Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tomorrow the Reporting Class Tours the Chronicle

We've been doing this for nearly 20 years, since I came over to the university for all sorts of reasons, one of which was that I had spent six years (three of them full time) getting the darn Ph.D. back in the day, and it chapped me that it had all been a waste.

Other than self development, of course. I really did enjoy reading all those books.

In one way, taking the kids to the Chron was a little like returning to Duke, having the sense that here was something that had existed before me, that did more good than harm, that would go on doing more-good-than-harm long after I had passed.

Oh yes, the hallowed halls -- actually an open-office newsroom -- of the Chronicle. I liked to imagine a student of mine somewhere down the line working at the Chron and finding some relic of my days there, and thinking of the old man suddenly (for the first time in years really) and in some vague way being grateful -- for me, for the paper, for whatever I said that did no permanent harm.

This is not going to happen, or if it happens, it will be in a contracted space and radically altered platform laboring under a different vision and little patience for what we used to do when the Chron was a great mosaic of the good, the bad and the foolish-by-design.

The Chron was a pretty good newspaper, you know, with lots of goofy where everyone else went for stuffy and, in my opinion, all the better for the playfulness.

Then, it got serious and now it's getting steamrolled, which has nothing to do with all the rethinking that went into calming it down, which change was well underway before I left.

I used to miss the Old Chronicle, but now it looks as if I'm going to be missing the Chronicle Period. A man should not outlive his nostalgia. I think that's what I'm saying.

Postscript: Hey, look! An interactive map of newspaper woe.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Us and State Farm

Now it begins. E. talked with an SF person today, who was surprisingly skeptical of E.'s account of my Lady Wife being smashed into on the Fairbanks Grade-- oh yes, my wife, the Susan Boyle of drivers suffering underestimation when it comes to the quality of her driving.

Break into a couple bars of "Thunder Road," E.

You learned on a stick. Your mama drove her 'stang from Columbus, Ohio, to Roanoke, Virginia -- over all those twisty mountain roads -- in record time back there in '66, and the ignition doesn't fall far from the compression.

You are from Dee-troit, Mitchigan, and if you had been a biker chick in the original Road Warrior, Mel Gibson would have had a severely truncated career.

So I just spent a couple hours laboriously sending SF the photos of the scene and the aftermath. We are dealing with a young fellow who was not operating his vehicle at safe residential speeds.

It hurts me to say that, but it's true.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Little O Meets Big O: I'd Like Some of That Sugar, Also

From Baseball Prospectus, where Nate Silver once roamed.

The White Sox learned this past week that it's good to have fans in high places, as they received a private tour of the White House this past Monday during an offday between road series with the Rays and Orioles. President Barack Obama, of course, is a big White Sox fan.

White Sox reliever Octavio Dotel seemed to have the best time of all while meeting Obama, and he even asked for and received a hug from the President. "This is a guy I've been following," Dotel said. "It's exciting to see him. He's such a powerful man. I never met him before, and it's really, really neat to be around him. Just to be that close to him and have that chance, I saw the opportunity to ask for a hug. He said, 'of course.' That was really nice of him."

The White Sox brought Obama plenty of gifts, including a black White Sox jersey with his name and the number "1" on the back, a dozen autographed baseballs, t-shirts, and caps. The White Sox also were allowed to see some parts of the White House that aren't shown on public tours. "We got to see everything," Dotel said. "All we needed to see is where he lives. I'm telling you, it was great. He knows a lot about us. He's a big fan. I can tell he really enjoyed [the visit]."

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Let's See How State Farm Handles This One

I wrote yesterday about E.'s collision. Since it happened near the house, after her call I trotted down and took some pictures. Talk about a CSI moment.

When I downloaded the pix to my laptop and did some cropping, it became clear that E.'s uncertainty about exactly what happened resulted from the fact she was the whackee, not the whacker. In short, she was overtaken by a speeding youth who tapped our car, jerked the wheel hard right and ran off the road, through some plants and over some chunks of concrete and onto the sidewalk, all of this uphill.

Physics doesn't lie -- though, as in the case of quantum physics, it tells some rather puzzling truths. But in the macro world, Newton's laws still keep things simple.

At any rate, if I can figure out how to obscure license plate numbers, I may post the images. They tell a tale.

So now we shall see. Will the State Farm adjuster measure up to the task? Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Before Susan Boyle There Was ... Gomer Pyle

Fender Benders Are Inevitable. Acknowledging That is the Beginning of Wisdom

Iceberg ahead!Image by wili_hybrid via Flickr

And E. just bent some fenders. He was making a right turn. She was making a left turn. Since this was close to home, E. called me, and I came scampering, camera in hand.

I'll say one thing for E. The other driver got the worst of it; that is, his car did. Also, some plants were crushed where he pulled off the road.

E. was very calm in the aftermath. She was on the way to her acupuncturist. The other driver was a kid. I believe his Saturday was dented worse than his car, though he was also near his home, so his mom and dad came out, and everyone was nice because everyone was relieved.

Also, everyone was insured.

I am, as I sometimes am, reminded of a poem -- Hardy's "Convergence of the Twain." Can you guess the twain?


In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.


Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.


Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls -- grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.


Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.


Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .


Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything


Prepared a sinister mate
For her -- so gaily great --
A Shape of Ice, for the time fat and dissociate.


And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.


Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.


Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,


Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

Well, in this case were are talking about a Chrysler product and, I
think, a Camry. Two households were jarred. That's all. And I go: whew.

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Code Talking: The BCL (Beloved Commissioner for Life) of the PF Finley Memorial Fantasy Baseball League Sends Out His 'News and Notes'

Solution structure of BCL-2 as published in th...Image via Wikipedia

I could be posting. Instead, I josh with 'the boys' in an act of manly bonding.

BCL and his lady went to the A’s fireworks game last night to see Cahill, his backup P, pounded, but the fireworks were great, and the crowd did the wave for an entire half inning, which might have been a record….Russ and Bob doing well early, Russ riding N. Cruz (6 dings) and A. Hill (5 dings) while Bob’s got three no-name pitchers (Romero, Davies and Gallaraga) who are smoking (something?)….Brad is deeply in the toilet awaiting A-Rod’s return, but the question is how deep is too deep? But that team B.A. of .227 is going to adjust up, A-Rod or not….Paul is changing his team name to the Decompositions….last year’s champion J. Pressman is holding his Maine League draft today; BCL missed phone connections yesterday because of the A’s game and thus the BCL’s brain remained unpicked, so Good Luck, JP….Peter is leading the league in K’s, everything else on his team a crapfest…who did Berger actually pick in the final whiparound? Somebody in the minors; I’ve already forgotten who; I’ll get back to you on that…before you push Matt down and try to take his candy, recall that Sabbathia always looks lousy in April and then rules the world…Tola is clam-happy as Masterson gets the starts in Boston while Dice-K heals, but Escobar has had a setback, so that may be a wash…league still undecided about what kind of plant to get for Chef Peter; he prefers outdoor evergreen while Russ and Bob prefer stolen-from-the-cemetery…Paul has five guys on the DL; I’m going to have dinner and drinks with his future mother-in-law to see what can be done

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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Brilliance That is Nate Silver

Map of Texas, showing major cities and roads.Image via Wikipedia

If Texas exercised its right to break up into five states -- which right, unlike secession, it actually has -- this is what Silver says it might look like, and this is how such a split might affect national politics.
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That's Not an Ivory Tower. That's an Outhouse

Traditional Amish buggy, Lancaster County, Pen...Image via Wikipedia

Wandering around the web trying to get my mind around one of those trendy theoretical constructs that I tend not to take seriously because I seem to have gotten by most of my life with an attitude more than an actual philosophy -- though I understand most attitudes are a kind of trickle down from the status quo and thus we all have a philosophy, which we possess as naturally and unconsciously as bad breath.

I'm not trying to boast here.

But now I'm following links and staring into tangles, and I'm suddenly thinking that we academics in the softer of the liberal arts don't live in ivory towers, which imply a royal condition and/or being a trapped princess. We are like the Amish, sturdy and misunderstood, working with the oldest of tools, all those words we use to scrape at the rocky fields. We understand the power of manure. We talk in the old language of ideas, and fewer and fewer people understand us and fewer and fewer care.

I'm broadly generalizing here about our quaint unworldliness and our fierce clan loyalties. Chemistry and business school and so on, not so much, of course. But the rest of us: The world drives by and laugh -- or, worse than that, condescend. We are kind of quaint, you know.

I haven't quite worked this analogy out, obviously. It's just that today I'm in a bit of a horse and buggy mood.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Get a Link! Work-Friendly and Work-Angry

A Happy Face with Tribal markingsImage via Wikipedia

From Work-Friendly

Over coffee last week, a guy I know was describing his separation from a startup. At first he called it “friendly.” When we went into more detail, he elaborated with “Well, it was only work-friendly.”

I just found myself using work-angry in a post, and it took me a second to figure out where it came from.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This Was No Accident. He Was Forwarded to Death.

Cover of "Tron (20<span class=

I recall the old Disney film "Tron," in which the hero is sucked into a video game, the special effects so crude by modern standards but so smashingly Freudian: Dream Works? Yah, your dreams work .

Of course, there was many a novel before and many a novel and film since in which someone is sucked from this world into some smaller simulacrum and some metaphorical statement about the nature of reality is worked out. (Being drawn into an actual dream world -- Render, the Shaper! -- reduces the distance between thing and thing represented to minimal distance, I'd say. But it's all the same message, the same terror, the same comfort.)

Anyway here I sit advising students, and any free moment between advice I've been using to kill emails. So I imagine a novel and/or movie in which the hero is drawn into Microsoft Outlook, which is at first a benign world but where soon the emails breed like rabbits or rats and gradually crush him to death.

That's the image I like. He turns away. He looks again: More. More. Always more. They are like crack babies, the crack babies of the digital world. Attention must be paid.

Does this cut against my recent argument in favor of accepting in good spirit irrelevant emails from friends? Of course not. It's the legitimate stuff that's overwhelming. I need to starting getting up at 5 a.m. and getting my hands bloody.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tomorrow the Teacher is the Student in Arts Reviewing/Reporting


Double bassist Reggie Workman, tenor saxophone...Image via Wikipedia

I have a hole in my claims to be a Rockin' Renaissance man; that is, I don't rock. Not even a little.

I won't call myself a Musical Illiterate, since my impression is that many fans of popular music aren't that well informed about the specifics of the craft and/or art of what they enjoy.... Okay, of course, I *am* a musical illiterate. It's just that I am also -- in comparison to everyone else, it seems -- a Musical Indifferent. I mean, I like music. I'm not tone deaf. I don't turn away in disgust. I tap my foot and bob my head. I have quite a few classical CDs and quite a few jazz CDs, though we don't listen to them that much. Actually, I haven't put on a music CD since Christmas when we listen to all the wonderful holiday dreck.

I don't have any music on my IPod. Though we have symphony seats on and off and though occasionally we go to a jazz club, music remains something I *intend* to get into.

I really like "Lament for Beowulf." It's literary, and it's loud. My wife says my tastes in classical are vulgar, 19th Century, Russian for Chrissake.

As for rock/pop/rap whatever. Pretty much indifferent. In the car, I roam the dial, find a song to listen to, enjoy it very much -- and when it's over keep looking for NPR.

So now deep in the semester finally we will do a music review. I told the students: Tomorrow, you bring a favorite music review of some music you really like. (We've done that before with films, TV, drama, the visual arts.) But when class starts I'm just going to sit there. You go up to the front of the room -- one? ensemble? -- and explain to me what it's all about. Because I really don't know. And there's no point in my being ashamed.

Working Very Hard Not Writing

N. C. Wyeth: illustration for Rip Van WinkleImage by freeparking via Flickr

By which I mean writing in the head and not writing down.

Writing down is dangerous since who can resist the temptation to share the well-shaped sentence? Indeed, my succumbing to the temptation to share is responsible for this recent spate of "not writing."

Those for whom this blog is a sea anchor, a last hope of salvation -- a toothskin of hope, as it were -- when the storm of life is fierce and a safe port is far away will recall my post last week about being asked none too gently to quit forwarding emails to a certain person. I suppose the forwarding of non-essential emails (or that most elusive category, the *possibly useful* email) is a little bit like a dog raising its head for a nice ear scratch.

Sometimes you are ignored. Sometimes you get a kick.

Some people -- powerful people; purpose-driven people, whose lives are hectic with accomplishments -- don't like distant acquaintances forwarding them emails that are not of fierce and specific relevance to their lives *right that moment.* But it had never occurred to me that anyone of my acquaintance was that powerful, important and/or purpose-driven! I thought they were more in my category: plugging away: doing one's best, often ineffectually; always having time to stop and smell the flowers, possibly even to go to sleep among the flowers.

(But then you might wake up 20 years later, unmoored and adrift in time. There is a deep capitalistic truth in "Rip Van Winkle.")

Anyway, I have never asked anyone to stop sending me emails. (I am a great scratcher of the ears of companion animals, some of whom shrink from me.) Some forwarded emails I just ignore and then later on, using the "from" function on Outlook, I will take on a dozen at a time, glancing at some, discarding others without a look. (But those from my Sissy I dearly love. You keep them coming, dearest sister.)

I concede that I *do* rely on correspondents to use the "subject" line purposefully, so that emails, forwarded or otherwise, are not neglected beyond their shelf life. A student became quite distraught a couple of weeks ago when I kept ignoring his emails with "Hi, Dr. Robertson" in the subject line. No clarity and thus no urgency, little buckaroo.

Back to my point. I've gotten several "directive" emails of one kind or another in recent weeks, instructing me to quit sending emails or, almost schoolmarmishly, announcing some righteous action touching on some mistake I have committed. But none of these emails included the phrase, "asking for your thoughts."

These emails have not necessarily brightened my day. So I ignore them and write something in my head, starting it on the right side of my brain and then forwarding it to my left. And then I let it fall into the dead letter box of short-term memory (wherever that is located).

And then I guess the rats eat it or something. Because when I come looking for it a day later, I can recover neither the emotion nor the language. The world may thus be deprived of some wit and wisdom, but the world must grit its teeth and bear up.
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Work Work Work. We are Busy. We Must Work.

Burgundian author and scribe Jean Miélot, from...Image via Wikipedia

Lines come to mind from Browning's "The Grammarian's Funeral," that tribute to the true scholar.

Long he lived nameless: how should spring take note
Winter would follow?
Till lo, the little touch, and youth was gone!
Cramped and diminished,
Moaned he, "New measures, other feet anon!
My dance is finished"?
No, that's the world's way: (keep the mountain-side,
Make for the city!)
He knew the signal, and stepped on with pride
Over men's pity;
Left play for work, and grappled with the world
Bent on escaping:
"What's in the scroll," quoth he, "thou keepest furled
Show me their shaping,
Theirs who most studied man, the bard and sage,--
Give!"--So, he gowned him,
Straight got by heart that book to its last page:
Learned, we found him.
Yea, but we found him bald too, eyes like lead,
Accents uncertain:
"Time to taste life," another would have said,
"Up with the curtain!"
This man said rather, "Actual life comes next?
Patience a moment!
Grant I have mastered learning's crabbed text,
Still there's the comment.
Let me know all! Prate not of most or least,
Painful or easy!
Even to the crumbs I'd fain eat up the feast,
Ay, nor feel queasy."

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Why the Internets are the Best of All Possible Tubes

Moby Dick (1956 film)Image via Wikipedia

Princess Sparkle Pony.

From the depths she rises to taunt me.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

More Email Etiquette: The Kiss Off

Have you ever wondered how to deal with someone who sends and/or forwards you too many emails?

A former -- very recently former -- correspondent shares his secret:

please remove me from this email distribution. i have work to do.
and i am sorry, michael, but i do not have time to read every thought that occurs in your mind

Damn, I gots to slow down.

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We Want Kittens

From "I Can Has Cheezburger"

Nuthin' Says Busy Like a Week without Posts

And since posting is about halfway down my list of things to do, that means many other things that might tip the balance in the struggle for peace and justice have also been ignored. Just a brutally busy week. We did go to the hospital to visit the woman who cleans for us sometimes.

Stomach cancer. Damn. She doesn't have a lot of English, and we have almost no Spanish. But I know what dolor means.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Actually a Bit Frightening. Glad Kos is Trying to Laugh These Bag Boys Into the Shadows.

By This Logic, I Should Be Teaching Sex Education

borderImage via Wikipedia

I am having fun teaching Arts Reviewing/Reporting. I teach it in the spirit of the journalist: give me two hours and I will write about anything.

I understand the impudence of such an approach, and how it is an invitation to snark, to know-nothing-ism. Thus, I also insist that the students "write smart" and, in the end, take whatever they are reviewing seriously, though it may be that the only serious part may be what the "art act" says about our culture. Still, give what you are reviewing a chance. Confront it, okay?

But take that insight seriously, I insist.

Today on the Arts Reviewing beat: larks larks larks.

I found this in the Guardian. I steal it, but I steal it for you, as a father steals for his child or Rush Limbaugh steals for his dealer.

'This artist is deeply dangerous'

What would happen if the Guardian's sports and arts writers swapped jobs? In yesterday's G2, arts critics tackled sport. Today, the sports team take on sculpture, opera, dance and music

Thomas Castaignède takes in Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House. Produced by Rebecca Lovell Link to this video

Thomas Castaignède, Guardian rugby union columnist who won 54 caps for France between 1995 and 2007, on opera
Tosca at Royal Opera House, London, June 2

Madame Butterfly was my first and last experience of opera, but I was in my early teens and not in the best frame of mind to appreciate it. Adolescence had kicked in, and I was more worried about the girl sitting next to me than what was happening on stage.

So this performance of Tosca was a revelation. I've passed Covent Garden so many times, but I had no idea it was so beautiful inside. As a social phenomenon it surprised me as well - the champagne, the way the audience had dressed up, the feeling that people were there to be seen, as well as to see.

All those years ago I was too young to appreciate opera, so Tosca itself was a new world: the range of human emotions - jealousy, avarice, love, death, despair, hope - all reinforced by the power of the music. I wondered about the creative process behind it: which comes first, the libretto or the music, or are they born together?

Talking afterwards to the tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who played Cavaradossi, I came to the conclusion that there is a parallel between what you feel during a top-class rugby match and what an artist feels on stage - and it's not just the roar of the crowd. The people who are watching influence how you behave: they were viewing Kaufmann and driving him forward, just as they used to inspire me. I could empathise with Kaufmann's total concentration on the performance, and the way he had to become one with the orchestra, who gave him the power to go beyond the norm. There is a physical aspect to opera, certainly; but more than that, on stage you see what in rugby we call "automatisms" - where you become conditioned to move and act by pure instinct. I had a sense of two completely different worlds coming together.

There is an element of theatre in sport - certainly in France, and in French rugby. You are there to bring a smile to the crowds. You want them to have a good afternoon. There is no acceptance of mediocrity. You are putting yourself up to be judged every time you enter the arena.

Opera singers learn new roles with a new company. As a rugby player, I used to have to get to grips with new trainers, tactics and team-mates when moving from one club to another, or whenever I switched mid-season to playing for the French national team or an ad-hoc squad like the Barbarians.

But most of all, what I saw in Tosca was exactly what drew me to sport: the feeling of total passion in the performers. I just love to watch people giving it everything - in any walk of life - which is why, since coming to England, I have even come to appreciate cricket.

Steve Bierley, tennis correspondent, on visual art
Louise Bourgeois at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, May 31

From the top of the Pompidou Centre, Roland Garros - the home of the French Open tennis championship, and my home for a fortnight every spring - was lost in the morning mist. Sport is essentially about youth, and about absolutes. Sport makes you feel elated or depressed. The works of Louise Bourgeois, 97 years old this December, make you feel unsettled, repelled. Roland Garros seemed a million miles away.

Faced with a new sport, which is unusual these days, my first instinct is to ignore the detail. Observe and record; don't get bogged down in too many facts or statistics. So I came to Bourgeois with no prior knowledge of her work, no inkling of the deeply disturbing web she was about to wind around me. Her huge spider, installed on the ground floor, should have been a hint.

Art galleries are not alien territory for me. The US Open brings an annual visit to New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, or the Metropolitan Museum, while the Musée d'Orsay in Paris has long been a favourite. But this was specific. One artist. No escape.

Numerous photographs ran along the wall outside the gallery. Bourgeois the small child, innocent of the first world war; Bourgeois the young woman, with long flowing hair and a sharp beauty; Bourgeois the bird-like octogenarian. As a preparation for what was to come, it had no more relevance than pictures of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal posing at the net before hitting a ball. Oh yes, there she was with Andy Warhol. But she might have been his maiden aunt.

In sport you are always waiting: the great shot, the goal, the end. You are also distanced from the others who watch, the supporters. "Fans with typewriters," an English journalist once scathingly described Scottish football reporters when they were covering their national team. Sports writing demands, though often does not get, degrees of objectivity and balance. But how can you be objective about art? Sport has rarely spooked me. But Bourgeois did, all the time.

Sports journalists only occasionally get to know the people they write about intimately. There is generally no need to explore the correlation or intertwining of the biographical line and its relation to sporting achievement. In the arts, you realise it is a constant focus.

Watch sport and you think about sport. Observe art and you discover yourself. Spirals, nests, lairs, refuges. Bourgeois leads you to dark places you are not sure you want to revisit. Sport is the toyshop; Bourgeois proffers no hint of a welcome. Even the "je t'aime" embroidered on the pillow in one of her claustrophobic rooms seemed like a threat. Rooms inside cages; bones inside glass spheres.

Outside the gallery, on a looped video, Bourgeois speaks about her art as if she were giving a talk to the Llansilin Women's Institute. It should have carried a warning: This woman is deeply dangerous. I go back to the comfort of Roland Garros, though Bourgeois remained a haunting and disturbing presence. I'm still spooked.

William Fotheringham, sports writer (cycling and rugby), on pop
Metronomy at Esquires in Bedford, June 5

It's official: I am a million years old. But I am not the oldest person watching Metronomy in Bedford tonight because, cunningly, I have brought my mate Tim along, and he's older than me. That is only a little bit reassuring, as this is a whole new world. Only the posters advertising the UK Subs and Wilko Johnson - playing last night and tomorrow - are in any way familiar, and that's because they date back 30 years. Everyone appears to be wearing leggings, and the support group are young enough to be my grandchildren. NME has described what I am about to see as "calculator-rock-punk-funk-electro-blimpoid-whatever music". I'm lost and disorientated, but intrigued.

About three numbers into Metronomy's set, once I've realised the distortion in my ears isn't a return of the old tinnitis, I am reminded, as always, that anything live and happening in front of me is good as far as I'm concerned. In sport or music, what's eternally fascinating is how people interact to create an end result. Be it an Olympic cycling team or three guys from Totnes playing music, there are always personalities on show, always a particular way of working. Here, the creative force, Joseph, is somewhat eclipsed on stage (if the gazes of the girls in leggings are to be judged) by the bassist, Gabriel, with his tortured cheekbones. Oscar, the one playing the sax, simply looks round and cuddly.

The trio are wearing semi-circular things on their chests that look just like the battery-powered nightlights I bought my children for camping. When they push the half-globes and they come alight I realise they actually are said nightlights. There's a lot of glowing going on: the lads wear what seem to be LED bike lights on their hands, while the fourth Metronome displays a luminescent Apple logo. It turns out to belong to a Powerbook. It contains samples - a concept with which I have come to terms only recently and reluctantly; and, Joseph explains, "it's the drummer: it doesn't answer back". Obviously a Mac doesn't take drugs or choke on anyone else's vomit. But here it's more than that, it's where it all began, with Joseph messing about on his computer.

I am hooked very quickly. The choreography - a set of clenched fists here, nightlights on all at once there - is slick, but knowing enough to avoid being a Kraftwerk parody. There are influences popping up every second: the Pet Shop Boys, Nirvana, Blur, Joy Division, the Cure, New Romantic stuff I detested 25 years ago, 1970s disco, bits of Balkan Gypsy accordion stuff. Who knows what route it's taken to get here via Joseph and his mates, and who cares? The mix of a driving bassline, high harmonies and electronic tinkling is well-drilled, tight and, at times, utterly infectious.

On the face of it, this isn't like my usual gig - there are no winners and losers. Metronomy are just doing their thing and if I like it, that's up to me. But as a sports writer, you think about more than the simple question of who went home with the prizes. The quality of the performance, emotional and technical, matters as much: on a rugby pitch or a French road, whole-hearted, technically expert artists who create a decent spectacle are what we want to see. And that's what's on show in this Bedford backroom, from three men and their Mac.

Lawrence Donegan, golf correspondent, on classical music
Yefim Bronfman with the San Francisco Symphony performing Brahms at the Louise M Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, May 17

The pianist Yefim Bronfman was born in Uzbekistan in 1958, moved to Israel in 1973, and made his debut with the New York Philharmonic five years later. This made him something of a musical boy wonder. The good news is that, 30 years later, he has become a fully grown, middle-aged wonder. I know this because (a) his biography in the concert programme tells me so, and (b) when this concert ended the audience went (and I use the following word advisedly) bonkers. This reaction shocked me, because I had no idea that people who were into classical music were also into going bonkers at the end of a performance. It was a bit like turning up at St Andrews and seeing the crusty old gentlemen of the R&A stage-diving after Tiger Woods holed a putt to win the Open.

I am loath to take issue with this visceral enthusiasm. These people paid good money for their seats, and presumably they knew what they were getting so excited about. Then again, this is my review, and it is my opinion that counts - even though my only previous experience of classical music was an open-air performance of Mozart's Requiem in Chicago's Grant Park on a sultry August night, the most memorable moment of which came when one of my friends turned up with a case of exceptionally cold beer.

Such philistinism notwithstanding, I am bound to say that the second classical concert of my life wasn't as good as I thought it would be. Yefim is a magnificent pianist, as far as I could tell. He played with tremendous energy and enthusiasm, which is more than you can say for most of the golfers I spend my working life watching. Even if he did play any bum notes, which I am sure he didn't, they were lost in an ocean of other notes.

The problem, at least to my cloth ears, is the music. Brahms' Piano Concerto No1 in D minor, the centrepiece of an evening devoted to the composer, has come to be seen as a masterpiece. But as it is longer than three minutes and not as immediately catchy as, say, Be My Baby by the Ronettes, it failed to hold my attention.

This is a terrible admission, no doubt. But in my defence, my attention remained fixed, tangentially at least, on what was going on inside the concert hall - which is to say I spent most of the night pondering why it is I would much rather have spent it watching sport - any sport. The answer, I think, is this: uncertainty. The essence of sport, and therefore of sports writing, is the unscripted nature of its narrative and the uncertainty of its outcome. Yefim Bronfman is a genius, no doubt, but he didn't write his own script - Brahms did - and the ending hasn't changed in the last 150 years, and won't for another 150. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, writes a new concerto every day, each one better than the last.

Kevin McCarra, chief football writer, on contemporary dance
Tero Saarinen's Next of Kin at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, May 24

It was a surprise to see Avram Grant back in work just hours after Chelsea sacked him. Those doleful features actually belonged to the papier mache head briefly sported by one of the six dancers, but they reminded me of the Israeli football manager. I concede that my mind never roams far, because it's tethered to thoughts of football.

Next of Kin, the latest work by the Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen, could not drag me into its own world. There were enjoyable aspects, but they all lay in the staging and the eclectic score by Jarmo Saari. At one point, my wife Susan whispered that we had just heard the arpeggio from the Star Trek theme. I doubt if anyone would have dared smirk, even if Saari was aiming for a smile.

To the comfort of this football journalist, there was a post-match press conference. All right, they called it a question-and-answer session, with the public making the inquiries. Saarinen talked about the unmistakable hysteria in the work, but when he spoke of its humour, the audience sniggered - they had found nothing to laugh about. But I had been puzzled when two people got up and left early in the performance. What were they expecting? Modernism is highly traditional. Of course, there were helpings of alienation, angst and sorrow. Thanks to the programme notes, I know there was a theme about personal traumas shaping the decisions we take in our private lives.

I was impressed more by the music and the presentation of the piece. It was performed almost entirely behind a curtain of scrim; the fabric was well-nigh transparent, and its distancing effect gave the action a kind of mythic tone. Saarinen mentioned Bela Lugosi and the influence on the design of expressionist cinema from the 1920s and 1930s.

I had been looking forward to watching the dancing. John Collins, a former Premier League footballer, used to take his daughters to the ballet and was in awe of the dancers' athleticism and sheer fitness. Saarinen, once a star of the Finnish National Ballet, is not so interested in that. The dancers - two men and four women - were kept extremely busy. There was a pas de deux in there (thanks again to Susan for keeping me informed), but melodramatic gesturing was the staple. It felt more like mugging than acting.

Next of Kin is meant to be a tale about the struggle of an individual, but it had no drive or direction. You want existential crisis, Mr Saarinen? I'll give you existential crisis. Three days before, I watched John Terry miss the penalty that would have won the Champions League for Chelsea. Maybe it's a terrible fuss for a supposed grown-up to make about a mere sport, but it was striking to witness a millionaire whose wealth is no consolation when his life has been invested in this game. Saarinen's work did not grip me like that.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Our Kitty Boris Stole Socks

The Fantasy Draft is Over.

Brigid of <span class=Brigid of Kildare, the Patron Abbess of Irish Whiskey/Image via Wikipedia

Started at 10am and went to about 5pm, with a short break for lunch.

I had a little Irish in a flask to spark my morning coffee. Then Tola dragged out the bottle of tequila -- very good; sipping quality.

(Over there on the right: Brigid of Kildare, Patron Abbess of Irish Whiskey.)

Then at some point Peter, who works for Kermit Lynch, started opening red.

Like the baritone bee, I was flying most of the day with a low buzz.

I won't bore you with my drafting strategy, since the only people who care about my drafting strategy were at the table and know its knots and wrinkles first hand. Suffice it to say, I followed it, buzz or no, so any failure will come from preparation, not execution.

This is the league's 26th year. Of its founders, only I am left alive -- in the sense of having been in the league every year since its founding.

I can see me at the Pearly Gates explaining to St. Peter why I should slip inside, mentioning my loyalty to the league.

"Back in 2009, you should have paid the extra quarter and drafted Jermaine Dye," Pete will say, letting the line back up. "But getting Orlando Cabrera for a buck -- that was nice. Those relievers look a little shaky, though. Let's just say you've passed Go and here's 200 bucks. I'm sending you back to try it all over again. Only this time: more kindness to strangers, more speaking truth to power and *definitely* more steals -- ten here, ten there; they add up. Capisce?"

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