Monday, June 30, 2008

Jay-Z - Wonderwall

Oh me of little faith. Jay-Z at Glasters was, from the smattering of small screen footage we caught, the gig of the year (helps that we failed to turn up to the MBV gig). I really didn't know how many songs I'd absorbed iPod-wise; moreover, I couldn't have guessed how transfigured these songs would be live. My god, this guy can rap (yeah, yeah, I know. It's hardly news).

Better yet, he told Noel where to get off:

But just as I was writing this (faintly drunkenly and with dangerously low blood sugar), Marcello wrote this magnificent piece. It's too perfect too pick out a quote. But let me try:

I think, therefore, you'll gather that Saturday was a glorious strawberry and absinthe lollipop of a F*CK YOU...

Go read.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to account for Alan Cumming?

Oh dear. I'm afraid I may have led you up the garden path. The answer to the posed question, as any fool knows, is that there is no way to account for Alan Cumming.

But, on a completely different topic, an Italian study has proposed a new genetic theory of homosexuality, which essentially states that the genes for homosexuality survive because their female carriers have, on average, more children. The study looked at the patterns of procreation among the female relatives of male homosexuals and compared them to patterns of procreation among the relatives of non-homosexuals: et voila! more children.

The genes in question are not 'genes for homosexuality': they are genes for androphilia — for loving men. Which, among women, might lead, all other things being equal, to more offspring.

Will Saletan has a succinct discussion at Slate.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bad Wolf

Turns out we really weren't paying attention...

A trouser-rubbing timewarp that needs no new balls

Not my headline: Marina Hyde's, for a brilliant piece about the ongoing objectification of female tennis players:

They [the Lawn Tennis Association] recently launched their Think Pink campaign, a new initiative "to raise awareness of women in tennis, and sport in general". A couple of weeks ago they got lots of promising nine- to 11-year-old girl players to dress up in pink clothes and demonstrate their skills. "We're looking to bring out the glamorous side of the game," explained Think Pink ambassador Claire Curren, "and really tap into what appeals to girls growing up these days."

Wait: that's the big idea? To wear baby pink and emphasise "the glamorous side" of tennis? Why, we'll be producing Grand Slam champions inside a decade. It's a little-known fact that as ambitious tweens, Venus and Serena Williams raised their game by repeatedly asking themselves, "What would Malibu Stacy do?"

Hyde, Charlie Brooker and Laura Barton have become my essential Guardian reads. Brooker's last piece was about, um, hats, so I won't link to that. But consider this piece from Barton, on being a fan of William Elliott Whitmore and searching for new music:

When you are awaiting new material by a musician you love, you become a man roaming with a terrible thirst (goodness only knows how Guns N' Roses fans are getting by). And you find you are quenched, just a little, by rough new songs posted on MySpaces and played at shows, by duet records and live albums and by snippety journal entries on homepages; they are the clink of the glass and the splash of the tap, the promise of what is to come, and we stand like hens drinking rainwater before it has landed, nipping at tiny liquid insects, taking anything we can get.
That'll do, while we wait for more weather-beaten banjo classics from the man himself

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The First Excuse

Christopher Hitchens on the the accusations of sexism coming from the Hilary camp:

In common with quite a lot of men, I have or have had a mother, wife, grandmother, mother-in-law, daughter—more or less everything female except a sister, which I wish I had had—and given all this feminine backup, I decline to be talked to in such a condescending fashion. There are many ways in which to be a bad person, and I don't think that I would ever deny that the Y chromosome especially encodes some of these. I certainly don't know any feminists who wouldn't agree with me that some regrettable traits are forever associated with the male sex. But in that event, it will not be easy for Sen. Clinton's supporters to argue that she can't be identified as womanly, or even as a woman, unless (or do I mean until?) the word woman becomes more coterminous with the word saint or angel or the term nurturing person than it is now. Her whole self-pitying campaign, I mean to say, has retarded and infantilized the political process and has used the increasingly empty term sexism to mask the defeat of one of the nastiest and most bigoted candidacies in modern history.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Agoria: At The Controls

I so so want to do a longer post on compilations and I so so will (I hear the cry go up: hooray!), but I really have to mention Agoria's stellar entry in At The Controls series, already essential listening thanks to James Holden (his compilation at my BPM threshold but utterly thrilling for that) and M.A.N.D.Y (just bonkers).

Agoria gives us two CDs of quite stunning music, Disc 1 the more straightforward, Disc 2 really out in orbit. The section that traverses Fairmont's "Flight of the Albatross", Planningtorock's marvellously histrionic "When Are You Gonna Start" and Grand National's "Drink to Moving On" is just jaw-dropping — each wonderful piece of music dovetailing into its neighbour as if part of a divinely-ordained plan. It's the Jack Torrance of track-listings: but of course Stefan Goldmann's "Lunatic Fringe" morphs into the peerless "Dark Soldier" by Roland Appel — it always has (Lunatic Fringe hit upon such an obvious idea: these days, if a piece of minimal tech doesn't feature a Bulgarian women's choir, I'm not interested).

And then onto a blissful end with the sublime staccato of Apparat's "Arcadia". So what if Ellen Alien did it already. Since it's The Best Song in the Known Universe as of Today, we're allowed a bit of double-up.

Go fetch.

Quote of the day

A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.

~ Robert Frost

Friday, June 06, 2008

Subtitles; or how to pad, swell and overexplain a perfectly good title

Gideon Haigh, everyone's favourite cricket writer (He's an Australian writer who supported England in the 95 Ashes. That's got to be worth a beer), has written a great little essay for The Monthly. His subject is the surfeit of subtitles currently disfiguring the non-fiction section of your local bookshop:

Once, of course, books had no need of such otiose elaboration. To stick with American politics, there once existed the cultural literacy that made possible titles like Nixon Agonistes, with its hint of Milton, and All the President’s Men, with its echo of Robert Penn Warren. Critics, for their part, vouchsafed standalone titles of such solemn grandeur as The Death of Tragedy, A Gathering of Fugitives, The Evening Colonnade and Under the Sign of Saturn. Historians bandied around bald provocations like The Decline of the West, The Revolt of the Masses, The Making of the English Working Class and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

Now it's easier to take a few rough swings, and hope that one connects. Actually, there is a parlour game in the making imagining what modern marketing might have made of various classics: say, Kant's The Critique of Pure Reason: Why Space and Time Are A Priori Intuitions, Why We Cannot Meaningfully Conceive of an Object that Exists Outside of Time and Has No Spatial Components, Why We Are Prohibited from Absolute Knowledge of the Thing-In-Itself... And 101 Ways to Save the World (nobody will read long enough to learn that the last part is bogus); or maybe Plato's Republic: The Seven Habits of Highly Successful City-States (always use 'seven': it's publishing magic). T.E. Lawrence was ahead of the curve with Seven Pillars of Wisdom, yet how much better than his original subtitle A Triumph would have been something like How I Rallied Arab Irregulars, Tied Down the Ottoman Empire, Masterminded the Capture of Aqaba and Damascus... And You Can Too.

World's Best Buildings

My latest piece for Orange is a look at the world's 20 best buildings, from the Sydney Opera House to the Sagrada Familia.

Architect Le Corbusier described a building as "a machine for living in” but the buildings on this list are so much more than that. They are great seats of power, majestic places of worship, modern masterworks built to house contemporary treasures and defensive fortresses built to withstand armies and the elements.
Here's Clive James on the Sydney Opera House (he's since changed his mind).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Clinton retrospective

Superb retrospective on Hilary's campaign from the New York Times. It's a better package than I've seen on TV — and quite sad really.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Monday Night Live

A quick shout-out to the lovely folks over at BigPond Music (full disclosure: I used to work there).

After a so-so start, they've really pulled a blinder with the Monday Night Live series of live shows from The Basement in Sydney, featuring such luminaries as Powderfinger, Angus & Julia Stone, Scribe and Kasey Chambers.

Keep up the good work y'all.

The last, best hope on Earth

Politics is not normally my bailiwick, but I've been, along with just about every other sentient being in the universe, captivated by the US primary season, which came to an end last night, at least in the sense of pledged delegates (though, true to form, that particular metric doesn't seem to be swaying the Clinton camp).

Mr Obama sure gives a good speech. True fact: I've read transcripts of his speeches and felt a sudden prickling of the tear-ducts. Transcripts! Posted below is the second half of his victory speech in Iowa last night. A powerful, gracious speech with a rousing peroration. Can this level of oratorical flair win him the election? I guess we're going to find out...

Andrew Sullivan on Obama's speech:

If I needed reassurance that this man is the most formidable force in American politics today, his speech tonight confirmed it. It was shrewd - with an artful positioning on Iraq. It was graceful - with respect for McCain's service and Clinton's tenacity. It was brutal - in turning around McCain's Iraq visit meme to domestic economic woes. It was patriotic - in its evocation of Gettysburg and the Second World War. It was outer-directed: not for Obama the recourse to self-satisfied identity politics of the kind used by the Clintons because they often have nothing else. It was moving. I thought I even saw some suggestions of tears as he remembered his grandmother. It was also rhetorically more powerful than McCain - not by a small amount but by a mile. Put McCain's speech against Obama's - and this was a wipe-out. Not a victory. A wipe-out. Rhetorically, they are simply not in the same league. And if the contrast tonight between McCain and Obama holds for the rest of the campaign, McCain is facing a defeat of historic proportions.

One more thing: with McCain's and Clinton's speeches, you could not forget the politics of it. With Obama, you forgot about that at times. You actually lifted your eyes a little and believed a little and hoped a little.

Yes, he can. And anyone who under-estimates that will regret it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The pandas are safe

That's not a code phrase, in case you're wondering. I really do mean the pandas are safe. Last November, we were in Chengdu in Szechuan Province where the largest Panda sanctuary in the world is located and where I took this picture (lady, if you don't get out of my way, there's gonna be trouble...) There were quite a number of adults, loads of children and a couple of infants being hand-reared (the latter was, need I add, super-cute). We had a wonderful day there, despite the pretty weak museum — and the fact that my gastric system finally rebelled against the super-spicy food.

So, when we heard about the earthquake, we were naturally pretty worried for the pandas (we were worried for the people too, sure. But, come on: pandas). So it was a relief to read that they're doing well:

The earthquake killed four staff members and left a fifth seriously ill in hospital, officials said yesterday. Other workers risked their lives to fetch the tiniest cubs from the breeding centre and carry them to safety.

"When we saw the rock slides we were really worried," said Lu Yong, who has helped to care for the animals from birth and travelled to Beijing with them. "In a disaster the first thing we think of is the pandas and how to get them to safety. They were very scared and disturbed when the earthquake happened. They needed support from their keepers before they would eat again."

This picture was taking in the People's Park in Chengdu, the capital. It was an immensely beautiful place, incredibly civilised. Desperately sad to think of it in ruins.