Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Out on their own

This was going to be another one of those sophisticated cultured people (on the left, naturally enough, or in Europe) versus red-neck hicks and general right-wingers but it did not work out that way. I am talking about the story of Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland and the discussion about whether he should be extradited to the United States whence he fled some thirty-odd years ago, to avoid punishment for his crime.

Let me remind readers of this blog, though they probably know, that his crime was the drugging and repeated rape of a 13 year old girl. He subsequently justified it by explaining that everyone really wanted to have sex with little girls. (He used a different expression.) Given that he also had an affair with the 15-year old Nastassia Kinski when he was about 50, one can assume that his tastes run in that direction.

Normally, the people who are defending him would demand that he be imprisoned, the key thrown away and, probably, castrated. But hey, Mr Polanski is an auteur, a fashionable film director so the usual suspects sprang to his defence, pleading greater sophistication than his detractors.

Well, actually, some pleaded that it was all the girl's fault anyway. It seems that in certain cases, namely when the perpetrator is a well-known film-maker, rape is the victim's fault. Especially, when the victim is a child.

Among those who are defending him are the French Minister of Culture, the Polish Foreign Minister, his wife, the well-known Washington Post journalist, most of Hollywood (though John Nolte on Big Hollywood does not think this has anything to do with Polanski's talent or achievements) and writers on Huffington Post. Anne Applebaum, the aforementioned journalist and Mrs Radek Sikorski in private life, managed to forget to mention the relationship when she wrote her article and subsequently expressed the view that clearly the 13 year old girl knew what was going on and kept saying no just to tease.

However, even on HuffPo almost all readers then some of the writers expressed their disgust with the whole saga and insisted that the law is the law for everyone. And the good news is that the French are not as "sophisticated" as the Hollywood fruitcakes think. In fact, judging by their response to the French Culture Minister's blather, they are just ordinary human beings who are also appalled by Roman Polanski's behaviour. So the politicians are backing off. Well, you would expect that, wouldn't you.

Whom can you trust to display sophistication these days? Mind you, there has been a deafening silence from the left-wing feminist organizations. Well, why would they say anything? We are not talking of the heinous crime of not aborting your Down's Syndrome child here. And, anyway, have I mentioned that he is an auteur?

And now for something completely different

Here is a video of the 14 year old Deanna Durbin singing Il Bacio in the 1936 film, Three Smart Girls. It will cheer everyone up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What this presidency might achieve in the world

According to Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal the outcome of President Obama's peculiar combination of grandstanding (thank you TOTUS) amd dithering over important matters like Afghanistan may well provide the free world with an interesting lesson:
But as the pendulum has swung to a U.S. foreign policy based on little more than the personal attractions of the president, it's little wonder that the world is casting about for an alternative. And a view of the world that understands that American power still furnishes the margin between freedom and tyranny, and between prosperity and chaos, is starting to look better all the time. Even in France.
I am not sure how long American commentators can go on saying "even in France" in view of President Sarkozy's highly entertaining and remarkably sensible attack on President Obama's starry eyed proposals for the creation of a utopia.

The reason for Mr Stephens's comment was, apparently, an enquiry from a French journalist about the apparent reappearance of the neocons in American foreign policy debates. As a matter of fact, neocon is one of the most difficult political terms to define. That is to say, there is a narrow definition but, unfortunately from the point of view of those who want to rant and rave about American imperialism, it is far too narrow and applies to a generation that is getting to be too old to be of any real influence.

So, let us take the general, rather vague definition, whereby neocons are the people responsible for the United States moving into various parts of the world to protect or create free societies (as Europeans ought to recall) and, therefore, responsible for everything that has gone wrong oh, since the last time Americans were blamed for everything going wrong.

Seriously, though, the reason "neocon" ideas might be listened to again is quite simple according to Mr Stephens: the enemy did not disappear in a puff of smoke with the election of The One.
My answer was that the neocons are back because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il and Vladimir Putin never went away. A star may have shone in the east the day Barack Obama became president. But these three kings, at least, have yet to proffer the usual gifts of gold and incense and myrrh.

Instead, the presents have been of a different kind. North Korea claims to be in the final stages of building a uranium enrichment facility—its second route to an atomic bomb. Iran, again caught cheating on its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, has responded by wagging a finger at the U.S. and firing a round of missiles. Syria continues to aid and abet jihadists operating in Iraq. NATO countries have generally refused to send more troops to Afghanistan, and are all the more reluctant to do so now that the administration is itself wavering on the war.

As for Russia, its ambassador to the U.N. last week bellyached that the U.S. "continues to be a rather difficult negotiating partner"—and that was after Mr. Obama cancelled the missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Thus does the politics of concession meet with the logic of contempt.
The Administration, the American people and the West in general is learning some very hard lessons. Saying "I told you so" cheers me a little but not much.

Monday, September 28, 2009

No more grand coalition

Angela Merkel has been re-elected as Chancellor of Germany with the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, winning 33.8 per cent of the vote and the Social Democrats 23 percent; the FDP captured 14.6 per cent, the Left Party 11.9 per cent and the Greens 10.7 per cent.

There is no talk of another grand coalition and negotiations between the CDU/CSU and the only free-market party in Germany, the FDP, haver begun. Between them they will be able to muster 332 seats in the Lower House to the Left's 290. The SPD is definitely out of favour with the German public, having got its lowest share of votes since World War II or, to be precise, the formation of the German Bundesrepublik.

The Telegraph thinks there may be troubles ahead:
The next government faces major economic challenges. It will have to consolidate a surging budget deficit, cope with rising unemployment and ward off a credit crunch. The stock market looked set to open flat.

Mr Pofalla [GenSec of the CDU] said his party was sticking to its election promise of tax cuts.

"We want tax cuts in two steps in the next legislative period which will result in relief of 15 billion euros ($22.03 billion)," he said.

However, the FDP will push for a more ambitious programme. While Mrs Merkel has steadfastly refused to put a timeframe on her party's plans, given the dire state of public finances, the FDP campaigned for quick cuts worth 35 billion euros.
Meanwhile, one of the hurdles for the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty is out of the way.
Ahead of her victory in the German bundestag elections, there was a boost for Angela Merkel who had devoted a great deal of energy into pushing forward the Lisbon Treaty – the September 25 2009 signing of the treaty in Berlin by German president Horst Koehler.

Earlier, both houses of Germany’s parliament approved legislation to ensure that the country’s constitution and the Lisbon Treaty were mutually compatible.

With German ratification of the treaty, the solution put forward in the wake of the European Constitution debacle, Lisbon has now been ratified by all EU member states except Poland, the Czech Republic and Ireland.
Not exactly unexpected: political elites are the same all over Europe. The passing of this treaty has become a matter of pride for them. Unless it is done, they cannot pretend to be in charge of the masses.

So it is now up to the Irish electorate and the Czech constitutional court. And our own Conservatives will do such things ....

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Well, yes, and?

Maybe I ought to have written a bit more about the rather unexciting series about “Europe” in the Daily Telegraph but I could not quite bring myself to do so. The Boss over on EUReferendum has torn into them in his usual fashion and I cannot do any better.

However, I am going to take a brief look at two items in today’s newspaper as they round up the series. First off: Benedict Brogan on William Hague. I think we can dismiss the notion that a series of not very informative articles constitute a “landmark” in journalistic achievement but what is interesting is that even Mr Brogan is finding it hard to accept the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s attempts at being tough.
The shadow foreign secretary is in table-thumping, "read my lips" mood about Conservative policy on the Lisbon Treaty: there will be a referendum.

Hang on. That should read: there will be a referendum, but only if the treaty is not ratified by all 26 other European countries before the general election. If, however, the treaty has been approved before polling day, then… you will just have to wait and see what happens.
Quite so. The Constitutional Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified in Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland or Germany (something both Mr Hague and Mr Brogan seem to have forgotten) but if all these hurdles have been overcome by the time of the election, the Conservatives will issue a tough statement telling us all what they intend to do.

That may mean the statement is being drafted as Mr Hague insists or it may mean “oh my God, now what do we do”.

The idea that the question of a referendum on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty is the same as that piddling arrangement of groups in the Toy Parliament is ridiculous. In the end, it does not matter to anyone, least of all the EU, who sits in which group. The Toy Parliament is not there to fulfil the functions we usually associate with bodies called that but to help the Commission and the Council to push through legislation that does not depend on elections or political parties.

In fact, the whole interview seems to consist of Mr Hague making extremely tough, hard-hitting statements that are completely meaningless. The Conservatives will not put up with this, that or the other. And they will do what? Mr Hague takes on the mantle of King Lear:
I will do such things,--
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
And that, dear readers, is the sum of Conservative policy on “Europe” or, to be entirely accurate, the European Union.

One assumes that Messrs Hague and Cameron are praying for a no vote in Ireland, not because they really want to stop that treaty – they don’t appear to know what is involved – but because that might let them off the hook.

The chances are that if there is a no vote next Saturday, the colleagues will decide to take this particular document off the agenda, push through whatever they can on the quiet, and have another “dialogue” with the recalcitrant people of Europe before calling another IGC and discussing another treaty. That, of course, will not be very convenient for Mr Cameron, should he become Prime Minister next May but, at least, it will give him a breather as far as the referendum is concerned.

As far as the rest of the “European issue” is concerned, Messrs Hague and Cameron appear to be no different from their various predecessors. Every Prime Minister, be that Major, Blair or Brown, came in thinking that they knew how to handle the whole problem and all one had to do is be nice and friendly to the colleagues to get what one wants, whatever that might be. Since none of them knew what they wanted or how the whole structure works, they all failed. The same fate will befall Mr Cameron, assuming he is the Prime Minister.

Of course, there is the other possibility, that of Ireland voting yes. There is still the Czech Constitutional Court and the Karlsruhe decision in Germany that means some hasty legislation in Germany. Thus the treaty may not be fully ratified across the EU by May. In which case, the first few months of the Conservative government (if there is one) will be taken up by legislation for a referendum, campaign and vote.

The assumption must be that there will be a no vote on the treaty in Britain. What will Mr Cameron do then? Go to Rome, retrieve the Instruments and tear them up? Demand a new IGC (that is not in his power to call) and renegotiate the whole document? What will he offer to the other member states in return for whatever it is he wants for Britain? Does he even know what it is he does not like about that treaty and how much of it is already in place in the Consolidated Treaties by which this country is governed?

It is no use to the Daily Telegraph complacent and self-congratulatory editorial for guidance. The point of the article is that our opinion has not been asked about Europe (and, to be fair, they do explain why they use that rather vague term instead of the real one). But what is it that our opinion should be asked on? The Constitutional Lisbon Treaty? Well, fair enough but if we vote no, will that change anything about the way the EU is structured and the way it is developing? Probably not even though we would have given our opinion.

So is the Daily Telegraph suggesting an in/out referendum? That is not clear but what becomes obvious at the end of the article is that whoever wrote it has no real understanding of the European project.
Indeed, one of the reasons for running this series has been to do what our political parties hardly ever do themselves: consider the workings of the EU machine and the problems that confront it. We have been reminded that the EU's origins lay in the rubble of the Second World War and in a laudable desire to develop an association in which free people could trade and thrive together after centuries of political tensions and catastrophic warfare.

But the EU has become a vast, bureaucratic, unaccountable empire whose remit runs way beyond policing the common market. Its policies are made in secret, then insufficiently scrutinised in Brussels or national capitals. Yet its directives and regulations affect the lives of half a billion people. It is time we were asked what we think about it.
This is known technically as utter rubbish. The idea of the European state did not originate in the rubble of the Second World War though that rubble has been quite useful as a propaganda tool. It was never intended to be anything but an undemocratic, vast, bureaucratic and unaccountable though definitions of empire vary. Its progenitors were people who disliked democracy, were not keen on liberal constitutionalism and despised accountable legislation.

So what is it the Daily Telegraph thinks we should be asked about?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Former Communist is more acceptable

Or so Ivo Indzhev, a Bulgarian political blogger, comments about the appointment of the Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova to become UNESCO's first woman Director-General.
Those who dislike communism in this country are not happy about her promotion. For people in this region, her appointment sends the message that the West can swallow someone’s communist past very easily but can’t abide an Arab who is anti-Israel.
It is not entirely clear whether this means that Mr Indzhev thinks it would have been a good idea to appoint a man who is not just anti-Israeli but downright anti-Semitic and who, as Egypt's Culture Minister, has presided over a destruction of any semblance of free media in that country or whether he is just incensed at the idea of Comrade Madame Bokova getting the position.

It is true that Madame Bokova comes from a privileged Communist apparatchik family and, as so many of them, she made the transition to a privileged post-Communist political and diplomatic life with great ease. She is, needless to say, a great supporter of European integration and, indeed, of all transnational organizations.

Farouk Hosni did not appear to be a good loser:
Meanwhile, the Egyptian culture minister defeated by Bokova has blamed her victory on "Zionist pressures". Last year Hosni said he would burn "Israeli books in Egyptian libraries". He later apologised for the remark.

"The organisation has become politicised," Hosni told reporters at Cairo airport on arrival on September 23. "The reality is that we waged a fantastic battle. The Egyptian candidate had the newspapers and Zionist pressures against him every day," he said, referring to himself.

The Egyptian press echoed Hosni's remarks. Opposition weekly Al-Ahrar wrote on its front page about "a ferocious campaign against him by the American administration, under Jewish pressure".
I am, of course, shocked to find that anyone should think that any organization to do with the United Nations can have been politicized but I do think that Mr Hosni can rest assured that Zionism is not a strong force in any of them. For one thing it strains credulity to imagine Madame Bokova to be a Zionist.

It is, however, interesting that the only two serious candidates were a highly oppressive, anti-Semitic Minister of Culture and a former Communist, whose own attitude to such matters as freedom of speech must be doubtful. (Incidentally, there are some curious gaps in the lady's career. Just exactly how long did she spend at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations?)

According to AFP, Egypt may grumble but is unlikely to change its foreign policy because of this outcome. Or its culture policy, one must assume.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It had never occurred to me ....

. ... that Barack Obama could have written those two volumes of autobiography that analyzed a life of very little achievement. Politicians these days rarely write anything themselves - not book, not articles, not speeches. With very few exceptions they hand the task over to somebody else and then claim credit. The astonishing thing is that having not written or even read whatever it is they are claiming credit for, they actually believe their own authorship.

With Barack Obama it has been clear for some time now that he is not a great or any other kind of intellectual, has not written a single signed article as President of Harvard Law Review and is incapable of answering questions, never mind making a speech without that famous teleprompter. (No POTUS without TOTUS.)

Therefore, the only question, as far as I could see, was who actually wrote those books, particularly the curiously named Dreams From My Father. For some time now the theory that it was actually written by the infamous terrorist and theoretician of terror, now academic, Bill Ayers. This theory was first advanced with a good deal of textual evidence by Jack Cashill last October on American Thinker.

Much of the MSM, naturally enough, ignored it but those of Obama's supporters who thought any criticism of The One required instant hanging, drawing and quartering screamed abuse on the grounds that 1.) this could not be true; 2.) Obama and Ayers hardly knew each other and 3.) Ayers is not really that bad a guy so why is the right endlessly going on about him.

Other people took note of the arguments and waited for more. Well, we now have more. As Ronald Radosh writes on Pajamas Media, Cashill returned to the story in June:
Then at the end of June 2009, Cashill returned to his original article. This time, he wrote yet another blog, reporting about many who sent him more material that they
thought would corroborate his original suspicions about authorship of Obama’s first memoir.

Two contributors whom Cashill does not name, he writes, made a contribution that “should dispel the doubts of all but the willfully blind that Ayers played a substantial role, likely the primary role, in the writing of Dreams.”

Again, the two contributors and Cashill played literary detective, offering more examples of strange similarities in the metaphors used in both Ayers’ Fugitive Days and in Obama’s Dreams. One of them found 759 striking similarities. Cashill found one of his contributor’s analysis to be “systematic, comprehensive, and utterly, totally, damning.” You can read his article and judge for yourself.
Becoming more certain but still some way to go.

Mr Cashill had another blog on the subject yesterday. In it he referred to the recently published study of the First Couple by Christopher Andersen, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage. (Why their marriage is more American than anybody else's, say Sarah and Todd Palin's, might have to remain a mystery to those of us who are not given to reading celebrity biographies.)

What is interesting from our point of view is the reference to Ayers and that book.
Relying on inside sources, quite possibly Michelle Obama herself, Andersen describes how Dreams came to be published -- just as I had envisioned it in my articles
on the authorship of Dreams. With the deadline pressing, Michelle recommended that Barack seek advice from "his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers."

To flesh out his family history, Obama had taped interviews with various family members. Andersen writes, "These oral histories, along with a partial manuscript and a truckload of notes, were given to Ayers." Andersen quotes a Hyde Park neighbor, "Everyone knew they were friends and that they worked on various projects together. It was no secret. Why would it be? People liked them both."

Andersen continues, "In the end, Ayers's contribution to Barack's Dreams From My Father would be significant--so much so that the book's language, oddly specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers's own writing."
Mr Radosh adds:
Let me make the point as sharply as possible. A book about the relationship of the first couple, their history together, and their road to the presidency makes the point in passing that is precisely the same as that made by Jack Cashill. Most reviewers, and readers, will probably read this in passing and go on. As far as I know, no reviewers to date seemed to have noticed this. All they seem to have noticed is the one quote from Michelle Obama to her husband when he was considering whether to put Hillary Clinton on the ticket: “Do you really want Bill and Hillary just down the hall from you in the White House?” And since the reviews of the book have not been particularly good, it might disappear from the public’s notice fairly soon.
Well, possibly, but as Mr Radosh points out, this sort of speculation, later proved or not, has never done Bob Woodward's reputation any harm. I suppose it depends on the subject of your gossip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lord Pearson explains EU legislation

There were several sensible letters in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. No, I did not buy the paper - I was sent the link by a kind friend. I need hardly say that Lord Pearson's letter is particularly informative. You see, he has been paying attention to what is going on with the legislation process, unlike most, if not all, members of the House of Commons, not to mention your average Tory.
SIR – Your explanation of "How EU law reaches us" (September 17) doesn't reveal the whole frightening process. This is that the unelected Commission enjoys the monopoly to propose all EU law in secret. Their proposals are then negotiated, again in secret, by bureaucrats from nation states, in the Committee of Permanent Representatives. When the horse-trading is complete, the proposed laws go to the Council of Ministers for decision, still in secret, where the UK has 8 per cent of the vote.

The EU Parliament cannot propose legislation, but can amend and even block some of it. It doesn't do so, of course, because it is loath to delay or derail the gravy train.

British Governments have promised for many years that they won't agree to any new law in the Council which is still being "scrutinised" (that's all we can do) in the select committee of either House of Parliament. But they have broken that promise 435 times in the last six years.

Our Parliament is powerless to change any of the laws, which are then enforced by the Commission and the Luxembourg Court, against which there is no appeal. And they call this "the democratic deficit".
Actually, democratic deficit describes it all very well. Statements like this ought to be more widely known. They are more important than yet another report on the fact that MEPs are corrupt.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I may have to start screaming

And you would not like that. The reason I feel like screaming is that I am still reading numerous references to Gordon Brown not being the elected Prime Minister but being a despot and a tyrant as well as, no doubt, a usurper.

He is none of those things though we have moved a long way from the sort of liberal, constitutional democracy that many of us would like. That process was helped along by both parties, particularly since this country's membership of what started as the EEC and is now the EU.

Now please, everybody repeat after me: we do not elect Prime Ministers, we elect parties to form governments. As the leader of the party that has won three elections (and what does that tell you about political life in this country?) Gordon Brown is the duly elected Prime Minister of this country (and what does that tell you ....?). Tough.

I appreciate that the Labour Party should not have crowned him after Blair's resignation instead of going through their usual internal electoral process but that is their problem. It has nothing to do with the country or its constitution.

Just to remind everyone: other "unelected" Prime Ministers were Churchill in 1940, Eden in 1955, Macmillan in 1957, Douglas-Home in 1963, Callaghan in 1976 and Major in 1991 1990 (thank you for the correction). All unelected tyrants, presumably.

Interesting news from Sweden

Thanks to the excellent Powerline blog that I have quoted once or twice before, I find some interesting news from Sweden. It would appear that the Swedes are thinking of further cuts in income tax in order to boost the economy.

Sweden, I hear you cry? Socialist, nanny-state Sweden? Well, actually, there are interesting anomalies in the Swedish system, not least to do with it education that gives more freedom to parents than our own does.

Now, it would seem, the Swedish government is considering the seemingly unthinkable: that high taxes do not help the economy and do not bring in enough money for the government to do what it is supposed to do (whatever that might be).
Sweden's centre-right government on Saturday announced income tax cuts of 10 billion kronor to stimulate the job market, its primary objective.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and three other ministers in the four-party coalition said the reduction would mean most wage earners would have 200 to 250 kronor (20 to 25 euros, 29 to 36 dollars) more in take-home pay every month.

The proposal, to be presented to parliament on Monday as part of the 2010 budget bill, is the fourth leg of a tax cut programme introduced in January 2007 to stimulate employment.
As John Hinderaker of Power Line says:
It's an interesting comparison: Sweden experimented with the nanny state, learned that it was devastating to the economic and moral health of its people, and is moving back toward individualism. Here in the U.S., we had the world's most dynamic economy, and the lesson we took away from that--some of us, anyway--was that we were doing something wrong and needed to socialize everything. Curious.
More than curious. But it does not apply to Britain, sadly, as the country abandoned individualism some decades ago.

Thou shalt not criticize

Yesterday the Sunday Times saw fit to publish a long and very silly article by Andrew Sullivan that explained in great and completely phantasmagorical detail that all attacks and criticisms of President Obama are motivated by racism with some crocodile tears added about how terrible it is for him to put up with all these attacks.

Attacks go with the job. Barack Obama desperately wanted the job, campaigning for it for the entire two years of his senatorial position and spending far more money than any of his rivals. Now he has the job and has to take the s**t as well as the media adulation.

The article had odd pictures to accompany it: President Obama hugging his daughter (something that no other father in history has ever done), people carrying posters accusing him of lying (politicians are routinely accused of lying because that is what they do) and a big poster in which he had a Hitler moustache. Gasp, shock, horror. No, I do not think Obama is like Hitler though they share socialist statist values. For one thing, Hitler could make rousing speeches without a teleprompter. (OK, that was a joke.)

However, I was not comatose for the last eight years and I recall a good many Bush/Hitler comparisons from the Left and a good deal more of the aforementioned s**t flying towards President Bush, all of which he took with apparent equanimity and even good humour. Certainly there was not whining and vicious attacks on anyone who disagreed.

I was going to link to the article but could not quite find it. Instead I looked at the list of Andrew Sullivan's recent articles for the Times and Sunday Times and realized that the racism meme is constant as is his completely unhinged assurance that Obama is getting more and more popular. Except with the incredibly large number of racists, of course.

It is worth reading Michael Barone's column, published yesterday, on how the "liberals" are trying to stifle free speech in the United States. We, of course, are well used to this phenomenon as is anyone who has spent any time on most American campuses.
I would submit that the president's call for an end to "bickering" and the charges of racism by some of his supporters are the natural reflex of people who are not used to hearing people disagree with them and who are determined to shut them up.

This comes naturally to liberals educated in our great colleges and universities, so many of which have speech codes whose primary aim is to prevent the expression of certain conservative ideas and which are commonly deployed for that purpose. (For examples see the Web site of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which defends students of all political stripes.) Once the haven of free inquiry and expression, academia has become a swamp of stifling political correctness.

Similarly, the "mainstream media" -- the old-line broadcast networks, the New York Times, etc. -- presents a politically correct picture of the world. The result is that liberals can live in a cocoon, an America in which seldom is heard a discouraging word. Conservatives, in contrast, find themselves constantly pummeled with liberal criticism, on campus, in news media, in Hollywood TV and movies. They don't like it, but they've gotten used to it. Liberals aren't used to it and increasingly try to stamp it out.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph, our own special flag carrier for President Obama (I stopped buying its Daily sister because of its abysmal coverage of the presidential election campaign last year) has suddenly discovered that, maybe, just maybe, the man is not quite up to the job.

Edward Lucas of the Economist says rather disingenuously:
It is lovely to feature in other people's dreams. The problem comes when they wake up. Barack Obama is an eloquent, brainy and likeable man with a fascinating biography. He is not George Bush. Those are great qualities. But they are not enough to lead America, let alone the world.
True enough, as far as the last sentence is concerned, except that, no matter what Obama thinks, he was not elected to lead the world. As one would have expected, Mr Lucas is upset by President Obama's attitude to those East European allies but cannot quite believe that it is all in keeping with the rest of what we might charitably call foreign policy.

The trouble is that even now Mr Lucas seems unable to see clearly, as a number of the comments point out. Barack Obama is certainly not George Bush and ever more people in America and around the world are beginning to wonder whether that is an advantage.

But he is not eloquent because being able to read a teleprompter is not a sign of eloquence; he has shown no signs of being brainy either on an intellectual or on the political level; his biography is moderately interesting and would be more so if we knew more of it and there were not such great big lacunae in it. No wonder Mr Lucas and his colleagues are stunned by President Obama's incompetence - they still believe their own hype about the man.

The Sunday Times and Kim Philby

In the News Review section of the Sunday Times today there is an extract from that newspaper's erstwhile editor's memoirs. Sir Harold Evans's My Paper Chase may well be very interesting, especially for people who can put up with the self-importance of hacks.

The extract in today's is genuinely fascinating, as it deals with the long and complicated saga of the Sunday Times publishing in 1967 the real story, or as much as they could find out, about Kim Philby who had by then been living in Moscow for some years.

So much is known about Philby's treachery and the incompetence at best and treachery at worst that allowed him not only to operate but to rise to an extremely high position in the security services that it is hard to recall the sensation the story caused and even harder to comprehend the difficulties placed in the path of Harold Evans and Bruce Page by the various authorities, secret and open.

What were they covering up? Probably just extreme incompetence but it is not hard to understand how various theories could have sprung up about many more men and women in the security services who were really working for the Soviet Union.

Incidentally, I know of only one person who in my hearing has wondered about the role played by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who exonerated Philby in the House of Commons in 1955. What did the old buffer really know?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

You don't have to agree with everything he says ...

.... and I don't but there is a good deal of sense in this old article of Christopher Hitchens's on Jimmah Carter. The man is such an embarrassment that even President Obama and his normally tone-deaf advisers are distancing themselves from him.

Of course, there is now another contender for the title of being at the head of the worst Administration in history.

ADDENDUM: There was a comment that said P. J. O'Rourke had written a piece about Jimmah that was funnier than Hitchens's. I could well believe that. O'Rourke is funnier than almost anybody among those who are that intentionally. Unintentionally, I suspect, Harriet Harperson might be more entertaining. However, here are a couple of links: an article that appeared originally in The American Spectator and was copied "without permission" by Douglas Adams, which gives 50 reasons why Carter was a better President than Clinton; and a review of Everything to Gain, by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. They are both laugh-aloud funny.


Der Spiegel thinks that relations between the Slovaks and the Hungarians are the worst of any two communities that share a border within the European Union. Huh! Have they looked at Transylvania lately?

Actually, as the article explains at length with little anecdotes on the way, as is the habit of that newspaper, the problem has been caused, as ever by politicians. For sure, there are long-standing resentments and historic grievances but they rarely break out except maybe at a football match or some other sporting event.

The most recent problem has been a piece of rather provocative legislation:
According to legislation passed in Bratislava that came into effect on Sept. 1, the Slovakian language must have precedence in public -- on billboards, in official declarations and on monuments.
This means that schools that have taught in Hungarian (the Hungarian minority is sizeable and has been there for more than a millennium) must now stop that and change over to Slovak. Many do not wish to do so and many Slovaks see no need for it either. But playing political games is always fun on both sides:
The Slovaks are driven by fears of age-old Hungarian megalomania. Not without reason: Their country was known as Upper Hungary and ruled by the Hungarian monarchy for almost a thousand years. "Hungarians keep insisting that southern Slovakia is their territory," says Slovakian President Ivan Gasparovic.

For their part, ethnic Hungarians are frustrated at being a minority in the small Carpathian state. Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom calls Slovakia's new language law "a breach of multilateral agreements" that degrades Hungarian and demotes it to a "kitchen language." Although Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Hungarian counterpart, Gordon Bajnai, sought to calm the waters at a summit last Thursday, the fact remains that relations between Bratislava and Budapest are worse than those between any other neighboring countries in the EU.
After the rather peculiar episode when the President of Hungary was not allowed into Slovakia the two Prime Ministers met in Szécsény on September 10 to discuss developments.
As a result of their meeting the prime ministers signed a joint declaration. In regard to Slovakia’s State Language Act, Fico and Bajnai declared that they would both respect the recommendations of Knut Vollebaek, the high commissioner on national minorities for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Fico said he guarantees that the law will not change the conditions under which the members of the Hungarian minority in
Slovakia use their language.

The prime ministers did not agree on how to interpret Slovakia’s denial of entry to Hungary’s President László Sólyom on August 21. They said experts from both countries will meet and agree on common norms for such visits, the SITA newswire reported. The governments said they also want to establish a joint police committee to fight extremism, xenophobia, racism and nationalism in both countries.

Also, a council for Slovak-Hungarian relations should be established as an apolitical body to help solve bilateral issues. The prime ministers even declared their intention to organise a joint session of the two governments.
That's all very well but there is an election due in Hungary next year and Viktor Orbán, the leader of the opposition FIDESZ, who are, at present, the favourites to win, has already announced that his government will want to represent the interests of all Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. Well, if the Russian government can say it about Russians, why not the Hungarian government? I suppose, one ought to be thankful that he does not want to represent the interests of Hungarians all over the world.

Mind you, was it not the aim of the European Union to put an end to such unseemly nationalist squabbles? They seem to be getting worse.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The passing of a great man

The death of Irving Kristol, just announced, is a time for all of us to sigh at the thought of a great man, a wonderful writer, a razor sharp commentator and a stupendous intellectual entrepreneur leaving us. (Though his wife, the astonishing historian Gertrude Himmelfarb and son, William Kristol, are still around.)

Irving Kristol was the godfather, if not the inventor of neo-conservatism in its real sense. The word has been debased rather by people who think it means more conservative, or conservative I do not like.

Just look at the man's achievement and the list of magazines and organizations he started:
He was an editor and then the managing editor of Commentary magazine from 1947 to 1952; co-founder (with Stephen Spender) of the British-based Encounter from 1953 to 1958; editor of The Reporter from 1959 to 1960; executive vice-president of the publishing house Basic Books from 1961 to 1969; Henry Luce Professor of Urban Values at New York University from 1969 to 1987; co-founder and co-editor (first with Daniel Bell and then Nathan Glazer) of The Public Interest from 1965 to 2002;. These were originally liberal publications. He was the founder and publisher of The National Interest from 1985 to 2002.

Kristol was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute (having been an associate fellow from 1972, a senior fellow from 1977 and the John M. Olin Distinguished Fellow from 1988 to 1999). As a member of the board of contributors of the Wall Street Journal, he contributed a monthly column from 1972 to 1997. He served on the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1972 to 1977.
I am getting the sort of dizzy feeling I usually get reading biographies of Victorian women writers, especially Mrs Gaskell. How inadequate one feels.

A couple of pieces that might be of interest, one by John Podhoretz of Commentary and one by Roger Kimball of the New Criterion.

Memo No. 5,673

To: The Taxpayers' Alliance

From: Your Freedom and Ours & EUReferendum

Subject: European Union, expenses and Britain's relationship

Text: Arguing that we should not discuss anything but the expense of our membership of the European Union is old hat. This has been done for many years with a number of people saying exactly what you are saying: it is only the expense that matters.

Unfortunately, though the figures have been available for a long time and the corruption and expense well known and accepted by many people, this has resulted in no action. Nor has it taken the discussion any further.

We have reached a stage when we could move on, discuss other aspects like those despised political and constitutional ones and to start a discussion of what we might be able to do about this. Unfortunately, your contributions, useful though those figures are, reverse the process and take us back to the endless churning of the same points: it is expensive and it is corrupt.

Furthermore, it is hard to understand what you mean about being concerned about our relationship with the EU. We do not have a relationship with it, we are part of it. It legislates for us and the decision of how much money we hand over is not made here but in Brussels.

Changing that relationship can be done only by radical changes to the Consolidated Treaties, which will remain in power even if the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty is rejected by the Irish electorate for the second time, thus getting the Conservative Party off the hook.

Treaties can be changed only by unanimous agreement at an IGC with a subsequent implementation in all the member states? Are you suggesting that we go down that path? If yes, what do you think we should offer the other states in order to get their agreement to our ideas? If not, what alternatives do you have?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The timing is a little unfortunate

If I thought that President Obama or his advisers knew any history I would suggest that the day was picked deliberately. But evidence suggests that neither he nor anyone around him knows even American history, let alone that of some “far off country” neither he nor the people he talks to have ever heard of.

Therefore, one must exempt him from deliberately choosing the seventieth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland to announce that he is definitely reversing President Bush’s policy and abandoning the idea of stationing missile defence systems in the Czech Republic and Poland, though Defence Secretary Robert Gates “said negotiations were under way with both Poland and the Czech Republic about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015”. Maybe. Will the Czech and Polish governments believe Secretary Gates or President Obama?

The Poles are certainly worried that this Administration will pay no attention to its East European allies. Czech Prime Minister Topolanek expressed his regrets that the integration of the East European countries in the Euro-Atlantic structures is slowing down.

Some links here on the story: Nile Gardiner writing a Daily Telegraph clog blog; Sister Toldjah quotes another idiotic comment by the Vice-President who seems to find it difficult to work out what day of the week it is; an excellent response on Public Secrets, which reminds readers that President Bush had offered possibilities of co-operation on the missile shield to the Russian government and it was haughtily refused; Fausta does her own inimitable round-up.

For Obama the most important consideration was that the Russian government did not like the policy and, he has inferred, if America gives in and ignores its East European allies, maybe President Prime Minister Putin and his mishka, President Medvedev, will give Russian support to American policy, whatever it might be, over Iran. And pigs might fly.

As Glenn Reynolds puts it, the possibility of another Carter Administration is beginning to look like the best case scenario.

Even Der Spiegel is dubious.
Moscow is triumphant over Obama’s decision to cancel his missile defence shield plan. But it is no foregone conclusion that that Russia will harden its line against Iran. And Poland and the Czech Republic will also expect overtures from the United States.
What those overtures might be is unclear despite Robert Gates’s statements. But, naturally, the Russian leaders are triumphant. The new Russo-American relationship is proceeding very nicely: first there was that idiotic “button” brought by Hillary, then Obama’s visit to Moscow when his hosts refused to discuss anything he wanted to put on the agenda and now this.

It has been the Russian line for some time that Iran is not a danger; now it is becoming the American line despite evidence being produced by everybody’s favourite organization, the IAEA.

There is not the slightest chance that Russia will do anything but follow her own policies on Iran, which seem to consist of stirring up trouble in the region as long as there is no actual nuclear missile there. President Medvedev appears to be President Ahmadinejad’s second best friend, the first one being Hugo Chávez.

Iran buys Russian arms and other military supplies. Russia provides the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guards with surveillance systems for their struggle against the various opposition groups.

Of course, the Russians are playing with fire. They know full well that the Iranians are arming and financing various terrorist groups, of which Hezbollah is the largest and best known. Some of those groups are playing games in Central Asian countries where there are Russian soldiers stationed. Any help the Russian rulers give the Iranian ones may result in the death of Russian soldiers though, traditionally, that is not a consideration that weighs heavily with Russian rulers. Neither do feelings of gratitude if that is what President Obama reckoning on.

ADDENDUM: Neo-neocon reminds us that this is not the first of Obama's "Polish jokes". (American readers will know instantly what I mean but I hope it will be clear on this side of the Pond as well.) There was the unfortunate episode of the Gdansk meeting to remember the German invasion of Poland that started the Second World War and to which President Obama sent National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones instead of going himself or sending the Veep or the Secretary of State. This decision was taken after several months of silence though the formal invitation had been received and a number of slightly off-hand responses.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The answer is, of course not

Phyllis Chesler asks in her latest column on Pajamas Media:
Do people really understand what is going on in our world right now?
The answer is, sad to say, of course not. Why would they? After all, what Ms Chesler says and what some of us also try to say, though not so eloquently, is not nice. People should be nice to each other, runs the modern meme in the comfortable West. They should be non-judgemental.

Ms Chesler is particularly concerned with the way language is being abused, which means that truth and clarity disappear.
Do people really understand what is going on in our world right now? That language is being used to confuse us? America is the greatest “terrorist,” Israeli Jews are the “Nazis,” non-Muslim pro-western law Brits are called “right wing fascists” because a small number stood up to 200 angry and armed Muslim Brits in front of a Birmingham mosque, parliamentarian Geert Wilders is considered a “racist Islamophobe” and faces a criminal trial because he tells the truth about Islamist jihad.

And, by the way, the so-called “fascist” Brits held aloft an Israeli flag and signs that said “Extremists Out,” “Britain Safe.” One woman interviewed said: “If people come here they should respect out laws.” Yes, this group may also be allied with genuine racist-fascists Nazi-era style—but then again, they may not be. The problem is they what they are saying has merit.
To be fair, many people are beginning to get worried. Others have been so for a long time. But even among those who do not like to see what is going on in their own countries, it is rare for one to understand that whatever "compassion" you may feel for those poor, unhappy, oppressive, misogynistic, homophobic, illiberal perpetual victims, our place must lie with other democratic and liberal societies. And that means Israel. Of course, everyone is welcome to criticize its government. The Israelis do all the time.

Some good news

It seems that eating chocolate has various advantages. In particular the habit seems to be quite helpful if you have a heart-attack. Mind you, it has to be the really good dark stuff. No point in it otherwise.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I am trying hard not to laugh

Well, not all that hard. A friendly correspondent informs me that today is International Day of Democracy, presumably because there are so many democracies around the world and because we have international democracy. I suppose it could have been worse: it could have been called International Democracy Day, implying just that.

The link on the parliamentary website (which, incidentally, I cannot recommend highly enough as a source of information) tells us helpfully all the many things we can do to get involved in democracy. Curiously enough, it does not tell us how we can control our political process, for sure as eggs is eggs, petitioning the House of Commons is not the way to do so. Nor is viewing Parliament on-line. In fact, until we restore its legislative powers and, at the same time, strip them of their rights to interfere with our lives more than is necessary for the protection of life, liberty and justly acquired property, we shall not have that control.

But what is International Day of Democracy and what does it do apart from, presumably, giving large salaries to some transnational officials?

First things first: the Inter-Parliamentary Union is (or has been in the past) a perfectly respectable organization. I have my doubts about the efficacy of conferences about democracy in Africa but, I suppose, they have to try to extend the hand of friendship, as it used to be said in the dear old unlamented Soviet Union. Its history is respectable enough and it does not do a great deal of either harm or good, which is all one can hope for.

At least, it was relatively harmless until it decided to establish closer links with the United Nations, an organization that cannot be called harmless by anybody. So now we have an International Day of Democracy, which was first celebrated last year.

It was established by the United Nations, to be precise by its General Assembly, the majority of whose members are not democracies and would do anything, including torture, imprisonment and murder to prevent such a state of affairs from passing.

In fact, the United Nations, by its very existence is the greatest enemy of democracy in its unaccountability and pretensions to override democratically elected governments. Its subsidiary organizations spend their time pandering to tyrannies and attacking Western democracies, particularly the United States and Israel. Endless resolutions are passed to control free speech under the label of fight against hate speech or Islamophobia. And, as I mentioned above, its members are largely undemocratic in any, even the widest, definition of the word.

It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that there should be a day dedicated to democracy around the world, decided on by the largest anti-democratic organization in the world.

Just remember: "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery", "Ignorance is Strength".

Events are unpredictable

The Boss of EUReferendum has already spoken on UKIP and its electoral chances. I would not contradict as he knows a great deal more about that party's internal matters than I do. But I would like to point out that one can never quite predict what happens in an election and the political situation at the moment is more volatile than it has been for some years. (Not very long, though as it was far more so in the twenties.) UKIP did considerably better in the European election than the knowledgeable predictions had said.

The big news is that Lord Pearson of Rannoch one of the two former Conservative Peers who now take the UKIP whip (if such a thing can be said to exist) may well be a contender for the leadership in the wake of Nigel Farage's slight move away from the top spot.
Last night he told the Telegraph: “It is rather daunting so close to a General Election, but I am throwing my hat into the ring.”

He cited a poll in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as an example of how the political leaders are not in tune with public opinion on Europe. Forty three per cent said they would prefer to leave the EU altogether rather than accept the Lisbon Treaty.

He added: “I think Lisbon is a watershed. If it goes through that’s pretty much the end of the game. Our membership of the EU has removed the rights of British democracy.

“There is now a secretive process of law-making that entirely excludes the Commons and Lords and at the huge cost of £16.5 billion. We cannot afford it economically or democratically.”

Laws to regulate the City are an example of where the EU will now wield extra power, he said. And that threatened the City which is a “lifeblood which churns around the economy,” Lord Pearson, 67, added.

The peer said the Tory position on Europe was not good enough.
He is, of course, absolutely correct on the Tory position except that he is being too kind. It comes from being an old Etonian and learning to understate everything. Let's face it, there is no current Tory position on Europe.

David Cameron is not making a great deal of sense on the subject of the Lisbon Treaty and is, presumably, hoping that the Irish will get him off the hook. The notion is that there will be a referendum if the treaty will not have been fully ratified by the time there is that putative Conservative government. But if the Irish vote No again, this particular treaty will be off the agenda and there will be no need for a referendum. All those other things the Conservatives and their front organizations complain about: the expense, the fraud, the CAP and the CFP will remain in place and nothing much is being proposed by the Conservatives.

The agenda for the Conservative Party has been published and while it promises sessions on all sorts of subjects, the most important one (given the amount of legislation that comes from that source) is not there. Just how are they going to discuss the economy or international affairs without making it clear that their options in government will be very limited?

Lord Tebbit has made his views clear again: Cameron must offer a referendum on Lisbon no matter what the outcome of the Irish one is. Otherwise, the Conservatives risk losing votes to UKIP. Maybe. That referendum has become a bit of a shibboleth - a good issue to focus people's minds on and a clear indication of our politicians' dishonesty.

I think that quite a large proportion of the electorate has moved beyond it and is beginning to understand (no thanks to the likes of Open Europe, the Conservative Party or the Taxpayers' Alliance) that there is a great deal more to the European issue than the odd referendum. That, I suspect, is what will drive people to vote for UKIP even though the desire to get rid of Brown and his lame-duck government is very strong.

Will Lord Tebbit consider following Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke out of the Conservative Party and into UKIP? His periodic outbursts might then have a stronger effect. Does he still believe that he can influence events from within the party? Surely not. Does he think that once he is no longer a paid up member he will not be asked by the media to comment? If he does think so, he is wrong and Lord Pearson has proved it. He is still asked by the media and is generally well known both within the political bubble and outside it.

Nigel Farage is known to be supporting Lord Pearson's candidacy and that may well swing the vote in his favour despite the assumption that all Ukippers hate our Nige. Whether they hate him or not, most acknowledge his political acumen.

There are many advantages to Lord Pearson becoming leader, not least the fact that he personally will not be standing in the General Election and will be able to concentrate on policies and strategy. It is very difficult to do that and campaign at the same time.

He is seen as a man of principle and has many interests outside politics, including a successful career in business. Mind you, we hear a great deal about the need for politicians with those interests but anyone who does have them tends to be viewed with suspicion.

UKIP, we are told by all around is not yet seen as an alternative to the two main parties. Neither are the Lib-Dims quite clearly. Will that be affected by a leader from the House of Lords? That is very very hard to tell. The usual suspects will do their usual sneering about the peerage (a life one, not hereditary), the Etonian background, the interest in field sports (expect lots of silly and ignorant articles about shooting and stalking) and religion. But, given the general attitude to politicians who come from impeccably non-privileged backgrounds (in so far as anyone in this country can be said not to be privileged) all those items may actually endear him to many voters.

If, on top of that, we shall hear more about his work for disabled children and their carers, his fight for dissidents in many countries and his devoted struggle against the BBC (and this blog will make sure that people hear about all that) UKIP may well find itself in an advantageous situation.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Still true after all these years

Quite a large proportion of my reading matter recently has been concerned with political and cultural developments in the thirties, forties and fifties. Very little new has entered into our lives since that period.

One of the books on the go is Michael Kimmage’s “The Conservative Turn”, a parallel biography of Lionel Trilling and Whittaker Chambers, both men I admire immensely (though in Trilling’s case there is the odd reservation to do with his worship of the phony Kennedy “Camelot”), and an analysis of the way these two men have changed American political thinking through their anti-Communism.

Whittaker Chambers was crucial to the creation of the new conservatism that is still powerful in the United States, despite the recent electoral results. Let’s face it, politicians come and go but it is the underlying trends that matter. His insistence that there needs to be a conservative movement for the second half of the twentieth century grew out of his understanding of Communism and fight against it.

Lionel Trillling took another path. He moved back to his original classical liberalism and worked hard to detach the liberal left from its support of Communism. Up to a point he succeeded but looking at the position of the left over the Pond I remain doubtful. The support from the left and what is known in American terms as “liberals” for all tyrannical and totalitarian regimes as long as they are supposedly left-wing and anti-American is staggering.

In Britain the situation is even more difficult because the serious fight to install genuine anti-Communism was not fought to the end for a number of reasons, not least a refusal by the political and cultural establishments to take ideology seriously and the consequent inability to understand its influence.

The two men had known each other from their student years at Columbia but drifted apart subsequently. For Chambers Communism became his life while Trilling played at the edges; in the same way the anti-Communist struggle overwhelmed Chambers’s work while remaining only part of Trilling’s. The liberal academic found the conservative journalist a little hard to take. Despite all that, it is astonishing how close their thinking was.

Even more interesting is the relevance of their thoughts to the situation today. Both of them wrote critically about John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, the book and the highly praised film based on it.

This is what Professor Kimmage says about Whittaker Chambers on the subject (on pages 137 and 138).
Brilliance however, was about all liberals had, in Chambers’s view. They had no ethical sense whatsoever, only a myopia so extreme that evidence of Soviet crimes remained forever invisible. (This was Sidney Hook’s frustration with Henry Wallace.) In a stinging review of the film made from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Chambers attacked fellow travellers: “pinkos who did not bat an eye when the Soviet Government exterminated 3,000,000 peasants by famine, will go for a good cry over the hardship of the Okies.” It was not the impotence of the liberals that bothered Chambers but their power and their ubiquity.
Chambers wrote mostly for Time magazine and his language was, at times, crude and hurtful. He also felt that the time for niceties had gone. One may add that his estimate of peasants deliberately starved to death by the Soviet Government is probably on the very low side. To the comment that cinema audiences are more likely to care about their own, American people than about Russian or Ukrainian peasants, one can answer that Okies were an alien specie to many other Americans, especially to liberal writers and, in any case, they had expressed a great deal of interest in the supposedly high levels of welfare of those foreign peasants, wishing the same on their own people.
Chambers took his criticism of the Left to radical extremes. Liberals and leftists were ignorant of the basic truths that Soviet history had to teach. “How should they [fellow travellers] know that Lenin was the first fascist,” Chambers wrote with unforgiving sarcasm, “and that they were co-operating with the party from which the Nazis borrowed all their important methods and ideas.”
The sickness of the Left was nothing other than the sickness of intellectuals, whose heyday was not the Roaring Twenties but the low, dishonest 1930s. Intellectuals’ alienation from religion and tradition led them to love alienation as such and to mistake sickness for health. “Fundamentally sceptical, maladjusted, defeatist,” chambers wrote, “the intellectuals felt thoroughly at home in the chaos and misery of the ‘30s.” Hence, the outpourings of enthusiasm for The Grapes of Wrath. The tragedy was the twisted decency of intellectuals: “fundamentally benevolent and humane, they loved their countrymen in distress far more than they ever loved them in prosperity”.
If we can discard the unfortunate tendency to use every cliché possible (let us not forget that Auden “loathed” the poem from which that phrase “low, dishonest decade” came from and tried to prevent its republication until the mid-sixties) and the author’s obvious distaste for Chambers’s fury and vulgarity, we find a great deal of very interesting stuff there, repeated oddly enough when Professor Kimmage writes about Trilling’s much more palatable criticism of John Steinbeck and the novel The Grapes of Wrath.

On pages 134 and 135 of the book we read this:
Trilling’s psychological insights drew on a pessimism he attributed to Sigmund Freud. As a radical, Trilling had identified Freud immediately as a threat to radicalism, fearing Freud’s doubts about pity and idealism; as an anti-communist, Trilling used Freud to analyze the relationship between pity and the Left, to debunk pity, and to banish it from mature political thinking. To this end, Trilling attacked John Steinbeck, already a venerated statue in the pantheon of left-wing fiction, arguing that Steinbeck’s problem is literary in part because Steinbeck “thinks like a social function, not like a novelist”.

Steinbeck’s literary failure is less significant, however, than the popular success of The Grapes of Wrath, which Trilling ascribed to a distinct group of people – a class, even. “A book like The Grapes of Wrath cockers-up the self-righteousness of the liberal middle class,” Trilling declared; it is easy to feel virtuous in our love of such good poor people”.

Again, this was an analysis that could explain the pro-Soviet sympathies of the Left in the 1930s. The actual goings-on in Stalin’s Soviet Union was immaterial. The Moscow trials, the various Five Year Plans, and the purges had failed to complicate support for the good poor people of the Soviet Union. A personal sense of virtue and righteousness was at stake for the fellow traveller more than the actual condition of the Soviet people. The reception of Steinbeck’s novel was symptomatic of a political condition in which the Left celebrated, more than anything, the heroic tribulations of its own conscience.”
Well, yes, much more agreeable that Chambers’s “rants”. But, as a matter of fact, the two writers were saying the same thing: the intellectual Left did not want to deal with sordid details if the alternative was to parade its own conscience.

How much has really changed? Communism may not be an issue though, as the Van Jones story shows, the MSM still finds it embarrassing to call the truth on that.

But on other, closely related matters, Chambers and Trilling could write all that now. Our political and cultural elites are still in the grip of “compassion” as if that were a particularly virtuous state of mind. As I have pointed out before, being compassionate is not virtuous but merely a display of superiority towards other people whose lives one wants to manage. I was not altogether surprised at the number of comments I had on the blog and in other places that clearly misunderstood the whole issue. I was told that everything would be fine if people actually acted on compassion. Errm, no. That just makes matters worse.

It underlies the reluctance to criticize with any kind of seriousness anti-Western tyrannies even when they practice everything that “liberals” are supposed to abhor. Ah, but they are the weak. We must support them. The details do not matter.

It underlies our cackhanded way of dealing with developing countries, whose economic development we try to prevent while showering aid that keeps bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power on them.

It underlies the insistence that the state in whatever form is the only entity that can run people’s lives and all those who oppose that merely lack compassion. (Whether that means the state in Brussels, Whitehall or the local council is irrelevant.)

And, naturally enough, it means that the preference is for people to be miserable and downtrodden rather than successful achievers. Our collective conscience does not like success – we cannot feel compassionate towards it.

Odd that we should still be fighting the same battles our parents and grandparents fought.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight years ago

September 11, 2001 New York City

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Can anything be done about African countries?

Over on EURef I pursued this theme in a rather desultory fashion in the past but it is clear that more attention should be paid to the subject and to the somewhat dire role played by transnational organizations, NGOs and foreign aid in the destruction of African economies; it is equally clear that this blog is a far more suitable outlet.

Today I attended a talk my Moeletsi Mbeki, South African businessman and political writer at the IPN. Mr Mbeki is promoting his latest book, "Architects of Poverty: Why Africa's Capitalism Needs Changing". In fact, as he cheerfully admitted in reply to the first question, it is not capitalism that needs changing but the government and the political elite.

Mr Mbeki is a controversial figure in South Africa, not least because of his attacks on the ANC government, run until last year by his brother. He has been banned from SABC, the state controlled main media station but, luckily, there is some private broadcasting in South Africa. His voice is heard.

He is also a successful businessman who owns a number of firms that include a TV station. This is not, on the whole, seen as a positive either by the political elite or by the transnational aid organizations.

Above all, he is controversial because he does not bow to the accepted African and transnational ideology that insists on putting the blame, however stupid that is after all these decades, on Western colonialism. Mr Mbeki has been known to express the view that African countries were better governed by the colonial powers than they are now by African politicians.

He was equally outspoken today. Without actually defending apartheid, he made it clear that the post-apartheid political system is impoverishing and de-industrializing South Africa, as well as increasing massively the gap between the rich and the poor, a situation that is clearly fraught with difficulties for the future.

The reason for all this is clear. There were, he said, two nationalist groups in South Africa, which made it unusual for Sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from African nationalists, there were the Afrikaners, who were the ruling elite from the country's de facto independence in 1909 until the democratic change in 1994.

The difference between that ruling nationalist elite and the present one was their economic activity. The Afrikaners were property owners, entrepreneurs, industrialists and farmers. Their interest lay in developing the country industrially and in strengthening its infrastructure, such as roads and railways, many of which are still there with no new ones having been built.

The new political elite, on the other hand, is interested in consumption of state revenue. The country's ills: de-industrialization, lack of investment, growing gap between rich and poor, lack of economic growth, lack of proper education and health care and the overwhelming corruption all grow out of that simple distinction.

How one overcomes that problem is the question people are trying to solve. There was little Mr Mbeki could contribute though he did put forward one or two ideas, which I shall blog about separately. But the vicious circle is extremely strong: the only way a political elite's grasp or power can be weakened is by encouraging the growth of a civil society; on the other hand, while that strong grip on political and economic existence is there, civil societies cannot grow and entrepreneurship, an essential part of it, dies.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A suitable head for UNESCO

The Wall Street Journal refers to Figaro bemoaning the fact that there might be the odd problem or two about the Egyptian Culture Minister of 22 years becoming the next chief of UNESCO:
To Farouk Hosni’s fans, it seems the only conceivable objection to crowning him global protector of culture is his public habit of making anti-Israel slurs, notably last year’s offer to burn Hebrew books. “If he had held his tongue, perhaps a red carpet would await Farouk Hosni in France,” an article in Le Figaro lamented last week, as the Egyptian Culture Minister landed in Paris ahead of this week’s meeting to decide the next chief of the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (more commonly known as Unesco).
Mr Hosni, too, tells everyone that he has changed his mind on the subject, does not want to burn Hebrew books and thinks people should judge him on the whole of his career.
Cairo is now scrambling to quash any stray quibbles with his candidacy ahead of a vote this week on his appointment. To this end, since the Unseco job campaign began, Egypt has announced plans to allow the translation of Israeli books while feverishly "contextualizing" Mr. Hosni's past tirades against the Jewish state. And last month Egypt ostentatiously unveiled the ongoing restoration of an important synagogue in Cairo.

That scramble, sincere or not, cannot erase Mr. Hosni's sorry record as a culture czar in general. Human-rights activists are not the only ones reeling at the thought of one of Egypt's pre-eminent censors being named standard-bearer in Unesco's self-described goal to "build peace in the minds of men." One can only imagine the peace in the minds of thousands of Egyptian writers, bloggers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, lecturers, broadcasters and other culture-purveyors who have been tortured, harassed, imprisoned or banned in Egypt since Mr. Hosni took office in 1987. Or the 100-plus heavy-metal fans arrested there over the last decade for their supposed Satanism. Or any of the remaining 80 million Egyptians regularly denied access to any new ideas their government deems harmful.
Well, let us hope they do judge him on his entire career. Then again, it appears to be entirely appropriate for UNESCO.

Court case in Sudan

The twice postponed case of Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who is accused of "immodest behaviour" because she wore trousers (pants in American) is supposed to be starting today. If found guilty, she will be sentenced to 40 lashes.

Lubna Hussein insists that the law in question is deliberately vague to make life difficult for women and that there is nothing in the Koran that says women cannot wear trousers. Her friends and family are fully supportive, she adds.

Sudan would like to normalize its relations with other countries and this is likely to be something of a test case.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

OK, this is too good to miss

Just before I leave the Somali-run internet shop at the bottom of my road, I have to post these two news items.

On the other hand, Van Jones, President Obama's hand-picked "greenery tsar", Communist and truther, becomes the latest of these hand-picked officials to resign.

On the other hand, President Obama intends to take the unprecedented step of presiding over the meeting of the UN Security Council on September 24. One assumes he is hoping to repair his badly damaged ego image reputation. Somehow I do not think it will be as easy as that. In fact, I see another gigantic banana skin.

Talk amongst yourselves

I am having serious computer problems, which is entirely my fault as I have been cursing and swearing at it whenever things with work were going wrong. Retaliation is in order, quite clearly. What it means is light blogging until I sort things out or acquire a laptop and, preferably, both, as there is a lot of material on my hard disk that would be extremely hard to replace. In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves and I shall join in whenever I can. And even blog, perhaps.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Another day, another conference invitation

This one I shall be sorry to miss because some interesting things might come out. Reform is one of the best think-tanks around with many interesting new ideas to its credit. But I cannot afford teh £200 I am required to pay in order to attend. Sadly, I have no corporate budgets to fund me.

Of course, many of the speakers are politicians, from whom we hear far too much anyway. But, as usual before an election, representatives of major established bodies will be there, too. The Financial Services Authority, the London Stockexchange and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales are sending their top people.

At the bottom of the list of speakers who have accepted I note a curious name: Guido Fawkes, Political Blogger. Well, well, well. So much for Guido's stance as outsider. There he is, playing with the big boys already and the British blogosphere is still in its infancy.

Not sure what this will mean in practical terms

Nigel Farage, the Leader of UKIP, is standing down from that position and the party will be going through its usual tortuous and tortured process of electing his successor. Mr Farage intends to concentrate on his role as MEP and on the General Election when he will be standing, for reasons known to himself and, perhaps, a few people in the Conservative Party, against the Speaker, John Bercow.

Undoubtedly, the triple role is too much for any one person to carry and Mr Farage is probably right to shed the one somebody else can do as well or even better. He has many politically good qualities but being leader and formulating policies are not among them.

We await the outcome.

And now for something happy

It has been pointed out to me that this blog is full of doom and gloom. I thought I had better do something about that. I was going to return to the question of Aftonbladet and the diplomatic cooling between Sweden and Israel and write about a very jolly row going on between Phyllis Chesler and Naomi Wolf on the subject of women in Islam (and readers can guess which side I am going to be on). All that will have to wait till tomorrow.

Instead here are three pictures from one of my favourite sites ZooBorns, dedicated, as the title makes it clear, to following the fortunes of young animals born in various zoos and wildlife parks.

So, here come baby gorilla Kibibi, two baby langurs and baby zebra Marty:

There! You must be feeling better.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Crisis? What crisis?

A few months ago I watched the film "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" with someone who knew of those events only by hearsay, being too young to remember. The film was not bad at all, with brilliant acting and a very clever script. There was no sympathy at all for the terrorists and for that one must be thankful nowadays.

It could have been better, though. In particular, it could have given a clearer idea of the international aspect of terrorism, of the role of the Soviet Union and East Germany and of how frightening the situation in the seventies was.

This has been something of a refrain of mine: yes, things are bad but are they really as bad as they were merely thirty years ago, not to mention seventy years ago? Yes, we need to deal with the problems we are facing, with many of them intractable and with very few allies, especially not in the Conservative Party. But are things really as bad as they were thirty years ago?

I was, therefore, delighted to read John Fund's article in the Wall Street Journal, which began with the paragraph:
You call this a crisis? Think back nearly 30 years ago. When Ronald Reagan took office the ­country's economy was in a shambles—inflation was running into the double digits, growth had ­stagnated and the top marginal tax rate was 70%. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, bristling with imperial designs and ­nuclear weapons, had recently invaded ­Afghanistan, installing a puppet regime, and Iran had ousted a pro-Western leader in favor of a ­fervently ­anti-American cleric. The White House tenure of Jimmy Carter, known for hand-wringing over ­"malaise" and a botched hostage-rescue mission, had led scholars to conclude that the American presidency, as an institution, was too weak to govern in the ­modern world.
Things were even worse over on this side of the Pond when just over thirty years ago, in May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Most of us had no idea what she really stood for, unlike Americans who, roughly speaking, knew about Reagan's ideology.

Incidentally, the best book on that period remains John O'Sullivan's "The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister". (Full disclosure: John is a very good friend of mine. But the book is still excellent and astonishingly exciting.)

The article is really a review of a new and very interesting sounding book about President Reagan. Both the book and the review are fair and admiring of the man's achievements. But, as John Fund says, Reagan and America with him faced two enemies: the Soviet Union and big government. The first proved to be weaker and was defeated. The second stands still and getting stronger under President Obama.

The same can be said here. Maybe the economic ideas of the free market did become acceptable by all (though at a time when banks have been nationalized and railways re-nationalized, that argument sounds a little weak) but the notion that government is not the solution but the problem is little favoured.

None of the main political parties accept it, none of the main-stream media, very few of the opinion formers and only a small proportion of the population, though the last of these is growing. We have a long way to go.

And that just about sums it up

Unfortunately I cannot go to Dublin on September 9 to attend a debate organized by Open Europe about the Lisbon Treaty. But if there is anybody out there who is wondering why both this blog and EUReferendum hold that organization in low opinion, despite all the research they do, here is the summary of what the event is about. It comes word for word from the invitation:
With just weeks to go before the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Open Europe invites commentators and experts from across the EU to Dublin, to explain why they say 'yes' to a more democratic EU, and 'no' to the Lisbon Treaty.
A more democratic EU? Do tell.

Good news from Canada

Mark Steyn writes here with all the necessary links that the Canadian "Hate Speech Law", which allowed extra-judicial Commissions hold kangaroo courts, has been declared unconstitutional.

Here is Mark Hemingway's account. It is not long. Best to read it and Joseph Brean's article in the National Post in full.

Now for a reform of our libel laws.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Second World War begins

There is a very reasonable school of historical thought, which says that the two world wars as well as the various outbursts of unpleasantness of varying magnitude and violence in between constitute, in reality, one war, a second Thirty Years’ War that took place world-wide.

After all, runs the argument, neither the Hundred Years’ War nor the Thirty Years’ War in the seventeenth century involved constant fighting for all the 114 and 30 years in question; there were periods of relative peace; there were fighting sides dropping out or changing allegiance; there were localized wars that can be described as civil wars.

There is, in my opinion, a good deal to be said for that theory and it may well be that historians of the future will not be blinded by our obsessions. However, the period of vicious fighting and civilian destruction we call World War II needs to be examined and remembered separately. We are too close to it to be able to see it as part of any wider picture.

September 1, 1939, seventy years ago, the war started officially with the German invasion of Poland. Parliament hastily passed the National Service Bill and on September 3, 1939 Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany. Canada, whose contribution was as great as that of the other Dominions and of the Empire, declared war on September 10. Let us never forget that when Britain was supposedly standing alone, it had the support of the Empire and of the Dominions. The Indian Army alone increased to 2.5 million during the war and they were all volunteers. 30 Victoria Crosses were won by Indian soldiers.

But I digress. There will be many seventieth anniversaries in the next few months and years. Let us look at the beginning. Let us note that there is at least one country that is once again refusing even to look at what happened in that fateful year.

Yesterday’s Guardian carried a piece by Luke Harding that discussed the reasonably well known news item of President Medvedev announcing that neither the Soviet Union nor Stalin were responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War and to suggest otherwise would be to deny the Soviet achievements in liberating Europe that have somehow become Russian achievements.

At this point it is worth having a look at the curious way in which Putin’s and Medvedev’s Russia has become the descendants of the Soviet Union, according to official propaganda analysis.

The Soviet Union was more than just a multinational state in which several members felt that they were being oppressed. Various members of those nationalities became part of the Soviet elite or just of the Soviet experiment and it is fair to say that many of the horrors were Soviet in nature, put into place by people of differing nationalities.

On the other hand, the same is true for the courage displayed by the Soviet army and for the suffering experienced by that army and the people of the country. Much of that suffering was imposed by Stalin’s government; much of the courage was displayed despite Stalin’s leadership.

Then, of course there are various problems: the behaviour of the Red Army and of the GRU and NKVD that followed it in the “liberated” parts of the Soviet Union itself and in other countries; the fate of many returning Soviet soldiers, particularly the Chechens, Tatars and Ingushi but others, too; the fate of returning POWS, often handed back by the Western allies despite their clear reluctance to go home. It is a dizzyingly complicated pattern and countries that were involved do not necessarily draw rational conclusions. Least of all, I am sorry to say, Russia or, at least, its leadership that is intent on whipping up fear and loathing towards all western countries among the Russian people. Sometimes I think they are succeeding, sometimes I am not so sure. The Russians are well experienced in double-think.

To sum up briefly, the official Russian view is that the bad aspects of the Soviet Union – mass murder, labour camps, torture chambers, destruction of the economy, invasion of other countries – probably did not happen but if they did, they were most definitely not Russia’s fault, because it was all done by the Soviet Union and many non-Russians were involved. Very true. I frequently make that point myself to people who ignorantly substitute Russia for the USSR.

However, runs the version, even if some of those accusations are true and even if there were many non-Russians involved in the horrors, it is wrong for anybody else to mention them because that casts aspersions on the heroism of the Russian army that liberated Europe or some part of it, anyway.

This rather odd collection of attitudes prevents any kind of understanding of the Second World War (the Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia, and it did not begin till 1941 so what is everybody going on about) in the country. It also lies behind President Medvedev’s odd comments.

Stalin, he maintained, had no choice but to sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact or, at any rate, instruct Molotov to do so. The West had let him down; the West had let everyone down; Poland was the Nazis’ ally in dismembering Czechoslovakia, so what are they complaining about.

This conveniently ignores that the Nazi-Soviet Pact had those pesky secret protocols that divided Eastern Europe between the two giants, the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, the treatment of Polish and Baltic civilians by the Soviet authorities and the help the USSR gave Germany right up to June 22, 1941. Without that help it is unlikely that Germany could have fought the Battle of Britain or harassed British shipping to the extent it did.

In fact, if we consider World War II a separate event from all the other bits and pieces that had been going on in Europe and the rest of the world since 1918, the start of it was on August 23, 1939, when Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov signed a pact that guaranteed Hitler’s rear and divided up the countries between the two totalitarians.

The rest followed from that inexorably.

UPDATE: Der Spiegel gives an account of the commemoration of the beginning of World War II in Gdansk, adding quotes from other newspapers. Chancellor Merkel spoke well and movingly; President Kaczynski wanted more from the Russians and President Prime Minister Putin did not actually say that it was all Poland's fault. He did not actually acknowledge Soviet involvement either but the German newspapers seem quite happy with the fact that he did not deny it in so many words.