Thoughtcat’s Vermont representative points me to the excellent Oracle of Bacon. Enter the name of any actor or actress and the program consults the IMDB and tells you how many degrees they are separated, filmically speaking, from the actor Kevin Bacon, who appears to have been in every film ever made. Most attempts return a factor of 1 (i.e. Bacon was in the same film as the actor in question) or 2 (Bacon wasn’t in the same film as said actor but they’ve both been in another film which featured a common third actor, thus linking the two). Apparently there are only 11 actors in the entire universe who have a maximum Bacon number of 8. But what’s even more fun is Star Links, another program on the same University of Virginia Computer Science site, which allows you to link any two actors to each other. This reports, for example, that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a Harold Pinter number of 2, since Schwarzenegger was in End of Days with Mark Margolis, while Margolis was in The Tailor of Panama with Harold Pinter.
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A short interview with Don Delillo in The Times today, in which the author of the epic Underworld says that the Great American Novel is just so yesterday, and what we’re waiting for now is for someone to write the Great Global Novel. Well, it won’t be me – the novel I’m writing is set on the Isle of Skye… who says I set my sights too low?
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Sad to read today of the demise of Noel Redding, the great bass player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. This obituary quotes an interview he gave years ago (for, I believe, the excellent South Bank Show TV documentary on Hendrix) in which he recalled hearing about the great man’s death: “All these women came to my room and wanted to commit suicide, to throw themselves out of the window. I’m not religious but I went with all these women to church. Then we went to a cocktail bar and we got rotten.” Ah, the seventies, eh!
The Guardian reports that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has topped a poll by Orange, the sponsors of the female-only Orange Prize for Fiction, as women’s best-loved women’s book. The news put me in mind of Bob Dylan’s song 1997 song Highlands, which contains the following exchange between the narrator and a waitress:
Then she says,”you don’t read women authors, do you?”
Least that’s what I think I hear her say,
“Well”, I say, “how would you know and what would it matter anyway?”
“Well”, she says, “you just don’t seem like you do!”
I said, “you’re way wrong.”
She says, “which ones have you read then?”
I say, “I read Erica Jong!”
Speaking for myself, one of the few “women authors” I have read is Jane Rogers, whose 1987 novel The Ice is Singing I found inspirational and very moving.
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There’s a lovely story in the Guardian too today about an amateur movie of John Lennon dicking about in New York in 1974 being put up for auction. The private footage, shot by a student who simply went up to Lennon and asked him if she could follow him around the city filming him all day, apparently includes shots of him taking over a New York ice-cream van and imitating baboons for startled children. Sounds like early Trigger-Happy TV.
I loved this story about some proof copies of the new Harry Potter book turning up in a field and a “shady character” offering them exclusively to The Sun for £25 grand. The tabloid turned the cash down to “keep alive the excitement of legions of youngsters across the globe”. The book is due to be published next month, er, in case you’ve been living on Mars recently.
The Independent today carries an obituary of Rose Augustine, “champion of the classical guitar”, who was a big fan of Cuban music and was still going to work at the offices of Guitar Review magazine when she was 85.
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I was interested to see a report in the Guardian a few days ago that a 15-year-old Essex schoolgirl who was banned from school after organising an anti-war protest and “not wearing school uniform” has been allowed by the High Court to return to her classes. The judge described her as “very silly”, which sounds a bit Pythonesque to me. Mr Justice Collins also said that Liberty‘s view on the matter, that her original exclusion was in breach of her rights to free speech and freedom of assembly, was “totally the wrong way to look at it”.
An interesting story in the Grauniad about a new bookshop opened near the British Museum by Alan Bennett and the board of the London Review of Books. Called the London Review Bookshop, it claims to cater for the discerning book-buyer, who is apparently neglected by the vulgar “pile ’em high” shops like Books etc, Borders and Waterstones. Bennett says, “Just as the supermarket takes the pleasure out of shopping, so it does out of buying books.” I really like Alan Bennett, and I’m sure the bookshop is a good one – I mean, any bookshop has got to be a good one at the end of the day – but I have to disagree with this comment about supermarkets. Most supermarkets, I agree, are nasty places, especially the cheap and nasty ones, but I have to confess to a longstanding love affair with my local branch of Waitrose. The lighting is subtle, the products are well-chosen, the prices aren’t the cheapest but the quality is really high, the staff are excellent, and I know where everything is. In any case, the pleasure or otherwise of shopping always depends for me on who I’m shopping with. In other words, unless I’m on my own, it’s a pain in the arse.
The Independent reports that up to 13 Iraqis died when US soldiers fired on a group of people in Fallujah protesting about the the Americans’ occupation of a school, which they wanted reopened. The soldiers said some people had guns and they felt threatened. Well, to stop feeling threatened they could perhaps try leaving the country. Obviously some policing needs to be done by someone, but preferably by people who know what they’re doing. If the US is at all serious in its claim that the war is “over” and the people of Iraq have been “liberated”, it must put a stop to these Wild West-style shoot-outs. Amnesty International says: “the USA and the UK [must] deploy forces in sufficient numbers and with the right training and equipment to restore law and order, until Iraqi police forces can operate effectively.” Apart from the killing of those 13 people, the saddest part of this story is that the formerly mild-mannered headmaster of the school in question now says he is willing to become a martyr to avenge the Americans.
Elsewhere in the Independent, it is reported that David Blunkett says Labour could benefit from a supposed “Baghdad bounce” boost in support among its working-class voters at the local elections this week. The home secretary says criticism of the war is “a class issue”, implying that only the middle classes opposed it. When I went on the march through London on 15th February with two million other people, I didn’t notice much of a class divide, David, although I guess you probably weren’t there to see for yourself (no sick pun intended, but I don’t know how else to put it). Anyway, as ever it’s reassuring to see a Labour politician – the home secretary at that – exploiting the class divide to win cheap political points.
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Meanwhile, spamming (sending junk email that is, not slapping people on the forehead) has officially become a criminal offence in the US state of Virginia, according to this report from Internet Magazine. A BBC 10 O’Clock News item on this subject also found that up to half of the millions of emails people now receive worldwide every day are unsolicited adverts for various rubbish, and even more incredibly, something like 90% of all spam ultimately derives from just 180 people around the world. All of which reminds me, I must update Spamcat…
Internet Magazine reports that a group of archaeologists and art historians have established a website in an attempt to publicise Iraqi treasures looted in recent weeks so that they become too high-profile to sell.
This comes on the same day as paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso were “liberated” from a Manchester art gallery.
The paintings in question have been immediately valued at £1m… not so the Iraqi treasures.
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Even when you’re working from home and doing what you want to do you still have to put up with Mondays. A typical Monday today, grey and depressing, and not much done. At one point I was so bored I even Googled for myself. As usual I didn’t appear within about the first 342 pages of search results but I was intrigued to read the comments of one Richard Cooper who did, in this story about a wax museum in Las Vegas which has added a Saddam Hussein figure to its range of exhibits. This has, naturally, proved so controversial that visitors are flocking from all over to see it, denounce it and pose for photos with their hands around its throat. The Richard Cooper in question (a Vietnam vet and retired firefighter from Virginia) says about Saddam, “I believe in the Old Testament: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Hmm… one to add to Thoughtcat’s “Richard Coopers I’m Not” page (under construction). Also quoted is a relative of one of the people killed in the World Trade Centre attacks, who tragically proves what propaganda can do by saying she believes 9/11 was the work of Saddam. She comments that she’s “totally offended” by the statue, adding: “Killing him wouldn’t be enough.” Eh?
Several papers report today on an interview Tony Blair granted the UK’s war-friendliest rag, The Sun, in which Tone confides with characteristic disingenuousness that he considered resigning over his stance on Iraq and that he was “upset” when the UN didn’t pass the second resolution. It’s hard to imagine a more minty piece of humbug than this: if millions marching through central London (and just about everywhere else in the world) to protest against the war, and the vote of some 150 of his own MPs in opposition to the government’s action didn’t convince him to either quit his post or oppose military intervention himself, what, exactly, would have done?
The Guardian (which headlines its report, “Blair feared for premiership over war” – what, in the past tense?) also quotes Blair: “The most terrible thing for someone in my position is to end up losing your job for something you don’t really believe in.” Final proof, then, that the killing, “orphaning”, maiming and general destruction has always come second to our illustrious leader’s preservation of his own career.
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So, farewell, then, Sir Paul Getty. When I read the news, I couldn’t help but think of the great line from Leonard Cohen’s song Jazz Police: “Jazz Police are paid by J. Paul Getty / Jazzers paid by J. Paul Getty II…”
So the defendants of the Who Wants A Million Coughs trial have finally been found guilty. When it first opened, the case seemed to me a spurious PR stunt, especially when it was reported that a total of 192 coughs were heard throughout the show in question, of which only a dozen or so were supposed to have guided said military personnel to the correct answers. But as we know, mistakes are always made in wars, and now the case is closed, transcriptions of crucial bits of the show are emerging which help explain the jury’s decision, with the improbably-named “quiz anorak” Tecwen Whittock spluttering once for “yes” and twice for “no” at judicious junctures like some bizarre game-show séance. Sounds like they all deserve each other.
The Guardian reports that lone British oarsman Andrew Halsey was taken aboard a fishing boat near the Galapagos islands yesterday after a 4,117-mile journey, setting a world record for the smallest distance travelled in the most time at sea in a rowing boat. But the Ocean Rowing Society appears to have disowned Halsey – because he’s epileptic. Halsey’s odyssey was surely the more heroic for this fact, but Kenneth Crutchlow of the ORS is quoted: “It’s a heck of a long distance for an epileptic to row. The question now is why.” Well, presumably for the same reasons anybody would have considered undertaking the challenge. Would the ORS have asked this “question” if Halsey hadn’t had this disability? And was the oarsman really a danger to anybody but himself, at worst?
Meanwhile, in a review of Walking the Shadows by Donald James in the Guardian Review, Mark Lawson writes: “James’s central device… was memorably used in Reginald Hill’s masterful novel On Beulah Height (1998). It’s unlikely that James knew this but, for the reader who does, his story starts at a disadvantage… Already, in the opening chapter, there are three technical problems… The book’s main action happens in 1985 for no compelling fictional reason… With crime fiction increasingly the province of high stylists, James relies too often on basic emotions recounted in simple prose… Much of the dialogue sounds as if has been badly translated from French…” Before I read this review I had never heard of Donald James, although Lawson explains that he is known for at least three books and is a prominent historian of Russia. Now, although I have always had my doubts about criticism of all kinds, and have not been able to make up my own mind about the qualities or otherwise of this novel, this review did make me wonder how the book had been published at all given its apparently comprehensive roster of weaknesses. Reading it both uplifted and depressed me in about equal proportions: if books with such faults are getting published, even if more so on the basis of a back catalogue than on their own merits, it makes the challenge of actually getting published seem a lot less interesting; but by the same token, it makes me less anxious about the drawbacks of my own efforts… all of which is counterproductive.