Archive Page 2


odi et amo – Alone by Heart

Listen to Roxy Music’s Same Old Scene. It’s Roxy years after Eno left and just before the puke-worthy Avalon. I hated that garbage, but I loved that song. As Catullus says, Odi et amo.

Since writing that post, other songs keep cropping up that fall into the same category. I have a list and at the top is Alone by Heart.

Wedged in Seattle’s music history somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana lies Heart. In the Star Wars end of the Seventies they rocked out with songs like Barracuda and Crazy on You. It is well worth looking at that Crazy on You video to notice a few things:

  1. Ann Wilson is an amazing singer.
  2. Nancy Wilson is a kick-ass guitar player.
  3. Luke Skywalker used to sneak out from Aunt Beru’s place to play guitar in Heart.
  4. Ann Wilson is hot.



In the late Eighties we forgot punk and were punished with power ballads, lycra and huge hair. This was a bad era of music that ended only when Seattle brought forth Nirvana and saved us all. But before the Eighties died, they gave us Alone by Heart.


How bad is this? It ticks all the boxes – piano intro, permed hair, leopard skin, slow verse, chorus dramatics. It is an American Idol favorite. I’d never get to the second minute except for point 1 above – Ann Wilson is an amazing singer.

The video has Ann either in headshot or off in the distance, because the producer must have thought that fat chicks can’t sell records. So Nancy, the quiet frump of the Crazy for You video, is now the prancing, high kicking star and Ann the babe is now the fat Goth chick singing from the balcony. There’s a sense of injustice you feel when watching the video.

How did this affect their relationship? Ten years earlier Ann was the star and here in ‘87 she is pushed off into the background while all attention is on Nancy. It must have been tough for them but they made it through the wilderness. I’ve seen several interviews with them and their sisterly affection is obvious. They still perform together.

The song is written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the team that also gave us Like a Virgin, True Colors and Eternal Flame. But for all the talents of Madonna, Cyndi and Susanna, they don’t have anything to compare to the voice of Ann Wilson.


Some links

How to be a writer.

“First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure she has a library card and a comfy corner where she can curl up with a book. Give her a notebook and five bucks so she can pick out a great pen. Insist she spend time with the family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another state, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from her friends and people her own age. Give her some tedious chores to do. Make her mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garage. Make her go on long walks with you and tell her you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood.”

[hat tip to The Dish.]


Global Elite – from The Telegraph on how the super-rich have taken over the fancy parts of the UK.

“But these countries don’t have the right infrastructure for the super-rich: the racecourses, football pitches and tennis courts that host the most famous sporting events in the world, the Palladian country houses, the garden operas, the ancient private schools. England has all these things.”


Ticket to Ride – interesting looking game for the family. Back in high school I played a game in geography class that was about building railroads across the USA.


Dalrymple on Britain and garbage. Theodore Dalrymple is deserving of respect even if only for his past career as a prison psychologist. What a crappy, unrewarding job.


Addicted to Pick of the Pops

Since we bought our internet radio we listen to Pick of the Pops every week. It is an old Radio 2 show, where they play the top 20 songs from the current day but in two different past years. There’s plenty of editorial choice because they only play a subset of the top 20 and they add in a few climbers outside the top 20. Plus they get to pick the years. Sounds like music for old folks, eh.

It is amazing listening. For example, when you listen to music from the 60s it is often way better than you expect. And music from the late 80s is totally awful. Bring on grunge! As one loudmouth host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks said of Guns n Roses, “Then Nirvana came along and make them look like gay pirates.”

Some shows are just genius. For example, this recent one on 1964 and 1978 which had All Right Now, Is This Love, Baker Street (responsible for a million bad sax solos, it deserves a post all its own) and Cilla Black’s incredible Anyone who had a Heart.


And Blondie and Abba and Kate Bush! Although I whenever I hear Wuthering Heights I go all falsetto and sing the Mr. Floppy version.

Each week there are shocks. In the 1967/1980 show we had Cat Stevens in the charts with a song called Matthew and Son:


This song is such perfect pop that someone has to rip it off. Oh yeah, Tears for Fears already did with Mad World (and the vid with Gears of War is better). And 1980 was one good year – the chart for March 5th had Cuba, Turning Japanese, So Lonely, Games Without Frontiers and Atomic.

And I’ll end with the best bass player (and the only bass solo) on the charts – Larry Johnson with the Brothers Johnson doing Stomp! So good even my disco-loving Mum owned it.



Roadkill Stew – wild boar version

A neighbor ran over a sanglier, the local wild pig, and saved the carcass. So I made roadkill stew.



It tasted good, although it took two days of cooking to get it tender.



Michael the sitcom neighbor approved of the stew, as did the Dita von Teese bottle of Perrier.



The worst thing about the stew was that it gave Jean an excuse to sing ‘wild boar’ to this song for both days of cooking.



Answering this week’s poll

Each week Jean answers a poll sent out to her high school clique. They share stories about good times. It brings them together. This has been going on for years. In the last couple of years she has been recycling this poll by sending it out to me and a bunch of other folk more recent in her life.

The answer to this week’s poll had so many links I put it up here since someone’s email server is going to screw it up. So here it is:


1. What’s the best TV theme song?

I have to take this question seriously. To give you some idea, A-Ha spent more on the Take On Me video than on the album, and more on the Take On Me song than the rest of the album put together. I am putting a Take On Me video’s worth of effort into question 1. Fuck the rest of the questions.

There are the commonly accepted great themes, like Suicide is Painless from M*A*S*H. It even has a Manic Street Preachers cover. Or the Greatest American Hero theme. They don’t do it for me.

There are great American themes from days gone by. The Rockford Files theme is just outstanding. Similarly with Starsky and Hutch and Hawaii Five-O. One of the coolest bands of all time did a tribute to Hawaii Five-O – Radio Birdman.

The kids do great. The Muppets are awesome. And the kid theme that nearly won this was from Dastardly and Muttley. If we have a boy and call him Torsten, he might be known as TC. Top Cat.

Moving up to the 90s, South Park has a theme by Primus! It is hard to beat that. Twin Peaks has a great theme, too.

Aussie themes include Wonder World and the Late Show (about 1.20 in, it is James Brown’s Turn me Loose, I’m Dr Feelgood).

Moving to the Zeroes, The theme song I have heard the most is probably this one. Thank you, Jean. No, really, thank you.

I will also share more pain. While researching, I came up with some truly offensive themes. Like the Smurfs Theme. You can thank me later.

I was going to mention the Dr Who theme but I’ll leave that to Kevin, who is still asleep. I’ll link to the Bill Bailey 60s Belgian Jazz Dr Qui version instead. In a similar vein this theme from The Tomorrow People is totally sinister.

But there can only be one answer to the question of Brent’s best TV theme. The show we watch through every couple of years (it seems to coincide with the birth of a child). The Professionals.



[I will point out that in a small house in rural France three kids are wondering why their parents are singing the theme to The Love Boat.]


2. Do you Skype with anyone? Who?

Anyone who answers. That’s usually only Kevin.


3. At breakfast — white, wheat, rye, sourdough, English muffin or something else?

If we have bread, it is sourdough pan fried in duck fat or bacon fat. We go several weeks without it, then we buy a sourdough loaf (pain a levain, or in the Gascon accent paing a leving) for foie gras and the leftovers get pan fried for the kids.


4. What single song can you not get enough of right now?

I sang Is That Love about six times on the way home from the farm yesterday. It is in the wrong key for me, so that sucks. Britney sings an octave above me, so I can sing this without switching octaves.



5. BTTW/WTTW (best thing this week, worst thing this week)

BTTW: letter from the Notaire that we sign for the farm next Tuesday. After 18 months we’ll be unblocked and overcome with work.

WTTW: Waiting until Tuesday, when we’re confronted with the reality of fixing up a crappy old Gascon farmhouse.


Comparing unschooling to regular schools

Seth Roberts pointed to a The Globe and Mail (a Canadian newspaper) article on unschooling. It’s a touchy topic: the government spends a huge amount of money on schools and your kids spend thirteen years of their lives in them. Thirteen years!

There are a few things in the article that annoyed me enough to write this up. I’m not defending anyone’s idea of unschooling or homeschooling since I don’t know much about them, but I do want to point out some of the crap that people talk about regular schools since I know a bucketload about those.

Kate Hammer’s article is good overall, well worth reading, but it has a few quotes that bug me. First, she gets this right:

Some children thrive in the classroom and others don’t…

This contains a lot of wisdom. A population has people of diverse personality. What works for some might not work for others. Anyone with at least two kids knows this. Our two big kids are now old enough that we can compare styles. Otto (5) is learning in a very different way to Lucy Jean (7). Otto sits at a desk and works on drawing for hours on end, showing his results to us only when he makes something he is proud of. Lucy Jean likes to discuss every step the whole way through. The differences between them are evident across many facets of their lives.



So given that a population of kids has plenty of diversity, it isn’t much of a stretch to say that there are some kids that thrive better in schools and others that thrive better learning at home. There’s plenty of variation in quality for both forms of education, too. Rather than have a central authority mandating a one-size-fits-all education, parents can choose the best system of learning for their own kids. Then they can work on getting the best out of whatever system they choose. They might not get the same answer for each of their children.

The sentence goes on:

…and, despite the best of intentions, the system sorts them into winners and losers. […] Unschooling’s underlying idea is that all kids are winners.

I hate this politically correct ‘everyone is a winner’ idea. I buy that unschooling rejects the relentless grading and ranking of the education system, but calling it ‘all kids are winners’ makes them sound like hippies and makes it easier to dismiss anything interesting they are doing.

But that doesn’t annoy me as much as this quote from Christopher Lubienski:

Another concern more specific to unschooling is if children’s education is formed by their own interests, or solely by those of their parents, there are likely to be gaps.

“Individual children might be happy, but it’s not clear that this makes for an autonomous or well-rounded adult, or for a better community,” Christopher Lubienski, an associate professor at the University of Illinois, writes by e-mail.

Reading the above we have the following areas highlighted:

  • gaps in education
  • autonomy
  • well-roundedness
  • community

There’s an implication here – when Lubienski says “it’s not clear this makes for an autonomous or well-rounded adult, or for a better community,” he’s not comparing it to anything. He’s implying that regular schooling does a better job at this, but he doesn’t call it out in any way we can look at. Was there more to the interview that could have helped us learn more? Any data?

It is plausible that these are areas of concern, but for all systems of education and not just unschooling. Does he think my high school education left me autonomous and well-rounded and part of the community? What a load of garbage. Did he go to a special school?

The bit that makes me laugh the most is the idea of well-roundedness. How do you define a well-rounded individual? I’m sure it doesn’t include the knowledge of calculus and the ability to spout Avogadro’s constant. What about my inability to build trust, fix a flat tyre, cook a steak or finish a project?

Structured learning, with external direction, “can force people to experience things that they wouldn’t otherwise, and quite often find new interests. … Ones that may also have some wider social value.”

This is Lubienski again. Smart answers kept popping into my mind as I read this. 3) I tried to think of ‘new interests’ discovered at school but all I could think of were things I learned from my fellow school inmates to deal with the boredom, things like shoplifting, joyriding, alcohol abuse and drugs. 2) I railed against the notion that a centralized committee can force my kids to ‘experience’ new things. 1) But the thought that dominated was that even if there are good things on offer, it wasn’t worth thirteen years in scholastic prison. I spent those thirteen years being hounded, graded, ranked, controlled and bored.

Mr. Day, an engineer who holds graduate degrees from Oxford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, lets his daughter’s interests drive most of her learning. That may mean writing Artemis Fowl fan fiction, watching the pop science program Mythbusters or a trip to the Ontario Science Centre.

Thank you, Mr. Day! I never thought of Mythbusters as educational, but now I’m thinking their system of forming hypotheses and testing them is some of the best learning you can get. This is my biggest takeaway from the article – buy some Mythbusters.


Schools do a really good job at creating…

… university professors.

This is Ken Robinson’s talk at TED back in 2006. I’d come across this video many times but never sat down to watch it. Maybe I hate sitting still for twenty minutes listening to someone else. I was surprised how little content was in the talk, but I found this worth watching for a couple of reasons. Firstly Ken Robinson is just hilarious. I liked the talk about the childhood of the choreographer and the comments on ADHD, although this is a bad example since it suffers from survivor bias – if you’re going to mention that she’s a multi-millionaire you have to balance the choreographer of Cats with the thousands of choreographers that don’t make enough money to pay income tax.



For me the biggest take-away was the description that the point of schooling was to create university professors. For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about what was wrong with schooling and other mechanisms that could provide what school was missing, but this is the first time I’ve seen something that says what schooling does. I’ve read John Taylor Gatto before and I’ve heard the lines about schools existing to provide obedient workers to industry but that didn’t match well with my own childhood. I never fitted in the ‘trained for industry’ bucket. For me, Ken’s line that schools were designed to select university professors worked better. Looked at in that light, schools do a reasonable job. I certainly felt pushed that way at every stage.

This reminds me of when I went to a barbecue with the Maths department at Macquarie University where some the professors were talking to me about becoming a mathematician. It was in the summer holidays between second year and third year. But how did I get invited to a Maths staff barbecue? I was the only undergrad there. I think it was because I’d just won the Maths prize and the CompSci prize and they wanted me to think about studying for a PhD with them and not those evil CompSci folk.

That leaves me with the question of how to use this education system for university professors. At what point do your kids step off the conveyor belt? Do they even step on in the first place?

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