Saturday, 12 April 2014

Taking Up the Hitchens' Challenge...

Years ago I went into a trendy bookshop outside Bradford and asked if they had any biographies of General Gordon (of Khartoum). The bearded bookseller gave me a surprised look which I read as:  ‘A book about a British military imperialist? Pah!’  On the way out I noticed plenty of biographies about Adolf Hitler. 

Recently I had a somewhat similar experience in a bookshop in Bradford. I asked yet another bearded chap if the store had books by Peter Hitchens and Christopher Hitchens. “I don’t think we’ve got any by Peter Hitchens,” he replied quickly, in case I was a left wing spy checking out the shop’s PC credentials.  But he went off and helpfully came back with three or four volumes by the late Christopher Hitchens.

One of them was a large volume of essays at nearly £15. Another was his autobiography Hitch-22, which cost just under £10. “If you were on a desert island and could only take one of these books, which one would it be?” I said. He hummed and hahed for a bit, then proffered the less expensive autobiography, assuring me that it was brilliant. I liked him for that.


“Michael Gove said the same as you,” I added somewhat slyly. “Michael Gove!” he said, seemingly astonished by the idea that David Cameron’s Education Secretary, the man who pushed through privately-run academies and free schools, should  approve of a book by a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist and militant atheist. “Hmmm. You shouldn’t under-estimate people,” I said sententiously. Of course, that’s precisely what I do all the time.

It was Gove’s written recommendation in a newspaper that had sent me into Waterstone’s in the first place. I am so pleased that I followed my instinct. An encouraging review, especially from an unexpected quarter, is a god-send. I’ve been reading chapters of Hitch-22: A Memoir in Caffe Nero before work, on the bus home after work, and, on one occasion, in work, with great pleasure to coin a cliche. It's a history of his life and times written with generous, self-examining intelligence. I like that in writers. Those who turn their critical eye upon the world only are too needy and sometimes too nerdy.

Anyway, last night I Googled up a two-hour debate between the Hitchens brothers that took place in a church in the United States two years ago. They had been invited to argue the case for and against the Iraq war and the case for and against the existence of God. The difference between them was clearly evident in the way they carried themselves. Peter was edgily combative, nervously forthright. Christopher was charming in a deadly kind of way, turning statements into questions, daring the audience to take him on, trans-Atlantically confident in his ability to take on and defeat all-comers.  

During the course of the exchange Christopher issued a public challenge. The old polemicist must have done this dozens of times, judging by the way he relished his calculated effects. Like an after-dinner raconteur aiming for the final word, he asked the audience if anyone could come with up an example of a religiously-inclined person doing a single moral act beneficial to mankind that could not have been done by a non-believer.

Okay, how about Tony Blair and George W Bush? The former British Prime Minister and US President, both believers, sent armies into Iraq to defeat the forces of Saddam Hussain - a decision warmly supported and defended by Christopher Hitchens, in spite of the falsehoods about WMD, in spite of the killing of thousands of civilians, in spite of the consequent chaos and instability. His only regret was that the decision to invade had been in 2003 and not earlier: the world was most definitely a better place without the fascistic Ba-athist party of Saddam in power in the Middle East, he said. Bush and Blair didn't have to be believers to go to war, but they were/are. Did he ever ask them the question he asked his audience, I wonder.

If that's out of order, then what about President Abraham Lincoln? Without his 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States slavery would not have been abolished by Congress in 1865. Then there's the Reverend Martin Luther King and all those God-fearing political activists among the Freedom Riders who took on the apartheid-approvers of the Deep South at the risk of physical injury and death. Lincoln and King, of course, were both murdered for their troubles, as was Mahatma Gandhi - not a Christian, admittedly, but nevertheless not an atheist either.

I don't know if Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans thought that God was on their side when they set up the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany to publically oppose Hitler. They were both guillotined. German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenberg concentration camp in April 1945 - two years after being imprisoned. He was an active anti-Nazi dissident who helped Jews escape to Switzerland and supported attempts to assassinate Hitler. Pastor Martin Niemoller was another anti-Nazi clergyman who was  imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. Nearer his own life and times, Christopher Hitchens could have recalled Polish Roman Catholic priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko, an active supporter of the banned shipyard trades union Solidarity during the time of martial law, who was murderd by Polish Communist Party security police in 1984.

Were all these people "slaves of a celestial tyranny", as Christopher Hitchens was wont to describe believers? Slaves, however, were what Thomas Jefferson had at Monticello, his Frenchified mansion in Virginia. Hitchens, who greatly admired the co-author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, doesn't flinch away from this in his memoir. That's partly why I found myself warming to the book. For what it's worth, I am happy to endorse Michael Gove's recommendation.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Hot Air

As I was pounding the treadmill in the gym on the eve of the second Farage v Clegg European Union lightweight title fight, it was my misfortune to be confronted with BBC Television's Six O'Clock News.

I should explain that these instruments of self-torture face a wall on which there is an array of nine flat-screens showing a variety of programmes about sport, food, chat shows or quiz shows, pop videos and news. The screen on my left was showing the news.

And top of the agenda was the air pollution over England. In BBC speak this seemed to mean London. An obsese woman in a cafe was talking anxiously about the difficulty of breathing. Lose some fucking weight, I nearly shouted, and you wouldn't have trouble breathing.

That wasn't the point of the story, of course. Here was yet more eco scare-mongering to frighten the timorous and vindicate planet-saving warriors. It followed hot on the heels of the previous day's lead story about the world being on the brink (yet again) of a man-made global warming holocaust - according to yet anaother scary report emanating from the discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This tale was given the full treatment by the BBC and, to their shame, by ITV.

That same day the Heartland Institute's Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change in America had published a report of more than 1,000 pages taking issue with everything in the UN report. But this document was totally ignored by the media. I only got to know about it on Richard North's EU Referendum blog.

Of especial irritation was the news wangle linking mm global warming with the recent flooding of the Somerset Levels. There wasn't a whisper, of course, about the EU directives on wetlands, wildlife and drainage that just might have been a teeny-weeny bit influential in the drowning of the ground where King Alfred took refuge from maurauding Danish Vikings in the ninth century.

Anyway, 24 hours later that IPPC report was yesterday's news as warm winds from the Sahara blew more fine powder over the head of that fat woman in London babbling on about the difficulties of breathing. Today, I hear, our own Prime Minister cancelled his morning jog for fear of ending up with Arab dust in his lungs. And this is the man who says he's going to face down Angela Merkal over the EU and Vladimir Putin over Crimea. I think not. Rich Londoners spend so much time stuffing fine powder up their noses you wouldn't think they'd be bothered by a bit of dust from Lawrence of Arabia land.

This stuff blew over Bradford as well, giving the sky the same scoured whiteness as on the cover of the U2 album, October. I walked to the station this morning and here I am, Mr Cameron, to tell the tale.

I didn't watch the Clegg-Farage scrap. Highlights on the news were enough to irritate me even more (which is why I don't normally watch the news). The BBC pitched it as a debate about whether Britain should stay in Europe of leave it. For the love of Holy Christ, the argument is about leaving the bloody European Union - not the continental landmass across the Channel, which has been integral to our history since the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans came, saw and conquered.

Farage-Clegg might have picked up a hint of this had they watched Professor Robert Bartlett's lucid three-parter The Plantagenets on BBC 2 - Henry II to Richard III. Europe has been part of our consciousness for centuries. Cressy and Agincourt, the Black Prince and Henry V, victories against overwhelming odds in unpropitious circumstances - isn't that what we pride ourselves on? One hundred years ago British soldiers went back across the Channel to die in their thousands for the sake of Europe.

We are deeply embedded in Europe and Europe is deeply embedded in us. All the talk of the EU representing a pan-European consciousness as against what is caricatured as a little Englander mentality just doesn't hold water - unlike the Somerset Levels. That's where you'll find the reality of the meddling EU.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Send for Lord Lucan and the Light Brigade...

About 160 years ago, Britain, France and Sardinia joined forces with the 'Sick Man of Europe' - Turkey - to fight a war against Tsarist Russia.

Ostensibly the bone of contention between the big three was the right to safeguard Christian places of worship in the Holy Land - Palestine in 1854. But as every bored GCE 'O' Level history student was told by equally bored history teachers, the Crimean War was about keeping Russia out of the Eastern Mediterranean via the Dardenelles Straits and the Black Sea.

The war was a bloody one. Between 1853 and 1856 the Russians and their enemies put an estimated 1.7m men into the field. Fatalities totalled more than 700,000 with thousands more wounded. Britain lost more than 20,000 men. The result pushed the Russians out of exotic Balkan territories such as Moldavia and Wallachia and, for a few more years, sustained the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against Russian Imperial territorial ambitions. 

All we got out of it was a poem by Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale (we ignored Mary Seacole because she was from Kingston, Jamaica), the first photographs of a battlefield, the invention of the Victoria Cross, a pithy quip from Liberal MP John Bright who said Crimea was A Crime, and GCE questions about the dreaded Eastern Question. 

Evidently we didn't learn much because here we are again, with another contrived face-off in Crimea. And once again it seems to be Europe which has engineered the current crisis by encouraging instability in the Ukraine and then seeking to exploit it with a network of binding agreements. The poor old western Ukrainians were led to believe that the European Union was the gateway to freedom and prosperity.

Since Sunday's referendum which resulted in the people of Crimea voting overwhelming to pal up with Russia, EU apologists such as Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as the United States have denounced the referendum as illegal and a sham.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The European Union's record of responding to referendums is as questionable as anything that Vladimir Putin and his boys are capable of gerrymandering. 

In 1992 the European Community eagerly endorsed referendums in Slovenia and Croatia that resulted in the fragmentation of the federal state of Yugoslavia - a country formed of various bits of the Balkans after World War 1 - which rapidly led to war. NATO was obliged to intervene to deal with the mess engineered by the EC.

No constitutional change can be imposed on the member states of the European Empire, we are told, if one of those members votes against it. Well, we know that's not true. Between 2005 and 2008 the proposed European constitution - which became the Lisbon Treaty - was kicked into touch three times in referendums in France, the Netherlands and the Irish Republic.

What happened? Each time the boys in Brussels simply declared that the people had in reality voted for an improved union of member states. In short Brussels carried on regardless as though the referendums had been a vote of confidence. And in Britain? Prime Minister Gordon Brown simply said the Lisbon Treaty had altered the constitution so there was no need to hold a referendum.

We know this. Vladimir Putin and his men certainly know this. President Obama, if he does know this, gives no sign of acknowledging that there is a degree of hypocrisy at play in the European Union's response to events east of the Dneiper. 

But don't expect that to hit the headlines. Those organising the news to suit their own agenda should remember that you can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the peole all of the time.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Global Cold War Warming Up (again)

News that Russian military forces have moved into areas of the Crimea didn't surprise me and shouldn't surprise anyone else old enough to recall what happened in 2008 when the republic of Georgia decided to reclaim South Ossetia by force.

For a week that August foreign correspondents abroad and news editors at home were all speculating on the possibility of another Cold War stand-off between the West and Russia after the latter sent the 58th Army and airborne units into Ossetia to repel the Georgians. For a short but intense period of nostalgia and alarm we were once again on the slopes of the big Red glacier.

The reality was less catastrophic. In all some 275 soldiers were reportedly killed and about 1,500 wounded. Civilian displacements were given as 158,000. French President Nikolas Sarkozy, in his role as European Union President-in-waiting, helped broker a cease-fire with Russian President Medvedev. There was a six-point peace plan. Russian forces were withdrawn from all but 20 per cent of Georgia.

Western Europe did not freeze over, probably to the disappointment of global doom-mongers. Far from it, our part of the EU heated up as thousands of Eastern Europeans poured westwards. Life went on and we soon forgot all about Red Armageddon.

For outsiders like myself, the Cold War was John Le Carre's best spy thrillers and the sort of idealised trips to Eastern European countries undertaken by western poets and novelists that John Updike wrote about so well in his Henry Bech stories. Those on the receiving end of Russian military intervention will have a radically different view of it.

Ukrainians can point to 90 years or more of it. But then not all Ukrainians have the same feelings about Russia in its incarnation as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But whether you belong to the faction who thinks the people's flag is deepest red or the faction who thinks it is stained with innocent blood, Russia is never going to stand by and watch the world's 44th largest country steal away to enrich the European Union.

It was unwise for anybody to believe that could happen. Egypt and Syria may have inspired a rush of blood to the head of those who dreamed of independence, but the outcomes of the revolutions in both countries appear to have caused more problems than they have solved, principally the problem of freelancing Islamic insurgents. Vladimir Putin is not going to permit another Chechneya to happen.

In comparison with what was taking place across the Dnieper, Angela Merkel's away day in London - tea and biccys with the Queen at Buck House, more tea but without sympathy for the Head Prefect at Number 10, followed by giving Peers and MPs a good talking to at the Palace of Westminster - must have seemed like visiting the Cubs.

All those sherry-faced cherubs with floppy hairdos smiling admiringly up at her, as though Germany's Chancellor was a dominatrix in a blue bum-freezer. How many of them miss the verbal spankings that Margaret Thatcher handed out? Next, in spite of current posturings about sanctions and the like, it will be Vladimir Putin, bare-chested, riding a horse up Whitehall. Won't the prefects love that (oohh, talk tough to me tovarich, talk dirty real politick!).  I'd be surprised if they didn't miss the Cold War too.

For is it not true that a common enemy, real or imagined, is a god-send for keeping warring factions in check? I believe that in Brussels' diplomatic Euro-speak this is known as the beneficial crisis.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Is History About to Repeat Itself?

With Russia making threatening noises about foreign intervention in neighbouring Ukraine and the the European Union sending in its foreign affairs supremo, the Baroness Cathy Ashton, I was reminded of events 22 years ago which arguably helped to provoke the first war on the European mainland since 1945.

But because I am a bear of astoundingly little brain I thought I'd better Google back to refresh my diminishing little grey cells. In 1992 the New York Times carried a report, parts of which I reproduce here:-

In a triumph for German foreign policy, all 12 members of the European Community, as well as Austria and Switzerland, recognized the independence of the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia today.
In a series of separate statements, various European governments asserted that the Belgrade Government no longer had a right to rule the two republics.
"Slovenia and Croatia have held referendums that showed clearly that their people want independence," a statement issued by the Danish Foreign Ministry said. "It is now time to fulfill the desire their people have expressed."
In Belgrade, the Serbian-dominated Government denounced the decision on recognition as "contrary to the sovereign rights of Yugoslavia." The Government said it would continue to function until all six Yugoslav republics reached an agreement on their future relations.
The action by the European Community marked an important diplomatic victory for Germany, which has vigorously supported Slovenian and Croatian independence. German officials announced last month that they would recognize the two republics regardless of the wishes of other European countries, and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher lobbied intensely for the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Mr. Genscher said in a radio interview today that he was "very happy" with his success. He asserted that Croatia "has achieved the highest imaginable standard of respect for minority rights."
Leaders of Croatia and Slovenia today expressed gratitude for Germany's support. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia said recognition of his republic's independence was due largely to "the wise policy of the German Government."
But Serbian leaders deplored the European Community's decision and singled out Germany for special criticism. Vladislav Jovanovic, the Serbian Foreign Minister, described Germany's role as "particularly negative," and said he regretted that other European Community leaders had decided to follow the German lead.
"It is a very serious precedent to encourage unilateral secession in one multinational state," Mr. Jovanovic said in an interview broadcast on British television.
 Although most European governments favored eventual recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, some had sought to postpone today's announcement so recognition could be part of an overall peace settlement in the Balkans. But German officials insisted that recognition was the only way to force the Serbs to accept a settlement.
Germany's decision to press for quick recognition of the two republics, disregarding appeals from the United States and the United Nations, marked a new assertiveness that some Europeans find disconcerting.

Quite apart from the novelty of European Community members, as they were called then, taking the moral high ground on the principle of supporting the outcome of referendums, there is the suggestion that the EC embodies the principle of national sovereignty. I fear that people in the western half of Ukraine, at least, believe that. We should not encourage them in that chimera. But I daresay we will.

Remember what happened next in what was then Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1999? I can remember Srebrinicia, the term "ethnic cleansing", and television pictures of Sarajevo under Serbian artillery bombardment and sniper fire. I remember NATO warplanes over Belgrade and Kosovo. I daresay centuries of sectarian hatred and tribal mistrust played a big part in the killings - more than 100,000 - and the destruction. You would have thought the wise men of Europe would have realised that after the death of a strong leader, in this case Yugoslavia's President Tito, the destructive forces that he had contained were bound to explode at the slightest encouragement. Newly reunited Germany gave it, and boom!

If the freedom fighters on the barricades in Kiev ever do get their way and find themselves embedded in the European Union they will find that they have swapped the devil they know for one they are not familiar with. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

When Will I Ever Learn?

I did three things this week which I regret. At the weekend I persuaded myself and Lesley to attend a birthday party in spite of the fact that I do not like parties of any kind. The people who invited us were surprised, perhaps even astonished, when I turned up. They appreciated the gesture but were not surprised when we left after 25 minutes.

The second mistake occurred when the newsdesk asked if Bradford's current Bishop, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, was likely to be chosen by 10 Downing Street to be the bishop of the Church of England's newest and biggest Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. I said no. He had gone on sabbatical and, anyway, I thought he was after another post. Next day, of course, the news of his appointment was released.

My third blunder of the week, and by far the most regrettable, was watching Question Time tonight. Bradford's Respect Party MP George Galloway was on the panel, so I thought I'd better. The programme came from Gillingham, Kent. The panel was asked four questions. The first one was, in light of Coronation Street actor William Roache being found not guilty of rape and sexual assault, should the accused in rape cases be granted anonymity until the charge was proven. The second question concerned Education Secretary Michael Gove's pronouncement that there should be no difference between state schools (in reality public schools) and public schools (in reality private schools). The third question sought the panel's views on whether public sector workers such as London Underground staff should be barred from going on strike. The fourth question was why weren't there more women MPs in Parliament - as though that mattered. They may have been a fifth question but as I didn't stay for answers to the fourth I don't know.

While I quite enjoy George Galloway putting himself out there as the people's tribune, and I wonder at David Starkey's self-regard, I would have been better off researching the background to the Coen Brothers 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy, which we'd just watched. Instead I was revisited by something I had banished from my life several years ago: the mistake of thinking that Question Time is an open public debate with the purpose of generating more light than heat on matters of public interest and concern. Wrong, stupid: it's entertainment.

A measure of my exasperation may be gauged by my reaction to the question about women MPs, which was: 'Wasn't Margaret Thatcher enough for you?' 'Isn't it enough to see Harriet Harman nodding her head behind Ed Miliband?' Listen: there are far too many MPs, male and female, in that Westminster club, nodding their heads as EU directives pass unexplained and unchallenged into law. It's also a measure of how London is still regarded as the epicentre of the country by people south of Watford and north of the Medway. While the panel and the audience were blathering on about Bob Crow and Boris Johnson and the inconvenience the two-day tube strike caused business people, doctors and teachers (the rest of the population don't count of course - the Queen never uses the Underground and Peers pop into the Lords by cab), I imagine the beleaguered people of Somerset and Dorset were cheering them on, saying to one another, 'Thank God we live in a democracy'. No one mentioned the flooding, the emergency rescue of animals from waterlogged farms in Somerset, the battering of the Western coastal railway through Dawlish. Nah. Who cares about country bumpkins when Londoners have to undergo a minor inconvenience for a couple of days? The £100m pledged by David Cameron is but a spit in a bucket. The Environment Agency has probably saved that over the past 14 years by not dredging rivers. If 44 acres of inner London were under water that would be treated as a national emergency.

Last year Hebden Bridge in  West Yorkshire was badly flooded and the reason given by locals was that the River Calder that runs through the town had not been dredged properly, causing the riverbed to silt up, forcing water from torrential and persistent rain storms to overflow. The same applies in Somerset, in those 44 or more acres under water. Priority has been given, it seems, to following an EU directive on the creation and promotion of wetlands for the benefit of wildlife. Regular river dredging has therefore been stopped. I'm only surprised that the people of these affected areas aren't in Brussels dumping slurry and sewage outside the well-appointed offices of the European Commission. Still, as none of the people on Question Time thought this was a matter worthy of public interest and concern, I don't suppose it matters.

I'll pass on the question about schools. The whole purpose of what these places are for needs to be debated, not merely whether state schools are worse than Eton and Harrow. The question is irrelevant for those who don't believe that this satellite state of the EU is run by the best and the brightest. The Cabinet is full of public school boys. If you think they are fuck-ups why would you want your child to have the education they had? There is only one reason and that's to come out at the end of it socially well-connected with easier access to sources of lucrative employment. Education ceased to be about love of learning long ago. 

Should alleged rapists be granted anonymity? There was a row between George Galloway and David Starkey about what rape was. Starkey, ever the scholar, declared that the word in its Latin root meant 'violence'. Galloway said he was appalled. Rape was a criminal offence whether it was violent or not. Starkey had a point when he said that the law had become a mess. When women alleging rape were believed without question the presumption of innocence disappeared from the scales of justice.

I was nodding my head at this idea until I thought, 'What about that female soldier who killed herself because the British Army refused to believe her accusation against two male soldiers? Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement hanged herself after the Army refused to press charges. Then I found that a couple of days ago Tracey Shelvey,  a 41-year-old mother, had jumped to her death from a shopping centre in Rochdale after a former soldier was cleared of raping her. Are these two women to be dismissed as neurotic or hysterical fantasists? Neither of them were mentioned either by the panel or the Question Time audience - at least not in the version that was broadcast.

Those who make the mistake of thinking women as the fair sex, as though they are soft and fluffy toys, seriously patronise and under-estimate them. They can be every bit as vile as men and they are quite capable of killing others, including children. While there are men who live in fear of women, I'd say there are many more women, including Asian women, who are fearful of men, particularly their husbands.

But before anyone is publically accused of rape, murder or any serious crime likely to outrage public decency, shouldn't the evidence first be tested by judges before a case is brought to be answered in open court?  I thought that was what the Crown Prosecution Service was supposed to do. Don't forget, the CPS was set up after life sentences imposed on the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four were revoked or quashed because police evidence was found to be unsafe. If you can't trust the forces of law and order, MPs, and the BBC, who can you trust?

Why, the European Union of course.  And the royal family.

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Turkey of Wall Street

If you take the view that all people are basically feckless greedy assholes willing to do anything for mega bucks, you'd be likely to see Martin Scosese's biopic of rogue stockmarket trader Jordan Belfort as a satire on the vanity of human wishes.

The only thing that surprised me about The Wolf of Wall Street was the realisation that I, the misanthrope of Bradford, don't feel like that about people. I'm sure Mr Scorsese doesn't feel that way about his mother and father and scores, if not hundreds, of other people too.

I remembered a line from Robert De Niro's fine film A Bronx Tale, about a kid growing up in New York torn between his poor but honest father, a bus driver, and a charismatic local hood. In one scene De Niro's character takes the boy aside and explains to him that real bravery means getting up every day, no matter the weather, and doing an honest day's work to support your family. No cheap shots, no short cuts, and little thanks either. That's what a real man does.

A Bronx Tale came out in 1993, six years after Oliver Stone's Wall Street in which Michael Douglas excelled as the charismatic "Greed is good" stockmarket asset-stripper Gordon Gecko. De Niro's film felt like a corrective in case Americans thought Gordon Gecko was basically right, or as he said about himself in the film, "I am not a destroyer of companies: I am a liberator of companies!"

Stone had another go in 2010 with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a less interesting film than the 1987 original, I thought. By that time of course the world's banking system had been brought to the eve of destruction, to coin a phrase, by real-life Geckos - investment bankers, insurance brokers and stockmarket outlaws - aided and abetted by governments in the United States, Britain and elsewhere, that had deregulated financial services.

His film was infintely less shocking than Charles H Ferguson's documentary about Wall Street's Sub-Prime scam, Inside Job, which also came out in 2010 and won an Oscar. Some of the people Ferguson interviewed revealed how Wall Street's corporate raiders ripped off the public, made multi millions, and celebrated with cocaine and hookers at every opportunity.

It wouldn't be fair to compare The Wolf of Wall Street with Wall Street and Inside Job because it doesn't tell us anything we didn't know or take us on a journey of any kind. For that to happen there has to be a degree of empathy with the human drama or comedy being played out. At the end of The Wolf of Wall Street I left the cinema saying: "Everyone's an asshole, everyone - except the FBI man." You can admire what Leonardo DiCaprio puts into the role of Jordan Belfort, but unless you're a secret admirer of Wall Streets's Geckos, you won't give a damn about his character's fate, the fate of his friends and associates, family or anybody else connected with his view of the world.

And because the film is told exclusively from Belfort's point of view - he is also the film's narrator - you might just wonder what the point of it is supposed to be. It can't be a salute to the American work ethic because Belfort and his cronies work hard at making their money by ripping off investors, breaking the law and behaving like a bunch of drug-crazed adolescents, banging their chests - even the women - and making  predatory animal noises. They chant "Wolfie!" At one point Belfort motivates his burgeoning force of market raiders by making an analogy with a US Army M16 rifle. "Make them invest or make them die!" he yells, eyes bulging. This is reminiscent of Gordon Gecko's glib, "We're in the kill zone, pal, lock and load." But when the law threatens to topple their empire they shout "Fuck the USA!" That's when you think perhaps this is a modern Vanity of Human wishes satire.

I don't think it is because, hey, these are crazy people portrayed as larger than life, who like to party on the job, in every sense. Women are sex toys. Some of their druggy party antics caused merriment among the cinema audience. And in truth there were times when the film felt like it wanted to be Police Academy when clearly the idea was to outdo Wall Street by ramping up the excesses. In this respect the film was more like The Look of Love, the biopic of Paul Raymond starring Steve Coogan. I thought that was a pretty vacuous piece of work. The Wolf of Wall Street, though it has bags more drugs, sex, swearing and high-energy acting, is likewise pretty vacant. Wolfie's a turkey.

Trouble is, unlike Wall Street, the film doesn't have Martin Sheen playing a blue collar man of the people, a contrast to the red-braces amorality of Gordon Gecko. The FBI man flits in and out but his appearances are diminished by the ever-present Belfort, presenting the story his way. The film needed another perspective. The narrator should have been the FBI man, not Belfort.

I'm not morally against stories about rogue traders and twisters. I thought Leonardo painted a masterly portrait of real-life forger Frank Abagnale in the 2002 biopic Catch Me If You Can. But that film was directed by Steven Spielberg and also starred Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. I started watching that for want of something better to do and ended up absorbed by the story. I'd willingly watch it again.

I won't be watching The Wolf of Wall Street again. The story's too slight and I don't need to sit in a cinema for nearly three hours to learn that, given the opportunity, some people will behave like assholes. Best thing in the film was the sound of Howlin' Wolf''s Smokestack Lightning.