Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Free, and Free-Thinking, Press... via George Orwell

In his essay "The Freedom of the Press" George Orwell warned about a press too wed to the prevailing orthodoxies and interests. 

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news -- things which on their own merits would get the big headlines -- being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that "it wouldn't do" to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is "not done" to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was "not done" to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

True still today.

Hat-tip Brain Pickings and Maria Popova.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chapel, Hospital of St. Cross, Winchester

The Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester is Britain's oldest charitable institution, founded in 1133 by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester and grandson of William the Conqueror.  Pictured here is its chapel.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Random Notes on the North London Pub Quiz Scene

On a Tuesday evening last month, in a corner of North London, the high street was festooned with unusually expensive automobiles.  On one block was a Rolls, a Jaguar, and a Porsche.  What's more, one pub in the center of that neighborhood was rammed.  It turned out that the all-Britain Pub Quiz League was on hiatus, and some of the top players in the nation had turned out for the competition. 

But those cars...  they made me wonder whether pub quiz players the new footballers.

Well one might ask.  Then comes this in a recent Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary:
Spotted in North London... taking a kind of busman’s holiday...  Shaun Wallace, a barrister and the “Dark Destroyer” on ITV’s Quiz Show “The Chase,” slipped in last night to the Prince of Wales to keep his instrument keen.  The pub’s quiz night has been deemed by the Telegraph Britain’s “most respected,” and is even the subject of a 2006 book. To general dismay, Wallace was however pipped to the post by a local team led by Observer writer, and former Review Editor, Tim Adams.  Given that Adams’s team had never before placed higher than seventh a scoring recount was demanded but the results stood.

When next in Los Angeles I may speak with a cable television exec about bidding for live coverage of these events.  But which channel?  ESPN, or Bravo?

In any case, in another corner of London, on local quiz night there was a general predominance of heels.  At the local bistro restaurant, tables of small groups of women on their own.  Apparently, the Wives & Girlfriends of the pub quiz players... or playas as they sometimes styles themselves... had arrived.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Visit with Andres Velasco, Economist and (now) Politician

It is a truism often alluded to that voters should be wary of politicians bearing big ideas.  When in 2006 Chile’s Andres Velasco left a professorship at Harvard’s Kennedy School to become Finance Minister in the administration of Michelle Bachelet he came with many ideas, principally that the cause of political instability in Latin America was due to poor administration of economic booms.

As Finance Minister, then, of a major copper-producing country during a boom in the price of that commodity, his first act was to institute a mechanism inspired by that observation.  A projected mean price was to be set, with excess revenues to be directed to a sovereign wealth fund.  In essence, he intentionally cooled the economy and became, in effect, the wet blanket at the party.

As a result, Chile became the first country to emerge from that world-wide recession, and Velasco, for his foresight, became in his country an enormously popular figure. 

I met Velasco in March not long after he announced his campaign for the presidency.  (Shortly our meeting, Michelle Bachelet stepped down from her position at the UN, returned to Santiago, announced her own candidacy.  She has since won the primary for leadership of the Concertacion Coalition and is contesting the presidency in the general election in the fall.)

But in the spring, when all seemed possible, Velasco kindly answered a few questions...

LINVILLE: How would you do things different? 

VELASCO: Chile is in the midst of a political legitimacy crisis.  Citizens do not trust congress, the judiciary, or the political parties. 

Much of this is related to the presence of a political class that has been in power for over a generation. People here often say: “For thirty years now I read the paper in the morning, I turn on the TV, it’s the same people, the same faces, on the right, on the left, and in the parties.”

One of the big issues that caused many citizens to be indignant is the allocation of government jobs to party friends. On a television programme last year I said that a very senior senator from the coalition I belonged to had pressured me to hire a dozen of his party associates and he had threatened to boycott our legislative agenda if I didn’t give in.  Well I didn’t give in. Dozens have since told me they had the same experience.

LINVILLE: Hugo Chavez died recently.  How will this change the political landscape of Latin America?

VELASCO: Over the last decade or so, two kinds of left governments, and left political parties, have coexisted in Latin America: first, modern, liberal, outward-orientated left-leaning governments, in countries like Chile and Brazil; and then populist governments with a tendency towards demagoguery in Venezuela and elsewhere. I would have hoped in recent years for a more energetic leadership on the part of the modernizers, particularly in Brazil.  Brazil missed an opportunity. At this moment the need is greater than ever to consolidate a modern kind of social democracy for those in Latin America who want their countries to be open, outward-orientated and to use economic development to improve the lot of the people in those nations.

en France...

To France last week to conduct an interview for British Airways HIGH LIFE magazine.  Look for my profile of a major entertainment figure in the September issue.  We did have a moment waterside on the Cote d'Azur, but stayed up in the hills with friends.  A picture from the spot then, somewhere between Grasse and St. Paul, just below which the Tour de France came through.