Friday, 21 October 2016

On ballet

This fascinating piece tells us a lot about the life of one ballerina/ex-ballerina and a little about the lives of others.

This struck me as true: "We know of no other occupation that requires such extensive training, that is held in such esteem as a contribution to culture, and that pays so little." And yet, as a dilettante balletomane, I am sure that that is somehow part of the strange, glamorous, fairytale, magical appeal of the whole affair.

There is a reason why the things that everyone knows about ballet dancers are that they are very fit and strong (stronger than footballers, you may have heard) and that their feet bleed. Knowledge of the hard-as-nails labour below all that sugar-plum-fairy-pink-tutu-silliness on the surface is an essential flavour of the experience: one sits there knowing that vast resources - the opera houses! the hand-painted scenery! the hand-sewn costumes! the hours of practice! the muscles! people's whole lives! - have been built and expended to create something effervescent and ephemeral, something fleeting and light. All that weight is designed to create the illusion of something essentially weightless - and the more the real weight, the more impressive the illusion is. It just wouldn't be the same experience for the audience if it could be done without practice by naturally talented individuals, like rolling your tongue. And who would watch robots doing ballet?

I also suspect it wouldn't be quite the same if ballet dancers were all as rich and famous as footballers.

I am not happy to notice that feeling in myself. I really do wish they were all as rich and famous as footballers. At the very least, it would be nice if they were well-paid professionals with happy bourgeois home lives - 2.4 children and a back garden - and healthy appetites, rather than living in poky garrets on a diet of cigarettes and $5 a week. May they all have the afterlives of Darcey Bussell! But introspection tells me that one of the reasons the audience cares about the ballet, one of the reasons that, for all its silliness, it matters, is because of the sacrifices made by the dancers.

I know, I know. It's the other way around, isn't it? I should say that it is because it matters that people make the sacrifices. But in the case of ballet at least, is that right? Can't something which itself of beauty and value be given additional value - be sanctified, almost - by the sacrifices involved in its creation?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

How the "Cab Rank Rule" works

You may have heard of the Cab Rank Rule for barristers: barristers take their clients as cabdrivers take their fares. The idea is that, as Lord Hoffmann put it, "Every barrister not otherwise engaged is available for hire by any client willing and able to pay the appropriate fee. This rule protects barristers against being criticised for giving their services to a client with a bad reputation and enables unpopular causes to obtain representation in court." Lord Hutton described it as "a fundamental and essential part of a liberal legal system". You get the idea.

This is the lighthearted diary of a fictional QC doing criminal work. Our diarist is meant to be a sympathetic protagonist, struggling with the financial hardships of modern criminal work and occasionally regretting the passing of the good old days.

The following is from his most recent column. The scene: his clerk has come to his room with a case in mind.

"‘You like Mrs Whitcomb of Rodericks and Carlson, don’t you sir?’ He knows I do. ‘It’s just that she’s got a very nice little section 18 I thought you might suit you.’ I enquired how she had secured public funding, as a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent is almost always seen as not requiring Queen’s Counsel by the powers-that-be. ‘Private, sir,’ was the response. ‘Oh,’ I said, moving slightly forward in my chair but hiding my excitement. ‘Oh well, I don’t mind. And, yes, I do like her. She is extremely capable and enormous fun.’ Andrew looked at me: ‘It is in Wales, sir.’ I knew it had been too good to be true. ‘I do have quite a bit of paper work to do actually, now I think about it.’ ‘Leading Miss Briar-Pitt, sir, and she’s got a lot of papers to work on too; in that fraud next year here in London. The one she hasn’t got a leader in yet.’ He had put his cards on the table and asked to see my hand. I folded."

I don't do criminal work, but the scene sounds plausible to me. Lord Hoffmann's "not otherwise engaged" can be a bit of a movable feast.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A miscellany of links

Nothing to do with Brexit.

1. There are still some Samaritans. Only 777 of them, but that sounds like the kind of auspicious number that might just work out for their future.

2. Do you really care about global warming? Does it matter? It depends.

3. I don't really understand this, but it seems that computers can write time travel fiction and 'solve' the grandfather paradox into the bargain.

4. Interesting piece about Sadiq Khan. It reminded me of that bit in American Hustle where the sympathetic mayor explains that if they are to have a casino then they need to do business with the mob. "Nuance is the friend of truth," the author says, and ultimately of Khan too, I suspect.

5. Robert Kaplan: "the tragedy of the Arab world was never a lack of democracy, but a lack of enlightened authoritarianism". Meanwhile, "Authoritarian leaders are seen as far more trustworthy than politicians in more openly democratic countries across the emerging world, according to data compiled by the World Economic Forum. ... One of the biggest losers in the WEF's "trust in politicians" ranking over this period has been Tunisia, widely regarded as the sole success story of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Its politicians were ranked as the 15th most trustworthy in the world in 2010, before the overthrow of President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. Under democratic rule, the country has fallen to 63rd."

Monday, 17 October 2016

Who will pay the bills?

Look at this graph from the Economist.
Forget poor old Poland for a moment. What about Italy, Spain and Germany? Who will pay the eurozone's bills? 

Maybe those shrunken populations will be terribly rich and productive? Well, "Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, has a per-capita G.D.P. that’s lower than it was at the end of the last century," says John Lanchester. It's 2016.
Say what you want about Mark Steyn (and please do - freedom of speech is one of his things) but you can't deny that he is thinking about demography. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

How to write about Brexit - and how not to

Brexit, in the sense of both the vote and what happens next, is an economic issue. It is not just an economic issue, but it is certainly that. You might have spotted that the pound has gone down a bit, for example. So people with an economics background write about it, as they should. And they draw political points from their economic framework. Again, so they should. But it can go wrong. (More below.)

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A miscellany of links

1. How to have fun. ""Competitiveness is a funny one," said Ben afterwards. "Usually it just makes people angry and kills fun dead." ... After all his studying, Ben concluded that you need other people to have fun. You just can't have fun alone. Even when you think you're having fun by yourself, it's with reference to an absent other. It's doing something you know you've had fun doing with others in the past, or it's I-can't-wait-until-someone-else-hears-about-this." This and more, all worth thinking about.

2. How we spoke 8,000 years ago.

3. More recently - in fact last month - here is singing in Aramaic for the Pope visiting Georgia. Yup, Aramaic. Listen to it and weep not for the Abendlandes.

4. "As Charles Moore explains in his biography of Margaret Thatcher, Mrs T always felt that there was no one to catch her if she fell, because she wasn’t part of that male–dominated Tory club where political bonds are reinforced by old school friendships and family ties. May, who entered the Commons only five years after Thatcher left, is conscious of this too. ... Throughout her time in politics, May has known that if she made a mistake there wouldn’t be anyone to make excuses for her." Is that true of women politicians starting out now? If not, what difference will it make to them?

5. Brexit stuff. William Hague talks sense here, while Daniel Hannan (profiled here as the Man Who Brought You Brexit) writes about post-referendum Britain here. (The Untergang will come to Britain too, fear not, but my hope is that we will be so distracted by debating Brexit - an argument in which both sides are led by people steeped in that liberal democratic tradition that was the future once - that it will take longer to reach here than other parts of the Abendlandes.)

6. Donald Trump. First, why some people vote for him. Second, here, what the Mormons were right about (Trump), what Trump was right about (Iraq, healthcare) and what St. Teresa of Avila was right about (More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones).

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Der Untergang des Abendlandes (continued)

Here is the ever-excellent Ross Douthat making a complementary point to my observation the other day that the liberal democratic state has lost its supporters, namely that all the energy and enthusiasm in politics is to be found in those who "regard the liberal consensus as something to be transcended or rejected, rather than reformed or redeemed".

Douthat gives us a taxonomy of the groups on the Left and the Right who are doing the transcending or rejecting. You probably don't need to be told about those on the Left who consider that the righting of structural injustices warrants all sorts of impingements on traditional views of free speech and free association. But do not forget those on the Right too. I was put in mind again of this passage (from here): "The tenets of Manchester liberalism were adopted by conservatives in America because they found them well-suited to an Anglo-Protestant people with a wide distribution of property and a continent of resources. They are not divine writ [...] we may need to make different exceptions to them than we have in the past."