Friday, February 26, 2010

How big?

The BBC website reports an iceberg
the size of Luxembourg
and likely to:
disrupt the world's ocean currents and weather patterns
which could
result in colder winters in the north Atlantic.
This raised two thoughts for Malcolm:
  • The British are at last beginning to accept Europe.
  • An iceberg that size is not as impressive as one the size of Wales (the usual standard of measurement for Brits).
For the record eight Luxembourgs (each 2586 sq km) equals one Wales (20779 sq km).

Now, experimental science suggests one eighth of an iceberg is above water level. So that suggests this particular Luxembourger of a berg has a volume of ... an awful lot of double-decker buses. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A new favourite?

No: nothing to do with the marvellous Alison Krauss song (wrong spelling, for a start). Rocky Schenck's video is none too dusty either. If that isn't "art", what is it? So we'll take that pretext for a moment of wallowing:

Of brands and blends

Malcolm's mother went for the straight Glenmorangie. Malcolm sighs, wishing that, two decades on, they could broach a bottle together.

There's the most northern mainland distillery, and very pleasant too. The "sixteen men" and their successors do a magnificent job. All donations gratefully accepted.

Malcolm's old Dad was a bit more basic. Quantity more than quality, perhaps. Standing the round at the bar or birthdays came a bit more economical. He went for Stewart's Cream of the Barley (which seems, of late, to be marketed a wee bit more upmarket). Again, not something which a decent mortal should miss.

As for our aul' fella himself, the Boyo Malcolm, he takes his delights where he can find them.

His marital involvements with things Ulster mean he has a taste for the true, the blissful Hippocrene from Bushmills. He reckons that, far better than air-freshener, one opens a bottle of Green Bush, allows the aroma to waft through the house, gently lowering the level of contents, watching the rugby, and keeping out of the way of the wee wifie preparing dinner in the kitchen.

Callers with intent

Now, there is one small beneficial spin-off from siring a spawn of daughters. Sooner or later the odd young man comes visiting.

In Malcolm's case, one of the passing callers had a dubious continental practice which involved passing repeatedly through airports. At that stage in the developing relationship, said young man felt the need to keep the aul' fella sweet. The consequence of that was a succession of desirable single malts, bought at duty-frees across the northern hemisphere. All gone, all lost and gone ... except ...

The glory hole

There, at the very darkest corner of the cupboard under the stairs, past the dubious port bought for a long-gone Christmas pudding, beyond that curious plastic bottle of ouzo (Memo: must unload that to a party sometime) where the various bottled bitters have sidled, was a cylinder. Not empty. Within was a full ... a full ... bottle of McClennan's Highland malt.

And it is heavenly. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 22, 2010

The lists, the lists are driving me bleedin' insane!

We'll get to the lists in a while. By way of intro, Malcolm was considering Mick Fealty, Lord of the Manor at Slugger O'Toole, trying to extrapolate from the Willie O'Dea resignation to a metaphysical consideration of how the media mediate (or, in the O'Dea case, how the establishment manage to ignore an imminent train-crash).

Those a whit distant from recent happenings in Caitlín Uallacháin's right little, tight little Three Green Fields might need a quick update.

O'Dea! Oh, dear!

O'Dea (above, right) has been one of the cuter characters in recent Fianna Fáil history. He is, among that mixed bag of intellects, quite a bright guy: a lawyer and accountant. He has lectured at tertiary level, and remains a columnist for several Irish prints. He has been a TD for some three decades, was distinguished as one of Charlie Haughey's intra-party opponents, and has the throat of Limerick politics in a vampire bite.

For the last six years he was Minister of Defence in two Fianna Fáil governments: not in itself a great mark of distinction. O'Dea had done some good work at Education; and might reasonably have expected a better post. After all, Ministry of Defence is hardly the grandest office of state in the Twenty-Six Counties. Still, a FF Cabinet has to be a balance of many regional and ideological conflicting interests: O’Dea happened to tick many boxes. Moreover, the man evidently relished and cavorted in the job.

Then, in a local election campaign, O'Dea confided to a journalist that a prominent Sinn Féin candidate (subsequently re-elected) was involved in the running of a brothel. Ahem!

O'Dea at first denied he had made such an allegation, and swore to the same in an affidavit, only to be confronted with a recording of him doing just that. Oops!

Last December, the matter came to Court. The affidavit stood. Then O'Dea had to make a crawling apology, a specious excuse, and cough up a six-figure sum (according to the Sunday Times). Ouch!

Finally, the Opposition made an issue of the matter. Part of the delay is that Dáil Éireann has become a part-time legislature: part because nobody in the small world of Irish politics likes to stir noxious turds, lest they come back to haunt.

Last week, under pressure from Fine Gael (getting under the bar five seconds before Labour), the Cowen Government went for a vote-of-confidence. The government scraped home on the Ceann Comhairle's casting vote. Half a dozen TD's managed to absent themselves: Trevor Sargent of the Greens managed to be pre-booked for an unmissable engagement ... at an organic food fair. Indeed. Sargent's inability to attend could be typical of the Green point-of-view: they felt they had been "bounced" into the vote-of-confidence by Cowen.

O'Dea then resigned. There remains considerable contention about whether he walked, was pushed, or if indeed the Greens gave an ultimatum. If so, for once, the Greens were less of their usual “more of a dirty yellow colour” (© The Goon Show).

Listing to lunacy

None of that is directly relevant to Malcolm's other thought. This emerged from Fealty's philosophising about how the media, by inclusion, omission or emphasis, mediate the public agenda.

There is little new, or particularly profound in this. The mediaeval illiterate peasant was constrained to a horizon bounded by local gossip, the local parish priest's semi-literate theology, and the occasional passing pedlar. As information sources have grown exponentially, we increasingly and necessarily impose filters for ourselves. So we choose our sources by interest, by prejudice and by habit: Fox News or Russia Today, the Irish Times or the Miami Herald, Gay News or L'Osservatore Romano. Only one of which will have addressed the O'Dea business.

Malcolm, inevitably, found himself further trivialising the argument by considering the media's mania for lists. This is the particular unique-selling-point of the arts and entertainment pages, ultimately reduced to that inevitable five-star ranking.

At the eggheaded end, the likes of the Times Literary Supplement each Thursday not only reviews but fails to do so. This prescribes the scope of what literature is "acceptable" to that particular periodical and its adherents. That matters little, since there are other competing outlets, though it is clear that certain writers are "established" by being featured in those pages, while others are excluded. Reviews are inevitably nuanced: very few say"must read" and equally few are stinkers — though, last week, Heather O'Donoghue's magisterial belittling of Robert Ferguson was a gem.

At the popular="pop" end, the need to encapsulate creates more serious problems.

At its best, such an approach can be a classic: Walter Kerr's 1951 put down, for the New York Herald Tribune, of John Van Druten's I Am a Camera ("Me no Leica") being the gold standard, as acerbic as anything from Dorothy Parker. The effect of Kerr's cryptic comment depends considerably on the reader recognising that I am a Camera is adapted from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin experiences. And, in turn, went on to be the basis for the phenomenon that was the musical and film Cabaret): thus producing the curious sequence of a decent pair of books provoking a mediocre stage adaptation and a great movie:

But those lists!

Yeah, well take the nadir achieved by Rachel Campbell-Johnson doing the "New Shows" for the Playlist supplement of last Saturday's Times. This is a page headlined by Henry Moore at Tate Britain, with Ron Arad featured further down page. We are also invited to consider posters from the wartime Ministry of Food, at the Imperial War Museum, and the Design Awards at the Design Museum. To this mish-mash, Campbell-Johnson appends a side bar of her "Critic's Choice". To achieve the full depth of the bizarre, these are worth taking in the reverse order established by Miss World competitions:
5. Dexter Dalwood's pai
ntings and collages ... exploring the concept of "history painting" at Tate St Ives;
4. "Rembrandt in Focus", which sounds like making a commercial for a brand of make-up, but is a single portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet [left] on loan from Penrhyn Castle, together with etchings at the National Museum of Wales;
3. A major show of more than 120 images spanning the 70-year career of Irving Penn , at the National Portrait Gallery;
2. We are invited to Gaze into the giddily decorative surfaces of some of the best-known works of Chris Ofill (yes: the elephant turd man) at Tate Modern; and ...
1. Work by the
the Armenian immigrant whose paintings were as powerful and important as he was mysterious. That's the typographic-disaster-waiting-to-happen, Arshile Gorky ("crazy guy! crazy name!" © Glenda Slagg), also at Tate Modern. Why is Malcolm unimpressed by this one, when opposite is a full page advertisement for a Times+ "exclusive private view" at £10 a ticket?

Any way one addresses it, there's a fair bit of mediation being done there.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Things one wishes had gone unsaid (number 992)

The BBC reports:
A Briton has died following flash floods on the Portuguese island of Madeira, the Foreign Office has said.
At least 40 people have been killed in the floods, and more than 120 others hurt - a "small number" British.
The accompanying video is pretty spectacular too:

This should be compared with page vi of the Retirement Special supplement to today's Sunday Times property porn supplement:
Madeira ... retains a genteel, Edwardian air ... this is still a haven of rhododendron bushes and golf courses, with a wonderful year-round climate: a real plus. Its hilly topography is a minus.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Take the A

Little clip, under three minutes, on the BBC website:
It's the kind of "ain't-that-funny" thing that makes for newspaper column-fillers. Here, predictably, the Beeb does it to perfection.

The Eighth Avenue Subway, the A-C-E line, is one of the self-imposed tasks every tourist to New York undertakes, along with the Empire State and the Brooklyn Bridge. First timers inevitably get the express when they need the local. And why not? Take the rough with the very rough, even if it's only the well-worn section between Columbus Circle and Washington Square.

Would the train be so iconic without Billy Strayhorn's tune? Probably not. There's a decent history of the piece on wikipedia, allowing Malcolm to sit that one out.

Better still is Brooke Gladstone's NPR feature on Strayhorn:
Take the A Train ... became part of the national soundtrack, the sound of urbanity, of swing, Ellington's leitmotif.
So, as we force Malcolm back to his chores, back to the carpet-cleaning and furniture removal, let him relish the real thing. It works. It swings. It rocks. It doesn't matter if it's the trio:

Or the full shebang, with Ray Nance:

The Ella version is there, too (compiled by someone who knew more about music than the MTA: those locomotives are pretty heterodox):

Sphere: Related Content
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