Friday, 30 July 2010

What A Pranny!

Michael Gove. What a pranny!
First he buggers up the details on which schools may or may not go ahead with their buliding projects. Now he gets it totally wrong with his big idea for 'free schools' i.e. academies. He rushed through the legislation to enable schools to opt out of Local Authority control so that they could be operating under the new regime by this September (i.e. about six weeks from now). But it turns out that only 153 schools actually want to do this. Out of about 24,000 schools in England & Wales. It hardly seems worth all the bother, does it?

Funk Assessment

The word funky is often misused these days. In teenage fashion mags it seems to mean something like errmm this looks good and/or cool but we can't think why. Originally, of course, the term funky meant that something smells strange, odd, weird or perhaps unwelcome. But the true meaning of funky is that it is something that makes you feel like UH! Shake dem hips or whatever. We're talking Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, and Wilson Pickett type definitions here, kiddos.
So here at Xorg Intergalactic we are launching an occasional series of 'Funk Assessments' in which we will attempt to explain why a certain piece of music is funky. Relevant contributory factors will include the correct use of a baritone sax, the dropped third bass line, a very tight brass section, a clavinet, Bernard Purdie playing the drums, and so forth.
First up is this item by Tower of Power; 'In The Slot'. It is the bass that provides the focus, and the drums are understated. The brass section is chopping things up. But notice how they have the guitar, the Hammond organ and the clavinet all playing the rhythm part. This is what makes it funky.

Daft Decisions: Scrapping the Sustainable Development Commission

Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, has decided to scrap the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), thereby saving £3 million in running costs. This is a very short-sighted decision and makes no sense at all. I have consequently felt it necessary to express my displeasure directly to Ms Spelman and have fired off a letter telling her so. Here's the gist of my disgruntlement:
Sustainable Development is about more than mere finance. It involves balancing environmental pressures with economics, social progress and justice, and promoting good governance. But even in merely financial terms, scrapping the SDC is daft. Considering that the Government is spending £10 million per day on the war in Afghanistan,  the savings from scrapping the SDC will enable the Government to continue the war for just over seven hours. Given that the SDC’s work so far has led to ongoing savings of £60 to £70 million of savings per year across government, and that the Afghan War seems to be going nowhere, which do you think provides better value for money? 
The work being done by the SDC will be brought ‘in-house’ and will be an everyday part of government. But the work will still need resources, principally in staffing, at a time when the coalition Government is insisting on reducing staff numbers. So the work that comes ‘in-house’ will fall on the shoulders of staff who are already overloaded. The result will be that something or other won’t get done. And meanwhile there will be no coordinating body to promote best practice across government.
David Cameron is quoted as saying that he wants this to be the greenest Government ever. How would Ms Spelman reconcile this ambition with her decision to scrap the SDC?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I Don't Mind If I Do, Doctor!

At last some news we wanted to hear, as reported in The Daily Telegraph.
Dr James Maxwell, a consultant rheumatologist at the Rotherham Foundation NHS Trust and Sheffield University, has discovered that alcohol reduces the severity of rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, people who drink alcohol on more than ten days a month are four times less likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than those who never drank. It seems that booze suppresses the auto-immune system preventing the body from attacking itself - the cause of arthritis. Or it could be that you just get so pissed you don't feel the pain any more.
Shown on the left are members of BOP (Booze On Prescription) campaigning outside the Department Of Health HQ.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

That Explains It Then...

Just thought I'd share this bit of literary criticism from the writer William Boyd. (Italics mine.)
  • “[Chekhov] saw and understood that life is godless, random and absurd, that all history is the history of unintended consequences. He knew, for instance, that being good will not spare you from awful suffering and injustice, that the slothful can flourish effortlessly and that mediocrity is the one great daemonic force. By abandoning the manipulated beginning-middle-and-end plot, by refusing to judge his characters, by not striving for a climax or seeking neat narrative resolution, Chekhov made his stories appear agonisingly, almost unbearably lifelike.”

If It Ain't Broke...

I just love it when a service provider or some such decides to improve what they do and make it so much better than it was before. Even though it was fine before, having been fixed and fiddled with innumerable times since being introduced - all those fixes finally got it working just right. Ford did this with the Cortina; by the mid-1980s they'd got to Mark V and it was pretty much the best in its class, so they discontinued it and started all over again.
Virgin Media have just done this with their email service. It was working great until a couple of weeks ago, providing a service via a number of email addresses, reflecting the various providers that have been subsumed into the Virgin brand (blueyonder, ntlworld, and so forth). But for some reason they decided to throw in with Google and this has necessitated changes in pop and smtp server settings. They claim this is straightforward but it ain't. Since the changeover, there have been a number of intermittent problems, the most frequent (and amusing) error message being 'Invalid Backend'.  My email has been out of reach all morning and has just suddenly and autonomously started working. Mysterious.
The only way to be sure of not having a problem is to use webmail rather than one's usual email application (Thunderbird in my case). Perhaps this is accidentally intentional so that we might be forced to see the adverts on webmail, but the fact remains that the webmail application is not user-friendly and is rather clumsy. Any road up,  Richard Branson and his minions will shortly be experiencing my disgruntlement.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Burqha, Burqa, Burkha, or Burka

I'll be direct. The Burqha is a bit stupid and anachronistic in modern western society; wearing it is not a religious requirement but a cultural choice... But it is no more ridiculous than  the clothing chosen by other cultural sub-sets. For example, the youths we see who wear trousers that are the wrong size and consequently dangle around their lower backside. Or the fat women who wear leggings and a t-shirt highlighting their spare tyre, or a mini-skirt revealing acres of cellulite.  Then there's old fogeys wearing socks with sandals, or youths who insist on wearing their hats backwards. Fat, bald blokes in football shirts are not attractive. Middle-aged men trying to look groovy just look silly. Certain hairstyles of the Punk or Emo persuasion are, frankly, idiotically laughable. So I don't think the Government should ban people from wearing the Burqha any more than they should ban trousers which are the wrong size etc and so forth.
The clothing you wear can be part of your expression of identity, which is fair enough ( e.g. 'I am a Muslim woman', 'I am a second hand car salesman', or 'I  am a brainless chav'). But there may be consequences. If someone wants to look daft, be regarded with disdain, be refused admission to posh eateries, get stopped by zealous security guards and/or policemen, be imprisoned in France, or be pilloried by the popular press, then that's the way the cookie crumbles and it's Goodnight Vienna.

Zappa Plays Zappa

Another works outing this week, to the Cambridge Corn Exchange, to see Dweezil Zappa with his splendid teenage rockin' combo Zappa Plays Zappa (ZPZ).
For those of you unversed in the legend, Dweezil is the Son Of Frank Zappa (FZ) and five years ago he set up this band to tour and play exclusively and accurately the music of his late father. It is thus probably the most legitimate tribute band on the planet. Dweezil has previously done loads of solo stuff, as well as guesting on his Dad's shows as a lad, and he runs the production side of the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT) which releases Frank's posthumous stuff.
Any road up, what a brilliant concert! They played for about two and half hours without an interval, and with meticulous care whilst incorporating some wizard solos along the way. The band were excellent; talented musicians clearly dedicated to playing it right. Jeff Simmons, bass player for FZ once upon a time, used to say about FZ's bands that "You've got yer armies and you've got yer rock bands. And this is what you've got in between." It seems that the same discipline has been carried through to ZPZ. This is important because a lot of FZ's music is demanding, difficult to play and often statistically very dense, darting through key changes and time signatures whilst settling in a groove of one kind or another from time to time - reggae, or a shuffle, or a boogie, whatever - and dabbling in any genre you care to think of; blues, jazz, avant-garde classical, doo-wop, rock, sea shanties, Bulgarian folk music and so forth.
Dweezil's guitar playing has improved immensely in recent years. He was previously more akin in style to the likes of Eddie van Halen but the discipline of replicating FZ's stuff has clearly rubbed off on him and his solos are really quite inventive now. But he's a different character to the Old Man - he smiled for most of the concert and seemed to be quite nice really. He hasn't got the presence of FZ nor does he try to engage with the audience in the way FZ did in terms of political/social/deviant commentary. It is just about the music.
I think every member of ZPZ apart from perhaps the drummer, Joe Travers, would qualify for one of FZ's bands. Joe is a very competent player and got all the parts (mostly) right but he whacked the drums too hard too often. He's a 'rock' drummer rather than a musician with a distinctive style as posessed by FZ's alumni e.g. Terry Bozzio or Vinnie Collaiuta. The bass player, Pete Griffin, suffered a tad because the acoustics at the Corn Exchange mean that the bass resonates and you lose clarity, but he certainly put a lot of energy into it. Jamie Kime on guitar provided solid back-up for Dweezil and contributed a fantastic solo on 'Advance Romance'. On keyboards, Chris Norton jazzed things up a bit for his solos and provided some nifty vocals too. Percussion is a big part of FZ's music and Billy Hulting was excellent, handling the complex melody lines as well as chilling out on the vibes for his solos. Ben Thomas on lead vocals, harmonica and trumpet was rather good, injecting bits of showmanship here and there. The major talent in the band though is Scheila Gonzalez on saxophone, flute, keyboards and vocals - that's what I call multi-tasking. Brilliant. Setlist here.
Bonus points to Dweezil for staying on after the end of the show to sign autographs and shake hands etc. Only one complaint - it was very loud with a bit too much treble.
As for the venue: The facilities are good enough but they must do something about the acoustics and install some baffles.
Supplemental: For alternative FZ tribute bands and FZ alumni, you could nip over to Germany for Zappanale between 10 and 15 August. This is not however approved or endorsed by the ZFT, but that's another story.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Mike Stern at Ronnie's

Another Xorg Collective works outing last week, once again to Ronnie Scott's in Frith Street, to see The Mike Stern Band. Spiffing! (but half a point deducted because they didn't play an encore as they had a plane to catch).
For those of you who don't know who he is Mike Stern has been around for ages, having played guitar for Miles Davis, The Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, and many more. He's also done innumerable sessions for various people, and briefly had Pat Metheny as a tutor while he was at Berklee Music College. So, you can figure that the music is pretty much jazz fusion but with some softer melodic elements and tones included.
The line-up was completed by: Dave Weckl on drums; Randy Brecker on trumpet; and Chris Minh Doky on bass. It is most unusual to find a band which features guitar and trumpet as the lead instruments. Of course, Mike Stern took most of the solos but Mr Brecker also did his thing and he is quite phenomenal; he sits there looking all chilled out and almost asleep then when the time comes he slowly gets up and then plays notes which come from nowhere I know. He uses an electro-harmoniser as well which produces a fantastic effect, set at different intervals - sometimes on a Fourth and sometimes on a Second (I think). I dunno how he does it but it sounds remarkable.
Dave Weckl seems to be a serious kind of a fellow, whose faced cracked into a smile only once, towards the end of the second set. But he sure can twiddle those paradiddles. The bass player, Chris Minh Doky, who was previously unknown to me, was pretty good as well - he didn't overdo the statistical density of his solos. The striking thing though was that the whole band were enjoying themselves and you could feel the connections between them in their playing. Which is what it is all about.
Bonus points to the band for friendliness towards the crowd.
Addendum: As usual, negative marks for Ronnie's for their policy of automatically adding a 12.5% 'discretionary service charge' to the cost of drinks, even if you get them yourself from the bar. And they need to do something about the inadequate toilets.

Numismatists Ahoy!

The Royal Mint is running a poll inviting us to vote for who should be added to their 'Great Britons' collection. Jane Austen, John Logie Baird, Walter Raleigh and several others. Mysteriously, Harry Redknapp is not amongst the candidates.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Spurs Show The Way

Like all right-minded people, those eminently sensible chaps in charge of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club wish to see the vuvu-flippin-zela banished to the forgotten Highbury stadium of history. Spurs have taken the lead amongst Premier League clubs and banned the wretched device. Good riddance!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Things In Which I Am Not The Slightest Bit Interested

Anybody's Star Sign
What Peter Andre Might or Might Not Be Doing
Lady Gaga
Earning £000s of Pounds In My Spare Time
Answering A Few Questions
The Twilight Saga
Horse Racing
Changing my electricity or gas supplier

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Crime of the Century: Free The Rabbits!

(via The Independent) 
Pet rabbit stolen by animal rights protester 
Two young pet owners were left "heartbroken" when their rabbit was stolen by an animal rights protester. Nine-year-old Barney was snatched last week and replaced with a handwritten note saying rabbits should be out "socialising". Oliver Bailey, 38, and his children Kiera, 13, and Harry, 10, woke on Friday morning to discover that he was missing from his hutch in the garden of their home in Darwen, Lancashire. All that remained was a note, which read: "This is animal cruelty. Rabbits should not be left in hutches, they should be out in the wild and socialising."
Mr Bailey told the Lancashire Telegraph that he bought the pet for his children after Kiera cut her eye in reception class. He said: "My children are heartbroken. They are absolutely horrified. They love the rabbit and play with him every day. He is taken to the vets regularly and gets the best possible treatment. "We are heartbroken to be accused of animal cruelty to a pet rabbit we love dearly. "My kids are asking me 'Why would someone do this to us when we love him so much?' " He said he is concerned that the rabbit may have been let out into the woods where it could die.
A spokesman for Lancashire Police confirmed they had received a report of a stolen rabbit. Barney is small and white with grey patches.

That'll show 'em!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Tea for Two!


Tea at The Ritz


About a year ago our local authority moved to 'Alternate Weekly Collections' of household waste. the strategy is that one week they collect all the recyclable stuff and the next week they collect the other rubbish, whereas it all used to be collected every week. This no doubt saves them some money somewhere along the line but, of course, the result is that we now have rubbish of one sort or another sitting outside our front door for up to two weeks at a time.
The consequence of this during the summer is, naturally, an increase in the number of flies. And maggots in the bins. Horrible squirmy wriggly things. I realise that the flies and maggots are all part of the degradation process but my grievance is that it now begins outside my front door rather than on the council tip where it used to happen (and still does). In the past half hour I have terminated three flies, and there remain several more buzzing around the house. What I am I to do to prevent this explosion of pestilence - clean the rubbish before I put it in the bins?

Vuv-flipping-zelas: There is an answer!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Daft Haircut 2010

And so, as the World Cup comes to a close, it is time to consider the daftest hairstyle of the tournament. I regret that, like much of the football this time around where teams have played 'not to lose', there has been a disappointing array of contenders. They were mostly a bit nondescript. There has been the usual agglomeration of billiard balls, mostly intended to obfuscate thinning hair, and an assortment of mohawks and mohicans which are, frankly, a bit old hat. Only one perm that I noticed, on Puyol; a somewhat loose affair. However, these two chaps (Gervinho on the left and Hamsik on the right) have made a decent effort. Gervinho's barnet is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's appearance whilst performing with the prog rock combo Genesis in the early seventies, and Hamsik has obviously been wired up wrongly.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Nick Clegg to repeal second law of thermodynamics

(From News Biscuit)

As part of his campaign to abolish bad and unnecessary legislation, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced plans to abolish the second law of thermodynamics – the law that states the universal principle of entropy.
‘The British people are sick and tired of things continually breaking down,’ said Mr Clegg, ‘this law stands in the way of progress and it has to go.’ The announcement follows extensive consultation in which the public were invited to nominate the laws that they would most like to see abolished. ‘There was a clear consensus that the universal principle of decay had become a real nuisance,’ said Mr Clegg, before going on to promise what he described as ‘the biggest shake-up to the fundamental laws of physics since the Big Bang.’
Constitutional lawyers are now working alongside physicists to draft a replacement law of thermodynamics to plug the gap between laws one and three.
‘It won’t be easy creating an entirely new law of physics completely from scratch,’ explained government advisor Professor Brian Cox, ‘we tried it back in 1997 when I was a member of D:Ream and we drafted legislation stating that ‘things can only get better’. However, because of the second law of thermodynamics, things inevitably collapsed into a state of war, corruption and economic meltdown.’

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Robin Hood Tax

I've been thnking about this for a while now not sure (a) whether it can work and (b) whether the 'bankers' will just find a way round it. But following George Osbourne's so-called emergency budget which has done nothing at all to correct the  money-grubbing activities of the 'bankers', but has instead pushed the onus of correcting the fiscal deficit onto those who had nothing to do with creating it, I reckon now we've got to do something and, at least, let the buggers know we're on to them.
The idea behind the campaign for The Robin Hood Tax is that every time the investment banks and financial markets make a transaction then a small percentage, say 0.05%, should be paid in tax, half the proceeds going to the Government of the country where the transaction takes place and half going to a global fund to ameliorate climate change and/or global poverty. Given the number and size of transactions that take place in the world's financial markets, it wouldn't take long to raise loadsamoney. This is a tax on activity relating to turnover rather than profits so it wouldn't affect dividends on long-term investments e.g. pension funds.
The average daily turnover in the foreign exchange markets is over $3 trillion; that's 3 X 1012 US dollars. Not every dollar would be taxed, just every transaction, but that's still a lot of moolah to help ease the fiscal deficit the 'bankers' have lumbered us with. And then maybe it wouldn't be necessary to increase VAT to 20%, cancel school building projects, or make a million public sector workers unemployed.
So get on over to The Robin Hood Tax and sign up!

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Swedish Chef Rides Again!

Red Kite

The rumours were correct and there is a Red Kite in the neighbourhood. Spotted circling about seventy metres high, above our house, circling on yer thermals. I guess if there's one there must be at least one more and they're producing some little Red Kitelettes.
(This is a random picture of a Red Kite, not the actual one.)

Snails 3 v. Xorg 0

These sorry specimens are courgette plants (zucchini) which were grown from seed and transplanted to this here Growbag thingy a month ago. They've been watered regularly and kept in a sunny position but I failed to take sufficient preventive measures against snails. I prefer an organic approach to snail removal rather than chemicals which might poison the birds as well. Usually whenever I spot one I pick it up and throw it over the hedge where it can take its chances with the traffic. But the buggers have been too shrewd for me on this occasion and have made short work of these wretched plants. I'll see if I can restore them to health but I'm not optimistic!
Meanwhile, behind the courgettes is a blackberry bush in a similarly miserable condition caused not by snails but by starvation as a result of competition from our neighbour's variegated dogwood tree which he has planted too close to the fence. I'll wait till the autumn and relocate it.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Here's our Phil on drums for Acer Maple. You can see them live on 24 July at The Forge in Camden Town, London.

Acer Maple - 'This is' from matthew scholes on Vimeo.