death in the afternoon

June 26, 2004
Mortality of the Moment
What people die of, across all the nations. Betcha didn't know Luxembourg leads the world in death by Hydrocephalus, or Poland by Sunburn... (page crashes firefox and mozilla browsers, or so they tell me.)

Politics of the Moment
GeorgeWBush.com has a new video ad that's SO muddled...at first I thought they were comparing Kerry, Gore, et al. to Hitler, but no, they're trying to say that the left is a bunch of wild-eyed radicals who are saying Bush is like Hiter...this Metafilter conversation talks about how bizarre and unclear a message it is. ("Fark meets Godwin to create the season's most most apt and potent catchphrase: 'Hitlerity ensues.'")

Say what you will about Bush, he's the president strictly thanks to the rounding error we call the Electoral College. In a direct count of votes, even the Florida mess wouldn't have mattered one iota.

Passage of the Moment
Selfridge [the department store magnate] was an interesting fellow who provides a salutary moral lesson for us all. An American, he devoted his productive years to building Selfridges into Europe's finest shopping emporium, in the process turing Oxford Street into London's main shopping venue. He led a life of stern rectitude, early bedtime and tireless work. He drank lots of milk and never fooled around. But in 1918 his wife died and the sudden release from marital bounds rather went to his head. He took up with a pair of Hungarian-American cuties known in music-hall circles as the Dolly Sisters, and fell into rakish ways. With a Dolly on each arm, he took to roaming the casinos of Europe, gambling and losing lavlishly. He dined out every night, invested foolish sums in racehorses and motorcars, bought Highcliffe Castle and laid plans to build a 250-room estate at Hengistbury Head near by. In ten years he raced through $8 million, lost control of Selfridges, lost his castle and London home, his racehorses and his Rolls-Royces, and eventually ended up living alone in a small flat in Putney and travelling by bus. He died penniless and virtually forgotten on 8 May 1947. But of course he had had the inestimable pleasure of bonking twin sisters, which is the main thing.
--Bill Bryson, "Notes from a Small Island", an American ex-pat about to return to the USA and making one last 7-week tour of the British isles on his own. Good book I'd recommend, laugh-out-loud in many parts. Soon after relating that story he talks about the British love of small pleasures, and how its made his own life richer, and how he knew when he was becoming one of them: "I remember finding myself in damp clothes in a cold café on a dreary seaside promenade and being presented with a cup of tea and a teacake and going 'Ooh, lovely!', and I knew then that the process had started." Something about that "Ooh loveley!" attitude is sticking in my head.