31 Jul

Rite me a poim, Megan

“Now then Megan, I want you to write a poem. And when you’ve finished, please compose a forty-part motet, cook me a cordon bleu supper and show me your designs for a new cathedral.”

If it weren’t so depressing, it would be risible to note that anyone – borderline illiterates included – are expected to be able to write poetry. What is a poem? I recall C.H. Sisson’s definition of its meaning today in the schools: “A composition in which the words do not quite extend to the margins.”

But never mind the dumb schools, this is what The Spectator offers us as an example of a poem:

“None of the teachers who taught us

Were around that final afternoon at

Grammar school – probably frightened

Of being assaulted after giving us so

Much grief for five years, no more of

That though. We sat around unsupervised

Playing cards and smoking a bit and then

It seemed so simple, so absurdly easy to

Just walk down the drive and out of the front

Gate for the last time.”

I thought it must be by poor Megan who is troubled by learning difficulties and dyslexia issues, but it turns out to be by Paul Birtill, a contributor to The Morning Star. Before we get started on thinking about your “poem”, Paul, do you mind if we just deal with something pretty basic? I mean it’s not frightened of but frightened by. It’s afraid of, as any poet no. They don’t teach you that at grammar school – ‘cos it’s grammar, innit? And, while I’m at it, none takes was not were. 

There’s no call for dogmatism when it comes to saying what counts as poetry. There is room for all sorts: for Homer, for Alexandrian metre, Augustan austerity, lyrical ballads and Uncle Tom Eliot’s inability to make connections on Margate Sands. And the sentiment doesn’t have to be hifalutin or sham antique, as in gay Hesperion’s golden whatsit. It can be slight, light-hearted, whimsical. Let me cast the net as as widely as possible and say that a poem is just a few words in a particular rhythm.

Birtill’s poem has no discernible rhythm. Dare I suggest that a poem should also be about something? It doesn’t have to be the Trojan wars or the salon of Madame Sosostris but, for crying out loud, it shouldn’t be utterly banal. Birtill’s poem doesn’t say anything except the blindingly obvious. It’s a ten-lines cliche.You go to school for a few years and then you leave.. There is no insight, nothing produced by an actual imagination, no verbal facility. In fact, it isn’t a poem. It’s prose pretending to be verse – and lousy prose at that.

Poetry is not, as the modern educashernists vainly believe, about expressing yourself. You have no self to express until you have ingested something, until you have been taught something. The true poet is usually to be noticed with the works of the great  poets of the past in his hands, not filling notebooks with verbal trash. The composition of poetry requires also concentration and, above all, practice.

You can no more write a poem without at least some understanding of what will go into ordinary English than go out and score a century against the Aussie pace bowlers when you’ve never wielded a cricket bat in your life before.

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30 Jul

As rigorously transparent as a barn door

A journalist from Newsweek was interviewing Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury:  “Some suspect there is still a hierarchy above the law. I was thinking of Jimmy Savile.”

The Archbishop replied: “If there is, I don’t know about it. As regards child abuse, there is rigorous transparency.”

So why, after numerous allegations of child-abuse perpetrated by senior politicians, are we no nearer to learning the truth? The homes of some of these retired or deceased politicians – such as Harvey Proctor and Leon Brittan – have been raided by the police, but their findings have not been disclosed

How transparent are the dealings of a political establishment which was content to see a knighthood bestowed on Cyril Smith, despite officials having warned Margaret Thatcher of paedophile allegations against him? Councillors in Rochdale, Smith’s constituency, have repeatedly stated that, while everybody knew what Smith was up to, he was regarded as too close to the Establishment to be named.

Then there are allegations that Dolphin Square, a 7.5-acre, 1,250-flat complex by the Thames, was a place in which boys from nearby Lambeth care homes were ferried to the apartments for violent orgies where VIPs, defence and Whitehall officials, Establishment types, as well as Tory MPs (including one cabinet minister) were participants. Scotland Yard has spoken of “possible homicide” being committed. Historical and more recent allegations have been backed by Labour MP John Mann, who first encountered them as a Lambeth councillor in the 1980s, but was told by the police that their inquiries had been stopped on orders from superiors.

Do these things appear to you as examples of Welby’s rigorous transparency?

As an Anglican priest for forty-five years, and a City of London rector for fourteen of those years, I have had more than a nodding acquaintance with the ways of the Establishment. Most of the high-ranking men and women I’ve been responsible to or have otherwise dealt with were conscientious and above reproach. But here and there, now and again, I have come across a chilling arrogance emanating from an Establishment type – the patrician prisoner of his personal sense of entitlement - who believes that a thing is true just because he says it is true.

The kind of arrogance, in fact, which in spite of the evidence, declares, “There is rigorous transparency.” 

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29 Jul

Come on if you think you’re hard enough–we’re not!

A few years ago, I asked an Air Marshal, “If the government decides we should bomb Libya, will both our aircraft be involved?”

Emphatically: “No – one of them is out of service.”

Things are not as bad as that – quite or yet. But the number of our military personnel – army, navy and air force – now stands at 143,000, down from 176.000 five years ago.

Of course, when asked why the reduction, the government blames the economies which have to be made following the financial crisis. Agreed, economies have to be made, but is military provision the right place to make them?

The world-political scene would suggest not. The Russia-Ukraine conflict shows no sign of abating and, more generally, there is plenty of evidence for believing that the Cold War is hotting up.

And, unless you’ve been asleep for the last twenty years, you have probably noticed that there is a violent Muslim insurgency in west Africa, central Africa, north Africa, all across the Middle East and as far as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Given recent local atrocities – and the un-stemmed tide of immigration – this shows every sign of moving imminently into Europe.

Is the minister of defence confident that we have the forces to counteract this threat?

We have limited resources, so what are our spending priorities? An out-of-control benefits racket, a national health service that is not fit for purpose and foreign aid – including to countries such as India which are wealthy enough to boast a space programme; as well as to profligate African states where our hand-outs disappear into the pockets of crooks and dictators.

The first duty of government – some would argue the only duty of government – is to preserve the peace in our streets and to defend us from foreign enemies. But we conspicuously fail to honour these responsibilities because we are spending our resources on items not essential to our survival.

When a breadwinner loses his job and belts have to be tightened, the household does not look first to cut back on necessities but on optional extras. And so it should be with the national defence.

I have just read a very disturbing sentence from Professor Keith Hartley, a defence expert at York University. Asked to comment on the reduction in our armed forces, he says: “We can’t fight in as many wars as we used to.”

But we don’t always have a choice when it comes to which battles we are obliged to fight. Often war is thrust on us.

Clearly Professor Hartley has not thought through to the shocking implications of his statement. He is as good as saying to any enemy, “Please don’t attack us, because we are unable to defend ourselves.”

Pre-emptive self-abasement. Cowardice and abject surrender.

It’s a serious crime to give such comfort to the Queen’s enemies. A crime almost as serious as our government’s refusal to arrange for the national defence.

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28 Jul

A thousand fantasists

It is remarkable to notice how often very intelligent people say the daftest things.

Over a thousand high-profile artificial intelligence experts and eminent scientists – including Professor Stephen Hawking – have signed an open letter warning of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” and calling for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons.”

Actually, all weapons are offensive: a radar shield, for example, might be considered to provide such a good defence that it encourages the defender to go on to the attack. But leave that aside for a moment.

Their letter says: “Technology has reached a point where the deployment of autonomous weapons is – practically if not legally – feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

The authors argue that AI can be used to make the battlefield a safer place for military personnel, but that offensive weapons operating on their own would lower the threshold for going to war and result in greater loss of human life. Should one military power start developing systems capable of selecting targets and operating autonomously without direct human control, it would start an arms race similar to the one for the atom bomb. Unlike nuclear weapons, however, AI requires no specific hard-to-create materials and will be difficult to monitor.

In philosophical ethics, there is a famous rule: “Ought implies can.” In other words, you can only be obliged to do those things which you are capable of doing. The writers of that letter say there ought to be a ban on AI weaponry. The first question, therefore, is of who is to institute and police such a ban?. Let us say the United Nations, always supposing all members of the security council agreed to it. The next question is why should any nation state accept the ban? Nation states act in their own perceived interests and so, if the leaders of a particular country assessed that AI weapons would give an advantage over potential enemies, they would naturally proceed to manufacture AI weapons.

They could not afford not to. No responsible government can allow advantage to the enemy. And, should a government permit such an advantage – thus endangering the lives of its people – it would justly earn the people’s condemnation.

The case of AI weapons is technologically new, but it is not ethically new. It has happened time and again with the development of armaments from the crossbow to gunpowder, from the tank to the hydrogen bomb.

I suggest that the eminences who signed that letter confuse the possession of new weapons systems with their use. For again, a nation would not deploy a particular weapon if to do so would not be in its own best interests. For example, the great powers possess thousands of nuclear weapons, but only two atomic bombs have ever been used in warfare over the last seventy years. Why not? Not because some fantasists in CND have managed to ban them, but because to deploy them would be to invite destruction.

I know all this is not nice. It is not something which appeals to idealists. But idealism is not appropriate in a world that is far from being ideal.

Statesmen have a duty to deal with the rough-hewn world as it is, with all its messiness, compromises and blurred edges.

It’s called making the best of it. 

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27 Jul

Corbyn’s aristocratic hero

Jeremy Corbyn has a certain way with words. he says, “I haven’t read as much Marx as we ought to have done.”

Reminds me of the time back in the 1960s when Harold Wilson was asked by a heckler, “Have you actually read Das Kapital?” And the slippery old boy replied, “only as far as that footnote on page 2. A lot fall there, you know.”

Happily I can offer Jeremy an introduction to Karl Marx, for  I have have just stumbled across an extract from his diary:

Today I wrote these words: “Capitalists are parasites on the working class. All property is theft.”

Ah, so very true! But I have discovered that, in order to be a seriously successful communist, one needs a good start in life, and in this I was most fortunate. My father owned many fine vineyards in the Moselle and my mother came from a wealthy family of factory-owners who would eventually found the Philips Electronics Company. So I was able to attend Bonn and Berlin universities and turn my mind to planning the communist revolution. It was unkind of the authorities to disapprove of my political programme and I was obliged to flee to London, where I am even now penning, after many beseechings from my admirers, these few short paragraphs outlining the course of my life.

Here too I found that a true prophet of communism such as I am, requires not merely a sound financial foundation on which to build his programme, but further considerable provision to sustain his aims to abolish all privilege and create the conditions for the flourishing of the working class and the eventual dictatorship of the proletariat. So once again I would thank God – except there is no God – for my uncle Ben Philips, the wealthy banker, who bankrolled me while I was dedicating myself to revolutionary socialism in Soho.

I knew too that it was important for me, as the aspiring leader of the workers of the world, to marry into the aristocracy. Again, I was well looked after, for I became engaged to Baroness Jenny von Westphalen who subsequently became my wife. We had children, two daughters I nicknamed Qui, Qui, Emperor of China and Kakadou the Hottentot. And I instructed all my children to address me as Old Nick. But then, you see, one begins to worry about what will become of one’s children when one is gone. How reassuring then when Friedrich Engels, my lifelong friend and co-author with me of The Communist Manifesto, promised to leave them a substantial portion of his $4.8million estate. As I always said, you can’t beat class solidarity! Friedrich lived in Manchester and Liverpool for some years and wrote his Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844. He repeated my slogan PROPERTY IS THEFT. And how prophetic that was – for among the Scousers, all property is theft!

I know that Russia’s rural commune – once all the pernicious influences have been eliminated – will form the basis of my communist utopia. And, because I am a true visionary, I can even see that in the next century a man will arise in Russia who will exceed anyone in history in the elimination of…well, of nearly everybody actually.

As my bestowing those nicknames on my girls demonstrates, I am no humourless academic philosopher. And now that I am old I recall with affection my trip to Bonn with my friend Bauer and how we were pissed for days on end, got thrown out of church for laughing at the Lutheran Pastor and ended up charging through the narrow streets on donkeys!

And don’t forget, you’ll get more bang for your bucks from Marx and Spencer than you’ll ever get from those bourgeois Jews Marks & Spencer.

It remains only for me to ensure myself the biggest memorial in Highgate cemetery.

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25 Jul

‘Ee bah gum–there’s Sharia up ‘ere!

When I was growing up in Leeds, we knew Dewsbury as a small town a few miles down the road. A Yorkshire town on the edge of the Pennines. An English town. Nowadays it might as well be a town in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Parts of the the borough are no-go areas for non-Muslims and the social system there is separate development – what we used to call Apartheid when it was practised in South Africa. Of course, we condemned Apartheid in South Africa but we approve of it when it is practised in Yorkshire.

I exaggerate, surely? Well, how about this…

Ofsted’s schools inspectors have given a “good” rating to a Muslim school in Dewsbury which threatens to expel its students if they socialise with “outsiders.” The definition of an outsider is any non-Muslim Briton..

The Institute of Islamic Education in Dewsbury is praised by the education watchdog despite its pupils being taught not to speak to the media and being banned from watching television, listening to the radio or reading newspapers.

This was disclosed by SKY News in the week when David Cameron declared that improving integration was the “the struggle of our generation.”

You’re losing the struggle, Dave. In fact you’ve lost. For Dewsbury is not an isolated example of the Islamification of British life: as Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has pointed out, many parts of our country are similarly no-go areas for British white non-Muslims.

In this week’s speech, Cameron promised a counter-extremism bill in the autumn to tackle what he called “intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.”

Meanwhile, Dave, Ofsted, part of a department of your government, praises and officially congratulates an institution which practises separate development. In its most recent inspection report Ofsted said, “The Islamic Institute of Education provides a good quality of education and meets its stated aims very well.”

Too right it does.

The school is housed in Dewsbury’s Markazi Mosque compound and run by the extreme Tablighi Jamaat sect, which imposes a strict Sharia code on students. The school has no website, but SKY News obtained copies of documents given to parents which state that students “socialising with outsiders will be expelled if there is no improvement after cautioning.”

The school’s Pupil and Parent Handbook contains a Sharia section which lists “Items that are prohibited in Islam… such as portable televisions, cameras, etc.”

Where in the Koran exactly does it say TV and cameras are forbidden?

The handbook says boarders are also banned from wearing un-Islamic garments and using music players or mobile phones at any time.

There are no  school trips but wait, – it can’t be all bad – there is no sex education.

Mosque elder Shabbir Daji, chairman of the school’s governing Shura – aye, there’s Shuras i’Yorkshire now, tha naws! – told SKY News the school “works for unity,” but would not comment on how its restrictions prepare children for life in Britain.

He added, “Our policy is to keep away from the media.”

I don’t criticise the Muslim governors of that school. They intend to promote their policy of Muslim supremacy and to hell with the Kaffirs. They are simply acting in their own interests according to their own lights – if one may use the word light in such encircling darkness.

I do blame Ofsted for their policy of pre-emptive self-abasement.

Don’t be found guilty of “Islamophobia” – whatever that is. Don’t say anything to upset the community. But it isn’t a community. The word we are looking for is ghetto.

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23 Jul

Our One True Statesman

If you see me going around with a big grin on my face, it’s because for the first time in nearly forty years it looks as if I shall get the Labour Party leader – and possible future prime minister – I want. I refer of course to that courageous patriot Jeremy Corbin who showed true magnanimity by entertaining Gerry Adams and other IRA terrorists in  London a few weeks after the Brighton bomb. Jeremy is not only patriotic, he is progressive and far-sighted: he wants rid of the Queen and all that Establishment tat and much prefers that Britain should become a republic.

He has a developed gift for international statesmanship, evidenced by his close affiliation with the Marxist regime in Venezuela and his willingness to cede sovereignty of the Falklands to Argentina

He is progressive too on educational matters and would abolish grammar schools – though he attended one himself – and academies. He is gifted with the visionary insight which recognises the far superior quality of the state comprehensive system.

His defence and foreign relations policies are nothing short of enlightened. A long-serving member of CND, he knows that Britain will be a far safer place once we abolish our nuclear weapons unilaterally. And he has nothing but scorn for the flawed logic which says that the only country ever to have suffered a nuclear attack was Japan – which didn’t possess nuclear weapons at the time.

And anyone who hates the Israelis and supports the Palestinian Arabs – he calls Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” – surely understands the meaning of democracy and civilisation

Jeremy Corbyn is very far from being a political nerd or a mere apparatchik. In fact there is something of the renaissance man about him, and certainly of the literary man – as evidenced by his weekly column in The Morning Star.

And he is one of the most humane and tender-hearted of men. Not only would he ban the importation of foie gras, but he campaigns against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival.  

Economic policy is truly his strongest point, as demonstrated by his intention to tax the well-off until the pips squeak. He proposes no upper limit on the highest rate of taxation, a large increase in corporation tax and a 7% rise in national insurance contributions. And he is wise enough to see the need to re-nationalise the railways.

I hear that membership of the Labour Party costs less than a fiver. I think I shall invest and then I can vote for Comrade Corbyn in the leadership election. It is but one step from Labour leader to the high office of prime minister, and I am confident Jeremy will make it.

My earlier preferences for prime minister were Michael Foot and John Prescott, but alas these came to nothing. Jeremy will put that right.

I can’t end without mention of my attendant joy – approaching ecstasy – when I behold this morning the expressions on the faces of Margaret Beckett and Frank Field who so wisely proposed Jeremy for the leadership.

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22 Jul

“Not Nazis, but Nazists”–Churchill

Our prime minister Mr Churchill made a great speech today in which he said – after taking a fortifying sip of his Pol Roger – “The enemy we face, my friends, is not the Nazis. It is Nazists. Nazism, as Herr Hitler has made very clear to me, is a politics of peace and love – or, as he put it in that strange articulation he favours, ‘Freundschaft und Liebe’.”

The premier stressed that nothing should be done to alienate the Nazi community here in Britain and he added, “Let us be quite clear about this: the overwhelming majority of Nazis in Britain uphold British values and they deplore the Nazists as much as you or I do.”

Mr Churchill was very passionate: “The fact that a few Nazist hotheads and lone wolves have gone around smashing up Jewish shops and assaulting their proprietors should not distract us from the reality, which is that most Nazis wish for nothing other than the peace and prosperity of England, and indeed of all Europe.”

The prime minister made it very plain that the Nazi occupation of Alsace Lorraine, the Anschluss with Austria, the subjugation of Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland were all a legitimate response to our own aggressive policies. “What we need more than everything else,” Mr Churchill said “is a thoroughgoing policy of appeasement. If we reassure the Nazi leaders – peace be upon them – that we have no quarrel with them and that we could wish for nothing more than that they come over here and take their rightful place in British society, then I think I can reassure our people that we shall have no more trouble from them.”

Mr Churchill went on to make the inspired suggestion that we might give Nazis suitable political work to do in such as Tower Hamlets and encourage them to form connections with schools in Birmingham. He was emphatic: “It’s nonsense to say that the Nazis don’t integrate into British society. They entirely support the view that we are all part of one united community. Only yesterday, when I was paying a visit to the local synagogue, my good friend Heinrich Himmler assured me that the Nazis have nothing but the utmost affection for the Jewish people.”

At this point I’m sorry to have to report that there was a certain amount of booing and jeering: “Mr Churchill, you’re nothing but an appeaser and a traitor! Can’t you understand that these Nazis mean the death of us?”

But the prime minister was adamant, unmovable: “Let me say again, it is only a very few who pervert the Nazi tradition of peace and love. These are not true Nazis. I do not wish to see these, our friends and brothers the Nazis, victimised and persecuted, and therefore I shall bring before parliament a bill to outlaw Naziophobia – I shall make it a crime.”

Meanwhile, bombs were going off everywhere. The Nazists were embarked on a reign of terror. All Europe was in danger. There had been Nazist terrorist outrages in Spain, France and in England too. But courageously Mr Churchill insisted, “These terrorists in no way represent the great tradition of Nazism.”

The prime minister then raised two fingers and declared: “I shall not rest until we have secured complete victory over the Naziophobes.”

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20 Jul

Just a little point, Ms Klein…

Something has gone very wonky with the BBC Promenade Concerts series. These summer concerts used to consist entirely of music, but now they contain material which is hostile to music..

For example, this summer when you tune-in to the Proms, you might find you’re hearing “The Ibiza dance party” presented by the “disc-jockey” Pete Tong. This is billed as “a musical homage to Ibiza, home to hedonistic dance clubs for twenty-five years or more.” If that is not quite to your taste, you can catch a RadioIXtra Prom programmed by the BBC’s “urban music station” and featuring the “rappers” Wretch 32, Stormzy and Krept & Konan in “a grime symphony.”

I suggest that this programming amounts to false pretences. The Proms, since their founding by Henry Wood in 1895, were always meant to provide musical excellence in a variety of styles – from Monteverdi to Anton Webern – but to exclude stuff which isn’t music at all.

You are perhaps offended by my outrageous elitism? Certainly, Suzy Klein, a presenter on Radio Three, disapproves of me. She says, “Classical music listeners who criticise the diverse line-up are self-elected snobs and scaremongers.”

I own up: I am an elitist – because I’d rather be an elitist than a mediocratist.

It is said – nay, bleated – “everyone has a right to their (sic) own taste.” Indeed they have. But that does not mean that everyone’s taste is as good as everyone else’s. As there is literature, to be contrasted with pulp fiction, so there are standards in music: and it is precisely the great composers who determine what these standards are.

Ms Klein adds, “Fondness for classical and grime genres is not mutually exclusive. I love dancing to an addictive club anthem as much as I adore listening in the stillness of a concert hall to a Brahms symphony.”

With the utmost respect, Ms Klein, that is not the point. Of course it is logically – though not, of course, aesthetically and critically – possible to enjoy both Brahms and “an addictive club anthem.” But we do not look for these things in the same place.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?

The fact is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of radio and TV stations which provide pop and rock music 24/7. The rubbish is inescapable. Every TV documentary, every sports programme, every Hollywood movie, is stuffed full of it. Why is it too much to ask that music lovers should be allowed one sane repository – Radio Three in general and the Proms in particular – which remains free from this noise?

Ms Klein says that, because she likes both Brahms and “an addictive club anthem,” that it’s acceptable to feature them both in the same concert series.

No it isn’t. I’ll tell you what, Suzy, you wouldn’t ever get that the other way round: I mean, you’re never going to hear a Brahms symphony on a rock music station.

So, if there are indeed “self-elected snobs and scaremongers,” there are also self-elected oiks and philistines.

Filth is everywhere.

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19 Jul

In yer face

O dear God, what are we coming to?

A near relative of Don Lock, stabbed to death after a minor traffic accident in Sussex, came on Radio Four to give thanks for that “We have been completely inundated. People have tweeted to say that they’ve replaced their own image on their Facebook page with that of Don.”

And have we come to this? I thought we’d reached the bottom when expressions of grief and sympathy at the time of the death of the People’s Princess in 1997 chiefly consisted in the bestowing of more flowers than you’d need for the Chelsea Festival in front of Kensington Palace. And more than half the population glued to images of funerals on TV, relieved only by the sight of hundreds of gross sentimentalists running out into the street to throw teddy bears at passing hearses.

But that was restraint compared with what we have today.

We inhabit a gadgeteered, narcissistic, sentimental bedlam. Institutionalised me-ism. The word selfie says it all. I recall Dr Johnson saying of a particularly odious contemporary: “That man would roll in the gutter – if only someone would look at him.”

Nowadays, if you will pardon the mixed metaphor, we roll in the gutter at the drop of a hat. 

People replacing their own mugshot on Facebook with that of a deceased person they never met? That cannot possibly be sincere. 

In better days, if we were informed of the untimely death of an acquaintance – never mind a perfect stranger – we would quietly express sympathy and perhaps say a prayer for the repose of the departed soul. The words decency and in order come to mind. Now we do something akin to setting up a gaudy advert – the electronic equivalent of shouting one’s virtue from the rooftops.

It was the Scribes and Pharisees, lovers of such outward show, who came in for Jesus’ severest condemnation: “Be not ye like unto them.”

And that close relative, why did he feel the urge to give a press conference, as if he were a chamberlain in the royal household bringing news of the death of the prince? Grief and bereavement used to encourage us to withdraw, to reflect and above all to be silent. Again the word respect comes to mind.

A death should be mourned, not tweeted.

We have lost all rational use of the word private.

How much further into this vulgar process of electronic abstraction do we have to go before we shall no longer speak to one another as we used to speak in the street, but only the gadgets will do our talking for us?

The Greek drama provided that the most tragic scenes should take place offstage. The word they used for this was obscene

If even parts of the Greek tragedies were regarded as obscene, what words are left to describe our universal mawkish obsession with the gadgets?  

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