Friday, February 2, 2007


A Diary by John McCaughey

Blather [magazine] is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or for any evidence of a slavish desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. Blather doesn't care. A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?

---Flann O'Brien, Dublin, 1934

None of us can really be sure that we exist. My whole life, as this Diary shows, is a lie. All the characters in it are invented, none bears any resemblance to anyone living or dead. People who claim to find themselves here must know that the only real existence we can any of us claim is in the imagination of God.

---Auberon Waugh, Diaries 1972-1985

Department of Weasel Words

Blather thought that it had heard all of the many euphemisms for a tax increase: "revenue enhancement" and "solidarity payments" are two of our favorites.

But California Ubergovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger came up with an imaginative new one the other day. He proposes to tax California doctors, hospitals and employers to raise money for his new $12 billion statewide health plan.

However "It's not a tax, just a loan," he told the Sacramento Bee, "because it does not go for general [expenditures]. It goes back to health care."

When and where, the Californians may well ask, can they obtain repayment of their loan. And will they be paid interest? Even by Californian standards, this does not pass the straight face test.

Who elected him anyway?

Casino not so Royale?

Oops, short your shares in the Nice, Cannes and Monaco casinos. A new European Commission report foresees chilly Northern Europe benefiting greatly from global warming while the Mediterranean (not to mention Spain, Greece and Italy) face shortages of water and tourists by mid-21st Century. The North Sea coast may become the new Riviera. Crops there would blossom and boom. Tourist spending in the South (an estimated $130 billion a year) would be drastically reduced.

Of course, all of this is thumb-sucking forecasting and almost certainly balls. But it is pleasant to contemplate, nevertheless. When we were staying at the Negresco Hotel on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice the other week, it was scandalous what they were charging for a simple cocktail. Serves the Frogs jolly well right.

Loonspuddery: A Delightful Word

We spotted "loonspuddery" in a letter printed in Britain's "New Science" magazine recently. Essentially, it appears from the context to mean "arrant nonsense". It is perhaps a combination of "loon" ( a silly or foolish person) and "spudder" which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as fuss or disturbance.

In "New Scientist", the letter writer employed it in a discussion of how to detect that one's correspondent is a crackpot. In journalism, the old rule was that if the letter was handwritten in various colors of ink (especially green) and with no margins, the writer clearly was off his rocker.

This brings pleasurably to mind another amusing old story. Margins are more commonly referred to as "borders" in America. The late J. Edgar Hoover of FBI fame had a peculiar fetish (one of many) that all reports sent to him by agents in the field should have copious margins or borders so that Hoover would have space to scribble his comments alongside the text.

One agent in New Mexico neglected this injunction and sent in his report filling the entire page. Hoover angrily scribbled at the top: "Let's watch the borders, please".

As a result, it is said, hundreds of extra agents were dispatched for many months fruitlessly to watch the borders with Mexico and Canada.

A New Dingellgram

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bold (and almost certainly doomed) decision to create a non-legislative committee dedicated to global warming and thus to intrude into the turf of the Energy and Commerce Committee (chairman: the legendary John Dingell, D-Mich.) has produced a magisterial rebuke from that great man.

Dingell is no passionate believer in climate change or global warming---possibly because many of his supporters work in the ailing Detroit auto industry. Nonetheless, he is planning to smother the whole issue with kindness: that is, to hold endless hearings, even if this entails listening for hours to the tiresome and stupid Al Gore.

"I recognize that there is a wide range of opinion on climate change and it is my intention that we hear the full spectrum of views," says Dingell blandly and with only just a hint of sarcasm.

But then he tore off his whiskers and got down to business. Pelosi's "kind of committees are as useful in relevance as feathers on a fish", added the veteran old hunter and politician.

Nancy may have made a formidable enemy.


"Alas, I fear that there is no truth in the rumour that the two brothers* are thinking of joining the Roman Catholic Church. At any rate, it seems most unlikely that there is any truth in the rumour as I have just this moment invented it. But history is often moulded by poetic visions of this sort and I think I will send Lord Longford** round to see them.

"For myself, I propose to make a pilgrimage along the path of the old Crusades, lighting candles in all the churches on the way to advance this pleasant idea.

"First to St. Mark's in Venice where two huge candles burn side by side in honour of these unfortunate brothers, one for Toady, one for Slimy. Then to Ravenna where I light another two in the church of S. Apollinare in Classe under the wonderful Bzyantine mosaic of sheep on a green background.

"Soon candles will be burning all over the Adriatic and eastern Mediterranean, that God may see fit to lighten their sad lives and fill their poor shrivelled hearts with His love, giving them the fortitude to face the misfortunes and personal tragedies still in store for them..."

---Auberon Waugh: "Diaries" October 1980

*The brothers Toady and Slimy Shrimsley were two prominent Fleet Street journalists with whom Waugh had a feud on. Toady had insulted Waugh and Slimy had sued him for libel (an action subsequently and ignominiously withdrawn).

Waugh's Candle-Burning Campaign spectacularly succeeded. Within a short while, Toady died and Slimy was sacked from the editorship of a high-circulation (if smutty) British Sunday newspaper called "News of the Screws."

Neither brother was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

**Lord Longford was a well-known Roman Catholic peer engaged in a crusade for morality and public decency. This required assiduous research and for that reason he could often be seen in the front row at various London strip-tease bars.


I have spoken. I will say no more.

"But whatever the source of the individual words, in the domains of botany and zoology Latin is a language which guarantees that the terminology is correct and consistent. The system which Linnaeus* introduced has turned out to be so good that it does not just live on but is continuously being extended and added to. For Linnaeus, as we have seen, it was a matter of course to use Latin for his names, as it was the only scientific language available in his day. Latin may have disappeared from most other sciences, but when it comes to the naming of species it is most probably going to stay on for the foreseeable future. There is simply nothing else that works as well."

----Tore Janson, "A Natural History of Latin" {Oxford 2004}

*Carl Linnaeus, a Swede. Created the system of classifying living organisms based upon their reproductive systems. His famous book "Systema Naturae" classified 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants. He was born 300 years ago. Often called the Father of Taxonomy, his face appears on Swedish currency and several places on the Moon are named after him.

From Blather's "Bluffer's Guide to Latin."

"Jules Renard was very honest, and he does not draw a pretty picture of himself in his 'Journal'. He was malignant, cold, selfish, narrow, envious and ungrateful. His only redeeming feature was his love for his wife; she is the only person in all these volumes of whom he consistently speaks with kindness. He was immensely susceptible to any fancied affront, and his vanity was outrageous. He had neither charity nor good will. He splashes with his angry contempt everything he doesn't understand, and the possibility never occurs to him that if he doesn't [understand] the fault may lie in himself. He was odious, incapable of a generous gesture, and almost incapable of a generous emotion. But for all that the 'Journal' is wonderfully good reading. It is extremely amusing. It is witty and subtle and often wise...."

---"A Writer's Notebook" by W. Somerset Maugham (1949)

"How to be rude: It is easy to be rude on the Continent. You just shout and call people names of a zoological character...In England, rudeness has quite a different technique. If someone tells you an obviously-untrue story on the Continent, you would remark: 'You are a liar, Sir, and a rather dirty one at that.' In England you just say: 'Oh, is that so?'. Or 'That's rather an unusual story, isn't it?'."

Georges Mikes "How To Be an Alien" 1947. {Mikes was a Hungarian immigrant to Britain who enjoyed satirising the English. He died in 1987.}


Blogger The Washington Pest said...

Quick Ma, git the Krautbegone!

In this case DSL = Dummy Should Leave. But since these arcor dummies are krauts we should say it in German. Doomcough?

Glad to know we are being read by robots in the Father(notmine)land, where humor is a foreign language.

The Pest

February 02, 2007  
Blogger Kennedy Maize said...

As for the Gubernator's health plan, he's got to avoid using the "T" word. Under California law, any tax increases required a two-thirds vote by the legislature. Hence, his avoidance of the word "tax." Whether the plan makes sense or not is far beyond my expertise, but I understand the politics of it. But it sure as hell isn't a "loan." How about calling a "rutabaga?"

February 03, 2007  

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