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August 19, 2021


Petards and karma


It was obviously too easy for me to do regularly.

For some reason this reminds me of "I didn't have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one."

Or, attributed to Woodrow Wilson being invited to give a speech, "If I'm to speak for 30 minutes I need two weeks to prepare. If I'm to speak for 60 minutes I need two days to prepare. If I'm to speak for two hours I'm ready now."


I feel like this is a kind of meta-plagiarism if Snopes is involved in telling on itself.

Or maybe it's more like when a cop is convicted of falsifying evidence and then defense attorneys start trying to get all of the convictions that he worked on overturned . . . does this mean that all those urban legends might actually turn out to be true?

Hadn't thought of it that way. I guess Madonna did have that alien baby!



there's an old saying where if you look around the room and you can't spot the mark, it's you.

Fox viewers - look around the room. See the mark? no?

that is all.


So it appears Mark Levin actually calls the Frankfurt School "the Franklin School" throughout his entire book [American Marxism]. Amazing.

So it appears Mark Levin actually calls the Frankfurt School "the Franklin School" throughout his entire book [American Marxism].

awww. i was going to leave a nice Amazon review, but when i try i see a big warning: "Amazon has noticed unusual reviewing activity on this product. Due to this activity, we have limited this product to verified purchase reviews."

this actually happened:


“There is a stampede, not only out of Afghanistan, but a stampede away from high prices, overpriced service from the big carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile. The average family making the switch to PureTalk.”


How would you like to be in Kabul today, as an American, and you can't get to the airport? Where are you thinking your life is headed? If you're one of those family members, I bet you're not sleeping. I don't even think My Pillow can do it. MyPillow.com. That's where I go. I fall asleep faster, I stay asleep longer. These are going to be a lot of sleepless nights for so many of our fellow Americans. We've got to get them home.

Or, attributed to Woodrow Wilson being invited to give a speech, "If I'm to speak for 30 minutes I need two weeks to prepare. If I'm to speak for 60 minutes I need two days to prepare. If I'm to speak for two hours I'm ready now."

When I was taking graduate classes in public policy (at the ripe age of 52), part of the final project included an in-class 15-minute presentation. As the evening wore on, it became clear that there were exactly two of us, both oldsters, who had ever (a) compressed a project down to that length and (b) rehearsed. The professor obviously knew what was going to happen, because two hours in the pizza guy showed up at the classroom door with several large pies.

(I also note that although use of PowerPoint slides was mandatory, the other oldster and I had obviously spent considerable effort defeating PP's "normal" ways of doing things.)

Every writing teacher knows this and every lower division undergrad thinks that their prof is full of it when they say something like this.

The only way to get decent presentations is to tell the students that you are going to stop them at the time limit no matter where they are in the presentation and grade them on what the were able to get in. Then schedule a day for practice ahead of time.

Make sure, though, that the presentations are due a week ahead of the final papers, because the work of cutting down and streamlining will certainly prompt a rewrite of the paper once all of the problems have been found.

All part of teaching the process.

Then schedule a day for practice ahead of time.

Yeah, I thought the youngsters would have gotten much more out of the experience if they had a chance to do the presentation twice. Once to be like the woman who showed up with 75 slides for a 15 minute presentation, and once to do a much better job. I wrote that in my evaluation of the class. The other oldster had come from a different sort of technical background than mine, but both of us had been through the quasi-academic mill of "here's the paper that was accepted for the conference and printed in the proceedings, and here's the 15-minute version to convince the audience to go read the paper."

Or as I was known to describe it on more than one occasion, the 15-minute version to convince the SVP to talk to the in-house technical staff before they drop a quarter of a million dollars on Deloitte.

Yeah, enforcing the hard stop at time rule to me is one of those cruel to be kind measures that is usually painful at the moment but without a doubt makes the world a better place in the long run.

There have been conferences where, seeing a full professor run out of time without getting close to finishing presentation, when they say we have time for one question, I want to jump up and say, "What the f*** is wrong with you? How have you not learned to time a talk by now?"

"finishing his presentation", duh. This is an edge case of Muphry's law, I think.

Rough rule of thumb: ONE powerpoint slide per minute, including any title/intro and conclusion slides.

15 minute talk? 15 slides. That's what you follow if you don't have the practice, or
what you start with for the practice.

"Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely"

As my PhD supervisor used to joke:
"Do you have Powerpoint or anything to say?"
'or' is to be understood as XOR naturally.

Open thread, so:

The excellent comedian Sean Lock just died much too young. An actor called Tony Way just tweeted this, which reflects well on both of the relevant protagonists, and which I know at least one of our number will be delighted by.

I met Paul McCartney because of Sean Locke, just after meeting Sean himself. He shouted “Oi Paul!” Across Soho Sq[uare], Paul waved back, came over and chatted for half an hour. When he left I said “How do you know him?” Sean said “I don’t, but he knows he’s Paul McCartney doesn’t he”

Thanks for that GftNC, I wasted many an hour watching 8 out of 10 cats does countdown and Lock was a genius on that show. The ability for British comedians to really do dark stuff in a way that I don't think American comedians can is quite interesting (Lock himself got in trouble for a bit about reanimating all the Nazi leaders and putting them on an island)

I wonder if others have seen him or other Brit comedians and what they think

Some of Benny Hill's skits were based on jokes I'd heard as a kid growing up in Texas.

I'm not sure what kind of line of descent there is from Benny Hill to folks like Jimmy Carr and Sean Lock. I tend to see Benny Hill like the Jewish tummlers of the Borscht Belt (like Jackie Mason, who also just passed away) and the alternative comics (Monty Python obviously, but then stand ups by people like Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle, Billy Connolly) represented a break from that tradition. Of course, differing broadcast standards had Benny Hill doing jokes that US TV broadcasts would probably censor did a lot of work too.

Connolly famously got his big break telling a notorious joke that is referred to as 'the bike joke'. I feel like one way it gets over is that the accent is often a regional one (Connolly/Scottish, Sayle/Scouse, Lock had a Cockney accent) I know Elton more as a writer) though I wonder about that.

GftNC and other UKians, any takes about the line of descent for British comedians?

"Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely"

This got a grin. But I've seen a fair number of cases where the PowerPoint was a vastly clearer exposition of the ideas than the paper it was based on.**

I think it may be a reflection of deficiencies in the writing. I learned (5th grade, if memory serves; memorable because it was the only thing I learned that year) both how to outline and how to write from an outline. If more people did that, their writing would come out better.

** Caveat: does not apply when the slides are a mass of text, rather than bullet points.


Lincoln's Gettysburg address on Powerpoint

Lincoln's Gettysburg address on Powerpoint

OK, PowerPoint doesn't necessarily help improve communication. Point taken.

I have the impression (but no real knowledge) that the old, sexist, racist comedians like Benny Hill (don't specifically know if he was racist, because never wanted to watch him) and Les Dawson were the continuation more of the "music hall" tradition.

As far as I know, the really big break came with the Goons, and their brand (or Spike's really) of surrealism influenced the Pythons, Alexei Sayle, the Young Ones, and everybody else who came after really. The funny thing is that people like Paul Merton seem now to be serious admirers and celebrators of some of the old guys.

I remember the talk show on which Billy Connolly told the bike joke. I think his accent, and the incredibly rambling style of his standup, added to his appeal. I (and most people I knew) found him hysterical in those days.

Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle were the most overtly political of the "alternative comedians" as that generation were called. I remember all that pretty well.

Take a lot of this (the first para particularly) with a pinch of salt, lj. I didn't spend most of my growing up in this country, except at boarding school, and that didn't involve much TV (or comedy!).

On the subject of British comedy, any fans of The Mighty Boosh or, more recently, Fleabag?

During my college days, MTV would air episodes of The Young Ones. I may or may not have been stoned most of time watching them. I’m not saying either way.

Fleabag was amazing.

End of the **** World was really good, in a similar, very dark, way.

Derry Girls, also amazing, in a much different way.

not a comedy, but also Irish, Normal People is great.

I loved The Mighty Boosh (again, their surrealism in a direct line of descent from the Goons), and I loved Fleabag.

What I've seen (not much) of Derry Girls is hysterical - I adore Sister Michael.

Yes. Young Ones,Blackadder, Filthy Rich & Catflap. Can't mention Ben and Alexei without including Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson.

And Derry Girls is amazing.

Oh yes, Blackadder, one of my faves, any era from the Elizabethan one onwards. I may have mentioned this before, but Ben Elton's uncle is an eminent historian who was rather disapproving of BE's work, but after the final episode of the final WW1 series (very moving) he wrote BE a letter taking it back, and congratulating him. I gather it meant a lot to him. In fact, that last episode is a rather extraordinary phenomenon (I know no other similar examples) of an extremely cynical comedy segueing effortlessly into a fantastically elegiac, moving ending.


I agree absolutely with your note about the last Blackadder episode. It was extraordinary to see, even in the course of that episode, the change of the sense of the story from cynicism to something extremely touching -- while never overlooking the incredible wastefulness of how soldiers were used in that war.

A propos of nothing, this morning I took the numbers of acres burned over last year in California and calculated that if 1) what has burned so far this year in California is a good predictor of the rest of the year, and 2) the increase in fires later in the year follows the pattern of last year, then at the end of 2021 we will total about 8.5 million acres burned.

JakeB, before you saw it, did you understand the significance of poppies to that conflict?

I did not, GftNC, unfortunately -- it would have had even more punch if I did.

Break of Day in the Trenches
(he was killed in action on April 1st 1918)

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.

Remembrance day is marked at 11.11 am.on 11.11. of every year, and Remembrance Sunday is the Sunday following. Paper poppies are sold for weeks beforehand in aid of the veterans and the British Legion. Every politician, every newsreader, every public person including the Queen wears poppies of various kinds for weeks, and all the wreaths laid on that day are of poppies.

To anybody who has not seen that episode of Blackadder, watch til the end.

Break of Day in the Trenches
(killed in action on April 1st 1918)

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.

For anybody in a similar situation, or who has never seen the episode but sees it in the future:
Armistice Day is commemorated at 11.11 am on 11/11 of every year, and Remembrance Sunday is the following Sunday. Paper poppies are sold for weeks beforehand in aid of veterans and the British Legion, and every public person in the UK (politicians, newsreaders, talking heads, the Queen) as well as many members of the public wear them for weeks.

For anybody yet to see the last episode of Blackadder, watch til the end.

And every wreath laid on Remembrance Sunday, at the Cenotaph, at memorials around the country, and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is composed of poppies.

To move on a bit from that informative but sombre note, I have to tell you that I was once seated next to the actor who plays Baldric at a wedding reception dinner (what is anachronistically called, here, the wedding breakfast) and I regret to say, presumably because Ben Elton was not writing his lines, that he was pretty boring. Luckily, the speeches were so appallingly embarrassing that there was plenty else (in a manner of speaking) to get one's teeth into.

...and I regret to say, presumably because Ben Elton was not writing his lines, that he was pretty boring.

When my niece was getting married, and lining up the order of the people who would speak, my sister told her, "Whatever you do, put your brother last." My nephew has an MFA with an emphasis on screenwriting and does it professionally now and then. He went last, and it was a good thing. Ten minutes of stand-up comedy about his interactions with his sister over the years that had people howling -- his sister as much as anyone.

Also apropos of nothing, but this is for Thullen, in particular. Just ran into some guys I know who play in a local "seniors" baseball league (45 and up). They lost in playoffs today 9-8, ahead 8-7 the game was tied by a sac fly hit by Lou Gehrig's grandson.

I also meant to comment on poppies, it always struck me that their connections to sleep and death, which must have been because of ancient herbal medicine, were echoed in choosing it as a symbol of WW1. The past, it's always there.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Which poem I know mostly because Siouxsie Sioux nicked it for lyrics for the song "Poppy Day" on the Siouxsie and the Banshees album Join Hands.

De-lurking here.
While I'm not a UKer, having grown up in Australia at a time of a lot of British migration to Oz, and having a now-deceased ex-sister-in-law from a family from Manchester who had made the 10-pound passage by ship, as well as seeing a lot of the now-classic British TV comedies on TV there of that time as a kid (Dad's Army, Till Death Do Us Part, Benny Hill, and of course, the Carry On gang), I would argue that until around the early '70s there had been two main strands of humor in British comedy.
For one, there was the witty Oxbridge-oriented upper-class variety, and the music hall tradition. The latter was the popular (and to an extent, given its lampoon of the various striations of British society, populist) and when neat (i.e., not on TV), rawer, with an endless supply of tit-and-bum routines.
Benny Hill came from the latter tradition. I don't believe he was racist. Sexist? Yes. But it wasn't misogynistic - more rather the casualized sexism of the day that was accepted then. Seen now, what embarrassment there that comes across is more as titillation for middle-aged men than anything.
I think Python's brilliance came in fusing the two traditions - witty Oxbridge with tit-and-bum.
In the early '70s, what became a third tradition emerged out of the bawdy working mens' club circuit that had been around for some time but hadn't been taken as seriously as a comedic source. This was the real British equivalent of the Borsht Belt, and this is where people like Billy Connally and Alexei Sayle honed their craft. Because it had been hiding in plain sight, they had time to develop a comedic strain that touched on the two traditions, but with an element of observational and black humor.
All of this makes, over time, Britain a rich source of some great comedy. Just my quid's worth.

Great observation! That whole comedy club ethos does reflect a Borscht Belt environment.

Also, early black comedians represent that same hothouse atmosphere (it was even called the Chitlin circuit) and you have an interesting line of descent (Redd Foxx/Mom Mabley>Dick Gregory>Bill Cosby>Richard Pryor>Eddie Murphy>Chris Rock>Dave Chappelle) separate, but intertwined. 'Funny knows funny' and watching Blazing Saddles at 13 and not being aware that Richard Pryor was working with Mel Brooks and was his choice to play Bart.

I have a memory of an article, maybe in Esquire, that had a timeline as well as a descent of American humor which, because it was an image rather than text, is resistant to my google-fu. I wish I could find it and see if one could construct a similar one for British humor as well as the links between US and UK comedians.

I had a history professor who said that he would not grade a paper that was longer than two and a half pages. He told us that if we couldn't make our point within that limit we probably didn't have a point to make.

On the subject of humor, I love Mrs Maisel.

I had a history professor who said that he would not grade a paper that was longer than two and a half pages. He told us that if we couldn't make our point within that limit we probably didn't have a point to make.

My medieval lit professor's (grad school) version of this was "In every 20-25 page seminar paper there are 8-10 pages worth of good ideas. Write what you need, but just give me the 8-10 best pages."

Very cool, Priest.

Thank you.

With ref to my ballpark (cricket pitch?) take on the pathways and forks-in-the-road of British comedy, I've often found it interesting that as much as some Americans to this day still claim that they can't get British humor, what they often don't know (and which surprises them when they find out) is how much the origins of a lot of classic American TV can be traced back to Britain.
All In The Family, to take one, was an American adaptation of Till Death Do Us Part; Sanford and Son was a re-jigged Steptoe & Son. Three's Company was based on a show called Man About The House. Coming closer to our time, the American version of The Office came straight from its Ricky Gervais antecedent in the UK. There have been other American shows over the years as well that were trans-Atlantic versions of the same things in Britain.
The chief difference between the UK originals and their American adaptations was that generally, the former were either harder-edged or bawdier; you could get away with a lot more on British TV than what you could on the American commercial variety. Alf Garnett, the main character of TDDUP, was more of a bigot than Archie Bunker (and ably played by Warren Mitchell, who was Jewish); Harry Corbett's Albert Steptoe, the patriarch of S&S, was a dirtier old man than the Redd Foxx counterpart (which was no mean feat, considering that Foxx' comedic persona was of the archetypal DOM), and even poorer. MATH exploited the scenario of a guy living with two girls much more than Three's Company did.
In terms of daring TV, I'll insert this here both gratuitously, but also illustratively; Number 96 was a classic Australian show of the '70s that, among issues of immigrants, sex-related crimes, the Vietnam War, and other storylines, featured (in the Aussie equivalent of prime time) partial frontal nudity and an openly gay character who was not peripheral to the themes. I saw it as a kid, uncensored.
#96 was actually adapted for an American version in the mid-70s that completely bowdlerized the original, as it was impossible to import the features of it cross-Pacific. This U.S version quickly died its death and practically no Americans I know of have ever heard of it.

A quick note for the UKers - I stand corrected: Wilfrid Brambell played Albert Steptoe. Harry Corbett played his son.
Sorry about that.
A side note: If Wilfrid Brambell is known to American audiences for anything, it would be for playing Paul McCartney's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night.

I had a history professor who said that he would not grade a paper that was longer than two and a half pages. He told us that if we couldn't make our point within that limit we probably didn't have a point to make.

Unfortunately over here statutes require a minimum number of pages for such papers (talking about the university here), so students are forced to 'stuff' (and the professors/teaching assistants to read the results). Enforeced tedium.

"The Franklin School" is hilarious - and also a bit scary that the book sold so many copies without anyone ever noticing. Who are these people? I dread the thought of a hord of pseudo-intellectuals dominating public discourse wit rehashed right-wing talking points.

Also, here's a great interview about the US involvement in Afghanistan since the Cold War, needless to say it was a train wreck in slow motion.


Sorry for the typos - on my phone...

RE: Armistice Day …

I don’t mean to sully the remembrance of the soldiers who died in the “Great” war, but I’m always bothered by the extra lives lost between when the Germans capitulated to the armistice and when it went into effect. It was known for two days that the hostilities would stop and the agreement was signed at 5:10 AM on the 11th of November, but many commanders didn’t stem the fighting. It may be somewhat apocryphal, but I’ve seen multiple accounts that the extra six hours until 11:00 AM was for the added symbolism of humanity stopping at the brink of mutual annihilation … the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The symbolism was lost on allied commanders.

Foch, who was personally involved in negotiations, had described to his staff his intention “to pursue the Feldgrauen [field grays, or German soldiers] with a sword at their backs” to the last minute until an armistice went into effect.

For his part, Pershing, who was completely aware of the armistice from (at the latest) radio transmission to HQ on November 10th, did not tell his commanders to stand down. The exact opposite occurred as ambitious generals saw their last opportunities to grasp glory and advancement ordered attacks on the morning of November 11. There were 320 Americans killed and 3,240 seriously wounded on that last day. There was a Congressional investigation, but patriotism washed away the sins of the American commanders. Pershing’s sins were venial in comparison to the British and French.

The British high command, still stinging from its retreat at Mons during the first days of the war in August 1914, judged that nothing could be more appropriate than to retake the city on the war’s final day. British Empire losses on November 11 totaled some twenty-four hundred. The French commander of the 80th Régiment d’Infanterie received two simultaneous orders that morning: one to launch an attack at 9 a.m., the other to cease fire at 11. Total French losses on the final day amounted to an estimated 1,170.

The Germans, in the always-perilous posture of retreat, suffered some 4,120 casualties. Losses on all sides that day approached eleven thousand dead, wounded, and missing.

Leading up to the armistice, the western front meat grinder was generating 2,250 deaths per day. The allies managed to quintuple that in the meaningless final hours of the war

The above was largely sourced from the following link:


Apologies if I’m stepping on GftNC’s posts regarding the very much deserved and essential acts of remembrance for the lives of the enlisted soldiers lost in WWI. My wife and I got around to binging Peaky Blinders during the pandemic and that prompted a re-reading of The Guns of August and a renewed disgust with the whole affair. WWI was such a clusterfuck. Hubris and ego took Europe on a descent into hell that is beyond comprehension today.

I’ll end on a slightly more respectful note …

Churchill’s folly in the Gallipoli campaign is probably well-known. The Guns of August goes into the fluke that lead to Turkey joining the German cause and this campaign serves as a microcosm of the entire war: unfortunate communication and leadership leading to horrible casualties. It’s especially noteworthy for its outsized impact on Australia and New Zealand who lost a disproportionate number of their sons on a campaign that at best served as a diversionary tactic in a war fought on the other side of the world. The poignancy of this was not lost on Atatürk for whom the following open letter to the mothers of the dead Anzacs is attributed:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

apologies for stepping on GftNC and PdM (and any other acronymized commenters)

But I want to pass on this about my hometown.


Note that date, 10 August 1945. A day after dropping the bomb over Nagasaki....

PdM, I did not know that about the final day of the war - how terrible. Led by donkeys (or worse), indeed.

By the way, the perfect example of sekaijin's witty, "upper-class" Oxbridge oriented humour not yet mentioned was the immortal Beyond the Fringe. Only one of the four survives - Alan Bennett (not remotely upper class of course) who wrote The History Boys, The Madness of King George, and many others.

For added context, these strategically meaningless and avoidable last six hours of hostilities in WWI exceeded the butcher's bill for all of D-Day.

The Great War exhibition we had in Berlin a few years ago ended with a strip of phonogramm tape (if that is the correct technical term) clearly marking the moment of armistice. To the left lots of spikes indicating artillery fire, to the right (almost) nothing.
They clearly tried to use up all the ammo left, so they would not have to carry it back home.
(only half in bad joke; this was a common practice when leaving a position during a planned retreat).

And now for something completely different (or at least lighter) ...

I will co-sign Fleabag (both seasons merit repeat viewings) and Derry Girls.

Probably not needed for ObWi, but just for completeness, Fawlty Towers should be mentioned.

For those of us who are Gen Xers, Spaced bears consideration, but objectively does not belong with others mentioned.

Finally, the original British version of The Office has a special place for me the missus as we progressed from infatuation to commitment while binging those DVDs over the course of a weekend. Cringe comedy in general and Gervais in particular have been overdone and aged poorly, but on every fifth anniversary we binge the series again and it mostly holds up.

Paul's grandfather was very "clean"!

Article about the recreation of the moment the guns fell silent, from actual sound recordings made at the time. The recreation itself -- 1 minute's listening. Haunting.

Very haunting indeed. The birdsong! Thanks, Janie.

Also highly influential on modern British comedy was the single series of The Day Today (Chris Morris and Armando Ianucci, 1994).
Last week the cast were interviewed for an episode of The Reunion, which if you’re able to access BBC podcasts, is here:

GftNC - thank you! I did not mean to overlook Beyond The Fringe, nor any of the other Python antecedents that took their cues from both BTF and the Goons, such as Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last The 1948 Show, all of which had, at one time or another, one Python or another.
And for NOITIIMT - yes, you're right, Wilfrid Brambell's granddad in AHDN was "very clean." It was an in-joke/ref to how Brambell's Albert Steptoe was the archetypal dirty old man - a jape that went right over the heads of Americans at the time but that Brits of the day aptly nodded in recognition, as Steptoe & Son was in its heyday.

Thank God for open threads, so necessary for butterfly minds.

In today's Observer, there is a fascinating interview with the neuroscientist Anil Seth, which reminded me of lj's recent retrieval of my first ever comment here, about Oliver Sacks and Paul Broks. And there was also a discussion with Doc Science (where is she? I miss her Hugo recommendations) about Tom Stoppard's play The Hard Question, about the consciousness question. I think some of you may well find this (and his TED talk, which I have never seen but will now) interesting:

Why is it not possible for artificial intelligence to at least mimic that organising perception and therefore mimic other aspects of conscious selfhood?
I do think it’s very likely possible for AI to mimic that. In fact, in the book I talk about the pace of this ability to mimic being really quite scary, with the combination of “deep fake” things and natural language processing machines. Instantiation is another thing, though.

What do you mean by instantiation?
Building an AI system or a robot that does subjectively experience having a self, as opposed to being a sophisticated machine that gives the appearance of having a self but with nothing actually going on.


Sorry, of course the Stoppard play was The Hard Problem, not Question.

Also, Seth's TED talk is well worth the 17 minutes or so, for anybody interested in this stuff.


PdM, I don't know how I didn't immediately think of Peaky Blinders during the earlier discussion of war trauma and crime, particularly in the Wild West following the US Civil War, but also in general. Your mention of it was like a two-by-four upside my head.

Since GftNC mentioned donkeys, a particularly punchy song from one of Al Stewart's best albums, even if it is more about the disaster after the war:


Tangential to British humor, the word that makes Macbeth a creepy play.

"Macbeth is a creepy play.
Actors have long been superstitious about acting in it. That’s partly because performances have been riddled with accidents and fatalities; indeed, actors consider it bad luck to even utter the name of the play. (They call it “The Scottish Tragedy”.) And it’s partly because the basic substance of the plot is eldritch: You’ve got black magic, witches, a gore-flecked ghost, and walking forests.

But fans of Macbeth often say its freaky qualities are deeper than just the plot devices and characters. For centuries, people been unsettled by the very language of the play."
How Data Science Pinpointed the Creepiest Word in “Macbeth”: It’s not the word you’d expect — and it appears in this very sentence

Before we drift too far towards WWI and trauma, I just realized this morning that we had neglected to mention French & Saunders or Fry & Laurie in the comedy discussion.

And, yes, Peaky Blinders.

I noted with some interest that the Shelby brothers' haircut became THE haircut of the alt-right. There's some deep identification with that wounded warrior archetype. See also Fight Club. The latter is very ironic since the book is so clearly a gay meditation on masculinity and the closet.

How do The Two Ronnies fit into British humor?

since this is an open thread - lost another friend to opioids over the weekend. I forget which thread it was where we were talking about the Sacklers etc., so I'll just post here.

my friend was probably bipolar, and also had a bit of brain damage, cause unknown (to me). a sweet and crazy man. overdid the fentanyl, whether by accident or on purpose, now he's gone.

there are a lot of people out there who don't have an easy time finding a place for themselves. quite a lot of the time, I'd say most of the time, it's not something they have all that much control over.

some folks are just wired different.

we don't do a great job of taking care of those folks. by 'we' here, I mean the US. I don't know if other folks do better or not, but we don't give them a lot of wiggle room. seems to me, anyway.

so they flail away, hopefully have some family or friends to support them, but it's not always enough. this guy in particular was well loved, by a lot of people, but sometimes more is needed.

so we lose them.

RIP my wild friend. Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles await you when you rise. Sorry we let you slip through our fingers.

maybe someday we'll learn how to do better for those of us who color outside the lines.

We can do WW1 and humour in one comment.

I assumed that you all, who have a truly extraordinary amount of background in British culture (and humour) would get my "led by donkeys" remark, and maybe you did. But I should have learnt my lesson in the past with assuming you would all recognise my reference to Ozymandias as the Shelley poem.

So just in case anybody didn't recognise it:

"Lions led by donkeys" is a phrase popularly used to describe the British infantry of the First World War and to blame the generals who led them.


Now personally I have problems with both sides of the formula. As my (working class) late husband used to say, the kids who enlisted and marched whistling off to war had no idea what they were doing, they weren't necessarily heroes, they were (often working class) boys who had been misled about the whole thing and subjected to a load of jingoistic propaganda, fed

To children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

And as for the generals, and the politicians, my own feeling (as I hinted earlier) is that "donkeys" is inadequate to describe them.

Anyway, back to actual comedy.

French and Saunders were squarely in the "alternative comedians" camp. Fry and Laurie are more complicated, by virtue of both being fairly upper class (or probably, in the weird English categorisation, upper-middle), and Cambridge educated. But they seemed to be able to move fairly effortlessly between the two traditions (as in Blackadder).

I don't know about the Two Ronnies. Beloved double acts, like Morecambe and Wise, perhaps.

I didn't see your comment before I posted, russell. Heartfelt condolences, I have a bipolar friend and have seen him go through many terrible times. It's a very hard life. RIP.

no worries, and thank you.

for some people, just getting through the day takes everything they have. so they don't always get through the day.

even the littlest things can help them get through. may we all try better to keep our eyes and hearts and hands open.

Sad for your friend, russell, and everyone who cherished him.

I have plenty of sympathy for those suffering (either directly or as family and friends) from the opioid crisis. But I have trouble really relating to it, perhaps because I haven't experienced it with anyone close to me. I've been wondering why that is, and my tentative conclusion is that my personal social circle is just incredibly small.

Outside my immediate family (spouse, siblings, wife's siblings), I'm in regular contact with 1 second cousin, maybe 5 close friends (invite over for the holidays, spend the weekend occasionally, etc.), and a dozen people I know from work.

And then I'm at people like the folks here. People I may know a little about, but if they got hit with opioids, I might well not hear of it. Just notice eventually that I hadn't seen/heard from them in a while. I've always known I was an introvert. But I hadn't really grasped just how exteme. The things we learn....

'donkeys of Diomedes absent Hercules' was probably not snappy enough.
Oh! what a lovely war (the movie) was an interesting take (and made strong use of the poppy symbolism, an aspect I didn't get when I first saw it).

I guess I know 4 or so folks who've OD'd on opioids over the last few years. All musicians, just to keep that good old stereotype going.

They're really, really effective pain killers, and they work by flooding your brain with endorphins. A very attractive medication. And they're really, really addictive, like a few day's use will do it.

Fentanyl in particular is extraordinarily potent, and addictive, and it doesn't take much to OD.

They're a blessing to people who in extraordinary pain from surgery or other trauma, but they're neuro-chemical rocket fuel.

and thanks, Janie, much appreciated!

How do The Two Ronnies fit into British humor?

They speak to our love of bad jokes and worse puns.

Russell, my condolences. A few high school friends have been lost to various drugs, but it is never a sudden crash, it is always a slow falling that makes it seem inevitable and allows everyone else to tut-tut and keep their own luck and good fortune as a hidden explanation to why it happened to them, not to me.

moving back up to Stoppard, if you make that chart of British comedy, I wonder how you would add Stoppard and who you would connect him too. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is from 1964 and if anyone here gets a chance to see Travesties, they should as it dovetails quite nicely with some of the [my?] obsessions here、communist revolution, dada, Joyce and memory. I'd also note that Stoppard was originally child refugee whose original name was Tomáš Straussler. This paragraph from the wikipedia entry fascinates me
In 1945, his mother, Martha, married British army major Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and, in 1946, moved the family to England. Stoppard's stepfather believed strongly that "to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life"—a quote from Cecil Rhodes—telling his 9-year-old stepson: "Don't you realise that I made you British?" setting up Stoppard's desire as a child to become "an honorary Englishman". "I fairly often find I'm with people who forget I don't quite belong in the world we're in", he says. "I find I put a foot wrong—it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history—and suddenly I'm there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket." This is reflected in his characters, he notes, who are "constantly being addressed by the wrong name, with jokes and false trails to do with the confusion of having two names".


Really sorry to hear that, russell.

I’ve got no answers - and some places have far higher death rates than others for no good reason, other than availability, that I can see.
Scotland is one:

I saw Travesties during its initial run! Like so much else - in fact revivals are starting to make me feel very old. I liked it a lot, like most of his stuff, funnily enough with the exception of The Hard Problem (but it turned out that when I saw that it was so early that it changed somewhat later, and had a different cast by the time Doc Science enjoyed it so much in the US). I must say, I would not have put Stoppard in any of the lines of descent we have been discussing, because it would not have occurred to me to do so. I shall have to think about why that is. First instinct: I see them as very different forms, so that similarly, for example, I see Alan Bennett's plays as entirely separate and distinct from his early work in Beyond the Fringe. Hmmm. Interesting.

My wife's uncle, a good and very funny man, was producer of the Benny Hill show. I've watched almost none of it, but I'd like to think well of it.

I’ve got no answers - and some places have far higher death rates than others for no good reason, other than availability, that I can see.

Some people suggest that places like Appalachia have a predisposition to using and abusing strong painkillers. Generations of coal miners learned that these painkillers allowed them to spend a shift in a coal seam four feet high. And then do it all over again the next shift day after day, week after week, year after year.

When the government clamped down on legal prescription painkillers, people transitioned to illegal more dangerous drugs and the death rates went up.

When the government clamped down on legal prescription painkillers, people transitioned to illegal more dangerous drugs and the death rates went up.

Yet the War on Drugs started circa 1970. And opioid abuse didn't start to explode until a couple of decades later. Hard to see cause and effect with that kind of delay.

And I think coal mining predates percocet by a few years.

It may be that the medical needs of rural areas are underserved, so they are more likely to get solutions like a prescription and less follow up. Which, surprisingly (not) can be attributed to the profit motive in health care. The Guardian article posted by Nigel should be read with this powerpoint in mind


slide 55
“…our workshops and interviews with service users …….uncovered a feeling among many that the service they receive is driven not by what people need but by what the system can deliver:

slide 62
the balance of power and control rests with the individual and group being served and not with the worker or the employing agency

no matter the value and importance of “co-production” and “partnership”, the rights and empowerment of the individual or group take priority over process or the professional relationship

the “entitlements” of individuals or groups are not trumped by the need to “protect public money” or by “the interests of the Council”

Connections to libertarian argumentation are left as an exercise for the reader.

Some people suggest that places like Appalachia have a predisposition to using and abusing strong painkillers.

So, around here, it was Gloucester that had the biggest problem. Which is no surprise, it's a weird combination of wealthy and blue collar and the big industry is fishing, which has had its challenges.

People who are struggling to keep their head above water and whose future doesn't look good have a predisposition to wanting to make the world go away. Opioids do a really, really, really good job of that.

Guns, same thing, which is why the biggest share of firearm deaths are suicides, and a disproportionate number of those are in depressed rural areas.

If you can't see a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes you just decide to pack it in.

I appreciate, very much, the condolences here. My friend was a complicated dude, with a long history of chemical use and abuse. He was also just a really lovable guy, and a lot of people therefore loved him.

My guess is most of us here know some folks like that. Keep an eye out for them, let them know you're thinking about them.

That is all.

Hope everyone had a great weekend, now it's time for bed.

First instinct: I see them as very different forms, so that similarly, for example, I see Alan Bennett's plays as entirely separate and distinct from his early work in Beyond the Fringe.

Unfortunately, we don't have a copy of the play in my uni library, but Lenin's lines are either from his collected works or his wife's memoirs, and there are some juxtapositions that are absolutely hilarious. It might not be connected to any comedian, but as I said, funny knows funny.

funny knows funny

This is certainly true, and I'm still trying to work out why I don't regard Stoppard as "comedy", like I do the others, despite his work pretty much always being funny. (Further to which, I saw Travesties when it first ran, which I see was in 1974 when I was 18 or 19, so I am absolutely sure much of the specific Lenin-related and some other humour which you refer to went way over my head. Didn't stop the experience from being exhilarating, though.)

I haven't said before, but I also don't exactly see Fleabag as "comedy", despite bits of it being achingly funny. Whereas, for example, I have no problem seeing Blackadder and Derry Girls as comedy. Maybe (very tentatively) it's in the intention again? Blackadder (until the final half and minutes of the final episode of the final series) and Derry Girls are out and out laughs (I think: have only seen bits of Derry Girls) whereas the others deal with the human condition as a whole? As I say, tentative, and lots more to think about.

My wife and I had to pause Fleabag when the "I've been stung by a wasp" chalk message appeared because we couldn't stop laughing. If something is so funny that you must pause it to catch your breath, I put it on the comedy side of the spectrum.

Reasonable minds can differ on this point.

When the government clamped down on legal prescription painkillers, people transitioned to illegal more dangerous drugs and the death rates went up.

Are there data to support this proposition? The data in the Cato paper you cited do not.

let the goalposts move!


Federal regulators Monday granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine — a milestone that could help increase inoculation rates and spark a wave of vaccine mandates by employers and universities amid a surge of new cases and hospitalizations fueled by the ferocious delta variant.

b.b.b.b.but... 5G!

Reasonable minds can differ on this point

This is very true, and long may it remain the case. But I would just remark in the interests of accuracy that some of my favourite people in real life have occasionally made me laugh so much that I cry, can't breathe, and my stomach hurts for hours, but I still don't consider them comedians, nor real life a comedy.

However, all this discussion has made me want to watch Fleabag again, so that's a net positive.

The rise in overdose deaths from fentanyl and related synthetics corresponds pretty closely with the drug cartels in Southeast Asia discovering that it was much easier to manufacture and smuggle super-strength synthetics than traditional opiates, and changing their product lineup.

While we are at vaccine conspiracy theories
Why does everyone use a g*dd*amned key to check for magnetism? I'd be far more convinced, if a magnetic compass would be used as a detector (provided I can see that there is no strategically placed magnet to get the effect and that the patient has no metallic implant in his/her upper arm).

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