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Thursday: February 11, 2010

Botulism Strikes French Philosopher

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:51 PM GMT-0500

This is the best thing of its kind since the Sokol hoax.

Wednesday: February 10, 2010

BBC Shakespeare On Sale

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:42 PM GMT-0500

Since I wrote about the BBC Shakespeare DVDs two and a half years ago, prices have dropped on both sides of the Atlantic. You can now get the American discs for $99.99 per set, down from $149.99, but that still means paying $389.96 for only 20 plays at Amazon, which comes to roughly $19.50 per play. (One of them is 10% off right now.) The UK box, containing all 37 plays, lists for £199,99, but is on sale right now at Amazon UK for only £81,97, or roughly $128 (US), which works out to less than $3.50 per play. Of course, you will need an all-region DVD player to view them in the U.S., but those are not expensive, and are useful for watching other films not available in Region 1 coding.

The icing on the cake: Amazon UK usually subtracts 15% when shipping expensive items to U.S. addresses, since Americans, not being eligible for the National Health, aren’t expected to pay the VAT tax that finances it. That would bring the price down to less than $3.00 per play, plus shipping, which was fast and reasonably-priced when I bought the set a few years ago.

It’s nice to have all the plays, since the ones not available in the U.S. box sets are precisely the ones you are least likely to see in a theater.

Tuesday: February 9, 2010

A Musical Anniversary

Filed under: — site admin @ 5:00 PM GMT-0500

Does a 125th birthday count as a significant anniversary? If so — also if not — today is Alban Berg’s 125th. In commemoration, I’m playing the only really tolerable pieces written by the New Vienna School, Berg’s Violin Concerto and Lyric Suite for String Quartet. Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg published a few other pieces that are not just tolerable but very pleasant, but they are arrangements of Strauss waltzes — the Old Vienna School reworked by the New — so they don’t really count.

So what would we call a 125th birthday? A hemi-demi-semi-millennium, of course.

By the way, ‘Alban’ seems an odd name for a German. I mostly know it from the name of the Alban Mount, southeast of Rome. It’s odd that ‘Berg’ is German for mount(ain), though the mountain is apparently not called the Albanberg in German. The ancient Roman name is singular, Albanus Mons, but German Wikipedia gives the plural ‘Albaner Berge’ as the preferred form, with ‘Albaner Hügel’ and ‘Albanergebirge’ as alternatives. I still wonder if Alban’s father was indulging in a pun: perhaps a native speaker can tell us.

Wednesday: February 3, 2010

How Hard Is It To Come Up With An Original Joke?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:47 PM GMT-0500

When a visiting friend’s cat stuck its head through my bedroom door at 4:00 am, it occurred to me that we could rename her ‘Snoop Catty Cat’. According to Bing, the phrase has already been used 28 times on the web. Better 28 than “about 28,000”, I guess.

Tuesday: February 2, 2010

Quotation of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:56 PM GMT-0500

Last year, Dr. Esquirol compiled a table of statistics concerning insanity. It reads as follows: “Driven mad by love: two men, sixty women. Driven mad by religion: six men, twenty women. Driven mad by politics: forty-eight men, three women. Driven mad by financial loss: twenty-seven men, twenty-four women. Driven mad by cause or causes unknown: one man, no women.” The last statistic represents our poor friend.

(Theophile Gautier, “The Painter”, in My Fantoms, translated by Richard Holmes)

“Our poor friend” is the painter of the title, the unfortunately named Onuphrius Wphly. Have the proportions changed much in the last 178 years? I doubt it.

Monday: February 1, 2010

Acronymical Acrimony

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:54 PM GMT-0500

If FNMA is pronounced ‘Fannie Mae’ and FHLMC is pronounced ‘Freddie Mac’, shouldn’t IPCC be pronounced ‘Ipecac’? Reading about the IPCC and its chairman has much the same effect on me as drinking syrup of ipecac.

Quotation of the Day

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:17 PM GMT-0500

Like all artists when they are not looking merely outrageous, Onuphrius was very particular about his appearance. It was not that he dressed fashionably, but he always tried to give his lamentable selection of clothes a certain romantic dash, and a sense of style that escaped the everyday. He took as his model a fine Van Dyck portrait he had in his studio, and in fact the resemblance was almost uncanny. It was as if the picture had stepped out of its frame, or as though a mirror had been stood in front of it.

(Theophile Gautier, “The Painter”, in My Fantoms, translated by Richard Holmes)

I do not know why Holmes prefers ‘Fantoms’ to ‘Phantoms’ in the title of the collection and in the text. I am glad he changed the title of the story, since the French title is one of the worst ever devised: “Onuphrius Wphly, ou les Vexations Fantastiques d’un admirateur d’Hoffmann”.