May 21, 2011
The British are a generous people. We donate more to humanitarian causes than anyone else in Europe, and by some margin. The average Brit gives twice as much as a Norwegian, three times more than a Belgian, six times more than a German and seven times more than a Frenchman. All told, British households send about £4 billion a year to overseas charities — more than any people in the world, in fact, apart from the Americans. So it is by no means clear why David Cameron believes that, in the middle of a fiscal crisis, he should extract a further £4 billion from us through the tax system and give the money to charities of his choice.
Politicians are not normal people. They are weird. It isn’t politics that has made them weird: it’s their weirdness that has impelled them into politics. Whenever another high-profile minister teeters or falls, the mistake everyone makes is to ask what it is about the nature of their job, the environment they work in and the hours they work, that has made them take such stupid risks. This is the wrong question. We should ask a different one: what is it about these men and women that has attracted them to politics?
What are we supposed to make of those odd pictures of Osama bin Laden sitting crouched in a dingy, undecorated concrete room watching something blurred on a small TV screen? Is this really the face of jihadist evil? These were the questions behind this week’s provoking 15-minute drama in the From Fact to Fiction slot on Saturday (Radio 4).
With its new production of Janácek’s last and in some ways most intractable opera, From the House of the Dead, Opera North shows once more that it is the most intelligently adventurous company in the UK, using its money where it is most needed: not on elaborate and perverse staging, but on high-class soloists and a small but excellent chorus, and an orchestra that can rival any in the country.
Beauty is generally considered old-fashioned by the young and not-so-young bloods of contemporary culture, so an exhibition appealing unashamedly to the aesthetically refined will not seduce the practitioners of sensationalism, bad taste and ever more self-indulgent and feeble art.
As newspapers are consulted increasingly on screen, and newsprint is all set to become a thing of the past, artists are turning their attention to this endangered medium. The Irish Expressionist painter Michael Kane (born 1935) has produced a provocative series of 100 paintings in ink, acrylic paint and collage, done on newsprint magazine pages taken mostly from the Irish Times (see above).
There recently left these shores a benign and fecund angel of the automotive realm, Dr Franz Josef Paefgen, retiring chairman and CEO of Bentley. Benign because he was unfailingly polite and helpful and understood the Bentley tradition and the sort of people who buy into it.