Diary – Thursday 31 August 1995


Taxi-drivers in Huairou, an hour’s drive from Peking and the site of the unofficial bit of the UN Women’s Conference, have been told to keep their rear-view mirrors trained on their passengers. This is in case any of the foreign women in the back seat turn out not to be delegates but prostitutes who “start to remove their clothes in the car”. Still, they could be forgiven for their confusion over Western sexual ethics. At another of the recent big UN jamborees, speakers from one delegation made a ringing denunciation of pornography. An informant who hacked into their hotel computer informs me that the delegates concerned made liberal use of their pay-as-you-yearn satellite TV channel. And they were not watching the sport.

There’s much jockeying, I hear, in the emergency aid department at the Overseas Development Administration over who should monitor the evacuation of the idyllic British dependency (the politically correct term for colony) of Montserrat, which is currently being threatened by a rumbling volcano. Disasters usually take place in unpleasant places like Somalia or Bosnia so trips to monitor them are a chore nobly undertaken, but everyone is keen to do their duty in the Caribbean.

Most of the population has been evacuated to the southern half of the island because, according to a US management-style analysis of the widely divergent scientific views, the volcano is 83 per cent likely to erupt. But not everyone can be moved there. The ODA has had to spend pounds 10,000 chartering a plane to move the island’s 15 convicts – four have gone to the Cayman Islands and 11 to the Turks and Caicos. No mention of safaris, however.

Plans to move the island’s hospital population are on hold largely because the patients are refusing to budge (the convicts had no say in the matter). Nonetheless, contingency plans are in hand. A hospital on a neighbouring island has offered to take them – but only if the ODA will stump up a couple of grand to open up a new room at the end of the ward. I think one of our men needs to fly out to check that one out.

I think I may have invented a new sociological index. I have been keeping an eye on the tri-weekly movements of places in the Official Ucas Course Guide which is taking up so many of this newspaper’s pages these days. What does it tell us about modern Britain that you can now get a degree in Beauty Therapy, Bookbinding, Celtic, European Studies, Horse Studies, Leather Technology, Leisure Management, Leisure Studies, Podiatry (chiropody to you) and Tourism and Travel?

What on earth are Contemporary Studies (Univ College, Scarborough) Informatics, Mechatronics and Independent Study (a degree in newspaper reading)? What will there be left to rebel about or do in your spare time if you study Popular Culture or Youth Studies (perhaps these will be modular with Artificial Intelligence or Real Time Systems). More significantly, why have all the places in Education Management been snapped up (it was there on Day One and had disappeared yesterday), while there are plenty of places left in boring old Education proper? And where has Golf Course Studies come from? I didn’t spot it on Day One but it has now mysteriously appeared. I think we should be told.

The omission of “argumentum ad baculum” from Professor Ted Honderich’s otherwise admirable Oxford Companion to Philosophy has produced a crop of helpful suggestions from readers. Prof H, you will recall, had forgotten what it meant. The OED says baculum means “the penis-bone … found in all primates except man”. So what could it mean: argument to the penis bone?

An argument which is below the belt, is the suggestion of Daniel Hill. To wit: “not only is your view nonsense but you couldn’t pull a minnow with that tackle”. Or “What do you know about the ethics of sexual behaviour, you can’t even get it up,” as Chris Bolger elegantly puts it. Jonathan Hulme proposes it is a corruption of argumentum ad bacillum – the germ theory which explains why teachers always get sick on the first day of the holidays. Mrs Williams from Llandudno suggests it is a psychosomatic cure for impotence while Ronald Mavor in Glasgow reveals that Baculum was the Roman name for Basildon, the quaint Essex town whose MP, David Amess, is distinguished by the power of his argumentation.

Vicki Stott of Cheadle Hulme defines it as an extension of the common- sense notion that any argument propounded by the male of the species is essentially bollocks. She reveals it is most prevalent in warmer climes where the female of the species wears revealing garments with minimal or no underwear. In such places, argumentum ad baculum is the norm, which explains why American politics is in its current state.

More boring readers explained, factually, that baculum is also the word for a walking stick, and more importantly, for the sceptre which symbolised magisterial authority. Hence, argumentum ad baculum is an appeal to force or intimidation as a tool of persuasion, an argument which in logic is a “fallacy of relevance”. Playing with which, Dr DJ Mela adds gloss about fellatious and phallacious arguments, for which he wins the epicurean bottle of Bollinger (the free copy of the mighty tome goes to Ms Stott). NS Price of Buckingham offers a tortuous piece of reasoning about why he should win the bubbly without a proper entry but there is no prize for being a clever dick.

Labour modernisers have now, it seems, even tackled the musical. On Saturday evening I went with a gang of chums to see Flora The Red Menace at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It is a jolly affair with the best tap-dancing I have ever seen outside a Fred Astaire film and bravura performances of songs first written in the Sixties by the team who wrote Cabaret. But the book, set in the US Depression, has been updated. The original story was of an innocent young artist who falls in love with a communist activist and is sacked when copies of the Daily Worker are found in her locker, planted by a Stalinist rival in love. In the new version she rejects the dopey, but decent bunch of naifs with a great display of spunky individualism. How far the hand of the Mandelson extends.