Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Six of Eight

Here are the answers to the Eight Middle Eights quiz, six of which were guessed, and not all by the usual suspects. Numbers 5 and 7 continued to stump you though.

1. When your bird is broken will it bring you down
You may be awoken, I'll be round, I'll be round
The Beatles: "And Your Bird Can Sing" - guessed by Lisa

2. Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? and are you gonna stay the night?
Cat Stevens: "Moonshadow" - guessed by Francis S

3. There's no love - like your love
And no other - could give more love
There's nowhere - unless you're there
All the time - all the way
Bryan Adams: "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - guessed by Rachie

4. Don't want to know who's to blame, it won't help knowing
Don't want to fight day and night, bad enough you're going
Marti Webb: "Tell Me On A Sunday" - guessed by Gert

5. Many a light lad may kiss and fly,
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never've I asked an August sky, "Where has last July gone?"

Rodgers & Hammerstein: "Many A New Day" (from Oklahoma)

6. So I'll be there when you arrive
The sight of you will prove to me I'm still alive
And when you take me in your arms
And hold me tight
I know it's gonna mean so much tonight
Abba: "Super Trouper" - guessed by Gert

7. I Am Tired Of This Devil
I Am Tired Of This Stuff
I Am Tired Of This Business
So When The Going Gets Rough
I Ain't Scared Of Your Brother
I Ain't Scared Of No Sheets
I Ain't Scare Of Nobody
Girl When The Goin' Gets Mean

Michael Jackson: "Black Or White"

8. I resolve to call her up a thousand times a day
And ask her if she'll marry me in some old fashioned way
But my silent fears have gripped me
Long before I reach the phone
Long before my tongue has tripped me
Must I always be alone?
The Police: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - guessed by

Thanks to everyone who took part.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Remember, remember, the 11th of September, hijab and niqab and rot

Just after my recent post on the veil debate came this piece in Thursday's Guardian. As ever with Karen Armstrong it's well-written, intelligent and thought-provoking. It certainly hadn't occurred to me before to make the connection between attitudes to veiled Muslims now and to habit-wearing Catholic nuns in the mid-19th century (just after they were first allowed to wear them in public). The same prejudice and hatred, the same abuse, the same assumption that these weirdly-dressed women hated freedom and democracy and wanted to overthrow the British state. And the stuff on the history of veiling in Egypt makes especially fascinating reading.

English readers should think of the parallels as they burn their Catholic effigies next Sunday.

You say penguinone and I say 3,4,4,5-tetramethylcyclohexa-2,5-dienone.....

After all that puppetry and partying, this molecule seemed an appropriate link into a hugely amusing site (via).

Though my personal favourite is Penguinone:

Yoni Soit Qui Mal Y Pense


Move along, people, nothin' to see here.....

Thanks to linkbunnies.org for the, er, heads up.

Oh, and there seems to be an unsuitable-for-work pop-up that appears if you click the back button on some of the pages. I suppose THAT was inevitable....

The puppets reminded me of this artwork which came to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the early 1980s.

Or at least, they made me think of what a Muppet Show version of it might be like.....

Al Stewart - Queens Hall Edinburgh, 27 October 2006

I saw Al Stewart on Friday for the fourth time, though the first in thirty-one years. It's funny how some people expect artists to remain frozen in time. At the merchandise stand before the concert started, I overheard a lady being told that one of the CDs available was a live recording from earlier in the current tour. She looked at the track listing and said in a disappointed tone "Does that mean he won't be doing Nostradamus tonight?" For the benefit of those of you who haven't been Al Stewart fans since the late sixties, Nostradamus was the main (though not IMHO the best) track on his 1973 album Past Present and Future. (Incidentally, Iain Banks agrees with me: he has the main character in The Bridge say that Roads To Moscow from that album moved him to tears while Nostradamus just irritated him!). I saw Al do it live shortly before the album came out, and when I last saw him on the Modern Times tour in 1975, he'd already dropped it from his playlist.

Anyway, Al Stewart. Now older, less (and greyer) hair, but still recognisably the same guy. The first twice I saw him he was solo: once supporting the Young Tradition and (I think?) Tom Rush, when he opened with Paul Simon's Sparrow, did a couple of guitar instrumentals and only one song of his own (The Ballad Of Mary Foster, so good value for money); next time sharing a bill with Planxty and doing a mix of stuff including some songs from P P & F. (He was clearly either slightly stoned or very whimsical - neither could be ruled out, as he is a big fan of Edward Lear and Mervyn Peake - as when he reached the line in Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres "She had eyes like a poet and hair like a rainbow" he sang "...and hair like a tea-tray"; stopped, and said apologetically that he just had an urge to sing that; then restarted and did the song straight. The audience loved it. Third time I saw him, he had a band, and they were great. I remembered Al as a great performer, however you cut it, and the last time I'd seen him he'd had some of his strongest material to work with (even though his biggest hits were still a year or two ahead of him).

Anyway, Friday. This time he had two other guys with him: David Nachmanoff on guitar, and Marc Macisso on percussion, sax, flute and harmonica. Between then they created the illusion of reconstructing the sound of the original recordings of the songs, though of course they weren't (typically those had bands with six or seven members). You couldn't fault the choice of sidemen, though: they were superb. As indeed was Al, whose voice sounds little altered from those glory days of "Love Chronicles". A few notes were subtly shifted down an octave (notably in "Small Fruit Song", but the energy, enthusiasm and general vocal quality were all as good as ever, as were the introductions to the songs: witty and informative. Here's the playlist:

House Of Clocks
In Brooklyn
Flying Sorcery
On The Border
Night Train To Munich
Merlin's Time
Time Passages
Rain Barrel
Midas Shadow
Paint By Numbers
Roads To Moscow
Medley: Clifton In The Rain/Small Fruit Song
Soho (Needless To Say)
The Year Of The Cat
Katherine Of Oregon
Joe The Georgian

While I'm sorry he didn't do The Coldest Winter In Memory (hey, it's two decades more recent than Nostradamus!), he did do Flying Sorcery, Night Train to Munich and Roads To Moscow, all favourites. And it was great to hear him doing In Brooklyn after all these years (from the same album as The Ballad Of Mary Foster). The material spanned the whole of his career, though there were gaps here and there. He clearly does the stuff he still likes, and he clearly still likes it a lot. (On realising the Queens Hall was a converted church, he said they ought to do Gethsemane Again, which is all about the commercialisation of religion; then he admitted he could no longer remember the words. However, a few years ago he did say he fancied revisiting the song with a band, so who knows?)

Plus, I got three albums of unreleased rarities from the fan club stall, with which they gave me a free CD and a book of photographs spanning Al's career.

Go and see him if you can catch him on the tour. He's excellent value, and whether or not you've heard any of his songs you're in for a treat. Plus, you have to love someone who wrote into his contract with a record company (Columbia, I think) that if he delivered the agreed number of albums on schedule he would get three cases of wine as a performance bonus. The company agreed, thinking maybe £10 a bottle. If they'd read the contract more carefully the cases were 1961 Pétrus, 1961 Chateau Palmer and (I think) 1961 Margaux, and cost them several thousand dollars.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Way Things Go

I enjoyed this (via). The creator's site has stills of a lot of similar creations.

Then I found this recent linkbunnies link. Hmm. Clearly a common theme.

Actually both videos, and especially the Japanese one, are clearly inspired by this wonderful short film from 1987. I remember seeing it on a loop at the Edinburgh City Arts Centre not long after it came out, then taping it when Channel 4 showed it (much to the delight of my then-small daughter). Now I have it on DVD (region 1 only). Great stuff. As with linkbunnies' Marcus, it reminded me of the "Mouse Trap" game. And that reminds me of having dinner (at his home) with my college tutor and his other proteges: after we'd eaten he would dig out the silly games, of which Mouse Trap was easily the most popular.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Save the Veils

I was all set to write rather irritated post about this whole business with Muslim women and veils. I was going to say that, yes, there are circumstances in which a niqab (full veil) could interfere with one's work: in these post-Disability Discrimination Act days if one is required to communicate with other people one must consider that they might have impaired hearing and need to lip-read. Beyond that I have no particular problem with it any more than with any other eccentricity of dress. And I certainly have no problem at all with the hijab (headscarf). That of course is not what Jack Straw was referring to, but it seems to have been dragged into the debate. In some countries (such as France) even the hijab is banned, which seems ludicrous. I don't find it remotely threatening, any more than I felt threatened by the orthodox Jews in their ringlets and big black hats when I lived in North London, and I am deeply suspicious of the motives of those who wish to ban it.

But I'm not going to write a post like that. Instead I'm going to link to a couple of hilarious pieces on NewsBiscuit, a site I have just discovered (courtesy of linkbunnies).

And finally, here's Bollywood star extraordinaire and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, demonstrating that she can look good even behind a full veil of chain mail (in her forthcoming film The Last Legion starring Colin Firth):

And here she is again, looking even better behind a more comprehensive - but less opaque - example in the remake of Umrao Jaan:

The barbarians are at our gates. Please let them out so they can go to Israel, the US, Iraq, Korea and other bastions of freedom.

This recent survey carried out by Globescan on behalf of the BBC World Service makes interesting reading. It's no surprise at all to find Israel leading the world in support for torture, and no great surprise to find more supporters of torture in the United States than in any other developed country except Russia and China. That Germany, France, Spain and Italy are all less barbaric than Britain is hardly cause for a raised eyebrow either.

Memo to the IAF: now would be a good time to learn where Israel stops and instant death begins

Israel's supporters are always whingeing about how the rest of the world (and especially the United Nations) has double standards, and expects things from Israel that it doesn't excpect from any other country. OK, let's have an end to double standards from France, the UN, and everyone else.

Next time the Israeli Air Force illegally enters Lebanese airspace, shoot to kill. No warnings, no diplomatic messages. They fly in, they become decorative (if scorched) sculptures in the desert, just like anyone else. Imagine how tolerant the Israelis would be if a Syrian jet flew into Israel......

Is that a level enough playing field, guys?

I mean it. Why should the Israelis get special treatment? They send warplanes into someone else's country, they get their airmen sent home in instalments, if they're lucky.

Playtime over, kiddies: welcome to the grown-up world of actual, you know, borders and stuff.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mole Madness

Today is Mole Day. Rejoice!

Eight Aid

I see that three two of my eight middle eights remain unguessed, which surpises me as I'd thought they were all pretty well known songs as well as being classic middle eights. A little additional information to guide you in for numbers 2, 5 and 7.

2. Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? and are you gonna stay the night?

From a 1971 album by a very well-known British singer-songwriter, this single reached number 30 in the charts and remains popular. How has nobody got this one? As its lyrics show, our man was rather influenced by Zen Buddhism at the time (his next album would have a title inspired by the Zen classic Ten Ox-herding Pictures) and this song is all about serene resignation in the face of adversity and loss. Buddhism is however not the religion associated with the author these days.

John Landis wanted to use this song on the soundtrack of An American Werewolf In London but the author refused permission.

Cat Stevens: "Moonshadow" - guessed by Francis S

5. Many a light lad may kiss and fly,
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never've I asked an August sky, "Where has last July gone?"

A song from the first musical by a lyricist/composer partnership which would dominate the genre for decades. Written in 1943, it was filmed in 1955 in glorious 70mm widescreen (with Rod Steiger, no less, getting to sing on my personal favourite song). The present little gem begins "Why should a woman who is healthy and strong / Blubber like a baby if her man goes away?"

7. I Am Tired Of This Devil
I Am Tired Of This Stuff
I Am Tired Of This Business
So When The Going Gets Rough
I Ain't Scared Of Your Brother
I Ain't Scared Of No Sheets
I Ain't Scare Of Nobody
Girl When The Goin' Gets Mean

A number one hit single (US, UK and elsewhere) from an album released in November 1991. Its title refers both to racial prejudice and a number of comments which had been made concerning the singer's appearance. The accompanying video was directed by John Landis and is thought to be the first music video to use morphing techniques previously only seen in films such as Willow and Terminator 2.

An American In Paris

It may be a couple of weeks old, but I had to share this beautiful post from Better Than Hamlet. Which just goes to show that it isn't just Petite and Ruth who can blog beautifully about the ex-pat experience of France.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

March of DIMEs

The Guardian this week had a worrying report from Gaza. Whatever the Israelis say (and the Israeli military is not, er, best known for its strict adherence to the truth even in circumstances not concerning secret weaponry) the effects being described sound like Dense Inert Metal Explosive devices. See here, a more gung-ho description here, and also this article which provides links to the "described basis" for the claims that such weapons are highly carcinogenic.

I guess we're going to hear more of this one.

"There is no spectacle more agreeable than watching an old friend fall from a roof" (Confucius). Or anybody else for that matter.

As bad days go, Steve Wynn's putting-a-hole-in-the-most-expensive-painting-in-history day last month rates pretty highly, I feel.

I'll try to hold that thought next time I screw something up.


Media suffer short-term memory loss

What with all the excitement over the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, peacekeeping efforts, cluster bombs, etc etc...we don't seem to hear much about Gilad Shalit these days. I had to go to Wikipedia to find that there's evidence he was still alive last month. Since the last time before Shalit that an abductee was such a prominent casus belli was probably Helen of Troy, it doesn't say much for press persistence, does it? I look forward to reading of his release if an when it happens. That is, if the press considers it sufficiently newsworthy.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sometimes comparing a journalist to a piece of shit is an insult to excrement.

Did anyone read this piece in Thursday's Guardian? I thought it was interesting, and I'm sure it will be good for astronomy to have May flying the flag for it. Celebrity endorsements for science are rare enough, certainly. Maybe we'll get to see him on The Sky At Night some time.

OK, supplementary question. Did anyone notice the little aside that Emma Brockes slipped in? Let me quote a section of the article:

It happens again when I ask whether there is a deliberate environmental subtext to the book.

"There is, a bit. Yeah. I think we all felt that. You try not to get too preachy and I know that when the subject of global warming came up we were very careful not to come down on one side without due justification. Certainly, this is one of Patrick's areas; he's very keen for everyone to realise that it's not proven that we are the only cause of global warming." (It may be useful to remember that Moore was heavily involved in fringe rightwing politics in the 70s).

Why exactly might that be useful, Emma? Let's get this straight. Patrick Moore is not saying global warming isn't happening. He isn't saying that it isn't a problem. He isn't saying that human activity isn't a major cause of global warming. He isn't even, as far as I know, saying that human activity isn't the most important such cause. And he certainly isn't saying that we should do nothing about it. No, Patrick Moore is saying that it is not proven that human activity is the only cause of global warming. Well, no shit, Sherlock. Around ten thousand years ago, at a time when even in California the number of SUVs was single-digit, the place where I am typing this post was under around 50 metres of ice sheet. This may be a long shot, but I think it probably warmed up a bit between then and the industrial revolution. Of course human activity isn't the only cause of global warming, and no reputable scientist anywhere in the world thinks it is.

But because Moore dares to challenge the anti-science dogma held only by the far fringes of the green movement, that global warming is entirely caused by human activity, Emma Brockes feels it relevant to mention that he was "heavily involved in fringe rightwing politics in the 70s". Well, if he isn't a mindless repeater of the platitudinous rubbish that Brockes seems to believe, clearly it's necessary to rubbish his views in any desperate way that comes to hand. Presumabky if there had been a sexual scandal in his past, or a history of substance abuse, Brockes would have felt that it was "useful to remember" when considering his views on climate change.

For the record, Moore was chairman of the United Country Party, an anti-Europe and anti-immigration party which was eventually absorbed into the scarcely less irrelevant New Britain Party. He's now a prominent member of the UK Independence Party. Need I say more? I don't suppose he and I would find any common ground on matters of immigration, race, Europe, the economy or.......well, anything political really. But his stance on Brussels has no more relevance to his views on global warming than do his views on fox-hunting (lifelong opponent). And to suggest otherwise is a cheap shot more worthy of the News Of The World than of the Guardian.

For my part, I'm going to add Emma Brockes to the trashy-journo bucket labelled with Anna Mikhailova's name until she demonstrates that she's less of an asshole than she appears. Or until she does the decent thing and fucks off to the NOTW.

Actually, you know what would be really "useful to remember"? This. I'd almost forgotten that Brockes's name was on that bucket before anyone had heard of Anna Mikhailova.


Hilary and I received a letter today telling us that the Ray Davies gig next Saturday has been cancelled. From the web I see he's cancelled a whole slew of dates owing to ill-health, rescheduling them for next May.

Every time Ray plays Edinburgh something gets in the way of our seeing him. (In the same way, for years I kept not seeing Dark Star when it was screened on TV.) At least we can manage the rescheduled date (though our daughter will be out of the country, and as a big Kinks fan is not pleased).

Ray - get well soon, OK?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eight eights

I have long been a devotee of the well-crafted middle eight, and have therefore decided to vary my "25 First Lines" meme this time round and have an "8 Middle Eights" meme. Below I have listed the lyrics which go with the middle eights of a number of well-known songs. Titles and artists in the comments box, please, and no cheating with Google. Each song is by a different performer or group. Enjoy.

1. When your bird is broken will it bring you down
You may be awoken, I'll be round, I'll be round

The Beatles: "And Your Bird Can Sing" - guessed by Lisa

2. Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? and are you gonna stay the night?

Cat Stevens: "Moonshadow" - guessed by Francis S

3. There's no love - like your love
And no other - could give more love
There's nowhere - unless you're there
All the time - all the way

Bryan Adams: "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - guessed by Rachie

4. Don't want to know who's to blame, it won't help knowing
Don't want to fight day and night, bad enough you're going

Marti Webb: "Tell Me On A Sunday" - guessed by Gert

5. Many a light lad may kiss and fly,
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never've I asked an August sky, "Where has last July gone?"

6. So I'll be there when you arrive
The sight of you will prove to me I'm still alive
And when you take me in your arms
And hold me tight
I know it's gonna mean so much tonight

Abba: "Super Trouper" - guessed by Gert

7. I Am Tired Of This Devil
I Am Tired Of This Stuff
I Am Tired Of This Business
So When The
Going Gets Rough
I Ain't Scared Of
Your Brother
I Ain't Scared Of No Sheets
I Ain't Scare Of Nobody
Girl When The
Goin' Gets Mean

8. I resolve to call her up a thousand times a day
And ask her if she'll marry me in some old fashioned way
But my silent fears have gripped me
Long before I reach the phone
Long before my tongue has tripped me
Must I always be alone?

The Police: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - guessed by

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rock and roll music playin' in my head, Gonna keep on dancin' till I drop down dead

I love the thought that mobile clubbing is a "joyous mirror image of a terrorist attack". I like even more the wonderful thought that some of those dancing happily were doing so without headphones. And the whole idea that everyone should dance to her/his personal soundtrack is great: that you can be bopping to Prokofiev while the next guy is strutting his stuff to Pulp, Prince or Palestrina is wonderfully liberating. Maybe organised discos should allow time for this sort of thing.

Anyone guess the title line? (Not a first line this time.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In which the leaders of what used to be called the free world mistake a swamp for the moral high ground, with no consequences as yet

So. Our government doesn't want us to find out whether Bush intended to bomb the al-Jazeera TV station, and whether Blair tried to dissuade him. Gosh.

Meanwhile, in the other home of the free, the one whose soldiers shoot British journalists in the head when they are being taken to hospital, all possible efforts are made to block any investigation into the unlawful killing. Gosh squared.

Memo to Osama bin Laden: if you have an empty airliner or two spare, Bush and Blair are still alive. Nobody would miss them. Really. You want an Axis of Evil? Look no further.

Cat lovers please note

I am indebted to Fortean Times for drawing my attention to this story.

Some trivial (though not trifling) objections

My first reaction on reading this article by Simon Jenkins in Friday's Guardian was one of irritation. My second reaction was one of self-examination: why did it annoy me so? Not because as a chemistry graduate I feel that my subject, or science on general, holds any privileged place in the educational hierarchy. I rather agree with Jenkins about the perils of making science a compulsory part of the national curriculum: but then I have misgivings about a national curriculum in the first place (it doesn't apply in Scotland in any case). There is much to be said in favour of the teaching of foregn languages, and I say it frequently, but one could argue that it is up to teachers, whether of French or of Physics, to make their subjects interesting, relevant and attractive to pupils, rather than for the government to legislate so as to force children into their classrooms. While studying for a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (which I didn't get, but that's another story) I once passed an exam by adopting Ivan Illich's and Everett Reimer's position that compulsory education of any kind (beyond the primary teaching of basic literacy and numeracy) was a counter-productive waste of resources which would be better spent on decent secondary and adult education for all those who actually wanted it. I was able to argue the case fairly passionately because I feel that there is some truth in it, however difficult its practical application. Leading horses to water, and all that. I personally took to science subjects because I was interested in them, as indeed I was in languages. If I could have gone to university to study joint honours Latin and Chemistry I would have been one happy bunny. Still, the days of Paracelsus being long gone, I had to choose, and reader, I chose Chemistry.

So why my irritation at Jenkins's article? Well, it's his implied support for the government's latest wheeze, that of the compulsory "science-lite" GCSE (Twenty First Century Science). He describes this as "right way round" education, because it "starts with the science of everyday life and delves into the technicalities only for pupils who are interested". I'm sorry, but no, it doesn't. It skirts the science altogether and jumps straight into its implications, as though one were to attempt to discuss the causes of the second world war without knowledge of the result of the first. I have always believed that the primary purpose of education, in whatever subject, is the provision of a reliable crap detector: a toolkit for evaluating what people tell you and assigning it a probability of being true. In the Middle Ages education began with the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric, so you learned how to construct a meaningful and comprehensible argument, learned what constituted proof and disproof, and learned how to persuade your listeners (as well as how to see through the fallacies of those who might try to fool you). Where once these were taught as subjects in their own right, nowadays they are folded into the teaching of other subjects; and it is precisely these elements of science teaching which seem likely to be jettisoned on the adoption of the new science syllabus.

How do you obtain an "understanding" of GM foods without any knowledge of what a gene is, or how it is replicated, either naturally or via human manipulation? How many of the children at the end of this course will have any idea that there is no way to distinguish between an ear of corn bred naturally and one created via GM simply by looking at the corn itself? Far fewer, I suspect, than will come away with the idea of GM products as "Frankenstein food" (also without in most cases knowing who Frankenstein was or who created him). How can they understand discussions about nuclear power without first knowing what radioactivity is? How will they "understand" the difference between nuclear power and nuclear weapons? Will they have any idea what uranium enrichment is, so they know what's going on when Iran comes on the news? And when a creationist tells them that Darwin says we're descended from chimpanzees, will they know he's lying? If someone in a white coat tells them a drug is safe, will they have any idea how to check whether that person is lying? or are we simply going to "educate" a generation of children by giving them pre-digested opinions with absolutely no means of checking them for themselves?

I realise that in many cases the children emerging from our existing system of science education have little clue as to the answers to a lot of those questions, but that is an indictment of the quality of their teaching and the resources put into it (or not). If the government is going to put the cart before the horse in the way the new syllabus appears to do, it would be better to abandon compulsory science altogether. Better to know nothing and know you know nothing, than to believe that you know all the answers when you don't even understand the questions.

Even sadder is the fact that Jenkins reckons that instead of scientists and mathematicians we need more accountants, economists and "anyone prepared to question received doctrine". Even if one allows that much of the mathematician's toolkit is surplus to the needs of an accountant, I would prefer to have my accounts done by someone with the amount of practice with figures inculcated by mathematical or scientific training. I know from first-hand experience that economics has as much fancy mathematical content as physics (and have watched my non-science-trained contemporaries struggling with it). And the people I have known with the greatest propensity to question received doctrine have been the very scientists he decries as grant-grabbing drones. If he would like to see an example of this effect in action every week, he need look no further than the Guardian's own "Bad Science" column.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Now Charitable Giving is Un-American

So now we know. Give to (perfectly legal) charities and the United States will deny you a visa. Land of the free, forsooth.

Or to put it another way, the country which provides the most vocal opponents of any kind of boycott of Israeli academics appears to have no problem boycotting Muslim ones. Academic freedom is paramount, provided the academics don't dare to criticise American policy. Sweet.

Sparks - Glasgow ABC 5th October

I must confess that up until last Thursday my only knowledge of Sparks was Kimono My House, though I felt that was adequate justification for buying a ticket fot the last night of their UK tour (which also turned out to be Russell Mael's birthday - the crew had got him a cake, but the audience partly spoiled the surprise by singing "Happy Birthday To You" repeatedly through the evening until Russell admitted that yes, it was his birthday.)

My first time at the ABC, which I have to say I like as a venue better than the somewhat similar Barrowlands. I got there with perfect timing just as Sparks came on. The first half of the show was a complete performance of their new album Hello Young Lovers. For this they had the rest of the band partly hidden behind gauze screens, and had a back-projection screen showing videos in the centre of the stage. The Maels interacted with the videos quite a lot (for example, Ron fighting an on-screen Ron in "The Very Next Fight". So, first half set list was:

Dick Around
The Very Next Fight
(Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?
Rock, Rock, Rock
Here Kitty
There's No Such Thing As Aliens
As I Sit Down To Play The Organ Of The Notre Dame Cathedral

of which, for me, Metaphor, Perfume and Can I Invade Your Country? were the stand-outs. (The last of these was introduced by Russell as an attempt to overturn the image of Sparks as an apolitical band, and deserves to be a hit.)

The second half (with gauzes and video screen removed) was a run through their back catalogue (19 albums' worth!). I didn't recognise most of the songs at the time, but a little Googling gives me the following list (the order may not be quite right, and there may be one or two omitted):

Something For The Girl With Everything
Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
Tryouts For The Human Race
Number One Song In Heaven
In The Future
This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us
Amateur Hour
Suburban Homeboy
and an "unplugged" version of Dick Around as a final encore.

I'm a sucker for clever lyrics, and of course that's very much what Sparks do, with decent music to match them. The performance was committed and energetic without going over the top. They gave the audience exactly what they wanted: a mix of new and old, both treated with equal respect and given equally gutsy performances. They really didn't put a foot wrong, and I'd have no hesitation in going to see them again. Oh, and the three members of their backing band played (and sang backing vocals) brilliantly.

So that's me moved from "someone who's heard of Sparks" to "definite Sparks fan" overnight. Not bad going.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Dude, where's my car?

Why would I get enthusiastic on my blog about a picture of a car? Here's why.

Friday, October 06, 2006

He could ring those bells just like playing guitar

I forgot to say that the Parsifal weekend went very well indeed. The first act, at two uninterrupted hours, felt like particularly hard work (every year policemen get younger and Wagner operas longer). Cast were:

Amfortas Julian Tovey
Titurel Julian Close
Gurnemanz Neil Howlett
Parsifal Jonathan Finney
Klingsor Nicholas Fowler
Kundry Elaine McKrill


First Knight Walter Thomson
Second Knight Colin Heggie
First Esquire Laura Martin
Second Esquire Ann Heavens
Third Esquire Stuart Clelland
Fourth Esquire Walter Thomson

Flower Maidens

Group One
Laura Martin
Alison Bishop
Angela Bell
Group Two
Ann Heavens
Caroline Hood
Hannah Mason

Two amusing tales relating to the large bells. As Orchestra Manager of Edinburgh Symphony Orchetra I was approached for the loan of our timpani and snare drum. The person asking me also wondered if we could lend our glockenspiel, and I said yes. I was then asked whether this would be difficult to transport, and explaned that it was about the size of a laptop computer. There was a pause and then the request was cancelled. I think someone had seen "Glocken" (= "bells") in the score and drawn a wrong conclusion. But it would have been wonderful if we had turned up on the day with a glockenspiel rather than the huge slabs of metal actually required. Why wonderful? Well, it would have been a real-life instance of the "Spinal Tap" disaster with the Stonehenge model......

The other tale relates to last Friday, which was the first time the bells (borrowed from Scottish Opera) had been played. First problem was that they'd been set up so the player could not see the conductor. Second problem was that the highest-piched bell just fouled the frame with one edge of the plate, resulting in a zingy noise (hands up if you remember Nigel Molesworth's description of the St Custard's school piano, which for one music lesson had been filled with metal ashtrays so that "John Peel", normally rendered as "D'ye ken John plunk in his plunk so gay" as a result of iffy strings, became "D'ye ken John plunk in his tinkle tinkle zing". Well, the Grail bells were like that. Finally, the player of the bells was fairly short and initially had only one mallet, so that he ran around madly, swatting furiously at the bells as though they were a swarm of bees, occasionally missing one completely and more often than not sending the top bell zinging into the frame. Rather like Jacques Tati plays Quasimodo. The rest of the orchestra were all corpsing. Noel Coward once described Lerner & Lowe's "Camelot" as like Parsifal but without the jokes. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Parsifal with the jokes.

I believe a number of pictures were taken over the weekend and will be posted on the web eventually. I shall link to them. Any showing me looking puzzled (where are we? how many beats in a bar is he giving? darn it, was that an F flat?) will be mercilessly censored. (Actually I'm the guy in the red T-shirt in Orchestra 4 and Conductor & Orchestra.)

Lucky Dip

A mixed bag of goodies:

This wonderful Dilbert cartoon, esecially for those of us on support help desks.

This post from Chip Clark over on Chip's World/Ed's World, telling you all about the weekend we had a couple of weeks ago when (among other delights) we climbed Lochnagar.

The start of a series of splendid posts from Clare over on Boob Pencil, where she is re-reading a diary from her teenage years.

This looks as though it might be worth seeing when it comes out. Either that or it'll be dire, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. It will be interesting to see Keisha Castle-Hughes doing a more mainstream role than the one in Whale Rider.

A tag from Udge. Rules as follows:

The Rules of this tag game are:
1. Grab the book nearest to you...no cheating!
2. Open to page 123.
3. Scroll down to the fifth sentence.
4. Post text of next 3 sentences on to your blog.

Here we go:

I stirred the tea in the pot and set out two cups then leaned back in my chair and let the hot fug of the paraffin heater lull me. Calamity walked in and I poured the tea as she emptied her schoolbag onto the desk: copper wire, anti-rheunmatics, nylons, chocolate, fake library tickets....and a packet of sugar marked "Property of the Red Cross, Geneva". The last item out of the bag was a packet of bird seed.

Malcolm Pryce, "Last Tango In Aberystwth"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Carry On, Don't Lose Your Production Values

I'm not totally sorry that the new Berlin production of Idomeneo has been cancelled. Not because its scene with the severed heads of Muhammed, Jesus, Buddha and Neptune is offensive to Moslems (or indeed Christians, Buddhists and whoever worships Neptune these days). No, my problem is that on the face of it it would seem to be offensive to Mozart, and more especially to his librettist Metastasio.

The controversial scenes in the opera are a change from the original libretto, in which a Greek king is forced to execute his son because of a vow made to the sea god, Neptune, but is reprieved at the final moment by the god's clemency.

In the planned Deutsche Oper production, Idomeneo appears to escape his vow and the dominance of religion by appearing onstage with the severed heads of Jesus, Muhammad, Neptune and the Buddha on chairs.

I'm not one of those opera-goers who hates innovation (my favourite Ring Cycle is the Bayreuth Centenary one by Patrice Chéreau, my favourite Magic Flute the film by Ingmar Bergman). Nor do I necessarily mind anachronism per se (Muhammed and Jesus post-date Idomeneo a bit). But the original plot has more than a hint of the story of Abraham and Isaac in it, and that's in danger of beng totally lost by this contrary production. If you want to reinvent the story of Idomeneo in a modern way, fine. You can even use Mozart's music, in the same way that Starship Pinafore uses Sulllivan's. Just don't bill it as Idomeneo. When Peter Brook made his (brilliant) adaptations of Carmen and Pelléas et Mélisande, he was at pains to point out that they were adaptations.

Offend Muslims all you like, but offend opera fans at your peril.

Resembling only some kind of mutant black six-legged crane with a propensity for roosting on my bedroom ceiling

Tonight I discovered Yaxlich's blog (via comments at LRB). I particularly liked his post on Daddy Longlegs, for two reasons:

(a) I do not like Daddy Longlegs, and turn them as rapidly as possible into Deady Longlegs;

(b) They are a major component of the ecosystem (read: stuff for birds to eat) in the Scottish Highlands, especially the Cairngorm plateau.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I'd do the same if he came to Edinburgh, though as I don't know any kosher bakers I might have to use a brick

Only three years late, I salute someone with the courage to splat a pie in the face of one of the most evil men on the planet, before being wrestled to the ground and then having his nose gratuitously broken by Sharansky's goons.

Thanks to Kesher Talk and Little Green Footballs (think I'm linking a fascist site? think again) for alerting me to Abe Greenhouse by their splenetic condemnations (Sharansky being a poster boy for both).