Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Social conservatives and cultural conservatives

This is John Gray on John Gray-ish form (i.e. well worth reading) telling us Why the Left Keeps Losing.

There is a lot of good stuff in the piece, but for this post I just want to talk about this bit:

"A Blue Labour takeover along the lines of that mounted by Blair cannot occur when the mass membership recruited by Corbyn is made up overwhelmingly of progressives. Even if a takeover was feasible it is doubtful whether voters would support a programme of moral conservatism, which Blue Labour also proposes. The resistance to progressivism in social matters is focused chiefly on law and order and immigration. There is no detectable enthusiasm for the restoration of traditional family structures or sexual mores. Working-class voters want security and respect, not a wholly different form of life."

This is completely true. And it is an important point for the future of the Left - and the future of the Right. More below.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Entertaining stuff from David Graeber

This has a good claim to be the best thing the New York Review of Books has ever published on British politics. It is by David Graeber and therefore distinctly, shall we say, odd. I disagree with huge chunks of it. But it is penetrating, thought-provoking and almost persuasive. Take with plenty of salt and an open mind.

Some quotes below.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

The names of the composers of excellent TV theme tunes

British TV has been graced with some good and/or memorable theme music. There are some very catchy tunes and some well arranged atmosphere pieces out there.

So I made a quick list of all the theme tunes that first came to mind and decided to carry out some research into their composers.

But I quickly came across a striking fact. They all have names that are ... well... how shall I put this? Let me just say that they conjure up a vision of mid-twentieth century mustachioed executives or car dealers, rather in the manner of the names of the heroes of Sue Hendra's books.

Let's start with sports programmes:

GrandstandKeith Mansfield.

Wimbledon: Keith Mansfield wrote the opening music but I prefer the closing music, which is by Leslie Statham (aka Arnold Steck), who also wrote the original music for Match of the Day. Yes, Wimbledon can claim a Keith, a Leslie and an Arnold.

One Man and His DogAlan Benson.

Ski Sunday: Samuel Soden, aka Sam Fonteyn. Sam is a perfectly normal name, but I couldn't exclude the Ski Sunday theme without it looking like cherry picking. Let's call this an exception.

Match of the Day: Barry Stoller.

Then onto less sporting fare:

Brideshead Revisited: Geoffrey Burgon
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: also Burgon
Chronicles of Narnia: also Burgon. You get to recognise the sound of the brass after a bit. Burgon did many other things too that I do not remember, perhaps because he left out the brass sections from those pieces.

Now, you might perhaps be inclined to intone "Geoffrey Burgon" with terribly round vowels and consider it an appropriate name for a Norman crusader or his modern descendant, a man of substance and good breeding. But I invite you instead to consider good old Geoff Burgon propping up the bar at the 19th hole and asking his old chums Alan, Barry and Keith to name their poison, not forgetting their good lady wives. You will find that it helps my thesis.

Hetty Wainthropp InvestigatesNigel Hess. Hess also did the award-nominated Wycliffe theme, which is a bit busy for my taste.

Last of the Summer Wine: Ronnie Hazlehurst. Hazlehurst also wrote the music for Reggie Perrin and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, neither of which I can hum without looking up but which I daresay are also pretty good.

Jeeves and Wooster: Anne Dudley. A lone female entrant in my list who has (a) worked on lots of films, (b) is married to a man called Roger and (c) has a long working relationship with a man called Trevor (namely Trevor Horn). I do not feel that she invalidates the thesis.

Pride and Prejudice: Carl Davis, an American who moved to the UK. Davis also wrote an on-the-money theme for the 2010 Upstairs Downstairs series that I didn't watch.

Eastenders: another Leslie, namely Leslie Osborne, but in collaboration with Simon May.

64 Zoo Lane: Rowland Lee.

In fairness, I should point out that I also had down In the Night Garden ... , which is by Andrew Davenport, who is clearly both a man of parts and unlikely to star in any Sue Hendra story.

(The Johnny Briggs theme was not originally written for the show and so I feel justified in excluding John Ambrose Greenwood from my list of TV theme composers. Don't ask me too many questions about Arnold Steck.)

I then wondered if my thesis is true of the great US TV theme tunes. The answer is: .... yes!

DallasJerrold Immel - a hit!
Knots Landing: also Jerrold Immel!

McGyverRandy Edelman. I feel that "Randy Edelman" is the American equivalent of "Barry Stoller" or "Nigel Hess".

The A Team: Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. Oh dear, a bit like Sam Fonteyn - an exception to my theory. But then I looked further, namely on Wikipedia, and saw that Garry Schyman's contribution was uncredited. On the basis of his name alone, I am now entirely convinced that Schyman is the unsung hero of one of the best-remembered of all TV theme tunes.

The Dukes of Hazzard's theme tune was written and performed by Waylon Jennings. Terry Bush wrote the music for The Littlest Hobo.

At this point I have to stop and declare that my thesis is now established beyond doubt. All of those men and no John, no James, no Tim or Steve or Dave or Dan or Matt or Ben or Rob or Alex or Mark or Will or Chris or Ed or ... Nor any Tarquins, Orlandos or Florians. But yet a Barry, a Garry and a Terry, a Geoff, a Jerrold and an Arnold: you have to admit that I am on to something.

There was obviously no bar to being called John and writing good tunes in the 20th century: I give you John "Star Wars Superman Jurassic Park" Williams. But clearly the same unwarranted snobbishness that meant that Hollywood actors used to look down on TV parts means that TV theme tunes were reserved to the Nigels and Keiths of the world, while the William Waltons and John Williamses took the big screen parts. I am sorry to report this, and I can only hope that the recent improvement in the standing of TV shows means that their composers will get the recognition they deserve.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Two Scott Alexander posts

No apologies, but both of these are worth your time, for entirely different reasons.

1. A computer has learned to play chess using text prediction. Just like those AI programs that produce rubbishy poems, this one produces rubbishy strings of "1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 ..." etc.

2. Great questions to ask the US Presidential candidates. It starts:

"Mr. Biden: Your son Hunter Biden was on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, during your vice-presidential term. The Ukrainian government was investigating Burisma for misdeeds, and Hunter was allegedly one of the targets of the investigation. President Trump alleges that you used your clout as VP to shut down the investigation into Hunter, which if true would constitute an impeachable abuse of power.

My question for you is: if your son had been a daughter, would you have named her Gathere

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Three footnotes to my post-election analysis

1. Following up on my point that parties need not to be hated, here, from before the election is some data on the ongoing de-toxification of the Conservative Party in some parts of the Midlands and the North. "Around 80-90% of why certain seats vote for certain parties is explained by the demographics of the area e.g. – how many graduates are there, how rich is the seat, how many people have gone to university, what is the ethnic composition and what type of jobs do people have". But some seats stand out (or did before the last election): they 'should' be Tory but, for historical/cultural reasons they are/were not: "the leave voting 55yr old plumber living in a detached house is more likely to vote Tory in Bournemouth than Wigan, even on the same salary. If the Tories manage to culturally de-toxify in certain seats there is a huge unlocked vote there". And Johnson managed, with help from Corbyn, to unlock that vote. (There are even people who did not vote Conservative who now wish they had.) I don't have the data to hand but it is not hard to think that one of Blair's great successes (with help from Major's failures in Government) was de-toxifying the Labour Party among people historically disinclined to vote Labour.

2. This is a tweet-storm from (what appears to be) a Labour Party member that is getting some publicity. The writer sets out the policies he would like. Some excerpts: "A ban on all foreign home/property ownership. Criminal sentences for landbankers. Then build an absolute shitload of council houses - but nice ones, terraces, with gardens, not Barrett-built lego sets made out of reconstituted cardboard", "A nice bit of military Keynesianism, uncompromising on security. A strong fleet, a strong RAF - all new military hardware to be built in Britain, by British workers. Make Barrow what it was 50 years ago. Renew Trident, and put a bloody Union Jack on it", "No more patronising nannying. Cut duty on fags and booze and stop lecturing people. Revive the Great British Pub and two fingers to the middle class Public Health Nazis". You get the picture. Speaking as someone who lives in London, he does not at all sound like a Labour supporter: in London terms, he sounds like a funny kind of Tory.

3. It seems that Lisa Nandy is the best hope for the Labour Party. I take it back about Jess Phillips: she is Matthew d'Ancona choice. Do you remember when Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jess Phillips used to pal around on TV together? Well, just as JRM is what an old northern socialist thinks a real Tory is like, JP is what a London softy like myself thinks a real Labourite is like. Sorry for the confusion.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

A way forward for the British Left?

Everyone has diagnosed the problem for the British Left: it is a coalition between upper middle class social liberals and poor people, and that coalition has broken down. Here's a good little piece on the problem, but you'll have seen plenty of others in a similar vein, many quoting Orwell.

Fine. But how is that problem to be solved? Answers below.