Monday, May 30, 2011

Little Cat's Big Journey

Five years ago, Pinks the cat (named after his pink nose) went missing from his home in Glasgow. As the time wore on, his owners came to the sad conclusion that they would never see him again.

In recent weeks, however, an apparently stray cat had started lurking in the vicinity of McAllister's Recovery in Aldershot, a vehicle rescue and recovery business. The collarless cat was seen to catch a mouse and had been scrounging food from McAllister's human staff. Eventually one of them took the cat (whom they had named Betty) to a vet, who was able to identify him as Pinks from his microchip. The Glaswegian cat had somehow travelled 400 miles.

Pinks, now 11 years old, is due to be picked up by his ecstatic owners in the next few days. Staff of McAllsiter's report that they will miss their little feline friend.


Other cat news:

Stowaway cat travels 70 miles

Stowaway cat travels a mile or two

And… is this the cat with the world's loudest purr?

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Four Concerts. Four Days. Day Three.

On the Saturday there were no concerts. Here instead is a picture of a Panda and a Panda's friend. But which is which?

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image source

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lion v. Tiger

Who would win a fight between a lion and a tiger? This is a question that has long exercised inquiring minds. People generally think of lions and tigers as living in separate places – the former in Africa, the latter in Asia. However, there are still Asian lion populations (albeit in areas without tigers), and in the relatively recent past lions and tigers in India had overlapping ranges. Furthermore, there are some plans to reintroduce lions to parts of India that still boast tiger populations, so the question of how a fight between the two species would end up is not entirely abstract.

Thankfully, the University of Minnesota's Lion Research Centre has given some consideration to this important question. Although tigers are bigger than lions, they feel that the lion would have considerable advantages in any conflict with his fellow big cat. For one thing, lions are social animals while tigers are solitary, which would be likely to pit a single tiger against a group of lions, a battle the striped behemoth would be unlikely to win.

In one-on-one battles, the balance would shift somewhat to the tiger. This would be particularly noticeable where a lioness to fight a male or female tiger, as female lions are considerably smaller than their male counterparts, while male and female tigers are equally large. A single male lion, however, might not do so badly against a tiger. For one thing, the lion's mane could confuse the tiger, and the fighting experience male lions earn from laying into each other for access to females would give them an edge over their striped foes.

All in all, it looks like lions would be able to hold their own against tigers, but further research and the reintroduction of lions into tiger ranges is needed before a definitive conclusion can be reached.

More (scroll down to "Who would win in a fight between a tiger and a lion?"

Social Lions image source

Solitary Tiger (and cub) image source

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Four Concerts. Four Days. Day Two.

National Concert Hall: Alan Buribayev conducts Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninov

The second day was a Friday, which meant that I found myself at the National Concert Hall to see the National Symphony Orchestra playing Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. This is of course the music we all know from the film 2001 and from whenever particularly bombastic music is required to accompany visual images. Beyond that it is a somewhat odd piece of music. The bit everyone knows is right at the beginning, and after that the piece becomes a lot less bombastic (which might be just as well, as I think audiences would explode if the opening level of attack were maintained throughout the piece). The rest is far more restrained, albeit with occasional hints of the beginning's sturm und drang. The piece actually trails off in a quietness completely at odds with the opening, possibly reflecting the work by Nietzsche that inspired it.

The National Symphony Orchestra were being conducted by Alan Buribayev, the Kazakh conducting sensation. He gave good jumping around conductor action, particularly during the opening of the piece.

I also enjoyed the Rachmaninov piece that came after the interval – a choral number from 1913 called The Bells. But the night for me was all about Zarathustra.

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image source

A link to a link

Over on my other blog I have made a brief post about the unpleasant Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, linking to an article on the Guardian website about how the case would perhaps never have come to light if the hotel in question had not been unionised. See here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Good Dog Suckles Ligers

Ligers are the offspring of male lions and female tigers. They are believed to occur only in captivity, even though lions and tigers have historically had overlapping ranges. They are basically unnatural monsters, far larger than their parents (for strange genetic reasons I will not go into here).

In China's Xixiakou Wildlife Park, a tiger recently gave birth to a litter of liger cubs, of which two survived. After a few days the mother stopped feeding the cubs, perhaps recognising their difference from normal tiger young. This would normally have spelled curtains for the cross-breeds, but an unnamed mother dog has stepped into the breach. Free from judgemental attitudes towards ligers, she is suckling the cubs as though they were her own

Ligers reputedly grow up to enjoy swimming (like tigers) and to like socialising with other big cats (like lions). Ligers display some approximation to tiger stripes. Male ligers have at best rudimentary manes.

Zoos normally keep lions and tigers separate (as much to stop them killing each other as to stop them interbreeding), so the Xixiakou ligers may be indicators of a certain cavalier attitude there to animal welfare.


Wikipedia Ligers

see also

Monday, May 23, 2011

Four Concerts. Four Days. Day One.

The Joinery: Barn Owl and friends

Join me as I embark on a musical journey, one that takes me to see four concerts in four days. First up we have me paying a trip out to Stoneybatter to catch a concert in The Joinery. This is an odd place. Imagine if more or less in the middle of a quiet suburban street there was a former workshop that had been converted into a venue for kewl avant-garde concerts. That is what we have with the Joinery, somewhere that has a distinct "Let's put on the concert right here!" vibe to it. They do not have an alcohol license, so if you fancy a drink you need to bring it yourself. Indeed, if you fancy anything you would probably not want to expect the Joinery to provide it. But no problem, they are conveniently located near to one of Dublin's best off licenses so any hardened alcoholic music lovers will not want for sustenance.

The other funny thing about the Joinery is its near complete lack of seating – if you fancy resting your tired little feet then you will have to sit on the floor. But the floor is bare concrete, meaning that you might well end up getting a little parky. Oh well, the things we do for art.

On the bill were three sets of musicians. Before they played we were treated to what sounded like someone DJing from Shoegaze Obscurities Vol. 7 while someone's home video was projected onto a wall. Then the first performer came on and did his thing with a laptop, which sounded oddly similar to the music being DJed. I am well known for my dislike of laptop music, but the set and setting worked well for this, creating a pleasantly avant-garde musical atmosphere.

Next up was a duo comprising some bloke (whose name may have been Jefre Cantu-Ledesma), formerly of a band fairly well known to some people, and a woman wearing a fetching hijab-like getup on her head. The man played on a heavily treated guitar while the woman vocalised into microphones that ran her voice through some kind of apparatus. I liked these two as well, but I thought maybe they could have done more with the voice, as it was not particularly noticeable in the finished product. This made for an unfavourable comparison with the time I saw Double Leopards, who for me are very much the acme of using strange treated voices to make weirdo music.

Last up we had Barn Owl. They are two blokes who play slow guitar and effects pedals. They might have used some vocals as well, but they were not one of those bands where you are primarily interested in the lyrics. The music reminded me a bit of (((Sunn-O))), perhaps because they are the most famous band who play slow guitar without any rhythm section. Anyway, I liked them enough to buy their album (partly pay-back for somehow managing to walk into the concert without being asked to buy a ticket).

A fun night was therefore had in the Joinery, though I might think of growing a beard for my next visit there, as they seemed kind of mandatory among male attendees.

image source

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Unthanks

These are a band from the North of England comprising two sisters (Rachel and Becky Unthank) and some other musicians. They play music that draws from the Northumbrian folk tradition. I went to see them playing in Vicar Street, following along my friends in an easily led manner.

Before saying too much about the Unthanks I will first mention the support band, Trembling Bells. I think I had them mixed up with any number of other bands in my mind – Trembling Blue Stars, Howling Bells, School of Seven Bells, Broken Bells, the Belle Stars, etc. – and consequently was not really expecting much from them. However, they turned out to be purveyors of a rather appealing folk-rock blend like mama used to make, referencing that Fairport Convention vibe by having an amazingly talented lady singer whose luminous voice soared and shone above us.

For all that, the Trembling Bells did not seem to be entirely retro, or at least not entirely recreative of the late 1960s folk rock sound, with some of their tunes managing to suggest an influence by Thin Lizzy (in the guitar sounds) or the early 1990s shoegazers. They also looked great – at one point one of them joked that they had modelled their appearance on Scooby Doo extras and I could see their point but thought they looked cooler than that. So I enjoyed them a lot (much more than most of my friends who were at this concert) and regret not picking up one of their albums on the night. Does anyone know anything further about them?

The Unthanks themselves – well they be folky. I think most of the songs are traditional tunes from Northumbria, typically about coal mining, ship building, manufacturing industry and other vanished folk customs of that part of the world. They also have songs about people being unlucky and love and that kind of thing. Rachel and Becky do most of the singing, though some of the others provide occasional backing vocals. The music is maybe a bit more full-on than the folky set up would suggest, embracing a variety of string and brass instruments that you would not normally associate with folk music, as well as electric instruments of various types.

Some of my colleagues were a bit less than fond of the first couple of songs ("it sounds a bit like Clannad!"), with things being considered a bit too far removed from what folky music is meant to sound like. But either we were assimilated to the Unthank sound or they moved to tunes more like what we expected subsequently, for the rest of the set met with great approval. That said, we could have done with a few more of the tracks where the Unthank sisters sang unaccompanied away from the mics, as that gave us the real folk deal.

The one great fascinating feature of the Unthanks is that they incorporate clog dancing into their performance. Some of their tunes have little interludes in which clogs are danced with. I understand that normally both sisters serve up a four feet clog attack, but this time round only Becky was on clog duties, as Rachel was about eight months pregnant* and staying away from clogs on medical advice. The clog dancing basically amounted to a form of tap dancing, not entirely dissimilar to Irish dancing or the type of thing you get on Broadway. I did think, though, that it was a pity that the clogging only really appeared as interludes within songs, so we never really got clog-dancing playing against vocals and more general musical accompaniment. I do not know how interesting that would actually sound, but I was put in mind of American indie band Tilly And The Wall, who apparently use tap dancing instead of drumming.

The Unthanks milled around after the show in manner most unusual for a name band. One of my friends was talking about accosting Becky Unthank and demanding her hand in marriage, but he thought better of it.

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image source

* It was only when the clogging was about to start that Rachel's condition was mentioned; up to then I had just assumed that she was, eh, big-boned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

World's Oldest Panda Dies

Ming Ming the Panda has died. The resident of a Zoo in Guangdong province was 34, the oldest recorded age ever reached by a Panda. The typical lifespan for Pandas in captivity is 22 years, while for wild Pandas it is estimated to be just 15 years.

Ming Ming appears to have been the same Panda who visited Dublin for 100 days in 1986. I was less interested in Pandas then, and so failed to go and see her.

I hope that now she is in Panda Heaven, stuffing her face with bamboo.


Panda news generally

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I am a cultural theorist

I will now attempt to briefly explain why 20th and 21st century visual art is so much more popular than new classical music from the same period. My theory is that this is down to how "easy" visual art is. If you visit an art gallery and there is some crazy piece of abstraction or conceptual art there, you will probably just look at it for a minute or two and then walk on. But if you go to a concert of contemporary music you are stuck there listening to those far out sounds for an hour or more, much harder for someone who is not really that forward thinking to take. What consequences flow from this? Well, I suspect that it means that contemporary music will never be anything other than a minority pursuit. Such is life.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Clever Birds Live In The City

It has long been known that it is only the more intelligent people who live in cities. Now scientists have discovered that the same is true of birds. It appears that city-dwelling birds have larger brains than their country cousins, the better to deal with the complex threats and opportunities of urban living. The only small brained birds living in cities seem to be ones that have stumbled onto a niche akin to that which would have sustained them in the countryside.