‘Philharmonic Four’ in Proms protest should not have mentioned the LPO (The Telegraph)

There is an episode of The West Wing in which President Josiah Bartlet gets into trouble over green beans. Word gets out that he is not a fan of the legume, and soon the White House is fielding calls from aggrieved bean producers.

His press secretary, CJ, spends hours wrangling with the problem. How can she get around it? He just doesn’t like them, she says. He’s speaking on his own behalf, not America’s.

The suspension of four London Philharmonic musicians for signing a letter of protest about the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms brought the beans to mind.

Scarcely a day goes by without somebody, somewhere, calling for a boycott of Israel. Sometimes they want the rest of the world to take a stand on buying Israeli goods or to stop co-operating with Israeli academics and trade unionists. At other times, they simply want to say no to Israel itself.

Their default position – that Israel is such a lost cause that no good can come from working with any of its parts – makes me feel depressed, as does its reverse: when supporters of Israel say there is no hope for a two-state solution. It’s like a builder turning up at a construction site without any tools; how can you change something if you won’t engage with it?

This comment piece was first published in the Telegraph. Read the rest of it here.


Aaron Sorkin vs. Andrew Marr

After Andrew Marr registered his dislike for bloggers – calling them “socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting” – it’s good to see that one prominent public figure considers them worthy of engaging with.

 Aaron Sorkin, writer of the West Wing and more recently The Social Network, was so upset by remarks below a blogpost about the so-called Facebook film that he responded in the comments section.

After facing criticism by “Tarazza” for “the lack of a decent portrayal of women” in the film – they “were basically sex objects/stupid groupies” – on the blog of Emmy winning writer Ken Levine, Sorkin wrote back:

 “This is Aaron Sorkin and I wanted to address Taraza’s [sic] comment….

“….Tarazza–believe me, I get it. It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about….

Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Sorkin, Justin Timberlake (Photo: J Lipman)

 “….More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now.

 “….I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.”

Having seen the film, I’d agree to an extent with the complaint that there are very few positive representations of women in it. But to my mind, that’s more about how male-dominated the web/tech world is than any failure on Sorkin’s part.

Nevertheless, all credit to Sorkin for taking the time to talk – and for doing it in the forum of his fans, rather than via a press spokesperson.

 I wonder if Marr would tell Sorkin his comments are simply “the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.”

Which came first, the chicken or the Cam?

The cracks are beginning to show on the camapign trail in Britain.

Yet again, the divide between fiction and reality has been blurred, as the events of UK politics increasingly come to resemble an episode of the West Wing.

For the last few days, Conservative would-be PM David Cameron has been given a roasting by a new member of his entourage – a giant chicken.

Apart from giving rise to endless egg-cellent puns (especially after an unfortunate yolk-throwing incident earlier today), this is yet another campaign story where the fiction writers got their first.

The brains behind the West Wing, not content with having written Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency before he even dreamed it, also came up with the ‘look out, there’s a giant bird behind you’ storyline years ago.

The feathery fun starts when Josh Lyman, campaign manager for outsider Matt Santos, realises they can’t afford much publicity – so he commissions a costumed clucker to stalk Santos’ opponents. And that’s where the resemblance stops.

Cameron is not so much outsider as establishment, and thanks to friends like Cashcroft we know Conservative coffers are well stocked. Not forgetting that when Santos learns of the egg-centric tactics in play, he bans further chicken fun on grounds of juvenile campaigning.

Juvenile campaigning? In Britain? Never.



Partying like it’s 1999: ten years on

 “So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999…”      

So sang Prince in 1983.  Less illustriously, so rapped Will Smith in his millennium themed tune Will2k.       

By any standards, 1999 was an important year.  It was the last of the old millennium and depending on whether you subscribed to rumours of a certain bug, the last ever.  It was the icing on the cake of a sweet decade, one of relative international stability, progress and the promise of a better future.         
Continue reading

Good eating, Mr President

It’s that time of year again…

…the official pre-Thanksgiving presidential Turkey pardon.  A bird named Courage is headed not for the dinner table but for  retirement in California after the President saved it from a death sentence.

“There are certain days that remind me why I ran for this office,” Obama said.  Was this one of them?

He joins a long line of benevolent presidential bird savers.  See how the tradition has gone. . .

from life. . .

to art. . .

to somewhere in-between!

TV degrees and other true fictions

Outcry across the web because Harvard students are to study the TV show The Wire .

Said Sociology Professor William J. Wilson:

The Wire’ has done more to enhance our understanding of the systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the poor than any published study.”

Not everyone agrees.  “Just when you thought the show couldn’t be anymore overrated” wrote TheBaffler on the Huffington Post.  Another commented that if was a good show, if you had “to teach TV shows to rich and coddled post-adolescents”.  Over on Twitter, killahmcgillah is more forthright: “uh, #harvard students get to take a class on “the wire” next year? i knew that shithole was barely a real school”.

Well, apart from the fact that as I have previously commented, watching The Wire is more like work than play, I can’t see what all the fuss is about.

Ok, TV shouldn’t be a replacement for all formal academic study. I doubt I could become a successful journalist based on the lessons of the newspaper staff in The New Adventures Of Superman. And I’m pretty sure I won’t hone my catering skills just by following the exploits of Monica from Friends. Just because Dawson Leery was a great film-maker does not mean I will be.

Yet I can still see the benefit of Harvard students watching The Wire.

For one module of my politics degree at Nottingham University, I spent a semester watching TV. West Wing, Yes Minister, even The Simpsons at one point. We also watched movies like Mr Smith Goes To Washington and heaven forbid, read a few books, Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate being just one example.

The class, surprisingly very popular, focused on the representation of politics in fiction.  We used these sources as a starting point from which to ruminate on matters from how the non-political sectors of society perceive the political to the more philosophical question of whether life is essentially a social construct shaped by art.

All that from watching the work of the (great) Aaron Sorkin.

An unorthodox teaching method? Certainly. Useful and memorable? Very much so.

In arts subjects – perhaps science too though I’m no expert – we frequently refer to newspaper reports and commentary as source material. English students have long been using literature as a basis to consider pertinent social ansmits460d cultural questions.

So why not use unconventional source material like TV shows? It doesn’t mean dumbing down, and it doesn’t amount to a degree in David Beckham studies.

The reality is that we live in a worlds where the lines between the imagined and the actual are blurred. How many of us can distinguish between what Sarah Palin said in the run up to the 2008 election and what Tina Fey did as her TV alter-ego. Was Obama’s election aided by voters seeing ethnic minorities as the very capable Presidents Matthew Santos and David Palmer, from West Wing and 24 respectively, as successful holders of the office?

Fiction doesn’t come out of nowhere. Even the most outlandish story has some relevance in society – think Shelley’s Frankensteinian monster as a recreation of the outsider, alienated in a capitalist society, or The Simpsons as a comment on the changing face of the nuclear family.

Art imitates life. It’s only logical that life can learn from art.