Quotulatiousness

September 21, 2014

The Roosevelts and the foundation of the Imperial Presidency

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:15

Amity Shlaes on the recent Ken Burns documentary on Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt:

“He is at once God and their intimate friend,” wrote journalist Martha Gellhorn back in the 1930s of President Franklin Roosevelt. The quote comes from The Roosevelts, the new Ken Burns documentary that PBS airs this month. But the term “documentary” doesn’t do The Roosevelts justice. “Extravaganza” is more like it: In not one but 14 lavish hours, the series covers two great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who served in the first decade of the last century, and Franklin Roosevelt, who led our nation through the Great Depression and to victory in World War II. In his use of the plural, Burns correctly includes a third Roosevelt: Eleanor, who as first lady also affected policy, along with her spouse.

[...]

Absent, however, from the compelling footage is any display of the negative consequences of Rooseveltian action. The premise of Theodore Roosevelt’s trustbusting was that business was too strong. The opposite turned out to be true when, bullied by TR, the railroads promptly collapsed in the Panic of 1907. In the end it fell to TR’s very target, J. P. Morgan, to organize the rescue on Wall Street.

The documentary also neglects to mention that the economy of the early 1920s proved likewise fragile — casualty, in part, to President Woodrow Wilson’s fortification of TR’s progressive policies. Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge poured their own energy into halting the expansion of an imperial presidency and sustaining the authority of the states. This endeavor, anti-progressive, also won approbation: In 1920, the Harding-Coolidge ticket beat Cox-Roosevelt. The result of the Harding-Coolidge style of presidency was genuine and enormous prosperity. The 1920s saw the arrival of automobiles, indoor toilets, and the very radios that FDR would later use so effectively to his advantage. Joblessness dropped; the number of new patents soared. TR had enjoyed adulation, but so did his mirror opposite, the refrainer Coolidge.

When it comes to the 1930s, such twisting of the record becomes outright distortion. By his own stated goal, that of putting people to work, Roosevelt failed. Joblessness remained above 10 percent for most of the decade. The stock market did not come back. By some measures, real output passed 1929 levels monetarily in the mid 1930s only to fall back into a steep depression within the Depression. As George Will comments, “the best of the New Deal programs was Franklin Roosevelt’s smile.” The recovery might have come sooner had the smile been the only New Deal policy.

So great is Burns’s emphasis on the Roosevelt dynasty that William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover come away as mere seat warmers in the White House. Especially puzzling is the neglect of TR’s progressive heirs, Taft and Wilson, who, after all, set the stage for FDR. This omission can be explained only by Burns’s desire to cement the reign of the Roosevelts. On the surface, the series’ penchant for grandees might seem benign, like the breathless coverage of Princess Kate’s third trimester in People magazine. In this country, elevating presidential families is a common habit of television producers; the Kennedys as dynasty have enjoyed their share of airtime. Still, Burns does go further than the others, ennobling the Roosevelts as if they were true monarchs, gods almost, as in Martha Gellhorn’s above mentioned line. Burns equates progressive policy with the family that promulgates it. And when Burns enthrones the Roosevelts, he also enthrones their unkingly doctrine, progressivism.

QotD: A cry for “social justice”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A cry for social justice is usually little more than a call for goodness; “progressive” has become a substitute for “all good things.” But sometimes the word is too vague. So if you press a self-declared progressive to say what it means, he’ll respond, eventually, with something like, “It means fighting for social justice.” If you ask, “What does ‘social justice’ mean?” you are likely to get an exasperated eye roll, because you just don’t get it.

Social justice is goodness, and if you can’t see that, man, you’re either unintentionally “part of the problem” or you’re for badness.

Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.

September 18, 2014

If Rush Limbaugh didn’t exist, the left would have to invent him

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:16

Hans Bader on how Rush Limbaugh is a constant gift to his enemies … almost a Rob Ford of US political commentary:

Rush Limbaugh can take a winning issue for conservatives and turn it into a loser just by shooting his mouth off. He gives advocates of extreme left-wing policies ammunition for their views by making stupid arguments when smarter arguments exist, and by lacing his arguments with sexism or scurrilous remarks. He did it recently in response to my commentary about Ohio State University’s ridiculously overbroad and intrusive “sexual assault” definition — which seemingly requires students to agree on “why” they are having sex or making out, which is none of the university’s business. And he did it in 2012, when his scurrilous remarks about contraceptive advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut” and a “prostitute” drove even moderate liberals to support a contraceptive mandate on religious employers that they had earlier opposed (and which the Supreme Court later ruled 5-to-4 violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)

[...]

But instead of focusing on that in his criticism of Ohio State’s policy, Limbaugh changed the subject to asking whether “no” really means “no,” saying “How many of you guys in your own experience with women have learned that no means yes, if you know how to spot it?” He then temporarily backed away from this remark by saying, “Let me tell you something, in this modern world, that’s simply…that’s not tolerated.” But then he returned to the inflammatory subject of “no” supposedly not meaning “no” by saying “It used to be that it was a cliché. It used to be part of the advice young boys were given.”

Liberal blogs like Think Progress, and newspaper blogs had a field day making fun of his comments questioning whether no means no, and using them to imply that the only reason anybody would ever oppose requiring “affirmative consent” is because they are a misogynistic troll like Limbaugh. In response, a columnist at a major midwestern newspaper endorsed the policy as supposedly being “smart” in light of the need to educate people like Limbaugh about consent. (Never mind that Limbaugh is not a college student, and it’s hard to imagine many college students sharing his ancient views.)

As a result, all of my efforts were undone, by a factor of ten. Overnight, a policy that seemed extreme even to liberals I discussed it with became embraced by many liberal commenters at these blogs, partly out of a desire to spite the hateful Limbaugh. It is being used to depict critics of the extreme policy as themselves being extreme.

The Cosmos reboot “flatter[s] the sensibilities of the I Love Science Sexually camp”

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:38

I didn’t watch the original Cosmos TV series, but I’ve heard retrospective rave reviews of the original show. I also haven’t watched any of the reboot, but Ace has, and he’s not impressed at all:

More Tyson “quotes” that serve no purpose except to stroke his own ego while he simultaneously strokes the egos of his fanbois and fangurlz.

I was taken aback by the first episode of the Cosmos reboot. That episode also contained, get this, a generally dishonest accounting of a mad monk named Giordani Bruno who challenged the prevailing theory that the sun was singular in the heavens in its possession of a planetary system.

That story was fable-ized — stripped of the complicated reality of truth, turned into a simplistic Aesop Fable for children — in order to flatter the sensibilities of the I Love Science Sexually camp while insulting anyone of even a mild religious disposition.

This is quite jackass, if you assume that the show’s creators actually wanted to evangelize for science among those who had come to distrust science. The show began by making things up in order to denigrate those who distrust science — certainly not evangelizing them to join Team Science at all.

[...]

But this approach does make sense if one assumes their stated motivations for the show (evangelize for science among the “science pagans,” if you will) were not their real motivations.

It makes sense if you assume their actual motivation was to tell the Science Flock that They’re Awesome and that the people who do not believe in The God Science are apes and monkeys.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s position grants him power; it also imposes on him responsibility. I would never myself have nominated what is essentially a planetarium manager as Head of Science of the Western World; but the I Love Science Sexually brigade, the fanbois and fangurlz, did, so this is what we have.

By Tyson’s own lights, is he actually popularizing science, or is making science look rather shabby and stupid by confusing actual science with its sorta-lookalike, “Science”?

I think the latter. He doesn’t seem to be talking about science; he’s talking about “Science,” which is not an intellectual discipline, but a tribal signifier and I Win Button for stupid internet political arguments.

Update:

Update the second: Sean Davis wonders “Why Is Wikipedia Deleting All References To Neil Tyson’s Fabrication?”

Judging by many of the responses to the three pieces I wrote detailing Neil Tyson’s history of fabricating quotes and embellishing stories (part 1, part 2, and part 3), you’d think I had defamed somebody’s god. It turns out that fanatical cultists do not appreciate being shown evidence that the object of their worship may not, in fact, be infallible.

Which brings us to Wikipedia. Oh, Wikipedia. After I published my piece about Neil Tyson’s fabrication of the George W. Bush quote, several users edited Neil Tyson’s wiki page to include details of the quote fabrication controversy. The fact-loving, evidence-weighing, ever-objective editors of the online encyclopedia did not appreciate the inclusion of the evidence of Tyson’s fabrication. Not at all.

According to a review of the edit history of Tyson’s page, one long-time Wikipedia editor deleted an entire pending section summarizing the issue of Tyson’s fabricated quotes. Another editor attempted to insert a brief mention of Tyson’s fabrication of the George W. Bush quote. That mention was also deleted. When it was reinserted, it was deleted yet again by an editor who describes himself as a childless progressive and an apostle of Daily Kos (h/t @kerpen). Here are just a few of that user’s political ramblings, in case you were curious about the motivation behind the scrubbing of Tyson’s wiki.

Literally every single mention of Tyson’s history of fabricating quotes has been removed from Tyson’s Wikipedia page.

September 16, 2014

When the “best nutrition advice” is a big, fat lie

Filed under: Government, Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:17

Rob Lyons charts the way our governments and healthcare experts got onboard the anti-fat dietary express, to our long-lasting dietary harm:

… in recent years, the advice to eat a low-fat diet has increasingly been called into question. Despite cutting down on fatty foods, the populations of many Western countries have become fatter. If heart-disease mortality has maintained a steady decline, cases of type-2 diabetes have shot up in recent years. Maybe these changes were in spite of the advice to avoid fat. Maybe they were caused by that advice.

The most notable figure in providing the intellectual ammunition to challenge existing health advice has been the US science writer, Gary Taubes. His 2007 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, became a bestseller, despite containing long discussions on some fairly complex issues to do with biochemistry, nutrition and medicine. The book’s success triggered a heated debate about what really makes us fat and causes chronic disease.

The move to first discussing and then actively encouraging a low-fat diet was largely due to the work of Dr. Ancel Keys, who is to the low-fat diet movement what Karl Marx is to Communism. His energy, drive, and political savvy helped get the US government and the majority of health experts onboard and pushing his advice. A significant problem with this is that Keys’ advocacy was not statistically backed by even his own data. He drew strong conclusions from tiny, unrepresentative samples, yet managed to persuade most doubters that he was right. A more statistically rigorous analysis might well show that the obesity crisis has actually been driven by the crusading health advisors who have been pushing the low-fat diet all this time … or, as I termed it, “our Woody Allen moment“.

Rob Lyons discussed this with Nina Teicholz, author of the book The Big Fat Surprise:

Once the politically astute Keys had packed the nutrition committee of the AHA and got its backing for the advice to avoid saturated fat, the war on meat and dairy could begin. But a major turning point came in 1977 when the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, led by Democratic senator George McGovern, held hearings on the issue. The result was a set of guidelines, Dietary Goals for the United States [PDF], which promoted the consumption of ‘complex’ carbohydrates, and reductions in the consumption of fat in general and saturated fat in particular.

By 1980, this report had been worked up into government-backed guidelines — around the same time that obesity appears to have taken off in the US. The McGovern Report inspired all the familiar diet advice around the world that we’ve had ever since, and led to major changes in what food manufacturers offered. Out went fat, though unsaturated fat and hydrogenated oils were deemed less bad than saturated fat, so vegetable oils and margarines became more popular. In came more carbohydrate and more sugar, to give those cardboard-like low-fat ‘treats’ some modicum of flavour.

Yet two recent reviews of the evidence around saturated fat — one led by Ronald Krauss, the other by Rajiv Chowdhury — suggest that saturated fat is not the villain it has been painted as. (The latter paper, in particular, sparked outrage.) As for fat in general, Teicholz tells me: ‘There was no effort until very late in the game to provide evidence for the low-fat diet. It was just assumed that that was reasonable because of the caloric benefit you would see from restricting fat.’

Teicholz also debunks the wonderful reputation of the Mediterranean Diet (“a rose-tinted version of reality tailored to the anti-meat prejudices of American researchers”), points out the role of the olive oil industry in pushing the diet (“Swooning researchers were literally wined and dined into going along with promoting the benefits of olive oil”), and points out that we can’t even blame most of the obesity problem on “Big Food”:

Which leads us to an important third point made by Teicholz: that the blame for our current dietary problems cannot solely, or even mainly, be placed at the door of big food corporations. Teicholz writes about how she discovered that ‘the mistakes of nutrition science could not be primarily pinned on the nefarious interests of Big Food. The source of our misguided dietary advice was in some ways more disturbing, since it seems to have been driven by experts at some of our most trusted institutions working towards what they believed to be the public good.’ Once public-health bureaucracies enshrined the dogma that fat is bad for us, ‘the normally self-correcting mechanism of science, which involves constantly challenging one’s own beliefs, was disabled’.

The war on dietary fat is a terrifying example of what happens when politics and bureaucracy mixes with science: provisional conclusions become laws of nature; resources are piled into the official position, creating material as well as intellectual reasons to continue to support it; and any criticism is suppressed or dismissed. As the war on sugar gets into full swing, a reading of The Big Fat Surprise might provide some much-needed humility.

September 15, 2014

BBC Last Night of the Proms 2014 – Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

September 13, 2014

Cinematic fights and actual hand-to-hand combat

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

I almost always have issues watching sword fights in movies or on TV, because I know a little bit about how to use a sword. I’ve actually demonstrated to actors a few of the differences between what looks great on stage and what would happen if someone tried that flashy stage move in a real swordfight. I haven’t done any real training in unarmed combat, aside from a few brief introductory sessions in boxing, judo and Taekwondo as a youngster, but I’ve long suspected the same general rule applies to movie fisticuffs. Guest-blogging at Charles Stross’s blog, Tricia Sullivan says if anything I’m underestimating the unreality of TV/movie fighting:

In my first post of this series I said I would talk about the depiction of personal combat in contemporary media. What I find most interesting here is the tendency to conflate stage-fighting with real fighting, and I am particularly impressed by the foolishness of movie-makers — who are themselves illusionists — when they are tricked by the illusionism of the martial arts into thinking they are showing something ‘real’ when in fact they are showing a martial art with only a tangential relationship to fighting

[...]

In a high-stress situation where a lot of sensory information is coming in very fast, the visual cortex can’t keep up. The brain has to make a guess about what’s going to happen next based on your opponent’s position and the early ‘cue’ at the beginning of a movement. This guess is informed by your past fighting experience; the more fighting experience you have, the better the guess. To my knowledge, the current understanding is that the myelination in cortical areas dealing with sensory information and motor response are only layered through specific experience, and there’s science suggesting that with increased practice, visual tracking will still take place after the response is initiated, enabling an expert to deal with a late correction. This offers some explanation for how a great tennis player can return a seemingly impossible serve.

But the point is that all of these responses are happening below the level of conscious thought; in fact, conscious thought would interfere with the sensorimotor response. A fighter may have a general plan, and metacognitively they may be watching themselves in action–and they will surely be anticipating their opponent moment-by-moment based on what is known about how the other fighter has behaved so far. But fighters don’t set up and run an extended series of moves like this any more than Federer looks at Nadal and says to himself, ‘There can be no emotion. Place service so that opponent returns ball three inches from the line on left side of court. Be waiting there for return of serve. Return opponent’s forehand, run to net sticking racquet out at angle of 60 degrees to hit line shot into back left corner. Dive across net to meet return and cunningly place ball six inches out of reach.’ Just no.

Of course I’m exaggerating. A little. The thing is, this scene isn’t just some fluff used in a movie for fun. It’s representative of the way self-protection and martial arts are often taught, with a ‘you do this, I do that’ approach that centers on pulling the correct technique out of a hat in answer to an incoming technique, often in series. A fight is too holistic and it changes too dynamically to reduce it to a game of playing cards. The approach is misleading and movies like this only serve to reinforce the misinterpretation of what’s going on in a fight.

September 12, 2014

Kate Bush Live “Symphony in Blue”

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:25

September 11, 2014

Roger Goodell’s dilemma

Filed under: Football, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:52

USA Today‘s Tom Pelissero updates the state of play in the Ray-Rice-is-a-terrible-human-being case:

The NFL has hired former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III to investigate the league’s pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence case after a report Wednesday that a league executive received videotape evidence five months before it became public.

New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney will oversee the investigation, and the final report will be made public, according to league’s statement, which noted Commissioner Roger Goodell has pledged the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all league records.

The announcement came hours after the Associated Press published a report citing an unnamed law enforcement official who said he sent a tape of Rice punching his then-fiancée to an NFL executive long before the video surfaced on TMZ.com on Monday, leading to Rice’s release from the Baltimore Ravens and his indefinite suspension by the league.

The law enforcement official — speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation — also played the AP a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice expresses thanks and says: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”

The NFL commissioner may have thought he’d put the Ray Rice issue behind him after the elevator video was released to the public, but now it’s being alleged that the league actually did get a copy of the video before Goodell suspended Rice for a token two-game stretch. Ace thinks this might have been Goodell’s reasoning for doing as he did:

Could that be Goodell’s spin? “I knew about it, but I had to protect a source”?

Although this spin won’t save Goodell, part of his thinking might have been this:

1. This punch is atrocious, a potentially lethal full-on boxer’s knockout punch.

2. However, the evidence of this is currently being withheld from the public by law.

3. Even though I know about this tape, I cannot use it as the basis for my decision, as it is in my hands illegally.

4. Further, I could not explain to the public, nor to the NFL Player’s union, the reasons for a severe punishment, because they would cry foul and cry “PC over-punishment!” unless they see this horror in real time, which I have seen, but they have not, and maybe never will.

I don’t know if that’s what they were thinking (assuming Goodell saw it, and frankly, I don’t know how he could not have seen it — This is his job; punishing a player for an infraction is not something you delegate to the branch office in Cincinnati like Lois Lerner did (wink, wink)), and I doubt this would cut much ice even it it were.

Even if Goodell didn’t think he could suspend Rice indefinitely absent the public unveiling of the tape — Two Game Suspension? When another guy just got a four game suspension for some minor substance abuse rap?

September 10, 2014

Katie Nolan – Why boycotting the NFL because of Ray Rice is not the answer

Filed under: Football, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

I haven’t watched the latest video of Ray Rice being an embarrassment to humankind, nor do I intend to. I think the NFL has made major errors in how they’ve handled the whole situation, and I don’t think it’s over yet, even with Rice out of football (because Rice is certainly not the only offender … he’s just the one we know the most about right now). Katie Nolan offers her insight into why the NFL still doesn’t understand how seriously they’ve fumbled this issue:

Update: USA Today‘s Christine Brennan reports on why the NFL did not act more strongly to the first video.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he never saw the elevator video of Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee until Monday morning, but when he did, he found it “sickening,” he told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.

He also said that Rice and his representatives told him a different story about what happened in the Atlantic City elevator than what he saw on the video. While he would not reveal those details, he called them “ambiguous.”

“There was no ambiguity when you saw that tape (Monday),” he said. “It was sickening. It was appalling. It was clear that it was not consistent with what they presented to us in the hearing and we needed to take the right step which is to indefinitely suspend him.”

Goodell said he and his staff saw the first video in February, the one in which Rice is seen dragging Janay Palmer’s listless body out of the elevator. They “suspected” there was another, and tried to obtain it.

“We asked for it on multiple occasions,” Goodell said. “We asked law enforcement and they were not willing to provide it. I think they were under some legal requirements not to provide it, as I understand it.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey state attorney general addressed on Tuesday the issue of why the video was not released to the NFL.

“It’s grand jury material. It would have been improper — in fact, illegal — for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office to provide it to an outside/private/non law-enforcement entity,” Paul Loriquet said, according to ABC News.

Ontario’s bid to impose a Netflix or YouTube tax

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:28

Michael Geist reports on the Ontario government’s pitch to the CRTC to impose additional tax burdens on foreign online video services:

As CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais anticipated, the Government of Ontario’s call for regulation of online video services attracted considerable attention, including comments from Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover roundly dismissing the possibility. Glover stated:

“We will not allow any moves to impose new regulations and taxes on internet video that would create a Netflix and Youtube Tax.”

Last night, I received an email from a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau that tried to soften the call for online video regulation. The spokesperson stated:

“The presentation today provided important elements for CRTC consideration as it undertakes its review. The government is not advocating for any CanCon changes, or that any specific regulations be imposed on new media TV, until more evidence is available.”

I asked for clarification on what “more evidence” means. The spokesperson responded that there will be over 100 presentations at the CRTC hearing and that all need to be heard from before moving forward.

Yet a review of the Ontario government submission to the CRTC and its prepared remarks yesterday make it clear that the government strongly supported immediate regulatory reforms and that the need for “evidence” is actually a reference to revenue thresholds that would trigger mandatory payments by foreign online video providers.

Ruining royal reputations – it didn’t start on Fleet Street

Filed under: Europe, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

In Maclean’s, Patricia Treble reviews a new book by Jonathan Beckman, called How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair:

Three years before revolutionaries toppled Louis XVI and his Austrian-born wife, Marie Antoinette, France was mesmerized with a different tumult. Cardinal Louis de Rohan, scion of one of the nation’s grandest families, was in court, accused of stealing a famously expensive necklace from jewellers who’d created it. He claimed he’d acted at the behest of the queen, who then reneged on paying for the gaudy 2,800-carat piece. The resultant scandal solidified Marie Antoinette’s reputation for unbounded extravagance.

Yet, as Jonathan Beckman, explains in a masterful new account of the diamond necklace affair, nothing is as it appeared. There are fake royals, forged letters and disappearing gems as well as kidnappings, trysts and even a duel involving poisoned pigs. If the tale was fictional, it would be dismissed as an overwrought fantasy, yet in Beckman’s hands, its machinations unfold as an audacious caper that will enthrall readers much as the original events captivated Europe.

September 8, 2014

QotD: The Economist‘s whitewash of the “Great Leap Forward”

Filed under: China, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

When Mao died, The Economist wrote:

    “In the final reckoning, Mao must be accepted as one of history’s great achievers: for devising a peasant-centered revolutionary strategy which enabled China’s Communist Party to seize power, against Marx’s prescriptions, from bases in the countryside; for directing the transformation of China from a feudal society, wracked by war and bled by corruption, into a unified, egalitarian state where nobody starves; and for reviving national pride and confidence so that China could, in Mao’s words, ‘stand up’ among the great powers.” (emphasis mine)

The current estimate is that, during the Great Leap Forward, between thirty and forty million Chinese peasants starved to death. Critics questioning that figure have suggested that the number might have been as low as two and half million.

I am curious — has the Economist ever published an explicit apology or an explanation of how they got the facts so completely backwards, crediting the man responsible for what was probably the worst famine in history with creating a state “where nobody starves?” Is it known who wrote that passage, and has anyone ever asked him how he could have gotten the facts so terribly wrong?

David D. Friedman, “A Small Mistake”, Ideas, 2014-09-07.

September 5, 2014

Tracey Thorn describes the performance of Kate Bush

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

In the New Statesman, Tracey Thorn laments that she’s lost an excuse for not doing live performances herself and loses herself in the performance at the Hammersmith Apollo in London:

Six straight songs and then, just as we are relaxing, the stage transforms, and the drama begins: a multi-sensory performance of “The Ninth Wave”, the suite of songs that forms side two of The Hounds of Love (1985). There’s Kate on screen in a life jacket, apparently slipping away from us, singing “And Dream of Sheep”, one of her most beautiful songs.

I should probably write this somewhere more formal – my will, perhaps – but in case I forget, let me say here that I would be happy for you to play this song at my funeral. I weep as she sings it, partly because I’m imagining my own funeral, but also because we are witnessing a struggle between life and death, where a drowning woman yearns to be saved, to return to her beloved family. “Let me live!” she cries a few songs later. Overwhelming and exhilarating as they are, all the special effects – Kate in a tank, a helicopter search beam strafing the audience – are in the service of the songs and the story.

Why is it so moving? Well, because when finally she is brought back it is not just the fictional heroine, but Kate herself who has survived the years, and those cold seas, and returned to us. The two strands, family love and audience love, intertwine as she shows us how both mean so much to her. “D’you know what?/I love you better now,” she sings, as the first half ends and we wipe our tears.

Part two is calmer, more reflective, consisting of one side of the recent album Aerial (2005). Reprieved from death, she now revels in the simple, sensuous pleasures of life. Birdsong on a summer afternoon. The setting of the sun and the rising of the moon. In more conventional hands this could be merely decorous and pastoral, even a little twee, but somehow she has found a way to transform contentment into euphoria. The mood is hypnotic, rhythmic and trancey, and the stage dazzles with images of light and flight; less genteel garden party, more full-on midsummer rave, it could be the ultimate blissed-out headliner of a blistering, sunny Glastonbury.

And her singing voice, which I so worried about? It is a thing of wonder, any youthful shrillness replaced by a richer, occasionally gravelly tone, and with a full-throated power unbelievable in someone who has so rarely sung live. All I can think is that she must have been practising, on her own in a barn somewhere, for the past 35 years. Practising, planning, waiting for all the stars to align – her own desire, the cast of collaborators, the right time and place – in order for this to happen. And it is an ecstatic triumph, a truly extraordinary achievement.

QotD: TV documentaries

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Is it just me or are almost all TV documentaries completely unwatchable these days? I remember when I first started this job I’d review one almost every fortnight. Always there’d be something worth watching: on the horrors of the Pacific or the Eastern Front, say; or castles; or Churchill; or medieval sword techniques. But now it’s all crap like The Hidden World of Georgian Needlecraft or In The Footsteps of Twelve Forgotten South American Civilisations Which All Look The Same or A Brooding, Long-Haired Scottish Geographer Shouts From Inside A Volcano Why Climate Change Is Worse Than Ever.

The presenters have got more annoying too. I mean, I’m not saying some of the old ones weren’t infuriating with their hand-waving and tics and mannerisms and wheezings. But the new ones are just vacuous, unformed squits. They make you yearn for a reverse Logan’s Run world, where everyone under 30 is executed for being so tiresome. A lot of them are women, obviously, chosen mainly for their simpering looks and charming speech impediments and unerring knack for fronting the dullest imaginable subject matter.

No doubt the people responsible for commissioning this drivel think they’re redressing the balance, in much the same way progressive historians do when they demand we empathise with medieval peasants rather than learning about what Edward I did to the Welsh and the Scots. Well, I can’t speak for all oppressed women here, but I think I can for my wife. They’re not going, ‘Oh, good. Finally a documentary with my name on it, about what it was like to be a woman’s maidservant in Elizabethan York.’ They’re going, ‘Who is that irritating little cow? Why is she on the screen putting on that little-girl-lost voice for my husband? And why the hell isn’t this documentary about something actually interesting, like, say, castles, or Churchill or medieval sword techniques?’

James Delingpole, “The glories of John Betjeman. And why we need more English eccentrics – eg me – on TV”, JamesDelingpole.com, 2014-09-04.

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