Monthly Archives: June 2016

Summer Concert

We have a summer concert coming up next Sunday (July 3rd) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.

This is a predominantly lightweight programme of modern music: some short pieces and two medium-length works.  As we started rehearsing, I thought that a set of madrigals, or even Beatles arrangements, would fit the programme nicely, though neither is included.

The two more substantial works are Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and Rutter’s Feel the Spirit.  I can recommend both these works as well worth coming to hear.

Lauridsen is new to me.  My first reaction to the score of Lux Aeterna was, nice to do once, but nothing to write home about.  If theme and variations is a classical form, this could be kind-of described as chord and variations.  Since then it’s been growing on me: this is an interesting work (and I hope it’ll be wonderful to listen to), and some of what I first thought weaknesses actually do work and make sense as effects.  The text is Latin and religious, the orchestration sparing, the setting contemplative, and it comes as no surprise to find Lauridsen is contemporary with Tavener and Pärt.  The music also hints at older choral traditions, from plainchant to (possibly) eastern orthodox, though I’m not really competent to judge such things.

The Rutter is a set of seven well-known negro spirituals.  Like Tippett’s settings, these are for classical forces.  But compared to Tippett this is lighter, more playful.  Glorious tunes and lots of fun, and full of characteristic Rutter syncopations and cheeky modulations.  You’ll be whistling those tunes as you go home, but they’ll catch you out!

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The Devil always cheats

Once upon a long time ago, my dad told me about selling one’s soul to the devil.  I think it must’ve been in connection with (a childrens version of) the Faust story, but the suggestion was that there were quite a few such instances.

The Devil would always cheat on his side of the bargain.  The archetypal lawyer, he’d find loopholes in a literal interpretation of the text, and catch you out on them.  You of course don’t stand a chance – unless perhaps you’re Goethe’s very metaphysical Faust, or maybe a modern sendup.

Today it seems Boris is caught.  The charismatic, populist toff has all the attributes of a diabolical bargain, and in spades.  Indeed, altogether more so even than Trump, from whose wildly successful campaigning style Boris has clearly taken inspiration.

The master plan was obviously a Boys Own scenario: come to power at the nadir of the the worst crisis since the 1970s (perhaps even the 1940s, at least in his dreams) and turn the country around.  But that needed a scapegoat, to take the impossible (but eminently blameable) decisions that will now lead us to that low point.  Cameron’s resignation today came too early for the master plan: he’s not going to be that scapegoat.  So now it seems Boris has to take over too early and take that blame, or else chicken out at this obvious moment.

Whoops!

Oh, and though it’s not really the same story, I can’t resist a picture:

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Celebrity and Punishment

I have long detested Sir Cliff Richard as a purveyor of inane muzak that gets inflicted on us in public places.  Today I loathe his noise no less, but I also applaud him for biting back at the Witchfinder and the system that’s been persecuting him for the past two years or so and dropped the case just a few days ago.

Who’da thunk that being dragged through a criminal investigation could be as stressful and damaging to the victim as his eventual sentence if convicted (if not more so)?  If Sir Cliff can highlight to the world the bitter hollowness of the whole pretence that an innocent man has nothing to fear from the system, I might almost forgive the noise – at least until it next gets inflicted on me.

Ironic that he should contemplate doing so through the very “justice” system that had been pursuing him.  But I guess when you’re as rich as Sir Cliff you can take your cue from Sir Leicester Dedlock: just sit back and let the sharks play.

Death to Traitors, freedom for Britain

It’s not exactly catchy, is it?  But then, the Breivik-wannabe[1] who murdered an MP and wounded a bystander had already shouted “Britain First”, only to be disowned and his act unreservedly condemned by the fringe political group of that name.  He seems to be politically-motivated yet to have (thankfully) no hint of political support.

I hadn’t heard of the victim Jo Cox before her death.  But I have to confess, I find the tributes to her unexpectedly convincing, and the sister’s speech today was lovely.  My inner cynic has nothing to say.

What a shame that’s the background to someone who appears to be doing a fine job of highlighting some of the absurdities of our judicial system with the full attention of the media.  There’s plenty of scope to disappoint, but to have stood up in court today and given his name as “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain” is a good start.  Strangely everyone concerned refers to him by a less-unlikely name, which kind-of highlights the absurdity of the court’s question.  After all, a defendant on a charge involving identity theft might easily tell a convincing lie.

Apart from giving us a welcome respite from referendum nonsense, this has raised the question of shielding MPs from the people.  The odious Luciana Berger, from the totalitarian wing of the Labour party, wants to make it an excuse to hide behind red tape and screen out unwanted members if the public.  I hope that level of contempt for her electorate puts her in a minority as small as the assassin’s: I certainly can’t see those who (like Jo Cox) actually care about people going down that kind of route.

I shall also be mildly interested to see how the courts treat this case in comparison to another recent politically-motivated killing.  If the killers of a military target, having gone to some lengths to make it clear that civilian bystanders had nothing to fear, could be given an (exceptional) absolute maximum punishment, there is no scope left to punish proportionally the murder of a civilian and serious wounding of a third party.  Will we see a shameful double standard of any lesser punishment for the greater crime?

[1] Or does he see himself as Gavrilo Princip or Yigal Amir, the assassins whose deeds unleashed war on the world?

DoS attack?

Government system to register to vote in the referendum gets overloaded.  Deadline gets extended.  Cockup or conspiracy?

News reports tell us the best measure of traffic they had was the peak of registrations ahead of last year’s general election, and they built the system to cope with many times more traffic than they’d had then.  Yet traffic surged way beyond even that ‘surplus’ capacity.  So while cockup is entirely plausible, it’s by no means inevitably the cause.

It is widely supposed that late registrations come predominantly from younger people, and that younger people are more likely to vote In.  So bringing the system down ahead of the deadline would favour “out”, while extending the deadline would favour “in”.  Overall my best guess would be they more-or-less balance – at least if the system doesn’t go down again.

Most campaigners on both sides seem to accept it’s just one-of-those-things.  But a few “out” campaigners have been remarkably quick to jump on it.  It’s gerrymandering (Ian Liddell-Grainger).  It could be cause for Judicial Review in the event of a narrow “in” vote (Bernard Jenkin).

Hmmm, cui bono?  Jenkin’s line of reasoning points to a vote-again-until-you-get-it-right scenario.  We have a motive: someone stood to gain from the system failing on the last day.  If the deadline is not extended, a chunk of predominantly-in voters are excluded.  If it is extended, they’re preparing the ground for judicial review: get the courts to decide.  A win-win.

A Denial of Service attack can bring any system on the ‘net down for a while, and is very easy to mount (buy yourself control of a million virus-infected PCs and have them all bombard the target system to overwhelm it).

Cockup or Conspiracy?  I anticipate some more evidence, albeit far from conclusive.  If it goes down again tomorrow, that signals cockup – unless someone could organise a new DoS attack remarkably quickly.  If it survives to the new deadline, it smells more of conspiracy.

Herbal serendipity

Today I’ve taken one more step towards a stereotype of middle-age and middle-class as I had a gardener round to spend the morning hacking the jungle.  He certainly got more done than I would have in a half-day session, and I’m not shredded!  He’s coming back for a session once a fortnight for the time being.

There’s a bit of history to this.  A series of minor mishaps that had left the jungle rather more overgrown than it should have been.  The strimmer’s battery died and my various attempts to find a replacement proved futile.  I was out of action myself with a bout of ‘flu for a spell back in April.  And finally, my garden waste bags disappeared, just as the garden reached its most vigorous.  So I took a chance on getting some help with it.

And already it paid off.  Among the small, inconspicuous weeds I hadn’t recognised, he identified oregano.  Great: one more delicious thing for the kitchen, to tide me over until the blackberries and plums are ready.

Misfit

Those who have met me in person will know I’m of medium height, well-built, and with ample beard and paunch.  Other features of my physique may not be have been so obvious, unless you have much more of an eye for it than I do.

One person who is more perceptive than most is my aunt, who observed of my teenage self that I had a very long back, and warned that I was likely to suffer from it in later life.  She was right: I now have a long history of managing back pain.  The corollary to that is short legs.  Oh, and a large head.  Not so far from the norm as to be an obvious feature like the beard and paunch, but still some way off the average.

But our society is built for average people.  We have some consciousness of the needs of the obviously-different: we can see that tall people need more legroom, or that short people may need a hand reaching things.  It’s less obvious that someone my size might struggle to fit into all our standard scenarios, yet it’s become increasingly obvious over the years.  For example, I can’t sit in the back seat of most saloon cars (hatchbacks are fine) without having to bend the head over.

Much more recently I’ve come to the realisation that this may be one reason for my long-standing problem with sustained sitting down.  Particularly in an office or dining chair (the kind of situation where you sit up).  And in many other seats I need to bring the legs up under me to something like a lotus position to survive more than a few minutes without severe pain. Seats are made for that idealised average person, and don’t fit me.  Which is why I do a lot of my work in other postures: at the treadmill desk, or lying down and using the laptop.

No such problem on a step or a rock: their size is much less tailored to that average person, and consequently less problematic.  But that’s not so useful for work, or anything else involving sitting at the ‘puter.

Anyway, as I write I’m sitting in a new office chair I just bought.  Sadly there’s nowhere I can go to a showroom and pick the ideal chair (Staples still exists locally but nowadays has a very meagre selection in-store), so I have to buy online, which makes it pot luck whether I get anything tolerable.  This one is selected for its dimensions: it’s lower than average (which I need), and it also has a seat which, while reasonably wide, is less deep than most.  So it’s at least physically possible for me to sit on it in a recommended posture with knees clear of the front of the seat and feet on the floor.  I’m trying it, though alas with limited success: it’s going to take practice if I’m ever to make it!

Alas, the back of the chair is not so good.  I think it’s for a shorter person than me.  I just don’t fit.