Friday, May 06, 2005

the morning after

Another day, another News 24 and snack food marathon. As I imagine you will all know, Labour are back with their tails between their legs. The lovably litigous george galloway has booted out oona king, a couple of labour ministers are no more, the lib dems are trying to pretend that they never had a "decapitation strategy" and paxman, dimbleby and marr have been on tv for hours on end. They're certainly looking in better shape than i am.

I'm not going to offer you my fatuous and witless outpourings on the election, you'll be pleased to know. Instead I'm going to recommend a book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. As you might expect, it's about the many ways in which dead bodies have contributed to anatomy teaching, forensics research and crash and ballistics testing, as well as discussing the possibilities of human composting and brain transplants.

It's a fascinating book, with the right mixture of anecdote and scientific explanation, but there are several problems with it, not least that it kicks off with its two dullest chapters, on corpse theft and anatomy labs. Perhaps I know too much about such things, but I found these distinctly pedestrian. At first, I found Mary Roach's frequent joky asides and annotations fairly irritating, but after a while you begin to appreciate her humour and even smirkingly anticipate it. Let me give you an example, Roach describing a pathologist who performs sheep necropsies:

"He does not use the word 'autopsy', for the prefix denotes a postmortem medical inspection of one's own species. Technically speaking, only a human's investigation of another human's death can be called an autopsy - or supposing a very different world, a sheep's investigation of another sheep's."

These asides are hit and miss, but one of the nice things about the book is that Roach oftens includes comments on how reluctant her subjects are to talk about what they do for fear of misinterpretation. Weapons research on human cadavers, for example, is extremely controversial. She also refers to her embarrassment when asking academics and researchers questions like, "What about, you know, poo?" This running commentary on the process of journalism might not be to everyone's taste, but as someone who often wants to ask clever people dumb questions, I found it an interesting insight.

LINK: Underground blog here. Truly, a work of gimpy genius, I hadn't realise that anyone else deliberately tries to get on the train at the right doors to be best positioned for exiting at their destination. For the record, at canada water that's about half way down the platform, allowing easy access to the staircase connecting to the east london line southbound (because i'm very lazy and often go the extra station to surrey quays).

My unconscious geekiness is a source of eternal surprise to me, and i hadn't really thought about how i always walk to the end of the northbound northern line platform at london bridge, to allow me to be first on the escalators at angel, saving valuable seconds. Amazing. And someone else thinks it's amusing to refer to the "Waterloo and Shitty" line. Truly, the internet is my spiritual home.

LINK 2: Transcript of Laura Bush's speech to the Washington Correspondents' Dinner. Highlights include lampooning the leader of the free world for not being able to pronounce the word 'nuclear'.


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