A skeleton argument

Spot the word that had me puzzled:

And here it is, from the Oxford English Dictionary, no less:

Etymology: Of uncertain origin; perhaps shortened < skeleton n.
U.S.slang.
In New York: a homeless person or derelict, esp. one who sleeps in the subway system.
To which we can add — since Montauk Harbor is some 110 miles, and three hours on the Long Island Railroad from Grand Central — this term has travelled a bit from its origin.The OED gives five citations, all specific to the vocabulary of the NYPD and New York’s Finest.
Oh, and The Dock is well worth the visit. Manspreading, mansplaining, and general chauvinism part of the “atmosphere”.
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Ridiculous mouse

It was Horace, teaching The Art of Poetry (line 139, if you want it), who borrowed that from Aesop.

The Department for Transport, in turn, borrows from Horatius and produces a shiny new apologia on how, one day, the railways of England and Wales will be again the wonder of the age. Note Scotland had the sense to run their remaining network as an integrated unit, and are already expanding.

At one level it’s all about undoing some of the damage privatisation and franchising did:

sweeping proposals aimed at creating joined up teams running track and train will make the railway more reliable for passengers and ensure that it works as one to deliver for its customers.

Hint: that’s what we had before the “poll tax on wheels“.

At another level it’s a response to the McNulty (2011) and Shaw (2015) reports. The paper mills of the DfT grind slow — and also exceeding small. Having failed to electrify, there’s always the magical incantation: “digital”. Sure enough, here comes the fairy dust:

The vision also pledges to introduce digital rail – new technologies that have the potential to reduce crowding and improve train punctuality for passengers – across more of the country.

The DfT is so advanced in thinking for the “digital” age, when one accesses the document, one is warned:

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology

Wait for it! — when we arrive at paragraph 2.23 we get “schemes”:

Rail services have the potential to unlock housing growth, as part of a wider transport network. New connections and stations can support locally-led development and help deliver more housing. There are also strategic opportunities to change local transport patterns, and provide communities and people with new opportunities.

Away we segue into a  surfeit of subjunctives and hypotheticals:

  • a new station could provide direct rail links
  • also potentially generate additional housing opportunities in high-demand locations
  • Construction is expected to start in late 2017 and to be completed by 2021. (The back-end of November is “late 2017”: is it happening yet?)
  • a station has the potential to unlock 7,500 jobs and 1,500 homes
  • the challenges of poor East-West connectivity need to be addressed (rather like the Hull-Leeds-Manchester-Liverpool corridor, which ought to be national priority #1 — but won’t be as long as it lies outside London and the South-East commuter belt).

More subjunctives (“may run”) and hypotheticals (“possibles”): The Times has identified the proposals to re-open lines Beeching axed:

From the top there:

  1. The Ashington, Blyth and Newcastle (ABT) line is there, running freight (providing essential links for the Alcan plant and the waste disposal at Butterwell), and Northumberland County Council has primed the pump with £5 million. Much of the expected cost is in peripherals: new stations, car-parks (there’s an irony!), and connections to other existing transport links (including Shanks’s pony and cycling).

2. Skipton to Colne is less than a dozen miles. It is abut as logical a link, a no-brainer, as could be imagined:

 

This one was not even proposed for closure by Beeching: it happened, none the less, in 1970. The Leeds and Bradford Railway saw the potential as early as 1848, and built it. Several studies (in 2003 and 2007 to my knowledge) have suggested considerable benefits. The route is protected by the planning authorities. Railtrack have agreed, but could make no progress without external finance. The whole scheme is complicated by the road lobby cooking up a route which parallels the railway: odd, that — a need for a road link where the basis for a rail one is staring all in the face.

Anyway, previous announcements — most recently a squeak before the June 2017 Election — amounted to more than a wink-and-a-nod.

3. The Kings Norton link is beyond me. There’s already a link into Birmingham, via Edgbaston. At first I wondered was this an error for the Kings Norton next to Leicester Airfield. Could it be because the housing developments in this patch are in desperate need of a fillip? Three Labour constituencies, all reasonably safe, cover the ground — so the “party advantage” motive doesn’t apply. On the other hand, the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, is a Tory, and has been raising smoke about transport expenditure in his fiefdom being a third, per-capita, of London.

4. Wisbech to March — oh, but this one could be fun!

The Wisbech to Outwell stretch never was more than a tramway:

Once a bus service arrived, the passenger line was closed — and that was as far back as 1927. The line functioned for agricultural produce until Beeching. Because the whole thing was so ramshackle, rustic and “quaint”, it has been a staple for model railway builders.

What is being talked of here is the “Bramley Line”. This wasn’t a Beeching cut so much as a shrivelling of the Fen links: this one survived for freight until the turn of the Millennium, because of the Metal Box and Nestlé factories (the latter did pet-foods, and seemed to me to specialise in odd smells). It’s all of — what? — eight miles. Re-opening would be more about overspill housing from Cambridge and Peterborough than much else.

Relevant or not, South-East Cambridgeshire is a relatively safe Tory seat. There was a sniff of rampant UKIPpery none too long ago, which provoked warm utterances from David Cameron for local development and investment.

5. The “Varsity Line” between Oxford and Cambridge should never have been closed. It wasn’t on Beeching’s list. Long stretches remain in active use. The main “missing link” is between Cambridge and Bedford, where — criminally — housing developments have been permitted over the rail route. Since 2010 there have been repeated announcements and promises of government funding — so this is yet another iteration.

Look carefully at that sketch map, and spot Verney Junction. Those who, like me, still dote on John Betjeman may recall this was where he found the end of his Metroland:

The houses of Metro-land never got as far as Verney Junction.
Grass triumphs, and I must say I’m rather glad.

Until 1936 it was possible for the rustics of Lord Verney’s estate at Clayton House to take the Metropolitan Railway all the way to Baker Street. Which also explains that pseudopod of the London Underground map which still extends into (nay, invents) Zones 8,9, and 10.

This is another case where housing is a significant factor. Reopening the route makes the Bletchley-Bedford stretch an obvious candidate to become a major development, up to city size. With houses at Verney Junction. And in an essentially Tory backyard, too.

6. Portishead to Bristol amounts to re-opening just over three miles of track. Since 2009 Network Rail has been muttering about doing the business, and MetroWest have it as a work-in-progress. All that is required is sorting out a level-crossing at Ashton Vale and building the new station at Harbour Road in Prtishead. Since the alternative is some very heavy improvements to the A369 into Bristol, this again represents a triumph of common sense over numbskullery.

7. Uckfield to Lewes, the Wealden Line,  came close to agreement as far back as 2008. Since 2013 (as a spin-off from the ConDem coalition) there have been real moves to “do something”: government urged Network Rail into motion, the station site at Uckfield was bought back from (believe it!) the residuary British Rail Board.

Currently 42 miles (by road) from Lewes to Westminster takes an hour and a quarter by train. The truly-astounding thing here is that the natives of  East Sussex have not risen in righteous revolt against Southern Rail. Even so, the rumblings of discontent along the whole Costa Geriatrica are impacting on traditional party loyalties — and that’s not good for Tories.

8. Exeter to Okehampton, last but not least.

Another one that has me puzzled. As I recall, this service — the Dartmoor Railway — was to be re-opened in 2010. Although passenger services ended in 1972, there were Sunday excursions after 1997.

What would make total sense is restoring the link from Okehampton to Bere Alston, which creates a second route to Plymouth and the South-West. That was seriously touted as the alternative when the line at Dawlish was washed away in February 2014.

So the sting in the tail is that the alternative route to the South-West, through Okehampton could threaten the South Devon line, were there to be more bad weather. Even now maintaining the Dawlish stretch needs half-a-million a year, and services are liable to suspension in bad weather at high tide.

I started with Horace’s “ridiculous mouse”. I conclude by marvelling that Chris Grayling, the disaster to befall one government department after another, has got away with this pip-squeak of a policy announcement.

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Pro-forma Profuma

My recollection is the only times I have read the Daily Telegraph systematically was during the Great Profumo crisis. I’d extend that to the the trial of Stephen Ward for “procuring”, and the subsequent Denning Inquiry.

At this distance my post-adolescent salacious interest was the Telegraph had more detail than other London sources available in Dublin. There was a patient expectation to see when the Irish censors would step in. Yet, this was about when the Dublin evenings could have boards on the lines of:

Car crash at Naas
Nine Dead
Horrific scenes
FULL PICTURES

— so the censorship board was definitely loosening up.

Yogi Berra, as ever

Today It’s déjà vu all over againThe most surprising thing there being the lad from St Louis, MO, accentuating his — pardon me! — French so expertly.

Yes, indeedy: John Dennis Profumo gets another notch on his bed-post:

John Profumo, the Conservative minister who resigned over an infamous 1960s sex scandal, had previously had a long-running relationship with a glamorous Nazi spy who may have tried to blackmail him, newly released MI5 files reveal.

Gisela Winegard, a German-born fashion and photographer’s model, met Profumo in Oxford in 1936 when he was an undergraduate and kept in contact with him for at least 20 years during which time she ran a Nazi secret information service in occupied Paris, had a child with a high-ranking German officer, and was imprisoned for espionage on the liberation of Paris in 1944.

At the height of the 1963 sex scandal when Profumo was forced to resign after misleading the House of Commons about his brief affair with Christine Keeler, MI6 sent MI5 a letter and files detailing the Tory minister’s connection with Winegard (née Gisela Klein).

“Although it is not particularly relevant to the current notorious case, Geoffrey thought you might like to have for your files the attached copy of a report for our representative (redacted) dated 2nd October 1950, which makes mention of an association between Gisela Klein and Profumo which began ca. 1933 and had apparently not ceased at the time of this report,” wrote the MI6 officer Cyril Mackay to MI5’s head of investigations, Arthur Martin.

Not exactly a knee-trembler, but — as always, the cover-up is more deadly than the original fart:

The security services historian Christopher Andrew, commenting on the release of the files at the national archives, said: “Had the media been aware of the contents of the MI5 file in the current release, the conspiracy theories would have been even more extravagant.”

Infamy!  Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Professor (Emeritus) Andrew is under-rating the extravagance of conspiracy theories (with any number of names) spun in bar-rooms at the time. Nor did the “extravagance” lack foundations — though the commoners were not allowed to know anything beyond Denning’s whitewash.

Here, for a single example, is a small snippet from Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy (page 249, and not in this abbreviated text):

The end of the trial and Ward’s dramatic suicide swept the Profumo scandal off the British scene. It was as if one moment the newspapers had been full of only that and the next moment there was nothing.

Precisely. And cui bono?

But allow Knightley & Kennedy to continue:

There had already been some tidying up of loose ends. Over the weekend of 27/28 July a well-dressed man had walked into the Bloomsbury art gallery which was selling Ward’s drawings. (It sold 123 for a total of £11,517, which at that time meant Ward would have been financially quite comfortable).

You better believe it. Ward had a speciality in “advanced” drawings of the social élite and the lady-friends of the rich-and-famous. Against his posthumous £11k+, I left TCD a couple of years later looking for an annual whack of £800. Back on the main drag:

The man selected every drawing of the Royal Family on show — including those of Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent — declined to give his name, paid with a bank draft for £5,000 and took the drawings away immediately.

 

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“Casablanca”, Hollywood Theater, NYC, 26th November 1942

Was ever less than a million spent so successfully on any movie?

I cannot recall (so would welcome the nudge) who originated the one about war-time propaganda — “Thank goodness Mickey Mouse was on our side!” — but I equally cannot doubt the power of Casablanca. Beside a VHS tape (that’s never going to get another run) and a birthday prezzie DVD, I have here Richard J.Anobile’s illustrated script — looks that my £1.50 investment (reduced from £1.99!) hasn’t lost too much on the second-hand market.

Casablanca was one of many war-time movies that fell foul of Irish censorship during “The Emergency” (© E. de Valera). Even after, thanks to some extensive “cuts” in the interests of moral welfare, Irish audiences were not allowed to know “Rick” and “Ilsa” had history and “Paris”.

US Censorship

The Production Code, better known as the Hayes Code, dates from 1930. More observed in the word than the deed, it pledged:

No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

Similarly, from 1934, the Catholic Legion of Decency had as many as ten million Roman Catholics signed up

to refrain from viewing all objectionable movies or attending any theater that showed such films.

Yet in Casablanca we enjoy a whole mess of amoralities. When the politics get in the way of morals, film the politics?

At the moment of Pearl Harbor, the United States had neither an “official” intelligence service nor a propaganda arm. In both, that makes the US government unique among major powers, and — arguably — too honest for its own good.

What the US did have was William “Wild Bill” Donovan, already in-and-out of FDR’s office, officially (w.e.f. July 1941) “Co-ordinator of Information”, and from early 1942 head of OSS. That sorted the intelligence arm, but — in the context of this post — that’s another story (and a good one).

Twelve days after Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the War Powers Act. This allowed FDR to sign  EO8985 (as if anyone was going to stop him) and set up the Office of Censorship. Byron Price of AP was nominated as Director of Censorship: the intention,  underlined by that appointment, was “light-touch”

The Office of Censorship was essentially “negative”, attempting to prevent breaches of security, enforcing scrutiny of communications, mail and cables. In all truth, US media had been largely applying voluntary censorship since the outbreak of hostilities in Europe — for an obvious example, Canadian troop movements were not reported.

It was not until 13th June 1942 that something “positive” emerged: the Office of War Information, actively “selling” patriotism and propaganda:

to formulate and carry out, through the use of press, radio, motion picture, and other facilities, information programs designed to facilitate the development of an informed and intelligent understanding, at home and abroad, of the status and progress of the war effort, and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the government.

Its Director was Elmer Davis. By the very nature of the First Amendment the OWI had a fraught relationship with the media and the public.

Seeing what/ the man will do/ unbribed, there’s /no occasion to

Humbert Wolfe, famously, on the nature of the unbribable “British journalist”.

Similarly Hollywood didn’t need to be obliged to crank up war propaganda. The studio moguls knew and still know their audience.

Casablanca originated with Murray Burnett’s and his lady-friend Joan Alison’s unproduced play-script, Everybody Comes to Rick’s. About all that survived of that was the notion of a  cynical American bar-owner, a former embittered and adulterous lawyer, in Casablanca, who has a reunion with a former inamorata, and who facilitates her escape, with her anti-Nazi current squeeze. Oh — and the undeveloped character of Victor Laszlo.

Burnett’s script — it had already been rejected by MGM — arrived at Warner Brothers the day after Pearl Harbor, and was passed to Stephen Karnot for appraisal:

Excellent melodrama. Colorful, timely background, tense mood, suspense, psychological and physical conflict, tight plotting, sophisticated hokum. A boxoffice natural for Bogart, or Cagney, or Raft in out-of-the-usual roles, and perhaps Mary Astor.

The play-script had only got so far because of the advocacy of Irene Lee, who had come across it in New York, and ran the story department at Warners.

On 27th December, with (Jack Warner’s 2 i/c) Hal Wallis’s OK, Lee paid $20,000 for the rights. Wallis was ambitious, and tired of being Warner’s gofer. On 12th January 1942 he became Hal Wallis Productions, with a contract for four films a year and 10% of the profits.

Development

A significant part of this was the availability of actors.

On the insistence of director Michael Curtiz, Bogart was cast in mid-February (over a certain Ronald Reagan — which must have changed history), even before there was anything like a developed film-script. Bogart had just completed The Big Shot, and was about to start Across the Pacific. He was allowed a fortnight break between that and Casablanca.

As the script developed, so the Epsteins changed “Lois Meredith” of Everybody Comes to Rick’s into the European “Ilsa”. Ingrid Bergman was available from the Selznick stable. Paramount — it seemed at that moment — had passed her over for the “Maria” part in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Her husband was a medical student in New York; and at $25,000 she came cheaper than any competition (Michèle Morgan‘s agent was demanding $55,000). Another contender had been Ann Sheridan, mainly qualified for filling a sweater.

The next key ingredient was Howard Koch added to “polish” and improve the Epsteins’ script. While this was the norm in the Warner assembly line, it means that the script became more spare, less earnest and more “political”.

Production

At 9 am on 25th May 1942 Bogart and Bergman were on Stage 12A to do the flash-back to Paris. The last shoot was 3rd August — though four days later Bogart was recalled to record the last line of the alternate ending.

Lou Macelle, an announcer for a local radio station, was brought in to do the heavy voice-over intro. Don Siegel (who would have to linger until 1946 before he became a certified director) was told to create the spinning globe and the montage of refugees. The rough cut went to the Production Code Administration for approval — who loved it. At that point, Casablanca became a “major production” a bit more so than the usual hype.

Selling the thing

Considering where I started this post, around now is when it becomes interesting.

The 26th November 1942 showing was opportunist.

Operation Torch — the North African landings — launched on 8th November 1942. The coincidence was too good to miss.

The film didn’t get a national release until January 1943 — and even that was an advance on the schedule of the Spring. The publicists were not just selling the movie — as with any movie — they were selling the War. War bonds were sold by, and on the fame of Hollywood stars — along with fund-raisers for the Red Cross, War relief, the USO. Female stars had to be depicted doing their own housework. Cinemas were bases for recycling collections of metal, rubber, fats and fabrics.

There was a pay-back: as Hollywood stars were morale-boosters, they (and key production staff) were dissuaded from enlisting — though, technically, these were “deferments”. Darryl Zanuck went so far as to lobby for the film industry to be classified as “war-work”. The Screen Actors Guild, on the other hand,

believes actors and everyone else in the motion picture industry should be subject to the same rules as the rest of the country.

An intriguing collision between the need for “lustre” and self-regard?

Some “got away”. Clark Gable (#3 earner in the entire movie industry for 1941) enlisted as a private in the Air Corps — and inevitably graduated from Officer School — to serve as a gunner in the UK (but, equipped with an aerial camera, did five bombing raids). John Ford, making Across the Pacific, had a scene with Bogart tied to a chair, with Japanese guards at every window and door, then walked off the set to join the Signal Corps (Vincent Sherman, as Ford’s underling, had to untie the dramatic knot).

And so on, and so forth …

Leaving the small matter of Burnett and Alison’s 1941 copyright on Everybody Comes to Rick’s.

In 1987 they gave notice to Warner Brothers that they would be ending the arrangement when the copyright was due for renewal. That would have rendered the characters free for whatever purpose Burnett might wish. Warners went into panic mode: $100,000 “refreshers” each to Burnett and Alison, and the underwriting of a stage production of the original play. It opened at  London’s Whitehall Theatre in April 1991, and closed, with scornful reviews, six weeks later.

Proving, perhaps, it is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

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Good golly, Miss Molly!

Little Richard, and this must be when music videos went OTT:

This short (I hope) post is about recognition. And, I’d guess, while three generations would instantly recognise “Little Richard”, the recognition factor for Richard Wayne Penniman would be closer to zilch.

The mouth of first resort

On a number of occasions over the years I’ve wondered how “famous” sayings are invariably — and erroneously — attached to a very small number of individuals. WS Churchill being too often a prime suspect.

Sure enough, post #167 of a politics.ie thread, we were given:

A famous man once said that wogs begin at Calais.

The “famous man” would be — but, of course — Churchill. I keep coming across assertions that Churchill made the remark, or — more credibly

The phrase originated when a Member of Parliament in 1945 stood up and accused Winston Churchill of believing that “Wogs start in Calais” i.e. of being europhobic and isolationist.

So far, the nearest precise citation I can find is George Wigg (later Harold Wilson’s wingman, and one of the prime movers in getting the Profumo scandal on the record) in a Commons Debate, 29th July 1949.

Here he is putting the unreconstructed David Gammans, the unreconstructed Tory MP for Hornsey, back into his box:

I recently had the opportunity of talking to some Burmese gentlemen, and one of the things they said was that they never realised until they came here and met ordinary people, what the British people were like. They thought they were all haughty and arrogant. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends think they are all “wogs.” Indeed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) thinks that the “wogs” start at Calais. If one views people like the hon. Gentleman from the angle of a private soldier, one realises that to them there are black “wogs” and white “wogs.” The attitude of hon. Members opposite to the black chap is not much different from the attitude of some of them towards the private soldier, and that is why the Forces have a great sympathy with the native peoples.

Further proof, should one need it, never to take a book by its cover.

Now to decode:

Tutti frutti, aw rutti
Awop bop a loo mop atop bom bom.

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A story for our (Sunday) Times

There used to be an anthology we used in lower-school English classes.

It included this, by Jules Thurber:

The Little Girl and the Wolf

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

Problem: one would have to explain “Calvin Coolidge” — arguably, the most buttoned-up American President of all time:

Of whom there were more anecdotes than he deserved. But, I’m sure, if the class was dragging, I’d have woven in a few.

Repeat:

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

On which note, there’s this advice to all sweet young things venturing on a  career in politics:

 

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Five hundred years …

… and it comes down to this:

 

and this:

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