Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: The Norths face poisoners and the cases are screwy

 The Norths are screwy. Everyone knows this though they are not aware of that. Their friend, Lieutenant (sometimes acting Captain) Bill Weigand knows they are screwy. Sergeant Mullins not only knows but says so. Frequently. And Bill always replies with one word: "Right". Dorian Weigand, the artist, knows they are screwy. She knows that going away with Pamela on one of her wild goose chases is likely to be dangerous but she always goes. Once she takes an automatic with her. Her husband, Bill, had insisted she acquired a small automatic and took it with her whenever she went off with Pam North on one of those wild goose chases, just in case they end up in trouble. Deep trouble. They do end up in trouble. Deep trouble. The automatic is taken away from Dorian by a man who has already killed two people and who turns out to be a spy as well.

Inspector Artemus O'Malley knows they are screwy and every case they are involved in will turn into a screwy one even if it does not start out that way. The Inspector (Artie) does not want the Norths in any case. He likes quick, easy solutions. Somehow, he never gets them and the Norths are always in Bill Weigand's cases. You'd think Lower West or (sometimes) Lower East in Manhattan would have crimes that did not affect the Norths in any way but they do not. The Norths are always there and if they are there they will get involved.

Take these three poisoning stories, one, Murder Within Murder, immediately after the war, one, Murder Comes First, in 1951, during the atomic espionage crises, and one, Death of an Angel, in 1956, with life back to normal. Whatever normal might be.

In the first one, the victim, Miss Gipson, has been employed as a researcher by Jerry North's firm, North Books Inc. Miss Gipson is poisoned by sodium fluoride, which has been substituted in one of the capsules of her normal digestive powders. The description of Miss Gipson's last meal in a tea shop explains the need for those digestive powders. Naturally, Bill Weigand has to call Jerry and Jerry has to go along to identify Miss Gipson and Pam goes with him. Then she has ideas. Naturally.

In the second one the poison is cyanide and it has been put into one of Grace Logan's vitamin capsules, thus turning it from "concentrated health" into concentrated death. Pam North's aunts happen to be present and one of them is a possible suspect. Naturally, they rush to the scene and become heavily involved in trying to rescue Aunt Thelma though later on it is Aunt Lucinda who needs rescuing. Well, Pam becomes heavily involved and drags Dorian Weigand with her.

In the third one their involvement is a little less direct. On Thursday there is a party to celebrate a significant milestone in the run of the play written by one of Jerry North's authors. At Bradley Fitch's spectacular apartment. On Friday, Fitch has another party, a stag party, because in the meantime he has become engaged to the star of the play. On Saturday morning Brad Fitch has a monumental hangover. He is given a monumental hangover cure in a glass together with oxalic acid in it. Not only had the Norths seen him at the first party and knew many of the suspects, one of their cocktail napkins is found in the room Fitch died. Naturally, Bill Weigand has to talk to them and they become involved. Naturally.

Jerry North is less screwy than Pam. After all, he runs a successful publishing business. Judging by the amount of money they must spend on eating and drinking in very expensive restaurants and bars, on taxis and on Pam's outfits, the publishing firm must be very successful, indeed.

Pam North is very screwy. Everybody thinks so. At first people find her way of talking - short sentences with no apparent connection between them and ideas leaping like a salmon - quite hard. Then they get used to it and seem to like it. Except Inspector O'Malley. He never gets used to it. He never learns to like it. Or them.

Pam's whole family is like that. They all leap from subject to subject and make connections that nobody else can see. Her nieces are like that but need to practise a bit. Her aunts are so good at it that they flummox even Pam. Sometimes those leaps go towards solving the murder. Sometimes they just go off into the distance. In Death of an Angel she gets it completely wrong. In Murder Comes First she works it out correctly and the reader is even given the clue that sets her on the right path.In Murder Within Murder she gets it generally right, as she says, and goes to the right family. Otherwise she is wrong.

Often she rushes off to confront a murderer, sometimes not realizing that it is the murderer she is confronting. Then she has to be rescued by Bill Weigand and Jerry North. She promises not to do anything stupid again. Right, they all say. They know that Pam will do it again and there will be many more screwy Mr and Mrs North adventures.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

All our Prime Ministers are unelected

Some good news to start with: Larry the Cat, who is not the Camerons' cat but a civil servant tasked to get rid of mice and rats (the four-legged ones) in Number 10, is staying on to take his rightful position under the new Prime Minister. I had always assumed that the Camerons were more of a dog family but kept a cat because of the difficulties of canine life in Downing Street. Not a bit of it. Larry is part of the government machine as is Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat. Sadly, being a civil servant not a politician, he cannot become the Prime Minister. Not yet, anyway.

The other piece of good news is that not writing about the supposed fight over children between May and Leadsom over the week-end meant that I do not have to write about it at all. By  Monday morning it was all over and Andrea Leadsom had pulled out of the contest. Did she jump or was she pushed? We do not know for certain but can make our own assumptions.

What we do know is that she was comprehensively stitched up by the media and, specifically, by the paper of record, the Times. All the stories that had been spread about her turned out to be untrue and Rachel Sylvester admitted that she had introduced the issue of Leadsom having children and May not into the conversation. The little we know from the tape (most of it is still in the secret archives of the paper of record) confirms that. Leadsom was probably naive not to insist on seeing that article before it was published and one could argue that alone shows that she is not ready for Number 10. But do we really want a situation in which less than honourable hacks decide who can and who cannot become party leader and Prime Minister? I find that appalling as I find it appalling how many people continue to believe and repeat the headlines even though doubts about the veracity of the story emerged very early.

Another curious aspect of the whole brouhaha has been outlined by Ross Clark in the Spectator: A traditional family life is now a handicap. Angela Eagle can explain that being gay, working class and a northern lass gives her some kind of a special insight into the country's mentality; Theresa May can (slightly more justifiably) excite people's sympathy because apparently she could not have children; but try talking about your children and implying that perhaps bringing them up does give you some qualifications and empathy with a very large proportion of the population and you are dead in the political arena.
How outrageous that Jeremy Corbyn’s challenger should bring her class, her geographical birthplace and her sexuality into the leadership debate, suggesting that they would make her a more suitable leader than Corbyn. Or maybe it isn’t outrageous that someone should draw on their personal experiences while campaigning for office. I certainly haven’t come across anyone else making the point I have just made, and neither did I hear anyone protesting when Stephen Crabb talked about his council house upbringing while launching his leadership bid, nor when Sadiq Khan went on ad nauseam during the London mayoral election about his father being a bus driver.

In which case why was it such a scandal when Andrea Leadsom suggested that being a mother gave her valuable experience for being Prime Minister? If being northern and working class makes you better able to understand a section of the population then surely being a parent helps you understand the demands on millions of other parents. Moreover, having to juggle the needs of work and childcare and still follow a successful career surely shows the world that you have valuable skills in time-management.
And we accept all this manipulation. Truly we get the media and the politicians we deserve.

Having got all that out of the way, let me turn to the inevitable cries that have already started: Theresa May is an unelected Prime Minister. We had them when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. He, too, was unelected. Well, of course, they are. All our Prime Ministers are unelected. We do not have a presidential system and we do not vote for Prime Ministers. We vote for MPs and through them for parties in the sense that the party with the largest number of MPs forms the government, choosing the leader according to their own rules.

Ah yes, I am told, but Theresa May (or Gordon Brown) did not lead their parties in an election. True.
A surprising number of Prime Ministers did not do so, when they were appointed to their jobs. Usually I start with 1940 when Churchill became an unelected Prime Minister but, for once, I shall go a little further back.

So here is a list of appointed Prime Ministers from 1916:

1916: Lloyd George becomes PM without an election when Asquith falls
1922:  Andrew Bonar Law became PM after the 1922 Committee revolt against the Coalition but called an election almost immediately
1923: With Bonar Law resigning because of his terminal cancer Stanley Baldwin is appointed PM. He, too, called an election soon after his appointment, which was inconclusive and led to a vote of no confidence, which, in turn, led to
1924: Ramsay Macdonald being appointed to be PM
Baldwin's second term came after he had led the Conservative Party to a huge victory but
1935: Baldwin was appointed Prime Minister of the Coalition government as Ramsay Macdonald's health was failing; he then won an election but
1937: Baldwin resigned and Chamberlain was appointed PM.

Before anyone starts making stupid comments about Neville Chamberlain let me say it quite forcefully that had there been an election in 1940 as intended, the Conservatives under him would have been returned triumphantly.

And so we come to 1940, from which the situation is a good deal more clear-cut with no real problems with the few coalitions we had.

1940: Churchill appointed PM and, obviously, could not call an election. In any case he leads a war-time coalition that is not dissolved till spring 1945 when Attlee demands an election, not something WSC was keen on. Labour landslide. Churchill loses one more election in 1950 and Conservatives are returned in 1951 though only just and without a popular mandate, which does not matter under our system.
1955: Churchill finally retires and Anthony Eden is appointed PM. He called an immediate General Election and increased the Conservative majority considerably. Well, we all know the sad story of Eden's premiership.
1957: Harold Macmillan is appointed PM. Did not call an election till 1959 which he won.
1963: Sir Alec Douglas Home is appointed PM after Supermac's resignation. Calls election in 1964 and loses though only just by five seats.
1976: James Callaghan is appointed PM after Harold Wilson completely unexpected resignation. Calls election in 1979 and loses.
1990: John Major is appointed PM after the drama of challenge to Thatcher and her resignation. Calls election in 1992 and wins.
2007: Gordon Brown appointed PM after Tony Blair's rather protracted resignation saga. Calls election in 2010 and loses.
2016: Theresa May appointed PM after David Cameron gambles on the EU referendum and loses, resigning immediately. No need to call an election especially as we now have fixed term Parliaments.

For the sake of brevity I have written of PMs losing or winning elections. Of course, it was the party they led that did so. Let me reiterate my two points:

1. None of our Prime Ministers are elected and
2.  Quite a few of our Prime Ministers even under the modern party system were appointed as their predecessors resigned. Some called an election immediately, some delayed; some then led their parties to victory, some did not.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Books I have been reading: Luke Harding - A Very Expensive Poison

Probably I ought to be writing about the extraordinary fracas created by the Times and its hackette, Rachel Sylvester, around the Conservative Party leadership race and I shall do so tomorrow, by which time perhaps the newspaper will produce the full tapes of the interview with Andrea Leadsom, settling to some extent the row. As things stand the newspaper cannot be seen to have behaved honestly or honourably but that does not surprise those of us who have viewed the Times for some time as nothing better than a rag with delusions of grandeur.

Until then, let us turn to other, equally important matters. I have already written about the launch of Luke Harding's book about the Litvinenko affair, A Very Expensive Poison but since then I have also read the book and it is, in my opinion, of great importance and interest. It describes the crime in detail, the various events surrounding it, in Britain, Russia and Ukraine and also the Inquiry and Sir Robert Owen's astonishing report. The book is undoubtedly a page-turner. How could it be otherwise, given its subject, but not everyone could have done as much justice to it as Luke Harding.

At times the language gets a little too journalistic and too Guardian-like. For instance one cannot help wondering what Mr Harding's experience of judges might have been if he thinks that a retired one like Sir Robert Owen being fair and open-minded as well as dryly witty somehow makes him "cool". Actually, it makes him normal as judges go. At other times I thought that the author (who is, in fact, a good friend) had spent a little too much time with Russians and in the process lost a good many definite and indefinite articles. But these are really minor cavils and make one smile while reading a story that is sad, depressing but also, at times, uproariously funny. The account of those two hapless assassins, Andrei Lugovoi, now important politician and recipient of a state honour for services to the fatherland, second class (would he have received first class if he had not been quite so inept?) and Dmitry Kovtun, of whose subsequent career far less is known, wandering round London, trying to find an opportunity to feed Polonium 210 to their victim, failing, flushing it down the toilet and then coming back to try again is richly and blackly comic. As Luke Harding says, Russia does produce the best news stories.

There are many things the reader can find out: Alexander Litvinenko's attempts to introduce some kind of honesty into the FSB, President Putin's enmity towards him precisely because of that, his relationship with Boris Berezovsky (also dead in mysterious circumstances); Putin's probably links (well, almost certain) to criminal gangs, the FSB's absolutely certain links to those gangs; the careers (if one can call it that) of the two assassins and, most interestingly, the various meeting places for agents, both British and Russian. There are hilariously funny descriptions of Lugovoy's and Kovtun's various visits to London and their hopeless attempts to pass as ordinary businessmen (a police constable at Heathrow picked them out on sight as suspicious individuals) and their equally hilarious attempts to find some entertainment. There is a wonderful description of a particular dodgy nightclub in St James's, called Hey Jo's, visited by the two Russians during one of their unsuccessful trips to London. Low levels of radiation were found in various places but not on the floor or the large phallus at the entrance.

Hey Jo's was linked to a restaurant called Abracadabra, which served Russian food in the most outrageously and hideously glitzy surroundings. Neither place exists any longer since the owner, former Essex fruit and veg stall owner, Dave West, was knifed by his son some time last year. The son is serving a sentence of 16 years for manslaughter.

The book places the grim tale in an international background. There are excellent, pithy accounts of the growth of the Russian mafia state, the invasion of Ukraine, the shooting down of MH17 and of the murder of Boris Nemtsov. In fact, everything you ever wanted to know about Putin's Russia but were too frightened to ask is here.

All of that is fascinating but the best part remains the account, suitably tense as if this were a thriller, of Sir Robert Owen's inquiry, the evidence that came out during it and, finally, the report, which firmly accused Lugovoi and Kovtun and equally firmly pointed an accusing finger at President Putin, a man described by people as a gangster masquerading as a statesman.

So far so good. But what is the British government going to do about it, given that we have never managed to produce a Magnitsky List? Well, not a lot. Home Secretary and Prime Ministerial hopeful Theresa May, who had stood firm against any kind of inquiry until the shooting down of MH17, something that even she could not ignore, has also made it clear that nothing much was going to be done. We were not even going to issue a Litvinenko List as that might upset some highly placed Russians, specifically the President. One cannot see her changing her mind if she becomes Prime Minister.

So, knowing that a British citizen was murdered on British soil by foreign agents on the orders of a foreign leader, we can rest assured that .... we shall keep quiet about that and about other suspicious deaths. Not quite, of course. Marina Litvinenko has not kept quiet and has finally achieved that inquiry and the report she wanted to read; Scotland Yard may have kept quiet but behind that quietness worked hard to collect evidence and witnesses; Sir Robert Owen did not keep quiet but produced a bombshell of a report that was carefully argued on the basis of evidence; above all, Luke Harding has not kept quiet and for that we must be very grateful. This book should be read by anyone who attempts to make statements about Russia.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Poison through the skin

'Tis the month of July, named after Julius Caesar as it was the month of his birth (but not of his death as we all know very well). Despite that we are not dealing with stabbings or conspiracies but with poisonings of various kind. As ever Bev Hankins will be collecting the links and, I believe, she created this logo, basing it on an unduly racy cover for a Mr and Mrs North book. I have read several of the Lockridge novels about the Norths but do not recall anything quite like this in any of the plots. But it is a great cover.

So, poisons and poisonings. Obviously, the queen of those as of so many other things is Agatha Christie who probably killed more people by more kinds of poison than anybody else. In Bloody Murder Julian Symons suggested that there may have been something odd about Dame Agatha's mentality as she could write quite such a lot about so many different kinds of poison. As so often, I disagree with the great Mr Symons.

Christie worked in a hospital dispensary in both World Wars and, consequently, knew a fair amount about drugs and their poisonous quality. She also wrote, mostly, domestic crime stories and poison is, on the whole, easier to obtain and to use in those circumstances. Why, one wonders, did Mr Symons not think that there might be something wrong with P. D. James's mentality, though in two novels a murder was committed by the killer grabbing the victim from behind and cutting the victim's throat.

Poison can and is administered through food and drink, through injections, through nasal or perfume sprays (in one of Ngaio Marsh's novels) and through the skin, which is a particularly nasty and unusual way of disposing of someone. Christie mentions the possibility of slow-acting poison in A Caribbean Mystery. Mr Rafiel's nurse and masseur is seen investigating Molly Kendall's face cream after which he talks vaguely about the possibility of affecting people mind, memory and imagination through poisoned unguents. Some of the witches really did believe they flew through the air and consorted with Beelzebub, he explains, as a result of rubbing belladonna into their skin.

In fact, the attempts on Molly's life are far more straightforward but the tricks played on her mind, probably through those creams are part of the plot.

In Cards on the Table a past murder is mentioned through the medium of a poisoned shaving brush, which, one must assume, could pass the poison into the skin.

The only novel by Christie in which someone is killed through a poisoned body unguent is Death Comes as the End, her mystery set in ancient Egypt. (In parenthesis, it might be noted that this ws one of the first examples of history detective stories, so popular nowadays.) Esa, mother of Imhotep, a wise old woman who realizes that the various deaths should be attributed to human rather than ghostly agency is careful with her food and drink but forgets that creams and unguents can be poisoned as well.

Then there is Edmund Crispin's Swan Song, the first novel that takes place after the war, which centres on the first performance of Die Meistersingers since before the war. There are two murders, one being an impossible one, and two attempted ones with a highly complicated solution that involves Fen using a skeleton to prove his point.

The interesting thing is that one of the murders where the victim is not the intended one, is carried out through the medium of theatrical removal cream, saturated with arsenic. The intended victim would have gone to a doctor thus preventing his own death but the unfortunate and accidental real victim does not want to do so for reasons of his own. So he dies in some pain but, really, it does not matter as he would probably have been hanged otherwise.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dear Remainers,

I shall not ask  you to stop whining because it is clearly impossible. As before, I am not talking about the majority of those who voted Remain but the very vocal minority. Let me just deal with two points  in this open letter, which I hope will be my last posting on the hysteria of the losers.

First, the Celtic fringe, about which an e-mail came my way from Anthony Coughlan, the leader for many years of the eurosceptic movement in Ireland. (Oh yes, there is one and it is not powerless. But Ireland is a small country and was twice bullied into second referendums after voting the "wrong" way.) Anthony is a good friend of many years' standing but even if he were not I would point out that he can hardly be described as a know-nothing troglodyte by anyone who looks at his career.

This is what he wrote among other matters:
An important point to note is that it is the ‘Leave’ vote in Scotland and Northern Ireland that is going to bring the UK as a whole out of the EU. This is because the combined ‘Leave’ vote in these two regions – namely 1,367,764 – is greater than the majority for ‘Brexit’ in the UK as a whole, which was 1,269,501, by 98,263 votes. So democrats in the UK as a whole should be grateful to the ‘Celtic Fringe’ for voting them out of the EU!
Let me add that in London 1,513,232 votes were cast to Leave, which was also not inconsiderable, on a 69.8% turn-out.

A more important point is the one about level or not level playing field. We hear a great deal of whining about the playing field not being level because some of the information given out by the Leave campaign was misleading. Not half as misleading as information given out as part of Project Fear by the BSE campaign but let us not worry about that for the moment. Let us look at two moments: the propaganda leaflet sent out by the government on the Remain side to every household, which was full of very misleading information and the Treasury report that was easily torn apart by a number of highly regarded economists.

Apart from what was in these documents, let us consider where they originated: the government and the Treasury, neither of whom should have been taking part in the campaign as they are not allowed to take part in elections and both using large amounts of taxpayers' money beyond what was allocated to the BSE organization. Indeed, yes, there was no level playing field but not quite in the way you mean, dear Remainers.

Monday, July 4, 2016

July 4, 1776

Without comment:

52 per cent is more than 48 per cent - get used to it

We Brexiteers or, as we used to be known, Eurosceptics are, according to a good many Remainers are stupid, ignorant and have a very low IQ. In fact, we are all bears of very little brain. Somehow we all seem to have grasped one elementary fact that not all Remainers have and that is that 52 per cent is more than 48 per cent. Or, in other words, if 52 per cent voted on the Leave side, that side won and that is the policy that will have to be put into effect.

This was certainly not understood by the marchers in London on Saturday who were shouting we are the 48% and other suchlike interesting facts. Yes, you are, and that makes you the minority in a referendum of fairly high turn-out. It's not quite clear whether the march really did have tens of thousands as the original story was just thousands but it seemed to improve with the telling of it.
“Un-Fuck My Future”, “No Brex Please, We’re British”, they read. Pictures of Whitney Houston with “I Will Always Love EU”, “Europe Innit” and “I wanna be deep inside EU”. “All EU Need Is Love”, “Fromage not Farage”, “Eton Mess” and, more seriously, “Science Needs EU”. “Hell no, we won’t go!” they shouted, rounding Piccadilly Circus.

At the end of the march, in Parliament Square, protesters listened to speakers including Bob Geldof and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker as well as politicians such as the Labour MP David Lammy, and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Geldof urged Remain campaigners to take to the streets, speak to their neighbours and work to stop the UK’s exit from the EU. “Let’s get real,” he said. “Going online and tweeting your indignation is only venting into the ether. It achieves nothing. Come out. Take action among your friends, work colleagues and in your neighbourhoods. We need to individually organise ourselves. Organise those around us and do everything possible within our individual power to stop this country being totally destroyed.” .

Cocker, in a recorded a video message for the rally, held up a world map saying: “You cannot deny geography. The UK is in Europe.”

The co-organiser Mark Thomas said the march was to address the “anger, frustration and need to do something”. “We would accept the result of the referendum if it was fought on a level playing field. But it was full of misinformation and people need to do something with their frustration.”
The list of speakers and their comments tells you all you need to know about this bunch of sore losers. Jarvis Cocker? Bob Geldof? These are the political geniuses of the movement? Do they even understand what they are saying, what they are advocating? Going on the streets to stop the democratic process is something Europe has seen before and it was not a healthy time. And, yes, as a matter of fact, I would say the same if, as expected, the Remain side had won. I expect the other side would not have been all that interested about the misinformation given out by both campaigns or about the percentage if that had happened.

A fine mess we would be in if elections were annulled because politicians, winning or losing, had misinformed he electorate. We would do nothing but have elections, elections, elections.

Take Hizonner the Mayor, for instance, who has done little except make meaningless statements about matters outside his control (no, Mr Mayor, you cannot detach London from the UK) and participate in selfies like a demented teenagers. His campaign was run mostly on the unarguable facts that his father had been a bus driver and he had grown up on a council estate. Unarguable but, I should have thought, irrelevant. Occasionally he made statements about making London a world city and a hub for just about everything as well as a centre for tolerance blah-blah-blah. London already is most of those things and is not going to change because Hizonner the Mayor. The one definite promise he made was to freeze TfL fares. Within a couple of weeks of his election he admitted that he could not do that fully and tried to weasel out by specious arguments. A good many people were annoyed. But did this invalidate his election? Well, speaking as someone who would never, in a million years, vote for that numpty I have to point out that no, it did not. Nobody even suggested it.

Social networks are full of people who have been posting links of varying importance to prove that the Brexit vote was wrong and should be annulled. In fact, it ought not to have happened because, obviously people who voted Leave are all stupid, ignorant etc etc. See above.

In a way, it is understandable why so many Remainers are demanding the annulment of a perfectly valid referendum vote, which had been called because of a promise in the Conservative manifesto that helped them to win the election. This does not apply to the majority of Remain voters but those who are getting hysterical now are clearly supporters of the anti-democratic nature of that organization. It is hardly surprising that their attitude should be anti-democratic as well.

Some opinion poll now tells us that 7 per cent of those who voted Leave would now vote Remain and 3 per cent of those who voted Remain would now vote Leave. I have no doubt the same opinion poll had predicted a Remain victory and a Coalition as the likely outcome of last year's General Election.

The young people are particularly upset, apparently, because 70 per cent of them voted Remain and now they do not know what to do except that Germany might offer them special EU passports so they can go on working across the EU. Since we do not as yet know what kind of arrangements will be made about labour rights this seems rather premature. Even sillier is the comment made by German vice chancellor and economy minister Sigmar Gabriel:
It’s a good sign that the youth of Great Britain are more clever than their bizarre political elite.
As it happens, most of the political elite were on the Remain side. As to the young voting on that side, that, too, is questionable. There has been a great deal of debate about turn-out according to age but even the estimates most anxious to prove that the "young" did turn out in large numbers to vote Remain have had to admit that the number of those voting tended to be considerably lower than average in areas where the population age is lower. That makes the famous 70 per cent who voted to remain a somewhat misleading figure.

In an earlier post I expressed the view that our side missed a great opportunity by not concentrating on the fact that the young are or should be looking out beyond the EU to the rest of the world. I still think that but I am also rather amused by the closed-minded lack of imagination of those young who are weeping about their "future having been taken away from them by the old" because there is, apparently, nothing beyond the EU. Are these really the people we ought to be listening to?

So where are we? Lots of Remainers still screaming about the need to overcome democratic decisions if they do not go the way the right-thinking people want them; various discussions about whether Article 50 should be activated or whether it would be better to start negotiations around that; no Armageddon and most economic indicators moving in a positive direction; a number of countries expressing interest in trade agreements with post-Brexit UK and chaos in the political parties.

Nigel Farage's resignation (presumably for longer than three days this time) has simply added extra spice to the brew - after all UKIP was important only during the Brexit campaign. Astonishingly, the party that has succumbed to a civil war, between the parliamentary party and the membership, was not the Conservative but the Labour Party and we are being provided with a great deal of entertainment. The Conservatives are indulging in their favourite pastime of ferocious fighting for the top job not to be resolved till September. To be fair, it would not be possible to start negotiations with the rest of the EU till then, anyway, because slowly but surely Brussels and the rest of Europe will close down for summer.

Meanwhile, in between watching the entertainment we, bears of little brain, must start putting together ideas for the negotiators. They might listen.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Possibly the best anti-Communist film made

Well, all right, I am not going to argue that line against anyone who comes up with a better one but The Manchurian Candidate (the 196 version with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and the wonderful Angela Lansbury) has to be at the very least one of the best. I am not going to talk about the plot at all. Those who have seen it will remember enough not to want to read about it and would probably prefer to see it again and those who have not seen it have a great treat ahead of them. You might never want to play solitaire again.

There are various trailers and I have chosen the one I think is the best. I don't think it gives anything away and it is a good way to restart that series of postings:

Friday, July 1, 2016

The past has to be controlled as much as the present

No, I still do not think that Putin is another Stalin or Hitler (and for that we may be truly grateful) but some of the ideas are worryingly similar. No, it does not surprise me - no country could have gone through what the various parts of the Soviet Union did for seventy years and emerge with sanity intact. Nor was there enough time to recover in Russia before Putin's rise to the top.

We have news of another trial of someone posting inconvenient truths on social media. This one is a little unusual.
Vladimir Luzgin, a 37-year-old man from the Siberian city of Perm, was prosecuted, convicted, and fined 200,000 rubles ($3,100) for posting an article on social media containing the well-known historical fact that the Soviet Union in collaboration with Nazi Germany invaded and partitioned Poland in 1939.
It is no longer the present that matters but the past as well - the factual truth cannot be told about either.

The Great Patriotic War remains the one sacred untouchable in Russia and the truth about Stalin's role in the high casualty rate, the Nazi-Soviet Pact or what happened in the reconquered Soviet territories and the conquered East European ones in 1944 - 45 cannot be told. Curiously, there is a kind of an ambivalence about attitudes. When there is talk about Soviet crimes, Russians rightly point out that they were not the only ones doing them - the other nationalities were involved as well. All were victims and executioners. But when it comes to the Great Patriotic War, only Russians appear to have fought and suffered. The ease with which Ukrainians, literally Russians' brothers and people who fought and suffered much in the war, could be described as fascists, carrying out fascist policies as laid down by the German invaders all those decades ago, did quite genuinely shocked me. I thought the Russian people will not accept Ukrainians as the enemy. Many did not but far too many did.

A fascinating article by Ksenia Polouektova-Krimer on Open Democracy describes the constant frenzy about the Great Patriotic War and how it is whipped up by the government for its own purposes.

Austria is about to become the EU's whipping boy - again

The Austrian Constitutional Court has ordered a re-run of the recent presidential election in which the Green candidate won narrowly over the so-called far right candidate from the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs or FPÖ because of "irregularities in counting postal votes".

In fact, the President of Austria has very limited power and the election is little more than symbolic of the general peasants' revolt that is going on in the West. (No, I don't really think the Brexit vote comes quite into that category but that needs to be discussed separately.) Naturally, since this party is not part of the political establishment it is described as far-right and populist, which once again raises the question of when does democratic become populist? Aristotle had some very clear distinctions between democracy and demagoguery but the modern line between the two tends to be whether the party agrees with a rather narrow range of "acceptable" opinions. There is no particular evidence for instance that Norbert Hofer, "the gun-toting candidate of the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ)" intends to overrule the legal or constitutional system of Austria.

When one looks at the ideology of the party one finds something of a muddle (and isn't that true, alas, for most parties?). They are liberal and pan-German, they are for individual freedom (gosh, how very "fascist" of them), smaller government and low taxation but also for increased welfare. They are, above all, eurosceptic though not withdrawalist.

Well, this should be an interesting re-run of the election and an interesting time for the EU who has just acquired another headache.