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.

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 marvellous Varasdin song ("Komm mit nach Varasdin") below:

The words are of course in German, but the music is international. 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.


I am a great fan of Schellenberger. I have even put up a fan site for her. She is a fabulous and expressive woman as well as a great Prussian soprano. And in operetta it helps if the ladies are good-looking. And Schellenberger is. We actually see more of her in Die lustige Witwe but IMHO she looks best when she wears Tracht -- towards the end of this show. The big skirts of country Austria do seem to be flattering generally.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fledermaus at Covent Garden

I obtained the DVD of the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Fledermaus some time back and, though it was generally very good, there were a few things I didn't like about it so I wanted to see the Moerbisch version, which, as it happens, was Harald Serafin's last production (in 2012), before handing over to Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin.

The casting

And I did like the Moerbisch version better. The role of "Adele" is a very important one in the show, arguably as important as "Rosalinde", so I was disappointed that the Covent Garden director cast a rather chunky-looking lady in the "Adele" role. She was just not a plausible romantic figure.

Serafin put Austrian soprano Daniela Fally into the role and I thought she was marvellous in every way in it. She is slim, not really a great beauty, but she is certainly a great singer and actress. When she opens her mouth wide and belts out those big soprano notes, it's Zauberfluss -- as Goethe might have said (Faust). She's a lovely lady, however you look at it.

And I am not alone in that opinion. Others have gushed over her in that role too. I am rather lost for words after the encyclopedic praise heaped on her by others so I will just repeat one comment I particularly agreed with: "Daniela Fally’s Adele is so charming and so brilliant that the leads seem forgettable by comparison".

And at the risk of being banal, it seems to me fitting that the home of operetta -- Austria -- should produce a brilliant operetta interpreter. She is brilliantly expressive in an operetta role but would that be too much in other settings? Possibly

Harald Serafin seems to have put her in the role before anyone else of note so he really started the ball rolling there. The encomia I have mentioned were all later than 2012.

Fally in full voice, the "Prince" on the left and Daniel Serafin (the bat) on the right

Fally as Bardot?

Harald Serafin also put his son Daniel into a major role in the show -- as "The Bat". But Daniel looked good and performed well so that was fine. As a big, well-built man, I thought he fitted the dominant part of "The bat" particularly well. I like manly men in operetta. He will have done well for his career by his performance there.

I greatly dislike trouser roles and the lady chosen to play the prince at Covent garden earned the full measure of my dislike in that regard. She was even a BALD woman (Yuk, yuk!). At Moerbisch, however, Harald Serafin cast Ukrainian mezzo Zoryana Kushpler in the role and I didn't mind her at all. Like a lot of people from the Slavic lands she has the rather broad face that is a legacy of the Mongol occupation so -- combined with a very severe hairstyle -- looked somewhat masculine. And, despite repeatedly declaring everything langweilig (boring) at the beginning of the show she in fact sang along and showed emotional involvement throughout most of the show. She showed notable rapture over the czardas. And she dominated the Duzen scene. She did well.

The czardas scene: The version by Kiri te Kanawa in the Covent Garden version of the show has been acclaimed as the definitive version of a czardas so how did the version in this show stack up? How well did Viennese soprano Alexandra Reinprecht do by comparison? I am inclined to agree that Kiri was slightly better but Reinprecht was still very good and moved around more while singing -- which added expression. Since the Csardas was originally a dance, Kiri's very static performance was quite old-fashioned

In my eccentric way, I also liked an Austrian soprano singing of her love for her Hungarian homeland. Austria is a lot closer to Hungary (right next door) than New Zealand, where Kiri hails from. And the association of Austria with Hungary is of course historic.

Alexandra Reinprecht would have been in her mid-30s in 2012 (as with many sopranos, her actual DoB seems to be a State Secret) and I liked her womanly appearance in the role better than I liked the looks of Kiri te Kanawa. For this show Serafin seems to have "borrowed" Reinprecht from the Wiener Staatsoper, where she had already played the role of Rosalinde -- so she had to be very good.

I am critical of a few things Harald Serafin did over the years as Intendant at Moerbisch but I have no criticism of him as an actor and singer. It is always a pleasure to see him appear in a show. And at age 80 on this occasion he still had it all. He adds an air of jollity and good humour to everything he does. He of course gets to choose the role that suits him but he has great talent for what he does. I noticed that he managed to sit and dance with Daniela Fally quite a lot. A privilege of also being Intendant!

Harald Serafin with Fally and "Ida" in the jail scene

Young Serafin also spent a lot of time with "Ida" during the show.

I did not like "Alfred", the music teacher, much. He sang well but he looked like a Mafioso to me. He was in fact an Australian -- Angus Wood. So maybe that shows how much I know! Why he was wearing such vast boots is a question. "Ugg boots" were an Australian invention so maybe that was it. An amusing Austrian impression of Australia!

As the butt of most of the jokes, Herbert Lippert, as "Eisenstein" undoubtedly acted and sang well. He acted very amusingly as the fake lawyer. Reinprecht acted well in that bracket too. She showed there how expressive she can be.

There were quite a lot of grisettes (can-can type dancers) in the show so there were a lot of lovely legs on display. As I am something of a leg-man, I liked that. My last (and I mean last) wife was 5'11" tall and a lady that tall has to have a lot of leg. She had lots else as well, of course. In pre-emptive reply to the usual feminist challenge, I think I had pretty good legs myself in my day. They were my only good bit!

At first, I thought that the duzen scene led by young Serafin was an interpolation. Young people in the German lands do normally these days address one-another "per du" (informally) so it was perfectly contemporary to have Daniel Serafin encouraging that usage, but I could not imagine Strauss and his librettists even thinking of such a scene in 1874. Millocker used such speech for comic effect in Bettelstudent (1882) but this show was praising it. It seems however that I was wrong about it being an interpolation. The Covent Garden version had the same scene -- totally unsubtitled! That was a coward's way out of an admittedly difficult translation task. More attempt to praise informality could surely have been attempted. As it was, that scene would have been pretty obscure to the English listeners.

Anyway, ending that scene with the Strauss "Donner und Blitz" polka certainly woke everybody up. And the constant Strauss waltzes throughout the show were wonderful, of course.

Humour in the show

The whole show was of course a very good farce, but, aside from that, the funny bits were mostly in the second half of the show, particularly in the localizations. Stage shows are very often localized for the particular audience so the localizations this time were different from the Covent Garden offering. The Covent Garden show even included a performance by "Sharl" Aznavour for some inscrutable reason. Even Aznavour himself looked a bit embarrassed to be there on that occasion.

The opening scene with the drunken prison guard was particularly rich with humorous localizations this time. It was one big comedy scene, in fact. There was mention of Lucas Auer, an Austrian racing driver, and of David Alaba, an Austrian-born black footballer.

And the Finanzministerin (Maria Fekter) was mocked for using an English expression in her speech -- the word "shortly". That usage became quite famous and even gets a mention in German Wikipedia. It related to an EU financial crisis:

Im Rahmen einer EU-Krisensitzung zur Schuldenkrise am 13. Juli 2011 meinte Fekter: „Die Zeit, die wir uns gegeben haben, ist shortly. Und auf Ihre Frage, was das heißt, sage ich Ihnen: shortly, without von delay“. Im Dezember 2011 wurde „shortly, without von delay“ zu Österreichs „Spruch des Jahres 2011“ gewählt". ("In December 2011 "shortly, without von delay" was chosen as Austria's Saying of the Year").

That saying was actually repeated in the operetta. It seems to have been very funny to Austrians. With their own massive cultural and historical inheritance I suppose that any any deference to another culture seems absurd.

There were actually a lot of references to Austrian current affairs in the drunken scene and only a minority of them got a laugh from the audience. I actually found some of them funnier than the audience did. There were mocking references to "transparency", which Obama critics could relate to, and the tendency of witnesses at official enquiries to have very bad memories was familiar. That was in fact heavily satirized by the drunken jailer. There were also critical references to political party funding so once again one has to say: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

Another entertainment in the show was various mentions of Moebisch in the script. The Moerbisch mosquitoes were yet again complained of and pity was shown for Moerbisch singers. There was even a silly rhyme of Moerbisch with "Dervish"

The drunker jailer also contributed to the self-referencing. When "Alfred" sang an invitation for him to sing, he replied: "No. I have a speaking role"

The scene of the two impostors pretending to speak French was not as well done this time. The Covent Garden version was hilarious but this time the scene mainly seemed tedious to me.


In comparing the Covent Garden and Moerbisch performances there was no contest. Both were brilliant entertainments for their respective audiences. Both the London producers and Harald Serafin had the whole world to draw on for the casting. The difference is that Serafin knew well the rich cultural scene of his own German lands. And he drew on that. And in so doing he made NO mistakes. He avoided a grotesque bald woman as the Prince and he picked a brilliant young singer/actor as "Adele". His long experience delivered the goods.

I have given away my DVD of the Covent Garden show. That bald woman really revolted me: She was repellent throughout -- whereas Serafin's "Prince" was actually quite warm for most of the show. The Covent Garden "Prince" was the worst bit of casting I have seen. A great pity in an otherwise entertaining production. Even in the trouser role of Handel's Giulio Cesare, as presented in 2006 at Glyndebourne, the woman at least had hair!

Because I was comparing the Moerbisch show with the Covent Garden show rather a lot, I have focused on the casting at Moerbisch above but my general comments about the operetta from last March still stand as a response to this operetta in general.

The ending was rather jolly but for once did not feature reunited lovers. The erring husband was however provisionally forgiven by his wife so that served as a happy ending.

I take an interest in who gets the most applause when the actors parade at the end of a show and Harald Serafin got the big applause this time. He would by now be a beloved figure to regulars at Moerbisch so that was perfectly appropriate. For him to be still performing well at age 80 was a wonder. A lifetime in operetta no doubt helped.

And Daniela Fally got a lot of applause too, second to Serafin -- richly deserved. I am still smiling as I bring some of her scenes to mind. That was a good line when she claimed to have a "margarine", instead of a "migraine". And her performance of her big aria "Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie" ("The Laughing Song") was triumphant, with a very satisfactory high note at the end.

There are some extensive excerpts of the show online here. Rather low resolution, unfortunately.

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.

Sunday, March 22, 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 a 1973 cinematic version of 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.

So Lehar's Zigeuner Liebe was rather insightfully didactic.  The glorification of gypsies was rather common  in Austro/Hungarian operetta so Lehar used his great talents in an attempt to right the balance.  In this show he first set out the attractions of the gypsy life, as conventionally conceived, and then showed its downside.  And there was lots of good singing to make the lesson enjoyable

Didactic art can be very good (e.g. Dickens) but that tends to get subordinated to the message.  And in this show there were very few jokes and no characters that one could identify with.  Janet Perry is/was a very nice looking lady and a good singer but I certainly could not see much engaging about the thoroughly scatty woman she portrayed.

And I must comment on "Ilona". She was convincingly portrayed by Colette Lorand and she fitted exactly what my father would have called "An old bomb".  I am not sure how widely that bit of Australian slang is understood but -- approximately --  it means an older lady who thinks she is still as attractive as she was in her youth and is rather arrogant and egotistical as a result:  An unpleasant but realistic character. I quite loathed her. But in a characteristic  Australian way I loathe pretention and egotism generally. It's "bunging on an act" and it's not "fair dinkum".  I could translate those expressions but I think I already have.

So it was good a show but not one to return to very often.

Saturday, March 21, 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 an operetta. For about the last 3 weeks I have watched it in whole or in part EVERY DAY. It is a very popular operetta, however, so again my preferences are not exactly strange.  

I have a DVD of the 2008 Moerbisch performance of Im weissen Roessl (The White Horse Inn).  You too can see it.  It is online here. My DVD has English subtitles but the online version is in German only.  

Moerbisch is a small lakeside town much visited as a summer holiday resort which has a huge auditorium for stage plays of various sorts.  The auditorium was packed for the performance I saw, as it usually is.  

For a start the 2008 Moerbisch performance was sponsored by ORF (Oesterreichischer Rundfunk; the Austrian State broadcaster) and they seem to have supported a resolution to make the show 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 and good looking.  The ladies were gorgeous and the character actors were brilliant in filling their parts.  

The many versions of the play over the years that have been performed do differ quite a bit, and this one also has its custom adaptations.  The play by now has been put on so often by so many that it has no "Masoretic" text.  The famous Robert Stolz "Goodbye" song, for instance (Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier) is only heard in English language versions of this show.  In German, it occurred originally in an operetta Die lustigen Weiber von Wien, which now seems to be known only in a movie version ("The Merry Wives of Vienna") but it was later interpolated into movie versions of this show too.

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 opinionated later artistic directors.

The plot

The plot is so complex, with everything intertwined, that I doubt that I can say anything useful about it. There is the main theme of the head waiter mooning after his very attractive landlady and the second theme of the lawyer being completely smitten by the gorgeous daughter of the haughty Berlin businessman -- but late in the show a third couple pop up, when a poor professor and his shy daughter encounter another very confident Berliner.  The complexity makes for a lot of laughs and some good arias. And there are, of course, three happy couples at the end.

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 (played by Harald Serafin) 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, but he has done that before so it apparently amuses him.

The cast

Intendant Harald Serafin as usual gave himself a part -- as Kaiser -- and he always does his parts well.  I think he is a naturally jolly person and something of that always comes through.  His nearly falling down the ladder was a good humorous touch. And the consternation that produced in his "subjects" was also very convincingly done. I think he did particularly well in this show.  Though his best performance in my view was in Das Land des Laechelns, where he portrayed wonderfully well the sadness of a father sending off his beautiful daughter to a dubious fate.  He normally does not give himself anything very tragic to portray but he can certainly do it.

And I wonder who wrote the wise words that he put in the hotel register.  They really were wise words IMHO.

Both the leading ladies were 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.  Harald Serafin could not quite keep his eyes off her cleavage when she was leaning over him. Nor could I, for that matter. 

Trying to fend off her unwelcome admirer

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 that time and place seen as a sign of  Treue -- Faithfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty.  You could rely on a person with blue eyes.  There is also a mention of blue eyes as loyal towards the end of Die Lustige Witwe by Lehar.  It has got me wondering if there is something in that. I can think of a reason why there could be something in it:  Blue eyes are cold-climate eyes and co-operation is probably more important to survival in such climates.  And trustworthiness is important to co-operation.

And the ultra-feminine 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 something of a rarity.  Sopranos do tend to weight after a while.  And Wigger got her notes effortlessly.  So she is definitely one of my favourite operatic sopranos. 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 amused 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.

And Sigismund der schoene, as the egotistical but aging playboy, was a manic touch.  And the poor Professor and his daughter in the luggage compartment was a good light-hearted touch of another sort: Self-confidence finally overcomes shyness.

But 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 and over again. There were jokes throughout the play but Herr Giesecke was basically one big joke.  All his appearances were funny.

The continuity people goofed with him, however.  In the course of  two days his moustache went from white to black and then back to white again!

The jokes

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 from just one of his scenes.  The North/South rivalry in the German lands often seems to get some mention in operetta and here it was played out at length.  In Germany the stern "Prussians" (Northerners) look down on the more relaxed Southerners but the Southerners don't care one bit about that.  They know that they have the culture so the North is welcome to its soldiers.

So Herr Giesecke 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 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 long 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"!  

That was quite a big and jolly scene but he crops up later in the play as well.  At the very end when all the couples are happily together he appears and says that in Berlin they would call that knutschen -- "smooching".

Other notes

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 (Kapfinger) 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.

And all performances at Moerbisch seem to incorporate a complaint about the local mosquitoes. It is a bit of a game to watch for the mention of them to pop up.  There were two mentions of them on this occasion:  A penalty of the Moerbisch stage being located on the marshy shore of a lake, of course.  Pest control can obviously not quite cope.

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!"

But I think I should just note something about the German nicknames in the play for those who know no German.  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. 

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 have (temporarily) stopped watching Im weissen Roessl.  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.


The words and translation of "Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein"

 Was mein Herz zu sagen hat, What my heart has said,
Fühlst auch du, you feel too;
Was die Uhr geschlagen hat, what hour the clock has struck,
Weisst auch du. you know too.
Und hast du kein Ohr für mich, And if you will not listen to me,
Finde ich keine Ruh’, I shall find no peace,
Drum hör zu, drum hör zu. so listen, listen.
Sag’ ich es in Prosa dir, klingt es kühn. If I say it to you in prose, it sounds bold.
Das ist nicht das Rechte für mein Gefühl. That is not right for my feelings.
Aber, wenn die Geigen zärtlich für mich fleh’n But, if the violin sweetly pleads on my behalf,
Wirst du gleich mich versteh’n: you will understand me:
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein. full of floral scents and sunshine.
Wenn beim ersten du, ich mich an dich schmieg, The first time that you and I cuddle up,
Braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik. my heart will need sweet waltz music.
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein. sweetly intoxicating, like champagne.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, „Ich bin dein“, And the song which says, ‘I am yours’
Kann doch nur ein Wiener Walzer sein. can only be a Viennese waltz.
Wenn der Liebe Lust und Schmerz einen packt, When Love bundles pleasure and pain together into one,
Schlägt ein jedes Menschenherz seinen Takt! every human heart beats its own rhythm!
Jeder singt für sich partout Everyone everywhere sings their own song
Und auch der Text dazu heisst: and that’s what the old saying means:
„Chacun à son goût!“ ‘Each to their own!’
Einer gibt den grössten Reiz der Gavott’ One is most attracted by the gavotte;
Und der and’re seinerseits liebt mehr flott! another prefers, for his part, to love more quickly!
Und es wechseln Moll und Dur, And it switches minor and major keys;
Ja, c’est l’amour. Aber ich sage nur: yes, that is love. But I say only this:
Mein Liebeslied… My love song must be a waltz…

And I can't resist putting up here the words for the wonderful "Goodbye" song:

Und eines Tages mit Sang und Klang Da zog ein Fähnrich zur Garde Ein Fähnrich, jung und voll Leichtsinn und schlank Auf der Kappe die goldene Kokarde

Da stand die Mutter vor ihrem Sohn Hielt seine Hände umschlungen Schenkt ihm ein kleines Medaillon Und sie sagt zu ihrem Jungen:

Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiss mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu. Sei das Glück mit dir

Stehe gerade, kerzengerade Lache in den Sonnentag Was immer gescheh'n auch mag Hast du Sorgenminen, fort mit ihnen Ta-ta-ra-ta-ta Für Trübsal sind andere da

Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiß mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Sei das Glück mit dir Adieu, Adieu mein kleiner Offizier, Adieu

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.


Sunday, March 15, 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!.

Saturday, March 14, 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

Thursday, March 12, 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.

Wednesday, March 11, 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

Tuesday, March 10, 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.