Monthly Archives: December 2008

Movie recommendations of 2008

The best movies aren’t always the most interesting recommendations. Here are some movies I saw this year that, though flawed, will surprise, shock and entertain:

The Masque of the Red Death (1964). The harmonics of decadence and purity.

The Wizard of Gore (2007). Blood, guts and style.

Kill Buljo (2007). Possibly Norway’s first comedy, (but I don’t know if the humor translates.)

Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927). A silent vision of machines and buildings.

The Old Dark House (1932). It was a dark and stormy night.

Danger: Diabolik (1968). Is this more awesome, or more silly? Yes.

Altered States (1980). Science meets hallucinogens.

All of these movies work better if you read nothing about them beforehand. Do you trust me?

Naughty etymology

Today’s lesson in word history comes from the Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo:

BUGGER [..] Derived from the Latin Bulgarus, meaning “Bulgarian”, this word was originally applied to a group of Bulgarian heretics who were falsely accused of sodomy in the Middle Ages.

CUNT [..] Until the Middle Ages, parts of the body and bodily functions were accepted as commonplace facts of life, and the names for them were used as freely as any other word. Any part of the body which was unusually large or small, or unusually coloured, or otherwise remarkable, was likely to provide a convenient nickname or surname for its owner. So it is that we find recorded women’s names such as Gunoka Cuntles (1219) and Bele Wydecunthe (1328), and men’s names such as Godwin Clawecuncte (1066), Simon Sitbithecunte (1167), John Fillecunt (1246) and Robert Clevecunt (1302). In the City of London there was, in 1230, a street called Gropecuntlane.

MERKIN. A pubic wig. These items stille exist, although they are not so much in demand as they were in previous centuries. They were especially popular when the usual treatment for venereal disease involved shaving off the pubic hair.

FLYING PASTY. Excrement wrapped in paper and thrown over a neighbour’s wall. This expression, first recorded around 1790, has largely fallen into disuse along with the particular form of antisocial behavior associated with it.

HUSSY [..] The word is actually a corruption of housewife, and the change of meaning has presumably come about because of too much gossip about brazen young housewives.

30′s movies marathon – part 8

The Black Cat (1934, USA) – Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi lock horns on a World War battle site, making only laughable obeisance to Poe. The story is a mess, but it’s dark and ambitious, and merges war horrors with occult evil in a unique way. Watched it all.

Mystery Liner (1934, USA) – There is a ship, on which there presumably is a mystery. Utter crap. Watched: 6 minutes, then fast-forwarded to see what the mystery is. Couldn’t find it, they talk and talk right through to the end.

The House of Rothschild (1934, USA) – The five Rothschild brothers cause the defeat of Napoleon and save the Jews of Europe. Preposterously prettified historical drama, but it’s correct in the outline, and works well as a heroic movie. I especially liked the financial intrigue. Watched it all.

It Happened One Night (1934, USA) – Spoiled and willful-yet-vulnerable beauty hitchhikes through the country with annoying-yet-charming rogue who looks like Clark Gable, thus giving birth to the wacky romantic comedy. Watched it all.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934, USA) – Ah, Africa, where Europeans are Europeans, the natives are either restless or part of the scenery, and animals can be wrestled to death. Retard ape-man Tarzan and his bimbo girlfriend must deal with a pair of explorers searching for ivory. It’s all very stupid but it’s hard to look away, especially since Maureen O’Sullivan is so hot. Watched: 55 minutes.

30′s movies marathon – part 7

Will this marathon never end? Hopefully not!

Little Women (1933, USA) – Now this is Hollywood magic. Grand, funny, lively, (and too sweet and uplifting, but ..) Starring Terry Jones as Aunt March, and Katharine Hepburn as Katharine Hepburn. Watched it all.

Queen Christina (1933, USA) – Costume dramas like to place modern ideas in the mouths of historical characters. In the case of Queen Christina, peaceful daughter of Sweden’s war-king Gustav II Adolf, this is actually somewhat justified. The movie feels like an amateur theatre production, but at least it gave me an excuse to read about a fascinating person. Watched: 23 minutes.

Ekstase (1933, Czechoslovakia) – A bride and groom enter a room. They walk around a bit. This goes on for ten minutes. Why?! Watched: 10 minutes, then skipped to the end, where the movie has somehow transformed into a celebration of semi-nude agricultural workers.

She Done Him Wrong (1933, USA) – Mae West was one of the causes of the Hays Code. But apart from her swaggering, oh’ing and wisecracking, this movie is pretty stupid. Watched: 18 minutes.

Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread (1932, Spain) – Apparently, this is a slightly off-key documentary about life and poverty in deepest, darkest Spain. Actually, (says Jeffrey Ruoff), it is a satirical commentary on anthropological expeditions and travelogues, a black comedy that merges genuine images of poverty with an exaggerated yet dispassionate voiceover and inappropriate music. (Wow!)

That histrionic gift by which such men impersonate the feelings of their followers

Fyren ligner litt på Jonas Gahr Støre??

When you trace back the history of spin, PR and propaganda, the threads converge on Walter Lippmann’s 1922 Public Opinion, one of the great and dangerous books of political philosophy. Lippmann argued that people are unable to gain an accurate picture of the world they live in. Pure democracy therefore doesn’t work, and society needs the guidance of benevolent experts.

80 years later we know that expert rule doesn’t work, but Lippmann’s challenge to the fundaments of democracy remains unanswered. I sure don’t know how. Everything he says is correct. The best I can do is “well it seems to work anyway”.

Lippmann’s analysis of how people form opinions, and how this process may be manipulated, inspired Edward Bernays to create the PR industry. Edward Bernays inspired Goebbels, but Goebbels could just have skipped the middleman: Public Opinion contains all the building blocks of a theory of mass manipulation.

I’m too hard on Lippmann. He wanted government experts to protect us from manipulation. But it was implicit in his distrust of democracy and individual judgment that, to do that, the government must itself manipulate. And Public Opinion told it exactly how.

Today the book is mostly forgotten, but its ideas permeate every aspect of our lives. They’re there in every political statement, every advertisement, every press release. We live in the world Lippmann describes, and more so because only the wrong people listened to his ideas. Read Public Opinion yourself to restore the balance.

Conformity under the symbol

“When political parties or newspapers declare for Americanism, Progressivism, Law and Order, Justice, Humanity, they hope to amalgamate the emotion of conflicting factions which they would surely divide if, instead of these symbols, they were invited to discuss a specific program. For when a coalition around the symbol has been effected, feeling flows toward conformity under the symbol rather than toward critical scrutiny of the measures. .. [These symbols] do not stand for specific ideas, but for a sort of truce or junction between ideas. They are like a strategic railroad center where many roads converge regardless of their ultimate origin or their ultimate destination. But he who captures the symbols by which public feeling is for the moment contained, controls by that much the approaches of public policy. And as long as a particular symbol has the power of coalition, ambitious factions will fight for possession.


As you ascend the hierarchy in order to include more and more factions you may for a time preserve the emotional connection though you lose the intellectual. But even the emotion becomes thinner. As you go further away from experience, you go higher into generalization or subtlety. As you go up in the balloon you throw more and more concrete objects overboard, and when you have reached the top with some phrase like Rights of Humanity or the World Made Safe for Democracy, you see far and wide, but you see very little.”

- Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (1922)

Bookish new year observations

- Compared to what I used to blog about, writing about books and movies is clearly a bad economic decision. But book bloggers sleep better. (This is not true, but it ought to be.)

- No I don’t believe in e-books. Paper books are a near-perfect invention. People who read little won’t see the point of e-books, and people who read a lot will soon find that stacks of paper books are less stressful than 500 unread e-books on a flashcard. (This is a Prediction, and is utterly worthless.)

- I do believe in downloadable audio books. Audio books allow us to read when we walk and stand, and we don’t have to concentrate so much. That makes them a useful invention. (This is not a Prediction, it is already happening, but you should probably be skeptical all the same.)

- I almost never read bad books any more. Am I doing something wrong? Maybe I don’t explore enough.

- I rarely read Norwegian books either. I figure that since we subsidize the authors to write them and the libraries to buy them, I should also get paid to read them. (*ba-dum-dum-ching*)

- The previous statement was bigoted. I promise to do better in 2009. (Maybe we can discuss payment later?)

- Suggested new-year’s resolution for fellow book-lovers: Adopt a forgotten book. Go into a second-hand bookstore and imagine all the books as wet and starving kittens. All they want is a warm bookcase to spend your life in.

Floor lobsters are the result of a corrupt environment

Back in Steve Aylett’s world, reality has been distilled into an essence of pure absurdity. Sentences twist like snakes, stuffed with impossible and frightening ideas. Characters talk ominous gibberish. Reading changes from a leisure to a struggle with a madman.

The story of Only an Alligator, the first Accomplice book, goes like this: Barny Juno finds an alligator in a tunnel and adopts it. The alligator belongs to a demon called Sweeney, whose elaborate scheme to get it back involves turning Barny into an object of hate in a mayoral election.

Barny loves all the winged and stepping animals on the earth, but he eats trolls when he’s nervous – small, real, live trolls, which is a disadvantage in job interviews. His dog Help wears mascara, (nobody knows why). His friend Gregor, often mistaken for Barnys pig servant, struggles with a sexual attraction to dinosaurs. Another friend once had a chrysalis for a head, but the spider-like creature that grew there has now left him.

The mayor’s office is infested with lobsters, which local people think of as an insect.

The city newspaper is called The Blank Stare.

Every page of Only an Alligator is littered with absurd and disturbing jokes, but the absurdity is coherent. Steve Aylett calls himself a satirist, and complains that his readers don’t get it. I think he’s arrogant. But I love his books. They challenge me to a wrestling match, words vs mind. And they usually win.

The realities of a multi-ethnic society in the Century of the Fruitbat

I prefer these covers to the original ones

Feet of Clay is the 19th of Terry Pratchett’s 36 Discworld novels. Many series begin good and get worse. The Discworld series began okay, swerved wildly for a couple of years, before settling on a plateu of consistently good, where they have stayed up to this day.

The early novels were parodies of fantasy conventions. (Ankh-Morpork is based on Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar.) They were funny, but not very funny. The joke wouldn’t have lasted for 36 novels.

Terry Pratchett found his voice when he moved the comedy into the background, and infused his stories with ideas from philosophy and science. In the process he’s been turning Ankh-Morpork from a dark and medieval cesspool into an enlightened and modern cesspool, one concept at a time.

A Discworld novel doesn’t surprise. They’re safe, even predictable. People who praise them as imaginative miss the point: That is precisely what they’re not. Pratchett writes wisdom literature in the guise of light comedy. Wisdom is a subtler form of common sense. It doesn’t shock, it lifts. This works when you have something actually worth saying, and Pratchett does.

Oh, I didn’t leave room to say what Feet of Clay is about. Oh well: It’s a City Watch novel. It has Vetinari in it. Wikipedia sums up its motifs as: “Robots, golem mythology, atheism, race relations, heraldry, slavery and serfdom”, a good description.