Friday, June 22, 2012

Abe Lincoln - 19th Century Superhero

So Seth Grahame-Smith, the screenwriter of the new "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire slayer" movie, has this to say about one of America's most venerated presidents:

“The man’s life is a 19th century super hero story. He comes from nothing, has no education, no money, lives in the middle of nowhere on the frontier. And despite the fact that he suffers one tragedy and one setback after another, through sheer force of will, he becomes something extraordinary: not only the president but the person who almost single-handedly united the country.”

The full story - about how some Lincoln scholars think the weird film's depiction is actually pretty historically good, is on the Daily Beast website.

Gove's O-Level Proposal

Michael Gove's desire to return the 16+ exam system to the more rigorous style once seen in O-levels has ruffled a hen coop load of feathers but is undoubtedly the right move.  Whether he achieves it or not is another matter, but for what they're worth I blogged some nicely supportive comments about the proposal on the TRG's website here.  I do think that having decided a comprehensive exam doesn't work and ditching it in favour of a more academically selective one might be a principle worth applying to schools?  We could call the academically stretching schools grammar schools or some such thing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

No Honours For Marr

BBC presenter and Queen Elizabeth biographer is no knee-jerk republican, but he's got it in for the honours system as Roy Greenslade reports.  I rather like Marr's reasoning - we all know that the system became farcical long ago, not least for its ritual rewarding of well paid celebrities who needed no further recognition and were already doing something many would give their eye teeth for.  Mind you, I'm not sure Marr was close to getting an honour in the first place, but this will certainly ensure he doesn't need to get out the court dress just yet.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Putin's Right On Syria

The implacable features of the spymaster turned president don't always inspire comfort in the West, but on Syria I have a hunch that Mr. Putin may be right.  I have posted on the TRG's Egremont blog about why, despite the apparent moral imperatives brought to us in nightly news casts, we should not consider intervening in Syria. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Four Days in Jubilee Land - Days 3 and 4

Jubilee weariness is getting to me, hence the compression of the last two days!  If your only news about the Jubilee was from the news channels you could have been forgiven on Monday for thinking that the boat pageant had been such a success that they'd decided to repeat it all again.  But it was just the news channels, ensuring that this day old piece of news took firm precedence over such minor things as the burgeoning civil war in Syria, the ridiculous misadventures of Baroness Warsi or the deepening Euro crisis.

Monday's Jubilee adventures brought us the evening Concert Outside The Palace, with the sort of mix that you would never possibly see - or endure - outside of a royal celebration.  And Elton John was out of tune wasn't he?  We also had the Grand Beacon Lighting, proving once again the centrality of bonfires and fireworks at the heart of the monarchical propaganda machine (Guy Fawkes anyone?).  Our own village beacon was one of the 4,000 'official' ones (there were other, non-official bonfires?!) although stuck as it was in a sheltered bit of lowland it was never going to be a major source of communication - for good or bad - with neighbouring beacons.   As a source of warmth for the nearest barbecue tables it wasn't bad, but as a possible source of summoning for all the nation's manpower....all I can say is, don't ignore learning the language of the invader in that instance.

Finally, Tuesday.  Oh, finally, the end of this four day splurge of sycophancy, neo-celebrity, extended holiday-making and televisual tedium.  St. Paul's, which has suffered so much, hosted the Jubilee Thanksgiving Service and a parade of carriages, but I think I was beginning to see gaps where there should have been crowds.  Perhaps we've all been Jubileed out, and the republicans will get the last laugh after all.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Four Days in Jubilee Land - Day Two

“Britons Brave Weather For Jubilee”.  Well we are marvellous I know, and I don’t wish to detract from the many who carried on regardless, but we were hardly “braving” anything.  We had the traditional, albeit continuous, British drizzle, interspersed occasionally with slightly more forthright rain, but it took precious little bravery.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, mega-floods, blistering Equator-esque sun – that requires bravery.  But this is Jubilee Britain where the English language has been forced into a battle against its own eloquence in order to provide ever worse metaphorical flourishes for desperate commentators.  One and a half hours of boat pageant commentating was certainly taking its toll on the BBC reporters charged with explaining what we could see perfectly clearly on our television screens.  The ‘Spirit of Chartwell’ may have managed a “perfect tactical manoeuvre” according to the reverential commentator, but on screen it looked pretty much like a boat chugging out from the jetty to join a bunch of other boats. 

I thought the boat thing was nice, and I’m impressed that one and a half million spectators lined the Thames to see it (encouraged by the rain, which will have ensured no other events were likely to be up to much after all).  This compares with the hundred or so republicans who chanted rather forlornly outside City Hall, but they were never going to be able to compete with the full weight of the British ceremonial establishment.  Since the days of the gladiators grand spectacle has managed to buy public support and I don’t see things changing anytime soon.  But the Queen’s stamina was impressive.  Kept smiling, didn’t sit down on the cushiony throne seats, looked permanently interested, and she’s 86!  I know students in their teens who struggle to show interest in anything for longer than about two minutes, and as for standing up for any length of time beyond what’s required for ordering a drink at the bar, let’s not detract from the Queen’s achievement.

The pageant, a homage to Canaletto, was a triumph and even the street parties carried pluckily on.  Although not in my village, where they apparently re-located to the church hall, although the really good news is that the Morris Men are due today to perform their impenetrable dances, so we haven’t missed out on this peculiar piece of English culture.  I’d like to hear a BBC commentator turn that into a language-torturing reverential piece of verbal sophistry.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Four Days in Jubilee Land - Day One

I’m quite glad the weather is poor on Day 2 of the Great Jubilee Breakout.  It is quintessentially British and allows us to do our traditional British celebrations with even greater enthusiasm and fervour.  It would have been no fun to hold our 9,000 plus street parties in the glaring heat of an unseasonal midday sun.  Much better to be able to re-locate them all to the village hall and quickly see if the Morris Men can perform tomorrow instead.  And of course, as is the way when large numbers of British strangers abandon the modern custom of not talking to each other and gather together, those awkward few hours after introducing each other can now be followed, with relief, by lengthy discourses about the weather.  I can’t wait to hear my first “mustn’t grumble” and the more pithy “typical”.

So this is Jubilee Land.  Stuck with something to do that hasn’t been done on previous Jubilees or Royal Weddings, the government came up with a four day weekend instead.  Like we need an extended holiday in the midst of a recession that Dave and his pals are trying to elongate, but there we go.  Yesterday was officially Day One and it began with the remarkable appearance of the Queen at the Epsom Derby.  Since she’s only been turning up to this particular event since her coronation it was definitely a classic opener to the four days of increasingly desperate celebrations that are unfolding.  I was a little disappointed that the wall to wall coverage occasionally broke off to report on some tedious crowd in Tahrir Square who hadn’t quite got the message about this being a weekend of celebration for Queen Elizabeth II, not for the incarceration of Hosni Mubarak, but I guess world communications aren’t what they used to be.  Didn’t we used to run Egypt?

The breathtaking footage of the Queen alighting from her car to listen to an opera singer do her best to make the national anthem sound, well, anthemic, was followed by the oft repeated expectation that the Queen might one day have a winner at the Derby.  I didn’t really understand this.  If she’d followed everyone else and put her tenner on the absolute dead cert favourite she could have had a definite winner yesterday.  And it was even called Camelot, presumably in honour of the Queen’s great great great (etc) grandfather King Arthur of blessed memory.  The Queen’s not short of a bob or two and can afford to invest in good horse racing advice, so a bit of a Jubilee learning curve for her there I hope.

The Epsom Derby was about it as far as Jubilee celebrations went yesterday and given that it’s something of a fixture in the annual calendar I’m not sure it wins many marks for originality, but things are bound to ratchet up today with the Grand Boat Pageant.  Then of course there’s today’s “Big Rainy Jubilee Lunch” in lots of streets and round lots of village greens  (I’m off to my brother’s house for a family gathering as he resolutely refuses to join the hoi polloi).  What I’m really looking forward to is the grand beacon lighting on Monday.  We have one in the village, and my aged mother (who I hope to goodness never manages the difficult 21st. century technical art of accessing this blog) has even been asked to be one of the beacon fire lighters, which I sincerely hope doesn’t mean she has to cover herself in lighter fuel and take a running jump onto the bonfire.   She’s really not up to running these days.  Yes, Jubilee Land is a fantastic, fun loving place, although we shouldn’t forget the serious message at its heart, of a woman who was born to the wrong parents at the wrong time and has had to spend sixty years waving, cutting ribbons, watching Morris Men, living in a range of castles and palaces in need of modernisation and never getting a winner at the Derby.