Sunday 22 April 2018

Received Ideas in Quotes 9

The Queen wanted to be President of the George Formby Society but was told she was too important, despite pointing out she knew all the songs by heart.

Aboriginal people in Australia have never been covered by a flora and fauna act, under either federal or state law. But despite several attempts by various people to set the record straight, the myth continues to circulate, perhaps because, as one academic told Fact Check, it "embodies elements of a deeper truth about discrimination". (The act was allegedly repealed in 1967.)

Around 600 A.D., Pope Gregory the Great decreed that fetal rabbits... were not meat, and could be eaten during Lent, when meat was not allowed. Monks in France... quickly saw an opportunity and began to keep and breed rabbits. (New York Times, which goes on to debunk the story. Or was capybara redefined as a fish for the benefit of new converts in South America?)

Leonardo DaVinci painted another younger Mona Lisa which is said to have been kept in a secret vault in Switzerland. (@Museum_Facts)

A common (Glasgow?) tenement feature is a bookshelf that looks suspiciously like a door. During construction the entire street would be connected by interior doorways, saving builders going downstairs to move between blocks. They bricked them up on their way through and out. (Ryan Vance @rjjvance)

No, the surge in measles is not caused by trips to Europe. The surge in measles is caused by people not vaccinating their children. (@drphiliplee1)

Planning and determination characterise intimate partner homicide, not ‘just snapping’. (Dr Jane Monckton Smith @JMoncktonSmith)

Sailors used to catch turtles for food and store them upside down on deck, supposedly they could live for months like this without eating. (Via FB)

Journalist and former MI6 man Malcolm Muggeridge claimed that an Abwehr officer thought Wodehouse's novels were naturalistic and sent over spies in spats who were picked up in hours. ((((Edwin Moore))) @GlasgowAlbum)

The man who is believed responsible for introducing this early version of the guillotine, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, was executed by the Maiden in 1581. (Atlas Obscura)

“Your family would either have fine china, which could withstand high temperatures” – in which case you would put the tea in first, then the milk – or you might be below stairs, drinking out of mugs, “and if they put the hot in first, the mugs would crack”. So if you live above stairs, you put your milk in last, to show that you are the kind of person who owns decent china. Below stairs, milk in first. (Times, 2018 Have you tried this with mugs? I’ve never known an earthenware mug to crack when you poured boiling water into it. And besides, the servants’ hall would have drunk tea out of cups.)

Apparently it wasn't until top-name chocolatiers got angry that they couldn't photograph their products that Kodak finally made an emulsion that should film black people adequately! (Via Twitter)

Were deleted 78s “used as ballast”, and this is how they ended up in the UK? (the central hole was used to string them together, or to delete the record.)

Why on earth would they use old soul records for ballast on ships - surely you would use something like SAND or something cheaper and more easily attainable and transportable. Seems rather unlikely that someone would say "Let's transport a load of old deleted 45 rpm records to the port so we can use them as ballast on our ships." 'Yeah, great idea, I'll send some vans to downtown Detroit...”

Old books are sold on “for ballast” in 2018. But all ballast these days is water in tanks (formerly sand and gravel). If you chucked old books into a hold they would get wet and turn to pulp. And would they be heavy enough?

On reflection, the teller says: “It was the story I was told by the shop owner who had connections with other second-hand shops around the country. She did say they were shipped in containers though maybe not as ballast.” (Via FB)

The Pith Helmet is a hard-shell, high-crowned hat with a wide, sloping brim made of the ‘pith’ (soft heartwood) of the Sola plant. It’s for this reason they’re also called Sola Topees or Sola hats. ( The plant is called “sola”, and Wikipedia suggests that they became “solar” topees through a process of folk etymology. There’s much discussion on the Web, but so far no reference to the helmets’ purpose in protecting white people from sunstroke.)

When I was in Burma I was assured that the Indian sun, even at its coolest, had a peculiar deadliness which could only be warded off by wearing a helmet of cork or pith. ‘Natives’, their skulls being thicker, had no need of these helmets... Some people, not content with cork and pith, believed in the mysterious virtues of red flannel and had little patches of it sewn into their shirts over the top vertebra. The Eurasian community, anxious to emphasize their white ancestry, used at that time to wear topis even larger and thicker than those of the British... But why should the British in India have built up this superstition about sunstroke? Because an endless emphasis on the differences between the ‘natives’ and yourself is one of the necessary props of imperialism. You can only rule over a subject race, especially when you are in a small minority, if you honestly believe yourself to be racially superior, and it helps towards this if you can believe that the subject race is biologically different. There were quite a number of ways in which Europeans in India used to believe, without any evidence, that Asiatic bodies differed from their own. Even quite considerable anatomical differences were supposed to exist. But this nonsense about Europeans being subject to sunstroke and Orientals not, was the most cherished superstition of all. The thin skull was the mark of racial superiority, and the pith topi was a sort of emblem of imperialism. 
(George Orwell, As I Please)

I regularly see kids who cannot even cross the road properly because they never walk anywhere!

I remember another mum describing how she proudly listened to her son read while she was cooking dinner only to discover when she came into the room that the book was shut and he was reciting from memory.

When I was young Easter eggs always had the word “Easter” on them.

More here, and links to the rest.

Inspirational Quotes 94

We make judgments in split seconds:
Is this person a threat?
Is this person attractive?
Is this person useful to my (social) survival?
( Pic from Whitehorn's Social Survival.)

Ethics are principles from which moral rules can be derived. (Although historically it worked the other way round - ethical principles were generalisations of moral rules.) (RK)

Defenders make their choice by group loyalty and buttress it with principle, not vice versa. (Andrew Brown, paraphrase)

You try to create a social world where you’re comfortable, where you succeed, where you have people you can trust and with whom you can co-operate to meet your goals. To create this, similarity is very useful. (Chris Crandall, Uni of Kansas)

The nature of the work - on a movie, a play, a series - it’s over and everyone goes their own way and you’re the best of friends during that moment. (William Shatner)

In a new group I have to ask myself/the host "where is the line, how bland do I need to be?(AS)

It's like moving to a new city: you have to give yourself time to find your way, get acclimatised and discover where you fit in. (Nick Vujicic)

We all have a need to think well of ourselves, and for others to think well of us... we expend huge amounts of time and effort maintaining and protecting our self-image. The flipside... is our dread of humiliation... One study showed that “social pain” activated the same circuits of the brain as physical pain. (Paul Randolph, Observer  2016)

Over the years many friendships have simply evolved into acquaintances. (FB cut and paste lore)

Bret Harte published his first work at age 11, a satirical poem titled "Autumn Musings," now lost. Rather than attracting praise, the poem resulted in his family's ridicule. As an adult, he recalled to a friend, "Such a shock was their ridicule to me that I wonder that I ever wrote another line of verse." (Amazon. His stories and verses became enormously popular.)

Whereas mental health professionals often think of it in terms of recovery from symptoms, patients more often emphasise the importance of self-esteem, hope for the future, and a valued role in society... Arguably the biggest cause of human misery is miserable relationships with other people, conducted in miserable circumstances. (Richard Bentall Guardian Feb 2016-02-27)

Pretending you don’t have feelings of anger, sadness or loneliness can literally destroy you mentally. (@madfactz)

It's amazing how many things "aren't difficult" when you have no idea what you're talking about.
(Julian Sanchez ‏@normative)

People will kill you over time, and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases, like “be realistic”. (Dylan Moran)

I definitely think about what I’m going to say before I say it, because I do feel that I’m more likely to offend just by being female and having a strong opinion on something. (Screewriter Katie Dippold)

Conservatives "traumatised" by people calling a bigot a bigot. (Sabine ‏@ThatSabineGirl)

Once stars and their people realise that you are professional and you aren't going to start asking for autographs or behaving as if the star is your new best friend ... then they're happy to keep using you... I've also trained as a make-up artist as a preparation for the future - showbusiness is precarious and it's sensible to have a plan B. (Model who works as body double)

I don’t want to become someone sanctimonious who tuts at teenagers drinking alcopops; neither do I want to talk in therapy platitudes nor acquire the evangelical tone of voice I know from church preachers. (Amy Liptrot)

Jack Warner built a house for his wife that resembled a white Southern mansion and left her there to shrivel and die. “She acted her life like a scene from Gone with the Wind.”... Jane, like many Hollywood girls, was plainer than her mother. [Someone was] hired to take her on outings... Stein says that she and her sister were treated “like props”. (Andrew O’Hagan on Jean Stein's Hollywood exposé West of Eden)

Nominally Isabelle’s an independent film producer, though in reality she’s an ex-cokehead on a trust fund. (I Love Dick, Chris Kraus)

Woman who posts endless 'Mums like wine/My kids drive me mad' on FB is resharing old ones as 'Memories'. (@redskyatnight)

Conciliation makes the conciliated more aware of the effectiveness of their bad behaviour so consequently they increase it. (Elizabeth Jane Howard)

When you criticise cultural trends people have a tendency to say 'who thinks like that?' (@KarlreMarks. Or “I don’t know anybody like that”. Or “I never heard that”. Or even "I just ignore people like that.")

Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money. (Barbara Ehrenreich)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 16 April 2018

Ordeal by Innocence

I have just re-listened to Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence (read by Hugh Fraser). The premise is interesting, but she could have made it more dramatic. Some flashbacks, maybe?

According to Christie's autobiography it was one of her favourites, perhaps because it revisits themes that interested her: the rich woman who adopts a family of orphans, or non-orphans whose families are happy to hand them over. In this case, Rachel Argyle brings them up according to the most modern principles, and enjoys trying to run their lives even once they're teenagers or adults. Her husband, Leo, is also an idealist.

But one day Rachel is found with her head bashed in. The obvious suspect is one of her adopted sons, Jacko, a charmer who has always been crooked. He is found guilty, and dies in prison. But then a witness turns up to prove that he couldn't have done it.

Unfortunately, all this action and back story happens in the past, off-stage. As in The Hollow, we see into the minds of the characters (unusual for Christie). The family gathers to discuss what to do next. We are party to their thoughts as they lie awake, but their ruminations are generalised, and their judgements of Rachel and each other are a string of clichés.

Christie’s usual “realism” – observation of clothes, décor, slang, current fads, current attitudes – is missing, along with her wit. The characters’ leaden pondering could have been told in dialogue – her regular method.

The story comes fitfully to life as we spend time with the cast, and meet Jacko's wife, who works as a cinema usherette, and an older woman who had fallen for his charm and handed over wads of cash. But everyone talks endlessly about the past - telling and not showing!

There is no "detective", though two of the characters investigate: the crippled husband of one of the Argyle daughters, and the stranger who gave Jacko his alibi. Why had he not come forward at the time? He received a bang on the head and was concussed, leading to loss of memory. When he recovered, he immediately set off to the Antarctic, where he was incommunicado for several years. 

The drama picks up near the end, and the solution is satisfactory, but what was the second murder weapon?

I returned to the book because it was being “adapted” for TV. What did others think? And can they avoid the words “cosy”, “cipher” and "darker"? 

This book shines because it is actually rather realistic. It is full of human emotion and feeling. (An Amazon commenter reveals her criteria for “realism”.)

Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence Goes Darker for TV (Vanity Fair)

Christie perfected the art of the “soothing murder”: clean killings, characters cosily caricatured so we could enjoy the plot without too much emotional engagement. Sally Phelps injects more humanity, psychodrama and menace into proceedings. (The Times)

A fine and unexpectedly moving [adaptation], in Agatha Christie’s customarily affectless world... [The actors] flesh out and strengthen Christie’s characters, whom she was frequently happy to leave as ciphers in the puzzle she was laying out to solve. (Guardian)

These critics were enough to put me off, but Carol Midgley in the Times (April 16) liked it, apart from:

That last crazy scene that had Leo locked in a nuclear bunker by smirking Kirsten. Honestly? I thought it overboiled an otherwise outstanding episode... Could we assume the Argyll children were in on it, or did they think he’d drowned in the lake? ... Too many unknowns for an “Agatha” in which satisfaction comes from loose ends being neatly tied.

I relished every other dark, delicious thing that the writer Sarah Phelps did to the story — and I’m a lifelong Christie fan... It revitalised and thrilled-up a story I thought I knew and, let’s remember, had the Christie estate’s blessing. (On second thoughts – I wonder if she's a fan of the adaptations, not the books? I wonder if she's even read any...)

If the idea was to lure younger viewers to Agatha, I can say, having watched it with a rapt teenager, it worked. The self-harming, the “rape” of Kirsten by Leo producing baby Jack — all showed that you can modernise, while staying true to spirit. It was a beautifully orchestrated finale as the ghastly sociopath Rachel (Anna Chancellor) saw a) how much her kids hated her and b) her husband being straddled by blowsy secretary Gwenda, producing the killer line: “You ordinary bitch. Put your cheap knickers on and get out of my house.” Ditto Jack warning his disgusting father from prison: “I will drink from your hollowed skull.” TV heaven. Still a shame about the baddie in the bunker.

This is stretching "staying true to the spirit" rather far.

They said much the same about And Then There Were None:

A frequent sin committed against Christie is the misguided cosification of her work, enveloping everything in a haze of soft-focus nostalgia. (Radio Times)

BBC’s And Then There Were None puts a darker spin on Agatha Christie (Guardian December 2015)

Blood on the chintz for a change! (paraphrase)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Art Shows in London, Oxford and Paris

Ashmolean Museum

23 March – 22 July 2018
America's Cool Modernism: O'Keeffe to Hopper
The show also features work by Arthur Dove, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth. (That's Hopper's Pennsylvania Dawn.)

Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
Holborn Library
32-38 Theobalds Road
London WC1X 8PA
5 February – 27 April
Cook’s Camden 
An exhibition on the acclaimed housing built by Camden when Sydney Cook was Borough Architect 1965–73. Free, but ring and check – it's not open every day.

London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
May 21-Oct 31
Picturing Forgotten London
Farms, old markets,  gin palaces, theatres, music halls and lost architectural follies like the Euston Arch and the Skylon, in paintings, engravings and photographs. There were fields around Archway and a cattle market in Caledonian Road.

National Gallery
9 April − 29 July 2018
Monet and Architecture 
Apparently Monet was not just a twee recorder of haystacks and waterlilies, he also painted - buildings! Including Venice, Rouen Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament, which he painted from a hotel room. He loved London, always blurred by smog. Visit the website for some kitsch animated Monets.

Victoria Miro Mayfair and Wharf Road
To 16 June/19 May
Surface Work
20th century abstract art by women. Not a lot of people know that abstraction was invented by a woman, Annie Besant, a political reformer, biologist and follower of Anna Blavatsky. She – and other abstract painters – wanted to depict the reality that lies behind appearances.

Maillol Museum
16 rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris
To 15 July
Foujita, Painting in the Roaring 20s
It sounds better in French: "Peindre dans les années folles". Tsuguharu Foujita came to Paris from Japan in 1913 and was quickly accepted by the Parisian artists, becoming a friend of Amedeo Modigliani and Nina Hamnett. He spent the war documenting the city's edgelands. After the war, his watercolours of dogs, cats, streets and elegant 20s women in angular poses became wildly popular. Fleeing the tax man, he ended up in South America, but eventually returned to Paris, converted to Catholicism and became "Léonard".

Coming up at the British Museum in Autumn: Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Monday 9 April 2018

Malaprops and Portmanteaus 8

Portmanteaus pack two meanings into one word, malaprops improve on the original.

Phombies, meanderthals
(People who meander down the street looking at their phone.)
dismall (dreary shopping mall)
escortionists (gold-diggers)
coatigan (Lots at M&S Feb 2018.)
It’s absolutely adhorrible.
The bitchcraft community (in Glastonbury)

Nice ficture! (A ficture is a highly photoshopped and HD’d picture.)

I don't know nothing about it. This is all fabrighasted. (@richardosman)

The field of manthematics is expanding beyond that whole thing where 33% of a room being women makes it feel "woman-dominated". (@AmyDentata)

Had posh mushy peas served in a Kilmer jar. (Deborah Meaden)
Meshasmits (Messerschmidts)
pereguin falcon (peregrine)
in agreeance
Nan has moved into a bonglo.
voieyre (voyeur)
widow of opportunity
Corbyn is a terrorist synthesizer.
The scrum of the earth (It’s “scum”.)
Lovely product, very lugubrious! (Luxurious?)

This photo of bare trees "looks like a venal system. The only pretty part of humans for me." (FB) (Venal means devious, mercenary, dishonest. Every human has a “venous” system of branching veins.)

At this stage police have not located any causalities. (Nov 24 2017)

A small gun can be concealed up a sleeve or in a retinue. (reticule)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 8 April 2018

Outrageous Excuses 5

We can't possibly do that because...

Women can’t read the news because they don’t sound authoritative and no one would believe them. (50s)

Women can’t become priests because their voices are not commanding enough. (mid-90s)

We can't employ women in offices because they'll start growing beards, 1900s. (Or was that "women shouldn't cut their hair"? A generation of bearded ladies was not forthcoming.)

If wolf-whistling is made a crime, even fewer women will become mothers because it will “drive the sexes even further apart”. (Andrew Cadman on Conservative Woman)

We can’t have escalators in the New York subway because they might enable terrorism.

We can’t prosecute all these MPs and ministers for sexual harassment because it would undermine the government and destabilise the country.

Famous judge Lord Denning (1899-1999) said you can’t criticise the police even when they’re wrong because they'd lose the people's respect. He also said: “We must not allow this cult of homosexuality, making it equal with heterosexuality, to develop in our land. We must preserve our moral and spiritual values.”

And in 1990 Denning suggested homosexuals’ vulnerability to blackmail should stop them from being appointed as judges. Sir Terence Etherton, now Master of the Rolls as Denning once was, is openly gay.


We can’t protect minorities (or ourselves if we’re members of a minority) because we might attract the wrong kind of attention.

You can’t do as you would be done by because the other guy might not like what you like.

We can’t try to make the world a better place because first we’d have to convince everyone in the world that our version of “better” was the right one.

We can’t just sack this director of Oxfam who paid Haiti victims for sex because it would undermine the work of the organisation.

But the wise ones said: A woman shall not read from the Torah in order to respect the public. (Tractate Megillah, before 200CE. Presumably "because some people wouldn’t like it" is meant.)

We can’t send shy people to charm school! (Common in the 70s. I always wanted to know why we couldn’t, but at least it was a step forward from “shy people are just selfish”.)

You can’t be against abortion because you’d be standing with right-wing fundamentalists.

You can't be against pornography because you'd be standing with Mary Whitehouse. (The Clean Up TV campaigner died in 2001.)

If we no-platform the neo-Nazis, they will go underground and become more dangerous.

We can’t arrest/imprison/kill their leader, or he will become a martyr.

We can’t protect children because we’d be playing into the hands of the people who want to make society more authoritarian. (George Orwell nailed this argument here.)

We can't set up a national DNA database because you might be convicted of a crime when your fag end was found in the vicinity.

We can’t have the Tridentine Mass back because we’d be siding with the Lefebvrian schismatics. (Pope Benedict reintroduced it, 2012.)

Women don’t need the vote because they can ask nicely for what they want/tell their husband how to vote.

We can’t have equal pay or women’s rights because men would stop holding the door open for women, and women would lose their femininity. (Bizarrely revived in 2011 along with the word “chivalry” which I thought had died circa 1972.)

We can’t make divorce easier because the result would be anarchy. (Can we have no-fault divorce soon, please?)

You can’t stop animal experiments/the tobacco trade/pylons across national parks/motorways through tranquil villages because jobs would be lost.

There's no point having a law against it because you can’t change people’s minds by legislation.

We can't do that because Marketing wouldn't like it.
Legal wouldn't let us.
The CEO prefers to do these things his way.
It's too expensive.
We don't have the time.
We'd have to work with organization X. 
(Michael Schrage)

Will never fly.
Tried it before.
Not in our budget.
Too polarising.
No resources.
Feature creep.
Too risky.
Out of scope.
Yes, but…

(Idea Voodoo by Tom Fishburne)

It can’t be done.
It’s hopeless.
It’s impractical.
It’s idealistic.
It’s insane.
It’s just science fiction.
They tried it in [year] and it didn’t work.
They tried it in [place] and it didn’t work.
[Prominent individual] says it won’t work.
It’s just [failed ideology]ism.
It will never happen so why bother.
And, the most effective of all… It will never work because you can’t change human nature.

We will nevah, nevah do XYZ!

Yes, we’ve found the Titanic. It’s a grave site and will never be disturbed. (10 years later objects from the Titanic are being sold on eBay.)

We will never clone human beings.

My college, Magdalene, was all-male until the late 1980s. I was one of the first female postgrads and a lot of the boys wore black armbands in mourning. 30 years later and it's a very diverse college: its exam results have gone through the roof now that the rather dense rugger buggers are no longer such a feature. (LW)

Magna Carta: “Not only only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust,” said the Pope of the day, before annulling it. It became law in 1225.

More examples here.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 2 April 2018

Racism and Logic 2


It has been a busy week for racism apologists, who have come up with many reasons why anti-Semitism is a) OK and b) not anti-Semitism. I have read or heard all these. (Do I have to say that I disagree with them all?)

"Jews are vermin, and are also secretly in control." (David Baddiel, paraphrased. Baddiel made a film showing that the Y-word was as bad as the N-word. “A progressive friend of mine said: “It’s not.” I asked why. He said: “Because Jews are rich.” Someone tweeted him to say the disputed mural “isn’t anti-Semitic, it’s justifiably showing up “Zionist greed”. (Times)

It’s OK to be anti-Semitic because Jews are white.
Therefore they enjoy white privilege.
And privileged people can't be victims.

It’s OK to be anti-Semitic because of what’s happening in Israel.

It’s not anti-Semitism if you just hate the bad Jews.

I’m not anti-Semitic because the Jews really are a shadowy cabal running the world and responsible for all of its evil.

The Arabs are Semites too.

Anti-Semitism is sent by God to ensure the Jews remain separate as the Bible says they should.

Jews are making it up.

Jews aren’t an ethnic minority because there are lots of minorities in Britain.

Never mind the 20th century, this is the present.

Anti-Semitism is not racism because the Jews are the establishment.

It’s OK to be anti-Semitic because the Jews are all rich.

Only victims can be victims of prejudice. (Versus “We shouldn’t help anybody because that’s just turning them into a victim” – the usual libertarian version.)

The Holocaust was awful, but that doesn’t turn Jews into an ethnic minority – they are a religious minority.

“Some seem to believe that anti-Semitism is exclusive to Nazism, that it appeared in 1933 and vanished again in 1945.” (Owen Jones)

This is being used to smear Jeremy Corbyn therefore there is no anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Anybody who points out anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is attacking Jeremy Corbyn. How can you be so disloyal?

The Labour Party is determined to tackle anti-Semitism in its ranks, but that wasn’t anti-Semitism. (Ad infinitum ad nauseam.)

The Labour Party is on the right side, therefore Labour Party members can't be anti-Semitic.


No, you're racist because [reasons]. (And they always say it as if they were the first to have thought of it. Bit like “atheism is a religion”.)

"I'm not a racist, I just accept unpleasant truths others would prefer to suppress" is a thing racists say. It's a thing racists have been saying for centuries. (Angus Johnston @studentactivism)

Percentage of the population? That’s not what “minority” means. You can’t rewrite the dictionary!

Racism is OK because it has existed in every country throughout history.

The Dutch didn’t colonise South Africa, the Bantu colonised South Africa.

I’m just saying what everybody is thinking.

There were no black people in medieval Europe!
(Opponent produces evidence that there were.)
Medieval Europeans didn’t use our terminology – there were no black OR white people in Medieval Europe!

Racist cliché bingo:
White men built this country. Immigration is OK if the immigrants are white.
(If in doubt, accuse anything and anybody of being racist.)

Africans are inferior because they never built cities. 
Aksum, Great Zimbabwe, Timbuctoo?
Sub-Saharan Africans are inferior because they never built cities. All cities in Africa were built by Bedouin, Tuaregs, Arabs, Muslims, European settlers. (Oct 2017)

More here, unfortunately.