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2005-01-28 15:57

Monday Review of Stuff

It is Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris!

It is a middle-sized, essentially middle-aged Italian sea-port, ethnically ambivalent, historically confused, only intermittently prosperous, tucked away at the top right-hand corner of the Adriatic Sea, and so lacking the customary characteristics of Italy that in 1999 some 70 percent of Italians, so a poll claimed to discover, did not know it was in Italy at all.

(All those hyphens! Marvellous, isn't it?)

Morris specialised in a kind of impressionistic and personal palimpsest of history and travel writing, more like WG Sebald than Bill Bryson. We were not very much taken with her Spain; we are very much taken with this.

A smallish city is a better subject for this treatment than a whole country, for one thing, and Trieste is a sort of somewhere that appeals to me - it has been a minor lietmotif in this 'bladet for a while, after all - and whose appeal to Morris also appeals to me.

And the tone is elegaic - it is Morris's last book, she announces in it - and the writing, although occasionally merely exquisite, is mostly very good:

The most appealing aspect of the Austro-Hungarian empire, at least in retrospect, was its European cosmopolitanism. It had few black, brown or yellow subjects, but it contained within itself half the peoples of Europe. It was multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-faith, bound together only, whether willingly or unwillingly, by the imperial disciple. It was closer to the European Community of the twenty-first century than to the British empire of the nineteenth, and possesses still, at least for romantics like me, a fragrant sense of might-have-been. Trieste was its true epitome.

The blurbage is all about the "Read it anyway, even if you never go there", which you certainly could with pleasure. But why would anyone not want to go there?


2005-01-28 12:06

Just don't debunk hot whiskey and lemon, 'kay?

Largely to annoy the Dowager Countess, we went looking for absences of evidence that vitamin C is of any use at all in combating the viral infections commonly known as "colds".


Does it make sense to supplement with vitamin C? If so, should it be done daily or only at the first sign of a cold or other infection? And what dosage should be used? The many studies done in the last 30 years clearly prove that daily vitamin C supplements, whether 100 mg or 5,000 mg, do not prevent colds and provide, but only for some people, only a slight reduction in duration and severity of colds. Dr. Thomas Chalmers concluded in 1975: "I, who have colds as often and as severe as those of any man, do not consider the very minor potential benefit that might result from taking vitamin C three tines a day for life worth either the effort or the risk, no matter how slight the latter might be." [5]

Remember when Danmark banned various Kelloggs flakinesses for having too many added vitamins? We give Danmark a deservedly hard time for lots of things, but we enjoyed that a lot, for sure.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has rejected applications for 18 new cereals and cereal bars made by Kelloggs because they contain levels of vitamins and minerals that could cause Danish consumers to exceed safe levels of the nutrients in their overall diet, it said.


2005-01-28 10:12

Qu ?

We have, on our desk, two (2) Spanish phrasebooks (and, admittedly, a selection of writings by Karl Marx); we have caused to be booked a long weekend in Spain (admittedly in Catalophone Catalunya) and we are feeling pretty Y viva! (admittedly, we also have a stinking head cold) and then we find this in our morning 'bladet Le Monde (which is, admittedly, an evening paper):

Un nouveau quotidien gratuit intitul Qu ! ("Quoi !" en franais) a t lanc lundi 17 janvier sur le march espagnol. Avec 1 million d'exemplaires distribus dans douze villes ou rgions espagnoles Qu ! est devenu ds son lancement, "le leader en diffusion tant de la presse gratuite que de la presse payante" en Espagne.

A new free dailybladet called Qu ! ("What!" in English) was launched on I ("Monday") 17 January on the Spanish market. With a million expemplifications distributed in twelve (12) spanish regions, Que ! has become since its launch "the the most widely distributed of the press, free or otherwise".

(We admit to vigorously abridging the Frenchy-French; we admit nothing about the Englishing.)

A 'bladet with an exclamation mark in its very title! How very typico! We wished at once to browse or peruse its Web site, full, we assume, of the dignified and sober restraint that the Spanish free junk press no doubt exemplifies! (Le Monde says there's a web site; being Le Monde, it doesn't say where.)

We cannot, however, find it, so we're reading 20 Minutos instead.


2005-01-27 16:02

Allez les Blues!

It is the Something Cup! And Челси take on the former lite foopball club Manchester United! And, needless by now to say or remark, win!

Mais Duff montrait la varit des talents des "Blues", d'un magistral coup franc rentrant tir depuis le bord de la ligne de touche. La dfense mancunienne tait lobe et Howard restait sans raction (87).

At the end of the day it's about putting the ball in the back of the net, and the lad Duff done well there. I don't know what Howard was thinking though - he never even moved.

And then Blupremo "Yes way!" Jos Mourinho met up with his counterpart Sir Alec "Wha' he say?" Ferguson! And won!

PS! Selv om tapet smakte elendig, koste nok Ferguson seg med rdvinen han fikk etter kampen. Jos Mourinho var flau over det skvipet han serverte Ferguson etter det frst mtet i ligacupsemifinalen. I gr hadde han med 1964-rgangen av Barca Velha, som gr for vre Portugals mest eksklusive vin. Flasken koster 2800 kroner i England.

Nay, sir, prithee tarry a while! Though the dregs of defeat be bitter indeed, console thyself, Sir Alec, with the ruby-ripened fruit of sun-kissed vine! When last our heros met for this fateful fixture's initial installment, the din and clamour of battle still ringing in their ears, was not Mourinho flau to taste the skvipet he was then served? And did he not yesterday bring instead a flask of Barca Velha's finest '64 - the dearest wine all Portugal can boast, and a snip at ooh wassat then, dunno, 'bout 200 quid I should think.

(We've caught a cold, sorry.)


2005-01-27 12:17

A Remark and another Remark, making a Total of Two (2)

1. Notes.

The University of Openness requires me to submit "notes" as part of my first assignment ("Assignment 7" [sic]).

I'm a bit freaked-out about the whole submitting notes for marking thing, I'll admit. Notes (like underwear) are not something I am in the habit of exhibiting for stranger's approval. The "notes" I'm going to submit are certainly not going to be representative of my normal customs or practice, that's for sure. To say nothing, which is plenty, about my underwear.

2. Linux Advocates and Libertoonians; things that they have in common, also to the number of Two (2).

They are absurdly over-represented on the Interweb, and their solution to any problem whatsoever is simply to recommend not having it.


2005-01-27 09:53

Constitute me harder!


The question to be asked in the referendum on the EU Constitution has been unveiled by the government.

It will be: "Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?"

We would perhaps 've preferred:

Is it really worth paying the price of political isolation and economic decline just to pamper your absurd xenophobia, Silly Briteesh?

I wouldn't put it past them to say "Yes!" to that, either, mind you. I tell you what, though: if they screw this one up then Project E is for Emigrate gets dusted off and fast-tracked, for sure. (Relax, Danmark, the Count von Bladet is one Foreigner with no designs on your gravy.)


2005-01-26 15:22


We're struggling with their unusually wretched website, but ESCToday does bring us some fine, fine informations in a langwidge we wilfully persist in mistaking for the silly Engleesh:

With only nine million inhabitants, the final of Melodifestivalen 2004 was the most watched television programme in Sweden in 2004. This meant that 4,100,000 people saw Lena Phillipsson win the contest.

The final of the Eurovision Song Contest attracted 3,500,000 television viewers, ranking it the 5th most watched show in Sweden.

The next final is on 2005-03-12 (VI), and we will not be among the half of Sweden's population watching it, not least because we are not part of Sweden's population in the first place.

ESCSweden has a fine calendar of forthcomingnesses on its front page, which is nice, but no one has yet volunteered em-pee-threes in our direction. We could be persuaded to pay, if anyone is willing to sell..?


2005-01-26 13:39

Hyphenate me harder!

Where did all the hyphens go? The Open University - that university of openness - has apparently largely forsaken them. But I haven't, to the extent that I'm planning to answer an essay question different from that they have set in precisely the addition of a much-needed hyphen. And then this morning we blogged the following noun-phrase from the Beeb:

One of Poland's best known newspaper editors

Of all the known newspaper editors in Polandland, it says in foreground on background (n "black and white"), he is one of the best. There might well be better ones, the BBC finds itself conceding, but if so they work anonymously or are otherwise unknown.

You, Varied Reader, know as well as we, the Count von Bladet, do that they meant or intended no such something but rather:

One of Poland's best-known newspaper editors

See? Now he is a newspaper editor of Poland, and very well known to be such.

Did the late R Larry Trask write The Penguin Guide to Punctuation in vain? We, for one, would hate to think so!


2005-01-26 10:15


1. Pope-crazy Polandlanders Prosecute Impertinence

They don't have free speech in Heaven, so why would you want it here on earth?

One of Poland's best known newspaper editors has been fined $6,500 (3,457) for ridiculing Pope John Paul II.

We, for one, were decrying the largely baleful influence of the Catholic Church in Yoorp long before it became fashionable to hold that religion is bad if it is (a) Islam and (b) involves brown-skinned persons, and we have certainly neglected to get with the programme.

(Ireland was for a long time the only EU country we never wanted to visit and is now the only one we never want to visit again, and this is not a coincidence.)

The BBC's Adam Easton in Warsaw says the Pope's standing among Poles is so high that almost any public criticism of the Pope is taboo.

We wouldn't say never, but Polandland can cross itself off our foreseeable travel plans, for sure.

2. It isn't expensive being a prinsess!

It is permatanned hypertrendy partyprinsess Madeleine of Sweden!

And having found Troo Love and largely given up partying, she has now further forsaken, we are informed, the boutiques:

Madeleine har trttnat p att kallas fr lyxprinsessan. Nu dumpar hon de exklusiva modebutikerna och handlar p H&M och Ikea.

Madeleine has tired of being called a luxuryprinsess. Now she's dumped expensive fashionboutiques and shopps at H&M and Ikea.

She's not looking her beigest, either. Sigh Where, we ask or enquire, is the dramatic potential in a Good Prinsess/Good Prinsess double act between Madde and her very kronprinsessly Big Sis?

3. No redeeming features!

It's the Administration of the FDRUSA!

The future of the Hubble Space Telescope is in doubt after the White House refused money for a rescue plan, US media has reported.

US space agency Nasa will announce the decision in February, ending plans to send a human or a robot repairman, the Washington Post reported.

We, for one, enthusiastically endorse the Administration's war on science: the sooner the FDRUSA detechnologises itself down to third-world levels, the safer the rest of us can sleep at nights.

Creationisme in schools! No visas for techies! No to stem-cell research!


2005-01-25 15:08

For shame, Danmark! with special guest Birgitte Bradot!

Grnland lter turister jaga isbjrn och behlla plsen som souvenir - vad den franska djurrttsaktivisten Brigitte Bardot n tycker.

Grnland allows turists to hunt polar bears and keep the skin as a souvenir - whether Frenchy-French animalrightsactiviste Birgitte Bradot like it or not.

She mostly likes it not, you'll boggle to hear, and has written to the Queen of Danmark to that effect.

Birgitte Bradot, you're surely thinking, where have I heard that name before?

The star of Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mpris and Roger Vadim's Et Dieu Cra la Femme also denounces "the Islamisation of French society", benefits for "polygamous families" and the Muslim festival of Eid in the book.

No prize for guessing which French politician Ms Bardot most admires: Jean-Marie le Pen, the leader of the far right National Front. To BB, he is "faithful to his ideas through thick and thin".

(You might think she'd get along very well in Danmark, but sadly she was also rude about persons of sexuality.)

Bargain-hunting readers are advised that such Grndlandic icebearhuntnings are less than a tenth of the price of Cananananadian ones, although huntresses are allowed to wear Islamic headgear in the latter case.

And if anyone tells you that icebear liver is a Local Delicacy, you should certainly neglect to thank them:

For centuries, Arctic adventurers, Eskimos and even sled dogs have known that eating polar bear liver can make them sick.

The reason? It's loaded with enough vitamin A to poison a full-grown adult. A single meal consisting of a half-pound to one pound of polar bear liver contains a whopping 3 million to 13 million international units of vitamin A, which is 6 to 26 times the amount needed to cause acute vitamin A poisoning.

(Bonus pronunciation guide...)


2005-01-25 tea! (zulu)

John Sutherland's writerly way with evidence

It is John Sutherland, chair of this year's Man Booker Prize panel of judges, and on the following showing card-carrying stupid!

It used to be that patrons (never "customers") went into a bookshop, browsed for hours on end and bought one book or perhaps no book at all. Now booksellers want you to "load your cart" with three for two, or an armful of "50% off" items. It's the Tescoisation of the British book business. Nowadays you would no more think of going into a bookstore and old-fashionedly browsing than taking a tin-opener into the local supermarket and sampling the baked beans.

The social sciences have an unenviable reputation for rigour in much of Anglophonia, but in the zeroth part of my beginner's course in the discipline I have already been alerted to the requirement that claims be backed up with some sort of evidence.

Try reading the culture and commentary pages of your 'bladet(s) of choice while holding the literati and philosophes (I'm thinking of you, Roger "Scroot-Scroot" Scruton) to this standard, and then come back and tell me how sloppy the sociologistes are...

Meanwhile, of the three (3) substantial bookshops within convenient walking distance of my office, no fewer than two (2) provide caf facilities to enhance the browsing experience for their patrons or customers. Borders, being one of these, scatters an assortment of chairs and sofas throughout their shop to - I admit to conjecturing - further encourage such browsenings. I often see - I visit often to browse, and often leave empty-handed - persons sitting reading (an extreme form of browsing) whole magazines or graphic novels conspicuously unharrassed by staff.

To add to the hilarity, here is his bold prognostication of future trends:

After the cyberglobal dust settles it won't be Amazon or any other of the webstores which comes out on top. Despite its web address, Jeff Bezos's outfit functions as an old-fashioned middleman. They add a surcharge of up to 40% for "handling" the product. Web-based publishers can do that themselves, direct-delivering from their warehouse.

Did you ever visit Foyle's back when they filed everything by publisher? I did; it was wretched. There may well be persons who saunter into bookshops thinking "Make mine Cambridge University Press; who cares what it's about!" and find the current systems very tiresome, and for all I know Sutherland and his entire acquaintanceship may be among them, but for the rest of us the point of middlemen is very clear.

We observe two (2) further implicit claims: that publishers will be able to - as they so far very conspicuously haven't - produce e-shopping sites that are more rewarding than chewing off your own feet; and that they will be able to undercut the margins of the best retail service in the game by exploiting the expertise they manifestly do not have in the logistics of serving tiny orders to their end customers. (Most publishers don't even handle distribution to book shops, preferring to leave this to - you'll never guess - distributors.)

The claim most urgently in need of evidence to our mind, however, is that implicitly made by the Grauniad that this drivel was worth publishing.



2005-01-25 09:15

The 'Bladet for Beginners I: snkaos

Since we're up for being awarded an award and everything, it occurs to us that the new traffic we're getting may be at something of a disadvantage with respect to the many in-jokes of which this 'bladet is largely comprised. So we'll explain, as best we can, and then even the newbies can vote for us, which is the important thing, with a clean conscience.

Snkaos, then, is that form of kaos or disruption caused or precipitated by sney precipitations. It is, to us, one of the deepest and most lasting forms of joy that there is to see that Blighty, where we live, is not alone in its capacity for snkaossuccumbnings.

Imagine, then, our delight to discover that even the rugged steppes and highlands of the Alps - long thought to be immune - have finally yielded:

Thousands of holidaymakers have had plans thrown into chaos and forecasters say there is more snow to come.

While the BBC is being all about the mayhem and destruction, the Frenchy-French 'bladets aren't really bothered (presumably because the sn is mere provincial sn and thus of no great consequence):

Neige dans plusieurs rgions, la circulation perturbe

Sn in several regions that aren't Paris; traffic somewhat disrupted, how very dreary

To Germany, then, where the local patois renders snkaos as schneechaos, but the schneechaos (snkaos) that's on the national mind is that of the Free and Democratic Republic of the United States of America (FDRUSA): Schneechaos in den USA, remarks the Berliner Morgenpost:

Meteorologen rechneten am Sonntag mit einer Verschlimmerung des Wetterchaos und rieten den Menschen, zu Hause zu bleiben.

Meteorlogistes reckoned on Sunday with a Verschlimmerung of weatherkaos and advised people to stay indoors.

(We, for one, wouldn't need telling twice if there were a Verschlimmerung of weatherkaos on the prowl!)

Climate change ("alleged climate change"), eh?


2005-01-24 17:33

Award Awardnings

We have long, but so far vainly, hoped to be awarded an award, and now a frankly London-omnibusly three possibilities materialise at once and also at the same time!

Chez or hos A Fistful of Euros we are nominated for:

  • Best Writing;
  • Most Humorous Weblog; and
  • Weblog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition

Best Writing is surely Francis's; and Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry is certainly funnier than us.

But deep in our heart we do nurture or cherish a hope that we could be formally awarded an award demonstrating that we are officially widely-recognised as being insufficiently widely-recognised of all the blogs in Yoorp.


2005-01-24 14:12

Langwidge in Barcelona

My theory, which is mine, is that the legendary Spanish gift for langwidges extends into Catalunya and that it would therefore be by no means difficult to acquire enough Catal for one's Catal to be the most productive vehicle of communication and a very real means of tourist-experience-uppgradenings.

But this is just raw prejudice; can anyone add some empirical data to the mix? (My existing data concerns Madrid, where I am already confident my barely-even-negligible Castillian would be more than handy.)


2005-01-24 12:00


1. For shame, Danmark!

Denmark's Supreme Court has ruled that a supermarket chain had the right to fire a young Muslim woman for wearing an Islamic headscarf to work.

2. Ouch!

It is Henry von Timber on Francis Wheen's masterpiece of trite self-congratulation, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World:

It's a rambling, shallow book which aspires to, and occasionally even attains, the intellectual level of a middling Sunday-supplement broadside.

3. Ouch II!

It isP Z Myers on Steven "Ping Pong" Pinker's defence of the President of Harvard's offensively witless ramblings about wimmins in science:

[Pinker:] Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is "offensive" even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don't get the concept of a university or free inquiry.

[Myers:] I don't think he's a very credible source, because he has a conflict of interest. If people started walking out on presentations of fact-free, unsupported hypotheses, Pinker wouldn't have a career.


2005-01-24 10:04

Disoriented, at least, in translations

It is Nicole Krauss, a writer living in New York! And she is going on about a bloke (one William H Gass) going on about the many Englishings of Rainer Maria ("Maria? Yes! Maria!") Rilke's Duino Elegies.

With more than twenty English translations of the Duino Elegies already in existence, any new translation had better make a good case for its necessity. For many years, the best was J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender's effort of 1939, the First and Ninth improved upon by Leishman again when he polished them for Rilke: Selected Poems in 1960. Some of its flaws (it is sometimes heavy-handed) have been improved upon by those that followed, though usually at the price of other losses.

Leishman and Spender, already recommended by MMcM, it is then.

[Link via MM. We start to wonder if we really have enough Ms in our name to have opinions about Rilke, although we remark that our middle name is of course - and always was - Matthew.]


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