Thursday, 31 March 2016

Quotations I read or remembered recently

"HG Wells had a mind like a limitless ocean, six inches deep."

Rebecca West 


"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." 


Damon Runyon

"It is the wretchedness of being rich that you have to live with rich people."

Logan Pearsall Smith

"The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything." 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Is America a nation founded on a creed or on British stock and culture?


G.K. Chesterton said in 1921
America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. 
The US's House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, thinks so. He told interns in Congress this week that
America is the only nation founded on an idea not on an identity.
But is that right? Forty years after the American declaration of independence the South American republics were founded by deists and Freemasons based on the same creed. The

Writing


Gide understood that a white writer cannot go in and talk as if he knows the place; he can only make something out of his incomprehension.

Lawrence Osborne, talking about Gide talking about North Africa, but it might apply to an Englishman in Romania. I had never heard, until this evening, of Lawrence Osborne, who was apparently at Cambridge three years before me, but he is a novelist who lives in

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

VERY well done, New Zealand!

Only preliminary results are in but it seems New Zealand voted to keep their old flag - with the Union Jack in the corner. Britishness is the kernel of New Zealand, Australia, Canada and, more distantly, of the USA. More important even than that, history is vital to every nation. History gives one a footing in the universe. The alternative is a soup of individuals possibly linked by things called values.

I wrote here about how nations should not be made of values but of blood and history.

My old friend the historian Andrew Roberts also rejoices at New Zealand's decision.

If only instead of belonging to the European union Great Britain belonged to a similar body composed of Canada, New Zealand and Australia as Joseph Chamberlain far sightedly dreamt of. Rhodesia and South Africa though would have presented problems. 

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The migrant crisis was not caused by Russian bombers and will not end when the Syrian war ends


General Breedlove, the NATO Commander-in-chief in Europe, and a number of other people have accused Russia of 'weaponising' migrants to attack the EU, but
 we  know that Russian intervention in Syria did not create the refugee crisis. A boatload of migrants were drowned off Lampedusa in 2013 and the numbers of migrants became steadily bigger in the first half of last year, but the crisis really got under way last summer. Huge, unprecedented numbers of migrants arrived in Europe in August and many more in September. This was before Russia started bombing Syrian rebels on September 30. 

That does not mean that Mr. Putin has been sufficiently Christian to take no pleasure in his

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Political opinions are an attempt to order and control the universe

Why do we read the newspapers and news sites first thing in the morning? For information, yes, for fun, yes, because the news is fascinating because life is fascinating, but also because forming political opinions and making political judgments is an attempt to order and control the universe. 

Wilhelm Stekel said people who do not understand themselves have a craving for understanding. A craving to understand life can be a craving to control it, to impose an order on it. 

As Nietzsche told us, all philosophy is disguised psychology. Especially true of political philosophy.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Donald Trump would be a Latin American president

A friend said to me this evening that it doesn't matter very much who is US President and President Trump would at least be fun. Yes he would, but he would be (IRONICALLY) a rather Latin American president. A sort of Chavez.

When Englishmen say 'rather', by the way, they don't mean 'rather' but 'very'.

'This is the end of the line for Trump'

This is a fascinating article about Donald TrumpJake Novak expects Trump to win the nomination but not the presidency and compares the 2016 election to those of 1800, 1828 and especially 1968. 1968, he thinks, is a parallel and Hillary will win as a safe pair of hands as Nixon did in 1968. Nixon, in retrospect, was pretty good but we know how that ended.

Monday, 14 March 2016

'I wonder what he meant by that?' - Putin exits stage left

'I wonder what he meant by that?', Talleyrand asked about the death of a Turkish ambassador. Vladimir Putin's decision to leave Syria will lead some to ask the same question. 

I am not sure his reasons for getting out are mysterious, though. He has achieved what he wanted to achieve, changed the balance of power and secured the Syrian government's position. Before Russia intervened there was talk that the Saudis would have the strength

Sunday, 13 March 2016

A horrid, big, rich scoundrel


"Money: It buys you everything, even a seat in Parliament. It makes you what you are. It is all that matters." Melmotte, the financier, in The Way We Live Now

“A miserable imposition, a hollow, vulgar fraud from beginning to end,—too insignificant for you and me to talk of, were it not that his position is a sign of the degeneracy of the age. What are we coming to when such as he is an honoured guest at our tables?” Sir

Dr Johnson and Donald Trump swearing

"I wonder, however, that so many people have written who might have left it alone."
I just came across this line by Dr Johnson that is new to me and not in Boswell. 

Which reminded me of another line that is not in Boswell. Asked by David Garrick what
 was the greatest pleasure, Dr. Johnson said 

More bad news from the Near and Middle East

In Iraq the Mosul dam, even though it is no longer in the hands of ISIS, is not well maintained and may burst at any time, killing a million people. The problem is that the dam was built on gypsum, which dissolves in contact with water. The only solution, I imagine, is to evacuate the area and organised a controlled flooding. This might bring to light the many archaeological sites in the region that were submerged when the reservoir

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Did Putin organise the migrant crisis as a weapon of mass destruction, aimed at the EU?

I have long been sceptical of the interpretations offered by most English-language journalists covering Syria. They, like  the US and UK governments, want the Assad regime to go. It seemed to me that our only interest should be in peace in the country and region, not regime change, nor countering Russia or Iran. The best thing that could happen would be a peace involving a reformed regime. After reaching this conclusion, I found my Syrian Christian friends, who have no love for the regime, thought the same. I still think so and I hope the intervention of Russia can bring this about. It's in Russia's interests to make a swift, successful exit.

However I have learnt much more about public opinion in Syria, which I had previously made guesses about. I no longer imagine that most Syrians want the rebels to be defeated. The contrary seems to be true.

I have spoken to British people who were in Syria recently, in both rebel-held and

Friday, 11 March 2016

If the Queen wants to leave the EU does that settle the question?


Does H.M. the Queen want to leave the EU? If she does, does that settle the question of how to vote or would that be being too loyal to the throne?


According to a story in the Sun headlined "Queen backs Brexit" she does and the editor of the Sun, Tony Gallagher, said on Radio 4 
"We knew much more than we published".
But in fact the Sun's story, true or not, dates from 2011 and 'Brexit', Britain leaving the EU, was not mentioned.  So, however much the Sun protests, things are not clear.

I was told last year that the Duke of Edinburgh is strongly for Brexit but the

The middle-aged lack moral seriousness

How repellent, physically and morally, tourists in their 50s and 60s are. One shies away from them but I attract them since I am now 52. They have the impertinence to think I am one of them. I remember a beautiful bitchy friend of mine, Clare, whom I met again at age of 35 after not being on speakers for five years, said, 'How awful everyone looks at our age!'

What does she think now, I wonder? I know exactly what she thinks, of course. 

And people in their 50s are so unexciting, so - well, frankly, vulgar. There are a few exceptions of course, such as my friends - and people in their 20s are dull, except for intelligent and decorative girls. But it is the moral shortcomings of people in their 50s that sadden me most. I see beautiful energetic people in their 20s turn into Romanian simulacra of bankers in their 30s and oh the dullness. Older people lack moral seriousness... continue reading

Thursday, 10 March 2016

4 Maccabees was once part of the Catholic Bible, but only in Romania

The First and Second Books of Maccabees are part of the Catholic but not of the Protestant Bible. I just discovered that in the 18th and 19th centuries the Fourth Book was part of the 1688 Romanian Orthodox translation of the Bible and of the Romanian Bible used in the Greek Catholic (or Uniate) Church, which uses the Orthodox rite but is part of the Catholic Church. In that Bible it was called "Iosip". It is no longer printed in Romanian Bibles today.

Apparently, the Georgian Orthodox Bible also includes it and, In the past, an edition of the Russian Orthodox Bible did.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Bourgeois honesty

Nineteenth-century historians, as Herbert Butterfield reminds us, took seriously the task of researching and writing “objective” history. I recall seeing traces of this in an Orthodox Jewish lady I had as graduate student in the early 1970s at NYU. This woman had planned to do a dissertation on the fate of Jewish communities in Galicia in the twentieth century but then abandoned her topic. The reason she gave made me respect her forever: She refused to prepare a dissertation on a subject she could not treat with the proper degree of objectivity. This refusal would now be ascribed in all likelihood to inexcusable moral indifference. Truly sensitive historians, we are told, should have zero tolerance for reactionary rule or for what until recently were considered natural hierarchies. Today’s historians are calling attention to screaming inequality, wherever they chose to notice it, in the past or in the present. But bourgeois honesty, which these people not incidentally reject, would require them to recognize that they are pursuing non-scholarly ends. What they consider to be scholarship is a form of proselytizing—or a means of helping the practitioner advance professionally by means of useful political postures.

Paul Gottfried

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Emil Cioran said that in 50 years' time Notre Dame will be a mosque

I was told at lunch this quotation from the celebrated Romanian aphorist and nihilist Emil Cioran, who made his life in France.
In 50 years' time Notre Dame will be a mosque
Looking on the net I see that he said it in 1987. Of course it won't happen, not by 2037 and I hope never, but a very interesting and characteristically pessimistic remark. 

France does not keep figures but, according to The Economistin 2008 1.7 million Muslims

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Nancy Reagan R.I.P.

Nancy Reagan has died. Someone said Ronnie loved Calvin Coolidge, Nancy loved Calvin Klein. I suppose the measure of his achievements is that that joke is no longer funny, because admiring Coolidge is no longer ridiculous.

The thing about her I remember is that she once said

How true

In essence, you have two social democratic parties in Germany, just as we do in Great Britain.
Timothy Garton Ash being interviewed by Der Spiegel in 2009

Neagu Djuvara tells me Europe is committing suicide


"Europe is committing suicide. Langsam aber sicher. Slowly but surely."

Is there nothing we can do to avoid this, I ask.

"There is no escape. It is our destiny."

I am taking tea with Neagu Djuvaru, the doyen of Romanian historians, who will be 100 in August. He is an old man but has the ebullience of a child, except when he thinks about the future of Europe, which he is glad he will not live to see. There is, he says firmly, no alternative to a Muslim conquest of Europe and the end of Western civilization. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

One day you know that the curtain was up all the time. That was the performance.


One does odd things. You see, when one's young one doesn't feel part of it yet, the human condition; one does things because they are not “for good”; one thinks everything is a rehearsal - to be repeated ad lib, to be put right when the curtain goes up in earnest. One

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Emigrants as national assets in a borderless world

Professor Neagu Djuvara told me, when I met him last week, that his generation, of whom he is one of the last survivors, went abroad to study and to return, whereas young Romanians today leave Romania and do not want to come back. This he describes as tragic.

He has a very good point. Romania is now an emigrant country. Most Romanian emigrants will not come back though more and more do, including the Prime Minister, Dacian Cioloș, who for years worked abroad as an expert in rural development. But what perhaps Professor Neagu Djuvara does not understand is that emigration means something very different in the age of smartphones and Facebook from what it did when he went to Paris to study in the 1930s.

A couple of days after I met Neagu Djuvara  I was invited to a conference on the Romanian diaspora at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest and heard Kinsley Aikens, a world authority on diasporas, talk in a much more cheerful  way about migration. Which is as

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Meeting Neagu Djuvaru

'Europe is committing suicide. Langsam aber sicher. Slowly but surely.'

Is there nothing we can do to avoid this, I ask.

'There is no escape. It is our destiny.'

I am taking tea with Neagu Djuvaru, the doyen of Romanian historians, who will be 100 in August. He is an old man but has the ebullience of a child. He seems a very happy man except when he thinks about the future of Europe, which he is glad he will not live to see. 

There is, he says firmly, no alternative to a Muslim conquest of Europe and the end of Western civilisation. It is a thesis he has repeated several times in interviews. Romanians, who have not been exposed to cultural relativism, treat it with great respect.

I tell him that an American history professor recently said to me that Western civilisation will not come to an end because it is now universal.  There is no other civilisation. But as I
say this I realise that there was no alternative to Western civilisation in the fifth century