Wednesday, 31 October 2007

We've all been there

She's down.

And he's down:

Fisk on high-horse

Robert Fisk: King Abdullah flies in to lecture us on terrorism - Independent Online Edition; Robert Fisk
The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy. Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we "share values" with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Two pomes

It just so happened, on one day, I clicked on two poems from the same rough corner of the poetic landscape.

The first, which I'm not supposed to reproduce, but which you can read here, Elizabeth Bishop's superficially chirpy One Art, a sort of whistling-past-the-graveyard poem, in which she makes a virtue of a necessity by designating losing as an art. You probably know it by its first line rather than its title:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Then, via John Baker, came the poignant hymn to lost love Le vase brisé by Sully Prudhomme, written in 1865, for which John helpfully provided a source (warning: pop-up infested site) for an English translation, by Pete Crowther. It's not a bad job, though he seems to have bunked off home before finishing the final stanza. Bloody Friday afternoon translations, eh?

The Broken Vase

A fan’s light tap
Was enough to chip
This flower vase
In which the roses
Now are dying.
No sound it made

But a hairline crack
Day after day
Almost unseen
Crept slowly round the glass
And dropp by dropp
The water trickled out

While the vital sap
In the roses’ stems
Grew dry.
Now no-one doubts:
“Don’t touch”, they say,
“It’s broken”.

Often, too, the hand one loves
May lightly brush against the heart
And bruise it.
Slowly then across that heart
A hidden crack will spread
And love’s fair flower perish.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The end of this blog

So right Google has revised its Page Rank erm rankings, and this site has dropped from like ten million eight hundred thousand fourhundredteen and blankety twelve to only a paltry sixteen million thousand and two!

I mean WTF? I've never had a bad word to say about Google in my life. I use all their products/services. I subscribe to Google Food, Google Sleep, Google Sex and Google Leisure in preference to the real thing. My offspring are all Google Kids. When I go outside (brrr!) I get assailed by Google Weather and none eather other.

So why you no show me some-a respect? Why you no invite-a me to yo home? Instead you come to me widda Godfatha this anna Godfatha that ...

Sorry, wrong whinefest.

Have you seen them? Gawd, you'd think anybody GAF about their stupid Page Rank.

Boys, grow up. The only thing the world cares about is, does your site/blog have any importance to me. Well, that's what I care about, of course. Who gives a shit what the rest of the world thinks?

I had to laugh devilishly at the fact that the biggest whipped-cur-like yelps came from guys who do nothing but shadow Google and write about every molecule of every fart Google lets off under the blankets. Google Tutor, Google Blogoscoped, Google Operating System. Tick-birds one and all, and now they're all surprised and offended when the giant beast they've been loyally servicing all this time shakes itself and sends them all sprawling into the dust.

* The title for this post comes from something that's not.

Pet peeve

People who turn on their automatic out-of-office mail responder on evenings and at weekends.

I fucking know you're not working on Sunday. I sent you an email today because it suits me. You don't have to tell me you'll be back in the office on Monday, because I know you work for the EU Commission, and therefore do the very minimum allowed, and sometimes not even that. In fact you're such a dispensable, lowly drone that I'm surprised anybody ever expects any answer from you that isn't, "Yes, sir". So you're not fucking fooling me into thinking there are people pestering you for decisions 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Important people don't turn on their auto-responders. They have their PAs deal with everything. That's how I know you're not important.

So spare me the update on your weekend activities, I didn't ask. I sent you a message for you to read. Just read it and STFU. Over and out.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Jon Stewart on Crossfire redux

The HuffPo has tape of a Q&A with Ben Karlin, who was head writer on the Daily Show for a time until he quit kinda suddenly. He talks about the whole cliche about people getting their news from TDS, and what he says makes sense.

What makes less sense is his take on the famous Jon Stewart Crossfire appearance, when Stewart roasted the two hosts of the show and accused them of "hurting America". (The above link includes the whole Crossfire appearance too.)

According to Karlin, the bit was suggested in an offhand manner by Stewart in a car, and not really prepared, and then they were all really surprised -- and a bit upset -- when it took off the way it did, which you'll doubtless remember.

I don't buy it. I remember the fuss, and I thought at the time and still think that Stewart's position is entirely consistent with his show's approach to stuff. And he didn't just toss off a remark, he came in there with his shtick all prepared, as you can see from the couple of actorly-comedic tricks he pulls, talking about "h-h-hurting us" and so on.

And why not, indeed? He's an intelligent man, so he must have been outraged at the whole Crossfire ethic at some point. And he's a comedian, so why not present his points in a comedic way? None of that is in the least exceptional.

But what is Karlin's message here? What point is he trying to make? Does he have some agenda?

Anyway, happy ending: Crossfire was taken off the air not long after. TDS goes from strength to strength, including a new dedicated website. The good guys won.

Sour Grapes through the Ages

I'm posting all my old published Sour Grapes columns to a blog, over on WordPress just for a change. It'll take a while to get them all up, and then it'll be one a fortnight if that. All this in an effort to avenge my post-count humiliation by you-know-who. Or is it whom?

So if you're looking for something faintly amusing to read, that's over quite quickly, you know where to go.

Sour Grapes through the Ages. Or should that through have a capital T? I can't decide.

Now with occasional links!

PS: the blog address is a clever pun on the name "Sour Grapes". See if you can ypot it!

PPS: Here's a picture of my eye, which shows up at WordPress for reasons I can't fathom remember:

New Left Hipster

Everybody's doing it, and I'm not even American, but ...

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a New Left Hipster, also known as a liberal, a Netroots activist, or a Daily Show fanatic. You believe that if we really want to defend American values, conservatives must be exposed, mocked, and assailed for every fanatical, puritanical, warmongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which they stand.

I think the Daily Show thing is the most European characteristic of the evaluation. That kind of approach to politics has a veeery long history here, while in the US it's not been so much of a thing. Stewart is the latest in a long line going back to the pamphleteers, Addison and Steele, Swift, Hogarth, Pope etc. I take it as a sign of political maturity. America's desire to cohere as a nation has prevented it in the past from laughing at itself. Colbert standing for President, meanwhile, is a re-run of Coluche in the French presidentials of 1981 (qv). Nothing new under the sun.

h/t UV from JJ

For Jefe

From the aforementioned moustache blog:

In fact, a man without a mustache is no longer a man. I do not care much for a beard; it almost always makes a man look untidy. But a mustache, oh, a mustache is indispensable to a manly face. No, you would never believe how these little hair bristles on the upper lip are a relief to the eye and good in other ways. I have thought over the matter a great deal but hardly dare to write my thoughts. Words look so different on paper and the subject is so difficult, so delicate, so dangerous that it requires infinite skill to tackle it.

The Mustache Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
NB: "Good in other ways". Fnaar-fnaar. Earlier she writes: "You cannot imagine, my dear Lucy, how it changes him! I no longer recognize him-by day or at night." I think we all understand what that means, hmm?

Moustache blog

Only moustaches. Not other sorts of facial hair. Are you mad?

And only from the 19th century, goes without saying.

Bring the tumbrils round to the front

Just in case you're in Europe when the Revolution comes, and you're short of a few ideas of who to put up against the wall, here are 73 pages of likely candidates. The 2007 Capitalist Ball organised by the Centre for the New Europe, who claim to adhere to the liberal tradition of Adam Smith etc, but don't they all. I'm not sure how objectionable their policies are, in specific terms, but they're doubtless up to no good. And they look like they need a decent dose of Terror.

So let it be.

Watch with your eyes covered

This is, I hope, the creepiest thing you will ever see. It's science, though, so that makes it all right.

I don't know if it's SFW or not. It's so far out there the terms don't seem to apply.

A century ago

That last post was the 100th this month, trailing Miz UV by hours'n'hours. Gotta admit, what's lacking in quality is made up for in quantity.

Still and all, back in May I got to 134. No way that's going to happen in October.

Roll on November!

Don't panic, grab the Gucci

Lifehacker, clearly with the California situation in mind, asked what people would pack if they had half an hour until an evacuation.

Check out the comments, most of which are nuts. These people will be fleeing for their lives with more stuff than the Joads took on their trip from Oklahoma. Obviously they'd spend the half-hour dreaming up reasons for carrying as much as possible -- stuff like a cordless drill, screwdrivers and other tools. What for?

An evident sense of lack of panic among the readers of Lifehacker.

The best of all: "Luggage. Chances are, you are going to be moving quite a bit in the near future. Good luggage is indispensible." Obviously a lesson all those shabby Darfur people could take to heart. I mean, have you seen those people?

Lifehacker dudes head for the hills, yesterday

Things with faces

There are blogs out there about simply everything.

As the fuggers show

F*cks Per Minute

Friday, 26 October 2007

Soldiers prefer not to kill

Do You Mind?: Book Review - On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society
What was happening? Soldiers were resorting to a number of options, anything that meant that they didn't have to kill. Some fell back to support positions. A few faked injury or ran away. Many fired into the air. In Civil War times, conscience-stricken soldiers also had the option of pretending to fire - that is, loading up their muskets, mimicking the movements of a firing soldier next to them, and pretending to recoil. These soldiers would then be carrying loaded weapons or would have loaded their weapons multiple times.

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It was only a matter of time

THE legal age for masturbation is to be raised to 18 as part of a series of measures aimed at tackling binge-wanking among teenage boys.

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Deferred gratification

Simply Red are to split up. You will never never never give a shit, I expect.

Still, it's not going to happen right away. The split will come in 2009, so even their end will be tepid and unexciting.

The break-up comes, says potato-faced ginger tosser Mick Fucknall, because he wants to pursue a solo career, as if anybody was ever aware of any of the other members of the band anyway. Here's the money quote: "I've just recorded an album that is a tribute to Bobby Bland".

Imagine. Wonder what gave him that idea.

Mick Hucknall pictured yesterday

Photo by the ever-amusing Uncyclopedia

Pepys understood

Surprise winner of Pepys memorial award | News | Guardian Unlimited Books
A history that does not mention Britain's great diarist once has won the Samuel Pepys award. The Noble Revolt by John Adamson, a study of the political crisis that led to the overthrow of King Charles I, was awarded the prize, which is given for a book that makes the greatest contribution to the understanding of Samuel Pepys, his times or his contemporaries.
Did the clown who wrote this (Michelle Pauli) not read all the way to her own first paragraph. There's no need for the prize-winning book to mention Pepys. And it's perfectly clear to any fule that a book on the overthrow of Charles I is likely to improve understanding of Pepys' times, as well as his contemporaries.

So where exactly is the "surprise"?

Coming up next: the Turner prize goes to an artist who's never painted a seascape. And the Nobel Prize goes to an economist who wouldn't know a stick of dynamite if you shoved it up his arse.

Comment breakthrough

So Blogger has now got this thing where if you comment on someone's blog, you can tick a box to have follow-up comments emailed to you.

Who asked for this? Some other bloggationary systems have something similar, and it's a PITA. Comments are not threaded, so you don't get replies to your comment, which is what you need, you get all the comments posted by every lame-ass TD&H who happens along the Interlectric HighRoad.

They should stop futzing with Blogger now. It's fine. Leave it be. It doesn't need to get better.


Seems to me this is pretty old, but 'tis the season, and so we bring you:

The skeletal systems of famous cartoon characters, like Betty Boop, Charlie Brown, Barney Rubble and GotoHello Kitty.

What kind of a freak, etc?

Now! Yes you! Buy Embarrassing Stuff!

Do all your most sensitive shopping online.

How fortunate we are. Our forefathers had to go into a shop and be seen purchasing stuff like:

Menopause products (why do they call it a pause when it's actually a complete stop?)
Hemoo Haemho Piles products
A vibrotasticator for massages of course
A douche bag (see: O'Reilly, Bill, synonynonyms for)
Small size condoms
Things for yeast infections
Creams for shaving the vajaja


I've embarrassed myself now, with some of the things I just typed. I have to go and put an ice-pack on my blushes. Excuse me.

Cool Halloween head

I wish you good luck and a steady hand.

ETA: source

Short shameful confession

Sometimes when I am thinking about large numbers, or complex numbers, or tricky geometric issues like the shape of the pieces of leather that make up a football, I have something approaching a panic attack, dizziness, nausea and acute anxiety because my mind cannot encompass the problem. I don't have this when contemplating other matters at all.

When I was a child, my most awful recurring nightmare always involved me being obliged to count the number of tiny units in a vast area, like a mosaic the size of a football pitch, for example. I would get so far and then have to start again because I lost track.

Actually reading this back, it doesn't seem so shameful at all. But them's the rules, folks.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Lethal injection might not be lethal enough

ABC News: Killer Granted Stay of Execution in Ala. Slaying
Execution of Ill Ala. Inmate Blocked
Federal Appeals Court Blocks Ala. Lethal Injection of Terminally Ill Inmate

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Happy ending

One of the happiest news stories of the month was the arrest of this guy:

who thought he was being all clever by digitally altering his picture (left) little realising that you can digitally de-alter the picture by running the same feature in the opposite direction (result, right).

I rejoice to imagine the fucking leap his heart must have made when he saw his own filthy mush in the papers worldwide, after somebody at Interpol, having been like "Hmm, I wonder if you could do this ...?" then released the pictures. Of course it's always an occasion for celebration when a dirty sex tourist abuser is arrested, but this one is especially delicious because he thought he had got it all sorted. He put the anonymised photos out himself, obviously thinking, I'm on top of this, nobody can ever touch me with my Photoshop skills.


He's now been arrested. Not such a fucking arrogant look in your beady little eyes now, eh Christopher?

Perhaps you're reflecting on the fact that being brutally molested when you're hardly big and strong enough to do anything about it has now become a two-way street. That it isn't just a problem for little boys any more.

Have a nice time in prison, Christopher Neil.

Here's the good news from Interpol itself:

Christopher Paul NEIL, a 32-year-old Canadian man identified as being the person in a series of child sex abuse photos posted on the Internet, was arrested by Royal Thai Police on 19 October.

Sour Grapes says: Jolly good show, chaps. Well done.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

From the archives

The History of Medicine is Medicine itself; permeating every specialty, binding together all the many and varied branches and forming a foundation and basis for the entire body of medical education. Only when this important fact is forgotten does the History of Medicine become lightly esteemed, as an occupation for elderly doctors, an array of curious and amusing facts, now absurd and obsolete; an account of the follies of our medical forefathers; at best, a story of some great discoveries and dramatic episodes, at worst, a new specialty, developed by a small band of people known as medical historians, with an outlook academic, rather than clinical, and forging no close link with modern medical practice.
From the Presidential Address to the Section of History of Medicine, Royal Society of Medicine, London, on 6 February 1957, by Dr. Douglas Guthrie, editor of the journal Medical History, which published it in October that year. (Link to PDF)

I wonder what Dr Guthrie would have thought of the idea that 50 years after publishing Whither Medical History?, it would be the subject of a post by a blogger from Brussels. We'll never know. But his point about medical history is about to become even more true than he could have imagined, as his journal is now open to the public, as yet another example of the media which are opening their archives up on the Internet to whomever is interested.

Here's the link. It's a treasure-trove for anyone even mildly interested in humankind. Just look at the contents of the latest issue alone:

“This Racial Menace”?: Public Health, Venereal Disease and Maori in New Zealand, 1930–1947

John Locke on Respiration

George S V Wills and the Westminster College of Chemistry and Pharmacy: A Chapter in Pharmaceutical Education in Great Britain

Texts and Documents
The Benefits of Psychological Surgery: John Scoffern's Satire on Isaac Baker Brown

News, Notes, and Queries
News, Notes, and Queries

Essay Review
Towards a History of Medical Missions

Book Reviews
Book Review: The Renaissance hospital: healing the body and healing the soul
Guenter B Risse

Book Review: Chemistry, pharmacy and revolution in France, 1777–1809
Charles C Gillispie

Book Review: Clinical psychiatry in imperial Germany: a history of psychiatric practice
Ian Dowbiggin

Book Review: Expunging variola: the control and eradication of smallpox in India, 1947–1977
Margaret Jones

Book Review: The practice of reform in health, medicine, and science, 1500–2000: essays for Charles Webster
Keir Waddington

Book Review: Aboriginal health in Canada: historical, cultural, and epidemiological perspectives
Maureen Lux

Book Review: La santé s'affiche au Québec: plus de 100 ans d'histoire
Roger Cooter

Book Review: Doctors at sea: emigrant voyages to colonial Australia
Sally Sheard

Book Review: Quackery and commerce in seventeenth-century London: the proprietary medicine business of Anthony Daffy, Medical History
Renate Wilson

Book Review: The worst of evils: the fight against pain
Richard Barnett

Book Review: Les médecins et la mort: XIXe–XXesiècle
Christiane Sinding

Book Review: Chemistry, medicine, and crime: Mateu J. B. Orfila (1787–1853) and his times
Jonathan Simon

Book Review: Krankheit und Heilkunde im Mittelalter
Kathleen Walker-Meikle

Book Review: Opera medica omnia
Peter Murray Jones

Book Review: Body counts: medical quantification in historical and sociological perspectives/ La Quantification médicale, perspectives historiques et sociologiques
Graham Mooney

Book Review: Health and society in twentieth-century Wales
Anne Borsay

Book Review: Illegitimacy in Britain, 1700–1920
Gayle Davis

Book Review: Die Entstehung der Geburtsklinik in Deutschland 1751–1850: Göttingen, Kassel, Braunschweig
Robert Jütte

Book Review: Who shall take care of our sick? Roman Catholic sisters and the development of Catholic hospitals in New York City
Andrea Tanner

Book Review: Children's health issues in historical perspective
Astri Andresen

Basses more manly -- proven by science

Deep-voiced men father more children - being-human - 25 September 2007 - New Scientist
In evolutionary terms, Barry White's rich, bass voice may hit all the right notes – a new study among modern-day hunter-gatherers shows that men with the deepest voices produce significantly more children than their more falsetto counterparts. The finding helps explain why men have evolved lower voices than women, say researchers.

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Morning Editorial

I think it's pretty shabby that the Post Secret guy is making lots of money from other people's submissions, not to mention their guilt and grief. He boasts about his site being the largest without ads, but if you're milking your visitors already the way he is, who needs ads?

More Morning Editorials coming soon!

New CIA logo

The CIA has awarded itself a new Terrorist Buster logo.

Are you feeling safer yet?

Precocious brilliance

Interesting TV programme about a gifted boy, a musical prodigy, the neuroscience of music and such matters. Not to mention: it's narrated by Gina McKee.

The ascent of Man

Evolution for Dummies.

A justification for eating horsemeat

It stops them from singing.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Preparation for NaNo

A list of handy words.

You never know when you may need some.

A title generator.

All dull above the towers

So lustful behind the land
We command transparent sounds near the grave
Damn! The Knight is born
Evil and misty above the sky
I feel misty eggs among the dreamscape
Be wary! The devil must continue
All dull above the towers
We entice scary sirens in the earth
Awake! The insanity keeps going
backlit tired
saying goodbye
a backward glance
To what end
the victim
chase his dream
and never catch up
A poetry generator.

The last one's not much use for NaNo, admittedly.

Worst. Olympic. Event.


Coming up: Teach yourself appendendomectomy

Why not turn off that Interblog pr0n and take a surgical suture tutorial instead?

Whaddaya mean, you'll never need to do it? What are you planning on leaving the wound lying wide open? Boy, you'll only do a thing like that once before seeing the error of your ways.

Now! At last!

Now! At last! You too can have a book published! According to Brian Sacks' useful ad!

Sacks' blog Banterist is pretty funny if a little thin. He's obviously a talented dude. So yoy does he have to enable that slimeball motherfucker Glenn Beck?

I don't know.

Facebook arse

I got this picture from Charlie Arthur's blog. He doesn't say where he got it from. It does sort of sum up Facebook pretty accurately.

click to enlargify, which you'll need to do to read it

Young people today

The Mindset List from Beloit College, something produced every year just to remind us how we live on a different planet from young people. I love the chill it gives me down my spine. The first point is most poignant: I remember being on the edge of my seat all the time this was happening, since I'd visited Berlin only two years before.

1. What Berlin wall?

That's right. Kids going to college this year are too young to remember.

Snarfed from Sal Towse's brilliantly-named tumblelog, Badgers! Foxes! Rabbits!.

Every Playboy centerfold

From the site:

From a broader series begun in 1997, the photographs in this suite are the result of mean averaging every Playboy centerfold foldout for the four decades beginning Jan. 1960 through Dec. 1999. This tracks, en masse, the evolution of this form of portraiture.
Sour Grapes says: Be still my heart.

Very SFW.

My humps my humps

With a backing group like this, who needs a lead singer?

Monday, 22 October 2007

So farewell, then, Coren

I'm reproducing in full the obituary of Alan Coren published in the Independent, because it's just so good. I remember reading Coren every week, and being constantly amazed at how he could turn his hand to so many different kinds of daft comic writing week after week after week. Miles Kington does it, too, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Coincidentally, I've been reading the latest mammoth poastie by Stephen Fry at his blog where he talks about writing columns. Two things struck a personal chord:

I wrote newspaper columns through much of the eighties and nineties, and enjoyed it greatly. But for all kinds of reasons I was more than happy to retire. Feeling stale, tiring of the deadlines, hating myself for manufacturing cheap, easy rants – the line of least resistance when you rack your brains for weekly copy is to think of something you hate. That way lies the death of the soul IM(not so)HO. All those feature columns with titles like J’Accuse, Bile, Spleen and so on. Nasty. Won’t Do. It all came to a head when an editor called me up and asked if I could do a “1200 word hate piece on Christmas”. Not a blush, not a murmur of apology. Time to reach for my hat and streak for the horizon, I felt.
My own column is called Sour Grapes. It's people like me he's on about. I can't remember what the other thing was. Ah yes, it's from the obit:
I also remember once he said to me, soulfully and seriously: "When I was writing my piece last night, my wife Anne came and looked over my shoulder as I typed away, and she suddenly said, halfway through reading it: 'When you are 60 years old, are you still going to be writing little pieces about men called Norman Foskett?', and my blood ran cold."
Anyway, here's a piccie, then the obituary.

Alan Coren
Writer, 'Punch' editor and veteran of Radio 4's 'The News Quiz' billed as the funniest man in Britain
The Independent
20 October 2007

Alan Coren arrived at the Punch office one morning to tell us proudly that he had been stopped by the police while driving through St James's Park the evening before. "Someone seems to have tried to take a pot-shot at Princess Anne on her way home to Buck House," he said, and they were stopping everyone just in case. I must have made some flippant remark to the officer who questioned us, because he gave me an odd look and said, "Some kind of humorist are we, sir?" Which left me with a problem, because I was actually some kind of humorist, and I could have legitimately expanded there and then on my historic role as editor of Punch. But some kind of instinct told me that that wasn't what he wanted to hear, so I said, sorry, no, I wasn't.

It was one of Alan Coren's problems that he was not just some kind of humorist, but was always billed as Britain's funniest living writer. That's a horrible thing to say about anyone. For a start, you have to try to live up to it. For another thing, you don't know what kind of funny writer you are meant to be. A Richard Curtis or Paul Abbott, who does funny screenplays? An Eddie Izzard or Jeremy Hardy, who writes and performs his own stand-up material? A Ben Elton or Stephen Fry, super-star handyman of the humour world, prepared to turn out day or night for a small fortune to fix things and get the funny bone working again . . . ?

Actually, Coren came from a tradition older than all of those, a pre-television and pre-film tradition, even pre-radio, that of the jobbing columnist, the humorous feuilletoniste, the man who has a space on a page and fills it regularly. It's a tradition that goes back through Auberon Waugh, Peter Simple and Timothy Shy to Thurber, Benchley, and Weedon and Grossmith. Every humorous writer has his own historical hero to look back to. With Richard Ingrams, for instance, it's "Beachcomber". With Alan Coren it was S.J. Perelman, the sharp, Jewish-American word-polisher who wrote razor-sharp pieces for The New Yorker and worked on one or two Marx Brothers scripts.

Alan Coren was Jewish, too. The week he became editor of Punch there was a huge profile of him in The Jewish Chronicle. Coren was somewhat embarrassed. "This is ridiculous," he said, waving it at us. "I haven't been Jewish for years!" But being Jewish was probably less of an advantage to him in Britain than it would have been in America, where being comic and being Jewish are much closer connected, where men like Woody Allen and Jackie Mason use Jewish culture as their habitual material, and where it was impossible to even think of becoming one of the Marx Brothers if you weren't already Jewish.

Alan Coren grew up in Barnet, to the north of London, and went to school by bus every day past a bike shop which had a big notice saying: "Get Off That Bus - It will Never Be Yours! Sixpence a Day Will Buy You a Bicycle!" (It's odd what you remember from other people's childhoods.) Enormously bright from an early age, Alan did even better than get a bike - he went to grammar school, won a scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford, and proceeded from there with a degree in English to Yale and Berkeley, California.

About to sink into the lush swamplands of American academia, he was rescued by the offer of a job on Punch magazine in 1963, where he was to stay for the next 24 years - the last 10 as editor - and make his name as the funniest man writing in Britain today.

A lot of his best stuff was topically inspired, and no doubt makes less sense today than it did then. One of his best pieces was inspired by a report that archaeologists had found fossil remains of the largest flying mammal, a kind of monster-pterodactyl. This was in the heyday of Concorde's controversial construction, and Coren retold the story of the flying fossil in terms of a Stone Age Anglo-French collaboration. Very funny. Would it be as funny now? Hmmmm . . .

In any case, it was perhaps not as a satirist that he was at his best but on those occasions when he let his fancy off its rein. For instance, in his room at Punch he had a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, each volume bearing on the spine the name of the first and last entry in the volume, so that instead of there being a volume called simply N-O, it was labelled Napoleon-Ozmolysis. For years Coren devised a set of fancies in which these were the title of individual books and finally wrote a superb piece with résumés of each one. ("Napoleon Ozmolysis", for instance, turned out to be the life of a legendary billionaire Greek ship-owner.) As funny now as then.

In the mid-1970s he wrote for Punch a series of reports purporting to be written by Idi Amin, in an imitation black dialect which makes us cringe today, and made Coren too in later years, though as they came out in two volumes of The Collected Bulletins of Idi Amin, they clearly went down well at the time. Fastidious taste was never Coren's strong point, and quite right too.

As a team member from 1975 on Radio 4's The News Quiz, he was always outrageously anti-German. He had a theory that the books which sold best in Britain dealt with sports, pets, and the Second World War, so one of his collections was called Golfing for Cats (1975) and had a huge swastika on the front. A couple of days before the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I heard Coren saying on The News Quiz, in answer to a question on her and land-mines, "I don't know much about Princess Diana or about land-mines, but I do know that you poke either at your peril," which had been deleted from the programme by the dear old BBC by the time it was repeated . . .

There were, perhaps, two Alan Corens. One was the man who wrote the pieces and one was the man who talked. When he wrote, he was brilliant, if sometimes too conscious of being known as the funniest writer in Britain; the vocabulary would from time to time get clotted, and the prose would trip over its own jokes. When he talked off the cuff, he relaxed more and was as quick and inventive as anyone on the professional comedy circuit; in his 30 years' tenure on The News Quiz, it is hard to think of any young stand-up comedian who came on the show and outdrew him.

Funny things he said? I can remember a few. I was once in a pub near Christmas time with him when he suddenly said: "You see the man over there with the gum boils and the galley proofs of his next year's diary?" and I looked round, and sure enough, there was a man with red cheeks and paper cascading down his chest, and that was 30 years ago, and funny or not, I still remember it, so I think it was.

I remember once when he was chairing the Punch Lunch, and Princess Margaret - that day's chief guest - turned and whispered to him discreetly. Coren nodded and banged the table. "This is a bit irregular," he said to all 20 of us at the table, "but Princess Margaret is dying for a fag, so we're going to have the loyal toast before the main course for a change. Well, fair enough - it's her sister."

I remember once he went to see a film called Camelot, a terrible musical version of the Arthurian legend, and 20 minutes from the end he stood up in the crowded cinema, said loudly, " 'Ere, I've seen this before!" and walked out. I remember once we were playing our regular game of indoor cricket with a tennis ball in the big office at Punch ("Carpet's taking spin this morning," he used to say sagely, as he prodded the floor before taking guard) and, as I bowled, he savagely pulled the ball to the wall for a boundary, hitting a pile of magazines and bringing them to the ground.

"Spot of trouble among the Spectators, I see," he remarked.

Funny? Damned quick, anyway.

I also remember once he said to me, soulfully and seriously: "When I was writing my piece last night, my wife Anne came and looked over my shoulder as I typed away, and she suddenly said, halfway through reading it: 'When you are 60 years old, are you still going to be writing little pieces about men called Norman Foskett?', and my blood ran cold."

Because of course that is what he would be doing until the day he died. He did it because that is what he did. He did it for Punch and the Mail and The Times. He passed 60 and nearly made 70 and was still doing it. He may have been editor of Punch, and editor of The Listener (ah, where are they both now?) and he may have been Tweedledum to Sandi Toksvig's Tweedledee on Call My Bluff, but what he did was write pieces, and that is how he will be remembered.

I shall also remember him for the day he tried to swim the English Channel and never quite got out of Dover harbour, but that is another story, for another time.

Miles Kington

Alan Coren, writer and broadcaster: born Barnet, Hertfordshire 27 June 1938; Assistant Editor, Punch 1963-66, Literary Editor 1966-69, Deputy Editor 1969-77, Editor 1978-87; TV Critic, The Times 1971-78, columnist 1988-2007; columnist, Daily Mail 1972-76, Mail on Sunday 1984-92; panellist, The News Quiz 1975-2007; Editor, The Listener 1988-89; columnist, Sunday Express 1992-96; married 1963 Anne Kasriel (one son, one daughter); died London 18 October 2007.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Question for Rowling

Okay right if Dumbledore was gay, right, how come he was played by Richard Harris right, and then by that other guy right, wossname, Gambon, and not by, for example, Ian McKellen, who is in fact gay as a threepenny-bob row of tents?

Surely Dumblebore's gayness occured to Joanna while she was writing him, which is prolly why she omitted every single slight hint he might be gay, obviously to protect him from Muggle wrath. Because obviously Muggles have no trouble with wizard professors, so long as they're straight.

It couldn't be that Joanna has noticed sales slipping, and wants to gee them up a bit, could it?

Does she not have enough money yet? Perhaps she could let us know when the billions have reached the required level. Something we're still waiting for Bill Gates to do, I may add.


Does anyone feel like designing a publicity campaign for a concert of American music? Totally non-paying, but I'm looking for something very stars and stripes.

Something for peeps to play with, perhaps.

Healthwatch: Tom Cruise

Short people at more risk of whatnot.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The GMail that Ate the Intertubes

GMail capacity is now up to over four mega-kilo-googla-bytes. Citizens are advised to go about their business normally. Or in the case of tycoons, businesses.

Stand by for further statements with numbers in them.


So okay so now Meryl Streep goes on The Daily Show. Is that endorsement or what? Does Stewart even need endorsement any more? Can he not stand for President? WTF not?

As Sal already mentioned, the entire Daily Show output, into the archives and up to today, is now online, and you can link to it, embed it and do what you want. The ads are much less obstrusive than they used to be on Comedy Central.

Alan Coren

First Linda Smith, now Alan Coren, the Sage of Cricklewood. I first knew him as editor of Punch, and author of the first piece in the mag, every week. Week after week. You need to be great in those conditions.

Fucking death. Fucking sting. Fucking victory.

Brontë reading group

Verdict: better than anyone had any right to expect. No not just becoz I wuz there with my interlec.

I'll fill in more over the weekend, if I can, but this one coming is going to be the definition of "snowed under".

Friday, 19 October 2007

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Not for playing around with

Go here and play Google Image Labeler, and I guarantee your life will be ruined, all your plans will come to nothing, your partner and your family will ultimately abandon you, you'll lose your job and you'll die prematurely, alone and in great sorrow.

On the other hand, it is bloody good fun. I'm on 3320.

Only thing is, you don't get to choose who to play against. Some people are reaaaally dumb.


Endless LOLcat fun, not, with a new image generated at a click of the Refresh button, thanks to the boffins at Carnegie Mellon University, like they had nothing better to do.

The results are generally crap, even by the low standards of LOLcats. And I can't imagine snarfing images off Flickr and generating some SMS text was a major compsci breakthrough.

Maybe we should call them WTFcats.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Reading matter

A long New Yorker article about David Simon, creator of The Wire, who sounds like a bit of a dick, which is probably what it takes to get on these days. Still, his stuff is outstanding.

And an article by Bill Watterson, father of Calvin and Hobbes, about a bio of Charles Schultz and his personal demons. He (Schultz) doesn't much sound like somebody you'd care to be around, either. He likens Schultz to Schroeder, which seems a little unfair on Schroeder.

Why must these people constantly reinforce the old stereotype about the creative artist being an insufferable prick? It's unjust to so many people. What about those of us who are insufferable pricks and not creative at all? Don't we have rights too?

PS: Speaking of reading matter, the reason I'm not keeping my end up here the last couple of days is because I have to finish The Professor for my reading group session with the Brontë Society on Friday. But don't worry, you're not missing much.

Google on Google

This is pretty funny: the Google search page if it were SEO'd for Google itself.

It's utterly horrible, as you can see. You'll doubtless recognise similarities to very many pages you've seen that were all wrong, but you didn't quite know why. That's the answer: they've been SEO'd to death.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Excellent music dude blog, not too arsey

Pulitzer at think denk
And then, it hit me like a further lightning bolt: the “true theme” only emerges when Beethoven does the subject in the INVERSION … and isn’t “inversion,” sexually speaking, the sidesplitting eternal joke of Jack Ritter’s presence in the apartment with the two buxom babes? How could even a great genius like Beethoven know what the Three’s Company theme and subject matter would be, one hundred and fifty years before it was even a twinkle in the eye of a television producer? It was as if—and this seemed hard to believe—Beethoven had written the entire Sonata just to bring the theme of Three’s Company into life …

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Taking Larry the Cable Asshole to task

Bob and David
In response to the Rolling Stone article, but first let me say this; you are very mistaken if you think that I don't know your audience. Hell, I could've been heckled by the parents of some of the very people that come see you now. I grew up in Roswell, Georgia (near the Funny Bone and not far from The Punch Line). The very first time I went on stage was at The Punch Line in Sandy Springs in 1982 when I was 17. I cut my teeth in the south and my first road gigs ever were in Augusta, Charleston, Baton Rouge, and Louisville. I remember them very well, specifically because of the audience. I remember thinking (occasionally, not all the time) "what a bunch of dumb redneck, easily entertained, ignorant motherfuckers. I can't believe the stupid shit they think is funny." So, yes, I do know your audience, and they suck. And they're simple. And please don't mistake this as coming from a place of bitterness because I didn't "make it" there or, I'm not as successful as you because that's not it at all. Since I was a kid I've always been a little over sensitive to the glorification and rewarding of dumb. The "salt of the earth, regular, every day folk" (or lowest common denominator) who see the world, and the people like me in it, as on some sort of secular mission to take away their flag lapels and plaster-of-paris jesus television adornments strike me as childishly paranoid.

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Monday, 15 October 2007

The Not-So-Long Goodbye

Death is a bitch. On the one hand, you have a boner that just won't quit. On the other hand, you look like shit, bad skin, British teeth, dirty clothes. You can't have it both ways.

That, at least, is what we hear about death from the characters in Babylon Fields, a zombie crime drama series made for CBS but apparently not picked up after the pilot. Extracts of which you can see here.

I'd have thought they were onto a winner. With the exception of Ray Stevenson's ropey American accent (he was the sidekick legionary Titus Pullo in Rome) it looks perfectly acceptable to me, and it goes without saying, ten times better than most of the shit that's on.

Never mind. Maybe they'll release a DVD. Or maybe with all this buzz Babylon Fields will rise from the dead
for real -- geddit?

In praise of bad language

What the F***? Why We Curse
The strange emotional power of swearing--as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures-- suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain.

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Sunday, 14 October 2007

Block, paper, scissors

Mind Hacks: Dissolve Mental Blocks By Thinking Metaphorically - Lifehacker
Sometimes, the solution to becoming more creative can't be arrived at by traditional thinking. Writing pro Copyblogger suggests that we try to frame ideas in a metaphorical way instead in order to see angles we might not have come up with otherwise. Why? Because logical thinking tends to follow a linear pattern, while metaphors are symbolic—which can potentially unlock our creative side.
That's all very well, but isn't "mental block" a metaphor?

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Memories may be beautiful and yet

GMail has gone up to 3Gb.

Stay tuned for further developments as they happen.

From the Sour archives of the Grapes

I've been arranging my archived Sour Grapes columns into folders marked Used, Unused and You Musta Been Fuggn DRUNK, and I came across this little gem, written coincidentally on this very day, in September 2004. Enjoy:


What well-known word means "Lord's Grace" or alternatively, "Yahweh is gracious"? That's right: the word is Ian and it's my first name. You couldn't ask for a better one – a solid two syllables contained in merely three letters (I discount those affected aesthetic over-achievers with their Rococo variations like Iain as making too much of a good thing). Everyone can pronounce it, which is important in an international milieu like what we live in. Great Ians in history include Ian Hunter out of Mott the Hoople and Ian Anderson out of Jethro Tull.

You could say the same about Emma, which happens to be the most popular girl's name in Belgium, according to a table produced by the National Insitutite for Statistics last week. Emma, whose name means "whole" or "universal", was the mother of Edward the Confessor as well as the eponym of the popular Jane Austen novel, but it's taken her some time to jump to the top of the list, where she stood in fourth place two years ago. Famous Emmas include actress Emma Thompson and Baby Spice.

Emma is top, too, in Flanders, but only sixth in Brussels, where Sarah rules the roost. Sarah was, of course, the wife of Abraham in the Old Testament. Interestingly, she was originally called Sarai, until God told Abraham (in Genesis 17, 15) to change it to Sarah. He didn't explain His reasons, but then that's God for you. Outside the Bible, the name is redolent of great examples from showbiz such as Sarah Bernhardt, who only had one leg and once played Hamlet, or Sarah Brightman, formerly Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber.

They're a religious lot in Brussels when it comes to naming their sprogs: the top-ranked boy's name is Mohamed, the name of the Prophet of Islam. In second place comes Adam – the name with the longest pedigree of all, from the Hebrew for "man" with a clever pun on "adamah" meaning "earth". Other famous Adams were Adam Ant, a dandy highwayman, and Adam 12, a TV series of the early 70s.

Thomas takes the first slot nationwide for boys with 721 votes, maintaining his long-established lead over Lucas. Thomas is himself a Biblical figure: the doubting disciple nobody had heard of up to his first appearance in John 20, after which he was never heard of again. He's thought to have founded the Coptic religion, though. His name lived on in such illustrious examples as Thomas More, a philosopher, Thomas Cook, a travel agent, and Thomas the Tank Engine, a tank engine.

Lucas, meanwhile, bubbles under in Wallonia and across the nation as a whole, where he holds steady in second place. Lucas comes from the Greek Loukas, meaning someone from Lucania, in Italy – not to be confused with Loukoum, a type of sweetmeat. Luke was the third of the Gospel writers, reputed to be a physician. Lucas passed his name on to the likes of George Lucas of Star Wars fame, and Lucas the company that makes car headlights.

More interesting, perhaps, is the number of new arrivals on the NIS's list. There are now little girls being pushed around in buggies with names like Roxy, Puk, Princesse, Jazz and Gypsy. The first is a cinema (it may be a bingo-hall by now), while Jazz is a perfume by Yves Saint-Laurent as well as the noise you get when you mistreat a saxophone. Gypsy Cream is a kind of biscuit. Oddball boys' names include Duke, Ozzy, Prince and Ramses, after an order of nobility, the lead singer of Black Sabbath, a Leprechaun of Pop and an Egyptian pharaoh, in that order. There have been numerous famous Dukes and Princes in history, two notable Ramseseses, but only ever one Ozzy.

In a future Sour Grapes, perhaps several years from now, we'll examine the phenomenal rise in the ratings of names like Edelweiss, Heavenly, Jersey, Tallahassee, Amazone, Cordoba, Valencia, Barcelona, Kenzo, Chanel, Mexx and Dior. Or maybe not.

Download the full list of Belgian forenames from (in Dutch) or (in French). If you must.

Postscript: Those links do actually still work, though the documents concerned have been updated to 2006, which is pretty good going. That means, of course, that I now have a subject for my column in two weeks time, since this week's will be about statues. So this has been a profitable exercise not only for you, which was entirely predictable, but also for moi.

So I can add that to my blogging income for this year. Things are looking up.

Quiz time

  1. True or False: At no point in any of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, does Dr. Watson or anyone else utter the apocryphal phrase, "No shit, Sherlock".
  2. Why, when someone has sent me a letter with not enough postage on it, does the postie ask for the missing sum from me? What did I do?
  3. What is it with young people and spitting? In my day they had No Spitting signs in buses to discourage TB sufferers, survivors of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919 and coal miners from faraway exotic places like Bellshill and Cambuslang. Now the habit has taken over the entire younger generation?
That's enough stupid questions.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Smoking can stunt your growth

I haven't featured a photo from the excellent Shorpy archive recently, so here's one now:

"Giant." Big man enjoying a cigar and glass of beer in a New York tavern circa 1908. View full size. George Grantham Bain Collection.

You can check out more Shorpy pix from the widget I've installed ovah thah >>>

Meanwhile, coming up to mid-century, an allied site has now sprung up called Plan59, where you can enjoy illustrations like this:

Elvis sighted

With this dude on Hillary's team, how can she lose?

If you're interested, the lyrics go something like this:

I've been on tenterhooks ending in dirty looks, list'ning to the Muzak, thinking 'bout this 'n' that. She said that's that. I don't wanna chitter-chat. Turn it down a little bit or turn it down flat.

Pump it up when you don't really need it.
Pump it up until you can feel it.

Down in the pleasure centre, hell bent or heaven sent, listen to the propaganda, listen to the latest slander. There's nothing underhand that she wouldn't understand.

Pump it up until you can feel it.
Pump it up when you don't really need it.

She's been a bad girl. She's like a chemical. Though you try to stop it, she's like a narcotic. You wanna torture her. You wanna talk to her. All the things you bought for her, putting up your temp'rature.

Pump it up until you can feel it.
Pump it up when you don't really need it.

Out in the fashion show, down in the bargain bin, you put your passion out under the pressure pin. Fall into submission, hit-and-run transmission. No use wishing now for any other sin.

Pump it up until you can feel it.
Pump it up when you don't really need it.

New moon on the rise

Here's a cool photo of Saturn's moon Iapetus. If you want to, you can download the right size for your own desktop. Or just look at mine:

Click to really really enormify

Nothing to do with the War on Turr

Qwest CEO Not Alone in Alleging NSA Started Domestic Phone Record Program 7 Months Before 9/11 on Threat Level
Startling statements from former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio's defense documents alleging the National Security Agency began building a massive call records database seven months before 9/11 aren't the only accusations that the controversial program predated the attacks of 9/11.

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Jiglu toodle-oo

The Jiglu widget sure wuz purty, but it had to go.

Jiglu claims to tag your blog posts for you, by combing through them and tagging things like people, places, events etc.

In the first place, it does a pisspoor job. This blog has 530-odd posts, and Jiglu came back with about 60 tags. Ludicrous. In the sidebar there you'll see my own tag cloud which has far more, and those are only tags that I've used twice or more. And I'm often very lazy about tagging. Jiglu's widget had me down for a total of two events and eight people. I think we've covered more than that.

Jiglu's results routinely include all names mentioned, which is not always helpful. Worse, it picked up on any and every TLA, producing tags like WTF, ETA (edited to add) and PS, none of which are at all useful as tags.

But the cardinal sin, and the reason I scrapped it as soon as I noticed, is that it decided unilaterally to go in and highlight all the words which had been designated as tags, thus forcing an unwanted and really pretty stupid design element on me. If I've mentioned John Gielgud, say, you don't need to have those words highlighted for you in the post where John Gielgud is mentioned. You need to have a place where you can find tags and then trace the posts they come from.

So that's why Jiglu is gone. I'm not only a blingnut. I also demand performance from my bling.

Hacked mind

Mind Hacks made mention of a strange treatment for mental illness, found on a website "so weird that I'm not entirely sure it isn't a hoax", and involved boxing the ears of the patient with the flat of both hands simultaneously so s/he lost consciousness briefly. When recovery occurs, the patient is cured.

Not entirely sure it isn't a hoax? Let me dispel your doubts. Here's the website, run by Labour Party supporter Andy Kadir-Buxton. It isn't a hoax. It's the work of a nutter. Consider some of the other "revolutionary" treatments Andy has discovered:

  • Unblock a woman's Fallopian tubes by hand. You might, he points out, find that her cervix has become a little distended afterwards. I should think you might. Andy writes: "When we entered the womb via the cervix, which had to be done very slowly we found that the womb needs lubricating to avoid immense pain." Especially, I imagine, if you're going in there together.
  • Raise the dead by stamping on their chest with your shod or bare foot. This is apparently the method of choice on "Royal grounds". Andy has personal experience: "I have personally resuscitated someone after twenty six minutes, which is far longer than conventional methods. Yes, this method does have its limits, and an attempt to use it on someone who had been dead for three and a half hours was a failure". He got the idea from hearing that one third of all coffins containing dead soldiers coming back from Vietnam showed signs that the deceased had tried to escape. "From this I hypothesised that what had woken up the dead brains was the still live nervous system, which, not being as complex as the brain was harder to be damaged by death," he writes.
  • Restore upfuxted immune systems by feeding the patient colostrum, which is the first mammary secretions produced by mammals just before and just after giving birth. It's very good for babies, as you might expect, and some people believe the bovine form is also beneficial for sick and old people. This therefore belongs on the fringes of woo-woo medicine, not quite in the territory of full-blown nuttiness (the border area is heavily wooded and badly signposted). However Andy redeems himself by commenting: "My method was successful, the most famous person who was treated for it was the Queen Mother, then in her seventies, who went on to live for another twenty years or so." So, nothing to do with the Gordon's, then.
  • Use the warmth of the Earth's molten core to generate electricity. Here's how: "A Buxton Geothermal Turbine Generator is a lined and capped well, filled with water, which is ten kilometres deep. Because the ground heats up at a constant rate the deeper one digs, the cap of the well is at three times boiling point, the precise temperature at which power stations generate electricity with their turbine generators." And hang the cost: "Figures available on the internet say that a bore hole of 5.54 kilometres costs £4.7 million, which equates to £8.5 million for a ten kilometre bore hole." Those "figures available on the Internet" seem not to take account of the fact that it might be more than twice as hard to dig to ten km as it was to dig to five. So much for Internet sources. But it's not only heat Andy generates: "I once muted the possibility that sufficiently large Buxton Geothermal Power Stations could power gigantic freezer units at both Poles so that the melting of the ice caps could be reversed and then maintained."
Plenty more at Andy's site including a list of Andy's inventions, which include bottle banks, the Labour Party's red rose logo, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty 1 and 2, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties 1, 2, and 3, and the plebiscite in Ireland on the future of Northern Ireland.

Clearly, this year's Nobel Peace Prize committee got the wrong guy.

Vatican releases information to mega-rich only

Knights Templar secrets revealed -
ROME, Italy (AP) -- The Vatican has published secret archive documents about the trial of the Knights Templar, including a long-lost parchment that shows that Pope Clement V initially absolved the medieval Christian order from accusations of heresy, officials said Friday.
The 300-page volume recently came out in a limited edition -- 799 copies -- each priced at $8,377, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican's secret archives.
Clearly, it's a conspiracy to keep us all in the dark by overcharging. A cunning ploy. Veeery cunning.

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Friday, 12 October 2007

Gored to death

The Nobel Peace Prize must be the most discredited major award in the world, with previous winners like Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin, Dr. Crippen and Freddy Kruger out of Nightmare on Elm Street.

Still it's nice to see the right-wingers turning themselves inside out with seething bitterness at the fact that Al Gore has shared the prize this year. How must it be to know that the entire planet is looking from Gore to Bush, and back to Gore, and thinking: "And you voted for the chimp?"

Apologies to all chimps everywhere

Thursday, 11 October 2007

You might as well live

Excellent New Scientist article on means of dying, from lethal injection (not of concern to Grapes 2.0 readers) to ze geeohteen. It has some marvellous sentences, pulled right out of context:

A single penetrating wound to the femoral artery in the leg might be less painful than multiple fractures sustained in a motor vehicle crash.
So that's probably the one to go for.
Beheading, if somewhat gruesome, can be one of the quickest and least painful ways to die - so long as the executioner is skilled, his blade sharp, and the condemned sits still.
So try to remember.
A high fall is certainly among the speediest ways to die: terminal velocity (no pun intended) is about 200 kilometres per hour, achieved from a height of about 145 metres or more. A study of deadly falls in Hamburg, Germany, found that 75 per cent of victims died in the first few seconds or minutes after landing.
Well which is it -- seconds or minutes? I think it would make a difference, as you lie there like a woollen sack full of jam while passers-by gawp.
They eventually adopted the "long-drop" method, using a lengthier rope so the victim reached a speed that broke their necks. It had to be tailored to the victim's weight, however, as too great a force could rip the head clean off, a professionally embarrassing outcome for the hangman.
Not to mention the red face for the prisoner.

The poast title comes from here.

Short shameful confession

I still have no idea how to pronounce "Casaubon".

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Bend sinister

best of craigslist : RARE Left-hand strung piano
The reversed placement of the treble and bass keys allows pianists from these southern nations to play northern European piano literature without having to relearn the notes. It does require that the score be transfered to onion skin vellum, laid in reverse on a copy machine and photocopied in reverse so that the music flows from right to left on the page.

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Great anarchist blog

Liz Seymour
Which is more important: feeding hungry people or the law? If you ask yourself the question over and over again it becomes like that little place on the wall where the paint has buckled. Curious, you pick at the bubble one day and discover that the plaster underneath is cracked. You follow the line of the crack down to the floorboards. You wonder why the plaster cracked just there and you go down to the basement to investigate. You discover that one of the floor joists has moved. You look more closely and realize that the foundation of the house is tipped and crumbling. You call in an expert and discover that the ground beneath the house is sinking away. Deep below the house an underground cavern is widening, a great stone plate is shifting, a lava flow is making its way to the surface, a column of sand is settling. If you look too long you can no longer look away.

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World's most gorgeous Geordie bird

Gina McKee.

The library had nothing more interesting than the 2002 Forsyte Saga where she plays Irene to Damien Lewis's Soames. The roles played, for those old enough to remember, by Nyree Dawn Porter and Eric Porter (no relation) in the original BBC series.

So that's what I got. Lewis is a ginge, and was I believe m'Lud prominent in something called Band of Brothers. Gina was in Us Friends Oop North, which is where I first saw her. She was also in Brass Eye, video of which is available.

Amazingly, she's now 46, like my little brother. She looks a lot better than he does, even given he's a bloke. I would, as Sir John Gielgud once said, do her. She wouldn't give me the time of fucking day, goes without saying.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Naughty postcard

From a collection. Also including military, redneck, racist cards etc. I steered clear of most of that, as you can imagine. I well remember this type of humour on postcards when I was growing up. You wouldn't see such a thing now. It depends for its humour, such as it is, on suggestion in the place of statement. Nowadays the man would say "Mary you'll cut me balls off!" and that wouldn't be funny at all. Although there's still a lot of so-called comedy around that seems to disagree.

My so-called life

From the NEW YORKER.

Gaping void for me to fill?

Look at what my Gaping Void cartoon widget (over there >>) coughed up for me today. Sweet, huh?

Now we see through a glass darkly

Look at this picture of Robert Wyatt, who I was talking about a couple of weeks ago.

Magnificent. He looks like God would look if He existed.

There's an article/interview with him here, whence this photo is snarfled.

Bobby Byrd in solo action

Another legend bites the dust

Bobby Byrd | Obituaries | Guardian Unlimited Music
Bobby Byrd, who has died of cancer aged 73, was the arranger and the often uncredited composer of many of the hits of soul singer James Brown (obituary, December 27 2006). Byrd did enjoy chart success but his light baritone was most conspicuous in the "get on up" responses to Brown on his Sex Machine signature tune.

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Campaign Corner

I think if I were standing against Giuliani, I'd make a point of dropping the "Rudy" which makes him sound like a freckle-faced newspaper boy, and keep calling him "Rudolf", which makes him sound like a cross between a reindeer and, vaguely but just enough, Hitler.

You could also once in a while mistakenly pronounce his name Giulietta. But not more than once or twice. Far better to say the name in as Italian an accent as you can.

I have lots of other ideas if any of the campaigns want to get in touch. Like: why not pronounce Hillary's name as if she were the start of the word hilarious? Senator Hilari- Clinton! That would work.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Department of Homeland Phrenology

You remember when I was talking earlier about the gummint tracking you down as a terrorist because of your literary stylee?

Well, that's not the only way they're going to catch you.

According to this article, they're also going to be able to measure your biometrics, the expression on your face, the posture of your body, the sound of your voice and even the bumps on your noggin, and comparing them with an undoubtedly very large database, determine that if you're about to commit a terrorist act. Or possibly just think about committing one, or think about someone else committing one.

At any rate, they'll catch you good, and foil your dastardly plans.

Of course, if your name's not Abdallah or something similar, you might not be noticed by the biometrics machine, for some reason.

Here's an example of the kind of thing the scanners could detect:

UPDATED to add: Boing-Boing's Cory Doctorow (no relation to E.L.) wrote this futuristic fable about what happens when the spooks take over Google. Like most futuristic sci-fi it's way heavy-handed, wall-to-wall exposition, dialogue that dances like a one-legged drunk and adverb-bound, but the good thing about it is how plausible his premise is.

Still, what're you gonna do, huh?

Book advice

I've been asked along to a reading-group meeting on the 19th of this month, of a group that deals with 19th century lit, principally the Brontë sisters. They'll be discussing The Professor, one of Charlotte's Brussels novels. As you may know, I'm a big Vic-lit fan

My dilemma is this: I haven't read the book in question, and I don't even have a copy. It would doubtless be no problem to read it by the 19th, but I'd first have to go into town and buy a copy, which would require me to be arsed.

I have, on the other hand, read her other Brussels novel, Villette, and both novels are based on the same limited experience of her time here, when she taught at a girls' school.

So my question for my peeps is this: should I get the book, read it and go; or not go; or go anyway and just sort of busk it by for instance looking up Wikipedia on the subject? (Which I now see is wholly unsatisfactory, although it contains a link to the Project Gutenberg copy.)

I'm going to have to go into town tomorrow, aren't I? I see that now.

Thanks for all your advice, darlings. What would I do with you?

Parking places

An excellent article on parking, which sounds like a contradiction in terms but isn't. It speaks from an American viewpoint, obviously, but the difference between their problems and ours is only one of scale, from what I can see. The provision of parking places is a major problem for city planners, increases our dependence on the ghastly motor car, contributes to everything from pollution to obesity, and has real environmental effects on heavy metal pollution, the disposition of water-table resources and even the weather.

It's always a pleasure to finish reading an article feeling smarter than you were at the beginning, which is not often the case with Salon. Although it's nice to read about George Clooney too, from time to time.