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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thank you for voting to take my employer over. Now please explain this.

This report would be worrying enough even if Lloyds TSB weren't about to take over my employer.

Oh well, when I'm back from my holiday I'll see what my trade union has to say about it all. It is, after all, affiliated to PSC.

What's new and different?

Just over a week ago I did my duty as a Dad by doing something pretty much totally out of character. I took my son to Glasgow's Braehead Arena to see the WWE Raw 2008 Survivor Series tour.

When I was a child we used to visit my great-aunt and great-uncle in Otley (West Yorkshire). My Auntie Nell was a great fan of the wrestling so the Saturday afternoons I spent there were played out to a backdrop of Mick McManus et al hurling each other about the ring and over-acting pitifully on the TV. Nell never quite got the idea that it was all faked, however much my Mum reassured her.

Fast forward to a time around six or seven years ago when my son discovered what was then the WWF on some TV channel or other and became hooked. I used to watch it with him sometimes and the formula seemed pretty much the same as in the old days, though in colour, with American accents and a lot more razzmatazz, and a propensity for violent altercations with referees. Oh, and from time to time someone would bash someone else over the head with a chair. I got to know some of the names: Stone Cold Steve Austin (I rather warmed to him, so to speak), Kurt Angle, The Rock.

WWE (as it is now) isn't on any free-to-view channels in Britain any more, but my son has been getting his overacting fixes (and yes, he is aware that it's all highly choreographed) via the Web or DVDs. Well, a year or so back I got an email from a ticket booking service I use, alerting me to a forthcoming WWE event in Glasgow. With the enthusiastic approval of my son, I tried to book...and it was sold out. However, a few iterations later, I got us seats for WWE Raw, so there we were.

I must say I actually rather enjoyed myself. There's no doubt that being accompanied by a wildly enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable teenager adds to one's enjoyment: whenever I had a question ("why are they chanting H..B..K?" "why are they holding up signs with 619 on them?") the answer was instant and definitive. The whole WWE ethos is about entertainment, and that's what they provide, albeit entertainment tha wouldn't have felt out of place in the Coliseum. Of course, when Roman gladiators were smashed to the ground they were really smashed to the ground: if Marcus the retiarius got the chance to kill you with a swift elbow to the larynx he wouldn't have held off so he could use his trademark "finisher" with a special twirl of his trident. Actually that's the most obvious giveaway that the whole business is pre-arranged and choreographed: every single winner dispatched his opponent with his (or her) special finishing move. I suppose the wriggling-out-from-almost-being-pinned-for-a-fall is a bit obvious as well, but beyond that it's fairly easy to forget the fakery. The bodies certainly slam into the floor with genuine power: those guys must ache at the end of the night, even if it's the ache of stunt-men rather than athletes.

So who did we see? I don't have my son here to keep me right, but we began with a women's match. This was a title contest (so I guess one of the women was Beth Phoenix the WWE Women's Champion) but the title didn't change hands. I gather from Ruairidh that the referee and timekeeper were both former champions. They certainly saw off Ms Phoenix when her victory celebrations got out of hand. (Incidentally, I love the touch that whereas male referees are identified by their striped shorts, female referees wear striped basques. Well, duh!)

We had a tag team match in which the winning team was the Jamaican Kofi Kingston and C M Punk (they're the world title holders so this was another title fight in which nothing changed). We had John "Bradshaw" Layfield (JBL) being whupped by Shawn Michaels. And as the grand finale we had Rey Misterio and Dave Batista demolishing Chris Jericho and Randy Orton. (Look them all up on Wikipedia: it's very entertaining.) I can't remember the other matches, but it did strike me that while sometimes (JBL, Chris Jericho) the people who had been winding up the crowd as "bad guys" (by bad-mouthing Scots, or Brits, or Europeans) got their due punishment by being flattened, sometimes (as in one of the matches I can't remember in detail) the loudmouth won the day. So pre-ordained the results may be, but not predictable in an obvious way.

Anyway, now I'm hooked, both as spectator and ace Dad. In January we're going again, this time for a TNA event (a different franchise) featuring Kurt Angle, one of the ones I remembered from those days watching on TV. (Before his WWE career he was an Olympic Graeco-Romen wrestling chanpion.) Then in April I'm taking Ruairidh and his best friend to WWE Smackdown. I'm doomed...... Someone get me a pit-bull and a case of Bud.

Actually, while I was the only one pumping out Shostakovich from the car stereo while in the exit queue, I probably wasn't the only MBA in the audience, at least half of which looked pretty middle-class. Heck, JBL (redneck bad guy) is married to Meredith Evans, a high-profile US investment analyst, so what does that do for stereotyping? (I wonder which of the two earns more....)

Right now I'm at the flat and have minute bandwidth so can't check, but there seem to be video clips online of the night we attended. I'll add them if there's time when I get home: I have an orchestra committee meeting to sort out next year's programme, then I have to be up early on Thursday to fly to Madrid (long, cheap, solo weekend to use up holiday).

OK then. Here is Shawn Michaels making his grand entrance (and shooing JBL out of the ring in the process). Verily I say unto you, this guy is not lacking in self-belief.

Here are the world tag team champions Kofi Kingston and CM Punk doing that voodoo that they do so well.

And finally, here are Rey Misterio demonstrating his "619" finish (the rather neat dropkick using the ropes) and Dave Batista wrapping things up with a "Batista Bomb". Oh, and before any of that Misterio does a "Moonsault". You'll spot it.

What a pity that the Palestinians have no partner for peace

My attention was drawn by this letter (the second one under that heading) in Saturday's Guardian to the full-page ads placed by the Palestinian Authority last week in all the major Israeli newspapers. Attempts to find the ads by Googling, or by scanning Israeli newspaper sites, drew a blank (maybe because they were ads rather than news reports.....maybe) but the BBC has a decent report on the story here.

What I want to know is: since this peace plan was proposed in 2002 (and of course promptly rejected by Israel) how can Israeli President Shimon Peres describe it as a "sea-change" in Arab policy? Of course, perhaps for once this is someone not misusing Shakespeare's metaphor, and Peres really means that the Arab proposal, having been lost from sight for six years, now appears changed for the better by its submersion in the deeps of Israeli rejectionism.

The full text of the plan is here. Of course it contains nothing but a request for Israel to meet the requirements of international law. Of course Israel is still not interested (though it's funny that the moment he is out of office and not obliged to deliver on his promises Ehud Olmert claims this is what he wanted all along).

No surprise either to discover from the first of those two letters in the Guardian that the British Government is happy to provide financial encouragement for Israel's continued finger-flipping to the international community and the rule of law.

And finally...

...here is an excellent piece on the prospects for Middle Eastern peace by Harry Hagopian.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Matched and Dispatched

Just so you don't think I have a problem with emotional American songs, here are a couple of doses of genuine emotion: two real love songs. The first - The Wedding Song (There Is Love) by Paul Stookey (of Peter Paul and Mary) is among the most popular songs at American weddings; the second (Beth Nielsen Chapman's Sand and Water) is similarly popular at funerals. And I have loved them both from first hearing. The videos are rather anodyne, but the live footage of both songs on Youtube has lousy sound.

Cripples, orphans, Mom, trucks: what's not to like?

Not sure where this jumped into my head from either. A housemate when I was a student had parents in Wyoming (they were British but his Dad was a chemistry professor at Laramie). Anyway, he had a tape of country stuff I hadn't heard before, taken from a New Year's Eve rundown on Radio KOJO. This was on it. A few years later Kenny Everett played it in his World's Worst Record Show spot - his anthology of tasteless classics - on his Capital Radio show. It was funny hearing some of the other Capital DJs arguing over whether it deserved to be in there or not. Decide for yourself.

No Canadians were harmed in the making of this video. Amazingly.

Not sure what brought this to mind right now, but cast your mind back to the 1994 Winter Olympics. If you think about skating and remember them at all , then if you're British you probably think of Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean making their comeback after about ten years as professionals, and just missing out on gold with Let's Face The Music and Dance. But I remember watching the skating ehibition on TV. Now in the exhibition, the medallists all get to do routines which don't have to conform to the competition rules, so for example they can use music with lyrics. They also are no longer under pressure to turn in perfect performances to get points but can go all out for entertainment value. I remember two of the routines from the Lillehammer exhibition: Torvill & Dean who resurrected Bolero, probably the most famous piece of ice skating in history, and thus demonstrated that you can be hugely entertaining and still keep withing the rules. And the Canadian pairs figure skaters who got the bronze medal. I had to Google them to find their names (Isabelle Brasseur & Lloyd Eisler) but their routine (to Bryan Adams' There Will Never Be Another Tonight) stuck in my mind. Let's be clear: when I saw it for the first time it took my breath away, and I must have rewound it and watched it a dozen times in quick succession. I can report that 14 years later it still takes my breath away. Two people simply going for it. Nothing to play for, nothing to prove, just letting it all hang out regardless of the very real risks to their (or her, at least) coming out with spines intact. And if you can watch this video without exclaiming "Holy Shit!" or your local equivalent, check yourself for a pulse.

Does whatever an orb-web spider does

Also lost in the ISS: a spider.

I loved the NASA spokesman who said it wasn't lost, they just couldn't find it.

The thing everyone is being too polite to mention is: what happens if Boris (or spider name of your choice) strays to somewhere in the ISS where there's less cosmic ray shielding? Hmm, a radioactive spider. Where have I heard that idea before?

The spiders were being observed to see how microgravity affected their web-spinning ability. That reminded me of this classic experiment, which I'm amused now to see was also run by NASA.

Try it yourself.

Ecky Thump

There seems to be much hilarity around over the female astronaut who lost her tool bag (=handbag...geddit?) while on a space walk repairing a bit of the International Space Station. As a man who has carried a handbag for thirty years or so, I can't say I'm ROFLing myself, but hey, it's a free country.

I find the handbag really practical. My current one needs replacing as it's getting rubbed into holes, and whenever I do so I find I have to rethink where everything goes (and sometimes just carry less stuff which is boring). Come on: I carry a personal organiser, two mobile phones (personal and work), cash, cards, a calculator, Swiss army knife, torch, car keys (2 sets) house keys (2 sets), pens, and pass to get into my workplace. try keeping track of that lot in pockets.

Though it is great when someone needs, say, a pair of pliers and I whip out the Swiss Army knife and get to say "I bet you always wondered what we men kept in our handbags".

An aside: my first handbag was a small one with a wrist strap rather than the shoulder strap that is pretty much standard now. Back in the late 70s men in Britain with handbags attracted comment (even though we're still not numerous we're no longer the subject of pointing and giggling). Anticipating a chorus of "Oooh, dearie, hit me with your handbag", I did what any self-respecting male handbag-wearer would. For the first few weeks I reduced my useful payload and replaced much of it with a lead block nicked from a physics lab. Yes, the comment was made. And yes I did. Oh how we laughed.

A good question

Just been catching up over on Joe's blog (hadn't realised it had been so many weeks since I dropped by - sorry Joe).

Anyway, he posted a very powerful video by the ACLU (see below) and asked the very reasonable question of all those Americans in California and elsewhere who voted to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry: why do you do it? Why do you feel it's your business to go around messing up other people's lives?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lightening-Up Time

OK, a few rants recently, so here are some videos to amuse you. First, a couple of music videos chosen for no other reason than that I've been playing the songs recently.

Firstly, Timbuk 3 doing their classic Gotta Wear Shades:

Then The Real Tuesday Weld with Terminally Ambivalent Over You:

Then my mind drifted off into film intros, credits, etc. Here (and it took a bit of finding as the Youtube version has been pulled) are the Saul Bass opening credits from A Walk On The Wild Side. I saw the film once on TV in 1969, and while the only things I can remember about the very sordid film itself are Laurence Harvey, Capucine and a guy with no legs pushing himself around on a kind of skateboard, I could recall the credits in considerable detail. Now that's class.

Walk on The Wild Side-Opening Credits

Here is the opening of a frequently-disparaged John Huston film The List of Adrian Messenger, which I always rather liked. The two minutes or so prior to the credits still creep me out (I think the Jerry Goldsmith music has a lot to do with it). Not one to watch if you're nervous about lifts. (And I'm still trying to work out exactly what the villain does with his jump leads.)

Very possibly the creepiest, and almost certainly the weirdest, opening of any film ever made: Lars von Trier's Europa :

One of the most atmospheric openings ever filmed now. While compiling this collection I kept seeing a mental image of a chain-link fence, and it took me a little while to place it.

And here is the matching ending, with the WORLD'S BIGGEST SPOILER ALERT if yiou haven't seen Citizen Kane.

Anyone who knows Glasgow will feel a slight pang at the sight of all the crated antiquities. Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, who made a point of collecting parts of buildings (doorways and so on from European palaces and churches). A substantial part of his collection, especially the architectural elements, was purchased after his death by Sir William Burrell, and is thus now the property of the City Of Glasgow, proudly and imaginatively displayed in the Burrell Collection. For example:

Finally, the closing credits from Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running. Technically I should give a SPOILER ALERT here too. However, if you've seen the film, prepare to blub. If you haven't seen the film go and see it, then you can blub anyway. I think it may well have been the first film that made me cry at the cinema. (Well, I got frightened as a small child by Norman Wisdom being fired into space by accident in The Bulldog Breed - no, really! - and remember being comforted by my Mum. That's not quite what I meant though.) And of course the music is by EKN's "patron saint" Peter Schickele.

Oh, and as you watch, remember that the drones are played by double amoutees walking on their hands. No, really. And one of the domes is preserved in the SF Hall of Fame in Seattle? I am SO going to Seattle.

Entartete Musik - Enough Already!

Sorry. I will get off this subject. It's just that I found a really good piece by Matthew Norman from the Independent about Gary Glitter. The fact that it was written back in August, before the current furire inno way lessens its relevance. For example:

The justice systems of Britain and Vietnam have had their say, and Mr Glitter will continue to be punished by deprivations more agonising than that of his liberty. Irrevocably established as one of the age's leading grotesques, his life has been as destroyed as any could be short of death. One appreciates what a boon his release is for newspapers and phone-ins denied their sovereign right to torment Jade Goody by the diagnosis of cervical cancer, but even a New Labour home secretary should have the capacity to understand that released convicts retain the human rights to privacy – sex offenders register notwithstanding – and security.

If and when Gary Glitter's bizarrely Kafkaesque circuit of oriental airports concludes and he is back again, he is legally and morally entitled to precisely the same degree of protection as his potential victims here and elsewhere. What he must not be permitted to become is a human sacrifice for the benefit of our more cynically hysterical shock jocks and red top editors.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Entartete Music - more

Following on from the previous post, there is a discussion thread on the topic at the Times Education Supplement website. Most of the contributors seem to think the song shouldn't have been on the syllabus in the first place (mostly because it's not very good rather on account of any moral scruples). I was interested, though, in this comment from alaplage:

Robert King - founder of the King's Consort- and acknowledged successful musician was sentenced to 3 years 9 months last year for 14 counts of indecent assault, the youngest victim being 12. Yet they're still playing his performances on the likes of Radio 3 and Classic FM and he's, presumably, still raking in the cash.In fact, I don't remember much publicity about this at all. Are classical musicians too boring to get worked up about?

The always informative Register has a little more detail on the original report here. I noted the contribution to the debate by "anti-child abuse campaigners" Shy Keenan and Sara Payne, to the effect that "This stonking great child molester should crawl back under the rock he came from, not be celebrated for his music." With intelligent comment like that being added to the call for more censorship in schools, it is clear that "anti-child abuse campaigners" means "campaigners for anti-child abuse".

Sara Payne of course is infamous for her proposal (acting as a mouthpiece for the News of the World) of "Sarah's Law", a British version of Megan's Law which would make it much easier for vigilante mobs to pour petrol through the letterboxes of sex offenders once they had served their sentences. I had been about to say that fortunately too many of our legislators had brains and/or morals for it ever to happen. Silly me, to forget Jacqui Smith. Still, now the lives of the 12% or so of paedophiles (see here) who have already been punished can be ruined further, while the others can carry on happy in the knowledge that everyone is looking the other way.

Shy Keenan appears to be the author of Broken, on which the sample of her eloquence quoted above has not persuaded me to waste any time. Now if she had flashbacks triggered by Gary Glitter records I could forgive her intemperate yowlings on what our schoolchildren should be allowed to listen to. Actually, according to this interview, she has them when she hears Jimmy Ruffin's What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted? Now that she and her pals have succeeded in hounding the AQA into purging Gary Glitter, what's the betting Jimmy Ruffin will be next?

Both because it's a great record, and as an anti-Keenan talisman should she or others of her kind pass by, here is WBOTBH:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Entartete Musik - coming (or rather, not) to a school near you

I'll take half a dozen deep breaths before blogging this story, I think.


OK, ready now. The AQA has removed a Gary Glitter song from its GCSE syllabus.

Not because it's crap (though I've never been much of a fan), or because it's irrelevant to the topic being studied, but for no other reason than that Mr Gadd (to use his real name) has convictions for child sex offences. Now I'm no fan of paedophiles, nor for that matter of rapists, indecent exposers, wife-beaters or any number of other kinds of human dross. But.


Which of the cretinous statements in that report from those set in authority over us, or, God help them, our children, makes me most want to vomit?

Is it the unnamed deputy head teacher who told the Sun "He's a convicted paedophile jailed for sexually abusing kids. It's completely inappropriate to recommend him as listening material." ? Perish the thought. Coming up next, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (whoops, homosexual, can't have them corrupting our kids with their sodomy-soaked music), Richard Wagner (a particularly unpleasant anti-semite, so totally inappropriate for schools), and The Beatles (users of psychedelic drugs, and what kind of example does that set for our children?) Actually, his comment "Boys and girls of 15 or 16 who select this song will go straight to the internet to find Glitter's music" is quite funny. I wonder what he thinks they would find if they did: when I Googled "Gary Glitter" I didn't find a single site showing child pornography or offering to put paedophiles in touch with each other. I'm prepared to bet, however, that Nameless Dullard's pupils frequently view stuff on the web that would make him choke on his Ovaltine.

Or is it Kidscape director Michelle Elliot? "It sends totally the wrong message to paedophiles' victims.... Thousands of children take this exam. If they buy his song it could be a nice earner for him." If we were talking about Gadd making a profit in some way from his criminal activities, perhaps by publishing a book about his prison experiences, I would entirely agree that it shouldn't be on a school syllabus. But here we're talking about a record (one with no overt sexual content) and about Gadd's making money from his hard work in having made it some thirty years ago, and before his child-abusing days. "Send totally the wrong message"? What message? That if you work hard and are lucky you can briefly be a pop star? Mmm, we don't want kids studying music to get the idea it might lead to a career for them. It isn't meant to be a useful subject, after all.

Perhaps the (nameless again) government spokesperson saying that the song's inclusion was "totally unacceptable" and calling for its removal?

No, probably it's Dr John Dunford saying "all teachers will have rejected the idea of using this material". And he'd know that because he's in mental touch with every teacher in the country (and if he didn't wear a tinfoil hat the constant psychic chatter might render him unbalanced).

Personally I consider these imbeciles as big a threat to children as Gadd. Probably bigger: at least he's on the Sex Offenders' Register.

Anyway, my course is clear. First of all, I think, all these morons should be strapped down and forced to watch (as Clockwork Orange - style therapy) Chris Morris's Brass Eye paedophilia special. Here we are:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Then all the children who have been saved from listening to Gary Glitter should watch these extracts from The Rite Of Spring. One of the greatest pieces of music of all time, and with dance wholly appropriate to its subject matter.

The beginning
The end

Now we've sorted out the kids and their "educators", let's do the right thing and post a link to the banned Gary Glitter track.

I'm The Leader Of The Gang

Perhaps it was the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubb Fidelity Fiduciary Bank

A friend sent me a version of a joke which seems to have been doing the rounds for a few weeks. This may be the original version.

Cubes and cloches

A few weeks ago some reference or other reminded me of a song by the Barron Knights which I'd heard once on the radio while lying in bed in London in the late 1970s. And eventually I tracked it down. Now the Barron Knights were a British band specialising in humorous parody versions of pop songs. they started out back in the 1960s, and I have to say that their efforts from back then sound very lame now. They got better in the 1970s, issuing a wonderful record called "A Taste of Aggro" which comprised very well-crafted parodies of Boney M's Rivers of Babylon, The Smurf Song, and Brian and Michael's Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats And Dogs. Sadly I can't find it online.

The one I remember from London? Oh yes. Remember the Rubik's Cube and its brief dominance of our lives? Well, here is a Barron Knights song about it. Not, for once, a parody. I especially lov ed the twist (so to speak) revealed in the line which follows "It's reduced me down to tears". I also love the utterly warped instrumental breaks in between the verses.

OK, maybe I'm easily pleased or just nostalgic. Your mileage may vary. However, while searching for Mr Rubik I came across this track which demonstrates that when the Barron Knights were at the top of their parodic game they could hold their heads up with Weird Al Yankovic or anyone else.

Here's the original for comparison (I know you're not all old enough to remember it). And here are the same guys doing the even-more-original French version in a recording with Edith Piaf. I don't know whether its being in French helps it to transcend naffness for an Anglophone listener, or whether it's just Piaf's magic. The latter is possible, though I have hitherto found her fairly resistible. She fairly nails this one: I think we can take her introductory disclaimer with a large dose of sel de mer.

Flush bastards or busted flush?

Readers of my recent post on, inter alia, the prospective takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB may wonder how I have reacted to the intervention by Sir Peter Burt and Sir George Mathewson. My immediate reaction on reading that after firing Andy Hornby and Lord Dennis Stevenson the bank would be able to appoint Burt and Mathewson in their stead was to think of the scene in Disney's Beauty and the Beast where Gaston proposes to Belle. It would seem that the HBOS board, not to mention some influential investors, feel the same way.

Just think. Mathewson it was who appointed Sir Fred Goodwin (Fred the Shred) as his deputy and eventual successor at Royal Bank of Scotland. That's Fred who was required by his shareholders to resign recently because he had mismanaged RBS so badly (and none of the RBS staff mourned his passing, so hated had he become). Burt presided over the BOS "merger with" (read: "absorption by") the Halifax Building Society which left scarecely any Scots on the HBOS board and shifted the decision-making centre of gravity decisively and irreversibly to Yorkshire. Burt who presided over the outsourcing of almost the whole of Bank of Scotland's IT to IBM and Xansa in search of a quick buck, then sold the bank to Halifax knowing that the IT staff would all be hauled back in-house again. Such foresight. Such prescience. Such care for those employees for whom he suddenly voices such concern.

We can be sure of one thing. When Sir Peter Burt and Sir George Mathewson refer to busted flushes, they know whereof they speak.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's Get Behind The Queers

Amidst the worldwide jubilation at Tuesday's US election results it would have been easy to miss the bad news buried among them, which is that California's electorate seem to have voted Proposition 8 onto the state statutes. I say "seem to have" as there are still enough uncounted and potential postal votes to upset the result over the next couple of weeks, but it isn't looking good for the only state apart from Massachusetts to recognise gay marriages. Yet another reason to applaud Massachusetts (as though having proved so inhospitably liberal as to drive Benjamin Kerstein whining from the USA to somewhere more theocrat-friendly were not enough).

Still, if life presents you with lemons, you make lemonade. Utah's gays have found a magnificent judo-like way to use the rhetoric of the gay-bashers in an attempt to increase gay rights in Utah. If only the religious right weren't wholly composed of hypocrites, they might manage it, too.

It would seem that Florida, Arizona and Arkansas are getting their anti-gay legislation in first by also supporting Proposition 8. However, as everyone who's ever been taken on a gay bar crawl knows, it ain't over until the fat drag queen does a Freddie Mercury impression. (OK, maybe that's just Blackpool.) Anyway, for all those US residents who cross my cyberthreshold, here's what you do.

And I know it just shows how far behind the times we are here in the UK, but I haven't yet got with the project of referring to the LGBTQ community. LGBT certainly, and I'm switched on enough to know that the Q stands for "Queer", as in "of otherwise deviant sexuality". I don't have a problem with that, but the abbreviation doesn't come naturally yet. Hell, LGBT still sounds like a sexually liberated sandwich.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

How many rogues make a parcel?

In the wake of the Scottish National Party's defeat by Labour in the Glenrothes by-election (which was widely predicted to be an SNP walk-over), SNP leader Alex Salmond has accepted personal responsibility for the defeat. What he means, as I understand it, is that he accepts that he misjudged the campaign and got the mood of the Glenrothes electorate wrong. But I'd like to add my own perspective. I don't live in Glenrothes, but I have voted SNP for many years now in Westminster (UK) parliementary elections, and usually in elections for the Scottish Parliament as well (there was a period when I voted for the Scottish Socialist Party, but they descended into a farcical furore of backbiting and became utterly irrelevant, so I deserted them again).

However, I can say with reasonable certainty that I will not be voting for the SNP again any time soon, and the blame for that lies wholly with Alex Salmond. The reasons are twofold: the economy, and the environment. I no longer trust Salmond with either, and as long as he is in a position of influence in the SNP they can take a hike as far as I'm concerned.

The economy first. The attentive among you will know that I work for HBOS, a once-successful bank which has been, how shall I put this, managed down the toilet by Andy Hornby and his executive. The bank's woes were compounded by aggressive short-selling by some traders which drove our stock price down, and we were on the verge of collapse when Lloyds TSB, another UK bank with (different) problems of its own, offered to take us over to form the largest banking organisation in Britain. The British government cleared the takeover under its competition rules, and offered to take large minority stakes in both banks (effectively ending our liquidity problems) if the merger went ahead.

Obviously the planned takeover has been controversial, especially to those who had failed to notice that Bank Of Scotland had already lost its independence and separate corporate identity seven years ago when it merged with the Halifax Building Society to form HBOS plc. The alternatives, however, are all worse, especially in terms of protection of jobs in both Scotland and England. If the merger doesn't go ahead, there's no government money on the table, and the likelihood is that HBOS stock will tank big-time, and probably so will LTSB's. Then the government, committed to preventing banking failures, will have to nationalise HBOS and possibly LTSB. Then what? Bad news for employees, if the fate of Northern Rock is a guide. Probably the enforced merger of whichever banks are nationalised at the time (how many state-owned banks do you need?) with more job losses. As a senior union representative, my concern is primarily with protecting members' jobs wherever they are. Nobody pretends that the merger will happen without some lost jobs, but at present it seems the best bet by a long way.

To Salmond, however, the takeover is terrible because it represents the loss of a Scottish bank. OK, our registered office is in Edinburgh, but the centre of gravity of HBOS has always been in West Yorkshire, so this is naive in the extreme. He seems to think that HBOS could survive happliy on its own provided the UK government poured money into it. Perhaps it could, but the money isn't on offer under those terms, for excellent reasons (see under "managing down the toilet" above) and it's difficult to see how that scenario could fail to end up with state ownership of HBOS once a renewed lack of market confidence pushed the stock price down again. Anyway, Salmond has been mouthing off at every possible opportunity about all the obstacles he and his (Scottish) government intend to put in the way of the merger. Well, he may be concerned but I'm committed (like the chicken and the pig in eggs and bacon), and to me his bleatings signify that he puts party political advantage ahead of Scottish and English jobs. Not a vote-winner here.
On the economy, I have long been irritated by the SNP's logorrheic lip service to concern over climate change, which it combines with a doctrinaire refusal to countenance any use of nuclear energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Ideology 1: environmental value 0.

But the final straw came this last week when it was announced that Donald Trump had been given permission to build a gigantic golf course and housing development on a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Menie, one of our most sensitive wildlife habitats. The local council (Aberdeenshire) had duly considered the application, and after objections from local residents and many environmental bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, they rejected it. And that would have been that, had Alex Salmond, oneof the local Members of Parliament, not bene lobbied by the Trump organisation. A few words (strictly unofficial, of course, as it was none of Salmond's business to interfere in the planning process) and as if by magic the relevant SNP government minister at Holyrood - John Swinney - decided to call in the planning application for review. And this week that review was completed, and imagine everyone's surprise when it was decided that the boost to jobs on Alex Salmond's constituency far outweighed a few birds and sand dunes.

So to sum up: Alex Salmond doesn't give a toss about the environment in Scotland, though he cares very much about sucking up to big corporations. He talks a lot about global warming, but not only does he rule out the use of the best available technology for combatting it, he encourages insensitive tourist development which will significantly add to it. He is committed to increasing employment in his own constituency while playing politics - and ill-informed politics at that - with thousands of jobs elsewhere in Scotland and England.

Vote for his party? Go to hell.

"I narrowed my eyes and poured a stiff Manhattan....."

150 years ago, officers in the Indian Army had to take copious and regular quantities of the compound pictured above in order to combat malaria. It is quinine, and it tastes pretty disgusting. However, the resourceful army types discovered that the addition of gin greatly improved its palatability (not a bad general rule, actually.....) and thus created the embryonic gin and tonic. The G&T truly burst onto the world drinking stage when they came home to London and brought their demand for G&Ts with them, iced of course as they had been to combat the Indian heat.. Result: the world's first cocktail (apparently just ahead of the martini).

Personally I feel the cocktail came of age when they invented the Manhattan in the 1860s or early 1870s. My first Manhattan was in a hotel in Aviemore around 25 years ago, while my manager and I consumed so many of them in the bar of the Imperial Hotel in Delhi while working there for Xansa in 2001 that we unofficially named our project "The Manhattan Project". I can announce that in the country which gave birth to the cocktail they make a mean Manhattan. (No link to the Imperial, however, as their website is currently infested with inescapable pop-ups that attempt to download "anti-spyware" stuff into your machine. Uh-huh.)

Now who will be first to identify the title line?

In fair Drumchapel, where we lay our scene

For any Scot (or indeed any Brit) of a certain age, this is fabulous news.

I remember Stanley Baxter's Christmas specials being annual viewing highlights: latterly he restricted himself to appearing on stage in pantomime and in these high-budget TV spectaculars. His humour transcended national boundaries within Britain at least (not sure if he made the international leap the way Benny Hill did): my decidedly English parents adored him, while in Scotland he was (and still is) venerated as a comedy god. It will be wonderful to see extracts from some of the classic shows, as well as some new material.

Surely the defining Stanley Baxter sketch (or endless set of sketches) was Parliamo Glasgow, in which he treated Glaswegian dialect as though he were teaching a foreign language on the BBC. No Stanley Baxter show (including pantomimes), in Scotland at least, was complete without its dose of Parliamo Glasgow.


PARLIAMO GLASGOW (the song, performed in all those pantos as an audience singalong with a big drop curtain showing the words). Altogether now:

Geeza punna burra furra murra,
Geez baura choclit furra wean,
Seeza tenna fags, huv yezonni tottie bags,
Tae pit ratotties in till agit hame
Pirrit oanaslate, ahl pye ye zeftar
Azzawa tae seera panti mime,
Anif yuzkin say ramorra
Orrabest an itznae borra
Yezkin parliamo Glasgow orratime!

OK, maybe that one doesn't transcend the national boundaries quite so much.....

(Spontaneous applause)

Sometimes there's a story in the news that leaves you speechless (or blogless). This is such a story.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Deeper and down

Jacques Piccard has died. I remember reading about his exploits in the Trieste when I was quite small (maybe there was something in the Eagle, or perhaps a Readers Digest piece). Like most small boys I loved the idea of superlatives, of going deeper than anyone had gone or (as far as we know) could go. And at a time when space exploration had barely begun, Piccard and Walsh had explored the most alien environment ever visited. One could argue that that is still the case, in terms of actual human visitors at least. To outdo the bottom of the Marianas Trench in sheer weirdness one has to go, I would suggest, to the moons of the outer planets. Piccard's book on the voyage Seven Miles Down (written with Robert S Dietz) is a great read.

And it's only while researching this post that I discovered that a rebuilt version of the Trieste located the remains of the USS Thresher, victim of the worst submarine accident of all time when she sank during deep sea trials. And only while reading the Wikipedia artcle on the Thresher did I discover that a condition of Bob Ballard's US Naval funding for the location of the Titanic was that he first carry out a seabed survey of the debris from the Thresher (and the Scorpion, another sunken nuclear sub).

The five wisest sentences you'll read all year.

As well as that humorous look at McCain's defeat, yesterday's Guardian had an excellent article by Jonathan Steele Now he must declare that the war on terror is over". An example:

If the most important single thing that Obama should do quickly is to announce the immediate closure of Guantánamo Bay, the corollary has to be a declaration that the war on terror is over. Accept that terrorism is a technique. It is not an ideology. The west faces no global enemy, no worldwide Islamofascist conspiracy. Foreign crises should be treated on a case-by-case basis.

Amen to that.

So it goes

From yesterday's Guardian Diary by Hugh Muir:

Exciting times indeed, but at the end of the day, people will say that it was the lady wot did for the defeated candidate. She tried to help, and many conservative types were energised by her, but ultimately her brashness, the simplicity of her arguments and her willingness to peddle strange and frantic tales about the president-elect did John McCain no good. In time, the Republican - a decent old cove underneath it all - will be able to make his peace with Melanie Phillips. So will Sarah Palin. But until then, Melanie may feel a certain responsibility for his heavy loss. No doubt it will hurt.

Anyone who doubts Mad Mel's propensity to "peddle strange and frantic tales" about Barack Obama need only Google "Obama" and "Melanie Phillips" to see just how much Hugh Muir understates reality.

But will he get Aaron Sorkin to write his speeches?

I mentioned Charlie Wilson's War in the last post, which was written by Aaron Sorkin (the film, not the post). Sorkin of course is most famous for The West Wing, whose final season covered the presidential campaign of one Matt Santos, a Hispanic-American who was apparently based on a little-known Illinois senator called Barack Obama.

And now life imitates art. In the TV series, Santos appoints Josh Lyman as his Chief of Staff. Josh Lyman was based on Bill Clinton's senior advisor Rahm Emanuel. Yesterday, President-elect Obama named his own Chief of Staff as.....Rahm Emanuel.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Normal service resumed

And if ever there was something worthy of a rant it's surely this.

I recently watched Charlie Wilson's War, which while a very good film was a reminder that America has always been happy to fund what others might term "terrorists" in order to achieve the destabilisation of governments and the resistance to occupation (though only of course where the governments or occupiers were left-wing: right-wing dictators like the Shah of Iran and John McCain's old mate Augusto Pinochet were given full support, and while it was evidently wrong for the USSR to invade Afghanistan, it has proved perfectly acceptable to every US government for Israel to have invaded Egypt, Jordan and Syria, stealing their territory and subjugating their people. Where is Palestine's Charlie Wilson?)

Anyway, you might think that Uighur separatists wanting autonomy from Chinese rule would be viewed sympathetically, especially when the USA has been holding them in a torture camp for seven years without charge, and when its own courts have determined that they were simply in the wrong place at a time when the Pakistani army were arresting anyone who looked foreign and selling them to the Americans. Nope. According to the US justice department, the men "are linked to an organisation that the state department has labelled to be a terrorist entity", so cannot be released. Ever.

Now forgive me for stating the obvious, but surely the only country to which Uighur separatists, even if they were terrorists, might be a threat is China. Now all of a sudden it doesn't matter whether the "terrorists" are a threat to the USA but only to, er, communists? Yet the USA is happy to release from custody someone wanted in two countries for terrorist murders (and who has confessed to many more terrorist attacks) and which refuses to extradite him to continue the trial from which he absconded. Of course, Posada's killing sprees took place in Venezuela and Cuba which make it OK for the Bush regime. So, wait, no, now terrorist acts against commies are all right? Posada is charged with murdering Cubans, Guyanese, North Koreans and an Italian for God's sake, yet he can walk free while the poor bloody Uighirs who have never harmed anyone are to be kept in the Gulag forever.

I feel more and more that we're on the wrong side in the "war on terror", and that it's the US government that is the biggest supporter of terrorism throughout the world. I wish I thought that an Obama victory would change that significantly; but it won't. Cuban terrorists will still go free; Cuban anti-terror investigators will still languish in prison; the illegal Israeli occupation will still receive massive US funding and support; and I bet in four or even eight years time there will still be seventeen beleagured Uighirs chained up in Guantanamo Bay. I hope I'm wrong, but my head tells me that's one kind of change I can't believe in.


...and Rachel saved me the bother of composing my own rant about this one (which I was about to do).

A halfway house

Not a rant, but funny and pointed. It'll have to do for now.

Fun, fun, fun (till his keepers put the blogger away)

Persephone recently suggested I'd been ranting a lot and needed to have some fun. Well OK......

Here's probably my favourite non-Road-Runner cartoon of all time. The lucky horseshoe gag cracks me up every time, as does the ending.

Then there's this Tex Avery gem.

Kristin Chenoweth singing "Glitter And Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Not just a stunning piece of singing but an immensely funny song.

The funniest number of all from Candide is Oh Happy We. See what happens when people decide to get married on the basis of their illusions instead of listing to each other. usually it isn't that funny though.

I could only find sound files of Kristin Chenoweth as Galinda in Wicked doing "What is This Feeling" with Idina Menzel, but here is Annalene Beechey (with IM) doing it for the BBC. Yes, they do still write them like that.

A great Youtube clip condensed from a video (The Way Things Go) I have in full on DVD. My kids used to love this when they were small. I still love it now. I think it's the trying to work out just how the chain is going to be continued each time.

A favourite scene from a favourite comedy, Tampopo. I always remember it when I'm dining with work colleagues......

No, I can't restrict myself to just one scene from Tampopo. Here's the Ramen Master explaining Zen and The Art of Eating Noodles.

Here's Woody Allen buying a porn magazine in Bananas. I've never actually witnessed that, though I have seen someone doing this in real life (with a lamp standard in a car park rather than another car).

And finally this segment from Disney's Fantasia 2000, in which Donald Duck stars in the tale of Noah and the Ark, to an arrangement of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos 1, 2 and 3. An especially appropriate clip for this blog, as the arrangement was made by Peter Schickele, the composer (perhaps perpetrator would be a better word) of the piece from which EKN takes its name.

Enough fun, already! God, I need a rant.....

Saturday, November 01, 2008

In hoc signo patieris

What happens when you email your in-house translation service the text of a road sign for rendering into Welsh? You get back a translation, right?

Well, unless you get a Welsh out-of-office message which you mistake for a translation.....

The "See also" list on the sidebar of that story is worth a look. I guess after experiences like this with DIY online translation I can see why the Swansea officials thought they would play it safe. What I find hard to understand is why none of those involved - who were after all in bilingual Wales - had enough Welsh even to suspect that something was wrong. I mean, they must have seen broadly similar signs hundreds of times already.

Perhaps this sign is an attempt at Welsh language promotion that went a bridge too far, so to speak.

Perhaps this apparent cock-up was actually a subtle attempt on the part of the Anglophones to wipe out those pesky Welsh-speakers. (Or, depending on where the sign was sited, vice versa.)