Friday, 27 January 2012

Oz Day ... wot a show

Oh dear, yesterday's Australia Day, 26 January 2012, celebrating the nation ... but not without hitches. OK, so the 4th Test in Adelaide keeps rolling along. That's cricket, guys.
The Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne, Men's Singles Semi-final, Rafael Nadal beats Roger The Fed Express by a whisker at the last gasp, and will meet on Sunday either the current Number One, Novak Djokovic, or my countryman the normally dour Andy Murray. Meanwhile that Aussie teenage tennis phenomenon Bernard Tomic is in trouble with overzealous police who say a P-plate driver isn't meant to drive an orange BMW. What's the world coming to?

Oh, and the PM and the opposition leader get bailed up by protesters at an Australia Day awards ceremony.
The news footage looked unpleasant,  and I'm still unclear who was protesting about what. Supposedly linked to Aboriginal Rights. Maybe so. But it's sad, because that cause .. whether about Sorry Days or rightful concern at rates of aboriginal deaths in custody ... would appear much damaged by yesterday's events.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Acker Bilk

Now for some lighter relief. The song is Only You.

Obituary of Rudi van Danzig
(image: Dutch News)
Rudi van Danzig died yesterday, age 78, at his home in Amsterdam after a battle with cancer. For almost a quarter of a century he steered the Dutch National Ballet and had the status of a national icon, and he choreographed over 50 works which placed ballet in the Netherlands among the world's best.

I recently - not without a struggle - read the Dutch original of his novel To a Lost Soldier, considered to be partly autobiographical. To the disgrace of the Australian nanny state it is impossible to obtain the book in English in libraries or bookshops, because - shock and horror - it contains rude bits. Censorship is alive and well in Oz.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

When is a grunt a scream?

The media continue to pay attention to the sinking of the Costa Concordia. I feel for the families of the dead; and hope that much can be learned from the disaster. Beyond that, I make no further blog comment.

Safer territory is the present Australian Open tennis tournament, one of the four annual "grand slams" of the game (others are the U.S., the French, and the U.K.'s Wimbledon). Because this year's Melbourne event includes Azarenka and Sharapova, we are faced with the horror of listening to these players' 90-100 decibel screams while playing every firmly struck ball. Sharapova has reached 109 decibels.

Other players have ceased attempting to complain about "noise interference" because they get no support from umpires; and anyway, two decades ago Monica Seles led the way and got away with it, so the game now has to live with the phenomenon. True, certain sports have no problem with yelling by participants, and there are martial arts where you can yell into the face of an opponent. The New York Times in one article noted that "grunting" is an inadequate term, and the current (definitely inadequate) rules make no distinction between grunting, screaming or any other kind of vocalisation.

There is quite an extensive debate to be found, if one looks, on-line and in tennis magazine. I have seen no strongly in-favour views expressed, except by the notorious grunters themselves, who of course recognize that the behaviour gives them an advantage. Nothing will change until the WTA deems the behaviour to be cheating.
On a scale of one to ten in world affairs, I suppose this is a one or a bit less.

PS Sources agree that the loudest tennis screamer is a Portuguese teenager, not yet known in Australia, called Michelle Larcher de Brito. She trains in Florida. On a quiet night, do you think we might just hear her...? Nah.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Little Concord off the Coast of Italy

Since Friday 13th January the world has seen, when it could tear its attention away from other disasters around the planet, the tragedy of many deaths (20 and rising) in the capsize/shipwreck of the holiday cruise vessel Costa Concordia. This occurred on Friday evening after the ship (with 4000 passengers) had departed Civitavecchia ("Old Town") the port nearest to Rome, headed north through the broad channel east of the island of Giglio.

No doubt much will emerge from proper study of the ship's salvaged "black box", satellite imagery and interviews with officers, crew and surviving passengers. The dominant impression so far is that of captain and owners - the Costa Line - vying with each other in disclaiming responsibility. The main consistency lies in the accounts of confusion and panic, and lack of organized response; that, and the glaringly obvious fact that the unfortunate ship had no business being where she was ... with dire consequences.

We tend to generalize, and I'm no exception. I would not by choice set foot on an Italian-run ship ever since being a passenger with my family on the Italian Sitmar Line's ship Fairstar from Melbourne to Southampton, in 1971. I could cite three cogent  reasons for arriving at such a negative view. I'd describe the faults I observed as systemic and cultural, and now I'm intrigued to be hearing things that remind me of my own experience: a sample -- reporting with radio frequencies what appeared to be a Mayday (m'aidez) distress call picked up on my own shortwave radio. Reaction from senior officers was complete lack of interest.

Between 1940 and 1971, I sailed as passenger - a total of 20 weeks at sea - on six  ships, Dutch, British, Finnish and the wretched Italian event above. I exclude several Bass Strait and North Sea ferry trips, but note in passing that the newest biggest North Sea ferry launched a year ago is bigger the the poor old ill-fated Titanic. Size isn't everything. In 1954 on the U.K. ship Orsova we sailed the Concordia's route  southward past Giglio Island to Civitavecchia; thence to Naples and later the North African coast. In 1989 from the Italian naval base town of La Spezia - also on this famous coast - I enjoyed a great if short trip visiting "le cinque terre" which the five coastal towns are called. How sad that this glorious part of the world will now be associated with maritime ineptitude and death.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Edgar Cayce

Not my usual pointer to a YouTube item, but you might be interested in a talk-excerpt on the famous psychic Edgar Cayce's take on clinical depresssion... ahead of his time. For those who may not know, the surname Cayce is pronounced just like Casey.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Laurel and Who?

Laurel and Hardy were such a twinning of names that my Dictionary of Biography says, under Oliver Hardy (1892-1957), "See Laurel, Stan". They go together. This year sees a hundred and twenty years since Ollie was born near Atlanta, Georgia, and 122 years since Stanley Jefferson - later Stan Laurel (1890-1965) - came into the world in Lancashire, England.
Stan was into showbiz early and understudied Charlie Chaplin in Fred Karno's Troupe before, just like Chaplin,  trying his luck in America.
We forget the two comedians Laurel and Hardy were such pioneers. Hal Roach brought them together on screen. They did 300 movies, making the transition from silent film to talkies, and thus we have the wonderful legacy of thirty years of classic clowning (doing dumb things cleverly) through the '20s, '30s and 40's. Wartime audiences were entertained on several continents. The humour was always clean, the characters consistent, the mayhem guaranteed. Every showbiz person they worked with - that's a big number - maintained that they were wonderful to be with, loyal to each other and brave... many of those slapstick scenes were genuinely dangerous.
This early-talkies clip from 1932 is not in the usual disaster formula as the two make plans for a bigger career as fishing-boat owners. We hear Ollie singing like a true Cajun fishseller... a nod at his first training, as singer!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2012 and may your aspirations take a giant leap forward.