Monday, April 30, 2007

I'm still cool

On Friday night I'm driving, so one drink and that's it, want to get back, early night, lot to do Saturday. Gym, supermarket and whatnot. Saturday afternoon a barbecue with friends in suburbia. Keep the noise down. Neighbours. Chit chat. Walk the dogs. One glass of cider which for some reason triggers a horrible allergic reaction. Sneezing all evening. Early bed again, cup of tea, can't play football with a hangover. Up at 7.30am Sunday morning sufficiently recovered to play against fattening friends with the usual disproportionate competitive ferocity. Back for a coffee, brunch, knackered, nice afternoon kip. Glorious sunshine so I take the chance to coat the fence in Ronseal Woodstain. After that, bringing in armfuls of washing, it suddenly occurs to me that I might not be very cool any more.

"Am I still cool?" I ask, pitifully.

Mrs Brit puts my mind to rest immediately: "You were never cool, dear."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Take it to the bridge

Julia Buckley posts in her usual winsome way about the Second Severn Crossing. This magnificent structure links South Wales to England, aiming straight along the M4 to London.

It is but a hop and a skip and a jump from Bristol, which therefore benefits from the proximity of two awe-inspiring bridges.

So what is it about bridges, exactly? When people talk of man-made wonders, bridges always seem to dominate. Why do we love them so?

Some possible reasons:

1) They tend to stand stark and alone, in plenty of space for panoramic viewing.
2) They are generally of a superhuman scale
3) Their purpose is pure and obvious – other buildings tend to be full of stuff, or people, or offices, and to be surrounded by similar neighbours
4) They are a clear demonstration of man’s ability to overcome natural obstacles and define his own environment.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Amy vs Valerie

ToE has been shamefully neglecting Amy Winehouse recently and has been getting complaints accordingly. Quite right too.

Last year Scouse band The Zutons came out with the storming stonker of a single Valerie.

Here's Amy doing a rather nice soft Mediterraneany holidayish cover of the kind Duck might enjoy.

But more excitingly, here she is belting it out while drunk...

The Alliance is coming!

It's official, the Post-Judd Alliance has found a new victim. Locust-like, it swarms all over Bryan Appleyard's blog, leaving nothing but destruction and discombobulated leftists in its wake.

I'm proud of you, boys. Darn proud.

Friday, April 27, 2007

But Of Course..

...America has its fair share of eejits, too.

They're called Democrats.


I implore urge command you to go and read this glorious Bryan Appleyard essay from 23 September 2001.

For let us ponder, for a moment, exactly what the Americans did in that most awful of all centuries, the twentieth.

They saved Europe from barbarism in two world wars. After the second, it also rebuilt the continent from the ashes. They confronted and, in the end, peacefully defeated Soviet communism, the most murderous system ever devised by man, and thereby enforced the slow dismantling – we hope – of Chinese communism, the second most murderous system. America, primarily, ejected Iraq from Kuwait and helped us eject Argentina from the Falklands. America stopped the slaughter in the Balkans while the Europeans dithered.

...“People should think,” the writer David Halberstam says from the blasted city of New York, “what the world would be like without the backdrop of American leadership with all its flaws over the past sixty years.” Probably, I think, a bit like hell.

There’s a lot wrong with America, I have myself catalogued many of her failings, and terrible things have been done in her name. But, when the chips are down, all the most important things are right. And, on September 11th, the chips went down.

But the Yankophobes were too villanously stupid to get the message. Barely 48 hours after almost 6000 Americans were murdered, we see the BBC’s Question Time with its carefully hand-picked audience of morons telling ex-US ambassador Philip Lader that “the world despises America.”

I am sick of my generation’s whining ingratitude, its wilful, infantile loathing of the great, tumultuous, witty and infinitely clever nation that so often saved us from ourselves.
For anti-Americanism has never been right and I hope it never will be. Of course, there are times for criticism, lampoons even abuse. This is not one of those times. This is a time when we are being asked a question so simple that it is almost embarrassing, a question that should silence the Question Time morons, the sneering chatterers and the Cold Warriors, a question so elemental, so fundamental, so pristine that, luxuriating in our salons, we had forgotten it could even be asked. So face it, answer it, stand up and be counted.

Whose side are you really on?

Beside the content, the fact that he wrote it so soon after 9/11 amazes. (Sadly, it fell on deaf ears or I wouldn't have had to keep banging on in 2004, 2005, 2006 and again this year. )

Although all anti-Americans were opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and most of them simply because of their anti-Americanism, it was not necessary to be anti-American to be opposed.

Therefore, the true test of anti-Americanism has always been 9/11. Formerly, its ugliness was cloaked in reasonableness. It used to go like this: “It’s a tragedy, a dreadful thing….but of course…” And here it comes, the “But-of-Course”. But of course, they brought it on themselves, didn’t they?

A deep and sickening malaise lies behind this But-of-Course. One is reminded of pub louts who accuse a rape victim of having it coming to her for wearing a short skirt. Naturally, the 9/11 But-of-Courser would scream down that pub lout in seconds. So where can that malaise have come from?

The But-of-Coursers have faded since 2001. The replacements are even worse. Anti-Americans don’t even bother with the polite “It’s a tragedy” prelude any more. And then there are the Conspiracy Theorists, the most snivelling, stupid, hateful kind of anti-Americans, whose only saving grace is that they are too barking mad to bother with.

America will survive all this, and no doubt worse in the future, because America is a great country and because the anti-Americans are powerless and wrong about all the important things. They know this, and that’s where the rage comes from.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In every dream home a heartache

The trauma of my visit to Madame Tussaud's continues to linger, and brings to mind Roxy Music's finest hour - their sinister and hypnotic love song to a blow-up doll.

Your skin is like vinyl
The perfect companion
You float my new pool
De luxe and delightful

Is there a more striking image in popular music?

The voice of experience

Monix on language development, glue ear and television.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Being and Nothingness

When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes in anything, said (my great-great-uncle-in-law – beat that as a claim to fame) GK Chesterton. Except he didn’t say it. But lots of people do say it, and wrongly attribute it to him.

Indeed, it is one of the most frequently-quoted misquotations in this corner of the blogosphere. It is also one of those things that immediately sounds clever and true, but which, when considered more carefully, is quite obviously false.

The argument that this quotation is supposed to encapsulate goes as follows: in the absence of the benign rule of the Christian (or Judeo-Christian if you will) belief system, we will not have a world of harmless, secular, rational atheists going about their business, but rather a mad free-for-all of paganism, superstition, mumbo-jumbo, Sun-worship, and, more dangerously, a complete lack of checks on such things as Marxism, Nazism and so forth.

There are two problems with this line. Firstly, it reeks of snobbery. The implication is not that the wise speaker, above the fray and observing all things, would fall into this trap without his faith, but that the plebs would. The great unwashed need the guiding hand of the Church to keep them on the path.

But the bigger problem is that the facts just don’t support it. At the one end, it’s quite obvious that believing in God does not stop you also believing all manner of other rubbish. People thank God when they come second in the Little Miss Iowa Under-6s Beauty Pageant. The Phelps family thinks God kills US soldiers to punish the nation for tolerating gays. In England, we live in both a less Christian age and a less superstitious age. Our God-fearing forbears also feared witches and werewolves, and believed in lucky heather, relics and the protective power of amputated rabbit’s feet.

At the other end, it’s clear that when people stop going to Church on a Sunday morning, they don’t instead sign up with the local pagan tribe. They just go shopping, or watch television or their kids playing football, or they sleep off hangovers.

We put up candidates all the time: the current favourite is Environmentalism, which does have a healthy number of screeching acolytes. But plenty of crunchy Christians are also Environmentalists. Most people just pay it lip service, as they used to pay lip service to God.

When a Man stops believing in God, he really does just believe in nothing, for the most part. The arguable vacuity and shallowness of this kind of existence might be a better target for the defenders of the faith, since the Chesterton quote is clearly nonsense.

Luckily, Chesterton didn’t say it, so his reputation remains intact.

The Madness of Mel Gibson (2)

In my extremely belated film review of The Passion of the Christ, I made the pretty obvious observation that the most striking thing about the movie is its sheer uncomplicated lunacy.

Turns out South Park said it much better than I could. (Warning: contains typical South Park offensiveness).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Scandinavian humour

Medieval Helpdesk: how to use a book.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Madame Tussaud’s

For reasons both banal and obscure, Mrs Brit and I visited Madame Tussaud’s last week.

Never again. It scared the bejesus out of me as a kid and it did so again this time. The Chamber of Horrors, even with the jumpy-out actors ‘live’ section is not remotely frightening, but the rest of it is bloody terrifying.

You walk through a series of uncanny valleys, bizarre mocked-up cocktail parties littered with such incongruous guests as Elvis Presley, the Incredible Hulk and Chris Tarrant. Charles Darwin stands next to Neil Armstrong. A grotesquely accurate Stephen Hawking sprawls cheerfully in his chair.

Always there is the spine-shiver of eyes upon you: either the super-real glass stare of the waxworks, or, if you stay still too long, the puzzled look of a tourist wondering who you’re meant to be. The half-familiarity of the figures is what makes it such a strange experience, especially the realistic ones (Samuel L Jackson is freakishly lifelike; James Dean is appalling). More disturbing is the semi-erotic aspect. Girls drool and drape themselves over an ossified Orlando Bloom. Boys gawp at Jennifer Lopez’s plastic rump.

I simply don’t get what Madame Tussaud’s is for. The most interesting game seems to be discovering how tall everybody is: Christina Aguilera is a dwarf; Ronald Reagan was a giant. Other than that, the popularity of the place is a mystery to me. Can anyone explain it?

Brian Lara

There have been four cricketing Gods in this era. Two of them, Sachin Tendulkar and Murali Muralitharan, are still going. Shane Warne called it a day after one final scourging of the Poms, and on Saturday Brian Lara also quit after a last game against England.

He was fond of a bit of England-scourging himself, of course. Here he is scoring Test cricket's only individual quadruple-century to the sound of his own song.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Don't miss...

...Bryan Appleyard on blogs and the Web 2.0.

And Murad Ahmed on Virginia Tech, if only for this amazing paragraph:

In 2005, there are 14,000 gun related homicides in America. In around the same period, there were 73 in the UK. In Japan, just 2. In America there is an average gun-killing rate of 3.97 per 100,000 of the population; in Switzerland, where it is legally mandatory to hold firearms, it is 0.51.

It was a Big Ask for the lady...

...but she staked her claim and will be looking to make a name for herself

Giles Smith amusingly skewers the Neanderthal objections to the BBC’s employment of a female commentator for the first time on Match of the Day.

Jacqui Oatley was given the low-profile Fulham v Blackburn game, which the BBC buried halfway through the programme, presumably to give her a gentle introduction to the cut-throat, high-stakes universe of describing the least uninteresting bits of mid-table matches to sleepy men just back from the pub.

I watched it, and Jacqui was fine. Or rather, she was no better or worse than any other British TV football commentator. Which in many ways was the problem – she was exactly the same as every other British TV football commentator.

Hearing the commentary in the unfamiliar female tones had the effect of highlighting just how stange and incestuous is the language of the professional pundit. We’ve always known there are cliches, but I’d never really noticed just how rigidly conventional the whole private vocabulary is.

It goes way beyond the odd “game of two halves” or “he’ll be disappointed with that”; virtually every phrase is weird. “Warnock finds himself in acres of space”; “And McCarthy, the poacher, supplies the finish”; “scorer nearly turned provider”; “half-time can’t come soon enough for the beleagured manager”. One-twos must always be “lovely little” things, balls are only ever “shepherded over the line” by defenders, and strikers must “look to make a little darting run in behind the defence”, in the hopes of collecting a pass that will either be “wayward” or “inch-perfect.”

Nobody speaks remotely like that in any other walk of life. But thanks the curious evolutionary paths of language, that’s how British commentators feel they must describe the process of a football match. Presumably other nations have their own conventions. Listening to American soccer commentary sounds hilarious for us: they pick up on wholly different aspects of play (being fixated with long goalkicks and throw-ins and such like), and we always love the Latin “Gooooooooooooal golagolagola” business. Foreign viewers must have a completely different experience to we watchers of Motson and Tyldesly.

Oatley is ok. She has watched a lot of football matches and is perfectly fluent in commentator-speak. You don’t have to know anything about football for that - you just need an ear for language.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Superskinny Me

Health campaigners have expressed concerns over a Channel 4 show encouraging women to go on crash diets.

In Super-Skinny Me: The Race to Size Zero, several female journalists will try out various extreme diets.

This must be the third or fourth instance of female journalists (or in one case, Louise Redknapp) attempting to get to a Size Zero in the last month alone. They're all supposedly showing the terrible health risks and the ugly side of extreme dieting.

Commendable maybe, but please, once was enough - we get the message. I can't shake the sneaking suspicision that these women are just using the journalistic angle as an excuse.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I think I finally see...

...what David was getting at with all that "Darwinism is trivial" business.

Still don't agree though.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Duck v Appleyard (and David v Brit)

I'm off to London for the day to meet up with long-time friend and occasional foe David Cohen.

So I won't be contributing to this thread on Bryan Appleyard's blog, but you might want to: it's shaping up to be very interesting indeed.

On Steven Gerrard

A more cheerful sporting note today, and another scorcher from Stevie G last night. Reviewing some of the many worshipful compilations on YouTube, I'm reminded of how ridiculously often the boy does it. He's a freak.

I've never watched a game where Gerrard was playing for the opposition. But I imagine that if that situation arose, I would feel a deep sense of fear and foreboding every time this gangling youth collected the ball and loped towards my penalty area.

I've been putting it off for too long now - the time has come to say it. He's overtaken Dalglish. He's the best player Liverpool have ever had.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The inevitable

Fresh from its success in eliminating global poverty in 2005, the world of rock music is back to tackle the Big One:

More than 200,000 people registered for tickets to the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium, organisers have said.

Interested fans had 72 hours from Friday to Monday to register before a ballot to distribute the £55 tickets.

Madonna, James Blunt and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are among the 17 acts confirmed for the concert, which aims to raise awareness of climate change.

The only way 'awareness of climate change' could be raised any higher than its current Himalayan heights would be if the Government paid students to come round to your house, beat drums and repeatedly scream "Anthropogenic Global Warming!" through your letterbox, without pause, for a week.

But this concert's heart is in the right place, I'm sure. Doubtless the Greatest Hits collections of Madonna and the Chili Peppers can always do with a bit of awareness-raising.

But why must it always be ‘ignominious’

There are just too many similarities between England’s twin ignominious (local by-laws oblige us to use that word) exits from the 2006 World Cup of football and now the 2007 one of cricket for it to be a matter of coincidence.


1) In both cases England scraped unconvincing wins against amateurish minnows in the early rounds, with the management promising us that starting slowly is good …. the important thing is to win… if you can win while playing badly…raise their game against better opposition…etc.

2) In both cases England then promptly and predictably lost when coming up against decent teams.

3) In both cases the captain (Beckham, Vaughan) was there purely for his personality and leadership qualities, being little more than a passenger in a playing capacity. These qualities proved insufficient.

4) In both cases one solitary world-class player (Gerrard, Pietersen) showed glimpses of brilliance that might keep England in with a shout, only to be swamped by the general mediocrity surrounding him.

5) In both cases I swore often and with vigour at the television.

There’s a conspiracy here somewhere, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Old Blue Eyes

Although I stand by the claim that Frank Sinatra was so great a singer that he alone could make such unutterable drivel as My Way sound good, there are a couple of songs that stretched even his talents beyond the limits of acceptable listening.

The first is of course High Hopes, a wretched la-dee-da piece of High-Apple-Pie-eee in the Skyeee cringery.

The other is the intolerable Love and Marriage. However, in searching for it on YouTube, I was delighted to come across this video, which is perhaps the last word in anti-MTV minimalism and illustrates the inevitable circularity of all culture.

Your wildest dreams have come true

Good heavens, it seems that Tyra was right. It really is the super-duper-cali-fragi-cure-everything-eye-face-and-everywhere creeeeeeeeeeeeeeam.

Meanwhile, Paris Hilton does her bit to disprove the lazy myth that Americans are geographically-challenged ignorami.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The greatest love of all

Mrs Brit has recently been belting out Whitney Houston songs on the karaoke machine. In particular, lusty renditions of The Greatest Love of All have been echoing around the vast, crumbling chambers of Brit Towers.

Now naturally enough, my brain's protective filter will automatically block out any song which opens with the lines "I believe that children are our future", but nothing could prepare me for the trauma of seeing the lyrics appear on the screen.

I don't know about you lot, but I had always lazily assumed that this was a common-or-garden number expressing Whitney's amorous intentions towards a Significant Other.

But in fact, it is nothing of the sort - it's actually one of those grisly get-to-love-yourself self-help manual things which, I'm afraid to say, the Cousins specialise in.

The Daddy of this genre is of course My Way. My Way is a great song when sung by Frank Sinatra (all songs are great when sung by Frank Sinatra) but on close inspection stands revealed as the most dreadful pile of tosh. I'm sure we can agree on that, yes?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Many thanks... all the (mostly silent) readers of ToE who came to the Big Shindig.

There was a lot of love in the room last night, and as today's hangover mists slowly evaporate, nothing is clearer than the importance of good old friends, which you all very much are.

If half of you enjoyed it twice as much as I did, then twice as many of you are half as happy as me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Grand National

It's the big race today, and millions of mug punters, including me, will waste a healthy wedge of their hard-earned on an aimless punt on the hoss with the best name.

This is all as it should be. The only thing that irritates me about the National is the people who come into the office on Monday and inform you that they 'picked' the winner but didn't wager any money because they 'don't agree with it.'

Retreat to the shed

Friend of ToE Robert Crampton, forced to write about interiors for a special edition of the Times Magazine, describes a phenomenon we can surely all relate to, lads.

Sorry, but a nasty infestation of Alex has forced me to temporarily introduce Word Verification. These things tend to go away after a bit.

Friday, April 13, 2007

T'internet is a strange place

Against all the odds, Think of England appears to have become a gay icon in New Jersey.

The Madness of Mel Gibson

I finally got round to watching The Passion of the Christ last night. It was always in my mind that seeing the film for the first time post-Gibsongate might be a different experience to the one had by cinemagoers who watched it unburdened by the knowledge that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semitic nutjob.

But in the event, it wasn’t anti-Semitism that made an impact so much as the sheer, uncomplicated lunacy of the movie.

Gibson has form, of course - he did make the stupidest film of all time. But this was something else again. The interminable, pornographic scenes of bloody torture were not a big deal for me. Gibson merely uses the same device employed by Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho: boredom. If you show something in detail over and over again for ages, the spectator just becomes numb and listless and a bit sick. Shock tactics ad nauseam, in other words. During the seemingly endless flogging scene I kept flicking over to check the Spurs versus Seville game, but after a while I couldn’t remember if I was really watching the football match and occasionally checking for the latest score in Romans versus The Skin on Christ’s Back (a walkover for the Eyeties, an utter thrashing).

But as I said, the gore wasn’t a problem. What got me was the silliness. The first appearance of Satan with his/her little pet snake had me chuckling. The bit where s/he appeared holding what appeared to be a nude Chucky doll prompted a loud guffaw. I snorted derisively when we got a raindrop’s eye view of Christ’s last breath.

But it wasn’t until the final seconds of the film, when the Resurrection was afforded no more than 10 seconds and a close-up of a reborn Caviezel in the Tomb that I finally understood what Gibson’s movie was all about.

The Passion of the Christ is nothing more than a revenge movie without the actual revenge bit. In all revenge movies, the hero must undergo horrendous suffering at the hands of the callous baddies, reach a broken, battered nadir, and then return rejuvenated and mean in the final reel for the bloodthirsty Reckoning.

Gibson subjects us to the ultimate gruelling trial of horrendous suffering, but has no interest in the forgiveness bit. There was no joy in this Christ’s Resurrection, which is why all we see of it is Caviezel in profile, with an expression that says “Time to take out the trash” and looking for all the world as if he’s striding off into the sequel: The Passion 2: Christ Strikes Back with a Vengeance.

More British humour

Talking of great Punch jokes, in his (highly recommended) bogside book, Paperweight, Stephen Fry points us to a cartoon from a 1939 edition.

A man is shown leaping into a London taxi and shouting at the cabbie: "The Royal School of Needlework - and drive like hell."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blog Pub

Appleyard has nicked my well-worn analogy of the blog as pub.

As the landlord of this establishment, I feel it is important to make beneficial introductions.

I would therefore like Thought Mesh to meet McCabism, if they haven't already done so.

I think Susan's Husband/AOG and Gordon have a lot in common with each other, but not necessarily with the rest of us mortals with normal-shaped brains.

The curate’s egg

Over on Thought Experiments I made the claim that ‘True Humility’ by George du Maurier (grandfather of Daphne) is the Daddy of all English self-mocking jokes.

I stand by that claim. In a simple image and a single phrase it covers everything you need to know about the absurdity of class deference, priggishness, the logical extremes of etiquette, timidity, flattery, and the business of eternally behaving as if you have a poker shoved a good distance up your behind.

Like all the very best jokes, it has more pathos than humour.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bacon butty news

Scientists have created a mathematical formula of how to make the perfect bacon butty, says the BBC.

Brown roll, tommy sauce, English mustard.

Bish bash bosh. Innit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Back off, Brussels

A British shopkeeper in Spain has been fined for selling a jar of pickled onions with an English label - even though her customers are all Brits.

Food inspectors spotted the £1.20 jar among hundreds of correctly labelled items in Helen Rush's store, reports The Sun. A local law says ingredients must be translated into Spanish - but Helen branded her treatment unfair.

She said: "I spend hours translating the labels but when I make one small mistake I get hammered for it. It's irrelevant to them that 99.9% of my clients are Brits and a Spaniard wouldn't eat a pickled onion at gunpoint."

It's good to know that the expats who have set up such magnificently rigid Little Britains in the Spanish sun - where Only Fools and Horses and Premiership football are always on the telly, and full English breakfasts, Marmite soldiers and pints of John Smiths are always at hand - have not forgotten to take with them our beloved tales of EU bureaucracy GONE MAD.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Quite religious

Tim Hames tackles what has become a proper chestnut: what to do about the Church of England.

There is a story about William Whitelaw which, in a touching if faintly damning way, sums up the plight of the Church of England. It involves the moment when the Conservative politician was told that, somewhat unexpectedly. Robert Runcie was to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Whitelaw, who had admired Runcie’s military record during the Second World War, was delighted. “Splendid news,” he said. “Fine man, Runcie. I knew him in the Army; very brave, very brave.” He then concluded: “Quite religious too, you know.”

“Quite religious” is an awkward place to be stranded between the more robust stations of militant secularism and theological fanaticism. “Quite religious” is also an accurate description of our contemporary Easter. On Friday, Gerard Baker wrote in these pages that in Japan, where there are not many Christians and an element of confusion is perhaps understandable, it is possible to purchase a Father Christmas nailed to a Cross. Coming soon, a chocolate egg nestling in a Nativity manger?

Anglicans are desperately close to the worst of all worlds. They are perceived as both irrelevant and bitterly divided, especially over homosexuality, which threatens to rip the Church apart at the Lambeth conference next year. It is a moment when leadership at the top — charismatic, intellectual and spiritual — is especially important. Yet leadership is not so much missing as mislocated. Rowan Williams at Canterbury and John Sentamu at York are well qualified to occupy the two most senior portfolios in the Church of England. Unfortunately, they are most well qualified for each other’s positions.

Dr Williams is probably the most intelligent man to sit in St Augustine’s chair for centuries. He is kindly and thoughtful and almost painfully reasonable. His anguish over how to simultaneously hold his Church together and his conscience intact is manifest. He is the personification of the thesis that a liberal is a man so broadminded that he would not take his own side in an argument.

At a deep level, I identify strongly with Rowan Williams. I like him and, to use an Appleyardism, I find him consoling.

He is everything that is good about religion. The sad thing is that he is presiding over the decline of everything that is good about religion, and by being good, he is in a way helping to accelerate this decline.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

On the Ignorance of Yanks

"Do you have television in England?" an American lady once asked Mrs Brit.

We Brits (and Europeans and Australians and everybody else) like to have a laugh at the ignorance bred by America's media isolationism.

But then, when they can kick our arses into oblivion whenever they like, and given that we Brits are, essentially and sensibly, America's poodles, it is important to our psychologies that we can have a good laugh at things like this.

It's like Ahmadinejad 'choosing' to release the sailors.

Friday, April 06, 2007

American plot to start Iranian war foiled!

Sir Richard Dalton analyses the Iranian sailor-kidnapping fiasco.

It is a human instinct to construct a narrative to try and make sense of events. The Iranians were planning to get x and have achieved y. The Brits knew what was going to happen all along and played a good diplomatic game.

9/11 Conspiracy types took about two minutes to proclaim that it was all a set-up by the Americans to justify bombing Tehran*.

But as with so many things, the truth is rather more prosaic. It was just another sorry series of stupid, make-it-up-as-you-go-along cock-ups. Plus a healthy dash of pathetic personal hubris on the part of Ahmadinejad.

(*Some of the sailors themselves clearly forgot to read this script. The Stockholmish toadying to their captors from one man in particular was bizarre and difficult to watch.)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Big Guns fight old battle

Here is a write-up of a recent debate on the motion 'We'd be better off without religion'. Old Dawkinsy, AC Grayling and Chris Hitchens were for; Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey agin'.

The heathens won. But then with Dawkins and the Hitch on board you'd expect that, since as I tried to explain to deaf ears elsewhere, when every argument that can be made has been made, only style matters.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Just who is Guido Fawkes? is the question nobody is asking

What are blogs for? Guido Fawkes thinks they are for battering British politicians.

Guido has attained a moderate bloggish kind of fame for his daily assault on political animals of all colours. He has no agenda except a kind of adolescent anti-everything anarchic libertarianism.

Bryan Appleyard met Guido and has given him a rather too generous write-up here.

The fact that Guido met a mainstream journo like Bryan illustrates that his real problem is that he can’t decide whether he wants to be famous or anonymous. Or rather, he wants to be famous for being anonymous. So he settles for a ridiculous halfway house where he appears on national television in silhouette. But anyone who gives a hoot one way or the other knows who he is. He is some guy called Paul Staines who calls himself Guido and has a daily bloggy bash at British politicians.

Here he is on telly, in 'disguise', being beaten up by a proper journalist:

A lot of rot about Trotsky

Clive James debunks one of the last great myths of communism: that Trotsky was the nice guy and if only he had triumphed over Stalin, rather than vice versa, Eastern Europe would now be a utopia.

…But the Russian civil war that turned Trotsky into one of the century's most effective amateur generals also unleashed his capacities as a mass murderer. The sailors at Kronstadt, proclaiming their right to opinions of their own about the Revolution, were massacred on his order. The only thing true about Trotsky's legend as some kind of lyrical humanist was that he was indeed unrealistic enough to think that the secretarial duties could safely be left to Stalin. His intolerance of being bored undid him. But his ideas of excitement went rather beyond making love to Frida Kahlo, and at this distance, there are no excuses left for students who find him inspiring. Trotsky's idea of permanent revolution will always be attractive to the kind of romantic who believes that he is being oppressed by global capitalism when he maxes out his credit card. But the idea was already a dead loss before Trotsky was driven into exile in 1929. He lost the struggle against Stalin not because he was less ruthless but because he was less wily.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Most Hated Family in America

Louis Theroux tried to work his faux naïve magic on the members of the Westboro Baptist Church on BBC2 the other night, but failed to find any trace of humanity or deep-buried sanity within The Most Hated Family in America.

There are religious nuts, and there are religious nuts, and then there is the family of Fred Phelps. They travel across America to picket the funerals of US soldiers, shouting at mourning mothers that God has killed their sons to avenge the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.

“God hates fags”, they encouraged their seven-year old daughter to shout from the roadside, as justifiably angered passers-by hurled abuse back at them.



I'm not sure what to make of the world today. On the one hand, it seems that many Iranians are fiercely proud of the pointless act of aggression that could ultimately bring Armageddon raining down on their idiot heads.

But on the other hand, these otters are just so damn cute.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gill versus Hitch

I recently lambasted AA Gill over on the Daily Duck, but this week he wrote two eminently sensible things in his TV review column for the Sunday Times.

Gill - an incorrigible contrarian - hates everything of course, but by the law of averages he's sometimes right. I was going to post about his thoughts on The Great Global Warming Swindle, but I find that McCabism has beaten me to it. However, his critique of another incorrigible contrarian, the Younger Hitchens, is also spot on:

George Monbiot turned up in Peter Hitchens’s splenetic rant about David Cameron and the Conservatives, Cameron — Toff at the Top (Monday, C4). Seeing Monbiot and Hitchens together reminded me of those animal photos, beloved of the tabloids, where Alsatians marry ducks and tigers cohabit with goats. Among journalists, Hitchens is fondly known by the nickname Bonkers. He’s called Bonkers Hitchens because he is raving bonkers, in a way that sells papers but makes him very annoying to sit next to on long flights. I’ve covered elections with him and seen him chase cars like an incensed border collie.

His thesis is that Cameron is nothing but a filthy upper-class prat. He revealed this as if it was a well-guarded secret. Cameron, he insisted, as is the wont of his elitist privileged class, had taken the good old working-class Tory party and made it an annex of the smug, snobbish Labour party, thereby running together Magna Carta, habeas corpus and the rules of Association Football, thus destroying democracy as we understand it. The great thing about Hitchens is that he never disappoints. Blissfully, he is utterly bereft of self-irony. For Bonkers there was nothing remotely odd or absurdly hilarious about hating the Conservative party for having Eton-educated, upper-class boys in it. Hitchens should be encouraged to do more. He’s like a lost biblical character from The Life of Brian.

Is this ironic?

How about this one then? Is it ironic? Well?

My guess is not intentionally. However, the implied accusation that men are to blame for body fascism and that We are all Sisters Together (whoop, holler!) is highly ironic, since the magazines that publish those mean pics are bought exclusively by women. Men genuinely don't give a hoot.

Ben Helfgott

The guest on today's Desert Island Discs was the remarkable Ben Helfgott. A Jew, he was the only member of his family to escape Nazi-occupied Poland. His mother and sister were shot in the ghetto. He lost his father when he was deported to the concentration camp. When he was liberated from Theresienstadt he was a 15-year old skeleton.

Helfgott was taken along with seven hundred other Jewish orphans to start a new life in England. He grabbed this life with both hands, and went on to become a successful businessman and the British weightlifting champion - representing his adopted country at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. He now organises Holocaust Memorial Day.

He says he has never hated the Germans, but that, far from fading, the trauma of his memories becomes more intense as he gets older. No matter how many times one hears the stories of the Nazi atrocities against their fellow humans, the listener still goes through the same emotional wringer: rage, disgust, guilt, incomprehension, sadness; and finally awe at people like Helfgott.