Sunday 31 July 2011

Burke on nations

'A nation is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation: but it is an idea of continuity which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And this is a choice not of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultary and giddy choirs; it is a deliberate election of the ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice, it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dis­positions, and moral and special habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time....' - Edmund Burke

A powerful argument for referendums

I am not a theoretical democrat. I do not blame Lord Grey for not giving the working class the vote. That would be like blaming Henry III for not introducing the NHS. But I have come round to being a strong believer in referendums (never foresooth referenda please). I made this philosophical journey independently by the way of Daniel Hannan who takes the same view. But my views are bolstered by this which I came cross this thanks to Dr. Sean Gabb.

“…progressives should be very wary about referendums. They are rarely instruments for change – and almost never on the actual questions posed. If we had proceeded by referendum, most of the social advances of the past 100 years would have been stopped in their tracks.” (Julian Priestly, “Regressive referendum a rallying point for reactionary xenophobes”, Tribune, 22nd April 2011, p.19.)

Cardinal Newman on gentlemen.

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself..

Very good, even sublime, definition. Someone said a gentleman is he who never intentionally inflicts pain, someone else he who never unintentionally inflicts pain. Hmm.

What is the way to avoid tactlessness? People say you should think before you speak. But if you do that and still give pain then it looks premeditated which is worse. The minefield social relations are for people who did not learn the lessons of life at school. By which I mean on the school playground where life is learnt or not learnt.

Dr. Fagan on the Welsh

I just felt like copying this famous passage.  If you've heard this joke before, don't stop me, I want to hear it again, as Groucho said.

"The Welsh character is an interesting study," said Dr. Fagan. "I have often considered writing a little monograph on the subject, but I was afraid it might make me unpopular in the village. The ignorant speak of them as Celts, which is of course wholly erroneous. They are of pure Iberian stock-- the aboriginal inhabitants of Europe who survive only in Portugal and the Basque district. Celts readily intermarry with their neighbours and absorb them. From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with human-kind except their own blood relations. In Wales there was no need for legislation to prevent the conquering people intermarrying with the conquered. In Ireland that was necessary, for there intermarriage was a political matter. In Wales it was moral. I hope, by the way, you have no Welsh blood?""None whatever," said Paul."I was sure you had not, but one cannot be too careful. I once spoke of this subject to the sixth form and learned later that one of them had a Welsh grandmother. I am afraid it hurt his feelings terribly, poor little chap. She came from Pembrokeshire, too, which is of course quite a different matter. I often think," he continued, "that we can trace almost all the disasters of English history to the influence of Wales. Think of Edward of Carnarvon, the first Prince of Wales, a perverse life, Pennyfeather, and an unseemly death, then the Tudors and the dissolution of the Church, then Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging. But perhaps you think I exaggerate? I have a certain rhetorical tendency, I admit.""No, no," said Paul."The Welsh," said the Doctor, "are the only nation in the world that has produced no graphic or plastic art, no architecture, no drama. They just sing," he said with disgust, "sing and blow down wind instruments of plated silver...."
Decline and Fall (1928), by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)

My favourite Belloc ballade

I read all his ballades a hundred times at a young age. I almost started a Belloc Society when I went down from university- Lady Diana Cooper agreed to be President - and greatly regret not doing so.

Ballade of Hell and of Mrs Roebeck

I'm going out to dine at Gray's
With Bertie Morden, Charles, and Kit,
And Manderly who never pays,
And Jane who wins in spite of it,
And Algernon who won't admit
The truth about his curious hair
And teeth that very nearly fit:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

And then tomorrow someone says
That someone else has made a hit
In one of Mr Twister's plays,
And off we go to yawn at it;
And when it's petered out we quit
For number 20, Taunton Square,
And smoke, and drink, and dance a bit:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

And so through each declining phase
Of emptied effort, jaded wit,
And day by day of London days
Obscurely, more obscurely, lit;
Until the uncertain shadows flit
Announcing to the shuddering air
A Darkening, and the end of it:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

Prince, on their iron thrones they sit,
Impassible to our despair,
The dreadful Guardians of the Pit:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1966 lamenting tourism at its outset in Greece

It is the same everywhere. The Athenians look on this constant change with a mixture of abstract pride and private bewilderment. Much of this architectural restlessness may spring from the sudden boom in tourism. One's first reaction to this new windfall is delight: Greek economy needs these revenues; one's second is sorrow. Economists rejoice, but many an old Athenian, aware of the havoc that tourism has spread in Spain and France and Italy, lament that this gregarious passion, which destroys the object of its love, should have chosen Greece as its most recent, most beautiful, perhaps its most fragile victim. They know that in a few years it has turned dignified islands and serene coasts into pullulating hells. In Athens itself, many a delightful old tavern has become an alien nightmare of bastard folklore and bad wine. Docile flocks converge on them, herded by button-eyed guides, Mentors and Stentors too, with all Manchester, all Lyons, all Cologne and half the Middle-West at heel. The Athenians who ate there for generations have long since fled. (Fortunately, many inns survive unpolluted; but for how long? The works of writers mentioning these places by name should be publicly burnt by the common hangman.) Greece is suffering its most dangerous invasion since the time of Xerxes.

..In dark moments I see bay after lonely bay and island after island as they are today and as they may become … The shore is enlivened with fifty jukeboxes and a thousand transistor wirelesses. Each house is now an artistic bar, a boutique or a curio shop; new hotels tower and concrete villas multiply. (From Roumeli which I just read in memoriam and loved )

They of whom God is altogether unapprehended are but few in number

RICHARD HOOKER on atheists, quoted in Andrew Brown's blog

The most extreme opposite true religion, is affected atheism. They of whom God is altogether unapprehended are but few in number, and for grossness of wit such, that they hardly and scarcely seem to hold the place of human being. These we should judge to be of all others most miserable, but that a wretcheder sort there are, on whom whereas nature hath bestowed riper capacity, their evil disposition seriously goeth about therewith to apprehend God as being not God. Whereby it cometh to pass that of these two sorts of men, both godless, the one having utterly no knowledge of God, the other study how to persuade themselves that there is no such thing to be known.

I must say atheism seems to me an overwhelmingly plausible position to hold until one comes to believe and then it is obviously ridiculous.

Friday 29 July 2011

The passing of Vasile the porter

It is Vasile the porter's last day, aetat 77 (he looks 67). 'There are few things not purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness, this is the last.' (Dr. Johnson.) No man is an island and every man's retirement diminishes me.
 Dr. Johnson also said: "All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage." Why do people no longer say things like this?

More thoughts on the killings in Norway

Did the anti-Islamic and anti-immigration ideas on the web lead this evil man to kill so many innocent people? Or the changes in Norwegian society themselves and the prevalent anti-racist ideology? 

The answer is that no ideas led him to kill but an inner compulsion and satanic pride. In the lost childhood of Judas, Jesus was betrayed. 

But I doubt if he is mad and I am sure he is as much a political actor as the Al Qaeda conspirators. 

No-one thinks they are mad or that the restoration of the Caliphate is a literally insane reason for killing innocent people. 

Why is that? Because he is one and Al Qaeda are many I suppose.

The psychology of terrorists has been explored brilliantly by one of the greatest men of the last century, Joseph Conrad, a political conservative though a modernist writer, in two of the very greatest of all novels: The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. They also happen to be the first two examples of the spy story genre and I am sure the best.

Conrad wrote at the very beginning of the terrorist era. Since then it has become clear that mass killings will happen for the foreseeable future so long as societies remain relatively free, while state actors kill civilians in war and peace for political reasons and modern communications enable terrorists to hope to profit from their killings by gaining publicity, concessions and adherents to their causes. Like the Roman poet foreseeing he Tiber running with blood, to coin a phrase, I can easily imagine chemical, biological or nuclear weapons being used.

Actually, although I am trying to avoid knowing anything about the killer's 'manifesto' (had it been 20 pp. instead of 1500 pp. it would be more dangerous) its seems his ideas are quite sound until he decides they justify killing and some resemble my own: the Marxist origins of political correctness; the dangers of population movements and especially of Muslim immigration. 

The manifesto is evidence of how deeply out of date and unfashionable prejudice is these days. Even the killer said that he was anti-racist and pro-homosexual.

He is also a Freemason and did not attend church but is still called a 
Christian fundamentalist. So is McVeigh, the first of the great terrorists, who went to his execution cursing God. 

Perhaps murderers are a bit like the Rorschach Ink Spot Test in which the subject sees what he wants to see.

The killer (I do not know his name and do not wish to use it) seems to have rejected the modern age In plenty of ways I am out of sympathy with it. He is a lesson that rejecting, not taking part in, your own generation means narcissism and death.

(Footnote: In the face of such horror it seems wrong to talk about its political impact but it is inescapable. His actions will presumably hurt the anti-immigration argument although this is not certain and it is impossible to know how much. Certainly not so much as had he killed Muslims. It is possible over time that it will have the opposite effect. What is very strange is that the London underground bombings did not lead to support for anti-immigration and Islamosceptic politics. These things can be used by the liberals but it doesn't work the other way round. But let  the children be buried before we go into this.)

Somewhere I read yesterday that Norway has comparatively few immigrants/immigrant descendants and though they make up 20% of the population of Oslo this is small compared to other capitals in Europe. Can this be true? Can it? I cannot find the link. [Footnote: Wikipedia says 28%.]

A final footnote. I came across this excerpt from a speech delivered in 2005 from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by Sheikh Issam Amira, who preaches the Islamic revolution. We Catholics pray for the conversion of England to Catholicism (or used to - liberal priests would not, I imagine) so I cannot and do not object to a Muslim wanting Norway to be Muslim. Maybe some Norwegians might.

“Listeners! The Moslems in Denmark make up three percent [of the population], yet constitute a threat to the future of the Danish kingdom. It’s no surprise that in Bitrab [the ancient name of Medina, a city in Arabia to which Mahomet immigrated from Mecca] they were fewer than three percent of the general population, but succeeded changing the regime in Bitrab.

“It’s no surprise that our brothers in Denmark have succeeded in bringing Islam to every home in that country. Allah will grant us victory in their land to establish the [Islamic] revolution in Denmark.”

After Denmark, the Sheikh said, Norway would be next and the name of Oslo would be changed change to Medina.

“They will fight against their Scandinavian neighbors in order to bring the country into the territory of the revolution. In the next stage, they will fight a holy jihad to spread Islam to the rest of Europe, until it spreads to the original city of Medina where the two cities will unite under the Islamic flag.”

“We are at the gates of the Islamic revolution. The global forces of evil will be eliminated from the world and the Islamic nation will remain in place in order to bring about the world Islamic revolution, with its capital, Jerusalem.”

Anti-racism will be for the 21st century what Communism was for the 20th century

The French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut:
"But I think that the lofty idea of `the war on racism' is gradually turning into a hideously false ideology. And this anti-racism will be for the 21st century what communism was for the 20th century. A source of violence. Today, Jews are attacked in the name of anti-racist discourse." 

This contains both the very interesting interview with Alain Finkielkraut - a man of 1968 who has been mugged by reality - and his curious partial  retraction. Anti-racism doth make cowards of us all.

The blog that I am linking to is a very right-wing political blog but the interview is well worth reading. My blog is not supposed to be about politics but I think this  important and interesting interview deserves a wide audience.  Especially after the horrible killings in Norway at the weekend.  

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Inequality is not a problem

Inequality is not a problem. Poverty is a problem but not one governments can do very much to solve except by not making things worse.

Sunday 24 July 2011

No-one ever understands a foreign country.

No-one ever understands a foreign country. 

Unless one moves there in adolescence or childhood. 

After the start of old fogeyhood which William James put at the age of 25 it is impossible. 

The longer one stays the more and the less one understands.

The radiant intelligence of the child

“What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.”   Sigmund Freud. 

Not all children. He met only the children of intelligent parents. Some children are dull little people alas though at puberty the dull ones get infinitely worse. Still on the whole he is right. Children ask searching questions which is a good definition of intelligence.

But thank God I am no longer surrounded by 17 year-olds as I was at 17.

Dread words - gender equity

The most depressing English word is shopping. Gender (except in its grammatical sense) and equity (not in the financial sense but meaning justice, while intended to smuggle in the idea of equality) come close behind. 

Monday 18 July 2011

Southern Europe: Beyond a Demographic Point of No Return

This came swam into my ken just now. The author  David P. Goldman was global head of debt research for Banc of America Securities and earlier global head of credit strategy at Credit Suisse. He is a columnist (under the byline "Spengler") for Asia Times Online.

There’s plenty of fat to cut from Southern European government budgets. The fiscal crisis of the PIIGS will leave the peoples of those countries poorer and unhappier on a permanent basis, and the political parties who must impoverish their constituents require time to posture before getting down to the grim business at hand. The old expedient of devaluation was easier, because it effectively imposed a wealth tax on the entire country across the board (by reducing the real value of everyone’s savings) without the need for detailed negotiations. The absence of the devaluation option within the Euro mechanism requires a great deal more theater on the part of feckless and incompetent politicians who made their careers by dispensing borrowed money to their voters.

That is true for the moment, when the elder dependent ratio for Southern Europe stands at around 25%. Between 2020 and 2045, however, the infertility of Southern Europe will catch up with it, and the elder dependent ratio will rise to over 60%–an impossible, unmanageable number. At that point the character of these countries will change radically; they will be overwhelmed with immigrants from North Africa as well as sub-Saharan Africa, who will not have the skills or the habits of civil society to maintain economic life. And their economies will slide into a degree of ruin comparable only to that of classical antiquity. Perhaps the Chinese will operate Greece as a theme park. Spain, which can draw on Latin American immigrants, is likely to be the least badly off.

Strictly speaking, Ireland should not be included among the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain). Although post-Catholic Ireland has lost its famous fecundity, Ireland’s fertility rate still hovers around replacement. The Irish economy was far too dependent on offshore finance as a source of employment and suffered disproportionately from the collapse of the credit bubble in 2008. But this small country also has high-tech manufacturing and other industries, which make the eventual restoration of prosperity possible. The southern Europeans are doomed. They have passed a demographic point of no return. There simply aren’t enough females entering their child-bearing years in those countries to reverse the rapid aging.

Why would anyone buy a 30-year bond from any of these countries? By 2041, there won’t be enough taxpayers left to pay the coupons. And that raises a related question: what is time horizon of an equity investment in those countries? Although Standard and Poor's calculates the duration of equities at somewhere between 20 and 30 years, that is a somewhat dubious estimation of interest sensitivity, not a measure of the horizon of expectations. Markets are notoriously short-sighted. But at some point markets must recognize that companies that have a rapidly-shrinking pool of workers as well as customers are in no position to earn profits. The real demographic crunch will start to hit in the mid-2020s, and it is possible that markets will ignore the inevitable demographic doom until then.

There’s little reason to expect European contagion to blow up the financial system today. But there’s also no reason to invest in those countries, except on a very opportunistic 

Sunday 17 July 2011

'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'

‎'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,' My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well, I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.
'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.' 

Larkin's lines on his home town Coventry (of which his father a Nazi sympathiser was Town Clerk during the war) apply to my home town Southend-on-Sea but also alas to Cambridge. Not to Bucharest thank God. But entropy is the default setting of mankind, I suppose.

Derek  Turner has sent me this wonderful article about Coventry. He is clearly a true conservative of the right sort, guided by love of his country and of the past. It does repay reading even though I did not like poor crucified Coventry on my only visit.  

Mark Steyn is in favour of immigration

Today I saw an interview with Danish TV recorded in September 2010 with Mark Steyn in which he warns that Malmo has been islamised and Jews are leaving as a result. I read something he has written predicting Muslims will be the majority in Germany and the rest of Western Europe. And yet  I come across this also written by him:

‎"As one is always obliged to explain when tiptoeing around this territory, I'm not a racist, only a culturist. I believe Western culture -- rule of law, universal suffrage, etc. -- is preferable to Arab culture: that's why there are millions of Muslims in Scandinavia, and four Scandinavians in Syria. Follow the traffic. I support immigration, but with assimilation. Without it, like a Hindu widow, we're slowly climbing on the funeral pyre of our lost empires. You see it in European foreign policy already: they're scared of their mysterious, swelling, unstoppable Muslim populations." 

Logically he should be in favour of stopping immigration. I assumed he was. 

Charles Moore referred last week to immigration as a 'social catastrophe', one caused by women not having babies. I would a few years ago have been slightly shocked by this.

I suddenly today begin to sense that the Welfare State in which  I long  beleived in has failed completely and its failure will  involve the end of Europe and of Western civilisation. And before this is seen, or even before the consequences of mass immigration are understood, it will be too late.

Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika

Image result for Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika
Charters: If only we hadn't missed that train at Budapest. 

Caldicott: Well, I don't want to rub it in, but if you hadn't insisted on standing up until they'd finished their national anthem... 

Charters: Yes, but you must show respect, Caldicott. If I'd known it was going to last twenty minutes... 

Caldicott: It has always been my contention that the Hungarian Rhapsody is not their national anthem. In any case, we were the only ones standing.

The Lady Vanishes is one of the small number of films which is deeply engraved on my soul. 

Charters and Caldicott who became the heroes of a television series years in the late 1980s are archetypal upper middle class chaste cricket-mad English bachelor clubmen, an archetype that exists in our national collective unconscious but not any more in real life. 

Later in the civil service I found chaste well-bred public school men who were confirmed bachelors and seemed to me to have something from black and white films about them but they preferred books to cricket. 

Bandrika I'd like to fancy is Romania but it probably owes more to Czechoslovakia or Jugoslavia (it has mountains and borders Hungary).

Cecil Parker is an appeaser avant la lettre and ends up dead. Even dear old Basil Radford tries to make up to the commandant who stops the train and discovers they were both at Oxford. 

When Michael Redgrave KO-s the commandant and says, nonchalantly, 'I went to Cambridge myself', the Cambridge Arts Cinema raised the roof.

In Night Train to Munich made during the war the pair are on a train going through Germany when they are told war has been declared and they have only an hour to leave the country. Charters and Caldicott look at one another sharing a silent sombre thought until Wayne says 'You know what this means.' And Radford replies, 'We'll never see those golf clubs we left in Berlin again.' Such things made the British laugh in 1940.

Basil Radford, who played the pompous Charters, was born in 1897. He was 41 or 42 when the film was made. I can no longer disguise from myself that I am middle-aged. And I am older than The Three Musketeers were in Twenty Years After and they seemed so very old when I read that book aged 11. Where did the last twenty years go? I seem to have mislaid them like an umbrella left behind somewhere. I remember a misty eyed man in his seventies whom I saw walking around Old Court at College deep in reflection. How very old he seemed then and how very far away his undergraduate years in the 1920s or 30s.

But I cheer myself up by calculating that D'Artagnan and the musketeers would have been my age when they restored King Charles II to the throne of England in The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I still have time.

The Fall of the House of Murdoch

Prying, prurient, yellow journalism is very unpleasant, malicious, wicked in many cases and ruins people’s lives. But it is a sign of a free society. Privacy laws are a great enemy of freedom. So are laws preventing you smoking in your car or being rude about other people's religion.

However, the British public is in one of its periodical fits of morality and it is enormous fun. Having driven so many people to ruin by revelations it is riveting to see Rupert Murdoch and his court on the receiving end. I can't help be put in mind of Adolf Hitler in the bunker and his diaries published by News International  that unfortunately turned out to be forged. As Elisabeth Murdoch curses her brother James or is it Rebekah Wade one feels Sophocles would have done justice to this drama. Lord Dacre might have been the Chorus. 

"Even in Palermo, this would raise eyebrows" says the Daily Telegraph about allegations that  News International hacked into voicemail messages of unsuspecting persons. An unfavourable comparison with how they order things in Southern Europe, more than that the dear old Telegraph cannot say.

Well, I loathe the Murdoch press too. Murdoch debauched the tabloid press after he bought the Sun and he did so because he understood the people's preference for schadenfreude and titillation  rather than enlightenment. But is that his fault or that of his readers? A bit of both, I'd say.

Much of the current fuss about Murdoch is exaggerated but the damage he did the monarchy in particular is his greatest offence and unforgivable.  Although the Conservative Party forgave it.

I suppose David Cameron and his predecessors felt they had little choice just as Blair and Brown felt they needed to smother Murdoch with love. Peter Oborne says that at first Cameron tried to lead the Tories without treating with News International and found it didn’t work.

The  News of the World’s transcripts of the Prince of Wales’s bugged telephone conversations in 1992 were greeted with no outcry at all from a public which lapped them up eagerly. We are now told the royal family’s houses and telephones were bugged. But the public in 2011 cannot stomach the telephone of a murdered child from being tampered with.

Yes, the Murdoch press is vile and seems to have broken the law over and over again, has corrupted policemen and politicians, has hacked and bugged. The press needs to obey the present laws and I am delighted by the arrests and hope there are more but I am frightened that we are moving towards a society where it is compulsory to be nice and that this will be an opportunity for politicians to make intrusive bad taste reporting illegal. Thank goodness we know about John Edwards or Paddy Pantsdown. But I despise this public interest argument for free speech - any poor vicar's or actor's life is also, very unfortunately for them, fair game.

Everyone who writes about this including my favourite journalists is parti pris which is a great shame. Janet Daly is one of the few who breaks ranks. In the Sunday Telegraph today she argues presciently that this furore betokens limits on freedom of expression. And points out that the Murdoch press used its power inter alia to argue against a powerful E.U. and a powerful state. 

This is the rub. The Murdoch tabloids did foul things and supported the disastrous government of Tony Blair. Perhaps News international’s support was the key reason why we followed the USA into the disastrous war in Iraq. But the BBC, Guardian and the Independent for high-minded reasons that do them credit have a much worse track record of being disastrously wrong on the issues of our times. Europe, immigration, crime, the size of the state, etc., etc. But people nowadays are much more concerned about privacy and comfort and good behaviour than they are about an old-fashioned, rather American idea like freedom.

Matthew Parris behind the pay wall in the Times lists twenty things we all know are true but which we shall pretend to be scandalised by when they are revealed in the press. Please don’t then ask me to pretend to be shocked. As each in its due time surfaces, please don’t come over all indignant when (as I no doubt shall) I suggest that this news is hardly a surprise. Please don’t protest that (as the deceased Scottish sinner at the gates of Hell protested): “I didna ken.” As the Devil replied to the sinner: “Ye ken noo.” C’mon, reader, ye ken already.

 (I always thought it was God who said: "Well, ye ken noo.")

His list includes prison officers dealing in drugs,  corrupt police officers and war crimes in Aghanistan. Mine would include corruption among civil servants involved in procurement, corruption in local government especially when it comes to planning permission, the huge wastefulness of the race realtions industry, Muslim extremists funded by public money and the sale of peerages and honours. 

And then there are all the things which are not secrets at all, but are never discussed, like the slaughter of unborn babies, which we know is murder but nevertheless condone.

Stop Press: Rebekah (grim cognomen) Brooks has been arrested a couple of hours after I wrote this. Has she been arrested to prevent her being questioned by MPs on Tuesday? Or even - is this paranoid? - to protect the police? Why arrest her when she says she has been asking them to question her since January? My instinct tells me Scotland Yard is very deeply involved. (I can hardly believe I am saying this.) Their behaviour is more shocking than that of News International. The Telegraph is right -  this is getting like Palermo.

Language of diplomacy

On the eve of the Polish EU presidency, a friend of mine is astonished to watch on France cable television a debate in which the Polish Finance Minister speaks in native-level French.

Selwyn Lloyd the future British Foreign Secretary when offered the position of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs by Winston Churchill at first wanted to decline because he spoke no foreign languages and had never, except for his war service, been abroad. Something not uncommon among upper middle class Englishmen in 1951. 'These are two excellent qualifications for the job,' said Churchill. 

Mr. Blair spoke very good French, to the annoyance of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook who did not. Mr. Heath spoke French too with an accent much ridiculed at least in the U.K. (the French were said to have thought it charming).

I think I remember that Margaret Thatcher spoke fair schoolgirl French. Did she? The Queen and Prince of Wales naturally speak French perfectly. Eden carried around a volume of Ronsard in his pocket. Macmillan spoke good French too. John Major and James Callaghan who left school young did not. Mr. Brown's French is execrable. Does David Cameron speak French?

Churchill is said to have begun a speech to the French National Assembly, wanting to say 'When I look back over my past', with the words 

Quand je regarde mon derriere, je vois qu'il est divise en deux parties egales”.

Saturday 16 July 2011

“Otto — a mortal, sinful man!” “Let him be admitted."

I just watched these questions put and answered on television. They were very moving, from a religious and historical point of view,  though less moving to watch on television than to read.  The Capuchin monk looked nervous as he answered and glanced at the television camera. The end of a very old song.


Capuchin Friar : “Who desires admission?”

Leader of funeral party:  “Otto of Austria, former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Prince Royal of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Illyria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Osweicim and Zator, of Teschen, Friaul, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trento and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria: Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenburg; Lord of Trieste, Kotor and Windic March; Grand Voivod of the Voivodship of Serbia” But in fact he skipped some of these and ended “etc etc”

Friar : “We do not know him!”


Friar : “Who desires admission?”
Leader  : “Dr Otto von Habsburg; President and Honorary President of the Pan-European Union; Member and Father of the House of the European Parliament; Holder of honorary doctorates from countless universities and freeman of many communities in Central Europe; Member of numerous noble academies and institutes; Bearer of high and highest awards, decorations and honours of church and state made to him in recognition of his decade-long struggle for the freedom of peoples, for right and justice.”

Friar: “We do not know him!”


Friar : “Who desires admission?”
Leader  : “Otto — a mortal, sinful man!”
Friar: “Let him be admitted."

I might have been in Vienna today to line the streets for Otto von Habsburg's funeral. I remember Andrew Roberts making me very jealous by telling me he was there for the Empress Zita’s in 1989 just as Communism came to an end and now I have let a second chance slip by.

"In the hour of grief over this tragic loss, I associate myself with you and the entire imperial family in prayer for the deceased." — Pope Benedict XVI

Do not stay at the Hotel Del Mar, Sozopol

The Hotel Del Mar  opened a week before I arrived so I hate to be critical but don't stay there....

My shower did not have hot running water. When I told the manager he came to my room and told me three times that the shower was working fine before I arrived. I didn’t pay this remark any attention but when I went to pay he repeated this twice with the pugnacity that short men have. I said: 'Why do you keep saying that? Are you suggesting I broke it?'  'Yes!' And he told me he would charge me to have it repaired. I told him to call the police which he promised to do. He said that the maid cleaned the bathroom with the shower every day so it was certain it had been working without a problem until I arrived. Then he added a piece of clinching evidence that the  maid had told him there was water on the bathroom floor. To save time I condescended to explain to him that the shower emitted only cold water not hot. He vanished and after ten minutes returned and said without apology or explanation that I would not be charged for the damage.  

Rather unpleasant, actually.

I asked if there was someone I could write to to complain but there was not so I am writing this instead. 

Otherwise, depressingly tacky furniture and furnishings, a disappointing breakfast, good sea views. There are much better places in Sozopol to stay. Very much better to get a private room in a lovely old National Revival house with a vine-strewn garden as I had done the night before, for a mere 12 euros. I stayed in a lovely place with a lovely landlady and will post her address when I find the card

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Romanian education

I wrote this in 2005. Much has changed since then.

Romania’s greatest resources are not her mineral or agricultural resources but her human resources. But like her physical resources her human resources are poorly developed

Before Communism, Romania was what would today be described as a Third World country, with a tiny rich elite, a small educated middle-class (many of whom were Jewish or belonged to other ethnic minorities) and a mass of impoverished and mostly illiterate peasants. Industrialisation was imposed from above, as a result of the application of Marxist-Leninist principles, rather than occurring organically and Romania today retains in many ways a pre-industrial culture yoked to an ill-conceived and chaotic industrial base. In common with most agrarian or industrialising countries with large peasant populations (Ireland springs to mind and many countries outside Europe) the key social division in Romanian society is between ‘intellectuals’ and the mass of the population. In the countryside, where life has not changed much over centuries, the status of the intellectual is particularly important. In the villages the priest, the schoolmaster and the doctor form the intellectual class, subscribe to magazines from Bucharest and are looked on by their neighbours as sources of guidance and illumination on most subjects.

The word ‘intellectuals’ was recently defined by the commentator, Mircea Toma, to mean ‘free-thinkers’ but it is usually used in Romania as a catch-all expression (Marxist in origin) meaning, essentially, graduates. Between graduates and those who did not attend university there yawns an abyss almost comparable with that between the races in apartheid South Africa.

Before the Revolution Communist doctrine emphasised the dignity of manual labour and the importance of vocational training in order to produce workers, technicians and managers as quickly as possible in order to build socialism. Romania therefore restricted the numbers receiving university education especially in arts subjects. It was difficult to be accepted to study the humanities at university without a satisfactory ‘file’. In other words in order to be politically correct university students were generally expected to be the children of Party members (usually both parents had to carry Party cards).

Partly for this reason, partly because investment in capital projects was at the cutting edge of the Communist economic policy and partly because the hard sciences were taught objectively without a Marxist slant, engineering was a highly popular subject, studied not at university but at the polytechnics. From this derives the old chestnut that Romanians fell into two categories: intellectuals and engineers. After December 1989 Romania lurched toward the modern world with great numbers of well-qualified and talented engineering graduates and little use to which to put them. Today engineering graduates dominate much of business and have amongst other things produced the ingenious IT professionals who are more plentiful here than in any other European country.

From 1990 the universities did an about-turn to serve the new Romania and lecturers who had taught Leninist economic theory had to reinvent themselves and their courses in a hurry. But the numbers of school-leavers who aspired to a university education or, at least, to a university degree, far outran the number of places available at the state universities. As a result, many people pay to study for degrees full-time or at night-school or by distance learning from the plethora of private universities that have been set up since the Revolution (with varying reputations, some cowboy outfits, others excellent, but all viewed as inferior by proud graduates of the state universities).  Some TV presenters and singers study at private universities, their fees sponsored by lovers of the arts, in something of the spirit in which they accept cars or diamond rings. In fairness, Romania is not the only country where students who are not naturally intended for academic education pursue degrees of questionable value. In Great Britain the trend has gone much further and graduates there emerge with far less general knowledge or high culture. And in Romania as elsewhere the wider availability of university education has made society less hierarchical than would otherwise be the case.

Partly because educational qualifications are seen as the key to a successful career as well as social status, partly because in the 1980s the country benefited from the inestimable boon of having only two hours television per day, Romanians are exceptionally erudite in contrast to their contemporaries in Western Europe and even more markedly in contrast with those in North America. They are highly cultured and excel at the art of conversation. They read a lot, know a lot of facts and absorb a great deal of technical detail. Unfortunately, the educational system can also tend to encourage rote learning and conformism at the expense of originality and independent thinking, rather as in Japan. This is reflected in marking students out of 10 in each exam. Exams are frequent from the age of seven until graduation at 23. Marks over 9 are a source of pride, 8s a cause for anguish, in contrast with the ubiquitous ‘2:1’s of British graduates. Although university teachers use seminars, the large classes and frequency of examinations put the emphasis on training at the expense of true education.

Very many young Romanian will have or intend to have two, three or more degrees, perhaps having studied for two simultaneously or taken further degrees while working. Students also frequently hold down demanding jobs while undergraduates. Very often they still manage to pass their exams with flying colours as a result of hard work and dedication. Where hard work and dedication are not enough sometimes a discreet present to an examiner can make up for deficiencies caused by lack of time for revision. But university in Western Europe is above all a time for personal growth, the only time in most people’s lives when one has (unless one is rich) freedom without responsibility. In the West that freedom is sometime abused and more often wasted but in Romania it does not exist. It is very difficult for overworked and hard-up students to pass the endless exams and gain a true education at the same time. Some female students even take the route of thinly-disguised prostitution to make ends meet. Many tens of thousands more simply do not take up courses in order to make a meagre living in jobs which do not utilise their potential.

Because the emphasis in Romanian universities is too often on training rather than education Romanian employers and employees alike expect the subject an employee studies at university to be directly related to the profession he chooses. But because in fact the teaching at university is theoretical rather than vocational, a graduate aspiring to enter his first job will be asked to show experience of the real world as well as high exam marks, a combination difficult to achieve. Romanian universities too often therefore fall between two stools. They are apt to fail both as genuine universities which exist to develop minds by the disinterested pursuit of truth and as effective vocational training institutes preparing their students for the challenges that will face them on leaving. However, cheating in exams and bribery of examiners, although the frequency of both can be exaggerated, will teach the graduate that there is more than one way to make ones career. In a job market dominated by personal connections and where in some sectors female graduates are routinely expected to have romantic liaisons with decision-makers  before they can be given an entry-level job, perhaps these lessons are a good preparation for the real world after all.

ASE, to  name the most distinguished teaching body in the sphere of business education, produces thousands of graduates with competent technical skills but the teachers often fail to teach students how to think for themselves, how to communicate ideas, how to solve problems and how to work as a team. Perhaps we should not judge the teachers too harshly as the older ones were teaching Marxist-Leninist theory until the Revolution and all the lecturers were themselves the products of Marxist education. Certainly things are beginning to change and educational ideas from abroad are beginning to oxidize the teaching system here at all levels. Nevertheless, the multinationals, for which the majority of good graduates aspire to work, can and do provide excellent vocational training on the job. What the Romanian economy urgently needs and lacks are creative and even iconoclastic minds.

Since 1990 marketing, economics and business administration are the most popular subjects at state and private universities alike for hard-headed economic reasons, along with law. MBAs abound nowadays but Romanian graduates are still often required to memorise what they are taught rather than question it. The result is that, as on previous occasions in her history, Romania tries to adopt the forms of Western behaviour without completely accepting or understanding the ethos behind them.   ©Paul Wood 2011