Thursday 29 April, 2021

Light and shade and all that rot

Quote of the Day

”The real villain of the 1970s oil crisis is the Harvard Business School. Almost every Arab sheik now in charge of his country’s oil policy was trained at Harvard.”

  • Art Buchwald

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Bob Dylan | Like A Rolling Stone | Live at Newport, 1965


Long Read of the Day

NYT Obituary of Dan Kaminsky

I mentioned Dan’s tragic early death the other day. This New York Times obit goes a long way to explaining why he is such a loss. Includes some lovely stories about him.

This is worth your time, even if you’re not geeky, because it throws a light on the fragility of our networked world, and the need for integrity in those who understand it.

In the court of King Boris, only one thing is certain: this will all end badly

Lovely column by Rafael Behr.

Instead of a cabinet, Britain has courtiers. In place of a prime minister, there is a potentate. The traditional structures still exist, but as tributes to an obsolescent way of governing. There are still secretaries of state. But their place in the formal, constitutional hierarchy has little bearing on real power, which swirls in an unstable vortex of advisers and officials vying for proximity to Boris Johnson’s throne.

The product of this arrangement is the acrid stew of scandal leaking out of Downing Street – a mixture of financial irregularities, reckless statecraft and vendetta, some of it involving the prime minister’s fiancee, just to complete the impression of Byzantine intrigue.

And there there’s Johnson’s character.

The prime minister approaches truth the way a toddler handles broccoli. He understands the idea that it contains some goodness, but it will touch his lips only if a higher authority compels it there. Everyone who has worked with him in journalism and politics describes a pattern of selfishness and unreliability. He craves affection and demands loyalty, but lacks the qualities that would cultivate proper friendship. The public bonhomie hides a private streak of brooding paranoia. Being incapable of faithfulness, he presumes others are just as ready to betray him, which they duly do, provoked by his duplicity.

Johnson is driven by a restless sense of his own entitlement to be at the apex of power and a conviction, supported by evidence gathered on his journey to the top, that rules are a trap to catch weaker men and honour is a plastic trophy that losers award themselves in consolation for unfulfilled ambition. Having such a personality at the heart of government makes a nonsense of unwritten protocol. Much of British politics proceeds by the observance of invisible rails guarding against the tyrannical caprices that formal constitutions explicitly prohibit. There is an accrued cultural expectation of democratic propriety, a self-policing code of conduct summarised by historian Peter Hennessy as the “good chap” theory of government.

Footnote: Fintan O’Toole had a nice column (behind a paywall) in the Irish Times about Johnson’s ‘character’. This is how it begins:

It’s not when Boris Johnson is lying that you have to worry. If he’s lying, that just means he’s still breathing. No, the real danger is the gibbering. It’s what he does when he can’t be bothered to think up a lie.

Spot on. And many thanks to the generous reader who alerted me to that gem.

This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, Monday through Friday, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!