Archive for February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

Posted in Jazz with tags , on February 24, 2009 by telescoper

Today’s  the day we call in England  Shrove Tuesday. We’re apparently all supposed to get shriven by doing a pennance before Lent . Another name for the occasion is Pancake Day, although I’m not sure what sort of pennance it is to be forced to eat pancakes.

Further afield the name for this day is a bit more glamorous. Mardi Gras, which I translated for the title using my schoolboy French, doesn’t make me think of pancakes but of carnivals. And being brought up in a house surrounded by Jazz, it makes me think of New Orleans and the wonderful marching bands that played not just during the Mardi Gras parades but at  just about every occasion for which they could find an excuse, including funerals.

The Mardi Gras parades gave rise to many of the great tunes of New Orleans Jazz, many of them named after the streets through which the parade would travel, mainly in  the famous French Quarter. Basin Street, South Rampart Street, and Bourbon Street are among the names redolent with history for Jazz fans and musicians around the world. I also remember a record by Humphrey Lyttelton‘s 1950s band called Fat Tuesday.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras has on recent occasions sometimes got a bit out of hand, and you probably wouldn’t want to take kids into the French Quarter for fear they would see things they shouldn’t. Personally, though, I’d love the chance to savour the atmosphere and watch the parades.

The  clip I’ve chosen is of Bourbon Street Parade. The one and only time I went to New Orleans I felt a real thrill walking along this street, just because I’ve heard the tune so many times on old records.  I didn’t go in Mardi Gras time, however, but in the middle of summer. The heat was sweltering and the humidity almost unbearable, but the air was filled with music as well as moisture. It was impossible to sleep in the heat, so I stayed up moving from bar to bar, drinking and listening to music until I was completely exhausted.

The tune was written by the late Paul Barbarin, who died in 1969 during a street parade in New Orleans. What a way to go. He also plays on the clip I included here.

I picked this particular clip because it features a much underrated British musician, Sammy Rimmington (although the notes on Youtube have muddled it up; he plays saxophone on this, not clarinet). My dad once played with Sammy Rimmington and I remember the unqualified admiration with which he (my dad) spoke of his (Sammy’s) playing.

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The Problem of the Steady State

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , on February 24, 2009 by telescoper

Just as a quick postscript to my recent item about proposed changes to the method of funding PhD students by STFC, let me point out the following simple calculation.

Assume that the number of permanent academic positions in a given field (e.g. astronomy) remains constant over time. If that is the case, each retirement (or other form of departure) from a permanent position will be replaced by one, presumably junior, scientist.

This means that over an academic career, on average, each academic will produce just one PhD who will get a permanent job. This of course doesn’t count students coming in from abroad, or those getting faculty positions abroad but in the case of the UK these are probably relatively small corrections.

Under the present supply of PhD studentships an academic can expect to get a PhD student at least once every three years or so. At a minimum, therefore, over a 30 year career one can expect to have ten PhD students. A great many supervisors have more PhD students than this, but this just makes the odds worse. The expectation is that only one of these will get a permanent job in the UK. The others (nine out of ten, according to my conservative estimate) above must either leave the field or the country to find permanent employment.

The arithmetic of this situation is a simple fact of life, but I’m not sure how many prospective PhD students are aware of it.