April 9, 2014

Palin – “A lot of Python was crap, it really was”

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

The funny bits were very funny indeed, but we tend to forget the never-ending interminable repetitive repetitiveness of a lot of the other material:

Michael Palin has finally admitted what many of us have known in our hearts for some time: a lot of Monty Python‘s material was “crap.”

“People forgive you the things that don’t work. A lot of Python was crap, it really was,” said Palin, yesterday, at the launch of a tour called “Travelling To Work” announced at the London Book Fair.

“We put stuff in there that was not really that good, but fortunately there were a couple of things that everyone remembers while they’ve forgotten the dross,” he said.

Palin is dead right, of course. As a child in the 1970s I remember sitting stony-faced through entire episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But at the time, and ever since, there has existed a powerful omerta whereby no one can admit to finding Monty Python unfunny for fear of being thought humourless or not part of the gang.

Monty Python‘s inflated reputation derives as much as anything, I think, from a combination of obsessive repetition and peer pressure. That is, a lot of their sketches are not particularly funny in and of themselves, but have been conferred the status of classics as a result of being endlessly repeated by drunken students who brandish their knowledge of Python sketches as a way of acquiring cult credibility.

I know this because it’s exactly what I did myself at university in the mid-Eighties.

Yeah, well, on that last bit all I can say is “All right, it’s a fair cop, but society is to blame”.

March 21, 2014

Kate Bush announces series of concerts in London

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:23

The Daily Mail describes it as a residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London:

Kate Bush is to return to the stage in London — 35 years after she retired from touring after just six weeks on the road.

She will play a 15-date residency at the Hammersmith Apollo which was the venue for a celebrated concert film she made in 1979.

The 55-year-old made a surprise announcement about the shows — to be called Before The Dawn — on Friday morning, with the first taking place on August 26.

Bush talked about a desire to return to playing live in an interview three years ago, saying she would love to play again before she became ‘too ancient’.

She was just 20 when she completed The Tour Of Life after topping the charts with Wuthering Heights the previous year.

Over the years, theories about her absence from the stage have included her perfectionism, a fear of flying and the death of one of the tour crew, lighting director Bill Duffield, during a show.

But in a rare interview with Mojo magazine in 2011 to mark her comeback, she explained that her years of silence on the touring circuit were simply down to the sheer exertion of the ordeal.

‘It was enormously enjoyable. But physically it was absolutely exhausting,’ she said.

LONDON – 12th MAY: English singer Kate Bush performs live on stage at Hammersmith Odeon in London on the penultimate date of her European tour on 12th May 1979. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)

March 14, 2014

Iain Martin on the three phases of Tony Benn’s political career

Filed under: Britain, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:12

The death of Tony Benn was announced this morning, and the Telegraph‘s Iain Martin says that Benn’s political trajectory had three distinct phases:

The BBC‘s James Landale described it well this morning only minutes after the death of Tony Benn was announced. There were, he told the Today programme, three phases of Tony Benn the public figure. That is right, and in the second phase Benn almost destroyed the Labour Party. His death — or his reinvention as a national treasure from the late 1980s onwards — doesn’t alter that reality.

In the 1950s and 1960s Benn was part of Labour’s supposed wave of the future, serving in Wilson’s governments and embodying the technocratic approach that was going to forge a modern Britain in the “white heat of technology”. It didn’t work out like that.


But it is when Labour found itself out of power in 1979 that Benn the socialist preacher applied his considerable talents — his gift for public speaking and the denunciation of rivals — to trying to turn Labour, one of Britain’s two great parties that dominated the 20th century, from being a broad church into a party that stood only for his, by then, very dangerous brand of Left-wing extremism. In the wars of that period against Labour’s Right-wing and soft centre he did not operate alone, but he was the figurehead of a Bennite movement that created the conditions in which the SDP breakaway became necessary, splitting the Left and giving Margaret Thatcher an enormous advantage to the joy of Tories. When Labour crashed to defeat in 1983, Benn even said that the result was a good start because millions of voters had voted for an authentically socialist manifesto, which would have taken Britain back to the stone age if implemented.

From there, after a bitter interlude and a sulk, Benn began his final and, this time, wonderful transformation, during which he was elevated to the ranks of national treasure — a pipe-smoking man of letters, like a great National Trust property crossed with George Orwell. As with many journalists of my generation, I encountered him one on one only in that third phase, and found him, as many others did, a deeply courteous, amusing and interesting man. It was his defence of the Commons, against the Executive, that I liked, and when he spoke on such themes it was possible to imagine him at Cromwell’s elbow in the English Civil War, or printing off radical pamphlets before falling out with the parliamentary leadership after the King had had his head cut off.

March 6, 2014

Al Stewart – Soho Needless to Say (1978)

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

March 4, 2014

“Comedy turned inward and became domesticated [and] smaller”

Filed under: Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith discusses the comedians of the 1970s and their modern day successors:

As Chevy Chase might have put it on Saturday Night Live, Harold Ramis is still dead. And with him has gone the finest era of comedy: The ’70s kind.

Ramis was as close to the king of comedy as it gets, as a writer, director and occasional sidekick for Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.


Taking off with the movie M*A*S*H in 1970 — a huge hit that grossed $450 million in today’s dollars — and its spinoff sitcom, ’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.

When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.

The Cosby Show and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.

Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

February 10, 2014

Al Stewart – On the Border live (1978)

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:04

January 27, 2014

QotD: Montreuil and Le Corbusier

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:16

Montreuil reminded me strongly of something: ah yes, I remember what it was, Eastern Europe in the good old days. It had that same air of inspissated gloom and ontological pointlessness; the architecture would have gladdened the heart (so to speak) of Elena Ceausescu. The bus passed through a wasteland of 1970s modernism, egalitarian doctrine made not so much flesh as concrete. The buildings did not age, they dilapidated; it was architecture that induced immediate thoughts of suicide. (Le Corbusier is still revered in France and treated as a hero, though it should be obvious to anyone who reads any of his voluminous writings that he was a psychopathic architectural delinquent of totalitarian pretensions whose talents belonged more to the field of propaganda than to those of architecture, in which his abilities were all negative.) The bus stops were in places such as Saint-Just, the patron saint of revolutionary terror, and Nouvelle France: new in the same sense that the New Man, so beloved of Mussolini and Che Guevara, was going to be new. Montreuil is, in fact, firmly communist, and it shows, although honesty compels me to admit that I don’t know which came first: the communism or the ugliness of everything. Probably the relationship is what Marxists used to call a dialectical one.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Museum of the Living Dead”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-01-26

January 5, 2014

In the dictionary, the word “narcissism” is defined as “baby boomer default mental state”

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:22

Okay, it isn’t really (but if you think it is, you’ve probably fallen for the “gullible isn’t in the dictionary” prank as well). In the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout discovers that every defining event of the Baby Boom era always comes back to being about the Baby Boomers themselves:

Most “Monty Python” fans are, of course, baby boomers, who have long been a nostalgic lot and are growing more so as they totter toward old age. Witness their tiresomely obsessive fascination with the popular television series of their youth. Likewise their undimmed passion for the rock music of the 1960s and ’70s, which they still love so much that they’ll buy expensive tickets to see wrinkled old codgers play it onstage.

As always with the boomers, this nostalgia contains more than a touch of narcissism. The same narcissism was on display in many of the countless gushy boomer-penned reminiscences occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. An indisputably major historical event, to be sure, but there was also something decidedly creepy about the self-centered tone of those suddenly-my-world-changed pieces, which was deftly skewered by this Onion headline: “Area Man Can Remember Exactly Where He Was, What He Was Doing When He Assassinated John F. Kennedy.” Like everything else in the boomers’ world, Kennedy’s death turned out in the end to have been all about them.


Not surprisingly, my parents’ generation did everything they could to make life easier for their own children. Was that good for us? I wonder. It certainly didn’t do us any good from a cultural point of view. I’m struck by how few boomers have embraced adult culture in middle age. My impression is that they’d much rather watch sitcoms than read novels, go to the opera or listen to jazz. In large part they’re a cohort of Peter Pans, determined not to grow up any more than they can help. Indeed, not a few of them seem to take a perverse kind of pride in their adolescent enthusiasms. I read the other day that a “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” lunch box from 1973 now sells for $1,200 — and that the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History owns one. I’m not quite sure which of those facts makes me sadder.

If I live long enough, I’ll enjoy finding out how the millennials remember the world of their youth a quarter-century from now. Since they’re having a much harder time earning a living than did their baby-boom parents, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their attitude ends up being much more like that of the wised-up kids of the Great Depression, especially as regards cultural matters. While I don’t know whether they’ll go in for late Beethoven by the time they reach their 50s, somehow I doubt that watching an ancient episode of “30 Rock” will cause them to recall with fondness the good old bad old days when they were living in crummy studio apartments — or their parents’ basements.

October 22, 2013

QotD: They We were better people in those days…

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

Back in the bad old days, before Pierre Trudeau saved Canada from the horrors of fiscal solvency and smallish government, school children, mostly girls, were taught something called home economics. The theory, terrible quaint though it sounds, is that since most women would become homemakers they should be prepared for that role. Some, no doubt, came from good homes where dutiful mothers ensured that their daughters knew how to cook, sew and deal with troublesome infants. Some did not come from good homes. Part of the point of public education was to make sure that all girls knew how to cook nutritious food for their families. More broadly it was to ensure that all children acquired life skills along with whatever algebra and Shakespeare they could pick up.

That was one of the goals of public education. Educating a self reliant, sober and decent citizenry. Not rationalizing every vice and undermining the founding tenets of Canadian society. There was plenty of propaganda, but it was mostly propagating positive values. A tad parochial and silly by our standards, but not without its merits. It was not a platform for allowing anti-capitalist and anti-industrial zealots like David Suzuki to pontificate.

If there is a problem with “food insecurity” it’s because many Canadians, especially among the lower classes, lack basic life skills. That, not incidentally, is why most are in the lower class. If the Pakistani cab driver with a scant English vocabulary can feed and cloth his family with some decency, what does that say about the Mackenzies who have been here since Simcoe? Some of the poor are poor because they’re physically or mentally incapable of fending for themselves. In an advanced society they comprises only a small fraction of the working age population. Much of the poor in Canada are poor because they exhibit poor behaviour.

Most of the long-term poor, this excludes those who are simply suffering from temporary misfortune, think in a much different way than those in the middle class. The long-term poor are short-range in their thinking. Their savings rate is close to non-existent. They can’t resist instant gratification, like junk food or gambling. This also extends to their sexual lives. They exhibit a strong tendency toward highly unstable short-term relationships based on fleeting desire. The notion of a long-term, emotionally stable relationship is either alien or absurd.

Richard Anderson, “Thinking of the Children”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2013-10-21

October 8, 2013

Geddy Lee on old Rush videos

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

Rolling Stone digs deep into the video archives to come up with some particularly interesting (for certain values of “interesting”) Rush videos:

Geddy Lee is the first to admit that Rush do not have a great track record when it comes to making music videos, and their track record of picking stylish haircuts and outfits also leaves a bit to be desired. A few weeks ago, he sat down with Rolling Stone to discuss Rush’s new live DVD and their future plans. Towards the end, we took out an iPad and showed him 10 Rush videos on YouTube. Sometimes, he looked a little horrified at his videos and haircuts, but he had a lot to say about all of them. Click through to see the videos and hear Geddy’s memories. At the end, we also showed him a couple of Rush tribute videos by some super-fans.

The first video is a performance of “Working Man” in St. Catharines from 1974 … with their original drummer (John Rutsey) who was replaced by Neil Peart shortly afterwards:

“I haven’t seen this, ever. It’s not a bad recording, either. John was very much a mod, very much in the Paul Weller school of dressing. Alex and I were just long-hairs pretending that we were groovy.”

And commenting on a later video:

You can see the time period in everyone’s haircuts. . . Véronique Béliveau, the French singer, was awesome. . . This was bad, but it wasn’t my worst hairdo. My worst one was the coonskin hat period. That’s when I had my hair in a ponytail and this big poufy thing on the top. That was late 1980s/ early 1990s.

September 17, 2013

A brief history of fifty years of American economic thought

Filed under: Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:07

Tyler Cowen wraps up the rise and fall of “right” and “left” economics in the US since the 1960s:

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the so-called “right wing” was right about virtually everything on the economic front. Most of all communism, but also inflation, taxes, (most of) deregulation, labor unions, and much more, noting that a big chunk of the right wing blew it on race and some other social issues. The Friedmanite wing of the right nailed it on floating exchange rates.

Arguably the “rightness of the right” peaks around 1989, with the collapse of communism. After that, the right wing starts to lose its way.

Up through that time, market-oriented economists have more interesting research, more innovative journals, and much else to their credit, culminating in the persona and career of Milton Friedman.

I’ve never heard tales of Paul Samuelson’s MIT colleagues mocking him for his pronouncements on Soviet economic growth. I suspect they didn’t.

Starting in the early 1990s, the left wing is better equipped, more scholarly, and also more fun to read. (What exactly turned them around?) In the 1990s, the Quarterly Journal of Economics is suddenly more interesting and ultimately more influential than the Journal of Political Economy, even though the latter retained a higher academic ranking. The right loses track of what its issues ought to be. There is no real heir to the legacy of Milton Friedman.

September 15, 2013

Sippican Cottage and the start of his welding career

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

All I can assume is that my RSS reader needs a good, swift kick every now and again because this post from Labour Day just showed up in my reader now …

I needed a job, bad, in LA, 1980-ish. I moved there with next to no money and no plan. I was only old enough to drink because they hadn’t changed the law yet. I’d had a dozen jobs or more already. No one was hiring nobody for nothing nohow. If I see another person compare today’s economy to the Depression I’m going to show them a picture of 1979. When a mortgage on a house reaches 17%, unemployment is right around 30% in the construction industry, and inflation looks like it’s going to touch 20, you get back to me. Car companies did more than just talk about going bankrupt back then.

I was sleeping on the couch in an apartment shared by two girls, neither of which I knew then or know now. You can distill painful shyness into a kind of brazenness if you try real hard.

The only job opening I could find was a classified for a welder. I had welded under a microscope before, so I was prepared to say I was qualified. A ship in a bottle is still a ship, right?

I drove 66 miles dead east from LA to get there. Outside the place looked like Ingsoc owned it, and inside it looked like Beelzebub was renting it. Medieval. A metal corrugated roof in the desert. The concrete block walls could just barely hold in the amount of crazy required to be a welder in there.

It was a terrible job and the pay was about the same as begging in Calcutta or maybe a dental assistant in England. There were — I remember because they told me — 135 people there that day applying for the job. There was a person sitting on every horizontal surface you could see making out an application. I was the only one wearing a suit and holding a resume. They took me out of the scrum, up the stairs, gave me the man what are you doing here act.

I lied. I lied like a politician. I lied like an infomercial. I lied like four hundred sermons played backwards. You bet I can weld your thermocouples. They sent 135 people away that very minute.

(to be continued)

I switched the Sippican Cottage RSS feed to NewsBlur instead and this story really does continue…

You couldn’t get an apartment in LA without a bank account and a job. You couldn’t get a bank account without a fixed address. I couldn’t get a job without an apartment. I can’t remember who was governor of California at the time. It might have been Jerry Brown or maybe George Deukmejian. At any rate, Franz Kafka was actually running the place. I picked a day, and simultaneously told the apartment landlady I had the job, told the bank I had the apartment, and told the job I could TIG weld thermocouples all the live-long day, baby. The Million Pound Bank Note is just a short story to you; it’s an instruction manual to me. You guys should read less Rand and more Twain if you want to get on in this world. By “less Rand,” I mean “no Rand,” and “all Twain,” actually.

August 5, 2013

Memories of the Alexandr Pushkin

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:18

Elizabeth sent me this link, saying “this video kind of gives a feel to the whole experience”. I asked her to write a bit about her trip on the Pushkin:

I’ve never visited a communist country but I got a real feel for it while travelling on this ship. I was twenty-two and going to live in England for a year.

Before embarking, I was given labels to put on my baggage. Cabin luggage was to be marked “Cabin” and other stuff was to be marked “Storage”. As I already had my storage stuff delivered earlier in a steamer trunk, the only luggage I had was marked “Cabin”. Imagine my surprise to find no luggage in my cabin. A tiny cabin with a small toilet/shower and handbasin with a porthole blocked by a ruddy great North American car. I went down to the Purser’s Office to enquire on where my luggage was. A grim looking pair were managing the booth and after checking the records the conversation went thus:

Them: “Your luggage is in hold”

Me: “But I had it marked ‘Cabin’”

Them: “No, it marked ‘Storage’”

Me: Can I have it delivered to my cabin?”

Them: “Is impossible”

Me: “Why?”

Them: “Hold cannot be opened when ship is sailing”

Me: “All my clothes are in there”

Them: (shrug)

Me: “What am I going to wear?”

Them: (more shrugs, waves me off)

I spent nine days wearing two sets of clothing and three pairs of underwear. Luckily, a kind young lady at the same dining table lent me a sweater and spare underwear and even more luckily I had a washroom in my cabin to handwash through the clothes I had just worn (most cabins didn’t have attached washrooms).

The ship was full of students going to Europe to study. The crew of the France had gone on strike and had forced many of the students to take the Pushkin instead. The crew hated us. We were a ship full of under-thirties who drank, played cards and liked rock’n’roll music — everything the Russian crew were not allowed to do. Three days out on a nine-day journey, the booze ran out. As the students were not real heavy drinkers and still getting their sea legs (the smell of vomit on the lower decks was awful), I suspect the crew or the senior officers had absconded with the alcohol.

We had a “talent” night where we had to listen to the crew perform Russian dances and folk songs. When it was the students turn, four or five had brought their guitars with them and started playing rock music. The audience was getting right into it singing along, clapping and dancing to the music when the Russians stomped onto the stage with “enough!”, “no more music”, and shut the performance down.

While playing pinochle one day, I met a young Scotsman from Long Niddry. He had just spent the last five years in the lumber camps of B.C. and to prove to his father that he wasn’t a layabout, he was bringing his car back to Scotland as a trophy of his success. Yes, it was his huge North American car strapped to the deck outside my porthole. How he proposed to drive it around the streets of Edinburgh, I have no idea.

And so, we spent nine dreary November days going from Montreal to L’Havre and then to the Tilbury docks in London. If the students had had rotten fruit they would have thrown it because on docking at L’Havre we were berthed alongside the France. The boos and catcalls were loud and I’m sure the people on the pier were wondering what the problem was.

This is my personal recollection of sailing on the Alexandr Pushkin. So much for the “queen of the Russian cruise ships”.

July 11, 2013

Inane new “measurement” claims 1978 was the “best year ever”

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:39

An editorial in New Scientist (which I can’t quote from due to copyright concerns) claims that using a new “measurement” called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), human progress peaked in 1978 and it’s all been downhill since then. Anyone who actually lived through 1978 might struggle to recall just what — if anything — was better about 1978 than following years, but the NS editors do point out that the GDP measurement generally used to compare national economies doesn’t capture all the relevant details, while GPI includes what they refer to as social factors and economic costs, making it a better measuring tool for certain comparisons.

I can only assume that most of the economists who believe that 1978 was a peak year for the environment hadn’t been born at that time: pollution was a much more visible issue in North America and western Europe than at almost any time afterwards (and eastern Europe was far worse). Industry and government were taking steps to cut back some of the worst pollutants, but that process was really only just in its early stages: it took several years for the effects to start to show.

In the late 1970s, the world was a much dirtier, poorer, less egalitarian place than even a decade later: China and India were both much more authoritarian and had still not mastered the art of ensuring that there was enough food to feed everyone. Behind the Iron Curtain, Soviets and citizens of their client states in Europe were falling further and further behind the material well-being of westerners (and becoming much more aware of the deficit).

No matter how much emphasis you put on nebulous “social factors”, the fact that the world poverty rate — regardless of how you measure it — has been cut in half over the last twenty years, lifting literally billions of people out of near-starvation makes an incredibly strong case that the world is doing better now than at any time since 1978. You can prattle on all you like about “rising inequality”, but for my money it’s a better world where the risk of people literally starving to death is that much closer to being eliminated. Give me an “unequal” world where even the poorest have enough food and clean water over an egalitarian world where billions starve, thanks very much.

July 6, 2013

Dateline 1972 – Nixon tries to “fix” NFL blackout policies

Filed under: Football, History, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:52

The St. Paul Pioneer Press raided the National Archives to find this clip of President Nixon talking to his attorney general about the outrageous NFL TV blackout policy:

Football populist Richard Nixon was furious at the NFL and wanted to flex his political muscle to end television blackouts.

At 2:06 p.m. on Dec. 18, 1972, Nixon met with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst at the Executive Office Building and railed against the league’s policy that prevented fans from watching their team’s home playoff games on TV.

The 37th president of the United States wanted to intervene because the Washington Redskins-Green Bay Packers postseason game at RFK Stadium on Christmas Eve was going to be blacked out in Washington, D.C., even though it already was sold out.

In a conversation secretly recorded by the White House bugging system that helped doom his presidency, Nixon threatened to sue the league if it did not lift blackouts for the playoffs. The devout Redskins fan ordered Kleindienst to “get busy with your lawyers” and take the fight to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams.

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