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 November 2008

A Backdrop of Beasts and Losers
CHAGILL: LIFE, ART, EXILE by Jackie Wullschlager Allen Lane, £30, pp. 558 ISBN 9780713996524 £24 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 There's this cow nuzzling a bunch of roses though floating belly up over a matchwood village where smoke springs from...
A Choice of First Novels
A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz, was one of two debut novels on the Booker shortlist -- and is, one could argue, a more distinguished offering than the other debutant, which won. A rambling and hilarious tale about perpetual failure, it takes...
A Fine Romance
I Capuleti e i Montecchi Of Thee I Sing Opera North, Leeds Slightly perversely, Opera North has been running a series of 'Shakespeare operas' ending with Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which means that the programme book consists largely of articles...
An Inside Job
It's a proud day when your boy goes for his first job interview with a career in mind and says he wants to borrow your suit. He left school two years ago, aged 16, knowing a bit about the Nazis and how to bake a scone and that's about it. He gained...
A Prickly Character
HESTER by Ian McIntyre Constable, £25, pp. 450, ISBN 9781845294496 'I must eat up my own heart & be quiet, ' confided Hester Thrale in her private notebook in the autumn of 1777. She was pregnant again, for the 11th time in 13 years. By then seven...
A Rich Harvest
CODA by Simon Gray Faber/Granta, £14.99, pp. 251, ISBN 9781847080943X £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Were Simon Gray alive today, I could not have reviewed this book. Friends should not review each other's work or reviewing becomes a form...
As Orwell Warned, Children Now Spy on Adults
When I was a child, 'pester power' meant stamping one's feet in a shop. It involved little more than begging one's mum in an irritating voice for the latest He-Man action figure or for one of those unusually thick pink milkshakes from a place called...
A Woman of Influence
Sir: The article by Paul Johnson asking 'Should a widowed mother aged 13 be a saint?' (And another thing, 6 September) was brought to my attention recently and it was with some concern that I read this potted history of Margaret Beaufort. This is a...
Beating around the Bush
W 15, Nationwide W, which should be pronounced 'dubya', the Texan way, as in George 'Dubya' Bush -- but never as in, for example, Dubya. H. Smith -- is Oliver Stone's dramatised portrait of the 43rd American President and it's pretty much neither here...
Breaking the Mould
The election of Professor Sir Curtis Price as the next Warden of New College, Oxford, is remarkable in two respects: he is (or was) American and he is a musician. The American side of it is just one of those things. Sir Curtis has lived and worked in...
Celebrity Is Not Enough
ANNIE LEIBOVITZ AT WORK by Annie Leibovitz, edited from conversations with Sharon DeLano Cape, £25, pp. 240, ISBN 9780224087575 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 When Annie Leibovitz started out as a photographer in 1968 her heroes were Henri Cartier-Bresson...
Diary
'So, do you believe in God?' That is the Nth time today I've been asked that, where N is starting to be quite a big number. I was bracing myself for the God question after it was announced this week that I will be succeeding Richard Dawkins, the evangelical...
Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody
SUNDAY Just had an absolute nightmare setting up one of those conference calls. Jed thought it would be nice if Dave rang Mrs Palin to wish her luck. Simple enough you might think. Oh no. First of all he had to explain who he was. Literally. As in 'Hello...
Enemies Within
FIFTY PEOPLE WHO BUGGERED UP BRITAIN by Quentin Letts Constable, £12.99, pp. 274, ISBN 978184529855 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 As readers of the Daily Mail know, Quentin Letts leaves no turn unstoned. His withering parliamentary sketches...
Extreme Measures
I watched Russell Brand's Ponderland (Channel 4, Thursday) if only so that you don't have to. It's rather lazy, like the unpleasant message he and Jonathan Ross left on Andrew Sachs's answerphone and then broadcast on Radio Two. You'd think that if...
From Pillar to Post
THE ENGLISH HOUSE: THE STORY OF A NATION AT HOME by Clive Aslet Bloomsbury, £20, pp. 308, ISBN 978074577973 £16(plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Earlier this year a brave publisher republished in two volumes and nearly 800 pages the classic book on...
Global Warning
Staying recently on the Herengracht in Amsterdam, I found myself trying to solve a psychological puzzle. How could anyone have thought for a moment, how could any mind have entertained even for an infinitesimal fraction of an instant, that 17th- and...
He's the Voice of the Crash, but the Words Are All His Own
The cover of the hardback version of Who Runs Britain? , Robert Peston's masterly dissection of how the global economy got into the mess it's in today, features an abstract version of the Union Jack. On the front of the paperback version published last...
How Boris Got under His Skin
There is a ridiculously tiny, narrow room carved out of the foyer of the London Coliseum, known as the Snuggery. I think it was originally intended as somewhere for King Edward VII to retire to for a touch of silken dalliance or simply to use the lavishly...
I Am Woken by, the Song of the Kookaburra in This Ancient, Haunting Landscape
Kookaburras don't really laugh, but I can see why the old song suggests it: a weird, taunting call, which does have a kind of dark comicality about it. And this is one of the sounds that wake me each morning in Hunters Hill -- where I find that The...
I Don't Miss Italy. the Dolce Vita Is a Myth
Mention to most people that you have recently quit Italy for London and you become an instant object of sympathy. 'Oh, poor you, ' they coo, 'don't you mind?' Cue effusions about that darling trattoria in Lucca, those hidden della Francescas in Arezzo...
In a Rich Man's World
As the dust slowly settles around the banking world's Ground Zero, it's instructive to peer into the hole and ponder the options that remain open to those who are reluctant to keep what's left of their filthy lucre in the Bank of Brown. I must own up...
Intimate Moments
From Sickert to Gertler: Modern British Art from Boxted House Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, Suffolk, until 13 December Private collections of art are fascinating, both for the light they shed on the tastes and preoccupations of their owners, and for...
Is Barack Obama Really Black? Actually, I'm Not So Sure
We media monkeys will look very silly indeed if President Obama behaves in the manner predicted of him by one lady voter I saw interviewed on TV. She said that as soon as he got in the White House he would 'put on a turban and start shooting the white...
McCain's Failure Is a Warning to Cameron: Offer Tax Cuts before Brown Does
There was something almost comic about Gordon Brown and David Cameron's rush to associate themselves with Barack Obama's victory, each offering their own quite different interpretation. The Prime Minister declared that people are looking to government...
Meet the Real Joe Biden: Vice-President Plonker
It has become fashionable to blame Sarah Palin for John McCain's election defeat. Sure, say Washington insiders, Palin invigorated the conservative base -- add contemptuous sneer -- but she alienated the independents and undecideds. The God-fearing...
Money Laundering
With a sense of weary inevitability, I discover that it is not possible to have a washing machine delivered in my street without paying £100 in washing machine delivery protection money to Brixton town hall. Yes, indeed. I turned into my street the...
Obama Has Changed the World Just by Being Elected
Washington, D.C. In 1968, as Washington burned in the riots that followed Martin Luther King's assassination, few would have predicted that in 40 years' time America would elect a black president. But on Tuesday night, a diverse crowd gathered on the...
Obama's America Will Be More Equal but Less Mighty
While walking to work on the morning of Election Day, I was struck by the number of times I encountered Barack Obama's beaming countenance on posters and bumper stickers. To be sure, I live in a neighbourhood in the District of Columbia that is particularly...
Remembrance Day Salutes Man's Ancient Instincts
Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, and I'm sorry to repeat such a hoary cliché, but the reason it's so hoary is it's true. There's barely a chap I know who doesn't wonder how he'd fare if forced to undergo the ultimate...
Remembrance of Girls Past
PAST IMPERFECT by Julian Fellowes Weidenfeld, £17.99, pp. 410, ISBN 9780297855224 £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 'But why should people want to read about us?' exclaimed my cousin, a debutante of the season of 1968, which forms the backdrop...
Riviera Revels
New York Back in the summer of 1960, a married Hollywood actress and her friend, a Hollywood wife, came to the south of France and met a randy 23-year-old who showed them around the place. The actress was the sexy Janet Leigh, then married to Tony Curtis,...
Scapegoats, Hate Figures and Superheroes
During the recent economic nervous breakdown, pundits everywhere put forward every possible financial cause. But they only told part of the story. Economics is also governed partly by human behaviour. So a fuller understanding of the crisis, and our...
Take the Money and Run
Kevin Pietersen was peculiarly charmless, even by his own high standards, shortly after leading England to one of their most abject performances in any form of cricket in the Stanford 20/20 match. Did he mention how well Sir Allen Stanford's West Indian...
Tales of the Unexpected
THE ATMOSPHERIC RAILWAY: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES by Shena Mackay Cape, £17.99, pp. 423, ISBN 9780224072984 £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 In Waterstones bookshops there are little signs dotted among the fiction shelves, to prompt readers...
Taste for the Unusual
Overture 2012: Power and Passion Royal Albert Hall Julie Gilbert/Jean-Baptiste Andre The Place Triple Bill Royal Opera House I have to confess that the idea of 120 children and teenagers dancing to Shostakovich's 10th Symphony did not sound particularly...
Ten Minutes That Shook Europe
WRATH OF GOD: THE GREAT LISBON EARTHQUAKE OF 1755 by Edward Paice Quercus, £20, pp. 304, ISBN 9781847246233 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Portugal in the 18th century was at once a mystery and deeply familiar to the British. Deeply familiar,...
The Divided States of America
A MERCY by Toni Morrison Chatto, £15.99, pp. 168, ISBN 9780701180454 £12.79(plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 You may or may not agree with the New York Times, which a couple of years ago voted Toni Morrison's Beloved the greatest work of American fiction...
The Great Duke and Others
WELLINGTON by Jane Wellesley Weidenfeld, £20, pp. 369, ISBN 9780297852315 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 There can never be too many biographies of the Duke of Wellington because, like Churchill's and Nelson's, his career path is so extraordinary,...
The MoD's Failure of Duty
Sir: Charles Moore berates Oxford deputy coroner Andrew Walker for upbraiding officialdom in the matter of the death of Para Corporal Mark Wright, deeming such criticism of the military establishment to be 'outrageous' (The Spectator's Notes, 25 October)....
The Spectator's Notes
It is so important that the first black President is only half-black. The black side of Barack Obama's heritage is the non-American bit. His black, Kenyan father was absent. His Hawaiian upbringing was white. One day, he recalls in his autobiography,...
The Tory Quest for a Fiscal Holy Grail Is Doomed
The good news is that Gordon Brown's golden rules are no more. These rules did not stop the then chancellor from launching a spending binge. They did not stop him from spilling red ink all over the nation's books at a time when the flow of cash into...
Turning Back the Pages
MAGIC MOMENTS: THE BOOKS THE BOY LOVED AND MUCH ELSE BESIDES by John Sutherland Profile, £10.99, pp. 273, ISBN 9781846680786 £8.79 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE: A BOOK-LOVER'S ANTHOLOGY OG LITERARY ERUDITION by John Sutherland...
Unyielding Hope
One of Robert F. Kennedy's favourite passages of poetry was drawn from Tennyson's 'Ulysses': 'Come, my friends, / 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. / Push off, and sitting well in order smite/ The sounding furrows... strong in will/ To strive,...
What Is Freedom?
Let's focus for a change on what the BBC does best. Take, for instance, a short half-hour programme on Radio Four, buried in the schedules, midevening on a Monday, in which the German historian Rainer Schulz took us behind a bit of actualité to expose...
Why I'll Never Be Warren Buffet
I ought to be a natural Warren Buffett. I've never had any difficulty doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. If there ever was anyone capable of being 'fearful when everyone else is greedy and greedy when everyone else is fearful', it's...
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