More Grauniad and Observer oddities
More Grauniad and Observer oddities — see the last collection here.
Writing in the Guardian of 31 March 2008 from Memphis, Tennessee, about Martin Luther King, Gary Younge (does his name rhyme with scrounge, or tongue?) quotes a remark about American businessmen being happy to sit down to dinner at the place where Dr King was assassinated, a comment apparently made by the splendidly named circuit judge D'Army Bailey. The judge must dread being the subject of a Spoonerism. Wikipedia, predictably, provides some delightful examples of Spoonerisms, including the classic remark allegedly made by the good Doctor S. to a lady at a reception, predicting her imminent descent into insanity by reference to Alice's Hatter: "You'll soon be had as a matter of course".
Gary Younge used to be the Guardian's New York correspondent, but now he seems to function exclusively as the paper's race affairs correspondent, and a rather good one too. According to his Comment is Free profile he is now "a Guardian columnist and feature writer based in the US", which obviously gives him an enviable amount of scope. In the same article he identifies a certain Andrew Young [sic] as 'one of [Martin Luther King's] aides', which perhaps does less than justice to the man who has been, in the words of his Wikipedia entry, a "U.S. congressman and mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, and was the United States' first African-American ambassador to the United Nations", as well as having been a prominent civil rights activist in his own right. However, perhaps a degree of reticence about the now venerable Andy Young's eminence was in order, since Mr Younge [sic] attributes to him a striking grammatical solecism: referring to Martin Luther King's opposition to the Vietnam war, Young (not Younge) is supposed to have said, "As a Nobel prizewinner we expected people not to agree with it, but to take it seriously." Alas, even with that royal 'we', old Andy can't claim to be a Nobel prize-winner, however much he may have deserved it.
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Do you remember Obama's prominent aide, Samantha Power, having to resign from Barack's team when the Scotsman newspaper published an interview with her in which she described Hillary Clinton as "a monster"? —
"We f***** up in Ohio," she admitted. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win. She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.
Ten days later, on 17 March, the Guardian's Media section published short interviews with four media pundits who stated their views about the ethics of publishing a remark which its author said, immediately after making it, was "off the record". All but one of the four attempted, with varying degrees of persuasiveness, to defend the action of the Scotsman in publishing the remark despite the clear caveat which accompanied it. This seems to me on a par with the almost universal attitude of the media to public servants who salve their private political consciences by leaking sensitive government secrets to the media — often referred to as "whistle-blowers", as if enjoying the prerogative of the referee, even though self-appointed — on the principle that their private political opinions override their duty of loyalty and confidentiality to elected ministers. It's obviously in the media's interests that treacherous public servants should feed official secrets to them for publication (it makes a good story and sells newspapers and advertising), just as it's in the media's interests to betray those who give them interviews and ask that parts should be "off the record" — i.e. purely for the background information of the interviewer and in confidence. How media people with such flexible ideas of right and wrong have the brass neck to write sanctimonious editorials wagging their fingers at elected governments, lecturing them on what they 'must' do, is a continuing source of amazement.
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Talking of sanctimonious editorials, the Observer's first leader on 30 March 2008 (with its wrong-headed heading 'Brown should not rule out a Beijing boycott') surely broke all records for sanctimony, loftily lecturing the Chinese government on what it 'has to' do if it wants to be accepted as a world power:
If China wants to be fully accepted as a major actor in the international community, then it has to behave as a responsible stakeholder in its actions. That especially includes its actions towards its territories like Tibet. This is not only important in terms of its internal affairs. It is also vital in the upholding of international law, multilateral institutions and a common framework of human rights to which the world adheres. The world needs China to take these issues seriously, whether in Tibet or Darfur, and to recognise that it will be held to account if it does not.
Almost everything about this is hopelessly misjudged. The idea that China is not yet "a major actor in the world community", a country with a population of more than one and a quarter billion — more than one in five of the population of the world, and rapidly growing — together with a huge and expanding economy, and a permanent member of the Security Council, is frankly bizarre. Anyone anywhere in the world but in Britain reading the Observer's homily would be bound to wonder where it thinks it's coming from, given Britain's own recent record on "upholding of international law, multilateral institutions and a common framework of human rights": this from a newspaper which actually supported the US-UK aggression against Iraq that flouted international law and gravely undermined the world's primary international institution. Physician, heal thyself! Then the advice to Britain's prime minister to consider boycotting the Peking Olympic Games is recklessly ill-judged, with Britain scheduled to host the games only four years later and thus dangerously vulnerable to Olympic boycott politics. But above all, the whole tone of the editorial is hopelessly arrogant and impertinent. Quite apart from anything else, do the Observer's leader-writers not understand that China, like all global great powers (the American neo-cons, Britain at the peak of its imperial power), doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks about it, provided that it is feared and respected?
The Observer's second leading article on the same day ("A shameful way to treat women prisoners") was impeccably liberal as to substance, but contained one striking sentence:
On any given day, around 1,000 women in English and Welsh's jails … are on remand.
It's easy to see what has happened here. No doubt the original draft referred to "England's and Wales's jails" — or even, heaven forbid, "England's and Wales' jails"; and some cub sub-editor, perhaps on work experience attachment, felt uneasy about that apostrophe-s after a non-plural word ending in 's', and decided to play safe with "English and Welsh" instead. But the Observer, unlike its daily sister paper the Guardian, has a week to proof-read and fact-check its copy, and someone really ought to have spotted this, especially in an editorial column.
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Sorry, but I haven't quite finished with the Observer of 30 March. This same doomed issue prominently featured a long article by Max Hastings in support of the campaign by the reactionary Tory clown Boris Johnson to be elected Mayor of London. Max Hastings is always worth reading for his insights into what an intelligent Tory is thinking, but on this occasion he seemed to be writing strictly in his capacity as a former editor, not only of the Daily Torygraph, but more particularly of the London Evening Standard, the newspaper which even more than any other organ of the right-wing populist press pursues a virulent vendetta against Ken Livingstone, London's controversial left-wing Labour Mayor. Published to coincide with the launch of the Conservative party candidate Johnson's campaign to replace Livingstone as Mayor, Hastings's article was based on some curiously contradictory propositions: (1) that Livingstone had been a rather good and successful Mayor whose major reforms Hastings reluctantly approves of, (2) that Johnson, well known personally to Hastings, variously described as "a callow white lump in formal evening dress", "a façade resembling that of PG Wodehouse's Gussie Finknottle", one who in a tight spot "evoked all his self-parodying skills as a waffler", was a person whose "indiscipline made him ill-suited to [political] office", leading Hastings to advise him to stick to journalism; but (3) that "the Tory candidate has it in him to become a London hero, if he can avoid impaling himself on his own extravagances and we should add, given the record, his willy." As endorsements go, this must be one of the most heavily qualified; but an endorsement it is undoubtedly meant to be. But why in heaven's name is the Observer, supposedly a newspaper of the centre-left, printing this piece of Tory election propaganda, however contorted, designed to help launch the campaign of one of the most improbable, reckless, irresponsible and far-right buffoons ever to run for high political office in this country? It's a mystery.
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But much can and should be forgiven the paper which is accompanied every Sunday by the outstandingly good Observer Review, containing week by week some of the best film (especially), theatre, dance and book criticism of the non-specialist British press. Henry Porter's weekly crusading journalism in the Observer in the defence of human rights and civil liberty has long been required reading. And in last Sunday's Observer the article by John Gray about the coming international struggles for increasingly scarce oil and water, the context without which it's impossible to make sense of the Iraq misadventure, was absolutely compulsory and compulsive reading.
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It would be unfair to end this chronicle of Observer misfortunes and misjudgements without a closing word about the once-great Sunday Times, now dragged sadly down-market by Rupert Murdoch and his minions. One of its oddest features is its weekly 'Style' glossy magazine, apparently aimed at well-heeled and socially ambitious women with more money than sense. Most of it amounts to little more than a series of articles and photographs advertising absurdly expensive women's clothes, beauty treatments, 'alternative medicines', and other such follies. It's full of sign-posts to what's fashionable this week and what's no longer 'in'. Two regular exceptions are the witty and faintly raunchy spoof agony aunt column at the back of the magazine by "Mrs Mills", and the camp but also generally witty essay by A A Gill, concluding each Sunday with an often waspish restaurant review that pulls no punches. Last Sunday however Gill's piece included a wonderful Malapropism, which must have had Gill tearing his hair out when he saw it in print (he presumably dictated his copy down the telephone to another of these work experience trainee hacks):
The menu looks like the Ivy's, but it's a reprieve of Marco's best bits.
Or did Gill really mean reprieve and not reprise? Perhaps some ingenious reader will suggest an interpretation which makes sense of this memorable sentence as it was printed. Meanwhile it remains a puzzle that a broadsheet paper which makes some claim to seriousness continues to fill a whole page of its Style magazine with an astrology column by the improbably named Shelley von Strunckel (surely someone out there has a sense of humour after all?). 'Ms von Strunckel' plods through the signs of the zodiac with the usual vague warnings and predictions, cautiously unverifiable as always, but at the foot of her page of rubbish, in smaller print, this rather objectionable advertisement appears:
Have a personal consultation with an astrologer! Shelley's hand-picked team are among the best in the country. Call 0906******* now, or text SHELLEY (space), followed by your burning question, to 8****. Calls cost £1.50 per minute and are recorded (ICSTIS regulations). SMS costs £1.50 per message plus standard network rates. Readings are for guidance only and you must be over 18. Service provided by Telecom Express. Reader helpline: 0870 *******, open 9am-5.30pm GMT.
Numbers are for UK callers only. Calls cost 60p per minute (phone) and £1 per minute (fax). Fax helpline: 0870 *******. Cost of calls from mobiles and other networks may vary. Approximate call duration: 5 minutes. Lines are updated weekly. [Asterisks substituted for the published numbers — BLB]
So even the 'reader helpline' and 'fax helpline' use premium cost telephone numbers which produce a modest income for the advertiser as well as the hapless caller's telephone company. The 0906 number for calling Ms von Strunckel, at £1.50 a minute, produces an income for that shrewd lady which isn't even modest. What idiots the editor of Style magazine, and Ms von S., must take their readers for!
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 I might consider starting to call Peking 'Beijing' when those who already do so begin to call the capital of Italia 'Roma' and the capital of Rossiya 'Moskva'. Until then, Peking is good enough for me. (I might also hang on for Deutschland, Firenze, Venezia, Sankt-Peterburg, Den Haag in Nederland, Bruxelles in La Belgique and København in Danmark, as well as waiting for the French to stop calling London Londres and England Angleterre.)