Dear English Rioter

August 10, 2011

Dear English Rioter:

Congratulations on your riot! Always an original and intelligent means of expression. In fact, most of the great political philosophies have come about through riots. Socrates used to go over to Aristotle’s house and riot all over the place. Historically speaking, you’ve chosen the most articulate, thoughtful way to communicate your ideas. Bloody well done.

What was it again that set you off? Oh, right: English policemen shot and killed a drug dealer in a car who had a gun which he hadn’t fired. That’s worth rioting over… in your country, where handgun laws are so strict that the regular police have only batons, drug dealers likely have all kinds of legitimate reasons for keeping guns in their cars. He probably used it to check his oil.

But really, what a riot you’ve put on! Be proud. If there’s one thing that tells policemen you’re fed up with their heavy-handed methods, it’s setting fire to your own homes and grocery stores. Nothing makes authority the world over re-consider its tactics like throwing rocks at the place your grandmother goes to buy lottery tickets.

And the looting! Brilliant. How else are you supposed to know when tyranny has been thrown off, if not for the news on your new flat-screen TV? The old one was too small for the revolution!

So, when they let you out of prison and you go home – rightfully proud of the blow you struck for justice! – and you can’t find your apartment because your friend who lives down the street (a soul as passionate about freedom as you!) burned it down (oops!), remember: you have struck a mighty, educated, and responsible blow for… something or other. Bravo!

Best,

The Editors

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The Prince Albert Slipper-y Slope

November 22, 2010

Prince Albert slippers are uniquely situated in the haberdashers’ galaxy for their uncanny ability to do for men what threshers do for farms: that is, separate the wheat from the chaff. Or the boys from the men.

Or, more to it, the men from the much more WASP-ily effete men. But if effected Brahmin effetism is a crime, then your staff is (with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare’s Henry VIII) “the most offending soul alive.”

In our defense, we’re in good company. Specifically, Bobby Kennedy. And Ralph Lauren. And Dean Martin. And, of course, His Royal Highness Prince Albert, who married Queen Victoria in 1840 and lent his name to the slipper as his wife lent hers to the era. 

"Specifically, Bobby Kennedy."

Gentlemen of Victorian England, ever exemplars of propriety, refused to wear their shoes indoors. The behavior likely owed as much to the poor condition of Victorian streets as to manners: shoes (and feet) of the period took a daily beating at the hands of mud-slick cobblestones and street grime.

So Victorian men, indoors, changed into house-shoes. And Victorian gentlemen, in shodding, preferred Prince Albert slippers. Today, the slippers are as much acceptable outdoors as in. “Some young people are starting to wear slippers outside,” observed Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson, chairman of London’s oldest bespoke shoemakers, W.S. Foster, recently. “A young, dapper-looking Australian fellow who works for one of our graphic design firms came to the office this summer in a pair of velvet slippers.”  

The Prince Albert slipper, above, is loafer-shaped and pulls on; there are no laces. They’re made of velvet and have a raised leather heel, so that they can be worn lightly outdoors. They come either unlined or lined in quilted silk.

The more rakish also come embroidered: monograms across the toe are popular, as are coats of arms. American makers Stubbs & Wootton and Del Toro, both of Florida, offer more whimsical fare: slippers embroidered with martini glasses, skulls-and-crossed-bones, dollar and euro signs, sail boats, and that sort of thing. Del Toro in particular seems intent on cornering J. Crew’s embroidered critter market.

Brooks Brothers offers a model in black velvet, with its emblematic “BB” in gold script across the toe, and couturiers Ralph Lauren and Paul Stuart each sell a take on the Prince Albert.

“We’ve noticed a growing interest in our men’s slippers, especially from America.” That’s Hilary Freeman, managing director of Edward Green & Co., boot-makers of Northampton, England since 1890 and purveyors of Alberts. “This is slowly moving west to Europe, then Russia and onwards. We are even starting to see interest in Japan.”

And there, the defense rests.


Like Clockwork

April 23, 2010

Lifted shamelessly from Reason.com, where Brendan O’Neil published it: Big Brother run amok across the pond.

In recent years Britain has become the Willy Wonka of social control, churning out increasingly creepy, bizarre, and fantastic methods for policing the populace. But our weaponization of classical music—where Mozart, Beethoven, and other greats have been turned into tools of state repression—marks a new low.

We’re already the kings of CCTV (closed-circuit television). An estimated 20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras are in the UK, a remarkable achievement for an island that occupies only 0.2 per cent of the world’s inhabitable landmass.

A few years ago some local authorities introduced the Mosquito, a gadget that emits a noise that sounds like a faint buzz to people over the age of 20 but which is so high-pitched, so piercing, and so unbearable to the delicate ear drums of anyone under 20 that they cannot remain in earshot. It’s designed to drive away unruly youth from public spaces, yet is so brutally indiscriminate that it also drives away good kids, terrifies toddlers, and wakes sleeping babes.

Police in the West of England recently started using super-bright halogen lights to temporarily blind misbehaving youngsters. From helicopters, the cops beam the spotlights at youths drinking or loitering in parks, in the hope that they will become so bamboozled that (when they recover their eyesight) they will stagger home.

And recently police in Liverpool boasted about making Britain’s first-ever arrest by unmanned flying drone. Inspired, it seems, by Britain and America’s robot planes in Afghanistan, the Liverpool cops used a remote-control helicopter fitted with CCTV (of course) to catch a car thief.

Britain might not make steel anymore, or cars, or pop music worth listening to, but, boy, are we world-beaters when it comes to tyranny. And now classical music, which was once taught to young people as a way of elevating their minds and tingling their souls, is being mined for its potential as a deterrent against bad behavior.

In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

The classical music detentions at West Park School are only the latest experiment in using and abusing some of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements to reprimand youth.

Across the UK, local councils and other public institutions now play recorded classical music through speakers at bus-stops, in parking lots, outside department stores, and elsewhere. No, not because they think the public will appreciate these sweet sounds (they think we are uncultured grunts), but because they hope it will make naughty youngsters flee.

Tyne and Wear in the north of England was one of the first parts of the UK to weaponize classical music. In the early 2000s, the local railway company decided to do something about the “problem” of “youths hanging around” its train stations. The young people were “not getting up to criminal activities,” admitted Tyne and Wear Metro, but they were “swearing, smoking at stations and harassing passengers.” So the railway company unleashed “blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi.”

Apparently it was a roaring success. The youth fled. “They seem to loathe [the music],” said the proud railway guy. “It’s pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart is playing.” He said the most successful deterrent music included the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich. (That last, I kind of understand.)

In Yorkshire in the north of England, the local council has started playing classical music through vandal-proof speakers at “troublesome bus-stops” between 7:30 PM and 11:30 PM. Shops in Worcester, Bristol, and North Wales have also taken to “firing out” bursts of classical music to ward of feckless youngsters.

In Holywood (in County Down in Northern Ireland, not to be confused with Hollywood in California), local businesspeople encouraged the council to pipe classical music as a way of getting rid of youngsters who were spitting in the street and doing graffiti. And apparently classical music defeats street art: The graffiti levels fell.

Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of an elite using high culture as a “punitive slap on the chops” for low youth has come true. In Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, famously filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, the unruly youngster Alex is subjected to “the Ludovico Technique” by the crazed authorities. Forced to take drugs that induce nausea and to watch graphically violent movies for two weeks, while simultaneously listening to Beethoven, Alex is slowly rewired and re-moulded. But he rebels, especially against the use of classical music as punishment.

Pleading with his therapists to turn the music off, he tells them that “Ludwig van” did nothing wrong, he “only made music.” He tells the doctors it’s a sin to turn him against Beethoven and take away his love of music. But they ignore him. At the end of it all, Alex is no longer able to listen to his favorite music without feeling distressed. A bit like that schoolboy in Derby who now sticks his fingers in his ears when he hears Mozart.

The weaponization of classical music speaks volumes about the British elite’s authoritarianism and cultural backwardness. They’re so desperate to control youth—but from a distance, without actually having to engage with them—that they will film their every move, fire high-pitched noises in their ears, shine lights in their eyes, and bombard them with Mozart. And they have so little faith in young people’s intellectual abilities, in their capacity and their willingness to engage with humanity’s highest forms of art, that they imagine Beethoven and Mozart and others will be repugnant to young ears. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The dangerous message being sent to young people is clear: 1) you are scum; 2) classical music is not a wonder of the human world, it’s a repellent against mildly anti-social behavior.


Dartmouth Rugby Preps for Spring

February 26, 2010

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club, coming off a post-season Northeastern semi-finals upset by the University of Syracuse Orangemen after a 13-game winning streak, are regrouping this week as Spring practice begins and the Club readies itself for its annual Spring Tour. During the regular Fall season, the DRFC crushed opponents by an average of 55 points per game.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.

“That game was really a statistical anomoly,” said Dartmouth head coach Alex Magleby ’00, of the Syracuse upset. “In the Fall, we had a fantastic season. You can’t control the wins and losses – you can only control the process. As cliched as it sounds, we played and trained well.”

Still, Coach Magleby and the DRFC are hardly packing it all in: though most Sophomore and Junior team members are off-campus for the Winter term, coaches are at work preparing Spring training schedules and working with Freshmen development squads. The Spring season will include 13 matches, in addition to the Tour, which will be a circuit of Arkansas and Texas teams.

The DRFC is the oldest continuously touring rugby club in America; past Tours have been around the United States and through Ireland, South Africa, and England. “A trip away from campus and the other priorities in our lives is always good,” says Magleby. “Team culture is the key in any sport. When a team works well together, respects each other, earns these opportunities together, they’re certainly on the right track towards wins.”


Noisy Cricket

June 22, 2009

Lord’s is a sports field, or pitch, which sits to the northwest of London, in the St. John’s Wood area, and which is widely credited as being the “home of cricket.” Lord’s is also a museum, the self-appointed keeper of cricket’s history and artifacts for a fan base for whom “old money” can be as old as feudalism.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

Despite its august antiquity, Lord’s has been on the outs for years: India is now cricket’s epicenter, not England. While Lord’s may be the sport’s soul, new pitches in India are its muscles and, without a doubt, its wallet. The shift has left many English fans feeling they’ve lost some vital part of themselves. Mike Marqusee, in Anyone but England: An Outsider Looks at English Cricket, writes: “In cricket, there is always the fear that something will be lost.” Of Twenty20, a new, faster version of cricket popular in India, Marqusee notes substantial worry that this new version, called T20, will steal more of those vital parts.

The “highest” form of cricket is a version called test cricket, a game of which can last from three to five days and which is played by one of the most archaic and incomprehensible sets of rules ever to govern a sport. T20, in contrast, is quick and simple.

For the purists at Lord’s, that simplicity is the problem. Test cricket is like to a golf match, or marathon: strategic decisions happen over an extended period and fans are able to see self-corrections, psychological struggles, and dramatic changes of fortune over the course of the competition. T20 is more like a home-run derby.

Its cheap thrills and unruly fans have made T20 an enemy of the cricketing establishment. So have its name-brand players and their major league salaries: English cricket has never been about paychecks, instead being administered by a non-profit board akin to the Olympic Committee. The professional athlete culture is abhorrent to purists.

For now, cricket’s 21st century face is undecided. Many English swear by test cricket, including some of the sport’s most storied heroes, while T20 has attracted well-heeled new investors and an increasingly broad fan base and television viewership. The marketplace still competes against the spirit of the game, the new against the classic, and fans draw lines on both sides. And for now, both England and India are out of contention for this year’s championship: the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and South Africa are the remaining title contenders, both England and India having “crashed out” early on. Before their exit, though, the teams squared off against each other at, of course, Lord’s and, as evening fell on bleachers of unruly Indian fans, England notched a victory.

Lord's Cricket Ground.

Lord's Cricket Ground.


Point, Counter-point: Bow Ties

June 12, 2009

As previously noted on this web log, bow ties are cool again (as if they ever weren’t). Alexis Petridis of England’s venerable The Guardian disagrees, and notes it here. His words on the subject, though incorrect, reprinted below for the sake of balance:

I can’t think of many adjectives I’d less like to have appended to my name than “zany”, which is why I’ve never worn a bow tie outside of evening dress. Divorced from the tuxedo, it just screams, “Also wears novelty socks and does catchphrases from The Fast Show, run for your life”. You may as well hang a sign around your neck that reads: “You don’t have to be mad to work here – but it helps!!!”

I suppose this state of affairs has something to do with flouting convention – the standard shirt and tie combo – and instead introducing a knowingly archaic, excessive formality. Wearing a bow tie is the menswear equivalent of smirkingly saying “methinks” in everyday conversation: what Sir Kingsley Amis would have called an infallible wanker detector. So I salute the bravery of those attempting to rehabilitate the tux-less bow tie. Their cue came from hip-hop: Pharrell Williams wears one, and whatever else Pharrell Williams may be, he’s not one of life’s methinksers. Then bow ties turned up on the catwalk. And last year, eBay sales of bow ties rose by 34% in two months.

Emboldened, I gave it go. As I walked into the room, I sensed everyone’s wanker detector going off in unison. “Have you joined The Nation Of Islam?” chuckled the photographer. “You look like Mr Bean in that film where he was a spy,” offered the make-up artist. “Johnny English.” That sealed it: if there’s one function I don’t need fashion to perform, it’s to help me look any more like Rowan Atkinson than I already do. Bow-tie revival? Methinks not.

How-to, via Ben Silver.

How-to, via Ben Silver.


The Horsey Set

June 8, 2009

Prince Harry of England, while recently abroad on the Continent, found the time to play in Manhattan’s storied Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, held regulary on Governors’ Island. Patrician onlookers stayed cool in seersucker and boater hats at the event, which was held to benefit the Prince’s charity, Lesotho.

Prince Harry, mounted.

Prince Harry, mounted.