Monday, 4 December 2017

Cuttings: November 2017

For every hour you write a screenplay, you spend 10 defending it - article by David Hare in the series 'My working day' in The Guardian. "Producers [of films] fall into two categories. The great ones make suggestions to help you realise your work more fully. The annoying ones tell you at length how they themselves might have written the story, if only they could write. I have one simple rule. Only those who are invested in the outcome are allowed to give advice.... The hardest thing in film is distinguishing between good and bad input. The whole point of writing screenplays is to provide a platform from which a director, actors and cinematographer will be able to leap to create something infinitely richer and more suggestive. You have to excite your colleagues. If you are too prescriptive in what you write, there is no room for their genius. But if you do not fight for your structure and underpinning, then everything will go to hell in an inchoate mess of actors’ improvisation and directorial overreach."

When They Go Low, We Go High: the best ever political speeches - review by Sam Leith in The Guardian. "In Philip Collins’s new book, 25 great speeches through history are given around 10 pages or so each. They include a potted biography of the speaker, a sketch of the historical moment, and a discussion in accessible but not simplistic terms of what the speech is doing and how it works. It deserves to find a home in many Christmas stockings, in the library of anyone interested in oratory or political theory, and on the odd A-level reading list. As far as the choices go, it’s a parade of greatest hits: Pericles’s funeral oration; Cicero’s first philippic against Antony; Jefferson’s first inaugural address; Lincoln’s snappy sally at Gettysburg; JFK’s 'ask not'; Churchill’s 'finest hour'; Elizabeth I at Tilbury; Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate; Mandela in court; and Nehru round midnight in Delhi. Collins throws in the odd baddie – Hitler, Castro, Robespierre and Mao – and the odd semi-baddie (Dolores Ibárruri, the communist firebrand better known as La Pasionaria, is ticked off for her lifelong Stalinism but admitted to have been on the right side in the Spanish civil war). And he chooses – unexpectedly and interestingly – Obama’s second-term victory speech over the more usual anthology candidates. But for the most part it’s a middle-of-the-road setlist.... Collins is an unashamed liberal centrist for whom process is all. It’s the project of his book to argue that 'disillusionment with conventional politics' is at best a callow, and at worst a dangerous, form of cynicism. Having recruited everyone from Pericles onwards for his debating team, he more than makes his case."

The reminiscence bump: why America’s greatest year was probably when you were young - article by Matthew Warren in The Guardian's Head quarters blog. "Intuitively, it seems like a person’s age should also be independent of their country’s greatness, over which they presumably have very little personal control. But Professor Maryanne Garry, a memory researcher at the University of Waikato who is well-versed in the reminiscence bump, thought otherwise. Every time Trump said that he was going to 'Make America Great Again', Garry says she suspected that he was 'taking Americans to a place that would be different for every one of them'.... The interesting findings [in her recent study] came from the ... participants who did not pick a 'top ten' year [such as the Declaration of Independence or the Second World War]. When the researchers examined how old these people were in the year they chose, they found that the majority picked a year from their youth, with 60% selecting a date between their birth and their 20th birthday. In comparison, relatively few chose a year in the 100 years leading up to their birth, or after they were 30 years old.... Garry suggests that this could be where slogans like 'Make America Great Again' get their power. For each of us, they invoke a time in our own lives where we had our first love, saw our favourite movies, experienced key life events. 'They’re really effective messages', she says. 'We think we are on the same page, but we are actually on separate pages.'”

ABL WTF? - post by Nick Cartwright on the University of Northampton LearnTech blog. "I came to Northampton burning with a passion to get my students learning by doing because it works and because it engages many students who have been excluded by traditional schooling.... The biggest challenge is letting go and empowering students to find their own way through the issues, generating authentic knowledge which may be different from or even challenge my knowledge. Practically it also involves what I dubbed in chats ‘double thinking’, keeping two chains of thought going at once. One half of my brain is following the students journey, sometimes disappearing down the rabbit hole, whilst the other is focused on what we need to cover and trying to keep an overview of the topic all the time working out what questions I need to throw out to keep the two tracks running in the same direction – if I lose the latter the session suddenly loses any sense of direction and this disengages my students. It’s more challenging and more tiring than how I used to teach, but I believe it is a better, more inclusive experience for my students. I wonder what I’ll be doing 10 years from now and how critical I’ll be of what I do today?"

Howards End on TV: life would be worse for a modern-day Leonard Bast - article by Philip Hensher in The Guardian. "Probably [E.M. Forster's] most important novel is Howards End, but its meaning has rather shifted over the years. For most readers, the novel now matters most when it turns to Leonard Bast: hungry for culture and learning, intelligent but disadvantaged and at the mercy of the whims of the rich. In my view, Forster underestimates what a Leonard Bast could have done to save himself in 1910. There were dozens of literary and popular journals at the time that would have happily published a short story or a piece of reportage from a literate, intelligent, working-class writer, and paid a very useful £20 for it. By contrast, in 2017, a Leonard Bast would be unlikely to meet a Helen Schlegel at a concert in London. He wouldn’t be able to afford to live in London; his education wouldn’t have introduced him to that sort of high culture; there are no libraries with the resources to let him pursue his curiosity. If he lost his job, as Bast does, there would, in effect, be no means of supporting himself through literary expression. That has passed into the hands of the children of the rich. A modern-day Bast would not starve, but he would be seriously deprived, and he would have been kept from the literature that could have saved Forster’s character. Things for him have got worse."

How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos - article by John Naughton in The Observer, referenced in his Memex 1.1 blog.  "One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But he’s not alone. In fact I’d say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. ... It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid?... My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds. ... Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines – intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history – or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture."

Robert Peston: 'I’m not saying Britain is finished, but our current problems are not a blip' - interview by Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian. "His new book, WTF, is notionally about Brexit, but presents a disturbing analysis of the underlying economic reasons why so many of us voted to leave the EU. With falling living standards, poor productivity, the decline of social mobility and relentless rise of inequality, Peston regards Brexit as neither a cause of nor solution to our grave economic problems. 'I’m not saying Britain is finished or anything like that. I’m just pointing out that there are some very significant structural problems that we need to fix, whether or not we leave the European Union.' The current economic malaise, he adds emphatically, 'is not a blip. This is the moment we have to stop pussyfooting around in terms of solutions."... If Peston sounds angry with the state of British politics, this may be in part because he is also angry with himself. I can detect a slight tendency for self-flagellation, but do not doubt the sincerity of his self-recrimination. He did not see Brexit coming, he admits, for reasons that make him ashamed. 'I have a sort of self-image to do with an idea that because I went to the local state school, I was not in a sort of bubble of the privately educated privileged – or indeed in a bubble of the privileged in any sense – and that I was somehow more connected to people in this country than people who would have gone to Eton or Westminster or wherever. But among the pretty extensive circle of friends and family, not a single person that I could identify voted for Brexit. It was that bubble, that privileged ghetto – feeling completely disconnected from more than half of the people – that made me feel very ashamed.' "

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