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].

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.)

You know the scene.  You are sitting in a restaurant, giving your order to the otherwise pleasant waiter/waitress and, after each dish you specify, he/she says “no problem”.

I know that I am a bit grumpy, but I find this particular usage irritating.  Where did it come from?!  Is it an Americanism?  Or maybe a result of watching too many Australian soaps?

I feel like saying “It’s good that you have assessed my request and on balance you feel able to accede to it, as it apparently does not cause you a problem. The message I’m receiving is that if it did cause you a problem, you would probably be unable to grant me my request. That sort of  conditionality as regards your establishment’s service policy is not to my taste”.

What’s wrong with a simple “Certainly”, or a “Yes sir/madam”, or a repetition of the order by way of confirmation that it has been understood and registered?

I am frankly not that interested in whether, or the extent to which, my order causes a problem for the restaurant in which I am spending my hard-earned money. If what I have ordered is by some chance unavailable on the day in question, then simply advise me of this, with an appropriate apology for my disappointment. Otherwise I’m frankly not interested in your problems, or lack of same. I come to restaurants to get away from everyday problems.

To quote a fellow blogger:  “By saying it in response to your lunch order, the waiter is suggesting that, by ordering, you are annoying the waiter, and that a lesser waiter might have walked off in a huff, but that he will graciously bear the inconvenience of having you around.”

So come on, waiters and waitresses of the world: watch your language!

Airline joke

27 June, 2011

A guy is sitting in the bar in departures at Heathrow. A beautiful woman walks in and sits down at the table next to him.

He decides that because she’s got a uniform on, she’s probably an off duty flight attendant.  So he decides to have a go at picking her up by identifying the airline she flies for thereby impressing her greatly.

He leans across to her and says the Delta Airlines motto: “We love to fly and it shows”.   The woman looks at him blankly.

He sits back and thinks up another line.   He leans forward again and delivers the Air France motto: “Winning the hearts of the world”.  Again she just stares at him with a slightly puzzled look on her face.

Undeterred, he tries again, this time saying the Malaysian Airlines motto: “Going beyond expectations”.

The woman looks at him sternly and says: “What the f**k do you want?”

“Ah!” he says, sitting back with a smile on his face, “Ryanair”!!!

Husbands vs wives

13 June, 2011

A friend told me a story which (I claim) illustrates the difference between men and women, at least in a middle-aged, married context.
He and his wife were passing a shop window which showed off beautiful high-end kitchens, and in which a young couple were being shown what was on offer.  His wife said to him: “Lucky them, buying a new kitchen”.
The husband claims to have replied: “But no, lucky us, we already have a kitchen which works very well and which, moreover, is fully paid for. Those poor young people are probably going deep into debt to acquire a fancy kitchen beyond their needs.”   The wife’s response was not supplied.   I think my friend tells the story to show himself in a good light: we are to be impressed with his maturity, common sense and frugality.  I fear not everybody will go along with this.