OK, time for a break. Sorry the posts have been sparse this week - the school holidays have unleashed the usual domestic chaos. I'm taking some days off now. Hope to be posting again before the New Year.
As I've mentioned before, I sometimes feel as if I'm the only person in the country who thinks The Office is ludicrously over-rated. Ricky Gervais almost always leaves me cold, in fact. Hoping to be enlightened, I downloaded the latest Guardian podcast, only to discover it's more of the same, only even more tedious in a watered-down Derek & Clive sort of way. Genius to some people, no doubt; self-satisfied, first-draft ramblings to me.
While we're talking about the comedy of embarrassment, I'll bang the Larry Sanders drum again. The shows are currently being run late at night on ITV4, which probably means that only about two dozen of us fans are watching. It's been fascinating to see some of the early episodes, not because they've all been wonderful, but precisely because one or two have been a little off: the timing hasn't quite gelled, the chemistry between Arthur, Larry and Hank hasn't quite worked.
But there's something instructive about that. Seeing a slightly sub-standard episode makes you realise how superb the best of them really are. I guess the nearest British equivalent would be Alan Partridge, yet much as I enjoy his misadventures, I couldn't imagine watching them over and over. Coogan plays a caricature - a brilliant one, to be sure - but not really three-dimensional flesh and blood. Sanders is the real thing. Over the years, I've seen some of the later shows three or four times, and I could happily sit through them again and again. A pretty good definition, I'd say, of comic genius.
The debate continues over Steven Spielberg's new film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy hopes the movie will stir some fresh thinking among Arab artists and power-brokers:
If 'Munich' is banned in the Arab world, it will be just the latest example of its unwillingness and inability to join the intellectual debates of the day. Not only does the film, based on the birth of the concept of counter-terrorism, ask the big questions of our time but it also challenges the Arab world to produce its own works of art that ask equally painful and pertinent questions.
Is the Arab world up to that challenge?
... I have lived and worked in Israel, I believe in its right to exist as I believe in the right of Palestinians to their own state... And so I ask again, is the Arab world up to the challenge presented by Spielberg and Kushner? ... Where is our 'Munich' that dissects the roots of Palestinian terrorism and how it has harmed the Palestinian cause? (Via 'Aqoul)
James Bowman, in the New York Sun, takes a less charitable view:
'Munich' is never less than watchable. Mr. Spielberg is a filmmaker of genius, almost incapable of doing anything unoriginal or uninteresting on screen. But when he tries to think - and especially when he reaches after profundity, as in 'Munich' - he can only think in cliches.
UPDATE: Has the new Palestinian leadership renounced the legacy of Yasser Arafat? Tom Gross, writing in the Wall St Journal, expresses major doubts. Seems that even the recent outbreak of goodwill on the football field wasn't quite as whole-hearted as many of us thought:
The Palestinian Authority sometimes goes so far as to stamp out even the most symbolic gestures of coexistence with Israel. Consider last month's soccer match, organized by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, in which Israeli and Palestinian soccer stars played together in a joint "Peace Team" against Barcelona. They played well, losing only 2-1 at Barcelona's famous Nou Camp stadium in front of 31,820 spectators, including many dignitaries. Yet on the Palestinian Authority's orders, the Palestinian Football Association announced that it would punish the Palestinian players for daring to participate in such a match.
Do send me a copy of your thriller. I'm sure I should enjoy it. I do nothing now except read anyway, and I'm rather an amateur of detective stories, although, as you know I have old-fashioned tastes in them. I recently by the way read for the first time 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' - what an awful book.
... My new book is a Utopia in the form of a novel. I ballsed it up rather, partly owing to being so ill while I was writing it, but I think some of the ideas in it might interest you. We haven't definitely fixed the title, but I think it will be called 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'.
George Orwell, Letter to Julian Symons, 4 February 1949.
Cameron laid out his ideas at the beginning of his leadership campaign inlate August in a speech at The Foreign Policy Centre, a Blairite think tank. (This would be like a Democratic presidential hopeful going to the American Enterprise Institute to make a major foreign-policy address.) In his speech, Cameron spoke of the need for a foreign policy that involves the "consistent application" of the "shared values" of the nation, defining these as "democratic" and "progressive.
...Otherwise well-informed commentators had speculated that, in forming his shadow cabinet, Cameron might rehabilitate the traditional Tory talent in foreign policy, such as the sometime Foreign Ministers Malcolm Rifkindand Douglas Hurd, both of whom had strongly opposed the Iraq war. Instead, Cameron recalled the former conservative leader William Hague, a staunch and unrepentant supporter of Saddam's removal, to the front bench as shadow foreign secretary. Rifkind, who had entertained hopes of a comeback, resigned from the front benches in a huff. His marginalization reflects not only a generational shift in the party but also an important symbolic break with the past: Rifkind was defence secretary in the 1990s and played a major role in Britain's catastrophic failure to intervene in Bosnia.
I like the sound of this, although the sight of Cameron brazenly wooing the Lib Dem vote isn't so reassuring. I also can't help noticing that he picks up first prize in Simon Hoggart's politico awards:
Most blathering blather: David Cameron, the new Tory leader, for "I have got a sense of direction, and I'm going to take that sense of direction all over the country."
I've heard worst, to be honest. (Incidentally, David Davis managed to walk off with the trophy for best and worst speech of the year. That just about sums up his year.)
Over at the Telegraph, Matthew d'Ancona sounds positively euphoric as he assesses Cameron's impact in the polls. He thinks "Dave" is a character straight out of Love, Actually. I'd say one Hugh Grant is more than enough for one lifetime, but d'Ancona clearly disagrees:
'Love Actually' was a huge hit because it captured perfectly, in the language of cinematic sentimentality, one way in which the British now see themselves. Its lead characters - Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor - embody classless affluence, generosity, racial diversity and a national contentment both with the roots of tradition and with the possibilities of modernity.
Now I'm really worried. If a film as relentlessly second-rate as that sums up the national character, we could be in big trouble.
Iran's president doesn't seem the kind of man to care about moral pressure. But Emanuele Ottolenghi's idea is still a good one:
This year, Hanukkah coincides with Christmas. On December 27, the third night of Hanukkah, Hanukkah candles should be lit in public ceremonies across the streets, in front of Iranian embassies around the world. Jewish communities should organize a lighting ceremony in all those capital cities where Iran has an embassy, and in New York it should be done in front of the U.N. building, right beside the Iranian flag. According to Jewish law, anyone can light the Shamash, the candle that is used to light all others. Prominent leaders with bipartisan support should be invited to perform this symbolic act to reaffirm the light of freedom over the darkness of tyranny.
Ann Althouse, meanwhile, notes that Ahmadinejad is banning western pop music:
I hope this inspires people to push back... [T]aking people's music away should strongly impress them that the government is repressive beyond reason. If only Western music were better, the impression might be stronger. Unfortunately, I can understand the feeling that the music of the outsiders is eroding your culture. I've felt, as a traveler, that the music of my own culture was eroding the culture of the foreign place I wanted to experience.
Trying to make amends to the world at large, Hoder recommends two books to give to non-Iranians at Christmas. (Yes, one of them is the wonderful Persepolis.)
Heavyweight critic Harold Bloom foams at the mouth as he surveys the relentless advance of Republican fascism. In a much less frenzied vein, Christopher Caldwell pays tribute to the novels of Anthony Powell in the Weekly Standard. (I'm relieved to find I'm not the only one who struggled with that first volume of A Dance to the Music of Time.) Geneticist Steve Jones presented an excellent Radio 4 programme on Powell earlier this month (it's the author's centenary), but the broadcast link seems to have lapsed. Pity. Maybe it will turn up on the Powell news blog one of these days.