Saturday, December 31, 2005

Doomed but not gloomy

The Guardian’s review section has a profile of James Lovelock the ageing scientist and environmentalist. It was he who gave us the concept of Gaia which, even though it’s often been hijacked by old hippies and others given to hearing secret harmonies and the like, still provides, amongst other things, a reminder of the comparatively unimportant role of humankind in earth’s development.

I’m sure he’s correct when he says that climate change is inevitable whatever we now do. And I agree with him that nuclear energy is the least-worst short-term fix to the looming energy supply crisis in the UK. Alternatives such as wind and tides simply won’t be able to fill the gap left when the current generation of nuclear stations go off line and, as he says, we do need electricity to support our civilisation. He remains upbeat........

Letter writers to the Guardian have found many reasons to be cheerful not all of them ironic. The Independent’s centre spread (once you’ve removed the sports section) has some facts and figures about 2006. For example more than a billion people will have to live on less than one US dollar a day and more than another billion will watch the football world cup final. Lots of huge numbers many relating to population provide another reminder of our individual insignificance. A few pages on Sue Arnold has returned and Howard Jacobson is perplexed by twenty-first century kissing habits. Time marches on. But why do we get so excited about the first day of a new year? Why not the 196th for example?

Friday, December 30, 2005

Fings ain't what they used ter be

Good news – there’s some optimism in the British newspapers. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian finds much to be cheerful about in Britain. But she can’t resist a swipe at Tony Blair and gets off to a bad start by declaring that “miserablism is in the air”. On the contrary I think it’s going out of fashion and that Polly is, as often, a little behind the times. Even the Daily Mail comment piece is relatively upbeat having a justified pop at the Americans for their treatment of prisoners of war (their treatment of everyday prisoners, which is also grim, isn’t mentioned), writing off Charles Kennedy (and why not?) and praising Gordon Brown’s economic stewardship. A nice contrast to their gloomy piece yesterday about the size of the public sector which seemed designed to appeal to those who can’t cope with complexity and to carry on the tradition of giving their readership something to be angry about.

Odd thing complexity. Often those who can’t understand it are attracted to conspiracy. If they’re lefties all the evil in the world is the result of a few wicked capitalists. For right leaners it’s all a conspiracy of a few trade-unionists to blame.

In the Times the Mick Hume again lambastes Miserabilists but his fire is rather misdirected today mainly at politicians. He should turn his guns instead on the majority of his fellow scribblers who seem determined to see their glasses almost empty. Gerard Baker has an amusing list of irritating new words most of which have surfaced this year and Dean Godson provides a useful analysis of what’s wrong with American foreign policy especially in the middle East while Janet Daley gets in a lather about the difficulties she’s had contacting the people who run eBay.

The Guardian leader writer is justifiably cross about salaries in the City rightly branding them as unfair but offering no solution. Complexity rears again. My left-leaning pals are furious that the government hasn’t ‘done something’ but are stumped when asked what that something might be. Stumped apart from those dear old souls who still haven’t woken up to the negative impact* on an economy of high taxation.

More bad news for the Liberal Democrats over in the Independent. Apparently their MEPs are jolly cross with Mr Kennedy over the party’s plans for reform of the CAP. Perhaps the shock of their party having plans about anything has impacted* the MEPs. Elsewhere the Indy is concerned about the fate of the victims of the Pakistani earthquake as winter sets in; they do seem to have been doubly unlucky as their disaster hasn’t rung bells with the compassion fashion industry.

* can’t remember whether it should be ‘effect’ or ‘affect’ – hence the rather unsatisfactory ‘impact’, sorry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Binge Thinking

Good, the British newspapers seem to be waking from their Christmas slumbers. In the Times Clive Coleman gently mocks the doomsayers who told us that the new licensing laws would bring civilisation to an end but sensibly warns of the dangers of excessive drinking. (Gloucestershire’s Chief Constable seemed disappointed when speaking about the lack of mayhem since the new laws came into operation (on my birthday) – perhaps he really is trying to get onto David Cameron’s A list of potential Tory candidates. He’ll need to find something to do when his force is merged.) The Times leader about high numbers of EU students coming to British Universities concludes that this is a Good Thing which demonstrates the quality of our higher education – another blow for the doom merchants. Bruce Anderson is urging David Cameron to repudiate Thatcherism – I wonder if he’ll be any more successful than his predecessors at beating off the hard core nasty Tories after his honeymoon period is over.

We could find the leaders of the two main parties firmly in the centre ground and both battling to control backbenchers anxious to return to their traditional obsessions. The Liberal Democrats might be expected to benefit but this seems unlikely given that they’re so poorly led and preoccupied with internal feuding. The marriage between the SDP and the old Liberals is falling apart. The lack of any coherent political philosophy (other than to oppose the two main parties) is becoming obvious.

Meanwhile in the Guardian Jonathan Freedland looks forward to more excitement in politics now that Mr Cameron is in place. It has been a lean few years for political commentators (and there are now so many of them) as Labour has quietly gone about its business of reform. Perhaps we’ll get some relief from the endless speculation about what Mr Blair and Mr Brown think of each other – I do hope so.

And still the London based media fret about snow in the South East of England. I felt a little sorry for the reporter from News 24 standing by the M20 yesterday whilst the traffic hurtled passed as he tried to explain why atrocious driving conditions had failed to produce the traffic chaos that his editors craved.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The March of Time

Kerry Packer’s death at 68 is a reminder that, however rich we be, one day we’ll die. But is this any comfort to those of us without as much cash as he had? For sure this faraway death makes me realise that my opinion isn’t fixed and is more prey to spin than I care to admit. When Mr Packer poached some of the world’s best cricketers I sided with the establishment. Time passes and, having heard the story from the cricketers’ viewpoint, I can now understand that that establishment was well past its best before date.

By chance Richard Morrison writes today in the Times about death and "the gloomy feeling that time is rushing past" as well as touching on the possible foolishness of the would-be future King George. Time, as Dylan Thomas noticed rather more poetically than I, passes. Over in the Guardian the ever earnest George Monbiot writes about some of the sins of the British Empire in his accusatory style which implies that they were all our fault. Max Hastings worries that history teaching isn’t what it was. Terry Jones, a comedian, rants on about Iraq and suggests that Tony Blair must be "finding it difficult to sleep"; looks like a triumph for hope over observation to me. Given Mr Jones’s jocular presentation of history on tele, one might expect him to take a long view of current events but no such luck. The Independent has noticed that the elimination of World poverty is a perplexingly complex task. And the Daily Mail is worried about snow and fuel shortages.

A good day to ignore the thinly padded newspapers and polish our resolutions.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Start the Week

A fine edition of Start the Week on Radio 4 this morning (to which you can listen again via its web page). Andrew Marr began with a minor faux pas to tease out the pedant in me. He declared that it was five years since the start of the norties but it's six. I share Chris Patten's mildly optimistic view of where the world is now, he's particularly sound on the USA. It's strange that he's still a Tory but perhaps he's braver than, for example, the gang of four who fled Labour to form the SDP all those years ago. If only they'd waited for New Labour. Maybe Mr P's patience will be rewarded but I doubt it.

Very little News today. The Guardian hasn't published today and who can blame them for wanting Christmas Day free? William Rees-Mogg in the Times is reduced to writing about the trial of Marie Antoinette but, rather surprisingly, doesn't seem to blame Tony Blair in any way. Today's Great Worry seems to concern the forecast of poor weather later in the week. Cliché lovers should prepare for reports of atrocious driving conditions.

Dull ain’t it? Better luck tomorrow.......