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The World at Large: News roundup.

It’s been a long time since I last posted anything here, and I am truly very sorry. Of course, in the meantime there have been several news stories that deserve at least some kind of comment, and I have decided to mention a few of them here, briefly, in one single article.

The Pope can’t win

The leader of the Catholic Church has caused trouble, not entirely of his making, by quoting some comments as an example of how not to talk about Muslims, showing how much he knew about Islamic sensitivity and the Islamic world’s reputation for level-headedness. Immediately, Muslims over-reacted and started by setting fire to an Anglican Church and an Orthodox Church, showing how much they understand about the Pope’s status.

Normally I am a fierce critic of Pope Benedict XVI, but here I have to agree that it was pretty obvious that the Pope was only quoting those words to illustrate a point, while making it clear (several times, it must be said) that he certainly didn’t agree with those comments and probably disapproved of them. But there are small groups of Muslims who prefer to ignore such niceties as context in their quest to find their fifteen minutes of fame waving their fists and shouting anti-western sentiments on live global TV.

On the other hand, it was fairly predictable. This problem isn’t confined to the Muslim world; time and again, politicians, speakers, artists, even Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, have been the focus of outrage over innocent remarks they made, taken out of context or inserted, with a sledgehammer, into the wrong context. Adams cites the example of a strip where Dogbert successfully dupes Dilbert into buying a football bearing Jesus’s autograph: the point of the strip was that Dilbert was stupid enough to think an obviously impossible object could be the geniune article, but that didn’t stop Adams being accused of blasphemy. Apparently, some people thought he was trying to suggest Jesus played football.

The Pope should probably have consulted Adams on the content of his speech. Of course, it shouldn’t be necessary to suggest this, but the Pope really should have steered clear of repeating any such comments, even though he clearly disagreed with them. But alas! Such is life.

Cameron in the wings

The big story that broke while my wife and I were in Britain was, much to our delight (well, mine) the extraordinary spectacle of the government going down the tubes. In case you don’t know, the backstory is that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ratings have been going down and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who is known to disagree with Blair about just about anything (always what you look for in a political party), has been itching to get the job. Blair has promised to stand down as Prime Minister in time for his successor to get settled before tackling the next General Election.

Unfortunately, Blair has refused to say when he’s standing down, which is causing a lot of problems for Scottish and Welsh Labour Party members who are gearing up for the elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh National Assembly next spring, and they see Blair as a liability. So a bunch of Labour MPs wrote a letter demanding that Blair step down, soon, and name the date. That then caused an argument as MPs loyal to Blair called for unity and a spirit of togetherness, while senior party members had to find a way of persuading the public that the Labour Party was not split at all, no no, while at the same time appealing to everyone to stop messing about.

The finger of blame pointed at the obvious suspect, Gordon Brown, who denied all involvement and prudently said nothing about wanting to become the next Prime Minister, usually a sign that he’s about to plunge the knife in. In a nice little PR exercise, designed to show everyone that he was a good, decent, honest and trustworthy gentlemen who wanted the best for his country and absolutely, definitely, honest-to-God, really isn’t plotting to overthrow Tony, he met Tony and they talked about how they would work together and not argue. He left that meeting in his official car which also contained a photographer. Apparently, if this is to be believed, he was talking about his new infant child. That’s when he made the mistake that could destroy all hopes of his ever becoming Prime Minister. He smiled.

Unfortunately, Brown is not a good smiler, and it was his misfortune that the photographer took the picture just when he looked as if his he was grinning in a smug, self-satisfied manner.

News editors were just debating this new-found truce between Blair and Brown and whether it would last two weeks or three, when another, hitherto forgotten, colleague of Mr Brown’s popped up and wrote a letter to a national newspaper, accusing Brown of all manner of kinds of treason, treachery, incompetence and the like. In particular, he pointed to That Photograph as proof positive that Brown was up to no good.

The delicious irony of all of this is that, of course, the current Labour government kicked the last Conservative government all those years ago, which was suffering at the time from similar problems: various scandals (some involving sex) and in-fighting. The Prime Minister, John Major, was being increasingly isolated as, it seemed, about the only trustworthy Conservative in the House of Commons, but Blair laid into him and hammered the final nail into Major’s coffin. But it’s not enough that the tables have turned on Blair: in addition to Major’s problems, Blair seems to have adopted Margaret Thatcher’s stubbornness and unwillingness to face facts. Like Blair, Thatcher simply didn’t apear to realise that the tide was turning against her. Thatcher was eventually ousted by her own party. Blair could go the same way.

The ultimate winner, of course, could be David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative Party. After years of not saying much, the Conservative Party are now not saying much, on the grounds, it seems, that there’s no point, given the fact that Labour look set to destroy themselves from within. Cameron, carefully not looking as if he’s enjoying all of this, can now afford to just sit back and enjoy the show, rather like the guests in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And trying hard not to grin in a smug, self-satisfied manner.

Having a riot

Hungarian Prime Minister ...... admitted that actually, he and his government had been lying about the state of the country’s economy. It’s refreshing to see a senior politician actually admit something that everyone knows is true anyway, and, I thought, a little unsporting of the Hungarians to start rioting.

The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph opined that, if nothing else, the luckless premier deserves a pat on the back for his candour and expressed the hope that this would be a sort of wake-up call to eastern Europe that you need more than democratic elections to guarantee good governance. To which, I imagine, the citizens of eastern Europe may have replied with a resounding “No kidding”.

You have to wonder, though, what the rioters hope to achieve. On the face of it, a few people lobbing stones and setting fire to cars in Budapest is not going to bring the government to its knees any quicker than an admission that actually the country’s economy is about as healthy and wealthy as a piggy-bank after indiscriminate application of a mallet. And it’s hardly helping the cause of democracy when a politician who dares to tell the truth for once is rewarded with vaguely organised violence. In the mid term, it might have been more prudent for the PM to keep his mouth shut.

Model behaviour

They banned thin models from Madrid, which apparently is a devastating blow to the fashion industry. In fact, it’s such a terrible blow that the models themselves, forced to weigh themselves to prove that they actually have some flesh between their skin and bones, are claiming this discriminates against thin models.

This, you must understand, is entirely different from the fashion industry as a whole discriminating against non-thin women. It’s absolutely fine, apparently, to spread the message that women are only beautiful if they are two metres fifty tall and weigh thirty kilos.

OK, I’m not being taken in by these Photoshopped pictures of actresses made to look as if you could count their ribs from half a mile away, but let’s face facts: parading bulimia as a beauty ideal is not helpful to women’s self esteem.

In all seriousness, I say: Let’s see some fat models. Come on, fashion designers, show us that you are not completely out of touch with reality (the reality being that most women have as much flesh on them as two supermodels and look better for it). Show us that you can design clothes for a variety of women in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Make real women feel they can be glamorous and beautiful given the right clothes and they’ll beat a path to your door.

I mean, seriously. We men don’t, by and large, go for the skin-and-bones look. Most of us don’t actually fancy a night of naughtiness with a xylophone on legs. And we’re fed up of our women getting depressed because nobody designs for them and they are condemned to looking frumpish. And all because some people prefer to spend their lives decorating scarecrows.

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