30 December 2005

Saying goodbye to oh-five, looking ahead to ought-six

"You know the curious thing about this is, certainly not to diminish it, I see things like that every day in the newspaper - every day. Somebody fell in their bathtub, somebody pulled out of a driveway, somebody ate a poisoned Mars bar. Who the hell knows?" - Christopher Walken.

"He is a most impractical boy . . . often forgetful, he finds difficulty in the most simple things and asks absurd questions, whereas he can understand the most difficult things. He has the most distorted ideas about wit and humour; he draws over his books in a most distressing way, and writes foolish rhymes in other people's books. One is obliged to like him in spite of his vagaries." - A.H. Gilkes, the headmaster of Dulwich, about the then seventeen or eighteen year old Wodehouse.

"The craft of painting has virtually disappeared. There is hardly anyone left who really possesses it. For evidence one has only to look at the painters of this century. - Balthus.

"This is the archetypal modern disease - hysteria is over. Everyone will end up prone to depression after a certain age. There's not really anything you can do about it because while the demands people make of their lives are going to go on growing, their ability to achieve them won't. There may be a chemical solution.

The advantage is that depressives can often be extremely funny. There's nothing like a good depressive for having a humorous and perceptive take on the world. I am very fond of the depressive narrator as a character. Perhaps too much so." - Michel Houellebecq.

"Q: Do you like coming down to London to film Black Books?

Dylan Moran: London's fine, but there's a whole raft of skills you have to absorb if you're going to get around without killing anybody, or starting screaming at bins. There's a fine line between yourself and the man you're walking around to avoid because he's busy screaming at a bin. Cash point not working, taxi doesn't turn up, your zucchini doesn't arrive on time, and there you are - you're out there... is very fragile, it could all go at any time.

Q: There was this pub in Clapham which used to be full of old shouty Irish guys. They all wore suits, even if they'd been on a building site. It was a uniform, the one multi-purpose suit.

Dylan Moran: Well, that's not true - often they'd have two. They wear the jacket from one and the trousers from another. That's a very Celtic look, it signals your unavailability for work. If you wear the matching suit you could possibly get hired in some capacity, but if you wear the brown trousers and the blue jacket it means you have somewhere to go; you have appointments with other similarly dressed men to discuss the possible fortunes of some horse in the 3.40. Suits are the cornerstone of any self-respecting man's wardrobe. Good for hod-carrying, sleeping in...and you look good in court." - Dylan Moran (Esquire interview).

"I have three New Year's resolutions. The first is to say 'Mushi-Mushi' in a slow drawl when I answer the phone instead of hello. The second is to post some original material here before March. The third I've already forgotten, I think it had something to do with improving myself or humanity, or possibly crushing all my enemies. At any rate it was a lot of blah blah blah that will never happen." - Carter

Ignite a gasper

'... do you realize Jeeves, that my aunt says I mustn't smoke while I'm here?'

'Indeed, sir?'

'Nor drink.'

'Too bad, sir. However, many doctors, I understand, advocate such abstinence as the secret of health. They say it promotes a freer circulation of the blood and insures the arteries against premature hardening.'

'Oh, do they? Well, you can tell them next time you see them that they are silly asses.'

'Very good, sir.'
- B. Wooster & Jeeves, Very Good, Jeeves.

"Yesterday I read the Aspern Papers. No. He writes with a very sharp nib and the ink is very pale and there is very little of it in his inkpot. Incidentally he ought to have proved somehow that Aspern was a fine poet. The style is artistic but it is not the style of an artist. For instance: the man is smoking a cigar in the dark and another person sees the red tip from the window. Red tip makes one think of a red pencil or a dog licking itself, it is quite wrong when applied to the glow of a cigar in pitch-darkness because there is no "tip"; in fact the glow is blunt. But he thought of a cigar having a tip and than painted the tip red- rather like those false cigarettes - menthol sticks with the end made to look "embery" - that people who try to give up smoking are said to use. Henry James is definitely for non-smokers. He has charm (as the weak blond prose of Turgenev has), but that's about all." - Vladimir Nabkov(Karlinksy, Simon ed. The Nabakov-Wilson Letters 1940-1971. New York, Harper & Row: 1979. p.52-53).

19 December 2005

What the world needs now

"The music industry hasn't connected broadly with fans since the late-1990s heyday of the teen pop performed by the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and Britney Spears. "It's almost like we need a new genre of music," says John Sullivan, chief financial officer of Trans World Entertainment Corp., which operates music stores under the FYE and Coconuts names, among others. "There hasn't been anything fresh to get consumers excited in a while." - Silent Night for Music Sales, the Wall Street Journal.

Tell Mr. Sullivan I'm working on it.

18 December 2005

Grappling with the unknown

"I expect the ruins to be monolithic in character, more ancient than the oldest Egyptian discoveries. Judging by inscriptions found in many parts of Brazil, the inhabitants used an alphabetical writing allied to many ancient European and Asian scripts. There are rumors, too, of a strange source of light in the buildings, a phenomenon that filled with terror the Indians who claimed to have seen it. The central place I call "Z" -- our main objective -- is in a valley surmounted by lofty mountains. The valley is about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barrelled roadway of stone. The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple. The inhabitants of the place are fairly numerous, they keep domestic animals, and they have well-developed mines in the surrounding hills. Not far away is a second town, but the people living in it are of an inferior order to those of "Z." Farther to the south is another large city, half buried and completely destroyed."
– Explorer and mystic Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. His fate remains a mystery. Was he eaten by cannibals? Did he find an inhabited underground city somewhere in the Rocondor Mountains? Or did he vanish into the jungle on purpose?

"El Kudz, as Arabs call Jerusalem, is, from a certain distance, as they also call it, shellabi kabir. Extremely beautiful. Beautiful upon a mountain. El Kudz means The City, and in a certain sense it is that, to unnumbered millions of people. Ludicrous, uproarious, dignified, pious, sinful, naively confidential, secretive, altruistic, realistic. Hoary-ancient and ultra-modern. Very, very proud of its name Jerusalem, which means City of Peace. Full to the brim with the malice of certainly fifty religions, fifty races, and five hundred thousand curious political chicaneries disguised as plans to save our souls from hell and fill some fellow's purse. The jails are full.

"Look for a man named Grim," said my employer. "James Schuyler Grim, American, aged thirty-four or so. I've heard he knows the ropes."

The ropes, when I was in Jerusalem before the war, were principally used for hanging people at the Jaffa Gate, after they had been well beaten on the soles of their feet to compel them to tell where their money was hidden."
- Jimgrim and Allah's Peace, by Talbot Mundy (1879-1940), free download.

The drawings of Tomás Sánchez.

"It’s not often that an experienced critic finds himself confronting the work of an “unknown” painter—unknown, that is, to the critic—only to discover that he’s looking at the paintings of a master talent. But this was my experience upon visiting the exhibition of paintings by the Cuban artist Tomás Sánchez (b. 1948) at the Marlborough Gallery" - Hilton Kramer.

Mastering the Kimura (with illustratations).

16 December 2005

More Brief Reviews of Movies I haven’t Seen

Brokeback Mountain:

A love affair between a pair of homosexualist cowboys ends tragically when one is killed by a horse. The actors playing the leads are (supposedly) straight. Includes graphic sex scenes. If you are into this sort of thing stay home and rent the spaghetti western Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! instead, it's a weird and entertaining film that includes an honest depiction of homosexualist cowboys - an entire gang of them.

Memoirs of a Geisha:

A trio of Chinese honeys infiltrates Japan by disguising themselves as whores. The potential of the premise squandered, as unlike the homosexualist cowboy film Memoirs of a Geisha is only PG-13.

The Producers:

A pair of real life homosexualists (Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane) portray heterosexual Broadway musical impresarios. Notice the pattern. Do you understand 'Hollywood logic' works now?

King Kong:

I’ve decided the old-style stop-motion animation is better than tedious modern CGI effects. The latter mechanically apes reality, the former is art.

11 December 2005

The Way We Linger Now

"Marina Abramovic has often been linked to Chris Burden, and with reason. She has staged extreme masochistic spectacles that shock and repel. In "Lips of Thomas," she carved a pentagram in her abdomen and whipped herself senseless...her most famous work is probably "The House With the Ocean View," performed in New York in 2002 (and featured in an episode of "Sex and the City"). For 12 days, the artist lived on three platforms in a Chelsea gallery. She had a bed, a shower and a toilet, but denied herself any nourishment except for mineral water, and any distraction; she could neither read nor write nor speak. Her life was reduced to a minimum, less than the bare essentials. "This piece will be about living in the moment," she said, "in the absolute here and now." But if the piece made demands on Abramovic, it also made demands on the spectators. Upon entering the gallery, a viewer was immediately confronted with a moral choice: did one take a quick look at Abramovic up on her platforms and then depart, treating her like some kind of animal in a zoo, or did one linger and absorb the experience? For those who lingered - and there were many, including Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie and Bjork - the effect was magical (or perhaps metaphysical)."
- Barry Gewen, 'State of the Art', The New York Times Book Review.

07 December 2005

Cigarettes extinguished, along with liberty

At midnight tonight the State of Washington’s vindictive and senseless ban on smoking in all bars, restaurants, nightclubs and within 25 feet of any public doorway goes into effect. How did such a revolting and absurd state of affairs come about? The philosopher Roger Scruton explains:
"The emphasis on life-style also explains the extraordinary war now being waged against tobacco. Smoking belongs with those old and settled habits—like calling women "ladies," getting drunk on Friday nights with your mates, staying married nevertheless, and having babies in wedlock—that reflect the values of a society shaped by the clear division of sexual roles. It is a symbol of the old order, as portrayed by Hollywood and Ealing Studios in the post-war years, and its very innocence, when set beside cocaine or heroin, gives it the aspect of discarded and parental things.

Furthermore, tobacco advertising has specialized in evoking old ideas of male prowess and female seductiveness: even now, cigarette ads dramatize decidedly un-hip fantasies that stand opposed to the elite culture—after all, the target consumer is the ordinary person, whose fantasies these are. Nor should we forget that tobacco is big business, from which giant corporations make vast profits by the hour. In almost every way, tobacco offends against political correctness, and precisely because it seems to put older people at their ease and enable them to deal confidently with others, it raises the hackles of those who have never achieved that precious condition and whose discomfort is only increased by the sight of others so harmlessly and sociably enjoying themselves.

This is not to deny that tobacco is a risk to health: of course it is. Moreover, it is just about the only product on the market that relentlessly says so. But the health risk does not really explain the vehemence of the attacks on it or the extraordinary attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency and other bureaucracies to portray cigarette smoke as the single most important threat to our children's well-being. For the risk tobacco poses, when compared with those associated with marijuana, automobiles, fatty food, alcohol, or sedentary ways of life, is not actually very serious. Robert A. Levy and Rosalind B. Marimot have shown that smoking reduces the life expectancy of an American 20-year-old by 4.3 years. In an age when people manifestly live too long, why should Nanny be so worried? And why doesn't she turn her attention instead to those products that risk not the physical but the mental and moral health of the consumer: television, for example, or pornography?

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what offends about tobacco is not its medical guilt but its moral innocence. It is precisely because it is so harmless, from every point of view other than the medical one, that smoking gets on Nanny's nerves. People don't commit crimes under the influence of smoking, as they do under the influence of drink or drugs. People who smoke have a ready way of putting themselves at ease, of standing back from the world of troubles and taking benign stock of it. Their characters are not distorted or corrupted by their habit, nor is their moral sense betrayed. The smoker is a normal, responsible member of the community, and he can be relied upon, when asked, to put out his fag. He is not led by his habit into transgressing the established order or the old moral code; on the contrary, his habit has been entirely domesticated by the old sexual morality and recruited to the task of glamorizing it."

06 December 2005

I like the new mammals in Borneo

In the wilds of Borneo a team of scientists led by the biologist Stephan Wulffraat, may have discovered a new species of mammal.1 The animal “is bigger than a domestic cat, dark red, and has a long muscular tail.” It's believed to be carnivorous, and thought to drop down from trees on humans and then use its muscular tail to strangulate its victims while viciously gnawing on the unfortunate person’s ears and neck. Once its prey is unconscious (or dead), the nasty creature somehow drains the body of blood. (None of these details are being mentioned in the popular press, in order to avoid setting off a panic. Luckily I have my own reliable sources in Borneo).

This truly is an amazing find. As the head of the “species programme” at the World Wildlife fund Callum Rankine observes "You don't find new mammals that often, and to do so must be extraordinary”.2 I hope to journey to Borneo soon in order to capture one of these rare animals. If I do I promise to let everyone know what they taste like.

1 I’m adding Dr. Wulffraat to my ever growing list of scientists with odd, suspiciously fictional-sounding names doing animal research. It’s a pattern I’ve been monitoring for some time, but so far am unable to explain. The list includes prairie dog linguist Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, Dr. Siobhan Abeyesinghe, an expert on chicken angst, and Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who is teaching apes how to live in furnished apartments.

2 I’m adding Callum Rankine to the list as well.

04 December 2005

Kazakhstan Update

The president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has been re-elected, receiving 91% of the vote. This despite (or perhaps because of?) his squandering the Kazakh people’s wealth on the building of a giant glass pyramid. Regular readers may recall my visit to Kazakhstan, my reflections on the idiotic Great Pyramid of Astana project, and my observations of the often confusing Kazakhstanian nightlife:

Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan – all admittedly have their peculiar charms, but for me of all the countries in the world with names ending in ‘stan’ none compare to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan! A vast and rugged country (1,049,150 sq miles) populated by descendents of Mongol and Turkic tribesman, it can be found on your map in the unfortunate position between Russia and China. [more
When I announced I was going to Kazakhstan in an attempt to persuade the Kazakhs not to build a giant glass pyramid, in a city with less than 500,000 inhabitants in the middle of nowhere, where temperatures range from -40 F in winter to 104 F in summer, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds, people I knew were dumbfounded. It seems that many can’t believe that such a project is real. But it is. [more]

01 December 2005

Microcebus murinus

One reason for the lack of material here, lately, is that I’ve been busy in inventing a new kind of music. I’m not talking about half-assedly combining two existing genres (i.e. “Country-Rap” or ‘Disco-Death Metal) to produce something less listenable to than its components and then dishonestly claiming it to be new, I mean a style of music that is genuinely original.

To do this I’ve assembled an eclectic group of musicians: Gerhard Spitteler, a Swiss Alpenhornist; Donald and Stefan Tanguy, the famous identical twin Bombard players; Candi with an ‘i’, an exotic dancer who produces various percussive tones and rhythms by slapping her nude buttocks while gyrating wildly; Arthur Hines, who plays the Celeste in a free-jazz manner despite having no arms or legs; child Crumhorn prodigy Billy Nertz (age 8), DJ Gleep on the ‘Wheels of Steel’, Rod Price on slide guitar, and Melvin Barnes, PhD, a homeless man I discovered in the park subjecting innocent bystanders to loud, improvised rants about "the nerve gas conspiracy" (whatever that is).

We hope to debut our nine hour long ‘tone poem’ Short and mid-wavelength cone distribution in a nocturnal Strepsirrhine primate Microcebus murinus (in E) by Christmas.

They scamper off now, but for how much longer?

A violent gang of Russian squirrels attacked and killed a large dog:

"Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report. Passers-by were reportedly too late to stop the attack by the black squirrels in a village in the far east, which reportedly lasted about a minute. They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh."

That story also notes:

"...in a previous incident this autumn chipmunks terrorised cats in a part of the territory."