Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (Books 2017, 4)

Yes, the end of August and only my fourth book. What on Earth is happening? In short, Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is happening. All 1000-plus pages of it. I’m just over two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m loving it, but I think my target now must be to finish it by the end of the year!

But I got this one for my birthday, and it’s short, so I read it in two or three days while I was on holiday recently. It’s an odd one. It tells a story of some people and some strange videos in the days when there were still video rental shops stores and VHS tapes within them. Which allows someone to insert extracts from strange home videos into some of them, leading our protagonist to start investigating.

It takes place in the farmland of Iowa, and it’s interesting enough, but it’s one of those stories where you end up wondering, Why? Both why did the characters behave like that, and why did the author choose to write that particular story?

Not a bad story, but not that compelling either.

Pamela Constable on her parents’ WASP values

Great piece in the Washington Post by one of their correspondents whose Republican parents would have hated what the party has become:

it occurred to me that our cerebral and courtly African American president, struggling against the tide of an angry, visceral age, had more in common with this elderly WASP gentleman than did many white Republican leaders of the moment.

Source: I rejected my parents’ WASP values. Now I see we need them more than ever. – The Washington Post

Woman Who Shot at Home Depot Shoplifters Vows to Never Help Anyone Again – The New York Times

Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez of Michigan, who had been a passerby when she noticed the commotion, lost her gun-carrying permit and got 18 months’ probation.

The NY Times reports this without comment. This crazy woman shot at people who were suspected of shoplifting. Not murder, not terrorism. Shoplifting. And the lesson she says she’s learned is, “I’ll never help anyone again.”

Yes you can!

Congratulations, America! “Great news”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama4.

Obama’s speech was fantastic, and McCain’s was very dignified.

Unfortunately, there is one piece of bad news: Stephen Fry “tweets”:http://twitter.com/stephenfry/status/991361168 that California’s Proposition 8 has passed. It outlaws same-sex marriage, and is a “nasty, bigoted piece of work”:http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2008/11/a_revolting_proposition.html. I can’t find any official news on it at the moment, though, so let’s hope that the good Mr Fry is just misinformed, out there in Africa as he is.

Freedom Tickling

Went to see Jon Stewart of The Daily Show on Sunday. He was doing one night in London, with, as it turned out, the executive producer and the head writer of the show.

It was good, though it could cynically be seen as an extended advert for their book, America: The Book. The largest part of the 75-minute show consisted of readings of extracts from the book. Those were enough to make me want to buy it, but the the funniest lines were probably in Stewart’s introductory piece. The final section, consisting of questions from the audience, showed that both he and his co-stars are generally witty and able to think on their feet.

If volume of applause is a measure, though, the highlight of the night for much of the audience was a brief guest appearance. “For this next section we’re going to ask for help from a member of the audience. We picked him before we started, so don’t get up.” Then a stocky, black-clad figure walked on. From my position high on the balcony, and with my notedly-poor facial-recognition skills, I couldn’t tell who it was (though Frances, sitting next to me, could). I’d have recognised his voice, though. Ricky Gervais is officially more popular in London than Jon Stewart (which is not a surprise).

Gervais read the “funny names” from the book. This is a section on how US newscasters, weather forecasters and so on, can’t have anything like an ordinary name. The authors identified formulas for the name-construction for the various roles. “A monosyllabic kitchen-related verb, followed by two unconnected words. Eg ‘Chop Muddybottom.'”

As further evidence, were it needed, of my poor celeb-recognition, apparently I literally rubbed shoulders with Alan Rickman on the way out; then Frances said, “There’s Salman Rushdie over there.” “Where?” “There: standing in the middle of the road, with all the people round him.”

I did even eventually see him, and recognised him. And while I accept that I’m bad at recognising faces — and celebrities in particular — I would contend that I just hadn’t noticed him in the crowd at first, and recognised him perfectly well once I knew he was there..

Oh, and the title of this post? “We don’t torture. We like to call it, uh, ‘freedom tickling'”