because you're bored,' before my co-traveller pointed out that we were now on the verge of missing our train. We had to run.

Friday, 20 January 2012


I bloody love the Pirates, by Gideon Defoe. I find it hard to believe that I only heard the other day that Aardman have made them into a movie, but I have no choice.

I also bloody love the paragraph in the back of all good books where they tell the history of the type-face used in the book. Here is the one from the back of The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists:

This book is set in Golombek Bold. Developed in the 1950s by Sergei Golombek as a means of smuggling secrets out of Stalinist Russia, each full stop is really a microdot containing the blueprints of reactor cores, submarines and missile silos. And hidden inside the loop of the letter 'g' is a map showing the true location of where Lenin's brain is kept frozen inside a special refrigerated box!

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Just pointing (via Marbury) at a vg NYT piece on the whole online SOPA/Wikipedia/copyright debacle. What we all want is something telling us what to think, right? Well, as Jaron Lanier says, and as you secretly knew deep down, it's complicated, so tough luck. Lots of people a) want to pretend stealing isn't stealing and b) forget that the web is a massive, expensive piece of infrastructure.

Basically, engineering/films/other stuff has to be paid for somehow, and people who do stuff for money will not want to give it away free. To pay for some of it, Facebook sells info about you. Well...

... it’s not Facebook’s fault! We, the idealists, insisted that information be able to flow freely online, which meant that services relating to information, instead of the information itself, would be the main profit centers. Some businesses do sell content, but that doesn’t address the business side of everyday user-generated content.

The adulation of “free content” inevitably meant that “advertising” would become the biggest business in the open part of the information economy. Furthermore, that system isn’t so welcoming to new competitors. Once networks are established, it is hard to reduce their power. Google’s advertisers, for instance, know what will happen if they move away.

As for the bits of the online economy we all know are illegal (even if we personally believe all information should be free, we also know we do not get to pick and choose our laws), for the nth time, the best thing I have ever read on this, by a writer, is this:

I hate how saying this stuff in public results in friends and close associates of mine getting into terrible wheedling conversations with me about it. They're almost like the debates children have with adults about where naughty behaviour begins. 'You're stealing 6p off me every time.' 'Ah, but if I asked you to lend me 6p...' 'That would be fine.' 'If you gave me 6p...' 'That would be fine.' 'If I found 6p in the street...' 'Yes, yes, all that would be fine. You putting your hand in my pocket and taking 6p from me is what isn't fine!' And as for 'Well, you should be fashionable and technologically savvy enough to just make 6p appear out of thin air. Like I did when I took it out of your pocket. It's hardly my fault you can't do that!' or 'I'm probably going to give you your 6p back, possibly 12p or even 24p!' Well, statistics don't support your highly optimistic view. Statistics say most people who nick my 6p just keep it. And forgive me if I can't feed my family on 'probably'. Most friends of mine at least don't go that far. These conversations are about guilt, about weighing perceived mini-societal approval of theft against a creator's disapproval. But do me a favour: we can still be friends if you've stolen my stuff, just don't seek my approval for having done it. You can't get it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

band camp

I've been meaning to get to this story for ages. It's about the death of a guy at Florida A&M University's marching band. It seems likely that he died as a result of hazing.

These bands are a big thing - they play at the sports events in front of tens of thousands - and they are socially stratified in all kinds of weird and fascinating ways. To join the in-group within the band, and so get playing time, it at least helps to go through various rituals. It's like fraternities, which I'm vaguely used to from movies, and initiations, which I'm vaguely used to from sports teams and the rest.

I've had a lot of fun in my life binge drinking. I also have had a lot of fun at initiation events. I would say they have not, in general, been horrible. Also, in general, the places I have been, non-drinking was one of the options. I have never had to drink pints with dog food in, which some people have. All the same, I absolutely see the bad side of these things, and this story, where to be one of the cool kids in the drum section you submit yourself to a life-threatening beating. Basically, it's a horrible story, almost certainly not typical, and something I recommend you read for yourself. I don't have a fully-formed view on it, which is why it has taken me so long. I want to close the tab.

Friday, 13 January 2012


Mike Tanier's latest NFL column discusses an artfully constructed Atmospheric Documentary about Arian Foster, a terrific, engaging and interesting player with a life-story so unsuited to this hyperbolic treatment that it makes for 'inherently funny' results.

In seventh grade, Foster’s awful, awful teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. Foster said he wanted to play in the NFL, and the teacher asked him to pick something else. Apparently, she should have told him to follow his dreams. In fact, she should have handed him a football, excused him from class, and sent him out to the practice field. His high school freshman football coach did not think he was ready for varsity, and planted him on the bench. Oh, we are awful, awful adults, with our legitimate fears that tweeners who dream of NFL stardom might leave themselves with nothing to fall back on, and that 15-year-olds might seriously injure themselves when playing contact sports against 18-year-olds if they have not developed enough mentally or physically. We are just holding back future subjects of Atmospheric Documentaries with our slavish devotion to common sense and safety ... Luckily for Foster, his father was a college football star in the 1970s, and through the miracle of genetics, Foster grew into a 230-pound running back.

Tanier is, incidentally, an ex-teacher.

Non-sports fans will enjoy the Foster section and also the last section on Ricky Gervais:

Here is a little secret from someone who writes lots of jokes for money: sometimes, we write material that is not that good. The 20th Rex Ryan joke is never as funny as the first two. You tighten the material, you bury the weaker joke between the two strong ones, and you put as much polish on the gag as you can, but sometimes you have to serve a microwave taco of a joke, because it is your job.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

also, she was one of the ten most photographed women of the 60s*

I saw two minutes of The Ballad of Cable Hogue over lunch. This is the first part of the biography of its female lead:

A native of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, Stella Stevens was married at 15, a mother at 16 and divorced at 17. While attending Memphis State College, Stella became interested in acting and modeling. Her film debut was a bit part in Say One for Me, but her appearance in Li'l Abner as Appassionata Von Climax is the one that got her noticed...

'Hot Coffee' is what the locals call it, but it's not a municipal area. She comes from Yazoo City, really. Also, she once opened an art gallery in Twisp.

* Citation needed

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

bad reviews

An ancient book review is doing the rounds on Twitter. For obvious reasons, I hate the idea that reviewers look for books to savage and relish doing so, which some reviewers do. On the other hand, as an ex-reviewer, sometimes you have to say a book is useless. First duty is to your reader, second duty is to the author of the book you are reviewing. Sometimes, those savagings are both fair and fun. If you are scrupulous, reasoned and not malicious, I have no problem with that. This review is a terrific one, and contains the paragraph:

What sets Thackara apart is quite a simple fact. He can't write. After a while, the incredulous reader Thackara to play a game: to open the book at random and try and find a tolerable sentence. Save your effort - you will never win. Thackara is always ahead of you, with his uncanny knack for the not-quite-right word and the yer-what turn of phrase. "You could not see his parents' intricate cultivation, nor that the ball was in the Palazzo Farnese, just after the war." "Justin's friend was not in the courtyard, but the fountain was." "The Hanoverian battery commander, Egbert, was as delighted as a music conductor to show off for his guests behind the embankment wall." These examples are taken entirely at random. It is all at least as bad as this, and some of it is worse to an unspeakable degree.

Intrigued by this, I went to Thackara's Wikipedia page. Whoever is the main editor/writer of the page has given both sides of the story, up to a point. Now, I am not saying that Thackara has own edited his Wikipedia entry. But, in light of the above paragraph, I find the entry's style interesting:

Thackara’s work has received notable extremes of criticism and praise though not in equal measure and sometimes the negative critiques have been commented on. The basis of some disapproval of Thackara is that his language can become inhumanly exalted; his characters’ metaphysical conjectures weigh down the text; and the sprinkling of different languages requires a skill not found in most readers.

The description of the book in question is also, well, read it for yourself.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

body fascist opera

I go to the opera all the time these days. One thing I have noticed is that the jokes about fat sopranos waddling around playing beautiful waifs are well out of date. Relentlessly, the female lead is a pretty girl who can act.

Of course, it's still ok if the guy is a bit of dumpy haystack, often doing that weird non-acting which is a sort of slow stumble at a forty-five degree angle to the direction you are facing.

Obviously, this not the worst example of sexist double standards on earth, but I think it's interesting.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

river of doubt

Theodore Roosevelt had carried the lethal dose of morphine with him for years. He had taken it to the American West, to the African savanna and, finally, down the River of Doubt--a twisting tributary deep in the Amazon rain forest. The glass vial was small enough to tuck into a leather satchel or slip into his luggage, nearly invisible beside his books, his socks and his eight extra pairs of eyeglasses. Easily overlooked, it was perhaps the most private possession of one of the world's most public men.

In December 1913, Roosevelt, then 55, and a small group of men embarked on a journey to explore and map Brazil's River of Doubt. Almost from the start, the expedition went disastrously wrong. Just three months later, as Roosevelt lay on a rusting cot inside his expedition's last remaining tent listening to the roar of the river, he clutched the vial that he had carried for so long. Shivering violently, his body wracked with fever, he concluded that the time had come to take his own life.

I love it when Time Magazine appears in a set of search results. I've never looked on Time's site systematically, but it is full of great things, and they might be written in 1904 or they might, like the above, be written in 2006. It's by Candice Millard, and based on her book about Roosevelt's expedition to the River of Doubt (now the Rio Roosevelt) along with his son Kermit and a Brazilian called Colonel Candido Rondon, whose approach to native tribesmen, who attacked him and killed his dog, was 'Die if you must, but never kill.'

The book's gone on my reading list. My reading list is so long.

(Incidentally, in case you don't know, a tuna was sold in the first market of the year in Tokyo for about £500,000. Once upon a time, when I was new at being obsessed with tuna, people didn't believe me when I quoted £50,000. A tuna cost £500,000. Why? Partly it's because Tokyo restaurants have got into the theatre of paying a fortune for tuna at this first market, but basically it's because they're endangered.)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Listen & Often

Another day, another dollar. Another month, another podcast. It's got some unfestive Christmas news from Kilburn, something spooky from Toby Davies, some things you didn't know you needed to know but do from Gareth Edwards and Marie Phillips on the perils of amateur sex. As a bonus feature, you get descriptions of Toby's peculiar flat and a disquisition on emotional neediness.

If you believe the iTunes reviews, it's great. If you think the same as those guys, write another one. If you don't, not so much. The more people who subscribe on iTunes and rate us highly, the more other people who will find us.