The weather in Britain has been unusually hot for several days, which may explain the madness by which many of our institutions appear to be gripped.
The House of Commons, for example, yesterday debated whether British air strikes should be made on Islamic State targets on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, but spent much of the time discussing instead whether the British Broadcasting Corporation, by calling ISIL by that name, has been ‘giving the impression’ that it supports Islamic State, or at least giving implied recognition to ISIL’s claim to nationhood. The practice must be stopped, 100 members of parliament insist. Chris Grayling, leader of the House, lends his support to the protest on the grounds that the BBC should treat the terrorist group the same way that it treated Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The head of the BBC retorts that his organisation must remain impartial, and that since the world knows the so-called terrorists as Islamic State, that is what it should be called.
(This dispute, by the way, vaguely recalls for me my days at Reuters news agency, when similar discussions took place about how to refer to so-called terrorists. The essence of the argument was that, since one man’s terrorist may be another man’s freedom fighter, great care should be taken in using the T-word. I don’t remember how the issue was resolved then. Reuters probably put out a memorandum with a set of editorial guidelines.)
What the BBC, and presumably the rest of us, should call ISIL instead of ISIL, was the topic of further debate. One suggestion is that it be called ISIL Daesh, or just Daesh, an Arabic word that translates to ‘one who sows discord’.
Fair enough, but are we going to bomb them or not, and does the decision rest on what they are called, as some observers have impertinently suggested? Or is debating what ISIL/Daesh should be called merely a clever political ploy to divert our attention away from the fact that Britainisn’t actually doing anything and ought to continue that policy?
In another part of the newspaper that reported the Commons furore, the BBC comes under fire for a completely different reason. Some fool in the Corporation has apparently decided that it will send 200 journalists to the Liberal Democrats’ party convention in September. This would have appeared to qualify as overkill even in normal times. It seems especially inapt in light of the slaughter of the Lib Dems at the last election, in which the party’s representation in parliament went from 57 MPs to eight. There may be more BBC reporters there than attendees, it has been remarked by incredulous scoffers. The BBC, incidentally, had the previous day laid off 1000 middle-management staff to offset the loss of revenue from the license fee that funds the organisation.
Meanwhile, on an entirely different plane (no pun intended) a young fellow named Jack Cooke has been given a £75,000 advance by HarperCollins to write a book about climbing trees. Mr. Cooke has been climbing trees inLondon for some time. “The views over London were so extraordinary and I thought ‘this is really a lost wilderness that I want to explore’.”
My immediate reaction was that the real ‘lost wilderness’ may not be in the parks and gardens of the metropolis but in the editorial offices of HarperCollins. But then what do I know.
In yet another administrative fatuity, the National Health Service has reduced weekend access to doctors – which only weeks ago represented a firm pledge delivered to the electorate by the prime minister, in response to public clamour for such services – because ‘patient demand failed to reach expectations’. Reading the fine print, one discovers that the phrase is a serious understatement. Actually, so few patients showed up that the surgeries had to close.
On the same page, I learn that scientists at the University of Chicago are getting ever closer to cloning the woolly mammoth, extinct since man was a cave-dweller, or perhaps even before that. Some brilliant professor has, to be fair, expressed certain qualms about the project. “Mammoths are extinct,” he notes, in what must surely be awarded a prize for the least compelling revelation of the year. The runner-up might be his following statement. “… the environment in which they lived has changed. There are many animals on the edge of extinction that we should be helping instead.”
Way to go, prof, you tell them. I for one – and I may be a lone voice here – have absolutely no wish to acquaint myself with giant hairy elephants with tusks longer than the wing spans of jumbo jets, even if they are contained in zoos on remote islands. For the same visceral thrills I can simply go to see the latest Jurassic Park release. Meanwhile, we can’t even protect the few remaining live elephants in Africa.
Still, perhaps the boffins in Chicago are on to something. Bring back hairy mammoths and breed them, and then we can sell the ivory to those undersexed Chinese millionaires at premium prices.
The temperature in London, I can report, has cooled off today. Perhaps tomorrow’s newspapers will have something sensible to report – before we get to the mad dog days of August.