Archive for October, 2008

76 more votes for Barack Obama.

October 30, 2008

Katharine Mieszkowski reports in today’s that 76 American Nobel Prize winners have endorsed Barack Obama for president

In a strongly worded letter, 76 of the most distinguished scientists in the country endorsed Barack Obama for president. While praising Obama’s “emphasis during the campaign on the power of science and technology to enhance our nation’s competitiveness,” the laureates blasted the Bush administration for its disdain for science:

During the administration of George W. Bush, vital parts of our country’s scientific enterprise have been damaged by stagnant or declining federal support. The government’s scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations. As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy.

Among those signing the letter are all three of the Americans who won science prizes in 2008: Martin Chalfie of Columbia University and Roger Tsien of the University of California at San Diego, who the prize in chemistry, and Yoichiro Nambu, of the University of Chicago, who won the prize in physics. Chalfie has recorded a YouTube video of his endorsement as well.

George W is hardly going to be given a Nobel Prize in the near future after that ringing endorsement.


We’re talking about the punk generation!!!!

October 24, 2008

Reflecting punk's shift in gender roles ... Hazel O'Connor in Breaking Glass. Photo: Ronald Grant Archive

In a terrific article in todays edition of The Guardian, the never less than interesting critic, broadcaster and author of  England’s Dreaming, an atvery honourable attempt to examine the British Punk movement and set it into historical and socio political context, Jon Savage argues that while the British music films of the late 1970s and early 1980s – such as Babylon and Breaking Glass – “had their flaws, … they were stunning documents of a nation in flux”.

… what is fascinating about these films is how they all relate music to a period of social and political crisis. By the late 70s, deepening recession and spiralling unemployment had pitched Britain into uncharted waters. There was the threat of fascism, the rise of the new right, a pervasive mood of decay and riot. Youth bore the brunt of these conditions: the first to be sacked, the last to find jobs, exploited and/or victimised by adults and government. Music and pop culture was one of their only sources of hope and inspiration, and it was pursued with a fanatic determination. So within a three-year period, these films were able to explore punk, disco, the mod revival, reggae and dub, synth pop, and 2 Tone. At the same time, they were mostly shot on location, mapping a capital city of dark corners, queasy neons and blasted bombsites.

The relation between pop and the outside world had been explicitly heralded by punk, which – after its arty beginnings – took on a distinctly social-realist hue. The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen made a perfect anti-story in summer 1977: the sound of things falling apart versus the false nostalgia of the silver jubilee. As you might expect from film people – not always totally attuned to the subtleties of pop culture – clunky punk cliches abound throughout the music films of the period: graffiti-strewn walls, corrugated iron, piles of rubbish, the very notion of “street credibility” (see the 1980 Hazel O’Connor vehicle, Breaking Glass). This feeling that everyone concerned has speed-read too many Clash articles is exemplified by the band’s own “documentary”. Rude Boy, made in 1980 by Jack Hazan and David Mingay, has great swathes of tedium, thanks to the drunken lead Ray Gange, while the Clash and their principally male entourage oscillate uneasily between bravado, empathy and staginess…(read on)

I, like many others of my generation, did not have a great deal of sympathy for the whole punk movement. But that was probably because we were too busy doing other things – like putting food into the mouths of young families – to be too aware of what it was those who embraced punk thought they were doing or why it was we should have been a little more understanding.

Now that the children have grown and are having children of theri own, and we have got the leisure to examine critically that whole period, it it good to have someone like Savage around to help us get started.

Sarah Palin’s fiscal follies & other matters.

October 23, 2008

A filmmaking team called the Wasilla Project, the purpose of which is to produce a series of 2-3 minute, video portraits of Sarah Palin and her hometown of Wasilla which, it says, “can be a valuable addition to the prevailing impressions of her.”

In this video, the project spoke to the people close to Wasilla politics to examine how Palin’s economic theories were applied there.

Apparently whe Palin became mayor with a smallish budget surplus and left office with the city Wasilla $20,000,000 in debt, most of which went on a pet project, the out of the way and little used sports stadium.

And this is someone who now calls herself a “fiscal conservitave”?

 More of the Wasilla Project Videos

 Sarah Palin: Rape Kit Controversy
 Sarah Palin: Religion in Politics .

Keith Obermann on the McCain campaign.

October 22, 2008

The American sportscaster, and political commentator Keith Olbermann, who hosts Countdown with Keith Olbermann, an hour-long nightly news and commentary program on MSNBC, has a rant about the way in which John McCain and his campaign management team has allowed his supporters to label that anybody who has the audacity to show support for his Democratic rival Barack Obama is “anti-American”

You Tube Added: 21 October 2008

Pat Kavanagh (Jan. 31, 1940. – Oct. 20, 2008) 2

October 21, 2008

This Ben Leto blogged ’tribute’ to the recently deceased literary agent Pat Kavanagh says a great deal more about the woman’s character than many of those that were written by those whom she represented.

Right to the very end, and at a time when she probably she had had a starry enough band of literary giants to take care of, she, if Leto’s blog is to be believed, was taking an active interest in newcomers, doling out advice with the no-nonsense generosity she’d been showing to writers for the last thirty of so years.

Pat Kavanagh, the noted UK literary agent, has died aged 68 from a brain tumour.

There are a great number of authors currently paying tribute to her no-nonsense, informal and direct manner. I encountered this first hand when I submitted my novel to her earlier this year, kindly referred by my university tutor who she had represented for several years. She responded within a matter of weeks, praising the submission having evidently actually read it, and though she did not take it on, explained quite clearly why and recommended in a not at all general way how I could proceed.

For a first time author trying to get published I can’t tell you how surprising it was to encounter a prospective agent who had not only demonstrably read at least most of what you’d sent them, but congratulated you on it as well, taking the time to write to you personally. Her advice and encouraging tone, in only a brief letter, gave me a huge confidence boost for something I was increasingly losing all hope and interest in. It was enough to carry on, refreshingly different from the usual nameless template rejection letters, exactly three months since submitting each and every time, my manuscript always returned as pristine as I had sent it without so much as a dogeared page.

I find it an uncomfortable thought that at the time she replied to me, she was entirely unaware of the condition that would take her life in only six months time. It’s very sad to think that there is one less individual in the world of that character, and particularly in an ‘industry’ more and more orientated towards its ‘market’ and less towards the individual people that make that market up.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum.

McCain, Bush and the “pie” metaphor.

October 21, 2008

Presidential candidate John McCain has criticized his rival Barack Obama for saying that while his policies may force some to pay higher taxes, they were designed to “spread the wealth around” by targeting only families making over $250,000 annually.

“Sen. Obama is more interested in controlling who gets your piece of the pie than he is growing the pie”

His handling of the metaphor reminds me of this:

This poem is composed entirely of actual quotes from George W. Bush.

Make the Pie Higher

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It’s a world of madmen
And uncertainty
And potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the internet
Become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?

They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish
Can coexist.

Families is where our nation finds hope
Where our wings take dream.
Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher!
Make the pie higher!


Pat Kavanagh (Jan. 31, 1940. – Oct. 20, 2008)

October 21, 2008

The cream of literary London has turned out to pay tribute to Pat Kavanagh, the literary agents and wife of the novelist Julian Barnes, who died from a brain tumour yesterday at the age of 68.


Kavanagh had a diverse and fiercely loyal clientele who admired her for her no nonsense approach to the whole business of publishing.


The former editor-in-chief at Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Ion Trewin, who had many dealings with her and whose son, Simon, is head of the books department at United Agents, a breakaway agency Kavanagh founded,  has said the she that she ” had exceptionally good taste at all levels of literature:

“Most agents are known for one author or style of writing but she represented a phalanx of authors from Ruth Rendell and Joanna Trollope to Andrew Motion. As an editor if she came to you, you took her seriously immediately because she never wasted your time with rubbish.”

 Clive James, writing in The Guardian today ,says:

I can’t speak for her other clients – she never spoke about them either – but in general I would be surprised if there were any who were spared a close encounter with brute reality when she first explained to them why it would be unwise to start living like Donald Trump on the assumption that the next advance would be as big as the last one.


Such bluntness could be daunting but it was also reassuring because the client guessed, correctly, that his new mentor wouldn’t be pussyfooting with the publishers either


 Pat could make publishers shake in their handmade shoes. On the appointed day to have lunch with her they always dressed with extra care.


Some of the awe she inspired at all levels of the business may have come from the fact that she had a self-assured hauteur and yet was hard to place.


Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum.

Joe Stilgoe – one to watch.

October 20, 2008

I’m keeping a lookout for Joe Stilgoe , an up-and-coming pianist/singer who, it seems to me, has a lot going for him. His album, I Like This One, which is being officially launched this week at Ronnie Scott’s was given a good reception from the always reliable David Gelly in this Sunday’s edition of The Observer.

The Observer‘s CD review round-up 19th October 2008.

Joe Stilgoe
I Like This One (Candid) £13.99

Songs at the piano don’t get much sharper than this. Whether he’s performing his own material or reshaping an old favourite, such as ‘The Surrey With The Fringe On Top’, Stilgoe always comes up with something new and arresting. With an astonishing piano technique and a voice that is clear and expressive without drawing attention to itself, he reveals an entertainingly diverse range of influences, among them Dudley Moore, Oscar Peterson, Flanders and Swann, and his own father, songwriter Richard Stilgoe. The Candid label, which unearthed Jamie Cullum, Stacey Kent and Claire Teal, could well have done it again.
Dave Gelly



Joe Stilgoe, at

Two Washington for votes for Barack Obama, I think.

October 20, 2008

From Five Thirty, the polling sight which aims, it says,” to accumulate and analyze polling and political data in way that is informed, accurate and attractive. Most narrowly, to give you the best possible objective assessment of the likely outcome of upcoming (US) elections”

So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”


A close reader owns up.

October 16, 2008

For many years now, I have belonged to, and been an active participant in, The Pete Atkin Web Form, a web-based debating group in which the songs written by Pete Atkin and his songwriter partner, Clive James, are not only listened to, but also exhaustively examined and analysed.

Occasionally, members of this forum, like the members of all such  forms,  are criticised for being, as one observer put it, “very sad people trying to live vicariously through someone else’s’ work” and for carrying out what that very same same observer called “the endless autopsy of the creative act of writing”.

Writers bare their souls for brief and agonising bouts of creativity, and I would guess they want their work to be enjoyed and not dissected after 30 years.

I’d be the last to dismiss such criticism, or the people who make it, out of hand. It has some merit, if only the merit of giving voice to the commonly held view that thinking and examining a pieces of writing, particularly imaginative writing,  whether it be poetry, the novel or  – in this case – the song,  always destroys the spontaneous pleasure we should be taking from reading itself.  

If I am to be true to the spirit in which I approach texts as a reader (or, in this case a listener). I should be very alert to the reasons I have for thinking tha simple act of enjoyment – which I take to mean some kind of passive consumption – is not not sufficient . I owe it to myself, to others, and, indeed to the the writer I engaged with,  to be fully conscious of why it is that I think a thoughtful, analytical approach to reading increases rather than diminishes pleasure.  

When I think about this, and when I’m casting about for reminders of why I ever began reading in the way I do, I frequently re-read Brock University‘s Professor John Lye and his useful Guide Designed for Year 1 Students. This guide, though probably no better or worse than any of the thousands of others of its kind almost every day of every year on campuses across the workd , does have the advantage of being brief and very much to the point.

  1. The ultimate end of analysis is, first and foremost, a deeper understanding and a fuller appreciation of the literature — you learn to see more, to uncover or create richer, denser, more interesting meanings. I have a brief page on the ideas of depth, complexity and quality as they relate to literature.
  2. Secondly, as literature uses language, images, the essential processes of meaning-making, analysis can lead to a more astute and powerful use of the tools of meaning on the reader’s part.
  3. Thirdly, analysis should also teach us to be aware of the cultural delineations of a work, its ideological aspects. Art is not eternal and timeless but is situated historically, socially, intellectually, written and read at particular times, with particular intents, under particular historical conditions, with particular cultural, personal, gender, racial, class and other perspectives. Through art we can see ideology in operation. This can be of particular use in understanding our own culture and time, but has historical applications as well. See my brief page on ideology for an expansion of this.
  4. A fourth function of analysis is to help us, through close reading and through reflection, understand the way ideas and feelings are talked about in our culture or in other times and cultures — to have a sense both of communities of meaning, and of the different kinds of understanding there can be about matters of importance to human life. Art can give us access to the symbolic worlds of communities: not only to the kinds of ideas they have about life, but also to the way they feel about them, to the ways they imagine them, to the ways they relate them to other aspects of their lives. …..(read on)

There is more to be said on this subject, but I do not have the time to say it now.

Stuff no konger posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form