Sunday 31 July 2011

New amazing products!

If you're anything like me, you'll only ever visit my blog in order for my handy list of links to other great websites. But to any of you who actually read the content (!), I just thought I'd direct your eyes over to the sidebar once more so as you can expand your horizons.
For a dedicated listo like myself, this has been the blogging find of the year. I first discovered it when its author contacted me with his list of favourite albums for my own personal records. I've since reciprocated with a list of my own for him (you can find this here), but aside from that one the weekly updates are always interesting and well worth checking out.
My great old friend 5olly had one worry in life: that he hadn't seen enough films. And so he's spent the last two years undertaking projects where he tries to watch his way through all manner of online Top 100 film lists. This has caused him a great deal of suffering, as films are generally terrible, long and boring. As such, the least we owe him is to read his reviews, which are the way all film reviews should be.
Yes, it's another blog written by one of my very closest friends. What can I tell you? I'm biased. English As She Is Spoke is a nascent project by a British woman and an American man, about language, life and love. It's an extraordinary thing, a lot more intelligent, engaging and thought-provoking than this rubbish, so what are you waiting for?

As for the rest of the links you'll find in my sidebar, they come highly recommended by the man who just broadened your mind with those three beauties. There's a guarantee of satisfaction, if you ever needed one. Click on and click regularly!

On the titwank scene in Top Gun

Despite the fact that I am from the 1980s, it wasn't until last night that I saw Top Gun for the first time. This is quite an achievement on my part. It's also quite an achievement on the part of that film's cultural ubiquity that I knew all the characters names and even some of the scenes to come before I watched it. Then again, it would be hard to soundtrack a shuffleboard evening with Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins. It's really more of a jet fighter pilot, riding a motorcycle wearing aviators at night with no helmet on, in the Californian desert, sort of a tune.

Like another classically 1980s film which I only saw for the first time in my 30s - Scarface - Top Gun's soundtrack was provided by Giorgio Moroder. I think Giorgio Moroder is one of the key figures in the development of popular music (not just dance music) after his work in the 1970s. However, for his work in the 1980s I think he should be retroactively crowned as King Of The 1980s and literally given a crown to wear.

What everyone knows about Top Gun - whether they've seen it or not - is that it is a film synonymous with homoerotic undertones. Even more than the film Wilde, which has the homoerotic themes but not the Moroder soundtrack. However, things like this get exaggerated by word of mouth and parody. So I was curious to find out whether or not it was as blatant as I've heard it was.

Yes, it is. The Blu-Ray version that I watched was in such high definition that you could see every bead of sweat and every molecule of lust. Kelly McGillis also gets into the swing of things by looking exactly like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Of course, it's hard to discuss Top Gun without mentioning Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise today is more than just an actor, he's a celebrity, a cultural icon and, if you're particularly suggestible, even an evangelist. 1980s Tom Cruise was just a chisel-jawed man who made MOVIES (I refuse to accept Tom Cruise has ever made a film), often playing scenes with his co-stars stood in a hole. However, it's nice to see people who've gone on to such massive global stardom purely doing the thing which elevated them in the first place. There's a lack of the pretentiousness which can later creep in.

How good is Tom Cruise in Top Gun? It doesn't really matter. Even the flamboyantly homoerotic dialogue and glistening volleyball scene doesn't matter. None of them actually needed to say anything. It's an action movie and I have to say I think that the quality of the action scenes still stands up to anything you can see today. One day I would like to see Hollywood be bold enough to look at some action footage and say, "this is awesome, this is all we really need and all anyone really wants to see... why bother spending extra tacking on a boring plot about ambition, desire and personal redemption, plus a love interest and a titwank scene?" Hollywood will never do this, of course. However, as personal computers get more powerful I'm sure home editing software will allow us all to make our own film - Ultimate Top Gun - with just the dogfighting sequences. Or just the powerfully sexually tense scenes in the shower room. It'll be your movie!

As a film I would only give Top Gun 5/10. This is in itself an all time high mark for any film featuring Meg Ryan. Apart from that one where she does a orgasm in Nando's. As a cultural experience, however, I'd probably have to raise it to a 7.5. Life is more exciting when its being soundtracked by Kenny Loggins.

Saturday 30 July 2011

The America project bonus edition - Raleigh, North Carolina

It seems like every time I check my new Twitter followers there's a new account there, extolling the virtues of Raleigh, North Carolina. The way Twitter works, if you're not familiar with it, is that excitable robots scour the tweets to find mentions of things which may possibly be relevant to them and then follow the people who said them, usually with a view to hawking their product.

I can't remember what I ever said about Raleigh, or North Carolina (the US State of which Raleigh is capital city) for that matter. I don't even recall saying anything about Raleigh Choppers, or Sir Walter Raleigh.

However, Twitter seems to have me pegged as a Raleigh man. As I always do, I'm taking the path of least resistance and moving to Raleigh to start a new life. Actually, I'm just going to give it a quick once-over in the style of my America Project posts.

Raleigh (NC) size 145 sq. m population 404,000

Founded 1792
Counties Wake, Durham
Nearby towns and cities Goldsboro, Cary, Garner, Durham
Notable landmarks and other natural features North Carolina State Capitol, Dorton Arena

Sister cities Xianyang (PRC), Compiègne (F), Kingston-upon-Hull (UK), Rostock (D)

Ten famous Raleighites
Worth Bagley (naval officer, 1874-1898)
Michael C. Hall (actor, 1971 -)
Jeff Galloway (athlete and author, 1945 -)
Anne Henning (Olympic gold medallist, 1955 -)
Herb Jackson (artist, 1945 -)
Andrew Johnson (politician, 17th President of the USA, 1808-1875)
Emily Procter (actress, 1968 -)
Peyton Reed (film director, 1964 -)
Amy Sedaris (actress and writer, 1961 -)
David Sedaris (writer, 1956 -)

Tuesday 26 July 2011

On listening to old songs

I listen to a lot of old songs. In fact, I would venture that about 99% of everything I listen to - and I will listen to music every single day - will be old songs. Some NEW RELEASES will seep into my consciousness, but not many. I could say that I leave them for the young people, but in truth it's pretty much always been like that since I've been an adult.

This leaves a 5 year spell, from about 1996-2001, when I was aged 16-21, where I accumulated the most current releases. I don't listen to these old songs so much. They're full of memories, and my memories of that time aren't especially pleasant. They're not especially unpleasant either, but that's barely enough to constitute halcyon days.

Today I am listening to some old songs from that period, however. It's making me realise that whilst I am still very much the same person as I was then, I'm increasingly an incomparably improved version. In many ways, breaking my spine in half was a true rebirth.

20-year old me had all the attributes that make me who I am. But he truly hated himself. With all his soul. It took a brush with death for me to slowly begin to recognise that wasn't necessarily the most fruitful, or honest, path. If I hadn't nearly died that night in 2006, I think I'd be dead by now.

Monday 25 July 2011

The America project - Illinois

Illinois (IL) size 54,826 sq.m population 12.8 million

Bordering states Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana (5)
State capital Springfield
Most populous city Chicago
Other notable places Aurora, Peoria, Moline, Rockford
Notable landmarks and natural features Chicago River; Lake Michigan; Willis Tower (Sears Tower), Chicago

Statehood 3rd December 1818 (21st)

Ten famous Illinoisans
John Belushi (actor and comedian; born Chicago, 1949-1982)
Hillary Clinton (politician, former First Lady; born Chicago, 1947 -)
Miles Davis (musician; born Alton, 1926-1991)
Walt Disney (cartoonist, animator and film maker; born Hermosa, 1901-1966)
Wyatt Earp (gambler and lawman; born Monmouth, 1848-1929)
John Wayne Gacy (serial killer; born Chicago, 1942-1994)
Charles Guiteau (lawyer and Presidential assassin; born Freeport, 1841-1882)
Ernest Hemingway (writer; born Oak Park, 1899-1961)
Ronald Reagan (actor and politician, 40th President of the USA; born Tampico, 1911-2004)
Richard Pryor (comedian, actor and screenwriter; born Peoria, 1940-2005)

Added bonus Illinoisian
It was remiss of me to post this originally without also pointing out that my friend Jessica is also from Illinois. Chicago, to be precise. She is funny and creative. She reminds me of me in that regard.

Please take the time to visit her etsy store.

Three important events

1. The Black Hawk War (May - August 1832)
In May 1832, a group of Black Hawk, Sauk, Meskwaki and Kickapoo Native Americans crossed the Mississippi River from Michigan into Illinois. The American government feared that this group, known as The British Band, were a hostile force and on 14th May opened fire on them. The American troops were poorly trained and feebly armed, and they were routed by the Natives at Stillman's Run. A more organised and prepared army spent the summer of 1832 tracking down the British Band, finally defeating them at The Battle of Bad Axe. Abraham Lincoln, then 23, grew up in the State of Illinois and saw military service for the US Army during the conflict.

2. The Great Chicago Fire (8th-10th October 1871)
In October 1871 4 square miles of the city of Chicago were completely destroyed in a conflagration which began in a barn in DeKoven Street. The fire was exacerbated by the overuse of wood for building, a local drought and the famous Chicago winds which whipped up the flames, although the exact cause of the fire is still unknown. 100,000 people (a third of the city's entire population) were left homeless in the blaze and over 300 killed. The fire raged for 2 days until a rainstorm helped to extinguish it.

3. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (14th February 1929)
Chicago's links with organised crime are notorious, and this is perhaps the most infamous of all the chapters in the history of American gangsters. The target was George "Bugs" Moran, leader of the Irish North Side Gang, prime movers in Prohibition-era bootlegging. Al Capone's Italian South Side Gang were the North Side Gang's sworn rivals. On 14th February 1929, four unknown men, two disguised as policemen, lined up seven men (five North Side Gang members and two collaborators) against the wall of a garage in North Clark Road, Lincoln Park and executed them. However, Bugs Moran had been running late that day so avoided his fate. Capone's perpetrators were mobsters from outside of Chicago and most likely mistook another man for Moran, who lived until 1957. Public outrage about the brutality of the massacre was the beginning of the end for Capone's hold over the city. Within 2 years he had been imprisoned on tax evasion charges.

Sunday 24 July 2011

On the benefits of being old when you're not

A wise friend of mine once said to me that as you get older, you learn to appreciate things more. Particularly people. Friends, family. Loved ones.

If this year has shown me anything about myself it's that I genuinely do this. The revolution for me has been that realisation rather than anything more fundamental. I'm 31 years old. This may be rather early to stop and sniff the flowers along the side of the road. But I am choosing instead to embrace this state of being as the most fundamental advantage of the not-normally-especially-advantageous young fogeydom.

I am proud. You are (probably) bored. Sorry about that.

Friday 22 July 2011

The America project - Idaho

Idaho (ID) size 83,642 sq.m population 1.6 million

Bordering states Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Utah (6)
State capital & Most populous city Boise
Other notable places Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Moscow
Notable landmarks and natural features Snake River; Hell's Canyon; Sawtooth Mountains; Shoshone Falls

Statehood 3rd July 1890 (43rd)

Five famous Idahoans
J.D. Cannon (actor; born Salmon, 1922-2005)
W. Mark Felt (FBI agent ("Deepthroat"; born Twin Falls, 1913-2008)
Ezra Pound (poet; born Hailey, 1885-1972)
Curtis Stigers (musician; born Boise, 1965 -)
Lana Turner (actress; born Wallace, 1921-1995)

Three important events

1. Miners' Strikes
Mining provided the backbone of the Idahoan economy throughout its early years in the Union, but also a lot of its strife. In 1892 a strike at Coeur d'Alene developed into a gunfight between miners and mining company guards. In 1899, seventeen Bunker Hill miners were sacked for having joined the Mining Union and retaliated by blowing up Bunker Hill Mill, killing two company guards. The clamour died down in 1907, after an official from the Western Union of Miners was found guilty of conspiring with the assassin of the State Governor in 1905.

2. Fallout (1950s onwards)
Idaho is one of several northern States who have been affected by radioactive fallout from atom bomb tests in Nye County, Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s. Idahoans show far higher levels of Iodine-131 than the national average. Efforts to properly compensate those afflicted are still going on in Congress.

3. Randy Weaver (1992)
From the 1980s, Idaho was suddenly struck by a raft of far-right wing survivalist and white-power groups. In 1992, an ex-army Green Beret called Randy Weaver, long been suspected of belonging to the Aryan Nation (a charge he denied), was involved in an armed stand-off with Federal agents at his home at Ruby Ridge. Weaver's wife and 10-year old son were killed by gunfire, as was a US Marshal. After a 10 days, Weaver elected to surrender. In the subsequent court case he was found to have acted in self-defence but his failure to appear in court earned him an 18-month custodial sentence.

Thursday 21 July 2011

On breaking your neck, part 3 million

"Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there – I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen in life that's unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television – you don't feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it's all television."

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

The America project - Hawaii

Hawaii (HI) size 10,931sq.m population 1.4 million

Bordering states none
State capital & Most populous city Honolulu
Other notable places Lahaina, Maui, Kailua-Kona, Pearl City
Notable landmarks and natural features Mauna Kea; The Royal Palace (Hawaii is the only American State to have a royal palace and no straight line in its border).

Statehood 21st August 1959 (50th)

Eight famous Hawaiians
Tia Carrere (actress and musician; born Honolulu, 1967 -)
Brian Ching (footballer; born Hale'iwa, 1978 -)
Lauren Graham (actress; born Honolulu, 1967 -)
Bette Midler (actress and singer; born Honolulu, 1945 -)
Barack Obama (politician, 44th President of the USA; born Honolulu, 1961 -)
Danny Ongais (racing driver; born Kahului, 1942 -)
Nicole Scherzinger (singer; born Honolulu, 1978 -)
Michelle Wie (golfer; born Honolulu, 1989 -)

Three important events

1. Captain Cook (14th February 1779)
Captain James Cook is one of the greatest of all the British explorers. In 1776 he set off to try and find the Northwest Passage. In 1778 he and his men became the first Europeans to set foot on the Hawaiian islands. They also became the first men to bring venereal disease to the Hawaiian islands. On his return in 1779, local islanders stole one of Cook's boats. Cook responded by attempting to take their King hostage. The villagers responded by killing Cook and baking him so as to remove his bones.

2. Pearl Harbor (7th December 1941)
The day that has lived in infamy. A seismic shift in American foreign policy was brought about as soon as it became clear that the modern world had evolved to the point that foreign powers could attack the American homeland both without warning and with frightening force. Only September 11th 2001 has come close to rivalling its shocking effect on the American cosmos.

3. Barack Obama (4th August 1961)
Despite what you may have been told by people who probably still think the Earth rests on a turtle's back, the current President of the United States is also the first to have been born in Hawaii. Aside from a 3-year spell in Indonesia between 1968 and 1971, Obama lived in Hawaii until he was 18 and left to study law in California.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

The America project - Georgia

Georgia (GA) size 59,425 sq.m population 9.7 million

Bordering states Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida (5)
State capital & Most populous city Atlanta
Other notable places Augusta, Athens, Roma, Marietta, Columbus
Notable landmarks and natural features Etowah Mounds; Fort James Jackson; Andersonville National Historic Site

Statehood 2nd January 1788 (4th)

Ten famous Georgians
Jimmy Carter (politician, 39th President of the USA; born Plains, 1924 -)
Ray Charles (musician; born Albany, 1930-2004)
Laurence Fishburne (actor; born Augusta, 1961 -)
Oliver Hardy (comic actor; born Harlem, 1892-1957)
Bill Hicks (comedian; born Valdosta, 1961-1994)
Martin Luther King Jr (civil rights leader; born Atlanta, 1929-1968)
Little Richard (musician; born Macon, 1932 -)
Otis Redding (singer; born Dawson, 1941-1967)
Sugar Ray Robinson (boxer; born Ailey, 1921-1989)
Michael Stipe (singer; born Decatur, 1960 -)

Three important events

1. Georgia Gold Rush (1829)
Gold was discovered in Lumpkin County, Georgia in 1828, initiating the first United States gold rush, and still its second-largest in history. By 1830, over 4000 people were working at Yahoola Creek, Lumpkin County alone, for a yield of 8.5kg of gold per day. The knock-on effect was conflict between the prospectors and the Native Americans, who were forced off of their land, never to return. The rush petered out by the early 1840s, with easy pickings now scarce and an even richer discovery of gold in California.

2. Reconstruction (1865)
After the Civil War, Georgia's demographics experienced a seismic shift. Before the conflict, 44% of the entire population of the State had been slaves. Now freed, the black population headed towards the cities, mostly finding work in the railroad and construction industries. However, prejudices and legal impediments persisted for nearly another century, seeing a great deal of migration to the North and West of the country.

3. The lynching of Leo Frank (1915)
Leo Frank was a Jewish businessman and owner of a pencil factory. In 1913 he was (most probably falsely) accused of the rape and murder of a 13-year old employee, Mary Phagen. The local press got a hold of the case and created a great storm of publicity. Antisemitic feelings ran high, so when after Frank's trial his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, 25 prominent local citizens calling themselves "The Knights of Mary Phagen" kidnapped Frank from prison and lynched him in Marietta. In response, the Anti-Defamation League was formed in America to fight all forms of antisemitism and bigotry.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

The America project - Florida

Florida (FL) size 65,755 sq.m population 18.8 million

Bordering states Alabama, Georgia (2)
State capital Tallahassee
Most populous city Jacksonville
Other notable places Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg
Notable landmarks and natural features Kennedy Space Centre; Walt Disney World; Universal Resort; SeaWorld; The Everglades; Florida Keys

Statehood 3rd March 1845 (27th)

Ten famous Floridians
Pat Boone (singer; born Jacksonville, 1934 -)
Carrot Top (comedian; born Cocoa Beach, 1965 -)
Faye Dunaway (actress; born Bascom, 1941 -)
Deborah Harry (singer; born Miami, 1945 -)
Hulk Hogan (wrestler and actor; born Augusta, Georgia (raised in Tampa), 1953 -)
Jim Morrison (singer; born Melbourne, 1943-1971)
Tom Petty (musician; born Gainesville, 1950 -)
Sidney Poitier (actor; born Miami, 1927 -)
Buck Showalter (baseball coach; born DeFuniak Springs, 1956 -)
John Archibald Wheeler (physicist; born Jacksonville, 1911-2008)

Three important events

1. Challenger (28th January 1986)
The NASA space program was up against it by the mid-1980s. One way to increase public interest that NASA hit upon was the Teacher In Space program, to put an American educator in orbit on the Space Shuttle. It was broadly successful, as Christa McAuliffe captured the hearts of the nation. To have been a completely unqualified success, however, one would have to disregard what happened next. With nightime temperatures some 30 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the Florida average, the safety O-Rings, designed to prevent hot exhaust gasses igniting the rocket boosters' hydrogen and oxygen failed to expand sufficiently in the freezing conditions, causing a catastrophic and very public explosion just over a minute into the flight. All on board were killed.

2. Hurricane Andrew (16th-28th August 1992)
Only the third Category 5 Hurricane to make landfall in US history, 1992's Hurricane Andrew was the costliest storm in American history up to that point, causing US$27 billion worth of damage. Florida was particularly badly afflicted by wind damage - crop losses alone amounted to over $1 billion, 25% of the trees in the Florida Everglades were felled and in Dade County, the worst hit, 90% of houses were left with severe structural damage.

3. The Hanging Chads (2000)
The most shambolic American election in history was decided by Florida. George W. Bush looked set to win the race based on exit polls - his Democrat rival Al Gore had publically conceeded defeat during the night - before reports of problems and irregularities in Florida came to light. Poorly designed ballot papers, which did not make it immediately clear which candidate was being selected, and malfunctioning voting machines which didn't necessarily always fully make the required hole (thus leaving the conundrum of whether or not a hanging chad should be counted) were to blame. After weeks of wrangling and recounts, the State and the White House eventually went to Bush by 0.01% of the vote. After the event, many commentators and analysts have argued that had recounts been done differently - hanging chads and all - the result could have narrowly swung Gore's way instead. It was perhaps the least proud moment in US Electoral History, even if you discount the numerous conspiracy theories which have sprung up since.

The America project - Delaware

Delaware (DE) size 2,491 sq.m population 898,000

Bordering states Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey (3)
State capital Dover
Most populous city Wilmington
Other notable places Lewes, New Castle, Delaware City, Seaford
Notable landmarks and natural features Aspendale; John Dickinson House, Delaware Memorial Bridge

Statehood 7th December 1787 (1st)

Six famous Delawareans
Joe Biden (politician, 47th Vice-President of the USA; born Scranton, Pennsylvania (raised in Claymont), 1942 -)
Nancy Currie (astronaut; born Wilmington, 1958 -)
Henry Heimlich (physician; born Wilmington, 1920 -)
Cisco Houston (folk singer; born Wilmington, 1918-1961)
Teri Polo (actress; born Dover, 1969 -)
Judge Reinhold (actor; born Wilmington, 1957 -)

Two important events

1. The first State (1787)
Delaware was amongst the 13 American colonies who rebelled against British rule. After the Revolution, the counties of Delaware were the first to unite and ratify the terms of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Ironically, Delaware almost became the first State to secede from the Union, too: during the American Civil War it remained a slave state despite being nominally one of the Northern States. Only after a referendum did the people of Delaware decide to stay put.

2. The Mason-Dixon Line, The Twelve Mile Circle and The Wedge (1921)
The boundaries of the State of Delaware are rather historically complex, determined by the aforementioned three factors. The Mason-Dixon Line divides Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia and was originally the frontier line between the Northern and Southern United States. The 12-mile circle's radius point is the city of New Haven, and its arc forms Delaware's north-western borders with Maryland and Pennsylvania. However, an arc and the Mason-Dixon Line are incompatible things, leaving little clippings here and there. The most notable of these is The Wedge, a small triangle of disputed land falling between the 12-mile circle and the Mason-Line. It has variously been attributed to Delaware and Pennsylvania down the years, largely due to innacuracies in topographic surveying techniques. In 1921 it was officially declared as Delawarean territory.

Monday 18 July 2011

The America project - Connecticut

Connecticut (CT) size 5,543 sq.m population 3.6 million

Bordering states New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island (3)
State capital Hartford
Most populous city Bridgeport
Other notable places New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury
Notable landmarks and natural features Bear Mountain, Yale University

Statehood 9th January 1788 (5th)

Ten famous Connecticutters
P.T. Barnum (showman and entrepreneur; born Bethel, 1810-1891)
Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman, abolitionist and social reformer; born Litchfield, 1813-1887)
Ernest Borgnine (actor; born Hamden, 1917 -)
George W. Bush (politician, 43rd President of the USA; born New Haven, 1946 -)
Charles Goodyear (inventor and businessman; born New Haven, 1800-1860)
Katharine Hepburn (actress; born Hartford, 1907-2003)
Annie Liebovitz (photographer; born Waterbury, 1949 -)
Robert Mitchum (actor; born Bridgeport, 1917-1997)
Moby (musician; born New York City (raised in Darien), 1965 -)
Benjamin Spock (paediatrician and author; born New Haven, 1903-1998)

Three important events

1. Terratorial disputes
Connecticut was a haven for Dutch settlers until the English arrived in the early 17th Century. By sheer weight of numbers they began to dominate affairs in the area. In the end, a number of treaties were drawn up to set out proper boundaries. These treaties in themselves fuelled the disputes for years to come. One early document promised Connecticut an ocean coast to its east, causing centuries of squabbles with Long Island and Rhode Island. To the West, open warfare broke out between Connecticut and Pennsylvania between 1773 and 1778 over an area called the Western Reserve. As is so gallingly often the case with any such serious territorial tussles, neither State can now lay claim to the area: it's now part of Ohio.

2. USS Nautilus (1954)
Munitions and military hardware have often been the bedrock of Connecticut's economy, but they have also been pioneers. During the Cold War years, the world's first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus was built in Connecticut. Nautilus saw active service from 1954 until 1980. After it was decommissioned it was turned into a naval history museum in Groton, CT.

3. Carrie Saxon Perry (1987)
In 1987, Hartford made a little piece of American history, becoming the first major US city to elect an African American woman as its mayor. She served for three terms of office.

Friday 15 July 2011

Restless farewell

Dorothy Grace Lee 11 June 1922 - 14th July 2011
I didn't sleep very well last night. At about 11 p.m. there was a phone call that my nan had died after a short illness. We're not a particularly close or expressive family, I should probably explain, but I was pleased that it got me agitated enough to make it hard to sleep. It was, at the very least, that I owed a woman who played a pretty significant role in my life. A recurring character in my life's ongoing sitcom scenario, if you will.

My nan was a tricky person for me to describe, and our relationship is hard for me to pin down without sounding grotesquely unaffected at this particular time. Her fundamental problem was that she married a man 14 years her senior, but never made any mental contingency for what she would do if he died first. He did, of course, in 1995. All the joy went out of her that day, and it never really came back. She would ghost around sadly but I think all she really wanted to do was be out of it.

Tragic though this is to say, she became something of a burden. It happened at a time when our relationship was already undergoing a fundamental shift, I was 15 but she seemed unwilling to accept that I was growing up. It became more of a drag than a treat to see her, and even worse I resented the fact it had come to this, simply because we had been so close when I was young and I had loved spending as much time with her as I could. Why could she not see I was changing?

Of course, I now realise that life is - and relationships with other people are - never quite that simple. It's a shame that this gulf had grown up between us during the last 16 years of her life, but I would say that we were still pretty close. She particularly doted on me, and was always so proud of everything - of anything - I did I have been told. People who know me will probably know my nan via any number of pithy remarks, but they probably also know me well enough to realise that's not the full story. If they didn't, hopefully this will provide some reassurance that I'm not quite the monster that I like to make out sometimes. I did love her.

In her last 5 years, she succumbed to Vascular Dementia. Dementia is a particularly unpleasant thing anyway, but the way it affected her was needlessly cruel. She spent much of the last few years in specialist care homes but in her mind she was being blamed for the war, being abandoned by her dad (his death when she was a teenager was something she never fully came to terms with), being accused to raping or murdering children, being poisoned by enemy agents. In the end, her passing was a relief, but more than that, the manner of it - peacefully slipping away in her sleep having been battling a chest infection - seems like at least some compensation for the suffering she had endured. She didn't deserve it.

In the end, history will show that my nan was born in Catford, died in Bromley and did little else but have two children in between. So I just wanted some record to say that she was a kind person, a loving person and a generous person. In the end she affected the lives of the people she loved and there's really nothing greater any human being can aspire to. Rest well, Nan.

Thursday 14 July 2011

The America project - Colorado

Colorado (CO) size 104,185 sq.m population 5 million

Bordering states Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico (7)
State capital & most populous city Denver
Other notable places Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Aspen
Notable landmarks and natural features The High Plains, The Rocky Mountains

Statehood 1st August 1876 (38th)

Ten famous Coloradans
Tim Allen (comedian and actor; born Denver, 1953 -)
Neal Cassady (poet and writer; born Salt Lake City, Utah (raised in Denver), 1926-1968)
Lon Chaney (actor; born Colorado Springs, 1883-1930)
Jack Dempsey (boxer; born Manassa, 1895-1983)
Douglas Fairbanks (actor; born Denver, 1883-1939)
John Kerry (politician; born Aurora, 1943 -)
Trey Parker (actor, writer and animator; born Conifer, 1969 -)
Karl Rove (politician; born Denver, 1950 -)
Jack Swigert (astronaut; born Denver, 1931-1982)
Bobby Unser (racing driver; born Colorado Springs, 1934 -)

Three important events

1. The Colorado War (1863-65)
It's tempting to think that cowboys and injuns were just for films and TV, but of course they really weren't. The Colorado War, between the Native Cheyenne and Arapaho Americans and Colorado's new white settlers is one such example. The settlers attacked the tribesmen once they thought they were straying off of their agreed settlements. After two years' fighting, the settlers prevailed and the Native American got a raw deal indeed.

2. Colorado declines the Olympics (1972)
In 1970, Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympic Games. Coloradan tax payers were not keen, as they'd be footing the bill. By 1972, election year, it had become a major hot potato. On the same day the country re-elected Nixon - which went well - Coloradan voters decided to decline the hosting honours. To this date they remain the only successful Olympic hosting bid winner to reject the honour.

3. Columbine High School massacre (20th April 1999)
On Tuesday 20th April 1999, Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17) went on a rampage around their High School just outside Denver. Armed with a huge arsenal of pistols and shotguns, they killed 12 of their fellow students, one teacher and injured 24 more before turning the guns on themselves. It remains the single worst school shooting in North American history.

The America project - California

California (CA) size 160,700 sq.m population 37.3 million

Bordering states Orgeon, Nevada, Arizona (3)
State capital Sacramento
Most populous city Los Angeles
Other notable places San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Fresno, Long Beach
Notable landmarks and natural features Yosemite National Park; Death Valley; Sierra Nevada; Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Statehood 9th September 1850 (31st)

Ten famous Californians
Cher (singer and actress; born El Centro, 1946 -)
Dian Fossey (zoologist; born San Francisco, 1932-1985)
Gene Hackman (actor; born San Bernadino, 1930 -)
Steve Jobs (businessman; born San Francisco, 1955 -)
Billie Jean King (tennis player; born Long Beach, 1943 -)
Randy Newman (musician and songwriter; born Los Angeles, 1943 -)
Richard Nixon (politician, 37th President of the USA; born Yorba Linda,1913-1994)
Brian Wilson (musician; born Inglewood, 1942 -)
Tiger Woods (golfer; born Cypress, 1975 -)
Don Van Vliet (musician and artist; born Glendale, 1941-2010)

Three important events

1. San Francisco earthquake (18th April 1906)
California sits on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring Of Fire, recently in the news of course for its causing the Japanese tsunami in March. California's faultline - the San Andreas Fault - is probably the most famous geological faultline in the world and San Francisco residents are always mindful of The Big One. This was A Big One. It measured 8 on the Richter Scale but what made it particularly devastating was that it ruptured the city's gas mains, causing a monumental fire which destroyed 490 city blocks. An estimated 3425 people died, the highest ever death toll for a natural disaster in US history.

2. Birth of Hollywood (1910)
The American film industry began in New York and was ruled over by the gimlet money-making eye of Thomas Edison, whose inventions and technology had made it all possible. As his financial demands squeezed creativity ever tighter, pioneering director D.W. Griffith looked west to find a new place to shoot. What he discovered was a small village just outside of Los Angeles, mostly given over to growing oranges. Here the light was perfect and the sun shone for 300 days out of the year. Within a decade, every major motion picture house was based in Hollywood.

3. Los Angeles Riots (29th April - 4th May 1992)
Los Angeles is something of a tinderbox of racial tension, and when ignited by a spark the results can be very spectacular. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, the Watts area of the city erupted into an enormous conflagration. In 1992, the trigger was footage of the police brutally beating a black motorist, Rodney King. In the 6 days of rioting, looting and arson, US$1 billion of damage was done and 53 people were killed.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The America project - Arkansas

Arkansas (AR) size 52,897 sq.m population 2.9 million

Bordering states Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississipi, Louisiana (6)
State capital & most populous city Little Rock
Other notable places Texarkana, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, West Memphis, El Dorado
Notable landmarks and natural features The Mississippi River (forms the State's eastern border), Buffalo National River, Crowley's Ridge

Statehood 15th June 1836 (25th)

Ten famous Arkansawyers
Glen Campbell (musician; born Delight, 1936 -)
Johnny Cash (musician; born Kingsland, 1932-2003)
Bill Clinton (politician, 42nd President of the USA; born Hope, 1946 -)
Beth Ditto (singer; born Searcy, 1981 -)
John Grisham (author; born Jonesboro, 1955 -)
Levon Helm (musician; born Marvell, 1940 -)
Sonny Liston (boxer; born Sand Slough, 1932-1970)
Douglas McArthur (army general; born Little Rock, 1880-1964)
Dick Powell (actor; born Mountain View, 1904-1963)
Billy Bob Thornton (actor and musician; born Hot Springs, 1955 -)

Three important events

1. Arkansas guarantees its pronounciation (1881)
Arkansas is the only one of the 50 US States which has passed legislation stating the correct way to pronounce its name. There was a nasty argument brewing, the type of which can only be caused by pronounciation. In 1881, it was signed into statute that anyone not saying it AR-kan-saw was to be pillioried and chucked into the sea.

2. The Great Migration (early 20th Century)
At the beginning of the last century, Arkansas was one of the most disenfranchised places in America. Voting was solely a preserve of white men, whilst a third of the population of the State were black. In common with a number of other southern States, the early part of the 20th Century saw black Americans up sticks to find better, and marginally fairer, conditions on the Atlantic coast or in California.

3. The Little Rock Nine (1959)
Desegregation of schools was guaranteed by the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education legal case in Topeka, Kansas. In 1957, nine black students went to enrol at Little Rock Central High, a previously all-white school. Segregationists from across the State came to Little Rock in order to physically blockade the door. The Governor of Little Rock responded by getting President Eisenhower to mobilise the 10,000-strong Arkansas National Guard. Eisenhower even issued the 101st Airbourne Division as cover. The nine students were eventually allowed into the school under military guard, but of course endured a year of abuse, some of it physical. However, one of their number, Ernest Green, would eventually go on to become the first African American graduate from Little Rock Central High.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Confessional, part 2

On Friday it will be five years since I nearly died. I should have died. I fell through a skylight, cracking my head on a stone wall and falling 30 feet onto a stone floor. Somehow - most likely a combination of luck and what a neurosurgeon later described to me as an "unusually thick" skull - I escaped with the only the loss of 2 pints of blood and two broken bones in my neck. Both of these things are, of course, fairly serious in themselves. However, I was almost literally able to walk away. Three miserable weeks in a halo brace and an operation to reattach my odontoid peg with a terrifyingly large screw later, and here I am.

I'd been thinking about what to do to mark the event. I decided that perhaps the best thing to do is talk about it. My friends like to tease me about how I go on about it all the time. I'm pretty sure they're joking because I try not to. Believe me, I try not to. It was without any shadow of a doubt the worst time in my life. Even with their support and the support of my family, which was beyond any reproach. I died inside on 15th July 2006. To be honest, I don't think I was resuscitated until this year.

I could have easily turned this in to a post eulogising the roles that everyone around me played. It would be completely and utterly heartfelt. To Anna, who kept me conscious at the bottom of the stairs. To Pete, whose courage and friendship I can't even begin to overstate. To Kate and Ian, who kept me in the loop and subsequently invited me into their families' lives. To Femke, whose visit to me in the hospital is my most abiding memory from my time there and who has always been there for me. To Thomas, who visited me every day in the hospital. To my parents. To the Kevins and the Eds who visited me at home. To everyone who visited me, to everyone who phoned, who sent cards, who gave me presents. I hope you'll never need to find out how much I appreciated it. I hope you do know how much I love you all.

I cried all through writing that last paragraph. This is one more time than I cried during the whole experience. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone in my position it would be to admit to yourself how wretchedly miserable you are. Don't kid yourself you're "just happy to be alive". That's complete bunkum. You live and you die on happenstances, but the person you are is deep within you. It's what I did, of course, and it was even more numbing than the haze of opiates which I had to take to get through the physical pain.

I felt nothing at all until New Year, when I cried so hard I was sick all over my friend's floor - another triumph in what had been my most triumphant twelve months - just with relief that the whole retched business of 2006 had finished. But then what? 2007 was a really very dark time indeed. I considered suicide once. But I was just not willing to do that to the wonderful people who had helped me through, because not one second of it was their fault.

So, I got into a way of living where I was thinking only of doing things for everyone else. It sounds like a pretty nice thing to do, and I certainly have many treasured memories from the past five years. Life has been more intense and vital. But frequently I've felt completely dissociated from it, still and alone in the middle of everything. I'd forgotten myself.

If I were a sensible person, I'd have sought help. There's no question in my mind that I had post-traumatic stress as well as goodness knows what other issues rattling around. But, being very British about it - and being a dope - I did nothing. It wasn't until other, more current, family events took precedence last year that I was awoken from my slumber, that I started to talk to people more, to open up, to have the courage to admit to being miserable, numb and alone.

In the five years since 15th July 2006, I'd wished I'd been killed countless times but mostly, I've felt nothing at all. Nothing. Last night was, hand on heart, the first time that I'd thought to myself how glad I am that I didn't die. It was like being reborn.

It's not the end. It's probably not, to be Churchillian about things, the beginning of the end. But hopefully it will be the end of the beginning.

The America project - Arizona

Arizona (AZ) size 113,998 sq.m population 6.4 million

Bordering states California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico (5)
State capital & most populous city Phoenix
Other notable places Tuscon, Flagstaff, Prescott, Tempe
Notable landmarks and natural features The Grand Canyon; Meteor Crater (the Barringer Meteorite Crater); The Colorado River, The Hoover Dam

Statehood 14th February 1912 (48th)

Ten famous Arizonans
Linda Carter (actress and model; born Phoenix, 1951 -)
Ted Danson (actor; born San Diego, California (raised in Flagstaff), 1947 -)
Geronimo (Native American Chief; born Gila River, 1929-1909)
Barry Goldwater (politician; born Phoenix, 1909-1998)
Joe Jonas (singer; born Casa Grande, 1989 -)
Stephenie Meyer (author; born Hartford, Connecticut (raised in Phoenix), 1974 -)
Charles Mingus (musician; born Nogales, 1922-1979)
Stevie Nicks (musician; born Phoenix, 1948 -)
Greg Proops (comedian; born Phoenix, 1959 -)
Garry Shandling (comedian and actor; born Chicago, Illinois (raised in Tuscon), 1949 -)

Three important events

1. Arizona joins the Union (1912)
Arizona was the last of the 48 contiguous US States to join the Union. It almost did so as part of neighbouring New Mexico as part of a plan for the Republican Party to keep control of the Senate. This was rejected by Arizonans and they were signed into the Union by President Taft on 14th February 1912. As part of their agreement, Arizona gave women the vote, eight years before universal suffrage reached the rest of the country.

2. Senator Barry Goldwater runs for President (1964)
Five-term Senator Barry Goldwater won the Republican Party's nomination for the 1964 US Presidential election. He was up against Lyndon Johnson, who had only just assumed the role in the previous year following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Goldwater won the electoral vote of just 5 States, including his own, in one of the biggest electoral defeats of the 20th Century.

3. Arizona celebrates Martin Luther King Day (1989)
From 1972, State employees were given a paid holiday on the third Monday of January in honour of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. However, State Senator Evan Mecham and his Attorney General were of the opinion that the holiday had been created illegally and cancelled it. Part of the penalty that Arizona paid for this was that they lost their opportunity to host the Super Bowl, as well as money from tourism revenues. In 1989, new Senator Rose Mofford passed legislation reversing Mecham's decision, but the controversy rumbled on. Eventually, with their long-promised Super Bowl hanging in the balance, the issue was put to a referendum in 1992. Arizona became the 49th State to approve MLK Day and the first to do so by public ballot. Arizonans eventually got their Super Bowl - which appears to be the guiding principle of all actions - in 1996.

Monday 11 July 2011

The America project - Alaska

Alaska (AK) size 663,267 sq.m population 710,000

Bordering states None
State capital Juneau
Most populous city Anchorage
Other notable places Kodiak, Fairbank, Nome
Notable landmarks and natural features Mount Shishaldin, the world's most perfectly conically-shaped volcano; Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

Statehood 3rd January 1959 (49th)

Five famous Alaskans
Matt Carle (ice hockey player; born Anchorage, 1984 - )
Joe Juneau (gold prospector; born Saint-Paul-l'Ermite, Quebec, Canada (founded city of Juneau), 1836-1899)
Sarah Palin (politician; born Sandpoint, Idaho (moved to Skagway as a baby), 1964 -)
Valerie Plame (Ex-CIA secret agent; born Anchorage, 1963 - )
Curtis Schilling (baseball player; born Anchorage, 1966 -)

Three important events

1. The Alaska Purchase (1867)
Fearing that the territory would be a vulnerable target in an anticipated future war with Britain, Tzar Alexander II of Russia decided to sell Alaska. The US Secretary of State Henry Seward thought it would be a valuable acquisition and eventually convinced Congress to stump up US$7.2 million for it. This works out at roughly 2 cents per acre. However, it wasn't until gold was discovered in Alaska at the end of the 19th Century that Americans began to accept that "Seward's Folly" may have been worthwhile.

2. The Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899)
Gold was discovered in the Klondike River, Yukon, on the Canadian side of the Alaska-Canada border in August 1896. When the news reached the USA in the following summer, it caused a huge migration of hopeful prospectors. At its height, the population of the Klondike is thought to have been over 40,000, establishing Dawson City and almost causing a famine. The majority of prospectors travelled through Alaska to reach the Klondike, and many stayed there when the Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899 with rumours of a discovery of gold in Nome on Alaska's west coast.

3. The Good Friday earthquake (27th March 1964)
At 5.36p.m. on Good Friday 1964, Alaska was struck by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America and the second most powerful ever recorded. Registering at 9.2 on the Richter Scale, it killed 9 people outright and a further 122 in Tsunamis across Alaska, Oregon and California. Some parts of land were permanently raised by 30 feet as a result of the force released, whilst property damage was estimated at US$310 million (now US$2.12 billion).

The America project - Alabama

Alabama (AL) size 52,419 sq.m population 4.8 million

Bordering states Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida (4)
State capital Montgomery
Most populous city Birmingham
Other notable places Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Huntsville
Notable landmarks and natural features Natural Bridge Rock, Haleyville; Wetumpka Crater, Elmore County; Appalachian Mountains.

Statehood 14th December 1819 (22nd)

Ten famous Alabamians
Tallulah Bankhead (actress; born Jasper, 1902-1968)
Nat King Cole (singer; born Montgomery, 1919-1965)
Helen Keller (writer and activist, born Tuscumbia, 1880-1968)
Carl Lewis (athlete, born Montgomery, 1961 -)
Joe Louis (boxer, born Lafayette, 1914-1981)
Jesse Owens (athlete, born Oakville, 1913-1980)
Rosa Parks (civil rights activist, born Tuskegee, 1913-2005)
Condoleezza Rice (politician, born Birmingham, 1954 - )
Lionel Richie (singer, born Tuskegee, 1949 - )
Jimmy Wales (internet entrepreneur, born Huntsville, 1966 - )

Three important events

1. Tuskegee syphilis experiment (clinical study, 1932-1972)
A US Government study to study the progress of untreated syphilis in rural black male sharecroppers from Macon County, all of whom were made to believe that they were in fact receiving free healthcare. As well as denying the subjects the knowledge of their condition, they also withheld from them the knowledge of, or treatment from any new treatments for the disease such as Penicillin. In 1966, a public health service man called Peter Buxton began the process of bringing the case to the wider public knowledge. In 1974, Congress passed an act forbidding any such future medical study. In 1997, President Clinton formally apologised on behalf of the US Government.

2. The Montgomery Bus Boycott (civil rights, 1955-1956)
42-year old seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in December 1955. Her arrest spawned a year-long protest where black Americans boycotted the Montgomery public transport system in order to see its segregation rules revoked. Segregation on public transport was declared unconstitutional on 1st December 1956.

3. Stand In The Schoolhouse Door (civil rights, 11th June 1963)
Governor of Alabama George Wallace, newly-elected on his promise of 'segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever' physically stood in the doorway at Alabama University's Foster Auditorium in order to prevent three black students, Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood from officially registering for classes. Jones, McGlathery and Hood's right to attend the university was secured by 1954's Brown vs. The Board of Education legal case, which declared segregated schools to be unconstitutional.

Wallace's stand was eventually ended when President Kennedy mobilised the National Guard and General Henry Graham ordered the Governor to step aside.

The America project - introduction

Oh, hello there.

Recently I've been lucky enough to make a new friend. And they are from the United States of America, which is a foreign country. This makes me giddy with the exotica of it all.

But it has also made me think. British people are very keen on dismissing Americans' knowledge of European geography and history as being insular or lacking. Personally, I feel that this is a ludicrous position, as is any assumption made about any group of over 300 million people. And anyway, how much do we in Britain know about the ol' US of A?

There are, of course, fifty States, all with their own strong identities and histories, many of them multiple times the size of our entire country. My immediate response to anything is to make a list, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a handy crib sheet of notable facts about each and every US state, in alphabetical order.

Hopefully I'll learn a lot of new things. Hopefully I'll even remember some of them. I'll also be using the label "America" on each post so that you can gather them all together and use it to cheat on exams and pub quizzes.

Sunday 10 July 2011

On science

My understanding of science is perhaps a little flaky in parts. However, it is a subject which frequently fascinates, probably as a result of the number of exciting mysteries it throws up to idiots like me.

My latest concern is about emails. When the emails are all shooting about around in the pipes, there's a lot of energy there, surely? And all the emails in their pipes remind me a bit of a particle accelerator. So, my question is, if two different people with identical names emailed someone at the exact same time, would it cause reality to collapse in on itself?

This just one of the myriad excellent reasons why I prefer receiving emails from people with unique names.

Thursday 7 July 2011

On twooting

I'm continually changing, adding to and cutting away at the list of people I follow on Twitter. The fact I even need to write this post, explaining my reasons, saddens me. But it's something I feel I should probably do.

I've got around 500 followers on Twitter. This is a very flatteringly high number, considering I'm a fairly anonymous sort. Believe me, I am flattered. But I never got into Twitter to accumulate a following. I got into it through my friends being on it and them suggesting I join in. This was 4 and a half years ago. A lot has changed in the world of Twitter since then, to say the very least. Twitter now is a few steps away from changing the world itself.

But anyway, here I am, with 500 followers. I estimate that I personally know around 40 or 50 of them. Maybe less. Five-hundred is, seemingly, a sufficient number to give me enough of a "reputation" that some people notice if I stop following them. Some of them even send @ replies about it, batting their sad eyelashes reproachfully.

For heaven's sake, people. Twitter is not a social networking site, it is a microblogging site. It is THE microblogging site. It invented the whole mad concept. These are exciting times.

I blame the reply function. Believe it or not, the @ reply is relatively new to the Twitter party. In a lot of ways, I think it has ruined the whole business. It's undeniably useful for talking with your friends and keeping abreast of things you'd otherwise have perhaps missed, but it's also allowed the new idea of "twitter friends" to take hold, bringing with it the hideous mutation of all we held dear.

If you are a stranger to me and you decide that you'd like to read what I have to say, that's great, it's fine, follow me. But my obligation - our "relationship", if you will - ceases there. Maybe in time that will change. Maybe I'll like your tweets and follow you back. I check out every one of my new followers. Additionally, I've started and stopped and started and stopped and started following again any number of people in my time on the site. I may yet come crawling back, like a shamed lover.

The only constants in my twitter list are, naturally enough, my friends. For everyone else, in the final analysis I'm an avatar on a website talking (a lot) of old toot. So don't start giving me the bloody cow eyes. It demeans you and infuriates me.

This is the ultimate "it's not you, it's me" here, people. Twitter is a wonderful thing, if you know how to use it. People who assume 'following' has an implicit reciprocity to it do not know how to use it. I'll make personal decisions about who I want to follow, just as you should, can and do. A Twitter cull is so much nicer - so much less final - than a Facebook cull. People I don't follow can still follow me, still send me @ replies which I can still read and respond to. So in all of this sea of niceness, don't let's be getting antsy with each other. And especially not with me.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Pop music theory 1.0

I've got a theory and I need to test it out.

My theory is that the defining song of any decade will be released in its second year, i.e. the one ending in the number 1. However, I'm struggling to think of how this may be proved for the last decade, the name of which is a too hot a potato for me to tackle whilst I'm busy theorising.

Here's what I've got so far:

1980s defining song: The Specials - Ghost Town
1990s defining song: Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy
2000s defining song: ?
2010s defining song: Rebecca Black - Friday

Any fellow music scientists able to help me develop this? No time-wasters.

On soul music

Two events of extraordinary good fortune have made life on earth possible. The first was a collision with a celestial body when the Earth was little but a flaming ball of boiling rock, which tilted it off its axis to a degree perfect for organisms to develop and evolve. The second was when gospel music fused with its secular cousin rhythm and blues to produce soul music.

Needless to say, everyone alive today is astonishingly lucky that either of these things happened, so to have both is remarkable indeed. Here are my ten favourite soul songs in no particular order.

1. The Supremes - You Keep Me Hanging On
2. Jackie Wilson - Higher and Higher
3. The Four Tops - I Can't Help Myself
4. Aretha Franklin - Think
5. Stevie Wonder - Uptight
6. Martha and The Vandellas - Dancing in the Street
7. Marvin Gaye - Chained
8. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - Tears of a Clown
9. Jimmy Ruffin - What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
10. Otis Redding - You Made A Man Out of Me

Honourary mention: part of the great joy of soul music is its conciseness and immediacy. The shortest track of the four which make up Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul clocks in at over 5 minutes, the longest over eighteen and a half. However, it remains my favourite soul record of them all. It's soul, funk and rap music's Kind of Blue, if that's not too glib.

Late edit: I'm going to replace number 10 with Joy Inside My Tears by Stevie Wonder. Sorry Otis, but you know the nature of music, if you ask me again tomorrow you might get 6 or 7 in.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

On psychics

Could old films be lying to us? Or at the very least, might they have painted a false picture of reality? How else can I explain the most baffling social omission of our times?

Back in the old days, of candlelight dinners, waspish comments and no funny stuff before marriage, no respectable woman would be without some measure of psychic powers. A dinner party was not complete without some question being answered or argument being settled by an impromptu seance, after a man had stood up to announce that his wife was "particularly in-tune with the beyond".

Where's all this now? The average dinner party that I go to now is perfectly lovely. Food and drink is consumed, conversation is enjoyed. It is so gezellig. All that is missing is a bit of occult activity to round it off. Maybe with rattling windows and sweeping curtains.

This is why Tarot card reading should be on the National Curriculum.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Wimblemund 2011, day 13

Novak Djokovic bt. Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3
Whilst the women's tennis rankings continue to be a complete nonsense - mainly as a consequence of the two most dominant female players being in semi-retirement from the tour, emerging only for the biggest events - there's at least an ongoing semblance of sanity in the men's. This was emphasised today as the man who will be the new World number 1 tomorrow defeated the man he will replace to win his first Wimbledon.

It's been a magnificent year for Djokovic. He's lost only one match, and that was in a Grand Slam semi final to Roger Federer. Today he went toe-to-toe with Rafael Nadal and out-punched, outran and out-thought him. Nadal looked rather forlorn at times, having to resort to hitting risky winners and in so doing ramping up his normally meagre unforced error count. I consider Nadal to be the best player in the world at the moment, but, on the men's tour at least, the numbers perhaps don't lie.

We've all been told to expect Djokovic to make the step up to the top table for years. But in the rarified atmosphere of professional tennis, I think people were starting to believe that - at the grand old age of 24 - he'd missed his chance. However, here he is in form which, if he's able to sustain it, will see him start to add significant numbers of majors to his burgeoning collection.

He still looks like Screech from Saved By The Bell, mind you.

On wuggles

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so this post may prove very useful for any of my friends or family who are reading.

I'm a very cuddly sort of person in appearance and, if you'll indulge me, in my lovely curmudgeonly teddy bear personality. However, I am sometimes - too often - a bit of a wet fish when it comes to being tactile. And I'm mad as hell and not going to take it any more. That's right. Angry cuddles for everyone. Form a queue.

No, but I frequently feel myself holding back. It's by no means at all times and in all places, and again, it is undeniably also a good thing sometimes. But I do need perhaps to start crediting myself with a little more ability to read a situation than I currently am. If you're surrounded by loved ones, it's a social occasion, everyone is having fun... well, you know, people are not that likely to get the pepper spray out. Initially, at least.

Maybe it's a bit of the old English reserve. But I suspect it's much more likely to be those tiresome self-esteem issues again. And I'm sick and tired of them ruining everything. 31 years of running my life on the assumption I'm awful and everyone would be happier if I went a long, long way away is probably sufficient for any lifetime.

So, my new ambition is to be more cuddly, in all wuggly ways and at all huggle-appropriate times. I promise not to stick a thumb up anyone's arse.

Initially, at least.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Wimblemund 2011, day 12

Petra Kvitova bt. Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-4
A superbly assured performance brought Petra Kvitova her maiden Grand Slam title in her first final. Full of focus, aggression and astonishing composure under pressure, it will not be her last one. And not a grunt to be heard. From her side of the net, at least. If you're looking for the player who will step up to fill the Williams sisters' shoes when they retire, Kvitova seems as likely as any to be the one.

Also today, the Men's Doubles final. As I write this, Bob and Mike Bryan lead by two sets to love and look set to secure their second Wimbledon doubles title. But it's most exciting for the fact that, as written, their team name could just as easily be that of a singles player. Here I present a list of the last eleven such Doubles champions at the All England Club:
  1. Bryan Stosur (Bob Bryan/Samantha Stosur, Mixed Doubles 2008)
  2. Murray Jankovic (Jamie Murray/Jelena Jankovic, Mixed Doubles 2007)
  3. Clement Llodra (Arnaud Clément/Michel Llodra, Men's Doubles 2007)
  4. Bryan Bryan (Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, Men's Doubles 2006)
  5. Pierce Bhupathi (Mary Pierce/Mahesh Bupathi, Mixed Doubles 2005)
  6. Raymond Stubbs (Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs, Ladies' Doubles 2001)
  7. Raymond Paes (Lisa Raymond/Leander Paes, Mixed Doubles 1999)
  8. Stewart Garrison (Sherwood Stewart/Zina Garrison, Mixed Doubles 1988)
  9. Jordan Flach (Kathy Jordan/Ken Flach, Mixed Doubles 1987)
  10. Jordan Sayers Smylie (Kathy Jordan/Elizabeth Sayers Smylie, Women's Doubles 1985)
  11. Lloyd Turnbull (John Lloyd/Wendy Turnbull, Mixed Doubles 1984)
And in exciting BREAKING NEWS, as I compiled that list, Bryan Bryan did indeed win his second Men's Doubles title.

Wimblemund 2011, day 11

Novak Djokovic bt. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-7(9), 6-3
Rafael Nadal bt. Andy Murray 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4
Men's semi-final day and everything's at stake. Who could possibly have predicted that the finalists would eventually turn out to be the world numbers 1 and 2, giving it the old one-two? First up was Djokovic and Tsonga, who played out a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting match full of flamboyant gymnastics. A lot more was on the line than just a place in the final: by winning Djokovic became the new world number 1 player. And had he lost, he would have had to swap silent letters with his opponent. But Dsonga and Tjokovic was not to be... just as Tsonga looked to be starting up another fightback, Djokovic managed to up his level and stay on course.

He will play Rafael Nadal. This is the third consecutive year that Murray's Wimbledon has ended in a semi-final defeat and the second consecutive year that it's been to Nadal, although if you want to find positives then this time he managed to win a set. Alas, tennis is a first-to-three affair and Nadal is one of the most relentless and talented players the world has ever known. Imagine how good he'd be with two good feet.

Sunday's final should be absolutely fascinating and, if we're really lucky, another classic.


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