Sunday, December 31, 2006

The best thing about the holidays... napping. Forty winks. Catching a few zeds. Or as the Brit pater familias always put it, with that strange human reluctance to admit that we're actually going to sleep during daylight hours: "Going upstairs to contemplate the Mysteries of the Infinite."

I am now firmly of the opinion that remaining fully awake through an entire afternoon is against human nature, all religions and the inherent mechanical laws of the Universe.


A new blog to add to your favourites list: long-time friend and sparring partner Peter Burnet has at long last hoisted his own flag, at Diversely We Sail.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Kidney update

If you're ever in the vicinity of Clyst Hydon, Devon, I can heartily recommend the steak-and-kidney pudding at the Five Bells Inn.

Chock-full of the stuff. Wash it down with a pint of Royal Oak.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The goose is getting fat

Aaaaaaah The Two Ronnies! As English as yellowing Penguin Classics and cannons at dawn. Since it’s Christmas, here’s one that’s as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old slippers….

A Merry Yuletide to all of you: with thanks to all those who’ve helped make TofE such an exciting place this year, and curses to those who’ve hindered.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Everyone has the right to be equally miserable

Jamie Whyte writes a beautifully clear and concise piece in The Times, called How human rights always lead to human wrongs

….Initially, our self-evident human rights were simply protections against the abuse of power. Today, entitlements to all manner of goods are making themselves evident to human rights oracles. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, claims that we have human rights “to food, to work, to healthcare and housing”.

This inflation has changed the politics of human rights. Whereas human rights once supported limited government, they are now invoked in favour of the welfare state and the maximal government it requires. Which is why the human rights movement, although well intentioned, has become a malign force.

In an article to mark Human Rights Day this month, Ms Arbour claimed that poverty is caused by human rights violations. It is true, of course, that if people had food, healthcare and housing, they would not live in poverty. But it is absurd to say that lacking these things causes poverty. Lacking these things
is poverty. Why do millions of people lack decent food, healthcare and housing? That is the question.

The human rights lobby sees poverty as an essentially legal problem. All humans are entitled to food, healthcare, housing and so on. But countries where poverty is common have failed to enshrine these entitlements in law. If they embraced human rights, poverty would be legislated out of existence.

If you are tempted to agree, perhaps you will also like this idea. The government should enrich us by passing a law that entitles all Brits to an annual income of at least one million pounds. The difficulty, of course, is that Britain’s GDP is considerably less than one million pounds per person. It is impossible to provide everyone with this income.
The same goes for the more modest entitlements that human rights enthusiasts claim to be universal. Providing every citizen with decent food, healthcare and housing exceeds the productive capacity of many poor countries. Mauritania’s annual GDP, for example, is only $400 per person. It would be nice if Mauritanians were richer, but declaring that they should be will not help. Entitlements to wealth do not create wealth. On the contrary, they hinder wealth creation.


The causes of poverty are debated by economists. Yet most agree that property rights are essential for wealth creation. Without them, wealth cannot be accrued. And if people cannot accrue wealth, they have little incentive to create it. Why invest capital and effort in a business if you cannot feel secure in your ownership of it, and of the profits that flow from it? Communism and anarchy create poverty in the same way: by undermining property rights.

Property rights are not universal entitlements. If I own some land then you do not own it. You lack entitlements that I enjoy, such as the profits made by farming that land. Such inequalities are inherent to property rights. Which may explain why human rights activists do not care for them. In an 800-word article on fighting poverty, Ms Arbour did not once mention property rights. Instead, she lamented “unequal access to resources” — something entailed by private ownership of them.

Tens of millions of Chinese have worked their way out of poverty in recent years. It was not achieved by extending human rights law in China. Nor is it an “economic miracle”. It is a predictable consequence of establishing property rights.

It is a strange aspect of the Leftist outlook – which has a monopoly on many international institutions and public bodies, but not on any successful Government in history – to ignore the lessons of reality.

Rather than examining why the West has succeeded in creating unprecedented wealth and standards of living, while Communism has succeeded only in creating unprecedented misery and atrocity, it is considered more important to talk about ideology, as if ideology mattered.

There comes a point, however, where well-meaning but misguided becomes stubborn, arrogant and eventually, evil.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Desert Island Discs

Aaaaaaaaah, Desert Island Discs! As English as gin in teacups and leaves on the lawn - the Sunday morning sound of plummy voices and scratchy records, sandwiched between The Archers omnibus and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, with the rich kitchen aroma of lamb roasting and the imminent promise of slipping down the local for a pre-lunch bitter, back for grub, then a solid afternoon’s dozing in front of the football. Unbeatable.

Desert Island Discs, born in 1942, is the longest running music programme in the history of radio, proving that the deep, geeky pleasure of compiling personal Top 10 type lists, of categorizing your cultural make-up, was merely taken to its logical conclusion (and then way, way beyond) by Nick Hornby, not invented by him.

D.I.D is the mother of all List shows. Virtually every famous or worthy Briton has appeared at some point, including Noel Coward, Rowan Williams and all the last five Prime Ministers. The format is simple enough – you get to choose your eight favourite records to take on a desert island and between justifying your selections you talk about the triumphs and disasters of your long and fascinating life.

Over the years I have identified three different approaches taken by the guests to the problem of choosing just eight tunes from the billions available.

The first approach is just to pick your eight bestest songs. Thus Tory MP Ken Clarke had eight swing jazz records. The second is to pick the eight tracks that are least likely to drive you mad after endless repetitive playing in the isolation of a desert island. Though sensible if you were actually about to be packed off to a life of interminable solitude and boredom, this method seems to me to be taking the thing rather too seriously.

The third ­– and I suppose the most suitable method for the programme – is to take an autobiographical approach, selecting tunes that represent important stages or moments in your life.

The fourth method – which I will call the Politician’s Method – is to pick (or get your PR team to pick) music that you think will make you appear cool.

My two penn’oth (as at 15 December 2006)
In truth, most castaways take a line mixing all four approaches, and so will I. But since it is much more fun to agonisingly whittle down your own list than to read those of others, I will whistle through my selection tolerably quickly. (It is agony by the way, because after a while you start getting really quite upset about leaving things out. I’ve had to jettison the Beatles, Beethoven, Bob Dylan – and that’s just the B’s).

(By the way, you also get to choose a luxury and one book (in addition to the complete Shakespeare and the Bible). Those are easy enough. A life without Test Match Special is not worth the living, so Radio 4 Longwave is the obvious luxury, and the book will of course be the Aubrey-Maturin series in one huge volume.) So on to the records:

First up is Buddy Holly’s Rave On, which the Brit Pater Familias had on an LP and which was the first piece of music to make me spontaneously jump on the spot. As soon I was old enough to work the record player, I would play it repeatedly, leaping about the furniture like the miniature rock 'n roll monkey I was. That introductory “We-a- -he-he-he hell” is still the best thing in rock music.

The next four selections can be hurdled at a relative gallop, being all classical and all heartbreakingly maudlin. I Know that My Redeemer Liveth from Handel’s Messiah is a burst of Catholic beauty; then Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto; followed by Chopin’s Nocturne No 7 in C sharp minor; and Boccherini’s La Musica Notturna delle strade di Madrid (which is a cello/violin piece used recently in the Master and Commander film and thus the perfect accompaniment to my reading).

Number Six is Cemetry Gates by the Smiths. I have to have some pop music, since so much of my time and money has been frittered away on it, and this song’s Englishness would help keep me sane. Number Seven is Gerry and the Pacemakers’ version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, for obvious sentimental and tribal reasons.

You are also required to rescue one of your eight records in an imaginary tidal wave. This is straightforward enough, since record number eight is O Mio Babbino Caro, from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

This two minutes of sublime light shone on our world of petty woes is here channeled through Angela Gheorghiu. Get your tear-pricking and spine-tingling apparatus ready:

(YouTube also has renditions by Kiri te Kanawa and even Maria Callas. O brave new world!)

Since none of us will ever get on the actual programme, please feel free to use the comments section as an outlet for your own Desert Island Disc compiling urges.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And still talking of it

The ultimate act of self-sacrifice that no one noticed

Emine Saner
Thursday November 30, 2006
The Grauniad

To motorists on Chicago's Kennedy expressway on the morning of November 3, the fire was just an annoyance, slowing their journey into work. It appeared as if someone had set the city's sculpture of a giant flame, which stands by the road, on fire. Most of those commuters didn't hear for some time that it wasn't the sculpture on fire, but a 52-year-old anti-war protester, Malachi Ritscher. Many probably never heard about it.

Ritscher's death, four days before the American mid-term elections, wasn't the shocking, national news story he had hoped it would be when he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, next to a video camera and a small sign reading, "Thou shalt not kill." It hardly made a ripple in Chicago's mainstream media until an alternative newspaper picked it up. Nationally and internationally, his death has gone virtually unnoticed.

Although he had held protests against the Iraq war for several years, Ritscher's final act has largely been dismissed as that of someone suffering from mental illness - he had a history of depression and alcoholism and surely nobody of sound mind would choose this, one of the most agonising ways to die.
But although his mission statement, posted on his website before he died, showed he was somewhat eccentric (he wrote that he regretted missing an opportunity to assassinate Donald Rumsfeld), it is by no means an incoherent ramble. "If I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world," he wrote. "I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country."

My emphasis in both cases.

Talking of which

This strange man is standing outside Parliament bedecked in a protest sign that reads "Denied the right to protest".

Monday, December 11, 2006

Too much government

On ePolitix today:

The prime minister has unveiled 500 new measures to cut Whitehall red tape.

Nineteen government departments will publish plans to save businesses and charities more than £2bn a year.

Is it just me, or is that opening sentence somewhat self-contradictory?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Apropos of nothing

This morning, as I walked back from the papershop with my Times tucked under my arm, a sunny winter morning, hilly pavement, terraced townhouses, the brandy cobwebs clearing, I passed an unremarkable couple standing and chatting on a corner. He too had a newspaper; she was a thin, mature lady holding a lead, at the end of which was a Chihuahua shivering in a little tartan doggy coat.

I walked on and thirty yards down the road I passed another unremarkable couple standing and chatting on a corner. He had a newspaper; she was an even thinner, even more mature lady, holding a lead, at the end of which was a Chihuahua shivering in a little blue coat and what appeared to be a little blue doggy scarf.

O what a piece of work is man.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cancel Christmas

Never before in the history of Test cricket has a team declared in the first innings with so many runs on the board and gone on to lose.

Maudlin doesn't begin to cover it, but as England contrive to record literally the most extreme example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the history of the sport, we can finally see that last summer was indeed a glorious freak, and once more sink back into the familiar arms of the kind of epic failure that has been our faithful companion for most of our cricketing lifetimes.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Measuring Maudlin

Being an American, and thus predisposed towards the crudely literal, Duck took exception to my description of his musical tastes as ‘maudlin’ because he looked up the word in a dictionary.

Dictionaries be damned: properly understood, maudlinity is nothing to be ashamed of. Celebrate your maudlinness! Much great art is magnificently maudlin. Maudlinosity lies somewhere in the middle of a sliding scale of sweet sadness, which begins at Melancholy and reaches its darkest depths in Morose. But beware: without care, it is all too easy to fall off the poignant path, the lachrymose lane, and land in the ditch of naffness that is Moribund.

The following examples should clarify matters so that there can be no further confusion about the subject, beginning with a seasonal theme:

Melancholy: In the Bleak Midwinter
Maudlin: Silent Night
Morose: A dead reindeer in the snow
Moribund: Jingle All the Way, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger

Melancholy: Solitary night-hawks at the bar, after hours
Maudlin: A solitary walk in the rain, after the funeral
Morose: Bowling alone
Moribund: Simulating bowling alone on your Nintendo Wii

Melancholy: the life and death of Lenny Bruce
Maudlin: Somewhere from West Side Story, by Leonard Bernstein
Morose: Leanord Cohen singing Hallelujah
Moribund: The German stage production of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

Melancholy: French existentialism
Maudlin: English sonnets
Morose: Russian angst in ballet form
Moribund: Esperanto