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- The pop-up states: Republic of Louisiana
- ITV at 60
- On iPlayer now: Countdown To Life
- Thomas Piketty on the Greek election
- The Hajj in 2015
The collapse of a crane at Mecca has, argues Ian Reader, thrown into relief the struggles between piety and profit:
Massive building projects, rapid transport services and even air-conditioned walkways have been developed to ensure that pilgrims move quickly through the various stages of the pilgrimage. These developments, along with the recent expansion of the mosque’s capacity that led to the crane tragedy, have enabled the authorities to increase pilgrim numbers and enhance the Hajj’s contribution to the Saudi economy.
They have also changed the face of Mecca, angering many who complain of cultural vandalism as the city’s older quarters are being erased and replaced by high-rise complexes and luxury hotels for rich pilgrims, while poorer pilgrims find it increasingly difficult to afford lodgings.
On Sunday, to the surpise of many, Greek voters returned Syriza to power. The economist Thomas Piketty responds, and suggests what might come next:
Modernising the tax system is clearly the priority. It needs to be fairer and more efficient. But that can only really be done with Europe’s cooperation – and if Europe sets an example.
We have to remember that the biggest businesses in Europe often pay less tax than small- and medium-sized businesses. That’s because governments do deals that will lead to favourable conditions for their own national industry. That’s without even considering that the European Commission has a president who, as prime minister of Luxembourg, signed deals with multinational corporations that allowed them to pay just 1% to 2% tax.
Europe can’t just hand out advice without itself committing to fiscal transparency. That goes to the heart of the system – German and French banks are only too happy to handle the funds of rich Greeks.
After its first showing on BBC Two last night, the middle programme in the Countdown to Life series - Against The Odds - is now available on iPlayer. Inside the womb, faces are forming and chemical reactions which might shape the rest of our lives are triggering. In this clip, for example, we meet Laird - could his risk-taking attitude to life be down to an influx of testosterone while he was a foetus?
Today is the 60th anniversary of commercial television in the UK - or, at least, in London, where the only transmissions were carried on 22nd September 1955. (It would be February 1956 before the chance to see commercials on TV reached the Midlands; the whole of the country wouldn't be covered until 1962.)
ITV's effect in shaking up the BBC by offering competition is often seen as having an impact on programmes - which, of course, it was. But it also had a dramatic effect on graphic design and the visual language of television:
The 22nd of September 1955 at 7:15pm saw the launch of Independent ‘commercial’ Television (ITV) in Britain, destroying the BBC’s 20-year-old monopoly in television. Initially, as with the BBC’s first broadcasts, Independent Television was limited to the London area for which the Independent Television Authority (ITA) awarding its first franchise to Associated Rediffusion Ltd.
The launch of ITV meant everything had to start from scratch with much of the expertise poached from the BBC. However this couldn’t happen with graphic design, as there was no precedent to follow – it was only shortly after the employment of John Sewell at the BBC, that the first Head of Design at Rediffusion employed their first graphic designers.
The model for resolving the graphic design needs of Independent Television was one in which the basic requirements were met. Most producers working for Rediffusion came from either the BBC, the film industry, or America and this meant there was very little sympathy for graphic design other than its most basic use. A result was a general lack of resources, limiting the scope of the work produced by the five designers.
Not only were they working in a medium that was new to them, but they were also in the position were quantity not quality was wanted from them. The same was true for the other independent stations that were rapidly being launched across the country: ATV (which provided programmes for the Midlands during weekdays and London at weekends), Granada (North weekdays), and ABC (Midlands and North at weekends).
The ITA envisaged a system of major and minor companies, similar to the Hollywood studio system, with the first four contracts being awarded to the ‘majors’ mentioned above. They would provide the majority of programmes for the network with the ‘minors’ behaving more like relay stations, producing the odd local programme and news for their region. In fact a large number of the minor television companies provided a real contribution to the national network. The minors were awarded their franchises between 1957 and 1962 when network was completed, providing the vast majority of the country with Independent Television. This strong regional output that it provided, persuaded the BBC to expand its number of regional television centers, and saw graphic design units set-up in Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham.
One of ITV's most durable creations, Coronation Street, is being part of the celebrations for the 60th by volunteering a live episode. It celebrated its own 50th birthday in 2010 with a similar exercise, and at that time, the OU's Mark Banks looked at the difficult birth of the Weatherfield soap:
But when the pilot – created by the then unknown writer Tony Warren and a young Canadian producer called Harry Elton – was shown to the Bernsteins and other members of the Granada Programme Committee, it was dismissed. One member described it as ‘crap’ that ‘should play in the afternoon’; another described the northern dialects as ‘a joke’ and one other railed that ‘surely people watch television to be taken out of their dreary lives and not to have their noses rubbed in it’. Sidney Bernstein wearily concluded: ‘Is this the image of Granadaland that we want to project to the rest of the country’? Reluctantly, because nothing else was available, the Committee allowed a short run of the show to be aired in the Northern region (the other regional broadcasters also famously rejected it as too parochial and incomprehensible to their local audiences).
This week, we're starting each day with a visit to a pop-up state - that is, an independent state which only lasted for a short period. Yesterday, we called in at the Russian Democratic Federative Republic - a state upon which the sun never actually rose.
Today, our focus is on the period just before the American Civil War, when the Southern and the Northern states were at loggerheads. Eventually, the pro-slavery states of the South would come together to form the Confederate States of America, before the two Americas would descend into war. But first, the states went through a brief period as independent republic states - seceded from the US, but yet to confederate. Alabama was independent for 28 days; Florida, Texas, Mississippi, 29. South Carolina - sometimes styling itslef the Palmetto Republic - had a fifty day existence.
But the shortest period of independence elevated Baton Rouge to a national capital city for a period of just 16 days.
The state seceded from the Union on January 26th, 1861:
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of Louisiana and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."
We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance passed by us in convention on the November 22, in the year eighteen hundred and eleven, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America and the amendments of the said Constitution were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and abrogated; and that the union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States under the name of "The United States of America" is hereby dissolved.
We do further declare and ordain, That the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government; and that she is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.
We do further declare and ordain, That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or any act of Congress, or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
Adopted in convention at Baton Rouge this January 26, 1861
Not all of the citizens of the new state were supporters, but generally the move was welcomed enthusiastically - there were torchlight parades in New Orleans, and firing of cannons and fireworks.
Sixteen days later, Louisiana gave up its brief existence as an independent nation, as it joined the Confederacy. By April 12th, the states of the Confederacy would be at war with the Union of which they were a once and future part.