Thursday, April 30, 2009

Battle lines

An article in the Wall Street Journal today talks of the real division in American politics - between those who believe in private enterprise and wealth creation, in other words, liberty and those who do not. It talks of the "tea parties" and what they portend as well as of the need to present the moral case for freedom and entrepreneurship.

This is not easy even in America, where an ever increasing number of people are being bribed by taxpayers' money in one way or another (or will be bribed as long as the money lasts):
The government has been abetting this trend for years by exempting an increasing number of Americans from federal taxation. My colleague Adam Lerrick showed in these pages last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49% from 40% under Mr. Obama's tax plan. Another 11% will pay less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.

To put a modern twist on the old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 either has no head, or pays no taxes. Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the "sharing economy." They are fighting a culture war of attrition with economic tools. Defenders of capitalism risk getting caught flat-footed with increasingly antiquated arguments that free enterprise is a Main Street pocketbook issue. Progressives are working relentlessly to see that it is not.
How much more difficult it is over on this side of the Pond, where the belief that the state is there to help you until such time when the money runs out. Then there is much howling and gnashing of teeth. Meanwhile, those who can create the wealth are driven out of the economy either by ever higher taxation or by the regulatory structure that makes it impossible for businesses to expand or to hire more people. Maybe we, too, should start thinking about tea parties.

The Iranian delegation objects

On April 23 Hillel Neuer, the Executive Director of UN Watch made a statement to the Durban Review Conference, expressing his and his organization's "disappointment" that the Conference, on the whole, ignored the plight and, as far as it could, the presence of victims of human rights abuses.

He then added:
Now, here in my hands I hold the outcome of this conference. To the distinguished delegates in this hall, I ask:Why does it ignore all of the situations represented by these victims?

In a conference that promised to review country performance on racism, why did the conference in fact fail to review a single country that perpetrates racism, discrimination and intolerance?

Why did the conference fail to review a single abuser?

Why is it silent on women facing systematic discrimination in Saudi Arabia? Why is it silent on gays persecuted and even executed in Iran? On ethnic repression in Tibet?

Why is this conference -- which promised to help Africans -- silent on black Africans now being raped and slaughtered by racist Sudan?
One cannot help admiring Mr Neuer for his continuing attempts to get organizations like the Durban Review Conference to do what it is supposed to do and what it receives vast amounts of money for.

The statement was interrupted twice by the Iranian delegation, who objected to Mr neuer naming specific countries. Fair enough. After all, he did not scream abuse at Israel, the only country, apart from,maybe the United States, that can be named.

Watch the video or read the full speech. (Or both, of course)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not propaganda by any chance?

One of my great uncles fought in the Spanish Civil War, in some part of the International Brigade. For various reasons to do with the image the Soviet Union tried to present to the world at the time, there was a pretence that those who had gone to fight there had gone of their own accord because they felt so strongly. In actual fact, the USSR sent highly organized contingents from the Red Army and equally highly organized contingents from the NKVD and the GRU, the two security organizations (but more of that later). All of them went under noms de guerre, to preserve that pretence of individual effort.

The old boy (now deceased) had fought in just about every war he could get to in the first half of the twentieth century but the Spanish Civil War was, for some reason, dear to his heart and he often regaled younger members of the family with stories about it and showed photographs.

So it is, that I have found the subject of some interest as I grew up and heard alternative versions, reading George Orwell’s accounts, Arthur Koestler’s late admissions of the truth of his behaviour and, more recently, “Spain Betrayed” by Ronald Radosh, Mary Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov. There have been other books on the real story of the war but none of this seems to have seeped through to our cultural masters.

This is what Yale University Press says about the myth and reality:
The Spanish Civil War has long been the stuff of legend. Thousands of brave young men from all over the Western world, most of them organized by their local Communist parties, rushed to Spain to support the democratic Republic against right-wing forces led by rebellious generals in the Spanish officer corps. Although the Republic was eventually defeated, some observers believed that the effort to defend it was a selfless undertaking of the international Communist movement and the Soviet Union--a noble crusade against Hitler, Mussolini, and their Spanish puppet Franco.

This book presents a very different view of the role of the Soviet Union in this war. Based on previously unavailable Moscow archives, it provides the first full documentation of that country’s duplicitous and self-serving activities. Documents in the book reveal that the Soviet Union not only swindled the Spanish Republic out of millions of dollars through arms deals but also sought to take over and run the Spanish economy, government, and armed forces in order to make Spain a Soviet possession, thereby effectively destroying the foundations of authentic Spanish antifascism. The documents also shed light on many other disputed episodes of the war: the timing of the Republican request for assistance from the Soviet Union; the rise and fall of the International Brigades; the internal workings of the Comintern and its influence on Spain; and much more.
Now, let us look at the season of films about the Spanish Civil War that the National Film Theatre will be running in June [not yet on the site but I have received the programme]. They vary from early left-wing American propaganda to Soviet films on the subject running the whole gamut to Ken Loach’s film of “characteristic commitment”, “Land and Freedom”. Realistic and multi-sided this programme is not, though there are a few post-Franco Spanish films that show a little bit of nuance.

There seems to be no film that has dared to tackle the role of the Communists in the fight, the role of the NKVD that came with orders to extend Stalin’s purge to the Spanish front, the tragedy of Republicans who found themselves facing the guns and torture instruments of those they had thought of as their comrades; nothing about the fate of the “Spanish children” carted off to Moscow and arrested in the second purge when they had grown up; nothing about the Spanish gold that disappeared to Moscow, never to be given back; nothing about the fate of the Anarchists, so strong in Barcelona at the start of the war and so very dead by the end of it, at the hands of the Communists.

There is nothing about the calumny that people, less well known than Orwell but just as honourable, were subjected to when they came back and told the truth of what had really been going on in the Republican ranks.

I dare not even contemplate the idea of a film from the point of view of the Nationalists who claimed (with some justification) that they had saved Spain both from anarchy and Communist totalitarianism. (And let us not forget, as some historians would like us to, that Franco refused to let the German army march through his country. If he had not done so, Gibraltar would have fallen into German hands and the Mediterranean would have been lost. Would a pro-Soviet Communist government have behaved that way in 1940 or early 1941?)

I have always thought the story of POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), formed by Andrés Nin and Joaquín Maurín, to be of great tragic interest. When the Communist controlled Republican government made POUM illegal, many of its members were arrested. Nin was tortured and murdered by NKVD officers; Maurín managed to escape, making his way eventually to the United States and then Mexico. He, too, was subjected to vituperous attacks by the “consensus opinion”, so helpfully co-ordinated by the Communists.

There is a great deal of first-hand information in Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” about the fate of POUM, with which he had fought. Orwell barely managed to escape the Communist massacres with his life.

Would the story not make an excellent film? Mind you, it would add more nuance to the tale of the Spanish Civil War than our culture commissars would like.

If I had asked my great uncle about the fate of non-Communist Republicans he, I suspect, would have shrugged his shoulders. They were the enemy and had to be destroyed. In a way, I would prefer it if our own culture commissars were that honest and straightforward.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let me explain something

For the nth time I received an e-mail this morning, asking me to sign Number 10 petition that demands Gordon Brown’s resignation. This time I wrote back to say that there will be an election next year and this is called democracy.

I understand the petition is being promoted by Guido Fawkes but he does not need any links from me. The whole story shows how little even people who apparently exist within the political circle understand the workings of a state, a government or a body politic, namely this country’s.

Demanding that the elected Prime Minister resign through petition is on the level of saying that because 1 million people of whatever provenance marched against the war in Iraq, Tony Blair and his Cabinet should have changed their foreign policy.

People have every right to march and proclaim their point of view; they have the right to say that a war is not done “in their name”, whatever that might mean. But an elected government has the right to ignore that and, in any case, many of us can say that they were not marching in our name.

While we are on the subject of elected government, let me deal with another canard, that Gordon Brown was not elected to be Prime Minister of this country. No he was not and neither is anybody ever. We do not have a presidential system and elect parties. The leader of the party with a majority (or, if there is a hung parliament, which there might be next year, the one that can form a majority) is asked by the Monarch to form the government. It is up to the party to decide who that leader is and, inevitably, we the voters have to take into account whether we like their choice or not.

If a Prime Minister resigns between elections the party in power chooses another leader who then becomes PM. If Gordon Brown is not the rightfully elected Prime Minister of this country then neither were Winston Churchill in 1940, Anthony Eden in 1955, Harold Macmillan in 1957, Alec Douglas Home in 1963, James Callaghan in 1976 or John Major in 1991.

It was, admittedly, very foolish of the Labour Party to bow to Brown’s paranoia and nominate him as leader without an internal party election. That was, however, an internal problem and, I have no doubt, the party will pay for it. As things stand, Labour is on track to losing the next election and I predict an extremely bloody civil war afterwards. The silencing of all opposition to Gordon will, undoubtedly, be brought up.

So what have we got? A highly unpopular government that did none of the good things it promised to do back in 1997 and managed to destroy the country’s economy, oppressing the wealth-creating private sector and increasing the bloated leach-like public sector. The mess is now so horrendous that even if the Conservative leadership were considerably more intelligent and talented than it is, one doubts they would be able to deal with it.

Gordon Brown goes from one messy situation to another, one disaster to another, one scandal to another. The Government is flailing around, exhibiting all the signs of a dying political entity.

If it goes on like this, it will most certainly die at the next General Election, which will be, as we predicted over and over again on EUReferendum, next May. Brown was not going to the country at any one of those dates helpful political pundits proposed – he was going to go to the wire and that is what he will do.

It doesn’t matter how many people sign that petition – the only thing that matters is how many people will put a cross against the various Labour candidates’ names and how many will put a cross against other candidates’ names.

This is called democracy. Live with it. And stop pestering people to sign stupid petitions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Small things can really annoy one

I claim to be the leading expert on late openings of art galleries and museums in London. Give me a day of the week and I can tell you exactly which galleries are open and, of course, how to get there, also what the disadvantages might be.

Annoyingly enough, nothing is open late on Sunday, the evening you really want to go to an art gallery. At one point the Royal Academy experimented with that but, clearly, it did not work out or, more likely, it was not advertised adequately and the administrators decided that it was not working out.

Nowadays the RA is open on Fridays and Saturdays till 10 o'clock and it buzzes on both evenings.

Nothing is open late on Mondays and only the British Library galleries are open till 8 o'clock on Tuesdays. Well, it's better than nothing.

The highlight of one's week was Wednesday when the National Gallery, the first to experiment with late openings, stayed open till 9 o'clock. It was a wonderful way of celebrating mid-week. No longer. In their wisdom, the directorate of the NG has decided to move its late opening to Friday and the now open Picasso exhibition also stays open till 8 on Saturdays. As a matter of fact, it does not seem to be a complete sell-out as one can wander up to the ticket desk at any time and but tickets for immediate entry.

I seem to recall other exhibitions when one had to queue in the morning in order to go in the evening. In particular I recall doing that for the Vermeer on September 11, 2001. Every minute of that day is etched in my memory as, I expect, it is in everybody else's.

Back to the National Gallery's decision. What is the point of that? There are already plenty of other museums and galleries open late on Fridays. There is the RA, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, Tate Modern (great building, depressing collection) and once a month Tate Britain that I still call the Tate. And nothing is open late on Wednesdays.

Things like this can make you really mad. On the assumption that the Director of the National Gallery does not read this blog, I think I shall write a letter of complaint and that is not something I do very often.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One can only sigh

On Wednesday I did something I have not done for a very long time, if ever: I went to a meeting organized by the local Conservative Association to hear my Conservative PPC, Shaun Bailey.

Shepherds Bush, where I live, has now been pushed back into the Hammersmith constituency and our Labour candidate will be Andrew (or as he invariably calls himself Andy) Slaughter, the sitting MP for Shepherds Bush, Ealing and Acton. Hammersmith looks like a seat the Conservatives can win with a reasonable effort and, one must admit, their candidate is highly personable as well as articulate and politically quite savvy. Also, unlike Mr Slaughter, he can point to a career outside politics, though mostly in charity/quango world.

Mr Slaughter has shown signs of panic. He it was who had a grand public row with Derek Scott of Iwantareferendum, accusing him of bad faith and threatening to go to court about some perceived illegality in the process of asking the people of Hammersmith whether they would like to have a referendum on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty and which way would they vote in case of one.

Someone, presumably, dissuaded him from any such foolish action (discussed on EUReferendum here and here) but I know from a telephone conversation I had with an unfortunate underling (initiated by him) that “Andy” thinks that the new treaty is so different from the old one that he does not think it would be appropriate to ask the people on it.

I did not ask Mr Bailey what his ideas on that subject were since I assume that he follows the Conservative line, which is “we are not going to leave it there”. To be fair to Mr Bailey, he did say that he was ready to disagree with David Cameron on the subject of Europe, where he thinks we are no longer benefiting and he is not afraid to say that if we cannot reform things we should come out. Whether he will still be unafraid when and if he is in Parliament remains to be seen.

Since then Mr Slaughter has let it be known that he opposed the third runway (very unpopular in the area), that he did not like the highly successful Westfield shopping centre (didn’t get anywhere on that), that Shepherds Bush market will be bulldozed (no evidence but it is failing) and that his Conservative opponent was a racist. That, according to Mr Bailey, delivered absolutely deadpan, confused some residents of the Edward Woods estate.

Well, Mr Bailey also opposes the third runway and is clearly planning to make that the cornerstone of his campaign. He does have some alternatives and can argue his case so one wishes him luck.

Other matters become a little more complicated. For instance, when asked about possible tax reform he explained that he was in favour of a reform that would leave more money with the lower paid workers. He did not go so far as to say that they should be taken out of the income tax completely but his thoughts are moving in the right direction. For some reason, he considered this idea to be a new and radical one. Actually, it has been around for a while.

When asked whether he intended to do anything to regenerate the Shepherds Bush market he replied that he was very anxious to help small businesses but apart from what he can do the market must regenerate itself. At the moment, as we all know, its main problem is that it does not attract enough customers, there not being a great deal one wants to buy there.

So our Conservative PPC does have inklings of what a market is about.

Mr Bailey is very strong on education. Well, he is very strong on the need for good education, discipline and responsibility. He spoke very eloquently of the problems he has seen and had to deal with, of the fact that children and teenagers in this country are out of control in the way they are not in other countries, of the lack of achievement and the resulting hopelessness.

Parents, he insisted, must be made responsible for their children – that is more important than what happens in schools. Of course, better schools must be created as well and the best examples, which just happen to be independent schools, have to be followed. But he did not envisage any school being really independent. They must all be controlled one way or another by state authorities.

In other words, what Shaun Bailey believes is that parents must be made responsible for their children’s wrongdoings (and who can argue with that) but cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of choosing their children’s education. Choice is not the issue, he said, parroting his leader; we must build more schools and decide where to send children.

What is it about Conservatives? Why do they find it so difficult to think outside the box?

I may add that however strong some of Mr Bailey’s own opinions were, he became quite mushy in his replies when asked about specific Conservative policies. I wonder why.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And while we are on the subject of budgets

Well, actually, I was not going to talk about the Budget, as there really is nothing one can say without feeling extremely ill. However, here is a video from the United States. Daniel Mitchell, Senior Fellow at Cato Institute explains how to cut government corruption. It's simple: you cut government. Big government = big corruption. D'uh!

Dr Mitchell is becoming quite a star on YouTube. His appearances are strongly recommended to all those who want good arguments against big government and high taxes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fun and games in Geneva

Astonishing isn’t it? The UN organizes a second Anti-Racist Conference, invites Iranian President Ahmadinejad to give the keynote speech (if that is the right expression) and he stands up and screams out his hatred for Israel, the Jews and the West for supporting it. Who would have expected it?

Well, not the Norwegian Foreign Minister, for one, as Powerline quotes from the Washington Post article.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said Ahmadinejad's words "run counter to the very spirit of dignity of the conference."
Dignity is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of the first Durban conference (see here and here) or the whole idea of making President Ahmadinejad the keynote speaker. What did Jonas Gahr Store expect?

Not that the comments made by the British and French delegates were that much more intelligent:
Peter Goodman, the British ambassador, called Ahmadinejad's remarks "outrageous" and "anti-Semitic," the reports said. His French counterpart, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said the Iranian leader was trying to "take this conference hostage" with comments that were harsher than expected.
I suppose, having been given orders not to support their Canadian, American, Australian, Israeli, New Zealand, Dutch, Italian and Polish allies in their boycott of the conference, they had to say something. But, once again, we have to ask: what did they expect?

By now everyone who might be interested in events beyond these shores know what happened and many probably saw the concerted walk-out by those European delegates who had not boycotted the event in the first place. But, just in case, here is the video of the event:

According to Ann Bayefsky who was there, after Mahmoud the Great finished they all, except for the Czech Republic’s representatives went back into the hall. In other words, the people who represent EU member states, the organization that is always free with accusations of racism, anti-Semitism and whose officials have been known to accuse opponents of the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty of wanting another Holocaust, still cannot see what is wrong with the whole conference.

Let me try and explain. The idea is jaw-jaw is better than war-war is true up to a point as Churchill himself would have been the first to agree. In actual fact, the alternative to a highly offensive and expensive UN conference, dominated by states who would not recognize the concepts of freedom and human rights if they got up and bit them on the ankle is not war with them. It is merely not having one of those highly offensive etc conferences.

During the phone-in programme on the BBC Russian Service there were the inevitable comments about the need for a dialogue, the need to meet and discuss, the need to get together to fight racism. As these came from Russians who live in a country where racism is rife even officially, never mind at street level one could have disregarded all the comments except for the fact that those who called genuinely believed that they were contributing important ideas. There is still a serious dislocation between Russians knowing and understanding the reality of their own country. Seventy years of Communism have left an indelible mark.

The response to all those well-meaning statements is clear. There is no dialogue with people who do not want to talk. The Iranian President demonstrated quite clearly in his response to President Obama’s friendly communication that he is not interested in anything but enmity. One can’t blame him. There is an election coming up in Iran and the domestic situation is parlous with unemployment still running at 25 per cent and various riots up and down the country, always brutally put down. He needs to blame somebody and Israel together with the Great Satan will have to do.

Secondly, racism is to be fought in separate countries. No international conference, no carefully worded statement, no photo line-up has ever achieved anything. As I pointed out, you might get something useful from an international agreement after a war but you need to have the war first.

An international conference that is dominated by countries like Libya, Iran and Russia is unlikely to come up with any ideas that have to do with the betterment of any human being’s existence. In fact, they might all, very profitably start thinking about the severe problems within their own countries.

In other words, another tranzi-fest, funded by that patient milch-cow, the Western taxpayer, will solve no problems and is likely to add a few to all our lives. Which bit of that do our diplomatic representatives find hard to understand?

For those who are interested, Roger L. Simon has filed a few reports from Geneva.

I had completely forgotten

When that gasbag and failed politician Al Gore received his Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for a documentary that even he admitted was based on false premises (ah but you have to shock people!) one of the other candidates was Irena Sendler, a Polish Roman Catholic nurse who had saved around 2,500 Jewish children and infants, placing them with Catholic families. The latter then courageously brought them up as their own.

Irena Sendler was arrested and badly tortured by the Gestapo though her organization managed to save her from being executed. Subsequently, she lived in hiding but is said to have gone on helping Jewish children. After the war she tried to reunite some of the children with their families most of whom had been exterminated.

Needless to say she was then persecuted by the Polish Communist government for being close to the Home Army, whose members were put on show trial, and to the "bourgeois" Polish government in exile that had been betrayed by the Western allies.

Once again she was imprisoned and tortured, miscarrying her second child. Later her children were not allowed to study at Polish universities and it was not till 1983 that she was allowed abroad to receive her Israeli award.

As this entry on American Thinker tells us, the lady died last May and she has now been honoured by a film on Hallmark Channel. In Israel she has been recognized as one of the Righteous of All Nations and awarded a Commander's Cross by the Israeli Institute.

She received a personal message from the Pope in 2003 and was, belatedly, honoured by the Polish government. A great lady but, as far as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is concerned, far inferior to the man who will do anything to promote himself into a position of power and influence.

Marc Sheppard on American Thinker speculates that the prize was agreed on behind the scenes long before the official discussion. That is entirely possible.

However, I can't help feeling that Ms Sendler was better off not receiving that prize, especially when one remembers who has been "honoured" with it in the past. It would have besmirched her fine life.

All this fuss ...

... about MPs having 12 weeks off in the summer. As if it mattered. They don't exactly legislate any more. All those laws, rules and regulations will come through, thanks to the real government in Brussels and the various quangos.

So the MPs might just as well take 52 weeks off, as long as the pay is commensurate with their appearance in Parliament.

What is it about modern detective stories?

Time was a writer, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Freeman Wills Croft, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers or Emma Lathen would create a detective in a story, add a few friends and, possibly, relations as well as other details; then if it all worked, write another story with the character; then, maybe another, until there was a series and, quite often, a feeling of surfeit in the author.

Notoriously, Conan Doyle tried to kill off his detective but did not succeed; Christie invented other characters, then wrote a novel in which Poirot dies but, in a cowardly fashion, put it in a bank vault to be published after her death (she did not kill off Miss Marple, I note); Sayers married off Lord Peter eventually, then kept him going for a bit, then dropped him, leaving an unfinished novel behind together with notes for another one.

Matters seem to be otherwise nowadays and they are detrimental to the genre. I have just read a very recent American detective story (though it has already found its way to a charity shop where I purchase all my detective books now that Murder One in Charing Cross Road is no more). Called “Homicide in Hardcover”, it is by Kate Carlisle and is already billed as the First in a New Series.

Ms Carlisle, in other words, sat down and created a character and a milieu around her in order to write a series of books of, one suspects, increasing improbability.

The character is quite acceptable. She is called Brooklyn Wainwright and she restores antique books. The field of antique books is open to all kinds of skulduggery, there being so much money involved but this first of a new series goes off the rails on a completely different plot that has nothing to do with the fantastic value of some of the mentioned volumes.

Ms Wainwright was brought up in a Californian commune and we get a few descriptions of that happy place – a most unlikely scenario as is its apparent economic success. Why is it that all these detective stories that centre round groups and communities have to be on the left when the genre itself is about the most conservative one can imagine.

She has parents: the father is a slightly unknown quantity but the mother is entirely “lovable” and dippy who goes in for Buddhist chants at inappropriate moments though she is actually studying various forms of Hindu mysticism. Presumably, neither character nor author can tell the difference as few Californian New Agers can.

There is a best friend who is in love with the brother and they seem to be getting together; there is a good friend, director of a fabulous library who has only just come out as being gay (even Brooklyn thinks that is weird in San Francisco where it is almost compulsory according to her).

There is an improbably sexy and handsome British security agent who plays at being James Bond but seems to use only American slang; there are the police officers who will undoubtedly turn up; the supportive neighbouring lesbian couple; and the slightly sinister guru of the commune as well as a much hated enemy who is out to get our heroine.

One can see what will happen as it happens in numerous highly regarded series of detective novels. The characters will reappear and the heroine will come across endless murders for no apparent reason. Will the author ever get tired of her pert cuteness and sub-Chandlerian wisecracks? Will she be thrown down the Reichenbach Falls? Alas, probably not. Will there ever be a tightly plotted adventure that made some kind of sense? I suspect not.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How many times does one have to repeat this?

An e-mail from JR Books informs me that they are about to publish a book by Gordon Thomas, "Inside British Intelligence - 100 Years of MI5 and MI6". This is the book, they crow, on the basis of an article in the Guardian, that the government or the Intelligence Services or somebody, tried to ban but could not. The article is somewhat dismissive of the book and the information in it.

Whether Mr Thomas, whose book, we are told, is "based on prodigious research and interviews with significant players from inside the intelligence community" really does know what went on behind those closed doors remains to be seen. After all, his biography tells us merely that he is a journalist and likes writing about spies and his picture tells us that he has an execrable taste in sweaters. But you never know. I look forward to reading the book.

However, I was a little puzzled about the fuss. The summary of the book in the press release gives no indication of what the problem might be:
Gordon Thomas’s wide-sweeping history chronicles a century of both triumphs and failures within MI5 and MI6. He recounts the roles that British intelligence played in the Allied victory in World War II; the post-war treachery of Britain’s own agents; the defection of Soviet agents and the intricate process of ‘handling’ them; the tricky relationship that both agencies have with the CIA, European spy services, and the Mossad; the search for Osama bin Laden; and how MI5 and MI6 continue the ‘war on terror’.
Explanation came from the publisher. Mr Thomas fell foul of the Services in that he names "British spies".

Well, I certainly hope so. I should like to have a list of all those Soviet agents who were active for years in the Foreign Office, and the various Intelligence organizations. Alas, I suspect that what they mean is that he names British agents.

Now then, how many times does one have to repeat this: our chaps and chapesses are agents. Spies are the people who work for the other side. Even then, we can differentiate between those who work for the other side because that is their side and those who have betrayed us. It is the latter that I would like to know about. I wonder if Mr Thomas will oblige.

We've all been there

Can we not all recall that desire to be friends with the most glamorous person in the school or on the block? You know, the one everybody wants to talk to for whatever reason? And can we not also recall the humilation of said glamorous person rebuffing our efforts to build bridges, change relationship, whatever?

The trouble is that most of us grow out of that. Certainly, by the time a person is big enough to become President of the United States, he ought to be able to distinguish between wannabe friendships and real ones.

From the beginning of his presidency, Obama has wanted to be friends with the Iranian government, clearly the most glamorous boys on the block. Sadly, he keeps being rebuffed, most recently by the arrest and now sentence of the American-Iranian journalist, Roxana Saberi.

Ms Saberi was born and brought up in the United States but maintains that she has dual citizenship. That cannot be right, since Iran does not acknowledge such a state of affairs.

She has lived in Iran since 2003, periodically reporting from that country and planning to write a book about it.
Her press credentials were revoked in 2006 by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which accredits reporters working for foreign news organizations, CPJ reported.

"According to NPR, Saberi continued to file short news items with government permission," CPJ said.

Saberi was first detained in January, CPJ said, although no formal charges were disclosed.

"She told her family that she was initially held for buying a bottle of wine," CPJ said on its Web site. "A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry said later that Saberi was being detained at Tehran's Evin Prison for reporting without proper accreditation."

Political prisoners are often jailed at the prison, CPJ said.

Word that Saberi was charged with espionage emerged on April 8, CPJ said. Hassan Haddad, deputy public prosecutor, told the Iranian Students News Agency that "without press credentials and under the name of being a reporter, she was carrying out espionage activities."

She appeared before a Revolutionary Court on Monday for a one-day trial that was closed to the public, CPJ said, quoting an Iranian judiciary official.

Her father, Reza Saberi, told NPR on Saturday he believes his daughter was coerced into making damaging statements. He said the verdict was issued Wednesday.

The court, which didn't meet Thursday and Friday, reconvened Saturday. Reza Saberi said his daughter was brought to the court, but he wasn't allowed to enter.

A lawyer later told him she was sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage.
CPJ is the Committee to Protect Journalists, an admirably inclined institution but not, one has to admit, a particularly successful one.

The US Administration is protesting and Secretary of State Clinton has been making all kinds of statements. We shall see what the result of it all will be. I very much fear that the new boy on the block will once again be rebuffed.

At least, Hugo Chavez seems to like him (Sister Toldjah and Fausta sum up). It makes me feel safer to know that the leader of the free world is trying to be chummy with all our enemies (for they are our enemies as well as America's) and shakes hands, whenever he can, with every oppressive dictator.

Meanwhile President Sarkozy has attacked three of France's supposed allies who have been described as world leaders. As one of them is Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, I wouldn't go as far as that myself but the whole story is embarrassing and absurd in about equal measures:
During the repast at the Elysee Palace, Sarkozy intimated U.S. President Barack Obama was inexperienced, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Louis Rodriguez Zapatero wasn't too smart and German Chancellor Angela Merkel didn't share his view about tackling the world financial crisis, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.
Sounds like he was merely stating facts.

What can one say? The Western alliance is in the very best of hands.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More about the blog

As the few readers who may have strayed on this blog can see, it is a project in the making. Specifically, I have asked someone who knows a great deal about such matters to turn the site into something more attractive and readable.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas of what is intended for this site. It will be a mixture of short postings, sometimes little more than links to interesting stories and longer pieces on subjects that, in my opinion, need to be aired.

I shall put up pictures and even videos when I think they are important, add something to the story or constitute the story themselves. Otherwise, it will be text only. I have come to the conclusion that irrelevant illustration adds little to a posting.

The intention is to have stories, fully credited, from other people as well on subjects they know better than I do. The policy on pictures and videos will apply to those postings.

I am keeping comments open for anyone who wishes to participate in a rational discussion. Usual rules will apply: no libel, racism or anti-semitism (though criticism of Israel's government or politicians or various people do not count as anti-semitism); if you dish it out be prepared to take it - I have no sympathy with people who think they can attack and insult anyone but cry foul if they get attacked in return; and, finally, I shall be completely ruthless in deleting comments if I decide that rules have been broken.

That's that, for the moment. Watch, as they say, this space.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

First Post

Who needs another blog on this stretch of the blogosphere? Naturally, I hope that many people will decide that they do need this one, an outgrowth of EUReferendum, which will hit its fifth birthday in a few weeks.

The subjects covered on EUReferendum have long ago expanded beyond its title though not, perhaps, its theme – Britain’s place in the world. Much more needs to be said on that subject and I shall (for the time being) continue to post on EU related subjects there. However, there are many other subjects that need to be talked about in my opinion and it is time to separate them from EURef even if, mostly, there is a tenuous link between them.

Hence the idea of this blog, that will cover various political subjects – all those postings on America, Russia, the tranzis and related matters will be here with, perhaps, a link on EURef. Postings about ideology and its importance in the world, about books and films, even food will now be separated from what must remain the central theme on the original outlet: the European Union.

So this is a blog that is mostly about politics but about many other things and very emphatically about freedom. It will be on the right of the political spectrum but not necessarily supportive of the Conservative Party, especially not of Tory Socialists.

Why the title? Some readers will know the reference but I had better explain to those who might not.

Its origin is Polish: Za naszą i waszą wolność. The slogan was first enunciated in 1795 when the Polish rebels against Russian rule tried to persuade their Ukrainian and Byelorussian serfs and peasants to join them. The attempt was unsuccessful – national liberty may not have figured large in the minds of those who knew that the Polish shlyakhti were as oppressive as the Russian landowners.

It was revived in a slightly edited version in 1831 during a Warsaw demonstration that began as a commemoration of the Russian Decembrist uprising of 1825 and developed into another Polish rebellion: W imię Boga za Naszą i Waszą Wolność. The freedoms were now proclaimed to be in the name of God.

The inscription on the flags was in Polish and Russian. For some reason the Poles assumed that had the Decembrists triumphed there would have been freedom for Poland as well. They clearly had not read Pavel Pestel’s “Русская Правда” (“Russian Law” in this case as he was deliberately copying the title of the first Russian codex of laws. Freedom was not high on Colonel Pestel’s list of desirables.

Thereafter the Poles used the slogan wherever they fought for other people’s freedom, be that Hungary in 1848 – 49 or Britain in 1939 – 45.

Nevertheless, the best known version of it is in Russian: За Вашу и Нашу Свободу. This was enunciated by the liberal-radical thinker, Alexander Herzen in 1863 in support of yet another Polish rebellion, which he supported though many Russian radicals did not.

That, too, was used subsequently, most notably on August 25, 1968 when Pavel Litvinov, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Viktor Fainberg and a few others demonstrated in the Red Square their protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Other Soviet and Russian dissidents have referred to it and the slogan with its supporters has been attacked by so-called Russian nationalists whose idea of the Russian nation is that of masters and slaves – masters of others and slaves themselves, as the great poet Lermontov said:

Прощай немытая Россия
Страна рабов, страна господ.

This blog in all its various subjects is dedicated to the idea that they are wrong and the slogan “for your freedom and ours” can mean a great deal though, I suspect, there will be numerous soi-disant eurosceptics who will get palpitations at the thought of it.