concern that 'the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts' (quoting Orwell) is surely best illustrated by the widespread careless use of the once-sacrosanct word 'fact'. When an interviewee says 'I disagree with the fact that...' or an interviewer asks 'what is your response to the fact that...' when in all such cases, they are referring not to a fact, but a claim, allegation, assertion or opinion, then rational evidence-based debate becomes impossible, and the listener is left with the impression that there are no facts, just opinions. Starting a sentence with 'so', 'look', 'but' and so on may be irritating, but it's the misuse of the word 'fact' that surely encourages 'foolish thoughts'.
did a fine job drawing out the similarities between Sir Alex Ferguson and Bill Belichick. Indeed, there was no evidence his mental faculties had been affected by a night spent 'hoovering up the finest array of snack food America had to offer'. He suggested the one significant difference between the two men was their attitude to star players, although it is arguable there was no single player during Ferguson’s time at Manchester United whose significance could be compared to that of Tom Brady. Another difference could have been mentioned: politics.
Ferguson’s relationship with the Labour Party, which grew out of his early life in Govan and the shipyards, is well known. He also knew the late Jimmy Reid and spoke at his funeral. Belichick, however, is reportedly a friend and supporter of Donald Trump. The same goes for Brady and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. In a pre-Super Bowl blog for the London Review of Books, NFL analyst Michael Carlson noted a congratulatory message from Belichick was read out by Trump during a campaign speech. It was these connections that prompted the New Republic to state, a little petulantly, that bad guys were on a roll in Trump’s America after the Patriots’ improbable Super Bowl comeback.
I’ve no idea if Ferguson would resist being compared to Belichick on these grounds but he might prefer to be mentioned alongside the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, the man for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named. Ferguson is on record as an admirer of both Lombardi, who died in 1970, and a biography written by David Maraniss. In his most recent memoir, Ferguson mentioned it when surveying his collection of books about significant historical figures. He also owns a book of Lombardi quotes. 'All coaches', Ferguson once said, 'see half of themselves in Vince Lombardi'.
A few years ago, in the print edition of the Scottish Review, I wrote an article about the father-in-law I never met – Scottish journalist and prolific playwright, Robins Millar. A while after the article had been published Tam Dalyell telephoned me with reminiscences he had about Robins. I handed the phone to my husband, Robins’s youngest son – who kept the following notes of the conversation:
'I (Tam) remember vividly being interviewed. I had just been elected and the Daily Express wanted a profile. The political editor wasn’t available and Robins was sent along as a substitute. We got on pretty cryogenically. He didn’t take to me but then I discovered he was born on Vancouver Island and I spent my 21st birthday working on Vancouver Island. I had also seen 'Once a Lady' (one of Robins’s plays) in Edinburgh. I think that was the autumn of 1962 – my recollection was that it was my first parliamentary summer recess and maybe Robins was on his way to the Edinburgh Festival. I remember his silver hair and cigarette. I told him that he couldn’t smoke. After 46 years I remember I was a bit of a prig about it. I was a member of ASH'.
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