Peter Rhodes on echoes of the Abdication, forgetting the Cold War and understanding weather headlines
MATHS for beginners. A reader reports buying one item for £5 and another for £4. The shop assistant used a calculator to add them up.
NO surprises in this week's report in the Lancet linking heavy drinking with dementia; a pickled brain is never going to be a healthy brain. On the other hand, another report by scientists in California, also this week, suggests a couple of glasses of wine a day will help you live to see 90. I am reminded of a Scottish colleague who said this about whisky: "If we could just figure out how not to drink too little or too much, we'd live for ever." Research continues.
ON Wednesday the BBC finally lifted its blackout on the Corbyn/spy story. Even so, cynics will have noticed that the theme of Thought for the Day on the Today programme (Radio 4) was Silence is Golden.
FOR me, the most disappointing moment of the Beeb's non-coverage of the story came when the Voice of America website asked: "Was Britain's Labour Leader a Communist Spy?" Was anyone else reminded of the 1936 Abdication Crisis when King Edward's affair with Mrs Simpson was the talk of American newspapers but British media conspired to hush it up? I don't believe for a moment that Corbyn was any sort of spy but we live in an age when people are called to account for their deeds of 20 or 30 years ago. If hindsight applies to ancient financial or sexual judgments, then why not political judgments, too?
IF nothing else, the Corbyn yarn focuses attention on the Cold War, the 40-year face-off between communism and capitalism that seemed to slip out of our memory the moment the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. A generation has grown up knowing nothing about the Hungarian Uprising, the Prague Spring or East Germany machine-gunning its civilians who tried to leave. How many of today's under-40s, for example, have heard of Chapman Pincher? He was the ultimate spy-unmasking journalist during the Cold War. I had a few conversations with him in later life (he died in 2014 ,aged 100) and nothing depressed him more than the unseemly haste with which past treachery was forgiven. One day in 2011, we were chatting by email when I said people no longer seemed interested in the spies and subversives of the Cold War. “I get the message,” he wrote tersely. I never heard from him again.
IN the meantime, Corbyn threatens the Press with the words "change is coming." There are some in Westminster whose idea of a responsible journalist is one who discovers a senior politician once had meetings with an agent of a foreign state - and writes absolutely nothing about it. It may be time to remind ourselves of the most famous definition of the craft of journalism: "News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising."
UNDERSTANDING weather-related headlines. "Beast from the East brings Siberian snow-bomb nightmare" = It will be a tad chilly next week.