A few weeks ago, I attended the 40th gala dinner of a Washington think tank called the Ethics and Public Policy Center at the St Regis Hotel, just down the street from the White House. William Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and unrepentant champion of the Iraq War, was the MC and Paul Ryan, -Speaker of the House, the star guest.
Kristol began by noting that Donald Trump had referred to him in various tweets as ‘dopey’, the editor of a ‘slightly failing magazine’ and ‘very embarrassed to walk down the street’ because of his failure to endorse Trump.
Boris Johnson is nodding along as he reads Karl Marx. To be more precise, he is standing in the Spectator boardroom reading a letter that Marx and Engels wrote to this magazine in 1850 complaining about being pursued by Prussian government spies in London. He then admires a picture of the youthful Taki chatting up Joan Collins at a New York nightclub in 1957. When he was editor of this magazine, he called it ‘the best job in London’.
Town halls and unringfenced government departments are feeling the pinch, but one corner of British public life is conspicuously flush. Visit almost any university in the land and you will find a small city bursting with Portakabins, scaffolding and cranes. If you dare to raise your eyes from the mud puddles, you will see vast hoardings displaying images of glass palaces.
Higher education is in the throes of its biggest building boom since the 1960s.
The dream of internet freedom has died. What a dream it was. Twenty years ago, nerdy libertarians hailed the web as the freest public sphere that mankind had ever created. The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, written in 1996 by John Perry Barlow, warned the ‘governments of the industrial world’, those ‘weary giants of flesh and steel’, that they had ‘no sovereignty where we gather’. The ‘virus of liberty’ was spreading, it said.
Funerals ain’t what they used to be. Today’s emphasis is more on celebrating a life past than honouring the future of a soul. While I am not averse to a celebratory element, the funeral is morphing into a spiritually weightless bless-fest. This was brought home to me last week at the funeral of Enid, a lady I knew only through our mutual attendance at bingo in the community centre.
I was uncomfortable from the moment we gathered outside the church, where my sombre suit set me apart from the Technicolor crowd of family and friends.
Strawberries. Ella Fitzgerald. Lying on the beach. They’re three of my ‘guilty displeasures’. You haven’t heard of the guilty displeasure? That’s because the concept hasn’t been invented yet. But it needs to be — and quick.
The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ is widely known. It was coined by the DJ Sean Rowley, who, not content with being the man on the cover of What’s the Story Morning Glory? by Oasis, applied a label to the songs we love despite them being uncool.
Looking at the programme for the feria of San Isidro in Madrid this month (bullfights are being held on 31 consecutive days), it may be hard to believe that there is any threat to the future of the spectacle — it is not a sport — of what in Spain is called la corrida (the running of the bulls). But its popularity has undeniably been declining in recent years, due to two factors: growing opposition, in the sometimes spurious name of animal welfare, and Spain’s economic crisis.