The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Thursday, December 30, 2004

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There's more than one way that Iraq's beginning to look like Vietnam. It's not just how the vagueness of the mission becomes vaguer and vaguer as the human costs become clearer and clearer. It's also that it's becoming the issue that artists are claiming to really be addressing. In the 60s, of course, every theater group worth its salt was somehow fighting Vietnam. Either they were putting on MacBird, or they'd put on docu-plays like the one satirized by Renata Adler, in which actors, having done some research which they spend most of the evening pointing out, 'imagine' a gay black soldier writing home. In the 80s and 90s the impulse that drives artists to prove once and for all that they're not useless drove theater groups to break down the boundaries and question our categories. Moises Kaufman did this very well with 'The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde' and with crippling earnestness in 'The Laramie Project." But, in general, all artists would claim that they were fighting for the cause, whatever they did, and whatever the cause happened to be.

Now, Tim Robbins is carrying on in the serious-issue-unfunny-satire tradition laud down by 'MacBird.' 'Cage Prisoners' and David Hare's 'Stuff Happens' are the Iraq equivalents of 'Laramie.' And, finally, here's the proof that every one in the arts, no matter what they do, is trying to show that what they do is all about struggle against the occupation of Iraq:
The American critic B Ruby Rich offers a suggestive thesis that ascribes the decline of Europhilic cineasm in her country not to the rise of late-1970s blockbuster movies or to the emergence of home VCRs, but to the linguistic exceptionalism of those who during the 1980s passed bills that banned the spending of public funds on languages other than English. The result is that film companies, like telecom companies ordering their Asian call-centre workers to neutralise their accents, now go to great lengths to disguise the foreignness of their products: trailers are purely imagistic or completely voiced over. Rich, describing subtitles as "an incipient anti-war gesture", says that she would like to think that "it's harder to kill people when you hear their voices. It's harder to bomb a country when you've seen their cities in films that you've loved."
So, that's what subtitles are all about. In the 90s they'd have been all about fragmenting the apparent solidity of the spoken word, and undermining the authority of monolinguism with the carnival of simultaneity that is Babel.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

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What does this man take us for? Idiots. Patently, all lies.

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An outrageous howler, in an otherwise decent article, in Slate: "The euro zone has been expanding with the addition of new countries and the continued integration between Eastern and Western Europe. So there are simply more people who accept and use euros now."

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When will scientists learn to think before they express with great enthusiasm an idea that scares the shit out of everyone? "However, those who drank alcohol remembered twice as many images seen at the beginning of the experiment, before they drank, as did the control group. It followed that they remembered only half as many of the images they saw while they were inebriated and the control group were still sober. The Portman Group sees some hope in the suggestion that a form of aversion therapy, akin to the “Clockwork Orange effect”, might help to curb binge-drinking." (From The Times) In this case, the scientist should have known that what he was suggesting would scare the shit out of everyone, because he'd apparently seen the movie which had made the Aversion Therapy almost as frightening as being old and having the shit beaten out of you by teenagers in masks.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

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Small but cute gaffe by a British journalist: "Slate was best known for being one of the first online magazines to attract big-name writers and journalists from the print world. It was edited for six years, until 2002, by Michael Kinsley, the former New Republic, Harper's & Queen and Washington Monthly journalist." Hard to imagine two magazines more different than Harper's and Harper's & Queen, yet when I was in Journalism school, the apparent intellectual prestige that Americans accorded a fashion-and-homewear magazine astonished me. Just shows how into magazines I was at that point. Two years before I had had the following exchange:

FRIEND: ...And she said she reads about 7 magazines a week. Everything she knows, she says, she knows from magazines.
ME: [Pause] Astonishing. What would the world be like that way? What would you think about it? Only through magazines. That's incredible.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

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And speaking of over-energetic intolerance and Theo van Gogh, here's a (apparently, going off the decription of it) mediocre play that's been shut down thanks to 400 Sikhs who tried to storm a theatre in Birmingham.
Kim Kirpaljit Kaur Brom, a councillor and spokeswoman for the protesters, said the decision to pull the play was right: "We congratulate the [Repertory] theatre for making its decision after we exercised our democratic rights to protest. There are no winners and no losers. The end result is that commonsense has prevailed."
Mr. Brom should be told that the right to protest was never in question.
"She [the author] has been threatened with murder and told to go into hiding by the police. She is personally paying a high price," said Shakila Taranum Mann, a filmmaker.
This was the problem: the 400 Sikh's display of bigotry and intolerance, which is demeaning but allowed, and the resort to violence, which is also demeaning, and this time not a democratic right. Nothing more pathetic than people who defend their threatening bigotry by saying it's their democratic right to be a threatening bigot.

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Finally, a decent poem in Slate from David Ferry, who translated Samuel Johnson's Latin poems in such a way that it feels like we're reading the originals in Latin.

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So, here's the movie Theo van Gogh died for: (click on the eyes). Not a great movie. Not really that provocative. Dull and arty. Killing because of it pays it far too much attention.

Monday, December 20, 2004

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It shows how the language of the academy has decomposed when a plagiarist weakens a sentence in order to make it seem like a fresh piece of scholarship. The Chronicle of Higher Ed's excellent round-up of academic plagiarists profiles Donald Cuccioletta, who opened an essay with
The idea that the Americas -- North and South -- have a shared common historical experience is not a recent discourse.
The only problem being that someone had opened an essay in 1964 with
The idea that the Americas -- North and South -- have shared a common historical experience developed slowly in the nineteenth century.
"Is not a recent discourse," despite its fancy pants, looks weak next to the forthrightness of "developed slowly in the nineteenth century." It is hard to see how "is not a recent discourse" does anything that the defenders of Theory Jargon say it does, such as subvert the power structures inherent in language, or describe something that there's no word for in everyday speech. It says the same thing, only worse. It removes useful information from the sentence, covers the gap by blurring its edges with a vague phrase, and, finally, commits the minor, but telling, sin of making the sentence passive.

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The ULTIMATE HP LOVECRAFT STORY

I write these words with trembling hand this night
whose end I will not see. For I intend to die
before the sun rises, only delaying that welcome end to set down in words,
to prove I am not mad, my account of the horror that lies,
still lurks -- o how it lurks -- in the town of
No, description of it is painful and bamboozling. I feel
Its eyes upon me, its protozoan
Slimy void-like sleepy eye on me. O why
am I even going to all the trouble to write about it
When I am this shit-scared
When in the time that I have written this much, for example,
I could have been out of the window
and free from the echoed screams, which
reach me here in San Francisco, the ones I heard that Autumn
day, those horrid cries of the Dsh... Christ, it's happening again! And again writing. And again. And again. And

Again, just as the gentleman who first I took
For a provincial priest, perhaps, or salesman
of drapery to genteel Ohio ladies repeatedly
with his protruding


As I said, I intend, to rid me
of the madness that has sat like a leach on my brain
bleaching out my senses into a blank white fear, to walk from here to there,
to open the window, and jump - for O
I hear its slithery slithering
Slithering on the door. The door! The window! O, the window!
O now why, damn it,
I wanted to jump out of the window
and instead I wrote "the window"
Twice.

The fact I could have by now written all the salient facts
regarding the calamitous encounter, and thrown in some digressions
to build suspense in the time it has taken me to write what I have written
depresses me enormously
if not as much as the thought of the strangely marked obelisk
whose symbols seemed to sing their meaning in my head
depresses me. Was it a dream?
Am I still asking questions?
And then
writing them down?
With all the words correctly spelled?
Despite... despite being driven insane by the fear
of the mark of her

Alright this time

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Dagon HAS LITTLE TO RECOMMEND IT AS A MOVIE EXCEPT:
1. When we tuned it into it the three of us coudln't figure out what language the main actor was speaking as he told the tale of how the horrible residents of the horrible village where the movie is set got to be so horrible. Since the reason was that they worshipped an evil sea god called Dagon, I assumed that the old man was talking a made-up frightening language like the ones the mean priest speaks in Temple of Doom or the monsters in the Moss Isley cantina. Some one else in the room guessed that it was Galician. Some one else guessed that it was Flemish. After ten minutes of close listening we discovered he was trying to speak English. It was lucky that we did at that point otherwise we might have missed the fantastic line...

2. "Loco? Si! Burracho? Si! But... I tell you TRUE!"

3. The crazy old man was one of Spain's most revered actors. Dagon, a movie with hundreds of half-men, half-octopi, was his final performance and the last act of his career was to act like a crazy old man who is having his face peeled from his skull thanks to a sharp knife and demon butcher.

4. Watching half-men, half-octopi chase people doesn't scare you as much as you think it would. It relaxes you with its gentle comedy. It's like watching ducks waddle after food.

5. It's set entirely in Galicia so, if you have a girlfriend from Galicia, she says, as the evil priest persuades the village to sacrifice a human to Dagon, "That's the beach at Cambarro" and later, when the hapless protagonist runs into a church where a bleeding naked woman is being dangled over a pit as a rape-offering to Dagon the Sea God, says, "I know that church. It's very nice."

6. She also points out that although everyone's speaking Galician, their accents are as badly Galician and incomprehensible as the crazy old man's English.

7. H.P. Lovecraft wrote the book.

8. "But I can't be Pablo Cambarro! I'm Paul Marsh! Paul Marsh! Wait... Paul... Pablo..."

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Dispatches from The Conference of Insane Scientists Who LAugh at those Mad Fools Who Call Their Creations Monsters.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

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More proof that China is becoming the new America: wealth is making it weird as the States is. The Swan seems fairly tame compared to a show where all the contestants have had surgery.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

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I'd share Ursulu K. Le Guin's grief over how the Sci Fi Channel wrecked her books, if her books weren't called "A Wizard of Earthsea" and "Tombs of Atuan." With titles like that, any movie can be made.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

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Not true, Auden! Poetry does make things happen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

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David Mamet's appreciation of Maurice Sendak leaves nothing to be desired: "Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, similarly, is about masturbation. The child, Mickey, makes and pounds and shapes the flaccid dough until it becomes an airplane, conveying him up into a bottle of milk, from which bottle the milk is poured, allowing the bakers to bake a delightful cake, which delights everyone, and Mickey is a hero."

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Tom Wolfe won the Bad Sex award, beating out some STRONG, HARD, PUNISHING competition, whose tides were convulsive, an ebb and flow that could take you very far, far back, which reminded her of someone blowing up a lilo, her weasel-like loins clutching and unclutching his lovely, long, louche manhood, as though squeezing an orange for its juice, an attempt to legitimise (in the sense of seeking a female response to) this form of frustrated lust, heat joined us, and we enclosed ourselves with touch and taste and perfumed sounds, her taste came and went tidally salt and sour in his mouth, as eloquent as weather, she was blood and plumbing, he was licking a lazy pathway from her womb to her lungs to her heart, I am in such ecstasy that I am ready to die. In fact, I want to die, because I know I shall never again find this heaven, the Seventh Heaven.

Monday, December 13, 2004

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why is brain science thought to be so difficult. This is the nine billionth experiment I've read about where the scientists stick some one's head in an X-Ray machine, make the person do something, and then say, "We've discovered the part of the brain that allows us to do something." Is it really more complicated than that? Or can I get $15 million from Harvard to show people some porn/steve martin videos/newspapers, take the X-rays, pay some grad student to tell me what we call the part of the brain which is showing up red on all the pictures and then declare to the world that MacLamity has discovered the part of the brain that processes porn/laughter/the news? If so, then I'll take that money now, thanks.

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No one does self-parody better than Islam pressure groups: "Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, provoked a storm of criticism from British Muslims yesterday for an article in which he championed the right to call the Prophet Mohamed a paedophile.
Mr Moore, who opposes new legislation banning incitement to religious hatred, chose the sensitive issue of the Prophet's marriage to a nine-year-old to illustrate his case. 'It seems to me that people are perfectly entitled - rude and mistaken as they may be - to say that Mohamed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett gets his way, they may not be able to,' he wrote in his weekly column.
Responding with a mixture of astonishment and fury, Muslims yesterday described the remarks as inflammatory and deliberately provocative. Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the main voice of British Islam, said he was astonished that 'a journalist and former editor with such wide experience could stoop so low'."

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It's no exageration to say that: "The poems [in Ariel] were hypnotic, as Lowell later said in his introduction to ''Ariel'' (which appeared in 1965 in England, 1966 here). They were unapologetically female. An Amazon wrote them riding bareback. She had cut off one breast and dipped her quill in her blood. We would never know precisely why she killed herself. Nor could we ask." You'd think more people would know this about Sylvia Plath, wouldn't you?

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How standards of wit have declined since the Bloomsbury group left us: "Lytton Strachey changed the tenor of Bloomsbury conversation. Strachey, Virginia Woolf, et al, may have been artists, but they were also decorous Edwardians -- till the evening Strachey saw a stain on Woolf's dress. 'Semen?' he asked, and when Woolf laughed instead of blanching, sex became something the clique could discuss."

Semen?

Semen!

Oh dear. ha ha ha.

O.

Lytton.

Stop.

Ha ha.

No. O dear. Stop it.

Ha. OK, OK, that's:

I meant stop. I meant it. Stop it.

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If you have 90 minutes to spare, broadband, and aren't at the office, I thoroughly recommend watching Panorama Ephemera. It's Baraka for the sober. Instead of saying, "Dude, that monkey/Japanese smoking guy/African sorting through trash looks as stoned as you do. We are all one." You say, "Dude, the only thing that has stayed the same in 70 years of the moving image is its ability to capture awe-inspiring idiocy. We are all one."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

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A bit like the debate over T.S. Eliot's anti-semitism, the debate over the Merchant of Venice's antisemitism is essentially a shifting mosaic which simply rearranges the same 6 facts eternally. After John Gross's Shylock book, it's very hard to make a new substantive point, and everyone seems bound to mention these facts, whether for or against the play, the order here follows the order in The Guardian's latest contribution:
Shylock's "opening words are 'three thousand ducats'."

Here's how he responds after his daughter Jessica flees: "As the dog Jew did utter in the streets/'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!'"

"A Jew seeking Christian flesh is surely meant to stir memories of the perennial anti-semitic charge, known as the blood libel."

The power of "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech (this is seen as either a very moving plea for equality (as it is portrayed in "To Be or Not To Be") or clever weedling by a crafty jew).
(See Ron Rosenbuam tick off these four points in a much deeper discussion of MoV's anti-semitism here) One thing I'd like to see discussed, but which people generally don't is the matter of rings, both tokens of love. Shylock's reported to comically mourn the loss of his money as much as the loss of his daughter. But contrast what he's reported to have said with what he hear him say later on about something stolen:
TUBAL
There came divers of Antonio's creditors in my
company to Venice, that swear he cannot choose but break.

SHYLOCK
I am very glad of it: I'll plague him; I'll torture
him: I am glad of it.

TUBAL
One of them showed me a ring that he had of your
daughter for a monkey.

SHYLOCK
Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my
turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor:
I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.
He values the ring because his wife gave it to him. And, in fact, Shylock comes off very well for this, when you compare his sadness over the ring with Bassanio's careless disposal of the ring Portia gave it to him. The Jew, in this one case, values and honors tokens of love. The Christian gives it away for selfish reasons.

"Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys." I find it astonishing can Shakespeare tell so much of a sad story with so few words, even when three of them are "wilderness of monkeys."

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Fishy POLL STATISTIC from the BBC:"Despite being specifically about women's lives 200 years ago, the relevance of Austen's classic has not diminished, according to the 14,000 voters who took part in the poll, 93% of whom were women. It is, according to the poll, the novel that 'has spoken to you on a personal level; it may have changed the way you look at yourself, or simply made you happy to be a woman'."

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This is what you need, if you feel the way I do

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

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An interesting exam question to set to Vladimir Putin and Bush: Whose elections do you expect to be fairer, the Ukraine's or Iraq's, and what are the differences?

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Terrorism starts as ideology then turns into practice. How else to interpret the resaon Gerry Adams gives for his refusal to have the photographs taken of the IRA's destroyed guns?
The Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, said yesterday that the IRA would not submit to a process of "humiliation", arguing that this was the DUP's reason for wanting decommissioning to be photographed.
At some stage, guns have become such a part of the IRA's identity that having them destroyed in public is somehow akin to being stripped naked in an Iraqi prison and have Lynndie England point at your pecker. I thought guns were just the means to political ends. Not totems of power.

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Richard Dawkins missing the point: "I'm not particularly proud of being visceral, but I am admitting it. My attacks on George Bush have nothing to do with science or the scientific method. I just can't stand the man's style, the way he swaggers and struts and smirks and the way he looks sly and deceitful and the way Americans can't see it. I'm irritated by the way they think he's just a regular guy you can have a drink with." And here was me thinking that the whole point of Bush's appeal to the "moral values" crows is that he presents himself as a regular guy who was born again at the same time as he struggled to overcome the demon drink. Thank God that in Dawkins's England normal social exchange is fouded on drinking.

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Most people who enjoy nominating things to the Academy of the Overrated are justly considered as annoying as Diane Keaton's character was in 'Manhattan." But if you do it the right way, it's liberating.
The wrong way to do it involves putting down the tastes of others. The right way to do it involves suddenly realizing that the taste of a huge proportion of humanity is baffling and incomprehensible to you, and the only explanation for the divergence is that there's something very wrong with you, or very wrong with society, without knowing what that problem is. That everybody loves something for no good reason at all. And by everybody I don't mean most of the world, or 90% of it. I mean all of it. Everyone: 100% of humanity has no bad word to say against this thing. Except you. The Guardian did a great job of last Saturday of allowing it's reviewers to unleash the hate that dare not speak its name: hate of The Beatles, of Bowie, of The Rolling Stones. And, having read it, and then later reading in Slate two of what promises or threatens to be a series on the exotic wonders of Flamenco and Seville, I just want to say that I don't like Flamenco. It looks like Tai Chi and sounds like traffic. Everyone loves it. It managed to win over even Jacques Delors, whose extreme boringness I would have thought would protect him from Flamenco's charms. But after one night of Flamenco in a wonderful tourist trap restaurant in Madrid he declared Blanca del Rey the European ambassador of Spanish dance on the spot. For a Brussels eurocrat, this was the equivalent of burning Troy to win back Helen. What is wrong with me? Why am I not convinced by the long and patient explanations of what Flamenco is: how this dance is about a lost lover, or this rhythm is the rhythm of the drills the workers use and have made music out of.

Why do I think that when the boredom of a man wailing for four minutes is suddenly broken by three men clapping and two men shouting and two guitars throbbing this isn't actual passion, but a painful way to force passion out, the way the dervishes spin around to get close to God, lowering spirituality to the level of dizziness?

Why am I such a grumpy bastard about this?

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Quote of the Day: "It's jolly good fun photographing such things as the brain of an earth worm." The young Roald Dahl. What other things are also such things, one wonders?

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Can money buy happiness? The story of the Algerian millionaire who paid Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu is the sort of unhelpful proof that answers yes or no. On the one hand, buying famous friends is a sad substitute for friends purchased by friendship. On the other, Catherine Deneuve is in your house, at your party, drinking your drinks, asking you where your toilet is, discussing movies with your stunned acquaintances from childhood. Of course, when the money disappears, so does she. And you've shattered the crystal image of an immaculate and ethereal Deneuve with the brick of whoring her out. These are big problems. But I can't decide whether they balance out the bigness of some one shouting from beside your door "Some one called Catherine's at the door" and you saying "O That'll be deneuve, better buzz her in."

Monday, December 06, 2004

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If MacLamity didn't have so much work to do, he'd be readng the 4th Indiana Jones script that Christopher Columbus wrote in the mid-90s:

SCRAGGY
'Sun Wu Kung run like fire,
He journey to Many Monkey Land,
To build his final empire.'

BETSY
Who's Sun Wu-Kung?

INDIANA
(ignoring Betsy, to
Scraggy)
Many Monkey Land... That's a
definite reference to Africa."

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If MacLamity didn't have so much work to do, he'd be readng the 4th Indiana Jones script that Christopher Columbus wrote in the mid-90s:

SCRAGGY
'Sun Wu Kung run like fire,
He journey to Many Monkey Land,
To build his final empire.'

BETSY
Who's Sun Wu-Kung?

INDIANA
(ignoring Betsy, to
Scraggy)
Many Monkey Land... That's a
definite reference to Africa."

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If MacLamity dropped more acid more often, he'd be convinced that this parody was actually AIMED AT HIM.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

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Science reviews/diagnoses the novels of Iris Murdoch and finds Alzheimer's in the final book:
"
From The Sea, The Sea
The chagrin, the ferocious ambition which James I am sure quite unconsciously, prompted in me was something which came about gradually and raged intermittently.

From Jackson's Dilemma
Owen had laid out a little table with whisky and red wine and orange juice and ham sandwiches and olives and plums and cherry cake.
Dr Garrard's analysis

The first sentence contains 24 tokens of 22 different word types (each word is used, on average, 1.1 times). The second sentence contains 25 tokens of 20 word types (each word is used, on average, 1.25 times). These differences may not seem very large but when multiplied over the course of the length of a large text they become highly significant.