Michael Flatley, of Riverdance fame, has a new career as an artist, and it is giving me considerable entertainment. According to the Irish Times, Mr Flatley “creates his paintings by dancing on canvases (strips of marley – a type of linoleum floor covering used on stage by dancers)”.  We learn that “At least 12 of the paintings sold, for an average price of £52,000 (€74,000). Negotiations are continuing regarding further sales”.

You couldn’t make it up.  Truly, life is imitating art – in this case the amusing 1960 film “The Rebel”, starring the late comedian Tony Hancock.  To quote from Wikipedia:

Hancock plays a downtrodden London office clerk who gives up his office job to pursue full-time his vocation as an artist. Single mindedly, and with an enthusiasm far exceeding any artistic talent (his ‘art’ has a ‘childlike’ quality – to put it mildly), he sets to work on his masterpiece Aphrodite at the Waterhole, moving to  Paris where he expects his genius will be appreciated….. The film explores existentialist themes by mocking Parisian intellectual society and portraying the pretensions of the English middle class…. The film also includes scenes parodying modern art. The scene showing Hancock splashing paint onto a canvas and riding a bike over it is a lampoon of the work of Action Painter, William Green while the childlike paintings of Hancock, referred to as the ‘infantile school’ or the ‘shapeist school’ parody the naïve style.

Alternatively, I hope Mr Flatley, with his “art”,  is having a good old-fashioned piss-take – otherwise known as “mocking … intellectual society and portraying the pretensions of the … middle class”.  Good for him if that is the case.

Surely he doesn’t actually believe his offerings are worth €50-100,000? No, it is no doubt a wonderful leg-pull on his part, at the expense of those blinded by fame into laying out large sums of money on unattractive and random smears of paint.  This must be the case, as Mr Flatley is a clever fellow.  Maybe he has even seen “the Rebel” and is carrying out his own experiment, testing the limits of art buyers’ gullibility!

Or perhaps he has seen the wonderful recent Italian film The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza), in which a young child creates highly-prized “art” by having a temper tantrum and flinging paint at a large canvas (YouTube link here). Yes, that must be the case……

[More on the madness of modern/conceptual art here, here, here and here].

Six months ago I revealed my plan to resolve the Eurozone crisis: all German workers would be given a 30% wage increase by their employers.  This would, I said, “at a stroke, level the competitiveness playing field within the Eurozone while, at the same time, putting lots of new Euros into the hands of Germans to spend on Greek holidays, Spanish wine and Italian shoes.”

Bizarrely, I have seen no evidence that my plan has been taken up by European leaders.  My phone has not exactly been hopping with calls from Berlin and Paris, expressing gratitude for my brilliant insight into how to solve the major economic crisis of our times.  Sarkozy, at least, will now have plenty of time to repent for his lack of action.

But at least one solid citizen (of the USA as it happens) has taken up the cudgels and written a letter to the Financial Times  (3rd May) promoting the very policy I suggested here.  Take a bow, Raul Elizalde, of Path Financial, Sarasota, Florida:

It’s time to recognise that Germany reaped enormous gains from the creation of the common currency. If it is really committed to the eurozone’s survival, it will have to give back some of those gains, not only by providing bailout money or booking private sector losses, as it is doing, but also by surrendering some of its relative competitiveness. The most direct way is by running a higher inflation than the periphery ……. recent German unions’ demands for higher wages present just the right opportunity. Conceding higher pay could ease some built-up political pressures brought about by austerity, reward the long contribution to competitiveness made by German workers, and make the periphery’s relative adjustment easier to achieve.

Plus ça change….

25 April, 2012

This cartoon was reproduced in The Irish Times on 25th April 2012.  It was originally published in Punch in 1909.

Instead of John Redmond, just substitute David Boyd Barrett or Joe Higgins or any multi-purpose rabble-rouser, and instead of Saxon tyranny let’s think of the “oppressors” in the ECB or the troika.  We want their money, but they can keep their policies.

AAAAAA revisited

26 November, 2011

In 1999, The Economist started to get worried about the proliferation of acronyms, particularly TLAs (three-letter acronyms).

The Economist would like to draw attention to a new shortage: of acronyms and abbreviations. So great is the demand in a world where new organisations spring up almost daily, and firms are increasingly known only by strings of initials, that there are simply not enough to go round….

The nasty truth is that there are only 17,576 different permutations of three letters. That is not enough, when a multi-national organisation such as the ECB requires no fewer than five sets of abbreviations in the languages of the EU. Add one more letter and the permutations number almost 457,000. Yet even this does not solve the dilemma. Is the CBOT the Chicago Board of Trade or the Central Bank of Turkey?

This is a clear market failure. In the market for cabbages or computers, prices would rise, encouraging greater supply or choking off demand. But the supply of abbreviations is fixed—and the price is stuck at zero. Demand cannot be satisfied. Yet multiple use of an abbreviation only creates confusion. The solution is simple. A new organisation is needed to tax and control the proliferation of initials. It might be called AAAAAA (the Association for the Alleviation of Absurd Acronyms and Asinine Abbreviations).

This article prompted a reply which struck a chord.

SIR—I am writing to complain about your misuse of one particular acronym.  AAAAAA is already allocated to the Association for the Abolition of Appalling Arbitrary Application of Apostrophe’s, of which I am an activist.


And that was in 1999, before the use of redundant apostrophes in plural nouns (the Greengrocer’s Apostrophe) became as prevalent as it is today.  Not to mention the new and horrific variant, the use of an apostrophe in the third person present tense of a verb, which I flagged here,  here and here.

Since 1999, we have seen the establishment of  The Apostrophe Protection Society, a small step towards sanity and integrity in written English. Ans in 2009, there was a fascinating article in the Daily Telegraph on 29th August:  ”Councils issue crib sheets to prevent grammatical howlers on signs”.  Here is a flavour:

Council staff are being issued with an “idiot’s guide” on how to use apostrophes and other punctuation marks correctly in a bid to stem their misuse in street signs and official notices.  Local authorities around the country have now resorted to issuing GCSE-style crib sheets to their staff in a bid to raise standards of grammar in their organisations.  Guidance for staff at Salford council states: “Do not assume that if you don’t know whether to use an apostrophe, then most of your readers won’t either.  Many of your readers will notice, and they will infer that you did not learn to write correctly. If a reader notices that you have used incorrect grammar, you will instantly lose credibility.”

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s simple really.  As John Maudlin says: “… the money to solve the crisis does not exist. The only way to find it is for the ECB to print money and print in size, enough to lower the value of the euro and make exports cheaper (which gives southern Europe a chance to grow out of its problems).”

That’s step one.  But there would remain the problem of the relative uncompetitiveness of the peripheral countries, especially Greece.  So here is my cunning plan, worthy of Baldrick at his best: all German workers would be required to be given a 30% wage increase by their employers.  (Same would happen in quasi-German satellites such as Finland, Austria, Netherlands.)

This would, at a stroke, level the competitiveness playing field within the Eurozone while, at the same time, putting lots of new Euros into the hands of Germans to spend on Greek holidays, Spanish wine and Italian shoes.

Mike Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and/or the Nazis.  His law has become an established part of modern media and Internet culture.

I would like to propose a new law which states that, given enough time, in any discussion about Irish nationalist or Republican issues, someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by calling its proponent a “West Brit”. And just as with Godwin’s Law, the use of this term means (a) the discussion has come to a conclusion and (b) the person who uses it has ipso facto lost the argument.

You OK with that, Martin McGuinness?  No, I didn’t think so.  (See this report.)

The following examples of illiteracy or barbarism were all encountered in the past two weeks.  I wish I could stop noticing such things.  Or even, dare I say it, stop getting bothered by them.  But I say, old chap, WE MUST HAVE STANDARDS!

First up is a stand at the Irish Antique Dealers’ Fair.  Presumably a Mr Yeat is somehow involved, but I’m not sure why he claims to own the country.  They surely don’t mean W.B. Yeats, and the part of Sligo associated with him?

Next is a greeting (sic) card, of the smutty variety.  The humour is somewhat spoiled by the failure to distinguish between “effect” and “affect”.  This is a common enough howler, I suppose, although it’s slightly depressing to see it writ large on a product which presumably went through many hands and took a lot of effort in its production.

Similarly, another blogger called Pencil&Spoon did a posting on a beer bottle label which was full of spelling and punctuation errors.  I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting liberally, as what he has written echoes my thoughts on such matters.

“What makes these mistakes especially frustrating is that the front of the label has obviously been well-designed and lots of effort has gone into it …. Even the paper it’s printed on is of a high quality. For this level of design and detail it must have passed by a few people and for none of them to spot those errors is just not good. As the front …. looks bold and well designed, I feel some confidence that the beer will also have had the same effort put into it. The shoddy spelling on the back makes me think again. ….I know some people aren’t good with spelling and grammar, I understand that, but there’s always someone around to take a look at it and check it…..Breweries: please try not to make spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes on your beer labels. …Even a small typo can send the message that you are sloppy and careless.”
Next up, when I saw the mass of warning signage and verbiage on a simple pool air mattress (we used to call them “lilos”), I became all nostalgic for the good old days when we were not treated like idiots and when judges didn’t entertain ridiculous personal injury claims by people who obviously qualify for the Darwin Awards (which “salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it).