Sunday, 5 June 2011


....but nothing classy whatsoever about this post :-)

This is the Bristol Stool Chart, an actual medical aid to classify human faeces. It was devised by a pair of researchers at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 1997. According to the methods section, 66 volunteers kept a diary of their stool form (on a 7-point scale), the frequency, and the stools were weighed (wet weight, I assume). Their eternal contribution to the edifice of human knowledge is summed up in this magisterial chart.

The scale goes from constipated to brown trouser time and Types 3 and 4 are "ideal". Of course we  could have all told them that a priori, rather than having to reach the same conclusion a posteriori (snort), but theres nothing like nailing down an assumption empirically.

And now if only some kind Japanese readers could translate this chart.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bring out the Choppers......

They're gonna have sooo much fun with this at 4chan and Ebaums.


90 miles an hour down a dead end street.....

What a year this has been so far. I was just remarking this to a friend the other day and since then we've had the unfurling of Barack Obama's birth certificate (fake!) and the assassination of Obam...oops Osama Ben Laden (fake again!).

I may have missed something out but lets see what we've had so far:

1) the Arab Spring: 2 regimes down (Tunisia, Egypt), one with a promise of transition (Yemen....although theres some back-pedalling going on at the moment), two tottering (Syria, Bahrain) and one nasty little war (Libya)

2) Earthquake, tsunami and smouldering radiation crisis in Japan

3) Barry Soetero proves he's a natural born lia American

4) The Royal Wedding (OK, cross that)

5) the martyrdom and subsequent celestial gang-bang of Osama Ben Laden with 72 virgins

and almost trivial in comparison, the ongoing economic crisis, a(nother) coup d'etat in the Ivory Coast etc....

Back to OBL. He's dead, definitely. If he wasn't, then the potential for embarrassment from a newly-minted videotape will be huge and Obama can kiss re-election goodbye. The question is, how long has he been dead? Was he really in hiding all these years or did he shuffle off the mortal coil sometime in 2001 or 2002 as many informed experts have insisted? Was the myth of OBL propagated to exploit curtailment of civil liberties and the powers-that-be finally decided to pull the plug on what was becoming a less productive and tiresome charade? (At some point the US would have to hold up some tangible sign of success for the Afpak venture and this could be the perfect opportunity to declare victory and pull out, a chance of killing two birds).

Nevertheless the whole truth has yet to emerge. No casualties even with one helicopter downed?  OBL grabbing a woman as a human shield against the heroic SEALS (maybe he learned this from the Israelis)? And the sea-burial just sets off alarm bells. Sorry, I just don't buy the crap on ostensible sensitivity to Islamic burial practices. Again we sheep have been given less than the whole truth, the main-stream media cheer-leads from the official script and the idiots flood the streets at midnight and fist-pump USA,USA,USA. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad OBL got his just desserts (whether last week or ten years ago), but I hate it the way the bastards piss on our heads and try to convince us that it's raining.

And just to be contrary. Assuming things played out as described, OBL wouldn't have minded greatly. He's accomplished most of his goals: bankrupted the US, lured them into multiple quagmires (not that the neo-cons needed much encouragement), turned muslim public opinion against the west and ripped the mask of US foreign policy for many (right up till 2003 I still considered the US as a generally benevolent empire).

I think the mind-set of those crowing this as some great victory are just incapable of grasping where the likes of OBL are coming from. He was a billionaire's son FFS, he could have spent his life chasing tail in the Riviera but instead he chose the precarious life of a jihadi in Afghanistan fighting communism and immediately continuing on against what he considered an existential threat to the Islamic way of life. Certainly he would welcome martyrdom (Bismillah, Let the orgy commence.......) and the chance to go out in a blaze of glory. Make no mistake, for all his faults the man was brave and willing to die for what he believed in (and lets not speculate on the size and consistency of the shit stains Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bush, Blair and Obama would have discharged in a similar situation). He was also intelligent and a brilliant strategist. OK, lets assume that OBL and AQ were responsible for 911, given his stated aims then, did he not manage to provoke the US into empire-crumbling overreach? Considering the disparity between the forces arrayed against each other, what he has accomplished (i.e. the potentially fatal wounding of the American imperium) with the meagre forces at his disposal is nothing short of stunning. He could well be a military genius of the calibre of an Alexander or Napoleon.

Anyway, worrywart that I am, I'm facing the rest of the year with a sense of foreboding. What other game-changing events could be on the cards? Here's my prediction for at least two of these ten events occurring in the next 7 months.

1) Assassination of a major political leader

2) Collapse of the eurozone

3) Collapse of the dollar and the end of reserve currency status

4) Massive worldwide nuclear contamination from Fukushima

5) War with Iran

6) Contact with an alien civilization (good news for a change)

7) Massive social unrest in China

8) Fall of the House of Saud (more good news)

9) India-Israel-US operation to neutralise Pakistan's nukes with consequent political fallout

10) Death of Kim Jong Il and unification of the Koreas (would be nice)

Does anyone else have this sense of history speeding up, hurtling down some dark highway? Gulp, maybe the Mayan prophecy is true after all.  

Thursday, 28 April 2011

This is the End......

Status of the Titan arum at 10 a.m., 28th of April.

In the words of Jim Morrison

Lament for my cock
Sore and crucified
I seek to know you....
The death of my cock brings life

Somehow appropriate as the arum unfurled on Good Friday ("crucified") and bloomed throughout Easter-tide ("brings life").

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Was it good for you too?

After manfully performing the task of reproduction for 4 days the Titan arum is spent, a drooping shadow of its former self.

Time to lean back, stretch out for a cig to beat post-coital tristesse, before rolling over and snoring.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gigantic shapeless penis.....

......or Amorphophallus titanum to you, sir. The Titan arum in the Basel Botanical Garden bloomed over the Easter weekend. I was following the progress over the webcam and as soon as it unfurled (around 2200h on the 22nd of April) we made plans to see it the following day. As it turned out we could only catch it at 10pm on the 23rd, but luckily the garden's opening hours were extended until midnight for the special occasion. Despite the late hour, there was still a respectable crowd, and it took 30 minutes of patient shuffling before we were ushered into its presence. Standing proudly erect (snigger) at 2m it was the focus of attention. The garden had installed mirrors on the ceiling (behave!) for the crowd to get a down-blouse view (I give up!) into the blood-red spathe. The titan arum is pollinated in the wild by flies which it attracts by giving off a scent like rotting flesh (hence the local Malay name, bunga bangkai, or corpse flower). I only caught faint whiffs of something rank but staff at the garden assured us that it reeked when the flower finally opened. Later at the concession stand, there were vials of "scent" on sale containing a cocktail of amines and sulphides that were claimed to faithfully mimic the scent and these smelt really rank.

Onlooker included for a sense of scale

Top-down view into the spathe
Better quality image from the official web-cam

We were shooed out after 5 minutes but it was enough, been there, done that and now for the Rafflesia arnoldii next!

One can quibble if the A. titanum does indeed produce the largest flower as the structure is technically an inflorescence and the actual male and female flowers are tiny. The other contender is, as mentioned above, R. arnoldii which is a single flower and has the advantage of looking like a conventional blossom (as imagined by a 6-year old).
R. arnoldii (left)

Both plants are from SE Asia and are emblematic of the richness in biodiversity to be found there. If I were a billionaire I would buy huge tracts of virgin forest and just leave it untouched.

Later on, just strolling through the botanical garden I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chinese Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata) in bloom.
Ghostly white bracts to attract nocturnal pollinators
I had only ever seen it in bloom in daytime so it was nice to catch it at the appropriate moment.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

...for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them,....

... and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

There's a house in Wales with a striking resemblance to everyone's favourite dictator (right down to the dorky 'tache).

God knows how much feng shui it would require to counteract such a negative influence

Behind the quiet exterior, number 18 was secretly planning an invasion of Poland  
Pareidolia, or the tendency to see "faces" in things is an outgrowth of the highly developed faculty in humans to discriminate facial features (for recognition of group members), or to read facial expressions  (for successful within-group social interaction, Darwin wrote a book on the subject). The most famous example is probably the face-on-Mars. Babies respond to faces after a few weeks and this ability seems to be hard-wired in us. Neuroscientists have identified a region of the brain, the fusiform face area, that is hyper-activated when a test subject views and attempts to identify a face. That this ability is innate is supported by individuals with prosopagnosia (or face blindness) which can be present from birth or brought on by head injury, and who are unable to recognise the faces even of close relatives.

I find it intriguing that so much of what we treasure as uniquely human may be just unanticipated excrescences of features having genuine survival value. Music may be a by-product of the evolutionarily vital language instinct, and mathematics an out-growth of the aptitude for spatial visualisation which is of obvious utility to teams of hunters (hence the male advantage). An argument against this line of reasoning is that evolution doesn't over-endow, i.e. natural selection is so finely tuned that it  doesn't confer abilities far in excess of what is immediately useful.

I call bullshit on that. Take tardigrades. These tiny aquatic invertebrates can form cysts (called tuns) where they enter a state of suspended animation with their water content dropping to 1% and metabolism to less than 0.01% of normal levels. This stage, which evolved as a mechanism to survive intermittent periods of dessication, is incredibly resistant to adverse conditions. It can survive for a decade without water, heating for a few minutes to 150°C, freezing for several days at -200°C and a few minutes at -272°C (1° above absolute zero). They can survive in a vacuum and high pressures (up to 6,000 atmospheres) and irradiation up to 5,000-6,000 Grays (fatal exposure in humans is 5-10 Gy). Unless tardigrades are in the habit of regularly venturing out into space I'd say this is a clear case of over-endowment.

Conservation status "Least concern" LOL. We're in greater danger of extinction.
Anyway, what does all this have to to with the Biblical verse in the title? Back to pareidolia. I had my own little brush with this phenomenon several years ago. I had taken J. to a playground where some of the play equipment had been freshly painted. The painters had left a bit of a mess and some of the boulders dotted around the playground (for the kids to clamber on) had dabs of yellow paint, probably from an attempt to smear excess paint off the brushes. Checking to see if the paint was dry I was stunned to see what appeared from a distance to be a random grouping of daubs, rearrange into a passable image of Christ.

Rock of Ages?
Even more striking is that the texture of the rock appears to follow the contours of a human face (there's a bit of a bump where the nose is and indentations for the eyes).

Ave Christus Rex!
Unfortunately it's a bit too heavy for me to take home and hawk on Ebay. I was there just this weekend and aside from some slight weathering, it's still as distinct. A miracle! 

Could it have been done deliberately? I think not, it would require a great deal of talent to depict something hovering on the edge between meaninglessness and intentional representation. At least anyone able to do so is wasting himself painting municipal equipment. Furthermore the nose and parts of the cheeks were formed by dripping paint so it clearly seems quite unintended. Praise the Lord!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Dear (Pseudo) Men.........

Blatant attempt by a group of manginas to wangle a charity fuck. If you had the fortitude to sit through the entire 8 minutes you might have noticed two particularly annoying points (over and above the general pussi-ness). Firstly, who the hell authorised these suck-ups to apologise on behalf of the entire male sex? Second, there's a bit where an idiot unfavourably contrasts the masculine tendency to rely on data and logic with feminine intuition and holism. I mean, seriously, feeling trumps logic in finding out how the world works? Is it possible to get any dumber than this, in addition to being deeply insulting to women scientists and mathematicians?

I've never encountered anything as cringe-inducing in this particular department since Lennon's "Woman". "Imagine" sucks as well. Of his solo work only "Jealous Guy" and "Mother" are great songs although lyrically they're beta with their apologising-for-everything leitmotiv. That bitch Yoko's got a lot to answer for.

Frankly it's not going to work as well since any sexually desirable female can smell weakness a mile off. If only these men (generously defined) could borrow their balls back from their bull-dyke partners for a few hours they might be able to work that out. Of course this pedestalization of women goes back to kindergarten where we're taught that girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice". To which I would retort, "Then why do they smell of fish?".

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


I'm experimenting with mashing-up classic art-works. First up is Rene Magritte's "Infinite Gratitude"

I wanted to emphasise the notion of infinity so I placed recursive insets of the work to generate a vanishing point (like on the cover of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma).

The repetition of the floating men also alludes to what is perhaps Magritte's most famous work, "Golconde".

Anyway without further ado, here's the result:

I'll have to Photoshop the edges etc.... something I'll get around to one of these days.

Next up: H.R. Giger meets Brueghel!!!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Ching chong ling long ting tong

Alexandra Wallace's infamous YouTube rant generated the usual two-minutes hate from the expected quarters and resulted in her dropping out of UCLA. Did she deserve this? I'd say not. She was simply giving her opinion (love it or hate it) on an actual event that she had witnessed, and passed some observations on Asian cultural mores. The tone itself was more crass than offensive, but without any overt incitement to violence it seems surprising that anyone should spend more than a couple of minutes musing on it before passing on to something more worthwhile.

Just some thoughts on the matter:

  • At her age (early twenties, I'd guess), everyone should be allowed some slack for injudicious remarks. Granted, it was very foolish to put the video up in this day and age (how could she be so unaware of the PC-police?) but if everyone was to be slapped down for stupidity then the world would be a quieter, duller place.

  • The backlash from Asians, particularly ethnic Chinese individuals, reeks of hypocrisy. I'm half-Chinese myself and I know what we say about other races when no-ones listening.

  • However impolitely expressed, there is an element of truth to her observations.

  • The selective hypocrisy of minority race champions and leftie/liberals in the whole affair is not unexpected but still nauseating. What are the odds of this generating widespread outrage and the perpetrator being hounded out of town if the tables were turned? Actually we don't even need to speculate, Kent Wong, a professor and open borders advocate at UCLA itself, didn't seem to do his career any harm by race-baiting "white old guys".

Well, even though she has now been made an example of, I would still counsel caution to the satisfied parties before they overly indulge in congratulatory back-slapping. My main concern with shrill protests from these protected minorities is that they don't take into account that the silent majority, in fact any group that is the defining majority in a particular society, has limits to its tolerance especially if it feels it is on the road to losing this status and being marginalised. They would do well to remember that white males have been incredibly violent in the past and they may have helped nudge the clock hand forward just a tiny bit here.

Why should I care? I'm not American or a resident and non-white to boot. To me it's a simple question of fairness. Ideally I would prefer a society where it is possible to express robust, no-holds-barred views about race, sex, religion, culture etc... but failing that, then the hands-off approach should be applied fairly on all sides. The current situation, with designated target groups (who have to take everything lying down) and protected groups (untouchable due to past discrimination) is just a breeding ground for resentment on one hand, and over-reach on the other.

Anyway, to lighten up, this guy rocks.

Lest anyone thinks that I'm cutting the fair Alexandra some slack because I fancy her, I actually think she's a bit of a porker (although others may beg to differ). From those pics she appears to have put on a fair amount of weight in a few years and seems to be a typical specimen of the chubby white chick. I would guess when she hits 28 or 29 she'll be sagging and drooping all over the place and her thighs will be so riddled with cellulite that they'll look like cottage cheese. That's when she'll realise that she ought to have eaten more bean sprouts and tofu!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Sex, Sports and Sand....

I've been mucking about on Google trends (to the detriment of my work efficiency, LOL). What a fantastic resource this will be to future historians! I remember reading 20-odd years ago a lament by a professional historian that the displacement of the epistolary record (letter writing, I'm feeling bombastic today) by the telephone had led to a dearth of primary material for historical research. As ever, this was just as dawn was breaking on the advent of email. And with blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc... so much of the minutiae of contemporary life has been recorded for posterity that future historians will be spoilt for choice.

Anyways, I was just checking out web traffic statistics for Basel and there was this interesting correlation:

There's a mysterious gap in the middle of 2010 for hits to a well-known site for human anatomy aficionados. The lacuna coincided partially with the 2010 Football World Cup.

Nevertheless, there was still a gap even after the Final (11th July). July-August however are the summer vacation months and sure enough the search term for vacation, ("ferien" in Swiss-German and not the Hochdeutsch "urlaub"), peaks during the latter stages of the World Cup and carries on for the rest of the period.

So what would a social scientist make from this? Porn consumers are predominantly male* (No shit, Sherlock), sports (especially a once in four years extravaganza) can trump sex, most porn traffic comes from the 20-40 crowd who decamp for the summer sun-and-fun vacations,....

*on the assumption that guys are more likely to be keen football fans, just like women are in general more interested in fashion.

Anyway, in keeping with the blogpost title, just a little eye-candy...... ;-)

A team that's guaranteed to score!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Knickers In a Twist

Just spotted this hilarious ad on CNN. Can't wait for the squeals of outrage from the femosphere. You go Grrrrls! LOL

Of course if the tables were turned and we have a cougar day-dreaming of bronzed guys from her latest holiday, then its move along folks, nothing to see here......

Equality's a bitch.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Respiração (no Ar)

Pink Floyd's Breathe (In the Air) makes a great bossa nova tune when played with the right rhythm (I don't think I got it quite right, though). It's chock-full of minor9, seventh, sus and Maj7 chords that just cry out for re-interpretation. I think the closest the Floyd ever got to a soft jazz vibe was in St Tropez and Biding My Time.

And yes, I'm singing in a ridiculous gay/fey voice as a nod to Astrud Gilberto.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us Pt.II

Today is International Women's Day and I must say I'm quite surprised that Google hasn't commemorated it with a suitably themed logo (neither or

Anyway my personal tribute to the ahem, weaker (OK gentler) sex is posting this performance by Sam Phillips of her haunting composition that's been on my playlist for weeks now.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Eat da PooPoo!!!!

So wrong that its right. To paraphrase Wilde, "One would have to have a PC-heart of stone not to laugh".

Fave bits are where he shoves the gay porn in the face of the recoiling Bishop, and later at the two-minutes hate with the frenzied crowd reaction. I'm also tickled to think of Pastor Martin Ssempa trawling the internet for hours searching for gay porn. 

Disclaimer: I don't give a shit what consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their Turkish baths so long as no gerbils are harmed. As a heterosexual man I'm all in favour of homosexuality as it means less competition for me. But while I support gay marriage, their right not to be molested/discriminated against for their predilections, etc....I draw the line at gay adoption or at off-the-rack InstaFamily's like Elton John's and whatshisface's. Its all very well to feel virtuous, inclusive and liberal in benignly condoning (or even celebrating) these self-styled courageous smashing of moral taboos, but everything generates a reaction and society has been going downhill these last 40 years after the Sexual Revolution and the concomitant decline of absolute moral standards. It's time to draw the line on the more militant demands and say we will not bend over backwards to accommodate their ends.

Hat tip to Oriental Right

Monday, 28 February 2011

In memoriam E.A.B. (1922-2005)

My father died 6 years ago today. As luck would have it I was back home on one of my long trips back (6 weeks, my boss raised an eyebrow but as I hadn't taken a break in the previous two years there was nothing much he could do about it. My father passed away in the last week of my holiday and I will always be glad that I had timed it as I did then).

I was inwardly shocked when I saw him. He had a full growth of beard whereas he had alway been clean shaven before. He was also much smaller and shrunken than I had remembered, reduced in stature and vitality and he seemed strangely disengaged. Most of his time was spent channel surfing, at other times he would sit in his favourite chair by the door, watching people and traffic pass by. The only thing that really perked him up was his favourite, my niece Ann, who was the first child born into our family in over thirty years. She spent her first 6 years growing up in the same house as my parents before my brother and his wife moved out into their own place, and she still spends the weekdays at my parents (I can't stop thinking of the place as if they're both still there) because of school. He would make sure to see her off safely on the schoolbus, say a short prayer to himself for her safety, and shuffle off to his room and wait through the day for it to drop her off home in the evening. Because traffic could be unpredictable, whenever she was slightly late back he would begin to fuss and worry, eventually sending my mother out to the road to catch a glimpse of the bus turning around the corner (exactly how this helped matters was always a mystery to the rest of us). I think he caught an echo in Ann of my eldest sister C, his firstborn, who was always his favourite and maybe distantly, the memory of himself when she was of Ann's age and he was in his prime. I am reminded of a saying of Trotsky's, "Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man".

I had come back on holiday with my wife and son, J, who was three at the time. My father had only seen J once before, on our previous trip when he was 10 months old. I had hopes that he (my father) would be all over him as the rarely-seen grandchild but no, he was just unenthusiastic and incurious, and after the initial burst of excitement after our arrival, he settled back to his old routine. This hurt me somewhat at the time, but now I realise that he was already drifting off, disengaging and it was just too much to expect for him to form new connections and re-engage. The week before he died I made perhaps the most awful discovery of my life. My father was an inveterate news-junkie, CNN and BBC World were a God-send to him and he would spend hours daily taking in the news cycle. I had noticed him watching the TV and scribbling furtively with a pencil stub in an old notebook. That night, (it was a Thursday and he passed away the following Monday), I leafed through the notebook with mounting sadness. It was filled with minutiae like "Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary", "Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard", and other clearly topical news snippets. But I was horrified to also read "Herman, Lee's husband" (his brother in-law of over thirty years), "Kenny, Dave's friend" (my brother's best friend, well known to the family for over 20 years). He was clearly aware of the lapses in his memory and perhaps other signs of cognitive degradation that had escaped us, and was scribbling facts down in quiet desperation as an aide-memoire to hold together, perhaps for a little time at least, his personality intact like a brave, little boat on stormy seas while underneath the dissolution of the consciousness carried on remorselessly. In a way I am proud of his stubborn defiance to go gently into the good night but it also breaks my heart to think how frightened and alone he must have been since he was just too ashamed to reveal it to anyone.

That Monday my mother hammered at the bedroom door, and with a catch in her voice asked me to go downstairs and help her to wake Papa, that he was limp and wasn't responding. She already knew but was putting it off for as long as she could. As soon as I walked into his bedroom I could see it was over. He looked peaceful, there was no sign of struggle and he had the duvet pulled right up to his neck. He was cold, preternaturally so even given the situation as the air-conditioner was on at full-blast, and must have been so for hours. I checked his eyes, hoping against hope, but they were lifeless mirrors and I noticed a trickle of blood at the edges. I pulled off the duvet and he was lying recumbent like an effigy with his hands on his stomach. He looked even more pitifully small and shrunken then, and I held his hand in mine, hands that have stroked my hair, patted and spanked me, and now feeling cold and alien like frozen wood.

I didn't cry at the funeral and I never have actually. It must be a flaw in me but its not to say that I didn't love him or that I don't miss him terribly. He lived a better life than most, and when he went he had four grandchildren and was surrounded by his wife and children and had nothing to want for. We should all be so lucky. And it would have been selfish of us to wish for his life to be prolonged when he was slowly succumbing to dementia.

When I returned to Basel, everything seemed unreal. It was like nothing had changed and yet I had been marked, and everything was different. Throughout the spring I got back in the old routine (one can always count on scientific research to throw enough work in ones direction), but there was always a niggling feeling of something unresolved. At some point I started doing something I haven't done since my twenties and began scribbling down snippets of lines and couplets about my father, childhood, life, loss and memory. It quickly grew into a rambling and disorganised mass/mess. I put it aside eventually, maybe the impulse had worn itself out, but there was also the new life of my growing son to consider which pushed aside all thoughts of lapsing into solipsistic self-indulgence. I haven't read it in years, perhaps it will still feel too raw and it would, at any rate, certainly require a miglior fabbro to hew into any semblance of coherence and structure. But the concluding lines I can still recall and dedicate it today to my beloved father.

And when the end comes
The waves of the endless sea rise
Lapping your feet in sleep
Raise the sail, put out to sea
Overhead a high star shines

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair......

This has got to be the Omega Point of guitar technique.

And he's got a great sense of humour as well (which kind of makes it hard for me to hate his guts).

Nice to see that not all Asian musical prodigies are cardboard cut-out clones after all.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us

I've recently discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a blues and gospel singer with a long career. Great voice, excellent attack on guitar (a Gibson SG with three (three!) humbuckers no less) and that indefinable ability to come out of the speakers and grab the listener by the throat.

Check out this YouTube clip especially the solo starting at 1:25 

Performed several years before the Bluesbreakers album and makes Eric "God" Clapton look like a simpering lily-white school-boy.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sucking a Negro

Spotted this un-PC product in the local Coop. It's a bag of licorice from Serbia. Of course it just means "black" because licorice is after all, black duhhhh..... but somehow I feel the name just won't pass muster in the Anglosphere.

The man on the packet cover, of obvious Caucasian descent, is a chimney sweep, a job entailing getting covered in soot and ending up blackened in the course of work, hence the obvious brand-product linkage. Nevertheless, despite the total lack of reference to anything African related, any product marketing remotely approaching this in the west is almost certain to generate howls of outrage. I'm old enough to remember the original "Darkie" toothpaste packaging (a popular brand in SE Asia) before it evolved into "Darlie". Oops, that's it, I've committed a thoughtcrime by implying that progressing from a blackface minstrel to a quasi-caucasian is an example of evolution into a higher form ;-) In this case, the name change followed protests from western pressure groups to the parent company.

A metamorphosis pre-dating Michael Jackson's
The sweets themselves are rather tasty (although licorice isn't normally my candy of choice. I confess to buying them just for this blog post).

Indeterminate filling (I don't know any Serbian and the list of ingredients is in Cyrillic anyway)
I whipped one out!
Gingerly I placed the rigid, oblong Negro on the tip of my tongue. As it slowly moistened I took it into my mouth, savouring the feel of it like a welcome intruder into my moist orifice. Gradually, as my excitement mounted, I began sucking harder and harder and greedier and greedier until suddenly, it burst open, spilling its load and flooding my mouth with its exquisite white, creaminess.

Yeah, it was quite good.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Well I'll Be......

......blowed. One can dream :-). But seriously, this post is a random collection of facts with one unifying theme, they completely overthrew any pre-conceptions I had on the subject at the time. It's instructive, yet humbling to plumb the depths of ones ignorance.

First off, 

1) Russian Dolls
Everyone knows of the famous Matryoshka dolls with their unique nested design, an apparently quintessential example of Russian folk art of presumably time-shrouded origin. Right? Wrong on both counts. The dolls are neither originally Russian, and are a rather recent development. The first "Russian dolls" were created in 1890(!) by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and painted by Sergey Malyutin on a commission from a wealthy industrialist Savva Mamontov. The design was inspired by a set of Japanese religious figures of the Seven Lucky Gods (a Korean acquaintance tells me that they are in fact originally Korean, in particular the defining feature of nestedness). Mamontov's wife later exhibited the dolls at the 1900 Paris World Exposition where they won a Bronze Medal sparking off interest and demand for the dolls that over time became associated as typically Russian. Winston Churchill almost certainly had them in mind when he describe the Soviet Union as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" in a speech in 1939, showing how quickly the meme of the dolls' Russian-ness had burrowed itself into the popular consciousness.

The original 1890 Zvyozdochkin/Malyutin set

2) Are Israel and the US allies?
The surprising answer is no, but let me qualify that. They are not formal allies, never having concluded a treaty to that effect. They are instead de facto allies, enjoying a close (some would say too close) alliance that puts Britain's much-touted "special relationship" in the shade. As someone generally well-disposed to Britain, it pains me to see how Britain allows itself to be treated so dismissively by the yanks. I just hope the current leadership (sic) would grow a pair and remember the words of Lord Palmerston "We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are perpetual and eternal and those interests it is our duty to follow". But back to US-Israeli relations, the reasons why no formal alliance has been inked have been hotly discussed/disputed on the web. It could be reluctance on the part of the US which doesn't want its hands tied in order to play a role as an honest broker in Middle-Eastern diplomacy (the Arabs would need to be really dumb to fall for that. Oh, wait...). Or it could be the Israelis wanting to keep their options open. Israel leads a precarious existence and has thrived thus far mainly through uncritical American support and largesse, often even to the detriment of US interests. This may not always be the case and perhaps Israel prefers to be unencumbered to seek another superpower patron (China, Russia?) should the need arise. Another reason is that Israel prefers to have its borders undeclared for some unknown reason (tin-hats on!). This precludes any formal alliance as allies are compelled to come to each others aid in the event of an assault on their territorial integrity (fortunately Georgia's application for NATO membership was turned down, otherwise its deserved bitchslapping from Russia could have escalated into WWIII). So why are Israel's borders undeclared? To facilitate future land-grabs? To have more chips on the table for a future land-for-peace deal? I'm not getting into this one!

3) Mandarin is an Indian word
Yes, you read that right.  The first substantial European contact with China in modern times was in the south-eastern coastal regions of Canton and Fujian. While ordinary people spoke the respective local dialects, the officials spoke the, err...."official" standard Chinese which was based on that of Beijing, the seat of imperial power (the written language is of course dialect-neutral). This is one positive feature of Chinese civilization, the system of Imperial examinations to select the brightest candidates, (regardless of background), for a lifelong appointment as a career bureaucrat. In a culture otherwise reeking of nepotism (under the guise of Confucian fidelity), the meritocracy of the civil service allowed the efficient management of a vast sprawling empire despite the lack of modern communications. This system spawned a class of scholar-bureaucrats that reached into every corner of the empire to perform the necessary  task of administration. As an institution, over the centuries it developed its own sub-culture with the adoption of the Beijing dialect as its internal lingua franca (Guanhua, "speech of officials") and communicating in a hifalutin style laden with literary allusions (well, one just can't let all those years spent mugging up on the Confucian classics go to waste after all). Back to etymology, when the first Portuguese landed in China, they referred to the officials as "mandarim", a word that can be traced back to Sanskrit (mantrin, for minister or counsellor). The Portuguese may have encountered the word from the Malay menteri, for minister. The Malay language contains a lot of Sanskrit loan-words and even today, the word for a minister (i.e. head of a government department and not a professional God-botherer) in modern Malay is menteri, which the Portuguese may well have picked up after their conquest of Malacca in 1511. Of course the Portuguese couldn't fail but notice that the mandarins communicated amongst themselves in a different dialect to that of the locals leading to a transference of the term to include the spoken language as well. And in the fullness of time, the word worked its way into the English language to denote a high-grade civil servant (e.g. Whitehall mandarins) and their particular brand of bureaucratic obfuscation.

Sir Humphrey could have been speaking in Mandarin for all the good it did the committee

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Seeing is Believing?

Maybe the picture in the previous post was Photoshopped. After all, if they could change this.....

To this....

Things we're unlikely to see again

The Giffords' shooting brought this picture back to mind. Question: was that a real gun the kid was playing with right next to JFK?

Friday, 7 January 2011

What the $*%&ç§

There is no Malay word for fuck. Proponents of the Whorffian hypothesis would argue that the Malays either abstain from, or are indifferent to a bit of how's-your-father. This is however belied by the fact that Indonesia is the worlds 4th most populous nation. From personal observation, most Malay men are  unhealthily obsessed with sex, a natural backlash to the sexual repressiveness of Muslim society (Allah isn't quite so omniscient after all). In recent years a slang word, "kongkek", has crept into daily usage and become quite widely used. I am told that the word is of javanese origin and as Java is the most highly populated island in the Malay archipelago, perhaps this makes a bit of sense after all. Interestingly, Japanese society which also lacks the F-word, has nonetheless become a mecca for porn of  a staggeringly eye-watering depravity. Personally, I can vouch to whacking off on enough J-porn to strike blind the entire College of Cardinals in the Vatican.

Cantonese, on the other hand, suffers from an embarrassment of riches. The most common swear-word, "tiu", is cognate to the Anglo-Saxon "fokken". It is usually combined with references to the target of abuses' mother's organs of procreation and their state of feminine hygiene to form triple or quadruple-barreled insults. And thats with just ONE swear word. Cantonese (and also Hokkien)  contain multiple variants  referring to the genitals (male and female). 

In Cantonese, as in Spanish and Italian, just saying "your mother's" in the right tone and context is sufficient to be deeply insulting. It's striking that across many cultures, the mother is a surrogate target of abuse. Is this based on the belief that the maternal bond is strongest and thus would be potentially the most hurtful and offensive target? Or is this really the case? Could it be that an insult directed against the father, and by extension to the family name and honour (due to patrilineal descent), be so grave as to require bloodshed just to appease the demands of honour and hence, throughout history, we have become culturally conditioned to a more manageable and less socially destructive form of abuse?

Along the lines of moderation in swear words, in "Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)", Orwell gives the etymology of the word "barnshoot", a mild, almost schoolmarmish exclamation of exasperation that is perfectly acceptable in genteel circles. The word was brought back by Anglo-Indians and derives from the Hindustani "bahin-chut" or "sister-fucker", certainly not the sort of word that springs to the lips of a vicar's wife after spilling some Darjeeling on a Chantilly doily. Orwell was unable to explicitly provide the literal meaning due to the suffocating censorship of the time and could only vaguely allude to a similar word in Aristophanes (I'm too lazy to search through my copy of the collected plays for the reference), but take it from me (or my Punjabi friends), "sister-fucker" it is. Years later in "Animal Farm (1945)", Orwell still had to tone down a passage where the pigeons shat on the heads of the invading men to "muted upon them".

Another word that has slipped beneath the radar into polite usage is "poppycock" which comes from the Dutch "pappekak" meaning "soft shit". And, as Bill Bryson informs us, they also have a term, (in fact two), for the variety of a harder consistency, "poep" and "stront". So with respect to the Whorffian hypothesis, one expects the Dutch to be Calvinistically punctilious and extra-regular in their bowel movements. Back to the Cantonese, swearing is so rampant among the, sniff, lower-orders, that I have personally witnessed manual labourers greeting one another with a cheery "Fuck your mother, how's things?".

The power of swear words lies in their taboo nature, hence the common resort to references of a sexual and scatological nature, normally both no-no's in polite conversation. Until recently, blasphemy was also a potent taboo, hence the origin of "damn" (or God-damn for emphasis), and "bloody" (from "God's blood" i.e. the saving grace of Christ's blood shed for us on Calvary...blah, blah, blah) or even Jesus/Jeez/Gee-whiz as an example of taking the Lord's name in vain. Indeed, the blasphemy taboo was so strong that it was preferable to replace "God" when used as a swear-word with "cock"! This allowed Shakespeare to pun in Ophelia's speech, "Young men will do't, if they come to't; By cock, they are to blame". But with the waning of religious fervour, much of the potency has been drained out of these words and using them hardly raises an eyebrow these days. The only commonly "accepted" profanity that I could think of combining all three taboos is "Holy fucking shit" which I admit is pretty lame (submissions welcome!).

One thing that has always intrigued me is the use of "pussy" for vagina. Cats have always struck me as having an essentially feminine nature while dogs just seem masculine (notwithstanding that they come in both genders, the Platonic ideal of a cat, in my mind, is female and vice-versa for a dog). Is this just a personal idiosyncrasy? I'd like to know if corroboration (or counter examples) can be found in other languages.

Mrs Slocombe's pussy was always mewing for some stroking

And more. They just don't make them like they used to.

And finally, I leave you with this earhole-clearing blast of profanity from Cook and Moore