Friday, July 31, 2009

What's in a name?

Susan Blackmore observes that along with genes and 'memes', there is a new 'replicator' of information:

There is a new kind of information: electronically processed binary information rather than memes. There is also a new kind of copying machinery: computers and servers rather than brains. But are all three critical stages carried out by that machinery?

What to call it, as Boing-Boing asks:

She doesn't have a name for it, but it's related to the difference she sees between memes and digital information.

And New Scientist even has a contest.

Well...denes, obviously. (Or maybe 'demes' if you want to vary the variant rather than the original.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Now we know where the next series of The Wire is going to be set

I've only been to Amsterdam once (and, no, not to smoke pot...that was in Maastricht), and this was a few years ago, so I'm no expert on the place.

And I am aware that, yes, the city does have its criminal element. And there have been some signs that efforts may get underway to re-narrow the framework in which some drugs can be legally consumed or sold. (Which would still leave the Netherlands a long way from anything remotely like US drug policy.)

Still, I like the spirit of the video response someone made to comments recently by Bill O'Reilly and his Right-Wing Blondie Squad about that fair city.

(One question: do...they...clone...them?)

I feel this way not least because such comments are of a piece with a lot of right-wing commentary on Europe, i.e., uninformed, biased, exaggerated and...just plain bizarre.

I mean: 'out of control'? 'Anarchy'? A 'cesspool'? Amsterdam? What have they been smoking?

The crazy nature of O'Reilly and his flaxen-haired crew's comments is apparent; but I think the award for quality nonsense has to go to Margaret Hoover for her strange non sequitur in that excerpt that teaching children about safe sex has brought organized crime to Amsterdam. Yes, it's in there: shielded as it was by its incomprehensibility, it may have slipped past you.

'Cesspool.' Yeah. Funny, that term sounds more applicable to a certain 'news' channel than than any major continental European city I know.

(Some similar kinds of comparison figures on drugs are available here.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

With fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins.

Thanks to Dale, I've had the joy of experiencing William Shatner reciting a portion of Sarah Palin's resignation speech.

NBC appears to have not wasted any time in sending out the flying monkey copyright protection legion from the Emerald City to cleanse the Internets of any non-official versions.

But it's still visible at NBC itself.

It strikes me that our Sarah might be a secret Mountain Goats fan.

The similarities are uncanny:

The jacaranda are wet with color,
and the heat is a great paint brush, lending color to our lives,
and to the air, and to our faces; but I'm going to Alaska
where there's snow to suck the sound out from the air.

Up, yes, in the branches,
the purple blossoms, go pale at the edges;
there is meaning in the shifting of the sap, and I see in them traces
of last year, but then they hadn't grown so strong,
and their limbs were more like wires. Now they are cables.
thick and alive with alien electricity, and I am going to Alaska,
where you can go blind just by looking at the ground,
where fat is eaten by itself
just to keep the body warm.

Because from where we are now, it seems, really,
that everything is growing in a thousand different ways;
that the soil is soaked through with old blood and with relatives
who were buried here, or close to here, and they are giving rise
to what is happening. Or can you tell me otherwise?
I am going to Alaska, where the animals can kill you,
but they do so in silence, as though if no-one hears them,
then it really won't matter. I am going to Alaska.
They tell me that it's perfect for my purposes.

(The Mountain Goats, "Going to Alaska")

Also relevant:

(William Shatner sings Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The dark side of the sun

Thanks to Geoff for pointing me to an interesting article on the plight of many of those Britons who moved to the Spanish Mediterranean coast in the last couple of decades. As the article says:

Television shows such as Channel 4's A Place in the Sun promised adventure, swimming pools and the good life. A collapsing pound and the credit crunch have brought a harsher reality: homesickness, financial hardship and something those who call themselves "expats" rarely take into account, that they are immigrants – often with all the problems of not understanding the language or the rules.

Any latent Schadenfreude aside, the article's description of these British enclaves reminded me of nothing so much as the coastal resort of 'Estrella de Mar' invented by J.G. Ballard in his 1996 novel Cocaine Nights.

And then I ran across these lines, which made the Ballardian atmosphere complete:

Even the dead try to save money. Seventy percent of the corpses donated for science to Alicante's Miguel Hernández University belong to Britons – in some cases simply to avoid the expense of a funeral. "Some of those who have approached me don't have much money," admits Lionel Sharpe, who helps the university recruit future corpses.


Now there's a job description: 'recruiter of future corpses'.

Friday, July 24, 2009

German word of the week: "Scheinheilig"

Meaning: "Sanctimonious."

However, the Latinate English term lacks the demotic cheek of the German, which literally means "apparently holy" - an image that is as beautifully evocative as it is blunt.

"Scheinheiligkeit" is the verbal equivalent of dazzle painting. It is a mirage of worthiness, displayed by the pseudo-virtuous user with the intention to blind the opponent (or others around) in order to gain a strategic advantage in a conflictual situation. This, as any victim of sanctimoniousness will know, is truly annoying, because it not only represents a particularly grating form of lying, but also suggests that the apparently holy person thinks that you (and others) are too stupid to notice.

I hate it when people give me the feeling that they think I'm stupid, I really do.

On that note, here are The Smiths:

And the Coen brothers:

Or The Wife, for that matter.

End of the week music

From 1981, a very young -- and seemingly very sober -- Paul Westerberg and band.

The Replacements, 'Goddamn Job'/'Junior's Got a Gun'

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is it fake, is it real, are you feeling lucky today?

Apropos of nothing.

But I love this song.

Billy Bragg, 'I Almost Killed You'

Words with truth inside

Andrew's recent comment on our anniversary post reminded me of The Meaning of Liff, a spoof dictionary by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd of words that, though they might not exist, definitely should.

This book provided a lot of joy in my teen years, but it's been a while since I read it, so I had forgotten the sublimity of definitions such as the following, which was on the first page, so it caught my attention immediately:

A nostalgic yearning which is in itself more pleasant than the thing being yearned for.

(Having now seen Aberystwyth, the aptness of matching term to definition has become far more apparent to me.)

A quick breeze through an online version reminds me that Adams and Lloyd made good use of place names (especially British place names) to create new words. Like the following inspired run from the 'S' section:

The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else's bottom.

One of Germaine Greer's used-up lovers.

One of those hats made from tying knots in the corners of a handkerchief.

SILESIA (n. medical)
The inability to remember, at the critical moment, which is the better side of a boat to be seasick off.

The rest of them are here.

I wish you much enjoyment.

Thanks, as always, Douglas, for all the fish.

On the topic of words:

The Books, 'Smells Like Content'

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

... versenkt!*

R.I.P. Heinz Edelmann - the German illustrator who came up with the design for Yellow Submarine:

You didn't know that, did you? The Beatles seem to have had quite a penchant for Hun artists - just think of Klaus Voormann of Revolver fame.

Only recently, my bro and I spoke about the trailer Edelmann did for German TV, which in the 1980s heralded late-night horrors like Polanski's Dance of the Vampires or Murnau's Nosferatu.

Still sends shivers down me spine ....

Well, Edelmann's involvement in the Scouse U-boot musical throws an entirely new perspective on the famous bathroom scene from A Hard Day's Night - in which John mumbles a frothy kind of mock-Tscherman whilst drowning his toy boats (I've been waiting for an opportunity to post this for a while):

And by way of association:

Which proves my hypothesis that sometimes Spike Milligan stole from John Lennon rather than the other way round.

* "Sunk!" That's how you announce your virtual victory when playing "Battleships" in Germany!

On Ass-Essment

From the 2008 issue of Profession - an annual publication of the Modern Language Association - comes the following gem. I've plucked it from a "queer critique" of "outcomes assessment and standardization" (dunno which of the two sounds worse):

My students are not the general public; they are people who have signed up to take a queer theory class. I'm sure I've said things in the classroom that might sound odd out of context, but the point is that I didn't say them out of context - I said them there, where my rhetorical choices made sense to a group engaged in a common endeavor undertaken in relation to an extensive archive of conversations, texts, and experiences. By the time we discuss pederasty, fisting, or anal penetration, we have built a context in which these topics are proper to our intellectual project.

One: Fisting is not a "rhetorical" choice.

Two: Shared experiences, huh?

Three: "Intellectual project" - well, whatever. I've given up on American academia - even though university life over here is pretty mad in its own way.

Eight years' wedded bliss... worth celebrating, nicht wahr?

Marie Osmond, 'In my little corner of the world'

(More background and a better version here.)

The Magnetic Fields, 'The Book of Love'

Feel the love!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Small steps

David's right: this is quite a good film on the Apollo missions. Not least for the way in which it highlights the ordinariness of much of this amazing stuff.

It's like Regular Joes in Space.

The video footage from episode 5 on Apollo 15 is probably the most spectacular, even if it wasn't the first landing.

And the reading of the presidential message that was prepared should Apollo 11 not make it back (by one of the men on the mission) is also a pretty powerful moment.

To infinity and beyond...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Life imitating science fiction: Attack of the giant squid edition

In the Guardian today, one of my favourite headlines of recent weeks:

Giant squid terrorise Californian coast

Interesting story, and it made me think immediately of Frank Schätzing's rather good thriller Der Schwarm (which I see has been published in English as The Swarm) in which marine life starts attacking humanity in all kinds of interesting and horrifying ways.

Although recent events in California may not be as exciting as they at first sounded, as noted at the end of the Guardian article.

Roger Uzun, a veteran scuba diver and amateur underwater videographer, swam with a swarm of the creatures for about 20 minutes and said they appeared more curious than aggressive. The animals taste with their tentacles, he said, and seemed to be touching him and his wet suit to determine if he was edible.

Ah, well that's OK then.

Friday, July 17, 2009

End-of-the-week German word: 'Schussbild'

Literally: 'shot-picture'.

I believe the English -- or more likely American -- equivalent is 'grouping', but I didn't become an enthusiast for this kind of thing until long after I'd arrived on these European shores, so I'm not sure about that.

Some Anglophone gun-nut will have to confirm this for me.

Anyway, after a few months of effort with the new tool for putting holes in paper from a distance, I'm finally feeling good about mine. (My 'grouping', that is. This is at 25m for those of you who care about these things.)

Although that 7, of course, still bugs me: lapse of concentration.

And the near-7 on the right: sloppy trigger technique.

It happens. You have to leave it behind. Every shot is a chance to begin anew, after all, as the Zen master observed.

Still, a relatively soothing evening at the range. Which was much needed.

It's been an odd and stressful and, somehow, momentous couple of weeks. The momentous bit you'll likely find out more about when things are more...settled, shall we say.

Some of the odd and stressful bits have been relieved by finding out that a (dear) family member is less ill (we think) than believed at first. This is definitely the most important thing this week, and we wish him, publicly and earnestly, a quick recovery.

Still, the fragility of the bodily containers that contain our special unique personhoods has once again been brought to our attention.

And this is never a very comfortable thing.

So, going into the weekend, I offer for those of you who haven't had the chance to leave your weekly frustrations behind through a blaze of lead and gunpowder, a few relaxing tunes whose beauty I've been reminded of via the 'random play all' feature on my MP3 player over the last few days.

'Green is the Colour', Pink Floyd

'Ripple', The Grateful Dead

'Woodcat', Tunng

Yeah. Groovy.

Take care, all.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A loon by any other name

I just noted this editorial addendum at the end of a short article by Daniel Dennett:

This article was amended on Thursday 16 July 2009. Moon-landing sceptics were referred to as "loonies", contrary to the Guardian style guide. This has been corrected.

This seems to be pushing politesse more than a bit too far. I mean 'sceptic' sounds nice and moderate and rational and sciencey: disbelieving things like the moon landings is, indeed, the pastime of people better described as loons.

Such distinctions, I think, should be maintained.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lest I forget ...

... I have posted this before, but still:

And this one:

And that (avec Zidane!):

I am going to Alaska where the animals can kill you, but they do so in silence, as though if no one hears them then it really won't matter

It is no secret to any regular reader of this here blog that we are insanely fond of The Mountain Goats.

Several of the reasons for that are apparent in this excellent live recording of a concert in Somerville, MA last March, available from 'bradley's almanac'.

I've had this loaded onto my MP3 player for a couple of months now, and it's been on what in an earlier age was known as 'heavy rotation'.

A few high points: Woke Up New, Blueberry Frost, Going to Alaska, Beach House, The Sign (yes, the Ace of Base song), Surrounded, Commandante.

Hey, it's free.


Happy Birthday Karel Gott

Most people outside of central Europe won't know about Karel Gott - the famous Bohemian crooner who has a huge following in Germany. Your loss! Karel - "der Gott" - is seventy today and I wish him many happy returns.

Elderly Germans will remember the sideburns and the pale yellow "Dackelohrkragen" (Anybody for an apt English translation? Thank you.):

Generation Golf, by contrast, can warble along to the Maya the Bee theme without the aid of a teleprompter:

My brother - he of the kidney stone - does a very convincing Karel Gott impersonation. We both do. Our family has a knack for foreign languages even when we don't speak a single word of them. We might even have a stab at this one when bro's out of the hospital:

Whatever might Karel be singing about? The Unbearable Tightness of [His] Pants?

I told you I've been tired lately.

I will follow you into the dark

From a statement by the family of conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Lady Joan:

"After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems."

Having watched as people close to me have struggled with 'serious health problems' (an accurate term but one so bland as to be almost a euphemism), I find their decision not only reasonable but also deeply moving.

Also. And more.

Showing some skin

Attending that media history conference I mentioned last week reminded me of a couple of things I've found in the newspaper archives which I've been meaning to post.

Of course, now I can't find them.

But I did run across a few other things, and -- not least since I'm feeling too harried by work-related writing obligations to spend much time commenting on the world -- I thought I'd put them up as part of my series on unexpectedly found history.

Today's instalment comes in a pair.

First, some intriguing -- and, by uptight British standards, quite sane -- commentary about the human body.


Doctor on Short Skirts and Open Necks

"Not Immoral"

The modern woman, with her short skirts and sleeveless dresses, has a staunch upholder in Dr. William G. Savage, County Medical Officer of Health for Somerset.

In the course of an article on clothing, one of a weekly series issued by the Central Council for Health of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, Dr. Savage expresses surprise that "short skirts, which do not pick up the sweepings of the streets," and "the open neck and the sleeveless arms, which do give an opportunity for the ultra-violet rays of the sun to be absorbed," should be described as "immoral."

He thinks they are essentially healthy. "There is no doubt," he declares, "that woman has recognised that clothing is a necessary evil, and is doing her best to have as little of that evil as possible."


The doctor is a firm believer in the value of cold baths in summer and gradual exposure, "to harden other parts of our skins so that when winter comes we need less clothing."

He adds, however, a warning note that hardening should be done judiciously, otherwise, "those who do it unwisely may pay the price and not be here to explain their unwisdom."

Conservative man, "muffled up in his tight collars and his heavy clothes, is far less hygienically clad." But Dr. Savage concedes him one point of superiority in that he does not wear the pointed, high-heeled boots and shoes favoured by many women.

In general, Dr. Savage's prescription is that "clothing must be sufficient to prevent cold, but not so abundant that it discourages the taking of exercise."

(The Daily Herald, 26 June 1929, p. 5.)

Same paper, next day:


Surprise on Arrest of Draper's Model


A girl of 21 employed as a model at a wholesale draper's house was found to be without dress under her coat when arrested for shoplifting in the West End.

Gwen Smith, as she is named, admitted her offence when charged at Marlborough-street Police Court yesterday, and Mr. Mead remanded her.

The girl's father, a linen buyer, residing at Westcliff, explained that his daughter's duties necessitated her being without a dress, but he confessed that he could not understand whey she was out without one.

Mr. Mead asked if the girl had had any religious training?

The girl's father said he was a lay speaker in the Methodist Church, but his daughter was over age, and he could not force her.


"Everyone who is a father sympathises with you," said Mr. Mead, "but it places me in a very embarrassing position. Is this sort of thing to go on?

"We get two or three cases every day. People who carry on legitimate businesses must be protected. The appalling and deplorable thing is that persons in high positions announce from the housetops that no young person must be punished for a first offence.

"It may be a very good thing, but it inadvisable that it should be proclaimed."

(The Daily Herald,27 June 1929, p. 4)
I am assuming that Mr. Mead was referring to the shoplifting part of the matter rather than the lack of a dress when he spoke of 'two or three cases every day'.

It is, though, possible that many people were simply taking Dr. Savage's good advice.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lost for words

Things have been quiet here, but then again not. Sometimes only music heard on the radio as I'm driving to and from Bedlam brings a faint and flickering glimpse of creativity in this dark desert of braindeadness.

Believe me, this is not what I bargained for.

I'm wondering, though, whether it's counterproductive to expose yourself when in this state to recordings of Lou Reed forgetting his own lyrics:

Having said that, the lack of words is what makes this here YouTube trouvaille kind of nice:

Gabba Gabba Hey!

And just for the heck of it:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Knowing the feeling

No comment.

Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn o lyswennod

I'm off tomorrow to participate in a media history conference on 'social fears and moral panics' in Aberystwyth. I'm looking forward to it: not only do the papers look very good, but I've also spent hardly any time in Wales, so this is a chance to remedy that.

But it has brought out a concern (indeed, a social fear) all my own: I have this quite overactive dread of mispronouncing foreign words, names and places. (Is there a word for this anxiety?)

And Welsh...well, lets just say I don't know where to begin:

Genir pawb yn rhydd ac yn gydradd â'i gilydd mewn urddas a hawliau. Fe'u cynysgaeddir â rheswm a chydwybod, a dylai pawb ymddwyn y naill at y llall mewn ysbryd cymodlon.

This is the opening text to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I believe.

I assume, though, that English of some variety will be spoken by the natives. And that they are, at least in large measure, friendly.

(Post title: 'My hovercraft is full of eels'. Source for that and other Welsh on this page. There, you will also find sound files.)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Run away to the country, run away to the coast

In a comment on my posting of a couple of late 80s favourites, mikeovswinton (who I believe has achieved the status of Most Frequent Commenter here at OD...not all that difficult, when you consider it, but still worth praising) pointed us to the music of The Blue Ox Babes, especially the song 'There's No Deceiving You'.

It is, really, quite good.

I haven't found a video link to what he calls the group's 'scorching' cover of Al Green's 'Take Me To the River', but I'll take his word on it.

I mean, the Al Green version is hot enough as it is:

I like this clip, not least since it's from Soul Train, which I used to watch quite a lot of between the ages of about 6 and 14.

Believe it or not. It used to be broadcast on our local Chicago TV station, I think, after the last of the Saturday morning cartoons. Alternatively, it might have tended to come on after the classic movies--usually Charlie Chan or Sherlock Holmes--on Sunday mornings.

In any case, thanks, mike.

Wishing you love, peace...and SOUL!

Friday, July 03, 2009

The end is nigh, Bri

It's not that we're ever at a loss for entertainment here in this household. Indeed, we spent a thoroughly enjoyable quarter of an hour earlier this evening watching a couple of bats in the backyard. I mean...bats! How cool are bats!?

Well, they're much cooler than you non-bat-watchers think they are.

And then, at those times when it gets too dark for those of us without echolocation to really enjoy the outdoors, I tend to turn into a bit of a film trailer addict. I admit it.

And I ran across a couple today that made me actually look forward to going to the cinema. Which doesn't happen all that often.

Now, Roland Emmerich is, I think, one of those very particular directors who manages to make that elusive creation, the good bad film.

I mean, yes, his films have implausible storylines, thin characterisation, sometimes questionable politics and interludes of often tiresomely preachy dialogue.

But he destroys things in wonderful ways.

And he apparently has a new film coming out in which he destroys...well, everything apparently.

But...'the government is building these ships'.... Yeah, whatever.

On with the breaking of stuff:

I find that to be a particularly nice touch at the end: having the White House (so memorably exploded by an alien death ray in Independence Day) be crushed by an aircraft carrier named the John F. Kennedy.

For a somewhat more intimate form of apocalypse, we have the upcoming film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I have mixed feelings about this, as the book (like a lot of McCarthy's writing) had something powerfully bleak that I'm not sure can be transferred to the screen. The trailer shows this to be a bit more of an adventure story than it actually is, but, you know, trailers can do that.

It still looks pretty damn bleak.

But for a truly disturbing film, I think we're better served by Cat Ladies. It manages--with nary a special effect, apocalyptic Mayan legend or hungry horde of cannibal rednecks--to truly send chills down my spine.

And if that's not enough for you, check out a selection of the fifty greatest trailers of all time.

(Cat Ladies and trailer collection via David Thompson.)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

That end of the 80s feeling

Sometimes it just creeps up on you.

The Stone Roses, 'Waterfall'

The Sundays, 'Here's Where the Story Ends'

(It occurs to me that, given the temperatures outside, The Sundays' song 'Summertime' would be more appropriate, but given that didn't come out till the mid-90s, it would mess with my organising framework...)