Scribble Scribble*

April 17, 2012

Let’s Leave Hillary Clinton Alone

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 9:18 am

Nile Gardiner, a member of the itinerant commentator classes, has written a rather silly blog for the Daily Telegraph, taking to task Hillary Clinton, the wife of the former US President, for going to a night club. The establishment in question is in Columbia where Mrs Clinton, who is also her country’s foreign secretary, was attending an international summit, as these sort of people tend to do.

There are many reasons for criticising Mrs Clinton’s choice of evening out, although I am not sure that Mr Gardiner has identified any of them correctly. It is certainly unbecoming for a woman of Mrs Clinton’s age to be seen in public dancing to modern music, though that would be true whether she were a school dinner lady or the person notionally in charge of United States foreign policy. And there is also the question of her not being there to keep a beady eye on Bill, who needs it. I understand that Mrs Clinton travels a lot in her job, as does her huband, but since his role seems to involve flying around the world being unctuous for money, I don’t see why he can’t arrange it, say, that he is being unctuous to the Columbians at the same time as his wife is in the country, so that they can spend some much-needed quality time together in the evening.  Mr Clinton could buy his wife dinner and a nice bottle of wine, and if she wanted to swig it straight from the bottle, as she does her beer, the former Commander-in-Chief will just have to smile indulgently, as one does in all the most accommodating marriages.

The reasons for Mr Gardiner deprecating Mrs Clinton’s outing on the dancefloor are more obscure, but they seem to have something to do with the rate of unemployment in the USA.   That rate, he says, is more than is decently compatible with a high-ranking representative of the country being seen out enjoying herself. What he does not say is by how much unemployment in America needs to fall before the Secretary of State can go out for a bop. Perhaps this is all set out in the US Constitution, a document that I have always considered to be as mysterious as it is profound. Even if it is, I think that Mr Gardiner is wrong. It seems to me to be a particularly British failing to resent the idea that the better-off might experience pleasure while the poor still exist.  America has a less complicated relationship with its underclass, essentially involving them getting rich or getting shot, and I am not sure Mrs Clinton’s recreational activities have any bearing on either outcome.

The other argument Mr Gardiner puts is that it was bad form for the Secretary of State to be seen out enjoying herself the night before the Taliban unleashed a series of lethal attacks in Afghanistan. At the risk of siding with Mrs Clinton, whom I find as institutionally irritating as I am sure Mr Gardiner does, isn’t that a little unfair? One can hardly expect the Taliban to advance telegraph Mrs Clinton notice of their actions in case she wants to plan to stay in and wash her hair.

I sympathise with Mr Gardiner’s plight. Hillary Clinton has been an obscure and anonymous Secretary of State, thus robbing him and many others of opportunity to ridicule her. My view though is that Mrs Clinton should be free to amuse herself as she sees fit, while giving secret thanks that William Hague has taught himself to play the piano.  



January 20, 2012

Freedom of Speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 9:44 pm

Mr Douglas Murray, the celebrated polemicist against radical Islam – a phenomenon that he is reluctant to detach from Islam more generally – has written a triumphalist piece for the Spectator welcoming the decision of Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, to revoke the licence (or “license” as this “award-winning author” prefers) for Press TV, a television station operating from London. Despite its innocuous, and I would say rather silly name (like calling something the Newspaper Magazine or the Automobile Car), Press TV is, or was, according to Mr Murray, a mouthpiece for the regime in Tehran.

I say “according to Mr Murray”, not because I am challenging his description of Press TV as an instrument of Iranian propaganda, but because, up to the moment of reading his piece I had barely heard of the channel, and had certainly never watched it.  Now it appears I never shall. This is a shame because looking at its website it seems like there might have been some programmes I would have enjoyed. On the Edge with Max sounds intriguing and R&R  “broadcast from the only floating television studio in the world” positively fascinating.  I don’t suppose I should have enjoyed Women’s World very much – Woman’s Hour on Radio Four always induces me to vomit –  but nor does it sound very much like the voice of a fascistic Islamic regime speaking.  Its editorial take, so far as I can judge from the programme descriptions available on the web, seems to be that women in the west have gruesome and underprivileged lives; whether this is a state of affairs of which the programme-makers approve or disapprove I would have to watch and see.

Mr Murray in his article talks about some of the programmes on Press TV that he doesn’t like.  One of these was an interview with President Ahmadinejad of Iran conducted by George Galloway, the onetime Labour MP, and done so in a way that was apparently sympathetic to the Iranian leader.  This means that Mr Murray must be one of the few people in the world to take Mr Galloway seriously: certainly many do not since he, Galloway, appeared on Big Brother in the guise of a pitiful cat.  Whether Galloway conducted the Press TV interview by crawling across the floor and trying to lick Whiskas from Ahmadinejad’s lap, Murray doesn’t tell us; it might have been entertaining if he had.  But not detracting from the observation that Galloway is a sad and dotty loser, whose serial enthusiasm for grovelling towards Britain’s enemies must, in my non-professional opinion, be interpreted as some kind of cry for help.

Ofcom’s reasons for taking Press TV off-air are technical: non-payment of an earlier fine imposed for broadcasting an interview with a man filmed in prison under duress and because editorial control is exercised from Tehran.  No doubt these are sound causes for revoking a broadcaster’s licence, though they don’t add up to the conclusion that Mr Murray reaches which is that Press TV deserves to go because its puts out programmes of which he disapproves.

I do not dispute that the regime in Tehran is unpleasant and potentially dangerous, although this is also a view of Mr Murray held by his many enemies, and one would not want to see his right to free speech curtailed at the behest of such narrow-minded opinions. Indeed when it was a couple of years ago, by the authorities at the LSE who were worried that his presence in a debate on their premises would dismay their sensitive and overwrought students, Mr Murray was reported to have been very upset. If this is how President Ahmadinejad is feeling this evening, one might be forced reluctantly to sympathise with him.

December 21, 2011

Rhapsody for the Routemaster

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 10:17 pm
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Like many people, I was saddened to read that one of the svelte new class of “Routemaster” buses being introduced onto London’s streets by Boris Johnson had broken down on its maiden journey.  On closer examination of the report however, it turns out that the vehicle had merely conked out on the M4 because someone had forgotten to put any petrol in it.

My first reaction on reading this story was surprise. I don’t have as much time as I would like to examine London’s bus fleet, but the impression I have gained in passing is that modern additions to it are required to be powered by a very large bin-liner full of cow-fart gas attached to the roof. I imagine this to be some kind of European requirement, but whatever the explanation it would mean that the question of filling the vehicle up with petrol doesn’t arise.  Since it clearly does, however, the only proper response to this tale is to wonder who could possibly be trying to sabotage Mr Johnson’s impressive transport strategy with such foul and wanton propaganda.

Not that it will do them much good. Reliable forecasters of such things say that Mr Johnson will be returned as Mayor next May with 98% of the popular vote thanks to the new Routemasters. His rival Ken Livingstone may have a counter-policy of cutting fares, but this fails to take account of the fact that the silent majority would gladly pay a million pounds to ride upon one of these icons of transport history. Red Ken has no chance. And if it is he who has been putting it about that the vehicles are mechanically unreliable, then I for one will not stand in the way should Jeremy Clarkson turn up at his door one morning and shoot him in front of his family.

The truth is that the old Routemasters should never have been pensioned off in the first place. They are extraordinarily durable with some of the original vintage still running despite the model having first been commissioned in, as I recall, 1860.  It is a little known historical fact that the origins of Gladstone’s great rivalry with Disraeli date from the time when the grand old man hopped from the open platform of a Routemaster as it swung round Parliament Square, only to crash foursquare into Dizzy and knock him off his pennyfarthing. Of course the “RMs” were always controversial for that open back. After the war Herbert Morrison took the decision to suppress official statistics showing that more people had died trying to board or alight from a moving Routemaster than were killed in the Blitz.

Johnson, who must have seen these figures, has decreed that the modern version of the Routemaster must be “covered-up” at the rear. This is a shameless piece of political correctness but there you are. It is also unfortunate since anyone who has visited central London in the last few years can tell that it would be far better if the population of the streets incurred a culling of between 10 and 20 per cent.  Since we can no longer rely on our buses to carry out this task, I dare say we shall just have to go to work with our Boris Bikes, though it does seem rather like replacing the machine gun with the bow and arrow.  This though is to quibble. No one can doubt that the return of the Routemaster is a political triumph, comparable to Cameron’s veto or Clegg’s speech on the open society to the think tank Demos.  We must though remember to fill the damn things up.








John Terry and the Barking Defence

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 6:39 pm

The news that there is a second player within 24 hours in trouble for making – or allegedly for making – racist comments, prompts the thought that association football may have no future in this country. True it is popular as a spectator sport and generates an important volume of bon mots in the Twittersphere, but if its protagonists cannot be trusted to spend 90 minutes in the open air without calling each other unspeakable names then it might be time for them to join council workers and Ed Miliband’s joke-writers in the unemployment queue. Besides, I have always suspected that football itself is inherently racist, consisting as it does of mainly black men running about for the entertainment of a crowd of fatter and more flatulent men who are generally white.  It can only be the influence of the sinister football lobby, with its easy access to illegal firearms and flooded gravel-pits, that has prevented this view from prevailing.

In the case of Mr Suarez of Liverpool, it seems that his defence is cultural. The jibes that he is supposed to have fired off in the direction  of his coloured opponent were justified on the grounds that they were the sort of thing people in his native Uruguay say to each other all the time.  This may be true, though I cannot see this line of mitigation cutting much ice with the oafs of the Football Association, all of whom have resolutely Anglo-Saxon names, and outlooks to match presumably, up to and including the belief that it is down to foreigners to drop their heathen ways if they want to live and work here.

It will be interesting though to see whether John Terry of Chelsea, who is in even more serious trouble with the police for his alleged racist remarks, tries the same tack. Terry was born in Barking where one imagines the employment of earthy soubriquets to describe coloured folk is also pretty much of the warp and woof of the local culture.  The FA might possibly wear this, but since Terry is to face criminal charges he will come before a magistrate who, being middle-class, is likely to take a less indulgent view of these quaint old East End customs.

Liverpool intend to appeal against the Suarez verdict, which is all to be expected since it is scarcely possible these days for an eight-year-old child to be disqualified from a pony gymkhana without the event triggering proceedings in a higher court. Their lawyers will no doubt urgently be considering the best case to put forward, in which case I urge them to be in touch with the Foreign Office.  Some kind of diplomatic initiative is clearly needed to persuade the Uruguayan government to re-open its ports to vessels from the Falklands and perhaps the offer of reducing Suarez’s sentence to a couple of hours car-washing might do the trick. How nice it would be if football could ride to the rescue of those its players would no doubt refer to as the sheep-shaggers and penguin-botherers of the Falkland Islands.

November 23, 2011

Nigel Farage and the Norway Question

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 10:54 am

There is much excitement among supporters of the United Kingdom Independence Party that a video on YouTube showing a speech to the European Parliament of their leader, Nigel Farage, has, in the jargon, “gone viral”, which means, according to one estimate, that 250,000 people have watched it. One happy correspondent to the Spectator’s excellent Coffee House blog says that this will result in an extra 250,000 votes for UKIP at the next general election although this seems unlikely.  Many, perhaps most, of these viewings will have been by people living abroad who will therefore need to leave their homes and families, emigrate to the UK and establish themselves with new lives and British citizenship before being able to vote for Mr Farage.  Even if we make the plausible assessment that Mrs May’s Borders Agency will not stand in their way, it seems hard to credit people going to this much trouble, whatever the UKIP leader’s charisma. Besides, I cannot be the only person to have watched the video and resolved never to vote for Mr Farage under any circumstances, even if voting were made compulsory and he were in a two-way contest with Glen Mulcaire.  A more realistic estimate might be an extra 25,000 votes which, unless they became freakishly accumulated in the constituency where Mr Farage happened to be standing, shouldn’t do any harm. David Cameron need not resolve to shut down the whole of YouTube for fear of it subverting the British way of life just yet.

Of course, more and more people are becoming inclined towards the idea of an “independent” United Kingdom outside the European Union, even if they are not especially attracted by Mr Farage himself.  The reasons for this are complex, but essentially come down to the observation that the benefits of EU membership haven’t been all they were cracked up to be, while the irritations are pretty much as we had expected.  The middle classes, for example, notwithstanding the brief frisson induced by the arrival of Polish delicatessens on the high street, have discovered that there isn’t actually anything inside them they want to eat. Their young, encouraged to roam wide and free across borderless Europe with their Inter-rail passes, have reported back that continental cities are, by and large, just as dreary and pedestrianised as our own.  We assumed that taking away trade barriers would open up European markets to British toasters and televisions, without fully grasping the fact that this is a necessary though not a sufficient condition of success and doesn’t absolve us of the need to make toasters and televisions in the first place. As for the single currency, this has proved the biggest disappointment of all. For all the valuable minutes it has saved swapping currencies at border crossings, the euro turns out to be just another gambling den where the banks can go along to be reckless with other people’s money.

Sympathetic as I am to the plight of the disappointed Briton,  there is something about the dementedly simplistic arguments of the out-brigade that makes me reluctant to rush to join them. Mr Farage’s video clip is an example of this. In it, he uses his brief turn at the European Parliament podium to denounce and insult various European panjandrums, chief among them Heman van Rompuy, the President of the European Council. There are enough cut-aways to Mr van Rompuy looking alternately startled and perplexed to show that he is a target perhaps less demanding of denunciation than an old-fashioned punch in the face and therein no doubt lies the sadistic entertainment value of the clip. But I simply ask what is the point?  Mr van Rompuy is neither the author of the European calamity, nor does he have it in his power to do anything about it. Oddly enough, some of the real villains here – Berlusconi of Italy, Papandreou of Greece – men who wantonly ran up their countries’ debts without thought for the consequences, enjoy the cloak of Mr Farage’s protection.  They, he argues, are victims of the calamity, ruthlessly hurled from office by Mr van Rompuy and his henchmen in his quest for power. None of this is remotely true.  Meanwhile, Farage himself resembles a bank manager from Cheam, cursing the snails who have eaten away his cabbages, while in the background his house is burning down.

Then there is the Norway question.  Is Mr Farage himself a Norwegian I wonder?  I ask this odd question not just because it is fashionable in UKIP circles to challenge the origins of people with funny names, but because it is one theory that fits the observed fact that independence advocates are obsessed with the idea that Britain should be more like Norway.  Norway is indeed a charming place, particularly if you like fish and darkness,  and very enviable to us with its high living standards and jolly history of aggression towards its neighbours.  It is also unusually blessed with natural resources which, coupled with the fact that very few people would actually choose to live there, generates a self-sufficiency the UK will always struggle to match. People who study these things say that Norway doesn’t do too badly from its semi-detached trade arrangements with the EU, but so what.  It can easily afford not to care too much. The UK, with its massive over-dependence on international banking, is not so lucky.

That, in any case, is the argument, although truthfully I am less bothered about this than the question of the UKIP leader’s own possible Norwegian origins. It is something we should be told about I feel, especially if we are going to be encouraged to vote for the man via YouTube. Most Norwegians are smug and placid, but every now and again a maniac breaks out from among them. Think Anders Breivik, who went on the rampage in a children’s camp in the Summer, or Denis Nilsen, a famous serial killer of old who did his work in Muswell Hill, but had a Norwegian father.  I am not accusing Mr Farage of these tendencies, or even of being susceptible to them by virtue of his provenance. However, we live in a risk-averse era, where we are told that fear, uncertainty and doubt are the enemy. Better to be on the safe side and check it out.

November 7, 2011

For safety’s sake we should take to the motorways

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 10:41 am

Grim though the scenes have been from the M5 over the weekend, it was at least good news that the number of people killed did not rise from the original seven, as confidently and constantly predicted by the various luminous representatives of the police who kept cropping up on our television screens. I have no idea whether the police’s predictions were borne out of a genuine belief that the smouldering wreckage had more corpses to yield, or the growing realisation that a death toll of seven, although appalling, was insufficient to support the weight of their ambitious road safety propaganda. The focus in the papers this morning has moved from bodycount to the faultless lives of those who died in the pile-up, suggesting that a different strategy may now be in play.

Our cherubic new transport secretary, Justine Greening, was quick to the scene and quick too to fire off a warning shot against those who are using the M5 crash to say that the Government’s reckless proposal to increase the speed-limit on motorways should be abandoned forthwith.  It would, of course, be a wicked thing to suggest that these “campaigners” have embraced the tragedy as a helpful opportunity to press their cause – just as I would never dare suggest that Ed Balls was a tiny bit upset by last week’s better than expected growth figures – but to make the linkage at all is somewhat distasteful, particularly before there is any evidence whatsoever to support it.   Equally, one sees emerging from the smoke of the Taunton carriageway the avaricious glint of those who would proscribe fireworks displays within a defined distance of our major roads, or perhaps altogether.  In cases such as this there should be a cooling-off period – two years should just about do it –  before meddlesome people are given licence to make laws off the back of individual tragedies.

The M5 crash was, it is reported, the worst on Britain’s motorways, for 20 years. During this time there have been several train crashes – notably Ladbroke Grove in 1999 – where the death and injury toll has been as high or far higher. Over the same period thousands and thousands of people have died in various airline disasters.  These numbers would seem to suggest that motorway travel is one of, if not the, safest form of transportation. Indeed, serious consideration needs to be given to whether we wouldn’t be a whole lot safer, and perhaps happier, as a nation if we were made to spend our lives doing nothing but travelling around the motorway network in our cars. If nothing else it would stop rugby club organisers letting off  fireworks displays without the need for tiresome supplementary regulation.  However, I am prepared to wait a couple of years before pressing the point.

June 11, 2011

Bruce Forsyth and the People’s Revolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 9:49 am

Having campaigned tirelessly these last 20 years for a knighthood for Bruce Forsyth, it was naturally a moment of great joy to wake this morning to hear that the Queen has at long last decided to confer this honour upon England’s greatest human.  Simultaneously, the bells down in the village began to ring, and across the vale was the sound of birds. The nation has not experienced such excitement these last six weeks, not since it was alerted by the Royal Wedding to the possibilities of Pippa Middleton’s bottom.

Yet, for those of us who have worked for this moment and not just wished it, elation is flavoured with the reality that the struggle is not yet done. For in accepting his honour, Sir Bruce wondered whether he might now look forward to a peerage.  Some might see this reaction as a touch graceless or grasping, but I am equally sure that a man does not progress from The Generation Game to Strictly Come Dancing without being prepared constantly to raise the bar. Even so, it means that the effort for advancement must continue and the task of placing Forsyth in the House of Lords must also be conducted in a race with Nick Clegg to replace it with an elected senate of environmental health officers.

Still, this is as nothing compared to the prospects for Her Majesty herself who understands that she is the last person alive standing between the British monarchy and its abolition. Were she to pre-decease Sir Bruce Forsyth, then he would undoubtedly succeed her as Britain’s first proclaimed president and the people’s revolution would be complete. I have no idea how much longer Forsyth will live for, or how long it will take to get him into ermine, but it could be at least another fifty years in either case.  If it is not too presumptious, I think I speak the Queen as well as myself in saying that I hope we both have the energy to last the course.



October 27, 2010

A worrying development

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 10:26 am

The Evening Standard, which is now procurable from nowhere except a few soaking piles standing outside central London tube stations, reports that a man dressed as a woman was yesterday pushed underneath a train, thus causing the whole system to seize up for a few hours and, collaterally, the death of the erstwhile transvestite.

This is poor PR. Grayson Perrin notwithstanding, the reputation of men dressed as women is at a low ebb in our society, and will not be improved by the clan’s representatives fouling up the morning commute. Especially since, apparently, the body was left in place for several hours. Is this normal procedure, or do the police have to go through additional layers of bureaucracy to sex a victim before going to work with the dustpan and brush? I suppose there may also be additional complications of deciding whether to send a male policeman or a WPC to break the news to the relatives.

Anyway, a woman was arrested at the scene and is now in custody. It seems that she and the unfortunate victim may have been friends and were engaging in some boisterous pushing and shoving prior to the catastrophe, as one tends to do in the vicinity of fast-moving trains. Let’s hope so in any case. I would hate to think that this was the first work of an organisation dedicated to pushing transvestites underneath tube trains wherever and whenever the opportunity can be found. There are human rights ramifications to all this, and the disruption would be enormous.

August 2, 2010

The BBC and the Human Condition

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 3:15 pm

There is so much human suffering in the world that it seems rather bad form of Jenni Russell in yesterday’s Sunday Times to oblige us to confront yet more of it in her portrayal of the downtrodden, persecuted, mutinous BBC.  If Ms Russell’s account is to be believed there is a “level of rage” within the Corporation unprecedented in a quarter of the century as staff are forced to cut their administration budgets, attend meetings brutally described as “packed” and eat fried sawdust and beetle-droppings in the unimaginative, unRamsayed, canteens. On top of this, many of them are being forced to move to Salford, where it might be thought their miniscule salaries would at least run to a tin of corned beef, but where in reality they will be laughed at by Northerners for their effeminate ways and thrown into the Manchester Ship Canal.

None of this would really matter  – there are so many young people who want to “work in television” that the maltreatment of the current shift is of trifling practical consequence – save that life in the upper echelons of the Corporation is so very different. As usual the problem is not about absolute poverty but about the perception of inequality. Greed, and its permanent dancing-partner envy, is the old sore here.

For Mr Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC,  and his lieutenants, the Corporation means base salaries half the way and beyond towards seven-figures, generous bonuses, gilt-edged pension-schemes and, despite everything, calorific expense accounts.  Their privileged existence would make a tsarist blush. There is, of course, no question of them being made to move any further north than Highgate Ponds.

True these odious individuals are from time to time required to present themselves before the BBC Trust where they can be ruthlessly pummelled with feather cushions, but the consequences of this are not usually profound. When the Trust recently told the BBC’s  head of radio strategy that he didn’t have a radio strategy, he seemed to be approximately as moved by this conclusion as he would have been to be informed that he had left the inside light on in his BMW.  Conservative ministers meanwhile dare not challenge the oligarchy for fear of being accused of being the jagged instruments of Rupert Murdoch’s evil intentions.

The Guardian-classes would fight until the last of them is slain to defend the BBC – which is the best of many reasons for attacking it – but are pig-headedly oblivious to its faults.  Board-room greed, they ululate, happens only in private corporations under the perverting influence of the profit-motive.  Yet the experience of the BBC tells us that avarice, egotism and selfishness are natural parts of the human condition and just as readily expressed in the public as in the private sphere. For this insight we at least have something for which to thank the Corporation.

July 27, 2010

Policing: the Middle Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — hampsteadowl @ 12:39 pm

Most people, I think, will have been agreeably surprised to learn that one of the benefits of the age of austerity is that the country can no longer afford speed cameras, so that they are all going to be switched off.  There will be no shortage of volunteers ready to from into posses to hack these unpleasant automatons to the ground and urinate on their remains. It should even be possible to charge for the privilege, thus making the initiative not only cost-saving but revenue-raising as well.

Alas, as usually happens with Tory governments, they go too far. Now Mrs May has followed up with a proposal to switch off the rest of the police as well.  Regular coppers are to be replaced with gangs of loosely-trained vigilantes who will not even be kept in check by Health and Safety legislation as the Government is to fix this impediment too.  Instead they will be held to account by elected sheriffs, chosen rigorously no doubt on the basis of the AV system.

There must be another way. Coming through Marylebone Station this morning, I was struck by the sight of two community policemen so hung with electronic equipment, restraining apparatus and community-relations manuals that they could scarcely have moved faster in pursuit of any felon than a speed camera itself. Surely it should be possible to keep the policemen, but just scrap all the ridiculous paraphernalia they are required to cart around. Indeed, naked policeman would not only be infinitely more mobile in pursuit of wrong-doers, but put so many of them off their stride in the first place that crime could only plummet.  The flesh-baring Mrs May could surely only approve.

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