Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Nineveh and Tyre

Came across this in a blog (Never Yet Melted).

Who'dda thunk it, that one would be able to buy an aircraft carrier online. One previous owner, price on request. Remember folks, closing dates the 5th of January so if you are considering this, then best not to push the boat out (Har-har) over Christmas. 

Britain's remaining aircraft carrier, The Ark Royal, was recently decommissioned and its auctioning off its mothballed surface ships for scrap. All a far cry from the days of ruling the waves. We'd better get prepared to refer to the Falklands as Las Malvinas someday.

Money for Nothing

Got this in my mailbox this morning:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Counter-terrorism Division and Cyber Crime Division
J. Edgar. Hoover Building Washington DC
Attention Beneficiary,
Records show that you are among one of the individuals and organizations who are yet to receive their overdue payment from overseas which includes those of Lottery/Gambling, Contract and Inheritance. Through our Fraud Monitory Unit we have also noticed that over the past you have been transacting with some impostors and fraudsters who have been impersonating the likes of Prof. Soludo of the Central Bank Of Nigeria, Mr. Patrick Aziza, Frank, Anderson, none officials of Oceanic Bank, Zenith Banks, Kelvin Young of HSBC, Ben of FedEx, Ibrahim Sule, Dr. Usman Shamsuddeen and some imposters claiming to be The Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Cyber Crime Division of the FBI gathered information from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) formerly known as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) of how some people have lost outrageous sums of money to these impostors. As a result of this we hereby advise you to stop communication with any one not referred to you by us
We have negotiated with the Federal Ministry of Finance that your payment totaling $6,100,000.00 be released to you via a custom pin based ATM card with a maximum withdrawal limit of $5,000 a day which is powered by Visa Card and can be used anywhere in the world were you see a Visa Card Logo on the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). We have advised that this should be the only way at which you are to receive your payment because it? more guaranteed, since over $5 billion was lost on fake check year 2008.
We guarantee 100% receipt of your payment, because we have perfected everything in regards to the release of your $6.1 million United States Dollars to be 100% risk free and free from any hitches as it? our duty to protect you. (This is as a result of the mandate from US Government to make sure all debts owed to people which includes Inheritance, Contract, Gambling/Lottery etc are been cleared for the betterment of the current economic status of the nation and its citizens as he has always believed your Time for Change has come.
To redeem your fund you are hereby advised to contact the ATM Card Center via email for their requirement to proceed and procure your Approval of Payment Warrant and Endorsement of your ATM Release Order on your behalf which will cost you $165 only nothing more and no hidden fees as everything else has been taken cared of by the Federal Government including taxes, custom paper and clearance duty so all you will ever need to pay is $165 only.
Contact Information Of Dr. Hispa Oke, In Nigeria
Name: Dr. Hispa Oke
Do contact Dr. Hispa Oke of the ATM Card Center via his contact details above and furnish him with your details as listed below,calling him on his hot line will be faster than to email him:
Your full Name:
Your Address:
Home/Cell Phone:
On contacting him with your details your files would be updated and he will be sending you the payment information in which you will use in making payment of $165 via Western Union Money Transfer for the procurement of your Approval of Payment Warrant and Endorsement of your ATM Release Order. After which the delivery of your ATM card will be effected to your designated home address without any further delay, extra fee or any authority raising eyebrow.
Upon receipt of payment the delivery officer will ensure that your package is sent within 24 working hours. Because we are so sure of everything we are giving you a 100% money back guarantee if you do not receive your ATM CARD Shippment Confirmation within the next 24hrs after you have made the payment for shipping. Once again we are so sure of you receiving your payment at no any other cost as we have taking it upon our duty to monitor everything in other to cub cyber crime that is perpetrated by those impostors.
Thanks and hope to read from you soon.
Note: Disregard any email you get from any impostors or offices claiming to be in possession of your ATM card, you are hereby advice only to be in contact with Dr. Hispa Oke of the ATM card center who is the rightful person to deal with in regards to your payment and forward any emails you get from impostors to this office via the above fax number so we could act upon it immediately. Help stop Cyber crime.
Posted in Calls you a 'beneficiary', Inheritance Scam, Invoice/Contract Scam, Lottery Scam, Nigeria telephone number (234 country code), Refers to a "courier" company, Refers to an ATM
Not only does it purport to be from the FBI(!), it refers to other Nigerian scammers and how they are engaged in combating them! Anyone know the Nigerian for chutzpah?
As an antidote to the IQ-is-all brigade, these guys seem to be able to make a living off gullible First Worlders

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Through a Glass, Darkly

What will the world be like in the near future? (I take this as the next 20-40 years). I find myself thinking on this more and more, mainly out of concern for my son. My outlook is pretty gloomy and I have occasional  twinges of guilt. The present seems a pretty bad time to be born into and will he be thanking me for it ultimately? Or has this always been the case? The author Christopher Cokinos in "Hope is the thing with feathers" reveals that he and his partner decided to abstain/refrain (?) from having children because of their shared pessimism of the future. Coming at the end of a book on vanished North American birds (the chapter on the destruction of the passenger pigeon is heart-breaking) and relentless habitat encroachment, this seemed an apposite stance to adopt.

Anyway, huddle closer, and lets take a glimpse in the crystal ball..........

1) The environment is screwed
'Fraid so folks. In spite the of the worldwide decline in fertility, sheer momentum is going to carry us to the 8-10 billion mark (at least). This puts pressure on land usage for agriculture, industry, lebensraum, etc... which is going to come at the expense of previously unutilised areas (read forests and wildlife habitats). It makes me extremely sad to think that my son (and if he repeats our "mistake", his offspring) will live in a world that will be drastically impoverished in its biodiversity and that there will no longer be any truly wild places on earth. The beasts, such of them that survive, will pad and roam their carefully demarcated zones and at the edges, like a grey smog, looms the sprawl of urban civilization.

2) The good life is over
Peak oil has probably passed. Barring the invention of game changers like nuclear fusion or room temperature super-conductivity, we will run into an energy crunch. What this means is that it will be impossible to maintain living standards for the still burgeoning global population at current levels. The pie has stopped expanding and there are ever more mouths at the table and we will just have to get used to thinner slices. The party's over and there's a heckuva lot of washing up to be done.

3) Science will not save us
This may seem like a funny thing for a scientist to say but in a way, its working scientists who are more aware of the limitations of technological fixes rather than policy makers. Aside from the aforementioned developments, (if they are ever achieved), there is unlikely to be any spectacular breakthroughs that will lift millions of lives up into the sunlit plains. The greatest improvements in modern life have been the result of simple common sense and civic organisation such as better hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and comprehensive vaccination programs (OK, developed through medical science but it would not have had any impact without governmental will to push through compulsory vaccination programs). In other words, low-tech but cheap and cost effective measures that were based on pre-existing technology.
In other words, wishing for some unanticipated technological deus ex machina to lift us out of our present predicament is a forlorn hope. For those of us who can afford it, we will keep on getting the latest toys and gizmos, and medical science will prolong our lives beyond any reasonable point of enjoyment. Possibly the best we could achieve is if suddenly every individual of child-bearing age decided to behave responsibly and limit themselves to 2 children per couple. I wouldn't hold my breath.

4) The West will decline while the East is rising
Frankly the West appears to have lost the will to live. Once you take that thought onboard, its astonishing to see how much more sense a lot of things start to make. First off, they're not replacing themselves. This is bad but could still be reversed within a generation. However the deeper malaise is a loss of faith in the core values and strengths of Western civilization. The most glaring symptom is PC and the uncritical acceptance that anything hailing from a foreign, (preferably 3rd world, pre-industrial revolution) culture is 'authentic' and 'life affirming'. This manifests as a deliberate turning away from the high culture of the West towards a feel-good pabulum of fuzzy, pre-technological, illogically emotional, wishful thinking. To take the long-view, Asian and the Mediterranean basin civilizations were always ahead until the spectacular achievements of Northern Europe over the last millennium. IQ-wise this global view is supported by the similar population means for IQ (NE Asians have a slight edge over whites but as IQ is an ill-defined marker one may disregard minor differences), suggesting that both groups have roughly similar capabilities. However once Northern Europe got its act together, the synergism between application of the scientific method, organisation of industry and research, and the various cultural and political changes ushered in by the Enlightenment quickly led to global dominance. Nevertheless, as over-arching as this dominance is (was?), this looks increasingly to be an aberration due to the chance  conjunction of favourable, but unrelated factors. Sadly the zeitgeist of the West appears to be a turning away from science, logic, and core values such as thrift, hard work and independence (i.e. the Protestant work ethic). On the other hand, Asians are more than eager to snap up the fruits of Western civilization. Science and technology courses are asian-dominated in the US leading to an informal cap on asian enrolment at prestigious institutions (Asian parents emphasise on, and are willing to spend huge sums on education, and will certainly look askance if their children express a preference for sociology, gender-, media-, Queer(!)- studies and the whole liberal arts shebang).
As the blogger Spengler noted, Asians love sending their kids to piano lessons not just out of snob value but also from the knowledge that it provides excellent training in rigour and discipline to complement normal academic education (our son has private piano lessons so I have no idea of the ethnic background of the other students). The state subsidised music schools in Basel offer didgeridoo lessons out of some misguided multi-culti aspiration to be "relevant", I predict rapping courses will be up next. This underlines one big difference between Asians and contemporary western culture. Asians are aspirational and this implies acceptance of a higher standard (heavyweight academic disciplines, classical music) to aspire to, while Westerners (i.e. whites) have been so  pussy-whipped by the PC, multi-culti brigade that they dare not express any preferences which may be (horror!) non-inclusive.
Taken together, i.e. precipitous decline in fertility (also true for East Asia but there's momentum for anther generation yet), and the willful spurning of all the best of their heritage, it seems a no-brainer that in coming decades, far from remaining ahead, the West will struggle to keep up with Asia. There's a huge pool of intelligent young people with excellent work habits coming up like a tsunami from the East. The result follows.

5) Culture will become increasingly debased
Pretty obvious from the late 1980s onwards. The perfection of techniques for advertising and mass-marketing coupled with computer searchable databases allows hard-selling to a target demographic with practically guaranteed results. While this was initially used to promote consumer products and pop culture (as throw-away a product like nappies), the potential for political campaigning was evident and was quickly latched-on to produce the current crop of career politicians whose horizons are limited solely to winning the next election (we often laugh in wildlife documentaries at insects locked into pre-programmed instinctive behaviour. For example, wasps clearing away a pebble blocking the entrance to the nest no matter how many times it is replaced by the presenter. It just doesn't 'get' the bigger picture and fly up to sting the annoying asshole. But think about it, don't we elect people with just as constricted a tunnel-vision as these 'dumb' insects?). Since success in these terms is denoted by the greatest sales/popularity, this leads to a race to the bottom for the lowest common denominator.
The results are all around us. Popular culture (mainstream music, Hollywood) is infantile, pornographic and an insult to anyone with a 3-digit IQ. Democracy is reduced to a popularity contest pandering to mob appeal. Everyone, everywhere has the same manufactured tastes. Attention spans have shrunk below the threshold where it gets trumped by the demand for instant gratification.

                                                 Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere

The Palantir clouds over.....the session is ended. 

In truth, exercises of this sort end up by revealing more about the seer, who winds up projecting his innermost fears and desires into his vision of the future. Stare too long into the abyss, and the abyss stares back into you, as Nietzsche said. So its pretty obvious that I'm a gloomy, pessimistic, cup-is-half-empty, curmudgeon. Any reason why not?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Life's a bitch and so am I

Picked this up from the comments section in Steve Sailer's iSteve blog.

Hot Girls Not Being Hired Because Less Attractive Women Dominate HR At Corporations: Study

Abstract: Job applicants in Europe increasingly imbed a headshot of themselves in the top corner of their CVs. We sent 5312 CVs in pairs to 2656 advertised job openings. In each pair, one CV was without a picture while the second, otherwise almost identical CV contained a picture of either an attractive male/female or a plain-looking male/female. Employer callbacks to attractive men are significantly higher than to men with no picture and to plain-looking men, nearly doubling the latter group. Strikingly, attractive women do not enjoy the same beauty premium. In fact, women with no picture have a significantly higher rate of callbacks than attractive or plain-looking women. We explore a number of explanations and provide evidence that female jealousy of attractive women in the workplace is a primary reason for the punishment of attractive women.

Link to the full study seems broken, I'll put it up when its fixed.

This confirms what most of us already knew, viz. that plain looking or mediocre women are insecure, jealous bitches. Most of the girls that I have gotten to know closely who were super accomplished (i.e. highly intelligent, musically/artistically talented, impressive academic credentials, good looking etc...), are also the ones that I'm still on pretty good terms with (I married one  :-). On the other hand, things have generally ended nastily with the dull, mediocre, borderline good-looking ones mainly because their fragile egos just can't handle the realisation of not being the centre of universe or the fact of their beta-hood. 

Whatever the case, the next time I send in my resumè it'll be with this pic attached.

Of course I'll need to come up with some stellar explanation as to why I don't look the least bit like Takeshi Kaneshiro!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

We salute you

Came across this in a blog. It was spotted on craigslist and the husband must be one of the most quickest thinking alpha dudes ever!
To the guy in my closet, you don’t have AIDS – m4w – 30 (Lakewood)
First off I want to relieve your fears that you probably don’t or at least I hope you don’t have AIDS.
When I came home 3 days ago I heard what was obviously mediocre sex going on in my bedroom. Since I quickly made the deduction that someone had probably not broken into my apartment for some quick copulation I figured I had just caught my wife cheating on me which I had long suspected. Your ofish grunts were so loud that I actually had to reopen the door and slam it again for you two to hear me. I stood in the entry for a while as I heard you both scramble before calling out that I was home.
When I walked into the bedroom my wife had some excuse about having a headache and when asked about the nighty she was wearing she said it was the most comfortable thing she could find. Oh…and btw, I don’t know how many affairs that you participate in but a word of advice is that when you hide in the closest from an angry husbands you shouldn’t leave a few toes hanging out from under the door. At this point I am in a bit of a predicament…. I could have the typical masculine response and open the door and beat the piss out of you but then you might file charges and quite frankly I just don’t really care enough. Not to mention I don’t know how big you are and I couldn’t think of anything much worse than finding your wife cheating on you and then get pummeled by her new lover. It entered my mind to have some marathon sex and make you stand and watch the whole thing but seeing how she is a dirty whore the idea grossed me out a little. I came pretty close to just hanging out and masterbating but I am glad I went the direction I did.
So in liue of those options I thought of the funniest thing I could do for my own personal amusement. I sat her down on the bed and looked deeply in her eyes and told her that I had been diagnosed with early stages of AIDS. Recently I have had a series of colds and went to the doctor who told me it was probably just a string of bad luck and it was going around a little bit. The whole thing took about 2 hours and involved a lot of yelling, accusing and crying.
I felt like I hadn’t punished you quite enough, even though I fully acknowledge that it really isn’t your fault at all, so I told her that the illness was making me tired so I needed to lay down. I could hear her on the phone making an appointment with the doctor and I could hear you rustling around in the closest. You did a great job holding still seeing how you probably aren’t used to standing in a 3′x4′ closest for hours and hours on end but if I hadn’t already known you were there you would have been caught for sure.
After about another hour of laying in bed thinking of what I was going to do I felt sorry for you to be mixed up in this crazy thing so I said I was going to go fill the prescriptions the doctor gave me and left the apartment so you could leave. I hope that you weren’t too uncomfortable in there and actually felt a little guilty about it later.
Anyways, I put this in missed connections because I actually wouldn’t mind taking you out and buying you a drink. After all that is some funny stuff to laugh about and you are saving me thousands in alimony since my wife cheated and the least I can do is repay you for a $4.00 beer.
Again no hard feelings and best of luck!
BTW, you might still want to get your self tested since my wife is a dirty whore.
Location: Lakewood
it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
I haven't finished my blog post but will do it over the weekend. My apologies for the cut-and-paste but its just too good not to share.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The i's have it

There's a new product called the iPanties modelled on the start-up window of an iPhone.

Ah, if only it was that easy!

This got me to thinking on the i-prefix. Although its most commonly associated with Apple products (iMac, iTunes, iLife, iPod, etc), it has been co-opted by other companies (iGoogle, iPlayer) and there's even a TV series called iCarly so clearly Apple doesn't have a patent and hence a monopoly on its usage. In a 2002 article, an Apple spokesman stated that it stood for "internet". The reason Apple is unable to restrict the usage is that the practice predates their own first use of it and is probably in the public domain. From my own field of expertise I can cite one example dating from 1992 where the inducible Nitric Oxide Synthase gene was dubbed iNOS (to distinguish it from the constitutive NOS gene). A later example was the development of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) in 2006.

Unfortunately (or should that be fortunately?), as the name has already been taken, we won't be seeing high-tech sanitary napkins called iPad's in the stores anytime soon.

As they say, panties may not be the best thing in the world but its next to the best thing ;-)

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Tooth Hurts

I had to make an emergency visit to the dentist two days ago. My molar started hurting like crazy last week and even the traditional remedy of whisky and kirsch was of no avail. When I checked, I was shocked to see an enormous cavity on the outer surface close to the base of the tooth. I made an appointment on Friday but the soonest I could get was the coming Wednesday. So I just had to gird my loins and fall back on surreptitious nips of whisky to carry me through (the whole medicinal purposes line just wouldn't wash on my wife. I know her).

The dentist was equally surprised by the size and location of the cavity. According to him it was unlikely that caries was the cause as it would have started hurting a whole lot earlier before reaching the present size, and also due to the unusual position of the cavity. His opinion was that I must have incurred some mechanical damage to the tooth which chipped off the enamel layer resulting in rapid decay of the underlying layers. Unfortunately there was no way of saving the tooth as the decay had reached the base where the tooth branches off into the two roots and any further drilling would only end up splitting it. So I agreed to an extraction and he proceeded to inject a local anesthetic which took about 5-10 minutes to work (the whole thing took less than 30 minutes) . He then drilled out the old amalgam fillings and then started cracking the tooth in two using a pair of pliers. It was weird because I could feel everything that was going on and even hear the cracking, grinding sounds of the tooth disintegrating. As I said, it was quick and surprisingly pain-free and now I have a gap where the tooth used to be :-(

The dentist recommended an implant which would cost around SFr 4-5,000(!). I have 3-6 months to decide after which the gradual erosion of bone in the jaw underlying the gap will bring the bone level too close to a major nerve and there won't be sufficient depth to securely screw in an implant. I figure if I have 5000 Francs to burn, I'd rather spend it on a Stratocaster :-)

Anyway I'd advise those with weak stomachs to skip the rest of this post.

The cavity was right dead-centre on the molar at the branching point of the root. Somehow I never noticed it until it began hurting!

The tooth was split in two to aid extraction. You can see how large the cavity was.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Spring and Fall

Spring and Fall
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghost guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Victorian poet who achieved post-humous fame in 1918 when his poems were collected and published by his friend, the then poet laureate Robert Bridges. Hopkins was unusually sensitive in nature, and to nature, and displayed these tendencies even as a child. He was very close to his father,which was to pain him all the more when they were later estranged after his conversion to Roman Catholicism. There appears to have been an element of masochism, of pushing things to the extremes in him. Not content with mere conversion, Hopkins took orders as a Jesuit no less. As a schoolboy he abstained from salt for a week and once from water to the point of collapse (his tongue turned black). Astonishingly he burned all his early poems upon deciding to enter the priesthood (an event he later termed "the slaughter of the innocents") from the view that he should submerge his personality henceforth (perhaps akin to the Muslim concept of total submission to Allah?) and devote himself totally to his order. Nevertheless, it didn't bring him much happiness, if there is one word to describe Hopkins its "anguished". A great part of it were sexual hang-ups, there are cryptic entries in his diaries that are interpreted as keeping score of the "sin" of masturbation ("O.H" surmised to stand for Old Habits. This is one habit that must take a lot of hard dying. I believe something similar exists in Pepys' diaries). A deeper thorn in the flesh was his suppressed homosexuality. He had a crush whilst an undergraduate in Oxford on Bridges' younger cousin, Digby Dolben, which appears from the meagre remaining evidence to have been the main emotional event of Hopkins' life. Dolbens death by drowning two years later at the age of 19 seems to have preserved those feelings in amber for the rest of Hopkins' life, providing an endless source of secret joy, self-hating and guilt. In his journals he also noted the appeal to him of the siren call of loitering men and choir boys. It was these urgings, whispered in the bone, that sent him down the path of self-mortification to take up the hair-shirt, scourge, the sore-chain and a form of penance called the"custody of the eyes" where he was not allowed to look up from the ground (presumably in case it should light upon a loiterer!). In one of the Enderby novels, Anthony Burgess makes a scurrilous accusation of pederasty against Hopkins with a choir-boy, however there is no evidence that he ever acted on his impulses. This was after all, an age where people certainly knew all about self-control and denial. Poor Hopkins, he would have been so much happier born in our day and age, but then he would also have lacked the creative tension that fed his muse. I am reminded of the following poem:

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

W.B. Yeats "The Choice"

Despite his initial decision, Hopkins resumed writing seven years later after some encouragement from his superior. Nevertheless all of his work was unpublished in his lifetime and was only circulated privately within his small group of acquaintances.

Hopkins died in Dublin, aged 45, of typhoid. He had been depressed for several years due to a sense of growing isolation and health problems. The harrowing poem "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark" dates form this period. There may also have been a gnawing realisation of non-achievement, he (who graduated with a First from Oxford) having failed his final theology exam which scuttled his chances for advancement in his order. As a result he was shunted from posting to posting before washing up in Dublin. In spite of everything, his last words were "I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life".

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Any resemblance to Rodney Trotter is purely coincidental.

"Spring and Fall" achieves the perfection that is only attained in short works. The poet addresses a young girl who is distressed at the dying leaves of autumn and muses that in the way of the world, she will outgrow such childish thoughts and reserve her emotions for weightier (to adults at least) matters. And yet, with the wisdom of babes, the wellsprings of her emotion arise from the tragedy of the human condition, our mortality and sadness at the passing of time and life, even if she is unaware of the deeper significance. I feel there is also an unstated note of regret at the loss of the purity of emotion and expression that a child like Margaret experiences and which she will learn to conceal as she grows older.

An often claimed source of the poem is Millais' painting of a group of young girls heaping a pile of autumn leaves which Hopkins was known to have admired, Margaret may have been based on the youngest, pensive girl. I prefer to think that Hopkins was inspired by watching some unknown child in a park under a soft fall of leaves in the dying sunlight (Goldengrove!). Its nice to imagine the memory of this nameless child fixed forever through the genius of words, better than any photograph ever could.

John Millais (Autumn Leaves).

Why Margaret? Apparently it's the name of a favourite character from Goethe's Faust (a fucking bore-fest so don't ask me to check).

Strangely for such a religious poet, there doesn't seem to be any promise of redemption or any overtly Christian message. Hopkins certainly had the innate sense and good taste not to stridently preach at any opportunity, unlike many current-day evangelicals! The achingly plaintive, elegiac air of resignation in the poem mirrors the mood of autumn evenings perfectly and always reminds me of my first autumn in England (for some reason the chord progression Fmaj7-Cmaj7-Amaj7-Dmaj7 evokes the same feelings in me).

What's in a name?......

That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Despite Juliet's demurral (with allowances that she was only 13 after all), names are important as signifying something about the giver, its potential effect on the bearer, and the general impression it gives (or is meant to convey) to the world at large.

I get endless entertainment from the modern Chinese practice of tagging on a Western name to a traditional Chinese surname. It has unintended consequences when a grandiloquent name (obviously chosen to impress) is hitched to a commonplace Chinese surname, the sudden descent to bathos is hilarious, all the more so when this is inimical to the bearers intention. Examples I have come across are Cresswell Tan, Rolex Pang and Jenny Poo. The last is funny only when you know that she worked in a multinational fragrance company. American blacks also tend to mangle orthographic convention in bestowing distinctive epithets on their offspring like N'Qesha, D'Zyre and K'Shambia. However, going by the comments in this link, many black people view this with bemusement themselves. I like this, its quite unlike the Chinese who are culturally incapable of being self-deprecating due to the overwhelming concern with preserving "face".

In "Tristram Shandy", his father Walter, who is addicted to abstruse intellectual theorizing, espouses a belief in the momentous importance of selecting the most auspicious name for his yet unchristened son. Having settled, after a convoluted chain of reasoning, on what he considered the optimum choice Trismegistus (after the mythical sage), he was shattered to find his hopes dashed when by a comical sequence of events, his heir and scion was inadvertently christened "Tristram" which according to his logic was the worst choice possible.

"Tristram Shandy" is a unique work and I recommend it highly even if it takes a bit of getting into. While Sterne justifiably poked fun at the foibles of his characters, there may be something yet in this particular hobby horse of Walter Shandy's.

Take for instance the naming of rock bands. Besides musical ability, is there any more important single factor for an upcoming band to establish itself? A carefully selected name projects an image that reflects the musical direction while also announcing the band itself to a selected target audience, thus positioning itself for the notice of a specific sub-culture and to music industry scouts.

A quite successful template in rock is the light-heavy/dark-light combination as in Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, Soft Machine, Grateful Dead, etc. The great grand-daddy of them all is naturally Led Zeppelin, a well-nigh perfect name for a hard-rock band, combining as it does the heaviness of lead with a menacing war-like symbol (Germanic moreover, with all the baggage of its recent war past). In addition, I feel that the absence of the soft vowels o, u and a and a certain visual "spikiness" lends a visual/aural dimension to the subliminal impact of the name. Funnily enough, Jimmy Page contemplated naming them Whoopee Cushion early on. I concur with the fictional Mr. Shandy, Whoopee Cushion would have never been a fraction as successful as Led Zeppelin. In fact, I believe a group named Whoopee Cushion would have taken a different musical path more in the direction of a lad-rock band like Mott the Hoople and that the majestic sonority of "Led Zeppelin" was what ensconced Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham firmly in the classic rock mold.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine "Whoopee Cushion" in 30-foot high letters (and the crescendo in "Stairway" wouldn't sound half as orgasmic as well)

Other descriptive names are Pink Floyd which sounds whimsical and surreal and by a happy coincidence (or is it the name's influence manifesting itself?) describes both the Syd Barrett era (whimsical) and the later space-rock period. The name itself could hardly have a more prosaic origin, being parts of the names of two country blues performers that Syd in his random precision combined. Apparently he had never actually heard their music before.

Barrett noticed the names in the liner notes of a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album (Philips BBL-7512). The text, written by Paul Oliver, read: "Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, (...) Pink Anderson or Floyd Council - these were a few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys."

On the other hand, Spandau Ballet, which sounds promisingly hard-core were just a bunch of New Romantic drips.

Spandau Ballet....have reformed and are currently on tour. You were warned.

Jethro Tull is named after an 18th century agriculturalist. I wonder if any 22nd century bands will name themselves after someone obscure from our time such as a Second Division footballer. A Tull offshoot was the intriguingly named Blodwyn Pig.

Jethro Tull, the creative force behind 70s rock band Ian Anderson

The Alan Parsons Project which sounds cold, sterile and clinical is.........cold, sterile and clinical :-)

Many groups have names that advertise their affinities quite transparently: Slayer, Venom, Megadeth and Metallica are clearly not in the business of singing ballads about a swain holding his beloveds hand under a romantic moon (well, not unless he's a necrophile who's disinterred her by the light of a blood-red moon).

A lot of names appear to have been casually chosen at random, perhaps out of desperation, or out of some personal association or liking. Steely Dan is named after the atomic-powered dildo in William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch", Duran Duran is the villain from the cult film "Barbarella", the Rolling Stones were named after a Muddy Waters' number, Marillion is an obvious contraction, 10CC is apparently the average ejaculate volume etc, etc. As expected these give no indication as to what to expect from the band.

However some names are just opaque: Oasis, Rainbow, Police, Queen, Deep Purple, Yes doesn't give the prospective listener a hint (with the possible exception of Queen and Freddy's drama queen theatrics). I suspect that we will not see many more of such simple names in future as the respective domain names will probably already be occupied. New bands (or their record companies) will have to engage branding consultants to select the most suitable monicker for a target demographic, navigate potential brand name conflicts and foresee any cultural confusion or embarrassment. It all seems a far cry from a group of friends gathering in a garage after school with a few beat-up guitars but maybe I'm just being old-fashioned.

On a personal note, if I ever form a band I've already got a couple of names in hand. The first is Pentatonic Acid which incorporates a pun on pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) to reflect my scientific background, and the pentatonic blues scale. "Acid" is a nod to the late 60s acid-rock scene with a sly allusion to lysergic acid. Naturally the music will be Hendrixesque over a solid blues foundation with trippy psychedelic lyrics and imagery ;-)

The other name is Shakyamunimaker. Again this is a pun on the title of Elmore James' blues classic "Shake your Money Maker" which was covered by Fleetwood Mac, and one of the titles of the Buddha (he was from the Shakya tribe). I envisage the music to be acoustic folk-based blues with occasional Eastern influenced passages played on a DADGAD tuned guitar a la Bert Jansch/Davey Graham.

If anybody out there nicks these names for their musical projects just remember to send some groupies my way when you hit it big, OK?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Orchids III

Our most impressive orchid is a Butterfly orchid (Psychopsis papilio). I was smitten by the beauty and uniqueness of the species and bought one at a Swiss Orchid Society exhibition about ten years ago. The great majority of our orchids unfortunately do not survive past the third year so I was a bit undecided about purchasing one of the show plants costing several hundred francs. In the end I bought an immature specimen without a flower spike for around SFr. 40 but with careful nurturing it started flowering within a year. I can vouch for its hardiness as its survived us thus far(!), but they are also rewarding to cultivate as the spike flowers continuously (10 years now for the first spike) as well as producing additional spikes. Our plant currently has five spikes and I hope to see them all flowering simultaneously someday. Even allowing for a bit of "paternal" pride, its a magnificent specimen. It would probably be worth quite a lot to an orchid fancier but if we ever leave Switzerland I will try to donate it to the Basel Botanical Garden where it would be assured of a good home. It means a lot to us knowing that its in safe hands as this plant signifies a lot to us. My wife, S, made an incredibly beautiful painting of it (it was part of a series that she exhibited in London) that was awarded a Gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society (wait, did I ever mention before that she is super-talented? Must have slipped my mind :-). We also have memories of our mounting excitement after the first spike sprouted, waiting for it to bloom. It somehow is bound up with the period from our early married life before our son was born, after which everything naturally changed forever.

A picture I nicked off the net (mine are all blurred) showing the butterfly-like features. From the side it resembles a large butterfly with spread wings, body and antennae. As they are perched on long, spindly spikes that sways with the slightest vibration, this really completes the illusion.

Our orchid. When the spike is camouflaged by surrounding vegetation it gives the impression of being suspended in mid-air.

Rather straggly looking but if all spikes are in bloom then this would resemble a flock of hovering butterflies.

The mimicry is more than a passing resemblance. The reproductive structures of the Psychopsis counterfeits an insect body complete with all three bodily segments and tiny knobs at the "head" to simulate mouth parts.

A closer view (also nicked off the web) of the pseudo-body. My camera sucks.

A little known fact is that the Psychopsis was responsible for launching orchidmania in Victorian times. As recounted by Eric Hansen in "Orchid Fever", the 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish (1790-1858), was so struck by a glimpse of it that he spent a large part of his fortune sponsoring orchid collectors in the tropics and constructing enormous heated greenhouses (imagine the cost of year-round heating to 30° with coal!). This made orchid growing immensely fashionable resulting in the collection and classification of many species. While undoubtedly many wild populations must have been plundered beyond recovery I think one has to take into consideration that habitat degradation would have occurred for other reasons anyway and its a small consolation that many orchid species were saved.

The mimicry is, as in the similar case of the bee orchid, related to pollinization. Using sexual deception, the bee orchid fools a bee into attempted copulation during which the pollen sacs adhere to the dupe which, upon realising its error, pulls up its pants embarrassedly, looks around to see no-one is looking and buzzes off shame-faced. Except of course that it does get fooled again (a possible reason why the mimicry has to be so convincing) thus ensuring successful cross-pollination of the orchid.

Ophrys bombyliflora

A soon to be heart-broken bee (he didn't call, he didn't write,...). Blokes who think they've had it bad being deceived by a Thai lady-boy should imagine what it must feel like to be fooled into fucking a plant.

Interestingly no-one has ever observed a Psychopsis being pollinated in a like manner in the wild, and indeed, as far as I know there aren't even any candidate Lepidopterans resembling the flower that would fit the role. As the species has a wide geographic range (from Trinidad to the northern coast of south America), it obviously gets by somehow but quite possibly the original butterfly on which the mimicry is modeled has become extinct. It seems rather poignant that so much evolution has gone into perfecting a deception that has now become obsolete.

Nonetheless one can still draw inspiration that nothing is ever futile. While the original raison d'etre for the mimicry is no longer functionally required, the beauty accrued by the form in its relentless evolutionary striving allowed it to conquer the hearts of humans, and we expend great investments of time and treasure in their care and propagation, and so long as we as a species exist, so too will they.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Instant Karma

I read on a blog that on Google instant, when "Can I get" is typed in, the user is immediately prompted with the suggestion "Can I get pregnant from a dog".

Well of course, I just HAD to try it out and actually you have to type in "Can I get p" before receiving the canine associated query (Answer: No, not unless you're a bitch). However just typing "Can I get" brings up the equally hilarious "Can I get AIDS from swimming with black people"! Just keying in "black people" prompts "black people stole my car"!

I assume that these suggestion are generated automatically based on previous search queries and logged search usage frequency. This raises the alarming point that there is a sizeable number of people out there capable of using computers who actually entertain the possibility of humans being impregnated by dogs.

All I can say is that when this breaks, I wouldn't be surprised to see groups picketing the Google HQ on the 9 o'clock news demanding mandatory sensitivity training for Google employees.

Search terms: black-toilet-amputee-handjob-porn. The limitless horizon of cyberspace!

Godfather of Rock

Link Wray must be the most unknown, influential figure in modern popular music. Although actively touring until his death in 2005, his major creative years spanned from the mid-50s to mid-60s. A fine guitarist, his output consisted mainly of twangy, reverb-heavy surf music instrumentals. His major contribution was the introduction of the power chord (without which heavy rock would not exist) and the first use of distortion and feedback in recording. Both innovations were introduced in the seminal instrumental "Rumble" in 1958.

Funnily enough the backstory on the genesis of "Rumble" is not on wikipedia or anywhere else on the web but I remember reading it in an interview in a guitar magazine about 25 years ago (where the fuck did the time go?). Since, if memory serves me well, these were Link Wray's actual words I guess we have to take them at face value as a primary source.

The story goes that while performing at a dance, there was a clash between rival gangs, (hence the title), where one of the gang members was stomped to death in front of the band. To their distress, the band was forced to keep on playing to prevent a full-scale riot from breaking out. This incident affected Wray deeply and found expression in "Rumble". Unfortunately the primitive amplification/recording techniques of the day were inadequate for him to aurally depict the menacing, brutal impressions that the incident had left on him. In frustration he stabbed the exposed speaker of his amplifier with a pencil and found to his satisfaction that the now heavily distorted sound emanating from the crippled speaker captured his feelings perfectly and thus history was created. "Rumble" was only a minor hit commercially, but as with all good music, it finds its audience and greatly influenced the coming generation of British guitarists who were to write the book on heavy metal/hard rock.

To think, but for this quirk of history, how different life as we know it would be! (No riff from "Smoke on the Water", Jimi Hendrix etc...). But this of course is just the one-dimensional view of history which implicitly assumes the primacy of an individual Great Man in shaping the course of events while playing down the role of social/cultural factors operating discreetly in the background. Given the rapid developments in electronics and amplification technology, someone else would almost certainly have hit on the power chord (which just sounds awesome when highly amplified due to the generation of pleasing harmonics and overtones) and the idea of "painting" soundscapes with distortion and feedback. Which is not to take anything away from Link Wray who realised these possibilities way before everyone else in such a serendipitous and colourful fashion.

Diehard "Pulp Fiction" fans should recognise the tune although it was left out of the soundtrack album for licensing reasons.

Link Wray (1929-2005)
Guitar innovator. He was very proud of his half-Shawnee Indian ancestry

Orchids II

It's been a bumper year for orchids. The hot, dry spell in July-Aug stimulated flowering (I suspect it was more the light intensity rather than temperature that did the trick) and we're still reaping the results. Two other orchids that were induced was the SE Asian slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum, probably a hybrid) and the clamshell orchid.


The Diocentrum flowered twice this year (only the fourth occasion in ten years).
A gorgeous flower spike in full bloom lasting for about two months

Spot the mutant six-petalled flower. It also has fused twin labella

Clamshell orchid (Encyclia cochleata)

Paradoxically, the only orchid that didn't flower was the Phalaenopsis which is reputedly the easiest to cultivate indoors.