Wednesday, November 09, 2005


First, from the Telegraph's "nursery national curriculum" piece, the children's minister, Beverley Hughes, with the disturbing non-denial denial of the day. My bold:

"We are not talking about sitting very young children in chairs and making them learn numbers and letters where that is inappropriate."

Second, a running story I must somehow have missed: "Venice's increasingly bitter clam wars." Setting aside the implication that this started as a bitterness-free war -- just good-natured and friendly violence -- there is plenty of relishable gothic detail here. I am particularly pleased with the warning that, if a clam is cheap and temptingly big, it's probably poisonous. A lesson for life.

Third, the Pride and Prejudice movie appears to have reached New York, and in one of Anthony Lane's weeks, rather than David Denby's. Good news for admirers of withering sarcasm. [Via.]

Fourth, I notice I have now exceeded 100 posts. In two years. That's really not very impressive, is it?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fun with foreshadowing

This is how, in chapter two of Walter Mosley's The Man in My Basement, the narrator explains his habit of taunting a childhood friend:

I did some things better than Clarance. I was good at sports. But he wouldn't compete with me there. He said I was better than him but I couldn't get a scholarship or anything. And he was right. Like my uncle Brent was always happy to say, 'He could win the race, be he cain't beat the clock.'

So I tortured Clarance now and then, angry at him for my inadequacies.

And here, at the end of the same chapter, are his feelings about how he used to swear at the irritating uncle Brent and run away:

That night in my house, wandering completely naked through the half-dark rooms, I thought about how much fun it was to torture my mean old uncle.

In seventy pages' time, a visitor will ask this narrator to lock him in a steel cage. How do you think their relationship will develop?

[The Man in My Basement, by Walter Mosley, Serpent's Tail, 2004. In fact, the whole power of the novel is in Mosley's refusal to go off the implied deep end. He builds slowly to quieter power games. Still a diagram, as they say, rather than a painting, but the drawing is cool and deliberate.]

Berliner to Berliner

Le Monde has had a redesign; by two blokes from The Scotsman, it says here. The result is that it now looks less like a late 1950s edition of the New Statesman and more like a newspaper: specifically, the new-style Guardian. The great Plantu is kicked downpage to make way for keylineless photographs and oddly light headlines in a subtly wedged serif -- although the absence of a quater-page features blurb at the top does make them look stronger. Judging by the fronts in PDF and the inside pages in their advertising blurb, they're also aiming for a five-column grid: Chris Brooke may be disappointed. I must buy a physical copy and find out what it really looks like.

The art of precis

"Lowell, it turns out, was the guy you can see just behind Zelig's shoulder: He corresponded with Eliot, hung out with Jackie and Bobby K., and traveled around with Eugene McCarthy in '68. He also beat up his own father, had endless strange, possibly sexless extramarital affairs with innumerable young women, and endured terrible periods of psychosis, frequently accompanied by alarming rants about Hitler. In other words, it's one of those books you thrust on your partner with an incredulous cry of 'This is me!'" -- Nick Hornby condenses Ian Hamilton's biography of Robert Lowell in The Polysyllabic Spree. This is from the first essay, and representative.

[The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby, Believer Books, 2004. Puts its author next to Clive James on the list of people who ought to give up their lucrative careers pleasing millions and become full-time comic literary critics for an audience of a few thousand including, importantly, me. We're selfish, but we want you more.]

Not even the small print

American Airlines has had a campaign running in the newspapers for several weeks designed to suggest easy opulence through its choice of in-flight meals. It was only today, while resting a bowl of soup on it, that I noticed how bizarre the text is:

Obviously we don't think you should choose an airline based solely on the quality of its ice cream. But come on, Ben and Jerry's? A bowl of Vermont's finest for every Business Class passenger? And in First class we'll top it off with hot fudge sauce and sprinkle it with chopped nuts.

So, to recap: in order to get a bowl of ice cream, you have to pay several hundreds of pounds extra to fly business. If you want hot sauce and nuts on top, you have to pay many hundreds more to fly first. No first, no sauce. And this is American Airlines being nice. Must be some fudge.

Monday, November 07, 2005

New from the Tories: Bigger wristbands

"In a speech partly drafted by David Willetts, Mr Davis will champion social justice and will urge the Tories to embrace the so-called 'wristband generation' of young people who wear their social concerns literally on their sleeves." - Daily Telegraph, this morning. My bold.

And before you say, I know. But I'll bet you, oh, pennies, that they thought they were using the pedantic sense.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Man with MS dies of complications at 66? It's a curse, I tell you!

If anyone out there is collecting evidence for the thesis that The Independent wants to be a sort of right-on Daily Mail, they should check out Exhibit A before it disappears behind the paywall.

Our exhibit describes a curse on those who tangle with Oetzi, that Stone Age corpse from the Italian Alps. Prolonged contact, we're told, leads to "strange, often accidental deaths". The toll is long-ish, but not dominated by strangness: it runs to two mountaineering accidents, a car crash in heavy traffic, one heart attack relatively young, a brain tumour and two deaths after long illnesses.

The long-term medical conditions have to be included, by the way. Dr Tom Loy, who had an hereditary blood-clotting problem, is the latest to die and the hook for the story. And Konrad Splindler, an Austrian archeologist who died at 66 from MS complications, provides the liveliest quote: "I think it's a load of rubbish. It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next."

Kathy Marks, who wrote this tosh, clearly wishes to be thought of as tongue-in-cheek. The nearest she comes to a named source arguing for the curse is "for others, the link between Mr Loy's death and that of other men associated with Oetzi is irresistible". And I will agree that a bit of amusing nonsense is a necessary part of the newspaper reader's diet. But when that amusement amounts to Fun With Cadavers, it becomes questionable. To quote Ms Marks's piece:

Academics, of course, pour scorn on such notions. Tom Loy's colleagues at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience refused to comment yesterday. But one university source said staff were deeply upset, not only by his death, but by all the speculation about a curse.

"They feel that it trivialises his death, and does not do justice to his life and work," said the source. "He was a brilliant academic, and that is how his colleagues want to remember him."


Now available here: almost a year of new cuttings. I will try not to leave it so long next time.