Global Culture, Ravi Shankar, and Robbie Krieger

December 12, 2012

Last week I was at the Texas Donuts Meeting. More of that anon perhaps. San Antonio was a vibrant mix of American and Mexican culture. This I expected. After all, if it wasn’t for a few stubborn rednecks at the Alamo and San Jacinto, Texas would still be in Mexico. Shame about the oil. Anyhoo, what I didn’t expect was to find someone playing the bagpipes on the River Walk. Bizarre but actually rather good.

I got home and emptied out my coins. I had mixed up some US and UK coins, and as I sorted them, I noticed that the quarters and the ten pences were exactly the same diameter (though not the same thickness). Likewise the dime and the five pence were identical. After some Googling, it seems many other coins round the world are the same. On some forum I found the comment “is this a coincidence, or the work of the Illuminati?” Quite. Somebody help.

Then this morning the news that Ravi Shankar died. Ravi Shankar famously joined Eastern and Western cultures, but I think he should be equally famous for joining tribes inside the West. He played symphony halls with Yehudi Menuhin, and rock concerts with George Harrison. The classical fans were overawed by his perfect musicianship and the complexity of the music; the rock gang were hypnotised by the vitality and freedom of the music. Complexity and freedom at the same time – a pretty good trick. Back in the summer of 1971, as my hair and beard grew between schhol and university, I bought “Four Ragas” and I had never heard anything like it. I played it obsessively for days on end. Here is one of those ragas on YouTube :

Somebody on Beeb4 this morning mentioned “The End” by The Doors as a Shankar-influenced  piece of music. Excellent choice. Many seventies and eighties bands just kinda inserted sitar bits into their tracks; and the Menuhin stuff I found a sort of Classic-FM-ised version of Indian classical music. But Robbie Krieger absorbed the feeling and some of the techniques and re-emerged with something new. In the 1967 the musical world merged in Los Angeles. African music crossed the Atlantic in slave boats and became ragtime, jazz and blues; music from the borders of Scotland and Ireland mutated into bluegrass and country; both of these were swallowed up by the mainstream European style songwriting tradition and became rock and roll; and finally the hippies swallowed the eastern music and the acid and rock passed through the doors of perception and emerged strange and wonderful.  Enough. Ladies and Gentleman, The Doors :

The streets are fields that never die, deliver me from reasons why

We used to write that on walls.

Turning donuts into PhDs

February 26, 2009

Yesterday at KIPAC tea, a graduate student wished everybody “a happy Mardi Gras”. This lost me, but later it made sense; when I got home to Little Britain there were pancakes for tea, for lo, it was Pancake Day, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday. The pancakes were scrumptious but not enough for my hungry kids. Grad students are possibly even more voracious than teenagers, but luckily at KIPAC tea there is a goodly supply of donuts. This is an essential part of a PhD education of course; supply stodge and the students will turn up to the talks, absorbing some knowledge along with the sugar.

Is this investment worth while ? Over at the PeterBlog, Professor C worries that we are over producing students, because only one in ten can become an academic. Actually, without this overproduction, Peter and I would be out of a job. Why does the Government pay for astronomers ? Because we do have an economic impact. Our product is people.

We all accept this where undergraduates are concerned. Half of our job is teaching; we do our bit for the academic sausage machine, churning out the scientically literate workforce our society needs. That makes it economically feasible to pay us for the other half of our job, scientific research. We tend to think of PhD students as part of this second world; our apprentices, each producing their magnum opus after three years. But that world has long gone. The PhD is an advanced training degree. A decade ago, while I was on PPARC Council, studentships were doubled. Why ? Because we were not getting enough astronomy done ? Nope. Because the captains of industry said “we can use more of these” and yea verily the Treasury purse strings were opened.

So the donuts make sense.

Mostly this is good. The Government is happy to continue paying for pure science, because they can see that every pound spent puts three back into the economy. But they must be thinking “hmmm.. wonder if we can squeeze six out of them ?” They already did this to us on undergraduate numbers. Postgrads could be next.

Dunkin’ Dylan Shocker

October 14, 2007

Google “Newport 1965” and you know what you will get. The infamous, the mythic, the revolutionary moment in time when Dylan went electric. I did this very thing, just after watching the Murray Lerner movie on TV and coming over all nostalgic. This is odd, as not only was I not there, I was only eleven at the time. Still, four years later, listening to the Incredible String Band and buying my first Pink Floyd album, people were still talking about it. (Try this and this)
Next, instead of searching for “Newport 1965” I just looked for “Newport Festival” and woohooo its still going… but there was a bit of a shock. Now, as the story goes, the folkies were distressed because their politically perfect festival had been sullied by commercialism… So how fitting that, as you will see at this web page, it is now the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival.