A Week In Politics

Order! Order! Following the Parliamentary Education Services release of their edutainment flash-game ‘MP For A Week‘, I’ve written a bit of analysis over at Nicholas Lovell’s GamesBrief of the title, covering its accuracy, education value and entertainment value.

The axe that the commons authorities want to grind is razor sharp – this game makes the average stolid backbencher look amazingly active and busy, hurrying between constituency and parliament, justifying that great wodge of cash we give each MP every year (around £175,000 including expenses, each), and the huge number of MPs.

I’ll be sending Nicholas my expenses bill later.

On meetings of minds.

At the start, chance happenings – two good brains happening on each other, meeting by renown and word of mouth. Nothing else, no writing. Then, with writing, papyrus passing from palaces of the kings as edicts, the only minds that were known. Then writing widens, concepts are allowed and others than the kings have raw materials to communicate over long distances. Books are born, but not correspondence – that is solely by couriers, word of mouth and long-distance travellers. Ideas are communicated but not refined by the best, only by the local leisurely.

Then writing becomes commonplace and the brains start to gather at cities. Support networks spring up to bring the best and brightest to the palaces to work – and they take themselves. True meetings of minds begin – the bright spark of Athens, Rome and its poets, Constantinople, then the reflected glories of palaces and monasteries, running in parallel. Parchment becomes cheap, correspondence and letter-writing springs up, from Rome onwards, the mental community becomes wide and slow, with fast-moving hubs.

As the population grows, travel becomes no longer just for trade and war, but for exploration and self-improvement – by the 17th century, poets, thinkers, musicians and so on can move between the courts and gain fame in several places – Handel, Descartes, Leibniz and the rest dance between kingdoms, meet and share wealth. Slowly the speed and wideness of renown increases til it peaks, in the early 20th – a small number of wealthy talents hopping between Bloomsbury and the Algonquin – Pavlova, Chaplin, Gertrude Stein – but still separated by transatlantic difference.

After that the number of minds blossoms, the world becomes soaked with them and great ideas become hard to disseminate – the mixtures of medias, the cheapness of communication, gradually reduces fame. A century passes, greatness weakening. Now I see great minds online lost in the noise, spreading themselves thin for a grasp at glory, but connecting their with their compadres, albeit perfunctorily. Communities struggle into existence, ideas spread and die rapidly, alienation from the locale is easy but not complete. Where next?

She’s Un’armed, Folks!

Dear Maria got up at 5am this morning, so she could get to work for 7. On a Saturday. That’s retail! I spent the afternoon with a plumber, getting our boiler fixed. Her work day done, at 4.30pm we met at Daunt Books in Belsize Park, to go and give Christmas presents to my auntie and cousin, and have a nice dinner.

At 4.35, I was ringing for an ambulance, as Maria had fallen awkwardly on a un-gritted path and bent  her arm the wrong way. At 11.30pm, we finally left the hospital, after a Doctor had finally popped her arm back on. He was rather impressed with her, as her arm should have snapped but the Ulna had popped out instead, twisting around to the side, and then she’d taken half again the usual dose of morphine to go under. (Needless to say, she’s sleeping like a babe now, a fresh plaster cast adorning her.)

Anyway, this is merely to say – I won’t be doing a usual one-a-day post today. I thought this year was meant to be better than 2009?

Little Birds get crunchier every day

(This started out as a Facebook comment then I realised I could write about it for days…)

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie… it’s not so long ago that starlings, pigeons and so forth were delicacies – think quails’ eggs, larks’ tongues in aspic, and that rare Ortolan bird that French Gourmands still eat illegally

Why did we stop eating fiddly things like these little birds? Firstly, cos we killed lots of them – small things go first in the delightful brutalism of man’s kingdom, especially small tasty things with lots of meat on their bones. The ones we’ve not hunted to extinction are the ones we didn’t domesticate so either we couldn’t or they weren’t worth it. The tasty, wholesome wild animals mostly got eaten to extinction (like the Roman’s favourite spice, Silphium they just couldn’t be cultivated) and the nasty stuff is what we’re left with.
Second, the ones that are left are ‘vermin’ – something we call them because we’ve turned the world into our plaything, there aren’t that many niches left that we haven’t bulldozed or filled, and anything that both manages to successfully buck our absent-minded attempts at extinction and make itself unappetizing or a carrier of disease needs a jolly good perjorative name!
Most importantly, we don’t eat them because we’re can’t be arsed – consumer culture means that we’ve bred loads of stupid things that won’t run away and taste much better, so it’s aristocrats, gourmands, the poor or the starving who’ll chase after something that’s become so damn difficult to catch. Even the toffs prefer to hunt things that are good and easy to kill – where’s the challenge in shooting the stupidest bird in these islands, the Pheasant, with a shotgun? Or a big deer? Hunting a bear with a sword, now that’s a good challenge.
I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to eat wild birds, except that there’ll be something tastier and cheaper you can get at your butchers. So what are the delicacies worth eating these days? I reckon the outré, the funny, or the challenging. So, for challenging, how about Live Octopus, like in the movie Oldboy?

For challenging, why not get an everyday food that could kill you, like Casava or Ackee, the former which is a good source of cyanide if prepared badly, the later hypoglycin (also poisonous)? If you want something more exotic, a good bet is the puffer fish sushi, Fugu, laden with lovely neurotoxins that paralyse and kill in a moment. And if you’re looking for something illegal, dangerous and probably horrible how about Bear Paw?