The US of A-morals

Having recently suffered visa problems, I get back into the US the week after the presidential election, relieved not to have to enter illegally via the Mexican border.

While solving my visa issue I came to the conclusion that it is only the frontline of American government that is appalling. Everything behind it works rather wonderfully. It is exactly the inverse of the situation in most European countries. In Italy, for example, the frontline of government is marvellous: only everything behind it is catastrophic.


Travelling across six states in a week, I increasingly suspect that Obama’s fate will be that of Tony Blair. In 1997 Blair promised us the world. He left office having lavished billions on many things while improving none. Only in foreign policy did he find meaning. He left office slightly amazed at having been in power for so long yet having achieved so little. I predict that in four years Obama will leave nothing but an electorate just as jaded by overhyped political promises as its British counterpart.


Hate the sin, yet love the sinner is the traditional Christian doctrine regarding wrongdoing. As the story of the CIA chief David Petraeus and his extramarital affair develops, I am left wondering. Celebrations of infidelity are almost the sole subject of American popular culture. Yet whenever individuals in public life do what their popular culture advertises so lavishly they are punished to the utmost. Is the new American morality that one should love the sin yet hate the sinner?


The BBC has gone through one of its intermittent public breakdowns. Many people on the political Right are rejoicing in the ever-vain hope that this might be the end for the corporation.

There are many criticisms to be made of the BBC. It should be leaner and more politically balanced. Yet, as with the Church of England, people tend to focus on the negatives without recognising the advantages. The print media in Britain are probably now the most dumbed-down in the world. The cost of foreign correspondents is so off-puttingly high that few British papers see the point in them and prefer to keep their journalists chained to laptops in London where they can monitor celebrities’ Twitter-feeds in the hope of locating “gaffes”. Original investigations are almost extinct due to lack of resources, experience and skills.

It is my experience that the BBC contains many, if not most, of the remaining people in the business who are any good, not because the BBC particularly hoovers up the best, but because it still trains people to be the best. When shells of papers like the Independent discover that a star columnist has been making it up for years nobody should be shocked. These are not newspapers now, merely barely supervised printing arrangements. This is why Newsnight‘s reliance on the piously left-wing Bureau of Investigative Journalism to provide them with the false McAlpine story is so devastating. The BBC is now virtually the only media organisation left which can do newsbreaking investigations. To justify the licence fee it must do just one thing: provide journalism of a better quality than anywhere else.


American television commercials are like nothing else. Because US society is so litigiously regulated, all medication commercials must list, in voice-over, not only any positive side-effects but all possibly negative ones. The latter list is always so long and hair-raising as to make you wonder how such commercials could possibly improve rather than destroy sales.

Between news bulletins in San Diego I see a commercial for a roll-on product which is meant to boost testosterone levels in men. We get this for around five seconds. Then for half a minute, while the happy-looking, testosterone-filled man remains on screen, the voice-over stresses that the product can cause, in addition to serious internal organ failure, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, acne and much else.

Best of all is a commercial in Arizona, featuring soft music and images of what looks like a drive-through restaurant. It turns out to be an introductory offer for a local crematorium. The all-in deal comes to under a thousand dollars, but the commercial stresses that the offer stands “only for a limited time”. Are there people in Phoenix saying, “The thing is, Grandma, that the deal only lasts till February, so if you wouldn’t mind . . .”? We must hope not.

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