Monday, 31 August 2020

Marie Jaëll

 Radio Three's current Composer of this Week is at least a change from the recycled former CotWs padding out the weeks between the detailed celebration of Beethoven, I thought. So maybe it is just an attempt to rescue a composer from obscurity just because she is a woman. Sure enough, the first movement of her first piano concerto played today is run-of-the-mill Austro-German grandiloquence of a kind later guyed by Dohnányi. (The closing movement is similar.) However, the slow middle movement made me sit up. Original, slightly quirky, it seemed to point the way forward to Ravel. I normally object to "bleeding chunks" of concertos and symphonies being broadcast as is the custom now on Radio Three, but I would make an exception in this case.

Marie Jaëll is clearly worth investigating further.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Trump's America

 Patrick Cockburn in the Independent and in yesterday's i quotes Rudyard Kipling:

Every nation, like every individual. walks in vain show - else it could not live with itself - but I never got over the wonder of a people who, having extirpated the aboriginals of their continent more completely than any modern race had ever done, honestly believed that they were a godly little New England community, setting examples to brutal mankind.

It has to be said that this was from Kipling's short autobiography written late in life. His treatment by his neighbours in Vermont where he had set up their first marital home with his American wife still rankled. However, it is of a piece with his respect for other peoples, no matter what their skin colour. Although he clearly believed that to have been born British was to win first prize in the lottery of life, he was no white supremacist. He would have been appalled by Trump.

Trump's racist rants would be bad enough if they were confined to the US. (Perhaps, though, old world broadcasters like BBC, Channel 4 News and al-Jazeera should be more mindful of their own nations' records on racial exploitation when extensively covering the worst of America.) What is more dangerous, and where the rest of the world needs to take notice, is in his using xenophobic rhetoric in order to appeal to his core vote at home. From the Middle East to the Far East, he is stirring up conflicts and inhibiting free trade. It is going to make recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic - which he is also aggravating - all the more difficult.

One should have no illusions that a Democrat president will be any less tough in trade negotiations than Trump, but at least we can trust anyone who picks up on Obama's legacy will honour any international agreements. 

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Bebop was on its way

 BBC's J to Z celebrates Charlie "Yardbird" Parker's centenary.

Poor Montenegro

 Once the butt of Viennese humour in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Léhar's Merry Widow changed the German grand duchy of the play on which the operetta was based to a thinly-disguised "Pontevedro"), Montenegro escaped the break-up of Tito's Yugoslavia. However, on the brink of joining the EU, she is reported to be at the mercy of a would-be elected dictator on the lines of Belaruss' Lukashenko.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Abu Ja`far Mohammed bin Mûsâ al-Khowârizmi

A 9th century (or 2nd century according to the Islamic calendar) Persian writer from what is now Khiva in Uzbekistan is responsible for two words which may cause the uninitiated to shudder but whose concepts have driven scientific advance. "Algebra" comes from the title of his noted text book, Kitab al jabr w'al-muqabala ("Rules of restoration and reduction"). Algebra is a great and beautiful thing, but I am afraid that, like many a secondary school student before me, I struggled with anything more complex than quadratic equations. (I am a living example that you do not need a degree in mathematics to be a competent computer programmer. Indeed, two of the best I worked with at DVL - both women incidentally - graduated in classical languages. Admittedly, computer science is another matter.)

The other word, based on the name of Moses' son Mohammed's natal city, is "algorithm", This is a more recent coining, for which the Oxford Dictionary does not have a date for a first appearance in print. Fortunately, Donald V Knuth, from whose magnum opus I have extracted most of this information, comes to the rescue. It appears that the great Russian mathematician (and son of a great mathematician*) A.A.Markov jr. first gave the term currency in the early 1950s, probably in translation. Before then, it had clearly been in use orally among mathematicians, along with the term "computational method". Knuth makes the distinction between the two terms that the latter does not necessarily terminate**. He explains:

The modern meaning for algorithm is quite similar to that of recipe, process, method, technique, procedure, routine, except that the word "algorithm" connotes something just a little different. Besides merely being a finite set of rules which gives a sequence of operations for solving a specific type of problem, and algorithm has five important features:

1) Finiteness. An algorithm must always terminate after a finite number of steps. 

2) Definiteness. Each step of an algorithm must be precisely defined; the actions to be carried out must be rigorously and unambiguously specified for each case.

3) Input. An algortihm has zero or more inputs, i.e., quantities which are given to it before the algorithm begins.

4) Output. An algorithm has one or more outputs, i.e., quantities which have a specified relation to the inputs.

5) Effectiveness. An algorithm is also generally expected to be effective. This means that all of the operations to be performed in the algorithm must be sufficiently basic that they can in principle be done exactly and in a finite length of time. {Although, of course, that length may be immense]

So, an algorithm is like a recipe, only more rigorous, and likely to contain a number of repeated steps. It is devised by a human to solve a particular problem. If an algorithm is faulty, the fault lies in the logic of the programmer or systems designer. 

An algorithm may be computationally correct, yet produce results which are not acceptable to the object of the system as a whole. e.g. a Universal Credit client. In that case, the person who defined the system, or its parameters, should shoulder the blame. In the case of UC, that blame goes right to the top.

*A.A.Markov sr. among other things gave his name to Markov chains, significant in queuing theory. I know this only from a short series of lectures on applied mathematics given by the Civil Service College, created by Harold Wilson, continued by Edward Heath but killed off in its original form by Thatcher and Heseltine.

** Many a careless programmer has written no more than a computational method through creating a loop of instructions whose terminating condition may not be met..

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Trials in absentia

 It is reported that the accused in the Harry Dunn fatal crash case may be tried here even though she has returned to the States. 

It seems to me that before we try the citizen of a (mostly) friendly power for what at worst would be manslaughter, the DPP should give greater priority to trying the murderers of Alexander Litvinenko and the perpetrators of the Salisbury poisonings. In the latter case, there were two attempted murders, an incidental manslaughter and two incidental cases of grievous bodily harm. 

Russia has changed her criminal code to forbid trials in absentia - but not before sentencing Litvinenko to death for writing his expose of the Moscow apartment bombings after being granted asylum in Britain.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

US electoral law catches up

The 19th amendment on women's suffrage became effective 100 years ago. It had been ratified on 18th August, but it was on this day in 1920 that it was formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution by proclamation of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Greece undoing all her good work

 This blog on at least two occasions has praised the Greek government for alone among EU governments locking down quickly and completely under the threat of Covid-19. The Greeks reaped their reward in the form of low infection rates and consequently very low death rates. However, clearly under pressure from the leisure and tourist sectors, the restrictions on incomers were relaxed too soon. Euronews reports:

Cases in Greece have skyrocketed lately

Greece has a relatively low COVID-19 infection and death rate compared to other EU countries, but the spread of the coronavirus has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

The country has recorded more than 7,200 cases in total, including some 2,800 in August alone. 230 people have died from COVID-19 in Greece.

Authorities say the surge in cases is due to non-compliance with distancing rules in restaurants, bars and public gatherings. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has warned that "more radical measures, which will undoubtedly have economic repercussions", will be put in place if the spread of the virus continues.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Once-great lakes

 Researching one of the answers for an online quiz, I came across this Web page, illustrating the great lakes of the world. Under the striking main infographic, there was another one reminding us of what was once one of the largest lakes - and the answer to many a quiz question - the Aral Sea. Thanks mainly to geo-engineering by the Soviet Union, but possibly aggravated by global warming, it has virtually dried up in my lifetime. It started with Lenin, when the fresh water which replenished the lake was diverted to the production of cotton, a notoriously thirsty crop, for the export trade. It continued under Stalin and has even survived the break-up of the USSR as the relict -stans grab what they can of the former feeder rivers.

It is a similar story with Lake Chad, though climate change and the advance of the Sahara play a larger part. 

There is more hope for the third lake mentioned in the illustrated Web page, Urmia in Iran, where, according to Forbes,

against the odds, one of the world’s largest salt lakes is now coming back to life, in a rare piece of good news from Iran. A combination of man-made efforts and higher rainfall in recent years is “slowly, but surely reviving what was once the second largest saltwater lake in the world,” says Claudio Providas, Resident Representative in Iran for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which is involved in a project to save the lake.

Urmia had been laid low by a combination of drought, an ever-increasing number of dams (Iran has been an enthusiastic builder of them for more than 60 years) and the overuse of underground water sources and rivers by local farmers. The lake began retreating in the mid-2000s and by 2014 had shrunk to a fraction of its former size, with reports of it holding just 500 million cubic metres of water, compared to 30 billion cubic metres when it had been full.

The programme to save the lake began in 2013. At the time, Urmia’s surface covered just 500 square km, a fraction of the 5,000 km2 it had been at its height. By 2017, it had expanded to 2,300 km2 and, according to the latest information from the Lake Urmia monitoring station, it was at 3,134 km2 last month. The lake’s surface now lies 1,271.75 meters above sea-level, having risen by 0.3m over the past year and 1.7m since 2014. Iranian media agencies have been celebrating the progress with numerous reports in recent weeks. The authorities are understandably keen to advetise the gains that have been made, not least because so much else in the country has been going wrong in recent years, from protest movements brutally supressed to a stumbling economy hit hard by sanctions, tumbling oil prices and one of the world’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19. 

There is still a long way to go for the lake though. The target is to reach a water level of just over 1,274m, something which “still requires substantial efforts,” says Providas. But things are at least heading in the right direction. “Regarding the biodiversity of the lake, there are signs of hope,” adds Providas. He says that brine shrimp, which had disappeared from the lake’s ecosystem due to high salinity, are returning. The number of water birds such as flamingos has also increased from 4,000 during the worst period to 60,000 last year.

The fact that Iran controls Urmia and does not have to arbitrate between conflicting states is a positive factor. The future for Chad is less hopeful, though there may be hope in increased UN and other international concern for the region. Greed will almost certainly guarantee that Aral will not be restored.

Sunday, 23 August 2020


 It is not in any dictionary, but it is surely a logical derivation from "unasinous" which is in the OED (but not the Shorter Oxford or Chambers'). Susie Dent explains the latter in an article in yesterday's i ("What a week for the language of failure").

Synonyms for "fool" abound in the dictionary, including the "saddle-goose" and "buffard" from the 1400s, "little Witham" from the 1500s (apparently after a village whose inhabitants were known for their stupidity*), and "middicock", "noddypeak" and "dizzard" from the 1600s. All of them led up to today's "nincompoops", "wallies", "sapheads", "chumps" and "plonkers".

If, hypothetically speaking, all those fools came together and acted in extreme combined idiocy, they could be described as "unasinous", a word with only a single quotation in the OED, from 1656, but which is surely due a comeback. A riff on "unanimous", it means "united in stupidity", and comes from the Latin unus, "one", and asinus, "ass". Worth bearing in mind when the buffards begin to bray.

* An early Essex girl reference?

Friday, 21 August 2020

A fleeting reference to the Commonwealth

 Last weekend, prime minister Johnson paid tribute to "the rôle that armed forces personnel from across the Commonwealth played in the Second World War". It is a pity that movie representations, particularly those of our American cousins, have virtually whited out most of the "forgotten army", though some recent British TV documentaries have started to restore the balance.

It is an even greater pity that today's Commonwealth is ignored by Cummings and Johnson as they prioritise trade negotiations with the USA and Japan. They demonise refugees from Commonwealth countries where civil rights are ignored instead of using the organisation to press for change. They seek to divert overseas development funds from improving the lot of poor people to UK corporations. The EU as a whole has given more aid to Mozambique after the exceptional floods there this year and last. France was swift to send specialist teams to help clean up the devastating oil spill in Mauritius.  

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Decisive Women

There used to be a school of thought that war and oppression would end if women ruled the world. A leading proponent of this point of view was the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, who "posited that there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on 'Love Allure' that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.". (There was a fascinating feature film by Angela Robinson based on the achievements of Marston, or more accurately the Marston triune. It stars Wales' own Luke Evans and a dynamic Rebecca Hall and is well worth seeing even if TV-scheduled in the wee small hours, which is where I happened to catch it last weekend.)

A few minutes reflection on history should have dispelled the myth. Catherine the Great and England's Elizabeth I achieved absolute powers yet their reigns were partly defined by conflict. In more democratic times, the first female head of government, Mrs Bandaranaike, triggered a civil war in Sri Lanka the effects of which disfigure the nation to this day; Indira Ghandi, Bangladesh's Khaleda Zia and Israel's Golda Meir had troubled reigns, and we all know about Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War. I would say that it was not until Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo was appointed head of a caretaker administration in Portugal in 1979 that a female prime minister led a peaceful nation.

It could be argued that to get to the top job those early women leaders had to be not only more competent than the men but also tougher, hence the overt aggression. After a generation in which political parties have become accustomed to female national leaders, the need to be more macho than the men has diminished. What has remained, though, has been the readiness (Mrs May's swithers apart) to take decisive action, based on evidence. It is noticeable that so many of those leaders, if not lawyers, have been scientists. 

The World Economic Forum has found that
COVID outcomes are systematically better in countries led by women.

Female leaders were found to be locking their countries down far sooner than their male counterparts.

On 8 June 2020, New Zealand was declared virus-free and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lifted all restrictions except stringent border controls.

With fewer than 500 confirmed cases and seven deaths from the virus Taiwan, under the presidency of Tsai Ing-wen, is seen to have performed very well.

Not all male leaders were like rabbits caught in the headlights, or virus deniers. Greece and South Korea also acted promptly. However, there is an undeniable pattern of women doing better. 

PM Ardern continues to act firmly, as the swift lock-down and contact tracing after the recent Auckland outbreak have shown. Her government has also decided to postpone the general election scheduled for this year, even though surveys suggest that she is riding high in public opinion as a result of her handling of the situation. 

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Smoking -> global warming -> SARS (2019)

 Old cynics like me will not have been surprised by the revelations in the recent BBC Radio 4 series How they made us doubt everything

How do you win a battle, if you’re fighting in the wrong arena? A look at how the virtues of science were being used against the scientists. Uncertainty is an inherent part of climate change science, but the word means something different to scientists. This is the lowdown on how scientists are literally using a different language to us and why this has played into the hands of those who want to delay action on climate change. 

From climate change to smoking and cancer, this is the story of how doubt has been manufactured. This 10 part series explores how powerful interests and sharp PR managers engineered doubt about the connection between smoking and cancer and how similar tactics were later used by some to make us doubt climate change. With the help of once-secret internal memos, we take you behind boardroom doors where such strategies were drawn up and explore how the narrative changed on one of the most important stories of our time - and how the marketing of doubt has undermined our willingness to believe almost everything.

Now the deniers have moved on, according to DeSmogUK:

The coronavirus crisis once again saw the UK divided — between those putting their trust in public health experts and their recommendations, and those quick to question the science on which the government claimed to base its decisions for controlling the pandemic. For those who have watched the decades-long efforts to slow climate action, this was a familiar phenomenon. And the coronavirus pandemic seemed to give fresh ammunition to some familiar faces.

A close look at commentary on both COVID-19 and climate change reveals significant crossover between unqualified voices casting doubt on experts recommending action.


“There’s nothing mysterious about this,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of cognitive science, who studies the persistence of misinformation in society at the University of Bristol.
“I think COVID is just climate change on steroids in a particle accelerator,” he says. “The same forces are happening: you have the inevitability of a virus which is the same as the inevitability of the physics. And opposing that you have politics which motivates some people to deny the inevitables and instead resort to bizarre claims.”

The difference this time is that the doubters have no clear vested interest in pushing their anti-science. This may reduce the speed of spread of their propaganda because of the lack of corporate funding, but on the other hand could lend a spurious air of authenticity to their doubts.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Royal divorce

Aug 17  1820 saw the divorce trial of Caroline, estranged wife of George IV of England,  on the grounds of adultery, beginning in the House of Lords. They had been separated since 1796.

An ancestor of my ex-wife was a companion of George IV and his louche friends.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Julian Bream - forgotten man?

 In 1960, it was the equivalent of Sting in this century adopting the music of Dowland. Julian Bream was a famous guitarist, possibly the most famous after the semi-retirement of Segovia. Yet he chose to take up the lute, possibly inspired by the revival of interest in English music of the 16th and 17th centuries by his friend Benjamin Britten and his circle. I remember standing in a queue in a civil service cafeteria behind an executive who animatedly complained to his companion that Bream was making a big mistake, the techniques were entirely different. In the event, Bream proved both amateur and professional critics wrong. The Julian Bream Consort was a success, though he was to return to the guitar in later years. Although it seems to have been over twenty years since his last live concert, it is surprising that the main BBC news bulletins have not reported his death. Radio 3 will no doubt make up for that in the days to come. 

Like Sir Alan Parker he never completely lost his youthful accent, though he did smooth it out over the years. One wonders whether in these less democratic days either would have risen to the top so quickly.


Friday, 14 August 2020

Covid-19: worrying re-emergence in New Zealand

 There has been an outbreak of 29 new cases of the virus involving Auckland and a town south of the capital, all linked, according to official New Zealand sources. A case of 31st July in Wellington has also come to light as a result of contact-tracing from the Auckland cases. The New Zealand administration has been swift to reimpose strict social control measures.

Prime Minister Ardern admitted that the source may not ever be identified.

“In terms of the ongoing investigation to identify where the virus originated from, there are still no clear connections at this point,” Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand could expect to see more cases from the cluster. "It will grow before it slows," she added.

"And it may continue to be linked to schools, churches and social gatherings, as it has done to date. We also know, based on overseas experience and our own, that it is possible to contain a cluster or outbreak without ever being able to identify its origin."

What is concerning is the possibility that the new outbreak is not the result of importation of the virus from abroad, That suggests that the fear of some scientists is well-founded: that the virus can establish itself undetected in a population, that the disease will always be with us. 

Thursday, 13 August 2020

More men who came back

 I do hope that somewhere in the BBC archives, or in a private recording, or notes - at least in a more permanent form than my imperfect memory - there is a record of a remarkable tribute paid by John Arlott to Wilf Wooller. Most of the obituaries of Wooller almost dismissed his wartime incarceration as an interruption to his sporting career (the Indy's does somewhat more justice) but there was much more to it than that. 

The tribute almost came out of nowhere. It was not a case of de mortuis, because I am pretty sure that all the persons named by Arlott were still alive at the time. The occasion was one of those prolonged breaks during Test Match Special when commentators and expert summarisers embarked on a discussion to fill in the time before play resumed. It started with a look back at the famous (or infamous) 1976 home series against the West Indies when David Steele and, at the age of 45, Brian Close were brought in as the best players of fast bowling in an attempt to withstand the attack of Michael Holding and Anderson Roberts (with Wayne Daniel as occasional back-up). There was an undercurrent of anti-colonialist feeling in the West Indian camp, exacerbated by England's choice of a scion of Southern African white supremacy as captain. This came to a head during the Third Test as described here.

Close was proud of the punishment he took and was not shy of showing off his bruises to the gentlemen of the press. The extent of his bruising was exceptional and Arlott remarked that it was the most he had ever seen on a man - with one exception, the result of an attempt at intimidation of Wooller by an ambitious young Peter Loader. Wooller was already in his forties and Loader in his mid-twenties, and probably at his fastest, when Glamorgan and Surrey met in the county championship. Wooller  continually needled Loader, no doubt reasoning that in losing control of his temper the bowler would also lose the control of his bowling. The result was a sustained barrage at the body rather than the wicket from which Wooller did not flinch.

There were men, Arlott said, who told him they owed their lives to that courage and the ability to survive harsh punishment. In Changi, Wooller supported them through the worst of the Japanese prison camp régime. In some cases he practically bullied them into staying alive so that they were able to return to their families, emaciated but alive, after VJ Day. 

The fact that Arlott, a card-carrying Liberal, and the autocratic arch-conservative Wooller were politically poles apart underlines the respect that Arlott had for Wooller as a person. Wooller was very sparing in words of praise, but I would like to think that he respected Arlott in turn.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

VJ - and the men who came back

There are rightly many articles devoted to the end of WW2 in SE Asia in Radio Times this week, in advance of Saturday's commemoration of VJ-Day. Among them is "Finding my father", Libby Purves's write-up of an interview with Eleanor Holland, daughter of Colonel Henry Ross Power. Col. Power had served in Burma, been captured by the Japanese and survived until the end of the war in a Rangoon jail. He had written a secret diary which he preserved in a box in the family home. It was the Covid lock-down's forcing her to suspend her day job volunteering at the National Maritime Museum in  Cornwall which spurred her to fill the empty hours by investigating her late father's belongings. The result was the touching story recounted by Ms Purves.

There will no doubt be more discoveries of what veterans of the conflict and, too often, of cruel incarceration, expressed in writing that which they were unwilling to talk about once they were repatriated. May those discoveries continue to be made as we - and more importantly our children - inevitably lose the living testament of the survivors. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Sunak's meanness liable to put dangerous accused back on the streets

 Chancellor Rishi Sunak wildly increased the UK's indebtedness in order to "save the economy". He has not shown similar concern about the safety of our streets, as a post from The Secret Barrister demonstrates.

Whether somebody awaits trial on bail or in custody is based on an assessment of risk. You generally have a right to bail unless a judge finds substantial grounds to believe you will flee, commit further offences or interfere with witnesses. 

[However, there are Custody Time Limits (CTLs),] regulations setting the maximum time that somebody awaiting trial can be remanded in custody before their trial. [...] CTLs in theory guarantee you a quicker trial. The maximum time you can be detained before your Crown Court trial is 182 days (6 months).

This can, however, be extended by the court in certain cases. The test is whether the reason for the extension is: an absent defendant/witness/judge; the need for multiple trials for a defendant; or some other "good and sufficient cause". The prosecution must also show they have acted "with all due diligence and expedition". 

If a CTL expires without an extension being granted, a defendant is released on bail. This can obviously have serious consequences. People have been killed when dangerous defendants have been released due to "CTL failures" in the legal lingo. 

Now Covid has caused problems due to the suspension in March of jury trials. So the senior judiciary introduced a protocol confirming that this amounts to a good and sufficient cause to extend CTLs. 

All well and good, but the government has done nothing to get these trials going again. There has been a consistent programme of selling off courts (totalling hundreds according to our learned friends), but, apart from setting up ten emergency "Nightingale Courts", government has not built any replacements. Getting rid of Victorian (or earlier) buildings which do not meet 21st century standards and can not be easily adapted to do so is sensible, but it also makes sense to provide capacity which does conform to current standards. 

This was too much for a Crown Court judge at Snaresbrook

While there may have been good reason to keep people in custody longer when Covid struck in March, five months on the government has sat on its hands and refused to fund the courts to get the trials running. So His Honour Justice Raynor has ruled that this does not amount to a good reason to extend.

Now this is just a Crown Court decision. It does not set a precedent. But if other judges form the same view, this will result in potentially dangerous offenders being released onto the streets pending trial, all over the country. All because the government won't pay for justice. 

"All over the country" includes Wales.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Diversity in cinema

 Sir Alan Parker, who died last week, rose from the post-room in an advertising agency to directing some of the most significant films of the late 20th and early 21st century. His description of British film's being a cottage industry and other scathing remarks made good copy for the tabloid press. In his friend David Puttnam's words, he saw through the laziness of the business as compared with the hard-driven advertising background they shared. What received less attention was Parker's interest in improving matters. Although he made virtually all his movies in Hollywood, he became an effective chairman of the British Film Institute. He was also founder chairman of the UK Film Council. Never forgetting his north London roots, he pushed the British industry to be more diverse. He started a company in Birmingham so that young film-makers not in London could make their first films. 

Coincidentally, last week's Film Programme on Radio 4 opened with a diatribe by a guest presenter against the nepotism and class structure of English drama. 

It seems to me that we have come full circle. The British films of the nineteen-forties and -fifties were replete with trained actors from a middle- or upper-middle-class background. When called upon to speak in a regional or working-class accent, their efforts were often painful. It was the British "New Wave" from 1959 onwards which  redressed the balance. A whole generation of actors of both sexes from the regions were encouraged by the new breed of film-makers to use their natural tones, even though many had been trained in RP by drama schools. Later, there was also encouragement for natural actors like Bob Hoskins. That generation has largely passed on, though Sir Tom Courtenay is happily still with us. Otherwise, it is all private-school or Estuary English, with the occasional Welsh or Scottish voice thrown in.

Will there be another "New Wave"? Probably not in cinema or on the stage. The administrators of institutions in decline tend to circle the wagons and not let fresh blood in. BBC Radio is consciously doing its bit, but rumours about the intentions of the Johnson/Cummings government throw its future into doubt. Perhaps something will come from the Web, from gaming or from Internet personalities. We shall see.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Nagasaki August 8th/9th 1945

I am almost convinced that the destruction of Hiroshima was necessary to bring an end to the world war in the East. However, there was surely no need to obliterate Nagasaki, the charming, most European-facing of Japanese cities. The writer of this New Yorker article seems to agree.

One trusts that Schnittke's oratorio would have been performed on this day in the Royal Albert Hall (as it was in 2009) if the Covid-19 emergency had not intervened.  Perhaps next year?

Friday, 7 August 2020

The Putifying of the Tories

There have been previous examples of Tory venality while in government. Ernest Marples shamelessly used his positions in government to further the civil engineering company he co-founded. Harold Macmillan in his "Wind of Change" tour of African capitals, admirably promulgating liberal values, incidentally promoted the text-books published by the education arm of the family publishing firm. 

But these were isolated instances of individuals enriching themselves or their kin. What is new is the virtual sale of the entire Conservative Party apparatus to outside interests, mainly Russians making use of the London money laundromat

It was John Major and Michael Howard, wittingly or unwittingly, who set in train the systematic corruption of the Conservative party and eventually government through the "golden visa" scheme. The Blair-Brown administrations did nothing to remove the bolt-hole afforded to Russian oligarchs, enemies and friends of Putin alike. It is probably no coincidence that Peter Mandelson was entertained by oligarch Oleg Deripaska on board his yacht - as was George Osborne, later to become Chancellor.

A fresh government prepared to "clean the swamp" might however find that driving out the "hot money" too quickly would damage the economy.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

The walk to Tesco is getting more irksome

Around the time that Don Shepherd announced his retirement when he seemed to be bowling as well as ever, he confided to John Arlott (who had a soft spot for Glamorgan cricket club) that "it gets you in the legs". I know what he meant.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Kicking the table over

Mariella Frostrup has sadly left Radio 4's Open Book programme for fresh Murdoch woods, but she has left behind a cache of excellent interviews, including this one with Robert Harris. Towards the end, he accepts Frostrup's suggestion that he is a political novelist, even though he is generally described as a thriller writer. 
Scandal, ambition, they are worldly subjects, not interior, they are not domestic, so that there is almost no language for this, except for the thriller

The interview took place before the current pandemic was declared, but well into other pattern-breaking events:
Something lies behind Brexit and Trump and all the other things that are going on and the interesting novel would be to try and find what that other thing is [but we may have to wait] ten or twenty years to really get a sense of what it is that has shaken up our world so much. [...] It's like the period before the First World War where you had a long period of peace and relative prosperity but it's almost as if we as a species had got bored and we wanted to kick the table over and try something different and we had these new technological means to fight war and everyone wondered whether it would be worth a try [and] there was a sort of general ferment and I wonder whether we are living through something like that now.

Part of the trouble is the tendency of empires which see their power beginning to diminish, or at least see stronger rivals emerging, lashing out in a demonstration of military prowess. This is not an original theory; some old Greek, whose name I have forgotten, put it forward thousands of years ago. The pattern has repeated down the ages. The UK demonstrated it in South Africa and Austro-Hungary in the Great War as power inexorably slipped towards the United States. I would argue that Russia's doomed adventure in Afghanistan is another such case. In 2016, US voters, sensing their position in the world slipping, elected a president professing to "make America great again", conducting trade wars and seemingly intent on picking a fight with the new rising power, China. 

But something else is going on. Other rising nations like Brazil and India, which should be comfortable with the current situation, have elected ultra-nationalist, divisive leaders who can only impede their development. China, which has no need of a confrontation, is equally as provocative as the US. It does seem as if the world is bent on collective suicide.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Keep right on

The reason for anthems becoming attached to particular football teams can be obscure. There is no doubt about Liverpool's adoption of "You'll never walk alone": scouser Gerry Marsden had a Top Ten hit with the song from "Carousel" shortly after the Red Men rose from the old second division under Bill Shankly and climbed to greater heights. (Rodgers hated both the Gerry And The Pacemakers treatment and it becoming a football anthem, by the way.)  "Bubbles" link to West Ham United goes back further and involves the nickname of a 1920s player, a crowd favourite. But why "Keep right on to the end of the road" and Birmingham City?

It turns out that this connection goes back only to 1956 and City's big FA Cup run that year. The Birmingham Mail records:
Blues were on their way to Leyton Orient in the fourth round of the FA Cup and manager Arthur Turner got the squad to sing the anthem as a pre-match ritual to calm the nerves before a big game. Birmingham City legend Alex Govan, a winger who played for Blues during the 1950’s, introduced the team to Lauder’s famous song as the club went on to reach the FA Cup final in 1956.

The song was written by William Dillon and the great Scottish comedian, inspired by a tragedy in the Lauder family. His son had been killed in action during the Great War. There will probably continue to be arguments as to whether he or Will Fyffe best represented the Scots and Scottish humour, but Lauder should be given his due on the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Guerin and bare IT

In one of a series of articles explaining how Johnson and Cummings have corrupted the governance of Britain, Byline Times details the meteoric rise of political strategy firm Topham Guerin. Sam Bright charts the progress of the New Zealand start-up linked to libertarian and neo-conservative movements. The whole article is worth reading for an exposition of yet a further step on the way in which this government is breaking down the "Chinese walls" between personal or party interest and that of the nation.

What interested me in particular was the Topham Guerin methodology.

On 29 May 2019, Topham Guerin co-founder Ben Guerin appeared as a special guest at the Friedman Conference, a right-wing event hosted by the Australian Libertarian Society (ALS) and the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance (ATA).
A week before, his bootstrap firm had played a major role in propelling the right-wing Liberal Party, headed by Scott Morrison, to victory in the Australian Federal Election.
Reflecting on the social media strategy he deployed during the election, Guerin describes a campaign of highly repetitive messaging – what he calls “water dripping on a stone” – to convince voters that the opposition Labor Party would hike-up taxes. Guerin boasts an especially high-performing piece of content was an image of a dog accompanied by the message ‘tax is bad’.
In this spirit, the social media spin doctor goes on to explain how “crude,” poorly-produced memes attracted more engagement than slick, formulaic graphics.
“You’ve got to surprise people. You’ve got to shock people. Unlock and arouse an emotion in people,” he recommends, to his right-wing audience.
Emotive content was pumped out relentlessly by the Morrison campaign, says Guerin, and the professionalism of that content literally didn’t matter.
“That’s how you get what we call the ‘boomer memes’. Because you have to crank stuff out quickly. You couldn’t spend too long doing an artisanally perfect graphic. You’re going to slap some Calibri font on a shitty, reused meme and you’re going to publish it, and then get on to the next one. And you know what: that content is going to do better than the thing your poor graphic designer spent a week on.”
This tactic, Guerin claims, resulted in Morrison and the Liberal Party receiving twice as much engagement on social media than their Labor opponents.
“And when most of that is concentrated in marginal seats, that’s how you win an election that no-one thinks you’re going to win,” he opined, with just a hint of smugness.
Following the model of the Australian election, Topham Guerin deployed all their expertise in shitty fonts – notably when they posted a graphic on the Conservative Party’s official social media channels, using Comic Sans.

This meme generated so much attention that ‘Comic Sans’ trended on Twitter and the internet flooded with news articles from click-hungry media outlets. This undoubtedly spread the Tory message to millions more people than would have seen a predictable, corporate illustration.
One thinks back to the Roneoed and Gestetnered leaflets of variable quality with necessarily minimal graphics put out by local Liberals in the 1950s and '60s. They may have lacked the gloss of the occasional printed leaflets from the big parties, but they had an immediacy and an authenticity which was taken away by the people who led us in coalition.