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april 30, 2004

Who Guards the Guards?

Mary Mary, chief warden of an infamous maximum-security prison nicknamed The Garden, has been accused of brutally torturing the prisoners under her supervision, the so-called "Pretty Maids."
Said one distressed neighbor who had been peeking over the electrified garden fence, "the Pretty Maids were forced to stand all in a row for hours and hours on end. It really was quite contrary behavior on Mary Mary's part."
A former Garden guard who asked not to be named said: "We used to ring these silver bells really loudly at night so the Pretty Maids couldn't get any sleep. Then, at prescribed intervals, we would pull the Pretty Maids out of their beds and pelt them with sharpened cockle shells."
"I wasn't being quite contrary" the former guard added. "I was just following orders."
Meanwhile, radical horticultural societies across the country have demanded an explanation for Mary Mary's quite contrary actions. "Mary Mary is solely responsible for this inhuman treatment of the Pretty Maids." said one. "She should hand over control of The Garden immediately to someone who can grow it properly."
stephenb 18:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
Sex and Death

As I noted in an earlier post, the grim-faced Hangman is famous for his apparently beautiful daughter. And, at least according to ancient legend, the hooded Axe-man still lives with his supposedly shrewish mother. Meanwhile, one would not wish to speculate on the genre of female who is prepared to consort with the sort of man who burns other females at the stake for witchcraft. But the kind of woman associated with the man who designs the fiendishly slow, intricately painful and Byzantine mechanisms by which James Bond is regularly sentenced to meet his death, this woman, I am absolutely certain, is a thirty-something, sandy-haired Bostonian named Penny.
I have very good reasons for believing this to be true.

stephenb 14:04 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Variety of People Means A Vaudeville of Reactions

Forget your local Ethnic Fayre of Multicultural Crafts and Foods Expo - "vendors will be arranged by left-wingedness of country of origin on the baseball field come rain or shine" - only responses to random thoughts you have posted on your weblog can really lay bare the naked truth of human variety in all its infinite sameness.
For instance, who knew that everyone and his brother would have an interest in my annoying curly shirt collars. Even the insurgents in Fallujah have been mailing in ideas to prevent further sartorial curvature. The heavy mailbag, I am sure, is thanks to Mr Stefan Beck at Armavirumque who seems to think my collar misery is a subject for merrymaking. And so it is ... so please no more "Spray Starch Solutions". I am actually taking the advice of another Mr Beck, and investing in brass collar stays from Brooks Brothers this very weekend.
Meanwhile, it seems that my "Interview With A Hangman" was admired by a few devotees of this site, a small coterie of kind souls who unwisely forwarded it to their non-Stephenhead reading friends, only to be met with total incomprehension. And in one case - anger. Oh well.
But nobody, not one person, seems to have understood the Inspector Morse spoof. "What was that about?" Does nobody watch PBS? Perhaps it wasn't funny. Probably not.
Anyway, that's enough talking blog shop. There was something else I was going to write about this morning but now I've forgotten what it was.
stephenb 09:54 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 29, 2004
Teenage Girl Fashion

Quite a few posts on other sites recently about the depressing Spring sight of fat girls squeezing themselves into clothes designed for stick figures. In other words, there is a lot of half-naked blubber waddling down the road - not so much "easin' on down the road" as wheezin' on the down the road, shoe-horned into their miniscule glad-rags. (but at this juncture may I add that the appalling vision of exposed feet belonging to men wearing sandals is a sight far, far more disgusting to the eye)
Anyway. Interesting material on this profound subject can be found at the charming Outer Life, and also at the architecturally tedious 2 Blowhards, where the authors of these fine sites ponder the reason for this aesthetic farce: why do the fat girls let it all hang out? Do they think they look good?
Frankly, I reckon it's because the bloody stores don't stock anything else that the modern-minded plump girl can possibly buy. If you don't want to appear a total bluestocking - and what teenage girl does? - then there is absolutely nothing "fashionable" available out there for the plus-sizes to wear. It's a designer slut's world at the moment. The immodest tarts rule the roost. I am sure Theodore Dalrymple must have something to say about this .. poor diet, disastrous culture, etc.
stephenb 17:25 - [Link] - Comments ()
Stop Press

I always wondered why the bearded weirdo Rasputin was so popular with the ladies, even if they were Russian ladies, the world's most sought after mail-order brides. Fortunately, the chief of the prostate research center at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences can finally put my mind at rest. Apparently, the size of your legend is not the only thing that counts.
Read (and view, delicate flowers be warned) all about it at
My favorite quote from the article: "Having this exhibit, we can stop envying America, where Napoleon Bonaparte's penis is now kept. Napoleon's penis is but a small 'pod', it cannot stand comparison to our organ of 30 centimeters ..."

stephenb 15:06 - [Link] - Comments ()
The New Phraseology: Too Many Pundits Spoil The Truth

God I hate political punditry, or indeed, punditry of any other kind. Surely it must be the direst form of communication created by man: opinion, opinion, opinion: wrong, wrong, wrong. Pundits are the very same genre of person as the extremely tedious loudmouth at a party who will not stop talking about himself: drone, drone, drone: bore, bore, bore.
Oh well. I suppose the Devil will find guesswork for idle journalists to do.
Meanwhile... This just in from guest pundit, Teedjus O'Pinion:

How long has the US been in Iraq? And still no Baghdad edition of Monopoly? You could have cards like "Go directly to jail. Do pass go. Do not receive 200 stolen Coalition dollars." And I imagine there will be a lot of Hotel building going on after they have bombed all the foreign pundits who are actually over there and really do know what's going on. Unlike me. "You have landed on an ex-residence of Saddam on which I have built three hotels so you owe me eight million dollars."
What about the electric company? Who owns that?

Continues on and on and on until he falls over or someone punches him in the face.
stephenb 13:07 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 28, 2004
In Deep Shirt

I generally buy my shirts from Brooks Brothers, off the peg, since my shoulders hold them well, the top button never tries to throttle me, and they are sold in a reasonably wide rainbow of attractive colors.
One of these shirts, however, a lightweight periwinkle blue, has a big problem with its collar: the tips curl up like Ali Baba's shoes ... no matter what I try to do about it.
This shirt can - and will - bend and crumple collar-stays like a circus strongman bends an iron bar. I have employed a laundress with the musclebound forearms of a Hercules to steam iron the collar .. but the shirt just laughs and brushes the steam iron away as if the mass of heated metal were merely an annoying fly.
No luck. Ali Baba's shoes go marching on around my neck.
It is particularly annoying because if were not for the collar, the shirt would undoubtedly be a favorite of mine .. and a favorite shirt is one of life's great treasures.
stephenb 13:02 - [Link] - Comments ()
PBS Mystery's Inspector Morse - the Lost Episode

Enter Inspector Morse looking world-weary, Sergeant Lewis looking confused, and Superintendent Strange looking worried.

Morse: Lewis, for God's sake, the beer in here tastes like piss.

Lewis: Boot we'ure in youar kitchun, sur.

Morse: I don't care if we're in the Taj Mahal, Lewis, pour it down the drain ... now!

Lewis: (long suffering) Yes sur.

Strange: I don't know, matey, I wouldn't like to be in your shoes when...

Morse: (as if to a child) ...I didn't tell Lewis to pour it in my shoes, sir, I told him to pour it down the bloody drain!

Strange: Well, Morse, it's your hangover.

Morse: But it isn't my hangover, sir, that's the whole damn, bloody, sodding point .. sir! The beer is going down the bloody drain.

Strange: Whatever you say, matey. You know your own business, I suppose, Morse. Still. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Lewis: Sur! Sur! There's a teaybag in here. Do yur wont me to send it doon to forensics for hexaminayshun.

Morse: What? ... Oh just get on with it, Lewis.

Lewis: Yes sur. Boot the unwashed teay straynur, sur, it's hardly a mootive fore mourder, is it surh.

Morse: Shut up, Lewis. Oh, and Lewis: crack open another six pack of that Theakston O'Gooley Ale will you. For some reason I'm feeling rather thirsty

Lewis: (about to cry) Yes sur.

The End. Roll credits (if any).
stephenb 09:26 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 27, 2004
A Sweet and Sour Sigh

So beautiful was the waitress at my local Chinese restaurant this lunchtime. A mysterious flower of the Orient, as fresh as spring snow, as elegant as a single, expert stroke of Chinese calligraphy, she glided through the room like a watercolor painted on air: the Hua Dan of the Beijing Opera holding a menu. So beautiful was she that - to paraphrase Raymond Chandler - she had the kind of body that could make a celibate Shaolin monk shatter a priceless porcelain statue of Buddha against his monastery wall if he saw her drifting by.
I felt rather foolish ordering the noodle special; it was a bit of an anticlimax.

stephenb 14:42 - [Link] - Comments ()
Random Games In the Hardware Store

His bones may have been bankrupt, but the old man's eyes were still solvent, especially when I mentioned how much Decocarbon I wanted shipped.
"Six thousand tons." I told him. "Sealed freight. Tanker rates."
He whistled through his teeth, but they were so rotten and ruined it sounded like someone playing the bagpipes. The smell of damp tobacco hung about him, and when he moved - which wasn't often in his condition - a faint whiff of vaporous urine too.
"That's a lot of Decocarbon." he said finally, shifting uncomfortably in his rickety wooden chair. "A man could inflate an entire eco-orb with that much Decocarbon."
I sucked in my cheeks, trying hard not to laugh. "But he would need a replacement nozzle for his garden hose too." I said.
The old man grinned, rising to his feet: "Yes. I am sure he would. But he might have to come back next week or so, because I'm not sure I have got any in at the moment."
"Alright. Well, I just need a copy of this key, then, for now George."
He took the key from me and began to look for another from the selection on the wall.
"This the key to your eco-orb, is it?" he asked over his shoulder, and I wondered if we'd ever be able to hold a normal conversation ever again.

stephenb 12:51 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 26, 2004
The Internet Identity Conspiracy

As any weirdo with a fake name who wears camouflage pajamas and enjoys inventing secret passwords knows, one of the best aspects of the internet is the anonymity it provides for weirdos with fake names who wear camouflage pajamas and enjoy inventing secret passwords.
For instance, I only claim to be a balding American male called Stephen who is rapidly approaching his forties ... but I could be the wife of the former President of the African Republic of Ripoffowayoland, where all my husband's millions of dollars have been impounded while he is in prison after a violent coup, but if you send your credit card information to the following address we can all make loads of money...
Or, alternatively, I could be a small Yorkshire Terrier called Agnew who has been trained by the FBI to walk up and down a computer keyboard until his pawsteps produce a (somewhat) witty and engaging sentence.
Or I could be Grh'gd, a Groggeng'rank Scribe from the Outer Reaches of the Hg'grorang'd Solar System, just pretending to be human for kicks.. in much the same way that sweaty, polyester-clad, middle aged fools pretended to be chickens in 'eighties discotheques.
Or I could just be plain old average le Comte de Saint-Germain.
The only reason I write of these absurd alternative personalities is because someone wrote to me recently wanting to know what I was "like". Well, I am kind of like this, I suppose.
stephenb 18:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
World of Blog

I received a very polite missive from the Hatemonger's Quarterly inviting me to peruse their amusing weblog. On first reading, the HMQ - not to be confused with Her Majesty the Queen - seems to be a conservative humor site run by intelligent youngsters who call themselves, "The Crack Young Staff of THMQ", and very funny it is too. So good luck to them.
I have put a permanent link to the HMQ on the side of this page with all the other sites I read. Some of those sites are rather odd, in an "odd odd" rather than "funny odd" kind of way. And some of them are the same links everyone has. What is the point anymore, one wonders, of having a link to James Lileks: surely everybody has visited the Lileks site by now, and surely everyone knows where it is, so why bother linking to it? Ah well. Such is the world of blog.
stephenb 17:57 - [Link] - Comments ()
Truth Revealed By Acronym

I could never profess to being particularly religious because I must admit to being baptized an A.N.G.L.I.C.A.N - which as you may know stands for: Alliance of Nerds, Gays, Lesbians, Insipid Christians, Atheists and Non-believers. We worship a bottle of prize Sherry kept in a locked drinks cabinet in darkest Canterbury.
Frankly, my only hope of salvation seems to spring from eternal faith in the old saying, "God looks after fools and drunks."
And speaking as a fool, may I say hallelujah and amen to that. Now pass the sherry.
Meanwhile, if you are more seriously concerned with theology, then the name David Bentley Hart has probably passed before your eyes more than once. If not, Hart - who happens to write in a manner enabling us to liken his style to that of an Eastern Orthodox Theodore Dalrymple - has articles that can be meditated upon in recent editions of magazines such as the New Criterion and First Things
He is also the author of a very interesting book called The Beauty of the Infinite, which unfortunately costs somewhere in the region of $45. However, by searching around you can find a copy at a much cheaper price, which, I suppose, is the beauty of the infinite online bookstore search engine.
Meanwhile, why not read his essay on Evelyn Waugh's travel essays in the latest edition of the aforementioned First Things... which you will also have to buy, but it only costs $4.50 at your local magazine stand.
stephenb 09:26 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 23, 2004
An Extract From My "In Conversation" Series

The Stephenhead in Conversation ...with Public Hangman, Will Snuffit

Stephenhead: Will, you have recently foregone The Axe and now you work solely with a rope. There must have been a large number of occupational hazards that came with wielding the dreadful axe. I am thinking primarily of the mess.

Snuffit: Yes, indeed. There is a great deal of blood that gets splattered everywhere when a head is severed from a neck ... and most of it ended up on my trousers which upset my wife because she does all my laundry - especially my trousers because I only have one pair. Executioning is not a well paid job.

Stephenhead: So I would think that your wife much prefers to hear that you are performing a hanging rather than a be-heading when you go off to work in the morning these days.

Snuffit: Not really. For you see, with a hanging, the condemned will generally evacuate their bowels quite forcefully which can be equally as messy if you happen to be standing nearby ... as I usually am in my capacity as the man who pulls the lever. That is another reason why the rope is a surprisingly less cleaner method of dispatch than the block in my opinion.

Stephenhead: Naturally. Although I understand that many scaffolds are now fitted with a trapdoor mechanism to avoid exactly that sort of mess.

Snuffit: Mine isn't. Unfortunately we are still in the process of moving from simple block technology to the more complex rope system

Stephenhead: How very unfortunate for you. But nevertheless you do still get to wear that marvellously chic black hood which must be a considerable consolation for you.

Snuffit: Not really because my head gets all sweaty and sometimes the eye-holes that are cut into ithe hood become mis-aligned with my eyes and I can't see properly so I have to keep trying to nudge the hood back into position with my nose.

Stephenhead: Of course. How distressing for you. But anyway. Now. What's all this I hear about your beautiful daughter?

Snuffit: Who?

Stephenhead: The hangman's famous beautiful daughter! Surely you must have one. Perhaps if she is around we could take a few pictures to illustrate the interview. Just a few simples poses .. nothing too elaborate ... some with clothes, some without...
stephenb 16:37 - [Link] - Comments ()
What Do You Really Mean By That Remark?

In conversation, an acquaintance of mine recently described a family gathering of his as "Strindbergian".
I think I know what he meant by this term, and I think he meant "Ibsen-esque" - at least I hope he did since the only works of Strindberg familiar to me are Inferno and Occult Diary, and if his family gatherings are like that then he and they have major problems: "Look out everyone, Aunt Agatha has brought her magnets of death again and is going to electrocute us all!"
Mind you, attempts to convey atmosphere by likening a situation to a specific literary stylization and convention are never very successful in my opinion.
For instance, scenarios labelled as "kafka-esque" rarely, if ever, have any actual similarity to Kafka's writings. Persons using this phrase, or so it seems to me, are usually referring to an ambience probably more accurately regarded as somewhat akin to that created by German Expressionist Cinema (the Machiavellian bloggist wrote with a typical Wagnerian flourish to his Take-A-Letter-Miss-Jones-ian typing).

stephenb 12:21 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 22, 2004
The Former Mesopotamia

If we over-simplify the situation - always the best approach to understanding, in my opinion - then the problem, of course, with bringing democracy and civilisation to Iraq is that that they do not know what it is or how it works.
Giving democracy to the people of Iraq at the moment is like presenting Bronze Age Man with a personal computer: he will circle it warily; he will be afraid of the strange noises it makes; he will hit it with his club; he will try and eat the buttons on the keypad; he will shout angrily at it, and eventually he will walk away, leaving the PC to corrode and decay in the desert winds.
As for civilisation - "Come back Sir Kenneth Clark, all is forgiven" - it would seem to me that the Iraqis have been too brutalised by their former leaders to behave properly, in that respect they are rather like a mob version of those wayward and destructive children of abusive parents who have deep psychological problems they need to work out before they can rejoin society.
This is a great shame because the former Mesopotamia possesses - or at least did possess - an ancient and fascinating cultural heritage that it could and should be proud of. I get so depressed when I wake up every morning and listen to yet more horrible news items emanating from this once vital and beautiful country.
So what should we do?
If it were me in charge, well, I'd be dusting off the "history" books, and I'd be unrolling the parchment scrolls of ancient Persian family pedigrees hidden in old pots that my archeologists have conveniently found in secret caves deep in the desert; and then I'd be locating the bribable scribes and we'd be inventing a little faux Mesopotamian Royal Lineage for some Iraqi Chieftan stooge with a huge bodyguard to protect him.
And then I leave for a decade or two and just let them get on with it.
That's what I would be doing if I were in charge.
stephenb 09:23 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 21, 2004
Yawn of the Muses

In the spirit of X being "the new black" and so on, might I suggest that Architecture is the new Independent Film, since I overhear tedious folk pontificating on the subject - as though they know what they are talking about - all the time of late. Alas, architecture's ubiquitousness is not limited to conversation, if only it were.
Architecture is the only art form that you cannot avoid. You do not have to look at paintings and films, listen to music or watch dance unless you happen to be in an arena where they are on display, but every time you walk down a city street modern architecture is right there in front of you, getting in your face. Of course, this can be a wonderful experience should you happen to be strolling along a Georgian Terrace or crossing a Regency-style public square. But unfortunately it is more likely that you will be trying not to get yourself trapped in the revolving doors of some hideous glass monstrosity that looks like a huge roll of toilet paper made out of irregular windows.
Wait a minute .... how about: "Architectural Digest - it's the new toilet paper!"
If only everyone thought so...
stephenb 13:23 - [Link] - Comments ()
Angry Man

A very tense, thin-lipped looking middle-aged man on the train this morning, shiny black hair lacquered to the top of his skull like an oil slick washed up on a particularly featureless beach, Throughout his journey, he glared fixedly ahead without blinking, as if he were daring the world in front of him to rise up and sneak away from beneath his accusatory gaze, his fists clenched so that he could beat it down again should the world try; it was possible to believe I could hear the sound of his knuckles being honed to a sharp and frightening point as he continuously ground them together, especially since his "love" and "hate" mottoes had been tattooed upon there. His remaining skin - that which was not covered with tribal designs in permanent ink - was yellowed and nearly transparent from years of aggressive smoking, and stretched so tightly over the rest of his bony, angular skeleton. Here was a vortex of violent anger waiting to explode, unpleasant to witness so early in the day. Fortunately he was a loner and not part of some braying, bloodthirsty mob .. not yet, anyway.
stephenb 10:48 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 20, 2004
The Little Petrie Dish Around the Corner

Drawn forth from my apartment like a zombie commanded to leave his tomb by the beating of voodoo drums, I helplessly embarked upon another disturbing excursion to my local grocery store, that grocery store, the grocery store I call the Museum of Food.
Why me?
For God's sake, I only wanted to buy a packet of biscuits!
What possible harm could there be in that?
Hmmm, let me see now:
The biscuits I bought - Carr's Biscuits for Tea - well, the box looked okay to me. It was in reasonable condition. Nothing had dripped upon the box and left a disagreeable stain. There weren't any ... dents .. in the box. It wasn't ripped or dirty.
However, when I opened the box .. it must have been like what happens when a careless archeologist allows modern air to seep into some ancient sealed chamber and all the artifacts suddenly crumble into dust. There was not one single whole biscuit in the package. They had all been somehow broken and reduced to millions of tiny crumbs. Fine, it I wanted to make a pie crust. But I had been looking forward to eating the bloody things.
after all this time, you would think I should have known better than to do my grocery shopping at the Museum of Food if I actually wanted to eat any of it.
Below is an earlier post I made on the subject of this remarkable Boston institution:

The Museum of Food Revisited

When in Boston you absolutely must visit the Museum Of Food on fashionable Newbury Street. The naive tourist can easily confuse the building with a regular grocery store because they look so similar, but fortunately, the stench of decomposition should guide you to the right door - "just follow the flies on the fungus trail." as the locals say. Besides rotten meats and vegetables, the museum possesses the world's largest collection of milks from bygone eras, all authentically curdled and encased in leaky cartons that have made a mess of the antique refrigeration unit. Other popular sights include a fine selection of stale breads featuring different gaily-colored molds, rusted cans of soup with the labels missing, and a vintage box of smashed up and unidentifiable crackers from the turn of the century. My personal favorite is the greenish-looking chocolate that has melted out of the package and oozed all over the dusty shelving, and apples so bruised they appear to have been beaten up by a gang of bitter and vicious melons.
Don't complain if the cases in the Deli wing of the museum are occasionally empty, this is due to the chicken and beef exhibits being temporarily removed for repair and restoration work.
The most interesting fact about the Museum Of Food is that their entire collection is apparently available for purchase. It might seem that this adventurous policy would eventually deplete the Museum's stock, but luckily most customers who buy an exhibit usually return it within a few days so others can view it later.
stephenb 14:14 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Greeks Had A Name For it

The Boston Marathon was run yesterday, although, as an observer, judging by the littered state of the streets, the inchoate shouting, and the drunken cavorting, you might well have believed it was actually the Feast of Dionysos you were watching; a pagan drinking revelry rather than a celebration of athletic achievement. In that sense, I suppose, it is much closer in spirit to the Olympiads held in the ancient world than a running race pure and simple would be.
Tired of watching others exert themselves, pushing themselves to the limit, I finally decided to test my own endurance, and so I began flipping through the "Special Humor Issue" of the New Yorker - much of it about as funny as a sad clown wearing a funeral suit and reading a really serious article in the Solemn News, whilst waiting hours and hours to see a dentist so that all his teeth can be removed - so, on the whole, there was some reasonably amusing stuff in there for a change.

stephenb 08:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 18, 2004
A Crash Course in American Democracy: Brought To You By New England's Venerable Old Scrotum University Outreach Program

As every snotty-nosed schoolboy knows, the roots of American Democracy sprout from our Foundling Father's gloriously nimble-fingered cut-and-paste blend of Anglo-Saxon Blood Feud, the Commedia dell'Arte, their certain knowledge that Everybody Loves a Parade, and the burning question of what to do with all that leftover white stone (suitable for large building projects such as big house with a couple of wings).
Generally there are only two contestants who have a chance of winning American Democracy, but a third challenger, known as the Rafe Nadir, is usually allowed to enter in the role of Pierrot.
The rules are fairly simple:
1. Contestants must locate, divide, and sell the overstock of stripy blazers, straw hats, flags, banners, streamers, rosettes and buttons.
2. Contestants must appear on television looking concerned about something.
3. Contestants must invent an issue that nobody knew was an issue before the contestant raised the issue from obscurity and made it sound extremely important.
4. Contestants must have lots of money or be married to someone with lots of money or be married to interests with lots of money such as "Powerful Oil Interests" or "Powerful Ketchup Interests".
And that pretty much wraps it up for your crash course in American Democracy. Luckily, we are having an election very soon so students will be able to observe the process in action for themselves. Unluckily, both of the contestants are physically repulsive so you might not want to watch.

stephenb 15:20 - [Link] - Comments ()
"In the early Springtime after their tea ..."

And exactly what Springtime would that be? Around here the temperature seems to go from nine-below-zero to ninety-nine in the shade faster than Winged Mercury in a top range Ferrari; from the depths of the frozen winter wastes, half-naked figures suddenly pop up out of nowhere, playing frisbee and soccer in city parks before most of us have even considered putting our snow boots away. These urban, semi-nudist, flip-flop wearing, summery sportsmen and women have become so prevalent that one thinks a role must surely be created for them soon in the choreography to The Rite of Spring
Another genre of person who crops up during the brief interlude between icy winds and unbearable sun is "The Person Who Only Reads Books During The Long Winter Nights, And Who, For Some Reason Best Known To Themselves, Feels The Urge To Press The Single Book They Have Been Occupied With For The Past Four Months On Someone Else When They Have Finally Finished It" ... thus: "Have you read How Tuesdays With the DaVinci Code Saved Civilisation? I will lend you my copy because it's absolutely wonderful and you must read it. My sister gave it to me for Christmas and I just finished it. I couldn't put it down it was so great."
Somebody at work recently tried to donate to my library a book called Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (with a dust jacket featuring a brilliant blue sea!), but I was having none of it. The subtitle of the book was "Why the Greeks Matter" - which they do, of course - but a cursory flick through the tome in question revealed a number of black and white plates, pictures whose subject matter seemed to indicate that the Greeks matter because they produced a great deal of pornographic pottery.
Oh well, I am sure it is the thought that counts.

stephenb 13:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 16, 2004
Analog Osama

If you ever needed proof that Osama Bin Liner and his cronies wish to drag the world back to the Stone Age, then the fact that they STILL record their absurd messages on "tape" should give you some indication that such a technological regression is in their plans. Surely, any self-respecting politico of the modern age should be using Compact Disc or MP3 for recording their messages, something we can listen to on our i-Pods.
Along with everything else, it seems that we are fighting these people to preserve our digital and random access futures!

stephenb 11:41 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 15, 2004
Chinatown Shopping Excursion

As I always say, why pay twenty dollars to visit the New England Aquarium when you walk around the seafood section of a Chinese supermarket for free. My God, they have some unusual, fearsome looking fish in those places: luminous-eyed, scaly creatures of legend; the servants of Neptune, painted in exotic and tropical colors. The sort of spiky-finned monsters of the deep who look as though, if transplanted into some secret underground lair, they might play a prominent and carnivorous role in bizarre methods of execution devised by Fu Manchu.
As it is, you can watch them floating around in the tiny open supermarket tanks, swimming into each other, staring menacingly at the customers. You can even buy them and take them home, should you nurse ambitions in the Fu Manchu line of super-villainy. So why not scare your kids this weekend: purchase some Chinese fish. "Hey kids, guess what's coming to dinner?"

stephenb 11:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 14, 2004
The Fat Lady Sings

If my home stereo system may be described in vocabulary reminiscent of a Victorian novel - and I am sure it can - then my stereo system is a poverty-stricken and consumptive, hunched and blackened chimney sweep suffering from a particularly bad case of rickets. An especially unkind person might even call it a "Hi-Fi".
Anyway, last night, for example, as the rain rattled down relentlessly on the roof and oak trees beat their fists against the window, whilst busily engaged in mashing imported tea, I found myself disappointed by the poor sound quality of Wagner reproduced by my tinny pair of speakers and their attendant sub-woofer: what should have been the charging, crashing, take-no-prisoners Valkyrie's ride of notes seemed so weak and feeble; as if the inexpertly constructed wooden cabinets could not contain the swelling music, creating the impression, in my mind at least, that the music had been transformed into a muscle-bound weightlifter wearing a shirt several times too small for him.
A trip to the Tweeter Shop would seem to be on the cards.

stephenb 11:14 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 13, 2004
First Impressions (from behind the net curtain)

Beneath a black wig of extremely coarse and supernaturally shiny fibre, he is muscular, but also repulsively sinewy, in a manner that implies he probably swallows raw eggs and drinks his own urine for breakfast. His wife, also bewigged, or so it seemed to me, looked as though she might work behind the cosmetics counter at some suburban discount department store where cheap, fabricated glitz is prized above natural elegance, a specialist in the over-application of vivid rouge and garish eye-shadow.
They have just moved in nextdoor. Could be interesting. I will keep you posted.
stephenb 17:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
Sidewalk Sale

Having folded himself up with his back against a parking lot wall, as if he were some piece of human origami merely blown there by accident, the elderly Chinese gentleman kneeling on the sidewalk began chanting and gesticulating over the articles he was attempting to sell. A transient, hit and miss business, one that he prosecuted with the same devout care, fervor, and concentration he probably brought to those ancient Chinese religious rituals supposedly providing great benefit for the performer's deceased ancestors in the afterlife.
His wares, such as they were, consisted of a box containing miniscule figurines of Asian aspect, satiny puppets, each suspended and controlled by fragile wires extending from a cruciform arrangement of balsa wood. With dexterous fingers, the Chinese gentleman made these figures walk across the sidewalk in tandem with passing pedestrians, living people whom were indifferent to his sales pitch, and people whom the Chinese gentleman must have wished he could also control with wires like he could his puppets, so that he could then force them to stop and purchase something from his box.

stephenb 13:03 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 12, 2004
Mr Clean

My gleaming, luxurious bathroom, this private spa and sanctuary that I have recently named "The Palace of the Reflected Adonis", but is also known as "The Taj Mahal of the Royal Deoderants" and sometimes as "Le Chateau d'Moist Towelette" .. this bathroom of mine, with its justly famous Greco-Roman tile-work and pristine grouting, where no stray crinkly chest hair can fall out and find a hiding place amongst the deep shag undergrowth of the bath mat, where no boomerang-ed toenail clipping can seek refuge in overlooked nooks and crannies, where no old sliver of soap can find anonymity in the darkling wood of the u-bend behind the toilet, this where no ...I've just be doing some household chores, in case you were wondering.
stephenb 17:55 - [Link] - Comments ()
Existential Geography

After the big bang, after the heating and cooling of volcanic earth, after the crashing rocks had ripped their own seams and struggled free from their bondage to each other to form this patch of ground, after armor-plated dinosaurs had roamed the swampy landscape and failed to evade the incoming comet in this place, after the first versions of human kind had arrived here and built their settlements and buried their dead here, after the development of mankind and the expansion of his dominion over the land we now call the city of Boston ... after all that, some idiot decided that it might be a good idea to franchise this ancient piece of ground to house yet another bloody stupid Starbucks coffee shop in the area.
That now means there are seven Starbucks Coffee Houses within ten minutes walking distance of my home. I seem to come across a new one every weekend. The locations of these Starbucks are:
1. Charles Street near the Public Gardens (there is another one on Charles Street too, but that would be fifteen minutes walking distance, so I won't count it)
2. Boylston Street near the Public Gardens
3. Boylston Street near Copley Place
4. Newbury Street near Mass Ave
5. Newbury Street near Copley Place
6. Inside Copley Place Mall Walkway
7. Inside the Prudential Center
.... There may be more ...

stephenb 09:13 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 09, 2004
This Political Animal

I have only one political credo and that is Schleistianism, based on the political thought and writings of Otto Schleist, the famous Black Forest philosopher, theoretician, cake maker, gatteau decorator, and sage, in his acclaimed book of thinking "What I Think", which was published in Hamburg in 1871.
When I am confronted, confounded, and just plain confused by the issues of the day, I can always find solace and answers by reading a page of Schleist.
So, in troubled times like these, for example, I will look up what Schleist has to say on vexing topics such as the War In Iraq and Gay Marriage. And that is exactly what I intend to do this very minute.
(sound effects of a chair scraping and the Stephenhead walking over to his bookcase. Sounds of a heavy book being removed and pages rapidly flicked through)
Mmmmmmm. Ah yes. Here we are. Schleist makes the following remarks on the subjects of The War In Iraq and Gay Marriage: ... nothing at all. Schleist makes absolutely no mention of those topics whatsoever.
(sound effect of heavy book being slammed shut)
So there we have it! Schleist is silent on these subjects. Isn't it rather amazing, then, that all these modern pundits, media commentators, politicians, priests, homosexuals, and loud-mouthed fringe characters from all walks of life think they have all the bloody answers when a true master like Schleist has nothing to say.
Mind you, Schleist does mention Condoleeza Rice in his chapter on "Open Field Farming Methods in China", but I think that may have been just a rather bizarre misprint.
stephenb 17:05 - [Link] - Comments ()
No Silver Bullet

Trouble in my apartment where forces loyal to the dust on top of the bookcase are making a last minute pitched-battle rearguard action to prevent me wiping it out, and they are being egged on by a old and very fundamental copy of the New Yorker did that get up there without being seen? Should I have been more prepared for this terrible problem? Whose fault is it that the New Yorker has been up there all this time and I never knew about it? Where were my Intelligence Services? Too busy wasting their time poking around under the couch, I'll bet!
stephenb 09:03 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 07, 2004
The Passion of the Thank You Letter Writer

When I was a small boy, I would always color-code my Christmas and Birthday present thank you letters according to the depth of esteem in which I regarded the gift presented to me. In fact, to this end, one Christmas I asked my parents (the only presenters who did not receive thank you letters from me) for specially colored notepaper so that I could perfect my thanking system to a fine art. There was a beautiful pale blue paper used for the gratefully received gifts of cash; a crisp, pristine white for reasonably entertaining submissions and offerings that were pleasing to me in some manner or other; and finally I had some kind of crappy, off-white paper for cheap, noisy toys that I had no time for.
You may find all that rather callous, and you may believe that I had an overgrown sense of entitlement, but at least I sent thank you letters. Did you? I mean, did you really? Be honest.
No. No, you did not, did you. So: who are you to judge me? Who are you to throw the first stone? Suffer little children to color code their thank you letters, for the kingdom of ...etc.

stephenb 17:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
Easter Parade

If, like me, you find yourself confronted with the unanswerable question, "Why does the Easter Bunny deliver chocolate eggs to little children in a decorative, pastel colored basket?", then you might reply, as I do, "I?m not sure that the Easter Bunny does deliver chocolate eggs to little children, especially if they are the sort of little children who ask impertinent questions such as that."
The most troublesome Easter Bunny Question, however, is not very different from the troublesome Santa Claus question previously asked by the child, namely: "How can the Easter Bunny fit enough eggs into the little basket so that all the little children in the world can have one, and furthermore, how can the Easter Bunny hop around the world in a single night to deliver them all?"
Time to throw your hands up in despair.
Still, these questions are easier than the Tooth Fairy question: "Why does the dainty, beautiful Tooth Fairy princess want to pick up all those icky, slimy teeth that smelly children leave under their nasty pillows?"
The only answer to that one that I could come up with was: "She doesn't. She hires big, ugly gnomes to do that part for her. She just leaves the bloody money behind ... er, I mean she just leaves the shiny little coins."

stephenb 14:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
Surely not, Algy

Rather a poor excuse for a joke on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning. They remark that perhaps Europol requires the services of Inspector Maigret in combating the threat posed to Europe by terrorism: they meant Biggles of Interpol, of course.
Personally, inspired by the preaching of Boston's Catholic Archbishop O'Malley as reported in the Boston Globe, I might also call in Father Brown.
stephenb 09:44 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 06, 2004
Queen Mob (pun)

If Marie Antoinette were alive today, that great lady would bestow but a single glance upon the rabble of the world and say, "Let them eat microwaveable frozen dinners while watching ER on cable television."
And she would be right. Observe the unkempt, rabid mob charging around in Iraq at the moment: how many of them have access to twenty satellite premium sports channels on a high definition plasma screen? None, that's how many. If they did they would all be at home sprawled on the couch instead of running riot around the streets of downtown Mesopotamia on a Tuesday night waving placards featuring the bearded visage of some dangerous Islamic cleric.

stephenb 17:00 - [Link] - Comments ()
Mobile Diary

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am now able to post entries to this journal via my cell phone. No longer will the profound thoughts that occur to me as I walk down the street be lost to the world because I do not have a recording device handy, now I can upload them directly to this weblog the second these profound thoughts push themselves forward to my frontal lobes.
In fact, that is exactly what I am doing at this very moment. How wonderful modern wireless technology truly isggfgszzxxxx ... excuse me, I'm walking under a bridge.... gfrdfree weekendzzz brrmmminutes... zapwhooooosh... advantages of cell phonnnnnzzad gfgfddddz ... I'm sorry, I'm breaking up ......sderrrrewhap... wha?Instapundit and whrrrrzzxxsed... article via Arts and Letters Daily ... brzzzzzznagh ... linked New York Times.... anytime minuteszzzzz ... bloggeddddr.... and, of course, Noam Chomsky free phone when you sign up for one of our plans now!
Wireless blogging. It is the way forwardddddzzzzzzzzz ...blip.
stephenb 13:38 - [Link] - Comments ()
If You Love Someone, Never Read Their Diary

First off, let me qualify that statement: if you are merely married, dating, or having an affair with that someone, then you should always read their diaries, since they are usually hilariously misguided attempts at self-justification and ludicrous personal revelation, providing hours of fun for the informed reader.
It is the diaries of the artists and authors admired from afar that must be avoided at all costs, since the contents usually reveal the diarist to be a mean, petty, conceited pervert: Kenneth Tynan, Philip Larkin, the Archbishop of Canterbury, etc.

stephenb 11:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 05, 2004
More Convention

It is interesting to note that although the Democratic Party promises to create more jobs for Americans and "put America back to work" if elected, the transportation arrangements for their 2004 Convention in Boston will actually prevent people from getting to the jobs they alreay have. Ironic, isn't it.
stephenb 11:50 - [Link] - Comments ()
Ersatz Evening in the Park

As I strolled through Boston's Public Gardens last Saturday on my way home, a stubborn early evening mist suffused itself with a particularly eerie twilight, pitching the impressionistic streaks of black tree branches into sharp foreground relief and casting gauzy, rapidly darkening coalescences of fading pinks and oranges across the firmament, as if a bruised peach had been thrown and splattered against the rising moon; warm, dull tones contrasting sharply with the pale, fluorescent green rectangles formed by the windows of surrounding office buildings, and the brilliant white radiating from rigid, evenly spaced street lamps.
Suddenly, as if he had spontaneously emerged from the parkland beside me like a human version of Jack's magic beanstalk, a willowy, ancient, dark-eyed gentleman of sulphuric appearance slithered into view, smoking a cigarette with such precision that he could easily have been mistaken for an itinerant glass-blower practicing his art while on the move. Apparently deciding that he had smoked enough for the time being, with much deliberation and finesse, he snuffed the fire from the burning stub by tapping its tip on a small, rusting metal box he kept hidden in the folds of his enormous black overcoat. Having completed this action to his own satisfaction, he grinned a toothless grin and proudly displayed the extinguished cigarette to me, waving the grubby remnant of tobacco in my face with a flourish, as though he had performed some astounding conjuring trick or astonishing feat of skill for which he should rightly receive some great reward.
"Sorry. I don't smoke." I told him, assuming that his banal theatrics were produced with the aim of procuring a fresh cigarette.
He shrugged sadly, then turned effortlessly on his dilapidated heels and almost seemed to foxtrot himself off into the mist with all the pantomimic dignity of an Italian clown.

stephenb 09:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 02, 2004
My Screenplay

I have spent every waking hour of the past nine months sweating and agonizing over the back-breaking labor of writing an exciting screenplay sequel to Girl With A Pearl Earring.
Like that film, my screenplay is based upon a single painting by Jan Vermeer. But, alas, after so much effort, it seems the Vermeer masterpiece I chose as the wellspring for my screenplay lacks much of the electrifying drama and love interest supplied by Girl With A Pearl Earring. In fact, it lacks any sort of interest at all, according to the Hollywood studio executives to whom I have submitted the final draft.
Consequently, View of Delft is unlikely to be setting the box office on fire this summer, or indeed any other summer after that. It will not star Colin Firth reprising his role as the brilliant and handsome Old Master. Neither will it star Scarlet Johansson as the sexy and beguiling ear model. This is a shame as I think it would have made for some great and innovative cinema. Here is the screenplay:

View of Delft

A view of the city of Delft, looking exactly the way that Vermeer painted it. The camera lingers on this view for eighty-nine minutes.
Enter Leonardo DiCaprio as Marcel Proust.

Ah. Exquisite!



stephenb 13:28 - [Link] - Comments ()
april 01, 2004
Democratic Convention 2004

So. The "authorities" - why do they never actually act like people with authority? - are closing Boston's North Station train and bus terminal, and not a few major highways too, for an entire week, thereby causing mindbending commuter nightmares, just so that the city can play host to the Democratic Saliva Fest later this year. And knowing Boston as I do, "play" host is the operate description here.
Commuters have, very unreasonably, been advised to make alternative transport plans for the particular week of the Spit And Holler Jamboree. Some Downtown offices may even close until the whole thing is over, we are told.
Why so much drama? With all the hot air being expelled by the various windbags climbing their way to the rostrum to exhale their political policy banalities, enough hot air volume should be generated to fill hundreds of passenger hot air balloons, enabling commuters to arrive at work via this quaint yet exciting method of getting from A to B.
stephenb 09:41 - [Link] - Comments ()