Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Musical incompetence

Against a bright red background Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to the Labour Party Conference. An impressive recital of policy achievements over the last twelve years (but no mention of the Iraq war, which is one of the key reasons the party is going to lose). We saw an overhead view of the audience clapping and cheering - an odd view since it appeared that many of the women delegates were wearing red clothes the same shade as the red carpet.

Conference speech crescendos are an anthropological category worthy of more study.

At the end, during the standing ovation, "Gordon" was joined by his popular wife and they kissed and chatted and acknowledged the crowd like Akhnaten and Nefertiti at one of their audience windows.

However, just as the acclaim was approaching triumph (these sessions have an escalating format) some idiot put on "upbeat" music and we heard Heather Small bellowing out Who do you think you are, stop acting like you're some kind of star...

The delegates were clapping along as Heather was telling Gordon ...you're moving on out, it's time to break free...

Heads should roll for that musical incompetence.

Akhnaten and Nefertiti at their Window of Appearances: http://www.mfa.org/egypt/amarna/akh_tour/akh_tour_page3.html

Those lyrics:

You've done me wrong, your time is up
You took a sip (just a sip) from the devils cup.
You broke my heart, there's no way back.
Move right outta here baby.
Go and pack your bags.
Just who do you think you are?
Stop acting like some kind of star.
Just who do you think you are?
Take it like a man baby if that's what you are.

'Cos I'm moving on up.
You're moving on out.
Movin' on up.
Nothing can stop me.
Moving on up.
You're moving on out.
Time to break free.
Nothing can stop me,Yeah.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On the Today programme this morning

Sent by e-mail:


Lord Mandelson was interviewed on the Today programme this morning.


The interviewer was James Naughtie, who seemed entirely unable to put any challenging questions, or even stem the flow of words from Peter Mandelson's mouth.


"I don't feel under great pressure from you Jim" said Lord Mandelson, which about sums the interview up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I am jibbering

I am fascinated by the Anglo-Saxon treasure found near Lichfield. I have a great desire to know more about these objects and the context in which they were found. For me this is the most important event to occur this century.

I feel I must skip work tomorrow and immediately go to Lichfield (but I won't).

And I find myself wondering how this discovery will change society. For I am in no doubt that "information" on this scale and of this magnitude will change everything we think about ourselves. Very seldom has cultural identity been so fundamentally affected - and in ways we can currently only guess at (for instance, if a trashy movie such as Braveheart can affect the self-image of a "nation", what will be the impact of a genuine archaeological/historical narrative a hundred times greater?).

But I am jibbering and will stop and go and listen to Tristrum Hunt talking about Mackinder on Radio 3 (he was discussed on the World Service recently and I have been intrigued ever since).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fabulous treasure

All the news bulletins today have led on the fabulous 7th century Anglo-Saxon treasure unearthed somewhere in "Mercia". Over one and a half thousand golden objects have been dug up in a muddy field, mostly military items including gold sword pommels and a gold processional cross with a Biblical inscription invoking divine wrath against the "enemy" (writing in the 7th century was regarded as a form of magic). The find is considered equal to the epoch-defining Sutton Hoo treasure dug up in 1939.

Michael Wood appeared on BBC Radio 4's PM almost hyperventilating and babbling on about burnt woods and the cult of St Chad based at Lichfield.

Sneering Jon Snow reported the item on Channel 4 News. Looking at part of a golden helmet, magnified many times over on a screen, he said: "It doesn't look very English." The British Museum expert sitting in the studio corrected him: "It's actually classically Anglo-Saxon."

And not a peep so far from Francis Pryor and the other Anglo-Saxon migration deniers.

How is Francis Pryor going to explain all this away!

More: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/staffordshire/8272058.stm

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crumbled to dust

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable's seemingly impregnable reputation crumbled to dust yesterday. On BBC Radio 4's PM programme they played an interview where the female interviewer (I didn't catch her name - I was driving at the time) comprehensively demolished his arguments and reduced him to whining complaints and vague generalities. This interview was re-staged, almost word for word, by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, indicating that Vince Cable had made no effort in the intervening hours to improve his defence.

It was shocking to witness someone normally so astute and well-informed effectively fall flat on his face.

Getting up again is going to be difficult.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The darkness when it came was chilly

Above: the facade of the Down Hall hotel, taken just as I was walking back to my car.

In the evening I went to the Down Hall hotel near Bishops Stortford for dinner with friends. The hotel is an Edwardian mansion with modern extensions, down a long narrow lane (that leads from a village with about nine pubs in it). I arrived just after 7 as the light was fading.

Meeting one of my friends we took our drinks out onto the terrace. The garden looked well-kept with borders of pink flowers and arrangements of neatly clipped topiary. The scene had all the appearance of summer but with none of the warmth (and the darkness when it came was chilly).

The others arrived and we went into Ibbotsons restaurant. Not many tables were occupied. Mumm Cordon Rouge champagne to drink. I had a sort of terrine made from wood pigeon, roast venison, and what was called an "upside down cake" with a fruit sauce. All the food had a tangy aftertaste which I didn't care for, although the others raved about their meals. The presentation of the courses was tricksy, in a piled-high nouvellish sort of way.

We talked about economics, politics, society.

One of the group, who is a strong Conservative, praised David Cameron: "Don't you see how brilliant he has been in forcing spending cuts onto the agenda. Now both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in a bidding war on who can cut the most. And the joke is that the blow will fall on the public sector which is mainly made up of Labour and Liberal supporters..."

We talked about books - The Long Tail; a book about geopolitics (The Next 100 Years); and (surprisingly) Suite Francais.

We had our coffee in the great hall, lounging on sofas grouped around a massive unlit fireplace.

We talked about travel and L was so insulting about Tel Aviv that another of the party struggled to his feet (he had had a lot of champagne) and announced "I'm Jewish".

Apart from myself, everyone was staying over. I left them about midnight. The drive home took me about three hours.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lord Mandelson interviewed on the Today programme

Posted by e-mail:
Peter Mandelson was interviewed by James Naughtie on the Today programme this morning on BBC Radio 4.
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was slightly hesitant, and his delivery included pauses, audible swallowing, and a slightly hysterical "let me make my point".
The interview was presaged by the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson.
Lord Mandelson couldn't resist swiping at Nick Robinson, claiming he was wrong to have said the Prime Minister's previous policy position had been one of "Labour investment" opposed to "Tory cuts".
In an act of nemesis the BBC produced the Prime Minister's actual words, spoken at Prime Minister's Questions, and asked Peter Mandelson while he was still on air to correct himself.  It left him looking very foolish.  He finished the interview snarling.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Man InThe High Castle by Philip K Dick

The 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war has been much in the news this weekend.

Above: coincidentally I am currently reading The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick. The book describes a world in which the Allies lost the war and America has been divided between German-occupied eastern states and Japanese-occupied western states with a sort of American quisling-state buffer zone in the middle. I don't normally read science fiction, but I am finding this novel very complex, subtle and interesting - with an appearance by Philip K Dick himself, thinly disguised as the dissident "man in the high castle".

Above: Philip K Dick is supposed to be more than just a science fiction writer. He is widely regarded as a prophetic visionary who can "see" the future. His statements, so we are told, are not to be dismissed lightly.

Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I reached page 156 (in the Penguin edition) to read his most sympathetic character, the one who represents everything decent and "normal", voicing the opinion that the British should rule the world.

And in the "book within the book" the man in the high castle (ie Philip K Dick himself) predicts a world in which the British attain world hegemony, even over the Americans.

As I said, it's a complex book.

Which makes me wonder, were the opportunity to present itself, whether we would want world hegemony again. No-one would thank us for it. Wouldn't it be more comfortable to jettison even those foreign commitments we currently have (EU, NATO, Commonwealth) and turn our back on the world and become like Switzerland.

Controversial historical theme: there is a developing trend among some historians who are starting to look at British-American relations post-1945 from a very critical standpoint. "No foreign government has harmed British interests more than the Americans in the post-war period" is the thesis (America is supposed to have financially bled Britain dry in the years 1939-41; callously abandoned the British people to near-starvation in the years 1945-47; refused us support during the Suez Crisis; insisted on decolonisation during the 1950s and 60s; interfered in Northern Ireland during the 1970s; and dragged us into two pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). It's an interesting perspective, but one I would like to see more expanded before I give it serious consideration.