Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Honk if you're illiterate

Right - home for cleaning, cooking and MORE WORK!

But I'll leave you with some beautiful photographs. I know it's mean, and that there are plenty of people on the left who can't spell, but someone has taken the time to collect images of all the wrongly-spelled anti-Obama placards, including some proclaiming the superiority of the English language.

This one really confused me for a minute.


Why I resist Facebook

I know, I'm a hypocrite: my personal details can be gleaned through a careful read of my blog and other social networking sites, like Librarything.

And yet: I still feel like I'm using those sites. No ads, for a start, and I pay for Librarything. Facebook, on the other hand, is a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up your personal details for sale to some very bad corporations, overseen by some extremely dubious individuals. And yes, I know it's useful. That's how it's successful. But it's more useful to them than it is to you.

Don't believe me? Then read this. PayPal's a sordid libertarian right plot too.

This bit of the Facebook terms and conditions is particularly Orwellian:
"Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (eg, photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience."

I wouldn't buy anything made in North Korea and I won't participate in this enterprise either.

Thiel is more than just a clever and avaricious capitalist. He is a futurist philosopher and neocon activist. A philosophy graduate from Stanford, in 1998 he co-wrote a book called The Diversity Myth, which is a detailed attack on liberalism and the multiculturalist ideology that dominated Stanford. He claimed that the "multiculture" led to a lessening of individual freedoms. While a student at Stanford, Thiel founded a rightwing journal, still up and running, called The Stanford Review - motto: Fiat Lux ("Let there be light"). Thiel is a member of TheVanguard.Org, an internet-based neoconservative pressure group that was set up to attack, a liberal pressure group that works on the web.
"TheVanguard.Org is an online community of Americans who believe in conservative values, the free market and limited government as the best means to bring hope and ever-increasing opportunity to everyone, especially the poorest among us." Their aim is to promote policies that will "reshape America and the globe". TheVanguard describes its politics as "Reaganite/Thatcherite". 
Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries - and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.
Thiel's philosophical mentor is one René Girard of Stanford University, proponent of a theory of human behaviour called mimetic desire. Girard reckons that people are essentially sheep-like and will copy one another without much reflection. The theory would also seem to be proved correct in the case of Thiel's virtual worlds: the desired object is irrelevant; all you need to know is that human beings will tend to move in flocks. Hence financial bubbles. Hence the enormous popularity of Facebook. 
 I think it's fair to say that Thiel, like Rupert Murdoch, is against tax. He also likes the globalisation of digital culture because it makes the banking overlords hard to attack: "You can't have a workers' revolution to take over a bank if the bank is in Vanuatu," 
Sign up to Facebook and you become a free walking, talking advert for Blockbuster or Coke, extolling the virtues of these brands to your friends. We are seeing the commodification of human relationships, the extraction of capitalistic value from friendships.

David Tunnicliffe

By the standards of strangers, David Tunnicliffe died without having achieved much, yet he left his mark on everybody he met. He passed away a few days ago at the age of 30, leaving two sisters and parents Jean and Stuart, both of whom are fighting advanced cancers. The misery of burying their son can only be slightly lessened by the knowledge that they won't have to worry about him once they're gone.

I haven't seen David for ten years, and his parents for a couple, but I thought of them frequently, as old family friends who were unfailingly merry and kind despite David's severe health problems (getting to 30 was a massive achievement). Like the rest of his family, he had a huge laugh which was always on the verge of erupting, wherever he was.

He played the hand he was given and he laughed at those cards. That's not a bad way to live, and die.

Pop, finally

OK, after a few days of classical stuff to which most of you are politely indifferent, we hit a seam of pop. Sort of.

Today's LP (sorry, kids, that's an ancient reference to vinyl records, which I still buy) is Antony and the Johnsons' I Am A Bird Now. I bought it, I must confess, because it was cheap and I was mildly curious. To me, it sounds like a less interesting version of Stephin Merritt's stuff (Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes etc.) and very like the (to me) narcissism of Rufus Wainwright and his ilk (Wainwright and Devandra Banhart, court jester for the soi-disant American avant-garde, both appear on this album). I do like it, and sometimes catch something deeply emotional, but at other times I want to shake him and confiscate his Kate Bush records until he's grown-up enough to spot the difference between posturing and really feeling. I'd like this record a hell of a lot more if I didn't get the sense that he's (I think we can forget about 'and the Johnsons') conscious of making Something Very Important for the broadsheet critics.

Ben would no doubt say that he's too white and needs to have sex with someone, and he's not far wrong. Though Ben will also point out that I can't really critique Antony and the Johnsons for self-pity when I'm never more than ten minutes away from listening to The Field Mice. He's not wrong there either.

Gosh, that was patronising, wasn't it? He's a grown man and I know absolutely nothing about his life and where his songs came from. But then again - you release a record, you're inviting us to project our interpretations onto your work.

Square Eyes

Thanks to Emma, who passes me a book which caught her eye: Michael Darlow's Independents Struggle: The Programme Makers Who Took On The Establishment - an insider's account of the cultural wars in British TV in a period in which production liberalisation could have led to a thousand flowers blooming, but instead led to cynical, patronising, cheap and reactionary television (see the BBC daytime schedule if you don't believe me).

All alone in the office

Afternoon all. What's on the agenda today? Slacking for all you holidaying students, no doubt. I'm in the office, reading furiously for the Anne paper I'm delivering next week, and wondering how I'm going to get to Cambridge during a rail strike. Not that I disagree with the brothers, of course.

Talking of reading, I've just finished Dennis Lehane's The Given Day. It's a thick, thrilling, complex book set in 1918-20 Boston, moving between the black crime underworld, Irish police corruption, baseball, prohibition, race and the leftwing political agitation of the time. It's politically complex, hugely violent, sometimes tender and always compelling. I might see Shutter Island now - Lehane wrote the novel.

Anyway - back to books with footnotes…

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

O Frabjous Day!

Congratulations to Daniel J Pedley, formerly know as Deep Pan Dan, who has today handed in his PhD on human/wildlife urban interaction or some such. Now he only has to wait, terrified, for the viva examination in a few short months. And get a job…

Too Many Birds

Westing By Sextant and Musket

The Boy Done Good (Billy Bragg)

I Love To Say Da(n) Da(n) (Beach Boys)

There must be some way out of here…

Are You Looking For a Way Out? (Tindersticks)

Still Lost (Cowboy Junkies)

I've Lost the Reason (Boo Radleys)

Today's musical interlude

Penderecki's Symphony No 7. Not sure what to say about this one. I respect Penderecki's work in general, but can't help feeling that his late discovery of Romanticism and Catholicism led to a general softening and decay. The early stuff is stunning - particularly the almost unlistenable recreation of the Hiroshima atrocity, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (if you're going to tackle nuclear war, you can't do it with pretty tunes).

However, Symphony 7, celebrating the foundation of Jerusalem (strictly from a Jewish perspective, therefore ignoring the complex and multicultural history of that city) is a much easier listen. Massive choir, big orchestra, powerful stuff. Just, well, a bit safe, though very beautiful and thrilling. It feels like a brilliant 19th-century piece rather than an exploration of new frontiers.

The core of freedom of speech

There's a lot of whinging around at the moment - people claiming that anything 'offensive' to their ears should be banned.

Nonsense: I don't want to live in a world in which I hear nothing with which I disagree. I want to hear my opponents, then put them in camps (I believe this is the core argument against prior licensing of printed material in Milton's Areopagitica).

Philip Pullman says it better than I could:

Santa's been

Returning to my desk after a few days away, I find that presents have been distributed - and not all from me to me.

OK, the usual haul of books and CDs from online retailers has arrived: Emma Pollock's lovely new album The Law of Large Numbers (in very elegant circuit diagram packaging) and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang's The Wonder Show of the World provide a new soundtrack while I read the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls. I think this classic/slasher mash-up trend is probably exhausted, but this one looks good. I also received David Kessler's horrifying examination of Big Food Companies, The End of Overeating, Tony Judt's raging-against-the-dying-of-the-light Ill Fares the Land (I think the title is from this Oliver Goldsmith poem, 'The Deserted Village'), John Rawls's' amazing philosophical work A Theory of Justice (summary here), McEwan's Solar (more from habit than enthusiasm) and finally, thanks to the wonders of Librarything's Early Reviewer scheme, Anna Gutierrez Garcia Moreno's Roman Quarries in the Northeast of Hispania (Modern Catalonia). It really is the last word for anyone who wants to know (and see pictures of) Roman Quarries in the Northeast of Hispania (Modern Catalonia).

More than that: a bottle of wine and a card appeared on my desk. I proofread my friend Olga's PhD thesis. In lieu of a fee, I requested a book of her choice that I should read. Instead, she's given me a £100 gift card for a certain online bookseller. OMFG, as the kids say. It really is way too generous. But hey, I'll manage to use it.

Who's been a naughty politician?

While Obama and most of the Democrats were trying to drag the USA into the civilized world by instituting at least basic healthcare for most citizens, the Republicans were elsewhere.

In breaks between describing Obama as a Communist and a Fascist (no, me neither), they were spending party money on… bondage clubs. It's like the Tories!

I do remember reading some report which demonstrated a correlation between the levels and type of pornography downloaded and states' churchgoing (more religious states downloaded more porn), but this is ridiculous!

The report is titled 'Republican red faces'. Red bottoms too, from the sound of it. This from the party of God and family values…

It emerged today that the Republicans spent almost $2,000 last month on a visit to the club where topless women hang from nets on the ceiling and simulate sex in a glass case.

The Los Angeles Times, in a review of the club soon after its opening in October last year, described it as being modelled on sex scenes in the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut.
"There is also a heavy net suspended above the club's lounge area where performers writhe above the heads of clubgoers. Even more provocative scenes are played out in an enclosed glass booth area adjacent to the club's dancefloor area," the paper said.
A reviewer for the Yelp website wrote: "At one point I walked to the bathroom and pretty much just stopped dead in my tracks to watch two girls simulating oral sex in a glass case."

The Oscar for Irony goes to…

Daniel Day-Lewis for this exchange with Word magazine journalist Tom Teodorczuk:

DD-L: I don't know why people are so fascinated with the lives of actors, to tell you the truth. I haven't met that many terribly interesting actors, to be honest with you. I don't understand the fascination with actors' lives.

Journo: You wrote a memoir called Pictures In My Head. Any other literary ambitions?

DD-L: I'm writing another one. I admire the way Dirk Bogarde turned his career into becoming a writer. That's what I really want to do. There's a bigger picture that I want to document. One of the highlights of my life… [and then he goes into tedious anecdotal detail about why actors' lives are actually fascinating].

Sweet relief - back at my desk

Good morning all. I'm back in the office, having largely recovered from my Polish exertions.

It's a weird experience, being in a team. On the first day, I knew two of the fencers a little. By the end, we'd worn the same clothes, eaten the same food, undergone similar highs and lows. I'd learned their names, their fencing styles, a little of their psychologies, what kind of support they wanted (and didn't want), how they coped with victory as well as defeat, how to engage their attention and when to leave them alone - and then it's all over in the time it takes to collect bags from the conveyor. A quick goodbye, hand them over to their parents and those intense days become the past, relationships stored away for a year to be reactivated once more at the next event.

I'll miss the cosmopolitan air of Wroclaw though - the Poles were very friendly and curious about our band of England-jacketed kids. Great cheeses and sausages too!

I've added some more photographs: a few more by me, some by parents and some by fencers. It's interesting how different they can be. The fencers' shots are all of people rather than places/things, and they're much more personal: the subjects are more intimate and idiosyncratic because the picture is being taken by an equal and a friend rather than an official.

We met Andy's ancestor in the museum!

Details from medieval paintings in Wroclaw museum

Good Polish cheese. 

Coming back holds its own joys too - seeing friends, sleeping in one's own bed, settling back into my own office chair ready for hard work (which is lucky, because I've got to write a whole conference paper by Friday).

Friday, 26 March 2010

The game's up

I'm very sad. You probably knew that. I'm actually sad tonight, on reading that The Bill is to receive the death sentence for crimes against acting.

In case you're not familiar with this show (and let's face it, only Brits and Australians are), it's a police drama which faded into soapdom. A successor to ground-breaking realist shows like Z Cars, its strengths were tight scripting, a refusal to end with neat conclusions and a clear-eyed view of policing: the characters were complex and often unsympathetic. There were usually many sides to each story, and the producers were extremely quick to pick up on big news from the real world.

Those were the glory days - it gradually became a home for actors whose characters in other soaps had been killed off, and so it became filled with beefcake and totty who wouldn't (or couldn't) do moral complexity: bent coppers don't look great on the CVs of buffed narcissists looking for charidee work.

I'll miss The Bill. Perhaps it will get time off for good behaviour and inhabit the twilight world of repeats channels. You naysayers: leave it aht.

Working class hero

My friend Paul's dad died a few weeks ago. His obituary is in the Guardian and it's one of an exemplary leftist life (despite his membership of the SWP).

All hail Frank Henderson. If only we could all emulate him.

Music what I like

I'm going through my collection in order, so it's lumpy: sometimes there'll be one type of music for days, sometimes different things every day. Yesterday was weird modernist American stuff, today is rather traditional English music from the same period.

Ralph Vaughan Williams was a funny onion. Liberal and atheist, he collected the hymns which form the backbone of the main Anglican hymnbook. Sometimes he dived into lost folk music (think Greensleeves, on which he based a Fantasia), at others he wrote symphonies reflecting the trauma and loss of World War One which sounded as modern as Stravinsky and the other continental experimentalists.

Today's CD is on the traditional side: some of VW's folk song arrangements. No, wait, come back, they're brilliant. Classical music doesn't often do folk very well: it sucks the life out of it and puts silly posh voices on. It depends on the recording as much as the composer. VW usually treats his sources with respect.

These are from 'On Wenlock Edge', which is a beautiful place near Wolverhampton, and 'Five Mystical Songs'. There's a version on Youtube including an interview with the singer of my recording, but he will singlehandedly put you off classical music for ever by fulfilling every stereotype. Try to listen past the 'operatic' voice: it's thankfully going out of fashion.

The second track is Full Fathom Five, one of his Shakespearean songs which I think is creepily wonderful.

Events draw to a merciful close

I can barely keep my eyes open. It's been enormous fun, and the team have performed brilliantly. Despite Dan McGlade managing to lose a fight 5-4 by hitting himself on the foot, all the boys made it through to the direct elimination, and almost all of them exceeded their seeding: one ranked 57 beat the no 6 seed. In the end, we came away with a 3rd place, a top 8 and a load in the last 16 and 32.

Other entries with pictures of Challenge Wratislavia are here, here, here, here and all the photographs are here

They all got on famously despite spending most weekends in British sports halls as deadly rivals.

The Polish hosts were perfect: efficient and friendly, and the teams mixed really well. Facebook contacts may well have been swapped.

This guy won. Same as last year. He's…well… very confident. He's arsed up this fleche quite badly.

Indoor Fireworks (is also a Laura Cantrell song)

Ugg Boots: apparently part of this year's kit…

It's back to work on my return: I've just realised that the conference paper I thought was for the end of April is actually to be delivered on April 4th or 5th. Really need to write it in the next 5 days. Oops…

For the immediate future - make sure they're all settled down, then go for a celebratory sparkling mineral water in the bar (and no, that isn't a euphemism, it's an alcohol-free trip).

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Injury time

After a full day of girls hitting each other with inflexible weapons, we are sad to report a series of horrific injuries.

2 girls, despite the devoted attention to their welfare of highly trained professionals, have sustained cuts… while shaving. The wailing of the afflicted and their grieving comrades was highly affecting. Or do I mean 'affected'? The identities of the victims will remain confidential - partly because that's right and proper, and partly to maintain various parents in suspense until their daughters return.

Obviously, I shall tender my resignation on my return. Many thanks to the life-saving medical care of Dr. Andrew Goodier. I thought blood might be shed on this trip, but I meant it metaphorically…

If blood and shaving make you faint, do NOT watch this 1967 Martin Scorsese film, The Big Shave, which is an allegory for the Vietnam War.

Chlishdi snees of ourmhu

You'll have to forgive me. Some things come round only once in a few years. Amusing Countdown choices are one of those things which add to the national gaiety. Neither contestant took the opportunity to win big with the obvious choice.

Meanwhile, what musical treats do we have for you today?

Back to modern(ish) Classical today: Symphonies 4 and 6 with McKonkey's Ferry, by George Antheil, part of Naxos's campaign to bring back every overlooked American composer who ever hummed a note. 

He called himself the 'bad boy of music' which is a bit presumptuous, but he was quite radical for his time. Basically, he liked playing with machines and loud noises, which annoyed conservative audiences, especially in Europe. He was also interested in literature, medicine and science, even patenting a torpedo guidance system with film star Hedy Lamarr. He also seems to have been an arrogant bastard and greedy beggar. 

Here's a clip from the Jazz Symphony, followed by his (badly received - and bad) Ballet Mécanique. The symphonies I have are from his less experimental later phase. Worth hearing but nothing outrageous. 

Final fencing fun for the day

If you're desperate for results, follow @fencingarmourer. He's astoundingly popular.

Coaching instructions of the day: 'Put the brick down' and 'leave everybody's nipples alone'. 

This was the medal ceremony. You can't beat fireworks for a sense of occasion (click on it for a larger picture).

We let the boys play while waiting for the girls' final…

Girls' U15 final

Double hit. 

Rest of the pictures are here

Fencing fun (continued)

I've posted a load more here: probably of interest only to fencers!

Miranda lands one

Luckily, the referee agrees

Francesca lands one on the wrist


News from the Land of Nylon

My first full day in artificial fibres: trainers, England tracksuit etc, trapped in a dim sports hall while the sun shines.

Today's competitors were from 20 countries, including India and Israel amongst predominantly East European countries.

Still, the first day of competition was enormous fun. It was girls' epee today. Some were nervous, others very cool: coaching is often a matter of knowing when not to say anything, of hanging back and letting the fencer cope (rather than rant and rave like some I saw today).

I was seriously impressed today. None of the girls underperformed, and two got to the last 16 of their age groups, and some met tough opponents earlier than they might otherwise have. Meanwhile, the boys played their part today: as slaves to the girls. They get their revenge tomorrow.

England fencer appears to aim for her own leg

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Foreign music review

Funny how, from several countries away, I'm giving you something utterly, utterly English: Ant's Cures for Broken Hearts. It's a mini-album by a man who used to be in the shambolically lovely Hefner. Predictably, but no less charmingly, it's shambolic heartbroken wet indie music by a man who knows his way around Wurlitzers and violas.

Ben will no doubt hate it: it's completely white and self-pitying, but then, so am I.

There's no video because Ant and friends believe in recording an album every other day and appearing on each others' 7" split singles to making marketing tools, so here's a fairly typical sample, the title track.

Wroclaw pictures again

More here and I'll add extra every day.

Me, today. 

This one really works

Top quality cheese, meat and pastry at the market

A villain's penthouse if every there was one

Read more books.

Wratislavia challenged

I've put the first load of photographs up here: mostly architecture and people wandering around, as we don't fence until tomorrow. It's a truly beautiful city.

Now that's good typography