Tom Stacey says that there is a part of man’s collective soul that yearns for tribulations like the financial crisis and the philosophical and spiritual questions they force us to confrontAmid all the doom and gloom, do you ever get the feeling we had it coming? I do. During all those balmy years of ever-rising property values, non-stop invitations to borrow more, to get-now-and-pay-tomorrow, wasn’t there a little bird telling us it can’t go on like this?And now that it’s all come to a stop, does anyone else get a whiff of relief, almost gratitude, that the bubble’s burst, we’ve all come back to earth, terra jolly firma, albeit with quite a jolt? I regret to say I do get just such a whiff; and I write ‘regret’ because, personally, I’m not having my house repossessed by the mortgage company and I’m not in danger of losing my job through the collapse of my employers or the downsizing of my company, which is the lot of many a fellow citizen.
He who controls the past, George Orwell argued, controls the future. Orwell’s warning resonates all the more powerfully as the government considers the erasure of history from the primary curriculum. A sense of the past is a precious thing. And not to know history, as Cicero argued, is to remain a child for ever.Orwell, as a student and satirist of the Soviet system, would have appreciated the special value of knowing what passed for progress in the communist world.
This Christmas is the last occasion when Barack Obama will have time to reflect and think at his own pace for the next four, and probably eight, years. It offers him a brief gap between the crazed schedule of the campaign — last year he was campaigning on Boxing Day — and the pressures of the presidency. As Obama relaxes in his native Hawaii, he will be preparing for a job that will make the challenges of the campaign insignificant in comparison.
It may feel like the end of the world, perhaps it is, but even so, it’s still the season of goodwill, good cheer and good news for mankind. It seemed right then for The Spectator to ask a selection of Britain’s great and good to shed a little light on these gloomy times, and tell us why, despite our broken society and the plummeting pound, we should keep our spirits up. Boris Johnson It was the great Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now who said, ‘Some day this war’s gonna end.
Christmas always comes early to Los Angeles. In fact, the slightly tacky decorations hit the lamp-posts even before Thanksgiving. But the really good thing about this time of year in this part of the world is the abundance of new movies being released. They proliferate both in the cinemas, in private screening rooms and in the ‘screeners’, the DVDs that the various studios send to members of the Academy hoping they will vote for them at Oscar time.
Matthew d’Ancona talks to the quintessentially English pop star about growing up, her longing to have children, celebrity culture, US politics and her new albumI am sitting opposite a demure young Englishwoman, sipping on jasmine tea, who would like nothing more, she says, than to settle down and have children. Young people and their parties interest her less and less. She likes the company of older friends now, and more sophisticated conversation.
Alice looks down from her perch on top of the rocking horse, bright-eyed behind big specs, says: ‘Catch me!’ then propels herself into the air. I catch, hug, then prop her back up again, ready for another go. ‘Ooh, she likes you,’ says Iris, director of the 999 Club and uncrowned queen of Deptford. ‘She doesn’t normally take to people that quick.’ I am ridiculously, disproportionately happy. Alice has a squint, is five but looks three.
Emily Maitlis looks back on her worst moments in 2008, the anxiety she has caused her fans and her part in a ‘YouTube classic’Looking back, I suppose you could say the low point of 2008 was when I accused the Chief Rabbi of leaving lewd and abusive messages on people’s answerphones. That’s the trouble with live TV. You think you’re saying one thing and you end up saying quite another. I was talking to the Conservative MP John Whittingdale on the BBC News Channel about the Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs affair, when all of a sudden I found — by way of the speed reader’s elision — I had put those now infamous remarks into the mouth of a certain (Sir) Jonathan Sacks.
Rod Liddle offers a festive tour of the world at Christmas 2008: irrational fear, ignorance, stupidity, vexatious litigation, a foolish longing to abolish ‘risk’, and Christmas parties that, we are warned, have ‘absolutely nothing to do with Jesus’In Santa’s grotto at a top London department store, Santa in his big white friendly beard sits on a bench — and there is a large ‘X’ marked on the bench a couple of feet away where the child is firmly directed to sit, allowing a wide corridor of clear and unsullied air between the child and the potential kiddie-fiddler from the North Pole, with his red cheeks, strange reindeer and unaccountable affection for children.
The days leading up to Xmas are such fun, aren’t they? All those cards and presents to buy and all those charity requests reminding one of starving children, crippled adults and abandoned dogs. Over the last few days I’ve been trying to concentrate on more important things, such as Sight and Time. Obviously the two go together, for both determine a view of the world. In regard to Sight, my bathroom ceiling fell down because the house next door put up scaffolding and the chap in charge stepped on to my flat roof and put his foot through it.
It’s the debate of our day, the meta-debate if you like. It unites the issues of Muslim extremism, creationism, irritable atheism, faith schools, Britishness, the future of the monarchy, Sarah Palin, Ruth Kelly: all the juiciest talking points. The radio show The Moral Maze seems to return to it with increasing frequency: Michael Buerk has developed a special sort of quizzical-weary tone with which to pick at its entrails.
Increasingly the media reports Afghanistan as a disaster story. Casualty lists from Helmand and other provinces sit side by side with accounts of millions of pounds’ worth of aid wasted and booming opium crops. No wonder then that politicians and journalists have begun to debate the wisdom of remaining committed to Afghanistan. In turn, the Afghan population has begun to doubt the commitment of its international partners.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor says that the heart of the Christian story is the word made flesh. Christ’s language is sacrificial love which took him to the crossOne of my favourite accounts of a happy childhood is told by Laurie Lee in his delightful book Cider with Rosie. Early on, he describes his first day at school. As a new boy in the playground for the first time, he was nervous and frightened of the noise, the size and the numbers of his fellow pupils.