Thursday, July 30, 2009

what were they thinking?

This is deeply deeply wrong. For thine be the kingdom, the power and the glory hole.

More at the Facebook group Bad Religious Art. Not to be confused with a glory hole spillway.

further hackery

Here's another one: this entry in the Independent's list of sporting team-mates falling out with each other. It's about French tennis player Amélie Mauresmo:
Mauresmo (pictured) won the Australian Open as a 19-year-old but her physical build attracted negative comments from other women on the tour - Martin Hingis famously describing her as 'half man'.
I can do this one without having to look anything up - Mauresmo reached the Australian Open final in 1999 (as a 19-year-old), but she didn't win, in fact she lost to possible Swiss Army knife owner and probable crack whore Martina Hingis. Her less famous brother Martin Hingis was not, as far as I know, involved.

do you think Roger Federer's got one?

More lazy slapdash couldn't-even-be-bothered-to-Google-it journalism from the BBC today: this article about that cornerstone of modern Western civilisation the Swiss Army knife. Obviously it was a slow news day and they needed a story about something to fill up a blank bit of web space before everyone knocked off down the Dog & Badger for a liquid lunch, but this is pretty thin stuff. Here's a bit of clarification that I managed to dig up after all of ten minutes on Google and Wikipedia:
  • The 125th anniversary mentioned in the article is of the founding of the Victorinox knife company in a German-speaking canton of Switzerland in 1884.
  • Victorinox were granted sole licence to supply knives to the Swiss Army in 1891.
  • Depending on how you read the linked article, the knife-supplying contract was split between Victorinox and the French-speaking Swiss company Wenger in either 1893 or 1908.
  • Victorinox took over Wenger in 2005, thereby effectively bringing all knife production back under one banner, although the two companies continue to produce separately-branded products.
  • Also, while the article is about Victorinox, all the links I could find suggest the 314-bladed enormo-knife pictured is actually a Wenger.
Everyone has a couple of Swiss Army knife stories, so here are mine: the first one I had was a Victorinox bought for me by my father, which at some point in my university life I managed to lose. I replaced it with a Wenger which I bought in the L.L.Bean gargantustore in Freeport, Maine while I was over there for my friend Matt's wedding in 1994, and which I still have. It's the standard mid-sized one with the usual attachments (something like the Classic 101 pictured), pretty much the same as the old Victorinox except it has a lockable main blade, which is very handy and helps avoid any accidental finger-severing incidents, and also a can-opener of truly evil sharpness which you could probably take your arm off with if you put your mind to it. I assume this guy used the main blade, though. Incidentally Wikipedia seems to think the story (as related on an episode of QI a while back) about the founder of MI6 hacking his own leg off with a penknife after a car accident is apocryphal.

Monday, July 27, 2009

what I did at the weekend

On Saturday we nipped over to St. Woolos' Cathedral (about 50 yards down the road) as they'd put a leaflet through our door advertising a Summer Fête. Not only was there the prospect of some Women's Institute jam and cake, but also the opportunity to pay the princely sum of two quid and go up to the roof of the cathedral tower (normally closed to the public), including a visit to the ringing room for a brief but informative talk about bell-ringing. All proceeds to the church roof fund, whose current impoverished state can be gauged by the fact that their website seems to be currently defunct; maybe the proceeds from the fête will help. Anyway, the views from the roof of the tower are pretty good; it's rather a short stubby affair (featuring 113 steps, apparently) but it does sit upon one of the highest points in central Newport, so the panorama is quite impressive.

All good stuff, as was the second-hand bookstall selling quite decent-quality fiction paperbacks for the frankly derisory price of 30p each. Rude not to snap up half-a-dozen or so, so I did.

Photos can be found here.


While we were in Pembrokeshire we foolishly forgot to do any pre-emptive gardening before we left, and as it was a bit wet (to say the least) while we were away, by the time we got back the whole garden (and the herb patch in particular) had turned into some sort of gastropod brothel. Check it out:

They were climbing up the outside of the mint pot -

in the mint -

in the chives -

on the lupins -

and even getting up to some hot transgressive forbidden interspecies snail-on-slug action on the back wall -

Finally I encountered this gargantuan bastard feasting on my oregano -

That was the last straw; enough already. Time to deploy the slug pellets.

Luckily these are irresistibly delicious to slugs and snails and our monster friend immediately homed (sluggishly) in on them and started chowing down with a certain amount of gusto -

- little realising the hideous fate that was in store for him. The effect isn't immediate, but at some point during the night a chemical reaction occurred and jumbo here experienced something like the bloke in the famous scene from David Cronenberg's Scanners, i.e. he turned inside out in a probably painful manner. The aftermath makes sobering viewing:

So, to recap: do not mess with my oregano or I'll feed you something that will cause you to turn inside out in a painful manner. And I don't mean my spicy meatballs.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the last book I read

Unless by Carol Shields.

Reta Winters is a writer, principally of short stories and translations (mainly of the French-language works of her friend and mentor Danielle Westerman), but has recently branched out into novel-writing. Reta lives near Toronto with her partner and two of their three daughters - there is a third daughter, Norah, but she has had a psychological crisis of an unspecified nature and now sits on a street corner with a begging bowl and a cardboard sign round her neck bearing the single word GOODNESS.

Needless to say this odd situation has an impact on the family's life: they visit Norah on her street corner periodically to make sure she's still alive and well, though she doesn't offer much in the way of response. Reta has had a bit of an awakening of feminist consciousness (partly inspired by Danielle Westerman, who seems like a feisty old bird) and now writes increasingly eccentric letters to various people complaining about perceived sexist slights, though like Saul Bellow's Herzog she never actually sends any of them. Reta also chafes at the perception of her novel (successful though it was) as "light", "domestic fiction", that sort of thing, and at her new editor's suggestions for beefing the next one up a bit by making a male character the principal protagonist.

Meanwhile Norah continues to sit on her street corner (the intersection of Bathurst St. and Bloor St., apparently), until one day the family cruise by on one of their regular trips and find her not there. Much frantic ringing around later they find that she has succumbed to pneumonia and is being treated in a local hospital. It turns out Norah has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing at close range a Muslim woman committing suicide by setting herself on fire (and sustaining burns trying to beat out the flames). The book ends with Norah back home making a slow recovery from her ordeal, Reta completing her second novel (without editorial meddling) and a general air of all's well that ends well.

No prizes for spotting that Reta's struggle to be taken seriously and not pigeonholed as a "woman writing for women" is probably semi-autobiographical: Shields has Reta fretting about happy endings, whether she should shoehorn in a bit more sex and violence, and what Danielle Westerman would have done in her position. Nothing wrong with happy endings per se, of course, although Norah's rescue from her catatonic state seemed a bit cosy and convenient. Shields does at least make it clear that it's PTSD she was suffering from rather than something more intractable like schizophrenia. I was reminded of a couple of other books that deal with similar subjects: Nick Hornby's How To Be Good which I thought (along with quite a few of the Amazon reviewers) wasn't up to much, and Kingsley Amis' Stanley And The Women which along with being one of his most ragingly misanthropic (and shamefully funny) books portrays schizophrenia in what appears to me to be quite a sensible and accurate manner, though of course I am not a doctor, as you know.

Anyway, I enjoyed Unless without being completely bowled over by it, mainly because the "domestic" stuff (reflections on family life and writing) and the "darker" stuff (the Norah situation) didn't seem to mesh together totally convincingly - I have to concede that the darker stuff was probably sincerely meant, though, as Shields wrote the novel (her last) while already terminally ill with the cancer that eventually killed her in July 2003. I would say, however, that if you absolutely must have one and only one North American female writer of meticulously observed "domestic fiction" that's actually quite deep and clever in an undemonstrative sort of way, the lady you probably want is Anne Tyler.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

celebrity lookeylikey of the day - bonus edition

Here's another one, also with a bit of a sporting connection: eight-time major winner and recent Open not-quite-history-maker Tom Watson, and evil Galactic emperor Palpatine. One is a wrinkly gap-toothed turkey-necked old geezer with strange and mysterious powers, and the other is a character in Star Wars.

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

A sporting one today: 1991 Wimbledon men's singles champion Michael Stich and Australian fast bowling all-rounder and recent recipient of several ladlefuls of steaming hot Ashes justice Mitchell Johnson.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

what we did on our holidays

A few brief highlights from our week in Pembrokeshire with Hazel's family, photographic accompaniment to which can be found here.
  • We stayed (10 of us) in a converted farmhouse in Upper Haroldston, just a couple of miles south of Haverfordwest. Which is a coincidence, because I have a Ford, and went west in it to get there, hahahahaha. Please yourselves. Anyway, handy location, plenty of room, nice patio and garden out the back, and a games room with dart board and snooker table, plus a kitchen with a table big enough to get 12 people round, plus wi-fi internet access, so thumbs up all round.
  • There is a 9-hole golf course down the road - mainly par 3's, and fairly basic facilities, but at four quid a head no-one's going to be complaining.
  • We visited Newgale beach which I last went to on family holidays when I was about 2 years old. The big shingle bank at the back of the beach rang some bells, but that's about it.
  • We also climbed up Foel Cwmcerwyn, which is the highest point in Pembrokeshire at 536 metres (1759 feet), and thus qualifies as another entry on my list of county tops. You'll remember I alluded to someone having already written a book on the subject - well, it seems people are queueing up to mock my pitiful achievements in this area. But, anyway, Foel Cwmcerwyn is quite nice, though not particularly demanding. There is a trig point at the top, too, which is nice. There is also a place called Beddarthur nearby which is one of many places which claims to be the burial place of King Arthur. I think we found it while we were up there, though one pile of rocks looks very much like another, to be honest. We parked up in the village of Rosebush, which slightly oddly despite being absolutely tiny appears to have two post offices, and even more oddly one of them appears to double up as a bistro while the other doubles up as a cheese shop.
  • We visited St. David's, whose claim to fame is being the smallest city in the UK. And sure enough apart from the cathedral, the ruined Bishop's Palace next to it and various tea shops there isn't much else there, so as it was a nice day we went over to the beach at Whitesands Bay for the obligatory beach cricket and ice cream consumption.
  • Finally we visited Pemberton's Chocolate Farm, where we had various edifying lectures on the history and manufacture of chocolate before cutting to the chase and getting to eat some. And very nice too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

the last book I read

Inversions by Iain M. Banks.

The woman named Vosill is a doctor, personal physician to King Quience, ruler of the kingdom of Haspidus. The prevailing cultural conditions in Haspidus (broadly equivalent to something like mediaeval Europe, technologically speaking) make a woman achieving such a position unusual; even allowing for that Vosill is an unusual woman, one of disturbing directness and seemingly cavalier about observing some of the social norms of the society in which she finds herself.

The man named DeWar is a soldier, personal bodyguard to Protector UrLeyn, ruler of Tassasen. Despite (or perhaps because of) saving the Protector's life on more than one occasion, he is viewed with suspicion by those in positions of power.

The book is arranged with alternate chapters describing events in the two narrative strands involving the principal characters. There is a prologue which gives a bit of context to each strand, most usefully by revealing that each is based on a text by a contemporary author - Vosill's apprentice Oelph for the first (he is also responsible for the prologue and epilogue), and an initially unknown party for the second (though some clues are provided, and there is a revelation in the epilogue).

Each narrative strand describes the various plots and intrigues in each of the ruling courts and the efforts of the principal characters to influence events. Of course the alert reader will be on the lookout for links between the two stories, in the expectation that they will be revealed at the end. Early indications are that we're clearly on a different planet (one with multiple suns, a bit like Brian Aldiss's Helliconia), but that the two stories are set on the same one, indeed in two parts of it not separated by huge distances, since each knows of the other's existence. Each society is at about an equal level of technological advancement - hunting and warfare are still largely based on swords and knives, with the occasional trebuchet thrown in for good measure, though primitive musket-like firearms have been developed.

Further clues are provided by the stories DeWar tells to the Protector's son Lattens - these concern childhood friends Sechroom and Hiliti, their various adventures, disagreements and eventual separation as Sechroom leaves to become a "missionary". Over the course of these stories we're invited to draw the conclusion that Sechroom and Hiliti are Vosill and DeWar, and also that Sechroom's "missionary" work is what has brought her to Haspidus. But what of her medical knowledge, which seems far in advance of the blood-letting and leeches approach practised by her medical contemporaries? And how is she able to have transcripts in her private journal (which Oelph sneaks a look at) of conversations between senior courtiers that she couldn't possibly have overheard? And what is the purpose of the mysterious jewelled dagger that she carries with her at all times?

Experienced Banks readers will smell the whiff of The Culture in all of this, and with good reason. Banks and his publishers have been a bit coy about the whole thing, omitting the tag "A Culture Novel" from the front of the latest edition (all the others carry it) and also omitting from the latest edition the short paragraph which prefaced the original novel (reproduced here), presumably on the grounds that it provided too broad a clue to the uninitiated reader. A Culture novel is what it undoubtedly is, though, for all that: when the doctor is the victim of a plot to frame her for murder and have her raped and tortured the ornamental dagger is revealed to be a Culture knife missile which she uses to escape, with impressively bloody results. With her cover compromised she leaves Haspidus by sea, declines an offer of dinner from the ship's captain with a coy reference to "special circumstances" (SC being the black-ops section of the Culture's Contact division which manages interaction with other civilisations - we are therefore invited to infer that Vosill is an SC operative), and then mysteriously disappears.

As for DeWar, he foils a plot to poison the Protector's son, but fails to foil a plot by the Protector's senior concubine (and DeWar's close friend) Perrund to kill UrLeyn in revenge for the murder of her family many years before. Many alternative readings are available for the level of DeWar's involvement with The Culture, for what it's worth mine is that he must have "dropped out" in some way before becoming UrLeyn's bodyguard. Certainly he appears to have no technological gadgetry at his disposal.

What we're being given here is a series of reflections on what hardcore Trekkies know as the Prime Directive, i.e. how much interfering should a technologically advanced society do in the development and advancement of a less advanced one? Generally The Culture have fewer qualms than Kirk, Picard and their chums about trying to push things in what they deem to be the "right" direction; presumably this is what Vosill's mission was. Certainly the kingdom of Haspidus appears in better shape when she leaves than when we join the story, while the same cannot be said of Tassasen under DeWar's watch.

The contrast with Inversions' predecessor Excession couldn't be more marked - these two are probably the extremes of the Culture series; Inversions a mediaeval political adventure thriller with just a hint of Culture involvement, Excession a techno-geek's wet dream with pages of inter-spaceship communication complete with message headers and various other nerdery. Some of the Banks fanboi community seemed a bit put out by the absence of intergalactic laser cannon battles and bleeping droids all over the shop, but for what it's worth I enjoyed Inversions more than any of the other Culture novels I've read except perhaps Consider Phlebas.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

music list of the day

Songs that start with a single drumbeat (called, rather amusingly, a "rimshot"; make up your own jokes) before the rest of the band steams in.
  • Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. Here's a live version from the legendary British tour of 1966, backed by the musicians who would later become The Band, with Dylan on particularly good manic nasal shouty form.
  • Light My Fire by The Doors. Everyone knows the original, so here's José Feliciano's Spanish guitar version from 1968.
  • Hot Legs by Rod Stewart. Here's a live version from Los Angeles in, if the YouTube comments are to be believed, 1979. Note Rod's rather fetching green shiny tracksuit and his startling resemblance to Bonnie Tyler's less butch sister.
  • Raspberry Beret by The Hindu Love Gods. The HLG being Warren Zevon, plus R.E.M., minus Michael Stipe. No video of this one, but here's Zevon performing Boom Boom Mancini on David Letterman's show in 1987. Spookily enough real-life boxer (and latterly mayor of Managua) Alexis Argüello who is referenced in the song (at about 1:25) died a couple of weeks ago in slightly mysterious circumstances (but most likely shot himself).

the last book I read

The Leaves On Grey by Desmond Hogan.

Sean McMahon is a young boy growing up in 1940s Dublin. He spends most of his time hanging about with his best friend Liam Kenneally, whom he looks up to because of his exotic and exciting background - his father is the local doctor, and his mother is a Russian émigré who had fled the revolution in 1917 as a child, while most of her family perished. Unable to escape her tragic past, Mrs. Kenneally becomes increasingly eccentric and eventually drowns herself in a river (the Liffey, presumably).

[That's the portentously-titled Book One (of three). This subdivision seems faintly absurd in a book this short (119 pages), but it serves to clearly separate the three distinct periods of time being described, I suppose. I would have thought Chapter One would have done, though.]

We rejoin Sean and Liam as they attend university (still in Dublin) in the early 1950s with a host of others, including elegant blonde Sarah Thompson and her friend Christine Canavan. Inevitably Liam and Sarah form a beautiful couple and Sean is left to hook up slightly half-heartedly with Christine. There's a lot of the usual privileged student activity like going to clubs to listen to jazz, eating buns and general lounging around. Then Sean splits up with Christine, and things take a strange turn as he and Liam and Sarah get involved in an odd ménage à trois, before Liam and Sarah travel to Europe together and separate acrimoniously. Sarah then returns on her own, gets increasingly involved with religious causes and eventually joins an order of nuns. Liam eventually returns, applies for and wins a scholarship to an American university and departs for California.

The story picks up again in the 1970's - Sean is now married with three children, but is troubled by his past, so he arranges to meet up with Liam in Derry, a short while after Bloody Sunday, a meeting which seems unsatisfactory to both parties. Finally, after a brief return to California, Liam abandons his life and joins a monastic order on an island in a lake back in Ireland. Sean visits him there and, seemingly successfully exorcised of the ghosts of his past, returns to his wife and children.

First obvious comment to make is that this is a first cousin to both The Great Gatsby and Le Grand Meaulnes in its depiction of impossibly golden and beautiful but troubled young people having relationships doomed to end in unhappiness, watched all the time by a wistful and slightly envious narrator. This particular book comes with its own layer of Irish religious guilt at any sort of pleasure (especially the sexual kind) attached as well. I suppose there's an obvious debt in the subject matter to James Joyce's A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man as well.

What each of these three books really is, of course, is a thinly-veiled love story between the male narrator and the central male character. In which case it's hard for your view of the book not to be coloured by Hogan's 2008 conviction for the aggravated sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy. Which in turn raises a more general question about art and artists - how separate should we consider them to be? How much should, for instance, the fact that Chuck Berry is a bit of a pervy old goat tarnish the fact of his having pretty much invented rock'n'roll as we know it? Is Nutbush City Limits less of a song because Ike Turner was a wife-beater? Do we disregard Eric Gill's sculpture and typeface design because he was an enthusiastic practitioner of incest, paedophilia and even bestiality? And what about Michael Jackson?

Assuming we don't argue for the burning of Hogan's books then I'd say this is all nicely written, though very slight, since it's little more than a short story. The fact that the concerns of the major characters seem rather parochial and trivial is no doubt partly a consequence of reading the book straight after Blood Meridian, which is no fault of Hogan's, really.

no wanking in the showers!

Presumably it remains OK for the ladies? It's not really clear. Enquiries should be directed to the University of Michigan.

Also, no wanking in the office.

Friday, July 10, 2009

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Lead singer of former Mercury Prize winners and insipid wishy-washy bedwetters Elbow Guy Garvey, and cuddly comedy oaf Nick Frost.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

yippee-kye-ay, monkeyfighter

Remember the blasphemy challenge from last year? Sounds like there may be something similar going on in Ireland shortly, as another pointless and ill-thought-out piece of legislaton is proposed. Among the high-profile protesters is none other than Graham Linehan, co-creator of such gems as Father Ted, Big Train, Black Books and The IT Crowd.

Graham Linehan also has his own blog, called Why That's Delightful!, which is mainly a repository of amusing video clips from around the world, presumably compiled while lounging around on the sofa between trips to the Groucho club and knocking off another sitcom. Lots and lots of good stuff here; the one that caught my eye was the apparently genuine sanitised-for-TV clip from the legendary Snakes On A Plane. Since the word "freakin'" is clearly OK (as it crops up at the end of the clip) they could have bailed out and just substituted "motherfreakin'" every time; to their great credit they didn't take that easy route, and instead came up with something genuinely....genuinely....well, judge for yourself:

Just for comparison purposes the original is here:

It's like the Harry Enfield sketch, only for real.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

burns night

Remember Centralia, Pennsylvania? The town that's been on fire for 40+ years? Well, apparently it's not unique. Here's a couple of interesting articles about the phenomenon, and here's some spectacular footage of a natural gas fire in Turkmenistan that's been burning since 1971. Not quite as long as Centralia (1962) but pretty impressive.

You could toast some serious marshmallows on that. Apparently Turkmenistan also has whole lakes of oil just welling up out of the ground, also on fire.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

another good idea! you better be careful your foot doesn't fall off

Nice little collection on MSN of anecdotes about inventors killed by their own inventions. Couple of particular note:
  • Thomas Midgley, jr., the man who, according to some, was ultimately responsible for more damage to the environment than any other single human. I know this because it was discussed on QI a while back.
  • The textbook use of the phrase "another partial success" in the bit about blood transfusions, as per Viz's chief science boffin Professor Piehead (see below).
  • The fact that the story of the bloke (Franz Reichelt) who attempted to parachute off the Eiffel Tower in 1912 in a particularly voluminous overcoat was captured on video (well, film, presumably) - and it's only on ruddy YouTube! Warning: this clip contains scenes of mild peril, and fatal plummeting (no, really). The French caption that precedes the main clip reads: "Comme s'il eut pressenti l'horrible sort qui l'attendait, le malheureux inventeur hesita longuement, avant de se lancer dans le vide." Which means something like "as if sensing the horrible end which awaited him, the unfortunate inventor hesitated at length before launching himself into the void."

Having good ideas can have serious and unforeseen consequences, as Nursie will tell you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

the last book I read

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.
We're in America, near the Mexican border, around 1850. The unnamed protagonist, known only as "the kid", has run away from home as a teenager, briefly joined an army expedition into Mexico, gone to jail, and ended up joining a gang of assorted bandits, ex-soldiers and other misfits roaming across the border country collecting the bounty on scalps, initially taken from Indians, but eventually from pretty much anyone who they come across. The gang take over a lucrative river ferry operation in Yuma, Arizona after further betrayal and slaughter; eventually this ends in a gruesome massacre by the local Indians. A handful of gang members escape (the kid among them) and continue to trek west across the desert, trying to avoid succumbing either to the brutal conditions or other gang mambers out to save their own hides.

It's not for the faint-hearted: the whole book from start to finish is a catalogue of the most appalling bloody violence, and none of this modern long-distance stuff without a clear view of the consequences either - lots of close-range shootings with bullet or arrow, graphically-described scalpings and axings and the like, not to mention the raping and defiling of the corpses. The bulk of the book describes the Glanton gang's murderous rampage across the country - mainly a series of encounters with other groups either out to further their own bloody ends, or just going innocently about their business, not that it matters, since they get waded mercilessly through regardless. I've not read many books more steeped and soaked in blood and gore, and I used to read Stephen King books pretty regularly. The biblical intensity of the violence is heightened by the writing: lots of formal and archaic language, as well as a ruthlessly detached and deadpan tone. It struck me as a bit like Hemingway - apparently William Faulkner is the usual point of reference, but I've never read any of his stuff so I'm afraid I wouldn't know. At no point are we treated to any sort of insight into the internal thought processes of any of the characters, nor indeed any sort of back-story for anyone beyond the couple of pages right at the start of the book which summarise the kid's journey from his Tennessee childhood to membership of Glanton's band of killers.

It's loosely based on real events as described in the memoirs of Samuel Chamberlain; in particular the gang leader John Joel Glanton was a real person. It's less clear whether the grotesque and almost supernatural character of Judge Holden was based on anyone who ever actually existed.

This is another one from the Time magazine top 100 list, and rightly: this is writing of great power, as long as you can cope with the relentless violence and nihilism. It's pretty dense, and the style means you won't race through it, but the brutal energy of it makes the bourgeois suburban concerns of some other books seem a bit silly.

franken's time

Remember the US election night? That was fun, wasn't it? And now, a mere eight months later, after several recounts and lots of legal wrangling, Democratic candidate, comedian, author and general troublemaker Al Franken is confirmed as US Senator for Minnesota.

Franken is a guy who inspires amusingly hysterical hatred among the loony right-wing brigade in the US, and loony-in-chief Rush Limbaugh in particular. True to form Limbaugh has already used his hugely popular radio show to compare the (legally required in an election that close) recounts in Minnesota to the recent dubious election results in Iran. Classy. Of course Limbaugh's views on the Franken issue will no doubt be coloured slightly by Franken's 1999 collection of satirical essays entitled Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, in which Franken asserts that Limbaugh is, among other things, a big fat idiot.