In Which It Turns Out I’m Just A Fool Who Got Fooled, Foolishly


So the other day I mentioned the English sport of competitively dancing while the opposing team throws a beer-soaked rag at you and I supported that by linking to Wikipedia’s entry about the English sport of competitively dancing while the opposing team throws a beer-soaked rag at you. There I figured the matter rested, since England has all sorts of things to do and they will include things like hitting each other on purpose. Also I swear I saw this show where there was a football match that had gone on at a public school for over a century now without either team scoring or being expected to score, but I can’t find the reference now and for all I know somebody’s gone and scored.

Anyway, my love came across this and figured that can’t possibly be. And then went and actually read the article and came to the conclusion that it didn’t make any sense, and the more you looked at it the less sense it made. And read the citations, all of which made very little sense and the less the more you looked at them. And the comments, which in the least sensible thing of all, don’t make the reader despair of the concept of humanity.

So there we have it. The whole thing looks to be a hoax, more or less. At least, it started out as a prank perpetrated for the comedy show It’s A Square World and it’s sort of stumbled on from there. I should have known, since the whole of England is pretty much a prank that got going so successfully that sometime around when they pulled the “Parliament of Bats” and nobody called them on it they realized they were stuck holding an actual country. I suppose dancing while the opposing team throws a beer-soaked rag at you isn’t likely to have such far-reaching global implications. Still, I feel a fool for not going and actually checking and I can only thank my love for showing where I was fooled. It was called the Parliament of Bats because attendees weren’t allowed to take their swords in with them, not because they were small flying mammals, which is all the more shame.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

New pen day! It’s new pen day! Everybody has new pens and they’re feeling so good that even thought we called off work early the index was up something or other, who cares, it’s new pen day and everything can be all right with the world!

105

Snip, Snap


My love discovered on Wikipedia the old English game of snap-dragon (“also known as snapdragon”), and it’s a bundle of wonderful things. The game, apparently, was one in which you poured brandy into a wide, shallow bowl, set it on fire, and then try to grab raisins out of the brandy. Only a cheater would fail to put raisins in. And yes, you might get burned, but that’s … I guess that’s the dragon part of things. It was popular from about the 16th through the 19th centuries, which reminds us that was also the height of competitive shin-kicking. Which is not even my joke but was part of the Cotswold Olimpick Games alongside beating each other with cudgels. Also competitive dancing while the opposite team throws a beer-soaked rag at you.

Anyway, there’s a lot that’s wonderful about the article so I recommend you read it yourself. If you can’t be bothered, fine, but do please enjoy this low-scale edit war playing out in tossing a heap of sentences onto each other and sprinkling [citation needed] tags on the opponent’s pieces:

Nevertheless, children often burnt their little hands or mouths playing this game,[21] which may have led to the practice mostly dying out in the early 20th century.[citation needed] In some families, this tradition continues to be practiced and enjoyed even into the 21st century.[citation needed]

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose six points today when traders looked in on TrekBBS and discovered how many people are honestly, sincerely concerned for the actor who played Kes on Star Trek: Voyager. She’s been going through some rough times and had some legal trouble and it looks like she’s getting through it and it’s just really heartwarming to see how many people care and wish her well and, you know, for everything that’s wrong with the world right now, people worrying about the person who played Kes is the sweet sort of thing we need.

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Oddball News Review: The Man Who Paints Cows


Based on the Reuters article The Man Who Paints Cows.

Headline: Well done. If there’s anything more immediately obviously amusing than painting a cow, it’s painting multiple cows. Oh, a jerboa has novelty value, but nobody knows what a jerboa is, and in any case they don’t have nearly as much material to paint, what with being small? I think? I’m pretty sure they’re one of those mutant little mouse critters in southeast Asia or Peru or something like that. Cows might be used a lot but they hit the sweet spot of promisingly funny to start with and not being strained. Rating: 6/8.

Story: Disappointing. The story reveals that John Marshall paints pictures of cows, not on cows directly. Well, where’s the fun in that? Anyone who wants to paint a picture of a cow can do so. We’re even encouraged to, with popular books in the arts and crafts stores with names like How To Draw Cows and 40 More Cows To Draw and Here’s Some Cows You Missed Before, Do You Maybe Want To Draw Them Too? and Why Are You Hurting The Feelings Of These Undrawn Cows.

If he were painting cows, that is, using cows as canvas, that would be remarkable. It takes something special to go up to a cow and dab paint on it. Mostly it involves being able to paint before the cow loses patience with the whole business. Also it takes some reliable paint, paint that can stand up to being licked by a cow (painted or neighboring). So the article content is most disappointing. Rating: 2/12.

Picture: This story of a man in East Sussex, England, United We Guess Kingdom is illustrated by a stock Reuters photograph of “Dairy cows [eating] gras in a paddock on the New South Wales south coast near the town of Nowra, Australia, September 5, 2014”. While they still remain cows, they are two-year-old photographs of cows on a continent that hasn’t got anything to do with the painting at hand. Rating: 7/4.

Overall: 15/24. May be re-submitted at the end of term.

Dogs Make News By Acting Like Dogs


You might have seen this on Reuters in which case I’m sorry but you probably already thought of my jokes about it. I hope we can still be friends. Anyway at England’s Manchester Airport they’re reviewing their team of drug-sniffer dogs just because in seven months of work they never found any smuggled drugs. To be fair this compares well with my track record of finding illicit drugs.

And it isn’t like they found nothing. According to a review the dogs did manage “multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health”. And they’re reviewing how it is the project spent £1.25 million on dogs who recovered somewhere around 181 kilograms of meats. I’m a bit unsure about it myself. I would think you could train dogs to sniff out smoked meats and cheese without much more advanced training than saying, “Who’s a good doggy?” while waving a slice of pepperoni. You could do this in an empty room and a good doggy would appear, and then follow you around, pleading for more. I suppose they did get six dogs, and that’s got to be more pricey than one. Still, it seems like there’s something missing here.

I guess the surprising thing is that in seven months British holidaymakers only bring something like 181 kilograms of illegal meat back home through Manchester. I mean, that’s not nothing. The Apollo 17 mission only brought 110 kilograms of moon rocks back. But there were just the two astronauts on the moon, and the whole trip took less than two weeks, and there was just the one of it. Also they probably declared their rocks and didn’t land in northern England. And for another comparison, the early “Schreibkugel” model typewriter which Friedrich Nietzche owned weighed only 75 kilograms. But if the British holidaymakers are sneaking a lot of other meats in, then how are the dogs missing them? Definitely a scandal here.

When Swords Dance And Porridge Explodes


Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies keeps being a source of just wonderful incidents and I had to share some more with you because you’ll just see at that. This one is drawn from the 1645 chapbook Strange And Fearful News From Plaisto In The Parish Of Westham, Plaisto being a totally real place and not the result of someone being challenged to say where it took place and bluffing, desperately, “Place … uh … to” and feeling bad for getting stuck with that answer. According to the Strange and Fearful News for one month Paul Fox, silk weaver, “a man of an honest life and conversation” suffered from a haunted house. I don’t know where his conversation enters into things.

The first problem was that a sword started dancing around the house. Fox handled by locking it up. I suppose if I saw a sword dancing around my house I’d try locking it out of the house altogether, but that strategy didn’t really work with a pretty determined mouse that kept getting into the kitchen last year. It didn’t work so well for Fox, though, because the sword came through the door and continued to dance.

The sword got joined by a cane, that hopped around the sword, and here I’m stumped. I can imagine putting an enchanted sword to some practical use, if it could refrain from dancing some. After all, 1645 was before documents had begun to protect themselves by warning not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them, so if you got, say, a phone bill you could chop it into tiny bits because it was obviously a scam, it being the mid-17th century and all. But a sword with a cane just seems one long dancing inanimate object too many to use. Maybe we aren’t getting the whole story. Maybe the sword, despite love of dance, was getting up in years and needed the cane for support. Or maybe the cane feared for its safety in the rough community of 1645 Plaisto.

But the sword and cane settled down — I bet they were friends and got into chatting about old times — and Fox seemed fine with all this until he started hearing a hollow voice banging on the door and demanding, “I must dwell here”. Told it could just go off and dwell somewhere else, it came back the next day and smashed his windows by hurling bricks, canes, oyster shells, pieces of bread, and “other things” at the house. I suspect the spirit didn’t quite know what it was doing. Breaking windows by using bricks is efficient enough, but, oyster shells? That’s a hard way to break a window, and pieces of bread? Was the spirit unable to find wads of kitten fur to throw instead? Or maybe bread meant something different back then, and throwing a “piece of bread” was slang for throwing a Roundhead or a Member of Parliament or something. Also, whose side was the dancing cane on?

Possibly the cane danced this one out, since a boulder weighing “half a hundred weight”, which if I know anything about English measures means it could weigh anything except fifty pounds, jumped out of the garden where it’d been content to all appearances for decades and tumbled up the stairs into the middle of the room. Fox had someone take it back out into the yard, but it just came right back up the stairs again. I assume the rock had just had enough with all the cane-dancing and bread-throwing and decided to pick a fight with scissors.

Fox stuck it out a while, suggesting you could just haunt a silk-weaver’s house for weeks before he’d get impatient with it. Or maybe he figured dancing swords were more interesting than the other pastimes of 1640s England, such as dying of plague or accusing people of being Anabaptists. But there’s limits to anyone’s patience, and his was reached sometime after a pot of porridge got splattered around the room and the spirits started pulling his family’s hair and knocking their heads. He eventually moved to a new house, where the spirit followed, and he moved back to the first place, figuring, I guess, why not?

By the time the pamphlet was written, Fox was still having trouble with house-haunting, but everyone was confident it wasn’t witchcraft. I don’t know what became of him or his house; maybe he came to appreciate having a bread-throwing ghost around. Hard to say.

When Philosophers Roamed The English Countryside


So I’ve been reading Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies, about the chapbook and pamphlet reporting of paranormal or supernatural events during the era of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, because why would you not read a book like that? I want to share one of its reports, from 1647’s The Most Strange And Wonderfull Apparition of Blood in a Pool at Garreton.

Apparently, for four days the pond water in the town of Garreton in Leicestershire grew ever-darker, turning, some thought, to blood; cattle would no longer drink from it, though fish from the pond tasted fine. And then, the pamphlet-writer reported, “philosophers” were called in.

I know, I know, I know what the original author meant by philosophers. And yet I can’t help figuring the decision to bring philosophers in went something like this:

John Thwapper: “The water hath turned to blood! Quick, summon a philosopher!”

Jake A-Plummet (whose family got the name for an ancestor renowned for his ability to fall): “Kantian or Neoplatonist?”

Jack O’Wort: (looking up from his meal of blood-water fish) “We … we need the cattle to drink the water, so that’s a utility. Best summon a utilitarian, eh?”

Mary Chortle: “We need the water to change. Obviously there’ll be no help for us save from a Pre-Socratic.” And when everyone around her just looks confused, she scowls at what a lot of idiots are in her town and cries out, “Thales of Miletus, ye fools!”

And I realize you’re probably not laughing at that, but somewhere I’ve made a philosophy major giggle, so this is all worth it.

Anyway, the book doesn’t say what the philosopher was able to do about it, but the pamphlet-writer concluded — with some grumbling that philosophers distracted from the wonderfullness of the event, so apparently only after they got involved did the water turning to blood kind of suck? — that the real thing to be learned from this apparition was that the English Civil War caused a lot of people to die, and more of his countrymen needed to understand this, which suggests he figured a lot of the English people had somehow missed the War. Maybe they thought it was some unusually fertile year for frogs or something.

Calais Chronicle: A Great Swarm of Bees


I happend to be reading F J Levy’s Tudor Historical Thought, because I want whatever computer tries to predict my reading habits over in the university library to explode already. Levy writes a bit about how the tradition of chronicling had declined in the 15th and 16th centuries, with records that were kept turning to more conversational or chatty or simply oddball items, rather than things of historic import. He quoted one, no doubt because he knew it’d amuse the reader too, though he also pointed out the chronicler didn’t attempt to interpret it as a portent of anything, even though it’d seem to be rich with potential meaning:

1509, the 24. of Awgust, the 1. of Henry the Eighth, ther came a grete swarme of bees, and light on the bole undar the wetharcoke of S. Nicholas steple in Caleys, at xi. of the cloke, and at tyll iij. in the aftarnone.

I suppose I’m more inclined to chuckle at this because I have a circle of friends who find a sudden interjection of bees into the conversation to be funny. A sudden surprise can provoke a laugh — that’s part of what makes shock humor exist at all — and I must agree the word “bees” has a bit of a smile to it, a bit of childhood glee, at least when you’re not afraid the referent is coming after you. At some point it becomes a kind of in-joke: one laughs at “bees” because one is expected to laugh at “bees”, and it’d be rude to do otherwise.

Of course, one laughs at jokes because that’s the correct thing to do in response to a joke; so, if familiarity and friendship and fatigue have turned the word “bees” into something you laugh at, has that sufficed to create a joke?

I’m also curious whether the chronicler meant that the ball was unusually lighted, or whether he meant the bees alighted on the ball.

The Subjectiveness of Puns


I’ve been reading John Pollack’s The Pun Also Rises, which is a better book than the limp title implies. The book doesn’t quite live up to its subtitle about explaining “How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and made Wordplay More Than Some Antics”, and it inexplicably fails to mention the short story in which Isaac Asimov put forth a great theory about where jokes come from and why people groan at puns. Pollack also describes live pun contests, which sound like the sorts of pun cascades that mark the point at which I escape online comment threads. (I like puns, or at least don’t mind them, but every pun cascade is somehow the exact same cascade every time.) Well, it’s his fun.

But there’s a lot of punning going on, and talk about puns throughout their historical traces. One of them particularly delighted me so I thought I’d share it; it’s from the reign of King Charles II of England:

As the story goes, when the king was told that his jester, the playwright Charles Killigrew, could pun on any subject, he issued a challenge and commanded that Killigrew “make one on me”.

Instantly, Killigrew quipped that this was impossible, because “the king is no subject”.

I like it, certainly, and yet it still leaves the question whether this is actually a pun or just shifting between senses of a word.

I Misread Science Headlines


I thought the link on the BBC News Science and Environment page read “Bird slime reserve baffles experts” and that’s why I clicked it. Who wouldn’t wonder what there was to be baffled by in the current bird slime reserves? Bird slime reserves are the soundest form of capital deposit known to the financial world, because anyone challenging the worth of one nation’s reserves is liable to get a telegraphic transfer of bird slime for their nosiness.

But no, the link was really, “Bird reserve slime baffles experts”, as there’s mysterious jellies appearing at a nature reserve in the Ham Wall nature reserve in Somerset, England. That’s not so mysterious, apart from how nobody knows just what it is or why it’s here or what it’s doing. I want my link-clicking returned, which I can get by applying in care of this office.