Archive for April, 2009

Tim Garland on …jazz.

April 30, 2009

 One of my favourite British jazz musicians, saxophonist and composer Tim Garland, currently touring with  the Lighthouse Trio, explains to Liverpool Daily Post‘s reporter Laura Davis –Apr 27 2009 why the thinks jazz is not just “Glenn Miller or Acker Bilk or some black and white photographs or something which comes from a different age”

 

 “But jazz is about change and it’s about the music of the moment so you can’t get a more current type of music.”

 

Garland’s own take on the genre incorporates music from all around the world, picked up on his travels with pianist Chick Corea, with whom he won the Grammy.

…………….

 

“Whenever possible you try and pick up something local when you’re there. Maybe go to a concert of flamenco music, or Borneo jungle music, whatever it might be,” he says. “Jazz is the most welcoming of musical idioms in the world so it just works its way in.”

Audiences are getting more used to hearing performances that tap into world music, says Garland.

 

“We really are living in a global village now and the way everyone is used to hearing, in this iPod age, real hybrid forms,” he says.

“For me that’s wonderful. It’s celebrating the unity of the human race, nothing less than that.”

…….

 

 “It’s highly-structured music but within that the jazz soloists are encouraged to do their own thing,” he explains.

 

“A few things don’t change, like the need to communicate.

 

“In the Lighthouse Trio, the three of us know each other very well and that’s what hooks the audience because they see the communication going on between us.

“With an orchestra, it’s also possible to get that same level of communication going between everyone but with that many people the whole thing needs to be much more structured.”

 

…….

“We find quite often with this trio that a certain intimacy helps. I love to get that feeling from the audience when you can actually see them rather than just looking out into the darkness.

 

“It’s really like inviting everyone into your living room and saying – hey, let’s have this party.

 

·         TIM GARLAND and the Lighthouse Trio play Coventry Jazz Festival on Sunday the 24th of May.

 

Download Coventry Jazz Festival 2009 programme

Headteacher and his bonus.

April 28, 2009

There are some things that one picks up in the course of one’s reading that hardly need explanation or putting into context.  I would say that this  item, extracted from the Notebook column in The Guardtian – Education section –  is one of them.

• Sir Alan Davies, headteacher at Copland school in north London, didn’t return any of Notebook’s three telephone calls last week. Which is a pity, because we wanted to ask him why he has suspended the NUT representative at his school, Hank Roberts. We know, of course, that Roberts recently revealed Sir Alan’s £80,000 bonus last year, bringing his salary to £160,000, and £50,000 bonus the year before. But given that it’s public money, we assume Sir Alan believes the information ought to be in the public domain. There must be a simple explanation, and if Sir Alan cares to email it to francis@francisbeckett.co.uk, Notebook will report it next week.

I cannot wait till next week.

The children’s laureates’ children’s books.

April 28, 2009

To mark the tenth anniversary of the Children’s Laureateship, the five writers who have occupied that post, Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen,  have each chosen their seven favourite children’s books.

 

The list of 35 books, compiled for Waterstone’s, for the British book specialist and current sponsor of the laureateship, is not so much a list of children’s favourites as a list of books that excited laureates’ imaginations when young and that have stuck with them into and through adulthood.

 

Classics such as Richmal Crompton’s Just William, and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories are on the list while more modern material such as the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling was overlooked.

 

Crompton’s character William, Fine, who had the laureateship between 2001 and 2003, has said is “every child’s perfect imaginary companion: lippy, irrepressible and inventive to an almost pathological degree”.

 

Seven titles, including  The Sword in the Stone (TH Whites story of the adventures of the  young King Arthur),  Noel Streatfeild’s  Ballet Shoes, and PL Travers’s classic Mary Poppins, were all written in 1930. This may, as a few commentators have already suggested, have as much to do with the age of the laureates as with the quality of the writing.

 

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, first published in 1838, is the oldest title selected, but it is worth noting that one fifth of the books chosen were published in the 19th century.

 

Each laureate chose seven titles, which will be on display at Waterstone’s stores until 3 June

Quentin Blake Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, Edward Ardizzone; Queenie the Bantam, Bob Graham; The Box of Delights, John Masefield; Rose Blanche, Ian McEwan and Roberto Innocenti; Five Children and It, E. Nesbit; Snow White, Josephine Poole; Stuart Little, E. B. White

Jacqueline Wilson Little Women, Louisa May Alcott; A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett; What Katy Did, Susan Coolidge; The Family from One End Street, Eve Garnett; The Railway Children, E. Nesbit; Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild; Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers

Michael Morpurgo Five Go to Smuggler’s Top, Enid Blyton; Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton; Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens; Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling; A Book of Nonsense, Edward Lear; Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson; The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde

Anne Fine The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken; Absolute Zero, Helen Cresswell; Just William, Richmal Crompton; Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson; Lavender’s Blue, Kathleen Lines; A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson; The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White

Michael Rosen Clown, Quentin Blake; The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank; Emil and the Detectives, Erich Kästner; Not Now, Bernard, David McKee; Fairy Tales, Terry Jones; Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear, Andy Stanton; Daz 4 Zoe, Robert Swindells

POSTSCRIPT

The idea for the Children’s Laureate originated from a conversation between (the then) Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. The illustrator Quentin Blake was the first Children’s Laureate (1999-2001), followed by the author Anne Fine (2001-2003), Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005), Jacqueline Wilson (2005-7) and most recently Michael Rosen (2007-2009) The successor to Rosen, the current incumbent, will be announced on June 9

Cost cutting and efficiency.

April 27, 2009

In his column for this Sunday’s edition of The Observer, Simon Caulkin takes a pop at the government for thinking that that the efficiency targets that the government has set itself in this last budget can be achieved through cost-cutting programmes that will force everybody to be more efficient

Consider the operational efficiency programme accompanying the budget last week. It identified a further £15bn of public-sector savings on top of £26.5bn already claimed, £7bn to be made through obliging public-sector bodies to share back-office services such as finance and HR and buying better IT.

It’s not that there aren’t savings to be made – of course there are. Done properly, they would boost public-sector capacity beyond the wildest imaginings of the five expert advisers to the Treasury who wrote the report. The insanity is that savings can’t be got at by the cost-cutting methods they put forward, which on the contrary are guaranteed to drive overall costs higher. Not only that: by specifying the methods to be used, the government locks in far greater systemic inefficiencies at the same time as it places the assumptions behind them off-limits to examination.

Caulkin has enough imagination to see clearly that that putting the responsibility achieving its targets on the shoulders of those who are locked into single mindsets can only be self-defeating.

Part of the self-referencing madness is seeking assurance from experts who are so attached to current assumptions that they can’t see beyond them. As with recruiting Lord Laming, whose recommendations shaped the dysfunctional childcare system, to report on Baby P, getting the former chief executive of an IT services firm to advise on office efficiency is like asking McDonald’s to devise an obesity policy. Guess what, the answer is fast food! More standardised procedures, more streamlining of back offices, more shared services … in sum, more work for IT services companies.

The paradox of efficiency is that it can’t be addressed head on. It is a by-product that can only be defined in terms of its purpose. Without purpose, efficiency is meaningless. Cutting costs (the government’s purpose) only raises them for the citizen – but because the assumptions are out of bounds, the government can’t see it.

Caulkin’s article has to be read in full – and more than once – to be fully appreciated. It has be read by the right people to make a difference, but that’s another story.

TV folk, take warning!!

April 27, 2009

There is no more perfect recipe for self-delusion than to suppose that being a television personality is some kind of achievement in itself. The best insurance to stop it happening is to keep a recording of say, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony nearby in order to remind yourself of what an actual achievement is.

Clive James

 

Clive James on Susan Boyle.

April 27, 2009

Commenting on Susan Boyle “the woman of unremarkable appearance who went on Britain’s Got Talent and proved to have such a remarkable voice that an aria from Les Miserables acquired the celestial overtones of a solo passage from a cantata by Bach and even such exalted arbiters of taste as Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell were reduced to helpless protestations of awe”,  Clive James, in his Friday edition A Point of View, reminded  listeners that with her surprising win ” the laws of nature had not been repealed, only momentarily jolted, and it remains a law of nature that appearance is a factor even in the world of serious singing.”

 So unless all concerned are very careful there might be a worse injustice on its way for Susan than getting laughed at when she was first exposed to the audience of a show that depends on a regular supply of contestants who are there to be made a fool of. She might be trapped by an even more pitiless expectation: that she will go on being a big star beyond the point where she became a star because she didn’t seem as if she could.

 

Susan’s future has undoubtedly been altered but we can only hope it has been altered for the better.

 

James declared, with enough force to make this listener guilty, but probably not guilty enough to permanently change his ways, that it is the case, and is likely to remain the case, that audiences will prefer a singing voice when it is married physical beauty, and that the “reason people flock to hear Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca singing together is that they look the part almost as well as they sing it.”

Odds Against Tomorrow script credit.

April 27, 2009

The Philip French choice of Classic DVD for today’s edition of The Observer, the 1959 Harry Belafonte film noir Odds Against Tomorrow is not quite as good as he says it is, but it does have a lot to recommend it.

Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane and went on to direct classics in every genre and sub-genre. This thriller is his noir masterpiece, a sombre heist movie, co-adapted from William P McGivern’s pulp novel by the left-wing, African-American John O Killens and Nelson Gidding, a frequent Wise collaborator. The setting is a morally and physically chilling New York winter and race is a major theme.

Ed Begley plays a disgraced cop luring seriously unbalanced killer Robert Ryan and black nightclub singer Harry Belafonte into joining him in robbing a small-town bank he’s cased. Ryan is a psychopathic racist, Belafonte is in debt to the mob and estranged from a wife eager to embrace middle-class, white values. A superb John Lewis score is performed by fellow members of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

This was the favourite film of Jean-Pierre Melville, who saw it 120 times before directing his noir masterwork Le deuxième souffle.

Rather surprisingly, French neglects to mention that it was then balcklisted Abraham Polonsky , writer of both Body and Soul and Force of Evil and director of the latter, rather than the “African-American John O Killens” who actually co-wrote the script, a fact that was recognised in 1996, when the Writers Guild of America restored Polonsky’s credit under his real name.

It seems that Belafonte, who was both producer and star, chose Polonsky and then persuaded his friend Killens to allow his name to be used as a cover.

odds-against-tomorrowIncidentally, the John Lewis soundtrack score is quite as “superb” as French says it is.

Gowers’ legacy is ………

April 26, 2009

In a preface to an early edition of his The Complete Plain Words Sir Ernest Gowers  lucidly – and with the brevity that he recommended to others – laid out his intentions.

 “I am not a grammarian, and The Complete Plain Words, like its predecessors, makes no claim to be a grammar of the English Language, though for reasons I have explained in the text I felt bound reluctantly and diffidently, to give one chapter (IX) to some points of grammar and one (X) to punctuation. Apart from these two chapters, this book is wholly concerned with what is described in one of the quotations that head the first chapter as the choice and arrangement of words in such a way as to get an idea as exactly as possible out of one mind into another. Even so I must not be credited with too high an ambition: the scope of the book is circumscribed by its being intended primarily for those who use words as tools of their trade, in administration or business.’

 

The first edition, intended to woo officials and bureaucrats away from pompous and over-elaborate writing, was published in 1954. It was a book that may have been considered was necessary then, but it’s a book that’s even more relevant today than ever. A single reading of the following – extracted, with some editing, from a company magazine that was dropped on my desk recently – to understand why.

The start of the year signaled the creation of ..N… Business Unit at a time of complete uncertainty within the Industry and our Customer Base. The Leadership team has been focusing on managing large scale change programmes in addition to developing an integrated strategy to secure our future prosperity. Operationally the new organisation is now established and the synergies arealready starting to  reveal significant opportunities.

 

On the down side, we have embarked on a major Business resizing exercise to align our cost base with projected revenues. This has unfortunately resulted in the recent closure announcements for ….sites. These decisions were not taken lightly and every avenue had been explored, but in the current climate we have to react to market forces and maintain competitiveness in what is a harsh environment. Many other sites have experienced labour release programmes at all levels but hopefully we are now reaching more stable times.

 As you can imagine trading is presenting numerous challenges that will require us to analyse all areas of expenditure and eliminate all non-value added items and with this proactive mindset, we will not only secure 2009 but right-size the business for future years.

……………

We are currently analysing the detailed feedback from the recent Employee Survey and it is highly encouraging to see that we have …. a highly motivated and committed team which will be an asset to us  as we move forward.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome NNN& N to thganisation and hope that they  enjoy being part of what will be, a successful future for us all.

You just have to ask how the start of a year “signaled” anything, or what an “integrated strateg” is in any contex may be, or for that matter what’s meant by”integrateted strategiies” revelaing “opportunties” to realise that the author on this piece either knows a lot more than he or she can reveal in writing, or, more likely, has picked up a lot of stock phrases that will make the readers feel inadequate because they cannot understand them.

In Chapter 8 of The Complete Plain Words, Gowers, recommending that writers should prefer concrete words to abstract ones,  says that “to express one’s thoughts accurately is hard work, and to be precise is sometimes dangerous”

We are tempted to prefer the safer obscurity of the abstract. It is the greatest vice of present-day writing. Writers seem to find it more natural to say “Was this the realisation of an anticipated liability?” than “Did you expect to have to do this?”; to say “Communities where anonymity in personal relationships prevails” than “Communities where people do not know one another”.

If the piece of writing from which I quoted can be taken as typical – and my own experience tells me that it can – nothing much has changed since Gowers was writing. 

Recruitment agencies – ban them, please!!

April 24, 2009

I’m willing to bet that not one in a hundred people in this country today could tell you that Pat McFadden is Employment Relations Minister or that he as recently as last year said that the government intended the UK “to be a dynamic, enterprising, open, risk-taking economy, where employees have the chance to make the most of their working lives”.  

One cannot help but think tha some  pronouncements from him tell a different story.  They do suggest that through too many hours spent talking to all the wrong people have skewed his thinking how employment agencies treat workers.

Tuesday 17 March 2009 12:42
Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform  (National)Recession no excuse to mistreat vulnerable workers
Employment Relations Minister Pat McFadden today warned employment agencies against using the recession as an excuse to mistreat vulnerable workers.

During a visit to hospitality recruitment specialists Admiral Group, Pat McFadden said:
“The vast majority of agencies are working very hard to treat people fairly. I have seen at first hand today an agency that treats its clients and candidates with respect.

“But there are some employment agencies who are short changing their staff and not playing by the rules. We will not allow rogue employers to use the downturn as an excuse to cut corners and deprive staff of their rights at work – or undercut other businesses that are doing the right thing. The recession is no excuse to mistreat vulnerable workers.”

“Our call for fairness is backed up by action. Our £1.25million campaign to help agency workers know their rights and help employers know their responsibilities is already paying dividends. The number of calls to the Employment Agency standards helpline has tripled in recent weeks and the website has had 57,000 hits since the launch of the campaign.”

If he still thinks the majority of agencies treat candidates with respect, he has, I’m convinced, never have sat for beside the phone waiting for a promised call, never been told that that if he doesn’t like the terms of proposed employment “there are plenty more out there that will”, never been made promises of weeks of work that have turned out to be days and sometimes hours, never been conned into taking a job because there was “a very good chance of it being full-time eventually” only to find later that that “chance” never existed.  

It’s time that Mr McFadden did some serious work on finding out what really happens when a candidate signs up with recruitment agencies. The truth is that while may fall short of breaking the rules, and while they may indeed treat the (fee-paying) clients very well, they, in my experience, treat candidates as if they were beggars to be fed morsels. It’s been a whild since I had the misfortune to deal with a recruitment agent or agency,  I can only presume that the recession has made things worse than they were when I did.

Addenda.

If interested in UK agency worker law, Wikipedia is as good a place as any to start.

Lest we think that the UK is the only place in which recruitment agencies have a bad name, read I hate recruitment agencies-aagghhh.

Donald Rumsfeld’s crimes

April 22, 2009

Here, from Salon.com newsletter, comes confirmation of something already widely suspected, and that is that Bush’s one-time Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld  (he stepped down on November 8, 2006), far from having no knowledge of how suspected terrorists were being abused, actually authorised the “aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officers conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”

As a newly released Senate Armed Services Committee report makes clear, the effects of Rumsfeld’s cavalier attitude toward what the report calls “detainee abuse” — and what international law would probably call torture — didn’t just stop at the military prison on Cuba. The techniques Rumsfeld approved for use at Guantánamo oozed into prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, undermining decades of U.S. policy about humane treatment of detainees and leading to some of the worst outrages of the Bush administration, including the Abu Ghraib abuses, which Salon has covered extensively.

“The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply a result of a few soldiers acting on their own,” the Senate report says. “Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantánamo] … Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officers conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”

 How much can that man get away with?

The Armed Services Committee report here.