May 2, 2016

A view from across the Atlantic

This appears to be an excellent description of what's going on in with the accusations of Anti-Semitism in the UK Labour Party right now. I had been looking for such a description, so I pass it along in case any of you were the same. I can't verify the facts by reporting, but there's a whole lot in there that just smells right to me. Much of this also describes how the fuss about Jimmy Carter went down a couple of years ago in this country—it wouldn't surprise me if some Gentle Readers will never forgive the man and others will never forgive those who accused him.

Here in the US, I don't feel that the choosing-up-sides is quite so definite on the issue, in part perhaps because of the greater visibility of Jews on the left (and of Jews who publicly criticize Israel's policies) and in part because our rather magnificently self-absorbed Americanism makes the parallels to Northern Ireland or South Africa less immediately persuasive, but the rest of it feels much the same. There is real Anti-Semitism in the conversation, and there's legitimate criticism of Israel's policies, and it's not always as easy to pick them apart as you might think. And there's valuable calling-out of real Anti-Semitism and there's reflexive and spurious accusations of Anti-Semitism, and it's not always as easy to pick them apart as you might think. And this all happens in a bigger context that is important.

The thing I'd add, if anything, is a rhetorical analysis of how specific phrases and terms ooze their way from the wild and intemperate racists to the reasonable moderates, and how much damage that actually does. Most of y'all are (I hope) aware of it in US politics, with race and gender and religion and so forth, and it's much the same with Jews-and-Israel. That was where I felt Jimmy Carter did the damage, but of course your proverbial may vary.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 28, 2016

Twenty of the Best

Your Humble Blogger got a text yesterday from Facebook:

Facebook safety check: Have you been affected by the explosion? Reply SAFE if you’re OK or OUT if you aren’t in the area

If y’all were worried, I was not in Lahore yesterday. I have never set foot in the Punjab in my life. I wasn’t in Brussels the other day. I wasn’t in Maiduguri a couple of weeks ago. I’m fine. I have no idea why Facebook felt concerned about my safety (mine and many others’) but my gut feeling was that since I care about the Cricket T20 World Cup, they assume that I am from South Asia.

In retrospect, I regret referring to the March 18 match in Mombai as a firestorm.

But it was!

When I write about cricket here (and yes, this is going to be a cricket post, not a terrorism post or a social-network post) I most often write about the Test form of the game, which is my favorite, and is in some sense the classical form. In the limited-overs version of the game, there is not the bizarrely wonderful sundial-management of the five-day version. The most popular kind of cricket world-wide right now is the T20 game of twenty overs to a side. I’m not sure how to describe the difference. I suspect saying that it’s a sprint rather than a marathon is cliché, but it’s probably also useful: both footraces are fundamentally about the same activity, but at the elite level, a marathoner is doing a lot of thinking, making strategic and tactical tradeoffs, adjusting to wind and weather, while a sprinter is just running hell-bent for leather. I mean, I’ve never done either or even followed either as a spectator, but that’s my guess. And while it is presumably fascinating to follow a marathon as the runners do all of that thinking and adjusting and whatnot, it’s probably also the case that most finishes aren’t terribly close, as the marathon is won in the 18th mile. And while sprints aren’t perhaps as involving intellectually, they almost always go down to the wire. And you don’t have to take a day off work to follow them. And, frankly, a marathon World Cup that had to be entirely two-person races in some sort of hideous round-robin of exhaustion would be bad.

Actually, I don’t know anything at all about sprints and marathons, so that’s all very likely a terrible analogy, but the point is that the T20 version, which takes about three hours or so, seems to be tailor-made for casual television-watching, with a lot of exciting run-scoring throughout and a very good chance of going into the last fifteen minutes with real doubt about who will win. Looking at the results of this World Cup Super 10 round, I count seven (A v NZ, E v SA, I v B, SA v WI, E v SL, A v WI and A v I) matches out of twenty-one that were nail-biters, and only four (I v NZ, B v P, A v SA, B v NZ) that were laughers. That’s a pretty damn’ good ratio for excitement. On the other hand, I follow England, who were in two close matches and no blowouts, so that might have an impact on my view of the competition.

England’s two close matches were very different. The aforementioned firestorm against South Africa, in which South Africa’s batsmen bashed 229 for the loss of four wickets (the first 50 in only 23 balls and finishing with 36 in the last two overs) and then England made the highest successful run chase in World Cup T20 history (and the second highest in any international T20 match), was just a marvel of bashing and smashing. Smashy smashy, bashy bashy. England never scored fewer than 5 in an over. In the match against Sri Lanka, England took 48 balls to get their first 50 and were at only 99 runs after fifteen overs before finally shifting their arses and getting 72 in the last five. Then Sri Lanka had a terrible start, taking 55 balls to get their first 50, continuing to flail until kicking it into gear at the 12th over and making a huge comeback, in the end needing only twenty-two runs from the last two over to win and then coming ten runs short. It was fantastic. And winning that one meant that England broke through to the semi-finals, just for extra excitement.

I still prefer the Test matches, with their ebbs and tides of momentum over five days, and I am looking forward to England’s upcoming three-Test series with Sri Lanka with tremendous anticipation. But the short game is tasty, too, in its way, and when England meets New Zealand in Delhi Wednesday evening (10am Eastern Daylight Time) I expect to be ignoring my work duties for three hours or so.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 10, 2013

Names and Nouns

I couldn’t help noticing, as the wickets were falling, that England’s first three batsmen had names that were also common one-syllable English words. Well, technically only Alastair Cook and Joe Root have such homographic surnames, as Jonathan Trott doubles the final letter.

It’s not just that they are short, common words, though, it’s that the words themselves are homographic, not just the names, and are common as both nouns and verbs. You can root for Cook, but you are unlikely to have the opportunity to cook for Root. And, alas, they all three went out at a trot—England are at pixel time 148 for four, having lost not only the three homographic wickets but also Kevin Pietersen. Who, by the way, goes by his initials, which constitute a noun as well.

I hope this doesn’t bode ill for their fifth batter, Ian Bell (12 not out)

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 8, 2013

Just a Game

In the history of athletic rivalries, for the Australia Baggy Green Cricketers to prepare for the away Ashes every four years by making a traditional stop at Gallipoli—that’s just brilliant. Alas, it is untrue. Well, it did happen, once, in 2001, evidently, but not again. It’s too bad, really—it’s a rare and wonderful opportunity to both reverence and cheapen a historical event by tying into an otherwise irrelevant sporting match. I can’t think of anything like it.

I mean, if the District’s NFL team ever made it into the NFC finals against their rivals, they could stop on their way to Dallas at… I dunno, the Major Ridge house in Rome, GA? Or is it possible that the team doesn’t really identify with our First Peoples?

Seriously, the Australians at Gallipoli before playing for the Ashes? That’s fucking poetry, that is.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 3, 2013

Who? Who? Who?

Your Humble Blogger is a bit of a Whovian; I wrote a bit about it a couple of years ago. Since then, I have started watching the New Who; I enjoyed the entire David Tennant stretch—more or less, and I should write about that at some point—and have watched the first season of Matt Smith in the role, and am taking a break. I was disappointed in his portrayal, and the choices that the show made around replacing David Tennant. And, since I had watched the whole David Tennant era in six months or so, I wasn’t sure if the problem is in the show, or just that I needed a break. So my Best Reader and I decided to take a break for a while, and then the news came that the Doctor will be regenerating again.

So. Here’s the thing I was saying, last week, before this news came out: it was a problem for me to have three young, manic Doctors in a row. I think that they made a very sensible commercial choice, but another young, manic doctor made the show …the same as it was before the regeneration. I am bored with it.

Now, the show isn’t for me. I am an old Whovian, at heart, and what’s more I am old, or at least middle-aged, and besides that I don’t purchase DVDs or T-Shirts or talking Dalek toys or any of that. When I step into the sort of places that have talking Dalek toys, I am simultaneously pleased and appalled that such things not only exist but are readily available—but I am long past the time when I might have spent my hard-earned money on them. And I really don’t want the show to lose all its ratings, for everyone to go broke and have the show die again; they should make a choice that is a moneymaker, because they are in the money business. And, as far as artistic integrity goes, well, artists are different one to another, so let’s not get our hearts set on everyone’s vision of artistic integrity matching up with YHB’s. And it’s probably worth noting that most people seem to think that the David Tennant years had more of that artistic integrity stuff than my beloved rubber monster heads did, so there’s that, too.

Having said that, I am willing to say that what I would really like is for the new Doctor to be substantially different, physically, from the last three. I don’t mean hairstyle. I mean I would like a Doctor who needs to rely on companions for physical support.

The most obvious way to do this would be to go back to having a middle-aged Doctor, or even an old one (old being relative—Bill Hartnell was in his mid-fifties, but played older), who cannot run long distances, leap to safety over depthless chasms, or spring back from lead-pipe beatings like a cartoon character. A Doctor who has to sit and rest, now and then, and use his brain or other non-physical attributes. A Doctor with a pronounced limp or a club hand or severe myopia or something similar would be difficult (but not, for clever writers, impossible) to square with what we know of Gallifreyan biology, but would be interesting nonetheless. Or, perhaps, a Doctor who is about a meter tall—Warwick Davis isn’t terribly busy these days, is he?

I’m not, actually, thinking of this from a political point of view, although certainly having a Doctor with some physical limitations would be helpful in fighting the stigma there. I’m just interested in it from a story-telling point of view, putting some extra obstacles in the way of the Doctor and his life.

The Doctor of my youth, the Fourth, was (in my memory, anyway) primarily a puzzle-solver. He could fight, and he could run, and he could persuade—but the fun part was watching him figure things out. The stories were puzzles that yielded to solutions, or appeared to yield to solutions only to reveal new puzzles that yielded to new solutions. Why did somebody steal the Mona Lisa? Who is murdering the human crew of the sandminer? Why doesn’t the lighthouse on Fang Rock have its light working? Why are all the coins in the dead man’s pocket minted in the same year? They weren’t all puzzles, and sometimes the puzzle was of the how do we use these parts we found lying around the shed to stop the Bad Guys variety that the Tenth of course used a lot as well. Still, like a lot of the science fiction of the generation before, the setting was designed to present problems solvable by a Scientist! rather than an action hero.

I like that sort of thing. I am not the target audience for New Who, but I like that sort of thing, more than I like the sort of thing with close-ups of actors indicating loneliness and loss with their eyes.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 6, 2013

Two Skits

Your Humble Blogger recently came across the British skit comedy show Them from that Thing, which was evidently broadcast last summer. I have so far only watched half of the first episode (of two), but I particularly liked the last sketch in that half, the Psychic Awards. Enough that I watched it twice, and laughed the second time as well. Enough that I am bothering telling you about it, right?

Now, oddly enough, as I was getting that linky link up there, I discovered through my mad internet search skills that Saturday Night Live did a Psychic Awards 2012 sketch that aired five months before. I watched the SNL one, and didn’t laugh even a little. So I thought I would write up the similarities and differences, and why (I think) I found one funny and the other not.

First of all, I don’t really think that Them from that Thing copied the skit from SNL. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were written first— SNL certainly used to write their shows in the actual week of the show. Them was a filmed show with, like, production values and stuff (more on that later), and probably used material built up over some time. Not to mention that they both work from a pretty obvious premise. I usually attribute this sort of thing to the general zeitgeist; if a thing is a cultural Big Deal, then parodies and skits around the thing will happen. In this case, I kinda thought that psychics were ten-years-ago rather than being current, but on the other hand, I don’t watch TV, so what do I know?

Anyway. The similarities: The topic, of course: psychic award show. That dictates the format: Them had a single hostess, while SNL had a host and hostess. The main gag was about predicting the deaths of the psychics, and then as they work through that premise, both versions have the deaths take place at the awards ceremony as predicted. That’s the obvious payoff, of course, and it’s not a surprise that they both use it.

So. Why did I find one much funnier than the other?

First, the aspects that have nothing to do with the actual sketches as aired. I saw the British one first, so that wasn’t fair to the second one. I’m a pathetic Anglophile, so that wasn’t fair to the American one. I am an old fogey who remembers when SNL was good, which is really really unfair to any recent SNL skit. I had seen fifteen minutes or so of Them leading up to that skit, and I saw the SNL version cold, and that isn’t fair either. And then, of course, I only saw the SNL one when it came up as a potential issue with the version I liked, which is not at all fair. All of that contributes to my mood, which is going to be at least as strong an influence on my finding anything funny as any inherent property in the thing itself.

In addition, I should keep in mind that (as I mentioned before) the SNL version is part of a show where they have to come up with something like 45 minutes of skit comedy a week for half the year. They don’t have time to refine the writing. It’s also live, or much of it is, so they can’t keep running takes until they get the rhythm right—or the special effect. The smoke bomb gag failed because the smoke bombs failed; the other show didn’t have to deal with that. In addition, SNL has to use their guest star, who that week was the not-funny-at-all Lindsay Lohan. And finally, SNL has these days an absurdly large cast of fourteen or so, all of them (according to what I hear) jockeying for screen time, so there’s a temptation to use as many of them as possible, which isn’t necessarily good for the comedy.

That’s the problem, really, with the SNL version of the skit: too many people, not enough focus. First they have the Best Foreign Psychic Award (which isn’t actually intrinsically funny) with four cast members. Five including the wife. Then they have one of those memorial montages, only of the people who would die in the next year rather than the last, which is a very funny idea—but they do five more cast members and a dog before getting to the punch line. The dog wasn’t funny. I mean, at that point, your only choice is to make a joke of going over the top with the list, but still: the dog wasn’t funny.

The Them version had one award and three nominees, and that was it. One host, one spouse, one line for the bear wrangler. That’s it. This gives them time and space to add in a rivalry between two of the psychics, which raises the stakes and makes the award show funnier. Mostly, though, it just clears out the not-funny bits and focuses on the funny. We go from A to B to C, and then back to A, to B, to C and back to A for the end, and that’s it. You get the repetition of each prediction, which is always good, and the payoff of each one, and that’s good, too. I was going to write about it as an excellent model for a comic sketch specifically because of that clarity and focus: one, two, three. They didn’t go wider with the joke, they went further. Their version was sharp and the other one was blunt, and that’s why theirs was funnier.

Also, as far as I can tell from those three minutes or so, the cast of SNL are illiterate gurning halfwits. So there’s that, too.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 11, 2013

Sit down. Sit. Down.

So. The Australian national cricket team, the baggy greens, loses by an innings in the second Test in India after losing the first Test by, oh, a whole lot. Better to put it this way: after nearly losing the first Test by an innings, they did lose the second Test by an innings, and are in what sportswriters call disarray. So what’s a coach to do?

Well, the correct answer is throw the bats at them. What the head coach and the manager and the captain did, however, was ask the players to think very seriously about what they had done. And, well, turn in some homework. Not sure what for that took, but essentially, the players were required to turn in an essay detailing what they had learned from the ignominious defeats they had suffered. And, well, not all of them did. Most of them did! More than half! Thirteen out of seventeen of the players who were in India for the tour, I believe. That’s, let me see, more than seventy-five percent!

OK, so. Now, what’s a coach to do about the four who blew off the whole thing?

Bench ’em? Oh, yeah. Bench the fuckers.

And if one of them is an aging superstar?

Bench his ass so hard it bounces.

Bench his ass, in point of fact, so hard that the man threatens to retire from Test Cricket altogether.

Now, the lesson here, in my arrogant one, is that you should really decide what the punishment is before you start throwing the bats at them. All us parents know this, yes? You can’t threaten just vaguely threaten the regret, because you will eventually have to show them that you mean business, and then that’ll suck for everyone. And now the team has got into the situation where it will have to play two Tests with a partial squad, making it likely it will suffer embarrassing losses in those as well. So a good deal of the problem lies with the coach.

On the other hand, props to the man for following through, right? Curious what GRs who teach (or coach, I suppose) think about this.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 13, 2012

The long, long road to Downton Abbey

Your Humble Blogger would just like to ask—since I expect to be watching the second series of Downton Abbey entirely online, do I have to wait for the official site to present it? I mean, I feel quite certain that the remaining six episodes are available in flavorful torrenty goodness and have been since a few minutes after they aired in Britain last autumn. It may not be legal to download those files and watch them, but it’s certainly feasible.

On the one hand, of course, I wish to support PBS and their investment (with ITV) in Downton Abbey, and I certainly have no interest in quote-unquote stealing from them or making their business plans more difficult than they need to be. On the other, it’s not clear to me how watching the episodes on the PBS site actually helps PBS in any way. Surely, if anything, it’s a strain on their resources. I mean, when they do finally post Episode 2, there will be millions of people attempting to stream it all at once; those who have already illegally downloaded and watched the thing will be making room for those who have not. The polite thing would be to grab it now, and watch it tonight, right?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 16, 2011

Dongle jokes for the win

Submitted: this sketch wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny if it weren’t for the cloth cap.

Of course, that cloth cap is part of fifty years of television bits set in shops closely approximating that shop, often with those same actors, in cloth caps. It’s that through-line that really makes the sketch work for me, and that the gibberish they are spouting would have been gibberish indeed when they started out.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 16, 2011

The Big Mo

So. England is the Top Nation for Test Cricket. There’s a formula of some kind for deciding who is Top Nation; the ICC does the math and presents a exceedingly goofy mace to the Top Nation, and England’s captain should be wielding that thing for a few months, at any rate.

The India-England series this summer has been in some ways a letdown just because India has seemed like a shambles. Their best bowlers have been unfit, and their best batsmen (who have been the best batsmen in the world for ever so long) have looked old and unfit. And the whole feeling of the series has been of a team that couldn’t summon up enough fire.

Your Humble Blogger is scarcely a stathead, you know. But in baseball, my feeling is with the sabremetricians. When people talk about team chemistry, or about momentum, or about coming through in the clutch, or about the intangibles, the mystique and aura of a winning team, the importance of a loose clubhouse, I think that’s all bullshit. It’s often fun bullshit, and I’m in favor of sitting around bullshitting about baseball, but in point of fact, there aren’t teams that know how to win. The better team wins, usually, but baseball being baseball, the worse team wins pretty often, too. Players have bad days, pitchers come to the mound with no stuff at all, guys lose focus in the field—those things really do happen, but that’s all in the stats already, and you don’t actually need intangibles and chemistry to talk about them. And as for momentum… it’s not that I don’t believe in momentum, it’s that momentum switches from one side to the other in one bounce of the ball, one hanging curve, one swing, one close play. My Giants can have momentum for six innings and lose it for three, and get it back in the tenth. Just because the momentum is going one way doesn’t mean shit about who is going to win the game—your best bet, in fact, is to ignore momentum and expect that the team that is better at scoring runs will score more runs, and the team that is better at keeping runs from scoring will have fewer runs scored against them.

In other words, if I can have only one of Momentum and Matt Cain, I’ll take Matt Cain. I’d rather have Albert Pujols than have all the intangibles in the world.

And when people write about cricket, and talk about momentum, and keeping the pressure on, all that intangible stuff, my reaction is to assume it’s bullshit for cricket just as much as for baseball. Cricket seems to have some cultural similarities to baseball, including an instinctive conservatism that goes along with a love for the history of the sport, as well as a fondness for statistical records and averages. I have read some fairly minor essays about the possibility of using sabermetric-style tools to improve a teams outcomes, but I haven’t seen much of the kind of dissemination of stats-minded tropes and tricks that I have seen on the baseball side over the last decade. Things like a preference for On-Base Percentage rather than Batting Average as a gauge of how much good a batter is doing, and of WHIP or K/BB rates over ERA (or certainly W-L-S) as a predictor of a pitcher’s future. Of course, there’s the odd situation that the most common stats in baseball for a hundred years were oddly designed and didn’t line up well with talent, contributions or predictions. Perhaps Cricket’s stats—runs, strike rates, economy, wickets taken—are just better stats, and need less updating. Or the record-keeping may not be up to snuff in (f’r’ex) separating a bowler’s skill from his mates’ fielding; it appears that a few teams have put some effort into improving fielding in the last few years, and that seems to have made a difference. Certainly England looked much, much better in the field than India, but how to quantify that? Particularly, when the difference on a single ball in cricket can mean the best player goes out for ten instead of a hundred?

Well, anyway, what I was saying is that I react, these days, to talk of momentum and pressure and all with skepticism, not that such things exist but that they really have an effect on the game. I do wonder, though, whether it’s true for cricket. I mean, I have been wondering about the game anyway—the difference, as I say, between being dropped at ten or going on to a hundred is so huge, and so many factors are involved. In baseball, the difference between the bat missing the ball entirely and barely grazing it can be huge (a pop-up on the first pitch of the at-bat being about as bad as an at-bat can be, while the swing-and-miss leaves open the possibility of a home run) but can often be not all that huge (I could look up the WPA difference in different circumstances, but I won’t). As far as I can understand, though, there really is no limit to how big one player’s time at bat can be to a game. Two hundred runs? Two hundred fifty? Three hundred? It’s all happened. If Dravid and Tendulkar had batted for two days and collected the draw, it would have been awesome, but not well within the realm of the possible (as various worried England supporters kept saying)—so whatever takes their wickets is huge. All a baseball batter can do is hit a home run, only one. If there’s no-one on base, and you are two runs behind, you cannot do it alone, not even in theory. In cricket, you can eliminate a hundred run deficit all by yourself, at least in theory, and in practice, too often enough.

Does that leave more room for intangibles? Does the sight of a batter in his eighth or ninth hour at the crease make a difference? I don’t know, and I do wonder. Perhaps it’s just that I haven’t read, and maybe nobody has yet written, the equivalent of the BABIP and FIP stuff that changed the way I look at baseball. Or maybe it’s just that different a sport.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 8, 2011

Not a doctor, but The Doctor. The Definite Article, you might say.

Your Humble Blogger, as I believe I have mentioned here before, spent five years or so as a Doctor Who fanatic. Maybe more—I can’t be sure when I first started watching (or why, frankly), but it was certainly by 1983, right? And I maintained fanatical levels of devotion until, oh, 1989 or so. Something like that, anyway. I remember learning that they weren’t going to make any more episodes, so I was involved enough in 1989 to have heard that, but I don’t think I was broken up about it, really.

My Doctor, of course, is the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, the one with the hat and the scarf. You know. The one Americans like. Or Americans of my generation, anyway.

I watched the first season of the New Doctor Who (with the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston), and I enjoyed it a fair amount but not as Doctor Who; it didn’t really feel like the old shows. Or it didn’t succeed in making me feel like a teenager. Something like that, anyway. The production values were too good, the writing too serious, the scary bits too scary, the characters too obviously straining at a third dimension. As it were. Actually, despite the Fourth Doctor being my Doctor, I probably enjoy many of the Third Doctor episodes best, as they are even more goofy, lighthearted, shoddy and entertaining, with the dandy Doctor riding Bessie and finding trisilicate keys and fighting Sontarans and reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. I mean, the Fourth Doctor does all that stuff, too, and I love it, but he also does thing like come to grips with his mortality, and face ethical conundrums. Still, the Fourth Doctor is my Doctor—if you asked me what does Doctor Who look like, and you didn’t let me explain that he regenerates and that he is just called the Doctor and so on and so forth, I would have to say: curly hair, toothy smile, scarf, hat.

So. My Perfect Non-Reader is nine, now, nine-and-a-half, really, and I thought that maybe it was time to start watching the Doctor together. Because I would enjoy that a lot, really. And even though we don’t currently subscribe to that video-delivery service, YouTube provides. So we watched the first episode with the Fourth Doctor: Robot. Big robot, eventually a Giant Robot, disintegrator guns, fascist scientists, the Brigadier, and a tank that is very, very clearly a plastic toy. That tank is one of my favorite things in the whole series. If you didn’t start watching until 2005, you may not understand how a toy tank could be one of my favorite things in the whole series, but then one of us doesn’t really get Doctor Who.

Alas, my Perfect Non-Reader didn’t really enjoy the show, either. Perhaps it’s a twenty-first century thing. Or, you know, maybe I built it up too much, because after all, it’s just a cheesy tv show. And she has a lot less experience with cheesy tv shows than I did at her age. Which was before I started watching Doctor Who, anyway. It occurred to me, afterward, that perhaps what we should do is start with The Sarah Jane Adventures, which are, after all, children’s shows. That worked better. We watched the whole first episode, and I think she had a good time. The production values were good enough for her to enjoy, while not being, you know, very good at all, really, so that’s all right. My favorite trick where a human pulls off a rubber mask and is discovered to be a hideous alien who is much larger than when wearing the mask is handled reasonably well, although I do miss the mask.

We haven’t watched another episode of either show yet (and we haven’t finished watching the Superman movie, either, which is a higher priority now), but the experience has reawakened my fondness for the whole thing. I had (did I talk about this at some point? Oh yes, briefly) gone sort of sour on the whole Doctor Who thing, what with it becoming all popular and so on. Part of the fun, when I was fifteen, was being—well, part of the fun was clearly being fifteen. But part of the fun was being on the Inside of something. I was a Person Who Knew About Stuff, I was Different From The Rest. I mean, I wasn’t, really—I was watching a show that was on one-sixth of the available television channels, taking up more audience share than the Law and Order universe ever did—but it felt like I was, and in fact people who didn’t watch the show hadn’t ever heard of it. Now, it’s different. I neither have indie cred (since the show is popular) nor cult cred (since I am one of those lame guys who only really knows the Fourth Doctor and bits of the Third). The only thing left to enjoy is the actual show itself. Which, it turns out, I can enjoy. So now that’s all right.

All of which is to say that I have started wearing my scarf again. Well, it’s my Best Reader’s, really. She knitted it—my recollection is that I taught her to knit on the first few feet of that scarf, but that’s just my recollection, and may have little to do with any events outside my head. But she hasn’t worn it in years, and I lost my more sedate scarves somehow, so I have done the old-married-couple thing and taken possession of it. It’s a great scarf, too, about eighteen feet long, I suppose, very warm, and in handsome colors of dark blue, dark green, black and ivory. And since my hat these days is a brown floppy-brimmed one, almost a Borsolino style, I think it looks pretty good.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 14, 2011

Ashes, Ashes, we all stand up!

Your Humble Blogger did not post a note about the result of The Ashes, only in part because no Gentle Reader is at all likely to care. However, just in case, I will note that (a) England retained the Ashes, winning three Test Matches and losing only one; (2) England looked good, but Australia looked worse than England looked better, if you know what I mean; (iii) Alistair Cook batted for two thousand one hundred and seventy-one minutes during the five five-day Tests. That’s just ridiculous. 766 runs. He has five thousand Test runs, and he’s only just 26. And not bad looking, either.

All in all, it was a vastly entertaining hundred and twenty hours of sport. Alas, it was in the other hemisphere, and I didn’t stay up late, or at least not very late, more than once or twice. I read about it the next morning in the newspaper, like a wild animal in the wilderness, although I did read it on-line and not printed in ink on pulped tree.

I will say that there didn’t seem to be any real doubt that England would retain the Ashes, at least not after November 29th at lunchtime. There was, of course, the possibility that they would blow it, but the comeback on that first day set the tone for me, and even when they collapsed in the Third Test to even the series, they looked like the better team with the better chance. That said, I didn’t need to sweat the outcome of the series to enjoy the cricket; there was plenty of excitement day to day and hour to hour. Even the fifth match, after Australia could no longer take the Ashes and England only needed a draw to win the series, the absolute crushing that England bestowed was breathtaking. When the team you root for is really good and is playing at their best, it’s just fun to follow them.

This has been a good autumn/winter for my sports fandom, hasn’t it? My Giants won the World Series and England retained the Ashes in Australia. Things aren’t looking so good for my Terriers, though; sixteenth-ranked and dropping. Well, and it’s early yet.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 29, 2010

Haul away, you rolling kings!

Your Humble Blogger enjoyed the First Test of the 2010/11 Ashes very much, despite not being able to follow much of it in real time, what with it happening halfway around the world and all. When it started on Thursday morning in Brisbane, it was Wednesday evening here, which meant that I generally went to bed by lunchtime the next day and when I woke up the morning after I had missed the afternoon. By the time the sun went down on Monday and play was stopped, it was too late for me to stay up Sunday night, but I was able to read about it it excruciating detail the next morning.

This meant, however, that I was mostly experiencing each day in retrospect, missing several gradations of hope and despair. For instance, on that first day, England began with disaster, and had shifted to a glimmer of possibility when I went to bed, which was followed first by utter humiliation and then by a seed of respectability. The headlines the next day were about Ian Bell rescuing an otherwise disgusting innings, so YHB immediately knew that things had got much worse before getting not-quite-as-bad. I mean, still pretty bad. The next four days went (from the point of view of a supporter of the Lions, of course; those who prefer the baggy greens presumably had the inverse) something like this: despair, utter despair, hopelessness, woe, hope against hope, plain old ordinary hope, pride, complacency. Something like that, anyway. I mean, the match ended in a draw, so we didn’t get as far as jubilation, but because England were the victors last time, a draw helps their cause more than Australia’s, and when you are down by a jillion runs after the first innings with a few overs left on the third day, avoiding a loss is cause enough for pride.

And now I have a few days off before the next Test. Or do I? Adelaide appears to be an additional half-hour ahead of Brisbane, or do I mean behind? If it’s already tomorrow, when does the sun come out?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 24, 2010

Testing, testing, three, two, one.

I am curious—I was mentioning to my Perfect Non-Reader that the first day of the first Test of the Ashes was about to start, and she made a comment about the connection of a sports Test and a school test. So I, naturally, asked whether she thought the use in sports was older than the use in education, or veesy versey. And off we went to my OED. But it did not answer my question.

There is a reference to a cricket Test match in 1862, so that’s a line for that. But it seems to treat school tests as a unremarkable extension of any kind of testing anybody or anything for any reason, and doesn’t bother to give a quote for it. I suspect it is from the middle of the nineteenth-century some time, but I don’t really know. I suppose the next step is to search the newspaper archive. Hmph. I’m clearly not going to get an answer before the first ball.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 29, 2010


Your Humble Blogger doesn’t have the heart to write much about this news. A fellow has been arrested in London on what seem to be pretty credible charges that he was arranging spot-fixing in the England-Pakistan Test series. Spot-fixing, for those Gentle Readers who don’t follow gambling and crime, is when the players fraudulently arrange events that can be bet on other than the final outcome of the match. In baseball, for instance, you can bet on the number of walks a pitcher will issue, how many strikeouts, how many pitches, how many times the batter will get to a full count, fly balls versus ground balls, stolen bases, caught stealing, pickoffs, passed balls—some of that stuff more directly affects the outcome of the game, but a player could easily convince himself that it doesn’t really hurt anyone to pick up some extra money, as long as he is still trying to win.

Well, and of course once you start down that road, the whole game goes to shit.

The thing is, this series had been terribly exciting, had become really exciting when Pakistan won the third Test, and then the first days of this last Test were really remarkable. And then.

It’s a surprise to me, when I think about it, how honest professional sports are, or at least how honest they seem to be. Given how much money, how very much money indeed, is gambled on the outcomes of the games. Has there been anyone thrown out of the NFL or the NBA or the NHL for spot-fixing, point-shaving, or even just tipping off the gamblers to whether a key player is fit or hurt? The NCAA has had its share of gambling scandals, but considering the vast difference between the financial rewards for the student-athletes and the resources of the bookmakers, wouldn’t we expect the whole business to be on the take? And yet, no. Almost all the players seem to be playing entirely free from anything of that sort.

And, of course, part of why I find this whole thing so depressing is that I want my sport to be an escape from the problems of the world, and it’s hard to escape connecting this incident to Pakistan’s status as a very-nearly-failed state. The floods, the disorder, the shrinking area that can be said to be governed. Yes, the prospects of a war with India seem to be receding a bit, but the prospects of nationwide chaos and catastrophe are not. And yet, it’s so easy to imagine any Pakistani finding news about spot-fixing making the day so much more difficult to bear. The teenage phenom bowler facing a lifetime ban from first-class cricket; the captain’s disgrace.

They played out the end of the Test this morning, in a somewhat perfunctory way. Nobody seemed to get much joy out of it.

And joy is such a good thing, too.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 8, 2010

Who's got game?

Your Humble Blogger plays a lot of videogames on the computer. I don’t write about them much, partly because I am embarrassed about how often I play videogames on the computer, and partly because I figure that the kind of videogames I play are not terribly interesting to talk about. Although I do think about them a lot. Overthink them. There is, presumably, a limit to the tactics available in any given one-button game.

One game I have been playing a lot over the last year is Little Master Cricket. Little Master Cricket is a simple swing-and-hit game: your batsman can’t move his feet, and you use the mouse (or trackpad) (or finger, I suppose; it’s available for the whatsitphone) to drag his body around by the wrists in order to swing. You score runs depending on where you hit the ball; near the ground for one run, higher up for two, higher yet for four, even higher for six, and then if you hit it too high, you are out. Or if you fail to protect the wicket, of course. Anyway, on each ball, you can get from one to six runs or be out (or leave the ball on the field, because of some odd and entertaining aspects of the game that I won’t go in to here).

Those are runs, by the way; your score is your total runs multiplied by your strike rate; that is, if you score N runs off K balls, your score is N * (N/K), rounded to a whole number. The game helpfully keeps track of your strike rate as you go, only not actually all that helpfully, because there are some odd bits of hinkiness that go along with the strike rate, mostly that of course your last ball will add zero runs while still counting as a ball, which brings down your strike rate and thus your score quite a bit. F’r’ex, if you hit five sixes and then are out on the sixth ball, your strike rate is five and your score is 150.

Generally, though, I ignore the score and go for runs. That isn’t quite true—I like to get a score over a hundred, so I aim for that, and if I make it (which I often do), I try to get a hundred runs. Getting a hundred runs (or a century) is a Big Deal in cricket. And while of course Little Master Cricket is nothing like cricket (even less like cricket than my other videogame, the one that taught me the rules at least, which this one doesn’t), I think I have learned more of an appreciation for a century by aiming for it in my little videogame.

See, even ignoring the strike rate multiplier for the score, the strike rate is still important. While theoretically, I could block every ball and get a hundred runs in a hundred and four balls, in practice I would miss one eventually, or the wonky virtual physics would get me out, in either case long before I picked up a hundred. Hm. Let me try it… yes, I was out for seven on one off the handle. Second try I had more than a dozen balls lying inert on the field before an incoming bounced off one of them and over my avatar’s head. And the third try I got to a dozen or so before getting out. So, no, as I suspected the purely defensive game is not an easy way to a hundred runs.

Of course, a very aggressive game is not an easy way to a hundred, either. Taking a big swing at every ball is a good way to make quite outs for a handful of runs (although a decent way to get to a score of a hundred in a short time, if you don’t mind making some quite outs along the way). Even a deliberate attempt to put every ball squarely in the four is hard to accomplish, and at least for me leads to trying to dig out a ball coming in low and lift it, and if I get too much wrist into it, it’ll pop up for an easy out.

No, the way to get a hundred runs is to watch each ball as it comes in, judge its potential, and then try to block it, smash it for six, or line it out for four based on that judgment. You have to decide quickly, as the ball is coming in, and you have to act on that judgment immediately, holding back for a big swing or setting up to block or whatever is called for at the moment. You can’t go in to each ball with a prepared and prejudged plan; you have to react to the ball as it comes in.

And yet, I can’t go in to each ball without a prepared and prejudged plan; I can’t just react to the ball as it comes in. I don’t have time. And when I say I am going for runs, what I really mean is that I am trying to maximize my chances to get a hundred, which isn’t quite the same thing. A score of 102 makes me much, much happier than a score of 98, while a score of 98 doesn’t actually make me happier than a score of 94. The ton line may be arbitrary, but that’s where it is, and that’s what I am aiming for. Which means that I tend to keep an eye on the score, and adjust my aggressiveness accordingly. But which way? If I get to around 75 runs, it’s too early to start blocking and making my way by ones and twos, because something bad will happen within fifteen balls, right? But can I really risk my score by trying to swat a couple of sixes? If I do, and I’m just about up to ninety, then it’s time to block—but if I block my way to 97 in another six balls and then pop one up to end it, I’ll be kicking my virtual self all virtual day. With just one more four, I could have had my century!

All of which, of course, is on a computer, sliding my mouse around with only my children to watch. For actual cricketers, facing actual bowlers who are varying their speed and angle and spin by volition, rather than randomly, and who also face changes in the light, the wind, the heat, and who are getting physically tired from running between the wickets, with thousands of fans watching them and rooting for or against them, and who have to keep their minds on the outcome of the match, not just their own statistics (but making centuries, rather than eighties, will have a huge effect on their careers and opportunities and finances)— I’m not saying that I know what it’s like. I’m just saying that I have a little bit better of a grasp, I think, on some of the aspects of it, to make it seem even more impressive than it seemed before.

So that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 8, 2010

No future

Malcolm McLaren has died.

It’s hard not to feel personally bereft, at the moment, although of course I am not really basing my Buckingham on Mr. McLaren so much as on a kind of stereotype (or archetype, if you will) that Mr. McLaren himself used and subverted and ultimately fed into. I admit that I thought, briefly, that it would be great to have his curly mop of hair atop the Duke of Buckingham’s head, but (a) my hair is not curly, and (2) no, it wouldn’t be great. Still.

As it happens, I don’t really have much good to say about Mr. McLaren on the occasion of his demise. It’s an odd thing—I don’t particularly like his music, or his fashion design, or the staged outrages and Situationist stuff that he perpetrated so effectively, but I am glad that they exist. I think his attitude (Turn left, if you're supposed to turn right; go through any door that you're not supposed to as quoted in the Observer recently) is self-indulgent and self-defeating, and that it is far likelier to lead to bad art as good, and that even more the dissemination of that idea is far likelier to lead to a docile and easily-manipulated crowd than an independent and progressive one. On the other hand, I would hate to live in a world without punks. I want my daughter to grow up, as I grew up, in a world where people are trying to sell previously-ripped jeans and t-shirts. I want her to do what I did: experience the thrill and energy of contrarianism, and then find some deeper and more satisfying joy.

I want the establishment, and I am specifically referring to myself and the things I like and support, to be faced with the sort of aggressive and frankly stupid disrespect that typified the punk movement. I want taboos (and calling a shop 'SEX' and putting bondage gear in the window was very very taboo when they did it) to be smashed—I don't want to smash them myself, thank you, but I want to be making the choice to follow the traditions I value, not just following along without thinking.

I asked a few college kids today if they had heard of Malcolm McLaren; they hadn't. That's too bad. If you are eighteen or nineteen, and you think of punk as being your parent's generation, you're right—but you are also wrong. Punk is for all time, but not for everybody; punk is about looking for something to smash, and discovering, with any luck for the first time, that a lot of our assumptions and our traditions and our taboos and our social structures really are fragile. Yelling boo! at the right time, in the right voice, loud enough, really does work. And it's a great thing for people who want to take those traditions and social structures and assumptions and taboos seriously to know that, too.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 25, 2009

Ashes to ashes, junk to junkyard

A month or so ago, Your Humble Blogger wrote about The Ashes, a series of five (this time) cricket Test matches between England and Australia. And here it is the end of the series and England won! Huzzah! Well done, lads.

For those who are not even remotely interested in cricket, but for some reason want to finish reading this note rather than painting the garage, please be aware that this is not a note about the details of strategy or skill, either of cricket or of baseball, which I will be bringing in to the note all to soon. Don’t sweat the sports stuff; there will be some questions and ideas that I think will be at least mildly interesting to those of you who don’t follow team sports. Maybe. We’ll see.

But first, the Ashes. The exciting moment—well, and by moment read three-hour stretch, only a moment in cricket terms—was an utter collapse by the Australian batters in their first innings at the final Test. And as I was reading about it, utterly stunned by the extent of it, it occurred to me that this was something really unique in team sports. That is, a difference in scale that is big enough to be a difference in kind: a reasonable first innings might last five or six hours or more, possibly much more, spread over two days or even three (depending on a variety of things). At lunch on the second day, Australia were 61 for naught and looked pretty good to carry on batting until the end of time. At tea, they were 133 for 8, and England was going to rake their Ashes. The point being that this was a collapse of the entire batting side, seven of the eleven players being out for single digits (which stinks, for those with no basis for comparison). In theory, at any point the Australian side could have turned it around, started batting well, and it would have been a very different match. But they didn’t. Once the slide started, it picked up pace and each new batter seemed to pick up where the last one left off.

This sort of thing is not altogether unusual in team sports. It doesn’t happen as much as you might think; the most usual thing is for some players to have a bad day and others to have a good one, or for the momentum to be all on one side for a while before unexpectedly changing. But it does happen, and I think most (if not all) fans have had the experience of seeing their team being unable, for a game or a half, to make a shot, complete a pass, or hit the ball. Or, more happily, having that happen to the other side, while your own team has everything fall exactly right. But the experience of watching wicket after wicket tumble for England seemed different from that. Perhaps I was fooled by the scale of the series, six weeks or so of back-and-forth play balanced just so, before collapsing. Much like the whole season of play leading up to a championship game, when (f’r’ex) a bad penalty is followed by three goals in ten minutes and it’s all over. But more so, and to me, much more so.

Now, let’s talk about baseball for a minute.

Before the beginning of the season, in the early spring when the crocus were still under the frost, my Giants were expected (by YHB, among others) to have a lousy year. Eighty-one wins out of a hundred and sixty-two would have been considered optimistic, and as for playoff hopes, well, nobody had any. Not this year. Then they startled everybody by winning more than they lost, and even those most careful observers did think they were playing over their heads, still, wins you don’t deserve count just as much in the standings as the ones you do. Not that they were good, exactly. But maybe, what with one thing and another, they would luck into the playoffs, and once the playoffs start, it’s all a crap shoot, anyway (warning: playoffs not actually a crap shoot).

So here it is late August, and what has become clear is that in order to get into the playoffs, the Giants are going to have to win a bunch of games against the Rockies, whether they deserve them or not. And lo, we head into Denver for four games, and lo, lo, we win the first one. And lose the second. And the third. Gruesomely, exposing the team’s weaknesses, in case there was any doubt about them. And then the fourth, well, last night was not a good night. Giants fans have had worse, but not by a lot. I mean, it could have been an inside-the-park home run they gave up.

Anyway, a few observations about the game, in light of the Ashes, occurred to me. First, and most obviously, there’s the sports thing that happens when even when we were winning, the fans (counting me and most of the people at the McCovey Chronicles site) felt certain we were going to lose. And when we were tied. There was just a feeling about it. Those feelings are often wrong, but…

The other thing is that our manager utterly mismanaged the roster, with some help from the GM. We used up all our reserves early (except one who was too injured to play but hadn’t been withdrawn from the active list, because, you see, the hell with it), which meant that our relief pitchers had to bat with men on base in extra innings. Of course, eventually, so did theirs, but ours started earlier and had less success.

C.L.R. James pointed out in Beyond the Boundary that baseball has a unique and bizarre rule: players removed from the game for a substitute cannot return in that game. Mr. James feels that this limits strategy far too much; as a born baseball fan, I find all the switching around in basketball and hockey confusing and uninteresting, and this whole business of football having three different teams is just, well, anyway. I think baseball would be a very different game if you were allowed to bring a pitcher back after a rest; I think cricket would be a very different game if you couldn’t. I am inclined to think that the baseball way is very American, but I don’t have any well-articulated basis for that. Perhaps you all could help.

And finally, there’s the scale of time. This was one game out of a hundred and sixty two, one series of four games in late August with weeks left in the season. In another sense, it’s a whole season blown, and in another yet, it’s a hundred and twenty-five year old ball club. There’s always next year. The Ashes series is just about the same age as baseball, but then, they play for a couple of months every other year or so. If I am reading the schedule correctly, the next international Test cricket for England will be in December in South Africa; they don’t play more than fifteen or so series at that level all year.

Does a culture’s sport infect their non-sport culture? C.L.R. James says that the two are not distinguishable, that it is nonsense to try to discuss the cultural times and the sporting styles and preferences separately. When, a few years ago, basketball was the big time, did the rhythms of that game, the suddenness and speed and the ability of one man to dominate the field of play, did all that influence the way we walked and talked, the books and movies and the politics, too? Does the resurgence of baseball go in hand with an interest in slower, steadier work? Or is it all about the television singing and dancing and cooking competitions, really?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 29, 2009

England, eh? There will al-fucking-ways be one, innit?

Your Humble Blogger was going to use this article about Tory leader David Cameron using a line about twitter that I think originated with Stephen Fry (or perhaps Germaine Greer) to talk about Conservatives and profanity in this country. But then I remembered that Our Only President won a motherfucking Grammy for his recording his motherfucking book, thus making him one of the very few American Presidents to have the honor of having thousands of citizens use their mobile phones alert them to messages with the Presidential “Sorry-ass motherfucker”.

So, I’m left with this: according to a spokesman for the Conservative leader, “twat was not a swearword under radio guidelines” in the UK?! I mean, interrobang? Or, as they might have said back in FJM days, Fuck the heck?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 8, 2009

We All Fall Down

Well, and the first day of the Ashes is over. England did OK, it seemed to me, but then I don’t actually know anything about cricket.

At one point as I was following along on the Gaurniad’s site (and they have a bizarre little doo-hickey for following along that is like a cross between Gameday and a FlowingData contest; I’m not sure if I like it, but I can’t seem to take my eyes off it), my Perfect Non-Reader asked me who was winning. It’s more complicated than that. And it struck me, at that moment, that they had been playing for, oh, five or six hours at that point, and that it was Day One of a contest that would be going on for more than six weeks. Sure, there are a bunch of days off in there, but it’s perfectly plausible that all five tests will go to five days, and that most of those 25 days will have—what—six hours of play? Certainly more than a hundred hours of playing time, taken all together.

Now, I’m a baseball fan. I like a nice three-hour game, and I love the 162-game season. That’s a hundred and sixty-two games against two-dozen other teams, though. At the end of the year, there are a few playoff series that are multiple-game head-to-heads, and honestly it isn’t my favorite form of the game. But still, the long series are best-of-seven, and an unusually long series might take a total of— well, let’s take a look at some recent ones. Last year, five games of 3:23, 3:05, 3:41, 3:08 and 3:28 for a total of some sixteen and three-quarters hours. In 1991, the Diamonbacks and the Yankees played a remarkable seven-game series with two extra-inning games. Total game time: 23 and a half hours. That’s a lot. But let’s say that sometimes we see two top-notch teams playing each other in a series that takes almost two weeks and maybe conceivably as much as 25 hours of playing time.

Absolute minimum, if there is a good deal of rain and a blowout or two, four times that for the Ashes. Maximum of a hundred and fifty hours of play, more or less, not counting lunch breaks and tea breaks. Oh, and by the way, there are eleven men on a team plus two reserves.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 11, 2009

TV Report: King Lear

So. Your Humble Blogger has finally managed to watch the King Lear I was hocking about a couple of weeks ago. And it was… ok.

Sir Ian McKellen was very very good in places, although somewhat less impressive in others (in my arrogant opinion, of course). The rest of the cast was much less impressive. I did like Sylvester McCoy’s Fool, most of the time, although the effect of actually hanging him on-stage (as it were) is dramatically lessened by the transfer to television. Not his fault, really. Monica Dolan’s Regan did an excellent job of differentiating her character from Frances Barber’s more cookie-cutter Goneril, although the idea of playing it as Tracey Ullman-plays-Helena-Bonham-Carter-as-an-alcoholic-Sloane-Ranger was a trifle irritating. Still, I have seen enough performances where the sisters are indistinguishable from each other or from other performers in other productions; this was memorable and effective. Romola Garai’s Cordelia was luminously beautiful, really startlingly gorgeous, but (a) so what, and (2) that doesn’t really justify shoving her breasts into the camera all through I,i. Again, probably not her fault, really. I didn’t like Kent at all, I didn’t like Gloucester at the beginning, and although I liked him more once he was blinded, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t like Edgar or Edmund.

I hated the costumes. First of all, the similarity made it hard to tell one male from another; they were all black, white and grey, except King Lear at the beginning, but of course we didn’t have any trouble telling which one was King Lear. And the costumes were just bad; the worst was the Duke of Albany wearing a fucking bathrobe into combat. No, I’m serious. Lots of gold braid and medals and comfy, comfy terry cloth. And when the Fool gets stripped of his outer stuff, he seriously appears to be wearing contemporary slacks and a shirt; it was incongruous and distracting. And the sets, too, I didn’t like them, either. Again all grey and black, with nothing to really distinguish the atmosphere of the various castles. There was no way to tell at a glance that we were back in Albany, or in Gloucester, or where. Nor were they the same place, so it wasn’t some sort of thematic or metaphorical point. They were just similar, and confusing.

But I don’t really want to emphasize the things I dislike. It’s just easier to describe them and talk about them; I often will see a show I like and spend several hours talking about the aspects that failed to work. The character, Sir Ian’s Lear, is wonderful and tremendously effective. Less so on the heath (where also the sound mixing problems were particularly bad; it was difficult to make out what anybody was saying with all that rain); more so (as I expected) after the storm. His Lear was not as serene in those final scenes as some interpretations have him; he maintains a certain asperity, a certain impatience, a certain imperiousness. Do not abuse me he says to Kent, at the end, and it snapped out like, well, like a king. And I was weeping, just a trifle, at the recognition scene; I always weep at that.

The thing about Sir Ian is his incredible physical inventiveness. He delivers the verse extraordinarily well, of course, but there are others who might do it even better; nobody does the physical stuff better than him. It’s not just that he is good at the naturalistic part of physical acting, or that his body is capable of expressive gestures, not just with his face or his hands but his legs, his shoulders, his torso. It’s that he clearly is fiendishly good at coming up with bits of business, of physical acting, and then investing them with meaning and performing them with strength and care, which ultimately (for me) add up to a kind of mesmerizing reality for the character that I have never seen anyone equal. It was astonishing on-stage, of course; seeing his Richard III remains the best theatrical experience I’ve had. But in films, as well. Good ones as well as bad.

In this Lear, there’s an ongoing bit with a handkerchief that is wonderful. He seems at several points to be on the verge of a seizure; I was worried that he was going to go all the way, have a stroke on the heath in the storm, and then perform the rest of the play with the left side of his face limp and drooping. That would have been heavy-handed. What actually happened was not: his increasing stiffness, an increasingly drippy nose, and (I think) some increasingly broad gestures with his arms. “I am not ague-proof” he says, sniffling into that handkerchief, which will soon become a rather disgusting white flag. But in between, he cradles poor blind Gloucester like a baby, and then puts felt on his back hooves and steals up on his sons-in-law, stamping and rearing.

There is always a temptation for an actor to give a character some little fun physical attribute: a limp, a twitch, a habitual gesture, a stiff knee. It’s fun to put on, and it can seem so meaningful. And, you know, it can be. But what Sir Ian does (imao) goes way beyond that. I’m not altogether sure how to describe it. I can identify good physical actors, sometimes (in movies both Nicolas Case and Keanu Reeves are inventive physical actors, when they aren’t phoning it in, as is Johnny Depp, of course) but I don’t know that I could tell you what exactly makes for good physical acting.

I suppose, for me, it’s invention; it’s figuring out what to add to the words without detracting from the words. I’m not terribly good at it, myself, although I wish I were. I try to remember about it, give my character a walk, a way of standing, a way of sitting. But the thing is that I have to walk, and stand and sit (so far; I haven’t had to play a part whilst in a neck-high urn yet). I was able to talk my director for Liaisons into having Valmont and his valet cross swords during a bit of a conversation, just for a thing to do, and I think that worked. And there are sometimes little things; in April, my character trailed his fingers in a fish pond that was actually several mirrors. That’s an easy bit of visual trickery, as by folding the fingers under, it looks a bit like they are sinking under the surface, and then I pick them back up and shake them out a bit.

I try to think of things like that, but my imagination is usually limited to minor stuff, bits with my hands, a funny walk, fiddling with props. The bit where Sir Ian takes the bit of cheese from his pocket and lays it gently on the ground, and then stamps on it with his bare heel—well, that’s not even one I particularly liked, and I’m saying that I couldn’t have come up with it, or with anything like it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 3, 2009

That shit is getting high

Gentle Readers would have been disappointed if I didn't mention this, right?

Swearing in the Guardian, 1998-2008

As Mr. Hume points out, the Guarniad has been keeping the bastards down, fuck is up, but their cock line is essentially flat.

And I think that's all that needs to be said about that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 6, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen

So. In the book of Enchanted April, much is made of the class differences amongst the four women: Lady Caroline Bramble, of course, is a Lady; Mrs. Graves is the daughter of some sort of prominent intellectual, her husband and father were clearly both gentlemen; Mrs. Arnott is a middle-class woman whose husband has recently achieved financial success, and who could therefore move in Society, if not exactly be in it; and Mrs. Wilton is a solidly middle-class woman, whose husband is a moderately successful solicitor who circles the fringes of Society looking to pick off stragglers to fatten off. They none of them know the same people (or so they think); they are strangers to each other and to each others’ classes.

In the first scene where Mrs. Wilton and Mrs. Arnott meet Lady Caroline Bramble, they repeatedly address her as Lady Bramble. Near the end of the scene, when Mrs. Wilton assures her that they will all grow to be the closest of friends, sisters even, she has the greatest reply. “Yes. Well, let’s start then by not calling me Lady Bramble. Call me Lady Caroline.”

Of course, it’s a deliberate snub. But the snub is on two levels: in addition to saying don’t get too informal with me, she’s also snubbing them because they don’t know how to properly address a Lady. In fact, it’s clear that they have no titled friends, and are very much Not In Society. When they react, they should not only be upset by the distancing, but embarrassed by their ignorance. Not that the audience is going to pick up such shades of meaning, but they are there.

Let’s see. Her mother is Lady Bramble, so assuming that her father, the Duke of Bramble, is still alive, her mother is the only one entitled to the title of Lady Bramble; her grandmother might be the Dowager Lady Bramble, but that is different. Unless, as I understand it, her father is not the Duke of Bramble at all, but only the son of the Duke of Bramble regnant, such that his children are courtesy Lords (and Ladies). But then she would not be Lady Caroline at all, so it’s the straightforward one. And bye the bye, Lord Bramble her father must be at least an Earl, because the daughter of a Baron Bramble or Viscount Bramble doesn’t get called Lady Caroline at all (although Baron Bramble’s wife would still be Lady Bramble).

And Lady Caroline will never be Lady Bramble, either. Unless she marries her cousin, who winds up being Lord Bramble because her father has no male issue (or the brothers died in the War). No, addressing her as Lady Bramble is a terrible faux pas, and one that marks the ladies as distinctly Non-U.

Now, it turns out that Lady Caroline was secretly married, and is actually a widow. A running… not quite a joke, although it’s funny in places, but an ongoing motif of the play, let’s call it, is that everybody thinks that Mrs. Wilton and Mrs. Arnott are widows, when their husbands are alive, but everybody thinks Lady Caroline is single, when she is married and her husband is dead. There’s a rather poignant moment, actually, when Lady Caroline asks Mrs. Wilton and Mrs. Arnott if their husbands were lost in the War; she is clearly searching for what we would now call a support group, although they don’t know it and neither does the audience, yet.

Anyway, I thought that the former Lady Caroline, having married, is no longer Lady Caroline at all, as she loses the title of daughter when she takes the title of wife. It turns out (according to Wikipedia, anyway) that she does keep the title of Lady, unless she marries a Peer. If her husband is Sir Atkins or the Earl of Atkins, then she is the Dowager Lady Atkins. If her late husband was the eldest son of the Duke of Atkins, she would be Lady Adkins; if her late husband was (wait for it) a younger son of the Duke of Atkins or the Marquess of Atkins then she would be properly addressed as Lady Thomas. In all those cases, I would be correct, and she would no longer be properly addressed as Lady Caroline (although of course she would claim to be, to keep the marriage secret). If her husband was a commoner, however, as seems moderately likely given the secret marriage and the time, as well as her eventual marriage to the rich but common Antony Wilding (played by YHB), then she is Lady Caroline Atkins and then Lady Caroline Wilding, and still properly addressed as Lady Caroline.

Is that all clear now? Excellent. Now for extra credit: if her father is a Duke, Marquess or Earl, and her deceased husband was the younger son of a Duke, Marquess or Earl, and is married to a commoner, how should she be addressed? Lady Caroline or Lady Thomas?

And finally, should she, whilst married to the commoner, be ordained in the Church of England and named to be Bishop of the Diocese of Bramble, what would be the proper mode of address?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 5, 2009

Mumbai and Lahore, and pulling up stumps

After talking about terrorism, cricket and the subcontinent (well, that’s not quite what I was talking about, but it was in there), I feel I should say something about Tuesday’s atrocity.

Er, something. Not sure what.

As I understand it, the context is this: nobody wants to go play cricket in Pakistan. Now, nobody wants to go play cricket in Zimbabwe, either, but then Zimbabwe is a failed state, and Pakistan is…very large. As I understand it, the number of people in Pakistan who know more about Cricket than I know about baseball is approximately one point eight three gazillion. And nobody will play there. Not India, fine. We understand that. Actually, before Mumbai, India was scheduled to play in Pakistan, and that was a Big Deal, but after, not so much. Not India, not England, not the West Indies, not Zimbabwe, not the Lastfarthing County Girls Eleven.

Well, until Sri Lanka took a chance. I mean, things are bad in Sri Lanka, too. So perhaps they thought it was worth a shot. And, you know, if you’re Sri Lanka, there’s some point in showing people not to be too worried about touring areas with a history of terrorism and governmental failure.

And also, just to point this out, the host for the 2011 Cricket World Cup is, essentially, the Subcontinent: matches were to be played in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and, yes, Pakistan. And if that was actually going to, you know, happen, then perhaps it would be a good idea to test it out a bit, see what happens.

And what happened, happened. Fortunately, due to incompetence and chance, the grenade under the bus didn’t explode, and none of the Sri Lankan cricketers died. So there’s that. Could have been worse. But it was very bad.

And that’s it. I mean, that’s the context, as I understand it, and now we will see what we’ll see. I mean, there’s a possibility that an attack on cricket will be seen as crossing some sort of moral line and that particular terrorist organizations seen as responsible, or even organizations viewed as using terrorism, will lose popular support, and this will all redound to the benefit of an actual working state governing all of Pakistan. Not likely, just on the face of it, but possible. That will take a lot of doing to make that the Story of What Happened. More directly, the Story of What Happened is that Tuesday was the day that Pakistani people recognized that they were living in something awfully close to a failed state, and— what do you do if you realize that you are living in something awfully close to a failed state, and your government can’t protect your cricketers?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 15, 2008

Little Mastery

Your Humble Blogger will attempt to express why this week’s Test Match between England and India is one of the most impressive, theatrical and moving sports events I’ve ever followed. Which presumably means that now is an excellent time to skip to the next thing on your aggregator, which may feature pictures of cats with amusing captions. Check back later; it’s always possible that I’ll get to Music Monday before the end of the day. No, seriously, it’s possible.

In the meantime—y’all, being the high-information Gentle Readers that you are, and the humane and compassionate and above all gentle Gentle Readers that you are, probably did not think about the vicious attacks in Mumbai in terms of sport. Individual loss, yes, international geopolitics, perhaps, longterm effects on the cause of environmental stewardship, wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe some of you have found something nice to say about the Lebovitchers; Your Humble Blogger got as far as I wish people wouldn’t kill them and the web site is actually well-put-together before I went back to shaking my fist and shouting about the big menorah. I hope you had better luck; I am normally an easy-going fellow, but the Chabad get so far up my nose they can shukl in my sinus cavities. But we were speaking of cricket.

You see, England’s national team was in India, having begun to perpetrate a series of one-day matches in preparation for two Test Matches.

Perhaps I’d better start with some terms. There are three (main) forms of cricket: the new, quick and novice-friendly Twenty20 matches, which can be played in an evening; the One Day International (ODI) rules, which take all of a day, from morning to dusk; and the Test Match, which takes five days from morning until dusk, which consists of two innings for each side. Let’s see. An over is, for purposes of this note for non-cricket lovers, a set of six instances of the bowler throwing the ball and the batter trying to hit it (or not); an innings is when one team’s entire batting side has its turn to bat. Since there are eleven players on a side, and players bat in pairs, an innings lasts until ten men are out (or something else happens which ends the innings, which I won’t bother with at this point. In an ODI, if ten men get out before the 50 overs, their innings is done. The point is to score runs, and runs come in large numbers, or so it seems to those of us used to baseball or other low-scoring games.

The mark of a batter being really successful is to score 100 runs; truly remarkable scores of twice or even three times that are possible, but a baseball fan might think of a century (as it’s called) being like going three-for-five at the plate with a home run and a double. It’s an excellent day, and when you talk about the match later, you will talk about the player that got a century.

Is all this at all clear? Your Humble Blogger does not himself know very much about cricket; I follow it in print over the internet, and enjoy it tremendously, but I’m not sure I’m even getting it all right, much less making it clear to y’all. I’m not planning to write up an over-by-over description of the Test; I’m only trying to get some terms out in front so that I won’t have to break up the story by having to define them in the middle.

Anyway, the England side is in India, and—I should probably mention that their last International Test Match was with South Africa, and they were destroyed so embarrassingly thouroughly that the captain of the team not only handed over the Captaincy but resigned from the team. The hope of a few years ago that England would become the dominant team, or even one of three or four nearly-equal powerhouses, seemed to be diminishing to a hope that they would bounce back to be a legitimate competitor of Australia, the West Indies and the other great sides. India, on the other hand, had recently demolished Australia, and was in the enviable position of combining on their team the declining years of legendary players with the newly-seasoned confidence of young stars. On the other hand, the introduction of competitive commercial twenty20 cricket in India (the the India Premier League) has threatened to drain Test Cricket of talent, not only in India itself but throughout the cricketing world. That’s the situation when England’s side arrives in India for its tour.

The ODI matches were excruciating. Just pathetic. There were five of them, and the best you could say for England is that in two of them, they had a position of some strength before collapsing ignominiously. The other three were just sad. It’s not that anyone had particularly high hopes for England going to India, but it would have been nice to pick up one of the five, or at least perform at a level that would give hope to England’s supporters that they were in for a chance in the Tests. Frankly, at that point, if you asked me whether it would be better if they just canceled the rest of the tour and went home and painted the garage (or garridge), I would have given it some serious thought.

And then maniacs tried to invade Mumbai, for no apparent reason.

And the England squad went home.

And then there were meetings and whatnot, and it was decided that the Tests could continue, although the second one, which was going to be in Mumbai, would be played elsewhere. England’s players met to decide whether to accept the invitation to return, and after the captain made it clear that it would be a consensus decision, that they would not return with a partial squad or force unwilling players to go, they did come to a consensus to go. Presumably the Indian squad had a similar decision to make; although the early reports that the gunmen were searching for and singling out Britons and Americans seems to have been false, if terrorist madmen were to take it into their heads to cause the uproar that would certainly follow an attack on India’s beloved cricketers, one would imagine them doing so at a Test against the English side. And leaving aside security concerns (which can’t really be expected to be rational anyway), the Indian side are likelier to know people who are connected to the Mumbai attacks, while of course most of both sides have played with lots of players from all over South Asia, and the Mumbai attacks seem to be (possibly) a big push down the slide toward subcontinent-wide chaos.

What I’m saying is, I don’t think anybody would really have blamed either side for insisting on rescheduling the Test for next winter, or for simply cancelling it. Nor, I think, were expectations really high for the quality of the cricket; much of the talk beforehand was about the difficulty of preparing for a match under the incredible conditions.

Digression: On the other hand, England has essentially refused to go to Zimbabwe. International cricket was having a very hard time deciding whether to expel Zimbabwe, but the players were pretty sure they weren’t going to play. Good for them, says YHB. Although I usually prefer increasing sport and culture contact rather than isolating rogue nations, I don’t think anybody should go to Zimbabwe, possibly ever again. End Digression.

So. The first day, England bats, and kicks Indian ass. The opening stand knocks in 118, and Andrew Strauss gets 123. Then there’s a kind of minor disaster in the middle of the order (OK, a major disaster, when Ian Bell is out for 17 and the captain, Kevin Pietersen for 4), but Mr. Prior settles in for 53 not out, and when the inning is over, England is sitting on a very tidy 316.

When India starts their innings, on the second day, England is bowling very well, particularly Graeme Swann, who in his International Test debut gets two wickets in his first over, including getting the great-but-struggling Rahul Dravid out lbw for only three. On the third day, Mssrs Dhoni and Singh held a nice partnership but India was all out for 241 shortly after lunch, leaving England a lead of, I can do this, 75. A very good lead to have, but England has shown themselves perfectly capable of blowing through their inning for a tiny total to add to it. Still. Nice to have a lead.

And then Mr. Strauss hits another century mostly in a stand with Paul Collingwood who hit 108 himself (over 6 hours of batting), making up for Mssrs. Bell (7) and Pietersen (1) and propelling England to an innings total of 311 before they declared, leaving India chasing a preposterous 387 and facing a devastating loss. Even if they managed to score a tremendous total, surely they couldn’t get through all that before dusk on the fifth day, could they?

Except... in the afternoon of the fourth day, Virender Sehwag (the Nawab of Najafgarh) hit 83 in about twenty seconds of batting, and the fifth and final day dawned with India needing 256, with their opening batsman, Gautam Gambhir, paired with Rahul Dravid. And then! Mr. Dravid is caught out for four! And coming to bat is the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbai’s favorite son. And Mr. Tendulkar is not going to sit down today, ladies and gentlemen. He has forty Test centuries under his belt, and one way or another, he is going to keep batting until the either the game is over or the sun goes down.

V.V.S. Laxman goes down for 26 just after lunch, and Yuvraj Singh steps up with 163 to win. England’s bowlers (particularly Monty Panesar) and fielders are not looking dominant, and the runs are piling up. At the tea break, Mr. Tendulkar has 65 and Mr. Yuvraj 45, and they are looking immovable. They’re in no hurry, taking singles and blocking and generally looking like mountains. The runs keep piling. After 90 overs, India has 348. After 95 overs, 368. And in the 99th over, with 383 runs, Mr. Tendulkar is sitting on 99 runs. He’s been batting for five hours, remember.

I’m trying to think of an American sports celebrity to compare Mr. Tendulkar to. I’m not coming up with one. He’s scored more runs than anyone in Test Cricket, and more runs than anyone in ODI, either. He’s had more half-centuries than anyone in Test Cricket, and more centuries. He’s a superstar, the best batsman in the world in a cricket-mad country. He’s the captain of the new Mumbai Twenty20 team, and his willingness to join the league (and make buckets of money) is part of what made the whole IPL feasible. He’s like, oh, imagine if Barry Bonds been born in Pittsburgh, had stayed with the Pirates or returned to them, not been widely considered an asshole and a cheater, and still broken both the single-season and career home run records. And then, imagine that people cared as much about baseball as they do about basketball and football combined. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.

And it’s his hometown that was attacked, and it was his force (according to the Guarniad, anyway) that pushed for the resumption of cricket this week, and, of course, it was his boundary for four that gave him his 41st Test hundred, and gave India the fourth-biggest fourth-innings comeback in Test history, and some good news, anyway, for his hometown.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 29, 2008

Tea for Two, and Two for Tea

tea comparison: bag vs. good

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 12, 2008


Your Humble Blogger enjoyed the audio (with accompanying still photos) of Lynn Redgrave as the titular Grace provided by the New York Times. I was about to write the lovely and marvelous Lynn Redgrave, so as to distinguish her, I suppose, from some other Lynn Redgrave of your acquaintance, but in fact she is substantially less lovely than she was, and substantially more wonderful, perhaps in proportion. A remarkable woman, and a remarkable actress. Anyway.

In the bit excerpted on the Times site, her character is lecturing to a class about William Paley’s Watchmaker analogy, which, she assures the class, is absolute bollocks. Well, and perhaps it is. But it occurred to me, and not for the first time, to wonder why it is that testicles are equated with falsehoods. I know, I know, it isn’t falsehood as such, but a sort of muddle-headedness, misrepresentation and mistake, not altogether unlike bullshit.

In American English, balls are pretty much only associated with courage. This is perfectly understandable, as courage connects to manliness in some sense, and manliness to testicles. In addition, there’s the whole actual biological testosterone thingie, for whatever that’s worth. Castration, emasculation, feminization. It’s understandable, if not, you know, a particularly good model of the world as it is. Still. Balls are courage.

In British English, however, balls can indicate a mess of almost any kind. What we call a screw-up they are more likely to call a balls-up (or a cock-up, which I understand to be, oddly, from the Yiddish, where cock is shit, and alte cocker, or old shitter was a common phrase of great pungency). One can, in England, make an utter balls of it, balls it up, make it an utter balls-up. It can even be ballsed-up, which is absolutely frightful, whatever it is. This is, by the way, different from balling up a piece of paper, which (by coincidence, I assume) is also screwing up a piece of paper, which is different from screwing up. Fucking up a piece of paper is not the same, either, and although one can fuck it up, and it can be fucked up, a person can be fucked up on either side of the Atlantic (a friend recently referred to the possibility of Larkining up her children, which was too good not to be passed along, although it was not the impetus for this note, which is, if you remember, about bollocks).

Balls can also, in British English, be a general all-purpose curse word. Oh, balls, you can say, the tea’s gone cold. As with a lot of British English terms, it can also be used in American English to increase the pretentiousness quotient. Am I pretentious? you can say, Am I balls! and I think that should satisfy everyone.

My understanding of the English attitude toward profanity is that it is generally far more loose in terms of the connection between the word and the circumstance; as I think I’ve said, an American can fall into water that is damned cold, damn’ cold, fucking cold, or cold as hell, but an Englishman can fall into water that is arsing cold, cunting cold or even bastard cold. I connect this with a difference I once read in an analysis of English versus American limericks; the American style tends to have some sort of twist or pun along with the filth, whilst the English will award points for the pure filthiness of it.

But my point, if I had one, and somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory I suspect I did, and do you know with all the databases available to hand, I still can’t find where the dim recesses of memory originates as a phrase? It’s clear that recesses are frequently dim in the late nineteenth century, but those I found are either actual recesses, as cellars, forests and storerooms, or geographical recesses, as backwaters and sub-urbs. By the early twentieth century, though, dim recesses of memory is already a completed and contained phrase.

Wait, that wasn’t my point. My point was that for some reason balls or ballocks or bollocks (or even bollox) indicates incorrect information, usually through incompetence rather than deliberate deception (although one can feed someone a load of bollocks, I suppose, all the same as a line of bullshit). But why? Is there some connection there that I’m missing? Other than just the random choice of something profane?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 29, 2007

Book Report: The Remains of the Day

So. It has often been remarked that one of the signs of a really good book is that every time you read it, it’s a different (but still good) experience. I shouldn’t have put that bit in parenthesis, should I? In fact, that’s the whole point. I’ll begin again.

It has often been remarked that one of the signs of a really good book is that every time you read it, the experience, while of course different each time, is good. No, that doesn’t sound right, either.

Look, you can’t step in the same river twice, right? It’s not the same foot, it’s not the same water. We all know that. When you reread a book, though, it’s not the same you, but the words are the same. Often, a book that you liked once, you find on rereading has very little left to interest you. Another book seems to be an entirely different work, deeper or sadder or more topical or more comfortable. Sometimes a book will lure you back to your old self, a copy of it, more or less. Well, less, usually. One kind of good book is a book that lures you forward, to another new self.

I first read The Remains of the Day in college. Your Humble Blogger is, as you know, a pathetic old Anglophile, and I suspect I enjoyed the book primarily on an Upstairs-Downstairs level, learning about the workings of a Stately Home, etc, and enjoying the little jokes about English reticence and so on. I read it again, later, and found the depiction of pro-Nazi sentiment deeply disturbing and affecting. I was taken by it on a moral level, you understand, how Stevens comes to term with the undeniable fact that by his choices he wound up helping the Nazis.

This time through (going back to it after adoring Never Let Me Go), I was taken by the politics of it. By the subtle damnation of English pre-War society, and the way that the aristocracy really was on the fascist side of the fascist-communist split. It’s because I just finished reading about Jessica Mitford, of course; her father was one of the more prominent of the Nazi sympathizers who Kazuo Ishiguro incarnates as Lord Darlington. And this time through, he portrayal does not seem so sympathetic, so poignant. No, this time through, he seemed pretty harsh, and rightly so.

Of course, this time through, I have our own fascists to worry about.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 19, 2007

No more golfing, no more cats

Your Humble Blogger is saddened by the news that Alan Coren has died. I have a fondness for Alan Coren, mostly born of a handful of hilarious essays in Golfing for Cats. The interview with a bitter, alcoholic middle-aged Pooh Bear was stunning. There was a marvelous bit about disguising airports against terrorists that was probably funnier back then. There was a very nasty and hilarious 1984 joke. The Times obituary, as one would expect, is both perfect and bizarre. “He was the most reliable of contributors. He always filed early and wrote to the length required.” Wouldn’t you like to have that in your obituary?

Sadly, Mr. Coren also delighted in the use of comic dialect, and not always successfully. In fact, often painfully. Comic dialect is a touchy thing to begin with (nohmeen? nohm’sayn?) and always runs the risk of losing the reader entirely. I never made it more than a page or two into the Idi Amin book or the Miss Lillian Carter book. Still, I don’t demand that everything a writer puts out is wonderful. A decent percentage. And if you write as much as Mr. Coren did, a decent percentage of wonderful might well mean a lot of crap. Sadly, Mr. Coren not writing any more crap means no more good stuff, as well.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 3, 2007

Tower warders, Under orders, Gallant pikemen, valiant sworders!

Your Humble Blogger would like to congratulate Moira Cameron for becoming a Member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary.

I didn’t know that to become a Beefeater, a person must have at least 22 years exemplary military service. It’s not surprising, then, that only now are enough women becoming eligible for that particular glass wall to be broken. If you happen to be in London, Gentle Reader, stop by the Tower for me and wish Ms. Cameron (Warder Cameron? Warrant Officer Cameron? Yeoman Cameron?) good luck for me.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 23, 2007

"The fascinating finish had been brewing for four days now, as the match gathered intrigue and tension."

“Around about half-past-three this afternoon, the thrill returned to English Test cricket”, writes Andy Bull for the Guardian. “It was one of those gripping moments when Test matches come into their own; people in offices give up any pretence to doing anything else and gather around TVs or computer screens, and radios are turned up loud.”

The result? A draw. Because it was raining too hard to finish play. I am serious. And so was Mr. Bull. That wasn’t sarcasm, it was cricket.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 22, 2007

and a McVities would be nice

It has come to Your Humble Blogger’s attention that not all Gentle Readers are familiar with George Orwell’s essay on A Nice Cup of Tea. Y’all will remember that I have little use for Mr. Orwell’s ideas, but I do recognize that he has a talent for starting arguments. In fact, my recollection of the essay (which appears to have been incorrect) was that he began by asserting that people should (a) have strongly held opinions about tea, and (2) disagree with each other about those strongly held opinions. In that vein, herewith a few of my own rules for tea drinking.

First, tea must be tea. Mr. Orwell restricts it to tea from India or Sri Lanka (Ceylon that was), and that is my preference as well. There’s nothing wrong with a nice lapsang souchong, although I don’t like the smell very much, and an oolong can be tasty, so I do part company with Mr. Orwell to some extent. Where I draw the line is that tea must be made from tea leaves. Other infusions are not the thing at all.

Second, the tea leaves must be oxidized, that is, the tea must be black. Again, oolong tea, which is only half-oxidized, is not an abomination, but for a Nice Cup of Tea, we are talking about black tea.

Third, permissible oils to flavor the tea are as follows: vanilla, jasmine, orange, cinnamon, bergamot. That is all.

Fourth, whenever possible, tea should be purchased in bulk, loose rather than in bags. Your Humble Blogger recommends t-sac paper filters, but of course tea-bells and tea-balls are presumably better for the environment, and the madman Orwell thinks you just fling the leaves in loose. Do you know how, with tobacco, the best leaves are used to make fine cigars, and the next best are used for the best pipe tobacco, and the next best for good cigars, and the next best for good pipe shag, and then decent cigars and ordinary pipe tobacco, and so on and so on, and then they sweep up whatever is left on the ground and make cigarettes out of it? I suspect much the same goes for teabags. Even if you only want a cup, it’s best to use loose tea.

Fifth, Mr. Orwell is correct that tea is best made by the pot, preferably an earthenware pot. The Brown Betty is one good option out of many. In general, though, the closer a teapot is to a Brown Betty, the better I like it.

Sixth, a good cosy is essential, if you are planning to drink tea over any substantial length of time. Putting tea in the microwave (or worse, putting water in the microwave before steeping the tea) is a poor second. I do it, of course, but it’s not the right thing to do.

Seventh, use more tea leaves than you think you need. The rule of one teaspoon for each cup and one for the pot applies to a cup, that is, eight ounces or so. An actual teacup or mug is likely to be twelve ounces or more. But the point is general, that is, use lots of leaves.

Eighth, the water should be hot but not too hot. The ideal temperature is achieved in the following manner: when the kettle whistles, pour a cup or so of water into the empty pot. Slosh the water around for a moment or two and set the pot down. Then spoon out your leaves into your filter or ball or strainer or whatnot. When that is ready, the teapot should be warm, so pour out the water. Put the tea in the pot and pour the water onto it. The water has had the chance to cool a degree or so off boiling, so you won’t scald the leaves.

This, by the way, is one of the aspects of tea-making that makes your own brewed tea so much better than that purchased at a coffeehouse or restaurant. Coffeehouses generally keep the water very hot, which not only scalds the leaves but (particularly in the tall cups they tend to use) results in a twenty minute wait for the tea to be drinkable. Restaurants, on the other hand, will give you a little carafe of warmish water that will just about turn the water brown, but results in a tasteless wash. Even places that have decent quality tea (not Starbucks) provide an inferior tea-drinking experience. Some get it right, but those are few and far between.

Ninth, the steeping should be brief. Much less than the three to four minutes you have read about. Two minutes, or even a minute and a half should be fine. For a nice strong cup, use more leaves, not more time. Most people don’t use enough leaves, steep it for longer to make up for it, and then dilute the resulting sludge with milk and mask the burnt-leaf taste with sugar. These are well-meaning people for the most part, and one shouldn’t attempt to inhibit their “enjoyment” of their “tea”, but keep your own cup away from theirs.

Tenth, as could be inferred from the above, proper teamaking means you should avoid adding either milk or sugar to tea. Tea made by other people may require milk, if it is particularly strong. If the leaves have been scalded, you may want to sweeten it, as well. But sugar and milk are the duct tape of tea. You should have some around, and be willing to use it, but any time you do, it’s because there was some failure somewhere.

Oh, and if you do need to sweeten tea, honey is better than sugar, and set honey is better than clear honey. A decoction of tea-and-honey, though, is best thought of as a treatment for a sore throat, rather than as tea.

Eleventh, if you have made your pot properly, that is, with plenty of leaf and a shortish steep, you can make another pot with the same leaves. The second pot of the day will still be tasty, but will have very little caffeine. No, it won’t be as good as the first pot, but it will be better than decaffeinated tea, which has essentially been through the same process, but before you bought it. Some people who have been warned off caffeine will simply throw away the first pot; I hope to stave off that day for a while yet.

Finally, my Best Reader would be disappointed if I did not add that it is well known that Marxists drink herbal tea.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 27, 2007

Scatter ye your links upon the waters

Clearly, Your Humble Blogger will never again have the opportunity to devote a period of sustained concentration to thinking, or for that matter to typing. I am just about able to bookmark the odd thing of interest, to indicate to myself the possibility of perhaps thinking about it, and then perhaps, if I thought any particularly thinky thoughts, writing about it. Sadly, this will not happen. So, just in case some Gentle Reader would like to think my thinky thoughts for me, here are some of the things I have considered thinking about recently...

  • Mark Schmitt had a long piece in Democracy called Mismatching Funds. Let’s be clear—I didn’t even finish reading this one.
  • Among the zillion potentially-interesting things brought to my attention by the Foreign Policy blog was this note on the demographics of the Middle East (and China), pointing out that a majority of men are still single by the time they reach 30. I think I would have had something to say about demographics and numbers, possibly in conjunction with the article I didn’t bookmark about how there were more unmarried women than married women in America, and how that was so clearly a totally different thing.
  • A note by Matthew Yglesias about Teams mentions that Senator Clinton has essentially retained the more interventionist elements of President Clinton’s foreign policy team, but Barack Obama has some of the “less militaristic ones”. This reminded me that I don’t think I have mentioned Your Massive Election Central Guide To 2008 Prez Campaign Staffs. They claim that they will be updating it regularly, but ... not so much, lately. Well, they’ve been busy. Anyway, the list is mostly baffling at this point, because I haven’t done the important step of finding out who the hell everybody is. But when I keep hocking about how important it is to know who the candidates advisors will be? These people probably won’t be in the inner circle of policy advisors, but they very likely have worked for the people who will be.
  • Just in case it comes up:
    Heut' kommt der Franz zu mir
    Freut sich die Lies.
    Ob er aber über Oberammergau
    Oder aber über Unterammergau
    Oder aber überhaupt nicht kommt
    Ist nicht gewiss
  • I came across The Wikipedia Game, and it sounds moderately entertaining, and besides, a useful introduction to the idea of hypertext. I may well be attempting to introduce a gentleman who is entirely unfamiliar with computers to the World Wide Web soon, and I am looking for tips and tricks. The problem will be (I think) the basic paradigm, which I learned so long ago I don’t remember not knowing it.
  • It is far too late to purchase things from the auction of Angels Star Collection of Film & TV Costumes, but I draw your attention to a truly unfortunate waistcoat. Nice sporran, though. On a philosophical note, discovering that many of the Doctor Who outfits were used for promotions only, rather than in the filming of episodes, radically decreased my interest in them. Why? I mean, the costumes were made by Angels, who made the used-in-filming costumes. They were made for the actors, and worn by them. They are real costumes, vaddevah dat means. But not real enough, somehow.
  • Those persons interested in the conversations recently about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and about Judaism and Zionism, and all that, may well be nearly as fascinated as I was by the Foreward and Introduction to a 2005 web publication of Steve Cohen’s 1985 booklet That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic. The host and publisher, Engage, decided to republish the thing, and then found out that, to quote from Jane Ashworth’s introduction, “he turned out an Introduction with which I hardly agree on any point.” They published it anyway.
  • The Republicans are part of an Internationalist movement? Who knew? (answer: Wikipedia, of course, and Mark Liberman over at the Language Log)
  • No link, but the question was brought up at Purim time: To what extent is Mordechai a model for the Diaspora Jew? To what extent is Persia under Ahasueros a model for what the Diaspora should be? Should a good Jew have knelt to Haman, rather than setting off a genocidal rampage? Should a good Jew have avoided Haman, rather than confronting him at the gate with a refusal to kneel?
  • George Lardner Jr. writes in the New York Times about the presidential pardon in A High Price for Freedom. He makes some good points, and lays out some interesting parts of the history, but he concludes by saying “No matter what one thinks of the folks in the White House, it seems clear that they have been put in a bind by the Supreme Court’s bad precedents.” Er, no. They have been put in a bind by breaking the law. True, the Supreme Court isn’t all that helpful, here, but they did not put Our Only President in a bind. As unofficial communications advisor to the next Democratic Administration, may I suggest the following memo go out to all staff to be appointed?
    As has been seen in recent years, the POTUS can be embarrassed by requests for pardons, and the decision whether or not to pardon a staff member has no good outcome. Therefore, in order to facilitate the advancement of our agenda, to govern effectively, and to serve our President and our Country, the White House requests that all employees follow the fucking laws, you cocksuckers!

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 29, 2005

Puff Piece: Countdown

Richard Whiteley has died. Now that might not mean much to you, Gentle Readers, but it gives me a chance for a bit of a Puff Piece, such as been sadly lacking round these parts. In addition to being the answer to a terrific trivia question (who was the first person shown on a Channel 4 broadcast), Mr. Whitely personified (to YHB at any rate) one of the facets of English television that I like so much.

Countdown was forty-five minutes (with one commercial interruption, if I remember correctly) of minor manipulation of letters and numbers. There were two games: a letters game and a numbers game. In the letters game, one contestant asks for either a consonant or a vowel, which is flipped off a stack and put onto a board, then ask for another, then another, and so on until nine letters have turned up. Then there’s thirty seconds of music and scribbling, after which the two contestants reveal the longest word they made from those letters, usually seven or eight letters, usually two or three letters longer than the longest word I found. Then we go to the panel, two people, one of whom is actually a lexicographer, who may have come up with a longer word, or may not have, depending. They do this three or four times in a row. Seriously. Just “May I have a consonant, please? A vowel? A consonant? Another consonant. A vowel, please. Another consonant, a vowel, a consonant and a final consonant please.” Then a comment or two, thirty seconds of music, then “What did your come up with, then, Jim?” “A six, Richard.” “Ah, and how about you, Sarah?” “A seven, actually.” “Excellent, well, let’s start with Richard.” And so on. Three or four times in a row.

Then, for a break, they do a numbers game. The contestant picks numbers, again off two stacks. This time, there’s a stack of small numbers and a stack of large ones (25, 50, 75 and 100), the contestant gets six of them. Then there’s a random three digit number revealed, which is the target number. The contestants have thirty seconds (with the theme playing, of course) to combine their six numbers using the four basic functions to get as close as they can to the target number. So, for instance, if the numbers are 3, 6, 4, 2, 25 and 50 and the target number is 742, you could do, um, [(6+4)(25+50)] - 4 - 3 for 743, right? I never ever ever ever get these. In thirty seconds, I usually can’t get within thirty, much less within five. The contestants always are within five, and often hit the button. Anyway, they see who gets closest, and then (I’d forgotten about this) the girl who flips over the letter part comes up with a better way, and then back to the letters game.

They do the letters game eleven times, and the numbers game three times, and there’s a tiebreaker nine-letter anagram that goes to the first one to get it. That’s it. It’s a simple, difficult game, and they get contestants that are very good at it. And they play it over and over again.

And this is the clever bit—they don’t fuck it up. They just bring on the contestants, play the game, bring on more contestants, play the game again, come back tomorrow and we’ll play it again. They didn’t make it easier, or harder, they didn’t add a third game, they didn’t make it more visual, or double the money. Actually, I can’t remember them talking about prize money at all. I suppose there must be prize money involved, but I have no idea if it’s in the thousands or if it’s twenty quid and coach fare. All they do is play the game.

And, you know, if you don’t like it, there are three other channels.

As for YHB, well, if it were on tv here, I suspect I would not only arrange my afternoon so I could watch it (or else invest in some of that new-fangled automated recording technology) but stop everything else and sit with a pad of paper scribbling and humming the music.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

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