Monday, August 31, 2009

And again

Another request to those who leave comments on this blog: please put a name to them. I find the succession of "Guests" unimpressive. Of course, people can post as guests but it is also possible to sign that posting. Thank you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

1997 was not Year Zero

Understandably, the Conservative Party is sensing victory and preparing for government as of next spring. At present they seem to be engaged in the most important part of governance: blaming their predecessors for everything that is going wrong, will be going wrong and has gone wrong for the last fifty years.

But, I hear you cry, did we not have Conservative governments in that period? You will find that although we are blaming the present government for everything that has gone wrong for the last (did I say fifty?) sixty years, in actual fact, all of that can be telescoped into the last twelve. 1997, as far as our Conservative politicos, wannabes, media and activists are concerned, was Year Zero.

Everything that has gone wrong with our involvement in the EU, for example, is the fault of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the government that is still more or less in existence and has been since 1997.

Ahem, say I, which government got us into this mess back in 1972? Which government signed up to the Single European Act, having been “misled” by the officials? Which government signed up to the Maastricht Treaty and pushed it through using methods that cannot bear too much scrutiny?

That, let me add, does not excuse the subsequent treaties (Amsterdam and Nice) or the shenanigans over the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. But neither does it exonerate the Conservatives, especially as most of the problems we face in this country come out of the imposition of Single Market rules, not to mention the Common Fisheries Policy (written into the Maastricht Treaty but agreed to with dubious legality before).

Discussions (I am being polite) get this far when there is a metaphorical flap of a hand and a not so metaphorical instructions to stop bothering people with such silly details. Yes, yes, yes, we did things wrong as well but the real problems came with this government.

Then there is the dire state of our education, which lies at the bottom of many of this country’s problems: economic, social and political. It is, apparently, all Gordon Brown’s fault that our young people cannot get jobs though other young people arrive from Poland, France and Germany and walk into all kinds of employment, many of which have set wages so it is not a question of accepting lower pay.

I appreciate that the fact of our youngsters emerging with huge numbers of brilliant exam results but semi-literate and anumerate add to the many problems. In fact, let us go further. These facts create many problems. But is it really the fault of the post-1997 government alone?

Newspaper headlines have informed me that the exam results have been going up steadily for over twenty years while there is talk of schools adopting tougher forms of GCSE, which resemble the old O levels. Well, how interesting, I thought.

As someone who was educated in a fairly stringent way I can add up and subtract. Over twenty years means well beyond the life of this government. In other words that inexplicable rise in grades started before Year Zero, 1997.

So let us just examine who actually abolished O levels and started this destructive dumbing down of our education results. Would you believe it that the creation of GCSEs with all the attendant problems at that and at A level happened in 1986? Indeed, it did. Remind me, which government was in power?

While we are on the subject, who helped to destroy grammar schools? The process started under Harold Wilson’s government with the despicable Anthony Crosland as Secretary for Education but it was not only not reversed under Edward Heath (Education Secretary: Margaret Thatcher), it was speeded up.

Other developments such as the abolition of apprenticeship schemes or the transformation of perfectly reasonable and useful polytechnics into tenth rate universities took place during Conservative governments.

To be fair to Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister as opposed to the Secretary of State for Education, she did try to reform the system and to introduce some kind of standards but her efforts were comprehensively undermined by the teaching and educational establishment and her own Secretaries of State. Kenneth Baker and Gillian Shepherd spring to mind. Will it be any different next time round?

When we look at other issues we see the same pattern. The Boy-King is making much of wanting to abolish quangos. He will get nowhere until he abolishes the need for quangos that is gets government out of people’s lives. But let us not forget that quangos were invented during the Thatcher premiership as a way of curtailing the civil service.

Defence? Just ask the Boss over on EUReferendum. He has a list of mistakes, starting with the eurofighter for which we have to thank the Conservatives.

Of course, as Professor Antony Flew said a long time ago, however bad the Conservatives are, Labour is always worse. That still stands but it does assume that the Conservatives are bad.

It is also true that there is a serious problem with the way politicians cannot control civil servants and the more governments do, the less politicians will be able to exert that control. This has been so since at least the Second World War, if not before, that is long before Year Zero, 1997. Is there any evidence that the next Conservative government, should it be formed next year, be able to overcome this problem? Not that I have noticed.

We come back to the point many of us have made about certain countries like Russia. Until they face up to the past, they cannot move into the future. That applies to the Conservative Party. Pretending that nothing happened before 1997 bodes no good for that government, let alone the country that will have to put up with it.

More on Senator Kennedy's dealings witht the Soviet Union

There is a story in Forbes Magazine about the late Senator Kennedy's dealings, not just with President Gorbachev but also with one of his predecessors, the old chekist, Yury Andropov. It seems that Kennedy sent a message by a trusted and close ally to Andropov, offering him all kinds of possibilities to make the Soviet case forcefully in the USA if the latter would in return support the Democrats against Reagan. Kennedy was hoping that the party would finally overlook his little peccadillo in Chappaquiddick and make him the presidential candidate in 1988.

None of this happened but that does not exonerate the man's behaviour.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Danish cartoons to be exhibited

Artforum reports that
A Danish gallery has decided to exhibit a caricature of Muhammad that unleashed a wave of protests in the Muslim world against Denmark in 2006. Citing an article in magazine Sappho, Agence France-Presse reports that the controversial caricature will be part of a larger exhibition dedicated to the watercolor works of the artist-caricaturist Kurt Westergaard at the Galleri Draupner in Skanderborg.
Kurt Westergaard and his family have had a few problems because of that cartoon (the best of the 12, in my opinion) and this distinguishes him from many an artist, described as "courageous" who would never step outside the boundaries of what is prescribed by accepted opinion and the grant-giving organizations. (Here and here.)

The Danish gallery is behaving somewhat differently from the far richer and more important Yale University Press but let us not forget that this country's main stream media, to its eternal shame, is unique in the West in not publishing those cartoons even once. In fact, they proved themselves to be more pusallinimous than some Middle Eastern newspapers.

MEANWHILE: Roger Kimball's positively final word on Yale University Press and the Danish cartoons. Somehow, I think the story is not really over.

Björn Lomborg writes sense as usual

It is an unusual day when I find two articles of interest among the various publications that I get updates from in one day. But it happened today. Here is Björn Lomborg in the Wall Street Journal on the forthcoming Copenhagen warmingfest to which many people will come, undoubtedly by bicycle, rowing boat or horse and buggy. (Yes, that was sarcastic.)

Mr Lomborg is not exactly a sceptic in that he believes carbon emission does make a difference to global warming. He just does not believe some of the figures that people produce, pretending that they are scientifically substantiated; nor does he believe lots of meetings exuding hot air and various unfulfillable obligations that would destroy the world economy if they were fulfilled are the answer.

What is the answer then? Well, of course, technology. And no, not the phony stuff about windmills. Read the whole thing.

Couldn't agree more

It is not often I bother to read the Spectator or its highly overrated clogs, known pretentiously, as the Coffeehouse (in the year we are celebrating the 300th birthday of that great coffeehouse denizen, Dr Johnson, one cannot help feeling a little depressed at the title) but a friend alerted me to Rod Liddle's article on the al-Megrahi affair. He seems to agree with you, she wrote.

One is supposed to dislike Rod Liddle, not least for his idiotic outburst against the Countryside Alliance all those years ago, but somehow it does not work like that. Either I have become more tolerant or, more likely, Mr Liddle has been steadily moving right-wards as all intelligent people must at some point in their lives.

He is always an entertaining writer and I agree with him more often than not. In fact, I enjoy his writings even when I disagree and the only other writer about whom I feel that way is the great Christopher Hitchens.

This article is excellent. Those who have not read it should take the few minutes it takes to do so. Mr Liddle has a go at the government, American hypocrisy (the wide-spread support for the IRA and NORAID is a very relevant subject in the days after Teddy Kennedy's death), Peter Mandelson, the Libyan government and he even manages a glancing blow at Amnesty who seems to have been taken in by a very transparent ruse to do with the Libyan media. And Peter Mandelson who does seem to turn up whenever there is some skulduggery going on.

Mr Liddle's idea that we should have dealt with Saddam the way we are dealing with Gaddafi is, in my opinion, silly and naive. But one cannot have everything in an article.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A difficult problem

I have just taken part in a discussion on the BBC Russian Service about the elections in Afghanistan. This was a general talk about the problems of trying to run democratic elections in a basically undemocratic country and whether democracy can grow where there are no democratic traditions.

My immediate point was that the problem with Afghanistan is the war going on there and just recently the military situation had deteriorated. There was no time to suggest that one reason for that may have been that Iraq is a good deal more stable and some of the erstwhile insurrectionists have gone to Afghanistan. Also, the Pakistani government has announced that the Taliban is leaving their country. We must wait and see how true that is but if it is, they must be going somewhere and Afghanistan seems the obvious first port of call. Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, has suggested that "foreign al-Qaeda fighters were now leaving Pakistan for Somalia; others were returning to their home countries in Sudan and Yemen".

As it happens I do not think all countries with less than democratic histories are hopelessly lost to the concept of liberal democracy, though that does involve considerably more than just elections. Just look at post-war Japan, suggested I cheerfully.

The Russian interviewer and interviewee, a professor of political science in Moscow, were less sanguine as they referred to the example of Russia in the nineties, where elections were fixed because otherwise Zhirinovsky's Communists most probably would have won and the first free election would also have been the last.

The problem of building civil society and liberal democracy in Russia appears to have no immediate solution and under President Prime Minister Putin and his mishka, President Medvedev, the process has suffered severe set-backs.

Another piece of news, that can be related to this topic, was that one of the largest railway stations in Moscow, the Kursk-Kol'tsovaya Station has been refurbished to its pristine 1950 look, which includes carved slogans that glorify Stalin, including the famous war-time cry: "За родину, за Сталина", "For Stalin and our motherland". (You can see the pictures here.)

A number of humanitarian organizations are planning to go to court, to demand that the slogans be removed. The assumption must have been that the station will be refurbished without those words. The big question is, therefore, what will the courts decide and will financial considertaions prevail over people's sensibilities. An even bigger question is what sort of public reaction are we likely to see.

And while we are on the subject of Russia and nostalgia, Sergei Mikhalkov the poet has died at the age of 96. He was a very well known and fairly talented children's poet. If pushed, I could probably recite some of the poems I learned as a very young child even now. He was also a writer of prose works and film scripts, some very successful. I find from the Russian Service website that he was a war correspondent who was wounded at Stalingrad.

His greatest claim to fame, however, is that he wrote no less than two (well, two and a half, since he had to remove references to Stalin in 1977 from the original) versions of what was first the Soviet, then the Russian national anthem, both to the same tune. Amazingly enough, the new words refer to the great country protected by God and Mikhalkov cheerfully explained that, of course, he had always been religious but could not admit to it in the Soviet period.

He was, of course, a good party apparatchik who led the attacks on Boris Pasternak, Andrei Sinyavsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others.

Not precisely a peasants' revolt

The climate change campers have set up their tents at Blackheath because, they say, they are the modern descendants of Wat Tyler and his peasants, as they are "rebelling against climate change". Frankly, that makes them the modern descendants of King Canute's toadying advisers who tried to tell him that he could back the tide and we all know what his Anglo-Saxon response was to that.

There are a few other differences. In the first place, Wat Tyler gathered thousands of disaffected peasants, while this camp has 500 denizens and "more are expected".

In the second place, these are not poor downtrodden peasants but quite well-off middle-class kids who think this is a cool way to spend a holiday or, possibly, do not think they need to work for a living because the taxes paid by all those derided capitalist institutions will support them.

Thirdly, their first act was to put fences around what is common land, which is trampling on the rights of the common and all other people. Wat Tyler and his crew would not have been particularly happy about that.

Finally and most importantly, the peasants rebelled against taxes, which they deemed to be too high (probably rightly); taxes were impoverishing the people. The latter day "peasants" a.k.a. spoilt middle-class kids (and if you don't believe me, have a look at the gear they have brought with them) want to make everyone pay higher taxes, confidently expecting to get some jobs out of that revenue.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And another thing ...

It seems that I shall not be able to avoid posting something about the death and life of Senator Edward Kennedy. One thing we must say immediately: this is really the end of the long-ago tarnished Kennedy myth. The next generation and the one after it have shown that they have inherited all the Kennedy failings without any of the abilities, which were concentrated in old Joe (though he tended to misuse them), JFK and RFK. The oldest brother, Joseph, was killed in the war before anybody could find out much about him.

It is easy to get sentimental about the Kennedys as one recalls the good looking brothers who were going to change so many things in politics. And they did. Between them the Kennedys managed to introduce a good deal of poison into American politics, what with old Joe making pro-Nazi noises when ambassador to the UK before the war; the problems with the 1960 election, the money that changed hands and the votes that disappeared; and subsequent shenanigans. Two assassinations, both from the left of the political spectrum, do not alter those facts.

Ted Kennedy was the best looking and the least talented of the three brothers. We are talking about a man who was thrown out of Harvard for cheating. Then again, Jack did not actually write "Profiles in Courage" and the Pulitzer Prize was awarded after old Joe injected some cash into the situation.

The BBC, I understand, has mentioned that Ted Kennedy has never recovered from Chappaquiddick. I can only echo somebody else's comment that neither did Mary Jo Kopechne nor, I assume, her family.

Plenty of other people will rehash that story as well as Kennedy's support for the murderous IRA and his tendency to interfere in British affairs in order to show that support. American blogs will have much on his attempts to fiddle the succession in the Senate, his fervent support for Obamacare as long as it did not affect Congresscritters, i.e. him, and his equally fervent opposition to educational vouchers in Washington DC. He was for the poor as long as the poor did not get too uppity.

So what can I add that is of any interest? As it happens there is something that is known among some but not too many: Kennedy's links with Mikhail Gorbachev that went beyond his much trumpeted visit to the Soviet Union in 1986.

The programme with Dan Rather (yes, him again) referred to Senator Kennedy's somewhat perfunctory mention of the great Andrei Sakharov and, no doubt, to the American politician's statesman-like attempts to create a "real" detente unlike the one pushed by that "cowboy" President Reagan. In fact, Kennedy had no particular standing in international negotiations and, undoubtedly, Gorbachev and his advisers would have realized that.

There was a good deal more to Senator Kennedy's relationship with President Gorbachev as described in this article in the National Review by two people who had gone through the published and unpublished literature, Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov.

What the article tells of is a series of actions on the part of the Senator, which had been co-ordinated with various of Gorbachev's advisers if not with the man himself, such as his attack on President Carter for his tough stance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (It has come to something that one finds oneself supporting Carter but he was in the right there.)
More secrets about Kennedy’s collaboration with Moscow became known after the famous defector Vasiliy Mitrokhin smuggled his invaluable archive of secret KGB documents to the West. In 2002, he publicized some of them in The KGB in Afghanistan working paper, published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In 1980 Kennedy attacked President Carter over the latter’s tough opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As Mitrokhin reveals, the senator had evidently coordinated that with Moscow several weeks before — through Tunney and Egon Bahr, West Germany’s top Social Democrat who often had secret contacts with the KGB.
The really interesting aspect of this curious friendship (between Kennedy and Gorbachev) is related in a report by Vadim Zagladin, then No. 2 in the International Department of the Soviet Communist party, who also met Kennedy during the 1986 visit.
During the talks, which took place […] on the 5th of February [1986], E.Kennedy emphasized the following ideas.

1. The recent meeting [between Gorbachev and President Reagan in Geneva] has changed the climate in the world in many respects. This may be felt strongly in the USA. The change is for the better, the birth of hopes for a better future. However, this process also has a negative side. President Reagan actively uses the new climate. And the problem is not only that his popularity
is growing after Geneva.

In fact, Geneva allowed Reagan to slow down the process of movement to any positive results in negotiations with the USSR. He says that the situation has already changed, that he has instituted a dialogue with the Russians, while in fact he does nothing or manages things in the old direction, i. e. that of increasing military preparations.

From the Democrats’ point of view, all of this is very bad. This does not mean they are against Geneva or the spirit of Geneva – they are for it. But they think it is important not to allow Reagan to abuse a good thing for bad purposes.


In his opinion, it is important to keep increasing pressure on the administration from different sides, both from abroad and at home. He would like, during his conversation with Com[rade] Gorbachev to suggest some specific ideas on this issue.

It is unfortunate that we don’t have the full transcript of those talks between Kennedy and Gorbachev. Later documents indicate, however, that at the meeting the senator suggested that the timing for the next Soviet-American summit should be set as soon as possible. This, Kennedy claimed, would enable more pressure to be put on the administration. If Reagan declined to discuss any serious issues at the summit, this fact could be used against him as well “to
the benefit of the supporters of peace and of the establishment of more realistic relations between our countries.” Those are the words Gorbachev used to relay Kennedy’s ideas to Guss Hall, general secretary of the U.S. Communist party.

After talking to Gorbachev on February 6, Kennedy came back to Zagladin who reported:

In the evening of the 6th of February (over a supper) I had a conversation with E. Kennedy.

1) The Senator is under strong impression from his talk with C[omrade] M.S. Gorbachev. ‘‘I liked him very much’’, Kennedy said. ‘‘He is a firm, though flexible, leader, who knows what he wants’’. […]

2) At the same time, in E. Kennedy’s opinion, ‘‘my Soviet friends have not yet thoroughly understood the psychology of the Americans and the essence of Reagan’s tactics’’.

Geneva was a great victor for the Soviet Union in the eyes of the whole world, but not in the eyes of the Americans. The average American sees the situation as follows: ‘‘Reagan has managed to establish contact with the Russians, gaining much from them, but giving nothing. He is a great leader!’’.


The Senator’s speculations seemed to suggest that Geneva was a real success for Reagan and a doubtful one for us. So, I asked him a direct question: well, do you think it was a mistake to go to Geneva? The Senator replied without hesitation: ‘‘No, it was not, but you should keep pressing, be firmer.’’


Kennedy’s impression is that we are awaiting the USA’s reaction calmly because we suppose that time is working for us. In his opinion, however, this is not quite right. So far Reagan is winning. He seems to be ‘‘thinking over’’ our ideas, but he keeps pursuing his own policy — building up the arms race. He will then respond later, taking some item from the full context of the Soviet offers,
but in such a way that it will be difficult to agree with him. For example, arms control without disarmament, etc.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s popularity is growing.
There is a good deal more on that visit and Senator Kennedy's subsequent dealings with President Gorbachev when President Reagan was succeeded by Bush Senior and the Soviet Union began to show the cracks that subsequently blew it apart.

It is a long article but worth reading in full. What emerges is a picture of an American politician who, for his own gain and for his party's success, is ready to negotiate with the leader of the country's main enemy. Not pretty but in character.

Rathergate revisited

The story of Dan Rather, the rightful heir of Walter Cronkite ("the Tet offensive was a disaster for the Americans") and Ed Murrow ("how dare you suggest my friend Lawrence Duggan was not an honourable man"), being caught out by the right-wing blogosphere led by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs is well known to all.

In my opinion that was a turning point for the MSM though the game is still being played out. Not only it showed CBS producers and anchormen using dubious methods to campaign in all but name for one presidential candidate but it reopened the debate about the media's role in the Vietnam fiasco. All to the good.

The story is not over as Mr Rather is suing CBS for breach of contract or, as Bernard Goldberg points out on his blog, for the restoration of his stature and legacy.

The posting is of extreme interest as it goes through the story again and points out a few additional facts that have been lost in the brouhaha. For one thing, Mary Mapes, the producer, had known for some time before the infamous programme went out that George W. Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam but other pilots were deemed to be more experienced and were sent out ahead of him. Hmmm. A little different from that darling of the media, Bill Clinton.

There is also the point made in the very interesting discussion that joining the National Guard is an honourable thing to do and training to be a fighter pilot, which Bush did, is extremely hazardous at any time.

Read the whole posting and have a look at the comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This is what I want to be

The redoubtable Phyllis Chesler has a column on Pajamas Media, entitled "Feminist Hawks Unite!" Sounds good, I thought and read it.

The name came from the New York Times that has suddenly discovered that there are feminists out there who feel strongly about the way women are treated in the world of Islam. Well, they sort of discovered it as they appear not to have realized that one of the most outspoken feminists on the issue is Ms Chesler herself.

So here’s what puzzled me. In their infinite wisdom, The Paper of Record decided that there is only one “feminist hawk” in the entire universe and his name is…David Horowitz of Frontpage magazine. Actually, this is a giant step forward. Usually Horowitz is demonized as a Traitor who left Ramparts (both the magazine he edited and the faux-fighting American left which it represented) in the dust and became a born-again, fire-breathing conservative.

Here, he is credited not only for publishing the work of “feminist hawks” but for being the only “feminist hawk” they could find to name. The article gets even more peculiar when it presumes to tell us that the “feminist hawk” phenomenon is mainly a “hybrid” invention of the “internet,” one that has “borrowed left-wing shibolleths as one way that conservative ideas can make it big in a generally more liberal online social sphere.”
Well, you can see the argument: if we dismiss the whole movement by pretending that only very few people, male or female, are part of it and these are all either nasty conservatives or traitors to the left-wing cause, we can pretend that this is all a quaing distraction from the all-important issue of Obama-worship.

Ms Chesler, understandably, will have none of it and, to be fair to him, neither will David Horowitz, who thinks she should adopt and proudly use the name. Here is what Ms Chesler says on the subject:

Among the writers concerned with women’s rights are: Frontpage editor, Jamie Glazov; Anat Berko; Tammy Bruce (who was once the President of Los Angeles NOW); Nonie Darwish; Brigitte Gabriel; Professor Donna Hughes; Nancy L. Kobrin; Robert Spencer, Wafa Sultan; and countless others. I will be adding more names to this list.

I know, I know: Many of the above writers are conservatives, not liberals. Some are new-comers, others not. But, they are all, myself included, “hawkish” on the subject of the war against women and a) will not engage in cultural relativism to avoid being called “racists” or “Islamophobes;” b) will not be held hostage to one of two political parties; c) will not sacrifice Israel, America, the West, Muslim democrats/dissidents–or the truth–in order to remain politically correct and aligned to social, political, and funding networks.
OK, so why won't the New York Times list these authors and, in particular, why will it not give Ms Chesler her due?
How, dear reader, did I ever fall afoul of the New York Times? What daring deeds did I commit that has led to my almost utter “disappearance” in their pages? That is a long story, meant for another day. Hint: Try exposing sexism among feminist leaders, then expose anti-Semitism both among western intellectuals and jihadists, and top all that by exposing an utter failure of principle and nerve among western progressives in terms of human rights in the Islamic world–and see where that lands you on the left-liberal radar.

I admit it: I did all that in my last three books: Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, (2002) The New Anti-Semitism, (2003) and The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom. (2005).

I regret nothing.
I actually do not care whether the NYT, which knows nothing about my existence, ever mentions me or not, though in Ms Chesler's position I probably would. But I agree with all the above, adding only that it is hard to imagine anything uglier than the vicious misogynistic attacks the left-wing, so-called third-wave feminists directed at Sarah Palin. (Sticks and stones - the lady is doing fine.)

Anyway, my point is this: I want to be a Feminist Hawk. In fact, I am going to be a Feminist Hawk, the first Feminist Hawk (after Margaret Thatcher) in Britain. Right, that's decided then.

"Passport to Pimlico" and politics

There are readers of this blog who will have assumed from the title that I cannot write about anything unless I bring politics into it. That is not necessarily true though a little bit of thought will make people realize that any kind of public entertainment, which film-making most certainly is, has some form of political aspect to it. (That is known as setting up a strawperson and knocking it down. Heh!)

A few days ago a friend who now lives and works in Washington asked a number of people which films they would consider to have pro-freedom/libertarian messages. Those are not identical, of course, and I am more interested in the pro-freedom films of which there are not very many.

I suggested “On the Waterfront”, “Blazing Saddles” and all the Ealing comedies, which are anarchic in their outlook. (Someone else had already suggested “The Lives of Others” and I am not sure about Wajda’s films, much as I like them.) Yes, was the reply about the Ealing comedies, especially “The Titfield Thunderbolt” and “Passport to Pimlico”. It is a long time since I have seen either, so this week-end I watched a DVD of the latter – one of the best British films ever.

The late forties and most of the fifties saw the best period in British film-making. Practically all the films, comedies like “Passport to Pimlico”, thrillers like “Noose” or dramas like the brilliant “It always rains on Sunday” stand up well to the test of time, unlike the rather precious works of art produced in the sixties and seventies.

The earlier films are full of excellent actors, many of whom then went on TV and that may well be the reason why we think nostalgically of the various plays, series and sit-coms of the sixties and early seventies. The films also had directors who kept a tight control on plots and characters without pushing their own egos to the forefront.

Interestingly, though they are not anti-British and are, indeed, affectionate in their attitudes to the country, they do not paint a rosy picture. Post-war Britain, according to these films, is a grey, dreary place, with people’s lives circumscribed by shortages and rationing, in place for several years after the war; by a certain lack of imagination in the people themselves; and by the ever-present authority: bumbling, inflexible, inefficient.

The only way one can have any fun at all is either by going abroad as Alec Guinness’s character Henry “Dutch” Holland does in “The Lavender Hill Mob” or by temporarily taking one’s territory out of England as it happens both in “The Titfield Thunderbolt” and “Passport to Pimlico”. And none of that lasts for very long.

It is clearly the aim and almost the duty of every citizen to avoid the law as much as possible if not actually break it but that runs into difficulties. Buying goods on the black market may not seem to be a bad idea and is, in fact, necessary for survival but behind the rascally spiv there are usually large vicious organizations of criminals. Such an organization is defeated in “Noose” by a motley group led by an ex-commando journalist and consisting of his journalist girl-friend and a group of demobbed soldiers who keep in training in an East End boxing club. The police are shown to be somewhat useless.

The plot of “Passport to Pimlico” is fairly well known. When a left-over German bomb explodes in a street in Pimlico (a London borough, then largely working class, for non-British readers) the residents discover a great deal of gold, brought over by Duke Charles I of Burgundy, who had supposedly been killed at the siege of Nancy but had really escaped to England and been granted all sorts of rights by Edward IV. They also find a document, deciphered by Margaret Rutherford’s batty professor (professors in Ealing films are always batty) that shows the street to be Burgundian territory.

At first, this seems like an excellent idea. Ration cards are torn up, licensing hours are disregarded, export materials ordered. Then, trouble arrives in the shape of every trader, con-man, spiv, crook and criminal of London piling onto the wasteland that the locals want to convert into a playground for their children.

This is an interesting moment for the locals. Until now they had understood two ways of living that often went in parallel: you obeyed the government or you dodged its endless control. Now they begin to realize the need for a legal structure to underpin freedom and that means a government of a kind, which is established under the leadership of the suddenly appearing descendant of the Duke.

There are various other twists and turns, ridiculous civil servants played by that incomparable duo, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, and a good deal of gentle chaffing of the English – so defiant, so generous and so utterly unimaginative and unenterprising.

In the end it all comes right – the “Burgundians” lend their treasure to HM Government and get a good interest for their own use, which means that the playground will most definitely be built; the ration books reappear and are welcomed as a useful alternative to starvation or charitable donations; the Duke, presumably, returns to Dijon; and the people of a Pimlico street become British again, having briefly tasted freedom, its problems and its possibilities.

There is one more twist but it comes at the beginning of the film. Though made in 1949, some years before rationing in Britain was abolished, it is dedicated to the memory of the ration book.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ashes and sackcloth

The seventieth anniversary of the start of World War II will have many dates to remember. The biggest of all, though, was yesterday: the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact by the two Foreign Ministers, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop. This act was the real start of the war and I ought to have noted it.

Two excuses: the Pact was actually dated the 24th so today will do (sort of); and it needs a long piece that will involve a discussion of matters in and around the EU. Therefore, I have decided to put up a small notice now with a contemporary cartoon and shall write about the whole episode, its significance and the shadow it casts on politics, now later on.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quite extraordinary

As it happens, I do shop from time to time in Whole Foods in Kensington. When I was in New York I shopped there more often, not least because it was a cheaper option for a take-away lunch than it is in Britain. But it has many things that one cannot get anywhere else and a reasonable selection of others.

I have no problems with buying organic food (and not all of it is at Whole Foods) because I reckon that anyone who is prepared to pay the premium should have the choice to do so. The idea of opposing the production and purchase of organic food on ideological grounds is, in my opinion, laughable. When it comes to dairy produce and eggs, organic tastes much better, anyway. But then, food is never discussed in Britain on the basis of taste.

Whole Foods is, however, quite expensive, which will make it a little difficult for me to support it as all right-thinking people should because it is being boycotted by all those who are hysterical about Obamacare. Michelle Malkin's account is not exactly unbiased but reasonably accurate.

Here is John Mackey's article in the Wall Street Journal that has caused the fracas. In it he argues against the various proposals emanating or not emanating from the Democrats and the thumping propaganda from the White House, suggesting various free-market solutions to the problem of health care in the United States.

Anyone would think he had proposed to boil the President in oil or to nuke Congress. The Obamacare supporters are screaming for a boycott (though this is being countered by many people who are calling for support) and the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union is leafleting some Whole Foods stores with seriously inaccurate information.

What intrigued me particularly on the leaflet that Michelle reproduces on her blog is the sentence: "Do you really want your shopping dollars going to executives who are undermining President Obama?". Then there is the inevitable call for John Mackey to go.

This is a mixture of sheer idiocy and a Stalinist outlook on life. No company gets rid of a CEO because he has written a reasonable and relevant article or because some picketers demand it.

Secondly, those shopping dollars do not go to the CEO but the company, which, in the case of Whole Food, includes all the employees, who have various benefits as well as shareholders, who do reasonably well out of it, and are ploughed back into a very successful business.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it is a little disturbing to hear the argument in the United States of all countries, that there is something shocking and outrageous in a businessman criticizing the President, all criticism being an attempt to "undermine" the POTUS.

There is another aspect to this, noted by a few people already. The health care fiasco is described as Obama's very own; the failure of what is described as a "reform" would be according to many, the destruction of his presidency; the people who oppose it - an ever larger number - are undermining the President. This means that whichever way matters pan out; if some health care bill is pushed through in the teeth of growing opposition or if it fails, President Obama will be the fall guy. The Congress Democrats will distance themselves from the whole mess. Can he not see this?

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has an entertaining post about the union fat-cats who are directing the attacks on Whole Foods.

Let us discuss

Nor for the first time a commenter on a previous posting asked rather despairingly what it is we, the people or we, the electorate can do to get out of the mess we got ourselves into by what I call a mixture of apathy and self-satisfaction. I could try to blog on it yet again but, then again, we are all in this mess and we should all be thinking about getting out. So, uncharacteristically, I am being democratic and opening the discussion up to all and sundry. Let's roll.

Goodness, I miss President Reagan

Daily am I reminded of his brilliant summary of political life that the nine most frightening words in the English language are: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is known as being economical with the truth

Actually, the technical term for this is lying but economical with the actualité sounds so much better.

I was scrolling through the Big Hollywood site, the right-wing answer to just about everything that passes for film and related criticism these days, and found this interesting little story.

It would appear that Greenpeace has not been telling the truth. Well, they say they made a mistake but since this mistake was quite a crucial one and since many of the climate change fanatics base all sorts of demands that include higher taxes and more stifling regulation on that mistake, one cannot help wondering.

First of all, let us look back at the press release issued by Greenpeace on July 15 of this year, in which they asserted that urgent action was needed as Arctic ice was melting.
Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. As scientists on board the Arctic Sunrise gather more data showing the urgency of the situation, world leaders stay inactive.

For the past two weeks, scientists and crew from the Arctic Sunrise have been busy
gathering data, collecting samples and setting up cameras to record the break-up of the Petermann glacier, one of Greenland's largest. A large crack has been forming for the past few years, and a massive piece of the glacier is expected to break off soon.
Dear me, one might say. Well, one can say all one likes but, it appears that this press release is deeply misleading. According to the story on Big Hollywood, “Lies Revealed — Greenpeace Leader Admits Arctic Ice Exaggeration, by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney,
The outgoing leader of Greenpeace has admitted his organization’s recent claim that the Arctic Ice will disappear by 2030 was “a mistake.
Oh really? And, ahem, how did this mistake come about? That is not quite clear from the piece but what appeared rather odd was that Gerd Leipold, the retiring leader of Greenpeace, admitted this while being questioned rather severely on the BBC. The BBC? Whatever next?

Apparently, there is a programme called Hardtalk, which is shown on BBC World News and broadcast on the BBC News Channel (so there can be no fears of any domestic audience finding out about this) and Stephen Sackur attacked Mr Leipold in no uncertain terms.

In fact, he did a good deal more than just suggesting “that confrontational campaigning may not be the best way to win the argument over climate change”. He accused Greenpeace of putting out highly misleading information, particularly on the subject of that supposedly melting Arctic ice.
Sackur said the claim was inaccurate on two fronts, pointing out that the Arctic ice is a mass of 1.6 million square kilometers with a thickness of 3 km in the middle, and that it had survived much warmer periods in history than the present.

The BBC reporter accused Leipold and Greenpeace of releasing “misleading information” and using “exaggeration and alarmism.”

Leipold’s admission that Greenpeace issued misleading information is a major embarrassment to the organization, which often has been accused of alarmism but has always insisted that it applies full scientific rigor in its global-warming pronouncements.

Although he admitted Greenpeace had released inaccurate but alarming information, Leipold defended the organization’s practice of “emotionalizing issues” in order to bring the public around to its way of thinking and alter public opinion.
So it is perfectly all right to tell lies in the cause of some higher truth and to insist, also falsely, that the lies are, in fact, scientifically proven truths. Furthermore, on the basis of those lies Mr Leipold can, quite shamelessly, still assert that growth in the United States must slow down because it is not sustainable, even though the evidence he has produced for its lack of sustainability is false.

Let us not even talk about the fact that economic growth in the USA is more than just lifestyle for the rich but a considerable improvement for the poor, many of whom would otherwise live in conditions Mr Leipold cannot even envisage.

Well, are they worth it?

It is not surprising that the Boy-King of the Conservative Party has distanced himself from Sir Patrick Cormack, the large and unimpressive Conservative MP who has announced that for MPs to do their jobs properly they ought to be paid £130,000. Presumably, even he would not suggest that there should be expenses on top of that but nothing would really surprise me.

Douglas Hogg (known unaffectionately as the Hoglet) a man of great incompetence and complete lack of charm, who is standing down because of a little trouble with his moat, has also called for MPs to be paid six-figure salaries.

They were both described as "living on the planet Zog", which was, presumably named after the erstwhile King of Albania. The Boy-King of the Planet Tory knows that it is not sensible to be asking for doubling of MPs' salaries less than a year before the General Election when popular fury may well be visited on those who are associated with those demands.

In fact, there is some sense in MPs receiving their payment in properly accounted for and taxed salaries rather than the hole-in-the-corner manner they have been getting it. But there are a few problems.

One is the question of market forces. Is there, in fact, any evidence that people do not want to become MPs because of the "low" pay? There is not. Every party in every constituency has to beat off applicants. So, really, why bother to raise the salary if people want the job anyway?

The notion that a low salary attracts a low calibre of applicants is risible. None but the low calibre will go into politics now, whatever you pay and, in any case, if we raise the salaries it will be the bozos in there now who will benefit.

Finally, there is the unfortunate matter of the MPs' work, which, according to the egregious Sir Patrick, they cannot do at the moment because of lack of money. Just what is their job that they need to do?

Some time ago I wrote an Open Letter to our Legislators on the subject of them wanting higher salaries (it was £100,000 at the time so, in the meantime, they have become greedier), in which I enumerated all the many things they do not do: legislate, hold the government to account, scrutinize the budget, take part in debates, find out about important political issues. So far as I can or anyone else can tell, nothing much has changed since December 2006 except that more legislation has made its way from Brussels and more egregious mistakes, documented by the Boss of EUReferendum, have been made over defence expenditure.

So here is my suggestion. Let those MPs tell us exactly (and I mean exactly) what it is they do and why they deserve those fat-cat salaries. Then the electorate will see whether they deserve double of what they now get legitimately. Of course, there is a possibility that the electorate will also see exactly how little our so-called legislators do for the money they get now. And that would be very sad.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An interesting blog

Nurses for Reform is an organization I have known about for some time, not least because it is run by a friend of mine, Helen Evans, herself a very experienced nurse. But I have not read her blog until this morning. Shame on me. It is very interesting and of particular interest at the moment. (I am hoping, though that there will not be too many postings about Daniel Hannan MEP who is not the Little Messiah but a politician.)

Monday, August 17, 2009


Would it be possible for people to put a name to their comments on this blog? The system is an open one and people can post as "guests" without having to acquire a Google or any other accounts. This is working well as far as quality of comment goes. There have been good discussions and I do not want to change anything. But, please, put a name to your opinion. Hmmm?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Well, diddums

Bono thinks people are soooooooooooooo unfair. Fancy criticizing him of all people, the great and saintly Bono with his band for spending too much money on their tour, given their "stance on world hunger" and polluting the world (no, not with their music but their trucks and planes and other forms of transport). I do see his point. After all, he never suggested that he or his mates should be helping African countries. If he had thought of that he might have realized that well-meaning people shelling out aid that is then stolen or used to keep bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power might not be the best solution. Nor did he ever intend to comply with the rules he laid down for other people on good behaviour environmentally speaking. What do people want from him?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Does our Prime Minister have nothing else to do?

On Wednesday evening I received a message about the BBC and the NHS (both using taxpayers’ money) joining in a Twitter campaign to promote the joys of the NHS in the United States where the battle about Obamacare healthcare reform health insurance reform is raging.

Would I join the battle and Twitter anti-NHS messages? My reply was that I don’t do Twitter as it is a waste of time and see no point in joining the battle that way but I shall alert a few American bloggers. This I duly did and they duly ignored me. In fact, as far as I can make out nobody apart from the British media is at all excited about that campaign.

As I wrote on EUReferendum, in connection with the ill-fated attempt on the part of the Guardian and its readers to tell Americans how to vote, this sort of behaviour is not well regarded in other countries, especially as feelings are already running high.

By now probably everybody knows about the idiotic Twitter campaign on which various people, led by the PM and his fragrant wife, told those boorish Yanks that they love the NHS. Also everybody knows that the whole debate here has degenerated into another discussion about Daniel Hannan MEP, who has clearly abandoned all hope of making himself a career in domestic British politics and is spending a great deal of his time taking part in American talk shows and participating in American debates.

In response he has been called unpatriotic and an opponent of the Conservative Party, both ideas completely idiotic. Why on earth is it unpatriotic to criticize the NHS, a failed model of healthcare, if ever there was one? (It is not, in fact, being proposed in the United States, in so far as we know what is being proposed.)

So we have a situation in which the Americans are discussing the future of healthcare in their country, with occasional reference to the NHS though that rather silly nonsense about Stephen Hawking was not used by American conservatives, despite James Delingpole’s winsome little posting. The story appeared briefly on one outlet and was taken off as soon as the mistakes in it were pointed out.

Would that stupid and ignorant comments about American healthcare made by all sorts of people in Britain could be taken off as soon as mistakes were pointed out. But no, we are superior and we know best even when we do not bother to find out what is going on.

I had one debate with one of these superior personalities who was making sniffy comments about whacky death panel arguments. I suggested that he stopped using words like whacky and tried to find out what has been said about those panels including some serious analysis of Obama’s comments about his grandmother’s hip replacement operation. In return I was told that this particular idiot was not going to get involved in Palinesque wackiness. End of discussion with one rather stupid and ignorant person chuckling at his own wit and intelligence and no understanding that actually Palin won the debate.

The best summary of all the misunderstandings and stupidities spouted on both sides of the Pond was made by Dizzy on his blog, which I rarely read as I am not particularly interested in the topics he chooses. Perhaps I shall do so hereafter.
Sadly, unlike what’s going on in USA right now, the structure and delivery of healthcare services is not even a matter for discussion in the UK anymore. Instead, the snobbish and arrogant British superiority complex rears its head, and stupidly deems that the structure we have is the best possible. Bland, meaningless and nonsense statements about it being the "envy of the world" are rolled out, and the debate is simplified down to "spending more money is good, spending less is bad".

Essentially we have an infantile level of debate on the subject in the UK, and hilariously we have the balls to start trying to preach to a country on the other side of the Atlantic about how wonderful our system is and how terribly evil theirs’ is? Frankly, it's pathetic. On one side we have a system being caricatured and used as a political football, whilst on the other we have panty wetting screaming and shouting about how terribly unfair the caricature is, and equally silly caricatures thrown back. It makes everyone look like complete and total morons.
One cannot help thinking that all this insane and vociferous support for the NHS is another display of our favourite sport – America-bashing, particularly right-wing America-bashing. Hey, some Americans on the right have made rude comments about our beloved NHS. How dare they? How bloody dare they? We know that they spend their whole time killing off poor people and their healthcare is the worst in the world with people dying in the streets because there is no NHS to save them.

What do you mean they have Medicaid and their survival rate of every serious disease is considerably higher than ours? What has that to do with anything?

People are complaining about the NHS and ever more Brits are taking out private health insurance? What has that to do anything? We are out to prove to those uppity Yanks that we are the best in the world and that our … sob …. our very own NHS as created by Nye Bevan, using the Soviet model is the envy of the world. What do you mean nobody in the world has imitated it? What has that to do with anything?

Three questions present themselves immediately. One is about our Prime Minister. Has he really nothing else to do but to get involved in what is, after all, an internal debate in the United States of an extent that he would not dare to start in this country?

The second one is a little more complicated. Just exactly when did the NHS and the BBC become the epitome of what this country is about? People who are ready to surrender our parliamentary and judicial system, which really have been the envy or the world for centuries, scream blue murder if anyone as much as criticizes these two recent and failed institutions.

Thirdly, I should like to ask when are we, in Britain, going to have a serious discussion about healthcare that will involve radical reforms to the NHS. The twelfth of never, the way we are going.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Really strange

Just about everybody in Britain agrees that we have serious problems with our healthcare and, in particular, with the NHS, which swallows up a huge part of the budget, employs more people nowadays than even the Red Army and provides care that is mostly below the standard that could be expected from a rich, highly developed country.

Yet the only reason a debate is getting under way (even if it is still on the level of NHS the best in the world - no it is the pits) is because we are piggy-backing on the rather vehement American discussions that are actually about something quite different.

More on this absorbing topic tomorrow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Freedom is as freedom does

Next time somebody tells you about the glories of academic research, academic thinking and academic publishing, tell them about this. Hot Air quotes the New York Times article, which informs the sadly unsurprised world that
Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí…
So, we have a book about the Danish cartoons that will not be illustrated by those cartoons. Brilliant. Just the sort of fearless enquiry one wants to see.

Furthermore, Yale (both Press and Universiy) are happy to go along by non-publication with the notion that Mohammed has never been depicted before and certainly not in the Muslim world. After all, they will not publish an Ottoman print either.

At least, as AllahPundit on Hot Air says, there is no equivocation of why they are censoring their own publication: naked fear of reprisals. But you know, they can't get all of us. Not even the New York Times, whose account of what happened after the cartoons were published is somewhat economical with the truth as Gateway Pundit details.

PS Michael Moynihan echoes my sadness that it should be Yale University Press that has shown itself to be "yellow" as James Cagney's Rocky Sullivan says in "Angels with Dirty Faces". They had taken on the so-called liberal, pro-Communist establishment, after all. Their Annals of Communism series has changed for ever the way that evil system is viewed and has made it possible to write more clearly about Communist infiltration in the United States. And now this.

UPDATE: Roger Kimball stays with the story and points out that, contrary to what the NYT said, the advice to remove the illustrations from a serious book about the Danish cartoons was not unanimous. Indeed, there were many good reasons advanced by those asked why they should be kept in. Nor does it seem likely that it was the threat of violence that really underlay the decision. Well, what else could it be? Money? Surely not.

Common sense triumphs for the time being

Thanks to James Delingpole's blog on the Telegraph site (see, I do read some Clogs) we find out that the Australian Senate has voted Kevin Rudd's cap and trade bill out by 42 to 30 votes.

Why did those Senators reject Rudd’s scheme, despite their prolonged drought and their bush fires? Well some - the green ones - did so because they didn’t think its emissions cutting targets went far enough. But the majority did so - duh - because they didn’t want their coal-dependent heavy industry hamstrung by still more pointless taxation and regulation, their consumers fleeced and their economy ruined in the middle of a thwacking great global recession. And, in at least the case of Senator Steve Fielding, because they’d done their research and discovered that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a figment of Al Gore’s imagination.

Having consulted scientific experts including Ian Plimer [whom I interviewed in the
Spectator a few weeks back and whose views are neatly summarised here] Sen Fielding was inspired to visit the US to assess at first hand what evidence the Obama administration was using to justify its radical Waxman Markey cap and trade measures. He was not impressed and issued a challenge, emailing graphs to one of the US president’s energy advisers showing that, despite rising CO2 levels the globe has not warmed in over a decade.

He concluded: “Until recently I, like most Australians, simply accepted without question the notion that global warming was a result of increased carbon emissions. However, after speaking to a cross-section of noted scientists, including Ian Plimer… I quickly began to understand that the science on this issue was by no means conclusive….As a federal senator, I would be derelict in my duty to the Australian people if I did not even consider whether or not the scientific assumptions underpinning this debate were in fact correct.”
We may add that the bush fires have been known to be caused by arsonists and have often spread fast because in many places control of the wilderness had been abandoned in response to Green demands.

Bloomberg points out that this is not the end of the story.
Rudd, who needs support from seven senators outside the government to pass laws through the upper house, can resubmit the bill after making amendments. A second rejection after a three-month span would give him a trigger to call an election.

“We may lose this fight, but this issue will not go away,” Climate Change Minister Penny Wong told the Senate in Canberra. “Australia cannot afford for climate change to be unfinished business.”

Five members from the Australian Greens party sought bigger cuts to emissions while the opposition coalition and independent Senator Nick Xenophon wanted to wait for further studies on the plan’s impact on the economy.
I can't help being pleased that someone called Xenophon should emulate his namesake and approach matters with an open and enquiring mind.

AND TALKING of Clogs or Corporate Blogs, I shall be spending a good deal of today and tomorrow writing about them for the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging. There's glory for you.

Why I find it so tedious

I wouldn't go so far as to say I don't give a sh*t about British politics but I do find it extraordinarily tedious. I know it is August but to have the issue of some daft Conservative MP making a "gaffe" when he did not realise he was recorded (shades of "Yes Prime Minister"), his apology and the non-problem of his future as the most important one of the day, nay several days, is enough to make one give up the will to live. (There are many other links in the media and the blogosphere I could post but cannot be bothered. As Private Eye might say: continued on pp. 3, 4, 6, 7-9, 11-14 & 94)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Children should be seen and not heard at political meetings

Mornings mean cups of coffee and a reading of Instapundit, following up the links if they are of interest. With the time difference I have several hours in which I can catch up with what the American scene. (If I try really hard, could I become the British Instapundit? Nah. Not enough hours in the day.)

At present, much revolves round the Obamacare fracas and the townhall meetings at some of which elected politicians go to all kinds of ruses to avoid talking to those who had elected them and whom they represent. Whatever makes them think this is a sensible idea? But then, who are we to talk? When did anyone see a really open political meeting in this country? With no open meetings we do not have elected politicians telling us we are lucky they bothered to turn up to answer questions.

Among the many stories from left and right (funnily enough, the left-wing ones appear to be somewhat inaccurate, not to mention outraged at the thought of the great unwashed protesting) there is a link to Michelle Malkin's account of a rather nauseating incident at the townhall meeting in Malden, New Hampshire, attended by The One himself.

As Sister Toldjah reports with links to "real" media outlets, the meeting was not a total success with Obama blundering into a comparison between FedEx and the US Post Office while trying to prove that more state control of healthcare was a good thing.

The story Michelle M quotes concerns a "randomly" picked 11 year old girl who asked a nice easy question that she thought of all by herself. Except that her mother, who helped her to write the question before they came to the meeting is a fully paid up and accredited Obama supporter who has met the First Family before. (More here and on other blogs. This story is not going to die.)

Of course, children are used as political pawns all the time. Baby kissing has been a notorious pastime for politicians running for office since time immemorial. And no different in Britain as any reader of "Pickwick Papers" can tell you.

We can all recall the girl, who just happened to be the daughter of long-standing members of the Labour Party, both of them teachers, who did not get into Edinburgh University for whatever reason touted by Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as an example of the social unfairness of university entrances. Whatever happened to that girl?

One can cite any number of examples. But I agree with Michelle's reader, Ricky. I, too, am fed up with children being produced as some oracles of political wisdom. It may have started with Carter who told us all that he consulted his daughter Amy on important matters to do with nuclear deterrence. How embarrassed that poor woman must be whenever the old reels are shown.

Then there was our own Tony Blair losing his temper because critics of the projected Dome could not see its glory while his 13 year old son, Liam could. Unfortunately, by the time the Dome was complete Liam was somewhat older and the critics turned out to be right. Running a country according to what 13 year olds think is not such a great idea.

In other words, children at political meetings should be seen and not heard. No harm in them coming along and listening to what people say and how they argue; no harm in them discussing said matters with their parents and teachers afterwards; that, for 11 year old Julia's and her Obamabot mom's information is how children learn to understand things and be able to discern the truth if there is such a thing in politics. But the idea of the President of the United States, in the middle of a crisis (and there is no other way of describing the events of the last couple of weeks) getting a child to pipe a pwetty little qwestion so he can have a go at his opponents is worse than nauseating.

And talking of nauseating, President Obama is not doing too well with his own supporters. Camille Paglia, though still all of that, is appalled by the sequence of disasters that has visited this Administration as it tries to implement those reforms Democrats have, apparently been longing for. Mind you, she thinks he is utterly wonderful and it is his staff that is problematic. She is right about Nancy Pelosi, whose botoxed head should roll but blaming everything on the staff is a little low. Reminds one of that old chestnut: "if only Stalin knew".

Meanwhile public support for Obamacare is dropping: down by 21 per cent. A good deal of that is not because people might not like to see some reform but, as Ms Paglia rightly notes, because of the cack-handed way this package is being put together and ferocious hysteria with which it is being pushed down people's throats. Anyone would become suspicious if the slightest argument is shouted down with the words Nazi, KKK and anti-American.

Tom Maguire on JustOneMinute links back to a HuffPo writer who is beginning to wonder just exactly what it is that makes President Obama tick. A little late in the day for that sort of wondering, I'd say. Perhaps journalists and other analysts should have done a little searching before the man was elected to be Commander-in-Chief.

It is absolutely true that neither the people of the United States nor the rest of us know anything about him. The media managed not to find out anything in the two years when he campaigned to be President instead of doing his job as Senator for Illinois. There has been a moratorium (give or take some blogs) on all personal stories and he has managed to secrete all documents to do with his life, studies and career so far. When he could not do so, as in voting records, he simply lied until called out on it.

My own suspicion is that there is nothing there. Glenn Reynolds is right when he calls him the clothes with no emperor. One of the oddest things I noticed about that appallingly tacky birthday cake was that there was nothing personal on it, though the party was merely for the family and staff. Everything on it is to do with the presidency, not the man. Even the number is 44 instead of 48, his age. The fact that he is the 44th President is more important for a birthday cake? And just how tacky it is to make the cake icing (frosting for our American readers) into the shape of the Presidential Seal?

Are there no interests at all that can be referred to? No sports, entertainment, books, hobbies that The One cares about? Most unusual.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Another Yvonne Ridley in the making?

Claudia Rosett writes that the two journalists, sent by Al Gore to get stories about North Korea and subsequently rescued by former President Clinton, may well be getting rather juicy advances for their "story", which is unlikely to be entirely truthful.

There is an interesting discussion that follows if one ignores the resident trolls. Pajamas Media has about half a dozen that turn up on every thread. I hope it makes their lives worthwhile.

This is not the first time journalists go into oppressive countries, get caught, imprisoned and are rescued. Remember Yvonne Ridley, captured by the Taliban, then released, who has become a Muslim convert and a member of the Respect Party? Nobody ever found out what happened to her guides who had taken her into Afghanistan.

In the same way, Ms Rosett is right to point out that the girls may well have had information on them when they were captured that could well have led to the arrest and deportation of North Korean refugees. Various organixations in the field are worried about that. And what happened to the Chinese who helped the two hackettes? I don't suppose former President Clinton will rush to their rescue if they are in trouble.

What of their book, articles and probable lecture tour? I have no real objection to them making money out of what seems to have been a stunt that went temporarily wrong for them but I agree with Ms Rosett: they are unlikely to tell the truth even if they know it. There is much to be said for the testimony of witnesses. It's just I do not think Ms Laura Ling and Ms Euna Lee are exactly witnesses in the old sense of the word. Not in the way Whittaker Chambers or Margarete Buber-Neumann meant it. The money they will get is the least of it. I do think, however, that it would be a graceful gesture on their part and some indication of good will if they contributed some of what they will receive (earning, I suspect, does not come into it as the book is unlikely to sell well for any length of time) towards one of the organizations that are trying to help North Korean refugees and to disseminate genuine information about that unhappy country.

Oh my, haven't things changed

All of us who are interested in American news can recall a time when dissent was the "highest form of patriotism", when protests, however small, however clearly organized by political groups, however unpleasant were, at least, high jinks and indications of a robust debate (especially when the protesters shouted down or attacked anyone who disagreed with them), and at most, indications of genuine popular discontent (especially is the protesting group was outnumbered by the media). Glenn Reynolds gives a few examples.

As he also points out, this is no longer so. Dissent is now fascist or Nazi (as Nancy Pelosi said, winning the prize for transgressing Godwin's Law). It is also un-American. Yes, that's right, in the country that has prided itself on the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech and on being the first constitutional republic in the world, in that country the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader call protesters un-American. Mind you, if you read the comments you will be surprised how many of USA Today's readers disagree very violently with Madam Speaker and her colleague.

The phrase un-American conjures up all sorts of past events, in particular the House Un-American Activities Committee that still sends the left in America and here into paroxysms of rage and shrill hysteria. Let us not forget that HUAC dealt with people who had been working for the Soviet Union as spies or agents of influence, that is, working for one of the most evil political systems and to undermine the United States, its allies and constitutional democracy in general. Recently opened up documents have proved beyond doubt the truth of those accusations.

That was then. This is now. And being un-American is no longer a question of betraying your country in order to aid and abet a totalitarian system: it is simply disagreeing with the President's and his party's highly controversial policy.

It would appear that even President Obama or his spokespeople are backing away a bit from that rather outrageous position. Then again, it was President Obama who said just a few days ago that he did not want to listen to those who disagreed with him as they were responsible for the mess that has been created (not he who has been in politics for most of his adult life); he just wanted them to shut up and go away. At least he did not call them un-American or Nazi.

Presumably, he also knows of the call by his henchpersons for American citizens to snitch on their neighbours not because they suspect them to be terrorists (when it was suggested under Bush that people should report suspicious behaviour the left and the civil rights brigade were up in arms though most people thought it a sensible idea) but because they might be spreading "fishy" stories about the Obamacare bill. They are, to use the old Soviet terminology, wreckers and saboteurs and need to be reported.

I suggest they call the database thus collected the Pavlik Morozov Archives, after the young pioneer who is supposed to have shopped his father and uncle to the GPU (the NKVD's predecessor) during collectivization.

Oh, by the way, I am not seeing any anti-American slogans despite the rather unpleasant developments anywhere in Britain or Europe. Not that I see any growth of pro-Americanism either, just a complete lack of interest now that Bush is not president and the government is genuinely trying to suppress dissent, which is no longer patriotic.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Plus ça change ....

There are people around who solemnly assure me and anyone else who happens to be withing hearing distance that things are definitely changing in China. They are getting better, people are becoming more free, the state is moving in the right direction.

They have no evidence for this, beyond the odd story of how nobody seemed that afraid to talk to them when they were in Beijing as tourists. Hardly sufficient evidence in my opinion and shows how contemptuous these people really are of the Chinese, if they think that is a good enough development.

(A little like people who argue that abolishing the burqua in Western countries would be a terrible idea as it gives Muslim women the freedom to go out on the streets. As the rest of the female population is free to go out without covering themselves from top to toe, one wonders exactly who deprives Muslim women of their freedom. Answers on the back of the postage stamp, please.)

In China matters are moving in the wrong direction, as the New York Times reports under a rather unhappy title: "Arrres in China Rattles Backers of Legal Rights".
China's nascent legal rights movement, already reeling from a crackdown on crusading lawyers, the kidnapping of defense witnesses and the shuttering of a prominent legal clinic, has been shaken by the detention of a widely respected rights defender who has been incommunicado since the police led him away from his apartment 12 days ago.
One China's legal rights movement well; we must all offer whatever support we can. Somehow I do not think that proclaiming the wondrous democratic developments in China is quite what these courageous people are looking for.

True enough

A picture, as they say is worth a thousand words though, in this case, the words matter as well.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ugly news from the Land of the Free

What with the White House demanding that people should snitch on those who are spreading "disinformation" about the President's health care insurance reform (perhaps they can call the list of enemies that Rick Moran is writing about the Pavlik Morozov list after the young pioneer who is supposed to have sent his father and uncle to death during collectivization), serious slander about those who oppose those reforms and reports of violent attacks on peaceful protesters by union thugs, hope and change seems to be acquiring a very ugly face.

More here and here.

More on the Fatah conference

The rows are going on as the conference has extended beyond its allotted span. They clearly have not heard of the famous EU habit of "stopping the clock". Much to learn there.

Paul Mirengoff on Powerline has a round-up of news, views and reactions. It is somewhat entertaining that Mahmoud Abbas's definition of the palpable growth in Palestinian respect for law and order is "the widespread use of seat belts by Palestinian drivers".

Other things are less entertaining but useful. It seems that a good many of the Fatah officers and activists are uninterested in any kind of a deal with Israel. They want to wipe it off the map and intend to continue creating martyrs or, in common parlance, send in terrorists to kill anyone they can, unless the Israelis can stop them as they have been doing with some success. I am shocked, I tell you, shocked.

In the meantime, there is only one other group on earth Fatah hates more than the Israelis and that is Hamas, a feeling that is fully reciprocated. All bodes well for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton creating that two-state three-state solution.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

And now for something different

There is a bit of pother going on about free bus passes for pensioners. A report by the Local Government Association has suggested that it should be scrapped as it does not represent value for money. Ministers and council leaders have rejected the suggestion of means testing as they thought that would not represent value for votes.

Harry Phibbs in the Daily Mail suggests a "less demanding and less bureaucratic solution". Keep the free pass for the over-seventies but scrap it for the over-sixties. There is something in that argument.

Generally speaking our attitude, particularly that of unions, politicians and various charities, towards older people is about forty years out of date. Not only people live longer, they are also active longer, both physically and mentally. In a society which is getting older it is preposterous that this should not be acknowledged and people of sixty and over should be treated like old crocks just as they were fifty or sixty years ago.

Help the Aged does many good things and has some excellent charity shops. It also thinks that the aged are all those over fifty. Planet, what?

As it happens I have a better idea for saving money, though this may apply only to London. All children under 10 can travel free on any part of Transport for London, whether they are accompanied or not. All children under 15 can travel free on buses and trams though they need to pay a child's fare on the underground and other trains.

The previous Mayor, Hizonner Ken, used to wax eloquent about the scheme helping Londoners. I fail to see how, as it is extended to all children and Londoners pick up the tab through Greater London tax or ever higher fares.

This is an expensive and unpopular scheme. Those kids are a nuisance. It adds to another of our bogeymen: obesity in children. After all, they do not to walk anywhere, not even one bus stop; just hop and hop off and if the driver does not like that, tough.

Once upon a time there was a scheme whereby children in state schools got a free pass to and from that school if the distance travelled was more than 3 miles. No free passes to go anywhere else or to ride on stop to the shops. Others could travel half fare as long as they were in full time education. A much cheaper and more useful scheme. So, are we going to go back to it?

The Fatah conference achieves nothing

A couple of days ago I read an article in the Jewish World Review about the Fatah Conference that was just starting. It was not particularly optimistic about the organization, which seems to be divided and demoralized, unable to recover from losing Gaza to Hamas in two goes - a somewhat indecisive election result and a far more decisive and bloody coup.
Fatah leaders have been feuding over allegations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah's Mohammed Dahlan conspired with Israel to kill Arafat — charges the two deny as scurrilous.

Hamas, Fatah's hard-line Islamic rival, which wrested electoral control of the Palestinian Authority in 2006 and then routed Abbas' forces from Gaza in 2007, hasn't allowed anyone living in the isolated Mediterranean strip to attend the conference.

Many Palestinians have lost faith in a political party they consider corrupt, inept and ineffective.
Then again, I thought, the JWR is a good source of information but it is not likely to be supportive of either Fatah or Hamas. (The article is, nevertheless, fair-minded.)

Let us see what Al-Jazeera has to say on the subject. Oooops, not good. Divisions, screaming matches, accusations, counter-accusations and, above all, the absence of 400 Fatah activists from Gaza. (Actually, I am amazed that 400 are still alive and more or less free there.)
The Fatah conference suffered a blow before it began after Hamas, which effectively rules the Gaza Strip, refused to allow 400 Fatah delegates based in Gaza to attend unless Fatah releases hundreds of Hamas activists detained in the West Bank.

The conference has split Fatah delegates from Fatah-controlled West Bank and those from Hamas-run Gaza.The Gaza delegates now demand a quota be set aside for them in Fatah's leadership bodies, and threaten repercussions - presumably a split - if they are turned down.

The West Bankers say the absent Gazans can vote by phone or e-mail and do not need the quotas.

Abbas is to decide on the issue later on Thursday.
That election of the new leadership bodies should produce some interesting results, assuming it ever happens. The BBC gives a summary of Middle Eastern media opinion and calls it upbeat. I wouldn't agree with that. There seems to be a great deal of depression at the Palestinians' inability to agree on anything and Fatah's inability to turn itself into a reasonable political organization, not to mention Hamas's somewhat high-handed behaviour.

Ynet News confirms both the argument about the method of voting and the fact that the conference has been extended.

I wonder if President Obama on his holiday or Secretary of State Clinton on her African trip is watching developments.

Why I have no time for Western feminist organizations

Actually, I do not need to write about that at the moment, though, eventually I shall. Phyllis Chesler has put it much better in the first segment of her latest column. I know people who say things like that. Oh yes, they also tell me about people's "culture" and how one must not interfere with it. Hmmm. I tend to ask why "respecting other people's culture" always seems to result in a bad deal for women.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Really, some people are just so suspicious

Amidst the rejoicing over the two American journalists' return to their home country and the reminder that Madam Secretary of State was involved as well as her husband (while the Obamas were celebrating his birthday with the tackiest cake ever) cautious notes are beginning to sound.

Example one is an article in the Wall Street Journal by Gordon Chang, who has written about North Korea and nuclear power before. Mr Chang reminds us of several things. One is that
Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, was on hand at the airport in Pyongyang to greet Mr. Clinton as he arrived—a clear sign Pyongyang, at least, is linking the two issues.
This is not necessarily a good thing. As Mr Chang points out, previous errors by presidents (one of them being Clinton) have allowed Kim to strengthen his power even more and develop his nuclear arsenal. Will history repeat itself?

There is something else we must not forget:
And now there may be one more reason for the regime to continue its alarming conduct. If Mr. Clinton is conducting any nuclear discussions he would be rewarding Pyongyang for jailing the two reporters and making them bargaining chips.

This matters because Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were not Pyongyang’s only hostages. In March, North Korea detained Yu Song-jin, a South Korean manager working in the Kaesong industrial zone, for criticizing Kim’s paradise. Last week, a North Korean patrol boat seized a South Korean fishing vessel that accidentally strayed into the North’s waters, and Pyongyang is now keeping the
four-member crew for no good reason. North Korea may be holding 100 or more Japanese abductees and at least 1,000 South Koreans, some of them prisoners from the Korean War and others kidnapped since then. More broadly, Kim uses all his 23 million people as hostages.

Now two American journalists will come home safely. Good. But let’s hope the U.S. didn’t secure their release at the cost of further negotiations that will only give Kim more time to perfect his nuclear arsenal and develop his ballistic missiles.
Some people are just sourpusses. Why can't they emote like everyone else?

Just to make things worse, the editorial in the WSJ harps on the problems as well, after congratulating President Clinton and the two journalists who had apparently gone in there while working for one of Al Gore's enterprises.
Yet Mr. Clinton’s visit is a message unto itself. It will bolster Kim’s bid to dissolve the six-party negotiations in favor of the direct talks with the U.S. he has long sought. It will also dismay some in South Korea and Japan, which have their own hostages in North Korea and will wonder why Mr. Clinton couldn’t obtain their release as well.

If it turns out that if a new nuclear negotiation really was begun during Mr. Clinton’s visit, it will also send the signal to North Korea that the worse its behavior, the more it stands to gain from the U.S. And it will mean that Kim’s price will be even higher to spring the next American hostages.
Still, if it promotes Madam Secretary of State's career it will all be worthwhile. I trust my readers agree.