Wednesday, 27 February 2013

stop the world, i want to get off

I can't keep up with all the tabs I need to clear.

1. Tim Harford on tax: The tax system should be ... a system, with interlocking parts working together to achieve an overall goal. Instead the tax system is a labyrinth for ordinary users, a money factory for the tax advice industry and a stocking full of miscellaneous goodies for successive chancellors of the exchequer

2. The Sweet Valley High industry is really interesting. I loved this interview with Francine Pascal when I heard it on This American Life, and I loved Amy Boesky's piece on ghosting for the series when I read it this week: It seems to me now that part of the compelling power of Sweet Valley High’s vision of identical twins lay not in the obvious assignation between our split selves (id and ego), but instead, in the ways in which writing itself—real writing, difficult, strenuous, hard-won, “under your own name” writing—always stands in an uneasy relationship to its enchanting, seductive, rule-bending twin.

3. Nick Harkaway on conservatism and anti-technologism in mainstream literary fiction ('any fiction which can reasonably expect in the present climate to be discussed extensively on Radio 4'). Especially in light of previous post / comments. Why is Neal Stephenson not taken more seriously?

4. Horrid story about UN causing cholera epidemic and rejecting responsibility.

5. Victor Hugo's paintings are interesting. (Via Isak to the right.)

Monday, 25 February 2013

clearing tabs

1. I want to go here.

2. I think the most compulsive reading experience of my life was Ender's Game, when I was about fifteen. Orson Scott Card seems like an arsehole, annoyingly. I kind of worried about that when I read Seventh Son, which was also utterly compelling, but a bit, you know, religious in a slightly odd way.

3. I agree. I am a fan of Adam Roberts.

4. This documentary looks incredibly interesting. (Tangentially, I watched Searching for Sugar Man last night. I feel quite proprietorial towards it, because I have always known about Rodriguez, because I'm from southern Africa, and it's true - every white liberal family out there had his albums. The movie is brilliant.)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

why london might not be better than new york and paris much longer

White Brits are leaving London, says the BBC. This is awful news. The reason is pretty simple: London is too expensive (there are other factors, but they are minimal comparatively). The only people who are prepared to live in the few crappy bits left, in the conditions you have to live in if you're living in London without a good job, tend to be immigrants.

I simplify, radically. But the thing is, ever since I moved to London I have been quite proud about opining boringly that what makes the city better than Paris, or New York, is the mixed nature of its housing. Go 200 yards from my flat in one direction and you are in a ropy estate. Go 200 yards in another direction and you are in a street of houses only kleptocrats can buy. This is the same all over, and it means it's very hard for bits of London to fall into real disrepair - there's always a few members of the establishment, or children of the establishment, around, and that's enough. Shouldn't be, but it is. This massively annoyed Madonna, which showed how much she knows. She pointed at places she thinks are rough but she has no idea what the Parisian outskirts are like, or the rough parts of NY.

If mixed-housing, cheek-by-jowl living disappears, if we stop rubbing along with other people who have very different lives, if we become a Paris or NY of a pretty-bits-plus-ghettos, then that would be a tragedy. I think. No one much cares what I think, but it's been happening for a few years now, and I hate it.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Oh. Dear. Where. Is. This. Going. To. Lead?

I have no ideas for a professional wrestling novel but then, I didn't know what to do with tuna for a decade. Apart from anything else, writing about wrestling would almost certainly make me look as if I was trying to be hipsterish in some way. And also, whatever you think, I aspire to be taken seriously as a novelist and this is not a subject which would lead naturally to that, which maybe we can blame the critics for but they're busy so why make their lives even harder. There's something going on, though. It has a huge injury rate, and a massive following, and... Oh, I don't know. There's just something going on.

I don't know how anyone can click on any bit of Wikipedia dedicated to pro-wrestling and not get sucked in. I, for instance, wanted to know more about Ben Muth. He is a brilliant analyst of an underanalysed and very complicated bit of American football. For a brief moment, he nearly became a pro wrestler called Brick Shithouse. This was/is for a new wrestling franchise called Wrestling Retribution, which obviously has to develop its own storylines and weird counterfactual universe.

One of the stars is called Das Nihilist. I had to follow that up.* He turns out to be a Hollander with an MA in media who pops up on reality shows like the Dutch version of Last Man Standing. I'm not entirely sure how I got from him to Giant Bernard, but it was worth the journey.

Giant Bernard, aka A-Train, Baldo, Albert, Prince Albert, Lord Tensai and The Mongolian, is a 6'7" Jewish former pro-footballer called Matt Bloom. His degree was in sign language and after a short career with the San Diego Chargers he taught maths and English to children with behavioral problems. He met a wrestling trainer called Killer Kowalski, and left teaching to do a bit of good. He fought as Baldo, entering with a fur cape, which was a gimmick given him by a referee called Freddy Sparta and for a while he fought tag with Justin Credible.

He became a star in Japan, after a bit. He returned to the big time (WWE). One of his signature moves is Asian Mist, which means spitting a spray of liquid, usually green, into your opponent's face, who then acts like it really stings. Maybe it does sometimes.

The problem is, things have fallen flat for Tensai. The fans know he's called Albert and the storyliners haven't used that - they have sort of ignored it and he isn't really working as a heel. Poor Albert. Tensai. Whatever. Intelligent people write this stuff and try to work out how it operates, and are properly fans. It's not sport, but it's not conventional drama, though it also depends on suspension of disbelief.

Maybe you don't think this stuff is fun.

* Signature move: split-legged moonsault. There's a guy on my hockey team who does something like this.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

burn down the ioc

The IOC dropped wrestling from its core sports list, which means it is likely to be out of post-Rio olympiads unless there is a massive groundswell of opinion in its favour. It was nip and tuck. The last three on the list were wrestling, modern pentathlon and hockey. How much could I write about this? A MILLION TONS, basically. In a nutshell, though:

1. Of these three, modern pentathlon obviously should have been cut. There are very few global pentathletes, and you need expensive kit, and all your dreams can be ruined by a stroppy horse, which happened to Mhairi Spence, one of the favourites in London, who ended up backpacking as anonymously as she could to get away from the memory. It's kept because it was the pet of Baron de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympics.

2. Hockey is, some people say, the third most watched sport in the world after football and cricket. Seems a bit unlikely to me, but sod the details, because it's obviously a big global sport, wildly bigger in terms of participation than almost anything else at the Olympics.* Moreover, the Olympics is absolutely the focus of international hockey. Moreover, in practical terms, it's bloody useful having a sport on the site of the Olympics, where people want to go, with dozens of matches and a decent sized crowd. Loads of people get to watch the Olympics because of hockey.

3. Wrestling is one of the basic human contests. Every culture has a type of wrestling. Here is a better round-up of its virtues than I can provide. Among the many great things about it for the Olympics is that barriers to entry are low. It's easy for poor countries to do.

You don't get rich wrestling, or playing hockey. I mean, I imagine Jamie Dwyer has earned a good living, but he's unbelievably amazing and he hasn't earned as good a living as any accountant in London who can avoid the sack. Hockey players and wrestlers (and pentathletes) give up years of their lives to follow a dream that doesn't make them rich. Hockey players and wrestlers do it in sports where lots of other people are prepared to do it too.

Sod the footballers. I am sorry, but sod them. And the golfers, and the tennis players. The Olympics is not for sports where winning isn't the Everest. But mainly sod the IOC, and I don't mean 'sod'. I am sure some sportocrats are ok, but I am not telling anyone anything they don't know when I point out that the IOC is a rag-tag collection of corrupt buffons, each more sexist than the last racist.

The IOC kept pentathlon out of solidarity with a much greater sportocrat. I can actually run with that - the Olympics is nothing without its own history - but wrestling and hockey are two of the most obvious imaginable Olympic sports, and Wushu (possibly incoming), BMX and Taekwondo are not. Nor is synchronised swimming (I am not an enemy of it); nor is rhythmic gymnastics; nor is diving, for that manner.** Three sports that are big in the USA, Russia and China, by the way. I just mention it.

And also... No. No. I have work to do. I must stop.

In sports links:
- Great piece about football's existential crisis (Grantland and Slate's sport podcast have dealt with this in greater depth than most British papers. Wonder why.
- Enjoyed / squirmed through this about performance enhancing drugs and denial. I agree with it. I desperately want to believe in Adrian Peterson.
- (Assuming sexually ambiguous contortionist lion taming to be a sport.)

* The IOC perception is that hockey has links to the British Empire? Get over yourselves, you morons. You are the ones including sevens rugby. And tell it to the Germans, Spanish, Argentinians, Koreans, Dutch and Belgians, anyway. Oh, good grief. Why can't someone put these awful people in a locked room with some angry rats?

** That's three sports with very subjective judging, also. I can bear it, though. I don't like judging instead of scoring, but I get that sometimes it is necessary so that some forms of valid competition (who is the best diver?) can take place. And I get that the continuum is muckier than some scoring-goals-zealots seem to think - refereeing is always subjective.

Monday, 11 February 2013

the long goodbye

What is my dream movie? The answer is:

a) it is good in some combination of the various ways I like movies.
b) when you Wikipedia it, you find a load of great new stuff, preferably relating to dead earls and massive yachts.

Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye didn't do that great when it was released, but I loved it. Elliott Gould is not a Marlowey Marlowe, in some ways, and you can see why the makers producers wanted Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin. But he has Marlowe's essential Marloweness - he's a loser, if you want, but he walks the mean streets neither tarnished nor afraid.

Anyway, enough of that because Terry Lennox, his friend, is played by Jim Bouton. How the hell did I not know that? Jim Bouton! Who wrote Ball Four, which is probably the best book I have ever read about the experience of playing sport.

Anyway, enough of that, because the soaked old author, Roger Wade, is played by Sterling Hayden, who has graced these pages before. And who I learned, just last week, was one of the owners of a massive yacht which had once belonged to the Kaiser, and which had been in Scarborough tunny fishing during The Dazzle period, as future historians will probably know it. The link goes to a biog on a yachty site. Hayden describes himself as a 'A windjammer man, a wandering windship man, and that's what I'll be until the day I die,' and he makes tea so strong a mouse could walk on it.

Anyway, enough of that, because Hayden's wife is played by Nina, Baroness van Pallandt. Nina Moller married Frederik, Baron van Pallandt. As Nina and Frederik they sang things like Little Donkey and Sinnerman. This is from Wikipedia:

They parted in 1969 and divorced in 1975. In the early 1990s, Frederik van Pallandt settled in the Philippines. He joined a major Australian crime syndicate, providing transportation for drug trafficking and, in 1994, was shot dead.

In the early 1970s, Nina van Pallandt was romantically linked to fellow Ibiza resident Clifford Irving. In the 2006 film, The Hoax, about Irving's fake autobiography of Howard Hughes, Van Pallandt is portrayed by Julie Delpy. The film starred Richard Gere, who appeared with Nina Van Pallandt in one of his earliest films, American Gigolo. Nina now lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Wow. I mean: Irving's fake autobiography of Howard Hughes is a great enough story to tangent, but Frederik van Pallandt: he had interesting sort of life.

By the way, the poster is fantastically odd. Sample bits of speech: 'Here's our star Elliott Gould. Elliott plays Philip Marlowe, a hard-bitten, cynical private eye trying to solve an incredible mystery.' 'With so many other actors around, why did you pick me??' 'That's the mystery!'

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

clearing tabs

Letters of Note is relentlessly great. This is Ronald Reagan to a kid whose mum said his room was a disaster area.

A lot of people have tweeted Alex von Tunzelmann on Lisztomania. They were right to.

In honour of yesterday's excellent news for the forces of not being bigoted, this is a very interesting piece about three sixties gay students. For historical reasons, it's the footballer I am most interested in. Out gay sportsmen are jolly rare. Vince Lombardi is the famous NFL head coach. He had a gay brother, says Wikipedia, and he apparently told his coaches: 'I want you to get on McDonald and work on him and work on him - and if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you'll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.' It's not a joyful story, by the way. 

Not sure who tweeted the story about the casting of Pulp Fiction which ends as follows:

Jackson flew out to L.A. for a last-ditch audition with Tarantino. “I sort of was angry, pissed, tired,” Jackson recalls. He was also hungry, so he bought a takeout burger on his way to the studio, only to find nobody there to greet him. “When they came back, a line producer or somebody who was with them said, ‘I love your work, Mr. Fishburne,’” says Jackson. “It was like a slow burn. He doesn’t know who I am? I was kind of like, F*** it. At that point I really didn’t care.” Gladstein remembers Jackson’s audition: “In comes Sam with a burger in his hand and a drink in the other hand and stinking like fast food. Me and Quentin and Lawrence were sitting on the couch, and he walked in and just started sipping that shake and biting that burger and looking at all of us. I was scared s***less. I thought that this guy was going to shoot a gun right through my head. His eyes were popping out of his head. And he just stole the part.” Lawrence Bender adds, “He was the guy you see in the movie. He said, ‘Do you think you’re going to give this part to somebody else? I’m going to blow you motherf****s away.’”

(As before, I sometimes asterisk rude words because I have friends whose companies don't let them look at my blog otherwise.)

Read more here:'

Monday, 4 February 2013


Okaaay. I've had some nice reviews, and done some interviews. I find I cannot easily tweet about them and maintain any form of... I basically can't do it and there it is. But obviously I would like to make it reasonably easy for people to find good reviews of my work, if they should want that, hence the new list on the right. Like an author who has found his own level, I am precisely that shallow.