Latest News

What is it that makes us such bad losers?

Those who watched, with snooty incredulity, news footage of effigy-burning and riots on the Indian sub-continent during cricket's World Cup would do well to take a glance at the reaction of English sports writers and bloggers to the elimination of our national team. Almost without exception, commentators have seemed unable to contain their fury and disappointment. In that home of family values, the Daily Mail, for example, their man Jeff Powell churned out the usual terms of abuse - yellow-bellied, scarlet-faced, craven, spineless, embarrassing, shameful and so on - before reaching a rather striking conclusion about the coach and the captain. "Let us just say that hanging would be too good for Fletcher, Vaughan and most of their fellow failures to defeat a single top-flight team on this calamitous expedition." Rage has obviously done something terrible to Jeff's syntax, but we catch his drift. The punishment meted out to Bob...

read more →

Why it always pays to play yourself

How quaint that phrase "kiss and tell" is beginning to sound. It suddenly seems to belong to a lost age of polite euphemism, like "taking a liberty" or "no better than she should be". When some knackered old court correspondent, churning out tedious speculation as part of the nationally embarrassing coverage of the latest royal story, discusses whether Kate Thingy will be tempted to kiss and tell, only the most desperate royalist will be able to read on. No one merely kisses these days, and everyone tells. Gordon Brown has recently offered the view that the pointless fascination with celebrity is fading, that "people are moving away from that to what lies behind the character and personality", but the news almost every day refutes this view. In today's great burgeoning of the blab culture, character and personality are merely products being sold in the celebrity bazaar. Politicians are in no...

read more →

Zoos are the last place to keep wild animals

It has been a bumper month for A-list animal celebrities. Knut, Berlin Zoo's famous polar bear cub, has made the front cover of Vanity Fair, posing in a faked-up photograph with Leonardo DiCaprio. According to that great style magazine, Knut is "a powerful (if not controversial) symbol of what the planet has to lose to global warming". He is also, it turns out, an excellent symbol of wildlife marketing, causing such massive queues that shares in Berlin Zoo have more than doubled, producing an unprecedented merchandising boom (800 stuffed Knuts are sold every day) and inspiring, among other things, a blog written on his behalf in three languages. Older animals have been doing well, too. In America, a very special chimpanzee party has been taking place. A chimp called Cheeta which, amazingly, appeared in a number of films from Tarzan of the Apes (1932) to Dr Dolittle (1967) has just...

read more →

The web holds up a mirror to our cruelty

When the shaggy libertarians of the love generation first pioneered the idea of the internet, they believed it would be an instrument for free expression, democracy and anarchy. Taking hippie values into the cybernetic age, it would bring the kind of freely shared, co-operative knowledge to be found in The Whole Earth Catalogue to anyone with a computer. The stranglehold on information and power previously held by a small élite would be broken for ever by this great new, democratising medium. How differently things have turned out. The élite may be tamed, with politicians eagerly launching their weblogs and limbering up for appearances on YouTube, but, down among the common folk, the internet has not been the joyful free-for-all of information and contact that had once been hoped. Far from being an expression of freedom, cyberspace is rapidly becoming synonymous with power and its abuse. It allows various and significant...

read more →

What a prim and prurient nation we’ve become

How is your mindset today? At the start of a long weekend, with spring in the air, it will probably be in an acceptable state. If for some unhappy reason it is not, you will be reassured to know that there is an ever-increasing number of sincere people, concerned for the welfare of you and your community, who will able to offer assistance. Because, once we all have appropriate mindsets in place, the world will be a less spiky, difficult and unpredictable place. Lamp-posts in our cities are soon to be equipped with cameras and loudspeakers so that people can be reminded that antisocial behaviour - dropping litter, being aggressive, smoking in the wrong places, becoming over-amorous in public - is unacceptable in modern Britain. Normally a word from the lamp-post, uttered by a caring copper watching CCTV screens at the local police station, will be enough to head off...

read more →

Dubai, where they play for high stakes

On the track, a horse is on fire. A snow-white Lippizaner on a long rein, it makes its way slowly, trembling and wide-eyed, past the grandstand at Nad Al Sheba racecourse in Dubai. It is almost nine at night and, in the dark, the horse, with its entire hind-quarters aflame, makes an astonishing sight. Beyond the winning-post, to the relief of the queasier Europeans who are watching, the flame-retardant blanket is taken off and doused. In this city, nothing is done in moderation. The Dubai World Cup race meeting, which took place last Saturday, was the most valuable in the sport's history, with more than $21m (£10m) of stake money to be won. At the height of proceedings, there was a spectacular display, of which the horse-fireball was part, while on a gigantic screen a film celebrating the wildness of the horse was shown. Elsewhere on the racetrack, other kinds...

read more →

Trust teenagers to make their choices

We live in a careless age. Only this week, a survey - yet another survey - has revealed that childhood has been lost. David Cameron has made a speech arguing that adults have lost authority over the young. In his new book Tokens of Trust, the Archbishop of Canterbury had identified a loss of trust in public institutions and the political system. We have also apparently mislaid the ability to be decent parents, according to a report from an Education Select Committee. But there is one area of private life, at least, where there is no sign of decline. The teenage years are growing fast and awkwardly. They tend to start well before 13 and often are only beginning to peter out at 25, or beyond. Just as childhood (playing conkers, climbing trees, riding bikes) is disappearing, so adolescence (snogging, fighting, sulking, getting drunk) is expanding. For beleaguered adults, it...

read more →

This sanctimonious whiff of disapproval

On balance, it was probably not a very good idea for Lady Black, in the early days of the trial of her husband Conrad, to call a Canadian TV producer a "slut". Nor was her subsequent characterisation of the entire journalistic profession as "vermin" particularly sensible or well-timed. As Barbara Amiel, Lady Black was once a columnist herself and her husband was a newspaper proprietor. Since he now faces the possibility of spending many years in jail if found guilty, it was, one might think, a moment to cultivate friends in the press rather than trashing them. Admittedly, the Blacks had been on the receiving end of a comprehensive duffing-up in the press. He has been portrayed as a monstrous, overbearing robber-baron while she is presented as the unholy conflation of Lady Macbeth, Mata Hari and Imelda Marcos. But, in a sense, Lady Black was right. There has indeed been...

read more →

Truly daring remarks from a voice of sanity

In the relatively unlikely event of Britain becoming a republic and there being a vacancy for a wise, sensitive, public-spirited person to become head of state, there can surely be only one candidate. He is the man with whom Tony Blair shared a thoughtful podcast last month and to whom, a few days later, Robbie Williams turned for advice on the question of addiction. Prince Charles is said to consult him. He has been in prison, has shared his personal experience of depression in a television documentary and has written a book about how to write poetry. Not only a successful novelist, actor and comedian, he is thought by a startling number of people to have an unusually brilliant brain. Stephen Fry has had two public thoughts this week. First, in unnecessarily lavatorial terms, he proclaimed his disgust at the celebrity skating programme Dancing on Ice. Then he wondered out...

read more →

What is so thrilling about killing a deer?

An exciting new sport is becoming popular in America. Enterprising safari owners have realised that there is good money to be made from the internet and are bringing the joys of hunting animals into the home. A variety of mammals - antelope, wild pig, deer and others - roam in an enclosed safari park where there are a number of rigs with webcams and remote-control .22 rifles. Online hunters can, at a click of the mouse, shoot an animal and, for a fee, be sent its mounted head. It is now possible to be a successful sportsman, with a wall covered in trophies, without actually leaving the house. There are social benefits to the new sport, according to its supporters. By keeping a distance from his prey, man is becoming more evolved and civilised as a hunter, moving from bare hands, to a blade, to a gun and to a...

read more →