South Park Me

[sticky post] Political Grandees and the House of Lords

In the hagiography that greeted Mrs T's death, other politicians of her era emerged out of the woodwork. I was intrigued. How many of these old fogeys were still knocking about? The oldest I was certain of was Tony Benn (88). I also knew
Peter Tapsell, Douglas Hurd, Shirley Williams, Norman Tebbit (all 83), Dennis Skinner, Nigel Lawson (both 81),
Roy Hattersley and Michael Heseltine (80), were still alive. But who else? My findings threw up some interesting names...

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South Park Me

Corbynmania: good for democracy; bad for government

There are many things to like about Jeremy Corbyn, even if one does not agree with his politics. One facet stands out in particular: he is a principled politician who walks the walk. And few can claim the same at the highest levels of politics anywhere in the world. That alone should be enough to welcome his participation in Labour's leadership election. Mr Corbyn represents a significant chunk of the Labour family, one that has been forced to accept the domination of the party's opposite-wing since the early 1980s. It has been an uneasy marriage of convenience period of submission, aided by resignation in the face of nineteen years of Tory government. But the shackles are off. The loony-left will stay silent no more.

And why should they? This is their party too. They have as much right to be heard as the Blairites. After all, what is the point of democracy if alternative viewpoints are shut out of the mainstream? Surely, a healthy democracy is one in which (aspirant) political leaders can access a fair platform to freely exchange ideas with the body politic, regardless of how impractical, nasty, or ridiculous they may seem. Choice is paramount in the court of public opinion. Let the people decide whose evidence stands intense scrutiny.

That doesn't mean I believe Mr Corbyn can become prime minister, or more importantly if he did, believe he would make a good one. I certainly prefer his brand of politics to that of the swivel-eyed right. But I would rather we avoided both in government. What the country needs is a radical centrist government of all the talents. In my Labour ministry, Mr Corbyn would either be offered Foreign or Environment Secretary. The former is a job he is best-suited to and one that I suspect he secretly craves. A cynic might even say, apart from outright exclusion, it is a role in which he could cause least economic damage with his socialist leanings. There might be some truth in that.

To some/many people, the Labour leadership contest is a debate about what the party stands for. Not for me. Leaders come and leaders go, the party carries on. Leadership contests reflect the political realities of a particular time. For better or worse, the conditions are ripe for Mr Corbyn. He isn't the first candidate from his wing of the party to contest the leadership and he won't be the last. He isn't even their most charismatic spokesperson. But he has struck a chord and gained momentum.

It is unfortunate that some commentators have used fairly pungent language to dismiss other candidates and scaremonger their supporters. Blame for this can be apportioned to all sides. Sad as it is, that is one of the fair prices we pay for a free society. But we should do more to encourage a courteous battle that attacks policies rather than personalities. Because at the end of the day, regardless of the unhelpful labels attached to candidates and their supporters, people like me will always prefer a Labour government, however right-wing, to a Tory one that drifts left/centre (on individual policies) for opportunistic purposes.

Politicians consciously choose their party membership. This is crucial because even though the politics of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Blair and Kendall may seem very similar, the fact they belong to different parties is significant. It signals to me that the philosophy underpinning their politics is at some level driven by the general aims of their party. And that makes all the difference. People like me cannot stomach the thought of voting Tory, let alone work for the party. But we do share an enthusiasm for the positive aspects of individual freedom, private enterprise and wealth creation. We are also greatly troubled by the vast disparities in wealth, education and health, at home and abroad, and the negative impacts of our imperial legacy. The question is, how do we square the circle?

It is a conundrum that I have grappled with ever since I became politically aware as a preadolescent. And though my politics now is closer-aligned to Liz Kendall than the other three candidates, the diplomat in me can identify with Andy Burnham's obvious desire to unite opposing factions of the party. That there is significant disagreement among the Labour family is to be cherished. Dissent is at the heart of our open and tolerant society. The key is to recognise that the majority of us largely agree on the ultimate aim: to establish as fair a playing field as possible for everyone, not just in Britain, but if possible, even in the world. The disagreement pertains solely to the means adopted.

The problem is exacerbated by a fixation of pigeon-holing people, policies and ideas into neat boxes to fit our narrow world-view. Speak in favour of free markets and be accused of Blairism, or worse, of being a Tory. Talk about re-nationalising the railways, and be accused of importing communism. Talk about limiting AIDS treatment to British citizens, and be accused of racism. And so forth. We need to take a much more liberal and loose approach to strict definitions. We also need to learn how to let go of the past and treat the present on its own merits. It is understandable why the mass media adopts these simplistic strategies to explain complex issues, but we don't have to play their game.

We need to co-opt a grown-up politics where it is perfectly normal to discuss Corbyn's policies with those of his opponents, as though the only differences between them were the reasons put forward as to why one should be favoured over another. I truly believe that there are always positives to gain even from those whose politics are diametrically opposed to mine. Ideally, we need to take the best of everything, discard the worst, but be willing to discuss absolutely anything so that we can test, scrutinise and tease out the best and worst bits, before jumping to conclusions. There are few (if any) easy solutions to the myriad of decisions taken by politicians. Every choice results in benefits and costs. Every. Single. One. Even the best ones.

Ultimately, every generation should have an opportunity to challenge allegedly settled states of affair. Who knows, the debate might throw up some interesting or unforeseen perspectives from which we could all learn something. Or perhaps not. But we won't know for sure until we try. So to those who say, Jez We Can, count me in for the ride. We can worry about the destination after 12 September.

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South Park Me

The Windsors in august company

"One of the things that always makes me furious is the knee-jerk stupidity of saying that the Daily Mail used to support fascism, thereby implying that it is somehow tainted goods in its modern form. I certainly have my differences with the politics of the modern Mail, but it is blind prejudice to link what it published, for a brief period, in the 1930s to what it does today. So I was delighted to see on Anna Raccoon's blog last week a piece by Matt Wardman in which he presented a media history lesson. He omitted a crucial fact and I'll come to that in a moment. But he made two very important points - firstly, the Mail was not the only paper to carry articles supporting Oswald Mosley's blackshirts. The Daily Mirror did too."

(Don't damn the Daily Mail for its fascist flirtation 80 years ago, Roy Greenslade, 6 December 2011)


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South Park Me

16 July 1935: World’s first parking meter installed

[SOURCE]

"The world’s first parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, is installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on this day in 1935.

The parking meter was the brainchild of a man named Carl C. Magee, who moved to Oklahoma City from New Mexico in 1927. Magee had a colorful past: As a reporter for an Albuquerque newspaper, he had played a pivotal role in uncovering the so-called Teapot Dome Scandal (named for the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming), in which Albert B. Fall, then-secretary of the interior, was convicted of renting government lands to oil companies in return for personal loans and gifts. He also wrote a series of articles exposing corruption in the New Mexico court system, and was tried and acquitted of manslaughter after he shot at one of the judges targeted in the series during an altercation at a Las Vegas hotel.

By the time Magee came to Oklahoma City to start a newspaper, the Oklahoma News, his new hometown shared a common problem with many of America’s urban areas–a lack of sufficient parking space for the rapidly increasingly number of automobiles crowding into the downtown business district each day. Asked to find a solution to the problem, Magee came up with the Park-o-Meter. The first working model went on public display in early May 1935, inspiring immediate debate over the pros and cons of coin-regulated parking. Indignant opponents of the meters considered paying for parking un-American, as it forced drivers to pay what amounted to a tax on their cars, depriving them of their money without due process of law.

Despite such opposition, the first meters were installed by the Dual Parking Meter Company beginning in July 1935; they cost a nickel an hour, and were placed at 20-foot intervals along the curb that corresponded to spaces painted on the pavement. Magee’s invention caught on quickly: Retailers loved the meters, as they encouraged a quick turnover of cars–and potential customers–and drivers were forced to accept them as a practical necessity for regulating parking. By the early 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters operating in the United States. Today, Park-O-Meter No. 1 is on display in the Statehood Gallery of the Oklahoma Historical Society."

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South Park Me

15 July 1986: Columbia Records drop Johnny Cash after 26 yrs

[SOURCE]

"The critically acclaimed 2002 biopic Walk The Line depicts the life and career of Johnny Cash from his initial rise to stardom in the 1950s to his resurgence following a drug-fueled decline in the 1960s. The selection of this time span made perfect sense from a Hollywood perspective, but from a historical perspective, it left out more than half of the story. There was still another dramatic resurgence to come in the second half of Johnny Cash’s 50-year career, which reached another low point on this day in 1986, when Columbia Records dropped him from its roster after 26 years of history-making partnership.

Columbia first signed Johnny Cash in 1960, using a lucrative contract to lure him away from his Sun Records, his first label and also the early home of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Cash’s first Columbia single, “All Over Again,” made the country Top 5, and his second, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” made it all the way to #1, while also crossing over to the pop Top 40. But the biggest hits of Cash’s career were yet to come, including an incredible eight #1 albums in an eight-year span: Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963); I Walk The Line (1964); Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits (1967); At Folsom Prison (1968); At San Quentin (1969); Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970); The Johnny Cash Show (1970); and Man In Black (1971). During this period, Johnny Cash established himself as a titanic figure in American popular culture while selling millions upon millions of records for Columbia, but by the mid-1980s, fashions in country music had shifted dramatically away from his old-school style, and the hits simply stopped coming.

In 1986, having also recently dropped jazz legend Miles Davis from its roster of artists, Columbia chose to end its no-longer-profitable relationship with Johnny Cash. Cash did not remain professionally adrift for long, however, releasing four original albums and numerous re-recordings of earlier material over the next seven years on Mercury Records. But it was not until 1994 that Cash truly found his creative bearings again. That was the year that he released the album American Recordings, the first in a series of albums on the label of the same name headed by Rick Rubin, the original producer of the Beastie Boys and the co-founder, with Russell Simmons, of Def Jam Records.

Under Rubin’s influence, Cash moved to a raw, stripped-down sound that proved to be enormously successful with critics, with country traditionalists and with hipster newcomers to country music. When his second Rubin-produced album, Unchained, won a Grammy for Best Country Album in 1998, American Recordings placed a full-page ad in Billboard magazine featuring a 1970 photo of Cash brandishing his middle finger under the sarcastic line of copy, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.”

Johnny Cash went on to have two more massively successful solo albums with American Recordings prior to his death in 2003. Rick Rubin went on to become co-head of Columbia Records in 2007."

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BBC Radio 4's Reflections...with Peter Hennessy

"But my father summed it up pretty well by saying, "Nobody in our family has ever voted Conservative, without a stiff drink before, and afterwards."" ~David Owen

If a week is a long time in politics1, what about a lifetime? Tasked with the challenge of teasing out salient introspections from the life and times of some of Britain's grandees, is the contemporary political historian, Peter Hennessy. He delivers an insightful programme, as it launches its third series with the enigmatic David Owen. Having listened to several episodes, Owen's is among the best. I also recommend the one with John Major from last year. In all, Hennessy has talked to:

01. Shirley Williams
02. Jack Straw
03. Norman Tebbit
04. Neil Kinnock
05. John Major
06. Roy Hattersley
07. David Steel
08. Margaret Beckett
09. David Owen

And by the end of this series he will have interviewed Norman Lamont and Clare Short too. Each episode is either 28 or 43 minutes (depending on the series), with the latter forming the perfect length to explore a lifetime without inducing boredom and avoid glossing over multiple events or issues. But there are a few peripheral shortcomings. For instance, by the end of this series the uneven ratio of guests by political party will have been exacerbated to comprise: 5 Labour, 3 Tories, 2 SDP/Lib Dems and 1 Liberal. Given that Williams and Owen were also cabinet secretaries with Labour, you could question whether the breakdown was a matter of design, bad timing or lack of Conservative enthusiasm (I find this doubtful). This only matters because it's produced by the BBC. There's also the issue of gender ratio with three women out of eleven by the end of this series. And one other minor criticism about Hennessy's interview technique. When teasing out their reflections, he sometimes comes across as presumptuous, but it may have been an intended tactic or perhaps more likely, my imaginative nitpicking. Those minor quibbles apart, it is an absolutely fantastic programme and essential listening for the anorak.

1 Possibly misattributed to former British prime minister and Labour leader, Harold Wilson.

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Bedouin in Desert

13 July 1985: Live Aid concert | This Day in History

[SOURCE]

"On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially open Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans. Continued at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and at other arenas around the world, the 16-hour “superconcert” was globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations. In a triumph of technology and good will, the event raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa.

Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists together to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by “Band Aid,” an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham!, and others. It was the best-selling single in Britain to that date and raised more than $10 million.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform “We Are the World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. “USA for Africa,” as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured Jackson, Ritchie, Geldof, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million.

With the crisis continuing in Ethiopia, and the neighboring Sudan also stricken with famine, Geldof proposed Live Aid, an ambitious global charity concert aimed at raising more funds and increasing awareness of the plight of many Africans. Organized in just 10 weeks, Live Aid was staged on Saturday, July 13, 1985. More than 75 acts performed, including Elton John, Madonna, Santana, Run DMC, Sade, Sting, Bryan Adams, the Beach Boys, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Queen, Duran Duran, U2, the Who, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton. The majority of these artists performed at either Wembley Stadium in London, where a crowd of 70,000 turned out, or at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium, where 100,000 watched. Thirteen satellites beamed a live television broadcast of the event to more than one billion viewers in 110 countries. More than 40 of these nations held telethons for African famine relief during the broadcast.

A memorable moment of the concert was Phil Collins’ performance in Philadelphia after flying by Concorde from London, where he performed at Wembley earlier in the day. He later played drums in a reunion of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Beatle Paul McCartney and the Who’s Pete Townsend held Bob Geldof aloft on their shoulders during the London finale, which featured a collective performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with “We Are the World.”

Live Aid eventually raised $127 million in famine relief for African nations, and the publicity it generated encouraged Western nations to make available enough surplus grain to end the immediate hunger crisis in Africa. Geldof was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.

In early July 2005, Geldof staged a series of “Live 8″ concerts in 11 countries around the world to help raise awareness of global poverty. Organizers, led by Geldof, purposely scheduled the concert days before the annual G8 summit in an effort to increase political pressure on G8 nations to address issues facing the extremely poor around the world. Live 8 claims that an estimated 3 billion people watched 1,000 musicians perform in 11 shows, which were broadcast on 182 television networks and by 2,000 radio stations. Unlike Live Aid, Live 8 was intentionally not billed as a fundraiser–Geldof’s slogan was, “We don’t want your money, we want your voice.” Perhaps in part because of the spotlight brought to such issues by Live 8, the G8 subsequently voted to cancel the debt of 18 of the world’s poorest nations, make AIDS drugs more accessible, and double levels of annual aid to Africa, to $50 billion by 2010."

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A Midsummer Fortnight's Dream

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same"

(Rudyard Kipling's "If")

Every year for two weeks, the British put on the greatest show on earth. I don't care what anybody else says, but there is nothing as good as The Championships at Wimbledon. It's the (only) highlight in the British tennis calendar and the pinnacle of the sport. At once the game's oldest tournament and arguably its most innovative. It aspires a lofty, secluded status. It oozes class, largely upper-middle. And the British are only eager to oblige with a spectacle that smoothly links the stiff upper-lipped past with the dynamic present, leaving you starry-eyed and hungry for more.

Everything about it is different. The name. The colours. The uniforms. The dress codes. The lack of advertisements. The surface. The traditions. Oh yes, the traditions. 1pm starts on show courts, except for the second weekend. No play on the middle Sunday. Strawberries, cream and Pimmsmania. Curtsies, bowed heads, royalty in their box. Inclement weather, early British wild card exits, ball boys and ball girls working like precision pulleys. But in truth it was not ever thus. Indeed the greatest trick the British ever pulled, was convincing the world that tradition could not be manufactured. And I'm not about to reveal our hand either.

That is the beauty of SW19. It transports you away from reality to a land conquered by a select few. The true legends. And this year's edition was no different. From Serena Williams, to Novak Djokovic, Martina Hingis and Leader Paes, this was another vintage crop. It's twenty-four years since my uncle introduced me to the wonder that is grass court tennis and my love for the game has never diminished. I have also never missed a men's singles final since then and although my man fell short again today, it is worth recalling the immortal words penned by Britain's own Kipling. It adorns the doorway onto Centre Court and rings true to the way we should approach life in general. As the sun sets on yet another magical experience, there remains only one thing to say: Game, set and match!

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South Park Me

Putting Federer's achievements in perspective

When Roger Federer stepped onto Centre Court on Tuesday 30 June 2015, it marked his 63rd consecutive Grand Slam singles appearance, a record-breaking streak (for men and women) dating back to the 2000 Australian Open. If it wasn't for his losses as a qualifier in the preceding US and Australian Opens of 1999, he might easily have been playing his 67th consecutive Grand Slam tournament. Trailing him in second-place are Japan's Ai Sugiyama for the women with 62 and South Africa's Wayne Ferreira for the men on 56. Sugiyama and Ferreira never reached a Grand Slam final. In fact of all the players (men and women) who have made at least 45 consecutive appearances, only one other has played in more than two Grand Slam finals: the Swede Stefan Edberg, rather fittingly Federer's present-day coach.

On top of this injury-free consistency, can be added a record 17 Grand Slam titles (for men), a record 26 Grand Slam finals, a record 37 Grand Slam semi-finals and a record 45 Grand Slam quarter-finals. He also became the first man to reign supreme at the top of the rankings for more than 300 weeks, that included a record (for men and women) 237 consecutive weeks between February 2004 and August 2008. Even Novak Djokovic, with 154 weeks and who has dominated the men's game for the past four years, trails Federer by 148 weeks overall as world number one. While Rafael Nadal was number one for 141 weeks.

Supplant onto these: the record 10 consecutive Grand Slam final appearances between 2005 and 2007, followed by the second-best 8 consecutive appearances between 2008 and 2010 (Nadal is third-best with 5 consecutive finals); the 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearances (Djokovic is second-best with 14); the 36 consecutive quarter-final appearances (Djokovic again second-best with 25, and counting); the first man to appear at least 5 times in each Grand Slam final (the next best is 3); one of four men in the Open Era to achieve the career Grand Slam (along with Rod Laver, Andre Agassi and Nadal); an Olympic singles silver-medalist and doubles gold-medalist; 86 ATP Tour titles, surpassed only by Jimmy Connors (105) and Ivan Lendl (94); 131 ATP tournament finals (surpased again only by Connors and Lendl); the only man to win at least one ATP Tour title for 15 consecutive years (one ahead of Lendl, two ahead of Connors). And you get the picture.

As if that wasn't enough, he has won the most prize money in the history of the sport (although Djokovic should surpass him soon enough), earned the most through endorsements (which few will ever surpass), is by far the most popular player in the world, is multi-lingual, has a beautiful supportive wife and two(!) sets of twins. All this before turning 34. And yet, when Federer stepped onto court yesterday afternoon to play Britain's Andy Murray for the umpteenth time, he delivered a performance that was at once clinical and majestic. One for the Gods to savour, and the mere mortals amongst us to cherish for all-time. Many others have written more eloquently about the aesthetic pleasure derived from watching the Swiss maestro in action, so let me end simply by saying, we are privileged to be living through a period when two of the greatest players ever to wield a racquet (Federer and Serena Williams) are still willing to put themselves through the grinder, in order to satisfy their own love for the game - and by extension, ours. Long may this continue!

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South Park Me

Cricket and Desert Island Discs - Freddie Flintoff

I've updated my entry from a couple years ago to reflect this week's episode with Freddie Flintoff. As with almost every episode of this awesome programme, it's worth a listen, not least for that gorgeous Lancastrian accent.

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