All posts by petermullen

16 Feb

O Gun, shoot thyself!

Justin Webb opened his remarks on the Florida shooting by saying, “Another day in America and another school shooting. And still nothing is done.” Predictably, it turned out what what he thought should be done is to ban the private ownership of firearms. Justin Webb is a genial chap if rather lightweight. I am going to thank him for his contributions to The Today Programme because these always revive in me the instincts, now a little rusty, alas, fostered by my old philosophy professor: “Look for the non sequitur, the logical solecism.” So here goes…

Dear Justin,

I listened carefully to what you said about guns in American society. You are absolutely correct of course. Guns are extremely dangerous instruments. “Another day, another school shooting,” you say. Dead right. Let us examine what happens in these terrible incidents:

One morning a rifle or an automatic handgun wakes up in its gun cabinet and says to itself, “I fancy going on a massacring spree at the local high school today.” Unfortunately for the gun, he is locked away safely in the cabinet. But his owner doesn’t know that during the night the gun has ingeniously manufactured a key with which he is able to unlock the cabinet from the inside. This he proceeds to do. Then, all by himself, clever Master Gun, catches the tube and makes his way to the school campus. The gun, all unaided, walks into the quadrangle and opens fire as the pupils are gathering for their lessons. Then, if the mood so takes him, the gun ambles nimbly into a classroom and continues his orgy of killing. All this is done without human agency.

It is a pity, Justin that in America guns are so bad-mannered and downright murderous. They should learn better manners from their colleagues in Switzerland.

In Switzerland 90% of the population carry guns wherever they go. Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates of any country in the world and there hasn’t been a war there since a light skirmish between Catholics and Protestants in 1847. This, despite the fact that in Switzerland there are four million guns in a population of only eight million people. Deaths from shootings in Switzerland amount to 0.5 in 100,000. In the USA the figure is ten times that.

Clearly the problem is that American guns are so much more unruly, antisocial and homicidal than the friendly old guns in Switzerland.

You should ask  the BBC, Justin, to send you on a fact-finding trip to Switzerland. there you should talk to the millions of Swiss guns and ask them to make their way to the USA and teach better manners to those pesky Yankee guns.

But Switzerland is a long way from America. You could, Justin, visit Canada instead. And I think Canada is quite near to America. There you would discover that the number of homicides perpetrated by guns – all by themselves and without any help from human beings – is seven times lower than in the neighbouring USA. Happily, figures are available: 8813 murders by guns in the USA as against only 172 murders in Canada.

And you know, Justin, we shouldn’t stop at banning guns. There are other ill-behaved implements such as knives. So ban all knives, eh? Not just axes and brutal hunting knives but breadknives, penknives and butter-knives.

Unfortunately, this won’t eradicate the problem. Other naughty objects and substances kill people too. Just look at the delinquency of bleach. Or at those murderous pillow-cases which leap up out of their blanket chests every morning and embark, all unaided, on wholesale smotherings. In short, we should be extremely ruthless and ban everything

And do be careful, Justin: mind out that BBC microphone doesn’t decide to stuff itself down your throat and choke you.

Yours affectionately

Peter

PS (to my old prof): “Will this do, Charlie?”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
13 Feb

Fallen angels

It’s lovely when it’s one of theirs, isn’t it? A sexual predator, that is. It seems so often it’s one of ours. By ours I mean priests, freemasons, Tory MPs from the shires and such like. By theirs I mean the worldwide community of institutionalised do-gooders – specifically Oxfam.

Now, let me give credit where credit is due. This morning on The Today Programme Justin Webb and John Humphrys were reading out the newspaper headlines. Webb said, “The Oxfam sexual abuse scandal is the lead for them all – even The Guardian which had not previously reported this story with much enthusiasm.”

Of course not! Do-gooding lefties don’t go in for sexual abuse – or money-laundering, drug-trafficking, wife-beating or omitting to pay their library fines. Lefties, Guardianistas and Oxfam-wallahs were all immaculately conceived and sinless from the start.

But – praise God – there is such a thing as truth after all. Oxfam representatives have been at it all over the world: in Haiti in particular and even in their own charity shops. I know it’s hard to believe – as if one were asked to believe that St Bob Geldof once refused to take an old lady to the other side of the road.

But heck, it’s true. So true that Oxfam’s deputy boss has had to resign. Rejoice!

In the wake of these sordid revelations I took a look at Oxfam’s website to make sure they were still there. Oh yes, they’re there all right, their self-righteousness and sanctimony shining as brightly as ever. When it comes to self-glorification Oxfam beats that Pharisee in the gospel who exclaims: “I thank thee that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12)

Ah but Humphrys and Webb were right: Oxfam’s sins have been found out and all the world knows of it. How are the mighty fallen!

Their website still advertises their do-gooding in ever so many world crises: in Syria, in Yemen, among the Rohingya and in the DRC.

Oddly, they don’t mention the crisis in their own high street shops where teenage assistants have been sexually-abused.

All their favourite slogans still appear though and their propaganda. For example:  “To spread that change and make it last, political solutions are also needed to tackle the root causes of poverty and create societies where empowered individuals can thrive. We will always act, we will speak out, and we won’t live with poverty.”

The lefty ideology is still unabashed, plain (and ugly) as a wart on your cheek: “Political solutions” (But I thought you were a charity, not a quasi-Marxist pressure group); “root causes” (ie not droughts, floods and natural shortages but exploitation and corruption which is, of course, the result of centuries of the West’s imperialism); “empowered” (ie politically radicalised).

There are other notices on their website which I didn’t quite understand: “New in: women’s accessories”

I’m not joking. I’m quoting. Can anyone enlighten me, please?

And then, “Run for Oxfam.” I suggest they change this to “Run away from Oxfam.”

Today Oxfam. Who knows what tomorrow might bring? Sexual predators exposed in the vegan community? In the Woman’s Hour studio?

But give thanks for that the truth is out. No one is immune against the peccatum originale – not even the saints in Oxfam

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
07 Feb

Mr Upmyself Self-Love

I become daily more impressed by Google’s ability to supply me with the information I require even when I give the search engine very little to go on. For example, this morning all I typed in was,“Narcissistic pillock avoids deportation to the USA” and Google came up immediately with a full account of the case of Lauri Love who is accused of hacking into the US Federal Reserve, the army, the Defence Department, NASA and the FBI.

The court decided that Love should not be sent to the US for trial because he suffers from Asperger’s disease, exhibits psychotic episodes, has eczema and gets depressed. Love’s lawyers claimed he would find having to face trial in the US “oppressive.” But the judge insisted that the Crown Prosecution Service should do all in its power to ensure Love is tried in Britain.

I cannot find the correct (and polite) words to describe Lauri Love. Is he a cyber-terrorist? A spy? A pestilential meddler and a bloody nuisance? I would say all of these and more besides. But his main claim to fame or pathology – they seem to be the same thing these days – is as one monstrously self-regarding and the champion of champions when it comes to virtue-signalling.

“Flanked” – as the newspapers say – by his parents, girlfriend and supporters chanting his name…

Good grief – this ego-tripping nutter has a girlfriend! He even has parents!

…Anyhow, “flanked” Love – shouldn’t that be double-barrelled as in “Self-Love”? And he might consider changing his first name from Lauri to Upmyself…

…Anyhow, he addressed the world: “The reason I’ve gone through this ordeal is not just to save myself from being kidnapped and locked up for 99 years in a country I’ve never understood, but to set a precedent whereby this will not happen to other people in the future, and that if there is suspected criminality it will be tried here in the UK and America will not try to exercise its extraterritorial jurisdiction. We’re hopeful that other people may be able to rely on this verdict to ensure they are treated more humanely by the justice system.”

Upmyself Self-Love’s choice of words is illuminating: “The reason I’ve gone through this ordeal…”

Spoken like the true self-declared martyr he is. Let me translate. He should have said, “The reason I’ve been through this fair and fairly conducted legal process is because I have been accused of committing some very serious crimes.”

He goes on: “…not just to save myself from being kidnapped…”

There was never the prospect of his kidnap. He would, had the court so decided, have been transported humanely to the US to face his accusers.

“Locked up for 99 years.”  How does he know? Is that a guilty plea then?

“A country I’ve never understood.”

Were all your hacking exploits merely innocent attempts to understand the USA then? You might have tried visiting the US Tourist Information Office first, as normal people do.

The unavoidable impression give by Mr Upmyself making that triumphant speech of self-glorification, “flanked” by his girlfriend and his parents, is of a tedious fanatic disconnected from the ordinary world of daily experience and living inside his own head.

What a bloody awful place to be!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
03 Feb

Dark Satanic Mills

When William Blake coined the phrase “dark satanic mills,” it is thought he was referring to the universities.

I recalled that thought when, last Friday evening, Jacob Rees-Mogg was at the centre of an ugly scene as he was ambushed when about to give an address at Bristol university. Masked protestors tried to prevent Rees-Mogg from giving his talk. The mob roundly abused him. calling him – among the more printable epithets – Nazi, Fascist and racist 

Rees-Mogg may have been shaken but he was certainly not stirred to overreaction and he played down the disturbance: “All it was was a handful of shouty people who wanted to disrupt a public meeting I was about to address. It was not really a fight, just noisy. They did not want me to have a platform and were not willing to discuss any specific concerns.”

He added, “No one seemed likely to hit me but I am a weed.”

We are going to see a lot more of this sort of thing because the Left’s idea of democracy is not to allow freedom of speech for anyone who disagrees with them. Violent disruption of public meetings is the political modus operandi of the Corbynistas and particularly of his storm-troopers in the 300,000 strong Momentum gang. They know no other method – for they have always lost every reasonable argument that ever was.

We expect no better of Corbyn’s sort, but that this kind of violent protest is a regular feature of university life these days should make us ashamed.

I have had some personal experience of this and I shared this experience with the philosopher Roger Scruton, the founder of The Salisbury Review.

The year was 1985 and I was teaching a philosophy course in York. When I heard that Dr Scruton was coming to speak at the university, I went along with some of my students. Attendance was not routine and we had a bit of bother trying to find the precise location of the talk. It had been advertised to take place in the chemistry lecture theatre but at the last minute we were all redirected to the physics theatre because there had already been threats from the mob.

When I say “the mob,” I mean of course the lumpen intelligentsia, the York university students.

When we arrived, the atmosphere in the physics theatre was – let me put it mildly – unwholesome. In the front few rows members of the public sat awaiting the start of the talk. In the middle and at the back, the student mob yelled and swore and catcalled and shook their fists. The sort of stuff Rees-Mogg had to endure: “Fascist, Nazi, racist” – along with other unmentionables.

At the appointed time, Roger appeared on the rostrum. The thugs became louder and more bellicose. The noise was such that there was no possibility the talk could take place.

Roger managed only one sentence: “But I’ve come to talk about free speech!”

Ironical eh? But that pampered rabble wouldn’t have understood a piece of irony if it had leapt up and bitten them on  the bum.

Things deteriorated so far that clearly Roger’s safety – and perhaps even his life – was in danger. He was bundled out by the stewards and, like the Three Wise Men before him, warned to return to his digs another way.

Next day I took the matter up with the university authorities and asked how they intended to deal with the perpetrators of the near riot.

The written reply from the vice-chancellor would have done justice to Halifax, Chamberlain, Rab Butler or any other arch-appeaser of totalitarianism you can think of:

“What could I have done?”

I wrote back: “You could identify the thugs and send them down.”

There was no reply to that.

And so, as the rabble’s attack on Rees-Mogg, reminds us, this is now our inheritance. The university was for a thousand years throughout Europe the place for the civilised exchange of ideas and the most rigorous public debate. Now it is run by grossly overpaid vice-chancellors and their sycophants, the mindless thickos of the intellectual left. From their first day, the snowflake students are ushered into their safe spaces where they will remain for three years protected  against any idea they might find uncongenial.

Thus our universities have outlived their useful purpose – that is the sacred duty of rational exchange.

The only remedy is to close them down.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
02 Feb

Manchester’s newly-imposed censorship

Manchester Art Gallery has removed a pre-Raphaelite painting which depicts naked water nymphs seducing a man. Hylas and the Nymphs, painted by John William Waterhouse in 1896 is a famous Victorian painting, but its erotic content – combined with the rise of the #Metoo movement and the recent expose of the President’s Club – has prompted curators to take the artwork down.

A statement on the gallery’s website said they removed the painting, “To prompt conversation about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.”

“This gallery presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale.’ Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!”

Members of the public – who were not consulted before this iconoclasm was perpetrated – have answered back. One said, “A dangerous precedent is set for other artworks,” Another lampooned the “Po-faced, politically-correct virtue-signalling.”

Now just brace yourself because what I am about to write is not pretty. It is political jargon at its ugliest. Clare Gannaway , contemporary art curator, uses English as a foreign language. She claims the removal of Waterhouse’s painting was not about censorship, but about, “outdated and damaging stories this whole part of the gallery is still telling through the contextualising and interpretation of collection displays. The area of the gallery which included Hylas and the Nymphs hasn’t changed for a VERY long time and still tells a very particular story about the bodies on display.

“We think that we can do better than this and the taking down of the painting is a playful way to open up a discussion about this whole gallery, the collection and the way that artworks speak to us through the way they are interpreted and put into context. We’d like this gallery to tell a different story in 2018, rather than being about the ‘Pursuit of Beauty’ with a binary tale about how women are either femmes fatale or passive bodies for male consumption. Shouldn’t we be challenging this instead of perpetuating views which result in things like the President’s Club being able to exist? The gallery doesn’t exist in a bubble and these things are connected, surely? The gallery’s themes need addressing and challenging. That’s kind of the point and it’s amazing it hasn’t been done sooner,” really.”

Get you breath back for a minute, then I’ll try to comment. We have noticed that what Ms Gannaway writes is not English. It is certainly not art criticism. It is not even joined up thinking – for jargon is not a medium receptive of thought. Her apologia is ideological prejudice of the most narrow-minded and mean-spirited sort.

But I have a question: if we are to remove all depictions of girls and women as temptresses and sex objects, what havoc we shall have wreak throughout all the great European galleries.

Goya’s The Nude Maia will have to go. We can’t tolerate a juicy picture of a comely lass lying naked on the couch and giving us the glad eye.

Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights has kinky nymphets all over the pace – some standing on their heads. Get rid of that too.

Titian’s nude Venus of Urbino has her hand placed provocatively over her – shall we say? – mons veneris

You don’t need to be able to read German to understand what the flagrant flasheress in Klimt’s Frau Bei Der Selbstbetfriedi is doing with her hand: it’s all in the picture.

Rubens’ Leda and the Swan features the creature with his long neck lying between Leda’s thighs. Lucky old swan – but don’t let Clare catch you!

I could point you to hundreds more, but it’s tiring work for an old man like me.

It’s not only the pictures that will have to go. get rid of Wagner’s Ring for a start. Das Rheingold kicks off with water-sports as Rhine maidens frolick and tease a dwarf

Lolita, one of the finest of all 20thC novels must be for the burning, along with The Odyssey, featuring as it does Circe and the sirens, The Bible will have to be scrapped on account of its presentation of Samson and Delilah – to say nothing of Eve and her apple

Nymphs actually exist. They are part of the human psyche. Are we to refuse then to portray those bits of human experience that our resurgent academic Puritanism disapproves? If The Iliad and Rheingold must go, then Snow White will have to go too because it shows us a sweet little girl, no doubt underage, living with seven dirty old men. What’s the policy at the Manchester art gallery then: get rid of all paintings except those depicting middle aged women in dungarees working at the lathe?  

Look, Clare, you warped and twisted reincarnation of all the bowdlerisers and Missis Grundy’s there have ever been, the British public does not appreciate your censorious political prejudice

Why don’t you just climb back up on to your feminist witch waggon and drive off – a bloody long way?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
31 Jan

Talk is not cheap

It’s not a good idea to talk a lot, for by so doing you give too much away. By talking at length, we reveal what matters most to us: our interests, preoccupations, aspirations and fears. It’s simple: what you choose to talk about lets your listeners know who you really are, your most serious concerns, your principles and priorities.

Now, as well as individual, personal talkers there are corporate talkers in which professional talkers are paid for what they talk about. One of the biggest and best-known corporate talkers in the world is the BBC which organises talking shops day and night on four continents. There the professional talkers can talk about whatever they fancy. And they are well-supplied with talk-gatherers or, as they prefer to be described, news-gatherers. I can’t possibly mention all the things that the BBC talkers talk about because there’s so much of it and the airwaves are alive with the sound of jabber. What I can do is make a sample, one day in the life of BBC folk. But even that is too much to handle, so let me just take eleven minutes. To make my sample representative, I must choose not any old eleven minutes when they might be talking about the misdoings of celebs or the football transfer deadline – as they often are, of course.

Then let me choose a really significant eleven minutes “slot,” as they say at the Beeb. Say the opening eleven minutes of PM, Radio Four’s main early evening news and comment programme – will that do?

Yesterday the professional talkers were not short of things to talk about. There was the ever more precipitous crisis over Mrs May’s leadership. The peers crowding into the House of Lord for the big debate in which they would queue up to undermine Brexit. The continued slaughter in Yemen. Fifty million quidsworth of cocaine intercepted by the Customs. A catastrophic volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Paris under water. Hundred killed in bombings by the resurgent Taliban in Kabul. The announcement of the EU commissioners’ terms on which they are prepared to let us – sort of – leave: commonly referred to as the humiliation of Theresa May, chapter seventeen. Armed troops on the streets of Swedish cities to try to prevent yet more gang rapes and grenade-throwing by thousands of immigrants. Iran’s steady progress in its soon-to-be-realised ambition to acquire nuclear weapons.

Which of these would the BBC’s professional talkers choose to lead with? Which of these subjects would they choose to pontificate upon from their customary high moral ground? Whom or what would they pick on as this evening’s principal beneficiary of the BBC’s famous lack of bias?

Answer: none of the above. Instead, they discussed – with the high seriousness that might be reserved for news of a sudden pandemic of the Black Death – the perceived disparity between the wages paid to male BBC talkers and female BBC talkers.

The world may be falling apart at the seams but the highly-paid BBC talkers preferred to talk first about themselves – for that full eleven minutes.

Tells us all we need to know about the true priorities of that most high-minded Corporation.  

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
26 Jan

“Evil is the privatio boni: a mere nothing”–St Augustine

F.R. Leavis said, “Show me what you value and I’ll tell you what you’re worth.” One glance at the most popular shows on TV, or at the sort of “music” most listen to, must make us conclude that the worth of the British public at large is not very much.

Most of the productions of what is now called “arts” and “culture” are just not worth looking at: the Oscars, the BAFTAS, the daubs and installations that pollute our galleries and the glossy tat of the West End theatre can be ignored without conspicuous loss of aesthetic enjoyment.

Why anyone should spend a minute on all this rubbish has always been a mystery to me – because it’s not that we haven’t been offered countless treasures and endless riches in those things that can actually give us pleasure and, by the by, make life worth living: The Odyssey, The Iliad, Dante, Shakespeare; Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, James Macmillan; Giotto, Rembrandt, Turner and Van Gogh…    I mention just a few eminences at random when I could have filled the whole page, filled many books, with the names of those without whom our lives would be empty; without whom the words “civilisation” and “culture” would be meaningless.

We don’t need to go within a mile of the rubbish. Unfortunately, we don’t have to – for the rubbish is everywhere

This is not a matter of being highbrow or elitist but of simply preferring the things that can nourish us. Or what man is there of you whom, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? (Matthew 7:9)

Another word for the rubbish that engulfs us like a sea of plastic is “trivia.” You can die of it.

There are many kinds of trivia in the productions of words, music and pictures. And there is also political and social trivia. We were given an illustration of this last category only this week when we observed Mrs May – the very embodiment of trivia and fuss – poking her nose into the sordid affair of the President’s Club.

Now I don’t mind particularly if Theresa May, as Theresa May in her private life – and even politicians have the right to a private life – wants to posture and roll around in trivia and fuss. But it is shocking to see her involving the office of the prime minister in such mush

It is not the duty of the prime minister to involve herself in the minutiae of administration and the daily agenda of the newspapers. It is the duty of the prime minister to secure the integrity of her government – as it is the duty of the Queen to secure the integrity of the nation.

The good prime ministers – even the passably decent prime ministers – understand this. It’s only once in a long while that a buffoon such as John Major comes along and makes it his personal responsibility to arrange the supply of motorway cones.

“Show me what you value and I’ll tell you what you’re worth.” What does that show us about the worth of a prime minister who leaves off  the more serious matters of state to meddle in the seedy mores of clubland?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
25 Jan

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

The writing has been on the wall for Theresa May for a long time. And the words form the same judgement that was delivered to Belshazzar, as recorded in Daniel 5:25: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting. 

Mrs May, the most useless home secretary and the most incompetent prime minister we’ve had since Methuselah was a boy, is clearly at the end of her tether. She is fragile and histrionic. She cried on election night when it was borne in on her that she is so pathetic she couldn’t even see off Jeremy Corbyn. In the Brexit negotiations she appeared schizoid and frantic. She talked tough for ten minutes, then wept and pleaded. Naturally, her tormentors the apparatchiks Juncker and Barnier – and of course Monsieur le-vanity-case Macron and Frau Fuhrer – played on May’s mood swivels to perfection. They kissed, cuddled, flattered and cajoled her, then they shouted and threatened  Their enjoyment of her tortured hopelessness was excruciating to watch. She conceded their every demand and called it her triumph.

And the conclusion of it all? It is clear that, under the Remainer May, we are on the way to a Brexit so soft you could dip your toast soldiers in it. The EU will give no ground on the movement of populations. We shall most likely end up still in the single market and the customs union. In other words we shall be out in name but very definitely still in in reality.

Like Mr Eliot in Ash Wednesday, I hardly dare to hope for fear of hoping for the wrong thing. But…I detect a glimmer, a faint stirring, the thinnest ray of light in the encircling gloom: at last something seems to be afoot.

Last Monday Juliet Samuels wrote a flagellating article in the Daily Telegraph which, being summarised, said it was time for May to go. The Telegraph followed up on Tuesday with a shoal of readers’ letters in enthusiastic agreement with Ms Samuel. On Wednesday, writing in the same space, Philip Johnson  said: “The prime minister’s detractors fail to see that it is they who lack boldness and weaken the Tories. Her critics should be prepared to do more than wound her.”

Well, what more can you do to a person than wound? There’s only kill, isn’t there?

There is no let-up in the barrage of criticism, nor in its caustic fury. In Thursday’s Telegraph, Nick Timothy – remember him, the orchestrator of her pathetic election campaign? – has popped up saying: “As Conservative MPs are beginning to realise, they need to govern with more urgency and greater purpose. The key to finding that purpose lies not in a further excess of liberalism, but in a modern application of real philosophical conservatism.”

Real philosophical conservatism, as even Nick Timothy must understand, is about as far away as you can get from Theresa May’s fancy of socialism-lite. If Mrs May is reading Timothy’s article in Davos, she must me tempted to repeat the dying words of Julius Caesar: “Et tu Brute?”

Perhaps all this can be shrugged off as merely a bit of kite-flying by one newspaper. Hardly – because the Telegraph is, or at least purports to be, the Tories’ loudest cheerleader. But wait, the Telegraph isn’t the only paper to be saying these things. Also on Thursday morning Iain Martin in The Times came out saying that May has failed, her time is up and she should go and make way for someone else.

So I repeat my tentative question: So late in the day, so far and so deeply into May’s calamitous premiership, is there something afoot at last?

If it were done when ‘tis done, t’were well it were done quickly. The Tory grandees should despatch the men in suits and tell her her time’s up. They could quote those words of Daniel the prophet if they liked

End the long-running farce. Return to traditional conservatism. Send for Jacob-Rees-Mogg!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
24 Jan

The privileged elite and the freedom of the press

I’m not starry-eyed about the British newspapers. How could I be when I’ve read them and written for them all my working life? If ever I harboured any illusions, these were quickly dispelled back in the late 1980s when I was lucky enough to land myself a proper job in Fleet Street. Sir David English gave me a freelance contract on the Daily Mail to write op-ed pieces, travel articles and book reviews. And it really was Fleet Street in those days: the Daily Mail building was two minutes’ walk from St Bride’s, the wedding cake church so named after its unusual tower. I had a grand old time. I joined Scribes’ journalists’ drinking club and spent hours in The Cheshire Cheese,once a favourite watering-hole of Dr Johnson,  where I talked Old Leeds with Keith Waterhouse and cricket with Ian Wooldridge. I interviewed Daniel Barenboim in Munich and John Arlott in Alderney and I had dinner with Anthony Burgess and his wife in the West End. The first feature I was asked to write was about the Lockerbie disaster.

I learned all – well, at least some – of the tricks of the trade. I saw the glamour and the dark side. There was that scintillated feeling when you got the centre pages spread – though I managed that only once in three years. I saw corners cut and I saw dirty tricks, brilliant inventiveness and quite astonishing stupidity and ignorance. For example, I had to work with a particular editor who was so conscious of her status that, on the occasions she took me out to lunch, she would book a limo to take us a hundred yards round the corner. And here’s what I mean by ignorance. It was my job to suggest topics for stories and one day in 1990, the fiftieth anniversary of Dunkirk, I phoned another editor and said, “I’d like to go to the beaches at Dunkirk and interview British and German veterans of the battle.” The editor replied: “Great idea Pete…” (I hate being called Pete) “…Just refresh my memory – what was Dunkirk?”

Old hacks like me have no illusions when it comes to the world of newspapers. The papers are capable of all manner of skulduggery from phone-tapping to making up stories. But for all its faults – and they are myriad – we need the press. If it hadn’t been for the newspapers’ nagging perseverance, we would have never got the truth about the first Iraq war. And the MPs’ massive expenses fraud would have gone uncovered. And this morning there is news of another initiative that makes me proud to have been involved at close quarters with the national press.  

The UK’s two biggest selling newspapers have threatened legal action unless the reasons for the decision to free sex attacker John Worboys are revealed.

The Sun and the Daily Mail have jointly written to the Parole Board and the Justice Secretary to say that unless the reasons behind the decision to recommend the rapist’s release from prison are published within seven days, the papers’ lawyers will apply for a full judicial review to have that decision overturned.

Their letter says the report is a “matter of profound public interest” and keeping it secret is a breach of open justice.

Black cab driver Worboys was jailed indefinitely in 2009 for drugging and sexually assaulting women passengers. Although convicted of “only” nineteen offences relating to twelve victims, he is suspected to have committed more than a hundred sexual assaults. And now a new allegation of historical sexual assault has been made against the 60-year-old Worboys.

The incident, which was reported to the police earlier this month, is reported to have taken place in 1997. The controversial Parole Board decision to approve his release later this month, following his minimum eight-year term, has led to a moral outcry – with lawyers for his victims describing the move as “extremely distressing.”

And distressing it is. Many would say that to release Worboys ever would be a scandalous breach of natural justice. How could the Parole Board come to the decision that a man proven to be guilty of all those violent crimes should be set free, with the possibility of his re-offending?

I’ll tell you why: because the sorts of people who operate the Parole Board – like the sorts of people who get appointed to the Supreme Court or those members of the House of Lords who, only a fortnight ago, voted further to restrict press freedom – are not as other men. They don’t think and act as we think and act. They are a privileged elite and they consider themselves to be in possession of finer moral sentiments than we ordinary mortals.

Shockingly, you and I can do nothing to oblige these tribunes of the people who are really the enemies of the people to come to their senses and change their minds and their policies.

But the newspapers can. And that’s why newspapers – warts and all – should be celebrated. Let’s hear it then for that secular sacrament, the freedom of the press.  

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
16 Jan

Has David Bentley-Hart gone off his rocker?

David Bentley-Hart is a man I admired greatly for his book “God” – a quite outstanding essay in philosophical theology.

But he’s gone right off the rails in his new project to offer us a “subversively literal” translation of the Greek New Testament. No honest translator sets out a priori to produce a subversive version – or an orthodox, conservative version if it comes to that – but to produce the best translation he can

A few points then

First it is an astonishing claim to suggest that all previous translators of the New Testament got it wrong! What the immaculate Tyndale? The scholars, including Lancelot Andrewes, who produced the King James Version? The superb mostly American linguists who gave us The Revised Standard Version? All duds and just waiting for David to come along and put them right?

Besides, the interpretation of Paul which David says is plain wrong happens to be substantially the same interpretation as that held by Augustine, Luther, Karl Barth, Newman and Joseph Ratzinger. Were they all wrong too?

A few details…

Paul does not say we are born “damnedly guilty” He says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Original Sin is our self-corruption of our own will: “The thing I would, that I do not; and what I would not, that I do.” That’s Paul’s definition of Original Sin in words of one syllable

No – we are not saved by our good deeds but good deeds in those who are saved through faith in Christ are pleasant to God, and they are performed by the grace of Christ. As Paul says, “Not I but Christ within me.” But good deeds cannot save us. As Blake said, “If moral virtue was Christianity, Christ’s pretensions were all vanity.” If good deeds save us, why the need for Christ’s sacrifice?

In St Paul, but also in the synoptic gospels and in The Book of Revelation, we find the teaching of everlasting hell. Though, as Aquinas said, “There certainly is a hell. But don’t worry, there’s probably no one in it!”

“For Paul, pistis means…” Oh dear! What does this perfectly simple Greek word mean for the rest of us? It’s from Plato  – cf “epistemology” – and it is, at least to start with, an intellectual commitment. Repentance “metanoia” – much favoured by Paul – is also an intellectual act: it means “change or renew tour mind, your way of thinking.” Repentance and faith go together in Paul – as they do in John the Baptist and in the three short epistles of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” And so on. This theology pervades the New Testament. Hardly surprising since it IS the gospel!

Paul chooses different themes in one epistle from those he chooses to expound in another: Colossians is full of the doctrine of the Cosmic Christ (which David touches on); but that’s not the teaching we find in Romans. Philippians is largely about a different theme altogether: Christ’s pre-existence and self-emptying (Kenosis) – see especially chapter 2

It is facile to suggest that Paul is some sort of Manichee – spirit good; flesh bad. If so, why does he tell us that we shall be given “a spiritual body” – soma-pneumatikon? Why is he such a strong preacher of Christ’s Incarnation?

I’m disappointed to find David offering us sensation, a mere squib, when he is capable of writing the real thing

But then people do get tempted and corrupted – even theologians – as, of course,  St Paul says!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail