thoughtcat archives

february 2004



29th February




Thoughtcat has undergone a slight facelift, in an attempt to make the text easier to read and to brighten things up a shade - after all, it is spring (or thereabouts). Things have been added, but nothing's been taken away - the old right-hand column of recommended diversions has now been merged into the left-hand column below the books by the bed section. Maybe I'm finally thoughtcatching up with modern blog design at long last. All suggestions, complaints, unequivocal praise etc to the usual address, and in the meantime here's a sympathetic photo taken in Collioure during Thoughtcat's French Adventure last October.




27th February


Today's Guardian reports that the Sofia Coppola film Lost in Translation [beware spoilers below!] might end up not getting the Oscars it deserves because of elements perceived by some people as racist. I went to see it a few nights ago and found it a really lovely film, subtle and unforced and beautifully acted. Not much happens in it but I wasn't bored for a minute. Bill Murray has never been better, truly on Oscar-winning form, and Scarlett Johansson was delightful. I loved the quietness of the film, these beautifully low-key scenes following the two main characters as they negotiate lonely hours and struggle with their disillusionments about marriage. Some Japanese may be portrayed stereotypically (short, sententious, over-enthusiastic - not unlike Thoughtcat really), but I didn't think that was overdone and in any case I feel the perception that the film is "racist" is missing the point entirely. It was obvious from Coppola's direction, cinematography and writing that she adored Japan and found the people charming. The Japanese characters who were caricatured, such as the bizarrely-clad chat show host and the pretentious TV ad director, were less Japanese than just silly people regardless of their race, and in themselves no less deserving of caricature - and certainly no more ridiculed - than most caricatures of Americans that people (mostly Americans) make films about all the time. Lost In Translation certainly wasn't an attack on the Japanese culture - if anything, the film's observations of the gulf between ancient Buddhist and "flower" rituals and the junky TV and video arcades were extremely valid comments on modern life and "modern man in search of a soul" (oh blimey, heading for Pseud's Corner again) that exist globally. Ultimately the film wasn't even about Japan, it was about the experience of being in a strange city where you know none of the language or the culture and you don't have a clue what you're doing there or, moreover, what you're doing at that particular juncture in your life. It could have been set in Timbuktu and the effect would have been the same, although Japan was a shrewd choice as it's kind of the US of the East - rich, flashy, consumer-oriented and TV-driven, the main difference being that underneath it's a lot more spiritual. And at the end of the day what the whole thing was really about was a relationship, as I realise increasingly everything is. That between Murray and Johansson was beautifully portrayed, and all the more intense for remaining unconsummated. There was a definite sense that if they had slept together, it would have ruined the film as well as messed up their lives - but at the same time you wanted them to be together. My heart went out to them both. I'm sorry for the people who couldn't feel that too.



26th February


There's a fascinating article in today's Guardian about the effects that TV book clubs can have on sales of novels. The Guardian does take a slightly lofty tone about shows like Richard and Judy and Oprah but it is admittedly a tad puzzling, or at least ironic, that such programmes have ended up playing definitive roles in the popularity of certain books.



25th February


A prime slice of spam hits my e-plate this morning. I simply have to reproduce it in full:




Minister Charles Simpson has the power to make you a LEGALLY ORDAINED MINISTER within 48 hours!




As a minister, you will be authorized to perform the rites and ceremonies of the church!


Don't settle for being the BEST MAN OR BRIDES' MAID

Most states require that you register your certificate (THAT WE SEND YOU) with the state prior to conducting the ceremony.



A very hard time for you and your family

Don't settle for a minister you don't know!

Most states require that you register your certificate (THAT WE SEND YOU) with the state prior to conducting the ceremony.



What a special way to welcome a child of God.



The Catholic Church has practiced the forgiveness of sins for centuries

**Forgiveness of Sins is granted to all who ask in sincerity and willingness to change for the better!



Since you will be a Certified Minister, you can visit others in need!

Preach the Word of God to those who have strayed from the flock



After your LEGAL ORDINATION, you may start your own congregation!


At this point you must be wondering how much the Certificate costs. Right? Well, let's talk about how much the program is worth. Considering the value of becoming a CERTIFIED MINISTER I'd say the program is easily worth $100. Wouldn't you agree? However, it won't cost that much. Not even close! My goal is to make this life changing program affordable so average folks can benefit from the power of it.


Since I know how much you want to help others, you're going to receive your Minister Certification for under $100.00... Not even $50.00... You are going to receive the entire life-changing course for only $29.95.


For only $29.95 you will receive:

1. 8-inch by 10-inch certificate in color, with gold seal (Certificate professionally printed by an ink press)

2. Proof of Minister Certification in your name

3. Shipping is free

There is then a link to God-R-Us or InstaForgive or whatever the firm is called. Perhaps the most surreal bit about this item of spam though is the following chunk of text which appears at the bottom of the email, and which I reproduce unedited except for the italicisation:


and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Adoni-bezek said"Seventy s with thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table; as I have doneso has paid me back." They brought him to and he died there. Then the people of fought against and took it. They put it to the sword and set the city on fire. Afterward the people of went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country When he found himself outside the village he made for the high plateau in the center of the island, where he could be safe from the cannibals while he collected his thoughts
But when he reached the place he found the sides so steep he could not climb them, so he adjusted the indicator to the word up and found it had still had enough power to support his body while he clambered up the rocks to the level, grass-covered space at the top
Then, reclining upon his back, he gave himself up to thoughts of how he might escape from his unpleasant predicament
Here I am, on a cannibal island, hundreds of miles from civilization, with no way to get back, he reflected


Click here for more from Thoughtcat's collection of spam classics.



24th February


A great article in today's Independent about the question marks over Google's future as it variously expands and prepares to have its shares listed for umpteen billion dollars. There's a lovely intro about some of the Google strange-but-truisms, including our own government's rum usage of the search engine to dig up a basis for going to war with Iraq, and a paragraph or two explaining how the verb "to google" has "wormed its way into our vocabularies very quickly. That's because searching for information is (and, arguably, always has been) the second most common activity on the internet. The first is e-mail, and you could argue that since more than half of all e-mail is now spam, searching is actually our prime online activity as we hunt and gather those titbits of knowledge we need in our daily lives." Elsewhere a commentator identified only as "Sullivan" (either s/he was introduced at a point earlier in the piece which was later sub-edited out, or the writer is actually referring to the similarly-surnamed Chris Sherman, associate editor of Search Engine Watch, who is quoted previously) wonders about the wisdom of Google's expansion away from its quintessential searchosity into areas such as, a "social software" site called Orkut and free email. Well, I would have thought that Google is big enough to expand into whatever internet services it likes, on the simple basis that its links must by definition be the height of webcool. That said, I must say I was disappointed to notice while on a recent visit to Google offshoot Googlism a ridiculous advert for "doctor-prescribed penile enlargement pills". Justify that, Goog, the next time you turn down Anita Roddick for an ad!



21st February


I'm delighted to see that a US poetry webzine called mentioned recently the Thoughtcat hosting of some fiction and poems by our mutual friend Dave Awl from his book What The Sea Means (now available in paperback, folks!) Thanks must go to e-poets editor Kurt Heintz for the mention, which you can read at the bottom of this e-poets newswire page.



20th February


The Guardian reports today that 120 people who were prevented by police from attending a demonstration against the Iraq war at RAF Fairford will each claim £3,000 compensation for this breach of their human rights. Or at least I think the compensation is for being prevented from demonstrating, as a second reading of the article suggests the human rights breach actually came about when the protesters were escorted away on a three-hour trip without being given a toilet break. Quite possibly only the British could come up with a situation like that.




An article on Google in today's Times questions the search engine's editorial policies. "Dame Anita Roddick [making her second Thoughtcat appearance in as many days] has found her outspokenness a problem for Google, which removed one of her advertisements," reports the article. This turns out to be an old story about how Google refused Roddick ad space after she called actor John Malkovich a "vomitous worm” for supposedly saying he would like to kill Robert Fisk, the Independent's esteemed Middle East correspondent. This has been much raked-over in the past and I won't even attempt to go there but it does cause the Times journo to wonder whether "a supposedly neutral information source be making such editorial judgments". It certainly does seem ironic that a paying advertiser can't say what she likes without attracting censorship (in one form or another), while a non-celebrity running a weblog which only a few thousand people around the world read can say what they like and still end up a result on the search engine.



18th February


A spot of random surfage brings me to Anita Roddick's website, which campaigns characteristically for fair trade, democracy and good skin. I haven't delved too deeply into the site as yet but this post on her weblog about George W. Bush's CV and application for a second term as US president caught my eye. According to the tongue-in-cheek resume, George's past "work experience" includes running for US Congress and losing, failing to find any oil in Texas, setting the record for the most executions by any Governor in American history, becoming the first ever US president to enter office with a criminal record, and even being the first president in US history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. "I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of US citizens, and the world community," adds George as part of his campaign for re-election. The piece ends with a plea to circulate it to as many US voters as possible when they consider who to vote for this November. Far be it from me to tell any Americans what to do with their vote, but...



15th February




Yay! The article about the Thoughtcat-hosted SA4QE website and 4th February Russell Hoban celebrations has been published in today's Talk of the Town supplement with the Independent on Sunday. There's no online version of the article (officially, anyway; you might have more luck if you click here), but as I've said before, in my opinion ToTT is worth the IoS's cover price of £1.40 alone, so please go out and buy a copy. The piece is headlined "Hoban's Heroes" and covers the entire first page of the magazine (i.e. after the contents page and an advert for the Royal Academy of Arts). Journalist Robert Hanks has done a terrific job of summarising the event from its Chicago roots to its rapid globalisation, and Thoughtcat (and of course Gombert) are very proud to be a part of both event, website and article. Here's to the yellow paper...




Further to the mention of Amazon in the Roddy Doyle piece the other day, there's a very funny article in the Observer today about the phenomenon of self-book-reviewing on the website. "Amazon's Canadian site suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had posted anonymous reviews on the American site under signatures such as 'a reader from Alabama'," runs the report, adding that "there were some prominent authors among them" - including one David K. Eggers Esq, a.k.a. 'a reader from St Louis'. However, at least Eggers was only plugging a book by a friend of his, rather than one of his own - which can't be said for legendary English novelist, James Joyce fanatic and general polymath Anthony Burgess. The report goes on: "Burgess set the standard long before the internet when, in the 1960s, he reviewed Inside Mr Enderby, which he had written under the nom de plume of Joseph Kell. His notice in the Yorkshire Post was provocative: 'This is a dirty book ... It may well make some people sick, and those of my readers with tender stomachs are advised to let it alone.' Burgess was soon unmasked and lost his job." Criminal stuff! Only in England could you have a novelist giving his own book a bad review, and still getting the sack for it.



14th February


Apologies to regular Thoughtcateers, who have been waiting a fortnight for a proper update to the blog. (Damn! I'm sure I could have got away with it, but... well, I'm just too self-revealing, I guess.) I suppose I could claim to have been suffering from a severe case of thoughtcat flu but the truth is that I've been extremely busy helping my colleague Gombert update the SA4QE website following its subject Russell Hoban's birthday on 4th February. Gombert and I have hosted the site since the inception of the Slickman A4 Quotation Event in 2002 and, from humble beginnings, both online and real-life event have now blossomed into something really quite good. If you want statistics, here they come: some 33 participants from 10 countries have now disseminated more than 170 quotes from Russell Hoban's unique books in 30 cities globally since 4th February 2002, and the site is now much improved, replete with a fantastic new home page featuring a "three o'clocks in the morning" montage designed by Hoban fans, a guestbook, animated cabbages and Vermeer girls aplenty. Best of all, though, is that the Independent on Sunday's estimable Talk of the Town magazine interviewed Gombert and I about the site on this year's SA4QE day, and the article should be coming out in the magazine tomorrow. I am, of course, now sitting up at the witching hour unable to sleep for excitement. Gom and I only hope we've done the event and Russell Hoban justice, although if the "pre-emptive reassurance" and enthusiasm we've been receiving over the past fortnight from various 4Qaters is anything to go by, things are looking good in this respect. Anyway, the wife and I have had a very enjoyable Valentine's evening in with a video of Tootsie and some fabulous home-made risotto, and are now curling up, hoping not to dream too much of yellow paper...




I haven't managed to look at the papers much today but I did spot some cringing stuff in today's Guardian Review in the form of an AS Byatt essay on the mind and body - well, the body, anyway. In "Soul searching", Byatt writes highly (i.e. buttock-clenchingly) of Adam Thirlwell's novel Politics: "The story is, as the narrator demonstrates, not porn, and not romance. No, he says, 'This is a story about kindness.' The characters try to be nice to each other. The other strong emotion in the book, besides the desire not to hurt, is embarrassment. What do you do if your G-string is hurting, or you have an embarrassing need to pee or shit or surreptitiously get rid of snot? Chairman Mao makes a brief appearance in a paragraph about his infecting large numbers of young women with vaginal trichonomas. The kindly narrator opines that Mao's refusal to wash was 'kind of mad. And then opines that "maybe there is a more human side to Chairman Mao. Maybe he was just embarrassed.'" That's one word that springs to mind, anyway...




There's also a very silly story in the main paper reporting the split of legendary plastic couple Barbie and Ken. "The official line given yesterday by Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Mattel, was that the pair had 'drifted apart'," runs the report. "'Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end,' said Arons, adding that the two 'will remain friends'. The announcement led to renewed speculation over Ken's sexual orientation, and rumours about Barbie's next conquest." Not much of an omen for Valentine's Day, is it? "A new Mattel character [the report goes on], an Australian surfer called Blaine, is widely tipped as the most likely plastic man to fill Ken's shoes. Arons added that there was no truth to rumours that the break-up was timed to coincide with the launch of the new California Barbie." Course not. Incidentally, this is a rare example of a Guardian Online story differing from the printed version. The print report tags the following onto the end: "In an interview in today's Sun, Ken issued a curt dismissal of Barbie's relationship with Blaine. 'He's just a kid and she's having a mid-life crisis,' Ken told the paper. 'Once I finish this bottle of Scotch, you'll see a new Ken. I'll be back, bigger and better.'"



10th February


Irish novelist Roddy Doyle has attacked James Joyce's classic Ulysses for being "overrated, overlong and unmoving", reports the Guardian today. "'Ulysses could have done with a good editor,'" Doyle told a stunned audience in New York gathered to celebrate the great man who is credited with inventing the modern novel. 'You know people are always putting Ulysses in the top 10 books ever written but I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it.'" I think Roddy is being petty. How does he know whether any of those people have been moved by a book or not, or in what way? Each to their own, Rod. Ulysses is one of the comparatively few (for a writer) novels I've read (which is probably what accounts for that small total, in fact - reading the book is a bit like eating an 18-course dinner; you don't feel hungry for a week) and I remember loving every page of it. It was one of the first "grown-up" books I chose to read once I started to, well, grow up, I guess. I read it over the summer holiday between leaving school and starting sixth-form college in the late eighties and I can still taste the sheer pleasure and freedom of that time, sitting at my desk pushed up by my bedroom window overlooking the rooftops of, er, East Molesey and leafing through these bizarre and wonderful pages. I told someone this the other day incidentally and the person asked me if I hadn't therefore been a "precocious" teenager, but I don't think I was - Ulysses is probably more the sort of book young people tend to read because it's different, and you yearn for something different when you're in your mid-teens; I remember first getting into surrealist art at that age for the same reason. Doyle does at least say that Dubliners was Joyce's best book, and I'd have to agree that both it and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are obviously far more accessible and naturalistic than Ulysses - and even I would agree that Finnegans Wake is simply beyond the pale. But, Roddo, why not just accept Ulysses for what it is - not a straightforward, classic novel (like Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, perhaps?) but a magnificent experiment in structure, language and narrative that has to at least be taken in the context of its time (cont. p94 and/or in Pseud's Corner).


Something else that irritated me about this report was this, which appeared at the bottom of it: "Online bookseller has sold 97,107 copies of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and 2,374 copies of James Joyce's Ulysses." This sounded more than slightly smug, snobbish and conspiratorial, and since when was Amazon, no matter how good an online store it is, the last word in literary criticism? What next, Guardian - a report saying Jeffrey Archer is a better writer than Roddy Doyle because Kane and Abel has sold 94 million copies but Paddy Clarke only 97,000? Feasibly not.



4th February


Thoughtcat's favourite author Russell Hoban celebrates his 79th birthday today (happy birthday Russ!), and SA4QE continues for the third year running, with Hoban fans from all over the world writing favourite quotes from the man's books on sheets of yellow paper and leaving them in interesting places where, with any luck, they will liberate unsuspecting members of the public from the limited-reality consensus. Thoughtcat's own yellow paper quotes and account of today's "4Qation" in Tower Hill and the South Bank can be read here.




On the way home from my 4Qationism I read in the Standard (and later on the BBC) that a group of blokes dressed as high court judges had caught a taxi to Downing Street today and thrown buckets of white paint all over the gates, reportedly missing Jack Straw by a matter of minutes. I think this was terrible. Clearly these impostors were acting on duff intelligence. Surely they could have arrived at the same time as our redoubtable foreign secretary?



3rd February






US Inquiry into Janet Jackson 'Superbowl' flash (reports the BBC)

No US inquiry on how the States got away with invading Iraq on the basis of a tissue of lies (or how George W. Bush became President, come to that).


Above: a tit, and Janet Jackson.



1st February


The Observer continues with its analysis of the Hutton report whitewash: "A hugely experienced BBC journalist, instantly recognisable to millions of viewers, said: 'There is a great deal of anger and a feeling of impotence. A lot of the anger is directed at [BBC governor] Richard Ryder for his apology. People are saying: "What for?" The majority of our journalism is bloody good, world-beating. One journalist made a mistake, for which he has resigned, and which the BBC have lost its director-general and chairman for. People are saying about Ryder: "Who is this man? We've never met him, he's never been around the building, he was on the governors when these decisions were made, he's partly responsible - how dare he speak on our behalf in this way?"



Meanwhile, following BBC chairman Gavyn Davies's resignation last week and his comment, "I have been brought up to believe that you cannot choose your own referee, and that the referee's decision is final," the Independent on Sunday's Raymond Whitaker writes: "A Government source said the result in its dispute with the BBC had been 9-1; it was as though one team had been awarded nine penalties and the other had managed to snatch one goal back. The only problem for those of us who sat through all the Hutton hearings into the death of Dr David Kelly is that we could not believe we were at the same match as the referee." Although I agree with him, in a sense this does reduce the whole tragic affair to a silly row about a game of football. Then again, if it had been a game of football, millions of people would really be up in arms about it by now, rather than just two or three of us, and the sporting equivalent of Lord Hutton and Tony Blair would now be looking for another job.




The Independent also reports today that Muhammad Ali is publishing one of the biggest autobiographies ever - literally. It's so huge it can't be read comfortably by one person holding it and is to be sold with its own lectern. "The lavish book will be printed in two versions," reports the paper: "The 'champs' edition, limited to 1,000 copies and with a £5,000 price tag, comes with a stand designed by artist Jeff Koons, who has also created an inflatable dolphin to accompany it." Quite right too. No self-respecting sporting legend's memoir should be without one.


more thoughtcat archives



back to thoughtcat home