Monday, December 22, 2008


One more reason to love lisp: it's a language where every function call is actually a funcall.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mice suspected in deadly cat fire

BBC is reporting on a fire in a Humane Society building in Oshawa:
"It's unfortunate and ironic that mice caused the fire that killed the cats," Toronto Humane Society spokesman Ian McConachie told the BBC News website.
"Unfortunately, the mice probably perished in the fire as well," he added.
Unfortunately? We think the little bastards got what they deserved.

Monday, December 15, 2008


  • Immaculate consumption -- period of the shopping calendar between Nov 1 and Dec 25 when stores see profits
  • Codless communists -- left-inclined inhabitants of Newfoundland

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Daily tips for good karma

Tip #1: When you're having people work for you on the weekend to meet a "critical deadline", go ahead and completely haul over the app code to work with a version of database that you branched from the head three weeks ago. Without actually doing any branching in the app code. In fact, forget about branching altogether! Oh, and that new database is missing all the testing data and dictionaries. And the changes to the app code are untested. Your developers will thank you for that. Because they don't feel challenged enough on the weekend without a pretty little surprise like that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Age of Virtue is here, people!

Richard Handler has a great article discussing whether we should intervene in places like Sudan or Zimbabwe . First camp: Gareth Evans & Mia Farrow: human rights, basic human decency, we're on the verge of a breakthrough, age of virtue is about to begin, gotta intervene. Second camp, John Bolton, a former UN ambassador under George W. Bush, and Rick Hillier: interventions are complicated and have a huge financial and human cost, public is hypocritical about support for interventions and chickens out after the first 100 zinc coffins coming back home, look at Iraq & Afghanistan, are you personally prepared to sacrifice your/your family's life and standard of living.

I personally think we can reach a compromise on this. How about we just keep approving human rights, basic human decency and need for intervention, thus fulfilling our deep emotional need for feel-good rhethoric, and at the same time keep doing what we're doing right now: get the hell out of Afghanistan and never make the same mistake again. Works like a charm.

Update: Thomas Rose reporting on the same debate.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lolita in Ukrainian

Just spotted this right now on Alya Berlina's blog : Nabokov's "Lolita" in Ukrainian translation. Uber-cool.
Лолiта, свiтло мого життя, вогонь моїх чересел. Грiх мiй, душа моя. Ло-лi-та: кiнчик язика долає шлях у три стiбки з пiднебiння вниз, щоб на третьому тюкнути в зуби. Ло. Лi. Та. Вона була Ло, просто Ло, вранцi, п'ять футiв на зрiст (без двох вершкiвта в однiй шкарпетцi). Вона була Лола в довгих штанях. Вона була Доллi в школi. Вона була Долорес на пунктирах бланкiв. Але в моїх обiймах воназавжди: Лолiта.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A fat lot of good

My friend Greg Levonian is posting this beautiful quote on the value of Sovietology:
Quote From Defense Secretary Robert Gates from after the Russia-Georgia war:

"For the first time, both the United States secretary of state and secretary of defense have doctorates in Russian studies. A fat lot of good that's done us.
There are beautiful and very true verses by a Russian poet Fyodor Tjutchev:
Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим 
не измерить:
У ней особенная стать –
Россию можно только верить.
You will not grasp her with your mind
Or cover with a common label,
For Russia is one of a kind –
Believe in her, if you are able...
Der kühle, wägende Verstand
Kann Rußlands Wesen nicht verstehen;
Denn daß es heilig ist, dies Land,
Das kann allein der Glaube sehen.
Nul mètre usuel ne la mesure,
Nulle raison ne la conçoit.
La Russie a une stature
Qui ne se livre qu'à la foi.
I think these words should be written in every travel brochure about Russia, on every air plane ticket to Moscow, every Russian embassy and customs office. Hell, put it into the anthem! Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. All hope abandon, ye who enter in.

Russia 1; Sovietology 0

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp

On the fat thieves of the publishing industry

There's a cute group called "Join if you think textbooks are overpriced" on Facebook. Just cause I think I'm so clever I'm reposting my comment from there here.
Good job joining this group everybody! Now go flip some hamburgers so that you can afford the book for your "Culture of Protest" course.

Wait, maybe that money could be better spent on the book for the course "The Merits of Idealism"! Because of course, just by voting, starting up a Facebook group and maybe wearing a T-shirt we will be able to control an uber-profitable textbook publishing industry!

Face it, people, it's just empty words. If you want to make a difference, go scan your copy of "Nursing: Advanced Applications" and post it on or Or maybe go talk to your prof and ask them to release their course notes under Creative Commons.

And by the way, guess where you can already download Stewart's "Calculus" and a bunch of other useful books?

And for those people who wrote that $900 will get you X liters of beer, I think the publishing houses have a valid argument when they say you also owe them your liver.

On the nuances of ideology

From the memoirs of the late General Alexander Lebed':
...товарищ Медведев, главный идеолог партии, как мне казалось, должен был быть оратором как минимум выше среднего, уметь доводить до широкой аудитории свои мысли, навязывать свою волю и понуждать к выполнению каких-то постулатов, даже если ты с ними не очень-то согласен. Когда Медведев вышел на трибуну, [322] выяснилось, что он вообще никакой оратор. С массой трудностей, поминутно обращаясь к шпаргалке, он кое-как довел до конца корявую речь. С явным напряжением, далеко не блестяще ответил на вопросы от микрофонов, а при переходе к ответам по запискам просто оконфузился. Какой-то злонамеренный тип написал в записке: «Тов. Медведев, какая разница между идеологией и сексом?»
Ну пробеги записку глазами, отложи ее в сторону с возгласом: «Это не корректно, это шутка» или там: «Это не серьезный вопрос», и все бы было в порядке. Но товарищ Медведев огласил текст записки, поднял жалостливый взгляд на зал и, растерянно улыбаясь, потерянным голосом сказал: «Товарищи, если о первом я еще могу говорить с вами, то на второе я уже не способен!» 
I expected at that time that comrade Medvedev, the main ideologue of the party, would be an orator above average, would know how to pass his thoughts on to the audience, to impose his own will and how to force the implementation of a given thesis, although perhaps not agreeing with it himself. When, however, Medvedev appeared on the tribune, it turned out that an orator he was not. With a great deal of effort, stopping to look at his notes every minute or so, somehow he still managed to bring his awkward speech to an end. His answers to the questions at the microphones were strained at best, and when he started answering the questions passed to him from the audience on the sheets of paper, he managed to make a complete fool out of himself. Some ill-meaning type wrote in a note, "Comrade Medvedev, what is the difference between ideology and sex?"
Had he first looked over the text of the note and moved on to the next one, remarking that the question was inappropriate, everything would be fine. But Comrade Medvedev made the text of the question public. He then looked up from the note and, smiling with a pitiful expression on his face, said with an intonation of a five year-old: "Comrades, whereas I can still discuss the former with you, the latter I'm utterly incapable of".
Update: this is not the Medvedev you're thinking of. He writes about a time before 1990. There are lots of Medvyeds (bears) and Medvedevs in Russia.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Soviet block jokes

I'm looking through this 1970 book about Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland by Ivan and Mary Volgyes, and it has a few neat soviet-era jokes worthy of reproducing:
Czech:  Who are the slowest people on Earth? -- The Soviets. We asked them to move in their troops in 1938, but by the time they got here it was 1968!
Magyar: Stalin dies and goes to the gates of Heaven. St Peter meets him there and refuses him entrance. In a few days, as Peter is dozing off merrily in the sun, he hears an awful racket outside the gates. So he wakes up, opens the gates and observes a horde of little devils standing in front of the gates. "And what the hell are you guys doing here?", he asks. The answer -- "Us? We're the first refugees of the Stalinist Terror." 

Repeal Day

Ladies and gentlemen, did I really suggest that we make December 5 the International Brooklyn Bagel Day? Well, I'm really really sorry, I must have been drunk out of my mind. We will have to look for another day for the Brooklyn Bagel -- and no, I have not been intimidated by violent ninjas, it's just that December 5, 2008 happens to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of America's failed experiment with alcohol prohibition.

Wall Street Journal had
an article by Ethan A. Nadelmann on Dec 5 that used this opportunity to ask the question of why, in light of such an evident failure of the alcohol prohibition experiment, is America still so resistant to reconsidering the immeasurable ill effects of the failed war on drugs that has by now become so ingrained into the legislative culture of the country.
It's not because alcohol is any less dangerous than the drugs that are banned today. Marijuana, by comparison, is relatively harmless: little association with violent behavior, no chance of dying from an overdose, and not nearly as dangerous as alcohol if one misuses it or becomes addicted. Most of heroin's dangers are more a consequence of its prohibition than the drug's distinctive properties. That's why 70% of Swiss voters approved a referendum this past weekend endorsing the government's provision of pharmaceutical heroin to addicts who could not quit their addictions by other means. It is also why a growing number of other countries, including Canada, are doing likewise.
Yes, the speedy drugs -- cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit stimulants -- present more of a problem. But not to the extent that their prohibition is justifiable while alcohol's is not. The real difference is that alcohol is the devil we know, while these others are the devils we don't. 
He goes on to suggest moreover that the contrasting behavior of UK and other countries during the time when US chose to try the prohibition has produced results that bode very well for a potential universal decriminalization of drugs.

Well, one day, perhaps, common utilitarian sense will prevail the backwards puritanical attitudes both in the States and up here. Until then, I guess I can blog about it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Poland, Ukraine Not Dead Yet

Growing up in post-USSR Moldova and frequently visiting my grandparents in the Odessa region of Ukraine, I heard many times a joke exploiting a particular feature of the first line of the Ukrainian national anthem. "Ukraine isn't dead yet, and nor its glory, its will", it goes, but simply by changing the intonation of the first part as you can do in Ukrainian or Russian, you get a meaning of "So, isn't Ukraine dead yet?". True, times were tough, and, I remember, at one time there was an ad running on a TV channel called 1+1 saying "There are 52 millions of us!". That was true from around 1991 to 1994, but today the figure is down to 46 million, due to migration and a demographic crisis with the fourth greatest population decrease rate in the world.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about: just recently, in my ignorance, I have learnt that Ukrainian national anthem isn't unique in eagerly lending itself to mockery. Polish national anthem starts with the words, "Poland has not perished yet / So long as we live".  In fact, Polish and Ukrainian anthems are remarkably similar in meaning, which isn't surprising, given the long and tumultuous history of both nations' struggle for independence and unification:


Ще не вмерла Україна, ні слава, ні воля,
Ще нам, браття-українці, усміхнеться доля.
Згинуть наші вороженьки, як роса на сонці,
Запануєм і ми, браття, у своїй сторонці.

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу
І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

Станем браття, в бій кривавий, від Сяну до Дону
В ріднім краю панувати не дамо ні кому.
Чорне море ще всміхнеця, дід Дніпро зрадіє,
Ще на нашій Україні доленька наспіє.

А завзятта праця щира свого ще докаже,
Ще ся волі в Україні піснь гучна розляже.
За Карпати відіб'ється, згомонить степами,
України слава стане поміж народами.


Ukraine has not perished, neither her glory, nor freedom,
Upon us, fellow--Ukrainians, fate shall smile once more.
Our enemies will vanish, like dew in the morning sun,
And we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own.

We'll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom,
And we'll show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation.

We'll stand together for freedom, from the Syan to the Don,
We will not allow others to rule in our motherland.
The Black Sea will smile and grandfather Dnipro will rejoice,
For in our own Ukraine fortune shall flourish again.

Our persistence and our sincere toils will be rewarded,
And freedom's song will resound throughout all of Ukraine.
Echoing off the Carpathians, and rumbling across the steppes,
Ukraine's fame and glory will be known among all nations.


Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,
Kiedy my żyjemy.
Co nam obca przemoc wzięła,
Szablą odbierzemy.

Marsz, marsz, Dąbrowski,
Z ziemi włoskiej do Polski.
Za twoim przewodem
Złączym się z narodem.

Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę,
Będziem Polakami.
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte,
Jak zwyciężać mamy.

Jak Czarniecki do Poznania
Po szwedzkim zaborze,
Dla ojczyzny ratowania
Wrócim się przez morze.

Już tam ojciec do swej Basi
Mówi zapłakany
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi
Biją w tarabany.


Poland has not perished yet
So long as we still live
That which alien force has seized
We at sabrepoint shall retrieve

March, march, Dąbrowski
From Italy to Poland
Let us now rejoin the nation
Under thy command

Cross the Vistula and Warta
And Poles we shall be
We've been shown by Bonaparte
Ways to victory

Like Czarniecki Poznań regains
Fighting with the Swede,
To free our fatherland from chains
We shall return by sea

Father, in tears
Says to his Basia
Just listen, it seems that our people
Are beating the drums

Isn't it remarkable how semantically similar these two anthems are?

Just recently, in 2003, Ukraine has made a neat change to their anthem, making it shorter, changing the first line to say "Neither Ukraine's glory nor its will is dead yet (Ще не вмерла України і слава, і воля)", and taking out all of the text saying how, supposedly, in the future, all of the land "from Syan to Don" will be United Ukraine because, of course, now all of that land is in independent Ukraine. The new anthem, in my opinion, is much stronger.

Polish anthem, in comparison, contains names and details that are no longer relevant for a modern Pole -- and the mention of Bonaparte is a dead giveaway of its origins as a military song written in 1797, the high point of the Napoleonic era. And that's even after (rather diplomatic) omission of two more verses mentioning Germans and Muscovites.

That, however is nothing out of ordinary in the anthem tradition around the world: I always get a kick out of thinking about how French primary schoolchildren get to sing about how "the tainted blood / will drench our furrows" and how "against us / the tyranny's bloody banner is raised". If they went on to sing all of La Marseillaise, of course, there are lots of little gems there that I dare say wouldn't be rated PG-13. Here's a part that says that Frenchmen are magnanimous warriors and spare their enemy's life, except for...

Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,But not these blood-thirsty despots,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,These accomplices of Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,All these tigers who mercilessly
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !Ripped out their mother's breast!

And so on. So I guess we can forgive the Poles a little nostalgic reference to Swedes, Italy and Czarniecki here and there. And if you don't like the lyrics, you can just conveniently sing the pan-slavic anthem "Hey, Slavs" to the same music. Groovy!
For more information, Wikipedia has a lot of material on Polish and Ukrainian anthems.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The press's reaction to proclamation of International Brooklyn Bagel Day

Our archnemesis at is loudly protesting that the Montreal bagel is supposedly superior to Brooklyn bagel in every way imaginable. Well, that's ok, we welcome dissent here at Musing Among the Vegetables. First we welcome it, then we crush it unequivocally, crudely and ruthlessly.

Greg argues that the wikipedia article about Montreal bagel is longer and there have been reports of people supposedly taking Montreal bagels to space and to the center of known universe -- New York. Well, big deal. I say, if a bagel needs to be taken to space and have a PR campaign run for it, that bagel has an inferiority complex. Quite likely too, that bagel is eager to kill his father and marry his mother.

A good bagel, of which there's only one kind, Brooklyn, needs no publicity, only admiration.

And in response to your outrageous proclamation of superiority of Montreal Jews over Brooklyn Jews... I'll have my Jews call your Jews.

International Brooklyn Bagel Day

They made me an everything bagel with egg, bacon, swiss cheese and butter at Marcello's this morning. And I got to say, it was a reasonable, respectable bagel, and they tried very hard to do what they could with that bagel to make it taste good. And I would've enjoyed it, if not for the nostalgia that, like a clever assassin on a December night, had sneaked* up close behind my back and, holding its breath, plunged the full length of a knife of chagrin into my heart. I thought of Brooklyn Bagels.

Figure 1. A Brooklyn Bagel -- picture courtesy of Katheryn Rice 

The Brooklyn Bagel... it's the mother of all bagels, it is also their father, their rabbi and a shining star of hope for all of us humble bagel-loving mortals all over the globe. To compare any other bagel to a Brooklyn Bagel is automatic blasphemy, punishable by anathema from the Brooklyn Bagel to full extent of the law. Few people know it, but the Obama'08 logo actually portrays a celestial Brooklyn Bagel with a strip of bacon on it. What better than a Brooklyn bagel to inspire hope?

Figure 2. Brooklyn Bagel in popular culture

So I hope that you agree with me by now that the Brooklyn Bagel is God's parting gift to Creation. And if you do, I hope you will also be outraged that we still don't have an International Brooklyn Bagel Day. It's really a shame, isn't it, that we are ready to celebrate anything and everything but the important things in life that make us the people we are. Well, no more, I say, no more, my brethren in bagel! I hereby declare today, December 5th, the International Brooklyn Bagel Day. I say, we need to raise Brooklyn Bagel awareness on this continent and across the world and then, one day, the world may be a better place, a place in which there's a place** for delicious substance and a place*** for void. As an added bonus, the International Brooklyn Bagel Day will in the long run replace the lame and laughable Day of the Ninja which by a strange twist of fate is on the same day.

So go get your own Brooklyn Bagel and let's celebrate! If you don't have a Brooklyn nearby, give a call to these guys here at Brownstone Bread and Bagel Co (personally approved by me). I'm sure they won't mind throwing several dozen bagels in a cardboard box and shipping them to you overnight. And when they do, please don't forget to share a bagel with your UPS delivery man -- the Brooklyn Bagel Day is about bagels, but it's also about sharing. Why would God put a hole in a bagel otherwise?

And now, take your Brooklyn Bagel into your right hand and say the customary Oath of Allegiance to Brooklyn Bagel, after which I will be finally able to pronounce you man and bagel, till death do you part. Hint: it will probably be due to an artery clogged thanks to the delicious fat and carbs of a Brooklyn Bagel. There are worse ways to die.
* Apparently, "sneaked" is the correct past and past perfect participle form of the verb to sneak. Oxford dictionary goes on to mention that, indeed, the form "snuck" (which sounds much more natural to me) had appeared about a century ago in American English and had been looked down at as jocular and uneducated ever since. Today, interestingly enough, "snuck" is used as often as "sneaked" and has been unofficially accepted as an alternative -- but, of course, not in Britain, where "it is unmistakably taken to be a jocular or non-standard form". Well, of course, if you have been reading this blog long enough you know that it's all about sophistication of the highest degree, so we certainly cannot allow our readers' eyes to be insulted by the usage of the form "snuck". In fact, from now on, when you are reading these blog entries to yourself, imagine me speaking with an aristocratic High British accent. Because you, my dear reader, deserve no less. Incidentally, here's a link to the cucumber bagel sandwich recipe .

** This phrase has been nominated for a Guinness record for "most uses of word 'place' within a meaningful 8-word sentence segment".

*** And also most uses of word 'place' within a meaningful 14-word sentence segment.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

BG publishes today an e-interview with Boris Grebentschikov , the most insightful and enlightened person of anybody whose music is popular in Russia today. It's really too bad that his poetry is hardly translatable and his music, while being very good quality singer-songwriter music, isn't self-sufficient.
Perestroika has ushered in a new era of opportunity for rock musicians; several of the more prominent ones got breaks in the West. BG's came from Dave Stewart (ofEurythmics fame). Stewart-produced "Radio Silence" was released in 1989, featuring covers of Alexander Vertinsky's "China" amid songs by BG, including a song written to Sir Thomas Malory's "Death of King Arthur". Annie LennoxBilly MacKenzie and Chrissie Hynde helped out, as did several of BG's bandmates from Aquarium.
The name of the album proved self-ironic in the extreme as it hasn't made so much as a dent in the charts. Part of the failure can be attributed to the fact that unlike the Anglo-American rock-n-roll culture, the Russian song tradition heavily emphasizes lyrical complexity over hooks or drive, which reinforces the not entirely fair comparisons between BG and Dylan. (from here) [..In the end, BG was disillusioned about the possibility of exporting Russian songwriting tradition to the West..]
In other words, if you're looking for a reason to pick up or improve your Russian, BG is a pretty good reason,  probably one of the best among other phenomena of contemporary Russian culture.

Pick your own TLD

Today is a glorious, glorious day in the history of Musing Among The Vegetables blog, because today we get not one, but three domain names for you, our loyal readers, to pick from. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to give you

That's right my friends, for the longest time I could not decide whether I'm a business, an organization or a network entity. Or maybe even a person. In the end, I decided that being as multifaceted as I am, I should register all of the above, plus redirect my other domain to this blog. 

In the end, my dearest readers, I think it is you who win, because now you have the liberty of accessing this blog in harmony of your interpretation of me, as a com, org, net, or ca. Use this power wisely and remember, com can also be interpreted as "communist". So choose your TLD wisely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hard times

Be afraid... be very afraid.

From here 
Well, at least the transportation industry is doing ok.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Radio pays

Why hasn't anybody told me about Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" radio show on NPR before? It's absolutely amazing! This kind of live interaction with the people you usually only hear on the records, it's like having them sit right here in your living room - which is exactly why I think radio is a much, much personal and intimate medium than television. (Oh, I saw Woody Allen's Radio Days just recently. As always, highly recommended. With original music by Dick Hyman . Go check it out now. Oh and there's a recent episode of "Piano Jazz" with Dick Hyman where he talks about Radio Days.)

So anyway, my soundtrack for tonight's work is Ray Charles chatting with Marian from 1990 and playing and singing and doing that thing he can do and laughing in his idiosyncratic way. Groovy!

Oh, by the way, NPR is a perfect example of how it's actually possible to create excellent programming while fairly balancing public and private funding:

According to the 2005 financial statement, NPR makes just over half of its money from the fees and dues it charges member stations to receive programming, although some of this money originated at the CPB itself, in the form of pass-through grants to member stations.[8] About 2% of NPR's funding comes from bidding on government grants and programs, chiefly the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the remainder comes from member station dues, foundation grants, and corporate underwriting. Typically, NPR member stations raise about one-third of their budget through on-air pledge drives, one-third from corporate underwriting, and one-third from grants from state governments, university grants, and grants from the CPB itself.
Over the years, the portion of the total NPR budget that comes from government has been decreasing. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the federal government. Steps were being taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but the 1983 funding crisis forced the network to make immediate changes. More money to fund the NPR network was raised from listeners, charitable foundations and corporations, and less from the federal government. (from here )
Hear that, CBC? I mean, I love CBC radio, I think it's one thing we can be proud of as Canadians, but my gut feeling is that only around 20% of Canadians actually think it's fair that it's completely funded by their taxes (number based on an Ipsos gut survey from Nov 30, margin of error 3%, 19 times out of 20). NPR in my view presents a much more democratic model of culture funding, where the people support the things they love with their own cash.

And now, back to Ray. Geoooorgia!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bill Evans on "Piano Jazz"

Here's a rather extraordinary episode of Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" with Bill Evans from November 1978, two years before his death in 1980.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mrs Palin

At a time when Russia and US seem to be experiencing another cooldown in relations, we all need more of grassroots acts like this.

It's not you, it's your brain wiring

This article says that we might now know why some people get such a high from new experiences:
Have you got the new iPhone yet? Do you like changing jobs now and again because you get bored otherwise? Do you go on holiday to different places every year? Then maybe your neural connection between ventral striatum and hippocampus is particularly well developed. Both of them are centres in the brain. The reward system which urges us to take action is located in the striatum, whereas the hippocampus is responsible for specific memory functions. ... With people who constantly seek new experiences, striatum and hippocampus are evidently wired particularly well. 
 Look, a squirrel!

Honk for french cafe owners

When the french were going to introduce their smoking ban legislation, I correctly predicted that decision would put the world on the brink of apocalypse. Now, with ripples going through the whole world, stock markets in the dumps and panic reigning supreme, the boomerang has come the full circle and struck home. As NYT reports, "Across France, Cafe Owners Are Suffering":
In Paris, Bernard Picolet, 60, is the owner of Aux Amis du Beaujolais, which his family started in 1921 on Rue de Berri. “The way of life has changed,” he said. “The French are no longer eating and drinking like the French. They are eating and drinking like the Anglo-Saxons,” the British and the Americans.
“They eat less and spend less time at it,” Mr. Picolet said.
People grab a sandwich at lunchtime and eat as they walk or sit at their desks. They stand in line to buy prepackaged espresso sachets, to drink coffee at home, or have coffee at the office, at the boss’s expense.
 O my french brothers and sisters, if that is happening, then truly the dark times are looming. You are the only ones who can still avert the global catastrophe and the wrath of gods. First, ban the smoking ban, and second, institute an program of mandatory early childhood smoking. If you don't, I'm terrified to think about the world we might leave to the future generations. Act now! Won't somebody please think of the children?

For dessert, here's Sartre's Cookbook by Eric and Kathryn Meyer.

It's that most wonderful time of the year, again.

Modern technology is most wonderful. Now as I make my way to work through heaps of snow in Ottawa, I can listen in on Toronto traffic on and rejoice in other people's misery. Or tune into SF's KCSM and envy their climate. Fortunately, both of these stations also broadcast jazz.

If you excuse me now, I'll go OD on mistletoe.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Philosopher-king sought to run country

Yahoo! UK News has today this wonderful article that claims that in a survey containing questions on civic knowledge, American elected officials scored lower than the general population, and both groups failed at 44% and 49% correspondingly.
"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.
 In defence of the American governing elites, the people classified as elected officials in the survey were "self-identified", which leaves us wishing for the statistics of prevalence of megalomania among the study population.

Still, aspiring philosopher-kings out there, please send your resumes and portfolios to Swedish High Conspiracy Commission at 1501 M St NW, Washington, DC 20005. Please include two passport-size photos and a one-page commentary on your favorite passage from Machiavelli.

Friday, November 21, 2008

World Philosophy Day Complement -- Exclusive coverage

Yesterday, November 20, was the World Philosopy Day, and while I was getting my sleep after pulling an all-nighter, Gregory Levonian beat me by blogging about it first. Darn. Well, I'm going to blog about it anyway, because it's just such a great occasion and it's not getting enough coverage.

In fact I think it's a shame that the World Philosophy Day is limited to only one day, given the place that dualities and dichotomies of all sorts take in philosophy. Therefore it's only logical to declare today, November 21, World Philosophy Day Complement. And I'm going to blog about it first. Hear that, Greg? I don't see you blogging about World Philosophy Day Complement on your blog.

And to give this day an air of credibility, I'd like to announce a very special event happening today: World Philosophy Day Complement Hour of Thinking. Today, join millions in this charity event by taking one hour and thinking between the hours of 8 and 9 pm, Eastern Standard Time. You can pick any topic as long as you think. The proceeds of your thinking will go to support Canadian Cancer Federation, so be generous.

And after the Hour of Thinking, you are welcome to join us for a little wine and celebration. We will also chop up a healthy person for organs to save five sick people.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bankruptcy management for the american dream

Mitt Romney on letting the Big Three eat cake.

Great Northern War

Gregory Levonian asks why, if Swedes are indeed so cool, did they have their arses handed to them by Russians in the Great Northern War of 1700-21. Well, Gregory, it's a widespread misconception (apparently shared by Wikipedia and Peter the Great) that Russians supposedly won the war. An interested student of the conflict will soon discover the falsity of this belief, which we further explore in more detail.

The Russian domination of the Baltic from 18th century on, annexion of Estonia and Ingria and the founding of St Petersburg in Ingria "to secure the acquisitions" are all widely recognized as clear indications of Russia's victory in the war. To concentrate on them, however, would be to ignore the much more interesting story of Sweden's victory by infiltrating Russia from within. The Swedes who are, as we have learned, a tough and clever nation, came to a conclusion that it would be to their benefit to let Russia enjoy the so-called victory with the Baltic and everything while taking advantage of the moment when Russia's focus was elsewhere (undoubtedly, on drinking themselves silly a la russe in celebration of the "victory") and establishing presence in strategic locations on Russian soil, and, of course, in key positions of power. The strong velvet influence of the Swedish lobby lasted well into the twentieth century, culminating in a Swedish-initiated social engineering experiment that lasted for over 70 years from 1917 to 1991. Acquiring by proxy control over what came to be known to the world as the Soviet Block (Svenskablok), the Swedish overlords took the opportunity to try different brands of socialism. A notable crisis in the experiments happened in 1968, when a senior agent broke loose and went on to reveal to the world the true, highly classified, objective of the experiments, the creation of the "Socialism with a human face". The complete objective was, of course, the creation of socialism with a human face in Sweden and only in Sweden, so that the rest of the world, imperfect and envious, would look at Sweden with everlasting admiration. Fortunately, nobody took Agent Dubcek's revelation seriously, but the Swedes had to cancel the otherwise well-going Chekhoslovak experiment, reverting it back to the older, stable model. Sensing at that point that it was too dangerous to not immediately make use of the research findings (lest somebody else should file for patent), the Swedes have reluctantly started applying their research findings in their own country, which today are responsible for the only known functioning example of the Socialism with a Human Face.
In fact, here's that face:
And, finally, Gregory, you were looking for the third negative thing to say about Sweden. You were probably looking for word "ABBA". It was an effective psychological weapon at the time, but now the Swedes acknowledge it was unnecessarilly cruel, and they are sorry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Sweden... the land of groundbreaking cinematography, affordable wooden furniture, the dynamite, whopping income tax, lovely lakes, wonderful telephone system and many interesting furry animals. (The person in the third row -- did you really have to mention ABBA? the Swedes are trying so hard to forget!) With exception of cinematography, furniture, dynamite and many other things, our little country is a lot like Sweden. And yet, strive as we may to copy Swedish public health prevention policies, we will never have one thing Sweden does -- the high culture of producing and consuming fermented herring or, as it is affectionately (and unaffectionately) called, Surströmming.

Surströmming stands for "sour herring" and stands for a traditional way of preserving herring by packing it into a barrel with just the right amount of salt and letting it spend a couple of months in this delicate state between not quite being salted and yet not quite rotting. Then it is packed into tin cans where the fermentation process continues, the poor beheaded corpses of herring emitting meanwhile all sorts of invigorating gases and with time transforming the cylindical can into more of a spere-shaped one. The resulting product has a smell and a taste that are, reportedly, both worthy of superlatives, albeit different ones. Surströmming is traditionally consumed in a sandwich of thin bread, onions, butter, boiled potatoes and, of course, surströmming. From what I hear, sometimes sour cream or milk is consumed with it, and, of course, beer, vodka or aquavit to taste.

So, what are the conclusions that we can reach about the Swedish nation by extrapolating from a tidbit of trivia about this undoubtedly national-character-defining dish?

Here's what. Swedes are a tough and clever nation. Having a climate slightly more harsh than that of Bahamas, with slightly shorter days during their correspondingly slightly longer winters, and substandard salt supplies back in the days of old, they came up with a novel solution to preserving their national treasure: the herring. In other words: when life gives you lemons, make fermented lemons. What we can learn from that: If you haven't heard, the end of the world as we know it is coming. Everything might be in short supply, and although we have the Windsor salt mines nearby, there won't be enough for everybody. Therefore those of us who can make their own surstromming (second recipe) during the traditional months of May to August will enjoy a significant advantage over the unlearned folk. Plus we might be able to scare off the hordes of predatory vegetarians with the smell alone, or intimidate them into sharing the crops from their naturally-cultivated vegetable gardens (remember, we need the onions for the sandwich).

Personally, I haven't yet tried surstromming, but my heart and gut are burning with the desire to experience this character-building delicacy. If anybody knows where to buy it in Ottawa, please let me know! Conversely, I will share the information I come by as well.

And finally, so that you wouldn't accuse me of writing another meaningless post, here are
The 3 facts about surströmming you will have learnt by the end of this blog post:
  1. British Airlines and Air France forbid taking tins of surstromming aboard, as checked luggage, carry-on, and in any print or electronic representation, so help us God. The reason is that the bulging little containers of joy are pressurized and have been known to explode in mid-flight, rendering the air-freshener systems of the air vessel tragically ineffective.

  2. If you wake up with a hangover in a Stockholm apartment (after a memorable night in the hot hands of an Oslo dentist) and, seeing a can of surstromming in front of you, are tempted to open it, resist the temptation, for the following reasons. Firstly, opening (pressurized!) tins of surstromming inside apartments is forbidden by a Stockholm bylaw and, besides permanently staining your expensive IKEA carpet, can affect the relationship with your neighbors, those weird American expat snobs who are utterly incapable of appreciating the unique culture of the host country. Secondly....

  3. ... true connoisseurs of surstromming recommend opening tins of surstromming underwater, which greatly reduces the smell released into the air and, consequently, makes surstromming a snack of choice for scuba diving enthusiasts.

Car workers of the world, unite!

Washington Post has an article today that succintly summarizes my feelings about subsidies to and bailouts of north american automotive industry. And subsidies in general. Except maybe to educational institutions. Oh, and CAW of Oshawa can join in with their colleagues from UAW when the latter go fuck themselves.

Monday, October 27, 2008

DIY... Bergman movie watching

Late last night, I watched another Bergman movie, The Seventh Seal, a heart-wrenching story of an aged rock musician and his one-legged wife traveling in the Canadian Arctic who, despite numerous challenges, finally manage to save a baby seal's life (they failed six times before that, hence the title). The baby seal grows up, encounters a beautiful Swedish blonde and begins to ask the big questions of life and death.

Ok, hope that was enough nonsense for a Monday morning, take a look at the real synopsis. What can I say -- another movie that makes me want to watch again all of his movies that I've seen, and then all of the ones that I haven't. What an incredible talent.

DIY... winemaking

We ordered a batch of Pinot Noir and a batch of Gamay at a local winery on the weekend. And I've got to tell you, there's something incredibly appealing about mixing those oak chips and yeast into a bucket of dark-red fragrant grape juice. I kept working the liquid with a long spoon, and they literally had to drag me away from the bucket.

Then again, there's something very exciting as well about tossing things into that grape juice that normally, in your everyday understanding of how edible and drinkable things work, you wouldn't think about tossing into grape juice. Like oak chips and tiny round pellets of fresh yeast and some special sort of clay. And dried elderberries (made world-renowned by a character from Monty Python's Holy Grail, whose mother apparently smelt of them). By the way, dried elderberries smell great, so maybe that segment of the Holy Grail movie is a hint about another Monty Python work, Defence Against The Fresh Fruit, a poignant account of a military training excercise, led by a victim of fructophobia, that had gone horribly wrong.

Anyway, ordering your wine like that is fun, makes good sense financially (comes to $4.60 a bottle at the most expensive not-from-concentrate option) and is a great entry point into the world of wine making. If you're in Ottawa, check out these guys (Corks Ottawa). Otherwise, go and support your local winemaking Ontario shop, as a gesture of protest against the insulting puritan alcohol policies of the Ontario government. You'll also obviously avoid the provincial alcohol tax, too! Take that, Alcohol and Gaming Control Board! Go control... somebody else!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elections: Almost Blue

Turns out Diana Krall has some timeless musical commentary on the outcome of this election.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Arctic Mode of Production

"Novaya Gazeta" publishes today a very interesting report about the mafia-style semi-military system of gas and oil production in Gazprom's Siberia. Here's a readable Google translation.

So You Want To Write A Fugue?

CBC Radio 2 blog has a post today on Glenn Gould's "So You Want To Write A Fugue?". Take a look:

Lyrics, from here :
So you want to write a fugue.
You got the urge to write a fugue.
You got the nerve to write a fugue.
So go ahead, so go ahead and write a fugue.
Go ahead and write a fugue that we can sing.

Pay no heed, Pay no mind.
Pay no heed to what we tell you,
Pay no mind to what we tell you.
Cast away all that you were told
And the theory that you read.
As we said come and write one,
Oh do come and write one,
Write a fugue that we can sing.

Now the only way to write one
Is to plunge right in and write one.
Just forget the rules and write one,
Just ignore the rules and try.

And the fun of it will get you.
And the joy of it will fetch you.
Its a pleasure that is bound to satisfy.
When you decide that John Sebastian must have been a very personable guy.

Never be clever
for the sake of being clever,
for the sake of showing off.

For a canon in inversion is a dangerous diversion,
And a bit of augmentation is a serious temptation,
While a stretto diminution is an obvious allusion.

For to try to write a fugue that we can sing.

And when you finish writing it
I think you will find a great joy in it.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained they say
But still it is rather hard to start.

Well let us try right now.
Now we are going to write a fugue.
We are going to write a good one.
We are going to write a fugue ... right now.

And this is why Glenn Gould is one of the most remarkable and fun persons in Canadian and world music in 20th century.

What's patriotism in a democracy at war?

Greg Levonian writes today about his Georgian friend's reaction to the war.

This reminds me of a journal article I once read (don't remember by whom, unfortunately) about how in a theoretical modern democracy the definition of the right behavior of a citizen during a war supposedly changes, and what it means to be patriotic and a good citizen is not so clear-cut anymore. Now, I've often asked myself in the moments of contemplation how I would feel and what decisions I'd make in the event of a war -- and how to reconcile my instinct of self-preservation and natural repulsion and dislike of any potential war with a desire to act justly and morally.

Now, I belong to the kind of person for whom national identity is not a political thing -- thanks to half a childhood in a newly broken-down former Soviet Union and immigration to Canada as a teenager. I often feel i'm neither fully Russian (the language I speak), Ukranian (my formal national belonging), Moldavian (the country I spent my childhood in) nor Canadian. My national identity is in a sense pluralistic -- or, one could say, Trudeauist. Politically, of course, I'm a Canadian, not only because of the formal fact of having a Canadian passport, but also because this is the country in which I first feel I'm a citizen with political powers and responsibilities, and in the political and economic framework I consciously choose to operate.

I think many people around me are like me in the sense that they are confused by this mismatch between their national and political identities and what this means in the event of any perceived conflict of interest. Personally, it's pretty clear to me that I have no sense of affinity or responsibility to either of the States of Russia, Ukraine or Moldova -- but I do to Canada, as its voluntary citizen, taxpayer and beneficiary.

Now, to get back to what I started from, mixed identities are just one example of what makes the citizens of a democracy behave much more like a jar of small beads -- liquid, free-moving and atomic, grouping voluntarily out of self-interest to form parties sharing similar interests or desires -- and not like a monolithic mass of the nation-states of the 19th and 20th century. With no overarching nationalistic ideology and the pervasive idea of self-determination and self-interest reigning supreme (which is what makes us a democracy), each of us is left on their own to make a decision of whether their citizenship is an economic membership in a country or a means of constructing their personal identity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hymn to sanity

My analyst told me that I was right out of my head
The way he described it he said I'd be better dead than live
I didn't listen to his jive
I knew all along that he was all wrong
And I knew that he thought I was crazy
But I'm not, oh no

Here's a video of Annie Ross's live performance of this from 1959 on Playboy TV, with no other than Count Basie himself on the piano. Fascinating!

And this is a version of this she recorded on an LP.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I've just finished watching a remarkable British film called "Venus" . Quoting a synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes
"it is a very raw look at growing old, and the aches and pains, both emotional and physical, that accompany a man near the end of his life. It is an honest, moving portrait of human desire, and how it can both beat us down and lift us up--no matter the age". The performances are masterful, the script is fresh and frank, and the directorial work is also very much worth mentioning. Highly recommended.

The Lost Fingers

Heard again a beautiful little cover of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" by a quebecois band called The Lost Fingers. Their own description of what they do is "gypsy jazz lost in the 80s" (du jazz manouche perdu dans les annees 80). Take a listen, that track is available for streaming on their myspace page.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Putin and the CNN circus

I've got to say, I probably can't classify myself as a strong supporter of Putin: I don't even own a t-shirt saying "Mr Putin, I want to be the mother of your children". But I've got to say, in this interview he appears very reasonable and clear, and I think it's a huge mistake CNN made by censoring this interview and making Putin appear a moron.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

LHC Flips On Tomorrow

They are finally launching the Large Hadron Collider for good tomorrow at CERN... so in case I don't get talk to you before we all get sucked into a tiny black hole... Good night and good luck -- and if anything, I'll see you all beyond the event horizon.

Update: here's a beautiful illustration by A. Kuznetsov -- sorry, only in russian. He has quite a few of such illustrations, caricatures really, done as imitations of a very old russian folk art style called Lubok.

Ensemble, tout est possible

Apparently one of Liberals' slogans in this election in French is "Ensemble, tout est possible", that is, "Together, everything is possible", and here's a YouTube video to prove that.

Well, I just can't help but post an old comic from the Perry Bible Fellowship in connection to that:

Democracy: formal vs. actual

There's an insightful opinion piece by Mikhail Delyagin (rus) (eng) called "Democracy and the economic development (rus)" (here's a surprisingly readable google translation). Here he suggests the differentiation between the concepts of formal (i.e. having the formal democratic institutions) and actual, or (a better term in my opinion) partial de-facto democracy. This last one can be seen in action when a formally authoritative government takes measures in response to a  certain will or desire of the people that is discovered by a certain method of survey (M. gives an example of the use of the gendarmerie for survey purposes in tsar Alexander's Russia around 1860 that apparently convinced the russian elites that the peasants were ready to accept the abolition of serfdom without being granted any land). M. also argues that the 20th century experiments with the mechanical grafting of formal democratic institutions onto countries lacking any previous civil/democratic culture have failed precisely because the formal institutions are merely the manifestations of political and civil ethos of the time and that we absolutely must recognize that -- something that I very much agree with (see my recent post on China). Another interesting statement that M. makes which I also agree with is that democracies are very ineffective in or even incapable of conducting any reasonable long-term policy which would pursue the long-term interests of the country -- mainly because a good half of what any political party does at any time is geared towards reacting to the minute "issues of the day" in a true PR action of a corporation attempting to sustain its brand value. That is to say, governance in democracies resembles a bit an executive committee comprised of teenagers with ADHD: a campaign may be run and won on a number of issues so petty you don't remember them the day after the election -- the attention span of all parties involved is well under 40 seconds. (Disclaimer: I am quite aware that authoritarian government has a few drawbacks, too, and I'm not advocating for uncle Jo's return -- all I'm saying is maybe we could think twice before trashing China's "human rights record" next time).

Anyway, give it a read -- it's always nice to come up on an out-of-the-box view like this.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I will only repeat this once

My many readers (o, ye loyal lot!) ask me where the hell "Musing among the vegetables" comes from and what the cauliflowers have to do with it. Well, it just so happens that one of my favourite writers is Virginia Woolf, and one of her exceptional novels, Mrs Dalloway, happens to start like this:

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer's men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning-fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, "Musing among the vegetables?"-was that it?-"I prefer men to cauliflowers"-was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace-Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished-how strange it was!-a few sayings like this about cabbages."

Paul's DIY Series -- continued

So, boys and girls, last time around we talked about how to solder copper pipes with a blowtorch with the help of an unsuspecting friend lured by the promise of wine and samosas. Today, I'll tell you another story of how daring and brave actions can sometimes, surprisingly, get you to a happy end.

This weekend, I boldly went where no man, woman or furry animal from Alpha Centauri has gone before -- to a local piano tuner by the name of Tom Lloyd, who had been kind enough to give me a spare tuning wrench of his and some encouraging advice about the emergency numbers to call when I have my throat slashed by a torn piano string. (Mr Lloyd had really been very kind as before that I spent over an hour calling up 7 piano and music instrument stores in Ottawa-Gatineau area in search of a tuning wrench -- to no avail).

So on Saturday and Sunday, I spent a total of about 10 hours with a piano tuning hammer in hand, all the while testing the patience of the neighbours, passers-by and the strength of my marriage. I'm also afraid I permanently drove some neighbourhood dog crazy, as it wouldn't stop barking and wailing into the night hours after I had finished tuning the piano. 

At the end of the day, however, the operation was a complete success, as I got away with only a single warning from the law enforcement services and only a single brick with a death threat tied to it flying through my window. Additionally, with the help of some piano tuning software, my piano now sounds magnificent which means that either a)I lost my sense of pitch or hearing in the process, or never had either, b) The piano is in tune, for now, and next Monday I'll crawl on my knees to a professional tuner begging to re-tune it or c)It's actually in tune and it might stay in tune for some time. Hopefully, it's the latter -- I'll let you know.

As a few sidenotes, the software that's available out there right now is pretty cool. It does everything from computing the stretch table for you based on the inharmonicity of the particular strings in your particular piano, to showing a real-time spectral graph to help you tune the unisons (although the software that I used only recorded at a sampling rate of 22kHz, which meant the resolution and error margin of the spectral graph wasn't ideal -- but then I was running it on WinXP on top of Parallels on a mac laptop). Everything, that is, except physically turning the tuning pins for you and boy, I wish it did. There are 88 keys on a piano and many more tuning pins than that -- and that, together with the tendency of the upper register strings to revert back down when hit hard, should probably explain the 10 hours. And getting used to using the tuning hammer took a little while, as those tuning pins are much more sensitive than you'd hope -- a little bit like the pegs on a violin which, if you've ever tried tuning a violin without those fine-adjustment machines on the other end of the string, is a bitch.

Other than that, however, it was a lot of fun, and I even got to take out the whole piano action and fix two tiny problems that I myself caused. (On a side note, Kawai makes a great, sturdy, dependable and very responsive piano action, really the best-engineered and modern piano action I've ever seen.)

Next time, however, I'm getting a professional quality tuning hammer and a friend, lured, as usual, by the empty promises of wine and samosas. It's more fun that way.

Items read by day of the week

There's an old joke about a typical working week of a productive individual:
Monday. Started thinking about getting ready to work.
Tuesday. Getting ready to work. 
Wednesday. Working.
Thursday. Began contemplating how to get ready for the weekend.
Friday. Getting ready for the weekend.
Well -- I've just accidentally stumbled upon the statistics of my reading on Google Reader (I wonder why they put it there in the first place... out of spite? to show you how useless you everyday existence is?) and here's how it looks:
Excluding Wednesday, there's a clear trend to spend more time reading as the working week progresses -- and Wednesday, in accordance with the above joke, is the day when I apparently get stuff done. Does anybody else think I should publish a paper on this?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


When all is said and done

"When all is said and done, the historians will remember us for very little other than the quality of our comedy and the quality of our jazz" -- Kurt Vonnegut

I heard this quote in Zenph's live re-recording of Tatum. Does anybody have any idea where that quote actually comes from?

Rhapsody in Blue

Every so often a certain recording or performance catches me off guard, inexplicably and sometimes very inappropriately unleashing all that emotion that otherwise successfully hides under cynical or sarcastic remarks. Last time that happened with Ella Fitzgerald's live recording of Cottontail as I was walking across some parking lot in Waterloo -- and this morning, as I was driving to work, out of the blue on CBC2 they played a very curious recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue -- which, I'm afraid, did it again. It was Michael Tilson Thomas' 1976 recording with the Columbia Jazz Band where the piano part was played by no other than George Gershwin himself, by the means of a piano roll that he recorded in 1925; a performance with a rather different feel from a more popular symphonic arrangement of which the most popular recording is by Leonard Bernstein. Now, I like Bernstein's performance a lot, although for instance the person who requested the non-Bernstein performance on CBC2 this morning apparently thinks that it's way too academic or classical-sounding. In my opinion, Bernstein's recording (which is played at a slower tempo) is beautifully nuanced and makes a point of lingering on all the beautiful harmonies and poignant intonations that Gershwin put in there -- a little bit reminiscent of all these heart-wrenching eastern-european motives in Brahms'
Hungarian Dances or a good deal of Chopin's nocturnes and ballads. For someone who is used to the Bernstein's version, the Columbia recording feels a bit rushed, but that's until you hear the piano part, which is spontaneous and full of life -- and, of course, since it is Gershwin playing, it is as authentic as it gets (second only, perhaps, to the '24 and '27 original recordings).

Which brings me to the thought of the magic that re-performance technology makes available to us, from the more primitive piano rolls to the complicated processes that Zenph Studios recently used on their re-performances of Glenn Gould and Art Tatum's recordings. The good old music notation that lends itself to interpretation of an individual performer is great for other reasons; there is, however, something deeply thrilling about being able to experience the genius of Gershwin, Gould or Tatum first-hand, as if they were playing this in front of you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The End of the Line

There's an article on NYTimes' today's online frontpage that gives you a couple of nostalgic and unexpectedly poignant snapshots of New York City -- the kind that don't usually go with your stereotype of New York until you've lived there. To me, this New York resembles somewhat Ray Bradbury's Greentown, Illionois from his excellent book "The Dandelion Wine". Here you go -- "The Curious World of the Last Stop" by Andy Newman -- and the accompanying interactive feature.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Blossom Dearie and some proxy fun

One of the most distinctive voices in jazz over the last 40 years, Blossom Dearie, turns 82 today. She also happens to be one of my favourite jazz singers: she may not be a great scat singer with a powerful voice like Ella, but how can you not love that little girl voice of hers, coupled with her very personal way of delivering both standards and less well-known tunes.

Here are just a few of her remarkable tracks on
Blossom's Blues
'Deed I Do
I'm Hip

Those of you in US, you can actually listen to the above tracks in full; for those of you elsewhere, Canada for instance, here's just a little hint that I've been able to get (as well as napster web, and video streams like CSI full episodes on NBC website) working with the help of a nice little commercial socks proxy at for just $10/month. There's also a free plugin for Firefox called FoxyProxy which lets you enable a proxy only for certain predefined sites. There, I've said it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

sudo feed cats

So, we've gotten ourselves one more cat yesterday! No, we're not starting a cat farm (although who knows, with the reports of looming recession we might have to start being a bit more economically self-reliant...). It's a cute female cat, and she's still a bit stressed out by the move, but we're hoping that soon enough she'll get used to our place and start feeling at home.

Anyway, with our planned vacation in June drawing closer I've been thinking about getting one of those automatic pet feeders and water supplies, and setting up a web cam to monitor the levels of food and water, just in case :) I typed "automatic cat feeder" into Google, and look what popped up!

This guy set up an elaborate cardboard mechanism that is put in action by an opening CD drive, powered by an Ubuntu Linux computer which also happens to be his Subversion server!
Look what he's done:
The computer runs Ubuntu Linux, so a crontab entry controls the scheduling. The script calls eject /mnt/cdrom to open the CD Rom, delays, and eject –t /mnt/cdrom to close it again. It actually does this twice, as I found it made the portions more consistent.
Since it’s a full fledged Ubuntu system on my wireless network, it allowed for an obscene show of technology. I was able to use my JasJar PDA phone to SSH into the box, and feed the cats on demand just by running the script.

Now I don't know whether I'll be able to match that, but that certainly encourages me in looking into this project further. I'll keep you updated about what happens!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Human rights, China and the boycott of the Olympics

I have just heard a curious discussion on CBC Radio 1 on the subject of whether Canada should boycott this year's Olympics in Beijing over China's "violation of human rights". The opinions expressed by the three people participating in the discussion were as such: the first gentleman, a writer, was stating that we must absolutely pull out of the Olympics despite the sacrifice of the athletes, and questioning why in the world would IOC think of awarding Olympics to China. A lady who happened to be an athlete disagreed with him passionately along the lines of boycott being entirely unfair to the athletes; the third gentleman took a position in between stating that we shouldn't boycott the Olympics but instead just stop buying everything made in China, which would certainly attract their attention.

What a fest of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. What strikes me is that in this discussion the main point of disagreement is whether or not a boycott would be fair to the athletes; whether or not a boycott was in itself appropriate didn't even seem to be a question.

Well, what's there to think about: China is this horrible oppressive regime; China violates human rights by imprisoning dissidents and making women have abortions and whatever else; China is evil: no Olympics for China. Simple as that, right?

Respect for every individual and undeniable human rights for everybody everywhere are beautiful concepts, but so is the concept of universal free beer. Just wishing for it and talking about it simply isn't going to make it happen around the whole world, overnight. The problem is, what we call "basic human rights" are not inherent or universal, insofar as we all can't agree that there is an inherent and universal force -- deity -- whatever -- making those rights the basis of the universal moral code. And if we can't, we have no choice of treating these rights as simply values -- values that we are lucky to have made their way pretty deeply into our prosperous and economically fortunate western societies. Said simply, we're lucky to have historically worked out a common understanding that everybody is better off when people have "rights" and effectively can do whatever they please insofar as they don't threaten the lives and properties of others. We're lucky to be in an economic situation that makes the level of social tension low and widespread tolerance and compassion possible. To a great degree, this luck of ours is really a contingency.

Does this give us a right to pass judgement on China the way many people in the West are doing right now? Absolutely not. We're talking about a huge, complex society that is facing problems never faced before by humanity, and finding solutions to them in admirable ways. During the last 40 years, China has shown the world an unparalleled economic miracle, relieved the social tensions and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people in ways never thought possible.

The comparisons of the "human rights" situation in US/Canada with China are utterly ridiculous. For some reason, the people making such comparisons forget that they're talking about the countries at the top of the economic food chain, which are prosperous exactly because at some point of time they had an economic/technological advantage over China etc., and because they are currently exploiting China, etc., as colonies providing cheap labour.
Dear human rights activists from a 35-million nation, please allow me to remind you that your (and my) Nike/Addidas/Eco-brand-that-only-uses-organic-hemp shoes have been produced by a child/teenager/mother working in an unsafe factory on a 14-hour shift. Oh, but at least we have nothing to do with jailing dissidents and making women have abortions, right?

Stop the hypocrisy. We must absolutely give China the respect, admiration and encouragement that it rightly deserves by its unbelievable accomplishments of the last 40 years.

Finally, the change has always come from within -- and in China it will take decades or centuries or however long it takes. And meanwhile, we have a choice of hypocritically booing China and locking ourselves up in this rosy idealistic world with the illusion of our own commitment to human rights, or instead being honest with ourselves about the price of the socioeconomic situation in our own countries, and attempting to act according to our beliefs in a non-judgmental fashion in this complex and imperfect world.