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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Time for slow TV

The recent success of Scandinavian television in the UK has been quite surprising. "The Killing", "Borgen" and "The Bridge" were stalwarts on my iPad for many months. But I think the next wave of Scandi-TV might be even bigger. We need to look beyond Denmark and beyond Sweden: Norway is the next big thing.

Since then, “slow TV” has become a staple of Norwegian public broadcasting. In 2011, more than half the country watched a cruise ship’s 134-hour journey up Norway’s west coast.

[From Big in Norway: Slow TV - Olga Khazan - The Atlantic]

I think I will add a slow TV element to my campaign to become the next Director General of the BBC. I have in mind a camera mounted on the 18.15 to Portsmouth Harbour via Woking as a regular feature. I'm also thinking about a channel that is nothing but someone reading (in full) all new legislation coming from Parliament for people who find the train too stimulating.

Of course, I'll need a famous face to get it underway. The most talentless, uncharismatic and boring television presenter I can think of is Claudia Winkelman, so I think I should get in touch with her agent right away.

[Addendum] When I wrote this post, I assumed that Claudia Winkelman was married to someone famous and that was how come she was on TV but according to the wikipedia link she is actually a hereditary celebrity and is on the BBC because she has famous parents.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our tax system is almost completely wrong

There’s an excellent piece in the July 2014 Prospect magazine by Philip Collins called “What is tax for?” in which he notes that almost half of the tax raised in the UK is income tax (ie, a tax on work) and only around one-twentieth is tax on land and buildings. He calls the case for tax property and land “excellent”, and I agree. We went down the wrong path on this a couple of hundred years ago and have never recovered from it. He also calls for the re-imposition of capital gains tax on the primary residence: I’m not so sure about this, because I wonder if it might be better to abolish capital gains tax entirely in order to encourage more people to invest for their pension-free futures, but I’ll have to think about it a little more.

Talking about direct taxes, Collins calculates that a 1% tax on land value would be sufficient to abolish corporation tax entirely, which would surely benefit the nation in many different ways. Apart from encouraging more people to invest in businesses here, it would also begin to redeploy to the legions of clever people at accountancy firms who spend every waking hour trying to dream up tax loopholes to apply themselves to more productive enterprise.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wolf of Woking

I just couldn’t sleep on my last long-haul flight back into Heathrow. One of the reasons what that they guy next to me, who was a lawyer for one of the big international law firms (and had spent ages marking up a long document with Rothschild written all over it, so not short of a bob or two I would imagine) was watching “The Wolf of Wall Street”. This probably the most socially-irresponsible film to be exhibited to still-forming teenage brains since ‘Rock Around The Clock” had them tearing up the seats in cinemas the length and breadth of the country. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a fraudster who becomes a multi-millionaire building a bogus trading business and eventually gets arrested and sent to jail. His victims were left a couple of hundred million dollars out of pocket. The eponymous hero goes to jail for a few months and is then released to a new life. Propelled in no small measure by the success of the film, he is expected to earn $100m this year from books, speeches, corporate gigs and personal appearances. Once he’s paid back the $50m that is his share of money owed to investors, he will still be quids in. Crime doesn’t pay? Really?

The lawyer was chortling all the way through the film, and my teenage son loved it too. How am I now to persuade him to go off to University to do something socially-useful like engineering or science? The message he got from the film was that cheating people out of money, provided you wear a suit, is excellent fun and delivers girls aplenty.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Guildford Shakespeare Company

Holy Trinity Church, 5th to 22nd February 2014

I’ll save you the trouble of the reading to the end. This is a brilliant production, not to be missed.

The story is well-known. Iago, angry about being passed over for promotion, determines to destroy Othello, the "Moor of Venice” (a character many believe Shakespeare based on the Ambassador to the king of Barbary, who visited London around 1600), and sets about deceiving Othello into believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful. It’s a play about jealousy. So I knew all of this, although I hadn’t read the programme or any notes about the play, when I sat back hoping to be entertained and surprised. I certainly was, but I was also shocked, because I was unprepared for the intensity and depth of emotion that the play stirs up in the hands of such talented actors.

Somehow the interplay between the atmospheric environment of Trinity Church, the “double stage”, the clever lighting and the intimacy set up by Caroline Devlin’s excellent direction worked to heighten and make compelling Chris Porter's outstanding Iago to the point where I almost wanted to jump up on stage and attack him myself.  The play was compulsive from beginning to end. I couldn’t take my eyes off the leads as the action switched from stage to stage.

Matt Pinches seemed to inhabit Cassio effortlessly and David Carr’s Othello had the nobility needed to make the play set off on the right path but I thought that the women stole the show as it moved to its tragic close. The way that Nicola Hartley played Desdemona was perfect to her end and the Emilia’s final speech was delivered rich with emotion, right at the edge but never over the top, by Rosalind Blessed (who, it turns out, is the daughter of noted thespian Brian Blessed).

I’m not sure that the “Cold War” theme completely worked for me. If it wasn’t until I read the other reviews of the play that I realised that that was the point of the 1950s staging. I thought it was 1940s staging and I'd taken the uniforms to represent British or American troops in Italy in 1943 or 1944. I’m a man, so how am I supposed to tell the difference between 1940s dresses and 1950s dresses? But the reason that this did not resonate with me was that the war between Venice and the Ottoman Turks was not a Cold War in any sense. In fact it was an almost continuous extremely hot war, or more accurately, series of wars, seven in all, that ran from 1463 to 1718. Cyprus, where most of the action takes place, fell to the Turks in 1571 following the siege of Famagusta after which the city, surrounded by 100,000 Ottoman troops and 1500 cannons, surrendered and the Venetian commander was flayed alive.

I really appreciate the opportunity to see theatre of this quality. I fell asleep still thinking about Othello’s feelings towards Desdemona and how they mutated in response to the information he was fed. Run, don’t walk, to the box office and beg, steal, or borrow a ticket to see this wonderful production before it ends on 22nd February.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I give up - it's time for post-democracy

We keep hearing that politics is in crisis because of democratic disengagement, low voter turnout and a lack of real ideas and ideology. All true. It is time of philosophers and scholars to put forward genuine alternatives and show us an enlightened path to a post-democratic future.

Sir Bob Geldof has thrown his weight behind Russell Brand's call for a political revolution, warning that the current system of democracy "may not be viable for much longer".

[From Bob Geldof Backs Russell Brand's Revolution In Call For New Politics]

I couldn’t agree more. Letting the general public have any kind of say is madness. I think it would be far better for affairs of state to be left to “artists” of one form or another, which is why I clapped with delighted when the Today programme revealed that FAG puppetmaster Matt Damon was lurking in the Davos shadows this year. We live in a world beyond satire, so abandoning democracy for Russell’s socialist egalitarian paradise seems a natural step.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New icons for our plastic banknotes

I’ve submitted a new petition:

"Please instruct the Bank of England to use modern, inspirational Britons on the new plastic banknotes. I suggest that England’s greatest living poet, John Cooper-Clarke, should feature on the £20 note, Andy Murray on the £10 (unless Scotland votes for independence next year, in which case Sir Bradley Wiggins), Harry from One Direction on the £5 and Nigella Lawson on the £50."

I hope you will get behind my obviously sensible set of icons for modern Britain by signing up here.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Thank you America: twerking is a crime, as I'd suspected

Scanning the news headlines with half an eye on my way down to the football results, I notice that the forces of law and order in the USA have finally decided to take a stand on behalf of the next generation.

A homeless woman has been arrested after twerking in front of a Florida school bus.

[From Homeless woman charged with disorderly conduct after twerking in front of schoolchildren on a Florida bus | Mail Online]

This is excellent news. Having learned what twerking was, I'd taken it to be merely unpleasant and a typically revolting commentary on our collapsing society, but it turns out that in America, doing it in front of children is a crime (at least, it is if you are African-American). I'm assuming, therefore, that the vigilant men and women of the Lake County police force are even now contacting their counterparts in wherever-it-is that Miley Cyrus lives to have her arraigned. Hopefully, she'll get at least a couple of years in the slammer and we can all be spared ever hearing about her again.

My only concern about this is that the people behind MTV need to be charged with aiding and abetting, or perhaps even maintaining a criminal conspiracy, since they knew in advance and actively planned for Miley Cyrus to twerk in front of under-age children. It will be a travesty of justice if these evil people escape the long arm of the law in this case.

Machine-gunning the pop stars and sending their families to prison camps may seen like a tough line, but you've got to take a stand somewhere to protect the children.

[From a blog from a Citizen of Woking]

I'm not suggesting we adopt Kim Jong-Un's line here: machine-gunning pop stars is out of the question because of the European Court of Human Rights and prison camps are a reasonable alternative. Come on America: bang her up and show us that you care about the children.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.