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.
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