Paxo & Moore on OCW

Jeremy Paxman talks to Michael Moore on BBC’s Newsnight program yesterday about the embryonic nature of OCW movement and whether a new form of capitalism may possibly arise from it…

It seems like an incredible stretch to imagine that anything terribly significant will materialize from this movement, although… it is quite astounding how in just a month they’ve managed to effectively shift the political frame of reference with regards to the economy, at least in the United States.

A Bit of a Cock-Up…

I don’t know if you remember the excellent BBC series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin from many years ago, but the title character’s incompetent brother-in-law Jimmy (played with deadpan brilliance by Geoffrey Palmer), an ex-military officer utterly incapable of functioning adequately in civilian life, always used that expression to preface his latest mundane failure. “A bit of a cock-up on the [whatever] front…”

For some reason that was the first thing that came to mind when hearing of the hilariously inept British SAS fiasco in Libya. Bit of a cock up on the diplomatic front, one might say. Spoken in William Hague’s smarmy tone of voice, I’d imagine it would sound quite perfectly comical.

Comedy of Errors Update:

Aside from commentary on the hapless British misadventure, if what Richard Engel is reporting about the Saudis arming the rebels is true, this is an incredibly significant development in the conflict.

Posh & Posher

Andrew Neill “gets under the skin of the new political ruling class” of Britain in this investigative report on the increasingly narrow (or should that be “shallow”?) social pool from which the UK’s governing elites are drawn.

In future reports, Neill may perhaps be expected to reveal shocking new facts showing that the rich are getting ever more fabulously rich all the time, kittens are still adorable, and the sky is blue (except when it’s not).

p.s. I wanted to post the whole program, and had the links for it, but unfortunately, the user was forced to pull it down by the Beeb. Not that you missed much.


How TV Ruined Your Life

Here’s the first installment of Charlie Brooker’s new six-part BBC2 series that explores different universal themes in an attempt to explain the gaping chasm between television and real life.

From the vantage of a darkened, chaotically jumbled viewing room, perched on his now familiar leather couch, a disheveled Brooker cynically examines a bizarre archive of petrifying PSAs (or PIFs as they’re called in Britain) that have over the years appeared on the “warning box” attempting to scare the piss out of people, ostensibly for reasons of public safety.

Other fear-inducing aspects of television’s perilous world are also touched on as Brooker grimly hopscotches through subjects as diverse as creepy children’s programming from the 70s and the proliferation of dismal shows based on apocalyptic nuclear scenarios that enjoyed a strangely popular fascination in the 80s.

Along the way, Brooker dismissively slaps around hysterical, crime and terror obsessed TV news coverage, as well as all manner of frightening programs designed to alert an increasingly anxious viewing audience to the dangers of new potential threats; from the mundane to the improbably hypothetical. Or, in the case of the satirical sketch “If Pens Got Hot…” a brilliant combination of both.

p.s. More information about theory mentioned in the program which asserts that TV viewing “cultivates” distorted perceptions of the real world can be found here. In fairness, it should also be mentioned that other sociologists have subsequently disputed the findings of Gerbner et al., contending the “cultivation” hypothesis lacks empirical support or any scientific basis in fact.

H/T: Thanks once again to Shiner in the comments for alerting me to this wonderful new series and to lemonandjack for posting it on YouTube so quickly.

10 O’Clock Live

This, apparently, is Britain’s answer to The Daily Show. Overall, it’s not very good, I’m sad to say, but does include some promising moments from the irascible duo of Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell. Probably would have been better if the C4C programmers* had just limited it to the two of them, or even just made Mitchell the host, with occasional features from Brooker reprising his withering critique of the news media that he executed so brilliantly in his old BBC Newswipe series.

*An unsurprising poor decision, given that scientific studies have shown public-service program planners (and other primitive human sub-groups) as scoring rather badly when compared to penguins in terms of their intellectual capacity.

QI XL: History

Watching QI is kind of a Sunday morning ritual for me. If you’ve never seen the program before, it’s one of those vaguely pointless but amusing BBC panel quiz shows where no prizes are involved and participants vie for arbitrary “points” that are tallied up at the end of the game.

As the name suggests, QI is always “quite interesting” and filled with obscure trivia; in this week’s edition, on the general theme of history…

On the subject of how points are awarded, the Wikipedia entry for QI quotes Stephen Fry outlining how it works:

Now, the rules are simple. Points are given and points are taken away. They are taken away for answers that are both obvious and wrong, and they’re given not so much for being correct, as for being interesting. Their level of interestingness is impartially determined by a demographically-selected customer service focus consultancy, broken down by age and sex – i.e. me. Erm … because there is no-one more broken down by age and sex than me.

It’s curious that of all the imports from British TV programs that have migrated to America (and Canada) over the years, the panel quiz show has, to the best of my knowledge, never made it on this side of the pond.

Talking to Ian Hislop

Seeing as JKG has been delighting me in the comments of late with clips from the BBC quiz program HIGNFY, I thought I’d return the favour by posting this extract from Mark Lawson talking to Ian Hislop, the quick-witted panelist from the aforementioned show and current editor of Private Eye magazine.

It’s the last part of six, but if you follow this link, it will take you to the place where you can easily access the remainder of the interview that covers lots of interesting subjects such as privacy and libel laws (subjects of particular interest to me, unfortunately) in addition to a lot of chatty banter that’s probably just as well ignored.

However, if you’re feeling a bit keen on the subject and somewhat intrepid (or perhaps just bored or having difficulty sleeping) there’s also a Channel 4 documentary Hislop presented a while back about Sir Robert Baden-Powell and the Scouting movement that’s completely fascinating. As a former Cub who was always somewhat puzzled by the whole thing, it explained a lot…

By the way, don’t you think the HIGNFY format would make a great show for one of our Canadian broadcast networks to shamelessly copy? For instance, maybe the CBC could take a refreshing breather from their horribly frantic, err, exciting new format to have a bit of lighthearted fun with the tiresome “news” they’re so keen on pointlessly jazzing up?

Newswipe S1E1P1

Absent any serious interest on my part in what laughably passes for “politics” in this damn country, I thought it might be fun instead to feature some of Charlie Brooker’s acerbic musings on the inner workings of the news media. So here we go… Enjoy!

Simon Schama…

Regards Things and Emotes at Them

That title made me chuckle. The video is pretty darned funny too if you’re familiar with Professor Schama’s work (Amongst other things, he wrote the wonderful book Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution which I cannot recommend highly enough — it’s a thoroughly engrossing read, especially if you’re interested in the taxation and trade policies of the Ancien Régime. Seriously). But I digress. The fellow who edited this compilation of film clips intended it as lighthearted send-up of his recent BBC film The American Future describing the “formulaic” art direction as: “Simon goes somewhere and looks contemplative.”

The musical track, if you’re interested is: Lied Der Grossmutter – Robert Volkmann; Je Te Veux – Erik Satie; and Opus 20 – Dustin O’Halloran.

Update: Speaking of Schama, here he is at Google (Mountain View, CA) in 2007 giving a highly animated talk about his most recent book Rough Crossings (which I haven’t read, but it’s on my list now).

From the review by Publisher’s Weekly:

Has there ever been a patch of history more celebrated than the American Revolution? The torrent is endless: volume after volume about the glory of 1776, the miracle of 1787 and enough biographies of the Founding Fathers to stretch from the Liberty Bell to Bunker Hill and back again. The Library of Congress catalogue lists 271 books or other items to do with George Washington’s death and burial alone. Enough!

By contrast with the usual hagiography, distinguished historian Schama has found a little-known story from this era that makes the Founding Fathers look not so glorious. The Revolution saw the first mass emancipation of slaves in the Americas—an emancipation, however, not done by the revolutionaries but by their enemies. Many American rebel leaders were slave owners. To hit them where it most hurt, Britain proclaimed freedom for all slaves of rebel masters who could make their way to British-controlled territory. Slaves deserted their horrified owners by the tens of thousands.

One, who used his master’s last name, was Henry Washington; another renamed himself British Freedom. The most subversive news in this book is that the British move so shocked many undecided Southern whites that it actually pushed them into the rebel camp: “Theirs was a revolution, first and foremost, mobilized to protect slavery.” Even though they lost the war, most British officers honored their promise to the escaped slaves. The British commander in New York at the war’s end, where some 3,000 runaway slaves had taken refuge, adamantly refused an irate Washington’s demand to give them back. Instead, he put them on ships for Nova Scotia. And there, nearly a decade later, another saga began.

More than a thousand ex-slaves accepted a British offer of land in Sierra Leone, a utopian colony newly founded by abolitionists, which for a few years in the 1790s was the first place on earth where women could vote. Sadly, however, financial problems and the British government’s dismay at so much democracy soon brought an end to the self-rule the former slaves had been promised.

Ah, the things they never teach you in school…