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John Sturrock: Blair’s Convictions, 24 May 2007

... the political elite. Blair’s fluency was sufficiently striking to make me wonder whether, when John Prescott eventually lumbered into view, he hadn’t been elevated against all the odds into high office simply in order to enhance his leader’s elocutionary merits by some desperate and close-to-home contrast. But the effect of Blair’s delivery when what ...

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John Sturrock: Starved for Words, 20 July 2000

... When statistics start horning in on our language, or the way we use it, the results are seldom quite what we’d be happy to hear. To be told that, day in, day out, we rely on some wretchedly skimpy proportion, a bare few thousand, of the uncommonly luxuriant word-hoard available to us anglophones, is chastening, leading us at best into sporadic efforts to stretch our working vocabularies by bringing into play delightful words we’ve always known but have somehow never got around to airing in public ...

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John Sturrock: At the Test Match, 6 September 2001

... In the piece by David Bell elsewhere in this issue, a number of lines from an 18th-century French poem are quoted fearlessly in the original. At one time, the question of whether or not to translate them would never have arisen, the editors of a paper like this assuming that a sufficiently high proportion of its readers were comfortable with French for a translation to be both patronising and redundant ...

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John Sturrock: On Bullshit, 17 April 2003

... the Messenger, a title rich in ‘poor me’ implications; this one is called The Wages of Spin (John Murray, 261pp., £18.99, March, 0 7195 6481 6), the implication of which is that Sir Bernard wants to impose a buffer zone between himself and those who now do the bullshitting job he once did: they being headed, it seems, not for a knighthood but for the ...

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John Sturrock: Blair’s wars, 6 November 2003

... action. ‘It is some feat to go to war five times in six years,’ are the opening words of John Kampfner’s Blair’s Wars (Free Press, £17.99). ‘That statistic impelled me to write this book.’ It’s good that Kampfner was impelled to write it because he has done an excellent job in going back, Blair war by Blair war, over the political history ...

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John Sturrock: Reading Butler, 5 August 2004

... not so subconscious desires of their political masters and dressing the intelligence up. So should John Scarlett, the head of the JIC, take the rap? Not according to Butler: ‘We realise that our conclusions may provoke calls for the current chairman of the JIC, Mr Scarlett, to withdraw from his appointment as the next chief of SIS [MI6]. We greatly hope that ...

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John Sturrock: A Bath in the Dock, 18 December 2003

... It’s a strange thing when, in the course of a murder trial at the Old Bailey, a cracked plastic bath is carried into the courtroom, and a second strange thing when no one at the time thinks to ask why on earth it was needed there. The bath had been unplumbed from a house in Cambridgeshire, driven to London and, like a fair few of the arrested before it, been roughed up when in police custody, bearing two cracks once it was on display in the courtroom where before it had only one ...

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John Sturrock: Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, 7 October 2004

... We live in an age, or if not an age a country, where seemingly novel disorders of the mind or body are given names that leave you in no doubt as to their novelty. Who would have thought, for example, that the 18th-century shooter of lines, Baron Munchausen, would one day have his place on the list of state-of-the-art ailments as the patron of something called Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy? This is not the snappiest form of words that diagnosticians have at hand to scare a patient with; indeed, it trips so uneasily from the tongue that you wonder how often it actually gets said when the professionals confer on what they take to be cases of it ...

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John Sturrock: Books and balls, 8 February 2001

... If the balaclava’d guerrilleros of the Animal Liberation Front run short of targets once they’ve seen off the laboratories full of victimised mice, they might consider picketing the rare but potentially newsworthy venues in which academic psychologists on the professional ascent try to make up their minds whether animals, too, have minds that can be made up ...

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John Sturrock: Philosophical Quick Fixes, 31 October 2002

... In your average bookstore, the volumes stacked by the dozen and sold under the heading of Self-Help are liable to be found quartered in the same part of the building as those falling under the less obviously improving rubric of Philosophy. It’s a little hard to see why, in the present age, when Philosophy has wrapped its professionalism aloofly around it and sneaked off down the corridor into the seminar room, casting sufficient doubt as it retreats from view on the mere existence of a self to make the notion of Self-Help seem at best paradoxical and at worst inconceivable ...

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John Sturrock: John Reid tries to out-Blunkett Blunkett, 2 November 2006

... in its own mind the administration is now answerable to nobody at all. Only in his dreams could John Reid imagine that the changes that would be required to the present more than adequate anti-terrorist laws to enable the Home Office’s hitherto frustrated torturers to be let loose on selected inmates of Abu Belmarsh, could be got through the House of ...

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John Sturrock: Iraq’s Invisible Weapons, 19 June 2003

... Given that it’s not so far been settled to everyone’s satisfaction exactly what the belligerents had in mind when they went to war in 1914, we shouldn’t perhaps get too impatient as the junta who ordered up the invasion of Iraq try to settle on a postwar reason for having done so that will make those of us who remain unretractably opposed to it seem to be sulking, or even Saddam-friendly ...

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John Sturrock: Spun and Unspun, 7 August 2003

... Stendhal once observed that to introduce politics into a work of fiction was like firing a pistol during a performance in the theatre, a loud and unwanted intrusion of the real on a setting all calculated artifice. The analogy was brought to mind two weeks ago by the death of David Kelly, a real event which intruded in a shocking way on the calculated artificiality of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee before which he’d been called, a body convened on the face of it to determine whether the Government had earlier misled all of us in persuading itself there needed to be a war; or whether, less seriously and once the war was over, a BBC journalist had misled rather fewer of us about the degree and nature of the Government’s duplicity ...

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John Sturrock: Football slang, 2 December 2004

... It’s not every day that the soccer tifosi, those hardcore empiricists, come face to face with a well nigh theoretical observation to the effect that ‘football matches are iterative,’ which might give one to think that the teachings of the late Jacques Derrida, who had a lot to say about, and some cruel conclusions to draw from the iterability of language, had finally penetrated the press-boxes of Highbury and Old Trafford, there to sap the presumptions of the Saturday afternoon lodgers, as they sit at their laptops hurriedly searching for what just could be, you never know, novel ways of describing the familiar happenings they can see developing down below on the grass ...

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John Sturrock: The Evil List, 25 April 2002

... Living as we do in the Land of the League Table, there’s sadly little call to be surprised by the appearance of what some will see as a prosopographical breakthrough: a book confidently entitled The Most Evil Men and Women in History (Michael O’Mara, £15.99) and with a cover where the word ‘evil’ appears in black in a type size several magnitudes greater than that of its supporting syntax ...

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