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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 12:01:01 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP, Theatre (all tags)
Reading: "Dodger", "Attlee". Watching: "The Pirates". Politics. Theatre: "L'Orfeo". Links.

What I'm Reading
Finished Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Not a Discworld book: this one is set in a slightly mythologized Victorian London, with a couple of fictional characters interacting with real people. It's an interesting turn from an author whose Ankh-Morpork has gradually become a kind of fantasy version of Victorian London. The fantasy elements of Discworld have receded enough that it doesn't seem like much of a transition.

Pretty entertaining, though not as comic or as funny as some of his novels. The plot is also a little bit perfunctory. However does have a good atmosphere and lots of period detail.

Worth a read if you like Terry Pratchett, but not his best work.

What I'm Reading
Attlee by David Howell is a biography of the British Labour prime minister. This is a short and basic book, part of a series of Prime Ministerial biographies. Does do a good job of explaining the man and his times.

Attlee was never a charismatic figure, but someone who gradually attained a huge amount of respect for his hard work, organisational skills, and steadfast character. He comes across as a nice guy who finished first in many fields. In the first world war he got a head start due to being active in the cadet corps before the war, and quickly rose to the rank of Major. (Like Macmillan and others he used the military title on election forms for a long time afterwards). His hard graft as a community and Labour Party organizer eventually got him a candidacy as one of the few Labour Party MPs. As the Labour Party expanded he spent a lot of effort helping new Labour MPs find their feet, and did copious research to get himself and others up to speed and able to debate effectively: this helped him get the party leadership after a bad election wiped out many other senior figures. During the second world war he was a key figure as one of the tiny (5 to 7 strong) War Cabinet, where again he gained respect due to his organisational skills: mastery of paperwork, tersely effective chairman of meetings. After the war he and the Labour Party were rewarded with an astonishing landslide, where in a term and half the party largely created the modern welfare state, in a form too popular to be easily reversed.

Overall, a decent biography, informative but not spectacularly revelatory.

One thing that becomes painfully clear after reading the Attlee and Macmillan biographies is how horrifically inexperienced the modern political class is. Longer political careers, more frequent alterations of power helped: but also politicians came into Parliament after successful careers elsewhere. In Macmillan and Attlees day people generally only became ministers, and certainly prime ministers, when they had a wealth of experience at managing things. Modern politicians sail into high office without having run anything significant.

With that in mind, it's interesting to see how David Cameron seems to have improved vastly with a couple of years experience. I'm not a big fan of his, but he's had two big achievements lately: getting the gay marriage bill through the commons, and getting a good deal on the European budget. Less obvious, but I think also significant, is that someone seems to have slapped down Michael Gove crazier and more impractical ideology-driven schemes. Even the austerity programme has been quietly restrained, with accounting gimmicks, and some of the cuts postponed till after the election.

While it's good to see more pragmatism now, I think quite a bit of damage has been done by the fond ideological fantasies they had of the Confidence Fairy and Expansionary Fiscal Contraction meaning that they could sharply cut spending without tax receipts falling.

What I'm Watching
Saw The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists on disk. Animation of one of the popular series of children's books from Aardman studios. Pretty decent, cheerful entertainment. Surprisingly they stuck to the books alienated style, for instance with pirates called and addressed as "The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens" rather than given actual names. Pretty fun.

Saw the Silent Opera production of L'Orfeo. It's an interesting concept in ultra-modern opera. Part of the music comes through headphones, though the singing and some of the music is live. It's a promenade production where you're led through a warehouse through several sets.

I liked it a lot. As usual, the singing sounded good to me. I do find straight operas a bit dull, so I liked having a bit more eye candy and entertainment value around.

Not sure that the headphone thing really works though. There is a speaker so you can hear all the content without headphones, but the sound balance is off so some of the instruments are very quiet. I ended up taking the headphones on and off quite a bit, with them on you can't really tell where the sound is coming from and when someone new starts singing you have to look frantically around to see who it is.

Girl B, who is the opera buff, wasn't very impressed. She thought it was OK and the Orpheus singer was good, but apparently the rest of them were pretty mediocre singers. Also there were apparently problems with timing: people weren't quite starting and stopping singing at the right time. I think the promenade layout makes it harder, with the audience all around they have to have two conductors because the actors are facing different directions. I of course didn't notice any of this. She had a reasonable time, but preferred the Opera Up Close style of cut-down operas where there are just a couple of musicians but everything's live.

Good value though: it was only £16.50 through lastminute, so for not much more than a 3D multiplex movie you get a cast of about 15 and half a dozen musicians too.

IFS report is Pessimistic on economy.

Video. Movie length Pirate Bay Documentary (not watched it yet). Some Grey Bloke: Don't Take the Red Pill.

Articles. Mental Jew reckons we shouldn't be too fearful of offensive language. Baby raves. Richard Crookback.

Politics. Cameron's budget blinder.

Pics. Raymond Loewy 1962 airport coffee shop. Shrinking newspaper comics. Carry On X-Men.

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Pirates! by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 08:00:53 AM EST
Expected to like it but it really annoyed me. The whole Charles Darwin is evil and all scientists are lonely losers terrified of girls thing just really got up my nose and seemed lazy. I think I had been primed by something else that week, not sure what.

Recent Australian politics gives two interesting datapoints on the "politicians who have run something else first" front. Kevin Rudd was a diplomat and had been chief of staff and then a senior civil servant in Queensland state government. Malcolm Turnbull was a corporate lawyer, ran some companies including one of Australia's biggest ISPs, and a banker. Both became leader of their parties and both were later rolled by their backroom in part due to a weak factional base before general elections. There's all sorts of other reasons they were rolled, politics is particular not general. I do wonder to what extent the political class not only lacks managerial experience but indirectly pushes it away from politics, though. The current PM and leader of the opposition both first ran large organizations on becoming ministers.

Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower are other interesting examples. The American system does seem to give proving grounds of governorships and mayorlties even today.

You could even take the line this is a side effect of the professionalisation of the MP job, in terms of pay and expected hours. The class implications of amateur politicians aren't too savoury though.

Oh and on the EU thread: basically I agree with what you said in the last comment, except that it's a mistake :)

Carry On X-Men amuses ...

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Pirates by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 09:09:26 AM EST
Yes, the scientist-nerd things was a bit annoying. Hopefully children aren't as impressionable as everyone thinks.

Politics: I think age is a big factor, and a bit of a strange one. We have a much older general population, yet much younger politicians at ministerial level. When politicians were older, they could make politics a second career after getting some experience in the wider world first.

EU. I think the fundamental problem you have with the EU is that it's a classical Burkean institution: one that's evolved in a tangled and apparently illogical way in response to contrary political pressures and a series of solutions to problems as they occur. I don't think you've ever seen an institution like that that you didn't want to destroy and replace with something nice and clean and new...
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Burkean institutions by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 11:18:52 AM EST
Maybe, but you might also be thinking of cam, who at one point wanted to rewrite constitutions every thirty years, just like Jefferson suggested at the height of his revolutionary fervour. The Euro, say, doesn't strike me as a particularly evolutionary policy or as a well established one. Or maybe I've changed my mind over time.

The two things about the EU that most feel wrong to me today are the high external tariff and the degree of centralization. The first is wealth destroying and the second stultifying. I'm happy enough to have quirky evolved institutions if they're devolved at the city or regional level. Have been reading about land policy in colonial East Bengal. Introduce private land ownership in the hands of the zamidars and create a class of impoverished peasant. Probably would have been better not to have fucked with that particular established institution even if it did seem weird.

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[ Parent ]
Could be by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 12:44:18 PM EST
Back in the PR wars it felt like I was just arguing against everybody ;-)

The thing about the EU is that I think it's a compromise between fundamentally opposing demands in different areas. First, it has to balance the economic efficiency of free trade against populist desire for protectionism. Secondly it has to balance the desire for greater institutional democracy against the desire of member states to keep it from being a democratic rival: any proposals for greater power for the EU Parliament tend to be squelched by the national governments who want to keep control via the Commission.

So, I think if the EU was to be made into an ASEAN-style slimline free trade zone, it has to be less democratic. There's no ASEAN Parliament and it wasn't ratified by lots of referendums. Alternatively, if it's going to become more democratic, then people are probably going to vote for higher tariff barriers and subsidies for boule-playing peasant farmers in straw hats. I don't see the EU becoming both more democratic and more trade-efficient.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I read the other day, maybe on mefi by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 09:08:15 AM EST
That in a Nozick lecture with Alan Dershowitz (?) they noted that in philosophy calling an argument unoriginal was pretty much fighting words, but in law calling an argument novel was to suggest your opponent was grasping at straws ...

Not sure which we are in engaged in here but defending the EU using its democratic bona fides is definitely novel :)

Slimline free trade zones - "now with wings"

Starting to go in circles.

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[ Parent ]
Don't hold back by motty (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 05:59:43 PM EST
Say what you really think about Jenny Diski :)

I amd itn ecaptiaghle of drinking sthis d dar - Dr T
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