Thursday, 19 March 2009

John Humphrys has been pissing me off for a while

but yesterday I was on his side. Surely I am not alone amongst Today listeners in thinking that at some point (I think about 35 months ago, perhaps longer), Humphrys's 'tough interview technique' tipped over into the dangerously spiteful naysaying of a Mailesque curmudgeon. But the last item on Thursday morning's programme (go to the last story at the bottom of the page and you can hear the bit as I did), when I thought it might all go horribly wrong, he pulled it out and gave a bloody good bashing to a very silly man.

The silly man in question was a Commander John Muxworthy of the National Defence Association. Yes, really. I thought it was a joke, too. Like something out of one of those... whathisname's books? You know the one. Commander Muxworthy (to give him his full title, not out of respect but simply for fun) was there apparently to threaten politicians and scare the rest of us into staying with the ludicrous £20 billion decision to replace the Trident nuclear sub deterrent. (That's £20,000,000,000.00, right?)

Now, I don't suspect the National Defence Association has an agenda (!!??!!), but far from the question that Humphrys posed -- not do we need it, but can we afford it in a recession -- Commander Muxworthy persisted with the very predictable line that we need the nuclear deterrent so much that we simply can't afford not to have it. History is repeating itself, it seems, because in the depression of the 1930s, one brave voice stood up and argued against all logic for re-armament. And of course Sir Winston Churchill was proved correct, so therefore, presumably not to be a bunch of namby-pamby Chamberlains -- and assuming nothing else has changed in global politics in the last 80 years -- we must heed those courageous voices that once again rise and call for the maintenance of Her Majesty's fleet. I think he means Elizabeth II. This is courageous, in case you were wondering, because it runs against all logic and most realistic, sane analysis of the twenty-first century defence needs.

Humphrys's moment of grace came in the face of Commander Muxworthy's claim that the deterrent has been working effectively for the last 80 years, and is therefore absolutely essential to maintain peace in the future. Cue Humphreys's scepticism, at least this time well-directed: 'It is quite difficult to make the claim that something is essential if it has never been proven', he begins, going back on his own promise to discuss the need for the deterrent, rather than its affordability, but never mind, this was going to be good.

Commander Muxworthy guffaws gamely at the naive commoner. 'That's the whole point!' he says, entirely missing the point. The deterrent has been there, he explains like only a man of irrational faith can, and we know it has worked because it has defended us all of these years.

But Humphreys was not to be fooled. 'We don't know that,' he says. 'It could be a thousand other things. It could be because one day someone said "It's because I put my trousers on left leg first". There is no way of proving that the deterrent has worked.'

The good Commander then complains that defence spending should be the first priority of every government, but that in modern Britain it isn't, it's seventh (good lord!), and that for the last 25 years money that should have been spent on defence (that's guns and shit) has been 'poured' (i.e. away, wasted) on the 'big budgets of health and education'. At this point, Humphreys cuts the militaristic lunatic off. 'So we should take money from hospitals and schools and all the rest of it and spend it on Trident, which we'll probably never use.' Humphreys then talks to his other guest, the much saner Defence economist Professor Ron Smith, having to smack down Commander Muxworthy's interuptions, before concluding with the cheeky check-matey, 'Commander, you've got 10 second to tell why we would unilaterally -- not under the American umbrella -- use a nuclear weapon.' And this is another good question, and one that the Commander has to avoid with burbling, empty threats of voter power (i.e. politicians better pay heed because defence is important to them), which if I recall is a very dishonest manipulation of some dodgy stats, but never mind for now. He was spanked.

And why I enjoyed this particularly, I suppose, beyond the fact that it restores some of my faith in the quarterback of the Today team, is that it exposes the nuclear deterrent for the religious, devotional irrationality that it really is. And that also has the advatnage of exposing the devotional irrationality of religion itself as, well, akin to the madness of putting faith in the nuclear deterrent. It's like John Humphreys has created a brand new, rational and entertaining, argument against the nuclear deterrent akin to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose Noodly Appendage has touched me on several occasions.

So here's what we need to do. We need to find this man that Humphreys has revealed to us -- the one who single handedly has prevented the Prussian invasion of these shores, who has held back the tides of Commie ICBMs, simply because one morning 60 years ago he decided to put on his left trouser leg first. And we offer him £10 billion pounds to ensure that he keeps putting on his left trouser leg first, every morning, to keep our British children safe from the threat of slavery or total annihilation. A snip at half the price of Trident, and just as likely to work! Who's with me?

Of course Commander Muxworthy reminds us, too, that the present President of the United Kingdom National Defence Association is none other than the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, Winston Churchill. No, that's not a type-o. Confusing, isn't it? Commander Muxworthy raises this as irrefutable proof that his argument is right. Which is even more ridiculous, because I would have thought that good sense dictates that being the nostalgically-monikered grandson of Sir Winston Churchill would have explicitly prohibited one from occupying the position of President of the United Kingdom National Defence Association. But then only in Britain can a direct descendent of a famous and morally ambivalent holder of public office rise to prominence in a field from which their ancestor's behaviour should, by law, exclude them. Oh well the US, too, I suppose. I forgot about that last president and all.

Of course in Canada we would never do such a thing. By all accounts, Pierre Trudeau's son would already be Prime Minister of Canada -- he's smart, charming, articulate -- if his father hadn't already held the job. From what I'm hearing, Canadians are looking at him, all aglow, and get all excited, all wet with happy nostalgia, and then feel guilty, like it's a pleasure that they know they shouldn't be allowed to indulge. So he'll have to wait. And Brian Mulroney's son, I am pleased to report, had followed his father into public service. As a game show host. He gives prizes and money to contestants, not corporations. A small but important difference. But that is all he will be allowed. (And, to be fair, he's good at it... weird, eh?)

Bush girls, your destiny beckons.

7 comments:

  1. Oh God I love it when Humphrys gets a righteous boot in on someone. Whenever he's given anything soft or subtle, it's always painfully obvious that his only mode is confrontation; but when everything's primed for a satisfying showdown, a Humphrys is a beautiful thing.

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  2. You know what I'd pay to see? John Humphries on Loose Women.

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  3. I bet he'd like to see that too!
    Ba-Boom!!

    That was beneath me. I'm sorry.

    What do you suppose would happen to the Humph on Loose Women?

    And this is the thing with me and Humph. I'm starting to not always follow him down the Yellow Brick Road of Righteous Indignation. Sometimes, lately, I've found him a bit poopy.

    Is it just me?

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  4. It gives me great solace to know that Permanently-Road-Raged Humphreys and Paxo are still fighting it (though not even sure they know what 'it' is).

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  5. You can't call him Humph. Not with the late great Lyttleton not yet cold in his grave.
    But no, it's not just you. If permanent and unswerving righteous indignation was an intellectually tenable mindset, The Daily Mail would be an academic journal.
    When he gets it right, though, Humphries DOES do rant with more panache than the Hate Myself could ever hope for.

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  6. How *do* you spell his name, anyway?

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  7. 'If permanent and unswerving righteous indignation was an intellectually tenable mindset, The Daily Mail would be an academic journal'.

    It wanted saying again. Fantastic.

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