Friday, January 30, 2009

Cole's to Manhattan

Malcolm, doing a routine task, with inevitable iPod accompaniment, was about to conclude that no lyricist came close to Cole Porter:

Let's reprise that:
You're the top, you're Mahatma Gandhi!
You're the top, you're Napoleon brandy!
You're the purple light, of a summer night, in Spain.
You're the National Gallery! you're Garbo's salary!
You're cellophane!
Followed by [cue Miss Holiday!] Porter's harsh observation of:
When the only sound in the empty street
Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet
That belong to a lonesome cop,
I open shop.
When the moon so long has been gazing down
On the wayward ways of this wayward town
That her smile becomes a smirk,
I go to work....

Love for sale,
Appetising young love for sale.
Love that's fresh and still unspoiled,
Love that's only slightly soiled,
Love for sale.
Or, again, for sheer joy:

Malcolm has a very soft spot for that one: it was one of the great moments in the 2001 Broadway revival. That closed soon after 9/11, and transferred to London; so Malcolm saw it twice.

There is, as it happens, a complete video of the earlier, 1999, London production of Kiss Me, Kate (in 6' 40" episodes, and all for free on YouTube):

That all goes to show why Malcolm reckons Cole's Kate is better theatre than Will's rather dreary Shrew. Malcolm reckons, when the 2001 Broadway production transferred to the West End, it simply redeployed the set in that video.

This is all subjective and personal. Therefore, as always, complications crept in.

So, who's in Malcolm's second place?

One contender might be Ewan MacColl:

Who else but Roberta Flack? She was probably responsible for that song being voted, surprisingly, the BBC's soul song of the century in 1999. Purists may prefer the original:

No, let's not rule out MacColl: he did so much more.

Or what about Billy Joel?

We ought to have Piano Man at this juncture, but YouTube have disabled the link. He achieves something of that natural realism as Love for Sale.

Malcolm could half-doze the seven hours of LHR-EWR of VS001 to a playlist of Joel's oeuvre. He might even keep Miami 2017 on repeat, recollecting this:

But we went right on with the show: indeed. That has personal resonance with Malcolm, because of reasons he has mentioned before (as far back as the 14th September 2007) . For once the YouTube audio is clearer than the original CD.

Joel also gave us Scenes from an Italian Restaurant:

and, another Malcolm favourite:

What's this?

At the last moment, Malcolm's order of choice is thrown into confusion. The iPod throws up something different, straight from 52nd (now on 44th) Street:

Down them stairs, lose them cares -- where?
Down in Birdland.
Total swing, bop was king - there!
Down in Birdland
Bird would cook, Max would look - where?
Down in Birdland,
Miles came through, 'Trane came too - there!
Down in Birdland
Basie blew, Blakey too - where?
Down in Birdland,
Cannonball played that hall - there!
Down in Birdland
Yeah !

Does it ever get better?

Well, possibly (You might as well admit it,/ we're the best who ever did it) on Four Brothers:

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 29, 2009

[A version of this posting also appears on Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service]


Any one spared the front page of today's Times escapes this image:

Now, we all know that the Press has an agenda. It amounts to a demand for a constantly-changing cast of characters, like some continuing soap opera. Personalities are invented, built up, then slaughtered, that a new face might then be introduced to continue the drama.

Politics is treated like a Moebius strip. In Britain, though, the same side has been to the fore over more than a decade. In David Cameron the newspapers have a new leading light, one of their own, that they can recognise: the former PR man for a failed television company. He is a metropolitan face to be enhanced, photoshopped and deified: only then can his feet of clay be chipped away.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Murdoch's Morning Moan.

1946 and all that

The hyperbole in employing this image is breath-taking. There are no points of recognition between the Britain of 2009 and that of sixty-odd years previously. Repeat: absolutely none.

To suggest a neat parallel is to belittle the intellect of a reader.

It simply overdoes the doom and gloom.

Now, let's strike an equally relevant comparison. This is another image of London in 1946:

Malcolm has commented, at length, on this one before. It is as propagandist as that picture used by the Times. It is as positive and upbeat as the other is negative and defeatist.

What further irritates is that the Times story is predicated to the IMF forecast, published on Wednesday (yesterday). Now, IMF forecasts tick along with metronomic regularity: how many of us check their subsequent accuracy?

For example, last November the outlook for the UK was growth for 2008 at 1% (down from its earlier shot of 1.8%) and -0.1% for 2009 (down from +1.8%). Around the same time, the IMF was predicting average oil-prices for this year at $68 (down from a previous guess of $100): in real time, oil closed yesterday at $42 or so.

This is Mystic Meg stuff, with as much value as a fortune cookie. Just because it’s got a fancy label, doesn’t make it Château Lafite. Just because it has the IMF good-housekeeping seal of approval doesn't make it come true.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Malcolm returned from the local supermarket. Within a hundred paces of his front gate are eight -- no, count them again, nine -- tradesman's vans. Garden walls are being built. Kitchens replaced. Double-glazing installed. Blockwork is being ground for paths and driveways. Here is an electrician. There a plumber. Someone is upgrading their tv reception. It was on a Thursday morning that the gas-man came to call.

The immediate neighbourhood of Redfellow Hovel is a hive of activity, and of paid and productive labour. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

iLife, iLove

Another day, another toy. Or in this case, a compendium of several.

The Apple Store at Brent Cross supplied the family-sized version of iLife. Malcolm feels beatific and ennobled to have acquired it legitimately: not, of course, that he could or would stoop to other means, o no.

Then for the surprises. So far two:

iPhoto comes with extra whistles and bells, in particular a facial recognition sytem which is ... interesting, but needs refinement, perhaps.

iWeb is worth a play, if only to see if the appearance of this outpourings can be improved.

So: watch this space? Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 26, 2009

Into the eighth circle?

Asked to produce a list of those he despises, Malcolm would include both Tricky Dicky Nixon and David Frost.

He would expect Dante to have consigned both to the eighth circle, the Malebolge, where reside the fraudsters.

So, he is off to view Ron Howard's film of Peter Morgan's script of Frost/Nixon.

More later, perhaps, on the collision of two great vanities:
  • remembering that, in Latin, vanitas implies emptiness, hollowness. a lack of reality;
and wondering if

OAC, in his comment below, refers to a critical review. That review is tallies with Malcolm's now-educated opinion.

Frost/Nixon is certainly not the five-star, whistles-and-bells, thing that one or two reviewers have suggested. Cosmo Landesman, almost predictably (after all, Frost is personality with Sky connections), is among the worst offenders, but only by some neat equivocation:
Never mind Nixon, it’s this rehabilitation of Frost that bothers me. Here is a man who has spent nearly 50 years sucking up to the rich, the famous and the powerful, and now, thanks to this film, he will go down in history as the great inquisitor who got the truth out of Richard Nixon. Rarely has bad history become the basis of such a great film.
What Malcolm saw, however, is a decent, domestic drama, played out in hotel-rooms and offices.

Characterisation is competent, but not incisive.

Michael Sheen conveys the essentially-vapid core of Frost more than adequately. Frost here is precisely what his Cambridge Footlights contemporaries saw and scorned in the man: full of himself and bonhomie, superficial, exploitative, a shallow crowd-pleaser. Even when the whole project is going down the plughole, Frost knows nothing better than string-pulling and tele-begging. Only when Nixon's late-night drunken telephone call rouses him, does this Frost dynamize himself -- and, inevitably, stumble on the McGuffin that unlocks and undoes Nixon in the final interview.

Frank Langella, as Nixon, is a monster: shambling, crude, fleshy, grasping, in decay and decline, trapped beside the San Clemente shore, doomed to formulaic anecdotes at conventions of Texan orthodontists, wanting to return East to rehabilitation and the main event. He is surrounded by pathetic reminders: the presidential seal on his crockery and on the blazers of his household staff. His final collapse is Euripidean: even then, as Zach, our American Cousin, notes, he is incapable of fully voicing repentance, incapable of rising above the subjective, or of much above his personal loss:
I let them down. I let down my friends, I let down my country, and worst of all I let down our system of government, and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but now they think; 'Oh it's all too corrupt and the rest'. Yeah... I let the American people down. And I'm gonna have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life. My political life is over.
The two closing scenes are instructive. One involves a long lingering exchange of meaningful gaze between the two main characters. Frost is not showing pity here, but finding an element of self-recognition in the defeated, deflated old trickster. Then comes the tawdry little moment of Frost's final visit to Nixon's ironically-named La Casa Pacifica, and the presentation of a gift: a pair of Italian shoes.

Behind the two main characters, things are less adequate. Matthew Macfadyen's version of a younger John Burt is, almost, an Energizer bunny, short of sunglasses and blue flip-flops. This is the barest hint of the rather-louche Birt who haunted the BBC and was intimate with Tony Blair. Here, he is merely a plot device, the other half of Frost's random conversations.

Sam Rockwell is the eager, driven, partisan Jimmy Reston, mainly there to high-light Frost's dilettante approach, and then to locate the McGuffin.

If there is a success here it is Oliver Platt (as Bob Zelnick). His moment is doing a Nixon impersonation.

The non-event is Rebecca Hall as Caroline Cushing, Frost's arm-candy for the period of the drama. She offers little, except a cheeseburger and some well-filled dresses.

Worth a visit, yes. Worth any awards, doubtful. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 23, 2009

In the beginning was Word 3.0

The Beeb has woken up to realise that the Macintosh is twenty-five years old.

Malcolm learned most of his tricks from either the Amstrad 8256 or the Mac 128. He rarely got close to the household BBC Micro, which spent most evenings playing Snapper (Acorn's rip-off and improvement on Pac-man).

The real pity of that was Malcolm wanted to become an Elite. Or, at the very least, to master Hopper.

And the Beeb had to have someone to review that quarter-century-old piece of e-archaeology. They chose someone totally, totally impartial of course. Jane Douglas from -- read this very carefully -- MSN. That stood for MicroSoft Network, the last time Malcolm looked.

So, no bias there.

But Malcolm can assure one and all of one thing. Mark this:

Those teaching-notes and worksheets he produced on a Mac128 and an Epson dot-matrix printer were once the very zeitgeist of the educational cutting edge.
Twenty years on, he still found the odd echo and pale-imitation in new and unknown staff-rooms, where his neglected, scribbled-on, past labours still had an afterlife as they
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn
or simply provided work for supply teachers and cover classes.
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Feeling Kate Winslet

To his total bewilderment, Malcolm finds he is nominated to the l-o-n-g list of Best Personal Blogs, sponsored by Microsoft Ireland’s Developer and Platform Group.

He therefore resolves:
  • to write something Irish in the near future
  • not to bite the hand that feeds him by being his Mac-fanatic self.
Sphere: Related Content
The Nation, 8th February 1933.

One of the regular items in Malcolm's in-box is the regular e-mail from The Nation.

Today's is remarkably relevant: it is a link to the editorial on the inauguration of FDR:
Mr. Roosevelt Must Lead.
It should not be missed, and not just by old history-buffs and fellow-fogeys like Malcolm.

The image (above), not contemporary with the original article, shows Hoover shaking FDR's hand asthey together head towards the Inauguration. Knowing what we now do about FDR's incapacity (and what the media of the time suppressed), it alone is telling.

As for the rest of The Nation's current articles, they are very pragmatic and to the present moment. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And and But

Malcolm, since Cicero at the High School in Harcourt Street, is a student of oratory. He has, on occasions, been no mean practioner himself (not for nothing was he described as the "Norman Hunter" of his Borough Council chamber).

So he looks forward to President Obama's inaugural, today. Pause for intake of breath: yes, by then it will be "President Obama".

Very few speeches come with such much baggage of context and anticipation. It is also true that Obama has rarely let us down in the past.

What can we expect?

Well, almost any speech in such circumstances has to take one of two main lines:
  • the "and" speech, emphasising continuity and tradition, how the future will develop organically from the past;
  • the "but" speech", pressing for change and a new future better than what has gone before.
Obama has to cover both tracks:
  • he is the forty-fourth president of a continuing tradition;
  • he has sold himself on the twin rails of "change we can believe in" and "hope".
The last time we were in such dire need of a new radiant future was the 1933 inauguration. It's worth checking back: FDR's speech of 1933 is noted for two passages:
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
and, in the opening paragraph:
... first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Of the two, it is the second that has gone into the dictionaries of quotations, and which echoes sonorously in the mind. That went largely unnoticed at the time: it was the first, with its Biblical connexions, that attracted the attention at the time.

Tomorrow's newspapers will celebrate one ringing phrase or sentence. It will be uplifting and energising. It may not be the quotation that will enter the history books as the epitome and epi-centre of the Obama era.

When he was musing on this posting, Malcolm discovered a debate on the New York Times website on the topic. It is worth the study. He shamelessly stole the image above (by Ozier Muhammad) therefrom. Apologies and thanks.
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 19, 2009

Malcolm writes a letter to The Economist:

You say:
The Bushites' co-operativeness contrasts with the childish behaviour of some Clintonites in 2001, who vandalised White House offices as they packed up to leave.
Doesn't that sound awful?

You, presumably, take your version from Tony Snow's lurid imagination: that the White House was a wreck. Air Force One returned from delivering Clinton to New York dismembered:
When the loaned aircraft returned to its hangar at Andrews Air Force Base, it looked as if had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves - or perhaps wrecked by a trailer-park twister. Gone were the porcelain dishes bearing the presidential seal, along with silverware, salt and pepper shakers, pillows, blankets, candies - and even toothpaste. It makes one feel grateful that the seats and carpets are bolted down.
Snow had been a Bush speech-writer and had a syndicated column to fill. To his credit, President Bush denied the claims about the aircraft.

Or you rely perhaps on Andrea Mitchell of NBC News:
Phone lines cut, drawers filled with glue, door locks jimmied so that arriving Bush staff got locked inside their new offices.
Well, all that went into the headlines for a few days of January 2001. By May the story had changed.

Bob Barr, the Georgia Republican Congressman (so no bias there), wanted a full investigation from General Services Administration that heads might roll. Bernard Ungar of the GSA reported that:
The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy ... there were papers that were not organized lying on the floor and on desks; there were some scratches here and there, but the bottom line was [the GSA] didn't see anything really in their view that was significant and that would appear to some as real extensive damage.
Doubtless to save Republican faces, arms were twisted and a further investigation was set in motion:
The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said today that ''damage, theft, vandalism and pranks did occur in the White House complex'' in the presidential transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush.
The overall cost was itemised:
$9,324 to repair or replace various items and to clean offices.
That included:
  • $78 each for 62 keyboards (many with damaged or missing W keys) and for cellphones;
  • $1,150 for professional cleaning,
  • $3,750 to $4,675 for missing doorknobs, medallions and office signs and a large presidential seal.
More than a hundred White House staff were grilled. Presumably the enquiries cost more than the damage.

Even so, the Bushites were not happy: Alberto Gonzalez (who would, of course, go on to greater things) was demanding more detail, especially of the
graffiti derogatory to Mr. Bush on the wall of a stall in a men's room.
Bradley H. Patterson, a former White House employee, has written a paper, To Serve the President, continuity and innovation in the White House staff (available on-line). He shows that, in the fiscal year 2008, the cost of running the White House was
plus unspecified classified costs (such as Air Force One, Secret Service protection).

Now that does sound awful.

You could have discovered all of this, and more, from a quick trawl of the sources: for example,
Sphere: Related Content
It's 5 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time.
It's noon, Eastern Standard Time.

Just twenty-four hours.
It's nearly time to stop holding our collective breath.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Off track 2

Malcolm's second BBC whinge:

This time it's a "colour" piece by Heather Alexander. She explores
The secret below Grand Central Station.
She claims to be visiting one of the most secret, historic parts of the terminal.

Again, true, but with many question-marks around it.

Malcolm's main complaint here is the claim that the
secret rail platform under Grand Central Station - Track 61 ... does not appear on any station maps or plans and was built specially for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to use in the 1930s.
The impression is given that it was constructed largely to protect FDR's vanity about his incapacity, the consequence of polio, his wheel-chair and leg-braces.

The truth about Track 61

This story crops up, as do so many, with monotonous regularity. Why does nobody (Malcolm notably excepts himself) undertake some basic research?

Track 61 is explained by numerous websites, not omitting Columbia University.

Start from the days when railroads had money.

At the start of the twentieth century, the New York Central Railroad electrified. It no longer needed direct access to the atmosphere. So it dug a vast hole between 42nd and 50th Streets, between Lexington and Madison Avenues. Into this pit, thirty feet below street level, the tracks were dropped. In modern terms, it cost something in excess of $2 billion. The "air rights" (building on stilts over the tracks) were then up for offer.

One of the last erections over the tracks and marshalling space was the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, completed in 1931. The Waldorf traded on exclusivity. What better than a private rail siding for those private rail cars? With a lift directly into the hotel!

So a platform and lift were constructed. Stand on platform 24, and look north: up there is the "secret" platform 61, up by 50th Street.

First to avail of this facility was General Pershing, in 1938.

Then it became associated with FDR. He could arrive from Hyde Park, via the Hudson Line, be decanted and removed to the Presidential Suite, out of sight and (in wartime conditions) under complete security.

The coincidence of the "secret" platform, the conveniently-parked armoured railcar, and the number of times this story re-appears suggests that someone, somewhere has the notion of a future tourist attraction.

As for "secret" ...

The platform has been used for various events.

Back in free-and-easy 1946, the New York Central Railroad held its “Debut at the Waldorf,” showing off its new diesel locomotive.

In 1965, "Dick Ekstract" rented the platform and hosted The Underground Party, in honour of the birthday boy, Andy Warhol. Fitting, if nothing else.

Julia Solis (in New York Underground) has given a pretty comprehensive account of this "mystery".

So: ya wanna "inter-react" wi' Track 61, huh?

You walk past the awning of the Waldorf-Astoria, down to the corner of 50th. That's St Barts over there, OK? Swing right. Make three or four strides. Look over your shoulder. See those metal doors, telling you this is the Metro North emergency exit? You're thirty feet above that "secret" Platform 61.

Sphere: Related Content
Off track 1

Malcolm regards the BBC with great affection. Inevitably, though, he likes to point out their errors.

So, as the first of two grouses, he starts with the story of the day:
Obama begins historic rail trip

US President-elect Barack Obama is retracing the steps of Abraham Lincoln as he travels from Philadelphia to Washington to assume the presidency...

The train will pass slowly though towns so Mr Obama can greet crowds, and make a number of stops for public events.

It mirrors the journey Mr Lincoln made as he travelled to Washington in 1861.
Largely true, except that it wasn't like that for Lincoln.

Lincoln came to town in secret, and for good reasons:
in the early morning of an icy winter day -- of the twenty-third of February, 1861, to be exact ...

As Washburne watched the sleepy travellers disembark, he wished he had brought with him at least half-a-dozen Federal guards. Since the guards were just coming off night duty, no one would think it odd if they should converge, in a casual sort of way, upon the depot. But the other half of the semi-official Joint Congressional Committee of Two, Senator William H. Seward of New York had said, "No, we don't want to draw any attention to our visitor. You and I wil be enough. Since the always-mysterious Seward had then chosen not to come to the depot, only the House of Representatives was represented in the stout person of Elishu B. Washburne, who was, suddenly, attracted to a plainly criminal threesome. To the left, a small sharp-eyed man with one hand plunged deep into his overcoat pocket where the outline of a derringer was visible. To the right, a large thick-set young man with both hands in his pockets -- two pistols? In the centre, a tall thin man with a soft slouch hat pulled over his eyes like a burglar, and a short overcoat whose collar was turned up, so that nothing was visible between cap and collar but a prominent nose and high cheekbones covered with yellow skin, taut as a drum. In his left hand he clutched a leather grip-sack containing, no doubt, the tools of his sinister trade.

As the three men came abreast of Washburne, the Congressman said, "Well, you can't fool me, Abe."

The small man turned fiercely on Washburne, hand half out of his overcoat pocket. revealing the derringer's barrel. But the tall man said, "It's all right, Mr Pinkerton. This is Congressman Washburne. He is our welcoming committee."

Warmly, Washburne shook the hand of his old friend the President-elect of the United States, Abraham Lincolm, a fellow politician from Illinois, who was supposed to be murdered later on in the day at Baltimore.
Gore Vidal is writing fiction, but, in all truth, so do many academic historians, without acknowledging it. Vidal defended his version of Lincoln in detail, and we can take much of this version on trust.

New Tenants

As for the conquering hero, arriving at Union Station on Sunday, Marc Fisher had a nice piece on the WaPo site. Wry, entertaining, imaginative, even informative.

The opener sets the tone:
Welcome to the neighborhood, President-elect and Mrs. Obama. The last tenant, frankly, didn't much like it here, but don't let that sway you. The house is old and drafty, but it has beaucoup curb appeal, a crackerjack staff that conveys, and the words "24-hour security" -- well, they don't even come close.
Malcolm, an infrequent visitor to DeeCee, recalls mainly the sweltering soup of summer. The pert piece, his youngest daughter, recommends the cherry-blossom season. For the next few years -- let us hope, all the way to January 2017 --, this will be the space in which the incoming President must operate. He is not a total stranger here, after his term in the Senate, so presumably he has some grasp of the lay-out. And, presumably too, he knows the seasonal changes -- though Senators, like Presidents, mainly operate in secluded, air-conditioned exclusivity.

As Fisher points up, this is likely to be the start and finish of Obama's domestic problems:
Your security forces are happiest if you never leave the building. Your sanity and the health of the nation demand, however, that you get out often. Alas, you gum up traffic every time you exit the gates in daylight. Commuters grumble at the sight of your motorcade.
So Fisher's solution:
Go out at night... Check out the nation's second-best theater town (and take the kids) ... high school ball in Prince George's County, ... Don't let theWhite House crowd limit you to their tired and stuffy restaurant hangouts. Branch out. Start off by inviting George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen in to brief you on why a stimulus package won't do the trick, then get into his invaluable Ethnic Dining Guide.
This begins to sound like a sanity-saving recipe. Which is why, presumably, it will not happen.

Obama looks like being the most-integrated, most-cultured, best-adjusted, least-weird, least-artificial President in decades. By general acceptance, he is the world's current best hope. He comes wrapped in expectations which he cannot possibly fulfil. Yet, he must try. And, for those legendary hundred days, at least, he must give the impression of eighteen-hour working days, and a frenzy of initiative and effort.

Already the first groans of radical disappointment cannot be far behind. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 16, 2009

Making a mark

As a child, Malcolm added those extraordinary stamps to his small collection. They're still in his attic. Somewhere.

The over-prints told the story of the collapse of the German currency in the early 1920s. Then there are those photographs of shoppers with barrowloads of notes, hoping to buy a sausage.

Just like Zimbabwe today.

What stopped the rot?

Inevitably, since we are talking high finance here, it was a masterly piece of legerdemain. A "notional" currency was invented: the Rentenmark, nominally based on the value of the land of Germany. It was based on the assumption that 4.2 Rentenmarks were worth one US dollar. And the people of Germany, desperate for a quick fix, believed it. And so a new stability was almost constructed.

That was 1924.

Flash forward to 2009, and to the marvellous, magnificent Robert Peston's blog:
... the overnight announcement on the bailout of B[ank] of A[merica] would have been viewed as the stuff of public-finance nightmares a year ago. Today, it's almost par for the course that US taxpayers are injecting $20bn of new capital into the bank and promising to absorb most of the future losses on $118bn of radioactive investments.

Those financial commitments are peanuts of course in the context of $14,000 bn-and-rising of financial support that taxpayers have provided to banks all over the world. What's gone wrong with our banks is without historical precedent - but then, you knew that.
Actually, young Robert, -- gulp -- I hadn't kept count.

But, "without historical precedent"?
No: it's merely a case of convincing us plebs to believe. Sphere: Related Content

Iain Dale (that's a Home Service gripe), in a passing Twitter, informs the world he is digitalising his vinyl. Bless him.

On Wednesday evening, a major disaster hit Redfellow hovel. A misplaced foot. A stumble. A drop, the Big Bastard, the terabyte drive, went down, literally, metaphorically, technically, and terminally.

So Malcolm is back where Desperate Housewife Dale is: rebuilding a digital musical library.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

Oh, how Malcolm loves these excursions. That means "Know Yourself". According to Pausanias, it was the inscription above the temple of Apollo at Delphi.

You see, all that has survived, out of Malcolm's half-terabyte of digitalised music, is on his three iPods, perhaps 30 or 50 gigs. In other words, this is the portable stuff, the VS001 LHR-EWR seven hours of dozing, the 45 minutes of survive-the-Northern-Line, the can't-sleep-lullabies, the music-to-blog-by.

Out of that comes a process of self-diagnosis. And Old Malc finds it instructive.

For example, except for Live Licks and early stuff, much of the Stones archive has gone. Along with the lesser stuff by the Boss. So have the Ellington and Basie collections. All the Beatles and the 60s crooners (so no great loss there). A stack of R&B. Mozart and Bach. Swathes of dixie and traditional Jazz. Almost all of Charlie Parker. Great chunks of swing. Bel canto. Folk.

No sweat. With time and effort, that can be reconstructed, if necessary. It just means pulling out boxes, extracting CDs and re-loading ... or whatever. Time is the great healer.

That's not the point here. What has survived? What was in daily use?

And that's where the psychology of Luke 4:23, "Physician, heal thyself", hits home.

Malcolm is forced to confront what has been his recent day-to-day diet of aural stimulus and satisfaction. It is quite frightening, and quite revealing.

The entire history of Willie Nelson. Carpenters and ABBA, for heaven's sake. Miles Davis. Neil Young and most other manifestations of CSNY. Asleep at the Wheel. Pretty well the whole oeuvre of the Kingston Trio and the Limeliters. Manhattan Transfer and the Swingles. The best bits of Artie Shaw and Goodman. Beach Boys (cue visual recollection of Andy Lippincott's elegiac death in Doonesbury).

A replacement drive is on order. The cycle will repeat itself.

And the moral of this story is:
Back up your back-up.
Sphere: Related Content
A dollar ain't a dollar any more

It would be bizarre, except we have the local example of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry (over £182 million at the last look, and still nothing on paper to show for it).

The great State of Florida tried to make a buck by selling the personal details from driving licences to marketing firms: actually, it was worth $27M a year to the State revenues.

It was a pretty comprehensive deal: the State was selling the driver's photograph, Social Security number, driver ID number, name, address, phone number and medical condition.

In 1999 Congress barred such arrangements, through the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act, unless the individual driver gave consent. The great State of Florida barrelled along regardless, until a State law of 2004.

Lawyers brought a four test cases to court. A settlement was agreed last August, but needed financial approval from the legislature. This week, it came before the State Senate Transportation Committee.

So here's the tally, subject to final confirmation:
  • $3,000 to each of the four test-case complainants;
  • $1 each to each Florida driver, when the next year's renewal comes up;
  • $2,850,000 to the five law firms involved.
The total cost to the great State of Florida will be around $10.4 million.

The State faces a total deficit next year of a mere $3.5 billion. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A problem of definition

Kate Winslet wins the "best supporting actress" award at the Golden Globes, is nominated also thus by the Screen Actors' Guild for her part as Hanna Schmitz in The Reader.

Fair enough.

So who was the leading actor in this piece? Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 12, 2009

Buy now, while stocks last!

Just over seven days, and counting.

Meanwhile, serious price-cutting is happening at

So what will Malcolm's tee-shirt slogan be from now on?

And, in homage to the final episode ("Tomorrow") of The West Wing, what will be the conversation in the Presidential limo, on the way to the Inauguration ceremony? Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ira Hayes

January 12, 1923 – January 24, 1955

The statue recreates the (staged) photograph that Joe Rosenthal of AP took of five Marines and a Navy man. It has become, it is widely said, the most iconic picture of the War.

The four we see are (left to right) are Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley and Harlon Block. Behind them are Michael Strank (behind Sousley) and Rene Gagnon (behind Bradley).

Three of them died at Iwo Jima: Strank and Block on March 1st, Sousley three weeks later.

Of the survivors, Gagnon, Hayes and Bradley had minor cameos in Allan Dwan's 1950 release, The Sands of Iwo Jima. Adam Beach plays Hayes in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers of 2006.

Only Bradley successfully put his life together after the War. The others suffered what, today, would be "post-traumatic stress disorders" in one form or another.

After a night of drinking, Ira Hamilton Hayes was found dead in an irrigation ditch. He was just thirty-three years of age. It was ten weeks after he attended the dedication of the Felix de Weldon statue in Washington DC. In different circumstances, we might be celebrating another birthday of a distinguished near-nonagenarian.

The only name of those flag-raisers that remains widely recognised is that of Ira Hayes. That is largely because of a song by Peter LaFarge, and even more so to John Cash's re-recording (part of the Bitter Tears album) of 1963.

There is a distinct change in Cash's treatment of the song as he (and it) aged and mellowed, and gained in significance. He moves his treatment from straight narrative ballad (as in the YouTube clip below), very much in the restrained Anglo-Scots tradition, to something nearer to C&W angst, which was what his audience expected:

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In, like Flynn

This was not the post Malcolm intended: that's still cooking, and may be worth the effort.

Instead he was inflamed to words by the continued obtuseness of Beverley Flynn, the TD for Mayo (right, with Da).

Once upon a time, when the world was young, o best beloved, her Fianna Fáil seat in Dáil Éireann was the feudal fief of her adoring Da, Pádraig (universally known and loved as "Pee") Flynn. In its wisdom, Fianna Fáil nominated said adoring Da to be a European Commissioner (the full force of Pee's personality is amply illustrated here).

This created a by-election in June 1994: the young Beverley (just 28 years of age, but old in the ways of the Western World) stood, expecting the reversion. Alas! It was not to be. She was shouldered aside by the bread-boy and auctioneer, Michael Ring of Fine Gael (though, as with all things to do with Mayo, his is a loose and intermittent connection).

So, sorrowing Beverley had to wait until the 1997 General Election to come into her own. But, lo!, the prophecies were fulfilled and Mayo again had a Flynn as its TD (albeit a "Cooper Flynn", for Beverley was then flying under a married name). But not for long.

Malcolm is now wracking his brains to recall precisely why Beverley gave herself the heave-ho from the Soldiers of Destiny on the first occasion: he seems to recall it was because she opposed the idea that Pee might be asked to explain his own dodgy dealings. Now, come on, don't be shocked! we're talking Mayo here!

Anyway, she wriggled back into the good graces of the Fianna in almost no time at all.

Then, a further cloud, at first no bigger than a young woman's hand drifted over the clear blue-green horizon. It transpired that Bev, while employed as a financial consultant by the National Irish Bank, was advising tax evasion. So she was out of the Party again, but -- again -- allowed back in time for the 2002 General Election. A result!

Bev had taken the hump against RTÉ for banging on about that tax business. She sued Charlie Bird of RTÉ for libel. She lost. She was now facing a bill of nearly €2½ million. Gulp, swallow, choke. Worse still, she was again evicted from FF, who then did the incredible: the Party dissolved the Cumann on which the Flynn power was based.

Bev was now bankrupt. As a bankrupt she was ineligible to be a TD. The Perils of Pauline have nothing on our lass's alarums and excursions.

But our Bev is a famously feisty female: she challenged the legislation which would disqualify her. This gave her time to negotiate a lesser settlement with RTÉ (it still amounted to some €1¼million; and as far as Malcolm can ascertain, there is another liability and settlement to a third party still outstanding). It also allowed her to stand as an independent in the last General Election. To the surprise of many, Beverley Flynn (the erstwhile husband, along with his name, having been cast aside) squeaked home on the eighth and final count, edging out the sitting FF man, John Carty. Shed few tears for Mr Carty, o best beloved, the Party looked after him: he is in the Seanad as a member of the agriculture panel.

Now, it might be recalled by a few number-crunchers that the 2007 General Election gave FF just 77 of the 166 seats in the Dail. Rounding up a couple of dead-end PDs was the easy part. The Greens had to make a small show of reluctance, but were ready to swallow pride and decency in the hope of office: there went another lost hope. It was also necessary to corral the five independents, of whom our Bev was one.

So, by April 2008, Beverley was again one of the elect, admitted yet again to dip her snout in the trough of the holy whited sepulchre that is the FF Party.

All of that left this one lingering problem. An independent TD is eligible for €41,000 to compensate for not having the support of a party machine. Ms Flynn is keeping her hand on her ha'penny, on the ground that she was elected as an independent. Most would see that as wanting the best of both worlds.

The Irish Times today is calling foul:
If Beverley Flynn lacks the moral compass to behave in an ethical fashion, then Taoiseach Brian Cowen has a duty to remove her from membership of Fianna Fáil. At a time when public confidence in Government is at an all-time low and people are desperately seeking a restoration of standards in public life, her determination to draw the untaxed allowances of an Independent TD while enjoying the full benefits of Fianna Fáil membership cannot be tolerated.
Not without reason, the editorial sees this as part of a greater whole:
Since the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission was established five years ago, the situation has worsened. Granting elected members the right to draw up their own terms and conditions failed to produce necessary reforms. TDs' salaries, linked to those of principal officers, more than doubled in five years. More than half of the electorate see the Oireachtas as "unimportant". And the Government is largely to blame. Ministers resent being held to account. Important policy decisions are announced elsewhere. The Dáil continues to meet for only three days a week in plenary session. Extended holidays are the norm. A better democratic balance is required.

In the meantime, the scandal of unvouched expenses and of untaxed allowances amounting to €40,000 that do not have to be accounted for must end. Leaders of all political parties have a responsibility here. The brass-necked behaviour of Ms Flynn, in challenging the authority of the Taoiseach to moderate her behaviour, has cast her in the role of lightning rod, drawing attention to an unacceptable system of payments and allowances for all Oireachtas members. She is no stranger to such controversy, having been twice expelled from Fianna Fáil and readmitted in questionable circumstances by Bertie Ahern. Ms Flynn may be legally entitled to hang on to the allowances of an independent TD but, in this economic climate, she is damaging Mr Cowen's authority every week that she draws it down. The Taoiseach must act.
Out-of-the-mouths-of babes-and-sucklings footnote:

At mid-day today [Wednesday], Beverley Flynn issued a statement, saying she had foregone the €41,152 allowance for Independent TDs:
"I was using the allowance for the purpose of my constituents, it was not an allowance that was being used personally for myself ... that was never the intention of the allowance of the first place and certainly it was never my intention to benefit personally in any way from it and nor did I," said Ms Flynn.

"I have been absolutely honest and upfront. I used that allowance for the benefit of my constituents all the time that I got it and long before I was in receipt of it I actually dipped into my own resources to enhance the services I provide to my constituents."

"The reason why I've taken this step this morning, is not because I'm not in compliance with the regualations as it currently stands [sic] I am, but I'm taking this decision because it has developed into a controversy," she added.
Her honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept her falsely true.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tony Gregory: 1947-2009

To the Wild Geese of Malcolm's generation, Tony Gregory is for ever the scowling Sticky, the North Dubliner, the history-teaching son of the North Wall dockworker, who went into the Dáil in 1982, and promptly out-bluffed Charlie Haughey, that great poker face, to the tune of £80+ million a year.

That is a story to be treasured.

There is a pen and ink drawing (left), by Frederico Zuccaro in the Getty at Pacific Palisades. It shows the arrival of Frederick Barbarossa at St Mark's, Venice, to submit to Pope Alexander III.

There ought to be a similar -- and as imaginative -- sketch showing the Great Charlus arriving at Summerhill Parade, that grey, grim February day in 1982, to try and bribe Gregory to support a minority Fianna Fail government. Gregory had his brother, Noel, and two key supporters (Fergus McCabe and Mick Rafferty) to back him.

Gregory had a price, and he set it high.

Incredibly, Haughey signed up -- repeat, signed his name -- to a deal that nationalised two plots of land in the Port of Dublin and at Clondalkin, that directly and immediately recruited 500 extra staff in inner Dublin (rising to some 3,750 in three years), and would build 2,000 new homes in Dublin (of which 450 were to be in Gregory's patch). When they shook hands at the end of the meeting, Haughey (no mean dealer himself) said, "As they say in the Mafia, it's a pleasure doing business with you."

Gregory had instantly risen from local street activist to national status. He would never again reach such heights.

Without exception, the Dublin Left reacted with an admixture of outraged scorn and breathtaken admiration: it merely depended where one's personal balance fell.

It marked the dawn of the age of Irish "stroke" politics. But Gregory's (although unrealised in effect) was the greatest stroke of all.

His death, last Friday, at the age of just 61 is a cruel full-stop to a remarkable, if unfulfilled career. He served his constituency well; and could frighten the hell out of more conventional politicos. May he retain that whiff of brimstone about him, wherever he now is bound.

The RTÉ web-site has Tony Gregory's reflective interview with Aíne Lawlor. Sphere: Related Content
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