Dream of Rome ~ Turkey

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In a new extract from his brilliant book on Rome, Boris argues that our anxieties about Islam must not jeopardise the reconciliation between East and West

Why are we so afraid of Turkey?

Fragments of plaster are still falling from the ceiling after the Pope made his famous speech about Islam in September 2006.

Hardly anyone had heard of Manuel II Palaeologus, the old codger he quoted with such explosive results. Not many knew that he was the antepenultimate Roman emperor, or that he lived in what is now Istanbul.

But after six centuries of obscurity, Manuel’s views were top of the news.

“Show me what Mohammed brought that was new,” said the Pope in Regensburg, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached.”

That sentence was taken out of context, flashed round the world, and soon there were riots everywhere from Jakarta to Qom.

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Oxfordshire County Council

Check how your Council performed on the Audit Commission List here

Well done Keith Mitchell and his team…

CONSERVATIVES DELIVER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The announcement on 22 February by the Audit Commission of their most recent assessments of the performance of councils in England has been excellent news for Oxfordshire County Council. It becomes the only council in Oxfordshire to be given a four star or ‘excellent’ rating, putting it amongst the best performers in the country.

It’s also good news for Conservative-controlled councils in general and bad news for those controlled by the Liberal-Democrats.

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Tabloid Moralising

Peddle your porn if you must, but don’t preach

Phwoar. This is the stuff. Excuse me while I loosen my tie and wipe the computer screen. It’s getting a bit steamed up in here.

As love scenes go, this prose certainly beats the hell out of that bit in the Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s up there with the business in Birdsong where the chap meets the lonely French housewife. In fact I’d say it’s even hotter than the opening of The Godfather, you know, with the bride’s eldest brother and the bridesmaid in the broom cupboard.

It’s – well, I am only about a quarter of the way through a massive 4,022 word dispatch from Sydney, Australia, and – boy oh boy – I don’t know how much detail you can take.

It’s a report about the famous film star who has it away with a Qantas flight attendant in the toilet at 35,000ft, and for all those tragic members of the male sex who have ever wondered how a gorgeous 5ft 9in blonde Australian air stewardess might respond to your overtures, here is the answer.

“He held my hands. Then he started kissing me. The kissing was very passionate and his hands were all over me. I just melted. He was caressing my neck, holding my head and starting to undo the buttons on my dress. The way he was going, he would have made love to me right there.

I was very turned on and so was he. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was touching his face and hair. He had beautiful skin. I was undoing his shirt as well ” – and then I am afraid it becomes frankly unsuitable for a chaste newspaper such as this one.

I can almost hear the marmalade dropping across the nation, and people asking me indignantly what my purpose is in recycling this filth; and the answer is that this bizarre piece of porn is in fact of great political interest and importance, because it is of a kind that appears almost daily in a certain tabloid newspaper.

The paradox, the mystery, is that this paper – let us call it the Beast – is just about the most savage and hysterical and reactionary paper in Britain. In common with some other tabloids, the Beast’s columnists and editorialists seem to believe that Britain has collapsed into a Hogarthian stew of licence.

They slobber and fume about marital breakdown and divorce and single parents and degeneracy of all kinds. They rave about swearing on television, and the casual pornography of the airwaves.

They denounce the daily exposure of our children to sexual material; and yet how do they stuff their news pages? They get their ace reporter to fly half way round the world, laden with hundreds of thousands of pounds, and they buy the story of some poor misguided girl who should have known better, and then they quote her in the manner of a Readers’ Wives column.

You want more? You don’t? Never mind: here goes. “Eventually I couldn’t bear it any longer. I just grabbed his hand and said, ‘Come in here a minute.’ By this time we had half our clothes off and I didn’t care about anything. I led him to the cabin lavatory next to where we had been sitting and locked the door ”

At which point I am afraid it becomes truly dirty, and the point is we would all be in blissful ignorance of this pornography if it had not been for the Beast’s decision to flex its massive cheque book, and we are therefore entitled to ask what on earth the tabloids think they are doing.

How can they cope in this bordello, all those moralising columnists of the Beast? How can they mount their pulpits, whilst simultaneously purveying these scenes of fornication?

There they are, these moral mullahs, lining up like the bearded women in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, to shriek and throw stones at the very practices so lovingly detailed in their own pages.

How can they do it? For the benefit of those people who have never read the tabloid press, and for all those sensitive foreigners who are appalled at the British media, let me explain.

The first thing to grasp is that these tabloids sell sex. That is the name of the game. Every day for the past fortnight, the Beast has been trying to boost sales with some red-hot DVD called Sins or Jackie Collins’s Guide to Adultery, or whatever; and every week these tabloid papers pry, bribe, lie and bug in order to reveal that human beings are sometimes engaged in carnal activity.

They then publish these titillating details, which are devoured across the land with a mixture of gratitude and self-disgust, and which are indispensable to maintaining circulation.

But you cannot just give the public a tide of sex. People don’t want to feel dirty, or that their baser instincts are being manipulated. It is therefore vital, if you are a tabloid editor, simultaneously to purport to disapprove of the filth you purvey.

That is why you also hire lots of columnists to engage in bishop-like finger-wagging, to legitimate the sexual revelations; and of course the more disapproval there is, the more titillating it all is.

That is the beautiful symmetry; that is the magnificent hypocrisy of the product. The moralising intensifies the pleasure of reading the revelations, just as Gladstone intensified his pleasure in encountering prostitutes by flailing himself later on. The exercise is therefore essentially literary, and to that extent it is not to be taken seriously.

Reactionary tabloid attitudes may often be justified. But they fulfil the same literary function as the articles about economics in Playboy – ballast intended to boost the excitement of the main attraction.

I make these points, because I sometimes worry that politicians care too much about these tabloid fulminations, when the editors don’t really mean to be serious, and don’t really have a moral position. If they did, we would all be obliged to investigate the private lives of tabloid editors, to see whether they could really pass judgment on the rest of us.

Did any tabloid editor ever have the slightest whiff of cannabis at university? Hmm? Come on, ‘fess up. On the other hand, maybe we just don’t want to know. Carry on peddling the porn, folks, but don’t expect us to listen to the hellfire sermon.

Schools to match London’s wealth

I could feel the sweat starting to trickle down the forehead. Oh boy, I thought, this is going to be a tough one. I’d begun my speech with a joke, a trusty, well-oiled joke that had never failed before, and yet this time, as I uncorked the ancient vintage, the response was verging on the muted.

I peered through the glare of the podium lights, and another drop poised for the southward journey. Help, I thought, and as I scanned the audience, I began to guess at the problem. As jokes go, this one is emphatically British. It requires a knowledge of British politics in the 1960s, and perhaps even a British sense of irony. And I later discovered that there were about 40 nationalities in the 450-strong audience, and some of them were listening in more or less complete bafflement.

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Avian Flu

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We are the second largest poultry exporters in Europe

Someone somewhere has got to show that the great British turkey is safe to eat!

Don’t be chicken – Britain needs you to eat bootiful turkey today

As soon as I arrived at work this morning I told the troops their duty. This is it, I said. The Russians have banned our turkey. The pathetic Japanese have slapped an embargo on any poultry emanating from this country. South Korea, Hong Kong and South Africa are all equally chicken about our chicken.

We are the second largest poultry exporters in Europe, I reminded them, with a £300 million business at stake. Here we are, in the cockpit of the nation, and the people expect us to show a lead. It is a time for greatness, a time for calm, a time for reassurance – and we are going to show all three.

I reached for my wallet and fished out twenty. “Frances,” I said, “go to the supermarket and buy as many slices of Bernard Matthews as you can find. Someone somewhere has got to show that the great British turkey is safe to eat! And that someone is going to be us.”

In no time she was back, laden with an extraordinary assortment of meat and meat-related produce. As we beheld the bewildering versatility of Mr Matthews’s fowls, I felt a spasm of rage that the people of South Korea – where they eat poodles, for heaven’s sake – should turn their noses up at the favourites of the British people.

We had Bernard Matthews wafer thin turkey ham, 95 per cent fat free. We had a perfectly cylindrical Turkey Breast Roast, serving three or four. Mr Matthews’s chefs had miraculously added water, potato and rice starch (and about 20 nourishing chemicals) to what the front of the packet said was “100 per cent breast meat”. We had delicious golden turkey escalopes, containing as much as 38 per cent turkey.

Look at that, I said: three oven-glove sized crispy escalopes, and all for £1.99. In fact, it all looked so good I didn’t know where to begin.

Here, I said, peeling back the lid of some Premium Sage and Onion turkey breast. A rich aroma filled the room. Come on now, I said, as they shrank back, who is going to be first?

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Female Ascendancy

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the biggest social revolution of our lifetime

women continue their astonishing dominance of university admissions…[they] now make up 57 per cent of university entrants, and they outnumber men in every subject — including maths and engineering

I’ll tell you why women are running out of men to marry

I was half asleep in the front seat the other day, coming back from some exhausting tour of an educational establishment, and in the back seat were two twentysomething female graduates. They were talking about men, so I tried to focus, while keeping my eyes cunningly half closed.

One of them made the eternal feminine complaint. “All men are useless these days,” she said. “Yeah,” said the other. “The trouble is that they haven’t risen to the challenge of feminism. They don’t understand that we need them to be more masculine, and instead they have just copped out.”

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