Friday, 30 November 2007

Walk or don't walk

Take the world champion race-walker, and set five criminal Samurai after him. Is he going to race-walk away, or will he break into a run. Find out.

Totally inspired idea. I loved it.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

And another thing ...

Google Immortal will carry on your internet activities after you're dead, on the basis of all the information on your they've sucked up saved while you were alive.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Short shameful confession

I'm a pretty nice guy trapped in the body of a complete bastard.

Armstrong and Miller

Vitriol, 100° proof

The absurd world of Martin Amis | Comment | The Observer
Now Amis should be allowed to wonder aloud about anything. He can suggest Muslims should 'experience painful discrimination until they get tough with their children' if he likes. Thought experiments are fine. But if he bundles his thoughts on Islam together and iterates them one after the other as he did when I saw him, he displays not unguarded musing but the forging of an incoherent creed of hate. It goes roughly like this: 9/11 was horrific, its driving ideology was totalitarian, the totalitarians were Muslims, all Muslims follow a book they believe to be the immutable word of God, I don't believe that, therefore all Muslims are idiots, and basically bastards. Idiot bastards moping around the Middle East in a paranoid funk just cos they lost their empire, and what a rubbish empire it was, too, by the way. Now, what is your balanced view of these primitive wife-beating idiotic bastards?

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Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Heist of the century

Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
The hardest part of the scheme was carrying up the planks used to make chairs and tables to furnish the Untergunther's cosy squat cum workshop, which has sweeping views over Paris.

The group managed to connect the hideaway to the electricity grid and install a computer connected to the net.
A group of hip guerrillas sneaked into the Paris Panthéon, built a workshop, and fixed the antique clock. Nobody noticed until the group announced their action. "When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panthéon's officials know or not," said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesperson for the Untergunther. "We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work."

Great story. Who wants to bet they end up facing a jail sentence?

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Adams sees the light

The Dilbert Blog: Going Forward
Lastly, the blog has been a source of tremendous artistic satisfaction. I enjoyed being relatively uncensored, and interacting with the readers on fun topics. That’s why I will continue blogging, albeit less controversially. I’ll just do it less often, especially over the holidays. It’s hard to tell the family I can’t spend time with them because I need to create free content on the Internet that will lower our income.

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Monday, 26 November 2007

Writing is ...

Here's a great quote from my pal Jules Siegel, on his newsroom-l list:

Cooking is so much more fun than writing, which is like doing endless dishes without even the satisfaction of seeing them all nice and clean and shiny.

Couldn't have put it better.


I liked this pic so much at Eden's place that I stole it.

New old Sour Grapes

Ten new old columns up. None of them are dated, because I'm going to have to make a special trip into the archives for that. But never mind, it's either still funny, or it never was.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Essay on coffee

Bean and gone | Extracts | Guardian Unlimited Books
What hashish was to Baudelaire, opium to Coleridge, cocaine to Robert Louis Stevenson, nitrous oxide to Robert Southey, mescaline to Aldous Huxley, and Benzedrine to Jack Kerouac, caffeine was to Balzac. The habit started early. Like a preppie with an expensive connection, he ran up alarming debts with a concierge who, for a price, was willing to sneak contraband coffee beans into Balzac's boarding school. As an adult, grinding out novels 18 hours a day while listening for the rap of creditors at the door, Balzac observed the addict's classic regimen, boosting his doses as his tolerance mounted. First he drank one cup a day, then a few cups, then many cups, then 40 cups. Finally, by using less and less water, he increased the concentration of each fix until he was eating dry coffee grounds: "a horrible, rather brutal method," he wrote, "that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins."

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Even hoboes have off-days

Something I'm sure we can all relate to:

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #550
Originally uploaded by Ape Lad.

Under the weather

Bilious Flux
A discharge of bile, either by vomiting or by stool, or by both, as in cholera. [Dunglison1868]

Bloody Flux
Dysentery involving a discharge of blood. [Hooper1822]

Chronic Flux
Chronic Dysentery

Coeliac Flux
A species of diarrhea, in which the food is discharged by the bowels in an undigested condition; Lientery. [Dunglison1868]

Hepatic Flux
Bilious Flux. The name given in the East to a variety of dysentery, in which there is a frequent flow of bilious fluid from the bowels. [Thomas1875]

Putrid Flux
Dysentery. If ulcers form, the evacuations assume a dirty-gray or grayish-red color, and a putrid odor, on account of sloughed mucous membrane, and large quantities of pus discharged from the ulcers becoming mixed with them. In epidemic flux, when pus and pieces of sloughed mucous membrane are ejected, the stools become intensely pungent and putrid, resembling sulphuretted hydrogen. [Vogel1885]

A selection of archaic illnesses and causes of death, from this excellent site.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

My very own Classical Star experience

A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending a concert by the celebrated concert pianistical virtuoso Lang Lang, a young 25-year-old Chinese genius who's taking the world by storm. It's said that he'll carry the torch for the opening of the Beijing Olympics in Beijing, though it's not entirely clear if he'll be expected to play the piano at the time.

Before the concert, I had the privilege of spending a few hours in Lang Lang's company, and when he was later quoted as saying,

"It's important for me to work with singers," he says. "The problem with the piano is that it's easy to forget that you have to breathe in and out. Your hands don't need to breathe. When you play with singers, they show you how to create the phrase."
It's abundantly clear to whom he was referring to, which is none other than moi truly.

Anyway, not to blow my own accordion, here are my impressions of the time I spent with the great phenomenon Lang Lang:

09.30: I arrive at the airport on the plane that brings me. Why can I never find a trolley for my bag? Everyone else seems to have one. Do they only have so many? Like: all the people in the plane minus one?

09.45: My bag just appeared, but a lady stepped in front of me at a crucial moment, and now I'm going to have to wait till it comes round again, assuming it doesn't do so via Mogadishu first! My little airport joke. Frequent fliers will require no explanation.

10.35: Arrive at my hotel to find a note from Lang Lang's publicist asking me to "touch base". What is that name, Lydia? Lynda? Lysander? What happened to the teaching of penmanship in schools?

10.40: My minibar is well-stocked, but there is no bottle-opener. I'm therefore forced to assuage my thirst with something from a screw-top bottle. I can't even see what it is, because I lost a lens in the taxi and my glasses are at the bottom of my carry-on.

12.15: Room service shows up with bottler open.

16.15: Showered and rested after my voyage, I descend to the bar to meet Lester, the publicist. No rush, it turns out.

17.00: Lang Lang apparently busy with some last-minute briefing with the music chief man, you know with the tailcoat, at the front.

18.00: Lang Lang, what kind of name is that? Did I not see him on a bottle of shampoo once?

18.30: Lester arrives and we jump in a Toyota van and rush to the theatre at 17 mph, which is what qualifies as "rushing" these days. If Steve McQueen were alive today for the remake of Bulliitt he could do the whole chase scene on his walker, including the oxygen bottles he'd need because obviously he had lung cancer.

20.15: We get to the theatre, and Lester disappears to get someone to bring me to my seat. When he fails to appear, and I try to make my own way in, a lady with lacquered hair that looks like a construction by Gustav Eiffel bars my passage.

21.20: The intermission, and Lester returns and advises me to have a drink in the crush bar while waiting for someone to take me backstage. I opt for champers, but can't seem to find fourteen quid for one glass -- a price that has substantially increased since I last had to pay for one.

21.30: I finally find a seat, and enjoy the second half of the concert, which consists of a Haydn symphony and does not involve Lang Lang.

22.15: I track down Lester only to discover Lang Lang is by this time halfway to Dusseldorf. He has left me a signed copy of his latest CD, though, which is very kind.

23.45: Back in my hotel, I put the signed CD immediately on eBay, in the hope that I can raise at least the amount of money it costs for my five minutes of hotel Internet access. Fat chance, these days. Bloody downloaders!

More news from the cutting edge of the classical scene coming soon!

Breaking News from 1959

Violin losing out to guitar in music lessons | News | Guardian Unlimited Music
"There is a shift away from the more classical music oriented instruments and towards the guitar, kit drum, those instruments in more popular music," Hallam said. "If you look at the music that children are exposed to, most of the time it tends to be pop groups - and of course that is what they want to emulate."

Sorry, is there something new going on here? The kids are giving up Beethoven in favour of this "pop" music the papers are so full of?

Can this really be true?

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New Power Generation, same as the Old Power Generation

Church of the Customer Blog
Who knows if all of this is an evil-genius plan to manufacture controversy or simply a sign of a middle-aged man turning fuddy-duddy. No matter the outcome, it seems that Prince has become what he once despised.

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Excellent article on Aretha

Put a sock in it | Music | Guardian Unlimited Music
According to industry lore, Franklin had a cold the day she committed Respect to vinyl; not only did this not prevent her from recording the song that would make her famous, it didn't prevent her from recording three other singles, too. No one does this sort of thing today; even crude records made by people who cannot sing take months to complete (in large part because records made by people who cannot sing need lots of help from the engineers). Franklin's tour de force also demonstrates that technology does not advance at the same pace as genius; the recording equipment might keep getting better, but there is no one in pop music today who can sing like the young Aretha Franklin. The closest is the old Aretha Franklin.

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Friday, 23 November 2007


In our new weekly feature Lex, we'll be taking a look at notable court-cases of the past, and viewing them in the light of current thinking on matters of doctrine, evidence-gathering, forensic science and so on.

Today, we look back at the murder trial of OJ Simpson:

So, that OJ. Was he guilty or are you TOTALLY FUCKING BLIND!!??!!

Feel free to join the debate in comments! More Lex jurisprudential stuff coming soon!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Thanks giving and giving and giving

Since it's Thanksgiving for Americans, I thought I'd share with you the question of Thanks as featured in Handel's Messiah, which I don't know if I've mentioned it, the Brussels Choral Society feat. moi truly will be performing on 1 December yadda yadda, see the site.

Here's what the Bible says:

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15 : 57)

Here's what Handel makes us sing (us being the basses, I dunno about other lower and lowlier voice parts):
But thanks, but thanks, thanks, thanks be to God
Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God.
Who giveth us the victory, the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
But thanks, but thanks, but thanks be to God, thanks be to God,
But thanks, but thanks, thanks be to God.
Who giveth us the victory, the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But thanks be to God, but thanks, but thanks, thanks be to God.
Who giveth us the victory, the victory, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But thanks, thanks, thanks be to God, thanks be to God.
Who giveth us the victory, who giveth us the victory,

Who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So. What d'you reckon? Enough with the thanks already or wot?

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

My real-life life

Today I saw a guy hanging around outside a shop, literally kicking his heels.

More exciting episodes from my real-life life, coming soon!

Man mucking about with his organ makes a mess

As the Brussels Choral Society heads towards its big December performances of Handel's Messiah, I was delighted to receive this clip of the rousing climax to the Hallelujah Chorus.

That's the thing about organs: all the notes are in there, it's just a question of getting them out at the right moment.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Thankful for small mercies

Happy Thanksgiving Americans!

And here are some things your turkey could be made out of, if it wasn't made out of turkey.

Bon appétit!

PS: Not disgusted yet? Try our 2006 entries (not entrées, my little joke!) or 2005!

Money quote: "A knowing nod to Serrano's Piss Christ, her turkey, suspended in apple juice, acknowledges its debt to America's culture wars while fearlessly breaking new ground."

Mmm ... Piss Christ ...


Monday, 19 November 2007

Because I am involved in Mankind

"The Two-Front Battle Over Torture" by Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine)
Understandably, of course, Donne did not get the appointment at Whitehall. I don’t think he really wanted it. He wanted to send a message against torture. The sermon he preached electrified the nation and did much to help sharpen attitudes against torture, especially within the religious community. And only three years later, in a gathering at the Inns of Court in London, the assembled bar and judges of England declared “upon their honour and the honour of England,” that torture was against the common law. That marked the beginning of the sunset of legally sanctioned torture in the English-speaking world. . . until the arrival of George W. Bush.

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Sunday, 18 November 2007

One for Jefe

InfiniCarb Undefined Hoverbeans
Low-Fat Puffy Kandy
Hypercaffeinated Plurality Munchoids
Recycled Crispy Poppoids
Para-Spacial Crispy MechaBiscuits

All cereal names generated by the Futuristic Cereal Name Generator. And each more scrummy-sounding than the last, if I may say so. Come on, who wouldn't want to start the day with some Fully-Networked Kinetic Celestios?

Subversive cross-stitch

More designs here.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

A grand of the grandest

Music 1000 albums | Music | Guardian Unlimited Music
Welcome to our special project in which the Guardian's music team - after much debate, some of it bitter - suggest albums that you should listen to before you shuffle off your mortal coil. What it's not is the best 1000 albums of all time. Instead, it's a cross-genre, cross-era look at some great music. Read about how we compiled it here.

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As suspected

cash advance

Get a Cash Advance

Friday, 16 November 2007

Un tas de complete vieux bollox

Digested read: Sepulchre, by Kate Mosse | The digested read | Guardian Unlimited Books
"Hello," said a voice. "I'm nice-but-dull Hal, your love interest. My father was killed in a mysterious car crash and my evil uncle Julian, who now owns La Domaine de la Cade, is behaving very oddly. Shall we investigate this together?"

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From the University of Duh

Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant? - New York Times
“We found that men did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks.”

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Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Why can't I be a lion person?

These people are pretty wacko. But WTF? Where's the harm?

I think there should be a constitutional amendment to allow them to marry. At least.

Imagine if they could adopt children. The lines at the orphanage!@11ONE1!

Consumer Corner

I think it would be a good idea if legislators, working perhaps under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation, could require the manufacturers of foodstuffs, whenever there is a warning regarding the presence of nuttal objects or vestiges, to place the following text, including webbular linkage:

May Contain Nuts

I mean, if it saves one child, it has to be worth it. No?

Cumputery stuff

If there were some way of removing attachments from emails in GMail, and yet keeping the message they were attached to, we wouldn't need to be racheting up towards 5Gb. As it is now, if one PDF comes in, and you send it out to someone else, you count for two PDFs. You don't need to get many photos etc before your score is way up there, even though you already have the thing saved once, and that's enough.

Secondly, and B: if you were pissed off that YouTube installed a countdown counter on its new interface, which makes a nonsense of all those comments which are like, "Check out the chick's face at 1:35!", I have a simple remedy:

Click on the timer. That makes it toggle between time elapsed and time to go. Once clicked it seems to stay that way for me, but YMMV.

More info form the cutting edge of interwebby areas coming soon! To an electric computational device near you!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


I can't keep up with blogging, I can't keep up with all my blogs in Google Reader, my desk is disappearing under papers, I'm being left behind by my children's homework, I'm snowed under with demands from my hobby publicising my choir, I'm behind schedule on the assignment for my book group for next Monday

and I got some new work. Well, at least I managed to put that to bed on time and in a satisfactory state.

Let that be a lesson to those in pursuit of my time and energy: give me dosh and I'll do anything.

Separated at birth?

Sour Grapes, article for publication, Sunday:

As you may know if you watch the news carefully, the comedy writers’ union is on strike, which believe it or not I’m a member of, for the simple reason that it allows me to tell even greater fatter lies than the reporters working for the news pages. For that reason, this week’s column, on orders from the National Executive Committee, will contain nothing which is either funny or original. So no change there.
Big-shot writer gal Barbara Ehrenreich, Monday:
In solidarity with the striking screenwriters there will be no laugh lines in this blog, no stunning metaphors, and not many adjectives. Also, in solidarity with the striking Broadway stage-hands, no theatrics, special effects or sing-along refrains.

Monday, 12 November 2007

This thing we don't got no more

Satriale's sleeps with the fishes.

Guitar heroes

This made me shed tears. The explanation is here, together with more clips from StSander, all worth seeing. Brilliant execution.

Free rice

premorse means:
broken off

Know the answer? Then get to FreeRice, and they'll donate 10 g of rice to a Third World project for every answer you get right. Some tough words. Unfortunately the list is not all that long, and cycles round again pretty quickly. Well, I say quickly. I must have spent hours on it yesterday.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Bonking Boris had a book, the Graun thought, hey, let's have a look

Barmy Boris has got another new book out, this time a lengthy nonsense-verse epic on child-rearing called The Perils of the Pushy Parents. There's a razor-sharp review of it here. But the reviewer misses out one of Boris's many faults, and an important one in the circumstances. Boris, one of the main things you really ought to keep in mind in child-rearing is this: Best not to go about serially shagging ladies who are not Mummy. And then getting it all over the papers. And the telly.

Pet hate

People who misuse "ad hominem" to mean "you just demolished my stupid fucking brain-dead argument without mercy, and along the way cast aspersions on my intelligence which frankly I fully deserve".

An ad hominem argument is when I say, "Well that's the kind of thing I'd expect a Lutheran like you to say", thereby implying that the fault in the argument derives from the fault in the person advancing it. If I say, "You're wrong because the Earth in fact orbits the Sun, you pointy-headed Latin-spouting prancing dimwit" that's not an ad hominem argument, it's a killer point followed by an insult. Ad hominem is not the Latin for "you hurt my feelings".

Short shameful confession

I screwed up. All I had to do was post one blog-post a day in November. That was all.

I missed it on Friday, doing other things then going out in the evening until very late indeed.

So that's that fucked. No coming back. I missed yesterday as well just to hammer the nail home.

Oh well it was a stupid rule anyway. Sigh.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Writing for kids

Got teenagers? Here's a writing blog aimed at those crazy youngsters the kids are making so much of these days. Full of all sorts of useful tips like erm how to get published. They also feature writing submitted by teenagers themselves, which as you can imagine is hilarious. Well, I'm sorry, but it is. I won't quote any, because that would be cruel. It's a terrible temptation, though.

Personal flight solutions

All right, it's not exactly the jet-pack we've all dreamed of, but this is a totally awesome flying machine all the same. It's a Hiller Flying Platform, developed in the US from about the 40s on, but never actually put into production. You can imagine how they might think we'd have developed something pretty sleek and shiny by now, if that was the stage they were already at. But we haven't. Instead we have an Internet, but what sort of consolation is that?

"We don't torture"

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The best a man can get

Bloody cheap razor-blades.

From a fascinating set of pix of wax anatomical models to be found in Florence, spotted over on Flickr.

Papa needs a brand new bag

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, appeared in Second Life for a book signing and, presumably as an alternative to a handshake or a cell-phone portrait, allowed members of the public to boot him in the nuts. Here's how it looked. Funnier than a stumbling cat.


Check out this products page from cheap and cheerful Dutch household-goods chain HEMA. Looks pretty unexciting, right? Just wait.

Cat and mouse

First, some screwed-up mice, in these portraits of ugly Mickey Mouses. It's a Brazilian site, I believe, but it doesn't much matter what the words say. The title simply means "Ugly Mickey", and the art is a reminder of what a sinister, spooky creature Mickey Mouse really is.

Then, screwed-up cats, starting with one called Charley, who has a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, which without bamboozling you with science means he has a lack of growth in part of his brainal area affecting motor skills. As a result, Charley walks like a drunken man making his way across a room full of people sitting on the floor. But the thing is, he's in no pain, needs no special care and will likely live as long as any other kitty. Despite that, people who discover this condition in kittens often have them needlessly put to sleep.

I read about Charley here, and the video is here. But that's not all. YouTube, in that way it has, also offers up related videos of CH cats, and there are dozens of them. I know we shouldn't mock the afflicted, but Charley's owner says he's not, really, so mock away. It's pretty funny to watch.

Short shameful confession

I get very annoyed when people pronounce the 'j' in ouija board as in the name John, when any fool should know it's the German ja, for yes. Pronounced ya, ya morons.

Queue Eye

Outstanding episode of QFry with Stephen I this week. David Mitchell (off That Mitchell and Webb Sound/Look, qv) is always way ahead of all the rest, but he seems to have managed to pick up and carry Jimmy Carr, a less reliable performer, and even Phill Jupilus, who hardly ever has anything funny to say. Ever. Despite being that rare beast: a comedian who never does comedy, only panel-games. He once told what I thought was a good joke:

Two fat men walk into a bar. That was me and my Dad. We had a great night, actually.

David Mitchell has a fizzin an a-poppin comedy brain, tho. You might at first think it's all prepared in advance, but then you stop and think, okay so how come his preparations are so much better than everyone else's?

Here's the first slice. Follow the clicky-things for the next two parts:


Malcolm Gladwell is alive and well, and in the NEW YORKER this week, writing on FBI profiling in an article I haven't read and so won't comment on.

He claims to have been working on his new book, as a way of explaining his absence from his own blog since January this year. That's gotta be some book.

Since the reason he states is therefore the only possible reason there could be, we'll breathe a sigh of relief that he was not, then,suffering the after-effects of a cyber-kicking from a team of commenters to his blog posts. If I remember right, and I'm not going back to check because it was a long time ago in another land and besides, the wench is dead, he made some tentative suggestions relating to racism in the car-sales sector, then appeared to semi-support Enron, and next thing we know his blog went ka-blooey.

Well anyway, be all that as it may, it's nice to see him back. You don't have to agree with his every word to see he's a challenging and innovative thinker. And commenters are all cunts, goes without saying. Here's hoping he's grown a thicker skin in the interim.

A diamond in the ash

Here's a great review of a production in New York of Cyrano de Bergerac, a play I've seen several times, once in a ruined abbey, once with Philippe Volter, not to mention the films with the great Depardieu and with Jose Ferrer. Unlike most reviews for anything, it's made me want to see the show John Lahr is talking about: Kevin Kline stars, it's the Anthony Burgess translation, it's a fantastic work in the first place. So much so that it could survive even Roxanne, the 1987 film with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah which stripped the story of its setting, which is essential, and removed from it a fundamental characteristic: it's a pastiche. Rostand was writing in fin de siècle Paris, the most fashionable spot on the planet, about Arras in 1640, and writing too in alexandrines. Those are two important effects in Rostand's original which the Martin film loses. Although to be fair, Steve Martin himself would be hard to better had the film gone down a more traditional track. Kevin Kline might give him a run. Remember Otto in A Fish Called Wanda? Otto had what Cyrano has, until his dying breath -- panache.

It's often said that Rostand provided a counter to the increasing naturalism in the theatre (and the arts in general) with his fantasy of temps perdus. I think that view is superficial and simplistic, and ignores the fact that realism had been a current in painting (where France led the world) since the time of Courbet half a century before, and in drama Europe-wide for at least 20 years prior to Cyrano -- Ibsen's A Doll's House was produced in 1879. Rostand wasn't countering artistic realism, he was employing contrary techniques to do the same job by forcing the issues to stand out. The important point about pastiche is that it is an alienation effect, as Brecht later called it. Even a cursory reading of the text, meanwhile, would make it clear that Rostand was not telling a story set in 1640 as such. That's something there's no room to go into here (nor any desire, I should imagine). A translation is available at Project Gutenberg, though not the Burgess translation sadly.

Incidentally, Cyrano was a real person, a military man and playwright. At the time of the main action in Rostand's play, he would have been 21. Edmond Rostand, meanwhile, was the youngest person ever admitted into the Académie Française, though he had to wait until he was 33 years old, four years after writing Cyrano.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Goose getting fat shock

A blogger writes:

Do you want to know what I want for Christmas? I want everyone to keep their money, pay their bills, and maybe sit down together while they have a nice meal and enjoy being a part of a family for a change. I want to see people who refuse to be manipulated by commercials and 2 hour only sales. I want people to put aside the greed and the status seeking and the love of all things shiny. Instead, I want to see them give each other hugs and be thankful for the things they’ve got.
Well, you can see why she might want to keep up a secret identity, can't you? That kind of subversive talk could earn you a one-way ticket to Guantanamo.

In other news, Boy Nine came home today, did his homework and got busy on his more pressing project: the compilation of a list of things he's going to be asking for. He explained the system to me at great length on the way home from school, and without going into details, this is a plan that makes all that GTD bollocks look like it was invented by Neil off The Young Ones. If he doesn't get all he wants from us, from Santa, I imagine he'll buy it himself from his entrepreneurial riches.

Anyway, what with me not doing a Christmas carols concert this year (for the first time since 2001), that was my awakening to the lateness of the season. We walked home, as it happens, on a beautiful mild autumn afternoon, leaves falling so fast you can hardly see in front of you. It doesn't even feel like winter, let alone Bleak Midwinter.

Me? I'll settle for peace on this little corner of the Earth. The rest of you, do what you can.

I should jolly well think so

If you change your display language in GMail from English (US) -- the default -- to English (UK), your Trash file suddenly becomes Deleted Items. So much less brash, don't you think? Your personal labels will also be adapted. Work becomes Employees. School becomes Oxbridge. Chat becomes Chinwag. And so on.

I now look forward to the promised launch of English (Scot) in which Inbox becomes In, Sent Items becomes Oot, and Deleted Items becomes Awa an Bile Yer Heid.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Sour Grapes

Another bunch of Sour Grapes columns rescued from the rubbish bin and posted on the blog reserved for that porpoise. That's ten down and another 134 to go. Well, 133 really, since one of them got me a libel writ once already, which fell because the stupid plaintiff's stupid mouthpiece was too slow off the mark, so I probably won't bring that one out again.

I'm not going to interrupt our normal programming here every time I post. Get over there, if you care, grab the feed and let the little RSS elves do the rest.

Headlines to make you go "Duh"


But then you read the story.

What's this I see?

Sour Grapes
Belgium's biggest and most international amateur choir presents the world's most popular choral work of all time:

Messiah by George Frideric Handel
Philippe Gérard - direction
Eric Delson - choir direction
With soloists Elise Gäbele (soprano); Isabelle Everarts de Velp, (mezzo-soprano); Stephan Van Dyck (tenor); Ian Degen (baritone-bass).

Without a doubt the world's most popular choral work, presented by Belgium's most international choir, accompanied by one of the country's premier orchestral ensembles.

The Brussels Choral Society and the Chapelle Musicale de Tournai

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Saturday, 3 November 2007

The short story (for ShoStoWriMo)

Richard Ford writes about the short story, with many examples including Cheever and Carver, as you'd expect, but also Tobias Woolf (aren't those two related somehow?), Mary Gaitskell, Chekhov (people who think of him as only a playwright are missing out big-time), Deborah Eisenberg and VS Pritchett, considered by many as a master of the genre.

It's always struck as a bit odd how everyone professes to consider the short story and the novel as two distinct forms, yet it's always thought of as perfectly normal when a person who has hitherto only ever written stories then proceeds to tackle a novel. There's a definite feeling of coming of age, as if an 800 metres runner had finally grown up and found his courage by taking on a marathon.

In fact, you'd be pushed to name a writer who was at home in both forms. I can think of short story writers, and I can think of novelists, and I can think of writers who have done both, but I can't think of one who has straddled the line convincingly. The classic greats like Chekhov and Maupassant stayed within the form, as did modern greats like Carver, and living writers like Alice Munro. Novelists like Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis (if they ever marry they can share their monograms) have written short stories, but not very good ones. Tobias Woolf's stories are very good, whereas the only novel I've read was very much a thinly-disguised autobiography, like most first novels.

It's a terrible thing indeed that the market for short stories is shrinking so far and so fast nowadays, because while the good writers won't stop as a result, it will make life that bit harder for them, as publishers are known to be unwilling to take on volumes of stories unless the client is already a heavyweight novelist and has to be indulged.

I don't know what the answer is, and nor does anyone else, by the look of it. The article concludes:

VS Pritchett wrote that short stories were "exquisitely difficult" things to make. Though by that I don't think he meant that they were such difficult things to "put together", since we've all read bad ones that were put together rather neatly. Rather, I believe Pritchett meant that they were difficult things - the great ones, anyway - to imagine, in the way Chekhov imagined "The Lady with the Dog", or in the way that imagining time is more difficult than making a clock tick. One task asks for skill, the other for serious daring of the sort Pritchett understood and could perform splendidly, as could his great friend Miss Welty from the rich turbulence of her "sheltered life". I think of her now, gone from us - Pritchett, too, and Carver - having left so much of excellence. Their great spirits and incomparable stories spell out so well for us where daring starts and where it leads, and exactly why it is the pure and indispensable and thrilling call that brings us all to stories.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Take it to the limit

Take it Easy in Winslow, Arizona | Music | Guardian Unlimited Music
The fact that an otherwise nondescript town out in the middle of nowhere would hitch its wagon to a single verse from a 35-year-old song recorded by a band whose ability to draw in tourists was almost certain to decline as their promiscuously bland music receded into the maw of history was further testimony - as if any were needed - that in America, anything is possible, no matter how zany or stupid, provided there is a guaranteed revenue stream somewhere.

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More plush eeew stuff

Internal organs, including a worryingly yellow liver.

How could your kiddies resist? Check out Heartie the Cardiac Heart:

He's Bradying down, yesterday

Is the Pope Catholic? No.

If you're Jewish, or American, or you live in the world, you might be a little frightened at the way ordinary Americans think about Jews, as recorded by Brian Sacks here (first clip). Including the Pope, that totally Jewish Hebrew Jew guy.

A collection of ten unrelated links

Stupid place to build a town. Still, easy to take out the garbage.

The 100 greatest novels of all time.

Hands painted to look like things. Things other than hands, that is.

Another way to look for free books. That you'll never read.

Wildlife pr0n. Red in tooth and claw is the new black.

Stories told in one sentence.

The Sarcasm Society. My, isn't that clever?

What should I read next? Ask the anonymous Internet.

Help save the world. By drinking water.

Glass house by Mies van der Rohe. Please refrain from chucking rocks.

Thanks to an idle hour with Stumble Upon.

Something else from Santa

This little fellow is a spirochete, the bacterium responsible for syphilis, which is not something you want to wake up to find in your stockings on Christmas morning. Cute, though, isn't he?

He's just one of a range of giant plush microbes including Ebola, the Black Death, Lyme's Disease and more. For the person who has literally everything, including a course of antibiotics presumably. Just because they're so sweet, here another -- Athlete's foot:


The newspaper ad for supermarket giant Carrefour/GB reads "Father Christmas comes early this year". (ad page)

Here's what the special offer is.

Is that really something people associate with Christmas? Those are not supposed to go in your stocking, surely?

Scenes we never thought we'd see

Jay Leno says the word "bollocks" on network television.

Today November 1

I have been mainly going round the 13,000-odd blogs of NaNoWriMo participants and posting the following message:

"Get back to work, you".

If I haven't got to you yet, I will.

I hope this is not going to be a daily occurence.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

I can only imagine

Words are just not sufficient to encompass the idea of fatherhood represented by Dick Hoyt. Leave aside the Jebus bollocks if you can, though I suppose that's part of his inspiration, so it does form part of the phenomenon.

Here's the family site.

And here's a video I found posted on the Facebook wall of a friend, quite by chance.

It's guaranteed to bring a tear etc.

The finest superlatives


Get your own best-ever at Seth Godin's

Like this.