Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Game of the Day?

Photobucket Barcelona's Lionel Messi may miss Inter Milan game

So says the BBC website. Although, as far as I know, Messi isn't missing his game at all. It's the same as it ever was: one of sewing the ball to his left boot, wrong-footing opponents, instantly changing pace, laying on surgical through-balls or chipping it over Iker Casillas's head.

Subbuteo is a game. Barcelona v. Inter Milan is a match.

Oh, while we're at it, calling him "Lionel Messi" is like referring to "Robert Charlton", "James Greaves" or "Kenneth Dalglish". On Messi's website, on his autograph and on his FC Barcelona data sheet it says his first name is "Leo". (Although maybe this is just the UK media's revenge for the Spanish media's decades-long insistence on "John Benjamin Toshack".)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Lies, damned lies and Google stats

I can and did walk away from being called (deep breath) "ridiculous", "sanctimonious", "not as capable as he thinks he is", "smarmy", "the Leader" of a "cult”, "on his high horse", "over-inflated", "deluded”, "pompous”, "Spoilt Bastard", "big-headed", "incompetent" and "smug”. What I can't walk away from is being accused of "telling lies" and then - just in case I didn’t get the message - "outright lies", followed by "lies, for Heaven's sake!" (the caps lock is probably coming next).

First, I said that Googling "unadvisably" - AKA the Adverb From Hell (AFH) - brought up a host of hits from a bunch of eminent authors and publications, from Milton to the present day. And indeed it does - with over six hundred citations in the Google Books corpus alone (to give you an idea of how conclusive that is, that’s twenty times as many citations as come up for its first cousin "ill-judgedly", a word that Fay Weldon has used in print without anyone accusing her of not knowing bad writing from good).

Second, I said that the AFH was in The Concise Oxford Dictionary. And indeed it is — or rather "unadvisable" and "advisably" are, but with this note in the "Using this Dictionary" section:

The inflection of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs is given when it is irregular, or when, though regular, it causes difficulty

That, in case it needs spelling out (and in this case I fear it probably does), means that an adverb won't be included if it’s regular, as the AFH is, and causes no difficulties, as the AFH doesn't - or at least managed not to for several hundred years until they started braying "It's not a word!" at it on the Internet.

I can't even remember why I used the AFH in the first place. It's certainly not a word I bandy about in my everyday conversation. I assume I may have wanted to avoid using another adjective beginning with an "i" in the sentence it appeared in, or something subconsciously style-driven of a similar sort. Hell, it may even have been a typo, and I let it stand because I knew full well that, while not particularly common, it's a perfectly kosher word - as Google Books and dictionaries then more than confirmed.

So there we have it. More lies than you can shake your dic at. Six hundred and eight of them, in fact.

To paraphrase the bloke who inadvertently started this whole surreal and sorry saga: fuck off, middlerabbit.


Saturday, 7 November 2009

iPhones for sale (foreigners need not apply)

Four days ago, I went to a Movistar shop (an actual owned-by-Telefónica shop, not a franchise or associated dealership) in a Spanish city to upgrade my wonky old prepaid Motorola to a contract for a spanking new 32-gig iPhone 3GS. Yes, they’d arrived at last, after a mere three-month wait (as discussed here). I was armed with everything required: multiple ID, bank details, SIM card, the works. All was well until the very end of the 25-minute form-filling, photocopying and key-tapping procedure, when the shop assistant looked up from her screen, shrugged, and said, “‘Transaction unauthorised’, it says here.”

“Er, sorry? I’m offering to give you €239 in cash right now and commit, in the middle of a recession, by means of a legally binding contract, to at least a further €700 over the next 18 months in flat-rate fees and charges, and you’re not interested? Why, pray, why?” I beseeched the shop assistant (perhaps not in those exact words).

“I’m not allowed to know,” was her reply, so sheepish that all the local dogs started growling. Apparently I would have to wait for a call from the “Traffic Department”, who would explain the problem and how it might be solved.

So I waited. And waited. Since the promised call from the Traffic Department was not forthcoming, I called them (via nine calls to a call centre in Honduras, as you do). It turns out they wanted a €150 deposit, returnable in six months, provided I was up to date with my monthly fees and charges.

“Is this because of the ‘X’ at the beginning of my ID-card number, by any chance? Because I’m not a Spanish citizen and therefore not to be trusted to pay my bills?”

“No, no. It’s just that it’s not quite as easy to buy an iPhone as it used to be.”

“Ah, so everyone who wants to buy one has to spend half an hour filling in all the forms only to be told that they’ll have to wait for a call from you that never comes so they have to phone Honduras nine times to find out that you expect a deposit? That’s your system for selling iPhones, is it? Across the board?”

“Er…(a pause so pregnant its waters were breaking)… yes.”

He was lying. I could hear his eyes flicking away to the left and his foot twitching to stub out an imaginary cigarette end as he said it.

I really, really want an iPhone, so I just sighed and asked how I should go about paying the deposit. He gave me an account number to pay the €150 into. Oh, but I couldn’t do it via bank transfer over the Internet; it had to be done in person at a specific physical bank. Oh, and the specific physical bank had to stamp the receipt legibly – very important that. Oh, and I then had to fax (fax!) the receipt to a number that he gave me. Then, and only then, would I be able to buy my iPhone.

The following morning I went to the specific physical bank, €150 in cash akimbo, to make the required deposit. The cashier laughed in my face. “Did Movistar give you this account number?” he asked me.

“Er, yes… and?”

“It was a temporary account. It’s been closed for months. It doesn’t exist. Sorry.”

So I took the most radical, most dramatic action that was open to me: I called Honduras nine times again. Eventually (a word that will forever be associated with the Telefónica group the world over), they gave me an account number that they assured me does indeed exist, and this morning I went to specific physical bank No. 2 to try again. The cashier laughed in my face. “Cash deposits can only be made into this account between the 10th and 20th of every month. Oh, and only before 10:30 a.m.”

Eventually (there goes that word again), I managed to send them the money in accordance with their terms by driving 15 miles to my own branch and doing a transfer from there. Having now spent an entire afternoon and an entire morning trying to buy an iPhone, I will apparently be able to complete the transaction next Tuesday - that's eight days after uttering the fateful words "I'd like to buy an iPhone, please" - because the “system” will take 48-72 hours to approve the operation. That’s provided, of course, that the fax number he gave me was correct, that it arrived, that it was legible and that it had its very-important-that stamp duly in place.

The upshot is that Movistar discriminate against immigrants, which is illegal. There; I’ve said it. Let them sue me if they dare.

My advice? Go to Vodafone or Orange and buy a sodding BlackBerry. Or if you really, really, really want an iPhone, take out Spanish citizenship. It’s easier.


Incredible. After only eight days, eighteen calls to Honduras, three bank trips and five visits to the shop (estimated total leaning-abjectly-on-counter time: five and three quarter hours), I now own an iPhone! I had to pay €150 in Feelthy Foreigner Tax for it, but it works. Well, nearly. My SIM card is apparently old and knackered and needs replacing in order for me to get "optimum functionality" (jargoneers: if you really, really must, try at least to use the right crap adjective, which is "optimal", OK?), and the duplicate machine wasn't working. "We'll call you," they said, so I took the most radical, most dramatic course action open to me: I muttered "OK", grabbed my iPhone as if it was my genitals in a defensive wall facing Dani Alves, and ran out of the shop.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

1977: Another World, Another Planet

In 1977, girls who had sex with anyone other than a steady boyfriend without putting up some kind of resistance, albeit token, were widely considered at best to have no class and at worst to be sluts or slags.[1]

While many women, and much of society as a whole, saw a woman's primary role to be to please men, many men were driven by the thrill of the chase, where the concepts of male conquest and the art of seduction were still the norm for heterosexual relations. And, if you think about it, what is seduction if not leading someone to a place they neither expect nor really want to go? And what are the conquered if not victims? Yesterday's seduction is today’s date rape.

That evening at Jack Nicholson's house, Roman Polanski probably thought he was only doing what Jason King did every week on TV. Men were expected to smooth-talk girls into bed, and if champagne and jacuzzis were involved, so much the better. ("I do not believe it was Mr. Polanski's intention to frighten me or cause me harm." --Samantha Geimer in a letter to the L.A. Superior Court, 1997.)

In 1977, still a couple of decades before paedophiliaphobia kicked in, hardcore child pornography was on open sale in several European countries - the "miracle" then-West Germany, for one - in the form of glossy magazines, complete with the publisher's masthead on nonchalant display. It was simply a niche market - not unlike the ones for coin collectors or model-railway enthusiasts - and the girls depicted were often a lot younger than 13.

In some U.S. states the age of consent for girls was 15 or even 12. In Mississippi there was no age of consent for a girl to marry at all, provided her parents approved of the relationship.[2]

The rules weren't quite so lax for gay people. Consensual gay sex in private (as we say now - back then, with full Biblical wrath, it was still termed "sodomy") had ceased to be a felony in California only the year before the Polanski-Geimer case.[3]

Such attitudes may seem disturbingly sexist and homophobic to us now, but then it was a world in which older men who used their wiles to seduce young teenagers without physically harming them were not considered to be predatory paedophiles - only the Moors Murderers and the dreaded men in cars were that - but just studs who specialised in cherry-picking because they happened to have a weakness for fresh fruit.[4] Slang can be quite telling about the era it belongs to.

The sociosexual morés of 1977 were so utterly different from those of today that it wasn't the pubescent girl who people saw as the victim in Nabokov's Lolita; it was the "poor", "hopelessly besotted" Humbert Humbert.

1977 and 2009: different strokes for different folks - and different crimes for different times.


1. Women were still "girls" then. In the UK, girls considered attractive by men were "crumpet" - a free-market commodity that was measured in "pieces". If deemed unattractive, they were "dogs".

2. This explains why Jerry Lee Lewis was able to marry a 13-year-old cousin of his.

3. Between 1947 and 1976, Californians convicted under the sodomy laws were monitored on a "register of sex offenders" (ring any bells?) and had to report any change of address.

4. Two years before he met Samantha Geimer, Polanski had a brief sexual relationship with Nastassja Kinski, apparently with her father’s blessing. She was 15.