Old folk at lunch

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A welcome home for Paul

Paul is back from Scotland for a week or thereabouts so I put on a Bollywood dinner for the family last night so that they all had  the chance of a chat with him about his latest doings.  Lots of  people were interstate or overseas so it was a small gathering of 8 adults and two littlies, Sahara and Dusty. Joe got back from Canberra a day early so he could take part.

We all had a good time.  Timmy actually went out and got some more champagne.  The food was good as usual, with much garlic and cheese Naan consumed in addition to the main courses. I had Balti lamb as I often do.  Joe had his regular chicken dish.

The people who had the best time of all were Sahara and Dusty, who were both vocal and running around like mad things for a lot of the time.  I said to Suz that her children were entertaining us all and she replied that they would probably sleep well that night.

The only other people in the restaurant were an Indian family.  The lady of the family watched us a bit so when Sahara came and gave me a cuddle that was closely observed.  With her blonde plaits, fair skin and mostly-pink attire Sahara looked very pretty and the Indian lady gave a big smile as she watched Sahara cuddling up.  Nordic looks  are undoubtedly the world beauty standard -- for all that it is politically incorrect to say so. Even a lot of Japanese ladies blond their hair.

A game that the kids invented was to crawl UNDER the long table and get from one end to the other between people's legs.  We all assisted the merriment by moving our legs about to obstruct them. So there was always a cry of triumph whenever they got to the other end.

Ken and I talked a bit about voting systems.  Ken had the idea that you should have to BUY a licence to vote -- so that only people who are really interested in the issues would vote.  I think most of the world already does something not too different.  In most countries people not interested just stay away from the voting booths on polling day.

When Paul arrived, he spent the first 10 minutes in the room interacting with the kids before he sat down.  Like me, he is very child-oriented.  Russell was very jolly, as he usually is and Ken as usual talked mostly to Anne.  They have similar entertainment interests.  Maureen could not come due to illness.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Die lustige Witwe

I suppose I am a bit foolish to bother about these things but I have myself done a fair bit of translation from German so I am inclined to make a few comments about the translation of Die lustige Witwe.  The usual translation is "The merry widow" and I suppose that is close enough but "gay" or "pleasure-seeking" would approximate it too.  "Lustig" is not "lusty", however.  It is about having a good or entertaining time.

I was delighted recently to receive a DVD of the operetta by Lehar of that name which featured Dagmar Schellenberger as the leading lady.  After her performance as Mariza at Moerbisch I expected some brilliant singing and acting and I was not disappointed.

The performance was from Zuerich in der Schweiz, in the Zurich opera house  -- and that made clear to me how Moerbisch spoils us.  The high tech facilities at Moerbisch enable lots of very sharp and very close close-ups -- rather like in a Hollywood musical.  So facial expressions can be seen in great detail.  The technicians at Zurich were no slouch but broadcasting from an ordinary opera house did limit them, with the lighting apparently being the main culprit.

So the brilliant expressions that Schellenberger is known for were at their clearest only when she was under bright light.  Lighting varies in opera houses so clarity was on other occasions reduced.  There was not the constant clarity to be found at Moerbisch. What was particularly missing was Schellenberger's eyes.  She has the most expressive eyes and one could not always see them at critical junctures.  We saw enough of her, however, to marvel yet again at how well her face mirrored what was going on.  She has the most amazing range of expressions -- and all used appropriately to the story.  I liked it when she answered her difficult man with just one glance of her eyes.

And it's not only facial expressions. Her gestures and body language are eloquent too. Her body language when she was urging the dummer Reitersmann to claim her was a legend-quality example of non-verbally saying "take me".

And the very different role did call forth from Schellenberger a new lot of expressions.  This time she brilliantly conveyed disgust, pique and coquettishness -- among much else.  Her singing was as good as ever but the role did not really stretch her -- though she did belt out a few high notes for fun on occasions.

But it was a fun operetta and I will be watching it repeatedly.  It gains with each successive viewing of course.  The local patrons at the Teatro alla scala in Milano know that.  They normally know well the opera put on there but keep going along to absorb more of it.

I initially thought that Schellenberger looked younger than she was at Moerbisch but, on checking, I found that both performances were in 2004!  It shows how much difference hair, makeup and clothes can make.  And her role was quite different too.  At Moerbisch she was the haughty lady who fell in love against her better judgement whereas at Zurich she was the pretty and clever little lady who was determined to get her man.  And, this being operetta, she did, of course.  The man didn't have a hope.  Whether she IS the ultimate female or not, she certainly plays one with great conviction.

The Swiss were a bit more daring in the costume department too.  Both Schellenberger and Ute Gfrerer showed noticeable cleavage,  particularly so in the case of Gfrerer. Gfrerer was the second  lead, playing Valencienne, the attractive young singer married to a rich older man.

Gfrerer seems to be a rather jolly lady in general but her part in this show was almost wholly serious.  She was even asked, rather absurdly for her, to be Eine anstaendige Frau (a respectable wife). I was inclined to think that her notable bosom was what got her the part and that may have been so.  It did suit the role.  But she is also much acclaimed as a singer and actress. There is a bio of her here.

Her natural talent for gaiety did however surface in the dancing.  She was in any dancing going, whether the part really called for it or  not. She even led the cabaret dancers towards the end of the show. With big smiles and shrieks, her happiness throughout the dancing was a joy to watch.  She even got herself tipped upside down in that last segment! She is a naturally happy lady, I think.  And being born both beautiful and talented why should she not be happy?

Ute Gfrerer

Schellenberger with the ambassador

Schellenberger with her "difficult" man

In fact Zurich got top talent all round.  Even the conductor has a distinguished record. He was Franz Welser-Moest and when I saw him I thought he was rather young as conductors go -- but I was mistaken.  He was in fact 44 at the time.  A lot of German men are ageless for a long time and he is obviously one of those. Something to do with the climate, maybe.  I was at a conference at Oxford once when I saw a New York lady mistake a good-looking German man as being about 30.  He was closer to 50.

The music was of course good so it seems a pity that none of the arias seem to be much used outside the context of the operetta itself.  Some of the tunes might even reasonably be described as catchy. Vilja gets a very occasional airing as a concert piece by itself but even on YouTube most of the  renditions are extracted from stage performances of the operetta.

The inescapable Andre Rieu has of course grabbed it for his shows and in fact done rather well with it.  He has up a very sweet rendition by a slightly built black South African soprano named Kimmy Skota.  She does not of course have a fraction of Schellenberger's facial expressions but the singing is as good as any.  I find it hard to evaluate Schellenberger's performance of the aria as just singing.  I can't isolate the singing from the brilliant way she plays the part as a whole.

I was amused that "men" are described in one of the later scenes as quoting Heinrich Heine (a German romantic poet) to win women.  I like some of Heine but have never recited Heine to a woman I was interested in  -- but I did once quote Goethe to a very fine woman with good effect.  I am out of contact with her now, to my regret,  but I imagine she still remembers that too:   "Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser ...". I have had some lovely ladies in my life and I fear that I did not treat them all as well as they deserved.

The stars of the show were undoubtedly the two ladies above but Njegus the majordomo was a great comic touch too. And Rudolf Hartmann made a great comic figure out of Baron Zeta.

And I must of course say something about the big and mellifluous American baritone, Rodney Gilfry, who has learnt enough Hoch Deutsch to play Graf Danilo well. His rugged good looks do make him credible in the part as much admired by women but he is quite powerless against the the German ultra feminine Schellenberger.  Schellenberger has been described as "Prussian energy plus feminine charm" --  and there is a lot to that. A real-life man could not withstand her for 5 minutes.

A small point:  My old ears are not so good these days but, as I hear it, Schellenberger does reply to her lover on some occasions with the Slavic "da" rather than the German "ja".  That would be in keeping but I do wonder if my ears deceive me.

And the two little voiceless sobs she does in the humming song are immensely evocative, though I do think they are a bit of a trademark for her.  She is one clever lady.

A small language note:  The honorific Russian form of address "Gospodin"/"Gospodina" is used on occasions in the show -- presumably to identify the mythical country in which the show is set as Slavic (clearly modelled on Montenegro).  It means "Your honour" or "Gracious lady" or something along those lines.  It is perhaps a bit less empty than the German expression "Gnaedige Frau" (which is also used).

Speaking of expressions, it is mildly interesting that women in German lands rarely refer to their husband as a husband.  They refer to him as "mein Mann" (my man).  There is a German word for husband (Ehemann) but it seems to be little used. And Frau (woman) is also used to mean "wife".

Another language note:  As the anstaendige Frau is a recurrent theme, I thought I should elaborate a little on the meaning of anstaendig.  It is reasonably translated as "respectable" but it is also often translated as "decent".  It is a claim about her good character as well as a claim about her good reputation.

I was a bit peeved that the French used in the show was subtitled but not translated. I haven't spent one minute studying French.  But, fortunately, my general knowledge of European languages enabled me to get most of it.

Finally, is there a political message in the operetta?  Patriotism is rather clearly held up to ridicule in it but is Lehar ridiculing Austro/Hungarian patriotism, the patriotism of small countries or ridiculing patriotism generally?  I will have to read further on that, I think. He was not himself Jewish but his wife was and he associated a lot with Jews so that may have made him skeptical of the patriotic sentiments of the time.  On the other hand he spent a lot of his early life in the armed forces, which usually encourages patriotism.  On balance, I am inclined to suspect that he saw Austro/Hungarian patriotism as excessive. His near contemporary in England, W.S. Gilbert (in the Gilbert &  Sullivan light operas) was certainly no respecter of the establishment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A few more notes on Graefin Mariza

I am at the moment "nuts" about the 2004 performance at Moerbisch of Kalman's Graefin Mariza.  I have already written a bit about it but I think I should add a few things that might, via the magic of Google, be helpful to people looking for more information about it.  There is very little available in English about it online so far.

I think I have watched the show every night since I got the DVD some weeks ago.  It is to me great entertainment and also a perfect work of art. I even still laugh at jokes that I have heard around 30 times already!  The combination of Kalman's music and the no-expenses-spared staging at Moerbisch is hard to beat.  I love the Moerbisch steam train.

And, in the usual way for operettas, the show is exceedingly romantic.  Love is its theme.  So why the Devil do I enjoy it?  I see myself as one of the world's least romantic persons.  But as the ancient Greeks used to say, "It's a wise man who knows himself" and the fact that I have been married four times may be some evidence of that.  And I still think that I married four very fine ladies.

Moerbisch is such a prestigious venue in the world of operetta that the organizers must have had just about untrammeled choice among all the many singers of the German lands. Germans did terrible things to themselves (and others) in two world wars but artistic talent still abounds there.  So the directors at Moerbisch could demand performers who were both brilliant singers and great actors -- and pretty good dancers too.  And in 2004 they got all that.

And Dagmar Schellenberger as Mariza was the first among greats.  Her brilliant acting and rich soprano voice rather mesmerize me.  Her acting would be taken as over-acting at Hollywood but it was perfect for operetta, where realism is secondary to a great show.  I enjoy her amazingly expressive acting as much as her faultless  singing.  She must have the most expressive eyes I have ever seen. Her facial and bodily expressions are perfect for every moment of the story and convey almost as much as her singing.  She does hauteur, anger and ecstasy equally briliantly.

And I loved the comic performance by Marco Kathol as Baron Zsupan almost as much.  He is a very good tenor who, unusually, was also a ballet dancer for some years.  And his dancing background shows.  His moves are so fleet and flexible that they are a wonder to watch.  He must have been a pretty good ballet dancer too. He is a pleasure to watch.

And he is obviously still very strong and fit.  He picks up Schellenberger as easily as if she were one of the wispy little ladies of ballet. And Schellenberger looks to be a fine figure of a woman, almost a "big bizzem", as they say in Scotland.  When the character Penizek in the show checks out her "architecture" he had reason to be pleased with what he saw.  For most of the show she wears heavily "glammed up" clothes that rather disguise her body  but when she gets into her milkmaid Tracht towards the end of the show she looks very good indeed.

In another operetta, Die lustige Witwe, we find the meaning of "architecture" spelled out a little more -- as a good mezzanine and a good balcony. I think we get the drift.

All of the singers in the show performed their roles very well but it is Schellenberger and Kathol who cause me to watch it again and again.  After watching the show many times I  now laugh the minute I see Kathol roll onto the stage on his railway handcar.

The producers of the show never resolved the conflict between representing the period of the show as either the 1920s when it was written or the late 19th century in which it is set.  There were also a few references to modern times, but mainly for humorous effect.  I was rather pleased that a passing reference to the EU got a big laugh.  It is a bureaucratic monster that needs to be laughed at.

And if you do know a bit of history some strange things happen.  When Mariza asks Herr Toerek, "Haben Sie einen Frack"  he replies affirmatively.  But nobody in the show at any time wears a late 19th century Frack.  A late 19th century Frack was what was known in English as a frock coat, a long coat that belled out slightly  towards the bottom.  It was not cutaway. You occasionally see them on gamblers and the like in cowboy movies.  In Graefin Mariza formal dress is the more modern Frack of the 1920s, a tailcoat.  The producers of the show kept the original words but not the period dress.  The subtitle translators rendered Frack as "dress-shirt", which is simply wrong.  "Evening clothes" would have been better.

The best song of the show is undoubtedly the Varazdin song.  It is very catchy.  But until you try to sing it you don't realize that it is a tongue-twister too.  Kathol and Schellenberger to well to gallop energetically through it.  When I try to sing along I can't do it.  I always stumble over  Gulaschsaft (goulash juice).  The words are below:

Komm mit nach Varazdin! So lange noch die Rosen blüh'n,
Dort woll'n wir glücklich sein, wir beide ganz allein!
Du bist die schönste Fee, von Debrecen bis Plattensee,
Drum möcht mit dir ich hin nach Varazdin!
Denn meine Leidenschaft, brennt heisser noch als Gulaschsaft
Und in der Brust tanzt Herz mir Czardas her und hin!
Komm mit nach Varazdin, so lange noch die Rosen blüh'n,
Dort ist die ganze Welt noch rot, weiss, grün!

The "rot, weiss, grün" (red white and green) refers to the colours of the Hungarian flag.  The operetta is set in a grand Hungarian estate.

And I should say something about the Puszta.  It is mentioned  quite a lot both at the beginning and the end of the show.  In the subtitles, it is sometimes translated (as "prairie") and sometimes not.  As Wikipedia informatively says:  "The Hungarian puszta is an exclave of the Eurasian Steppe".  It is a large area mostly of grassland with rather infertile soils -- but the interesting part is the people who live there. Wikipedia doesn't tell you about that.  It's a hard life there and it breeds a tough people.  And it is the women of the Puszta who are idolized in Graefin Mariza.  They are seen as particularly lively and attractive  -- and, one suspects, rather easily seduced by rich Hungarian men.

Hungary generally is in fact greatly romanticized by Kalman.  And not only mainstream Hungarian society but also the Hungarian gypsies are extolled.  Gypsy music is in fact to a large degree the focus of the show.  But gypsy fortunetelling is treated with respect, as are gypsy dancers.  Why was Kalman so enthused by gypsies?  It's got to have something to do with the fact that Kalman was a Hungarian Jew (born Imre Koppstein).  Antisemitism was already rife in Vienna and elsewhere when Kalman was writing -- Nazism arose in fertile soil --  and it must have freaked him.  So was he trying to claim a new identity for himself?  Perhaps.

There is a lot to note about the language in the show.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on when the word Zigan was used.  When sung, it sounded like Sieger (victor) to me but I eventually figured out that it was just an abbreviation for Zigeuner (gypsy).

And a curiosity about the language was a roughly 50/50 split over where the emphasis should be placed on Mariza.  Is it MAHriza or MahRITza?  Schellenberger pronounces it the latter way but others do not. So either way is "correct".

There is quite a lot of wordplay in the show but you miss most of it unless you know some German. One thing that struck me as odd was when the majordomo opined that Bela Toerek was named "Bela" because he was good looking -- an allusion to the Italian "bella", meaning beautiful.  But Bela is a common Hungarian Christian name and Hungarian is unrelated to other European languages so how could he think that?  Apparently there is no agreed meaning for the name "Bela" so he was at liberty to make a romantic speculation about it.

And the split between Northern and Southern German pronuciation is referred to.  Northern Germans tend to look down on Southern Germans but Southerners don't give a damn about that.  And Fuerstin Cuddenstein, the rich aunt, is portrayed as speaking in a broad Southern way.  Like the Swiss, she says "Daitsch" instead of "Deutsch".  So she brings her German teacher, a former thespian, with her to "improve" her speech.

The translators do a manful job of turning German into English but the translations are quite "free" (non-literal).  I don't underestimate their difficulties, though.  German and English were the same language 1500 years ago but a lot has changed since then.  And the two languages do to an extent cut up reality in different ways these days.  I have made a few notes about that from my days translating the German of Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler into English.  A lot of what those two gentlemen said during their lives poses difficulties for the modern political Left so had not been available in translated form online.  So it was amusing for me to let the cat out of the bag.

So all that adds up to the fact that you get a lot more out of the show to the extent that you understand German.  Translations just cannot do the whole job of conveying the original intention of the text.  One instance of that occurs when the Graefin is declaring her intention to stay on her Gut (estate).  To deter any opposition to her decision,she adds, "sicher und sicher".  That is certainly very emphatic in German and Schellenberger's facial expression says more than words probably could anyway. But sicher literally means firm or secure so you cannot translate it well directly.  You have to use a circumlocution. And no circumlocution that I can think of is as emphatic.  So I hope that my various comments here about things in the show will help to a small degree to make up for any lack of German in those who view it.

On to the politically incorrect bit!

Anne watches a lot more ballet than I do and Russia is of course a ballet powerhouse. You only have to see magical performances such as that by Ekaterina Kondaurova as the Firebird at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersberg to know why.  And Anne remarked to me recently that she has never seen a black or Asian face in a ballet performance from Russia.  All the faces look like the faces we both grew up amongst.  You cannot usually tell one Northern European face from another just by looking at them.  A Russian could be an English person for all that looks give away.

And I notice the same in the performances I have seen from Moerbisch. I have not seen them all so maybe there has been some "diversity" there at times.  It's actually a bit of a shock to see someone who could be the person next door speaking very foreign-sounding German words.

But perhaps an old guy like me may be permitted to be pleased to be watching faces like those he grew up among.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A quiet Easter

In consideration of the fact that most restaurants would be closed over Easter, Anne came and cooked me dinner on both Friday and Saturday.  On Friday she cooked me a good non-meat dinner featuring Haloumi, mushrooms and fried eggs.  She has never been a Catholic but was for a long time married to one.  So she has got the habit of no meat on Friday.  And on Saturday we had sausages and salad.  That's pretty humble but I am something of a sausage freak so it suited us both.  And they were good sausages.

And on Sunday Anne put on one of her "3 sisters" lunches -- for her two sisters plus menfolk.  We had some excellent roast lamb.  Even the gravy was good.  I am a bit fussy about potatoes but Anne cut the potatoes up into small pieces and baked them. That went down well.

Someone at one stage mentioned saying Grace and Anne said I might.  I do occasionally do that when people of faith are present.  I usually say the famous Selkirk grace by Robert Burns.  This time, however,  I said I would do one better.  I said I would sing a Doxology as a Doxology is a song of thanks anyway.  So I did.  I sang the doxology "Praise God from whom all blessings flow ..."

It is very well-known so I got everybody onto their feet and we all sang it.  Presbyterians don't sing sitting down. And I think we all enjoyed singing it too.

Perhaps it made up a little for the fact  that Anne and I did not attend church this Easter

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Two clumsy people dining together

Recently, Joe and I unintentionally enacted  what could have been a comedy sketch called "Two clumsy people dining together".  We were at Nando's and had just received our order of chicken with side dishes of salad and rice.  None of those fattening chips for us!

Both Joe and I tend to have difficulty opening things, however, so when I opened the sachet of dressing for the salald, I managed to squirt half of it onto my shirt.  I was going to wash that shirt anyway!  Eventually, I got some of the dressing onto the salad and left it for Joe to take some salad for his plate.  He promptly knocked the salad bowl over and spilt the contents onto the table!  I picked up some of it and ate it anyway.

Fortunately the rice kept mostly to where it was intended to be but there was perhaps by the end of the dinner more of it on the table than would have been ideal.  Rice is like that in my experience

Given our shared clumsiness, Joe and I both ate the chicken with our hands. Using just knife and fork would probably have shot some of it across the room.  That does happen.  So we both ended up with very greasy hands by the end of the dinner.  As I always do, I had a hanky with me so wiped my hands on that.  Joe however just wiped his hands on his shorts -- in the best Australian male style.  He washes his shorts fairly often though.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Christian identification with Israel

I went to a hymn-singing service at Wynnum Presbyterian church today.  I am deeply moved by music and hymns are meant to be moving so I love to hear and sing the great old Protestant hymns.

A famous hymn that I enjoyed was "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah", sung to the marvellous "Cwm Rhondda" tune.  It's been sung on many great occasions in England. Here it is being sung on a very great British occasion indeed. The last verse of it is below.  At the link you can hear that verse sung by everybody who is anybody in Britain:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death and hell’s Destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

So the identification with the Children of Israel is deep into Christian culture.  God's gift of the land of Israel to the Jews is equated with salvation.  For Christians not to love Israel makes them very dubious Christians indeed

Secular people sometimes say that the Jews of today are totally different from the people who came up out of Egypt -- but to say that is to disbelieve all the promises that the Lord made to the Children of Israel.  Only pseudo-Christians or unbelievers could say that.  There are however a lot of pseuds around.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Emerich (Imre) Kalman

Who the Devil is Emerich Kalman? His name goes close to being totally forgotten these days but in the first half of the 20th century he was much acclaimed. His music was so popular that Hitler even offered to make him an honorary Aryan (Kalman was Jewish) -- an amazing distinction, whatever else it was. Kalman declined the offer and got out of Europe while the going was good.

But there is one place these days where he has not been forgotten: Moerbisch. Moerbisch is as near as you can get to being the world headquarters of operetta. Situated by a lake in Austria's beautiful Salzkammergut (Lake District), Moerbisch is to operetta as Bayreuth is to Wagner. Performances at Moerbisch are lavish. Huge sums are spent on them to make them as good a performance of the work concerned as you can possibly get.

And the audience at Moerbisch is amazing in its vastness. When the cameras cut to the audience you can see that their claim of huge audiences is fully believable. The audience goes on forever. It looks like half of Vienna is there. Does any other stage performance have an audience that big? I know of none. Perhaps in Russia.

The Moerbisch performances might almost be called "definitive" performances except for one thing: No two stage shows of any kind are ever the same (except perhaps for Shakespearean performances). The original script is taken as not much more than a set of suggestions in many cases. The producer on each occasion feels free to cut bits out and put new bits in. And for the light entertainment that is operetta that is particularly so.

That seems to me disrespectful of the talent that made the show notable in the first place but it can help by making a show more relevant to a particular time and place. And the great resources of all kinds now available in the early 21st century greatly expand what can be done -- things that would probably not be dreamed of by the original author -- but which do expand the watchability and impact of the show.

And having the great resources of Moerbisch applied to an operetta by Hungarian composer Kalman certainly produces very good musical theatre indeed. I have recently watch the 2004 Moerbisch performance of Kalman's Graefin Maritza and was quite gripped by it. The plot of the play is the sort of folly you expect from operetta -- with everybody living happily ever after by the end of the show -- but the acting and the singing were as good as can be.

And Kalman's music was both lively and inclusive of some very catchy songs. I am in fact rather amazed that the Varasdin song is not better known. It is very fun and catchy indeed. The inhabitants of the fine city of Varasdin in Northern Croatia are probably not too keen on the song as it portrays Varasdin as home to 18,000 pigs -- when Varasdin has much grander real claims than that.

Tenor Marko Kathol leads the Varasdin scene and I was much impressed by his talent. I have watched that scene over and over again. With Kalman's music and the spirited performances by both Kathol and the "Graefin" (Dagmar Schellenberger), it is so beautiful that it tends to make me weep at times (Even when sober!). I have looked Kathol up and it seems that others share my very favourable impression of his abilities. That he is a former ballet dancer certainly shows in the flexibility with which he moved at Moerbisch

Viennese operetta has a sort of frantic gaiety about it. It came into its own in the aftermath of the ghastly WWI and no city was more impacted by that war than Vienna. It lost something like 90% of the territory it once ruled. But, being the city of music, Vienna rose to the occasion and produced entertainment that both lightened the spirits and took people back to happier days. The operettas are most set in the prewar period. They have left a great musical treasure for us all.

You can view the whole Moerbisch performance of Graefin Maritza online here. But if you want English subtitles you will have to buy the DVD. The words are of course in German, but the music is international. Go to the 48 minute mark for the marvellous Varasdin song ("Komm mit nach Varasdin"). The words of the song are here

There is a nice picture below of the very expressive Dagmar Schellenberger in her role as the Graefin at Moerbisch in 2004. She is both a most accomplished soprano and a superb actress.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I am writing down these notes as an aide memoire to myself.  I have just watched (twice) the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Strauss's Die Fledermaus and want to note my impressions of it before I forget them. The time travel concerned was made possible by a DVD.

The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is everything you expect of an Opera House -- a large and ornate building  that gives the impression of a no-expenses-spared project.  I was pleased to see the the stage curtains featured prominently the Royal cipher (EIIR).

The opera itself was brilliant entertainment, with lots of laughs in it.  It was almost as madcap as Gilbert & Sullivan (NOTHING can be as madcap as Trial by Jury).  It well deserves the innumerable performances that have been done of it.

Perhaps because of my interest in languages, the scene that amused me most was when the husband and the jailer were introduced as Frenchmen and they had to pretend to speak French to one-another even though they knew just about as much French as I do, which is very little. They managed a few common but totally unconnected French words and even threw in a bit of Italian.

I can get by in reading French to some extent because I have a general knowledge of European languages but I have never studied it.  I recently translated some Afrikaans, though.  So that may explain why I was so amused by the scene.  I couldn't watch it right through the second time around because it was so funny.  I am like that with Mr Bean too.  He is so unbearably funny that I have to switch off the recording half way through and watch the second half another day.  Do Leftists have a sense of humour that strong?  I can't imagine it.

And the performance was a distinguished one indeed.  Kiri te Kanawa was at her very good best.  She both sang and acted admirably.  And Hermann Prey as the husband was in his element. His expression when his wife was expounding his sins was very well and amusingly done.

And a  big surprise was the appearance of every woman's favourite soulful singer -- "Sharl" Aznavour -- playing, what else, Charles Aznavour. To get him along in a cameo role was undoubtedly a bit of a coup for the production.  You don't have to understand a word Aznavour sings to get the soulfulness.  He is a mobile evocation of tragedy. He is not my cup of tea at all but he is undoubtedly a supreme master of his genre.

And the dancing was surprisingly good too.  The dancing in operas and operettas can be pretty basic.  I have an example in mind -- from Britain -- but will not be so unkind as to record it.

On this occasion, the participation of an accomplished ballet company was secured, however, ensuring very good dancing indeed.  The chief male dancer impressed me.  It is of course routine for male dancers to lift the ballerina above their heads at some stage, though few have been as good at it as Nureyev.  He would lift the lady up with two hands and then hold her there briefy with one hand -- a great feat of strength.  And the dancer on this occasion was even better.  He exited holding the ballerina above his head -- with his grip on just one of her ankles. Just holding her there would be pretty good, let alone walking off with her like that.  Update:  On further viewing he seems to have a hand on his lady's bottom too.  But it is still quite a feat.

And I was rather pleased at how un-Islamic the show was.  It featured a huge amount of alcoholic imbibing and not a little of  amusing drunkenness.  Towards the end the whole proceedings were said to be a celebration of Champagne!  I think I too would blow myself up if I were a Muslim.  Though I was in fact teetotal until my late 20s.  I was very skinny in my youth and I used to wonder what I could eat or drink to put on a bit of weight.  In my late 20s I found the answer: beer!

Speaking of 21st century concerns, I was pleased at how good the ethnic stereotyping was in the casting. Ethnic stereotypes are absolutely verboten these days but they have been something of an interest of mine. I have even written academic articles on the subject (here and  here). So I was pleased to see that the Italian music master could not have been more Southern Italian:  A Neapolitanian, I suspect.  And I was initially a bit critical of "Dr Falke" looking so English -- but I note now that he is introduced as "from London" -- so the casting director and I obviously thought similarly.  And Hermann Prey looked as German as he is.

So what did I not like about the production?  I LOATHED the "trouser role", where the Prince was played by a bald-headed woman.  The role was originally written that way but I am obviously not alone in my response to it --  as quite a lot of productions have put a man into the role.  And couldn't they at least have put some hair on her?  A bald-headed woman is a tragedy. The lady sang well enough but looking at her was a pain.

I suppose the producer at Covent Garden was being true to the text in casting that role but I wish he had been true to the text throughout. He clearly couldn't decide whether to produce the show in German or English.  It was mostly in German but also substantially in English.  Because I have a degree of age-related hearing loss, I understood the German better -- because it had subtitles -- while  the English did not.  The English bits were mainly to get laughs  -- which succeeded -- but why not be done with it and produce the whole thing in English? Kiri te Kanawa is of course a native English speaker and I can't imagine that the other singers would have had any difficulty.

Many patrons of the arts are elderly and reduced hearing is a normal part of aging so all recordings of operas and operettas should be fully subtitled, just as all live performances should include supertext.

And whatever limitations the show had were all more than made up for by Strauss's wonderful music.  The profundity of J.S. Bach is my musical home but you would have to be a sad soul indeed not to hear the joy that is in the music of Johann Strauss II. Unlike some others I have seen recently, I will be viewing this show again.

Anybody interested can watch the whole thing online here -- with subtitles.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Was Paganini a psychopath?

Paganini was a brilliant violinist in the 19th century but what else do we know about him?

Franz Lehar wrote an operetta about him called, unsurprisingly, Paganini.  And the operetta seems to be pretty historically accurate as far as I can see.  Paganini is portrayed as a compulsive womanizer and gambler, which he was.  Even his gambling away his violin is historically accurate.  So the operetta would seem to be an insightful recreation of the man.

And, given my psychology background I can say with confidence that what Lehar portrays is a psychopath, and a pretty reprehensible one at that.  Psychopathy was one of my research interests during my academic career and I have had a couple of research articles on the subject published in the academic literature. See here and here.  I have also written about it more recently here

Psychopaths very often have a magnetic appeal to women -- mainly because the psychopath tells the woman whatever she wants to hear  -- whether it is true or not.  And Paganini's approach to women is also just that.  But psychopaths tend to become unglued when their lies become evident.  And Paganini did. And the way the Princess sticks to him despite great disappointments is also very typical.  Women are reluctant to abandon the wonderful illusion that the psychopath has created and think they can make it come true if they try hard enough. So if anyone would like to see how psychopaths do it, Lehar's operetta would be a good start.

In the circumstances the ending of the operetta has to be low key by operetta standards.  The parties simply go their different ways.  At least the death and damnation of an opera ending is not seen.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Zigeunerliebe and GWF Hegel

I guess it shows what a hopeless academic I am that I could write the heading above.  Only an academic would compare a Viennese operetta with a nigh-unintelligible Leftist philosopher.  I guess they both spoke German.  There's that to it.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there seems to have been some fascination with Gypsies as living "free" lives.  You see it in Carmen, in Zigeunerliebe and Il Trovatore, for instance. Lehar's Zigeunerliebe has a somewhat minor place in operatic history but I was watching it last night so it is in front of my mind at the moment.

Both Carmen and Zigeunerliebe feature a fascination with gypsy life.  And the portrayal is fairly similar in both cases.  The major difference is that the ending is tragic in the opera (Carmen) and happy in the operetta (Zigeunerliebe).  But that's basically the difference between the two art-forms.  In some operettas there are THREE happy couples at the end (e.g. Der Graf von Luxemburg and Im weissen Roessl) so Zigeunerliebe is actually rather morose in having only one.  The scheming old father was apparently seen as not deserving of marital bliss.

Both Carmen and Zigeunerliebe are quite moral tales.  They say that a desire for freedom can be strong but freedom is in the end illusory -- or at least has a lot of downside.

Which brings me to GWF Hegel -- who thought the same.  Hegel was of course the philosophical inspiration of both Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler but still seems popular among the small number of Leftists who are capable of thinking at any depth.  And you DO need to be a deep thinker to follow Hegel.  His writings are a real struggle to follow.  I gather that he gave satisfying  lectures, however, and after people were inspired by his lectures, they made the effort of following his writings  -- and so generally broadcast his name and fame.  I have a more extended comment on his writings here.

But the problem Hegel and the opera characters were addressing is a real one.  We all like to be free from restrictions but a moment's thought will tell us that rights connote duties. For example, my right not to be assaulted is everybody elses's duty  not to assault me. Similarly, the opportunity Gypsies have to move around a lot makes it difficult for them to earn a living.  They have to resort to some rather unpleasant work, such as begging and stealing.

Hegel, however carries that insight to an extreme degree.  He basically said all freedom is an illusion.  Being a philosopher, however, he did not actually deny freedom.  He redefined it -- saying that the only freedom was freedom to march in lockstep with everyone else.  His idea of freedom was the freedom of the ant.  His model of an ideal human society was an anthill.

Fortunately, the English have always valued their individual liberties so Hegel's ideas were not widely accepted in England and its derivative societies.  And both in England and elsewhere the 19th century also produced some good defences of individual liberties -- both in the persons of various economists (culminating in the thinking of Boehm-Bawerk) and in the very lucid philosophical writings of J.S. Mill. Sadly, Mill did not practice what he preached.  His votes in the House of Commons were thoroughly socialist.  Rather amazingly, he was a crypto-Hegelian.  His On Liberty seems to have been just an intellectual exercise for him.

Fortunately the classical liberal ideas of Mill and others developed in the 20th century to thinking now known as libertarianism -- thinking which sets out in detail how a very much larger scope for liberty than we currently have can be achieved. And insofar as libertarian ideas have been applied (for instance in the policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) the results have been very benign -- a stark contrast with the ideas of GWF Hegel.

So there is an answer to the opera characters and others who idolize the Gypsies:  Freedom can never be absolute but we can go much further towards it than we so far have done.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A problem vocabulary -- and a partial solution

Many stages in my life have added to my vocabulary.  I was born into an Australian working class home so I speak the vivid Australian slanguage with joy -- but I don't usually write it.

And I am basically a literary type so I know the difference between a dactylic and an anapaestic rhythm.  And neither "eleemosynary" nor "emoluments" are mystery words to me

And I have studied 3 languages so have many words from them in my brain. For instance, I can use Volk and Reich with accuracy and sometimes use words of Latin origin in their Latin meaning.  And a lot of people don't like the ungracious English name "Eggplant" for a rather desirable fruit so call it by the French name instead:  "Aubergine".  But I don't like much about the French but do rather like Italians.  The vastly "incorrect" Silvio Berlusconi is something of a hero of mine.  So I call the vegetable "Melanzane", which is both the Italian word and a version of its botanical name (Solanum melongena).

My odd food words mostly oppress Anne, the lady in my life.  But she has got used to them and even makes her own Liptauer these days -- and has even tried to make cevapi. But she and I share similar geographical and social  origins so I can talk to her in broad Australian -- which is pleasing to us both. When I call someone a "galah" or a "drongo" she knows what I mean.

And my early very intensive studies of the Bible have left me with an extensive knowledge and appreciation of the wonderful words and phrases of the King James Bible, plus a knowledge of theology and textual criticism.  So I know what Masoretic and paraclete means.

And at university I did some studies in linguistics and came out of that with an appreciation of both Old English and Middle English.  So I occasionally use constructions from those sources.  One of my favourite proverbs in fact uses Middle English:  "If ifs and ans were pots and pans, there'd be no room for tinkers" ("an" means "if" in Middle English).  And I am prone to reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English.

And my doctorate in the social sciences has left me with a useful statistics vocabulary -- so I am inclined to talk about "orthogonal" factors and "leptokurtic" curves, for instance.

So with that wonderful treasure of words available to me, I am inclined to use it, where appropriate. The big problem with that, however, is that if I used my vocabulary as I am inclined to do, I would render a lot of what I write barely intelligible a lot of the time.  Most people have backgrounds quite different from mine.

So what I have long done is to write something out fairly spontaneously and then go back through it replacing the uncommon  words with simple words of mainly Anglo-Saxon origin.  And I am pleased to say that such simplification often clarifies my thought and rarely obscures it.

But I am getting old and no longer have the time and energy I once did so lately I have tended on some occasions to let my original words stand rather than revise them.  And that will probably get gradually worse as time goes by.

So this is just an apology if what I write is not immediately clear.  I am however consoled by the thought that everybody has Wikipedia and various online dictionaries at their fingertips these days so can clarify any obscure words with considerable celerity (Latin: "celer" = "quick").

Just for fun, here are a few odd words I have been using lately -- either in writing or in speech:  narthex, vietato, endorheic, spinto, exegesis, rhotic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fads -- and Im Weissen Roessl

I get fads and it's genetic.  I know it's genetic because my father had it and Joe has it too.  Joe gets a fad for a new  computer game.  He plays it and plays it time and time again for days and weeks. Then he loses interest in it and goes on to some other game.

My father used to get fads about people.  He would get to know someone new and would initially speak highly of them.  Then after a few weeks he would go off them  -- mainly because they did not work as hard as he did.  But NOBODY worked as hard as he did.  Hard physical work was his religion. He was a timber-feller (lumberjack) by trade and you needed to be capable of relentless physical work there.

I get fads about a lot of things -- particularly food. I will decide I like something and then consume it over and over again day after day and then I will lose interest in it.  But some food fads last a long time.  I had porridge for breakfast almost every day for the first 16 years of my life, for instance. I still like a good plate of porridge but rarely have it.  And in more recent times I have been having mainly bacon and eggs for breakfast for several years.  My present breakfast food fad is a BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich). But my food fads are mostly for things that many people like so they don't really stand out unless someone knows me well.

I also get fads about music and in recent days I have been rather obsessed with the 2008 Moerbisch performance of Im weissen Roessl (The White Horse Inn).  That is a very popular operetta so again my preferences are not exactly strange.  What is strange is that for about the last 3 weeks I have watched it in whole or in part EVERY DAY.  You too can see it.  It is online here. I have a DVD of it with English subtitles but the online version is in German only.

Moerbish is a small lakeside town much visited as a summer holiday resort which has a huge auditorium for stage plays of all sorts.  It was packed for the performance I saw.

But that fad seems to have ceased.  I did not watch it at all yesterday and today.  So I thought I might jot down a few things I noted about it before I forget them.

For a start the 2008 Moerbish performance was put on by ORF (Oesterreichischer Rundfunk; the Austrian State broadcaster) and they seem to have been determined to make theirs the definitive version of the operetta.  Money seems to have been no object.  They must have had a hundred "extras" among the performers and both the sets and the costumes were elaborate.  And they made a point of hiring singers who were also good actors.  The ladies were gorgeous and the character actors were brilliant in filling their parts.

Both the leading ladies were also very easy on the eye.  Whoever thought of pouring the busty Zabine Kapfinger into a dirndl to play the part of the Wirtin (landlady) certainly knew what would look good.  And the ultra-femine Anja Katherina Wigger (pronounced Vigger) as Otti was rather mesmerizing in her looks and performance. I think a tall slim and attractive blonde who is also a good operatic soprano is quite a rarity.  Sopranos do tend to weight after a while.  And Wigger got her notes effortlessly.  So she is at the moment my favourite operatic soprano. Go to the 36 minute mark on the video and also the 46 minute mark to see her in action.

I am actually rather soppy about Wigger. I like the way she speaks as well as the way she sings. Her Ich eile (I am hurrying) immediately before she encounters the hilarious herd of cows sounds very expressive to me. And her scream when she encounters the cows is as feminine as you can get.

Wirtin Zabine Kapfinger is actually a pop and folk singer in real life so her voice was a little thin at times but she is a brilliant actress.  The show was hi-tech so we saw lots of close-ups of her face at times -- and all her expressions were spot-on for the role.  She played perfectly someone unlike her real self, I gather.  But perhaps not so unlike.  Below is a picture of her in real life with a lucky man -- her husband.  Note those Austrian blue eyes -- celebrated at length in the operetta itself (in the song, Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau)

A small point about those blue eyes: Blue eyes were at the time and place seen as a sign of Treue -- Faithfulness, loyalty. You could rely on a person with blue eyes. It has got me wondering if there is something in that. I can think of a reason why there could be something in it.

My favourite character in the operetta was Herr Giesecke.  He was the relentlessly negative curmudgeon who appeared throughout the show.  He had great laugh lines and Klaus-Dieter Lerche delivered them brilliantly.  I laughed at them every time even after I had heard them over a dozen times.  Sigismund der schoene was a good comic touch too.  And the poor Professor  was a good light-hearted touch in another direction.

But a lot of what Herr Giesecke said was allusive.  You had to know what he was referring to in order to get the joke.  So I thought I might mention a few of those things.  For a start he made a great point out of his view that he should have gone to Ahlbeck rather than the Salzkammergut (Austria's beautiful lake district).  Ahlbeck is however an island just off Germany's Baltic coast and the Baltic is a pretty rough body of water.  It is grey and stormy a lot of the time.  The Baltic coast is reasonably passable in summer but nothing like the lush Salzkammergut.

And in denying that the Salzkammergut was better than North Germany he made some hilarious comparisons.  In saying how regions near Berlin where he lives were as good as areas in the Salzkammergut he said at one point: "What about Spandau?".  What about Spandau indeed!  Spandau is a suburb of Berlin and I am sure it is well kept but the only thing notable that I know about it is that a large prison was located there (now torn down).  And he also praises the Stoelpchensee as comparable to the Austrian lakes.  The Stoelpchensee is one of a string of small lakes connected by canals to the South of Berlin.  But they are often not much wider than the canals as far as I can see.  Again a foolish comparison.  And one of his best lines comes after he praises the Lueneburger Heide, a much loved heathland area of North Germany.  The Wirtin asks him:  Do they have mountains there?  He replies, "No. but if we did they would be higher"!

And something the Ober (head waiter) said at one point  is also rather obscure.  He asks Herr Giesecke if he wants to dudeln.  Dudeln is the Viennese word for yodelling but in slang it means to have a few (alcoholic) drinks.

And in her yodelling song, the Wirtin mentions her beloved  Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Erzherzog Johann (Archduke John), who died in 1859.  In English we call the place "Styria"?  How ugly!  And how needless.  There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name.  If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark.

It is difficult to pin down the period in which the show is set.  Kaiser Franz Joseph appears in it and he died in 1916 so one imagines that it is set in the late 19th century.  But "Dr Siedler" at one point uses prominently a 1950s rangefinder camera -- and there are other minor anachronisms -- such as the strange vehicle at the beginning of the show, not to mention the sportscar driven by Sigismund der schoene.  And the national anthem was not anything that Franz Joseph would have known.  In his day the tune was the old Haydn tune later appropriated by Germany for the Deutschland Lied.  The play premiered in 1897 so I assume it was meant to be contemporary and the anachronisms are the work of foolish later producers.

The many versions of the play that have been performed do differ quite a bit.  The play appears to have no "masoretic" text.  The famous "Goodbye" song, for instance is only heard in English language versions.  In German, it occurs in the Lustige Witwe von Wien operetta.

Somewhat to my surprise and satisfaction the Austrian monarchy is treated fairly sympathetically.  I had expected a modern producer to satirize it in some way. The Kaiser is presented as very frail but he probably was at the time the play was written.  And he is portrayed as mentally sharp and kindly.  He is also portrayed as thanking people a lot, which is true to life for Royalty.  And he very clearly seen by his subjects not just as an old man but as a symbol of the country,  which again is right.  The only element of satire I saw was to portray him wearing a helmet with bright GREEN plumes.

I think I have finally got the chorus of the theme song into my head but how long the words will stay there is a question.  The words are:

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee,
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

Finally, perhaps I should apologize for adopting the English custom of referring to Im weissen Roessl  as an operetta.  The credits rightly describe it as a Singspiel, a play with singing.

UPDATE:  I now realize why I don't feel inclined to watch Im weissen Roessl any more.  It's because I now have got the whole thing into my head.  I just have to think of a favourite  scene and I can see it clearly in my mind's eye.  I can even see the expression on Kapfinger's face when she say to "Leopold":  Es lesen doch -- and later when she says Lesen es doch weiter.  I now seem to have a DVD in my head.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  I wonder. It'll probably fade away with time anyway.

UPDATE 2:  There is so much in the play that is meaningful to me that I could probably write as much again as I have already -- but an instinct for economy of statement restrains me.

But I think I should just note something about the German nicknames in the play.  German constructs its affectionate nicknames in a way rather different from what we do.  With us a "Joe" or "Joseph" becomes "Joey".  But in Southern German it becomes "Seppl".  How come?   Southern German concentrates on the last part of the name so the "sep" at the end of Joseph or Josef has the diminutive "l" added to make "seppl".  And Josepha in the play becomes "Pepi" or "Peperl" and Leopold becomes "Poldi".

And North German does it another way again. So "Klara" becomes "Klaerchen".  The play includes both Northerners and Southerners so you see both approaches in it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Conservatives Are No More Biased About Science Than Liberals Are

The article below by psychological researchers Erik C. Nisbet and R. Kelly Garrett is a curious one.  I have no great argument with either their conclusions or their methodology but it is a sad day when scientific claims are examined in this way.  Disputes about scientific claims should be examined by presentations and discussions of the evidence only.  The article below does not do that.  It treats the facts as irrelevant.  It claims that ideology dictates scientific conclusions, not the facts underlying the conclusions.

The sad thing is that they are obviously right in lots of cases,  but it seems a great pity that they could not survey the evidence pro- and con- for the scientific conclusions that they study.

I like to think that  I am persuaded solely by reason and the facts.  I can well imagine that in saying that I provoke laughter.  But I think I can substantiate it.

Christians sometimes say that I am their favorite atheist.  And they have good grounds for that.  I am basically a very religious person and was a very fundamentalist Christian in my teens.  I am perfectly at home even with a demanding and puritanical religion.  But I also have studied philosophy from an early age and I cannot fault Carnap's argument that all metaphysical statements are meaningless.  So I have been an extreme atheist for the whole of my adult life.  I don't even believe that the statement "God exists" is meaningful.  Can you get more thoroughgoing atheism than that?

But due to my religious instincts and religious past, I still have warm feelings towards Christians and regularly defend them.  So some people CAN come to conclusions about the world that are ideologically inconvenient -- VERY inconvenient in my case.

And the undoubted fact that Northeast Asians (in China, Japan, Korea) have markedly higher IQs than people of European origin might well be bothersome to a person of European origin like myself and I could be inclined to deny it -- as Leftists do.  But I actually accept the reality with perfect equanimity.  I publicize it in fact.

I suspect that many atheists find something or somebody in the world about them to worship.  The way many obviously intelligent academics pore over the works of Karl Marx seems to me to be pretty religious.  "What Marx was really saying" is a phrase that I have heard from them "ad nauseam".  They treat Das Kapital in the same way that fundamentalist Christians  treat the Bible.  Their examination of it is very reminiscent of the theological disputes among Christians. It is certainly their holy book.

And I know why they do that.  Marx was a great hater. He hated just about everyone -- even the working class from which he hoped so much.  And Leftism is a religion of hate.  Leftists hate the world about them.  They hate "the system", in their words.  That is why they yearn to "fundamentally transform" it, to use Obama's phrase.  So haters like a great hater.  Marx FEELS right to Leftists, even if no application of Marxism has worked even passably well.

So have I too found a new object of worship to replace my early Christianity?  I don't think so.  I am not only an extreme atheist, I am also a complete one. I don't believe in Karl Marx, Jesus Christ or global warming. And I also don't believe in the unhealthiness of salt, sugar and fat. How skeptical can you get?  But I could be said to worship reason, I think.

Getting back to the article below:  The authors reveal themselves to be very unscientific.  Though maybe they had to be in order to get their stuff published.  Take for instance this paragraph:

"We note in particular that our findings neither exempt nor validate the well-organized and heavily funded “climate denialist movement.” This movement engages in extensive public communication campaigns and lobbying efforts intended to misrepresent the science and scientific consensus about the issue"

Where is the evidence that climate skeptics are "well-organized and heavily funded"?  They quote no evidence because there is none.  The overwhelming majority of climate skeptics are just isolated individuals calling foul over what they see as bad science. And very few of us have received a cent in connection with our writings on climate. I have received nil and other skeptics I know say the same.

The statement is however a rather good example of psychological projection.  Warmists receive vast financial support not only from government but even from energy companies such as Exxon.  Leftists understand people so poorly that they judge other people by themselves. They HAVE to believe that we are like them.

Despite my criticism of the article below, I hope it is clear that I do agree with their fundamental premise that there is such a thing as "motivated social cognition". That people see what they want to see or expect to see is proverbial and has often been demonstrated in psychological experiments.  Even the classical Asch conformity experiment is as good a demonstration of motivated social cognition as any.

And motivated social cognition provides an excellent explanation for the fact that there is a large degree of consensus among academics about the dangers of global warming.  Solomon Asch would not be surprised by it. Let me elaborate:

At law, one routinely asks "Cui Bono" (who benefits?) in deciding guilt or innocence of some crime. It's often the decisive factor in arriving at a conviction.  And looking at who benefits from a belief in dangerous global warming makes it crystal clear why academics support that belief.  The global warming scare has produced a huge shower of research money to fall on climatologists  and anyone else who can get into the act.  All academics hunger for research grants and the global warming scare provides those  lavishly.  Say that your research supports global warming and you are in clover.  If we go by the legal precedents, the consensus among academics is a consensus about the desirability of research grants more than anything else.

And the same thing goes for journalists and newspaper proprietors.  Scares sell newspapers and global warming is a scare that can be milked in all sorts of ways. John Brignell has a long list of the ways.

So where is the impact of the article below likely to be?  I am confident that it will have very little impact.  It goes against the kneejerk way the Green/Left respond to skeptics.  Rather than challenge the facts that skeptics put forward, the Green/Left simply resort to abuse.  They say anything derogatory about skeptics that they can think of.  They fallaciously think that abusing the arguer answers the argument.

And one of the commonest types of abuse that they resort to is to say that skeptics are psychologically defective in some way.  One such way is that skeptics and conservatives generally are supposed to be especially closed-minded and ideologically biased.  The article below sinks that accusation rather well. But the Green/Left cannot afford to lose an arrow out of their slender quiver of them so the study below will simply be ignored.  Ignoring facts is a standard Leftist defence mechanism so will be trotted out on this occasion with the greatest of ease

I could say more but I have already said much so I will end with an anecdote.  Sometimes in company when some adverse weather event is being discussed, I say: "It must be due to global warming".  Every time I say that people laugh. Skepticism about global warming is very widespread.  As far as I can see, it is only a few Leftist barrow-pushers who believe in it and I wonder how sincere their belief is.

I excerpt below just the "guts" of the article I have been discussing:

Testing our partisan brains

Our own study focused on the second explanation for ideological divides and tested whether conservative and liberal trust in science varies by topic.

Recruiting a diverse group of 1,500 adults from a national online panel of volunteers, participants were randomly assigned to read scientifically accurate statements about different science topics.

Some participants read about issues exhibiting a significant partisan divide, including climate change, evolution, nuclear power, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas, while others read about issues that tend to be viewed as ideologically neutral, namely geology and astronomy.

Nuclear power and fracking are often seen by liberals as threatening their environmental values. Evolution and climate change are more often contested by conservatives because they challenge the social and economic beliefs associated with their ideology.

We went into our experiment expecting that liberals and conservatives would experience negative emotional reactions when reading statements challenging their views, which would increase their skepticism to the claim.

We also anticipated that participants would be motivated to resist the science, experiencing feelings of threat and arguing against the presented information.

Each of these factors would lead individuals to feel more distrustful of the source of the unwelcome information, the scientific community.

Unsurprisingly, we found that conservatives who read statements about climate or evolution had a stronger negative emotional experience and reported greater motivated resistance to the information as compared to liberals who read the same statements and other conservatives who read statements about geology or astronomy.

This in turn lead these conservatives to report significantly lower trust in the scientific community as compared to liberals who read the same statement or conservatives who read statements about ideologically neutral science.

Significantly, we found a similar pattern amongst liberals who read statements about nuclear power or fracking. And like conservatives who read statements about climate change or evolution, they expressed significantly lower levels of trust in the scientific community as compared to liberals who read the ideologically-neutral statements.

Biased attitudes toward scientific information and trust in the scientific community were evident among liberals and conservatives alike, and these biases varied depending on the science topic being considered.

An additional distressing finding was that though liberals who read statements about climate change and evolution reported greater trust in science than conservatives who did the same, they also reported significantly less trust in the scientific community than liberals who read ideologically neutral statements about geology or astronomy.

This suggests that highly partisan, high profile science can result in an overall loss of public confidence in the scientific community, even amongst those likely to trust the evidence.

We wish to stress that demonstrating that both conservatives and liberals are prone to responding to ideologically unpalatable scientific information in a biased manner is not an excuse for either side to do so.

We note in particular that our findings neither exempt nor validate the well-organized and heavily funded “climate denialist movement.” This movement engages in extensive public communication campaigns and lobbying efforts intended to misrepresent the science and scientific consensus about the issue; it funds and targets political candidates; and it attempts to intimidate climate scientists.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Those wicked male/female stereotypes

This is an anecdote of no real importance but stories tend to be more impressive than statistics so I thought I might share it.

I was in Target recently buying some inessentials and, when I went to pay, found myself in line behind a mother and her pretty little blondie daughter, aged about four.  The girl was carrying a box of Star Wars Lego, which mildly surprised me.  Star Wars is more a boy thing as far as I can see.  So when she turned around and looked in my direction, I asked her, "Do you like Star Wars?".  She smiled and said, "No. It's for my brother".

So my stereotyped view about the different things that boys and girls like was perfectly correct!  As Gordon Allport said decades ago, stereotypes have "a kernel of truth". Feminists eat your heart out!

Lego is amazing stuff.  Most families with children or grandchildren seem to have buckets of it.  It must be a major boost to Denmark's terms of trade.  I greatly liked my Meccano set (Erector set) when I was a kid but Lego is a lot easier to use.

A related story:  I think most people would expect trains to be a boy thing but I happen to know two pretty little girls who are great enthusiasts for trains and train sets.  They can "play trains" with one another for hours.  So does the stereotype fall down there?

No.  As one of their insightful mothers explained to me, it is all about "Thomas the Tank Engine".  The Thomas stories humanize  trains and give them very recognizable faces and emotional lives.  So the girls concerned see and like that side of Thomas and tend to generalize that to all trains.  The Rev. Awdry wrote well.  His imagination became one of Britain's great cultural exports. Below is a picture of one of the little girls enjoying a real train  -- while holding a toy train.  That is pretty trainy!.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A small grumble about exonyms (foreign place-names)

I have been grumbling about this for a while. Why do we misname foreign places?  Why do we call Beograd Belgrade, Wien Vienna, Roma Rome and -- horror of horrors -- why do we call the historic Italian seaport of Livorno "Leghorn"?  That one always gets me.

None of those names are hard to say for anyone used to English phonetics only. And Nederland is easy to say too. But we insist on calling it Holland, or in our better moments "The Netherlands".  At least the latter is an accurate translation, I guess.  But to refer to the Nederlanders as "Dutch" is certainly "insensitive", to use the language of political correctness. The Dutch ("Deutsch") are in fact the Germans and there have been a few  "issues" between the Germans and the Nederlanders -- a small famine here and there -- that sort of thing.

Some renaming I can understand.  Muenchen contains a nasty German guttural so "Munich" is understandable. And mispronouncing Paris is sort of defensible too.  The Parisians pronounce it as "Paree" but why should we take any notice if that?  The fact that Paris is the most visited overseas city for the English doesn't count, of course. The English quite like their train rides between St. Pancras and the Gare du Nord but you mustn't take too much notice of those "Frogs" at the other end.

But the misnaming that has been bothering me lately is the renaming of Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Archduke Johann.  Why do we have to call it "Styria"?  How ugly!  And how needless.  There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name.  If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark. Pronouncing it according to English rules won't get you the exact German pronunciation but it will be a lot better than "Styria".   Yes. I know that the name "Styria" is somehow derived from the city of Steyr (famous for its assault rifles) but Steyr lies OUTSIDE Steiermark.

Of course the English are not alone in renaming foreign parts.  Italians for instance refer to Paris as "Parigi".  I have no idea why.  An Italian can say "Paree" with perfect ease.

And we do make an effort with our own "difficult" place names.  You don't pronounce the "c" in Tucson, for instance.  And no Englishman pronounces "Worcester" as it is spelled.  He will always say "Wooster" -- and "Gloster" for Gloucester.  And Australian place names are at least as difficult as English ones -- mainly because many of them have Aboriginal origins.  Woolloongabba, where I live, is not pronounced well South of the Queensland border, for instance.  And you more or less have to live there to pronounce Mungindi correctly.

I could go on for many pages yet -- talking about Firenze, Modena, Sovietskaya Rossiya etc. -- but I guess we will just have to soldier on,  pronouncing the place names of half the world incorrectly

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The hat boy

When Paul was a kid he was definitely into hats.  He would even wear more than one hat at once on some occasions.  I even noticed him asleep in bed once with two hats still on. Paul and I have had a bit of a laugh at that in recent times so it is amusing to both of us that Matthew is following in his father's footsteps.  Paul has just sent me the picture below.  Paul says it was spontaneous -- without any suggestion from him.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A most incorrect opera

I guess I am old-fashioned.  Since I am in my 8th decade of life, maybe I am entitled to be old-fashioned.  But, then again, I was called old-fashioned even in my childhood.

Anyway, when it comes to stage performances (plays, operettas, opera) I like some attempt at authenticity to be made.  Both the sets and the costumes should show some attempt to represent the time and place in which the play is set.  Once upon a time, one could automatically expect that  -- but no more.  Minimalist sets and costumes -- and even anachronistic set and costumes -- seem to be "in".

I can abide minimalism.  It cuts costs and opera is expensive to stage.  But anachronism gets my goat. A recent performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, for instance, had revolvers and steamships in ancient Egypt!  A malediction upon the producer!  I imagine that anachronism is supposed to be clever or entertaining but to me it is just incompetent.

So I greatly appreciate the Metropolitan opera in New York.  They must be the most lavishly funded opera house in the world. When the script requires dancing, they even have their own ballet company to do the honours.  It makes for very high quality staging. And they do a lot of authentic staging.  I don't go there but I buy their DVDs. Buying their stuff helps with their stratospheric costs, of course. And you see a lot more with a DVD than you would see as part of a live audience anyway.

So I was keen to see their production of a famous opera -- Verdi's "Aida".  And I was not disappointed.  The sets were magnificent and very evocative of ancient Egypt. And the costumes were elaborate. There was even a passable representation of the double crown of upper and lower Egypt on the Pharaoh in some scenes.

But I am glad I bought the DVD.  If the performance is  available now via YouTube, I predict that it will soon be taken down.  Why?  Because the performance took place in 1989 and it uses -- horror of horrors -- BLACKFACE.  Both the alleged Ethiopian princess and her alleged Ethiopian father were clearly Caucasian beneath the blacking. The princess was in fact played by Aprile Millo, an American operatic soprano of Italian and Irish ancestry.  I am putting up below an image of her as she appeared in the Met's "Aida".  But it was an excellent performance all round with the famed Placido Domingo as Radames, the Egyptian hero.

And why shouldn't the Met use Millo in their opera?  She is a regular there with a magnificent voice -- and a bit of blacking obviously seemed to them enough to give authenticity to the performance.

How odd it is that something that was normal and unquestioned just a quarter of a century ago is now routinely denounced.  The world is in a fit of hysteria about proper use of language and how the world is represented in general.  Will it ever end?  I can't see it.  My son is routinely a very polite man so he is unlikely to fall victim to the nonsense but I am glad that I was born into a saner era.

Some real Ethiopians below

Monday, March 9, 2015


Why are there few conservative intellectuals?  I guess George Will and the late Bill Buckley qualify but that's about it, as far as I can see.  Thomas Sowell is a great treasure that we are lucky to still have with us (he is 84) but what he says flows directly from his academic background as a Chicago school economist.

And that brings me swiftly to my main point. Intellectuals are actually shallow thinkers.  They are gifted amateurs who use popular knowledge -- or at least easily accessible knowledge -- to create new explanations of something or other.  It is of course a talent to be able to do that but in the absence of specialized knowledge the conclusions reached are rarely profound or very innovative.  And that is how Leftists think.  They don't accept that they actually need to learn stuff.  They think that they know it all already.  They think the truth is obvious.

Conservatives, by contrast, are acutely aware of how complex and unpredictable the world is and so mostly confine their writing to matters where they have detailed knowledge.  In my own case I often comment on economics -- but I am a former High School economics teacher.  I sometimes comment on issues in psychology, but I have a doctorate in it.

I often talk about dubious research methods that I see in environmentalism and in the medical literature  -- but I taught research methods and statistics for many years in a major Australian university and the thinking in both the medical and climatological literature violates some of the most basic principles about what research should be and do.   And the statistics I see in climatology and in the medical literature are frankly ludicrous.  Their errors could hardly be more basic -- ignoring statistical significance, assuming correlation is causation etc.

And I have in fact myself had papers published in the medical journals and I have also had research reports on environmentalism published in the academic journals.  So I am NOT an intellectual.  I have specialized knowledge in the areas that I write most about.

V.I. Lenin is quite a good example of an intellectual.  He wrote at length about the issues of his day but without any evident benefit of detailed knowledge in any field.  But he was bright.  He even started out as something of a libertarian. He once wrote:  “The bureaucracy is a parasite on the body of society, a parasite which ‘chokes’ all its vital pores…The state is a parasitic organism”.  Lenin wrote that in August 1917, before he set up his own vastly bureaucratic state in Russia.  He could see the problem but had no clue about how to solve it when he had the chance to do so.

How could he be so stupid?  How could he do what he himself saw as a huge problem?  Leftist stupidity is a special class of stupidity. The people concerned are mostly not stupid in general but they have a character defect (mostly arrogance) that makes them impatient with complexity and unwilling to study it.  So in their policies they repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot;  They fail to attain their objectives.  The world IS complex so a simplistic approach to it CANNOT work.

At the time of the 1917 revolution, Russia was a rapidly modernizing country with railways snaking out across the land and a flourishing agricultural sector that made it a major wheat exporter.  After the revolution agricultural production dropped by about one third and right through the Soviet era Russia never managed to feed itself.  Europe's subsidized food surpluses were a Godsend to it.  A lot of those food surpluses went East.

And Lenin really had no excuse for his stupidity.  There were both writers and practical men in his era who DID understand how economies work and how to get the best out of them. Eugen Böhm,  Ritter von Bawerk, was even a market-oriented economic theorist who was a practical man as well.  He was the Austrian Minister of Finance in the late 19th century and also wrote a series of extensive critiques of Marxism.  And the Austrian economy worked unusually well while he was in charge.  But Böhm's ideas were non-obvious and even counter-intuitive from a layman's viewpoint and it was only a layman's viewpoint that Lenin had.  How sad.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The pirates of Penzance" as satire

And some surprising political implications

If the above title sounds very much like the title for a Ph.D. dissertation I suppose my academic background is to blame for that.  Unlike a Ph.D. dissertation, however, all I want to set down here are a few comments.

I first saw "Pirates" when I took my (then) teenage son to see a well-reviewed production of it here in Brisbane.  I am not at all a Gilbert & Sullivan devotee -- the profundity of Bach is my musical home -- but I know the G&S works as classics of entertainment. So I felt that I should help along my son's musical education.  I remember another occasion in that connection.  In his early teens I recommended Stravinsky to him but he said that he didn't like Stravinsky.  I said to him:  "Don't worry. You will". He came to me some years later and said:  "John, you were right.  I do like Stravinsky".

Anyway, you see far more of any Singspiel on DVD than you do in a theatre audience so I recently acquired a DVD of "Pirates". And, watching it, I did see that it had elements of satire. "Pirates" is not of course satire an sich.  It is simply the madcap humour of W.S. Gilbert ably abetted by the great musical abilities of Arthur Sullivan. I see it as a forerunner of other madcap British comedies such as those of  Mr. Bean,  the Goons and the Pythons.

What differentiates comedy and satire is of course that satire is humour targeted at someone as a form of criticism.  It is deliberately didactic.  But straight comedy can teach lessons too, if only in an incidental way.  And I see some of that in "Pirates".  Perhaps a surprising one that I see is in the song of the "modern major general", now a widely treasured bit of fun.  What Gilbert was doing in that song was referring to something that no Leftist would believe: That  British military officers  were and are often quite scholarly in various ways.  That's not at all universal but not infrequent either.  Even an RSM will often be a man of unexpected depths.  The Sergeant Major of my old army unit  was/is in fact a fan of Bach and Palestrina (nothing to do with Palestine).   And the only Wing Commander (airforce) I know is a voracious reader with a wide knowledge of history.

Captain Cook, the 18th century British discoverer of much in the Pacific is a very good example of a scholarly military man.  His discovery of the cure for scurvy alone ranks him as a distinguished scientist and his practice of quarantine was exemplary for the times.

But a much less well known but quite commendable 18th century military man with scientific interests was Watkin Tench,  an officer in His Majesty's Marine Forces.  He was posted to the new British colony in Australia in its very earliest days, then a hardship posting.  You could lose your life just getting there and back.  So he was no elite soldier and was actually from a rather humble background.  His interest was meteorology and he brought with him the latest Fahrenheit thermometer. He kept a meteorological diary that included  observations from his thermometer taken four times daily in a sheltered spot -- exemplary practice even today.

And his record of the Sydney summer of 1790 is particularly interesting.  It was very hot.  There were even bats and birds falling out of the trees from the heat.  And his thermometer readings tell us exactly how hot.  So we have both readings from a scientific instrument and behavioural observations that validate the readings:  Very hard to question.  And the solidity of his data is very useful in exposing the liars of Australia's current Bureau of Meteorology.  They have got the virus of Warmism in their heads and are always claiming that Australia in whole or in part is currently experiencing a "hottest" year.  And they exploit the fact that Sydney does occasionally have some very hot summers.  But Tench's data show that such summers go back a long way in Sydney  and hence cannot be attrributed to nonsense about the current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The only additions to atmospheric CO2 from the Australia of Tench's days would have been the product of breathing by various living creatures.  There was not even any reticulated electricity anywhere in Australia or anywhere else at that time.

So in the famous song of the modern Major General, Gilbert was simply doing an amusing exaggeration of a real phenomenon, a military man with scientific interests, probably one better known to the British public when Gilbert wrote around 100 years ago.

I actually find prophetic Gilbert's treatment of the police ("When the foeman bares his steel").  The police have always been greatly  respected in Britain -- though that must have eroded in the last two decades -- but Gilbert defies that.  He makes fun of the police and portrays them as cowards.  As a portrayal of modern British police forces that would not be too far astray.  Did Gilbert have some experience of police to lead him to the derogatory view he took of them? I suspect it. In Strange Justice and Political Correctness Watch you will certainly find a wealth of instances of reprehensible behavior by the British police of today.

And the other police song ("A Policeman's Lot Is not a Happy One") is also very modern, expressing sympathy for offenders and a reluctance to arrest them.  Gilbert is actually a rather good prophet.  Warmists eat your heart out!

And the pirate King's assertion that "compared with respectability, piracy is comparatively honest" is also refeshingly cynical.  Commenters on modern-day "crony capitalism" in America will nod approval. And the decision of the daughters to "talk about the weather" rather than pry is quintessentially British. And the homage to Queen Victoria was also an appropriate contemporary reference but greatly exaggerated, of course.  It too could be seen as mocking by a modern audience

And I must pay tribute to the performance (in the production I have) to the singing of Linda Ronstadt.  Better known as a popular singer she is also a superb soprano and greatly ornaments the role of the Major General's daughter Mabel.

Linda Ronstadt as Mabel. Amid the total craziness of a W.S. Gilbert libretto she produces superb music. I cannot speak highly enough of her performance

FOOTNOTE:  I use the German word Singspiel above because there is no equivalent in English.  It means a "sung play" and refers to any musical performance (from Mozart's Zauberfloete ("Magic Flute") to Benatzky's beloved Im Weissen Roessl ("White Horse Inn")) that includes both spoken and sung dialogue.  A Hollywood musical such as "Showboat" is also a Singspiel.  English has a horde of words borrowed from other languages so it seems regrettable that a useful word like Singspiel has not been borrowed too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


"Salzkammergut" has a rather harsh sound, does it not?  In the correct German pronunciation it sounds even harsher!

But I have recently been watching a DVD of "Im weissen Roessl" (in German with English subtitles), usually translated as "The  White Horse Inn".  It is set in the Salzkammergut and I think most people at the end of the performance would have developed a resolution that one day they too must see the Salzkammergut.

The literal meaning is "Salt office estate" -- a name that goes back to medieval times when salt was very valuable.  And the Salzkammergut included a salt mine.  There was even a fort built to protect the mine -- a fort called "Salt Fort", or, in German Salzburg.  That fort has given its name to the town near it, now better known as the birthplace of Mozart.

So the Salzkammergut was originally the area of Austria that came under the jurisdiction of the Salt Office, the Austrian  government department dealing with all matters salty.  It is not usually translated literally however.  It is usually rendered into English as "The Austrian Lake District" and it does have a great reputation for beauty.  The salt mine is only a small part of the story now.  It is now a tourist attraction.

A view of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut

UPDATE:  I am now trying to learn the chorus from the theme song of "Im weissen Roessl" but getting new rhymes into old heads is hard:

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee,
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

And here is the whole Salzkammergut song:

1. Im Salzkammergut da kann man gut lustig sein
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein
Wenn die Musi spielt, holdrio.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
So wie nirgendwo, holdrio.

Es blüht der Holunder
Den ganzen Sommer mitunter,
Jedoch die Liebe,
Die blüht s' ganze Jahr.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
Ja, das war schon immer so, holdrio.

2. Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau (von Robert Stolz)
Die ganze Welt ist himmelblau
Wenn ich in deine Augen schau'
Und ich frag dabei: Bist auch du so treu
Wie das Blau, wie das Blau Deiner Augen

Ein Blick nur in dein Angesicht
Und ringsum blüht Vergissmeinnicht
Ja, die ganze Welt machst du süsse Frau
So blau, so blau, so blau

3. Es muss was Wunderbares sein
Es muss was wunderbares sein
von dir geliebt zu werden
denn meine Liebe, die ist Dein
so lang ich leb auf Erden

Ich kann nichts schöneres mir denken
als dir mein Herz zu schenken
wenn du mir Dein's dafür gibst
und mir sagst, dass auch Du mich liebst.

4. Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein (von Robert Stolz)
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein.
Wenn beim ersten du ich mich an dich schmieg,
braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik.

Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein,
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein,
kann doch nur ein Liebeswalzer sein.

5. Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiss deine Sorgen!"

Und musst du dann einmal fort von hier,
und tut der Abschied dir weh;
denn dein Herz, das hast du verloren
im "Weissen Rössl" am See!

Just a sampling of the operetta below (not the version I have but well done).  Wait for the final chorale

And below is the ultra-feminine Anja Katharina Wigger and friend singing the "so blau" song.  If the dynamic linking does not work, go to the 36 minute mark on the video. There must be few operatic sopranos as good-looking as she is. There is some good video of her from the 46 minute mark too.