19 December 2011-1 January 2012/£4.95 www.newstatesman.

com
Bill Gates The era of
innovation isn’t over
Kate Atkinson A new
short story, Darktime
Philip Pullman
The world needs
wonder – a defence
of fairy tales
Christmas
Daniel Dennett Carolyn Porco Carol Ann Dufy Paul Nurse Will Self
Sam Harris The free will delusion Tim Minchin Lying about Santa
Richard
Dawkins
Christopher Hitchens
Exclusive He talks to Richard Dawkins
about God, US politics and Tony Blair
Current afairs and newspaper magazine of the year
Double lssue
Guest editor:
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 3
Contents
19 December 2011 –1 January 2012
Christmas issue guest editor: Richard Dawkins 6 Lord of the rings: the wonder of space 34
Up Front
Observations
Columns
Articles
In Pictures
The Critics
6 Leader
8 Correspondence
12 In the Picture
13 History Bart D Ehrmaninvestigates the story of Jesus’s birth
14 Medicine Edzard Ernst makes an apology, of sorts, to Prince Charles
15 Science Helen Lewis-Hasteleysalutes the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures
15 In the Red Laurie Pennyon the Santas who started a riot
17 Commons Confidential Kevin Maguire on what Michael Gove did with a traffic cone
17 Guyana Girish Gupta visits a jungle outpost at the centre of a new gold rush
11 First Thoughts Peter Wilbyon bulldog spirit, Cameron’s secret plan and a litre of wine a day
18 The Politics Column Rafael Behr explains why the Eurosceptic vision is the only one in town
21 The Guest Column Douglas Alexander offers to work with the Lib Dems over Europe
23 Technology Bill Gates believes that innovation is the way to save the world’s poor
25 Religion Maryam Namazie on why the Charlie Hebdo attack was an assault on free speech
27 Education Rabbi Jonathan Romainweighs in against faith schools for entrenching division
28 Cover Story “Never be afraid of stridency” The NSguest editor talks to Christopher Hitchens
34 Adventures in wonderland Carolyn Porcoguides us through the solar system to Saturn
38 The NS InterviewSophie Elmhirst asks Carol Ann Duffy about poetry, politics and sexism
40 Give ’em hell, Barry Alan Ryansurveys the US political scene and finds cause for optimism
46 The free will delusion Sam Harris unpicks the complex neuroscience of free will
48 Christmas Essay The social cell The philosopher Daniel Dennett on the ties that bind us
54 The tyranny of the discontinuous mind Richard Dawkins asks why we don’t like grey areas
59 The vision thing Paul Nurse makes the case for investment in science, a key driver of growth
60 The NS Quiz Olav Bjortomt tests your knowledge on the best –and oddest –news of 2011
Illustrations and cartoons By Jon Berkeley, Grizelda, Tom Kirbyand Josh Poehlein
68 Short Story “darktime” Kate Atkinsonimagines the end of the world as we know it
74 Critic at Large Imaginary friends Philip Pullmanremembers his childhood love of fairy tales
78 The sense of an ending Nicholas Clee says the rise in ebook sales has not saved publishers yet
79 The Books InterviewJonathan Derbyshire talks to the Swedish war historian Peter Englund
80 The killing machine Richard J Evans praises a major new biography of Heinrich Himmler
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4 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
Back Pages
83 Only the lonely Julie Myersonreviews the art critic Brian Sewell’s tell-all autobiography
85 Known unknown Ryan Gilbeyon a parable of modern loneliness, Dreams of a Life
85 Bubbles with your Bublé Rachel Cooke rounds up some Christmas delights on television
87 Farce poetica Andrew Billenrevels in a high-spirited performance of The Ladykillers
88 Magic moments Antonia Quirke picks out her recommendations for Christmas listening
89 “Madam” A poem by Christopher Logue, the late New Statesmancontributor
89 Real Meals Will Self explains why he loathes the festive meal: for the gluttony it demands
More reviews: Sophie Elmhirst takes on the big one – “God”, Jonathan Derbyshire on great
Scots and Frozen Planet takes us into worlds of ice-bound beauty
91 Drink Nina Caplansuggests that overdoing it during the holidays is best done in style
92 NS Christmas Crossword Otterden. Plus answers to the Christmas Quiz
93 NS Christmas Puzzles Brain-teasers to keep you busy on Boxing Day
95 CompetitionOur final literary challenge for 2011. Plus answers to the Puzzles
97 The Fan Hunter Davies gathers up his best football jokes. Plus This England
98 I love Christmas for its frictions Tim Minchinon ’fessing up about Santa and God
The New Year
issue of the
NS is out on
Thursday
29 December.
Until then –
Merry
Christmas!
Fairy godfather: Philip Pullman 68 Poet’s corner: Carol Ann Duffy 38
Cover artwork
Julian de Narvaez/
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6 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
Established 1913
Do you get it now,
Prime Minister?
Dear Prime Minister,
Merry Christmas! I mean it. All that “Happy Holiday Season”
stuff, with “holiday” cards and “holiday” presents, is a tire-
some import from the US, where it has long been fostered
more by rival religions than by atheists. A cultural Anglican
(whose family has been part of the Chipping Norton Set
since 1727, as you’ll see if you look around you in the parish
church), I recoil from secular carols such as “White Christ-
mas”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the loath-
some “Jingle Bells”, but I’m happy to sing real carols, and in
the unlikely event that anyone wants me to read a lesson I’ll
gladly oblige – only from the King James Version, of course.
Token objections to cribs and carols are not just silly, they
distract vital attention from the real domination of our culture
and politics that religion still gets away with, in (tax-free)
spades. There’s an important difference between traditions
freely embraced by individuals and traditions enforced by
government edict. Imagine the outcry if your government
were to require every family to celebrate Christmas in a reli-
gious way. You wouldn’t dream of abusing your power like
that. And yet your government, like its predecessors, does
force religion on our society, in ways whose very familiarity
disarms us. Setting aside the 26 bishops in the House of Lords,
passing lightly over the smooth inside track on which the
Charity Commission accelerates faith-based charities to tax-
free status while others (quite rightly) have to jump through
hoops, the most obvious and most dangerous way in which
governments impose religion on our society is through faith
schools – as Rabbi Jonathan Romain reminds us on page 27.
We should teach about religion, if only because religion is
such a salient force in world politics and such a potent driver
of lethal conflict. We need more and better instruction in com-
parative religion (and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that any
education in English literature is sadly impoverished if the
child can’t take allusions from the King James Bible). But faith
schools don’t so much teach about religion as indoctrinate in
the particular religion that runs the school. Unconscionably,
they give children the message that they belong specifically
to one particular faith, usually that of their parents, paving the
way, at least in places such as Belfast and Glasgow, for a life-
time of discrimination and prejudice.
Psychologists tell us that, if you experimentally separate
children in any arbitrary way – say, dress half of them in
green T-shirts and half in orange –they will develop in-group
loyalty and outgroup prejudice. To continue the experiment,
suppose that, when they grow up, greens only marry greens
and oranges only marry oranges. Moreover, “green children”
only go to green schools and “orange children” to orange
schools. Carry on for 300 years and what have you got? North-
ern Ireland, or worse. Religion may not be the only divisive
power that can propel dangerous prejudices down through
many generations (language and race are other candidates)
but religion is the only one that receives active government
support in the form of schools.
So deeply ingrained is this divisive ethos in our social con-
sciousness that journalists, and indeed most of us, breezily
refer to “Catholic children”, “Protestant children”, “Muslim
children”, “Christian children”, even where the children are
too young to decide what they
think about questions that di-
vide the various faiths. We as-
sume that children of Catholic
parents (for instance) just are
“Catholic children”, and so
on. A phrase such as “Muslim
child” should grate like fin-
gernails on a blackboard. The
appropriate substitution is “child of Muslim parents”.
I satirised the faith-labelling of children, in the Guardianlast
month (26 November), using an analogy that almost every-
body gets as soon as he hears it – we wouldn’t dream of la-
belling a child a “Keynesian child” simply because her parents
were Keynesian economists. Mr Cameron, you replied to that
serious and sincere point with what could distinctly be heard
on the audio version as a contemptuous snigger: “Comparing
John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows, in my view, why
Richard Dawkins just doesn’t really get it.” Do you get it now,
Prime Minister? Obviously I was not comparing Keynes with
Jesus. I could just as well have used “monetarist child” or “fas-
cist child” or “postmodernist child” or “Europhile child”.
Moreover, I wasn’t talking specifically about Jesus, any more
than Muhammad or the Buddha.
In fact, I think you got it all along. If you are like several
government ministers (of all three parties) to whom I have
spoken, you are not really a religious believer yourself. Sev-
eral ministers and ex-ministers of education whom I have
met, both Conservative and Labour, don’t believe in God
but, to quote the philosopher Daniel Dennett, they do “be-
Your government
forces religion on
our society in ways
whose familiarity
disarms us
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 7
lieve in belief”. A depressingly large number of intelligent
and educated people, despite having outgrown religious
faith, still vaguely presume without thinking about it that
religious faith is somehow “good” for other people, good for
society, good for public order, good for instilling morals,
good for the common people even if we chaps don’t need it.
Condescending? Patronising? Yes, but isn’t that largely what
lies behind successive governments’ enthusiasm for faith
schools?
Baroness Warsi, your Minister Without Portfolio (and
without election), has been at pains to inform us that this
coalition government does indeed “do God”. But we who
elected you mostly do not. It is possible that the recent census
may register a slight majority of people ticking the “Christ-
ian” box. However, the UK branch of the Richard Dawkins
Foundation for Reason and Science commissioned an Ipsos
MORI poll in the week following the census. When pub-
lished, this will enable us to see how many people who self-
identified as Christian are believers.
Meanwhile, the latest British Social Attitudes survey, just
published, clearly demonstrates that religious affiliation, reli-
gious observance and religious attitudes to social issues have
all continued their long-term decline and are now irrelevant
to all but a minority of the population. When it comes to life
choices, social attitudes, moral dilemmas and sense of iden-
tity, religion is on its deathbed, even for many of those who
still nominally identify with a religion.
This is good news. It is good news because if we depended
on religion for our values and our sense of cohesion we would
be well and truly stuck. The very idea that we might get our
morals from the Bible or the Quran will horrify any decent
person today who takes the trouble to read those books –
rather than cherry-pick the verses that happen to conform
to our modern secular consensus. As for the patronising as-
sumption that people need the promise of heaven (or the
obscene threat of torture in hell) in order to be moral, what a
contemptibly immoral motive for being moral! What binds
us together, what gives us our sense of empathy and compas-
sion – our goodness – is something far more important, more
fundamental and more powerful than religion: it is our com-
mon humanity, deriving from our pre-religious evolutionary
heritage, then refined and improved, as Professor Steven
Pinker argues in The Better Angels of Our Nature, by centuries
of secular enlightenment.
A diverse and largely secular country such as Britain should
not privilege the religious over the non-religious, or impose
or underwrite religion in any aspect of public life. A govern-
ment that does so is out of step with modern demographics
and values. You seemed to understand that in your excellent,
and unfairly criticised, speech on the dangers of “multicul -
turalism” in February this year. Modern society requires and
deserves a truly secular state, by which I mean not state athe-
ism, but state neutrality in all matters pertaining to religion:
the recognition that faith is personal and no business of the
state. Individuals must always be free to “do God” if they wish;
but a government for the people certainly should not.
With my best wishes to you and your family for a happy
Christmas,
Richard Dawkins. l
newstatesman.com/leader A
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8 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
newstatesman.com/letters
Correspondence
relevant to a broad range of policy
decisions. To suggest otherwise
smacks of a hubris, which leads to
excessive faith in supposedly
“scientific” methodologies. This
is dangerous for policymakers.
Dr Carl Thompson
Via email
Khartoum motion
Peter Wilby was making a good
joke at Lib Dem expense when
he suggested that our record
was besmirched by Gladstone’s
failure to rescue General Gordon
in Khartoum (First Thoughts,
5 December). For me it was not
so funny: in the 1966 general
election, when I was fighting hard
to retain the seat I had won in the
by-election the previous year, my
wife was confronted by a woman,
when she was canvassing door
to door in Roxburghshire, who
said, “I quite like your husband as
our MP but I could never vote
Liberal.” “Why not?” asked Judy.
“Because they didn’t send help
to General Gordon.” No doubt
people will have other reasons for
not voting Lib Dem nowadays.
David Steel
House of Lords
London SW1
Two points on Slavoj Žižek’s
review of Coriolanus (The
Critics, 12 December). First,
clearly Žižek hasn’t read Mehdi
Hasan’s well-argued and open-
minded piece in the same issue
(“The power of a dangerous
idea”) on the pacifism that is
at the core of monotheistic
religions – and of others, too.
Second, Žižek paraphrases Steve
Weinberg’s tired old aphorism:
only religion can make good
people do bad.
Weinberg actually said, “But
for good people to do evil things,
that takes religion.” And just
because Weinberg asserted
something doesn’t mean it’s
true. Any belief, creed, religion
or ideology can be used to make
good people do bad things, but
it’s individuals who choose to
do those bad things, whatever
excuse they might give.
Contra Žižek’s statement that
very few atheists engage in mass
murder: I don’t imagine that Pol
Pot’s killers believed they were
slaughtering fellow Cambodians
for any reason other than that
they hoped to bring about the
end of religion (and capitalism)
in their brave new world.
Alastair Llewellyn-Smith
London W14
New old hatred
Regarding the Chief Rabbi’s
observations about anti-Zionism
and anti-Semitism (NS Interview,
28 November), the subtleties of
the association seem to elude
many commentators. Of course,
anti-Zionism is not innately anti-
Semitic, but it is contemporary
anti-Semitism’s primary vehicle;
the current discourse is rich with
predictable old tropes.
Israel, we gather, has an
insatiable appetite for US money;
its lobbyists possess mystical
power and wealth; its behaviour
toward Palestinians bears
comparison with the Nazis’
actions; it holds Gentiles in
contempt because they are not
“chosen”. Meanwhile British
Jews should not be trusted in
diplomatic relations with Israel
lest they “go native”. Double
standards apply: the Israel
Defence Forces are inhumane,
whereas indiscriminate suicide
bombing and rocket fire from
Gaza are the “understandable”
product of a despair engendered
by Israeli inhumanity.
Here, as ever, Jews have only
themselves to blame for their
predicament. The oldest hatred
LETTER OF THE WEEK
In the name of God
lSend letters for publication
to letters@newstatesman.co.uk,
fax to 020 7305 7304 or to the
address on page 3. We reserve the
right to edit letters and to publish
a further selection on our website.
Pride and plebs
There are different interpretations
of Coriolanus (The Critics, 12
December). The late Paul Foot’s
interpretation – shared, I believe,
by Bertold Brecht – was that he
was a fascist who should have
been killed rather than exiled, and
the pleb tribunes were the heroes.
I have mixed feelings. He was a
great soldier and a war hero – but
no politician, goaded into losing
his temper and consulship by
his courage, stubborn pride and
snobbery. He and his friends
could have slaughtered their
opponents in battle. Yet the plebs’
tribunes had reason to fear a
Coriolanus consulship, as their
powers had been granted against
his opposition. The likes of Sparta
are good allies but bad role models.
Mark Taha
London SE26
We are animals
I accept Mehdi Hasan’s point that
some followers of religion can do
good in the world (“The power of
a dangerous idea”, 12 December).
I am an anti-theist: the evidence
from such sources as astronomy
demonstrates that there is no god
out there in the universe. There
would still be wars and injustice
if there was no religion, as we are
part of the animal world. But we
do not need any religious beliefs
to have principles of justice,
freedom and non-violent action.
Michael Moore
Loughton, Essex
Method man
I’m a great admirer of Brian Cox,
but I wish he’d stopped repeating
the silly mantra that “making
rational decisions based on
evidence” is somehow unique
to the “scientific method” (NS
Interview, 5 December). Believe it
or not, this is also what you do in
the serious study of literature and
history; it’s what happens in law
courts; and there are numerous
researchers up and down the
country assessing the evidence
is stealthily infecting the thinking
of too many self-professed
opponents of prejudice.
Keiron Pim
Norwich
Your bad health
I was disappointed to see the NS
publish such a one-sided view
of the Health and Social Care Bill
reforms (Health Supplement, 12
December). The benefits of choice
and competition in health care are
nowhere near as clear-cut as your
report would suggest. In markets,
neither choice nor competition is
a guarantee of improving quality –
look at exam boards, bus services,
or private pensions.
Dr Katherine Teale
Manchester
Money galore
Peter Wilby (First Thoughts,
12 December) makes a good
point with regard to the German
attitude to inflation. But the idea
of inflation could do with more
analysis than it usually gets.
I remember many years ago
seeing Milton Friedman on the
television pointing to a printer
churning out dollar bills and
exclaiming: “That’s the cause of
inflation!” Nonsense. The need
for more money in circulation is
the result of inflation, not its cause.
Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex
Let us adore her
Congratulations to Sophie
Elmhirst for her column
“Advent” (Word Games,
12 December). Writing (and
thinking) of that calibre is the
reason why I buy the New
Statesmanand nothing else.
Felix Sanchez del Rio
Felsted, Essex
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 9
Bill Gates
is the former chief
executive and current
chairman of Microsoft.
His work with the company
made him one of the richest
men in the world. In 2000, he
established the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation with his wife.
The foundation’s aims are to
enhance health care and reduce
extreme poverty and since its
inception it has committed over
$26bn in grants. Gates writes
about innovation that can help
the poor on page 23.
Kate Atkinson
is a novelist and
short-story writer.
Her first novel, Behind
the Scenes at the Museum, won
the Whitbread Prize in 1995.
She has also written a series
of crime novels featuring the
former detective and now
private investigator Jackson
Brodie. Her new short story
“darktime” is on page 68.
Daniel Dennett
is an American
philosopher, cognitive
scientist and writer. He
is a professor at Tufts University,
Massachusetts, and one of the
“Four Horsemen of New
Atheism”, along with Richard
Dawkins, Sam Harris and
Christopher Hitchens.
Dennett’s most recent book, co-
authored with Alvin Plantinga
is Science and Religion (Oxford
University Press, £6.99). His
essay on social systems and the
biological cell is on page 48.
Carolyn Porco
is an American
planetary scientist
based at the University
of Colorado at Boulder. She leads
the imaging science team on
the joint Nasa/European Space
Agency/Italian Space Agency
Cassini mission, now in orbit
around Saturn. Her photographs
from the mission and essay on
the wonders of space exploration
are on page 34.
Sam Harris
is a fellow “horseman”
of New Atheism,
neuroscientist and
polemicist. He has written a
series of books on atheism and
philosophy, including The End
of Faith, Letter to a Christian
Nationand The Moral Landscape.
Free Will, his new book, will
be published in February 2012.
His piece on this subject,
arguing that it is a delusion,
appears on page 46.
Philip Pullman
is the bestselling
author of the His Dark
Materials trilogy.
A recent work, The Good Man
Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ,
retold the story of Jesus, and
Pullman has been outspoken on
the subject of faith and religion.
He is also a strong advocate for
civil rights and defender of
public libraries. His account
of his childhood games and
imaginary friends is on page 74.
Children, Pullman argues, are
perfectly capable of immersing
themselves in an imaginary
world without believing in
it wholeheartedly.
Maryam Namazie
is a campaigner,
commentator and
broadcaster. She is the
spokesperson for Equal Rights
Now: Organisation against
Women’s Discrimination in
Iran, the One Law for All
Campaign against Sharia Law
in Britain and the Council of Ex-
Muslims of Britain. She works
closely with Iran Solidarity,
which she founded, and the
International Committee
Against Stoning. Her column on
free expression is on page 25.
CONTRIBUTORS
The TALISKER word and associated logos are trade marks ©2011
THE SINGLE MALT
MADE BY THE SEA
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 11
Cameron’s real agenda, the new
Dark Ages and a litre of wine a day
Peter Wilby
|
First Thoughts
Why do we all find Europe so boring? I don’t
mean we’re bored with France, Italy, Spain,
Greece or even Belgium but bored with the
idea of Europe as embodied in the EU. David
Cameron, I suspect, spoke for many when
he said, of the most important meeting of
European leaders since – oh, I don’t know –
Munich 1938: “I don’t actually think the world
is waiting with bated breath . . . wondering
whether there’s going to be a new reverse
QMV article on integrated budget setting of
blah, blah, blah.”
I have lunched, dined and drunk with vari-
ous informed and opinionated people over the
past two weeks and I cannot recall exchanging
a single word on the EU’s fate. If the British, as
polls suggest, want to get out of the EU and
warmly endorse Cameron’s use of the veto, it
is probably because they think they won’t have
to listen to politicians and pundits wittering
interminably on about Europe.
Change the script
Perhaps there’s something about the word
“Europe”. It doesn’t somehow roll off the
tongue – “the European people” or “my fellow
Europeans” wouldn’t have the same ring as
“the British people” or “my fellow Americans”
– possibly because it’s short on hard conso-
nants. But it is surely more than that. Most po-
litical entities have some inspirational history
behind them: a struggle against colonialism,
say, or an assertion of great ideals. They have
myths, heroes and sacred texts. Europe is just a
geographical location, a land mass where peo-
ple agreed to stop fighting one another. In that,
it has been extraordinarily successful, perhaps
more so than any other human political en-
deavour of the past 100 years. We should not
underestimate what that meant, and still
means, to older generations who lived through
two savage wars.
But where is the poetry? Where are the
great tales to pass on to younger generations?
America’s story begins with the Boston Tea
Party, George Washington and a declaration
that “all men are created equal”; Europe’s with
the Coal and Steel Community, the lawyer
Robert Schuman and a declaration of “determi-
nation to create the first supranational institu-
tion”. If the EU dies, it will be for lack of a
decent scriptwriter.
The bulldog’s back
There are many puzzling aspects of Cameron’s
Brussels veto. Why jeopardise a proposal that
appears to institutionalise the deflationary,
anti-Keynesian deficit reduction policies that
the coalition follows? Why be so insouciant
about turning us into an offshore Switzerland,
when Cameron’s party has historically set such
store by Britain retaining its place at the inter-
national “top table”?
Politically, however, it is win-win for
Cameron. He need no longer fear a Lib Dem
walkout from the coalition; on the contrary, he
may do everything possible to provoke it. He
can just call an election and ride to outright vic-
tory, posing as the leader who revived the
wartime Churchillian bulldog spirit. That, I
think, is his real agenda.
Bad marks
Most parents, I would guess, think GCSEs, A-
levels and other exams for teenagers are set and
marked by public bodies, learned societies or
universities. Now the Daily Telegraph has ex-
posed the truth: the exams that determine the
life chances of millions are mainly controlled
by private companies, one of which is owned,
along with Penguin Books and the Financial
Times, by the publishing giant Pearson. They
operate on commercial lines (though some are
technically non-profit) and compete fiercely
with each other. To maximise market share,
each board tells schools, which are themselves
in a competitive market, that it offers the best
chance of high grades. As part of the service, it
puts on, for schools that can spare a few hun-
dred pounds, courses on how to help pupils
through the exams.
That’s what can happen when the market is
allowed to penetrate every corner of national
life. Michael Gove proposes just one exam
board for each subject and quotes with ap-
proval the example of collectivist Scotland
where he was educated. So a Tory Education
Secretary, after an investigation by a Tory
newspaper, agrees that markets can be bad.
No, you really couldn’t make it up.
The roaring 400s
The contrived jollity of Christmas normally
leaves me in a “Bah, humbug!” frame of mind
but, this year, I wonder if I should make a spe-
cial effort with the flimsy paper hats, useless
trinkets and weak jokes that fall out of the over-
priced crackers. Next year, we probably won’t
be able to afford crackers, even if we feel like
pulling them. Think of it: financial Armaged-
don, war with Iran, a Republican crazy in the
White House and, to cap it all, a royal jubilee
plus the hullabaloo of the London Olympics.
Only the last two, I concede, are certainties
but it is hard to imagine that 2012 will bring
much cheer. A columnist in the FT, which is
oddly keen on apocalyptic predictions, takes
seriously the possibility that this is not a reprise
of the 1970s or even the 1930s but of the early
fifth century, when the Roman empire fell, the
Dark Ages began and the British economy (the
archaeological record suggests) regressed by
400 years. His conclusion – that it won’t be
“quite as bad as that” –is not terribly reassuring.
Vine advice
Even to curmudgeons such as myself the season
presents dangers to health. I shall therefore take
inspiration from a French government poster
that a friend swears he remembers from the late
1950s or early 1960s. It showed a glass of wine
and superimposed upon it the words: “Only
a litre a day!” Happy Christmas. l
Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman
from 1998-2005
newstatesman.com/writers/peter_wilby W
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12 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
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IN THE PICTURE
10 December 2011: Police guard the
interior ministry in Moscow during a
protest against suspected fraud in
Russia’s parliamentary elections. Tens
of thousands of demonstrators called
for an end to rule by Vladimir Putin
Observations
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 13
Medicine Edzard Ernst makes an apology to Prince Charles
Science Helen Lewis-Hasteleyon 220 years of Royal Institution lectures
In the RedLaurie Pennyon Santa Claus, extremism and peaceful protest
Commons Confidential Kevin Maguire reveals a secret from Michael Gove’s past
Guyana Girish Gupta on a new gold rush caused by the financial crisis
HISTORY
Dark side of
the manger
Bart D Ehrman
These two versions of
events cannot be reconciled. In
Matthew, Joseph and Mary live
in Bethlehem before, during
and after the birth; they leave to
escape the king’s wrath and only
later relocate to Nazareth.
Not so for Luke, who introduces
the census precisely to take the
couple to Bethlehem so that
the child can be born where the
Hebrew prophet Micah had
predicted. Moreover, if Matthew
is right that the holy family fled to
Egypt, Luke can scarcely be right
that they returned home just a
month after the birth.
Star treatment
Not only are the accounts at odds,
each is problematic on its own
terms. Matthew introduces the
star leading the wise men to Jesus,
a “star” that moves, stops over
a city, disappears, reappears,
moves again and finally stops
over a small town, directly over
a particular house.
This was no star, comet or
supernova; and this is no
historical narrative. So, too, with
Luke’s tax by Caesar requiring a
worldwide census. Joseph
registered in Bethlehem because
his ancestor King David came
from there. But David lived a
thousand years before Joseph.
Are we to believe that everyone
in the Roman empire returned
to the homes of their ancestors
of ten centuries earlier? They all
knew where to go? And no other
ancient source mentions it?
Then again, none of these
stories is mentioned in other
ancient sources. But why would
they be? They are all part of
a complex myth. The myth is
O
nce more the season is
come upon us. At its heart
stands a tale of 2,000-year
vintage, the Christmas story.
Or perhaps we should say the
Christmas myth.
When post-Enlightenment
scholars turned their critical
tools on the tales of Scripture,
the birth of Jesus to a virgin in
Bethlehem was one of the first
subjected to sceptical scrutiny.
Not only was the notion of a
virgin birth deemed unhistorical
on general principle, the other
familiar aspects of the story were
seriously called into question.
The story comes to us as a
conflation of episodes found in
only two of our Gospels, Matthew
and Luke. (The Gospels of Mark
and John begin with Jesus as an
adult, and give no information
about the unusual circumstances
of his birth.) Combining these
accounts into a mega-story for an
annual Christmas pageant bears
a cost, as they are very much at
odds with one another.
Matthew alone has the wise
men bearing gifts, Luke alone has
the shepherds “watching over
their flocks by night”. Matthew
alone portrays the wrath of
Herod, foiled in his attempt to
destroy the child when an angel
warns Joseph to flee with his
family to Egypt. Luke alone
mentions that the “whole world”
is to be taxed by Caesar Augustus,
forcing Joseph and the pregnant
Mary – both from the town of
Nazareth, in the northern part of
Israel – to return to Joseph’s
ancestral home of Bethlehem to
register. It is while they are there
that Jesus is born, and the three
return home a month later. t
14 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
Observations
designed to show that Jesus
really did fulfil prophecy, starting
with the very beginning of his life.
Both Matthew and Luke told
stories to make it happen – so that
Mary was a virgin who gave birth
in Bethlehem – even though the
accounts cannot be historical.
We all have myths, stories that
buttress our view of the world
and make our understanding
of it appear natural; myths that
are religious, national, cultural,
political and economic. This is
true whether we are Christian,
Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or
humanist; whether we are
English, American, French,
Cambodian, or Chinese;
whether we are capitalists,
Marxists or anarchists. Or none
of the above.
We should be careful not to
rush to denigrate the myths of
others, as those tables are oh
so easily turned. But we should
also recognise myth for what
it is. The myth of Jesus’s birth
contains “good news” for
believers. It maintains that we are
not alone. God came into the
world to save us from ourselves
and from others, from the evil,
pain, misery and suffering that is
otherwise the lot of mortals
here on earth.
At the same time, it is easy
to see the problems with this
myth. The Christ child who
brought good news for his
followers brought very bad
news for others – not just the
“innocents” of Bethlehem who
were slaughtered in his wake, but
also all those Jews who refused
to come and worship him in the
manger. The myth, needless to
say, had some very bad after
effects in the centuries to follow.
Myths are like that – and not
just the Christian ones. They
can have a dark underside, often
obscured for their devotees. Even
a myth so seemingly innocent as
a babe laid in a manger. l
Bart D Ehrman is the James A
Gray Distinguished Professor
of Religious Studies at the
University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. His most recent book
is “Forged: Writing in the Name
of God – Why the Bible’s Authors
Are Not Who We Think They Are”
(HarperOne, £19.99)
Too good to be true: an illustration from Claris Artis, a 17th-century treatise on alchemy
A
ll right, all right, I admit
that I have been unfair.
In July this year, at a press
conference, I got carried away and
called Prince Charles’s Duchy
Herbals Detox Tincture “Dodgy
Originals”. Even worse, I recently
suggested that he is a “snake-oil
salesman”. But now, in the true
Christmas spirit, I am ready to take
it all back. Not only that, I profess
that Charles’s magic detox potion
might be thegift for this year’s
festive season.
Christmas is the time when we
all overindulge. We eat too much,
we drink even more and we move
too little. Everybody knows how
unhealthy this is, but habits die
hard and inertia is laborious to
overcome. No sweat, says the
heir to the throne, just buy my
Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture
and all will be pukka.
According to the Duchy
Originals website, the biologically
grown dandelions and artichokes
in this remedy “support the
body’s natural elimination and
detoxification processes”. Isn’t
that just great?
Some say that Charles has a
bee in his royal bonnet about all
things alternative, particularly
medicine. He does not know what
he is talking about, they claim.
I think this is too harsh – after all,
it’s only alternative medicine.
Sure, when playing with the big
boys in conventional health care,
one should be in possession of a
functioning brain, but Charles
isn’t into all that. For alternative
medicine, enthusiasm can be
quite enough.
Pass the Duchy
And, by Jove, enthusiasm he
and his marketers from Duchy
Originals do have by the
bucketload. They even assure
us that the Detox Tincture “has
been produced to the highest
quality standards”. True British
quality: thank you, Charles, we
didn’t expect anything less.
Considering this level of
excellence, the tincture is a steal
at £9.19 for a 50ml bottle, or
£183.80 a litre. Here, Charles
demonstrates his empathy with
us commoners; this is a present
we all can afford.
Don’t expect too much in the
way of science, though. Indeed,
the tincture turns out to be
unadulterated alchemy – no
evidence at all that the dandelion
and artichoke mixture supports
the body’s “detoxification”
processes. The NHS Choices
website (nhs.uk) agrees. It bluntly
states: “There is no evidence that
the process of detox works.”
The British Dietetic Association
goes one impolite step further
and calls the whole idea “a load
of nonsense”.
But please, let’s get a sense
of proportion here: absence
of evidence is not evidence of
absence of detoxification. And
anyway, who wants rationality for
Christmas? It is the season of joy
and belief. So, for Christ’s sake,
let’s not be beastly to the Prince
of alchemy-based medicine.
Let’s put some faith in our
future king. Let’s make our
friends and family happy with an
affordable bottle of his magic
potion. If it does not eliminate any
toxins from our bodies, at the
very least, it will eliminate money
from our wallets. l
Edzard Ernst is professor of
complementary medicine at
the University of Exeter
MEDICINE
Charles, prince
of alchemy
Edzard Ernst
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Observations
S
cience is always better when
it involves things going
bang. So perhaps it should
surprise no one that so many of
the Christmas lectures at the
Royal Institution have involved
explosions or minor acts of arson.
Even Christopher Zeeman, the
first mathematician to do one,
blew up a light fitting; although
he also insisted on showing the
children a series of mathematical
proofs on waveforms, so they did
deserve some sort of reward.
The lectures, which started
in 1825, offer leading scientists a
chance to explain their specialism
to teenagers. Michael Faraday,
who gave 19 of them, laid out
the rules: speak for less than an
hour and make sure “the path
be strewed with flowers”.
The live recordings are always
heavily subscribed and more than
two million viewers saw them
last year on BBC4.
Ask most scientists and they’ll
be able to tell you their favourite –
perhaps Carl Sagan talking about
human beings’ “astronomical
egotism” in 1977; Richard
Dawkins in a Hawaiian shirt
being assaulted by stick insects
in 1991; or the physicist Eric M
Rogers firing himself off stage
on a sledge powered by two fire
extinguishers tucked under his
arms in 1979. (The 77-year-old
was widely reckoned to be the
most dangerous experimenter the
RI ever hosted.)
Preparations for the Christmas
lectures begin well in advance,
several months for the scientist
and more for the lab technicians
in charge of the complicated props
that have become a hallmark of
the series. I got a chance to see the
techies in action on 3 December
at an event called Ghosts of
Christmas Lectures Past.
It was held to raise money for
the programme, which had to
be scaled back from five days to
three last year because of funding
problems at the RI. The host
for the evening was Robin Ince,
Something miraculous occurred
on 9 December. Hundreds of
robed and bearded men, many
of them carrying unmarked
packages, descended on central
London. A lot of them openly
claimed to have flown around
the world without passports,
collecting information on
millions of private citizens,
surviving on food donations
provided by credulous followers
and breaking into private homes
at night to deliver suspicious
parcels. Yet not one member of
the 2011 SantaCon was arrested.
The new global Christmas
tradition of revellers emerging
from the bowels of the internet
dressed in tacky Santa suits
and flashmobbing public
squares to drink heavily and
give vaguely to charity is,
in practical terms, more of a
health and safety threat than
many modern-day street
protests. In Auckland, New
Zealand, in 2005, tanked-up
Santas really did start a full-on
riot, looting stores, throwing
bottles and generally causing
jolly havoc. Yet the terrifying
paraphernalia of police
militarisation deployed during
the nationwide public-sector
strikes on 30 November was
nowhere in evidence. Not
a single Santa has been detained
or stopped and searched in
Britain this year, even though
that mustering in large groups
and giving out free treats is now
more than enough to get you on
the official naughty list.
According to a recent
“Terrorism/extremism
update”, sent by the City of
London Police to business
leaders, protesters
against corporate
greed in London and
elsewhere are now
considered domestic
terrorists – alongside
“external” threats
such as al-Qaeda
and Belarusian
extremists. Police ask local
members of the 1 per cent and
their employees to be extra-
vigilant, particularly when
talking to young people
with cameras in their hands.
Peaceful protesters who spend
their time distributing soup to
the homeless and holding
earnest open discussions about
the future of capitalism are
considered the same flavour of
security risk as the perpetrators
of the 7 July 2005 bombings.
Present danger
This says more about mission
creep in the “war on terror”
than it does about the protesters.
Anti-terror legislation has
long been used to intimidate
ordinary citizens – in 2009-
2010, not a single charge of
terrorism was made over the
course of 101,248 stop-and-
searches under Section 44 of the
Terrorism Act, use of which
disproportionately targets
young black men in urban areas.
Now, however, it seems that
the description “terrorist”
itself is fungible enough that
it can be applied to anyone who
challenges the status quo.
In the US, the National
Defence Authorisation Act for
the fiscal year 2012 enshrines
in policy the military’s power
to seize and hold suspected
terrorists indefinitely, without
charge or trial, “until hostilities
end” – which in an age of
perpetual war can mean
anything. The definition of
“terrorist activity” is up to
the state department and
“suspected terrorists” can
include citizens of any country,
including the US. The
prospect of peaceful domestic
dissidents on the left and the
right of the political spectrum
being held without trial
remains unlikely –
but for how long? l
newstatesman.com/
blogs/laurie-penny
IN THE RED
Santa Claus –domestic terrorist?
Laurie Penny
a comedian obsessed with Sagan
and Richard Feynman, the pioneer
of quantum mechanics.
True to Christmas lecture form,
the props were amazing: Simon
Singh brought out an Enigma
machine and explained how its
rotating cylinders created the
cipher that kept Bletchley Park
so busy during the Second World
War. The chemist Andrea Sella
floated soap bubbles in ether
in honour of James Dewar’s 1878
lectures on the subject (“There’s
no bar tonight,” joked Ince, “so
breathe deeply”). And the “stand-
up mathematician” Matt Parker
brought out Zeeman’s original
wave-generator from 1978: a long
snake of slats strung along a wire.
Life cycle
The best entrance of the night
belonged to the material scientist
Mark Miodownik, who rode in
on a ten-foot unicycle – a homage
to the 1968 series on Gulliver’s
Laws by Philip Morrison of MIT,
who had giant stationery made
to make the audience feel like
Lilliputians. As a newspaper
at the time put it: “A 5ft professor
who helped make the atomic
bomb has come to London with
an 8ft pencil . . . an urgent little
man of 54, he flew overnight
from New York and drove
straight to the Institute. There
he disported himself with
the vast pencil, a 12ft ruler and
the smallest motor in the world.”
(Now, that’s how to write.)
The point of the pencil was
that scale matters; as Morrison
told his audience, elephants can’t
jump because of the size of their
leg muscles proportionate to their
total mass. Last year, Miodownik
took on the principle by proving
that a hamster is small enough to
survive a fall from a skyscraper.
The scientist on the hot spot
in 2011 is the psychologist
Bruce Hood, who refuses to be
drawn on his props – though
he promises “lots of brains” to
help him explain what it means
to be human. In between last-
minute rehearsals, he told me:
“I’m not nervous in the slightest.
And if you believe that, you’ll
believe anything.” l
The RI Lectures are on BBC4 on
27, 28 and 29 December at 8pm
SCIENCE
Bang goes
the theory
Helen Lewis-Hasteley
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 17
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COMMONS CONFIDENTIAL
The Cone Secretary strikes again
Kevin Maguire
Michael Gove, educashon
dunce, is one of the most rabid
Euroseptics in Little Englander
Dave Cameron’s jingoistic band.
But it’s I’m All Right Mick’s
history as an unruly striker that
is of renewed interest, after your
correspondent encountered an
eyewitness to a notorious
incident that ended with the
Militant Minister bundled into
a police van.
I heardan intriguing explanation
for Liam Byrne’s “There’s no
money left” suicide note. Byrne
left it for his Tory mate Philip
Hammond, who was expected
to be chief secretary. Instead the
Lib Dumb David Laws briefly
got the job and released the letter.
I hear Byrne, whose seat is to be
axed, fancies running for mayor
of Birmingham. Nick Brown has
similar designs on
Newcastle.
Mike Elrick, on
strike with Gove
in Aberdeen
during a 1989 local
newspaper dispute
when both were
young hacks, spoke
out after Gove attacked
public servants as “militants
itching for a fight” over
pensions. Gove, embarrassed by
that photograph of a bespectacled
him on a picket line, plays
down his past. “The ‘reluctant’
striker,” sneered Elrick, “led
a deputation of strikers to
Strasbourg to lobby MEPs and
to Tory conference.”
Fast with a retort, Gisela Stuart.
On being introduced to Our Man
in Kabul, the Tory Bob Stewart
quipped that they shared a
surname but weren’t married.
“No,” said the Labour woman,
“he’s my father.” Ouch! For the
record, she’s 56 and he’s 62.
Most damaging for Gove,
however, is the account of
Elrick, a former adviser to those
Labour Johns, Smith and Reid,
to an act the minister might
well declare worthy of a sacking
if committed by a teacher. “I
witnessed the future Education
Secretary throwing a traffic
cone wilfully off a viaduct on
Aberdeen’s busiest street on to
another street below,” admitted
Elrick. “The incident took place
on Union Street. The cone was
dropped probably 40 feet. No
one else was involved.”
A friendly Conservative revealed
why Cameron’s backbenchers
shake their heads when David
Milibrother speaks in the
Commons. “We can’t believe
he’s not the Labour leader,”
whispered the grinning Tory.
A growing number on the
Labour side agree.
The Cone Secretary,
recalled Elrick, was
collared: “Gove
was spotted by
the police doing it
and was bundled
swiftly into the
back of a police van,
which then drove off
to police HQ.”
The Financial Times scribbler
Quentin Peel was overheard in
Brussels bemoaning Cameron’s
appeasement of the Euroseptic
Sun, Mail, Express, etc. Does the
Europhile FTregret its May 2010
Tory endorsement?
“Sadly,” complained Elrick,
“Gove wasn’t charged but let
off with a warning. But at the
end of the day it was an act of
hooliganism. Youthful high
jinks? Well, by that stage he had
already graduated from Oxford,
He was, like me, in his twenties
and working. He wasn’t a
student. He was old enough
to know better.” Quite so. l
Kevin Maguire is associate editor
(politics) of the Daily Mirror
with white tape to a wooden joist
above a small kitchen area.
Allen’s small group will take in
about £15 for each ounce of gold
they find. Allen tells me he finds
roughly ten ounces every four
days or so, earning him about
80 times less than a trader in
New York. Working 12-hour days,
the miners must contend with
wild animals and disease as well
as bandits. “Had malaria many
times, says Neil Hutton, one
of Allen’s colleagues. “Sick today,
tomorrow I get up.”
Some days after my visit to
Mahdia, I meet Guyana’s outgoing
president, Bharrat Jagdeo, at a
rally in Anna Regina, a town in
the west of the country. Gold
reserves in Guyana, a former
British colony, were neglected
until relatively recently, but
Jagdeo tells me that the country
expects to produce 320,000
ounces of the precious metal this
year, up 5 per cent on last year.
“We have seen some movement
of criminals,” Jagdeo concedes.
Patrick Harding, president of
the Guyana Gold and Diamond
Miners Association, says that
mining makes up 70 per cent of
the country’s economy. “The
violence is something we’re very
worried about,” he says from his
office in Georgetown. “It could
impact the whole industry.”
Heavy metal
For the most part, traders on the
financial markets make no link to
men on the ground such as those
in Mahdia. “For 5,000 years, gold
has maintained purchasing power
for the holders,” says George
Gero, senior vice-president at
RBC Wealth Management in New
York, who has been trading and
analysing gold for half his life.
“Investors see gold as an
additional currency and as an
asset-allocation tool,” he says.
“Nobody is that concerned about
the people panning for it.”
Bridgemohan, speaking after
hours in his hospital waiting
room, has one message for
the traders. “Enjoy the gold,”
he says. “It’s a great sacrifice
the workers are making out
here – so just cherish what they
are providing for you.” l
newstatesman.com/world-affairs
S
ix hours’ journey through
savannah and thick jungle
from Guyana’s capital,
Georgetown, Mahdia boasts
no landline telephones or bank
machines. But this small dirt
town in the Amazon rainforest
is experiencing the sharp end of
turmoil in the financial markets,
as it finds itself at the centre of
a new gold rush.
“It’s kill or be killed,” says
Rovin Allen, a young miner who
was shot in the leg and robbed of
£1,150-worth of gold just months
ago. As investors place their bets
on gold – a supposedly secure
asset in times of crisis – prices
have soared. Prospectors have
flocked to Mahdia, but so have
thieves. The 26-year-old Allen
now carries a 38mm pistol when
working at his small camp. “You
can’t trust anyone, even your
friends and those you work with.”
Vivakeanand Bridgemohan,
one of the town’s two doctors,
is seeing double the number of
patients he received 12 months
ago. He has treated miners
stabbed in the head, face and
jugular this week alone. “There
are a lot of bandits here,” he says,
“for the gold and the money.”
Allen works at Pamela camp, in
the forest that surrounds Mahdia.
As I am driven there on the
miner’s quad bike, a large clearing
opens, revealing makeshift huts
strung with hammocks, next to
a small river cutting through the
rock. To the side is an electricity
generator, allowing the miners
to enjoy pirated music DVDs on
an antique television set strapped
A gold-mining settlement near Mahdia
GUYANA
Murder in
the jungle
Girish Gupta
18 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
Wanted: a vision to trump Cameron’s
offer of bleak isolation in Europe
Rafael Behr
|
The Politics Column
British politics is still hung. As 2011 draws to
a close, no party has broken the deadlock that
produced an indecisive result in the last general
election. Opinion polls have told pretty much
the same story all year. The Labour Party is
liked much more than it was when led by Gor-
don Brown, but Ed Miliband is not deemed
to be as plausible a national leader as David
Cameron. The Prime Minister is much more
popular than his party, which still retains a
toxic whiff of moneyed complacency.
The Liberal Democrats are reviled or ignored.
Nick Clegg’s alliance with the Tories has alien-
ated many of his party’s old supporters with-
out recruiting new ones. The Deputy Prime
Minister had hoped to fight the next election
claiming credit as an equal partner in a joint
venture to rescue the economy from the disas-
trous legacy bequeathed by Labour. The strat-
egy was to make the Lib Dems the party of
“competence and compassion”.
The former would be expressed in the tough
decisions taken to tackle a ruinous budget
deficit; the latter in policies to mitigate the
harsh effects of spending restraint. Neither is
being achieved. The economy is stagnant and
we might well see in the new year in recession.
The deficit will still need cutting after the next
election. What little palliative social interven-
tion the Lib Dems claim to have secured will
be scant compensation for falling real incomes
and lost public services.
Tory foot-stamping
The Lib Dems do have substantial voting rights
on the coalition board but Tory backbenchers
hold a golden share. That much was proved by
the veto that was wielded at the emergency
Brussels summit to save the European single
currency on 8-9 December. To be clear, I am re-
ferring to the prohibition imposed by the Con-
servative Party on the Prime Minister pursuing
a policy of constructive engagement with other
continental leaders. The “veto” that Cameron
claims to have deployed at the negotiating table
doesn’t prevent eurozone countries from pur-
suing an agenda of closer integration. It merely
guarantees that they will do so in consultation
with every non-eurozone member state apart
from Britain. Obstinate foot-stamping has
cleared the room of people minded to accom-
modate UK interests, especially when it comes
to protecting the City of London from Euro-
pean regulation, which was the advertised mo-
tive for Cameron’s intransigence.
That outcome caused dismay in Clegg’s
team, verging on despair. The words “disaster”,
“awful” and “miscalculation” have all been
freely used in the Deputy Prime Minister’s of-
fice to describe Cameron’s handling of the ne-
gotiations. In public, Clegg limits himself to ex-
pressions of pained regret and martyred
determination to continue fighting for pet
causes in government – his signature tune.
Lib Dem torment over Europe was prefig-
ured earlier in the year in the referendum cam-
paign on switching to the Alternative Vote
(AV) electoral system. Then, too, Clegg
thought his intimacy with Cameron was a safe-
guard against indulgence of Conservative reac-
tionary impulse. Cameron would support the
“no” camp, Clegg would call for a “yes” vote,
but there was a “gentleman’s agreement” not to
let it get personal. Then Tory backbenchers,
furious at their leader’s apparent preference
for coalition cosiness over party policy, per-
suaded Cameron to sanction a campaign that
mercilessly punched Clegg’s bruises. AV was
denounced as a stitch-up to promote perpetual
hung parliaments of benefit only to a Lib
Dem leader considered to have swapped
principle for power.
Cameron takes no pleasure in disrupting
coalition harmony but he also knows that,
when the alternative is rebellion in his own
ranks, trampling the Lib Dems is the safer path.
Clegg’s miserable poll ratings preclude flounc-
ing out of the coalition. Besides, the Lib Dems
have aligned themselves irrevocably with Con-
servative economic policy, which overshad-
ows all other considerations. George Osborne,
Cameron’s election strategist as well as his
Chancellor, had a plan to subject Britain to a
short, sharp dose of austerity and then, as
growth returned towards the end of the parlia-
ment, compensate voters with pre-polling-day
tax cuts. That timetable has been sabotaged by
economic reality. The government is now
heavily reliant on voters’ continuing to blame
Labour for the nation’s economic problems and
remaining unconvinced of Miliband’s creden-
tials as a potential prime minister. Cameron
will present himself as the only serious candi-
date, determined to finish a job that Labour
only reluctantly acknowledge needs doing at
all. The Lib Dems, having backed Osborne’s
plan, are obliged to second that attack.
Clegg has argued that partnership with the
Tories was essential for the pursuit of the na-
tional economic interest. Yet he believes
Cameron’s sulky isolation in Europe is “dan-
gerous” and “bad” for Britain. It is also a lumi-
nous signpost announcing the limitations of
Lib Dem influence and the strength of those
Conservative MPs for whom enmity with
Brussels is an old vendetta. That in turn sup-
ports the Labour claim that Cameron’s project
to “modernise” his party in opposition was
spurious – a line of attack Clegg has discreetly
abetted in the hope that voters would see him
as a moderating influence, diluting or blocking
the ambitions of Tory zealots. Clegg is left star-
ing at a blank sheet of paper where he needs an
explanation for why his party should remain in
coalition, other than tackling the deficit and
postponing electoral annihilation.
Atlantis myth
Labour, meanwhile, needs prescriptions for the
economy and Britain’s future in Europe that
can’t be caricatured as variations on “we
wouldn’t start from here”. Miliband complains
that Cameron’s path of maximum austerity at
home and mean diplomacy abroad makes it
harder to boost growth and create jobs. The To-
ries are confident that the public sees no alter-
native. More significantly, having captured UK
foreign policy, the hard-line Eurosceptics be-
lieve they have an alluring destination for the
country. Over time, further detachment from
the EU is inevitable. The nation will be liber-
ated from the bureaucratic meddling that is
supposed to have held back the economy. With
entrepreneurial dynamism thus restored, we H
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will flourish as a global trading hub while other
European nations look on enviously, trussed in
red tape, stranded on the capsized hull of their
single currency. That is the underlying ration-
ale for Euroscepticism – creating an island
utopia where commerce is unencumbered by
footling matters such as geography or regional
diplomacy; Atlantis.
The problem is that if the euro sinks, the UK
economy will be dragged down with it and if it
is rescued the ill will generated by Britain’s po-
sition guarantees unfavourable terms of trade
in the future. Companies that are based here
because it is a useful avenue into Europe’s sin-
gle market, the world’s largest unified trading
space, will relocate if it becomes clear that
British influence is waning. Atlantis is a myth.
But the mundane imperative of our depend-
ence on good EU relations is obscured by exal-
tation in a two-fingered gesture of defiance.
Opinion polls show clear support for the Prime
Minister’s actions in Brussels. Cameron has
proved adept at cutting through complex issues
with a glib, parochial account of Britain’s inter-
ests. Last year he and Osborne outmanoeuvred
Labour by presenting the country’s woes as the
result of Gordon Brown blowing the national
budget on public services. With no sign of re-
covery in sight, the Tories find in Brussels a
new scapegoat – and one against which most of
the press has spent years whipping up hostility.
Anyone looking to Labour for a more uplift-
ing vision for the future will find only a sketch
on Miliband’s drawing board. In his party con-
ference speech in September, the Labour leader
expounded his thesis that the British model of
capitalism is broken, rewarding delinquent
“predatory” behaviour and failing to honour
“productive” activity. The financial crisis, he
argued, signalled the end of the era in which a
tiny minority would be allowed to monopolise
wealth and power, while for the rest living
standards fall and insecurity rises. It is unclear
how Miliband intends to reverse that trend. It is
still less clear whether his new model of capi-
talism envisages Britain more or less integrated
with the rest of Europe.
The view in Downing Street is that voters
will see Miliband’s moralising calls for fairer
capitalism as hand-wringing, well-meaning
perhaps, but impotent. “It isn’t as if anyone is
out there calling for unfair capitalism,” ob-
serves one Cameron aide.
But when politics is hung, the deadlock can
only be broken by something more compelling
than the promise of well-managed stagnation.
Labour want to present the Tories as relent-
lessly pessimistic, offering only grim resigna-
tion to long-haul austerity. That attack only
works alongside an optimistic counter-offer.
The Holy Grail in Westminster is a convincing
account of how Britain can make its way in a
world made scary by economic crisis, on the
periphery of a continent resisting decline.
Miliband doesn’t yet have such a story. Nor
does Nick Clegg. The most developed project
around, and the one with the most momen-
tum, is the populist island tale peddled by the
Eurosceptics. The question for David Cameron
is whether he wants to lead a real European na-
tion or follow the men from Atlantis. l
Rafael Behr is chief political commentator for
the New Statesman
newstatesman.com/writers/rafael_behr
The problem is that if the
euro sinks, the UK will be
dragged down with it
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Labour will make a big, open offer
to the Lib Dems on Europe
Douglas Alexander
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The Guest Column
Britain’s relationship with the United States
and our membership of the European Union
have been the fundamental building blocks of
our foreign policy but today we risk being less
relevant in both. Europe is engulfed by the
eurozone crisis and the US, weary after ten
years of war in Afghanistan, is rebalancing its
priorities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. That
broader context only makes the Prime Minis-
ter’s decision to leave Britain more isolated
than at any time in the 38-year history of our
EU membership even more dangerous.
The recent EU summit could and should
have taken the vital decisions needed to sta-
bilise the eurozone and boost growth and jobs
but, instead, it was economically inadequate
and politically damaging. There was no plan
for growth agreed, no credible plan for reduc-
ing deficits agreed, no plan for recapitalising
the banks agreed and no plan agreed for the Eu-
ropean Central Bank to act as the lender of last
resort. That the British government did so lit-
tle to advance these objectives is inexcusable.
There was hardly any evidence of either the
Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary visit-
ing European capitals ahead of the summit to
build support for Britain’s position. Indeed, the
government’s demands were tabled only a few
days before, after David Cameron’s mauling at
the hands of his backbenchers at Prime Minis-
ter’s Questions in the House of Commons.
Why did the Polish foreign minister, Ra-
dosław Sikorski – potentially a key ally for
Britain – the week before the summit single out
the UK for criticism in a speech and accuse the
government of failing to provide political lead-
ership on Europe?
Elephant in the room
To win the leadership of his party, Cameron
promised to pull out of the centre-right group-
ing the European People’s Party, as he did, and
so he was left unable to attend the pre-summit
meeting of the leaders of France, Germany,
Portugal, Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, Malta and
Poland. When we entered the final hours of
the summit in so shambolic a fashion, is it
any wonder that Cameron was left unable to
secure a single objective Britain had set or se-
cure a single ally?
We have heard a lot about “vetoes” but to
veto something means to prevent it from
happening. Cameron walked out having pre-
vented nothing from happening and having
failed to secure any of his demands; that is not
called a veto – that is called defeat.
Isolation can sometimes be a price worth
paying for getting your own way but isolation
achieving only defeat is unforgivable. Despite
all the talk about protecting the City, the Chan-
cellor was unable, 24 hours afterwards, to point
to a single piece of financial regulation that
was now not going to be applied to Britain as
a result. Instead, we’ve got up to 26 countries
discussing financial services without Britain
being at the table, a development John Cridland
of the Confederation of British Industry de-
scribed as “the elephant in the room”.
The roots of what happened on the night of
Thursday 8 December lie deep in Cameron’s
failure to modernise the Tory party. Just be-
cause he puts party interest before the national
interest, there is no reason others should do the
same. That is why I make a genuine offer to Lib-
eral Democrats to work with us to try to get a
better outcome for Britain, between now and
when this agreement is likely to be finally tied
down in March. Work can and should start im-
mediately both to win back friends and allies
and to consider what rules and procedures can
avoid Britain’s further marginalisation.
My message to Lib Dems would be that, over
the next few years, the public will reward politi-
cians who show serious statesmanship, not
shrill showmanship in the face of economic
events none of us has witnessed before and the
outcome of which remains uncertain.
This is the immediate task. But over the
longer term, we must also remake the case for
British membership of the EU. Today, accord-
ing to one ICM poll, 49 per cent would vote to
get Britain out of Europe, against just 40 per
cent who would prefer to stay in.
What are the reasons for this and what
should a progressive response be? In a recent
speech, I talked about how, to my parents’ gen-
eration, the rationale for Europe was establish-
ing peace and stability on the continent after
a century scarred by two world wars. This was
a cause that had powerful emotional reso-
nance. However, for the 20 years after Britain
joined the European Community, that emo-
tional cause was supplemented by a somewhat
drier one: that being part of Europe would help
reverse Britain’s postwar decline and would
help boost our prosperity and productivity.
Riding the tiger
Britain’s rising prosperity during the long
boom that began in the 1990s contributed to
a growing sense of national self-confidence,
which again led people to question Europe’s
role. One response to this rising scepticism,
however, not only failed but, certainly in this
country, actually heightened suspicions about
the intentions of Europe’s institutions. The
push for anthems, flags and the apparent aping
of the symbol of nationhood left the impres-
sion of a half-built superstate and provided a
rallying point for Europe’s opponents.
In response, a defence of the status quo won’t
be good enough. I do not believe Britain would
ever be a “pygmy” nation but I believe we are
better off as part of a market of 500 million peo-
ple, with a £10trn economy.
In recent days, in Durban, South Africa, we
saw welcome progress in global climate talks.
Whether on climate development or trade,
Britain’s voice is amplified on the world stage
by our European membership. Yet our future
in Europe cannot be taken for granted. Cam -
eron has embarked on a very dangerous course.
He has closed his eyes and bet that he can ride
the Tory eurosceptic tiger. The rest of us should
open ours and make the case for a reformed
Europe before it is too late. l
Douglas Alexander is shadow foreign secretary H
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Cameron prevented
nothing. That is not a
veto – that is a defeat
When Philip Hammond, the former Secretary of State for Transport, handed over
the reins to Justine Greening, he must have breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Every one of the arguments for the £32bn HS2 project has been convincingly
challenged by experts in their fields and thoroughly put in doubt by the
Transport Select Committee.
The last straw was a survey showing peak trains from Euston are only half full,
two more carriages are being added next year and more could be added.
Given the weakness of the case there can only be one rational conclusion.
HS2 is the wrong priority. www.hs2actionalliance.org
The era of innovation isn’t over.
For the poor, it’s just beginning
Bill Gates
The world population just passed seven billion,
on its way to at least nine billion. The number
of people on the planet is growing so rapidly
that the margin of error for the UN’s 2050
population projection is larger than the entire
world population in 1950. Meanwhile, climate
change is bringing a flood of adverse weather
events that affect crop yields. Last year,
droughts in eastern Europe cut global wheat
production by 5 per cent. This year, floods de-
stroyed 20 per cent of the harvest in the state of
Queensland, in Australia – the world’s fourth-
largest wheat exporter.
At this moment, it seems wise to ask whether
we will have enough food to eat in the future.
There are plenty of pessimists about food secu-
rity, but I believe the smart money is on opti-
mism. Pessimists extrapolate from the present
to the future in a straight line. As an optimist,
I look for key junctures where we can apply in-
novation to bend trend lines and avert crises.
Currently, four million tonnes of rice in India
and Bangladesh are lost to flooding every year.
But if farmers in the region grow a flood-tolerant
variety that recently became available, they will
flip that curve upside down, producing enough
extra rice to feed 30 million people.
In sub-Saharan Africa, new varieties of maize
can be 50 per cent more productive under the
type of drought conditions that helped cause
the Horn of Africa famine. In fact, despite this
general environment of scarcity (whether it’s
food or government finances), I have never been
more optimistic about the future.
Happy hour
I am optimistic because I believe in the power
of innovation –and because I believe the
world is on the cusp of finally
unleashing innovation for the
poorest. It is ironic, perhaps, but
historically we have been very nar-
row-minded about innovation. We
have put the vast majority of our
effort into solving a small minority of
the world’s problems. But I believe
that era in history is coming to an
end. My whole career has
been inspired by the
conviction that break-
throughs can make the
impossible possible.
When I was a teenager, I was addicted to
computers, not unlike many teenagers today.
But in the early 1970s, computers were a diffi-
cult addiction to satisfy, because the personal
computer didn’t yet exist. Luckily, I lived a few
minutes away from a large research university
where I had access to PDP-10 computers, which
were about the size of a large car. I would sneak
out of my house in the middle of the night to
get a few hours of computer time while the stu-
dents were asleep. Then came the microproces-
sor, and everything changed. In the past 35
years, everything from storage costs to proces-
sor speed has improved exponentially. Now,
the very concept of “computer time” makes no
sense; there is an infinite amount of it.
When my wife Melinda and I created our
foundation and gradually started learning more
about global development, we were stunned by
the underfunding of innovation targeted at the
needs of the poor. In information technology,
the challenge was to see 20 or 30 years into the
future. In development, the task at hand was
very different: to catch up with the present.
Take the example of tuberculosis, which
affects nine million people every year. For the
most part, the diagnostic test hasn’t changed in
more than a century. The standard practice is to
take someone’s saliva, smear it on a slide, stain
it and look at it under a microscope. By that
method, we catch about half of cases. Finally, last
year, there was a breakthrough in rapid diagnos-
tic testing that could change the way we fight TB.
What explained this shocking lack of innova-
tion? When I was born, the world was roughly
one-third rich and two-thirds poor. The rich
portion had an amazing capacity to innovate,
but it didn’t have tuberculosis, or harvests de-
stroyed by flooding. The poor had the dis-
ease and the hunger, but they didn’t have
the technological capability to develop
solutions. And so most of the world’s in-
novation was directed at the world’s least
pressing problems, relatively speaking.
Now, however, that tragic misallocation
of resources is changing, because
the world has changed. The
number of dynamic,
healthy and highly edu-
cated countries is much
higher. In the past 20
years, China has grown
by an incredible 9 per cent annually and slashed
its poverty rate by 75 per cent. In the past ten
years, Brazil has lifted 20 million people out of
poverty. This group of rapidly growing coun-
tries, which also includes India, Indonesia,
Mexico, South Africa and Turkey, can drive in-
novation for the poor in ways we never imag-
ined, because they provide a bridge between
what used to be the rich and poor worlds. These
countries have both a sophisticated under-
standing of the challenges that developing
countries face and the technical capacity to in-
novate to spur development.
A new awakening
There are many examples of this innovation.
Last year, the Serum Institute of India released
a vaccine it has developed for meningitis A, an
epidemic disease that strikes fear in the hearts
of people across Africa’s meningitis belt. This
vaccine is the first one ever created specifically
for poor countries, and only an Indian company
accustomed to low-cost manufacturing was
able to price it low enough for African govern-
ments to purchase. Brazil, which learned how
to grow soybeans in its semi-arid soil in the
1980s, is now helping Mozambican farmers
cope with very similar climate and soil condi-
tions. Meanwhile, the Chinese, who have the
world’s leading rice research programme, have
been instrumental in projects such as the flood-
tolerant rice described earlier.
The world’s failure to address the suffering of
its poorest people is one of the tragedies of the
past century. But our awakening to these issues
is one of the most important developments of
the past decade. Yes, we have a global food cri-
sis. But with new innovators all over the world
focused on the problem, we also have a good
chance to fix it. And with more innovators fo-
cusing on more areas where innovation is
needed, I am optimistic that we are about to en-
ter a new period in global development.
Just as innovation over the course of a few
decades turned the car-sized computer into a
pocket gadget, innovation in the field of devel-
opment will lift billions out of poverty and
make the world a more equitable and prosper-
ous place. l
Bill Gates is the chairman of Microsoft and
co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation. gatesfoundation.org R
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 23
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Fear of offending Muslims should
not stop us fighting Islamism
Maryam Namazie
On 2 November, the offices of the French sa -
tirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed,
after the publication of an issue “guest-edited”
by Muhammad, Islam’s prophet. Its cover had
a caricature of Muhammad, saying: “100 lashes
if you don’t die laughing.”
Though no one has yet claimed responsibil-
ity, the attack bears the hallmarks of the politi-
cal Islamic movement. For its followers, threats
and firebombs are business as usual. Where
they have political power, they forgo any nice -
ties reserved for western public opinion and
imprison and murder anyone who speaks their
mind, transgresses Islamist norms and causes
“offence”. Under sharia law in Iran, for instance,
there are more than 130 offences punishable by
death, including apostasy, blasphemy, heresy,
enmity against God, homosexuality andcrimes
against chastity.
In the west, the debate on Islam and free ex-
pression is absurdly framed within a context
of racism and Islamophobia, though Islamism
has been creating havoc in the Middle East and
North Africa for several decades and most of its
victims are Muslims. A piece in Timeby its Paris
correspondent Bruce Crumley (2 November)
was a case in point. He blamed Charlie Hebdo
for causing “offence” and “bait[ing] Muslim
members”. Tellingly, he seemed to see “extrem-
ists” and “Muslim members” of society as one
and the same thing, rather than making the dis-
tinction between Islamism (a far-right political
movement) and Muslims.
The Islamists’ barbaric, medieval values are
portrayed as the values of all Muslims. This is
something both the far right and the postmod-
ernist left do – albeit for different reasons. The
far right blames and scapegoats Muslims for Is-
lamism’s crimes and the pro-Islamist left de-
fends Islamism and its crimes as the “right of a
Muslim minority”. Both sides oppose or defend
Islamism at the expense of human beings.
Sense and sensibility
Muslims, like all other groups, are not homoge-
neous. Among them are secularists, freethink -
ers, dissenters, rationalists, rights campaigners,
humanitarians and socialists. Many belong
to civil society organisations, political parties
and movements that are diametrically opposed
to Islamism. Islamist violence and terrorism
are tactics and pillars of the political Islamic
movement and have nothing to do with “Mus-
lim sensibilities”. Though we are all offended at
least some of the time (and often by religion it-
self), most of us – religious or not, Muslim or not
–never resort to death threats and firebombing.
Equating the intimidation and terror imposed
by political Islam to the expression of Muslim
sensibilities is like equating the oppressor with
the oppressed, and is intrinsically racist. If those
really were people’s sensibilities and beliefs,
Islamist states and movements wouldn’t need
to resort to such indiscriminate violence.
This raises the important question of whose
sensibilities one sides with – the mother and
daughter stoned to death in Afghanistan in
November, or the Taliban who stoned them to
death? The actor Marzieh Vafamehr, who was
sentenced to one year in jail and 90 lashes for
taking part in a film, or the Islamic regime of
Iran that sentenced her? Charlie Hebdo or the
firebombers? You can’t side with both.
Whether you like or dislike Charlie Hebdo’s
political position is irrelevant. It’s just as irrele-
vant as what the woman who was raped was
wearing or the nature of the “crime” committed
by the person facing execution – that is if you
agree that rape, execution and firebombing a
publication for expressing a point of view are
wrong, irrespective of the circumstances.
Describing Charlie Hebdo’s criticism as an
attack on a Muslim minority not only mistak-
enly presents Muslims as a uniform group and
equates them with Islamists, but fails to ac-
knowledge the power and politics behind Is-
lamism, which in many places is a global move-
ment with state power. Sharia law is now the
most widely implemented religious law world-
wide. Correspondingly, it would be like discus -
sing the English Defence League without see-
ing its links with far-right politics in Norway or
the US and would be like denouncing criticism
of the EDL as an attack on the British working
class and Christians. Absurd!
Speak out
Saying Charlie Hebdoshouldn’t criticise Islam is,
in effect, saying that Islam, Islamism and sharia
law are off-limits, which means that the vic-
tims and survivors of Islamism are not allowed
to do the only thing they have at their disposal
to resist. It is telling people who most need free
expression that they cannot speak. It’s an effort
to censor people such as the naked Egyptian
blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy or Gulnaz, one
of two women filmed in a documentary, first
commissioned by the European Union and then
blocked by the EU days before its first screening.
Gulnaz was raped and sentenced to 12 years
for a “moral crime” under sharia law. She bravely
tells her story to help other women avoid the
same fate. But the EU is more concerned about
“its relations with the [in]justice institutions”
in Afghanistan than the abysmal situation of
women there.
The debate on free expression is much larger
than Charlie Hebdo. Restricting free expression
to what is acceptable only restricts the right to
speak for those, such as Gulnaz, who need it
most. After all, what is the point of free expres-
sion if you cannot criticise that which is deemed
to be taboo? On 1 December, Gulnaz was par-
doned by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai,
but activists are concerned that she will be pres-
sured to marry her rapist to gain a father for her
daughter, born on the prison floor. Why aren’t
more people angry about this? l
Maryam Namazie is spokesperson for One Law
for All, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
and Equal Rights Now: Organisation Against
Women’s Discrimination in Iran. Read her blog:
freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie
Gagged: outside the Charlie Hebdo offices
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eter Hain has had an extraordinary life. He held
an array of glittering posts in the British
political firmament, from key roles in the
Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and
Industry to leadership of the Commons and
brokering the 2007 devolution settlement in
Northern Ireland.
Formerly an ÔoutsiderÕ he became an ÔinsiderÕ, as
one of the governmentÕs most effective ministers.
Underpinning HainÕs career is a tradition of political
campaigning that stretches back nearly four
decades, the political values he holds today
springing directly from the injustices he witnessed
when he was growing up and which drew him into
politics in the first place.
OUTSIDE IN
Peter Hain
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 27
Class has divided us for years –don’t
let faith schools do the same
Rabbi Jonathan Romain
Once seldom discussed, faith schools are now
a contentious part of the political debate. There
are four reasons for this. The first is that al-
though they started as private endowments,
faith schools are now publicly funded and
therefore answerable to the taxpayer. To an ex-
tent, that has been the case for at least 100 years
but scrutiny has become much more searching
for public institutions, with demands for trans-
parency placing the BBC and the NHS under the
spotlight. Faith schools have not escaped atten-
tion – nor should they.
Second, the taxpaying society of today is
very different from that of 1870, when the great
transition occurred in the Education Act, result-
ing in church schools receiving funds from the
state. Society today is much less religious and
many of us no longer see the need for separate
faith schools, while others accuse them of be-
ing biased and doctrinaire.
Third, even the religious element of society
has fundamentally changed. Today, we have not
one majority faith, but a plethora of religions.
This has led to questions over the relationships
between them and whether segregating chil-
dren of different backgrounds encour ages inte-
gration or inhibits it.
The fourth reason is the unease caused by
events such as the Bradford riots of July 2001;
then there was 9/11 in the US, whose shock-
waves hit harder here after the bombings in
London on 7 July 2005.
Pride and prejudice
These events forced us to look again at the
Church of England’s pledge to build 100 new
faith schools, and to look at the expansion of
Jewish schools, the growth of Muslim schools
and the creation of the first Sikh and Hindu
schools. There is a worry that the new shape
of education created by such schools – in my
view, one that is close to being a form of volun-
tary apartheid – might produce a landscape in
which separatism and prejudice flourish.
The battle lines are well rehearsed: propo-
nents of faith schools claim that they maintain
identities and produce good citizens, while
opponents condemn them for ghettoising the
children and fragmenting society.
Rather than engaging in stale arguments or
swapping anecdotes about best and worst prac-
tices, we need to locate larger principles that
will inform the policy options more accurately.
For instance, are pupils and society best served
by the considerably independent say that vol-
untary-aided schools (most of which are faith-
based) have over admissions, the curriculum
and employment of staff, even though they are
state-funded?
The creation of more state academies and Ed-
ucation Secretary Michael Gove’s free schools –
many of which have a religious foundation –
has raised the stakes even higher, because al-
though some of us will rejoice at the freedoms
they have been granted, others will despair
that this includes the freedom to discriminate
against admitting pupils and hiring teachers of
“the wrong faith” or no faith at all. The task has
become more urgent since the government’s
astonishing decision this year to abandon Of-
sted’s duty to inspect schools’ record of promot-
ing social cohesion. Many fear that this sends
out a disheartening message to those who value
an inclusive and tolerant Britain.
Another pressing issue is that, although reli-
gious education (RE) is a statutory subject and
has to be taught, it is not part of the National
Curriculum and so can be taught in any way
a school chooses. While some schools follow a
multi-faith syllabus, others limit their pupils
to knowledge of only one faith. Would it not
be better to have a national curriculum for RE,
so that all schools were obliged to teach about
all kinds of belief, including humanism? This
would help increase general knowledge, as well
as prepare pupils for life in a diverse society.
A similar argument could apply to the Eng-
lish Baccalaureate. One of its effects has been
to diminish the time that schools spend on
teaching subjects other than the five core ones
of English, mathematics, science, languages
and humanities. If RE, with an inclusive syl-
labus, were made one of the core subjects, it
would boost efforts to broaden children’s reli-
gious horizons. Once again, this would be of
benefit both academically and in terms of fu-
ture citizenship.
Divide and rule
The Runnymede Trust’s 2008 report Right to
Divide?is one of many studies that pick up con-
cerns about the social inequalities caused by
schools’ freedom to select pupils on the grounds
of religion. It finds that, despite high-minded
pronouncements suggesting “a mission to
serve the most disadvantaged in society”, faith
schools “educate a disproportionately small
number of young people at the lowest end of
the socio-economic scale”.
This is borne out by statistics. Faith schools
have fewer children on free school meals (11.5
per cent) than other schools (15.7 per cent).
They also cater for fewer pupils with special
educational needs (SEN). According to the
House of Commons Library (2009), 1.2 per cent
of pupils at state faith schools had local author-
ity statements for SEN, compared to 1.7 per cent
at schools with no religious character.
In 2008, the Accord Coalition was created
to provide a voice for those, from religious and
secular groups alike, who seek to promote inclu-
sive schooling. The goal is to create an environ-
ment in which children of different religious
backgrounds grow up as neighbours rather than
as strangers, and to forge a society that is at ease
with itself.
Britain has spent centuries struggling to
reduce class divisions in society. It would be
regrettable indeed if these were now replaced
by religious ones. l
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain is the chair of the
Accord Coalition. accordcoalition.org.uk
newstatesman.com/subjects/religion
Separation anxiety: do faith schools discriminate?
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28 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
COVER STORY
“Never be afraid
of stridency”
Interview by Richard Dawkins
Photographs by Michael Stravato
Meeting of minds:
Richard Dawkins (left)
and Christopher
Hitchens in conversation
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 29
Richard Dawkins Do you have any memories
of life at the New Statesman?
Christopher Hitchens Not that I want to im-
part. It seems like a different world and a dif -
ferent magazine and it happened to a different
person. I’d love them to interview me one day
about it, for an edition about the role of the
Statesman, but I’d really rather you and I focus
on the pulse of the issue, which is obviously our
common cause.
RD I’ve been reading some of your recent col -
lections of essays – I’m astounded by your
sheer erudition. You seem to have read abso -
lutely everything. I can’t think of anybody since
Aldous Huxley who’s so well read.
CH It may strike some people as being broad
but it’s possibly at the cost of being a bit shal-
low. I became a journalist because one didn’t
have to specialise. I remember once going to
an evening with Umberto Eco talking to Susan
Sontag and the definition of the word “poly-
math” came up. Eco said it was his ambition
to be a polymath; Sontag challenged him and
said the definition of a polymath is someone
who’s interested in everything and nothing
else. I was encouraged in my training to read
widely – to flit and sip, as Bertie [Wooster] puts
it – and I think I’ve got good memory retention.
I retain what’s interesting to me, but I don’t
have a lot of strategic depth.
A lot of reviewers have said, to the point of
embarrassing me, that I’m in the class of Ed-
mund Wilson or even George Orwell. It really
does remind me that I’m not. But it’s something
to at least have had the comparison made – it’s
better than I expected when I started.
t
Is America heading
for theocracy?
How worrying is
the rise of the Tea
Party? Christopher
Hitchens and
Richard Dawkins
discuss God and
US politics
30 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
COVER STORY
it – but this, Richard, is a red herring. It’s not
even secular. They’re changing the subject.
RDBut it comes up over and over again.
CH You mentioned North Korea. It is, in every
sense, a theocratic state. It’s almost supernatu-
ral, in that the births of the [ruling] Kim family
are considered to be mysterious and accompa-
nied by happenings. It’s a necrocracy or mauso -
locracy, but there’s no possible way you could
say it’s a secular state, let alone an atheist one.
Attempts to found new religions should at-
tract our scorn just as much as the alliances with
the old ones do. All they’re saying is that you
can’t claim Hitler was distinctively or specifi-
cally Christian: “Maybe if he had gone on much
longer, he would have de-Christianised a bit
more.” This is all a complete fog of nonsense.
It’s bad history and it’s bad propaganda.
RDAnd bad logic, because there’s no connection
between atheism and doing horrible things,
whereas there easily can be a connection in the
case of religion, as we see with modern Islam.
CH To the extent that they are new religions –
Stalin worship and Kim Il-sungism – we, like
all atheists, regard them with horror.
RD You debated with Tony Blair. I’m not sure
I watched that. I love listening to you [but] I
can’t bear listening to . . . Well, I mustn’t say
that. I think he did come over as rather nice
on that evening.
CHHe was charming, that evening. And during
the day, as well.
RD What was your impression of him?
CHYou can only have one aim per debate. I had
two in debating with Tony Blair. The first one
was to get him to admit that it was not done –
the stuff we complain of – in only the name
of religion. That’s a cop-out. The authority is in
the text. Second, I wanted to get him to admit,
if possible, that giving money to a charity or or-
ganising a charity does not vindicate a cause.
I got him to the first one and I admired his
honesty. He was asked by the interlocutor
at about half-time: “Which of Christopher’s
points strikes you as the best?” He said: “I have
to admit, he’s made his case, he’s right. This
stuff, there is authority for it in the canonical
texts, in Islam, Judaism.”
At that point, I’m ready to fold – I’ve done
what I want for the evening.
We did debate whether Catholic charities
and so on were a good thing and I said: “They
are but they don’t prove any point and some
of them are only making up for damage done.”
For example, the Church had better spend a lot
of money doing repair work on its Aids policy
in Africa, [to make up for preaching] that con-
doms don’t prevent disease or, in some cases,
that they spread it. It is iniquitous. It has led to
a lot of people dying, horribly. Also, I’ve never
looked at some of the ground operations of these
charities – apart from Mother Teresa – but they
do involve a lot of proselytising, a lot of propa-
ganda. They’re not just giving out free stuff.
They’re doing work to recruit.
RD And Mother Teresa was one of the worst
offenders?
CH She preached that poverty was a gift from
God. And she believed that women should not
be given control over the reproductive cycle.
Mother Teresa spent her whole life making sure
that the one cure for poverty we know is sound
was not implemented.
So Tony Blair knows this but he
doesn’t have an answer. If I say, “Your
Church preaches against the one cure
for poverty,” he doesn’t deny it, but
he doesn’t affirm it either.
But remember, I did start with a
text and I asked him to comment
on it first, but he never did. Cardinal
Newman said he would rather the
whole world and everyone in it be
painfully destroyed and condemned
for ever to eternal torture than one
sinner go unrebuked for the stealing
of a sixpence. It’s right there in the
centre of the Apologia. The man
whose canonisation Tony had been
campaigning for.
You put these discrepancies in front
of him and he’s like all the others. He keeps two
sets of books. And this is also, even in an honest
person, shady.
RD It’s like two minds, really. One notices this
with some scientists.
CHI think we all do it a bit.
RDDo we?
CHWe’re all great self-persuaders.
RDBut do we hold such extreme contradictions
in our heads?
CHWe like to think our colleagues would point
them out, in our group, anyway. No one’s
pointed out to me in reviewing my God book
“I have one consistency,
which is being against
the totalitarian”
Christopher Hitchens
RD As an Orwell scholar, you must have a
particular view of North Korea, Stalin, the So-
viet Union, and you must get irritated – perhaps
even more than I do – by the constant refrain we
hear: “Stalin was an atheist.”
CH We don’t know for sure that he was. Hitler
definitely wasn’t. There is a possibility that
Himmler was. It’s very unlikely but it wouldn’t
make any difference, either way. There’s no
mandate in atheism for any particular kind of
politics, anyway.
RD The people who did Hitler’s dirty work
were almost all religious.
CH I’m afraid the SS’s relationship with the
Catholic Church is something the Church still
has to deal with and does not deny.
RD Can you talk a bit about that – the relation-
ship of Nazism with the Catholic Church?
CHThe way I put it is this: if you’re writing about
the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitar-
ianism, you can take out the word “fascist”, if
you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslo-
vakia and Austria and replace it with “extreme-
right Catholic party”.
Almost all of those regimes were in place
with the help of the Vatican and with under-
standings from the Holy See. It’s not denied.
These understandings quite often persisted
after the Second World War was over and
extended to comparable regimes in Argentina
and elsewhere.
RD But there were individual priests who did
good things.
CH Not very many. You would know their
names if there were more of them.
When it comes to National Socialism,
there’s no question there’s a muta-
tion, a big one – the Nazis wanted
their own form of worship. Just as
they thought they were a separate
race, they wanted their own religion.
They dug out the Norse gods, all kinds
of extraordinary myths and legends
from the old sagas. They wanted to
control the churches. They were will-
ing to make a deal with them.
The first deal Hitler made with the
Catholic Church was the Konkordat.
The Church agreed to dissolve its
political party and he got control
over German education, which was
a pretty good deal. Celebrations of his
birthday were actually by order from
the pulpit. When Hitler survived an assassina-
tion attempt, prayers were said, and so forth. But
there’s no doubt about it, [the Nazis] wanted
control – and they were willing to clash with the
churches to get it.
There’s another example. You swore on Al -
mighty God that you would never break your
oath to the Führer. This is not even secular, let
alone atheist.
RD There was also grace before meals, person-
ally thanking Adolf Hitler.
CH I believe there was. Certainly, you can hear
the oath being taken – there are recordings of
t
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 31
God Is Not Great that there’s a flat discrepancy
between the affirmation he makes on page X
and the affirmation he makes on page Y.
RD But they do accuse you of being a contrar-
ian, which you’ve called yourself . . .
CH Well, no, I haven’t. I’ve disowned it. I was
asked to address the idea of it and I began by say -
ing it’s got grave shortcomings as an idea, but
I am a bit saddled with it.
RDI’ve always been very suspicious of the left-
right dimension in politics.
CHYes; it’s broken down with me.
RD It’s astonishing how much traction the
left-right continuum [has] . . . If you
know what someone thinks about the
death penalty or abortion, then you
generally know what they think about
everything else. But you clearly break
that rule.
CH I have one consistency, which is
[being] against the totalitarian – on the
left and on the right. The totalitarian,
to me, is the enemy – the one that’s
absolute, the one that wants control
over the inside of your head, not just
your actions and your taxes. And the
origins of that are theocratic, obviously.
The beginning of that is the idea that
there is a supreme leader, or infallible
pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever,
who can ventriloquise the divine and
tell us what to do.
That has secular forms with gurus and dicta-
tors, of course, but it’s essentially the same.
There have been some thinkers – Orwell is
pre-eminent – who understood that, unfortu-
nately, there is innate in humans a strong ten-
dency to worship, to become abject. So we’re
not just fighting the dictators. We’re criticising
our fellow humans for trying to short-cut,
to make their lives simpler, by surrendering
and saying, “[If] you offer me bliss, of course
I’m going to give up some of my mental free-
dom for that.” We say it’s a false bargain: you’ll
get nothing. You’re a fool.
RDThat part of you that was, or is, of the radical
left is always against the totalitarian dictators.
CHYes. I was a member of the Trotskyist group
– for us, the socialist movement could only be
revived if it was purged of Stalinism . . . It’s very
much a point for our view that Stalinism was
a theocracy.
RD One of my main beefs with religion is the
way they label children as a “Catholic child” or
a “Muslim child”. I’ve become a bit of a bore
about it.
CHYou must never be afraid of that charge, any
more than stridency.
RD I will remember that.
CH If I was strident, it doesn’t matter – I was a
jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a dis -
cipline in which you are very distinguished.
You’ve educated a lot of people; nobody denies
that, not even your worst enemies. You see
your discipline being attacked and defamed and
attempts made to drive it out.
Stridency is the least you should muster . . .
It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t
form ranks and say, “Listen, we’re going to de-
fend our colleagues from these appalling and
obfuscating elements.”
If you go on about something, the worst
thing the English will say about you, as we both
know – as we can say of them, by the way – is
that they’re boring.
RD Indeed. Only this morning, I was sent a
copy of [advice from] a British government web -
site, called something like “The Responsibili-
ties of Parents”. One of these responsibilities
was “determine the child’s religion”. Literally,
determine. It means establish, cause . . . I could-
n’t ask for a clearer illustration, because, some-
times, when I make my complaint about this,
I’m told nobody actually does label children
Catholic children or Muslim children.
CH Well, the government does. It’s borrowed,
as far as I can see, in part from British imperial
policy, in turn borrowed from Ottoman and
previous empires – you classify your new
subjects according to their faith. You can be an
Ottoman citizen but you’re a Jewish one or an
Armenian Christian one. And some of these
faiths tell their children that the children of
other faiths are going to hell. I think we can’t
ban that, nor can we call it “hate speech”, which
I’m dubious about anyway, but there should be
a wrinkle of disapproval.
RD I would call it mental child abuse.
CH I can’t find a way, as a libertarian, of saying
that people can’t raise their children, as they
say, according to their rights. But the child has
rights and society does, too. We don’t allow
female – and I don’t think we should counte-
nance male – genital mutilation.
Now, it would be very hard to say that you
can’t tell your child that they are lucky and they
have joined the one true faith. I don’t see how
you stop it. I only think the rest of society
should look at it with a bit of disapproval,
which it doesn’t. If you’re a Mormon and you
run for office and say, “Do you believe in the
golden plates that were dug up by Joseph
Smith?” – which [Mitt] Romney hasn’t been
asked yet – sorry, you’re going to get mocked.
You’re going to get laughed at.
RD There is a tendency among liberals to feel
that religion should be off the table.
CH Or even that there’s anti-reli-
gious racism, which I think is a terri-
ble limitation.
RDRomney has questions to answer.
CHCertainly, he does. The question
of Mormon racism did come up,
to be fair, and the Church did very
belatedly make amends for saying
what, in effect, it had been saying:
that black people’s souls weren’t
human, quite. They timed it sus -
piciously for the passage of legis -
lation. Well, OK, then they grant
the right of society to amend [the
legislation]. To that extent, they’re
opportunists.
RD But what about the daftness of
Mormonism? The fact that Joseph
Smith was clearly a charlatan –
CHI know, it’s extraordinary.
RDI think there is a convention in America that
you don’t tackle somebody about their religion.
CHYes, and in a way it’s attributed to pluralism.
And so, to that extent, one wants to respect it,
but I think it can be exploited. By many people,
including splinter-group Mormons who still
do things like plural marriage and, very repul-
sively, compulsory dowries – they basically
give away their daughters, often to blood rela-
tives. And also kinship marriages that are too
close. This actually won’t quite do. When it is
important, they tend to take refuge in: “You’re
attacking my fundamental right.” I don’t think
they really should be allowed that.
RD Do you think America is in danger of be-
coming a theocracy?
CHNo, I don’t. The people who we mean when
we talk about that – maybe the extreme Prot -
estant evangelicals, who do want a God-run
America and believe it was founded on essen-
tially fundamentalist Protestant principles –
I think they may be the most overrated threat
in the country.
RDOh, good.
CHThey’ve been defeated everywhere. Why is
this? In the 1920s, they had a string of victories.
They banned the sale, manufacture and distri-
bution and consumption of alcohol. They made
it the constitution. They more or less managed
to ban immigration from countries that had
non-Protestant, non-white majorities.
From these victories, they have never recov-
ered. They’ll never recover from [the failure
COVER STORY
“Extreme Protestant
evangelicals may be the
most overrated threat”
Christopher Hitchens
t
32 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
COVER STORY
of] Prohibition. It was their biggest defeat.
They’ll never recover from the Scopes trial.
Every time they’ve tried [to introduce the
teaching of creationism], the local school board
or the parents or the courts have thrown it out
and it’s usually because of the work of people
like you, who have shown that it’s nonsense.
They try to make a free speech question out
of it but they will fail with that, also. People don’t
want to come from the town or the state or the
county that gets laughed at.
RDYes.
CHIn all my tours around the South, it’s amaz-
ing how many people – Christians
as well – want to disprove the idea
that they’re all in thrall to people like
[the fundamentalist preacher Jerry]
Falwell. They don’t want to be a
laughing stock.
RDYes.
CH And if they passed an ordinance
saying there will be prayer in school
every morning from now on, one of
two things would happen: it would
be overthrown in no time by all the
courts, with barrels of laughter heaped
over it, or people would say: “Very
well, we’re starting with Hindu prayer
on Monday.” They would regret it
so bitterly that there are days when
I wish they would have their own way
for a short time.
RDOh, that’s very cheering.
CH I’m a bit more worried about the extreme,
reactionary nature of the papacy now. But that
again doesn’t seem to command very big alle-
giance among the American congregation. They
are disobedient on contraception, flagrantly;
on divorce; on gay marriage, to an extraordi-
nary degree that I wouldn’t have predicted; and
they’re only holding firm on abortion, which,
in my opinion, is actually a very strong moral
question and shouldn’t be decided lightly. I feel
very squeamish about it. I believe that the un-
born child is a real concept, in other words.
We needn’t go there, but I’m not a complete
abortion-on-demand fanatic. I think it requires
a bit of reflection. But anyway, even on that,
the Catholic Communion is very agonised.
And also, [when] you go and debate with them,
very few of them could tell you very much
about what the catechism really is. It’s increas-
ingly cultural Catholicism.
RDThat is true, of course.
CH So, really, the only threat from religious
force in America is the same as it is, I’m afraid,
in many other countries – from outside. And
it’s jihadism, some of it home-grown, but some
of that is so weak and so self-discrediting.
RDIt’s more of a problem in Britain.
CHAnd many other European countries, where
its alleged root causes are being allowed slightly
too friendly an interrogation, I think. Make that
much too friendly.
RD Some of our friends are so worried about
Islam that they’re prepared to lend support to
Christianity as a kind of bulwark against it.
CH I know many Muslims who, in leaving the
faith, have opted to go . . . to Christianity or
via it to non-belief. Some of them say it’s the
personality of Jesus of Nazareth. The mild and
meek one, as compared to the rather farouche,
physical, martial, rather greedy . . .
RDWarlord.
CH . . . Muhammad. I can see that that might
have an effect.
RDDo you ever worry that if we win and, so to
speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would
be filled by Islam?
CHNo, in a funny way, I don’t worry that we’ll
win. All that we can do is make absolutely sure
that people know there’s a much more wonder-
ful and interesting and beautiful alternative.
No, I don’t think that Europe would fill up with
Muslims as it emptied of Christians. Christian-
ity has defeated itself in that it has become a cul-
tural thing. There really aren’t believing Chris-
tians in the way there were generations ago.
RD Certainly in Europe that’s true – but in
America?
CH There are revivals, of course, and among
Jews as well. But I think there’s a very long-
running tendency in the developed world and
in large areas elsewhere for people to see the vir -
tue of secularism, the separation of church and
state, because they’ve tried the alternatives . . .
Every time something like a jihad or a sharia
movement has taken over any country – admit-
tedly they’ve only been able to do it in very
primitive cases – it’s a smouldering wreck with
no productivity.
RDTotal failure. If you look at religiosity across
countries of the world and, indeed, across the
states of the US, you find that religiosity tends
to correlate with poverty and with various
other indices of social deprivation.
CHYes. That’s also what it feeds on. But I don’t
want to condescend about that. I know a lot of
very educated, very prosperous, very thought-
ful people who believe.
RD Do you think [Thomas] Jefferson and
[James] Madison were deists, as is often said?
CH I think they fluctuated, one by one. Jeffer-
son is the one I’m more happy to pronounce
on. The furthest he would go in public was to
incline to a theistic enlightened view but, in his
private correspondence, he goes much further.
He says he wishes we could return
to the wisdom of more than 2,000
years ago. That’s in his discussion
of his own Jefferson Bible, where he
cuts out everything supernatural re-
lating to Jesus.
But also, very importantly, he says
to his nephew Peter Carr in a private
letter [on the subject of belief]: “Do
not be frightened from this inquiry
by any fear of its consequences. If it
ends in a belief that there is no God,
you will find incitements to virtue
in the comfort and pleasantness you
feel in its exercise and the love of oth-
ers which it will procure you.” Now,
that can only be written by someone
who’s had that experience.
RDIt’s very good, isn’t it?
CH In my judgement, it’s an internal reading,
but I think it’s a close one. There was certainly
no priest at his bedside. But he did violate a rule
of C S Lewis’s and here I’m on Lewis’s side.
Lewis says it is a cop-out to say Jesus was a great
moralist. He said it’s the one thing we must not
say; it is a wicked thing to say. If he wasn’t the
Son of God, he was a very evil impostor and his
teachings were vain and fraudulent.
You may not take the easy route here and say:
“He may not have been the Son of God and he
may not have been the Redeemer, but he was
a wonderful moralist.” Lewis is more honest
than Jefferson in this point. I admire Lewis for
saying that. Rick Perry said it the other day.
RDJesus could just have been mistaken.
CH He could. It’s not unknown for people to
have the illusion that they’re God or the Son.
It’s a common delusion but, again, I don’t think
we need to condescend. Rick Perry once said:
“Not only do I believe that Jesus is my personal
saviour but I believe that those who don’t are
going to eternal punishment.” He was chal-
lenged at least on the last bit and he said, “I don’t
have the right to alter the doctrine. I can’t say
it’s fine for me and not for others.”
RD So we ought to be on the side of these fun-
damentalists?
CHNot “on the side”, but I think we should say
that there’s something about their honesty that
we wish we could find.
RDWhich we don’t get in bishops . . .
CH Our soft-centred bishops at Oxford and
other people, yes.
t
“Abortion is a strong moral
question and shouldn’t
be decided lightly”
Christopher Hitchens
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 33
COVER STORY
RD I’m often asked why it is that this republic
[of America], founded in secularism, is so much
more religious than those western European
countries that have an official state religion, like
Scandinavia and Britain.
CH [Alexis] de Tocqueville has it exactly right.
If you want a church in America, you have to
build it by the sweat of your own brow and many
have. That’s why they’re attached to them.
RDYes.
CH [Look at] the Greek Orthodox community
in Brooklyn. What’s the first thing it will do? It
will build itself a little shrine. The Jews – not all
of them – remarkably abandoned their religion
very soon after arriving from the shtetl.
RD Are you saying that most Jews have aban-
doned their religion?
CH Increasingly in America. When you came
to escape religious persecution and you didn’t
want to replicate it, that’s a strong memory.
The Jews very quickly secularised when they
came. American Jews must be the most secular
force on the planet now, as a collective. If they
are a collective –which they’re not, really.
RD While not being religious, they often still
observe the Sabbath and that kind of thing.
CH There’s got to be something cultural. I go
to Passover every year. Sometimes, even I have
a seder, because I want my child to know that
she does come very distantly from another tra-
dition. It would explain if she met her great-
grandfather why he spoke Yiddish. It’s cultural,
but the Passover seder is also the Socratic fo-
rum. It’s dialectical. It’s accompanied
by wine. It’s got the bones of quite a
good discussion in it.
And then there is manifest destiny.
People feel America is just so lucky.
It’s between two oceans, filled with
minerals, wealth, beauty. It does seem
providential to many people.
RDPromised land, city on a hill.
CH All that and the desire for another
Eden. Some secular utopians came
here with the same idea.
Thomas Paine and others all
thought of America as a great new
start for the species.
RDBut that was all secular.
CH A lot of it was, but you can’t get
away from the liturgy: it’s too power-
ful. You will end up saying things
like “promised land” and it can be mobilised
for sinister purposes. But in a lot of cases, it’s
a mild belief. It’s just: “We should share our
good luck.”
RD I’ve heard another theory that, America
being a country of immigrants, people coming
from Europe, where they left their extended
family and left their support system, were alone
and they needed something.
CHSurely that was contained in what I just . . .
RDMaybe it was.
CH The reason why most of my friends are
non-believers is not particularly that they were
engaged in the arguments you and I have been
having, but they were made indifferent by com-
pulsory religion at school.
RDThey got bored by it.
CH They’d had enough of it. They took from
it occasionally whatever they needed – if you
needed to get married, you knew where to go.
Some of them, of course, are religious and
some of them like the music but, generally
speaking, the British people are benignly indif-
ferent to religion.
RD And the fact that there is an established
church increases that effect. Churches should
not be tax-free the way that they are. Not auto-
matically, anyway.
CHNo, certainly not. If the Church has deman -
ded that equal time be given to creationist or
pseudo-creationist speculations . . . any Church
that teaches that in its school and is in receipt
of federal money from the faith-based initia-
tive must, by law, also teach Darwinism and
alternative teachings, in order that the debate
is being taught. I don’t think they want this.
RDNo.
CHTell them if they want equal time, we’ll jolly
well have it. That’s why they’ve always been
against comparative religion.
RD Comparative religion would be one of the
best weapons, I suspect.
CH It’s got so insipid in parts of America now
that a lot of children are brought up – as their
parents aren’t doing it and leave it to the schools
and the schools are afraid of it – with no know -
ledge of any religion of any kind. I would like
children to know what religion is about because
[otherwise] some guru or cult or revivalists will
sweep them up.
RD They’re vulnerable. I also would like them
to know the Bible for literary reasons.
CH Precisely. We both, I was pleased to see,
have written pieces about the King James Bible.
The AV [Authorised Version], as it was called in
my boyhood. A huge amount of English litera-
ture would be opaque if people didn’t know it.
RD Absolutely, yes. Have you read some of the
modern translations? “Futile, said the preacher.
Utterly futile.”
CHHe doesn’t!
RD He does, honestly. “Futile, futile said the
priest. It’s all futile.”
CHThat’s Lamentations.
RDNo, it’s Ecclesiastes. “Vanity, vanity.”
CH“Vanity, vanity.” Good God. That’s the least
religious book in the Bible. That’s the one that
Orwell wanted at his funeral.
RD I bet he did. I sometimes think the poetry
comes from the intriguing obscurity of mis-
translation. “When the sound of the grinding is
low, the grasshopper is heard in the land . . . The
grasshopper shall be a burden.” What the hell?
CH The Book of Job is the other great non-reli-
gious one, I always feel. “Man is born to trouble
as the sparks fly upward.” Try to do without
that. No, I’m glad we’re on the same page there.
People tell me that the recitation of the Quran
can have the same effect if you understand
the original language. I wish I did. Some of the
Catholic liturgy is attractive.
RDI don’t know enough Latin to judge that.
CH Sometimes one has just enough to be irri-
tated.
RD Yes [laughs]. Can you say anything about
Christmas?
CHYes. There was going to be a winter
solstice holiday for sure. The domi-
nant religion was going to take it over
and that would have happened with-
out Dickens and without others.
RD The Christmas tree comes from
Prince Albert; the shepherds and the
wise men are all made up.
CHCyrenius wasn’t governor of Syria,
all of that. Increasingly, it’s secular -
ised itself. This “Happy Holidays” –
I don’t particularly like that, either.
RDHorrible, isn’t it? “Happy holiday
season.”
CHI prefer our stuff about the cosmos.
The day after this interview, I was
honoured to present an award to
Christopher Hitchens in the presence of a large
audience in Texas that gave him a standing
ovation, first as he entered the hall and again at
the end of his deeply moving speech. My own
presentation speech ended with a tribute, in
which I said that every day he demonstrates the
falsehood of the lie that there are no atheists
in foxholes: “Hitch is in a foxhole, and he is
dealing with it with a courage, an honesty and a
dignity that any of us would be, and should be,
proud to muster.” l
Read an extended version of this interview at:
newstatesman.com/subjects/
christopher-hitchens
“Do you ever worry that if
we destroy Christianity,
Islam will fill the vacuum?”
Richard Dawkins
34 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
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A glistening, golden spaceship, with seven
lonely years and billions of miles behind it,
glides into orbit around a ringed, softly hued
planet. A flying-saucer-shaped machine de-
scends through a hazy atmosphere and lands
on the surface of an alien moon, ten times fur-
ther from the sun than the earth is.
Fantastic though they seem, these visions are
not a dream. The Cassini spacecraft and its
Huy gens probe have travelled invisible inter-
planetary highways to the place we call Saturn.
Their successful entry into orbit, the landing of
Huygens on the cold, dark equatorial plains of
Saturn’s moon Titan and Cassini’s subsequent
explorations of the Saturnian environment are
already legend –one act in a mythic saga of high
adventure and deep spiritual yearning that be-
gins and ends with us.
Our tale begins at the dawn of the space age.
We humans have been interplanetary travel -
lers now for over 50 years. In that time, we’ve
explored nearly every corner of the solar sys-
tem. We’ve sent robotic spacecraft to the plan-
ets, all eight of them. Our exploratory ma-
chines have rendezvoused with comets and
landed on asteroids, we now have a spacecraft
on its way to Pluto and – in what I regard as
humanity’s finest hour – we have set foot on
our own moon.
Like wandering pilgrims, our spacecraft have
journeyed far and wide to quench an innate lust
to explore, to survey our cosmic surroundings,
to ensure the future of our progeny and to seek
the answers to questions that have vexed us and
every generation of our ancestors before us:
how is it that our small planet, and our living on
it, came to be? What is the great cosmic theatre
within which life on our planet has unfolded?
And are terrestrial organisms, evolved as we are
from inanimate materials, the only living crea-
tures there are or ever were in the 13.7-billion-
year history of the universe?
At the heart of every scientific voyage, be it
to the planets or to probe the quantum world
of fundamental particles, is the same abiding
quest: to understand the deep connections
joining us to all that surrounds us and to
glimpse our part in the greater whole. A half-
century of travelling the solar system has
rewarded us with insights into the interrelat-
edness and origins of the earth and its sibling
planets and has shown us with unmistakable
clarity exactly what our cosmic setting really is.
Cassini, the joint American/European mis-
sion launched in 1997 to orbit Saturn seven
years later and the latest chapter in our saga,
has done this and more. Its voyage has been
one of hope and daring, an astonishing feat
The ring cycle: an
image taken by the
Cassini spacecraft
in February 2005 of
Saturn with its rings
and three of moons –
Titan, its largest
(far left), its second
largest, Rhea (top)
and bright Enceladus
(furthest right)
t
THE SPACE STORY
New images of the planet Saturn and its rings
inspire awe –and could answer the oldest
question in human history: are we alone?
Adventures in
wonderland
By Carolyn Porco
36 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
of technological skill and mastery. Its
story has been part scientific travelogue, part
metaphor: a long reel of alien scenes and extra-
terrestrial vignettes that have informed and de-
lighted us with startling discoveries and splen-
dour beyond compare, and a metaphor for that
acute, uniquely human hunger to understand
ourselves and the underlying meaning of our
own lives.
A galaxy far, far away
Ten times further from the sun than the earth,
the Saturnian planetary system is so remote
and other-worldly that we might as well have
travelled to a faraway place in orbit around a
distant star in another quadrant of our galaxy.
It is tethered by a giant planet, second in size
only to Jupiter, with a muted but complex at-
mosphere cleaved by ferocious, planet-girding
winds and prone to the episodic eruption of
colossal storms. Saturn hosts an enormous,
resplendent set of rings, wreathing it in a vast
garland of icy rubble, perpetually in motion
and slicing knife-like across the sky directly
above the planet’s equator.
It boasts Titan, a moon the size of the planet
Mercury, with a cold, thick, hazy atmosphere
suffused with simple organic molecules and a
strangely earth-like, geologically diverse surface,
sculpted by wind and rain, girdled by a broad
equatorial belt of dunes and dotted in its polar
regions with lakes and seas of liquid organic
compounds. And it is home to more than 60
other moons, including bright, icy Enceladus.
The south polar terrain of this body, no bigger
than Britain, is shockingly warm and crossed
by deep fissures whose towering jets of fine, icy
particles erupt from salty, organic-rich liquid
water reservoirs below its surface. This thrilling
set of conditions points to a subsurface oasis in
which earth-like prebiotic chemistry – and per-
haps even life itself – may be roosting.
As an interplanetary vehicle bestowed,
through its on-board cameras, with a sense
of sight, Cassini has allowed us to peer into
these exotic realms with an acuity we once
could only dream of. Because we humans are
exquisitely engineered to comprehend visual
stimuli arrayed into two dimensions, images
hold a pre-eminent position in the vocabulary
of human communication.
And Cassini’s images, coming as they do
from across the solar system, have commu -
nicated to us a sense of being there, a sense
of immersion and engagement in a strange,
forbidding environment we could otherwise
only imagine. They have achieved the near-
miraculous, converting the fleeting and indif-
ferent fluctuations of light’s electromagnetic
fields into powerful visceral emotion – an awe-
inspired exaltation at seeing what has never
been seen before.
Look at the images on these pages – only
a fraction of Cassini’s offerings – and immerse
yourself in their grandeur, and you will come to
know the joy and soul-filling sustenance that
discovery and knowing, the scientist’s ken, can
bring. Spectacular phenomena in the atmos-
phere of Saturn, such as the explosive birth of
colossal storms or a giant vortex capping the
planet’s south pole, are seen here in mesmeris-
ing detail and provide a crucial point of com-
parison with our own planet in understanding
the forces driving earth’s atmospheric systems.
Physical mechanisms at work today in Sat-
urn’s rings, which were also key in sculpting
and configuring the early solar system, can be
observed in these images. Small moons, re-
sponsible for keeping the ring gaps in which
they dwell open, are the best windows we have
into the process by which a planet such as
Jupiter, slowly accreting material from the solar
nebula, finally grows large enough to truncate
its own growth by opening and maintaining
a gap along its orbit. Even smaller ring-embed-
ded moonlets can be observed over time drift-
ing back and forth across this disc of icy debris,
mimicking the migratory motions of the plan-
ets across the solar nebula in the very early days
of the solar system.
The surface of Titan, once mysterious and un-
seen, fascinates as you gaze at its geographical
contours and meandering riverbeds and con-
sider its position as the only body today in all
the solar system where, like the early earth, liq-
uid organics are ponded on its surface. Regard
Titan, imagine a long-ago time on our planet
when molecular interactions within pools of
organic compounds eventually led to the origin
THE SPACE STORY
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Left: an artist’s
rendering shows Cassini
passing through jets
of vapour and fine icy
particles erupting from
the south polar terrain
of Saturn’s small moon
Enceladus
Right: a Cassini image
from February 2011
shows a vast northern
storm and Saturn’s
second-largest moon,
Rhea, along with the
planet’s rings (seen
nearly edge on) and
their shadows
Far right, top: while
in the shadow of Saturn,
Cassini captured an
unprecedented image of
a total eclipse of the sun,
and a spellbinding view
of Planet Earth – a mere
dot seen from a billion
miles away
Far right, bottom: part of
a large mosaic of images
of Enceladus, Saturn’s
most fascinating moon,
which harbours an
organic-rich sea of liquid
water beneath its south
polar cap – a potential
source of life
t
THE SPACE STORY
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 37
of terrestrial life, and you’ll immediately com-
prehend the significance of our findings here.
And oh, the wonder you will feel at setting
eyes for the first time on the geysering turmoil
at the south pole of Enceladus, knowing that
therein may possibly lie the most promising,
most accessible locale in orbit around our sun
for unveiling Genesis II: a second origin of living
matter beyond the earth. This possibility alone
has made the toil of more than two decades
on Cassini worth every strain. For, should we
ever discover that life has independently arisen
twice in our solar system, then at that point
we could safely infer that life is not a bug but
a feature of the universe in which we live and
has occurred a staggering number of times
throughout the cosmos during its 13.7 billion
years. And that would be a final answer to prob-
ably the oldest question in human history.
These discoveries and more make clear to
us processes that operate well beyond Saturn,
from the origin of solar systems to the drivers
of meteorology on our own planet, all the way
to the origin and cosmic distribution of life
itself. In this regard, the scope of Cassini’s mis-
sion has been truly universal and its findings
are revolutionary.
Moving image
As I write, Cassini continues to return one phe-
nomenal discovery after another from within
a far-flung planetary system that we have been
privileged to come so intimately to know. And
when it is all done, it will undoubtedly go down
in history as one of the most scientifically pro-
ductive missions that has ever flown.
But in the end, the story of Cassini, like that
of all our interplanetary explorations over the
past five decades, has been a story about longing
– a longing to know ourselves, to finally under-
stand our place in the magnificent scheme of
cosmic evolution. There is one image we have
taken of Saturn that says this so much better
than words ever could – an image that, despite
all the dazzling vistas we have been witness to
over the past seven years, remains Cassini’s
most beloved one. Taken in late 2006, it was a
sight humankind had never seen before –a total
eclipse of the sun seen from beyond Saturn.
Among the striking glories visible in this image
–the unfamiliar appearance of backlit rings, the
refracted visage of the sun seen diamond-like
along the limb of Saturn and the beautiful blue
ring created from the spray exhaled by Ence-
ladus – you can spot, across a billion miles of
interplanetary space, our own planet, earth, as
if nestled in the arms of Saturn’s rings.
There is a powerful emotion that stirs within
us when we catch sight of our small, fragile,
blue-ocean planet as it would be seen by others
in the skies of other worlds. It is that startling
recognition of ourselves, as we’ve never seen
ourselves before, that never fails to move us.
And it moves me to think of evolution. For me,
this is where the astronomer Galileo and the
biologist Charles Darwin come face to face, be-
cause it is an image that was made ultimately
possible by Galileo’s first experiments 400 years
ago, an image that shouts evolution.
I look at this image and see our distant ances-
tors, stepping down from the trees and walking
upright for the first time on to the African sa-
vannahs, pausing to look back at the forest from
which they came. And I look at this image and
I see a species that is unyielding in its pursuit of
knowledge and brave and ardent in its longing
to grasp the meaning and the significance of
its own existence.
Finally, I can’t help but look at this image and
see the very best that humanity has to offer. We
are no doubt the troubled and warlike inhabi-
tants of one insignificant little planet. But we
are also the dreamers, thinkers and explorers
who took this picture – one world clear across
interplanetary space to another. To be so small
and reach so far is what makes us, in the end,
the extraordinary citizens of Planet Earth. l
Carolyn Porco is an American planetary
scientist and the director of the Cassini Imaging
Central Laboratory for Operations in Boulder,
Colorado. For more information, see: ciclops.org
newstatesman.com/subjects/science
The story of Cassini has
been about a longing to
know ourselves
38 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The NS Interview
Carol Ann Duffy, poet
“I used to be called a poetess
–it was stuffy and sexist”
Portrait by Joss McKinley
You have written often on love, and now your
mother’s death. Is all poetry personal?
Poetry is the music of being human, isn’t it? The
poems are the songs we make out of what hap-
pens to us. And the three big things that hap-
pen to us are: falling in love, in my case having
children, and bereavement or loss.
Do you feel that you have a duty of care
to the people you’re writing about?
I don’t think so, because a love poet is always
writing about themselves, even though they
might be celebrating.
Your latest collection is called The Bees. Why?
I’ve loved bees from childhood. When I was
reading what I’d written, I noticed the bee was
appearing as an image, almost unsummoned.
Has the way you write poems evolved?
I started writing early – I was 16 – and my po-
ems were to do with subjects: “This is a poem
about . . .” As I got older I was more interested in
form and the relationship between words.
So what do bees mean to you?
My bees are my poems. It’s how I see poetry, in
the ways that bees gather – they’re very indus-
trious and then they add. I think a good poem is
a gift to the world; it adds something.
Is writing a poem an act of generosity?
Yes, very much so. When I read a wonderful
poem I feel that I’ve been given a way of seeing,
feeling, remembering. That’s true of all the arts.
You feel nourished –as you do with honey.
Are there words or images to which you return?
You’ll find it hard to find a book of mine that
doesn’t have a lot of moon in it. I like to find
metaphors for the moon as a private joke. I don’t
know whether anyone has noticed that.
Your status as Poet Laureate is printed on
the front cover of your new book.
Against my wishes. Showing off, isn’t it?
Are you accustomed to the role now?
I feel more joy about it than I did at the begin-
ning. I’ve loved poetry since childhood, so it’s a
privilege to celebrate that. And I’ve found a way
to be comfortable with being public. I don’t have
to go on Question Time if I don’t want to.
Are strong female poetic voices still rare?
When I published my first book in 1985, I was
still called a poetess – there were very few
women around. It felt stuffy, depressing and
sexist. I remember doing a reading with Patricia
Beer and her sense of having to be the only
woman was such that she didn’t talk to me. But
now we’ve got so many poets who are women:
Alice Oswald, Jo Shapcott, Gillian Clarke, Jackie
Kay –you can go on for ever.
Your father was politically engaged. Are you?
It put me off more than anything. There was
this Celtic male socialist atmosphere around
my childhood, but it seemed to be quite sexist
and argumentative. If anything, it gave me an
aversion to party politics – I was much more
likely to go to my bedroom and read a poem.
Do you feel more involved in politics now?
Not at all. All my political or social thinking
is done through my poems, but [about] issues
I see as moral, not political.
Can a government be guilty of immorality?
Yes. The closure of libraries and the outpricing of
education are immoral. We’re slamming doors
shut to talent. My family was very ordinary.
I went to grammar school and university. I had
all my fees paid and was given £800 a year to
spend and I’m really grateful for it. Someone
like me now would not be going, simple as that.
I think there should be a 50 per cent tax on
every financial transaction. That would sort it.
We need a new politics; the word doesn’t have
a meaning. Which is probably why I resist it.
Would your politics be defined by morality?
Yes, a consensus of morality: what we value,
what kind of country we want to be, what we
want to encourage, treasure and enhance. I also
think that politicians should be made to qualify.
You should spend three years studying for it.
What does God mean to you?
[Long pause.] Well, nothing.
Not even in your convent days?
Up until I was about 12 I suppose I had a Christ-
massy relationship with God. I’ve always felt
that the Christian story is a metaphor for under-
standing certain values, but it wasn’t any more
real than “Hansel and Gretel”.
Do you vote?
Yes, I’ve always voted Labour.
Is there anything you’d like to forget?
No. I quite like remembering.
Was there a plan?
I wanted a child – that was the one thing I al-
ways wanted.
Are we all doomed?
No. This is a time when we are realising there is
change afoot. I’m hoping to go to St Paul’s later.
I might read some poems [to the protesters]. l
Interview by Sophie Elmhirst
newstatesman.com/subjects/interviews
1955 Born in the Gorbals, Glasgow
1971 First poems published in a pamphlet
1977 BA in philosophy from Liverpool
University. Writes two plays while there
1985 Publishes her first collection of poems,
Standing Female Nude
1996 Begins teaching poetry at Manchester
Metropolitan University
2006 Receives the T S Eliot Prize for her
collection of love poems Rapture
2009Is appointed Poet Laureate
DEFINING MOMENTS
40 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The thinker: Obama’s presidency has been marred by a lack of action from a paralysed Congress. But could anyone else have fared better?
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This is an “off-year” in the US electoral cycle.
Some states elect their governors and legisla-
tures in odd-numbered years; most follow the
congressional and presidential election calendar:
in 2010, the Tea Party-inspired Republicans
massacred the Democrats and took control of
the House of Representatives. In 2012, they have
every chance of adding the Senate and White
House, if they can find a presidential candidate
who doesn’t alienate all but the most wild-eyed
of their conservative base – and if the congres-
sional Republicans can avoid being saddled with
responsibility for the economy.
Their aim is to ensure that Barack Obama car-
ries the can for a 9 per cent unemployment rate –
which doesn’t include those who’ve given up
looking for work. Obama wants the blame to fall
on the Republicans’ bloody-minded obstruc-
tion of all his proposals and is berating them
for failing to get people back to work. The fear
is that he’s left it too late. Election results tend
to reflect the state of the economy six months
to a year earlier. Nobody expects an economic
miracle between now and next November.
Common sense remains in short supply on
the national political scene. When yet another
opinion poll announced that the US public
had fallen out of love with its politicians, no-
body was surprised. When it was reported in
October that the approval rating for Congress
had fallen to 9 per cent, there was some sur-
prise, not because the number was so low but
because it was higher than zero. Politicians are
despised by the electorate and the Republicans
are particularly disliked, despite their victories
in the 2010 midterm elections. Voters describing
themselves as “independent” now outnumber
those professing an allegiance. “Disenchanted”
wouldwin by a landslide.
The president’s approval ratings hover in the
low 40 per cent range, below what he needs
for re-election next year. But the only candidate
for the Republican nomination who runs him
close is the former governor of Massachusetts
Mitt Romney, whose own party likes him so
little that he has never got much above a 25 per
cent approval rating from Republican voters.
Polls suggest that Romney will come third place
in the upcoming Iowa caucuses.
Congress is paralysed. The Republicans re-
fuse to act on anything presented by the presi-
dent but they rarely even pass motions of their
own, knowing that they will go nowhere in the
Senate. Occasional indignant flurries of senti-
ment in favour of a “balanced budget” amend-
ment to the constitution result in a vote; that
there won’t be any such amendment is known
to everyone. To describe this as “gridlock” is an
understatement. The problem is institutional
and therefore incurable, as US voters cannot
confront the obvious deficiencies of their con-
stitution – the one thing all Americans wor-
ship. The constitution enjoys the same status
as the Bible and is often confused with it. They
are right to flinch at rewriting the constitution;
countries do this in the wake of war or dicta-
tors, but rarely otherwise. All the same, it is no
accident that, of the 193 members of the United
Nations, the only one that has copied the US
constitution is the Philippines.
A form of parliamentary system is much more
popular. Almost every aspect of the US consti-
tution, from the separation of powers to the
role of the Supreme Court, is a recipe for grid-
lock and the exploitation of the public by sec-
tional interests. A president who needs no help
from Congress in ordering the incineration of
the human race in his role as commander-in-
chief and who has organised the assassination
of Osama Bin Laden and the removal of Colonel
Gaddafi cannot get his modest proposals for
injecting life into an anaemic economy on to
the agenda of either house of Congress.
In the lower house, he is at the mercy of the
Republican speaker, John Boehner – in the US
system not a neutral chairman but the leader of
the majority party – and in the Senate, he is at
the mercy of procedural rules that result in the
Democratic majority being unable to bring up
his proposals unless it can rally 60 votes out
LETTER FROM AMERICA
With the economy in the doldrums, Barack Obama’s best
chance of a second term is by breaking free of the deadening
search for consensus that blights US politics –and hoping
that the Republican Party self-destructs. By Alan Ryan
Give ’em hell,
Barry
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and will be a pushover for an opposition chal-
lenger. Republicans remember Jimmy Carter,
the last Democrat to preside over a period of
economic depression that he couldn’t fix and,
not coincidentally, the last Democrat to be a
one-term president. Ronald Reagan had no idea
how to fix it either, but he exuded an air of “can-
do” confidence and that was enough in 1980.
It’s a high-risk strategy. Another event etched
in the memory of politicians – even those who
were not born at the time – is the 1948 defeat of
Thomas Dewey by Harry Truman. From 1946,
Truman governed with, or against, a Republi-
can majority in both the House and the Senate.
He had inherited the presidency when Roose -
velt died in the spring of 1945 and was thought
to be incompetent. But, running against a “do-
nothing” Congress, he beat the odds and broke
Republican hearts – as well as embarrassing the
Chicago Daily Tribune, which went to press with
the banner headline “Dewey defeats Truman”
shortly before Truman defeated Dewey. The
battle cry of “Give ’em hell, Harry” – shouted
at Truman by a supporter at a speech in 1948 –
stirs the hearts of Democrats to this day.
Obama’s problem is that he isn’t Truman and
in 2008 he ran for president as a candidate who
was above partisanship. Although he wrote an
autobiography entitled The Audacity of Hope,
audacity is not his style. He is a consensus-
builder, and when you are faced with uninhib-
ited hooligans determined to make you look
indecisive, that’s the wrong thing to be.
Playing chicken with the US economy is not a
smart thing to do, but Congress did it in the sum-
mer, when it held hostage an increase in the gov-
ernment’s borrowing authority until the presi-
dent agreed to a programme for reducing the
national debt over the next decade, mostly by
cutting programmes that benefited the worse-
off. Standard & Poor’s lowered the US credit
rating and the public decided that the president
had no backbone and Congress had no sense.
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 43
LETTER FROM AMERICA
of 100 to overcome the minority’s obstruc-
tion. It doesn’t help that Boehner is paralysed
by his inability to keep his Tea Party-backed
rank and file in line and a justified fear that his
second-in-command, Eric Cantor, is only wait-
ing for the right moment to grab his job.
The creators of the constitution 224 years
ago were sure that a government that did noth-
ing was better than a government that did too
much. Before embarking on the Louisiana Pur-
chase, which added 828,000 square miles of
French-held territory west of the Mississippi
to the original 13 states, Thomas Jefferson de-
nounced the idea of an “active executive”. To-
day, anyone used to the way the UK government
dominates proceedings can only stare open-
mouthed at the spectacle of the head of state
and government having to cajole not only the
opposition but members of his own party to al-
low him to progress with his agenda.
The one virtue of this sort of power-dispersing
system is that it forces everyone to search for
consensus. Winston Churchill’s old, unkind
joke about Americans always doing the right
thing but only after exhausting all the alter -
natives reflects how getting to a consensus can
be a very slow process. It is one reason why so
many conflicts end up in court. Where there
is intransigence, as there was in the 1950s and
1960s over the elimination of racial segregation
in the Southern states, it’s almost inevitable that
one side will try to break the logjam by seeking
a ruling that the other is acting unconstitu -
tionally, such as getting “separate but equal”
schools declared to be a violation of the rights of
black students, or as several states are arguing
now over some of the provisions of the health-
care reforms. The Supreme Court has agreed to
hear their arguments in 2012, which will liven
up the presidential race.
The mess we’re in
Progress hangs on the willingness of politicians
to cut deals in the interests of getting a compro-
mise that everyone can live with and that is
arguably in the interests of the population at
large. Among the current problems is the lack
of anything like a consensus on the best way to
wake up the housing market, clean up the fi-
nancial mess and get people back to work. The
greater problem is that the Republican Party
has committed itself to a scorched-earth policy
of opposing anything proposed by President
Obama. The leader of the Republicans in the
Senate, the egregious Mitch McConnell, an-
nounced in 2010 that the “overriding objec-
tive” of Senate Republicans was to ensure that
Obama would be a one-term president.
The strategy is simple. The president is the
only focus of national political attention. Most
Americans can just about identify their own
member of Congress and cannot name most
members of the cabinet – but they do know who
is supposed to be in overall command. If the
president can be frustrated in everything he at-
tempts, he will be seen as weak and ineffectual
The problem for Obama is that Republicans
play chicken more deftly. If you want to per-
suade the driver of the car racing towards you
that you are not going to change course, the
ultimate strategy is to throw the steering wheel
out of the window. The Republican version
was to sign a declaration that under no circum-
stances would they raise taxes. Any reduction
in the government’s deficit must come by cut-
ting expenditure, and as the Republicans won’t
touch the Pentagon’s budget, that entails cut-
ting the deficit by cutting programmes that
benefit the worse-off.
The author of the anti-tax declaration is a lob-
byist and activist called Grover Norquist, whose
professed ambition is to shrink government
until it’s small enough to “drown in a bathtub”.
Politicians routinely break their campaign prom-
ises, and so one might think that it’s no big deal
to have signed Norquist’s piece of paper. This
overlooks the realities. Because almost every
seat in Congress is “safe” for one or the other
party, the real threat to an incumbent comes
from inside his own party. When the ideologi-
cal temperature rises, small numbers of enthu-
siasts, if well funded and given access to local
television channels to run negative ads, can turf
out an incumbent in a primary election. It hap-
pened in 2010, notably in Alaska, Florida and
Delaware. In Delaware, the Tea Party managed
to reject Mike Castle, a competent former gov-
ernor and congressman, in favour of Christine
O’Donnell, whose financial problems and all-
round flakiness ensured that she lost the actual
election by a landslide. Castle would have won.
Obama’s supporters have always hoped that
he would call the Republicans’ bluff. He has a
powerful weapon ready to hand. Many of the
country’s economic problems – the size of its
national debt and continuing budget deficits –
stem from George W Bush’s reckless reductions
in income-tax rates in 2001 and 2003; they were
due to expire at the end of 2010 if Obama did
nothing. He wanted to preserve the lower tax
rates for the worse-off and let them expire for
the better-off. When the Republicans insisted
on keeping the lower rates for the best-off, he
blinked. Offered the chance to explain to the
country that everyone was going to be worse
off because the Republican Party had been
bought lock, stock and barrel by the less than
1 per cent of the population that makes more
than half a million dollars a year, he turned it
down. If anything stiffens his backbone between
now and November 2012, it will be the success
of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters are the
most disillusioned. He hasn’t closed Guantan -
amo Bay and he has continued Bush’s foreign
policies and made no progress on a Palestinian
peace deal. He has bailed out bankers, failed
to pursue the malefactors who brought down
the banking system and allowed the cost of
sorting out the mortgage mess to fall on hard-
up homeowners, not the mortgage companies.
Public intellectuals such as the philosopher
Anyone but: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail
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IMMIGRANT NATIONS
Paul Scheffer
“An important, ambitious book...and a damn good read too.”
Financial Times
“Arguably the best study in many years of the effects that mass immigration has had on the countries and
cities of western Europe and north America.”
European Voice
13 May 2011 – 300 pages
978-0-7456-4962-7 paperback – £19.99
THE LOST MICHELANGELOS
Antonio Forcellino
“As much a story about the intransigence of the art establishment and the gaps in its tradition-bound
methods for considering authentication claims as it is about the ultimate fate of the painting itself.”
New York Times
“An unlikely and rather miraculous piece of art history.”
Bay Area Reporter
27 May 2011 – 180 pages
978-0-7456-5203-0 hardback – £18.99
THE STRANGE NON-DEATH OF NEOLIBERALISM
Colin Crouch
“A highly approachable and illuminating argument in political economy.”
The Guardian
“The most important work on the political economy of modern capitalism since Keynes, Kalecki and
Schonfield.”
Philippe C. Schmitter, European University Institute
24 June 2011 – 224 pages
978-0-7456-5221-4 paperback – £14.99
CULTURE IN A LIQUID MODERN WORLD
Zygmunt Bauman
“Acerbic interpretations of a long-contested word.”
Steven Poole, The Guardian
One of the most brilliant and influential social thinkers of our time retraces the peregrinations of the
concept of culture and examines its fate in a world marked by the powerful new forces of globalization,
migration and the intermingling of populations.
14 June 2011 – 144 pages
978-0-7456-5355-6 – £12.99
new from polity
Available now from all good bookshops
politybooks.com
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 45
LETTER FROM AMERICA
Cornel West who thought that Obama would
usher in an era of “prophetic” politics, giving
a fresh impetus to the fight for social justice,
feel betrayed; West has spent two nights in jail
recently for protesting with the Occupy Wall
Street movement.
All of which makes it very odd that next year’s
elections, both presidential and congressional,
can’t be taken for granted. This autumn’s poli-
tics has been enlivened by the Republicans’
search for a plausible candidate. The consensus
is that they will end up nominating Romney
but that they would prefer almost anyone else;
the trouble is that everyone else rises briefly to
the top of the polls and then self-destructs.
The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, came to
the front with a reputation for political savvy,
then stumbled on questions about Pakistan at
a debate and revealed that he thought that the
voting age was 21. It has been 18 for two decades.
Herman Cain, boss of the Godfather pizza
chain, who leaped ahead of Romney with a
mixture of folksy charm and simple economic
nostrums, found former employees coming
out of the woodwork to accuse him of sexual
harassment, and suspended his campaign. Now
Newt Gingrich is occupying the “anyone but
Romney” slot. How a serial adulterer who led
the Republicans to catastrophic defeats came
to appeal to socially conservative evangelical
Christians is a mystery that baffles all. Nobody
supposes the Gingrich bounce can last.
This leaves Romney, who sets records for
smooth mendacity surprising even in US poli-
tics. He advertises himself as a businessman but
the business was the management consultancy
Bain, where he made a lot of money by showing
clients how to make firms private with lever-
aged buyouts that seem to have done Bain more
good than the firms and the owners far more
good than their workers. Far from creating jobs
in the US, Bain’s speciality was outsourcing.
In any case, Romney has been a full-time pro-
fessional politician for the past 15 years. Being
governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts
doesn’t rate highly as a job qualification with
members of the Tea Party and he has been en-
gaged in a wholesale reinvention exercise.
Being a Mormon may help – anyone who can
believe what members of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-Day Saints are supposed to be-
lieve should find it simple to entertain contra-
dictory views on just about anything.
Formerly in favour of same-sex marriage and
“pro-choice” on abortion, he is now against
both. He created a health-care system in Massa -
chusetts that was the model for Obamacare;
he now says either that it was a mistake or that
it’s not like what Obama did. It has emerged
that when he left office he spent $100,000 de-
stroying documents. You can see why “anyone
but Romney” might appeal to voters with even
a modest liking for honesty and consistency.
The one glimmer of political intelligence this
autumn has come from the Occupy Wall Street
movement. Its positive views are inscrutable;
but it has done what the respectable media and
organisations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts
have failed to do: make the public aware of the
extent to which the economic growth of the past
30 years has gone to the wealthiest 1 per cent of
the population. It may even have given Obama
the confidence to go after the Republicans for
being ready to sacrifice the 99 per cent to their
multimillionaire paymasters.
There is still a long way to go. A Pew report
showed that self-delusion is alive and well:
Americans believe that the US is uniquely open
to talent and hard work and that social mobility
is greater in the US than anywhere in the world.
The truth is that the US and the UK have lower
social mobility than almost all other advanced
industrial societies. Yet almost 40 per cent of the
population also believe that they are, or within
a year will be, part of the top 1 per cent. Like
any other religious conviction, faith in the great
American myth is impervious to mere facts. l
Alan Ryan is a lecturer at Princeton University
and a former warden of New College, Oxford
The one glimmer of
intelligence has come from
Occupy Wall Street
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46 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
Science occasionally uncovers truths that are
too counterintuitive or unpalatable for us to ac-
cept. The solution to the problem of “free will”
is a truth of this kind. That many scientists still
consider the question open has nothing to do
with the limits of our knowledge: rather, it rep-
resents a collective failure of intellectual nerve.
Free will is an illusion. The conscious “self”
is not the origin of its thoughts, perceptions,
emotions and intentions. In each moment, we
simply do not know why we think or behave
as we do. Our wills are not of our own making.
We have known this for the better part of a cen-
tury, and yet many scientists continue to speak
as though human thought and behaviour were
primordial mysteries around which the laws of
nature must bend.
The reticence of scientists on this subject
is understandable: if we were to dispense fully
with the idea of free will, it would precipitate
a culture war far more belligerent than has been
waged on the topic of evolution. Unlike many
other academic questions, free will is central to
most people’s conception of themselves and
touches almost everything that they value –
personal relationships, moral responsibility,
law, politics, religion, public policy, and so on.
Abandoning this notion seems to destabilise
our thinking in all these areas at once.
Without freedom of will, sinners and crimi-
nals would be just poorly calibrated clockwork,
and any conception of justice that emphasised
their punishment (rather than their deterrence,
rehabilitation, or mere containment) would
seem deeply incongruous. And those of us
who work hard and follow the rules would not
“deserve” our success in any deep sense. People
tend to find these conclusions intellectually and
ethically abhorrent.
But, in fact, free will is more than an illusion
(or less), in that it cannot even be rendered co-
herent conceptually. Either our wills are deter-
mined by prior causes, and we are not responsi-
ble for them, or they are the product of chance,
and we are not responsible for them. If a man’s
“choice” to shoot the president is determined
by a certain pattern of neural activity, and this
neural activity is in turn the product of prior
causes – perhaps an unfortunate coincidence
of bad genes, an unhappy childhood and bom-
bardment by cosmic rays – what can it possibly
mean to say that his will is “free”? No one has
ever described a manner in which mental and
physical events could arise that would attest to
the existence of such freedom. Most illusions
are made of sterner stuff than this.
In physical terms, every human action is re-
ducible to a totality of impersonal events merely
propagating their influence; genes are tran-
scribed, neurotransmitters bind to their recep-
tors, muscle fibres contract, and John Doe pulls
the trigger on his gun. But, for our common-
sense notions of human agency to hold, our ac-
tions cannot be merely lawful products of our
biology, our conditioning, or anything else that
might lead others to predict them.
Quantum leap
Consequently, some scientists and philoso-
phers insist that the indeterminacy of quantum
processes, at the level of the neuron or its con-
stituents, could yield a form of mental life that
would stand free of the causal order. Yet such
speculation is pointless – for an indeterminate
world, governed by chance or quantum proba-
bilities, would grant no more autonomy to hu-
man beings than a roulette wheel would, if one
could be installed inside the brain. In the face
of any real independence from prior patterns,
every gesture would seem to merit the state-
ment, “I don’t know what came over me.”
Chance events are precisely those for which we
can claim no responsibility.
And yet, even though we can find no room
for it in the causal order, the notion of free
will is still accorded a remarkable deference in
the scientific and philosophical literature, even
by those who believe that the mind is entirely
dependent on the workings of the brain. How-
ever, the truth is that free will doesn’t even cor-
respond to any subjective fact about us, for in-
trospection soon grows as hostile to the idea as
the equations of physics have. Apparent acts of
volition merely arise, spontaneously (whether
caused, uncaused or probabilistically inclined,
it makes no difference), and cannot be traced to
FIRST PERSON
All of our behaviour can be traced to biological
events about which we have no conscious
knowledge. By Sam Harris
The free will
delusion
Left, or right, or centre? We seduce ourselves into
thinking that we make firm, rational choices
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 47
a point of origin in the stream of consciousness.
A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and
you might observe that you decide the next
thought you think no more than you decide the
next thought I write.
All of our behaviour can be traced to biologi-
cal events about which we have no conscious
knowledge. In the 1980s the neurophysiologist
Benjamin Libet demonstrated that activity in
the brain’s motor regions can be detected some
300 milliseconds before a person feels that he
has decided to move. Another lab recently used
functional magnetic resonance imaging data to
show that some “conscious” decisions can be
predicted up to ten seconds before they enter
awareness (long before the preparatory motor
activity detected by Libet). Clearly, findings of
this kind are difficult to reconcile with the
sense that one is the conscious source of one’s
thoughts and actions.
For better or worse, these truths about hu-
man psychology have political implications,
because liberals and conservatives are not
equally confused about them. Liberals usually
understand that every person represents a con-
fluence of forces that he did not will into being
– and we can be lucky or very unlucky in this re-
spect. Conservatives, however, have made a re-
ligious fetish of individualism.
Many seem to have absolutely no awareness
of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything
in life, no matter how hard one works. One
must be lucky to be able to work. One must be
lucky to be intelligent and physically healthy
and not to have been bankrupted in middle age
by the illness of a spouse.
The disparities in human luck are both
morally relevant and harrowing to contem-
plate. If I had been born with the brain, body
and experience of Ted Bundy, I would have
been Ted Bundy – a serial killer put to death for
his crimes. There is no extra part of me that
could have resisted taking his path in life. Even
if there is an immortal soul lurking in my brain,
my will would acquire no more autonomy in
the presence of ectoplasm. Any man who
comes into this world with the soul of a serial
killer is unlucky indeed.
Consider the biography of any “self-made”
man, and you will find that his success was
entirely dependent on background conditions
that he did not make, and of which he was
merely a beneficiary. There is not a person on
earth who chose his genome, or the country of
his birth, or the political and economic condi-
tions that prevailed at moments crucial to his
progress. And yet, living in America, I get the
distinct sense that if I asked the average con -
servative why he wasn’t born with club feet,
or why he wasn’t orphaned before the age of
five, he would not hesitate to take credit for
these accomplishments.
If you have struggled to make the most of
what nature gave you, you must still admit
your ability and inclination to struggle is part
of your inheritance. How much credit does a
person deserve for not being lazy? None at all.
Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condi-
tion. Of course, conservatives are right to think
that we must encourage people to work to the
best of their abilities and discourage free riders
wherever we can. And it is wise to hold people
responsible for their actions when treating
them this way influences their behaviour and
brings benefit to society.
But this does not require that we endorse the
cognitive illusion of “free will”. We need only
acknowledge that efforts matter and that peo-
ple can change. We cannot change ourselves,
precisely, but we continually influence, and are
influenced by, the world around us.
Choices, choices
The illusoriness of free will doesn’t render
the choices we make in life any less important.
As my friend Daniel Dennett has pointed out,
many people confuse determinism with fatal-
ism. This gives rise to questions such as, “If
everything is determined, why should I do any-
thing? Why not just sit back and see what hap-
pens?” That our choices depend on prior causes
does not mean that they do not matter. If I had
not decided to write this article, it wouldn’t
have written itself. My choice to write it was
unquestionably the primary cause of its coming
into being. Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals
and willpower are causal states of the brain,
leading to specific behaviours, and behaviours
lead to outcomes in the world. Human choice,
therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will
believe. But the next choice you make will, nev-
ertheless, come out of the darkness of prior
causes that you, the conscious witness of your
experience, did not bring into being.
It seems only decent at this moment of per-
vasive economic hardship and inequality to
concede how much luck is required to succeed
in this world. Those who have been especially
lucky – the smart, healthy, well connected and
rich – should count their blessings, and then
share some of these blessings with the rest of
society. Unfortunately, a belief in free will of-
ten stands in their way. l
Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and the author of
“The Moral Landscape” (Bantam Press, £20)
newstatesman.com/subjects/philosophy
THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY
What do debutante balls, the Japanese
tea ceremony, Ponzi schemes and doubting
clergy all have in common?
The social cell
By Daniel Dennett
50 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY
A
single cell, such as a bacterium,
is the simplest thing that can be
alive. In addition to the materials
from which it is constructed, it
needs three features: a way of cap-
turing energy (a metabolism), a
way of reproducing (genes or something like
genes) and a membrane that lets in what needs
to come in and keeps out the rest.
Converging lines of research from various
schools in biology agree on these three necessi-
ties, but there is substantial unresolved contro-
versy about the order in which they must have
emerged at the origin of life. If the history
of evolutionary biology continues along the
paths it has followed so far, it is likely that the
solution to this problem will prove to be some
ingenious and indirect process of chance com-
binations and gradual refinements, in which
metabolism-like cycles and reproduction-like
processes joined forces with non-living mem-
branes that were already floating around, objets
trouvés that could be appropriated and ex-
ploited. Whatever their origins, the resulting
designs have now been refined and optimised
for more than three billion years and have
proven remarkably hardy. Not only are such
single cells the most abundant form of life on
the planet, but all living things, from trees to
fish to human beings, are constructed of them,
harnessed by the trillions into co-operating
multicellular teams.
Cells may be the simplest life forms on the
planet – even the simplest possible life forms –
but their inner workings, at the molecular level,
are breathtakingly complex, composed of thou-
sands of molecular machines, all of them inter-
acting to provide the cell with the energy it
needs to build offspring and maintain its mem-
brane. Echoes of the design wisdom embodied
in this very effective machinery can be found in
human culture, which is dazzlingly complex,
too, composed as it is of about seven billion
interacting people, with their traditions, lan-
guages, institutions, occupations, values and
economies. Some cultural phenomena bear a
striking resemblance to the cells of cell biology,
actively preserving themselves in their social
environments, finding the nutrients they need
and fending off the causes of their dissolution.
Consider four unrelated species of social cell
that share some interesting features. What do
the Japanese tea ceremony, debutante parties,
Ponzi schemes and many Christian churches
have in common? They are all variations of an
insidiously effective social mechanism that:
1) thrives on human innocence, and
2) nobody had to design, and
3) is threatened with extinction by the rising
tide of accessibility to information.
Like bacteria, as we shall see, they have – and
need – metabolisms, methods of reproducing,
and membranes, yet there is no need to suppose
that these shared features arose from a common
ancestor, nor even that the features of one of
them inspired copying by the other. Wherever
there is a design that is highly successful in a
broad range of similar environments, it is apt
to emerge again and again, independently – the
phenomenon known in biology as convergent
evolution. I call these designs “good tricks”.
For instance, flight has evolved independently
at least four times, in insects, birds, pterosaurs
and mammals, and vision has evolved more of-
ten than that.
Seeing and flying are very good tricks, for ob-
vious reasons. It is also obvious that human cul-
ture has its own roster of good tricks: bows and
arrows, boats, writing and the wheel, to name
a few. (It is not known if the wheel has been in-
vented many times or just once, with all later
wheels being copies of some original wheel, the
brainchild of the mythic inventor of the wheel –
and it doesn’t matter! Almost certainly wheels
would have appeared eventually one place or
another.) The typical if tacit assumption is that
these good tricks were independently rein-
vented by intelligent designers among our an-
cestors, and although this may sometimes have
been true – we will probably never know – it is
quite possible that they arose in the same way
the good tricks of biology did: by mindless
processes of differential reproduction in which
understanding of what was going on was at a
minimum, if not zero.
Let us consider the four cultural phenomena,
chosen for their relative simplicity and vivid-
ness from a much larger array of possibilities, to
see how this might have happened.
The Japanese tea ceremony is a set of traditions
that has accrued over at least a millennium, and
now consists of a considerable range of formal
ceremonies, varying with the season and with
the station of the participants, composed of
highly elaborate and scrupulously observed
rituals of greeting, preparation, serving, clean-
ing of the utensils, formulaic comments on the
quality of the tea and so forth, all conducted
either in a tea-house built for that purpose or in
a specially furnished tearoom.
The neophyte participant in a tea ceremony
dutifully complies, silent and respectful, like
a visitor at a religious service, though the cere-
mony is not specifically religious – unless you
define religion in such a way that ceremoniously
eating foie gras or caviar also counts as a sacra-
ment of sorts. Some people, after all, are said to
worship fine wine.
A quick glance at biology invites us to ask the
following question: why hasn’t the Japanese tea
ceremony become extinct? What has sustained
it over so many centuries? The system must in
some sense keep reproducing itself, ensuring
a supply of new officiants to serve as hosts and
new participants to serve as guests, and main-
taining and replacing all the exquisite equip-
ment used. It requires a lot of energy to keep
going. What is its metabolism and how does it
work? The Japanese tea ceremony exploits the
human desire for status and influence in order
to raise the money to capture the energy, and has
evolved an elaborate developmental programme
for enlisting and training new hosts who can
eventually reproduce their own schools (with
mutations) for training yet another generation
of hosts, and so on, all of this within the kind of
protective shell that can readily be constructed
and defended in a stratified society.
Young girls – and some boys as well – from
financially comfortable families are readily in-
duced to enrol, at considerable expense, in
“circles” that train them to perform the rituals.
It is – or has been for a long time – a path to
high status. The cultural virtues of obedience
and respect for one’s elders, together with a
standard helping of youthful naivety, tend to
ensure a ready supply of ideally compliant and
attentive initiates allowed inside the gates.
At first, as apprentices, they watch quietly,
memorising the rituals, inculcating in them-
selves the ideals, while their parents pay for the
operating expenses. Some of them graduate
to higher stages, each tier of students educating
the lower tier, with the prospect held out of
rising to the status of teacher, at which point
the energy flow – the money – turns around.
Teachers earn a living, but only a few climb that
high up the pyramid. And teachers have their
own pyramid to climb: associations of circles
that in effect compete for prestige with other
circles. Once you’re enrolled in the system,
there is a strong incentive not to criticise or
rebel: we’re all in this boat together – don’t
rock it. It doesn’t matter that much whether
the initiates continue to believe in the tea cere-
mony as an important part of life. They are all
committed to a trajectory with high costs of
leaving and some promise of future benefits.
Cultural phenomena bear
a striking resemblance
to cell biology
Go forth and multiply: bacteria thrive by replication
C
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 51
THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY
No doubt many of the participants – including
the parents paying the bills – feel trapped, but
keep their feelings to themselves. Do you want
to be an insider or an outsider? The difficulty
in answering that question creates the semi-
permeable membrane that preserves the ma-
chinery. As Japanese society becomes less
stratified, more homogenised, the contrast has
become less effective.
Notice that this account remains silent about
the value of the Japanese tea ceremony. It may,
like university education, be helping both soci-
ety and the individual in all manner of ways.
It may be nurturing the arts, instilling virtues,
preserving knowledge and wisdom, stabilising
the mores of society – or it may have had, but
lost, these roles over time. It may survive today
as a sort of self-perpetuating parasitical growth
that reproduces itself because it can. It seems on
the face of it, however, to be a benign –mutual-
ist, not parasitic –element of society.
C
an the same be said for the debu-
tante ball or cotillion, which has
occupied much the same niche in
the US, especially in the South? If
you are rich enough, and arriviste,
you want your daughters to “come
out” to society, and expend considerable effort
and sums of money manoeuvring into position
to accomplish this initiation. If your family
arrived generations ago, you may still feel the
pressure to preserve your position in society
by participating in the prolonged and expen-
sive rituals, something you might think you
owed to your daughters, however ungratefully
they respond to the pressure.
A look at the website of the National League
of Junior Cotillions (nljc.com) shows much the
same structure as the Japanese tea ceremony:
“chapters” in place of “circles”, a hierarchy of
volunteers, assistants and (paid) instructors,
and – most interestingly – a “strong emphasis
on volunteerism, patriotism and involvement
in community activities”. Biologists know
that you can infer much about the dangers in
an organism’s environment by studying its
defences, which have been crafted to protect
it from the most salient challenges. The entire
debutante tradition is threatened by the spread-
ing opinion that it is a superannuated cultural
parasite, so it is sporting its good-works over-
coat, instead of a mink stole, to protect its high
status, on which its life depends.
It is important to remember that there is very
little inertia in culture; an art form or practice
(or language or institution) can become extinct
in a generation if its elements aren’t assidu-
ously reproduced and reproduced. Not so
many years ago, most city newspapers in the
US devoted an entire section to “Society” and
covered the ceremonies of debutantes with the
same respectful care still accorded weddings
and funerals. Today’s coverage tends to make
note of the diminishing numbers of debutantes
taking part, and often has the same snarky tone
of amusement and withheld approval that dis-
tinguishes Hollywood gossip – except that
the people named are not celebrities. Farewell,
debutantes, except in Texas, where they will no
doubt hold out for another decade or two.
Ponzi schemes share the pyramidal entry
structure. They are obviously parasitic invad -
ers, benefiting neither the individuals entrapped
nor the society in general. Charles Ponzi (1882-
1949) did not invent the scheme (and neither
did Charles Dickens, who describes one in
Martin Chuzzlewit), but Ponzi may have added
a few wrinkles and hence, to some degree, may
deserve the authorial recognition.
How does a Ponzi scheme get started? It
doesn’t have to be born in villainy, though it
always ends up there. An eager and sincere
entrepreneur with what he takes to be a good
idea raises the initial capital in good faith and
then finds his project running into unantici-
pated snags. But there is an informational lag
that lets the investors keep coming in, and this
provides fresh energy – money – to expend in
protecting the whole project by providing a
dividend to the early investors. The rules forbid
this, but . . . can’t we bend them just a bit to get
through the storm and keep this wonderful
project afloat?
A gradual and unalarming entry on to a slip-
pery slope is often a good trick, found in nature
and in culture. It is relied on by the pitcher plant
and other insectivorous plants, which do not
have to comprehend the rationale of their de-
sign to benefit from it. Ponzi schemes, and even
their proprietors, can also take advantage of
this design feature without understanding it.
Those schemes that have it thrive; the others
do not. Ponzi schemes do, however, have to
be composed, unlike plants, of parts – human
agents –which understand quite a lot. All these
social cells depend critically on language-using,
comprehending people. Language is the main
medium of interaction, but also of reproduc-
tion. Words play a foundational role rather
like that of genes and, like genes, they are
highly effective transmitters of information
that similarly evolved without a helping hand
from any intelligent designers. (Words are the
pre-eminent vehicles of cultural transmission
and evolution.)
So language and comprehension are an es-
sential part of the workings of social cells, but
here is a surprising twist: it is very important
in each case that the participants not under-
stand too much. It is not just that the invention
and refinement of these social cells do not
depend on any intelligent designer; it is that
the cells’ effective operation depends on the
relative cluelessness –or innocence –of the par-
ticipants. The membrane that restricts infor-
mation flow is just as important as the mem-
brane that restricts entry of outsiders, precisely
because inside the barrier there are participants
who are capable of understanding that infor-
mation, information that can quickly trans-
form them into outsiders. Bacteria don’t have
to worry about the disillusionment of their
motor proteins, willing slaves that do so much
of the heavy lifting. For social cells, this is a big
ecological challenge.
Money, not social prestige, is the bait that at-
tracts people to Ponzi schemes, but once you’re
caught, you encounter the same pressure not
to blow the whistle, because it would destroy
the gains you have accumulated. And perhaps
the anticipated shame of becoming known as
a dupe is more motivating than the prospect of
financial loss, or the dishonour of being consid-
ered a philistine or a social outcast, in the case
of the Japanese tea ceremony or the debutante
cotillion. These are all strong inducements. The
extended success of Bernie Madoff shows that
it is still possible for a Ponzi scheme to thrive
for some time, in large measure because it ex-
ploits networks of trust –a fine feature of a soci-
ety – and politeness – a fine endowment of in-
dividuals – to circumvent the requirements of
due diligence that would otherwise expose the
fraud. It is no accident that it is typically good,
honest people (a bit greedy, maybe, but other-
wise trustworthy and trusting) who are lured
into Ponzi schemes.
N
ow what about religions? They,
too, thrive on the goodness of
people. For the past few years,
Linda LaScola, a clinical social
worker, qualitative researcher
and psychotherapist, and I have
been investigating the curious, sad phenome-
non of closeted non-believing clergy – well-
meaning, hard-working pastors who find they
do not believe the creed of their denomination,
but also find that they cannot just blow the
whistle and abandon the pulpit. We knew that
many churchgoers have lost whatever faith
they had but continue their membership for
social and psychological reasons, and surmised
that there might be clergy who were similarly
attached to their church. What is it like to be a
non-believing pastor? We found some exam-
ples who were willing to tell us, and are now
completing a second survey of volunteers.
We want to know, ultimately, how this hap-
pens, and how common it is. It is apparently
not rare – nobody knows what percentage of
clergy fall into this category, not surprisingly.
Our first study reported on five pastors in dif-
ferent Protestant denominations, who were in-
terviewed in depth and in strict confidence by
LaScola. Because it was published electronically
(on the website On Faith) and under the head-
line “Preachers who are not believers” (Evolu-
tionary Psychology, volume eight, issue one),
this first pilot study has received considerable
attention and brought us a host of new volun-
teers for our ongoing research.
There are many paths into this predicament,
we find, but a common thread runs through
most of them: a certain sort of innocence and
a powerful desire, not for social prestige or
riches, but rather the desire to lead a good life, t
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 53
THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY
to help other people as much as possible. The
tragic trap is baited with goodness itself.
Here is how it often works: teenagers glow-
ing with enthusiasm decide to devote their
lives to a career of helping others and, looking
around in their rather sheltered communities,
they see no better, purer option than going into
the clergy. When they get to seminary they
find themselves being taught things that no-
body told them in Sunday school. The more
they learn of theology and the history of the
composition of the Bible, the less believable
they find their creed. Eventually they cease to
believe altogether. But, alas, they have already
made a substantial commitment in social capi-
tal – telling their families and communities
about their goals – so the pressure is strong to
find an accommodation, or at least to imagine
that if they hang in there they will find one.
Only a lucky few find either the energy or the
right moment to break free. Those who don’t
break free then learn the tricks of the trade, the
difference between what you can say from the
pulpit and what you can say in the sanctum of
the seminary, or in your heart. Some, of course,
are unfazed by this.
One can be initiated into a conspiracy with-
out a single word exchanged or without a secret
handshake; all it takes is the dawning realisation,
beginning in seminary, that you and the others
are privy to a secret, and that they know that
you know, and you know that they know that
you know. This is what is known to philoso-
phers and linguists as mutual knowledge, and
it plays a potent role in many social circum-
stances. Without any explicit agreement, mu-
tual knowledge seals the deal; you have no right
to betray this bond by unilaterally divulging it,
or even discussing it. A social membrane is made
of such stuff, and it can make a prison for any-
body inside who wishes to get out.
Like reluctant debutantes or privately suspi-
cious Ponzi victims, they button their lip for an
abundance of good reasons. (Redundancy is al-
ways a good trick; it allows a collection of indi-
vidually porous defences to overlap into a nearly
impregnable shield.) Historically, pastors have
had slender economic resources, and if they live
in a parsonage they build up no equity in real
estate. Hanging on until the kids are out of col-
lege and one can collect one’s meagre pension is
an option that can look better than making an
honest dash for the door. But a tentative finding
of our study so far is that the economic incen-
tive to hang on is sometimes of less importance
than the social and psychological factors. As
one of our pastors says, “I’m thinking if I leave
the church – first of all, what’s that going to do
to my family? And I don’t know. Secondly is,
I have zero friends outside the church. I’m kind
of a loner.” And what about telling his wife?
“It’s going to turn her life upside down.”
So pastors tend to stay put and search for ways
of protecting their conscience from the pangs
of hypocrisy. Redoubling one’s efforts to take
good care of one’s flock is probably a frequent
effect, and hence it could be one of the side
benefits of this system, a bonus that could al-
most pay for itself by turning its shepherds
into goodness slaves. Guilt is a potent enzyme
in many social arrangements, and has been es-
pecially promoted in religions.
Religions changed more in the past century
than they changed in the previous two millen-
nia, and probably will change more in the next
decade or two than in the past century. The
main environmental change, as many have
suggested, is the sudden increase in informa-
tional transparency. Religions were beautifully
designed over millennia to work in circum-
stances in which the people within them could
be assumed to be largely ignorant of much that
was outside the membrane.
Now that mobile phones and the internet have
altered the epistemic selective landscape in a
revolutionary way, every religious organisation
must scramble to evolve defences or become
extinct. Much has been made of the growing
attention to religion in the world, and this has
often been interpreted as a revival, an era of ex-
panding religiosity, but all the evidence points
away from that interpretation. The fastest-
growing religious category worldwide is no re-
ligion at all, and the increasing noise we hear is
apparently due to the heightened expenditure
of energy by all the threatened varieties in their
desperate attempts to fend off extinction.
What will the various religions evolve into?
That is hard to say, because evolution is a pro -
cess that amplifies unpredictable accidents into
trends and then novel structures. But there are
patterns in how this plays out, and if we examine
the good tricks that religions have evolved over
the millennia, we may be able to see what new
applications are in the offing.
Are these biologically inspired reflections
on religion offensive? They discuss topics that
many people would rather leave unexamined,
but, unlike most earlier criticisms of religion,
they do not point a finger of blame. It doesn’t
take conniving priests to invent these cultural
contraptions, any more than it took a devious
social engineer to create the Japanese tea cere-
mony, or debutante cotillions, no matter how
resentful and trapped some of the participants
in those traditions may feel. Just as there is no
Intelligent Designer to be the proper recipient
of our gratitude for the magnificent biosphere
we live in, there need be no intelligent design-
ers to be the proper targets of our anger when
we find ourselves victimised by social cells.
There are, to be sure, plenty of greedy and
deceitful people, who often rise to power in any
of these organisations, but if we concentrate on
hunting the villains down, we misdirect our
energies. The structures can arise quite inno-
cently out of good intentions and gradually
evolve into social mechanisms that perpetuate
themselves quite independently of the inten-
tions and values of their constituent parts, the
agents who bustle about inside them executing
the tasks that keep the whole going.
We need to look dispassionately at possibili-
ties that can illuminate – and might eventually
eliminate – some serious sources of suffering
in the world. Once we appreciate the necessity
of metabolism, reproduction and protective
membranes for social cells as much as for pro-
tein-based cells, we can see more clearly the ef-
fects that novel environmental factors are likely
to have on the prospects for these phenomena.
Will the Japanese tea ceremony morph into
something different in order to stay alive, or will
the recent destratifications of Japanese society
lead to the disintegration of the membrane that
has protected the ceremony for a millennium?
What will replace debutante balls, and will the
niche be taken over by a descendant species of
social cell, or by another phenomenon entirely?
Ponzi schemes are probably harder to sustain
now, and a few minor changes in the flow of in-
formation around such phenomena may make
them all but impossible – though who knows
what entity will invade that niche.
The parallels I have noted do not suggest any-
thing like a Law of Nature, nor is there any good
reason to believe that all social phenomena are
reducible to social cells. Societies are complex in
more ways than colonies of bacteria are. What
does shine through is a principle of good design.
Darwin showed us that the secret of life is the
differential reproduction of effective designs for
fending off dissolution. When we approach so-
cial phenomena with the same spirit of reverse
engineering, we find a bounty of insights that
can help us plan intelligently for the future. l
Daniel Dennett is a philosopher and cognitive
scientist and a professor at Tufts University
One can be initiated into
a conspiracy without
a word being exchanged
No question of faith: observant against the odds
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THE NS ESSAY
Our strange need for dividing lines, black-and-white answers
and absolute definitions leads to unhelpful distortions of reality.
If we could accept life’s natural grey areas we would be far better able
to calculate risk and comprehend the world we inhabit
The tyranny of the
discontinuous mind
By Richard Dawkins
Photography by Maja Daniels
54 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
What percentage of the British population
lives below the poverty line? When I call that
a silly question, a question that doesn’t deserve
an answer, I’m not being callous or unfeeling
about poverty. I care very much if children
starve or pensioners shiver with cold. My ob-
jection – and this is just one of many examples –
is to the very idea of a line: a gratuitously manu-
factured discontinuity in a continuous reality.
Who decides how poor is poor enough to
qualify as below the “poverty line”? What is
to stop us moving the line and thereby chang-
ing the score? Poverty/wealth is a continuously
distributed quantity, which might be measured
as, say, income per week.
Why throw away most of the information
by splitting a continuous variable into two dis-
continuous categories, above and below the
“line”? How many of us lie below the stupidity
line? How many runners exceed the fast line?
How many Oxford undergraduates lie above
the first-class line?
Yes, we in universities do it, too. Examina-
tion performance, like most measures of hu-
man ability or achievement, is a continuous
variable, whose frequency distribution is bell-
shaped. Yet British universities insist on pub-
lishing a class list in which a small number of
students receive first-class degrees, a lot obtain
Seconds (sometimes divided into Upper and
Lower Seconds) and a few get Thirds.
That might make sense if the distribution
had three or four peaks with deep valleys be-
tween, but it doesn’t. Anybody who has ever
marked an exam knows that the bottom of one
class is separated from the top of the class be-
low by a small fraction of the distance that sep-
arates it from the top of its own class. This fact
alone points to a deep unfairness in the system
of discontinuous classification.
Examiners go to great trouble to assign a score,
perhaps out of 100, to each exam script. Scripts
are double- or even triple-marked by various
examiners, who may then argue the nuances
of whether an answer deserves 55 or 52 marks.
Marks are scrupulously added up, normalised,
transformed, juggled and fought over. The final
marks that emerge, and the rank orders of stu-
dents, are as richly informative as conscientious
examiners can achieve. But then what happens
to all that richness of information? Most of it is
thrown away, in reckless disregard for all the
labour and nuanced deliberation and adjusting
that went into the great addition sum. The stu-
dents are bundled into three or four discrete
classes, and that is all the information that pen-
etrates outside the examiners’ room. t
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 55
Danse macabre: for those who argue that life begins at conception, identical twins present a problem. When the fertilised egg splits, which half gets the soul?
56 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
THE NS ESSAY
Cambridge mathematicians, as one might
expect, finesse the discontinuity and leak the
rank order. It became informally known that
Jacob Bronowski was “Senior Wrangler” in his
year, Bertrand Russell the Seventh Wrangler
in his year, and so on. At other universities, too,
tutors’ testimonials may say such things as,
“Not only did she get a First: I can tell you in con-
fidence that the examiners ranked her number 3
of her entire class of 106 in the university.” That
is the kind of information that counts in a letter
of recommendation. And it is that very informa-
tion that is wantonly thrown away in the offi-
cially published class list.
First-class mind
Perhaps such wastage of information is inevit -
able, a necessary evil. I don’t want to make too
much of it. What is more serious is that there
are some educators – dare I say especially in
non-scientific subjects – who fool themselves
into believing that there is a kind of Platonic
ideal called the “first-class mind’ or “alpha
mind”, a qualitatively distinct category, as dis-
tinct as female is from male, or sheep from goat.
This is an extreme form of what I am calling the
discontinuous mind. It can probably be traced
to the “essentialism” of Plato – one of the most
pernicious ideas in all history.
For legal purposes, say, in deciding who can
vote in elections, we need to draw a line be-
tween adult and non-adult. We may dispute
the rival merits of 18 versus 21 or 16, but every-
body accepts that there has to be a line, and the
line must be a birthday. Few would deny that
some 15-year-olds are better qualified to vote
than some 40-year-olds. But we recoil from the
voting equivalent of a driving test, so we accept
the age line as a necessary evil. Yet perhaps
there are other examples where we should be
less willing to do so. Are there cases where the
tyranny of the discontinuous mind leads to ac-
tual harm, cases where we should actively rebel
against it? Yes.
There are those who cannot distinguish a
16-cell embryo from a baby. They call abortion
murder and feel righteously justified in com-
mitting real murder against a doctor – a think-
ing, feeling, sentient adult, with a loving family
to mourn him. The discontinuous mind is blind
to intermediates. An embryo is either human or
it isn’t. Everything is this or that, yes or no, black
or white. But reality isn’t like that.
For purposes of legal clarity, just as the 18th
birthday is defined as the moment of getting the
vote, it may be necessary to draw a line at some
arbitrary moment in embryonic development
after which abortion is prohibited. But person-
hood doesn’t spring into existence at any one
moment: it matures gradually, and it goes on
maturing through childhood and beyond.
To the discontinuous mind, an entity either
is or is not a person. The discontinuous mind
cannot grasp the idea of half a person, or three-
quarters of a person. Some absolutists go right
back to conception as the moment when the
person comes into existence – the instant the
soul is injected – and so they believe that all
abortion is murder by definition. The instruc-
tion “Donum Vitae” from the Catholic Congre-
gation for the Doctrine of the Faith says:
From the time that the ovum is fertilised, a
new life is begun which is neither that of the
father nor of the mother; it is rather the life
of a new human being with his own growth.
It would never be made human if it were not
human already. To this perpetual evidence . . .
modern genetic science brings valuable
confirmation. It has demonstrated that,
from the first instant, the programme is fixed
as to what this living being will be: a man,
this individual-man with his characteristic
aspects already well determined. Right
from fertilisation is begun the adventure
of a human life . . .
It is amusing to tease such absolutists by
confronting them with a pair of identical twins
(they split after fertilisation, of course) and
asking which twin got the soul, which twin is
the non-person, the zombie. A puerile taunt?
Maybe. But it hits home because the belief that
it destroys is puerile, and ignorant.
“It would never be made human if it were
not human already.” Really? Are you serious?
Nothing can become something if it is not that
something already? Is an acorn an oak tree?
Is a hurricane the barely perceptible zephyr
that seeds it? Would you apply your doctrine
to evolution, too? Do you suppose there was a
moment in evolutionary history when a non-
person gave birth to the first person?
If a time machine could serve up to you your
200 million greats grandfather, you would eat
him with sauce tartare and a slice of lemon. He
was a fish. Yet you are connected to him by an
unbroken line of intermediate ancestors, every
one of whom belonged to the same species as
its parents and its children. “I’ve danced with a
man/Who’s danced with a girl/Who’s danced
with the Prince of Wales”, as the song goes.
I could mate with a woman, who could mate
with a man, who could mate with a woman
who . . . after a sufficient number of steps into
the past . . . could mate with ancestral fish and
produce fertile offspring.
To invoke our time machine again, you prob-
ably could not mate with Australopithecus (at
least not produce fertile offspring) but you are
connected to Australopithecus by an unbroken
chain of intermediates who could interbreed
with their neighbours in the chain every step
of the way. And the chain goes on backwards,
unbroken, to that Devonian fish and beyond.
On the way, about six million years into the
past, we would encounter the ancestor we share
with modern chimpanzees. It so happens that
the intermediates, like the common ancestor
itself, are all extinct. But for that (perhaps fortu-
nate) fact, we would be connected to modern
chimpanzees by an unbroken chain of inter-
marrying links, and not just intermarrying
but interbreeding – producing fertile offspring.
There would be no clear separation between
Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes. The only
way to maintain our human-privileging laws
and morals would be to set up courts to decide
whether particular individuals could “pass for
human”, like the ludicrous courts with which
apartheid South Africa decided who could
“pass for white”.
And naturally the argument extends to any
pair of species you care to name. But for the
extinction of the intermediates that connect
human beings to the ancestor we share with
pigs (it pursued its shrew-like existence 85 mil-
lion years ago in the shadow of the dinosaurs),
and but for the extinction of the intermediates
that connect the same ancestor to modern pigs,
there would be no clear separation between
Homo sapiens and Sus scrofa. You could breed
with X who could breed with Y who could
breed with (. . . fill in several thousand interme-
diates . . .) who could produce fertile offspring
by mating with a sow.
Fixing Florida
Human beings are clearly separable from chim-
panzees and pigs and fish and lemons only be-
cause the intermediates that would otherwise
link them in interbreeding chains happen to be
extinct. This is not to deny that we are different
from other species.
We certainly are different and the differences
are important – important enough to justify eat-
ing them (vegetables are our cousins, too). But
it is a reason for scepticism of any philosophy or
theology (or morality or jurisprudence or poli-
tics) that treats humanness, or personhood, as
some kind of essentialist absolute, which you
either definitely have or definitely don’t have.
Youwouldeat your
ancestor with sauce
tartare. He was a fish
t
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. W
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V
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False lines: why is Colin Powell described as “black”?
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 57
THE NS ESSAY
If your theology tells you that human beings
should receive special respect and moral privi-
lege as the only species that possesses a soul,
you have to face up to the awkward question of
when, in human evolution, the first ensouled
baby was born. Was it when the first Homo
sapiens baby was born to parents belonging to
whatever species is considered to be our imme-
diate predecessor (erectus, ergaster, heidelber-
gensis, rhodesiensis, no matter, the argument
stands regardless)? There was no such baby.
There never was a “first” Homo sapiens.
It is only the discontinuous mind that insists
on drawing a hard and fast line between a
species and the ancestral species that birthed it.
Evolutionary change is gradual – there never
was a line, never a line between any species and
its evolutionary precursor.
In a few cases the intermediates have failed to
go extinct, and the discontinuous mind is faced
with the stark reality of the problem. Herring
gulls (Larus argentatus) and lesser black-backed
gulls (Larus fuscus) breed in mixed colonies in
western Europe and don’t interbreed. This de-
fines them as good, separate species. But if you
travel in a westerly direction around the north-
ern hemisphere and sample the gulls as you go,
you find that the local gulls vary from the light
grey of the herring gull, getting gradually
darker as you progress around the North Pole
until, when you go all the way round to western
Europe again, they have darkened so far that
they “become” lesser black-backed gulls.
What’s more, the neighbouring populations
interbreed with each other all the way around
the ring, even though the ends of the ring, the
two species we see in Britain, don’t interbreed.
Are they distinct species or not? Only those
tyrannised by the discontinuous mind feel
obliged to answer that question. If it were not
for the accidental extinction of evolutionary
intermediates, every species would be linked
to every other by interbreeding chains.
Where else do we see the tyranny of the
discontinuous mind? Colin Powell and Barack
Obama are described as black. They do have
black ancestors, but they also have white ances-
tors, so why don’t we call them white?
The complication here is the weird conven-
tion that the descriptor “black” behaves as the
cultural equivalent of a genetic dominant. Gre-
gor Mendel, the father of genetics, crossed wrin-
kled and smooth peas and the offspring were
all smooth: smoothness is “dominant”. When
a white person breeds with a black person their
child is intermediate but is often described as
“black”; the cultural label is transmitted down
the generations like a dominant gene. This per-
sists even to cases where, say, one out of eight
great-grandparents was black and it may not
show in skin colour. It is the racist “contamina-
tion” metaphor of the “touch of the tarbrush”.
Our language is ill-equipped to deal with
a continuum of intermediates. Just as people
must lie above or below the poverty “line”, so
we classify people as “black” even if they are
intermediate. When an official form invites us
to tick a “race” or “ethnicity” box, I recommend
crossing it out and writing “human”.
In US presidential elections, every state (ex-
cept Maine and Nebraska) has to end up labelled
either Democrat or Republican, no matter how
evenly divided the voters in that state might be.
Each state sends to the Electoral College a num-
ber of delegates which is proportional to the
population of the state. So far, so good. But the
discontinuous mind insists that all the delegates
from a given state have to vote the same way.
This “winner takes all” system was shown
up in all its fatuousness in the 2000 election
when there was a dead heat in Florida. Al Gore
and George Bush received the same number
of votes as each other, the tiny, disputed differ-
ence being well within the margin of error.
Florida sends 25 delegates to the Electoral Col-
lege. The Supreme Court was asked to decide
which candidate should receive all 25 votes (and
therefore the presidency). Given that it was a
dead heat, it might have seemed reasonable
to allot 13 votes to one candidate and 12 to the
other. It would have made no difference whether
Bush or Gore received the 13 votes: either way,
Gore would have been president.
I am not saying the Supreme Court should
have decided to split the Florida delegates.
They had to abide by the rules, no matter how
idiotic. I would say that, given the lamentable
constitutional rule that the 25 votes had to be
bound together as a one-party block, natural
justice should have led the court to allocate the
25 votes to the candidate who would have won
the election if the Florida delegates had been
divided pro rata, namely Gore.
Reds and blues
Yet that is not the point I am making here. My
point here is that the winner-takes-all idea of an
electoral college in which each state has an indi-
visible block of members, either all Democrats
or Republicans, no matter how close the vote,
is a shockingly undemocratic manifestation of
the tyranny of the discontinuous mind. Why is
it so hard to admit that there are intermediates,
as Maine and Nebraska do? Most states are nei-
ther “red” nor “blue” but a complex mixture.
Scientists are called upon by governments, by
courts of law, and by the public at large, to give a
definite, absolute, yes-or-no answer to impor-
tant questions such as those involving risk.
Whether it’s a new medicine, a new weedkiller,
a new power station or a new airliner, the scien-
tific “expert” is peremptorily asked: “Is it safe?
Answer the question! Yes or no?”
In vain the scientist tries to explain that safety
and risk are not absolutes. Some things are safer
than others, and nothing is perfectly safe. There
is a sliding scale of intermediates and probabili-
ties, not hard-and-fast discontinuities between
safe and unsafe. That is another story and I have
run out of space. But I hope I have said enough
to suggest that the summary demand for an ab-
solute yes-or-no answer, so beloved of journal-
ists, politicians and finger-wagging, hectoring
lawyers, is yet another unreasonable expres-
sion of a particular kind of tyranny, the tyranny
of the discontinuous mind. l
Read our guest editor Richard Dawkins’s
leader column on page 3
newstatesman.com/subjects/science
When asked to tick an
“ethnicity” box, cross it
out and write “human”
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 59
What is the point of science? It is a question
that gets asked in many contexts, from students
struggling through science A-levels to govern-
ments struggling with decisions on where to
spend limited public funds. Science is the dis-
covery of knowledge about ourselves and the
world around us. It is about improving health
and the quality of life, securing sustainability
and protection of the environment, contribut-
ing to culture and enhancing our civilisation.
It should be at the heart of society.
All of this sounds high-minded and such
arguments would probably not convince the
Treasury in a time of austerity. Yet science has
fared better than other areas when it comes to
public spending, and for good reason – it is a
driver for the economy. Should UK science
breathe a sigh of relief and be thankful that cuts
were not deeper? No, because the sector is the
best bet for fuelling economic growth.
Britain’s science sector is one of the world’s
best, providing the base to promote innovation
and commercialisation here, giving us a sounder
economy built on high-end manufacturing and
design, rather than just on financial services.
The government seems to understand this,
but lacks the courage of its convictions. In his re-
cent autumn statement, George Osborne made
repeated reference to the importance of science
and engineering in rebalancing the economy
towards sustainable, innovation-based growth.
But this is stifled by the short-term thinking
that is so often the obsession of governments
aware of a forthcoming election. We spend
roughly 1.8 per cent of our GDP on science. The
Americans spend about 2.7 per cent; the South
Koreans spend 3 per cent. Between 1989 and
2009 the UK went from being fifth in terms of
producing patents in the US to eighth – South
Korea went from nowhere to third.
A flat-cash settlement for funding the work
of our scientists in the last spending review, in-
creases in tax credits on research and develop-
ment and occasional one-off injections of capital
spending, including £200m in the Chancellor’s
autumn statement (though still not replacing
the £360m a year that was cut from the science
capital budget in the Comprehensive Spending
Review), are all OK. But what about some real
vision? We cannot hope to compete in the long
term if our competitors are investing more than
we do in research and development.
The government spent £76bn on shares in
RBS and Lloyds, more than ten times the an-
nual science budget. Surely we would be better
served by making strategic investment decisions
with such money – look at what we are good at
and invest heavily in it. What would it cost to
fund the work of the 100 best scientists in Britain
and give them the freedom to innovate?
Cash cow
It’s not just about the money. The UK has not
always been great at turning ideas into cash. In
the early 1950s British companies such as Fer-
ranti were at the forefront of developing com-
puters, in the 1960s we made the first pocket
calculator, and many people’s first experience of
home computing was with the Sinclair ZX80
in the 1980s – but where is our IBM or Apple?
Go further back, however, and you find one of
Britain’s greatest success stories. It was when
scientists, engineers, industrialists, social re-
formers and others got together to share and
discuss ideas that we had the Industrial Revolu-
tion. It is that same interactive atmosphere that
will help drive innovation and growth today.
We need to shed our straitjackets. We need
greater teamwork, covering not only more sci-
entific disciplines but also activities outside
science that are important for innovation and
commercialisation, including finance, market
analysis and the law. It requires effort to get in-
dividuals from diverse backgrounds to work
well together. We have too many barriers that
encourage suspicion between the very people
who need to be working closely together. And
where are the scientists and engineers on the
boards of our big companies or in government?
Let’s promote greater permeability, starting
with the young. Let’s give them wider intellec-
tual exposure during higher education and their
research training. They need a wider range of
placements early in their career, with easy ex-
changes between sectors at all career stages.
We also need to make sure that we have the
raw materials: the brains. Science is riding a
wave of popularity at present but the wave is
still small. For instance, the sciences are becom-
ing more popular at A-level – those studying bi-
ology, chemistry and physics are up 5, 10 and 13
per cent, respectively, over the past five years –
yet still too many students turn away. We need
an education system that inspires wonder, prac-
tical science in labs or outdoors, and we need
specialist science teachers in every school.
The UK has scientific strength. To maintain
and capitalise on this will require better educa-
tion, with science ingrained into other walks
of life and both the government and industry
showing that they are brave enough to step up
their investment. Rather than writing to Father
Christmas this year, I’m sending my wish-list
to David Cameron and George Osborne. l
Paul Nurse is a Nobel Prize-winning biologist
and the current president of the Royal Society
COMMENTARY
Science could drive growth in Britain, but it
needs more support to succeed, says Paul Nurse
The vision
thing
A sense of wonder: pupils in Alperton, north-west London, learn about gases by trying to catch bubbles
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Politics
1 Theresa May made the
false claim that an illegal
immigrant had been
allowed to stay in the UK
based on the ownership
of which animal?
a Rabbit
bDog
c Cat
dRacehorse
2 Jack Straw was accused
of stereotyping after
suggesting that some men
of Pakistani origin saw
white girls as what?
a “Complete idiots”
b“Easy meat”
c “There for the taking”
d“Caucasian temptresses”
3 What did Christine
Hemming steal from the
house of her Lib Dem MP
husband John’s mistress?
a A DVD player
bA pot plant
c A kitten
dLingerie
4David Cameron
told which MP,
“Calm down, dear”?
a Angela Eagle
bHarriet Harman
c Nadine Dorries
dDiane Abbott
5 Oliver Letwin was caught
disposing of government
documents in a bin in
which London park?
a Green Park
bHyde Park
c St James’s Park
dRegent’s Park
6The former council
candidates Bill and Star
Etheridge resigned from
the Conservative Party
after posing on Facebook
doing what?
a Kissing an English
Defence League poster
bMaking fun of the
disabled
c Wearing matching
Nazi armbands
dHolding golliwog dolls
7 Which minister said
“feminism has trumped
egalitarianism” and
led to middle-class
women holding back
working-class men?
a Michael Gove
bEd Vaizey
c Iain Duncan Smith
dDavid Willetts
8Alan Johnson resigned
as shadow chancellor
over what?
a “A lack of the right
know-how”
b“My growing dislike
of Labour’s direction”
c “Personal issues”
d“To attend to my
constituency”
International affairs
1 What was the reason
reportedly given by the
North Korean dictator,
Kim Jong-il, for not
choosing his middle
son, Kim Jong-chol,
as his successor?
a “Too short”
b“Too western”
c “Too effeminate”
d“Too stupid”
2 Which single word
appeared to have sunk
the bid of the Texas
governor, Rick Perry,
for the Republican
presidential nomination?
a “Dang”
b“Oops”
c “Yikes”
d“Sugar”
3 What was the code
name of the US navy Seals
operation that resulted in
Osama Bin Laden’s death?
a Apache
bNeptune Spear
c Mermaid Dawn
dIndigo
4What is the stage
name of the belly dancer
Karima el-Mahroug,
the “heart stealer” at the
centre of underage sex
allegations concerning
Silvio Berlusconi?
a Myra
bCassandra
c Ruby
dSalome
5 Norway took China
to the World Trade
Organisation over its
boycott – allegedly
in retaliation for Liu
Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace
Prize – of which
Norwegian export?
a Christmas trees
bKnitwear
c Ski equipment
dSalmon
6Denmark’s first female
prime minister, Helle
Thorning-Schmidt, is the
daughter-in-law of which
British politician?
a Neil Kinnock
bJohn Prescott
c David Steel
dPaddy Ashdown
7 Michael Sata, the new
president of Zambia,
previously worked
in which job at Victoria
train station in London?
a Ticket vendor
bPlatform cleaner
c Burger King worker
dSecurity guard
8In November, US
Congress defied logic
when it declared which
of the following to be
a “vegetable”?
a Pepper-flavoured nachos
bFried mozzarella sticks
c Canned spaghetti
dFrozen pizza
THE NS QUIZ
From Cheryl Cole to Steve
Jobs via Tahrir Square: have
you kept up with the year’s
events? Test yourself here . . .
Question
time
Compiled by
Olav Bjortomt
Illustration by Henrik Pettersson
9Who assumed office
as the first president of
South Sudan?
a John Garang
bRiek Machar
c Salva Kiir
dMusa Hilal
10Tahrir Square became
a magnet for protests in
Egypt. What does its
name mean?
a Victory
bBattle
c Patriot
dLiberation
11 Who was spotted
wearing a “burkini” on
Bondi Beach, Sydney,
in April?
a Liz Hurley
bNigella Lawson
c Sophie Dahl
dKate Winslet
Home affairs
1 Which philosopher
founded and became
the first master of the
£18,000-a-year New
College of the Humanities
in London?
a A C Grayling
bJohn Gray
c Simon Blackburn
dDerek Parfit
2 A cheese shop in Lyme
Regis produced two
Cheddars to mark the
royal wedding. One was
called “Congratulations
Wills and Kate”. What
was the name of the
other, which sold eight
times faster?
a “Sod the Wedding –
It’s a Day Off”
b“Stinking Archbishop
of Canterbury”
c “I’d Rather Feign
Nonchalance and
Wash My Hair”
d“Better Tasting Than the
Royal Wedding Cake”
3 According to the Women
on Boards inquiry, led by
Lord Davies of Abersoch,
approximately what
percentage of FTSE-250
companies have no female
directors on their board?
a 15 per cent
b35 per cent
c 50 per cent
d60 per cent
4Which son
of rock royalty
was sentenced
to 16 months in
prison for violent
disorder during
the student riots in
London in 2010?
a Charlie Gilmour
bOtis Ferry
c Marlon
Richards
dJames Page, Jr
5 A Freedom
of Information
request made
by the Labour MP
David Lammy revealed
that which Oxford
college had not admitted
a single black student
in five years?
a Hertford
bOriel
c Merton
dWorcester
6What was the estimated
total cost of this year’s
UK census?
a £66m
b£482m
c £903m
d£2.35bn
7 What is the name of
the DIY paternity testing
kit that Boots started
selling for £30 a pop?
a AssureDNA
bUtheDaddy?
c CertainX
dPaterPura
8Which of these
universities announced
that it would not be
charging the maximum
amount (£9,000) for
tuition fees?
a Aston
bLancaster
c Leeds Metropolitan
dSurrey
9Which creature was the
victim of an air-rifle killing
spree in Somerset?
a Red squirrel
bBadger
c Cat
dSwan
10What is the average
property value of Victoria
Road, Kensington – the
most expensive street in
England and Wales?
a £2.1m
b£4.9m
c £6.4m
d£7.3m
11 Which 144-year-old
furniture store in Croydon
was burned down in the
riots in August?
a House of Reeves
bHeal’s
c Maples
dSCP
Online
1 Which of these events
led to a record-breaking
8,868 tweets per second?
aOsama Bin Laden’s death
bJapanese tsunami
c Beyoncé’s pregnancy
dFinal Harry Potter film
2 What did the Narrative
Tracker software used
by the Global Language
Monitor show to be
the most used word in
English on the internet
and in print during 2011?
a Occupy
bDeficit
c Spring
dWedding
3 “Can-a muh fukkasay
fuck on here?” Whose
debut tweet?
a Quentin Tarantino
bSpike Lee
c Samuel L Jackson
dIce Cube
4In April, what percentage
of British nine-to-12-year-
olds was said to have a
profile on a social
networking website?
a 28 per cent
b43 per cent
c 51 per cent
d75 per cent
5 Who became the first
celebrity to amass ten
million Twitter followers?
a Justin Bieber
bBarack Obama
c Ashton Kutcher
dLady Gaga
Arts
1 Which film director was
banned from the Cannes
festival for his apparently
pro-Nazi remarks?
a Roman Polanski
bLars von Trier
c Werner Herzog
dOliver Stone
2 New York magazine
described which Broadway
show as “confusing,
distracted, ridiculously
slick, shockingly
clumsy, unmistakably
monomaniacal and
clinically bipolar”?
a Ghost the Musical
bWar Horse
c The Motherf**ker
With a Hat
dSpider-Man: Turn
Off the Dark
3 Which Egyptian
artist was shot dead
by security forces
in Cairo in the early days
of the Arab spring?
a Ahmed Basiony
bNader Sedek
c Adam Henein
dKhaled Hafez
4Which Monty Python
member revealed that he
turned down a Lib Dem
peerage in 1999 because
living in England through
winter was “too much
of a price to pay”?
a John Cleese
bTerry Gilliam
c Michael Palin
dTerry Jones
5 What was the global
box-office take of the
video game Call of Duty:
Modern Warfare 3 on its
first day of release?
a $50m
b$100m
c $200m
d$400m
Television
1 Which TV show topped
a government-compiled
list of “healthy” children’s
programmes because
the characters are always
“walking on short
journeys”?
a The Flintstones
bTeletubbies
c Scooby-Doo
dIn the Night Garden
2 David Dimbleby was
accused of being a prima
donna for refusing to
attend weekly Question
Time production meetings
in which city?
a Cardiff
bSalford
c Glasgow
dLeeds
3 The Dalai Lama appeared
on which country’s version
of Masterchef but refused
to judge any of the dishes
he was served because it
was against his principles?
a Australia
bUK
c US
dIndia t
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 61
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The Journal offers national, regional and
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4Downton Abbeyhas
turned which country
house into a tourist
attraction?
a Rufford Abbey
bHighclere Castle
c Stratfield Saye
dChastleton House
5 Which Jamie’s Dream
School teacher was told,
“You’re a prick, mate” by
a member of his GCSE
class named Angelique?
a Alastair Campbell
bSimon Callow
c David Starkey
dDaley Thompson
6How long did Cheryl
Cole last as an X Factor
USAjudge before she
was dumped for Nicole
Scherzinger?
a Six days
bA fortnight
c Three weeks
dOne month
Media
1 What did Sally Bercow
wear for a photo shoot
that accompanied the
Evening Standard feature
“Sex and the city”?
a Bedsheet
bDressing gown
c Labour Party T-shirt
dImitation Speaker’s cloak
2 In a letter to Richard
Desmond, proprietor
of the Daily Star, the
reporter Richard Peppiatt
resigned in protest over
which problem with
the newspaper?
a Obsession with
Big Brother
bAnti-Muslim
propaganda
c Only one in
three stories he
wrote was true
dIncreasing
nudity
3 Which magazine
named George
Osborne Politician
of the Year, only
for the Chancellor
to make a “wanker”
joke that the host
David Mitchell said
“lowered the tone”
of the awards ceremony?
a Esquire
bMonocle
c FHM
dGQ
4In late April, who spoke
of his “embarrassment”
at using a superinjunction
to protect his family’s
privacy and suppress
details of an affair?
a Jeremy Clarkson
bAndrew Marr
c Fred Goodwin
dRyan Giggs
5 Rupert Murdoch shut
down News of the World
after it had enjoyed how
many years of publication?
a 102
b129
c 147
d168
6Who was ridiculed
for writing a column
entitled “The caring
professions? They just
don’t seem to care at all”,
after the NHS failed to
give her the right jabs
for a trip to Somalia?
a Sandra Parsons
bLiz Jones
c Suzanne Moore
dJan Moir
Books
1 Whose crime novel
Death Comes to
Pemberleyused the
characters of Pride
and Prejudice six
years after the
conclusion of Jane
Austen’s book?
a Ruth Rendell
bFrances Fyfield
c P D James
dVal McDermid
2 A study revealed
that the average
British household
has up to how many
unread books, with
Pride and Prejudice
among the most popular
but not read titles?
a 20
b40
c 60
d80
3 Which author described
the royal family as a bunch
of “philistines” before
moving to New York?
a Martin Amis
bV S Naipaul
c Alan Hollinghurst
dIan McEwan
4David and Victoria
Beckham named their
first daughter in honour
of which novelist?
a Virginia Woolf
bHarper Lee
c Jane Austen
dLouisa May Alcott
Sport
1 Why was the England
rugby player Manu
Tuilagi fined £3,000,
following the World
Cup defeat by France?
a He was filmed cavorting
with strippers
bHe started a training-
ground brawl
c He jumped off a ferry
in Auckland
dHe “disrespected” a
chambermaid
2 After being named the
man of the tournament
at the cricket World Cup,
which Indian left-hander
lent his voice to the
superhero in the
computer-animated
film Captain India?
a Sachin Tendulkar
bM S Dhoni
c Virender Sehwag
dYuvraj Singh
3 Which organisation
was described by the
reporter Andrew
Jennings as nothing
but an “organised
crime family”?
a Fifa
bInternational
Olympic Committee
c London 2012
committee
dUefa
Who said what?
1 Who did Nick
Hewer of The
Apprentice say
“has the weakest
handshake in western
Europe”?
a Nick Clegg
bEd Miliband
c David Cameron
dAlan Sugar
2 Cherie Blair said that
Tony still excites her –
but how?
a With “his commitment
to Middle East peace”
bIn “all possible ways”
c By “surprising me
with his energy”
d“Pretending he’s still
prime minister”
3 To whom did David
Cameronapologise, after
saying that their campaign
was “like a blind man,
in a dark room, looking
for a black cat”?
a The McCanns
bHillsborough
victims’ relatives
c 38 Degrees organisers
dKeep Britain Tidy
4Writing in this
magazine, who said:
“We are being committed
to radical, long-term
policies for which no
one voted”?
a Rowan Williams
bKen Livingstone
c Gordon Brown
dCharles Kennedy
5 Whose last words
were: “Oh, wow.
Oh, wow. Oh, wow”?
a Elizabeth Taylor
bJoe Frazier
c Jimmy Savile
dSteve Jobs l
Answers on page 92
newstatesman.com
THE NS QUIZ
19 DECEMBER 2011 | NEW STATESMAN | 63
Perspectives on Energy
Can we get off carbon by 2040?
We have limited reserves of fossil fuels.
In principle at least, there is international
agreement that we need to move off carbon
and on to renewable energy sources. Yet there
is still great debate about how this can be
achieved. Although they provide 18 per cent of
electricity generation worldwide, renewables’
share of electricity has struggled to keep pace
with overall demand growth for power.
The term “renewables” refers to electricity
that comes from naturally replenished
resources such as sunlight, wind and
geothermal heat. It can also refer to biofuels
and hydrogen. In theory, if methods of turning
these into energy are perfected, we need never
face another fuel crisis.
So, what’s the problem? One criticism often
levelled at wind and solar power is that they
are variable or intermittent. There are also “not
in my backyard” concerns relating to the visual
impact of wind turbines. In the UK, planning
laws can be a hindrance to increasing the use
of wind turbines. On the other hand, there are
benefits to local generation, as it contributes to
the flexibility of the system and its resistance
to central shocks.
Methods of storage are still expensive,
and in these austere times there is a risk that
investment in improving the technology
around renewable energy will not be given
priority. However, there is a strong argument
in favour of boosting what Nick Clegg has
called “the green economy” as a way to tackle
climate change and to create jobs.
Renewable energy usually gets cheaper
with time, even as we see fossil fuels getting
more expensive. A report by the International
Energy Agency this year was optimistic
about this cost-reduction trend for the
sector continuing, arguing that, increasingly,
renewable energy presents “investment
opportunities without the need for specific
economic support”.
It would benefit the planet, and not just the
world economy, if effort were put into making
renewables viable for the future. l
For more information on Perspectives go to:
newstatesman.com/energy
It would benefit the
planet, not just the world
economy, if renewables
became viable
Renewables
THE EXPERT
“We have to move
from talk to walk

Jeremy Rifkin, economist, writer,
political adviser and activist
Supported by
How urgent is climate change?
Scientists say we could see a 70 per cent wipe-
out of all life on this planet by the end of the
century. Climate change is the energy bill for
two centuries of industrial-based carbon activ-
ity. We need a new economic vision and game
plan. We have to get off carbon by 2040.
How could this be achieved?
If renewable energies are distributed in every
square inch of the world, why are we only col-
lecting them at a few points? The goal is to con-
vert every single existing building in the Euro-
pean Union into a personal, clean micro power
plant. So you can collect solar off your roof, wind
off your side wall.
How would that translate into wider change?
We take internet technology and transform the
power grid of the world into an energy internet.
So when millions of us are producing our own
green energy on site, storing it in hydrogen, our
energy internet will allow us to sell and share
any extra. We become our own energy produc-
ers. We then collaborate and share that energy
in the same way as we share information on so-
cial media spaces on the internet.
Do you see this vision becoming a reality?
Young people now favour lateral and side-by-
side power. That’s the new politics, and it’s
favourable to a third industrial revolution.
[They] grew up empowered on the internet to
C
O
R
B
I
S
create its own information and share it freely.
They now need to create their own green en-
ergy that they share in vast continental spaces.
Is this only possible during an economic boom?
The exact opposite. The second industrial
revolution is on life support; it’s dying. Why
would you mend a 20th-century infrastruc-
ture that gives you no multiplier effect? The
European Union has made a formal commit-
ment to a plan to upgrade its infrastructure.
That could create millions of jobs.
Which country is leading?
They are testing this smart grid in six major
regions of Germany today. They are converting
homes, factories and offices all over Germany.
The Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands,
Europe overall, will move quickly.
Which countries are behind?
The United States is an outlier country. I grew
up in the heartlands of America. I know that
once America gets the story, no one can move
quicker. But we’re lost right now, we’re off
track. Those countries that can’t find the imagi-
nation and the will and the entrepreneurial
spirit are going to fall behind really quickly.
Where does the developing world fit in?
The third industrial revolution will move faster
in the developing world. It has no infrastruc-
ture. They can leapfrog straight into this and
create a sustainable future.
What are the barriers?
The biggest barrier is imagination. There is
growing denial about climate change. People
don’t want to recognise it because it is terrify-
ing. It’s overwhelming. It is also a moment of
great opportunity. The third industrial revolu-
tion is a practical plan; it’s not utopian. We have
to get on to renewables and get off carbon.
Is the UK taking sufficient action?
I was approached by the Cameron people
before the election. Certainly there are people
in this administration that understand what
needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean it is
being done. We have to move from talk to walk.
They have a long way to go here and if they
really want a third industrial revolution, as they
said to me at the beginning of the administra-
tion, they have yet to prove it.
Should we be more worried about not having
enough, or not having the right kind of energy?
Energies like coal, gas and uranium are found
only in a few places in the world and they require
huge military investment to secure them. Dis-
tributive energies are everywhere in the world.
The sun shines all over the world every day, and
the wind blows. We have enough distributed
renewable green energy to provide for our
species until kingdom come.
Where does the main responsibility
lie for cutting carbon: with consumers,
business or government?
We need political mobilisation. We need to
have the narrative spread and we need to en-
gage every community with business, society
and government to make this happen.
During your work have you had your
assumptions proved wrong or revised
your opinion?
Back in 1972 I organised a protest. It was the
first protest against the oil industry in history.
It’s been a long road from 1972 to 2011. During
that period, I underestimated the speed of cli-
mate change, even though I wrote one of the
first books on it. It is moving very aggressively.
The urgency of this goes beyond the global
economy. This is an urgency for our species and
for life on this planet.
Are we all doomed?
The question is not “Are we all doomed?”,
but “What can we do?”. We have a game plan,
a third industrial revolution. It can get us to a
post-carbon future in 30 years.
I absolutely know this can be done. Whether
it will be done is the question.
Interview by Samira Shackle
Facts and figures
To watch a video
of this interview
and other energy
perspectives go to:
newstatesman.
com/energy/
perspectives-
on-energy
1967 Graduates from Wharton School,
University of Pennsylvania
1973 Organises mass protest at Boston
Harbour following Opec oil embargo
1988 Co-ordinates first meeting of Global
Greenhouse Network in Washington
1994 Becomes senior lecturer on Wharton’s
executive education programme
2007 “Third industrial revolution”
formally endorsed by European Parliament
2009-2010 Develops master plans for San
Antonio (Texas), Rome and Monaco
“The Third Industrial
Revolution: How Lateral
Power Is Transforming Energy,
the Economy and the World”
is published by Palgrave
Macmillan (£16.99)
THE CV
This is part four of an eight-part series
of Perspectives on Energy. To read other
responses from business and academia visit:
newstatesman.com/energy/
perspectives-on-energy
The number of households that
would have to spend more than
£5,000to make their homes more
energy-efficient before they could
be eligible for solar panel subsidies
under new government rules.
Rifkin’s Five Pillars of the Third
Industrial Revolution
Electricity generationfrom
renewable sources increased
by roughly 2 per cent between
2009 and 2010 to reach 25.7TWh.
Capacity grew by 15 per cent to
9.2GW over the same period.
9
10
Growth in electricity generation
from renewable sources
Shifting to renewable energy
Converting buildings into
. power plants
Hydrogen and other energy
. storage technology
Smart-grid technology
Plug-in, electric, hybrid and
. fuel-cell-based transportation
2000 2005 2010
0
.
0












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0











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66 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
Agenda
|
This week’s best talks and lectures
HOT TICKET
A Hint of Danger
19 December, with Rebecca Swift
What’s the event?
The Literary
Consultancy is
delighted to be
hosting the Tamesis Quartet and
Edie Campbell for an evening
celebrating passion and love –
with a hint of danger.
Why are you involved?
The Literary Consultancy is my
company. We think great art
inspires great art, and want to
inspire audiences to challenge
themselves creatively as well as
enjoy a magnificent experience.
Why should we come?
There’ll be music, words, wine –
perhaps even mince pies. Also
come and find out more about
the Free Word Centre.
What questions should we ask?
What are the “Intimate Letters”?
Who is Kamila Stösslová?
What homework should we do?
Read Tolstoy’s novella The
Kreutzer Sonata, and listen
to Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata,
from where it took its title. l
For more details of the event
see our listings
DECEMBER
Monday 19th
lA Hint of Danger
The performance artist Edie
Campbell reads from writings
by Ted Hughes, Leoš Janácek and
Leo Tolstoy (Kreutzer Sonata) to
put in context a live performance
by the Tamesis String Quartet
of its own Kreutzer Sonata– also
inspired by Beethoven’s Violin
Sonata No 9.
Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon
Road, London EC1.
6.30pm. £12/£8. 020 7324 2570.
freewordonline.com
l“Hip Joint Failure
Ruined My Life”
For the Café Scientifique
discussion group, Tom Joyce,
a biomedical engineer at
Newcastle University, explains
how surgeons in the north-east
are leading the design of medical
implant technology.
Urban Café, Dance City, Temple
Street, Newcastle.
7pm. Free. 0191 208 3251.
ncl.ac.uk
lEveryone Is Living in the
Wrong Place
Tony Davies of the Bath and Avon
Family History Society takes a
long-term look at the fluctuating
world population.
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific
Institution, Queen Square, Bath.
7.30pm. £4/£2. 01225 312 084.
bafhs.org.uk
lThe Night Sky in January
The astronomer Russell Eberst
looks forward to a new year of
stargazing and offers suggestions
of what to look for in 2012.
Royal Observatory Visitor
Centre, Blackford Hill,
Edinburgh.
7.30pm. £4/£3. 0131 668 8404.
roe.ac.uk
Tuesday 20th
lRegenerative Medicine
for Ageing: Can It Be
Comprehensive enough?
For the Leicester Secular Society’s
Skeptics in the Pub series, the
biomedical scientist Aubrey
de Grey considers the potential
of health therapies in delaying
the natural ageing process.
Square Bar, 5-9 Hotel Street,
Leicester.
7.30pm. £2.
leicester.skepticsinthepub.org
lBookshop Barnie Xmas Bash
Balloon Debate
Join academics and journalists as
they discuss a quirky variety of
authors, including Shiv Malik on
Norman Mailer, Humphrey
Hawksley on Voltaire and Cosmo
Landesman on himself.
6pm. Free. Email:
futurecitiesproject@gmail.com.
Gallery, Foyles, Charing Cross
Road, London WC2.
futurecities.org.uk
Wednesday 21st
lChristmas Ghost Stories
Julie Gamble reads from the
winter tales of the Victorian
author Elizabeth Gaskell, a close
friend of the Nightingales. Free
admission with museum entry.
Florence Nightingale Museum,
Gassiot House, 2 Lambeth Palace
Road, London SE1.
3pm. £5.80/£4.80.
020 7620 0374.
florence-nightingale.co.uk
lCoins at Christmas
Barrie Cook, British Museum
curator, gives this seasonal
themed talk in the medieval and
early modern coinage rooms.
Room 46, British Museum, Great
Russell Street, London WC1.
1.15pm. Free. 020 7323 8181.
britishmuseum.org
Wednesday 28th
lExplore Barbican
Last chance to learn about the
history of the Barbican Centre and
Housing Estate site and its early
design plans on this dedicated
architecture walking tour.
Barbican Centre, Silk Street,
London EC2.
2pm/4pm. £8/£6. 020 7638 8891.
barbican.org.uk
Thursday 29th
lHidden Spaces and History . . .
Discover the Enlightenment and
naval history on a guided tour
around this labyrinthine mansion.
Somerset House, Strand,
London WC2.
1.15pm/2.45pm. Free.
020 7845 4600.
somersethouse.org.uk
Friday 30th
lGrace and Playfulness
of Rococo Style
A gallery talk on the interior
design and architecture typified
by the late baroque period.
Ashmolean Museum of Art
and Archaeology, Beaumont
Street, Oxford.
1.15pm. Free. 01865 278 002.
ashmolean.org
To list your event, email
pressoffice@newstatesman.co.uk
The Critics
Art
|
Books
|
Music
|
Film
|
TV
|
Radio
Other worlds: Philip Pullman on the power of fairy tales. 68
FICTION
Kate
Atkinson
“darktime”, a sinister
tale of disaster
and apocalypse. 72
COMMENTARY
Nicholas
Clee
In the new world of the
ebook, big advances are
a thing of the past. 78
BOOKS
Julie
Myerson
Brian Sewell’s honesty
about his sex life is
infectious. 83 G
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K
. R
E
X
F
E
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T
U
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19 DECEMBER 2011 | NEW STATESMAN | 67
68 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
And in that day they shall roar against
them like the roaring of the sea: and
if one look unto the land, behold darkness
and sorrow, and the light is darkened in
the heavens thereof.
Isaiah 5:30
In the beginning was the Void. Then came the
Word and with the Word the World began.
Then one day, to everyone’s surprise, the Void
returned and Darkness rolled over the land.
Tuesday 15 May 2012, to be precise. On Moun-
tain Standard Time in Cochise County it was
6am and Phil Beckett was still asleep. He usu-
ally beat the sun to rising but not today and
when he woke a few minutes later, feeling
thick-headed and grouchy, he remembered
with regret the booze he’d drunk the previous
evening. He’d thrown a barbecue in the back-
yard to celebrate the arrival of his first grand-
child – a boy (a bonus, but he knew he couldn’t
say that to either his daughter or his wife).
“Preston”, he was called. Odd kind of name,
in Phil’s opinion. He’d hoped for “Philip”.
He usually stuck to beer but last night he had
wetted the baby’s head with an 18-year-old
single-barrel bourbon he’d been saving for
this very occasion. His daughter, Melissa, his
only child, was an ambitious attorney with a
law firm in Tucson and the “occasion” had been
a long time coming.
Thanks to last night’s Elijah Craig, he rolled
out of bed like a much older man. His wife
had been on Cuba libres all night and was
still asleep. She wasn’t a drinker by nature
and Phil didn’t much want to be around when
she woke. He shambled into the kitchen and
switched on the Keurig Elite their son-in-law
had bought them for their wedding anniver-
sary last month. Phil preferred the old alu-
minium stove-top pot but it seemed to have
disappeared. The Keurig’s convenient, his wife
said, and Blake would be upset if he thought we
didn’t use it. How would he know? Phil asked.
Blake had been to the Double Diamond exactly
three times in five years. He has a hidden cam-
era or something?
He drank his coffee on the porch. The morn-
ing was hotter than usual. And quieter. He
looked out over his land and thanked God for
His bounty in giving his grandfather this little
corner of south-east Arizona. Phil ran a four
thousand deeded acre spread, the best watered
in the county, three hundred head of cattle out
there, prime beef on the hoof. And not one of
them was making a sound this morning.
He looked for the big skinny tom that he ad-
mired and disliked in equal measure. It usually
came out to greet Phil as soon as it heard him
moving about, slinking out of the barn where
it slept at night. If Phil was feeling benevolent
he shared the cream from his coffee with it.
No cat this morning. No birds either. The dog
was here, though, ambling out of the house
with the same hungover gait as Phil instead
of bounding around enthusiastically. Mitch, a
retriever-cross, a big puppy-dog really, not
a rancher’s dog. Phil rubbed the top of its head
with his knuckles. Sure is quiet this morning,
he said to the dog. He was spooked by the
sound of his own voice. He glanced up and felt
weirdly relieved to see a buzzard high in the
sky, revolving slowly on a lazy thermal.
Come on, buddy, he said to Mitch, draining
his coffee cup. Let’s go for a drive.
FICTION
Nobody expected the apocalypse,
but once the Void opened, life on earth
would never be the same again
darktime
By Kate Atkinson
Artwork by Josh Poehlein
t
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 69
The Critics
70 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
The dog liked sitting up front in the cab of
the heavy-duty Silverado with its head out
the window, grinning like a dope as its ears
fluttered in the breeze. This morning, however,
it sat up straight, scouting through the wind-
shield as if it were riding shotgun in Indian
country.
T
hey followed the dirt track up to
the ridge, from where there was
a good view of the creek and the
low pasture below. It took a mo-
ment for Phil to understand. What
the heck? he said, glancing over at
Mitch as if the dog might confirm what he was
looking at. The dog’s ears twitched but other-
wise it remained impassive.
The cattle were lying on the ground – forty
or so of them – as if they had been pushed over
by a giant hand. When he was a boy Phil had
played with an old wooden Noah’s Ark that
had been his father’s and he had an unexpected
memory of the pleasure he had taken in lining
up all the animals and then knocking them
over, like dominoes, all the way from elephant
down to cat. The smaller species – mice, insects
– were lost long before Phil was born. He won-
dered if the Noah’s Ark was still in the attic and
if “Preston” would like it.
He crashed the Silverado into reverse and
accelerated back down the track and across the
rough terrain towards the pasture. When he
clambered out of the cab he could feel his heart
jittery in his chest.
He counted thirty-eight. All dead. He grabbed
for his cell, dialled Ken Traub over at the Dou-
ble E. Ken answered immediately, said he was
standing in the middle of a corral of twenty
yearling steers. All dead.
Next, Phil tried Shane Hollander at the Bar K.
He was a strict Lutheran, Phil had never heard
him swear, but today he surprised him by an-
swering the phone, saying, What the fuck, Phil?
Dead cattle? Phil said.
No, Phil. Dead people. Dead people every-
where. All dead.
1pm on the other side of the world. Greenwich
Mean Time in the Waitrose on Morningside
Road where Genevieve was sheltering from
the rain that had suddenly turned heavy and
winterish for May. Since being made redundant
from an architectural practice three months
ago she found herself lingering, loitering even,
in places that she would normally have
speeded through.
She was reflecting on the whiteness,
some might say pastiness, of the well-fed
faces around her. Not at all like the Chesser
Asda where she usually shopped and which,
as well as being a haven for the tired, the
poor and the huddled masses, was also, unlike
Waitrose, populated with people of every na-
tionality and colour.
But not green, Gus said. Or blue, or red or
purple or –
Enough, Genevieve said. He was a very lit-
eral child. He was six, in school. She had lied
to get him into his (good) primary, said they
lived with her mother in the Grange. (You’re
moving back in with me? Genevieve’s mother
said, keeping her face admirably neutral.) Now,
with all this time on her hands, Genevieve
found herself frequenting the school’s catch-
ment area – shops, cafés, the library – mildly
paranoid that anonymous authority figures
were spying on her, trying to catch her out in
the lie. (They are, Genevieve’s mother said.)
As an economy measure, she had recently
sold her car, so here she was, taking refuge from
the lunchtime rain in a clean, well-lighted place
where it was reassuring (or possibly not) to
know that there were so many different brands
of balsamic vinegar in the world, something
not apparent in the Chesser Asda.
Genevieve picked up a “mini” watermelon,
hefty and round like a cannonball, before wan-
dering aimlessly over to the flower-stand
where she plucked a slender sheaf of gladioli
from a galvanised bucket. She should probably
get a basket even though both items seemed
too unwieldy to be confined to one. She would
not normally have bought either watermelon
or gladioli. She wasn’t even sure she wanted
them (and, more to the point, could she afford
them?). Fetching a basket would be a commit-
ment. She began to experience the usual kind
of low-grade existential angst she associated
these days with decision-making.
From her post at the flower-stand, Gene -
vieve had a clear view of the supermarket’s
glass entrance doors. It was still raining heavily.
Should she make a run for it? She could hardly
stay in Waitrose all afternoon. (Or could she?)
She watched as the automatic doors, obedient
to an invisible will, swished politely apart to
admit a middle-aged woman, the hearty, out-
doors type, suitably dressed, top-to-toe, for
the rain. Beyond the woman, Genevieve could
see an elderly man, stooped and crooked, who
was snailing heroically towards the doors. He
was what her mother would have called “dap-
per” – good tweed overcoat, a cap on his head, a
cane in one hand, an umbrella held awkwardly
aloft in the other. He was once a little boy like
Gus. Bruised knees, filthy hands (always), a
stoic yet hopeful demeanour. Small on the out-
side, vast on the inside. Gus would one day be
an old man like him. Genevieve’s heart came
suddenly untethered.
A draught of damp air from the open doors
made her shiver. The chill brought with it
an odd animal-like premonition. She was still
holding the watermelon in one hand and the
gladioli like a spear, as if she were about to
pike something, in the other. Fruit and flowers,
offerings at the temple. She returned the flow-
ers to the galvanised bucket and watched as the
old man stopped to close his umbrella, shaking
the rain off it. The doors closed again before he
reached them.
A
nd then the world went dark.
Completely, as if someone had
flicked the switch on the sun.
Pulled the plug, too, for there
were none of the tiny jewels
of coloured light, the humming
and thrumming, that indicated electronic
life. Smoke alarms and cash registers, freezers,
fridges and sprinklers, were all lifeless. No
emergency lights, nothing glowing with faint
comfort. No daylight coming in through the
automatic doors either. Dark inside and out.
For a moment Genevieve had the Damascene
thought that she had been struck blind.
She groped in her bag for her iPhone. Also
dead.
After what seemed like a long silence, as com-
plete and absolute as the darkness, people be-
gan to voice their bafflement. A quiet, poignant
Hello? from somewhere near her right shoul-
der. Who turned the lights out then? from a
would-be joker and then the voice of a small
child, inquisitive rather than frightened, but
nonetheless distressing to Genevieve, saying,
Mummy?
Is there anyone there? someone asked, as
though they were partaking in a seance. A hand
brushed Genevieve’s hair and she was re-
minded of the ghost train at the seaside of
her childhood. It was as if they were playing
a sombre game of blind man’s buff, governed
by rules of extreme bourgeois rectitude. A
raised managerial voice advised everyone to
keep calm, although as far as Genevieve could
tell no one was panicking. Someone bumped
against her (Sorry, sorry), knocking the water-
melon from her hands. Genevieve heard it land
with a thud and roll away, a planet discarded by
a careless child-god.
She was not the only one, it seemed, who
thought they had suddenly lost their sight.
Blind? someone said, as if trying out the t
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72 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
word for size. Genevieve thought of The Day
of the Triffids. It seemed improbable. What was
more likely – an invasion from outer space
by killer alien plants or a total eclipse of the
sun and its electronic cohorts? But then surely
eclipses were foreseen, charted events, not sud-
den biblical calamities?
The “pulse”. She had read about it in a news-
paper a few months ago. It was something to
do with solar flares. An increase in sunspot
activity was due and was going to cause geo-
magnetic storms, knocking out satellite com-
munications and causing blackouts on earth.
“Catastrophe” and “chaos” were predicted
across the globe (it was an article in the Daily
Mail, she remembered now). She wished that
she had paid more attention. She wasn’t sure
what a geomagnetic storm was but it certainly
didn’t soundgood.
But then, just as suddenly as it had been
turned off, the power was snapped on again.
People blinked at the sudden assault on their
retinas from the overhead lights and looked
about in confusion as if they were expecting
something to have changed during their un -
expected daytime journey into night. Every-
thing was just as it had been. Daylight had
returned outside. A blink, that was all. The uni-
verse blinked.
Waitrose rebooted itself and the air was filled
once more with the low whining and buzzing
noises of robotic insect life as the big fridges
and the cash registers came back to life. The
automatic doors began dutifully opening and
closing again. Several people headed straight
for the outside but the majority of customers,
after some hesitation, recommenced shopping.
A babel of mobile-phone ringtones started
to fill the air. Genevieve supposed everyone
wanted to share their own experience of the
dark. Once they would have written laborious
letters and the event would be forgotten by the
time the letter was delivered into another hand.
Her iPhone vibrated in her own hand. It was
Genevieve’s mother asking if she was all right.
Yes, she said. (Was she?)
Look outside, Genevieve’s mother said.
T
he customers who had already
left Waitrose were still standing
in a little huddle near the doors,
looking aghast. Genevieve saw
the dapper old man, lying supine
on the concrete, his cap tilted
rakishly, a peaceful expression on his face,
even though the hard rain was falling steadily
on it. She hurried towards him, crouching
down and feeling for a pulse. None. Standing
up, she found herself next to the woman who
was dressed so well for the rain.
Has someone phoned for an ambulance?
Genevieve asked and the woman who was
dressed for rain (but who would never leave
her house again, no matter the weather) simply
lifted her arm and pointed like a mute seer
at the length of Morningside Road. That was
when Genevieve realised that the crowd’s dis-
tress was not on account of the dapper old man
but for a much wider horror.
Everywhere that she looked there were peo-
ple lying on the ground – as though they had
been struck by a narcoleptic spell. The Big Issue
seller who hung around the entrance to Wait-
rose was curled up like a baby next to the ranks
of wire trolleys. A young woman who was
sprawled in the middle of the pelican crossing
was still grasping the handle of a pushchair.
The baby inside the pushchair looked – like the
dapper old man – as if it were taking a much-
needed nap. The old Romanian beggar woman
who sat every day outside the hospice shop had
keeled over, her hand still outstretched for coins.
One man and his dog were bedded down on the
pavement together. It was a new Pompeii.
Cars had crashed into each other, others were
slewed across the road, passengers and drivers
lying insensible, half in and out of the doors.
A bus standing at a nearby stop had opened to
admit passengers into its belly. Everyone inside
the bus looked as though they had fallen asleep
in their seat. The people waiting in the queue
had dropped where they stood in a tidy fash-
ion. The bus driver remained at the bridge, pi-
loting a ghost bus, his head lolling forward
as if were taking forty winks while waiting for
his tardy passengers to board. The automatic
doors kept trying to close but were foiled by the
inert body of a woman draped across the plat-
form, her bus pass still clutched in her hand.
No one was waking up. No one was climbing
to their feet and shaking their head in bewil -
derment at the sudden enchantment that had
overtaken them. They were dead, Genevieve
thought. All of them. Dead.
From what? Gas? A terrorist attack (in Morn-
ingside?). An acoustic device – the kind they
had on ships to repel pirates (again – Morning-
side?). Or had they all simply drunk the
Kool-Aid, obedient to some bizarre order,
while Genevieve was debating whether to buy
a watermelon?
But – not everyone was dead. No one who
had been locked in Waitrose was dead, for
example, and when Genevieve looked around
she could see people in cars, in shops, on buses,
who were definitely alive. People who had
stayed inside. Behind closed doors. Whereas
everyone who had been outside –
Jesus Christ – the school playground! Gus.
Genevieve reeled from the thought as if she
taken a physical blow, staggered, and almost
tripped over the body of the dapper old man.
She set off at a run, pushing her way past the
living and dodging the dead with the adroitness
of the counties hockey player she had once been.
So, Genevieve said tentatively, not wishing
to rekindle any alarming memories. What
happened at school?
The little kids were scared, Gus said.
You’re a little kid.
He made a face. Not really.
Thank God for the rain, which had meant that
the whole school had spent their lunchtime
indoors. There were a few peripheral casual-
ties. The crossing-man on duty, a classroom as-
sistant. Genevieve had to skirt the body of the
deputy head lying just outside the school gates.
A smoker, paying the price of her habit.
I’m never letting you out of my sight again,
she said to Gus.
Never?
Never.
He shrugged. OK.
Glancing out of the window, Genevieve saw
a sparrow land on the bird table in the shared
garden of the block of flats. It began to peck
nervously at the toast crumbs that one of
Genevieve’s elderly neighbours put out each
morning. It was the first bird that Genevieve
had seen all day. The elderly neighbour herself
was spreadeagled on the path. Her fat ginger
cat who spent most of his day asleep inside
was sniffing the old lady’s body with greedy
curiosity. Burying the dead was going to be a
problem, Genevieve thought.
What? Gus said.
Nothing.
Now wash your hands.
O
n the television, newsreaders
and pundits were wallowing in
the apocalypse. It had been
worldwide and had lasted exactly
five minutes. A cataclysmic event
more overwhelming in its awful-
ness than anything previously experienced on
the planet –half a million Krakatoas, a hundred
thousand Hiroshimas.
The commentators were talking in Cretan
terms – The end of civilisation as we know it.
The greatest disaster since the dinosaurs were
wiped out. The Black Death had killed a third
of the world’s population but it had taken only
people (only!) but the Dark (as it was appar-
ently now called) seemed indiscriminate in its
choice of prey.
Billions of farm animals in the fields had
gone but the battery hens and the veal calves
survived. Children in playgrounds and streets
all laid out but the worst kind of paedophiles
and murderers in jail were spared. Diamond
miners survived, trawlermen died. Swaths of
the poor were scythed down – workers in the
fields, the homeless, the drunks and the whores
on the street.
In the great shanty towns of Karachi, Lagos
and Cape Town, corpses were scooped up
by bulldozers. Two-thirds of the population
of Africa wiped out. All the animals of the
Serengeti, of the Antarctic, of the Malaysian
rainforests.
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 73
The Critics
Planes plummeted like game birds from the
sky, although some miraculously survived,
coasting silently through the blackout before
regaining power. Cyclists, dog walkers, cricket
teams, sunbathers, tourists on the Grand
Canal. Princess Anne. The Prime Minister.
All gone. In the Far East, moving into night
at the time of the disaster, there were slightly
fewer casualties although it seemed that all
it took was an open window – a crack – for the
Dark to get in.
The population of New Zealand fared best,
not so the forty million sheep that lived there.
There were myriad theories. In order of pop-
ularity these were: a shock-and-awe alien at-
tack; a new kind of plague; a cull by God; a hole
in the space-time continuum (this, of course,
would evolve into the Void theory); an increase
in the earth’s magnetism – or a sudden decrease;
a poisonous miasma emanating from Venus;
the revenge of Gaia. “A terrible harrowing,” the
Archbishop of York said, and was condemned
for being overly biblical.
Across the globe people rioted and looted
and stockpiled. As you would. Genevieve
thought of all the useful things she might
have bought in Waitrose when she had the
opportunity. The shelves would be cleared
now, even the balsamic vinegar would have
been snatched.
Not only the birds but also the bees survived.
No one understood why, but they were grateful
(pollination and so on). Many scientists, shut
away in their labs, had also survived and would
soon be set to work on the reason for the illogi-
cal staying power of the birds and bees (no one
foresaw what a problem they would become).
The plump, newly elevated Deputy Prime
Minister appeared on television, basking in the
seriousness of his position. He exhorted every-
one to stay calm and not panic. He sounded
like a supermarket manager. The spirit of the
Blitz was invoked. Genevieve turned the tele-
vision off.
Will it happen again? Gus asked.
I hope not, Genevieve said.
But it did. At 1.05pm the following day the
universe blinked once more. A lot of the casual-
ties were people who were burying the dead
from the first time.
I
t lasted for five minutes and came
five minutes later every day. Like clock-
work. People were thankful for this
regularity. You can set your watch by it,
but at the same time, as it were, the im-
plications of this machine-like precision
were disturbing.
The people who remained adapted. Dying
embers of church congregations were fanned
into life as many turned to religion. Others
sank into apathy. Genevieve’s mother said she
wished she’d had shares in one of the artificial
meat corporations.
Genevieve wondered what they would do
if one day the Dark came and didn’t go away
again.
Phil Beckett never did make sense of what hap-
pened to his daughter and grandson. Five years
after the first Dark, when anyone with any
sense knew to the exact second when it was
coming, knew to take all necessary precau-
tions, she broke down on I-8.
Every couple of miles along the interstate
there were billboards saying “Avoid the Void!”
and “Don’t Let the Dark In!”. Did she not
see them? She was so smart. Why had she been
so dumb?
She was found on the hard shoulder, Preston
by her side, holding her hand. He’d just started
elementary school. They had got out of the
car and had started walking – in eighty-five-
degree heat. Why? Why hadn’t she just waited
for a breakdown truck? A passing motorist
saw them running back to the car but the Dark
overtook them.
That was three months ago. His wife had
turned to God and pills. Phil had given up on
God, didn’t believe in pills.
Blake came round all the time. He hadn’t had
a job since the first Dark. Phil felt a coldness to-
wards him that was maybe unfair. Maybe not.
They had been doing OK. After the cattle
went, Phil had transformed the Double Dia-
mond into a dude ranch. We never take you
out in the Dark. That all stopped with Melissa’s
death. The horses were up for sale now.
Midday. The Dark was due at twenty past
the hour.
Going out to settle the horses, Phil shouted
to his wife.
The horses were always skittish beforehand.
His wife was watching TV in the living room,
reruns of crap – The Bold and the Beautiful, All
My Children – shows that were cancelled years
ago. His wife didn’t reply.
Come on, Phil said to the dog.
A shadow passed over them. One of the giant
flocks of Arizona grasshopper-sparrows flying
overhead. Once on the most endangered list,
a darned nuisance now.
I
n the barn, Phil checked the windows,
searched everywhere for cracks and
pinholes, all the time talking soothingly
to the horses. At 12.18 he stepped out-
side and shut the door behind him,
leaving the dog inside with the horses,
but Mitch started scratching at the door, whin-
ing sadly. His wife treated Mitch with amiable
indifference. Phil tried to put himself inside
the dog’s head. What would Mitch want?
Pretty much the same as he wanted himself,
he guessed.
Come on then, buddy, Phil said, opening
the barn door, shutting it carefully again after
Mitch came out.
The dog stood sentinel by his side, waiting
patiently for whatever was going to happen.
Phil put out his hand and rubbed the dog’s head.
His watch was slow and the Dark surprised
them both when it came. l
Kate Atkinson’s latest book is the Jackson Brodie
detective novel “Started Early, Took My Dog”
(Black Swan, £7.99). She is the author of the
1995 Whitbread Book of the Year, “Behind the
Scenes at the Museum”, and “When Will There
Be Good News?” (both Black Swan, £7.99)
newstatesman.com/culture
74 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
Richard Dawkins’s new book, The Magic of Re-
ality, is a tour de force in which he tells a num-
ber of myths (about, for instance, the creation
of the earth, or rainbows, or where animals
came from) and then gives a scientific account
of the phenomenon in question, showing how
thrilling knowledge and scientific inquiry can
be and what a profound sense of wonder they
can give us. It’s a book that I shall certainly give
to my grandchildren in a year or two. I have
never seen a better introduction to science for
young readers.
But it reminded me of Dawkins’s misgivings,
expressed in a TV news interview two or three
years ago, about such things as fairy tales in
which frogs turn into princes. He said he would
like to know of any evidence about the results
of telling children stories like that: did it have a
pernicious effect? In particular, he worried that
it might lead to an anti-scientific cast of mind,
in which people were prepared to believe that
things could change into other things. And
because I have been working on the tales of the
Brothers Grimm recently, the matter of fairy
tales and the way we read them has been much
on my mind. So, what evidence might there be
to settle this question?
We believe different things in different ways
and for different reasons. There’s the rock-hard
certainty of personal experience (“I put my fin-
ger in the fire and it hurt”), which is probably
the earliest kind we learn. Then there’s the log-
ically convincing, which we probably come to
through the maths we learn at school, in the
context of Pythagoras’s theorem or something
similar, and which, if we first encounter it at
the right moment, bursts on our minds like
sunrise, with the whole universe playing a
great chord of C major.
However, there are other ways of believing
that things are true, such as the testimony of
trusted friends (“I know him and he’s not a
liar”), the plausibility of likelihood based on
experience (“It’s exactly the sort of thing you’d
expect to happen”), the blind conviction of
the religious zealot (“It must be true, because
God says so and His holy book doesn’t lie”), the
placid assent of those who like a quiet life (“If
you say so, dear”), and so on. Some of these
carry within them the possibility of quiet scep-
ticism (“I know him and he’s not a liar but he
might be mistaken”).
There’s not just one way of believing in things
but a whole spectrum. We don’t demand or
require scientific proof of everything we be-
lieve, not only because it would be impossible
to provide but because, in a lot of cases, it isn’t
necessary or appropriate.
How could we examine children’s experience
of fairy tales? Are there any models for examin-
ing children’s experience of story in a reason-
ably objective way? As it happens, there are.
A very interesting study was carried out some
years ago by a team led by Gordon Wells and
his colleagues at Bristol University and was
described in a book called The Meaning Makers:
Children Learning Language and Using Lan-
guage to Learn(1986).
Wells and his team wanted to find out how
children’s language was influenced by what
they heard around them. They selected a large
number of families with children who were
two or three years old, whom they followed
right up to the end of their primary education,
giving the children unobtrusive, lightweight
radio microphones, to be worn under their
clothes, which could pick up not only what the
children said but also what was being said by
parents or others nearby. The microphones were
switched on at random intervals for 90 seconds
CRITIC AT LARGE
Imaginary
friends
We must not deprive our children of fairy tales –learning that there are
different ways of believing is one of the most important lessons of all
By Philip Pullman
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Scandinavian delight: the Moomins bring pleasure
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 75
The Critics
To dream the impossible dream: Snow White and her
Seven Dwarves provide a compelling fantasy tale
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at a time, the results were recorded and tran-
scribed and then an enormous amount of ana -
lysis was done on the results.
In brief, they discovered that the more in-
cluded children were in the conversation and
chatter going on around them, the quicker
and more fully they picked up every kind of
language skill. One interesting discovery was
that the most enriching experience of all was
the open-ended exploratory talk that arises
from the reading of stories. In Language and
Learning: an Interactional Perspective (1985),
Wells and his colleague John Nicholls write:
“Several investigators have noted how much
more complex, semantically and syntactically,
is the language that occurs in this context . . .
Furthermore, the frequency with which chil-
dren are read to has been found to be a powerful
predictor of later success at school.”
So, it’s not impossible to set up experiments
to test how children acquire various forms of
understanding and to learn interesting things
from them. But to go back to Dawkins and his
question, how on earth would we set up an ex-
periment to test the effect of fairy tales?
It would have to go on much longer than the
Bristol study: it would have to last as long as
childhood itself. And it would have to differ
from that study in an important way, because it
would need a control group. Whereas the schol-
ars at Bristol were concerned with finding out
what happens in the natural course of a child’s
life, this study would depend on having some
children who were allowed fairy tales, fantasy
and so on, and another group that wasn’t.
To make it absolutely beyond question, it
would have to be policed pretty rigorously. No
Harry Potter under the bedclothes. No nursery
rhymes either, which are full of impossible
things such as cows jumping over the moon.
And we would follow the children all the way
through their schooling, right up to leaving age,
to see whether the ones who were kept away
from magic and spells were thereby advantaged
in their understanding of science.
Of course, we wouldn’t do it. It would amount
to child abuse. To make sure that our subjects
never encountered fairy tales of any kind, we
would have to keep them in a sort of prison
camp. Dawkins knows this; he wouldn’t ask
for the unreasonable, or the impossible, or the
cruel. When he says that he would like to see
some evidence, I assume that he is prepared to
be a little generous in his view of what evidence
there could be. We don’t demand scientific
proof of everything we need to know about,
not only because it would be impossible to
provide but because, in a lot of cases, it isn’t
necessary or appropriate.
Matters of trust
The only way we can know what is going on
in the mind of someone who reads a story is
to believe them when they tell us about it and
compare it with our own experience of reading
and see what we have in common. When it
comes to the matter that Dawkins is concerned
about, namely the question of children’s belief
in fairy tales and magic and spells, all we have
to go by is belief and trust. It’s that sort of evi-
dence, and that’s the only sort we’ve got – but
then, we get by pretty well with that in most
of our dealings with other people.
So, do children believe what they read in sto-
ries, or don’t they? And if they do, in what way
do they believe it? Well, this is what I think
about it. I think that childhood reading is
more like play than like anything else. Like t
pretending. When I was a boy of eight or
nine, in Australia, we pretended to be figures
from comics or films and we acted out stories
based on the adventures we’d seen. Davy Crock-
ett was very big at that time; every little boy
in the western world had a Davy Crockett hat.
I knew I wasn’t really Davy Crockett but, at the
same time, I liked imitating things that I’d seen
Davy Crockett do on the cinema screen – say,
at the Siege of the Alamo.
We fought with passion, and when we died
we did so with heroic extravagance. My body
was doing all that an eight-year-old body could
do to run out from behind a wall, fire a musket,
clutch my chest, stagger, crumple to the ground,
slowly drag a revolver from a holster with
a trembling hand and kill six Mexicans as I
breathed my last.
Those were the things my body was doing.
What was my mind doing? I think it was feel-
ing a little scrap – a tiny, fluttering, tattered,
cheaply printed, torn-off scrap – of heroism.
I felt what it was like to be brave and to die
facing overwhelming odds. That intensity of
feeling is what both fuels and rewards child-
hood play and reading alike. When we children
play at being characters we admire doing things
we value, we discover in doing so areas and
depths of feeling it would be hard to reach
otherwise. Exhilaration, heroism, despair, res-
olution, triumph, noble renunciation, sacrifice:
in acting these out, we experience them in
miniature or, as it were, in safety.
Yet at no time during the endless hours of
play I spent as a child did I believe that I was
anyone other than myself. Sometimes I was me
and sometimes I was me pretending to be Davy
Crockett. But now that I think about it care-
fully, I realise that it was a little more compli-
cated than that. When I was playing with my
brother and my friends, I was almost entirely
Crockett, or Batman, or Dick Tracy, or whoever
it was (and I remember games when there were
about six different Batmans racing through the
neighbourhood gardens). It was when I played
alone that I found it possible to be myself, but
a different myself, a myself who was Davy
Crockett’s close and valued friend, who sat with
him beside a campfire in the wilderness or
hunted bears in the trackless forests of subur-
ban Adelaide. Sometimes I rescued him from
danger and sometimes he rescued me, but we
were both pretty laconic about it. In some
ways, I was more myself at those times than at
any other, a stronger and more certain myself,
wittier, more clearly defined, a myself of accom-
plishment and renown, someone Davy Crock-
ett could rely on in a tight spot.
What’s more, he seemed to value me more
than my friends and family did. He saw the
qualities in me that their duller eyes failed
to perceive. Davy Crockett wasn’t alone in
this superior perception; I remember that King
Arthur had a high opinion of me, and so did
Superman.
76 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
I think that childhood
reading is more like play
than anything else
Now I think that those experiences were an
important part of my moral education as well as
the development of my imagination. By acting
out stories of heroism and sacrifice and (to use
a fine phrase that has become a cliché) grace
under pressure, I was building patterns of be-
haviour and expectation into my moral under-
standing. I might fall short if ever I were really
called on but at least I’d know what was the
right thing to do.
And that sort of play, the solitary play, per-
haps, even more than the communal play, seems
to me very similar to what we do when we
read – at least when we read for no other pur-
pose than our enjoyment and especially when
we read as children. I’m conscious that the way
I read as an adult is a little different, because
there’s a part of my reading mind now that
looks with critical attention at the way the story
is told as well as at the events it relates.
What I thought mostly when I was a child
was, “I want to be in this story with them.” It
was like the sort of game where I was by myself
with Davy Crockett in the wilderness, because
in a story I was able to be both myself here and
myself there.
I didn’t want to stop being myself; I didn’t
want to be them; I wanted to put myself into
the story and enjoy things happening to me.
And in the sort of private, secret, inviolable
space that opened out miraculously between
the printed page and my young mind, that sort
of thing happened all the time.
I remember it happening especially power-
fully with the Moomins. Little creatures who
looked like miniature hippopotamuses and
lived on an island in the Baltic Sea? Absurd.
What I felt for the Moomin family and all their
friends, however, was nothing less than love.
In fact, I loved them so much that I would never
have said to my friends, “Let’s pretend we’re
Moomins.” That would have been inconceiv-
able. I would have had to make public some-
thing I felt private and secret about, something
I could hardly voice even to myself, something
if, were it ever discovered, I would have felt
embarrassed by; and the shame of discovery,
I’m sure, would have been followed quickly
by the even greater and longer-lasting shame
of betrayal. To save face, I’d have felt obliged to
mock and scoff at those dear friends of mine,
and at any kid who was so stupid and babyish
as to like stories about them.
But when I was alone, with a Moomin book
open in front of me and that great, secret space
opening up between my mind and the pages,
I could revel in their company and sail off in
their floating theatre or travel to the mountains
to see the great comet or rescue the Snork
Maiden from the Groke and no one could pos-
sibly have told, from looking at me, what my
mind was doing.
Here comes the test: did I believe that the
Moomins were real? No, of course I didn’t. I T
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Suspend your disbelief: stories carry us into imaginative worlds where we become bigger than ourselves
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knew that they were made up. I was pretending
they were real in order to enjoy being with
them in imagination. I wasn’t in the slightest
danger of confusing them with real life. The
delight of being with the Moomins was a com-
plex kind of delight, made up partly of the
sweetness of their characters, partly of the deli-
cate, simple precision of the drawings, partly of
the endless inventiveness of Tove Jansson, their
creator, partly from the fascination I felt with
the northern landscape in which they lived:
a whole bundle of things, none of which de-
pended on their being true or real.
Nor did I believe for a second that elephants’
trunks were long because one of their ancestors
had played a desperate tug of war with a croco-
dile, as Rudyard Kipling told me in the Just So
Stories. If someone had asked me, in a serious
kind of way, why I thought elephants had long
trunks, I’d have scratched my head and said,
“I dunno.” I knew, even when I was very young,
that “Because the crocodile got hold of the ele-
phant’s child’s nose and pulled and pulled” was
the wrong sort of answer.
I would have been just as fascinated, in a
different kind of way, to hear the real answer;
but that wouldn’t have diminished my pleas-
ure in the story, including the delight that I felt
in murmuring the sounds of the words: the
“’satiable curtiosity” of the elephant’s child,
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 77
The Critics
wicked people don’t believe it.” Children really
do learn quite early on that there are different
ways of believing in different kinds of story.
And when it comes to evidence, I think there’s
nothing for it: we just have to trust what people
tell us and check it against our own experience.
If what they say is that stories of every kind,
from the most realistic to the most fanciful, have
nourished their imagination and helped shape
their moral understanding, then we have to ac-
cept the truth of that. My guess is that the kind
of stories children are offered has far less effect
on their development than whether they are
given stories at all; and that children whose par-
ents take the trouble to sit and read with them –
and talk about the stories, not in a lecturing sort
of way but genuinely conversing, in the way that
Wells describes –will grow up to be much more
fluent and confident not only with language
but with pretty well any kind of intellectual
activity, including science. And children who
are deprived of this contact, this interaction, the
world of stories, are not likely to flourish at all.
What sort of evidence that is, I don’t know,
but I believe it. l
Philip Pullman’s latest book is “The Good Man
Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” (Canongate,
£7.99). The trilogy “His Dark Materials”
is published by Scholastic (£30/£6.99 each)
newstatesman.com/culture
the “great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo River,
all set about with fever trees”.
I knew these story things, these play things,
weren’t real, but that didn’t matter, because I
didn’t want them to be real, I wanted them to
be funny. Or delightful. Or exciting. Or mov-
ing. And they could be all those things and real
as well, as some things were, or all those things
and imaginary and I could tell the difference, and
it didn’t matter.
Life cycle of a frog
I agree that it would be a different question
entirely if parents actually brought their chil-
dren up to believe that frogs could change into
princes. And some parents do bring their chil-
dren up to believe that things can change into
other things – bread into flesh and wine into
blood, to be specific, and that they’ll go to hell
if they don’t believe it. Some parents also bring
their children up to believe that the world was
created 6,000 years ago and that scientists
are wrong when they tell us about evolution
and shouldn’t be allowed to teach it in schools.
I fully agree with Dawkins when he says that
this is pernicious and damaging.
Yet there’s a world of difference between that
sort of thing and offering a child a fairy tale.
No one says, “You must believe that the frog
changed into a prince, because it’s true and only
78 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
The book industry believes we are about to
enjoy an “ebook Christmas”. One thing is for
sure: it will not be a print-book Christmas.
Gloom about the economy, plus a general per-
ception that publishers are offering us more of
the same, only worse (uninteresting “celebri-
ties”, chefs reheating the usual ingredients),
have depressed the market. But, in compensa-
tion to a certain extent, there is a new vogue
for ebooks. In the US, ebooks are accounting for
20 per cent of leading publishers’ revenues, and
rising; in the UK, the figure is about 10 per cent
and rising. These figures will leap in the new
year as people who unwrapped e-readers on
25 December play with their new gadgets.
Amazon is pushing its Kindle reader and WH-
Smith is selling the Kobo, which is attached to a
Canada-based retailer. Ebooks for the iPad and
other tablets are also gaining in popularity.
These developments give publishers a mod-
est satisfaction, offset by a great deal of fear. The
focus of that fear at present is Amazon. The in-
ternet giant is by far the most aggressive book
retailer they have ever dealt with, and, thanks
to its dominance of ebook sales through the
Kindle, it is also becoming the most powerful
retailer that publishers have ever dealt with.
Amazon uses its power largely to depress
prices. Should we, as readers, be delighted that
books, already widely discounted, are getting
cheaper still as the digital revolution spreads?
Or is the enthusiasm of giant retailers for price-
cutting a mixed blessing at best, as it has been
with food?
For my new Kobo e-reader, kindly sent to
me by a PR firm, I have bought A D Miller’s
Booker-shortlisted novel, Snowdrops, for £4.31
and Robert Harris’s thriller The Fear Index
for £5.49. In print, Miller’s novel is available in
paperback at a recommended retail price (RRP)
of £7.99. The Fear Index is a hardback with an
RRP of £18.99. So I have saved more than £17 on
two books. I’ve also downloaded free ebook edi-
tions of David Copperfieldand Mansfield Park.
Buying ebooks affects the way you look at
print books. Browsing in the Piccadilly branch
of Waterstone’s the other day, I was chastened
to find myself seeing the books at this vast,
five-floor shop as pricey items, of the kind one
might buy if one wanted to indulge oneself, or
if one were looking for gifts.
I am shocked at myself, because I have always
been dismayed when people say – as they so
often do – that books are expensive. They are
not expensive, I have insisted, by comparison
with cinema or theatre tickets. A new paper-
back is cheaper than a round of drinks. People’s
attitudes, not book prices, needed to change,
I thought.
I have also tried many times to explain why
so many books appear first in expensive hard-
back editions, which only a minority of even
committed book buyers want to pay for. It is
hard to get publicity for paperbacks, I say; if you
produce 10,000 paperback copies of a literary
first novel, you may not sell any more copies
than you would have done if you had produced
1,500 hardbacks, and you’ll earn a good deal
less. Moreover, books by established authors –
P D James, say, or Ian McEwan or Claire Toma-
lin – sell in huge quantities in hardback, and no
publisher will happily forgo this income.
Ebooks are destroying this economic model.
Julian Barnes, whose novel The Sense of an End-
ing won the most recent Man Booker Prize, is
one of those established authors who can sell
a lot of hardbacks. Indeed, as I write, he is the
fourth-bestselling author at independent book-
shops, which are mostly selling his novel at the
RRP of £12.99. But in the weeks following the
Booker, Amazon decided that the correct price
for The Sense of an Ending in ebook was £3.59
(the price has since gone up to £4.79).
Some publishers have attempted to hold the
line by introducing “agency pricing”, through
which they set the retail prices and give retail-
ers a cut of the revenue. Amazon hates taking
anyone else’s orders about what it should
charge, and is suspected of having had some in-
fluence on the decision by the European Com-
mission to investigate the agency model.
The evidence is that ebook buyers are with
Amazon on this issue, and believe that digital
editions should be cheap. Amazon’s customers
have blitzed the site with one-star reviews of
books, by Ken Follett and others, that they con-
sider to be too expensive, and its Kindle best-
seller list at present shows titles priced at less
than £1 occupying seven of the top ten slots. Will
99p become the optimum price for an ebook?
If so, who is going to make any money out of
publishing or writing books for such a market?
It turns out that a few people are doing very
well out of selling cheap ebooks. In the US,
Amanda Hocking and John Locke, two genre
authors who self-published their novels, have
Easy reader: the arrival of the Kindle is transforming the way we consume books
BOOKS
The sense of
an ending
Sales of ebooks will reach a new high this Christmas.
Yet the outlook for publishers and authors is grim –they
need to sell many more to survive. By Nicholas Clee
©
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 79
The Critics
each sold more than one million ebooks through
the Kindle store. Some publishers have used
ebooks to turn the conventional publishing
model on its head: instead of going to market
first with expensive hardbacks, they have found
substantial audiences by promoting authors
with cheap ebooks. Myriad Editions, a small
publisher based in Brighton, has sold 70,000
copies in print and ebook of Into the Darkest
Corner, a crime novel by the newcomer Eliza-
beth Haynes; the novel has 445 customer re-
views on Amazon and was the site’s editors’
pick as the best book of 2011.
These successes lead one to wonder if the
complainers were right all along, and books
really were too expensive. Surveys suggest that
owners of ereading devices are buying books in
greater numbers than they did previously. At
the Kindle store, Amazon and self-publishers
are able to adjust their pricing until they reach
a sweet spot at which readers will buy, even
if the authors are unfamiliar. As ebooks take a
greater share of the market, book sales overall
may increase.
This will be a happy development, except as it
affects shops selling print books, and publishers
and authors’ cash flows. In place of the social
experience of browsing in bookshops, we will
have the social media experience of sharing
our tastes through Facebook and Twitter. As for
the financial implications – on the Me and My
Big Mouth blog, the novelist Ian Hocking (no
relation to Amanda, above) has confided his
sales figures and revenues from self-publishing
ebooks with Amazon. Two of them have sold
more than 8,000 copies. This is a figure that
many conventionally published novelists would
envy. But Hocking’s profit to date is only just
over £300 (his revenue is just over £2,000).
Had Hocking chosen a conventional pub-
lisher, he might well have sold fewer copies,
but he would have earned more, thanks to the
publisher’s advance. It is not only the likes of
Julian Assange, Jeffrey Eugenides (£500,000
each) and Pippa Middleton (£400,000, for a
book about parties) who get unrecoverable
sums of money upfront from publishers. Most
authors, right down to those whose sales are in
four figures, depend on such handouts. But it
is hard to see how, in the new world of cheap
books, downloaded one by one rather than
bought in bulk by stockholding booksellers,
publishers will be able to afford them.
An industry that paid unrecoverable advances
for books, and then published them in formats
that the public thought too expensive, had its
eccentricities. Still, it served readers and liter-
ary culture pretty well. Most writing careers
have depended on the subsidies that publishers
have been able to provide. In the digital world,
authors, whether they self-publish or not, will
have to sell to survive. l
Nicholas Clee is a joint editor of BookBrunch,
a book industry newsletter
THE BOOKS INTERVIEW
Peter Englund
You have described
The Beauty and the
Sorrow, your new
book about the First
World War, as a work of
“anti-history”. What
do you mean by that?
I mean it in the
sense that history
is usually about
taking experiences, documents and sources
and collating them, putting them together
to make a larger construct called “history”.
But this book is about going the other way,
going back to the single component of
history, which is the individual experience.
In my other work as a professional
historian – I specialise in the 17th century –
I go by the book, and it’s a good formula. You
have a grand narrative and then you use the
individuals as a splash of colour or as an
example, but the grand narrative is the thing.
Would it be fair to describe your method
here as novelistic?
Yes, in the sense that the form and the
language used will remind readers more of
those used by a novelist rather than the kind
used by a historian writing a textbook.
But the main difference between the
novelist and historian is not about form.
It’s about what we can and can’t know.
The historian, when he reaches a gap in the
sources, must say firmly, “We don’t know.”
If you are a novelist, when you reach that
gap, you can really do your job and fantasise
about what may have happened.
You worked as a war correspondent in
Bosnia in the 1990s. Did that experience
affect the way this book was composed?
I could never have written it without it.
In fact, I’ve been to four wars as a
correspondent. The experience of being
smack bang in the middle of events yet
not understanding a thing – that was
very important.
Do you see the First World War as the
critical event of the 20th century?
Yes. I would agree with those historians
who say that the Great War is probably the
most important event in European history
since the fall of Rome in 476. It defines the
20th century.
One of the most striking things about the
book is its emphasis on the global scale
of the war. This is about much more
than the Western Front.
That was quite deliberate. When I was
teaching, that was one of the points I
would make again and again to my students.
The impact of the war in Africa showed
for the first time the cracks in the monolith
of colonialism.
How did you find the people whose war
stories you tell in the book?
Because there are so many eyewitness
accounts, the problem was not finding,
but choosing. I ended up with 20 people
in this book but I had enough material for
at least a hundred.
In your day job you are permanent secretary
of the Swedish Academy, the body that
awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. What
does that involve?
I spend a lot of time reading. I’m also the
CEO of the Academy. The Academy meets
once a week on a Thursday, which it has been
doing since 1786, and I prepare the agenda
and write the minutes.
The prize this year was awarded to a Swede,
the poet Tomas Tranströmer. What was the
reaction in Sweden to his award?
The reaction in Sweden was one of elation.
There had been speculation here since the
Nineties that Tranströmer would get the
award. Also, if you know your poetry
well, you’ll know that he is the second most
translated poet in the United States.
One American writer, Philip Roth, has
been spoken about as a likely winner for
some years now.
Yes. But I can, of course, never comment on
individual cases. There are secrecy clauses
governing the deliberations of the Academy.
Perhaps it looks very secretive from the
outside, but it at least shields the process.
Having a completely open judging process
would lead to more furore and debate.
It can be a bit frustrating, as we can only
hand out one prize and are not allowed
to divulge the names of the others on the
shortlist. But I think it’s good for writers’
mental stability that they shouldn’t know
that they are on the shortlist. It also means
we the judges can work in peace. l
Interview by Jonathan Derbyshire
Peter Englund’s “The Beauty and the Sorrow:
an Intimate History of the First World War”
is published by Profile Books (£25)
80 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
The Critics
The killing
machine
Richard J Evans
Heinrich Himmler: a Life
Peter Longerich
Oxford University Press, 1,072pp, £25
There have been many attempts to describe
the life and opinions of Heinrich Himmler, but
this one, by the German historian Peter Lon-
gerich, is the first thorough scholarly biography
to appear. It makes excellent use of the volumi-
nous source materials available to historians,
including many that originated through the
meticulous SS leader himself, such as his ap-
pointments diary and the log he kept of his
telephone conversations. The result is a major
work that breaks ground by linking Himmler’s
political career convincingly to his personal life
and experiences.
The son of a schoolmaster and some-time tu-
tor to the Bavarian royal family, Himmler was
too young to fight in the First World War and,
like many of his generation, sought solace for
having missed the action in drilling himself
into a state of ruthless efficiency, so as to ensure
that the inevitable next war was won by Ger-
many. For Himmler, this had the added advan-
tage for compensating for his early feelings of
physical, social and emotional inadequacy. In-
terfering in the private lives of others provided
another form of compensation for the emo-
tional poverty of his own. So did his attraction
to the violent subculture of the far-right para-
military movements that flourished in Bavaria
after their brutal suppression of communist
revolutionaries early in 1919.
Incapable of inflicting physical violence, he
enjoyed experiencing its employment vicari-
ously. Politics for him was a continuation of
war by other means. Soon he was in charge of
Hitler’s personal protection squad (the Schutz -
staffel, or SS), which he built up into an elite
corps, distinguished by its discipline and un-
conditional loyalty to the Nazi leader from
the storm-trooper militia Sturmabteilung(SA),
led by his nominal boss, Ernst Röhm. When
the storm troopers started kicking over the
traces, it was Himmler’s SS to which Hitler
turned. Himmler delivered, liquidating their
entire leadership in the bloody Night of the
Long Knives in 1934.
By this time, some of Himmler’s main char-
acter traits had emerged: his persistence in the
pursuit of power and his flexibility in the means
he chose to achieve it, his ever-expanding ambi-
tion that grew with each Nazi success, and his
determination to integrate the many and varied
institutions he came to control in a single, func-
tioning whole. From his Bavarian base, he took
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 81
The Critics
PICTURE BOOK OF THE WEEK
A minke whale surfaces in a
small opening in pack ice in the
Ross Sea. This image is taken from
Frozen Planet: a World Beyond
Imagination by Alastair Fothergill
and Vanessa Berlowitz (BBC
Books, £25; ebook £9.99). The
book accompanies the BBC
television series of the same name
presented by David Attenborough,
who provides a foreword. “No
part of the earth is more hostile
to life,” Attenborough writes,
“than the snow- and ice-covered
regions that lie around its two
poles.” However, those species
that do survive there flourish in
“dramatic numbers”
The lives of others: Himmler had a need to control G
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over the police forces in one part of the Reich
after another, adding to them the concentration
camps, the mobilisation of forced labour and
then the organisation of ethnic purification,
resettlement and mass murder. At the outset
of the war he combined all of these and more
in the Reich Security Head Office. On the back
of this grew a large economic empire, a bur-
geoning educational and research apparatus
and, as the war progressed, a rapidly expanding
military force, the Waffen-SS.
Himmler used the enormous power this gave
him to put into effect the first stages in a huge
plan for the total racial reordering of Europe.
Ethnic Germans were moved into the Reich
from the east; Poles were “liquidated” in huge
numbers as a first step towards the extermina-
tion of up to 45 million Slavs and their replace-
ment by German settlers; “Germanic” popula-
tions in occupied countries such as Holland
and Denmark were to be brought into the fold.
In the summer of 1942 it seemed possible to
Himmler that his ambition of creating an eth-
nically pure Greater Germanic Reich covering
most of Europe was within reach.
Power such as this allowed him to indulge
his whims, too, though even these were ex-
crescences of his ideological tenets. In pursuit
of his notion of “decency” and self-control in
the SS, he issued individual bans on hunting,
smoking and drinking. He consigned those of-
ficers who did not feed their men properly to
a “House of Poor Nourishment”, which he de-
signed, in person, down to the last detail, and
where inadequate food (“Tinned food with no
fresh vegetables. Badly prepared”) was served,
interspersed with the occasional proper meal
to show how it should be done.
In an effort to ensure that the SS stayed a
true racial elite, he required its men and their
prospective spouses to be racially examined
before getting married, forcing them to provide
family trees dating back to 1800. Group solidar-
ity was to be cemented by the creation of a
non-Christian pseudo-religious cult, to which
all SS men had to belong. Building on what he
imagined to be the practices of Germanic tribes
in the Dark Ages, he set up cultic sites and in-
troduced runic inscriptions and rituals based
on the cycles of the sun. The marriage cere-
mony for SS men was to include readings from
Nietzsche and Hitler instead of the Bible.
Himmler linked this pseudo-religion to his
idiosyncratic view of world history, in which
the Aryan race originated in Tibet and, further
back still, in the lost continent of Atlantis,
whose disappearance he ascribed to the history
of the cosmos through the “world-ice theory”,
according to which the earth’s development
was determined by the appearance and disap-
pearance of moons and “ice planets” over geo-
logical time.
Such bizarre theories might have remained
harmless eccentricities, had Himmler not had
a great deal of power and money and had he not
been able to found research institutes or spon-
sor expeditions in order to prove his ideas. Yet
his attempt to foist them on universities came
to nothing; his other enterprises began to fall
apart from 1942 onwards as Germany’s war
fortunes began to decline. It proved impossible
to enforce his requirements for Aryan racial
purity in the SS. Germany’s economic empire
never achieved any coherence. Resettlement
plans were put on hold as its territorial grip
on Europe weakened. Resistance and partisan
groups became impossible to defeat. Himmler’s
growing power was exercised within a steadily
shrinking Reich.
In two of his main aims, however, he suc-
ceeded. It was Himmler who intensified terror
and repression within the Reich to such a de-
gree in the final phases of the war that the Ger-
mans fought on to the end. And it was Himmler
who drove on and radicalised the extermina-
tion of Europe’s Jews, convinced – no doubt
correctly – that he was putting Hitler’s wishes
into effect, and saw it through to the last.
Longerich sets the mass murder in its proper
context of Himmler’s wider plans for the racial
restructuring of Europe. Not everyone will
agree with his view that a final decision on the
extermination was not reached until as late as
the early summer of 1942. But this book does
succeed in showing convincingly how his cruel
ambitions increased over time, rather than re-
flecting a firmly preconceived set of ideas. The
extermination of six million Jews, Himmler
told his subordinates, was “a page of glory in
our history that can never be written”. He
knew, therefore, that it was a crime, and one
of gigantic proportions. Nothing showed more
clearly the amorality that lay at the heart of
the great machine of terror and extermination
which he had created. l
Richard J Evans is Regius Professor of History
and president of Wolfson College at Cambridge
and is the author of “The Third Reich at War”
(Penguin, £12.99)
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 83
The Critics
Only the
lonely
Julie Myerson
Outsider: Always Almost:
Never Quite
Brian Sewell
Quartet, 338pp, £25
Explaining why at last he feels able to put his
own life in print, the art critic and historian
Brian Sewell writes that, “approaching my 80th
year and old enough to be neither embarrassed
nor ashamed, I no longer feel the need for reti-
cence”. It is perhaps graceless to point it out,
but there are other advantages to waiting until
you’re 80. Total freedom, no libel and the glee
of having the last word – so many of the people
you might want to write about are dead. And
yet, to be fair, one of the most attractive aspects
of this occasionally dry and unwieldy but ulti-
mately courageous memoir is that its author
seems deliciously aware of that advantage.
Sewell may make his living by being rebar -
batively outspoken, but here he turns the
critical glare on himself. He begins with an ac-
count of his emotionally uneven, nomadic
childhood: the father whose identity he did
not discover until late in life; the beautiful and
loving but chaotic mother who “had as much
sexual restraint as an alley cat”; and the well-
meaning (but, as it turns out, bigamous) step-
father who gave the young Brian his surname
and an “intense interest” in sex (he would fre-
quently come into the young boy’s bedroom
to masturbate, apparently unaware that he was
being watched).
Sewell was convinced from an early age
that he was “irrevocably queer”, and he details
the various “inappropriate” encounters with
teachers at school and the all-too-familiar, pre-
dictable experimentation at public school. Af-
ter that came National Service, during which –
in a chilling episode told entirely without
melodrama or self-pity – Sewell was painfully
raped in his own bed.
Increasingly aware that his “wayward sexu-
ality” was something to protect and hide, he
embarked on a lengthy period of self-imposed
celibacy, even toying with the priesthood. But
after he returned to the Courtauld to continue
his degree in art history he found that student
life was far too enticing. From there, he went to
work at Christie’s, where he encountered the
bullying and dishonest office politics that form
the frequently turgid heart of this book.
Sewell’s brusque honesty is nothing if not
infectious, and so I will be honest in return.
This is a memoir – and, for that matter, a life –
with two principal strands: the world of art his-
tory and the world of homosexual sex.
The sex is cleverly, roguishly, even artfully
depicted. I was fascinated and frequently moved
to read about the author’s slow but brave pro-
gression from guilty, self-denying “queer”
to promiscuous and unapologetic hedonist.
As for the first strand, the anecdotage from
the Courtauld and Christie’s may seem just as
fascinating to those who trade in high art, yet
there is little authorial attempt to explain or to
evoke its atmosphere, its humanity. And hav-
ing heard of few of the people Sewell con-
stantly and gossipily namechecks (with the
notable exception of Anthony Blunt), I repeat-
edly found myself guiltily longing for the next
bit of sex. Naturally it crossed my mind that
I’m not Sewell’s ideal reader – but then, with
the exception of all of his (mostly deceased) co-
horts, who is?
Then there’s the prose. What do you do with
a sentence such as, “With Jill this English year
had forced a parting of the ways, for she had
chosen to study the centuries before 1550 to en-
sure a firm grounding for the Gothic art and ar-
chitecture that was to be her special period”?
Yet Sewell also offers consolation. A joyously
naughty passage describes Robin, who “aston-
ished us with his beauty and unconscious ele-
gance, the immaculate suit of fine greenish
tweed marred only by the urine drippings of
a man wearing boxer shorts and careless when
emptying his bladder”.
Even so, these vignettes rarely bring us closer
to the people. Sewell tells us what they were
like but rarely makes them spring off the page.
As I tramped on through the Christie’s mire,
I increasingly wondered: where are the emo-
tional highs and passions of Sewell’s life (art
and art history apart)? A seven-year relation-
ship with a man called Claudio is referred
to only glancingly, and despite all the explicit
self-scrutiny, the reader gets little sense of a
personal life. Is this, I began to wonder, a book
about loneliness?
The most chilling – and perceptive – insight
comes when the author, leaving the Courtauld
one evening, is picked up by a smelly-breathed
man with egg on his tie who insists that he
come for a milkshake. Contemplating – and
smelling – him, Sewell has an appalling, pre-
monitory flash-forward: “Were seedy clubs,
food droppings and slopping on my clothes,
the empty chattering of seduction and mephi -
tic breath, what I in middle age would inflict
on pretty boys?”
The man turned out to be Guy Burgess. But
I found myself – by now caring only about this
memoir’s honest, kind and likeably straight -
forward protagonist – hoping fervently that
the young Sewell’s glimpse of a future would
prove untrue. l
Julie Myerson’s most recent novel is “Then”
(Jonathan Cape, £12.99). Read more by her for
the New Statesman at:
newstatesman.com/writers/julie_myerson
“In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word
was God.” As a literal
opening to this column,
that line has never made
more sense. This week, the word is “God”.
The big one. I thought it was time.
However, I am neither equipped nor
inclined to offer a sophisticated analysis
of deism. I know that’s what you were
hoping for, but hell (whoops), it’s not
going to happen. This is about the word.
Not the word when it was being God:
I never understood how the word did that.
Also couldn’t John just have written, “In
the beginning was God, and God was with
God, and God was God”? Too repetitive?
Anyway, the word is Germanic, from
guthan, linked to the Proto-Indo-European
ghutóm, from the root ghew, meaning
“to call or invoke”. I like the way it unravels
not to a tangible being, but to something
summoned or imagined. It makes sense
of our frequent declamations – “for
God’s sake”, “in the name of God”, “God,
Boris Johnson is a plonker”. God the word
is invoked for emphasis, to make a point.
It helps that it is concise. If we’d stuck
with Yahweh, I’m not sure the idea would
have caught on. But God is neat, elemental.
Good for rhyming. Also, it turns out, good
for book titles. Here’s a selection for your
delectation . . . The God Delusion(by our
esteemed guest editor); The Pursuit of God
(I’ll stick with love, thanks); God, No!: Signs
You May Already Be an Atheist and Other
Magical Tales; When God Spoke to Me.
They’re all at it, you see, the atheists and
the believers, wheeling out the big guy as
they battle it out on the bookshelves. My
own favourites are God According to God
(pretty bold from the author, that one) and
Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts.
But if you really want to get to grips with
God, forget the tomes. Forget the Bible. I
dug out a couple of children’s books which,
judging by their titles, claim to answer
some pretty fundamental questions –
Where Does God Live? and What Is God
Like? (both a snip on Amazon for less than
a tenner). This is stuff that people have
been trying to figure out for years! And
the answers, who knew, are nestled in
a couple of 32-page picture books in the
four-to-eight age range. Ah well, better late
than never. l
WORD GAMES
God
Sophie Elmhirst
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 85
The Critics
FILM
Known
unknown
A chilling fable of city life
asks more questions than it
answers, says Ryan Gilbey
Dreams of a Life (12A)
dir: Carol Morley
Joyce Carol Vincent died alone, at the age of 38,
in her north London flat above an unlovely
retail complex called Shopping City. That was
in December 2003. She was eventually discov-
ered two and a half years later. A pile of presents
stood guard beside her remains: she had been
wrapping them in front of the television at the
time of her death. I do hope that detail hasn’t
ruined your Christmas.
When bailiffs broke down Joyce’s front door
in 2006, there wasn’t much of a body to speak
of. As in death, so in life: what sort of impres-
sion can a person have made on the world
for no one to seek her out for almost three
years? The film-maker Carol Morley tries to
answer that poser. The story hit the nationals
and became a momentary marmalade-dropper
but no one turned up much trace of Joyce’s
history until Morley placed ads (“Did you
know Joyce Vincent?”) and rounded up some
of Joyce’s old friends, landlords and lovers to
be interviewed on camera. The result, Dreams
of a Life, represents a new kind of film: the spec-
ulative documentary.
The Vincent family declined to participate,
as did Joyce’s former fiancé. Their absence is
regrettable but not devastating. Dreams of a
Life is more about what isn’t there and what
can’t be known than what is and what can; hard
facts might weigh it down. For every detail that
seems to bring Joyce sharply into focus, there
is a clutch of contradictions that reduces her
again to a blur. Someone refers to her as a
chameleon and there is a Zelig-like quality
about her meetings with remarkable men. Gil
Scott-Heron! Isaac Hayes! Nelson Mandela! Er,
Captain Sensible! One of Joyce’s former house-
mates, an ageing barrow-boy type with the
hots for her (“Sexy, wasn’t she? She was
sexy”), says it feels now like she is a figment of
everyone’s imagination – like they’ve all made
her up. Morley must have given a little inward
cheer when she heard that.
Rudiments of Joyce’s life emerge from the
haze. She was born in west London. Her four
older sisters helped their Grenadian father raise
her after the death of their Indian mother. She
was, someone remarks in the Caribbean parl-
ance, “broughtupsy” – she had manners. She
worked, she had friends, she liked to sing, she
moved around. Don’t we all? Inconsistencies
crop up, each one a gift to a picture so averse
to the forensic or definitive. An ex-lover insists:
“She had no great dreams, no ambitions.”
Cut to another voice: “She had so many ambi-
tions.” It’s like reading an obituary written
on a Möbius strip.
Zawe Ashton plays Joyce in the largely word-
less reconstructions and imaginative digres-
sions, which are sprinkled among the inter-
views. Most haunting are the attempts to cast
her as an eavesdropper at her own memorial.
She gazes inscrutably at the television (which
was still yapping away in the corner when she
was found) while the testimonies of those who
knew her play on its flickering screen.
Ashton has the sloping, queenly face of
Cathy Tyson in Mona Lisa, a likeness that
brings a helpful transfusion of that film’s grimy
London noir, particularly when Joyce is driven
around the city, all dolled up in the back of a
black cab. Plastered on the vehicle’s side is
Morley’s original appeal for information, lend-
ing the passenger the air of a soul being ferried
across the Styx.
It gradually becomes apparent that it isn’t
the intangible Joyce who is the subject of the
picture so much as her friends, and London,
and the grinding hubbub of city life in general.
The chief witness is Martin, an ex-boyfriend,
who is as jolly and moon-faced as a giant baby.
(It’s a running joke that no one could believe it
when the sultry Joyce appeared on his arm.)
Martin uses laughter the way other people
use full stops or ellipses, until finally he stops
laughing and holds his big, bald head in his
hands and sobs: “I wish she’d rung me. ’Cos
I would’ve helped. ’Cos I love you.” That’s
right: I love you.
We never do find out what those Christmas
presents were, or whom they were for. They
stand in for all the details about Joyce Vincent
that we have no right to know. l
Ryan Gilbey blogs on film every Tuesday at:
newstatesman.com/blogs/cultural-capital
Ghostly presence: Joyce (Zawe Ashton) I
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Bubbles with
your Bublé
From Downtonto the
Doctor, Rachel Cooke
rounds up Christmas TV
For anyone foolhardy enough not to know by
20 December what they’ll be cooking for Christ-
mas lunch, this year’s TV schedules will come
as a real boon. Rick Stein’s Spanish Christmas
(BBC2, 21 December, 9pm), Lorraine’s Last-
Minute Christmas (BBC2, 22 December, 8pm),
Nigel’s Simple Christmas (BBC1, 21 December,
7.30pm), Raymond Blanc’s Christmas Feast
(BBC2, 23 December, 8pm) . . . On and on, the
list of cookery programmes goes, the BBC’s
commissioning editors apparently having no
idea how hard it is to book an Ocado delivery in
late December, much less get one’s hands on
the last pack of jamón ibéricoat Sainsbury’s (we
can take it for granted that none of these shows
features a creative use of frozen peas, fish fin-
gers or white sliced bread and that Lorraine Pas-
cale, pretty as a picture in her “fun” Christmas
sweater, is unlikely to recommend dashing to
Iceland for a bag of mixed vol-au-vents).
All that’s missing is a pithy Michael Mosley
medical investigation into indigestion. The BBC
could have screened it at 5pm on Christmas
Day, when no one in Britain is any less than 22
miles away from the nearest open chemist.
But enough with this Grinching! There is lots
to watch on telly this Christmas, so long as you
are selective: by which I mean you will give
Young James Herriot (BBC1, 18 December, 9pm)
– does what it says on the tin – a wide berth and
ignore altogether Lapland (BBC1, Christmas
Eve, 10pm), a comedy drama starring Sue John-
ston as a put-upon matriarch who wants to give
her family –ugh! –the Christmas of a lifetime.
I will be kicking off with Rev (BBC2, 22 De-
cember, 9pm), in which Adam’s father-in-law
comes to stay. Forgive me if I repeat myself but I
think Rev is the comedy of our time, touching
and brave in equal measure. Top of my list
thereafter is BBC1’s heavenly sounding new
adaptation of Great Expectations (27 Decem-
ber, 9pm), starring Gillian Anderson as Miss
Havisham, Ray Winstone as Magwitch and
Douglas Booth as Pip; a new version of Mary
Norton’s novel about tiny people The Borrow-
ers (BBC1, Boxing Day, 7.30pm), childhood
nostalgia triumphing over any trepidation I feel
at the thought of the ubiquitous Stephen Fry
playing Professor Mildeye; and Downton
Abbey (ITV1, Christmas Day, 9pm), because
the tree will be huge and there will roast pheas-
ant and a suitably batty plotline for dinner. t
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19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 87
The Critics
You may want to watch Outnumbered
(BBC1, Christmas Eve, 9.30pm) but I will not
be joining you. For one thing, it’s so bloody irri-
tating. For another, I am child-free and thus have
no need to console myself with the sight of
sprogs even less well behaved than my own.
What else? For those who miss Val Dooni-
can – and who doesn’t? – ITV1 is screening the
schmaltz-fest Michael Bublé: Home for Christ-
mas (18 December, 9pm). Special guest star:
Gary Barlow. Let’s hope there will also be chest-
nuts roasting over an open fire. Channel 5 has a
new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s epic novel of
first-century Palestine, Ben Hur (28 December,
9pm), with Hugh Bonneville putting in a cameo
as Pontius Pilate (this could be fun after three or
four large Baileys). Channel 4 has a new sitcom,
Felix and Murdo (28 December, 10.35pm) by
Simon Nye, starring Alexander Armstrong and
Ben Miller as Edwardian toffs, which has the
potential to be hysterical; and Absolutely Fabu-
lous returns to BBC1 (Christmas Day, 10pm), if
you still feel up to jokes about Bolly, Issy and
Mossy in these austere times. I’m not sure I do.
Finally, shows for those who worry about
Christmas brain rot. I like the sound of The Art of
the Night on BBC4 (21 December, 9pm), starring
Waldemar Januszczak and paintings by Rem-
brandt, Hopper and others –and I will be unable
to resist The Many Lovers of Jane Austen (BBC2,
23 December, 9pm), in which Amanda Vickery
meets the fans (the bonnet-wearers of Texas
sound like fun) and Jane Austen: the Unseen Por-
trait (BBC2, Boxing Day, 9pm), in which Paula
Byrne tries to discover whether she has found
an unknown likeness of the novelist. University
Challenge runs on eight nights over the holidays
on BBC2 (from 19 December, 7.30pm) – though
rumours that Jeremy Paxman will front it with
foam antlers on his head are sadly unfounded.
Now, I think my work here is done. What’s that?
Doctor Who? Yes, of course it’s on: Christmas
Day at 7pm on BBC1. It’s set in 1938, guest stars
Clare Skinner and Alexander Armstrong and the
doctor arrives by climbing down a chimney. l
t
Robert Rowand
Anderson’s magnificent
Scottish National Portrait
Gallery (SNPG), which
opened in 1889, is a
Victorian arts and
crafts interloper amid the neoclassical,
Georgian rigour of Edinburgh’s New
Town. The SNPG’s deep red sandstone
exterior interrupts the otherwise uniform
palette of George Street, one of the New
Town’s main arteries.
Give or take the odd bout of remedial
scrubbing, the face that the SNPG presents
to this grand thoroughfare hasn’t changed
much in over 120 years. But inside, the
gallery has recently undergone a major
transformation overseen by the Glasgow-
based architectural practice Page\Park.
Relocating the SNPG’s previous
co-tenant, the National Museum of
Antiquities, to the nearby National
Museum of Scotland has allowed the
creation of a continuous suite of galleries
on the upper floor, all of them top-lit and
flooded with natural light. But perhaps the
most striking interventions of all have
occurred in the great hall, which visitors to
the SNPG in its previous incarnation
remember as a somewhat gloomy,
unwelcoming vestibule.
The vaulted ceiling of this triple-height
space, the first-floor murals and mosaic
floor-tiles have all been cleaned, and a
processional frieze depicting figures from
Scottish history restored to something like
its former glory. The SNPG’s chief curator
and deputy director, Nicola Kalinsky,
describes the frieze as a “great pageant of
[Scottish] history”. Much the same might
be said of the collection itself, which now
comprises nearly 900 works (almost
double the number on display before
the renovation).
For all her and her colleagues attempts to
“rethink the meaning of a potrait gallery in
the 21st century”, the hang is, Kalinsky
admits, “basically chronological”. It’s what
the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond,
describes in the gallery’s press release as a
celebration of “well-known Scots from
throughout the ages”, from Robert Burns
to Susan Boyle. Not especially ambitious
but appropriate, perhaps, for a country
anxious to assert its distinctive identity. l
Jonathan Derbyshire
For more information, visit:
nationalgalleries.org/portraitgallery
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Great Scots
No turkey: Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander in Rev
THEATRE
Farce
poetica
Andrew Billenrevels
in a high-spirited
Ealing comedy revival
The Ladykillers
Gielgud Theatre, London W1
Graham Linehan, who has turned Alexander
Mackendrick’s 1955 film The Ladykillers into a
West End farce, is the saviour of studio-based
situation comedy on television. As laughter
tracks went out of fashion and the mock docu-
mentary style took over, the creator of Father
Ted ploughed on and kept making studio audi-
ences laugh with Black Books and The IT Crowd.
It is fitting that he should seek to liberate on to
the stage an old Ealing comedy about a group of
bank robbers brought down by a sweet old
woman from unwatched box sets and exagger-
ated cineaste deference.
His resuscitation is about eight-tenths suc-
cessful and if the laughs from his latest live
audiences never quite reach hysteria, this La-
dykillers certainly creates enough goodwill in
the theatre to make the evening appear a gen-
uine treat. The film is surprisingly unfocused –
its writer, William Rose, literally dreamed the
plot – and Linehan has done much to tighten its
shots. Gone are the outside diversions: no
Frankie Howerd, no horse, no apple cart. In-
stead, the action is confined to the good widow
Wilberforce’s rambling King’s Cross house. It
is, more than in the film, propelled by charac-
ter. The gangs’ personalities are much more
fleshed out; the major, for instance, is no longer
just a coward but a coward who would like, but
does not dare, to wear women’s dresses.
Farce, however, relies on the tension be-
tween a controlling personality and anarchy
and Linehan’s insight was to realise that Profes-
sor Marcus, the brains of the heist, played in the
movie by Alec Guinness, is the supreme con-
trol freak, a man who compares his plans for the
heist to art. For him, using Mrs Wilberforce as
the crooks’ unwitting bagman and alibi is the
final flourish of genius. Peter Capaldi, garbed in
an intellectual’s overlong scarf – which is, of
course, his noose – is exceptional as the profes-
sor, throwing himself over the stage in an effort
to preserve his masterpiece. He is mad and bad.
His words pour like honey but from a mouth
fixed in a grimace. Everything he does is in-
fused with menace, even his tea, which he
takes with a “suspicion” of sugar. Capaldi’s
professor is a man who has won the battle to
suppress his own nature and now fights a war
against everyone else’s. B
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88 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
But the war cannot be won, for his lieutenants
are hopeless: not just the lovely James Fleet’s
major but an idiot bruiser who cannot even re-
member his alias (Clive Rowe, not on form), a
cockney lad addicted to pills (a more than ade-
quate Stephen Wright) and a cynical Italian (Ben
Miller, gamely refusing to upstage Capaldi)
with poor idiomatic English and a reluctance
to generate the necessary lies. Taxed with find-
ing an excuse for his thievery, Lou announces:
“I run an orphanage in Romania. How’s that?”
The prof’s foil, however, is the widow and Mar-
cia Warren replicates Katie Johnson’s perform-
ance exactly. The old lady is a controlling per-
sonality also, outraged when her good opinion
of the genteel lodger, who has persuaded her
his friends are members of an amateur string
quintet, needs a major overhaul.
The play reaches a glorious climax just before
the “intermission”, when the gang is forced to
play for Mrs Wilberforce’s elderly friends. In a
scene of Linehan’s devising, the professor man-
ufactures a brilliant excuse for their inevitable
cacophony. As the band’s conductor and com-
poser, he intones before they begin, his audi-
ence must appreciate that he is a “controversial
figure in modern music” and the following
work will be “difficult”.
The evening never gets as funny as this again
and, in part, that is a structural weakness of
the story, for one by one the gangsters immo-
late themselves, leaving the stage barer and
barer. The second act systematically does away
with the elements the professor is so needy to
control so there is less and less to enjoy.
In the film, this is no problem, for the deaths
above the railway station are scary and vivid.
Onstage, they go for little.
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Michael Taylor’s revolving set is wonderful
to scrutinise, even if, on press night, a door
knob fell off, providing so many opportunities
for ad libs that I bet they keep it unscrewed.
Taylor’s solution for showing the robbery –
little cars running up the outside of the house
– is, however, unnecessary and Mrs Wilber-
force’s caged and unseen parrot repeatedly
fails to amuse.
A final ingenuity depicting the prof’s end
makes up for this. The director Sean Foley had
not quite yet drilled his company into the pre-
cision-timing that farce requires but when that
comes, the design faults will matter less. It is, in
any case, a delight to see Capaldi enjoying him-
self so much. If only it were not too late for us to
see Alec Guinness’s take on Malcolm Tucker. l
Andrew Billen is a staff writer at the Times
newstatesman.com/writers/andrew_billen
RADIO
Magic
moments
Antonia Quirke on the best
of Christmas listening,
from the dull to the daft
Last year’s BBC Christmas cosy was Colin Firth
editing Today and a documentary about the
Morris Minor. This year, it’s David Jason pre-
senting “classic moments from an array of
British Christmas radio programmes past and
present” (David Jason’s Comedy Christmas,
Radio 2, Christmas Day, 6pm), leaning rather
too predictably on Morecambe and Wise.
Those less keen to probe the outer limits of
tedium might welcome the following alterna-
tives: a long edition of Words and Music (Radio
3, Christmas Day, 6.30pm) on the theme of
bells, with music from Rachmaninov, Pete
Seeger, Philip Feeney, Grieg and readings from
Tennyson (“Ring Out, Wild Bells”) and
Charles Dickens (“The Chimes”).
We will all be completely under the influ-
ence of Dickens until the arrival of his bicente-
nary in February but one of the most powerful
programmes about the man thus far is The Tale
of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (Radio 4, 29 December,
11.30am), in which the crime writer Frances Fy-
field looks at original manuscript pages held by
the Victoria and Albert Museum and contem-
plates his “frantic handwriting and ferocious
self-editing”. It’s a show that comprehends the
distilled lyricism of Dickens’s common speech
(and the despair expressed through both sense
and a sense of beauty in it).
Classic FM keenly attempts to recreate a sort
of Fezziwig’s dance with the Parliament Choir
Concert (Christmas Eve, 6pm). “From lords
and ladies to MP’s and staff,” goes the blurb,
“they put aside all their differences for a night to
be united in musical harmony!” The Parliament
Choir’s first carol concert to be aired in public
promises readings by the Labour leader, Ed
Miliband, and the Speaker of the House, John
Bercow. Time, doubtless, to switch to Planet
Rock for a comforting scan of its seasonal
rolling-rock stories (“A second Metallica track
leaks! ‘Hate Train’ was also seemingly recorded
during the Death Magnetic sessions!”)
Only a fool would miss Keith Arthur on
TalkSport with a particularly Fungus the Bo-
geyman edition of his peerless, live, “tales from
the riverbank” call-in show Fisherman’s Blues
(Christmas Day, 6am). “I always plan for the
worst,” Arthur told me recently, über-Fun-
gusly. “No callers, no texters, no emailers –and
I’m usually surprised to find a plethora of
all three. Still, I'll take some angling-related
Pulling strings: Peter Capaldi (right) in The Ladykillers
The Critics
material to read. Or angling-related music,
anyway. It’s about time the fish had a voice.
Even if it’s mine.”
Final cast-iron tip: for nightmare-minimisa-
tion purposes, tune in at any moment to Net
Station, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica (Anetsta-
tion.com) a non-commercial internet outfit
with a lovely, perpetually low-level air of the
dumpee. (“I've met someone else. His name
is Shackleton and he’s a script consultant at
the penguin rookery”). Here, guitar music
solos stop and after a long, long pause, you
realise that someone’s been playing live in the
studio all this time.
Things get said on this station that perilously
skirt hippiedom but divert joyously from what
a drag everything is: “Emotions are creatures of
the jungle, people. Panic, and they devour. But
remember: sometimes, when it’s least ex-
pected, we get a little help, a little extra, a little
surprise, that makes us give thanks. Makes
everything magical.” l
newstatesman.com/writers/antonia_quirke
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 89
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REAL MEALS
Fast for Christmas; it might do you good
Will Self
Well, here we all are – this is the last Real
Meals of 2011 and I for one would like to go
out with a bang, rather than a whimper. My
charming editor at the Statesmansuggested
that I might like to write something
“Christmassy” but why would I want to do
that? I made my feelings about Christmas
dinner perfectly clear in this column at about
this time two years ago and they haven’t
changed one jot during the intervening
months. Frankly, I’m about as likely to set
out on the highways and byways of Albion as
a sannyasin as I am to begin at the age of 50
rhapsodising about a meal I’ve never ever
enjoyed or even seen the point of.
Actually, I’m a good deal more likely to
become a mendicant, because if there’s one
thing writing about food confirms me in, it’s
my ever-lurking manorexia. I like to review
fast food outlets rather than fancy restaurants
because if there’s one virtue they have, it’s
that they exist to satisfy the hunger of the
masses, rather than to stimulate the jaded
palates of the privileged few – it’s an axiom of
gastronomy that the hungrier you are, the
better something will taste and, when you’re
starving, any old shit will do, so long as it has
“US food aid programme” stencilled on it.
Up the sprout
My late stepmother once served up a
Christmas dinner at the picnic site on the
shores of Lake Burley Griffin. I want you to
picture the scene: the lake is an artificial one
in the middle of the Australian federal
capital, Canberra, and on the far shore, the
parliament building rises up, a queer
pre-postmodernist spaceship of a structure
surmounted by what appears to be a giant
hypodermic syringe. Possibly the architect’s
idea was to suggest that the legislature
needed injecting with a hefty dose of
common sense, or irony, or both.
In 44 degree heat, my stepmother doled
out turkey, bread sauce, roast potatoes,
sprouts . . . God love her, you might well say,
and with the benefit of 20 years hindsight, I
do feel that I cruelly misjudged her on that
occasion. What aroused my scorn was
the small charity collecting envelope
she had put beside our plates that
featured – if my memory serves me
– a photograph of some Somali
starvelings. Nothing, I
withered at her, could
be more calculated to
ruin a feast than the
presence – even as representations – of these
ghosts! Now I see that her reasoning –
whether conscious or not – was perfect:
Christmas dinner is a meal fit only for
ruining, so why not cut to the chase. And if it
offends you to think of all the bellies swollen
with air, then I suggest you look away now
and get back to pickling your nuts.
Roly poly
According to the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation’s statistics, there were in 2010
925 million people in the world suffering
from innutrition. Innutrition is the preferred
term for starving nowadays since the ambit
of malnutrition has been expanded to
include the obese as well as the meagre.
Actually, I think we can all benefit from
this new form of usage over the festive
season. When roly-poly Uncle Henry, or
blubbery Auntie Roberta wallows along,
why not greet them at the door saying, “My,
you look awfully malnourished, you’d better
come in . . .” The facts are that, despite all the
love-bombing of Bono, Sir Bob, Tony
“Granita” Blair and the rest, world innutrition
levels have increased substantially since the
mid-1990s. The reasons for this are obvious:
the neglect of appropriate sufficiency
agriculture by governments, the current
world economic crisis and rising food prices.
But as ever, the most significant
impediment to Tiny Tim gorging himself on
goose are the Scrooges of this world, who
girdle the earth with the political equivalent
of a gastric band so that not enough food
reaches southern bellies. There’s more food
being produced worldwide than a decade ago;
unfortunately there is also more inequality,
instability and in the past three years a huge
upsurge in refugees, which is why around
one-in-seven of the human family will be
tucking into bugger-all on 25 December.
Why not join them? I hold no brief for
tokenistic charity efforts designed to make
the moneyed feel better about their status
but fasting is another matter: it clears the
mind and concentrates the thoughts on
both the spiritual verities and the hard
realities of life. No wonder all serious
religions include it as a key part
of their practice. It’s very effective
against malnutrition as well –
at least, the sort we get
down my way. l
newstatesman.com/
writers/will_self
“Madam”
By Christopher Logue
(1926-2011)
Madam
I have sold you
an electric plug
an electric torch
an electric blanket
an electric bell
an electric cooker
an electric kettle
an electric fan
an electric iron
an electric drier
an electric mixer
an electric washer
an electric knife
an electric clock
an electric fire
an electric toothbrush
an electric razor
an electric teapot
an electric eye
and electric light.
Allow me to sell you
an electric chair.
“MP3 player
or a Brennan?
I’ll have both
thanks” says
Jools Holland
brennan
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In a recent interview Jools
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he owns an MP3 player,
the ability of the Brennan
JB7 to store, browse and
play up to 5000 CDs* at
the touch of a button, as
well as record from CD,
tape or vinyl at the very
highest quality, makes it the perfect machine
for his precious and unique music collection.
Since getting my Brennan, some people have asked me why
I don’t just have an MP3 player. Well I do, but I’ve got
bucket loads of CD’s, yards of tapes and records and I
wanted to record and listen to them at the highest quality.
If you transfer something from one medium to another and
then record it on to a CD, you don’t want to then degrade it
again when you store it.
“Digital break up is as irritating as dandruff”
An MP3 player typically records at 128 kilobits, whereas
the Brennan starts at 192, goes up to 320 and then beyond
that you can record uncompressed.
My MP3 player is very handy to take on tour or on holiday,
but if I want to archive something important I’ll use the
Brennan. Downloading from the Internet isn’t bad, but for
me it’s a little time consuming. I always want the easiest
and fastest way to do something. If I had to unlock my
piano, walk through a few hoops and put a password in
before playing, it would be rather long winded and I’m not
sure I could be bothered.
“I’ve got drawers full of cassettes, boxes
full of CDs and 28 feet of vinyl records, so I
definitely needed a Brennan”
Apart from recording quality, what I was really after from
the Brennan was being able to archive a lot of my own
music. The Brennan is a great way of distilling it all down to
be able to enjoy it.
“Many of my personal recordings
in my collection are old and quite rare”
For example, I made a film about the music of the film and
TV composer Edwin Astley. When making it his family sent
me some reel-to-reel tapes of his incidental music from
films and dramas. It’s of its time and very charming. When
making the film about him I put all his incidental music on
to one CD. It is the sort of thing you couldn’t get anywhere.
I also have things like a CD of myself and Willie Dixon, the
greatest blues composer of all time, in New York together
in the 1980’s. The other day somebody sent me a CD of me
doing a solo show in Boston in 1981. It’s wonderful to have
all of these memories on CD, but as we know, they’re quite
fragile and have a limited life span.
“When CDs came out we all assumed you
could use them as a Frisbee, spread jam on them
and they would still work perfectly well”
It turned out this was not the case. You might have noticed
that some CD’s have the habit of not working, particularly
the ones that you record yourself. These are exactly the
sort of things I’m recording on to the Brennan, not just as a
back up but so I can listen to them whenever I want
without having to search for them.
I’m not trying to load everything in one go. I’m going to
slowly enjoy transferring them piece by piece gradually
archiving my collection. On my Radio 2 show, I play a lot of
blues and roots records. I trawl through a lot of music and
I’m constantly at the song face. I’m looking forward to
distilling the best of these blues records on to my Brennan.
This also includes some 78 recordings I have and enjoy
listening to on shellac.
“It’s important for me not to forget the music
that has touched me over the years”
It doesn’t really matter if a piece of music is 5 minutes old
or 500 years old. When you hear it if it has the effect of
lifting your human spirit then its done its job. My Brennan
is enabling me to reconnect with a lot of my old music that
did just that.
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Find the music you want
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T
h
e
P
e
r
f
e
c
t
G
i
f
t
!
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 91
Back Pages
Food
|
Drink
|
Competitions
|
Columns
Manzanilla, a big Rhône red or
a fine Armagnac are all excellent
adjuncts to Christmas and not one
of them is under 14 per cent (in
fact, the brandy will be around 40).
What with cold weather,
excessive socialising and the
prospect of a few days off, there
seems little reason, once we have
found the tipple that works for
us, to curb our thirst. Everything
in moderation, of course, but
that applies to moderation itself:
forbearance is a very Puritan
virtue, and I’ve always been more
of a Cavalier.
The odd thing about
the British is not that we
drink too much; it’s that
we used to be so much
better at it. Henry IV
is full of unrepentant
tippling, culminating
in Falstaff’s exuberant
claim that no amount
of bravery or education
is worth anything
without sherry to
fire it up, and that
Amis – no slouch on the alcohol
front – once said, if you can’t
annoy somebody, there’s little
point in writing. And the fact is,
most of us do overdo it. We go
out more, guzzle free refreshment
at office parties and then, faced
with that fearsome battalion,
the family, reach for the nearest
loaded glass.
Still, let’s accentuate the
positive. This is the time
of year for goodwill and mercy
mild; shouldn’t we apply them to
ourselves, too? And, while the
will must be good (I am not
advocating drinking bad booze
in any quantity), the mercy
needn’t be all that mild. A good
C
hristmas – a time of inviolate
traditions, when trees are
decked and carols sung,
and drink critics pontificate on
the wines that best lubricate
overcooked turkey. You’re all
awash with those suggestions;
my adding to them would be as
surplus to requirements as
another present under the tree.
So I shall turn my attention to
a matter close to my heart, and
probably to yours, although you
may not be willing to admit it: the
licence Christmas offers to drink
too much. We live in hypocritical
times, so a paean to excessive
drinking is unlikely to please
some people. But then, as Kingsley
the reason Prince Hal will become
a great king is that he drinks such
a lot of it. Pepys boasted about
the array of drink in his cellar as
being more than any of his friends
“ever had of his own at one time”.
In his 1920 Notes on a Cellar-Book,
George Saintsbury acknowledges
that beer with breakfast is a bad
idea, but adds that, just after,
“strongish beer . . . is probatum
of many choice scholars, good
sportsmen, and, in the best sense
of the term, men”.
Grab your goblet
It is true that most apostles of
excessive drinking, right into
the 20th century, have been
men – often men not especially
keen on women (the best-known
exception is probably Dorothy
Parker, though she didn’t like
women much, either).
So I am reclaiming fine drinking,
in disproportionate quantities, for
the modern gourmand of either
sex. I am a five foot two female
with a very hard head, but those
who haven’t invested in my years
of intensive training need not fear:
if you become irritating, some
kind soul, aflush with Yuletide
altruism, will surely remove the
goblet from your grasp.
I, meanwhile, will start
25 December with Philipponnat
Grand Blanc 2004 champagne,
move on to Finca Allende’s 2008
white Rioja with my turkey, and
will eschew Christmas pudding
(horrid stuff) in favour of a
Castelnau de Suduiraut 2009
Sauternes. Then cocktails: a good
Martini is the closest to angel song
that I am ever likely to get.
Let’s be clear as vodka
here. I am not praising
drunkenness,
merely condemning
hypocrisy. We aren’t
mealy-mouthed in
any other sense at this
time of year. Isn’t it time
to shout hosanna and raise
the 27th glass? l
Next week: Jason
Cowley on wine
DRINK
Shout hosanna and
raise the 27th glass
Nina Caplan
Wafer-thin mint not provided: this is not the time of year for moderation, particularly where tippling is concerned
L
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QUIZ ANSWERS
92 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
THE NS CHRISTMAS PRIZE CROSSWORD BY OTTERDEN: THREESOMES
Back Pages
1
9
14
20
27
25 26
29
33
28 31
22
24
21
32
30
23
18
23
17
15 16
12
13
11
8
12
10
9
4 6 7
5 8 2 3
Solutions to the 15 clues marked
* refer to just one member of a closely
linked group of three fictitious
characters, derived from a range
including Greek mythology,
Shakespeare and Disney to name a
few. These solutions are not otherwise
defined, but all other clues are normal.
Across
1/10*Appalling parts of this scam
follow a frightener (5,2,9,4)
11 Spare parts refurbished at brand
new plant (9)
12 *Clamour to get right of reply (4)
13 *Troops on a manoeuvre (7)
14 Young bird makes easy sport
with gun (4-6)
17 Sing wordlessly sounding like
a tellytubby (2-2)
19 Examinations in choral singing(5)
20Saved again from river by
the sea (8)
23 Subtle alteration to rear
extension (6)
25 Spike with two parts projecting (5)
26 *Derisory address once
recalled (6)
27 *Motorway to South Africa has
right turn (6)
29 Grave message to cricket side
in Yorkshire (5)
31 Heading off embrace from
one’s partner (6)
32 *A small thing to put up with (4,4)
35 Stopping for dinner at French city
is more pleasant (5)
37 Brown’s friend eats out (4)
39 *Trees move spasmodically (5,5)
43 Transport to take one into
slavery (7)
45 Sacred cow could be covered
by prize bull (4)
46*Offence got substantially reduced
after compassion expressed (5-4)
47 *Foreign derivation does not
concern editor (4)
48*Mean tricks lacked resolve (11,5)
Down
1 Moors here once but soon to
move to Salford Quays (7)
2 I have no room to study river
creature (5)
3 *Union gets drink dispenser (9)
4 Flower not confined to eastern
parts of Indonesia (7)
5 *This one or another version? (9)
6 *One is caught up in Iran
upheaval (5)
7 Met to revamp iconic image (5)
8 *He was in doubt shortly after
opening of academy (5)
9 Dead places with unfinished semi-
erected new development (10)
15 Consider 29 and Leeds for
instance (3)
16 Dump last of fertiliser in
the river (3)
18 Risk assessor rescued company
from unrestrained autocracy (7)
20*American president not having
any inauguration! (5)
21 Homer’s exclamation at both
ends of the scale (3)
22 He gets a role in reworking
opening (3-4)
24 Lacking pictures around at home
is unbelievable (10)
25 Implement stored in
spare room (5)
28 Pick-up language (3)
30 Broad believer in his patent
mixture (9)
31 Plan to get very large pastries
to rise (9)
33 Take deliveries for tobacco
company (3)
34 Auntie regularly sees a cuckoo (3)
36 Illness Sebastian about to have to
suffer when returning (7)
38 Almost a model village as found
at the seaside (4,3)
40Youngster in South Africa
assists divers (5)
41 Made cleaner –as were many
early TV shows (5)
42 Pupil who gets trade union
support (5)
44Further blacken king under
restraint (2-3)
19
Answers to crossword of 12 December 2011
Across 1) Strauss 5) Borodin 9) Hosts 10) Record bid 11) Molotov 12) Liszt 13) Its 15) Nielsen
17) Aye-aye 18) Ski 20) Dvorak 22) Nonagon 25) Yet 26) Ravel 27) Smetana 30) Hole-in-one
31) Grieg 32) Shingle 33) Surfeit
Down 1) Schumann 2) Resolve 3) Upset 4) Stravinsky 5) Bach 6) Rural dean 7) Debussy 8) Nudity
14) Saint-Saëns 16) Strolling 19) Uncaught 21) Vivaldi 23) Granite 24) Brahms 28) Elgar 29) Sole
35 34 36 37 38
39 40 41
42 43 44
45
48
46 47
Politics
1c Cat
2b “Easy meat”
3c A kitten
4a Angela Eagle
5c St James’s Park
6d Holding
golliwog dolls
7d David Willetts
8c “Personal
issues”
International
affairs
1c “Too
effeminate”
2b “Oops”
3b Neptune
Spear
4c Ruby
5d Salmon
6a Neil Kinnock
7b Platform
cleaner
8d Frozen pizza
9c Salva Kiir
10d Liberation
11b Nigella
Lawson
Home affairs
1a A C Grayling
2a “Sod the
Wedding – It’s
a Day Off”
3c 50 per cent
4a Charlie
Gilmore
5c Merton
6b £482m
7a AssureDNA
8c Leeds
Metropolitan
9d Swan
10c £6.4m
11a House of
Reeves
Online
1c Beyoncé’s
pregnancy
2a Occupy
3c Samuel L
Jackson
4b 43 per cent
5d Lady Gaga
Arts
1b Lars von Trier
2d Spider-Man:
Turn Off the Dark
3a Ahmed
Basiony
4a John Cleese
5d $400m
Television
1c Scooby-Doo
2c Glasgow
3a Australia
4b Highclere
Castle
5a Alastair
Campbell
6c Three weeks
Media
1a A bedsheet
2b Anti-Muslim
propaganda
3d GQ
4b Andrew Marr
5d 168
6b Liz Jones
Books
1c P D James
2d 80
3a Martin Amis
4b Harper Lee
Sport
1c He jumped
off a ferry in
Auckland
2d Yuvraj Singh
3a Fifa
Quotes
1c Ed Miliband
2b In “all
possible ways”
3b Hillsborough
victims’ relatives
4a Rowan
Williams
5d Steve Jobs
l This week’s solutions will be published
in the next issue of the NS dated 2 January 2012
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 93
Back Pages
THE RETURNING OFFICER
Crackers
There are two Christmas islands.
One is a territory of Australia in
the Indian Ocean and for electoral
purposes is part of the Lingiari
division of the Australian
parliament, currently represented
by Labor’s Warren Snowdon. The
second is one of the Line Islands,
part of the Republic of Kiribati. In
2003 the presidency was won by
Anote Tong, who beat his brother
Harry by 13,556 votes to 12,457.
John Grant was MP for Islington
East/Central (1970-83) leaving
Labour for the SDP in 1981. In 1973
he kept a diary of his political year,
called Member of Parliament.
On 19 December he went to the
carol service at Highbury Grove
School, where the headmaster
was the future Tory MP Rhodes
Boyson. And on 23 December
he noted that there was a day of
adjournment debates but, because
nobody much turned up, “It was
a good chance to do a spot of
belated Christmas shopping.”
Jamaica goes to the polls on
29 December. Portia Simpson-
Miller (the country’s first female
prime minister in 2006-2007) of
the People’s National Party will be
hoping to defeat the current PM,
Andrew Holness of the Jamaica
Labour Party. l
Stephen Brasher
FirstFOTL
SecondDM
CEOTThirdK
TFirstPOKHTFourth
FifthC
IOTSixthH
Seventh-DA
EighthWOTW
BNinthS
SOTenthA
ATeleventhH
THE NS CHRISTMAS PUZZLES BY OTTERDEN (SOLUTIONS ON PAGE 95)
Elevated titles
Senior politicians and other figures who are elevated to the Lords are
given titles embodying place names of their choice. Link the following
personages with the place/places in their baronial title.
PLACES (in alphabetical order)
Aldeburgh
Bedwellty
Bradford
Brighton
Brookwood
Cardiff
Easington
Elstree
Epping Forest/Telford
Firth
Foy/Hartlepool
Hillhead/Pontypool
Jevington
Kesteven
Lympne
Richmond-upon-Thames
Rievaulx/Kirklees
Sandwell
St Marylebone/Herstmonceux
Stepney
Thenford
Tonbridge
Weston-super-Mare/Mark
OTTwelfthDOC
FTThirteenth
TFourteenthOJ-BD
O-TFifteenthLOTA
AL-SixteenthAP
SOTSeventeenthD
TEighteenthAIP
SYATNineteethH
TwentiethCF
Twenty-firstBP
21 Positions
Discover a title or phrase from the initial letters and the
ordinal number given.
Dingbats
The positional make-up of the material in each box leads to a seasonal
word, phrase or message (except 4 which points to the messenger)
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
10
What do you do?
I’m director of
fisheries for the
Isle of Man
government.
Where do
you live?
Laxey, a lovely village on the
east coast of the island.
Do you vote?
Always, but rarely with
any pleasure.
How long have you been
a subscriber?
Since 1996.
Is the NS bug in the family?
I’ve given a couple of gift
subscriptions.
How do you read yours?
Late at night after my girls
are tucked up in bed.
What made you start?
I was looking for some political
analysis and depth that I wasn’t
seeing in the broadsheets.
SUBSCRIBER OF THE WEEK
Andy Read
What pages do you flick to first?
Political columns, then the
main features.
What would you like to see
more of in the NS?
Africa and Latin America seem
to be off your radar. I am a cricket
nut – more cricket please.
Who’s your favourite
NS blogger?
I see quite enough of computer
screens at work, thank you.
Who would you put on the
cover of the NS?
John Smith. Labour has
forgotten that it was electable
without needing to betray its
principles and roots.
Which politicians would
you least like to be stuck in
a lift with?
Thatcher and Blair.
The New Statesman is . . .
A welcome injection of ideas
and information (usually!). l
11
12
PEERS created (from 1970 on)
Emanuel Shinwell
Quintin Hogg (Hailsham)
Laurence Olivier
George Brown
Victor Feather
Lew Grade
Bernard Delfont
Benjamin Britten
Harold Wilson
Jo Grimond
Len Murray
James Callaghan
Roy Jenkins
Margaret Thatcher
Jeffrey Archer
Richard Attenborough
Colin Cowdrey
Betty Boothroyd
Michael Heseltine
Philip Gould
Neil Kinnock
Peter Mandelson
Michael Howard
Classified
94 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
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Start your trial subscription today, go online at:
“Penny is reinventing the language of dissent,
causing apoplexy among the old men in cardigans
who run the British blogosphere”
Paul Mason,economics editor of the BBC’s Newsnight
12WEEKS
FORJUST£12
*for the first 20 subscriptions
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 95
Back Pages
THE NS COMPETITION
No 4206
Set by Brendan O’Byrne
We wanted lyrics from
“Occupy: the Musical”.
This week’s winners
Well done. Pats on backs all round!
£25 to the winners, with the Tesco
vouchers going, in addition, to
Brian D Allingham for added
oomph. And finally, a very Happy
Christmas to you all – and please
look out for the Top Ten winners
of 2011, which will be published
some time in January . . .
Oh, What a Beautiful Protest
There’s a bright yellow tent
on the meadow;
There’s a whole bunch of tents
on the meadow.
That guy is as high as the
archdeacon’s eye,
And he thinks that he’s floating
clear up to the sky.
Chorus: Oh, what a beautiful
Protest.
Oh, what a left-leanin’ day.
I’ve got a self-righteous feelin’
We’ll change the world this way.
All the clergy are puzzled and
flurried
And the MPs are def’nitely
worried.
They don’t turn their heads as we
sneak home to bed;
And the Daily Mail says we are
commies and reds.
Chorus
All the papers are off’ring us
money.
And the Murdochs – they don’t
think it’s funny.
The brokers are bust and the
system will rust.
And what we are asking is only
what’s just.
Chorus
Brian D Allingham
We Occupy, We Occupy
Camps are settin’ up all over
In London in New York and
in Rome
Though the politicians mutter
Want to sweep us in the gutter
We tell ’em we ’aint going home
Chorus: We occupy, we occupy
Fair shares for all, our battle cry
No more banks to save by bailin’
Gravy trains we want de-railin’
Sky-high salaries will vanish
And dodgy hedge funds banish.
Chorus
Occupation all the winter
Through wind, rain, ice and sleet
and snow
Bonuses we swear to batter
Stop the fat cats getting fatter
Capitalists have got to go.
Lisbeth Rake
Squatters’ Song
We are the very model of the
movement you call Occupy,
We seek social improvement ’cos
the status quo has ossified,
Until the day the City’s shot and
Cleggeron is crossified
We’ll squat here in St Paul’s
and behind Church of
In association with
England crosses hide.
We’d sooner squat in banks but
they won’t let us on their
property
And so we sit pontificating on the
weak economy,
We’ve urged the clergy to read
Marx via needle-eye and
dromedary
But they just get frocked up,
intoning yet more Deuteronomy.
Adrian Fry
The next challenge
No 4209 Set by Gavin Ross
After the outcry over Clarkson’s
“joke”, we want complaints about
famous humorists of the past, eg,
Thomas Hood, Edward Lear, Feste.
Max 125 words by 5 January
comp@newstatesman.co.uk
CAPTION OF THE WEEK
Bill Clinton to Haiti’s PM, Garry
Conille, as he lays the first stone of
the industrial park: “Is that oil
I see down there? Prepare for an
invasion!” (Peter Wilkening)
Runner-up
Clinton: “OK, so that’s what
happened to Papa Doc!”
(Phil Lee)
Max 20 words by 29 December on a postcard, please, or email to:
comp@newstatesman.co.uk
What was the former Mr Katie Price trying to convey to the mysterious Mayor?
WINNER 05/12
Answers to puzzles from page 93
Elevated titles
Emanuel Shinwell-Easington;
Quintin Hogg-St Marylebone/
Herstmonceux; Laurence Olivier-
Brighton; George Brown-
Jevington; Victor Feather-
Bradford; Lew Grade-Elstree;
Bernard Delfont-Stepney;
Benjamin Britten-Aldeburgh;
Harold Wilson-Rievaulx/
Kirklees; Jo Grimond-Firth; Len
Murray-Epping Forest/Telford;
James Callaghan-Cardiff; Roy
Jenkins-Hillhead/Pontypool;
Margaret Thatcher-Kesteven;
Jeffrey Archer-Weston-super-
Mare/Mark; Richard
Attenborough-Richmond-upon-
Thames; Colin Cowdrey-
Tonbridge; Betty Boothroyd-
Sandwell; Michael Heseltine-
Thenford; Philip Gould-
Brookwood; Neil Kinnock-
Bedwellty; Peter Mandelson-
Foy/ Hartlepool; Michael
Howard-Lympne
Christmas Dingbats
1) Noel 2) Turkey leftovers
3) Boxing Day 4) New Statesman
5) The Seasons Greetings 6) Puss
in Boots 7) Reindeer 8) Fairy on
the tree 9) Peace on Earth 10)
Midnight Mass 11) Christmas
Broadcast 12) Opening presents
21 positions
a) First foot on the ladder,
b) Second degree murder,
c) Close Encounters of the
Third Kind,
d) The First Part of King Henry
the Fourth(first folio title),
e) Fifth column, f) Inn of the Sixth
Happiness, g) Seventh-Day
Adventist, h) Eighth Wonder of
the World, i) Beethoven’s Ninth
Symphony, j) Slaughter on Tenth
Avenue, k) At the eleventh hour,
l) On the Twelfth Day of
Christmas, m) Friday the
Thirteenth, n) The Fourteenth
of July-Bastille day, o) O-the
fifteenth letter of the alphabet,
p) Abraham Lincoln Sixteenth
American President, q) Summer
of the Seventeenth Doll, r) 1920-
The Eighteenth Amendment
introduced prohibition,
s) See you at the Nineteenth hole,
t) Twentieth Century Fox,
u) Twenty-first birthday party R
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F
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THIS ENGLAND
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 97
Backpages
THE FAN
Joking around the Christmas tree
Hunter Davies
This is the season to laugh at
football, for football is a joke,
you have to laugh. Over the
generations jokes have come in
different forms and sizes.
Period jokes
I have in front of me some
football programmes from 1907
which are full of real corkers.
* Why is a keen footballer
like a fretful child? Because he is
always ready for a bawl.
* Boy: Can I go out and play
football? Mum: Not with those
socks full of holes. Boy: No with
Harry next door, he’s got
a proper football.
* Schoolboy: We’d have won
the game if our captain hadn’t
lost his head. Mother: Goodness,
was it as bad as that? I heard it
was a only an ear.
Cracker jokes
* Why is a failed manager
like Santa Claus? They both
get the sack.
* What gloves can a goalie
see and smell but not wear?
Foxgloves.
* Why did the winning team
spin their trophy round and
round? It was the Whirled Cup.
* Why was Cinderella rubbish
at football? She ran away from
the ball.
* Why was the mummy no
good at football? He was too
wrapped up in himself.
* Why did the dog refuse to
play football ? Because it was
a boxer.
* What do you call the girl
who stands at the end of the
pitch and catches the ball?
Annette.
* What did the manager do
when the pitch got flooded?
Sent on a sub.
* Why did Peter Crouch?
Because he saw Darren Bent
Famous names
Jokes have always been told about
famous players and managers –
some of them could even have
been true
* In the 1870s, Lord Kinnaird,
later president of the FA, was
known for getting stuck in when
he played for Old Etonians. “I
worry that one day he will come
home with a broken leg,” his
mother said to the team captain.
“Don’t worry, my lady,” was the
reply, “it won’t be his own.”
* Stanley Matthews was so
fast that he could turn the light
off at the bedroom door and be
under the blankets before the
room got dark.
* Bill Shankly was asked if
it was true he took his
wife to see Liverpool
reserves as a wedding
anniversary treat. “That’s
a lie. It was her birthday.”
* Brian Clough was in
bed with his wife. “God,
your feet are cold,” she says.
“You can call me Brian in
bed, dear” says Clough.
* Victoria Beckham
comes home and finds
her husband David
jumping up and down
in excitement. “43
days!”, he shouts.
“I’ve finished this
jigsaw in 43
days!” “What’s so
good about that?”
asks Posh. “Well,” says David, “it
says three to six years on the box.”
* Fabio Capello is wheeling his
trolley in a supermarket when he
notices a sweet old lady struggling
with her bags. “Can you manage,
dear,” he asks her. To which the
not so sweet old lady replies, “You
got yourself into this fucking
mess, don’t ask me to sort it out.”
Topical jokes
* “If Glenn Hoddle found God,”
said Jasper Carrott, “it must have
been a hell of a long pass.”
* Osama bin Laden had just
released a new TV message to
prove he was still alive. In it he
said that England’s performance
in their last game had been
complete shite. British
intelligence dismissed the tape,
stating that the message could
have been recorded any time
in the past 44 years.
Malapropisms – or similar
* “I hate perception. There’s
too much of it in football” –
Sam Allardyce
* “Even if the keeper
could have saved it, it would
have gone in the back of the
net” – Les Ferdinand
* “What
Newcastle
lack is a lack of
pace” – Charlie
Nicholas.
* “Robert
Mancini’s got
that Italian
style of play,
that old joie
de vivre” –
Perry Groves
* “When you
play midfield, you got to have
two legs” – Steve Lomas
* “The Boss told us if we win
today, we’ll be immortal for
the rest of our lives” –
Derek Johnstone
Cartoons
Hard to describe in words,
obviously,but my old fave is
still one from the 1930s, which
shows a tout selling tickets
outside Wembley. “Twenty
pound for a ticket!” complains a
fan, “You could get a woman for
that.” “Yes,” says the tout, “but
you won’t get 45 minutes each
way and a brass band playing
in the middle”.
Funny facts
* Did you know that Hull City
is the only English league club
where you can’t fill in any of the
letters in its name?
* You must have followed
the saga of Spurs and West Ham
arguing about moving to the
Olympic site – but did you know
that West Ham United is an
anagram of The New Stadium?
Crowd chants
Most, of course, are not
repeatable but a new one
has been heard this season
whenever Brighton, currently
doing so well in the
Championship, has been
playing away, showing that all
of England is well aware of
Brighton’s reputation. “Does
your boyfriend know you’re
here,” shout the home fans.
“You’re too ugly to be gay,”
reply the Brighton fans. l
newstatesman.com/
writers/hunter_davies
Each printed entry will receive
a £5 book token. Entries to
comp@newstatesman.co.uk or
on a postcard to This England,
address on page 3
Van gosh!
A suspect was driven a few steps
from a police station to a court in
a van that had been sent more
than 96 miles after prison
transport chiefs said it was
a human-rights issue.
The suspect, Oliver Thomas,
27, arrested for two alleged public-
order offences, said: “Why they
couldn’t just walk me over to the
court I don’t know. It’s a total
waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Metro (Ron Rubin)
Flat fare
A student with a bus pass was
charged a full adult fare for a life-
sized cardboard cut-out. Liam
Sheridan, 17, paid an extra £1.80
to get the figure, from the Xbox
game Gears of War 3, back home.
The driver, in Milton Keynes,
said he had to charge as the cut-
out took up a seat.
A spokesman for bus
company Arriva said they would
be unable to comment until an
investigation had taken place.
Metro (Imogen Forster) G
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B
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know it’s lovely? You wouldn’t have your eyes
and ears.
. . . an incomplete but still pretty damning
dismantling of the infantile idea that we (to
quote my editor) survive our own deaths.
Violet has always been obsessed by what is
“real”. Figuring out what truly exists seems to
be the way she deals with her fears. Most of the
time when she asks if something is real, she’s
hoping it’s not: trolls, dragons and witches
have all been happily relegated to the fiction
bin and she sleeps well in the knowledge that
they’re not going to crawl back out and attack
her in her bed.
And so I face a dilemma: I had sold her the
myth of Father Christmas in the spirit of allow-
ing a child a sense of wonderment, but I felt
that lying to her face when she’d asked me
point blank about the veracity of my
claims was a step too far.
I fumbled around a bit before opting
for: “Father Christmas is real . . . in
the imaginary world.”
This didn’t really satisfy her,
nor should it have. Like so
much language in theology,
philosophy and parenting, that
sentence has the odour of wis-
dom, but is a load of old bol-
locks. Quite nice as a phrase,
but pure sophistry, like a lot
of the stuff I say on stage and
like nearly everything your
preacher has ever said. It is the
stuff of obfuscation – words to
divert, like the passive hand of
the magician – not the clarifica-
tion Vi was seeking.
But I suppose my answer
served a function. She subse-
quently went along with the
story and I reckon she will again
this year.
By offering her the paradoxi-
cal notion of a non-real real,
I allowed her the opportunity
to just “go with it” and hope-
fully she’ll happily do so until
her friends find out it’s a myth,
at which point she can quietly
slip back into knowing what she
suspected all along.
In the lead-up to last Christmas, when my
daughter Violet had just turned four, she
looked me in the eye and asked, “Is Father
Christmas real?”
This was a problem for me. I had, up until
this point, convinced myself that telling my
kid a lie about the origins of her scooter was
part and parcel of parenting – that denying a
child the idea of Santa would be Scroogian
in the extreme. The trouble is, I have no
memory of believing in the physics-defying
fattie myself.
One of our classic Minchin family tales is
of Christmas Eve 1978, when I was three and
my mum asked me in an excited voice, “Who’s
coming down the chimney tonight?!” To which
I replied, after a brow-creased pause, “Gran?”
(It is also part of Minchin lore that I was a
very boring and quite dim kid.)
Regardless, our Violet had seemed
quite excited the previous year when
we had left a mince pie and a beer by
the blocked-up chimney – (Violet:
“But there’s no hole. How will he
get down?” Me: “That’s the least of
his worries . . .”) – and I’d felt great
when she’d squealed with glee at
five in the (fucking) morning upon
discovering the comestibles had
been consumed and that a rein-
deer had left hoof-prints in the
icing sugar by the piano.
Beardy weirdy
But now something in the as -
sertion of the existence of this
bearded philanthropist had
given her pause, so she had come
to me for clarification.
I wasn’t surprised – earlier in the
year I’d overheard a conversation
she’d had with her friend Alice as they
sat by a lake:
Violet If you fell in there, you’d
drown.
Alice Someone would come and
pull you out.
Violet Yeah, but if the grown-ups
weren’t around, you’d die.
Alice [Pause] When you die, you go
somewhere lovely.
Violet But then how would you
There’ll be no crushing blow of revelation
aged seven.
I have, on the other hand, felt no compulsion
to obscure answers to the more serious ques-
tions. Vi was very young when she asked what
happens when you die, and I told her, “You just
stop.” I see no problem at all with that answer.
Not only is it demonstrably true, but it also has
the wondrous quality of not eliciting a whole
lot of further annoying questions.
Story time
I was asked recently how I reconcile my reputa-
tion for championing a naturalistic world-view
with the fact that I have co-written Matilda –
a musical based on a Roald Dahl novel about a
girl who is preternaturally gifted and, eventu-
ally, telekinetic.
What an odd question. Do people really think
that living a life unencumbered by superstition
necessitates the rejection of fiction?
I adore stories. Our version of Matilda, even
more so than the original Dahl, is a story about
stories. About the importance of imagination,
and of fiction’s ability not only to educate and
enlighten us, but to free us, to set our minds
soaring beyond reality.
My daughter will grow up reading stories
and I hope she will have a rich and lifelong
relationship with the imaginary. But I will not
try to train her out of the natural instinct to
look for truth.
I adore Christmas. The fact that I know that
Christianity’s origins lie more in Paul of Tar-
sus’s mental illness and the emperor Constan-
tine’s political savvy than in the existence of
the divine has no bearing on my ability to
embrace this age-old festival of giving, family
and feasting.
Our lives would be empty without stories,
and the story of Jesus is quite a nice one. One
that, in theory and sometimes even in practice,
promotes compassion and humility and wis-
dom and peace.
Jesus is real . . . in the imaginary world. A five-
year-old could tell you that. l
Tim Minchin is a comedian. His musical
version of “Matilda”, co-written with
Dennis Kelly, is being performed at the
Cambridge Theatre, London WC2. Details:
cambridgetheatrelondon.org
newstatesman.com/subjects/comedy
I love Christmas, for its fictions
as much as its feasts
Tim Minchin
|
Backpages
98 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012
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Contents
19 December 2011 – 1 January 2012

Christmas issue guest editor: Richard Dawkins 6

Lord of the rings: the wonder of space 34

Up Front Observations

6 8 12 13 14 15 15 17 17 11 18 21 23 25 27 28 34 38 40 46 48 54 59 60

Leader Correspondence In the Picture History Bart D Ehrman investigates the story of Jesus’s birth Medicine Edzard Ernst makes an apology, of sorts, to Prince Charles Science Helen Lewis-Hasteley salutes the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures In the Red Laurie Penny on the Santas who started a riot Commons Confidential Kevin Maguire on what Michael Gove did with a traffic cone Guyana Girish Gupta visits a jungle outpost at the centre of a new gold rush First Thoughts Peter Wilby on bulldog spirit, Cameron’s secret plan and a litre of wine a day The Politics Column Rafael Behr explains why the Eurosceptic vision is the only one in town The Guest Column Douglas Alexander offers to work with the Lib Dems over Europe Technology Bill Gates believes that innovation is the way to save the world’s poor Religion Maryam Namazie on why the Charlie Hebdo attack was an assault on free speech Education Rabbi Jonathan Romain weighs in against faith schools for entrenching division Cover Story “Never be afraid of stridency” The NS guest editor talks to Christopher Hitchens Adventures in wonderland Carolyn Porco guides us through the solar system to Saturn The NS Interview Sophie Elmhirst asks Carol Ann Duffy about poetry, politics and sexism Give ’em hell, Barry Alan Ryan surveys the US political scene and finds cause for optimism The free will delusion Sam Harris unpicks the complex neuroscience of free will Christmas Essay The social cell The philosopher Daniel Dennett on the ties that bind us The tyranny of the discontinuous mind Richard Dawkins asks why we don’t like grey areas The vision thing Paul Nurse makes the case for investment in science, a key driver of growth The NS Quiz Olav Bjortomt tests your knowledge on the best – and oddest – news of 2011 Illustrations and cartoons By Jon Berkeley, Grizelda, Tom Kirby and Josh Poehlein

Columns

Articles

In Pictures The Critics
68 74 78 79 80

The New Statesman is printed on 100 per cent recycled, eco-friendly paper

Short Story “darktime” Kate Atkinson imagines the end of the world as we know it Critic at Large Imaginary friends Philip Pullman remembers his childhood love of fairy tales The sense of an ending Nicholas Clee says the rise in ebook sales has not saved publishers yet The Books Interview Jonathan Derbyshire talks to the Swedish war historian Peter Englund The killing machine Richard J Evans praises a major new biography of Heinrich Himmler

19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 3

t

This blockbuster volume is the most comprehensive collection of his writings to date. permanently influencing politics and literature on both sides of the Atlantic.Cover artwork Julian de Narvaez/ Folio Fairy godfather: Philip Pullman 68 Poet’s corner: Carol Ann Duffy 38 83 85 85 87 88 89 89 Only the lonely Julie Myerson reviews the art critic Brian Sewell’s tell-all autobiography Known unknown Ryan Gilbey on a parable of modern loneliness. Jonathan Derbyshire on great Scots and Frozen Planet takes us into worlds of ice-bound beauty Drink Nina Caplan suggests that overdoing it during the holidays is best done in style NS Christmas Crossword Otterden. Plus This England I love Christmas for its frictions Tim Minchin on ’fessing up about Santa and God Back Pages 91 92 93 95 97 98 The New Year issue of the NS is out on Thursday 29 December. Plus answers to the Puzzles The Fan Hunter Davies gathers up his best football jokes. Just £87 for the year (UK) – and even cheaper for students! 4 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . turn to page 82 or go online to: newstatesman. Plus answers to the Christmas Quiz NS Christmas Puzzles Brain-teasers to keep you busy on Boxing Day Competition Our final literary challenge for 2011. the late New Statesman contributor Real Meals Will Self explains why he loathes the festive meal: for the gluttony it demands More reviews: Sophie Elmhirst takes on the big one – “God”. he has been a voice of reason amid the clamour.com/link/arg. In an age of digital punditry and 24-hour hucksterism. Christopher Hitchens has been at the epicentre of the battle of letters in Britain and America. l To take up this offer and claim your free book. Dreams of a Life Bubbles with your Bublé Rachel Cooke rounds up some Christmas delights on television Farce poetica Andrew Billen revels in a high-spirited performance of The Ladykillers Magic moments Antonia Quirke picks out her recommendations for Christmas listening “Madam” A poem by Christopher Logue. Until then – Merry Christmas! SUBSCRIPTION SPECIAL OFFER Subscribe to the New Statesman and get a free copy of Arguably by Christopher Hitchens For 40 years.

.

We need more and better instruction in comparative religion (and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that any education in English literature is sadly impoverished if the child can’t take allusions from the King James Bible). I satirised the faith-labelling of children. to quote the philosopher Daniel Dennett. if only because religion is such a salient force in world politics and such a potent driver of lethal conflict. I recoil from secular carols such as “White Christmas”. in (tax-free) spades. when they grow up. Setting aside the 26 bishops in the House of Lords. But faith schools don’t so much teach about religion as indoctrinate in the particular religion that runs the school. or worse. for a lifetime of discrimination and prejudice. Imagine the outcry if your government were to require every family to celebrate Christmas in a religious way. in my view. like its predecessors. even where the children are too young to decide what they Your government think about questions that divide the various faiths. they distract vital attention from the real domination of our culture and politics that religion still gets away with. Carry on for 300 years and what have you got? Northern Ireland. at least in places such as Belfast and Glasgow. “Protestant children”. “green children” only go to green schools and “orange children” to orange schools. I could just as well have used “monetarist child” or “fascist child” or “postmodernist child” or “Europhile child”. they do “be- . using an analogy that almost everybody gets as soon as he hears it – we wouldn’t dream of labelling a child a “Keynesian child” simply because her parents were Keynesian economists. why Richard Dawkins just doesn’t really get it. Token objections to cribs and carols are not just silly. of course. Mr Cameron. The appropriate substitution is “child of Muslim parents”. they give children the message that they belong specifically to one particular faith. Unconscionably.Established 1913 Do you get it now. To continue the experiment. and indeed most of us. is a tiresome import from the US. greens only marry greens and oranges only marry oranges. In fact. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the loathsome “Jingle Bells”. Prime Minister? Merry Christmas! I mean it. I wasn’t talking specifically about Jesus. don’t believe in God but. if you experimentally separate children in any arbitrary way – say. Moreover. usually that of their parents. in ways whose very familiarity disarms us. paving the way. with “holiday” cards and “holiday” presents.” Do you get it now. If you are like several government ministers (of all three parties) to whom I have spoken. as you’ll see if you look around you in the parish church). I think you got it all along. And yet your government. any more than Muhammad or the Buddha. you are not really a religious believer yourself. Psychologists tell us that. dress half of them in green T-shirts and half in orange – they will develop in-group 6 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 Dear Prime Minister. Prime Minister? Obviously I was not comparing Keynes with Jesus. “Christian children”. does force religion on our society. You wouldn’t dream of abusing your power like that. in the Guardian last month (26 November). So deeply ingrained is this divisive ethos in our social consciousness that journalists. A phrase such as “Muslim disarms us child” should grate like fingernails on a blackboard. the most obvious and most dangerous way in which governments impose religion on our society is through faith schools – as Rabbi Jonathan Romain reminds us on page 27. and so on. Moreover. We asforces religion on sume that children of Catholic our society in ways parents (for instance) just are whose familiarity “Catholic children”. A cultural Anglican (whose family has been part of the Chipping Norton Set since 1727. passing lightly over the smooth inside track on which the Charity Commission accelerates faith-based charities to taxfree status while others (quite rightly) have to jump through hoops. where it has long been fostered more by rival religions than by atheists. We should teach about religion. breezily refer to “Catholic children”. Several ministers and ex-ministers of education whom I have met. There’s an important difference between traditions freely embraced by individuals and traditions enforced by government edict. Religion may not be the only divisive power that can propel dangerous prejudices down through many generations (language and race are other candidates) but religion is the only one that receives active government support in the form of schools. and in the unlikely event that anyone wants me to read a lesson I’ll gladly oblige – only from the King James Version. both Conservative and Labour. but I’m happy to sing real carols. “Muslim children”. you replied to that serious and sincere point with what could distinctly be heard on the audio version as a contemptuous snigger: “Comparing John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows. loyalty and outgroup prejudice. suppose that. All that “Happy Holiday Season” stuff.

but state neutrality in all matters pertaining to religion: the recognition that faith is personal and no business of the state. When published. Modern society requires and deserves a truly secular state. clearly demonstrates that religious affiliation. and unfairly criticised. The very idea that we might get our morals from the Bible or the Quran will horrify any decent person today who takes the trouble to read those books – rather than cherry-pick the verses that happen to conform to our modern secular consensus. good for instilling morals. You seemed to understand that in your excellent. still vaguely presume without thinking about it that religious faith is somehow “good” for other people. Richard Dawkins. the latest British Social Attitudes survey. It is possible that the recent census may register a slight majority of people ticking the “Christian” box. just published. but isn’t that largely what lies behind successive governments’ enthusiasm for faith schools? Baroness Warsi. moral dilemmas and sense of identity. l newstatesman. despite having outgrown religious faith. the UK branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science commissioned an Ipsos MORI poll in the week following the census. social attitudes. This is good news. by which I mean not state atheism. speech on the dangers of “multiculturalism” in February this year.lieve in belief”. deriving from our pre-religious evolutionary heritage. or impose or underwrite religion in any aspect of public life. what a contemptibly immoral motive for being moral! What binds us together. A depressingly large number of intelligent and educated people. religious observance and religious attitudes to social issues have all continued their long-term decline and are now irrelevant to all but a minority of the population. as Professor Steven Pinker argues in The Better Angels of Our Nature. Meanwhile. A diverse and largely secular country such as Britain should not privilege the religious over the non-religious. what gives us our sense of empathy and compassion – our goodness – is something far more important. It is good news because if we depended on religion for our values and our sense of cohesion we would be well and truly stuck. your Minister Without Portfolio (and without election). A government that does so is out of step with modern demographics and values. religion is on its deathbed. Condescending? Patronising? Yes. As for the patronising assumption that people need the promise of heaven (or the obscene threat of torture in hell) in order to be moral. this will enable us to see how many people who selfidentified as Christian are believers. When it comes to life choices. by centuries of secular enlightenment. has been at pains to inform us that this coalition government does indeed “do God”. good for public order. more fundamental and more powerful than religion: it is our common humanity. Individuals must always be free to “do God” if they wish. good for the common people even if we chaps don’t need it. With my best wishes to you and your family for a happy Christmas. even for many of those who still nominally identify with a religion. good for society. but a government for the people certainly should not. However.com/leader 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 7 ARTWORK BY JON BERKELEY . then refined and improved. But we who elected you mostly do not.

when she was canvassing door to door in Roxburghshire. 28 November). whatever excuse they might give. stubborn pride and snobbery. Meanwhile British Jews should not be trusted in diplomatic relations with Israel lest they “go native”. religion or ideology can be used to make good people do bad things. The likes of Sparta are good allies but bad role models. its lobbyists possess mystical power and wealth. “But for good people to do evil things. 12 December). not its cause. He and his friends could have slaughtered their opponents in battle. or private pensions. whereas indiscriminate suicide bombing and rocket fire from Gaza are the “understandable” product of a despair engendered by Israeli inhumanity. The benefits of choice and competition in health care are nowhere near as clear-cut as your report would suggest. I remember many years ago seeing Milton Friedman on the television pointing to a printer churning out dollar bills and exclaiming: “That’s the cause of inflation!” Nonsense. I have mixed feelings. as ever. fax to 020 7305 7304 or to the address on page 3. my wife was confronted by a woman.” No doubt people will have other reasons for not voting Lib Dem nowadays. Mark Taha London SE26 LETTER OF THE WEEK In the name of God Two points on Slavoj Žižek’s review of Coriolanus (The Critics. There would still be wars and injustice if there was no religion. Essex l Send letters for publication to letters@newstatesman. 5 December). Essex Let us adore her Congratulations to Sophie Elmhirst for her column “Advent” (Word Games. Double standards apply: the Israel Defence Forces are inhumane. its behaviour toward Palestinians bears comparison with the Nazis’ actions. I believe. the current discourse is rich with predictable old tropes. but I wish he’d stopped repeating the silly mantra that “making rational decisions based on evidence” is somehow unique to the “scientific method” (NS Interview. which leads to excessive faith in supposedly “scientific” methodologies. Writing (and thinking) of that calibre is the reason why I buy the New Statesman and nothing else. has an insatiable appetite for US money. goaded into losing his temper and consulship by his courage. Žižek paraphrases Steve Weinberg’s tired old aphorism: only religion can make good people do bad. First. Believe it or not. Dr Katherine Teale Manchester Money galore relevant to a broad range of policy decisions. Yet the plebs’ tribunes had reason to fear a Coriolanus consulship. Method man I’m a great admirer of Brian Cox. We reserve the right to edit letters and to publish a further selection on our website. Israel. by Bertold Brecht – was that he was a fascist who should have been killed rather than exiled. He was a great soldier and a war hero – but no politician. Frank Jackson Harlow. Dr Carl Thompson Via email We are animals I accept Mehdi Hasan’s point that some followers of religion can do good in the world (“The power of a dangerous idea”. Felix Sanchez del Rio Felsted. we gather. Of course. and there are numerous researchers up and down the country assessing the evidence 8 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . 12 December) makes a good point with regard to the German attitude to inflation. too. but it’s individuals who choose to do those bad things.uk. But the idea of inflation could do with more analysis than it usually gets. For me it was not so funny: in the 1966 general election. This is dangerous for policymakers. Essex New old hatred Regarding the Chief Rabbi’s observations about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (NS Interview.Correspondence newstatesman. bus services. the subtleties of the association seem to elude many commentators. as their powers had been granted against his opposition.” And just because Weinberg asserted something doesn’t mean it’s true. who said. clearly Žižek hasn’t read Mehdi Hasan’s well-argued and openminded piece in the same issue (“The power of a dangerous idea”) on the pacifism that is at the core of monotheistic religions – and of others. freedom and non-violent action. 12 December). Alastair Llewellyn-Smith London W14 is stealthily infecting the thinking of too many self-professed opponents of prejudice. I am an anti-theist: the evidence from such sources as astronomy demonstrates that there is no god out there in the universe. The need for more money in circulation is the result of inflation. 12 December).com/letters Pride and plebs There are different interpretations of Coriolanus (The Critics. 12 December). as we are part of the animal world. Contra Žižek’s statement that very few atheists engage in mass murder: I don’t imagine that Pol Pot’s killers believed they were slaughtering fellow Cambodians for any reason other than that they hoped to bring about the end of religion (and capitalism) in their brave new world. Jews have only themselves to blame for their predicament. Weinberg actually said. Any belief. Second. Here. neither choice nor competition is a guarantee of improving quality – look at exam boards. Keiron Pim Norwich Your bad health I was disappointed to see the NS publish such a one-sided view of the Health and Social Care Bill reforms (Health Supplement.co. creed. but it is contemporary anti-Semitism’s primary vehicle. In markets. 5 December). David Steel House of Lords London SW1 Peter Wilby (First Thoughts. anti-Zionism is not innately antiSemitic. when I was fighting hard to retain the seat I had won in the by-election the previous year. The oldest hatred Khartoum motion Peter Wilby was making a good joke at Lib Dem expense when he suggested that our record was besmirched by Gladstone’s failure to rescue General Gordon in Khartoum (First Thoughts. this is also what you do in the serious study of literature and history. and the pleb tribunes were the heroes.” “Why not?” asked Judy. “I quite like your husband as our MP but I could never vote Liberal. The late Paul Foot’s interpretation – shared. Michael Moore Loughton. it holds Gentiles in contempt because they are not “chosen”. To suggest otherwise smacks of a hubris. that takes religion. it’s what happens in law courts. But we do not need any religious beliefs to have principles of justice. “Because they didn’t send help to General Gordon. 12 December).

In 2000. now in orbit around Saturn. His work with the company made him one of the richest men in the world. are perfectly capable of immersing themselves in an imaginary world without believing in it wholeheartedly. £6. Kate Atkinson is a novelist and short-story writer. Letter to a Christian Nation and The Moral Landscape. She is the spokesperson for Equal Rights Now: Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran. Philip Pullman is the bestselling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. She leads the imaging science team on the joint Nasa/European Space Agency/Italian Space Agency Cassini mission. Massachusetts. Her first novel. coauthored with Alvin Plantinga is Science and Religion (Oxford University Press. Free Will. His piece on this subject. including The End of Faith. will be published in February 2012.99). Children. Sam Harris is a fellow “horseman” of New Atheism. Pullman argues. Daniel Dennett is an American philosopher. A recent work. Her column on free expression is on page 25. his new book. Gates writes about innovation that can help the poor on page 23. She has also written a series of crime novels featuring the former detective and now private investigator Jackson Brodie. he established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife. His essay on social systems and the biological cell is on page 48. Her photographs from the mission and essay on the wonders of space exploration are on page 34. the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain and the Council of ExMuslims of Britain. Her new short story “darktime” is on page 68. Dennett’s most recent book. and one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism”. 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 9 . He has written a series of books on atheism and philosophy. He is a professor at Tufts University. The foundation’s aims are to enhance health care and reduce extreme poverty and since its inception it has committed over $26bn in grants. He is also a strong advocate for civil rights and defender of public libraries. commentator and broadcaster. cognitive scientist and writer. arguing that it is a delusion. Behind the Scenes at the Museum. and Pullman has been outspoken on the subject of faith and religion.CONTRIBUTORS Bill Gates is the former chief executive and current chairman of Microsoft. His account of his childhood games and imaginary friends is on page 74. retold the story of Jesus. along with Richard Dawkins. and the International Committee Against Stoning. She works closely with Iran Solidarity. which she founded. won the Whitbread Prize in 1995. appears on page 46. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Maryam Namazie is a campaigner. Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Carolyn Porco is an American planetary scientist based at the University of Colorado at Boulder. neuroscientist and polemicist.

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is his real agenda. We should not underestimate what that meant. Think of it: financial Armageddon. l Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005 newstatesman. want to get out of the EU and warmly endorse Cameron’s use of the veto. the lawyer Robert Schuman and a declaration of “determination to create the first supranational institution”. for schools that can spare a few hundred pounds. it is win-win for Cameron. learned societies or universities. Europe’s with the Coal and Steel Community. when Cameron’s party has historically set such store by Britain retaining its place at the international “top table”? Politically. It showed a glass of wine and superimposed upon it the words: “Only a litre a day!” Happy Christmas. the Dark Ages began and the British economy (the archaeological record suggests) regressed by 400 years. Why jeopardise a proposal that appears to institutionalise the deflationary. along with Penguin Books and the Financial Times. Europe is just a geographical location.Peter Wilby | First Thoughts Cameron’s real agenda. when the Roman empire fell. it will be for lack of a decent scriptwriter. He need no longer fear a Lib Dem walkout from the coalition. George Washington and a declaration that “all men are created equal”. as polls suggest. to older generations who lived through two savage wars. blah. To maximise market share. I concede. But where is the poetry? Where are the great tales to pass on to younger generations? America’s story begins with the Boston Tea Party. In that. war with Iran. Change the script Perhaps there’s something about the word “Europe”. Only the last two. He can just call an election and ride to outright victory. wondering whether there’s going to be a new reverse QMV article on integrated budget setting of blah. he may do everything possible to provoke it. Bad marks Most parents.GRIZELDA.com/writers/peter_wilby 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 11 GRIZELDA WWW. I don’t know – Munich 1938: “I don’t actually think the world is waiting with bated breath .” I have lunched. and still means. But it is surely more than that. Spain. the new Dark Ages and a litre of wine a day Why do we all find Europe so boring? I don’t mean we’re bored with France. Michael Gove proposes just one exam board for each subject and quotes with approval the example of collectivist Scotland where he was educated. however. I think. Vine advice Even to curmudgeons such as myself the season presents dangers to health. Next year. anti-Keynesian deficit reduction policies that the coalition follows? Why be so insouciant about turning us into an offshore Switzerland. The bulldog’s back There are many puzzling aspects of Cameron’s Brussels veto. of the most important meeting of European leaders since – oh. you really couldn’t make it up. or an assertion of great ideals. They have myths. Italy. to cap it all. A columnist in the FT. . .NET “We’re not a Nativity . it has been extraordinarily successful. useless trinkets and weak jokes that fall out of the overpriced crackers. Most political entities have some inspirational history behind them: a struggle against colonialism. I suspect. No. takes seriously the possibility that this is not a reprise of the 1970s or even the 1930s but of the early fifth century. perhaps more so than any other human political endeavour of the past 100 years. each board tells schools. humbug!” frame of mind but. It doesn’t somehow roll off the tongue – “the European people” or “my fellow Europeans” wouldn’t have the same ring as “the British people” or “my fellow Americans” – possibly because it’s short on hard consonants. think GCSEs. after an investigation by a Tory newspaper. agrees that markets can be bad. one of which is owned. a royal jubilee plus the hullabaloo of the London Olympics. That’s what can happen when the market is allowed to penetrate every corner of national life. The roaring 400s The contrived jollity of Christmas normally leaves me in a “Bah. As part of the service. a land mass where people agreed to stop fighting one another. His conclusion – that it won’t be “quite as bad as that” – is not terribly reassuring. by the publishing giant Pearson. I would guess. Greece or even Belgium but bored with the idea of Europe as embodied in the EU. it is probably because they think they won’t have to listen to politicians and pundits wittering interminably on about Europe. which are themselves in a competitive market. We live here” . dined and drunk with various informed and opinionated people over the past two weeks and I cannot recall exchanging a single word on the EU’s fate. If the British. So a Tory Education Secretary. spoke for many when he said. They operate on commercial lines (though some are technically non-profit) and compete fiercely with each other. I wonder if I should make a special effort with the flimsy paper hats. That. a Republican crazy in the White House and. courses on how to help pupils through the exams. . on the contrary. say. posing as the leader who revived the wartime Churchillian bulldog spirit. Alevels and other exams for teenagers are set and marked by public bodies. I shall therefore take inspiration from a French government poster that a friend swears he remembers from the late 1950s or early 1960s. we probably won’t be able to afford crackers. blah. are certainties but it is hard to imagine that 2012 will bring much cheer. that it offers the best chance of high grades. which is oddly keen on apocalyptic predictions. it puts on. . If the EU dies. heroes and sacred texts. even if we feel like pulling them. David Cameron. Now the Daily Telegraph has exposed the truth: the exams that determine the life chances of millions are mainly controlled by private companies. this year.

Observations
IN THE PICTURE
10 December 2011: Police guard the interior ministry in Moscow during a protest against suspected fraud in Russia’s parliamentary elections. Tens of thousands of demonstrators called for an end to rule by Vladimir Putin

Ideas | Science | Events | People

REUTERS/ANTON GOLUBEV

12 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012

Medicine Edzard Ernst makes an apology to Prince Charles Science Helen Lewis-Hasteley on 220 years of Royal Institution lectures In the Red Laurie Penny on Santa Claus, extremism and peaceful protest Commons Confidential Kevin Maguire reveals a secret from Michael Gove’s past Guyana Girish Gupta on a new gold rush caused by the financial crisis

HISTORY

Dark side of the manger
Bart D Ehrman

O

nce more the season is come upon us. At its heart stands a tale of 2,000-year vintage, the Christmas story. Or perhaps we should say the Christmas myth. When post-Enlightenment scholars turned their critical tools on the tales of Scripture, the birth of Jesus to a virgin in Bethlehem was one of the first subjected to sceptical scrutiny. Not only was the notion of a virgin birth deemed unhistorical on general principle, the other familiar aspects of the story were seriously called into question. The story comes to us as a conflation of episodes found in only two of our Gospels, Matthew and Luke. (The Gospels of Mark and John begin with Jesus as an adult, and give no information about the unusual circumstances of his birth.) Combining these accounts into a mega-story for an annual Christmas pageant bears a cost, as they are very much at odds with one another. Matthew alone has the wise men bearing gifts, Luke alone has the shepherds “watching over their flocks by night”. Matthew alone portrays the wrath of Herod, foiled in his attempt to destroy the child when an angel warns Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt. Luke alone mentions that the “whole world” is to be taxed by Caesar Augustus, forcing Joseph and the pregnant Mary – both from the town of Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel – to return to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem to register. It is while they are there that Jesus is born, and the three return home a month later.

These two versions of events cannot be reconciled. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem before, during and after the birth; they leave to escape the king’s wrath and only later relocate to Nazareth. Not so for Luke, who introduces the census precisely to take the couple to Bethlehem so that the child can be born where the Hebrew prophet Micah had predicted. Moreover, if Matthew is right that the holy family fled to Egypt, Luke can scarcely be right that they returned home just a month after the birth.

Not only are the accounts at odds, each is problematic on its own terms. Matthew introduces the star leading the wise men to Jesus, a “star” that moves, stops over a city, disappears, reappears, moves again and finally stops over a small town, directly over a particular house. This was no star, comet or supernova; and this is no historical narrative. So, too, with Luke’s tax by Caesar requiring a worldwide census. Joseph registered in Bethlehem because his ancestor King David came from there. But David lived a thousand years before Joseph. Are we to believe that everyone in the Roman empire returned to the homes of their ancestors of ten centuries earlier? They all knew where to go? And no other ancient source mentions it? Then again, none of these stories is mentioned in other ancient sources. But why would they be? They are all part of a complex myth. The myth is

Star treatment

19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 13

t

Observations
designed to show that Jesus really did fulfil prophecy, starting with the very beginning of his life. Both Matthew and Luke told stories to make it happen – so that Mary was a virgin who gave birth in Bethlehem – even though the accounts cannot be historical. We all have myths, stories that buttress our view of the world and make our understanding of it appear natural; myths that are religious, national, cultural, political and economic. This is true whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or humanist; whether we are English, American, French, Cambodian, or Chinese; whether we are capitalists, Marxists or anarchists. Or none of the above. We should be careful not to rush to denigrate the myths of others, as those tables are oh so easily turned. But we should also recognise myth for what it is. The myth of Jesus’s birth contains “good news” for believers. It maintains that we are not alone. God came into the world to save us from ourselves and from others, from the evil, pain, misery and suffering that is otherwise the lot of mortals here on earth. At the same time, it is easy to see the problems with this myth. The Christ child who brought good news for his followers brought very bad news for others – not just the “innocents” of Bethlehem who were slaughtered in his wake, but also all those Jews who refused to come and worship him in the manger. The myth, needless to say, had some very bad after effects in the centuries to follow. Myths are like that – and not just the Christian ones. They can have a dark underside, often obscured for their devotees. Even a myth so seemingly innocent as a babe laid in a manger. l Bart D Ehrman is the James A Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His most recent book is “Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are” (HarperOne, £19.99)
t

Too good to be true: an illustration from Claris Artis, a 17th-century treatise on alchemy

MEDICINE

Charles, prince of alchemy
Edzard Ernst
ll right, all right, I admit that I have been unfair. In July this year, at a press conference, I got carried away and called Prince Charles’s Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture “Dodgy Originals”. Even worse, I recently suggested that he is a “snake-oil salesman”. But now, in the true Christmas spirit, I am ready to take it all back. Not only that, I profess that Charles’s magic detox potion might be the gift for this year’s festive season. Christmas is the time when we all overindulge. We eat too much, we drink even more and we move too little. Everybody knows how unhealthy this is, but habits die hard and inertia is laborious to overcome. No sweat, says the heir to the throne, just buy my Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture and all will be pukka. According to the Duchy Originals website, the biologically grown dandelions and artichokes in this remedy “support the

A

body’s natural elimination and detoxification processes”. Isn’t that just great? Some say that Charles has a bee in his royal bonnet about all things alternative, particularly medicine. He does not know what he is talking about, they claim. I think this is too harsh – after all, it’s only alternative medicine. Sure, when playing with the big boys in conventional health care, one should be in possession of a functioning brain, but Charles isn’t into all that. For alternative medicine, enthusiasm can be quite enough.

Pass the Duchy
And, by Jove, enthusiasm he and his marketers from Duchy Originals do have by the bucketload. They even assure us that the Detox Tincture “has been produced to the highest quality standards”. True British quality: thank you, Charles, we didn’t expect anything less. Considering this level of excellence, the tincture is a steal at £9.19 for a 50ml bottle, or £183.80 a litre. Here, Charles demonstrates his empathy with us commoners; this is a present we all can afford.

Don’t expect too much in the way of science, though. Indeed, the tincture turns out to be unadulterated alchemy – no evidence at all that the dandelion and artichoke mixture supports the body’s “detoxification” processes. The NHS Choices website (nhs.uk) agrees. It bluntly states: “There is no evidence that the process of detox works.” The British Dietetic Association goes one impolite step further and calls the whole idea “a load of nonsense”. But please, let’s get a sense of proportion here: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of detoxification. And anyway, who wants rationality for Christmas? It is the season of joy and belief. So, for Christ’s sake, let’s not be beastly to the Prince of alchemy-based medicine. Let’s put some faith in our future king. Let’s make our friends and family happy with an affordable bottle of his magic potion. If it does not eliminate any toxins from our bodies, at the very least, it will eliminate money from our wallets. l Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter

14 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012

CORBIS

many of them carrying unmarked packages. Hundreds of robed and bearded men. a 12ft ruler and the smallest motor in the world. as Morrison told his audience. who gave 19 of them. Yet not one member of the 2011 SantaCon was arrested. .” (Now. although he also insisted on showing the children a series of mathematical proofs on waveforms. collecting information on millions of private citizens. blew up a light fitting. which started in 1825. Anti-terror legislation has long been used to intimidate ordinary citizens – in 20092010. the National Defence Authorisation Act for the fiscal year 2012 enshrines in policy the military’s power to seize and hold suspected terrorists indefinitely. “until hostilities end” – which in an age of perpetual war can mean anything. The lectures. including the US. or the physicist Eric M Rogers firing himself off stage on a sledge powered by two fire extinguishers tucked under his arms in 1979. sent by the City of London Police to business leaders. Richard Dawkins in a Hawaiian shirt being assaulted by stick insects in 1991. It was held to raise money for the programme. (The 77-year-old was widely reckoned to be the most dangerous experimenter the RI ever hosted. tanked-up Santas really did start a full-on riot. True to Christmas lecture form. As a newspaper at the time put it: “A 5ft professor who helped make the atomic bomb has come to London with an 8ft pencil .” l The RI Lectures are on BBC4 on 27. Life cycle The best entrance of the night belonged to the material scientist Mark Miodownik. who rode in on a ten-foot unicycle – a homage to the 1968 series on Gulliver’s Laws by Philip Morrison of MIT.” joked Ince. the pioneer of quantum mechanics. looting stores. even though that mustering in large groups and giving out free treats is now more than enough to get you on the official naughty list. laid out the rules: speak for less than an hour and make sure “the path be strewed with flowers”. The live recordings are always heavily subscribed and more than two million viewers saw them last year on BBC4.) Preparations for the Christmas lectures begin well in advance. in 2005. A lot of them openly claimed to have flown around the world without passports. Now. There he disported himself with the vast pencil. offer leading scientists a chance to explain their specialism to teenagers. in practical terms. In Auckland. so they did deserve some sort of reward. particularly when talking to young people with cameras in their hands. more of a health and safety threat than many modern-day street protests. he told me: “I’m not nervous in the slightest. it seems that the description “terrorist” itself is fungible enough that it can be applied to anyone who challenges the status quo. In the US. New Zealand. descended on central London.) The point of the pencil was that scale matters.Observations SCIENCE Bang goes the theory Helen Lewis-Hasteley S cience is always better when it involves things going bang. Ask most scientists and they’ll be able to tell you their favourite – perhaps Carl Sagan talking about human beings’ “astronomical egotism” in 1977. Michael Faraday. use of which disproportionately targets young black men in urban areas. you’ll believe anything. that’s how to write. The host for the evening was Robin Ince. however. According to a recent “Terrorism/extremism update”. Peaceful protesters who spend their time distributing soup to the homeless and holding earnest open discussions about the future of capitalism are considered the same flavour of security risk as the perpetrators of the 7 July 2005 bombings. he flew overnight from New York and drove straight to the Institute. “so breathe deeply”). not a single charge of terrorism was made over the course of 101. 28 and 29 December at 8pm Present danger This says more about mission creep in the “war on terror” than it does about the protesters. Yet the terrifying paraphernalia of police militarisation deployed during the nationwide public-sector strikes on 30 November was nowhere in evidence. elephants can’t jump because of the size of their leg muscles proportionate to their total mass. In between lastminute rehearsals.248 stop-andsearches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. And the “standup mathematician” Matt Parker brought out Zeeman’s original wave-generator from 1978: a long snake of slats strung along a wire. I got a chance to see the techies in action on 3 December at an event called Ghosts of Christmas Lectures Past. which had to be scaled back from five days to three last year because of funding problems at the RI. The definition of “terrorist activity” is up to the state department and “suspected terrorists” can include citizens of any country. throwing bottles and generally causing jolly havoc. a comedian obsessed with Sagan and Richard Feynman. without charge or trial. Miodownik took on the principle by proving that a hamster is small enough to survive a fall from a skyscraper. Not a single Santa has been detained or stopped and searched in Britain this year. an urgent little man of 54. who refuses to be drawn on his props – though he promises “lots of brains” to help him explain what it means to be human. several months for the scientist and more for the lab technicians in charge of the complicated props that have become a hallmark of the series. protesters against corporate greed in London and elsewhere are now considered domestic terrorists – alongside “external” threats such as al-Qaeda and Belarusian extremists. Last year. Even Christopher Zeeman. Police ask local members of the 1 per cent and their employees to be extravigilant. the first mathematician to do one. IN THE RED Santa Claus – domestic terrorist? Laurie Penny Something miraculous occurred on 9 December.com/ blogs/laurie-penny 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 15 . And if you believe that. The new global Christmas tradition of revellers emerging from the bowels of the internet dressed in tacky Santa suits and flashmobbing public squares to drink heavily and give vaguely to charity is. The chemist Andrea Sella floated soap bubbles in ether in honour of James Dewar’s 1878 lectures on the subject (“There’s no bar tonight. The scientist on the hot spot in 2011 is the psychologist Bruce Hood. who had giant stationery made to make the audience feel like Lilliputians. So perhaps it should surprise no one that so many of the Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution have involved explosions or minor acts of arson. the props were amazing: Simon Singh brought out an Enigma machine and explained how its rotating cylinders created the cipher that kept Bletchley Park so busy during the Second World War. The prospect of peaceful domestic dissidents on the left and the right of the political spectrum being held without trial remains unlikely – but for how long? l newstatesman. . surviving on food donations provided by credulous followers and breaking into private homes at night to deliver suspicious parcels.

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Mail. He has treated miners stabbed in the head. Georgetown. was collared: “Gove was spotted by the police doing it and was bundled swiftly into the back of a police van.” whispered the grinning Tory. “Enjoy the gold. senior vice-president at RBC Wealth Management in New York. whose seat is to be axed. she’s 56 and he’s 62.” Fast with a retort. even your friends and those you work with. by that stage he had already graduated from Oxford.” Quite so. fancies running for mayor of Birmingham. He wasn’t a student. is one of the most rabid Euroseptics in Little Englander Dave Cameron’s jingoistic band.000 ounces of the precious metal this year. but Jagdeo tells me that the country expects to produce 320. “Gove wasn’t charged but let off with a warning. “he’s my father. plays down his past. in the forest that surrounds Mahdia. a town in the west of the country. which then drove off to police HQ. But at the end of the day it was an act of hooliganism. I heard an intriguing explanation for Liam Byrne’s “There’s no money left” suicide note. He was old enough to know better. l Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror A gold-mining settlement near Mahdia GUYANA Murder in the jungle Girish Gupta S ix hours’ journey through savannah and thick jungle from Guyana’s capital. “led a deputation of strikers to Strasbourg to lobby MEPs and to Tory conference. Gisela Stuart. is the account of Elrick. who has been trading and analysing gold for half his life. after your correspondent encountered an eyewitness to a notorious incident that ended with the Militant Minister bundled into a police van. “Nobody is that concerned about the people panning for it. etc. who was expected to be chief secretary. revealing makeshift huts strung with hammocks. “The incident took place on Union Street.” he says. Does the Europhile FT regret its May 2010 Tory endorsement? “Sadly. Smith and Reid. Allen tells me he finds roughly ten ounces every four days or so. a former British colony. MARCO FAROUK BASIR/PANORAMIO 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 17 . Mike Elrick. “Sick today.” l newstatesman. “The ‘reluctant’ striker.” Some days after my visit to Mahdia.” Allen works at Pamela camp. Bharrat Jagdeo. a large clearing opens.000 years. Mahdia boasts no landline telephones or bank machines. Byrne left it for his Tory mate Philip Hammond. “Had malaria many times. “For 5.” A friendly Conservative revealed why Cameron’s backbenchers shake their heads when David Milibrother speaks in the Commons. “You can’t trust anyone. one of the town’s two doctors. speaking after hours in his hospital waiting room.” he says. the Tory Bob Stewart quipped that they shared a surname but weren’t married. “We can’t believe he’s not the Labour leader. Nick Brown has similar designs on Newcastle.150-worth of gold just months ago. says that mining makes up 70 per cent of the country’s economy. face and jugular this week alone. “It could impact the whole industry. “No. “I witnessed the future Education Secretary throwing a traffic cone wilfully off a viaduct on Aberdeen’s busiest street on to another street below. I meet Guyana’s outgoing president. president of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association. Patrick Harding. gold has maintained purchasing power for the holders. On being introduced to Our Man in Kabul. Gove. But it’s I’m All Right Mick’s history as an unruly striker that is of renewed interest. like me. next to a small river cutting through the rock. to an act the minister might well declare worthy of a sacking if committed by a teacher. at a rally in Anna Regina. one of Allen’s colleagues.” Ouch! For the record. Prospectors have flocked to Mahdia. is seeing double the number of patients he received 12 months ago. Working 12-hour days.” says Rovin Allen. As I am driven there on the miner’s quad bike. “It’s kill or be killed. Youthful high jinks? Well. Express.Observations COMMONS CONFIDENTIAL The Cone Secretary strikes again Kevin Maguire Michael Gove. tomorrow I get up. The 26-year-old Allen now carries a 38mm pistol when working at his small camp. spoke out after Gove attacked public servants as “militants itching for a fight” over pensions. in his twenties and working. But this small dirt town in the Amazon rainforest is experiencing the sharp end of turmoil in the financial markets. Allen’s small group will take in about £15 for each ounce of gold they find. a former adviser to those Labour Johns. embarrassed by that photograph of a bespectacled him on a picket line.” says George Gero. the miners must contend with wild animals and disease as well as bandits. As investors place their bets on gold – a supposedly secure asset in times of crisis – prices have soared.” said the Labour woman. “for the gold and the money. but so have thieves. “It’s a great sacrifice the workers are making out here – so just cherish what they are providing for you. as it finds itself at the centre of a new gold rush. traders on the financial markets make no link to men on the ground such as those in Mahdia.” Heavy metal For the most part.” Jagdeo concedes. allowing the miners to enjoy pirated music DVDs on an antique television set strapped with white tape to a wooden joist above a small kitchen area.” The Financial Times scribbler Quentin Peel was overheard in Brussels bemoaning Cameron’s appeasement of the Euroseptic Sun. educashon dunce. I hear Byrne. “We have seen some movement of criminals. however. He was. Instead the Lib Dumb David Laws briefly got the job and released the letter.” admitted Elrick.” he says. Gold reserves in Guyana. The cone was dropped probably 40 feet.com/world-affairs MONTAGE BY DAN MURRELL. No one else was involved.” Bridgemohan. Most damaging for Gove. says Neil Hutton. “There are a lot of bandits here. “Investors see gold as an additional currency and as an asset-allocation tool. on strike with Gove in Aberdeen during a 1989 local newspaper dispute when both were young hacks. were neglected until relatively recently.” Vivakeanand Bridgemohan. A growing number on the Labour side agree. earning him about 80 times less than a trader in New York. up 5 per cent on last year. “The violence is something we’re very worried about.” he says from his office in Georgetown.” sneered Elrick. recalled Elrick. has one message for the traders.” complained Elrick. a young miner who was shot in the leg and robbed of £1. The Cone Secretary. To the side is an electricity generator.

no party has broken the deadlock that produced an indecisive result in the last general election. Opinion polls have told pretty much the same story all year. It merely guarantees that they will do so in consultation with every non-eurozone member state apart from Britain. I am referring to the prohibition imposed by the Conservative Party on the Prime Minister pursuing a policy of constructive engagement with other continental leaders. The Prime Minister is much more popular than his party. are obliged to second that attack. determined to finish a job that Labour only reluctantly acknowledge needs doing at all. The words “disaster”. Miliband complains that Cameron’s path of maximum austerity at home and mean diplomacy abroad makes it harder to boost growth and create jobs. More significantly. The government is now heavily reliant on voters’ continuing to blame Labour for the nation’s economic problems and remaining unconvinced of Miliband’s credentials as a potential prime minister. The economy is stagnant and we might well see in the new year in recession. As 2011 draws to a close. the hard-line Eurosceptics believe they have an alluring destination for the country. which still retains a toxic whiff of moneyed complacency. Cameron takes no pleasure in disrupting coalition harmony but he also knows that. trampling the Lib Dems is the safer path. It is also a luminous signpost announcing the limitations of Lib Dem influence and the strength of those Conservative MPs for whom enmity with Brussels is an old vendetta. The strategy was to make the Lib Dems the party of “competence and compassion”. The Lib Dems. sharp dose of austerity and then. Then Tory backbenchers. That timetable has been sabotaged by economic reality. too. but Ed Miliband is not deemed to be as plausible a national leader as David Cameron. Clegg would call for a “yes” vote. we 18 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 HENRIK PETTERSSON . the latter in policies to mitigate the harsh effects of spending restraint.Rafael Behr | The Politics Column Wanted: a vision to trump Cameron’s offer of bleak isolation in Europe British politics is still hung. With entrepreneurial dynamism thus restored. The Liberal Democrats are reviled or ignored. Clegg’s miserable poll ratings preclude flouncing out of the coalition. Yet he believes Cameron’s sulky isolation in Europe is “dangerous” and “bad” for Britain. further detachment from the EU is inevitable. especially when it comes to protecting the City of London from European regulation. That in turn supports the Labour claim that Cameron’s project to “modernise” his party in opposition was spurious – a line of attack Clegg has discreetly abetted in the hope that voters would see him as a moderating influence. had a plan to subject Britain to a short. George Osborne. Clegg is left staring at a blank sheet of paper where he needs an explanation for why his party should remain in coalition. which overshadows all other considerations. Lib Dem torment over Europe was prefigured earlier in the year in the referendum campaign on switching to the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system. Besides. What little palliative social intervention the Lib Dems claim to have secured will be scant compensation for falling real incomes and lost public services. as growth returned towards the end of the parliament. Chancellor. The Labour Party is liked much more than it was when led by Gordon Brown. The Deputy Prime Minister had hoped to fight the next election claiming credit as an equal partner in a joint venture to rescue the economy from the disastrous legacy bequeathed by Labour. verging on despair. Tory foot-stamping The Lib Dems do have substantial voting rights on the coalition board but Tory backbenchers hold a golden share. other than tackling the deficit and postponing electoral annihilation. The former would be expressed in the tough decisions taken to tackle a ruinous budget deficit. having captured UK foreign policy. AV was denounced as a stitch-up to promote perpetual hung parliaments of benefit only to a Lib Dem leader considered to have swapped principle for power. but there was a “gentleman’s agreement” not to let it get personal. Clegg limits himself to expressions of pained regret and martyred determination to continue fighting for pet causes in government – his signature tune. In public. Clegg has argued that partnership with the Tories was essential for the pursuit of the national economic interest. meanwhile. Nick Clegg’s alliance with the Tories has alienated many of his party’s old supporters without recruiting new ones. Over time. That outcome caused dismay in Clegg’s team. having backed Osborne’s plan. “awful” and “miscalculation” have all been freely used in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office to describe Cameron’s handling of the negotiations. The “veto” that Cameron claims to have deployed at the negotiating table doesn’t prevent eurozone countries from pursuing an agenda of closer integration. needs prescriptions for the economy and Britain’s future in Europe that can’t be caricatured as variations on “we wouldn’t start from here”. To be clear. the Lib Dems have aligned themselves irrevocably with Conservative economic policy. furious at their leader’s apparent preference for coalition cosiness over party policy. which was the advertised motive for Cameron’s intransigence. The Tories are confident that the public sees no alternative. The nation will be liberated from the bureaucratic meddling that is supposed to have held back the economy. diluting or blocking the ambitions of Tory zealots. That much was proved by the veto that was wielded at the emergency Brussels summit to save the European single currency on 8-9 December. Obstinate foot-stamping has cleared the room of people minded to accommodate UK interests. Clegg thought his intimacy with Cameron was a safeguard against indulgence of Conservative reactionary impulse. when the alternative is rebellion in his own ranks. Cameron would support the “no” camp. Then. Cameron’s election strategist as well as his Atlantis myth Labour. Neither is being achieved. The deficit will still need cutting after the next election. compensate voters with pre-polling-day tax cuts. Cameron will present himself as the only serious candidate. persuaded Cameron to sanction a campaign that mercilessly punched Clegg’s bruises.

parochial account of Britain’s interests. The view in Downing Street is that voters will see Miliband’s moralising calls for fairer capitalism as hand-wringing. In his party conference speech in September.” observes one Cameron aide. The problem is that if the euro sinks. the world’s largest unified trading space. “It isn’t as if anyone is out there calling for unfair capitalism. stranded on the capsized hull of their single currency. Nor does Nick Clegg. the UK will be dragged down with it expounded his thesis that the British model of capitalism is broken. the UK economy will be dragged down with it and if it is rescued the ill will generated by Britain’s position guarantees unfavourable terms of trade in the future. will relocate if it becomes clear that British influence is waning. Companies that are based here because it is a useful avenue into Europe’s single market. Last year he and Osborne outmanoeuvred Labour by presenting the country’s woes as the result of Gordon Brown blowing the national budget on public services. The financial crisis. is the populist island tale peddled by the Eurosceptics. Atlantis is a myth. Labour want to present the Tories as relentlessly pessimistic. That attack only works alongside an optimistic counter-offer. well-meaning perhaps.com/writers/rafael_behr TIM KIRBY 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 . Miliband doesn’t yet have such a story. the Tories find in Brussels a new scapegoat – and one against which most of the press has spent years whipping up hostility. rewarding delinquent “predatory” behaviour and failing to honour “productive” activity. The most developed project around. Anyone looking to Labour for a more uplifting vision for the future will find only a sketch on Miliband’s drawing board. Cameron has proved adept at cutting through complex issues with a glib. The Holy Grail in Westminster is a convincing account of how Britain can make its way in a world made scary by economic crisis. But the mundane imperative of our dependence on good EU relations is obscured by exaltation in a two-fingered gesture of defiance. while for the rest living standards fall and insecurity rises. l Rafael Behr is chief political commentator for the New Statesman newstatesman. signalled the end of the era in which a tiny minority would be allowed to monopolise wealth and power. Atlantis. With no sign of recovery in sight. he argued. But when politics is hung.will flourish as a global trading hub while other European nations look on enviously. It is unclear how Miliband intends to reverse that trend. and the one with the most momentum. on the periphery of a continent resisting decline. offering only grim resignation to long-haul austerity. trussed in red tape. the deadlock can only be broken by something more compelling than the promise of well-managed stagnation. Opinion polls show clear support for the Prime Minister’s actions in Brussels. the Labour leader The problem is that if the euro sinks. but impotent. It is still less clear whether his new model of capitalism envisages Britain more or less integrated with the rest of Europe. The question for David Cameron is whether he wants to lead a real European nation or follow the men from Atlantis. That is the underlying rationale for Euroscepticism – creating an island utopia where commerce is unencumbered by footling matters such as geography or regional diplomacy.

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Instead. Germany. according to one ICM poll. Cameron walked out having prevented nothing from happening and having failed to secure any of his demands. There was no plan for growth agreed. Despite all the talk about protecting the City. 24 hours afterwards. the government’s demands were tabled only a few days before. no credible plan for reducing deficits agreed. happening. The roots of what happened on the night of Thursday 8 December lie deep in Cameron’s failure to modernise the Tory party. weary after ten years of war in Afghanistan. Finland. However. Indeed. South Africa. not only failed but. The recent EU summit could and should have taken the vital decisions needed to stabilise the eurozone and boost growth and jobs but. The push for anthems. to my parents’ generation. we must also remake the case for British membership of the EU. Ireland. between now and when this agreement is likely to be finally tied down in March. as he did. That is why I make a genuine offer to Liberal Democrats to work with us to try to get a better outcome for Britain. When we entered the final hours of the summit in so shambolic a fashion. flags and the apparent aping of the symbol of nationhood left the impression of a half-built superstate and provided a rallying point for Europe’s opponents. is rebalancing its priorities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. instead. Europe is engulfed by the eurozone crisis and the US. One response to this rising scepticism. that is not called a veto – that is called defeat. Radosław Sikorski – potentially a key ally for Britain – the week before the summit single out the UK for criticism in a speech and accuse the government of failing to provide political leadership on Europe? events none of us has witnessed before and the outcome of which remains uncertain. the Chancellor was unable. I do not believe Britain would ever be a “pygmy” nation but I believe we are better off as part of a market of 500 million people. Bulgaria. I talked about how. He has closed his eyes and bet that he can ride the Tory eurosceptic tiger. My message to Lib Dems would be that. Isolation can sometimes be a price worth paying for getting your own way but isolation achieving only defeat is unforgivable. against just 40 per cent who would prefer to stay in. What are the reasons for this and what should a progressive response be? In a recent speech. and so he was left unable to attend the pre-summit meeting of the leaders of France. Whether on climate development or trade. the rationale for Europe was establishing peace and stability on the continent after a century scarred by two world wars. Cameron has embarked on a very dangerous course. Malta and Poland. Why did the Polish foreign minister. In response. Britain’s voice is amplified on the world stage by our European membership. no plan for recapitalising the banks agreed and no plan agreed for the European Central Bank to act as the lender of last resort. after David Cameron’s mauling at the hands of his backbenchers at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. certainly in this country. in Durban. open offer to the Lib Dems on Europe Britain’s relationship with the United States and our membership of the European Union have been the fundamental building blocks of our foreign policy but today we risk being less relevant in both. This is the immediate task. Work can and should start immediately both to win back friends and allies and to consider what rules and procedures can avoid Britain’s further marginalisation. Today. That the British government did so little to advance these objectives is inexcusable. a development John Cridland of the Confederation of British Industry described as “the elephant in the room”. which again led people to question Europe’s role. a defence of the status quo won’t be good enough. That is not a veto – that is a defeat discussing financial services without Britain being at the table. actually heightened suspicions about the intentions of Europe’s institutions. over the next few years. Portugal. The rest of us should open ours and make the case for a reformed Europe before it is too late. Just because he puts party interest before the national interest. not shrill showmanship in the face of economic Elephant in the room To win the leadership of his party. to point to a single piece of financial regulation that was now not going to be applied to Britain as a result. That broader context only makes the Prime Minister’s decision to leave Britain more isolated than at any time in the 38-year history of our EU membership even more dangerous. however. there is no reason others should do the same. with a £10trn economy. There was hardly any evidence of either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary visiting European capitals ahead of the summit to build support for Britain’s position. we saw welcome progress in global climate talks. it was economically inadequate and politically damaging. In recent days. we’ve got up to 26 countries Riding the tiger Britain’s rising prosperity during the long boom that began in the 1990s contributed to a growing sense of national self-confidence. This was a cause that had powerful emotional resonance. Yet our future in Europe cannot be taken for granted.Douglas Alexander | The Guest Column Labour will make a big. l Douglas Alexander is shadow foreign secretary Cameron prevented nothing. 49 per cent would vote to get Britain out of Europe. Cameron promised to pull out of the centre-right grouping the European People’s Party. the public will reward politicians who show serious statesmanship. that emotional cause was supplemented by a somewhat drier one: that being part of Europe would help reverse Britain’s postwar decline and would help boost our prosperity and productivity. for the 20 years after Britain joined the European Community. But over the longer term. is it any wonder that Cameron was left unable to secure a single objective Britain had set or secure a single ally? We have heard a lot about “vetoes” but to veto something means to prevent it from HENRIK PETTERSSON 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 21 .

The last straw was a survey showing peak trains from Euston are only half full. Given the weakness of the case there can only be one rational conclusion. the former Secretary of State for Transport. www. handed over the reins to Justine Greening. HS2 is the wrong priority. he must have breathed a huge sigh of relief.hs2actionalliance.org . two more carriages are being added next year and more could be added.When Philip Hammond. Every one of the arguments for the £32bn HS2 project has been convincingly challenged by experts in their fields and thoroughly put in doubt by the Transport Select Committee.

an epidemic disease that strikes fear in the hearts of people across Africa’s meningitis belt. Currently. there is an infinite amount of it. Brazil has lifted 20 million people out of poverty. which were about the size of a large car. floods destroyed 20 per cent of the harvest in the state of Queensland. not unlike many teenagers today. By that method. But I believe that era in history is coming to an end. At this moment. producing enough extra rice to feed 30 million people. it’s just beginning The world population just passed seven billion. There are plenty of pessimists about food security. My whole career has been inspired by the conviction that breakthroughs can make the impossible possible. I am optimistic that we are about to enter a new period in global development. I have never been more optimistic about the future. is now helping Mozambican farmers cope with very similar climate and soil conditions. But if farmers in the region grow a flood-tolerant variety that recently became available. or harvests destroyed by flooding. which affects nine million people every year. the Serum Institute of India released a vaccine it has developed for meningitis A. I was addicted to computers. we catch about half of cases. In the past 35 years. but it didn’t have tuberculosis. I would sneak out of my house in the middle of the night to get a few hours of computer time while the students were asleep. Take the example of tuberculosis. because the personal computer didn’t yet exist. The poor had the disease and the hunger. because they provide a bridge between what used to be the rich and poor worlds. they will flip that curve upside down. We have put the vast majority of our effort into solving a small minority of the world’s problems. stain it and look at it under a microscope. relatively speaking. This year. And with more innovators focusing on more areas where innovation is needed.org Happy hour I am optimistic because I believe in the power of innovation – and because I believe the world is on the cusp of finally unleashing innovation for the poorest. In information technology. This vaccine is the first one ever created specifically for poor countries. In the past 20 years. Luckily. As an optimist. despite this general environment of scarcity (whether it’s food or government finances). But in the early 1970s. who have the world’s leading rice research programme. have been instrumental in projects such as the floodtolerant rice described earlier. China has grown by an incredible 9 per cent annually and slashed its poverty rate by 75 per cent. the task at hand was very different: to catch up with the present. and everything changed. but they didn’t have the technological capability to develop solutions. What explained this shocking lack of innovation? When I was born. Last year. computers were a difficult addiction to satisfy.Bill Gates The era of innovation isn’t over. four million tonnes of rice in India and Bangladesh are lost to flooding every year. The standard practice is to take someone’s saliva. The world’s failure to address the suffering of its poorest people is one of the tragedies of the past century. last year. Last year. that tragic misallocation of resources is changing. In development. The number of people on the planet is growing so rapidly that the margin of error for the UN’s 2050 population projection is larger than the entire world population in 1950. l Bill Gates is the chairman of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. healthy and highly educated countries is much higher. Meanwhile. Now. because the world has changed. we were stunned by the underfunding of innovation targeted at the needs of the poor. For the most part. In sub-Saharan Africa. Yes. droughts in eastern Europe cut global wheat production by 5 per cent. and only an Indian company accustomed to low-cost manufacturing was able to price it low enough for African governments to purchase. but historically we have been very narrow-minded about innovation. the Chinese. it seems wise to ask whether we will have enough food to eat in the future. I lived a few minutes away from a large research university where I had access to PDP-10 computers. Just as innovation over the course of a few decades turned the car-sized computer into a pocket gadget. In fact. When my wife Melinda and I created our foundation and gradually started learning more about global development. I look for key junctures where we can apply innovation to bend trend lines and avert crises. everything from storage costs to processor speed has improved exponentially. Now. A new awakening There are many examples of this innovation. which also includes India. new varieties of maize can be 50 per cent more productive under the type of drought conditions that helped cause the Horn of Africa famine. These countries have both a sophisticated understanding of the challenges that developing countries face and the technical capacity to innovate to spur development. Finally. But with new innovators all over the world focused on the problem. Indonesia. in Australia – the world’s fourthlargest wheat exporter. climate change is bringing a flood of adverse weather events that affect crop yields. which learned how to grow soybeans in its semi-arid soil in the 1980s. In the past ten years. we also have a good chance to fix it. When I was a teenager. It is ironic. The number of dynamic. the very concept of “computer time” makes no sense. Pessimists extrapolate from the present to the future in a straight line. And so most of the world’s innovation was directed at the world’s least pressing problems. But our awakening to these issues is one of the most important developments of the past decade. REX FEATURES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 23 . on its way to at least nine billion. there was a breakthrough in rapid diagnostic testing that could change the way we fight TB. can drive innovation for the poor in ways we never imagined. Mexico. the world was roughly one-third rich and two-thirds poor. the challenge was to see 20 or 30 years into the future. the diagnostic test hasn’t changed in more than a century. but I believe the smart money is on optimism. Then came the microprocessor. Meanwhile. South Africa and Turkey. gatesfoundation. This group of rapidly growing countries. however. innovation in the field of development will lift billions out of poverty and make the world a more equitable and prosperous place. smear it on a slide. For the poor. Brazil. perhaps. The rich portion had an amazing capacity to innovate. we have a global food crisis.

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Its cover had a caricature of Muhammad. Correspondingly. humanitarians and socialists. Tellingly. It is telling people who most need free expression that they cannot speak. He blamed Charlie Hebdo for causing “offence” and “bait[ing] Muslim members”. Where they have political power. Absurd! Speak out Saying Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t criticise Islam is. If those really were people’s sensibilities and beliefs. but fails to acknowledge the power and politics behind Islamism. Why aren’t more people angry about this? l Maryam Namazie is spokesperson for One Law for All. heresy. Though we are all offended at least some of the time (and often by religion itself). Islamism and sharia law are off-limits. such as Gulnaz. The Islamists’ barbaric. MEHDI CHEBIL / POLARIS 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 25 . Gulnaz was pardoned by the Afghan president. enmity against God. like all other groups. It’s an effort to censor people such as the naked Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy or Gulnaz. born on the prison floor. he seemed to see “extremists” and “Muslim members” of society as one and the same thing. homosexuality and crimes against chastity. Describing Charlie Hebdo’s criticism as an attack on a Muslim minority not only mistakenly presents Muslims as a uniform group and equates them with Islamists. after the publication of an issue “guest-edited” by Muhammad. A piece in Time by its Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley (2 November) was a case in point. irrespective of the circumstances. saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.com/maryamnamazie Gagged: outside the Charlie Hebdo offices Sense and sensibility Muslims. Muslim or not – never resort to death threats and firebombing. and is intrinsically racist. rather than making the distinction between Islamism (a far-right political movement) and Muslims.Maryam Namazie Fear of offending Muslims should not stop us fighting Islamism On 2 November. which in many places is a global movement with state power. which means that the victims and survivors of Islamism are not allowed to do the only thing they have at their disposal to resist. Hamid Karzai. but activists are concerned that she will be pressured to marry her rapist to gain a father for her daughter. Restricting free expression to what is acceptable only restricts the right to speak for those. Whether you like or dislike Charlie Hebdo’s political position is irrelevant. or the Islamic regime of Iran that sentenced her? Charlie Hebdo or the firebombers? You can’t side with both. threats and firebombs are business as usual. are not homogeneous. The far right blames and scapegoats Muslims for Islamism’s crimes and the pro-Islamist left defends Islamism and its crimes as the “right of a Muslim minority”. Many belong to civil society organisations. In the west. though Islamism has been creating havoc in the Middle East and North Africa for several decades and most of its victims are Muslims. Among them are secularists. first commissioned by the European Union and then blocked by the EU days before its first screening. She bravely tells her story to help other women avoid the same fate. After all. including apostasy. Islamist states and movements wouldn’t need to resort to such indiscriminate violence. the attack bears the hallmarks of the political Islamic movement. in effect. who was sentenced to one year in jail and 90 lashes for taking part in a film. there are more than 130 offences punishable by death. For its followers. This is something both the far right and the postmodernist left do – albeit for different reasons. dissenters. the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed. It’s just as irrelevant as what the woman who was raped was wearing or the nature of the “crime” committed by the person facing execution – that is if you agree that rape. Read her blog: freethoughtblogs. Islamist violence and terrorism are tactics and pillars of the political Islamic movement and have nothing to do with “Muslim sensibilities”. This raises the important question of whose sensibilities one sides with – the mother and daughter stoned to death in Afghanistan in November. who need it most. Equating the intimidation and terror imposed by political Islam to the expression of Muslim sensibilities is like equating the oppressor with the oppressed. it would be like discussing the English Defence League without seeing its links with far-right politics in Norway or the US and would be like denouncing criticism of the EDL as an attack on the British working class and Christians. most of us – religious or not. blasphemy. Islam’s prophet. freethinkers. the debate on Islam and free expression is absurdly framed within a context of racism and Islamophobia. Under sharia law in Iran. Both sides oppose or defend Islamism at the expense of human beings.” Though no one has yet claimed responsibility. transgresses Islamist norms and causes “offence”. they forgo any niceties reserved for western public opinion and imprison and murder anyone who speaks their mind. Sharia law is now the most widely implemented religious law worldwide. rights campaigners. medieval values are portrayed as the values of all Muslims. for instance. execution and firebombing a publication for expressing a point of view are wrong. rationalists. Gulnaz was raped and sentenced to 12 years for a “moral crime” under sharia law. saying that Islam. or the Taliban who stoned them to death? The actor Marzieh Vafamehr. political parties and movements that are diametrically opposed to Islamism. The debate on free expression is much larger than Charlie Hebdo. the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now: Organisation Against Women’s Discrimination in Iran. But the EU is more concerned about “its relations with the [in]justice institutions” in Afghanistan than the abysmal situation of women there. one of two women filmed in a documentary. what is the point of free expression if you cannot criticise that which is deemed to be taboo? On 1 December.

London SE1 7SP Please note: this is a pre-order and your book will be dispatched on the 23rd of January. OUTSIDE IN Peter Hain ¥ 480 pages ¥ Hardback ¥ £20 ¥ Published 23 January PRE-ORDER A SIGNED TITLE TODAY FOR A PRICE OF £20 AND FREE UK P&P! Send me Name Email signed copies of ‘Outside In’ at a price of £20 plus free UK P&P Address Postcode I enclose a cheque made payable to Biteback Publishing Ltd for £ Visa Mastercard for the amount of £ Expiry (mm/yy) / CVC* *Three-digit security code on the back of your card Please debit my Maestro Card number Please send order to: Biteback Publishing. He held an array of glittering posts in the British political firmament. Underpinning HainÕs career is a tradition of political campaigning that stretches back nearly four decades. ^^^IP[LIHJRW\ISPZOPUNJVT ‹ PUMV'IP[LIHJRW\ISPZOPUNJVT ‹ . 3 Albert Embankment. from key roles in the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry to leadership of the Commons and brokering the 2007 devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. Formerly an ÔoutsiderÕ he became an ÔinsiderÕ. the political values he holds today springing directly from the injustices he witnessed when he was growing up and which drew him into politics in the first place. Westminster Tower.LS!     .S P E C I A L O F F E R F R O M B I T E B A C K ! SIGNED COPIES OF OUTSIDE IN BY PETER HAIN! P eter Hain has had an extraordinary life. as one of the governmentÕs most effective ministers.

In 2008. l Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain is the chair of the Accord Coalition. one that is close to being a form of voluntary apartheid – might produce a landscape in which separatism and prejudice flourish. accordcoalition. as well as prepare pupils for life in a diverse society. Society today is much less religious and many of us no longer see the need for separate faith schools.uk newstatesman. it is not part of the National Curriculum and so can be taught in any way a school chooses. faith schools are now publicly funded and therefore answerable to the taxpayer. The goal is to create an environment in which children of different religious backgrounds grow up as neighbours rather than as strangers. This has led to questions over the relationships between them and whether segregating children of different backgrounds encourages integration or inhibits it. be better to have a national curriculum for RE. are pupils and society best served by the considerably independent say that voluntary-aided schools (most of which are faithbased) have over admissions. This is borne out by statistics. There are four reasons for this. this would be of benefit both academically and in terms of future citizenship. Once again. from religious and secular groups alike. including humanism? This would help increase general knowledge. the curriculum and employment of staff. when the great transition occurred in the Education Act. Today. faith schools “educate a disproportionately small number of young people at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale”. because although some of us will rejoice at the freedoms they have been granted. faith schools are now a contentious part of the political debate. The first is that although they started as private endowments. A similar argument could apply to the English Baccalaureate. 1. resulting in church schools receiving funds from the state. Britain has spent centuries struggling to reduce class divisions in society. To an extent. then there was 9/11 in the US.5 per cent) than other schools (15. Would it not GETTY IMAGES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 27 .2 per cent of pupils at state faith schools had local authority statements for SEN. According to the House of Commons Library (2009). although religious education (RE) is a statutory subject and has to be taught. and to look at the expansion of Jewish schools. were made one of the core subjects. the Accord Coalition was created to provide a voice for those. It finds that. others limit their pupils to knowledge of only one faith. mathematics. Rather than engaging in stale arguments or swapping anecdotes about best and worst practices. While some schools follow a multi-faith syllabus. that has been the case for at least 100 years but scrutiny has become much more searching for public institutions. others will despair that this includes the freedom to discriminate against admitting pupils and hiring teachers of “the wrong faith” or no faith at all.7 per cent at schools with no religious character. Second. the taxpaying society of today is very different from that of 1870. so that all schools were obliged to teach about all kinds of belief. even the religious element of society has fundamentally changed.com/subjects/religion Separation anxiety: do faith schools discriminate? Pride and prejudice These events forced us to look again at the Church of England’s pledge to build 100 new faith schools.org. For instance. and to forge a society that is at ease with itself. but a plethora of religions. whose shockwaves hit harder here after the bombings in London on 7 July 2005. languages and humanities. Many fear that this sends out a disheartening message to those who value an inclusive and tolerant Britain. we have not one majority faith. The battle lines are well rehearsed: proponents of faith schools claim that they maintain identities and produce good citizens. despite high-minded pronouncements suggesting “a mission to serve the most disadvantaged in society”. science. The fourth reason is the unease caused by events such as the Bradford riots of July 2001. Faith schools have fewer children on free school meals (11. Faith schools have not escaped attention – nor should they. even though they are state-funded? The creation of more state academies and Education Secretary Michael Gove’s free schools – many of which have a religious foundation – has raised the stakes even higher. There is a worry that the new shape of education created by such schools – in my view. compared to 1. It would be regrettable indeed if these were now replaced by religious ones. the growth of Muslim schools and the creation of the first Sikh and Hindu schools. we need to locate larger principles that will inform the policy options more accurately.7 per cent). Third. it would boost efforts to broaden children’s religious horizons. They also cater for fewer pupils with special educational needs (SEN). The task has become more urgent since the government’s astonishing decision this year to abandon Ofsted’s duty to inspect schools’ record of promoting social cohesion. Divide and rule The Runnymede Trust’s 2008 report Right to Divide? is one of many studies that pick up concerns about the social inequalities caused by schools’ freedom to select pupils on the grounds of religion. while opponents condemn them for ghettoising the children and fragmenting society.Rabbi Jonathan Romain Class has divided us for years – don’t let faith schools do the same Once seldom discussed. who seek to promote inclusive schooling. One of its effects has been to diminish the time that schools spend on teaching subjects other than the five core ones of English. with demands for transparency placing the BBC and the NHS under the spotlight. while others accuse them of being biased and doctrinaire. Another pressing issue is that. If RE. with an inclusive syllabus.

COVER STORY

“Never be afraid of stridency”
Interview by Richard Dawkins
Photographs by Michael Stravato

Meeting of minds: Richard Dawkins (left) and Christopher Hitchens in conversation

28 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012

Is America heading for theocracy? How worrying is the rise of the Tea Party? Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins discuss God and US politics

Richard Dawkins Do you have any memories of life at the New Statesman? Christopher Hitchens Not that I want to impart. It seems like a different world and a different magazine and it happened to a different person. I’d love them to interview me one day about it, for an edition about the role of the Statesman, but I’d really rather you and I focus on the pulse of the issue, which is obviously our common cause. RD I’ve been reading some of your recent collections of essays – I’m astounded by your sheer erudition. You seem to have read absolutely everything. I can’t think of anybody since Aldous Huxley who’s so well read. CH It may strike some people as being broad but it’s possibly at the cost of being a bit shallow. I became a journalist because one didn’t have to specialise. I remember once going to an evening with Umberto Eco talking to Susan Sontag and the definition of the word “polymath” came up. Eco said it was his ambition to be a polymath; Sontag challenged him and said the definition of a polymath is someone who’s interested in everything and nothing else. I was encouraged in my training to read widely – to flit and sip, as Bertie [Wooster] puts it – and I think I’ve got good memory retention. I retain what’s interesting to me, but I don’t have a lot of strategic depth. A lot of reviewers have said, to the point of embarrassing me, that I’m in the class of Edmund Wilson or even George Orwell. It really does remind me that I’m not. But it’s something to at least have had the comparison made – it’s better than I expected when I started.
19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 29

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COVER STORY
RD As an Orwell scholar, you must have a particular view of North Korea, Stalin, the Soviet Union, and you must get irritated – perhaps even more than I do – by the constant refrain we hear: “Stalin was an atheist.” CH We don’t know for sure that he was. Hitler definitely wasn’t. There is a possibility that Himmler was. It’s very unlikely but it wouldn’t make any difference, either way. There’s no mandate in atheism for any particular kind of politics, anyway. RD The people who did Hitler’s dirty work were almost all religious. CH I’m afraid the SS’s relationship with the Catholic Church is something the Church still has to deal with and does not deny. RD Can you talk a bit about that – the relationship of Nazism with the Catholic Church? CH The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word “fascist”, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with “extremeright Catholic party”. Almost all of those regimes were in place with the help of the Vatican and with understandings from the Holy See. It’s not denied. These understandings quite often persisted after the Second World War was over and extended to comparable regimes in Argentina and elsewhere. RD But there were individual priests who did good things. CH Not very many. You would know their names if there were more of them. When it comes to National Socialism, there’s no question there’s a mutation, a big one – the Nazis wanted their own form of worship. Just as they thought they were a separate race, they wanted their own religion. They dug out the Norse gods, all kinds of extraordinary myths and legends from the old sagas. They wanted to control the churches. They were willing to make a deal with them. The first deal Hitler made with the Catholic Church was the Konkordat. The Church agreed to dissolve its political party and he got control over German education, which was a pretty good deal. Celebrations of his birthday were actually by order from the pulpit. When Hitler survived an assassination attempt, prayers were said, and so forth. But there’s no doubt about it, [the Nazis] wanted control – and they were willing to clash with the churches to get it. There’s another example. You swore on Almighty God that you would never break your oath to the Führer. This is not even secular, let alone atheist. RD There was also grace before meals, personally thanking Adolf Hitler. CH I believe there was. Certainly, you can hear the oath being taken – there are recordings of it – but this, Richard, is a red herring. It’s not even secular. They’re changing the subject. RD But it comes up over and over again. CH You mentioned North Korea. It is, in every sense, a theocratic state. It’s almost supernatural, in that the births of the [ruling] Kim family are considered to be mysterious and accompanied by happenings. It’s a necrocracy or mausolocracy, but there’s no possible way you could say it’s a secular state, let alone an atheist one. Attempts to found new religions should attract our scorn just as much as the alliances with the text. Second, I wanted to get him to admit, if possible, that giving money to a charity or organising a charity does not vindicate a cause. I got him to the first one and I admired his honesty. He was asked by the interlocutor at about half-time: “Which of Christopher’s points strikes you as the best?” He said: “I have to admit, he’s made his case, he’s right. This stuff, there is authority for it in the canonical texts, in Islam, Judaism.” At that point, I’m ready to fold – I’ve done what I want for the evening. We did debate whether Catholic charities and so on were a good thing and I said: “They are but they don’t prove any point and some of them are only making up for damage done.” For example, the Church had better spend a lot of money doing repair work on its Aids policy in Africa, [to make up for preaching] that condoms don’t prevent disease or, in some cases, that they spread it. It is iniquitous. It has led to a lot of people dying, horribly. Also, I’ve never looked at some of the ground operations of these charities – apart from Mother Teresa – but they do involve a lot of proselytising, a lot of propaganda. They’re not just giving out free stuff. They’re doing work to recruit. RD And Mother Teresa was one of the worst offenders? CH She preached that poverty was a gift from God. And she believed that women should not be given control over the reproductive cycle. Mother Teresa spent her whole life making sure that the one cure for poverty we know is sound was not implemented. So Tony Blair knows this but he doesn’t have an answer. If I say, “Your Church preaches against the one cure for poverty,” he doesn’t deny it, but he doesn’t affirm it either. But remember, I did start with a text and I asked him to comment on it first, but he never did. Cardinal Newman said he would rather the whole world and everyone in it be painfully destroyed and condemned for ever to eternal torture than one sinner go unrebuked for the stealing of a sixpence. It’s right there in the centre of the Apologia. The man whose canonisation Tony had been campaigning for. You put these discrepancies in front of him and he’s like all the others. He keeps two sets of books. And this is also, even in an honest person, shady. RD It’s like two minds, really. One notices this with some scientists. CH I think we all do it a bit. RD Do we? CH We’re all great self-persuaders. RD But do we hold such extreme contradictions in our heads? CH We like to think our colleagues would point them out, in our group, anyway. No one’s pointed out to me in reviewing my God book
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“I have one consistency, which is being against the totalitarian” Christopher Hitchens
the old ones do. All they’re saying is that you can’t claim Hitler was distinctively or specifically Christian: “Maybe if he had gone on much longer, he would have de-Christianised a bit more.” This is all a complete fog of nonsense. It’s bad history and it’s bad propaganda. RD And bad logic, because there’s no connection between atheism and doing horrible things, whereas there easily can be a connection in the case of religion, as we see with modern Islam. CH To the extent that they are new religions – Stalin worship and Kim Il-sungism – we, like all atheists, regard them with horror.

RD You debated with Tony Blair. I’m not sure I watched that. I love listening to you [but] I can’t bear listening to . . . Well, I mustn’t say that. I think he did come over as rather nice on that evening. CH He was charming, that evening. And during the day, as well. RD What was your impression of him? CH You can only have one aim per debate. I had two in debating with Tony Blair. The first one was to get him to admit that it was not done – the stuff we complain of – in only the name of religion. That’s a cop-out. The authority is in

30 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012

I don’t. one wants to respect it. They’ll never recover from [the failure was “determine the child’s religion”. RD I will remember that. Stridency is the least you should muster . because. I haven’t. you’re going to get mocked. which I’m dubious about anyway. I bang my drum. it’s broken down with me. it’s extraordinary. Literally. I was asked to address the idea of it and I began by saying it’s got grave shortcomings as an idea. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out. By many people. They made it the constitution. to me. You can be an Ottoman citizen but you’re a Jewish one or an “Extreme Protestant evangelicals may be the most overrated threat” Christopher Hitchens Armenian Christian one. or a chief rabbi. CH I can’t find a way. RD But what about the daftness of Mormonism? The fact that Joseph Smith was clearly a charlatan – CH I know. compulsory dowries – they basically give away their daughters. CH Yes. When it is important. CH Certainly. obviously. . It’s very much a point for our view that Stalinism was a theocracy. which I think is a terrible limitation. of course I’m going to give up some of my mental freedom for that. but there should be a wrinkle of disapproval. I think we can’t ban that. which is [being] against the totalitarian – on the left and on the right. there is innate in humans a strong tendency to worship. the socialist movement could only be revived if it was purged of Stalinism . . as they say. I was a member of the Trotskyist group – for us. to become abject. the worst thing the English will say about you. they tend to take refuge in: “You’re attacking my fundamental right. The question of Mormon racism did come up. But the child has rights and society does. It’s borrowed.COVER STORY God Is Not Great that there’s a flat discrepancy between the affirmation he makes on page X and the affirmation he makes on page Y. to that extent. RD That part of you that was. To that extent. And so. But you clearly break that rule. nobody denies that. They timed it suspiciously for the passage of legislation. OK. There have been some thinkers – Orwell is pre-eminent – who understood that. no. determine. called something like “The Responsibilities of Parents”. If you know what someone thinks about the death penalty or abortion. RD One of my main beefs with religion is the way they label children as a “Catholic child” or a “Muslim child”. in turn borrowed from Ottoman and previous empires – you classify your new subjects according to their faith. they have never recovered. of course. The people who we mean when we talk about that – maybe the extreme Protestant evangelicals. too. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. They more or less managed to ban immigration from countries that had non-Protestant. the government does. it had been saying: that black people’s souls weren’t human. You’ve educated a lot of people. quite. and in a way it’s attributed to pluralism. according to their rights. You’re a fool. nor can we call it “hate speech”. CH Well.” If you go on about something. It means establish. . good. It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say. who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do. we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements. . in effect. I’ve disowned it. RD Oh. . RD Romney has questions to answer. 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 31 t . they’re opportunists. The totalitarian. “[If] you offer me bliss. which you’ve called yourself . they had a string of victories. . in part from British imperial policy. or whatever. I couldn’t ask for a clearer illustration. but I think it can be exploited. as far as I can see. RD But they do accuse you of being a contrarian. We don’t allow female – and I don’t think we should countenance male – genital mutilation. I’ve become a bit of a bore about it. and the Church did very belatedly make amends for saying what. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader. then you generally know what they think about everything else. as we both know – as we can say of them. RD Do you think America is in danger of becoming a theocracy? CH No. not even your worst enemies. it doesn’t matter – I was a jobbing hack. That has secular forms with gurus and dictators. RD I’ve always been very suspicious of the leftright dimension in politics. CH I have one consistency. but I am a bit saddled with it. as a libertarian. of the radical left is always against the totalitarian dictators. So we’re not just fighting the dictators. or infallible pope.” I don’t think they really should be allowed that. I only think the rest of society should look at it with a bit of disapproval. We’re criticising our fellow humans for trying to short-cut. non-white majorities. when I make my complaint about this. of saying that people can’t raise their children. often to blood relatives. . “Listen. CH You must never be afraid of that charge. I’m told nobody actually does label children Catholic children or Muslim children. not just your actions and your taxes. any more than stridency. by surrendering and saying. Why is this? In the 1920s. And the origins of that are theocratic. manufacture and distribution and consumption of alcohol. One of these responsibilities Now. but it’s essentially the same. CH Yes. including splinter-group Mormons who still do things like plural marriage and. RD Indeed. And also kinship marriages that are too close. he does. RD I think there is a convention in America that you don’t tackle somebody about their religion. which it doesn’t. “Do you believe in the golden plates that were dug up by Joseph Smith?” – which [Mitt] Romney hasn’t been asked yet – sorry. by the way – is that they’re boring. If you’re a Mormon and you run for office and say. This actually won’t quite do. Well. sometimes. And some of these faiths tell their children that the children of other faiths are going to hell. CH Yes. CH If I was strident. it would be very hard to say that you can’t tell your child that they are lucky and they have joined the one true faith. I don’t see how you stop it. You’re going to get laughed at. From these victories. the one that wants control over the inside of your head. They banned the sale. RD It’s astonishing how much traction the left-right continuum [has] . . CH They’ve been defeated everywhere. RD There is a tendency among liberals to feel that religion should be off the table. to make their lives simpler. or is. CH Well. . cause . Only this morning.” We say it’s a false bargain: you’ll get nothing. unfortunately. . is the enemy – the one that’s absolute. then they grant the right of society to amend [the legislation]. very repulsively. who do want a God-run America and believe it was founded on essentially fundamentalist Protestant principles – I think they may be the most overrated threat in the country. I was sent a copy of [advice from] a British government website. to be fair. RD I would call it mental child abuse. CH Or even that there’s anti-religious racism.

one of two things would happen: it would be overthrown in no time by all the courts. I know a lot of very educated. because they’ve tried the alternatives . They are disobedient on contraception. You may not take the easy route here and say: “He may not have been the Son of God and he may not have been the Redeemer. CH And many other European countries. CH I’m a bit more worried about the extreme. “I don’t have the right to alter the doctrine. . we’re starting with Hindu prayer on Monday. It’s not unknown for people to have the illusion that they’re God or the Son. But I don’t want to condescend about that. isn’t it? CH In my judgement. t CH No. in a funny way. There really aren’t believing Christians in the way there were generations ago.COVER STORY of] Prohibition. I admire Lewis for saying that. If he wasn’t the Son of God. you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and the love of others which it will procure you. as compared to the rather farouche. I can see that that might have an effect. who have shown that it’s nonsense. of course. very prosperous. it’s amazing how many people – Christians as well – want to disprove the idea that they’re all in thrall to people like [the fundamentalist preacher Jerry] Falwell. I don’t worry that we’ll win. . as is often said? CH I think they fluctuated. . CH He could. he was a very evil impostor and his teachings were vain and fraudulent.” Lewis is more honest than Jefferson in this point. I don’t think we need to condescend. martial. one by one. the local school board or the parents or the courts have thrown it out and it’s usually because of the work of people like you. I think. That’s also what it feeds on. in other words. Rick Perry said it the other day. to an extraordinary degree that I wouldn’t have predicted. It was their biggest defeat. CH And if they passed an ordinance saying there will be prayer in school every morning from now on. but some of that is so weak and so self-discrediting. Every time they’ve tried [to introduce the teaching of creationism]. They’ll never recover from the Scopes trial. RD Warlord. That’s in his discussion of his own Jefferson Bible. very importantly. RD That is true. the Catholic Communion is very agonised. but I think we should say that there’s something about their honesty that we wish we could find. where he cuts out everything supernatural relating to Jesus. .” Now. so to speak. CH In all my tours around the South. very thoughtful people who believe. Rick Perry once said: “Not only do I believe that Jesus is my personal saviour but I believe that those who don’t are going to eternal punishment. really.” They would regret it so bitterly that there are days when I wish they would have their own way for a short time. RD Jesus could just have been mistaken. across the states of the US. CH . But I think there’s a very longrunning tendency in the developed world and in large areas elsewhere for people to see the virtue of secularism. Jefferson is the one I’m more happy to pronounce on. but I’m not a complete abortion-on-demand fanatic. RD Do you ever worry that if we win and. Some of them say it’s the personality of Jesus of Nazareth. but I think it’s a close one. [when] you go and debate with them. I believe that the unborn child is a real concept. he goes much further. No. yes. . RD Do you think [Thomas] Jefferson and [James] Madison were deists. It’s increasingly cultural Catholicism. rather greedy . some of it home-grown. They try to make a free speech question out of it but they will fail with that. in my opinion. If you look at religiosity across countries of the world and. CH Yes. I feel very squeamish about it. RD Which we don’t get in bishops . and among Jews as well.” He was challenged at least on the last bit and he said. I can’t say it’s fine for me and not for others. And it’s jihadism. All that we can do is make absolutely sure that people know there’s a much more wonderful and interesting and beautiful alternative. the only threat from religious force in America is the same as it is. There was certainly no priest at his bedside. physical. And also. flagrantly. I don’t think that Europe would fill up with Muslims as it emptied of Christians. . in his private correspondence. it’s an internal reading. . in many other countries – from outside. but he was a wonderful moralist. indeed. very few of them could tell you very much about what the catechism really is. The mild and meek one. He says he wishes we could return to the wisdom of more than 2. But that again doesn’t seem to command very big allegiance among the American congregation. Muhammad. Christianity has defeated itself in that it has become a cultural thing. is actually a very strong moral question and shouldn’t be decided lightly. also. I’m afraid. But he did violate a rule of C S Lewis’s and here I’m on Lewis’s side. with barrels of laughter heaped over it. where its alleged root causes are being allowed slightly too friendly an interrogation. reactionary nature of the papacy now. the separation of church and state. RD Total failure. you find that religiosity tends 32 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . . The furthest he would go in public was to incline to a theistic enlightened view but. But also. Lewis says it is a cop-out to say Jesus was a great moralist. RD Certainly in Europe that’s true – but in America? “Abortion is a strong moral question and shouldn’t be decided lightly” Christopher Hitchens CH There are revivals. RD It’s more of a problem in Britain. But anyway.000 years ago. Every time something like a jihad or a sharia movement has taken over any country – admittedly they’ve only been able to do it in very primitive cases – it’s a smouldering wreck with no productivity. . If it ends in a belief that there is no God. RD Yes. RD Yes. CH I know many Muslims who. I think it requires a bit of reflection. that can only be written by someone who’s had that experience. again. It’s a common delusion but. destroy Christianity. on gay marriage. he says to his nephew Peter Carr in a private letter [on the subject of belief]: “Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. that’s very cheering. He said it’s the one thing we must not say. They don’t want to be a laughing stock. . of course. on divorce. it is a wicked thing to say. to Christianity or via it to non-belief. or people would say: “Very well. even on that. which. People don’t want to come from the town or the state or the county that gets laughed at. and they’re only holding firm on abortion. have opted to go . We needn’t go there. that vacuum would be filled by Islam? to correlate with poverty and with various other indices of social deprivation. in leaving the faith. CH So.” RD So we ought to be on the side of these fundamentalists? CH Not “on the side”. CH Our soft-centred bishops at Oxford and other people. Make that much too friendly. RD Oh. RD Some of our friends are so worried about Islam that they’re prepared to lend support to Christianity as a kind of bulwark against it. RD It’s very good.

RD They’re vulnerable. It would explain if she met her greatgrandfather why he spoke Yiddish. isn’t it? “Happy holiday season. certainly not. My own presentation speech ended with a tribute. and he is dealing with it with a courage. That’s the one that Orwell wanted at his funeral.” CH That’s Lamentations. founded in secularism. RD And the fact that there is an established church increases that effect. Sometimes. What’s the first thing it will do? It will build itself a little shrine. vanity. It’s between two oceans. Some of them. also teach Darwinism and alternative teachings. as a collective. RD But that was all secular. it’s Ecclesiastes. Some secular utopians came here with the same idea. That’s the least religious book in the Bible. America being a country of immigrants. I’m glad we’re on the same page there. the grasshopper is heard in the land . The grasshopper shall be a burden. Increasingly. It’s got the bones of quite a good discussion in it. I was honoured to present an award to Christopher Hitchens in the presence of a large audience in Texas that gave him a standing ovation. by law. in order that the debate is being taught. as it was called in my boyhood. I also would like them to know the Bible for literary reasons. CH There’s got to be something cultural. It’s just: “We should share our good luck. RD Yes [laughs]. it’s a mild belief. any Church that teaches that in its school and is in receipt of federal money from the faith-based initiative must. RD Yes. CH It’s got so insipid in parts of America now that a lot of children are brought up – as their parents aren’t doing it and leave it to the schools and the schools are afraid of it – with no knowledge of any religion of any kind. CH Surely that was contained in what I just .” CH “Vanity. 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 33 . of course. city on a hill. RD The Christmas tree comes from Prince Albert. RD I don’t know enough Latin to judge that. anyway. If you want a church in America. I wish I did. and should be. is so much more religious than those western European countries that have an official state religion. honestly. Have you read some of the modern translations? “Futile. If they are a collective – which they’re not. “When the sound of the grinding is low. CH A lot of it was. yes. RD I bet he did. CH [Look at] the Greek Orthodox community in Brooklyn. The AV [Authorised Version]. proud to muster.” What the hell? CH The Book of Job is the other great non-religious one. you knew where to go. said the preacher. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. “Vanity. Churches should CH Precisely. that’s a strong memory. . even I have a seder. like Scandinavia and Britain. It’s accompanied by wine. RD No. generally speaking. It’s all futile. I would like children to know what religion is about because [otherwise] some guru or cult or revivalists will sweep them up. RD Maybe it was. . There was going to be a winter solstice holiday for sure. really. When you came to escape religious persecution and you didn’t want to replicate it. RD Absolutely. Thomas Paine and others all thought of America as a great new start for the species. RD Horrible. The day after this interview. You will end up saying things like “promised land” and it can be mobilised for sinister purposes. People feel America is just so lucky.” CH I prefer our stuff about the cosmos. CH Sometimes one has just enough to be irritated. I suspect. RD Promised land. Utterly futile. they often still observe the Sabbath and that kind of thing. But in a lot of cases. “Futile. CH [Alexis] de Tocqueville has it exactly right. the shepherds and the wise men are all made up. People tell me that the recitation of the Quran can have the same effect if you understand the original language. but the Passover seder is also the Socratic forum. it’s secularised itself. Not automatically. wealth.” CH He doesn’t! RD He does. This “Happy Holidays” – I don’t particularly like that. first as he entered the hall and again at the end of his deeply moving speech. The dominant religion was going to take it over and that would have happened without Dickens and without others. . .” RD I’ve heard another theory that. CH No. I go to Passover every year. futile said the priest. We both. Islam will fill the vacuum?” Richard Dawkins not be tax-free the way that they are. The Jews – not all of them – remarkably abandoned their religion very soon after arriving from the shtetl.com/subjects/ christopher-hitchens “Do you ever worry that if we destroy Christianity. you have to build it by the sweat of your own brow and many have. CH All that and the desire for another Eden.” Try to do without that. American Jews must be the most secular force on the planet now. CH The reason why most of my friends are non-believers is not particularly that they were engaged in the arguments you and I have been having.” Good God. It’s cultural. but they were made indifferent by compulsory religion at school. all of that. either. because I want my child to know that she does come very distantly from another tradition. Some of the Catholic liturgy is attractive. I don’t think they want this. RD Are you saying that most Jews have abandoned their religion? CH Increasingly in America. It does seem providential to many people. CH Cyrenius wasn’t governor of Syria. It’s dialectical. I was pleased to see. That’s why they’ve always been against comparative religion. an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be. I sometimes think the poetry comes from the intriguing obscurity of mistranslation. are religious and some of them like the music but. where they left their extended family and left their support system. people coming from Europe. If the Church has demanded that equal time be given to creationist or pseudo-creationist speculations . have written pieces about the King James Bible. No. CH Tell them if they want equal time. RD They got bored by it. . RD No. That’s why they’re attached to them. beauty. the British people are benignly indifferent to religion. were alone and they needed something. The Jews very quickly secularised when they came. They took from it occasionally whatever they needed – if you needed to get married. but you can’t get away from the liturgy: it’s too powerful. And then there is manifest destiny. Can you say anything about Christmas? CH Yes. filled with minerals. RD While not being religious.” l Read an extended version of this interview at: newstatesman. vanity. in which I said that every day he demonstrates the falsehood of the lie that there are no atheists in foxholes: “Hitch is in a foxhole. I always feel. we’ll jolly well have it.COVER STORY RD I’m often asked why it is that this republic [of America]. A huge amount of English literature would be opaque if people didn’t know it. CH They’d had enough of it. RD Comparative religion would be one of the best weapons. .

IMAGE COURTESY CICLOPS AND NASA/IPL-CALTECH/SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE 34 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 .

Our tale begins at the dawn of the space age. In that time. golden spaceship. the only living creatures there are or ever were in the 13. the joint American/European mission launched in 1997 to orbit Saturn seven years later and the latest chapter in our saga. Like wandering pilgrims. dark equatorial plains of Saturn’s moon Titan and Cassini’s subsequent explorations of the Saturnian environment are already legend – one act in a mythic saga of high adventure and deep spiritual yearning that begins and ends with us. be it to the planets or to probe the quantum world of fundamental particles. the landing of Huygens on the cold. these visions are not a dream. We’ve sent robotic spacecraft to the planets. has done this and more. and our living on it. Fantastic though they seem. is the same abiding quest: to understand the deep connections joining us to all that surrounds us and to glimpse our part in the greater whole. A flying-saucer-shaped machine descends through a hazy atmosphere and lands on the surface of an alien moon. with seven lonely years and billions of miles behind it. softly hued planet. A halfcentury of travelling the solar system has rewarded us with insights into the interrelatedness and origins of the earth and its sibling planets and has shown us with unmistakable clarity exactly what our cosmic setting really is.7-billionyear history of the universe? At the heart of every scientific voyage. Cassini. all eight of them. its largest (far left). glides into orbit around a ringed. Rhea (top) and bright Enceladus (furthest right) A glistening. we now have a spacecraft on its way to Pluto and – in what I regard as humanity’s finest hour – we have set foot on our own moon. Our exploratory machines have rendezvoused with comets and landed on asteroids. an astonishing feat 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 35 t . came to be? What is the great cosmic theatre within which life on our planet has unfolded? And are terrestrial organisms. evolved as we are from inanimate materials. Their successful entry into orbit. we’ve explored nearly every corner of the solar system. ten times further from the sun than the earth is.THE SPACE STORY New images of the planet Saturn and its rings inspire awe – and could answer the oldest question in human history: are we alone? Adventures in wonderland By Carolyn Porco The ring cycle: an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in February 2005 of Saturn with its rings and three of moons – Titan. to ensure the future of our progeny and to seek the answers to questions that have vexed us and every generation of our ancestors before us: how is it that our small planet. its second largest. We humans have been interplanetary travellers now for over 50 years. Its voyage has been one of hope and daring. The Cassini spacecraft and its Huygens probe have travelled invisible interplanetary highways to the place we call Saturn. our spacecraft have journeyed far and wide to quench an innate lust to explore. to survey our cosmic surroundings.

The south polar terrain of this body. once mysterious and unseen. Saturn’s most fascinating moon. finally grows large enough to truncate its own growth by opening and maintaining a gap along its orbit. including bright. responsible for keeping the ring gaps in which they dwell open. imagine a long-ago time on our planet when molecular interactions within pools of organic compounds eventually led to the origin t 36 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 REUTERS/NASA. coming as they do from across the solar system. converting the fleeting and indifferent fluctuations of light’s electromagnetic fields into powerful visceral emotion – an aweinspired exaltation at seeing what has never been seen before. images hold a pre-eminent position in the vocabulary of human communication. icy Enceladus. have communicated to us a sense of being there. liquid organics are ponded on its surface. the scientist’s ken. slowly accreting material from the solar nebula. geologically diverse surface. Look at the images on these pages – only a fraction of Cassini’s offerings – and immerse yourself in their grandeur. As an interplanetary vehicle bestowed. Physical mechanisms at work today in Saturn’s rings. far away Ten times further from the sun than the earth. Small moons. like the early earth. The surface of Titan. which harbours an organic-rich sea of liquid water beneath its south polar cap – a potential source of life of technological skill and mastery. Cassini has allowed us to peer into these exotic realms with an acuity we once could only dream of. wreathing it in a vast garland of icy rubble. It is tethered by a giant planet. with a muted but complex atmosphere cleaved by ferocious. with a cold. bottom: part of a large mosaic of images of Enceladus. icy particles erupt from salty. This thrilling set of conditions points to a subsurface oasis in which earth-like prebiotic chemistry – and perhaps even life itself – may be roosting. And it is home to more than 60 other moons. fascinates as you gaze at its geographical contours and meandering riverbeds and consider its position as the only body today in all the solar system where. And Cassini’s images. IMAGE COURTESY CICLOPS AND NASA/IPL-CALTECH/SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE . top: while in the shadow of Saturn. planet-girding winds and prone to the episodic eruption of colossal storms. are seen here in mesmerising detail and provide a crucial point of comparison with our own planet in understanding the forces driving earth’s atmospheric systems. sculpted by wind and rain. thick. a sense of immersion and engagement in a strange. no bigger than Britain. can bring. a moon the size of the planet Mercury. uniquely human hunger to understand ourselves and the underlying meaning of our own lives. and a spellbinding view of Planet Earth – a mere dot seen from a billion miles away Far right. perpetually in motion and slicing knife-like across the sky directly above the planet’s equator. part metaphor: a long reel of alien scenes and extraterrestrial vignettes that have informed and delighted us with startling discoveries and splendour beyond compare. such as the explosive birth of colossal storms or a giant vortex capping the planet’s south pole. Spectacular phenomena in the atmosphere of Saturn. resplendent set of rings. girdled by a broad equatorial belt of dunes and dotted in its polar regions with lakes and seas of liquid organic compounds. Rhea. are the best windows we have into the process by which a planet such as Jupiter. Saturn hosts an enormous. They have achieved the nearmiraculous. hazy atmosphere suffused with simple organic molecules and a strangely earth-like. second in size only to Jupiter. Its story has been part scientific travelogue. and you will come to know the joy and soul-filling sustenance that discovery and knowing. A galaxy far. Because we humans are exquisitely engineered to comprehend visual stimuli arrayed into two dimensions.THE SPACE STORY Left: an artist’s rendering shows Cassini passing through jets of vapour and fine icy particles erupting from the south polar terrain of Saturn’s small moon Enceladus Right: a Cassini image from February 2011 shows a vast northern storm and Saturn’s second-largest moon. organic-rich liquid water reservoirs below its surface. and a metaphor for that acute. forbidding environment we could otherwise only imagine. is shockingly warm and crossed by deep fissures whose towering jets of fine. along with the planet’s rings (seen nearly edge on) and their shadows Far right. with a sense of sight. which were also key in sculpting and configuring the early solar system. mimicking the migratory motions of the planets across the solar nebula in the very early days of the solar system. Cassini captured an unprecedented image of a total eclipse of the sun. through its on-board cameras. Regard Titan. can be observed in these images. Even smaller ring-embedded moonlets can be observed over time drifting back and forth across this disc of icy debris. the Saturnian planetary system is so remote and other-worldly that we might as well have travelled to a faraway place in orbit around a distant star in another quadrant of our galaxy. It boasts Titan.

7 billion years. And that would be a final answer to probably the oldest question in human history. pausing to look back at the forest from which they came. In this regard. thinkers and explorers who took this picture – one world clear across interplanetary space to another. This possibility alone has made the toil of more than two decades on Cassini worth every strain. as we’ve never seen ourselves before.THE SPACE STORY of terrestrial life. I look at this image and see our distant ancestors. fragile. Moving image As I write. it will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most scientifically productive missions that has ever flown. and you’ll immediately comprehend the significance of our findings here. stepping down from the trees and walking upright for the first time on to the African savannahs. an image that shouts evolution. across a billion miles of interplanetary space. in the end. the refracted visage of the sun seen diamond-like along the limb of Saturn and the beautiful blue ring created from the spray exhaled by Enceladus – you can spot. Finally. that never fails to move us. l Carolyn Porco is an American planetary scientist and the director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations in Boulder. It is that startling recognition of ourselves. the story of Cassini. this is where the astronomer Galileo and the biologist Charles Darwin come face to face. These discoveries and more make clear to us processes that operate well beyond Saturn. And I look at this image and I see a species that is unyielding in its pursuit of knowledge and brave and ardent in its longing to grasp the meaning and the significance of its own existence. the scope of Cassini’s mission has been truly universal and its findings are revolutionary. And blue-ocean planet as it would be seen by others in the skies of other worlds. has been a story about longing – a longing to know ourselves. But in the end. To be so small and reach so far is what makes us. There is a powerful emotion that stirs within us when we catch sight of our small.com/subjects/science 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 37 . should we ever discover that life has independently arisen twice in our solar system. then at that point we could safely infer that life is not a bug but a feature of the universe in which we live and has occurred a staggering number of times throughout the cosmos during its 13. For me. despite all the dazzling vistas we have been witness to The story of Cassini has been about a longing to know ourselves over the past seven years. knowing that therein may possibly lie the most promising. remains Cassini’s most beloved one. when it is all done. as if nestled in the arms of Saturn’s rings. the wonder you will feel at setting eyes for the first time on the geysering turmoil at the south pole of Enceladus. from the origin of solar systems to the drivers of meteorology on our own planet. I can’t help but look at this image and see the very best that humanity has to offer. But we are also the dreamers. earth. it was a sight humankind had never seen before – a total eclipse of the sun seen from beyond Saturn. Colorado. like that of all our interplanetary explorations over the past five decades. see: ciclops. most accessible locale in orbit around our sun for unveiling Genesis II: a second origin of living matter beyond the earth. And oh. the extraordinary citizens of Planet Earth. because it is an image that was made ultimately possible by Galileo’s first experiments 400 years ago. For more information. For.org newstatesman. all the way to the origin and cosmic distribution of life itself. our own planet. And it moves me to think of evolution. Taken in late 2006. Cassini continues to return one phenomenal discovery after another from within a far-flung planetary system that we have been privileged to come so intimately to know. There is one image we have taken of Saturn that says this so much better than words ever could – an image that. Among the striking glories visible in this image – the unfamiliar appearance of backlit rings. We are no doubt the troubled and warlike inhabitants of one insignificant little planet. to finally understand our place in the magnificent scheme of cosmic evolution.

You should spend three years studying for it.com/subjects/interviews 38 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . I’m hoping to go to St Paul’s later. Standing Female Nude 1996 Begins teaching poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University 2006 Receives the T S Eliot Prize for her collection of love poems Rapture 2009 Is appointed Poet Laureate Is there anything you’d like to forget? No. When I read a wonderful poem I feel that I’ve been given a way of seeing. Are there words or images to which you return? You’ll find it hard to find a book of mine that doesn’t have a lot of moon in it. There was this Celtic male socialist atmosphere around my childhood. isn’t it? The poems are the songs we make out of what happens to us. Would your politics be defined by morality? Yes. Was there a plan? I wanted a child – that was the one thing I always wanted. treasure and enhance. Against my wishes. Do you vote? Yes. Gillian Clarke. I like to find metaphors for the moon as a private joke. remembering. I noticed the bee was appearing as an image. We’re slamming doors shut to talent. Why? I’ve loved bees from childhood.The NS Interview Carol Ann Duffy. I went to grammar school and university. I also think that politicians should be made to qualify. simple as that. I’ve always voted Labour. but it seemed to be quite sexist and argumentative. My family was very ordinary. I’ve always felt that the Christian story is a metaphor for understanding certain values. isn’t it? Are you accustomed to the role now? I feel more joy about it than I did at the beginning.] Well. That would sort it. I quite like remembering. but [about] issues I see as moral. Showing off. If anything. I think there should be a 50 per cent tax on every financial transaction. Writes two plays while there 1985 Publishes her first collection of poems. and now your mother’s death. l Interview by Sophie Elmhirst newstatesman. Do you feel more involved in politics now? Not at all. Is writing a poem an act of generosity? Yes. Can a government be guilty of immorality? Yes. even though they might be celebrating. Your father was politically engaged. I think a good poem is a gift to the world. nothing. That’s true of all the arts.” As I got older I was more interested in form and the relationship between words. Do you feel that you have a duty of care to the people you’re writing about? I don’t think so. We need a new politics. Your status as Poet Laureate is printed on the front cover of your new book. DEFINING MOMENTS 1955 Born in the Gorbals. When I was reading what I’d written. Are strong female poetic voices still rare? When I published my first book in 1985. Not even in your convent days? Up until I was about 12 I suppose I had a Christmassy relationship with God. a consensus of morality: what we value. it adds something. . depressing and sexist. but it wasn’t any more real than “Hansel and Gretel”. Glasgow 1971 First poems published in a pamphlet 1977 BA in philosophy from Liverpool University. I don’t know whether anyone has noticed that. very much so. not political. But now we’ve got so many poets who are women: Alice Oswald. Your latest collection is called The Bees. so it’s a privilege to celebrate that. I had all my fees paid and was given £800 a year to spend and I’m really grateful for it. what kind of country we want to be. because a love poet is always writing about themselves. Someone like me now would not be going. feeling. And I’ve found a way to be comfortable with being public. Is all poetry personal? Poetry is the music of being human. I might read some poems [to the protesters]. . in the ways that bees gather – they’re very industrious and then they add. Jackie Kay – you can go on for ever. Jo Shapcott. and bereavement or loss. I was still called a poetess – there were very few women around. I don’t have to go on Question Time if I don’t want to. The closure of libraries and the outpricing of education are immoral. Which is probably why I resist it. Are you? It put me off more than anything. Are we all doomed? No. All my political or social thinking is done through my poems. What does God mean to you? [Long pause. it gave me an aversion to party politics – I was much more likely to go to my bedroom and read a poem. And the three big things that happen to us are: falling in love. in my case having children. It’s how I see poetry. So what do bees mean to you? My bees are my poems. poet “I used to be called a poetess – it was stuffy and sexist” Portrait by Joss McKinley You have written often on love. This is a time when we are realising there is change afoot. I remember doing a reading with Patricia Beer and her sense of having to be the only woman was such that she didn’t talk to me. almost unsummoned. Has the way you write poems evolved? I started writing early – I was 16 – and my poems were to do with subjects: “This is a poem about . You feel nourished – as you do with honey. I’ve loved poetry since childhood. what we want to encourage. the word doesn’t have a meaning. It felt stuffy.

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The thinker: Obama’s presidency has been marred by a lack of action from a paralysed Congress. But could anyone else have fared better? 40 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES .

the only one that has copied the US constitution is the Philippines. they have every chance of adding the Senate and White House. he is at the mercy of the Republican speaker. that there won’t be any such amendment is known to everyone. John Boehner – in the US system not a neutral chairman but the leader of the majority party – and in the Senate. They are right to flinch at rewriting the constitution. there was some surprise. By Alan Ryan Give ’em hell. Some states elect their governors and legislatures in odd-numbered years. “Disenchanted” would win by a landslide. of the 193 members of the United Nations. Common sense remains in short supply on the national political scene. A form of parliamentary system is much more popular. But the only candidate for the Republican nomination who runs him close is the former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. In the lower house. below what he needs for re-election next year. is a recipe for gridlock and the exploitation of the public by sectional interests. Occasional indignant flurries of sentiment in favour of a “balanced budget” amendment to the constitution result in a vote. Almost every aspect of the US constitution. he is at the mercy of procedural rules that result in the Democratic majority being unable to bring up his proposals unless it can rally 60 votes out 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 41 t . countries do this in the wake of war or dictators. from the separation of powers to the role of the Supreme Court. Their aim is to ensure that Barack Obama carries the can for a 9 per cent unemployment rate – which doesn’t include those who’ve given up looking for work. not because the number was so low but because it was higher than zero. A president who needs no help from Congress in ordering the incineration of the human race in his role as commander-inchief and who has organised the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the removal of Colonel Gaddafi cannot get his modest proposals for injecting life into an anaemic economy on to the agenda of either house of Congress. if they can find a presidential candidate who doesn’t alienate all but the most wild-eyed of their conservative base – and if the congressional Republicans can avoid being saddled with responsibility for the economy. whose own party likes him so little that he has never got much above a 25 per cent approval rating from Republican voters. Voters describing themselves as “independent” now outnumber those professing an allegiance. most follow the congressional and presidential election calendar: in 2010. the Tea Party-inspired Republicans massacred the Democrats and took control of the House of Representatives. All the same. knowing that they will go nowhere in the Senate. Barry This is an “off-year” in the US electoral cycle. as US voters cannot confront the obvious deficiencies of their constitution – the one thing all Americans worship. Barack Obama’s best chance of a second term is by breaking free of the deadening search for consensus that blights US politics – and hoping that the Republican Party self-destructs. Election results tend to reflect the state of the economy six months to a year earlier. it is no accident that. but rarely otherwise. Nobody expects an economic miracle between now and next November. The problem is institutional and therefore incurable.LETTER FROM AMERICA With the economy in the doldrums. In 2012. Polls suggest that Romney will come third place in the upcoming Iowa caucuses. nobody was surprised. Politicians are despised by the electorate and the Republicans are particularly disliked. The Republicans refuse to act on anything presented by the president but they rarely even pass motions of their own. When yet another opinion poll announced that the US public had fallen out of love with its politicians. despite their victories in the 2010 midterm elections. To describe this as “gridlock” is an understatement. Congress is paralysed. The president’s approval ratings hover in the low 40 per cent range. When it was reported in October that the approval rating for Congress had fallen to 9 per cent. Obama wants the blame to fall on the Republicans’ bloody-minded obstruction of all his proposals and is berating them for failing to get people back to work. The fear is that he’s left it too late. The constitution enjoys the same status as the Bible and is often confused with it.

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If you want to persuade the driver of the car racing towards you that you are not going to change course. that entails cutting the deficit by cutting programmes that benefit the worse-off. Another event etched in the memory of politicians – even those who were not born at the time – is the 1948 defeat of Thomas Dewey by Harry Truman. such as getting “separate but equal” schools declared to be a violation of the rights of black students. Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters are the most disillusioned. but Congress did it in the summer. is only waiting for the right moment to grab his job. or against. the Tea Party managed to reject Mike Castle. Harry” – shouted at Truman by a supporter at a speech in 1948 – stirs the hearts of Democrats to this day. but he exuded an air of “cando” confidence and that was enough in 1980. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear their arguments in 2012. not coincidentally. He has bailed out bankers. The president is the only focus of national political attention. If the president can be frustrated in everything he attempts. The author of the anti-tax declaration is a lobbyist and activist called Grover Norquist. Among the current problems is the lack of anything like a consensus on the best way to wake up the housing market. The one virtue of this sort of power-dispersing system is that it forces everyone to search for consensus. he turned it down. It is one reason why so many conflicts end up in court. Eric Cantor. they were due to expire at the end of 2010 if Obama did nothing. When the Republicans insisted on keeping the lower rates for the best-off. Today. unkind joke about Americans always doing the right thing but only after exhausting all the alternatives reflects how getting to a consensus can be a very slow process. Although he wrote an autobiography entitled The Audacity of Hope. that’s the wrong thing to be. running against a “donothing” Congress. Obama’s problem is that he isn’t Truman and in 2008 he ran for president as a candidate who was above partisanship. in favour of Christine O’Donnell. The strategy is simple. The greater problem is that the Republican Party has committed itself to a scorched-earth policy of opposing anything proposed by President Obama.LETTER FROM AMERICA of 100 to overcome the minority’s obstruction. Many of the country’s economic problems – the size of its national debt and continuing budget deficits – stem from George W Bush’s reckless reductions in income-tax rates in 2001 and 2003. the last Democrat to be a one-term president. He wanted to preserve the lower tax rates for the worse-off and let them expire for the better-off. the ultimate strategy is to throw the steering wheel out of the window. Offered the chance to explain to the country that everyone was going to be worse off because the Republican Party had been bought lock. he beat the odds and broke Republican hearts – as well as embarrassing the Chicago Daily Tribune. Thomas Jefferson denounced the idea of an “active executive”. The battle cry of “Give ’em hell. Politicians routinely break their campaign promises. the egregious Mitch McConnell. and so one might think that it’s no big deal to have signed Norquist’s piece of paper. it will be the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement. as there was in the 1950s and 1960s over the elimination of racial segregation in the Southern states. small numbers of enthusiasts. stock and barrel by the less than 1 per cent of the population that makes more than half a million dollars a year. Castle would have won. JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 43 t . not the mortgage companies. clean up the financial mess and get people back to work. Any reduction in the government’s deficit must come by cutting expenditure. He had inherited the presidency when Roosevelt died in the spring of 1945 and was thought to be incompetent. Playing chicken with the US economy is not a smart thing to do. notably in Alaska. Before embarking on the Louisiana Purchase. and as the Republicans won’t touch the Pentagon’s budget. It’s a high-risk strategy. mostly by cutting programmes that benefited the worseoff. failed to pursue the malefactors who brought down the banking system and allowed the cost of sorting out the mortgage mess to fall on hardup homeowners. audacity is not his style. which added 828. The Republican version was to sign a declaration that under no circumstances would they raise taxes. If anything stiffens his backbone between now and November 2012. This overlooks the realities. He is a consensusbuilder. the real threat to an incumbent comes from inside his own party. The creators of the constitution 224 years ago were sure that a government that did nothing was better than a government that did too much. Truman governed with. Most Americans can just about identify their own member of Congress and cannot name most members of the cabinet – but they do know who is supposed to be in overall command. From 1946. if well funded and given access to local television channels to run negative ads. Public intellectuals such as the philosopher t Anyone but: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail The mess we’re in Progress hangs on the willingness of politicians to cut deals in the interests of getting a compromise that everyone can live with and that is arguably in the interests of the population at large. Obama’s supporters have always hoped that he would call the Republicans’ bluff. The leader of the Republicans in the Senate. he blinked. He hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay and he has continued Bush’s foreign policies and made no progress on a Palestinian peace deal. which went to press with the banner headline “Dewey defeats Truman” shortly before Truman defeated Dewey. whose professed ambition is to shrink government until it’s small enough to “drown in a bathtub”. It happened in 2010. Winston Churchill’s old. a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate. When the ideological temperature rises. Ronald Reagan had no idea how to fix it either. Standard & Poor’s lowered the US credit rating and the public decided that the president had no backbone and Congress had no sense. It doesn’t help that Boehner is paralysed by his inability to keep his Tea Party-backed rank and file in line and a justified fear that his second-in-command. Because almost every seat in Congress is “safe” for one or the other party. it’s almost inevitable that one side will try to break the logjam by seeking a ruling that the other is acting unconstitutionally. or as several states are arguing now over some of the provisions of the healthcare reforms. whose financial problems and allround flakiness ensured that she lost the actual election by a landslide. can turf out an incumbent in a primary election. anyone used to the way the UK government dominates proceedings can only stare openmouthed at the spectacle of the head of state and government having to cajole not only the opposition but members of his own party to allow him to progress with his agenda. and when you are faced with uninhibited hooligans determined to make you look indecisive. when it held hostage an increase in the government’s borrowing authority until the president agreed to a programme for reducing the national debt over the next decade. which will liven up the presidential race.000 square miles of French-held territory west of the Mississippi to the original 13 states. Republicans remember Jimmy Carter. the last Democrat to preside over a period of economic depression that he couldn’t fix and. he will be seen as weak and ineffectual and will be a pushover for an opposition challenger. Florida and Delaware. The problem for Obama is that Republicans play chicken more deftly. Where there is intransigence. He has a powerful weapon ready to hand. In Delaware. announced in 2010 that the “overriding objective” of Senate Republicans was to ensure that Obama would be a one-term president. But. a competent former governor and congressman.

com . ambitious book.and a damn good read too.” Steven Poole.” Financial Times “Arguably the best study in many years of the effects that mass immigration has had on the countries and cities of western Europe and north America..99 THE LOST MICHELANGELOS Antonio Forcellino “As much a story about the intransigence of the art establishment and the gaps in its tradition-bound methods for considering authentication claims as it is about the ultimate fate of the painting itself.99 THE STRANGE NON-DEATH OF NEOLIBERALISM Colin Crouch “A highly approachable and illuminating argument in political economy.” The Guardian “The most important work on the political economy of modern capitalism since Keynes. 14 June 2011 – 144 pages 978-0-7456-5355-6 – £12.99 Available now from all good bookshops politybooks.” Bay Area Reporter 27 May 2011 – 180 pages 978-0-7456-5203-0 hardback – £18.. European University Institute 24 June 2011 – 224 pages 978-0-7456-5221-4 paperback – £14.” European Voice 13 May 2011 – 300 pages 978-0-7456-4962-7 paperback – £19.” Philippe C.” New York Times “An unlikely and rather miraculous piece of art history. The Guardian One of the most brilliant and influential social thinkers of our time retraces the peregrinations of the concept of culture and examines its fate in a world marked by the powerful new forces of globalization. migration and the intermingling of populations. Kalecki and Schonfield. Schmitter.new from polity IMMIGRANT NATIONS Paul Scheffer “An important.99 CULTURE IN A LIQUID MODERN WORLD Zygmunt Bauman “Acerbic interpretations of a long-contested word.

where he made a lot of money by showing clients how to make firms private with leveraged buyouts that seem to have done Bain more good than the firms and the owners far more good than their workers. both presidential and congressional. He advertises himself as a businessman but the business was the management consultancy Bain. can’t be taken for granted. Bain’s speciality was outsourcing. and suspended his campaign. the trouble is that everyone else rises briefly to the top of the polls and then self-destructs. Far from creating jobs he now says either that it was a mistake or that it’s not like what Obama did. who leaped ahead of Romney with a mixture of folksy charm and simple economic nostrums. boss of the Godfather pizza chain. Rick Perry. Oxford t The one glimmer of intelligence has come from Occupy Wall Street in the US. He created a health-care system in Massachusetts that was the model for Obamacare. Herman Cain. Like any other religious conviction. This leaves Romney. The governor of Texas. Nobody supposes the Gingrich bounce can last. It may even have given Obama the confidence to go after the Republicans for being ready to sacrifice the 99 per cent to their multimillionaire paymasters. came to the front with a reputation for political savvy. The truth is that the US and the UK have lower social mobility than almost all other advanced industrial societies. then stumbled on questions about Pakistan at a debate and revealed that he thought that the voting age was 21. West has spent two nights in jail recently for protesting with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This autumn’s politics has been enlivened by the Republicans’ search for a plausible candidate. The one glimmer of political intelligence this autumn has come from the Occupy Wall Street movement. part of the top 1 per cent. It has been 18 for two decades. he is now against both. faith in the great American myth is impervious to mere facts. feel betrayed. or within a year will be. All of which makes it very odd that next year’s elections. It has emerged that when he left office he spent $100. Now Newt Gingrich is occupying the “anyone but Romney” slot. 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 45 . Being a Mormon may help – anyone who can believe what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are supposed to believe should find it simple to entertain contradictory views on just about anything. Romney has been a full-time professional politician for the past 15 years. Its positive views are inscrutable. giving a fresh impetus to the fight for social justice. There is still a long way to go. who sets records for smooth mendacity surprising even in US politics. In any case. The consensus is that they will end up nominating Romney but that they would prefer almost anyone else. l Alan Ryan is a lecturer at Princeton University and a former warden of New College. found former employees coming out of the woodwork to accuse him of sexual harassment. Formerly in favour of same-sex marriage and “pro-choice” on abortion. Yet almost 40 per cent of the population also believe that they are.LETTER FROM AMERICA Cornel West who thought that Obama would usher in an era of “prophetic” politics.000 destroying documents. but it has done what the respectable media and organisations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts have failed to do: make the public aware of the extent to which the economic growth of the past 30 years has gone to the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population. A Pew report showed that self-delusion is alive and well: Americans believe that the US is uniquely open to talent and hard work and that social mobility is greater in the US than anywhere in the world. You can see why “anyone but Romney” might appeal to voters with even a modest liking for honesty and consistency. How a serial adulterer who led the Republicans to catastrophic defeats came to appeal to socially conservative evangelical Christians is a mystery that baffles all. Being governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts doesn’t rate highly as a job qualification with members of the Tea Party and he has been engaged in a wholesale reinvention exercise.

it makes no difference).FIRST PERSON All of our behaviour can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge. In each moment. Our wills are not of our own making. public policy. in fact. moral responsibility. muscle fibres contract. and yet many scientists continue to speak as though human thought and behaviour were primordial mysteries around which the laws of nature must bend. the truth is that free will doesn’t even correspond to any subjective fact about us. or anything else that might lead others to predict them. The reticence of scientists on this subject is understandable: if we were to dispense fully with the idea of free will. and so on. or right. every human action is reducible to a totality of impersonal events merely propagating their influence. Apparent acts of volition merely arise. every gesture would seem to merit the statement. could yield a form of mental life that would stand free of the causal order. In the face of any real independence from prior patterns. and we are not responsible for them. free will is central to most people’s conception of themselves and touches almost everything that they value – personal relationships. And yet. it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than has been waged on the topic of evolution. Free will is an illusion. By Sam Harris The free will delusion Science occasionally uncovers truths that are too counterintuitive or unpalatable for us to accept. But. or centre? We seduce ourselves into thinking that we make firm. the notion of free will is still accorded a remarkable deference in the scientific and philosophical literature. if one could be installed inside the brain. would grant no more autonomy to human beings than a roulette wheel would. And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. even by those who believe that the mind is entirely dependent on the workings of the brain. an unhappy childhood and bombardment by cosmic rays – what can it possibly mean to say that his will is “free”? No one has ever described a manner in which mental and physical events could arise that would attest to the existence of such freedom. People tend to find these conclusions intellectually and ethically abhorrent. in that it cannot even be rendered coherent conceptually. But. law. we simply do not know why we think or behave as we do. If a man’s “choice” to shoot the president is determined by a certain pattern of neural activity. our conditioning. genes are transcribed. Abandoning this notion seems to destabilise our thinking in all these areas at once. spontaneously (whether caused. and this neural activity is in turn the product of prior causes – perhaps an unfortunate coincidence of bad genes. sinners and criminals would be just poorly calibrated clockwork. emotions and intentions. That many scientists still consider the question open has nothing to do with the limits of our knowledge: rather. and any conception of justice that emphasised their punishment (rather than their deterrence. Most illusions are made of sterner stuff than this. Unlike many other academic questions. it represents a collective failure of intellectual nerve. religion. governed by chance or quantum probabilities. Either our wills are determined by prior causes. Yet such speculation is pointless – for an indeterminate 46 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 © METROPOLIS/IKON IMAGES Quantum leap world. politics. The solution to the problem of “free will” is a truth of this kind. rational choices Consequently. some scientists and philosophers insist that the indeterminacy of quantum processes. and cannot be traced to . for introspection soon grows as hostile to the idea as the equations of physics have. Left. The conscious “self” is not the origin of its thoughts. and John Doe pulls the trigger on his gun. “I don’t know what came over me. neurotransmitters bind to their receptors. or they are the product of chance. uncaused or probabilistically inclined. at the level of the neuron or its constituents. or mere containment) would seem deeply incongruous. free will is more than an illusion (or less). In physical terms. and we are not responsible for them. However. rehabilitation.” Chance events are precisely those for which we can claim no responsibility. Without freedom of will. for our commonsense notions of human agency to hold. perceptions. our actions cannot be merely lawful products of our biology. even though we can find no room for it in the causal order. We have known this for the better part of a century.

And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when treating them this way influences their behaviour and brings benefit to society. and you might observe that you decide the next thought you think no more than you decide the next thought I write. come out of the darkness of prior causes that you. and you will find that his success was The illusoriness of free will doesn’t render the choices we make in life any less important. or the country of his birth. efforts. How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Another lab recently used functional magnetic resonance imaging data to show that some “conscious” decisions can be predicted up to ten seconds before they enter awareness (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change. goals and willpower are causal states of the brain. And yet. the conscious witness of your experience. My choice to write it was unquestionably the primary cause of its coming into being. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life. This gives rise to questions such as. findings of this kind are difficult to reconcile with the sense that one is the conscious source of one’s thoughts and actions. or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. intentions. As my friend Daniel Dennett has pointed out. l Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and the author of “The Moral Landscape” (Bantam Press. If I had been born with the brain. Liberals usually understand that every person represents a con- fluence of forces that he did not will into being – and we can be lucky or very unlucky in this respect. leading to specific behaviours. Conservatives. Of course. I get the distinct sense that if I asked the average conservative why he wasn’t born with club feet. is a neurological condition. It seems only decent at this moment of pervasive economic hardship and inequality to concede how much luck is required to succeed in this world. conservatives are right to think that we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can. If you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you. have made a religious fetish of individualism. is as important as fanciers of free will believe. therefore. “If everything is determined. One must be lucky to be intelligent and physically healthy and not to have been bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse. Human choice. body and experience of Ted Bundy. There is no extra part of me that could have resisted taking his path in life. and behaviours lead to outcomes in the world. he would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. these truths about human psychology have political implications. and are influenced by. Consider the biography of any “self-made” man. Even if there is an immortal soul lurking in my brain. Laziness. All of our behaviour can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge. Those who have been especially lucky – the smart. because liberals and conservatives are not equally confused about them. I would have been Ted Bundy – a serial killer put to death for his crimes. precisely. Any man who comes into this world with the soul of a serial killer is unlucky indeed. healthy. living in America. well connected and rich – should count their blessings. a belief in free will often stands in their way. For better or worse. you must still admit your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. why should I do anything? Why not just sit back and see what happens?” That our choices depend on prior causes does not mean that they do not matter. Clearly. or why he wasn’t orphaned before the age of five. but we continually influence. the world around us.com/subjects/philosophy Choices. and then share some of these blessings with the rest of society. A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny. We cannot change ourselves. But this does not require that we endorse the cognitive illusion of “free will”. One must be lucky to be able to work. no matter how hard one works. many people confuse determinism with fatalism. £20) newstatesman. If I had not decided to write this article. like diligence. however.entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make. choices 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 47 . my will would acquire no more autonomy in the presence of ectoplasm. Decisions. The disparities in human luck are both morally relevant and harrowing to contemplate. But the next choice you make will. a point of origin in the stream of consciousness. it wouldn’t have written itself. There is not a person on earth who chose his genome. Unfortunately. and of which he was merely a beneficiary. did not bring into being. In the 1980s the neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet demonstrated that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. nevertheless.

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THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY What do debutante balls. Ponzi schemes and doubting clergy all have in common? The social cell By Daniel Dennett . the Japanese tea ceremony.

like a visitor at a religious service. pterosaurs and mammals. composed as it is of about seven billion interacting people. all of them interacting to provide the cell with the energy it needs to build offspring and maintain its membrane. at the molecular level. memorising the rituals. is the simplest thing that can be alive. if not zero. but only a few climb that high up the pyramid. in “circles” that train them to perform the rituals. Consider four unrelated species of social cell that share some interesting features. (It is not known if the wheel has been invented many times or just once. are breathtakingly complex. after all. Wherever Go forth and multiply: bacteria thrive by replication there is a design that is highly successful in a broad range of similar environments. Not only are such single cells the most abundant form of life on the planet. together with a standard helping of youthful naivety. It requires a lot of energy to keep going. Cells may be the simplest life forms on the planet – even the simplest possible life forms – but their inner workings. finding the nutrients they need and fending off the causes of their dissolution. Ponzi schemes and many Christian churches have in common? They are all variations of an insidiously effective social mechanism that: 1) thrives on human innocence. The Japanese tea ceremony is a set of traditions that has accrued over at least a millennium. Converging lines of research from various schools in biology agree on these three necessities. single cell. as we shall see. methods of reproducing. as apprentices. values and economies. each tier of students educating the lower tier. all of this within the kind of protective shell that can readily be constructed and defended in a stratified society. Seeing and flying are very good tricks. It is also obvious that human culture has its own roster of good tricks: bows and arrows. to name a few. tend to ensure a ready supply of ideally compliant and attentive initiates allowed inside the gates. inculcating in themselves the ideals. Some of them graduate to higher stages. are said to worship fine wine. ensuring a supply of new officiants to serve as hosts and new participants to serve as guests. it is apt to emerge again and again. there is a strong incentive not to criticise or rebel: we’re all in this boat together – don’t rock it. composed of highly elaborate and scrupulously observed rituals of greeting. What do the Japanese tea ceremony. and vision has evolved more often than that. the brainchild of the mythic inventor of the wheel – Cultural phenomena bear a striking resemblance to cell biology and it doesn’t matter! Almost certainly wheels would have appeared eventually one place or another. If the history of evolutionary biology continues along the paths it has followed so far. harnessed by the trillions into co-operating multicellular teams. while their parents pay for the operating expenses. but there is substantial unresolved controversy about the order in which they must have emerged at the origin of life. at considerable expense. it needs three features: a way of capturing energy (a metabolism). Like bacteria. And teachers have their own pyramid to climb: associations of circles that in effect compete for prestige with other circles. and has evolved an elaborate developmental programme for enlisting and training new hosts who can eventually reproduce their own schools (with mutations) for training yet another generation of hosts. Let us consider the four cultural phenomena. Whatever their origins. It doesn’t matter that much whether the initiates continue to believe in the tea ceremony as an important part of life. the resulting designs have now been refined and optimised for more than three billion years and have proven remarkably hardy.A THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY ceremonies. with their traditions. in which metabolism-like cycles and reproduction-like processes joined forces with non-living membranes that were already floating around. birds. chosen for their relative simplicity and vividness from a much larger array of possibilities. such as a bacterium. they have – and need – metabolisms. and so on. Young girls – and some boys as well – from financially comfortable families are readily induced to enrol. and membranes. boats. all conducted either in a tea-house built for that purpose or in a specially furnished tearoom. Echoes of the design wisdom embodied in this very effective machinery can be found in human culture. are constructed of them. Some people. actively preserving themselves in their social environments. Teachers earn a living. and although this may sometimes have been true – we will probably never know – it is quite possible that they arose in the same way the good tricks of biology did: by mindless processes of differential reproduction in which understanding of what was going on was at a minimum. silent and respectful. formulaic comments on the quality of the tea and so forth. and 2) nobody had to design. cleaning of the utensils.) The typical if tacit assumption is that these good tricks were independently reinvented by intelligent designers among our ancestors. Some cultural phenomena bear a striking resemblance to the cells of cell biology. serving. Once you’re enrolled in the system. though the ceremony is not specifically religious – unless you define religion in such a way that ceremoniously eating foie gras or caviar also counts as a sacrament of sorts. occupations. and 3) is threatened with extinction by the rising tide of accessibility to information. preparation. writing and the wheel. GETTY IMAGES (BACTERIA) . too. At first. and now consists of a considerable range of formal 50 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 CORBIS (PREVIOUS SPREAD). I call these designs “good tricks”. with the prospect held out of rising to the status of teacher. objets trouvés that could be appropriated and exploited. to see how this might have happened. In addition to the materials from which it is constructed. It is – or has been for a long time – a path to high status. languages. it is likely that the solution to this problem will prove to be some ingenious and indirect process of chance combinations and gradual refinements. nor even that the features of one of them inspired copying by the other. composed of thousands of molecular machines. but all living things. institutions. The cultural virtues of obedience and respect for one’s elders. for obvious reasons. independently – the phenomenon known in biology as convergent evolution. yet there is no need to suppose that these shared features arose from a common ancestor. varying with the season and with the station of the participants. For instance. they watch quietly. and maintaining and replacing all the exquisite equipment used. A quick glance at biology invites us to ask the following question: why hasn’t the Japanese tea ceremony become extinct? What has sustained it over so many centuries? The system must in some sense keep reproducing itself. which is dazzlingly complex. What is its metabolism and how does it work? The Japanese tea ceremony exploits the human desire for status and influence in order to raise the money to capture the energy. in insects. a way of reproducing (genes or something like genes) and a membrane that lets in what needs to come in and keeps out the rest. flight has evolved independently at least four times. debutante parties. The neophyte participant in a tea ceremony dutifully complies. from trees to fish to human beings. They are all committed to a trajectory with high costs of leaving and some promise of future benefits. at which point the energy flow – the money – turns around. with all later wheels being copies of some original wheel.

sad phenomenon of closeted non-believing clergy – wellmeaning. Words play a foundational role rather like that of genes and. These are all strong inducements. can’t we bend them just a bit to get through the storm and keep this wonderful project afloat? A gradual and unalarming entry on to a slippery slope is often a good trick. you encounter the same pressure not to blow the whistle.THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY No doubt many of the participants – including the parents paying the bills – feel trapped. instilling virtues. volume eight. Ponzi schemes share the pyramidal entry structure. hard-working pastors who find they do not believe the creed of their denomination. ultimately. in the case of the Japanese tea ceremony or the debutante cotillion. If your family arrived generations ago. this is a big ecological challenge. which have been crafted to protect it from the most salient challenges. be helping both society and the individual in all manner of ways. The entire debutante tradition is threatened by the spreading opinion that it is a superannuated cultural parasite. so it is sporting its good-works overcoat. honest people (a bit greedy. An eager and sincere entrepreneur with what he takes to be a good idea raises the initial capital in good faith and then finds his project running into unanticipated snags. patriotism and involvement in community activities”. It is important to remember that there is very little inertia in culture. instead of a mink stole. not for social prestige or riches. however ungratefully they respond to the pressure. And perhaps the anticipated shame of becoming known as a dupe is more motivating than the prospect of financial loss. As Japanese society becomes less stratified. . and surmised that there might be clergy who were similarly attached to their church. except in Texas. It is no accident that it is typically good. to be a benign – mutualist. and are now completing a second survey of volunteers. debutantes. these roles over time. the others do not. and often has the same snarky tone N ow what about religions? They.) So language and comprehension are an essential part of the workings of social cells. . Linda LaScola. information that can quickly transform them into outsiders. the contrast has become less effective. in large measure because it exploits networks of trust – a fine feature of a society – and politeness – a fine endowment of individuals – to circumvent the requirements of due diligence that would otherwise expose the fraud. and even their proprietors. maybe. like genes. not surprisingly. but rather the desire to lead a good life. How does a Ponzi scheme get started? It doesn’t have to be born in villainy. is the bait that attracts people to Ponzi schemes. you want your daughters to “come out” to society. All these social cells depend critically on language-using. thrive on the goodness of people. Those schemes that have it thrive. who describes one in Martin Chuzzlewit). have to be composed. but keep their feelings to themselves. stabilising the mores of society – or it may have had. who were interviewed in depth and in strict confidence by LaScola. on which its life depends. unlike plants. A look at the website of the National League of Junior Cotillions (nljc. Because it was published electronically (on the website On Faith) and under the headline “Preachers who are not believers” (Evolutionary Psychology. (Words are the pre-eminent vehicles of cultural transmission and evolution. an art form or practice (or language or institution) can become extinct in a generation if its elements aren’t assiduously reproduced and reproduced. though it always ends up there. Charles Ponzi (18821949) did not invent the scheme (and neither did Charles Dickens. It is relied on by the pitcher plant and other insectivorous plants. and expend considerable effort and sums of money manoeuvring into position to accomplish this initiation. which has occupied much the same niche in the US. but . For the past few years. however. comprehending people. The membrane that restricts information flow is just as important as the membrane that restricts entry of outsiders. however. Farewell. something you might think you owed to your daughters. but a common thread runs through most of them: a certain sort of innocence and a powerful desire. too. assistants and (paid) instructors. where they will no doubt hold out for another decade or two. and arriviste. this first pilot study has received considerable attention and brought us a host of new volunteers for our ongoing research. Bacteria don’t have to worry about the disillusionment of their motor proteins. Our first study reported on five pastors in different Protestant denominations. The extended success of Bernie Madoff shows that it is still possible for a Ponzi scheme to thrive for some time. The rules forbid this. 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 51 t . Ponzi schemes. which do not have to comprehend the rationale of their design to benefit from it. C an the same be said for the debutante ball or cotillion. but once you’re caught. There are many paths into this predicament. They are obviously parasitic invaders. can also take advantage of this design feature without understanding it. It seems on the face of it. of amusement and withheld approval that distinguishes Hollywood gossip – except that the people named are not celebrities. but also find that they cannot just blow the whistle and abandon the pulpit. It may. It is apparently not rare – nobody knows what percentage of clergy fall into this category. What is it like to be a non-believing pastor? We found some examples who were willing to tell us. We knew that many churchgoers have lost whatever faith they had but continue their membership for social and psychological reasons. preserving knowledge and wisdom. Money. Ponzi schemes do. But there is an informational lag that lets the investors keep coming in. not social prestige. like university education. Today’s coverage tends to make note of the diminishing numbers of debutantes taking part. Language is the main medium of interaction. and this provides fresh energy – money – to expend in protecting the whole project by providing a dividend to the early investors.com) shows much the same structure as the Japanese tea ceremony: “chapters” in place of “circles”. It may survive today as a sort of self-perpetuating parasitical growth that reproduces itself because it can. they are highly effective transmitters of information that similarly evolved without a helping hand from any intelligent designers. Notice that this account remains silent about the value of the Japanese tea ceremony. of parts – human agents – which understand quite a lot. to protect its high status. you may still feel the pressure to preserve your position in society by participating in the prolonged and expensive rituals. It may be nurturing the arts. a clinical social worker. not parasitic – element of society. Do you want to be an insider or an outsider? The difficulty in answering that question creates the semipermeable membrane that preserves the machinery. we find. especially in the South? If you are rich enough. may deserve the authorial recognition. a hierarchy of volunteers. to some degree. or the dishonour of being considered a philistine or a social outcast. and – most interestingly – a “strong emphasis on volunteerism. qualitative researcher and psychotherapist. most city newspapers in the US devoted an entire section to “Society” and covered the ceremonies of debutantes with the same respectful care still accorded weddings and funerals. but otherwise trustworthy and trusting) who are lured into Ponzi schemes. but lost. but Ponzi may have added a few wrinkles and hence. Biologists know that you can infer much about the dangers in an organism’s environment by studying its defences. but also of reproduction. willing slaves that do so much of the heavy lifting. it is that the cells’ effective operation depends on the relative cluelessness – or innocence – of the participants. precisely because inside the barrier there are participants who are capable of understanding that information. how this happens. and I have been investigating the curious. For social cells. Not so many years ago. more homogenised. We want to know. but here is a surprising twist: it is very important in each case that the participants not understand too much. benefiting neither the individuals entrapped nor the society in general. found in nature and in culture. It is not just that the invention and refinement of these social cells do not depend on any intelligent designer. and how common it is. because it would destroy the gains you have accumulated. issue one).

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no matter how resentful and trapped some of the participants in those traditions may feel. but all the evidence points away from that interpretation. and will the niche be taken over by a descendant species of social cell. I’m kind of a loner. and probably will change more in the next decade or two than in the past century. We need to look dispassionately at possibilities that can illuminate – and might eventually eliminate – some serious sources of suffering in the world. This is what is known to philosophers and linguists as mutual knowledge. As one of our pastors says. as many have suggested. The structures can arise quite innocently out of good intentions and gradually evolve into social mechanisms that perpetuate themselves quite independently of the intentions and values of their constituent parts. Darwin showed us that the secret of life is the differential reproduction of effective designs for fending off dissolution. is the sudden increase in informational transparency. pastors have had slender economic resources. What will the various religions evolve into? That is hard to say. and this has often been interpreted as a revival. The main environmental change. Like reluctant debutantes or privately suspicious Ponzi victims. because evolution is a process that amplifies unpredictable accidents into trends and then novel structures. The tragic trap is baited with goodness itself. What does shine through is a principle of good design. any more than it took a devious social engineer to create the Japanese tea ceremony. reproduction and protective membranes for social cells as much as for protein-based cells. Without any explicit agreement. mutual knowledge seals the deal. or by another phenomenon entirely? Ponzi schemes are probably harder to sustain now. Guilt is a potent enzyme in many social arrangements. But. they do not point a finger of blame. we may be able to see what new applications are in the offing. beginning in seminary. to be sure. you have no right to betray this bond by unilaterally divulging it. Only a lucky few find either the energy or the right moment to break free. I have zero friends outside the church.” So pastors tend to stay put and search for ways of protecting their conscience from the pangs of hypocrisy. they have already made a substantial commitment in social capital – telling their families and communities about their goals – so the pressure is strong to find an accommodation. There are. but. Societies are complex in more ways than colonies of bacteria are. every religious organisation must scramble to evolve defences or become extinct. and if we examine REUTERS/ALESSANDRO BIANCHI 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 53 . and it plays a potent role in many social circumstances. or in your heart. and that they know that you know. Just as there is no Intelligent Designer to be the proper recipient of our gratitude for the magnificent biosphere we live in. A social membrane is made of such stuff. and the increasing noise we hear is apparently due to the heightened expenditure of energy by all the threatened varieties in their desperate attempts to fend off extinction. looking around in their rather sheltered communities. and has been especially promoted in religions. all it takes is the dawning realisation. or debutante cotillions. unlike most earlier criticisms of religion. and hence it could be one of the side benefits of this system. alas. and if they live in a parsonage they build up no equity in real estate. It doesn’t take conniving priests to invent these cultural contraptions. Some. we can see more clearly the effects that novel environmental factors are likely to have on the prospects for these phenomena. Here is how it often works: teenagers glowing with enthusiasm decide to devote their lives to a career of helping others and. and it can make a prison for anybody inside who wishes to get out. that you and the others are privy to a secret. who often rise to power in any of these organisations. the agents who bustle about inside them executing the tasks that keep the whole going. One can be initiated into a conspiracy without a single word exchanged or without a secret handshake. Eventually they cease to believe altogether. (Redundancy is always a good trick. the less believable they find their creed. Are these biologically inspired reflections on religion offensive? They discuss topics that many people would rather leave unexamined. are unfazed by this. of course. Will the Japanese tea ceremony morph into something different in order to stay alive. we find a bounty of insights that can help us plan intelligently for the future. Much has been made of the growing attention to religion in the world. “I’m thinking if I leave the church – first of all.” And what about telling his wife? “It’s going to turn her life upside down. But there are patterns in how this plays out. purer option than going into the clergy. Once we appreciate the necessity of metabolism. Redoubling one’s efforts to take good care of one’s flock is probably a frequent the good tricks that religions have evolved over the millennia. an era of expanding religiosity. plenty of greedy and deceitful people. The fastestgrowing religious category worldwide is no religion at all. The parallels I have noted do not suggest anything like a Law of Nature. But a tentative finding of our study so far is that the economic incentive to hang on is sometimes of less importance than the social and psychological factors. When they get to seminary they find themselves being taught things that nobody told them in Sunday school. or will the recent destratifications of Japanese society lead to the disintegration of the membrane that has protected the ceremony for a millennium? What will replace debutante balls. there need be no intelligent designers to be the proper targets of our anger when we find ourselves victimised by social cells. they see no better. or at least to imagine that if they hang in there they will find one. Religions changed more in the past century than they changed in the previous two millennia. and you know that they know that you know. it allows a collection of individually porous defences to overlap into a nearly impregnable shield. When we approach social phenomena with the same spirit of reverse engineering.) Historically. The more they learn of theology and the history of the composition of the Bible. and a few minor changes in the flow of information around such phenomena may make them all but impossible – though who knows what entity will invade that niche. a bonus that could almost pay for itself by turning its shepherds into goodness slaves. Now that mobile phones and the internet have altered the epistemic selective landscape in a revolutionary way. what’s that going to do to my family? And I don’t know. Those who don’t break free then learn the tricks of the trade. Hanging on until the kids are out of college and one can collect one’s meagre pension is an option that can look better than making an honest dash for the door. they button their lip for an abundance of good reasons. nor is there any good reason to believe that all social phenomena are reducible to social cells. l Daniel Dennett is a philosopher and cognitive scientist and a professor at Tufts University t No question of faith: observant against the odds effect. Secondly is.THE CHRISTMAS ESSAY to help other people as much as possible. we misdirect our energies. Religions were beautifully One can be initiated into a conspiracy without a word being exchanged designed over millennia to work in circumstances in which the people within them could be assumed to be largely ignorant of much that was outside the membrane. or even discussing it. but if we concentrate on hunting the villains down. the difference between what you can say from the pulpit and what you can say in the sanctum of the seminary.

or even triple-marked by various examiners. Yet British universities insist on publishing a class list in which a small number of students receive first-class degrees. to each exam script. Why throw away most of the information by splitting a continuous variable into two discontinuous categories. Examination performance. we in universities do it. in reckless disregard for all the labour and nuanced deliberation and adjusting that went into the great addition sum. Scripts are double. Anybody who has ever marked an exam knows that the bottom of one class is separated from the top of the class below by a small fraction of the distance that separates it from the top of its own class. are as richly informative as conscientious examiners can achieve. If we could accept life’s natural grey areas we would be far better able to calculate risk and comprehend the world we inhabit The tyranny of the discontinuous mind By Richard Dawkins Photography by Maja Daniels What percentage of the British population lives below the poverty line? When I call that a silly question. Marks are scrupulously added up. I care very much if children starve or pensioners shiver with cold. But then what happens to all that richness of information? Most of it is thrown away. The students are bundled into three or four discrete classes. normalised. and the rank orders of students. a lot obtain Seconds (sometimes divided into Upper and Lower Seconds) and a few get Thirds. perhaps out of 100. which might be measured as. black-and-white answers and absolute definitions leads to unhelpful distortions of reality. and that is all the information that penetrates outside the examiners’ room. Who decides how poor is poor enough to qualify as below the “poverty line”? What is to stop us moving the line and thereby changing the score? Poverty/wealth is a continuously distributed quantity. who may then argue the nuances of whether an answer deserves 55 or 52 marks. income per week. My objection – and this is just one of many examples – is to the very idea of a line: a gratuitously manufactured discontinuity in a continuous reality. but it doesn’t. transformed. too. Examiners go to great trouble to assign a score. I’m not being callous or unfeeling about poverty. That might make sense if the distribution had three or four peaks with deep valleys between. say. a question that doesn’t deserve an answer. The final marks that emerge. is a continuous variable. This fact alone points to a deep unfairness in the system of discontinuous classification. whose frequency distribution is bellshaped. above and below the “line”? How many of us lie below the stupidity line? How many runners exceed the fast line? How many Oxford undergraduates lie above the first-class line? Yes. like most measures of human ability or achievement. juggled and fought over.THE NS ESSAY Our strange need for dividing lines. 54 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 t .

Danse macabre: for those who argue that life begins at conception. which half gets the soul? 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 55 . identical twins present a problem. When the fertilised egg splits.

. and but for the extinction of the intermediates that connect the same ancestor to modern pigs. But it hits home because the belief that it destroys is puerile. feeling. . yes or no. . . as some kind of essentialist absolute. just as the 18th birthday is defined as the moment of getting the vote. to that Devonian fish and beyond.” Really? Are you serious? Nothing can become something if it is not that something already? Is an acorn an oak tree? Is a hurricane the barely perceptible zephyr that seeds it? Would you apply your doctrine to evolution. you probably could not mate with Australopithecus (at least not produce fertile offspring) but you are connected to Australopithecus by an unbroken chain of intermediates who could interbreed with their neighbours in the chain every step of the way. you would eat him with sauce tartare and a slice of lemon. it may be necessary to draw a line at some arbitrary moment in embryonic development after which abortion is prohibited. To the discontinuous mind. as the song goes. so we accept the age line as a necessary evil. He was a fish It is amusing to tease such absolutists by confronting them with a pair of identical twins (they split after fertilisation. Some absolutists go right back to conception as the moment when the False lines: why is Colin Powell described as “black”? person comes into existence – the instant the soul is injected – and so they believe that all abortion is murder by definition. Everything is this or that. The discontinuous mind is blind to intermediates. but everybody accepts that there has to be a line. .) who could produce fertile offspring by mating with a sow. . of course) and asking which twin got the soul. But personhood doesn’t spring into existence at any one moment: it matures gradually. . t First-class mind Perhaps such wastage of information is inevitable. For purposes of legal clarity. we would encounter the ancestor we share with modern chimpanzees. the zombie. unbroken. He Fixing Florida Human beings are clearly separable from chimpanzees and pigs and fish and lemons only because the intermediates that would otherwise link them in interbreeding chains happen to be extinct. and the line must be a birthday. and ignorant. We may dispute the rival merits of 18 versus 21 or 16. and so on. We certainly are different and the differences are important – important enough to justify eating them (vegetables are our cousins. But for the extinction of the intermediates that connect human beings to the ancestor we share with pigs (it pursued its shrew-like existence 85 million years ago in the shadow of the dinosaurs). But we recoil from the voting equivalent of a driving test. from the first instant. and it goes on maturing through childhood and beyond. Yet you are connected to him by an unbroken line of intermediate ancestors. we would be connected to modern chimpanzees by an unbroken chain of intermarrying links. black or white. WOLLENBERG / EYEVINE . tutors’ testimonials may say such things as. And it is that very information that is wantonly thrown away in the officially published class list. every one of whom belonged to the same species as its parents and its children. too? Do you suppose there was a moment in evolutionary history when a nonperson gave birth to the first person? If a time machine could serve up to you your 200 million greats grandfather. after a sufficient number of steps into the past . It became informally known that Jacob Bronowski was “Senior Wrangler” in his year. finesse the discontinuity and leak the rank order. It so happens that the intermediates. But it is a reason for scepticism of any philosophy or theology (or morality or jurisprudence or politics) that treats humanness. This is an extreme form of what I am calling the discontinuous mind. we need to draw a line between adult and non-adult. or threequarters of a person. as one might expect. Few would deny that some 15-year-olds are better qualified to vote than some 40-year-olds. The instruction “Donum Vitae” from the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says: From the time that the ovum is fertilised. There are those who cannot distinguish a 16-cell embryo from a baby. To invoke our time machine again. They call abortion murder and feel righteously justified in committing real murder against a doctor – a thinking. there would be no clear separation between Homo sapiens and Sus scrofa. a qualitatively distinct category. . On the way. this individual-man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. You would eat your ancestor with sauce tartare. “It would never be made human if it were not human already. . There would be no clear separation between Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes. . And the chain goes on backwards. An embryo is either human or it isn’t. It can probably be traced to the “essentialism” of Plato – one of the most pernicious ideas in all history. which twin is the non-person. But reality isn’t like that. it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. The only way to maintain our human-privileging laws and morals would be to set up courts to decide whether particular individuals could “pass for human”. are all extinct. the programme is fixed as to what this living being will be: a man. fill in several thousand intermediates . and not just intermarrying but interbreeding – producing fertile offspring. I could mate with a woman. It would never be made human if it were not human already. Bertrand Russell the Seventh Wrangler in his year. who could mate with a man. which you either definitely have or definitely don’t have.” That is the kind of information that counts in a letter of recommendation. At other universities. too. “I’ve danced with a man/Who’s danced with a girl/Who’s danced with the Prince of Wales”. It has demonstrated that. . For legal purposes. cases where we should actively rebel against it? Yes. modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. This is not to deny that we are different from other species. could mate with ancestral fish and produce fertile offspring. with a loving family to mourn him. in deciding who can vote in elections. was a fish. say. But for that (perhaps fortunate) fact. Yet perhaps there are other examples where we should be less willing to do so. sentient adult. like the common ancestor itself. as distinct as female is from male. 56 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 UPI/ROGER L. who could mate with a woman who .THE NS ESSAY Cambridge mathematicians. too). The discontinuous mind cannot grasp the idea of half a person. an entity either is or is not a person. To this perpetual evidence . Are there cases where the tyranny of the discontinuous mind leads to actual harm. And naturally the argument extends to any pair of species you care to name. like the ludicrous courts with which apartheid South Africa decided who could “pass for white”. I don’t want to make too much of it. or sheep from goat. or personhood. You could breed with X who could breed with Y who could breed with (. . “Not only did she get a First: I can tell you in confidence that the examiners ranked her number 3 of her entire class of 106 in the university. What is more serious is that there are some educators – dare I say especially in non-scientific subjects – who fool themselves into believing that there is a kind of Platonic ideal called the “first-class mind’ or “alpha mind”. a new life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother. Right from fertilisation is begun the adventure of a human life . a necessary evil. about six million years into the past. A puerile taunt? Maybe.

the first ensouled baby was born. one out of eight great-grandparents was black and it may not show in skin colour. Where else do we see the tyranny of the discontinuous mind? Colin Powell and Barack Obama are described as black. Al Gore and George Bush received the same number of votes as each other. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) breed in mixed colonies in western Europe and don’t interbreed. Was it when the first Homo sapiens baby was born to parents belonging to whatever species is considered to be our immediate predecessor (erectus. a new power station or a new airliner. Whether it’s a new medicine. Why is it so hard to admit that there are intermediates. Each state sends to the Electoral College a number of delegates which is proportional to the population of the state. it might have seemed reasonable to allot 13 votes to one candidate and 12 to the other. the tiny. Some things are safer than others. They had to abide by the rules. by courts of law. either all Democrats or Republicans. It would have made no difference whether Bush or Gore received the 13 votes: either way.THE NS ESSAY If your theology tells you that human beings should receive special respect and moral privilege as the only species that possesses a soul. every species would be linked to every other by interbreeding chains. in human evolution. There never was a “first” Homo sapiens. But the discontinuous mind insists that all the delegates from a given state have to vote the same way. hectoring lawyers. When a white person breeds with a black person their child is intermediate but is often described as “black”. When asked to tick an “ethnicity” box. to give a definite. so we classify people as “black” even if they are intermediate. So far. but they also have white ancestors. politicians and finger-wagging. Are they distinct species or not? Only those tyrannised by the discontinuous mind feel obliged to answer that question. I would say that. absolute. a new weedkiller. crossed wrinkled and smooth peas and the offspring were all smooth: smoothness is “dominant”. Evolutionary change is gradual – there never was a line. Our language is ill-equipped to deal with a continuum of intermediates. heidelbergensis. That is another story and I have run out of space. What’s more. given the lamentable constitutional rule that the 25 votes had to be bound together as a one-party block. no matter how close the vote. you have to face up to the awkward question of when. getting gradually darker as you progress around the North Pole until. when you go all the way round to western Europe again. Gore would have been president. My point here is that the winner-takes-all idea of an electoral college in which each state has an indivisible block of members. the tyranny of the discontinuous mind. the neighbouring populations interbreed with each other all the way around the ring. the two species we see in Britain. no matter. It is only the discontinuous mind that insists on drawing a hard and fast line between a species and the ancestral species that birthed it. and the discontinuous mind is faced with the stark reality of the problem. you find that the local gulls vary from the light grey of the herring gull. never a line between any species and its evolutionary precursor. But if you travel in a westerly direction around the northern hemisphere and sample the gulls as you go. Scientists are called upon by governments. and by the public at large. so beloved of journalists. no matter how evenly divided the voters in that state might be. not hard-and-fast discontinuities between safe and unsafe. as Maine and Nebraska do? Most states are neither “red” nor “blue” but a complex mixture. Just as people must lie above or below the poverty “line”. l Read our guest editor Richard Dawkins’s leader column on page 3 newstatesman. the father of genetics. yes-or-no answer to important questions such as those involving risk. If it were not for the accidental extinction of evolutionary intermediates. cross it out and write “human” Florida sends 25 delegates to the Electoral College. the cultural label is transmitted down the generations like a dominant gene. When an official form invites us to tick a “race” or “ethnicity” box. The Supreme Court was asked to decide which candidate should receive all 25 votes (and therefore the presidency). and nothing is perfectly safe. disputed difference being well within the margin of error. ergaster. rhodesiensis. so good. say. They do have black ancestors. In US presidential elections. even though the ends of the ring. is yet another unreasonable expression of a particular kind of tyranny. the scientific “expert” is peremptorily asked: “Is it safe? Answer the question! Yes or no?” In vain the scientist tries to explain that safety and risk are not absolutes. separate species. the argument stands regardless)? There was no such baby. There is a sliding scale of intermediates and probabilities. It is the racist “contamination” metaphor of the “touch of the tarbrush”. namely Gore. justice should have led the court to allocate the 25 votes to the candidate who would have won the election if the Florida delegates had been divided pro rata. natural Yet that is not the point I am making here.com/subjects/science Reds and blues 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 57 . I recommend crossing it out and writing “human”. is a shockingly undemocratic manifestation of the tyranny of the discontinuous mind. This persists even to cases where. every state (except Maine and Nebraska) has to end up labelled either Democrat or Republican. so why don’t we call them white? The complication here is the weird convention that the descriptor “black” behaves as the cultural equivalent of a genetic dominant. don’t interbreed. This defines them as good. no matter how idiotic. But I hope I have said enough to suggest that the summary demand for an absolute yes-or-no answer. This “winner takes all” system was shown up in all its fatuousness in the 2000 election when there was a dead heat in Florida. Given that it was a dead heat. In a few cases the intermediates have failed to go extinct. I am not saying the Supreme Court should have decided to split the Florida delegates. they have darkened so far that they “become” lesser black-backed gulls. Gregor Mendel.

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7 per cent. with easy exchanges between sectors at all career stages. innovation-based growth. Science is the discovery of knowledge about ourselves and the world around us. Between 1989 and 2009 the UK went from being fifth in terms of producing patents in the US to eighth – South Korea went from nowhere to third. Britain’s science sector is one of the world’s best. however. learn about gases by trying to catch bubbles COMMENTARY Science could drive growth in Britain. north-west London. in the 1960s we made the first pocket calculator. George Osborne made repeated reference to the importance of science and engineering in rebalancing the economy towards sustainable.8 per cent of our GDP on science. We have too many barriers that encourage suspicion between the very people who need to be working closely together. Rather than writing to Father Christmas this year. What would it cost to fund the work of the 100 best scientists in Britain and give them the freedom to innovate? Cash cow It’s not just about the money. They need a wider range of placements early in their career. We spend roughly 1. All of this sounds high-minded and such arguments would probably not convince the Treasury in a time of austerity. In his recent autumn statement. Yet science has fared better than other areas when it comes to public spending. market analysis and the law. more than ten times the annual science budget. social reformers and others got together to share and discuss ideas that we had the Industrial Revolution. rather than just on financial services. Surely we would be better served by making strategic investment decisions with such money – look at what we are good at and invest heavily in it. engineers. industrialists. the sciences are becoming more popular at A-level – those studying biology. Science is riding a wave of popularity at present but the wave is still small. but it needs more support to succeed. contributing to culture and enhancing our civilisation. Let’s give them wider intellectual exposure during higher education and their research training. practical science in labs or outdoors. A flat-cash settlement for funding the work of our scientists in the last spending review. says Paul Nurse The vision thing What is the point of science? It is a question that gets asked in many contexts. chemistry and physics are up 5. starting with the young. The UK has not always been great at turning ideas into cash. and you find one of Britain’s greatest success stories. We need an education system that inspires wonder. The Americans spend about 2. respectively. including finance. The government spent £76bn on shares in RBS and Lloyds. giving us a sounder economy built on high-end manufacturing and design. We need to shed our straitjackets. It is that same interactive atmosphere that will help drive innovation and growth today. We also need to make sure that we have the raw materials: the brains. securing sustainability and protection of the environment. from students struggling through science A-levels to governments struggling with decisions on where to spend limited public funds. and for good reason – it is a driver for the economy. To maintain and capitalise on this will require better education. with science ingrained into other walks of life and both the government and industry showing that they are brave enough to step up their investment. In the early 1950s British companies such as Ferranti were at the forefront of developing computers. providing the base to promote innovation and commercialisation here. It was when scientists. We need greater teamwork. And where are the scientists and engineers on the boards of our big companies or in government? Let’s promote greater permeability. increases in tax credits on research and development and occasional one-off injections of capital spending. and we need specialist science teachers in every school. but lacks the courage of its convictions. 10 and 13 per cent. It should be at the heart of society. I’m sending my wish-list to David Cameron and George Osborne. But what about some real vision? We cannot hope to compete in the long MARCUS ROSE/PANOS PICTURES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 59 . The government seems to understand this. and many people’s first experience of home computing was with the Sinclair ZX80 in the 1980s – but where is our IBM or Apple? Go further back. The UK has scientific strength. are all OK. because the sector is the best bet for fuelling economic growth. covering not only more scientific disciplines but also activities outside science that are important for innovation and commercialisation. including £200m in the Chancellor’s autumn statement (though still not replacing the £360m a year that was cut from the science capital budget in the Comprehensive Spending Review). over the past five years – yet still too many students turn away. It is about improving health and the quality of life. the South Koreans spend 3 per cent. For instance. It requires effort to get individuals from diverse backgrounds to work well together. But this is stifled by the short-term thinking that is so often the obsession of governments aware of a forthcoming election. l Paul Nurse is a Nobel Prize-winning biologist and the current president of the Royal Society A sense of wonder: pupils in Alperton. Should UK science breathe a sigh of relief and be thankful that cuts were not deeper? No.term if our competitors are investing more than we do in research and development.

Question time Compiled by Olav Bjortomt Illustration by Henrik Pettersson 1 Theresa May made the false claim that an illegal immigrant had been allowed to stay in the UK based on the ownership of which animal? a Rabbit b Dog c Cat d Racehorse 2 Jack Straw was accused of stereotyping after suggesting that some men of Pakistani origin saw white girls as what? a “Complete idiots” b “Easy meat” c “There for the taking” d “Caucasian temptresses” 3 What did Christine Hemming steal from the house of her Lib Dem MP husband John’s mistress? a A DVD player b A pot plant c A kitten d Lingerie 4 David Cameron told which MP. the “heart stealer” at the centre of underage sex allegations concerning Silvio Berlusconi? a Myra b Cassandra c Ruby d Salome 5 Norway took China to the World Trade Organisation over its boycott – allegedly in retaliation for Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize – of which Norwegian export? a Christmas trees b Knitwear c Ski equipment d Salmon 6 Denmark’s first female prime minister. the new president of Zambia. Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Kim Jong-chol. “Calm down. . Kim Jong-il. US Congress defied logic when it declared which of the following to be a “vegetable”? a Pepper-flavoured nachos b Fried mozzarella sticks c Canned spaghetti d Frozen pizza 1 What was the reason reportedly given by the North Korean dictator. . as his successor? a “Too short” b “Too western” c “Too effeminate” d “Too stupid” International affairs 2 Which single word appeared to have sunk the bid of the Texas governor. is the daughter-in-law of which British politician? a Neil Kinnock b John Prescott c David Steel d Paddy Ashdown 7 Michael Sata. previously worked in which job at Victoria train station in London? a Ticket vendor b Platform cleaner c Burger King worker d Security guard 8 In November. for the Republican presidential nomination? a “Dang” b “Oops” .THE NS QUIZ From Cheryl Cole to Steve Jobs via Tahrir Square: have you kept up with the year’s events? Test yourself here . Rick Perry. dear”? a Angela Eagle b Harriet Harman c Nadine Dorries d Diane Abbott Politics 5 Oliver Letwin was caught disposing of government documents in a bin in which London park? a Green Park b Hyde Park c St James’s Park d Regent’s Park 6 The former council candidates Bill and Star Etheridge resigned from the Conservative Party after posing on Facebook doing what? a Kissing an English Defence League poster b Making fun of the disabled c Wearing matching Nazi armbands d Holding golliwog dolls 7 Which minister said “feminism has trumped egalitarianism” and led to middle-class women holding back working-class men? a Michael Gove b Ed Vaizey c Iain Duncan Smith d David Willetts 8 Alan Johnson resigned as shadow chancellor over what? a “A lack of the right know-how” b “My growing dislike of Labour’s direction” c “Personal issues” d “To attend to my constituency” c “Yikes” d “Sugar” 3 What was the code name of the US navy Seals operation that resulted in Osama Bin Laden’s death? a Apache b Neptune Spear c Mermaid Dawn d Indigo 4 What is the stage name of the belly dancer Karima el-Mahroug. for not choosing his middle son.

9 Who assumed office as the first president of South Sudan? a John Garang b Riek Machar c Salva Kiir d Musa Hilal 10 Tahrir Square became a magnet for protests in Egypt. shockingly clumsy. distracted. One was called “Congratulations Wills and Kate”. Sydney. Jr 5 A Freedom of Information request made by the Labour MP David Lammy revealed that which Oxford college had not admitted a single black student in five years? a Hertford b Oriel c Merton d Worcester 6 What was the estimated total cost of this year’s UK census? a £66m b £482m c £903m d £2. led by Lord Davies of Abersoch.000) for tuition fees? a Aston b Lancaster c Leeds Metropolitan d Surrey 9 Which creature was the victim of an air-rifle killing spree in Somerset? a Red squirrel b Badger c Cat d Swan 3 Which Egyptian artist was shot dead by security forces in Cairo in the early days of the Arab spring? a Ahmed Basiony b Nader Sedek c Adam Henein d Khaled Hafez 4 Which Monty Python member revealed that he turned down a Lib Dem peerage in 1999 because living in England through winter was “too much of a price to pay”? a John Cleese b Terry Gilliam c Michael Palin d Terry Jones 10 What is the average property value of Victoria Road. What was the name of the other. what percentage of British nine-to-12-yearolds was said to have a profile on a social networking website? a 28 per cent b 43 per cent c 51 per cent d 75 per cent 5 Who became the first celebrity to amass ten million Twitter followers? a Justin Bieber b Barack Obama c Ashton Kutcher d Lady Gaga 1 Which film director was banned from the Cannes festival for his apparently pro-Nazi remarks? a Roman Polanski b Lars von Trier c Werner Herzog d Oliver Stone 2 New York magazine described which Broadway show as “confusing.000-a-year New College of the Humanities in London? a A C Grayling b John Gray c Simon Blackburn d Derek Parfit 2 A cheese shop in Lyme Regis produced two Cheddars to mark the royal wedding. unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar”? a Ghost the Musical b War Horse c The Motherf**ker With a Hat d Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark 5 What was the global box-office take of the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on its first day of release? a $50m b $100m c $200m d $400m 1 Which TV show topped a government-compiled list of “healthy” children’s programmes because the characters are always “walking on short journeys”? a The Flintstones b Teletubbies c Scooby-Doo d In the Night Garden 2 David Dimbleby was accused of being a prima donna for refusing to attend weekly Question Time production meetings in which city? a Cardiff b Salford c Glasgow d Leeds 3 The Dalai Lama appeared on which country’s version of Masterchef but refused to judge any of the dishes he was served because it was against his principles? a Australia b UK c US d India Home affairs Television Online Arts 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 61 t . in April? a Liz Hurley b Nigella Lawson c Sophie Dahl d Kate Winslet 1 Which philosopher founded and became the first master of the £18.868 tweets per second? a Osama Bin Laden’s death b Japanese tsunami c Beyoncé’s pregnancy d Final Harry Potter film 2 What did the Narrative Tracker software used by the Global Language Monitor show to be the most used word in English on the internet and in print during 2011? a Occupy b Deficit c Spring d Wedding 3 “Can-a muh fukkasay fuck on here?” Whose debut tweet? a Quentin Tarantino b Spike Lee c Samuel L Jackson d Ice Cube 4 In April. What does its name mean? a Victory b Battle c Patriot d Liberation 11 Who was spotted wearing a “burkini” on Bondi Beach.4m d £7. ridiculously slick.1m b £4. which sold eight times faster? a “Sod the Wedding – It’s a Day Off” b “Stinking Archbishop of Canterbury” c “I’d Rather Feign Nonchalance and Wash My Hair” d “Better Tasting Than the Royal Wedding Cake” 3 According to the Women on Boards inquiry. approximately what percentage of FTSE-250 companies have no female directors on their board? a 15 per cent b 35 per cent c 50 per cent d 60 per cent 4 Which son of rock royalty was sentenced to 16 months in prison for violent disorder during the student riots in London in 2010? a Charlie Gilmour b Otis Ferry c Marlon Richards d James Page.9m c £6. Kensington – the most expensive street in England and Wales? a £2.3m 11 Which 144-year-old furniture store in Croydon was burned down in the riots in August? a House of Reeves b Heal’s c Maples d SCP 1 Which of these events led to a record-breaking 8.35bn 7 What is the name of the DIY paternity testing kit that Boots started selling for £30 a pop? a AssureDNA b UtheDaddy? c CertainX d PaterPura 8 Which of these universities announced that it would not be charging the maximum amount (£9.

cultural and economic changes taking place in the world today. environment.uk/journals/offers/pair . Sydney. CFPJ is now Canada’s leading journal of international affairs. war. encourage and facilitate the development and dissemination of thinking and scholarship responding to the profound social. in Ottawa. Loyola University Chicago. political. while addressing the practical and theoretical issues and considerations that surround them. and analyses on such issues as global governance. Canada International Critical Thought Editors-in-Chief: Cheng Enfu. The Journal offers national. Macquarie University. The journal features case studies. Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Editor-in-Chief: Colin Wastell. regional and international perspectives on important areas of debate such as. poverty. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Established in 1992.ly/rict101 b bit. France Journal of Policing. Australia. International Critical Thought aims to cultivate. Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (JPICT) is a fully refereed journal. Terrorism. energy. USA Tony Andreani. Political Violence. Australia The Canadian Foreign Policy Journal (CFPJ) is a fully peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal published three times a year by the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University.ly/rpic601 Discover more Routledge Politics journals at: www.NEW TO ROUTLEDGE IN 2011 Canadian Foreign Policy Journal Editor: David Carment. The Journal of Policing. the history of foreign policy making and much more. etc. reports. produced by the Centre for Policing. human security. Paris 8 University. original articles. It aims to provide a multi-disciplinary forum for reflection upon and insight into the major problems facing humanity. China David Schweickart. Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at Macquarie University.tandf. The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA).ly/rcfp153 bit. Intelligence.co. Security Studies. Canada. ACCESS FREE For FREE access to Volume 15 Issue 3 visit: ACCESS FREE For FREE access to Volume 1 Issue 1 visit: V ACCESS FREE For FREE access to F Volume 6 Issue 1 visit: V bit.

after saying that their campaign was “like a blind man. who said: “We are being committed to radical. following the World Cup defeat by France? a He was filmed cavorting with strippers b He started a trainingground brawl c He jumped off a ferry in Auckland d He “disrespected” a chambermaid 2 After being named the man of the tournament at the cricket World Cup.000. Oh.THE NS QUIZ 4 Downton Abbey has turned which country house into a tourist attraction? a Rufford Abbey b Highclere Castle c Stratfield Saye d Chastleton House 5 Which Jamie’s Dream School teacher was told. mate” by a member of his GCSE class named Angelique? a Alastair Campbell b Simon Callow c David Starkey d Daley Thompson 6 How long did Cheryl Cole last as an X Factor USA judge before she was dumped for Nicole Scherzinger? a Six days b A fortnight c Three weeks d One month 1 What did Sally Bercow wear for a photo shoot that accompanied the Evening Standard feature “Sex and the city”? a Bedsheet b Dressing gown c Labour Party T-shirt d Imitation Speaker’s cloak 2 In a letter to Richard Desmond. wow”? a Elizabeth Taylor b Joe Frazier c Jimmy Savile d Steve Jobs l Answers on page 92 newstatesman. proprietor of the Daily Star. wow. long-term policies for which no one voted”? a Rowan Williams b Ken Livingstone c Gordon Brown d Charles Kennedy 5 Whose last words were: “Oh. in a dark room.com Books Who said what? 19 DECEMBER 2011 | NEW STATESMAN | 63 . Oh. which Indian left-hander lent his voice to the superhero in the computer-animated film Captain India? a Sachin Tendulkar b M S Dhoni c Virender Sehwag d Yuvraj Singh 3 Which organisation was described by the reporter Andrew Jennings as nothing but an “organised crime family”? a Fifa b International Olympic Committee c London 2012 committee d Uefa 1 Who did Nick Hewer of The Apprentice say “has the weakest handshake in western Europe”? Sport a Nick Clegg b Ed Miliband c David Cameron d Alan Sugar 2 Cherie Blair said that Tony still excites her – but how? a With “his commitment to Middle East peace” b In “all possible ways” c By “surprising me with his energy” d “Pretending he’s still prime minister” 3 To whom did David Cameron apologise. wow. the reporter Richard Peppiatt resigned in protest over which problem with the newspaper? a Obsession with Big Brother b Anti-Muslim propaganda c Only one in three stories he wrote was true d Increasing nudity 3 Which magazine named George Osborne Politician of the Year. who spoke of his “embarrassment” at using a superinjunction to protect his family’s privacy and suppress details of an affair? a Jeremy Clarkson b Andrew Marr c Fred Goodwin d Ryan Giggs 5 Rupert Murdoch shut down News of the World after it had enjoyed how many years of publication? a 102 b 129 c 147 d 168 6 Who was ridiculed for writing a column entitled “The caring professions? They just don’t seem to care at all”. after the NHS failed to give her the right jabs for a trip to Somalia? a Sandra Parsons b Liz Jones c Suzanne Moore d Jan Moir 1 Whose crime novel Death Comes to Pemberley used the characters of Pride and Prejudice six years after the conclusion of Jane Austen’s book? a Ruth Rendell b Frances Fyfield c P D James d Val McDermid 2 A study revealed that the average British household has up to how many unread books. with Pride and Prejudice among the most popular but not read titles? a 20 b 40 c 60 d 80 3 Which author described the royal family as a bunch of “philistines” before moving to New York? a Martin Amis b V S Naipaul c Alan Hollinghurst d Ian McEwan 4 David and Victoria Beckham named their first daughter in honour of which novelist? a Virginia Woolf b Harper Lee c Jane Austen d Louisa May Alcott Media 1 Why was the England rugby player Manu Tuilagi fined £3. looking for a black cat”? a The McCanns b Hillsborough victims’ relatives c 38 Degrees organisers d Keep Britain Tidy 4 Writing in this magazine. “You’re a prick. only for the Chancellor to make a “wanker” joke that the host David Mitchell said “lowered the tone” of the awards ceremony? a Esquire b Monocle c FHM d GQ 4 In late April.

and in these austere times there is a risk that investment in improving the technology around renewable energy will not be given priority. political adviser and activist How urgent is climate change? Scientists say we could see a 70 per cent wipeout of all life on this planet by the end of the century. In the UK.com/energy CORBIS THE EXPERT “We have to move from talk to walk” Jeremy Rifkin. [They] grew up empowered on the internet to . However. We then collaborate and share that energy in the same way as we share information on social media spaces on the internet. We need a new economic vision and game plan. wind and geothermal heat. there is a strong argument in favour of boosting what Nick Clegg has called “the green economy” as a way to tackle climate change and to create jobs. increasingly. Yet there is still great debate about how this can be achieved. Do you see this vision becoming a reality? Young people now favour lateral and side-byside power. Methods of storage are still expensive. On the other hand. There are also “not in my backyard” concerns relating to the visual impact of wind turbines. So when millions of us are producing our own green energy on site. Climate change is the energy bill for two centuries of industrial-based carbon activity. It can also refer to biofuels and hydrogen. as it contributes to the flexibility of the system and its resistance to central shocks. We become our own energy producers. if renewables became viable So. our energy internet will allow us to sell and share any extra. In principle at least. Renewable energy usually gets cheaper with time. It would benefit the planet. It would benefit the planet. We have to get off carbon by 2040. if methods of turning these into energy are perfected. renewable energy presents “investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support”. That’s the new politics. storing it in hydrogen. In theory. if effort were put into making renewables viable for the future. A report by the International Energy Agency this year was optimistic about this cost-reduction trend for the sector continuing. not just the world economy. arguing that.Supported by Perspectives on Energy Can we get off carbon by 2040? Renewables We have limited reserves of fossil fuels. How would that translate into wider change? We take internet technology and transform the power grid of the world into an energy internet. economist. l For more information on Perspectives go to: newstatesman. even as we see fossil fuels getting more expensive. and not just the world economy. why are we only collecting them at a few points? The goal is to convert every single existing building in the European Union into a personal. there is international agreement that we need to move off carbon and on to renewable energy sources. there are benefits to local generation. planning laws can be a hindrance to increasing the use of wind turbines. Although they provide 18 per cent of electricity generation worldwide. How could this be achieved? If renewable energies are distributed in every square inch of the world. So you can collect solar off your roof. writer. we need never face another fuel crisis. renewables’ share of electricity has struggled to keep pace with overall demand growth for power. The term “renewables” refers to electricity that comes from naturally replenished resources such as sunlight. and it’s favourable to a third industrial revolution. clean micro power plant. wind off your side wall. what’s the problem? One criticism often levelled at wind and solar power is that they are variable or intermittent.

It was the first protest against the oil industry in history. But we’re lost right now. During that period. We have enough distributed renewable green energy to provide for our species until kingdom come. The urgency of this goes beyond the global economy. Where does the developing world fit in? The third industrial revolution will move faster in the developing world.0 2000 2005 2010 Electricity generation from renewable sources increased by roughly 2 per cent between 2009 and 2010 to reach 25. as they said to me at the beginning of the administration. The second industrial revolution is on life support. I know that once America gets the story.7TWh. Those countries that can’t find the imagination and the will and the entrepreneurial spirit are going to fall behind really quickly. Europe overall. Capacity grew by 15 per cent to 9. People don’t want to recognise it because it is terrifying.com/energy/ perspectives-on-energy SOURCE: DECC .2GW over the same period. We have to get on to renewables and get off carbon. The Scandinavian countries. That could create millions of jobs. They have a long way to go here and if they really want a third industrial revolution. it’s not utopian. Rome and Monaco “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy. Is the UK taking sufficient action? I was approached by the Cameron people before the election. the Economy and the World” is published by Palgrave Macmillan (£16. we’re off track. It has no infrastructure. or not having the right kind of energy? Energies like coal. THE CV 1967 Graduates from Wharton School. Where does the main responsibility lie for cutting carbon: with consumers. We have to move from talk to walk. The third industrial revolution is a practical plan. hybrid and . storage technology Smart-grid technology Plug-in. but “What can we do?”. It is also a moment of great opportunity. Is this only possible during an economic boom? The exact opposite. no one can move quicker. Distributive energies are everywhere in the world. It’s overwhelming. but that doesn’t mean it is being done. the Netherlands. There is growing denial about climate change. The sun shines all over the world every day. To read other responses from business and academia visit: newstatesman. and the wind blows. a third industrial revolution. will move quickly. Certainly there are people in this administration that understand what needs to be done. factories and offices all over Germany. It can get us to a post-carbon future in 30 years. Why would you mend a 20th-century infrastructure that gives you no multiplier effect? The European Union has made a formal commitment to a plan to upgrade its infrastructure. electric. business or government? We need political mobilisation. This is an urgency for our species and for life on this planet. fuel-cell-based transportation Growth in electricity generation from renewable sources % of electricity 4. They now need to create their own green energy that they share in vast continental spaces.0 0. Should we be more worried about not having enough. We need to have the narrative spread and we need to engage every community with business.99) 9 10 The number of households that would have to spend more than £5. Which countries are behind? The United States is an outlier country. even though I wrote one of the first books on it. I absolutely know this can be done. Are we all doomed? The question is not “Are we all doomed?”. We have a game plan. com/energy/ perspectiveson-energy create its own information and share it freely. This is part four of an eight-part series of Perspectives on Energy. They can leapfrog straight into this and create a sustainable future. It’s been a long road from 1972 to 2011.000 to make their homes more energy-efficient before they could be eligible for solar panel subsidies under new government rules. society and government to make this happen. They are converting homes. I underestimated the speed of climate change. power plants Hydrogen and other energy . It is moving very aggressively.0 8. University of Pennsylvania 1973 Organises mass protest at Boston Harbour following Opec oil embargo 1988 Co-ordinates first meeting of Global Greenhouse Network in Washington 1994 Becomes senior lecturer on Wharton’s executive education programme 2007 “Third industrial revolution” formally endorsed by European Parliament 2009-2010 Develops master plans for San Antonio (Texas).To watch a video of this interview and other energy perspectives go to: newstatesman. Interview by Samira Shackle Facts and figures Rifkin’s Five Pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution Shifting to renewable energy Converting buildings into . gas and uranium are found only in a few places in the world and they require huge military investment to secure them. I grew up in the heartlands of America. During your work have you had your assumptions proved wrong or revised your opinion? Back in 1972 I organised a protest. Whether it will be done is the question. What are the barriers? The biggest barrier is imagination. Which country is leading? They are testing this smart grid in six major regions of Germany today. it’s dying. they have yet to prove it.

barbican. and want to inspire audiences to challenge themselves creatively as well as enjoy a magnificent experience. Gallery. bafhs. 7. Leoš Janácek and Leo Tolstoy (Kreutzer Sonata) to put in context a live performance by the Tamesis String Quartet of its own Kreutzer Sonata – also inspired by Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No 9.org Wednesday 28th l Explore Barbican Balloon Debate Join academics and journalists as they discuss a quirky variety of authors.15pm.80/£4. 020 7620 0374. Somerset House. Free.co. Gassiot House.30pm.uk l The Night Sky in January The astronomer Russell Eberst looks forward to a new year of stargazing and offers suggestions of what to look for in 2012. Free admission with museum entry.org. Newcastle. Foyles. Free. ncl. and listen to Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata.ac. Discover the Enlightenment and naval history on a guided tour around this labyrinthine mansion. 3pm. Also come and find out more about the Free Word Centre. l For more details of the event see our listings A Hint of Danger Ruined My Life” For the Café Scientifique discussion group. Silk Street. ashmolean. somersethouse. 2pm/4pm. Strand. 020 7845 4600. a biomedical engineer at Newcastle University.uk l Coins at Christmas Barrie Cook. Email: futurecitiesproject@gmail. britishmuseum.uk Friday 30th l Grace and Playfulness of Rococo Style A gallery talk on the interior design and architecture typified by the late baroque period. Square Bar. Leicester. . Free. 1.org l Bookshop Barnie Xmas Bash Russell Street. 01865 278 002. Room 46. Bath.skepticsinthepub. from where it took its title. £12/£8. 6pm. Oxford. 020 7638 8891.15pm.org. London WC1. Charing Cross Road. Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. Humphrey Hawksley on Voltaire and Cosmo Landesman on himself. British Museum. London EC2. Free. 1. Why are you involved? The Literary Consultancy is my company.15pm/2. Why should we come? There’ll be music.com. wine – perhaps even mince pies. 7. Urban Café. We think great art inspires great art.com l “Hip Joint Failure l Everyone Is Living in the Wrong Place Tony Davies of the Bath and Avon Family History Society takes a long-term look at the fluctuating world population. London SE1. British Museum curator. What questions should we ask? What are the “Intimate Letters”? Who is Kamila Stösslová? What homework should we do? Read Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata.uk Tuesday 20th l Regenerative Medicine for Ageing: Can It Be Comprehensive enough? For the Leicester Secular Society’s Skeptics in the Pub series. 020 7324 2570. 01225 312 084. 1. Dance City. 6. Queen Square.uk . Temple Street.org. Tom Joyce. Free Word Centre. florence-nightingale. 0191 208 3251. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Barbican Centre. 020 7323 8181.co.30pm.org. Beaumont Street. London EC1.uk HOT TICKET 19 December. a close friend of the Nightingales. £4/£3. .ac. Blackford Hill. Florence Nightingale Museum. 7pm.org To list your event. London WC2. 60 Farringdon Road.45pm. London WC2. £8/£6. £5. £2. freewordonline.30pm. £4/£2. 0131 668 8404. including Shiv Malik on Norman Mailer. the biomedical scientist Aubrey de Grey considers the potential of health therapies in delaying the natural ageing process.Agenda | This week’s best talks and lectures DECEMBER Monday 19th l A Hint of Danger The performance artist Edie Campbell reads from writings by Ted Hughes. roe. Edinburgh. explains how surgeons in the north-east are leading the design of medical implant technology.uk Wednesday 21st l Christmas Ghost Stories Julie Gamble reads from the winter tales of the Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Great 66 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 Last chance to learn about the history of the Barbican Centre and Housing Estate site and its early design plans on this dedicated architecture walking tour. 2 Lambeth Palace Road. 5-9 Hotel Street.uk Thursday 29th l Hidden Spaces and History . 7. gives this seasonal themed talk in the medieval and early modern coinage rooms. leicester. email pressoffice@newstatesman. with Rebecca Swift What’s the event? The Literary Consultancy is delighted to be hosting the Tamesis Quartet and Edie Campbell for an evening celebrating passion and love – with a hint of danger. futurecities.80.30pm. words. Free. Royal Observatory Visitor Centre.

68 GALLERYSTOCK. big advances are a thing of the past. 72 Kate Atkinson In the new world of the ebook. 83 19 DECEMBER 2011 | NEW STATESMAN | 67 Julie Myerson . 78 Nicholas Clee Brian Sewell’s honesty about his sex life is infectious. a sinister tale of disaster and apocalypse. REX FEATURES (SEWELL) FICTION COMMENTARY BOOKS “darktime”.Art | Books | Music | Film | TV | Radio The Critics Other worlds: Philip Pullman on the power of fairy tales.

68 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 t . He’d thrown a barbecue in the backyard to celebrate the arrival of his first grandchild – a boy (a bonus. He usually beat the sun to rising but not today and when he woke a few minutes later. was an ambitious attorney with a law firm in Tucson and the “occasion” had been a long time coming. but once the Void opened. Melissa. a big puppy-dog really. he said to Mitch. He usually stuck to beer but last night he had wetted the baby’s head with an 18-year-old single-barrel bourbon he’d been saving for this very occasion. He was spooked by the sound of his own voice. No cat this morning. Sure is quiet this morning. On Mountain Standard Time in Cochise County it was 6am and Phil Beckett was still asleep. Let’s go for a drive. “Preston”. How would he know? Phil asked. Blake had been to the Double Diamond exactly three times in five years. He shambled into the kitchen and switched on the Keurig Elite their son-in-law had bought them for their wedding anniversary last month. He’d hoped for “Philip”. No birds either. his only child. draining his coffee cup. feeling thick-headed and grouchy. Isaiah 5:30 In the beginning was the Void. revolving slowly on a lazy thermal. a retriever-cross. He glanced up and felt weirdly relieved to see a buzzard high in the sky. the best watered in the county. not a rancher’s dog. If Phil was feeling benevolent he shared the cream from his coffee with it. Phil ran a four thousand deeded acre spread. It usually came out to greet Phil as soon as it heard him moving about. He has a hidden camera or something? He drank his coffee on the porch. behold darkness and sorrow. prime beef on the hoof. Thanks to last night’s Elijah Craig. And quieter. life on earth would never be the same again darktime By Kate Atkinson Artwork by Josh Poehlein And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land. but he knew he couldn’t say that to either his daughter or his wife). The Keurig’s convenient. He looked out over his land and thanked God for His bounty in giving his grandfather this little corner of south-east Arizona. His wife had been on Cuba libres all night and was still asleep. His daughter. though. slinking out of the barn where it slept at night. Come on. And not one of them was making a sound this morning. to be precise. He looked for the big skinny tom that he admired and disliked in equal measure. and Blake would be upset if he thought we didn’t use it. three hundred head of cattle out there. Phil rubbed the top of its head with his knuckles. to everyone’s surprise. in Phil’s opinion. ambling out of the house with the same hungover gait as Phil instead of bounding around enthusiastically. Then one day. The morning was hotter than usual. the Void returned and Darkness rolled over the land. The dog was here. he rolled out of bed like a much older man. his wife said. he was called. Then came the Word and with the Word the World began. and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof. Phil preferred the old aluminium stove-top pot but it seemed to have disappeared. he said to the dog.The Critics FICTION Nobody expected the apocalypse. Odd kind of name. buddy. Mitch. Tuesday 15 May 2012. he remembered with regret the booze he’d drunk the previous evening. She wasn’t a drinker by nature and Phil didn’t much want to be around when she woke.

The Critics 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 69 .

grinning like a dope as its ears fluttered in the breeze. Genevieve could see an elderly man. it sat up straight. Fruit and flowers. She wasn’t even sure she wanted them (and. Small on the outside. All dead. Bruised knees. He counted thirty-eight. top-to-toe. She was still holding the watermelon in one hand and the gladioli like a spear. in school. however. Or blue. people began to voice their bafflement. who thought they had suddenly lost their sight. What the fuck. Not at all like the Chesser Asda where she usually shopped and which. glancing over at Mitch as if the dog might confirm what he was looking at. She should probably get a basket even though both items seemed too unwieldy to be confined to one. stooped and crooked. She would not normally have bought either watermelon or gladioli. before wandering aimlessly over to the flower-stand where she plucked a slender sheaf of gladioli from a galvanised bucket. What the heck? he said. freezers. The cattle were lying on the ground – forty or so of them – as if they had been pushed over by a giant hand. She returned the flowers to the galvanised bucket and watched as the old man stopped to close his umbrella. No daylight coming in through the automatic doors either. He was a very literal child. Completely. A quiet. scouting through the windshield as if it were riding shotgun in Indian country. as well as being a haven for the tired. but today he surprised him by answering the phone. Genevieve had a clear view of the supermarket’s glass entrance doors. Fetching a basket would be a commitment. Phil? Dead cattle? Phil said. From her post at the flower-stand. After what seemed like a long silence. trying to catch her out in the lie. nd then the world went dark. poignant Hello? from somewhere near her right shoulder. She was not the only one. although as far as Genevieve could tell no one was panicking. saying. When he was a boy Phil had played with an old wooden Noah’s Ark that had been his father’s and he had an unexpected memory of the pleasure he had taken in lining up all the animals and then knocking them over. cafés. Phil tried Shane Hollander at the Bar K. For a moment Genevieve had the Damascene thought that she had been struck blind. said they lived with her mother in the Grange. vast on the inside. Who turned the lights out then? from a would-be joker and then the voice of a small child. Pulled the plug. offerings at the temple. who A 70 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 t . All dead. for there were none of the tiny jewels of coloured light. could she afford them?). No. so here she was. a cap on his head. the poor and the huddled masses. All dead. unlike Waitrose. (Or could she?) She watched as the automatic doors. He was once a little boy like Gus. insects – were lost long before Phil was born. saying. He wondered if the Noah’s Ark was still in the attic and if “Preston” would like it. governed by rules of extreme bourgeois rectitude. Gus would one day be an old man like him. she had recently sold her car. It took a moment for Phil to understand.) As an economy measure. When he clambered out of the cab he could feel his heart jittery in his chest. Should she make a run for it? She could hardly stay in Waitrose all afternoon. was also. 1pm on the other side of the world. Mummy? Is there anyone there? someone asked. Someone bumped against her (Sorry. like dominoes. dialled Ken Traub over at the Double E. as if trying out the t hey followed the dirt track up to the ridge. Phil had never heard him swear. but nonetheless distressing to Genevieve. something not apparent in the Chesser Asda. in the other. loitering even. He was six. obedient to an invisible will. as if someone had flicked the switch on the sun. a stoic yet hopeful demeanour. The chill brought with it an odd animal-like premonition. Next. Genevieve’s mother said. from where there was a good view of the creek and the low pasture below. A raised managerial voice advised everyone to keep calm. She was reflecting on the whiteness. Gus said. Greenwich Mean Time in the Waitrose on Morningside Road where Genevieve was sheltering from the rain that had suddenly turned heavy and winterish for May. T But not green. the hearty. It was still raining heavily. She had lied to get him into his (good) primary. nothing glowing with faint comfort. (You’re moving back in with me? Genevieve’s mother said. fridges and sprinklers. more to the point. as complete and absolute as the darkness. He grabbed for his cell. Genevieve picked up a “mini” watermelon. the humming and thrumming. all the way from elephant down to cat. in places that she would normally have speeded through. as if she were about to pike something. too. He was what her mother would have called “dapper” – good tweed overcoat. keeping her face admirably neutral. as though they were partaking in a seance. with all this time on her hands. Genevieve said. Also dead. Ken answered immediately. were all lifeless. A draught of damp air from the open doors made her shiver. A hand brushed Genevieve’s hair and she was reminded of the ghost train at the seaside of her childhood. said he was standing in the middle of a corral of twenty yearling steers. a planet discarded by a careless child-god. suitably dressed. Genevieve’s heart came suddenly untethered. She began to experience the usual kind of low-grade existential angst she associated these days with decision-making. of the well-fed faces around her. it seemed. This morning. outdoors type. It was as if they were playing a sombre game of blind man’s buff. Dead people everywhere. Dark inside and out. populated with people of every nationality and colour. No emergency lights. for the rain. Beyond the woman. an umbrella held awkwardly aloft in the other. some might say pastiness. filthy hands (always). shaking the rain off it. Genevieve found herself frequenting the school’s catchment area – shops. She groped in her bag for her iPhone. the library – mildly paranoid that anonymous authority figures were spying on her. taking refuge from the lunchtime rain in a clean. hefty and round like a cannonball. The dog’s ears twitched but otherwise it remained impassive. sorry). Blind? someone said. Phil. knocking the watermelon from her hands. inquisitive rather than frightened. Genevieve heard it land with a thud and roll away. Since being made redundant from an architectural practice three months ago she found herself lingering. Dead people. or red or purple or – Enough.) Now. The smaller species – mice. The doors closed again before he reached them. well-lighted place where it was reassuring (or possibly not) to know that there were so many different brands of balsamic vinegar in the world. swished politely apart to admit a middle-aged woman. a cane in one hand. He was a strict Lutheran. that indicated electronic life. (They are.The Critics The dog liked sitting up front in the cab of the heavy-duty Silverado with its head out the window. was snailing heroically towards the doors. He crashed the Silverado into reverse and accelerated back down the track and across the rough terrain towards the pasture. Smoke alarms and cash registers.

.

Genevieve’s mother said. while Genevieve was debating whether to buy a watermelon? But – not everyone was dead. A babel of mobile-phone ringtones started to fill the air. The universe blinked. for example. An increase in sunspot activity was due and was going to cause geomagnetic storms. Cars had crashed into each other. It was something to do with solar flares. Everywhere that she looked there were people lying on the ground – as though they had been struck by a narcoleptic spell. Her fat ginger cat who spent most of his day asleep inside was sniffing the old lady’s body with greedy curiosity. a hundred thousand Hiroshimas. What happened at school? The little kids were scared. The bus driver remained at the bridge. Now wash your hands. obedient to some bizarre order. a peaceful expression on his face. knocking out satellite communications and causing blackouts on earth. in shops. after some hesitation. The automatic doors began dutifully opening and closing again. she said to Gus. She wasn’t sure what a geomagnetic storm was but it certainly didn’t sound good. OK. Two-thirds of the population of Africa wiped out. All of them. Diamond miners survived. his head lolling forward as if were taking forty winks while waiting for his tardy passengers to board. on buses. I’m never letting you out of my sight again. You’re a little kid. She had read about it in a newspaper a few months ago. Standing up. What? Gus said. The elderly neighbour herself was spreadeagled on the path. not wishing to rekindle any alarming memories. staggered. crouching down and feeling for a pulse. which had meant that the whole school had spent their lunchtime indoors. So. Once they would have written laborious letters and the event would be forgotten by the time the letter was delivered into another hand. who were definitely alive. not sudden biblical calamities? The “pulse”. The baby inside the pushchair looked – like the dapper old man – as if it were taking a muchneeded nap. no matter the weather) simply T 72 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . Yes. Everyone inside the bus looked as though they had fallen asleep in their seat. piloting a ghost bus. That was when Genevieve realised that the crowd’s distress was not on account of the dapper old man but for a much wider horror. No one who had been locked in Waitrose was dead. Genevieve thought. Thank God for the rain. Genevieve thought. her bus pass still clutched in her hand. a classroom assistant. passengers and drivers lying insensible. others were slewed across the road. The commentators were talking in Cretan terms – The end of civilisation as we know it. Genevieve saw a sparrow land on the bird table in the shared garden of the block of flats. Her iPhone vibrated in her own hand. In the great shanty towns of Karachi. It was the first bird that Genevieve had seen all day. Genevieve said tentatively. There were a few peripheral casualties. Genevieve thought of The Day of the Triffids. Has someone phoned for an ambulance? Genevieve asked and the woman who was dressed for rain (but who would never leave her house again. Everything was just as it had been. A smoker. No one was waking up. A young woman who was sprawled in the middle of the pelican crossing was still grasping the handle of a pushchair. Dead. No one was climbing to their feet and shaking their head in bewilderment at the sudden enchantment that had overtaken them. and when Genevieve looked around she could see people in cars. One man and his dog were bedded down on the pavement together. The Black Death had killed a third of the world’s population but it had taken only people (only!) but the Dark (as it was apparently now called) seemed indiscriminate in its choice of prey. The old Romanian beggar woman who sat every day outside the hospice shop had keeled over. A cataclysmic event more overwhelming in its awfulness than anything previously experienced on the planet – half a million Krakatoas. They were dead. she found herself next to the woman who was dressed so well for the rain. But then. She hurried towards him. People blinked at the sudden assault on their retinas from the overhead lights and looked about in confusion as if they were expecting something to have changed during their unexpected daytime journey into night. the power was snapped on again. An acoustic device – the kind they had on ships to repel pirates (again – Morningside?). Several people headed straight for the outside but the majority of customers. of the Malaysian rainforests. A blink. Whereas everyone who had been outside – Jesus Christ – the school playground! Gus. It began to peck nervously at the toast crumbs that one of Genevieve’s elderly neighbours put out each morning. and almost tripped over the body of the dapper old man. trawlermen died. newsreaders and pundits were wallowing in the apocalypse. just as suddenly as it had been turned off. Genevieve had to skirt the body of the deputy head lying just outside the school gates. Gus said. the homeless. Behind closed doors. Children in playgrounds and streets all laid out but the worst kind of paedophiles and murderers in jail were spared. Never? Never. n the television. Glancing out of the window. All the animals of the Serengeti. It was a new Pompeii. Genevieve reeled from the thought as if she taken a physical blow. She wished that she had paid more attention. Burying the dead was going to be a problem. Billions of farm animals in the fields had gone but the battery hens and the veal calves survived. of the Antarctic. “Catastrophe” and “chaos” were predicted across the globe (it was an article in the Daily Mail. Genevieve supposed everyone wanted to share their own experience of the dark. even though the hard rain was falling steadily on it. It seemed improbable. The automatic doors kept trying to close but were foiled by the inert body of a woman draped across the platform. It had been worldwide and had lasted exactly five minutes. t O he customers who had already left Waitrose were still standing in a little huddle near the doors. lying supine on the concrete. looking aghast.The Critics word for size. half in and out of the doors. (Was she?) Look outside. his cap tilted rakishly. Genevieve saw the dapper old man. corpses were scooped up by bulldozers. The greatest disaster since the dinosaurs were wiped out. the drunks and the whores on the street. she said. Or had they all simply drunk the Kool-Aid. recommenced shopping. her hand still outstretched for coins. People who had stayed inside. Not really. The people waiting in the queue had dropped where they stood in a tidy fashion. Daylight had returned outside. None. Swaths of the poor were scythed down – workers in the fields. A bus standing at a nearby stop had opened to admit passengers into its belly. He made a face. pushing her way past the living and dodging the dead with the adroitness of the counties hockey player she had once been. From what? Gas? A terrorist attack (in Morningside?). What was more likely – an invasion from outer space by killer alien plants or a total eclipse of the sun and its electronic cohorts? But then surely eclipses were foreseen. Lagos and Cape Town. He shrugged. she remembered now). Nothing. It was Genevieve’s mother asking if she was all right. paying the price of her habit. lifted her arm and pointed like a mute seer at the length of Morningside Road. The Big Issue seller who hung around the entrance to Waitrose was curled up like a baby next to the ranks of wire trolleys. The crossing-man on duty. charted events. She set off at a run. Waitrose rebooted itself and the air was filled once more with the low whining and buzzing noises of robotic insect life as the big fridges and the cash registers came back to life. that was all.

At 12. The plump.The Critics Planes plummeted like game birds from the sky. Took My Dog” (Black Swan. she broke down on I-8. That was three months ago. In order of popularity these were: a shock-and-awe alien attack. I hope not. Once on the most endangered list. waiting patiently for whatever was going to happen. He sounded like a supermarket manager. an increase in the earth’s magnetism – or a sudden decrease. We never take you out in the Dark. a poisonous miasma emanating from Venus. The people who remained adapted. l Kate Atkinson’s latest book is the Jackson Brodie detective novel “Started Early.18 he stepped outside and shut the door behind him. “A terrible harrowing. Did she not see them? She was so smart. Will it happen again? Gus asked. a hole in the space-time continuum (this. holding her hand. Phil said. After the cattle went. The Dark was due at twenty past the hour. opening the barn door. Come on then.99) newstatesman. Blake came round all the time. searched everywhere for cracks and pinholes. His watch was slow and the Dark surprised them both when it came. Genevieve’s mother said she wished she’d had shares in one of the artificial meat corporations. dog walkers. sunbathers. Genevieve said. That all stopped with Melissa’s death. Cyclists. Phil checked the windows. Come on. 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 73 Genevieve wondered what they would do if one day the Dark came and didn’t go away again. What would Mitch want? Pretty much the same as he wanted himself. newly elevated Deputy Prime Minister appeared on television. But it did. The spirit of the Blitz was invoked. The shelves would be cleared now. She is the author of the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year. A shadow passed over them. of course. In the Far East. had also survived and would soon be set to work on the reason for the illogical staying power of the birds and bees (no one foresaw what a problem they would become). Phil felt a coldness towards him that was maybe unfair. The dog stood sentinel by his side.99). The Prime Minister. Phil had transformed the Double Diamond into a dude ranch. Genevieve thought of all the useful things she might have bought in Waitrose when she had the opportunity. t lasted for five minutes and came five minutes later every day. One of the giant flocks of Arizona grasshopper-sparrows flying overhead. the implications of this machine-like precision were disturbing. Going out to settle the horses. Not only the birds but also the bees survived. All My Children – shows that were cancelled years ago. didn’t believe in pills. He exhorted everyone to stay calm and not panic. shut away in their labs. Five years after the first Dark. but at the same time. His wife was watching TV in the living room. but they were grateful (pollination and so on). the revenge of Gaia. Phil said to the dog. tourists on the Grand Canal. Maybe not. moving into night at the time of the disaster. a darned nuisance now.” the Archbishop of York said. Why? Why hadn’t she just waited for a breakdown truck? A passing motorist saw them running back to the car but the Dark overtook them. Genevieve turned the television off. The horses were up for sale now. Phil Beckett never did make sense of what happened to his daughter and grandson. Phil had given up on God. As you would. Dying embers of church congregations were fanned into life as many turned to religion. not so the forty million sheep that lived there. Phil tried to put himself inside the dog’s head. At 1. shutting it carefully again after Mitch came out.com/culture I . leaving the dog inside with the horses. “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”. and “When Will There Be Good News?” (both Black Swan. but Mitch started scratching at the door. all the time talking soothingly to the horses. Like clockwork. I The horses were always skittish beforehand. buddy. No one understood why. a cull by God. as it were. Many scientists. There were myriad theories. His wife didn’t reply. The population of New Zealand fared best.05pm the following day the universe blinked once more. Phil shouted to his wife. People were thankful for this regularity. A lot of the casualties were people who were burying the dead from the first time. Midday. cricket teams. Phil put out his hand and rubbed the dog’s head. He hadn’t had a job since the first Dark. would evolve into the Void theory). although some miraculously survived. whining sadly. His wife had turned to God and pills. Every couple of miles along the interstate there were billboards saying “Avoid the Void!” and “Don’t Let the Dark In!”. a new kind of plague. £7. You can set your watch by it. and was condemned for being overly biblical. Princess Anne. Preston by her side. Why had she been so dumb? She was found on the hard shoulder. Others sank into apathy. there were slightly fewer casualties although it seemed that all it took was an open window – a crack – for the Dark to get in. Across the globe people rioted and looted and stockpiled. They had got out of the car and had started walking – in eighty-fivedegree heat. when anyone with any sense knew to the exact second when it was coming. even the balsamic vinegar would have been snatched. He’d just started elementary school. basking in the seriousness of his position. His wife treated Mitch with amiable indifference. coasting silently through the blackout before regaining power. he guessed. They had been doing OK. All gone. reruns of crap – The Bold and the Beautiful. knew to take all necessary precautions. £7. n the barn.

and which. The microphones were switched on at random intervals for 90 seconds 74 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 PHOTOBUCKET . He said he would like to know of any evidence about the results of telling children stories like that: did it have a pernicious effect? In particular. which could pick up not only what the children said but also what was being said by parents or others nearby. if we first encounter it at the right moment. lightweight radio microphones. such as the testimony of trusted friends (“I know him and he’s not a liar”). Some of these carry within them the possibility of quiet scepticism (“I know him and he’s not a liar but he might be mistaken”). Then there’s the logically convincing. in a lot of cases. to be worn under their clothes. whom they followed right up to the end of their primary education. They selected a large number of families with children who were two or three years old. in which people were prepared to believe that things could change into other things. the creation of the earth. about such things as fairy tales in which frogs turn into princes. what evidence might there be to settle this question? We believe different things in different ways and for different reasons. But it reminded me of Dawkins’s misgivings. which is probably the earliest kind we learn. for instance. and so on. the Scandinavian delight: the Moomins bring pleasure placid assent of those who like a quiet life (“If you say so. And because I have been working on the tales of the Brothers Grimm recently. It’s a book that I shall certainly give to my grandchildren in a year or two. it isn’t necessary or appropriate. he worried that it might lead to an anti-scientific cast of mind. expressed in a TV news interview two or three years ago. dear”). because God says so and His holy book doesn’t lie”). We don’t demand or require scientific proof of everything we believe. showing how thrilling knowledge and scientific inquiry can be and what a profound sense of wonder they can give us. the plausibility of likelihood based on experience (“It’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to happen”). There’s not just one way of believing in things but a whole spectrum. not only because it would be impossible to provide but because. in the context of Pythagoras’s theorem or something similar. So. which we probably come to through the maths we learn at school. there are. Wells and his team wanted to find out how children’s language was influenced by what they heard around them. There’s the rock-hard certainty of personal experience (“I put my finger in the fire and it hurt”). How could we examine children’s experience of fairy tales? Are there any models for examining children’s experience of story in a reasonably objective way? As it happens. the blind conviction of the religious zealot (“It must be true. However. A very interesting study was carried out some years ago by a team led by Gordon Wells and his colleagues at Bristol University and was described in a book called The Meaning Makers: Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn (1986).The Critics CRITIC AT LARGE We must not deprive our children of fairy tales – learning that there are different ways of believing is one of the most important lessons of all By Philip Pullman Imaginary friends Richard Dawkins’s new book. the matter of fairy tales and the way we read them has been much on my mind. bursts on our minds like sunrise. with the whole universe playing a great chord of C major. is a tour de force in which he tells a number of myths (about. there are other ways of believing that things are true. or rainbows. The Magic of Reality. I have never seen a better introduction to science for young readers. or where animals came from) and then gives a scientific account of the phenomenon in question. giving the children unobtrusive.

Whereas the scholars at Bristol were concerned with finding out what happens in the natural course of a child’s life. it’s not impossible to set up experiments to test how children acquire various forms of understanding and to learn interesting things from them. When he says that he would like to see some evidence. In brief. and another group that wasn’t. To make it absolutely beyond question. or don’t they? And if they do. or the cruel. which are full of impossible things such as cows jumping over the moon. we would have to keep them in a sort of prison camp. I assume that he is prepared to be a little generous in his view of what evidence To dream the impossible dream: Snow White and her Seven Dwarves provide a compelling fantasy tale there could be. I think that childhood reading is more like play than like anything else. it would have to be policed pretty rigorously. Of course. to see whether the ones who were kept away from magic and spells were thereby advantaged in their understanding of science. Furthermore. Like HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 75 t . And it would have to differ from that study in an important way. But to go back to Dawkins and his question. the frequency with which children are read to has been found to be a powerful predictor of later success at school. right up to leaving age. this is what I think about it. . namely the question of children’s belief in fairy tales and magic and spells. is the language that occurs in this context . in what way do they believe it? Well. . not only because it would be impossible to provide but because. he wouldn’t ask for the unreasonable. they discovered that the more included children were in the conversation and chatter going on around them. and that’s the only sort we’ve got – but then. semantically and syntactically. because it would need a control group. we get by pretty well with that in most of our dealings with other people. So. And we would follow the children all the way through their schooling. the results were recorded and transcribed and then an enormous amount of analysis was done on the results. in a lot of cases. all we have to go by is belief and trust.The Critics at a time. No nursery rhymes either. we wouldn’t do it. Dawkins knows this. or the impossible. It’s that sort of evidence. Wells and his colleague John Nicholls write: “Several investigators have noted how much more complex. It would amount to child abuse. fantasy and so on. this study would depend on having some children who were allowed fairy tales. To make sure that our subjects never encountered fairy tales of any kind. In Language and Learning: an Interactional Perspective (1985).” So. Matters of trust The only way we can know what is going on in the mind of someone who reads a story is to believe them when they tell us about it and compare it with our own experience of reading and see what we have in common. No Harry Potter under the bedclothes. the quicker and more fully they picked up every kind of language skill. how on earth would we set up an experiment to test the effect of fairy tales? It would have to go on much longer than the Bristol study: it would have to last as long as childhood itself. it isn’t necessary or appropriate. do children believe what they read in stories. One interesting discovery was that the most enriching experience of all was the open-ended exploratory talk that arises from the reading of stories. When it comes to the matter that Dawkins is concerned about. We don’t demand scientific proof of everything we need to know about.

crumple to the ground. we pretended to be figures from comics or films and we acted out stories based on the adventures we’d seen. was nothing less than love. Those were the things my body was doing. I didn’t want to be them. I didn’t want to stop being myself. And in the sort of private. Exhilaration. however. of course I didn’t. Sometimes I rescued him from danger and sometimes he rescued me. were it ever discovered. I would have had to make public something I felt private and secret about. I was building patterns of behaviour and expectation into my moral understanding. My body was doing all that an eight-year-old body could do to run out from behind a wall. what my mind was doing. from looking at me. wittier. I’d have felt obliged to mock and scoff at those dear friends of mine. cheaply printed. a myself of accomplishment and renown. By acting out stories of heroism and sacrifice and (to use a fine phrase that has become a cliché) grace under pressure. at the Siege of the Alamo. secret. I would have felt embarrassed by. Yet at no time during the endless hours of play I spent as a child did I believe that I was anyone other than myself. heroism.The Critics Now I think that those experiences were an important part of my moral education as well as the development of my imagination. What was my mind doing? I think it was feeling a little scrap – a tiny. I felt what it was like to be brave and to die facing overwhelming odds. the solitary play. as it were. he seemed to value me more than my friends and family did. What’s more. I loved them so much that I would never have said to my friends. When I was a boy of eight or nine. but a different myself. secret space opening up between my mind and the pages. In some ways. because there’s a part of my reading mind now that looks with critical attention at the way the story is told as well as at the events it relates. sacrifice: in acting these out. Davy Crockett was very big at that time. a stronger and more certain myself. torn-off scrap – of heroism. I liked imitating things that I’d seen Davy Crockett do on the cinema screen – say.” That would have been inconceivable. something I could hardly voice even to myself. I was almost entirely Crockett. we experience them in miniature or. or Dick Tracy. or whoever it was (and I remember games when there were about six different Batmans racing through the neighbourhood gardens). I remember that King Arthur had a high opinion of me. clutch my chest. and so did Superman. something if. more clearly defined. even more than the communal play. in Australia. When we children play at being characters we admire doing things we value. or Batman. a myself who was Davy Crockett’s close and valued friend. every little boy in the western world had a Davy Crockett hat. I could revel in their company and sail off in their floating theatre or travel to the mountains to see the great comet or rescue the Snork Maiden from the Groke and no one could possibly have told. with a Moomin book open in front of me and that great. tattered. Sometimes I was me and sometimes I was me pretending to be Davy Crockett. I realise that it was a little more complicated than that. stagger. that sort of thing happened all the time. When I was playing with my brother and my friends. I Suspend your disbelief: stories carry us into imaginative worlds where we become bigger than ourselves pretending. We fought with passion. we discover in doing so areas and depths of feeling it would be hard to reach otherwise. I remember it happening especially powerfully with the Moomins. That intensity of feeling is what both fuels and rewards childhood play and reading alike. I knew I wasn’t really Davy Crockett but. But now that I think about it carefully. fire a musket. noble renunciation. I’m conscious that the way I read as an adult is a little different. and at any kid who was so stupid and babyish as to like stories about them. Davy Crockett wasn’t alone in this superior perception. and when we died we did so with heroic extravagance. I wanted to put myself into the story and enjoy things happening to me. 76 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 THE ART ARCHIVE/ALAMY . I’m sure. He saw the qualities in me that their duller eyes failed to perceive.” It was like the sort of game where I was by myself with Davy Crockett in the wilderness. I might fall short if ever I were really called on but at least I’d know what was the right thing to do. at the same time. and the shame of discovery. And that sort of play. “Let’s pretend we’re Moomins. fluttering. someone Davy Crockett could rely on in a tight spot. seems to me very similar to what we do when we read – at least when we read for no other purpose than our enjoyment and especially when we read as children. To save face. “I want to be in this story with them. What I felt for the Moomin family and all their friends. It was when I played alone that I found it possible to be myself. Little creatures who looked like miniature hippopotamuses and lived on an island in the Baltic Sea? Absurd. What I thought mostly when I was a child was. In fact. despair. in safety. who sat with t I think that childhood reading is more like play than anything else him beside a campfire in the wilderness or hunted bears in the trackless forests of suburban Adelaide. But when I was alone. because in a story I was able to be both myself here and myself there. slowly drag a revolver from a holster with a trembling hand and kill six Mexicans as I breathed my last. resolution. but we were both pretty laconic about it. perhaps. inviolable space that opened out miraculously between the printed page and my young mind. triumph. would have been followed quickly by the even greater and longer-lasting shame of betrayal. Here comes the test: did I believe that the Moomins were real? No. I was more myself at those times than at any other.

I fully agree with Dawkins when he says that this is pernicious and damaging.” Children really do learn quite early on that there are different ways of believing in different kinds of story. And some parents do bring their children up to believe that things can change into other things – bread into flesh and wine into blood. Or moving. grey-green. even when I was very young. and it didn’t matter. to be specific. none of which depended on their being true or real. “I dunno. and that children whose parents take the trouble to sit and read with them – and talk about the stories.000 years ago and that scientists are wrong when they tell us about evolution and shouldn’t be allowed to teach it in schools. The delight of being with the Moomins was a complex kind of delight. I would have been just as fascinated. “You must believe that the frog changed into a prince. to hear the real answer. their creator. What sort of evidence that is. I was pretending they were real in order to enjoy being with them in imagination. the world of stories. in a different kind of way. l Philip Pullman’s latest book is “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” (Canongate. My guess is that the kind of stories children are offered has far less effect on their development than whether they are given stories at all.99 each) newstatesman. not in a lecturing sort of way but genuinely conversing. but that wouldn’t have diminished my pleasure in the story. in the way that Wells describes – will grow up to be much more fluent and confident not only with language but with pretty well any kind of intellectual activity. because it’s true and only 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 77 . these play things. Or delightful. partly of the endless inventiveness of Tove Jansson. I think there’s nothing for it: we just have to trust what people tell us and check it against our own experience. Some parents also bring their children up to believe that the world was created 6. but that didn’t matter. in a serious kind of way. partly of the delicate. Yet there’s a world of difference between that sort of thing and offering a child a fairy tale.com/culture Life cycle of a frog I agree that it would be a different question entirely if parents actually brought their children up to believe that frogs could change into princes. and that they’ll go to hell if they don’t believe it. If someone had asked me. £7. including science. weren’t real. why I thought elephants had long trunks. including the delight that I felt in murmuring the sounds of the words: the “ ’satiable curtiosity” of the elephant’s child. I don’t know. And they could be all those things and real as well. Or exciting. The trilogy “His Dark Materials” is published by Scholastic (£30/£6. or all those things and imaginary and I could tell the difference. wicked people don’t believe it. as some things were. I wasn’t in the slightest danger of confusing them with real life. If what they say is that stories of every kind. I’d have scratched my head and said. I wanted them to be funny. I knew these story things. as Rudyard Kipling told me in the Just So Stories. And children who are deprived of this contact. partly from the fascination I felt with the northern landscape in which they lived: a whole bundle of things. this interaction. are not likely to flourish at all. from the most realistic to the most fanciful. Nor did I believe for a second that elephants’ trunks were long because one of their ancestors had played a desperate tug of war with a crocodile. that “Because the crocodile got hold of the elephant’s child’s nose and pulled and pulled” was the wrong sort of answer. all set about with fever trees”. made up partly of the sweetness of their characters. have nourished their imagination and helped shape their moral understanding.99). the “great.” I knew. No one says. simple precision of the drawings. because I didn’t want them to be real. And when it comes to evidence. greasy Limpopo River. then we have to accept the truth of that. but I believe it.The Critics knew that they were made up.

The internet giant is by far the most aggressive book retailer they have ever dealt with. be delighted that books. I thought. So I have saved more than £17 on 78 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 © PIERRE CROM / REPORTERS / REPORTERS / EYEVINE . These figures will leap in the new year as people who unwrapped e-readers on 25 December play with their new gadgets. In the US. In print. But in the weeks following the Booker. in compensation to a certain extent. Amazon decided that the correct price for The Sense of an Ending in ebook was £3. plus a general perception that publishers are offering us more of the same. he is the fourth-bestselling author at independent bookshops. have depressed the market. Should we. for £4.99. It is hard to get publicity for paperbacks. whose novel The Sense of an Ending won the most recent Man Booker Prize. People’s attitudes. as I write. Indeed. I am shocked at myself.99. In the US. These developments give publishers a modest satisfaction. and no publisher will happily forgo this income.49.99. if you produce 10. have Easy reader: the arrival of the Kindle is transforming the way we consume books BOOKS The sense of an ending Sales of ebooks will reach a new high this Christmas. books by established authors – P D James. Some publishers have attempted to hold the line by introducing “agency pricing”. as readers. which is attached to a Canada-based retailer. I’ve also downloaded free ebook editions of David Copperfield and Mansfield Park. five-floor shop as pricey items. and its Kindle bestseller list at present shows titles priced at less than £1 occupying seven of the top ten slots. Buying ebooks affects the way you look at print books.500 hardbacks. Amanda Hocking and John Locke. is one of those established authors who can sell a lot of hardbacks. ebooks are accounting for 20 per cent of leading publishers’ revenues. I was chastened to find myself seeing the books at this vast. kindly sent to me by a PR firm. Amazon hates taking anyone else’s orders about what it should charge. thanks to its dominance of ebook sales through the Kindle. The evidence is that ebook buyers are with Amazon on this issue. Ebooks are destroying this economic model. Browsing in the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s the other day. Moreover. I say. Yet the outlook for publishers and authors is grim – they need to sell many more to survive. through which they set the retail prices and give retailers a cut of the revenue. and. or if one were looking for gifts. or Ian McEwan or Claire Tomalin – sell in huge quantities in hardback.79). But. Gloom about the economy. not book prices. are getting cheaper still as the digital revolution spreads? Or is the enthusiasm of giant retailers for pricecutting a mixed blessing at best. as it has been with food? For my new Kobo e-reader. because I have always been dismayed when people say – as they so often do – that books are expensive. Julian Barnes.31 and Robert Harris’s thriller The Fear Index for £5. They are not expensive. you may not sell any more copies than you would have done if you had produced 1. that they consider to be too expensive. Amazon is pushing its Kindle reader and WHSmith is selling the Kobo. Will 99p become the optimum price for an ebook? If so. which only a minority of even committed book buyers want to pay for. by Ken Follett and others. One thing is for sure: it will not be a print-book Christmas. by comparison with cinema or theatre tickets. there is a new vogue for ebooks. say. offset by a great deal of fear. who is going to make any money out of publishing or writing books for such a market? It turns out that a few people are doing very well out of selling cheap ebooks. only worse (uninteresting “celebrities”. By Nicholas Clee The book industry believes we are about to enjoy an “ebook Christmas”. Amazon uses its power largely to depress prices. it is also becoming the most powerful retailer that publishers have ever dealt with. The Fear Index is a hardback with an RRP of £18. I have also tried many times to explain why so many books appear first in expensive hardback editions. and rising.59 (the price has since gone up to £4. which are mostly selling his novel at the RRP of £12. Ebooks for the iPad and other tablets are also gaining in popularity. of the kind one might buy if one wanted to indulge oneself. The focus of that fear at present is Amazon. two genre authors who self-published their novels. Snowdrops. and is suspected of having had some influence on the decision by the European Commission to investigate the agency model.000 paperback copies of a literary first novel. Amazon’s customers have blitzed the site with one-star reviews of books.The Critics two books. in the UK. and you’ll earn a good deal less. A new paperback is cheaper than a round of drinks. I have bought A D Miller’s Booker-shortlisted novel. needed to change. already widely discounted. I have insisted. and believe that digital editions should be cheap. chefs reheating the usual ingredients). Miller’s novel is available in paperback at a recommended retail price (RRP) of £7. the figure is about 10 per cent and rising.

as a work of “anti-history”. Still. but choosing. The experience of being smack bang in the middle of events yet not understanding a thing – that was very important. never comment on individual cases. The prize this year was awarded to a Swede. going back to the single component of history. But I think it’s good for writers’ mental stability that they shouldn’t know that they are on the shortlist. Myriad Editions. has been spoken about as a likely winner for some years now. right down to those whose sales are in four figures. You worked as a war correspondent in Bosnia in the 1990s. you can really do your job and fantasise about what may have happened. authors. of course. Yes.” If you are a novelist. One American writer. but the grand narrative is the thing. But I can. In the digital world. The impact of the war in Africa showed for the first time the cracks in the monolith of colonialism. But Hocking’s profit to date is only just over £300 (his revenue is just over £2. What does that involve? I spend a lot of time reading. This is about much more than the Western Front. I would agree with those historians who say that the Great War is probably the most important event in European history since the fall of Rome in 476. What do you mean by that? I mean it in the sense that history is usually about taking experiences.000 copies. must say firmly. and books really were too expensive. will have to sell to survive. a small publisher based in Brighton. The historian. Most writing careers have depended on the subsidies that publishers have been able to provide. which is the individual experience. There are secrecy clauses governing the deliberations of the Academy. and then published them in formats that the public thought too expensive. we will have the social media experience of sharing our tastes through Facebook and Twitter. a crime novel by the newcomer Elizabeth Haynes. downloaded one by one rather than bought in bulk by stockholding booksellers. publishers will be able to afford them. It can be a bit frustrating. whether they self-publish or not.000. Philip Roth. putting them together to make a larger construct called “history”. It is not only the likes of Julian Assange. It also means we the judges can work in peace. There had been speculation here since the Nineties that Tranströmer would get the award. It’s about what we can and can’t know. In your day job you are permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy. has sold 70. when he reaches a gap in the sources. I’m also the CEO of the Academy.The Critics each sold more than one million ebooks through the Kindle store. l Interview by Jonathan Derbyshire Peter Englund’s “The Beauty and the Sorrow: an Intimate History of the First World War” is published by Profile Books (£25) 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 79 . documents and sources and collating them. in the new world of cheap books. The Academy meets once a week on a Thursday. and publishers and authors’ cash flows. except as it affects shops selling print books. How did you find the people whose war stories you tell in the book? Because there are so many eyewitness accounts.000). Jeffrey Eugenides (£500. One of the most striking things about the book is its emphasis on the global scale of the war. thanks to the publisher’s advance. Did that experience affect the way this book was composed? I could never have written it without it. that was one of the points I would make again and again to my students. l Nicholas Clee is a joint editor of BookBrunch. you’ll know that he is the second most translated poet in the United States. the novel has 445 customer reviews on Amazon and was the site’s editors’ pick as the best book of 2011. As ebooks take a greater share of the market. it served readers and literary culture pretty well. as we can only hand out one prize and are not allowed to divulge the names of the others on the shortlist. in the sense that the form and the language used will remind readers more of those used by a novelist rather than the kind used by a historian writing a textbook. your new book about the First World War. An industry that paid unrecoverable advances for books. when you reach that gap. Perhaps it looks very secretive from the outside. the body that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. This will be a happy development. they have found substantial audiences by promoting authors with cheap ebooks. Surveys suggest that owners of ereading devices are buying books in greater numbers than they did previously. and it’s a good formula. When I was teaching. which it has been doing since 1786. Do you see the First World War as the critical event of the 20th century? Yes. had its eccentricities. But this book is about going the other way. but it at least shields the process. Some publishers have used ebooks to turn the conventional publishing model on its head: instead of going to market first with expensive hardbacks.000 copies in print and ebook of Into the Darkest Corner. “We don’t know. above) has confided his sales figures and revenues from self-publishing ebooks with Amazon. What was the reaction in Sweden to his award? The reaction in Sweden was one of elation. This is a figure that many conventionally published novelists would envy. Most authors. Had Hocking chosen a conventional publisher. Also. Having a completely open judging process would lead to more furore and debate. he might well have sold fewer copies. You have a grand narrative and then you use the individuals as a splash of colour or as an example. if you know your poetry well. But it is hard to see how. In place of the social experience of browsing in bookshops. even if the authors are unfamiliar. But the main difference between the novelist and historian is not about form. Two of them have sold more than 8. for a book about parties) who get unrecoverable sums of money upfront from publishers. Amazon and self-publishers are able to adjust their pricing until they reach a sweet spot at which readers will buy. As for the financial implications – on the Me and My Big Mouth blog. In my other work as a professional historian – I specialise in the 17th century – I go by the book. the poet Tomas Tranströmer. It defines the 20th century. At the Kindle store. Would it be fair to describe your method here as novelistic? Yes. book sales overall may increase. a book industry newsletter THE BOOKS INTERVIEW Peter Englund You have described The Beauty and the Sorrow. I’ve been to four wars as a correspondent. and I prepare the agenda and write the minutes. but he would have earned more. That was quite deliberate.000 each) and Pippa Middleton (£400. the novelist Ian Hocking (no relation to Amanda. In fact. depend on such handouts. the problem was not finding. These successes lead one to wonder if the complainers were right all along. I ended up with 20 people in this book but I had enough material for at least a hundred.

and his determination to integrate the many and varied institutions he came to control in a single.The Critics The killing machine Richard J Evans Heinrich Himmler: a Life Peter Longerich Oxford University Press. so as to ensure that the inevitable next war was won by Germany. his ever-expanding ambition that grew with each Nazi success. By this time. sought solace for having missed the action in drilling himself into a state of ruthless efficiency. liquidating their entire leadership in the bloody Night of the Long Knives in 1934. So did his attraction to the violent subculture of the far-right paramilitary movements that flourished in Bavaria after their brutal suppression of communist revolutionaries early in 1919. The result is a major work that breaks ground by linking Himmler’s political career convincingly to his personal life and experiences. which he built up into an elite corps. he took 80 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . functioning whole. For Himmler. but this one. £25 There have been many attempts to describe the life and opinions of Heinrich Himmler. Himmler delivered.072pp. social and emotional inadequacy. It makes excellent use of the voluminous source materials available to historians. Himmler was too young to fight in the First World War and. 1. including many that originated through the meticulous SS leader himself. or SS). Politics for him was a continuation of war by other means. such as his appointments diary and the log he kept of his telephone conversations. he enjoyed experiencing its employment vicariously. this had the added advantage for compensating for his early feelings of physical. The son of a schoolmaster and some-time tutor to the Bavarian royal family. Ernst Röhm. led by his nominal boss. distinguished by its discipline and unconditional loyalty to the Nazi leader from the storm-trooper militia Sturmabteilung (SA). it was Himmler’s SS to which Hitler turned. From his Bavarian base. Soon he was in charge of Hitler’s personal protection squad (the Schutzstaffel. is the first thorough scholarly biography to appear. When the storm troopers started kicking over the traces. some of Himmler’s main character traits had emerged: his persistence in the pursuit of power and his flexibility in the means he chose to achieve it. Incapable of inflicting physical violence. like many of his generation. Interfering in the private lives of others provided another form of compensation for the emotional poverty of his own. by the German historian Peter Longerich.

a burgeoning educational and research apparatus and. In two of his main aims. and saw it through to the last. Nothing showed more clearly the amorality that lay at the heart of the great machine of terror and extermination which he had created. It proved impossible to enforce his requirements for Aryan racial purity in the SS.The Critics over the police forces in one part of the Reich after another. The extermination of six million Jews. as the war progressed. ebook £9. Ethnic Germans were moved into the Reich from the east. and one of gigantic proportions. Himmler used the enormous power this gave him to put into effect the first stages in a huge plan for the total racial reordering of Europe. Germany’s economic empire never achieved any coherence. too. in which the Aryan race originated in Tibet and. according to which the earth’s development was determined by the appearance and disappearance of moons and “ice planets” over geological time. Not everyone will agree with his view that a final decision on the extermination was not reached until as late as the early summer of 1942. But this book does succeed in showing convincingly how his cruel ambitions increased over time. he set up cultic sites and introduced runic inscriptions and rituals based on the cycles of the sun. Himmler told his subordinates. had Himmler not had a great deal of power and money and had he not been able to found research institutes or sponsor expeditions in order to prove his ideas. he required its men and their prospective spouses to be racially examined before getting married. In pursuit of his notion of “decency” and self-control in the SS. however. £25. “No part of the earth is more hostile to life. Building on what he imagined to be the practices of Germanic tribes in the Dark Ages. Himmler’s growing power was exercised within a steadily shrinking Reich. Group solidarity was to be cemented by the creation of a non-Christian pseudo-religious cult. He knew. The marriage ceremony for SS men was to include readings from Nietzsche and Hitler instead of the Bible. Resistance and partisan groups became impossible to defeat. “Germanic” populations in occupied countries such as Holland and Denmark were to be brought into the fold. rather than reflecting a firmly preconceived set of ideas. the mobilisation of forced labour and then the organisation of ethnic purification. in the lost continent of Atlantis. £12. Longerich sets the mass murder in its proper context of Himmler’s wider plans for the racial restructuring of Europe. further back still. adding to them the concentration camps. he succeeded. And it was Himmler who drove on and radicalised the extermination of Europe’s Jews.99). the Waffen-SS. Such bizarre theories might have remained harmless eccentricities. a rapidly expanding military force. to which PICTURE BOOK OF THE WEEK A minke whale surfaces in a small opening in pack ice in the Ross Sea. those species that do survive there flourish in “dramatic numbers” The lives of others: Himmler had a need to control all SS men had to belong. Yet his attempt to foist them on universities came to nothing. It was Himmler who intensified terror and repression within the Reich to such a degree in the final phases of the war that the Germans fought on to the end. in person. though even these were excrescences of his ideological tenets. Power such as this allowed him to indulge his whims. On the back of this grew a large economic empire. down to the last detail.” Attenborough writes. his other enterprises began to fall apart from 1942 onwards as Germany’s war fortunes began to decline. This image is taken from Frozen Planet: a World Beyond Imagination by Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz (BBC Books. was “a page of glory in our history that can never be written”. Resettlement plans were put on hold as its territorial grip on Europe weakened. which he designed. whose disappearance he ascribed to the history of the cosmos through the “world-ice theory”.99) GETTY IMAGES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 81 . and where inadequate food (“Tinned food with no fresh vegetables. At the outset of the war he combined all of these and more in the Reich Security Head Office.and ice-covered regions that lie around its two poles. Badly prepared”) was served. convinced – no doubt correctly – that he was putting Hitler’s wishes into effect. In an effort to ensure that the SS stayed a true racial elite. He consigned those officers who did not feed their men properly to a “House of Poor Nourishment”.” However. l Richard J Evans is Regius Professor of History and president of Wolfson College at Cambridge and is the author of “The Third Reich at War” (Penguin. In the summer of 1942 it seemed possible to Himmler that his ambition of creating an ethnically pure Greater Germanic Reich covering most of Europe was within reach. The book accompanies the BBC television series of the same name presented by David Attenborough. he issued individual bans on hunting. that it was a crime. therefore. interspersed with the occasional proper meal to show how it should be done. Poles were “liquidated” in huge numbers as a first step towards the extermination of up to 45 million Slavs and their replacement by German settlers. smoking and drinking. forcing them to provide family trees dating back to 1800. Himmler linked this pseudo-religion to his idiosyncratic view of world history. resettlement and mass murder. who provides a foreword. “than the snow.

th e c 50 ov % er of pr f ic e! Subscribe today! Subscribe today for £87 and receive a free book worth £30 Arguably by Christopher Hitchens For forty years.newstatesman.com/link/arg 4 Yes. Christopher Hitchens has been at the epicentre of the battle of letters in Britain and America.newstatesman. permanently influencing politics and literature on both sides of the Atlantic. London EC4Y 0AN Postcode Tel Email Please tick here if you wish to receive the New Statesman e-newsletter College/year Mobile Use our easy online subscription form at www. he has been a voice of reason amid the clamour. In an age of digital punditry and 24-hour hucksterism. This blockbuster volume is the most comprehensive collection of his writings to date. New Statesman Ltd. Offer ends 31 December 2011 www.com/link/arg Or call freephone 0800 731 8496 ARG . please start my New Statesman subscription for 52 issues as indicated below One year for just £87 – saving you £95 Students: one year for just £60 (please state college/year) co Overseas airmail – Europe £99/rest of the world £124 Title Address Name I enclose a cheque for £ payable to the New Statesman OR Please debit my MasterCard/Visa/Amex/Maestro card for £ Card no Valid to Security Code Please tick if you prefer not to receive promotional mailings from other companies Please tick if you wish to receive email messages from approved organisations Return to: Freepost RSEA-ERCC-GZTB.

leaving the Courtauld one evening. but to something summoned or imagined. he embarked on a lengthy period of self-imposed celibacy. From there. but there are other advantages to waiting until you’re 80. Ah well. Also couldn’t John just have written. Is this. Boris Johnson is a plonker”. and he details the various “inappropriate” encounters with teachers at school and the all-too-familiar. This is a memoir – and. Forget the Bible. Sewell has an appalling. If we’d stuck with Yahweh. elemental. . But God is neat. This is stuff that people have been trying to figure out for years! And the answers. Even so. Increasingly aware that his “wayward sexuality” was something to protect and hide. for that matter. who is? Then there’s the prose. better late than never. for she had chosen to study the centuries before 1550 to ensure a firm grounding for the Gothic art and architecture that was to be her special period”? Yet Sewell also offers consolation. God. The Pursuit of God (I’ll stick with love. it turns out. who knew. £12. the immaculate suit of fine greenish tweed marred only by the urine drippings of a man wearing boxer shorts and careless when emptying his bladder”. what I in middle age would inflict on pretty boys?” The man turned out to be Guy Burgess. the beautiful and loving but chaotic mother who “had as much sexual restraint as an alley cat”. 338pp. Read more by her for the New Statesman at: newstatesman. wheeling out the big guy as they battle it out on the bookshelves. meaning “to call or invoke”.The Critics Only the lonely Julie Myerson Outsider: Always Almost: Never Quite Brian Sewell Quartet. judging by their titles. Sewell’s brusque honesty is nothing if not infectious. “approaching my 80th year and old enough to be neither embarrassed nor ashamed. with the exception of all of his (mostly deceased) cohorts. the empty chattering of seduction and mephitic breath. l Julie Myerson’s most recent novel is “Then” (Jonathan Cape. that line has never made more sense. and despite all the explicit self-scrutiny.” As a literal opening to this column. The God Delusion (by our esteemed guest editor).com/writers/julie_myerson WORD GAMES Sophie Elmhirst “In the beginning was the Word. where he encountered the bullying and dishonest office politics that form the frequently turgid heart of this book. After that came National Service. I repeatedly found myself guiltily longing for the next bit of sex. No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. nomadic childhood: the father whose identity he did not discover until late in life. that one) and Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. It helps that it is concise. during which – in a chilling episode told entirely without melodrama or self-pity – Sewell was painfully raped in his own bed. Total freedom. Not the word when it was being God: I never understood how the word did that. Contemplating – and smelling – him.99). “God. I began to wonder. This week. but hell (whoops). premonitory flash-forward: “Were seedy clubs. . self-denying “queer” to promiscuous and unapologetic hedonist. yet there is little authorial attempt to explain or to evoke its atmosphere. But I found myself – by now caring only about this memoir’s honest. And having heard of few of the people Sewell constantly and gossipily namechecks (with the notable exception of Anthony Blunt). It makes sense of our frequent declamations – “for God’s sake”. thanks). However. from guthan. My own favourites are God According to God (pretty bold from the author. even artfully depicted. It is perhaps graceless to point it out. one of the most attractive aspects of this occasionally dry and unwieldy but ultimately courageous memoir is that its author seems deliciously aware of that advantage. to make a point. the anecdotage from the Courtauld and Christie’s may seem just as fascinating to those who trade in high art. no libel and the glee of having the last word – so many of the people you might want to write about are dead. roguishly. Here’s a selection for your delectation . This is about the word. and so I will be honest in return. the word is Germanic. Sewell may make his living by being rebarbatively outspoken. And yet. even toying with the priesthood. the reader gets little sense of a personal life. good for book titles. these vignettes rarely bring us closer to the people. as it turns out. A joyously naughty passage describes Robin. Sewell tells us what they were like but rarely makes them spring off the page. I thought it was time. I am neither equipped nor inclined to offer a sophisticated analysis of deism. linked to the Proto-Indo-European ghutóm. are nestled in a couple of 32-page picture books in the four-to-eight age range. kind and likeably straightforward protagonist – hoping fervently that the young Sewell’s glimpse of a future would prove untrue. a life – with two principal strands: the world of art history and the world of homosexual sex. and God was with God. I was fascinated and frequently moved to read about the author’s slow but brave progression from guilty. it’s not going to happen. £25 Explaining why at last he feels able to put his own life in print. the atheists and the believers. “With Jill this English year had forced a parting of the ways. But if you really want to get to grips with God. The big one. Also. I no longer feel the need for reticence”. you see. who “astonished us with his beauty and unconscious elegance. Naturally it crossed my mind that I’m not Sewell’s ideal reader – but then. I increasingly wondered: where are the emotional highs and passions of Sewell’s life (art and art history apart)? A seven-year relationship with a man called Claudio is referred to only glancingly. As I tramped on through the Christie’s mire. claim to answer some pretty fundamental questions – Where Does God Live? and What Is God Like? (both a snip on Amazon for less than a tenner). The sex is cleverly. from the root ghew. predictable experimentation at public school. “In the beginning was God. the word is “God”. But after he returned to the Courtauld to continue his degree in art history he found that student life was far too enticing. Sewell was convinced from an early age that he was “irrevocably queer”. I dug out a couple of children’s books which. As for the first strand. “in the name of God”. I like the way it unravels not to a tangible being. is picked up by a smelly-breathed man with egg on his tie who insists that he come for a milkshake. They’re all at it. bigamous) stepfather who gave the young Brian his surname and an “intense interest” in sex (he would frequently come into the young boy’s bedroom to masturbate. food droppings and slopping on my clothes. apparently unaware that he was being watched). to be fair. but here he turns the critical glare on himself. l God 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 83 . He begins with an account of his emotionally uneven. he went to work at Christie’s. a book about loneliness? The most chilling – and perceptive – insight comes when the author. and God was God”? Too repetitive? Anyway. I’m not sure the idea would have caught on. What do you do with a sentence such as. God the word is invoked for emphasis. When God Spoke to Me. Good for rhyming. its humanity. the art critic and historian Brian Sewell writes that. and the Word was God. and the Word was with God. forget the tomes. and the wellmeaning (but. I know that’s what you were hoping for.

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com/blogs/cultural-capital From Downton to the Doctor. wasn’t she? She was sexy”). a new version of Mary Norton’s novel about tiny people The Borrowers (BBC1. she liked to sing. lending the passenger the air of a soul being ferried across the Styx. starring Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham. Christmas Eve. 9pm). We never do find out what those Christmas presents were. She gazes inscrutably at the television (which was still yapping away in the corner when she was found) while the testimonies of those who knew her play on its flickering screen. Zawe Ashton plays Joyce in the largely wordless reconstructions and imaginative digressions. A pile of presents stood guard beside her remains: she had been wrapping them in front of the television at the time of her death. Rick Stein’s Spanish Christmas (BBC2. an ex-boyfriend. so in life: what sort of impression can a person have made on the world for no one to seek her out for almost three years? The film-maker Carol Morley tries to answer that poser. until finally he stops laughing and holds his big. The story hit the nationals and became a momentary marmalade-dropper but no one turned up much trace of Joyce’s history until Morley placed ads (“Did you know Joyce Vincent?”) and rounded up some of Joyce’s old friends. (It’s a running joke that no one could believe it when the sultry Joyce appeared on his arm. as did Joyce’s former fiancé. “broughtupsy” – she had manners. or whom they were for. The result. says Ryan Gilbey Dreams of a Life (12A) dir: Carol Morley Joyce Carol Vincent died alone. pretty as a picture in her “fun” Christmas sweater. there is a clutch of contradictions that reduces her again to a blur. 9pm). I do hope that detail hasn’t ruined your Christmas. someone remarks in the Caribbean parlance. Most haunting are the attempts to cast her as an eavesdropper at her own memorial. Lorraine’s LastMinute Christmas (BBC2. says it feels now like she is a figment of everyone’s imagination – like they’ve all made her up. She was. who is as jolly and moon-faced as a giant baby. 21 December. 10pm). The BBC could have screened it at 5pm on Christmas Day. Morley must have given a little inward cheer when she heard that. 7. But enough with this Grinching! There is lots to watch on telly this Christmas. That was in December 2003. An ex-lover insists: “She had no great dreams. represents a new kind of film: the speculative documentary. all dolled up in the back of a black cab. Captain Sensible! One of Joyce’s former housemates. Her four older sisters helped their Grenadian father raise her after the death of their Indian mother. Nigel’s Simple Christmas (BBC1. Gil Scott-Heron! Isaac Hayes! Nelson Mandela! Er. each one a gift to a picture so averse to the forensic or definitive. ’Cos I love you. childhood nostalgia triumphing over any trepidation I feel at the thought of the ubiquitous Stephen Fry playing Professor Mildeye. is unlikely to recommend dashing to Iceland for a bag of mixed vol-au-vents). When bailiffs broke down Joyce’s front door in 2006. much less get one’s hands on the last pack of jamón ibérico at Sainsbury’s (we can take it for granted that none of these shows features a creative use of frozen peas. The Vincent family declined to participate. the BBC’s commissioning editors apparently having no idea how hard it is to book an Ocado delivery in late December. so long as you are selective: by which I mean you will give Young James Herriot (BBC1. She was eventually discovered two and a half years later. Ray Winstone as Magwitch and Douglas Booth as Pip.) Martin uses laughter the way other people use full stops or ellipses. a likeness that brings a helpful transfusion of that film’s grimy London noir. this year’s TV schedules will come as a real boon. 22 December. ’Cos I would’ve helped. 18 December. Someone refers to her as a chameleon and there is a Zelig-like quality about her meetings with remarkable men. and Downton Abbey (ITV1.” That’s right: I love you. Ashton has the sloping. she had friends. Forgive me if I repeat myself but I think Rev is the comedy of our time. The chief witness is Martin. They stand in for all the details about Joyce Vincent that we have no right to know. and the grinding hubbub of city life in general. landlords and lovers to be interviewed on camera. 8pm). l Ryan Gilbey blogs on film every Tuesday at: newstatesman. in which Adam’s father-in-law comes to stay. which are sprinkled among the interviews. 8pm) .30pm). 9pm). For every detail that seems to bring Joyce sharply into focus. I will be kicking off with Rev (BBC2. . there wasn’t much of a body to speak of. Plastered on the vehicle’s side is Morley’s original appeal for information.” It’s like reading an obituary written on a Möbius strip. when no one in Britain is any less than 22 miles away from the nearest open chemist. and London. 22 December. the list of cookery programmes goes. a comedy drama starring Sue Johnston as a put-upon matriarch who wants to give her family – ugh! – the Christmas of a lifetime. hard facts might weigh it down. 21 December. 9pm) – does what it says on the tin – a wide berth and ignore altogether Lapland (BBC1. Christmas Day. On and on. Boxing Day. As in death. she FILM moved around. It gradually becomes apparent that it isn’t the intangible Joyce who is the subject of the picture so much as her friends. an ageing barrow-boy type with the hots for her (“Sexy. 7. Top of my list thereafter is BBC1’s heavenly sounding new adaptation of Great Expectations (27 December. .” Cut to another voice: “She had so many ambitions. Their absence is regrettable but not devastating.30pm). She worked. queenly face of Cathy Tyson in Mona Lisa. touching and brave in equal measure. Bubbles with your Bublé TELEVISION IMAGENET Ghostly presence: Joyce (Zawe Ashton) 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 85 t . 9pm). All that’s missing is a pithy Michael Mosley medical investigation into indigestion. bald head in his hands and sobs: “I wish she’d rung me. Dreams of a Life is more about what isn’t there and what can’t be known than what is and what can. Rachel Cooke rounds up Christmas TV For anyone foolhardy enough not to know by 20 December what they’ll be cooking for Christmas lunch.The Critics Known unknown A chilling fable of city life asks more questions than it answers. 23 December. Dreams of a Life. at the age of 38. Raymond Blanc’s Christmas Feast (BBC2. fish fingers or white sliced bread and that Lorraine Pascale. particularly when Joyce is driven around the city. no ambitions. because the tree will be huge and there will roast pheasant and a suitably batty plotline for dinner. Don’t we all? Inconsistencies crop up. in her north London flat above an unlovely retail complex called Shopping City. Rudiments of Joyce’s life emerge from the haze. She was born in west London.

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perhaps. He is mad and bad. the brains of the heist. For one thing. Alex Salmond. Issy and Mossy in these austere times. for instance. throwing himself over the stage in an effort to preserve his masterpiece. with Hugh Bonneville putting in a cameo as Pontius Pilate (this could be fun after three or four large Baileys). Let’s hope there will also be chestnuts roasting over an open fire. which opened in 1889. the major. the National Museum of Antiquities. Channel 5 has a new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s epic novel of first-century Palestine. Capaldi’s professor is a man who has won the battle to suppress his own nature and now fights a war against everyone else’s. The SNPG’s deep red sandstone exterior interrupts the otherwise uniform palette of George Street. propelled by character. is the supreme control freak. For him. Not especially ambitious but appropriate. unwelcoming vestibule. no horse. For all her and her colleagues attempts to “rethink the meaning of a potrait gallery in the 21st century”. Relocating the SNPG’s previous co-tenant. 9pm). Kalinsky admits. no apple cart.35pm) by Simon Nye. But inside. Christmas Eve. “basically chronological”. Felix and Murdo (28 December. however. the creator of Father Ted ploughed on and kept making studio audiences laugh with Black Books and The IT Crowd. Give or take the odd bout of remedial scrubbing. of course. is no longer just a coward but a coward who would like. 9. His words pour like honey but from a mouth fixed in a grimace. Nicola Kalinsky. Now. garbed in an intellectual’s overlong scarf – which is. even his tea. which visitors to the SNPG in its previous incarnation remember as a somewhat gloomy. Peter Capaldi. which he takes with a “suspicion” of sugar. all of them top-lit and flooded with natural light. the first-floor murals and mosaic floor-tiles have all been cleaned. But perhaps the most striking interventions of all have occurred in the great hall. Farce poetica NOTES IN THE MARGIN Great Scots Robert Rowand Anderson’s magnificent Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG).30pm) but I will not be joining you. shows for those who worry about Christmas brain rot. more than in the film. but does not dare.30pm) – though rumours that Jeremy Paxman will front it with foam antlers on his head are sadly unfounded. I like the sound of The Art of the Night on BBC4 (21 December. using Mrs Wilberforce as the crooks’ unwitting bagman and alibi is the final flourish of genius. It’s set in 1938. I am child-free and thus have no need to console myself with the sight of sprogs even less well behaved than my own. 9pm). of course it’s on: Christmas Day at 7pm on BBC1. relies on the tension between a controlling personality and anarchy and Linehan’s insight was to realise that Professor Marcus. 10. which has the potential to be hysterical. visit: nationalgalleries. What else? For those who miss Val Doonican – and who doesn’t? – ITV1 is screening the schmaltz-fest Michael Bublé: Home for Christmas (18 December. Georgian rigour of Edinburgh’s New Town. William Rose. which now comprises nearly 900 works (almost double the number on display before the renovation). I’m not sure I do. in which Amanda Vickery meets the fans (the bonnet-wearers of Texas sound like fun) and Jane Austen: the Unseen Portrait (BBC2. for a country anxious to assert its distinctive identity. Special guest star: Gary Barlow.org/portraitgallery BBC PICTURES No turkey: Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander in Rev 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 87 t . from Robert Burns to Susan Boyle. the gallery has recently undergone a major transformation overseen by the Glasgowbased architectural practice Page\Park. starring Waldemar Januszczak and paintings by Rembrandt. to wear women’s dresses. this Ladykillers certainly creates enough goodwill in the theatre to make the evening appear a genuine treat. the face that the SNPG presents to this grand thoroughfare hasn’t changed much in over 120 years. University Challenge runs on eight nights over the holidays on BBC2 (from 19 December. The gangs’ personalities are much more fleshed out. His resuscitation is about eight-tenths successful and if the laughs from his latest live audiences never quite reach hysteria. 7.The Critics You may want to watch Outnumbered (BBC1. The film is surprisingly unfocused – its writer. Farce. his noose – is exceptional as the professor. is the saviour of studio-based situation comedy on television. played in the movie by Alec Guinness. and a processional frieze depicting figures from Scottish history restored to something like its former glory. starring Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller as Edwardian toffs. It is. 9pm). the action is confined to the good widow Wilberforce’s rambling King’s Cross house. What’s that? Doctor Who? Yes. It is fitting that he should seek to liberate on to the stage an old Ealing comedy about a group of bank robbers brought down by a sweet old woman from unwatched box sets and exaggerated cineaste deference. 23 December. Hopper and others – and I will be unable to resist The Many Lovers of Jane Austen (BBC2. it’s so bloody irritating. who has turned Alexander Mackendrick’s 1955 film The Ladykillers into a West End farce. Finally. London W1 Graham Linehan. As laughter tracks went out of fashion and the mock documentary style took over. to the nearby National Museum of Scotland has allowed the creation of a continuous suite of galleries on the upper floor. Boxing Day. The vaulted ceiling of this triple-height space. the hang is. I think my work here is done. and Absolutely Fabulous returns to BBC1 (Christmas Day. Much the same might be said of the collection itself. 10pm). For another. Ben Hur (28 December. a man who compares his plans for the heist to art. l Jonathan Derbyshire For more information. describes in the gallery’s press release as a celebration of “well-known Scots from throughout the ages”. one of the New Town’s main arteries. literally dreamed the plot – and Linehan has done much to tighten its shots. describes the frieze as a “great pageant of [Scottish] history”. The SNPG’s chief curator and deputy director. guest stars Clare Skinner and Alexander Armstrong and the doctor arrives by climbing down a chimney. Instead. if you still feel up to jokes about Bolly. l THEATRE t Andrew Billen revels in a high-spirited Ealing comedy revival The Ladykillers Gielgud Theatre. Everything he does is infused with menace. is a Victorian arts and crafts interloper amid the neoclassical. It’s what the Scottish First Minister. 9pm). in which Paula Byrne tries to discover whether she has found an unknown likeness of the novelist. Gone are the outside diversions: no Frankie Howerd. Channel 4 has a new sitcom. 9pm).

gamely refusing to upstage Capaldi) with poor idiomatic English and a reluctance to generate the necessary lies. doubtless. “No callers. a delight to see Capaldi enjoying himself so much. 29 December. on press night.com/writers/andrew_billen 88 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 REX FEATURES . live. 6am).” goes the blurb. that is a structural weakness of the story. We will all be completely under the influence of Dickens until the arrival of his bicentenary in February but one of the most powerful programmes about the man thus far is The Tale of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (Radio 4. not on form). his audience must appreciate that he is a “controversial figure in modern music” and the following work will be “difficult”. As the band’s conductor and composer. however. is the widow and Marcia Warren replicates Katie Johnson’s performance exactly. unnecessary and Mrs Wilberforce’s caged and unseen parrot repeatedly fails to amuse. “they put aside all their differences for a night to be united in musical harmony!” The Parliament Choir’s first carol concert to be aired in public promises readings by the Labour leader. however. 11. the design faults will matter less. in any case. Ed Miliband.30am). “tales from the riverbank” call-in show Fisherman’s Blues (Christmas Day. leaving the stage barer and barer.” Arthur told me recently. It’s a show that comprehends the distilled lyricism of Dickens’s common speech (and the despair expressed through both sense and a sense of beauty in it). even if. It is. How’s that?” The prof’s foil. leaning rather too predictably on Morecambe and Wise. the professor manufactures a brilliant excuse for their inevitable cacophony. The second act systematically does away with the elements the professor is so needy to control so there is less and less to enjoy. Those less keen to probe the outer limits of tedium might welcome the following alternatives: a long edition of Words and Music (Radio 3. 6pm). providing so many opportunities for ad libs that I bet they keep it unscrewed. 6. The director Sean Foley had not quite yet drilled his company into the precision-timing that farce requires but when that comes. it’s David Jason presenting “classic moments from an array of British Christmas radio programmes past and present” (David Jason’s Comedy Christmas. John Bercow. The old lady is a controlling personality also.The Critics But the war cannot be won. a door knob fell off. “I always plan for the worst. for his lieutenants are hopeless: not just the lovely James Fleet’s major but an idiot bruiser who cannot even remember his alias (Clive Rowe. A final ingenuity depicting the prof’s end makes up for this. This year. from the dull to the daft Last year’s BBC Christmas cosy was Colin Firth editing Today and a documentary about the Morris Minor. I'll take some angling-related Magic moments Pulling strings: Peter Capaldi (right) in The Ladykillers Michael Taylor’s revolving set is wonderful to scrutinise. Time. “From lords and ladies to MP’s and staff. no emailers – and I’m usually surprised to find a plethora of all three. and the Speaker of the House. with music from Rachmaninov. RADIO t Antonia Quirke on the best of Christmas listening. this is no problem. for the deaths above the railway station are scary and vivid. In a scene of Linehan’s devising. a cockney lad addicted to pills (a more than adequate Stephen Wright) and a cynical Italian (Ben Miller. If only it were not too late for us to see Alec Guinness’s take on Malcolm Tucker. über-Fungusly. Christmas Day. Onstage. Taxed with finding an excuse for his thievery. to switch to Planet Rock for a comforting scan of its seasonal rolling-rock stories (“A second Metallica track leaks! ‘Hate Train’ was also seemingly recorded during the Death Magnetic sessions!”) Only a fool would miss Keith Arthur on TalkSport with a particularly Fungus the Bogeyman edition of his peerless. in part. Wild Bells”) and Charles Dickens (“The Chimes”). Still. Philip Feeney. needs a major overhaul. The evening never gets as funny as this again and. when the gang is forced to play for Mrs Wilberforce’s elderly friends. outraged when her good opinion of the genteel lodger. The play reaches a glorious climax just before the “intermission”. In the film. Lou announces: “I run an orphanage in Romania. in which the crime writer Frances Fyfield looks at original manuscript pages held by the Victoria and Albert Museum and contemplates his “frantic handwriting and ferocious self-editing”.30pm) on the theme of bells. Taylor’s solution for showing the robbery – little cars running up the outside of the house – is. who has persuaded her his friends are members of an amateur string quintet. 6pm). Radio 2. he intones before they begin. Grieg and readings from Tennyson (“Ring Out. Christmas Day. for one by one the gangsters immolate themselves. they go for little. Pete Seeger. l Andrew Billen is a staff writer at the Times newstatesman. Classic FM keenly attempts to recreate a sort of Fezziwig’s dance with the Parliament Choir Concert (Christmas Eve. no texters.

What aroused my scorn was the small charity collecting envelope she had put beside our plates that featured – if my memory serves me – a photograph of some Somali starvelings. When roly-poly Uncle Henry. rather than a whimper. Things get said on this station that perilously skirt hippiedom but divert joyously from what a drag everything is: “Emotions are creatures of the jungle. . the parliament building rises up. could be more calculated to ruin a feast than the REX FEATURES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 89 . bread sauce. or both. The reasons for this are obvious: the neglect of appropriate sufficiency agriculture by governments. But as ever. Makes everything magical. Here. you look awfully malnourished. Roly poly According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s statistics. you realise that someone’s been playing live in the studio all this time. Antarctica (Anetstation. . because if there’s one thing writing about food confirms me in. tune in at any moment to Net Station.com/writers/antonia_quirke REAL MEALS Fast for Christmas. Why not join them? I hold no brief for tokenistic charity efforts designed to make the moneyed feel better about their status but fasting is another matter: it clears the mind and concentrates the thoughts on both the spiritual verities and the hard realities of life. Canberra. despite all the love-bombing of Bono. a little surprise. Panic.” l newstatesman. Even if it’s mine. But remember: sometimes. Up the sprout My late stepmother once served up a Christmas dinner at the picnic site on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. why not greet them at the door saying. the most significant impediment to Tiny Tim gorging himself on goose are the Scrooges of this world. the sort we get down my way. here we all are – this is the last Real Meals of 2011 and I for one would like to go out with a bang. presence – even as representations – of these ghosts! Now I see that her reasoning – whether conscious or not – was perfect: Christmas dinner is a meal fit only for ruining. Nothing. any old shit will do. Sir Bob.” Final cast-iron tip: for nightmare-minimisation purposes. Snow Hill Island. “My. unfortunately there is also more inequality. Or angling-related music. my stepmother doled out turkey. the current world economic crisis and rising food prices. It’s about time the fish had a voice. Possibly the architect’s idea was to suggest that the legislature needed injecting with a hefty dose of common sense. which is why around one-in-seven of the human family will be tucking into bugger-all on 25 December. it’s my ever-lurking manorexia. Allow me to sell you an electric chair. world innutrition levels have increased substantially since the mid-1990s. It’s very effective against malnutrition as well – at least. there were in 2010 925 million people in the world suffering from innutrition. anyway. Frankly. (“I've met someone else. so why not cut to the chase. Actually. people. Innutrition is the preferred term for starving nowadays since the ambit of malnutrition has been expanded to include the obese as well as the meagre. And if it offends you to think of all the bellies swollen with air.com/ writers/will_self “Madam” By Christopher Logue (1926-2011) Madam I have sold you an electric plug an electric torch an electric blanket an electric bell an electric cooker an electric kettle an electric fan an electric iron an electric drier an electric mixer an electric washer an electric knife an electric clock an electric fire an electric toothbrush an electric razor an electric teapot an electric eye and electric light. I do feel that I cruelly misjudged her on that occasion. you might well say. sprouts . a queer pre-postmodernist spaceship of a structure surmounted by what appears to be a giant hypodermic syringe. In 44 degree heat. we get a little help. a little extra. it’s that they exist to satisfy the hunger of the masses. My charming editor at the Statesman suggested that I might like to write something “Christmassy” but why would I want to do that? I made my feelings about Christmas dinner perfectly clear in this column at about this time two years ago and they haven’t changed one jot during the intervening months. I’m a good deal more likely to become a mendicant. the better something will taste and. or irony. when you’re starving. when it’s least expected. that makes us give thanks. . and on the far shore. instability and in the past three years a huge upsurge in refugees. long pause. perpetually low-level air of the dumpee. and with the benefit of 20 years hindsight. so long as it has “US food aid programme” stencilled on it. rather than to stimulate the jaded palates of the privileged few – it’s an axiom of gastronomy that the hungrier you are. roast potatoes. . His name is Shackleton and he’s a script consultant at the penguin rookery”). There’s more food being produced worldwide than a decade ago.com) a non-commercial internet outfit with a lovely.” The facts are that. I withered at her. I want you to picture the scene: the lake is an artificial one in the middle of the Australian federal capital. God love her. I think we can all benefit from this new form of usage over the festive season. No wonder all serious religions include it as a key part of their practice. l newstatesman. or blubbery Auntie Roberta wallows along. and they devour. then I suggest you look away now and get back to pickling your nuts. who girdle the earth with the political equivalent of a gastric band so that not enough food reaches southern bellies.The Critics material to read. you’d better come in . guitar music solos stop and after a long. I like to review fast food outlets rather than fancy restaurants because if there’s one virtue they have. Actually. Tony “Granita” Blair and the rest. I’m about as likely to set out on the highways and byways of Albion as a sannyasin as I am to begin at the age of 50 rhapsodising about a meal I’ve never ever enjoyed or even seen the point of. it might do you good Will Self Well.

but for me it’s a little time consuming. I’m going to slowly enjoy transferring them piece by piece gradually archiving my collection. e Thfect Per ft! Gi VOTED ‘BEST BUY’ BY GRAMOPHONE MAGAZINE. WHAT HI-FI & SUNDAY TIMES “Many of my personal recordings in my collection are old and quite rare” For example. I’m not trying to load everything in one go. It’s wonderful to have all of these memories on CD. goes up to 320 and then beyond that you can record uncompressed. If I had to unlock my piano. To order visit www. what I was really after from the Brennan was being able to archive a lot of my own music. Well I do. It’s of its time and very charming. as well as record from CD. These are exactly the sort of things I’m recording on to the Brennan. “Digital break up is as irritating as dandruff” An MP3 player typically records at 128 kilobits. walk through a few hoops and put a password in before playing. Find the music you want to hear in SECONDS Combines tracks in ways you would never dream of “I’ve got drawers full of cassettes. I’m looking forward to distilling the best of these blues records on to my Brennan. you don’t want to then degrade it again when you store it. some people have asked me why I don’t just have an MP3 player. This also includes some 78 recordings I have and enjoy listening to on shellac. Downloading from the Internet isn’t bad. “It’s important for me not to forget the music that has touched me over the years” It doesn’t really matter if a piece of music is 5 minutes old or 500 years old. makes it the perfect machine for his precious and unique music collection.brennan. My Brennan is enabling me to reconnect with a lot of my old music that did just that. so I definitely needed a Brennan” Apart from recording quality. spread jam on them and they would still work perfectly well” It turned out this was not the case. but I’ve got bucket loads of CD’s. the ability of the Brennan JB7 to store. it would be rather long winded and I’m not sure I could be bothered. If you transfer something from one medium to another and then record it on to a CD. When making the film about him I put all his incidental music on to one CD. I trawl through a lot of music and I’m constantly at the song face. boxes full of CDs and 28 feet of vinyl records. browse and play up to 5000 CDs* at the touch of a button. I also have things like a CD of myself and Willie Dixon. but if I want to archive something important I’ll use the Brennan. whereas the Brennan starts at 192. Since getting my Brennan. I made a film about the music of the film and TV composer Edwin Astley. Built-in hard drive – loading each CD takes JUST 3 . even though he owns an MP3 player. The Brennan is a great way of distilling it all down to be able to enjoy it. but as we know. they’re quite fragile and have a limited life span. particularly the ones that you record yourself. the greatest blues composer of all time. The other day somebody sent me a CD of me doing a solo show in Boston in 1981. When you hear it if it has the effect of lifting your human spirit then its done its job. I always want the easiest and fastest way to do something.uk Full Money-Back Guarantee .A D V E R T I S E M E N T “MP3 player or a Brennan? I’ll have both thanks” says Jools Holland In a recent interview Jools reveals that. tape or vinyl at the very highest quality. It is the sort of thing you couldn’t get anywhere. You might have noticed that some CD’s have the habit of not working. in New York together in the 1980’s. not just as a back up but so I can listen to them whenever I want without having to search for them.co. On my Radio 2 show. One simple button will play your entire collection at random *See copyright message on the Brennan website brennan ONLY AVAILABLE DIRECT. When making it his family sent me some reel-to-reel tapes of his incidental music from films and dramas. yards of tapes and records and I wanted to record and listen to them at the highest quality. I play a lot of blues and roots records.4 MINUTES Album and track names are automatically added “When CDs came out we all assumed you could use them as a Frisbee. My MP3 player is very handy to take on tour or on holiday.

Henry IV is full of unrepentant tippling. Pepys boasted about the array of drink in his cellar as being more than any of his friends “ever had of his own at one time”. it’s that we used to be so much better at it. the brandy will be around 40). men”. if you can’t annoy somebody. meanwhile. as Kingsley C Amis – no slouch on the alcohol front – once said. and probably to yours. “strongish beer . What with cold weather. aflush with Yuletide altruism. most of us do overdo it. We go out more. so a paean to excessive drinking is unlikely to please some people. there seems little reason. guzzle free refreshment at office parties and then. Grab your goblet It is true that most apostles of excessive drinking. to curb our thirst. Still. I am a five foot two female with a very hard head. my adding to them would be as surplus to requirements as another present under the tree. We live in hypocritical times. too? And. and will eschew Christmas pudding (horrid stuff) in favour of a Castelnau de Suduiraut 2009 Sauternes. faced with that fearsome battalion. shouldn’t we apply them to ourselves. in the best sense of the term. just after. The odd thing about the British is not that we drink too much. You’re all awash with those suggestions. let’s accentuate the positive. either). and that LARS BORGES/ GETTY IMAGES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 91 . . the mercy needn’t be all that mild. and drink critics pontificate on the wines that best lubricate overcooked turkey. Isn’t it time to shout hosanna and raise the 27th glass? l Next week: Jason Cowley on wine Wafer-thin mint not provided: this is not the time of year for moderation. excessive socialising and the prospect of a few days off. in disproportionate quantities. when trees are decked and carols sung. some kind soul. and I’ve always been more of a Cavalier. merely condemning hypocrisy. once we have found the tipple that works for us. for the modern gourmand of either sex. So I shall turn my attention to a matter close to my heart. will surely remove the goblet from your grasp. Let’s be clear as vodka here. have been men – often men not especially keen on women (the best-known exception is probably Dorothy Parker. right into the 20th century. . We aren’t mealy-mouthed in any other sense at this time of year. culminating in Falstaff’s exuberant claim that no amount of bravery or education is worth anything without sherry to fire it up. while the will must be good (I am not advocating drinking bad booze in any quantity). So I am reclaiming fine drinking. but those who haven’t invested in my years of intensive training need not fear: if you become irritating. George Saintsbury acknowledges that beer with breakfast is a bad idea. will start 25 December with Philipponnat Grand Blanc 2004 champagne. But then. of course. And the fact is. Then cocktails: a good Martini is the closest to angel song that I am ever likely to get. a big Rhône red or a fine Armagnac are all excellent adjuncts to Christmas and not one of them is under 14 per cent (in fact. although you may not be willing to admit it: the licence Christmas offers to drink too much.Food | Drink | Competitions | Columns Back Pages the reason Prince Hal will become a great king is that he drinks such a lot of it. Everything in moderation. move on to Finca Allende’s 2008 white Rioja with my turkey. and. there’s little point in writing. A good Manzanilla. is probatum of many choice scholars. particularly where tippling is concerned DRINK Shout hosanna and raise the 27th glass Nina Caplan hristmas – a time of inviolate traditions. good sportsmen. but adds that. This is the time of year for goodwill and mercy mild. I. but that applies to moderation itself: forbearance is a very Puritan virtue. reach for the nearest loaded glass. though she didn’t like women much. In his 1920 Notes on a Cellar-Book. I am not praising drunkenness. the family.

4) 35 Stopping for dinner at French city is more pleasant (5) 37 Brown’s friend eats out (4) 39 *Trees move spasmodically (5. Shakespeare and Disney to name a few.9. but all other clues are normal.4m 11a House of Reeves Online 1c Beyoncé’s pregnancy 2a Occupy 3c Samuel L Jackson 4b 43 per cent 5d Lady Gaga Arts 1b Lars von Trier 2d Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark 3a Ahmed Basiony 4a John Cleese 5d $400m Television 1c Scooby-Doo 2c Glasgow 3a Australia 4b Highclere Castle 5a Alastair Campbell 6c Three weeks Media 1a A bedsheet 2b Anti-Muslim propaganda 3d GQ 4b Andrew Marr 5d 168 6b Liz Jones Books 1c P D James 2d 80 3a Martin Amis 4b Harper Lee Sport 1c He jumped off a ferry in Auckland 2d Yuvraj Singh 3a Fifa Quotes 1c Ed Miliband 2b In “all possible ways” 3b Hillsborough victims’ relatives 4a Rowan Williams 5d Steve Jobs l This week’s solutions will be published in the next issue of the NS dated 2 January 2012 92 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 9 8 13 12 17 18 19 14 15 16 Across 1/10 *Appalling parts of this scam follow a frightener (5.4) 11 Spare parts refurbished at brand new plant (9) 12 *Clamour to get right of reply (4) 13 *Troops on a manoeuvre (7) 14 Young bird makes easy sport with gun (4-6) 17 Sing wordlessly sounding like a tellytubby (2-2) 19 Examinations in choral singing(5) 20 Saved again from river by the sea (8) 23 Subtle alteration to rear extension (6) 25 Spike with two parts projecting (5) 26 *Derisory address once recalled (6) 27 *Motorway to South Africa has right turn (6) 29 Grave message to cricket side in Yorkshire (5) 31 Heading off embrace from one’s partner (6) 32 *A small thing to put up with (4.3) 40Youngster in South Africa assists divers (5) 41 Made cleaner – as were many early TV shows (5) 42 Pupil who gets trade union support (5) 44 Further blacken king under restraint (2-3) Answers to crossword of 12 December 2011 Across 1) Strauss 5) Borodin 9) Hosts 10) Record bid 11) Molotov 12) Liszt 13) Its 15) Nielsen 17) Aye-aye 18) Ski 20) Dvorak 22) Nonagon 25) Yet 26) Ravel 27) Smetana 30) Hole-in-one 31) Grieg 32) Shingle 33) Surfeit Down 1) Schumann 2) Resolve 3) Upset 4) Stravinsky 5) Bach 6) Rural dean 7) Debussy 8) Nudity 14) Saint-Saëns 16) Strolling 19) Uncaught 21) Vivaldi 23) Granite 24) Brahms 28) Elgar 29) Sole QUIZ ANSWERS Politics 1c Cat 2b “Easy meat” 3c A kitten 4a Angela Eagle 5c St James’s Park 6d Holding golliwog dolls 7d David Willetts 8c “Personal issues” International affairs 1c “Too effeminate” 2b “Oops” 3b Neptune Spear 4c Ruby 5d Salmon 6a Neil Kinnock 7b Platform cleaner 8d Frozen pizza 9c Salva Kiir 10d Liberation 11b Nigella Lawson Home affairs 1a A C Grayling 2a “Sod the Wedding – It’s a Day Off” 3c 50 per cent 4a Charlie Gilmore 5c Merton 6b £482m 7a AssureDNA 8c Leeds Metropolitan 9d Swan 10c £6.2.5) 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 23 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 Down 1 Moors here once but soon to move to Salford Quays (7) 2 I have no room to study river creature (5) 3 *Union gets drink dispenser (9) 4 Flower not confined to eastern parts of Indonesia (7) 5 *This one or another version? (9) 6 *One is caught up in Iran upheaval (5) 7 Met to revamp iconic image (5) 8 *He was in doubt shortly after opening of academy (5) 9 Dead places with unfinished semierected new development (10) 15 Consider 29 and Leeds for instance (3) 16 Dump last of fertiliser in the river (3) 18 Risk assessor rescued company from unrestrained autocracy (7) 20 *American president not having any inauguration! (5) 21 Homer’s exclamation at both ends of the scale (3) 22 He gets a role in reworking opening (3-4) 24 Lacking pictures around at home is unbelievable (10) 25 Implement stored in spare room (5) 28 Pick-up language (3) 30 Broad believer in his patent mixture (9) 31 Plan to get very large pastries to rise (9) 33 Take deliveries for tobacco company (3) 34 Auntie regularly sees a cuckoo (3) 36 Illness Sebastian about to have to suffer when returning (7) 38 Almost a model village as found at the seaside (4.Back Pages THE NS CHRISTMAS PRIZE CROSSWORD BY OTTERDEN: THREESOMES Solutions to the 15 clues marked * refer to just one member of a closely linked group of three fictitious characters. These solutions are not otherwise defined. derived from a range including Greek mythology.5) 43 Transport to take one into slavery (7) 45 Sacred cow could be covered by prize bull (4) 46 *Offence got substantially reduced after compassion expressed (5-4) 47 *Foreign derivation does not concern editor (4) 48 *Mean tricks lacked resolve (11.

thank you. who beat his brother Harry by 13. In 1973 he kept a diary of his political year. a lovely village on the east coast of the island. because nobody much turned up. where the headmaster was the future Tory MP Rhodes Boyson. l Stephen Brasher 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 93 . I am a cricket nut – more cricket please. What made you start? I was looking for some political analysis and depth that I wasn’t seeing in the broadsheets. Labour has forgotten that it was electable without needing to betray its principles and roots. Portia SimpsonMiller (the country’s first female prime minister in 2006-2007) of the People’s National Party will be hoping to defeat the current PM. then the main features. And on 23 December he noted that there was a day of adjournment debates but. On 19 December he went to the carol service at Highbury Grove School. Which politicians would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? Thatcher and Blair. currently represented by Labor’s Warren Snowdon. How do you read yours? Late at night after my girls are tucked up in bed. Andrew Holness of the Jamaica Labour Party. . Who’s your favourite NS blogger? I see quite enough of computer screens at work. Where do you live? Laxey. What pages do you flick to first? Political columns. Link the following personages with the place/places in their baronial title. The second is one of the Line Islands. l THE RETURNING OFFICER Crackers There are two Christmas islands.” Jamaica goes to the polls on 29 December. “It was a good chance to do a spot of belated Christmas shopping.Back Pages THE NS CHRISTMAS PUZZLES BY OTTERDEN (SOLUTIONS ON PAGE 95) Elevated titles Senior politicians and other figures who are elevated to the Lords are given titles embodying place names of their choice. but rarely with any pleasure. The New Statesman is . .556 votes to 12. What would you like to see more of in the NS? Africa and Latin America seem to be off your radar. Do you vote? Always. One is a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean and for electoral purposes is part of the Lingiari division of the Australian parliament. In 2003 the presidency was won by Anote Tong. John Grant was MP for Islington East/Central (1970-83) leaving Labour for the SDP in 1981.457. Is the NS bug in the family? I’ve given a couple of gift subscriptions. FirstFOTL SecondDM CEOTThirdK TFirstPOKHTFourth FifthC IOTSixthH Seventh-DA EighthWOTW BNinthS SOTenthA ATeleventhH OTTwelfthDOC FTThirteenth TFourteenthOJ-BD O-TFifteenthLOTA AL-SixteenthAP SOTSeventeenthD TEighteenthAIP SYATNineteethH TwentiethCF Twenty-firstBP SUBSCRIBER OF THE WEEK Andy Read What do you do? I’m director of fisheries for the Isle of Man government. Who would you put on the cover of the NS? John Smith. PEERS created (from 1970 on) Emanuel Shinwell Quintin Hogg (Hailsham) Laurence Olivier George Brown Victor Feather Lew Grade Bernard Delfont Benjamin Britten Harold Wilson Jo Grimond Len Murray James Callaghan Roy Jenkins Margaret Thatcher Jeffrey Archer Richard Attenborough Colin Cowdrey Betty Boothroyd Michael Heseltine Philip Gould Neil Kinnock Peter Mandelson Michael Howard PLACES (in alphabetical order) Aldeburgh Bedwellty Bradford Brighton Brookwood Cardiff Easington Elstree Epping Forest/Telford Firth Foy/Hartlepool Hillhead/Pontypool Jevington Kesteven Lympne Richmond-upon-Thames Rievaulx/Kirklees Sandwell St Marylebone/Herstmonceux Stepney Thenford Tonbridge Weston-super-Mare/Mark Dingbats The positional make-up of the material in each box leads to a seasonal word. A welcome injection of ideas and information (usually!). How long have you been a subscriber? Since 1996. part of the Republic of Kiribati. called Member of Parliament. phrase or message (except 4 which points to the messenger) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 21 Positions Discover a title or phrase from the initial letters and the ordinal number given.

Printed by BGP Ltd. Quarterly/half-yearly rates at pro-rata.economics editor of the BBC’s Newsnight www. Rest of world Airmail: £165 (£230). tel: +44 (0)1869 363364.uk. our competitions and reader offers are accepted solely subject to our terms and conditions: details available on request or on our website. Syndication/Permissions/Archive: Email: Permissions@newstatesman.newstatesman.com/link/pen or call freephone 0800 7318496 *for the first 20 subscriptions New Statesman Vol 140 No 5084.Classified 12WEEKS FOR JUST £12 “Penny is reinventing the language of dissent. 5085 Please note that all submissions to the letters page.London EC4Y 0BS. USA $275 ($365). Canada $420 ($455). causing apoplexy among the old men in cardigans who run the British blogosphere” Paul Mason. Distribution by Comag. go online at: 94 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 . New Statesman (ISSN 1364-7431) is published weekly by New Statesman Ltd. Registered as a newspaper in the UK and USA Start your trial subscription today. be debited at the standard rate.co. ISSN 1364-7431 USPS 382260 Subscription Rates: (institutional rates in brackets): UK £120 (£145). UK. 7 Carmelite Street. Subscribers paying by direct debit will. Airmail Europe (inc Irish Republic) £135/€200 (£180/€220). after any initial offer.

This week’s winners Well done. There’s a whole bunch of tents on the meadow. l) On the Twelfth Day of Christmas. h) Eighth Wonder of the World. with the Tesco vouchers going. what a left-leanin’ day. to Brian D Allingham for added oomph. in addition. Philip GouldBrookwood. rain. q) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.uk In association with REX FEATURES 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 95 . Chorus Occupation all the winter Through wind. c) Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Chorus All the papers are off’ring us money. Jeffrey Archer-Weston-superMare/Mark. d) The First Part of King Henry the Fourth (first folio title). Victor FeatherBradford. What a Beautiful Protest There’s a bright yellow tent on the meadow. g) Seventh-Day Adventist. And the Daily Mail says we are commies and reds. Colin CowdreyTonbridge. a very Happy Christmas to you all – and please look out for the Top Ten winners of 2011. We’ve urged the clergy to read Marx via needle-eye and dromedary But they just get frocked up. Chorus Brian D Allingham We Occupy.Back Pages THE NS COMPETITION Answers to puzzles from page 93 No 4206 Set by Brendan O’Byrne We wanted lyrics from “Occupy: the Musical”. b) Second degree murder. Lew Grade-Elstree. Benjamin Britten-Aldeburgh. Until the day the City’s shot and Cleggeron is crossified We’ll squat here in St Paul’s and behind Church of England crosses hide. And he thinks that he’s floating clear up to the sky.co. Oh. we occupy Fair shares for all. Garry Conille. t) Twentieth Century Fox. We Occupy Camps are settin’ up all over In London in New York and in Rome Though the politicians mutter Want to sweep us in the gutter We tell ’em we ’aint going home Chorus: We occupy. intoning yet more Deuteronomy. Bernard Delfont-Stepney. please. Margaret Thatcher-Kesteven. And what we are asking is only what’s just. They don’t turn their heads as we sneak home to bed. Michael Howard-Lympne Christmas Dingbats 1) Noel 2) Turkey leftovers 3) Boxing Day 4) New Statesman 5) The Seasons Greetings 6) Puss in Boots 7) Reindeer 8) Fairy on the tree 9) Peace on Earth 10) Midnight Mass 11) Christmas Broadcast 12) Opening presents 21 positions a) First foot on the ladder. George BrownJevington. j) Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. as he lays the first stone of the industrial park: “Is that oil I see down there? Prepare for an invasion!” (Peter Wilkening) Runner-up Clinton: “OK. e) Fifth column. Pats on backs all round! £25 to the winners. which will be published some time in January . or email to: comp@newstatesman. so that’s what happened to Papa Doc!” (Phil Lee) Max 20 words by 29 December on a postcard. Chorus: Oh. Jo Grimond-Firth. Oh. eg.uk No more banks to save by bailin’ Gravy trains we want de-railin’ Sky-high salaries will vanish And dodgy hedge funds banish. The brokers are bust and the system will rust. Harold Wilson-Rievaulx/ Kirklees. ice and sleet and snow Bonuses we swear to batter Stop the fat cats getting fatter Capitalists have got to go. k) At the eleventh hour. Len Murray-Epping Forest/Telford. m) Friday the Thirteenth. Max 125 words by 5 January comp@newstatesman. And the Murdochs – they don’t think it’s funny. James Callaghan-Cardiff. f) Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Edward Lear. Laurence OlivierBrighton. We’d sooner squat in banks but they won’t let us on their property And so we sit pontificating on the weak economy.co. All the clergy are puzzled and flurried And the MPs are def’nitely worried. Neil KinnockBedwellty. Adrian Fry The next challenge No 4209 Set by Gavin Ross After the outcry over Clarkson’s “joke”. We seek social improvement ’cos the status quo has ossified. . o) O-the fifteenth letter of the alphabet. what a beautiful Protest. our battle cry CAPTION OF THE WEEK Elevated titles Emanuel Shinwell-Easington. s) See you at the Nineteenth hole. And finally. we want complaints about famous humorists of the past. p) Abraham Lincoln Sixteenth American President. Thomas Hood. Betty BoothroydSandwell. u) Twenty-first birthday party What was the former Mr Katie Price trying to convey to the mysterious Mayor? WINNER 05/12 Bill Clinton to Haiti’s PM. r) 1920The Eighteenth Amendment introduced prohibition. Feste. I’ve got a self-righteous feelin’ We’ll change the world this way. Quintin Hogg-St Marylebone/ Herstmonceux. Peter MandelsonFoy/ Hartlepool. Lisbeth Rake Squatters’ Song We are the very model of the movement you call Occupy. Michael HeseltineThenford. Richard Attenborough-Richmond-uponThames. n) The Fourteenth of July-Bastille day. i) Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. That guy is as high as the archdeacon’s eye. Roy Jenkins-Hillhead/Pontypool. .

you PRACTISE online with tutors who are native speakers.co. Visit RosettaStone. or in over 20 other languages. With Rosetta Stone TOTALeTM. you LEARN naturally. it’s time to PLAY games and have fun in your new language. In Rosetta Course™. you learn naturally and speak confidently in Spanish. In Rosetta Studio™. and in Rosetta World™. All rights reserved. You’re immersed in your new language as if you were in the country.Feel at Home in Your New Language Speak Spanish confidently. Learn Naturally. Patent rights pending. . with the NEW Rosetta Stone TOTALe™ language-learning solution.uk © 2011 Rosetta Stone Ltd. Speak Confidently.

from the Xbox game Gears of War 3. “You’re too ugly to be gay. address on page 3 Van gosh! A suspect was driven a few steps from a police station to a court in a van that had been sent more than 96 miles after prison transport chiefs said it was a human-rights issue. “You got yourself into this fucking mess. “You can call me Brian in bed. Cracker jokes * Why is a failed manager like Santa Claus? They both get the sack. “Don’t worry. Period jokes I have in front of me some football programmes from 1907 which are full of real corkers.but my old fave is still one from the 1930s.” Topical jokes * “If Glenn Hoddle found God.” was the reply. stating that the message could have been recorded any time in the past 44 years. he shouts.com/ writers/hunter_davies THIS ENGLAND Each printed entry will receive a £5 book token. “Twenty pound for a ticket!” complains a fan.” says the tout. The suspect. showing that all of England is well aware of Brighton’s reputation. 17. “That’s a lie. A spokesman for bus company Arriva said they would be unable to comment until an investigation had taken place.” his mother said to the team captain. you have to laugh. * What did the manager do when the pitch got flooded? Sent on a sub. Oliver Thomas. “Can you manage. said he had to charge as the cutout took up a seat. my lady. “Well. * Why did the winning team spin their trophy round and round? It was the Whirled Cup. dear. Funny facts * Did you know that Hull City is the only English league club where you can’t fill in any of the letters in its name? * You must have followed the saga of Spurs and West Ham arguing about moving to the Olympic site – but did you know that West Ham United is an anagram of The New Stadium? Crowd chants Most. It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money. * What do you call the girl who stands at the end of the pitch and catches the ball? Annette. l newstatesman. “You could get a woman for that. later president of the FA. Mother: Goodness. has been playing away. * Victoria Beckham comes home and finds her husband David jumping up and down in excitement. he’s got a proper football. Entries to comp@newstatesman. was known for getting stuck in when he played for Old Etonians. * Why is a keen footballer like a fretful child? Because he is always ready for a bawl. The driver. * Bill Shankly was asked if it was true he took his wife to see Liverpool reserves as a wedding anniversary treat. British intelligence dismissed the tape.” reply the Brighton fans. Malapropisms – or similar * “I hate perception. To which the not so sweet old lady replies.Backpages THE FAN Joking around the Christmas tree Hunter Davies This is the season to laugh at football. Lord Kinnaird. for football is a joke. “it says three to six years on the box. “I worry that one day he will come home with a broken leg. * Why was the mummy no good at football? He was too wrapped up in himself.” Metro (Ron Rubin) Flat fare A student with a bus pass was charged a full adult fare for a lifesized cardboard cut-out. your feet are cold. * Why was Cinderella rubbish at football? She ran away from the ball. * Why did Peter Crouch? Because he saw Darren Bent Famous names Jokes have always been told about famous players and managers – some of them could even have been true * In the 1870s. “God. In it he said that England’s performance in their last game had been complete shite. it would have gone in the back of the net” – Les Ferdinand * “What Newcastle lack is a lack of pace” – Charlie Nicholas. in Milton Keynes.co. back home. “but you won’t get 45 minutes each way and a brass band playing in the middle”.” * Fabio Capello is wheeling his trolley in a supermarket when he notices a sweet old lady struggling with her bags. “it won’t be his own.” she says. “it must have been a hell of a long pass. don’t ask me to sort it out.” he asks her. currently doing so well in the Championship.” * Osama bin Laden had just released a new TV message to prove he was still alive. was it as bad as that? I heard it was a only an ear. obviously. “Does your boyfriend know you’re here. “43 days!”. Over the generations jokes have come in different forms and sizes.” says David. arrested for two alleged publicorder offences. 27.” shout the home fans. * Why did the dog refuse to play football ? Because it was a boxer.” “Yes. * What gloves can a goalie see and smell but not wear? Foxgloves. Metro (Imogen Forster) GETTY IMAGES (BECKHAM) 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 | NEW STATESMAN | 97 . we’ll be immortal for the rest of our lives” – Derek Johnstone Cartoons Hard to describe in words. which shows a tout selling tickets outside Wembley.” * Brian Clough was in bed with his wife. dear” says Clough. paid an extra £1. are not repeatable but a new one has been heard this season whenever Brighton. said: “Why they couldn’t just walk me over to the court I don’t know.80 to get the figure.” * Stanley Matthews was so fast that he could turn the light off at the bedroom door and be under the blankets before the room got dark. It was her birthday. * “Robert Mancini’s got that Italian style of play. Boy: No with Harry next door. * Boy: Can I go out and play football? Mum: Not with those socks full of holes. “I’ve finished this jigsaw in 43 days!” “What’s so good about that?” asks Posh. of course. you got to have two legs” – Steve Lomas * “The Boss told us if we win today. that old joie de vivre” – Perry Groves * “When you play midfield.” said Jasper Carrott. There’s too much of it in football” – Sam Allardyce * “Even if the keeper could have saved it. * Schoolboy: We’d have won the game if our captain hadn’t lost his head. Liam Sheridan.uk or on a postcard to This England.

. What an odd question. when my daughter Violet had just turned four. . Our lives would be empty without stories. an incomplete but still pretty damning dismantling of the infantile idea that we (to quote my editor) survive our own deaths. “You just stop. Story time I was asked recently how I reconcile my reputation for championing a naturalistic world-view with the fact that I have co-written Matilda – a musical based on a Roald Dahl novel about a girl who is preternaturally gifted and. convinced myself that telling my kid a lie about the origins of her scooter was part and parcel of parenting – that denying a child the idea of Santa would be Scroogian in the extreme. Our version of Matilda. Violet has always been obsessed by what is “real”. Violet Yeah. I had. eventually. . but pure sophistry. you’d die. she looked me in the eye and asked. dragons and witches have all been happily relegated to the fiction bin and she sleeps well in the knowledge that they’re not going to crawl back out and attack her in her bed. Not only is it demonstrably true.org newstatesman. in the imaginary world. Jesus is real . like the passive hand of the magician – not the clarification Vi was seeking. co-written with Dennis Kelly. The fact that I know that Christianity’s origins lie more in Paul of Tarsus’s mental illness and the emperor Constantine’s political savvy than in the existence of the divine has no bearing on my ability to embrace this age-old festival of giving.Tim Minchin | Backpages I love Christmas. .com/subjects/comedy Beardy weirdy But now something in the assertion of the existence of this bearded philanthropist had given her pause. . l Tim Minchin is a comedian. like a lot of the stuff I say on stage and like nearly everything your preacher has ever said. to set our minds soaring beyond reality.) Regardless. My daughter will grow up reading stories and I hope she will have a rich and lifelong relationship with the imaginary. How will he get down?” Me: “That’s the least of his worries . in the imaginary world. in theory and sometimes even in practice. at which point she can quietly slip back into knowing what she suspected all along. . There’ll be no crushing blow of revelation aged seven. Do people really think that living a life unencumbered by superstition necessitates the rejection of fiction? I adore stories. on the other hand. She subsequently went along with the story and I reckon she will again this year. and I told her. and the story of Jesus is quite a nice one. His musical version of “Matilda”. that sentence has the odour of wisdom. But I will not try to train her out of the natural instinct to look for truth. so she had come to me for clarification. but to free us. Details: cambridgetheatrelondon.” I see no problem at all with that answer. you’d drown. you go somewhere lovely.” This didn’t really satisfy her. but is a load of old bollocks. A fiveyear-old could tell you that. Alice Someone would come and pull you out. I wasn’t surprised – earlier in the year I’d overheard a conversation she’d had with her friend Alice as they sat by a lake: Violet If you fell in there. . but if the grown-ups weren’t around. is being performed at the Cambridge Theatre. Quite nice as a phrase. One of our classic Minchin family tales is of Christmas Eve 1978. It is the stuff of obfuscation – words to divert. The trouble is. But I suppose my answer served a function. Alice [Pause] When you die. know it’s lovely? You wouldn’t have your eyes and ears. Most of the time when she asks if something is real. . she’s hoping it’s not: trolls. our Violet had seemed quite excited the previous year when we had left a mince pie and a beer by the blocked-up chimney – (Violet: “But there’s no hole. for its fictions as much as its feasts In the lead-up to last Christmas. Like so much language in theology. up until this point. promotes compassion and humility and wisdom and peace. but I felt that lying to her face when she’d asked me point blank about the veracity of my claims was a step too far. even more so than the original Dahl. when I was three and my mum asked me in an excited voice. I allowed her the opportunity to just “go with it” and hopefully she’ll happily do so until her friends find out it’s a myth. I adore Christmas. And so I face a dilemma: I had sold her the myth of Father Christmas in the spirit of allowing a child a sense of wonderment. but it also has the wondrous quality of not eliciting a whole lot of further annoying questions. philosophy and parenting. is a story about stories. felt no compulsion to obscure answers to the more serious questions. “Is Father Christmas real?” This was a problem for me. telekinetic. Violet But then how would you 98 | NEW STATESMAN | 19 DECEMBER 2011 – 1 JANUARY 2012 REX . family and feasting. I have no memory of believing in the physics-defying fattie myself. I have. “Who’s coming down the chimney tonight?!” To which I replied. I fumbled around a bit before opting for: “Father Christmas is real . . By offering her the paradoxical notion of a non-real real. About the importance of imagination. London WC2. after a brow-creased pause. Vi was very young when she asked what happens when you die.”) – and I’d felt great when she’d squealed with glee at five in the (fucking) morning upon discovering the comestibles had been consumed and that a reindeer had left hoof-prints in the icing sugar by the piano. Figuring out what truly exists seems to be the way she deals with her fears. One that. and of fiction’s ability not only to educate and enlighten us. “Gran?” (It is also part of Minchin lore that I was a very boring and quite dim kid. nor should it have.

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