Posted on  UTC 2024-03-01 02:01

13.03.2024 – Vote Reform UK, get Labour

Over the past year or so, Conservative Party speakers have repeated that a vote for Reform UK would be effectively a vote for Keir Starmer and the Labour Party – the British first-past-the-post (FPTP) election system making electoral success difficult for minor parties to achieve.

This advice seems plausible at its face, though it is a deeply cynical and dishonest tactic.

However, it is only true when the third party is relatively tiny – a no-hoper, in fact.

That was then. This is now.

The decline of the Conservative Party in the polls and the ascent of Reform UK have now falsified this assertion completely. When the polls show the electoral fortunes of the two parties crossing over – that is, Reform UK has overtaken the Conservative Party in the polls, as it very well may do soon – then the statement can be reversed: In some constituencies a vote for the Conservative candidate is the wasted vote – the Conservatives are the no-hopers.

In this new tactical situation, traditional Conservative voters should really vote Reform UK, to have a chance of seeing off Labour. Once the Conservative vote has fallen below that of Reform UK it has entered the FPTP electoral death zone of minority parties.

Consider also that many Conservative MPs are standing down at the coming election. Their replacements, most of them unknowns, now find themselves on a level electoral playing field without benefit of the advantage of the incumbent and thus on an equal footing to Reform UK.

12.03.2024 – Princess Imperfect

Everything important that is going on in the world is just too horrible to contemplate, so let's stick with some British trivia of the day.

The Prince and particularly the Princess of Wales are in trouble, their problems entirely of their own making.

The late Queen could work the crowd, cut the ribbons, say nothing of any consequence and return to one of her palaces for a bit of peace and quiet. She had a good eye for the gee-gees, bred corgis and otherwise said nothing at all of any importance. She lived in a world without social media and died revered.

William and Catherine have tried to leverage social media to their own activist and publicist ends, but overlooked the old proverb: 'He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon'.

When the going is good, Catherine can publish her family photos and they can waffle to the world about their latest causes – well, that's the easy bit. When you want a bit of privacy in your life, whether for a medical procedure or 'personal reasons', a curt 'no comment' or vague announcement doesn't do it.

The many followers of the couple's doings have been generally well disposed to them and their carefully crafted, cuddly family image. The pair have shown themselves to have some skill in affecting the common touch in public and Catherine's family snaps have served them well so far. So their fans felt especially shocked and hurt when they read a bald bureaucratic announcement of Catherine's major operation requiring weeks in hospital and a long recuperation time.

The social media are full of celebs announcing their medical problems. If you are suffering from anything, you are expected to share in order to help the plebs with similar afflictions. Emote publicly about a cancer diagnosis and the support and kind words from you followers will flow in. Keeping your medical problems private is so passé– and impossible when you are active on social media. A forecast of weeks spent post-op in hospital followed by months of recuperation… what on earth is that about? The fans feel shut out, rejected, by this return to 1950s style de haut en bas.

Social media demands that your entire life be laid bare and will not be satisfied until it is. Before the advent of social media, you kept your medical issues to yourself or your close family circle. These days the social media user is expected to 'share'. The pair shouldn't have been surprised at all by the speculation circulating about this obviously serious medical problem.

Similarly, when William goes all Greta Garbo and ducks out of an important engagement with the curt explanation 'personal reasons', in terms of the new social media dispensation he has upset and insulted his tribe of followers.

In the latest hiccup, the pair posted an obviously tweaked family photo, which, because the tweaking was so amateurish, was designated as fake by all the major photo agencies. The photo was anyway rubbish, with the three children gaping at the camera on command. The photo was awkward in itself, even without the tweaks.

Catherine's tweaked family photo.

Their eyes tell us that the children are gaping insincerely. They are performing on command for the camera, just as they were told to do when they were filmed 'clapping for the NHS' during the pandemic – the bewilderment and incomprehension clear in their faces, clapping into the night for something about which they knew nothing. Their Dad keeps telling us of his concern at something he terms 'mental health'. He should look closer to home.

Catherine fessed up to the tweaking, but this is not enough in the social media world. Her mistake is already being mocked. She will be going through a terrible time over this trivial misstep, because, in the social media world, nothing is trivial. She announced:

Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.

Writing this was a serious mistake. Has she no greyhead to advise her? Seekers after truth can have lots of cruel fun with shifty texts like this:

  • 'Like many amateur photographers' = 'everyone does this so don't blame me';
  • 'occasionally' = 'quite a lot';
  • 'experiment' = 'not using seriously';
  • 'I wanted[sic] to express my apologies' = sincere people would just write 'I apologise';
  • 'for any confusion…caused': no confusion at all was caused – she 'experimented' and got found out.

This statment is arrogant, or perhaps just naive, shifty, relying on dissembling. It turned a small misstep into something much worse. Hard-hearted Calvinists would be delighted with today's social media: there is scarcely any gradation of sin, in that a harmless peccadillo – a bit of hamfisted bodging on an inconsequential photo – is treated as a major transgression. Nor is absolution on offer, for the transgression will never be forgotten.

The demand now is: publish the original, so we too can see the problems with it that required the 'experiment'. The pair have refused to do this, which is just the wrong response. It has made the affair much worse.

For if the original is just a rather bad photo, there might be a lot of sympathy for an amateur photographer's cackhanded attempts to improve it – what we called tweaks. She could have published the original with a commentary describing what she didn't like about it and confirmed what we already know, that she needs to work on her picture editing skills. A joke about her husband's lack of camera skills which necessitated the use of her own defective editing skills, if carefully crafted, could have saved the day.

She could even have asked an expert to do the job properly whilst avoiding the 'image manipulation' that so troubled the agencies. With honesty and openness she could have turned the whole affair into a positive outcome and gained a lot of respect for her situation.

But the flat-out refusal to publish the original leads to the suspicion that we are not looking at a few tweaks. The straight edges of some of the edits suggest that the photo was cobbled together from several others, that there is not a single original.

It is reasonable to assume that Prince William, the photographer, took several photos of the group and the Princess stitched them together in some way. The regal photographer is currently keeping his head below the parapet and letting his poorly wife take the heat. What a prince!

I don't know, nor do I care very much, but it is interesting to watch the social media devouring their once blessed ones one bite at a time. Catherine has to provide the waiting world with a complete and credible narrative for this misstep. Sitting out the storm is not an option. If she doesn't respond and relies on the omerta of the Royal Family, any photo she publishes in the future will be suspect and subject to deep analysis. This photo will not be forgotten or forgiven. Her days as a family snapper are over – that was always a case of hubris waiting for nemesis to arrive. In future it will be easier to get a professional to do the job and stop thinking that an amateur fumbler can feed the social media devil, long spoon or not.

04.03.2024 – The sublime and the ridiculous

Reporting on Nigel Lawson's memorial service last October, the chap from the Telegraph mentioned the performance of 'Soave sia il vento', 'Mozart’s sublime anthem [sic] from Così fan tutte'. Here it is:

Soave sia il vento, Gentle be the wind,
tranquilla sia l’onda, tranquil be the waves,
ed ogni elemento and every element
benigno risponda respond benignly
ai nostri desir. to our wishes.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte, K588, Act 1 Scene 6 No. 10 Terzettino: 'Soave sia il vento'. Fiordiligi [Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano], Dorabella [Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano], Don Alfonso [Walter Berry, bass-baritone]. Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor Karl Böhm. Recorded September 1962 at Kingsway Hall, London.

There was probably not a dry eye in the church, for the song is indeed sublime and a fitting farewell to a soul leaving on a journey – if that's how you want to think of it.

However, in the context of the opera the 'farewell' is a cynical pantomime, in which the trickster Don Alfonso leads the two deceived women into a heartrending farewell to the lovers they believe are going off to war.

Or perhaps Lawson, a lifelong atheist, was in fact having a laugh at those he had left behind on the shore, when, in reality, he hadn't gone anywhere.

There is not a single sensible idea in the plot of Così fan tutte. It is entirely nonsense, from the chaps disguised as 'Albanians' to the use of Mesmer's magnets to pretend to bring someone back from the dead.

But much of the music is indeed sublime. The problem for the listener: sublime music for narrative nonsense. How does one sing and listen to mockery? Do you close your eyes and listen to the sublime, or do you think of the duped women singing a ridiculous farewell to their two lovers who aren't in fact going anywhere?

The satire is there if you listen for it. For example, it is a clever conceit that it is the cynical Don Alfonso who starts the terzettino, as it were leading the duped females to join in the farce and even make it their own.

There is a further problem associated with this particular terzettino: No man born of woman can compete vocally with two sopranoes simultaneously trying to smash every window in the building. The poor baritone starts off with a gentle 'soave', then fades into an almost inaudible mutter in the background as the two divas compete to be the loudest. Most recordings I have heard let the two ladies blow the bloody doors off.

But, that said, there is a narrrative logic in letting Don Alfonso fade into the background and the deluded women carry on the pathos of the farewell more or less on their own at full volume. The musical logic has to take second place, which for me spoils the tonal balance of the piece, which is a terzettino, not a duettino. For that reason the performance I have selected here manages to be more balanced than many others. Quality stuff from the golden age of German opera singing.

03.03.2024 – Playing with fire in the Ukraine

Almost exactly a year ago I vented my disgust at the boosting of the war in the Ukraine by some Western governments. A lot of soldiers and civilians on both sides have died or been maimed in the meantime. For what, we ask ourselves. For nothing, we must reply. Absolutely nothing.

Sane governments should have been doing everything they could to stop the slaughter, instead most have been doing what they could to keep it going and even ramp it up.

The much anticipated offensive by the Ukrainian forces never happened. The conflict has now turned into a war of attrition – just the sort of meatgrinder we should have done everything possible to avoid.

But in their eagerness to crank up the action, the boosters have overlooked the dangerous territory into which they have stumbled.

Taking sides in a conflict by selling/giving one of the combatents low level armaments such as shells and small arms is unwise at best. But supplying advanced long-range weapon systems is stupidity of a much greater order.

As anyone who has experience of modern weaponry knows, one can't just deliver such weapon systems as though they were something ordered from Amazon. Not only do the troops using these advanced weapons have to be trained, but maintenance and repair facilities staffed with well-trained specialists also have to be set up and a supply line for parts and consumables established. This takes years. Even when the troops have been given a basic training, specialists have to be looking over their shoulders for a long time afterwards.

The other day the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in his hapless way, burbled some words to the effect that NATO troops were already on the ground in the Ukraine operating such weapons. He is hesitant to supply German Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine because he knows that only German personnel are able to use such weapons and so will have to be stationed in the war zone. Taurus fires long range missiles and sooner rather than later, the German 'advisors' in the Ukraine would find themselves de facto attacking Russia directly.

The boosters and warmongers have spat venom at poor Scholz for his refusal to cross this line – dithering, they would call it. But although I have little regard for Scholz, I have to say that he seems to be the only person thinking straight on this issue. Unfortunately for him, he cannot say the unsayable. When the other day he hinted at the current presence of NATO boots on the ground in Ukraine, he received only insults for 'inadvertently' revealing 'secret intelligence'.

Nothing about the current situation is secret for the Russians. They are certainly fully aware of the situation and just waiting for some concrete evidence to turn up, such as a few NATO bodies, or for the appropriate moment to act. The Russian authorities recently (01.03) released a recording of high-ups in the German army discussing plans to attack Russian territory directly, specifically the Crimea bridge and various munitions depots. Bad enough that the Russians have this level of intelligence penetration; even worse that a number of top officers have been caught discussing first strikes in a war of aggression.

Just discussing and planning such things violates para. 80 of the German Penal Code, 'Preparation for a war of aggression'. In 1945, contemplating the piles of rubble that once were German cities, the Germans thought they could legally rule out the wars of aggression that had brought them to this state. The new German army was for defence, not attack. Now, nearly eighty years later, we hear top German military wondering aloud about the best ways to attack Russian assets on Russian territory with long range cruise missiles.

And can anyone believe that this is simply a case of a handful of German commanders shooting the breeze, as it were, when they thought no one was listening?

0 Comments UTC Loaded:

Input rules for comments: No HTML, no images. Comments can be nested to a depth of eight. Surround a long quotation with curly braces: {blockquote}. Well-formed URLs will be rendered as links automatically. Do not click on links unless you are confident that they are safe. You have been warned!

Name  [max. characters: 24]
Type   into this field then press return:
Comment [max. characters: 4,000]