Friday, December 03, 2010


There goes a man who’s won his spurs in battle
The butcher, he. And all the others, cattle.
The cocky sod! No decent place lets him in.
Who does him down, that’s done the lot? The women.
Want it or not, he can’t ignore that call.
Sexual obsession has him ini t s thrall.
He doesn’t read the Bible. He sniggers at the law
Sets out to be an utter egoist
And knows a woman’s skirts are what he must resist
So when a woman calls he locks his door
So far, so good, but what’s the future brewing?
As soon as night falls he’ll be up and doing.
Thus many a man watched men die in confusion:
A mighty genius, stuck on prostitution!
The watchers claimed their urges were exhausted
But when they died who paid the funeral? Whores did.
Want it or not, they can’t ignore that call.
Sexual obsession has them in its thrall.
Some fall back on the Bible. Some stick to the law
Some turn to Christ and some turn anarchist.
At lunch you pick the best wine on the list
Then meditate till half-past four.
At tea: what high ideals you are pursuing!
Then soon as night falls you’ll be up and doing.

Related to nothing except I heard something about Brecht today and it reminded me of this fabulous song he wrote with Weill for the Threepenny Opera. And Ute Lemper is wonderful.

Regular service will return at some point.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Send In the Clowns

Placard from the Sane or Not?
offshoot of the Sanity/Fear Rally.

I keep reading "serious" writers penning mainly humorless thumbsuckers complaining about the performance (The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear) by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert scheduled for this weekend. Most such complaints seem to boil down to the following sentiment: "If I could put together such a thing, it would include a Will Rogers and would be way more awesome than these Colbert/Stewart events. "

To which I have two responses: 1) No, it wouldn't. and 2) "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

As showbiz, I guess the Rally will be entertaining in bits amid the filler. But I don't expect it to be a truly political event so I won't judge it that way. It would necessarily disappoint.

In September the Financial Times invited several satirists to write on the theme "Has political satire gone too far?" The only piece that stuck with me was by Jonathan Coe, whose novel What a Carve Up! (released in America as The Winshaw Legacy: or What a Carve Up! ) is a spectacular work of literary satire. He wrote, in part:
As the years go by, in any case, I become less and less convinced that satire is good for democracy. When I wrote What a Carve Up! in the early 1990s as a response to the Thatcher years, Yes Minister was a huge source of inspiration. It still impresses me that a show could be so thoroughly cynical and yet so full of warm, loveable characters: an amazing trick to pull off.

However, far from tearing down the established order, most satire (except in a few very great, very extreme cases – Swift’s A Modest Proposal being the obvious example), does the exact opposite. It creates a welcoming space in which like-minded people can gather together and share in comfortable hilarity. The anger, the feelings of injustice they might have been suffering beforehand are gathered together, compressed and transformed into bursts of laughter, and after discharging them they feel content and satisfied. An impulse that might have translated into action is, therefore, rendered neutral and harmless. I remember a recent edition of Radio 4’s News Quiz where the comedian Jeremy Hardy brought this up: after cracking a series of (brilliant) jokes about failed bankers collecting enormous bonuses, he suddenly said, “Why are we laughing about this? We should be taking to the streets.” He was right.
True, I think. But I recall that for many months the Bush administration was not taken seriously to task for anything by the mass media -- except on the Daily Show and Colbert. There were marches and other "action," and they didn't do much, in part because the media lowballed them. I'm sure the largest anti-war events before the Iraq war were larger than the biggest tea party rallies, and yet they got far less purchase. There was little questioning in mainstream media of the grounds for the Iraq war until years after the deed was done.

In such a routinized media culture sometimes it's either satire or nothing. I'll choose quality satire.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

With Great Pleasure ...

I was notified just now that Ed Reardon was featured on BBC Radio 4 last week. An Audience with Ed Reardon is available for replay for a few more days.

I'm not sure how those unfamiliar with Ed will respond but as someone long fond of Reardon I recommend a listen. It's well crafted as a recorded live show, distinct from the sitcom itself but based on it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

[Updated with full text of letter, below.]

RL Stevenson scratched it in ink on paper in 1888 in a letter, presumably not for publication.

IN MEMORY OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, 1850-1894, son and student of Edinburgh.

"and when I remembered all that I hoped and feared as I pickled about Rutherford's in the rain and the east wind; how I feared I should make a mere shipwreck, and yet timidly hoped not; how I feared I should never have a friend far less a wife, and yet passionately hoped I might; how I hoped (if I did not take to drink) I should possibly write one little book. And then now -- what a change! I feel somehow as if I should like the incident set upon a brass plate at the corner of that dreary thoroughfare, for all students to read, poor devils, when their hearts are down."

from the South Seas, September 1888
Presented on behalf of all Stevenson lovers ........ September 1995

John Finnemore took a picture of the bronze in 2010 and wrote about it: "It made me both smile and admire everyone involved - the person who wrote it, and the people who did what they did when they read it."
That understates it nicely. It's a wonderful thing all 'round.

Here is the letter in full:

To Charles Baxter
7 a.m. 6 September 1888
with a dreadful pen
Yacht Casco, at sea, near the Paumotos

Mv dear Charles, Last night as I lay under my blanket in the cockpit, courting sleep, I had a comic seizure. There was nothing visible but the southern stars, and the steersman there out by the binnacle lamp; we were all looking forward to a most deplorable landfall on the morrow, praying God we should fetch a tuft of palms which are to indicate the Dangerous Archipelago; the night was as warm as milk; and all of a sudden. I had a vision of — Drummond Street. It came on me like a flash of lightning; I simply returned thither, and into the past. And when I remembered all that I hoped and feared as I pickled about Rutherford's* in the rain and the east wind; how I feared I should make a mere shipwreck, and yet timidly hoped not; how I feared I should never have a friend far less a wife, and yet passionately hoped I might; how I hoped (if I did not take to drink) I should possibly write one little book etc., etc. And then, now — what a change! I feel somehow as if I should like the incident set upon a brass plate at the corner of that dreary thoroughfare, for all students to read, poor devils, when their hearts are down. And I felt I must write one word to you. Excuse me if I write little: when I am at sea, it gives me a headache; when I am in port, I have my diary crying, 'Give, give." I shall have a fine book of travels, I feel sure; and will tell you more of the South Seas after very few months than any other writer, has done — except Herman Melville perhaps, who is a howling cheese. Good luck to you, God bless you. Your affectionate friend R.L.S.

Love to Henley and Simpson and Bob. if you see him.
The editor says that the reference to Herman Melville as a "howling cheese" is a compliment. How things change.

* "Rutherford's" refers to the pub in Drummond Street known as "The Pump," frequented by Edinburgh students.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Count of Pennsylvania

Michael Penn.

Sounds like the coming fortnight to me.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rebranding Riffle

We at Riffle are considering a relaunch. Logo redesign (actually, merely design) by Crap Logo.
Crap Logo is recommended: It's free, and it's crap.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Albert Brooks Minus One

Music Minus One has been around for decades as an aid to music practice. A sound recording is provided of accompaniment, without the solo, for the student to play the lead part along with.

Front cover.

Rear cover, originally with mirrorized insert.

Before Albert Brooks was a movie maker, he was a legendary comedian. In 1973, Brooks adapted the "play along at home" theme with the final track from his LP Comedy Minus One. That recording is long out of print. Below is the title track: Comedy Minus One.

Someone kindly typed up the script that was included in the original LP. Follow along here to perform with Albert Brooks.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at


Four Minutes, Thirty-three Seconds: John Cage

NOTICE This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by WMG. The audio has been disabled.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Not All Awful Books ...

The website Awful Library Books points us to just what the title indicates. For example:

Rules to Be Cool from 2001, which I'm sure resulted in dozens of cool-rule-obeying youngsters.
The Central Youth Employment Executive of Her Majesty's Stationery Office presents The Mastic Asphalt Spreader, with a deliciously attractive cover.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Good Family Crest

Le Febve de Vivy
Crest of the Le Febve de Vivy family, about which I know little other than they are Swiss and Belgian and like cute cartoonish birdies.

Mesmerist and Handwriting Teacher

[Post updated-- scroll down for more info.]

This is a scan of an 1844 printed poster advertising a performance by a traveling mesmerist. I found it recently clearing out some old work and sadly I can't conjure the mesmerist's name for certain. I believe it was Charles Webster, an itinerant showman. If I recall correctly, at various times he taught handwriting, too.

It's a lovely old advertising print, I think. Click the image to enlarge and see it more clearly.

Update: With the help of a friend, we've recalled the name of the mesmerist: Jonathan Palmer Webster, aka J Palmer Webster.

Webster was from a farming family in New Hampshire. He set up a penmanship school called Webster's Academy of Penmanship and Stylographical Card Drawing. A relative gave him funds for medical school, which he attended in New York until the money ran out.

He also called himself an "Itinerant professor of phrenology," and wrote a book about that science.

In the early 1840s, stage mesmerism was a popular entertainment. P.T. Barnum and other impresarios presented regular exhibitions.

Webster began performing stage mesmerism, particularly in Virginia, the Carolinas and New Orleans, where this print is from. In towns where he exhibited he also offered mesmerism classes at as much as $50 a pop -- a hefty charge in those days. Sometimes a clairvoyant named Frederick would perform with him.

For stage hypnotists of the era, clairvoyants would be put into a trance state and see things at a distance or in the future. Sometimes they would act as healers by "seeing" into the bodies of audience members and identifying diseased organs.

In 1849 Webster migrated from New Orleans to San Francisco (Gold Rush, perhaps?). There he apparently worked as a physician despite not having completed his education. After that I know nothing of J. Palmer Webster, a very minor figure who left behind some great handbills and posters.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Titus, it's your anniversary!

Titus Oates, with a name that sounds like a country singer's, was a scoundrel. He fabricated the Popish Plot -- which led to the execution of over fifteen innocent men and which exacerbated an anti-Catholic mood into a frenzy -- and committed sundry bad deeds that were more prosaic.

His punishments include something I was unfamiliar with:
He [James II] had Oates retried and sentenced for perjury to annual pillory, loss of clerical dress, and imprisonment for life. Oates was taken out of his cell wearing a hat with the text "Titus Oates, convicted upon full evidence of two horrid perjuries" and put into the pillory at the gate of Westminster Hall (now New Palace Yard) where passers-by pelted him with eggs. The next day he was pilloried in London and a third day was stripped, tied to a cart, and whipped from Aldgate to Newgate
That was probably too good for him considering the standards of the day. But yearly pillory was something I hadn't considered before.

It is nearly the anniversary of his birth (15 September 1649). I'm curious as to what was the day (or days, or week, or month) for his annual pillory. Would have made for a whale of a birthday celebration if they combined them.

Oates went from penury to having Whitehall apartments and allowances, to various punishments, to a small royal allowance, then a suspension of that allowance, then a bigger royal allowance of £ 300. Ultimately, I understand, he died.

Happy Titus Oates day!

It's the time for scoundrels to whip a froth into a frenzy, human suffering be damned.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Simulating the Turnip Harvest for Fun

Turnip Strength Tester, a Soviet arcade game where one attempts to pull a stand-in for a turnip from a stand-in for the ground. Available for play at the Museum of Soviet Video Games.

This is not a jape.

That museum is infinitely cheerier than the North Korean Arcade, which hasn't even a mangelwurzel, real or fake.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Old Quips

While going through the belongings in an old house, I found a small booklet of fragile yellowed paper.

Wehman Bros' Vaudeville Gags and Jokes, published by Wehman Bros, 126 Park Row in 1916.

Maybe I'll scan part of it sometime. Many of the individual bits have been clipped out so the book in some parts looks like a collection of ribbons with jokes on them.

The material is scatter-shot (perhaps all the best gags were snipped decades ago). Most of the jokes rely heavily on puns, some simple:

- What did the vegetarian say when called upon to offer grace?
- He said: "Lettuce pray."
And some spectacularly labored and askew:

Billy and Geraldine sat on the porch.
Billy said: "I like your company Gerry."
Gurgled Geraldine: "Me, too."
Whereupon Billy became a holding company and drew up his articles of incorporation so close that Geraldine went into the hands of a receiver.

Here are a few more.
I've gone into a new business: making artificial limbs.
That so? How is it?
Oh, rushing. I put on two new hands yesterday.
I think my client will lose his case.
Have you exhausted all the means at you disposal?
No, but I've exhausted all the means at his disposal.
- My father has a new kind of typewriter -- he fills it with ink.
- My father has the kind you fill with wine.

I have a horse and taught him to talk.
I never knew a horse could talk.
The only thing is you can't hear him very well.
Because he talks horse.

My flight is boarding, so I'll leave it at that. Maybe I'll return to this book soon.

Happy gags to all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

One of the excellent images from a fine collection of New York photos from the seventies and eighties.

Found thanks to Roy Edroso, who wrote an elegiac post recalling his life during those times.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

See if you can suss her devious plan

Slightly familiar? *

Spartanburg woman, 39, accused of stuffing burger down pants: "Turner ordered two sandwiches and two small coffees. When a cashier gave Turner the bag with the sandwiches while her coffee was being prepared, the report states, Turner took one of the sandwiches out of the bag and stuffed it down her pants."

Figured it out yet? I'm sure she thought she was cunning. It's explained at the linked page.

*Doesn't she look a bit like Katy Brand?

Friday, July 16, 2010


Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.

--Noel Coward

(A name which, to Americans, sounds like he's scared of Christmas.)

It's an old line, I know. But I was just listening to some cheap music -- less than a dollar per hour -- and the potency was truly remarkable.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Artisanal Document Destruction

In order to keep nosy paparazzi and garbage-trawlers away from my financial details, I purchased a decent shredder. It makes fine short strips and would possibly thwart even the reassembly skills of Iranian Revolutionaries.

But my shredder is mechanized and mindless and has no soul. No élan vital. So I've decided to rend my papers by hand, with the help of the 5-bladed shredding hand scissors available at the retailer MicroCenter.Soon, shredding will once again be an act of personal expression and fulfillment.

[I may be prepared to provide this service for a fee for the discerning and profligate who appreciate sustainable craftsmanship.]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shoe-bury-ness? Really?

With a punishing austerity budget due to descend upon Britain (my thoughts are with you), it's time for lefty troubadour Billy Bragg to speak up for the ragged masses.

Let's get enthused about road maintenance with his stirring song A13 Trunk Road to the Sea, which is basically (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66. Kind of.

Lyrics [with notes] from Braggtopia


If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness
Take the A road, the OK road that's the best
Go motorin' on the A13

If you're looking for a thrill that's new
Take in Fords [The Ford factory in Dagenham], Dartford Tunnel [Road tunnel under the River Thames to the east of London] and the river [The River Thames] too
Go motorin' on the A13

It starts down in Wapping
There ain't no stopping
By-pass Barking [Billy Bragg's birthplace] and straight through Dagenham
Down to Grays Thurrock
And rather near Basildon
Pitsea, Thundersley, Hadleigh, Leigh-On-Sea,
Chalkwell, Prittlewell
Southend's the end

If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness
Take the A road, the OK road that's the best
Go motorin' on the A13

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Goat Confiscation in Virginia

Bedford authorities find goat in trunk at DUI checkpoint

"She told deputies she is from the United Kingdom and transporting goats in this manner is acceptable there."

According to Ms.
Enderdy--who said she had kindly obtained the animal as a pet for her four Kenyan passengers--the standards of caprine conveyance in the UK are lamentable. Please, Britishers, leave your livestock handling practices behind when you come to the USA.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Life By the Throat-- With Dijeridoo

Wilhelm Reich was a castoff of early psychoanalysis who believed that the energy of life, including that from orgasms, was a distinguishable and collectible force called "orgone energy." An orgone accumulator could be built (and he built them-- in part for which he was imprisoned in the USA and his books were burned) which would enable those positioned in the small cabinet to be revitalized by the forces of life and of ecstasy

Yes indeed, that's a schematic outline of part of the most prurient of Reich's ideas.

The Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev used those Reichian themes and more to shape a "70's ludicrous," * tedious and hilarious movie called WR: Mysteries of the Organism in 1971.

Makavejev subsequently made a well received "serious" movie called Montenegro in 1981 dealing with political themes from his native Yugoslavia and beyond.

Four years later, for some reason we can only celebrate, an international consortium paid for Makevejev to create a sublime concoction of politics, commerce, surreal humor, cultural imperialism and romantic comedy called The Coca-Cola Kid. Eric Roberts plays a good-ole southern boy sent to the Australian outback to capture for American business the drinking habits of one of the few places in the world that had not yet succumbed to Coke.

It's a universal movie; it resonates more over the decades. It features a luminous Greta Scacchi. It has fewer Australians than expected in lead roles. And yet, as a character in the following clip jests, it's "As Australian as a barbed wire canoe. It's as Australian as a shit sandwich."

This movie will repay your attention but it's not what you expect.

Behold Neil Finn of Crowded House toying with the American corporatist for all he's worth and then performing the best Coca-Cola jingle that the corporation would never allow to represent it.


Don't want to go
Where there's no Coca-Cola

You've got

Life by the throat
When you're drinking Coke

Choke back the tears
When there's no Coca-Cola

You've got

Life by the throat
When you're drinking Coke

Under the hot sun
When the day is done
And you're dying of thirst
There's only one drink
It's universal

Don't want to go
Where there's no Coca-Cola

You've got

Life by the throat
When you're drinking Coke
Choke back the tears
When there's no Coca-Cola

You've got

Life by the throat
When you're drinking Coke
Life by the throat
When you're drinking Coke

Life by the throat
When you're drinking Coke
Keeps you up 'cause
there's nothing like Coke

* Footnote: "70's ludicrous" is a category of films from the late sixties through the seventies that are bold, experimental, "counter-cultural," sometimes tedious and often outrageous. It's my own designation. I know it when I see it.

Monday, May 24, 2010


From some angles, this guy looks to me like John Cleese.

But he isn't--I hope! He's a member of Winterband, the the world's gob-smackingest combo. They're a group of musically dull old hippified belligerent Christian rightwingers who created Obama Muslim 911, among other classics.

Thanks to The Awl for the marvelous collection of mind-rending videos.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Crow Smoking

Easily anthropomorphized animal photo, ergo comical. Details here.

Add that corvids are such striking and impish animals, and that these are perched on what appears to be a thatched or straw roof (in the Maldives, no less), and that the photographer is from Crowborough. There is little more to desire.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Slow and Sad

The world has one fewer compassionate soul: My mother has died.

Things will be slow here for a bit. From Billy Connolly's poem Tomes:
even though it never mentions my mother,
now that I think of her again,
who only last year rolled off the edge of the earth
in her electric bed,
in her smooth pink nightgown
the bones of her fingers interlocked,
her sunken eyes staring upward
beyond all knowledge,
beyond the tiny figures of history,
some in uniform, some not,
marching onto the pages of this incredibly heavy book.
Goodbye Mother.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The UK Press is different

I usually think much of the difference between the UK and US press is attributable to the nakedly partisan and sleazy nature of the UK tabloids. But even the broadsheets editorialize humorously in subheads of actual news stories:

Guardian: "Lord Mandelson denies incident is a metaphor for Labour's election campaign"

Made me laugh!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Common Misconceptions

List of common misconceptions - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "This list of common or popular misconceptions corrects various fallacious, misleading, or otherwise flawed ideas that are described by multiple reliable sources as widely held. The statements below are not the misconceptions, but are the actual facts regarding those misconceptions."

Most I knew. Some I didn't. Fun either way.

An Election I Can't Vote In

Comments on something about which I know only a little: the UK election. First, from UK Election Trend, polling summaries through today.
UK Election Trend analyzes this graph: "It's too close to call, and it seems like there will be no clear answer till the morning of the 7th. It does however look sure to be a hung parliament of some kind. "

UK Election Trend is fascinating. It's a bit more analytical and seemingly independent compared to the UK Polling Report, which I also visit a lot.

The Tory reaction to a hung Parliament (ditching their planned Party Political Broadcast and doing a pseudo-satire on the horrors of what Clegg and others are humorously calling a "balanced Parliament" ) indicates their utter fear of this outcome. Hilariously, they tried to get Armando Iannucci to direct it.

The sentiment of the UK is apparently more left-leaning than the current 2.5 party electoral system reflects. Perhaps a coalition could rework the electoral system to allow voter sentiments to be more closely tracked. A Liberal-Labour coalition could conceivably change the system and create a permanent minority Conservative Party. I'm pleased that I somewhat align with David Mitchell in that impulse.

The Tories would rather drink poisoned cider than change the electoral system. Their idea for "more democracy" is referenda and initiatives. Not necessarily awful ideas in themselves but which they plan to implement in a horrific manner (look at California for the wreckage left by such a system).

I've been considering why I find this election so fascinating, apart from my rank Anglophilia. I've assembled some reasons.

While the election is important to the UK, the outcome is, in all likelihood, of small consequence to my daily life (unless the BBC is affected!). I can enjoy the ins and outs without being emotional about them. It's hard to do that with elections in my own country.

By temperament and politics, I find the Tories pretty repellent. Labour seems old and tired. So the game-change that came from Clegg's performance in the first debate was thrilling, especially considering the fact that it happened during the first ever televised leadership debate in the UK.

I'd be satisfied if Murdoch took a whacking, and the LibDems aren't tied to Rupert as the other parties are. Murdoch is such a malign influence here in the USA: any comeuppance he gets is a boon to me.

And, ultimately, it's exciting, interesting, and a bit exotic. Yes: exotic, to this American.


Britain has a notoriously partisan press and I'm largely unfamiliar with the inclinations of the major papers. In order to "consider the source," I've often returned to this handy chart from the Guardian listing the parties the various publications have supported over the decades. Most helpful.

Click through for a commendable article about the Guardian meeting regarding their endorsement, as well as a click-sortable (and more legible) version of this table.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Loving Movies

Roger Ebert loves movies. He likes people who love movies.

I find this incredibly moving.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good Start

Via BoingBoing, this nifty image of Murdoch merged with Cameron.

I suppose the image is in response to stories like this and this. If only enough Americans knew who Rupert Murdoch is (owner of Fox News and New York Post) for this to matter here in the States.

For what it's worth, Cameron's policies are largely to the left of anyone who could reasonably be expected to be President of the USA.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Automatedly Interesting

This UK election is fascinating. As Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian:
"No one knows anything." Talk to those whose opinions ordinarily come armour-plated and they'll admit they're flailing.
Not knowing much about the UK's political system, I thought I'd rip off my previous post and do a Google Search Terms comparison (kindly, they used the traditional party colors as their first three designators). Here's the past 30 days in Google search interest. Not surprising, I suppose. Of course, it was the first ever televised leadership debate that started this rollicking change.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two Mindless Dog Videos

Carnivorous Attack by Golden Retriever Puppies!

Dachshund Attacks Bubbles!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Freemasons, Jews, Gays To Blame

Caravaggio: St. Matthew and the Angel. Wikipedia.

The Vatican really is in a frenzy to blame everyone else for its institutional failings, as Wonkette points out. Yes: Freemasons, Jews, and Gays.

What's next: blaming seductive children?

Not next-- already! From December 2007, comments by the Bernardo Alvarez, Bishop of Tenerife:
His comments were that there are youngsters who want to be abused, and he compared that abuse to homosexuality, describing them both as prejudicial to society. He said that on occasions the abuse happened because the there are children who consent to it.
‘There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you’, he said.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Photo by andy_5322 under creative commons

In a store today I saw something that I've seen advertised recently: Dr. Scholl's Footmapper. It purportedly helps one determine which shoe inserts to buy.

I didn't try it, but it did make me think of shoe store gizmos from before my time that I'd heard of. Fortunately, these quaint foot-cancer-inducing machines are documented on the web.
Commerce never rests.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"English is our language. No excetions"

Feedom doesn't come free

News reports on various Tea Party protests show a shockingly high incidence of poor spelling. I give extra points to those doltish nativists demanding an English-only jurisdiction via a marquee with comical errors. Pargon has collected a few illiterate examples in the rollicking Flicker set called Teabonics.

UPDATE April 5: Amercia!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chihuahua Despair, Akita Devotion

Linda Christian with her green-eyed Chihuahua, from frankphotos.

From the History of Science journal Endeavour comes the paper The nature of suicide: science and the self-destructive animal. It gives examples of reported animal suicide, including these from the 19th century:
  • A "a fine, handsome and valuable black dog of the Newfoundland species" that drowned itself in 1845.
  • A canvasback duck that drowned itself after its mate died.
  • A cat that hanged itself following the death of its litter.
  • A horse that jumped into a canal after years of mistreatment.
  • Dogs that starved themselves on the graves of their masters.
I contribute an anecdote I ran across recently regarding Linda Christian (pictured above): actress, wife of Tyrone Power, and curator of a turbulent personal life:
"June 1964 her pet Chihuahua, jealous over the missing attention he receives over the bullfighters, jumps to his death from her terrace."
Poor grammar, I know, but you understand what the writer's getting at. Jilting a pet is bad enough, but with professional animal torturers?

[Lest this post about Linda Christian's chihuahua be considered just more of the currently fashionable Christian-bashing over "petty gossip," I must admit that the Chihuahua story verges on the sensational.]

On a more positive note, not all tales of the "human fails animal" genre end in suicide: some are uplifting. If you haven't heard of the loyal Hachikō (from which at least two feature films have been made including a recent one by Lasse Hallström), then you may want to read about the touching behavior of this extraordinary Akita.

For the record I prefer dopey but basically sensible larger dogs: herders; hounds; and retrievers, especially Labs. Hardly ever suicidal.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for pointing to the journal article which is informative and thoughtful, and which I am not attempting to do justice.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beard of Honor

BYU Honor Code Office: What is the process for obtaining a beard exception?

What is that process? Well, to start, collegians-- non-discriminatorily, they do not specify male or female-- you must get a physician involved to sport a beard at BYU.

For those who aren't aware, Brigham Young University (BYU) is a large Mormon institution in Utah -- one of the most Republican states in the USA.

You know what's coming, right? This is a photograph of Mormon leader Brigham Young, after whom the University is named.

Brigham Young Image from Wikipedia.

Maybe Brigham couldn't wrangle the mustache rider to the beard exception.

By the way, Mr. Young had about 55 wives.

Thanks to drgrist

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Anti-White Bias

Boooring. Source: Today and Tomorrow.

COME ON PAINT ME WHITE AGAIN, an exchange between UK street artist mobstr and the Newcastle City Council. Click through for the images.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Soundtrack for the Universe is a handy website to have up at nearly any given time. Today, the Republican congressional leadership should have it on an endless loop.

I think Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are hearing a much happier tune.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Tune

I know nothing about this clip other than it's apparently a guitar player from Botswana named Ronnie using an idiosyncratic technique to play a joyous tune.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A new national anthem for Ireland!

Since it's St. Patrick's Day, and since I enjoy a song occasionally, here's a fine suggested anthem for Ireland.

A new national anthem for Ireland!: "Ireland, Ireland!

By ‘The Duckworth Lewis Method’
Ireland, Ireland, damp sod of earth
lost on the surf of the North Atlantic.
Ireland, Ireland, mountains and mist,
Vodka and chips, it’s so romantic."
Continued, and with audio of it sung with gusto, at the link. Not being Irish, I can't suss out what the censored word is.

One Movie I Won't Seek Out

Billy: The Early Years. A Billy Graham biopic directed by Robby Benson. Yes, that Robby Benson. Christianity Today says the screenplay "is full of extremely obvious and heavy-handed moments...."

I would have been disappointed if it weren't.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stealing the Show

The Adventures of Prince Achmed, 1926. Source: Wikipedia

With tools such as DRM and copy protection, the movie industry is waging an apparently losing battle against film pirates. How long has this fight been going on?

At least since the 1890s:
Film tinting: "The process [of tinting film] began in the 1890s, originally as a copy-guard against film pirates. The film was tinted amber, the color of the safelight on film printers. The discovery of bleaching methods by pirates soon put an end to this."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

True Indie Cinema

Preview of "The Family in Which I Live"

The film is based on a true story about the family of Hero Kim Kwang Chol, which works hard to repay the profound loving care and trust shown by General Secretary Kim Jong Il, always enshrining them.

Sun Hui, lead part of the film, becomes a daughter-in-law of the family of Hero Kim Kwang Chol as befitting the heroine who performed feats in the socialist construction site during her maidenhood. She displays sincerity as the wife of an officer and a mother for service persons on the frontline.

During these days she learns from the noble spirit of the Hero's parents and his brothers and the genuine family tradition. She creditably performs her duty like a cooker for the supreme command without expecting any honor.

-- Korea News Service

Photo-thing by Riffle. Explanation here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sarcastic Actions

David Letterman interviewed Julianna Margulies, who talked about her early years as a waitress. During the discussion, he said [in paraphrase]:
My friend George Miller would always leave a huge tip even when the service was terrible. I'd say: "The service was awful, why such a large tip?" George said: "I'm being sarcastic."
Made me laugh.

Also reminds me of the prefatory lines of the Rickie Lee Jones song Juke Box Fury:
Polly and I went to the circus
Polly got hit with a rolling pin.
We got even with the circus
We bought tickets but we didn't go in.
Non-verbal sarcasm is even harder to pull off than the usual kind, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Confirmatory Graph

What if Canadians synchronized their flushing -- say, by peeing en masse during play breaks in the most watched hockey game in Canadian history?

Edmonton water consumption would look something like the dark line in this graph:
The universe is in order, as Nick Park would acknowledge.

Via Matt Yglesias.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

'Pinocchio syndrome': a peculiar form of reflex epilepsy?

Reflex epilepsies can be defined as epilepsies in which all or a significant part of seizures can be regularly provoked by a given triggering factor, most often a sensory stimulus. Sometimes it may be unexpected, such as, reading or decision-making. We report an unusual epilepsy in which seizures occurred when the patient lied.


As in Collodi's tale, in which lies made Pinocchio's nose grow, our patient's lies became so obvious for his interlocutors. As he was a "eurocrat", using lies to evoke the truth in adversarial EEC negoations, it is thanks to carbamazepine [an anticonvulsant and mood-stabilizer] that he has been able to work again.

--Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry: 1993
As unpleasant as it is for the real subject, this sounds like a comedic premise.

[The linked article is a fairly brief letter to the Journal, and it's not such a tough read.]

Feel-Good Story

AP News: No harm in naked woman tied to tree in Tacoma park
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- Several police officers responded to a 911 report of a naked woman tied to a tree in Point Defiance Park in Tacoma.

Spokesman Mark Fulghum (FUL'-jum) told The News Tribune officers talked with the woman and a man Tuesday in the Owen Beach area and determined it was a "consensual rendezvous."

No one was arrested.

That's the full AP story, but I'm sure that's not the full story.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Political Notes

  • Mickey Kaus is possibly going to run for Senate against Barbara Boxer. This engenders hilarity. It also gives me the chance to resuscitate the above graphic of Kaus compared to the Secretary of Education character in the movie Idiocracy. Kaus should put this on his campaign literature.
  • I'm surprised by the recent softening of Tory support in the UK. Electoral Calculus is currently predicting slightly less that a 50% likelihood of a Tory victory. [Electoral Calculus reminds me a bit of Nate Silver's here in the US--a site that statistically predicts election outcomes. Nate at did statistics for baseball before starting his political site -- did Electoral Calculus start with cricket stats?]. I'm pulling for the Tories to lose, unlike some Obama hands (though I don't trust the Wall Street Journal, it is plausible some signed on with Cameron).
  • Evan Bayh was interviewed on Charlie Rose's show tonight. I watched for 10 seconds and thought: this is how the world will end, with one oleaginous tautology trying to out-vapid another; then the singularity.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Refreshing Olympic Spirit

John Shuster:
U.S. curling captain John Shuster stuck out his tongue in the middle of a match and uttered for all to hear on television at home, "I hate this stupid game."

That's the Washington Post. The NY Post quotes him differently:

"I'm sick of this stupid game" Shuster said after the eighth end and stuck his tongue out.

I'm pretty sure the Washington Post is wrong on this. Figures.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

DrawMyTweets is drawing Tweets, such as this one: "My friend Dave the Moose was just named North American Moose Lawyer of the Year! He's a sweet guy and a terrific moose lawyer."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Innocent Shams

I'm generally not a huge fan of the Pakistani army, but this (retired) Colonel Innocent Shams seems like a worthy person.

Abseiling down a church tower.

Finding a rare and precious artifact.

If the Pakistani Army keeps arresting Taliban leaders in Pakistan, with or without outside help, I'll be even more well disposed to them. Even if they are not living in the UK and (presumably) Anglican.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Sports

For someone who doesn't appreciate sports, I've been enjoying my share of the Winter Olympics on US television via NBC. Some tangential thoughts.

1) Identify the following flags (note: some may be flipped, rotated, fabricated, or unkempt):

[* See KEY to flags* below.]

2) Speaking of flags, a high proportion of flags at the Winter games bear crosses (Georgia's has five). Very few winter medal-winners' flags feature other designs such as the crescent, Star of David, or Wheel of Dharma. Deduction: Torture devices of the ancient Romans are important to nations interested in winter sports.

3) Figure skaters (or perhaps judges) seem to think that the music best suited to skating was composed in late 19th Century Russia. (It's not the only era represented, but it's the most likely one.) I'd like to see skating to something by Steve Reich--honestly. Clapping or Drumming or Piano Phase or, if worse comes to worse, Music for 18 Musicians:

4) I enjoy curling, but today I heard a commentator talk about the tremendous conditioning of the curling competitors. Don't bullshit a bullshitter, NBC.

5) In the USA, the tension between physical exuberance versus marketing, cheap myth-making, branding, jingoism, and mush is painful. Someday maybe we'll be able to watch the events we want to watch and not have them packaged by bloodless cynics.

[* KEY to flags: the point of this exercise is that a lot of flags are similar. That's the key.]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Habitina -- For Breakfast!

Habitina was the catchy name for a proprietary concoction, available in USA in the early 1900s, meant to cure opium and morphine addicts. Here's the formula:

With this stuff around, who would need to buy opiates ?

A testimonial (from a trial, not an advertisement):

Mr. W. J. H., Missouri, testified that he purchased Habitina to cure himself of the morphln habit. He Increased from a bottle a week to a bottle a day, and at last ordered six bottles at a time, which the company always sent without question.
Source: Nostrums and quackery , Ed. 2, 1912, by the American Medical Association. Their fuller story about Habitina and its purveyors is most interesting, as are many other parts of this book -- and often entertaining, too. I suppose if I knew more about the history of the AMA fighting other types of medical practitioners, it would be even more illuminating.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hypnotic -- or worse

Advertisement found in the Eclectic medical gleaner, Vol 2. 1906.

Let's see. Chloral Hydrate and Cannabis and hyoscyamine in one easy-to-abuse elixir. Wonder how many turn-of-the-century Michael Jacksons died from that?

Or Mickey Finns?

Bromidia was still for sale in 1922, when the Journal of the American Medical Association published the case report ACUTE DELIRIUM APPARENTLY DUE TO BROMIDIA POISONING. It begins:

Mrs. R. B., aged 32, white, actress, admitted to the service of Dr. M. H. Bochroch in the psychopathic wards of the Philadelphia General Hospital, June 5, 1922, was unconscious, May 30, when her husband arrived home in the evening. In about ten minutes she revived, and talked rationally. That night she became delirious and talked at random, but had no fever. The next day she imagined that she was receiving electric shocks; she heard voices saying bad things about her, and thought that people were persecuting her father, and also trying to kill her with radio. No visual hallucinations were present. The history was unimportant until December, 1920, when the patient developed a pelvic inflammatory condition. At this time a physician prescribed Bromidia for insomnia. The patient took from one-half to 1 ounce daily of her own accord for nervousness, sleeplessness and pain for eighteen months.
Not sure it's worth paying for the rest of that article, but -- wow.

UPDATE: Another Google Book from the era [Nostrums and quackery from the AMA] lists the ingredients as

Chloral hydrate 15 grains
Potassium bromid 15 grains
Ext. cannabis indica 1/8 grain
hyoscyamus 1/8grain

I'd say Mrs. R. B. wasn't the only delirium sufferer due to this concoction. Libertarians take note: you are denied the opportunity to indulge yourself with Bromidia. Revolt!

Note to Self

Senator Evan Bayh may try to run for something else in the future. The manner in which he announced his retirement yesterday -- making it maximally likely a Republican will replace him -- should be recalled if he ever does so.

The guy is a policy lightweight, none-too-bright, unprincipled, cowardly and generally worthless. The only thing I recall that he's fought for is making it easier for Paris Hilton to inherit more money. Despite this, he bizarrely considers himself a deficit hawk.

If he cashes in and then tries to return to public life, I'll have these notes to refer to.

Oh -- and he's an asshole.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Early Woody Allen 1952-1971

Early Woody Allen: At WFMU's Beware of the Blog,

Friday, February 12, 2010

Candide 250

Voltaire's Candide was published 250 years ago. There's a lot of genuinely funny stuff today that isn't as funny as that book.
“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide to him, “when you were hanged, dissected, whipped, and tugging at the oar, did you continue to think that everything in this world happens for the best?” “I have always abided by my first opinion,” answered Pangloss; “for, after all, I am a philosopher, and it would not become me to retract my sentiments; especially as Leibnitz could not be in the wrong: and that pre-established harmony is the finest thing in the world, as well as a plenum and the materia subtilis.
New York Public Library has exhibits on line (including the 2 minute Candide) and in the Library. [I'd love to see that Fame and Fancy: or Voltaire Improved pseudonymously published in Boston, 1826.]

French-language etexts are available, as are multiple English ones, too. And Kindle. And paper books.

And don't forget Bernstein's charming operetta (with lyrics by a pretty imposing crowd: James Agee, Dorothy Parker, John Latouche, Richard Wilbur, and Lillian Hellman).

Of course, that Lisbon earthquake happened just so Voltaire could get a book out of it. All for the best.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hey, it's That Guy!

A fine compendium of many well known (make what well seen) character actors. Not sure why Harry Dean Stanton isn't there -- but it's still a stellar list.

Via Roger Ebert.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Meaningless Juxtaposition

Kim statue image from The Telegraph.
Morecambe statue image from Panoramio.

Saw a photo of the Kim Jong-Il statue and it reminded me of the statue of Eric Morecambe.

If only our world had more despots and fewer beloved comedians. Or perhaps a combo.
Kim Jong-Morecambe in bronze by Riffle.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Too Many Elections

Scott Cohen won the Democratic Party slot for Illinois Lieutenant Governor thanks to spending $2 million and to a large field that split the vote in that primary. There was little coverage of his background before the primary.

As it turns out he has what is politely referred to as a checkered past. He apparently raped his ex-wife. Earlier he lived with a prostitute and slashed her with a knife: the charges were dropped because she didn't show up in court. He claims he didn't know she was a prostitute but thought she was a "massage therapist," which is pretty funny because massage therapists require licensure in Illinois and I have a feeling his paramour didn't hold one.

He faces questions about an incredible array of sleazy dealings in this video, and is not only a moral leper but is also very stupid.

The video is stunning.

I am myself my own fever and pain

I attempt from Love's sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.

No more now, fond heart, with pride no more swell,
Thou canst not raise forces enough to rebel.
I attempt from Love's sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.

For Love has more power and less mercy than fate,
To make us seek ruin and love those that hate.
I attempt from Love's sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.
Exploring minor and major tendrils, this smart ca. 1695 setting by Purcell of an evocative John Dryden idea says far more than it should. Young people, listen up!

Emma Kirkby wasn't really a Capital S Singer when she started performing early music. I got the impression she was a very talented amateur who got mixed up with The Taverner Choir and the Consort of Musicke back when "period performance" was looked down upon. She worked hard, exploited her musicality and developed her brilliant voice, and she made this blissful recording and many more.

One of the many characteristics that lured me to early music recordings was the very light (often for instrumentalists, non-existent) vibrato. I hope I never have to listen to vocal wobble again.

If you don't have Kirkby and others singing Abbess Hildegard's "A Feather on the Breath of God" to play on days that require it, you are losing out.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Criterion Out of Print Sale

Criterion Out of Print Sale

Criterion Collection does generally fantastic releases of movies -- excellent prints transferred with great care. I've never seen the movies they release look better than in their editions. They try to keep everything in print, too. Unfortunately it appears that some of the licenses for their great releases are being forcibly transferred and they will have to cut some movies from their catalog. I am particuarly fond of Coup de torchon, based on a pulp novel by weirdo Jim Thompson, but moved from the US West to West Africa by Tavernier; Peeping Tom, a good movie which probably ruined Michael Powell's career; and of course their "Spine Number One,"the masterful Grand Illusion by Renoir.

Criterion really cares about movies: sorry to see them lose these. Thanks to them for notifying viewers and cutting prices on these titles.
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