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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ridicule is the sincerest form of welcome (sometimes)

I thought this was a genuinely funny take on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York.

The site has a number of equally droll pieces, like this and this.

And yeah, I know they're conservatives. But some of them can be deliberately funny as well as hopping-around-having-shot-foot-off funny.


It seems rather fitting to be responding to someone who accused me of being an anti-Semitic fascist during a weekend when I'm mostly occupied with playing Wagner. And not just Wagner, but Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, in which the butt of the jokes is Sixtus Beckmesser, who is considered by some critics to be a caricatured Jew.

However, let's remember that before Sachs (surely one of the nicest characters in opera) goes on about Holy German Art at the very end, he has a much more famous song (the Wahnmonolog) in which he bemoans the omnipresence of violence in human society, and wonders how all this "power of the Dark Side" can be turned to good.

And let's also remember that in the process of taking the piss out of Beckmesser's incompetent plagiarism, Wagner - so far as I can tell - invented the use of deliberate Mondegreens as a humorous device.


And yes, I've seen this.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

With a garlic aroma that could level Tacoma

More New York wingnuts, and now it's the turn of Judith Weiss, Wingnut-Commander at Kesher Talk. She banned me last week from further commenting on her blog, a story with a beginning that made me furious and an end that still keeps me laughing. Ready?

Unsurprisingly, in the week following the Israeli sneak attack on Syria, Kesher Talk was silent at first and then posted a "that will teach them a lesson" piece. (Funny, isn't it, how these people are the first to insist that any supporter of Palestinian rights must instantly condemn any act of terrorism committed by a Palestinian or lose credibility, when they not only fail to condemn terrorist acts by Israeli forces but try to justify them.)

Anyway, in KT's week of cheerleading for terror, Judith linked to a blog called 4 Mile Creek (I'm not linking to him, but it's his 19 July 2006 post "If I were Going To Attack Iran"). Judith's is the only link showing on his list of linked sites, and probably the reason for that is that not only does he encourage an attack on Iran (currently not at war with anyone) but he blithely advocates use of disguised aircraft and the slaughtering of a few hundred Saudis simply to save the effort of air-to-air refuelling. (To give context here, the only attacks on Iran Israel has admitted to considering is attacks on its nuclear facilities. The only way to attack those facilities is by means of nuclear weaponry becase of the depth of protection they have, and that is what Israel is considering. Let's leave aside the fact that the Iranian plants have been inspected and found weapons-free, while Israel, which possesses atomic bombs, not only has never permitted international inspection but abducted, imprisoned, and continues to persecute the heroic man who told the world about its undeclared Weapons of Mass Destruction. Sweet.)

So, this post advocating crawling over a few hundred murdered Saudis to launch a sneak nuclear first strike on Iran, Judith described in her linking post as Department of "Things that make you go hmmmmm". Also as "intriguing". Nothing more (and remember, she's the only blogger who's ever linked to the filthy piece). You may imagine that I became a little incensed. You'd be correct.

I posted a comment including the following (two typos corrected):

If such a vile thing were to occur, then Israel would fully deserve to be obliterated by nuclear, biological, chemical and any other kind of weaponry, and the nations of the world would be queueing up to do it. Is that what you want?

With hindsight, the word "obliterate" might perhaps have been improved on, though as it was Israel's erasure from the map as a political entity I had in mind rather than some kind of mass extermination it was in fact precisely what I meant. That such a retaliation should be expected is not an original thought: Judith herself (5th January 2006: The Coming Showdown With Iran") quotes Ariel Sharon of all people saying essentially the same thing, which is why he opposed launching such an attack.

Anyway, Judith herself went nuclear, which is where it becomes pretty funny. Apparently I was "advocating the most horrible kind of genocide as a punishment for defending against attempted genocide". Note especially that the killing of Jews is twice described as genocide, while the killing by nuclear immolation of Iranians is.....oh, that's right, ignored totally. Airbrushed out of the picture. Sick.

Apparently my disgust at the cowardly bombing of Syria and my disinclination to have swathes of Iran levelled at Olmert's whim shows that I "defend totalitarian scumbags and their attempts at genocide". Hmm. Don't remember Assad or Ahmadinejad attempting genocide. Still, what do I know? I'm a "fascist". Also a "Stalinist", a "solialist" and a "George Galloway clone", "eagerly sucking genocidal dictators' cocks" like all the rest of the "British Left". I thought it exceptionally amusing that like her fellow-traveller Benjamin Kerstein her response to criticism is to descend to the good old obscene ad hominem. Well, that and banning any further criticism.

A few more chuckles, and a few easily-checked lies (but who cares when you've banned the person you're lying about?) and then we're done with the Islamophobic goose-steppers at KT.

Chuckle #1

Apparently I "hated Cinnamon and Benjamin for some reason, maybe because they could run rhetorical rings round him without breaking sweat".

Regular readers here will remember Benjamin, whose supposed rhetorical skills were seen to comprise:

(a) loftily declaring that the basic error of fact that rendered his so-called "novel" as stupid as if he'd placed San Francisco in Illinois was irrelevant;
(b) when I persisted, calling me a "pathetic little neo-Nazi cunt";
(c) making obscene comments about other members of my family - only (get the rhetorical ring-running) doing it in Hebrew!

Yeah, I'm really scared of Benjamin's debating skills.

The comment about Cinnamon is even funnier, as while I've posted a few comments on posts of hers at Kesher Talk, she has never responded to any of them so far as I am aware. Her only acknowledgement of my existence was a comment on Judith's rug-chewing look-at-me-I'm-clever-I've-banned-Rob post. It reads, in full: Buh-bye, Rob. You won't be missed! So in fact I've no idea whether Cinnamon has any debating skills at all. She's certainly never treated me to a display of them.

Judith clearly sets the bar extremely low for rhetoric (though we can see that from her own attempts thereat).

Chuckle #2

Apparently I suffer from "overweening arrogance". Judith declares that the bombing of the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor was "an act that every middle east nation was grateful for, whether they were willing to admit it or not". So claiming to know the opinions of every West Asian government better than they do themselves: that isn't arrogance? Oh, and this arrogant idiot can read the future, and it tells her how omniscient she will remain about other governments' wishes, as "every Arab state will be grateful" if Israel nukes Iran, as will "most of Europe". Right.....(edges away from the loony lady...)

Dumbass Easy-To-Spot Lie #1

Someone commented supportively (and no, it wasn't me under an alias, or anyone I know) that You write that Israel should attack Iran and "strike nearly anywhere in Iran". When Rob writes that Israel will deserve to be attacked back again you ban him. Judith's reply? I never wrote "Israel should strike nearly anywhere in Iran". And I don't know anyone who thinks that would be a good idea. Well, the author of the piece that made her go Hmmmmm clearly does, because he does talk about striking anywhere in Iran. Moreover, as well as just linking to it, she pasted the quote into her blog post! How stupid does this woman think her readers are? How stupid is she?

Dumbass Easy-To-Spot Lie #2

Let's humour the poor woman for a moment and assume that I was encouraging (rather than predicting) a nuclear retaliation on Israel. Assume also that such retaliation actually killed every Jew in Israel. (Which it clearly wouldn't , but that' s Weissian rhetoric for you. She also thinks it would done with a single bomb, which is so idiotic I can find no way to ridicule it further.) Apparently, then, I advocate "eradicating half the world's Jews, more than Hitler murdered".

Ahem. And again.

In 2006 Israel contained only 40.6% of the world's Jews. If Judith could count, she would know that 'half' is 50%. A lie, then. And as at 24 April 2007, total number of Jews in Israel = 5,415,000. Are we expected to take seriously a supposed Jew who pontificates about genocide but doesn't even know that Hitler killed six million Jews in the Holocaust? I wonder which 10% of those murders she thinks didn't happen. Perhaps if they were "solialists" or homosexuals they didn't count.

Dumbass Easy-To-Spot Lie #3

This one really was worth waiting for. I referred to Israel's previous acts of aggression, including "the days when you bombed Baghdad". Judith's response:

Israel bombed Baghdad? In your alternate universe maybe.... One more "fact" from your fevered imagination. (You probably meant the Osirak reactor, which was in Iraq's Western desert - can you read a map?)

Well, yes, I did mean the Osirak reactor. And I can read a map. Osirak was at the al-Tuwaitha complex, around 11 miles SSE of Baghdad on a bend in the Tigris (i.e. closer to Baghdad than Kennedy Airport is to New York). Reading a map, I would say that as Baghdad is pretty far East in Iraq, that put Osirak around 200 miles from the Western Desert, which is, you know, in the West of Iraq. But Judith wouldn't know that because she can't read a map.

Being wrong is one thing. Being stupidly wrong is another. And drawing attention to your stupid wrongness to try to score a cheap point: well, that must be Judith running rhetorical rings round me.

Buh-bye, horse's ass. You won't be missed!

(Thanks to the late great Frank Zappa for supplying the apposite post title.)

Giuliani - once a disgrace to the USA, still a disgrace to the USA

Of course, when talking of New York wingnuts we have to remember "presidential hopeful" (who is he trying to kid?) Rudy Giuliani. Not only has he been an outspoken opponent of Ahmadinejad's visit to Ground Zero (because we all know, Iran carried out the September 11th attacks, right?) but he has a history of this kind of intemperate...what's the phrase? oh yes, "disgracing the United States of America".

The man is unfit to hold office as a school janitor, let alone president of the USA.

Let a thousand flowers bloom (and make total assholes of themselves)

I have been amused by the frenzy of New York wingnuts desperately trying to prevent President Ahmadinejad from speaking at Columbia University. I'm glad they failed. Not just because like George Bush (and this may be the only time in my life I've agreed with him) I consider it a powerful statement of America's commitment to free speech, but because if he hadn't made the speech we might never have known that the dickhead believes (or claims to) that there are no gays in Iran.

And, for that matter, that he doesn't deny the Holocaust. Nice to set that straight.

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- according to this guy, there are no homosexuals in Iran. I guess that explains the pathetic state of their musical theater." -- David Letterman

Friday, September 28, 2007

"I'm not afraid of the soldiers. We live and then we die" said one monk.

This is on my sidebar (though it will presumably scroll off after a while).

Little enough, I know, but better than nothing. Do please add your name to the list.

Then again, there's this, and now might be a good time to support it.

And here you can send an email to the EU president and sign a petition to Gordon Brown (if you're British).

Here's Amnesty International's page on the current situation in Myanmar and things you can do about it. Do them if you can.

And isn't it refreshing to find a right-wing military dictatorship that the USA isn't supporting?

But other countries, not so much. (What a shock.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Humour v Obsession: a false dichotomy?

Over on LiveJournal, a guy I shared a house with as a student (and who must at the very least share the blame for getting me interested in computers) posted the following in response to my recent Harry Potter-related post:

Subject: fan fics for non fac fic people
Not sure how to categorize
this. But it appeals to those of you who are not hard core HP fans. or at least, not obsessed.

I would describe myself as an HP fan though not obsessed (I leave that to my daughter). I enjoyed it a lot (especially Prof. McGonagall's email to Harry).

I suppose the question now is, why would those who ARE obsessive HP fans not enjoy it? Because I bet my daughter would. OK, maybe there are degrees of obsession, but surely taking something seriously doesn't necessarily involve a sense of humour bypass? For example, the famous Chuck Jones cartoon What's Opera, Doc? is not only full of operatic clichés, but plays mix-and-match with Wagner's Ring cycle and his opera Tannhaüser. Nevertheless, a perusal of the Wagner Society's publications shows that its members are (to a large extent) huge fans of the cartoon. And trust me, those guys are every bit as obsessive as the most ardent Harry Potter fan (the Ring alone clocks in at around fifteen hours). I write as one about to spend 21 hours (less breaks) of my coming weekend (from Friday lunchtime to Sunday evening) playing Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, so I think my Wagnerian credentials hold water; and I love the cartoon. I also love Anna Russell's take on the Ring, and so do all the Wagnerians I know.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Speak Out

And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land
And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers
Into the beginning of the Third World War
The war with the Third World

And the terrorists in Washington
Are shipping out the young men
To the killing fields again

And no one speaks

And they are rousting out
All the ones with turbans
And they are flushing out
All the strange immigrants

And they are shipping all the young men
To the killing fields again

And no one speaks

And when they come to round up
All the great writers and poets and painters
The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency
Will not speak

While all the young men
Will be killing all the young men
In the killing fields again

So now is the time for you to speak
All you lovers of liberty
All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness
All you lovers and sleepers
Deep in your private dream
Now is the time for you to speak
O silent majority
Before they come for you!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 2003

Friday, September 21, 2007

Happy birthday, beard

The gentleman on the left in this picture

has just sent me an invitation to his beard's 40th birthday party. (Gentlemen - real beards if possible. Ladies - false beards if necessary.) Which is rather cool. Pity I'll be in Glasgow watching Arcade Fire.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I-Get-Stranger-Things-Than-You-Free-With-My-Breakfast-Cereal Dept.

Assorted weirdness from around the web.

1. The Lederhosen phone. Not to mention the Bluetooth-enabled pillow which could give a whole new meaning to "pillow talk". (And now I'm remembering the guy in Teeth who takes the mobile phone call while having sex with Dawn, the unimpressed young lady whose vagina is simply, er, Tooth-enabled. Ouch.)

2. Last weekend the Guardian had a great review of this book. Well, here's the website that spawned it. Oh, and here's the website of someone who set one of the stories to music.

3. I rather like this site (via New Scientist). Click on Esoteric Progamming Languages for some wonderfully nerdy humour (especially Dropsort and Whenever).

4. From Defective Yeti, a look at surely the weirdest September 11th tribute ever.

I trust those were weird enough for you all?

On a bank of mud in the river Nile, upon a summer morning, a little hippopotamus was eating bread and jam

A comment over at Head On A Stick (the LiveJournal caravan parked outside EKN's noble edifice) reminded me of these, which I first encountered on Radio 3's Music Weekly a long time ago (maybe even in the 1970s). They are very silly, but are actually pretty good fits for the music, and memorable because of their silliness. If I ever needed to remember how the 48 fugue subjects go, this is how I'd do it.

Here's a funny thought

Well, it amused me, anyway. Cricket was once the national game of the United States of America.

JJ on the McCanns

What she said. Because I can't better it. And cynic though I am, I shall require somewhat more persuasion than anything I've seen so far to convince me of the McCanns' guilt.

Taking a First Line for a walk

(Cross-posted at Head On A Stick.)

1. Well you must be a girl with shoes like that

The Fratellis: Chelsea Dagger

2. I know you've deceived me, now here's a surprise

The Who: I Can See For Miles (title guessed by Joe, fully guessed by Phil)

3. Shadows are falling and I've been here all day

Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet

4. On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair

The Eagles: Hotel California (guessed by Joe)

5. Daddy, Daddy, come and look, see what I have found

Tim Rose: Come Away Melinda (guessed by Phil)

6. I didn't say a word, though I am really hurt

Inge & Anete Humpe: Careless Love

7. When the stone is grown too cold to kneel

Fairport Convention: Now Be Thankful

8. The mob's in town and the guns are out, and Louie knows what it's all about

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: There's No Lights On the Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight

9. The saints are crippled on this sinners' night

Lordi: Hard Rock Hallelujah

10. Laid here with the advertising sliding past my eyes

Pulp: I'm A Man (guessed by George)

11. We are standing here exposing ourselves

Kraftwerk: Showroom Dummies

12. I am a toreador, I am for sure, I kill bulls by the score, and sometimes more

Mike Oldfield (with vocals by David Bedford): Don Alfonso (guessed by Phil)

13. Ever since I was a little boy, dressing up has always been my greatest joy

Richard O'Brien (from Shock Treatment OST) : Little Black Dress

14. It was a slow day, and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road

Paul Simon: The Boy In The Bubble (guessed by Udge)

15. If we stand here together and we see the world as one

Kula Shaker: The Great Hosanna

16. Lime and limpid green, a second scene, a fight between the blue you once knew

Pink Floyd: Astronomy Domine (guessed by Phil)

17. I look at you all, see the love there that's sleeping

The Beatles: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (guessed by Udge)

18. Fell in the street in a drunken heap, there's dark water all around me

The Watersons: Red Wine and Promises

19. And so once again, my dear Johnny, my dear friend

Joni Mitchell: The Fiddle And The Drum (guessed by Z)

20. He came in the ballroom, just a crazy old man; his eyes seemed to glaze in the light

Linda Thompson: No Telling

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Best piratical post of the day, me hearties

This took me back to my teens.

It also inspired me to locate this, which combines two of my literary enthusiasms.

I second that emoticon

It was twenty-five years ago today that the smiley was invented :-)


(And apologies for the loose mental connection yesterday which caused me to type that as "fifty years ago". Thanks to Joe for pointing that out.)

HP Sauce

Which HP Kid Are You?

Apart from the gender-bending, this doesn't seem to surprise people who know me all that much.

And finally.....

My daughter showed me this and I'm still laughing (and singing the final bit).

The Book Meme

I have been tagged by Udge with this meme. OK....

Total number of books owned

I'm not sure, but something like 2,000 - 2,500.

Last book bought

The Last Family In England by Matt Haig, which is basically Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 re-imagined with a cast of dogs.

Last book read

Last one completed: The Confusion by Neal Stephenson, second part of a superb trilogy of 18th-century historical novels by a writer previously known only for his science fiction.

Currently reading: Canal Dreams, by Iain Banks, which he considers his least satisfactory book mainly because he chose as his protagonist a Japanese female professional cellist, a character triply distant from his own experiences.

Five books that mean a lot to you

Alan Watts: The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

George Antheil: Bad Boy Of Music

Dorothy Dunnett: King Hereafter

Iain Banks: The Crow Road

Douglas Hofstadter: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Floating just beyond the cut-off point is a raft of books including Sense and Sensibility (Austen), Island (Huxley), The Four Winds Of Love quartet (Compton Mackenzie), Red For Danger (LTC Rolt), Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson), the Falco series (Lindsey Davis) and the Aurelio Zen books by Michael Dibden.

And five more sufferers to tag: Clare, Lisa, Cloud, Phil and Joe, then.

Bad stuff that happened while I was away

John Reid excelled himself at talking fascistic nonsense about a subject (human rights) on which he knows nothing whatsoever. (Though he did also announce that at the next election he would stand down as a MP, which must surely be an excuse for a commemorative public holiday?)

Sir Menzies Campbell attempted to reinvent the Liberal Democrats as a Eurosceptic party.

Gordon Brown reassured us all that Blair's Thatcherite legacy would be well looked after.

Israel's government, suffering serious withdrawal problems after several months during which it hadn't launched an unprovoked attack on a single neighbouring country, put the smile back on its collective face by committing a war crime (just a little one) in Syria. ("The security services and Israeli defence forces are demonstrating unusual courage" - Ehud Olmert. Committing cowardly murders in peacetime in a neighbour's sovereign territory is hardly courageous; nor, of course, is it unusual.)

Britain's biggest arms fair hosted sellers of leg irons and shoulder-launched cluster bombs (though the former were expelled after they were exposed).

Saudi Arabia "made itself party to the kidnapping of a Pakistani citizen in broad daylight and has flouted international law" (Human Rights Watch), not that any of that greatly concerned the soi-disant warriors on terror in London or Washington, though the EU - to its considerable credit - did protest.

Pretty normal week really.

But then it didn't mention the Pinochet coup anniversary either

It was refreshing, and unexpected, to be able to buy a newspaper in Ullapool last week, on September 11th, and to find not a single reference to the 2001 attacks.

Instead there was this interesting story.

On the down side, it was only today, via linkbunnies.org again, that I discovered Joe Zawinul died on 11 September.

Sold out to every monk and beef-head

Women with meat on their heads (via linkbunnies).

Ba-dumpa diddly-dum. diddly-dum, ba-dumpa-dumpa-dumpa-dumpa diddly-dum, diddly-dum, ba-dumpa-dumpa-dumpa-dumpa...(*)

(If ye be havin' trouble wi' gettin' ter grips wi' the title, try here.)

Haaaar! Ahoy blogmates! Today be international "Talk Like A Pirate" Day, when bloggers all round the globe, at sea or on land, do affect strange v'ices an' indulge in fantastical transliterations so they can make 'emselves understood by landlubbery scallywags who think a coral reef be a kind o' bookmaker's hitch, as well as by their shipmates. This be the day when our blogs all take on a most piratical cast, whether or not we do resemble Johnny Depp, or Kiera Knightley, or even Cthulhu-cheeked Davy Jones himself.

Here be the British Cap'n's Cabin o' the whole enterprise.

Afore me head be cavin' in wi' the strain o' keepin' up me piratical patter, I'll post a picture o' a splendid sailin' type who was a messmate o' mine many years back. Amazin' the folk who bunk along o' ye when your brother be organisin' o' a folk festival. This, then, be Stan Hugill, fomerly shantyman on the last British commercial sailing ship, the Garthpool. Here be 'is Wikipedia entry.

Here be Stan lookin' mightily alike ter when he berthed alongside o' me:

And here be a younger and even more piratical-lookin' Stan:

In case ye can't read what it says beneath that fine picture, it be Frenchified talk and do say "Stan Hugill étarquant une manoeuvre à bord du shooner Leading Light en 1933". Haaar.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pretty Pollaidh

I am heading off tomorrow, breaking my journey at the Ballater flat, to the North-West. That's not the North-West of Great Britain, which everyone knows is full of cotton mills and black puddings * but the North-West of Scotland, full of spectacular mountains, incomparable beaches, and hundreds of thousands of seabirds. Hilary and Ruairidh are tied to school holidays, and I once more have an inconvenient holiday backlog to take. Last year I went to Warsaw: this year, the Youth Hostels at Achmelvich Beach and Durness.

DV, I shall return to blogging duties in week and a bit. Unless the weather becomes cruddy AND I find Internet access somewhere.

* Scottish joke

Combining two of my favourite topics...

...trade unionism and surrealism. Though the union meeting I've been at for the last couple of days did that on occasion. Anyway: this.

Oh, and G&S: threeeeee favourite topics...

I'll start again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Johnny One Note

I've been browsing over at Doctor Mooney's 115th Dream, a great source of free downloads, from which there is currently available a shedload of stuff from Bob Dylan's 1966 tour. Yes, I already have the CD of the Free Trade Hall concert (and yes, I was there, actually) but now by the magic of the bootleg (and Dylan fans practically invented that genre) I can hear the same songs as he did them in Liverpool, Sheffield, London, Dublin, Melbourne, Phoenix..... The quality varies, the songs don't, but the guy yelling "Judas!" belongs to Manchester alone. Go: download, before the files are deleted.


Doctor Mooney also has this rather nice post about The White Stripes. There is something very cool IMHO about announcing that you're going to play one note at a (free) gig, playing it, and going home.

The pweor of the wtiretn wrod

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

(Thanks to Mr Messy for that.)

The thing I found most interesting was that as I read the passage my speed increased until at the end I was hardly being slowed down at all. Truly, the haumn mnid is a wfourdnel tnihg.

These ain't no political novices: these are a bunch of superior mothers

Joe, Udge: you have some big hitters piling in on your side in the matter of Bush/Cheney impeachment. Gentlemen, I give you the National Coalition of American Nuns.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sibling rivalry: which is to say, I can sible better than HE can

I wound up here courtesy of Udge. Udge actually linked to the preceding post, which is thought-provoking and sad, but being of an inquisitive disposition I started scrolling through the posts and hit this one straight away.

Sound familiar, anyone? Anyone with children?

P.S. The post immediately following this one refers to what must be the most bizarre provision of even that bizarre Bush creation the U.S. "Patriot Act". Read it and weep. Or giggle helplessly if you're not American.

And yeah, I know the British banking system has its weirdnesses (I've been working in it for almost 26 years now, which some might say was a weirdness in itself). But heck....

Sunday, September 02, 2007


There's a new Thomas Truax video on YouTube for Why Dogs Howl At The Moon. Definitely a contender for Best Dog In A Music Video 2007.

And of course there are other equally weird TT videos here and here. There are various bits of live footage of variable quality out there, but this and this are pretty good and give a vague idea of the live Thomas Truax experience. I'm sorry that I missed him in Edinburgh last week.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Capriccio, Cologne Opera, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 30 August 2007

My final festival review for 2007, unless tomorrow night's Fireworks Concert elicits a post: I shan't be attending, but we have a flat roof which commands a decent view of the Castle Rock, and the concert is broadcast on the radio, so except for ground-hugging cascade-type effects we will get to see most of it. The first couple of years of fireworks concerts we queued up and went along to see it properly in Princes Street Gardens, but then it got too busy and the music became a bit variable. And the cascades are most fun when they set the Castle Rock alight, which they did on our second year.


Capriccio was the world premiere of a new co-production by Cologne Opera and the Edinburgh Festival, and had attracted a lot of attention. We went because we like Richard Strauss, we like opera, and we hadn't seen it before (or even heard the music).

The general theme of the operatic strand of this year's festival has been the relationship between words and music, and that is very much what Capriccio is about. The opera deals with a group of people (a poet, a composer, a director, and some of their patrons) outside Paris in the 18th century, and considers the question of which is more important, music or words (or, indeed, the production). This is all bound up with a love triangle, where both the poet and the composer are in love with their patron the Countess, who ends up admitting to herself that she can't bring herself to choose between them.

So far, so conventional. Capriccio is not a frequently-produced opera, even in Germany. Sometimes it's done in 19th century costume and style, sometime in modern dress to highlight the fact that when Strauss was writing it, under the watchful eye of the Nazis, Paris was under their occupation. Neither approach is wholly satisfactory nowadays. This new production by Christian von Götz combines the approaches, having the action framed (both in time and space) by Hitler's world, while the core of the action takes place in Rococo Paris. It may sound a bit ary, but actually it works. At the beginning we see the Count providing forged documents for (one assumes) Jewish refugees. At the end, the Countess realises that all her friends have disappeared, and she herself is eventually escorted away to imprisonment. It sounds arty, but it works. The production has many other felicities, not least the Dancer. She appears in Act Two and dances for the company. She is clearly the protegée of one of the characters (the Count, I think) who is very keen on her and intends to advance her career. In a traditional production I would guess she is simply a ballerina. In this one, she starts out as a "ballerina" but gradually sheds items of clothing and is clearly actually more of a stripper. The production gets a lot of comic mileage out of her, partly in the reaction of the Count to her dancing, and partly in her interactions with a pair of singers who are part of the same entertainment. For the record, she was played by Luisa Sancho Escanero: one heck of a dancer.

If the production wins the contest here, the words and music are well suported. Gabriele Fontana was exraordinary as the Countess, whose big final solo is the climax of the opera. Strauss was exceptionally good at writing for women, and that scene is one of those "moments of clarity" like the one the Marschallin has in Act One of Der Rosenkavalier when she sings "Heute oder Morgen". The Marschallin is recognising that her young lover will eventually give her up in favour of someone his own age, there, the Countess is accepting her inability to choose between her two lovers (she's a widow and realises that she'll probably only get one more shot at romance, only here are two besotted lovers at once: bummer). The music is extraordinarily beautiful in itself, and when one considers that it was both Strauss's last opera and (by common consent) the last true Romantic opera, it carries a lot of emotional freight, as a valediction to the Countess's past, opera's past, Strauss's past and the pre-war world.

I enjoyed the performance unreservedly; Hilary thought the final scene was too long, which still leaves me gobsmacked, as though she'd wanted to cut bits of Wotan's Farewell in Die Walküre. (Don't worry, reader, she isn't that far gone yet.) Still, the critics were divided to an extraordinary extent. Here, first of all is the Daily Telegraph's critic, who clearly went to the same opera we did. Then the Edinburgh Evening News, and The Independent, both again enthusiastic. Then we move to the less convinced end of the spectrum, with the Financial Times and The Scotsman (whose critic manages entirely to miss the humour of the Dancer's performance). Finally we have The Guardian, the only critic apart from the FT not to be wowed by Gabriele Fontana's performance, and who could find nothing else good to say about the evening. I suspect he was so busy jotting down details of the framing Nazi-era staging (I didn't spot a cyanide capsule anywhere, and neither Hilary nor I considered the COuntess obsessed by her pearls in any way) that he neglected to listen to any of the actual opera.

So our lesson today, children, is to ignore critics. For every one who agrees with your (good or bad) assessment there will be a hack whose unrecognisable impressions suggest a viewing via YouTube (with the sound off)at best. Trust your own instincts. Maybe all your friends think something you hated is wonderful? Screw them. (Nobody will convince me now that watching Shakespeare In Love wasn't a tragic loss of what felt like ten hours of my life, or that Schubert's Ninth Symphony has any redeeming qualities whatsoever.) Trust your own judgement, and it will lead you to wonderful things (usually).

Anyway, yes, Capriccio: a fitting climax to the 2007 festival, and a magical performance all round. (All the people I know who saw it agree.)

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra / Michael Tilson Thomas, Usher Hall 29 August 2007

I was looking forward to this concert for several reasons. I'd never seen Tilson Thomas before, though I have a lot of his recordings. I'd never heard John Adams' A Short Ride In A Fast Machine live. Tchaikovsky's First Symphony is one of my favourites. Oh, and they were doing Copland's Fanfare For The Common Man as well.

It didn't disappoint. MTT, rather to my surprise, is a fairly undemonstrative conductor (I'd rather expected a Bernsteinish adrenaline junkie) who can get impressive results with a small twitch of his baton. One of those conductors who uses his right hand for most things and would be minimally inconvenienced by having his left arm in a sling.

The first three pieces on the programme used different sections of the orchestra, so he grouped them together and took applause after the last one. First there was the Copland, beautifully played and with terrific crashes from the percussion (the timps were up on a platform which added to the resonance). Next, a rarity: the Andante For Strings by Ruth Crawford Seeger, arranged from her 1931 string quartet. Ruth Crawford Seeger turns out to have been the mother of Mike and Peggy, and the stepmother of Pete. Although she displayed very great talent early on, it was her marriage to Charles Seeger that brought her compositional career to an early end, not because of any sexism on his part, but because of his obsessive interest in traditional music of various kinds. He firmly believed that folk and ethnic music was of far more significance than art music, and Ruth simply went along with the project, changing from a composer to a collector and transcriber. The author of the programme note considers her to have been on a par with Sessions and Copland as a composer. On the basis of this single movement I would say that was an exaggeration, though the piece certainly wasn't devoid of interest, nor does it sound very dated.

Finally in this group we had the John Adams. Short Ride is described as a "Fanfare For Orchestra", and is certainly a popular showpiece. It starts with an "almost sadistic" metronomic tapping on a woodblock, with the rest of the orchestra gradually getting stuck in until the place is shaking. John Adams explains the piece thus: "You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn't?" There is certainly a feeling of clinging in terror to one's seat as the orchestra really gets wound up. (If you've never heard the piece, give it a whirl some time.) Anyway, the SFSO obviously enjoyed themselves, and MTT (who had given the piece its first performance 21 years ago) was in his element, controlling the deceptively complex cross-rhythms with his businesslike little strokes, interlaced with the odd horizontal sweep around 180 degrees when he really wanted to make a point.

Following a last-minute entrance by one of the horn players (who had maybe got lost backstage like Spinal Tap, and who came on to a cheer from the audience to which he returned a "what can you do?" shrug) the first half closed with Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, flamboyantly played (it's that kind of piece) by Yefim Bronfman. The solo part is hugely difficult, and like so much Prokofiev the piece is a mix of the clever and the tuneful. Not one of my favourite concertos, but this performance just about had me converted.

Tchaikovsky's First Symphony "Winter Daydreams" ought to be far more popular than it is. Very Russian-sounding, very beautiful, very evocative. Actually, all the Tchaikovsky symphonies are worth hearing: there aren't any duds, which is more than you can say for Schubert, Mendelssohn, Dvorak or even Mozart or Bruckner. Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler manage the trick as well, so he's in good company. It was interesting to hear MTT, whom I knew as an interpreter of American music and twentieth century music, doing core Romantic repertoire. He certainly coaxed some stunningly beautiful playing from the orchestra, whose woodwind and horns in particular took full advantage of the lovely stuff Tchaikovsky wrote for them. (There is a wonderful big tune for the massed horns in the slow movement, for example.)

All through the symphony I'd been wondering why there was a harp on stage, as it hadn't been played all evening. When I saw a harpist and three or four wind players slipping on during the appluase after the symphony, it became clear that an encore was about to occur; and it did. Bernstein's Candide overture was given the full Monty (or the full Lenny) and we all left smiling (and humming one of the twentieth century's more memorable tunes: DUM, diddle-iddle-iddle-um dum, DUM, diddle-iddle-iddle-dum, DUM, diddle-iddle-iddle-um dum, Dum dum de-iddle-iddle-iddle dum.......)

Really? No homoerotic spelling bees?

An amusing cartoon from xkcd. Somehow it seems appropriate that it's the current one on our wedding anniversary.....

This one's even funnier.

An ill woodwind nobody blows good

I'e just been reading about a fantastic addition to the University of Edinburgh's museum of musical instruments. Apparently Sir Nicholas Shackleton, an eminent palaeoclimatoligist, collected clarinets. About eight hundred clarinets, in fact, and he's now left them to the university. They range from early 18th century versions (remember the clarinet is quite a recent invention) through the various improvements and attempted improvements in design that led to the modern instrument, along with some byways and oddities. Most of the Shackleton Bequest instruments are in playable condition, which is impressive in itself, and will make the collection a seriously useful research tool. See here for an article about the collection (pp 22-23).

Another thing for me to find time to go and see....(still haven't been to the Andy Warhol exhibition - waiting until the Festival's over and the queues die down).

What practises theurgic magic and smells of fish?

A hermetic seal.

Just thought I'd share that one with you all.

(Gets coat......)

Black Ops

A column of Phil's from way back when, which he reposted recently and which made me laugh. Even if the second problem makes the totally unrealistic assumption that Acme management would give a toss what the IT director (merely a rude mechanical, after all) thought when it came to imposing their corporate will on the infrastructure. I once worked in a place where a manager (S) was severely reprimanded for pointing out that a piece of kit the company were considering simply wouldn't do the job it was being bought for. The sales manager of the vendor had stormed into S's senior management and complained "S needs to be reminded that this isn't how we do things". (I'm sure the quality of their corporate golf days was excellent, though.)

Re operators and why they should not be crossed, I enjoy dipping into Bastard Operator From Hell from time to time. (In the interest of your sanity, I should explain that PFY stands for Pale-Faced Youth, who is a regular character.)

Where else but India?

I love the idea of photo ID for cows. There's a Gary Larsen cartoon in there waiting to come out.......

A modest proposal

I want a flying car like this. I shall sit in it and order my Treen armies to crush lesser Earthlings.....