Sunday 26 November 1995
Unfree, uncivil and unprosperous
OFF TO the Guildhall to hear the Lord Dahrendorf (we don't know why he gets a "the"; sometimes you do and sometimes you don't, apparently, and that's all there is to it) giving the annual Churchill address to the English Speaking Union, a splendid and solemn event sponsored by Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ), which later laid on lashings of wine and asparagus tips wrapped in beef of an irreproachable pinkness.
Lord Dahrendorf's subject was: "Can We be Prosperous and Civil too?" and he sketched out a tale of three cities - an American company town which is free, prosperous, but not civil (ie, not everyone is part of the community); a German town which is free, civil, but not prosperous, and Singapore, which is civil, prosperous, but not free. His Lordship's innate delicacy clearly prevented him from mentioning a fourth type of society, one which is neither civil, prosperous nor free - like, say, those Papuan communities shattered by the invasion of huge mining concerns - notably RTZ.
READING the recently published Japan Encounters the Barbarian - an account of the first official Japanese delegations to the West in the 1860s - we were struck by how little some aspects of life have changed. The visitors were surprised at the shouting and "wild gesticulations" they witnessed in the US Congress, which "resembles nothing so much as our fishmarket at Nihombashi". In Europe, they announced that they could not stomach any Western food, though, luckily, they could manage to keep down foie gras and champagne, and so subsisted on those for the rest of the trip.
The French government made a great fuss of them, gave them a military escort and installed them in luxury at the Hotel de Louvre. In Britain, in contrast, the Foreign Office, in an unusual early outbreak of Rifkindism (ie, getting everything exactly wrong), decided that Japan would never amount to much and sent a lone student interpreter to meet them.
Ordinary people, however, sensed something was up, and a crowd at Dover gave three cheers for the Japanese; one of the visitors observed that although the meaning of "Hip-Hip-Hooray" was not clear to him, it seemed to be an expression of approbation.
SO, another French test rumbles under Polynesia and, once again, that depressing fact is met with eager British tail-wagging. This time in the United Nations, where 95 countries condemned the French, a few abstained, and only a handful of African francophone states, shamelessly bullied by the French, plus China and Britain, backed the wretched Jacques Chirac. Great company to be seen in - thanks a million, Malcolm.
The British argument in favour of France is worth a moment's attention. Our delegate, Sir Michael Weston, said that the resolution was quite wrong because at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting last May, France had not promised not to test its bombs but only to "exercise utmost restraint" in testing. Bombarding the atolls of Tahiti three weeks after this promise, in Britain's view, constitutes "utmost restraint".
Exercising some of the latter ourselves, we will not say what we think of the subtle Sir Michael, but merely point out that the abuse of eloquence in argument is, according to Dante, a most dreadful sin, punishable by an eternity spent in the eighth cleft of Malebolge, where the sinner, even if he is a pinstriped knight and former Cambridge man, is to be completely enveloped in flames, the tips of which suggest moving tongues.
IT'S WITH some relief that we move to the more innocent guile of the Southern Hemisphere. The scene: the Cape Town docks. Dead of night; the coast is clear. Two shadowy figures slip aboard a ship, hide in the hold, and wait for the engines to start and carry them off to a new life in Europe. Unfortunately they are going in the opposite direction: the stowaways have chosen a ship taking 46 Italian and German scientists for a nice long stay in Antarctica. After their discovery, the two were fed, cleaned up, wrapped up and have now been taken on a sightseeing trip across the pack ice. They are reported to be feeling "surprised".
"CHEERFUL, Charming Odd-job Man Driven by Sex and Sadism" read the headline above a photograph of Quebec separatist leader Lucien Bouchard and his wife Audrey in the South China Morning Post last Thursday. "Devoted couple... killers" the caption continued. The photograph was taken as Bouchard announced he intended to seek the job of premier of Quebec and continue his gruesome plan to dismember Canada. The Morning Post had made an error: they thought they were printing a picture of Fred and Rosemary West.
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