Friday 27 July 2012

The news from Damascus

Much to do before I go on holiday but for sure I found time to drink a coffee with a Syrian Christian friend newly arrived in Bucharest from Damascus. We had dinner a couple of times in Damascus in 2006 and since then we have both grown older and he has married and had three children.

My friend tells me 90% of Christians and Muslims in Damascus want the regime to go and so do 50% of Alawis. He thinks it might happen very soon. He suspects the fighting in Homs is ethnic cleansing possibly to create an Alawi mini-state. 

He is a Syrian Christian who has now fled the country, as have many, and said no-one is targetting Christians - although I have read that they have been in Homs. He says the regime have given Alawis arms and want to arm the Christians who have declined the offer. I mentioned Christians leaving Egypt. He says many of his friends are Muslims and a Muslim Brotherhood government need not be a bad thing. We both agreed the regime must go. He suspects the Sunni general who defected recently is just theatre and he may return to head a new regime much like the old one. He now expects a rapid change in pace leading to regime change or a major war.

He thinks regime change is needed and so now do I, although previously I had thought the regime might be the less evil - I think it is inevitable too though not necessarily nearly as quickly or easily as my friend hopes.

He came to Bucharest for what he hopes will be a month's holiday because of the situation in Damascus, which is no longer safe for someone with young children. He is glad he came last week not this week after the recent killings. He says in a month  there may well have  have been a climacteric, regime change. 

Neither he nor anyone knows though I assume the Americans and British are using their influence to get rid of Mr. Assad and replace him by the second tier of the regime which can make peace and call elections. Who knows what the Iranians and Russians and Saudis are doing or Al Qaeda.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Top ten places to take visiting friends in Bucharest.

Princess  Eleonore af Schaumburg-Lippe lists her ten places to take visiting friends in Bucharest.

My ten place to show friends in Bucharest would be:

The Stavropoleos church

The Patriarchal Cathedral

The Village Museum

The Antim monastery


Mogoşoaia Palace

The Dacian treasures in the basement of the National History Museum

Caru cu Bere

Cernica monastery

The Royal Palace (National Art Museum)

TicTac restaurant near Cismigiu would once have been my first choice but it is only a shrunken thing. Sarpile Rosu is no more. The Old Town has been spoilt. I would take them to a good, simple terrace - perhaps Blanduziei, No. 2, Str. Academiei, close to the entrance to the National Bank. The food is mediocre but the terrace is so charming and the feeling genuine, unlike the nearby new Old Town. The waiter told me Mihai Eminescu used to eat there, though I am not sure if I believe everything waiters tell me. Maybe to some music hall - Miss Piranda. Gypsy music is definitely de rigueur. Casa Doina. The Theodor Aman museum. Somewhere on the waterside at Lake Herestrau - perhaps to Casa di David. Pasarea Monastery. Athenee Palace Hilton is a must of course but now we have far more than ten.

I am trying to think of odd cheap places and can only think of TicTac which was pure 1980s - and Blanduziei likewise perhaps. Why I do not know strange bars full of gypsies? I must get out more. 

Thinking about it, walking through decrepit fin de (last) siecle streets is, actually, by far the best thing to do with visitors. They are Bucharest's great charm.

Saturday 21 July 2012

'You can't be a feminist and a Conservative'

Harriet Harman interviewed in today's Daily Mail:

'You can't be a feminist and a Conservative because (feminism) is all about equality and fairness.'  

If only that were true. Tories are feminists, have long been so, and worse they do believe in 'equality'. ('Fairness' is just rhetoric - everyone believes in that, including people who believed in slavery or auto da fe.)

Toryism and equality should be mortal foes. Equality of outcome of course would be tragic in practice but is equally objectionable in principle. But equality of opportunity cleverly hides the premise that inequality is illegitimate and the implied corollary that it is the business and even the duty of the state to iron out inequalities - that as Lord Mandelson said a greengrocer's daughter and a High Court judge's daughter should have the same life chances. We should aim to improve life chances but not use the concept of equality which is fatally tainted by socialism. So many of the problems of the modern world spring from the fact that people are uncomfortable about the idea of hierarchy and inequality. This may be connected to decline in religious belief and is certainly connected to the influence of Marxism.

As for feminism, has it been women's worst enemy or a mixed blessing? Women should better answer this than I. It seems to me it has made women who want careers far freer but women as a whole far less free - forced in most cases to go out to work because of mortgages. And it has led to the huge unemployment we had in the 1980s and to the disastrous fall in the number of births which is spelling the death of the English.

What I am certain of is that Labour has been the working class's greatest enemy. And after 1997 a great enemy of the English people.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Fat middle-aged Englishmen

Thanks to, meaning I stole this from the Facebook wall of, Alex Woodcock-Clark, who commented on it:

This man is committing about six crimes right here. Possession of a firearm. Owner of a restricted breed dog. Dog off leash. Guarding cholesterol rich pudding. Glorifying morbid obesity. Being an elderly male in a youth culture. Sporting mutton-chop whiskers non-ironically. Plumage of endangered bird in cap.

John Bull, Mr. Jorrocks, Mr. Pickwick, Dr. Johnson, Sir Winston Churchill, the great fat English heroes. I do not add Sir John Falstaff, who was a rapist and a murderer. I suppose Mr. Punch was a wife batterer but he is only a puppet.

'In or around 1955 the British discovered sex and instantly made it ridiculous.'

'In or around 1955 the British discovered sex and instantly made it ridiculous.' Sir Oswald Mosley

Calea Victoriei

'E bizantină şi apuseană, trândavă şi vioaie, zâmbitoare şi posomorită, dornică de schimbări şi înfiptă în trecut.' 

Gheorghe Cretzescu despre Calea Victoriei.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Conspiracies and coups in the Balkans

Ronnie Smith believes a conspiracy involving the Pentagon and Mr. George Soros is behind the suspension of Mr. Traian Basescu. This is exactly the sort of thing many Russians apparently believe, but then quite a few of them believe September 11th was a plot organised by George Bush. (Absurd - had he organised it would have gone wrong.)

Ronnie is an old-fashioned 1970s anti-American Leftist who believes in conspiracies, especially ones involving the USA, but he should offer us evidence, if only circumstantial. Mr. Băsescu has been pretty loyal to the US and the US surely wants stability in Romania. The US Ambassador made it pretty clear he disapproved of the 'putsch'. But because people who discuss Romanian politics tend to become paranoid conspiracy theorists does not mean that there are no conspiracies. There are any number.

The sudden measures to change the presidents of the two chambers and suspend the president all by emergency ordinance sounded to foreigners like the story of an old fashioned Latin American coup. Why did it happen so quickly? I am told it was to prevent the President persuading deputies (unconstitutionally, of course) to defect from the governing coalition. 

Why did the PSD-PNL coalition take power this summer rather than wait till the November elections? There is more than one theory. The Government wanted to stop the PDL raising money for their campaign, by unethical means. And perhaps to raise some money themselves, who knows. And they wanted to  hold the PSD-PNL coalition together by allowing them to distribute the fruits of office.

Why impeach the president?  Perhaps to stop the President, who controls the very powerful secret services,  organising a series of bombshells from now to the November Parliamentary elections, like the revelation that Mr. Ponta had plagiarised his doctoral thesis. Whether Mr. Băsescu is behind it or not, Ponta and Crin certainly think he is - in fact almost everyone thinks he is since he made so much play with Mr. Ponta's doctorate in law speaking a week before the Nature article. But I am not clear why these things cannot continue whether or not  Mr. Băsescu is President.  Mr. Băsescu must have a lot of information to use and his links with the Secret Services will not come to an end if he ceases to be President.

Still it might be that the plagiarism scandal led Mr. Ponta to decide that it was impossible to cohabit with the President until the November elections. The discovery that the prime minister plagiarised his doctoral thesis probably did not greatly surprise the clever people here who know that very many doctoral theses are plagiarised just as it is fairly normal to cheat in exams.  But to the man in the street, who probably did not go to university, it looks bad. It is, in any case, something that humiliates Victor Ponta and which he may find  in the long term hard to ride out.The way in which he moved rapidly to change the composition of the body that rules on plagiarism an hour before it could pronounce against him looks terrible, in Romania and abroad.

The Constitutional Court, which people think is very friendly to the President who appointed many of its judges, ruled that it was not legal to remove by emergency ordinance the rule whereby 50% + 1 of the registered electors must vote for a vote to unseat the President. There is an argument for saying the change in the rules by emergency ordinance (used frequently here by all administrations), to return the rules to how they were before the PDL changed them after the last impeachment, was perfectly legal. On the other hand many lawyers say this could only be done by normal legislation. I am too ignorant to be able to venture an informed opinion but the Court's decision must be respected and Mr. Ponta has, grudgingly, under pressure from the EU, agreed that it will. 

What is certain is that it was always very likely indeed that the court would rule as it has and that the talk of emergency ordinances would sound like hell in the chanceries of Europe, coming immediately on the heels of the plagiarism scandal. Either Mr. Ponta did not care or he was in too much of a hurry to get the president out of the way before the president could retaliate.

People in Bucharest argue fiercely for and against the President, though there is enormous hatred for Mr. Băsescu among a lot of the voters. He is blamed for the austerity measures which the previous Governments took and accused of presiding over a system in which vast sums disappeared from public budgets while he purported to organise anti-corruption campaigns in which his opponents seemed to figure prominently. The austerity measures were severe but demanded by the IMF. I hear many rumours from well-informed business people about corruption in the President's camp  but I have no means of knowing exactly what really went on. 

I do remember enough from the last time there was a PSD government to expect them to plunder the country if they win in November, as it is assumed they will. Before November they scan be expected to be discreet, though if the parliamentary coup is their idea of being discreet we political anoraks will have much fun. The PSD are the de facto successors to the Communist Party and are not liked by most white collar workers in Bucharest and so hot discussions are taking place all over hot Bucharest during these dog days of July. All the factions in this fight are corrupt and it is very hard for foreigners to take sides but many Romanians seem to find it relatively easy, though some throw up their hands in despair. 

Both Mr. Băsescu and Mr. Ponta have stretched to breaking point and, yes, abused the constitution, as clever politicians are apt to do in a new democracy where conventions are fluid and the courts are considered partial and in some cases corrupt. But it is Mr. Ponta who has drawn international attention to himself and condemnation even from other Centre-Left parties abroad.  In the old days the courts did what the PSD told them to do discreetly but now things are much more complicated. Judges are less corrupt and they are split in their political sympathies between the parties. 

The recent events in Romania are a game in which ideals and principles do not play much of a part except that both sides really think the others are crooks and both of course are right. The most important aspect of the story is that it will lead some people to call for more powers for the European Union to intervene in the internal affairs of member states. These calls should be resisted at all costs, by Romanians and by all Europeans. 

European powers have tried to understand Balkan politics without much success from the Greek War of independence to the war in Kosovo and onwards to the present day and only succeeded in projecting onto the Balkans ideas which make sense in other parts of Europe. The Balkans said Bismarck, are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Opaque Balkan intrigues should not be an excuse for further diminution of the national sovereignty of E.U. member states. In any case the Romanian voters - who can envy them their task? - will have the chance to record their verdicts in this month's referendum and in the Parliamentary elections in November.

Monday 16 July 2012

Facebook shows us that we are all parallel straight lines

Facebook conversations remind me of these lines from Aldous Huxley's masterpiece Crome Yellow (Brave New World is rubbish): 

Parallel straight lines, Denis reflected, meet only at infinity.
He might talk for ever of care-charmer sleep and she of
meteorology till the end of time. Did one ever establish contact
with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines. Jenny was only
a little more parallel than most.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

This is the perfect moment to restore King Michael

This is the perfect moment to restore King Michael to the Romanian throne and Crin and the Liberal party should suggest this if they want to be worthy of their nineteenth century forbears. 

I long suspected Romania was not a real country but now I realise - they plagiarised Anthony Hope. If only they would bring back King Michael to make it more Ruritanian. 

Tuesday 10 July 2012

What's it all about in Romania?

It is much more important to know what questions to ask than how to answer them. Here are some questions about the revolution in Romania.

Why did the USL coalition take power at all in Romania this summer rather than wait till the parliamentary elections in November which they seemed (and seem) certain to win? To keep the alliance together is one suggestion I heard from a well-informed foreign observer- to enable Victor Ponta and the PSD to keep their PNL allies happy with what Trollope called  'the soothing waters of office.' A better informed Romanian banker thinks it has a much simpler explanation. The PSD and PNL want to make money to finance their campaign or at least stop the PDL making money to finance theirs from deals with state-owned companies like Hidroelectrica. 

Perhaps this is why they suspended  President Băsescu  too, to prevent the PDL raising money. But is their any link between the secret services, controlled by the president personally and therefore source of enormous power to him, and the plagiarism scandal broken by 'Nature'? This question is not so important but I wonder if the impeachment is all part of a plan when the USL took power or a response to the plagiarism allegations (they are more than allegations - they are proven).

Like so many things in Romanian  politics the impeachment and the dramatic actions which led up to it (decried abroad as a coup) do not look like a cunning plan to me but as usual with Romanian politicians a badly thought out mess. The Constitutional Court as was almost inevitable has ruled that the government does not have the power to change the law to allow a mere simple majority of the voters to decide if President Băsescu is impeached. 50% plus one of the registered electors need to turn out and vote and a majority of them need to vote to impeach him. This makes it very much harder to impeach him. People do not like him but they do not much like this impeachment process either and it is very hot and they have better things to do on a weekend in the dog days of a Romanian July when the heat is unbearable than to go and vote against him and for their new government. Quite a few will be away from home on holiday or away for the weekend keeping cool in the mountains.

The Financial Times reported yesterday evening that the Government had said it would respect the court's ruling. Some of today's papers say Victor Ponta will not respect the ruling, others are unclear. All is confusion. In theory we could have Mr. Băsescu losing the referendum with a turnout of below 50%, he and the Constitutional Court claiming he is president and Crin claiming he is acting president - a situation like the Anti-Popes who waged war on one another in the Middle Ages or the three false Dimitris who bedevilled Polish history or the various people who claimed to be Louis XVII. 

It could become an opera like Boris Gudonov. As I said last week (the idea is Alison Mutler's) so much of what happens in Romania is operatic. Who would play Elena Udrea? Maybe the singer in 'Anna Nicole Smith: The Opera'. This opera however will not end tragically. It is going to be a comic opera though very badly written and sung. 

If the government accepts the court's ruling it will be a game changer and  Mr. Băsescu could urge his voters to boycott the polls to increase his chances hugely. He may be too combative for this course but if he took it he would have a very good chance indeed of remaining President in August. And then the USL would look foolish, if they do not already. Romanian politics tends to be like this - emotionally charged, Machiavellian, dramatic but badly thought out and often slightly pointless, like many things in this country that I love so much.

if the government refuses to accept the court's ruling then we are in coup or putsch territory - oh my fur and whiskers!

One thing is certainly proven - the value of the monarchy. No one suspects that the King would use the secret services to frame his political opponents or to embezzle money and kings cannot be impeached. I would respect Crin and the Liberals if at this moment they would come out for restoring the monarchy.

Mrs. Monica Macovei is a former Minister of Justice who actually did achieve some good things in reducing corruption among Romanian judges with President Băsescu's support (there is still far to go). She  is one of the very few heroes in Romanian politics. She belongs to President Băsescu's PDL and has her own political reasons for decrying the coup in the European Parliament and by so doing is doing great harm to the  Romanian government, to the fury of the USL.  The leader of the PSD MEPs, one Catalin Ivan, has hilariously called on the President of the European Parliament to move to expel her for damaging the Parliament's reputation by her comments. It would make a dog laugh. Such politicians Romania has and such parliamentarians the European Union has. I suppose a quarter of a century ago he would have called her a right-wing deviationist.

This week's quotations

Joseph Conrad

We live as we dream...alone

Emile Cioran

Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide
to anyone. 
Carlos Castaneda

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as either a blessing or a curse.

M. Scott Peck

Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths because once we truly get it- we transcend it. Once we accept this, then life is no longer difficult. Because once we accept it, the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.

Tony Hawks
Things can be done. The people in life who get them done are the ones who know that, and the ones who don't are the rest.

Malcom Muggeridge

Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message

The most terrible thing about materialism, even more terrible than its proneness to violence, is its boredom, from which sex, alcohol, drugs, all devices for putting out the accusing light of reason and suppressing the unrealizable aspirations of love, offer a prospect of deliverance.”

Sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.

I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.
The pursuit of happiness, which American citizens are obliged to undertake, tends to involve them in trying to perpetuate the moods, tastes and aptitudes of youth.

Travel, of course, narrows the mind.

Charles Baudelaire

Sexuality is the lyricism of the masses.

JD Salinger

All we do our whole, lives long is to go from one pice of holy ground to another.

Scott Fitzgerald

It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know that they won’t save us any more than love did.

Mark Twain

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

Thomas Carlyle

The past is attractive because it is drained of fear.

Robin Skynner
An intense preoccupation with politics is usually a means of putting painful personal conflicts outside ourselves, disowning them.

Alexandre Dumas fils

It is only rarely that one can see in a litle boy the promise of a man, but one can almost always see in a little girl the threat of a woman.

Peter Drucker
Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.

St Ignatius

A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by his genius what he can make of it.

There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands and let themselves be formed by his grace.

Eckhart Tolle
The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.

Christopher Booker

The state of someone who has failed to overcome his fantasy self, and find his central unity, is that of someone who still cannot, at the deepest level of his being, take anything seriously except his own ego.

Aldous Huxley

An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.

WH Auden

To the man in the street who, I’m sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life
The word intellectual merely denotes
A man who cheats on his wife.


The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.

Alfred Adler

A clumsy right hand cannot be trained into a skillful right hand by taking thought, by wishing it were less clumsy, or even by avoiding clumsiness. It can become skillful only by exercise in practical achievements, and the incentive to the achievement must be more deeply felt than the discouragement at the hitherto existent clumsiness.

There is no such thing as talent. There is pressure.

More important than innate disposition, objective experience, and environment is the subjective evaluation of these. Furthermore, this evaluation stands in a certain, often strange, relation to reality.

Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.

Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority which calls for very special efforts of concealment. It is as if a man feared that he was too small and walked on his toes to make himself seem taller.

The self-bound individual always forgets that his self would be safeguarded better and automatically the more he prepares himself for the welfare of mankind, and that in this respect no limits are set for him.

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.

Lawrence Durrell

You have two birth-places you have the place where you were born and then you have a place of predilection when really you wake up to reality....

Before my love has a chance to crystalise, it turns into a deep, a devouring friendship.

A woman's best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.

Jonathan Ames

I'm reminded of this line from the movie The Red Shoes: "Life rushes by, time rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on dancing forever." All of that applies to me, except for the red shoes part. Everything seems to be rushing by, and I'm floating above it all, reaching my hand out to life, but not quite grasping it, like waving your hand for a taxi that is clearly occupied.

David Aaronovitch

In his book about British Second World War traitors Sean Murphy, the author, recounts the words of a convicted Waffen SS volunteer, Benson Railton Freeman. Sentenced to ten years’ jail for treachery, Freeman told his lawyer: “This just shows how rotten this democracy is. The Germans would have had the honesty to shoot me.”
I love his disappointment.

Holbrook Jackson

Happiness is a form of courage.  
Eleanor Roosevelt:

If, as I can't help suspecting, the dead also feel the pains of separation (and this may be one of their purgatorial sufferings), then for both lovers, and for all pairs of lovers without exception, bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.

Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.

Wilhelm Stekel:
Anxiety is fear of one's self.

Fervid atheism is usually a screen for repressed religion.


Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life


All philosophy is disguised psychology

Isaiah Berlin

As you know, I never read a book

Rt. Rev Paul Richardson

We are going to have to invent a new civil religion. Already the process has begun with the observance of Holocaust Day and increasing focus on Human Rights as providing a shared basis for morality. (Daily Telegraph 27 Jun 2009)

Milton Friedman
...the preserves of discrimination in any society are the areas that are most monopolistic in character, whereas discrimination against groups of particular color or religion is least in those areas where there is the greatest freedom of competition.

Ludwig von Mises

If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.

Claude Cockburn
Failure, so despicable in others, in oneself the only dignified thing.

(Red?) Indian proverb
Women conquer men by their stillness 


London was invented by foreigners

If there is one publication I hate most, the Guardian of course excepted, it is the Economist.

Today a piece on the joys of immigration into London included these thoughts

“London was invented by foreigners.”

We cannot know whether London existed before the Romans came to Rye or out to Severn strode, although Ptolemy records it as one of the cities of the Cantiaci, the Celtic inhabitants of Kent. The only recorded British city that existed when the Romans came is Colchester, I believe. Certainly the Romans built a city at London. It is thought (I am not convinced there is much strong evidence either way) that it was deserted after the Romans left and re-invented by the English (more precisely, the Saxons) not long after the defeat of Artorius (the legendary King Arthur). It lay in the Kingdom of Essex, my much-derided native place.

All peoples are immigrants at some point - they did not spring out of the ground - but London was not  a very cosmopolitan city at all until at least the Second World War when Poles, Free French and GIs arrived, but even in 1948, when the first boatload of West Indian immigrants arrived, the non-white population of the UK was somewhere between ten and twenty thousand, mostly lascars and their families living near the docks. Many people want to disguise this well-known fact and very many more have been persuaded that the English are the product of continuous waves of immigration, instead of remaining remarkably homogenous after the Normans and the English became one people. The Huguenots were no more than about 40,000. The Jews were far more numerous which is why the Aliens Act 1905 was passed to stop immigration from outside the Empire - by 1919 they amounted to about 250,000. I have seen the British Brothers who agitated for the Act being described as racists and fascists avant la lettre but no-one has ever suggested repealing the provisions of the Act which in 1962 were extended to apply to British subjects overseas and Commonwealth citizens The Irish moved from one part of the United Kingdom to another and were therefore not immigrants any more than the Scots or Welsh.
“Even the children of the earlier, poorer, immigrants are generally doing well…Bangladeshis have just overtaken whites, and black Africans are nearly on a par with them.”
Very interesting news. The Labour Party seems to have been the worst enemy the working class ever had but Labour has made up for the decline in the working class by creating a new constituency of support.
“All this has changed London utterly. It has created a new elite: foreigners, or recently naturalised Britons, dominate the best neighbourhoods and the best schools (see article). It has altered the sound of the streets: English is not the first language of 22% of Londoners and 42% of London children. It has given rise to “multicultural London English”, as the linguists call it—a mix of Cockney, Jamaican and other languages spoken by the young of all ethnic groups.”
Whether this is a good thing depends to some extent on how good a thing you think traditions are. 

“But last year’s riots were a picture of multiracial harmony, with black and white looting side by side.”

I suspect this is rather over played for propaganda reasons and have seen some evidence that most people brought before the courts in connection with the riots were non-white and that this was in large part an old fashioned race riot in which some whites joined in, but oddly, although apartheid-style figures on ethnicity are kept to measure unfairness and discrimination, they seem not to be kept where criminal offences are concerned. I have seen a somewhat rough estimate, based on the names of defendants, that fewer than 25% of them were white.

I rather mourn repressed class-conscious monarchist London of the black and white films with its cult of low-key respectability. Though I doubt if I should have fitted in there.

Taking part in a riot can be an ecstatic, spiritual experience says bishop

A rather sweetly foggy Anglican clergyman is in trouble in the conservative press for saying rioting can be an ecstatic  spiritual experience

 One knows what he means. Ex stasis. Like the Dionysian mysteries.

Tins of sardines have changed but, even after 50 years, Anglican clergymen still resemble Alan Benett's parson who said, 

' Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key. '
I would not have the patience to be a taxi driver in Bucharest. I think most taxi drivers do not have it either.

Monday 9 July 2012


This looks like the wonderful Jal beach in Albania where I camped (for the first and last time in my life) two years ago. Or was it 3? I wrote about it here. Anyway shall go back this year I hope.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Scandal at Cambridge. 'Racism is natural and feminism harms women'

A scandal at dear old Cambridge. Caused by a researcher in Land Economy (I remember this as the refuge of younger sons of the aristocracy, usually at Magdalene) giving vent, unwisely on the net not the Magdalene bar, to some old-fashioned saloon bar opinions on subjects far from drainage and soil erosion, such as:

"Men must work hard, compete and take risks throughout their lives if they want any life at all, whilst women need only to look youthful and behave selfishly."

The Students Union is outraged.

"Cambridge is a diverse, multicultural community which stands against - and, indeed, refutes -everything he stands for," a spokesperson told The Cambridge Student.
"Obviously, an individual who expresses such deeply racist views, such deeply sexist views and who explicitly endorses national socialism cannot remain as a supervisor for Cambridge students.
"This raises further worrying issues regarding how the university could employ such an individual - the university must give its community concrete assurances that its recruitment procedures will become sufficiently robust to prevent such an unacceptable individual from being employed in future."

If Cambridge is a diverse community it should welcome diverse opinions, I suppose. Isn't that what universities are meant to be for? Still I am young enough to know one can disregard what is said by the students' union, a sad invisible institution. Yet I do expect undergraduates at my alma mater, even left-wing ones, to know the meaning of the word 'refute'.

Is Cambridge diverse these days? When I was there Cambridge contained two or three  types: public school men and some women (a tiny subgroup were homosexual and read History of Art) and state school men and some women.  Almost never the twain did meet - not very diverse but I don't think I much like diversity, personally. 
Natural scientists, mathematicians and engineers passed for state school even if they went to famous schools but, being estranged from the arts students who never spoke to them, were perhaps a third category. 

Is racism human nature? Human nature is certainly terribly right-wing. It should not be described but altered, according to ideas based on the latest research.

Eugenics, which began as a progressive idea like feminism, is, by the way, a fact of life in Great Britain - babies are aborted because of congenital defects or even their sex all the time, but I doubt if the Students' Union wants to limit abortions.

Perhaps being a Cambridge don is not always the dream job I think it is.

How Romanian his opinions sound, although he forgot to mention rape victims asking for it, as many Romanian women believe, or to make the remarks Romanians make about people who are  'handicapat'. 

Romania has all this to look forward to, but not too soon. It is no longer the 1950s here but we are now in the 1970s.

The last word goes to Bertrand Russell, from his Sceptical Essays (1928): 

It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions make it impossible to earn a living.

I hope it doesn't come to that for poor Sewell.

The EU got rid of Berlusconi and Papandreou - next Ponta?

The EU got rid of Berlusconi and Papandreou  - next Ponta? 

I am torn - but I think I would rather Ponta and Parliament than the EU decide who governs Romania.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Thoughts on today's coup in Romania

One of my rules in life is that analogies with the Nazis are always false and misleading. Still, last night's and today's 'coup d'etat' in Romania, aimed at removing the President and the speaker of the Senate and packing the Constitutional Court, did involuntarily put even me in mind of how easily and smoothly the Nazis took power in Germany after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. This is something I have recently been reading about in Sebastian Hafner's absolutely wonderful memoir called Defying Hitler, an eyewitness account which was not published until about ten years ago and which deserves to be a classic.

Photo: HEIL!
10 ONG-uri incearca sa-i opreasca, totusi. Gasiti mai jos scrisoarea catre Barroso si Comisia Europeana. Asteptati zilele urmatoare reactia.

Nor is the analogy lost on Hitler's countrymen who wrote an opinion piece in today's Deutsche Welle  which mentions the Enabling Act by which Hitler was constitutionally granted dictatorial powers. A moment's reflection is enough to see that this analogy is very superficial and in bad taste (nothing wrong with bad taste in politics, though). No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of its right to a free vote in November.  But the leaders of the governing USL coalition, Victor Ponta and Crin Antonescu, are making a huge mistake in terms of Romania's image abroad by behaving in a way which begs Deutsche Welle's comparisons with contemporary Belarus, the Third Reich and Stalin.  Romania's poor image abroad is something which matters absolutely enormously to the Romanian electorate, even though they are very used to it. It is foolish of the USL to  make a proud people even more ashamed than usual of their leaders. 

Actually, another analogy that comers to my mind is the coup that overthrew Gorbachev in 1991 for three days, made by drunken Soviet Generals. That collapsed very quickly though not before being welcomed by Francois Mitterand and George Marchais. This coup will not collapse so quickly, but we shall see what we shall see come the November elections. I have a feeling that, though Ponta's rise has so far been meteoric, he may fall like Lucifer. Certainly, like George W. Bush, he is a bold but clumsy politician. We shall now see whether he is lucky, which he certainly needs to be.

No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of a free vote in November, no, but free votes are not enough to make a system democratic. There must also real exist alternatives, that are sufficiently different to make a choice real and sufficiently similar for stability and cohesion. Some say that the best system of government is a two party system where the two parties agree on all the important issues. Unfortunately this is not very democratic, but it is how democracies usually work. In democracies, people argue over trivia like taxes and public spending but no-one ever argues about, for example, ending the welfare state or ending immigration - it is simply not permitted to be discuss important issues. In Europe, many of them have even been completely removed from discussion by international law. When parties do sharply disagree with each other, as in the USA in Ronald Reagan's time and the UK in Margaret Thatcher's, or in Greece now, this can be exciting and creative but very divisive. 

In Romania's case, the parties fight between themselves, but not on real issues. It would be very hard to say what the real issues are. The Liberals are not really right nor are the Social Democrats really leftists and, even if they were, free market economics and social democracy have little relevance to the problems of Romania. Instead, as the daughter of a very senior person in the 'power structure' once told me, "All the parties, PSD, PDL, PNL, are all exactly, exactly, the same thing." Meaning well-connected shysters (mostly, but not entirely, ex-Communists and their children) fighting over patronage and jobs. It is rather, in that respect, like Whig and Tory politicians in eighteenth century England, except that they had better manners and more Latin and Greek. None of the Romanian parties knows how to eradicate the systemic problems of Romania. How can the political class seek to abolish itself or create an educated, high-minded elite?

I don't use Twitter except in political crises like this one and am not completely at home with it. Last night I read this tweet: 

Romania has renounced its treaties with Britain & sent "important ambassadors" to Germany: "Reich is now the dominant power of Europe." 

For a moment I thought it was part of the coup d'etat or something to do with Mrs. Viviane Reding, but it was a headline from 1940. 

But it provoked this thought - for how much longer will sovereign states be judges of their own constitutions? Perhaps the greater threat to democracy is not from demagogues and wide boys like Mr. Ponta and Mr. Antonescu but from the European Union and the very well meaning people at Deutsche Welle

According to the net, Winston Churchill wrote that, 'The new fascism will be anti-fascism.' I hope he did say it. It is true.

Excellent news from Lichtenstein

Voters in Liechtenstein rejected a proposal to abolish the ruling prince’s right to veto the results of popular referendums on Sunday.

The referendum was proposed by pro-democracy campaigners after Crown Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein said last year he would block the legalization of abortion if citizens approved it in a referendum. In the end, citizens rejected it anyway.

Official figures showed 76.1 per cent of voters, or 11,629 people, rejected the proposal on Sunday. Turnout was 82.9 per cent.

The crown prince and his father Prince Hans Adam II were greeted with loud cheers and applause when they appeared in Vaduz to thank voters for their support.

It would gladden the heart of the late Michael Wharton's 'Feudal and Reactionary Times' and it gladdens mine - but I do not quite understand why a referendum on the issue was permitted.

Monday 2 July 2012

Is Romania a real country or a case of plagiarism?

"For this you are famous in the East ― You sad, joking country." George Bacovia, 1930

The President of Hungary and the German defence minister both resigned as a result of plagiarism allegations but it does not look as if the Romanian Prime Minister is likely to follow their example. He is more likely to get away with it like Vladimir Putin and, going back some time, Joe Biden (though Biden only plagiarised a passage from a speech which does not seem serious compared to plagiarising a large part of a thesis)

The British grande dame of scientific journals, Nature, has said that the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarised his doctoral thesis. Victor Ponta, in an interview given to El Pais a week ago, promised to resign were he found to have plagiarised his thesis. Romania's National Council for Certification of Titles, Diplomas and University Certificates (CNATDCU) said on Friday that 85 pages of Prime Minister Victor Ponta's thesis were copied, 
without naming any source. No fair minded observer doubts that this is proven. "I found nothing but plagiarism of a copy-paste type," said Marius Andruh, the highly respected president of the CNATDCU's general council. "The council wanted to remove the title of doctor." 

The decision of the Council was unanimous but they were only thirteen strong and therefore one short of a quorum. In any case they were also too late. An hour before the Council reached its judgment, the acting Education Minister (Victor Ponta's two previous nominees as Education Minister had had to stand down after accusations of plagiarism) changed the constitution of the Council to increase its size from twenty to forty-five members. The Ministry of Education has also said that the plagiarism is a not a matter for the CNATDCU at all, but the University of Bucharest's ethics committee. Other academic panjandrums have weighed in with other ideas about which committee has jurisdiction.

Nobody in Bucharest, in politics, in the press or in the street expects Mr. Ponta to resign. They are not in the least surprised (it is hard to surprise Bucuresteni) about the plagiarism though they are very scornful (Bucuresteni are very scornful a lot of the time, about a great many things). His supervisor, while he wrote his thesis, was the then Prime Minister, Adrian Nastase, who, coincidentally, started a prison sentence this week for corruption. That did surprise everybody - not the corruption, but the prison sentence. It was reported that Mr. Nastase tried to take his own life when the police arrived to take him to prison. Now the doctors who attended him after he is said to have shot himself are themselves the defendants in proceedings  in which they are accused of having staged the whole thing. It seems the suicide attempt may have been another case of plagiarism. 

The outside world has made up its mind about the plagiarism and so have the other EU leaders at the summit, at which Ponta insisted on representing Romania, in defiance of the Constitutional Court's ruling that it was for President Basescu to attend. But Victor Ponta does not care about world opinion and world opinion does not spend much time thinking about him. He may however care about investor confidence - Moody's lowered Romania's credit rating from stable to negative from fear the crisis in the Eurozone may affect Romania. We shall see whether Ponta's party the PSD or his ally the National Liberal Party will stick with him till the parliamentary elections

On rare occasions, as now, Romanian politics seems fascinating, but then move the prism a fraction and it seems the opposite of fascinating. Though they belong to a nation of rugby players, Romanian politicians have a habit of fumbling the ball which makes politics unpredictable but ultimately tiring to watch.

One day, perhaps soon, I shall write about a question which has long interested me - the question of whether Romania is a real country or has for a long time been an example of plagiarism on a vast scale, since the time when she ceased to be two backward Ottoman protectorates and became a country with a constitution modelled on Belgium's and a capital known (like several other cities in the world) as the Paris of the East.

Sic transit Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson and Diana Dors

VENUS, take my votive glass:
Since I am not what I was,
What from this day I shall be,
Venus, let me never see.

Matthew Prior

Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford

Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford,

'There's something, old boy, that I've always abhorred:

When people address me and call me, 'Jerome',

Are they being standoffish, or too much at home?'

Said Ford, 'I agree; it's the same thing with me.'
-William Cole
'Mutual Problem', collected in The Oxford Book of  American Light Verse (1979).

I finally tracked down this squib, which regularly comes into my mind, but the last line seems a bit lame. The first four are better alone. 

Nowadays, alas, almost everyone is on first-name terms anyway, something I hate, but my American software which sends out mass emails makes me more guilty than most people.

Where did I first hear it? I am sure quoted by the great Robert Robinson on the unsurpassable Stop the Week on Radio 4 one early Saturday evening. It sounds quintessential Robinson.

In my quick search I have came across this line, which I like:

Is it any better in Heaven, my friend Ford,

Than you found it in Provence?
-William Carlos Williams
  TheWedge,'To Ford Madox Ford in Heaven'.

I must read The Good Soldier which everyone says is so good.