Monday, 28 February 2011

Yer What?

Trenell R. Mance, Paula R. Ferdkoff, Nocturna Z. Geiter, Kelly R. Dombrowski, Edmund Grzeszkiewicz, Darlene Yarber, Ariel A. Utterback, Kyjuanzi Harris, Laconda McDonald, Tyrelle Lockett, Tyreesha Fraley, Sopheap Som, Wydell Feazell, Ashley M. Blumenshine.
What do all these people have in common? Besides having names that seem to have been  arrived at by the semi-random shuffling of Scrabble tiles? They all feature in the Chicago Tribune's  'Mugs In The News' gallery as recently arrested suspected felons and miscreants.
Note: Arrest does not imply guilt, and criminal charges are merely accusations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty and convicted. Apart from having a made-up name, that is. My favourites  are Ashley M. Blumenshine and Ariel A. Utterback who sound like characters invented by W C Fields.  I have no advice on whether Sopheap is pronounced Soffeep or otherwise. Pictured is Darlene Yarber, who is accused of 'Impersonating a lawyer'. Impersonating a human, more like.
Disclaimer: Other ne'er-do-wells with routine names are also available.

Sorry Girls, He's Already Spoken For...

Pierre Breaks the Ice at Parties

[The banjo preamble:]
"Featuring Eric Clapton on ukulele banjo"...
El Bonzo McBonzo.

That's all fine and dandy but what would I do with it apart from cornering the conversation at parties by exclaiming, "I've got Eric Clapton's banjo!"? 
Yours, as ever,
Balalaika Jim.
x x.

Pierre Breaks the Ice at Parties
- A poem by Frinton McFrinton Jnr
Some do it by wearing a bandeau
Others by cooking a flambeau.
You might dance the famous merango
Or discuss dismantling a quango.
But for Pierre these approaches are so-so
Because he's got Eric Clapton's old banjo.

copyright 2011 Frintonesque Productions (SA)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Madam Butterfly

Members of the Xorg Collective and invited guests were out and about yesterday for a works outing to The Royal Albert Hall for a performance of Puccini's opera Madam Butterfly; trip arranged by our eminent social secretary Fabmary. Most of us are pretty much unfamiliar with the piece and opera generally so it was a novel experience all round what with one thing and another.
The plot is fairly straightforward, concerning the duplicitous and exploitative nature of the male lead, American naval officer Lieutenant Pinkerton, who marries and abandons the fifteen-year old Japanese Madam Butterfly, only to return and take away their child to be brought up by his American wife. Meanwhile, Madam Butterfly has converted to Christianity because of her love for Pinkerton and as a result is shunned by her family and is all alone in the world apart from her faithful handmaiden. The result of this treacherous, bigamous and nefarious behaviour is inevitably the suicide of Madam Butterfly. Yep. It all ends in tears with the betrayed female lead tragically dead, which is quite common in opera, I believe. Any road up the libretto was in English, which was a bonus for us English-speaking opera novices. The story would seem to be an allegory for American imperialism, a big clue being that Pinkerton's Christian names are Benjamin Franklin and every time America is mentioned the theme for 'Stars and Stripes' is played by the orchestra.
Puccini's music is quite magnificent with some spiffing tunes plus an extended orchestral interlude between Acts 2 and 3, during which Butterfly stands motionless whilst waiting for Pinkerton. Being unfamiliar with the piece, I can't name the particular tunes but there is a recurring theme which belongs to Madam Butterfly which goes daah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dahdaaaah-dah-daaah that I liked. I guess I'll have to seek out a reasonably priced recording and get to know it better.
The performance itself was top-notch. My only complaint concerns the production. I guess the director figured 'Aha! The Albert Hall is round so we'll do it in-the-round!' Fair enough, but he was forgetting that although the theatre is round it was designed with the stage at one end so that everyone in the room would be able to see it. But with the stage in the middle of the hall and given the steep nature of the seating, part of the stage is obscured from part of the audience i.e. the people in the cheap seats in the upper circle. So we missed a fair bit of the action, which took place in the lower right quadrant of the round (see picture). So I'm deducting two points for that. I'm also deducting a point because the sound design could have been better and I wonder whether they could not have taken a chance and done without microphones altogether given that yer average opera singer can generally belt it out. Perhaps the acoustics of the hall would only allow that if the opera was staged conventionally. Smart venue though, with civilised toilets and helpful smiley staff.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Malt Whisky

Here's a handy thing that came to me in the post yesterday. A guide to the flavours of various brands of single malt whisky. Useful information to have if, like me, you don't have the budget to tour Scotland and experiment for yourself or, alternatively, to buy a bottle of each from your local hooch emporium and work your way through them whilst attempting to write notes.
The brand I have most recently consumed was Jura 10-year old. Light and delicate according to the chart, and I must say it went down a treat.
(From classic malts, where you can download a .pdf)
Click on the image to embigificate it.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Tribal leadership embroiled in ‘alternative goat’ electoral debate

(from Newsbiscuit)

‘It used to be so simple,’ said Ahmed, a returning officer. ‘The elders of a village would each put their best goat forward into a race, and the winning owner would lead the village and represent it at tribal level for the next five years. This first past the post system had its imperfections, but at least it produced a clear winner.’
Critics of the old system said it meant that owners of slower goats, while in a majority overall, never got a look in. While the single transferable goat system was rejected for being complex and incomprehensible, the alternative goat system was chosen because it was relatively simple and incomprehensible.
‘The way it works is each owner prepares a list of who they’d like to win if they don’t win themselves,’ said Amed. ‘We run the race and time each goat. If one doesn’t go faster than all the others put together I end up spending half the night working out the result, but basically if no one puts the best goat as second choice then one of the weaker goats will probably win.
‘As if that’s not bad enough, you then get the sheep-owning majority saying they are oppressed by a goat-owning minority. It’s ruminantocracy gone mad.’
Even with first past the post, the last contest left no clear winner at the tribal level, so the Gruff goat and Woolly goat parties had to form a coalition to keep out the Nanny goats. During the campaign the Woollies had offered reforms such as education for women, but given the chance to graze with the Gruffs they soon backtracked despite much bleating.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

True Colours

Crawley Town play Manchester United in the FA Cup today (19 Feb kick off 17:15) and it is a time of deep inner conflict for the inhabitants of Crawley. Usually, they are mostly*  Manchester United supporters but on this occasion they have to pretend to be Crawley Town supporters, primarily so they can get tickets for the match, but also out of some kind of twisted  guilt-related feeling that perhaps they ought to at least try and identify with Crawley if only for a couple of hours.
Crawley is not a real place; it is a 'New Town' and exists principally as an adjunct to Gatwick airport and were it not for the residential presence of Stinky Pete and Fragrant Jeannine, there would be little or no reason to even mark it on the map. Simon Calder of The Independent explains that Crawley is an 'easy place to leave'.
Hitherto, the people of Crawley have either ignored the existence of their local football club or merely laughed at it. The club faced bankruptcy and closure only a year ago as a result of apparently being nothing more than a vehicle for the fraudulent business practices of its former owners. Typically, the club hadn't paid their taxes and underestimated the relentless character of the Taxman in pursuing the debt. It wasn't until March of last year that the High Court was convinced the club was in the clear. But now the club has a new sugar daddy who has provided funds for new players and has been able to persuade their manager to stay at the club. That's not to say Crawley Town play good football; the best you could say about them is that they show determination, but they are basically a bunch of cloggers.
Any road up, assuming Sir Alex doesn't pick a team of 14-year old trainees, it won't be long before the people of Crawley can revert to their usual loyalties and get back to supporting Manchester United. Having said that, I wouldn't mind at all if Manchester United were to be shown the door and took an early bath...
Note: Call it post-modern irony if you like but Crawley Town play in red and call themselves 'The Red Devils' - just like Manchester United (and several hundred other unoriginal plonkers).
* Inevitably, there will be a small contingent of fairweather Chelsea glory hunters

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Lovely Lady In The Big Farewell Sleep Lake

A favourite literary genre of mine is hard-boiled detective/crime fiction by writers such as Dashiel Hammet, James M Cain and Raymond Chandler. It emerged in America during The Great Depression and became transmogrified by the motion picture industry into the film noir genre in the 1940s and early 1950s, using black-and-white photography derived from the German expressionist school of cinematography (it says here). All low key, big shadows and under-lit. I don't know if there's a similar nomenclature that is applied to radio productions of this particular idiom but the BBC are currently undertaking dramatisations on Radio 4 of Raymond Chandler's novels. They've done The Big Sleep and the Lady in the Lake so far, and Farewell, My Lovely is scheduled for broadcast tomorrow (19 Feb). See the BBC iPlayer for details. Recommended!
"Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead."
"He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake."
"It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
"The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back."
" I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room."

Thursday, 17 February 2011

When Rock Music Were Rock Music

The recent death of Gary Moore got me thinking about Thin Lizzy. They were quite good for a while. Here they are in 1978, which was just about their peak. It all seemed to go wrong somehow, what with Phil Lynott and Gary Moore falling out, then making friends, and falling out, then Gary getting injured in a fight and so forth, and the drugs taking over. Oh Well.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Dicing With Death

It seems Gennaro Gattuso didn't do his homework before the match against Spurs. There's not many people would pick a fight with Joe Jordan no matter how aggrieved one might be with the way the match had gone. Older readers will recall Joe's days with Leeds and Man Utd when there were many casualties. There's a reason that Mr Jordan has so many teeth missing and it's not because he ate too many sweets as a child.
As Mr Redknapp said, "There would be only one winner there - Joe. I'd have my money on Joe. Of all the people to pick on, don't pick on Joe."

I'm Guessing Loaves and Fishes

(available at Abebooks)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


I thought we'd seen the last of the execrable Jonathan Ross after his celebrated faux pas, perpetrated in cahoots with the equally obnoxious Russel Brand. But Woss has been gradually re-appearing here and there, only now wearing a somewhat absurd half-beard on his chin, making guest appearances on this and that TV/Radio programme and presenting awards shows. How and why was he rehabilitated and foisted upon us again? The man is a vacuous, inane, immature, waffling drip who spews out meaningless drivel whilst preening himself. Yeeeuchh.

Ay Oop!

Well, who'dathunkit? George Osbourne in surprise attack on the banks! And the bankers are livid, furious, shocked and angry. Poor dears.
It is probably the case that Osbourne has some political motive behind this move; pre-empting reaction to a wishy-washy agreement on the so-called 'Project Merlin' to restrain bonuses and increasing lending, or neutering Ed Balls. But I'll take it at face value for now and suggest he goes further and raises taxes for the other overpaid elements in society such as The Duke of Westminster, footballers, TV presenters, lawyers and local authority chief executives. Squeeze 'em till the pips squeak, Georgie Boy!

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

I switched on the radio this morning speculatively, wondering what was happening and aye carumba there on BBC Radio 3 was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.6, my most favouritest piece of classical music ever. Well so what, you might say. Well, this performance was a recording of the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky and this is the loudest and fastest I've ever heard it played. Fair rocketed along, in a most vigourous fashion. Further research revealed that it dates from 1960 and, sadly, yer man Mravinsky is now deceased. Apparently he was known for giving it some welly, unlike his western contemporaries and subsequent namby pambies.
You can listen to the Radio 3 programme in question on the BBC iPlayer. It features some other stuff - this programme is on every morning between 10 am and Noon. And you can buy the Evgeny Mravinsky recording at Amazon for a very reasonable £5.99 along with Symphonies 4 and 5. Bargain!

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Here are just three reasons why the Government should forget its proposal to sell off our forests and woodlands:
  1. It wasn't in either the Conservative or Liberal election manifesto, or the coalition agreement, so they have no political mandate for it.
  2. It won't save the taxpayer any money in the long run. As reported in The Independent, according to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)  impact assessment, the proposal to transfer heritage forests – including the New Forest in Hampshire and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire – to a conservation charity would cost £507.9m but yield benefits of only £495.9m. Although the value of these woodlands on the open market is estimated at £220m, the report describes them as "unsellable at a political and practical level" and says the option is therefore "unviable". Selling or leasing the large-scale commercial woodlands would cost between £579.1m and £748.7m but yield benefits of between £573.1m and £737.8m, the document says. Selling the other "community woodlands", valued at £50m, would involve costs of £234.1m and bring in benefits amounting to only £231.9m. Ministers confirmed the raw figures but they assume there will be savings later because the private sector will be more 'efficient'. (Never mind that those savings won't accrue to the taxpayer but to the private sector.)
  3. Everyone seems to be against the idea, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and 452,120 people who have signed the 38 Degrees campaign petition. The chairman of the BBC's 'Gardener's Question Time', Eric Robson, is against it too and that ought to be enough for anyone.
There's only one real reason why Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State at DEFRA, wants to sell the forests off and that is because it would provide a short-term boost to her department's finances and enable her to achieve the spending targets set by the Treasury, so that the Government can claim at the next general election that they have tackled the structural deficit. All the justifications put forward by her and Cameron are just a load of old baloney, steeped in half-baked free market doctrine.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Well Done, Sherlock!

There has been a wealth of excellent contenders for the Well Done, Sherlock! award, awarded for outstanding performance in stating the bleeding obvious. And, as usual, it has been a difficult decision to choose between candidates who have all done very well.
In the field of economic policy, we've had The Institute of Fiscal Studies advising us that spending cuts and tax rises will affect poorer people most. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in Washington has established that the credit crunch and ensuing recession was caused by failures in financial regulation, breakdowns in corporate governance, excessive borrowing and risk, and breaches in accountability and ethics.  Ah so, it wasn't the bad weather then. The consumer association Which? has discovered that staff in electrical goods shops (such as Comet and Currys) often lack basic knowledge about the stuff they are selling. The Royal Zoological Society has affirmed that tyrannosaurus rex was a predator and survived by hunting as well as scavenging (so that's what all those teeth are for!).
But the winner of the Well Done, Sherlock! award this time around goes to Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment at University College London (UCL)  for noticing that IKEA stores are arranged in such a way that as you walk round you are enticed to buy stuff you hadn't set out to buy.
"You have to follow a set path past what is effectively their catalogue in physical form," he said. "By the time you get to the warehouse where you can actually buy the stool or whatever's caught your eye, you're so impressed by how cheap it is that you end up getting it. You're directed through their marketplace area where a staggering amount of purchases are impulse buys, things like lightbulbs or a cheap casserole that you weren't planning on getting. The trick is that because the lay-out is so confusing you know you won't be able to go back and get it later, so you pop it in your trolley as you go past."
I thought at first that as this was reported in the Daily Mail it might have been made up by one of their ace reporters but it's flagged up on the UCL site so it must be true - IKEA lay out their shops to stimulate impulse buys. Well Done, Sherlock!
[Special mention for Elton John who has noticed that Cheryl Cole, The Saturdays, Girls Aloud and their ilk are all crap.]

So, It Wasn't Paul After All

(via Empire)