Mark Lawson's article in Saturday's Guardian has come into for some justifiable criticism (noticeably at normblog). Lawson's thesis is that the US is increasingly becoming a theocracy. Like many commentators (as I discussed recently at The Sharpener), he is unable to see the amazing complexity of a society whose largest city has, after all, spent this weekend celebrating this.
That's not to say that he doesn't have a serious point in highlighting the increasingly pernicious role that conservative Christians have in American law-making. If only he'd taken more care in researching his subject...
This week's prize for moronically ludicrous analogy, however, (thanks to Laban Tall for the link) has to go to Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, who believes that, under the sway of those villainous liberal elites:
Britain has been the victim of a cultural revolution no less radical than that which swept China in 1967
China in 1967? I have clearly led a very sheltered life. I must have been away when my local Anglican priest was taken away by the authorities to be executed, and, when I last attended a classical music concert in the UK, I was lucky enough to escape the revolutionary guards at the exits waiting to pull out my toenails for listening to such bourgeois decadence.
One piece of advice to Mr Hitchens and his ilk - if he were to spend only ten minutes of each day not actively despising the culture and the country in which he is lucky enough to live, he might find life just a tiny bit more endurable.
As one might expect, the US is in general a paradise for the technologically minded. Whether it be wi-fi or HDTV, there is every gadget under the sun available here to make life just that little bit smoother.
But there are a number of areas where the US seems to lag strangely behind the rest of the developed world. One of these is telephones. Wandering the streets of even the smallest provincial town in Britain or France one can find payphones which take any credit card, and which frequently allow you to check your emails and surf the web. Here in the States, payphones are still of the type that went out of fashion in Europe some decades ago: coin only - and the largest denomination they accept is a quarter (ie, about 15p). Try phoning your friend in Leipzig for longer than 3 seconds...
More striking still is the difference in mobile phone technology. For reasons best known to itself, the US chose a different standard for mobile (or cell) phones from the rest of the world. As a result, the technology is not compatible and the developments taking place elsewhere only emerge here with a considerable time-lag.
Also, billing methods are different. The most shocking difference to a European being that calls cost just as much to receive as they do to make.
As result of all this is that the number of mobiles per head of the population is much lower here and, crucially, the number held by children and teenagers lower still. Texting is still very much a minority sport (so that the US equivalent of Pop Idol has to broadcast instructions at the end of every episode on how this strange Euro thing is done). So bullying by text message, a real problem in the UK, is unheard of here (unlike bullying by computer-based instant messaging, which is very popular).
Another result of the US's technological primitivism in this area is that video messaging is the preserve of only a very elite few. So the grotesque new UK craze of 'happy slapping', where hapless bystanders are 'slapped' and have this 'happy' event beamed from mobile to mobile has yet to enter the public consciousness here. Not because Americans are morally superior to the British, but because they simply don't have access to the technology. Yet.
It reminds me of a scene in one of Thomas Hardy's novels (Return of the Native, I think). One of the old country codgers bemoans the rise of modern technology (in this instance, chalk and literacy), as in his eyes it has led only to obscene graffiti being scrawled on walls and gates. The ingenuity of youth in finding wicked ends for what might seem positive developments is without bounds.
It looks not beyond the bounds of possibility that Ken Clarke will stand for the Tory leadership.
As he is one of the very few candidates with the clout, public recognition and plain political guile to do some considerable damage to the Labour government, I'm rather surprised that so many cyberspace Tories (including quite a few of the folks at Once More) seem so hostile to him.
Labour would certainly hate a Clarke victory more than that of any other. His major impediment - Europe - seems now less of a problem given recent events.
When in power, Clarke was as much a Thatcherite as anyone, although he has rather skillfully managed to soften the public perception of him since 1997.
Subsequent Tory history suggests a rather poor track record in leadership selection. The anti-Clarke bandwagon seems to imply that once again the Conservative Party will fail to choose the candidate most likely to bring them success.
Laban Tall confuses me (and not just me). Only last week he was criticising me for favouring the crumbling of Western society by the removal of its Christian underpinnings.
Today he comes out in high praise of a country where secularism is state policy, where schoolchildren who are too open in professing their Christian faith could find themselves in trouble with the law and where the Muslim population dwarfs that of Britain.
Personally, I love France to pieces, but why Laban should find his nirvana there is more than curious. But he has definitely supped from a good bottle of Burgundy and liked it.
He even prefers French traditions to British ones: he praises the venerable French practice for hoisting numerous tricolors on every public building, while denigrating what he might call the 'native Brit' practice of being supremely reticent in where we display our national drapery (a tradition that, I fear, is fading).
He deplores the fact that the British population is rising only as a result of immigration and of the higher birthrates of existing immigrants. The French, though, are producing 'French' babies. Really? Would Laban care to enlighten us on the 'native' (in Laban-speak) proportion of this fertility spike? I would be surprised if he can, as the French government keeps no statistics on the ethnic makeup of babies born there.
A 19th century song comes to mind. It's from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. The Lord High Executioner is making up his 'little list' of society miscreants, which includes the unfortunate personage who:
praises in enthusiastic tone all centuries but this, and every country but his own.
Strange this - the good people at Biased BBC have again failed to pick up on a staggeringly partisan turn of affairs at the Corporation. A former chairman of the Young Conservatives is now being allowed to be Auntie's main commentator on UK political affairs. Truly scandalous, no?
I have never been very confident of the accuracy of anything on the opinion pages of the Daily Telegraph, but this recent article by Alice Thomson is a prime example of someone writing about something they obviously know very little about.
Her aim is to cock a snook at the French 35-hour week, a policy that
is certainly not beyond criticism. Unfortunately, her grip on reality
is no firmer than that of her colleague Boris Johnson. Not to put too
fine a point on it, she is talking utter crap. I will take just one
paragraph, although the rest of the article is equally non-sensical:
streets in Paris are deserted at 9am and the Gare du Nord is empty.
Everyone is still at home drinking coffee and reading the newspapers.
There's no point in being at work at 7am, if it means leaving at 2pm.
One director of a multinational conglomerate admitted he caused
meltdown in his office by sending an e-mail at 10pm to a client. The
in-house lawyers were horrified by such blatant evidence of illegal
Every single sentence of this is total
nonsense. The first two are just plain untruths. The third is based on
a total fallacy. The fourth and fifth are tear-jerkingly laughable.
Let's look at facts. I know this is tricky for Telegraph opinion writers, but as an old-fashioned chap I rather like them.
For all practical, day-to-day purposes, the 35-hour week does not apply to white-collar workers (what the French call 'cadres'). And French cadres work some of the longest
hours in Europe (the legislation does provide them with extra days of
holiday, but does nothing to reduce their daily working hours). A
survey in the French magazine Le Point last year (not available on the
Internet) found that, on average, a French white-collar worker works over 55 hours
a week. This was not a survey of high executives or Parisian lawyers -
this is the reality for millions of French office workers. Why do you
think French restaurants only really start serving food at 8pm? Why do
French theatres also raise their curtains at 8pm? Because everyone is
still slaving in the office until then.
So when Alice Thomson quotes her multinational director claiming
that sending a 10pm email unleashed 'meltdown' amongst the company's
lawyers, either she or he are telling what can only be described as
lies. It is a legal nonsense.
France may have many problems. The short working hours of its offices do not constitute one of them.
The Telegraph opinion pages' problematic relationship with reality and blatant disregard for the facts continue apace...
I'm pleased to say that my prediction that the new Tory blog Once More would prove a good read has been fulfilled. There is plenty of excellent stuff on it - hardly anything I agree with, of course, but that's beside the point. It's one of the most positive thinking grounds for right-wing thought I've come across - especially as it concentrates on what conservatives should be doing, rather than about all the woeful aspects of leftist ideology.
There is a particularly good debate going on there at the moment about education policy: it centres on those Tory themes of cutting back the role of the state and consumer choice.
Of course, Tory actions in government give one cause to pause. The National Curriculum and OFSTED, Section 28 and hyperactive testing, all these things are Tory innovations, so one is entitled to take promises to 'free schools' from bureaucracy with a hefty pinch of salt. Tories talk now of 'trusting teachers to do their job', in power they seemed unable to put this thought into practice.
I also do not yet see a coherent 'choice' strategy. Who is to have a choice - schools or parents? By definition, it cannot always be both. Parents of an academically ungifted child cannot 'choose' to send him or her to a grammar school, however strongly they might feel that the grammar school provides the most appropriately stretching environment.
And who polices disputes that arise between schools and parents? A new bureaucracy, no doubt.
It will be interesting to see how this policy develops. But I will take some convincing that the Tory interventionist leopard has changed its spots.