SUBVERSION: Politics, Magic and Jazz

 

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This week has seen a fascinating array of my own public engagement. My week began with my lecture on Race, Rights and Justice in the Age of Brexit for the national Being Human Fetsival. Held in the fabulous Galleries of Justice in Notttingham, I set out my thoughts and reflections on the many challenges during the age of what I have called BREXITRUMP. My remarks urged us all to remain mindful of our common humanity and the shared values of dignity, respect, non-discrimination, equality, and inclusion.

The current turn in politics is undermining years of struggle for rights and justice, the legal codification of these struggles, and the many advances that have been achieved in the popular understandings of identity and difference. The rhetoric of Farage and Trump shares many of the same features: a simplification and dichotomisation of society into ‘us’ and ‘them’ in ways that have proved highly divisive, hurtful, and regressive. It has also invited arguments online and offline that appear more vitriolic than ever before.

With these developments at the forefront of our minds, the staging this week of my show SUBVERSION seemed more fitting than first imagined when I conceived of it. The show celebrates the common thread that joins the disparate worlds of politics, magic and jazz; worlds that have been my world since the early 1970s. Each in their own way has moments that have challenged the status quo and moved history forward. I explore these connections through the medium of performance magic, mind reading, and mentalism. Our topics have covered the ideas and achievements of over 50 of my favourite ‘subversives’; our understanding of the notion of free will; Hobbesian thought as expressed in Leviathan; the philosophy and art of surrealism; Said’s notion of Orientalism; the ‘veil of ignorance’; the value of predictions; and my own blend of psychic perfect pitch.

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The show has been well received and well-reviewed, while the proceeds are being used for the Life Cycle Campaign to raise funds for research into the early detection of breast cancer, something that has touched my family and I am certain many other families here and abroad. The Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside Arts provided the perfect setting, while the sound and light crew could not be more professional and supportive.

In the middle of this performance schedule, I had the honour and pleasure of performing to a group of students from the University of Nottingham for a new film project on Academic Magic. They were from all over the world and studying degree courses in chemistry, maths, biology, business, law, finance, psychology, and medicine. After the filming they were full of questions and theories about how I managed to know what they had chosen, thought, or wrote down. It was a wonderful afternoon with the youth of today.

2016 has indeed been an extraordinary year with the death of so many icons of my youth, and significant political developments that will have huge and long lasting consequences. All eyes are on the election in France with the surge in support for Marine Le Pen, the election in Germany, as Angela Merkel seeks an historic 4th term as Chancellor, and in the UK, the Government’s plan for Brexit; the phasing, contours and consequences of which still remain shrouded in uncertainty.

I for one, will remain vigilant, continue to engage, and work hard to defend what I think are the many important principles and rights that have been secured through so many years of struggle.

Trump, Clinton, and the Future of the United States of America

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On 29 September, I delivered a public lecture to over 300 staff and students at the University of Nottingham, where I am a Professor of Political Science and Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

I had delivered an earlier version of this lecture at our Ningbo campus in China on 1 June 2016.

My intent with this lecture is to move beyond name calling and popular discourse on the race for the Presidency thus far, and to focus on the data and evidence that sit behind the roller coaster that we appear to be on during this contested time in American and global politics.

My lecture was structured into several sections, including (1) an overview of the electoral landscape, (2) the early primaries, (3) Super Tuesday, (4) the narrowing race, (5) the party conventions, (6) the Great Debate, (7) the shifting demographic, (8) the current position of each candidate, and (9) challenges for the future.

Since the 1950s and the Eisenhower elections, the American presidential electoral map has seen a large number of years and states ‘red’ for the Republican support that they have expressed. The 1964 Johnson election saw a large swathe of blue states, but not until the 1990s with the election of Bill Clinton, did the country see strong patches of Democratic support, mostly concentrated in the East and West Coast, as well as around the Midwest and Great Lakes area. Through the Bush years, the red returned, and with eight years of Obama, we see the same pattern as with Clinton: East and West Coast blue, south and middle of the US is red.

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I stressed in the lecture that these patterns are also based on the population size and an urban rural split. East and West Coast states are very populous and tend to vote Democrat, while county level data shows that cities vote Democrat and rural areas vote Republican. I also stressed the difference between the popular vote (in 2012 Obama won with 51% of the popular vote) and the Electoral College vote (Obama got 332 votes to Romney’s 206; a 61.7% to 38.3% difference). The difference between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote is crucial to understand the current race: Trump and Clinton have been neck and neck in the popular vote polls over the summer, but the Electoral College vote predictions still favour Clinton. The key to the outcome are key ‘swing’ states such as Ohio (Trump), Pennsylvania (Clinton), Michigan (Clinton), Colorado (Clinton), Wisconsin (Clinton), Virginia (Clinton), Minnesota (Clinton), Nevada (Trump), Iowa (Trump), New Hampshire (Clinton), Arizona (Trump), Georgia (Trump), North Carolina (Trump), and Florida (Trump).

The primaries began with a slate of candidates for both parties, but arguably more for the Republicans than the Democrats, where Trump found himself most challenged by Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich and where Clinton had only really to contend with Bernie Sanders. The early primaries had a strong showing for Trump and throughout the process he gained momentum to win the nomination, despite increasingly deep reservations from members across the party. Clinton’s lead was not a given, as she fought hard through the process. She did benefit from the so-called ‘superdelegates’ and secured the nomination once Sanders conceded rather late in the race. As part of the race during the primaries, it became clear to me as early as Super Tuesday on 2 March that the final contest for the presidency would be between Trump and Clinton, and that the presidency was Clinton’s to lose.

With the primary race over, the two candidates focussed their attention on the party conventions. The Republicans stumbled at first over protest groups not yet ready to endorse Trump and a candidate acceptance speech that painted a gloomy and dire picture of the state of America. This picture was brought into stark contrast by the Democratic convention, which was decidedly more positive and inclusive, but which was not entirely free of controversy, since it was revealed through an email hack that the Democratic National Committee was seeking to engineer the primary process toward Clinton. Trump made a populist appeal to the people – ‘I am your voice’ – and pledged that only he could make America great again. Clinton sought to show how America can work together and that her partnership with America would deliver greater benefits for a middle class that has lost out.

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Clinton enjoyed a post-convention bounce in the polls that was more sustainable than Trump’s slight rise in the polls, but the summer campaign saw her lead slip, and then almost collapse after her health issues were revealed at a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York. By the time of the first debate on Monday of this week, her lead had all but evaporated and fell within the statistical margin of error. The debate itself was much anticipated and was reported to have had 84 million viewers. Trump came out strong and held his own for the first 20 minutes on issues concerning jobs and the effects of international trade, but stumbled through the second and third portions of the debate on matters concerning race relations, his tax returns, and securing America. Clinton delivered a measured and well-studied performance that saw her hit back with a number of barbed and incisive comments, and the general verdict was that she emerged the winner.

I have maintained throughout the campaign that Trump needs to reach out beyond his core supporters in order to win the presidency. He has been very effective as an outside candidate to work within the Republican Party to convert his populist message into the nomination. He has failed, however, to soften his tone or to garner support from groups outside his base. He repeated the same theme and message at the debate without capturing new support. Clinton is a centre-left candidate who enjoys a larger share of the changing demographic in the United States, with much more support among African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and equal support among white Americans (but those that are educated and female).

The underlying changes in the demographic patterns in the US have presented a real challenge to the Republicans, who have not developed a strategy to respond in 2008, 2012, and now it looks like 2016. The white population is decreasing in size in America, the non-white population is showing increase in voter turnout, as well voting for Democrats, while America is become more socially liberal, less religious and less Christian. And it is these changes that are currently benefitting the Clinton campaign.

Three days out from the first debate, Clinton’s probability of winning has risen from 57.9% to 63.7% according to Nate Silver on his site Five Thirty Eight. For his part, Trump is facing continued pressure to release his tax returns, explain how his economic plan will actually work, and to answer questions on his financial dealings in Cuba during the period of the US embargo.

The next weeks will see two more head to head debates, more campaigning, and more polls. To win, Clinton needs to mobilise her base, and encourage high turnout from ethnic minority communities, as well as young, educated, women. For his part, Trump needs to mobilise his base and if he continues to stick to that base, then mobilise the ‘silent’ Trump supporters to register and vote.

The race is still very much in the balance, but is now tipping back toward a Clinton victory.

Please CLICK HERE for a PDF of the slides for this lecture: trump-clinton-and-the-future-of-the-usa

Orientalism, Magic, and Subversion

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Western performance magic has long had an historical fascination with the Middle and Far East. The most ancient magic demonstration is arguably the ‘cups and balls’, which some have argued had its origins in Egypt in 2500 BC. The famous Lo Shu Square, which lies at the heart of modern demonstrations of the ‘mathmagical’ powers of mentalists is based on a pattern of dots seen on the back of a turtle in Ancient China.  Many tales of the magical arts (and the accompanying artefacts) speak of magic making its way West to Europe, where early practitioners brought unique forms of entertainment and wonder to audiences across the continent.

Across Europe, but in particular in the UK, as magic moved from the street to the theatre in the Victorian period, there was a competitive market for entertainment and magicians had to craft their performance personas and identities in ways that made them deeply mysterious, superhuman, and exotic. Some magicians turned their gaze Eastward to find inspiration in the Fakirs of India, the alleged secrets of the Pharaohs, and of course the natural appeal of ancient Chinese culture.

Famous London theatres, such as The Egyptian Hall, would be adorned with decorations, hieroglyphs, and images of pyramids to allure their paying guests inside for an evening of magic, wonder, and in many cases, demonstrations of spiritualism. Famous magicians Maskelyne and Cooke ran a successful show there for 31 years and the hall became known as England’s Home of Mystery. Sadly, the site is now home to a Starbucks.

Psychics and mentalists such as Alexander (‘The Man Who Knows’) would often dress as the famous ‘Swami’ and engage in feats of mind reading and divination complete with crystal balls on stage or large glass bowls filled with sealed envelopes containing questions from the audience for which the performer would provide inexplicably accurate and uncanny answers.

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The most famous example of a socially constructed ‘Eastern’ identity for entertainment purposes is arguably that of the magician Chung Ling Soo. Inspired and in competition with magician Chung Ling Foo, Chung Ling Soo toured Europe and the US at the turn of the 20th Century, appearing on a full Chinese stage set, in a Chinese costume, and a long black pony tail, and performed a wide range of effects with Chinese props and apparatus. His act is even featured in the popular film The Prestige. He was in fact, an American by the name of William Robinson from upstate New York.

These uses of Eastern culture, constructed for Western audiences are examples of what Edward Said has called ‘Orientalism’; or the appropriation, celebration, and depiction of peoples and cultures of Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. For Said, this practice was both patronising and fictional, which taken to its extreme represented an imperialist project underpinned by Western power to the detriment of ‘real’ Oriental culture. His book has inspired many studies that have sought to deconstruct this misuse of the Orient across popular culture, society, and politics.

Whether magicians were wittingly part of this project, or whether Said is actually correct, remain open questions, but the use of such Orientalist practices continues to this day. Indeed, magicians across the world remain fascinated with Eastern history, artefacts, stories, clothes, and myths that provide countless opportunities to fashion shows that appeal to many different audiences.

In his show An Evening of Wonders, celebrated mentalist Derren Brown performed an extraordinary Swami act, which I had the pleasure of witnessing at The Regent Theatre in Ipswich. He appeared in formal attire, complete with white bow tie, starched shirt, and black tails, as well as a full head turban, along with a glass bowl and sealed questions from the audience. His performance was tongue and cheek, but enough ambiguity remained about how he was achieving direct mind reading that many in the audience exclaimed after the show that he was ‘the real deal’.

Eastern magicians also play to the audience through their own culture in ways that are selective, popularised, and much like their Western counterparts. Magic is hugely popular in China, which hosted the 2009 meeting of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM), while its 2018 meeting will take place in Seoul, South Korea. Famed magicienne Juliana Chen, originally a foot juggler from China who emigrated to the United States adorns her set with large Chinese umbrellas, silks, and other trappings as a backdrop to her extraordinary displays of ‘cardistry’.

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My own travels to China, Japan, and Mongolia have taught me much about the appreciation of magic in the Far East. I have performed in a street market in Shanghai, private dining rooms in Beijing, a dinner hosted by the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the most amazing whiskey bar in Fukuoka, Japan.

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Beyond magic, I have also noticed that Asian popular culture is vibrant and in many ways subverts its own history in playful and inventive ways. In China, tourists are free to purchase ‘the little red book’ Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and a variety of gifts that are adorned with pictures of Mao and other symbols of the Chinese Revolution. I have a collection of matchboxes, notebooks, and playing cards in this genre, where there remains an ambiguity about the true meaning and purpose of such artefacts.

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In return, much of western culture is appropriated in the East, such that processes of globalisation since the publication of Said’s book in 1979 may have challenged his view of the imperialist and hegemonic western project. Rather, the world has seen remarkable cultural miscegenation and a melange of symbols, images, customs, music, and ways of being that are inventive and in my view, healthy.

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I thus will continue to celebrate this ambiguity and vibrancy of multi-culturalism, and its subversive potential. I have featured Oriental inspired demonstrations in my stage shows over the years, and my new show SUBVERSION will continue to use magic as a means to communicate and frame these larger cultural questions, making us stop and think, while being baffled and entertained.

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The Brexit Dip and the Struggle for Certainty

In Democracy and the Market, Adam Przeworski argues that transitional countries experience a significant downturn in economic performance in the short term and then as democracy takes root, economic performance returns in ways that support the new democracy.

Watching events here in the UK since the EU referendum on 23 June, I couldn’t help feeling that the UK now looks very much like one of  Przeworski’s transitional countries and is experiencing precisely the same kind of economic downturn as a result of the vote to leave the EU.

The figure below represents this dynamic. The y-axis represents economic performance (E), which would have remained relatively constant over time (t) had there not been an EU referendum. On 23 June, however, there was a referendum, which saw an economic pick up in the run up to the vote (a signal from the markets that Remain was the likely outcome), and a subsequent slowdown once the result of Leave became official on the morning of the 24th.

Brexit DipWe now find ourselves in a significant ‘Brexit dip’ in economic performance (B). The pound against the dollar has dropped to levels not seen in thirty years (click HERE to track its value relative to other currencies), the FTSE 100 and, more importantly, the FTSE 250 have dropped precipitously, S & P dropped the UK from its AAA rating to an AA rating, while leaders of business surveyed by the Institute of Directors (IoD) are fairly pessimistic about the immediate future of the British economy. So much so, that many report a stall in investment, a freeze on hiring, and in some cases, redundancies.

In addition to the economic downturn, we have seen both main political parties in crisis, as the struggle for power ensues. The Prime Minister has resigned, the shadow cabinet and junior shadow ministers have resigned, and there are fresh calls for Jeremy Corbyn to step down as leader of the Labour Party. The Leave campaign leaders are scrambling around to clarify what they actually mean by Brexit, the Remain campaign leaders are looking at legal loopholes and procedures that might reverse the decision, or at least limit its most negative consequences, and the Scots are exploring their own independence given their overwhelming vote to Remain.

The figure also shows a number of dimensions and possible scenarios for what could happen next. The dark line labelled B1 denotes a Brexit dip and long term recovery, which may see the UK return to economic performance levels that are higher than those before the referendum. Line B2 is a less severe Brexit dip that could be achieved through continued assurances from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne.  B3 is a more severe Brexit dip if such overtures fail to calm market nerves and the UK economy slips further into recession. A Breixt dip is  inevitable as many experts before the referendum pointed out, and any recovery carries risk and uncertainty with an eventual landing point that could vary substantially.

Both the depth and breadth of the Brexit dip rest on the ability of the UK political system to produce new leadership, trigger an Article 50 withdrawal from the EU, and establish an orderly timeline for how and under what conditions the UK will continue to work with the EU without being in the EU. Boris Johnson, the favourite for being the next Prime Minister signalled today that he would want the UK to continue its close cooperation with the EU, but did not spell out exactly what that might look like.

If Brexit really is going to happen (something the Scots are contesting), then it is incumbent on the new leadership to act quickly and decisively to bring certainty and confidence back to the UK economy. In seeking to prevent further disintegration, EU leaders will negotiate hard with the UK in setting conditions for access to the common market (e.g. national payments to the EU and free movement of labour). In preventing a total backlash from the Leave supporters, the new leadership in the UK will seek to maximise benefit from cooperation with the EU without having to incur too many costs.

One possible outcome for the future is the irony of the UK having to pay as much as it pays now and to accept only a minor reduction in migration, while at the same time having to give up its place at the EU table. The Leave campaign made a meal out of the crumbling castle of the EU and lambasted the Remain campaign’s insistence that the UK would be stronger in Europe, and yet the outcome of any Article 50 negotiations may well see the UK maintaining payments, accepting migrants, and losing influence. Meanwhile, one of the main societal group who voted for Leave will be very unlikely to see any real benefit from their vote.

References:

Adam Przeworski (1991) Democracy and the Market, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

The House

 

the house

A marble runs its random path.

Floorboards creak with spirit feet.

Agnes and Eloise sent their wrath;

the logs, lathe and plaster last.

 

Nordic design conquers the past.

Smooth wood polished with care.

Sits a leather and Van der Rohe chair,

soft pile carpets add a modern flair.

 

Games, drinks; a father in the know.

Three innocent boys stand in a row.

A stopping clock brings shocked surprise.

Exposed for their sheepish childhood lies.

 

Groaning pipes warm the nest.

Bitches Brew disrupts our rest.

Angel’s hair, soft bed for our nativity.

Colourful illumination; wooden tranquility.

 

The porch swing; a safe place for

our thunderous summer days;

Sitting, laughing, loving.

Time unending.

 

Dining windows plugged for winter.

A blue linen sea spread for dinner.

Candles floating. Food enjoyed.

Events shared. The youngest annoyed.

 

Nocturnal antics, escapes well planned.

The CB radio dutifully manned.

Zeppelin and Floyd in the smallest room.

Crash sounds, death, always loom.

 

The connection, smokehouse, trains forbade.

Study space, a thesis made.

Tools in order, hard to borrow.

The loft above, rarely ventured,

Eaves with dead flies for spiders’ morrow.

 

A sturdy structure like a fort.

Caretakers for but a time.

History is bigger, and life is short.

This comforting vessel, all mine.

 

© 2016 Todd Landman. All rights reserved.

Magic Professor: magicians tap into what it means to be human

Todd Landman, University of Nottingham

British magician Paul Daniels, who died this week aged 77, is most famously known for his extraordinary cup and ball routine, where a simple ball appears, disappears, and reappears inside a small cup.

The magical effect one experiences in watching this routine is not possible without a person having a fully developed sense of what Jean Piaget calls “object permanence”. During their first years of life children develop an understanding that objects exist and events occur in the world that are independent of their actions. Close a door on a cat and you probably know that it’s still in the next room. For Daniels’ trick to work, a person needs to know that the ball itself ought to be in the cup even though it cannot be seen. The magic occurs when the cup is lifted and the ball is no longer there.

I know this all too well, because I am also a magician. Fortunately, like Daniels, I perform for audiences that are a touch older than two, the age after which most children have developed the sense of object permanence. Magic depends on understanding an audience’s psychology. I tend to limit my shows to people over the age of eight, since the kind of magic I really like is mentalism, or the art of using the tools of the conjurer combined with many other fields of knowledge to create the illusion of mind reading, telepathy, clairvoyance, uncanny synchronicity and other inexplicable phenomena.

Famous mentalists have included Maurice Fogel, Chan Canasta, David Berglas, Kreskin, Banachek, and Derren Brown – all of whom in one way or another create a wonderful sense of ambiguity about whether they posses true psychic ability or not.

Over the years this type of magic has attracted a lot of interest, tending to be couched in psychological terms. But I like to explore its possibilities in philosophical terms. Magic taps into the most fundamental questions of what it is to be human: questions philosophers have been asking for millenia.

Cogito ergo decipio

After a period of solitary rumination and extreme doubt, the French philosopher René Descartes famously declared “cogito ergo sum”; or “I think therefore I am”. The mere act of thinking, Descartes argued, establishes proof of our existence. This small utterance led to a revolution in our thinking about the separation between the mind and the body (known as dualism), the power of empirical observation and the notion that we have control over the material world in ways that are separate from our minds.

As an academic magician, such considerations naturally inform my performance. I like to use magic to explore and break down this Cartesian proposition and other philosophical notions, thereby disrupting my audience’s sense of reality.

For me, Descartes’s cogito ergo sum, becomes cogito ergo decipio, or “I think therefore I deceive”. I dedicate a large amount of thinking to how I might deceive my audiences into thinking I have a set of powers that lie outside the realm of scientific rational explanation, while at the same time addressing some of our more fundamental philosophical questions about knowledge, language, mathematics, politics and even human rights.

Decipio.
Todd Landman, Author provided

For example, Plato’s thought experiment The Ring of Gyges asks us to consider that if we were given the opportunity to wear a ring that makes us invisible, would we engage in “unjust acts”? With this premise in play, my participants join me on stage and are given a choice (unknown to me, as my back is turned) to either take a gold ring from a box, put it on their finger and hide it from view; or to leave the ring in the box. The taking of the ring is symbolic of Plato’s notion of an unjust act, where the moral choice of the participant is theirs and theirs alone. Turning to face the participant, I divine their choice and allow the experiment to be repeated. Regardless of their choice, it is always known to me (no, I’m not going to explain how).

This kind of effect demonstrates the essence of my approach to academic magic: there’s the demonstration of me inexplicably knowing their choice but it also raises a larger set of questions around our own temptations to commit “unjust acts”. Would you take the ring? It moves magic beyond a clever puzzle to a thought-provoking proposition that lasts beyond the moment of amazement.

And telepathy?

How people attempt to explain magical feats also provides philosophical insight. In one revealing experiment with a selection of drama students at the University of Huddersfield, I gave a series of magical performances and then compared their reactions to what they experienced. Their explanations were highly varied, ranging from ideas around trust, subliminal suggestion and religious identification – all of which were incorrect technically, but fascinating from a larger philosophical point of view.

Plausible explanations for magic and mind-reading feats raise larger epistemological questions about the world (“how we know what we know”) – questions that philosophers of science have been asking for centuries. Do we know what we know through observation? Through intuition? Through reason and rational deduction? How do we know if we are wrong in making statements about the world we perceive?

While the history and philosophy of science have debated these kinds of questions for centuries, magicians continue to disrupt our sense of reality, question the certainty of our knowledge, and in my own case, let us ponder the very rules by which we may live what Aristotle referred to as the good life; understood not as material wealth or superficial happiness, but the holistic and fulsome happiness that derives from doing the right thing under the right circumstances.

The Conversation

Todd Landman, Professor of Political Science, Pro Vice Chancellor of the Social Sciences, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the

Reflections at 50

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Today is a remarkable day. I am 50 and very pleased with it as well. I have my health, three beautiful children and my lovely wife. I live in a civilised country with a deep history, a well-tended countryside, a great sense of humour, and a health system that works most of the time.

I was only supposed to come here for a year back in 1993 … oh well…

Turning 50 is a moment to pause and take stock. Five decades. Born into the Cold War at a time when an LED calculator created intense joy and curiosity, and now writing this short blog on a laptop connected to the Internet through eduroam wifi. And as I get older, the simpler my tastes become: a comfortable place to sit, really good coffee, and the fastest broadband in the world.

Despite my birth year, I was not a child of the 60s, but a child of the 70s. Long hair, bell-bottom jeans, blue suede Puma sneakers, a silk shirt with horses on it, a jean coat, and a beat up trombone. I loved our family home in Hemlock Hollow and when not outside running through the woods or swimming in the pond, I was in my room learning and practicing magic; a life-long pursuit that continues to fascinate and enchant me.

The Nixon resignation and our extraction from the Vietnam War were my earliest memories of a decade that saw some of the best rock music ever recorded (although I did not quite appreciate that at the time).

We huddled in my brother’s bedroom listening to Queen (an imported vinyl LP my dad brought back from Amsterdam), Bachman Turner Overdrive, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

All that changed in the late 1970s when I discovered punk and New Wave music from the UK. Gone were the self-indulgent dirges; replaced by quick tempo tunes with cockney accents, the ‘nutty’ sound, and political lyrics that spoke of a rebellious generation taking on the establishment.

My brother’s bedroom was replaced by my friend’s back room den with 100s of imported LPs from bands like the Angelic Upstarts, the Cure, U2, the Specials, Madness, the Selector, the Sex Pistols, Joe Jackson, and the Stranglers, which were complemented by surf punk from California like the Dead Kennedys, Agent Orange, and so many others. We learned to slam dance and survive the mosh pit. We wore vintage clothes, pointy shoes, and pork pie hats.

Throughout these years, I was also seduced by jazz, from traditional to hard bop, to jazz rock fusion. The house was full of great music from Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Modern Jazz Quartet and countless others. I had a long battle learning to play the trombone and a continuing passion to learn how to play jazz, as well as many stints with many different bands: concert band, big band, pit orchestras, marching band, blues bands, and small jazz combos.

The 1980s were a time of deep learning and reacting against Reagan’s America. High School (studies, band, and swimming) in Central Pennsylvania gave way to University life at Penn in the middle of the end of the Cold War. I read the New York Times daily and followed all the foreign policy stories from the Iran-Contra scandal to democratic transitions in Latin America, to the Falklands/Malvinas, to anti-apartheid protests around the world. I wrote my final year dissertation on US Foreign Policy in Chile during the Allende period, abandoned my plans to go to law school, and followed my dream to study Latin America.

Three years in the late 80s in Georgetown included intense study of Latin America, exposure to liberation theology, time in Brazil to hone my Portuguese and follow the first democratic presidential election since 1961, and a short stint at the World Bank before setting off west to pursue a PhD in political science.

The 1990s saw me for a short spell in Boulder, Colorado, where the long hair made a brief return and where I met an English Professor, who, over a glass of single malt invited me to come to the UK. With visions of ivy-covered halls and greens full of students debating philosophy, I landed at the University of Essex (cough); itself an intellectually stimulating place with a radical past. One project turned into another until I found myself traveling the world to over 39 countries working on human rights projects, teaching students from places that were forbidden in my youth like Tajikistan to people who were part of Reagan’s Evil Empire. The Cold War was over, but new forms of tyranny, oppression and conflict were upon us.

Y2K never happened, but 9/11 did, which like the Kennedy Assassination for the generation before me, has been etched on my mind since that fateful day. En route to an appointment in town, I heard an early news report about the attack, while later in the day I found myself standing very still in front of a TV in a clothing store In Colchester UK watching the towers come down; towers I visited as kid on a special trip to New York with my father to pick up my Dutch grandfather who had arrived at JFK airport.

The ‘noughties’ were spent teaching, writing, traveling, playing jazz and performing magic. My three real passions in life remain politics, magic and jazz. In their own way, these passions all share a subversive streak, where big disruptions come from those who foment new ideas (we can change history), question orthodoxy (why not flatten the fifth note in a diatonic scale?), and unsettle our sense of reality (is it deduction, deception, or something more?).

50 seemed a long way away as a kid, where I often yearned to be older, but as Ferris says, life moves pretty fast. I agree, but it also moves slow enough to savour the journey, and this journey thus far has been fantastic.

So, as I savour this particular day, happy birthday to me, and many thanks to all my friends and family who have made the journey thus far unforgettable.

In honour of this day, I share with you a new poem that I call The Pond. I hope you like it.

The Pond

Duckweed. 
Kelp carpet of the hollow’s waters.
Warm, spongy soft, pungent.
A fecund sprawl, a natural feast.
But not for us, at least.
 
Snappers float, the surface barely broken.
Eyeing prey with patient contemplation.
Noses out, dangling legs, tails but a token.
Hard rake at the ready.
Just in case we get too close.
Jaws clenched, set and steady.
 
The drain runs warm and constant.
Mesh snags unwanted detritus.
Muskrats poke their way,
like miners in a vein.
But once, up my arm,
a scurrying one came.
 
Foam floats made pink by the sun,
like crabs in a Chesapeake bucket.
Boards bolted on, rope and brick,
an anchor for our dock.
Jumping, splashing, flying.
Hours disappear, no need for a clock.
 
Sunfish caught with simple grass.
Tadpoles dance with excitement.
Fires in winter, while we skate.
Making the figure eight.
Puck, crack, chair, slide.
A bauble hat, mittens with fur inside. 
Warmth, security, a father’s embrace.
 
Plunge in summer. 
His arms hold tight; we struggle.
Spluttering, flailing, panicking.
Face down, bubbles out.
Sink or swim, you decide.
I swam.
 © 2016 Todd Landman all rights reserved.

Upcoming public lecture!

Norms, Values, Morality: The Politics of Human Rights

Landman

Please join the Research Priority Area in Rights and Justice at the University of Nottingham for a special lecture by Professor Todd Landman, a world-leading expert on human rights. He will discuss the evolution of the international human rights regime, different kinds of human rights measures, and systematic ways in which to map, explain, and understand the variation in human rights abuse around the world.

Professor Landman is the Pro Vice Chancellor for the Social Sciences faculty at the University of Nottingham and internationally renowned for his work on the measurement and analysis of human rights. His many books include Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals (2013), Measuring Human Rights (2009), Assessing the Quality of Democracy (2008), Studying Human Rights (2006), Protecting Human Rights (2005), and Citizenship Rights and Social Movements (1997, 2000). He has worked with a wide range of international governmental and non-governmental organisations, including the Inter-European Consortium for Human Rights, the United Nations Development Programme, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UK Department for International Development, and Amnesty International. He writes for and appears in The Guardian, The Conversation, openGlobalRights, Al Jazeera, and other media outlets.

For more information, CLICK HERE

Super Tuesday: Clinton and Trump lift off as rivals straggle behind

Todd Landman, University of Nottingham

The results of “Super Tuesday”, when a clutch of US states voted to choose the two parties’ nominees, have seriously ironed out both the Republican and Democratic primary campaigns. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton scored major gains, and their rivals are now fully on the ropes. It may be that the campaigns are finally stabilising after a truly wild start to the primaries.

Donald Trump has bounced back remarkably from his loss in Iowa. He went into Super Tuesday having won New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina; he’s also seen off experienced Republican candidates including onetime frontrunner Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who has made the shocking move of endorsing Trump, to widespread disgust.

That left Trump with three principal rivals: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. All three headed into Super Tuesday in hopes of a major turnaround. Instead, they got routed. While Cruz won his home state of Texas (as expected) and netted Oklahoma as well, other delegate-rich states on the Republican side were called for Trump as soon as the polls closed, including Virginia, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio, who has made a show of being the Republican mainstream’s best hope of stopping Trump, walked away with only one win, in Minnesota.

It’s happening.
EPA/Ryan Stone

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, confirmed that she has fully hit her stride after a rocky start to the primaries. She effectively tied Bernie Sanders in Iowa and lost big to him in New Hampshire, but then beat him convincingly in Nevada before trouncing him by an astonishing 47% in South Carolina – where, crucially, she won 90% of the black vote. That didn’t bode well for Sanders, whose campaign has been a barnstorming attack on income inequality and the deep divisions in American society – and on Super Tuesday, Clinton ultimately followed it with a huge sweep.

Georgia and Virginia were called for her as soon as the first polls closed (and tiny American Samoa soon followed). The delegate-rich southern states then quickly began falling into her column by big margins, and then a win in the New England state of Massachusetts with 116 delegates. Sanders won his small home state of Vermont and picked up Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota, but Clinton’s strength was simply too great across the rest of the states. Sanders is now clearly far behind, with very few hopes of recovery.

So what now?

Ready for Hillary

Now that Trump’s macho populism has all but steamrolled Cruz’s evangelical conservatism and Rubio’s moderation, and with Sanders’ democratic socialism fading against Clinton’s pragmatic realism, this has fast started to become a contest between Trump and Clinton. And in that contest, the presidency is now Clinton’s to lose.

Liftoff.
EPA/Joe Skipper

This would be true whoever was running. The other contenders on both sides simply cannot match her appeal: Sanders is too narrowly leftist for the general electorate, while Cruz and perhaps even Rubio would be too far right.

Trump, meanwhile, polls well among disaffected low income white Americans, which works well for that particular rump of the Republican Party, but much to the disappointment of its elite, who have so far been unable to stop the Trump machine – even as they desperately remind everyone that he’s simply too much of a risk, particularly on matters of national security and foreign policy.

Clinton, by contrast, polls especially well among middle-aged and older women, the poor, and middle class Americans, as well as minority communities. This is a winning coalition, one made up of many of the same groups that favoured President Obama in 2008 and 2012. These demographics have continued to swell their ranks, and in the absence of a major event (say, an utterly damning revelation in the drip feed of Clinton’s state department emails), the odds are ever in Clinton’s favour.

Even leaving aside the toxic, chaotic nature of the campaign so far, the prospect of a Trump presidency – or even a Republican one – seems very remote indeed.

The Conversation

Todd Landman, Professor of Political Science, Pro Vice Chancellor of the Social Sciences, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monumental Music

This holiday season I have had some time to listen to new music and I have been particularly impressed with two new offerings from 2015: Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Brad Mehldau’s 10 Years Solo Live. These are both monumental offerings, showing total commitment to the art form and total immersion into the depths of modern music.

Just before Christmas, I had a long drive from Ipswich to Sheffield and decided to listen to all of The Epic, which is 174 minutes long. This album is a most welcome addition to my collection and returns the art form to its days of most impact. Kamasi Washington has assembled a great line up of instruments, including trumpet, trombone, sax, rhythm section typical of modern jazz ensembles, but he adds an additional drummer, additional bass player, additional piano player, strings, and a choir, as well as lead singer. This is an Ellington-esque line up and conjures up references Charles Mingus and Dave Holland (who I was honoured to see at a concert in Coimbra, Portugal few years ago).

He also uses a ‘saloon’ piano, which gives many of the songs a honky tonk flavour. Many songs also include a Hammond organ, which sounds haunting at points and wonderful in others. There are moments in the album when you are confronted with a wall of sound with so many textures and layers to the music that carry you away into the deep history of jazz, its origins in oppression and its evolution throughout the 20th century. This history is brought to high relief with the inclusion of spoken word directed at the politics of race relations in the US evocative of Gil Scott heron.

The songs bring surprise, atmosphere, emotion, and grit to the listening experience, and there are reminders of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Robin Eubanks, Carla Bley, Henri Texier, and many others. The whole album is worth listening to all the way through in one sitting. This is a concept and story in three parts. Once you reach the end, you will be truly transformed and elevated by what you hear. It is rich, moving, meaningful and simply breath taking.

My wife gave me the new Brad Mehldau collection of solo piano, recorded live and consisting of four CDs. I have been a fan for a number of years now, and always liked his ability to take a pop song like Radiohead’s Exit Music for a Film and then deconstruct it into a jazz recording and an adept sense of melody, harmony, and rhythm. This new offering does not disappoint. For example, he covers Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in ways that are so imaginative. More traditionally, he has the audacity to cover My Favourite Things (the 26 minute Coltrane rendition from his Live at Montreux recording has been the version for so many years), where he succeeds in showing there is life in the song beyond Coltrane. He deconstructs, flips, subverts and toys with the harmony, melody and tempo in so many different ways and with such passion that you get lost in its utter brilliance.

These two recordings are simply monumental in their musical majesty and there celebration of all that is good about music, particularly jazz, which provides structure within which so much variety is made possible. Playing with and challenging that structure, while invoking the history of an art from that has always sought to subvert makes these absolutely essential to any serious jazz fan’s collection.

Listen, take the journey, and lose yourself.

I did.