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Saturday: February 25, 2006

Movie: The Ruling Class

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:55 PM UTC

Seen today: The Ruling Class (1972), starring Peter O’Toole as an insane duke who thinks he’s God until his depraved family succeeds in curing him, which turns out to be a big mistake. Worth seeing again? Yes. Worth buying? Maybe.

Desultory comments:

  1. It didn’t take much to get an X in 1972, at least in Britain: brief female nudity, occasional spurts of blasphemy and foul language, a brief closeup of a urinating fox, the occasional brutal stabbing — PG-13 by today’s U.S. standards.
  2. Lush scenery. I could definitely get used to living in Harlaxton Manor, as long as I didn’t have to share it with any of the aristocratic characters. Barring that, a wide-screen TV wouldn’t have hurt.
  3. There were plenty of surprises in the plot, both large and small — at least they surprised me. Lots of witty lines, too, and a few that were more than witty, for instance this one from Dr. Herder, the psychiatrist: “Don’t come to me for the truth, only explanations.”
  4. Most dated scene: Members of the House of Lords going on about coddling criminals and the need to bring back flogging and hanging. We are obviously expected to sneer at the ridiculous old farts, but changes in the crime-rate in Britain and elsewhere over the last three decades make that a bit more difficult. My main problem with the film was that the moral valuations were kneejerk. We were obviously expected to sneer at the fox hunt, as well, and the political discussions, and a lot of other things. I like brutal satire, but it works better if the targets are not confined to the landed aristocracy: it seems unsporting to aim at a target so impotent and decrepit.
  5. IMDb confirms that the Master in Lunacy (Truscott) was played by Graham Crowden, later the male lead (Tom Ballard) in the TV series Waiting for God. What I found interesting is that I did not recognize his face at all, even after I figured out who he was from one or two characteristic facial expressions.
  6. The mad duke invents (and explains) the word “insinuendo”. Does the Oxford English Dictionary list this as the first use? I won’t be able to check until tomorrow.

Now Playing

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:47 AM UTC

Over the last year or two, various people have proposed ways of simply characterizing one’s iTunes collection. John Scalzi suggested hitting Shuffle and listing the first ten tunes that come up. More recently, VodkaPundit suggested that it would be more accurate to list the top ten on the Most Played list. That works tolerably well, and I posted my results in his comments, but what if you have a 16-way tie for 8th place, as I do? Only seven tunes have been played 8+ times (the maximum is 12), but 16 have been played 7 times, so selection of the last two in a Top-10 list is arbitrary.

A few months ago, someone (I forget who) suggested using the first song listed for each letter of the alphabet to make a list of 26. That is not a very accurate method, since punctuation marks sort before letters, which overrepresents titles that are spelled out or hyphenated or contracted. Examples from my iTunes library:

  • A-11 — Buck Owens
  • B-Flat Blues — Count Basie
  • D-I-V-O-R-C-E — Tammy Wynette
  • E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too — Charles Mingus
  • G-I-R-L Spells Trouble — Ernest Tubb
  • P.S. I Love You — The Beatles
  • S’Crazy Pad — Herbie Nichols
  • ‘Taint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It) — Fats Waller

The artists are fairly random, but the titles are not.

The method also grossly overrepresents Edith Piaf in my collection, giving her seven slots out of 26 (27%), which is well over ten times her actual share of my collection. The title beginning Va wins fair and square, but another uses the definite article (Un), and the other five take unfair advantage of the apostrophe, beginning with C’est, J’ai, L’, N’y, and Qu’as. (A Portuguese title beginning with the definite article, Villa Lobos’ O Polichinello, takes second place in the Os, but is edged out by Ralph Stanley’s O Death.)

A simple and rather obvious twist solves both problems. Find the 26 songs that come last under each letter. That gives quite a characteristic list, at least for me. I excluded Roman numerals (e.g. IX. Presto) except for the letter X, where all the cuts are classical and begin with Roman numerals. Here’s my list:

  • Azure — Duke Ellington (preceded by Cecil Taylor’s version)
  • Byrd’s Blues — Professor Longhair
  • Cut the Cornbread, Mama — The Osborne Brothers
  • Dying Ranger — Dock Boggs
  • Ezekiel Saw the Wheel — Dixie Hummingbirds
  • Fuzz Dixon — Don Walser
  • Gulf Coast Blues — Bessie Smith
  • Hymne à l’Amour — Edith Piaf
  • It’s Only Love — The Beatles
  • Just Wondering Why — Longview
  • Kozmic Blues — Janis Joplin
  • Lyin’ Eyes — The Eagles
  • Mystery Train Part II — Steve Earle
  • Nutopian International Anthem — John Lennon
  • Over Yonder in the Graveyard — Del McCoury & the Dixie Pals
  • Pyramid — Dave Bartholomew
  • Quits — Gary Stewart
  • Rusty Pail — Fats Waller
  • Synergy — The Holy Modal Rounders
  • Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right — Ernest Tubb
  • Used to Be — The Whites (preceded by two other versions)
  • Voodoo Cadillac — Southern Culture on the Skids
  • Wrong Side of His Heart — Rosie Flores
  • XXV. Postludium (Solenne, Largo — Arioso, Tranquillo) — Paul Hindemith (this is the last track of Ludus Tonalis, played by Olli Mustonen)
  • Yum, yum, yum — Johnny Temple
  • Zero to Love — The Del McCoury Band

I was tempted to delete the one or two embarrassments to make the list look better, but successfully resisted. Opinions may differ on just which cuts I should be embarrassed to own.

Books for Sale

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:41 AM UTC

My other site includes a Books for Sale page with a couple of hundred titles in a wide range of fields, nearly all of them either worth reading or hard-to-find or both. Prices range from 20¢ (Iron John) to $1,400 (collected works of Bacon, in print at $2100+), and I’m willing to haggle to some extent. There are also a few CDs and videotapes and (I think) one DVD. All proceeds will be spent on books, CDs, and DVDs: it’s the cycle of . . . not life, exactly, but something or other.

Aphorism of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:27 AM UTC

El tonto instruido tiene más ancho campo para practicar su tontería.

The educated fool has a wider field in which to practice his folly.

(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.96)

That Didn’t Take Long

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:17 AM UTC

For the last month or two, I’ve been intending to post a particular line of argument that had occurred to me, but I never found the time. It has suddenly become even more timely, so here it is.

It’s very simple. Suppose you believe, as many do, that pharmacists should be legally obligated to dispense birth control pills or ‘morning-after’ pills to anyone with a prescription, whatever their own personal religious beliefs, or that all hospitals, even the Catholic ones, should be legally obligated to provide abortions to those who ask for them. Do you also think that a pharmacist* who opposes the death penalty should be legally obligated to sell the state whatever drugs are needed to perform a court-mandated execution? If not, how do you distinguish the two cases?

I had thought that my argument was a mere thought-experiment. Now that a California judge has indefinitely delayed an execution because the state cannot find a licensed physician willing to participate, it (or something very like it) has become quite timely. If you think pharmacists can be ordered to dispense birth-control or ‘morning-after’ pills, do you also think that California doctors can be ordered to participate in an execution or lose their right to practice? If not, why not?

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*I suppose the chemicals that make a lethal injection lethal may come not from a pharmacy but from the kind of company that supplies chemicals to chemists and chemistry teachers and manufacturers. If so, feel free to substitute “chemical supply company employee” for “pharmacist” above.