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.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Variety Shows Are Coming Back!

It's a hoary game pulling out twas ever thus quotes from the past. But I was surprised to see this from as early as 1949:
Yet out of the wizardry of the television tube has come such an assault against the human mind, such a mobilized attack on the imagination, sucn an invasion against good taste as no other communications medium has ever known, not excepting the motion picture or radio itself ..... Since television has been on an assembly-line basis, there has been mass-produced a series of plodding stereotypes and low-quality programs. Behind it all, apparently , is a grinding lack of imagination and originality which has resulted in the standardized television formula for an evening's entertainment: a poisoning, a variety show, a wrestling match.

Norman Cousins, Saturday Review of Literature, Dec. 24, 1949 [I found this excerpted in the book Television and Radio in American Life, Herbert L. Marx, Jr. ed., 1953, p. 70 ]
In the US in 1949 there were about 2 million TV sets (nearly 720,000 in New York alone) for a population of nearly 250 million people. See also Wikipedia's 1949 in television.

Norman Cousins was a renowned liberal journalist, but the book has TV-bashing from a paleoconservative, too.

King James: Get Me Rewrite

Much fun has been made of the Conservative Bible Project, which aims to retranslate the Bible to fit the current Republican idiom. NearlySomebody at DailyKos kicks the tires. Stephen Suh at Cogitamus, a strong liberal Christian, points out the blasphemous nature of this endeavor. JC Christian does some mockery. Rod Dreher, himself a cultural conservative, finds the Bible translating idea laughable, too.

The Conservapeda folks have already translated a little bit. I'm going to paste the same verse in various translations. Here's Mark 10: 33
King James Version
Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles:

Conservapedia Translation
"Listen carefully: we will arrive in Jerusalem, where the Son of man shall be betrayed and handed over to the Elites, who shall condemn Him to death for execution by the Gentiles.

LOLCATZ Translation
33 We r goin to Jerusalem, an teh son ov man r pawed over to teh chief priests and scribes, an dey gonna condemn him to death.


SuH yeruSalemDaq maSal. lalDanla'pu'vaD HaDwI'pu'vaD je nuv'a' jeghlu'. HeghmeH luqIch. novpu'vaD lujegh.
It's pretty astounding that someone has translated the Bible into LOLCATZ.

The Backstory

In 2006, some conservatives were upset at what they perceived as liberal bias in Wikipedia. (This echoes a liberal quip about how "Facts have a liberal bias.") They started a conservative alternative called Conservapedia, which is well exemplified in its rejectionist entry on evolution.

Having vanquished Wikipedia, the Conservapedia team is now starting the Conservative Bible Project, because "Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations."

The worldview that generates this wheels-within-aggrieved-wheels scheme is the cultural Christian outlook of today's Republican party. Here's one passage they want to deal with:
At Luke 16:8, the NIV describes an enigmatic parable in which the "master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly." But is "shrewdly", which has connotations of dishonesty, the best term here? Being dishonestly shrewd is not an admirable trait.

The better conservative term, which became available only in 1851, is "resourceful". The manager was praised for being "resourceful", which is very different from dishonesty. Yet not even the ESV, which was published in 2001, contains a single use of the term "resourceful" in its entire translation of the Bible.
So "dishonestly resourceful" is fine, but "dishonestly shrewd" is necessarily negative? I suppose they need the "Conservative Dictionary Project" next.

If there is actually a group of people working hard on translating the original texts to modern conservative rhetoric--really wrestling with the text-- I'd wager twenty-five percent of them will be agnostics before the translation is complete. From what I've seen, it's going be a half-assed Search and Replace operation.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Unfortunate name of the day

Senator Max Baucus, Democrat from Montana is now despised by the Left (and me) for slow-walking health care reform though the Finance Committee.

On April 2009, The Associated Press reported that Baucus and his wife, the former Wanda Minge, are divorcing after 25 years of marriage.

Some posters at the wingnut refuge Free Republic seemed mystified by unexpected Google Ad results. That's not surpising since the UK slang term "minge" is virtually unknown in the USA.

EXTRA bonus Baucus name fun: Baucus's son (by his first wife) is named "Zeno." Let's hope he and his wife have two children who become physicians. Why?

Because they would be Zeno's Pair o' Docs.

Curious Orange

In a typically incisive manner, John Finnemore points to a peculiarity involving the word "orange." I'll be more boring.

I'd wager that if researchers asked English speakers: "In one word, how is the right swatch different from the left swatch above?" a common answer would be"Oranger."

Yet, while "redder," "bluer," "greener," "whiter," even "purpler" appear in common dictionaries, the word "oranger" does not. Strictly speaking, "oranger" isn't a word. Still, no native speaker would be confused. Only a few prescriptivist pedants would even bristle.

I was going to explore this a bit, but I've caught a flu and am not really up to it though it is interesting. It would require me to read some linguistics, psycholinguistics, color-categorization theory, and more. Time-consuming and boring, even for me and even if I were not ill, whine whinge whine.

And after all that I still wouldn't be able to say for sure why it was the case. But there are a few things I knew already and I'll type those up.

Of the six main color groups (the primary colors: red, blue, yellow; and the compound colors: orange, purple, green), "orange" was accepted into English usage most recently--at least 300 years after the others (and even then as the name of the fruit, not the color). It had the least "normal" origination for Middle English words -- it's from Persian, not Old English, Old French, Norse, or Germanic or classical roots.

While the citrus fruit was called "orange" in English around 1300, I think it wasn't until 1500 or so that the color was assigned that English name. Before that, the color was "geoluhread," which roughly means "yellow-red."

Thus, the color designation "orange" is more than 500 years newer to English than any of the other basic color words. Unusually for such a common color name, it's newer than the Magna Carta and roughly contemporaneous with the discovery of the Americas.

Some other peculiarities about "orange" -- the color and the word.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Phrase of the Day

Anthony Weiner, debating the profoundly mendacious Betsy McCaughey, described her as a "pyromaniac in a straw man factory."

Perfectly sums up her function in the anti-healthcare debate for the past fifteen years. Except she's the manufacturer of the straw men, too.

Plea Heard, Somewhat

A month ago I publicly shamed BBC America by noting they hadn't aired any comedy in weeks, and demonstrated how pear-shaped the whole channel had gone by viciously copying and pasting one full day's purulent schedule.

I presume my brutality played some part in BBCA changing their weekday programming in recent weeks. Instead of endless repeats of You Are Eating the Trash in your Attic! and How Clean are your Hotel Inspector's Breasts?, they've begun airing 6-hour blocks of a given prime-time UK program each weekday. They are calling these the "All-Day Marathons"-- without marathon-induced chafing. Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern will be Torchwood. Tuesday it wil be Robin Hood.

While neither program wins Riffle's "I Watch This Unbidden" award, it's a vast improvement over the earlier begging-to-be-euthanized lineup. Maybe a few Americans will stumble upon things they enjoy.

In a flash of astounding Good Sense, they have scheduled That Mitchell and Webb Look on Wednesday, October 7 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Apparently they're airing all six episodes of the first series and the first three episodes of the second series.

That Mitchell and Webb Look is the best UK TV sketch show of recent years, with top-flight writers and great comic performers. Set your DVR to record it on Wednesday in the USA, especially since it's not available on DVD here... yet.

Let's encourage BBCA to expose the US to the higher quality UK material, and thank them when they do so.

BTW, the radio series That Mitchell and Webb Sound has just ended its fourth series on BBC Radio 4. Fortunately, we in the US can still listen to the last episode via BBC iPlayer. The whole series has been splendid, and I'm sorry to see it go.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Truck Driver's Gear Change Hall Of Shame

The Truck Driver's Gear Change , that jarring key change in many songs, is analyzed in great detail with examples and humor by the author of a book called The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles.

I've always called such a key change a "direct modulation," and am surprised he doesn't refer to that term. I'll prefer "Truck Driver's Gear Change" from now on. [It's also interesting -- if very explicable -- how often all kinds of modulations go up and how relatively rarely down, although he doesn't remark on that.]

I'm also surprised to hear:
Former Spice Girls songsmith Richard Stannard even explains how, in the modern dance music market (and especially the Ibiza scene), the truck driver's modulation is seen as such an essential element that the A&R men actually demand it from their songwriters. As he puts it: "If it's not there, you can guarantee they'll say: 'where is it?'!"
A Spice Girls songwriter allows his name to be used in public!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Falsely Attributed to Churchill

From several quotes falsely attributed to Winston Churchill: "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash."

OTOH, HMS Cockchafer, Gunboat.
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