January 7, 2019 in 1,123 words

to set a mood • • •

John Oliver on Monty Python: ‘inspirational idiots who changed comedy’

When a reckless teacher screened Life of Brian at his school, the future comedian fell in love with the anarchic pranksters who created it. Then he met them – and even more chaos ensued.

Above: Nothing sacred … John Cleese, left, and Graham Chapman, centre, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979.

Writing about the importance of Monty Python is basically pointless. Citing them as an influence is almost redundant. It’s assumed. In fact, from now on it’s probably more efficient to say that comedy writers should have to explicitly state that they don’t owe a significant debt to Monty Python. And if someone does that, they’ll be emphatically wrong.

This strange group of wildly talented, appropriately disrespectful, hugely imaginative and massively inspirational idiots changed what comedy could be for their generation and for those that followed.

I first discovered Monty Python when I was probably 10 years old, and back then it felt like something I shouldn’t be watching. That was already a pretty big appeal. Then I saw Life of Brian in middle school, when a substitute teacher put it on to keep us quiet on a rainy day. I’m not sure he knew exactly what he was showing us, but I’ve always been hugely grateful for the reckless professional mistake he made that day, because I’ve never forgotten how it made me feel.

I think what I’ve always loved about all of Monty Python’s work is that they’ve never been afraid to get into trouble, and Life of Brian is the perfect distillation of that. There is a famous episode of a BBC talk show from 1979, when John Cleese and Michael Palin were interviewed alongside the Bishop of Southwark and the writer Malcolm Muggeridge, both of whom were furious about the film. Incidentally, the very name “Malcolm Muggeridge” is so stereotypically English, it’s almost racist. It’s the name of someone who should be looking after the owls at Hogwarts. Anyway, for 20 minutes, Muggeridge told them off like a pair of naughty schoolboys, calling what they’d done a “miserable little film”, “a squalid number” and “10th rate”, and said it contained laughs that were “rather easily procured”.

And while everything he said was titanic nonsense, it was that last part that drove me crazy. Because nothing about what Monty Python did was easy – not their TV show, not their albums, and certainly not Life of Brian. It’s fucking hard to write such incredibly smart, incredibly stupid comedy.

Women in Saudi Arabia must now be informed if they’ve been divorced


One step at a time.

In a sign of just how oppressive Saudi Arabia has been toward women, a new rule aims to stop a practice that would be unthinkable in most places: husbands divorcing their wives without telling them.

Starting today (Jan. 6), courts must notify women by text message about rulings confirming their divorce. Knowing about their marital status will help women protect rights such as alimony, and ensures powers of attorney issued before the divorce aren’t misused. The text message will include the divorce certificate number and the name of the relevant court where women can pick up the documentation. They can also find out about their marital status through a website.

The new measure comes amid social and economic reforms pushed in recent years by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of his Vision 2030 plan. In June 2018, the country lifted its ban on women driving, a major milestone. Other measures have included a relaxation of women’s strict dress code, allowing women to vote and stand as candidates in municipal elections, and decreasing the influence of the male guardianship system, which requires a woman to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

But there’s still a long way to go.

6 Crazy AF Fox News Stories You Won’t Believe Are Real

Although it might seem like it’s entirely supported by dodgy cash-for-gold schemes and whatever pocket change your grandparents regularly send the hosts for “fightin’ the good fight,” Fox News still has advertisers. That means they have to keep those advertisers happy, and that means keeping their audience entertained, and that means selling the coldest “hot takes” this side of Dennis Miller’s Twitter feed. For example …

6. “Pepper Spray Is Good, Actually!”

Fox News has a time-tested formula: If liberals like it, it’s bad for America, and if liberals hate it, it’s the greatest thing to happen to America since Reaganomics. It’s an approach that works 99.9 percent of the time, but when that 0.1 percent rolls around, you get segments like this:

In the aftermath of the U.S. Border Patrol’s tear gas attack on refugees seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Fox interviewed Ronald Colburn (former deputy chief of the CBP) in order to get his garbage opinion on matters. This ended with him declaring that because tear gas is natural and only contains “water, pepper, [and] a small amount of alcohol,” it’s perfectly safe. So safe that you could “put it on your nachos and eat it.”

Unfortunately, the segment ended before Colburn could explain why the CBP continues to use tear gas if it’s nothing more than guac’s hardcore cousin. In any case, we’d recommend steering clear of the nachos at any future family gathering hosted by your Fox-watching relatives.

What did the mice say? DeepSqueak uses AI to translate ultrasonic vocalizations

University of Washington researchers have developed an AI program that uses machine learning in an effort to decipher the ultrasonic vocalizations made by mice.

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine have developed a software program that enlists artificial intelligence to decipher the ultrasonic vocalizations made by mice and rats.

The “DeepSqueak” program, described today in a study published by the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, focuses on squeaks and whistles that are well above the range of human hearing.

Software converts the audio signals into visual graphs, or sonograms, and then puts those images through the kinds of machine-vision algorithms that are used for autonomous vehicles.

“DeepSqueak uses biomimetic algorithms that learn to isolate vocalizations by being given labeled examples of vocalizations and noise,” Russell Marx, one of the study’s authors, explained in a news release.

Groundhog Day

THE NEXT COUPLE OF WEEKS will be some of my busiest. I’m scheduled to work a whole pantload of days.

Sorry. It will happen again.

As I find time to read, I’ll find time to spread these errant ramblings barely uninteresting at all things.

In the meantime, be nice to each other.