Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Correct Noun Please

No, no no. You're not in the way. Police hunt supermarket bottom sniffer. [Video available at link: it's creepy.]
The man was caught on CCTV creeping up on the unsuspecting worker at least 20 times as he stacked shelves at a Co-op store in Plymouth, Devon. The footage shows him casually pretending to chose items from shelves before suddenly crouching down behind the employee.
In general, his behavior is one of the class of paraphilias, a list of which is on Wikipedia. If he were rubbing non-consensually, that would be frotteurism--but he's not rubbing. Flatulophilia doesn''t seem right. Olfactophilia doesn't either.

What's a classically derived term for butt-sniffing?

Noun please!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I realize that, as an American liberal, I'm supposed to hate Christmas and want to wage war on and defile it. But, of course, I don't hate Christmas Day.

I do feel that pseudo-celebrating it for a month and more is ridiculous.

I live near a lot of Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Animists, Hindus, and non-believers as well as Christians. So I say "Happy Holidays" to people I meet unless I'm sure they celebrate Christmas. Except on December 25, when I will even wish those of other faiths a Merry Christmas, since on that day and that day only it actually is Christmas.

With that in mind, here a few tunes for the season. Joseph Spence is a Bahamian fingerstyle guitarist who inspired quite a few well known players, including Ry Cooder. Someone put up Spence's version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town with a hissy transfer, some misspellings in the video text, and a few other issues. But, c'mon, it's the kickiest version of this song you're ever going to hear.

This isn't a Christmas song, but for some reason I thought about it while gift shopping and it seems to fit the holiday. It's a catchy 1975 recording of postal workers at the University of Ghana post office cancelling stamps to a little melody they came up with. WFMU has a bit about it and there's more info about it here at Oddio Overplay.

Finally, a Tom Waits song from way back when. Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Serious Side to Nostalgia

Nowadays nostalgia is a paltry thing. TV, notoriously, builds itself on nostalgia for incidents that happened just a moment ago. In commerce, nostalgia moves product, while harkening back to a time when "product" referred mainly to the result of mathematical multiplication.

Oh, how I long for the days when nostalgia had force. During the American Civil War, "both physicians and laypeople viewed nostalgia ... as a deadly disease that might kill a man outright." Modern psychiatrists have contextualized it a bit:
In the official military medical history of that war, just one page is devoted to “homesickness,” a diagnosis that he said probably equates to major depression. Severe cases were termed“ nostalgia,” characterized by disturbed sleep, poor eating, and erratic behavior and that sometimes resulted in death. The only cure, said the doctors, was to send the unfortunate soldier home.
There are thousands of cases of nostalgia as a horribly debilitating physical condition recorded in the medical records of Union troops.

Nostalgia has a history that stretches back further, as the term was coined in Switzerland in the late 17th Century. Since there were so many Swiss mercenaries, there were lots of them to exhibit this "homesickness," as they thought it was then. "Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his 1768 Dictionnaire de la musique that it was forbidden to sing a ranz des vaches [a herdsman's song] near Swiss soldiers in foreign services, because they became homesick [nostalgic] and risked to die."

Then the concept of nostalgia splits into many war-borne shrapnel splinters (shell shock, battle fatigue, PTSD, depression, abjectness) and the name "nostalgia" into moods (Alpine tourism, Romanticism, longing for the detritus of youth, and enthusiasm among the aging for having "those damned kids endure the stultifying mores we grew up with") that evoke what we now consider nostalgia.

It's a fascinating topic and quite a serious one.

To make it all a bit less serious, I should point out that the Titan of misapplied nostalgia, Count Arthur Strong, begins a new series of his towering wireless program Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show! this Friday on BBC Radio 4. I generally don't exuberate over character comedy (a loose category, anyway), but Count Arthur always finds a way to make me laugh. I hope he has a few more good series in him, since the sitcom end of the writing has created a well-populated comic world for Arthur to ricochet around. I'll be listening.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Short to Long

A few things I've found funny recently (in one meaning of "funny" or another), from short to long.
  • "Dexter" is Latin for right (as in right-handed). By a touch typist on a normal QWERTY keyboard, it's typed solely with left-hand keys.
“Brazil,” as the result was eventually known, is the first film to have a country named after it. It’s bound to arouse strong feelings. But Gilliam is no stranger to controversy — he once took a melon back to a shop — and in his characteristic way he’s ready for anything.
  • Andy Kindler, ace stand-up comedian, penned a piece about starting out in hack comedy for National Lampoon in 1991 which he reproduces on his website. It's called The Hack's Handbook: A Starter Kit. Funny 'cause it's true, and the dated references make it even truer.
  • William Blades (1824-1890), publisher and book-lover, wrote an excellent book called The Enemies of Books, first published in 1881. It's available as an etext at the University of Virginia: The Enemies of Books. Enormously witty and informative, it includes chapters on water; gas and heat; ignorance and bigotry; vermin, and more. For example, from the "Fire" chapter:
    Books in those early times, whether orthodox or heterodox, appear to have had a precarious existence. The heathens at each fresh outbreak of persecution burnt all the Christian writings they could find, and the Christians, when they got the upper hand, retaliated with interest upon the pagan literature. The Mohammedan reason for destroying books -- ``If they contain what is in the Koran they are superfluous, and if they contain anything opposed to it they are immoral,'' seems, indeed, mutatis mutandis, to have been the general rule for all such devastators.
Vermin, a plate from The Enemies of Books.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Painting Pictures

Norman Rockwell, who is often close to kitsch but undoubtedly skilled (and appraisal of whom yo-yos quite a bit) painted from photographs of posed models. PDN Photo of the Day has collected a few of these and some of the consequent illustrations. It's a pleasure to see what Rockwell did with them.

Some commenters seem to think using photos is somehow cheating. Hrmph. Few would deny that Gerhard Richter makes high art, and many of his amazing paintings use photos as source material or even as substrate. I love much of his stuff and it can't even begin to be represented on the web. Get thee to a gallery!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

An Interesting Life

There's one person who performed in-studio during the same TV program on which the Sex Pistols made their first TV appearance; appeared in the West End production of an early Andrew Lloyd Webber musical; had a role in one of the superior comedy movies of the 20th century; married a great UK comic writer/performer; and is now mayor of a town in the UK.

Who is it? Spoiler below.

It's Sue Jones-Davies. She was a member of the Bowles Rrothers Band, which performed on the same 1976 episode of Tony Wilson's So It Goes as the first Sex Pistols TV appearance. She appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar in London in the seventies. She played Judith Iscariot in Monty Python's Life of Brian. She married Chris Langham. She's mayor of Aberystwyth, in which The Life of Brian was presumed to have been banned (though it probably wasn't in actuality). She "lifted the ban" and had a special showing in 2009.

I bet there are a lot of good stories to be told by this person.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Don't Understand the Hype!

A correction at "A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number."

Haggis and the Taliban

Limited exposure to Scottish TV programming hadn't left me wanting much more. What's that you say? ... A program about Scottish history? How many massacres and clearances and tartans can I stomach? Then a Glaswegian with sinusitis will show up and I can't understand the dialogue. Then I get skull-punched in the nose, breaking my septum -- and they call it a kiss. With such trepidation I started watching Neil Oliver's A History of Scotland.

What a great series. As television about history it was excellent: clear but not condescending; balancing anecdotes of instructive individuals with larger social themes; beautifully photographed; wonderfully written for TV. Even the re-enactment scenes -- in other programs frequently over-extended and wretchedly executed to a comical degree -- were brief, unvoiced, striking, and elliptically evocative rather than bludgeoning.

Oliver, an archaeologist and not a historian, has been bashed by some for the series. But his scripted narration was stellar: about as engaging and informative as one gets in historical TV, with many amusing turns of phrase.

I am unencumbered by a great knowledge of Scottish history. But the parts I know a bit about were featured in recent episodes (The Covenenters, dealt with in Episode 6: God's Chosen People; and the Scottish tobacco trade's influence on American independence, Episode 8: The Price of Progress), and they were deftly and accurately sketched. Many Americans would have their eyes opened by The Price of Progress, with Scottish mercantilism, colonial slavery, and Adam Smith's ideas examined as well as tobacco and the American colonies. For me it was the richest episode so far, using disparate personal stories to illuminate some huge historical themes and an important time in the history of ideas.

Oliver has an easier task than English history documentarians. Their past has been so picked over that I expect at some point to see a BBC program about the Greatest Fourteen Seconds of the Most Important 9 Cubic Inches in British History, as if Nicholson Baker got a commission. But Oliver has done the larger history well. Thus we have a pudding in which the proof is ... excellent, to my taste.

Covering nearly two millenia in ten episodes is going to leave a lot out. Still, perhaps Highland Scots deserved more time, though I'm sure that there would have been complaints about any depiction of their tribalism. I've also seen grumbling that the series was too anglocentric, but to me that's pretty thin: Scotland's history has for centuries been intertwined with that of England. Perhaps more could have been done with the Edinburgh enlightenment -- covered almost solely (so far) by a considered treatment of Adam Smith.

[Let's pause to thank Presbyterians for making literacy so important. I heard someone compare the Covenenters to Taliban recently, and I nearly plotzed. If the Covenenters ran Afghanistan, Pashtun in great numbers would be able to read and write, instead of having only a surname they couldn't identify in script or print.]

The last episode is this Sunday. I'll be sad to see it go. If you have any interest in history or even in popular depictions of history, perhaps you should watch it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Oil Rags and Reality

1) I always presumed that the flavoring agent in Earl Grey tea was bergamot oil, from the mint-like herb (it has square stems like mint!) bergamot. But no, it's oil from the peel of the bergamot orange.

2) Reality TV is no longer just cancer on television; it has become a cancer on reality.

3) William Bolcom is a serious classical composer, with many suites, sonatas, symphonies, and other concert hall works to his name, but he also writes contemporary rags. I've found passable versions of two of my favorites on YouTube.

Graceful Ghost is one of the saddest and most beautiful of all rags--right up there with Joplin's Bethena. Here it's performed sensitively (if a bit poorly miked) by Megan Mui.

Another of Bolcom's Ghost Rags is Poltergeist, which is altogether more rambunctious-- particularly in the middle section when the ghost starts throwing the crystal around. Played by Olivier Cazal.

I believe both of these tunes were published in 1978. Bolcom's excellent old recording called Heliotrope Bouquet is out of print, but both these rags performed by the composer are on Bolcom's Complete Rags as well as various collections (Richard Dowling does a great job with Graceful Ghost).

Bolcom has also written what must be the funniest contemporary classical cabaret tune (faint praise, I know, but it's clever): Amor with lyrics by Arnold Weinstein.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What is this Watch Device?

Those are watches in there. But it's not a watch case.

What is that contrivance pictured above? It's not, strictly speaking, a watch case. It costs about 3,000 dollars. Ideal Christmas present for some hateful person.

Give up?

It's a watchwinder. For those who have more than one of those very expensive watches that wind with arm motion. With this implment you can keep them wound, since setting the pricier models is extremely difficult if they run down. [I actually don't mind self-winding watches, at least the cheaper sort which are easily set. But this device isn't for those.]

I particularly enjoy the fact that the device has: "Lighted LED digital displays are provided for extremely accurate quartz-based 12-hour time (AM and PM) and the turns per day indicators...." While you won't have to set your watch as often, you will have to set the quartz-based LED-signalled timer of your watch winder.

I thought of it thanks to this disquisition, though the watch winder described there is a bit different -- and it sounds as though it's more comical. The writer has a larger point to make, and to me it was worth a read.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rockbox Shrinks!

Rockbox Blackjack on the Clip

I've been in transit a lot recently and therefore listening to even more MP3s than usual. I mainly rely on a Sansa E260 running Rockbox. However, I've given the Sansa Clip to friends who like audiobooks, podcasts, and music and they uniformly love that player. It's tiny but has a screen (though a simple one) great sound, a good FM radio, long battery life, and is reliable. Unfortunately the typical inflexibility of MP3 player software that drove me to run Rockbox on my other players has kept me from using the Clip very much.

The Rockbox team has accomplished something nifty: they've ported a usable version of Rockbox to the Clip. Considering the tiny size and the tricky innards of this player, giving the full feature set of Rockbox to this player is quite a feat.

(For those who don't know, Rockbox is free open source audio player software, and it's darned near infinitely configurable and offers many features that are unavailable with most players' original firmware. Even if you have a brand other than Sansa --including many Apples-- they probably have a version that works on it. )

It isn't totally complete on the Clip yet:
  • You must install manually; the installation utility doesn't work currently.
  • You must use a daily build, as Clip isn't included in the stable release 3.4
  • Recording isn't enabled yet
  • The USB stack isn't fully implemented, which can make it a bit fiddly.
So very close to fully implemented. I'm not sure I'll switch when the Clip is totally Rockboxed--It's awfully small for many of the features I like--but I'll have to consider it.

If you have a Clip, are comfortable doing techie things, and want to try Rockbox, make sure to understand it only works on the so-called "Version 1" of the clip. Go to Settings > System Info and look for "Version" which denotes the firmware version. If it begins V01, then Rockbox will work; If it doesn't, then you'll have to wait. Everyone I know who's so far gotten recertified or refurbished Clips dirt cheap at, Woot! and elsewhere has gotten Version 1 players.

Here are some screenshots from my quick test of the firmware on a Clp I have around:

Now Playing screen

Settings screen

Main Menu

If you're running an old-fashioned browser on a desktop, laptop, and probably netbook computer, those will probably appear larger than true size. Amazing!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tech-journos in about 1876

I'm (meaning Riffle is) a bit snowed under here, metaphorically. But McSweeney's does a service with this retro-view of Gizmodo-style future peering:


- - - -

This week Bell Labs plans to roll out the Telephone, the first viable Telegraph alternative, but reports indicate they may not be ready. Many of the rollers are said to be jammed and the Telephone might have to be carried out instead. For agreeing to help lift the contraption, we have been given exclusive access to what experts are already calling 'a device which emits sound and is not filled with bees.'"

I adjure you to read more by "clicking" with your pointing device on the following: Click here to read more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The De'il's Awa wi' th' Exciseman

If only ...
The deil cam fiddlin' thro' the town,
And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman,
And ilka wife cries, "Auld Mahoun,
I wish you luck o' the prize, man."
Chorus-The deil's awa, the deil's awa,
The deil's awa wi' the Exciseman,
He's danc'd awa, he's danc'd awa,
He's danc'd awa wi' the Exciseman.

We'll mak our maut, and we'll brew our drink,
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And mony braw thanks to the meikle black deil,
That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman.
The deil's awa, &c.

There's threesome reels, there's foursome reels,
There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ae best dance ere came to the land
Was-the deil's awa wi' the Exciseman.
The deil's awa, &c.
I recommend Jean Redpath's rendering of this tune (arranged smartly by Serge Hovey, her co-conspirator on the multi-volume Burns recordings), but this version below, including some skilled fellows from Perthshire, was captured in the wild on YouTube and commendably represents the tune.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tap Your Canes

Roger Ebert says this 1980 piece of his featuring Milton Berle and Lou Jacobi hasn't been online until now. Berle:
"I had a whole list of things to say when a joke bombed.'

Like what.

'Like what, he says. Like OK folks, here's another one you may not care for. There must be people out there, I hear breathing. Tap your canes when you want to laugh. Working this audience is like walking a gangplank without a ship. Did you come in here for entertainment or revenge? I feel like the captain of the Titanic. May I see your library cards? I've never been funnier, folks, and believe me I sincerely regret it.'"

Such a long time ago.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Clashing Media Notes

= 1) She Wrote (-ish) a Book: I predicted (with several good reasons) that Palin's book would be rife with errors. Now that AP has obtained a copy, it appears that the deluge of errata is beginning. For instance concerning the reasons for the Couric interview and paying the cost of her "vetting." The AP has started detailing more.

That's after less than one day and a very cursory report-- wait until the digging starts. Also, don't be surprised if Levi Johnston really does have some unpleasant news for Palin.

= 2) Miranda Hart, who I know mainly from a radio series and a one-off program for Radio 4 (as well as supporting roles in Hyperdrive and Not Going Out) has a new eponymous TV sitcom on the BBC. The first episode was aired Monday and largely a redo of her radio series. The cast is great (and due to get better). The gag writing is fairly deft; the characters show promise; the performances are solid; and the retro style combined with a knowing approach to the audience is, so far, winsome. Looking forward to more.

= 3) Chris Matthews-- Still an Idiot: One of the most frequent search terms used to find this blog is "Chris Matthews Idiot." I'm proud of that and have returned to that rock-solid theme a few times over the years. Just yesterday Matthews evinced several of his dismal traits in an interview with Daniel Zwerdling of NPR who talked with some of mass-killer Nidal Hasan's colleagues at Walter Reed and produced some important reporting. [Transcript of the whole program--search for the second instance of "Zwerdling" for the segment in question.] In the space of a few short minutes Matthews:
  • Interrupted with trivialities while Zwerdling was trying to detail his reporting.
  • Used that interruption to demonstrate that he does not know the difference between "psychotic" and "psychopathic."
  • Exhibited his shallow film-criticism approach to covering current events by trying to shoehorn Taxi Driver into this conversation, and demonstrated he also doesn't understand Taxi Driver, either.
I'm glad Lou Dobbs is gone for several reasons, not least of which is that Dobbs is the main reason CNN is unwatchable when one seeks refuge from Matthews. Hardball will probably lose a lot of eyeballs when (if?) Dobbs is replaced by a sane person. BBC America's newscast is a great option, but sometimes I need a bit more US news.

= 4) Cymbal History: BBC Radio 4 had a fascinating and lively program (with occasionally misjudged comedic asides) on the history of the cymbal called A Cymbal Tale. It prominently features Zildjian and covers that company's history a bit as well as the broader story of the instrument and includes helpful sonic examples. It's on IPlayer for a few more days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

International Notes of International Note

World Leaders in Berlin at the Fall of the Wall Celebrations

1) The celebrations on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, while commendable, looked sadly drenched. I found an appropriate song for the occasion:

<-- click circle to play

"Rainy Day In Berlin" performed by Eric Idle from Monty Python's Hastily Cobbled Together For A Fast Buck album. Sounds like a great day they had in that city. There was precipitation, I understand.

2) A Marine reservist in Tampa offered divergent reasons for beating with a tire iron the bearded, robed man who spoke to him. One was that the man was an Islamic terrorist who shouted "Allahu Akbar." Turns out his victim was a Greek Orthodox priest in the traditional long beard and clerical robes. Whoopsy. Don't worry, potential international tourists: the priest was released from the hospital after treatment. Visit us with your currency!

3) The BBC news-based comedy quiz show Have I Got News for You gets a US version tryout. The pilot tapes November 20 in Manhattan and tickets are free. Sam Seder hosts with team captains Michael Ian Black and Greg Giraldo. I wish they had a Hislop on the panel -- meaning newsier-oriented people, not just funnymen--but these comedians could be up to it (Seder's been working in political/news media for years). Or they could screw it up, especially since, surprisingly, it's for NBC.

4) Lastly, it's Veterans Day in the US. I'm with Yglesias and others in wishing that Armistice Day was a holiday here: America should annually contemplate World War I rather than add another martial celebration. Still, this collection of videos of dogs joyously welcoming their soldier masters home had an extra heartwarming touch on this day. The dumb wars our leaders undertake aren't the fault of the grunts, so here's to them.

One of the doggy-greetings.

There are more at the link. This is one reason I love dogs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Zach Black

HBO's Bored to Death, which grew on me as the season progressed, just ended with another funny episode featuring guests John Hodgman, Sarah Vowell, Todd Barry, and Oliver Platt. I'm glad to see it's been renewed, especially since it features Zach Galifianakis. Zach's standup always makes me laugh and so does his acting.

Galifianakis was interviewed by Marc Maron for his podcast (iTunes -- non iTunes) on the set of a movie (from facts in the interview, I presume it's Due Date). Galifianakis does fake-sincere very well, but I think he's real-sincere in this interview, at least much of the time when he's not outright joking.

Galifianakis grew up in North Carolina, part of the Jim Crow south, as a member of one of the many Greek families involved in the restaurant business. He relates this story, after saying that his father's side of the family is very dark skinned (this story starts about 30 minutes into the podcast):
My uncle Mike told me that in the fifties in the summer he would get really tanned -- dark eyes, dark skin. He sat on the front of the bus in Durham North Carolina. The bus driver stops and goes "Hey, boy. You have to sit in the back."

And my uncle goes "Why?"

He goes "'Cause you're negro, you have to sit in the back of the bus."

And my uncle goes "I'm not black."

And the bus driver goes "Well, what are you?" and my uncle goes, "I'm Greek."

And the bus driver says "You can't ride the bus"
Welcome to the South!

Galifianakis, playing a petulant, narcissistic, dumb character (you know, like an entertainment "journalist") has done a series of celebrity interview web videos called Between Two Ferns. Worth a viewing.

Monday, November 09, 2009


I've drastically reduced shopping at Whole Foods. I had to stop there yesterday, though, for something only they sell. I decided to befoul my soul and pick up some brussels sprouts there rather than make a separate trip elsewhere.

Whole Foods usually markets brussels sprouts lumped in a bin alongside many other tubs full of well-pampered vegetables, but they had run short of loose sprouts. As a stopgap they stuck two nearly yard-long stalks of sprouts in the bin. Shoppers had already assailed both. Enough remained for my household.

I began picking and dropping them in a bag. It's a bit of a tedious endeavor but doesn't call for great strength. In terms of force required, on the spectrum between picking ripe raspberries and harvesting corn, it's there in the middle but leaning a bit towards the maizey end. There was a small but definite crack when I torqued each one away.

About 30 brussels sprouts (some quite small) remained on both stalks. I decided to take them all.

After I picked away for half a minute or so, a rather pushy woman viewed me from both sides and repeatedly leaned in to check the sprout level. She maneuvered her cart around. She vocalized nonverbally a few times (snorts, ululations, stridulations ...). Finally she said: "Oh, you're taking all the sprouts."

"Yes, but I'm not doing it solely for eating. I'm mainly enjoying the itinerant farmworker experience."

I left her a few anyway.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Surgeon for the Defense

I offer another ramble in the magnificent Old Bailey Archives. From 3rd July, 1771 trial of three men: William Leegroves and John Bailis for stealing a silver tankard from the King James' Stairs public house in Shadwell; and of Joseph Lyons for fencing ("receiving") it.

Defense called Isaac Benjamin, a surgeon from Whitechapel to establish that Lyons was bedridden with illness during the time of the crime. He diagnosed Lyons with pleurisy and bled him, then:
Q. Cannot you tell us what you thought proper to prescribe for him?

Benjamin. Only boluses.

Q. What was the composition?

Benjamin. The composition in plain English, is Venice treakle and spermaceti, and this I prescribed for him.

Q. And any thing else?

Benjamin. And powders thrice a day, powders of crabs eyes.

  • Back in that day, a bolus was a small ball or a pill (today it's a bit different).Benjamin's statement that he gave only boluses is contradicted by a later defense witness and doubtless renders a blow to Lyons' case.
  • Venice Treacle "Venice Treacle contained 64 ingredients. In addition to viper flesh and opium, it included cinnamon, agarics and gum arabic. "
  • Spermaceti is a wax from the head of the sperm whale, used in making candles, cosmetics, and in leatherworking.
  • Crab's eyes weren't visual apparatus, they were "Crab-stones. Calcareous concretions contained in the stomach of the crawish."
If you don't want to read the whole case report (though it has many entertaining elements), all three defendents were found guilty. All were sentenced to transportation, so it's possible descendents of these men live in America today.

A few miscellaneous bits about this case:
  • The prosecutor made an unusual (for a prosecutor) statement after the finding of guilt. "My lord, I would humbly beg leave to recommend the prisoners to your lordship; they are neighbours children, and their parents are people in repute. I believe it is their first fact, and they were very much in liquor."
  • Two of the witnesses for Lyons were Jewish,: the above-mentioned surgeon Isaac Benjamin and a jeweller, Israel Jacob, with whom Lyons lived and lodged in a house in Petticoat Lane. (Perhaps someone is still selling jewelry there today. ) More Jews appear in the case, too, and there are reference to the Jewish Sabbath and to Synagogues without explication. Commendably, Jews have been integrated -- though with many impediments -- into the East End for centuries.
  • Though much testimony from Old Bailey in this era is compressed and not in question / answer format, the testimony by Isaac Benjamin is an extended Q/A that looks a lot like a contemporary court transcript (though, of course, it isn't as reliable). It fills in some quotidian details of the life of a surgeon who tends to ordinary people, not aristocrats, of the day.
  • Several witnesses refer to the King's Day celebrations, including fireworks and merry-making on Tower Hill, which took place shortly before the crime. Lyons blamed crushing by the crowd at the celebration for his illness.

Friday, November 06, 2009

JPG of the Beast

A teacher in Texas is suing to avoid being fingerprinted because, she asserts, fingerprints are the Mark of the Beast from Revelations. Interesting interpretation -- I always assumed the Mark would be something permanent left on the body, not a record in a database.

I know how she feels. As a Fundamentalist Animist, I sued to prevent having my photo taken for my Driver's License. After all, a photograph would capture my soul. Now the image on my license is a sketch.
Department of Motor Vehicles Artist's Impression

I propose the Texas education authorities employ a sketch artist to depict the teacher's fingerprints. Problem solved!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Excellent tool

from David Rees we have the URL Shortening Service for Twitter.

for instance:

A simple way to let people know you're sending a URL.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Monty Python in New Jersey Race

US Politics and Monty Python have collided in the real world.

New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie copied Python's "Deja Vu" sketch for a web ad without permission. Python caught it and threatened to sue for copyright infringement--a case they would win easily since there's no real "fair use" defense for such wholesale lifting.

Terry Jones is quoted in the report above and seems to know more about arcana of US politics than I would have expected. .

Republicans often make light of Democrats for having so many "Hollywood" types among their ranks. Then they rip off writers, performers, and musicians without payment or permission when they need some creativity in their campaigns. It's become a common theme:
And there are more, including the grandaddy of all of them, Springsteen versus Ronald Reagan over Born to Run. [I recalled this a bit differently, but I bow to Wikipedia.]

Playing songs is one thing, but ripping off a forty seconds of video comedy is even more clearcut. As a lawyer, Christie should be more careful about theft.

Update: The web ad was pulled, then hours later the Christie campaign paid for rights to use the footage. Hilarious.

More Data

I noted the paucity of good Halloween costumes in my previous post. Seems like I'm not alone. A fellow who has been charting self-identified costumes for 5 years saw a spike in "nothing" up to the second most common costume among trick-or-treaters at his California home. It's national, I suppose.

Kids these days!

He lists each costume the kids say they were dressed as, and does say that homemade costumes were more common than usual which is nice. "Tie Dye Person," "Emperor of Evil," and "Nerd with mustache" show some panache as concepts.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Among the Monster Costumes

Data points:

  • Perhaps due to rain, the Halloween costumes encountered on my excursion were substandard. The best I saw was a group of six guys in real sequined and tailored mariachi costumes. They were carrying ukuleles and one boombox, though, and not mariachi instruments. Can't blame them--they'll probably get drunk and would destroy their vihuelas and trumpets.
  • The Saw franchise makes for costumes almost as bad as the movies.
  • I found to my horror that it's vastly more difficult to buy naphtha lighter fluid than it used to be. No doubt this is a consequence of less smoking and consequently less Zippo lighter use, both of which are good in themselves. But it may make this adhesive-busting solvent eventually impossible to find. Oddly enough, papers for rolling tobacco were abundant.
  • Dipping into the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies (awful name for a team) did not perform up to standard.
  • The game featured heavy tie-in promotion and ads for Sherlock Holmes. It's getting a Christmas release and a huge push -- Warner Brothers is really banking on it. I'd forgotten it's directed by Guy Ritchie, so my hopes are low. Holmes is more resistant to atrocities than Lina Wertmüller's work, but still... On the other hand the ads featured Eddie Marsan repeatedly and prominently and he's usually a great perfomer.
  • The promo for the US release of Pirate Radio (called The Boat That Rocked in the UK) revealed that an American DJ saved rock 'n' roll in the UK. I hope it does well here, but I can't recommend it. Great topic for a movie -- just not this one.
  • Abortion services are under attack in much of the US. The leading pro-choice groups aren't very savvy about politics, which is a shame.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Five Astounding Things About Irving Berlin

With There's No Business Like Show Business, God Bless America, Let's Face the Music and Dance (my favorite) and scores of others, Irving Berlin's songs will be with us for a long time.

Five amazing things about him besides his success:
  • His first hit was Alexander's Ragtime Band in 1911. He outlived the copyright for that song.
  • He could only compose in the key of F#, which is mostly the black keys of the piano. He had a mechanism added to his piano to allow him to change keys.
  • He couldn't read or write music. Not so difficult today with guitars and samplers, but his product was primarily written sheet music, not recordings.
  • White Christmas and Easter Parade, two of the most popular Christian holiday songs, were written by Berlin, who was Jewish. (Quick, name three other Easter songs. It's not easy.)
  • He wrote songs for 64 years: from 1907 to 1971.

Sheila Jordan's 1962 version of Let's Face the Music and Dance starts 2:16 into that file. It'll play above or here's a direct link.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Henry Morgan

Just rediscovered this boffo appreciative profile of Henry Morgan by at WFMU. Morgan is hardly mentioned nowadays but is, to these ears, much more fresh-sounding than other "Golden Age of Radio" luminaries. Bob and Ray are great, but got started a little later than Morgan. While an awful lot of "classic" comedy isn't too funny to current listeners, Morgan still can make me laugh.

The title of Nesteroff's profile gives you some idea of why Morgan was a difficult character for the burgeoning commercial radio networks. It's called Henry Morgan: Fuck the Sponsor.

The whole thing is worth a read, but it included a few things that stand out for me.
  • The transcript of the banter with Arnold Stang is hilarious.
  • Morgan was involved in the short-lived US version of the UK series That Was The Week That Was. "When the program was turned into a series by NBC in January 1964, regular contributors included Morgan, Nichols & May, Tom Lehrer, Steve Allen, Buck Henry, Mort Sahl and Woody Allen. " Holy crapoly.
  • The story of how he quit Canadian Broadcasting is both funny and an example of how curmudgeons can burn their bridges.
Fortunately, someone has put up some Harry Morgan radio programs on You can listen online or download for your player.

Henry Morgan Radio Shows, all from the late forties, in three small collections:
Enjoy. has a lot of old radio shows. It's a bit difficult to browse but the search function works well enough.

UPDATE: Jeez, Kliph has found and uploaded a 1952 Bob and Ray TV show with Audrey Meadows. Probably not of great interest unless one already appreciates Bob and Ray, but I'm amazed such a clean kinescope exists.

Bayh Nana Republic

Corporate Director has to be the best job. Get paid gobs of money and have few tasks. Showing up at infrequent meetings is suggested but not absolutely mandatory.

Think how lucky Susan Breshears was. Got a J.D. from USC Law in 1984, did some litigation and then some low-level work for Eli Lilly, then a little teaching as a Visiting Professor at Butler University. Small potatoes.

Then BAM! in 1998, she gets a cushy Director's gig at Wellpoint, a huge insurance company. In the past six years, she's raked in over 2 million dollars from Wellpoint without too much work (that's apparent because she managed to be director of quite a few other companies at the same time).

What happened in 1998 for Susan to get that wonderfully emolumental gig when she had no insurance experience?

Perhaps if you knew her married name is Bayh and her husband was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1998 you could imagine what Wellpoint saw in her.

Also -- imagine this -- she's against the public option, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


"There once reappeared in the village of East Dennis on Cape Cod, a sea captain whose ship, which sailed from that part of the New England coast many years before, had long since been given up as lost with all hands. Now here at last was the skipper again -- old, gray, silent. Yes, the ship had gone down and he alone still lived to tell the story. Only he would not tell it. Indeed, in the years which remained to him, he made just one allustion to the disaster, but the single sample was enough to suggest that the whole story might have been worth hearing. That was when a young neighbor, coming into his son's office, greeted the old captain, who looked up from under shaggy eyebrows but did not answer.

"Why Father" -- this, afterwards, in filial remonstrance--"didn't you know that man? That was Wilbur Paddock."

"Know that man?" was the grim reply. "I ate that man's uncle." "

-- Alexander Woollcott "The Good Life" , The Portable Woollcott, 1946, p. 334

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thickly and Thlinky and Front

The new series of The Thick of It kicked off with the mainspring of conflict beginning to wind tightly. There's a new minister in the Department [Nicola Murray MP, played by Rebecca Front] surrounded by the same delightful crew of cowering yet hubristic dolts. All served up to be volcanically browbeaten by Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). I'm eager to see how this ship of fools sinks the dishonorable Honourable Ms. Murray, though I can see why Iannucci may want a break from this world after this program and In the Loop.

Few entertainments aren't improved by adding Rebecca Front. She is skilled in an understated and assured fashion.

Front is a good singer and songwriter, too. Here are two songs from the Radio 4 series she did with Sioned William [They performed as "The Bobo Girls"] called Girls Will Be Girls. I'm not sure which series these are from, but the year is either 1989 or 1991.

First a very clever example of the small class of meta-comic songs that exemplify the process of writing that very song. Since no title is given I'll call it A Tune I Can Hum. It refers to Stock Aitken Waterman, but politely doesn't abuse them as they deserve.

Second, a darker song I'll call Serena. With an ironic twist and a slinky melody and rhythm.

Rebecca Front wrote both songs, commendably. She sings, joined by Sioned William in A Tune I Can Hum.

Sandy Burnett, bass
Jon Magnusson, piano
Phillip Hopkins, percussion

Apologies for the sound quality. It's the best I've got.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Turner Classic Movies aired Woody Allen's "Everything you always wanted to know about Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)" last night. Sometimes cliches are born in truth, and as a sketch collection "Everything You Always Wanted To Know..." is a mixed bag.

That movie was released in 1972. After that, Allen made Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975), and Annie Hall (1977) in the space of five years. An amazing accomplishment: the difference between Annie Hall and "Everything You Always Wanted To Know.." practically outlines the difference between the eighties and the sixties as cultural eras.

Only marginally related: I'm struck by how some of the foremost comic writers (Monty Python, Woody Allen) of that era made sport of philosophers. Python built whole bits around them (even a Philospher's Song), and Allen referred to them constantly. Both probably used them for a veneer of "seriousness" over the silly.

Nowadays people barely notice that "Kierkegaard" is a funny-sounding word.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

To Prevent the Abrasion of His Lips


From the incredible Kirby's Museum, a sort of curiosity shop and freak show in book form published at London House Yard (hence one of the many publishers/booksellers at St. Paul's) in the early 1800's. Some volumes are scanned at Google Books. Includes many excellent prints accompanying the narratives, such as the following:




Ricky Jay used these volumes in his Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women and other books, but there's a lot of oddness left. Google Books is a gift, since these books are rare (even as reprints) nowadays.

Spoken Like A Typer

John Cleese talking recently about how people who are captivated by images over words become moviemakers ... and make movies the way you'd expect such people to make them.
Film is a visual medium, they say. I reply that life is visual. Yet we're sitting here talking.
I say a good script (story & dialogue) can save bad visuals much easier than good visuals can save a bad script. As with all such statements, it's overbroad but largely true and I've seen enough pretty but crappy movies to know. In fact, virtually every movie made nowadays looks great.

Funniest thing I've seen all day

From LL Cool Bean, a commenter at The Washington Monthly
What's probably going to happen is that 59 Democrats will vote for cloture but Kent Conrad will filibuster the bill on the grounds that it can't get 60 votes for cloture.
Democrats can be such infuriating tautologists (Baucus made much the same argument -- for real -- during the finance committee vote).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love Has Pitched His Mansion

There are about 31,000 verses in the Bible. It really says something about this fellow that he chose this one from Leviticus to inscribe permanently on his flesh.

Methodist Minister Jeremy points to the incredible idiocy of not reading a chapter further before visiting the tattoo parlor.

And the Pope is now trying to poach Anglicans, too, mainly over issues concerning the naughty bits.

Those naughty bits again! God, who is Love, has "pitched his mansion in the house of excrement," and the churches seem to be intent on dwelling there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

China is a Different Place

There's a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) in China called Happy Farms that is alleged to be, as those panicked by such things often claim, "destroying relationships." On the surface, as the name suggests, it's about farming.

Happy Farms is so popular that enrollments are limited.

The limit is 2 million new signups.

Per day.

Related, in that it's about the same country: Why is Pizza Hut thriving in China while Dominos has failed? Intro paragraph includes the sentence: "Early in our stay in Shanghai, my wife and I tried to stop in to the Pizza Hut just north of People's Square -- and were turned away, by a head waiter whose face was barely visible beneath his gigantic sombrero."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Among the Savages

See, it's not rectangular.

Students of US geography will know where I've been when I relate that I was first in a Commonwealth and then in a neighboring state with a non-rectangular state flag. (That flag foreshadowed how wackos would reveal their ignorance while jumping to ridiculous conclusions about Obama.)

Part of my trip was in Amish country. Though I didn't see any Amish I did cross paths with those other Anabaptists, the kindly Mennonites. I was surprised at the marketing of both Amish and quasi-Amish products and services, including a four-page tabloid-sized flyer of Amish businesses ranging from the plausible (buggy-harnesses) to the less expected (restaurants--presumably fully equipped).

Through no fault of their own, the Amish are kitsch culture now. General understanding of their beliefs is crude and sometimes misguided. For instance, while they frown on electricity from utilities (with lines which 'tie' them to the greater world), quite a few of them use generators to produce power. And the practice of Rumspringa certainly gives many "English" (as they call non-Amish) pause. But the lack of education and the immersion in a distinctive subculture means that few children leave the faith after this sometimes frenzied interregnum.

Fun fact: If my calculations are correct, the Amish and the Hassidim were started within a few decades of each other, probably about six hundred miles apart. Much as most ancient British traditions date to the second half of the 19th century, our most pseudo-primitive European-spawned sects are just a few hundred years old.

On the return flight the airline offered XM Satellite radio, and one channel was Monty Python Radio. Oddly enough, when I listened it leaned more on audio from films and TV and rather less on the audio recordings (LPs and CDs). The channel appeared to tie in to the broadcast of Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) on Independent Film Channel. Regardless of any tie-in, I was amazed an XM channel was given over to Python for ten full days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'll be traveling for a few days. I may update here but even less assiduously than usual.

A few oddities stuck near to where my craw used to be, which I'll note briefly:
  • A pigeon named Cher Ami was a hero of the Lost Battalion episode in the Argonne Forest in WW I. The whole story is touching (worth the quick read). He survived his travails, the medics carved him a wooden leg, he won the Croix de Guerre with Oak Leaf Cluster, and now Cher Ami is on display in the Smithsonian.
  • Prop comic Gallagher (the Original Gallagher, watermelon smasher) gives a bizarrely bitter interview in The Onion AV Club. [He may be a bit difficult: issues with his brother left him estranged from his whole family. This Wikipedia article on the sibling issue differs from the story I've heard and seems to have been written by Original Gallagher himself -- much the same wording appears in the Original Gallagher's press material. ] Anyway, he's not putting his best foot forward in that interview. Whatever he says I hear "After all the watermelons I smashed for you, this is the world I get?
  • Richard Herring (a UK comedian) has a bold idea: he's writing a sketch show called As It Occurs To Me each week, getting a couple performer friends (Emma Kennedy and Dan Tetsell) to perform it with him live before an audience on Monday, and puttng it out as a free podcast by the next day . This seems like a cut-out-the-middleman tactic that could make sense for some small set of writer/performers. He hopes to sell enough live tickets to at least break even. I wouldn't be surprised to see more such things spring up. (I'm assuming, but don't know for sure, that it's not been done previously).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Zulu's Revenge

I finally got around to watching Zulu (1964) this weekend thanks to a timely airing on TCM as I lay dying. It was more effective than it should have been considering how archaic the depiction of battle ("realism" has come a long way in 45 years), and how imperial was the ethos. Michael Caine let his accent slip only a few times.

There were no automatic weapons in the true battle or the movie, but the episode depicted reminded me of the excellent book The Social History of the Machine Gun:
Because they [Europeans, especially the British] regarded the Africans as weird eccentrics, hardly even human beings, they could look on colonial warfare as an amusing diversion that had little in common with the 'real' wars that had been fought in Europe and might have to be fought in the future. Thus, because the machine gun had become so much a part of these imperialist sideshows, it came to be regarded, by definition, as a weapon that had no place upon the conventional battlefield. The European was obviously superior to the African, so why would he ever be so stupid as to be baulked by a weapon that was really only good for bowling over 'niggers' and 'Kaffirs?' Of all the chickens that came home to roost and cackle over the dead on the battlefields of the First World War, none was more raucous than the racialism that had somehow assumed that the white man would be invulnerable to those same weapons that had slaughtered natives in their thousands.

--The Social History of the Machine Gun, by John Ellis. 1986, Johns Hopkins Press. Page 102 (paperback edition)
While the engineers and inventors were clever, the officer corps, tacticians, and politicians were idiots. [Alter the tense of that sentence at will.]

HBO Sunday

When did Curb Your Enthusiasm become so mirthless and leaden? The characters have always been unpleasant, which isn't in itself a problem for me. However I never found Susie Essman's "screech obnoxiously twelve beats too long" performance tolerable in any way except as an occasional plot necessity. Now it seems the other characters have become tedious annoyances, too. The formula is the same, but the payoffs are so weak they don't even generate a chuckle. The only reason I tuned in this evening is because it leads in to Bored to Death.

Bored to Death is a ramshackle creation, though the production is fairly slick. It's a sitcom created and written by one person -- Jonathan Ames, a genuinely funny oddball. I enjoyed his comic novel Wake Up, Sir!, in which a dissipated American one-novelist endures uncomfortable episodes accompanied by his (probably delirium-induced) manservant Jeeves.

Bored to Death features Jason Schwarzman playing Jonathan Ames (sound familiar?) a one-novelist who, after his girlfriend leaves him, signs up on Craig's List as a private detective -- explicitly an unlicensed one. This sets Ames up to undertake the lowest-of-low-stakes investigations as he banters with his friends, played by Ted Danson and the comically earnest Zach Galifinakis--always a laugh-inducer for me. The settings are Brooklyn's trendier areas and Manhattan, and the local color is a rainbow of effete arts, media, and culture turds (radical vegans, comic book artists, publishing twerps, and Jim Jarmusch playing "Jim Jarmusch" as a cinema turd).

It's loopy. The comedy is driven more by characterization, mildly absurd circumstance, and mood than by gags. Provided Ames doesn't dial up the whimsy, I'll want to watch much more of it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unimaginable Travails

This is not H1N1. Not even a particularly gripping seasonal grippe. Actually just a cold that began in my nares and then annexed my sinuses, my throat and my chest, with painful strain on the intercostals from hacking. Along with the blessed syrupy medicament it made me sleepy and abed too much. Now it's subsiding from all these regions but leaving malaise.

Reading about suffering on this scale may inure you to your own petty problems. You are welcome.

A few things strayed across my consciousness in the past few days.

++ Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize and was likely one of the few recipients who rightly felt slightly annoyed about it. The hallucinatory caterwauling from the wingers assuaged me a bit.

++ C-SPAN has been airing UK party conferences and I caught a bit of Cameron's address. Through my haze it seemed he was adopting a roboticized variant of Blair's clipped and erratically paused folksy delivery. He executed a sustained riff on the importance of "society," which I presume UK commentators have already starkly contrasted with Lady Thatcher's view. This must be a version of what we in the USA would call a "dogwhistle."

From my distant and disinterested perch I can tell I'm going to find The Cameron Years oily.

++ With the positive CBO scoring of the Finance Committee bill, things seem well on the way to having health reform this year. I still think it will be a rancider-than-not bill, but things may work out in that regard too.

Provided I recover my health. Which I already largely have.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Back we go to these questions--friendship, character, ethics."


As Tom sits into the back, next to Bluepoint. Frankie
slides in after him.

How'd you get the fat lip?

The car starts moving.

Old war wound. Acts up around morons.

Very smart. What were you doing at the club?
Talking things over with Leo?

Don't think so hard, Bluepoint, you might sprain

You're so goddamn smart. Except you ain't. I
get you, smart guy, I know what you are.
Straight as a corkscrew. Mr. Inside-Outsky.
Like a goddamn bolshevik, picking up your orders
from Yegg Central. You think you're so goddamn

He sneers:

You joined up with Caspar. You bumped Bernie
Bernheim. Down is up. Black is white. Well I
think you're half-smart. I think you were
straight with your frail and queer with Johnny
Caspar. And I think you'd sooner join the
Ladies' League then gun a guy down.

His eyes narrow at Tom.

. . . Then I hear that these two geniuses never
even saw this rub-out take place.


The boss just said have him do it, he didn't say
nothing about--

Shutup, or maybe you still got too many teeth.

Tic-Tac sulks. Bluepoint turns and gazes out the window of
the car.

. . . Everyone's so goddamn smart. Well, we'll
go to Miller's Crossing. And we'll see who's

Recently saw Miller's Crossing again after several years and it's definitely wearing well for me. I don't think I ever paid much attention to John Turturro before seeing his resourceful turn as Bernie .

Very refreshing that Tom (Gabriel Byrne), the protagonist in what is apparently a tough-guy movie, never throws a decent punch and is on the wrong end of an assault at regular intervals.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Public Service Announcement

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which summarizes lives from two millennia of British history, is five years old. The writing is sometimes mildly colorful (depending on the life, of course) and necessarily concise. Click through for a sampling of what's on offer.

They provide a Life of the Day via email or RSS and a podcast fortnightly (not often enough!) featuring one life, currently Philip Larkin. The Larkin podcast was revealing to me: while I greatly admire his poetry and own "Collected," I knew little about him beyond recalling he was a librarian who never married.

If updates daily and fortnightly aren't enough for you, many US and UK libraries offer access for free (even from home with certain library memberships).

I presume Oxford is too staid to appreciate the slogan I propose: If you are tired of ODNB, you are tired of lives.

NoKo Hair, Plum Granny, and Queen Anne's Pocket Melon

I find it amusing, as was obviously intended, that there's a cookbook called Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States . Even better that the author C. Christine Fair is a foreign policy think-tanker being considered for a State Department post in the Obama administration.

Some of the food sounds good: Apple-pear crumble; chicken in walnut and pomegranate * stew; and a decent-looking kofte recipe.

And it has asides, too:
[I]n 2005 the NoKo [North Korean] government waged a war on long hair.... Older gentlemen were granted an allotment of fifty centimeters of upper hair for the "comb-over" that older, balding men so love. Hidden cameras videotaped "long-haired" miscreants and televised them for public amusement. The television media campaign stressed the adverse effects of long hair on human intellect, arguing that it consumes needless nutrients, and recommended haircuts every fifteen days. Hmmmm.... These people actually managed to build a nuclear weapon? [page 8 ]
Obviously the short hair made their scientists very smart.

* Pomegranate sidebar: Occasionally when I think of pomegranates I recall a small inedible fruit called Plum Granny in the southeastern USA. Few in the South know about it and almost no one outside the region has ever heard of it, it seems.
Ripe Plum Grannies photo from Aiken Gardens.
Each will fit in the palm of your hand.

I know of no commercial use for the plum granny. It's a rare category of plant, grown for the fulgently clever fragrance -- not the taste -- of the fruit, not the bloom. The small orb emits a flowery and melony perfume but is basically tasteless. When ripe, two or three of them set out in a bowl will sweeten a room's scent for days.

True pomegranates were unknown down there, and I always presumed the term "plum granny" could be a perversion of "pomegranate." [There's no botanical relationship between the plants--plum granny is a melon.] It's a folk-etymology I've proposed before, but there appears to be real evidence for it (though the term "plum granny" isn't in the OED). Another blogger presents evidence from her family history: her older relatives called the plum granny a pomegranate. And the Dictionary of American Regional English has an entry about Plum Granny which indeed traces the name's origin to pomegranate via the Bible, which I suspected: "It is said that the name is somehow derived from pomegranate, which the hillman knows chiefly from the references in Scripture."

Plum Granny was called the "love melon" because boys gave it to girls, much like bouquets, so they could enjoy the sweet smell. "Love melon" sounds risque today, doesn't it? Plum granny has other names too, including Queen Anne's Pocket Melon, which sounds downright ribald.
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