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#TomLehrer in #Australia (also, happy 90th…)

Tom Lehrer celebrated his 90th birthday today – he’s definitely old and grey.

Born in New York, Lehrer began studying classical piano aged seven. However, popular music caught his eye, and he began writing show tunes . A prodigy, he started at Harvard aged 15. There he began to write comic songs, including a spoof football fight song –  “Fight Fiercely, Harvard” – which has been performed ever since.

By 1953 he had enough songs to release a 12 song album ‘Songs by Tom Lehrer’, which included classics like “The Old Dope Peddler” (“he gives the kids free samples, because he knows full well, that today’s young innocent faces will be tomorrow’s clientele”, a song telling boy scouts to “Be Prepared” (culminating – spoiler alert – in the invocation to always carry condoms) and other songs from the silly to the downright macabre.

Since US radio stations wouldn’t play songs about murder, racism, plagiarism and worse, the album was a ‘sleeper hit’ – spreading by word of mouth. Lehrer later recalled “lacking exposure in the media, my songs spread slowly. Like herpes, rather than ebola.”

Lehrer spent the next few years working as a researcher at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and was drafted into the Army from 1955 to 1957. He continued to play nighclubs in Boston, Manhattan and San Francisco, His musical “career” then received a huge boost from…. Princess Margaret. The oration accompanying her honorary doctorate in music from the University of London mentioned her liking for Lehrer’s work.

(Lehrer ended up performed in front of the royal family, and afterwards Prince Philip shook his hand and said he’d always enjoyed listening to “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”. Lehrer asked if the Queen liked it too. “Oh, she thinks it’s horrid. She leaves the room if we put it on”.)

The BBC was less shy than American radio stations about playing his songs, and Lehrer became well known in the UK, having sold 370,000 records by the end of the 1950s.

And then, in 1960, taking the opportunity that his new-found fame allowed him, he visited the Australia of Robert Menzies….

On tour in Australia

Lehrer’s music was already on the Australian radar. The previous year a Labor MP had asked the Prime Minister if he knew any of Lehrer’s work, which had been withdrawn by the record company EMI from sale for fear of offence (and possibly banned).

Menzies denied knowledge – “Do I gather that these songs are romantic or what?”

During his tour Lehrer made mock efforts to set the record straight.

When he performed in Brisbane, the chief of police tried to prevent Lehrer singing Be Prepared (aside its condom advice it had also advised “don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice, unless you get a good percentage of her price”).

While audiences in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney got the full benefit of Lehrer’s decidely cynical and bleak worldview (surely influenced by Yiddish sensibilities), Adelaide was not so lucky. Ruled with an iron fist by Thomas Playford, South Australia was not ready for Lehrer.

A young ALP MP called Don Dunstan asked questions of Playford about censorship, but to no avail. During his two nights of performing at Adelaide Town Hall, there were five songs which were off-limits. His audience knew those songs, and at one point he teasingly began to play one of them. Lehrer apparently quipped that South Australia had the “finest 18th century government in the world”.

Lehrer took it all in his stride, saying that having been “banned, censored, mentioned in several houses of parliament and threatened with arrest” was “the highlight of his life”.

tom lehrer discovers australiaThe tour resulted in an album of live recordings “Tom Lehrer discovers Australia (and vice versa)” (the cover shows him in a staring contest with a kangaroo). Lehrer also debuted a song that couldn’t be banned- “The Masochism Tango” (“I ache for the touch of your lips dear, but much more for the touch of your whips dear…”)

Aftermath

After Australia Lehrer briefly taught political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (and presumably got confused with Noam Chomsky, who is exactly the same age.)

He then produced a flurry of brilliant topical songs for a short-lived satirical TV show called ‘That was the week that was’. The album (That Was the Year that Was’ covers smut, the teaching of ‘new math’ and – infamously – a song about the German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun (‘once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down, that’s not my department says Werhner von Braun’.)

And then – tired of touring, tired of singing the same songs, and with real life becoming ever less funny, Lehrer basically retired from performing. His last gig, in 1972, was a fundraiser for the doomed Presidential candidate George McGovern.

He then spent 40 years teaching math and American popular music at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 1999 the British historian Martin Gilbert named Lehrer as one of the 10 great figures of the previous 100 years. “Lehrer was able to express and to expose, in humorous verse and lilting music, some of the most powerful dangers of the second half of the century … Many of the causes of which Lehrer sang became, three decades later, part of the main creative impulse of mankind,”

Indeed, for a man who hasn’t really performed since 1972, Lehrer’s fan-base remains enormous (full disclosure: my one appearance on the UK ‘Mastermind’ hinged on my specialist round -the songs of Tom Lehrer.)  In 2012, when the rapper 2 Chainz, a rapper, asked to sample “The Old Dope Peddler” in one of his tracks, Mr Lehrer was keen to help. “I grant you motherfuckers permission to do this,” he supposedly answered. “Please give my regards to Mr Chainz, or may I call him 2?”

So, to celebrate this man, have a trawl through his (remarkably small number of) songs.

I guarantee there will be something to delight, horrify and amuse, as you slide down the razor blade of life…

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Guilty Pleasure: Jackson Lamb thrillers

Pointy end of the thesis is upon me. I am getting it done. I’d possibly be getting it done marginally quicker if it weren’t for Mick Herron‘s “Jackson Lamb” thrillers.

I stumbled on the first, Slow Horses in a charity shop in Glossop (as you do). The conceit looked amusing – what if MI5 had the same problem as any other large organisation – there are always people who should never have been recruited, who have screwed up or burnt out but are too difficult to sack directly (they know where the bodies are buried, or would cause awkward scenes). So, what do you do, you slough them of to somewhere and give them meaningless work until they quit… It probably happens, who knows.

So, we have Slough house (get it – Slow, slough of despond, sloughing off dead skin – ain’t English wonderful?), a nondescript building near Barbican where assorted drunks, gamblers, anti-socials and so on are under the caustic eye of one Jackson Lamb, a gross and harsh figure, somewhere between Pantagruel and the police chief Rawls in The Wire.

The Wire analogy is not amiss – in both we see law enforcement agencies struggling with budgets, office politics, incompetence and malice, before they even get round to their ostensible job (protecting the punters).

So far there have been four books (I gave the first to my mother-in-law, who went out and got the next three, read them and gave them back via the book delivery service also known as The Wife).

Slow Horses deals introduced Lamb’s charges – there’s a bravura opening sequence involving a young agent-in-training, River Cartwright trying to track down a terrorist in King’s Cross tube station. It all goes wrong…

I’ll copy and paste the Amazon blurb –

when a young man is abducted, and his kidnappers threaten to behead him live on the internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone involved has their own agenda . . .

Dead Lions is the equally satisfying sequel – a clever weaving together of Cold War concerns, vaulting ambition and London’s super-rich.

The third, Real Tigers, has one slow horse kidnapped and the others not sure what is going on. There is a description of one British politician (a large loud blond who says things like ‘cripes’ and so on) that must have had the libel lawyers earning their keep…
This, about MI5’s problem with storing its hard-copy files was fun –

“For once, it seemed, Ingrid Tearney and Dian Taverner had been of one mind. A Confidential Storage facility was required, separate from Regent’s Park, and ticking three main boxes; acreage, security and a potential for plausible damage. In other word,s somewhere files could easily be said to have been lost to fire and flood, or eaten by rats, or consumed by mould.” (p68)

The fourth, Spook Street, finally succumbs to the hoary old “old mission/blowback/the Cold War” device for its plot and gets away with it thanks to Herron’s writing ability.

Each book takes place over a matter of days (in Spook Street one very very busy day indeed), with back stories slowly unfolding, punctuated with sudden and plausible violence

Herron can write dialogue, and create characters (it matters when slow horses die, and they do.) He’s good at mis-direction and his plotting and pacing are excellent.

Tl:dr This is a series to keep up with. But AFTER MY THESIS.

ABC Insiders 24 September 2017 – observations

Abc Insiders 24 September

So, there was an ‘extra’ bit with Barrie Cassidy pondering the consequences of Abbott’s behaviour for energy policy (compare coorey article on same topic in AFR).

Programme itself opens with interview/intersplice with the headbutt guy in Hobart

Sadly no music over the top of this- too controversial? Could have had

“Can’t get you out of my head” by Kylie Minogue or “Headbutt” The King Blues

Then Kiwis and their election is discussed

Then ALP deputy leader Tanya Plibersek (super slick at what she does – on top of her brief etc) on  same sex marriage, universities, and then energy policy at 19.50.

She talks about emissions intensity scheme/clean energy target as ‘number two approach’, happy to compromise to introduce this, gas reservation policy, more renewables.

The problem is all inside the liberal and national parties, small rump of people who are absolute wreckers.

Are you prepared to walk back a bit from renewables in spirit of compromise?

She doesn’t say yes or no,  says already compromising, renewables becoming cheaper than coal – they are the pathway

Do you need to go to 50 per cent so fast?
People would argue over whether its so fast… Certainty and investment when Labor was in charge…

Followed by the musical montage  “A targeted threat’- about, energy policy and the Abbott/Turnbull stoush, the song – Charlie Puth Attention

Murphy – Abbott is doing frontrunning (she wrote on this earlier in the week…)

Abbott is building a poison pill into the process – if Turnbull builds a bipartisan consensus, what country needs, Abbott will dress it up as betrayal of conservative values.

Fran Kelly – AEMO says reliability problem is this and next summer (coal fired power stations take YEARS to build)…

then clip of Rod Simms of ACCC at the National Press Club saying no single policy will delviery cheqapness, reliability and emissions reductions…

More headbutt stuff from 37 and a half minutes

Hilarious Cory Bernardi Streisand Effect thing

Malcolm Roberts is toast, surely.

North Korea – yeah, we’re all doomed.

Cartoons were awesome

 

Overall – 9 out of 10..  Insiders at its best…

Activism: ffs, read this – Building Movements, Not Organizations

Building Movements, Not Organizations

Creating a healthy, humane world will require more than new organizational designs. It will take rethinking the nature of organizations entirely….

What might be possible, therefore, if socially minded organizations and businesses acted more like movements than organizations? And what might that look like in practice?
To answer those questions, consider how we might re-define the following three factors: success, leadership, and means.

Here.

AMEEF – burnishing the mining industry

AMEEF was established in October 1991, as the Ecologically Sustainable Development Process was peaking.  One of the first things they did was a listing of all articles environmental, with a lovely cover.

1991 ameef

Ten years later, it was still going (but would be shut down a bit later).  I stumbled across its magazine, Groundwork, recently.  Not much of interest, but they did get a new logo. And they were run by someone who had done green stuff for the Business Council of Australia back in the early 1990s.  A small world, of course, this green capitalism gig…

2001 ameef logo

and who was stumping up?  The usual suspects…

2001 ameef supporters

Blog- Thurs 6 to Sun 9 July

Thursday 6
Around the park  five times
Two hours at microfiche tracking down crucial newspaper articles for the carbon tax 1994/1995 story. Dead useful, developed a couple of new tricks of how to get the info v. quickly
Good meeting with a research librarian, who was super helpful, and put me onto an academic I am meeting up with on Thursday.
Scanning some important stuff (and also pages from John Howard’s  memoir ‘Lazarus Rising).
Cycled home and had three games of scrabble with dad, won two lost one.
Did lots more  grunt work around the stuff I collected earlier today (this matters – if I have learned anything it is the importance of doing the grunt work as you go!!)
Insomnia!
Reading Anna Krien’s excellent Quarterly Essay on coal, coral and climate change.  We’re toast, and she is almost as good as Elizabeth Kolbert, which is High Praise Indeed.

Friday 7
Insomnia – working on thesis at stupid o’clock.  Then, in the morning,  one game of scrabble with mum Lift into town (raining!)  Two hours in State Library – got the hang of some software/hardware, scanned some useful stuff. And some trainspottery stuff. It’s not always possible to know in advance which is which.
Very little/nothing in Keating biographies about climate, which is telling re: what a low priority it was – I don’t think he got involved at all in the spat over the tax itself.  And forestry took up all the oxygen.
Then fantastic meet up with lovely chap who it turns out I had met once before.  Really inspiring and energising to meet someone on the same wavelength.  He’s into Arendt, and a whole lot of other stuff. Looking forward to introducing him to various folks (inc The Wife).  Walked home, making it ahead of the rain.
Meanwhile, that March tweet by Elon Musk was coming true – the one about building a 100Mw power storage facility ‘or it’s free’.
More work (typing up bits of a book I read, then tracking down the relevant factoids. Never underestimate the willingness/brass neck of trade associations to just MAKE SHIT UP.

Saturday 8
Walked around the park times five, followed by scrabble tournament with my ma.  Played 6, won 4 (one by a single point). Got totally totally thrashed in the first game.  Largely enjoyable. People are strange.
A bus up to somewhere to see a film (not very good) and endure a truly excruciatingly bad meeting.  We will never learn, it seems. It was heart-breakingly bad.  Then long wait for a bus back, but that is a first world problem, and one of my own making (I shoulda left earlier).
In the meantime, read a lot of Mark Butler’s Climate Wars, and will be late getting the review written, but only by a day, so not the end of the world…
Got up to watch some Federer, but fell asleep towards the end of each set…

Sunday 9
Backpain, possibly from all that walking with a backpack…  I never learn.  Watched The Insiders, with Lenore Taylor, Shane Wright and Mike Seccombe (all journos I am referencing in my thesis) talking about the week’s events.  Barnaby Joyce trying and failing to minimise the significance of the Weatherill/Musk announcement.  That %#$* Chris Uhlman ripping into Trump (apparently it went viral in DC).
Turns out my Gunther Anders conversation piece has been popping up in different places. Currently over 28k views, putting it second in my most-viewed conversation pieces. Odd.
Then off to the library. Got a bit of reading of Senate stuff done (from the mid-1990s) and borrowed some books I will probably only read about ten pages of  (e.g.  a Joe Hockey biography. Srsly).  Then went through the print-off of the 94/5 chapter and then made changes, added bits etc. This took hours, but was worth it, because now aged female parental has a hard copy that she is very kindly reading. Must iterate, basically.  This can guide what else I do, research wise.  Actually would like to do a couple of interviews….
Thank goodness I had no money on me today, otherwise I would have bought an anthology of Meanjin for $2 and a zombie comedy memoir for 50c.  Cough, cough.

May-DUP coalition and #climate change

Note: I pitched this a couple of weeks to a news outlet, was told yes/no/maybe and then waited.. and waited.  Further correspondence unanswered, so am posting it here, if only for posterity….

 

Let’s play a game of pretend.  Let’s pretend that the deal wounded Prime Minister Theresa May has stitched with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party lasts for at least one of the five years she mentioned in her speech on Friday morning.

The deal is causing some Tory MPs concern, with some warning party whips that a formal deal would be opposed, thanks to the DUP’s positions on abortion, gay rights and climate change. Basically, they’re worried that the deal will further re-toxify the Tories.

Let’s pretend that she won’t be “gone in six months” , or in fact at “the end of next week”. What might we have to look forward to on climate change, which was predictably absent from the election campaign ? First we should briefly recap the DUP and some of its climate change positions.
Who are the DUP and what actually is their view on climate change

The DUP is a political party in Northern Ireland,  founded in 1971 (at the height of the Troubles) by Ian Paisley, who led it for the next 38 years. It’s now led by Arlene Foster,  who probably came to the attention of most English voters only when the Good Friday power-sharing arrangement was suspended earlier this year when the she had to resign over a scandal about energy efficiency…

The DUP has now got ten members of Parliament. One of them is Sammy Wilson. Back in 2009, as environment minister in Northern he banned UK Government ads which exhorting people to “Act on C02.”

It’s unclear how much the DUP will try to hold up the May government on social and environmental issues though.  For one, they’re probably simply more interested in what happens with the European Union (they’re keen to avoid a ‘hard border’).   The editor of Belfast’s Unionist-leaning daily News Letter Sam McBride says

“They’ve been very pragmatic, are very malleable when they have to be, have governed [in Northern Ireland] for a decade now with Sinn Fein, who are diametrically opposed to them on almost every ideological sphere.”

Secondly, they know that there are powerful Tories who would push back if they tried to push, for example, on gay rights.  Ruth Davidson, leader of the Tories in Scotland, has secured agreement from Theresa May that the DUP deal will not affect LGBTI

So, perhaps they will not have much obvious impact on environmental decisions. Time will tell.

 

What big climate decisions are coming up that might be affected?

The first indication of May’s agenda (if she is indeed still Prime Minister: rumours are swirling) will be the “Queens Speech” on Monday 19th June.  [It was delayed]

This is the formal opening of the new parliament, where the Queen reads out the government’s legislative agenda.

Wags are already predicting it will be the  shortest Queens Speech ever., given so many things can’t be talked about, thanks to pressure not just from DUP, but also marginal MPs.  If climate change gets a more than a passing mention, I’ll eat this …  article, a la Matthew Goodwin

 

In autumn the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will have to keep his promise.  In his spring budget Philip Hammond put off changes to the UK’s carbon price until his autumn 2017 budget. As per Carbon Brief,

“Subjects not mentioned in the budget include flooding, shale gas (a favourite of former chancellor George Osborne) and a diesel scrappage scheme, which campaigners say is needed to tackle the UK’s chronic air pollution. Hammond also did not mention renewables or carbon targets, in a lightweight budget document that clocked just 68 pages, compared to 148 in last year’s version.”

With regard to renewables, there are great concerns about a policy vacuum  following the closure of the Renewables Obligation to new capacity.

According to Adam Vaughan, the Guardian’s energy correspondent, drawing on a Green Alliance  study

“investment in windfarms will fall off a “cliff edge” over the next three years and put the UK’s greenhouse gas reduction targets at risk, with more than £1bn of future investment in renewable energy projects disappeared over the course of 2016, the Green Alliance found when it analysed the government’s latest pipeline of major infrastructure plans.”

“The final closure of the Renewables Obligation to new capacity in 2017 – ending a scheme that’s responsible for 23.4% of all electricity supplied in the UK in 2015-16 – can only mean even fewer renewable generation sites coming online in the next year.”

Another  reportStaying Connected: Key Elements for UK–EU27 Energy Cooperation After Brexit, jointly authored by Chatham House, the University of Exeter and the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), argues that there are strong practical reasons for treating energy as a special case during Brexit negotiations. If common ground could be found on energy during the Brexit negotiations, it would, according to the authorts benefit both the UK and the EU,

Sure, but there seems to be a widening gap between what ‘could’ and ‘should’ happen and what seems possible.

Meanwhile, at some point the much delayed (actually AWOL) emissions reduction plan will have to get released at some point.

As for the  post-Brexit positions (given that the UK will no longer be within the EU bloc in the UNFCCC negotiations), well, that’s doesn’t seem near the top of anyone’s to do list.

Basically, there is no end in sight to what academic Malcolm Keay has described as the “ideological limbo” in which the UK

“risks getting the worst of both worlds – without the coordination and direction which could come from a centralised approach or the efficiencies and innovation which might emerge from a more consistent market based policy. UK energy policy [risks being] not be fit for purpose and will fail to meet its key goals, of economic effectiveness, environmental protection and energy security.”

Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide accumulates