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All posts for the month April, 2012

I mentioned previously, dreadful queuing arriving early morning at LHR T5 , despite (or perhaps because of) new staff trying to organize queues.

Latest news story here, I can confirm coming through LHR T5 again last Wednesday, mid-morning this time, but dreadful again. People directing passengers to queues, but no visible strategy as to why / where – queues to connections security as well as passport control ? As I’ve said before, I’ve seen longer queues in US and Aussie and Hong-Kong and Moscow immigration in the years following 9/11, but they seem to have got their act together. Again, it’s not the absolute time, but the equity of the queuing, and the validity of the information, that frays tempers.

The combination of the border-control staff working to tougher rules and the “greeters” not appearing to know what they’re doing is a disaster.

[Post Note 1st May – After yesterday’s parliamentary question on waiting times, both parties trading numerical stats on “times” – national averages – huh ? Forget the numbers folks, it’s the queuing equity that matters. And getting to immigration is part of the time to get through border control. Baggage and customs are a separate issue.]

[Post Note 3rd May – Apparently April 30th was in fact the worst day in recent experience.]

Reading Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” after enjoying his “Happiness Hypothesis“. (Also just finished Umberto Eco’s “The Prague Cemetery“)

Given the current high profile of the #Breivik case, Haidt’s work is a very important piece on the rationalist delusion, being 100% rational is absolutely not sane for a human – in fact it’s a good definition of a psychopath - the same mental illness the scientistic suffer from. (Haidt is a good read, a balance between Plato and Hume, much of his intro refers to his recent Happiness Hypothesis. Yet again, I can’t believe Haidt doesn’t refer to Ian McGilchrist’s “Master and Emissary” view of evolved brain functioning – both halves are intelligent and capable, the balance of power is a complex interplay, one gives the illusion of being in charge, the rider on the elephant, but neither is in fact slave to the other. Haidt’s equivalent is effectively Lawyer and Diplomat. Intuitions and emotions are not some “bugs” in an otherwise rational system, etc …)

Eco’s latest prize-nominated piece is very similar in based-on-historical-fact-style to Foucault’s Pendulum and The Name of The Rose before that. Not just a Knights Templar (#Breivik again) conspiracy this time, but the conspiracy of conspiracy theories – Jews, Catholics, Jews, Masons, Jews, Protestants, Jews, Antichristians & Devil worshippers, Jews, Black-magicians, Jews, Pagans, Jews, Virgin-sex cultists, Jews, Jesuits, and more Jews from The Prague Cemetery, but no Islamists oddly ? Witty and erudite enough to pull off what could be offensive to many.

When asked these days, as I was just last weekend, what kind if music I’m into generally, I often say “Americana”. And by that I always meant just about any blues-based rock, tempered by a more recent education of the breadth of what that can mean during our 3 years stint in the southern US. Anything  from folk, blue-grass, country, blues and on up … eventually to heavier rock / metal / punk / grunge whatever the fashion. The distinguishing feature is then always a matter of quality of the people, the playing, and of course the songs themselves – intelligent wit always helps, but the beat goes on.

RIP Levon Helm.

The sole American in the mostly Canadian The Band responsible for originating the Americana term. It’s the drummer’s voice on The Weight – as opposed to front-man Robbie Robertson who wrote it – a favourite, and one of the few such songs I can make a passable stab at on the guitar.

The Weight

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand, “no” was all he said

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

I picked up my bag, I went lookin’ for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on let’s go downtown”
She said, “I gotta go but my friend can stick around”

(chorus)

Go down, Miss Moses, there’s nothin’ you can say
It’s just ol’ Luke and Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day
“Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?”
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’tcha stay and keep Anna Lee company?”

(chorus)

Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, “I will fix your rack if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
I said, “Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man”
He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”

(chorus)

Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone

(chorus)

(Sad I know, but I did once pull into the Nazareth in question, on the strength of the lyric – with opportunity presented by several working visits to Bethlehem / Allentown … where the chain is picked-up by Springsteen’s lyric. More Americana.

Ah yes, of course, … (a recent Christmas present) …

“At the end of the documentary It Might Get Loud Jack WhiteJimmy Page and The Edge play The Weight acoustically while The Edge and White swap vocals”.)

Just a quickie, but I keep alluding to this:

The whole trilogy from the original Don (Brando / DeNiro) is a morality tale (that much is obvious). Clear tribal boundaries to what is considered right and wrong and who is fair game for the mob’s brutal forms of justice. There are few “innocent” victims of their evil – even though evil it clearly is, zero ambiguity. He who lives by the sword often dies by it – and the victims clearly all know and accept the rules.

By Godfather III, Michael (Pacino) has seen where the excesses lead, and experienced the desolation of tit-for-tat law-of-the-jungle justice. When he says his aim is for the family business to go “completely legit” – he (probably) really means it. None of which excuses the evil past on which his power-based was built – but he knows that too, in fact it’s his driver to go legit. History is in the past. Even with that genuine quest – circumstances demand some Machiavellian moves to make progress in big business and national politics – it may even be all he knows.

III itself has some great content too – The intertwining of the real-life historical events around the pope’s banker (and more) make it ring even more true; The cultural background of his son’s performance at the opera in Palermo, and the tale of the opera itself, and its passionate musical background; Vincent’s collusion with Connie to continue the old line of business; Michael’s own frailty and the ambiguity of his “accepting” the inevitability of that continuity, despite his efforts to break the family from it; And finally, the undoubted worst outcome for Michael.

In fact, that 30-second, silent scream as the death of his daughter sinks in, has me welling up just typing these words. If there was any ambiguity in his drive before then, now we are left without doubt. The single best scene in cinematic history for me. The cynics say she was a front for his evil empire, in fact she was carrying all his hopes for the alternative future. The fact there is no Godfather IV seals it. No future without hope.

[Without Godfather III – the trilogy has no meaning.]

I was thinking this as I came through Heathrow T5 early this Monday morning. A busy holiday weekend, lots of full (grossly overbooked) intercontinental BA flights arriving early morning. T5 has a problem of being spread over 3 and 4  levels with many “express lifts” that theoretically beat using the long slow elevators, and stairs that can bypass both once there is congestion. Of course it’s all a matter of queuing optimisation – and margins / buffers for queuing capacity.

BAA said immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow were “frequently unacceptable” and it had “called on Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency”.

The now separate Border Force said it was “well-prepared… with additional staff available for busy periods”.

They had extra staff, sure enough, but they could just not enforce any queuing segregation – different routes leapfrog each other – before the chaos arrived at the immigration hall – Electronic Passports, UK Passports, EU Passports, Other Passports, Priority Short Flight Connections. In fact they were unwittingly making it worse for priority connection customers, by directing them in routes that had them leapfrogged by others. Partly because the rest of us couldn’t see the chaos ahead, even if we wanted to be community spirited, and partly because they didn’t start (and enforce) the segregation soon enough. Once a crowd loses confidence that those giving directions actually know what they’re doing – the outcome is inevitable – chaos and fraying tempers ignoring the well intentioned authority. Even the frustrated staff were shouting at each other. Good news is the airlines have spotted the problem.

The culture committee’s concerns follow warnings from four airlines – British Airways, bmi, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic – that passengers could face “severe delay and disruption” during the Olympics.

“While visiting tourists will understand that the Olympics is a busy time, if the wait (at immigration) is in excess of an hour it may deter tourists from returning.

No-one minds being asked to queue, if they believe the queuing is being fairly managed. But no-one is going to be a mug standing watching the crowd pass them by. It’s not the absolute length of the wait – Jeez, I’ve waited over 2 hours at several US immigration lines before now – it’s the fairness in managing the mix of selfish and genuine urgency. Let’s not confuse quality with quantity just because we can count and read the time.

[BTW – this is part of whole series of problems with over-optimised air travel these days, partly created by the fact that we have greater technical (scientistic) means to optimise operations – with no margins for humans or quality – no spare capacity to cope, anywhere. I suspect the state-of-the-art design of T5 is simply another symptom of the problem causing the problem.]

Interesting encounter in the departure lounge in Miami on Sunday.

Drinking a pale ale, as is my wont these days (a Sam Adams Whitewater not-quite-double-IPA in this case), watching Real vs Valencia on one TV whilst the rest of the bar was watching endless “what went wrong” Tiger Woods interviews instead of the final day of the Augusta Masters actually taking place. I started talking to the guy next to me – David Handel – about full and oversold flights. He’s actually grumbling about absence of anywhere to smoke in the airport, not even the bar, and I mention having just had the opposite conversation. In the Hog’s Breath Saloon bar in Key West the evening before, I’d remarked how despite my not being a smoker, I actually liked the fact that in several US states / counties smoking is still permitted in bars – made them feel more “real”, especially if they were music bars. (Those with economies still dependent on tobacco and/or Cuban cigars presumably.)

Turns out he’s a professional conductor, and after displaying my ignorance of classical music in not knowing the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition winner Peter Donohoe, who hails from the north of England, happens to be his favourite pianist, it becomes apparent he’s been musical director and conductor of the Bolivian National Symphony Orchestra for the last umpteen years. He’s actually in the process of returning “home” to the US and looking to settle in Florida. The conversation moves on to “quality” independent of any sophistication or objective measures of taste in music, or in fact taste generally in any US freedom of choice to do practically anything tasteful or otherwise, given the luxury of the amount of space in which to do it. He remarks how in South America the buildings on which the public lavish the most care are the halls of culture, rather than official public buildings or even churches.

Given the limited South American classical music points of cultural reference available to me, I mention the image of “Fitzcarraldo” that had just flashed across my mind. Not only does he know the Werner Herzog / Klaus Kinski film – a cult favourite of mine (*) – it turns out he’s performed at the opera / concert hall in Manaus which is the focus of the film.

Small connected world. Turns out David is also principal guest conductor at the Moscow City Russian Philharmonic, and was on his way there via an engagement with the Berlin Philharmonic.

(*) Can’t find any previous blog reference – the whole film is shot real on location (including hauling a steam boat across a mountain from one branch of the Amazon above Manaus into the Ucayali – by hand) except for one particularly naff scale-model sequence of the same boat coming to grief, out of control through a series of rapids. Like the Quixotic quest in the plot – I guess the film-maker ran out of budget. Business – the rubber industry in this case – may be based on personal greed, but there always has to be a driving passion on which to spend your money. Great based-on-a-true-story as well as a fine film. Which is probably bringing us back to Godfather III ;-)

If Breivik is considered sane, then I really don’t know what insanity is any more.

His guilt – as in personal responsibility for the events – is not in doubt, through ample witnesses as well as his own admission, not to mention plenty of published pre-meditation and planning. Why give him a trial platform to publicly justify his evil ? Surely best all round if he is simply incarcerated in a secure mental institution; humane, sure; therapeutic, sure; but denied social rights for 77 life sentences.

It’s a species of scientistic political correctness that maintains that technically, by objective rational analysis, he’s somehow to be considered sane by a rationally sane (ie insane) society.

That smirk on his face. What am I missing ? I know it, and I’m sure he knows it too.