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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Getting Hitched

Christopher Hitchens is dead and the media throbs with glowing tributes.

I find this puzzling.

Why so much attention paid to a man who was, to the greater part of even educated people, so little known and who, in terms of journalism and thought, of such little consequence?

I had heard of him but he did not really attain much public profile until the time of the Iraq War when his support for the Bush/Blair adventure made him a figure of betrayal for the Left.

I admired his principled stand on that issue but, I have to say, I never really got Hitchens. His writing struck me as unremarkable and I always thought the rigour and originality of his thought was only that of a precocious sixth former. His atheism was saloon bar stuff, unleavened even by the entertaining peevishness of Dawkins.

However – and it’s a big however – he was plainly much loved by his many friends in the literary and media worlds who are unanimous in their appreciation of his personal warmth and kindness. That is no small thing. 
In that he reminds me of Samuel Johnson, though, as I have said, in the quality of his work, he was no Johnson.

For example, Matthew D’Ancona in the Telegraph writes:

“As a man of letters Hitch readily acknowledged the importance of this great text (The King James Bible) to the `common store of image and allegory’ without which a culture will be perilously thin’. But he also argued… that this example of scripture-by-committee showed that `religion is man-made with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts.’’

Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! And there was I thinking the Bible was the unmediated product of some divine hand, like that which wrote on the wall at Belshazzar’s Feast.

I’m sorry but this devotion to him on the part of his friends and admirers is such that they reverentially elevate the utterly prosaic as though it were some holy relic. Where Hitchens is concerned, they claim the most extraordinary qualities for what is plainly very ordinary indeed. The most staggering example of this is in Andrew Sullivan’s piece in the Sunday Times where he writes: “Hitch was alive when he died.’’

Surely, for any human, that’s as run-of-the-mill as you can get.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Calling a Spade a Spade

ONE of the UK’s greatest enemies in Europe is MEP Guy Verhofstadt. Now the leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, he was prime minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008.
What do you mean, you’ve never heard of him?
He is a keen federalist, a eurofanatic who makes impassioned speeches urging the creation of a true United States of Europe and the abolition of the nation state, particularly the UK.
He has been particularly exercised in recent days, following David Cameron’s veto. I look forward eagerly to his reaction when the wheels come off the Markozy programme and the euro implodes.
Here is Verhofstadt in action.


Perhaps is attitude is understandable. If to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life, then I suppose being born Belgian means none of your numbers have come up.
Monty Python had it about right.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Let slip the dogs of war

Well, the penny has finally dropped – for me as well as others.
For me it happened when I recently interviewed Dr Thomas Renstrom, senior lecturer in economics at Durham University Business School.
In an analysis of the problems currently facing the West, Dr Renstrom pointed out that those problems began with the signing of free trade agreements with various developing nations.
Then we found we could not compete with the wage structures in developing countries which has destroyed much of our manufacturing base, so we now import more than we export and we fill the gap with debt. 
The classic market response would be for wage rates to fall in the West until we can compete again, and they have in real terms, but to nothing like the politically impossible degree required. Even to the modest extent they have fallen, has meant governments stepping in to provide subsidies to the low paid and unemployed and this has had added to public debt.
So the penny dropped with me, courtesy of Dr Renstrom and now it is has dropped with the admirable Jeremy Warner here in a typically well argued piece in the Telegraph: Globalisation Has Turned on its Western Creators.
He doesn’t come to the conclusion that Dr Renstrom reaches, that we must reintroduce tariffs and protect our manufacturing - a conclusion that flies in the face of current orthodoxy.
And it is shocking. After all, wasn’t it protectionism that turned the Wall Street Crash into the Great Depression?
Well, up to a point. In fact Britain did fine from 1933 onwards, with a growing  economy protected by Imperial tariffs. Also Dr Renstrom is at pains to point out that he believes there should be free trade with countries with similar wage structures where the normal trade advantages of specialisation and economies of scale can operate. He also points out that it would be in the interests of developing countries who, at the moment, are running up unsustainable surpluses with us.
This should perhaps give the ultra eurosceptic believer in total EU withdrawal (amongst whose numbers I often count myself) pause for thought. If we are to engage in global negotiations for the reintroduction of tariffs, would it not be better done as part of a larger trade bloc (just so long as trade bloc is all it is)? A trade war is best fought with allies.
The Chinese might kick up a fuss, but what can they really do? After all, we can always default on the debts we owe them.
They, in turn, could always declare conventional war on us, but they’d have to invade Russia to get at us.

Monday, 5 December 2011

An Offensive Weapon

The outcry against Jeremy Clarkson who said that public sector strikers should be shot in front of their families has been taken as demonstrating the Left’s hypocrisy and humourlessness.
And so it does.
It is also illustrative of that great British passion for working oneself up into sense of moral outrage over something that does not come close to warranting it. We are now a nation that loves to take offence.
I used to think that this outrage was entirely spurious. Now I’m not so sure. I remember a teacher once telling me how, in order to keep discipline, members of his profession would fake anger over trivial transgressions such as throwing a paper pellet, but, he was alarmed to discover that, as time went on, those burst of rage became genuine.
This is what has happened with indignation. People pretend to be offended as a way of throwing their weight around, find it pleasurable and it becomes habitual and real.
Another point to make is that Jeremy Clarkson is one of the few conservatives to appear regularly on the BBC. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the BBC has a strong left wing and liberal bias, the science of this is settled.
It does, however, clearly feel the need to put a few token right wingers on the box, but, in order that they will discredit the opinions they champion, it selects buffoons such as Clarkson or David Starkie.
But the Left cannot tolerate even this. Any airing of a contrary opinion is per se a matter of outrage to them and must be silenced.
And that really is offensive.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Chuck it Heffer

Simon Heffer is opining in his new online Mail slot on Osborne’s Autumn statement.
He sets out his 10 point plan to boost British growth. It’s all fairly vintage tax cutting Heffer stuff and unobjectionable, until he starts to give his prejudices their head.

He writes: “Increase taxes on anti-social items such as tobacco and off-sales of alcohol, and on gambling (including spread betting). Norman Lamont justified a tax on mobile phones, of all things, because they were anti-social. Taxing more heavily the drink that people buy in supermarkets - and which too many sit drinking on pavements - or the cigarettes that lead to illnesses which are such a burden on the NHS, would follow a similar principle. There is also no reason not to include a tax on grotesquely inflated Premiership football transfer fees, and on golden hellos and golden handshakes in the financial services sector. Most controversially, VAT could be introduced on foods deemed injurious to health – those with high fat content, for example.’’

I wonder whether Heffer delegated that bit to a trainee or whether he has finally lost it.
He decrees tobacco and alcohol to be anti-social. Well, we’ll be the judges of that, thank you Heffer.
It is a source of international wonder that alcohol is so scandalously expensive in this country, thanks to the extortionate levels of duty already levied on it. Incidentally, the UK ranks 14th out of 20 countries for alcohol consumption, below France and Germany.
Heffer is from Essex, an admirable county whose sons and daughters have achieved much, no doubt due, in no small part, to the strong influence of Calvinist Puritanism on that land.
Calvinism is famous for being an uncompromising doctrine, which takes a dim view of human enjoyment. Now all of us can, at times be irritated by our fellow creatures having a good time – Red Nose Day, for example, brings out the latent Calvinist in me – but it’s hardly reasonable that Heffer’s hang-ups should be translated into taxes on the rest of us.
Apart from a killjoy instinct, a big fib lies behind so much of this health fascism: namely that these vices are a net financial burden on the country. In truth drinkers, like smokers, contribute enough to the Exchequer by way of duty to pay for much of the NHS and, by dying earlier, save the country a fortune in pensions, plastic hips, bus passes, winter fuel allowances and all the rest of the costs of old age health care.
In these desperate economic times smoking and drinking are nothing less than a patriotic duty.


Monday, 28 November 2011

If at first...

Totally predictably, as Dave Spart would have said, the forces of tyranny are seeking to muzzle me.
My bid to create an e-petition to call the BMA to account over its call for a smoking ban in private vehicles has been denied.
The communication says:
“Your e-petition "Punish the BMA and defend our freedoms" hasn't been accepted.
E-petitions will not be accepted if they:
  • contain offensive, joke or nonsense content
  • use language which may cause offence, is provocative or extreme in its views
  • use wording that is impossible to understand
  • include statements that amount to advertisements’’
I cannot for the life of me see how my petition meets any of those criteria.
But a friend of liberty will not be so easily deterred and I shall resubmit on these lines:
“We call upon the Government to amend the rules on e-petitions to allow for the calling for Bills Attainder to punish those such as the voting members of the Council of British Medical Association, BMA, who by calling upon the government to ban smoking in private vehicles, are threatening the liberties of the British public. This is the latest in a long series of assaults by the BMA on the liberties of the British subject and subversive of our constitutional freedoms and rights. A Bill of Attainder against them could call for the imprisonment of each of them for 10 years and the forfeiture of their property to the Crown.’’


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A blow for freedom

So, the next move has been made in the British Medical Associations, BMA’s, long, relentless campaign against freedom.

It is calling on the government to introduce an extension to the current smoking ban to cover private vehicles.

This, they say, is to protect passengers from the concentration of toxins, which are, they claim, 11 times greater than in a smoky bar (remember those?).

Its press release says: “We are calling on UK governments to take the bold and courageous step of banning smoking in private vehicles’’.

In fact, the bold and courageous step would be to overturn the current smoking ban and to tell the busy-body Calvinists of the BMA to put that in their pipes and smoke it.

Sadly UK governments don’t do bold and courageous.

But this one has given the subject, through the creation of the e-petition, a means by which he or she can force parliament to address certain issues.

Crier in the wilderness has therefore submitted the following e-petition:

“The Britsh Medical Association, BMA, has called upon the government to ban smoking in private vehicles. This is the latest in a long series of assaults by the BMA on the liberties of the British subject and subversive of our constitutional freedoms and rights. We call upon the government to introduce a Bill of Attainder against the voting members of BMA Council to imprison each of them for 10 years and to make their property forfeit to the Crown. Such an Act would justly punish the BMA Council members for their treasonable intentions and serve as a deterrent to other tyrants.’’


The measure may seem drastic and the punishment harsh, but one must remember that the traditional penalty associated with a Bill of Attainder was death. I’m letting the BMA Council off lightly.

If Council members complain that I am seeking to criminalise what they regard as blameless behaviour one can only point out that they will at least know how smokers feel.

Whether the e-petition will be accepted, I shall discover in a matter of days and will keep you posted.



Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Bullshit baffles brains

ONE of the diversions of being a business journalist and editing a magazine lies in some of the submissions I receive.

One pinged into my inbox today which began: “Finally!! I have come across a term that perfectly describes what a project manager should NOT be – a Zombie!’’

Yes, that must sure have been a hard search. So far, I’ve only managed to come up with three terms that fit that difficult bill of non description: `nematode’; `fragrance’ and `walking stick ferrule’.

Can any of you think of any other things a project manager should not be?

Sadly, most of the stuff that crosses my desk doesn’t so much raise a smile as a howl of pained anguish, or at least makes me take my glasses off to rub a weary hand across my eyes like Captain Mainwairing.

Take this: “The project has delivered an exceptional business intelligence system that provides us with dynamic information which we can use to proactively improve our business performance’’.

Why do business people do that? Why do they talk such…such…such utter crap?

I recall a few years ago a Cumbrian Tourist Board spokesman was telling Radio 4 Today listeners that it was a shame there had been an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the county and that torrential rain had blighted holidays there because the county had some `wonderful brands’.

“What are those?’’ demanded a merciless John Humphreys.

“The Lake District,’’ was the reply.

Often it’s part of that unconscious conspiracy against the laity, a means of dressing up the mundane and the banal to make it all sound so much grander and more complicated than it really is.

In the same way trade union leaders try desperately to disguise a poor education with circumlocution and pomposity and so intone: “At this moment in time,’’ or, even worse, “At this present moment in time’’.

“Why?’’ one wants to scream at them. “Why not just say - `now’?’’

Words are used as a smokescreen, either for lack of education, of substance, or of clarity of thought.

They are also used to cover up an awful truth by cloaking it in euphemism. Such I felt was the case a few years ago when the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was talking about our troops in Iraq, who had lost control of the situation there and were being moved to Afghanistan. He said that they were `transitioning’.

Transitioning – an interesting choice of word that, I thought. I suppose the British soldiers in Iraq were `transitioning’ in much the same way that Napoleon’s army transitioned its way back from Moscow.

Words fail me.