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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel: Day 06

Day 06 - your favorite song for flying down the highway at top speed

I was all set to choose John Adams' A Short Ride In A Fast Machine, which was after all written to describe exactly this situation, but instead I plumped for the scherzo from Shostakovich's 10th symphony. If the Adams is like a trip in a Porsche driven by the Stig, the Shostakovich is a trip in a TVR driven by a vodka-fuelled teenager. On Indian roads.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This post has been flagged as spam

I had a few classes this week where I was teaching basic data security: backup, passwords, viruses, adware etc. Inevitably we covered spam emails (and spam blog comments, come to that) and I asked each class whether they knew why these were caled "spam". Someone in ech class knew about Spam the meat product (from Hormel Foods) but none of them could explain how the name of a none-too-appetizing processed meat product came to be attached to unwanted bulk emails.

So I showed them the missing link, so to speak. Here it is.

Viva Maria

Just found this on YouTube for the first time. Part of a session in which Ry Cooder plays (mostly) music from his Jazz album (produced by Joseph Byrd) live on stage with Byrd directing the orchestra. Priceless.

30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel: Day 05

Day 05- your favorite song for driving round town with the top down

Except for Chloe, our late and lamented Citroen 2CV, I've never owned a car whose top would go down, but if I did, and if Edinburgh's climate was being kind, I imagine I might play this. If you're going to do a cover version of a classic, getting the originators to provide backing vocals (and to write you a new extra verse) is an exceptionally cool way to go about it. Two bands I love singing the perfect song for Day 05.

Of course, there was also a memorable occasion about twenty-five years back (I can date it because it must have been a car with a cassette tape player) when I was driving around Edinburgh in the middle of summer, not with the top down but with the windows wide open as it was very hot. I was playing this classic track - and I can still remember the WTF? looks I got from passers-by. Awesome. I'm sure it would still have an identical effect.

30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel: Day 04

Day 04 - a song for a sunny day

I couldn't think of any explcicitly sunshine-themed songs I especially like, so plumped for this one which is sunny and upbeat (and now I stop to think about it does mention stopping the rain and making the sun shine). A great song by a great American.

Teenagers like sex. Who knew?

This case poses a few disturbing questions.

There's the issue of how a British school of any kind is allowed to teach its students such misogynistic ideas as part of their education.

There's the issue of just how lenient judges should be in cases where an under-aged girl genuinely consented to sex. The law does ndeed eist to protect minors from exploitation, but where there has been no deception or browbeating I'm inclined to go with the judge on this one. After all, I consider rape as a crime of violence, nothing more or less. and this case involved neither violence nor any kind of mental cruelty, and no breach of trust.

But mainly, I feel, there is the issue of just when the word "paedophile" became debased to mean anyone, whatever their sexual preferences and habits, and whatever their age, who has sex with a girl under 16. And the Daily Mail refers to Rashid as a paedophile in the heading of the online story, even though the word does not appear in the story itself, which is simply a cowardly smear. I can't quite decide whether this is simply the Mail displaying its usual (i.e. non-existent) journalistic standards, or whether the sneaky hidden smear arises because Rashid is a Muslim and much of the Mail's readership comprises rabid Islamophobes who believe that the religion encourages paedophilia. For the benefit of the Mail's readers and writers, here is an article about paedophilia. Has Adil Rashid demonstrated a preference for sex with girls of thirteen and under, rather than girls of his own age? Of course he hasn't: I doubt whether anyone even asked him the question.

Funny, I thought the Israeli regime hated boycotts

Israel blazes a trail for human rights once again by being the first nation on Earth to boycott a review by the UN Human Rights Council.

I suppose Netanyahu must have reckoned that as they don't have human rights in Israel the review would be irrelevant. Still, nobody could accuse Ben of not having learned lessons from the Holocaust: he has clearly learned that you can ignore the rest of the world and carry on with a programme of racism and genocide until eventually the rest of the world has had enough and tramples your regime into the dust with military muscle. I'm sure he's right, and I look forward to an international day in years to come commemorating the dismantling of his vile regime.

Monday, January 28, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel: Day 03

Day 03 - a song for a rainy day

....and one of my all-time favourite pop songs to boot.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Never say "Never Again" - if you know what's good for you

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, or at least it is in Britain. Elsewhere in the world the Holocaust is commemorated on the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, which this year makes it April 8th. You might think it typical of the slapdash approach of Tony Blair's government to human rights (the UK anniversary was inaugurated in 2001, just in time for the massive campaign of religiously-targeted murder initiated by Tone and his Washington organ-grinder later that year) that they would get the day right and the month wrong, but in fact the international date wasn't agreed until 2005: up to then there were only national days in Germany, the UK, and elsewhere. Our date was picked as the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is fair enough.

Ths Holocaust, of course, is all about the murder of Jews. That wasn't always the case, though: the term was once used to refer to all the targeted mass murder carried out by the Nazis (the term means "total burning", after all). Indeed, its use to describe general atrocities predates the rise of Nazism (see here). It wasn't until the late 1970s that the term "Holocaust" was (for most people) completely hijacked for the sole use of the six million Jewish victims of Nazi genocide, leaving the remaining five million looking around for another term. Of course, many people (and I am proud to count myself among them) refuse to narrow the Holocaust's scope and continue to include Roma, Slavs, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, blacks, socialists, Freemasons, trade unionists and all the rest in our commemorations. (I do wonder whether they may be a degree of ambiguity in the "five million" figure: how is a victim counted if he was a homosexual Jewish communist?) The international Holocaust Remembrance Day (the one in April) also calls on us to remember the victims of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, so maybe the tide of usage is turning away from Jewish specificity.

Bradford MP, David Ward, signed the Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment in the House of Commons. Ward clearly believes that the spirit of remembrance encompasses all acts of ethnic cleansing, even if the word is officially applied only to the worst examples. In a speech he made after signing, he said

"Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools - I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

Well, from the reaction you would think he had called for the re-opening of Auschwitz as an extermination plant, meanwhile demanding the declalation of Hitler's birthday as a national holiday.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said she was "deeply saddened" that the MP had "deliberately abused the memory of the Holocaust". She added: "These comments are sickening and unacceptable and have no place in British politics."

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "We are outraged and shocked at these offensive comments about Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the suggestion that Jews should have learned a lesson from the experience.

(Jon Benjamin's comment demonstrates in the most eloquent way possible that some Jews, such as himself, have indeed learned nothing whatsoever from the experience.)

Because of the readiness of the Israel lobby to shriek "anti-semitism!" the instant any aspect of Israeli government policy is criticised, even by Jews, Mr Ward might have predicted the reaction, but read his remark again. He is talking about the action of Jews in "the new state of Israel". Israel wasn't founded by Sikhs; it wasn't established as a permanent homeland for the Mongolian people; its flag does not contain a Yin-Yang symbol. It is a Jewish state, established for Jews (and to this day run primarily for their benefit), so it is no more than simple accuracy to describe those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Israel's Arab population as "Jews in Israel". Unless of course one believes that the Arabs were responsible for their own dispossession, exile and murder, in the same way that some people believe that the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves. Israel, was, and is, a state where non-Jews are second-class citizens at best. These days non-Jews are allowed to sit in the Knesset, but as the recent election demonstrated, the system is designed to ensure the continuation in power of the current regime. (Of course, as the last Scottish parliamentary election showed, sometimes the will of the people can overcome a system with built-in bias, so there is some hope for Israeli democracy in the future.)

The fervour of the witch-hunt against David Ward for speaking out against the continuing ethnic cleansing of Arabs from the Jewish state, the theft of their property and the murder of their children, is vile. If the power-at-any-price mentality that saw the Liberal Democrat party jump at the chance to disavow the policies on which they were elected and join a Tory government had not been enough to disgust me with the LibDems, this shameful episode would have done so. When I was a student, the Liberal Party - which evolved into the Liberal Democrats - was the most principled party in British politics, a party that supported the weak against the strong, that wanted to work with our European neighbours to end isolationism, and believed a better world was worth fighting for. Now it is a party which stands up for vile human rights abusers against their critics, that eagerly backs the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and which now sits back smiling while the Prime Minister propses to ease Britain out of the EU altogether.

So today I shall be remembering the victims of the Holocaust - the Jews and all the rest. I shall also raise a glass tonight to David Ward MP, for having the courage to speak out against those, whether Jews or Liberal Democrats, who have forgotten the lessons of the Holocaust.

"I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." (Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner)

30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel: Day 02

Day 02 - a song you hate from a band you love

I have loved Abba since I first heard Mamma Mia! when it entered the charts. I like some of their songs a little, I like some of their songs a lot, but I can only think of one real clunker. Here you are:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel: Day 01

The folks who brought us the 30 Day Song Challenge a few years ago (I did it on Facebook but never got round to copying it over to EKN) have launched a follow-up, imaginatively named 30 Day Song Challenge - The Sequel. So without more ado, here is Day 01.

Day 01 – a song you like from a band you don't like

Took me a while to think of a band I really didn't like but in whose output I could find something worthwhile (so not U2 then....). I don't like Bruce Springsteen. However, I like this number inordinately. Isn't life strange? Perhaps it's because he actually bothers to sing rather than shouting. I mean, I love Dancing In The Dark as a song, but I think Bruce utterly ruins it by turning it into a shouty anthem for drunken pogoing. This one, he doesn't ruin, which fills me with even more contempt, because he can sing sensitively: he just doesn't usually make the effort.

Week ending.....

I've completed the first week of my teaching career without mishap. My wife admits she was amazed that I'm still smiling, having been afraid that after a couple of days I'd be sure I'd made a dreadful mistake. As she's acting Head of Creative Industries and hence my boss, on paper at least, I'm not sure how to react to that......

My students cover a vast range of ages and abilities, and include a dozen or so whose first language isn't English, plus one deaf guy with a sign language interpreter. I don't think any of them hate me yet. After several rounds of timetable revisions, I've ended up teaching courses on team working, internet safety, and general introductions to Microsoft Office and the internet. I know I tend to wave my hands around when explaining things (unless I remember to stick them in my pockets), and one student reckoned I should grow my hair so I could look more like the Doc in Back To The Future (flattered though my inner geek was by the comparison, I pointed out that if I could grow my hair then building a time machine would be trivial). Still, I've had class discussions on different approaches to distinguishing data and information, and on why porn sites might be especially popular ways to spread viruses. I've played Charades and had an ex-boxer miming Snakes On A Plane, while another class betrayed its comparative youth by guessing "film", "two words",second word "cowboy", first word "twelve o'clock" and still not getting the answer.

Still, I needn't have worried that it would be like Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love: thus far nobody appears to have developed a crush on me, nor have I had to deal with used sanitary pads being burned in my classroom. (For that matter, I'm not black.)

I know I have seventeen more weeks to do before the end of the semester. I know my challenges are only just beginning. But the first week was always going to be the hardest, not just because I'm blowing the dust on nine months' unemployment off myself, but because of the change of career direction. The worst is over, and I survived it. Or as Shania Twain said, "Up, up, up, can only go up from here".

Whoever they voted for the government was always going to get in

Reading this story, what struck me wasn't the distaste felt by Israelis for Netanyahu (I've always said that normal Israelis were mostly pretty sensible peace-loving guys stuck with religio-militaristic madmen running their country) but the comment "Bibi is going to be prime minister anyway". I'd read similar remarks in many places in the run-up to the election, and it seems clear that Ben the Bomb was in less danger of becoming a victim of "democracy" than, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Un. Still, Likud's poor showing must have annoyed him. As to whether Nothingyahu is more likely to invite into his government a centrist party actually interested in peace with Israel's neighbours, or a theocratic fascist who has stated his aim of utterly destroying Palestine, I believe the term "no-brainer" was coined for such conundrums. I would love to be proved wrong, but the Netanyahu regime's history of unfettered aggression and hunen rights abuse gives me no grounds for optimism.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rapists are not sex offenders

In the wake of the Delhi gang rape, I read today a tremendous column by Caitlin Moran in Saturday's Times. I would link it, but it's behind a paywall so if you were able to read it you would presumably already have done so.

Basically she says what I've been boring people with for years, which is that we'd all have a far less ambivalent attitude to rape if we stopped treating it as a sexual offence and dealt with it instead as a species of assault. Here are a few extracts.

That's why I sometimes think we should do away with the word "rape" altogether....Let's call this crime something simpler, and less confusing, instead: internal assault. Intramural attack. Regard it just as we would an assailant violently forcing a hammer handle into a mouth, or puncturing an eardrum with a knife. Does it make any real difference if it's a vagina being brutalised, or an eye? If the weapon is a penis, or a cosh? This is punching, but inside. This is the repeated piercing of someone's body. When you put it like that, suddenly the issue of rape becomes very clear: how many women would ask for that?......

The phrase "sexual assault" confuses a million men and women.....right across the world - that troubled word, "sexual", casting a shadow so deep it hides the "assault" part altogether. it makes people think of rape merely as some sex that just "went wrong"....

Not sexual assault. Just - assault. Not a sexual crime. Just - crime. Not rape - with all the confusions we can't afford, can't bear, another generation to painfully sift through, as we have had to.

Just a violence, like any other.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A truly miserable review

In a comment on my recent review of the film of Les Miserables, Persephone linked to this review by David Denby in the New Yorker. I couldn't let it go past without a response, because it's so bad. And by "bad" I don't mean "unfavourable" but downright wayward and unprofessional.

Denby complains about how "absurdly gloomy" the story was, as though other musicals based on great tragedies were full of laughs. Perhaps he didn't notice the body count at the end of West Side Story (even though in the Bernstein version Juliet survives to mime another day). He complains that it didn't have dancing in it: well if it's dancing you want in your musicals, go and watch any of the hundreds of Bollywood offerings. Seriously: there are some great feasts of music and dance in there. Slender, formulaic storylines for the most part, but the same could be said for the dance-filled musicals he cites as terrific examples of the genre. (A Star Is Born? Seriously?)

He moans that the music is juvenile "tonic-dominant" stuff. While I wouldn't argue with his suggestion that the best of Loewe, Hammerstein and Bernstein are superior, to describe it as "tonic-dominant" suggests a degree of unfamiliarity with the meaning of the terms. There is, in fact, more "harmonic richness" in "I Dreamed A Dream" than in "Thank Heavens For Little Girls", and less than in "Make Our Garden Grow" (to take American musicals based on French literary originals). I'm not sure what that is meant to prove, though. Les Mis certainly has "melodic invention", which Denby seems to confuse with harmony. Again, careless, thoughtless stuff. He enthuses about "Burton Lane" in the same breath as Kern, Porter and Irving Berlin: I had to Google the chap to find who he was. (He composed the now utterly-forgotten Finian's Rainbow, which my wife and I watched a couple of years back and wished we hadn't bothered. "How Are Things In Glocka Morra" is a nice noise, but when that's the only memorable tune you ever wrote, you don't get to be compared with Boublil and Schonberg, let alone Gershwin.)

When it comes to the story, Denby literally loses the plot. He thinks Jean Valjean did nothing wrong. Leaving aside the fact that he was imprisoned for stealing a loaf - not a fair punishment by modern standards, but then nowadays we wouldn't have hanged Fagin for running a pickpocketing gang either (another bit of nastiness sanitised from its attendant musical, though as Oliver! is British Denby ignores it, melodies and dancing notwithstanding). Valjean them breaks his parole (also wrong), and then in the most important episode of the entire film, he robs a priest who had taken him in. He is caught and taken back, whereupon the priest backs his story, insists on his release, and forgives him. If Denby didn't understand that Valjean's "one redeeming act after another" all stemmed from the priest's request that he spend the stolen goods to make something good of his life, then he was wasting his time and that of his readers sitting in the cinema at all. Reviewers are supposed to watch the films they criticise. "The implications of Valjean's complete innocence are dismaying." Well, you said it, dearie: your smug pride in your ignorance certainly dismays me.

But of course, where the plot of the film is insufficiently ridiculous for him he simply makes up one more to his liking. In the version by "Hugo arr. Denby", Inspector Javert "pursues (Valjean) all over France". In the film, as in the book, Javert keeps bumping into Valjean and eventually recognising him. Once he realises who he's dealing with, Javert is certainly monomaniacal about taking him down, but he doesn't pursue him anywhere. "Doesn't he have anything else to do with his life?" screams Denby. Er, yes, luvvie, that's how he gets to be one of the senior cops in Paris having started out as a prison guard.

'Revolution breaks out in “Les Mis.” What revolution? Against whom? In favor of what? It’s just revolution—the noble sacrifice of handsome, ardent boys taking on merciless power. The French military, those canaille, gun down the beautiful boys. It’s all so generic. The vagueness is insulting.' Just so, though it's Denby's vagueness which insults his readers' intelligence. The June Rebellion was a historical event, whose causes and unfolding were as they are portrayed in Hugo's book and in the musical thereof. Hugo would hardly have been "vague" about it, having been involuntarily caught up in one of the exchanges of fire.

But what do you expect from someone who believes that the third-rate Judy Garland in the ninth-rate A Star Is Born proves the greatest moment in the history of screen musicals? Jings, crivens: I'd rather listen to "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat", or "Under The Sea" for upbeat Americana. Far better films, far better music.

By all means download the musicals he lists, though I suspect if you watched them all twice (OK, maybe not An American In Paris) you might slash your wrists. Download Fiddler On The Roof, My Fair Lady, High Society, Hans Christian Andersen and Candide instead if you really want uplifting, quality, stuff that bears repeated viewing. All better than Les Mis, for sure: but why should that stop you enjoying the latter? Denby's railing against the banality of French and British "hacks" suggests that his first concern for a musical is that it be American rather than European. Get thee behind me, Joseph....and Oliver....and Frank N Furter. Tunes, sure, dances, yes, but American? Sorry, nope.

And finally, what of Rigoletto? Denby's criticism of Les Mis, that every emotion in it is elemental, applies in spades to the Verdi. Of course its music knocks spots off all the other musicals mentioned above. It is, however, notably short on dance numbers, and if the plot of Les Mis is "absurdly gloomy", what to make of an opera whose only decent character ends up as a corpse in a sack? And a man who lays into Les Mis for being "all injustice, love, heartbreak, cruelty, self-sacrifice, nobility, baseness" may love Rigoletto, but can surely have no time for La Traviata, which for the rest of us is every bit as worthwhile a piece of Verdi. (With tunes just as good, and with more dance numbers.)

If you want a through-composed opera full of humour and genuine emotion, with wonderful tunes (including the huge hit "O Mio Babbino Caro"), I'd skip Rigoletto and head for Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Rigoletto is an hour shorter than Les Mis, but Gianni Schicchi is an hour shorter than Rigoletto, leaving you plenty of time to book for Les Miserables so you can judge for yourself what David Denby was too lazy to be bothered watching.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Israeli terrorists: brave when they can beat up children, whiny when the IDF make them obey the law, shitting their pants when kids throw snowballs at them

Bonni the New York Holocaust Denier is getting rather predictabnle these days: wicked Jews this, wicked Muslims that, horrible elected President Obama the other, and the obligatory messages of support for Nazis around the world and whining when prominent Nazis get arrested for hate crimes, passport fraud, money laundering or violent affray.

Still, the justaposition of a couple of posts made me smile. First of all there was this one on a clash between Palestinians and a bunch of "settler" terrorists. For Bonni, this was simply an attack by wicked Muslims on poor defenceless (apart from their vast arsenal of US-supplied weaponry) Israeli terrorists. Of course, what she doesn't mention (though even the censored Israeli press managed to mention it) was that the "settlers" had been harassing the Palestinian villagers for weeks, preventing them from tending to their crops (and indeed destroying thoe crops) in defiance of Israeli courts and the IDF. In other words, a bunch of lawless terrorists were behaving like, er, lawless terrorists. Who'da thunk it? Still, Bonni's little rant flushed out a delightful Israeli commenter, some of whose diatribe I quote below (I will spare you the whining about how the wicked IDF soldiers - whose violence is quite OK when it's Palestinian schoolkids they're murdering - sometimes actually lay hands on Israeli Jews when the break the law). Punctuation and grammar entirely the fault of Ms "Ruth Cohen":

they cant break our spirit. and we have enough people like me not giving up. we will kick out all the evil ones from israel and only those who love the land will remain. those who kick the police in the nuts.

So all the "bad Jews" have to be kicked out of Israel to leave only the "good Jews" who attack the police when they try to enforce the law against these Zionazis. Neat.

Anyway, after all this rhetoric about brave Israeli "settler" terrorists, I was amused by this post. I'd already had a good laugh at the pictures Bonni had posted showing ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing plastic sheeting over their heads to keep their big black hats dry in the snow. Now that really is what you call a "headbag": at least when Amish men wear big black hats they wear ones that will keep rain off them, not ones that are just symbols of subjugation to superstition. Anyway, in the later post we see a bunch of Muslim kids snowballing some of the "headbaggers". from the Arabic signage it looks as though the video was shot in occupied East Jerusalem rather than Israel, so it's hardly surprising that settler terrorists with their heads in plastic proved tempting targets for the resident kids. Still, it's wonderful that for the brave, brave "settlers" a snowballing is an attack by a "gang of thugs". Well, life is hard when there isn't a handy Palestinian child to be used as a human shield.

Life and other marvels

The start of my college teaching career draws ever nearer, and every day seems to bring a new amendment to my proposed timetable. No longer do I have the course on Professional Issues in Computing (which I must confess I was struggling to find interesting angles on) or the one on digital image processing, but I have a course on Teamworking in IT Projects and am now doing several courses for multiple classes. All my new colleagues are being really nice and helpful, so I think I know what I'm supposed to be doing. By this time next week, I will know for sure.....

In other news, our whole family just went to see Les Miserables at the cinema. I was relieved that it not only lived up to the hype but surpassed it. Even Russell Crowe turned out to be able to sing. OK, he only has one expression, but that's enough for Javer, who isn't exactly Mr Heart-On-Sleeve. Hugh Jackman is wonderful as Valjean, managing to hit his high notes while carrying Anne Hathaway up a flight of steps (the songs were famously recorded live on set rather than in a separate session). Anne Hathaway's own singing is a revelation (and it will be no surprise if she picks up the Supporting Actress Oscar either) while Samantha Barks as Eponine simply steals the show. The big set pieces work better on film than on stage, simply because they have more space. What else? Oh, just go and see the thing.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Another year over, and a new one just begun

With all the decorations down now the place looks pretty bare (our living room especially so as we've taken down the curtains as well to replace the runners which had gone brittle and started to disintegrate). Time to run over a few seasonal things I meant to write earlier.

1) While sitting on the big wheel at the German Market in Princes Street, listening to Roy Wood singing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, it occurred to me (not for the first time) how fabulously talented Wood is. It also struck me that it must be very cool to have been his music teacher at school, and to think "One of my lads....." every time this comes on.

2) We were just watching a programme listing the ten biggest-earning songs of all time ("Happy Birthday to You" wins by some way). Clearly that gets rolled out somewhere pretty much every day, but there are three Christmas numbers in there ("White Christmas" at #2, then "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)". While not in that league, I bet Roy Wood's Christmas record has made him far more money than all the rest of his songs combined. In the UK at least it's ubiquitous at Christmas time (along with Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody").

3) A couple of weeks ago, Bonni the Nazi posted this load of bollocks about how "Muslim-controlled Bethlehem" keeps Jesus under wraps at christmas time. it turns out that "Pastor" Steven Khoury runs a wacky "Christian" sect which isn't officially recognised as a religion by the Palestinian Authority (who are, as you might imagine, pretty welcoming to Christians in Bethlehem). Complaining about the lack of models of the manger in the place which has the site of the real one might seem not-picking, and certainly Bethlehem has pretty impressive general Chrstmas decorations. (and to judge from this article, there are plenty of crib scenes on sale there.) I can't see that Khoury's huge red banner (not even grammatical in English - don't know if the Arabic's any better) added anything to the Christ-centredness of the festival: it seems to be more of an ad for his cult than a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But hey, any angle that makes it look as though wicked Muslims hate Christmas, even though they clearly don't.

4) Some Israeli Jews equally obviously DO hate Christmas, and these include both the Mayor and the Chief Rabbi of Upper Nazareth. Put up even a sprig of holly there and you risk having your business closed down. There may be room at the inn in Bethlehem for Jesus, but it's like the man from Nazareth said himself: "A prophet is not without honour except in his own town." (Mark 6:4)

5) The settler terrorists in Occupied Palestine didn't confine themselves to mere legal persecution of Christians, but vandalised a monastery for Christmas. Not that there's anything unusual in that.

This sort of thing gets harder as the collection gets bigger

Have you ever had one of those annoying moments (or hours...) when you have a snatch of tune going round iin your head but you just can't remember what it comes from? I spent about an hour this evening tapping my foot to the imaginary strains of this, which I was convinced at first was by some unlikely band like Status Quo: I knew it was an instrumental by a band who didn't normally do instrumentals. After trying all my Quo albums (sadly, yes, more than one) I gave up and started going through all my CDs for inspiration. Of course I started at the Z end (closest to my normal chair) so it took a while to reach D. Still, we made it. My CD is a collection of Darkness B sides: this live version is even better (featuring Brian May, no less!) OK, there's not much to the number but a riff, but it's a good riff, and I can confirm that it sticks in the head.

Friday, January 04, 2013

That marriage was illegal - the shotgun wasn't loaded

Most people, when they think of Benny Hill, think of speeded-up sequences of people chasing scantily-clad women. And not without cause. (Some pretty famous, er, faces passed through the ranks of Hill's Angels, including Jane Leeves who went on to find fame and fortune in Frasier.) However, the boy could also knock out some pretty decent pop parodies in his day, including my all-time favourite, appended here. A duet with Maggie Stredder, it came out not long after Sonny and Cher had hit the charts with I Got You Babe. When broadcast on TV (there seems to be no video available online, sadly) it had Hill and Stredder suitably clothed and bewigged. Anyway, those of a certain age will enjoy this.

This Sporting Life

Here is a great video of the Kirkwall Ba' Game to which I referred in my last post. Music by Three Piece Sweet, an Orcadian band one of whose CDs I picked up on one of my many trips to Orkney.

On the topic of Scots and traditional sports, here are Runrig with the only song I know about shinty (Gaelic hockey), which is very big in the Highlands and vanishingly obcure pretty much everywhere else in Scotland. (Not sure whether the Canucks go for it nowadays as a summer alternative to ice hockey? The Youtube comments suggest that ice hockey was a direct descendant of shinty.)

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everybody.

In my post on New Year's Eve I mentioned that it was traditional for a man to be sent out of the back door at the end of the old year, bearing a lump of coal, to be welcomed in at the front door (still carrying the coal) when the new year had arrived. As we drove to Braemar on Hogmanay Hilary and i were discussing this and other New Year traditions, and realised we hadnlt encountered that particular one elsewhere. We wondered if it was a Braemar thing, but it turns out to be a Lancashire one (Sue, our hostess, hails from Bolton). I was born in Manchester but we moved out to Stockport (in Cheshire) before I was old enough to be seeing the New Year in. Also, my parents both came from Dorset, so all our neighbours could have been dancing eightsome reels, burning witches, or doing all manner of seasonal weirdness without their taking part (I get the impression that Dorset - even their home of Portland, which has a certain unique wackiness - isn't big on New Year traditions.) Anyway, my partial circumambulation of the Braemar house was duly accomplished, whereupon I re-entered and was plied with much Talisker. Now there is a New Year tradition I can approve of.

The Scottish news had its usual coverage, not only of the Edinburgh street party and fireworks (which are shown live on TV, interleaved with music from the studio which featured various folk we knew including a former boss of Hilary's) but of the amazing local New Year customs in Stonehaven and Kirkwall. The former is a relic of Norse fire festivals, the latter a vision of what rugby was like before they invented pitches, or rules.