Monday, July 30, 2007

Imagine, a twat working for the Independent

Newspaper editors occasionally decide it would be a great idea to bring in a young columnist to give an authentic "voice of youth" type feel to their pages. Like any efforts middle aged men make to be down with tha kidz, the results tend to be excruciating. What happens is that they either import some totty who happens to be a close blood relative of an important media figure (see Coren, V; or Gordon, B) or else they notice some bumptious little prick who's made a lot of noise somewhere and get them to do the same.

Said bumptious little prick is then unveiled. "Behold the voice of youth," says the editor. "No, it's not," responds youth, "it's a jumped up little twat
at whom we used to laugh behind his back".

So it was that the Independent decided to employ Johann Hari. Although he does at least make some effort to find things out for himself by going to places he writes about (though I'm not a fan of this school of foreign reporting generally, really you need to live somewhere to be able to report properly on it) he's always given the impression of someone who would be less insufferable had he had to do a bit of dirty newspaper work first before pontificating from an opinion column. But he's now made an impressive leap from bumptious little prick to full blown cunt by threatening to sue his former muckers at Harry's Place.

It all its origins in a spat between Hari and Nick Cohen about whether or not Hari had given an accurate reflection of Cohen's attitudes towards George Orwell. You can follow it all back from the links here if you like, it's all a bit soul destroying. The essence is that following said exchange, HP suggested Hari's relationship towards accuracy and truth was not all that it might be and this might prove something of a hindrance to a career as a serious journalist.

Once I'd stopped laughing at this suggestion, I was staggered to see the threats of legal action. (Hari was also less than ecstatic about some comments elaborating on his track record in the "whoops, that's not quite right" stakes). No request for clarification or a retraction. Just straight in with the lawyers. All for a website with a readership dwarfed even by the Indie's. (Size is just a matter of perspective, after all. As any chap will tell you).

Were I adopt Hari-esque methods, I'd say something on the lines of "Oh, well, we all know he pulls stuff out of his arse all the time". But I can't really substantiate it, so it would be very wrong of me to do so. Instead, let's just say the nub of the matter is how unfortunate and coincidental the relationship between Hari and getting stuff wrong is.

And this question of interpretation is why I think Hari is being so utterly twattish (besides the complete arsiness of reaching for the lawyers when a friend says something you're upset by). Apart from knowing that the hassle and cost of a libel action is a good way of scaring people away from criticising you (and if he's using the Indie's lawyers against a group of bloggers it's not going to be a straight fight) he must know how unfair our libel laws are. They are stacked against the defendant who (this is a very rough summary) must prove the truth of what they're saying, prove they're not saying what the plaintiff thinks they're saying or show that what they've written is a justifiable interpretation of things.

In this case, if he takes the HP comments as meaning that he deliberately and knowingly makes stuff up then they have to prove it (even if they just meant he should be more careful to check the accuracy of what he's claiming). In other words: an almost impossible case for the defendant to win; which makes legal action a great resort for the sort of creep who would wish to silence all criticism of him.

But I can't help thinking that using the law in this way is likely to damage your credibility and reputation far more than a reputation as someone who said a few things that weren't entirely correct in what was, let's remind ourselves, a petty and personal little spat between two hacks who may once have been chummier than they are now.

Then again, if you're worried that people will will stop believing you're a proper journalist, working for the Independent (aka "the Daily Mail for people who recycle") isn't the best of starts.

PS: Grown up response here.

Less grown up response, which includes a grab of the original and more suggestions that young Master Hari might not be the William Russell of our time here. (I wonder why he didn't threaten to sue Private Eye. Surely not because it's a paper that doesn't mind fighting its libel battles to the end?)

PPS: might also be possible to win a court case by convincing a jury that accusing a journalist of a cavalier attitude towards factual accuracy would not lower their standing in the eyes of right-thinking people.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

They say Americans don't do irony

But I'm not sure. Sometimes they can be so subtle, it passes over the heads of many Brits – especially the sort who pride themselves on being more sophisticated than their transatlantic cousins.

And sometimes I really can't tell if someone is taking the piss or not. These two factors coincide in this story about The Holy Land Experience in Florida. Now, I'm fairly sure the venture itself is pretty straightforward – "the park offers lectures, not rides, making it feel more like a trip to church. Its officers prefer to call it a "living Biblical museum" – and I have no doubt but that it offers a holiday even less fun than a damp amusement park in north Wales.

And yet... I can't tell if the person who wrote the thing is having an enormous joke at the readers' expense. The deadpan tone is fair enough – frankly, it's better than a lot of the pompous and turgid drivel that US reporters (sorry "writers") like to inflict on their readers – but it includes such gems as: "Trinity didn't intend to get into the Biblical attraction business, but was looking for an Orlando location for a new TV production studio, chief of staff Paul Crouch Jr. said"; "The park relies heavily on donations from benefactors, foundations and visitors slipping money into boxes scattered around the park, saying ticket sales doesn't cover costs" (a business relying on the credulous to bale it out? Most un-Christian) and the following:

The nonprofit operation was troubled. Management changed hands, its founder left and attendance was flat. But suddenly, a savior appeared.

As a synopsis of the history of the early Christian church you could hardly beat that. So much so that I can't rid myself of the suspicion that the reporter is having some very subtle fun at the expense of the baby Jesus.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

The summer of suck

Still raining. It's getting rather boring now. I suspect most of the press is getting fed up too: witness this OTT front page from The Sun (this angle was in various papers on Wednesday). Still, thank God nowhere important, like London, is underwater.

For reasons of etoliation, I find myself thinking of 1816: the year without a summer. Whereas much of southern Europe now swelters under the oppressive heat, whilst we sit here damply sullen, that was a year in which most of the northern hemisphere suffered equitably.

A few good things came from it, though. It inspired Byron's poem Darkness, some of Turner's more interesting stuff and, if you remember the genesis of Frankenstein (Byron, Polidori and the Shellys bored in a villa started a ghost story competition) the Modern Prometheus myth. Oh, and the first modern Vampyre [sic] story.

Whereas this year's bad weather is due to a complex set of meteorological circumstances (as far as I understand, the jet stream's fucked), the 1816 thing was the consequence of a massive volcanic erruption. And when you find yourself thinking about the link between a natural catastrophe and a well-known ghost story: it's a sign from the, er heavens that you really need to get out more. Or start work on a book about a random group of people who decide to relieve the boredom of being washed out of their homes by swapping all sorts of different stories. Don't think anyone's tried that before.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tour de France

Oh, dear. The start in London was such fun, wasn't it? Now all the latest doping shite. If you regard the Tour as a pure sporting spectacle then it's probably all too much. I'm more in the Tour as poetic spectacle camp. You know the sort of thing: the suffering, the tragedy (literal in some cases), the suspense, the villainy, the greed, the corruption, more suffering and, just occasionally, glory and triumph. You've probably heard it all before: it doesn't make it less true and, if this light, the doping just adds an appropriately dramatic twist to the whole thing.

In fact, and I am aware this is the sort of pretentiousness that goes down better in France, there is something truly Dantean about this year's proceedings. I'm thinking about Purgatoria in particular: the slow, painful ascent of the mountain – encompassing almost all varieties of human folly and suffering along the way – before the glorious redemption at the end. Only, you'll remember it isn't quite that simple: Dante's reunion with Beatrice is only accomplished after shedding Virgil (a sort of domestique who has to run himself into the ground to get his leader in the Yellow Jersey). The sort of bitter sweet triumph the tour specialises in.

Virgilio a cui per mia salute die'mi;
né quantunque perdeo l'antica matre,
valse a le guance nette di rugiada
che, lagrimando, non tornasser atre.
"Dante, perché Virgilio se ne vada,
non pianger anco, non piangere ancora;
ché pianger ti conven per altra spada."

(Virgil, to whom I gave myself for my salvation.
And not all our ancient mother lost could save my cheeks, washed in the dew, from being stained again with tears. "Dante, because Virgil has departed, do not weep, do not weep yet--there is another sword to make you weep.")

Medieval Catholicism was, even for a religion, an exceptionally silly and dangerous one. (You could probably say the same about the Tour and sporting events.) And yet. And yet. You can't dismiss stuff like that as worthless.

If you prefer, there's another poetry in the Tour. Is there another sporting event which attracts competitors with such fantastic names? (US racing driver Dick Trickle wins the puerile comedic name prize).

This year, Britain could hold its head up in this regard thanks to Bradley Wiggins and Charly Wegelius. But others who've taken part in this year's race, many of them unregarded journeymen, include: Ludovic Turpin (best name ever?), Dimitry Fofonov, Amets Txurruka, Christian Knees (that genuflecting must be murder on them), Staf Scheirlinckx, Geoffroy Lequatre – plus a few Frenchmen (and a Kiwi) with comically unhard names such as Sebastien, Cederic, Cyril and Julian. Yet they are, most of them, still in there after hundreds of miles of unimaginable hardship. Chapeau, messieurs.

PS: A couple of personal favourites from this year. High comedy from a dopey (hah) if resilient dog and, via L'Equipe, this French metaphor: "c'était la goutte d'eau qui a fait déborder le vase". Slightly softer than it's English counterpart about straws and camels backs.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

New whine in old bottles

A tooth-furring piece in the Sunday Times about Bedales, the "trendiest public school in the country".

It quotes "an excited Notting Hill mum, whose daughter started at the school last year."

They want to get the best out of every child there, and not just in an academic sense. My daughter failed all the written tests on her entrance exam rather spectacularly, but they gave her a place because they really liked her character and could see a lot of potential.”

and later adds

Lucky when the fees are so crippling: £8,218 a term for boarders. But Oxford and Cambridge entrances are high, with ex-pupils often landing plum jobs in the media and creative arts.

In other words, it has a more realistic (aka permissive) attitude towards adolescent desires but its main selling point is, like all public schools, that it will see rich thickies right. The added liberal smugness (celebrities sent their kids there! The had a Buddhist monk! For a whole term!) just makes it more than usually annoying. And a little unfair. I thought the pay off in England was that we have a massively unfair education system, but at least the public schools paid for it by producing richly entertaining screw ups.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Thank God he dies at the end

Harry Bleeding Potter mania strikes. Again. Is there no escape from this monster? What started as a quirky little phenomenon, fuelled by word of mouth became a publishing sensation. Of course the media picked up on it, but somewhere along the line it became a literary Moloch which has distorted the entire book industry fuelled by, yes, over-the-top, blanket coverage. It is inescapable. Pity some of the disgruntled hacks of my acquaintance whose entire working day will be spend waiting until the midnight opening when people will be able to get their hands on the latest Harry Potter and the Marketing Man's Wet Dream.

It would all be irritating, bar two things I find disturbing.

1. The fact that it has become expected that the press would do their bit to help Bloomsbury's marketing campaign. Some book sellers in the States have been sending out copies early. The New York Times has rushed out a review. Excerpts of the book have been leaked on the web (sorry, I can't face looking for them). JK Rowling is non too happy but I cannot for the life of me see why. There is no obligation on the paper to fall into line with her marketing strategies; the review doesn't give much away and, let's be honest here, if people don't want to know the ending they won't go looking.

2. It's a fucking children's book. Since I am not a child and do not have children of my own I have never read any of them: nor do I see any reason to. The only thing you'll find me queueing for at midnight is the bar.

The plot, characters and prose style are all aimed at children. And, let's be honest here, not the especially literate ones. Damn it, the books were even praised for getting kids who weren't into books reading. Let's at least accept its aimed at younger or less-bookish children rather than infantilising all teenagers with this sort of stuff. When I was 16 I was reading, among other things, Joyce, Waugh, Dante and Wilde so I can't imagine I'd be much of a fan were I that age now. Surely no self-respecting teenager would want anything to do with something so uncool and babyish. I'd rather they were smoking spliffs and shagging that reading this sort of thing.

The Daily Heil even has this gem: "The children's charity ChildLine is preparing for a flood of calls from young fans distraught at the death of a key player, whose identity the Daily Mail has learned but chosen not to reveal." For crying out loud. It's a damn book: identifying with characters and being saddened at their loss is a good and healthy thing. Indulging this mawkish claptrap is not.

What disturbs me, though, is the large number of adult fans: a mixture of the sad and creepy. There's plenty of undemanding literature for adults out there: you can hardly throw a brick into a west London coffee shop without braining a chick lit authoress and there's plenty of cock lit like Andy McNabb and Wilbur Smith for blokes. So it baffles me that so many grown-ups are getting quite so excited by something aimed at kids. God, I hope they get lashed by gales this evening.

Off to dig out some proper escapist literature: Mallarmé, Spenser, Kirkegaard.

UPDATE: Oh cock. He lives (thanks to the Times of India for ignoring all the marketing bollocks.) Pity also that Tibor Fischer, in his Telegraph review, didn't give it the full Martin Amis treatment.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Make your own comparisons

There's plenty of places to find informed coverage of Prime Minister's questions, and though this isn't one of them, I have noticed the following. That when he's floundering at the dispatch box (which is quite a lot: it's just as well there's no longer a Downing Street cat otherwise by now it would be cowering in terror at 12.45 every Wednesday), Gordon Brown is beginning to turn into John Major. At least he's adopted one of Major's more unfortunate mannerisms: the habit of punctuating his remarks with an "oh yes".

It used to make Major (who proved to be not up to the job after succeeding a long-serving premier) sound weak and ineffectual. It really is not inconsiderably worrying that Brown is doing the same. Oh yes.

Any parallels between Cameron and Kinnock will be gleefully noted.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

Thank God, the British journalist.
But then there's no occasion to
When seeing what unbribed he'll do.

Two quotes:

Kim Fletcher

Certainly, those of us who had grimped their way far enough up the Telegraph ladder to get invited to those wonderful parties the prosecution made such play of, never imagined Black was paying for them himself. But then journalists are very credulous when it comes to proprietors. We like them rich and we like them bullying, and we never take the trouble to find out if they own the whole thing or - like Black - a big whack of the shares.

Translation: uncurious toadies tend to thrive.

And, via Normblog, Michael Grade:

We are in an age today where there has been a huge influx of young talent into the industry as it expands. They have not been trained properly, they don't understand that you do not lie to audiences at any time, in any show

Translation: the definition of talent is not what you might expect. We have a weakness for simplifiers and sensationalists.


The shortest way with dissenters

It's remarkable how many people who thrust themselves forward into the public gaze shrink whenever they attract a degree of criticism, malice or misunderstanding. What did they expect, after all? There are a number of ways of dealing with it, some such as this example from Quink (getting your wife to defend you on an internet forum). Others, such as the truly dreadful Madeleine Bunting, will insist on the right to answer her critics, but any criticism of Dame Maddy will be censored. (Is this at her insistence? A result of overzealous moderators? In any case its a ridiculous indulgence for an overblown idiot).

I prefer taking things on the chin or, better, fighting back. I'm usually more courteous than this, but Christopher Hitchens has the right idea. (Albeit in the second one he has an 'if I were a glass of Scotch I'd drink myself' expression).


Storming, et caetera

Since it's Bastille Day, I'd thought I'd mark it with this from the greatest Frenchman of all (de Gaulle, Descartes, Voltaire, Asterix and Molliere were also rans).

Apart from being a glorious example of Gainsbourg's ability to adopt different musical styles, his excursion into Freggae managed to upset both Bob Marley (for getting Marley's missus to sing songs such as this) and Jean-Marie Le Pen.

If you thought the fuss over the Sex Pistols's God Save the Queen was ridiculous, this version of La Marseillaise led to bomb threats at venues where Gainsbourg and his Jamaican backing group were singing. (Gainsbourg's Jewish background probably annoyed them even more).

At one show, the hall was packed with FN/ex-Algerian paratroopers. Gainsbourg faced them down by appearing on stage, alone, and singing a straight version of La Marsaillaise. They had no choice but to stand. At the end, according to some accounts I've read but aren't going to spend hours looking for on the net, he gave them the finger, making sure that he showed them his very expensive Cartier watch as he did so.

Never a fellow to mince his words.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Shaggy dog story

Miss Deadline puzzles over a shopping list she found, including such things as

1. Rice
2. Beans drain
3. Ginger
4. Onion
5. Two Canines.
6. Fennen Spods (?)
7. Chopped.

Korean she asks? It's a simple list but enough for healthy and nutritious meal such as a stew or soup. The trick when cooking dog is, of course, to marinade the meat and let is simmer for as long as possible. Otherwise you'll get something a bit tough and stringy: think of venison.

It sounds to me as if with that list you could make a basic version of Bosintang, a sort of soup which sounds less disgusting than Kimchi to me. However, it's too simple for something like Stewed Dog wedding style.

There are also African dog recipes in which you need to beat the dog to death with sticks in order to shift the adipose tissue properly. I don't recommend this to UK based readers as the noise will doubtless annoy your neighbours. In any case, cat apparently tastes better. If you want recipes for dog, cat, as well as things like panda and other endangered species, I reccomment to you the splendind Decadent Cookbook.

Now some of you might complain that eating dog is barbaric (unlike eating a more intelligent animal such as a pig). Leaving aside that the Ancient Greeks and China's 4000-year-old civilisation both ate dog, canine flesh enjoyed a brief vogue in Paris as the Belle Epoque came to an end. (Oh alright, it was the Franco-Prussian war and they'd run out of food).

Still, one Englishman who was present, Henry Labouchere, recorded his impression of eating dog, mouse and elephant among other things (and sensibly, he was more worried about running out of wine) in his Diary of the Besieged Resident in Paris.

On December 15, 1870 he wrote:

On the Rue Blanche there is a butcher who sells dogs, cats, and rats. He has many customers, but it is amusing to see them sneak into the shop after carefully looking round to make sure that none of their acquaintances are near. A prejudice has arisen against rats, because the doctors say that their flesh is full of trichinae. I own for my part I have a guilty feeling when I eat dog, the friend of man. I had a slice of a spaniel the other day, it was by no means bad, something like lamb, but I felt like a cannibal. Epicures in dog flesh tell me that poodle is by far the best, and recommend me to avoid bull dog, which is coarse and tasteless.

I really think that dogs have some means of communicating with each other, and have discovered that their old friends want to devour them. The humblest of street curs growls when anyone looks at him.
Figaro has a story that a man was followed for a mile by a party of dogs barking fiercely at his heels. He could not understand to what their attentions were due, until he remembered that he had eaten a rat for his breakfast. The friend of another journalist, who ate a dog called Fox, says that whenever anyone calls out "Fox" he feels an irresistible impulse which forces him to jump up.

The whole thing is here.

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Men are beasts, get used to it

Here's Boris in the Telegraph with an alarming tale about how the cult of ickiness has got so out of hand that teenage girls are obsessing over bridal magazines.

No, they were discussing marriage. They were planning their wedding days, down to the last sugared almond and the exact cut of their dresses. Not only were they consulting a magazine called Brides, these 14-year-olds, but they had a special supplement of Brides, featuring a hunk in morning dress.

Rather than pause to retch, throw up his hands in despair, or tell the ickle Princesses to get a grip because no boy in his right mind wants to go out with a girl obsessed with bridal stuff; Johnson then does a bit of his subtle bumbling on about, gosh, wouldn't it be nice if there were more young chaps who liked the idea of marriage, it's a jolly good thing you know and, I say, isn't it frightfully good that the Tory party is so keen on it that you'll get 20 whole pounds a week for it?

Leaving aside the curious phrase "if a £20 tax credit would really begin to bubblegum together our broken society, then that would clearly be a price worth paying" which suggests to me the policy is a cheap, disposable bit of instant gratification which will soon become a nuisance; I'm baffled at his call for more marriageable men.

He observes, correctly, that most teenage boys ain't that interested in getting tied down for life. Delicately he skates over the reason: namely that they are seething masses of uncontrollable, indiscriminate, maddening lust who would do anything, almost, to get their ends away. To be honest, we're like that as grown-ups we get older too, except maybe a bit more discriminating – as Boris's own track record shows – and some keep it under control.

I'm not accusing him of hypocrisy here: he may well love his wife and believe it best his family stays together. Fine, but it illustrates a deeper truth. For men* love is at best an inconvenience – albeit a potentially delightful one – something that mars one's freedom to pursue one's simple, uncomplicated desires (however base) and a loss of one's identity as the seething mass of etc.

The worst of it is, in most relationships men will believe it's the woman who really has the upper hand, especially in starting or ending them. Because the bloke can never really be sure if a girl wants to go out with him or end it all, whereas women, who are far more clued up when it comes to emotional stuff, will usually know exactly where they stand and act accordingly. Plus men, having pretty basic criteria for fancying someone, are more susceptible than women, who are more discerning about where they bestow their affections.

And the fellows know damned well that being kind and intelligent count for little, despite many pleas to the contrary, but having lots of cash and – in a depressingly large number of cases – being an utter dickhead are great ways to attract the ladies. If you're a dickhead, of course, you will exploit this knowledge for shags. (All this with the caveat that love does tend to destroy one's judgement, so a woman in love with a man who doesn't love her back is basically in the situation that chaps usually believe themselves to be in).

Small wonder that romance is not a staple of a typical male fantasy (I think you can guess what is typical) and why so many of us chaps are emotional cowards and cripples who actively fear anything that smacks of talking about one's feelings. Moreover, I'm willing to bet that behind most real bounders or brutes is a once tender heart that was broken by some girl.

While the emotional rewards are potentially great – or at least quite nice in as much you're forced not to drink yourself to death so quickly, change your underwear regularly and will have someone with whom to go on holiday – it's far easier (emotionally, intellectually and imaginatively) to concentrate on the simpler things that keep one fulfilled: achieving stuff, buying gadgets, going to the pub, getting laid, being important, making fun of Tory politicians in a blog not that many people read. To quote Kingsley Amis quoting Lord Byron.

Man's love is of man's life a thing apart
Girls aren't like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.

And, of course Boris isn't like that. In amongst his usual tics there's this rather utilitarian view:

The crisis in the family has many causes: selfishness, atomism, changes in housing. But the root cause is the change in the respective role and accomplishments of the sexes.

In other words, women aren't going to marry some feckless loser who isn't as smart or wealthy as they are. (Except for the ones who aren't very bright which is quite a lot and they've an equally large pool of dimwitted deadbeats to choose from). No matter, it might address the "crisis in masculinity" (oh, do stop blubbing, you big girls' blouses) if women were forced to stay at home and do the cooking; but I don't think that's what Johnson means. I think he's saying we won't have healthy relationships between the sexes until more blokes are turned into useful and productive members of Great Britain inc.

Yeah, sentiment is never enough. Emotions won't get you that far. Perhaps I should try and get a high-paid job and buy a flashy motor in order to help some lucky lady fulfill her girly fantasies. Only I'm not motivated enough to do it: all that romantic stuff, see, it's far too messy.

* I'd initially typed "for me" here. Paging Dr Freud.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

EDW: Oskar Werner

Continuing, in a somewhat haphazard fashion with last week's nouvelle vague theme, here's another one of the European actors who made this very French movement so special. (Hell, even the Brits can claim some credit for it: there's Julie Christie and, erm, Jeanne Moreau was half-English).

However, it's her co-star in Jules et Jim that interests me today. Oskar Werner has a wonderfully expressive melancholy and grace that suits the film perfectly. The same applies to the Austrian's other celebrated roles – in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Farenheit 451.

And, while Jeanne Moreau is the film's focus, and often gets the plaudits for moments such as this), Werner's performance is equally memorable – 'vous êtes gentil, Jules', quite. (The same applies for Henri Serre - here's the three of them together).

Sadly, Werner's career pretty much collapsed after Farenheit 451. He had a huge falling out with Truffaut and started drinking like an out-of-work actor. But for his acting and, as this montage shows, the fact that whether dressed as an Hapsburg officer, a spy or even in his decline he was never less than elegant.

PS: checking this bio from the usually reliable IMDB I found this: His career, however, was almost immediately interrupted by World War II. An avowed pacifist and fervent despiser of the Nazi regime, Werner was eventually forced to wear the Axis army uniform but finagled his way into KP [kitchen patrol, I think] duty feigning incompetence. Moreover, he married Elizabeth Kallina, a half-Jewish actress, which further endangered his life. Their daughter, Elinore, was born in 1944. The young family spent much of their time hiding out in the Vienna Woods from both the Russians and Germans after the city was shelled.


Sometimes its better not to say anything

A something-warming story this: a parish councillor from Cheshire has married one of Osama bin Laden's sons.

Plenty about the rather unfortunate family background. Including this, from Jane Felix-Browne.

The grandmother, who declined to take her husband's surname, says she does not care about his family background, stating she married for love.

Okay, well maybe she does care enough not to adopt the bin Laden name.

But there's something else which may explain why. If you're hung up on the fellow's unfortunate parentage you might have missed the fact that

Omar... is her sixth husband.

Uh huh.

[The 51-year-old] from Moulton, near Northwich, married Omar Osama Bin Laden, 27, after romance blossomed during a holiday in Egypt.

Now that is how you avoid becoming a stereotype. Good luck to her. I think she might need it.

PS: It would be remiss of me not to add a favourite anecdote about one of Osama bin Laden snr's many brothers. This poor fellow lived in New York and was lamenting how his life had changed since 9/11. He could no longer his credit card or call for a takeaway pizza. You could probably live with that, especially since I think his name was spelled slightly differently - bin Ladin?. But the truly heart-rending detail was, and I paraphrase slightly, "I've also had to give up my hobby of flying small light aircraft."

UPDATE: The woman is clearly an idiot. The Telegraph, which gives the story the slant I'm after, quotes her as saying:
She said it would be "nice" to meet Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qa'eda, to ask him about the 2001 terrorist attacks. "I think it would be very interesting to find out if he really did it or not. That would be the question because I think it is a doubt on everybody's mind." No, it's a doubt for creeps and credulous conspiracy cretins.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The professions II

More votes for evil teachers and doctors. The addition of Mugabe to the former group helps keep them out in front.

More importantly, I have now found at least one lawyer to add to the list of despotic mass murderers: Lenin, who practised law before becoming a professional revolutionary. This latter doesn't count as a real profession (no more than journalism) but it is nice to retain some distrust of the legal profession.


From the sublime to the banal

One often under-rated art is that of the parodyist. To get it right you need not just a good set of jokes, but an instinctive ability to get under the skin of the subject; to adopt the tones and mannerisms.

Music offers some exceptional examples – such as Dudley Moore doing Beethoven (via George Szirtes) or this parody of Serge Gainsbourg. I know nothing about the lot doing it (except they were apparently a popular comic troupe on French TV in the Seventies, which doesn't necessarily inspire much confidence). Still they've got the vocal mannerisms and musical style down to a tee (they're helped by the fact that this was the height of the dirty old man phase which saw Serge produce such classics as Vu de l'Extérieur and Variations sur Marilou, surely the finest song ever written about spying on a teenage girl masturbating in her bedroom before bursting in and beating here to death with a fire extinguisher).

At its finest, capturing the tone and essence of a subject can lead the unwary to miss the irony and mistake the parody for the real thing. I'm worried that I might have fallen into the trap myself and am misreading a particularly brilliant parody of the sort of humourless, fanatical Green activist who who gives buffoons like Jeremy Clarkson way too much consideration; who wishes to punish him and his ilk for their thought crimes and fails to realise that they are the sort of people who make oil companies rub their paws in glee at the prospect of more people who might otherwise be eager to save the planet getting pissed off and alienated by this peculiarly irritating brand of self righteousness.

A worse thought occurs: that the author was trying to be satirical (which is not the same as parody) and fails badly by being the sort of humourless, intolerant etc etc.

There are some things, after all, which should not be parodied. The truely banal, idiotic or facile defy attempts to extract any more comedic value than their own innate badness already confers and the danger is that you will simply replicate the clunking banality and idiocy of that which you are trying to mock. When confronted by something like William McGonagall the only sensible thing to do is to celebrate it for this innate badness.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Second time as farce

Various things which should end well.

1. Japan sees growing cult of kamikaze pilots.

2. Vote Tojo (also Japan). His only crime was failure.

3. Freedom for Biafra. (Cue Fela Kuti lyrics from the Seventies complaining about Obasanjo and Yar'Adua.)

4. Plans to invade Iraq and take out terrorists.

It's not all bad news. The Korean War might be coming to an end. Bush's legacy as a statesman will be secure.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Kill the wabbit

50 years old, apparently. All you need and all you need to know about Wagner.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Reasons why Gordon Brown is not as good as Tony Blair

The first in what may, or may become an occasional feature depending on whether I can be bothered and on boring stuff like running the country properly.

1. His contempt for sartorial matters.

2. The makers of the Simpsons don't want him.

3. Surely you've seen this by now? Another person who doesn't want him. (This too)

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The professions

Amid the on-going hand-wringing at the news that a group of doctors are accused to plotting a bombing campaign I thought it might be amusing to do a list of professional mass murders, just to see which profession is the most evil. I decided it would easier to keep it to political mass murderers (although with Harold Shipman and Dr Crippen in the ranks I suspect doctors would be well out in front on this one too).

My initial, off-the-top-of-my-head, no googling list was:

Doctors: Josef Mengele, Che Guevara (note to student wankers wearing sweat shop-made T shirts featuring the Communist icon. His attitude to international affairs makes George Bush look like Woodrow Wilson. So stop doing it. People don't think you're cool and radical. They think you're a twat.)

Clerics: suprisingly hard this one despite the long historical link between religion and mass murder. There were Nazi collaborators like Fr Jozef Tiso and the Grand Mufti and Popes such as Alexander VI. Then, if you want to push things, Stalin was a former seminarian who later established a modern connection between atheism and mass murder.

The military: not as many as you might think, unless you live in Latin America. Pinochet and Galtieri spring to mind. As do African coup leaders like Obiang and Idi Amin. But the military gentlemen seem generally to have stuck to killing their enemies rather than vast swathes of humanity.

Teachers: this one's easy. Mao, Mussolini, Pol Pot. Clearly the most evil profession.

But I couldn't leave lawyers out of the list. The trouble was that whilst it's easy to find examples of venal and crooked lawyers, finding ones of historical significance. There's Tony Blair, of course, if you are an Independent reader. The trouble is, that if you are are an Independent reader, I am automatically going to discount anything you say. Otherwise the only lawyers of any historical distinction I could think of were Mandela and Gandhi.

Something's not right here. Could anyone help out?


Continental sophistication

In the post down below about Anna Karina, I neglected one of Serge Gainsbourg's other leading ladies: France Gall.

A glaring omission that, especially since it provides one of the earliest examples of Serge's supreme talents as provacateur. In this case, it involves getting a fresh faced, and genuinely innocent, according to most accounts, teenage girl to sing a song about a girl with a love of sucking lollipops, and, just to rub it in, produce a video like this.

France Gall was not amused when someone finally explained the joke to her.

Incidentally, the next someone starts moaning about the British attitude to sex – how sad it is we treat it as a joke or a bit of naughtiness, quite unlike the continentals, show them this. Then beat them over the head with the works of the Marquis de Sade since this position is usually adopted by joyless Puritans who hate sex and humour equally.

Incidentally, another version of this song is to be found here. Note how Serge struggles in vain to suppress a leer.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

EDW: Anna Karina

Featured here with Serge Gainsbourg. Was this Danish-born actress the finest of all Gainsbourg's muses? Less iconic than Bardot and Deneuve, perhaps, and Jane Birkin inspired some of Serge's finest moments.

Still, there's something about Anna – and this performance, with its mixture of tenderness, melancholy, grace and feeling – that is the quintessence of elegance.

There are some other fine YouTube moments featuring this Danish-born actress and model, who was also a muse (and wife, if you must be prosaic) for Jean-Luc Goddard. Many of them are from Anna, which features her in fine form performing other Gainsbourg classics. This one here has a particular kooky charm, which brings out one's inner Austin Powers (groovy, baby) and this one here is a version of the song at the top of the page.

As Norm, has observed, the French language and musical tradition does this sort of thing so well.

Ne dis rien, surtout pas, ne dis rien suis moi,
Ne dis rien, n'ai pas peur, ne crains rien de moi,
Suis moi jusqu'au bout de la nuit,
Jusqu'au bout de ma folie,
Laisse le temps, oublie demain,
Oublie tout ne pense plus à rien

NB: I apologise for the late arrival of this EDW which, for once, was due to circumstances outwith my control. I hope those clips (and this one) make up for it.

Updated much later after Quink somehow dug this up. Here's a video that actually works.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Last with the news

Much scratching of heads at the puzzlement some have expressed that a bunch of medics might have been plotting mass murder in London and Glasgow.

I can't say I'm particularly surprised. Dealing with members of the public – especially the sort who demands drugs for the most trifling complaint or, rather than trusting your years of training and experience, demands you confirm a self-diagnosis made thanks to drivel found on the internet – could make anyone fly into a murderous rage. (Or at least become like the doctor so splendidly played by Hugh Laurie in House).

What troubles me is the stupidity and ineptitude of those who carried out the attacks. If it emerges that the scientific genius who was incapable of determining out the width of the doors at Glasgow airport and picking a vehicle which would pass through them – to say nothing of the fellow who couldn't even accomplish a simple task like burning oneself to death (something which hundreds of cigarette smoking drunks can do in their sleep) – then there are some very serious questions to be asked. I would not want such people operating on me. If there were carrying out a hip replacement, say, would they just pick any old hip and try and jam it in? And brain surgery? Not good.

There's the deeper stupidity too, particularly the ideology.

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This bloke came up to me and said 'You Tory'

Nothing befits a career in politics or teaching quite like the sort of hyper-sensitivity that sees one getting all upset and wildly reacting to a bit of criticism. So it is with Lib Dem councillor, deputy head teacher and blogger Neil Woollcott, who implies that a spot of online mockery is the first sign of a concerted Tory campaign to "get" this ever-so important political commentator.

It is, of course, one of the glories of the internet that people who have never met can now fall out and hurl abuse at each other from a distance. And so it is with one of the "Tories" Woollcott objects to – my real life friend Locker, who does not take kindly to being called a Tory simply for commenting on a blog written by a member of the Conservative Party.

I'll be getting the popcorn in and chanting "fight, fight, fight" from the sidelines in the hope this develops. This, incidentally, was the evil Tory post which started the trouble, in which Graeme Archer mocks the good councillor's writing skills. However, he overlooks the most remarkable comment from this latter day Mill: the passion they spoke with made me wonder whether children are naturally Lib Dem.

It's an interesting question, but it might be easier to answer if I rephrased it slightly.

Are children naturally prone to being self-righteous tossers whose ill thought-out ideas can be safely ignored?

Me, sir, please sir. I know the answer.


Sport and politics

I must confess to being really rather excited that the Tour de France is coming to London. If you want to know more, the Guardian has an excellent guide to it, available here. If you do read it make sure you don't miss the particularly acute – though rather politically incorrect – assessment of the all-Basque Euskaltel team's prospects:

Will bomb.

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