Archive for ‘Observer’

March 16, 2015

Isis and Syria: ‘Western hypocrisies have been driving support for extremism’

Mideast Syria



From the Observer Sunday 28 September 2014


After the military corrupted the English language with “collateral damage”, I’d like to introduce the equally dainty and equally misleading “collateral benefit”. I hope you like the smooth way the euphemism oozes from the lips; the imperceptible subtlety with which it shuffles off responsibility.

The phrase implies, without being so crude as to say so out loud, that the west does not intend mass murderers to benefit from its wars any more than it intends civilians to die in its airstrikes. If when the accountants of violence make their reckoning, the dictators are as triumphant as the civilians are dead, that is no concern of ours.

March 16, 2015

The privileged few are tightening their grip on the arts




From the Observer 13 September 2014

Decades back, when the young Judi Dench starred as Juliet, her mother and father joined the cast. In Act 3 Juliet learns that Romeo has killed her cousin, and cries: “Where is my father, and my mother?”

“Here we are, darling,” shouted her parents from the stalls, “in row H!”

You cannot imagine the parents of today’s stars being so gauche. They come from a world that is closer to David Cameron’s Bullingdon Club than Dench’s Quaker roots in Yorkshire.

March 16, 2015

The phantom menace of militant atheism



The Observer 7 September 2014


My family went into central London last week. After they’d gone, I found myself checking the web for reports of bomb blasts. Absurd and paranoid of me, of course. Rationally, I know that a motorist is more likely to kill you than a terrorist. Ever since Iraq, I have also known that the intelligence services’ “threats” can be imaginary. But I know this, too, and so does everyone else: if a bomb explodes, no one will think that a “militant atheist” has attacked his or her country. No one will mutter: “I wonder if someone has taken this god delusion argument too far.” Or: “Atheists should have known that violent words lead to violent deeds.”

The police don’t send undercover agents into sceptic societies and parliament doesn’t pass emergency laws to combat atheist violence. Fanatics threaten European Muslims if they abandon their faith but no atheist will attack them if they keep it. No one thinks that atheists threaten the lives of their fellow citizens anywhere in the west.

March 16, 2015

Making mistakes is the only pleasure the poor have left

drunk_1471791cFrom the Observer 30 August, 2014

In her wonderful web essay on why the poor make terrible decisions, Linda Tirado said that only if her readers could imagine having no options would they understand why so many chose self-destruction. Why sleep with men who will abandon you if you fall pregnant? Enjoy the momentary hit of tobacco smoke on the back of your throat or the sugar rush of junk food? Why take out debt at usurious rates of interest or work for employers who will only exploit you?

Because, said Tirado, long-term planning and delayed gratification become pointless when you will never have enough money whatever you do. “It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.”

June 30, 2014

Iain Duncan Smith: A neurotic authoritarian disaster


At a time of miserable conditions for the poor, sick and disabled people, the administration of the welfare state is a disaster. The grand projects the Department for Work and Pensions has launched since the general election have been bureaucratic fantasies and practical catastrophes. Ministers have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds of public money – Tory ministers, mark you, who pose as the defenders of hard-working taxpayers. For all that, Iain Duncan Smith tramps on without a thought of changing his ways: a character study in destructive pig-headedness

Carry on reading

June 26, 2014

We want your money and your labour but we don’t want you

The story of the University of London’s cleaners ought to be a modern Made in Dagenham. Immigrant women were scraping a living on a poverty wage from an employer who wanted them to clean up other people’s mess and get out of sight when they’d finished. They fought back and, in a rare uplifting moment in these dismal times, won. They forced the university to raise their pay from £6.15 to £8.80 an hour and give them decent holidays and sickness leave.

But no one will make a film about the university cleaners because it lacks the prime ingredient for a feelgood story: a happy ending.

Carry on reading

June 16, 2014

Jailing the handicapped – the prisons have mental health problems

Inside a prison: no place for the mentally ill.The government may not mean to kill people with mental disabilities but it’s deeds, not motives, that matter, and when the coalition subtracted political cost from economic gain, it found those with disabilities were the easiest people in Britain to dispose of.

Carry on reading

May 26, 2014

The end of the boring EU


You have to pay attention at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to realise it is inviting the public to witness the death of old Europe. The Dutch don’t know it. They have spent €370m refurbishing its 19th-century halls and the museum now shines as one of the world’s great cultural centres. Nor do funereal sentiments greet the millions of visitors. They are welcomed instead by two over-confident English philosophers, who have splattered their thoughts over gallery walls like middle-brow graffiti artists.

It is as if the culture ministry of a totalitarian state has taken control.

Carry on reading

May 22, 2014

Politically correct Ukip goes mad

Nigel Farage“Political correctness” is a treacherous ideology, which can turn you upside down. I avoid the term if I can because it has a double meaning. On the one hand, it describes a liberal and in my view admirable campaign to persuade institutions and the wider population to treat people equally regardless of gender, colour or sexual orientation. Like all campaigns in democracies, it can win only by winning arguments.

But political correctness has become a despised term because it also means the silencing of arguments.

carry on reading

April 28, 2014

Nigel Farage is a phoney. Scrutinise him and he’ll crumble

Nigel Farage laughs up at rain

Allow me to sketch you a portrait of a political leader. Even by the lax standards of the powerful, he is England’s greatest living hypocrite. He courts popularity by warning that tens of millions from the dole queues of Europe are coming to take British jobs, while employing his German wife as his secretary. He denounces “the political class” for living like princes at the taxpayers’ expense while pocketing every taxpayer-funded allowance he can claim for himself, his wife and his colleagues.

He says he represents “ordinary people”. But he is a public school-educated former banker, whose policies will help him and his kind. He claims he is the voice of “common sense”, while allying with every variety of gay-hater, conspiracy crackpot, racist, chauvinist and pillock. The only sense he and his followers have in common is a fear of anyone who is not like them.

Read the whole thing


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