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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Le dessin juste

As we move through Hogmanay, Dilbert has the best comment on it I've seen so far.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pachelbel's Christmas Basket

Despite the best efforts of my son (and hey, he managed the trick with Nickelback) I have not become a Green Day fan.

However, I'm a sucker for a good cover version, so when Lisa posted a link to this version of Basket Case by "The Other Guys" I just had to share it with you here on EKN as well.

It's a fair cop

This would be me......

Weapons are only as smart as the people aiming them

I presume from the background that this is meant to show an Afghan village after receiving the benefits of freedom and democracy. Apart from the snowy peaks, though, it would fit Gaza or Iraq equally well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A hitherto-unknown pro-European, apparently

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist dropping back in to share this gem with you.

Yup, Benjamin Expletive-Undeleted Kerstein seriously believes (or did back in 2003) not only that Tony Blair, the most anti-European Prime Minister of my lifetime, is "irredeemably dedicated to the EU monster state (sic)" but that in some way unknown to those of us who merely live in his country, he planned to put Britain on the Euro. This would be despite his own and his Chancellor's implacable opposition to just such a move (Blair never suggested a referendum until public opinion, which had been fairly evenly spilt, swung strongly against the Euro so that he knew it would be lost; Brown has never given the idea a moment's thought in his life).

I agree, though, that Britain's greatness always came from its independence from the barbarians: and it is that independence - from the USA - that Blair so thoughtlessly tossed away in the vain hope of looking big and clever. It didn't work, which is why he was binned and has already been largely forgotten.

Let's add politics and economics to the subjects on which Kerstein talks through his capacious butt.

And I want to know this: Kerstein left the USA purportedly because of the dreadful anti-semitism there (no, really). Surely this couldn't be connected with the difficulty of getting into universities in his home neighbourhood of New England, compared with the, er, less rigorous requirements of the "Ben Gurion University of the Negev"? Well, he graduated from that august institution and was full of the Master's degree in Jewish History he was about to undertake at Tel Aviv University. Then we hear of him moving to Jerusalem to become assistant editor of Azure magazine. So what about the degree? Were the exacting standards of a proper university too much for the boy wonder? Or was it never any more than another Kerstein invention?

Does He Know It's Christmas?

Mordechai Vanunu is a brave man who helped to publicise the Israeli clandestine nuclear programme (which remains to this day uninspected and totally unregulated, unlike those of for example Iran and Saddam's Iraq). For his services to humanity he was rewarded by being kidnapped, illegally abducted to Israel, tried in secret and locked up as a prisoner of conscience for 18 years. He made it into the Guinness Book of Records as having spent more time in solitary confinement than anyone else in the modern era (if one can use that phrase with regard to Israel). On the expiry of his sentence*, he was rearrested on charges of having attempted to exercise his rights under the UN Universal Charter of Human Rights to freedom of expression and to attempting to leave his country. In all, Vanunu has been treated by Israel in just the way the Russians and East Germans used to treat their dissidents.

Here is the text of a motion to the Scottish Parliament from Margo MacDonald asking for the government's support to end the persecution of Vanunu; along with a list of the responses received. I'm not terribly surprised that my constituency MSP David McLetchie didn't bother to reply, as he has never replied to anything I've sent him either (the phrase "waste of space" might have been invented for him). Of course, he may have had pressing financial business to arrange.

You may form your own opinion of the few MSPs who refused to support the motion. I know I have.

Other links from this page take you to calls from Scottish University rectors and religious leaders for Vanunu's release, as well as an online petition which I urge you to sign.

Mordechai Vanunu will never be free until he escapes from Israel: there will always be some trumped-up reason to jail him. One can only hope, though that once he has escaped from its clutches even the shameless Ehud Olmert will hesitate before having him illegally kidnapped again.

At this time of year we celebrate the birth of another Jewish hero who found that speaking the truth doesn't make you popular in the short term. Let's celebrate, then, the good things that can come out of Israel: and try to ensure that Vanunu can, indeed, come out of Israel.

(* Benjamin "Cunt" Kerstein considers it a "disgusting miscarriage of justice" that Vanunu was released when his sentence ran out, thus showing that his comprehension of justice and sentencing is no better than his knowledge of physics, writing, Noam Chomsky or, well, anything except Hebrew obscenity. "Needless to say", anyone Kerstein despises is likely to be a more than usually decent human being. But, hey, Christmas spirit and all: you can't help being an ignorant dick, Benjamin, so have a happy Christmas.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

"If we start pulling strings like this, you don't think every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork?" "I can only hope, Sir."

In our household, we don't watch Dinner For One every year.

We don't even watch It's A Wonderful Life each Christmas (just sometimes).

Our children (now 19 and 15!) still watch A Muppet Christmas Carol each year (it was a favourite of their late grandfather, and they borrow the video from their grandmother).

Hilary and Vanessa and I, though, do watch the Christmas episode from Season One of The West Wing each year. Not sure about Hilary, but it generally causes tears in Vanessa and me. Not so much that I can't appreciate one of the finest pieces of editing (for the funeral scene) that I've ever watched.

If you watch this clip you get the basic plotline, albeit with dreadful sound. I suggest that just after the President pats Toby on the shoulder, and before Toby heads off to the funeral, you switch to this clip with better sound (pretend you don't notice the semitone shift upwards!).

Oh, and the significance of the lady who says "Toby..I'd like to come along" is that her twin sons were killed in Vietnam on 24/12/1970.

A peaceful and happy Christmas to you all.

...and I''ve never been to Boston in the fall

I blame the engineer.....

My daughter's boyfriend altered her to the existence of Veggie Tales, and she shared this with the rest of us.

So now we have a house full of people with a tendency to burst out with "Look at the tomato" or "...and I've never bathed in yogurt....".

Not to mention this.

Or (for opera lovers the world over) this.

And (for 'tis the season) this.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The same procedure as every year

Some of my readers (Udge, for example) will have divined from the title what this post is to be about. The rest of you will have to wait a moment or two.

Hands up if you remember Freddie Frinton. For a Brit younger than me, don't bother: you won't. he was a comic who died in 1968. For my generation, he had a brief flowering of fame in a TV sitcom with Thora Hird entitled Meet The Wife. Ah, there go a few hands.

So how is it that Freddie Frinton is a household name in Scandinavia, and in German-speaking Europe? Well, a few years before he died, he recorded a sketch called Dinner For One, which is officially (according to the Guinness Book of Records) the most-repeated television programme of all time. It is shown on New Year's Eve in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, on several channels, every year. In Scandinavia it is shown on 23 December. In Britain, meanwhile, it has never been screened at all.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for the programme, and here is the programme itself (the full 18 minute version as generally shown).

I'm not sure what amazes me more: that a programme which is so incredibly popular abroad has never been shown in Britain, or that an 18 minute film, in English, without subtitles or dubbing, became - and remains - a cult hit in Germany and Scandinavia. How much interest would there be, do you think, in Britain for a similar sketch, even one in colour and less dated, if it were recorded in German and given no dubbing or titles? I can tell you, it wouldn't even get one showing. I'm prepared to bet that I've had visitors who took one look at my recent video posts of France Gall and Sarek and bailed out because they were in French / Swedish with no translation provided. (But you see, here at EKN we have faith in the intelligence, curiosity and persistence of our readers.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A.D. Fid. Def.

At around 17.00 on Thursday, Elizabeth I and II (*) overtook her great-grandmother Victoria to become the oldest monarch every to sit on a British throne. Still a few years to go before she's reigned as long as Vicky though (who was impossibly young when she succeeded).

A lovely story (maybe apocryphal but probably not) is that her mother (also Queen Elizabeth) was on the royal yacht Britannia when cocktail hour came around. She rang down to the stewards and said "I don't know what you old queens are doing, but this old queen would like a gin and tonic".

* As they say in Scotland.

What did they rhyme with doorknob again?

Blame Joe for introducing me to this. As he warns us, not one for when the kids are around to memorise the lyrics, or you'll be wishing they'd stuck to Les Sucettes.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Through Fire And Water

And while on the topic of Eurovision, one of the links along the way to Ms Gall was to this cracking performance by Sarek, taking part in the selection for Sweden's Eurovision 2003 entry. It may not have been picked, but IMO it knocks spots off most years' winners. I mean, how can you resist two miniskirted women (who can sing), and a hurdy-gurdy, and a nyckelharpa? Jings.....

Here's another video you might enjoy. No miniskirts, just a nyckelharpist playing Bach.

Hah! you think that's cool? I just bought a CD of Marco Ambrosini and Didier Francois playing Bartok's 44 Duos for Two Violins, on nyckelharpas of course.

Probably that's about as sad as reading Wikipedia articles on Magnesium Diboride. Time I went to bed. Though I may have another burst of Genom Eld och Vatten before I go....

They don't write them like that any more

At the end of another silly hyperlink chain, I came across this video of France Gall winning the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest with "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" by Serge Gainsbourg. The title is a pun on "Wax Doll, Sawdust Doll" and "Doll of Wax, Doll of Sound", or so I gather. It's sometimes described as the song that dragged Eurovision into the pop era; certainly it was a breath of fresh air after most of what had gone before. (Incidentally, she goes wonderfully sharp on her first note, which at least confirms that they don't mime on Eurovision!)

Then I discovered Petite had posted on the very same video clip since I was last on her blog. As she says, France Gall claimed innocence concerning the subject matter of "Les Sucettes", and indeed refused to work with Gainsbourg again, claiming she'd been set up. Hmmm....let's examine that YouTube clip, shall we?

I find it hard to imagine that young lady, winking at the camera as she strokes the fur in her lap, being totally unaware of the meaning of what she was singing. Which incidentally includes the line "Pour quelques pennies, Annie/A ses sucettes à l'anis." Hmm.... is it just me, or is "pennies" an interesting choice of word there, especially pronounced as in French? (A:No, it's not just me.)

And did she never watch even the normal promo video for the single? Very Freudian.

So I can quite understand why Petite might prefer that Tadpole sang "Poupée"....

Sopranos!? That's why God made the rocket launcher and grenade!

Some wonderful quotations from Frank Zappa, collected here.

You see, when I was a kid I used to save up for a month, so I could get
an R&B album and, the same day, the complete works of Anton Webern.
Maybe that means something. Maybe that tells you something about my music.

I was writing all kinds of positive and negative canons and weird inverted this and retrograde that and getting as spaced-out mathematically as I could and I was going"Wait a minute (laughs), who cares about that stuff?" I had always liked rhythm and blues so here I was stuck between the slide rule and the gut bucket somewhere and I decided that I would opt for a third road someplace in between.

A mind is like a parachute. It doesnt work if it's not open.

Interviewer: The notion of a "guitar solo" has preconceptions based on it; people automatically refute it because it's supposed to be self-indulgent or "for musicians." It's almost like things become iconographic and somehow lose their value for outsiders.

Zappa: Well, who's fault is that? That's what writers do. Musicians don't do that. The average person doesn't sit around thinking about "iconographic problems of a guitar solo."

Some people crave baseball -- I find this unfathomable -- but I can easily understandwhy a person could get excited about playing a bassoon.

If it can be conceived as music, it can be executed as music, and presented to an audience in such a way that they will perceive it as music: "Look at this.Ever seen one of these before? I built this for you. What do you mean, 'What the fuck is it?' It's a goddam ETUDE, asshole."

You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream.

It's because they keep jumping out of the bath

The same site that came up with the Irony T-shirt (see previous post) also had this, which I showed to my daughter who is going out with an engineer. She though it highly apt.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Keep those charges movin', Boride!

First of all, apologies for not posting for a few days. Work has been particularly hectic (I was in much of the weekend helping to recover from a major system problem) plus I've been writing an essay on various issues to do with aid to Africa for HIV/AIDS treatment. Busy busy busy.

Anyway, here I am, and like the character in the Zappa song, "I figure the odds be fifty-fifty I might just have something to say".

Let's start with something silly. I started following one of those chains of hyperlinks the other day, beginning with an article on diamonds and ending up via a circuitous route at the Wikipedia entry for Magnesium Diboride. As you do. I clicked on a link there which took me to this description of a novel MRI scanner. I especially liked the part where they tell us that "The first MR‐Open system is an open magnet structure built around an iron joke".

Presumably this one.

Friday, December 14, 2007

And There Was Licht

Many years ago, when my wife Hilary still taught clarinet to secondary school kids, she had a particulary apt pupil who decided to enter for the BBC's Young Musician of the Year contest. (In the event, like most entrants, she was eliminated before the bits that get shown on TV.) The BBC provided various stipulations regarding the pieces she was required to play for the elimination round. They didn't specify individual pieces, but required at least one piece from each of various historical periods. The one that interested us was the apparently arbitrary "At least one piece composed after 1962". It was a while before we twigged that this was to prevent people using the Poulenc Clarinet Sonata as their "modern" work. (The Poulenc, while not easy, is hugely popular as well as being fairly conservative in style. It's still a lovely piece, and of course entrants could still play it: they just had to come up with something newer as well.) We scrathched our heads, as Hilary isn't a modern music specialist and disn't have very many things that filled the bill. Then I remembered that I had bought her (as a "thank you for having me" present on behalf of our newborn daughter) a CD of music for solo clarinet (also for solo basset horn) by Karlheinz Stockhausen. There was a splendidly approachable little piece on it called "Sei wieder froh!" ("Cheer up!") , under a minute long. Better still, the CD booklet reproduced the entire manuscript. Yippee! A quick burst of neat longhand copying, and Hilary's pupil was set up. I believe she enjoyed playing the piece.

On our way to the Music Club gig on Tuesday, Hilary and I were talking about what we might do if we were prevailed on to organise an evening's programme. I suggested she might do "Sei wieder froh!", and she sounded quite enthusiastic. Who knows?

Then on my way back from Glasgow last night (I'd been to hear the BBCSSO doing Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin, which was excellent) I passed this lorry, and whipped out my cellphone for a picture:

So it was strange, with the man having been on my mind this week, to discover that I had missed the notices of his death last week. Here is the Guardian, and here is the Times.

Here, in considerable detail, is Wikipedia on the man and his work.

By way of a tribute, I have been accompanying my blogging tonight with a Stockhausen soundtrack. First, Kontakte played very loudly through headphones, which is pretty shattering but stopped interference from my son's band who were rehearsing at the other end of the house. Then (and as I type) Hymnen, which contains my favourite example of Stockhausen humour, to wit a section entitled Sumpf-Enten quaken die Marseillaise (marsh ducks quack the Marseillaise). It does what it says on the tin.

Finally, when I saw this picture:

I was reminded of this:

Humour and space. I think Karlheinz would have enjoyed the comparison.

Spam and Jerusalem

I've just emailed the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation what I hope is a pretty self-explanatory email.


For some time now I have been being spammed by a bunch of Zionist apologists, presumably because I frequently blog about Israeli human rights violations. These saddos, who call themselves Honest Reporting Canada (how Orwellian is that?) are currently asking their "subscribers" (strangely the "unsubscribe" function doesn't work) to bombard CBC with
complaints that you don't call enough people terrorists.

"Since our inception, we have called on the Canadian media to describe individuals whose intentional use of violence against civilians, done in order to achieve religious, political or ideological objectives, as terrorists. Instead, these individuals and their actions are labeled in the broadest political terms as militants, insurgents, activists, guerillas, and politicians."

I am pleased to see that CBC upholds the same high standards of journalistic and production ethics as the BBC World Service in this regard, and are resisting the temptation to describe as terrorists those Israeli "politicians" "soldiers" and "settlers" who have left such an egregious trail of slaughter, torture and theft through the Middle East over the past sixty years.


Rob Saunders

As requested, I copied my email with a covering note to "Honest Reporting Canada". I hope they liked it, spamming bastards.

Speaking truth to apathy

An excellent if rather dispiriting post from Craig Murray all about the dwindling level of support available to Brits abroad from their embassies. Two brief samples:

I would be the last to argue that British people abroad are always deserving.......I once tried to go to the aid at midnight of a British citizen who had been arrested in Poznan, Poland. He was accused of sexual assault on a girl in the Poznan Hotel.

He worked for a big name merchant bank in London. After speaking to the Polish police and persuading them to release his arms, which were handcuffed behind his back, I asked him what had happened. He replied:
“Listen here you little shit. I earn more than a month than you’ll see in a lifetime. Now get me out of here, or I’ll make sure it’s the end of your career.”
I motioned to the police to lock him up again. Sadly I believe he did eventually succeed in buying his way out of prosecution.


A recently retired senior diplomat, Carne Ross, in his book “Independent Diplomat” says the FCO has “A culture of amorality”. I would put the same point another way – most FCO employees just don’t care. This came home to me most strongly in the FCO when I failed to persuade an officer in our Embassy in Switzerland to leave a dinner party and open up the Embassy at night to quickly issue an emergency passport to a mother whose daughter was in intensive care in Manchester after a car crash. The passport was given the next day, and the woman reached the hospital less than an hour after her daughter died.

One of my favourite Christmas records

...by the Cocteau Twins of all people. Enjoy.


Those of you who read Clare's blog may have spotted in this post a reference to an "ace book" called The Wooden Overcoat, which turns out to be this one.

Looking in the Christmas Radio Times today, what do I find at 14:30 on 22nd December on Radio 4, but a dramatisation of The Wooden Overcoat. Starring, wait for it, David Tennant!

There's a lot of DT around over Christmas. They're repeating his interview with Kylie Minogue; he's on Top Gear; and I think there's something else I can't put my finger on.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One Hit Wonders

Let us celebrate a few of those artists who came and went like mayflies. Or at least, a few of the few that made an impression on me during their brief time with us.

OK; who remembers Timbuk 3? Great song and a clever video.

Or Men Without Hats? (I'd forgoten that one, actually.)

Surely you remember this one for Los Del Rio. (Couldn't find a really good video of the famous dance, though there's a weird one from World of Warcraft...how long before there's a Second Life cover version?)

How about Cartoons? (Leningrad Cowboys Go Britain?)

And finally, Plastique Bertrand. (Go France!)

The Curious Affair of the Silence in the Night-time

On Tuesday evening my regular quartet, augmented by my wife Hilary on piano, played at Edinburgh Music Club. Rebecca, our usual viola player, switched for the occasion to harmonium (or its digital equivalent) and we played Arnold Schoenberg's Weihnachtsmusik. Schoenberg write the piece in 1921 for a domestic occasion of some kind (one assumes at Christmas time), and it's a fantasia on the two Christmas carols Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen and Silent Night. (Clever of Schoenberg to spot that the two tunes have similar shapes.) It went pretty well, in fact: the piano part is by no means easy, and there are ensemble problems to be overcome at the end. We were a little surprised, then, when we finished and received no applause until Hilary said "That's it!".

Subsequent discussion with (generally enthusiastic) audience members suggested that they had for the most part failed to detect Silent Night in the mix. It appears only in the piano part (which is quite an ingenious arrangement) and is always embellished with a certain amount of triplet figuration. It seemed pretty obvious to us, and we know we got the balance OK with the piano. Anyway, we think the audience were all waiting for Silent Night to appear, hence their silence.

With the wonder that is the Internet, you can decide. Here is a recording of Weihnachtsmusik (not by us). I bet you spot Silent Night. Remember it's only in the piano, and first appears about half way through (3:28 to be exact). (I note that whoever labelled the Youtube clip also failed to register that there are two carols involved. Sigh.)

Enjoy the piece anyway: it's thoroughly charming and deserves to be heard more. Last Christmas it was played on Classic FM, so I'm not its only champion.

Special thanks to Chip and Eddie of Ed's World who came along to support. I like to think they spotted SN but stayed quiet so as not to embarrass less careful listeners.....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Noses in the Trump trough

As British readers, and certainly Scottish ones, will know, Donald Trump is attempting to obtain permission for a huge golf course and an even huger gated residential community. he is trying to do this on a site at Balmedie, north of Aberdeen, which is (a) a Site of Special Scientific Interest on account of its wildlife, and also (b) one of only two examples in the UK of a special kind of sand-dune topography. The Planning Committee of Aberdeenshire Council threw out his application. (While it has been widely reported that it did so only on the casting vote of its Chair, I understand from a friend of mine who knows people on the committee that in fact it did so my about a 2:1 majority, with the casting vote being used only on one of the amendments, though I assume that would have permitted some kind of development.)

So far so good. you might think. After all, one thing Scotland really doesn't need more of is golf courses (and another is areas illegally sealed off from public access). Trump made spitting noises and thretaened to take his eyesore to Northern Ireland (and who am I to deny them the chance of environmetal despoliation?) However, after a couple of days the Scottish Executive decided to call in the planning application, which almost certainly means it will now go ahead. Much has been made of a meeting between Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, and representatives of Donald Trump just the day before the bid was called in. I fully accept that as the MSP for the area concerned Salmond had to become involved; I also accept that as First Minister he takes no direct part in planning matters. I do not, however, believe for a second that his meeting was unconnected with the decision to call the application in.

As if all that isn't disgraceful enough, Aberdeenshire Council has now sacked the Chair of the Planning Committee from that job (he remains a councillor), simply because he had the honesty to do his job. The full council also unprecedentedly overturned the decision of its own planning committee; and when I call that decision unprecedented, last week there was considerable debate over whether such a decsion would even be legally permissible.

There is a well-known Scots song which decries the defeat of the Jacobite cause in these terms:

We were bought and sold for English gold;
Sic a parcel of rogues in a nation.

I cannot escape the feeling that Aberdeenshire Council has been bought and sold for American gold. Sic a parcel of c*nts in a county, perhaps.

If the Scottish Executive votes with its head instead of its paying-in book, I'll let you know the good news. Otherwise, see above (with country instead of county).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ho, ho, ho

An amusing (but more than that) post from Zinnia Cyclamen. Whose blog you really should read if you're not already a fan.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why my country's legal system is (a little) better than Sudan's

A propos this story, I'm relieved that Samina Malik wasn't given a custodial sentence. It still alarms me though that somebody can be at risk of being sent to prison for the wicked offences of reading the wrong books and having impure thoughts. No wonder Blair and Bush think the Islamic world hates us because it's jealous of our freedom.(/irony)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Runrig, Albert Hall, Stirling, 7 December 2007

Not sure how many times Hilary and I have seen Runrig now, but it's a lot. The first time was at the Edinburgh Playhouse on the Once In A Lifetime tour, which would be 1988: I remember we were on the balcony and the whole structure was gently flexing up and down as an enthusiastic audience leapt around. Then a few more times until the final concert with lead vocalist and founder member Donnie Munro, which was at Stirling Castle on the night the Princess of Wales died. Then (the only other time we've seen them in the Albert Hall) the band's first gig with their new singer Bruce Guthro; then various other times and places, including the band's 30th anniversary gig, also at Stirling Castle.

Tonight was near the end of a long European tour, and Bruce's voice sounded a little tired but still good, even if he was less bouncy and exuberant than normal. The rest of the band were on fine form, especially guitarist Malcolm Jones (is he ever not on fine form?) The setlist concentrated on the new album, with some songs from the previous three and very few of the Donnie Munro-era favourites: while they've tended to avoid the big ballads from that era which Donnie very much owned, they have previously done quite a few of the numbers where Rory sings, as the video clips below from the 30th anniversary concert demonstrate. Siol Ghoraidh in particular has made regular appearances. Not tonight though - we had:

Year Of The Flood
Road Trip
Ocean Road
Pride Of The Summer
The Engine Room
Every River
Clash Of The Ash
Faileas Air An Airidh
A Reiteach
Hearts Of Olden Glory
Protect And Survive
In Scandinavia
Something's Got To Give
Loch Lomond
Book Of Golden Stories

Like any band who've been around a while, Runrig have their detractors, and it must be admitted that they've gone through periods when their new material wasn't up to earlier standards. However, their current stuff is first-rate, and they've carved themselves a niche in Scottish culture. As befits a group who started out singing almost entirely in Gaelic, and who must be considered if not the inventors of "Celtic rock" very definitely early exponents of it, their material has often had a nationalist political edge to it. It was appropriate, then, that Maymorning (written the day after the referendum vote for Scottish devolution) became the BBC's theme music for all their coverage of the opening of the Scottish Parliament in the following May.

Anyway, enough from me. Here are the boys doing Hearthammer (not, as YouTube has it, Hearthhammer!) at the 30th anniversary concert. The fly-past by RAF jets also says something about the place of Runrig in the national consciousness, I feel. Fabulous location, BTW.

And here they are doing Siol Ghoraidh at the same show. The red flags were always a feature of the number - about the Highland Clearances - in live shows.

Finally, Loch Lomond, a song they rescued from the Celtic twilight into which it had fallen. They recorded it on one of their first albums, and it rapidly became a live favourite (though the live version evolved into a somewhat less sombre experience (to put it mildly!) than that original album track, which still makes chilling listening. (Well, it is meant to be sung by someone facing execution.) The particular version in the clip has been at number one in Scotland for three weeks now, raising money for children's charities. (Bruce's comment "This one's for tomorrow" refers to the Scotland v Italy Euro 2008 qualifier taking place in the same stadium the next night. Sadly, Scotland were the ones executed.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Bigger Bang

As a result of taking part in a meme over on LiveJournal, I was reading what various people had been doing last Guy Fawkes' Night (November 5th to you non-Brits). It seems quite a few were watching a TV programme in which Richard Hammond (best known as one of the presenters of the BBC motoring programme Top Gear) set out to reconstruct Fawkes's 1605 attempt to demolish Parliament, with the significant difference that he set his explosion off. He was doing it in a military bombing range, using a full-size reconstruction of the original builiding and 18 cwt. of gunpowder. Oh, and a lot of crash test dummies.

If you would like to know how big the bang was, how much damage the building sustained, how big the one part of the royal dummy(James VI to the Scots, James I to the English) was which was located afterwards, and how far it went, watch this video. It comes in 8 parts (the others are on the same page of Youtube) and lasts about an hour.

There is a certain addictive quality to watching a building being picked up and shaken in slow motion....... If you want to skip to that, it's in part 7. But it's a good programme and worth watching in full.


A kind of meme, cribbed from an interview Douglas Adams gave which is reprinted in The Salmon Of Doubt. As I cribbed it from memory I've probably forgotten a few of the original questions, and have definitely added one or two of my own. Basically, DA was asked to list his "Dream XXX...". Here are my own. Anyone else care to have a go?

Dream band

Gil Evans conducting a jazz orchestra comprising Jan Garbarek (sop), Charlie Parker (alto), Lester Young and Stan Getz (tenors), Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpets), John McLaughlin (guitars), Colin Hodgkinson (bass guitar), Buddy Rich (drums), Jerry Goodman (violin), Gary Burton (vibraphone), Keith Jarrett (piano), Brian Auger (organ) plus a few geniuses I've never heard of before.

Dream alternative career

Violinist in a string quartet. Or imaging specialist for NASA planetary science team at JPL.

Dream date

Madhuri Dixit. If she's too busy, Nicole Kidman would do. Or Aishwarya Rai, or Isabelle Adjani.

Dream holiday

Travel overland to Tuva, probably via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Tour the place at length, staying with horse herders in their yurts, learning throat-singing, climbing Mt Mongun-Taiga and white-water rafting on the Yenisei.

Dream meal

Pineapple Rassalam (as made in The Spice Route, Imperial Hotel, Delhi)
Grilled sardines with lemon
Espresso & Armagnac

Accompanied by a bottle of Frascati.

Dream cuisine


Dream film cast

A film version of Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly, directed by Gore Verbinski and starring:

Kris Marshall..........................................Neil
Kiera Knightley......................................Alice
Alan Rickman.........................................Ares
Nicole Kidman........................................Artemis
Ewan McGregor.....................................Hermes
Samuel L Jackson..................................Dionysius
Kenneth Branagh...................................Apollo
Emily Watson.........................................Athena
Aishwarya Rai........................................Aphrodite
Helen Mirren..........................................Hera
Derek Jacobi...........................................Zeus

Dream city

Not yet visited: New York
Already visited: Amsterdam

Dream day out

With Hilary. Climb Lochnagar from Invercauld Bridge in perfect weather. Champagne and sushi picnic on summit plateau.
On descent, catch helicopter to Edinburgh. Shower, and soak in jacuzzi in one of the grand hotels. Dress; get driven in Citroen Traction Avant to Usher Hall.
Watch Sir Simon Rattle conduct Berlin Philharmonic in Mahler's Second Symphony.
Eat late dinner with Sir Simon in Kalpna vegetarian Indian restaurant.
Home (chauffeured in the Citroen).

Dream "fly on the wall" experience

The Sermon on the Mount; or being aboard Eagle as Buzz Aldrin steered it down onto the lunar surface.

Dream art purchase

Painting: Lucas Cranach, Venus and Cupid (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)
Sculpture: Brancusi, The Kiss (Pompidou Centre)
Architecture: Lincoln Cathedral

Dream play

Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, directed by Peter Brook

Vladimir: Stanley Baxter
Estragon: Billy Connolly
Pozzo: Michael Gambon
Lucky: David Tennant

Dream drink

A really well-mixed Manhattan.

Dream dinner party

Myself and Hilary plus:

Compton Mackenzie
Richard Feynmann
Robert Anton Wilson
Cary Mullis
Alan Watts
Iain Banks
Leonard Bernstein
Bill Clinton
Noam Chomsky
Aaron Sorkin

A Whole New World

Here are NASA's plans for a manned mission to Mars. (Thanks to linkbunnies.)

OK, so now I'll have to stick around until I'm 76, if only to hear what the first person to step onto the Martian surface will say.

And on a less feminist note....

....some wonderfully dated advertisements.

4 days left

Better late than never, I link to this campaign.

This one of the "further information" websites has an interesting list of 16 forms of gender-based violence.

But can they tell you what you went in there to buy in the first place?

I was interested to read recently about Google's plans for the future. They're interested in collecting a lot of personal data, which is rather scary, but what they have in mind for it is like a sort of amplified version of what Amazon do. You know, "People who bought Madonna's Confessions On A Dance Floor also bought Frederick Rzewski's Variations on The People United Will Never Be Defeated" . (OK, maybe that's just me.) So if you keyed in a search they could for example order the results according to your perceived priorities. An interesting idea, though fraught with practical difficulties, methinks. Not least that if you take it to its logical conclusion you get fewer surprises when Googling, and they're half the fun.

The idea I really took to, though, was for supermarkets. Since their stock locations are already held on computer, why not make this available, for example to mobile phones. So instead of standing in Waitrose scratching your head wondering where the hell the capers are located, or whether they in fact have any 40% strength gin, you'd download the store shelf map. If that's the future, I want to live there.

The perils of unstructured Google searching

From my recent blog statistics, I am amused to find that I am the fourth hit for

is it legal to post porn pictures of youe ex through letterboxes

and top of the heap for

hidden cam amateur fuck college desecration

Me neither.

Hardly a surprise

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.

You show the world what culture really is.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A smile that could light up a horn section

From the popular to the downright obscure. I was chatting with Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra's conductor Gerry Doherty last week about programme suggestions for 2008-9, and mentioned that I'd been listening on the radio to James McMillan's Stomp (with Fate and Elvira). I reckoned it sounded fun and maybe we should try it some time (we did his Confession of Isobel Gowdie a couple of years back). Gerry said he'd done a piece called Underground Music with the RSNO, written by "some Russian-born Canadian guy". Like the McMillan, it was full of clever references to other pieces and was great fun. A bit of Googling led me to Nikolai Korndorf, whose 1996 fourth symphony is Underground Music and whose music has been championed by the RSNO's former conductor Alexander Lazarev. Wondering what the guy's music was actually like, I came upon this site where you can stream his 1998 The Smile Of Maud Lewis (about 14 minutes). I commend it to you: it may be obscure, but it's rather good. It took me a couple of minutes to get into it: it starts with a Michael Nyman-like irritatingly repetitive motif (though actually if you check out the extracts from the score on the same site the "repetitions" keep changing in both the sequence of notes and the articulation - one of those "drop your concentration and die" pieces) but before long it reveals itself as actually rather tuneful. It would be fun to do, despite its challenges, if I could persuade the rest of the committee. And, of course, if it doesn't cost our entire music hire budget to obtain (modern pieces can be obscenely expensive, but then composers have to eat). Anyway, have a listen: if you like minimalism at all, you'll enjoy it. And if you don't, maybe this piece will change your mind. Who knows? I'll tell you something, though: I shall be keeping an eye (and two ears) out for (the sadly now deceased) Mr Korndorf''s work.

Thinking Aloud

The Guardian has been running a 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die series. I viewed it with a mixture of unfamiliarity (divided into that-sounds-interesting and wha?), smugness (divided into I've-got-that-one and why-didn't-they-pick-the-next-album), general vague approval and the odd they-have-to-be-joking. One of the that-sounds-interestings, I thought, was this. And before you write off my credibility totally, read the Guardian's description of it.

Anyway, the topic of the aforementioned young ladies came up when I was chatting with my daughter, who combines my eclecticism and a degree of teenage cool. She agreed with the Guardian, so off to the my local library to borrow the CD go I.

Also, she showed me this video which I hadn't seen. It's part of Comic Relief (an annual BBC TV comedy night raising funds for charity) and features Sugababes and Girls Aloud (two famous British girl bands) covering a rightly famous Run DMC/Aerosmith video. Great fun. (Sugababes are the trio on the right.)

Oh, and Girls Aloud feature (prominently, one might think) in the forthcoming St Trinian's movie. (And the "Rob, UK" in the comments? Nope, not this one.)

Actually, Martin, you are a racist. And a lousy writer to boot.

OK, this has gone far enough. Wannabe novelist Martin Amis (has anyone not paid to do so actually finished any of his books? Even the Booker-shortlisted and heavily derivative Time's Arrow had me ready to gnaw off a limb to escape after two chapters) first of all spouts racist drivel, then when he's called on it, instead of apologising, he blusters and lies. Consider his original interview with Ginny Dougary in the Guardian:

“What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suff­­er­­­ing? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs – well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people. It’s a huge dereliction on their part. "

The main responses are linked here.

Apologists for Amis like Christopher Hitchens have claimed that he wasn't expressing a view but conducting a thought experiment. But he didn't say "What would happen if...?", he said "There's a definite urge - don't you have it? - to say....". The nudge-nudge of "Don't you have it?" makes it abundantly clear where Amis's sympathies lie on the matter. I assume he would not have said in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon "There's a definite urge - don't you have it? - to firebomb synagogues and assault Jews in the street". Doubtless some people had such an urge, as they doubtless do with the one in Amis's interview. But one may, I think, be certain that Amis would have been careful to distance himself from any suggestion of sympathy with the former. Yet given ample opportunity for such distancing in the present case, what does he come up with?

Well, let's look in Saturday's Guardian. Apparently:

"I DO NOT "ADVOCATE" ANY DISCRIMINATORY TREATMENT OF MUSLIMS. AND I NEVER HAVE. And no one with the slightest respect for truth can claim otherwise."

Well, in the same way as Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk didn't "advocate" the nuclear destruction of Iran via a false-flag sneak attack. She simply reported someone else's advocacy thereof and described it as one of those "Things that make you go "Hmmm". Actually, Amis's hypocrisy is worse than Weiss's, because Amis can't even point to someone else and claim to be reporting their views. The "urge" he describes (do I feel it? no) is all his own work.

So OK, Martin: you are content to stand by while others more honest than you about their views do the dirty work of discriminating against Muslims. And no one with the slightest familiarity with the English language can claim otherwise.

"The Muslim community will have to suffer.........Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community".

(In fact, even he doesn't claim they aren't his views. Later in the piece he says:

The comments I made, in addition, were prefaced by the following: "There's a definite urge to say..." When Bennett wonders why I don't "recant", what does he expect me to do? Pretend that I didn't in fact experience this transient impulse (which was not racist but simply retaliatory)? Does he want - do you want - novelists to sound like politicians, or like the pious post-historical automata that Bennett and Eagleton claim to be? Do you want the voice of the individual, or the aggressive purity of the ideologue?

So he admits to feeling the emotions he previously denied having, but says it's OK because it was only a "transient" "retaliatory" impulse, and justifies it as the "voice of the individual". What a pompous, self-regarding twat.)

Amis goes on, spewing out risible drive-by comparisons of the Guardian issue in which he was first taken to task to Julius Streicher's Der Stürmer, and claiming that he isn't concerned with race at all but with ideology. Ah, right: so strip-searching "people who look like they're from the Middle East or Pakistan" isn't racist? Because, as anyone who has been watching the news this week from Khartoum will know, all Muslim extremists look like that, and the black chappies we've been watching on TV are all above suspicion. Plus, one would never find, on a casual search of, say, Glasgow or Bradford, any British people who "look like they're from Pakistan", would one? No, this isn't about labelling as a suspected terrorist everyone of Arab or South Asian ethnicity (many of whom will be Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or who knows what else), but about ideology. Right. So the guy who runs my local Nepalese restaurant is clearly more ideologically unsound than a bloke in Khartoum with a bloody great sword demanding death for Gillian Gibbons. Or than Timothy McVeigh, or Theodore Kaczynski the Unabomber. He justs look ideologically, er, brown, rather than black or white. (Oh, or yellow: remember Aum Shinrikyo?)

Actually, maybe Amis doesn't realise that Britain is full of brown people. After all, he takes several paragraphs to tell us that he'd never seen a black person until he was five or six; perhaps he has yet to see a British Asian. Yet it's Ronan Bennett who "thinks like an idiot" for suggesting that he is "hostile to Islam on racial grounds - a self-evident absurdity". Well, OK, yes, I think we've now worked out that it's the other way round: that Amis is hostile to brown people on Islamophobic grounds. Glad to have cleared that up. Silly Ronan Bennett.

Finally, lacking the guts either to own up to his racist and Islamophobic attitudes (which become more evident every time the fool opens his mouth or sits at a keyboard) or to distance himself from his odious remarks, Amis does what far-right ideologues (oh, what, so now it's not about ideology?) always do: he misrepresents, he lies, and finally stoops to abuse. Ronan Bennett, according to Amis, "appease(s) jihadism", which is

irrationalist, misogynist, homophobic, inquisitional, totalitarian and imperialist. And it isn't merely "racist". It is genocidal.

I think I like the scare quotes round "racist" best. A fine piece of wriggling by a lethally-punctured ultra-rightist windbag. Who isn't merely racist, but a racist, xenophobic, self-deluding, hypocritical liar.

Let me finish with the only belly-laugh in Amis's article. As befits someone whose celebrity is largely derived from that of his infinitely more talented father, Amis can't resist dropping names. Here he's dropping that of a fellow xenophobic, self-deluding, hypocritical liar:

When I interviewed Tony Blair earlier this year I asked him if continental demographics had yet become "a European conversation". He said: "It's a subterranean conversation." And we know what that means.

Well actually, Mr Amis, we don't. It doesn't make sense; it isn't even English. It's as flaccid and devoid of meaning as most Amis (or Blair) pronouncements, and a prime candidate for Pseuds' Corner.

Now piss off and don't go wasting any more of the Guardian's newsprint until you've acquired a little knowledge of the world you live in and of the civilised values you pretend to care for.

My. Brain. Hurts.

A couple of fun time-wasting intelligence tests, courtesy of Joe.

I eventually (OK, took 4 shots) made it to "Brilliant" on this one.

And eventually figured this one out. Harder than it looks.