Near Damascus ‘Remember: what we do, we do for God,’ said the rebel commander to the huddle of his men at the foot of the mountain. They divided up their ammunition. They had so little — one clip’s worth was shared between two Kalashnikovs. They set off, a line of men stretching into the dark, breathing heavily on the steep slope: another night’s gruelling walk to bring them closer to Damascus.
Amazing how many cycling experts came out of the woodwork last week, wasn’t it? Normally most of us couldn’t tell one end of a bike from the other, but give us an Olympic road race six days after Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France and all of a sudden we’ve got pelotons coming out of our backsides. With a week of these Games still to go, there’ll be plenty more chances to play the instant aficionado, so here’s your crib sheet for all the events the whole country will be talking about.
Beijing There is no mistaking the place. It isn’t just the crowd of men and women sitting on the steps of the small official building; it’s the way they look as individuals. Once you’ve come across a group of petitioners in China, you can always spot them again. They are usually middle-aged or elderly and poor. Their clothes are worn and dusty. They look discouraged, sad, beaten down by life.
Quite soon, it will be impossible to ignore the fact that a revolution is taking place. You’ll look up one day and the skies will be full of flying robots: pilotless drones or UAVS (Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles) — all programmed to carry out different tasks. There’ll be security drones circling shops, streaming video back to base, Royal Mail drones flying parcels to and fro. Even the birds and bees may not be what they seem.
Economists, we should all have learned by now, are mostly quacks. They practise neither a science nor an art but a bad game of darts. Boozed up on shoddy theory and meaningless statistics, they wobble to the oche of public life, hurl an arrow at the backboard, then blame the flight, the lighting, anything but their own incompetence, when it falls to the floor. So why listen? Why bother with their endless fainting fits over the slightest flicker in the numbers? When they try to tally the Office of National Statistics’ claim that the British economy shrank by 0.
Fredericksburg, Virginia Walt Whitman once observed, ‘In America, the men hate the women and the women hate the men.’ That sounds like a commentary on feminism and probably was. Although Whitman was caught up in personal sexual conflicts more befitting a sensitive poet, he lived through most of the 19th century, when women were in vociferous pursuit of the vote, so he probably muttered his share of ‘If I hear “vote” one more time… .