A newspaper is…

…a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we have heard about in the past 24 hours – distorted, despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias, by the very process of compression that makes it possible for you to lift it from the doorstep and read it in about an hour. If we labelled the product accurately, then we could immediately add: ‘But it’s the best we could do under the circumstances, and we will be back tomorrow, with a corrected and updated version.’

The *Washington Post‘s David Broder, quoted by Alan Rusbridger in his farewell message to Guardian readers*.

That’s more like it

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – Calling the Obama Administration’s actions against the soccer organization “weak and ineffective,” Senator John McCain on Thursday proposed military action to “dismantle and destroy FIFA once and for all.”

“These are people who only understand one thing: force,” McCain said on the floor of the United States Senate. “We must make FIFA taste the vengeful might and fury of the United States military.”

McCain said that he was “completely unimpressed” by the Department of Justice’s arrests of several top FIFA lieutenants this week, calling the action “the kind of Band-Aid solution that this Administration, sadly, has become famous for.”

“Rounding up a few flunkies in a hotel is meaningless when the leader of FIFA remains at large,” he said. “I will follow Sepp Blatter to the gates of Hell.”

McCain requested a four-billion-dollar aid package for moderate elements within global soccer, and said that the United States should be prepared to put boots on the ground in Switzerland.

Calling the use of force against FIFA “long overdue,” he placed the blame for the group’s alarming growth squarely on the shoulders of the White House. “Barack Obama created FIFA,” he said.

Never waste charisma on little guys

Lovely insight from Maureen Dowd:

WHEN my brother Michael was a Senate page, he delivered mail to John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who had offices across the hall from each other.

He recalled that Kennedy never looked up or acknowledged his presence, but Nixon would greet him with a huge smile. “Hi, Mike,” he’d say. “How are you doing? How’s the family?”

It seemed a bit counterintuitive, especially since my dad, a D.C. police inspector in charge of Senate security, was a huge Kennedy booster. (The two prominent pictures in our house were of the Mona Lisa and J.F.K.) But after puzzling over it, I finally decided that J.F.K. had the sort of magnetism that could ensorcell big crowds, so he did not need to squander it on mail boys. Nixon, on the other hand, lacked large-scale magnetism, so he needed to work hard to charm people one by one, even mail boys.

Yep.

Online crime, USA

Infographic: Americans Lost Hundreds of Millions to Online Scams in 2014 | Statista

These numbers look like huge under-estimates to me. The obvious interpretation is that much online crime is never reported to the FBI. Interesting though that women fall for fake romance scams, while men lose their marbles over automobiles.

Source

How to start a piece

Louis Menand is, IMHO, the best living literary critic. Perhaps that’s because he’s the most readable. At any rate, I will read anything he writes, on any subject.

One of his gifts is that, like Hemingway, he lures the reader in at the very beginning. Here he is doing it in a recent New Yorker essay on Saul Bellow:

Herzog is the book that made Saul Bellow famous. He was forty-nine years old when it came out, in 1964. He had enjoyed critical esteem since the publication of his first novel, “Dangling Man,” in 1944, and he had won a National Book Award for “The Adventures of Augie March” in 1954. But “Herzog” turned him into a public figure, a writer of books known even to people who don’t read books—an “author.” At a ceremony honoring the success of “Herzog” at city hall in Chicago, Bellow’s home town, a reporter asked the mayor, Richard J. Daley, whether he’d read the novel. “I’ve looked into it,” Daley said.

You get enough people saying that and you have a best-seller…

See what I mean? Read on.

Fame at last!

Many thanks to the numerous people who wrote to tell me that Maureen Dowd had mentioned me in her splendid column about Uber. She wrote:

“I know Uber has the image of an obnoxious digital robber baron, a company that plays dirty tricks and proves that convenience “makes hypocrites of us all,” as John Naughton put it in The Guardian, noting that its very name has connotations of Nietzschean superiority. (Travis Kalanick, the C.E.O., coined the word “Boob-er” to describe his greater appeal to women because of his success.)”

Actually, even if Ms Dowd hadn’t mentioned me I would have rated her column highly because she highlights one of the odder aspects of the Uber phenomenon. She was puzzled because when she tried to summon a Uber car, most of those in her immediate vicinity immediately headed in the other direction. The explanation was provided by the driver who did pick her up, namely that they had all checked her Uber “rating” and discovered that she only got 4.2 out of 5. (Drivers rate passengers as well as vice versa.) In the end, she learned how this reputation system can be gamed: before you part company with your driver you make a deal: “five for five”.

QED.

A pivotal moment

The resounding ‘Yes” vote in the Irish Referendum on changing the Constitution to allow same-sex marriage is a pivotal moment in the history of my beloved homeland. And in the history of the world too, in a small way, because this is the first occasion in which legal equality has been conferred on non-heterosexuals by a popular vote.

My private expectation was that it would be a narrowly positive vote, and that it would be decided by the urban/rural divide, with the electorates of Dublin, Cork and Galway voting overwhelmingly ‘Yes’ and most of the rural constituencies voting ‘No’. In the event I was completely wrong: only one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) went negative, and that by a small margin. There was still an urban/rural divide, but it was much narrower than I had expected.

Referendum_cartoon

Cartoon by Martyn Turner in today’s Irish Times.

What it means (and what the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, conceded) is that Irish society has finally turned the corner towards secularity. What’s astonishing, in some ways, is that it took so long, especially given how long the revelations about the hypocrisy and criminality of the Catholic church over child abuse have been in the public domain. The idea that this decrepit, decaying institution could pretend to be a guide to morals (not to mention politics) was laughable for decades, but it seems that it is only now that its bluff has finally been called.

In one way, it was bound to happen, for demographic reasons — or what marketing consultants call “biological leakage”, i.e. the remorseless tendency of older people to pass away. But that doesn’t lessen the sense of wonder that it has finally happened. As the Irish Times put it in its First Leader,

“the time when bishops could instruct the Irish people on how to vote has long gone. What we may not have appreciated until now is that being a young, networked society has political consequences that can overturn the cynical conventional wisdom about voting behaviour, turnout and engagement.

This is the first Irish electoral event in which young people have taken the lead and determined the outcome and it has been a bracing, refreshing experience. It had been visible on the streets for weeks in the Yes badges that became ubiquitous during the campaign but it had its most potent and poignant expression in the multitude of young emigrants who came home to vote on Friday. Here, in a single gesture, was all the pathos of separation and longing; an expression of solidarity and belonging; and an enduring loyalty to the nation that had so signally failed them. The tweets from those returning to vote for marriage equality were at once inspiring and heartbreaking, testimony to our failure and their promise.”

The campaign was fascinating because it was, as Noel Whelan put it in the Times, “the most extensive civic society campaign ever seen in Irish politics”. In that sense, it reminded one of the campaign that propelled Obama to the White House in 2008. The people who masterminded it — Brian Sheehan and Gráinne Healey — have shown themselves to be consummate, canny strategists who crafted a campaign that was deliberately open and conversational rather than confrontational. (The chosen theme was: “I’m Voting Yes, Ask Me Why?”)

For me, it was especially cheering to see that a long, lonely and exceedingly courageous campaign by a fellow Joycean, Senator David Norris, had finally born fruit. Writing in the Times today, he recalled the long and winding road “from criminal to equal citizen”:

I have been privileged in my life to follow a remarkable trajectory from being defined into criminality, challenging the criminal law, losing in the High Court and Supreme Courts, finally winning out by a margin of one vote in Europe, seeing the criminal law changed and then starting to build on this basis for human and civil rights for gay people.

Fifty years ago my first boyfriend said to me outside a Wimpy Bar on Burgh Quay: “I love you David but I can’t marry you.” I still remember that all these years later.

Go forward 10 years when, after a debate on decriminalisation, the late Mona Bean O’Cribben remarked vehemently to me: “This isn’t just about decriminalisation. You have a homosexual agenda. You won’t be satisfied until you have homosexual marriage.” I turned to her and said: “What a wonderful idea, thank you very much madam, have you got any other suggestions?”

But there is another, intangible but real, aspect to this vote. One of the strangely positive side-effects of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years — when the Irish economy zoomed from sensible economic development to casino property-development insanity — was that my fellow citizens experienced for the first time what it was like to be seen as successful by the rest of the world. It was suddenly, as some of them observed at the time, “cool to be Irish”. All of which meant that the bust and the subsequent economic collapse had an even harsher psychic impact: it turned out that we had been kidding ourselves; that we had, as Frank McDonald (the great Irish Times journalist) used to say, “lost the run of ourselves”.

But one of the most unexpected byproducts of Friday’s vote is that we can be genuinely proud of ourselves, and for a reason infinitely better than fuelling a crazed property boom: for once, we did the right thing. Not a bad day’s work.

Scribble, scribble

From Virginia Woolf’s diary for Tuesday 11 May, 1920…

“It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly on beginning a new book quiets down after a time, & one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, & the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything. I’m a little anxious. How am I to bring off this conception? Directly one gets to work one is like a person walking, who has seen the country stretching out before. I want to write nothing in this book* that I dont [sic] enjoy writing. Yet writing is always difficult.”

Yep. As someone who is working on a book, I can vouch for this.

*She was working on ‘Jacob’s Room’.