Thursday, December 31, 2009

Afore ye go!

Let's just get a few things out of the way: no, this is not the beginning of a new decade. 2010 will be the last year of the first decade of the twenty-first century, no matter what the media-beguiled people keep saying. There is no such thing as a year nought only year one.

For all of that, of course, we are about to enter into a new year for which I make no resolutions though there are a few plans in the offing, many of which have to do with this blog.

So, having got that off my chest, let me put up just three last links for 2009. Via Instapundit, we get this highly entertaining list of major stories that ran in the blogosphere for a considerable length of time before the MSM media picked them up if, indeed, that happened. Mostly this is about the United States where the blogosphere has pushed ahead of the MSM in importance instead of trailing behind those clogs sponsored by it.

A great link from Michelle Malkin who has a batch of good end-of-the year stories (though I wish Americans would leave that wretched Dan Hannan's YouTube video) but this is what I liked: a sign from one of the Tea Parties that needs to be adopted by us on this side of the Pond as well.

We cannot leave this year without having one last go at the so-called Conservative Party whose talented spin doctors policy makers have come with a real lulu of an idea as reported in the Guardian:
The Tories today promised to give £1m of taxpayers' money as a cash prize to the person or team who manages to "harness the wisdom of the crowd" by producing an online platform to solve "common problems".

The winning product must deliver an effective and available site for the public to post their ideas on, as well as a truly beneficial outcome for it to be worthy of the £1m payout, which the party says would be the biggest prize offered by a British government in the modern era.
Would somebody tell those idiots in CCHQ that the internet is not there to "harness the wisdom of the crowd", whatever that may mean, but to widen the number of different ideas and opinions available to us all, including politicians and their minions.

The blogosphere is not a giant focus group in which they can have meaningless interaction with the "crowd" of whose "wisdom", a concept that has been around for some time, little Tory boys and girls have only just heard. Those gifted researchers can do some research and read some ideas that are around; those gifted policy makers can do some thinking; above all, what we should like to hear from the wannabe government is what they think is the right answer to some of the problems, which does not include such issues as "picking the England squad for the 2010 World Cup". Every pub denizen can do that better than the manager; what has it to do with the government and taxpayers' money?

Let me remind my readers of that wonderful verse by Hilaire Belloc, which applies in no small measure to the forthcoming election:

The accursed power which stands on Privilege
(And goes with Women, and Champagne, and Bridge)
Broke - and Democracy resumed her reign:
(Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).

Happy New Year to all

Monday, December 28, 2009

Think pink

Mention by a reader of Eloise reminded me of the wonderfully talented Kay Thompson, writer (author of the Eloise books), actress, singer, entertainer and the gloriously funny third star (some think higher than that) of Funny Face. Here she is, laying down the law as editor of a Vogue-type fashion magazine: Think Pink.

Meryl Streep, eat your heart out.

Compare and contrast

A reader has called my attention to the fact that the EU has not gone completely dormant and the Swedish Presidency (for another three days) has issued a couple of statements about recent events in the Middle East.

One is about the violent suppression of anti-government protests that took place during the Shi'ite Ashura commemorations in Iran. (Curious, is it not that the first Muslim martyr, the Prophet's grandson, Imam Hossein or Husseyn as many prefer to spell it, should have been murdered by other Muslims. But I digress.

Witnesses told RFE/RL that in the course of the Ashura events, security forces shot directly at people and attacked them with batons and tear gas. They described chaos in the streets and blood on the sidewalks, and reported fire and heavy smoke in some parts of Tehran. Instead of religious slogans, protesters chanted against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with some calling him a murderer.

One young Iranian man, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said: "It wasn't a Green Ashura, it was a red Ashura -- a bloody Ashura."

Eight protesters were reported killed as a result of the violence. Among them was 35-year-old Ali Musavi, the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, who finished second to incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 vote.
Nor did it stop there.

Reports emerged today that authorities were continuing to round up dissenters. After Iranian police said they had detained about 300 people, an opposition website (Parlemannews) claimed today that seven prominent oppositionists were among them, including three aides to Mir Hossein Musavi and prominent human rights activists Emad Baghi and Ebrahim Yazdi, a former foreign minister.
How very different from the Ashura procession I saw along Bayswater Road.

The Presidency has issued a statement about events in Iran in which it described itself as being "concerned at the reports of violent suppression of demonstrations and arbitrary detentions in Tehran and other Iranian cities during the recent Ashura commemorations".

Well, I suppose we are all concerned, though it seems slightly pointless to issue statements that tells us that, further informing the world that the EU and its Presidency are committed to the notions of democracy and human rights.

Luckily there are matters the Presidency feels much more strongly about. This is the statement about the proposed building of apartments in East Jerusalem by Israelis:
The Presidency of the European Union is dismayed at the announcement of the Government of Israel to build nearly 700 apartments in occupied East Jerusalem.

Settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law. The plans by the Israeli Government to expand such settlements contravene repeated calls from the international community, including those of the Quartet, and prevent the creation of an atmosphere conducive to resuming negotiations on a two-state solution. The Presidency of the European Union thus urges the Government of Israel to reconsider these plans.

The Presidency recalls that the European Union has never recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.
Up with this the EU will not put, though it is not quite clear what they intend to do about it all beyond expressing their dismay, which is, let us face it, stronger than the concern they managed to show towards the bloody suppression of all attempts to introduce some kind of democratic ideas in Iran.

Furthermore, the Swedish Prsidency and the European Union foreign policy makers as a whole, might like to contemplate the fact that it is not the status of Jerusalem that is the central problem in that part of the world but Israel's existence and her right to exist.

The Greeks prefer to ask for gifts

When I said that the EU was on holiday and nothing much was happening there, I was a little economical with the truth. There is the ongoing saga of the Greek crisis. One might argue that financial crisis is an almost permanent feature of Greek politics but recently it has become bigger and more important. In fact, there has been talk of Greece becoming bankrupt, not a fate that usually befalls a country, however spendthrift its politicians might be.

There is an additional problem here. Greece is, after all, in the Economic and Monetary Union and its currency is the euro. What will happen to the other countries in EMU if one member is declared bankrupt?

This is what Der Spiegel wrote on the 14th:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel refrained from commenting for three long days as the value of the Greek bonds continued to fall. The chancellor knew she had to say something to prevent the nose dive. Something needed to be done to defuse the ticking time bomb threatening Europe and the euro: the possible bankruptcy of European Union member state Greece.

Speculators in the trading rooms of banks had been waiting for a signal. They wanted to know whether EU member states were going to rush to the aid of the hemorrhaging country on the Aegean. The longer they waited the further Greek bonds slipped - and the closer the country slid toward national bankruptcy.

Merkel doesn't believe that Greece can cope with its problems without help from Brussels - regardless of whether the Growth and Stability Pact prohibits such aid or not. That's what she told close advisers in the Chancellery on a number of occasions.
Some readers with long memories might recall that one of the arguments against entering the euro was that the Growth and Stability Pact would never be used against a recalcitrant member.

The rest of the article discusses the dire financial situation of the country and the various options open to the rest of the EU - not least the problem of what kind of signal would EU aid send to the Greek government. Then again, as the author points out with some agony in the words:
Europe might perhaps be able to afford to let a country go bankrupt just as the US was able to cope when California went broke. But what if this happens to a number of EU countries? That would trigger what euro skeptics warned about right from the start: the European common currency would collapse.
When I recall the hubris of that first day of the euro on January 1, 2002 when we were told by numerous commentators that finally politics triumphed over economics, I cannot help smiling wryly and recalling Margaret Thatcher's famous comment about not being able to buck the market.

It is, perhaps, particularly unfortunate that the Greek tragi-comedy should be unfolding now as the euro is officially the currency of the European Union since December 1 when the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty came into effect.

Today's article in Der Spiegel gets a little more precise. It seems that the EU will not let the IMF step in and rescue Greece because that would be against the rules:
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that the European Union will allow the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to step in and provide ailing euro zone member state Greece with a bailout. A growing number of politicians and central bankers are opposed to any form of IMF intervention.

"We don't need the IMF," Axel Weber, president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, said, according to a report published in Monday's issue of SPIEGEL. Weber noted that it is illegal in Europe to finance budget deficits using the kind of central bank funds which are at the IMF's disposal. With his statement, Weber joins ranks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who believes IMF intervention would send the wrong political signal. The EU, she believes, is strong enough to handle Greece's problems on its own.

Central bankers also feel there's another reason the IMF shouldn't intervene: Greece's case, they argue, does not involve a loss of trust in the country's currency. Instead, they say, financial markets have doubts about the credibility of the debtor, the Greek state.
One can't help feeling that Chancellor Merkel is becoming a little confused as to which political signals are to be sent and to whom.

However, lessons need to be learnt, say some politicians:
Meanwhile, the research service of the German parliament, the Bundestag, has also analyzed the situation. In an assessment provided to Volker Wissing, a member of parliament with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) -- which shares power in government with Merkel's Christian Democrats -- the experts concluded that a member state cannot be kicked out of the EU if it becomes insolvent. Nevertheless, if a euro zone member violates monetary union rules, certain rights that come with EU membership can be suspended. For example, a country could be temporarily stripped of its vote in the European Council, the EU institution comprised of the heads of government or state of the 27 member nations.

For that reason, Wissing is calling for the EU, "to thoroughly examine new members in the future to ensure that they will actually be in a position, in the long term, to meet the demands of a common currency."
Can't wait to see which rights of which bankrupt country will be suspended.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Catching up

Christmas is over and it is time to start catching up with various stories. Fortunately for all concerned the EU, which will have to become an important part of this blog in the coming year, is not functioning. Well, its operators are not functioning, so there is nothing to report from there.

Moving right along to the possible next Prime Minister, my opinion of David Cameron, whom I first called the Boy-King of the Conservative Party, is too well known to reiterate. Therefore, I was delighted to see that ConHome posted the Boy-King's rather woolly New Year message in full. As did Iain Dale. We can all read the platitudinous, policy-free ideas of the man who would be Prime Minister.

Apparently, Conservative way of fighting an election is acknowledging when opponents are right. Nothing much amiss with that except for this comment that seems to have choked a number of people already:

Let's be honest that whether you're Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, you're motivated by pretty much the same progressive aims: a country that is safer, fairer, greener and where opportunity is more equal. It's how to achieve these aims that we disagree about - and indeed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats there is a lot less disagreement than there used to be.
I am sure we would all like to see a country where motherhood and apple pie were accorded proper respect and our only disagreement would be on whether to flavour the apples with cinnamon or cloves. But if there are no differences between the three main parties (which, in a sense is true, given that they cannot control eighty per cent of the legislation) then why bother to vote for any of them or to vote at all. What will those much-hyped TV debates be about? No wonder they do not want the likes of UKIP to participate.

Incidentally, one would like to know whether the Boy-King's advisers know what the word "progressive" was code for in the decades of Soviet propaganda. Do they realize that when someone was described as "progressive" by, say, Pravda or Western publications that took their cue from it, that person was clearly understood to be a Communist sympathizer? Is that the image they want to create?

The Torygraph informs us that the Boy-King has stepped outside his usual box and met a few people who have different opinions from him and other politicos. He has, apparently, had a discussion with Helen Evans (full disclosure: she is a very good friend) who heads Nurses for Reform that campaigns for the privatization of the NHS.

Melissa Kite of the Torygraph is full of righteous anger or, at least, disquiet, as she points out that this meeting, described by Helen Evans on her blog, as possibly infuriating doctors and nurses. That would be the doctors who manage to fit in a very lucrative private practice over and above their NHS commitments. Just how infuriated are they going to be? More to the point is that, faced with the article, Cameron's office told everyone that the meeting meant nothing at all and the man himself is on record as being foursquare behind the NHS in its present huge and unwieldy Soviet-style existence but added that the Conservatives will undoubtedly make it better. Yeah, right.

Are we surprised to read on ConHome that an analysis of the latest local election results point to a hung Parliament? It is quite extraordinary: the Conservatives are facing an open goal with nary a defender in sight (something they point out endlessly) yet they seem incapable of scoring.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Now it's Christmas

The Sussex carol sung by the King's College Choir in 2008.

Merry Christmas to all

Not Chrismas yet

I shall post something suitably pleasant and Christmassy but I do need to get at least one more angry blog out of the way.

A couple of days ago I received a letter from my Conservative candidate who is, on the whole, not too bad for a Tory. The letter was not about his most recent achievements (I get e-mails about that) but about postal voting, the big heading being: “Why not vote from the comfort of your own home?” The answer to that, Mr Bailey, is that voting in an election ought not to be the same as voting for some TV celebrity. These days, of course, it is considered to be less important but this sort of chummy advertising is not going to improve people’s attitude to politics and politicians.

Then there is a great deal of waffle about the likelihood of a handful of votes deciding the issue in Hammersmith (entirely possible and he has his leaders to blame for that) as well as the fact that turn-out has been going down in the last few elections.

What might be the reason for that?
One of the reasons why so few people managed to vote was their busy lifestyles meant they found it hard to find time on a weekday to get to the polling station. Similarly the elderly and less mobile often find it difficult, or people called away on business at short notice.
So he is encouraging us all to apply for a permanent postal vote, thus making it completely unnecessary to have any voting stations at all.
In a time where fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote it is a duty of all parties to try and prevent voter apathy and show electors that their vote is important. [This is copied verbatim so don’t blame me for the grammar.]
Where does one start? Well, actually, I know: I would start by suggesting that Mr Bailey gets himself office staff who are more literate and are capable of re-reading letters before sending them out.

Secondly, let me point out that people not voting is not a sign of apathy. Nor is it the outcome of a busy life-style (no time between 7 am and 10 pm?) or of being called away on business at a short notice (how many people have to deal with that?). Not voting has been a calculated decision by various people because their dislike for all politicians and the dawning understanding that it makes very little difference who gets into the House of Commons have outweighed the normal British feeling of duty to vote. Sending condescending letters to constituents is not going to counter that; having policies that people can vote for might.

Thirdly, Mr Bailey has clearly not heard of the electoral fraud that has followed the decision to let anyone and everyone have a postal vote for as long as they like. How well does he know anything about recent political developments?

My final point is a question I have asked myself despairingly over and over again: who on earth advises these people?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who used it first?

While the story of the infamous Auschwitz sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" being stolen and then found broken into three pieces shocked most people, one good thing has come out of it: a historical examination of who used that slogan first. Readers of this blog and anyone who knows the history of the twentieth century will not be surprised to know that this was yet another thing that the Nazis stole from the Soviets.

Georgian Daily, an independent website, had an article up yesterday (the shortest day of the year, appropriately enough) about the first of the horrific lethal Soviet prison camps on the site of the Solovetsky monastery, which had been founded by Ivan the Terrible.

The camp was closed down by Lavrenty Beria seventy years ago this month largely because its proximity to the Finnish border. Most of the inmates were shot though some transferred to other camps.
The Solovetsky Camps of Special Assignment – known by the Russian acronym "SLON” – were established in February 1920 in the prison in a monastery in the Russian North first erected and used by Ivan the Terrible, to imprison anti-Soviet White Russian officers and men, Brodsky reports.

The name the Lenin-era officials chose is significant, he points out. “A priori, Solovki was intended not for people who had committed crimes. The obvious enemies of the Bolsheviks were usually killed immediately.” Instead, the SLON was “in the first instance for questionable people who represented a potential threat for Soviet power by the very fact of their existence.”

Among these “victims of the class struggle” sent there without trial were “lawyers who knew the bases of classical Roman law with its presumption of innocence, … historians [who knew a history the Bolsheviks denied], … [and] “officers capable of taking part in uprisings, and clergy of all confessions, bearers of an ideology alien to the Bolsheviks.”

The Solovki prisons were “’a forge of cadres’ and “a school of advanced experience’ for future concentration camps of the 20th century, Brodsky writes. The slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ first appeared not in Auschwitz but on the Nikolsky Gates of the Solovetsky Kremlin.” And but for one man, it could have become the first place with gas chambers for killing the innocent.

In the 1920s, the “Novaya gazeta” journalist says, Soviet jailors at Solovki had built up supplies of poisonous gas, but a certain Dr. Nikolay Zhilov, who served in the medical review facility there, “at his own risk destroyed this gas,” using it to disinfect the clothes of prisoners rather than to kill them.

Conditions at Solovki were brutal, and anyone who violated any rule or failed to fulfill the norms for work in the forests and mines could be “destroyed” as “a wrecker.” But one curious feature of SLON was that the secret police arrested particular and often prominent intellectuals to do particular jobs there.

In 1937-38 alone, some 1800 of the inmates of SLON were shot, including, among other, the scholar P.A. Florensky, the restoration specialist A.I. Anisimov, the inventor L.V. Kurchevsky, the lawyer A.V. Bobrishchev-Pushkin, the pan-Islamic ideologue I.A. Firdeks, Academician S.L. Rudnitsky, as well as many other intellectuals and churchmen.
SLON, incidentally, is a real word in Russian and means an elephant (слон).

One need not waste much time sighing over the thought of a monastery becoming a particularly vicious prison - its original purpose was very little else. The Solovetsky Monastery, established in conditions of supreme hardship was used as a place of exile or imprisonment for those the Tsar was displeased with right up to the nineteenth century, as this slightly patchy site enumerates.

Let us also not forget that Maxim Gorky, feted as a great humanitarian by some misguided souls in the West, wrote very favourably about the Solovetsky camp as an excellent weapon in the fight against the enemy, whoever the enemy might have been. This Wikipedia entry wonders how much Gorky knew about the conditions. He must have heard stories and he must have known that many of the people he had met in various intellectual circles when his career started taking off suffered and died there. Neither did he bother to find out the truth about the Children's Colony, a cause "dear to his heart", that is the appalling conditions into which homeless children and teenagers had been thrown in the twenties. (Gorky's visit took place in 1929.)

In 1992 the monastery was re-establishe, though the place is largely a museum. In the same year UNESCO placed the buildings on its World Heritage List. I suspect little is said about its real use.

The official Russian version remains that the Solovetski prison camp, whose declared aim was to destroy all those who might not be sympathetic to the Soviet system or might have knowledge and understanding beyond the official propaganda, was a useful and relatively humane weapon in the struggle against the enemy.
“Seven decades ago,” Brodsky writes, “Solovki ceased to be called a jail. [And] the physical evidence of this example of the medieval life of the 20th century almost does not remain.” The restorers have covered over many things, and “the archive of the prison has been hidden no one knows where.”

“In a country were a moral assessment of the crimes of Stalin has not been given, where pride in the great Soviet past is cultivated, it is alas not considered appropriate to recall [this] great tragedy of the 20th century.” Indeed, the FSB recently confiscated a manuscript on the Solovki camps being prepared by historian Mikhail Suprun.

The attitude of the Russian authorities is tragically clear: “The deputy director of the Solovetsky State Museum-Park, which is responsible for the exposition devoted to the history of the camps of special assignment, is convinced that the Solovetsky camps were a brilliant form of defense of the state from all kinds of dissidents.”

And his view, Brodsky points out, is “apparently shared” by those who control the books on display at Solovki for sale to tourists and pilgrims: They offer books that praise Stalin rather than condemning him for his role in the operation of this concentration camp. As a result, the tragedy of Solovetsky is becoming “the tragedy of Russia.”
Then again, the Solovetsky prison camp was opened before Stalin and is a symbol of the whole Soviet system, which makes its history particularly awkward. With one or two exceptions comments on the article in Novaya Gazeta show the result of this teaching: they mostly attack the author, often without giving any arguments, merely saying that he does not know what he is talking about and this is typical anti-Russian propaganda; others say remind readers that the first concentration camps were created by the British in the Boer War (true but irrelevant) and insist that only criminals were in the Solovetsky prison where all those who were shot (very few, according to the commenters) had been found guilty of heinous crimes. One would like to think that these people had not actually read the long article, which is, in fact, full of useful information, some of which has been translated by Georgian Daily and I quote it above.

In particular, the author, Yury Brodsky, quotes the slogan that was on the Nikolski Gate of the Solovetsky prison camp: Через труд — к освобождению, Through work towards freedom, or in German: Arbeit Macht Frei. Then again, the Soviet slogan is not there and cannot be stolen; people are free to tell lies about the wonders of Soviet prisons and trample over the victims' names, lives and deaths.

And this is why we get nowhere

It is one of the truisms of any kind of political life that one's supposed friends and allies are far more vexatious than one's enemies. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the whole debate about the EU and Britain's role in it and in the world.

Open Europe, for instance, remains a source of much frustration. Well-funded, more than adequately staffed, it produces good factual reports about the way the EU affects the life of this country. Having done so, it draws the most ridiculously silly conclusions and prevent the discussion from moving on. In fact, it seems to be determined to keep the whole EU debate at a level of water-treading.

It has just produced a list of Top 100 EU regulations to cost UK economy £184 billion by 2020 and has had this list noted in a number of publications such as the Sunday Times and the News of the World. (It is based on more extensive research published in February.)

Using the government's own estimates the research concluded that the Working Time Regulations, the Climate Change Act (which they think goes too far though "fighting climate change is vital"), Energy Performance Certificates for Buildings and Temporary Agency Workers Directives are, in that order, the top most expensive pieces of EU legislation as implemented in this country.

I have no intention of arguing with that and, in any case, the particular order is unimportant, though it is always useful to have figures to play around with.

Open Europe has even grasped that there is no point in trying to tackle over-regulation in the UK without tackling it in the EU.
Open Europe’s Research Director Mats Persson said:

“Despite some attempts at reform, the cost of EU regulation continues to rise year on year. Some of these regulations might be helpful but far too often the cost of EU rules outweigh the benefits. The UK is facing a massive public deficit, so the Government should be doing everything it can to save money. Targeting even just a few of the most costly EU regulations could save taxpayers and business billions every year.”

“There is almost no point in trying to cut regulation without concentrating on EU rules, since 72% of the total cost of UK regulation now originates in Brussels. The next UK Government must take a new, radical approach to cutting red tape, and this means getting smarter and tougher when negotiating in Europe.”
Well, that's been a hugely successful approach up till now. Exactly, how is one member state out of 27 going to get smarter and tougher across a whole range of regulations? Still, one can imagine David Cameron coming up with that in those much-vaunted debates between leaders: "and we shall be much smarter and tougher in our negotiations in ....errrm ... well, whichever forum it happens to be".

Monday, December 21, 2009

Can the Guardian be really this silly?

That is a rhetorical question, since obviously they can be very silly, indeed. One of their leading headlines today shouts: "Tory tax allies 'subsidised' by the taxpayer". It is clearly a story about the Taxpayers' Alliance, who is being provided by a vast amount of extra publicity through the Guardian's obsession with its activities.

As it happens, I, too, have on various occasions pointed out that the TPA was acting as a front organization for the Conservative Party but being subsidised by the taxpayer is an accusation one must take seriously until one reads the sub-heading: "Taxpayers' Alliance accused of using charitable arm to claim gift aid on donations from wealthy backers".

Does the Guardian really not know the difference between using charitable status to receive donations and being subsidized by the taxpayer? Obviously not, as their main source is John Prescott, whose own financial dealings do not bear too much investigation.

Not only all think-tanks receive money through charitable trusts, whether they are right-wing, left-wing, Conservative or Labour but any government that really cared about the status of individual contributions (about which both Labour and Conservative politicians mouth off ad nauseam) would reform the tax law making it possible to give to charities, educational establishments and think-tanks. In the meantime we have to put up with this idiotic excuse for journalism.

Another one

Another "innocent" victim of the McCarthyite "witch-hunt" appears to have been a purveyor of sensitive information to the Chinese communists. In the Wall Street Journal Jonathan Mirsky reviews Lynne Joiner's Honourable Survivor, the life of John S. "Jack" Service, one of the best known China hands in the State Department, a man much admired for his allegedly superb knowledge of that country, whose career was destroyed by accusations of espionage and treason.

Although he was eventually cleared of charges by some federal judge who clearly did not bother to look at the case in any detail, both the cloud and the halo of the martyr remained with him.
Service, who died in 1999, was eventually judged innocent of disloyalty to the U.S. and abetting Chinese communism. But for years he was accused of being one of the State Department China hands who had "lost China" to the Communists in the 1940s. "Honorable Survivor," by journalist Lynne Joiner, who was also his close friend, makes it clear—and this is Ms. Joiner's chief contribution—that at a minimum Service was "recklessly indiscreet" in his contacts with Communist sympathizers in the U.S. to whom he gave documents or disclosed details of U.S. policy.
That's quite bad enough. After all, a man who has risen high in the State Department should not find it so easy to be "recklessly indiscreet". But what Mr Mirsky tells us makes the story worse:
In two phone interviews with me shortly before he died a decade ago, Service admitted that in the 1940s he had given Jaffe a top-secret document revealing the Nationalist Order of Battle, which showed the exact disposition of the forces facing Mao's troops. When I observed that some might regard this as treason (I made no accusation), Service said he knew it. "I want to get this off my chest," he said, explaining: "I was gullible, and trusting, and foolish." He also told me that he had purposely ignored Mao's persecution, including executions, of his perceived enemies at Yan'an. Why cover for the supposedly moderate Communist leader? "I wanted them to win. I thought they were better than the Nationalists and that if we always opposed them we would have no access to the next Chinese government."

Service pressed me to publish our conversation, but friends of his said that it would be very painful. I agreed and after some time forgot the whole episode, until Ms. Joiner's book came my way. His stunning admission that he did supply classified intelligence to Jaffe, whom he must have assumed would pass it on, puts his later career—and Ms. Joiner's book—in a different light. If what Service told me near the end of his life is true, he can no longer be viewed as an innocent victim.
One cannot help wondering at Mr Mirsky's naivete and readiness to go along with half-truths.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser

It used to be that you could not argue seriously with anyone on the left because they would launch into personal attacks at the drop of the hat. Now one finds the same to be true about an ever larger number of Conservative supporters and activists. The slightest disagreement sends them into paroxysms of rage and really unbelievable personal abuse.

Take the hysteria around Gordon Brown who, according to a number of these great thinkers, "has no popular mandate". The moment one points out that he is the leader of a party that has won three elections, whether one likes it or not, and therefore does have a popular mandate, one is abused for being a nulab supporter or, as I was quite recently, a pinko. Clearly the person in question knows very little about me and, given his hysterical stupidity, I prefer it to remain that way.

No, Brown was not elected to be a Prime Minister. We do not elect Prime Ministers. No, he did not lead the party in the last election when they won the popular vote as well as the largest number of seats. Neither had Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas Home, Callaghan or Major. These are facts, which are, as Stalin kept saying, stubborn things. (Mind you, they had a more flexible characteristic under his rule.)

There is no disagreement about the fact that the Labour Party had promised a referendum on the Constitution for Europe and reneged on it when it came to the Lisbon Treaty. Whether that makes them filth, traitorous scum, fascists or just politicians in power is questionable. What is not questionable is the fact (that stubborn entity again) that all three parties promised a referendum in their manifesto and all three have reneged. It matters little as far as the Lib-Dims are concerned but it does matter that the Boy-King of the Conservative Party gave his "cast-iron guarantee" that there will be a referendum under a Conservative government, not bothering to qualify the guarantee. He has now made it clear that there will be no referendum on the EU for some time. As for those promises to bring back powers they are not worth the paper they are written on or the disk space they occupy.

This is a family friendly blog and, therefore, I cannot quote some of the abuse that has been flung in my direction by Conservative supporters in response to that very simple fact, which goes a long way towards explaining why the opinion polls and by-election results are all over the place.

This inability to argue vehemently but without nasty personal attacks is very odd. There are a few possible explanations.

It could be as simple as the fear that they will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and they are already flailing round trying to blame everyone they can and vent their fury instead of turning the situation round in the next few months.

It could be that the difference between the Conservative party and the left has eroded to the point of the two being indistinguishable in attitude as well as political thinking.

Or it could be that conservatism is meaningless to the present-day members, supporters and activists of the Conservative party and they think entirely in terms of teams, akin to football supporters, except that if you listen to the latter, as I do whenever there is a match around here, you can distinguish interesting discussions about games, players and tactics. In other words, there is more substance to football supporters than to supporters of political parties.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Scepticism is the enemy of science

Or so we are told by AP writers who have become the enemy of real journalism (in so far as there is such a thing).

James Taranto links to a couple of AP dispatches, one of which explains that we ought to return to the time when the "experts" were believed by all and there was no cacophony of criticism. There are one or two problems with that view.

The time when there are no sceptics and no critics is usually known as the Dark Ages in Europe. Not a period any of us want to go back to.

Secondly, to cite as evidence for that golden time TV dramas strikes me (though Mr Taranto does not refer to that) as being incredibly silly. So what if scientists always won in those dramas? I spent my childhood watching films and TV dramas in which the Communists always won. What does that prove?

Thirdly, the AP journalist needs a lesson in history. Galileo was not a representative of "expert" opinion, dogged by critics and sceptics. He was one of the critics and sceptics. As were others: Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Ignaz Semmelweis are three that occur to me immediately.

The second AP piece Mr Taranto cites tells us that everybody, every single person at the Bali Conference (a much more pleasant place climatically speaking than Copenhagen in the winter) was furious with the Americans and President Bush for holding up that agreement. So, were they all experts or does democracy work in that case?

Good(ish) news from Bonn

Normally I pay next to no attention to the European People's Party (EPP), with our without our own Tory Socialists in it. Their congress (without TS) would have left me absolutely cold - even colder than I am now because it dares to snow in December. Most of their resolutions are silly beyond parody, such as this one about climate change and the need to do something about it, the something, undoubtedly, being more taxation, more money going to tyrannical kleptocrats and more regulations to hamstring our economy.

However, it was pointed out to me that there was also an emergency resolution, undoubtedly pushed for by members of more or less right-wing parties from former Communist states. This one is, indeed, of interest and is unlikely to be well received in the higher echelons of the EU nomenklatura.

Entitled Totalitarian Communist States, it states inter alia:
The European People's Party:

welcoming the European Parliament's Resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism

1. emphasizes this time to be very important for the remembrance of the historic truth, democratic perspective and democratic culture in Europe;

2. is appalled over the fact that some, especially centre-left European governments did not giveadequate attention to this matter;

3. strongly condemns the fact that in some member states there is a systematic encouragement of adoration of the communist dictators, as for an example in the capital city of Slovenia - Ljubljana, where one of the main streets was this year named after the leader of the communist regime, marshal Josip Broz Tito;

4. is concerned about the fact that the President of Slovenia has awarded Mr. Tomaž Ertl, former Chief of secret communist police UDBA, on the eve of the democratic-changes-event last week, with a national acknowledgement. UDBA for Slovenia meant the same as Stasi in East Germany or Securitate in Romania;
The Resolution goes on to point out that the problem is not that Communism and Communist leaders are praised by small groups but that this is a policy adopted by states and governments. In other words, they are not over-reacting but stating important facts.

Just imagine if some German city had decided to name a street after Adolf Hitler or Hermann Goering or award some posthumous medal to Heinrich Himmler. One cannot even begin to think of such an event.

Which reminds me of a most peculiar bit of news. A gang of thieves stole the infamous iron sign that adorned the gates to Auschwitz (the camp liberated by President Obama's uncle), Arbeit Macht Frei. The theory is that it was stolen by Holocaust deniers to prove somehow or other that Jews were not murdered there in large numbers or, maybe, not at all.

The Holocaust is possibly the best documented horrific event or series of events in the twentieth century. Compare the amount we know to the difficulties people have had when trying to work out what happened in the Soviet Union or in China. Yet people go to the most incredible lengths to deny it. Truly weird. Unless this turns out to be a stupid joke carried out by drunken yobs with an even weirder sense of humour.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good news from Portugal

My friend Patricia Lança has been putting her time to good use: she has created her own website on which we can all read her various articles, chapters of her proposed memoirs and something about the remarkable lady herself. Parts of the site is under construction but there is plenty to read. Go for it.

Trouble with t'milblogs

It has always been one of my convictions that an important reason why neither the war in Iraq nor the war in Afghanistan has been particularly well known or popular in this country is the absence of milblogs and blogs by milfamilies. The MSM in America was intent on turning the two wars into another Vietnam, the war they won at the cost of millions of lives in South-East Asia and the collapse of America's pride and reputation. It was the milblogs and independently embedded bloggers and journalists like Michael Yon that prevented this. Couldn't happen in Britain where we relied on the stupidity of the MoD's public relations and media departments.

The milblogs are in trouble again and require public support. The story is quite complicated so the best thing I can do is to link to a couple of accounts, Confederate Yankee's and Michelle Malkin's. The comments on the latter are quite interesting, too.

By popular demand

The one and only Count Basie, playing One O'Clock Jump in, I think, 1955 (there are several recordings). Enjoy.

Politicians are having a bad time everywhere

Glenn Reynolds writes on Instapundit that the Tea-Party Movement is considerably more popular in the United States than either the Republicans or the Democrats. He links to a piece on MSNBC First Post. Well, well, well. I wonder why that is.

Incidentally, I have just written a slightly critical note to Professor Reynolds about this posting on his blog:
BBC ASKS: “Should homosexuals face execution?” Not until that “creeping Sharia” creeps a good deal farther . . . .
Anyone who followed up the link would have worked out eventually that this was a discussion by the BBC Africa Service about a proposed piece of legislation in Uganda, a legitimate subject for that Service to discuss, whatever hyperventilating MPs think. The implication of both JammieWearing Fool's and Instapundit's posting is that this is to do with British legislation. I have left a note on JammieWearing Fool's blog as well. I am just a little tired of all this Brit-bashing, which tends to be as silly and ignorant as the America-bashing on this side of the Pond.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yegor Gaidar 1956 - 2009

The news of former Prime Minister Gaidar’s untimely death this morning made many of us feel that it was the end of an era. In reality, that era, of hope for Russia’s economic and political development ended some time ago but Yegor Gaidar’s involvement was so crucial that his physical passing reminds us all of it.

Yegor Timurovich Gaidar was born into a privileged Soviet family, a fact that one keeps coming across in the biographies of the first generation of reformers. The reason is simple: who else would have had the access, first, to western economic and political literature and, second, to any position of power in the late Gorbachev and early Yeltsin years.

Gaidar’s grandfather, Arkady Gaidar, was one of the best known children’s writers in the Soviet Union, author of two of the best read books: Школа (School), a fictionalized account of his participation as a youngster in the Civil War, and Тимур и его команда (Timur and his team), a story of a red pioneer group, who off their own bat decide to help families of servicemen who are fighting in a war. Which war? Well, it took me a little time in my youth to work out that it was not the Great Patriotic War but the rather less well known one against Finland in 1940.

Gaidar’s books were popular with children as well as adults because, though ideologically absolutely pure, there was a hint of rebelliousness about them. Timur and his pals did not seem to be obeying any young pioneer leaders and were distinctly uninterested in adult guidance.

Arkady Gaidar, though a journalist as well as a writer, was unaffected by the peculiar death of his patron, Mikhail Frunze, and survived the purges. Possibly that was because he wrote for children and teenagers, possibly, as Robert Conquest put it, because somebody had to. But he did not survive World War II a.k.a. the Great Patriotic War; having become a war correspondent, he was killed in the autumn of 1941.

Timur Gaidar, named after Tamerlane and allegedly the character on whom the fictional Timur was based (not something I can readily believe) grew up to be a successful naval officer, a Rear-Admiral, no less and a friend of Raúl Castro’s before he became Pravda’s military correspondent. He married the daughter of another writer, as did Yegor himself, the daughter of one of the famous Strugatsky brothers. A highly privileged family, were the Gaidars.

The point is that it is precisely this kind of families that produced people who became oppositionists and, sometimes, dissidents, such as Pavel Litvinov, grandson of Maxim, and his sisters.

Gaidar did not go that far. In fact, he remained outwardly a Communist. The difference between him and his colleagues was that he had read numerous Western economists and had been thinking about their ideas. This is what the French liberal economist Henri Lepage wrote about him in the CRCE collection of articles about Lord Harris of High Cross [scroll down] and about his appearance at a conference organized for the young East European and Russian reformers by the Centre for Research into Communist [now Post-Communist] Economies (CRCE) in Ljubljana in 1990:
At that time Gaidar was a close adviser to Gorbachev and a member of a team of economists sent... to inform the outside world about the aims and developments of Perestroika, and to demonstrate a more open-minded attitude towards the West. Gaidar had a peculiarity: he had studied Samuelson's basic textbook and took it on himself to initiate his fellow Soviet economists in a clandestine way, to the basis of modern western neo-classical economics. This was the reason he was selected by Gorbachev. He was one of these rare Soviet economists able to discuss economics in modern micro and macro economic terms with his Western professional counterparts.

Several months later, as Gorbachev's perestroika was unfolding, surprisingly Ljubo and Ralph came to me asking whether the Institute I was then managing in France -- Institut Euro 92, founded and chaired by French politician Alain Madelain -- would agree to join the CRCE in funding a common Russian venture. This was to be a partnership with the economic department of the Soviet Sciences Academy. Institut Euro 92 was able to bring some money and assist the crce in creating ICRET -- International Centre for Research into Economic Transition. The new institute was located in Moscow and co-chaired by Gaidar and Ralph Harris. It benefited from new legislation allowing the formation of Soviet-Western academic research joint ventures

In fact, this particular joint-venture responded to a very specific motive. Being close to Gorbachev, Yegor Gaidar was getting worried about a possible reactionary move from the old Soviet communist guard. The communist coup against Gorbachev's policy was then looming as possible event, with a move back to more traditional dictatorship. Backed by the endowment in dollars, ICRET was a sort of survival kit that would help our new Russian economist friends to maintain western connections should a communist dictatorship be re-established.
In 1991 Gaidar left the Communist Party and joined Yeltsin’s government, becoming First Vice-Premier of the Russian Government and Minister of Economics from 1991 until 1992, and Minister of Finance from February 1992 until April 1992. He advocated liberal reforms through a shock therapy, abolished price control, reduced the budget deficit and cut industrial subsidies.

Gaidar became Acting Prime Minister for a few months in 1992 but the position was not confirmed by the Congress of People’s Deputies. Subsequently he continued in an active role, advising and even participating in the government. Gradual frustration with the way the economic reforms were not working out and electoral dissatisfaction forced him out of the government in 1994.

Since then Yegor Gaidar has dedicated himself to economic research and ideas in Russia and the West. He was forced to watch his reforms undermined, his legacy distorted and abused and Russia’s economic development stymied. The great hopes of the early nineties have gone and will not come back in a hurry. Indeed, those great hopes are regarded with loathing by many Russians.

This section in the Wikipedia biography sums up quite well the contradictory and strong feelings this quiet spoken, mostly courteous and well-meaning man has excited.

A carefully argued and thoughtful article (why does that expression always make me think of Peter Simple of blessed memory?) on the BBC website (yes, folks, they have the odd good article) sums up the situation Gaidar faced and his attempts to solve the heinous problems.
Appointed acting head of the government in the new non-communist Russia in 1992 by Boris Yeltsin, Mr Gaidar inherited a country that was quickly falling apart.

A mountain of foreign debt was choking Russia. Immediate default and massive state bankruptcy seemed unavoidable.

The system of food provision had collapsed, leaving the shelves of the country's shops literally empty.

Even the customary long queues were gone - there was nothing left to queue for. The prospect of massive starvation, riots and possibly an all-out civil war loomed large over a huge country.

Mr Gaidar's young and inexperienced government may have made many mistakes - but the fact remains that in 1992 it managed to save the country, lifting it as if by magic from the quagmire where it seemed doomed to sink.

There were only two solutions - either introducing martial law and severe rationing, or radically liberalising the economy.
Gaidar chose the second one and it prevented civil war, riots and any possibility of returning to Stalinism. It also plunged Russia into an economic turmoil.
The devaluation of Russia's currency had occurred before he took charge. The last communist government of Valentin Pavlov orchestrated it by stealth in early April 1991, when prices were drastically raised and hyperinflation unleashed without the population at large noticing - there were no goods in the shops anyway and new price tags were not even printed.

The lifting of price controls created an incentive for producers to produce and the shops to trade - and that filled the shelves with goods.

That was the moment when the people of Russia noticed that everything had suddenly become very expensive.

Savings - meagre as they were by world standards - lost any value.

The population - used to the stability and stagnation associated with flat prices that had not changed over decades - was deeply shocked.

At the same time, Mr Gaidar persuaded Western creditors that he was deadly serious about profoundly reforming - in fact, reinventing - the dying Russian economy, and the Soviet debt was restructured.

The country was saved both from bankruptcy and from starvation.

The following years were excruciatingly painful for Russians, as their country went through an unprecedented transformation from a totalitarian economy to a market one.
As we watch the Russian government reverse many of the reforms (though, by and large, price control has not been reintroduced) and retain greater popularity despite being shakier than before, we need to ask why those reforms failed.

Some reasons are obvious: the shock was too great, the chaos was compounded by the fact that oil and gas prices were low throughout the decade, the people did not have the fiscal reserves to survive.

There were other issues as well. The economic situation may have been bad but people were sort of used to that, even if they grumbled. The reforms did not necessarily make life worse for most people but they did not make it better, which is what they promised to do. The loss of savings, devaluation of pensions, sudden rise in prices and unemployment (unheard of in the Soviet Union) brought a curious fact home to the people of Russia: the much vaunted system towards which attitude was ambivalent was a greater disaster than they had realized. This touched a patriotic nerve. How could Russia be such a mess? Whose fault was it? Quite sane, intelligent people told me in all seriousness in the nineties that the Americans had deliberately destroyed Russia, something they had been wanting to do for decades, using the various oligarchs, corrupt associates of Yeltsin and the reformers for their own nefarious purposes.

Then there was the problem of legal structure or, rather, lack of one. The Russian experience has proved beyond any doubt, if proof were needed, that free-market economics does not work without a stringent legal and judicial structure, property rights, and an independent judiciary. What was supposed to produce a property owning democracy produced what Russians call бандитская страна, a gangster country. Mind you, they still call it that for some things did not change under Putin. There are now other oligarchs and they are all connected with the state and the security services. But the higher oil and gas prices pay people’s wages and allow them to buy most things in shops. They still grow a goodly proportion of food in their own dacha gardens and ensure that there is anything in the winter by drying, salting and pickling.

It did not help that a number of reformers though not, apparently, Gaidar himself, seemed to have a very nice life: pleasant housing, admirable and regularly paid salaries, trips abroad whence they returned with more goodies, schooling for their children in Britain and college education in the United States. People who felt that they were struggling for survival made no distinction between those who did have that life and those who did not; nor was there the slightest desire to understand the ideas that were supposed to give Russians a better life but could not do so.

Gaidar was unfairly castigated: there is no question that the alternatives to his policies would have been even more disastrous but those who lived through the nineties do not see it that way and seem to be prepared to surrender all political and much economic freedom for a steady income and a better life than they had known for decades. And who can blame them? Not I, living as I do in the wealthy West.

For all of that, I do not think Yegor Timurovich worked in vain. Eventually, it will become obvious that Russia is still trailing behind the West to everyone, not just the many thousands who praise Putin while carefully send their money and their offspring to other countries, often following themselves. And then, who knows? Maybe the reformist ideas, somewhat modified by reality, will come into their own.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Government spending is the problem

Government deficits, debt, more borrowing - we know the story all too well. Of course, the underlying problem is ever rising, nay rocketing governement spending. Daniel Mitchell of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation spells it out in this video. He talks about the United States but all his comments apply with knobs on to Britain.

Catching up

Yes, I know, Climategate is not the only issue around either. But I do need to show that I am on top of things (and if you believe that, you'll believe anything). Fortunately, I do not have to write much on the subject as the Boss on EUReferendum has been doing so for days now. No-one can say they have not been kept informed on developments, not if they read EURef.

Still, a few links to articles here and there will not come amiss. Let's start with the most entertaining one: Al Gore being faced with an inconvenient truth again, this time from a scientist, whose words he has been twisting and misquoting. As James Delingpole points out, it is something for the Times to write critically of the Goracle. Maybe the former Vice-President and presidential hopeful ought to have stuck to his plan to avoid the Copenhagen conference. Nobody is having a good time there, apart from Lord Monckton.

On the sane side of the debate, here is an article by Bjorn Lomborg in the Wall Street Journal. Lomborg has been the butt of hysterical attacks by the "scientific consensus" a.k.a. man-made global warming alarmists. Now that the "consensus" is unravelling before our very eyes and much of the basis for it is shown to be of doubtful integrity (something Lomborg's own work does not lack) he may well be spening much of his time with a big smile on his face.

Maybe, then again maybe not, as he is investigating and writing about serious problems that face the population of the poorest countries: malaria, HIV/AIDS, lack of clean water and other suchlike worries with possible global warming coming low down in the list of priorities. Lomborg discusses ways of dealing with real problems and we should all be paying attention. Even if we disagree with his suggested methods, it is worth remembering that this is what we need to be talking about.

Iain Murray and Roger Abbott compare "the obfuscation and arrogance of the implicated scientists to the openness and humility of Albert Einstein". Astonishingly enough, the real scientist and undisputed genius comes out as someone who was much more open in his attitudes to his own and other people's work.

David Bellamy summing up the evidence of the last couple of centuries is entertaining as ever.

And that, for the time being, is enough climategate. I had to show I knew it was happening.

Back to blogging

Not sure where the time goes but blogging has not been a high priority with me recently, as readers would have noticed. Well, maybe. But today's messages have brought information that there is a "bloggers' lunch" in Parliament for what appears to be the bloggers who are undoubtedly part of the establishment. Possibly only those on the right, those on the left having their own lunches, teas and dinners. Then again, there is not a great deal of difference between them in their attitudes and interests.

So that does it. Time to return to blogging and to resume work on the real blogosphere, the one that cannot be bought by the political establishment and has its own agenda, part of which is to bring that establishment to heel.

There are other issues in the world, apart from the miserable rows between our benighted politicians about who insulted whom at what point. In fact, there is a world out there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

UKIP acquires another well known peer

If you put Lord Monckton UKIP into Google News, you get precious little (though there are stories of Lord M's speech being interrupted by organized Greenie Youth Gangs in Copenhagen). Well, there is a Polish story about the noble peer joining UKIP that quotes the leader of that party, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who explains that, naturally enough, the new recruit is going to be spokesman on climate change.

Once you get to blogs, the story is different: there are quite a few that have already picked up the news. OK, to be fair one of the blogs is by George Moonbat Monbiot on the Guardian website and he is wondering whether Monckton will be an asset or a liability. The same one might ask about Moonbat Monbiot and the Guardian.

So the news is: Lord Monckton, former special adviser to Margaret Thatcher and leading global warming sceptic (as well as one world government nutter but nobody is perfect) has joined UKIP. The Conservatives may think they are well rid of him but one cannot help wondering whether this is the first of many ex-Conservatives attracted by the new leadership of UKIP.

A real rube abroad

Some are impressed by the fact that President Obama proclaimed himself to be unworthy of the Noble Peace Prize in his acceptance speech (but not too unworthy to accept it or is he not worthy of being so unworthy that he would have had to refuse it?), others are cheering or in the case of the New York Times showing unease at his robust defence of the war against terror.

The most interesting story of the day was picked up by Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit several hours ago and is now being aired by AP News as well. It seems that once again President Obama, the man who was billed as the sophisticate who would make the world forget the rube Bush, has behaved with the sort of rudeness one expects … well … from a cowboy and a rube.
Obama had quite a whirlwind day Thursday — he signed the Nobel guest book, huddled with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, met with King Harald V and Queen Sonja, and delivered an acceptance speech after he was formally presented with the prize. He also joined the king and queen at an evening banquet.

But he skipped several other activities, including lunch with the king, a news conference at Oslo's Grand Hotel, CNN's traditional interview with the prize winner and a "Save the Children" benefit concert, where organizers replaced him with an Obama cardboard cutout. Obama also won't be around for Friday's Nobel Concert.

Obama blamed his schedule. "I still have a lot of work to do back in Washington, D.C., before the year is done," he said during an appearance with Stoltenberg. The president's quick visit also reflected a White House that saw little value in trumpeting an honor for peace just days after Obama announced he was sending more troops off to war.
The White House and the President also, one must assume saw little value in being courteous to Norway and its King and people. After all, what does he get out of it? He already has the Peace Prize. Nothing more is needed.

Or as the Daily Beast puts it:
A day before President Obama receives his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the president’s treatment of his Norwegian hosts has become hot news across Scandinavia.

News outlets across the region are calling Obama arrogant for slashing some of the prize winners’ traditional duties from his schedule. “Everybody wants to visit the Peace Center except Obama,” sniped the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, amid reports the president would snub his own exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center. “A bit
arrogant—a bit bad,” proclaimed another Aftenposten headline.

Also among the dissed, according to news reports: a concert in Oslo on Friday that was arranged in his honor, and a group of Norwegian children who had planned to meet Obama in front of City Hall.

“The American president is acting like an elephant in a porcelain shop,” said Norwegian public-relations expert Rune Morck-Wergeland. “In Norwegian culture, it’s very important to keep an agreement. We’re religious about that, and Obama’s actions have been clumsy. You just don’t say no to an invitation from a European king. Maybe Obama’s advisers are not very educated about European culture, but he is coming off as rude, even if he doesn’t mean to.”
I can quite understand why President Obama might not want to waste any time looking an exhibition about his own achievements – he knows better than anyone how thin those are. But as to whether he means to be rude or not, one remains doubtful. After all, this is not the first time he has behaved like a rube abroad.

Remember the time he decided to chill out with his family instead of accepting an invitation to a dinner during a state visit to Russia, a visit that he appeared to confuse with a family holiday? And the time he decided to go on a romantic night out with the First Lady in Paris instead of a formal dinner with the French President who was his host during another state visit that this sophisticate confused with a family outing?

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds reports two interesting stories: from Hot Air we hear that the Norwegians have decided to substitute a cardboard cut-out at one of the concerts the new Nobel Peace Prize Laureate is missing (picked up by AP as well); and 44 per cent Americans would like Bush back as President. That’s nothing serious – presidents always look better when they are gone. The interesting point is the one he quotes from the forum on Ann Althouse’s blog, which is an acquired taste, in my opinion:
I think the point of the comparison is this: Bush endured 8 years of wall-to-wall, 24/7 liberal bashing from multiple networks. Meanwhile, Obama was coronated and has enjoyed wall-to-wall adoration from the same multiple networks. If Obama's numbers, 11 months in, already approach Bush's after EIGHT years, then, baby, you've got serious problems.
I must admit I did expect that famed honeymoon to last for a year or so but then even I did not expect Obama to be so crass in everything he did. What am I admitting to here?

Thursday, December 10, 2009


As I am particularly busy today and as my internet connection is particularly slow, blogging will be light to possibly non-existent. So, I thought, some more entertainment. I don't believe we have had Ann Miller, possibly the best solo female dancer in Hollywood musicals (and later on Broadway). Here she is in what she considered to be her best number: Shaking the Blues Away from Easter Parade. The rather appalling story is that she was actually in a back brace when she recorded this (though it is hard to see where) because some months before that her then husband had pushed her down the stairs and she had broken her back and, soon afterward, lost the baby she was carrying. Yet she produced this amazing dance:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Corruption of the mind

There can be little doubt in anybody’s mind that motivates politicians is love of power, which is even more of a corrupting influence than power itself. It is, after all, the love of money that is the root of all evil not money itself. The same goes for regulators of various stripes who are really politicians that do not ever need to face the electorate.

The declaration by the Environmental Protection Agency that CO2 (a naturally occurring substance and a necessity for plants) to be a danger to human health may sound like a stupid joke. In fact, it is a huge power grab by an unelected agency and the Executive because Congress is refusing to play ball (well, Senate is) on the Cap and Trade Bill. The legislative is being by-passed and the greenie hysteria is being used for something not envisaged by the Founding Fathers. Iain Murray explains it all in detail.

This is the latest example in the United States of such a development but we see this everywhere – from the UN to our own government, backed, in this case by that bunch of sheeple, our Parliament.

In a way that is not the interesting part of the story. Politicians of whatever variety use any excuse to grab power is a story in the sense of dog bites man or supermodel takes drugs is a story.

It is the scientists who knowingly produced inaccurate (at best) information, refused to answer questions, destroyed raw data and generally falsified the evidence that underpinned this debate, then hysterically refused to discuss matters or answer questions even when they came from other scientists that are of interest.

After all, the overwhelming majority of scientists do not start their careers with the thought of falsifying information, not even in order to keep a highly paid job or scholarship. Those considerations will go a long way but how did we get to the position that scientific establishments became promoters of propaganda in order to feed governments’ and regulators’ desire to control the population and scientists (for the most part) went along with that? We do not live in the Soviet Union where disagreement with the party line on science meant imprisonment, torture, labour camps or a bullet in the back of one's head.

Pondering over this and coming to no obvious conclusions I recalled one of the most impressive films I saw this year: Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn. The subject matter is obvious: this is about the monstrous crime carried out by the Soviet Union and its security forces against Polish officers, whom they imprisoned seventy years ago and murdered in their thousands in the spring of 1940.

It is also about other things: survival in terrible circumstances, the fate of a country and its people caught between two totalitarian regimes, and individual reaction to those regimes. About one third of the film takes place in the immediate post-war months in Poland and we follow several characters as they deal with the fact that once again Poland is occupied and the truth about what happened to the officers Katyn is being suppressed.

How is one to react? Some refuse to knuckle under and defy the authorities with the truth. Others decide to keep quiet in order to rebuild their lives. The conflict appears most clearly with two sisters, whose brother had been one of the victims of Katyn. One, a girl who has survived the Warsaw uprising and its brutal suppression, announcing that she is on the side of the murdered not the murderers, goes to a great deal of trouble to set up a memorial stone for her brother with the truth of his death inscribed on it. We last see her being pushed into an underground cell; the memorial is now a broken slab with the information obliterated.

Her sister takes a different view. She knows the truth but thinks that as Poland will never be free again, it is best to keep quiet, and try to rebuild the country. She encourages (in vain, as it turns out) a talented young man to re-write slightly his CV by omitting the words about his father, “murdered by the Soviets”, because she considers it to be more important for the young man to study, to create, to help build a new society than to insist on shouting the truth from the rooftops.

Much to be said for that point of view, one cannot help thinking, as one watches the destruction of all those who know and speak the truth. But then a thought occurs: yes, this seems a very small compromise with a probable good result. Yet how many more compromises will this young woman, the director of the art college, have to make in the future? Will she have to betray people? Almost certainly she will find herself having to reject those whose parentage is unsatisfactory in the new socialist republic unless she encourages them to tell even bigger lies. How far can one go before one is completely enmeshed in mental corruption?

At what point would a scientist, who, let us say, genuinely believes in man-made global warming, decide that a little bit of fiddling with the evidence in a good cause makes perfect sense? And having done that little bit of fiddling does he find himself having to cover up for it and for the fact that man-made global warming has become a “scientific fact” on the basis of his ever so slightly fiddled evidence? When do they find that there is now no drawing back without losing a great deal of face and creating a great deal of trouble for everyone concerned? How far can one go before one is completely enmeshed in mental corruption?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Showtime: Mack the Knife

Let me start with an explanation: I was not brought up on the Bobby Darrin version (I don't like him, anyway) or the Armstrong or the Sinatra versions though I did hear them in my youth. No, I was brought up on the original, dark, sinister version, whether performed by Bertolt Brecht himself (not terribly well), Ernst Busch, the ballad singer in Pabst's film or sundry imitators. How that terrifying song managed to become jolly entertainment is fascinating and I wonder whether anybody has done a proper study of the transformation.

So, here are several versions. First off, Bert Brecht, the Communist propagandist, apparatchik, stool pigeon who betrayed various friends, lovers and comrades and the man, who wisely did not flee to the Soviet Union when the Nazis came to power, but to the Scandinavian countries and then the United States, returning to socialist East Germany only when it became obvious that he would be a great man there.

That is not a great performance but this is. Ernst Busch was an actor and a singer as well as a Communist agitator. It is as well to remember that the Communists did their very best to undermine the fragile Weimar Republic, aiding, though indirectly, the ascent of Hitler and the Nazis.

Busch did go to the Soviet Union together with many other German Communists but unlike those, he survived. In 1937 he went to Spain to fight in the International Brigade and survived the purge that the NKVD instituted among those. When Franco won Busch, interestingly enough, did not return to the Soviet Union. Perhaps, he knew what awaited him there.

He went to Belgium where he was interned by the Nazis after the invasion. Imprisoned in Belgium and France during the war he survived to move to East Germany to become yet another great man and fighter for freedom. Well, as long as the people did not demand freedom from the Communists as they did in Berlin in 1953. Neither Busch nor Brecht were in favour of the workers then.

Of course, there may have been other reasons for Busch's sojourn in Belgium and France. The NKVD was rather anxious to know about various ex-Communists and other left-wing activists who were in Nazi camps.

Well, enough already of this German gloom. Let us have some entertainment. Here is one of my favourite versions by Dinah Shore and Pearl Bailey, both wonderful singers and entertainers.

Situation remains foggy

Both the Times and ConHome headline the latest Populus poll as showing, most importantly, that Labour's class war attack on David Cameron and his background leaves voters cold. Peter Riddell in the Times says: "David Cameron rides out Labour's 'toff' attack", while Jonathan Isaby on ConHome gets garrulous: "Tory lead 8% in new Populus poll which shows voters unenthused by Labour's class warfare". Well, yes. The only problem is that this does not show voters enthusing about the Conservatives either as a number of commenters have pointed out.

At this stage of the game, six months or so away from the election, in the middle of a serious financial crisis, towards the end of the third term of a highly unpopular government, the official opposition cannot muster more than 40 per cent and often, as in this case, less.

It is true that the majority seems remarkably unfazed by the hardly secret fact that Cameron was at Eton. Blair had been at Fettes and the Labour Party has a few public school boys and girls. Harriet Harman, for instance, comes from a very posh background and was educated at St Paul's Girls' School, which is not your average comprehensive. She just does not seem to have done much with the excellent education that school provides.

So it is official: class war resonates with very few people these days. That's the good news. The rest of the news is a little hard to analyze. In fact, it is all befogged. Opinion polls move one per cent here, two per cent there but none of that detail is important. These are all within the error margin. The fact that 12 per cent said that they would vote for some other party ought to cause some concern to the big guys, particularly, as I suspect a majority of that is talking of voting UKIP.

As things stand, Conservatives will probably be the largest party in the House of Commons after the next election. Whether that will mean an overall majority is now questionable, particularly as that gap is likely to narrow even more with the approach of polling day. Will there be a hung Parliament or a minority government? Anything is possible on the basis of recent figures even a surge in Tory support. Possible but not very likely unless the Conservative leadership abandons its self-righteous vacuity and comes up with some reasons why people should vote for them. A referendum on the European Union or, at least, the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty would be a start.

Guilt not proven

Readers of this blog will know that I am always ready to blame the Russian government or its enforcing organization for most things that go wrong in the world or, at least, those that go wrong in Russia's vicinity. But even I was taken aback by the strange suggestions that because those e-mails (hacked or leaked by an insider who would, in other circumstances, be called a whistleblower) must have been stolen and release by the Russian security services for various complicated reasons of their own. The evidence is slender to put it mildly and relies on the odd notion that if they were loaded onto a Russian server, that must have been done by the Russians themselves.

I am glad to say that the Boss at EUReferendum is on the case and has posted a detailed analysis of the story.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And another thing

The Copenhagen Climate Summit is going to be quite an event. Apart from all the other problems like people adding up the carbon footprints, green prostitutes, Al Gore's absence, President Obama's presence there will be one insoluble problem: the great divide between the rich countries of the West and the poor, developing countries of Africa, Asia and, now and for ever, South America.

Richard Tren and Franklin Cudjoe outline the problems and make it clear that the developing countries should not surrender to the hypocritical and oppressive pressures of the developed world.

Iceland is too small to be treated honourably

Over on Brussels Journal there is a long article by our friend, Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson, on the complicated saga (pun intended) of the Icesave dispute, in which Iceland, its government and its people have been put under intense pressure by the Dutch and the British governments in order to salvage EU regulations. A sorry tale and well worth reading in full. The one good thing is that it has helped to militate the people of Iceland against the EU.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's in a name?

Peter Whittle has an excellent article in Standpoint and on the New Culture Forum (full disclosure: I am proud to say that he is a very good friend of mine) about “vigilante” films, why the critical establishment is sniffy about them and why audiences, particularly conservative ones, love them.

This set me off thinking (I do that sometimes but not too often) about the importance of what you call plotlines and characters. Vigilante has rather a horrible sound; it reminds us of lynching gangs, the Ku-Klux-Klan and other kinds of nasty gang rule. But, actually, a vigilante is a man (or, perhaps, a woman though I have not heard of any films outside the superhero ones that had a female vigilante) who rebels against the corruption and inefficiency of the establishment, the criminal society that develops as a result of that, and the cowardice of everyone around him. A man like, for example, Marshall Will Kane in High Noon a film much loved by all left-wing film critics is there any other kind now that Alexander Walker has sadly passed away?), though a number of us think it is a truly conservative film. (I have never quite worked out how those critics feel about Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront.)

Or a man like the lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Or, coming a little closer in time, a woman like Karen Silkwood as played by that perennial Hollywood leftie, Merryl Streep, or like Erin Brockovich as played by Julia Roberts.

These are all films and characters loved by the leftish or “liberal”, in the new American sense of the word, commentators love. Why don’t they like Dirty Harry or Michael Caine’s latest character, Harry Brown, or Clyde Shelton in Law Abiding Citizen?

Need one ask? Individuals who fight the big monster, the establishment, illegal behaviour that protects criminals are called whistleblowers or heroic rebels if that establishment is big business, old-fashioned Tammany Hall (though perhaps not these days with Chicago politics elevated to the White House) or just the rich who do not spout liberal platitudes. The moment the establishment against which our hero and heroine rebels becomes a liberal one (as it is both in Britain and the United States) said hero(ine) is described as an evil, murderous vigilante who should be bunged up in prison and the key thrown away.

You know who are the goodies and baddies in an old-fashioned western by the colour of the hat; you know the good whistleblowers and the evil vigilante by the name, which is the result of the kind of establishment the person in question takes on.

There is a parallel with journalists and their heroism. The New York Times, for instance, refused to publish those CRU e-mails at first because they had been stolen and had not been meant for publication. Admirable restraint, one might say. But do I hear the words Pentagon papers? Do I hear Watergate? It all depends from whom they were stolen, I suppose, and who was doing the covering up.

According to James Taranto [second story down], the NYT is still having problems with the whole issue of whistleblowers on the wrong side who should really be vigilantes.
Meanwhile, we noticed something missing from this New York Times editorial:

“From revealing accounting shenanigans at Enron to uncovering fraud at WorldCom, whistle-blowers have exposed some of the most egregious cases of corporate wrongdoing. Yet too many remain vulnerable to employer retaliation.”

The editorial goes on to call for new laws strengthening the protection of whistle-blowers. But we guess the editorial praising the East Anglia whistle-blowers will have to wait for another day.
Which reminds me: most people here can recall the heroically portrayed journalists who uncovered Watergate in All the President’s Men. Will there be any equally heroically portrayed bloggers and website editors, not to mention purveyors of unpublishable e-mails about Climategate? I think we all know the answer to that.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This may be an old joke ...

.... but it is new to me and I found it on today's episode of Day by Day.

Amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic.

And, let me add, professionals gave us man-made global warming as well as Climategate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Just two stories on "Climategate"

Much as I hate that expression "Climategate", I am forced to use it as it has become the normal way of referring to the ever growing scandal to do with those dubious scientific practices that have tried to impose the fear of eternal hell fire man-made global warming climate change on us.

I have left it to others in the blogosphere, particularly to the boss over on EUReferendum to deal with the story as it unfolds but I cannot resist posting two links to articles from the other side of the Pond.

The first one is by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal: "Climategate: Follow the Money". And why not? After all, we hear a great deal from the warmists about all the sceptics (who are as bad as Holocaust deniers) getting large sums of money from companies that provide us all with fuel to stay warm in the winter, not to mention petrol for travelling around, especially for hundreds if not thousands of climate change beneficiaries to fly to Copenhagen.

Why not have a look at who has been funding the CRU in East Anglia
Consider the case of Phil Jones, the director of the CRU and the man at the heart of climategate. According to one of the documents hacked from his center, between 2000 and 2006 Mr. Jones was the recipient (or co-recipient) of some $19 million worth of research grants, a sixfold increase over what he'd been awarded in the 1990s.

Why did the money pour in so quickly? Because the climate alarm kept ringing so loudly: The louder the alarm, the greater the sums. And who better to ring it than people like Mr. Jones, one of its likeliest beneficiaries?

Thus, the European Commission's most recent appropriation for climate research comes to nearly $3 billion, and that's not counting funds from the EU's member governments. In the U.S., the House intends to spend $1.3 billion on NASA's climate efforts, $400 million on NOAA's, and another $300 million for the National Science Foundation. The states also have a piece of the action, with California—apparently not feeling bankrupt enough—devoting $600 million to their own climate initiative. In Australia, alarmists have their own Department of Climate Change at their funding disposal.

And all this is only a fraction of the $94 billion that HSBC Bank estimates has been spent globally this year on what it calls "green stimulus"—largely ethanol and other alternative energy schemes—of the kind from which Al Gore and his partners at Kleiner Perkins hope to profit handsomely.
This dwarfs ExxonMobil's donation last year of
$7 million to a grab-bag of public policy institutes, including the Aspen Institute, the Asia Society and Transparency International. It also gave a combined $125,000 to the Heritage Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis, two conservative think tanks that have offered dissenting views on what until recently was called—without irony—the climate change "consensus".
Let us not forget that all that money donated to people who produced dubious evidence in order to pile more taxes and regulations on the rest of us came from the taxpayer without as much as a by-your-leave.

The other story is hilariously funny and concerns those glaciers in the Himalayas that are due to disappear in the next 25 years. Except that they are not. Setting aside the fact that there is still a great deal of research to be done about those glaciers, there is also the unfortunate point that a really slapdash error was made when information was taken from a scientific paper as Charlie Martin explains on Pajamas Media.
IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri reacted angrily citing the IPCC 2007 climate change reports which asserted that the (Himalayan) glaciers are receding faster than in any other part of the world and if the present rate (of melting) continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps even sooner is very high if the earth keeps warming at the current rate. …

[Where] did this number 2035 (the year when glaciers could vanish) come from? According to Prof Graham Cogley (Trent University, Ontario), a short article on the future of glaciers by a Russian scientist (Kotlyakov, V.M., 1996, The future of glaciers under the expected climate warming, 61-66, in Kotlyakov, V.M., ed., 1996, Variations of Snow and Ice in the Past and at Present on a Global and Regional Scale, Technical Documents in Hydrology, 1. UNESCO, Paris (IHP-IV Project H-4.1). 78p estimates 2350 as the year for disappearance of glaciers, but the IPCC authors misread 2350 as 2035 in the Official IPCC documents, WGII 2007 p. 493!
That's very reassuring. We are relying on people who cannot even proof-read their own supposedly scientific papers. It is, though, a little worse than that.

One of the comments (no. 13) on Charlie Martin's piece explains:
As hard as this is to believe, it’s worse than you report. The IPCC quote is in the section about Asia, talking about glaciers in the Himalayas “receding faster than in any other part of the world”. However, the Kotlyakov article is about glaciation in the entire world. The statement about the reduction by 2350 is about the entire world, but notes “Glaciers will survive only in the mountains of inner Alaska, on some Arctic archipelagos, within Patagonian ice sheets, in the Karakoram Mountains, in the Himalayas, in some regions of Tibet and on the highest mountain peaks in the temperature latitudes.”

Not only is the concern off by 200 years, but the Himalayas are where the glaciers will survive.

It gets worse. The IPCC cites a WWF report as the source, but they actually quoted Kotlyakov (except for botching the year) without even crediting Kotlyakov in the references.
Can we take away their Nobel Prize and give it to the person who leaked those e-mails?