Adventures in headline writing, Gaza edition

The New York Times, a division of the Israeli Military.

So something happened in Gaza today, something horrible even by the abysmal standards of that terrible situation. Here’s the headline in The Guardian:

Israeli strike on UN school kills 15

With the following sub-lede:

UN says it was refused time to evacuate civilians before IDF shelled Gaza school, injuring 200

Then there’s The Independent: Continue reading

Drones

Drones—threat or menace?

Wait, what drones? Well, for starters, the ones that Amazon is testing, which have a 50 mile range, and a five pound payload. All so you can get that book faster. Of course, in the US this needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Not only that, it requires that the FAA provide Amazon with an exemption from a bunch of regulations that currently prevent private companies from unmanned vehicle testing. Now, these might strike you as the kind of sensible regulation that you actually might want governments to enforce. The FAA, on the other hand, is currently preparing new rules that will loosen things up a bit, apparently. And if Amazon gets the approvals it wants? Get ready for “Amazon Prime Air.” Although five pounds doesn’t really seem to be a very large payload of books, or coffee, or lawn furniture, or whatever it is that’s so desperately needed from Amazon.
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CATEGORY: Climate

BBC wises up on Climate Science

Last year we bemoaned the fact that the BBC, which we do love dearly in spite of its occasional faults, was consistently blowing it on its climate change coverage. This has been, in the past, for reasons of “balance.” It may also have been the direct or indirect result of the political and “scientific” views of David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, reputed to be a climate change “skeptic.” At least this was the theory put forward by Guardian commentator John Ashton. Whatever the case, it was embarrassing, and starting to compromise the BBC’s reputation for scientific coverage.

Hah. It turns out some folks at the BBC Trust seem to feel the same way as we do. And The Telegraph, in a story that Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton obviously enjoyed writing, and that the headline writer had a fun time with as well, provides us with the scoop: “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.” 200 staffers are now going to training on issues where the scientific consensus is settled, and to learn “not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious.” And the BBC trust was not alone. In April, the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee came to a similar conclusion—the BBC’s coverage of climate change science was lamentable. As Jim Meyer over at Grist points out, the British Government has long accepted climate science, and the BBC was out there looking foolish.

So we’re glad to see that the old regime, if that’s actually what it was, will longer be acceptable, at least at the BBC. This has led to more hilarity, of course. Nigel Lawson, who used to routinely make an appearance to challenge climate scientists, is now complaining that the BBC not inviting him around any more to prattle away is censorship, dammit. Really, just shut up, Nigel, you old crank. You’ve still got The Mail.

CATEGORY: World

So, how’s that vote on Scottish independence coming?

Say what you will about Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, there’s no denying his political instincts. Salmond’s most recent blast at David Cameron, which appeared yesterday in The Independent, suddenly takes Cameron’s recent battles with the European Union and attempts to turn them into a reason to vote Yes on the Scottish Independence motion on 18 September of this year. Salmond’s argument is really quite clever. Cameron, of course, has been using the potential threat of a possible British exit (“Brexit”) on the back of a proposed referendum within the UK on continued EU membership—in an attempt to get the EU to adopt some pro-British reforms. Salmond has taken Cameron’s implied threat and is now going to use it against him. As it turns out, this might be an argument that works. Scotland is considerably more supportive of EU membership than is the whole of the UK, as it turns out. So Salmond’s new argument for a Yes vote—there already are lots of them, of course, some good, some not so good—is that if you want to remain in the European Union, that may be more likely in an independent Scotland than by remaining within the United Kingdom. Continue reading

Tony Blair

Blair, Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz: who’s the biggest dick?

Tony BlairIt’s a tough call. On the one hand, we have former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair whining to an unappreciative world that what’s going on in Iraq now—which appears to be a complete breakdown of whatever civil and military institutions somehow survived the US-led and UK-abetted invasion and occupation—has nothing whatsoever to do with him, nosiree. This has been greeted with the highly predictable derision it deserves, including from members of the Labour Party who made him their leader in the first place. Continue reading

Popular Music

The many lives of Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”: a great song lives forever

Some songs take on a life of their own.

It’s not clear to me—perhaps not to anyone—what turns a tune into a standard. I was reminded of this recently when I finally bought a CD of Jeff’s Beck’s Wired, which includes a remarkable version of Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Mingus wrote this as an elegy to saxophonist Lester Young, who died two months prior to the release of the seminal Mingus album, Mingus Ah Um. The album is a deserved classic, with any number of strong pieces—the opening track, Better Get It in Your Soul, alone would make the album a classic. Continue reading

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Hornstra Farms: local hero, redux

Local, natural, community focused: Massachusetts’ Outstanding Dairy Farm is thriving.

IMG_0412When we last visited John Hornstra five years ago, he had just bought a local farm here in the pretty affluent suburbs south of Boston, and had grand plans. Hornstra had delivered our milk (in glass bottles!) for years when we lived in Massachusetts, and he still delivers the same milk (and chocolate milk, and egg nog at Christmas) to my daughter’s family. But he had plans—to build his recently purchased farm into a local community place, a place for kids (and not just kids) to see how farms work, and to get real food. Most important was his plan to bring dairy farming back to the area that his family had lived in, and been dairy framers in, for several generations. So how’s that working out? Continue reading

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Unsolicited museum review: Quilts and Color at the Museum of Fine Arts

The Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy quilting collection both instructs and exhilarates.

IMG_0267If you wander over to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and plunk down the $25 admission fee (more on that later), you will see one of the best shows around – Quilts and Color, the quilt collection of Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy. They started collecting in the 1970s, around the time we did, although they had more money and better taste. And what a selection it is. As abstract artists, they collected quilts that reflected their interests in color and design, themes that were erupting in the abstract expressionism and op art of the period. So the curators have done an excellent thing here – they have interspersed the (mostly) abstract quilts with the occasional piece of op art, from artists like Bridget Riley, Josef Alpers (whose influence is felt throughout the show) and Sol LeWitt.<! – more – >

But it’s the quilts themselves that are the focus of the show, and these are splendid works of art in their own right. Much ink has been spilled the past forty years on the resurgence of folk arts of various sorts into, if not the mainstream, then at least a regarded periphery. My own education here, such as it is, has been developed by several decades of tagging along at a quilt show or two a year with Mrs W – who is  a quilter herself. Quilts are an astonishing art form, with its combination of visual design and the actual craft of sewing the thing together. Plus, quilts themselves are the creation of women over the years, and represent a genuine thread of, if not feminist, at least women’s art, if there is such a thing. I don’t know what category applies here, really – these were objects that were created as utilitarian objects, to be slept under, and more. There is always a family history – children were born under these quilts, and people died under them as well. And if quilts are in someone’s collection, that means they left the family at some point, for whatever reason. You always have to get back to the fact that this was an object created to be used. And used they were.

But they are also astonishing works of visual art, and of craftsmanship. Consider this quilt, A Feathered Diamond in a Square, made about 1880 in Pennsylvania by an unknown artist:

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OK, check out the hand stitching. No machine quilting back then.

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Mrs W usually just sort of sighs when she sees stitching like this, and moves on. These things took some time to make.

But it’s the color arrangements that impress, which is why Pilgrim and Roy chose the quilts they did. Some of the color combinations are straight out of Albers color theories, or would have been if not for the fact that they were created a century before Albers was doing his work on color. For example, here’s a pretty straightforward set of colors, in about as bold a presentation you can think of, given the constraints of the medium:

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This is a Framed Diamond in a Square, also from Pennsylvania, around 1890, and also from someone we don’t know. The color blockings here are bold, dramatic, and simple – straight out of Alber’s Interactions of Color.

And the variations on some central themes of color and pattern recur frequently. There are, of course, established quilt designs that have evolved over the years, often passed on from mother to daughter, or woman to woman – men were rarely involved in these interactions. Here’s a Tumbling Blocks quilt, from Ohio or Indiana, again from someone we don’t know:

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Midwestern farm wives were creating op art a century before New York artists stumbled on it. Similarly, consider this next one, a Sunshine and Shadow, also from a Pennsylvania woman we again don’t know. New York artists of the 1960s would have sold their collective souls to have come up with this:
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And finally, if I have a favorite, it’s this Many Colors quilt from Pennsylvania, from the Mennonite community:

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Who would not want this on their wall?

So, as a museum exhibit, this show does what any good one does – instruct and exhilarate. By all means, go.

But, of course, it would be a rare post from me that didn’t vent about something. I live in a country where museum admissions are generally free. So what’s with this $25 admission fee per adult? We waste enough tax dollars on unnecessary wars and absurd fossil fuel industry subsidies. How about increasing the arts subsidies so that the American museum experience can be one that doesn’t involve taking out a personal loan in order to take your kids to see some great art? If the arts are to be an integral part of education and life, as I believe they should be, then they should at least be affordable.

The quilt at the top of this post is a Flying Geese pattern, from Pennsylvania, probably from the 1880s.

Liveblogging Eurovision 2014

Ah, Eurovision. Or more properly, The Eurovision Song Contest. If you’re a lover of serious music, look away now. On the other hand, if you’re devoted to crass, cheesy, over-wrought and overproduced pop, often in some indecipherable language, occasionally played with accordions and zithers, in frequently bizarre and often distracting costumes, this is the show for you. It’s all part of the grand plan to unify Europe, which more or less works in the middle, although not necessarily on the periphery, as events of the past couple of years have shown. Still, points for trying. And it works here–everyone sings the same crap, but it’s fine.

Britain has never done well here. Which means they usually come in towards the bottom in terms of points. Continue reading

Energy

Fracking in the UK? Don’t hold your breath.

Lord MacGregor’s silly Telegraph op-ed is little more than a recitation of energy industry talking points.

The worthies over at the House of Lords—some of them, anyway—have issued a report deploring the fact that fracking has made virtually no progress in the UK, and that it should be an “urgent national priority,” noting that exploratory drilling hasn’t even really begun.

This is a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee—no, I didn’t know they had one either. Continue reading

Food & Drink Week

Seven rules for healthier eating

The food we eat is killing us, but there are simple steps we can take to improve our health.

“Eating is an agricultural act.”—Wendell Berry

I have been depressed by, and disturbed by, the increasingly obvious American reluctance to accept science. That’s a pretty broad generalization, of course, but we all know where it comes from—we see manifestations of this every day, from vaccines, to global warming, to, well, whatever. If there’s a plausible scientific explanation for something, and a completely loony one, you just know that a certain percentage of the population is going to be chomping at the bit to accept the loony one.

How did a nation that constantly refers to itself as The Greatest Nation on Earth™ get populated by a surprisingly large number of dopes? Continue reading

Baggy Point

North Devon diary

The Southwest of England is quiet, but it boasts an active cultural life.

Gnomes reading, Gnome Reserve

Gnomes reading, Gnome Reserve

One of the many enjoyable things about living in England is that, no matter where you are, if you drive for an hour you’ll likely end up in a completely different microclimate. So driving from London to North Devon, in the southwest of England bordering on the Irish Sea, can be discombobulating this time of year. Spring in this part of the country is a good two to three weeks behind London. Or London Spring is two to three weeks ahead of where it should be—it depends on your perspective. But being out here for nine days, with nothing to do except for walking and reading, lets me experience early spring for a second time, and it’s just as good the second time around.

Of course, out here they had a very wet and stormy winter—London was relatively peaceful by comparison. Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Japan and the whaling court ruling: not a great victory, but better than expected

Several months ago we posted about in interesting case in front of The International Court of Justice at The Hague—about whaling. Specifically the Australian government had petitioned the court to prevent Japan from whaling in waters designated as a protection area for whales by the Australian government in the Southern Ocean. Japan has been continuing its whaling practices for several decades under the guise of “scientific research” in spite of a formal ban on whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Well, yesterday the International Court of Justice, in a strong opinion that probably surprised even the most ardent supporters of Australia’s suit, essentially called bullshit on Japan’s policies. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Tove Jansson, Magician

Republication of Sculptor’s Daughter reminds us of the magic in memories.

Tove Jansson’s 1968 autobiography, Sculptor’s Daughter, has just been republished in a handsome edition by Sort Of Books here in London, and I gather it has made a reappearance elsewhere as well. Like Jansson’s other books for adults, it’s actually a collection of short stories—in some cases, very short. Here, they are linked, as is the case in The Summer Book or Art in Nature, for example, by a specific theme—in this case, Jansson’s childhood memories. There’s nothing particularly chronological about the events in the book—each story has a real event at its core, but there’s no order to the stories themselves. And in many of the stories, the point is not the event, but what Jansson’s childhood imagination has made of it.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate change in the UK: a complete and utter failure of political will

Britain is in the grip of some of the worst winter weather in years. In fact, maybe 100 years—that’s what meteorologists are calling the winter rains and storms we’ve been experiencing. Here in London it hasn’t been particularly bad—a warmer winter than usual, not a drop of snow in sight, but plenty of wind and rain, and occasionally a tree goes down. Down southwest way, however, it’s another story. Somerset is experiencing horrific flooding—as are Devon and Cornwall. Entire towns are now being evacuated following a series of storms that show no signs of ending.
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Football

Why the Football Gods smiled on Seattle

John Elway and Peyton Manning are Republicans. The Football Gods are Democrats.

As a Patriots fan, I initially had no real reason to root for either Seattle or Denver in yesterday’s Super Bowl. Seattle has never won one, so I was slightly inclined to root for them, but I have friends (and fellow bloggers) who live in Denver and root for the Broncos, so what the heck, why not root for the Broncos? I expected a close and exciting game, and if that’s what it was going to be, I’m fine with that. In fact, since the game doesn’t usually start until nearly midnight here in London, the prospect of staying up to three or four in the morning isn’t all that tempting, unless the Pats are involved, and, of course, they’re not this year. So I was going to watch a bit of the first quarter, and then hit the sack.

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CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

Hurray for the Gene Clark No Other Tour

If I had been anywhere near the northeast past of the US last week, snow or no snow, I would have been heading for New York, or Baltimore, or Washington, or Philadelphia, on one of the nights that the Gene Clark No Other Tour hit town. So, what is this? It’s a tour put together by members of Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and The Walkmen—and even Iain Matthews, from the early days of Fairport Convention. I even know one or two of these groups. And it’s in honor of an album by the late Gene Clark, songwriter extraordinaire, called No Other, issued in 1974. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves this album. Here’s the description of the tour in Pitchfork; here’s the generous write-up in The New York Times; here’s a review of the Washington show. Sounds like a great show. Too bad they’re not coming to London. Continue reading

S&R Honors: Ellen MacArthur

I first became aware of Ellen MacArthur in 2001, along with everyone else, when she launched her first solo round-the-world sailing adventure. She was a sailor, all right, so I could empathize. Actually, she had been a terrific sailor for a number of years before that, but who pays attention but other sailors? She came in second that year in the Vendee Globe round the world sailing race, a pretty remarkable achievement for a 25-year old woman. She kept racing, picking up an MBE along the way. Along with having an asteroid named after her. In 2004, she nearly broke the record for a transatlantic crossing, falling short by an hour and a quarter. More to the point, at age 29, and still only 5’2” tall, she established the world record for the fastest circumnavigation in 2005. Continue reading

NSA Spying

Careful with that refrigerator, Eugene

News that hackers have used a “smart refrigerator” to send a bunch of virus emails and generally cause mischief shouldn’t come as a surprise. People have been talking about “smart” appliances for years now—“smart” houses, too. Everything is going to be “smart,” apparently. Personally, I can’t wait until we get “smart” cars—you know, the ones that don’t need drivers. (As opposed to Smart cars.) I remember this as a 1950s advertising campaign that never quite got off the ground—like jetpacks. Which reminds me, where the hell is my jetpack? Anyway, I bet the amount of interesting damage you can do with “smart” cars will be a lot more fun than what you can do with “smart” refrigerators.
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CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

The Goldfinch

Amazon loves Mrs. W, because she’s a sucker for those Kindle Deals of the Day, where you can pick up good stuff for 99p. And among her recent purchases has been Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch. I’ve haven’t read either of Tartt’s previous novels, although people have been gushing about The Secret History for years, but I thought I might read this one. And the reason for that is that The Goldfinch in question is a painting, in fact one of my favorite paintings. It’s that one right there. It’s a perfect painting—you couldn’t possibly improve on it.

It’s by Carel Fabritius, a Dutch painter who, like Masaccio, Girtin and Schiele, who all all died in their 20s or early 30s, left us tragically early. In Fabritius’s case, it was an explosion in a nearby building in the city of Delft in 1654 that did the trick. Continue reading