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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Bye bye everybody. Bye bye....

I shall be on holiday from (terribly early on) saturday morning. Like Arnie, I'll be back.

So I may post something tomorrow night, but that will be it for a week.

Aur revoir, mes braves.

Game On

Defective Yeti is taking a holiday, and coincidentally this is currently on the "Favourite Posts" page which is up there holding the fort.

And You Tell Me, Over and Over and Over Again My Friend...

Let's leave aside the fact that I find it incomprehensible that anyone who claims to be a leftist of any kind would support the Iraq invasion.

Let's leave aside the minor matter of Blair and Bush lying through their teeth about links beteeen Saddam and al-Qaeda, and about WMDs.

Let's leave aside the matter of Abu Ghraib.

How can anyone read this and still pretend for a single moment that anything worthwhile has been gained by B & B's fucking stupid, illegal, ego-trip?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Smudges

"Teenagers are all clumsy, unidentifiable smudges on the page. Which annoys their parents no end, if that happened to be the page they were saving to read later."

Give PCB a round of applause for one of the best metaphors of 2006, then go and read the rest of her post.

I'm Going To Bring A Watermelon To My Girl Tonight

I couldn't resist a blog whose title is a Bonzo Dog Band number. Especially when most of the posts are similarly titled. And it's a newcomer.

Like to introduce King Of Scurf on blog.

Three things.

Thing One. I saw Vivian Stanshall when I was a student. Collingwood College (Durham, that is) had organised a ball for which they didn't sell enough tickets to break even so they cancelled. Instead, we had sherry with the college principal and Stanshall (who had been booked) did the gig anyway (including an early appearance of Sir Henry At Rawlinson's End).

Thing Two. I remember being delighted and somewhat impressed when I read Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade in Adrian Mitchell's translation and found the line "We're All Normal And We Want Our Freedom".

Thing Three. I bought "History Of The Bonzos" in my first year as a student, and vividly remember listening to "Bad Blood" while washing my hair (yes, in those days I had hair) in the sink. I remember it because at the phrase "A one-armed, half-breed amputee" I laughed so much I banged my head on the tap. Owhead.

Sit Down You're Rocking The Wombat

I was gojng to blogroll Misty anyway. But this post (and, obviously, its comment stream) is just awesome. And not just because I recently added to it. Stick in your ten cents' worth: on discovering that both "Wombat Out Of Hell" and "Remember You're a Wombat" had gone already I thought I'd nothing to add, but actually it was easy to come up with new ideas.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Q: Should you read this book? A: Definitely

I'm conscious of the fact that when I did Clare's Book Title Meme last week the book I plugged was by a dead author. OK, a dead Scottish author, but still dead and thus less in need of the plug.



Well, I'm presently reading a wonderful book entitled Q & A by Vikas Swarup who is very much alive. It's been a while since I've enjoyed a work of fiction so much. It tell the story of Ram Mohammed Thomas (you learn the reason for his odd name) a street kid who wins a billion rupees on a TV quiz show which is a sort of Who Wants to be a Millionaire spin-off. (WWTBAM was a big hit in India as Kaun Banega Crorepati, hosted by Bollywood's biggest star Amitabh Bachchan.) He is accused of cheating, and the sotory unfolds as he explains to his lawyer why he was on the show and how events in his life meant that he knew the answers to all the particular questions he was asked. The narrative is structured around the sequence of questions so you get his life unfolding in a non-linear way (as some of the later answers related to ealier parts of his life). Brilliantly written, with believable characters and marvellous descriptions of Indian life at the bottom. Not only have the Hollywood rights been bought, there are Bollywood producers queing up to do Hindi versions.

Read it. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What have I been up to?


1. On Saturday I went to the cinema to see Romance & Cigarettes, which is wonderful in so many ways. The musical numbers are witty and increasingly surreal. Eddie Izzard's in it, as is Mary-Louise Parker (Amy from The West Wing). Susan Sarandon is great, Kate Winslet is the best she's been for ages. And she prances around in her underwear, which alone is worth the ticket price (I think I should start a Campaign for Normal-Shaped Women Celebrities and ask Kate to be the patron).


2. Last Sunday I played in a performance of Handel's Messiah with Edinburgh Players and the Jubilo Singers under Walter Thomson. Messiah is one of those pieces that people either love or hate for the most part. I love it: not only does it have some great tunes but there are all kinds of things you appreciate more when you play it. All the famous bits that you think you know, you don't, because the orchestral accompaniment invariably cuts loose and starts doing unexpected things, on different beats of he bar, or going in unexpected directions. Handel hates writing the same thing twice. When you think you're about to repeat something, you're not: there will be something different about it, sometimes minor, often radical. And he's clever about the scoring: he keeps the timpani in reserve until the Hallelujah chorus to maximise their impact, and similarly uses the trumpets sparingly until And The Trumpet Shall Sound. I've heard performances of that where the low trumpet notes had a crackle to them like the exhaust of a Maserati and the high notes just took your head off. Nobody's fool, Wor Georgie.



3. Tonight the whole family went to see Simon Callow in Noel Coward's Present Laughter at the King's Theatre. I'd forgotten how very funny Noel Coward can be (one tends to remember the stiff-upper-lip stuff, but his dialogue is actually very modern); and even though I've long been a fan of Simon Callow's film work, he is primarily a theatre actor, and it shows. You just couldn't take your eyes off him. Absolute magic, and if I'd time to go again I wouldn't hesitate. We all loved it.





Oh, all right, here's Kate again:

Never Mind The Bloggies, Here's The Samuel Johnson

I am very pleased indeed to see one of my favourite blogrolled sites being honoured with a nomination, not for a blog award but for a general non-fction writing award. How cool is that?

Best of luck to Riverbend, who deserves to have something nice happen to her to make up for the invasion and its aftermath.

Spring forward, Fall out of bed

OK, so I should have posted this on Sunday, but it got delayed and then last night Blogger collapsed so I couldn't post anything.....

...what's the deal with the "Daylight Saving" crap, eh? Celestial mechanics being what it is (they are?) we get the same amount of daylight regardless of the Canute-like pronouncements of the government (much as I'd love to blame such a fiasco on Blair, I must admit it predates the arrival of the Pretty Straight Guy into Downing St.). Why don't the tossers who don't like Greenwich Mean Time either fuck off to some other time zone or, y'know, just GET UP A BIT EARLIER and leave the rest of us in peace and on our astronomically appropriate settings?

The whole idea was originally a joke made by Benjamin Franklin. Of course, an English eccentric (=total bampot) had to come up with an even crazier version which would have been totally impractical in its original form. Even though we didn't adopt his version per se, I may go and piss on this some time:



















Evidently plenty of bloggers agree with me. Among these, Gert is very eloquent on the subject, as is Zoe. And the comments on this BBC page are pretty uniformly anti as well.

Personally I have long been of the opinion that supporters of summer time are the direct intellectual heirs of the mobs who chanted "Give us back our eleven days!" when the Julian calendar was supplanted by the Gregorian.

At the third stroke....

Thanks to Dan for this awesome joke.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Compare and contrast

On the one hand we have the Dean of Southwark, fulminating against the prospect of a lapdancing club in his neighbourhood. "We have a hospital nearby with many Muslim patients who will be offended". Pardon? I don't think the dancers from Rembrandt's were proposing to strut their stuff on Ward 6, so how can it possibly disturb patients in the hospital? Is he going to close down all the off-licenses in the area for the same reason? "We were not allowed to object on moral grounds yet thousands of children pass down the street every day." As the club will only be able to stage nude dancing after 9 pm (through until 3 am) it seems unlikely that too many children will be passing by. If they are then he has more to worry about than a lapdancing club. I have no view on whether the club should be granted a licence or not; that's for the residents and the local council, who mostly seem not to have a problem with it.

On the other hand in the same issue of the Guardian we have this article from a leading Reform rabbi, taking a much more relaxed attitude not to strip clubs but to prostitution, and all on the basis of the Bible. (And that of course is the Old Testament; never mind all the let-him-who-is-without-sin-cast-the-first-stone stuff in the New.) A nice reminder, if it were necessary, that the liberal end of Judaism can still teach the liberal Christians a thing or two.

An ill wind

It's hard to imagine anything good coming out of the Madrid train bombings. However, wiser heads than mine consider that they caused a huge reduction in support for ETA's domestic bombing campaign. And that would seem to have led to this.

Let's hope that the ceasefire holds, and then perhaps one may consider that teh Madrid victims actually didn't die for nothing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Your blog is important to us. Please hold.

Clare's meme has kind of taken over here. Normal blogging will be resumed tomorrow.

Honest.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Book Title Meme

Tagged by Clare with this meme.

1. The Dying Of Delight

We neophiles know all about the dying of delight. (a) Heyyyy, something new to try. (b) Cool. (c) Still cool. (d) Er.... (e) Heyyyy, something else new to try.....

Sometimes the sequence is warped one way or the other by outside agencies. I took up archery some years ago, and - probably because I don't practice enough - my performance first levelled out and then fell away fairly dramatically. I think I might well have lost heart, sold my bow and quit (despite protestations from some very good archers that they've gone through patches like that while practising religiously) if it weren't for the fact that I take my son with me to archery and he still loves it. He's every bit as crap as me, and indeed had never had that much of an up to fall down from. But for whatever reason, he really enjoys it; and that keeps me grinding away at it. In the other direction, I remember when volleyball was first introduced at my school, as an after-school activity. I went along to the first session and thought this was a great game, and one where I could maybe actually achieve something, being tall and reasonably light on my feet. Then we came to serving. We were told there were two ways to serve in volleyball, corresponding to badminton (underarm) and tennis (overarm). Most people seemed to do the badminton serve, but I took a stab at the overarm serve, and hit the ball perfectly well into the other court. "No, try it like this" said the teacher, demonstrating an underarm serve. I tried, I mistimed it completely and missed. I tried again, mistimed it and missed. I tried an overarm serve, hit it fine and was told I wasn't doing the right sort of serve. "Well why did you bother telling us about the overarm serve?" I thought as the teacher lost interest in me and moved on to someone else. It was made clear to me that my further attendance would not be required as I didn't have the necessary aptitude; which wouldn't have bothered or even surprised me had the serve not been the only thing I hadn't been quite good at. (And I can't resist pointing out that if you watch the volleyball in the Olympics or wherever, what kind of serve is universally practised by proper volleyball players? Hint: it isn't underarm.)

Sometimes, of course, the delight lives on. Nine months ago I'd never blogged, or even considered having a blog. When Clare asked me to mind Boob Pencil while she was away I though it might be amusing but never seriously imagined I'd get the bug and start a blog of my own.

2. Speaking Up by Bernard Levin

I can't put my finger on when exactly I became one of those people for whom a lion's gaping mouth is simply an invitation to remove one's hat. Nevertheless, that's where I am now: a mouthy bugger, unintimidated by being outnumbered, unpopular or indeed plain wrong. I'm sure my secondary education had something to do with it: minor public school (in those days it was a direct grant school which meant I got my posh education without the need for rich parents, but it was founded in 1487, i.e only 34 years after the end of the Roman Empire, and older than all but a handful of supposedly more prestigious establishments) which did its best to instil a crap detector in me, as well as a feeling that my views were as important as anyone else's. I went to Durham University, famous for its students' political apathy, to which I proved no exception. However, I had ample opportunity to vote (my first year of eligibility had two general elections), to compare voting systems (every single election at university was conducted under single transferable vote, so I was an early convert to that cause) , to discuss politics (my friends spanned the political spectrum from fervent lefties to rabid right-wingers) and to become aware of human rights and social issues (especially via Amnesty International).

When I started work I joined a trade union; it never occurred to me not to do so, despite having no family history of unionisation. having joined, the mouth ended up leading me into activism, initially on a picket line outside Somerset House during the first civil servants' strike since the Second World War. (The one where the press joked that nobody would notice, until they realised that the customs officers and air traffic controllers were joining in; we'd decided not to pull out the staff dealing with benefit cheques, or the effects would have been even more obvious.) My head-in-lion's-mouth approach led me to a confrontation with my branch of the SCPS over what seemed to me to be a conflict of interest on the part of some of the officials. Shortly afterwards I left the civil service and like Bonnie and Clyde, entered the banking business. Since then I have been an active member of BIFU, which became Unifi, which became Amicus. I've gradually become more active and taken on more responsibility, and I'm glad to say it isn't just a case of acquiring job titles: last year I definitely made a difference for a number of my colleagues who had been wrongly denied pay rises. It's difficult to express how satisfying it was, to do something tangible and obvious for the people whom I was representing. Not that I hadn't done things for them before: it's just that "Now you've got X where before you had nothing" plays better than "Now you've got X and if I hadn't argued the case you'd only have got Y".

My outspoken-ness has not been confined to trade unionism. I've been a member of Amnesty International for many years (I once received a reply to a letter I sent to an ambassador, and any AI member can tell you how rare that is!) and used to be the local organiser for various South Asian campaigns. I've been a writer of Letters To The Editor from my student days (everything from The Times to Folk Review to Mayfair. (I once retrieved the edition of Mayfair with my letter from the vaults of the National Library of Scotland, which amused me in many ways. I may possibly be the only correspondent of that august journal to discuss the theology of St Paul in its pages. I may or may not have been stoned when I wrote the letter; I can't recall.... they published it, anyway.) I ended up as Chair of Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra because of my e-mail eloquence in rebutting a suggestion that the orchestra should drop Walton's Spitfire Prelude and Fugue from its programme because of the impending Iraq War. (I may have opposed the war from the outset but I have an equally visceral hatred of both censorship and useless political gestures.) The head goes above the parapet, and there you are, snared.

Those of you who frequent my blog will know that I am not afraid to stand up and be counted, whether it is as an opponent of animal rights terrorism, a supporter of nuclear power, a Europhile, an anti-Blairite, a Gilbert & Sullivan fan or a (qualified) supporter of George Galloway. If I make mistakes, I own up to them. In 1983 I voted Conservative, for the only time in my life, and because our local Stirling MP appeared to be a stale Labour apparatchik who could profitably be replaced by new blood. The aforementioned new blood was a personable chap by the name of Michael Forsyth. My Scottish readers at least will instantly appreciate why my admission of having voted for him counts as another example of sticking my head into the lion's jaws. (I didn't vote for him again, honest.) Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. What's next?

3. What Women Want Men To Know

Assuming that there is an implicit "....That They Don't Know Already" trailing behind that title: how the **** would I know?

4. King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

Most of the books I thought of to promote here were by dead people, hence not perhaps quite in the spirit of Clare's original meme. Bugger it: this is what you're getting.

I've always found historical novels to be a genre I both enjoyed and loathed. Sometimes they are excellent, sometimes dreadful. Dorothy Dunnett's most famous additions to the canon are the Francis Crawford of Lymond series and the Niccolo series. I have read and enjoyed all the former, and some of the latter (I have fallen by the wayside for the moment in that narrative arc). A reviewer once described Dorothy Dunnett's strength as being "never to explain: if you don't happen to know what a papingo-shoot is, so much the worse for you". And I rather agree; the books do pick you up and carry you along, and any bits you don't quite understand you either pick up as you go or look up furtively later.

In one of those wonderful examples of literary schizophrenia, DD also wrote thrillers, originally under the pseudnym of Dorothy Halliday. These starred a delightful protagonist, the yachtsman and portrait painter Johnson Johnson, bifocal spectacles and all. All recommended: Lymond, Niccolo, Johnson Johnson.

But the greatest of these is a one-off. Apart from the three series mentioned above, Dorothy Dunnett wrote one stand-alone novel: King Hereafter, about Macbeth. Macbeth's period is poorly served by historical novelists. Macbeth's own reputation has not been well served by Shakespeare (despite the rearguard action fought by the present Thane of Cawdor, who has rather a soft spot for his famous forebear). Dunnett examined the complex genealogy of Macbeth's Orcadian relatives, and decided that a number of ambiguities could be resolved if two characters more usually described as cousins were in fact one and the same (these two being Macbeth and Thorfinn). Given the confused state of the genealogy, to say nothing of the difficulties engendered by the mix of Norse (Orcadian) and Gaelic (mainland) names, it is a tenable proposition (though I have to admit it has found few other takers). It enables DD to weave a fascinating story which sheds all kinds of light on the historical Macbeth and his milieu. I consider it the best historical novel I have yet read, and have no hesitation in recommending it.

5. Wonderful meme. It certainly made me work harder than most of the memes I've done! Now everybody who hasn't already bought Clare's book should go and do it here.

6. I'm tagging Joe, Gert, Croila, Zoe and Dan.

Here are the instructions:

THE BOOK TITLE MEME:
1. Briefly describe an aspect of your life for which 'The Dying Of Delight' would be an apt title.
2. Pick another book whose title has some resonance in your life, and write a little about it.
3. Write one more short personal piece - one which matches the book title chosen (in part 2) by the person who tagged you.
4. Take your favourite little-known book and plug it to your readers. Authors need incomes, and word of mouth is one of the best ways to sell books.
5. Sit back and marvel at the magnificence of this meme. It was brought to you by an out-of-breath author, reduced (on account of her publisher* having expired) to trundling copies of her book across the internet on a rusty old trolley with one wheel missing, sweating and shouting "Buy me book, Gov?" Now visit http://www.thedyingofdelight.co.uk/ and see if you'd like a copy for yourself.
6. Tag five people with this meme.
*Diva Books, ceased trading Feb '06. RIP.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Whatever your opinion of George Galloway...

(and while I feel his heart is generally in the right place, he does talk the most egregious bollocks quite a lot of the time)....

...you have to warm to someone who can come out with an image like

"I have often watched a shiver run along parliament's green benches, looking for a spine to run up. It finds precious few."

(I'm Not The Only One, Penguin 2005, page 1)

At the risk of sounding like John Lennon....

....imagine if all the Israelis were to vote for this party.

At least we can hope they get that one Knesset seat.

And I'm not being facetious.

A word in his ear

I just had to link to this site (via). Hours of fun.

Favourites so far (I've only just started and it's a long list):

09/03/06 #9
15/12/05 #4
08/12/05 #1
08/12/15 #10
27/01/05 #6

Friday, March 17, 2006

Or, The Statutory Duel

Went to see The Grand Duke last night (Hilary was playing in the pit so we all went along). The Edinburgh G & S Society are a more than usually competent bunch (their recording iof Ivanhoe a few years back tied with Jessye Norman's Carmen as the Music Retailers' Association' Opera Recording Of The Year!) and TGD is a bit of a rarity. Not perhaps premier league G & S but still good music and very amusing, especially when well done as here. The story is as silly as G&S usually is, but still funny. (How can you resist an operatta which uses sausage rolls as a plot device?) Terrific work from Scott Thomson, Neil French, Fiona Main and Ian Lawson (go see the website), any of whom could, I suspect, go head-to-head with the professionals in this repertoire.

Still on at the King's Theatre until Saturday. Be there or be sausage-roll-shaped.

The Hoof Is Out There

I was reading the comments over on Zoe's award-winning blog, and found a link to this, which struck me as rather funny.

OK, maybe I'm weird.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

If you say it loud enough you'll definitely sound precocious

This post from Random Burblings Alan is marvellous for its depiction of crazily-litigious Yanks.

Of course, 'twas ever thus. One of Aristophanes' big hits was The Wasps, all about the Athenian fad for suing the ass off anyone you had some kind of grouse against. The one thing I remember about it from my schooldays is Aristophanes' made-up word to describe the vexatious litigants: orthrophoitosukophantodikotalaiporos, translated as early-rising-base-informing-sad-litigious-plaguey. And fitting the metre of a certain Mary Poppins song nicely too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Next thing you know they'll be floating on the Stock Exchange

When I read this my first thought was: when did the Hell's Angels become a corporation?

As soon as you stop boycotting them, see what happens?

My daughter's response was that it happens to swimmers all the time: you beat the old world record but don't even get a medal because three people beat it even more than you did.

But even though Australia is the nation of the Thorpedo, I don't suppose that made the feel any better about this. I can't claim to be much of a cricket fan, but even I sat up and took notice. What can I say? The wicket seems to have favoured batsmen over bowlers? Crikey.

"It seems a regular occurrence these days", said an angry Ponting.

Not really. Just on that day.

What she said

There isn't much I can add to this except my wholehearted agreement.

And of course, like the French, they have the metric system

How nice to be able to report some good news from Israel for once.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Say what?

I should have expected it, I suppose. I was lurking over at Harry's Place, a blog I normally don't have much time for (though it springs the odd pleasant surprise such as this). Funnily enough I'd got there by following a trail from an apology by David Aaronovitch (again, I don't have frequent flyer miles at his blog either) for inadvertently accusing the wrong Nick Berry of racism; a mistake which apparently occurred because he had taken a post at Harry's Place to be fact-based instead of bollocks. Still, water under the bridge and all that, and I have no intention of gloating or rubbing anyone's nose in what I assume to have been an honest mistake, for which all those concerned have apologised handsomely. Hence no direct links here.

However, today's post brought me up short. Not because of its subject, which was one of those pleasant surprises for which I visit from time to time: an excellent piece on Robert Mugabe, Peter Tatchell, and a convenient "arms cache" in Zimbabwe. I liked the piece, and still do. However its title "The world's first Alzheimocracy" (a quote from someone called Johann Hari) horrified me, and led me to post the comment reproduced below. Actually I posted it three times as Harry's hosting software wasn't giving confirmation of posting, which may have made me look a bit more wild-eyed and ranting than I intended and may run the risk of having Eine Kleine Nichtmusik described as an OCD-ocracy. Here's the comment, anyway:

You spoil an otherwise good post with your title, which gives Hari's drive-by witticism undeserved distribution. I do not suffer from Alzheimer's Disease, nor does any member of my family, nor any close friend. I can, however, imagine how unimpressed those who do have to live with the disease must be by your cheap association of it with the vile Robert Mugabe because "many people now believe" that he is suffering from some form of dementia.

What's next on your mock-the-disabled agenda? Can we look forward to headlines in your blog suggesting that North Korea, Syria, Sudan and so on are Multiple scelerocracies, or Downsocracies?

Lay into Robert Mugabe all you like, but try to limit the collateral damage caused by your insensitivity.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Apparently I'm a fascist. Who knew?

I can't let this pass unridiculed.

Fascinating to know that in opposing the wanton killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure to be replaced by, er, nothing, and the invasion of a country posing no threat to us or to any of its neighbours, solely on the basis of invented (in the face of the UN Inspectors' reports) weapons of mass destruction, I seem to have become a supporter of fascism and genocide.

Let's be clear here. I don't have a problem in principle with invading a country to save its people from a dictator. I think we got it just about right in Kosovo, for example; vile terrorists though the KLA undoubtedly were, they needed rescuing from Milosevic, Radic, etc.) But first of all, one must be certain that one has something better with which to replace the regime one is kicking out, otherwise one ends up like the US Army commander in Vietnam, regretting that it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it. In Kosovo, the UN had some idea at least of what it wanted to happen after the Serbs had been removed, and tried to direct its operations with that end in view. When the US/UK forces invaded Iraq, they had no plans whatsoever for reconstruction after the toppling of Saddam. Which would be why the plight of the Iraqi people now is worse than it was under Saddam's far-from-benign rule. If the Iraqis had merely traded the insecurity of fearing for their lives for the lack of electricity, water, medical care, stable government etc. they now suffer, there might have been some point to the invasion. However, Iraq is (as switching on the news, any night you care to pick, demonstrates) much less safe for the Iraqi people than it was under Saddam. They can still be arrested, carried away, tortured, or simply made to disappear. But now, those who are not being oppressed in that way are being killed every day in the streets and in their homes. From a decidedly undemocratic but secular state Iraq has become hardly a mass of feuding religious factions with no useful government whatever. What a fantastic result for the forces of light.

Left Hook tells us his conscience has to bear the heavy load of all that bloodshed, but that it's all washed in the blood of the lamb (oops, sorry, that's Tony) - washed in the knowledge that 74% of the Iraqi people are happy that Saddam has been removed. (How surprising. This was in a poll carried out by the BBC, and hence paid for by the British government, so it was never going to return a stonking majority for getting the hell out of Iraq now, was it?) Of course, we don't know what question they were asked (the poll only refers to "Removing Saddam") and it's obvious that one would get different answers to "Are you happier now than you were under Saddam?" and to "Would you like to see Saddam restored to power?". But leaving that aside, the poll covered 41, 856 people in 35 countries. Many of those countries are more populous than Iraq, and many will have a higher proportion of World Service listeners , so it is reasonable to estimate that around 1,200 people in Iraq took part. So at least 900 people in Iraq are happy that they were invaded to remove Saddam. That's a lot fewer than the number who died during the invasion, never mind the unnecessary deaths since. Hell, it's less than half the number of US troops killed in the war. I wish my conscience scrubbed up as easily as Left Hook's; however, lacking his supply of Teflon I'll just have to try to continue to keep the blood off mine.

One might also wish to consider the matter of consistency. When Saddam himself decided to effect a regime change in Kuwait, our government considered national sovereignty of paramount importance, and so it seems does "Left Hook". In we go to rescue plucky little Kuwait, no matter that the Kuwaiti regime is even more odious and repressive than Saddam's. But when Wolfowitz, Cheney and the rest decide that Iraq is to be blamed for 9/11, well sovereignty be blowed: we're all into internationalism now. I didn't see the world's governments leaping to the defence of the East Timorese when they were being shat on by Indonesia; or invading Chile to remove Pinochet (that well-known benign lover of his people); or lifting a finger to persuade Israel to remove its troops from other people's countries and put them back in Israel; or bothering themselves about the Russian invasion of Chechnya. Oh, we're terribly internationalist and principled, we are: tyrants of any creed or colour can murder as many of their citizens as they wish and we'll stand by until the Americans tell us they're endangering the stability of the oil trade. Then all of a sudden there's a wicked fascist who must be removed. Laugh? I would if I weren't too busy vomiting.

"Left Hook"? Since when was Bush on the left? Or Blair? Or Pinochet for that matter? Have neo-cons gone so far to the right that they've reappeared on the left now? George Orwell, are you listening? War is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Left is Right.

Still: if opposition to the invasion of a foreign country arbitrarily selected to fit in with US economic planning and domestic electioneering makes me a fascist, then I wear that armband with pride.

Meanwhile, a report from Iraq, basking in the delight of having been saved for democracy.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Just another fission boat

I've just had a rather interesting experience. I was using the 'Listen Again' facility provided by BBC Radio 4 to listen to last night's Archive Hour. This was about the era-defining voyage of the USS Nautilus under the North Pole in1958. Nautilus at the time was the world's only nuclear-powered ship, and it was the first time such a feat had been possible.

Now. My parents come from Portland, Dorset, and all our family holidays until I was nine years old were spent in Weymouth (the nearest resort) where my big brother and I did paddling/sandcastle/fishing in tidal pools stuff, and my parents chewed the fat with hundreds of aged and not-so-aged relatives. (Really not joking: my father's roots in Portland go back until the genealogies give out.) We always stayed at Mrs Pitman's (Pipman's?) boarding house at "Jonlian", Brunswick Terrace, overlooking the sea. Room 5. Creatures of habit: certainly. I got to know the periods of the three lighthouses I could see from the window (Weymouth Harbour 1 sec; Portland Harbour 8 sec; The Shambles Lightship 30 sec) and carry a lot of other childhood holiday memories. ( I vaguely recall a couple of teenagers in the same boarding house with their parents who I have been subsquently advised were from Liverpool, and called Paul and Mike. Paul especially became quite well-known, I believe. I'll take that identification on trust, but there really were two Liverpool guys one year when I was small.)

One of my memories was of my parents pointing out to me this funny-shaped ship in Portland Harbour which they told me was the Nautilus, a famous submarine. I may or may not have taken in at the time that Nautilus had gone under the North Pole; I remember when that did strike home (probably not too much later) realising that the Arctic ice-cap was just floating ice, not proper land like Antarctica. And through all my life I've thought, hey, I saw Nautilus presumably not long after her trip under the pole. Cool.

Tonight I learned two things. One is that Nautilus actually reached the North Pole on my third birthday (always nice to have cool things happening on one's birthday). And the second is that Portland, Dorset was her first landfall after the polar crossing (about 10 days later). So there was a lot of celebratory hoo-ha going on. As they said on the radio programme, the Nautilus and her crew were briefly regarded as akin to the the Apollo astronauts 11 years later.

So often one finds that something one remembers from one's distant childhood is less significant than it seemed. It's nice to find something which is actually even more cool than I remembered it.

The programme is well worth a listen, even if you're not an old fogey like me.

Milosevic's death - a nation mourns



(with apologies to Private Eye for nicking their joke)

Creating a stink

I suppose I should have expected this. (via). Education, education, education. Of the kind preferred by a leader who gets his foreign policy direct from God.

Call It Freedom

I was pointed to the quiz in the previous post by a contributor to Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays For War who turned out to be North Korea. Who knew? Actually, it wasn't any of the DSTPFW contributors I'd encountered before, such as Cloud (on my blogroll) WIll (whose first exchange of comments with me began with his calling me an idiot and then went on to complain that I hadn't blogrolled him; I have to give him style points for that, though whoops, still not on that blogroll) or Hak Mao. It was a trainee mental health nurse with a quite entertaining blog of his own. His 24th February post is a plug for what on the face of it seems like a march worth supporting. However, when I noticed that on the list of speakers was Mark Wallace of The Freedom Association I changed my mind.

Does anyone remember The Freedom Association? I thought they'd all died, or buggered off anyway. They don't mention it anywhere on their website that I can see, but when they were first formed in 1975 they were called the National Association For Freedom. They became famous when one of their founders, the odious(as far as I can tell from his brother's adulatory biography of him, anyway) Ross McWhirter, was murdered by the IRA. Their commitment to freedom was shown by their strike-breaking operations during the Grunwick dispute, their gushing support for Thatcher and Tebbit, and their implacable hatred of trade unions and the European Union. They were forever in the news, usually suing people. A Labour councillor, Bob Piper, who expresses exactly the same opinion of the march (and the FA's participation in it) as I have just done, is said on their website to expose "the dishonesty and hypocrisy of so many on the Left". Well, I suppose if you consider Blair an ill-disguised Thatcherite, then for a Labour councillor not to want to be associated on a march with a bunch of real, unreconstructed Thatcherites could be considered hypocritical. But, you know, I don't think that's what they meant. So even if the march weren't in London on a weekend when I'm playing Messiah in Edinburgh, I wouldn't be going.

It must be all the IKEA furniture in the Ballater flat

I just took this rather silly test to see what country I'd be if I were a country. Apparently I'm:

Sweden

Your country is 53 concerned with morals, 72 prosperous, 62 liberal, and 39 aggressive!

Your country is highly liberal, and, to tell you the truth, your citizens are happy to pay higher taxes in exchange for government-sponsored comfort. You're not a very aggressive country, however--until the scent of Lutefisk starts to waft over from your neighbor to the west.

For your information, the possible countries in this test include: Haiti, North Korea, Albania, Russia, Vietnam, Turkey, Poland, India, Singapore, China, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Libya, Tanzania, East Timor, Lithuania, Indonesia, Iran, Canada, Israel, Sweden, Australia, Germany, or the United States of America.


And you know, apart from The Netherlands there probably isn't a country on that list I'd be more pleased to come out as.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

20 Tracks Meme

From Gordon, who left it up to the rest of us to tag ourselves. OK:

1. A track from your early childhood.

Living Doll by Cliff Richard.

2. A track that you associate with your first love.

Echoes by Pink Floyd (from Meddle).

3. A track that reminds you of a holiday trip.

Let's Twist Again by Chubby Checker. One of the records owned by the pen-friend I stayed with in Frankfurt in the summer of 1968 on my first trip abroad.

4. A track that you like but wouldn’t want to be associated with in public.

A pretty silly question given the very public airing of the answer! Like Gordon, I don't think I really have any, as I'm very much a take-me-as-you-find-me person. Love me, love my John Cage, Shoukichi Kina, Captain Beefheart.... But if you want something I like and will defiantly defend against mockers, how about The Bush Girl by The Seekers (from Future Road, their last album)? I saw them on their final tour, and may be the only person in the known universe to go to gigs by The Seekers and Iron Maiden within a couple of months. And I enjoyed both shows immensely. And bought the CDs.

5. A track that accompanied you when you were lovesick.

Time Will Cure Me by Andy Irvine of Planxty (from The Well Below The Valley). It did, eventually.

6. A track that you have probably listened to most often.

Modern Times by Al Stewart. I saw him do it live in Newcastle in the mid 1970s as a student, and I thought it was incredibly poignant: about the downside of following your dream. I still feel that way.

7. A track that is your favourite instrumental.

If I follow Gordon and put a classical one in here, it would be Fratres by Arvo Part, played by the 12 cellos of the Berlin Philharmonic (available on the ECM album Tabula Rasa). I've already described this one. Otherwise, I don't know, maybe What Time by Runrig (from The Highland Connection).

8. A track that represents one of your favourite bands.

Hurry Sundown by Peter Paul & Mary (from Album). One of my favourites of their songs, though I could easily have shortlisted half a dozen. I saw them twice live, and they were amazing both times.

9. A track which represents yourself best.

The Wizard by The Purple Gang (from The Purple Gang Strikes). Not that I see myself as a wizard, though it's a nice thought. No, the songwriting duo at the heart of the original Gang were Joe Beard and Geoff Bowyer. They scored one cult hit, Granny Takes A Trip (John Peel's 1967 Record of the Year, though the Beeb banned it, presumably without bothering to listen to it, as it isn't druggy at all). In my teens, I played fiddle in a trio in Stockport folk clubs with my brother (who sang and hit things) and Joe Beard (who sang and played guitar). We went under the name of the Middlewood Swamp Band, and did a mixture of Cajun, jugband, British traditional.... all kinds of stuff, including several (old and new) of Joe's. One of the pieces we did at our first gig, and most of the others, was The Wizard, slightly modified from the album version. I think it represents me as I'd like to be remembered.

10. A track that reminds you of a special occasion (which one?)

Ard by Runrig. After their intro, the first proper song they played at the final gig with Donnie Munro at Stirling Castle, the night Princess Diana died. Hilary and I were there with two friends (one now dead) and our daughter Vanessa (our son was a bit too small so was being minded by grandparents). Actually, almost any of the big Donnie Munro numbers would serve here, but I've always liked Ard: a magnificent venting of the songwriter's spleen on waking up the morning after an election and discovering that the ****ng Tories had been re-elected again. In Gaelic.

11. A track that you can relax to.

Probably Ännu Gloder Solen by Nordman (from Nordman). Or Om Hon Vill Det Själv from the same album. Or Nu Lever Sommaren. In any case, I think we've found the album.
I've written about Nordman before.

12. A track that stands for a really good time in your life.

Will It Be You by Pete Sinfield (from Still), to remind me of my student days in Durham. Just edging out Kevin Ayers' Take Me To Tahiti, though maybe tomorrow I'd have had them the other way round. I first heard the Sinfield (and a lot of Ayers though not in fact TMTT) from an eccentric friend in whose garret room I spent many all-night sessions drinking rum, smoking Capstan Full Strength, playing bezique and listening to all kinds of music. Good times.

13. A track that is currently your favourite.

From Here To Eternity by The Only Ones (from Even Serpents Shine). I have a 2-CD set of The Only Ones in the car at present, and this track and Me And My Shadow (from Baby's Got A Gun) are being played a lot.

14. A track that you’d dedicate to your best friend.

I'm Flash by Alice Cooper (from Flash Fearless vs the Zorg Women, Parts 5 & 6). Dedicated to William, wherever he is these days: we miss you.

15. A track that you think nobody but you likes.

Come Out by Steve Reich. Although Captain Beefheart quotes from it on Trout Mask Replica (Moonlight On Vermont, if you're interested). Apart from that I think there's just me.

16. A track that you like especially for its lyrics.

The Masochism Tango by Tom Lehrer. Cracks me up every time.

17. A track that you like that’s neither English nor German.

Là-bas by Jean-Jacques Goldman (from Entre Gris Clair et Gris Foncé). Well, you asked. JJG wrote all the songs on Celine Dion's best two albums by miles (D'Eux and S'il suffisait d'aimer). Là-bas is a dialogue between a man who wants to emigrate "down there" to escape the suffocation of Europe and make his mark on the world, and his lover who is worried not just that he might catch something nasty or be shipwrecked or be eaten by a python but that their relationship might not survive the stresses it will be put under. A beautiful song.

18. A track that lets you release tension best.

Little Black Dress (from Shock Treatment by Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror Show fame). I do the actions. And as I knew the soundtrack before I saw the film, they're even more outrageous than the real ones. Darling.

OK. Probably too much information here. Next....

19. A track that you want to be played on your funeral.

Detritus read by Dave Cash (from Guide Cats for the Blind - the Songs and Poems of Les Barker). Obviously people will tend to be sad or at least subdued at my funeral, but I'd like them to cheer up and have a laugh. I can't think of anything better for that than this track. ("Remember that it is darkest just before dawn. This is the time to steal your neighbour's newspaper.")

20. A track that you’d nominate for the “best of all times” category.

Common People by Pulp (from Different Class). Probably the best pop song ever written. I find something new in it every time I hear it.

Unlike Gordon, I will tag someone. How about...Anna and Meg? Of course, any other visitors are welcome to post responses. If you do so on your own blog, please leave a comment here so we can find you.

A Prince with an advisor called Sir Jon? How Shakespearean...

I've just been reading a profile in the Independent of Sir Jonathon Porritt, Bart. (I kid you not.) There was a stand-up comic once who reckoned he could never trust Colin Powell as the guy didn't know how to pronounce his own name. Well, clearly JP doesn't know how to spell his (isn't a Jonathon where a load of people get swallowed by whales for charity?)

Anyway.... if you've read my previous post you'll know that anyone who is an environmental advisor to Tony Blair AND the Prince of Wales was always likely to have an uphill stuggle on their hands for any kind of credibility hereabouts. A struggle which, to judge from the piece in the Independent, Porritt gives up immediately:

'Nuclear power should absolutely never be described as a carbon- neutral source of energy. It is absolute rubbish. That really annoys me a lot.'

Okay. I've asked it before, and I'll ask it again. During which of the radioactive decays along the path from uranium to lead (or plutonium to bismuth) does carbon make an appearance? (You can see all the intermediate stages here - scroll down to the bottom). Or is it the boiling of the water that alchemically generates carbon dioxide? If Sir Joseph Porter KCB (whoops, my mistake) could take time off from talking to the plants at Highgrove to tell me, I'd be awfully grateful. Of course, if JP has discovered a way to get controlled nuclear power by fusion (which could indeed create carbon nuclei, as the sun does) , the whole planet would be grateful. Until then, I imagine the planet will keep its gratitude for those who deserve it, rather than those making their living peddling pseudoscience.

What's black, white and dead all over?

Last year, the Saunders family had a long weekend at Oasis Holiday Village, the Center Parcs complex in near the Lake District. It was good fun in all kinds of ways, but perhaps the most memorable thing was our discovery that one of the cable channels in our villa was permanently tuned to a webcam by a badger sett; especially when I turned it on mid-evening to see three badgers lolloping about. We sat glued to their antics, and thereafter spent more time watching that channel than any other. Badgers! Lookit! Badgers!

So you can imagine how I felt when I read this in the Guardian. And how quickly I responded to DEFRA via this site as the deadline for doing so is 1700 on 10th March. (I shall write to my MP later; also to my MSP to see whether the Scottish Executive has any similar plans, though I'd be surprised if it had.)

Please email DEFRA (via the link) in opposition to the cull plan.

It isn't that I have a doctrinaire objection to killing animals if there is some benefit to be gained; you might have gathered that from my recent post on animal testing. In this case, though, the Government's own scientific advisors on the issue reckon that two out of three of the government's proposed culling options will make bovine TB worse, which leaves only large-scale wide-area culling, which may be in breach of international law regarding protection of wildlife and the environment. Also that before any culling is undertaken the Government should be taking steps to reduce cattle-to-cattle transmission by enforcing the testing of cattle before they are moved around the country. In other words, the DEFRA proposals are bad science being driven by farmers' lobby groups (who wish to avoid the expense of having their cattle tested) and politicians who want to come across as pro-countryside in the wake of the hunting ban. On both counts, it's no surprise that Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust believes the push for the cull is coming from Tony Blair, nor that many think the Prince of Wales has been doing some of his infamous lobbying on the issue. (And if that turns out to be true, the Wildlife Trusts should ditch him as their patron faster than he can say "Ignorant hypocrite".)

Aldous Huxley Syndrome

By "Aldous Huxley Syndrome" I mean (with a nod to Sheryl Crow's "I was born on the day Aldous Huxley died") the phenomenon of people whose deaths go largely unremarked because they coincide with other great events. Most people missed Huxley's death because John F Kennedy was busy being shot that day. Similarly, it was a while before most people caught up with Mother Teresa's death, on account of some princess in a Paris car crash.

Which is just to say, what a lot of celebrity deaths today. As a long-time fan of "Hello Cheeky" I mourn John Junkin. As a world music fan I mourn Ali Farka Touré. And as a love of the bizarre, the weird, "All things counter, original, spare, strange", I mourn Ivor Cutler.

Good to know that Andy Kershaw will be replaying Cutler's John Peel session on Sunday night at 2215. And that Ali Farka Touré had just finished a new album.

And strange that both Cutler and Junkin appeared in Beatles films (respectively as Buster Bloodvessel in Magical Mystery Tour and Shake in A Hard Day's Night).

So much misery, so much courage

... and fear, and prejudice, and ignorance...

I've been listening to my recording of Monday night's Radio Ballad on BBC Radio 2, which was The Enemy That Lives Within, and was about the experiences of people living wth HIV and AIDS. I found it very moving indeed, with its descriptions of AIDS-related dementia gradually changing the people you love even before the disease kills them, and of the unrelenting treadmill of anti-retroviral medication; but most of all with the testimony of those who have HIV but haven't given up. The Holocaust survivor whom neither Hitler nor HIV subdued. The young girl who learned she was HIV-positive the day she got her degree result, and who has since married the (HIV-negative) boyfriend she was going out with. The woman whose husband was dying of AIDS (and who had contracted HIV from him) battling NHS apathy so he could die with dignity.

Maybe it's just been an emotional day (a guy I worked with for years who had retired home to Canada has just died aged 59, plus the bombs in Varanasi, in places I can visualise) but it made me cry in a way last week's (excellent though it was) did not.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

We've all been there




















(Courtesy of this site.)

And you thought the Lego Mount Rushmore was cool...

This is wonderful.

As is this.

(Both via.)

Now hear this

Petite needs cheering up. Big time.

Everybody go over to Belgian cyberspace and cheer up Petite.

Now.

Take chocolate.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The plastic that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. No, really.

I share Lisa's delight in these wonderful illustrations of Bible stories.

Drinking myself (under the table)

Thanks to Joe for this too. Something else we have in common (though caffeine addiction level = low doesn't sound quite right).




You Are an Irish Coffee



At your best, you are: wild, spontaneous, and outgoing

At your worst, you are: too extreme and reckless

You drink coffee when: you want to keep drinking booze

Your caffeine addiction level: low

If I die tomorrow, a-ha!

Thanks to Joe for this one:

I am going to die at 70. When are you? Click here to find out!


..though I hope I might make it a bit longer!

Just to avoid any misunderstanding

My position on animal testing is fairly simple. On the whole, we shouldn't do it. In most cases, there are perfectly acceptable alternative ways of testing, whether by using in vitro methods or by carrying out computer simulations. Such alternatives adequately cover, for example, the requirements for testing cosmetics, which is why the use of animals for such testing is banned in Britains and why people like Tipu Aziz are simply out of date. Maybe animal testing of cosmetics is allowed in India: that is never going to convince me that it's a good thing.

However, there are some kinds of testing that have to be done on animals. Not all of them, it must be said result in any suffering by the animals: if a rat is forced to run a maze to receive food, I don't think that's a major violation of the rat's mammalian rights. To judge from the rates I've had as pets, they're sensation-seekers and probably enjoy it. OK, the rats who were systematically deprived of sleep until they died wouldn't have enjoyed it, but one might ask how else the information about the effects of sleep disturbance could have been obtained. And if you think the results insufficiently important to be worth the life of a rat, I respect that, but they have led for example to the various EU directives on the length of time truck drivers and airline pilots can work between sleep breaks.

Even where computer simulations can be used, it is necessary at the outset to calibrate the computer model against the real world, which means at least one (probably three or more) animal experiments.

Of course animal tests are not exactly the same as tests on human beings, which is why all drugs have to undergo clinical trials on people before being licensed for human use. Human trials are no more foolproof than animal ones (or we would not have had the Thalidomide scandal of my childhood days), but in some cases animal trials can suggest areas worth concentrating on in the human trials.

If animals are to be experimented on, then ideally there should be no harmful effects on the animals. If there are to be harmful effects, there should be a strong justification in each instance as to why this experiment is being done, and what benefit it is expected to achieve. (This should include a review of earlier, similar, experiments and their results.) Acceptable justifications might include the expectation of substantial relief of human (or other animal) suffering or avoidance of human (or other animal) death; substantial improvement in the understanding of human or animal physiology or biochemistry with a view to the therapeutic use of such understanding.

Beyond that, I'd be grateful if the scientists would keep their hands off the animals. The only animal experimenters I have known personally would, I believe, fall within my suggested guidelines. However, if they didn't, I'd rather see them arraigned before their professional bodies, or put on trial in a criminal court, or both, than for them to have to search under their cars every day in case a nutter has attached a bomb thereto.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I'm not generally in favour of vivisection, though I accept that there is a place for it provided proper controls are in place. What I am even less in favour of, however, is the attempt to stop animal experiments by intimidation and terror. If the anti-vivisection campaigners were subjected to the degree of restriction that I would like to see applied to the vivisectionists (and which to a large extent already is, at least in the UK) I can't imagine that I would have any issue with them. Bottom line: if you're going to cause pain or some other kind of suffering, you'd better have a damn good excuse.

Wankers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but the terrorists' testimonials

First of all, some good news: a bunch of animal rights terrorists get sent down. My heart, of course, bleeds for the proprietor of SHAC's hate website, who has been ordered to remove the names and addresses of the people whose windows were being broken, and whose mailboxes were being filled with offers to cut open their children. Clearly having one's rights to threaten the butchery of small children abridged "reeks of fascism". If you live on the planet Bizarro, anyway.

Also in Friday's Guardian, we have an excellent profile of Laurie Pycroft and his fellow activists in Pro-test, about whom I have already posted. A visit to Pro-Test's home page is interesting. Pycroft is definitely no fool. SPEAK (The Voice For The Animals), one of the terror organisations he is campaigning against (and come on guys, if they can use rhetoric, I can use rhetoric, OK?) have published a defamatory piece on their web site, and his response is perfect: he links to it. So we can all go and read it and see what a bunch of twunts they are. Here it is.

Well, where does one begin with such a profusion of, er, riches? The anonymous poster clearly has some kind of an obsession with masturbation being evil, because otherwise why would the thought of a sixteen-year-old boy jacking off be considered interesting, far less a matter for heavy criticism? Evidently not only are the lives all animals sacrosanct, but "Every Sperm Is Sacred" as Monty Python had it. Watch out, condom manufacturers: SPEAK will be after you just as soon as the den of wickedness that is Oxford University has been shut down.

SPEAK clearly has a bit of a thing about cannabis use too, so Mr Blair: warn your father-in-law to start checking under his car for bombs now.

It's funny that the SPEAK piece mentions Pro-test mounting a "counter-demonstration of 3 against 100" of their supporters. The Guardian seems to think it was more like 1,000 from Pro-test, and doesn't mention how many of the brave SPEAKers turned up to outnumber them. I suppose they must have been too numerous to count. Aye, right.

While you're on SPEAK's site, if your stomach can take it, there are a couple of other amusements worth sampling. First of all, there is a wonderful piece of fakery. Wonderful not for the quality of the fake (pathetic) but for the chutzpah of doing it at all. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: an intimidatory email against the organisers of SPEAK. May I say straight away that if I thought for one moment that this was a genuine threatening email I would condemn its sender whole-heartedly. However, I have grave doubts. Leaving aside the fact that the sending of this kind of email has heretofore been wholly associated with those taking SPEAK's side of the argument, the phrasing of the email ("I put it in an old cage I use for torturing hamsters"???) strongly suggests a wind-up. OK, a tasteless one, but one would imagine this was a bad joke rather than a genuine threat. Then the penny drops. According to SPEAK the email was sent from within St Hild's College. (How convenient: someone within The Great Satan itself sends us wicked emails. Hallelujah!) Er, right. And since when would anyone who spelled "attach" as "attatch" get into St Hild's College? (And they assure us particularly that the mis-spelling was in the original.) Trust me: it ain't gonna happen. And while we're being sceptical, where is one most likely to come across pictures of the kind which accompanies the "threatening" email? Oooo, it's on the tip of my tongue, wait.... please Sir: the SPEAK website!

So, when they're not condemning wicked teenage masturbators and faking hate mail to themselves (well, it must get boring faking fan mail all the time), how do these wonders of the age pass their time? Well, there is a section of the SPEAK site which I simply must draw your attention to. It's entitled "Bad Science", and I have to tell you people, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here is a verbatim quotation from it (go and look if you don't believe me) :

The most in-depth study to date, by German doctors concluded 61% of birth defects and 88% of stillbirths were definitely, directly caused by animal experiments.

Leaving aside the wonderfully non-specific citation there of "German doctors" (because there's never been any question of impropriety over German medical experiments, has there?) that is a fabulous statement. As in, totally made-up, a fairy-tale. Did all these women look at animal experiments and say "Ach mein Gott! eine tote Ratte!" before miscarrying? Or is there some other "definite, direct" way an animal experiment can cause a stillbirth or a birth defect?

A word of advice, fellas. If you want to play with the scientists, you need to realise that as well as being things you can use to hurt people with, words do actually have meanings, and you have to get the hang of that idea before your games are any fun. Also, once you understand that, your clumsy attempts to fake emails from students may get better. Finally, faced with a choice of role models between a highly intelligent adolescent who masturbates and smokes dope, and a bunch of losers who support posting shit through letter-boxes and fire-bombing laboratories, most people will go for the spaced-out wanker. OK?

Someone's husband is a twat

Sometimes people can surprise us.

I've never had much time for Tony Blair. (Oh, all right, I've never had ANY time for Tony Blair.) And his "Wow, look at me, I'm so hip, I allowed my father-in-law to smoke a spliff in my house! Wow! Look at me kids! I'm hip! You know, I'm a regular kind of guy, and don't feel uncomfortable about cannabis at all, usually" performance on Parkinson has done nothing to alter my opinion of the chap.

Cherie, on the other hand, must take after her father a bit (his CV includes Till Death Us Do Part, which was better written than any of Blair's speeches, and as far as I know it does not include the wanton invasion of any country, or the turning of a blind eye to torture and arbitrary imprisonment). Because sometime she can produce powerful stuff like this.

A word of advice to Cherie: dump the loser now, while there's still a chance of salvaging your own credibility.

Civet from Starbucks, he say Nnnnnnng!

I'm as big a caffeine junky as the next man, but this is just a leeeeetle bit further than I'd want to go.

(Via Defective Yeti, whose comment on it was:

The next time I get coffee in my office's Break Room, I'm going to take one sip of it, spit it out, and loudly exclaim "Jesus Christ! This tastes like a tree-dwelling marsupial ate the ripest and reddest coffee cherries, and then somebody made coffee out of the beans, which were excreted fairly intact and still wrapped in layers of the cherries' mucilage!" )

Friday, March 03, 2006

Desert Island Disks

Tagged by Lisa with this one: eight significant songs to take to my desert island and two days to come up with them.

Well, the time limit wasn't an issue. A few things made it onto the list and were squeezed off, and a couple of things I'd imagined would stay there were among them (Bach's "Goldberg Variations"; Pulp's "Common People"...)

OK. I've taken "songs " in the broadest sense and included classical pieces as well, in true "Desert Island Discs" manner. Also, while some of the tracks have significance for me in terms of recalling episodes from the past, in most cases the tracks are included because of what they do to me now in terms of evoking an emotional response. Here we go, then:

1) Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: Camarillo Brillo (from "Over-Nite Sensation")

This reminds me of my student days in University College Durham, when I had a second-hand vinyl copy which I played incessantly. A lot of my friends liked it too. Still a terrific track, really tight and with lyrics that send up the whole New Age attitude. Zappa, the greatest guitarist of his age, a great composer and witty writer, and sadly missed.

2) Kevin Ayers: Take Me To Tahiti

Do I need to justify this? Again, I remember it from the vinyl compilation "Odd Ditties" which I had as a student. It just makes me happy every time I play it. Ayers at his best.

3) Nordman: Om Hon Vill Det Sjalv (from "Nordman")

This is going to sound posy, however I gloss it. I saw a documentary on Channel 4 about the nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle, like a kind of bowed hurdy-gurdy) which mentioned a band "Nordman", and played a brief extract. I bought their second album "Ingenmansland" on spec, and was pulled up short by the very first track "Det Sista Du Ser" with a "WTF?????" feeling. The rest of my family felt the same when they heard it. So then I bought their other albums, and this track from the first one had (and still has) a similar effect on me. Imagine Giles Farnaby's Dream Band with Rod Stewart on vocals (in Swedish) , and you've got it. Another track that infallibly cheers me up.

4) Abba: The Day Before You Came

Perhaps not so cheery, but one of my favourite Abba tracks (narrowly edging out "One Of Us"). I love the matter-of-fact unfolding of the lyrics. Also, not many pop songs actually modulate from one key to another, and this one goes from minor to relative major and back in each verse. I love hearing it do that. And of course I keep picturing the accompanying (and atmospheric) video of Agnetha on a Swedish commuter train.

5) Mozart: Symphony No 39 (Orchestra of the 18th Century/Bruggen)

First heard this when I first played it, in a scratch orchestra on a chamber music summer school when I was 15. Not too many "classical" pieces (especially not actual classical i.e late 18th century) pieces send shivers down the spine, but the first movement of this one does for me. The other movements are equally wonderful. If I take the Bruggen recording I get Beethoven 2 as a coupling; yay!

6) Wagner: Wotan's Farewell (George London/VPO/Knappertsbusch)

Wagner. Well, what can I say? I couldn't NOT take any Wagner, and assuming I'm not allowed the entire Ring I'll just take this extract from it. One of the few pieces of music that often makes me cry: it's Wotan saying goodbye to his favourite daughter Brunnhilde, whom he is about to lock up in suspended animation for some future hero (Siegfried, in fact) to claim as bride. When the BBC broadcast the Bayreuth Centenary Ring a few years ago, they had verious talks on Wagner to accompany it, and one was by Germaine Greer, all about the father-daughter theme in Die Walkure. If (like me) one has a daughter of one's own it's difficult not to bring one's own paternal feelings to bear on Wotan's wonderful song; not that one has to have a daughter to be knocked out by it. And George London's is one of those magical historical performances that happens occasionally.


7) Part: Fratres (The Cellos of the Berlin PO)

I can remember when and where I first heard this. I was staying in the Birmingham Holiday Inn on a training course, and was cleaning my teeth before turning in. I had Radio 3 on back in the bedroom, and heard the announcer introducng something. As I emerged from the bathroom this track hit me, and I just stopped dead, sat down on the bed, and marvelled. Arvo Part wrote several versions of "Fratres", all good, but this one for 12 cellos is still my favourite. It's almost like Tallis, though actually when you take it apart it could only be by Part. But why take it apart? Just sit there and marvel. A magical and unique sound.

8) Mahler: Symphony No 2 (LSO/Kaplan)

If I could only take one record, this would have to be it. It's a two-CD set: so sue me. I doubt whether any other music ever written has quite the emotional punch this has, and certainly I know of few others that evoke so much in me the sheer Joy of Sound. I turn the climaxes of this up loud and WALLOW. The last few minutes just make me want to lie spread-eagled on the floor, twitching gently. (And sometimes I do.) The Kaplan recording, as well as being one of the best there is, has a nice resonance. Gilbert Kaplan was the owner of the Wall Street Journal or some similar big American financial paper. A friend had a spare ticket so he ended up going to hear Mahler 2 pretty much by accident; and his life changed for ever. Not only did it reduce him to tears (it's one of the fewpieces that sometimes does that to me) but it inspired in him such a fierce love of the piece that he devoted his life to it. he learned to conduct so that he could conduct it, eventually (as this recording shows) becoming extremely good at it. He also bought the manuscript and all Mahler's related writings (it's fun being a millionaire!). And while he has occasionally diversified as far as other Mahler syphonies, basically it's this one alone that Gil Kaplan conducts. I played it myself, not that long after my father died, and it was a shattering experience for me: he'd just begun to take an interest in classical music, and I couldn't help thinking how much he would have liked it. Plus it has a representation of the Last Trump, and it really does sound as though it might raise the dead. Treat this music with caution, because it puts you through an emotional wringer.

There we are. I could live with just those eight records for the rest of my life.

I suppose I should tag someone else. I'll tag Zinnia and Gordon. Over to you, guys.


(Later: Zinnia has responded in the comments box under this post. Gordon's response is here. Thank you both.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Four errors (including two utter howlers) in 500 words

I've just been reading this in the Guardian, and John Crace should know better. Or he should get someone who knows better to write his stuff for him.

Three Rhinemaidens - either naked or in fat suits, depending on the production

Naked, certainly, but never in fat suits. The Rhinemaidens are pretty much pure sex, pure Freudian, feminine, river-running sex. No fat suits. Lingerie, quite often. No fatties need apply: three sexpots get these roles. (Incidentally the Valkyries shouldn't have fat suits either, though in their case sadly they often have real girth.

Wotan is busy between operas shagging his way through Valhalla

Actually the problem is that he's done nearly all of his shagging outside Valhalla, the naughty god.

...and has had a couple of kids, Siegmund and Sieglinde, with Fricka...

Well, that would come as a surprise to Fricka, who thought (like the audience) that he'd sired them on some anonymous human of the Volsung race. But then, she listens to the opera. Does nobody check stuff at the Guardian?

...and eight Valkyries with Erda

Look, let's nail this one once and for all. There are eight Valkyries in the Ride of the Valkyries. Brunnhilde (chief Valkyrie and the one who gets an opera named for her) isn't in that, being busy breaking the sound barrier to escape a very cross Dad, with Sieglinde riding an uneasy pillion. Nine Valkyries. Count 'em:

Brunnhilde
Waltraute
Schwertleite
Siegrune
Helmwige
Grimgerde
Ortlinde
Gerhilde
Rossweisse

Nine (9). I just reeled them off without a crib, but couldn't John Crace or his editor do a bit of fact-checking there? Not difficult.

Sieglinde dies in childbirth and baby Siegfried is brought up by Alberich's brother, Mime. Don't ask why.

Not a difficult one: Mime lives close to Fafner's cave (F has turned into a dragon in best Narnian style) and Wotan hates the place. Hence it's the safest place to stash Seigfried away from homicidal grandfather.

Fourteen hours later, we're back exactly where we started.

A line taken, like the general tone of the article, from the great Anna Russell's guide to the Ring cycle, which is witty, clever, original devoid of factual errors: everything this article is not. And it was probably around before John Crace was born.