Alastair Campbell

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An absolutely fantastic friendly from Campbell and Clarke showing us EXACTLY how to do it. Here, then, is the quest of the day- How to get Johnson to steal a chip from New Labour and unite an enlarged middle of his party as well as silence the fruitcakes and loonies at both ends. At the same time, how to unite and bring together a frankly divided country and to focus on reality rather than a never-ending “what might have been”.

And now to Alastair Campbell: I was so impressed by this man. He has the mind to cut through all the nonsense and to see what needs to be done practically. He also demonstrated a charm and ease that I had thought was vanishing in the corridors of Westminster. I am deeply heartened by this programme and what I saw today. Well done, all!

To see these two men spar was a rare insight into the carefully-guarded secret of centrist politics; it is self-deprecatory, undecided, but remorseful and actually embarrassable- ultimately, it can be held responsible (or they can) which is more than can be said for the Boris bus, Farage’s madness, May’s dithering (and hiding behind bureaucracy) or Corbyn’s dogmatic socialism (I enjoyed Ken Clarke’s observation that Corbyn was “naive”: exactly.) Oh what a joy to see intelligence so casually and confidently displayed.

There is certainly hope for the future!

 

 

Maxim Pankratov

A short while ago, I made a youtube video in which I drew attention to the draconian law, which Putin signed on 30th june 2013, condemned as a violation of human rights both in 2017 and 2019 by the European Court of Human Rights, but currently enforced in Russia and which makes it illegal to discuss homosexuality with children under 18; specifically, it prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors.” I made a comparison in my own film with clause 28 (1988) which was thankfully repealed in the UK in 2003.

A survey in 2013 conducted by VTsIOM claimed that the propaganda law was supported by 90% the Russian population. At time time, Putin claimed, “I want everyone to understand that in Russia there are no infringements on sexual minorities’ rights. They’re people, just like everyone else, and they enjoy full rights and freedoms”. He went on to joke about the improbability of gay marriage in Chechnya. The Chechnyan leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, later pointed out that no one was gay in his country. He went on in a televised interview for HBO to say, “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.”

Over the last few years, as a result of this law, there have been a number of claims made about intimidation and assault in Russia, most notably by Gleb Latnik who was struck around the head; he was visibly bruised and had a swollen eye. Latnik said that when he went to file a complaint, but the police replied, “It’s all right, you’re gay so it’s normal that you were attacked. Why would you need to file a complaint?”

Earlier this year, a same-sex russian couple living in Magnitogorsk fled the country with their two children after a suspected appendicitis flagged up their relationship. The case workers in the State Guardianship office who had given the family a regular positive evaluation were subsequently carpeted for the “inadequate performance of duties”, a criminal offence that carries up to three months in prison. So, it s not only gay people who fall foul of the new regime.

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Today, it is clear that the penalties for infringing the 2013 Russian law,  are being ramped up. 21 year-old Maxim Pankratov and Victoria Pich, the producer of the Russian version of “real time” are today reported to be threatened with between 12 and 20 years’ imprisonment. Maxim says he has received death threats, been physically attacked and that both he and Victoria Pich have gone into hiding and are now living in fear.

Pankratov said that the youtube video programme he had fronted almost a year ago, a version of an American tv format called “Kids meet”, was a conversation with 4 children who asked him simple questions about his life. The programme had earlier shown children between the ages of 6 and 13 talking about a number of other prejudices. Pankratov said, “It was a normal conversation and (now) they want to put me in jail. It was about what it’s like to be a gay man in Russia and how I live. We wanted to show society that you can be tolerant.”  He told reporters, “I thought it was a normal conversation with children, there was no discussion of sex.” From October, the programme was blocked by Roskomnadzor, the state media and communications watchdog agency.

It has taken some months for the authorities to react, but they were led by a particularly nasty member of the DUMA, a man called Pytor Tolstoy, whom regrettably, I have met, a direct descendant of the 19th Century author, who agitated repeatedly about the programme. He is a man who has come up, oddly a few times in conversations I have had in Moscow. A few years’ ago, he made outrageous anti-semitic claims that Jews had been –and were still– desecrating Russian Churches. Unfortunately, he is  a man with significant power as a deputy-speaker of the Russian Parliament. What he says, therefore, however outrageous, has an effect.

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So, Tolstoy’s badgering led to an investigation by the Department of Internal Affairs who questioned what they called the “dissemination of destructive information”. They wrote, “Currently, investigators have interrogated the organizer of the video shoot, and also are establishing the circle of victims and conducting other investigative actions aimed at establishing all the circumstances of the incident.”

As far as I can see, the organiser of the video shoot, the producer Victoria Pich, was never formally “interrogated”. She seems to have gone into hiding after she received a very aggressive letter, while Pankratov has been both physically attacked and received a stream of abuse through social media before also going into hiding. The letter they received claims that their video was of “a debauched character whose aim was to sexually abuse the children.” Victoria Pich has told the BBC that she felt like her freedom was threatened.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, have tried to distance themselves from the problem. The usual spokesman, Dmitry Peskov has been wheeled out to say in the Press today about opening a criminal case against Pankratov and Pich, “If there is a crime, then it is worth it, if there is no crime, then it’s not worth it.”

Putin himself has always defended the 2013 law. He says that “our strategic choice is for traditional families, healthy families and a healthy nation.” I hope that this statement is not an invitation to look too closely at his own domestic arrangements.

I have had a very positive experience for the last 5 years of teaching in a major Russian university, but the current climate makes it difficult, regrettably, to think of going back to Moscow anytime soon.

Things will change very slowly now I fear. It is worth noting the problems I had with being misrepresented in the Russian media:

https://animate-tim.com/2019/05/24/an-update-on-dubbing-in-russia/

and here is a link to what the BBC wrote about what happened to interviews with John Curtice and with me-

https://monitoring.bbc.co.uk/product/c200wjny

Ding Dong- where has the Ding gone?

Here I am in Dilijan, looking out over the mountains of Armenia! It reminds me alot of Albania and, indeed, I came across a map today which seems to confuse the two places precisely: here it is-

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The Dong with the Luminous Nose

In Lear’s poem, “the Dong with the Luminous nose”, I realise there is an interesting omission. Lear must have intended, in some way, a play on the doorbell-sound “ding dong” so the natural consort of the Dong must then by rights be the “Ding”.

Sadly, the Dong has other interests and pursues a Jumbly girl.

Lear by TIM 3

There is more to this though, because Kant would go on with expressions like “Ding an sich” the thing in itself, so Dong has a much deeper meaning in the Germanic/english world. Kant would talk about the thing in itself as opposed to its actual appearance, “Erscheinungen,” what we see with our senses, something Plato would no doubt regard with suspicion. Lear’s Dong has clearly lost its “Ding an sich” and the light on his augmented nose simply illuminates the physical world and fails to get to the nitty-gritty, the thing in itself, whether this be the Jumbly girl he seeks or the missing Ding he does not know he has lost. The Dong therefore, confused by his senses is doomed to wander forever, weeping into the night.

Lear by tim 4

Spoonerism?

For luminous nose, read “numinous lose” or numinous loss- where the numinous is the spiritual- so, the Dong has lost his soul. He cannot see beyond the end of his own nose. that is a theme that reappears in the original 1964 “Mary Poppins” and leads up to Disney’s beloved song, “Feed the Birds”.

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Jane: An outing with father?

Mary Poppins: Yes.

Michael: I don’t believe it!

Jane: He’s never taken us on an outing before.

Michael: He’s never taken us anywhere!

Jane, Mary Poppins: However did you manage it?

Mary Poppins: Manage what?

Jane: You must have put the idea in his head somehow.

Mary Poppins: What an impertinent thing to say! Me, putting ideas into people’s heads? Really!

Jane: Where’s he taking us?

Mary Poppins: To the bank.

Jane: Oh Michael, the city! We’ll see all the sights and father can point them out to us!

Mary Poppins: Well, most things he can. Sometimes a person we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see past the end of his nose.

Mary Mary quite contrary

Quite apart from the fact that she is first seen floating around on a cloud, the imagery of Mary Poppins is loaded with intense Christian symbolism. I was awoken last night by the sudden thought that “Feed the Birds” is fundamentally religious and the centre of the film itself. It is a metaphor of hope and love and she is still on the steps of St Paul’s as Jack speeds past in the opening song of “Mary Poppins Returns”. Richard Sherman says “He [Walt Disney] loved that song and knew it was the heartbeat of the whole movie”. He adds that it was “deeply spiritual.”

It is a song set around the Cathedral of St Paul’s with reference to the “Saints and Apostles” as well as references to charity/agape/caritas. But the image of the bird is loaded with more significance than twitter: the bird is not only a symbol of peace in a troubled world, it is the Holy spirit, the paraclete or comforter who remains with us after the ascension.

To check the significance of the “feed the birds” scene, I listened to the score again today- the composers open the film with the tune and it is this tune that underscores the sunset reflection before the children, Bert and Mary descend from their vision of London. It is played also as Tomlinson walks towards the bank to be sacked. It is the thoughtful heart of “Mary Poppins”.

Here’s a quick summary of the main religious features of Poppins.

1) She is a Virgin Mary figure, equipped even with the same name. The imagery of “white witch” which Travers provides is all but excised by Disney.

2) Her divine arrival (and later ascension) by umbrella on the East wind (matthew 24:27), her simple costume and nun-like demeanor; her poverty (she carries her life in a carpet bag that is apparently empty); her magic acts which are there to reassure the children that their belief in her is worthy. (like miracles); she consorts with the working class (chimney sweeps); she is led by her heart rather than by considerations of money.

3) She is victimised by the father who accuses her without reason (like Judas or the High Priest if she represents Christ, but simply recalling the gossipers who worried about her speedy pregnancy and questioned the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.) She turns dirt into hope and takes the Children from the fireplace/chimney/hell? upwards to a vision of London- “the whole world at your feet.” There is even a moment of communion over spoons of magical medicine (a few years’ later, the Scaffold did a song about “medicinal compound- most efficacious in every way”).

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4) She is not the prophet or the saviour- she points instead to others- in this case to the bird woman (Jane Darwell) who is surrounded by a nimbus on the steps of st pauls; but positive changes come over the whole household (beginning with the cook and maid)

5) She takes the children (and Bert) into an enriched vision of the world- an iconic landscape. A window into heaven, first in a chalk pavement picture and later in seeing reality transformed as the sun sets over the chimneys of London. Certainly enough for some serious thoughts about the theology of the icon as presented by St John of Damascus! When the children emerge from both ecstatic visions, they have a tendency to shake hands indiscriminately and use nonsense words – is this a reference to glossalalia?

Most importantly, the birds’ song recall the birds and lillies of Matthew 6:24-34