Friday, November 28, 2003

English Rugby - A Heartfelt Tribute

(Despite the above, we'll be at Kingsholm tomorrow to welcome Vickery, Woodman and Gomersall).

Thursday, November 27, 2003


George W Bush's Thanksgiving trip to Iraq was a coup de theatre, from the troops' unscripted roar of approval to the President's unscripted emotion. He appeared genuinely taken aback at the warmth of his reception.

BBC televison news inevitably spun the whole thing as a well-managed election stunt ("this will go down well back at home"), but that's a pretty risky way to spend Thanksgiving in exchange for a few news clips. Rather ruins the old campaign if an RPG takes you out of the sky - and the propaganda coup of killing him would have been a major defeat for the West - well, that part of it that doesn't read the Guardian, anyway.

Maybe Bush is conscious of the troops he's sending out to be shot at. His hero Churchill put it like this.

"A man who has to play an effective part in taking, with the highest responsibility, grave and terrible decisons of war may need the refreshment of adventure. He may need also the comfort that when sending so many others to their death he may share in a small way their risks. I rely on my own judgement, invoked in many serious matters, as to what are the proper limits of risk which a person who discharges my duties is entitled to run."

Monday, November 24, 2003

The Shame, The Shame

As England celebrates its modest, whiter-than-white rugby heroes (alright, we'll ignore the Dallaglio tape), footballers continue their own unique PR campaign for the beautiful game.

From further instances, alleged and proven, of 'non-consensual roasting', to this. It's never a nice feeling knowing police are looking for your side's centre-forward.

Jeff Astle wouldn't have behaved like that.

That Wasn't So Bad, Now, Was It ?

He came, he saw, he spoke, no-one changed their mind. But the riots didn't materialise, due to a huge police presence - and perhaps an awareness, as the news of the Istanbul atrocities broke, that tomorrows front pages were already filled.

And perhaps, just, among a few, a shameful feeling that declaring Bush to be the real terrorist while people were being dismembered in Turkey was somehow wrong. No evidence for that, mind you. But as Churchill said "If it is not true, it ought to be".

Harry has a couple of magnificent posts on this contradiction and the fact that the STWC couldn't bring themselves to make any reference to events in Istanbul. So has Norman Geras.

The Maxim Gun of Rugby

Little to say about events in Sydney yesterday, save that Jon Wilkinson was again the difference between the sides, just as in the Wales and France matches. But the chances England missed ! The game should have been sewn up at half time, though the Aussies hung on magnificently.

Unlike some of my fellow Wales supporters, I was cheering England on.

One notable feature has been the number of UK press articles by ladies getting all hot and bothered over manly hunks in ripped shirts. Is this the end of the New Man ? Can't see anyone asking Johnno or Phil Vickery about emotional literacy, can you ?

Sue Mott is the cheerleader, but here's a typical sample from the improbably named Tiffanie Darke. Wasn't she in Diamonds Are Forever ?

And here's a funny thing - the final has inspired the great Aaronovitch to wrap himself in the flag of St. George. Must admit I had him down as a rootless-cosmopolitan-the-world-is-my-country Englishman, like that great English patriot Billy Bragg.

But in a rambling essay ranging from Regents Park mosque to Patrick O'Brien via Agincourt (where I must point out the bowmen were Welsh, actually), he proudly asserts that despite our arrogant imperialism, our child-beating, our pavement vomiting, "we can be a bloody good lot".

Cry God for Arro, England and Saint George !

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Prospect Magazine

Prospect Magazine

It's three quid an issue (or two quid an article online. Yikes !). But if the free articles each month are any guide I'm tempted to subscribe.

This months has a fascinating (for politics junkies) journal by Horace Busby, a close aide to LBJ, describing the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath, and also incidentally showing what an innocent, gentle place early 60s America was (for a white politician at any rate), compared to England in 2003.

"One night during this period, I came home to find my wife reading the Dallas Morning News. Mary V handed me the front page. "Read this," she said. "Someone has lost his mind."

It was a story announcing that on his visit to Dallas, Kennedy would ride in an open car motorcade from Love Field to the site of his luncheon address. "I can't imagine your friends in the secret service letting the president do that," she said. I agreed with her. The thought of serious danger to the president did not occur. Our memories were still fresh, though, of 1960 when the vice-president and Mrs Johnson were mobbed in a Dallas hotel lobby. An ugliness had crept into Dallas politics that perplexed many Texans. In October, there had been a nasty attack on Ambassador Adlai Stevenson when he spoke there. An open car motorcade was an invitation for more episodes - ugly signs, jeering chants or, perhaps, an egg tossed at the presidential limousine.

An egg thrown, 'ugly signs', 'jeering chants'. These were considered unusual, ugly and nasty. What would they have made of an open car drive through London last week ?

'What's wrong with nursing ?' is a critical look at the new NHS culture which has replaced the old-fashioned nurse with a medically qualified, grievance-filled sociology student. I blogged a while back on the PC claptrap which fills the set texts that Susan is studying - now Julia Magnet describes the effect at the sharp end.

"The endless bilge of status and power relations filters out of the university and into bedside manner and clinical practice. Bad ideas create bad practice, and Project 2000 nurses have been trained to think that certain types of care demean them. This is illustrated by my pillow story. It all started when my vein was "tissued" - my IV tube slipped out of the vein and the medicine was pumped into the tissue by mistake. It hurts like blazes, and the whole hand swells up like a Porky Pig cartoon. All you can do, a lovely older nurse told me, is keep it elevated and wait for the fluid to drain out. She brought me some pillows and arranged my hand on a little pyramid. Unfortunately a few days later, when I was in the bath, my room was cleaned - a rare occurrence - and the pillows were removed. Later that day, another nurse tissued another vein. So I went to the nurses' station to display my Porky Pig hand and ask for some extra pillows. "No, the wards only give out one per patient." I explained that it was for my swollen hand, politely refraining from mentioning that it was their fellow nurses who had necessitated the elusive pillow. "Well, you'll have to ask your nurse." Who was my nurse? "She's gone home." I went back later, when my swelling was worse, to ask again. "We don't deal with pillows." I asked to speak to whomever did; she was gone. Then I asked another nurse: "Sorry, the ward is out of pillows." Could she borrow one? "The wards are very jealous of their pillows," was her answer. Could the ward manager help me? "She doesn't deal with pillows." Well, could this nurse just look for a spare pillow? (By now my hand was blueish.) She rolled her eyes, "I won't promise anything." Forty-five minutes later I went to look for her; my hand was numb. She had gone home. This time I said I would call my doctors if that's what it took - I got my pillow. "

I would imagine that this hospital, like most in the NHS, had a mission statement for on each ward describing the care and respect to which each patient was entitled.

UPDATE - a shortened version of this article is in the Sunday Times.

Self-Hating White Booker Judges ?

Prospect also has a review by Michael Lind of Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre's Booker-prize winning novel. Well more of a hatchet job really.

Lind is no conservative - he opens by describing GWB as "the president of the country, the talentless son of a former president, (who) has killed perhaps as many as 10,000 Iraqi civilians in a war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction which probably never existed."

His thesis is that Pierre's book is a caricature of Texas life - and a very bad one at that. Taking apart Pierre's descriptions a detail at a time, he concludes "it's as though, in a scene set in the Irish countryside near Dublin, Pierre has described men in tartan kilts taking part in the Highland Games while snakes croak loudly under the coconut trees", and asks "are the British literati so ignorant of the US that they can think this is a competent parody? "

The modern stereotype is of the insular American, knowing nothing and caring less about the outside world. Yet it seems the Booker judges (DJ Taylor, the fragrant Francine Stock, Rebecca Stephens, John Carey and AC Grayling) know of Texas only through cliche and stereotype.

"According to the press release, "Through the character of Vernon, DBC Pierre has given a voice to a generation that mainstream America would rather ignore..." Oh, please. What could be politically safer or more commercially successful today, in Britain or the metropolitan US, than to make fun of ignorant, patriotic, God-fearing white Americans?

Far from showing courage as a satirist, Pierre is a conformist who avoids challenging the sensibilities of the snobbish, transatlantic liberal left. Nowadays it is politically incorrect to portray blacks as idiots who love watermelon and fear ghosts, east Asians as buck-toothed people with glasses who say "Ah, so" and the Irish as sub-humans who exclaim "Faith and begorrah!" Yet, university-educated people as much as anyone else have a psychological need for an untouchable caste to give them a pharisaical sense of superiority. Today that psychological need is fulfilled by exempting middle-class and working-class whites, in the US or Europe, from the ban against ethnic stereotyping. This exemption permits all of the stereotypes of yesterday's racist humour to be attached to those dreadful white Americans or Brits who have the poor taste to live in the US south or midwest, or the English suburbs.

At the moment in the US, there is a controversy over a nasty game called Ghettopoly, a parody of Monopoly set in a black inner-city neighbourhood, with crack houses instead of hotels, and so on. Many enlightened people from LA to London who would be shocked by Ghettopoly feel free to laugh at the moronic white American hinterlanders portrayed in movies like Fargo and Bowling for Columbine in the way that generations of audiences in American minstrel shows and British music halls laughed at caricatures of blacks. Whiteface - as the success of Vernon God Little proves - is the new blackface. If you doubt me, open a page of Vernon God Little at random, and make this simple substitution: all of the characters are black instead of white. At one point Pierre's cartoon Texas sheriff says: "How many offices does a girl have that you can get more'n one finger into?" The comic malapropisms of pompous black characters were a staple of racist minstrel-show humour of the Amos 'n' Andy kind. If Pierre, purporting to unveil the reality of black America, had depicted a leering, sex-obsessed African-American police officer unable to distinguish the words "office" and "orifice," would jury members like AC Grayling - a distinguished philosopher whose work I have long admired - have voted to award such bigoted trash the Booker prize?

But I don't want to be too hard on the Booker jury. They've democratised literature by proving that a book doesn't have to be any good to win a prize, so long as it exploits socially acceptable national and ethnic stereotypes. I've taken heart and begun work on my own courageous exposé of contemporary British life, entitled The Isle of Cretins. Depicting Britain as a land of football hooligans, oversexed royals, fox-hunting toffs, secret agents and transvestite comedians, The Isle of Cretins will be based not on my limited personal knowledge of British society but rather on British media images that have made it across the Atlantic: Benny Hill, James Bond, Monty Python and so on. Maybe I'll win the Booker."