Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy 100th birthday, Milton Friedman

Born on July 31, 1912 in New York to Hungarian Jewish immigrant parents (really, these people get everywhere!) and one of the very few economists who actually deserved his Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. His analysis cannot be bettered. Sadly, politicians in what is laughingly known as the free world (mind you, things are relative as I remember every time I look at Russia or China) do not have the ability or the courage to follow his ideas at all.


A 17 year old was arrested because he had sent a stupid tweet to some sportsman most of us had never heard of? Seriously? The police have nothing better to do with their time? Sportsmen have skins that are thinner than cobweb and considerably more fragile?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I have absolutely no love for Assad

In fact, I have written about those atrocities that have been going on for a long time here and here as well as on numerous occasions about Syria's rather bloody and destabilizing involvement in Lebanon. The sooner the Assad family is out of power the better. BUT. We have a problem. Who will replace them? I am not that certain about the democratic and human rights credentials of the insurrectionists. Here is a story that should chill most people's blood.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sayers being prescient

This is a slightly odd posting for me, firstly because I rarely use this blog for writing about a book I happen to be reading (though I seem to have ranted about modern detective stories and a history of cookery books before) and, secondly, because I may seem to be trespassing on the territory so ably occupied by the Boss of EURef, the early days of World War II.

The book I am reading is David Coomes's Dorothy L. Sayers - A Careless Rage for Life. Unusually, Mr Coomes spends considerably less time on the detective stories than on Sayers's religious writings (he is the erstwhile Head of Religion at the BBC), plays and, less happily, on attempts to get at the person beneath the carapace she had built for herself. The book is outstandingly good in that it quotes Sayers herself, her less well known essays, articles and many letters extensively. Whatever one thinks of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, there is no question, that Sayers was a superb writer. Her prose sparkles, whatever the theme.

Sayers more or less stopped writing about Wimsey in 1937, putting aside around 170 pages of a planned novel, Thrones, Dominations, completed much later by another detective story writer, Jill Paton Walsh. There are many possible explanations as to why Sayers decided not to carry on with the book and the most likely one is that she really did lose interest in the Wimsey saga and gained interest in many other things, not least the theatre and playwriting in general.

However, in the autumn of 1939 the Spectator decided that it might be a good idea to revive Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey as well as a number of other characters in order that they should discuss the war and provide some well-written patriotic propaganda. A number of Letters to and fro the various people appeared through late 1939 and early 1940 after which the scheme was abandoned. Jill Paton Walsh put the published Letters to good use as a starting point to her second novel about the Wimseys, Bunter and others, A Presumption of Death. There has, since been a third novel, The Attenbury Emeralds and I do hope that there will be no more. I fear my hopes will not be realized. (I did write about the three novels on another forum for those who might be interested.)

There is one particular passage in the Letters that is surely of interest to all of us, those who are interested in Sayers as she expressed very strong convictions and those who are interested in the way this country developed during and after the war. David Coomes, who quotes it is unhappy with the sentiments and thinks Sayers shows herself to be merely tetchy because of private problems. As an ex-BBC man he, presumably, finds those sentiments deeply unpalatable.

Lord Peter, somewhere in Europe on an unspecified mission is writing to his wife, Harriet.
You are a writer - there is something you must tell the people, but it is difficult to express. You must find the words. Tell them, this is a battle of a new kind, and it is they who have to fight it, and they must do it themselves and alone. They must not continually ask for leadership - they must lead themselves. This is a war against submission to leadership, and we might easily win it in the field and yet lose it in our own country ...
It's not enough to rouse up the Government to do this and that. You must rouse the people. You must make them understand that their salvation is in themselves and in each separate man and woman among them. If it's only a local committee or amateur theatricals or the avoiding being run over in the black-out, the important thing is each man's personal responsibility. They must not look to the State for guidance - they must learn to guide the State. Somehow you must contrive to tell them this. It is the only thing that matters. 
I think we can safely say that the battle was lost in this country and not just on the left or among professed admirers of the state. The fact that so many supposed opponents of that, so many supposed eurosceptics, so many supposedly on the side of freedom can still solemnly call for a leader to take them out of the wilderness would have horrified Miss Sayers.

The message is clear

The news story might be in Norwegian but the message is clear enough. In a recent opinion poll 74.8 per cent said that they did not want to join the EU and only 17.2 per cent were in favour. Really cannot imagine why they should be so negative. Can anyone?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

More on the Bulgarian terrorist explosion

We now have a final figure of those killed: five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and one terrorist. The last one has been named by the Bulgarian media as Mehdi Ghezali, though when this went to press there was no independent confirmation. The story came from somewhere, though.
Ghezali was reportedly a Swedish citizen, with Algerian and Finnish origins. He had been held at the US’s Guantanamo Bay detainment camp on Cuba from 2002 to 2004, having previously studied at a Muslim religious school and mosque in Britain, and traveled to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Following a lobbying effort by Swedish prime minister Göran Persson, Guantanamo authorities recommended Ghezali be transferred to another country for continued detainment, and he was handed over to Swedish authorities in 2004.
The Swedish government did not press charges. He was also reportedly among 12 foreigners captured trying to cross into Afghanistan in 2009.
Covering all bases here.

More information here.
Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali was born in Stockholm in 1979. He is the son of an Algerian immigrant and a Finnish woman. He finished secondary studies in 1999 and trained as a welder.
Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali then he traveled to Portugal, supposedly to pursue a career as a Football player. Ghezali was apprehended by the Portuguese Police in Algarve, on 07/31/1999, for a suspected bank robbery and a jewelry theft. Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali and his partner were sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment, but were released early. Ghezali was released from prison on 06/12/2000, after having spent 10 months in a Portuguese prison, and returned to Sweden (his father claimed that Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali went to Algeria to serve in the Algerian Army).
Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali then traveled to Medina, Saudi Arabia, to study at the university. However, he was not accepted and returned to Sweden in 04/2001 for a brief period before travelling to London where he studied at the Madrasa of the Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad. He then travelled to Pakistan in the summer of 2001 in order to study at one of the Madrasas situated there. After failing to gain acceptance into any of the Madrasas he then travelled to Afghanistan, where he according to his own statements stayed with a family in Jalalabad.
You can also see him on the video if you scroll down. We are assuming this is the right guy.

The UN is consistent

UN Watch points out that official reaction from SecGen Ban Ki-moon to the terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria (not forgetting the Bulgarian bus driver who was killed) has not been adequate but still better than that of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has said .... nothing at all.

Two reasons why a Romney victory would be desirable

The first and most obvious one is that President Obama has been a disaster for the United States and the West in general.

The second one is that there is a strong possibility that he would have John Bolton as his Secretary of State. Let me put it this way: he actually might; Obama, sure as eggs is eggs, will not.

Why do I want Bolton in that position? Well, the State Department will hate him and that is a good sign; the tranzis will hate him and that is even better; and the UN with all its myriad of sub-organizations will have a collective apoplexy. He might even start the process of dismantling that noxious and evil organization.

For sure he has no illusions about it. Here is a hard-hitting article about the World Intellectual Property Organization.
We learned last month that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which oversees multilateral treaties involving patents, trademarks and copyrights, has been delivering computer hardware and "technical assistance" to none other than Iran and North Korea. The U.N. body's actions are in blatant disregard of Security Council sanctions on Tehran and Pyongyang, prompting House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to call last week for freezing U.S. contributions to the organization.
Read it and weep.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Not in Syria

There was a deadly explosion in Damascus, which killed President Assad's top aides. But a little nearer home, we are getting reports of a deadly explosion in Bulgaria, where a bus carrying Israeli tourists was blown up with at least three people killed and twenty injured.

UPDATE: Latest information says seven dead.

UPDATE: Seven dead and thirty-two injured.

Did you know ....

.... that today is the anniversary of the Ballot Act? Royal Assent received on July 18, 1872. From then on elections were conducted by secret ballot, until recently when the concept began to be undermined through the indiscriminate use of postal ballot. (Mind you, I am not overimpressed by the poor punctuation in the notes, given that this is the official parliamentary site.)

Good question

Though, I must admit, the answer is perfunctory.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (a favourite personality on this blog) asked HMG
whether the policy advocated by the Prime Minister in his speech on 25 June that recipients of welfare benefits should be described as claimants and not customers will be applied to the National Health Service and HM Revenue and Customs, and users described as patients and taxpayers respectively.
Words matter, you see.

One despairs

In fact, many of us despair.

I was in two minds whether to write about UKIP's or, to be quite precise, its leader's recent silliness but the Boss did, in a manner that is quite mild for him. That porcine heart valve is having a strange effect.

Really and truly, what is the point of challenging the Boy-King who is the Prime Minister of this country (or EU member state, if we are being accurate) to a duel debate on any subject? It's a nice photo opportunity but so what? Nigel Farage is the leader of a party that, after twenty years of existence and in the middle of an existential political crisis, cannot come within spitting distance of getting MPs. Why would the Prime Minister debate with him?

On top of that Farage goes off to Sedgeley and tells the audience that he and UKIP (or so he says, but I expect a few resignations in the wake of this statement) are ready to form a coalition with the Tories after the next election (as a result of which there will not be any UKIP MPs if the party carries on in this way) if that means a free and fair IN/OUT referendum. You know which referendum - the one we are going to lose because money and energy goes towards campaigning for it instead of making the case for leaving and working out what is to be done afterwards.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Worth a re-read ...

... even though I say so myself. A friend on another thread reminded me of Captain Euro. Ah the memories. So I went back to my two postings on the subject, first in 2007 on my erstwhile blogging home, EUReferendum, then on this blog in 2010. I have just re-read them and found that they are still relevant. Holy Smoke!

Coming up again

The subject of prisoners' voting rights is about to come up again. Readers of this blog will recall that this was voted out by the House of Commons some time ago. Now the European Court of Human Rights is about to hear a fresh legal challenge on the subject, mounted by George McGeoch, 40, who is serving a life sentence for murder. (I should have thought the solution is obvious: give the man his voting rights as long as his victim can have them as well.)

Officials in Strasbourg are frustrated by the UK letting the issue fester. Nils Muižnieks, the new human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, told the Guardian: "A blanket and indiscriminate ban is not in line with the European convention on human rights. The UK government seems to have painted itself into a corner through the last few years.

"The ruling does not require states to give all prisoners voting rights but [depriving prisoners of the vote] has to be linked to the nature of their crime."

Britain has repeatedly argued for what is called a '"margin of appreciation", allowing states some leeway in interpreting ECHR judgments. "Now they have it and the deadline to make the changes ends in November," Muiznieks said. "If they don't it will weaken the whole system and set a very bad example for other states.

"In general the UK has been a good citizen within the human rights system. It would be a huge shame and weaken the UK's influence if they delayed [the decision]."
Goodness me, one wouldn't want that, would one. I mean where would we be if the UK's influence were weakened in the Council of Europe or, for that matter in any tranzi organization?

Why does this surprise anyone?

News comes from UN watch that Syria is about to get a place on the UN Human Rights Council. I can imagine my readers yawning. As news it comes somewhere between dog bites man and supermodel or sports "personality" takes drugs. (Here are some of the postings on this blog on the subject of the UN and human rights.)

The surprising aspect of it all is the number of people who are shocked or surprised or seem to find this unexpected. That is a truly strange attitude as it implies that there is a possibility for the UN and its many, many branches to be a force for the good but just this once or twice they have gone astray and need to be pulled back or else they will become a sick joke. That is no different from people who think that the EU is really what we would like it to be but it has not turned out to be that but can do if we try hard enough.

The truth is that the EU is exactly what it is meant to be and the fact that its internal contradictions (ha, I can spout Marxist jargon with the best of them) will probably tear it apart is part of what it is set out to be. The same applies to the UN though there, I suspect, some force is needed for its abolition. It is far too well entrenched with far too many vested interests of the unaccountable variety. But first, we must understand that  stories of this kind is the norm for the UN not the aberration.

Monday, July 16, 2012

She was one of the greatest

Celsete Holm, one of the greatest stars, the original Ado Annie on Broadway and has died at the age of 95. Mostly she was a Broadway star but she made some great films. Well, her parts in them were great. Gentleman's Agreement, All About Eve, A Letter to Three Wives in which you do not see her but hear her voice, to name just a few and who can possibly forget her as Liz Imbrie in High Society. Retirement was not for her and there are two films in which she appeared despite mounting health problems that will come out posthumously. Way to go.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Something to make you smile

The story of Wojtek the bear.

No, they didn't have to learn much

A friend and regular reader of this blog (one of the few not the many) sent me this link with a comment: "How quickly they learn.". The story is that
Brussels-based news agency Euractiv has found that Poland is claiming €33 million of EU carbon allowances for a coal plant in Leczna, near the Ukrainian border, which does not exist. Polish authorities say the plant is being built. But there is zero sign of work at the greenfield site.
Well, no, they didn't have to learn. Back in the days I was still arguing against East European countries coming into the EU I also said that, given their history in the second half of the twentieth century these countries are not going to be fazed by the corruption of the EU. Au contraire: they will take to it like duck to water.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sounding a retreat

The government has temporarily at least retreated on the House of Lords destruction reform as even Tory MPs managed to rebel. I shall blog about it properly tomorrow when I have had a chance to look at Hansard and seen the list of rebels.

Meanwhile, the Guardian confirms the whispers that have been going round that the Boy-King personally rounded on Jesse Wood Norman, the leader of the rebels who has conducted a very effective unofficial whipping-in operation. I hear tell that Cameron accused Norman of behaving dishonourably. As some people have been saying, the Boy-King must be living in a parallel moral universe. But then we have always known that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sensible but does not go far enough

The Swiss People's Party, which has acquired the sobriquet "far-right" though even Wikipedia describes it as "national conservative and right-wing populist" (pretty bad, really, unlike left-wing populist) takes a eurosceptic and anti-immigration line.

The party has also come up with the strong suggestion that Switzerland gives far too much in foreign aid.
The president of the Swiss People’s Party, Toni Brunner, expressed regret at the government's decision to increase development aid in an interview with newspaper SonntagsBlick.
The National Council has already approved a budget from 2013 to 2016 of 11.35 billion francs ($11.62 billion). This means that by 2015, 0.5 percent of Switzerland’s GDP would be spent on aid.
Brunner would prefer to set a constitutional percentage limit on the amount of aid set aside by Switzerland, as well as a sum that should not be exceeded. The party has not yet proposed any exact figures.
Given that foreign aid does little to help the people of developing countries but a great deal to help the bloodthirsty kleptocrats who are in power in those countries as well as subsidize armaments, nuclear weapons and attempts at space exploration, I should like to see a political party demand complete cessation of this evil practice.

More on Gareth Jones

I understand the BBC programme was very interesting and informative. Sadly, I managed to miss the talk at the Frontline Club as well, having already acquired tickets for the National Film Theatre (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, since you ask). A friend sent me a link to a blog, run by the National Library of Wales, which had a posting about Garet Jones as, apparently, his papers are now in a specially collected archive in the library.

That is very good news. The posting itself is not such good news, being rather flatly written and avoiding any really serious comment that might be interpreted as being ... shock, horror ... anti-Soviet.

Apart from referring to the Soviet Union as Russia, we get gems like "and visited Russia, writing a series of articles exposing conditions in the famine wracked Ukraine" and "harrowing descriptions of conditions in the Ukraine in the early 1930’s when millions starved as a result of the Holodomor". Just happened, eh? What was Holodomor, anyway? Why can't J Graham Jones, the author be a little more forthcoming? If Gareth Jones had been this mealy-mouthed, he would have lived a long and peaceful life.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A parallel universe

Just recently I complained on another forum that eurosceptic pronouncements (by the self-styled hard core members of that group) show that they live in a parallel universe. What is the point of starting from a point of view that is right (membership and, indeed, the existence of the EU is economically, politically and socially a bad thing) and then proceed in a direction that can only be described as demented in its refusal to acknowledge reality.

The Boss on EURef agrees with me and goes further: a number of hard-core eurosceptics, he thinks, are determined to fail. Why that might be so one can argue with many a reference to displacement activity and other such terms; at times as with the various campaigns for an IN/OUT referendum we might consider that they are being manipulated to somebody else's advantage.

Anyway, the Boss attacks them all, laying about him in his usual inimitable fashion. Read it if you have not done so yet.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Still under the influence

Earlier this evening I went to the launch of a book about a great but hardly known Russian art critic, Nikolay Punin at the Pushkin House (where I, too, shall be giving a talk next week but that's another story) and organized by the UK Friends of the Hermitage.

The author, Natalia Murray, who lectures on twentieth century Russian art at the Courtauld, called her book The Unsung Hero of the Avant-Garde, which gives a slightly one-sided view of Punin's life and work. He started off as a member of the Avant-Garde and a Futurist, an art Commissar, in fact, who, while fighting for the Hermitage during the Civil War, also proclaimed loudly the need for proletarian art, for the old to be swept away, for a new art in a new state.

Over the subsequent decades he moved over a little and got into serious trouble with the authorities for his insistence that Western art was of great value and modern Western art needed to be seen and studied, not hidden away and lambasted as something decadent. There was and is a superb collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century art in Russia, put together by the collectors and businessmen Mamontov and Schchukin but expropriated by the Bolsheviks. There are also wonderful examples of early twentieth century Russian art, which was truly avant-garde, in the forefront of many developments but was suppressed (with artists exiled, silenced, imprisoned and murdered). Punin is also credited with saving much of the "decadent" art that was very nearly destroyed.

His reward: three arrests one in 1921 together with the poet Nikolay Gumilyov who was executed, one in 1935 when he was released after pleas by Anna Akhmatova (whose son had also been arrested) and Boris Pasternak and the final one in 1949 and a miserable and tormented death in the harsh labour camp in Vorkuta in August 1953. His name was written out of Russian art history, to be revived only partially and reluctantly very recently when his diaries were published in Russian and English by the University of Texas that has acquired some of them.

Dr Murray's biography is the first one in any language. (The picture is on the cover of the book and is a portrait of Punin by Kazimir Malevich.)

During the discussion it came out that despite the inherent importance of the theme, despite Dr Murray's study of Punin's personal archive that is mostly in the keeping of his grand-daughter, there was a reluctance on the part of the publishers to take the project on. Eventually, it was published by a Dutch company, Brill, who also has an extensive English list.

The reason for interest being so low, it seems, is that after the Soviet authorities had written him out of the story, nobody in the West knew or cared about him either. When it comes to our knowledge of Russian history and culture we, in the West, are, to our shame, still under the influence of Soviet decisions.

After all, as I wrote about an exhibition of Russian and French art in Russia back in 2008, the curators at the Royal Academy, largely ignored Nikolay Punin's role in saving many of those paintings and his fate as one of Stalin's victims.

A safe pair of hands

The BBC has appointed the safest pair of hands as its new Director General. George Entwistle, whose name we shall be hearing rather a lot, is a former editor of Newsnight and is, in every way, a BBC insider.
As Director of Vision, Mr Entwistle was in charge of all BBC TV channels. Insiders say he has strong credentials as the de facto “editor-in-chief”, with a current affairs background at Newsnight, Panorama and On The Record. But he was criticised last month for overseeing botched coverage of the Diamond Jubilee river pageant.
The BBC was ridiculed in Parliament for “dumbing down”, after presenter Fearne Cotton showed viewers a sick-bag emblazoned with the Queen’s face.
Mr Entwistle was also deputy editor of Tomorrow’s World and The Culture Show. The 49-year-old father-of-two studied at Durham University, before starting out as a sub-editor at magazine firm Haymarket.
He moved to the BBC in 1989 as a broadcast journalism trainee and becoming assistant producer on Panorama within a year.
What could possibly go wrong? Maybe I should ask it another way: how could it possibly go right?

Will the new Director General pay any attention to the constant stream of criticism that is directed at the BBC that rose to a crescendo after the Jubilee river pageant coverage? Will he read the excellent report by Brian Dennis Sewell, recently published by the New Culture Forum that shows with a good deal of evidence that the BBC shows institutional bias in a great deal more than just the news coverage? Somehow I doubt it.

This is, of course, excellent news. For some time now I have been arguing that like the EU, the UN, the whole system of quangos and many other institutions of that kind, the BBC is beyond reform and this appointment proves that it is, indeed, so.

Fourth of July

And on a lighter note:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Watch this if you can

If you can get BBC4 try to watch this documentary on Thursday evening about the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who was one of the very few Western journalists to write the truth about Stalin's collectivization and the deliberately engineered famine that accompanied it. For that, he was vilified by Walter Duranty, had his reputation destroyed and was banned from the Soviet Union. He went to the Far East and was murdered by bandits in Mongolia under very odd circumstances.

I am a little puzzled by the implication in the blurb that he may have been a spy (whose, exactly) and would like to find out what the BBC says about him though I cannot watch it myself (not having a TV set).

As a matter of fact, there has been a "rehabilitation" of Gareth Jones going on for some time. There is a site that is devoted to his life and work, which discusses the strange death of the genuine investigative journalist and quotes the stories he sent back from Ukraine. Even Wikipedia gives a reasonable account of his life. However, all contribution to the telling of truth is welcome.

Iceland's President opposes EU membership

Well, well, well. Iceland has re-elected Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to the presidency on around 53 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Þóra Arnórsdóttir, who got 33 per cent. A remarkable result, considering this is Mr Grímsson's fifth term. There is, we are told, a good reason for it.
One of the biggest issues debated in the election campaign was whether Iceland should join the European Union or not. Grímsson confirmed early in the campaign that he was absolutely opposed to EU membership while Arnórsdóttir refused to make her opinion on the matter public. She nevertheless said that joining the EU under the current circumstances was like renting a room in a burning building.
Political analysts in Iceland have generally agreed that Grímsson's opposition to EU membership did much to secure his victory while at the same time claims that Arnórsdóttir favoured joining the bloc did not help her campaign. It was e.g. pointed out that she had been active in the European Movement Iceland in the 90s.
What is so odd is that there are still people who consider it a good idea for Iceland to get on this sinking boat.