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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Top of the Pops admits defeat

I feel the fluttering of the wings of history in this decision. Cultural history, anyway.

Top of the Pops is being relegated to BBC2 after 40 years as BBC1’s bastion of chart music, the broadcaster announced yesterday.

Once required viewing for generations of teenagers, a slump in viewing figures has pushed the pop music chart programme on to the second channel. In the 1970s the show had audiences of 14 million but last week it pulled in just 3.1 million viewers.

The first episode, broadcast on Jan 1, 1964, was presented by Jimmy Savile and the first act to perform were the Rolling Stones with I Wanna Be Your Man.

Since then, the theme music and presenters have changed but the formula remained the same, with artists considering an appearance on the show a sign that they had officially “made it” in the British pop world.

Although a relaunched edition was watched by 5.5 million viewers last November, nearly three million had deserted the show by the summer.

Now the BBC hopes that it can win back audiences with a new version which is to go out next spring on Sunday evenings.

Historic? Yes, I do truly think so. For I think what this is a symptom of is the end of the Age of Pop Music. Internet downloads, computer games, and the fact that half the tunes were composed when your granny was in her teens mean that Youth, as it has been for some time now, is wandering off into different directions altogether, of a nature that I, and the kind of people who run Top of the Pops, cannot possibly divine. Taste is fragmenting, and what is now Number One is no longer a matter for the BBC to decide on behalf of the Youth of the Nation. We each decide for ourselves. It no longer matters to each of us what anyone else likes.

Personally, I have just lately been listening to a terrific little country and western tune called “Tell Me About It”, with great c&w guitar and drums backing by who knows what instrumental combination of musicians, and in which the vocals are shared by the glorious Tanya Tucker and one Delbert McClinton, of whom I had not previously heard. It is track number 13 on The Very Best of Tanya Tucker (“Another European compilation – I don’t think there’s anything unusual here” – Amazon.com). This is my current favourite pop tune, but you will not hear it any time soon on Top of the Pops, because none of us any longer need Top of the Pops to find out about our current favourites.

Not French after all

Dave Barry, of all people, links to this delightful news report of a surprising French legal judgement to the effect that a very French film indeed, called A Very Long Engagement, is not actually French.

The film was made with the help of state funds from France’s National Centre for Cinematography. In its decision, the court said that 2003 Productions was a Trojan horse, a company founded by Warner Bros. “to benefit from financial help even though [the fund] is reserved for the European cinematographic industry.”

So, a Trojan film. Sneaky people, those Trojans.

Jeunet is known in North America as the filmmaker behind 1997’s Alien Resurrection and 2001’s Amélie.

A man with previous, perpetrating popular movies.

French actress Audrey Tautou, who played the title role in Amélie, also stars in A Very Long Engagement.

And we all know that Amélie was so good it is not even put in the foreign language racks at Blockbuster. That was not a French film either. It was a film.

“This film, which tells a French story, adapted from a French novel, filmed entirely in France, in French, with the participation of more than 2,000 French people, over thirty French actors and actresses and about 500 French technicians for 18 months, is suddenly no longer considered a French film!” 2003 Productions said in a press release.

The good news is that, assuming I understand this petit contretemps (if contretemps is a girl that should be petite) correctly, this means that this movie will not be getting French government money. Which is nice. This being the case, I feel sure that I speak for us all here at samizdata.net when I say that there ought not to be any French films at all.

Yes, that assumption is correct. Here is confirmation of that, from comingsoon.net, which they got from Variety:

A Paris court has ruled that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement is really a Hollywood movie, and therefore not sufficiently French to qualify for public subsidies …

If foreigners, British foreigners especially, continue buying up French real estate maybe it will eventually be decided that France is not French either.

Quote of the day

Sensible blog Spyblog, does an excellent job of pointing out how the state likes to keep an eye on us via CCTV systems, ID cards and by collecting our DNA. As a servant of the state it worries me, and if it worries me then it really ought to worry you.
Dave of The Policeman’s blog

The state does not protect us and we may not effectively protect ourselves

Last night I had some friends and business associates around for dinner here in Chelsea. It was an agreeable evening at which some interesting conversations were had, some good food was enjoyed and some nice wine drunk.

And at around 7:00pm while all that was happening in my home, some 50 yards away my neighbour John Monckton was stabbed to death and his wife seriously injured by a pair of young vermin who broke into their house.

Of course the state forbids people like the Moncktons from owning the means to defend themselves. And the CCTV cameras on our street? I cannot tell you how much better they must make everyone around here feel. The police who have closed off my street are festooned with all manner of weapons and body armour but given that their actual role in modern Britain is little more than clearing up the mess after another disarmed householder has been butchered, perhaps waterproof coveralls and mops would be more suitable equipment for our tax funded ‘guardians’.

Bitter? You bet. The world is full of predators and we are required to face them disarmed and as much in fear of the law as the criminal who attack us.

The state is not your friend.

Public life, private life and public trust – reflections on two consecutive TV programmes

It was a peculiar juxtaposition of programmes. First I watched the latest episode of Spooks, on BBC1 TV, and then I watched the BBC Ten O’Clock News, without pushing any buttons on the TV because that was on BBC1 TV also.

The News was dominated by David Blunkett‘s difficulties, largely self-inflicted, it would appear. There will be an independent inquiry into whether Blunkett fast-tracked a visa application for his ex-lover’s nanny, and the Prime Minister announced that he was confident of the outcome, which was an odd combination of circumstances. If the Prime Minister is so sure, why the independent inquiry? Why can he simply not say why he is so sure of the impeccability of his Home Secretary? And as another talking head opined, it would now take a brave independent inquirer to fly so completely in the face of Blair’s clear statement of what he wants the answer to be. Which means that if the independent inquiry does endorse the Prime Minister’s view, the suspicion will remain that this was because of the Prime Minister publicly demanding that answer instead of because the answer is true. So whichever way the independent inquiry goes, the stink will either be strong, or strong.

Spooks (a programme I have had cause to mention here before) was a even more lurid soap opera than usual – of junior Ministerial wrongdoing (he murders a girl, then resigns to spend more time with his family (sound familiar?)), of a famed rock and roll couple (she has her baby kidnapped to keep them in the news, but it goes wrong, the baby dies, and he finally murders her in a rage and then shoots himself). Downing Street was presented throughout as relentlessly manipulating a deranged state of public sentimentality (not least in calling in the Spooks to sort the matter in the first place, instead of leaving it to the Police), as in the grip of electoral desperation, as total hypocritical, and generally as a huge cover-up machine. If this show is any clue as to the state of public opinion, out there in Middle England, we have our answer to that question about why the Prime Minister does not want to explain why he believes his Home Secretary to be innocent of all wrongdoing. Middle England would not trust such pronouncements further than it could spit them. The Prime Minister is not trusted. → Continue reading: Public life, private life and public trust – reflections on two consecutive TV programmes

Blunkett’s fall will mean far less that it seems

If David Blunkett falls from office because of his shenanigans between the sheets, I do hope that civil rights activists will not see this as a sign from God (be it Cthuhlu or whoever) that the truly perilous state in which British liberty stands is about to take a turn for the better.

Nothing Blunkett has ever done was done under his authority alone. The accelerating rate at which common law is set aside and ancient liberties debased have been the product of decades of antipathy to non-collectivist rights and individual liberty, a process which was well under way when David Blunkett’s Tory predecessor was in power: would-be future Prime Minister Michael ‘a touch of the night’ Howard.

The fall of a ringwraith might be cause for some brief rejoicing (I will certainly be raising a glass or two that day!) but please remember there are plenty more where he came from. Sauron lives at Number 10 Downing Street, not in the office of the Home Secretary.

Fingering EU

A reader forwards the following information:

On October 25th, without any consultation, the Council of European Union introduced a change to this legislation, calling for the mandatory fingerprinting of all EU citizens, residents and visitors.

This, along with the passport could form the basis of an intrusive EU wide identity card, similar to that the current British government is proposing at national level, and certainly would enable EU-wide surveillance of everyone’s movements.

The organisations Privacy International, Statewatch and European Digital Rights have written an open letter to MEPs. They are calling for endorsements of this letter, please email privacyint@privacy.org if you wish to do this. (The email address (terrrights@privacy.org) given on PI’s web page for this purpose bounced.)

They are also calling for people to contact their MEPs over this by November 30th. You can find UK MEPs’ emails here. For those EU residents not in the UK, these links should help.

Samizdata Quote of the Day

One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long.

The Washington Post reporter Mike Allen, reporting on a possible shake up of President Bush’s economic policy team.

Someone else’s fault

In this posting earlier today, Jonathan mentions how The Incredibles includes some “clever and sly digs at America’s litigation culture”. So here is another clever and sly dig at Britain’s fast expanding litigation culture:


With thanks to b3ta.com.

Did you join an army, and then get hurt in a battle? Sue your commanding officers for forgetting to warn you that war is sometimes violent.

Did you fall over, because of running too fast? Sue the owner of the floor you fell on, the person who employed the person who spilt some water on it and made it slippery, the maker of your shoes for not making them with more grip, the maker of the floor tiles, but: on no account blame yourself, for being careless. Your life is not your fault. It is the fault of somebody else, somebody rich. And if you were engaged in robbing the place at the time, never mind: this makes no difference!

Wondering about the Ukraine

The Ukraine faces a choice between living in Vladamir Putin’s shadow or living under the shadow of more locally sourced rascals. Yes, I wish the protestors well in their attempt to prevent Russia’s pet poodle Viktor Yanukovych from stealing an election but in truth I do not know enough about the alternatives to Yanukovych to get any real enthusiasm for what is going on.

The fact that anti-government people have a tendency to ‘disappear’ in the Ukraine is cause enough to want to see the end of Yanukovych and his supporting but the notion that ‘democracy’ is possibly being subverted is not any real cause for excitement to me per se, given that any alternative to Yanukovych (and the pretty strange Leonid Kuchma) will no doubt use democratic processes to turn the Ukraine into just another highly regulated EU-satellite ‘aid crack’ addicted state.

So sure, good luck guys, just try to make sure you are not changing Moscow’s iron handcuffs for locally made ones with a velvet lining imported from Brussels.

Utterly incredible

I have just got back from seeing The Incredibles, the computer animation movie about a family of superheroes and superheroines. I have read good things about this film and was not in the least bit disappointed. It proceeds at a crackling good pace, is often extremely funny, includes some rather clever and sly digs at America’s litigation culture, and is endowed with a wonderfully positive, life-affirming sense of life throughout. It also has great, brassy backing music.

To state the obvious, what really stunned me was just how good computer animation now is. Some of the scenes in the jungle, the big city and the sea just took my breath away. It is easy to get blase these days, given just how good film making now is, but this film goes even further than that other great animation hit of recent years, Finding Nemo.

Go and see it. You know you want to.


Despite the miserable weather, a reasonable audience turned up at Conway Hall in Holborn to listen to Aubrey de Grey, at the monthly meeting of Extrobritannia. The speaker sounded as if his life was already ebbing away, given the fast bullets assigned to each argument. Powerpoint presentations are far less interesting.

Aubrey de Grey campaigns for practical approaches to anti-aging medicine, and uses the acronym SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence). He is one of the few people on the planet actively attempting to help the general population live longer and healthier lives. As he argues, one without the other is pointless.

One of the strategies for promoting this goal is the Methuselah Prize, a reward designed for prestige rather than money, which will (hopefully) promote philanthropic investment in these research programmes. To those familiar with this structure, this is designed to emulate the success of the X Prize.

The talk today included the recent changes in the structure of this Prize. There are two components: an award for postponing the aging process and an award for reversal. The aim is to award those resaerchers that succeed in extending the lifespan of the laboratory mouse and, even better, reversing the aging process.

The goal of capturing the imagination of the public is best achieved by a very simple prize structure, in which money is awarded simply to the producer of the world’s oldest ever mouse. This should be restricted to the species used in virtually all laboratory work, Mus musculus , but no other restrictions should be placed on the way in which the mouse’s lifespan is extended, except for ones that fail to maintain its cognitive and/or physical well-being. This is analogous to the situation with boxing, for example: the heavyweight championship is the one that gets by far the most publicity and money.

A major shortcoming of this simple structure exists, however. Our main purpose is to find interventions which are effective when initiated at a late age; it is very likely that interventions that are applied throughout life will always be ahead of those initiated late.

Hence, we are running two prize competitions:

– a “Longevity Prize” (LP) for the oldest-ever Mus musculus ;
– a “Rejuvenation Prize” (RP) for the best-ever late-onset intervention.

Although the United States and Europe have placed cultural and regulatory obstacles in the path of longevity science, cutting edge research continues to take place in the Far East. Only yesterday did South Korean researchers claim that the injection of umbilical cord stem cells had allowed a woman paralysed from the waist down to walk again. The question on concerned minds: can this result be reproduced?

These scientific goals are no longer the dreams of writers; they are the goals of academics and the content of research programmes. This is all progress. Faster please!