Inside the bubble

“Those people who get parachuted in, they’ve never had a life!” Good, angry piece by the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr on how party politics is in danger of becoming a game for a select few. And journalism, as we all know, is going the same way:

I know it’s the media that has helped create this nightmarish scenario… But then as Michael White, the Guardian’s assistant editor and the commentator with one of the longest memories in politics, points out, professionalisation doesn’t just affect politics. “They go from London to Oxford to London and do a couple of years as a political researcher and they have no real experience of anything else. And it is a real problem. But it’s as bad in the media. Papers like the Guardian are as bad. And we’re also nowhere near as ethnically diverse as the city in which we’re based.”

Posted in UK politics, Politics, Class | Tagged , , , ,

The city that never was

germania speer exhibition

An exhibition in Berlin exploring Albert Speer’s grandiose plans for Germania, the rebuilt capital of the Third Reich. [Via SlowBerlin]

Posted in Architecture, History, World War 2 | Tagged , , ,

Being Stephen Fry

Everything he touched, etc, etc… Lynn Barber reviews [£] his latest volume of memoirs:

Thanks to the success of his musical, Me and My Girl (1984), he was rich from his mid-twenties and able to buy a large house in Norfolk and all the classic cars and gadgets he could want. Strolling down the street in  London in 1992 he ran into an American acquaintance who asked if he could think of anyone who could house-sit his suite at the Savoy for a few weeks. Well yes, said Fry, he could. The only trouble with living at the Savoy, he found, was that one got a teensy bit bored with finding the suite looking exactly the same every day, so he instructed the staff to hide the ashtray in different places.

Posted in Comedy, Money | Tagged , ,

Beautiful game

kilimanjaro cricket BETTER

“They played 10 overs each of a Twenty20 game before clouds stopped play.” Setting a cricket altitude record on Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo by @petermartell via @afpphoto.  

Posted in Photography, Sport | Tagged , ,

Thinking the worst

The scandal that changed journalism: a fascinating Matt Bai article on how Gary Hart’s demise (which now seems ancient history) marked a watershed in political reporting. From that point onwards everything in a candidate’s life became fair game. We’ve been suffering the consequences ever since:

If Nixon’s resignation created the character culture in American politics, then Hart’s undoing marked the moment when political reporters ceased to care about almost anything else. By the 1990s, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: “We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.”

As an industry, we aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions. As the former senator Bob Kerrey, who has acknowledged participating in an atrocity as a soldier in Vietnam, told me once, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think that we are.” That quote, I thought, should have been posted on the wall of every newsroom in the country, just to remind us that it was true.

Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial.

Posted in Journalism, Media, US politics | Tagged , , , , ,

Mussolini’s suburb


The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome, also known as “The Square Colosseum”. I took this photo on holiday this summer while exploring the district, south of the city centre, known as EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma). Strange, very strange. I don’t imagine I’ll ever come closer to walking around the kind of monumental cityscape that Albert Speer planned to create in Berlin. It was a public holiday too, so the main buildings were deserted. Just about the only sign of life was at a street market outside the Palasport metro station. The McDonald’s next door was doing good business too.

(Interesting post here on how the EUR formed the backdrop to Antonioni’s “L’eclisse”.)

Posted in Architecture, History, Photography, World War 2 | Tagged , , , ,


Considering these precursors, a debate has arisen about which country spawned the earliest fascist movement. France is a frequent candidate. Russia has been proposed. Hardly anyone puts Germany first. It may be that the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American: the Ku Klux Klan… The Klan constituted  an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe. It should not be surprising, after all, that the most precocious democracies – the United States and France – should have generated precocious backlashes against democracy.

Robert Paxton, “The Anatomy of Fascism”.

Posted in History, Notebook, Politics, Race, US politics | Tagged , ,


“And as I laughed I thought: ‘Dead right!’” Diana Athill, 96, on how we think about our own mortality.

Subsidized by the State, French newspapers are losing money faster than you can say “Existentialism”.

Nicotine and sweat and songs from the dancefloor:  Richard Williams on a new film about Northern Soul.

Posted in Journalism, Music | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Scottsboro Boys revisited

scottsboro boys show pic

My Sunday Times feature [£] on how  the Kander & Ebb musical draws on the tortured history of minstrelsy:

As a young man, Kander had directed blackface shows at a summer camp in Wisconsin. The whole point of using minstrelsy to tell the Scottsboro story, he says, was that it gave him and Ebb a means of examining the hypocrisies and double standards of the era. “The minstrel show is such a dead thing that using it as a form became a solution. What struck me was all these old Stephen Foster-type songs were written by white men to be sung by blackface white men to a white audience. They were all about missing life on the plantation. What a total fraud that was.”

Not everyone was convinced the show hit its target. One scathing review came from The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, biographer of Louis Armstrong. While he praised “one of the best-staged productions ever to come to Broadway”, he had nothing but scorn for “a nightly act of collective self-congratulation in which the right-thinking members of the audience preen themselves complacently at the thought of their own enlightenment”.

Perhaps the truth is that, even today, we are still struggling to come to terms with the legacy of minstrelsy. Spike Lee provoked no end of controversy in 2000 with Bamboozled, a raw, unflinching satire on the TV industry featuring a blackface variety show that becomes an unlikely ratings hit. One of Lee’s spoof TV ads even raised the awkward question of whether gangsta rap videos recycle the same unsavoury imagery that kept minstrel shows in business for so many decades.

Posted in Music, Race, Theatre | Tagged , , , , ,

When Tony met Gaga

And this is me in the Sunday Times [also £], trying to see the bright side of the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga collaboration.

bennett gaga review

The case for the defence is laid out in full in this Jazz Wax post, which argues that Gaga reaches the parts that most performers can’t:

While this partnership between an 88-year-old jazz and pop icon and a 28-year-old phenomenon is the merging of two fascinating recording artists and performers, this is also about jazz’s cultural longevity. And the approach is really quite radical: to preserve jazz, you don’t need to sell it like soap or dress up in suits and ties; you merely have to expose more young people to it through high-profile ambassadors who love it and want to share the passion. The music will do the rest.

Posted in Music | Tagged , ,