Monday, January 29, 2018

JAZZ: Seated One day At The Organ, by Wiggia

Not an obvious choice for the playing of jazz, but these examples show it can be done with some aplomb.

Very brave lady, Sandra Kaye, taking on the mighty Wurlitzer with such bad acoustics.............

and to finish on the pipe organ at the Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago, Barbara Dennerlein.

Bonus footage: the largest working organ in the world (28,500 pipes):

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Contradictions of US Education, by Paddington

What are we doing wrong in the US education system?

The short answer is: nothing.

The appropriate way to evaluate a system is based on what it is designed to do, and the education system is not designed to do anything. Rather, throughout 200 years of public education, it has been given a sequence of demands, and has responded by adapting organically.

Among other things, the system has been required to:

  • prepare young men for factories and the military, and young women for marriage and domestic service;
  • serve as a mechanism for upward social mobility (Dewey);
  • produce an educated electorate (Jefferson);
  • generate 'well-rounded' individuals;
  • serve as a minor league for professional sports;
  • fix major social problems (Head Start);
  • provide enough science and engineering majors to keep the economy working;
  • graduate most students, each immediately ready to be successful in higher education, or prepared for a job;

with no recognition that some of these goals are in direct conflict.

For example, demanding increased performance necessarily means that more students will fail to clear the bar. Alternatively, demanding increased graduation rates necessarily leads to grade inflation and lowering the bar. There is no way around this, as it is precisely the problem of Type I and Type II errors in statistical testing.

The over-emphasis on sports in some districts, and the effect on grade inflation, has been well-recorded. What is rarely noted is the effect on the other students. If unprepared student athletes, or others who seem to put no effort into their studies, still progress to the higher grades, what is the immediate incentive to work hard?

If teachers are trying to fix every social problem in their classrooms, where is the time for learning? In my experience, the more talented students tend to get less attention, because 'they will learn anyway'. This is a recipe for mediocrity.

In short, before we try yet another major overhaul of the system, we should perhaps first decide the goals to be met, and also check that those goals are actually achievable.

Friday, January 19, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: More French Hens, by JD

On the third day of Christmas Mr S posted a video by 'three French hens' and I thought the three young ladies, known collectively as LEJ, were rather good (that video was, as it turns out, played at the wrong speed and the image was reversed but no matter, they deserved further investigation!)

We deserve an encore (but not in France, when they wish for an 'encore' they will shout bis! as they do also in Belgium. On the other hand I might have been misinformed! However the OED confirms it.)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Zero hours

"Two hours at normal power, or six to eight hours at economical cruising speed." I'll settle for that.

Friday, January 12, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Ray Thomas 1941 - 2018, by JD

"He is not dead, he doth not sleep -- he hath awakened from the dream of life --"

"Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form" -

(Plato). (Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations, 1991, p. 45).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The death culture advances another step

It was inevitable. Once you concede the right to kill unborn children, with time limits shifting back and forth in no-man's-land, someone would eventually suggest that infanticide could also become legally permissible, perhaps even a moral duty. That someone - and he started in on this 40 years ago - is Peter "animal rights" Singer who

"began to argue that it is ethical to give parents the option (in consultation with doctors) to euthanise infants with disabilities."

In consultation with doctors, of course. The white coat makes all the difference - remember the Milgram experiment?

At the other end of life, we have "mercy killings" - again, something to be legalised and left to doctors.

I suppose that at some point these tendencies will meet in the middle. For if allowing the deformed or crippled to live is cruelty, why should there be any upper age limit to "termination" or whatever mealy-mouthed term is in fashion at the time?

Once we accept that human life is not sacred and that it can be assessed in terms of money and convenience, we're off down the slippery slope.

Already, the British Government is encroaching on our (or our family's) right to our own bodies, proposing a presumed right to "harvest" (another sweetened obscenity) organs in the absence of an "opt-out"; the Chinese are a little further ahead at the moment, killing political prisoners on demand for their spare bodily parts:

There certainly are issues to be discussed, but one thing I won't have is an assumption that ethical matters are to be delegated to (or grabbed by) paid philosophers, politicians and doctors - authority, in short. The way things are going, maybe one day we could see posthumous pardons for a Continental government that did all the above in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

We Want Plates! - by Wiggia

This was prompted by a piece on the David Thompson blog and my personal antipathy to much that calls itself trendy in the strange world of modern celebrity chef led restaurants.

I wrote some while back about the modern practice of decorating plates rather than putting food on them, but that has been pushed aside as the current trend for serving on anything but plates gathers momentum. So much so that a website and Twitter account seeks out the ridiculous levels this diversion from food itself has reached; it has been spoken of as "performance art" by those up-their-own-backsides "hipster" chefs  !

The desire to get bums on seats runs perilously close to insanity in some cases but the modern world takes it all in its stride as little seems to shock or surprise any more: restaurants with toilets for seats, another with urinal pots holding flowers on the table seemingly gather a clientele that thinks these gimmicks are worth paying for; so be it, it's their money.

But the replacement of eminently proved and practical ceramic plates is a step too far. It could be said that this trend is nothing new - chicken in a basket was around long before the advent of the plate substitutes, as was the Chianti bottle wrapped in raffia and adorning Italian restaurant tables as a lamp throughout the land even in the fifties (this latter, believe it or not, is making a comeback.)

The wood, the slate, the half brick, the paper towel all run parallel with strange new ceramics that are designed to frustrate the diner. A nine-inch surround to a plate leaves a deliberately small area for food and nowhere to put your cutlery unless you want it to slide into whatever is in the middle; the bowl with a top rim at different levels is very near to the aforementioned urinal in shape, so could they be trying to tell us something about the food therein? Or the extreme oblong plates that make eating akin to playing the piano.

The platters, as they are known, have recently come in for a food standards agency fine in one Birmingham restaurant, having not been cleaned properly and looking repulsive - this after a previous warning. This event has kick-started the fight back against the "anything but plates" outfits (and there are many of them.)

I first encountered the slate plate some years back in a Michelin starred restaurant that served a fish dish on the slate. The peas were served in a small bowl that sat on the edge as for obvious reasons they could not be served on the slate - what was the bloody point? I laughed when it was served and the chef/proprietor was not amused when I asked for a plate: he explained it was part of the presentation - back to performance art !

Anyway here is a selection of the extremes that today's restaurants go to to divert your eyes  and thoughts away from the actual food, starting with the wonderful example of a full English on a grease-proof paper mat on a board with the beans in a coffee cup and the coffee in a jar ?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Democracy is neither Right nor Left

The above video is of a Newsnight opinion piece by David Aaronovitch. He appears to relish sharing with us some morbid calculations by Peter Kellner to suggest that we need only wait for the older generation to die in order to subvert Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

Underneath this, I think, is the illusion that support for democracy is somehow exclusively a feature of the Right - an illusion that many half-wittedly debating these things on social media seem to share.

They may not understand that opposition to membership of the EU was and should still be heartily supported by those on the Left, as well as by Conservative voters, who share a love of their country. It was Macmillan and Heath that got us in; Peter Shore....

... Michael Foot, George Galloway, Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner etc who did and do oppose - on democratic grounds. UKIP itself was founded by Professor Alan Sked (still living and fighting) as a Left opposition to the EU.

I suspect that getting us into the EU (as it now is) was not only a project sponsored by the USA but was seen by certain elements in the British Conservative Party as a lasting solution to suppress British socialism and those pesky unions.* Just look at Heath's simmering rage in confronting a socialist, not so say arrogance and rudeness (not once politely calling Foot "Mister" as the latter scrupulously called him back) in this 1975 TV interview/debate:

We democrats may have our political differences but we are united on the principle that it is the people who should be informed and who should decide. It's not a left-right thing, except insofar that there is a group on the right that thinks (as the Communists do, and New Labour seemed to) the common man should accept being treated like a family pet and shouldn't complain as long as his master throws him some food.

"Pet-ernalism", perhaps.

*And the popular perception of trade unions as simply greedy troublemakers - though some there were - fails to take into account decades of major economic and monetary mismanagement -  by parties of both colours - that helped lead to the high, wealth-destroying inflation of the 1970s.

A Quick Guide To Democracy

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Too Good Not To Share

UPDATE: alas, too good to last! It was the BBC's 2016 production of "Peter Pan Goes Wrong."

Absolutely magnificent:

A reprise of the 2016 production; unbeatable!

Twelfth Night

Image source

Shine out, fair Sun, with all your heat,
Show all your thousand-coloured light!
Black Winter freezes to his seat;
The grey wolf howls, he does so bite;
Crookt Age on three knees creeps the street;
The boneless fish close quaking lies
And eats for cold his aching feet;
The stars in icicles arise:
Shine out, and make this winter night
Our beauty's Spring, our Prince of Light!

by George Chapman

from "The Masque of the Twelve Months", first performed on Twelfth Night 1619

Image source

On The Twelfth Day Of Christmas

Friday, January 05, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: An Orthodox Christmas, by JD

As we come to the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas and the Orthodox Churches prepare to celebrate their Christmas Day it seems appropriate to join them with some of their traditional Christmas music -

On The Eleventh Day Of Christmas

JD adds:

It is a tradition in Spain to have a procession on the evening of 5th January of the arrival of the three wise men, the Cabalgate de los Reyes Magos:

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Potholes: a lesson never learned

Potholes are a popular item for discussion around this time of the year: the first hard frosts and persistent rain bring about an explosion of these obstacles on our roads with a regularity that is now an acceptable fact of life.

A twenty mile journey on a local A road that I had to make in pretty awful conditions highlighted the true state of potholes in this area and I suspect everywhere else. Constant neglect of our road system and the temporary repair ideology that all councils adopt in the name of cut backs has left the road I traveled on looking in large parts like a cross between the Nairobi – Mombasa highway - anyone who has traveled on that will know what I mean - and no-man's-land in the Somme. The endlessly refilled potholes had as one succumbed to the cold and wet and scattered their collective innards all over the highway leaving an assortment of craters to be avoided.

This annual farce forced upon the populace by hand-wringing local government officials as an inevitable consequence  of “cuts” is, as has been pointed out by those who really know about such things, nothing more than money down the drain, as the temporary repairs last for ever shorter spans. We have one at a small road junction nearby that has been filled three times this year alone, showing the cost of the short-sighted approach to this and all the other infrastructure defects in this country.

A good resurfacing will last without further maintenance for a predictable time if the work has been properly carried out, and so the costs can be reliably approximated. Continually employing people to fill ever more potholes is a waste of taxpayers' money as eventually the road will have to be resurfaced at greater cost than originally due to excess damage, and the refilling money has to be added to that.

Anybody coming back from a continental trip can see the disparity between our road infrastructure and that abroad and the gap in the quality is growing apace, year by year .

I suspect the government is fully aware of the problem but successive governments  have failed to do anything meaningful about it and now the cost has reached a prohibitive level, such is the problem unless toll roads are introduced (and they are not coming anytime soon, but will come as necessity demands.)  No political party wants to be “unpopular”-  which is rather funny considering none of them are popular - and they will kick the can down the road as long as possible, until perhaps another party has to deal with it as they do with everything else.

In Africa you get enterprising men who stand by the badly potholed roads with a large pile of gravel, and if you give them a small amount of cash they will fill a few holes; perhaps a cottage industry on those lines could be started up here !

If the trend in neglect continues will we all have to fit monster truck tyres to our family cars in order to navigate the ever increasing number and size of these craters? Will the I-Spy books make a come back with "I-Spy the biggest pothole"? Will they become part of our national heritage and demand national treasure status, perhaps even an AA * star grading? All is possible, for certainly they are not going away.

Sackerson comments:

On The Tenth Day Of Christmas

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The art of Rita Loureiro

"Boi vento" (Ox wind), by Rita Loureiro

Image source:

There is a mysterious illustration on the cover of the 1984 English translation of  Mário de Andrade's book "Macunaíma" (1928):

Image source:

The artwork is by Rita Loureiro (not to be confused with the Brazilian actress of the same name).

What struck me is the alien feeling of it. It does not look to me like what a European artist might do, and one senses some informed, intuitive connection with the weird subject.

It's not easy to find much about Loureiro on the Web, at least not in English, but this site gives a few biographical details:

According to this, she was born in 1952 in the old rubber plantation town of Manaus, a city in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest (Amazonas Region). [Manaus may ring a bell with you: it's where an Irish fortune-seeker carried a steamship over the mountains, as in the film "Fitzcarraldo."] Loureiro moved to Rio de Janeiro to begin her career as an artist but (if I understand correctly) returned to the rainforest region to develop her art and understanding of the aboriginals/first peoples.

It seems she produced a number of illustrations for "Macunaíma", which don't appear in the English translation and as yet I haven't established exactly which edition (this limited edition from 1984? or this?) of this seminal Brazilian work does contain them, though here are a couple:

Image source:

There is more of her work to be found here, at the Itaú Cultural centre in São Paulo:

Desfoliante Naranja (1983) [Orange defoliant] Image citation

Boi Floresta (1982) [Ox Forest] Image citation

A Dança da Morte (1989) [The dance of Death] Image citation

Carta Pras Icamabias (1981) [Letter to the Amazons - illustration for "Macunaíma"] Image citation

To me, it seems that an overarching theme or approach is seeing humans in a context full of meaning, whether social, natural or cultural-religious-magical, a turning away from the modern "homeless mind" and entirely in keeping with Andrade's  disgusted view of São Paulo as seen through Macunaíma's forest-bred eyes.

This photo of Pinacoteca do Estado is courtesy of TripAdvisor

See reviews (2015 - 2017) of the gallery in Manaus here:

That's not to make the savages into hygienised Walt Disney characters; one of Andrade's chapters describes a macumba rite involving nudity, unbridled sex and uninhibited violence against a female temporarily possessed by a demon so that Macunaíma can by proxy inflict his revenge on a rival. Macumba is an umbrella term for a group of religious-magical syntheses - local, African and Christian - see

The Galeria do Largo in her home town of Manaus has a web page on her from her 2006 exhibition there, which also lists some of her previous shows. One of these was "Boi Tema" (Ox Theme) in 1984 and after, turned into a book in 1987. The ox is celebrated in various ways across Brazil, in death-and-rebirth rituals known as the Bumba-meu-boi.  A 2004 guide to Barcelona says that in Brazil, the celebration has its roots in nineteenth century cattle farming there, though of course the ox has ritual significance in many other places in the world; but the same guide refers to a Bantu festival centred around an ox named Geroa; I had thought that the Bantu were in South or South-West Africa but it seems they originated in the angle of west Africa by modern day Nigeria/Cameroon; so quite possibly one of the roots of Bumba-meu-boi springs from the cultural complex transmitted to South America via the West African slave trade.

O Boi, a Morte do Verde e a Represa (1984) [The ox, the death of the green land, and the dam] Image citation

Like Andrade, then, Rita Loureiro's art is a transmission of the old world's voice to the new and rootless incomers.

A green New Year's Eve meteor streaks across UK skies

On The Eighth Day Of Christmas

Monday, January 01, 2018

Did China just send the USA a coded military message?

Last night there was a display of mini-drones in formation over Guangzhou, ostensibly to celebrate the New Year.

But clearly coordinating over 1,000 drones so perfectly is unlikely to be a job for an army of fallible humans.

Imagine a battlefield where instead of dumping 500-pound smart-guided bombs out of circling jet fighters with only a short "playtime" to kill a handful of insurgents, a swarm of computer-controlled heat-seeking/visually guided dronelets seek out and kill individuals precisely and cheaply, with a few ounces of explosive each.

The potential has been discussed online within the last two years, e.g. here:

Was China saying, we're there now and woe betide etc.?

NYE: East meets West

In Australia, New Year's Eve fireworks really go with a bang:

... while in Guangzhou, the night has a thousand eyes drones...


On The Seventh Day Of Christmas

Hogmanay revels continue

A guid New Year to ane an` a` and mony may ye see!

While New Year's Eve is celebrated around the world, the Scots have a long rich heritage associated with this event - and we have our own name for it, Hogmanay.

There are many theories about the derivation of the word "Hogmanay". The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was "Hoggo-nott" while the Flemish words (many have come into Scots) "hoog min dag" means "great love day". Hogmanay could also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. "Homme est né" or "Man is born" while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was "aguillaneuf" while in Normandy presents given at that time were "hoguignetes". Take your pick!

In Scotland a similar practice to that in Normandy was recorded, rather disapprovingly, by the Church. "It is ordinary among some Plebians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year`s Eve, crying Hagmane." Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693.

Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and virtually banned in Scotland for around 400 years. (I think it became a public holiday round about 1960.) The reason for Christmas not being celebrated has its roots in the Protestant Reformation when the Kirk portrayed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast and therefore had to be banned. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and exchange presents, especially for the children. There are traditions before midnight such as cleaning the house on 31st December (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common). There is also the superstition to clear all your debts before "the bells" at midnight. (I wonder how many people still try to clear their debts!)

An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.

"First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is not as common as it used to be in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky. These days, however, whisky and perhaps shortbread are the only items still prevalent and very welcome they are!.

And of course it has become traditional to overindulge and wake up the following day with a 'sair heid'. -