The Spectator

A weekly, UK-based magazine covering current political, economic, and cultural issues. Articles include interviews, commentary, opinion pieces, essays, and cultural criticism.

Articles from February 2012

Abroad
Syrian forces attacked Homs with shells and mortars, and dozens of civilians and opponents of the government were killed each day. A UN Security Council resolution on Syria, which backed a call from the Arab League for President Bashir al-Assad to stand...
A Churchwarden's Lament
Say a prayer for the volunteers who keep our churches standing When I take the dogs into the garden last thing at night , a dark shape looms up just beyond the garden wall. It is a 12th-century stone building, with a square tower, leaded and stonetiled...
A Gorefest in Which Everyone Dies Horribly: Here's My Book Recommendation for Kids
One of my new hobbies as I get older is corrupting the young. I did so again the other day with a superbright, very nicely brought-up 11-year-old called Tilly. Her mother was trying to persuade her to read Swallows And Amazons. 'No, wait, I've something...
A Holy Terror
Michelangelo: The Achievement of Fame by Michael Hirst Yale, £30, pp. 438, ISBN 97803001186121 In the summer of 1520, Michelangelo Buonarotti wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of his protege, the painter Sebastiano del Piombo, to Cardinal Bibbiena,...
Ancient and Modern Scapegoat of the Year
The world informs us that the ex-Sir-cised knight Fred has been tipped off his horse onto a scapegoat. Wrong again. The Judaic [e]scapegoat ritual provided annual blanket cover for the community by transferring its sins mechanically onto a wilderness-bound...
ARTS Our Island Storyadio Programme That Tells
History of the World in 100 Objects managed to squeeze the great paradigm shifts of anthropology into the interval between the roadworks sign and the all-clear, spiriting away traffic cones with remote customs and belief systems. What could follow something...
Be Careful Who You Depose
Does the West really want to see a backward Wahhabi theocracy in charge of Syria? Is the Syrian regime hellbent on political suicide? There can be no doubt that he is determined to crush any resistance, but if President Bashar al-Assad had really started...
BOOKENDS Short and Sweet
Before text s and Twitter there were postcards. Less hi-tech, but they kept people in touch. Angela Carter (pictured above) and Susannah Clapp were friends , and over the years, postcards from Carter arrived from wherever her travels took her. They...
Cameron Cannot Escape a Verdict on Strasbourg
'I don't really worry about David and the European Court of Human Rights, ' one right-wing member of the then shadow cabinet told me months before the last election. After a fortifying mouthful of steak, he continued: 'The truth is that, whatever the...
Cinema It's Not Easy Being Green
The Muppets U, Nationwide The Muppet Show was my favourite TV programme when I was growing up, but this film, the first in over a decade? Not so much, even though it is fun in parts. I liked it terrifically at the beginning, and loved seeing Kermit...
Daft Times
As the co-founder of the West London F ree School, I receive a lot of junk mail from 'educationalists' trying to sell me various bric-a-brac, most of it pretty harmless. Occasionally, though, I get something genuinely disturbing. F or instance, this...
Dance Star Turn
Double Bill Royal Ballet, in rep until 5 March Ivan Putrov/Men in Motion Sadler's Wells At first sight, the new Royal Ballet double bill might come across as an odd coupling: Ashton's sparkling The Dream on one side, MacMillan's metaphorically sombre...
Dear Mary, Your Problems Solved
Q. Recently my wife and I received a thank you letter from 'John and Kate' giving an address in Pimlico. They wrote to thank us for a picture of roses that 'we' had given them for a wedding present. My mother in-law painted beautifully and often chose...
Diary
One of the best things about being a writer is that you get asked to interesting places. I've always turned everything down because I believed I should sit at my desk and write. About six months ago, I decided to see what would happen if I accepted...
Economies of Shale
The weather conditions of the past week could not have been better conceived to show up the inadequacies of Britain's - and the rest of Europe's - energy policy. A vast anticyclone extending from Siberia to eastern England has brought snow as far south...
Enemies Within
Even in 1940, at its finest hour Britain was not united on the side of good against evil The Americans have 1776, the French have 1789 and we have 1940. The date is not official for us the way it is for them; it marks no formal founding of a nation...
Enough Indiscriminate Business Bashing: Time for Ministers to Start Cheerleading
There's something peculiarly cynical about a political strategy that involves alienating pockets of your own core support in order to attract larger numbers of floating voters. Thus, we're told, Conservative enthusiasm for High Speed 2 is partly based...
Exhibitions Memorable Imagery
Eden and Other Suburbs: The Life and Work of Ivor Abrahams Royal West of England Academy, Queen's Road, Clifton, Bristol, until 4 March Transition: The Inner Image Revisited Art Space Gallery, 84 St Peter Street, N1, until 2 March The RWA galleries...
Flight of the Black Swan
The political philosopher Nassim Taleb has some words of warning for the Prime Minister Nassim Taleb is banging a glass against a table to demonstrate his notion of 'anti-fragility'. 'This glass is fragile, ' he says. 'Vulnerable to nasty surprises.'...
Frank Exchange of Views
Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander Picador, £16.99, pp. 292, ISBN 9781447207658 Solomon Kugel is morbidly obsessed with death: his own, and that of those he loves, including his wife Bree and his only son Jonah. He spends his idle hours writing down...
High Life
At ten minutes past four on the afternoon of 28 April 1945, a plumber by the name of Moretti shot and killed a prematurely aged man and a youngish woman, who was not wearing any underwear, in front of the Villa Belmonte, near Lake Como. Next to Moretti,...
Home
A judge granted bail to Abu Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as 'Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe', who was to be freed from Long Lartin prison and allowed to leave a fixed address in London for two one-hour periods a day, in order...
How a Saintly Airline Representative at Luton Made Us All Feel Better about the World
I think her first name was Denise. It was hard to discern on her small easyJet name badge; but the surname was certainly Williams. So let's call her Denise Williams. The name matters less than the circumstance. It was Luton Airport departures corridor...
Interview Man about the House
They are lighting the candles at Covent Garden to honour one of the great singers of our age. Thomas Allen (as he was then) first appeared on the stage of the Royal Opera House in 1972, as Donald in Billy Budd, when Benjamin Britten was alive and his...
Intrigue and Foreboding
A Small Circus by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hofmann Penguin Classics, £20, pp. 578, ISBN 9780141196558 In 2009, Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada's masterpiece about civilian resistance to Nazism, appeared in English for the first time. Now A...
King 'S Gambit
How quantitative easing is changing Britain No one who knows Sir Mervyn King would describe him as a radical. The Bank of Eng land governor looks every inch the owlish academic, yet he is midway through what is possibly the greatest gamble in Britain's...
Letters
China's foreign policy Sir: As Hillary Clinton just stated, China and Russia 'neutered' the UN by vetoing the sanctions on Syria. Russia did it because Syria is an ally with which it does business. China vetoed because it wants no judgments on how it...
Low Life
If there's a hotter, smellier and more cramped men's changing room in Britain than the one at our gym, then I'd like to hear about it. It's next door to the sauna and connected to it by an air vent. My glasses steam up the moment I walk in. After a...
Menace , Mystery and Decadence
Richard Davenport Hines on the seamy side of interwar Alexandria as depicted by Lawrence Durrell The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell Faber, £14.99, pp. 880, ISBN 9780571283934 Amateurs in Eden by Joanna Hodgkin Virago, £25, pp. 335, ISBN 9781844087938...
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE: Register
The fatuousness of remarks on Radio 3, about which Charles Moore complains, is an established aim on Radio 4. Last Sunday, before The Archers, I was invited to 'Have another cuppa'. The implicit intention was to sound like someone who had just dropped...
Motoring Snow Patrol
The American poet Robert Frost wrote memorably of pausing on his pony in the snow and looking longingly into woods that were 'lovely, dark, and deep', regretting that he had promises to keep and 'miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep'....
Movie Dinners
The Odeon cinema in Whiteleys, Bayswater, has refurbished; it now has eight 'Lounges' where you can watch a film and stuff your face with only 49 others, planted on leather seats like fellow passengers on a spaceship to nowhere. Other London cinemas...
Music Easy Listening
There is only one place these days where the music of Charles Villiers Stanford (18521924) sends its hearers into reliable ecstasy, and that is in choirs and places where they sing. Otherwise he is something of a bust. Despite having written seven symphonies,...
Opera Great Expectations
Norma Opera North, Grand Theatre, Leeds, and on tour until 10 March Bellini's Norma is an opera that I not only adore: it obsesses me, too. Whenever I listen to it, I have to hear it again very soon, and parts of it lodge in my mind, playing over and...
Radio Leave Well Alone
Maybe he was asking for it. Maybe his article in the New Statesman was a subconscious attempt to undermine his brother's authority. But what was the point of grilling David Miliband about his relationship with his brother Ed on the Today programme (Radio...
Real and Imagined Danger
America and the Imperialism of Ignorance: US Foreign Policy Since 1945 by Andrew Alexander Biteback, £20, pp. 360, ISBN 9781849541046 What was the Cold War? For Professor John Lewis Gaddes, it was a conflict between two incompatible systems, democracy...
Real Life
Miraculously, mysteriously, almost supernaturally, I found a man. I'm sorry for not mentioning it earlier but it crept up on me. I didn't realise I had found him until ages afterwards. I had to have the whole thing signposted in neon, and even then...
Spectator Sport Missing out at Murrayfield
You've got to hand it to Princess Anne. She's been loyally pitching up for Scotland's rugby matches through thick and thin, largely thin since the battle of Bannockburn, and unfailingly appears to be enjoying herself. She's a real rugby fan, and if...
Storm in a Wastepaper Basket
The Dreyfus Affair by Piers Paul Read Bloomsbury, £25, pp. 408, ISBN 9781408801390 'It's the revenge of Dreyfus, ' came the cry from the dock. The speaker was the veteran right-wing ideologue, Charles Maurras, found guilty of treason in 1945 for his...
Television Welsh, Single and Sex Mad
There's lots of comedy about, but it's not what Americans call 'water-cooler' comedy, shows that get people talking at work the next day. No Hancock or Monty Python or Fast Show or The Office. In the old days, prevideo recorders, pre-repeats on freeview,...
Theatre Marshmallow Drama
She Stoops To Conquer Olivier, in rep until 21 March Happy New Old Red Lion, until 25 February An outbreak of heritage theatre at the National. She Stoops to Conquer, written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1773, is the ultimate mistaken-identity caper. A rich...
The Philosophy of Modern Britain: I Must Have It and I Must Have It Right Now
It's not all doom and gloom, then. A new study suggests that we are turning into aborigines - or Indigenous Australians, to use the more acceptable term. Various anthropological investigations have depicted aborigines as being remarkably cheerful, laid-back...
The Spectator's Notes
Last week, I went to a party in No.10 Downing Street to relaunch its official website. In his speech of welcome, the Prime Minister said something quite bold. Because of Freedom of Information (FoI), he explained, officials and ministers are increasingly...
Time to Sit and Stare
A Shed of One's Own by Marcus Berkmann Little, Brown, £12.99, pp. 248, ISBN 9781408703236 Hermitic, oneiric withdrawal from responsibilities and threats is the most effective way of alleviating the pangs of middle age, suggests Marcus Berkmann. In his...
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