How did I miss this? Monty Python's Flying Circus turned 50 on Friday:
The Pythons included a prolific diarist – Palin has published three hefty volumes already – but, dismayingly, the months around the start of the first Python show are one of the longest gaps. Palin attributes this to the busy-ness of filming, and having a young child and ailing elderly father.
Although comic weirdness had been introduced to the BBC by The Goon Show, Monty Python went even further. BBC production teams may have sensed something odd was coming from the paperwork: a requisition form to the props department asks for a “selection of bras (6), panties (6), and tights (5)” and “1 swastika flag, approx 4’ x 2.6”. A list of extras for a filming day includes, after one name, the specification “no pigeon on shoulder” (parrots, on shoulders and flat on their perch, would become a Python speciality). A handwritten note asks: “What about topless on fountain?”
While Cleese has latterly attracted a reputation for irascibility, he is caught out in the files in a gesture of striking kindness. A Kent schoolboy called Doug Holman writes, asking for tickets to a recording. Cleese arranges for a pair to be sent. Doug, boldly, writes back, saying he is part of a large group of friends who want to go. Cleese contacts the BBC to request a further 14 tickets, suggesting that the young will be “good laughers”.
Given the passage of five decades, many of the early Python audience have joined the choir invisible with the programme’s late parrot. But I tracked down a Doug Holman who grew up in Kent and is now 69, running a business in Hampshire. My email rapidly received the reply: “It’s a fair cop! Hearty congratulations on your detective work.”
So much happened in 1969 and 1999 that these anniversary posts will probably keep coming through next year. Time keeps on slippin'...
Hard to believe that I visited Ukraine more than 10 years ago, but not hard to believe that it keeps coming up in US politics. Julia Ioffe explains why:
Whenever Ukraine appears in our news cycle, it is talked about as if it’s a simpler place than it is. The political dynamic gets reduced to neat binaries—the forces there are either pro-Russia or pro-West; leaders are either corrupt actors or laudable reformers; the good guys versus the bad guys. But that framework belies the moral complexity of the place, which is why it pops up in our domestic political scandals in the first place.
Ukraine would like America and Europe to think of it as a promising young democracy, the good little country struggling to fend off the gravitational pull of evil Russia. There is a lot of truth in that. But it is also an oligarchy where a very small number of people control the country’s natural resources, a legacy of its Soviet past. Around each of these people is a clan vying for influence, resources, and political power. They sponsor media outlets and politicians. Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, has promised to fight corruption but is also closely linked with one of the country’s most powerful oligarchs.
Ukraine pops up in our domestic political scandals because it is in the middle of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West, and because Westerners go there to enrich themselves doing questionable work. But in our minds, it is a small country somewhere over the horizon, full of people with funny Slavic names. Ukraine is much easier to think about if we cram it into our own political dichotomies, even if that distorts what’s really happening on the ground. The problem in doing so, however, is that we become unwitting participants in someone else’s games.
Julia Ioffe is one of our best reporters on post-Soviet countries. She's right: the more private American citizens muck about in Ukraine, the more we're going to get sucked into post-Soviet politics.
John Judis thinks she might:
At the risk of appearing foolhardy several months hence, I want to say that in the last week, it has become very likely that Elizabeth Warren will win the Democratic nomination. A two-tier race, with Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders in the top tier, has become a race largely of Warren against herself.
Sanders – justifiably in my opinion, and I am of the same rough age – always faced questions about his age. These questions have been answered in the negative, sadly, by his recent heart attack. Voters will be right to doubt whether someone of Sanders’ age and medical history can handle one of the most stressful jobs on earth – especially, in Sanders’ case, because he would be coming into the job anew and face a hostile Washington and Wall Street. He needs to prepare for a graceful exit.
Biden, on paper, has always been the most electable Democrat, and if the presidential election had been held last month, he probably would have won. To undecided voters in swing states – and I always believe they number more than the political scientists claim – Biden comes off as “one of us.” It’s an inestimable advantage that Warren, for instance, doesn’t enjoy. He has also steered clear of extreme positions that would cost him in a general election. But Biden seems even slower on the uptake than in the past. I don’t believe these claims that he (or Trump for that matter) has dementia – enough with these amateur psychiatrists! – but he shows the disabilities of age.
The general election is in just under 13 months, but the Iowa caucuses are only 119 days away. I have always thought Sanders too far to the left, and too policy-focused, to win; but his age also matters. And I love Uncle Joe, but again, do we need another 70-something in the hardest job in American politics?
I've supported Warren for a while now. I think the rest of the party ought to as well.
Author Peter Pomerantsev says that the behavior of the Trump Administration, especially around its false accusations of illegal behavior by Hunter Biden, could not have better demonstrated how much Vladimir Putin has taught the West:
The message of much of Kremlin propaganda is not to showcase Russia as a beacon of progress, but to prove that Western politics is just as rotten as President Vladimir Putin’s. We may have corruption, the argument goes, but so does the West; our democracy is rigged, but so is theirs.
The media manipulation of the early Putin years didn’t try to convince you of a fabricated version of “truth.” Instead, it worked by seeding doubt and confusion, evoking a world so full of endlessly intricate conspiracies that you, the little guy, had no chance to work out or change. Instead of conspiracy theories being used to merely buttress an ideology as under Communist rule, a conspiratorial worldview replaced ideology as a way to explain the world, encouraging the public to trust nothing and yearn for a strong leader to guide it through the murk — a tactic that’s as common in Washington these days as in Moscow.
This attitude is what makes Kremlin propaganda today different from its Soviet predecessor. The Soviets tried to make their lies sound factual. Even their disinformation in the West was meant to feel foolproof: For example, the 1980s campaign to show that the C.I.A. had invented AIDS was carefully curated through Soviet-controlled medical conferences. When President Ronald Reagan called out the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev feigned horror at the idea that the Soviet Union would stoop to lies. Today, when the Kremlin pushes conspiracies claiming Americans invented Ebola or Zika, these stories are thrown online with no serious attempt to make them sound believable. Their aim as much to confuse as to convince. And there’s no shame in being caught lying.
And Putin is loving it.
What I did on my autumn vacation:
About once a year the Apollo Chorus does a day-trip to somewhere nearby. Yesterday we went to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Champaign, Ill., on the University of Illinois campus. Fun but exhausting.
I wanted to call special attention to an article in Mother Jones I linked to earlier this evening. In it, Tim Murphy shows that the historical precedent for President Trump's impeachment isn't Richard Nixon, it's Andrew Johnson. Key paragraph:
The real tragedy of the trial wasn’t poor, pathetic Edmund Ross losing his seat. When the vote fails, Wineapple takes us to places that Kennedy never ventured in his book—churches in Charleston and Memphis where African Americans mourned what they knew they’d lost, steeling themselves for the fight to come. They knew what the impeachment was really about, and they knew who had won. As [Eric Foner, the nation’s foremost Reconstruction scholar,] put it at that panel, “Andrew Johnson was impeached over violating a fairly minor act of Congress, whereas his real crime was trying to deprive 4 million American citizens of all their rights.”
Or more succinctly: "The president was a white nationalist who was nullifying a war." Sound familiar?
I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:
I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.
Apparently the impeachment inquiry now underway in the House has gotten to the president, as yet another world leader had to witness involuntarily:
An awkward handshake is really the least of their worries.
As President Trump continues to rage against impeachment — and the Democrats and whistle-blower he holds responsible for bringing it about — visiting world leaders are encountering a different kind of diplomatic mission.
It includes a welcome ceremony, a meeting with Mr. Trump and an invitation to sit stone-faced for an indeterminate amount of time on live television as the president accuses people of treason, lies and corruption. And sometimes the session is reprised a little later in a formal news conference.
That was what happened on Wednesday when President Sauli Niinisto of Finland became the latest foreign leader to strike a straight-lipped contrast to Mr. Trump as Mr. Trump defended himself and attacked his adversaries. Not once but twice.
The Post's Alexandra Petri imagines the feedback form President Niinisto filled out on his way out the door:
Please rate your visit on a scale from 1 to 5 stars.
What were some highlights of your stay?
I enjoyed the museums very much. I visited several, and they were all well lit, clean and informative. I liked that they were free, just like the population is under democracy.
I do not think that either of those things should change. If possible, keep both aspects.
Do you have any feedback as to how your stay could be improved?
Well, I have to say, I would perhaps have done certain things slightly differently. For instance, it was clear that President Trump had many things he wanted to get off his chest, primarily about someone named Adam Schiff, but also about the governor of California? I found this unseemly emotional outburst off-putting.
Guardian correspondent David Smith opined "it was also just downright strange, even avant-garde. It was Samuel Beckett. It was Marcel Duchamp. It was John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in. Trump invited Niinistö to take a front row seat in his theatre of the absurd."
What do you do when your president has lost his mind?
Last night, Chicago set an all-time record for the warmest low temperature in October: 23°C, which feels more like mid-July than early-October, following the high yesterday of 30°C.
Not to fear, though. A cold front came through just after midnight, bringing the temperature down to 14°C by 8am. With drizzly rain.
Gotta love Chicago.
October began today for some of the world, but here in Chicago the 29°C weather (at Midway and downtwon; it's 23°C at O'Hare) would be more appropriate for July. October should start tomorrow for us, according to forecasts.
This week has a lot going on: rehearsal yesterday for Apollo's support of Chicago Opera Theater in their upcoming performances of Everest and Aleko; rehearsal tonight for our collaboration Saturday with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony of Carmina Burana; and, right, a full-time job. (The Dallas Opera put their video of Everest's premiere on YouTube.)
We also have a few things going on in the news, it seems:
I will now return to reverse-engineering a particularly maddening interface.