If I gave her the wool would she make me one too?
As a first treat for 2009, I give you the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art. Does exactly what it says on the knitting pattern.
Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above
From The Muslim Council of Britain (among many others)
As 2009 rapidly approaches in my time zone, give or take a leap second, I shall get ahead of the game in case traffic buildup makes posting difficult in a little while.
I didn't see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivering his alternative Christmas Message on Channel Four, but I have read the text (here). It seems to me to be a thoroughly reasonable, and dare I say Christian, message to us all - certainly more valuable than any of the Queen's annual video diaries. Channel Four are to be congratulated on their imagination and sound sense of what Christmas is about.
I was struck by this story - most especially by the comments posted under it when it appeared in the soaraway Sun. Funny, isn't it, that it's these Muslim-haters who pretend to be the defenders of the rights of women?
More deaths, but closer to home and less distressing. Over the past fortnight I've been noticing the demise of various people I greatly admire. Most recently of course, we've lost the twentieth century's most important British playwright: Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize winner and general national treasure. Tony Blair might disagree, but when even Michael Gove, who disagreed with Pinter on every possible point of politics, can praise the genius of his writing, you know you're deailing with someone pretty special.
News of Israel's latest demonstration that the concepts of "proportionate response" and "not targeting civilians" are as alien to its government as they have always been made me wonder how many Israelis have died in the rain of rockets from Gaza we keep hearing about. I knew that as far as the post-cease-fire attacks go, the answer is none (zero, nil, nada) (***see update below***), though of course Hamas did manage to kill two Palestinian girls thus saving Israel the bother. (Before you all yell, I know Hamas didn't claim responsibility for those deaths. Well knock me down with a feather.) I imagined that over the course of the previous campaign of rocket attacks there might have been rather more Israelis killed, even though most of the rockets landed well away from populated areas. (I don't kid myself that that's due to any scruples on the part of Hamas: rather - as the two Palestinian girls discovered - their targeting is either spectacularly bad or completely non-existent.)
I've just bought a wonderful book entitled Venn That Tune, which consists of a series of UK Top 40 hits whose titles you are invited to guess from Venn diagrams and other similar charts. A few seasonal examples from its originator's blog:
Maggie also drew my attention to this story from yesterday, which makes me very angry. For someone on the pope's position to suggest that gays and transexuals are as much of a threat to mankind as global warming seems not only wholly un-Christian but likely to encourage the gullible and fanatical (and who else listens to the Pope nowadays?) to commit acts of violence against them.
I've been catching up with one of my other lives over on LiveJournal. Maggie Brinkley (aka Gauroth) posted this video clip (the Rondeau and Danse du grand calumet de la paix, from Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Les Indes Galantes) with the comment "The music is beautiful; the dancing is very, very French. It's earworming me now, so why not let you lot suffer, too?" A comment which omits only one essential word to describe the music: funky.
Music can definitely be a force for good. I was watching BBC's The Culture Show doing its 2008 highlights, and they showed an interview with Gustavo Dudamel. He now conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and just as exuberantly as when I saw him with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. He, and all the SBYO members, are products of Venezuela's long-running programme ("La Sistema") of using musical performance to provide positive role models for street kids who otherwise would have only drugs and violence in their lives. It's rather like the programmes that various places have which use sport for a similar purpose, only with fiddles instead of footballs.
Over on Facebook I am a member of a group called the Katherine Jenkins and Russel Watson Appreciation Society. Actually I need an html tag to bring out the heavy irony in that title, as actually it's a group of people who don't think they're very good. Before the hate mail begins to pour in, may I make it clear that I have nothing against KJ or RW as people, and believe they have a perfect right to make their living by singing whether I like what they do or not. This article in last Friday's Guardian encapsulates the problem I have with them, which is twofold. (1) They're simply not very good at what they do and (b) their type of "classical crossover" doesn't for the most part actually cross over into anything. At least with the Three Tenors or Nigel Kennedy they form a stepping-stone to the wider world of classical music: they genuinely have a foot on each back of the stream, so to speak. If a Katherine Jenkins album can define Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah as a "Sacred Aria" when it is neither an aria nor sacred, something has gone wrong. And as for whether you think she does it as well as, say, Jose Carreras doing West Side Story, here she is. Make up your own minds. Personally, I'm just glad this isn't the version topping the charts this Christmas.
My daughter sent me this. As she says, spot all the famous faces.....though of course it does have a serious point.
While I was waiting for Waltz With Bashir to begin, the cinema were playing some music I thought I rather liked. a little Googling proved it to be the latest album from Oasis, and some further Googling to listen to more of it suggests an overdue return to form. Here is the first track from the new album for you:
I think that's a worthy successor to their (Morning) glory days. As is this (with a nice nod to the Stones at the start of the video):
And while their earlier material seems a little rough-edged now, you can't fault it for sheer energy (and a great riff). One to get the folks on the dance floor:
But for a blast from the past with a great riff (possibly the greatest ever) , we have to end with the Greatest Rock And Roll Band In The World (TM). Here they are kicking off a gig in Rio with Jumping Jack Flash, and it looks and sounds very similar to the first time Hilary and I saw them in Glasgow. The thing that really comes across, both live and in the video, is the sheer enjoyment they are taking on every moment of it. (Well, that and Charlie Watts looking like your Dad on a drum kit. He doesn't play like your Dad though, unless you're Zak Starkey or Jason Bonham.) Anyone who imagines Keef to be a sexagenarian zombie need only watch him bouncing around beaming all over his cake-left-out-in-the-rain face here. The advanced student might care to guess how many times Mick, Keith and Charlie have played this one, then subtract a thousand or so for Ron Wood. But going through the motions? Not these guys.
(If you want to skip the pre-entry bit drop in at 2:15.)
I know I run the risk of this blog's becoming a shadow server for failblog.org, but I'm sorry, this is too funny to resist. Yes, it's obviously a comedy sketch rather than a genuine interview with a real politician, but I laughed all the way through it. (Apparently the "senator" is John Clark, a comedian well-known in Australia and New Zealand.)
I have the Guardian to thank for alerting me to the existence of failblog.org. As I browse its pages, I keep thinking "must link to that one...and that one.....". For example, Ice Sculpture Fail:
Well, a little bit. I've been playing some of my Christmas music rccords, and felt I should put up the decorations here in my virtual shed. So let's kick off with The Darkness doing Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)
.....on the topic of Israel and Palestine. First of all an excellent article in Ha'aretz by Amira Hass on the counter-productive nature of some of the campaign to free Gilad Shalit (you may have spotted him on my sidebar).
I nearly forgot to mention the letter about Bethlehem Now in the Northern Echo, which contained the marvellous paragraph
You may have seen reports of Bethlehem Now - an Alternative Nine Lessons and Carols Service, held in St James's Church, Piccadilly in London. Here is the organisers' press release and here is a letter in the Times expanding on it. I remember as a student taking part in what might be called an alternative nativity play entitled Bethlehem 74 (by Donald Eyre), which interleaved the classical nativity story (updated so that for example the wise men were a group of British and American astronomy professors) with the context of the then fairly recent Israeli occupation of Bethlehem, complete with a couple of PLO bombers and a motley collection of Palestinian refugees. As was usual in those days, the play was fairly pro-Israeli, though Donald Eyre could hardly have expected either that the occupation would have continued for another 34 years or that Israel would have flouted international law and relied instead on mass murder to achieve territorial gains. Having met the writer I feel certain that if he were alive today he would have written a rather different play, albeit still with a message of Christian hope at its core.
My wife Hilary and I both had the same reaction when we read this story. We got to the bit about obesity being a problem in zoo elephants and we said:
On a lighter note, here's an amusing Youtube clip. Normally I find that sites showing intentional (i.e constructed) mondegreens aren't very good: certainly nowhere near the calibre of the best examples. (The latter example, from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, is to the best of my knowledge the first ever constructed Mondegreen.)
In case you were wondering, the holiday referred to in my recent posts was a long weekend in Madrid. I had some leave to use up, and although Hilary couldn't come with me I figured that (a) a substantial part of the touristy stuff in Madrid is art galleries and (b) Hilary tends to get fed up after an hour or two with my leisurely and thorough approach to (a). So I booked a cheap Easyjet flight, and there I was. Well, here actually:
where "here" is the International Youth Hostel La Posada de Huertas on Calle de las Huertas, very close to the Prado. I like backpackers' hostels (actual IYHF Youth Hostels are even better, but the ones in Madrid had drawbacks when it came to my need to check out at silly o'clock to get my return flight). This one had none of the "surcharges for the over-25s" nonsense, 24-hour reception, a central location and I could get a bed in a four-bed male dormitory. I figured that by the age of 53 I no longer wished to save money by sleeping in either a mixed dorm or a 16-bed one. And it was great (two of my four nights I had the room to myself, and the other two nights my companions didn't disturb me. I recommend the place and would certainly stay there again.
Of the galleries, I maxed out on Picasso, Dali and Miro on my first evening at the Reina Sofia gallery, and spent most of my last day in the Prado (where I maxed out on damn near everything else). And I never even touched the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
(which has paintings from the 14th century up to late 20th century). Highlights of my own gallery viewing:
The most famous picture in the Prado (The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch), and it didn't disappoint. It still amuses me, though, to see the gallery with Bosch's works signposted as "El Bosco". Sorry, easily amused.
My personal favourite, this one (Scenes from the Life of the Virgin by Dirck Bouts). I love the matter-of-fact way in which these Northern European - in this case, 16th century Flemish - painters deal with religious subjects. The second panel, for example, shows the Visitation. This is where Mary (newly up the duff despite being, you know, a virgin and all that) goes to visit her friend Elizabeth (ditto, despite being way beyond child-bearing age). Now in a lot of Italian paintings they're chatting politely to each other; perhaps going so far as an animated "No wait, let me give you ny news first!" expression. For Dirck Bouts, however, we have exactly what would happen, I think, in 21st century Britain: an inquisitive mutual feeling of bumps ("Oooh! Oooh! I felt him kick!" "Gosh, aren't you big - how many weeks is it now?")
And in the Reina Sofia:
One of the best-known paintings in the world, Picasso's Guernica. Which is vast: I hadn't realised it was so big. The gallery also has around a hundred preparatory studies and sketches for it, as well as a montage of photographs taken in Picasso's studio as he worked on it. He sketched the outlines, then painted in the various shades afterwards. I can announce that the very last element to be painted in was the light bulb.
Oh, and this exhibition seems to be back. I found it rather moving to see the famous Death of a Loyalist soldier image in the context of a whole set of pictures of the same guys on the same day (which was to prove the last day for at least one of them).
In the world outside (as I emerged blinking) I also found things of interest. An entire Egyptian temple, gifted to Spain by the grateful Egyptian government for help given in shifting (and thus preserving) other temples when the Aswan High Dam was being built:
And finally, on a day-trip, the magnificent cathedral of Toledo:
which is right up there with Chartres as far as I'm concerned. It has everything: stained glass to die for, a choir with carved stalls that go far beyond Chester or Lincoln, and baroque excesses as well.
Oh, and thanks to al-Qaeda, the trains to and from Madrid were the only ones I've ever been on where all bags had to go through X-ray machines and passengers through metal detectors.
The whole Somali pirate business seems rather weird. OK, they seem to be a thriving business opportunity. On the other hand they do seem sometimes more akin to the pirates in Asterix than the ones in Pirates of the Caribbean.
While I was on holiday Wondermark came up with this. It speaks to my condition.....