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The inner circle?

[ 2011-12-30 10:46]     字号 [] [] []  
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The inner circle?

Reader question:

Please explain “inner circle”, as in this sentence: Only the inner circle has the leader’s ear that things start going wrong.

My comments:

In other words, only the inner circle heard the bad news from “the leader” in a relatively timely fashion, the inner circle being the leader’s closest friends, most ardent political allies and staunchest supporters.

Politics being politics, all of these people may betray him but before they do, they remain the leader’s closest friends, ardent political allies and staunchest supporters. Hence, his inner circle.

If you are a political leader surrounded by throngs and throngs of your supporters in a public square, for instance, the ring of people closest to you is the innermost circle, including bodyguards and other flunkies or hangers-on. Inner, you see, means further in, more in than in – Inner city, for instance, the area that is immediately close to the city center. Inner, as opposite to outer, which means further out, outer space, e.g.

Inner, in short, suggests closeness, confidence and intimacy. Hence your inner circle of friends are your most trusted friends, whom you’ll invite to your home for dinner, for instance, or whom you confide in. This is obviously a privileged and exclusive group.

Exclusive to outsiders, that is. If only the inner circle of guests is invited to a closed door meeting, for example, that suggests a greater majority of other guests don’t get to get in. They are left out in the cold. Or at least that’s what it sometimes feels to be left out of the inner circle.

To put it in another way, the inner circle is the core group, guys that form the center of a larger group of people with a common purpose.

Enough said, I think. Here are a few carefully selected media examples to give you a concrete idea of what it feels to be in the inner circle (or to be left out):

1. Digging deeper into this malaise, what the author discovers is that two factors contribute to the myopic perspective of CEOs. One, the anachronistic obsession by CEOs and their top executives with keeping everything ‘secret’; and two, the inability or reluctance to view the brand as a tangible asset.

As for the second problem, there can be help from professional accountants who can put a value to brand. But the ‘secrecy’ factor is a more serious one, because it hinges on the common Asian belief that sharing plans with employees and external stakeholders can make the company vulnerable to competitors.

Consequently, it is most often only the inner circle that is familiar with the company’s direction and objectives. In many cases, however, not even the inner circle is appraised of these objectives or asked to contribute to their formulation...”

- Myopic CEOs, TheHinduBusinessLine.com, January 30, 2011.

2. According to Dr Jones, the Eugenics Society of Victoria was “an offspring of the University of Melbourne”. Many members of the society, which ran from 1936 to 1961, were academics at the university, including Sir John Medley, a vice-chancellor. The university’s “new” arts building is named after him.

Berry, professor of anatomy at Melbourne between 1906 and 1929, was responsible for the construction of a new anatomy building, which now houses the university’s maths and statistics department, and still bears his name.

Berry also collected Aboriginal ancestral remains, which became known as the Berry collection. In 2003, Melbourne University apologised for the “hurt and understandable indignation felt by indigenous Australians” after the collection - which included the bones and skulls of about 400 people, mostly Aborigines - was found locked in an anatomy department storeroom.

Dr Jones says there were other influential eugenicists who made Melbourne a focus for the movement.

“I’d be happy to put my head on the block and argue with any historians that Melbourne was the centre of eugenics in Australia,” he says.

According to Dr Jones, the eugenics society’s surviving subscription lists read like a who’s who of the academic, judicial, scientific and educational elite of Melbourne society. Names include Sir Keith Murdoch, Sir David Rivett, a former chief executive of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, later renamed the CSIRO, and Reverend G. K. Tucker, founder of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

But Dr Jones says that details about prominent people supporting eugenics have often been ignored or suppressed, due to sensitivities about the Holocaust. He says biographies about Kenneth Cunningham, a long-term president of the eugenics society, do not mention his membership, or if they do it’s “just in passing”.

Cunningham was founding director of the Australian Council for Educational Research, which was set up in 1930 to measure intelligence and still operates. “He (Cunningham) was a very hardline eugenicist,” Dr Jones says. “He believed in sterilisation. He was one of the inner circle.”

- A theory out of the darkness, TheAge.com.au, September 13, 2011.

3. THE black door opened magically as Charlie Butler approached, the doorman concealing himself behind it as it swung back. Charlie switched off his mobile phone and deposited it in the wooden rack. He climbed the stairs, passing the portraits of the forgotten or reviled or (less often) venerated prime ministers. Flunkies steered him through the smaller state rooms, with their uncomfortable-looking furniture, and into the large reception room that overlooked the garden.

This was where the assembled lobby journalists were to play the latest round of their unofficial game. At least, most of them would be playing. A handful were exempt; Charlie Butler was one of them.

The prime minister wasn’t there yet, but the spin doctors were mingling in their obscurely menacing way. Alan Cormack was talking to a harmless, bespectacled reporter from a struggling red top; Cormack threw back his head to laugh, swivelling his eyes as he brought his chin down to see who else he should be bullying. There were plates of mince pies on the side tables, and a couple of half-hearted sprigs of mistletoe above the doors. The waiters were circulating with the questionable Downing Street wine, lubricating that special bonhomie shared by journalists on the same beat, with their collegial but nakedly limited co-operation.

When Cormack saw Charlie he cut short his conversation with the bespectacled man and came over to talk to him. Charlie was from the Post: the biggest-selling tabloid in the country, and the evil empire’s flagship title. The bespectacled man understood.

“Evening, squire.”

“Evening, Alan.” Cormack had been a journalist himself, until the prime minister had spotted his talent for intellectual thuggery, fished him out of the tabloid swamp and made him his creature; Cormack’s gratitude, and his loyalty, were boundless. Charlie could see his premature bald patch reflected in the gilt mirror on the wall, the skin of his scalp reddened by the warmth of the party and the wine.

“How’s the handicap? There’s an 18-holer in Dubai now apparently. We might have time in between the pressers if you’re coming on that trip to the Arab League summit next month.”

“Not sure yet. Clashes with the other lot’s conference. He coming up?”

“He’ll be up. Bollocking the health secretary I think.”

A veteran from a broadsheet that had recently been bought by a Ukrainian oligarch came over and interrupted them. He was one of those fruity Fleet Street types who put on a permanently high-camp tone in lieu of humour.

“Dear boys,” he said. “Hell-oooo.”

Charlie scanned the room. The woman from the preachy daily and the man from the Post’s broadsheet stablemate, who everyone knew were having an affair, were chatting to each other at an ostentatiously safe distance. Most of the rest were positioning themselves for the game.

He excused himself and drifted off to the far corner of the room. He stood by himself, beneath one of the appalling portraits, half-hidden by a pillar.

Charlie never played.

The aim of the game was straightforward: to speak to the prime minister—by no means guaranteed simply be being on the invitation list and at Number 10. Exactly why they were all so keen to talk to him was less clear. The chit-chat was unlikely to yield anything resembling a genuine story, since the prime minister’s instinctive response to most questions was inwardly to think, “how and why is this person trying to destroy me?”, and to start gabbing about football. The most the players could realistically hope to pick up was some circumstantial detail that they could drop into an article, to make it look like they were in the inner circle: the colour of his tie, or the sudden greying of his hair, or some unjustified generalisation about his mood (“this week the prime minister seemed in better spirits than at any time since the referendum defeat”, etc). They would be able to tell their editors that they had spoken to him, and the editors might be pacified and impressed. But not very.

No, the real motive, for most of them, was self-respect. If they were going to come to these receptions—if they were going to do this strange, glamorous yet repetitive job, if they were going to be alive—they might as well act as if it mattered. There had to be a point to it, didn’t there? They were at a Christmas party in Downing Street, so they might as well grapple with the main man. Also, for most of them, the basic, childish thrill of it hadn’t worn off entirely, however long they’d been trailing him around, and despite everything they’d seen him do and fail to. He was still the prime minister, still anointed and invisibly shimmering with the balm of power.

Charlie sipped his wine. “Twats”, he thought. “You twats.”

- A Downing Street story, The game, The Economist, December 17, 2011.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Catbird seat

Can of worms?

The great leveler?

Stuck in a rut?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)