We suck like sucky suckersons

Denis Leary.  Denis, Denis, Denis.  What is it that I like about you?  Is it your gappy boyish smile?  Is it the mouthy Irish-American bluster?  Is it the combination of square jaw and crinkley half-dimples?  Or is it perhaps the way that you tell it like it is?  I am partial to thems that speak the truth and you do it in such a ribald, blokey, punchy fashion (by “punchy” I mean “likely to punch someone”) that I find it hard to resist you, you sly old dog.

Denis Leary, for those of you unfamiliar with his genius, started out as a comedian.  He struck comedy gold in the early nineties with a novelty song lampooning the arrogant, overfed American dream (the title of which I don’t think I can get away with mentioning here, but it’s on this CD).  He also had great success with his one man comedy show “No cure for cancer” which was hugely popular on tour and on video.  More recently he’s featured in numerous films as well as the television series Rescue me about a trainwreck of a human being who also happens to be a New York firefighter.

So anyway, he’s written a book.  A book called Why we suck: A feel good guide to staying fat, loud, lazy and stupid.  You know a book is going to be good when you find yourself laughing out loud at the acknowledgments page (whaddaya mean you don’t read the acknowledgments page?  Phillistines!) and the hilarity pretty much continues unabated from table of contents on through.

This is definitely not a book for people who like their life-guides to be touchy-feely, politically correct, gentle hand-holding affairs.  I’m only four chapters in and he’s already recommending corporal punishment and benadryl as parenting aids.  I think we’re supposed to take these recommendations with a grain of salt but the disturbing thing is that I’m really not 100 percent sure on that.  I suspect he’s only sort of joking.  But it’s all very entertaining and there’s no pulling any punches.  Caustic and disapproving doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Personally, I think it’s great and if you are daily appalled by the extravagances of Americana (Anna Nicole, suing everyone for everything, reality television) then you might enjoy his profanity-laden ranting.  Those of a more delicate persuasion had best avoid.  If you see it on the shelves don’t even pick it up, you might cut yourself on its razor-sharpness.

Touch me, I’m sick

Hmm, with a title like that you know for sure that this isn’t a “what to do in case of bird-flu” kind of book, but you might not necessarily think it’s actually a book about love songs.  Creepy love songs.  Fifty-two of them in fact.

Tom Reynolds has a background in television production and has performed in several bands.  He’s also created his own sub-genre of “unpacking and unpicking popular songs in the services of sarcasm”.  Touch me, I’m sick: the 52 creepiest love songs you’ve ever heard is his follow up to I hate myself and want to die: the 52 most depressing songs you’ve ever heard.

My own musical knowledge tends towards the populist and the eighties so some of the songs that he mentions (and by “mentions” I mean “eviscerates”) were not on my radar (if only “Afternoon delight” by the Starlight Vocal Band could have been one of them).  Anyway, thank God for YouTube and its provision of music videos, I say.  It means that I can just have quick watch and listen so I can have a better appreciation of Reynolds’ acerbic vilification of Clay Aiken (whose songs with which I am blessedly unfamiliar).

With chapter titles such as “I’m not bitter, I just wish you’d die, you miserable pig” and “Love’s just another word for I want to eat your liver” you pretty much have a sense of what’s on offer.

And I’m totally with him on “Thank heaven for little girls”.  Euwh.

Any creepy song suggestions of your own?

When science goes bad

badscienceBen Goldacre is a man on a mission.  This doctor and journalist has made a career out of getting to the guts of sloppy, inaccurate, or misleading media reports on topics medical or scientific.  In his book Bad science, he attempts to give the reader the tools, language, and general wherewithal to be able to recognise that just because “sciencey” words are being thrown at us doesn’t mean that everything being said is credible. 

Admittedly, this might not sound like a fun read but that’s where you’d be wrong.  Goldacre’s conversational and often sarcastic style is very readable.  His enthusiasm for the topic is clear, as is his sense of irony (he once bought a membership to the American Association of Nutritional Consultants in the name of his dead cat to prove that the qualifications of a well-known television nutritionist weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.  Some time later she had to stop using the honorific “Dr” – you know, since she wasn’t one.)

As well as being pretty damn funny Goldacre does a great job of informing the reader.  I now know a lot more about how medical research is conducted and published, just how astonishing and important the placebo effect is, how misleading statistics can be, and what to look out for when reading or watching a story on “the latest medical breakthrough” (just because someone uses the phrase “research has shown…” doesn’t mean that the research has actually shown that) .  I”ll never hear or read the words “scientifically proven” again without immediately getting a “ping” on my BS radar.

In fact, I feel so empowered with this new knowledge I’d go as far to say that everyone should know this stuff, but I’ll concede that I have neither the power nor the persuasive skills to make the entire population of the country read a book so, assuming that many of you reading this post won’t get that far, I might just leave you with Goldacre’s oft-repeated catchphrase that can be applied to just about every soundbite ever uttered by a scientific “expert” – “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.”  Indeed.

If you’re after more revelatory stuff of a scientific nature then check out the following –