Friday, December 15, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Nina Simone, by JD

"She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment. She was who the world would come to know as Nina Simone."

"When Nina Simone died on April 21, 2003, she left a timeless treasure trove of musical magic spanning over four decades from her first hit, the 1959 Top 10 classic “I Loves You Porgy,” to “A Single Woman,” the title cut from her one and only 1993 Elektra album. While thirty-three years separate those recordings, the element of honest emotion is the glue that binds the two together – it is that approach to every piece of work that became Nina’s uncompromising musical trademark."

http://www.ninasimone.com/












Tuesday, December 12, 2017

CATALONIA: Art repatriated, Puigdemont loses his marbles, by JD

News from Spain includes a story about the removal of art works from a museum in Lerida and returning them to Huesca in Aragon.* 

Background of the story is towards the end of this Wiki entry- 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monastery_of_Santa_Mar%C3%ADa_de_Sigena 

Of course Puigdemont is 'outraged' and this was his tweet yesterday- 

Carles Puigdemont@KRLS
Amb nocturnitat i utilitzant una policia militaritzada, com sempre, tot aprofitant un cop d'estat per espoliar Catalunya amb absoluta impunitat. Aquest és el model de país que defensen Ciudadanos, PSC i PP. 

https://twitter.com/rac1/status/940091511940644864 
As you can see he is still accusing the Government of a "coup d'etat" against Catalonia. I recall very well a genuine attempt at a "coup d'etat" on 23rd February 1981 which was ended by King Juan Carlos when he appeared on TV, dressed in his army uniform, and ordered the rebels to surrender. This was just four years after the Atocha Massacre and with the end of that 1981 coup attempt the ghost of Franco was well and truly exorcised from Spanish life.

Puigdemont's constant hyperbole diminishes his case and he is too stupid to see it.

I mentioned Puigdemont's name last night in a phone call to a friend in Spain; it is now a name which produces a furious reaction, a mixture of scorn and contempt; not least because he is still hiding in Brussels frightened to come back despite the fact that his Euro Arrest warrant has now been withdrawn. 
_______________________________________________________________

*Following a court order a month ago: 
http://www.catalannews.com/culture/item/aragon-judge-orders-return-of-disputed-artworks-from-catalan-museum

- but JD has these observations to make about this link to Catalan News:

The link you added is from Catalan News and is not exactly impartial. The court first ordered the return of the artefacts in 2015 and again in 2016. The suggestion that the Monastery was 'sacked' by Anarchists is disingenuous because they were fighting on the Republican side. The wholesale slaughter of priests and nuns by the Republicans is well documented.

http://www.academia.edu/4065314/Religious_Persecution_Anticlerical_Tradition_and_Revolution_On_Atrocities_against_the_Clergy_during_the_Spanish_Civil_War

And then there were the 'checas' which were basically Soviet run torture chambers. There is very little information on this in English but this is the background to it -

In Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, the detention and torture centers operated by the Communists were named "checas" after the Soviet organization.[42] Alfonso Laurencic was their promoter, ideologist and builder.[43]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheka

I am not defending or endorsing Franco. He was the lesser of two evils in that conflict. As I have mentioned previously, I visited the abandoned village of Belchite while I was working in Zaragoza. It is a reminder of the stupidity of both sides but, unfortunately, there remain too many stupid politicians who wallow in the false glory of past conflicts and wish to renew them.

"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori."

Intolerance

London, during the Blitz: Monty Modlyn, Jewish son of a West End tailor, sees misfortune come to a Nazi sympathiser:

"One shopkeeper who lived near us was a supporter of Moseley and an admirer of Hitler. He always hated Churchill. They never interned him, I don't know why. He had a little sweet-shop just over the way.

"At that time there used to be a gigantic soap and candle factory called Field's round the corner, and when it caught fire all the wax in it flowed out in a great river of molten wax down the side of the arches at Waterloo station. This burning river flowed right into his shop and burnt it to pieces, and we said, "That was a blooming good job your mate Hitler did!""

"Pardon My Cheek", Hutchinson (1973), pp. 44-45

So, as the capital city was being bombed by day and night, nobody had put the shopkeeper's windows through, nobody had read a Facebook instruction sheet on "How To Punch A Nazi" and put it into effect, nobody no-platformed him, nobody set the police and courts on him.

And that sort of British tolerance was not new. During the French Revolution (pre-Robespierre), the poet William Blake openly wore a Phrygian cap around London to show his support for the revolutionaries, and was not troubled for doing it.

What a stupid, febrile, mean-spirited people we have become.

By the way, I have the greatest admiration for Monty Modlyn, a man with balls of steel who interviewed Idi Amin shortly after the coup in Uganda and asked questions so frank that his cameraman cringed fearfully in his corner. And came back to Uganda a little while later, when sentiment had turned against the British. And visited Amin's HQ in the dictator's absence, showing photos of himself with Amin to gain admission - at a time when fellow journalists like Sandy Gall were sweating in a Ugandan jail with every prospect of being killed. What a man!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Catalunacy! - by JD

We are less than two weeks away from the regional elections in Cataluña, to be held on 21st December. Time for a further review of the 'crisis' and some clarification of the deep rooted reasons behind the persistent demand for 'independence'.

I have pointed out earlier that the idea of Catalan Nationalism was invented by 'the generation of 98' at the end of the 19th century. This is confirmed in greater detail by Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo:

http://www.fpcs.es/en/2017/10/20/el-nacionalismo-al-desnudo/

Further confirmation comes in the following video by the historian Jordi Canal, who is a Catalan, examining and deconstructing a propaganda video by the 'independentistas.' He says quite clearly that it is a mixture of manipulated facts, mythology and outright lies. Everyone in Spain (apart from the Catalans) will tell you that there has never been a Catalan nation. The various fiefdoms within the region were all absorbed into the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. One of the main reasons for that was to put an end to the 'war lords' fighting each other within the region. Canal says that the current idea that Cataluña is or ought to be a 'nation' is a 19th century invention. This confirms the view of Ortega y Gassett that the idea was promulgated by the 'generation of 98' (as mentioned above) In Canal's words, "There existed neither a Catalan nation nor a democracy - that is for sure."



In a 25 September 2017 letter to The Times, Sir John Elliot, Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the University of Oxford and probably the foremost Hispanist in the Anglo-Saxon world, reacted to letters which had been published in previous days which had called Spain ‘repressive’, ‘intolerant’ and ‘authoritarian’, amongst many other things. He declared that:

“The supporters of independence make much of repressive measures alleged to have been taken by Madrid, but those sympathetic to the holding of a referendum may not be aware of the degree to which the Catalan government has itself for many years been attempting to impose its radical agenda on Catalan society.

“Through its control of the educational system, influence over the media, manipulation of Catalan history for its own purposes, and in some instances, intimidation, it has sought to impress on the population at large its depiction of Catalonia as the victim of malign outside forces.” 

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/81759/on_catalonia_the_use_and_abuse_of_history_#.WhPe6TdpEb4

Elliott continues that theme in this article (in Spanish) in the newspaper El Mundo:

http://www.elmundo.es/espana/2017/09/26/59c91dbf468aebe2658b4590.html

I have known about the subversion of the education system for a long time but now know that teaching of all subjects is almost 100% in the Catalan 'language' and it has spread to the Balearic Isles and partially into Valencia. 

One of the main tactics employed by the 'separatists' is to continue to suggest that they are somehow the victims of 'repression' by Madrid.

“Having an enemy is important, not just to define our own identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our own system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth, so when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.”

- Umberto Eco, 'Inventing The Enemy':

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13326582-inventing-the-enemy

Underlying all of the above is something far more sinister.

On 14th March 1899, the mayor of Barcelona, Dr Bartolomé Robert gave a conference to an expectant audience in Barcelona. The subject of his talk was “The Catalan Race."

"Surrounded by huge sketches of skulls, Robert began to lay out “the solid proof of the cephalic index of the various races, following their path across Spain,” according to an article that appeared the following day in La Vanguardia newspaper.

Standing by a colored map of the country, the doctor declared that those from Valencia had a more oval shaped skull while in Asturias and Galicia there was a prevalence of rounder craniums similar to those of the “primitive inhabitants” coming to the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa.

In Catalonia, meanwhile, the shape of the skull fell somewhere between these two types, according to Robert, who described as “notable” the skulls of Aragon, “where the anthropological difference appears to be more distinct on both sides of the border.” The article added that Dr Robert would be leaving the characteristics of the Catalan race to another conference to be held at a later date."

The inference is clear: Catalans are a different and superior 'race' as compared to the 'Africans' who lived elsewhere in Spain.

Dr Robert's theory was immediately condemned by his former colleague, neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who spent five years as a professor at Barcelona University’s medical faculty. 
In his writings, Ramón y Cajal suggests that some of the Catalan population were later “poisoned” by prominent figures peddling pseudoscientific lies. “The rise of Catalan [separatist] politics was also reflected in attempts to establish the particularity of the Catalan physique,” writes Lluís Calvo in the Anthropological History of Catalonia, published in 1997.

The idea of Catalan racial superiority was promoted by others and is related in a book called "La Raza Catalana" by Francisco Caja (see references below). Many of the separatists firmly believe this theory, among them Oriol Junqueras, leader of the ERC (he is currently on remand awaiting trial for sedition among other things)

Whatever happens in the forthcoming election, nothing will change: if the separatists win they will continue to fight among themselves while Cataluña slides into chaos with SEAT adding a big blow to their hopes by relocating elsewhere. Another huge blow to the economic future of the region is the decision by the European Medicines Agency to relocate in a city other than Barcelona after the agency leaves London-

https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/11/21/inenglish/1511253798_320700.html

If the 'union' wins the rentamob will take over and continue there favourite pastime of blaming Madrid for all their misfortune. But long term, because of the brainwashing in schools and colleges, there will be a festering resentment against Spain and who knows how that will play out.......

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
 The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
 The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity."


__________________________________________________________________
References:

Fernando del Pino Calvo-sotelo
http://www.fpcs.es/en/acerca-de/

Dr Robert's theory and Ramón y Cajal 
https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/12/04/inenglish/1512395387_415482.html

Racism at the root of catalan nationalism-
http://www.agonfilosofia.es/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=118

Political prisoners? Read the thoughts of a genuine political prisoner from the era of Franco-
https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/11/09/inenglish/1510230412_527483.html

"The horrifying repression in Catalonia" during the referendum of 1st October. 
Oh really? Read about the Atocha Massacre in 1977 in Madrid and think again-
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Massacre_of_Atocha

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Post-Literacy: A Realisation Of Modern Times, by Wiggia


I am in the process of having a declutter as we just might be moving, a previous piece* deals with all the horrors of that separately.

My biggest task was/is a large collection of books, I love books and am loath to part with them yet the truth is apart from a few most have served their purpose and one section especially falls into this category.

Books on gardening, there are coffee table books, history of books, plant guides, single genus specialist books, landscaping books, water garden books, soil management books, design manuals, specialist design books, manuals on costings, material usage books, plant and tree sourcing books  and on and on.

Most of these come from my time designing and creating gardens, though some are purely for pleasure and some have a sentimental value, being tomes from people I have known and revered.

The fact remains that apart from endless trade catalogs and fact sheets that have been disposed of the books remain or the bulk of them do, well over a hundred remain on my shelves with no obvious purpose left for them.

The knowledge gleaned from the reams of writings has been used and what I need now in life is stored in the old gray cells; the books apart from a select few are redundant.

So what to do, the specialist and “rare” books I decided I would put on eBay, that is until I saw that there are countless same volumes already on there that simply don’t sell whatever the price, so that wasjunked as an avenue of disposal.

What about charity shops? On principle I will not give to the enormous charities that pay executives huge salaries whilst the staff work for nothing, so that leaves the small ones and they when approached said they have too many books and no thank you.

I then thought that local gardening clubs/associations was a good route to explore; from those that bothered to answer the result was negative, one explained that they have a members' library yet only two books had been borrowed in twelve months, so again they politely declined my offer.

The sad truth is people simply do not read anymore, or certainly not as in years past, all information can be obtained on the internet. There is no need for hefty tomes to invade your ever-smaller living space: you have a problem then seconds later you have the answer in front of you - all the sections I mention above can be extracted from the web.

Is it the end of books apart from those posh coffee table adornments? To a large degree I have to agree and say yes.

The same can be said for my map collection. I had endless maps of various parts of the country, Europe and the world, most out of date and virtually all never to be used again. The sat nav and mobile phone apps have seen the end of maps apart from the basic back up variety so with no one wanting them either, into the recycle bin they went.

I have always believed books have a special place in one's life: we learn from them, we are entertained by them and many are reminders of times gone by, by association or time placement, so what to do? I am adverse to dumping them so will in the end take them with me, no doubt to claim a corner of my study until I pop off and someone else has the sad duty to put them in the skip along with much else that will be available at that juncture. The unloved, unwanted book, not words I thought I would ever say. 

The printed word has been with us an awfully long time, it has been the mainstay of our education system, yet along with the newspaper appears to be in terminal decline. 
________________________________
http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/moving-house-by-wiggia.html

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Forget tax changes and austerity; invest in R&D and education

From the USA, "Paddington" says: I'm trying to cause trouble again. I sent this to Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, and Paul Krugman of Princeton and the NY Times:
________________________________________________________________________________
There is a great deal of discussion on the amount of economic growth that can be generated by changes in tax or fiscal policy.
What appears to be missing in that discussion is the likely answer: none. In fact, the changes proposed are very likely to hurt the economy.
The reason is that all long-term growth can be attributed to innovation, discovery and conquest. The first two are themselves dependent on earlier basic science research. The last is one reason why the Roman Empire collapsed when its expansion stopped.
Without basic science research, open access to the results, and a lead time of 20-30 years, there is no major innovation. The technology boom which began around 1990 was built on the government-funded research of the 1940's through the 1970's, in computers and electronics. Companies do not generally invest in research until the potential profits are demonstrated. When they do so, the results are often treated as proprietary, which impedes human advancement.
The US reduced funding for basic science around 30 years ago, which is one reason that most 'innovations' that we are seeing are the offshoots of earlier work, and nothing really novel is appearing.
Added to that is the attack to trim university budgets and faculty lines. Those faculty members are the very people who generate much of that new knowledge, for the common good.
Finally, we have the escalation in the cost of higher education and the proposed elimination of tax write-offs for it, without the realization that most of the people who staff the laboratories of the country are from middle-class families. Children from wealthier families choose business, law and sometimes medicine. Why more children from poorer families do not choose the STEM paths is a matter of some discussion.
In short, we are proposing, as a country, to shut off every avenue for the very innovation that we need to thrive. Our policies are a recipe for economic disaster.

Friday, December 08, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Female Flamenco, by JD

This was interesting in the El Pais weekly supplement:
https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/11/30/inenglish/1512048292_394530.html

"Female flamenco guitarists are so rare that Eulalia Pablo, a retired flamenco teacher and lecturer at the University of Seville, is often asked by her students why and if it was always like this. Analyzing press clippings from the 18th and 19th century, Pablo tries to answer these questions in her book Mujeres Guitarristas – Female Guitarists. “It’s a myth that women have never played the guitar,” she says. “But the flamenco world has always been very macho and inflexible. It remained that way until last century.”

Not something that I had given much thought to previously so I decided to browse to see what I could find. I wonder what Paco de Lucia or Sabicas would have said? I think the big question is not male vs female but are they any good as flamenco guitarists? According to the article some of the ladies already have the endorsement of Tomatito so we can start with him and then see what follows (not all are flamenco because there is a very large repertoire of Spanish guitar music)



Just like Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed his famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor at a the young age of 22, one of the greatest soloists and musical geniuses of this century – Paco de Lucía – wrote the Guajíras de Lucía at the same age.

Catalina is interpreting this virtuoso work as homage to the great Spanish Maestro.

She is catapulting herself into the magic hemisphere of Flamenco, breaking all boundaries of the common classical style of playing guitar, bravely mastering a lot of innovating Flamenco techniques like the posture, Picado, Golpe, Tresillos and Rasgueos.

Pity only that Paco cannot listen to her anymore. But maybe he floats beside her like an angel smiling as her patron.







I have been looking through various videos of the Plaza San Nicolas which looks out across to the Alhambra in Granada. There are lots of 'gitanos' there playing and singing and dancing flamenco but so far the ladies stick to the traditional role of singing or dancing; no guitarists yet. If one of them does eventually start playing she will have to be as good as Charo before being accepted by los gitanos.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charo

Saturday, December 02, 2017

FESTIVE FARE: Does It Matter? The Pairing of Food and Wine, by Wiggia


The choice of wine to accompany food has been a talking point for ever among those who claim to care about these things. On a personal basis, outside basic taste clashes it does not bother me that much, and like most things these days far too much is Sunday paper blether.

Some wines and food do clash  but not as many as is thought; even the old adage "only white wine with fish" has been debunked to a degree; but some common sense rules do apply.

Where it becomes a problem is when people who only drink red or white have to change when an obvious conflict of tastes comes about. Never is this more so than at Christmas when food not really eaten during the rest of the year is put on the table. In the perfect situation supplying a variety of different wines overcomes most obstacles but not everyone has the knowledge or the pocket to accommodate every eventuality.

I am not going through every foodstuff and suggesting a wine to match just some of the “problem” foods that crop up during the festive season whilst we are still upright and care enough to bother - after the tipping point nothing really matters - but some advice is still worthwhile.

With meats such as roast beef something substantial like Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, the more robust Pinot Noirs and Bordeaux are the obvious choices; if lamb is on the menu a wine not quite as robust, lighter, such as good Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja  Brunello de Montalcino are better bets; and roast pork will also suit Chianti and Rioja but because of its fat content  is one red meat that suits white wine - Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris work well cutting through the fat content that can overwhelm some wines. Northern Rhone reds, Chianti again because of that edge it has, and Bordeaux - the latter of course goes with more food than any other wine, hence its popularity.

It’s when you get to white meat it gets interesting. This can be broadly separated into two groups, game and other white meats like turkey and chicken. With turkey Chardonnay from the new world as well as Burgundy sit alongside Pinot Noir, and Cabernet blends from the old and new world are pretty good company plus Chateauneuf du Pape. Chicken is not that different except that you can add Pinot Gris from the Alsace and Kabinett level German Rieslings to the list, but overall non-oaked or lightly-oaked Chardonnay is a safe bet.

Goose is like pork because of the fat content, in that Gewurztraminer works well, as do Northern Rhone reds, Cahors reds, the white Viognier and even decent Pinot Grigio and something like Greco de Tufo; basically any lighter wines with that acidity to overpower the fat content.

Ham you can roughly put in a single category: smoked, prosciutto, dry hams; the best all-rounder for these is Beaujolais and un-oaked whites like Chablis.

Game, Pheasant and Partridge plus Guinea fowl are all well suited to lighter red wines like Beaujolais and the satellite areas and other versions of Pinot Noir plus the Gamay grape and Chianti and if you can find a decent Valpolicella it will do well (but not the Amarone versions) and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be added to the mix.

The only other meat not normally eaten other than at the festive season is Venison. Southern and Northern Rhones - like Crozes Hermitage, to give one example - have the power to come through what is a strongly-flavored meat;and Shiraz works too.

Fish is not a staple of Christmas apart from the smoked salmon that is popular at this time of the year, and for that again, being a strongly flavored dish, it needs it requires something that does not clash; the new love of Rosés finds a home here, along with white Burgundy, Champagne and sparkling wines.

In the same way, Tapas is always accompanied with Fino or Manzanilla sherries and the same pair go well with a lot of fish. Oloroso is more than a pudding wine: it can be drunk with red meats like pork and game and makes a change from the usual combinations

There are numerous lists out there on wine and food matching but to be honest after reading them all your cellar ! would never have all the ingredients to satisfy those who write these lists. They are subjective, as is the individual's taste in food and wine; there will always be quite rightly someone who will say "try this with that, it really works" and they could well be right.

There are foods that are very difficult to match up. In vegetables, asparagus and brussel sprouts are really not worth making the effort to find something that will go with, despite the efforts of experts to come up with something complimentary.

Cheese is a challenge. The classic Port with Stilton really does work, but others do not naturally lend themselves to be paired up with wine and many of the suggested pairings are a bit hit and miss. In reality strong cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola go better with a sweet wine like Sauternes or Liqueur Muscats, and Sauvignon Blanc from the likes of the Loire works well with Goats Cheeses, but all the others are a bit of a pig in a poke - what works for you, is the answer.

On the home front I noticed that this year there are some amazing bargains in supermarkets with vintage port. If you are a port lover both Tescos and Sainsburys have been selling a single Quinta Grahams vintage port for around £23 discounted, this is a ridiculously low price for such an exceptional wine, and Morrisons had a similar Warres version for £19. If you like port go for it, for the price will never be lower.

With desserts there is an overall winner in the use of Liqueur Muscats, Sauternes , sweeter Rieslings, Oloroso Sherry and Hungarian Tokay plus all the similar sweet wines like Beaumes de Venise.

In among all this do not forget the enemies of wine: anything vinegar based, artichokes, garlic, tomatoes, peppers (all) and chocolate. Chocolate is interesting as many say sweet white wines go with chocolate but just as many say no, better to have your chocolate separately from wine and play safe.

Of course at Christmas by the time you reach the Stilton and port you are past caring anyway so anything goes, but it does make sense to follow the basic rules even if only to please those dining with you who may not have your rather personal taste in wine and food pairings. Never force your choice on anyone else, it's a sure fire way to lose friends; play it safe and the following day with the turkey left overs you can indulge your fantasies.

I am lucky as this year as we shall be on our own so I can raid the wine racks and please myself: my last bottle of Grahams ‘85 vintage port is already in the firing line.

A quick addendum, in my last wine piece I did refer to the cult of “natural wine” and bio-dynamic growing. The former has no real guidelines and most decent quality wines are as near natural as you can get anyway, any added products to stop rot etc are all as far as I am aware natural products themselves, so I just don’t buy into the natural wine cult at all. This piece explains the downsides of natural wine:


As for bio dynamics, there is no harm done if you wish to follow this small trend, if you believe that the phases of the moon dictate grape picking times pruning times and more, fine, but when I asked a vineyard proprietor, and a good one, about the merits of bio dynamic wine production all he did was laugh! It’s a bit like homeopathy: if you believe in it you will champion the merits, but the truth is that as with homeopathy, at best it is a placebo: it doesn’t actually work.

Happy Christmas, everyone!