Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I am ashamed of England

When I heard that Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg disagreed over regulating the press, for one moment I thought Mr. Clegg might actually have a streak of liberalism in him. No such luck - he wants more regulation sooner.

I am a very broad minded person, who tolerates all sorts of political views, but I lose almost all respect for anyone who thinks the press should be regulated. 


What especially galls me is that the hacking of the Prince and Princess of Wales's telephones provoked no outrage but hacking a murder victim's did. But hacking always was illegal - how can hacking be a reason for more laws? Dominic Lawson discusses this brilliantly here.

Englishmen who want a right of privacy or press regulation are unworthy of their English blood. Where is a new John Milton to defend press freedom? By which I mean the right of the press to snoop and pry and publish the details of sado-masochistic sex games involving rich men. 

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will



Charles Baudelaire: 


"Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience, involuntarily amassed."

A much better definition of genius than most of the ones that are trotted out, like infinite capacity for taking pains. Creative geniuses and all artists are always children, but with sufficient maturity to provides the discipline that genius requires and children lack. 


This rule applies to evil geniuses, too. They have exactly that childlike quality as well.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

No haloes in Slovakia

Slovakia, at the request of other EU member states, has removed the haloes from SS. Cyril and Methodius on its €2 coin. EU member states are allowed to mint commemorative coins once a year but the design on the back must be “accepted by the remaining eurozone members and the European Commission”. I wonder who objected.

Crosses, on the other hand, are acceptable on coins and flags. Maltese euros, for example, bear the Maltese cross. Goethe said how odd it was that the cross had dwindled to become a gold ornament worn by noblemen and soldiers.

Happy Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving to All My American Friends, Commemorating The Opening Shots of Their Triumphant War Against The Red Indian Menace.

I stole this line from Alex Woodcock-Clarke, who said it better than I could. One of the reasons for the American Revolution, I remember, was that the British would not let the colonists kill as many Red Indians as they wanted to do.



Gaza and Israel are important, not in themselves, but because of the anger they arouse



How can any foreigner strongly support Israel or Hamas?


Yet many people in Britain see this in Manichaean terms, and in the majority of cases with Israel as evil. In almost every case they transpose onto the Middle East their own preoccupations. Two Irish friends back Israel for example from hatred of the IRA. Other people I know see Israel as apartheid South Africa (which, to digress, may be judged less harshly in a century than it is now). In fact, this is not about Left and Right - both sides are both simultaneously.

Partly Israel is hated for one thing which is admirable about the country - that it is an ethnic state. Partly it is hated because it is seen as colonialist, which it certainly is, but this too is not necessarily a bad thing and the Arabs in Israel are better off than Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East as a result. Partly Israel is disliked because Jews have whiter skins than Arabs: the great Mark Steyn pointed out that, after centuries of being hated for being Asiatic, Jews are now hated for being Europeans. Partly Jews are disliked for being Jews, though I hope this is rare these days in England and think it is, but it is creeping back on the Left.

But the Arabs have fairly recently lost their land to the Jews and this is a very sad and wrong thing. After ninety years in the area, Jews are there to stay and their right to be there derives not just from the passage of time but also from the expulsion of the Jews from Arab countries in 1948. Still, I am surprised that some people get angry because some Arabs think Israel has no right to exist.  Outsiders (white, gentile Western Europeans anyway) on both sides of the argument fail to understand what makes people fight each other. Blood and religion make people fight and desire for freedom for their nation.

But mostly I take little interest in the whole thing, while feeling sorry for the casualties. Syria interests me far more than Gaza and is far more important. Like the recent coverage of hurricane Sandy in the USA (but only in the USA, not the deaths in Haiti and Cuba) the events in Gaza are given an attention by the world out of all proportion to their importance to the world. 

The main importance of Israel is not strategic but the fact that it attracts to the USA the dislike of so many Muslims. The great strength of the Arabs is the strength of their anger.

Better to try to understand than to take sides in a conflict which is about two nations, by which I mean ethnic groups, fighting for the same land.  I have somewhat more sympathy for Arabs on the whole than Israel but somewhat more sympathy for Israel over this week's bombing in Gaza, as they gave up Gaza to the Arabs. But this is a dispute in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing, or perhaps know some things but understand little. And a dispute which does not much concern us.

I do understand, and every true conservative must, why some Muslims, like the dear (joke) Ayatollah Khomeini, think America Satanic - from a Christian point of view much is very wrong: materialism, sexual licence, abortion, violence. He might have agreed too with the wonderful Pope Benedict XVI about rock music being Satanic. I once hoped that Christians and Muslims would be allies against secular modernity but it did not work out that way.


Click here for my musings on A.J. Balfour who started the whole Middle Eastern crisis.

Note:

Matthew Kalman, a very nice man, who was in my year at college, has written a very good article on this. 

(I liked him even more because, when I asked him what he did for his 50th birthday, he said, 'I cried.')

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Cand esti mort, nu stii ca esti mort.

‎"Cand esti mort, nu stii ca esti mort. E greu doar pentru ceilalti... La fel si cand esti prost." (Oana Pelea)

The Church of England vote against women bishops

The Church of England vote against women bishops. None of my business, as a non-Anglican, but  I could not help being pleased. But the Synod will vote again and again until they get the answer 'right'. After that no more votes. 

Tim Stanley discusses it here.

I really find the idea of women priests deeply shocking. I saw some for the first time in England this year  - in Canterbury Cathedral - and thought it made my first evensong seem a pantomime, a parody. But I left half way through evensong not because of the women priests but because, though I wanted to be ecumenical, I just found it all deeply depressing. So it is not really any of my business

Why is religion in Protestant countries so dispiriting? All those regimental flags have something to do with it but it is much more than that.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Battle in Gaza, 634

Less than five years after the (Byzantine) Roman Empire had won back Palestine from the Iranianson 4 February 634, Muslim Arabs defeated the Byzantine army, commanded by the candidatus, Sergius, at the Battle of Dathin, a village near Gaza. Sergius himself was killed. The Muslim victory was celebrated by the local Jews. 

This is the moment when Islam enters history. 

The fascinating Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, a Christian polemic against the Jews and one of the very few historical sources, records voices from an otherwise eerily silent period of Middle Eastern history:

When the candidatus was killed by the Saracens, I was at Caesarea and I set off by boat to Sykamina. People were saying "the candidatus has been killed," and we Jews were overjoyed. And they were saying that the prophet had appeared, coming with the Saracens, and that he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come. I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: "What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?" He replied, groaning deeply: "He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist. Indeed, Isaiah said that the Jews would retain a perverted and hardened heart until all the earth should be devastated. But you go, master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared." So I, Abraham, inquired and heard from those who had met him that there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men's blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.
This seems to be the first of the very few near-contemporary references to Mohammed, leaving aside the four references to him in the Koran, though he is not named and it has been unconvincingly suggested that the reference is to some other prophet. In fact, we know very little about Mohammed. Almost everything that is thought to be known about him is myth.

Two years later, the Battle of Yarmouk marked the final defeat in Syria of the Roman Empire, which was in fact, by this time, Greek. The Middle East has remained mostly in Muslim hands ever since. 

The Christian Middle East still exists and still feels Greek, though Christians, who made up 20% of the population of the Middle East in 1900, now make up 2% and are now leaving in large numbers. The traditional Jewish Middle East existed up until 1948, when the Jews were expelled from many Arab countries. Little remains of it now.

Notes on reading Gibbon 3

I just came across this famous joke, in situ, in the description of the very short reign of the Emperor Gordian II (what a short average life expectancy Roman Emperors had). All these Emperors are familiar to me from reading catalogues of coins when I was eight or nine.


Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than for ostentation.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Notes on reading Gibbon 2: Elagabalus’s subversion of conventional gender expectations and invention of the whoopee cushion



When I was a fifteen year old, bookish and friendless, The Augustan History was one of the books I intended to read (in the Penguin translation  because I am a victim of the dreadful Cambridge Latin Course which did not teach me to write Latin and therefore did not teach me to read it). But I never did. I am making up for it now by reading Gibbon instead, but I wonder how reliable he is or how reliable any ancient historian is. I read Michael Grant's book The Roman Emperors and was disappointed that he merely expresses disbelief in all the lurid stories of Suetonius and other historians about the Emperors, without any evidence to discount them except that they sound rum. I suppose ancient history is making bricks without much straw.

What are we to make about Gibbon's very disapproving account of the reign of Elagabalus, (better known to me at least as Heliogabalus)?



To confound the order of the season and climate, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the Roman world affected to copy the manners and dress of the female sex, preferring the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonoured the principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the emperor's, or, as he more properly styled himself, the empress's husband. It may seem probable, the vices and follies of Elagabalus have been adorned by fancy, and blackened by prejudice. Yet, confining ourselves to the public scenes displayed before the Roman people, and attested by grave and contemporary historians, their inexpressible infamy surpasses that of any other age or country.

Elagabalus was born in Emesa in Syria, a city much discussed in Robin Lane-Fox's book Pagans and Christians, which I read recently. Looking Emesa up in Wikipedia I see that it is the modern Homs, scene of so much bloodshed today and a place I visited some years ago.  Elagabalus brought a conical black stone, the image of  El-Gebal, the Emesan sun god, to Rome. This black stone reminds me of the black stone which was worshipped at Mecca before its conversion to Islam and which was placed by Mohammed in the wall  of the Kaaba, the ancient stone building towards which Muslims pray, in the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Perhaps both stones were meteorites, like the one mentioned in Acts 19:23-36 which was worshipped at Ephesus.

Elagabalus was a highly sexed, bisexual teenager, given absolute power over the whole civilised world, at a time when Christian morality, including sexual morality, was known to only a small minority. Like many Emperors before him, he did not behave like an English public school man. He is said to have offered vast sums to any doctor who could give him female genitalia, an operation that doctors nowadays regularly perform. Elagabalus also employed a prototype of whoopee cushions at dinner parties.

Gibbon's account of Eliogabalus's reign is dealt with on this podcast.



I came across this passage from Gibbon, which is worth quoting:


In every age and country, the wiser, or at least the stronger of the two sexes, has usurped the powers of the state, and confined the other other to the cares and pleasures of private life. In hereditary monarchies, however, and especially in those of modern Europe, the gallant spirit of chivalry, and the law of succession, have accustomed us to allow a singular exception; and a woman is often acknowledged the absolute sovereign of a great kingdom, in which she would be deemed incapable of exercising the smallest employment, civil or military. But as the Roman emperors were still considered as the generals and magistrates of the republic, their wives and mothers, although distinguished by the name of Augusta, were never associated to their personal honours; and a female reign would have appeared an inexplicable prodigy in the eyes of those primitive Romans, who married without love, or loved without delicacy and respect. The haughty Agrippina aspired, indeed, to share the honours of the empire, which she had conferred on her son; but her mad ambition, detested by every citizen who felt for the dignity of Rome, was disappointed by the artful firmness of Seneca and Burrhus. The good sense, or the indifference of succeeding princes, restrained them from offending the prejudices of their subjects; and it was reserved for the profligate Elagabalus, to disgrace the acts of the senate, with the name of his mother Soæmias, who was placed by the side of the consuls, and subscribed, as a regular member, the decrees of the legislative assembly.
The Roses of Heliogabalus, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1888. 

The world turns on its axis and now being a cross-dresser who introduced Asian religion into Rome and appointed a woman senator sounds progressive. A review of a recent life of Eligabolus says:

Twentieth-century fictional literature, drama, and even some scholarly works celebrated what they deemed Elagabalus’s countercultural or anarchic image, homosexual inclinations, “oriental” spiritualism, or androgynous subversion of conventional gender expectations. 
The book suggests that the traditional picture of Elagabalus is unreliable and it certainly is propaganda. I'd like to know more but we seem to be reaching the frontier between history and erotic fiction. John Hay, in his The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus (1911), which does not sound like a very scholarly work, said of the Life of Elagabalus in The Augustan History:


In the latter portion of the life there is a wealth of biographical detail, which, in plain English, means an account in extenso of what has been already described too luridly in the foregoing sections. It is written in Latin, and has never been translated into English, to the writer’s knowledge, nor has he any intention of undertaking the work at this present or any other time, as he has no desire to land himself, with the printers and publishers, in the dock at the Old Bailey, in an unenviable, if not an invidious and notorious position.

By the way, the Spanish word heliogábalo means glutton. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

I finally visited the Cotroceni Palace

I finally visited the Cotroceni Palace after 14 years in Bucharest. I cannot imagine why I did not do so before or rather I do understand - I imagined it was merely a museum within the palace which was open to the public, but in fact the museum is most of the palace. 

Prince Serban Cantecuzino built the original palace-monastery and, sadly, King Carol I rebuilt in the late nineteenth century. Unlike in President Constantinescu's time, the section where the President has his offices is not open to the public and nor are the seventeenth century monastic quarters or the cellars which date from the same period.

It is a dull house, although the rooms decorated by Queen Marie are pleasant, unlike those furnished in dark and heavy Wilhelmine taste by King Carol I. I am a passionate monarchist and wish everywhere in the world was a monarchy, excepting ancient republics like San Marino and Venice, but I have little interest in monarchs or princes. It is the monarchy as institution and principle which commands my assent. I therefore am not terribly interested in knowing what King Carol I's and Queen Elizabeth's bed is like. Though my interest awoke. The bed was rather short and the guide, Anca, told us that this was because the royal couple slept sitting down, resting their heads on big cushions, rather than lying down.  This was considered to be healthier. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown indeed.



buduoarul reginei maria
Queen Marie's oratory is decorated with icons, but also with figures from Norse mythology.
Here in the council chamber in 1914 Carol I was unable to persuade his ministers  to honour their secret alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and go to war on their side. This decision was said to have broken the King's heart and caused his death later in that year. Here too, in 1916, Ferdinand and his ministers took the fateful decision to go to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, a decision which resulted in the defeat and occupation of Romania, a great loss of Romanian blood and treasure and, according to Norman Stone, allowed Germany to continue the war for another two years. 

After King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie lived in the palace. Queen Marie wrote that she loved the odd combination of palace and monastery. King Carol II and the present King did not live there. After his enforced abdication, it became a 'palace' for children, meaning the 'Pioneers' (the Communist youth organisation) and then, in the 1970s, a palace for Nicolae Ceausescu.


The skins of the bears he shot adorn some of the floors. Apparently the hunts were carefully staged so that the president could kill the bears, something that journalists asserted was done for Mr. Adrian Nastase when he was Prime Minister between 2000 and 2004. One of the more tasteful rooms, very surprisingly, was designed by the Communists in the style of Louis XIV, because they expected that Queen Elizabeth II would repay the state visit by Nicolae Ceausescu. When we told Anca about how, during that visit, the Romanians stole innumerable objects from Windsor Castle (British diplomats warned Giscard, before Ceausescu went to stay at the Elysée  not to leave things lying around) Anca gave a cry of pain and said that this made her feel very bad about her countrymen. I started to tell her that this did not reflect on them and then I realised that it did and I felt for her. There is so much beautiful idealism in Romania, which is confronted with an often very dirty reality.

I felt an urge to leave before the tour ended but I stayed for the church, which is the best reason for visiting the palace. It was built twenty years ago as a replica of the monastery church built by Prince Serban Cantecuzino and demolished in 1984. It contains handsome pillars from the old church, made in a style which pointed towards the Brâncovenesc style of a few years later, and some (far too few) very lovely wall paintings that survived from the old church. I loved the use of space in the inner courtyards, especially the square  around the church. The trees could not have looked lovelier than on a cold bright November afternoon. I found the church, though new, very beautiful and of course very, very sad. 

biserica palatului

The Saint Smashes Communist Menace!



I didn't watch the hugely successful TV series of The Saint, which all my contemporaries loved, aetat 5, (I hope I wasn't even then an intellectual snob) but I read one of or two of the books in my teens - they have a charm. How exotic Leslie Charles made Biarritz and Madrid sound, but they sounded utterly exotic anyway to me, who had never visited anywhere more interesting than the Low Countries and the Rhineland with my Mum and Dad. 
File:Leslie Charteris.jpg
Leslie Bowyer-Yin


Leslie Charteris was the pen-name of Leslie Bowyer-Yin, who was a half-white, half-Chinese boy from Singapore. He left King's after his first year, after selling his first book, which seems to me rather stylish. In his way, he was a great Cambridge man. How different a Kingsman from E.M. Forster or Salman Rushdie, but almost as good a writer as those two.

His death passed unremarked by most of the press but The Washington Post published an obituary which said:

Mr. Charteris shared many characteristics with his creation - both were rich, tall and handsome and lived a champagne lifestyle. 
While Templar, a sort of modern Robin Hood in a tuxedo, socked jaws, threw knives and sorted out the bad guys, his creator wrote books that made him into one of the most popular mystery novelists of modern times.

Like Raffles and Arsene Lupin, Simon Templar, 'The Saint', was a post-modern, a thief who was a hero. This was the beginning of the nihilistic age in which we now find ourselves bivouac-ed.

I can think of several English male friends for whom The Saint and James Bond were and are role models, though as far as I know they do not purloin jewels. They drive fast cars and chase young girlfriends. Eastern Europe, which still has not 'received' feminism, is a good stamping ground for them. I remember David Short, the publisher, saying that when he was a boy he thought that when he grew up life would be like The Saint, with girls dancing in cages in nightclubs but when he did grow up he found that feminism had happened and it wasn't like that. But in Eastern Europe, he said with gratitude, feminism had not happened and it was just like living in The Saint. I suppose he was right. 

Perhaps I should throw away my distaste for materialism and develop a champagne lifestyle, at least on occasion, but Simon Templar and James Bond were not my heroes. Steed was my childhood hero and Richard Hannay was another, but my greatest role model was Lord Macaulay, writing his letters in Albany or in his club. Scripts are written for us when we are very young and we follow them.

Every time you go to work

"Every time you go to work, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship."

 Brilliant aphorism by  Nick Cohen yesterday.  

Friday, 16 November 2012

Vengeance is mine, says Lord McAlpine

Lord McAlpine is going to sue left, right and centre. Good for him. It will teach is no end of a lesson. I'm glad I did not name him on Facebook - I named Peter Morrison who it turns out is dead (so many people are these days) and was probably equally innocent. 

I hope the House of Commons will censure the Speaker's wife for tweeting and for mentioning her vibrator in interviews. 

I want no restrictions on press freedom except the law of defamation and that should be quite enough, but not too much.

Charles Moore is always the voice of reason and hits his best form in today's Spectator:


Those most ready with child abuse accusations are some of the nastiest people in the world. They exploit our natural disgust at the crime to promote hatred while appearing righteous. File in your mind for future reference the dreadful behaviour of people like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Sally Bercow, Tom Watson and George Monbiot. Be very suspicious, too, of those who most zealously assaulted the BBC for not running the Newsnight revelations about Jimmy Savile last Christmas. The BBC’s caution erred on the right side. The fact that Savile was a) horrible and b) dead does not automatically mean that hard-to-prove and often anonymous accusations should have been hurriedly published against him. If such caution had been replicated in the ‘McAlpine’ Newsnight on 2 November, the BBC would not now be headless. Tim Davie, the acting director-general, said in his first interview in the role that the BBC’s task should be to look at ‘the terrible accusations of child abuse’ and work out ‘how we support those victims’. He thus repeated the fateful elision which has caused so much grief and injustice — that an accusation, because it is terrible, is necessarily true. It is a disturbing feature of human psychology that people think this way. A friend of mine served on a jury in which a man was tried for child abuse. The only evidence against him, which concerned events decades ago, was the testimony of two brothers who, in his opinion, were unreliable. But he could make no impression on his fellow jurors. They maintained that no one would falsely accuse someone of something so horrible. They found the man guilty. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Bigotry

“Bigotry is the incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.”

“It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.”

—G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Even football is not meritocratic in Romania


My taxi driver this afternoon had been a taxi driver one month. Before that he played for the Dinamo second team or third team. He told me you can't play for a team like Dinamo, Steaua or Rapid without spending thousand of euros on bribes to the trainers to make the team. 

This, he says, is why Romanian players are not very good. 

What a way to run a country.


Thoughts reading Gibbon: 1

I am reading Gibbon at last. I should be reading Gibbon in an 18th century edition in tooled leather in an armchair in a London club while eating toasted teacakes, butter spluttering on the pages - instead am in Bucharest with a kindle. But never mind. 

I shall blog thoughts inspired by Gibbon as I go along and start with a quotation that every schoolboy knows (Macaulay and I have the same faith in the general culture of schoolboys):

‎"If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus." 

Few people in our age which admires comfort, equality of opportunity and state subsidised medicine would agree. Only when it comes to not discriminating against homosexuals does second century Rome measure up to present day Western European standards. Nor, for all their reverence for Ancient Rome, do I believe that most Englishmen of Gibbon's time would have agreed. The England of King George III enjoyed the benefits of Christianity, the rule of law, habeas corpus and parliamentary government (how quickly all these are melting away, these days). 

When, then, was the condition of the human race most happy and prosperous? The historian Patrick  Dillon has no doubts and nor do I. The answer is undoubtedly now, despite all the fresh paint, out of town fitness centres, vulgarity, egalitarianism, authoritarianism, migrations of people, rock music, hydrogen bombs, etc., etc: modern medicine and dentistry trump all these, not to mention the collapse of Marxism-Leninism. That is, if you live in the rich world (which includes of course Romania) but even in most of the poor world things are better than they were until recently.

Choosing alternative eras is an enjoyable parlour game, if you have a parlour. Of course, just as people prefer to dress up as kings and queens for fancy dress parties, so they always imagine themselves as Cleopatra rather than as a dentist in Hellenistic Egypt, as Napoleon rather than as a syphilitic peasant girl. Playing that game, I might choose London in the 1930s for the music and politics and women - they had demolished fewer old buildings then and my working-class grandmother and great aunts all said England was much better before the war. When I came to live in Romania, which in 1998 felt like what I imagined England was like in 1954, I began to think they had a good point but nevertheless no sentient being would really want to live in the 1930s rather than now. Especially with the horrors of war to come (what faces us now we don't know). 

I hate the 1960s and would have  hated to have lived then (what am I saying? I did live then, up till the age of 8) but I am very much a child of the 60s, just as De Maistre for all his reaction was a man of 1789 not a Metternichian conservative. In fact I am a hippy and proud of it but I don't like the superficial aspects of hippiedom. Pope Benedict XVI whom I love every much is also a hippy. Hermann Hesse, whom I have not read yet, is His Holiness's favourite author.

Reading Gibbon, I can also imagine several Romanian girls I know loving life in the Roman Empire - until they had toothache, at least. Janina Sirbu and Dana Nastase among public figures fit right in too, plus any number of B-List celebrities, like Raluca Badulescu, Ana Burchill, Adriana Bahmuteanu, etc, etc. These Romanians undoubtedly are Latins.

Why didn't I read Gibbon decades ago? He is very good indeed, of course, and I loved Suetonius in translation at thirteen, so why not Gibbon who wrote in my language? Although, as I expected, he writes better sentences than Lord Macaulay but Macaulay is better for reading in long bursts. If you have nor read either, gentle reader, please start with Macaulay.


Lytton Strachey said Macaulay's prose was metallic and perhaps I know what Strachey meant, but for me it sings and never more so than than in this very famous passage, where he invades Gibbon's period. I am sure Gibbon never wrote anything a quarter as good:
"There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."


E is for extravert, finest that lives

I had lunch the other day with a man I know, who told me, 'as you can see I am an introvert.' I could see nothing of the sort because he and I meet one to one. He recommended this book on Introverts, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  


"There have been many excellent leaders that have been characterized as introverts – Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Gates ...." 

Certainly, I know very well that introverts can be good leaders although I am not sure I am impressed particularly by those three, though I dare say, despite my detestation for Lincoln, who could have allowed the South to secede peacefully, he was a good leader. I am not particularly impressed by Attlee or Kitchener but I would like to know much more about this subject. Many psychopaths are introverts like Hitler and Stalin but even extraverted psychopaths have many introverted characteristics - they observe and read people in the  way introverts observe. See my post on this here.
E is for extravert, finest that lives 
Whom the introvert never forgets or forgives.

This rhyme was used by a psychology lecturer in his lectures and has stuck in my mind reminding me to research the secret annoyance introverts feel for extraverts. I have learnt to overcome my own irritation with people who like to be private and not say what they think like Englishmen should. Well, I am trying to do so.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Vive le Texas libre!

Tim Stanley counsels against Texans seeking independence on his blog but an independent Texas is a good idea I think - "sauve que peut". 

The old Texan Embassy in London is now Berry Bros., the wine merchant's at the bottom of St. James's St.  I used to pass it all the time when I lived in London. 

If I were a Southerner, I should want the whole South to secede. Would the North go to war to stop them as they wickedly did last time? I cannot believe it. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Burning Poppy Photo: Man Faces Questioning

This is absolutely disgraceful and terrifying - what the police did I mean. 


Armistice Day Act Of Remembrance

I also think Muslim anti-war protesters have every right to burn poppies. They even, I suppose, have the right to hope our servicemen are killed (we are not at war and in peace these views should be legally permissible). Much better, in fact, that people express their opinions rather than keep them discreet.

Valerie Eliot has died.

T.S. Eliot's widow has died




While she and Fidel Castro lived I still felt young. Now there is just Fidel. All I remember about Mrs Eliot is that she was a secretary at Faber & Faber, idolised the poet long before meeting him and that Alan Bennett's parents knew her mother. I saw a documentary on television about Valerie Eliot and suppose she is a happy augury for getting married late. She made her husband very happy


Charles Moore in this week's Spectator has this footnote to Mrs. Eliot's life:

How one admires Valerie Eliot’s ferocious protection of her husband for the nearly 50 years that she survived him. The composer Robin Holloway once sought her permission to quote from ‘The Waste Land’ in a work of his own. She refused, because she did not like some of the other words in the composition. The words Holloway wanted to quote were, in full, ‘la la’.
I heard Alan Bennett tell this story two or three times on television, about the meeting between his mother and T.S. Eliot, he representing "Art and Literature and Culture and everything in the upper case, my mother indefatigably in the lower case to represent life". 



I was born and brought up in Leeds, where my father was a butcher, and as a boy, I sometimes used to go out with the orders, delivering the meat. One of our customers was a nice woman called Mrs Fletcher, and I used to go to her house and she had a daughter called Valerie. Valerie went to London and became a secretary and she got a job with a publishing firm and did well in the firm, and became secretary to the chairman, whom she eventually married. Now the publishing firm was Faber and Faber, and the chairman was T.S. Eliot. So there was a time early in life when I thought my only connection with literature would be that I once delivered meat to T.S. Eliot's mother-in-law. 

Some time after that, when we'd left the shop but were still living in Leeds, my mother came in one day and said, 'I ran into Mrs Fletcher down the road. Nice woman. She was with a tall fella, elderly, very refined. She introduced me and he passed the time of day,' and it was only some time afterwards that I realised that without it being the most seminal encounter in Western literature, my mother had met T.S. Eliot. 
I come from a not very dissimilar background to Alan Bennett, although my mother and father knew who T.S. Eliot was and my father had read him. In fact, my father as a teenage delivery boy for Sainsbury's once knocked down George Bernard Shaw, which is my own closest connection, alas, alas, with literature.


I have a mind which forgets names and faces but to which anecdotes always cling and I know so very many that it is hard to choose a favourite, but maybe this might be it. 

William Empson, the literary critic, was at a party and was introduced to a senior man from Lloyd's Bank who, when he knew what Empson did for a living, asked him if he had ever heard of T.S. Eliot.
Yes, of course.
Where would you place him?
Well, I should have to say that he is, without any doubt, the most significant poet to have written in English in the Twentieth Century.
(Momentary pause.) 
Oh. Eliot used to work for me at the bank. Always wondered if his stuff was any good.

The Lloyd's man went on to add:


Had he remained with the bank, he would certainly have become a director.

Sir Rex Hunt has died






My Facebook friend, the writer Alex Woodcock-Clarke posted this comment.

Sir Rex Hunt has died. He was the former Governor of the Falkland Islands during the invasion. This is the most piffling post the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has to offer (possibly only Keeper of the Phone Box in British-Claimed Antarctica is more humiliating). It's reserved for people too stupid to resign and too dull to keep about the office. Sir Rex was certainly a bit of a buffoon, a kind 
of downmarket Jerry from 'The Good Life'. When summoned to meet the Argentine invading forces, he insisted in dressing up in full diplomatic tenue (including ostrich trimmed hat) and arriving in the official car, a second-hand London taxi. Then he refused to shake the Argentine commander's hand. The commander was reported as being deeply hurt. And yet, for all this, Sir Rex's actions showed that dogged British phlegm, however ridiculous, was not quite dead. One wonders how a more adept FO personality, a Chris Patton or a Charles Powell, would have handled the situation; probably with feline cravenness, trying to wheedle their way out of the unpleasantness, hoping to pretend it never happened.
Hunt was absolutely right to wear uniform and not to shake the man's hand.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

When were the Gospels written?



Many years ago I came into close contact with a man who was hugely erudite in biblical scholarship and theology. He was a very unhappy man who had lost what he called 'his early triumphalist faith' and confessed he missed it, but he thought it intellectually unsustainable. I knew nothing of biblical scholarship and was dismayed to learn that the biblical scholars had little credence in the literal truth of much of the Gospels and scrabbled around the internet for reasons to reinforce my faith. I remember clearly that I could see no convincing reason for dating the Gospels any later than 50 AD but they were usually dated between 70 AD and 100 AD. because of the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple My friend, like many sceptics, did not have nearly enough scepticism and never disagreed with what 'cutting-edge' scholars and theologians thought.

Reading this interesting link it seems the case is arguable that the Gospel of St Mark dates from the 40s. I remember this theory from ten years ago and am pleased to say that it sounds to me more likely now than it did then. 

Chapter 13 of Mark, where Jesus foretells the imminent second coming, seems to point to an early date. 
Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. (Mark13:30) 
But I still know nothing of biblical scholarship. 

Pagans and Christians

I am at last reading Robin Lane Fox's Pagans and Christians and finding it interesting and informative but less of a joy than I expected. He writes reasonably, but not exceptionally, well but his learning is vast and his insights seem astute to a general reader like me. I wish he took the story up to the first century of Islam but of this very little is known.

It is unusual for a historian to write authoritatively about both Christians and pagans, as does Lane Fox. He admits his debt to Gibbon but finds much evidence to show that Gibbon greatly exaggerated the loss of faith in the old gods before Constantine's conversion. Only a highly educated few did not believe that the pagan gods intervened in human affairs. One is interested to see parallels between this folk religion and later folk Catholicism and I wished the book drew them out

One thing Lane Fox makes clear is that, of course, the second century church was much more puritanical about sexual morality than almost any modern Christians. Virginity was prized very highly and even sexual intercourse within marriage was suspect, at least for some. Homosexual activity and divorce followed by remarriage, both of which were considered absolutely normal in the Roman world, were always considered grave sins by Christians, as were abortion and infanticide. This distinguished Christians from Jews who, following the Mosaic law, allowed divorce and disapproved of abortion from concern for the health of the mother, rather than the unborn child. Christians today who condemn abortion and homosexual acts are therefore not distorting Christian doctrine. Au contraire. Liberal theologians who maintain that sexual rules are not really part of Christianity are simply wrong, unless they argue that the church taught differently in the first century, but we know from the letters of St. Paul and from other writings that this was not the case. Jesus, a first century Jew, of course considered fornication and sodomy as sins. The change he made was to make sexual morality much stricter by abolishing divorce and this is the rule which, according to Lane Fox, early Christians found hardest to accept.

Lane Fox explains how homosexuality and bisexuality were taken or granted in the ancient world, for men, and goes on to say:
As for homosexuality, Paul and the early epistles agreed with the accepted Jewish view that it was a deadly sin that provoked God's wrath. It led to earthquakes and natural disasters, which were evident in the fate of Sodom. The absence of Gospel teaching on the subject did not amount to tacit approval. All orthodox Christians knew that homosexuals went to hell, until a modern minority tried to make them forget it.

The last part of the book is a detailed discussion about St. Constantine, the Emperor Constantine the Great. I knew very little about him except that he was a murderer and adopted Christianity for pragmatic reasons. Lane Fox is convincing that Constantine's conversion was very genuine and a deep change of heart. 

Constantine deserves better than any other historical figure the soubriquet 'Great'. He transformed Europe far more than Napoleon or even Hitler and, unlike those two, he transformed it for the better. He also transformed Christianity. He also created Constantinople and the Byzantine cultural space in which I am typing these words, in my office in Bucharest. His reasons for executing his wife and son I do not know.

One of the reasons Constantine was converted was because, very understandably, he saw the hand of God in his victories over his opponents. So did other Christians. This belief that God intervenes in history was what made the early Muslims believe their prophet was the true one. It made the British and the Americans, who borrowed the idea from the British, believe that God had given them a special destiny. It has recently, for some reason, gone out of fashion even in America, as I discuss here

The idea that God is visible in history was replaced by Marx with the idea that the historical process is God and I think this illusion continues to influence progressive thinkers.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

"They're trivial: like dogs in their lusts. We destroyed Christianity yet had its benefits."

Martin Rowson 10.11.12
Cartoon in today's Guardian greeting the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury


The Bishop of Durham, it was announced yesterday, will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He quoted, in an interview today with The Guardian, John Maynard Keynes writing to his fellow atheist, Virginia Woolf, in 1934: 

"Our generation - yours and mine.... owed a great deal to our fathers' religion. And the young ... who are brought up without it will never get so much out of life. They're trivial: like dogs in their lusts. We had the best of both worlds. We destroyed Christianity yet had its benefits."
Lord Keynes, as he then wasn't.

Keynes sounds like Margaret Thatcher saying in a speech the 1970s, before she became Prime Minister,  

"We who live off the moral capital of the Victorians..."

The current Hungarian Prime Minister, the much reviled (by The Guardian) Prime Minister of Hungary, made a related point recently:


I have this feeling that a majority of European leaders have lost their faith in what made Europe great and into an influential factor in the world. Moreover, it seems as if it would be something shameful or something forbidden to talk about this issue. We can not help to see that those who are coming up now, stand firm for their spiritual identity: the Islamic peoples to Islam, the Asian peoples to Asian traditions and their spiritual system. It’s not just about God, but also about the culture that was influenced by their traditional beliefs. We on the other hand reject the power that comes from the fact that this is the world of Christian culture. The successful ones make sure that there is no future without children and family.

And contemporary America is also losing her faith, as I blogged here.

Individuals and nations have to find a meaning to their lives. Belief itself is perhaps even more important than what you believe in.

Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid.





Apparently John Wayne said:
Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid.

My first reaction was not true - the reverse is the case.

But on reflection? Unintelligent people do not necessarily worry less because they do not know all the things there are to worry about. Life should be least hard for people who have what a friend of mine (who has one) calls a leader's IQ - high, but not too high. Tony Blair's not Wittgenstein's. On the other hand my friend's life is pretty hard. He is a true leader but has no-one to lead.

The 'signature' on my emails, taken from the strip cartoon Calvin and Hobbs, says: 
People think it must be fun to be a super genius but they don't realise how hard it is to put up with all the idiots in the world.
It may reveal too much about me.

I remember that a wise man I knew once told me there were three kinds of people you can't touch: very intelligent people; rich people; and people with a religious faith. Yes and no. It is easier to manipulate intelligent people than less intelligent ones and it is certainly possible to manipulate religious people and fools with money. 


Lord Curzon's 15 Good Reasons Against the Grant of Female Suffrage

I regard women as superior and I don’t like to see them trying to become men’s equal.
Violet Markham, speaking in October 1910.

I am satisfied with my present position, and of my almost unlimited power of usefulness, that I have no need of a vote, and should not use it if I had it. 
Edith Milner, writing in The Times, 29 October 1906.

I frown hearing the suffragettes invoked by feminists who complain that there are not enough women in political life, as if as many women want to have political, or any, careers as men.

People increasingly talk about the Suffragettes as if they were admirable when they were nothing of the sort. Their extra-legal activity set back the cause of giving the vote to women by years. Women were eventually given the vote by the Conservatives as a reward for their contribution to the war effort in the Great War.


Giving the vote to women led to a great accession of strength for the right, as the liberals in Europe always knew it would. Had women not had the vote Labour would have won every British election from 1945 to 1979 inclusive. I do not have more recent figures. From a conservative point of view, giving women the vote, in the language of Sellars and Yeatman, was a Good Thing.


Most British women did not want the vote until they were given it, including plenty of feminists. 'Lord Curzon's 15 Good Reasons Against the Grant of Female Suffrage' are here and here. I wish I could find online his speeches to the Women's Anti-Suffrage League of which Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the novelist, was the president. I know he said this when he addressed the League:


What is the good of talking about the equality of the sexes?   The first whiz of the bullet, the first boom of the cannon and where is the equality of the sexes then?

It was a more innocent era and one for which one sometimes pines, now that the House of Commons has family-friendly hours that allow the Government to pass what bills it pleases. 


As for women bishops...