The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


PGage: If Americans began to suspect that the real Olympic narrative is not really about scrappy Americans making their dreams come true by triumphing over foreigners, fewer of them might watch the Olympics at all.

19 August 2016
Popular in late 2001

As it's been a long time, a reminder of the rules. This is Not Quite as Popular, a wander through the CIN top 5 singles at the same rate as Tom E Wing's Popular project. We bundle up discussions into six month blocks, and wander off point.

We didn't get a TEN POINTS! record of brilliance in the first half of 2001. That changed at the start of July, with Roger Sanchez's sublime Another chance. To say it's "based on a Toto sample" is true, and completely misses the point. Here, Sanchez takes a familiar riff, adds a typical beat, and a downcast lyric: broadly, "if I had another chance, I'd do better". The song is made by its video, a bizarre tale of a woman carrying her heart around.

(In this half-year: we remember the So Solid Crew, pass judgement on Bob the Builder versus DJ Ötzi, and describe someone as "wants to be Donna Summer, but is more Done Autumn". But who?) With number ones for Atomic Kitten, So Solid Crew, Five, Blue, Bob the Builder, DJ Ötzi, Kylie Minogue, Afroman, Westlife, S Club 7, Daniel Bedingfield.

The Christmas number one went to Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman, with a cover of Something stupid. Robbie has a love of big-band music, enough to make a whole album of it. And he was a big enough star that his fans would buy any old tat that he pushed out, even a very moderate album of big band numbers. This version wasn't as good as Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and we couldn't believe that Nicole would sing a love duet with a parochial star like Robbie. Three weeks at number one, including the Christmas week, but deservedly forgotten within months.

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18 August 2016
Sixes and sevens
  1. The seven sacraments of Harry Potter. We interpret these as the outward signs of the Hogwarts-canon-universe; original authors Mockingbird draw more direct parallels to their Christian theology.

    From the same site, The Blessing of the Cursed Child. It includes the critical comment, "the writing style in Cursed Child is jarringly different from Rowling's."

  2. The woman who fits all her rubbish into one glass jar... and has almost infinite time to make things like soap.

  3. Life with and without punctuation, Erica Brown prefers adverbs and eschews exclamation points.

  4. Is Romeo + Juliet the most erotic film of all time? (No, unless you think Leo di Caprio was a role model for Shane L Word.)

  5. David Globlatt on the Crass Spectacle of jingoism and commercialism and exploiting certain sportsfolk.

  6. Where is the Greenwich meridian? The answer is complex: it depends by what you mean by "straight down".

    This causes problems for experienced space navigators. You'll remember that Duck Dodgers started his mission by going "33,600 turbo miles due up". But was he using "due up" in its local definition, or from the earth's centre of gravity?

    That sort of uncertainty could cause a tremendous deviation from his proposed course. Why, he might miss Planet X on first attempt, and cede first dibs on the supplies of Illudium Phosdex to the Martians. And then where would we be?!

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12 August 2016
Puzzled Pint for July 2016

We took a pass on June's Puzzled Pint puzzles, for referendum reasons. For July, secret societies.

The mark scheme: base of 6, minus 0-2 for imprecise answers, minus 0-2 for gratuitous Americanisms, add or deduct marks for style (rarely more than 2 in either direction). This month, we've only awarded style marks. Any meta puzzle counts double in the weighted average, and we award a final grade according to Oxford degree classifications.

Location: a simple wordfit puzzle, with the message contained in the indicated cells. +1 for being accessible for beginners. 7.

Illuminati: heavy construction and this really needs a bit of thin card. Even without assembling the things, it's possible to reconstruct the triangles from inspection. Not convinced the alpha letters were legible, bonus points as we've not seen pigpen in years. 6.

Knights Templar: Oof! Rather than moving like normal pieces, the pieces move like knights. Once that's been gleaned, the puzzle is fairly trivial: work out the finish square, read off the grid. Plus two for a very unusual construction, but minus two for being trivial after the opening. 6.

Skull and Bones: Again, oof! "Further research won't help" tells us the answer is on the page. There's a fingernail as the last set only has three statements. One could almost guess the later twist to hide the answer. Decent idea, but very much feels like "we're thinking of this, can you think the same"? 5.

Freemasons: "Over" is the key: it's this-over-that to form words, and we didn't find any false leads. Solved it without spotting the "before" part: <inu><det> only has one sensible anagram. Feels like the most difficult part is cutting out the grid. Giving a slight benefit of the doubt, 5.

Meta: Utterly trivial. Nothing wrong with that, but not very impressive. 5.

Overall, we dub this a Third-class set of puzzles. An experimental set, introducing many new ideas, some of which worked well.

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10 August 2016
Dixie Chicks lit

A sixpack of things crossing our path lately.

  1. From the Dallas Observer, a long history of the Dixie Chicks and their relationship with Dallas.

  2. The dangers of Westphalia: Ronan McCrea argues against Ireland's liberal citizenship.

    Citizenship is fundamental to the collective self-government involved in democracy. The welfare state is also very dependent on the idea of citizenship.

    Social welfare systems involve taxpayers undertaking to economically support people they do not know. Such an undertaking is impossible without the sense of shared identity and solidarity that citizenship provides.

    McCrea's argument only works if you agree that a) the nation state is inevitable, and b) people owe their allegiance to one and only one nation state. Both of these are axioms: things that McCrea believes and builds from. It doesn't matter that one can build a viable society without either or both of these fundamental beliefs. It doesn't matter that Ireland implicitly rejects the latter axiom, expecting people to be Irish and British, or Irish and Canadian, or Irish and Belgian.

  3. How to have a good wedding, according to Christian Today. Wear comfortable shoes, take supplies, and get "lost" between church and wedding (ie dive into a layby for a nap).

    Eat canapes because the meal will be too late, talk to old people, and dance

    And, if you're of that particular religious persuasion, reflect on marriage, worship wholeheartedly, and bother people about your god. You may never see the bride's cousin Brian again, but you will remember the marvellous view of his fist just before it comes into contact with the bridge of your nose.

  4. Teletext lives! Pages come down from a server, pass through a Raspberry Pi, come out as composite video, and appear on television. And there's a teletext convention in Cambridge at the start of October.

  5. From 1972 to the present day, the evolution of host broadcaster graphics. The 92 graphics were a cut above anything in the past, the 94 set still look clean and elegant. 98's visuals were very similar to the News 24 look, and we also like the 04 package.

  6. An air conditioner made out of plastic bottles. Simple technology, and apparently very effective.

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3 August 2016
The New European, same as The Old European?

Archant Media's "pop-up" newspaper launched on 9 July. It's a 48-page paper, in the format pioneered by Le Monde: slightly wider and somewhat deeper than a tabloid. It's full colour throughout, and each page is set in four columns plus a thin gutter - a format almost identical to Het Manchester Grauniad. Each edition costs £2.

The paper splits into three unequal sections. "Agenda" covers the first 14 or so pages. It's a summary of news and events. Regulars include a news-in-brief column, short stories from around Europe. High-profile opinion pieces appear in this section - Richard Branson and Dave Brailsford have written on page 4-5.

"Expertise" goes on for about ten more pages, a series of opinion pieces written by invited guests. The centre spread is ten events in Europe, dotted around a weather forecast for Saturday. The paper concludes with "Eurofile", a loose collection of cultural activities, tourist sights, and poetry.

We're experienced enough to remember The European, Robert Maxwell's ambitious attempt at a pan-European paper from the 1990s. That broadsheet's front section was a fair mix of hard news and opinion, though as The European actually employed journalists, its news was reasonably comprehensive. We could just about read The European and feel that we had a fair grasp of the week's news.

The European also had a woolly back section, mostly going on about "high culture" (because that's where the money was). We'd love to see The New European give a book review, or profile a Great European Film. Instead it's fairly mundane tourist photos, and "lifestyle" pieces about mindfulness.

The biggest difference is in the middle: The European had comprehensive business coverage and a substantial sports section. Neither appear in The New European: the Tour de France and Euro 16 each merited a two page photo-essay, and that's all the sport. No hardcore business at all.

There's no substantial journalism in The New European yet, everything feels slightly re-heated, and the back half could be any in-flight magazine.

It feels that The New European is a bolt-on, an addition to an existing weekend paper or news magazine. Worse, the editions have become indistinguishable: every week, the same articles revising the same points.

We appreciate the severe constraints, the paper went from idea to newstand in nine days. We don't regret taking out a four-edition subscription. But we're not renewing, not just yet. The paper isn't good enough, we need something more substantial from it.

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28 July 2016
More Or Less United

This is about "More United", Paddy Ashdown's campaign group, launched on Andrew Marr's show last weekend.

As we see it, "More Utd" asks candidates to support some milquetoast ideas. Nothing on the sample policy lineup is going to trouble a Sensible candidate from any tradition. Indeed, we can almost say that any candidate supporting these principles is a Sensible candidate, and anyone opposing them is a Silly candidate.

(Behind the cut: Useful contributions from Andrew Hickey, Caron Lindsay, Yellow Submarine, and Nick Barlow.)

Nick Barlow concludes with a "what if" argument,

Let's be prepared to reach out and play a role in building the common ground, instead of standing on the sidelines and complaining that we weren’t included when someone else builds it without us. The old ways of doing politics are dying all around us, and we need to have the courage to try and shape the new.

Stand about while other people speak for us? Down that road lies an unrepresentative group, Labour's problems.

The barrier to entry is low, and the possible gains are great. So this blog's supporting the group, in a nebulous "we support this group" way.

For now, that's all we expect to do.

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18 July 2016
What is a referendum good for?

Danny Finkelstein argues that it was right to have a referendum discussion about Europe. This blog agrees with the debate, but not with having the plebiscite.

Lord Finklestein is correct to trace the debate back to Brown's weak government, and back further to Blair's rash promise. We thought at the time that this was a fool's errand, done for cheap and dirty tactical reasons.

While reviewing the history, and confirming that it wasn't Angus Deayton who caused this mess, we were reminded that Blair had taken his eye off the ball in early 2004. Iraq was going badly, Dr. Brown was plotting, the press was turning against him.

And there had been a "family emergency". We agree that this need not be reported, but it leaves us in a bind. Blair's mind was not on the job, his judgement was shaken, and we have to obfuscate the reason why. Had that "family emergency" not happened..... sheesh, that's a massive burden.

Onwards. Danny notes, It was simply right to ask people whether they assented and This was a reasonable way to make a difficult decision and A referendum is the right way to decide a narrow constitutional question, but not to determine broader national policy. These three statements cannot co-exist.

People have indicated their assent by consistently voting for European parties. Labour '83 was an exit party, its position was soundly rejected. Other, more marginal, parties never came within a mile of government. So we don't agree that people haven't been asked for their assent.

Was it a reasonable way to make a difficult decision? For now, let's assume it was.

Was the European position really a narrow constitutional question? We simply don't agree: it has become entwined in all sorts of policy. Trade policy, migration policy, culture, economics, defence, the works. The European position was broad policy. The efforts to change it have effects everywhere else.

This is a big question, one that requires the positive assent of the people. The people have not given their positive assent to any such policy. And, to be fair, Danny Finkelstein argues himself out of this position.

So no, we don't agree with Danny Finkelstein: the referendum vote was not a sound method to make such a big decision.

Offer a policy programme based on exit, and let the people have an informed discussion. There's a method for that kind of thing, it's called a general election.

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16 July 2016
Now That's What I Call A Topper

danielpeake: A couple of music facts: There have only been 6 number 1 singles in the UK this year.

Don't agree. By comparing apples with apples (sales and sales only), we see a longer list.

Of course, if you include streams and other forms of airplay in your calculations, you'll get different answers.

This isn't just a wanky "sales are better than streams" argument. Serious people are asking serious questions about how the OCCCC makes up the charts. Do 100 streams really equate to one sale? Do playlists "curated" by record companies really count as genuine consumer plays? Christopher Price of Radio 1 came out this week as saying the OCCCC might be ballsing it up, and we've never seen Radio 1 barrack for change before.

There's also a point that the OCCCC / Radio 1 chart is pretty obscure these days: Radio 1 and the CBBC channel on Friday evening, exposure to half a million people. Independent Radio's Big Top 40 show gets a much larger audience, and it's compiled from sales alone. The public is more likely to pay attention to the sales chart than the OCCCC's effort, and that undermines any claim to be "official".

danielpeake: Now 94 will have no no.1 singles on it.

Points at Jonas Blue, the current number one. Points at tracks 1, 2, 3, the last three number ones. Even on the OCCCC lists, Calum Scott and Dua Lipa might yet spin up the listings.

danielpeake (Now 16 also had no no.1 singles on it, but that was due to licensing things, I think)

Now 16 came out in November 1989, and covers songs released from July to October 1989. Sonia, Blackbox, and two from the Jive Bunny had topped the chart since Now 15 was compiled.

But Stock/Aitken/Waterman didn't license their PWL records for Now 16 - the only S/A/W work is from Cliff Richard and Big Fun, both on other labels. Blackbox had copyright problems so that the radio edit wasn't available to be licensed. Jive Bunny had worked hard to license their oldies and didn't have time to re-license for compilations. All of these were sensible positions, the result was no chart-toppers on Now 16.

... except for viewers in Scotland. Blackbox never reached number 1 (something like nine weeks at number 2 or 3, and the year's biggest seller). Scottish chart-toppers Right here waiting and Sweet surrender appear on CD1, with Pump up the jam on CD2.

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