Enjoying the kakistocracy?

kakistocracy /kakɪˈstɒkrəsi/ – government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state.

The professionals might decry such a claim, but sometimes armchair psychology is really easy. It’s a game probably most people play with national leaders, especially at a time like ours when so much political power around the planet is being held by people who shouldn’t be allowed to have any. To survey the global landscape of power in 2017 is to behold so many figures occupying a spectrum of egregiousness that ranges from the Machiavellian to the inadequate, from malfeasance to maladroitness, it feels not so much a time to think about creating a better tomorrow, more crossing fingers that there will be a tomorrow at all.Read More »

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Going La La over … what?

How much should a film be commended for being what it’s not? It’s the first thought I experienced after walking out of the cinema last weekend, as I tried to comprehend the love that’s been directed towards La La Land over the last few months. There were too many nods to Gene Kelly and other instances of familiarity and outright déjà vu for it to be regarded as something ground breaking, but it has one characteristic that prevented me feeling hostile towards it. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when ironic in-jokiness for its own sake became venerated, even if substance was otherwise absent, and La La Land is refreshingly lacking in the gruesome, artless knowingness that afflicts so many movies of the last few decades.Read More »

Culture stasis

This blog had not intended to go into hiatus for two months, but life intervened in various ways that left me with neither the time nor the energy to offer any commentary about the world around me. Since then, the United States ignored my warning to ignore the siren call of Donald Trump, Brexit head bangers seem ever more poised to visit chaos and long term decline on the UK, and another swathe of great entertainers have gone to their reward (of these, the career of George Michael has some relevance to what I will subsequently write). And now we are in 2017, which seems the scary sort of number some of us partly imagined, and partly hoped, would never come around. It is the year of the setting of The Running Man, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to survive a sadistic game show, two years after the setting of Back to the Future Part II, in which self-lacing technology for shoes and hoverboards are commonplace, and already twenty years beyond the setting of Escape from New York, in which Manhattan is depicted as a giant maximum security prison. Read More »

Hold your nose and vote for Hillary

During last week, as I began thinking about this blog, Hillary Clinton was a very short price favourite to take the US presidency. Given what I have chosen to write, it being predicated on a Clinton victory, I’m not sure how useful an exercise it might turn out being if she ends up being turned over on account of a very late October surprise delivered by the FBI. I have deliberately avoided the fluff, the non-stories, the irrelevant nonsense of this campaign where it’s been possible, and I haven’t made up my mind where these new revelations fit in. Plainly some of the information that has leaked out over the summer and autumn is of some significance, and with wide ranging implications, including what it says about the role of the fourth estate itself. Attempting to shun the noise and the heat admittedly doesn’t leave a whole lot left where Election 2016 is concerned, but I still don’t feel particularly uninformed. And I vowed that after 2004, having committed so much time to keeping abreast of that campaign, I wouldn’t waste so much of my time again. Especially when the guy I was rooting for, John Kerry, turned out to be such a lousy candidate. To be fair, he has since been a pretty decent, fairly well-intentioned Secretary of State, which is one of many things that makes one wonder about the dignity stripping contortions and compromises that running for the top job seems to require.Read More »

Sequels, prequels, remakes, and the most contemptible of them all … reboots

This blog was originally intended to be a tribute to the great comic actor Gene Wilder, who passed away at the end of August. Obviously that would not be such a timely post now, and instead I will largely focus on something else. However, I will say a few things about this legendary figure, as one of Wilder’s most famous roles provides a useful starting point for my latest little tirade. For many people, especially those who first saw Wilder on screen as children, he will forever be synonymous with Willy Wonka. The film can be enjoyed superficially, but it is worthwhile to salute the subtle genius of Wilder’s portrayal, which on one level might be said to be all of a piece with the decency he projected as an actor. If you break down what he does physically, and analyse instantaneous moments, there is almost nothing especially zany or affected about anything he does with the role. There is no cynically overt attempt to chew the scenery and grab attention from the other actors. And yet the overall effect is mesmeric and disorienting.Read More »

The Corbyn Supremacy

Whither the suicide pact formerly known as the Labour Party? If, as expected, we see a comfortable repeat victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership race when the results are announced on Saturday, we can expect a continuation of the psychodrama that has wracked the party of Hardie, MacDonald, Attlee and Wilson over the last year. If Owen Smith – a more impressive front bench spokesman than leadership candidate – should miraculously defy expectation, it would probably have the effect of confronting us with another kind of psychodrama, as the new members who have flocked to Corbyn would be reluctant to reconcile themselves to a reverse takeover by the Parliamentary Labour Party. Turning to Corbyn’s foot soldiers, somehow I have managed to get myself on Momentum’s mailing list, and I receive regular messages enjoining me to help keep Jeremy’s show on the road. To maintain the momentum, as it were. The most curious notion that jumps out of these emails is encountered in the regular references to “Jeremy’s leadership”, delivered without irony naturally, but which would strike many observers as impossibly contradictory.Read More »

My night with the Berlin Philharmonic

I have not made any forays into high culture since beginning this blog, as the mission statement indicated I would. Cries of “fraud” and “charlatan” I have not yet heard, in truth, but it does feel that I haven’t honoured the mandate I awarded myself when I started out. Up to now, I’ve felt a bit reluctant to offer opinions on the refined, the recherché, and the avant garde. How initiated does one need to be to dare express thoughts on art that doesn’t make compromises? In this post, I’m not going to pose as a critic, but I will write about the experience of being in an audience for a concert that took place a few months ago.Read More »

An era when a truer measure of virility is softness

In 2009, this writer stood no more than 20 metres from the orator delivering what can fairly be described as one of the most famous speeches of the 21st century so far. I was standing among a crowd that has also been subjected to the most withering contempt from writers on both the left and the right in the intervening years. I must insist, however, that I was carrying neither an American nor a Czech flag in Hradčany Square on that hazy Sunday morning, and I only ever whoop and cheer for live music. But let’s broadly concede that those attending were uncritically appreciative of the new US president, and there were no noises hinting at scepticism as he called for a world free of nuclear weapons. At that time, Barack Obama’s aura was very strong, and, recalling how the powerful sun hadn’t yet penetrated that morning’s cloud, watching him mysteriously emerge on to the stage against a wall of nebulous white did accord with the exalted status he then widely enjoyed. His stock remains fairly strong, if only by comparison with the process by which his successor will be elected, but that’s for another time. And indeed a previous musing. Returning to the Prague speech, many on the right scoffed Obama, declaring it irresponsible to even hint at the United States relinquishing its nuclear power status when there are so many bad actors in the world seeking such a capability for themselves. Left wing commentators held that the Empire would never give up their weapons of mass destruction, and that this was just a shameless PR exercise by Mr Hopey Changey. Both strands of opinion sneered at the “adoring” crowd, and I’ll admit I’ve never gotten over my sense of resentment at being dismissed so lightly.Read More »

The five stages of Brexit

Watching David Cameron announce his resignation following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last Thursday elicited a curious mixture of feelings.  The Prime Minister has always been good at looking the part when responding to momentous events, and this was a performance exquisitely calibrated to invite empathy flow in his direction from those watching. Then I remembered that he was the architect of his own Waterloo. However, unlike Napoleon’s last desperate roll of the dice, Cameron’s final stand was largely driven by the smaller matter of internal party management. As so often in his career, manoeuvres for short term tactical gain won out over the strategic longer game. Over such trivialities can hugely consequential ramifications ensue, and we can’t even begin to imagine what longer term impact this will have on Europe. As for Cameron’s gift for presentation, was he anything other than a PR man in the end? The sober analytical side of me told me that I should be contemptuous of Cameron and where he had led the country to, and yet my feelings were more complicated. Maybe this weakness made me the real compassionate conservative.Read More »

There are multiple possible Brexits, but only one is on offer

Sometimes I wonder if I receive tragic news with too much coolheaded equanimity, but I felt myself physically sagging when news of the murder of Jo Cox came through on Thursday. I cannot remember the last time I experienced that sensation. While we cannot yet truly know what was in the mind of the killer, and while full details of the killer’s motives will take time to emerge, it would be preposterous to strip away the context in which this savage killing took place. Truly it was a day of infamy. Many Leavers in the European Union referendum debate have been complaining about the “politicisation” of Cox’s murder. Some have even been reducing it to a mental illness issue, as happens in the United States following a gun rampage. But it is undeniable that this was a targeted murder, and that it carries immense political significance. An act of terror. And it has occurred against the backdrop of a hateful and divisive referendum campaign that has exacerbated underlying trends which coarsen and inject poison into a now vitriolic political arena.Read More »