Archive for July, 2011

Alexander Nevsky

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on July 31, 2011 by telescoper

I had the good fortune to catch last night’s Promenade Concert, featuring the excellent City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andris Nelsons,  the best part of which was Sergei Prokofiev’s patriotic cantata Alexander Nevsky, which comprises music he wrote for the film of the same name directed by Sergei Eisenstein.  I thought it was a wonderful performance (which you can still see on iPlayer at least for a week) of an amazing piece and was glad I stayed in to watch it. Apart from everything else it reminded me of going to see the film at the Arts Cinema in Cambridge when I was a student. Here is a segment from the thrilling Battle on the Ice. Shot in 1938, without benefit of digital effects, the photography of this sequence is absolutely amazing, as is the music. The point at which  battle commences – and the music falls silent – is one of the greatest heart-stopping moments in all cinematic history.


Light breaks where no sun shines

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 31, 2011 by telescoper

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

Night in the socket rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limits of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter’s robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics die,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotment the dawn halts.

by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Legal Insults

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 30, 2011 by telescoper

Here’s something I think is an interesting topic for a quick post.

Apparently, the government is considering proposals to change the 1986 Public Order Act, specifically Section 5 thereof, which states that

a person is guilty of an offence if he … uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour … within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby

The criminal law also contains provisions intended to protect individuals from various other forms of harassment. For example, the 1986 Public Order Act and its amendment in the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act created the criminal offences of “causing harassment alarm or distress” and “causing intentional harassment alarm or distress”, where an offence is committed if an individual “uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.” Incidentally, these offences also apply to comments made on websites, as do the provisions of the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

The particular focus of the current discussion is the presence of the word “insulting” and whether it should be a criminal offence to insult someone. The first discussion of this that I read was in the context of homophobic abuse, and it’s interesting how it has divided opinion. For example, gay activist Peter Tatchell agrees with the proposed removal of “insulting” from the law, on grounds that it is a threat to freedom of speech, whereas the campaigning organisation Stonewall opposes the change.

This is a subject about which I will attempt to tread delicately, given my past experiences, but I have to say that I largely agree with Peter Tatchell. I don’t think it should be a criminal offence per se to make insulting remarks about another person, even if that insult comprises racist, sexist, homophobic or blasphemous language. I’m not saying that it’s right to insult people in such ways, just that it should not of itself be a matter for the criminal law.

The inclusion of “abusive” and “insulting” seems to have led to a situation in which the Police can interpret the law so widely that they can lock up anyone they don’t like the look of at the slightest provocation. By the same token, the law is so blurred that it is hard to apply where it is supposed to be  intended –  to stop harassment and intimidation.  The proposed changes will not completely simplify matters, as judgement will still be required as to whether the behaviour is actually threatening or not. Some people are more easily intimidated than others.

As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure that amending this act is the best way forward. Perhaps it would be better to repeal it and think again, drawing up something less open to abuse. And yes, I do think it has been abused by the Police for their own ends.

Having said that, I don’t think freedom of speech can be absolute. It has always been tempered by wider considerations. The old argument about shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre and all that. I agree that attempts to restrict it should be kept to a minimum, but there has to be some form of redress if someone oversteps the mark.  Abusive, insulting or harassing behaviour in the workplace should be dealt with in terms of internal disciplinary procedures, as many employers  have their own codes of conduct to follow if someone misbehaves in such a way and their employees are bound by contracts to observe them. If the employer decides to enforce them, of course…

I find it even more difficult to support the  current  laws about “incitement”, such as the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act which could be used to prosecute people simply criticising other people’s religious beliefs. It seems to me that it must be a poor kind of faith that can’t survive being questioned by others. If language is used that is intentionally  threatening it is in any case already covered by the other laws I already mentioned.

A Walk in the Park

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 30, 2011 by telescoper

I know my posts about Bute Park tend to be very critical of its “restoration” (i.e. commercial redevelopment) by Cardiff City Council, especially the ridiculous construction project that is doing untold damage opposite the cricket ground. However, I thought I’d balance that with a bit of credit where credit is due. The floral beds in the Park are looking really beautiful, as you can see from these snaps I took on the way home last night. See how many plants you can identify!

The problem is that you’re increasingly likely to come across this sort of thing these days too, as the Council seems to want to encourage private motor vehicles to drive around the footpaths and park on the grass. This was taken just down the footpath, to the south of the flower beds shown in the previous picture.

If you recognize the numberplate please tell the owner he’s a twat, from me. If I had my way there’d be a complete ban on cars and lorries in the park.

Another thing you might be interested to learn concerns the little refreshment kiosk just north of the flower beds:

This little Wendy House was built to replace a Victorian summer house as part of the Council’s “restoration” project. Actually, it’s not a restoration, just a new cafe, next to a paved seating area that doesn’t look anything like the original, doesn’t add anything to the aesthetic of the park,  and  eats even further into the  contiually dwindling green space. What I’d most like to know, however, is how this little building managed to cost the Council £165,778.20. That’s more than the cost of an average home in Cardiff….

…dare I suggest that somebody has been lining their pockets at the expense of the local Council Tax payers?

More Boring Than Advertised? (via Occasional Musings of a Particle Physicist)

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by telescoper

My (probably ill-informed) earlier post about particle physics seems to have generated quite a lot of traffic, so I thought I’d reblog this short article (by a real particle physicist) for the benefit of those people who want to find out about the latest results from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.

You would be forgiven for seeing the headlines from EPS-HEP 2011 and thinking the LHC is less interesting than maybe you were led to believe. A year or so ago you might have expected hints of supersymmetry, black holes, extra dimensions or even something more exotic to have been found in the ever increasing LHC datasets. But the current story is that the Standard Model is still describing all data analysed so far pretty damn well. There may or ma … Read More

via Occasional Musings of a Particle Physicist

Billie’s Bounce

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on July 28, 2011 by telescoper

I thought I’d put this up because I’ve just found it and I think it’s great. It’s an interesting facet of jazz history that the clarinet, a mainstay of jazz styles from the New Orleans roots through to the Swing Era, fell into disfavour in the post-war era with the advent of bebop when it was largely replaced by the saxophone. Very few musicians persisted with the clarinet into the era of modern jazz, but this is one that did. It’s the superb Buddy DeFranco, one of the most technically accomplished clarinettists in all of jazz – few have ever been able to match his control in the upper register. The tune they’re playing is a Charlie Parker composition called Billie’s Bounce, another tune based on the standard 12-bar blues sequence (in F) but with some alterations. As far as my chord book says, it basically goes like this:

| F7| F7 | B♭7| F7|| B♭7| B♭7|F7| F7| G7| C7| F7| C7|

while the standard blues progression in F would go like

| F7| F7| F7 |F7 | B♭7| B♭7| F7| F 7| C7| B♭7| F7| F7|

It’s a Charlie Parker trademark to have a “turnaround” at the end, with the dominant chord C7 instead of the tonic F and, as you’ll hear, these changes produce quite a different feel to the standard blues sequence.

Anyway, one thing I particularly love about this performance is the perfunctory instruction given by Buddy DeFranco at the start: “Play the Blues in F for a while”. That’s all they needed to send them on their way.

Hidden Flame

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 28, 2011 by telescoper

I feed a flame within, which so torments me
That it both pains my heart, and yet contents me:
‘Tis such a pleasing smart, and I so love it,
That I had rather die than once remove it.

Yet he, for whom I grieve, shall never know it;
My tongue does not betray, nor my eyes show it.
Not a sigh, nor a tear, my pain discloses,
But they fall silently, like dew on roses.

Thus, to prevent my Love from being cruel,
My heart ‘s the sacrifice, as ’tis the fuel;
And while I suffer this to give him quiet,
My faith rewards my love, though he deny it.

On his eyes will I gaze, and there delight me;
While I conceal my love no frown can fright me.
To be more happy I dare not aspire,
Nor can I fall more low, mounting no higher.

by John Dryden (1631-1700).

Cat’s Paw

Posted in Columbo with tags , on July 27, 2011 by telescoper

Back late from a very pleasant evening out with the Cardiff cosmology group, I’ve just got time for a quick post to avoid letting my blogging average slip. Today’s been an enjoyable one, but also a bit fraught. Columbo suddenly developed a rather exaggerated limp this morning. At first I thought it was a deterioration of his arthritis but on closer inspection I discovered that he has a swelling on one paw. He’s also indulging in the strange practice of putting the affected paw in his water dish. It’s obviously causing him a bit of discomfort, but the likeliest explanation is that he’s been bitten by a wasp or something; if so it will eventually die down. I’ve left him alone all day and it doesn’t seem any better now that I’m home. I think I’ll leave it overnight and if it hasn’t improved by the morning I’ll have to get him checked out by the vet. Apart from the difficulty walking, however, he doesn’t seem too bad so I hope whatever is troubling him is a minor ailment.

Other than that, there’s not much to report other than it’s an exceptionally sultry evening and it’s nice to have my former PhD student and current postdoc at Cape Town, Rockhee Sung, visiting, in whose honour we had dinner tonight. Rockhee and Columbo are old acquaintances from Beeston days, in fact, so it will be interesting to see how they get on when they meet again, which hopefully won’t be too long!


Posted in Music with tags , on July 26, 2011 by telescoper a place near Marrakesh, a fact I didn’t know until I stumbled across this long lost original recording by Noel Coward of the song later made famous by the late Amy Winehouse.

Nom de Google?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 26, 2011 by telescoper

Google+ has arrived. So I’m told. It’s meant to be a rival to Facebook, I think, and it is described as “making sharing online more like sharing in real life”. Um.

Membership of Google+ is apparently by invitation only and, although I’ve received a few invitations, I haven’t taken the plunge yet. I’m not sure I ever will. I already waste so much time on Twitter and Facebook that I’ve scarcely got time to write my blog keep up with work.

Despite not actually being on Google+, I still feel the urge to comment on an issue that I’ve picked up via Twitter. And why not? Complete ignorance of subject matter has never stopped me from commenting on things before.

The problem, it seems, is that, unlike Twitter, Google+ does not allow users to hide behind a pseudonym. One influential blogger describes  Google’s policy as “gestapo-like”, “narrow-minded”, and “big brother” . Another suggests that it indicates that Google hates women. Both have been banned from Google+ for using aliases rather than their actual names. These and other reactions have developed into a fully-grown to-do accompanied by a not inconsiderable hoo-hah.

At the risk of being controversial, I have to say I think Google’s policy is actually quite reasonable.

There are of course many reasons why someone would want to use a nom de plume instead of their real name either on the net or elsewhere. I’ve done so myself, as a matter of fact (and I don’t mean the thin disguise I use on here, which simply demonstrates that I’m overly fond of anagrams).

The use of a pseudonym is by not illegal, neither does it imply some nefarious intent. However, I find it hard to understand the logic that removing the right to remain anonymous (or pseudonymous) is the violation of some fundamental human right.  I’ve blogged about this issue before, so won’t repeat myself here.

I also don’t understand the argument that allowing people to use Google+ incognito will do anything whatsoever to prevent harassment, stalking or bullying. The point is surely that allowing users to conceal their identity allows miscreants to do so too. Far better in my view to police misconduct by naming and shaming those responsible for abuse.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Sunday’s Observer carried a long feature about internet trolling which makes a persuasive case that the cloak of anonymity actively encourages obnoxious behaviour on the internet. People will say and do things when their identity is concealed that they wouldn’t dream of when out in the open. Allow pseudonyms on Google+ and it will be an even worse environment  for those likely to be victimised.

As another blog post explains, Google’s policy is not in any case based on it being some kind of public service, motivated by the ideals of free speech and mutual respect. It’s a business. The reason it wants people’s real names is so that it can target them with advertising.

My policy on this blog is a compromise. I allow commenters to post comments provided they give me a genuine email address. These addresses are not visible to the outside world but they reassure me that if the commenter engages in abuse or harassment then I can identify who they are and take action if necessary. I automatically check IP addresses too. I can tell you there would quite a few surprises if I revealed the identities of certain prominent individuals who have posted or attempted to post comments on this blog. In fact the biggest problem I have on here these days tends not to be abusive comments but spam; tedious automatically generated messages with links to dubious websites outnumber genuine comments by about 5 to 1.

But I digress. It seems to me that the main point is that nobody has to sign up for Google+. If you don’t like their anonymity policy then just don’t go there. Simples.