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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Return of the Jodi, or Any Nancy Will Do


Yes, tonight the nation has voted for the Nancy to star in Cameron Mackintosh's forthcoming West End production of Oliver! (see earlier post for details). Let's think back to last weekend, when the panel were evenly divided as to whether Jodie or Jessie should be eliminated: and of course the viewers at home ensured that the one binned would be Rachel or Samantha.

This week, then , no surprise that the contestant voted into third place was Samantha. After that, all the panellists were invited to pick their Nancy (after voting had finally closed). John Barrowman and Denise van Outen went for Jodie, while Barry Humphries, Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber all went for Jessie.

Naturally, then, Jodie won (this is the same TV phone-in public that gave us Andy Abrahams as our Eurovision entrant, for God's sake). OK, clearly some other people not totally addled by Buckfast see something in Jodie (Barrowman and van Outen aren't idiots), but for the life of me I can't understand what. I do wonder how she'll feel when the euphoria wears off and she realises that neither the chief judge nor, more significantly, the person who will be paying her salary as Nancy wanted her in the job. Their faces when Jodie was singing showed a mixture of boredom and faint panic which made that very plain. And I thought their comments after her win were masterpieces of tact:

ALW: You're the people's Nancy. That was always going to be the people's choice, I thought.

CM: I'm thrilled for Jodie.

As Jodie at the time was, I think, still running round like a cross between a newly-sprayed wasp and an end credit from The Benny Hill Show she may have missed them. And as a good opinion of herself is a star quality she doesn't lack, she might not understand anyway.

After Any Dream Will Do, the last five Josephs all did pretty well in terms of getting theatre work, mostly indeed in Joseph, either as understudies or touring productions. I am consoled, therefore, that we shall at some point see more of Jessie, Niamh, Rachel and Samantha. But I shan't be going to see Jodie in Oliver! Not only The People's Nancy, but Rowan Atkinson as Fagin? Hmmm. 10/10 for imagination, but ..... I can't imagine who is Bill Sykes. Ricky Gervais, perhaps.

Still, let us end on a genuinely positive note. In the month when manuscripts by William McGonagall (Poet and Tragedian of Dundee) were sold at auction for £6,600 we should all remember that posterity can find a place for even the least talented, so long as they are both sufficiently unskilful and sufficiently self-deluding to be funny.

Duncan Donuts and his Paisley Scarf

This story would be funny if it didn't make me feel queasy. America, a land where wearing the wrong colour of scarf gets you compared to a terrorist by gutter journalists like Michelle Malkin. And of course where being in possession of a backpack and a Koran gets you reported to the police by another of the same: Cinnamon Stillwell, local enforcer for Campus Watch (tirelessly keeping U.S. universities safe from independent thought and degenerate un-Americanism). I'm pleased to report that the San Francisco police appeared to be as embarrassed as the rest of us by the crazed racist.

Of course, our own Melanie Phillips valiantly flies the flag for British rug-chewers, with outbursts such as

It was the champagne socialist intelligentsia which destroyed the traditional family, demonised men, incentivised mass fatherlessness and declared never-married motherhood an inalienable human right, emptied education of content and cut off the escape routes out of disadvantage by withering the grammar schools, declared morality to be a dirty word, paralysed the police through political correctness, enslaved the poor through dependency on the state and then finally destroyed their brains by telling them to eat cannabis cake while themselves showing the way by snorting cocaine on the Square Mile or in recording studios, or getting legless on Crackdaddy cocktails at Boujis nightclub.

enlivening her Spectator column. Sometimes, like Cinnamon, she rails against the lack of Phillips-approved thought in our universities. Sometimes she trots out old and thoroughly debunked lies in the hope that she will scare gullible and vulnerable parents into withholding vaccination from their children.

When not writing for the Spectator Mad Mel returns to her vomit, so to speak, at the Daily Mail, brilliantly described this week in the Daily Mash blog.

Michelle; Cinnamon; Melanie. Now there is a combination of infections crying out for a triple vaccine. A communality not unlike the Graeae of Greek myth, though in the modern case it's a single brain-cell they share among themselves, eye and tooth having long ago deserted them.

Friday, May 30, 2008

That would be the Acme M-85 then

And here, in my all-time favourite Road-Runner cartoon*, Wily E. Coyote has troubles of his own with what are effectively cluster ordnance remnants. If only real people were as resilient.

* Mind you, this one is nearly as good, especially the grenade gag near the beginning.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Well done, that man

Sometimes Gordon Brown demonstrates that, actually, he is a good guy to have in charge of one's country. For example, despite statements from senior RAF people that Britain's M73 cluster bombs would be "non-negotiable" at the Dublin talks, it appears that Gordon has agreed to phase them out, and to get rid of all our other cluster munitions immediately. Which is even more impressive when you consider that we were widely seen as the main obstacle to a treaty. Now of course, since "the US, Israel, Russia, China, India and Pakistan are not taking part in the talks" it is clear where the remaining opposition to a ban on indiscriminate slaughter of children comes from.

Then again, in view of the growing energy crisis, not to mention the little matter of global warming, he has just announced that he will be encouraging the use of nuclear energy, including the building of new power stations. Ok, he will have done so to a chorus of "Well, duh!" from anyone who believes that climate change deserves to be taken seriously, but better late than never.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Defying Gravity

There was an item on the BBC Scottish news tonight about the centenary of the Ladies' Scottish Climbing Club. Among other things they showed the picture below, taken on Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh in 1908. Hilary and I rather liked the long skirts and the hats.

Copy of a self-explanatory open letter from a group of influential South Africans

We fought apartheid; we see no reason to celebrate it in Israel now!

We, South Africans who faced the might of unjust and brutal apartheid machinery in South Africa and fought against it with all our strength, with the objective to live in a just, democratic society, refuse today to celebrate the existence of an Apartheid state in the Middle East. While Israel and its apologists around the world will, with pomp and ceremony, loudly proclaim the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel this month, we who have lived with and struggled against oppression and colonialism will, instead, remember 6 decades of catastrophe for the Palestinian people. 60 years ago, 750,000 Palestinians were brutally expelled from their homeland, suffering persecution, massacres, and torture. They and their descendants remain refugees. This is no reason to celebrate.

When we think of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, we also remember the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

When we think of South Africa's Bantustan policy, we remember the bantustanisation of Palestine by the Israelis.

When we think of our heroes who languished on Robben Island and elsewhere, we remember the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

When we think of the massive land theft perpetrated against the people of South Africa, we remember that the theft of Palestinian land continues with the building of illegal Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

When we think of the Group Areas Act and other such apartheid legislation, we remember that 93% of the land in Israel is reserved for Jewish use only.

When we think of Black people being systematically dispossessed in South Africa, we remember that Israel uses ethnic and racial dispossession to strike at the heart of Palestinian life.

When we think of how the SADF troops persecuted our people in the townships, we remember that attacks from tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships are the daily experience of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory.

When we think of the SADF attacks against our neighbouring states, we remember that Israel deliberately destabilises the Middle East region and threatens international peace and security, including with its 100s of nuclear warheads.

We who have fought against Apartheid and vowed not to allow it to happen again can not allow Israel to continue perpetrating apartheid, colonialism and occupation against the indigenous people of Palestine.

We dare not allow Israel to continue violating international law with impunity.

We will not stand by while Israel continues to starve and bomb the people of Gaza.

We who fought all our lives for South Africa to be a state for all its people demand that millions of Palestinian refugees must be accorded the right to return to the homes from where they were expelled.

Apartheid was a gross violation of human rights. It was so in South Africa and it is so with regard to Israel's persecution of the Palestinians!

Ronnie Kasrils, Minister of Intelligence / End Occupation Campaign
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary, South African Communist Party
Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary, Congress of South African Trade Unions
Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela Foundation
Eddie Makue, General Secretary, South African Council of Churches
Makoma Lekalakala, Social Movements Indaba
Dale McKinley, Anti-Privatisation Forum
Lybon Mabasa, President, Socialist Party of Azania
Costa Gazi, Pan Africanist Congress of Azania
Jeremy Cronin, South African Communist Party
Sydney Mufamadi, Minister of Provincial and Local Government
Mosioua Terror Lekota, Minister of Safety and Security
Mosibudi Mangena, President, Azanian Peoples Organisation / Minister of Science and Technology
Alec Erwin, Minister of Public Enterprises
Essop Pahad, Minister in the Presidency
Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Education
Roy Padayache, Deputy Minister of Communications
Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology
Rob Davies, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry
Lorretta Jacobus, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services
Sam Ramsamy, International Olympic Committee
Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights
Pregs Govender, Feminist Activist and Author: Love and Courage, A Story of Insubordination
Adam Habib, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg
Frene Ginwala, African National Congress
Salim Vally, Palestine Solidarity Committee
Na'eem Jeenah, Palestine Solidarity Committee
Brian Ashley, Amandla Publications
Mercia Andrews, Palestine Solidarity Group
Andile Mngxitama, land rights activist
Farid Esack, Professor of Contemporary Islam, Harvard University
Elinor Sisulu, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
Andre Zaaiman
Virginia Setshedi, Coalition Against Water Privatisation
Max Ozinsky, Not in my Name
Revd Basil Manning, Minister, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa
Firoz Osman, Media Review Network
Zapiro, cartoonist
Mphutlane wa Bofelo, General Secretary, Muslim Youth Movement
Steven Friedman, academic
Ighsaan Hendricks, President, Muslim Judicial Council
Iqbal Jassat, Media Review Network
Stiaan van der Merwe, Palestine Solidarity Committee
Naaziem Adam, Palestine Solidarity Alliance
Asha Moodley, Board member of Agenda feminist journal
Suraya Bibi Khan, Palestine Solidarity Alliance
Nazir Osman, Palestine Solidarity Alliance
Allan Horwitz, Jewish Voices
Jackie Dugard, legal and human rights activist
Professor Alan and Beata Lipman
Caroline O'Reilly, researcher
Jane Lipman
Shereen Mills, Human rights lawyer, Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Noor Nieftagodien, University of the Witwatersrand
Bobby Peek, Groundworks
Arnold Tsunga, Chair, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
Mcebisi Skwatsha, Provincial Secretary, ANC Western Cape
Owen Manda, Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg
Claire Cerruti, Keep Left

NB: Organisational affiliations above are for identification purposes only and do not necessarily reflect organisational endorsement

Organisational endorsements:

African National Congress
Al Quds Foundation
Anti-Privatisation Forum and its 28 affiliates
Azanian Peoples Organisation
Congress of South African Trade Unions
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
End Occupation Campaign
Media Review Network
Muslim Judicial Council
Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa
Not In My Name
Palestine Solidarity Alliance
Palestine Solidarity Committee
Palestine Solidarity Group
Social Movements Indaba
Socialist Party of Azania
South African Communist Party
South African Council of Churches

Glitter and be Gay

It was because of Kristin Chenoweth's Pushing Daisies commitments that English National Opera have been deprived of her appearance as Cunegonde in this year's production of Candide. This concert footage gives a glimpse of what they're missing.

This offer is now closed

And I have my daughter to thank for drawing my attention to this dog-related story.

Doggedly Devoted to Kristin

On the subject of irritating disappearances, when ITV started showing Pushing Daisies there was a lot of fuss about the strange and unexplained jump from Episode 1 to Episode 3. I didn't get too upset as it didn't seem to confuse the storyline.

Now, thanks to the wonder that is Youtube, I have found this wonderful clip from the missing episode. Even despite the squashed aspect ratio, I love it.

Dude, where's my Mozart?

Just logged on, and the Mozart extract in my blog header has mysteriously vanished.

The text is still there, though that doesn't actually appear anywhere in my template. Weird.

Also annoying, as I don't have a copy of the Mozart image immediately to hand, though I can easily enough regenerate it from a pdf file. Then I'll need to rediscover how I got it into the header in the first place.

Of course, this being Blogger, perhaps it will reappear for no good reason in a day or two.

No: me neither.

Update: aha! It's lurking in my personal webspace courtesy of Virgin Media. Still, at least I can now see a placeholder. I know Virgin have been doing site maintenance this week, so maybe it really will reappear.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mad as a hatter

OK, so the last time I lived in Stockport was 1977.

OK, so when I was at school Stockport County FC were a bit of a joke.

OK, a lot of a joke.

Q: What do they play at Edgeley Park?
A: Spot the crowd.


....now they've made it back into Division One.

Go County!

Oh, go on, they're worth a couple of cheers at least.

More here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reviewing the Situation

Apologies to my non-British readership, but I want to talk about I'd Do Anything. This is a BBC series in which a number of hopefuls are whittled down, one per week, with a view to finding someone to play Nancy in a West End production of Lionel Bart's Oliver! A similar format of programme has so far delivered leads for The Sound Of Music (How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?) and Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat (Any Dream Will Do). Each week, the remaining contestants each perform a solo number (as well as undertaking various stage-related challenges and singing group numbers). A panel of judges (John Barrowman, Denise van Outen, Barry Humphries) delivers a verdict on each one, after which a public phone-in vote ranks them in order. The bottom two go into a sing-off after which the senior judge (Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) reprieves one of them, with the other being eliminated.

So. Here we are with only four remaining entrants. One will be eliminated tomorrow night to leave three to go into the final, where only the phone-in vote will count (no reprieves). Last week the contestant eliminated was Niamh, for whom I had been rooting from the beginning, at least as a finalist and probably a winner. How she came to be eliminated while the supremely talentless Jodie (can't act, can sing if you don't want any kind of expression, and dances - in Sir Andrew's memorable phrase - like Meat Loaf) has sailed through without ever being in a sing-off is hard to undrstand. One can only assume that the home audiences like the thought of a contestant who isn't threateningly talented ("Eee, she's just like us..."). Either that or the producer of a rival show has been placing thousands of spoiler votes.

Anyway, Niamh has gone (doubtless to a decent career, though not as Nancy this time). We are left with Jessie, Sam, Jodie and Rachel. While Jodie is clearly the one who should be binned tomorrow night, on the basis of previous voting preferences it will be Rachel, who definitely should be in the final. However, if she goes out then the final will comprise three women none of whom has ever been in the bottom two and hence in a sing-off.

While the cynic in me expects Jodie to win such a final (after which I feel Osama bin Laden may as well nuke us all, so undeserving of national survival would we be), either of the others would be a perfectly decent Nancy. My hope is that common sense will prevail and Sam will get the job, as she's much the best actor and dancer of the three and I think is a slighty better singer than Jessie.

So: what I hope will happen tonight is Jodie's exit; what will probably happen is Rachel's exit. But either way I think Sam deserves to win, and probably has a decent chance.

Good luck, Sam.

Bring on the hate mail....

Update after Saturday's show

Well, I thought Jodie showed the first sign of being able to sing tonight, though not sufficiently that I would want to retain her next week. Rachel I thought was outstanding, and has for the first time moved above Jessie in my personal rankings to be right up there with Sam. However, I have little hope that she'll survive.

Update after Sunday's show

And yes, Rachel went out. What was really interesting was that when the panel were asked who they thought should be eliminated, two said Jodie and two said Jessie. So naturally on the basis of the audience votes it was Rachel and Sam in the sing-off.

I look forward to Boris Johnson's being elected Nancy next week.


Funniest moment this week was when John Barrowman told Jessie her performance hadn't excited him, and she cried out "John, what do I have to do to excite you?". Pause for the rest of the panel to start giggling, followed by JB himself, who eventually said "Yeah, a lot of girls have asked that....."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Things Rob likes to do (apparently)

This is a meme I picked up from little.red.Anna, so before it was a meme it was a herher. (Sorry about that.)

The basic idea is, you type into Google "[insert your name here] likes to" and see what the first ten hits reckon you like. Apparently Rob likes to:

....tan [tan? tan? what is this tan of which you speak? is it a mythical regeneration which happens after the burning and the falling off of skin? I know it not]

....go fast [OK, who was watching me on the M90 on Sunday? own up...but I don't get a buzz from speed in itself. The Russian Air Force used to sell flights on their Mach 3 interceptors (I forget which MiG number) and I suppose being briefly the fastest (or joint fastest - unless the pilot has fallen out) person on the planet might be quite cool]

....draw [nope, not to save my life - though I did briefly do a good line in "Dassa's lellow car", that being a cartoon of our cream-coloured 2CV done for my daughter Vanessa when she was very small]

....smell feet [ewww]

....get his friends drunk [while I like to drink and don't mind getting drunk if it doesn't get inconvenient, why would I pay for other people to get drunk? It's hardly a spectator sport unless you have a rather sick sense of humour]

....play music [now you're talking: yes please, as much as possible]

....rock and roll all night and BBQ on Saturdays [sounds good to me if the music's right and it's a good barbecue, though I'd probably then be too full to rock and roll on Saturday night. Roll, maybe]

....talk about difficult subjects [oooh! oooh! I do that! Or then again, I can get all enthusiastic about Wagner operas, stellar evolution, the St Kilda archipelago, points of common ground among religions, and antique clarinets, to name but a few. How many kinds of nerd are you?]

....lick people [ewww]

....sleep in on Saturdays when he is not volunteering at the Humane Society [I never volunteer at the Humane Society. I do like to sleep on Saturdays though. And other days, given half a chance.]

So: any of my regulars care to take up this challenge?

I'm sorry to have missed this

Model T Ford centenary celebration

I was at work in any case, but I wasn't aware it was happening until I saw the TV news tonight.

My hero (or one of them)

Just read this and thought it worth sharing. Having become familiar with Peter Brook both through his reputation (his RSC Midsummer Night's Dream is, I think, still a contender for greatest Shakespearean production ever) and through his films (Lord of the Flies, Marat/Sade, Meetings With Remarkable Men) I was very disappointed to have to miss his production of the Mahabharata which inaugurated (I think) the Glasgow Tramway Theatre (my daughter's birth was imminent). However, he returned several times to the Tramway, with La Tragédie de Carmen, Impressions de Pelléas, La Tempête and The Man Who....., all of which I did manage to get to. I believe there are people who do not fall instantly under Peter Brook's spell when they see his productions. I am not one such.

Who put the goat in there?

Sal just linked to this down in one of my comments boxes, and I thought it deserved greater exposure, combining as it does two of my enthusiasms (linguistic humour and Bollywood). There's evidently a lot of this kind of stuff about, but this particular example is rather splendid.

And hi, Sal (waves).

A new metaphor for blogging

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

I've just been checking to make sure I recorded Queen Of Sheba: Behind The Myth properly off the History Channel. (It's the first time I've tried recording from the cable receiver onto the new hard disk recorder, but I seem to have got the settings right.) It was all about excavations at her old capital at Mareb, on the edge of the Yemeni desert, and looks as though it will prove really interesting.

My ass would truly have been grass had I screwed up (hence my checking before the programme was repeated at midnight): Hilary and I are both fascinated by all things Yemeni, having visited the Yemen Arab Republic, as it then was, back in 1987. Our visit to Mareb came right at the end of two and a half weeks, and was one of the high points of the holiday. Quite apart from its archaeological marvels, Mareb stays in my mind because of a memorable breakfast. We were eating our omelettes and tomato salads - the full Arabian breakfast, as it were - in a little cafe just opposite some big Ministry of Defence site or other, and noticed a trail of people coming in. Now in Yemen the carrying of a gun is very much the macho thing for males to do: from teenage boys to decrepit old men, from muzzle-loaders to AK47s, there are enough tooled-up tribesmen to gladden the heart of Charlton Heston. But what if you work in a secure building where they won't let you take your gun in with you? Why, you pop over to the cafe, leave it in their Left Gun Office, and take a cloakroom ticket for later collection, that's what. I still giggle at the thought.


This week has been a good week for televisual reminders of our trip, as over on the BBC Dan Cruickshank visited Shibam (as we did in 1987) for his Adventures In Architecture series. I recorded that, then inadvertently deleted it before Hilary had watched it (hence the ass-grassiness referred to above if I fouled up with Sheba). Fortunately the BBC put Dan Cruickshank's programme onto iPlayer, so Hilary will be able to see the amazing mud-brick high-rises of Shibam once again.

(Top and bottom pictures from here.)

The Other Other Hand - RSAMD, Glasgow, 2 May 2008

I know, I know, it's taken me a while to get round to reviewing this, the second performance (the first was the previous night) of a piece of music/theatre/multimedia/humour by J Simon van der Walt. Simon is one of my wife's colleagues in the Stevenson College music department, and TOOH is his Ph.D piece for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. (I reviewed an earlier premiere of his a couple of years ago.) When I were a lad, this kind of stuff was more common than it is today: we called them "happenings" back then. It's still a pretty good way to describe the undescribable. To quote Simon van der Walt:

What we have here is not so much the realisation of the vision of the composer, but rather, the outcome of an extended period of collaborative devising, experimentation, and revision. Look at it another way: the performers are not there to play the composer's music. The composer comes up with music for the performers to play with.

Six performers played with Simon's music on Friday, on piano, violin, cello, euphonium, saxophone and clarinet. they played, sang, moved about (on and off the stage), played into echo-delay units, sat under the piano, loaded piles of music treatises into and out of the same piano, and seemed to be having a good deal of fun, as were the audience. Audio-visual materials were projected behind the musicians.

Oh, sorry, what was it all about? Well, its inspiration seems it have been as a riposte to C Hubert H Parry (composer of Jerusalem among other things). In 1896 Parry published The Evolution of the Art of Music, which Simon describes as "an entertaining and well-informed romp throuigh the history of Western music up to the time of Wagner". However:

What is particularly worrying is that the central narrative which he proposes - of an 'evolution' from 'a kind of vague wail or howl' produced by 'savages' to the music of 'special races' who have 'arrived at an advanced state of intellectuality' - is still in essence what is believed and taught about classical music today.

So at least part of the nature of TOOH is a group of highly-trained classical musicians giving vent to a mix of complex musical structures and primitive wails and howls, often at the same time as if daring the audience to distinguish between them. And part of it, you see, isn't.

(J Simon van der Walt, 2008)

By general consent (from an admittedly highly musically-trained bunch of Stevenson College lecturers with whom I was sitting) the evening's highlight was one of the audio-visual segments, in which Simon demonstrated the rising cyclic chord structure of the piece. He did this using Sibelius, the industry standard music scoring software package (written by two brothers called Finn, hence the name)(you'll get there), and his demo not only included some amusing harmonic jokes such as his accidentally arriving at the Tristan chord by mistake, but many in-jokes for the Sibelius user, most of which probably passed me by. His examples did have an alarming propensity to shift the rests around in an arbitrary manner which is a 'feature' of Sibelius. They also had all kinds of mis-typings and corrections which came and went bewilderingly fast, so I speak for us all when I say: please put the Sibelius bit up on YouTube so we can all appreciate it better.

Anyway, here is a link to the blog which Simon has created for the piece.

And here is a splendid article by Michael Tumelty, music critic of the Glasgow Herald, about Simon's music. If that doesn't get you listening to the mp3 files on Simon's site, I don't know what will. (And it has the best picture of Simon that I've found online to date.)

The gift that keeps on giving

Back in November, Gordon Brown won considerable praise for his commitment to working for a global ban on cluster bombs. The praise dried up a bit when shortly afterwards the Ministry of Defence defined cluster bombs as containing ten or more bomblets. The most widely-used British cluster bomb, the M73, happens to contain nine. Well strike me pink. (Or if I happened to chance upon a leftover M73 bomblet, pink and splashy.)

So now a hundred or so countries are meeting in Dublin to try to thrash out just such an international ban as Gordon pretended to care about, and Britain is generally perceived to be the main obstacle to such an agreement. We insist on keeping our cluster bombs because the manufacturers say they self-destruct. The American forces who had to avoid their lethal remnants in Iraq, and the civilians killed in Lebanon long after the Israeli cluster-bomb attacks had ceased, might beg to differ.

Watch this video, and imagine life without a leg.

40% of the victims of cluster ordnance are children, usually long after the war that brought them has ended. While the threat to civilians from landmines, for example in Cambodia, is well-known, spare a thought for its next-door neighbour Laos. Fewer mines, but the world's worst unexploded bomb problem.

Wouldn't it be good if this timeline could be finished off with a ban in 2008?

Not a generous settlement then

People have images which help them to make sense of German hyperinflation in the 1930s. Workers being paid with shovelfuls of notes off the back of a lorry, for instance. My personal favourite has long been the man with a suitcase full of cash looking in shop windows for things to buy with it, who put the case down for a moment: when he turned back, the case was gone. The money, however, was dumped in a pile on the pavement.

The following report, culled from a Unite finance sector newsletter, has helped me at least to get some kind of a handle on Zimbabwe's current hyperinflation. (The red highlighting is mine.)

Protest to Standard Chartered Bank chairman over Zimbabwe sacking

Unite and UNI the Global Union has condemned Standard Chartered Bank’s chairman, Mervyn Davies, for not intervening to reinstate two union leaders sacked in the bank’s Zimbabwe subsidiary.

Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe dismissed two trade union leaders, the Chairman of the bank’s National Workers Committee, Mr. Peter Mutasa, who is also the Vice-President of affiliate Zimbabwe Bank Workers’ Union (ZIBAWU), and the National Secretary, Mr. Shepherd Ngandu, for carrying out their legitimate union duties of representing and communicating with the workers: a clear abuse of international labour standards.

Although the two employees have successfully appealed against their dismissal, the British-based bank chose to pay them damages and terminate their employment, instead of reinstating them.

The two employees were awarded seven and a half years salary, calculated in Zimbabwe Dollars at the rate applicable at the time of dismissal. Taking into account hyperinflation, the bank paid them USD 15 and USD 16 respectively.

The bank’s chairman has refused to intervene and considers the matter closed. UNI Finance demands that Standard Chartered Bank either reinstates the two colleagues without loss of pay or compensates them appropriately taking account of inflation.

“We strongly condemn the behaviour of Standard Chartered and consider that the company is failing to respect recognised union rights, resorting instead to victimising union leaders through unfair dismissals”, says UNI Finance head of department Oliver Roethig.

Rob MacGregor, of Unite and UNI-Europa Finance Vice-President, says: “Instead of acting like a leading company and a responsible employer, Standard Chartered is profiting from the political, social and economic hardship that Zimbabwe and its people are facing”.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I'm stunned....

....by this revelation.

Awww inspiring

I thought this story was interesting, having visited Hirta with Hilary 25 years ago (almost to the day). The sheep are great: it takes a lot to make people go "Awwww" over sheep, but Soays have the same soppiness-engendering quality that Highland cattle have.


And while we're on the subject of soppiness, the same Google search that returned that picture also came back with this, which I couldn't resist publishing:

I'm not here. Apparently.

Why does the post I've just done show up as published on my list of posts when I go into the "Manage Posts" bit of Blogger, but fail to appear when I view the blog?

****ing B**gger.

And yes, I've checked that it hasn't had the wrong date attached to it.

I expect this post, too, will vanish into limbo....

Killing Hitler and other mistakes

My friend Gill over on LiveJournal linked to this very funny short story. Not only is the basic idea pretty funny, but as she says, anyone who's ever either moderated a forum (Gill is a Compuserve mod herself) or hung around one with a really anal moderator will particularly appreciate BarracksRoomLawyer's contributions.

There is a Larry Niven short story (in his collection "The Flight of the Horse") in which a character travels back in time to make a copy of a Model T Ford for his museum employers, but accidentally hooks up his duplicating machine the wrong way round and destroys the original Ford instead. Then he has to do all kinds of complicated time travel (lugging a Model T in his machine) to correct the error.

Or then again, there's Douglas Adams's inimitable take on the matter:

"Concentrate," hissed Zaphod, "on his name."
"What is it?" asked Arthur.
"Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth."
"Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth. Concentrate!"
"The Fourth?"
"Yeah. Listen, I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox, my father was Zaphod Beeblebrox the Second, my grandfather Zaphod Beeblebrox the Third ..."
"There was an accident with a contraceptive and a time machine. Now concentrate!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Gosh, a week already. Sorry, guys: I've been rather busy, with normal work stuff, trade union stuff, music playing (an Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra concert last weekend and the first rehearsal of a new piece tonight, not to mention rehearsals for another orchestra and practising for a Beethoven piece I've been asked to play at our local music club) and music organising (for the ESO concert last week, the one we're rehearsing for, plus taking over as interim chair and sorting a few minor crises). Also not to mention helping my son revise for his standard grades, writing to a friend going through a bad patch, responding to an email from someone I haven't seen in a quarter-century, and so on.

So, yes, Why I Have Not Blogged, Should get more time either tomorrow night or at the weekend. I am acquiring a neat backlog of things to blog about.

Patientia Vinces, as they say in Stockport.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Two Leaves Fallen

OK, maybe early days for too much hinting, but the two unguessed songs are roughly contemporary.

#2 was an American sitcom which ran from 1965 to 1966 (one series). At one time it was distinctly obscure: when I found one of my college friends remembered it I'd been beginning to think I'd dreamed the whole thing. Often rated the worst sitcom ever and with something of a cult image as a result, it was actually very popular in its day with with younger viewers (hey, I was 10, OK?)

Persephone may wish it weren't so, but it is indeed My Mother the Car. Maybe those of us who watched - I won't say all but I'm guessing most - of the series should get T-shirts made. They could have this picture and "Guess Who?"

You can find out all about the show, and hear its theme song, here.

#8 was a British comedy thriller series which ran from 1966 to 1967 (two series) and made its lead character a star, in the UK at least. It is said to have inspired Jon Pertwee's characterisation of the third Doctor in Dr Who.

And of course Lisa guessed it was Adam Adamant Lives! Best write-up on the web I've found is halfway down this article.

Oh all right then, here's a picture.

Discovering that the series were almost exact contemporaries, and ran for similar periods of time, was rather a strange experience.

Time to show your age....

Time for another 'first lines' quiz. This time for a change I haven't picked songs from my CD collection, but theme songs from TV series I have watched and enjoyed over the years. They'e a mix of British and American shows, which might be felt to disadvantage my transatlantic visitors: but them how many Brits remember American 1960s sitcoms?

Usual drill: answers in comments box please, and I'll annotate the list below as people guess correctly.

1. Through early morning fog I see visions of the things to be
M.A.S.H (guessed by Persephone)(and I'd forgotten the TV show only had the intrumental version - sorry!)

2. Everybody knows in a second life we all come back sooner or later
My Mother The Car (guessed by Persephone)

3. It was boredom at first sight
Watching (guessed by Jane)

4. Hey baby I hear the blues a-callin', tossed salad and scrambled eggs
Frasier (guessed by Persephone)

5. Here we come, walking down the street
The Monkees (guessed by Persephone)

6. Oh, what happened to you, whatever happened to me
Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? (guessed by Phil)

7. Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip
Gilligan's Island (guessed by Persephone)

8. Bold as a knight in white armour, cold as a shot from a gun
Adam Adamant Lives! (guessed by Lisa)

9. So no one told you life was gonna be this way
Friends (guessed by Persephone)

10. Rollin' rollin' rollin'
Rawhide (guessed by Persephone)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Destroy the Evidence

Also via linkbunnies, a set of woodblocks used to help Chinese children learn English. Or something......

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My daughter will be pleased by the Starbucks product placement

Here is a short film about the life of a digital artist (via linkbunnies). I suspect most of us can identify with the protagonist to some extent.

I'm certainly emailing the link to my orchestra desk partner (and section leader) who is blowing off a concert in June on the flimsy excuse that she has to deliver her first project for her new employer and they've brought the date forward from end of September to end of June (or something like that).

This means that when Chip Clark comes to conduct his new symphony, instead of seeing this immediately in front of him

he will see this.

Ah well. less distracting, perhaps.

It was thirty years ago today....

.... that I was first greeted, by a Capital Radio DJ (I was living in London at the time) with the immortal lines:

It's Star Wars Day...

...yes, that's right....

May The Fourth Be With You!

And amazingly, I still find it funny.

I have three toes on either foot, or half a doz. on both

I couldn't resist linking to this on the Times Online letters page. I think slide # 7 is my favourite.

Which reminds me of Flanders & Swann's take on this charming animal:

A Bradypus, or Sloth, am I,
I live a life of ease
Contented not to do or die,
But idle as I please
I have three toes on either foot,
Or half a doz. on both
With leaves and fruits, and shoots to eat,
How sweet to be a Sloth

The world is such a cheerful place
When viewed from upside-down;
It makes a rise of every fall,
A smile of every frown;
I watch the fleeting flutter by
Of butterfly or moth
And think of all the things I'd try
If I were not a Sloth.

I could climb the very highest Himalayas,
Be among the greatest ever tennis players,
Win at chess or marry a Princess or
Study hard and be an eminent professor.
I could be a millionaire, play the clarinet,
Travel everywhere,
Learn to cook, catch a crook,
Win a war then write a book about it.
I could paint a Mona Lisa,
I could be another Caesar.
Compose an oratorio that was sublime.
The door's not shut on my genius but
I just don't have the time!

For days and days among the trees
I sleep and dream and doze
Just gently swaying in the breeze
Suspended by my toes
While eager beavers overhead
Rush through the undergrowth
I watch the clouds beneath my feet;
How sweet to be a Sloth.

From a Distance

I am writing this blog entry on a newly-bought laptop as my old one was smitten by a disorder of the registry and the cost of restoring Windows to a maybe-usable state (and I've had bad experiences that way) would have cost nearly as much a a new machine. I'm also using my new toy, a Vodafone mobile broadband adaptor, which will enable me - as now - to blog from the Ballater flat. The bandwidth available up here is fine for blogging and email, though attempts to use BBC's iPlayer proved frustrating to say the least.

Time to zzz now, Byee.

The clue is in the word "local".

OK, I don't get it: clearly I'm missing something.

Thursday's local elections in England & Wales were a disaster for the Labour Party. OK.

Yesterday's London Mayoral election result was a disappointment for the Labour Party and a disaster for Londoners. OK.

As leader of the Labour Party Gordon Brown must obviously take some responsibility for the unsuccessful campaigning. OK again. But why on earth should these results be viewed (as they seem universally to be) as some kind of a referendum on his performance as PM? Why should his abolition of the 10p tax band or his other tax policies be deemed remotely relevant?

Call me traditional, but I have now spent 34 1/2 years as a UK voter, and have participated in general elections, European elections, local government elections, Scottish Parliament elections, not to mention a referendum on EU membership and one on Scottish devolution. And I can tell all of them apart. When voting on EU membership it never occurred to me to use the referendum vote as a way to express my opinion of the Heath government. When voting for my MSPs I was never tempted to use my vote to show dissatisfaction with the City of Edinburgh Council. And my council votes have been about which councillor I wished to have as my representative (who has not always been of a party I would wish to have as my national government).

If the people of England & Wales really used this week's election as a way to protest against Gordon Brown, then while it explains the result it also explains why the UK has such inept local government: because hardly anybody gives a shit about it. Think: you have the chance to elect the best person to represent you on your local council. Or if you have no preferred candidate, to put in someone from the party which you think has performed best in the council over recent years. But ooh, no, that might require taking an interest in local politics and thinking about what exactly you are voting for. Far better to pretend it's about Gordon Brown and David Cameron, because you've heard of them, maybe even seen their picture under the ones of the latest celebrity drug addict.

So all across England & Wales people have been waking up thinking that they've struck a great blow for their political beliefs when in actuality all that's happened is that they've voted in someone they've never heard of and about whose confidence they haven't a clue. Dickheads.

Friday, May 02, 2008

More from the Middle East's only nuclear-armed theocracy

Next time some Islamophobic tosser in the Daily Mail or wherever starts banging on about how the Saudis won't let people bring in bibles, I shall point them to this story. For some reason the BBC seem to have removed it from their site: how strange. One might almost believe they were trying to bury bad news from Israel. (**)

Still, maybe we should encourage more of the "settlers" to demonstrate to the world the fine calibre of these Israeli exemplars who patriotically volunteer to take advantage of an illegal military occupation by stealing other people's homes, farms and crops (so much easier than all that backbreaking work in the fields). Israelis well enough educated not to be shocked by the discovery that some Christian clerics wear crucifixes have the sense (a) to work for a living (b) to do it in their own country rather than a stolen one.

Of course, if the story had been of a crazy Muslim threatening Christian leaders when they approached an Islamic holy site, the IDF would not have responded with a "what can we do?" shrug but with a hail of bullets. And the story would still be on the BBC's site.

** Update: I finally located the story on the BBC site, though it isn't exactly prominent. It's in the "Northern Ireland" section and entitled No Go for Clerics at Holy Site. As of last night Google wasn't finding it in searches for Israel, Jerusalem or crucifixes, though it's visible on the last of those now. My point remains, though: if the thug who prevented the ministers from visting the site had been a Muslim this story would not have been buried as of purely local NI interest.

Green Grows My Keyboard-oh

Also from the BBC, this report which strikes a little close to home (shakes crumbs out of laptop, whistling.....)

Sing if you're glad to be Greek

I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the inhabitants of the island of Lesbos would sooner or later decide that they wanted their name back, so to speak, I suppose there is more chance of a genuine misunderstanding than there would be for the denizens of Hamburg, Frankfurt or Berlin.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

For my UK readers

You might like to sign this petition opposing parliamentary moves to restrict women's choice in matters relating to abortion. I've never known a woman who had an abortion lightly, or as anything other than a last resort, and I believe the current legal framework strikes the right balance between rights and responsibilities. Unlike the lives of many of these women, the law ain't broke, so let's not try fixing it.