30 January 2009


From an article singing the praises of the witty personal ads in the London Review of Books:

Philanthropy is my middle name. It's just a name though so don't be expecting any free rides. You can call me Mr Wallace. My first name is none of your business. Applications to box no. 9741.

I have a mug that says 'World's Greatest Lover'. I think that's my referees covered. How about you? Man. 37. Bishopsgate. Box no. 8763

If clumsy, unfeeling lust is your bag, write to the ad above. Otherwise write to me, mid-forties M with boy next door looks, man from U.N.C.L.E. charm, and Fresh Prince of Bel Air casual insouciance. Wikky wikky wick yo. Box no. 2851.

All humans are 99.9% genetically identical, so don't even think of ending any potential relationship begun here with 'I just don't think we have enough in common'. Science has long since proven that I am the man for you (41, likes to be referred to as 'Wing Commander' in the bedroom). Box no. 3501.

Normally on the first few dates I borrow mannerisms from the more interesting people I know and very often steal phrases and anecdotes from them along with concepts and ideas from obscure yet wittily-written books. It makes me appear more attractive and personable than I actually am. With you, however, I'm going to be a belligerent old shit from the very beginning. That's because I like you and feel ready to give you honesty. Belligerent old shit (M, 53). Box no. 6378.

Google-search this: 'Inherited wealth real estate Bentley' - that's me, result 63 of 275. It'll take 0.21 seconds to find me online, but an eternity of heartache in real life. Save time now by writing to box no. 4511, or by just giving up. Mother says you'll never be good enough for me anyway. And you carry the odour of your class.

God appeared to me in a dream last night and spoke your name in my ear. He gave me the winning lottery numbers, too, though, so you can understand where my priorities lay when I raced to grab a notebook and pen. Man, 37, living on hope and the next seven weeks' bonus balls seeks woman whose first name begins with S, or maybe F, and rhymes with chicken, and has a surname that's either a place in Shropshire or the title of a 1979 Earth, Wind and Fire track. Shicken Boogiewonderland, I know you're reading this. Write now to box no. 5729.

- Guardian, 27 January 2009

A modicum of bad language

Parliamentary sketch-writer Simon Hoggart, on the tabling of the famously sweary Alastair Campbell's diaries at the Hutton Inquiry in September 2003:

'The Campbell diaries exploded on top of the Hutton Inquiry like a shellburst over the chateau where the officers are billeted. They were sensational! Right in the very first paragraph he wrote 'G[eoff] H[oon] and I agreed that it would f--- Gilligan if that was his source'.

We gasped. We reeled. The thought that a senior official in the British government would use the word only once in the pages of his diaries was unimaginable! This is a man who probably reads his children stories like Now We Are F---ing Six and The Wind In The F---ing Willows. Were the diaries a forgery? It seemed a real possibility'.

- from Simon Hoggart, The Hands of History, London, 2007

Untidy men

From Mark Barrowcliffe's article in the Times, in which he puts in a good word for untidy men:

Francis Bacon was famous for his filthy studios. “I work much better in chaos,” he explained. And Pablo Picasso forbade his studio to be cleaned, so that “I would know at once if somebody had been meddling with my things”.

So I am not a slob, I am an artist. But this doesn't quite hold up because, like most untidy people, I prefer things tidy. It's just that I am always being distracted, then forgetting that I was meant to be clearing up. This is what life is like with an untidy mind; one that is focused inwards on its own thoughts rather than outwards to meet the demands of the exterior world. Tidiness is a priority - just a very low one; behind, say, looking out of the window blankly.

The accommodation that I have reached with my wife is this: if clutter is drawn to my attention, I will do something about it. The trouble is, I've never quite worked out what that “something” is. “Put it away,” she says. Where is this “away”? Where do you put a jumper that you have worn twice? You can't put it back in the clean-jumper drawer, can you? The back of a chair seems as good a place as any. What do you do with continual-use items? You leave them where you use them continually.

- The Times, 29 January 2009

He would've enjoyed the swearing-in

'Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton believes TV chef Gordon Ramsay is the British Prime Minister. The hotel heiress made the embarrassing statement while in England to promote her new reality TV show Paris Hilton’s British Best Friend.

After explaining she is desperate to find a UK pal because she "loves Britain" and "London is her favourite city in the world", the 27-year-old socialite was asked who the Prime Minister of the country was.

Rather than replying 'Gordon Brown', Paris said: "It's Gordon ... Gordon Ramsay?"'

- Stuff.co.nz, 30 January 2009

29 January 2009

My Sugar Lumps

They drive the ladies crazy, apparently. From series 2, Flight of the Conchords.

28 January 2009

Silly money

John Bird and John Fortune discuss the global financial crisis, November 2008. Luckily, the rich people who caused the crisis still have lots of money left.

[Courtesy of Bob]

27 January 2009


The new record-holders for the lowest form of life in contemporary New Zealand society is being strongly contested by the much reviled category of human detritus known as property developers. In one Auckland court case relating to leaky apartments, the Herald reports that ‘calling yourself an Auckland property developer has become so unpopular that courts are hearing claims these people were instead an office administrator and a hairdresser’. Developers Greg Nielsen and Brian Gailer failed to convince the judge, who described their claims as ‘demonstrably false’. The case is ongoing.

- Source: NZ Herald, 27 January 2009

25 January 2009

The Cat Came Back

Canadian animator Cordell Barker's 1988 Oscar-nominated short, The Cat Came Back (7:39) illustrates the perils of challenging a cat once it's made up its mind:

Barker was also nominated for an Oscar for 'Strange Invaders' in 2002.

23 January 2009

Dull cricket

Comedian Andy Zaltzman in the preamble to his cricket blog article, the World's Dullest XI (Titans of Tedium):

Dullness as a cricketer is of course somewhat subjective, and is not measurable purely by statistics. Batsmen must not only score slowly, but do so with a lack of style that renders them unwatchable to all but their closest family and most dedicated team-mates. They must also be aggravatingly good enough to stay at the crease sufficiently long to send spectators into a deep coma. Bowlers must be skilled and patient enough to contain and restrict, without threatening the excitement of a wicket by any other means than a mental capitulation by the batsman, brought on by overwhelming frustration and an uncontrollable consideration for the paying spectator. Thus, we are looking for the crabby, awkward stubbornness with the bat, and trundling negativity with the ball.

The obvious temptation is simply to pick 11 New Zealanders at random – a team of Edgar, Franklin, Wright (capt), Richardson, J. Crowe, Coney, Blain (w-k), Bracewell, Snedden, Chatfield and Watson would challenge the enthusiasm of even the most ardent cricket lover (and if Jacob Oram could bat like Chris Martin, he would walk into the team as a specialist bowler). But that temptation must be resisted, if only because other nations must be rightly recognised for their contributions to tedious cricket...

- Cricinfo, 22 January 2009

Bands that name-check Hitler

Steven Wells, on the cavalcade of mediocrity unleashed upon an unsuspecting world by bands that thought it would be quite cool to name themselves after Adolf Hitler:

[It's] definitely not a suitable name for a band. Think about it: Adolf Hitler and the Pacemakers, Badly Drawn Hitler, Everything but the Hitler, Hitler Killed the Cat. No way, a total non-starter. But it does make you wonder: how would a musical act called Hitler fare? Fortunately, we'll never know, because no one would be stupid enough to … oh wait. I'm having a flashback.

Moscow, 1991. Communism has collapsed and the embittered youth of the former Soviet Union have turned to the aural dementia of Napalm Death, who are playing a series of sell-out gigs in the Russian capital. I'm backstage with the band. A young man approaches Napalm bassist Shane Embury with a tape.

"You called your band Hitler?" says Shane.

"Yes, we like Hitler because he was against communism," says the kid.

Shane drops the tape, stamps on it, flings it in the toilet and flushes. The kid freaks, screams abuse, runs from the room yelling – and minutes later falls to his death down a stairwell.

And then there was Jerry Hitler – a big noise in 1960s reggae. Had he been called Jerry Gandhi or Jerry Jesus, would we now be speaking of him in the hushed and reverential tones we reserve for Bob Marley? (And, as a slight aside, did the similarly awkwardly named Jah Wanks, ever really stand a chance, career-wise?)

- Guardian music blog, 23 January 2009

22 January 2009

The Reduced Star Wars Company

Adam Long, formerly of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and two of his pals perform Star Wars Shortened: a stage play shoe-horning all six movies - and plenty of silly Star Wars jokes - into a mere 20 minutes. (Embedding has been disabled on the first video, so I've put them both up as text links)

Part 1 (I II III: The new ones)
Part 2 (IV V VI: The old ones)

20 January 2009

Doughnut conspiracies

Anti-abortionists in the US are taking bizarre potshots at none other than the Krispy Kreme doughnut chain, which is hard to imagine as a hotbed of contention in the abortion debate, or any other debate for that matter:

Seeking to commemorate Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday—and no doubt bring in more business—Krispy Kreme is offering "a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day." The offer is about "honoring American's [sic] sense of pride and freedom of choice," the chain said in a news release. "Stores nationwide are making an oath to tasty goodies—just another reminder of how oh-so-sweet 'free' can be."


While the average reader might be offended by the news release's hokey metaphors and debasement of the very concept of freedom, the American Life League sees something sinister at work.

"Freedom of choice?"

"Doughnut of choice?"

"Barack Obama?"

Perhaps Krispy Kreme is really talking about ... abortion!

"The unfortunate reality of a post Roe v. Wade America is that 'choice' is synonymous with abortion access and celebration of 'freedom of choice' is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand," American Life League President Judie Brown said in a news release. "The next time you stare down a conveyor belt of slow-moving, hot, sugary glazed donuts at your local Krispy Kreme you just might be supporting President-elect Barack Obama's radical support for abortion on demand."

For the record, a Krispy Kreme spokesman assured The Talk that "the Inauguration Day promotion is not about any social or political issue."

Does Ms Brown have no inbuilt self-humiliation detector?

- Source: Chicago Tribune, 19 January 2009

Sheep racing

A minor dispute has emerged between Canterbury and Otago sports fans after a Christchurch man claimed that his new ‘sheep racing’ team was possibly a world first:

It began with Christchurch woolclasser David Cone saying at the weekend he had what he believed was New Zealand's, and possibly the world's, first sheep racing team. That, theoretically, put the international spotlight on the 12-sheep team's first outing, at the Brighton Gala Day on Sunday.

But Mr Cone's claims have been challenged by Otago sheep racing interests who point out that, not only did sheep race at last year's Taieri A and P Show, they will also be in the programme this Saturday, 24 hours before the Brighton event.

Actually there’s plenty of silly sheep racing going on out in the big wide world – see, for example, this English newspaper report from Peterborough from May 2008. Hurdling even!

- Source: Otago Daily Times, 20 January 2009

19 January 2009

My fellow Americans...

From an article on US presidential inauguration speeches:

'It’s clear that verbosity, far from being a sin, was a positive virtue for the people who assembled every four years to hear these elaborate performances. John Quincy Adams’s first sentence, while unreadable today, must have thrilled a certain kind of listener: “In compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, I appear, my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me in the station to which I have been called.” What writing class could ever teach that? Of course, they also liked laudanum and enemas in the nineteenth century'

- Ted Widmer, ‘So Help Me God’, The American Scholar, Winter 2005

John Wilkes

'He was well known for his verbal wit and his snappy responses to insults. For instance, when told by a constituent that he would rather vote for the devil, Wilkes responded: "Naturally". He then added: "And if your friend decides against standing, can I count on your vote?" On another occasion, in an exchange with John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, who declared "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox." Wilkes replied "That, sir, depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."'

- Wikipedia on John Wilkes (1725-97), English radical parliamentarian

18 January 2009

This is a tribute

Adam Brown of Cracked.com has compiled a list of the 12 most god-awful tribute albums ever. Here's an excerpt from the section on The Piano Tribute to Korn, which is by no means the worst tribute album on offer:

In the late 90s, Korn managed to become one of the biggest bands in the land by using detuned guitars and Cookie Monster vocals to speak to the anguish and fears of 'roided up douchebags far and wide. It should come as no surprise that once stripped of the vocals, guitars, aggression, attitude and faux gang sign waving, the music falls a little flat. Granted, we'd still rather listen to this than an actual Korn album, but that doesn't mean this tribute was a good idea.

Be warned: another of the 12 is entitled 'Harptallica'...

- Cracked.com, via Largehearted Boy

17 January 2009

Journey to the end of the world

From a travel narrative by Paul Theroux, in which he discusses his impression of New Zealanders when he visited the country in the early 1990s:

'Still, nearly everyone I met asked me, 'What do you think of Na Zillun?' 'It's wonderful,' I said. They always shrugged and denied it. New Zealanders, smug and self-congratulatory about David Lange's non-nuclear policy, seemed to me to be the hardest people in the world to compliment. There was something Calvinist in this refusal to accept praise, but it was so persistent it was almost as though in their stubborn humility they were fishing for compliments.

If you spoke about their well-maintained cities they said they were actually very disorderly. Tell them their mountains are high and snowy and they retorted that yours were higher and snowier. 'New Zealanders are fitness fanatics,' I said to a man. 'That's a myth,' he said. 'We're very unhealthy as a nation. We're poofs'. If I said New Zealand seemed prosperous they claimed it was dying on its feet. Mention the multiracial aspect of the North Island and they said 'we hev ithnic unrest. There'll be a blow-up any munnit'. 'But it's much better than Australia, I hear'. 'Bitter by a long chalk. Your Aussie's an enemal'.

Secretly, I said to myself: Everyone's wearing old ill-fitting clothes and sensible shoes. They carried string bags. They shopped in places with names like Clark's General Drapers and Edwin Mouldey Ironmongery [...] The older people were dull and decent, the younger ones trying hopelessly to be stylish, and the students - Kiwis to the tips of their pinfeathers - aggressively scruffy and gauche. Here and there you saw a Maori, often working a cash register. They were supposed to be clubby and fairly menacing, but they were all smiles and inhabited big solid bodies; they were the only people in New Zealand who looked right at home.

I went to Dunedin, which was cold and frugal, with its shabby streets and mock Gothic university, and talked to the students. 'They're very shy,' I was told. Really? They seemed to me ignorant, assertive and dirty. It felt like the end of the world, and when I looked at a map this seemed true: we were only about 20 degrees north of the Antarctic Circle - leave the southern tip of New Zealand and the next upright mammal you are likely to see is an emperor penguin'

- Paul Theroux, The Happy Isles of Oceania, 1992

16 January 2009

A staff-led approach to improving office morale

'The Manchester Evening News this week reported the resignation of two Oldham office workers who were caught in an intimate clinch by a window, oblivious to the fact their antics had attracted a cheering crowd outside.

The pair frolicked naked behind a partly-frosted window and only stopped their 20-minute encounter last summer when a police community support officer spotted the crowd and interrupted them. A "full investigation" was promised by red-faced bosses at employers Unity Partnership, who are contracted by Oldham council to improve public services, but the man and woman have since resigned.

One astonished taxi driver, who did not wish to be named, said "loud cheers" rang out from the street at various points during the romp. "I'm surprised they couldn't hear us. It was hilarious." Another witness said: "They weren't really young. The man seemed to be quite keen - you could clearly see them through the glass."'

- Guardian, 15 January 2009

15 January 2009

Life in the fast lane

'Anybody see Lewis Hamilton? How did he do that? How did he pull a Pussycat Doll? How fast do you have to drive to get one of them? I've done 72 on the M4 - can I have a Nolan Sister?'

- Lenny Henry, Live at the Apollo, BBC1, 9 January 2009

14 January 2009

A critical narrative of death metal

In a Q&A session with his readers New York Times jazz and pop critic Ben Ratliff outlines his theory on the relative lack of mainstream media attention for death metal:

There is a certain midlevel meat-and-potatoes death metal that resists "serious consideration" outside of specialist quarters because ... because ... because so much of it sounds alike. It's not bad that it sounds alike; it strengthens a tradition. But writing about it for a general audience is really hard work.

I would also add the rather sensible reluctance of many music critics to endure bleeding eardrums and sweat-rain from metal venue ceilings.

- New York Times, 11 January 2009

Woody Allen's Film-making 101

An extract from Woody Allen's diary from the filming of Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Spain, with Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall:

3 August

I suppose it comes with the territory. As director, one is part teacher, part shrink, part father figure, part guru. Is it any wonder then that, as the weeks have passed, Scarlett and Penélope have both developed crushes on me? The fragile female heart. I notice poor Javier looking on enviously as the actresses bed me with their eyes, but I've explained to the boy that unbridled feminine desire for a cinema icon, particularly one who wears a sneer of cold command, is to be expected.

Meanwhile, when I approach the set, each morning bathed and freshly scented, between Scarlett and Penélope there is a virtual feeding frenzy. I never like mixing business with pleasure, but I may have to slake the lust of each one in turn to get the film completed. Perhaps I can give Penélope Wednesdays and Fridays, satisfying Scarlett Tuesdays and Thursdays. Like alternate-side parking. That would leave Monday free for Rebecca, whom I stopped just in time from tattooing my name on her thigh. I'll have a drink with the ladies in the cast after filming and set some ground rules. Maybe the old system of ration coupons could work.

10 August

Directed Javier in emotional scene today. Had to give him line readings. As long as he imitates me, he's fine. The minute he tries his own acting choices, he's lost. Then he weeps and wonders how he'll survive when I'm no longer his director. I explained politely but firmly that he must do the best he can without me and to try to remember the tips I've given him. I know he was cheered because when I left his trailer, he and his friends were howling with laughter.

20 August

Made love with Scarlett and Penélope simultaneously in an effort to keep them happy. Ménage gave me great idea for the climax of the movie. Rebecca kept pounding on the door, and I finally let her in, but those Spanish beds are too small to handle four, and when she joined, I kept getting bounced to the floor.

- Guardian, 12 January 2009

13 January 2009

The qualifications of higher office

'Caroline Kennedy would like to be a senator. I don't blame her. So would I! Especially if David Paterson, the governor of New York, could just waft me into office, and I didn't have to, um, you know, campaign. I'll bet some parts of the job are really fun, and it's public service, which is so uplifting. You think I'm joking, but every argument that has been advanced for Kennedy is just as true for me. She's a mother, a writer, a person with no electoral experience and, so far as we know, no longstanding interest in acquiring any – me too! She has more kids; I've written more books – I'd say it averages out'

- Katha Pollitt, Guardian, 12 January 2009 (reprinted from The Nation)

Now that's recycling

'[In 19th century Britain] newspaper readership had increased startlingly since 1730, encouraged by increases in population, the growth of literacy, and the reduction in 1836 and then abolition in 1855 of the stamp tax. Already in 1782, 61 newspapers were being published in Britain. By 1790 there were 114, by 1821, 216 and by 1833, 369 (London alone had 13 daily papers in 1833).

These newspapers did not have large circulations by current standards. Even in 1837 The Times' circulation (at the height of its powers) was only 11,000. But their readership was greater than their circulation might imply - by one estimate, in the 1830s each copy of a London paper was read by 30 people, and each copy of a provincial paper by between eight and 30 people'

- N. Thrift, 'Transport and Communication 1730-1914', in R.A. Dodgshon & R.A. Butlin, An Historical Geography of England & Wales (2nd ed.), 1990, p.469. Emphasis added.

12 January 2009

Tony Jaa

From the Thai martial arts movie Ong-Bak, a splendid chase scene displaying Tony Jaa's astonishing acrobatic prowess. Coolness ensues from about 1:05 in the clip. My favourite part is a toss-up between the bit where he dives through a ring of barbed wire and the bit when his sidekick reprises the Crocodile Dundee "that's not a knife" schtick.

Attempting to thin the gene pool

Two Hawke's Bay men are lucky to be alive after a foolish boating trip ended when the engine of their borrowed vessel broke down:

Napier Constable Mike Signal said police were called about 9am yesterday and a rescue mission involvng police, the Lowe Walker Rescue helicopter, Hawke's Bay Volunteer Coastguard and the Hawke's Bay Coastguard Air Patrol began.

Surf Hawke's Bay was also put on standby. Mr Signal said the two Napier men, aged 45 and 51, headed out on Saturday night to go craypotting at Pania Reef.

They were "grossly" under-prepared for what they planned to do, he said.

"The two men had been drinking before they left, headed out in a vessel that did not have any navigation lights, had only limited experience in boats, and had no lifejackets, flares or marine radio.

"They did not leave their intentions with anyone and did not check the weather forecast, which was not good for the area," he said.

The boat's motor had broken down and the duo were found about 10am with the anchor dragging on Pania Reef, "very cold and miserable".

They were towed back to shore.

The boat was their flatmate's and he had no idea they were in it until he woke in the morning to find it missing.

- NZ Herald, 12 January 2009