Saturday, March 31, 2012

Les Mis


(Note: spoilers ahead).

I came across a news item that Anne Hathaway, cast as Fantine in the movie version of the Les Mis musical, is doing some starvation dieting to film the the scenes of fantine's last days.  I was shocked.  Not at Anne Hathaway’s dieting but that there was a movie being made of the musical Les Miserables and I didn’t know a thing about it. 

Let me put on record that I consider Les Mis the best musical ever, way in front of Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago et al.  I hve been a fan ever since I saw the first Sydney production many many moons ago.  Normie Rowe was Jan Valjean and I saw it on the evening of Anzac Day, the last performance of the show.  The deaths of the students at the barricades were made all the more poignant for me by my having attended the Anzac Day march in the morning.  Since then I have never missed a performance, whether by professional or amateur companies.  I play the DVD (and before that the VHS video) of the London 10th anniversary concert, with Colin Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, every now and then and I watch every new dramatic version as well (in my opinion Geoffrey Rush has come closest to capturing the complexity of Inspector Javert).

So how did I not know that they are filming the musical version of Les Mis?

Here are some items of information, and some shocks, for like-minded Les Mis fans . . .

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Letter of Love and Duty

An email:

Byter Doug sent me a variation on last words, to wit, a last note.  He comments that “a Union soldier wrote this to his wife to be delivered in the event of his death. It wasn't sent, but was found on his body. Beautiful and unlikely to be surpassed in this Twitter age.”

It is coincidental that his email should arrive at this time in that my wife and I have been watching the complete series of North and South, the American Civil War drama that was produced in 3 parts in 1985, 1986 and 1994.  It features a very young Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley, plus a host of big name stars in smaller parts.

Sullivan Ballou and Sarah Shumway:

Here are some comments on the letter and its author.

Sullivan Ballou (1829 –1861) was a lawyer, politician and major in the United States Army.  Despite losing both his parents and having to fend for himself at an early age, he graduated in law and began practice in 1863.  Ballou had an interest in politics, was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives and served as speaker.  He was a staunch Republican and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and a strong believer in the Union.

Ballou married Sarah Shumway in 1855 and they had two sons, Edgar and William in 1856 and 1858 respectively.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Funny Friday

Today’s Funny Friday is a mixed bag of visual and written items.  Enjoy.

 A sailor meets a pirate in a bar, and conversation turns to their adventures on the sea. The sailor notes the pirate has a peg leg, a hook and an eye patch. 
The sailor asks, "So how did you end up with a peg leg?" 
The pirate replies "We were in a storm at sea, and I was swept overboard into a sea of sharks. Just as my crew were pulling me out, a shark bit my leg off." 
"Wow!" said the sailor. "What about your hook?"
"Well," replied the pirate, "We were boarding an enemy ship and were battling other sailors with swords. One of the enemy cut my hand off."
"Incredible", remarked the sailor. "How did you get the eye patch?"
"A seagull dropping fell into my eye,"  replied the pirate.
"You lost your eye to a seagull dropping?" the sailor asked incredulously.
"Well", said the pirate, "it was my first day with the hook."

Some quotes from the Talmud


I know little of the Talmud apart from what is written at the end of this post, but I came across some quotes that contain beauty and wisdom.  They are worth distributing.

"The highest form of wisdom is kindness.”

“When you teach your son, you teach your son's son.”

“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'”

“Who is wise? One who learns from all.”

“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.' ”

"There are stars whose light only reaches the earth long after they have fallen apart.  There are people whose remembrance gives light in this world, long after they have passed away.  This light shines in our drakest nights on the road we must follow."

However, not all quotes from the Talmud are profound, spiritually uplifting and enlightening.  I also came across these...

"Tongue in the mouth of woman is one of God's less agreeable blunders.". .

“The sacred books should be burned rather than made available to women.”

The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism.   It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history.  The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c 200 CE), the first written collection of Judaism's Oral Law; and the Gemara (c 500 CE), a clarification of the Mishnah.  It also expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible.   

By way of clarification, the Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars to refer to the Tanakh, a canonical collection of Jewish texts.  The Torah is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Jewish Bible.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Necks, Woods and and More


Byter Sue sent me an email saying that she was discussing something with a friend when the expression “your neck of the woods” came up.  She wondered how the expression came about and asked if I could look into it.

Some comments...

The following is from:

In the country, there aren't any street addresses. So you literally use landmarks to refer to where a person lives. Up in your neck of the woods or up the holler. On the mountain. Down on the river.

"Neck of the woods," meaning a certain region or neighborhood, is one of those phrases we hear so often that we never consider how fundamentally weird they are. In the case of "neck," we have one of a number of terms invented by the colonists in Early America to describe the geographical features of their new home. There was, apparently, a conscious attempt made to depart from the style of place names used in England for thousands of years in favor of new "American" names. So in place of "moor," "heath," "dell," "fen" and other such Old World terms, the colonists came up with "branch," "fork," "hollow," "gap," "flat" and other descriptive terms used both as simple nouns ("We're heading down to the hollow") and parts of proper place names ("Jones Hollow").

"Neck" had been used in English since around 1555 to describe a narrow strip of land, usually surrounded by water, based on its resemblance to the neck of an animal. But the Americans were the first to apply "neck" to a narrow stand of woods or, more importantly, to a settlement located in a particular part of the woods. In a country then largely covered by forests, your "neck of the woods" was your home, the first American neighborhood

This is an example of a "fossil" word in which an old word has been preserved in only one or two special sayings. Short Shrift is one example. In the case of Neck the ancestor words in Old Breton (cnoch) and Old German (hnack) both had a sense of "hill" or "summit"; ie identifying a place.

Some paraprosdokians


An email contribution from Byter Tobye in the US, thanks Tobye . . .

Hey Otto, I'll bet you'd appreciate these! 

Regards, Tobye 


(Winston Churchill loved them) are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous.

1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.

3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. They begin the evening news with 'Good Evening,' then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On my desk is a work station.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In case you missed it . . .


News report, Sunday Herald 25 March 2012:

That's not our anthem: Borat song played by mistake at medal ceremony

With her hand on her heart and a gold medal around her neck, champion shooter Maria Dmitrienko stood on the podium, victorious and proud.  But when Kazakhstan's national anthem began playing, she soon realised this was not the song she learned as a little girl.

"Kazakhstan's prostitutes are the cleanest in the region," the 'anthem' declared, "except, of course, for Turkmenistan's.  Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan, you very nice place ... come grasp the mighty penis of our leader, from junction with testes to tip of its face."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Awards, God and Politicians

The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George is a British order of chivalry founded in 1818 and is awarded to men and women who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country. It can also be conferred for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs

The order has 3 classes:

  1. Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG)

  1. Knight Commander (KCMG) or Dame Commander (DCMG)

  1. Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG), the highest class of the award.

Which is all by way of introduction to a great quote from the British TV sitcom Yes, Minister, which was produced between 1980 and 1984. (It was followed by Yes, Prime Minister from 1986-1988).  In one episode Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wolleey tells British Member of Parliament Jim Hacker what the initials of the honours jokingly mean:

Woolley: “In the service, CMG stands for ‘Call Me God’. And KCMG for ‘Kindly Call Me God' ".

Hacker: “What does GCMG stand for?”

Woolley: "God Calls Me God".

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Pulitzer Prize for Photography and The World Press Photo of the Year


Pulitzer prizes, named after Hungarian-American newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) whose endowment funds the prizes, have been awarded since 1917.  Prizes are awarded annually in 21 categories for outstanding public service and achievement in American journalism, letters and music.

The Pulitzer Prize for Photography was awarded from 1942 until 1967 in 3 categories: spot news, breaking news and feature.  In 1968 it was split into two separate prizes, the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography (now called the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography).

I started looking into the Pulitzer photography prizes after preparing the item below.

Viewing the prize winning photographs from 1942 onwards is to see not only the march of history and events but also changing techniques in, and approaches to, photography itself.

The Press Photo of the Year awards also recognise excellence in photojournalism.  The awards are given in ten categories:  spot news, general news, people in the news, sports and action, sports reporting, current issues, daily life, portraits, arts and entertainment and nature.

The overall winner, the World Press Photo of the Year, is awarded to the image that "... is not only the photojournalistic encapsulation of the year, but represents an issue, situation or event of great journalistic importance, and does so in a way that demonstrates an outstanding level of visual perception and creativity."

From time to time in the future I will post Pulitzer Prize and World Press Photo of the Year winning photographs, working through from 1942 to the present.  Some of those photographs have been the subject of previous Bytes.

The story below concerns the 1964 photography Pulitzer.

Iconic Images: Ruby Shoots Oswald

Sunday afternoon, ensconced in my comfortable arm chair, I was watching a documentary DVD on the Kennedy assassination when film of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald came on.  A news broadcast of the time with film of that shooting can be viewed at:

What struck me was firstly how quickly that shooting was over and secondly the pandemonium that was generated.  It struck me because it brought to mind the iconic photograph of the shooting that freezes forever in time the shocked and pained expression of Oswald and the extended arm, gun in hand, of Jack Ruby, the assassin of the alleged JFK assassin:

 (Click on the photographs to enlarge).

On reading about the background of that photograph I came across some interesting, and at times sad, history and facts. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Funny Friday


Has anyone ever noticed the resemblance between Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars and Pope Benedict XVI.  Now I’m not saying that they are one and the same but, think back... we never do see what actually happens to the Emperor after Darth Vader throws him down into that great void.  If there’s a Protestant Rebel Alliance, I’d be watching out.

Which is a segue into some religious humour for Funny Friday . . .

Two nuns are driving through the country when a little devil pops up and jumps on their bonnet. 

One of the nuns is really nervous but the other says “Don't worry, wind down the window and show him your cross.” 

So the nun winds down the window and calls out “Hey, shithead, get the fuck off my car!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Anecdote: Colin Munro and Alex Nicol


Byters Mick and Kath stopped in to see me on a visit to Sydney from Canowindra (for overseas readers, it is pronounced Ka-noun-dra and comes from an aboriginal term for “a home”).  It is a farming area about 300 kilometres west of Sydney with a rich history, including being taken over for three days in 1863 by bushranger Ben Hall and his gang (a story for a future Bytes).  

During our conversation, Mick mentioned an anecdote to me that I am posting as today’s item.  I managed to locate a source for it, an obituary for rural reporter Colin Munro (1940-2010) which, in turn, quotes another rural reporter, Alex Nicol:
Colin was a great racconteur and teller of stories. His Balfang Balfang reworking of the English language yarn is of legendary status. Another story was of rural reporter Alex Nicol who interviewed an elderly woman Mrs Harris in the 1970s for Sunday All Over, the forerunner to Australia All Over. Alex broadcast the programme to the nation from the regional studios in Orange, the first time this had happened in the history of the ABC.

Mrs Harris had 13 children and ran the Kerragundie telephone exchange on the Bourke-Cobar party line for 55 years. She had been so committed to her job that when there was trouble in surrounding station country, she would sleep beside the switchboard in case of an emergency. This encouraged Alex to ask: “What happens if you are ill?”  She didn’t understand the question.  Alex asked again. Still she didn’t understand.  Finally he said: ‘‘Have you ever been bedridden?’’ to which Mrs Harris replied ‘‘Oh yes Alex, hundreds of times – and twice in a sulky.’’

Reflecting the times, the response wasn’t considered appropriate for broadcast.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Band Names: H - J


Herman’s Hermits
Their name came from a resemblance, noted by band member Karl Green, between lead vocalist Peter Noone and Sherman in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Sherman was shortened to Herman, and then became Herman and his Hermits, which was again shortened to Herman's Hermits
The Hollies
Not in homage to Buddy Holly, as rumoured. They chose the name from some Christmas holly decorating Graham Nash's house.
Hootie and the Blowfish
From the nicknames of two friends of singer/guitarist Darius Rucker - one with owl-like eyes (Hootie), another with puffy "Blowfish" cheeks.
The 3 Farriss brothers hoped their music would be "In Excess", and spelt it INXS 
Iron Maiden
Steve Harris got the band name from a film of The Man in the Iron Mask. The "Iron Maiden" was a metal coffin with spikes running outside it that could be inserted inside. The occupant was than impaled on the spikes.
Jefferson Airplane
Inspired by the blues player Blind Lemon Jefferson and the name of a friend's dog. A jefferson airplane is a split matchstick end or other device to hold a splif in to get that last drag.
Jethro Tull
Popular 70's band that is named after the rather obscure inventor of the farmer's seed drill. Ian Anderson, the flautist and lead singer, has said he is "faintly embarrassed" about the name.
Joy Division
Originally named Warsaw, in order to avoid confusion with the London punk band Warsaw Pakt, the band renamed themselves Joy Division in early 1978, borrowing their new name from the prostitution wing of A Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel The House of Dolls.
Judas Priest
Originally a mild curse said to avoid saying "Jesus Christ" - also from the Bob Dylan song "The ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest".

Monday, March 19, 2012

Last Words: Joseph Henry Green



Joseph Henry Green  (1791-1863), an English surgeon who became the literary executor of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The word was spoken upon checking his own pulse.

Joseph Henry Green, a surgeon and professor of anatomy, suffered from inherited gout and died of an acute seizure at his house in 1863.  

An account of his final moments has been given by Sir John Simon:
“I would show that not even the last sudden agony of death ruffled his serenity of mind, or rendered him unthoughtful of others. No terrors, no selfish regrets, no reproachful memories, were there. The few tender parting words which he had yet to speak, he spoke. And to the servants who had gathered grieving round him, he said, ‘While I have breath, let me thank you all for your kindness and attention to me’.
Next, to his doctor, who quickly entered – his neighbour and old pupil, Mr. Carter – he significantly, and pointing to the region of his heart, said – ‘congestion’. After which, he in silence set his finger to his wrist, and visibly noted to himself the successive feeble pulses which were but just between him and death. Presently he said – ‘stopped’. And this was the very end. It was as if even to die were an act of his own grand self-government. For at once, with the warning word still scarce beyond his lips, suddenly the stately head drooped aside, passive and defunct for ever. And then, to the loving eyes that watched him, ‘his face was again all young and beautiful’. The bodily heart, it is true, had become more pulseless clay; broken was the pitcher at the fountain, broken at the cistern the wheel; but, for yet a moment amid the nightfall, the pure spiritual life could be discerned, moulding for the last time into conformity with itself the features which thenceforth were for the tomb.”
You have to admire someone who takes his own pulse and pronounces himself dead.  Now that’s cool.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Quotes: Eminem


"Sometimes you just gotta let shit go and say “To hell with it’ and move on.”

-           Eminem

Marshall Bruce Mathers 111 (1972 - ), stage name Eminem, is an American rapper, record producer and actor.  Abandoned by his father in infancy, his father also rebuffed Mathers’ attempts to make contact during childhood.  He was raised by his mother, who was unable to hold down a regular job.  His childhood saw many moves and considerable time spent in public housing projects.  Schools were changed two to three times per year.  As a result of the itinerant lifestyle he became withdrawn, had no close friends and was treated as an outcast at each new school with regular beatings.  His schooling suffered and, after repeating ninth grade three times, he dropped out of school at age 17.  Nonetheless he had an appetite for reading, an affinity for language and a passion for words, reading comic books and studying the dictionary.  His delight in words and his pent up anger found a release through the emerging genre of rap music.  Although the rap music scene was dominated by black people, the white skinned, blue eyed Mathers frequently took part in Detroit rap “battles” in which rappers took it in turns to insult each other using improvised rap lyrics.  He earned respect at his ability and assumed the name M&M, a reference to his initials, which was later changed to the phonetic version, Eminem.  These early years were depicted in the film 8 Mile.  Discovered by legendary rapper Dr Dre, he was signed to a contract, released the Slim Shady LP and was on his way.  Eminem has achieved ten number-one albums on the Billboard 200, has sold more than 42 million tracks and 41 million albums in the United States and nearly 90 million albums worldwide.  He has also founded his own charity named The Marshall Mathers Foundation, assisting disadvantaged youth.

Some other Eminem quotes:

“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.  Life is a crazy ride and nothing is guaranteed.”

“I was poor white trash, no glitter, no glamour, but I’m not ashamed of anything.”

To know I chose my own fate I drove through the fork in the road and went straight.”

“You can do anything you set your mind to, man.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Vale Margaret Whitlam


Margaret Whitlam, the wife of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and one of Australia's most revered public figures, has died.  She was 92 and had been in hospital since suffering a fall at home in Sydney last month.  Mrs Whitlam was widely regarded as a woman who broke the mould of prime ministerial spouses. She used her unprecedented visibility as the wife of the prime minister between 1972 and 1975 to speak out on varied issues, and accompanied Mr Whitlam on high-profile trips abroad, including to China, Europe and North America. She was also an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, social issues and the arts.

-       News report 17.03.2012

I was sorry to read that Margaret Whitlam (1919-2012) had passed away, her period in the public eye as the wife of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had been unorthodox and refreshing.  Not content to be a WAG, she had freely and confidently expressed her own views and opinions, even if they were contrary to the party line or her hubby’s public pronouncements.

"She was a remarkable person and the love of my life.  We were married for almost 70 years. She encouraged and sustained me and our four children, their families and many other people in a life full of engagement with Australians from all walks of life." 

-       Gough Whitlam

Some pics:

A champion breaststroke swimmer, she represented Australia at the 1938 Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi


A few days ago I used the expression Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi.  For the benefit of overseas readers who may not be familiar with it, this is an ancient Australian chant that denotes great sexual prowess.  Nahh, I made that up.  It is a common chant of Australian supporters at sports events.  Hear it at:

Here are some facts and trivia items about the chant.

The full version is:

Man: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"
Crowd: "Oi! Oi! Oi!" 

Man: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"
Crowd: "Oi! Oi! Oi!" 

Man: "Aussie!"
Crowd: "Oi!" 

Man: "Aussie!"
Crowd: "Oi!" 

Man: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"
Crowd: "Oi! Oi! Oi!"

Funny Friday

Some Irish humour in recognition of this Saturday being St Patrick's Day . . .

Paddy and Seamus were giving the motorcycle a ride on a brisk autumn day. 

After a wee bit, Paddy who was sitt'n behind Seamus on the bike began to holler ..."Seamus ... Seamus ... the wind is cutt'n me chest out!" "Well, Paddy my lad," said Seamus, "why don't you take your jacket off and turn it from front to back ... that'll block the wind for you." 

So Paddy took Seamus' advice and turned his jacket from front to back and got back on the bike and the two of them were off down the road again. 

After another bit, Seamus turned to talk to Paddy and was horrified to see that Paddy was not there.  Seamus immediately turned the bike around and retraced their route. 

After a short time he came to a turn and saw a bunch of farmers standing around Paddy, who was sitting on the ground. "T'anks be to heaven, is he alright?" Seamus hailed to the farmers. "Well," said one of the farmers, " He was alright when we found him here but since we turned his head back to front, he hasn't said a word!”