Wednesday, November 26, 2008

EDW: Lucrezia Borgia

A new portrait of her has come to light. When you attract sufficient notoriety that lurid tales of vice, murder, incest, orgies and the Vatican attach to your name for centuries after your death, you really don't need to try too hard with your outfit. The simple, almost demure, look works pretty well here. Still, she does look like trouble, doesn't she?


Government annouces plans to close lap-dancing club by wrecking economy

The Government has announced plans to close "the vast majority" of lap-dancing clubs in the country by ensuring no one can afford to visit them any more.

Ministers believe that the forthcoming economic wipe-out will leave people with so little spare cash that the vast majority of lap dancing clubs will attract so few customers that they will be forced to close.

Minister for telling people what to do Harriet Harman said in a speech to the Women's Institute: "Let's face it, lap-dancing clubs are primarily for City boys and others with far too much spare cash to flash around."

Ms Harman also told the conference that she believed that throwing the majority of lap dancers on the dole would allow them to develop a proper sense of self-worth and a correct their misunderstandings about the right way to conduct themselves with regards to men.

The government also hopes that its plans to ensure that men do not mis-use their disposable income will effect massage parlours, saunas and other establishments were it believes prostitution might take place.

Campaigners have expressed concern a the numbers of foreign women working as prostitutes, warning that many are effectively lured to the country on false pretences. "Typically, they will be told that the economy is in great shape and that there are plenty of jobs. It's only when they get here that the horrible truth dawns on them and they find themselves trapped," warned the Rev Harold Davidson, a clergyman who has made it his lives work to visit every "house of vice" in the country to discover first-hand what goes on in such places.

However, groups representing lap-dancers, prostitutes and other sex workers have warned that the government plans are likely to cause significant harm to them, by hitting their incomes and placing them in greater danger by forcing them underground.

"Who cares what these filthy harlots think?" responded Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. "What's really important is making a counterproductive moral gesture that makes us feel good."

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Now seems as good a time as any to panic

If the US bailout of the financial system fails, then we're all doomed. When you realise that the world financial system is in the hands of a fellow in his mid-thirties who rose through the corporate ranks by, one assumes, the usual way of selling one's soul, that's worrying. But when somebody uncovers the same Neel Kashkari's high school year book (says Gawker "the same page that a former teacher at Neel's school told us truly reveals his egocentric, douchebag nature") featuring a Ferrari, Rush song lyrics and the quote "All the world's a stage and we are merely players" attributed to Rush/Shakespeare then you realise we are in deep, deep trouble.

What fools these mortals be – Jeffrey Archer/Shakespeare.

Afterthought: such has been the catastrophic weakening of American power under George W Bush, US intelligence is now predicting the country's dominance will end in the next 15 years or so. There is a correlation between these two things. Obama's going to have to live up to his potential.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EDW: Duelling scars

A scar on the face is the way to win a lady's affections, according to a study. What the scientists responsible neglected to say, though, is whether or not the scar becomes even more alluring with the addition of a pickelhaube or other suitably Teutonic accoutrement. However, unless the study is complete rubbish (and it is unthinkable, surely that it would have been so widely reported if that were the case, then the flower of German manhood between roughly 1880 to 1920 must have been on to something good.

You see, this era was the heyday of the Mensur, when young men of the right sort liked nothing better than gathering together to drink beer and hold duels. It was all highly organised, of course, and based around student guilds and societies. The point was not to kill, of course, but the custom was laced with a peculiar concoction of machismo and masochism in which the highest proof of manhood was the giving and receiving of facial scars.

The cheeks were pretty much the only part exposed to the blade of the Schlägers, swords that were pretty much only good for this sort of scarring, and it was even suggested that the wounds would be stitched in a deliberately clumsy fashion (or that the medical student doing the stitching would be filled up with beer beforehand) to accentuate the appearance of the wound.

It was an era in which no self-respecting German of the right sort would venture out into manhood without a slash or two across his face. As we now know, they only did it to impress girls. Doubtless any female readers of this blog will now be weak at the knees from seeing the results, but there are more pictures available elsewhere. There's also a pretty comprehensive article about student duelling if you wish to know more, certainly I would not presume to improve upon a website with a name like

Hitler, being something of a spoilsport, took a dim view of the whole business and the practice never really recovered from his disapproval (and I suppose the slowly dawning realisation that Prussian-style militaristic swagger might have a downside to it). Though as the image to your left shows, some of his minions had enjoyed the practice in their youth.

However, I understand German students of a certain type still enjoy formal duels; although the scarring seems to have fallen by the wayside, which might be an error on their part.

So, ladies, just for you, today's Elegentlische Deutsches Wodenstag (this is almost certainly grammatically wrong, but there you go) features some prime specimens of German manhood from an era when for pointless and ritualised violence their upper crust rivalled even the British public school system itself. Form an orderly queue if you please.

The type of man before whom all Europe trembled

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: punching above your weight

After last week's hot booze recipe, here's a cold punch that should solve all ills.

Do we by any chance know a beverage called May Queen? It's full name is "Tomorrow'll be of all the year the maddest, merriest day, for I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May." A clumsy title, generally shortened for purposes of ordinary conversation. Its foundation is any good, dry champagne, to which is added liqueur brandy, armagnac, kummel, yellow chartreuse and old stout to taste. It is a good many years since I tried it myself, but I can thoroughly recommend it to alleviate the deepest despondency.

From Uncle Fred in the Springtime by PG Wodehouse.


All the signs were there

Never mind the meetings with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, the really significant things about Barack Obama are as follows: the embarrassing attempts at 10-pin bowling; the enthusiasm for technology and his large collection of Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics.

It's the comics that are conclusive.* The White House has been occupied by, among others, cowboys, crooks, actors, attorneys, academics, soldiers, slave-owners, sportsmen, businessmen and a true bad-ass or two. But, come January, Barack Obama will be the first nerd to occupy the Oval Office.

*PS: In that link Tony Norman refers to Obama's belief that Moby Dick is the greatest of American novels. Not that it matters, but I'd have said the Great Gatsby; at the very least one would hope that a book about the intoxication of money, the pursuit of impossible dreams and the shady side of the American dream – its people who "smashed up things and creatures and then they retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made" – would have a particular resonance.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: a jug of punch

Winter is setting in and I've been suffering under a vile cold for the last few days. What finally cured it was a hot whiskey toddy and a couple of Lemsip chasers: but really the whiskey was what swung the balance.

And yet I fear that the art of making a really first-rate hot punch is a dying one. Cold punch admittedly is holding up somewhat (what else is Pimm's after all? - remember that you can make your own). However, when it comes to winter the Victorians would have thought nothing of rustling up a reviving brew with hot water, fruit, spices and plenty of booze, but it seems too much effort for people these days. Yet the only thing one encounters these days is mulled wine at Christmas-time. But as a service to you all, here are a couple suggestions should you too be in need of the healing properties of strong drink.

Brandy Punch.

Take the peel of two lemons, cinamon, mace, nutmeg and cloves. Add to three quarters of a pound of sugar and half a pint of boiling water. Simmer it then strain. Add a bottle of brandy and the juice of two lemons. Stir well and set on fire.

Riga Black Balsam has also been recommended to me as a paliative. The Latvians told me that it goes well with hot blackcurrant juice, it's also good with coffee, sugar and cream. But really I don't think those are getting the full benefits. A mixture of Black Balsam, Night Nurse (or tincture of laudanum), Ziguli Beer, Buckfast and hot blackcurrant would, I think, be more like it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Paul Dacre: a cunt but correct

In some cases doesn't pain me to say that I agree with the editor of the Daily Mail. In this instance Paul Dacre's argument that the Human Rights Act and its provisions about privacy allow judges to interpret the law in ways that can and will inhibit newspapers' freedom of speech and their ability to investigate what people get up to is perfectly correct.

The British press is having a privacy law imposed on it, which apart from allowing the corrupt and the crooked to sleep easily in their beds is, I would argue, undermining the ability of mass-circulation newspapers to sell newspapers in an ever more difficult market.

If you want to hear a lawyer's take on the matter, you can read one here. My concern is more practical. It's not that there is an overwhelming public interest in reports about Max Moseley's amusingly colourful leisure activities; but any law that starts off by making activities in the bedroom off-limits won't end there (what about a politician who gives public money to someone with whom they are sexually involved, for instance?). Really it's the nebulous concept of "privacy" that worries me: Dacre is a case in point.

It is thanks to the press freedoms he defends that Private Eye, and others, can report that he is a foul-mouthed bully; an obnoxious and hypocritical thug who addresses his underlings in terms he would never allow in his newspaper (amusingly these tirades are known as the vagina monologues). Is that private behaviour? Should it be private? His underlings consent to these verbal batterings in exchange for money, after all.

Anyway, abusing Dacre, though it is both a fun and proper way to exercise freedom of speech, is rather beside the point. The intolerable moralising with which he makes his arguments does tend to weaken his case somewhat. He believes that Max Moseley's spanking sessions should be exposed because they are "acts of unimaginable sexual depravity" and that society benefits from the moral condemnation of such acts.

What pitiful tosh. Apart from the fact that Dacre is obviously a man of staggering limited imagination (I can think of several more depraved acts than that), I have also been grateful to the freedom of the press for exposing several more depraved acts (it was thanks to the Guardian that I first heard the phrase Cincinnati Bow Tie, for instance).

Where he does weaken his case is the suggestion that the law should be there to protect us from the consequences of others' depravity: "the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard". Nope. Civility (which is really what he's talking about) is no concern of the law: its primary duty to civilisation is prevent us from harming each other.

By my moral standards the Daily Mail's relentless coarsening of public discourse, its promotion of ascientific ignorance (MMR being a good example of the dangers of this) and its utterly vile bullying of some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society is something that should be utterly condenmed under all the values of civilisation. All of this yellow journalism does, I think, do real harm to people. Dacre should be an object of public odium, a pariah in all polite circles.

And yet to suggest that the law should be involved is an absurdity. It should be there to safeguard our liberties, including those of speech, actions and conscience. Occcasionally we might do harm to ourselves, so what?; we might abuse our rights and behave badly towards others, again so what? (With the caveat about outright incitement to violence against others: horrible as the Mail is with regard to immigrants it doesn't go that far).

So let's not cheapen the debate with this moralising guffe, it only weakens the defence of free speech. It would be as absurd to expect the law to uphold my moral standards as it would to expect it to uphold Paul Dacre's rather different set of values. We don't what an endless debate about which moral vaules the law should be protecting, after all. It's all about allowing us freedom of choice. A final Dacre-ism:

Now some revile a moralising media. Others, such as myself, believe it is the duty of the media to take an ethical stand. Either way, it is a choice but Eady has taken away our freedom of expression to make that choice.

So for all that I despise what he stands for. He's right. Damn him.

UPDATE: Lots of typical handwringing on this by Guardian writers. Polly Toynbee after condemning Dacre roundly for condemning people concludes that his paper abuses press freedom. I agree the Mail abuses that freedom, but is she willing to give up those freedoms on those grounds? It's not clear whether she would.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lyrical Ballads

A most amusing media catfight between Lily Allen and Marina Hyde has developed, in which the Guardian hack takes issue with a press release that rather incautiously refers to the singer as "the Wordsworth of the MySpace generation".

The two of them get stuck in in the comments, with Allen taking the spat to defcon two status by bringing up the Piers Morgan thing (scroll down here to find it). Defcon one would be… let's say it would certainly deleted by the Guardian's moderators.

Interestingly, the two also swap their views on Wordsworth: Lily likes Westminster Bridge, but Marina recommends the Prelude. Now never mind her alleged dealings with Piers Morgan: liking that particular bit of poetic frottage is a serious lapse of taste that diminishes someone's standing in my eyes. The Prelude is bloody awful: solipsistic, self-important and dull, dull, dull. Poetry has become ever more inward-looking, self-referential and utterly irrelevant ever since the publication of that wretched work; Wordsworth's true literary legacy.

Anyway, Marina Hyde's poor poetic judgment has also played her false with regard to her original sneer. The lyrics she chose to mock:

Now I lie here in the wet patch in the middle of the bed,
I'm feeling pretty damn hard done by, I've spent ages giving head

are actually Wordsworthian, in their own way. Not so much the subject matter admittedly (it's Byronic, sort of, but without the wit and subtlety). The rhymes, however, are all too worthy of Wordsworth's output (if not Southey's). Compare it with these gems for instance.

And to the left, three yards beyond,
You see a little muddy pond
Of water, never dry,
I've measured it from side to side:
'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide. (The Thorn)

Or His master's dead – and no one now
Dwells in the halls of Ivor
Men, dogs and horses all are gone
He is the sole survivor. (Simon Lee).

Where is the Coleridge of the MySpace generation?

Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen…
I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are.

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