October 17, 2016

QotD: The “narrative”

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

The most exhausting thing about our politics these days — other than the never-ending presidential election itself — is the obsession with “shaping the narrative.” By that I mean the effort to connect the dots between a selective number of facts and statistics to support one storyline about the state of the union.

Narrative-building is essential for almost every complicated argument because it’s the only way to get our pattern-seeking brains to discount contradictory facts and data. Trial lawyers understand this implicitly. Get the jury to buy the story, and they’ll do the heavy lifting of arranging the facts in just the right way.


I’m not naive. Crafting stories to serve political purposes is as old as politics itself. But the problem seems to be getting worse. Perhaps it’s because our country is so polarized and our media environment so balkanized and instantaneous. Politicians and journalists alike feel compelled to make facts serve some larger tale in every utterance. The reality is that life is complicated and every well-crafted narrative leaves out important facts.

Jonah Goldberg, “Narrative-Building Has Become a Political Obsession”, National Review, 2016-09-28.

October 16, 2016

Trump supporters aren’t who you think they are

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

An interesting article in, of all places, the Guardian discusses where Trump support comes from and why the media has difficulty identifying or covering them in a realistic fashion:

Hard numbers complicate, if not roundly dismiss, the oft-regurgitated theory that income or education levels predict Trump support, or that working-class whites support him disproportionately. Last month, results of 87,000 interviews conducted by Gallup showed that those who liked Trump were under no more economic distress or immigration-related anxiety than those who opposed him.

According to the study, his supporters didn’t have lower incomes or higher unemployment levels than other Americans. Income data misses a lot; those with healthy earnings might also have negative wealth or downward mobility. But respondents overall weren’t clinging to jobs perceived to be endangered. “Surprisingly”, a Gallup researcher wrote, “there appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign.”

Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000 – higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters. Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. In January, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams reported findings that a penchant for authoritarianism – not income, education, gender, age or race –predicted Trump support.

These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue.

In seeking to explain Trump’s appeal, proportionate media coverage would require more stories about the racism and misogyny among white Trump supporters in tony suburbs. Or, if we’re examining economically driven bitterness among the working class, stories about the Democratic lawmakers who in recent decades ended welfare as we knew it, hopped in the sack with Wall Street and forgot American labor in their global trade agreements.

But, for national media outlets comprised largely of middle- and upper-class liberals, that would mean looking their own class in the face.

The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well. That the media industry ignored my home for so long left a vacuum of understanding in which the first glimpse of an economically downtrodden white is presumed to represent the whole.

H/T to John Donovan who comments “I’m pretty sure I don’t share this Kansan’s policy preferences, but I find her view here refreshing.”

October 12, 2016

A recut version of The Hobbit pares away most of the non-Tolkien parts

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00


Let me start by saying that I enjoy many aspects of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Overall, however, I felt that the story was spoiled by an interminable running time, unengaging plot tangents and constant narrative filibustering. What especially saddened me was how Bilbo (the supposed protagonist of the story) was rendered absent for large portions of the final two films. Back in 2012, I had high hopes of adding The Hobbit to my annual Lord of the Rings marathon, but in its current bloated format, I simply cannot see that happening.

So, over the weekend, I decided to condense all three installments (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies) into a single 4-hour feature that more closely resembled Tolkien’s original novel. Well, okay, it’s closer to 4.5 hours, but those are some long-ass credits! This new version was achieved through a series of major and minor cuts, detailed below:

  • The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.
  • The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway.😛
  • The Pale Orc subplot is vastly trimmed down. Azog is obviously still leading the attack on the Lonely Mountain at the end, but he does not appear in the film until after the company escapes the goblin tunnels (suggesting that the slaying of the Great Goblin is a factor in their vendetta, as it was in the novel).
  • Several of the Laketown scenes have been cut, such as Bard’s imprisonment and the superfluous orc raid. However, I’ve still left quite a bit of this story-thread intact, since I felt it succeeded in getting the audience to care about the down-beaten fisherfolk and the struggles of Bard to protect them.
  • The prelude with old Bilbo is gone. As with the novel, I find the film works better if the scope starts out small (in a cosy hobbit hole), and then grows organically as Bilbo ventures out into the big, scary world. It is far more elegant to first learn about Smaug from the dwarves’ haunting ballad (rather than a bombastic CGI sequence). The prelude also undermines the real-and-present stakes of the story by framing it as one big flashback.

H/T to Sarah Salviander on Gab.ai for the link.

October 11, 2016

Lois McMaster Bujold interview at EverydayFangirl

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

“pattybones2” discusses the fan experiences of Lois McMaster Bujold in those dim, far-distant days before the internet brought everything to your desk (tablet, phone, etc.):


When do you realize you were a Fangirl?


Before the term “fangirl” was invented. I started reading science fiction for grownups at about age nine, because my father, an engineering professor, used to buy the magazines and books to read on the plane when he went on consulting trips, and they fell to me. Got my first subscription to Analog Magazine at age 13. So when Star Trek came along in 1966, when I was in high school, the seed fell on already-fertile ground; it was an addition, not a revelation. At last, SF on TV that was almost as good as what I was reading, a miracle! I would have just called myself a fan then, or a reader, ungendered terms I note.

In my entire high school of 1,800 students, there was only one other genre reader I knew of (later we expanded to 4 or 6), my best friend Lillian, and she only because we traded interests; I got history from her, she got F&SF from me. So there was no one to be fans with, for the first while.


How has social media helped or hindered you?


It has provided a great way to reach my readers with the latest word about my works, and vice versa; it’s also an enormous distraction and time sink. What I learn from it all makes it come out pretty even, I think. But due to the distraction issues, I keep my e-footprint small, mainly my Goodreads blog. Goodreads has also provided a handy way for fans to ask questions. 280 answered questions so far, so if you want to read more Bujold blether, there you go.

You can find her Goodreads blog here. Alternatively, you can subscribe to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list here.

QotD: The triumph of Political Correctness

[P]olitical correctness represents something far more profound than its critics appreciate. The victory of PC is built upon the demise and decay of traditional forms of authority and traditional forms of morality. It is parasitical on what we might call the crisis of conservative thought. In fact, I would argue that the power of PC is directly proportionate to the weakness of the old, taken-for-granted forms of morality.

I can understand the temptation to present political correctness as simply the imposition of a stifling framework by small groups of illiberal liberals, to see it as the conscious project of a cut-off, head-in-the-clouds middle-class elite determined to remake everything and everyone in its own image.


Yet to look at political correctness in that way only — as a kind of new Ten Commandments enforced by tiny elites — is to miss what is the foundation stone of PC, the ground upon which it is built. Which is the inability of the traditional moralists to justify themselves and defend their way of life and moral system. It is that inability which, towards the end of the twentieth century, created a moral vacuum that was filled by instinctive and often kneejerk new forms of moral control and censorship.

Because when you have a profound crisis of traditional morality, which governed society for so long, then previously normal and unquestioned ways of behaving get called into question. From speech to interpersonal relations, even to nursery rhymes — nothing can be taken for granted anymore when the old frameworks have been removed. All the given things of the past 200-odd years start to fall apart. Political correctness is really the scaffolding that has been hastily erected to replace the old morality. It represents the tentative takeover by a new kind of modern-day moralist. And the end result is undoubtedly tyrannical and stifling and profoundly antagonistic both to individual autonomy and freedom of speech.


That is why political correctness is so hysterical, so intolerant, so keen to govern everything from how professors communicate with their students to whether teachers can touch their pupils to when it is acceptable to say ‘blackboard’ — not because it is strong, but because it is weak and isolated. It has no real roots in society or history, like the more traditional forms of morality did. It enjoys no popular legitimacy or public support; in fact, the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ rather reflects the disdain amongst large sections of the public for today’s new speech codes and behaviour etiquette. It is the shallowness of PC, its parasitical nature, which makes it so insatiably interventionist.

Because at a time when it is no longer clear what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, who is respectable and who is not, then everything is thrown into a kind of moral chaos, giving rise to a weird hunger among the new elites to clamp down on and closely govern what were previously considered to be normal interactions that required little, if any, external intervention.

Brendan O’Neill, “The new war against PC – it’s too late and it’s picked the wrong target”, Spiked, 2015-01-29.

October 10, 2016

QotD: Wikipedia-shaming

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

Did you know it is 2015 and people will still criticize you for getting facts off of Wikipedia?

I’m not even talking about controversial conclusions, like “on balance, the research about gun control shows…”. I’m talking about simple facts.

A: “China is bigger than the United States”

B: “Where’d you hear that one, Wikipedia?”

A: “…yes?”

B: “You expect me to believe something you literally just took off a Wikipedia article?”

Yes. Yes I do. I could go find the CIA World Factbook or whatever, but it will say the same thing as Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is pretty much always right. When you challenge Wikipedia on basic facts, all you do is force people to use inconvenient sources to back up the things Wikipedia says, costing people time for no reason and making them hate you. There may have been a time when Wikipedia was famously inaccurate. Or maybe there wasn’t. I don’t know. Wikipedia doesn’t have an article on it, so it would take time and energy to find out. The point is, now it’s 2015, and the matter has been settled.

How accurate is Wikipedia?:

    Several studies have been done to assess the reliability of Wikipedia. An early study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia’s scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”. The study by Nature was disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica, and later Nature replied to this refutation with both a formal response and a point-by-point rebuttal of Britannica‘s main objections. Between 2008 and 2012, articles in medical and scientific fields such as pathology, toxicology, oncology, pharmaceuticals, and psychiatry comparing Wikipedia to professional and peer-reviewed sources found that Wikipedia’s depth and coverage were of a high standard.

I know this because I got it from Wikipedia’s Reliability Of Wikipedia article. Go ahead, challenge me, I dare you.

Scott Alexander, “These Are A Few (More) Of My (Least) Favourite Things”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-01-21.

October 8, 2016

Al Stewart interview

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

On the 40th anniversary of the release of Al’s Year of the Cat album, he was interviewed by “Redbeard” for In the Studio with Redbeard. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the interview, so you’ll have to follow that link to hear a few of Al’s stories and songs (including the time he got backstage to talk to John Lennon in 1963, thanks to a fast-talking friend).

It was a sunny cloudless autumn morning in 1988 outside a modest house high on the hillside above Malibu Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The owner of the house answered my knock still dressed in his bathrobe, vertically striped like Joseph’s biblical coat of many colors. Clearly I had surprised my interview subject with an earlier than anticipated arrival, but Al Stewart grinned and graciously let me invade his Saturday morning tranquility.


At that time it was only the tenth anniversary of the second of his back-to-back multimillion selling albums, Time Passages, which like its predecessor, 1976’s Year of the Cat, was produced by Alan Parsons just as Parsons launched his own career as a performer. But these mainstream hits by Al Stewart were far from his first attempts, coming instead after making no less than six albums, the first of four of which were practically ignored. Not until 1973’s Past, Present, and Future and “Roads to Moscow”, with its eight minute historically-based first person World War II narrative through the eyes of a young Russian soldier who had repelled the Nazi German tank invasion, did Stewart gain U.S. airplay.

October 6, 2016

QotD: Political Correctness to the point of derangement

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

My favourite example of political correctness involves the American Navy. In October 2001, shortly after America invaded Afghanistan, some of its Navy personnel were preparing missiles that were going to be fired at al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds. One of the Navy men decided to write some words on the side of his missile to express his anger about 9/11. So in reference to the 9/11 hijackings, he wrote the following message on his missile: ‘Hijack this, you faggots.’

Now, little did he know that even though the American military had rather a lot on its mind at that moment, his message would still cause a massive controversy. When they heard about what had happened, the upper echelons of the Navy were outraged. They expressed ‘official disapproval’ of the homophobic message. They issued a warning that Navy personnel should ‘more closely edit their spontaneous acts of penmanship’. Some unofficial guidelines were issued, covering what could and could not be written on post-9/11 missiles. So it was okay to write things like ‘I love New York’ but not okay to use words like faggot.

That is my favourite example of political correctness for two reasons. Firstly because it sums up how psychotically obsessed with language politically correct people are. Because what these Navy people were effectively saying is that it is okay to kill people, but not to offend them. It is okay to drop missiles on someone’s town or someone’s cave, just so long as those missiles don’t have anything ‘inappropriate’ written on them. Heaven forbid that the last thing a member of the Taliban should see before having his head blown off is a word reminding him of the existence of homosexuality.

This really captures the warping of morality that is inherent in political correctness, where one becomes so myopically focused on speech codes, on linguistic representation, that everything else, even matters of life and death, can become subordinate to that.

Brendan O’Neill, “The new war against PC – it’s too late and it’s picked the wrong target”, Spiked, 2015-01-29.

October 5, 2016

QotD: Why professional athletes and actors get paid much more than firefighters and teachers

Filed under: Economics, Media, Quotations, Sports — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I agree that most people are troubled that the likes of Tom Brady and Jennifer Lawrence earn far higher pay than does any firefighter or school teacher. But this reality reflects not people’s correct understanding of a failing economy but people’s incorrect understanding of a successful economy. It reflects also a failure of economists to better teach basic economics to the general public. So let me ask: would you prefer to live in a world in which the number of people who can skillfully fight fires and teach children is large but the number of people who can skillfully play sports and act is very tiny, or in a world in which the number of people who can skillfully fight fires and teach children is very tiny but the number of people who can skillfully play sports and act is large?

I’m sure that you’d much prefer to live in a world in which skills at fighting fires and teaching children are more abundant than are skills at playing sports and acting. Precisely because saving lives and teaching children are indeed far more important on the whole than is entertainment, we are extraordinarily fortunate that the numbers of our fellow human beings who possess the skills and willingness to save lives and to teach children are much greater than are the numbers who can skillfully play sports and act.

The lower pay of fire fighters and school teachers simply reflects the happy reality that we’re blessed with a much larger supply of superb first-responders and educators than we are of superb jocks and thespians. Were it the other way around, then while we’d be better entertained with more top-flight sporting events and movies, all but the richest amongst us would suffer significantly greater risks of being unable to educate our children and of dying in house fires and from other mishaps.

Don Boudreaux, “Thinking At the Margin: It’s Revolutionary”, Café Hayek, 2016-09-01.

October 4, 2016

When you suppress hate speech, you don’t actually eliminate it

Filed under: Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

People seem to be surprised that censorship generates pushback from the censored. In this case, the more active censorship of certain words by Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies has encouraged the targets of the censors to come up with other ways to communicate with fellow-minded people, in this case a simple substitution code:

Now a new type of hateful internet code appears to be emerging: The systematic use of innocuous words to stand in for offensive racial slurs. Search Twitter for “googles,” “skypes,” or “yahoos,” and you will encounter some shocking results, like this tweet: “If welfare state is a given it must go towards our own who needs. No Skypes, googles, or yahoos.” Or this one, reading “Chain the googles / Gas the yahoos.”

What does this mean? Nothing good. In this lexicon, “googles” means the n-word; “skypes” means Jews; and “yahoos” means “spic.” The word “skittles” has come to refer to Muslims, an obvious reference to Donald Trump Jr.’s comparing of refugees with candy that “would kill you.”

By all accounts the lexicon seems to have been conceived on 4chan — a message board famous for its trolls — as a response to Google’s improved method for identifying pages and comments with offensive content and potentially removing or flagging them. The title of the 4chan post that seems to have started it all is “RIP alt-right trolls, SkyNet is coming for you.” The trolls responded with a loosely organized effort called “Operation Google,” which aims to get around these algorithms, and to trick them into blocking the names of their own services and companies.

Hence the use of “google” to mean what is arguably the most offensive term of them all. For a fuller list, including coded anti-LGBT terms, click here. (Warning: It’s not pretty.) This list appeared on 4chan’s “Politically Incorrect” /pol/ board, and has been widely shared on Twitter and elsewhere, and similar terms can be found as well.

QotD: Byzantine literature

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The biggest misconception appears to be that the Byzantine Empire was a sterile, gloomy place, devoid of interest to anyone but Orthodox Christians or historians who are the scholarly equivalent of train spotters. There is enough truth in this charge for it to have stuck in the popular imagination for the past few centuries. With exceptions like Cecelia Holland’s Belt of Gold, there is no Byzantine sub-genre in historical fiction. I can think of no British or American films set in Constantinople after about the year 600 – and few before then.

Undoubtedly, the Byzantines made little effort to be original in their literature. But they had virtually the whole body of Classical Greek literature in their libraries and in their heads. For them, this was both a wonderful possession and a fetter on the imagination. It was in their language, and not in their language. Any educated Byzantine could understand it. But the language had moved on – changes of pronunciation and dynamics and vocabulary. The classics were the accepted model for composition. But to write like the ancients was furiously hard. Imagine a world in which we spoke Standard English, but felt compelled, for everything above a short e-mail, to write in the language of Shakespeare and the Authorised Version of the Bible. Some of us might manage a good pastiche. Most of us would simply memorise the whole of the Bible, and, overlooking its actual content, write by adapting and rearranging remembered clauses. It wouldn’t encourage an original literature. Because Latin soon became a completely foreign language in the West – and because we in England were so barbarous, we had to write in our own language – Western Mediaeval literature is often a fine thing. The Byzantine Greeks never had a dark age in our sense. Their historians in the fifteenth century wrote up the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in the same language as Thucydides. Poor Greeks.

But you really need to be blind not to see beauty in their architecture and their iconography. Though little has survived, they were even capable of an original reworking of classical realism in their arts.

Richard Blake, interviewed by Jennifer Falkner, 2014-06-23.

October 3, 2016

QotD: Nitpicking sexual issues in Middle Earth

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

Warm Beds Are Good fails to grapple with the most interesting question of all, however, which is how Arwen and Aragorn could possibly have developed the hots for each other in the first place. It turns out to be rather hard to come up with any theory of Elvish reproductive biology under which Arwen’s behavior makes any sense at all.

Aragorn’s end isn’t that much of a mystery. He’s an alpha male of a warrior culture, chock full o’ testosterone and other dominance hormones guaranteed to make him into a serious horn-dog. She’s a beautiful princess, broadcasting human-compatible health-and-fertility signals in all directions. If she doesn’t actively smell bad, tab A fits slot B just fine from the point of view of his mating instincts.

No, the fundamental problem is Arwen’s lifespan. She is supposedly something like two thousand, seven hundred years old when she meets Aragorn. That’s an awful lot of Saturday nights at the Last Homely Disco West of the Mountains; if she has a sex drive anything like a normal human female’s, she ought to have more mileage on her than a Liberian tramp steamer. On the other hand, if her sexual wiring is fundamentally different from a human female’s, what’n’the hell is she doing with Aragorn? He shouldn’t look or smell or behave right to trigger her releasers, any more than a talking chimpanzee would to most human women.

“B-b-but…” I hear you splutter “This is fantasy!”, to which I say foo! Tolkien was very careful about logical consistency in areas where he was equipped by temperament and training to appreciate it; he invented a cosmology, thousand of years of history, multiple languages; he drew maps. He lectured on the importance of a having convincing and consistent secondary world in fantasy. Furthermore, Tolkien never completely repudiated the intention that his fiction was a mythic description of the lost past of our Earth, and that therefore matter, energy and life should be consistent with the forms in which we know them.

Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to analyze Middle-Earth as though it were a science-fictional creation, to assume Elves and Men both got DNA, and to ask if the freakin’ biology makes any sense at all under this assumption.

And one of the facts we have to deal with is that humans and elves are not just interfertile, they produce fertile offspring. That means they have to be genetically very, very similar. If there are dramatic differences between elf and human reproductive behavior, the instinctive basis for them must be coded in a relatively small set of genes that somehow don’t interfere with that interfertility. In fact, technically, Elves and Men have to be subspecies of the same stock.

When this came up on my favorite mailing list just after the first movie came out, my hypothesis was that elves (a) have only rare periods of vulnerability to sexual impulses, and (b) imprint on each other for life when they mate, like swans. This pattern is actually within the envelope of human variation, though uncommon — which makes it a plausible candidate for being dominant in another hominid subspecies.

This ‘swan theory’ would be consistent with Appendix A, which (a) has Arwen meeting Aragorn when he was garbed like an elven prince and (as near as we can tell through Tolkien’s rather clotted chansons-de-geste style) falling for him hard right then and there, and (b) has Arwen’s family apparently operating under the assumption that once that had happened, the damage was done and she wouldn’t be mating with anyone else, noway, nohow.

One of the techies on the list shot the swan theory down by finding a canonical instance of an Elf remarrying (Finwe, father of Feanor; first wife Miriel, second Indis). In subsequent discussion, we concluded that it wasn’t possible to frame a consistent theory that fit Tolkien’s facts. The sticking-point turned out to be the half-elven; Tolkien tells us that they get to choose whether they will have the nature of Men or Elves, and it is implied that they do so at puberty.

Since that’s true, the difference between Men and Elves can’t properly be genetic at all. It must be in the cloudy realm of spirit, magic, and divine interventions. This is not an area in which Tolkien (a devout Catholic) gives us any rules or regularities at all. Elvish sexual behavior could be arbitrarily variant from human without any reasons other than that Eru keeps exerting his will to make it so, and He very well might be intervening to keep elf-maidens’ hormones from getting them jiggy Until It’s Time.

Helluva way to run a universe, say I. Inelegant. A really craftsmanlike god would build his cosmos so it wouldn’t require constant divine intervention to function. It’s a serious weakness in Tolkien’s fiction, one that runs far deeper than anachronisms like domestic cats (which didn’t reach northern Europe until late Roman times) and tea (to Europe in 1610) in the Shire.

Eric S. Raymond, “Sex and Tolkien”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-12-18.

September 29, 2016

QotD: Christopher Lee’s roles

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

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow – and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun – and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned – a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

Mark Steyn, “Fangs, Light Sabers and a Supernumary Papilla”, Steyn Online, 2015-06-13.

September 28, 2016

“… first I have to explain the Tragically Hip. I apologize in advance.”

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

Kathy Shaidle burnishes her street cred as the most anti-Tragically Hip writer of the year:

Foreign ears will likely mistake the Hip for a fairly capable R.E.M. cover band — very “Stuff White People Like,” nothing more. But up here during, yes, the 1990s, college students got maudlin drunk on this group’s unsingable songs, in part because the only words you can make out are Canadian place names and slang terms, and there will always exist a particular variety of parochial — the type who otherwise despises “patriotism” — who inevitably finds that sort of thing weirdly…I don’t know if “flattering” is quite the word, but it will have to do. It helps that, off stage, the Hip promote the usual “progressive” bunkum.

The Tragically Hip are hardly the Rolling Stones or the Who, or Smashing Pumpkins or Hole. The Tragically Hip will never make any Top 50, or even Top 500, Musical Groups of All Time List.

And yet, I’ve been duly informed, they are “Canada’s Band.” The announcement on May Two-Four that lead singer and songwriter Gord Downie had fatal brain cancer meant, for me, that (forget what I wrote last week) his gnomic lyrics finally had a pretext, and for everyone else, that the band was embarking on a national farewell tour.

The media covered every aspect of this cross-country excursion with that cloying, breathless boosterism normally reserved for the Olympics. Except even the Games’ critics are allowed to voice their dissent, and not a discouraging word was permitted as the Tragically Hip traipsed across the country all summer, their “songs” blaring on the radio even more than already demanded by CanCon.

The CBC broadcast their final gig live, calling it “an honour and a privilege.” Prime Minister Zoolander (later conspicuously absent from any 15th-anniversary commemorations of 9/11) attended, of course. Maclean’s put Downie on the cover of a special issue and devoted dozens of pages to the tour, analyzing each set list and quoting fans declaring the Hip’s songs “the soundtrack of our lives” and Downie “a genius” and a “shaman” and a “saint.”

I’d go on, but Canadian poet David Solway’s crabby take on this “orgiastic sobfest” cannot be bettered. (Not surprisingly, it was published by an American outlet.)

And then it was over. Finally.

Except until it wasn’t.

September 27, 2016

QotD: The abdication of traditional morality

Too often these days, critics of PC play the victim card. Many right-wing thinkers claim that a conspiratorial cabal of PC loons is ruining our lives. This conveniently absolves these thinkers of having to account for what happened to their morality and traditions. Where did they go? It is far easier to claim that society has been taken hostage by gangs of lentil-eating, language-obsessed nutjobs than it is to face up to and explain the demise of a way of life that had existed for much of the modern era. Indeed, in many ways the term ‘political correctness’ doesn’t really have much basis in reality — it is the invention of traditionalists unable to explain recent historic turns, so instead they fantasise about the onward, unstoppable march of sinister liberals riding roughshod over their superior way of life.

Of course, the demise of traditional morality did not have to be a bad thing. There was much in those old ways which was also censorious and pernicious and stifling of anybody who wanted to experiment with lifestyle or sexual orientation. The problem is that the old, frequently stuffy morality was not successfully pushed aside by a more progressive, human-centred moral outlook – rather it withered and faded and collapsed under the pressure of crises, creating a moral hole that has been filled by those who have influence in the post-traditional world: the increasingly vocal chattering classes.

But let’s not play the victim in the face of an apparently all-powerful ‘PC police’. No, if you feel like you are being treated as a heretic for thinking or saying the ‘wrong things’ in our politically correct world, then you should start acting like a proper, self-respecting heretic: have the courage of your convictions and say what you think regardless of the consequences.

Brendan O’Neill, “The new war against PC – it’s too late and it’s picked the wrong target”, Spiked, 2015-01-29.

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