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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Terrorism: what I think

ISIS will eventually be subdued by some combination of carrot and stick. They won't be the last of the new super bogeymen. 

 All the "why us? and "what do these people want?" talk is beside the point. There will always be some deviant group seeking to get their way. Furthermore, as long as fame is our key currency, there will be a ready supply of hopeless young man to do their bidding.

 They might not all come from the Middle East and their targets may not be the same ones but they'll be there. The damage they will cause and the pain they inflict will get steadily worse. There have always been homicidal maniacs. Now we have suicidal maniacs, which is worse. 

The availability of cheap communications technology means the terrorist will always be just slightly ahead of the authorities. That's another thing you can depend on. As Stanley Baldwin said long before the last war, "the bomber will always get through". 

 In the light of this our talk of destroying the threat is as empty as their carefully blood-curdling rhetoric. The best we can hope is that this is contained rather than extinguished. 

The price of that containment will be some curtailing of the things to which we have only recently grown accustomed. Easy movement across borders is one. Unlicensed communications platforms is another.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The music is another good reason to watch Aziz Ansari's "Master Of None"

Enjoying Aziz Ansari's new Netflix series "Master of None", which couldn't be more contemporary. The choice of music – Beach House, Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs, Father John Misty, Michael Kiwanuka and so on – literally and metaphorically underscores this. Last night I watched the episode where he hooks up (it's the world of hooking up) with Claire Danes. I'd never heard the play-out music before. I couldn't date it but the voice sounded familiar. Surely it couldn't be Eric Burdon. It was.

"Cheating" by the Animals didn't even get on their 1966 album "Animalisms" but it was a bonus track on a recent reissue. Now, like Chris Stainton's riff from "Woman To Woman" which lay in obscurity until Tupac's "California Love", and Badfinger's " Baby Blue" which had its moment in the sun over forty years after release as the last tune in "Breaking Bad", "Cheating" comes blinking into the light thanks to the patronage of a young actor who doesn't have a clue who the Animals were and doesn't need to.

Why are television and film producers so much better at picking something because of the vibe, as Ansari explains here, than radio people are?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Sir, you need to get back".

There is an item on the New York Times about a demonstration taking place at the University of Missouri. In the clip a student journalist is surrounded and jostled by members of the crowd who try to stop him taking pictures.

What interests me is the form of words that they used to do this. They don't say "get back". They say,  "you need to get back". They say it repeatedly. They seem to like the "you need to" formulation. It seems to suggest that this is somehow a universal imperative the man should obey rather than the instructions of a gang with their particular agenda. I find it pretty ugly. The weasel pretence at politeness makes it more so.

Even uglier at the end of the clip is an assistant professor of mass media, no less, calling for "some muscle" to help remove a troublesome journalist. I sincerely hope she's embarrassed.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Steely Dan: the band you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite

Now that music's out there in the cloud, rather than over there on your shelf, it's harder than ever to decide what you feel like hearing.

Now that we have unlimited supply behind a tiny display window, we are more reliant than ever on the names that our memory just happens to shuffle to the front of mind.

I wouldn't describe Steely Dan as my favourite band but they are the act whose music I reach for – or maybe that should be click for – more than any other.

Why should that be?

The sound of the records they made in the 1970s doesn't date.

They have a pop catchiness that falls just short of being ingratiating. It helps that their singles weren't big hits so they're passed over by the algorithms responsible for programming most radio.

The performances are detached enough to match whatever mood I happen to be in. None of their songs seem conspicuously happy or sad. They're all just faintly amused.

And since they kept their own pictures off their covers, giving them over instead to cryptic illustrations and curious archive photographs, there's no personality to get in the way.

They're the band that fills the time when I don't know what I want to hear, the band I can eat between meals without spoiling my appetite.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

How did anyone survive bonfire night in the 1950s?

Our house was on an unmade road that finished in a farmer's field.

Every year we built a bonfire in that field.

For a few Saturdays beforehand we would go "chumping".

This meant finding anything combustible we could beg or steal and dragging it to the site where our fathers would build it into some kind of structure.

Parental supervision was patchy. We kids would wander up there with a bag full of fireworks and a box of matches long before the adults appeared with the parkin and brandy snaps.

I can see the kid now. He was ten years old and he carried his stash of fireworks in a leather school satchel strapped across his chest, evacuee-style.

Somehow a spark must have got in there because there was a commotion and I turned to see this lad desperately trying to divest himself of the bag, from which flame was now shooting in every direction.

Somebody's dad got to him, pulled the strap over his head, threw the sorry-looking satchel to the ground and stamped on it.

He was OK. It didn't interrupt proceedings.

His gabardine school mac was ruined, though.

Bet he caught hell from his mother.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Past, present and future on the Piccadilly Line

There were two girls on the tube this afternoon.

17 or 18 years old, I would guess. Sisters, I would hazard. They were both fully occupied with their iPhones, their heads presumably full of whatever is going through a teenager's mind when riding the tube. The standard modern scene.

The only thing that made it non-standard was they were both wearing the hijab plus black coats, ankle-length black skirts and black shoes. Not a lock of hair or a inch of wrist was visible.

It made me wonder whether their mother or grandmother would have dressed in the same way, regardless of whether they grew up overseas or in the UK. And assuming they hadn't, what was the journey that had resulted in their dressing that way in 2015?

It also made me reflect that what nobody bears in mind when trying to predict the future is the amount of the past it's bound to contain.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Want to know what the BBC's real problem is? My son.

Went to the recording of the Media Show's debate on the future of the BBC, chaired in exemplary fashion by Steve Hewlett. It's here.

I came away thinking these things are a ritual dance.  James Purnell, the Corporation's director of strategy, makes exaggerated claims for the unique quality of BBC output; Trevor Kavanagh, leader writer for The Sun, makes equally exaggerated claims for the damage the BBC supposedly does to the rest of the media landscape. All the panellists are asked what will happen in twenty years time. None of them really know.

The people who will ultimately decide about the licence fee are not the people on stage or the politicians or the loyalists in the audience in the BBC Radio Theatre. They will be people like my son.

He's just moved into his own flat, has no intention of getting a TV and gets his TV pictures from Netflix, You Tube and various time-shift platforms, watching them on a laptop. If he has a preference it's for American drama and comedy, which the BBC seems to have cleansed from its output, and big sport, which has all gone to Sky or BT.

I'm sure he's not the only one. This is a different generation which has grown up in a radically different climate. (As Greg Dyke said in the debate, last time the BBC's Charter was discussed, back in 1990, there was not a single mention of the internet.) The BBC doesn't figure in the life of this generation as much as it likes to think it does.