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?