The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


The mouthcap is also part of a tragicomic safety theatre. The healthy is forbidden, the unhealthy is mandatory: the logic is absurd.

30 August 2020
The Weeknotes

This week...

2 September 2020
Take your time away

In another place, we're asked, "What is the greatest misuse of time travel you have ever witnessed?"

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Our protagonists change history by doing A, then doing B. This does not produce the outcome they desire.

Our protagonists wish to undo their meddling, so reverse their change at A, then their change at B.

As any fool knows, time travel doesn't work like that: after reversing at A, they must go to B', which will be different from B.

Cursed Child is an adequate play (but nothing earth-shattering, and not worth the overinflated price of admission). The plot has even more holes than my sock drawer, and we preferred it in the original gothic novel, "My immortal" by Tara Gilesbie.

More: this blog's review from 2016.

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Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere - Paul MASON

Written in 2011 and 2012, Mason tries to find a linking thread between the Arab Spring and the western Occupy movement, via the collapse of democracy in Athens. Social media is his linking thread, a suggestion that both events were facilitated by the Blackberry and Twitter.

At the distance of almost a decade, it's clear that Mason's hope - that there would be a popular uprising against his reviled neoliberalism - hasn't been fulfilled. Some of the on-the-spot reporting has become outdated, almost comically.

We do have some positive takeaways: the more theoretical chapters on the social and economic causes, and on the history of 1848, are perhaps more relevant with hindsight. An application of these principles, when the people of Greece completely ignored the government, bears comparison with the pandemic of 2020.

Ultimately, though, Mason believes that social media and the network effect will only be used by forces of progress, and will only be used to advance social causes. That turned out well, and Mason doesn't give any useful thoughts on how to reintegrate the atomised bits that used to be a society.

Mason's book is relevant, at times engrossing, but it's no signpost to the future. Rather, treat this as a milestone, a record of where society was in 2011-12.

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19 June 2020
Travel times

Let's do a Top Six.

  1. Press Gang remembered, the massive impact of ITV's greatest 80s-90s drama.

  2. (And That's No Lie) is of course the only hit single to have its entire title in parentheses.

    We have two counterexamples to the Heaven 17 minor hit (which made the top 40 at number 52 in early 1985). From the Dust Junkys, (Nonstoperation) made number 47 in November 1997. And from Sigur Ros, the query-proof () reached number 72 in May 2003; the album of the same name had charted in November 2002.

  3. Simplifying board games: a starter pack for a full game.

  4. Geoffrey Alderman reflects on how he helped to change Sunday trading laws.

  5. All the music in The Young Ones series one. Over on Grange Hill Rewatch, I've tried to note every piece of incidental music they used between 1994 and 2002. Some excellent choices, some superb tunes, and The Verve.

  6. On a rail forum, it was asked,

    If all of the following factors bar one were equal for a given journey, at what 'value' of that one variable would you switch from favouring a rail journey with changes to one without?

    Price, overall journey time, reliability, proximity of stations to origin/destination, comfort, crowding/ease of getting a seat, reservations.

    This blog tries to assign a value to our leisure time, at roughly €20 per hour, door to door. Euston on the slow lines is about an hour longer than Euston on the fast lines, so needs to be about €20 cheaper from time...

    ...or slightly less considering comfort, because the Pendolini on the fast lines leave us slightly queasy. We'll take the slow line if it's perhaps €15 cheaper...

    We don't attach a price to reservations, and crowding is a function of the time of day. We do account for freebies, First Class on the Pendolini is €6 each way just for the space, plus the sticker price of any snacks and coffees - up to €15 if we use the lounge and grab a light meal and gin 'n' tonic.

    Changing trains is normally easy for us - we'll only consider it if we plan to lug a suitcase (no charge for same- or cross-platform changes, or where there's a lift. €3 otherwise. London Marylebone to Baker Street or Birmingham New Street to Moor Street is €6 because of length.)

    Weighing this against the actual prices, we'll take off-peak trains to Euston when our destination is around Euston, or better accessed from there: east London north of the Thames, on the Northern line, or served via London Bridge. We consider a First Class upgrade if the tickets are within £15 of the Second Class. All other destinations in London go via Marylebone.

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20 April 2020
Popular in early 2003

Everyone remembers Year 3000, Busted's big breakthrough track. Riffing off the film Back to the Footor, Busted tell of a world where people live under water. People only reproduce once every 200 years or so, because the interlocutor's great-great-great grand-daughter is still alive. And is "pretty fine". The whole song is irresistable pop, written with a sharp wit, and it's remembered as an absolute classic. Number 2.

(More: The entire careers of David Sneddon and Tatu, lots of discussion of the Eurovision Song Contest, and a huge piece of writing about Evanescence. Plus number ones from Christina Aguilera, Gareth Gates and The Kumars, Room 5, Busted, Tomcraft, but R Kelly.)

Fast food song by the Fast Food Rockers was everything you could want from a hit song. They had a credible origin story, having met at a hamburger 'n' hot dog convention in Folkestone. They had a striking visual image, day-glo uniforms with just a hint of latex.

And they had a catchy single. Based on a campfire song (we heard it through Scouts in the 1980s), it was familiar to millions. The band performed with a better sense of tune and timing than Jemini, and the lyric was the greatest since The Cheeky Girls.

A pizza hut
A pizza hut
Ken tuck in fried chicken and
A pizza hut

Mac donald!
Mac donald!
Ken tuck in fried chicken and
A pizza hut

Two weeks at number 2, and a follow-up graced the top ten. And then the Great British Public said "this joke's gone quite far enough". The album stayed resolutely on the shelves, and the group were dropped in early 2004.

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18 January 2020
Popular in late 2002

Not Quite as Popular covers the top five singles on the CIN chart. This episode covers the first half of 2002. We move at the same speed as Tom Ewing's Popular project, which explains the eighteen-month gap between installments.

July 2002 dawned with Elvis Presley still at number one. Red Hot Chili Peppers had been going almost as long, 19 years compared to Elvis's 22 year career. Formed in 1983, the Peppers broke through in California with Mother's Milk (1989) and here with Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991). Even then, it took until 1994 for the album to become a serious success here.

Three albums later, By the way enters at number 2. It's the group's biggest UK hit single, and one of their best-known (second only to Under the bridge, we reckon). More melodic and instant than many RHCP tracks, it has some depths. Some, but not many.

(More: With number ones from Darius, Sugababes, Blazin' Squad, Atomic Kitten, Pink, Will Young, Las Ketchup, Nelly, DJ Sammy, Westlife, Christina Aguilera, Daniel Bedingfield, Eminem, Blue, and Girls Aloud. And with this blog's marks.)

The winner was Sound of the underground, credited to Girls Aloud. Louis Walsh had had the song kicking around for a couple of years. Reports at the time said it had been turned down by Samantha Mumba just weeks before, for the album that was retconned out of history. A dance song with sampled guitars, a catchy chorus, a winners' song that actually reflected life as the voting audience lived it. Waterman went for the granny phone vote; Walsh went for a long-lasting group. He won, of course, putting the song to the top for a full month.

History has been kind to Sound of the underground. It wasn't pioneering, the beats-and-guitars thing had been going around all year. But it did bring a very new sound to the most mainstream part of the mainstream, and that sound would shape pop music for the next few years. Number one for four weeks, and while greater talents have had Christmas chart-toppers since, there wouldn't be a better festive leader for many years.

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12 January 2020
The number one hits of 2019

Here are all of the songs to have spent at least one hour atop the Peartunes digital sales charts during 2019. From the perspective of the end of the year, we've ranked them on the open-ended Popular scale (average is 5½, 10 is outstanding, 1 is abysmal.)

79d23h TONES AND I - Dance monkey
The year's most dominant song - almost 20% of the year on top - for a catchy and demonstrative number with great depth. It'll be remembered in years to come. TEN POINTS!

(Not all of the songs are as good as this...)

00d07h TAYLOR SWIFT - Christmas tree farm
A tale of Taylor growing up on her farm. This is going to be a classic, not just because of who's made it. 8.

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31 Deceember 2019
"Blue Monday or not, never trust any song that has '88 after the title."

So wrote Tim Worthington in August. Now, Tim's hot on popular culture, we've a lot of respect for his warm and critical nostalgia. But does the implication hold: were all songs with an "88" at the end a bit dodgy?

We can test this with actual research. Cranking up the Big Database of Every Singles Chart Hit Ever, we find there were 15 hits ending in "88". They were, unsurprisingly, all released in 1988. Let's go through them one by one.

Alexander O'Neal - Fake '88
Released in three mixes; the "House" mix was seven minutes of Alexander struggling to be heard over a synthesised drum loop. The "Single" mix ("Short House" mix) was the same but truncated to four minutes by chopping the intro and not bothering with the extended mixout. The "Club" mix ("Hip Hop" on some pressings) was a bit longer. All mixes were by Keith Cohen and Steve Beltran, keeping the keyboard figure in the pre-chorus. The mixes don't add anything significant to Jam and Lewis's original from the previous year, but benefitted from O'Neal's raised profile to reach number 16.

(More: Fourteen more efforts: the good, the bad, and the template for a future Kylie release.)

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28 September 2019
Say Naga

Earlier in the year, the BBC Breakfast Time programme had a brief discussion about racism. Dan Walker and Naga Munchetty noted how go back home was only ever used in a racist manner, particularly when directed at ethnic minority people. Naga, herself from an ethnic minority, drew from personal experience and described how she felt about the racists who say racist things. This is not controversial.

Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism. Now, I'm not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.

Co-host Dan Walker asked Naga how she felt when she heard a failed Yankee politician use such language

Furious. Absolutely furious and I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it's OK to skirt the lines by using language like that.

The BBC's editorial board were complained at by some thin-skinned bloviator, intent on stirring up trouble. The board came to the quite remarkable view that Naga was expressing her view on a matter of controversy. They're saying that it's possible to say racist things, and not actually be a racist. On that pinhead, they ruled that Naga had given a personal opinion when saying that someone who used racist words in a racist manner was himself a racist.

(More: Reflecting on the BBC's biases and racism)

Ultimately, we fear that this all exposes the BBC's permanent bias: it's in favour of the establishment in general. Elizabeth Windsor, a queen from Windsor, gets an annual party election broadcast in peak viewing hours, without any challenge from others. There's a daily act of Christian worship, without any challenge from other religions or atheists. And when the establishment is pushing racist policies, the BBC will not want to offend the establishment, so will act in a racist manner itself.

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8 August 2019
Onward, the think tank that doesn't

We've become aware of new(ish) pressure group Onward, which employs a couple of former policy directors for senior party figures. The group appears to be misnamed, as its vision of "onwards" strikes us as "flailing about in the middle of nowhere".

Its new report The Politics of Belonging commits two cardinal sins. The paper takes an opinion poll, and attempts to form policy based on the results of this one poll. Why is this wrong?

(More: Are these values different from previous years? Do voters really know what they want?)

In conclusion The report offers three "emerging conclusions".

1) "The post-war age of freedom is ending". Onward has offered no evidence to justify this remarkable claim. The pressure group's research has ignored history, so the report's conclusions can only be of the present.

2) "Voters do not want want more autonomy, choice and mobility." This is a description of the opinion poll results. It accurately describes what voters are telling opinion pollsters. It may not accurately describe what the voters actually want, because we voters may not know what we actually want. Much of the present mess stems from an ill-defined feeling of "we want something to change", without articulating what and how.

3) proposes 2) in spades for a Conservative victory. By following this advice, Onward would offer policies that are More Of The Same. It would be a party of followers, in a time when calm and consensual leadership is desperately required.

Onward's research tells us where voters tell opinion pollsters where we are, and does so in great detail. It presumes that voters are where they think they are. It hasn't told us anything about the historical direction of travel.

In short: the claims made by Onward are not supported by the evidence. Please do better.

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