Friday, January 29, 2010

Remark of the Day: UK Division

Heroic Grump

I caught a wonderful line while watching BBC News America's report on the Blair testimony at the Chilcot Inquiry today. Part of the report focused on the protestors outside Parliament, showing video of crowds. The reporter intoned that tempers frayed. Then we see the man pictured above, in queue. He's in his late fifties or sixties I suppose, and proclaimed scornfully in a loud clear voice:
"If you're going to have a police state, at least organise it properly."
It's hard to imagine an American saying that, and it certainly wouldn't be aired as a soundbite on mainstream news. It's Ed Reardon-esque. Lovely.

EDIT: I found this on line. It's about 37 seconds into this video. And spelling corrected in the quote to UK standards.

UPDATE: A kind correspondent has identified the speaker as actor and activist Michael Culver. I can't independently confirm but it certainly does look and sound like him. Well done.

De-Ace What?

The other day I made passing reference to the ubiquity of the plainchant tune Dies Irae.

Ever helpful, the BBC has put together a program discussing the piece on the Radio 3 series Twenty Minutes. It's called Dies Irae: Day of Wrath and offers a decent 1/3 hour overview of a few ways the piece has been used over the centuries. (It also reminded me how thrilling Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique can be.)

The piece should be up on iPlayer soon at this page. The Wikipedia page about Dies Irae has a list of some uses of the tune, too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Golden Age

Image by Cwluc.

For years we've all watched more and more people texting while walking. But only today did it occur to me: this could make for a golden age of pickpockets.

Note: I am not encouraging anyone to pick pockets or otherwise steal. Especially from me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Story of the Day

Overweight Woman Sentenced in Boyfriend's 'Sitting' Death:
"'So basically you can say that I can go sit on somebody and get probation?' said one of the victim's sister.

'I feel there wasn't no justice.'"
Indeed. There wasn't no justice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hootchy Kootchy Dance

When I was a kid, our neighborhood's lyric for that tune snippet was:
There's a place in France
Where the belly dancers dance.
Turns out that melody, with countless variant lyrics, has been recycled almost as much as Dies Irae. It's known by "Hootchy Kootchy Dance," "The Streets of Cairo," "The Girls in France" and many other titles, and has an unusual history. As Wikipedia puts it:
The song originally was purportedly written by Sol Bloom, a showman (and later, a U.S. Congressman) who was the entertainment director of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. It included an attraction called "A Street in Cairo" produced by Gaston Akoun, which featured snake charmers, camel rides and a scandalous dancer known as Little Egypt.
Bloom didn't (or couldn't?) copyright it and the phrase was repurposed for stage bits -- and later cartoon and silent movie scenes--with "Eastern" themes. Cecil Adams has written a typically informative and entertaining description of the tune's origins, but I read about the song in the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which largely concerns the bizarre and astounding murder spree by H. H. Holmes.

Interesting to see that the tune's author, Sol Bloom, later became a politician. The most famous song attributed to a politician has to be"You Are My Sunshine," by Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis. However, for decades many have believed that Davis didn't write the song but basically paid a pittance for the rights. That appears to be the case, though Davis probably didn't even pay the correct author for those rights.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bitter Flavor, Arabic Division

I'm exasperated at how cowardly the Democrats are now that they have only the second largest Senate majority in decades. Rather than fight fake populism with real populism, they apparently have chosen to fold.

November will be dire.

I've been drowning my sorrows in artificial bourbon flavoring and artificial tequila flavoring and artificial alcohol burn flavor (I can only imagine...), and other fake alcoholic beverage flavors available at the link -- without alcohol. Same acrid taste -- without intoxication!

I find it ironic that the word "alcohol" is derived from Arabic. It seems a lot of words that begin with "al-" (along with non al- words) have their origins in Arabic: algebra, alkali, alchemy, alcove, albatross, and many others. One of history's little quirks.

I'm fighting the political gloom. Soon I will be be happier, I think, after avoiding political coverage for a while by watching the TV series Friday Night Lights (which I was swayed to watch by a Brit). Good so far, amazingly.

For some reason, Mobile Phone by Kevin Eldon and the Cassettes has again cheered me up a bit. Must be that nearly eight-bit wall of sound. I hope these things elevate your mood, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Flavoring

The Massachusetts Senate loss is still making me very unhappy. But my hard-hitting report yesterday about bourbon flavor set me to look for some other odd flavorings.

Cucumber flavored Pepsi.
Imitation Surimi Baby Eels
Dr. Brown's Celery Soda
Octopus Flavored Chips
Beef Tongue Ice Cream

The tongue-tasting-Tongue loop has been examined before, I'm sure. And this list reminds us that, as the story at the last link puts it when a Japanese person spoke about his countrymen: "'We like strange-tasting food,' said Keiko Hashiya." Strange food can always be found in Japan.

Also, here are miscellaneous flavors from this list at GBS Flavor Creators:
Natural Carrot Flavor
Artificial Sour Cream Flavor
Artificial Crème Brulee Flavor
Artificial Ginseng Flavor
Natural Paw Paw Type Flavor
Natural Rocky Road Type Flavor
Natural & Artificial Fried Green Tomato Flavor

And finally, on that BGS Flavor Creators list, we wind up where we were yesterday:
Natural Bourbon Whiskey Type Flavor

Still a bad idea.

NOTE: In recent years, some companies -- especially smaller soda bottling companies -- have been putting out flavors just as gimmicks. The prime example is probably Turkey and Gravy soda from Jones Soda Co. Gimmicks qua gimmicks are sad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


That Massachusetts Senate race loss really sucks. What a terrible candidate Coakley was. She was like bourbon flavoring.

Why did that come to mind, you ask?

From an interview with Snuffy Walden, who has written music for countless TV shows and movies:
I used to play in a strip joint called "The Cellar", where they sold fake booze. If you ordered a bourbon and Coke, they would bring a Coke with bourbon flavoring.
I suppose the attractions at a strip club are not really the drinks, but it seems like even those customers would get wise eventually. Especially since the drinks were not cheap, I presume.

Seriously, bourbon flavoring? What an awful idea.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cussing Objects

"Cuss" graffitti from Fantastic Mr. Fox,
ineptly highlighted by me.

2010 has made me think that the Y2K bug did indeed hit -- just a decade too late. In the past couple weeks computers have rebelled, devices have failed. Even Fire, The Lever, and The Wheel have forsaken me. Perhaps I'm reliving this Woody Allen monologue.

I couldn't make a proper "Best of" list of movies for 2009. But before we slip into February and the endeavor becomes even more ridiculous, I thought I'd record a few that made an impression:
  • A Serious Man: God is Great-- a great big pain in the ass.
  • Hunger: Well modulated misery.
  • An Education: I feel pretty ... unsophisticated.
  • The Hurt Locker: War pros.
  • Inglorious Basterds: Movies killed the Nazis.
  • Up: Elegiac and giddy.
  • In the Loop: Mustelidocracy
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes didn't screw it up, for once.
  • Goodbye Solo: Drama is not dead.
Things should pick up around here. If my devices have ceased failing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Crazy Country

The invaluable Dave Weigel at the Washington Independent spotted someone selling The Sarah Palin Embryo Ornament.

Ten dollars plus shipping. What a crazy country.

Entirely unrelated: What girlfriends and boyfriends search for on Google.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Old Dogs

Illustration from Historiae Animalium (1551-1558) by Conrad Gesner.

The National Library of Medicine has released, as part of a larger project, scans of scientific books from the 15th and 16th centuries. They display them in virtual book form so you can flip through them (with a docent providing audio on some pages), and major illustrations are offered up separately in large jpgs.

Classic books by Gesner (above), Paré, Vesalius, and the spectacular illustrations from Robert Hooke's Micrographia appear. Lovely.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Hard Talk

The Economist skillfully draws a fascinating article out of a dorm bull-session topic: What is the most difficult language? For instance, one paragraph:
For sound complexity, one language stands out. !Xóõ, spoken by just a few thousand, mostly in Botswana, has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds. Further research showed that adult !Xóõ-speakers had the same lump (children had not developed it yet).
I guess all those diacritical marks bruise the larynx when they bump by.

That's not the end of the article -- while the sounds are difficult, the sentence structure of !Xóõ apparently isn't.

I propose we cross the sounds of !Xóõ with the grammar, lexicology, syntax, and semantics of Tuyuca and create a language that most humans could never hope to speak, even if inculcated from birth.

PS: This is not a new observation, but Mark Twain wrote something clever about nearly every topic that matters.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Slow into 2010. With bells on.

I'm slowly sliding into this year. Here's a tidbit from the (very enjoyable) 1998 BBC production of Vanity Fair. A busker, presumably Belgian, performing Rule Britannia on Almglocken (tuned alpine bells).

If you'd like a set of your own, you may purchase one for a few hundred dollars.

If you'd prefer something more substantial, here is a limestone xylophone.

Actually the "xylo" in xylophone means "wood," so this is a lithophone. You're on your own finding a vendor.
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