Archive for September, 2008

Pity Palin – the electorite just might.

September 30, 2008

And why would anybody in their right mind sign up to pity Palin party and actually hand her the second most power position in the USA. Well, Sam Harris of Newsweek (29.09.2008) has one answer to that question.


The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin’s lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. “They think they’re better than you!” is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again

You rather hope that Harris and his like are simply thinking the unthinkable. But, deep down inside, you know that they are not.


“Siúl a rún” and Mary Black

September 30, 2008

I cannot say that I was ever a great admirer of the Irish singer Mary Black. I put thist down to the fact that she, while still fairly young, and with a lot more to offer as an interpreter of traditional Irish songs than she had as an of popular songtress, she attempted, with, I hate to admit, some considerable commercial success, to appeal to a Middle of the Road audience. 

 Fom that point on she made every effort she could to play it safe – the material was familiar and unchallenging, the musicians and musicians were competent at turning out things tha pleased the ear, and and generally the albums were as smooth as you could wish for – but there’s a missing sparkle. In other words, there was nothing that either offended or more than please.

Even when material that might have asked of her to do something more than give her usual breathy reading – Aker Bilk/Mellin Stranger on the Shore,  Sandy Denny’s Full Moon and a few Dylan’s come to mind – she rarely rises to the occasion, or provides the listener with anything more than something that is pleasing to the ear. 

It’s only when you hear her sing a traditional song like Siúl a rún that you realise that all the talent she had has not yet been sarcificed to her crowd pleasing instincts.

 Siúl a rún

Siúl a rún

I would I were on yonder hill
It’s there I’d sit and cry my fill
And every tear would turn the mill Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán
** And may you go safely, my darlingSiúl siúl siúl a rún
** Go, go, go, my love
Siúl go socair ‘is siúl go ciúin
** Go quietly and go peacefully
Siúl go doras agus éalaigh liom
** Go to the door and fly with me
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán
** And may you go safely, my darling
I’ll sell my rock, I’ll sell my reel
I’ll sell my only spinning wheel
For to buy my love a coat of steel
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán
I’ll dye my petticoats, I’ll dye them red
And ’round the world I’ll beg for bread
Until my parents would wish me dead
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán

And now my love has gone to France
To try his fortune to advance
If he ne’er came back, there’ll be but a chance
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán

Donna Dickenson’s “Body Shopping” reviewed.

September 30, 2008

American journalist and editor of  Doublethink, – the magizine that sets itself the task of developing “young conservative and libertarian writers” – Cheryl Miller has written a lengthy review (or maybe I should say useful précis) of Donna Dickenson’s Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood  [link to earlier entry] (Oneworld,), for the Washington-based magazine, The Weekly Standard.

To be cured by the hangman’s noose did not always have so ominous a sound.

Throughout the Middle Ages, executioners routinely dissected the bodies of their victims, and sold the various parts as medicinal remedies. Human fat, rendered from the bodies of criminals, was used to treat a variety of ailments, including broken bones, sprains, and arthritis. For those suffering a bad cough, a potion might be administered, which would include pieces of the human skull ground to a fine powder. Epileptics sought out public beheadings so they could drink from the criminal’s blood while it was still warm and supposedly at the height of its efficacy.

If you think such grisly practices have gone the way of feudalism, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood will make you think again. ………… 

…….. Body Shopping describes a science that has become positively vampiric in its insatiindividually appraised and priced: “Hand, $350-$850, Brain, $500-$600, Eviscerated torso, $1,100-$1,290.” A whole cadaver can fetch up to $20,000. The uses to which this tissue is put are no less gruesome. Bone dust from stolen cadavers might be found in your dental work. The collagen used to plump a starlet’s lips is likely derived from the cells of an infant’s foreskin. The “secret ingredient” in the various beauty treatments marketed to Russian women? Aborted fetuses from Ukraine. able appetite for human tissue and organs, sometimes outright stealing the raw material it needs. A veritable black market in human flesh has been established, with each part……(read on)

Cheryl Miller blog 

Clive James the proselyte of webcasting.

September 30, 2008

Clive James, in today’s edition of The Times explains why he thinks he gets better interviews  with  people when  interviewing them for his own webcasts than he did when broadcasting on mainstream television.

 Two thirds of the way through taping the latest batch of face-to-face interviews for the Talking in the Library feature on my website,, I find that the differences between webcasting and ordinary television become ever more clear. The main one is that there is a lot less hoo-ha.

 ………. The absence of hoo-ha translates directly into natural ease. No demoralising facial rebuild in the make-up department, no alienating hour’s wait in the dressing-room. Bright people get cheesed off by all that fuss. Catch them on the wing, and you see how smart they really are.

One thing I do know, and it is this: Clive James is an altogether better interviewer – more at his ease in that role – than he was when broadcasting on mainstream television.

Pity Palin? -If you do, take warning.

September 30, 2008

In a terrific article published in today’s edition of Salon, Rebecca Traister , senior writer for the magazine , where she covers women in media, politics and entertainment, fires a full on salvo of criticism in the direction of what she calls the Sarah Palin pity party.

…Palin is no wilting flower. She is a politician who took the national stage and sneered at the work of community activists. She boldly tries to pass off incuriosity and lassitude as regular-people qualities, thereby doing a disservice to all those Americans who also work two jobs and do not come from families that hand out passports and backpacking trips, yet still manage to pick up a paper and read about their government and seek out experience and knowledge.

When you stage a train wreck of this magnitude — trying to pass one underqualified chick off as another highly qualified chick with the lame hope that no one will notice — well, then, I don’t feel bad for you.

When you treat women as your toys, as gullible and insensate pawns in your Big Fat Presidential Bid — or in Palin’s case, in your Big Fat Chance to Be the First Woman Vice President Thanks to All the Cracks Hillary Put in the Ceiling — I don’t feel bad for you.

When you don’t take your own career and reputation seriously enough to pause before striding onto a national stage and lying about your record of opposing a Bridge to Nowhere or using your special-needs child to garner the support of Americans in need of healthcare reform you don’t support, I don’t feel bad for you.

When you don’t have enough regard for your country or its politics to cram effectively for the test — a test that helps determine whether or not you get to run that country and participate in its politics — I don’t feel bad for you.

When your project is reliant on gaining the support of women whose reproductive rights you would limit, whose access to birth control and sex education you would curtail, whose healthcare options you would decrease, whose civil liberties you would take away and whose children and husbands and brothers (and sisters and daughters and friends) you would send to war in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and wherever else you saw fit without actually understanding international relations, I don’t feel bad for you.


I don’t want to be played by the girl-strings anymore. Shaking our heads and wringing our hands in sympathy with Sarah Palin is a disservice to every woman who has ever been unfairly dismissed based on her gender, because this is an utterly fair dismissal, based on an utter lack of ability and readiness. It’s a disservice to minority populations of every stripe whose place in the political spectrum has been unfairly spotlighted as mere tokenism; it is a disservice to women throughout this country who have gone from watching a woman who — love her or hate her — was able to show us what female leadership could look like to squirming in front of their televisions as they watch the woman sent to replace her struggle to string a complete sentence together.

In fact, the only people I feel sorry for are Americans who invested in a hopeful, progressive vision of female leadership, but who are now stuck watching, verbatim, a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Palin is tough as nails. She will bite the head off a moose and move on. So, no, I don’t feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for women who have to live with what she and her running mate have wrought.

My fear is that Ms. Traister may have a lot o people to feel sorry for after the election.  

Paris Blues (1961) & Paul Newman (1925-2008)

September 28, 2008

Paris Blues may not be the greatest jazz film ever made, but it remains for me a good deal more interesting many of the film critics I have read will allow. Of course, I may well say that, as it is the film sparked my interest in jazz, I like it a lot more than it deserves to be liked.

 A few films I saw around the same time as I saw Paris BluesAnatomy of a Murder and Sweet Smell of Success come readily to mind –  had, I thought, wonderful jazz scores, but I considered the scores first and formost and the jazz afterwards. They. for me, happened to be either in the jazz idiom or underpinned by what wre jazz riffs. 

As soon  Paris Blues came along I began to think of the jazz first. In fact, so besotted was I with the film, that I attended three of of the four showings it got when it came to my home town in the west of Ireland. I should add, by way of explanation, yhat even if you did like jazz, the opportunities one would have of hearing it were few. A friend of mine who owned a record shop did stock a few jazz recordings, but they were, as I recall it, of jazz singers rather than of jazz music. 

 The plot of Paris Blues wafer thin, in all probability deliberately so. Trambonist Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) and saxophonist Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) live in Paris and play in the same jazz band. Ram is studying music and  attempting to become a “serious” composer, whilst Eddie is escaping American racism by living in a city which ignores the colour of his skin and admires him as a musician. American tourists Connie Lampson (Diahann Carroll) and Lillian Corning (Joanne Woodward ) are on a two-week holiday in Paris and begin a casual romantic fling with the two jazz men. Things begin to take a  more serious  as the days go by and the two couples get to know each other. The  plot hinges on the question whether or not Ram will leave his music to return home to be with Lillian and whether or not Eddie also return home because his love for Connie is so great. And that’s about it as far as plot goes. This drama never quite gets off the ground, but the players Newman, Poitier, Woodward and Carroll, all in their prime at the time, make this slight plot convincing.

 The big pluses are a wonderful score by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong’s amazing rendition of “Battle Royal”, a nicely used version of Ellington’s  “Mood Indigo”, Christian Matras‘s luminous black and white cinemaphotography and a perless cast  that brings to the project the needed bite that the script may occasionally lack.

Matt Zoller Seitz’s Jazz on Screen: The Sparks are Electric article (April 13, 2008) for The New York Times sums up the film’s strengths and weaknesses as well as any I’ve seen.

…. less daring features have their lyrical, pure-jazz moments. Martin Ritt’s Ellington-scored 1961 movie, “Paris Blues” — a nearly plotless account of two American musicians (Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman) in Paris that is essentially an advertisement for jazz and French tourism — would rather marinate in cool than hustle toward catharsis. Good thing too. No moviegoer in his right mind would take a drum-tight plot at the expense of a dreamy-slow cover of “Mood Indigo” that could be hold music for an opium den, or the shot of Mr. Poitier and his lover (Diahann Carroll) strolling arm in arm toward the Arc de Triomphe at dawn, Ellington’s score imploring them to get a room.

Paris Blues, as I’ve already said, may not he greatest film ever made about jazz, but it is, I believe, a gem that has been all too often unfairly dismissed.


ThThe Canadian born trombonist Murray McEachern dubbed Paul Newman and the Boston born sax player Paul Gonsalves dubbed Sidney Poitier.

Louis Armstrong’s “Battle Royal” in Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues


During the time I was writing this it was announced that one for the stars of Paris Blues, Paul Newman, had passed away.

The Observer’s film critic sums up Newman’s contribution to cinema whenhe says:

James Stewart once said that film actors give their audiences ‘pieces of time’. While Newman’s best pictures hang together as creative entities (there is a kind of perfection to The Hustler and to the western Hombre), as with other actors it is unforgettable moments and sequences that come to mind and revive memories of being moved to laughter, tears, reflection, self-examination. We recall the illiterate Billy the Kid learning to read in The Left Handed Gun (a film based on a TV play by his close friend and fellow liberal, Gore Vidal); the wounded pool player’s tragic interlude with the crippled alcoholic (Piper Laurie) in The Hustler; the eponymous anarchic outsider in Cool Hand Luke engaging in an egg-eating contest with his fellow prisoners on a southern chain-gang; Newman and Redford pausing on the cliff, a posse breathing down their necks, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the freeze frame of them running out to confront the Bolivian police in the same picture; Newman and Redford shaking down Robert Shaw on the train from New York to Chicago in The Sting, that necklace of cinematic pearls; his heartbreaking scene with the treacherous old friend played by James Garner in Robert Benton’s undervalued elegiac thriller Twilight.

Christine Tobin on Betty Carter 2

September 28, 2008

A while ago I posted an entry noting that that Christine Tobin would be appearing on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Library talking about Betty Carter’s recording career and helping presenter Alyn Shipton to pick the best examples of Carter’s recorded work.


This programme is now available as a 34 minute podcast from the BBC Radio 3 Jazz Library site.


Download podcast


 Here are fuller versions of a few of the Carter tracks chosen by Christine. If there is a standout track for me, it has to be Carter’s reading of the Fran Landesman/Tommy Woolf song Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.

Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
Artist Betty Carter
Composer T. Wolf / F. Landesman
Album Inside Betty Carter
Label Blue Note
Number 89702 Track 7

Moonlignt in Vermont

Moonlight in Vermont
Artist Bett Carter / Ray Bryant
Composer J. Blackburn / K. Suessdorf
Album Let’s Fall In Love: Betty Carter and Her Jazz Greats
Label Gambit
Number 69219 Track 5

Baby It’s Cold Outside

Baby It’s Cold Outside
Artist Betty Carter / Ray Charles
Composer Frank Loesser
Album Dedicated To You
Label Rhino
Number 88401 Track 7

Clive James’s “Opal Sunset”

September 27, 2008

The publication in the United States of Clive James’s new book, Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 (Norton, $25.95), – the first volume of his poetry to be published there – gets this David Orr penned review  in The New York Times.

….on the whole this is a wry and pleasingly exacting collection. That fact alone will never establish whether Clive James is, somewhere down in the tangled strands of his DNA, a True Poet, but the work gathered here makes it plain that whatever James may be, he knows how to write poems worth reading.

Having read most of the poems in this collection elsewhere, I’d say that that’s a fair assessment of James’s output as a poet.

It should be said here that on occasion there have been those who would argue that James is a true poet. Peter Porter, for instance, writing some over 21 years ago and reviewing Other Passports: Poems 1958 -1985 (Cape), was firmly of the opinion that James was more than a mere verse maker.

It was the young Auden, writing at about the time he was composing his “Letter to Lord Byron” who declared that you could tell if someone was going to be a poet by considering his love of words. If he found words fascinating – their sounds, their peculiar symmetries and associations, their chimes, rhymes, assonances and quiddities – then he was likely to prove the real thing. If, on the other hand , he regarded words as a medium for important ideas he wished to impart, then however impassioned or crusading he might be, he was not going to be primarily a poet, even if he cast his messages in verse. This nostrum begs many questions, but it remains a good rule-of- thumb By this test, Clive James is a true poet. Line after line of his has a characteristic personal tone, a kind of end-stopped singingness which is almost independent of what it says – Peter Porter, London Review of Books 22 January 1987.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum

Sarah Palin – what’s to fear?

September 26, 2008

This is what what John Naughton has to say about this performance

I’m tired of hearing people pay obesience to John McCain because of his, er, heroism. Whatever principles he once may have had have already been jettisoned in the interests of getting elected. Besides, a guy who could offer this religious crackpot to his country as a potential president needs to be certified, not elected

This story from yesterday’s Open Salon makes her even more scary.

This video of Kenyan witch-hunter Thomas Muthee exorcising witches from Sarah Palin at her church in Wasilla, Alaska, is unbelievable.

Muthee, who founded of the fundamentalist Word of Faith Church in Kenya in 1989, gained notoriety when he determined that a local Kenyan woman known as “Mama Jane” was a witch who was responsible for inciting people to commit crimes in the violent Nairobi slum area called Kiambu; Muthee gathered a mob of followers and drove the woman from town

He has frequently been called to preach at Palin’s church in Wasilla, the Wasilla Assembly of God, appearing there at least ten times, most recently just this month.

In October 2005, Muthee prayed over Sarah Palin and called on God to make her Alaska’s governor and drive away the  witches who were attacking her.  Palin later told her church that she was wowed by Muthee’s hands-on performance, calling it “very, very powerful.”

Here’s what Rev. Muthee said while praying over Palin: 

Thomas Muthee exorcising witches from Sarah Palin

Children and persons of a nervous disposition may find this disdurbing. I know that I do.

Bill Moyers talks to Clive James

September 26, 2008

On August the 3rd 2007, Bill Moyers,the American journalist, commentator and one-time press secretary to the White house, interviewed Clive James who was in New York promoting his magnum opus Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time.


This interview, which was broadcast by PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), has made its way from Moyers’ own site to YouTube, and here it is:

Bill Moyers talks to Clive James (3rd Aug. 2007)

 Transcript (Bill Moyers Journal)

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum