Thursday, 25 December 2008

And a Chappy Chanukah to you, choney.

Merriment all around, and Mrs Pouncer has pushed off. Which aspect of Yulish horror was the last straw, one wonders? And is there an English cliche more hackneyed than "last straw"? It's a good cliche, though. When I cast off a particular aspect of my job, it really was a last straw that pushed me over the edge: it was trivial, compared to the series of bastardries that had been inflicted on me, and something snapped.

Good god, the most accurate way of describing my life is via cliche. I shall drink port. Warre's '63, I think.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Bristol fashion

This is a curious town. Recently work has been bringing me here; downtown many of the buildings are very beautiful, in a way that I lack the technical language to express, but next to them are hideous, ghastly, abominable concrete hulks from the sixties, so horrible that they've been abandoned but not, alas, demolished. I stay in an attractive modern building in an otherwise seedy area; trust me, I know seedy, having lived in the West Village in the mid 80's, in an unattractive unmodern building. The most beautiful thing is the river and the way it drapes the city, but they really need to get rid of the concrete.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Real life intrusion

A colleague has just had a book published. Well, it's his in some extended sense; it's a sort of encyclopaedia of which he is the main editor, but he's making a tremendous fuss of telling the world about it and inviting them to the launch party. This poses a problem. No, not that one, I'm not consumed with envy; it's quite the opposite, I'm thrilled: the book's terrible. Long, long-winded, yet vacuous, it's supposed to be useful to anyone, professional or amateur, who wants to find out what's going on in the subject, either in general or in specifics. But it's so bad that I can't imagine anyone learning anything from it. So: what do I say to him that does not totally reveal my true opinion? The etiquette books are silent on this point. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Literary endeavours

Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.

Since the rise of the environmental movement, Chomsky's "green ideas dream furiously" has lost its perfection as a meaningless sentence that is correct in grammar and syntax. But this is a wonderful replacement. On top of that it is a perfect palindrome, which makes it just superlative. OK, there are other palindromes, too many and too boring to enumerate, but this one is great, a magnificent achievement, as perfect as one of Michaelangelo's sculptures or Gauss' theorems, if not on the same scale. Hats off to its creator, or creators, who, according to Google, is or are anonymous. 

How did they do it? Inspiration? Hard work? Or with a search algorithm? A really clever algorithm, if it was that, too clever to be plausible. The simplest explanation is that it is a work of art, and a sublime one.

Update: alert reader Ms Scarlet points out a dropped aspirate in the label: eroicus was indeed wrong. I shall borrow Arlington Hynes' spellcheck in future.

Updated update: and there shouldn't be an et there. As any fule kno.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

My most embarrassing record

is that I was arrested sooner than anyone else (3 weeks) my first year at university. For stealing a traffic cone. So unimaginative, I cringe still.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Tough guy

"Daddy, can you make me pancakes? Please?" Huh? Never had this before. At this time of the evening (8-30, dinner was ages ago) she often wants cereal or porridge, which are easy. Pancakes are trickier, because the effing whisk devotes its contemptible existence to hiding from me. Sometimes behind the dogfood, sometimes not.

"Tell you what, I'll make you pancakes after you've finished your homework, walked your dog and practiced your clarinet."

"I've done all that, so will you make pancakes?"

["Since your negotiating position is now so lousy, why should I?"] "Oh, OK then." 

God, I'm such a wimp.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

More help wanted

Mme Inkspot's birthday approaches. Yes, I do know what to get her, because she's told me: Black Orchid, by Tom Ford. (Duh, it's a perfume.) But frantic googling (is there any other kind?) reveals the existence of two sub-species: Voile de Fleur, and, well, it seems to be Not Voile de Fleur. FFS, which do I choose? Look, I'm used to parfum vs. eau de parfum vs. eau de toilette, but why must these manufacturers, sorry, parfumeurs or whatever, have to make a chap's life even harder? Especially as it's chaps who buy so much of their stuff; it's not in their interests to make us think, sod this for a game of soldiers, I'll get her a welding torch. Nor ours, come to that.

Update: further googling has contradicted the first googling: Voile de Fleur is not a sub-species of Black Orchid. Phew.

I am sure the world needed re-assurance on this point.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Of categories

Arlington Hynes deleted one of my comments at bogol. Since this is only the world's best blog I was crushed into a nadir of worthlessness. His explanation was that he wanted no politics; fair enough, it's his blog. But he made an error of category. My comment concerned Sarah Palin, who has already reached that zone, inhabited by the late President Eisenhower and Dan Quayle, of being above politics during her own political career. "Disjoint from politics" would be more accurate, but it's still a remarkable achievement. Can anything similar be done in other walks of life? Music? Medicine? Ten pin bowling?

Saturday, 1 November 2008


Pics are too hard, but here are 6 non-random things ("facts") about me.

1. I spent several years in Chicago. Its beauty is astonishing; visit if you do not know this. But not in winter, which is indescribable by ordinary standards.

2. The one woman who broke my heart was an accountant.

3. Good writing demands the extermination of adverbs.

4. Yeats is a dreadful poet. This has nothing to do with his adverbs.

5. English boarding school food is horrible. Unfortunately there are worse cuisines.

6. This blog is an outlet for sarcasm and inconsistency.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Election update

No, not those tiresome goings-on in the US. They will result in either 4 more years of exactly the same, or 4 more years of almost exactly the same. Foreign policy (slavish support of whatever Israel does, plus starting wars without having a clue of how to finish them) will be particularly the same. Economic and financial policy will continue to ignore my suggestions of arbitraging the helium market if you can't corner it and securitizing commercial sex.

I'm talking about the election, by examination, of prize fellows at All Souls, that Oxford centre of the exquisite. Oh, "provided that candidates of sufficient merit present themselves". Plonkers.

The procedure has three parts. The first is a series of 3-hour written exams, including an essay on a one-word topic ("Crevices" this year) and papers on your chosen special subject. This was classical sociology for me, so I had to confront things like "What does contemporary historiography tell us about STDs in 4th century Athens?" The short answer here happens to be the right one, but you have to choose your moments.

The second, for chosen candidates only (including your correspondent), is a viva, where they interrogate you on what you wrote. ("Tell us, Mr Inkspot, what tool would you use if your crevice is not flexible?") I have to say, since false modesty is repellent, that I aced the papers and wiped the floor with them in the viva. I gave them Saussure, I gave them Plato, I gave them Derrida ("Se naitre, ce n'est qu'entrer dans le neant.") Well, possibly it wasn't Derrida, since I had just made it up, but I could get away with it because, it was clear, none of those smug feuilletonistes had read Derrida either.

The third was last night. They invited the surviving candidates to dinner, gave us cherry pie to eat, and judged us on what we did with the pips. Now Beast had made this fabulous suggestion of turning them into anal beads for the Warden, and that was my plan.

Before dinner they gave us champagne, Joseph Perrier '96. This is a small house, but the champagne was just fine. Yeasty rather than grassy, I had lots. The other candidates included a couple of striking young men in Armani. To cope with them, I flashed a twenty at a passing waiter and told him to make sure that they got champagne cocktails rather than straight champagne, and lots of them. He promised that an extra twenty ("for the butler") would ensure it.

And so to dinner. You'll want to know what we had.

Potage des tourterelles. Yes, I know, eating turtles is frowned upon these days, or even illegal, but nobody's told All Souls. They raise them for the table in a private underground aquarium. [Filthy sherry of some kind. I left it alone and had more champagne.]

Tourbot, sauce merluche des branleurs. The fish you get in this country can't touch what you get in Bombay, and this was good without being special. [A boring Chablis. Waiter! More champagne! By now I'd noticed a honeyed taste to the champagne, but I put it down to the sauce, not having full confidence in the kitchens' interpretation of dried codfish. Anyway, I had another glass or two to make sure I still liked it.]

Tournedos Rossini des flaneurs. Properly hung fillet steak, with real foie gras, of course, and cooked to perfection. [Some sort of Crozes Hermitage. I forget what exactly, but, boy, was it good. I filled my boots.]

Tarte aux cerises des suceurs. The cherry pip anal beads were a howling success; they delighted the Warden, to judge by his "Ooh, wait till I show the Dean!" [Ch. Suduiraut '88. I cannot resist Sauternes, and this was delicous.]

Le dessert. Grapes and bananas from the college's own hothouse and cheese from one of its farms. [Ch. Leoville-Las Cases '82 and Graham's '55. Oh my fucking god. The '82 Las Cases has 100 Parker points. Yes, read'em and weep, one hundred, the perfect score, the full monty. And I had heard of, but never encountered, the legendary Graham's. Go and look them up, I can't describe them.]

Today brought a polite note containing the Warden's regrets, etc. So where did it go wrong? Well, another time I wouldn't have stood on the table and used one of the bananas to conduct the company in a rousing chorus of the college song ("His swapping tool of generation..."), but at the moment it seemed so right.

Bastard double-crossing butler. Still, there's always next year.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Education matters*

Mlle Inkspot is long since back at school. It must be autumn. The students have flocked back, including Keira Knightley, who's off to the local dog college to enhance her motivation for the title role in the next remake of Hound of the Baskervilles. All so eager to learn.

Except that education is an industry where the customers want less for their money.

"I get the impression that you understand this, but what you write should be correct and coherent so that the reader, besides me, is convinced, and easily convinced. Oh, and your spelling could be better."

"Doesn't matter as long as I get the right answer."

"Well,  somebody reading it might get the impression that you don't know what you're talking about, and are lazy and ignorant. You're really putting yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage compared to the people who do write well, and can spell."


"Look, 'accelerate' has two c's. And it's printed here in the question! Can't you even copy correctly?"

*Doesn't it?

Saturday, 18 October 2008


My profile lists my interests as sex, food and mathematics. (Separately; steady on, now. The fluid mechanics of syrup sex are specialized.) Clicking on each reveals the number of people on blogger with that particular interest; the results are

sex: 19,800
food: 55,600
mathematics: 5,000.

Taking food as the standard, I'm surprised and pleased by how much mathematics that is, and surprised by how little sex.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Xfactor and chips

I know about Xfactor (a popular televisual entertainment, m'lud) because I've seen it. Simon Cowell's haircut alarms me and the Louis person annoys me, but my reasons for not watching regularly are my reasons for not watching TV regularly: I never know when something embarrassing is about to happen. Given that I would be sitting next to Mlle Inkspot, who, like all daughters everywhere throughout time, is six*, the threat of embarrassment is overwhelming. At any moment there will be an explicit reference to sex and I have to have my fingers in my ears and be chanting lalalala in advance. So there is just no point.

Chips are OK. There's a Turkish chip van near our house every night bar Mondays. I don't understand the never on a Monday rule, but I can't ask because I don't speak Turkish and the chip van man doesn't understand English beyond "Good evening, two large chips please". He gets cross if you omit the good evening.

*And how do daughters stop being six? Easy: one day they are six and the next they are married with children. That's my plan, anyway.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Sleaze factor 40

From the NY Times of 14 Oct (registration needed). To avoid copyright problems I've made up some of it. No, I haven't, I haven't got the imagination.

"Friends of Ms Allen told ABC that she had sought to break off the affair when she learned that Mr Mahoney was involved in other extramarital relationships.

Mr Mahoney fired Ms Allen in January 2008, and she began legal proceedings in February that concluded with a settlement in March, Democratic staff members briefed on the matter said.

"You work at my pleasure," Mr Mahoney told Ms Allen in a Jan. 20 telephone call that was recorded and played for Mr Mahoney's employees. "If you do the job I think you should do, you get to keep your job. Whenever I don't feel like you're doing your job, then you lose your job. And guess what: The only person who matters is guess who? Me." "

UPDATE: it disappoints readers Scarlet and Beast that Ms Allen is, indeed, not Ms Lily Allen, "the perky pop princess who gets everywhere else". But not, we hope, under Beast's duvet.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Blogging the void

Poker again last night. The drearier writers on the subject start from the assumption that the only point is to win money; I happened to do so this time, but that's not the major aim. Financially it's a zero-sum game, but emotionally it's decidedly negative-sum, since the pain of losing a certain sum of money (it doesn't matter how much, provided it's enough to hurt) is not nearly balanced by the pleasure of winning the same amount. The real gain, the real high comes at the point where you push all your chips into the pot and then wait for your opponent to call or fold. For this period of time, which might be a minute or so, there is a tremendous feeling of release. You have no more decisions to take, and all the pressure is on him, as he comes to terms with such things as:  how good he thinks his hand is, what your hand might be, what he thinks you think he has, how much he fears you, how much he thinks you fear him, what has happened in the past between the two of you, and so on. Really the relationship between you is more important than anything, including the actual cards.
I can't achieve the same effect with roulette or racing. In either, you can bet all your money and then there is nothing to be done until the ball falls in its slot or the winner passes the post, but there is no antagonist, so no agon, so no release, just boredom.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Financial advice redux*

It's in the nature of cornering a particular market that it excludes all but the participants. So those of you who are too late for the helium idea (everyone except Dr Maroon and Mrs Pouncer) need something else.

You will have noticed that the Irish have had this brilliant wheeze of guaranteeing all bank deposits. The English etc have been too dim to ask what they're guaranteeing them with and have fallen for this like a ton of bricks. Look, the only interesting thing I know about Ireland is that it has peat bogs and peat-fired power stations, so what can they offer besides peat futures? They can't print their own Euros, the Germans won't let them. However, Gorilla Bananas has raised the idea of a tart-run investment bank (brilliant, GB) and it is clear that such a bank could offer something better. Compare and contrast:

``I'm sorry, it's all gone wrong, but you can have a wheelbarrow load of peat next Tuesday."

``I'm sorry, it's all gone wrong, but you and your wife can shag me and a friend for 2 hours next Tuesday.''

Case closed.

*No, I don't know what redux means, and I bet John Updike doesn't either.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Wildlife documentary

I spent 2 hours yesterday afternoon in the company of 60 or so of my colleagues, all intelligent people (I'm generous today), debating issues that no sane person could care about. Yet we talked, we listened, we paid attention, we considered, all with an elaborate politeness that was indistinguishable from pomposity, and we voted on a proposal. Then it turned out that half of us thought the proposal meant one thing and half of us the opposite, so we had to do it all over again. After that, we moved on to an even more absurd subject, and finally went home satisfied that we'd done a good day's work.

That evening I got busted out too early in a holdem tournament. I got all my chips in the pot at a point where I was 2:1 favourite, but my opponent caught an ace on the river. So ordinary.

So what is the point of this post? I'm sorry, there is none, I'm just venting my disgust at the banality and squalor of my life. Honestly, a bunch of primates foraging for celery would have organized themselves more efficiently, and wouldn't have put themselves in a position to be rivered by a miserable ace.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Financial advice

Could the 2 tons of helium lost at the recent LHC explosion have been used instead to bail out Wall St? This arose at Arlington's place, but a moment's googling shows that with liquid helium amazingly cheap, at $15 a litre, max, a straightforward application of this idea is unlikely to have worked. Maybe the lifting capacity would have removed some of the more egregious individuals to a region of the troposphere where no-one would mind them. But my main point is that this same googling  also revealed a minimum price of $3-25. This presents  the most fantastic arbitrage opportunity. Plus, the biggest helium plant, in Texas, forecasts that it will be exhausted in a decade. Corner the market now, is my advice. And if it goes wrong, well, your next party will have the best balloons ever.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Your questions heard

As a small boy I was sent to an English boarding school (not my idea). For calibration, take Dotheboys Hall, subtract the physical cruelty and divide by three. That is, nobody there cared a damn about you, and you couldn't get away. I enjoyed the lessons, though, including Latin and Greek. Here the model verbs were the usual ones: amo, I love, in Latin and luo, I set free, in Greek. (Sorry, we haven't yet figured out the typesetting of Greek here at Precision Handling.) An ordinary illustration of irony, one might say.

Irony, however, is a complicated concept, as its Wikipedia page indicates, partly because over the centuries people have attached divergent meanings to the word. This is situational irony, not dramatic, but is it intended or unintended? Well, it depends on your point of view. For the teachers, I'm sure it was unintended; they simply used the standard books (Kennedy, and Abbot and Mansfield) and got on with the job. But what about the authors? Is it plausible that from the thousands of verbs available in each of these languages they chose these particular examples at random? Occam's Razor tells you that this was deliberate and that what we have is a fine example of situational irony that is both intended and unintended.

Or just a joke. After all these years I still can't tell.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Help wanted

Baudelaire often describes girls as having deep-dug eyes ("yeux creux"). Is this an accurate description of young women in 19th century France, or was he just desperate for a rhyme? Beyond deux, obviously. I mean, duh-huh.

Scholars of French literature and physiognomy, please advise.