Friday, February 29, 2008

Allez France!

You have to laugh, don't you? There's not much to choose between a self-righteous 'idealist' like this guy, and the destructive pleasure-seekers who also treat 'Abroad' as a theme park on which to project their sorry selves, rather than a real world with real people and real cultures - and indeed languages. Excellent work by the French, I'd say.

On Patriotism

Somebody emailed Channel 4 News last night to accuse Jon Snow of treason. The show had used the Afghan Harry story as an excuse to question the role of the media in keeping quiet about the fact that the Prince was on the front line. As Richard Havers comments on my previous post, these were new depths for C4 News. I'll go along with treason if we can make it stick, but, for the moment, let's just see if we can get them banged up on a charge of aggravated hyprocrisy. Every news organisation indulges in deals and compromises. Usually this is self-interest, sometimes it is to protect others, occasionally it is in  the interests of the state. The latter is tricky because the state might be behaving badly. But the media make judgments. The case for keeping quiet about Harry was overwhelming so C4 News can, as far as I am concerned, be sent to the Big House. Beneath all this lurks the theme of patriotism. I don't think anybody at C4, nor, indeed, anybody at the BBC would accept patriotism as a justification for doing anything. But, to be honest, the fact that Harry was sent to the front line, the fact that he wanted to go and the fact that we helped protect him made my chest swell just a little. I am a patriot. I don't have wet dreams about Margaret Thatcher, I don't think the British Empire was a damned fine way of civilising Johnny Foreigner, I'm not crazy about Elgar, I find the Royals faintly ridiculous, I don't decorate my home with pictures of horses or hunting scene table mats and I don't stand around in country pubs agreeing with everything in the Daily Mail. But England - not Britain - made me and I'm grateful. This gratitude would, I hope, in 1914 or 1940 have prepared me for death. It certainly prepares me for the odd sacrifice in the national interest. I don't know how widespread this feeling is. I suspect many people of my age or younger regard the word 'patriotism' as so outdated as to be meaningless. I suspect also that our vomit-soaked city centres, our petty bureaucrats, our dodgy government, Ken Livingstone and our 'sleb infested culture convince many more that whatever stirrings they may feel are best disregarded. But, as Tennyson said, 'Tho' much is taken, much abides' and what abides of England - perpendicular architecture, the poetry of Edward Thomas, a certain light, humour, memory - is enough for me, enough, at least, to make me stand up for Harry, England and St George, but not Jon Snow.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harry, Drudge, Guido

So Harry is in Afghanistan. The media had kept quiet about this to protect the lives of Harry and others. Matt Drudge did not keep quiet. He broke the story, thus endangering lives. I wonder if Guido still hero worships Drudge. I don't.

Jane Says Every Mum Is Worth It

Talking of women's matters, I had the deeply unpleasant experience last night of catching Jane Fonda's special Mother's Day commercial for her current paymasters, L'Oréal. With its manipulative blending of mushy sentimentality and faux-tough, quasi-feminist 'Hey look at me, I got older, I'm a grandmother, but that's OK' message (Yes Jane, you're OK because you're a film star with lots of money, good genes and an ego the size of California), its cheesy, grovellingly flattering camerawork and toe-curling 'Every mum is worth it' payoff, I think it was perhaps the most completely nauseating ad I've ever seen. There was a website addresss too, which, to protect bloggers' sensibilities, I shall not present as a link -

Mars Bars and Nausea

It is surprising that the Mars bar is once again to be advertised as a foodstuff that helps you 'work, rest and play'. My own experience of Mars bars is that they help me do none of these things. They do, however, make me feel nauseous and rather tired. In fact, come to think of it, I can't imagine ever eating one again. But a Mars bar contains a large number of calories - 452 per 100 grams, so, I suppose, it could be argued to be of some assistance in the working, resting and playing departments. But the same weight of pure sugar would have the same effect. And, anyway, in my case, nausea is likely to intrude upon work and play if not rest. So shouldn't this ad be referred to the appropriate authorities?

On Wishes and Organisations

Here's a 'feminism has failed' article by Rosie Boycott. The commenters below the piece make most of the substantial points for and against her argument. One line, however, is worth further consideration - 'The world, in short, is still organised to meet the wishes of men.' My response to this sentence is nothing to do with being pro- or anti-feminist. As it happens, I'm pro-. Rather, I am interested in the words 'organised' and 'wishes'. Men have one thing in common - they are not women. Not being a blank slater, I think this involves certain predetermined tendencies, some or all of which may be suppressed or rejected by any given man and none of which need carry any particular moral force. In that context, one can say that it is statistically likely that men will behave thus and women thus, assuming one is discussing a sufficiently large sample. But it would be absurd to say that any individual will behave thus simply because he/she is a man/woman. That is why 'wishes' is such an absurd word to use. It is implying that there are individual men who want things which are, miraculously, realised in the social order. But if she means that men's 'predetermined tendencies' are forming the social order, then 'wishes' must be the wrong word, since, by definition, these are not voluntary and, almost as often as not, drive men in directions in which they would not wish to go. In fact, predetermined tendencies must have some effect on the social order since the sample involved is sufficiently large, but, to repeat, these do not in themselves have any moral force (unless, of course, we decide they do). Which brings me to 'organised'. By whom? Boycott points to child care provisions in Denmark which allow women to work. The assumption here is that what works in Denmark - does it? I don't know - would work here. It might, but the idea that there is some generally better way of organising a society is faulty and dangerous. As with the notion of generalised male wishes, this suffers from the old Enlightenment problem of universal values. It is irrational to assume that what works in one culture would work in another. The irrationality is based on the notion of 'organising' a society. One can organise some things, but one can't organise the inclinations of an entire culture - the desire to do so indicates a failure to understand the meaning of 'culture'. One can, of course, destroy a culture, but that has, in the past, resulted in an enormous number of corpses. Both the word 'wishes' and the word 'organised' betray a quaint style of thought, one that sees a world of conspiracies and power struggles with clearly defined battle lines about which one can have strong, simple opinions. I thought we'd grown out of that, but perhaps not.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Neo-Liberalism and the Alpha Male

One profound and one consoling point from Martin Wolf's column in the FT this morning.
Profound: '...the financial system is a subsidiary of the state.' 
Neo-liberalism foundered long ago because of its failure to accept this obvious truth.
Consoling:  'A more fundamental lesson still concerns the way the financial system works. Outsiders were already aware it was a black box. But they were prepared to assume that those inside it at least knew what was going on. This can hardly be true now.'
The 'smartest guys in the room' always turn out to be the thickest. Treat the Alpha Male as you would an incontinent child.

Bust that Paradigm

In case you were wondering what happened to the Raelians, I have news. Mr Michael Bennett, whom Rael preserve, emails me thus: 
I am reading your excellent book, Aliens why are they here, and  I am wondering, if you have read Intelligent Design Message from the Designers, by Rael.? A copy can be downloaded in PDF format, from Embedded in this story is a paradigm busting theory, which allows for a common sense explanation for the original purpose of all forty of the world religions and at the same time an understanding for the agenda behind the ever increasing appearance, of the REAL ufos. I say real, as opposed to the craft that may be observed from time to time,resulting from retro-engineering of those crashed saucers in the 1940s you mention in your book. Once you understand the scientific concept of the Message, then all else falls into place.
As I have lost my grip, this seems quite persuasive.

Reverse over the Body

Yesterday I was told by a lawyer friend that, should I happen to hit a young person while driving, I should try and reverse over the body. This would ensure the young person was dead. I should do this because a handicapped young person might result in a massive legal settlement whereas a dead one would merely involve a few thousand for the parents. It must be amazing being a lawyer.

The Capacity of Trope

In my bestselling memoir The Opacity of Rope, I shall describe my experiences on the night of the great earthquake.  Here is a sneak preview.
'I woke to be told there had been a great earthquake. I had felt nothing. But I was deeply concerned for those who had been woken in the middle of the night in nearby Lincolnshire.'
The Rapacity of Soap is, as you see, to be a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred account of the turbulent years of change, earthquakes and alien visitations. The Tenacity of Dope will tell it like it is which is not like people think it is, but something quite different. The Fepacity of Bope will also describe the way I appeared to lose my grip on the morning after the great 'quake.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Bicentenary

It was on this day that, in 1848, Marx and Engels puiblished the Communist Manifesto, with what regrettable consequences the world now knows... However, it was also on this day 40 years earlier that the great Honoré Daumier was born - so that makes today his bicentenary. Looking at his Le Ventre Legislatif, it's hard not to think of Michael Martin, especially after yesterday's depressing scenes in the Commons.

Bryan Abducted, The Drugs Don't Work - But There Are Signs Of Hope

I'm sorry to be the one to have to break the news, but that Norfolk alien that appeared yesterday was the first of many, and Bryan has become an abductee. He tells me it was a very interesting epxerience, about which he'd rather not say more till he recovers from the rectal probe. Meanwhile, I'd better say something about this - or rather say nothing much, since I've never knowingly taken SSRIs (and am a sucker for placebos). Anyone out there going to speak up for Prozac etc? What I do know is that plenty of fairly brisk walking, preferably in beautiful surroundings, does tend to keep the black clouds rolling past...
But potentially the best news of the day might be that Turkey is working on an extensive revision of the Hadith. This is an old link, I know, but the best I can find - the latest word is that the scholars are cutting out disobliging references to Christianity etc. Could it be that some kind of Islamic Reformation is finally getting under way? If there's ever to be one, it will surely start in Turkey...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jeff, Oaks

Just to let bloggers know that Jeff's on fire - and we might even get an exclusive preview of the first three chapters of his new book. Did you know he'd got one coming out? Why hadn't he mentioned it before?
(By the way, I greatly enjoyed my walk, amid some of the finest and most numerous veteran oaks in England. I am mildly obsessed just now with early spring sunlight on tree trunks - an ultralucid PreRaphaelite light. That digital camera of mine has photographed little else.)

The Blog Brain Reels...

I am in Norfolk. It is a dazzlingly beautiful day and an alien has appeared in my back garden. You may remember I saw a flying saucer at this location while under hypnosis. Plainly I was not as deluded as I thought I was. The creature appears to be hybernating while standing. This is all too much. The blog brain reels and goes offline.
PS That thing really did just appear, nothing to do with me or anybody I know.

A Bullet for Obama? 2

The Herald Tribune follows up my post.

Tap Water Tops Oscars

Uhoh, no Appleyard - and nothing really to say about the Oscars (a ceremony also known as the Gay Superbowl, I understand). A sensible(ish) scaled-down ceremony, sensible (or at least predictable and comprehensible) winners, only a couple of hysterical speeches, only one minor Oscar for At*nement, and yet again no Oscar for the 20 times nominated sound guy Kevin O'Connell. Dull really. This other LA ceremony sounds more interesting. I had no idea there were awards for the best tasting tap water, but it confirms my own strong impression that tap water varies a lot and in London often tastes pretty unpleasant - unpleasant enough to justify buying bottled water in restaurants, despite all the recent tappist strictures. Now, as the sun is shining, I am going for a walk. I may be some time.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Lovely Turkey

In case anyone's missed it, here's a story to gladden the heart - it's going to be a vintage Eurovision year, I reckon. Oddly, I was watching the wonderful 'Eurosong' episode of Father Ted only the other night. All together now: My lovely horse, running through the field. Where are you going with your fetlocks blowing in the wind?...

David On Grey, Hill On Barack

I was determined to get through this week without mentioning Radio 4's iconic - nay, flagship - programme, A Point Of View with Professor David Cannadine (not, be it noted, David N. Cannadine, or D. N. Cannadine). However, this week the man found his perfect subject - the colour grey. By the time he had wheeled out Grey's Elegy, I was helpless with laughter - but it only gets better - Cilla Black, The Monkees (who 'explored the complexities of grey')... a true Cannadine tour de force, building laboriously to a sublimely lame peroration. The man is really on a roll just now. But enough - I promise I shan't mention him again next week (but I do urge you to listen).
Meanwhile, to return to US politics, am I alone in finding Hill's 'fierce' denunciation pretty lame? Obama's response of polite bewliderment is, of course, spot-on - the Clinton campaign is surely dead in the water. In Australia, his retort would have been - in the words of one politician to another whose career was plainly coming to an end - 'Time to move on, cobber - the dingoes are pissing on your tucker.'

On Edward Thomas

Newsnight on Friday  - bear with me, I'll get to Edward Thomas in a moment - had an interview with Alastair Campbell. It was about a novel he is writing that is not to be published for some time. Campbell was not prepared to talk about the novel in any detail. The big issue was, as the web site puts it, 'So can Alastair become a successful man of letters?' This is, of course, not a big issue, it is not any kind of issue. There was no reason for Campbell to be on the BBC's 'flagship' current affairs show - not only because his novel isn't a story but also because Campbell is no longer a story, he's not even a celebrity any more, he's a curiosity. The item left me stricken with a great weariness with the whole business of British politics and the media. Nothing of any significance is being said or discussed. Compare this state of affairs with current American politics. Five minutes of either The McLaughlin Group or Meet the Press (wonderfully understated and rather genteel titles) are worth more than a whole week of British TV politics. Furthermore, I note that young people are excited about the US election in a way they never are about British politics, a development that should terrify any thoughtful people still working for our parties. Obama, Hillary, McCain and even Huckabee as well as the massed ranks of US columnists and analysts are making our people look like intellectual and imaginative pygmies. I now find myself unable to read or watch any British political coverage. This has happened before, it normally lasts a day or two. But, for the moment, I am a happier man as I have been reading this great poem over and over again. It is as perfect a meditation on the predicament of human consciousness as you will ever read.
John Ashbery in my rediscovered interview said 'there are many more interesting things to do' than read poetry. Are there? Really?

The Rest is Noise

In The Sunday Times today I review The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, a book that has, for the moment, changed my life.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Radio 4 Swears to Recapture its Middle Class Base

This has to be one of the great Guardian intros.
'BBC Radio 4's controller, Mark Damazer, last night rejected the view his station panders to middle class tastes, saying that bans on language such as "piss, bugger or shit" had gone.' 
Since when did the middle classes not use piss, bugger or shit? In my experience the words are as bourgeois as a giant, 4X4 baby buggy or an uncontrollable fondness for seabass (halibut is better). Anyway, Damazer was responding to one Jane Garvey, a Woman's Hour presenter, who had said the station has 'a massively middle class bent'. I can't imagine anything anywhere in the observable universe more middle class than Woman's Hour, but, as usual, what do I know?
Of course, the big point is - why in the name of all that's halibut is there anything wrong with providing one radio station for the middle class? Every other station except for Radio 3 is for the working class. Nothing wrong with that, but, unless La Garvey wants 4 to be all about Ascot for the toffs or all about pop and football for the proles, then it's hard to imagine what she wants 4 to do. Perhaps she wants it all to be like Woman's Hour - an incoherent, journalistically sloppy melange of ill-thought out social and global concern, galumphing frivolity and massively dull interviewees. Worth a try I suppose.

Thinking, I Think, About Ashbery

Dave Lull draws my attention to this interview with John Ashbery. It is heroically unrevealing. Here, for example, is how he defines his method - 'I continue to write poetry, and I wait until it seems like there's enough to make a book, and then I put it all together and send it out.' How else could he write poetry? I sometimes wonder if I am quite sane liking Marilynne Robinson AND John  Ashbery. It is impossible to imagine two more different writers - or, indeed, human beings. Ashbery can upset people of taste and judgment - liking Ashbery is the one fault Clive James finds with me in his otherwise flattering words about me on his web site. But I do, so there you go. I also wonder what happened to my own interview with him which seems to have vanished as if it never happened. That's a pity because, in the course of talking to me in his room at the Savoy, he said, 'I think I think but I don't think thinking is what it is thought to be', a fine sentiment.
PS Well here is a marvellous outcome. David Kermani emails from John Ashbery's email address to tell me that my interview is on the Carcanet web site - and so it is!

Friday, February 22, 2008

More Fun

And here's a nice, cheering story. I love the bit about him falling off the perch...

A Nice Picture

This blog is getting grumpy. Nige and I are in danger of becoming grumpy old men. Well, we are, of course, but I fear this may not be a lasting marketing strategy. So here is a nice picture - barely a grump in sight.

News Annoys Nige

The BBC news managed to annoy me twice last night, for entirely different reasons (I really should give it up). At 10pm, Radio 4 led on the non-story of a couple of US planes having touched down to refuel on Diego Garcia while on 'extraordinary rendition' flights (a So What story if ever there was one, tho the lefist press is, predictably, having a field day with it too). To complete the double whammy, the BBC1 news devoted a full 20 minutes of a half-hour bulletin to the 'Suffolk Strangler', complete with endless futile speculation and psychobabble about his 'motive'. 20 minutes! Between them, these two news broadcasts seemed to encapsulate a lot of what's wrong with the BBC - institutionalised leftism on the one side, patronising dumbass populism on the other. At least I missed Question Time...

A Bullet for Obama?

'In America,' Sudhir Venkatesh said to me, 'you can never underestimate race as a governing principle for creating division and framing how we make sense of the world.' Many years ago, one of the first things I noticed about America was racial division. I also noticed a good deal of casual racism among whites. I remember a perfectly respectable, educated white woman say the sight of a black man with a white woman made her shudder. The fact that I noticed this indicates that it contrasted with my experience in Britain. I thought there was one thing of which I could be sure - America would never have a black president in my lifetime. We had - have - our problems, but America's have always seemed to be worse. Things have changed - that woman could not now make that remark in polite society - but Venkatesh's comment made me wonder how much. I remember the fuss about Murray and Herrnstein's book The Bell Curve which made much of the poor performance of blacks in IQ tests and I remember perfectly decent, non-racist Americans shrugging their shoulders and saying, well, yes, sadly it's true. In fact, the whole argument suffered from a fundamental conceptual flaw on which I have posted before. This made me wonder if those perfectly decent people wanted to believe. And, anyway, irrespective of the arguments, it's just plain wicked to start labelling people and restricting their lives just because of some dumb statistics. It's equally wicked to turn race into a cheap political scam - a favourite trick of our own Ken Livingstone and many other unregenerate lefties - but these are two sides of the same racist coin. All of which is inspired by the thought that Barack Obama may be assassinated. This has been discussed and the hate sites - for example, here, here and here - are certainly enraged by his success. America probably has no more murderous nutters per thousand of population than we do, but she also has a much more intense awareness of race, the ludicrously easy availability of guns and a lively tradition of political assassination. And if he were killed, what then? I don't know, I just wonder.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Invisible Iceberg

Something funny going on here. I posted some time ago on the matter of invisibility and quoted one Dr Ulf Leonhardt, whom God preserve. 'Invisibility,' he said, 'is just the tip of the iceberg.' Now we have further thoughts on invisibility from Professor Vladimir Shalaev. 'Cloaking,' he says, 'is just the tip of the iceberg.' This is bizarre. Does the thought of invisibility immediately evoke iceberg tips? And, if it does, of what does the rest of the iceberg consist? One of the applications suggested by the good professor is making things appear where they are not. Imagine if London appeared to be six inches to the left of where it actually is. I'm not sure we could cope with the whole of this iceberg.

Coulrophobia Strikes Again

What the hay is going on here? Are these child-scarers Iraq's answer to Burma's much-loved Moustache Brothers? I sincerely hope not. 'A child is as scared as a country' - I should think it is after you lot have been round. Off with the motley, do something useful...

Feeling British and Dressed For Dinner

'I've never felt so British, or so happy,' said one Mark Ronson (a scion of the lighter-fuel dynasty?) as he took his 'Brit award' last night. So there we are - he feels British, and never more so than when accepting an award, and he's fine about it. Decidedly unBritish, though, to feel happy at the same time... Unfortunately, those confused young fellows the Arctic Monkeys (Gordo's fave rave) turned up dressed for the country, in plus-fours and tweeds - how silly they must have felt!
Anyway, I wasn't there - I was at another reet swanky do at London's tacky Park Lane Hilton, where a glass of a bad wine will set you back 7 sovs. I was savouring the too infrequent pleasure of wearing a dinner suit and idly wondering if the world wouldn't be a better place if people dressed for dinner. But I didn't entertain this fantasy for long - the sad fact is that most people (present company, of course, excepted) look pretty dreadful in a dinner suit, and wearing one actually seems to encourage drunkenness, brawling and bad behaviour (present company again excepted). So I don't think a Dinner Suit Diktat from the Office of the Supreme Leader would help. Sorry about that.

A Boat

Stricken with urgent need to go to Chertsey so here's a boat to be going on with.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Millions, Billions, Who Cares?

What is surprising about this is not what's happening - if a government shoehorns ill-schooled and unsuitable candidates into 'universities' to fill an arbitrary and self-defeating quota, there's bound to be an intractably high drop-out rate. What shocks - and no one seems to have batted an eyelid about it -is that they have somehow managed to throw £800 million at it. That is a staggering amount of money, isn't it? But we seem to have become altogether figure-blind now - the numbers are just too huge, million sounds much like billion, and it's all a bit of a blur. Like the truly jaw-dropping £110 thousand million we stand to lose in the Northern Wreck... Maybe we're just too dazed and defeated to expect anything but this gigantic profligacy, all done with our money.

China and the Olympics

Since Sunday, I have been pondering  Nick Cohen's argument that we should boycott the Chinese Olympics. I caught a glimpse of Clive James saying the same thing on Question Time. Both Cohen and James argue that we should boycott them because of China's cynical foreign policy. Neither give any weight to her internal policies. There's a good reason for this - though China's fondness for capital punishment and suppression of dissent are distasteful, it is a much better place than it was under Mao, who, lest we forget, was responsible for the deaths of 70 million of his own people. It is worth asking, in the present climate, what Mia Farrow was doing during the reign of Mao? Protesting outside Chinese embassies? I doubt it. The record of the whole of the Western left on China is dismal. For years they were apologists for the most bloody regime in human history. That is not an argument for saying the boycotters are wrong now, but we need to bear it in mind. China's current foreign policy is, undoubtedly, cynical in the extreme and, equally undoubtedly, the cause of many innocent deaths. But the same is true of many other countries - including, frequently, our own. Furthermore, engaging with an internally reforming China may well be a better way of influencing her foreign policy than a boycott. A more open country is, in the long run, more vulnerable to shame. From the point of view of our own self-interest, a sullen, bitter, vengeful China is probably the last thing we need right now. That said, I am viscerally attracted to the idea of the boycott. The Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army are still intact. They once jointly formed the nastiest organisation ever created by man. A boycott in protest at the continuing deification of Mao and his goons would make sense to me. But realism is better.
Perhaps the real culprit is the Olympics itself. Bloated, absurd, dictatorial in its administration, the event is nothing to do with sport and everything to do with providing a grotesque opportunity for bureaucratic and political low lifers to fan the flames of their vanity, to strut and fret their hour upon the stage. We were bounced into 2012 by a goverment lie that understated the true cost by about 900 per cent. If you're really worried about Darfur, how about a protest against 2012? The billions involved might be just enough to sort out Sudan.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jeff on Matisse

There's something wrong with Jeff's permalinks, but I've started the ball rolling as Richard with a fascinating discussion on whether Matisse was a game of two or three halves on his gripping post Russians at the Royal Academy. We must drag him kicking and screaming upmarket. 
One other good way of doing this is to buy the paperback of my book. Ross Leckie at The Times thinks you should.


Here's another irritating new habit of the interviewed classes - or at least the, if you will, Brownite wing thereof. This is for politicians to supply their own question while supposedly giving answers - as in 'Blah blah blah. Why do I say that? Because, firstly...' or 'Blah blah balh. What do I mean by that? What I mean is...' The boy Milliband is especially prone to it, but he is not alone. It is, I think, an extension of Hal's patented interview technique - roll over all interviewers by simply keeping on and on and on talking, until they (and we) lose the will to live, let alone try to get an answer to a question. Self-interviewing - the way of the future, if you will. Let the circle of Brownian dialectic be unbroken.

Northern Wreck Latest

As Guido points out, the Northern Wreck, if you will, shambles now offers the amusing prospect of a bank nationalised by a Labour goverment having to repossess the homes of the people. It will be a fitting, richly symbolic climax to the hard right, militaristic, viciously authoritarian, bureaucratic, wealth-worshipping years of New Labour. Northern Wreck is a story I have only half-followed. I am widely known as a bleak, pessimistic, gloomy, sour, misanthropic, bitter, twisted type, but, in this case, I had idly assumed that it would all go away quite soon and the City boys could go back to their screens, once more deluding themselves into thinking they had lives worth living. But, judging by Dispatches last night, it's only just begun with all the banks about to announce entertainingly enormous losses. The symmetry of error in this case is funny but troubling. The tripartite regulatory system, introduced by Brown, failed miserably - very miserably as NR's business plan was so transparently stupid. The media failed to point this out. And then, of course, the banks lent our money to the worst credit risks they could find in America, covering the whole thing with dodgy 'products'. We have a tripartite incompetence system. This is troubling because the whole mess is likely to end with everybody just shrugging their shoulders because everybody is to blame, which is the same as saying nobody is. Personally, much as I'd like to say Brown is the primary culprit, I think we should focus on the bankers. They should be scorned and humiliated for what seems to have been the most abject management failure of recent times.

The Resistible Rise of 'If You Will'

When did everybody start saying 'if you will'? I noticed a lot of Americans saying it, now it's spread over here, infecting TV news reporters in particular. It means, I suppose, that you have just used a slightly odd or surprising expression and you are disclaiming responsibility by implying that it's all the fault of the listener. As in 'Gordon Brown is a bad thing, a catastrophe if you will.' Personally I prefer 'so to speak' as in 'The Kaiser Chiefs are, so to speak, fantastically irritating and keep appearing everywhere doing phenomenally boring bloke rock when plainly they should be working behind the counter in a hippie bag and candle shop just round the corner from a university that offers degrees in social networking.' 'As it were' is even better. It carries a much heavier load of irony, as when the doctor says you're not going to survive the night - 'You are, as it were, a little unwell.' I knew a man who kept saying 'what I like to call'. One expected this to be the prelude to some entertainingly idiosyncratic verbal construct, but, in fact, it was just a nervous tic, usually inserted before some utterly conventional act of naming, as in 'This is what I like to call a cup of tea'. 'It seems to me' is used by elderly academics. It means 'You are wrong about everything, this is the unarguable truth and I don't care if you disagree because you are, so to speak, stupid.' Anyway, is it possible that 'if you will' is taking over from 'like' and 'whatever'? I suppose it's an improvement.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Being British

Janet Daley is so right, multiculturalism is all about self-loathing and vulgar attempts to invent a British identity are wildly inappropriate. We are not a revolutionary republic like France, nor, like America, a society of people who, the slaves apart, chose to settle there. If that inspires us to ask the question, 'who are we?'.... well, the owl of Minerva flies at dusk and you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Who were we? The British. Make of that what you will. I find it quite consoling but I wouldn't turn it into a constitution or a questionnaire written by Jack Straw. On the other hand, I suppose the Royal United Service Institute had a point when it said our lack of identity made us a soft target for terrorism. Stricken by anomie, we'll just blame ourselves. But the identity we did have was unspoken and unwritten. It just felt like something. For me, it felt like a wry smile and shake of the head shared with a stranger who had also just glimpsed the vanity and folly of human existence in a street in, say, Huddersfield. It was enough. And it still happens.

Back To The Future...

Well, Bryan may not be blogging, but his legacy is everywhere. By moving in to that retro 70s style apartment block in what he insists on calling Notting Hill (now he's citing Chesterton in support), he unleashed a full-on 70s revival in the government of the always style-conscious Gordo. After Fluoride (see my post of 5 Feb), the latest blast from the past is Nationalisation, as Alistair (Move Over) Darling unveils his bold vision for Northern Rock (no link because you'd have to be living in a cave to have missed this story). To add to the retro feel, the Betamax-VHS style battle of the HD formats - between Sony's BluRay and Toshiba's HD DVD - seems to be coming to an end, with Toshiba admitting defeat (no link because I can't find one - trust me on this). It can only be a matter of time before Ed Balls decrees that every child must have a Space Hopper. Now, where did I put those crushed velvet loon pants?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Prozzze Update

Just to alert bloggers to the fact that not one, but two acknowledged masters of inert prose have been at work again. I'm sure Jeff would welcome more comments. Dave was clearly trying to do an Alistair Cooke this time - big mistake - then suddenly remembered it was A Point Of View and slipped global warming into the last para. Brilliant.

Kurzweil and Human Equivalence

Following on from the matter of alien minds, I notice the energetic Ray Kurzweil is now promising us 'human-level artificial intelligence' by 2029 - why not 2030, I wonder? I seem to recall this is about 16 years sooner than his last forecast. He may be right, but as I mention in the book review, it seems unlikely because, after 50 years of AI research, we have made no progress in the direction of intelligent machines. People like Kurzweil are over-impressed by computing power. Thinking faster processor speeds and terabytes of memory will give us 'human equivalence' is like thinking Michelangelo's David is only a matter of having a big enough block of marble. Then there's the problem of the meaning of 'human equivalence'. What is it? An intelligent machine may be intelligent in ways we cannot begin to understand. There's no reason to assume that ours is the only possible kind of intelligence. In fact, on balance, I hope it's not.

Stones, Gangs and Robots

In The Sunday Times, I rave about Martin Scorsese's film about The Rolling Stones, I ponder alien minds and I question Sudhir Venkatesh about his time with the Black Kings in Chicago.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Buy This Book

I have only just realised that the bright red paperback edition of How to Live Forever or Die Trying - the only book you'll need to read this lifetime - is now out. I'm usually the last to know. Buy several copies at once.

For - And Against - Lewis Wolpert

I first encountered Lewis Wolpert in 1992 when my book Understanding the Present was published. There was a debate at London University. I had never done any public speaking before and Lewis, a suave performer, tore me apart. Since then we have become friends, though he still regards everything I say with unalloyed contempt. It's an odd friendship. Never having had much faith in my own insights, I find his derision bracing. But I am sure that he's missing the point in his contempt for philosophy and his repeated insistence that, in effect, there is only science. I seem to recall I only once got this through to him on Radio 4's Today programme by pointing out that we should beware of our certainties since we were only passing through. Anyway, yesterday I heard him on the radio saying, as he always does, that science offends common sense. Look at the cell, he said, surely it is against common sense to believe that our bodies are made of cells, yet that is what science has taught us. But if we do look at our bodies through the eyes of common sense, it is clear that they must be made of something and, whatever it is, it must be fairly strange stuff. There is nothing about cells, therefore, that offends common sense. Lewis, I realised, underestimates the oddity of knowing anything at all, of being human. But, in doing so, he is, as I say, bracing.

Bridgend 2

My last comment on the Bridgend suicides took it for granted that this was, indeed, a group phenomenon. Local worthies denied this. Improbable then, now, with two more hangings, this denial has become absurd. Doubtless, we'll now get more anguished features about the bleakness of Bridgend and more psychiatrists intoning about self-esteem problems in teenagers. I've never been to Bridgend but I suspect it's no bleaker than anywhere else and self-esteem is a grotesque red herring. As I have written, its importance is little more than a consoling psychobabble myth. No, all that matters here is the fact that this is a group phenomenon. If we want to understand this - and, if my daughter was still a teenager, I would - then we should start and end with the dynamics of the group. But that's complicated so we probably won't.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Say, You Fellows...

This weekend sees the 100th birthday of a hero of our times. A Bunter revival is long overdue - it could run on my proposed Fat Channel, a satellite TV channel devoted entirely to fatness and fat people. A bit of Bunter would raise the tone, along with Falstaff's greatest hits and perhaps the odd sketch from Gargantua and Pantagruel - inspiriting and cheering stuff for the nation's fatties. Ads for couch potato foodstuffs would more than pay for such a channel, and it would have the ultimate captive audience, lodged helplessly in the recesses of their huge superstrength sofas. This idea, I am sure, has legs (unlike some of its target audience).
To return to Bunter - my father, a man of simple tastes, recalled that the greatest pleasure of his boyhood was to sit in a warm bath with the latest issue of the Magnet, a box of dark chocolates and a pipe of good tobacco. Innocent times...

Jeff's Latest 2

Blimey, we've really got Jeff going. I think we're raising his game.

We Don't Want Your Money

Polly and Guido are worked up about this non-dom thing - how or if we tax the stupendously rich foreigners in, primarily, London. (I am amused, incidentally, by Polly's remark that 'bravery is not Brown's forte'. The Brownies are plainly losing faith in their ability to reform the man.) My own view of the rich non-doms is possibly irresponsible - they should go. London could do with being poorer, cheaper, quieter and better-mannered. But I suppose, politically, that would be a hard sell.

Squirrels: the Backlash Begins

Grey squirrel-loathing is going mainstream. Jane Owen, the Times Online gardening expert (online gardening?!), advocates a cull. She is incensed by the bland claim of Lord Rooker that 'people like to see squirrels in their gardens'. Nige, I know, will be similarly incandescent, though he's probably more concerned about moorhens. I think the best solution for all would be some kind of squirrel-moorhen fricassee from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with which we could regain our strength after a long day of cat killing.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jeff's Latest

Feeling idly destructive in the way one often does in the later stages of a hangover, I have commented on Jeff's latest post under the pseudonym 'Richard'. This concerns the interesting matter of whether the late Victorians/Edwardians were more or less fashion conscious than us. I think you should all get involved. 

Marilynne and Emily

Thanks to Dave Lull for drawing my attention to this very profound post on Patrick Kurp's superb literary blog, Anecdotal Evidence - superb title too. I don't need to say anything about it except that the connection between Marilynne Robinson and Emily Dickinson is a wonderful thing.

A Vision Of The Future

This is downright uncanny - how did they know we'd be living like this in the 21st century?! As it happens, I was sitting on my perspex pogo chair in my nylon lederhosen when I saw this. You could have knocked me down with a feather - did these guys have some kind of wormhole into the future or what?

End To End?

This man, though a well known booby, is of course right that there's a binge drinking epidemic. Equally, he is of course wrong to suggest that it's down to the marketing of booze and its supposedly low price (price can affect alcohol consumption as a whole, but won't dent binge drinking). I can't say I've noticed any alcohol advertising aimed at children, and suspect it might be a good idea if it was - it would make booze seem childish and totally uncool and chidlren would shun it. However, be that as it may, my point is that this man - and he's not alone - has taken to using the phrase 'end to end' incessantly. There must, we are told, be an 'end to end' approach. This is bound to catch on with government ministers etc - but what on earth does it mean? I vaguely remember 'end to end football', which seemed to mean lots of dashing about from one end of the pitch to the other. Ah, I see....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Night of Magic

Night of magic with Nige. Blogging problematic.

Breaking Aurelian News

I thought it would happen sooner, in view of the balmy weather - but today I saw my first butterfly of the year. A red admiral it was, sunning itself on a hedge in Holland Park... How can I, that butterfly sitting there, my attention fix On English or American or Australian politics?

Andy, Art and Arnold

Certain sentiments set the teeth on edge. 'I believe that children are our future,' must have scraped off several tons of enamel. Either it is utterly false - children grow up, leave home and become, in the process, our past - or it is vapidly true - people who are currently children will indeed be screwing things up when we are too old and frail to protest. Which brings me to Andy, our nicely behaved, 12-year-old Culture Secretary. I just saw him on TV defending the latest implausible Hal meddle. Andy's probably okay - who knows? - but he said something along the lines of, 'I believe all children have a creative talent.' Again, this is either vapidly true or utterly false. Coincidentally, I had just read a quotation from Arnold Schoenberg - 'If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.' This is meaningless - why should we assess whether something is art on the basis of some fictional demographic scale running from the all to the few? But it is plainly elitist in a way that would be anathema to Andy. On the whole, Schoenberg's meaninglessness is more persuasive than Andy's vapidity. Artists are, indeed, an elite. Audiences need not be, however, which is why Andy would have won if he had said, 'I believe all children have the ability to appreciate great art.' This may not be true either, but it is, at least, possibly true whereas all children having a creative talent cannot be - unless, of course, we are prepared fatally to degrade the word 'creative' in a way that would render the entire issue meaningless.  My point is that a state initiative to produce artists is an absolute waste of time whereas one to produce audiences might just work. It's called education. We should give it a go. 
PS I also learn that Schoenberg was 'easily unimpressed'. Maybe he's my kind of guy after all. 

Who's Sorry Now?

With Kevin Rudd in power in Australia, this was inevitable - but will the apology make the slightest difference to the social collapse of the Aborigines? Was it anything more than a fatuous gesture, adjusting the mood music? Aboriginal children continue to be taken from their families in large numbers, but the motivation now is to rescue them from neglect and abuse. The sad fact is that these people were doomed as soon as the first white men settled in Australia - it's a story that will never get any happier. Or am I being unduly pessimistic? By the way, that's not Rudd in the picture at the top left of the report.

Hal: Another View

We bloggers may scoff and sneer, but 'Jacqui' Smith has the measure of the man - Hal, she drools, combines the best qualities of.... No, I can't go on. Meanwhile, on the home front, this little chap remains the man to watch. 'Andy' has had a topping wheeze - inflict five hours a week of 'culture' (whatever that might be) on the nation's schoolchildren. It's all part of the project to make Britain a 'creative hub' (ditto). His defence of it on the Today programme this morning was masterly in its eloquence, grasp and sheer intellectual depth. An inspired appointment, Gordon- in fact, two.

For Warren Buffett

I don't know much about Warren Buffett but I like the idea of a man who is relentlessly self-deprecating, lives in Omaha, can invest the hell out of everybody else on the planet, is leaving billions to the Gates Foundation and, now, can make stock markets leap with a stroke of his pen. He says of his scheme to bail out the wretched monoline insurers - 'When I go to St Peter I will not present this as some act that will entitle me to get in. We're doing this to make money.' Don't worry, Warren, you're in. God's heavily invested in US real estate.

Hal: Any Theme Will Do

My imagination having been dwelling in the magnetospheric intellectual realms of American politics for the past few weeks, this morning I plummet into the moronic mud that is Brown's Britain. Here is Jonathan Freedland's account of the Great Leader's latest initiative. No it is not April 1st. Seemingly Hal watches talent shows like The X-Factor, Any Dream Will Do and How Do You Solve a Problem Lie Maria? These shows are, of course, inspired in their heroic labours by the poet Gray's immortal insight 'Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.' What joy it would bring to the heart of Gray to now that we now have Andrew Lloyd Weber to bring us every blushing flower! And Hal has, indeed, also called on Gray's Elegy to explain his latest deep concern for the people of Britain. For Hal, these shows are all about 'unlocking talent' and, yes, that is to be the 'over-arching theme' of his new decrees - sorry, policies - in education and employment.  Does anybody, anywhere believe this horseshit? Hal is rapidly making Blair look like Marcus Aurelius. It used to be said that Hal was a very bright man surrounded by bright young things. He isn't and they aren't.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

For The Mad Major

Uhoh, Appleyard's done a runner again... Me I'm back at NigeCorp, wrestling with the steam-age technology (among other things). Yesterday - already it seems so long ago - I was on sunny Box Hill, where, as usual, I paused to pay respects at the grave of this fine fellow. As I awoke today - to hear the United Nations (united only in their loathing of America) ranting about 'show trials' at the prospect of the 9/11 gang facing justice, and some jazz nut screaming 'cultural rape' in response to the closing down of The Jazz, a failed digital radio channel - it seemed to me that the good Major was surely right about the world being topsy turvy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Masculinism: Time to Burn Stuff

I think I see a pattern emerging here. We seem to be heading for positive discrimination in favour of men. Feminism is dead; long live masculinism. It had to happen. The questions is: lacking bras, what do we burn? Football shirts, that should get their attention.

Ah Meng To All That

This blog cannot allow the death of this very special orangutan to go unmarked. A Special Tourism Ambassador for Singapore, she 'could drink tea from a teacup and looked good for an ape,' we are told - which is more than can be said for some of our fellow humans. The poor thing seems to have suffered a major existential crisis in 1982, when she climbed a tree and refused to come down (then fell out), and became involved in a trans-species love triangle in 1992. Perhaps as a result of this, she is reported to have given birth to 'five children'. What a tale she could have told, if only she'd done a Cheeta. Now we'll never know the full story... RIP Ah Meng - you're probably better out of it.

On Notting Hill

Life in my new home in a nutshell:
'"My God in Heaven!' he said; 'is it possible that there is within the four seas of Britain a man who takes Notting Hill seriously? - '
'And my God in Heaven!' said Wayne passionately; 'is it possible that there is within the four seas of Britain a man who does not take it seriously?'"
G.K.Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Atonement and Blood

So the BAFTA goons made the risible - everybody I know says the same thing - Atonement best film. As I have asked before, who are these people?Plainly they know very little about film. Meanwhile, I find myself agonised by There Will Be Blood. One moment I think it's a masterpiece, the next I think it's absurd. Daniel Day-Lewis is, I think the problem. He is brilliant but, equally often, absurd and the absurdity means one cannot forget he is acting even when he is being brilliant. One oddity of the reviews I have read is that nobody has made the obvious point that it's about Iraq/Iran. I would have thought making a film  about oil, blood and religion at this point in history represented a pretty obvious signpost. 

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Live Blogging

Manchester City lead Manchester United 2-0 at half time. Obama is right. There is a god. So far. Yep, there's a god. Good to have that settled.

Obama's Faith

To the irritation of certain Old Tories, I have applauded the intelligence of Barack Obama.  I did so on the basis of an intuition. Now I can provide hard evidence having watched this speech. Here it is in text form. This is extraordinarily fine, even echoing - I assume unconsciously, but who knows? - the sublime Marilynne in its defence of the role of religious thinkers in American history. The use of Abraham and Isaac is a quite brilliant dramatisation of the logic of the separation of church and state. We would be right to take Isaac away from Abraham because 'we don't hear what he hears'. But the big point is the weight of intelligence that had gone into this position. Obama has out-thought everybody on this matter. In addition, there is his willingness to engage in an issue that, for entirely different reasons, would threaten political careers on both sides of the Atlantic. Obama may not succeed and, if he does, he may not even make a good president. But he interests me. For a contemporary politician, that is a huge achievement.

The Hawley Arms Fire: I Look on the Bright Side

I never could get the hang of Camden Town. It's a funny shape and I always get lost. Its residents display the first signs of the extreme ugliness that afflicts the whole of North London. And, finally, Camden has never got beyond about 1971 when the hippie life involved selling brass trinkets, tie-dyed tee shirts and exotic smoking materials. In fact, looking back, 1971 was the only time I did feel vaguely at ease in the town that time subsequently forgot. There is, therefore, a lot to be said for the fire that has destroyed the Hawley Arms and neighbouring buildings. Camden needed something like this to draw its attention to the fact that it is now 2008. With luck, it will inspire them to close down the whole of Camden Lock market, tossing the catering packs of Rizla and cheap Indian silk scarves into the canal.

The Seventies

In The Sunday Times I rethink the seventies. Dirty work but somebody had to do it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Milk - What's Happening?

I am no fan of cow juice, but inevitably there's always a little milk around the house. Lately I've noticed that it invariably goes off before its sell-by date. I'm pretty sure that, on some farming programme in the small hours, I heard a piece about this, saying that it's down to extremely high levels of white cells in the milk, which is in turn down to massive use of antibiotics on the unfortunate milch cows. I haven't been able to find any corroboration of this - does it make sense, or was I dreaming? And is it my milk alone that is turning prematurely?

Obsolete Technology Update

Last year it was the tape cassette - now another one bites the dust. Polariod seemed such a brilliant idea at the time, didn't it, even if you had to peel the film apart and spend ages waving the print about and blowing on it to dry it off, and it was a rubbish picture anyway - and then, over time, it would fade away altogether. Brilliant! Having been out and about with my spiffy new digital camera yesterday, I must say this seems an almost frighteningly good technology. Mind you, I'd probably have said the same about Polaroid back in the day. That's technology for you. But it's always faintly sad when a once vibrant, all-conquering technology finally reaches the end of the road.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Andy Who?

Apparently this little chap is our Culture Secretary. Am I the only person to have noticed that on last night's Question Time he was replaced by a rather badly painted ventriloquist's dummy? You could tell from the staring eyes with extravagant paint-on lashes that recalled the heyday of Biba - oh and the fact that he hadn't a clue about any of the questions, especially those that came within his ministerial brief. It was quite alarming really - but then Question Time often is, especially when thrown such bloody red meat as Rowan Williams's remarks on Sharia.

Dutch Delirium

Precisely because I have no idea - it's in Dutch - what's actually going on here, I find this strange vid puts me in a state of near delirium.

Rowan and Sharia

Of course, the moment you say 'Sharia Law', everybody thinks of severed hands, public floggings and adulterers hung from cranes. I am sure this is silly, but it is the ways things are and it is the reason why Rowan Williams is now in such trouble. I suspect what he actually meant was pretty harmless even if wrong, but hysteria is the defining characteristic of our public realm.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Frank Wilson: How to Compliment Americans

The first reference I can find to Frank Wilson on my blog is this one from September 2006. Since then there have been many others. There have also been book reviews I've written for his pages in The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of which resulted in a reconnection with that great poet John Ashbery after a gap of more years than I care to remember. Tomorrow Frank retires from his job as literary editor, though he will continue blogging. He's sent many people to this blog and I hope I've sent a few to his, though I'm not sure he needs them. His blogging style is hubbism, he creates a hub of links rather than a collection of news, views or, in my case, borderline personality disorders. Occasionally, however, Frank himself emerges not just as a diligent bookman but as an Old Tory. I find myself disagreeing with him about as often as I agree with him, though, I note, Frank and Nige are so in tune they could be the same person. Frank was, in effect, my first glimpse of the higher joys - rather than the lower pleasures - of blogging. He raises the game. Last night I had a dream about being in Philadelphia and trying to find him. One day I will.

Art Madness

Uhoh - where's Appleyard? The flaneur had better step in, if he can stir his dozing brain into some kind of action. I've been thinking about the ludicrous prices being fetched by certain 'modern' artists lately - a train of thought encouraged by spectacularly overexcited reports from Sothebys New York auction rooms yesterday on the BBC (Godfrey Barker - I think it was he - seemed on the point of passing out). In the event, this happened - things hadn't gone quite as mad as predicted. But what is this all about? And why is it only certain 20th century painters and certain Impressionists that fetch these absurd prices? They most certainly aren't the easiest on the eye - Bacon, De Kooning, Pollock... Is it just that there's too much money swishing around looking for a sure thing, and, as ever, too little taste?
The Victorians had their moments - consider this - but you can somehow see the sense in the Babylonian Marriage Market and even the Monarch of the Glen. (Here's an image). A person could live with this kind of thing, just about - not so the Bacon, which belongs only in a museum and emits such ferocious bleakness that no one could possibly live with it. In the end, I suppose, it must be all about money, working away independently of the feeling human realm. The painting in itself barely matters...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Ironically (always a good word to begin with) the hysterical excesses of Super Duper Tuesday coincided with Shrove Tuesday - which, by my calculations, makes today Ash Wednesday. In the course of my flaneurish wanderings yesterday, I found myself visiting this extraordinary church - one of the very few in London with anything of the truly medieval about it. Dark, heavily Norman and intensely atmospheric, it's a breathtaking space to enter - and it is but the stump (chancel, lady chapel and truncated transepts) of the original priory church. There is even - in London! - a recovered stretch of medieval cloister. No wonder they charge £4 admission - finding something like this in London is beyond price (in France, of course, it would be commonplace).
Anyway, it seems St Bart's has a good line in sermons. See the Ash Wednesday sermon on the website - that is quality stuff indeed, by current Anglican standards. And meanwhile...
Teach us to care and not to care.
Teach us to sit still.

Wonderful Wednesday: How to Insult Americans

I have been much entertained by the comments (and thousands of hits) inspired by my On American Football post. This, I now realise, is how to blog - you insult Americans. I feel slightly guilty as I do have something of a pro-American record. On the other hand, it's fun and easy traffic. So:
1)How can so many of you be stupid enough to vote for Hillary? There you are trying to spread democracy around the world while - Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton- back home you resort to dynastic rule.
2)How come you're all so fat?
3)Don't get me started on baseball. Over here it's called rounders and played by very young schoolgirls.
4)Are you ever going to build a decent car? 
5)Shepherd, Mitt and Dakota are not viable first names.
6)It is not necessary always to lie and say 'Great' when asked 'How are you doing?' A much better answer is the traditional English 'Mustn't grumble.'
7)Budweiser is the vilest drink ever created by man and is not beer.
8)Nobody anywhere at any time looks good in a baseball cap.
I could go on but I might jeopardise my I-Visa.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ryanair and Mme Sarkozy

Ryanair is at it again. First it's schoolgirls, now it's Mr and Mrs Sarkozy. How far can they go down this tasteless route? 'With Ryanair Gordon Brown can see through both eyes.' Maybe not. And, since the subject has come up, what about that Sarkozy eh? He looks like a shoe salesman who became president of France just to get Carla Bruni. The lady plainly likes variety and most of the obvious mating strategies - philosopher, film director, actor, singer-songwriter, Rolling Stones vocalist, rock guitarist, Hollywood star, comb-over tycoon and prime minister - had already been successfully deployed. President was about all that was left, if you don't count King, Pope or failed intellectual.  I don't suppose neurotic blogger would get a look in.

Remember Fluoride?

Here's a blast from the past and no mistake. I guess the pressure of coming up with 'ideas' and 'initiatives' every day was bound to drive our desperate 'government' back into the 80s sooner or later - but really, fluoride in the water?! Don't tell me we're going to have a 'national debate' on this as well. I don't know about you, but all these national debates are really taking it out of me...

A Flaneur Writes

Well I'm idle on the town this week, on a rare break from the unsleeping turbine halls of NigeCorp. As ever, without the NigeCorp lash at my back, my brain has gone into sleep mode and I have resumed the life of the flaneur. Yesterday I met a friend for lunch at the National Gallery, so took the opportunity to look round the gallery's two current small exhibitions. One is called The Art Of Light, an interesting and well designed pairing of German stained glass from the V&A with well chosen paintings from the NG's own collections (I can recommend the surprisingly sweet and charming Master of Liesborn). But I was more taken with this exhibition of landscape sketches, some of them very beautiful, some as finished as paintings, all of them from a time when painters could really paint - the sheer ease and fluency and freshness of the best of these 'sketches' is wonderful. In several cases, one suspects these sketches were better than the artists' finished paintings.
Anyway, apart from the flaning (and sleeping), my principal occupation has been trying to get to grips with this new laptop - a much fancier affair than the old one, thanks to the unexpected generosity of the insurance company who so far have coughed up handsomely after the burglary. It's an alarmingly sensitive machine, prone to deleting chunks of stuff for no very obvious reason, so I'll post this now...

The Interview Plant

Do television news cameraman take a plant with them wherever they go? I ask because everybody I see interviewed has a plant behind them. And here's the thing - it looks like the same plant.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Zoology and Serenity

When in cafes - yes, yes, sometimes Starbucks - I tend to sit on the high stools and place my coffee on the shelf so that I have an unobstructed view out on the street. This allows me to stare at people as if they are on a screen. It has recently struck me that my staring has changed. I have entered a new phase. The phases of people watching are pretty obvious. When young it is status-laden, sexual and tribal, loaded with heavy, insecure critiques of the passers-by. Then there is the anthropological phase. This lasts a long time and consists of slightly superior analysis of manner and appearance as if one were gathering material for a novel - though, in fact, it's obviously just status-seeking to distract one from the fact that one is no longer young. I have just - half an hour ago, in fact, in Cafe Nero in Notting Hill - emerged from this anthropological phase. I now regard people zoologically. All judgment and status anxiety are gone. I no longer feel a member of the same species as the passers-by. I watch their appearance and behaviour disinterestedly as if they were the animal protagonists in some TV wildlife show. They interest me but they do not bother me. For those of you who haven't got there yet, I can report that the zoological phase brings with it a wonderful feeling of serenity.

On American Football

American football is, basically, rugby for a legalistic, health and safety obsessed nation. It also seems rather girly in that teams dress up in shoulder pads and shiny, skin-tight trousers and compete for some kind of bowl. Never mind, it seems to make them happy and they are showing no sign of getting a grip a cricket.

Hamburger Eats Man

I think you ought to know that if you're fat and planning a trip to Mississipi, don't expect to eat out. But, to be honest, my real reason for drawing your attention to this story is the accompanying picture of a hamburger eating a man. Happens all time, of course, but it's never been caught on camera before.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I think I might have stumbled upon the ultimate insomnia cure. I defy anyone to stay awake till the last sentence of this desperate piece of work, which I had the misfortune of hearing the good Professor deliver on Radio 4. Fabulously banal in content and wholly inert in style, it reads as if the Prof was sweatily checking the word count at every line turn - keep going, keep going, nearly there... To think that this is the same Point Of View slot that is occupied, from time to time, by the jewel-like, effortless and very funny contributions of Clive James. The one consolation is that Cannadine will surely not have persuaded a single listener to buy this wretched new book of his...

The Way It Was

Here's a reminder of how they used to do politics in America. Today is the anniversary of the assassination in 1900 of Governor William Goebel of Kentucky - by, it seems, a seriously hacked-off political rival. His probable last words are rather fine - 'Doc, that was a damned bad oyster.'... It's hard to imagine Hill and Obama settling matters in quite such a robust manner - or indeed scoffing oysters to the end.

Super Tuesday: I Endorse

With Super Tuesday looming and in my role as grand panjandrum of Thought Experiments and Supreme Failure of the FIS, I feel it is time to do some endorsing. I am not alone. I gather Larry David has endorsed Barack Obama and the Grateful Dead are reuniting to celebrate their devotion to the senator. (People are saying Jerry Garcia won't be there just because he's dead. That's never stopped him in the past.) I assume Larry's backing is, basically, a stop-Hillary move since, judging by Curb Your Enthusiasm, he is terrified of women. The Dead are, of course, just going with the flow as they have been since the sixties - though, as we know, time is meaningless. Obama may be a bit nervy about these two endorsements, representing, as they do, incompetence and marijuana. But, since those two categories cover almost the whole population, I guess he can live with that. The Republican side is less interesting. I marginally favour McCain because I couldn't live with a president called Mitt and certainly not Huckabee. Anyway, a couple of years ago Simon Schama said to me, 'Hillary versus McCain, McCain wins; Obama versus McCain, Obama wins.' This still seems right. Hillary has become peculiarly horrible lately and I find it hard to imagine anyone voting for her after another nine months of exposure to her harshness and inauthenticity. So I endorse Obama. He has real intelligence and neither we nor the Americans have voted for real intelligence for some time now. In fact, I'm not sure we ever have. Elizabeth I was probably our most intelligent leader and she was just handed the job. So, on balance, it's Obama for the US and bring back the Tudors for us.